Connor Smyth

a room filled with furniture and a book shelf

Books Update: It’s Been a While Pt. 1

Hello again! It’s been a while since I’ve done a book update. 2020 has now come to a close and I have finished many books since my last update. The exact number that I have finished since my last update is 18. Because of the high volume of books in this update I’ve decided to split it into two parts. Enoy!

Leonardo da Vinci

Walter Isaacson

600 pages

Leonardo da Vinci

I am not the type of person who enjoys going to art galleries unfortunately, but I am the kind of person who will marvel at engineering diagrams and the thought processes behind them. This meant that much of the art related material of the book was lost on me (I often found myself flipping back and forth between pages to try to see the “left handed hatch strokes” in the painting being referenced but I still often couldn’t). Overall, it was an enjoyable read and falls neatly into Isaacson’s desire to tell stories of people who stand at the intersection of art and science.

The DevOps Handbook

Gene Kim, et al.

437 pages

The DevOps Handbook: How to Create World-Class Agility, Reliability, and Security in Technology Organizations

As a developer, I always look for ways to improve my craft. Adding the introductory knowledge of DevOps that this book offers has done exactly that. The book is paired with Gene Kims other two books ‘The Phoenix Project’ and ‘The Unicorn Project’, both of which I also recommend. Reading this books has helped me implement some of the best practices mentioned into my own workplace.

How to Change Your Mind

Michael Pollan

480 pages

How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence

If you have ready any of my other book updates then you know that I am a fan of Michael Pollan’s work and this was no exception. I myself have never taken psychedelics so you could say that when reading this I was reading from a completely outsider perspective. I enjoyed how he approached the discussion of psychedelics and their history to help break down a lot of our preconceived notions around them that are largely false. I would recommend this book to anyone interested in the anthropology of psychedelics and what role they will likely come to play in the future of psychotherapy.


Charles Petzold

400 pages

Code: The Hidden Language of Computer Hardware and Software

This book was an interesting read but had its faults. The book tries to take a bottom up approach to the history of computing but sometimes stays too close to the bottom. Too often I found the author relating concepts back to the basic circuitry of how computers work. In my opinion, one of the great things about computing is that over time we have naturally abstracted further and further away from the granularities that he always tries to bring it back to. While learning about the basic circuitry is interesting early on, he fails to escape this granularity later in the book when he approaches the point in history where IDEs and GUIs were interested that would lend better to greater abstraction. The author also takes a primarily male view of computing’s history that often credits men for women’s work (*ahem* Ada Lovelace).

Vodka Politics

Mark Lawrence Schrad

492 pages

Vodka Politics: Alcohol, Autocracy, and the Secret History of the Russian State

This was a really interesting book to read. The book tells you the history of Russia through the lens of alcohol and more specifically Vodka and other distilled spirits. It’s no mystery that when you often think of Russia you also think of Vodka and there are very good reasons for that. Written by an Associate Professor of Political Science at Villanova University the book is an academic approach so don’t expect it to be a comedic book. I would highly recommend it to anyone interested in anthropology of food and history.

Barking Up the Wrong Tree

Eric Barker

224 pages

Barking Up the Wrong Tree: The Surprising Science Behind Why Everything You Know About Success Is (Mostly) Wrong

Surprisingly one of my favourite books I read in 2020. This book is difficult to explain but it is all about questioning our initial ideas about what makes us successful. The author has a blog of the same name read by millions of people where he tackles similar questions. On the surface the book looks like our typical “self-help” book but in actuality I think it’s a lot more.

The Innovators

Walter Isaacson

542 pages

The Innovators: How a Group of  Hackers, Geniuses and Geeks Created the Digital Revolution

I seem to have a theme where I read books about the history of computing. This is one of my least favourite books by Walter Isaacson, maybe because I’ve read so many books on the history of computing, maybe because it couldn’t really figure out what story it wanted to tell. The book would sometimes focus on very specific people at very specific times and and then at other points gloss over large parts of computing history in an effort to get to what the author felt like was the “good stuff”. The only really unique thing that I think this book offers up is the history of Bill Gates and Paul Allen as they were creating Microsoft. Famously the book cause the two to disagree about what each of them had said in it causing them to part ways until just before Allen’s death.

Energy at the Crossroads

Vaclav Smil

427 pages

Energy at the Crossroads: Global Perspectives and Uncertainties

I have been hearing Bill Gates rave about Vaclav Smil for a while now so when I saw a weathered copy of ‘Energy at the Crossroads’ in my local Little Free Library I jumped at the chance to read it. The book was marvellous and encouraged me to right a recent blog post I had been thinking about for some time, Growing in Excess. I will be reading many more of his books thanks to this introduction.


Steven D. Levitt & Stephen J. Dubner

320 pages

Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything

I don’t have a lot to say about this book other than I didn’t like it. It is flawed in so many ways and very dated especially in the use of sexist pronouns to denote specific professions (always using “he” when referring to doctors and lawyers and always using “she” when referring to teachers). Would not recommend and looking for a way to get rid of my copy.

Stay tuned for part 2!