books I read 2020

Once when I picked up a book from the local library, the librarian asked to tell her what I thought about the book when I would bring it back. Well, why not write a few lines about all the books I read so everybody could see what I thought about it? I'm often also happy to have friends recommend a certain book or tell me this and that is not really worth reading. I won't comment about the tons of books I have read so far, but about books I read from now on.

1-star recommended not to read it empfehlung das buch nicht zu lesen
2-star not too interesting nicht allzu interessant
3-star average durchschnittlich
4-star good reading gutes lesematerial
5-star highly recommended sehr empfohlen

Overview of all Books

Overview of all Books

authorSimon Winchester

If schoolbooks were written the way Simon Winchester writes his books, history and other boring subjects would actually be fun. Winchester makes things personal. For example: it is not simply "some of the more concerned people, who seek to go to higher ground for better safety", but it is "Mrs. Beyerinck, the wife of the Dutch contrôleur in Ketimbang, who makes the strange request to her husband that the family not go home on their return from the market, but instead make right away for their rented holiday cottage in a tiny village in the hills".

Of course, the book describes what happened in the summer of 1883, when the volcano Krakatoa ferociously blew apart and completely vanished. However, it is not only the event itself, the how and what, but also why this happened and how it affected not only the environment, but also the people, why and how it changed science, what effects this disaster potentially had on politics and religion... Some of the effects were not even local, but in other parts of the world. To understand some of the effects, it is important to understand the situation before this dramatic eruption and how this situation came to be, which is presented as well. Winchester goes into botanics, plate tectonics, trade, Dutch colonization, and more; all the time making the presented information approachable and interesting to read.

titleOpenSSL Cookbook
authorIvan Ristić

This is a small book and definitely does not cover all the ins and outs of openssl. It is not the intention of this book. What this book does, and does pretty well, is to teach the basics a sysadmin might need to know about openssl and SSL/TLS. Chapter 1 contains a nice step-by-step guide if you want to create certificates, say for your webserver, or even for building your own very simple PKI. It also gives recommendations on selecting cipher suites and discusses some performance considerations. Chapter 2 shows how to use openssl to test and verify various SSL/TLS aspects for your servers. Appendix A is equally informative and gives you real recommendations for working out a good the transport layer security concept you might need. It shows which ciphers to use and which to avoid, how to prefer stronger encryption standards for clients which support it, while still allowing older clients to connect and also performance is taken into consideration.

All in all, Ristić offers a very valuable guide for anybody who occasionally has to deal with SSL/TLS certificates. The guide is short enough to easily find what you need and even to read everything in a relatively short time. At the same time it is comprehensive enough to be useful in many situations.

A guide like this would have been helpful way back in the days when I designed a simple PKI for an enterprise. And I can recommend it to anybody who needs to create certificate or certificate sign requests on the command line without any special tools.

titleI ♥ Logs
authorJay Kreps

How you perceive this book probably depends on what you consider to be a 'log'. As a guy having spent the last 7 years running a company-wide log-analysis system, I find the notion of 'log' in this book rather narrow-minded. What Kreps writes about clearly is 'transaction logs' and 'message queues'. So unless this is exactly what you are looking for, it is probably not the book you're interested in. It also clearly shines through that Kreps is a big fan of Kafka.

Even though the author claims to have lots of experience with designing systems around (transaction) logs at LinkedIn, he never gives any technical advice or hard facts on how to interconnect various systems, not even on how to structure the messages you are passing between the systems. Working more than 25 years in IT building various company-wide systems and services myself, I have read dozens of books published by O'Reilly and have come to appreciate this publisher for their high quality technical books. This book definitely does not even come close to the standard I have come to expect from O'Reilly. I ♥ Logs is more suited to a blog post or one of the cheap write-ups found with some other publishers.

titleMax Havelaar

Max Havelaar ist die anprangerung wahrer gegebenheiten, verpackt in eine geschichte, welche selber wieder in eine weitere geschichte verpackt ist, also ein bisschen komplex. Versuchen wir das ganze etwas zu entwirren.

Die äusserste schicht des buches ist die ich-form erzählung eines niederländischen kaffeehändlers. Herr Droogstoppel ist extrem von sich selber überzeugt und sehr geschwätzig und sein geschwätz hochgestochen und teils etwas nervig. Zum glück schreibt Droogstoppel das buch, welches er herausgeben möchte, nicht selber, sondern überlässt dies grösstenteils Stern, seinem Lehrling. Stern's stil ist sehr viel verständlicher, weniger verschnörkelt und nicht mehr nervig. Das buch, welches Droogstoppel mit hilfe von Stern schreibt, erzählt die geschichte des verwalters Max Havelaar, welcher in Java (Niederländisch-Indien, heute Indonesien) wirkt. Dies ist der eigentliche kern des buches und dreht sich um die art und weise, wie die Holländer während ihrer kolonialherrschaft in Java gewirtschaftet haben. Wie sie mit den lokalen leuten umgegangen sind. Wie sie die vor allem auf ihren eigenen kurzfristigen profit geschaut haben. Max Havelaar, selber einer dieser ausländischen verwalter, ist jedoch aus anderem holz geschnitzt; er interessiert sich für die lokale bevölkerung, kultur und gegebenheiten. Und er ist praktisch der einzige der versteht, dass langfristiger erfolg nur möglich ist, wenn diesen lokalen umständen rechnung getragen wird. Kurzfristiger grosser erfolg versus kleinerem aber anhaltendem erfolg.

Ich kann mir gut vorstellen, dass dieses buch zu der zeit, als es geschrieben wurde, als recht ketzerisch empfunden wurde, daher vielleicht auch der indirekte ansatz als geschichte in einer geschichte. Hat man sich erst mal an die etwas andere orthographie der damaligen zeit gewöhnt, so ist das buch recht einfach zu lesen, mit ausnahme der teile, in denen Droogstoppel zu worte kommt. Der kern der geschichte, also die erzählung über Max Havelaar, ist lesenswert; allerdings muss man sich erst durch ein paar 'Droogstoppel kapitel' kämpfen, bis diese wirklich beginnt.

titleThe Escape
authorDavid Baldacci

The third book in Baldacci's John Puller series. When his brother Robert unexpectedly escapes from the high security military prison where he serves a life sentence, John Puller, a military investigator, is clearly told to step back and not try to do any investigations of his own, a normal procedure in such a case. However, John is not so sure he can just sit still. And when he's contacted directly from the very top of the command chain and offered to actually do an investigation of his own, he is very sceptical but also somewhat relieved, because he does not need to stay under the radar.

Before long, Puller is more or less forced to team up with Veronica Knox, whose agenda and trustworthyness is not quite clear to him.

Even though it all looks like a rather straight forward escape from a place where escapes should not be possible, there is one troubling bit which does not sum up. With a lot of persistence, gradually a different perspective on things becomes plausible, but very difficult to argue, as this alternative perspective would mean that Robert Puller had been sitting in prison innocently for more than two years...

Baldacci's John Puller series is, in my opinion, not as good as his King and Maxwell series, but still offers good entertainment, is easy to read and not so easy to put away once you started reading.

titleHow to be a Brit
authorGeorge Mikes

How to be a Brit actually is a collection of three books written by George Mikes over the time of thirty years (1940-ies to 1970-ies): How to be an Alien, How to be Inimitable and How to be Decadent. All three books are full of British humor and make fun of the difference between the British and foreigners. But the books differ considerably, it is very obvious how Mikes, originally a Hungarian, having come to the Great country of Britain as a young man and staying on, has changed over the years and become a true Brit himself. While the first book is written with the eyes of a foreigner and shows in a very humorous way how Brits are different, the last book clearly is written with the eyes of a Briton and shows in the same humorous way where foreigners differs. There is also some repetition among the books, which can even be good: one joke from the first book I didn't get till the topic was picked up again in the next book.

Unfortunately there are many jokes I did not really get, possibly due to some special meaning of some expressions (which not even my dictionary was willing to share with me), probably due to not being able to see some references to certain events or people (Neither am I British, nor is English my native language. I only have lived in the UK myself for a very short time many years ago and even though I am definitely no youngster any more, that was years after the last book of the three was written.) Nevertheless, many of these very short stories are entertaining. It is also refreshing to see something where people clearly can freely make fun of themselves and their peers, something which these days (I write this in 2020) is more and more drowned in the overwhelming movement of "political correctness".

titleNo Man's Land
authorDavid Baldacci

The fourth book in Baldacci's John Puller series. While not required to enjoy the book, it does help having read the previous books. It helps to understand the condition of Puller's father and the relation between Puller and Knox.

John Puller, a top notch army investigator, again is up against forces much more resourceful than him and he is doing the investigation on his own, without any official backup by the army. After all, it is an investigation he does for himself and he is not supposed to be doing. It's all about the sudden disappearance of his mother. The case was never solved, but with new allegations from a dying woman and some new evidence, Puller is determined to find out what really happened that night, thirty years ago.

The investigation is not only difficult. And somebody seems to become nervous about what could be discovered because pretty soon anyone trying to look into the matter is being stonewalled by some forces that be.

The chapters in this book are short and plenty. It is told from two different perspectives, from John Puller's side and from Paul Rogers side and, as expected from the very beginning, somewhen the two trails of the story mix together and become one. The language is not too difficult and tension is kept high, lots of things happening. However, there are just too many events, coincidences and timings which are rather unlikely, too many characters which come too close to superhero. Baldacci's John Puller series is sometimes compared to Lee Child's Jack Reacher series. Yes, there definitely are similarities. Jack Reacher's adventures are the more credible ones.

titleThe Hundredth Queen
authorEmily R. King

The monasteries take in orphans. Kalinda is one of the sisters in a monastery in the mountains. She has been an orphan and taken in when she was young. Kalinda has always been prone to fevers and is rather slim, not the physically strongest. But she is very head-strong and determined.

What she does not know is about her special powers, about the Rajahs's plans for her, about how despicable humans can be and about love. All things she will learn before long.

The story is quite predictable and reading it without knowing who is the author, I could tell, from the love story, it was written by a woman. The ending is not a real ending, making it more desirable to get the next book in the series. All in all I think of this book more in terms of a love story with a little fantasy sprinkled in than the other way round.

titleEver After
authorKim Harrison

You do know Rachel, Ivy, Jenks, Ku'Sox, Bis, right? You have read the ten previous books in this series, right? If not, then here is a word of recommendation: do yourself a favour and read the previous books in the series, otherwise there will be a lot of things in this book you do can not understand and appreciate.

Ku'Sox, the artificial daemon which can not be bested by any other daemon, understandably is not happy with the spell Rachel put on him. And he is of a mind to do something about it. Not only that, Ku'Sox's plan is much, much bigger. No longer will he have to endure any humiliation, every daemon and non-daemon will pay him homage and his race will become clean, superior. It's not only Rachel which is not so happy about such a plan, but also the daemons themselves. However, they are afraid of Ku'Sox, they dare not stand up against him. So it comes that Rachel, once fighting Daemons, is now trying to protect them. But Ku'Sox is stronger than any daemon, including her. Rachel, on the other hand, has more friends. Friends, though, can also be used against her...

As with the previous books in the Hollows series, when Rachel is out on an adventure there is adventure; fast paced, funny and difficult to put the book away for the night.

titleMicroPython for the Internet of Things
authorCharles Bell

One of the best books I have seen for learning a new set of skills.

Creating small microcontroller projects and accessing them in an "Internet of Things style" might look like a daunting task at first. It is not rocket science, but it definitely helps to have somebody showing you the ropes. And that's exactly what Charles Bell does with this book. For his introduction he chooses microcontroller boards running MicroPython. For following along, the Pyboard or a board from pycom (not only the WiPy, the LoPy4 etc. work equally well) are best suited, because all the samples are spelled out in detail for these boards. But Bell also discusses a number of other boards and gives enough details so that I feel I could master the samples with other boards too.

Charles Bell does a tremendously good job explaining all you need to know: the Internet of Things itself, MicroPython (and for that matter Python basics), programming basics, various microcontroller boards supporting MicroPython, hardware sensors, basics in electronics, ... There are always a number of samples, from simple gradually increasing to more involved. Links to hardware and the parts used are given, the hardware and protocols and programming techniques explained and the complexity is always kept in check. Working through the book and following along feels like you are taking a class with a helpful teacher. Things are explained in clear language, complexity is kept in check, the sequence of things in the book in a logical order, ...

I did have some experience in Python and internet protocols, but none at all in electronics or microcontroller board and I felt safe and well taken care of with this book. And I'm certain the same will be true for people knowing about electronics but not programming. And even if all the topics are new to you, you'll find this book extremely valuable.

titleThe Unicorn Project
authorGene Kim

This is a book along the lines of "The Phoenix Project" by the same author. It plays in the same company, at the same time. But they are two completely independent books and yet they complement each other in some way. The Unicorn Project picks up topics which were not covered by The Phoenix Project.

The Unicorn Project is a business/developer book written in the style of an interesting story. It's in the perspective of Maxine, one of the best developers the company has. For some stupid reason, Maxine is transferred to a different section. Even though she is told to lay low for some time and later come back, she still wants to be useful in her exile. To be useful, she must be able to compile the code everybody is working on. But nobody seems to know the details needed to setup a working development environment. Maxine is not only skilled, but also persistent. And bit by bit she uncovers inadequacies after inadequacy and finds solutions for them or people with solutions.

Basically the book, by telling a story, teaches some important principles of modern software (and business) development. At times it seems like Maxine and her friends are inhumanly strong superheroes, but I can easily see how making the characters more humanly possible would require more characters and a more complicated setup in the story; the chosen setup therefor is in line with the main goal of the book: to teach some good principles.

If you have read and enjoyed "The Phoenix Project", you'll like this book as well. If you haven't read it, try either of the two and read the other if you liked the one you chose to read. Oh, and of course, try to apply the principles you learn from this book in your own environment; you might not be blessed with the same overly incredible success our superheros have, but hopefully you don't need to start out in such a hopeless environment either.

Overview of all Books

Page last modified on 2020-Jan-01 21:24 GMT