11 Books in 52 Weeks in 2015

Last year I read—or listened to, since reading books is physically difficult—52 Books in 52 weeks. It was a huge accomplishment and easily more than double the number of books I'd read/listened to any previous year. Unfortunately, it totally burned me out for 6 months afterwards and was too time consuming to continue when I did start listening to books again. I still managed to get through eleven in 2015.

My Favorite Books

  • The Power Broker. I can't do justice to how good this book is. It should be required reading for living in New York. Almost everything about our transportation infrastructure, parks in NYC and NY state, and later public housing was under the control of Robert Moses. He was in power for decades, unelected, and even a president who hated him couldn't dislodge him. He had control of the public authorities which collected tolls on the city's bridges and he could use that money to help or destroy politicians. Newspapers (almost inexplicably) refused to do any serious investigation or negative reporting on Moses. I don't feel like I really understood what power was until I listened to this. You can also see that the idea of "traffic generation" which is well known now was understood by some people (though ignored) 50 years ago. The audio book is 66 hours–normal books are generally 10-15–so it's a big ask, but I really think it's worth it.
  • The Death and Life of Great American Cities – Jane Jacobs is one of the originators of the modern urbanism movement. She believed and had pretty compelling arguments that making neighborhoods homogeneous was a major cause of urban blight and that many of the "urban renewal" policies were making things worse.
  • The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up – This book had the biggest direct impact on me of anything I listened to last year. I was never a hoarder and I'm frequently trying to get rid of things I don't need any more, but this encouraged my to go beyond what I'd done before. My wife and I cleared out enough stuff that we had empty shelves and drawers where we'd been pretty packed before.
  • The Box – This book is a history of shipping containers. Some of the mini-biographies in it are sort of interesting, but the really interesting part for me was the standardization process. There were many people in a fairly low margin business with giant upfront costs who had to agree

Other Books I Listened to

  • Salt – A history of salt. Apparently a lot of really important things happened because of salt (or lack of salt)
  • Managing People (incomplete) – This was recommended to me when I became a manager at Foursquare. Not my favorite management book, but it was pretty OK for what I read.
  • The Go Programming Language (incomplete) – Got this when I started learning Go. I'll likely finish as needed.
  • The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime – The only fiction I listened to last year. It was very well written and sad. I liked that it was told from the perspective of a child in the style of a Sherlock Holmes book.
  • Lies my Teacher Told Me – My teacher didn't tell me these lies since I grew up in Canada, so in many cases this book was teaching me something wrong for the first time and then correcting things.
  • Superbetter – This book is about how to improve yourself and overcome adversity using psychology and gamification.
  • The New York Nobody Knows – This was about a man who walked every street in NYC over a period of ~5 years talking to people he met. Fascinating book, but it sort of meanders around.