Rapture in Everything

Books of 2016 - Non-fiction


I always try to keep track of the books I've read. This time around, I've also decided to try to write a short overview of the books I've read in the last year, in the hopes that it will quickly remind me of the highlights when I try to review them the next year. Or in the years after. This isn't an exhaustive list, just the best and most interesting ones. If something is written as a quote, it's taken from my Goodreads review. This list deals with non-fiction only. (Update: my fiction write-up is here.) The book links go to Goodreads.

Bitcoin for the befuddled, by Conrad Barski. I'd long been meaning to learn more about Bitcoin and the blockchain technology, because blockchain applications keep popping up in various unexpected places and I'd had no idea how they even work. This book was just what I'd needed: well-written, understandable, and most of all: very well organized. It first gives an overview, what this Bitcoin is even supposed to be and do, then explains how to use it, and only then, when the reader has an idea of what it's about, delves into the more "technical" topics and the underlying principles.

Data and Goliath: The Hidden Battles to Collect Your Data and Control Your World, by Bruce Schneier. I've blogged about it before. I've been recommending it to pretty much everyone since. From GoodReads:

I'd recommend this book to anyone who uses (or comes in contact with) any electronic devices.
It explains, in clear and layman's terms, how data about us is collected online and off, by both governments and corporations, and how it's used to spy on us, sell us stuff, violate our privacy or give us actually useful services that provide great value.

One of the best things about this book is that while the author openly advocates for the need of privacy and security in our everyday lives, he doesn't present it as a binary, black-and-white problem: he acknowledges the needs of our society, science and commerce, and proceeds to illustrate how we should approach getting the most of them, whilst still keeping our private lives to ourselves. He describes not only the technological, but political, governmental, societal and psychological impact of technology, encryption and privacy (or lack thereof).

If you regularly use the internet, chances are you are being spied on by many websites and don't even know about it. The author explains this, and keeps hammering the point by giving many real-world examples.

In fact, the author keeps listing so many examples, I've originally thought them superfluous; until I've realized it serves a point. The data siphoning is so wide-spread and so all-encompassing it's difficult to grasp. By listing many, many of the cases in various areas of life, both online and off, you'll start getting the real picture into your head eventually.

So anyone wanting to navigate the world of today's technology and understand what bargains he's implicitly agreeing to by using GMail, Facebook, or owning a credit card, should give it a read.

Also, by the bye, the whole time I've kept thinking that if this book were published 30 years ago, it would have looked like an overblown, dystopian sci-fi, not a book of fact.

An Astronaut's Guide to Life on Earth, by Chris Hadfield. Another book I keep recommending to anyone who will listen.

I didn't know what the book would be about, but I surely wouldn't expect this. The most prominent things in the book for me were: the importance and great effectiveness of humility, of doing the inglorious small/support tasks, and what the everyday life of an astronaut, in both space and on Earth, looks like.

Hadfield shows a picture of a life lived well, and shows that it's been great not because of the flashy moments that were few and far between, but because he learned to love what he does, and enjoy every day.

And that, perhaps even more than the interesting bits about spaceflight, is why this book is suitable for a wide audience. (No technical knowledge required, don't worry.)

You're Not Fooling Anyone When You Take Your Laptop to a Coffee Shop: Scalzi on Writing, by John Scalzi. It's an edited collection of his blog posts, published as a book. If you look at the title closely, you might even be able to guess the topic. But as books on writing go, this one's unusual[1]. It mostly doesn't deal with advice on writing, but on how to make a living as a writer. What helps, what to avoid, how to get to a place where you actually earn money by writing. It's amusingly written, based on the author's extensive experience, and entirely pragmatic.

The Mallet of Loving Correction, by John Scalzi.

This is the second selection of posts from Scalzi's blog that was in the Subterranean Scalzi Super Bundle, the other one being "You're Not Fooling Anyone When You Take Your Laptop to a Coffee Shop: Scalzi on Writing". I've enjoyed that one (even though I'm far from the target audience).

This, however, gave me nothing. Most of it was on topics, events or people I know nothing about, and I don't care. In the end I've skipped most of it.

Maturita z lásky, by Marián Kuffa (roughly translated as Graduation Test of Love). These are short, often humorous stories from the life of Marián Kuffa, a priest living in eastern Slovakia, where he works with a community of people down on luck - young delinquents, criminals, homeless drunks and anyone who asks for help. I liked one of his quotes: *"I knew that If I leave these people, I'd be just a theoretician." From my Goodreads review:

Some of the stories were touching and/or inspiring. They lead one to appreciate, among other things, the enormous strength of will and positivity when trying to help people in the lowest rungs of our society.

It's a quick and easy read, being only about 90 pages. But sometimes his train of thought jumps in what to me seems to be a completely random direction, so that worsened the overall rating a little.

Nevarím, nevaríš, nevaríme!, by Július Satinský.

While I liked the use of slang and/or older forms of Slovak, I find his (and of his entire clique of contemporaries) narrative style quite annoying.

Still glad I've read it, though, since Satinský is an important figure in Slovak entertainment.

Hrôzostrašná história: Stuchnutý stredovek (Horrible Histories: The Measly Middle Ages), by Terry Deary. Classic Horrible Histories - informative and amusing.

Black Hat Python: Python Programming for Hackers and Pentesters, by Justin Seitz.

A nice, hands-on book with many interesting tips.
I'm neither a black hat nor a pen tester, but I still like the insights this book provides.

The Linux Command Line, by William E. Shotts Jr. Exactly what it says on the tin. A good overview.

(Cover picture taken from here.)

  1. Not that I'd read very many of them. ↩︎