In 2016 I read 28 books. As always this excludes computer programming books and children’s books, of which I always read some, but I recall having read no extraordinary children’s book this year.
The topics I pursued in 2015 stayed true in 2016: psychology and investing. Biographies have always been a favorite of mine, and I read a few this year too.
The greatest book I read this year was A History of Western Philosophy by Bertrand Russell. The book is a mind-altering, soul-improving piece of work. It’s funny all through its 900 or so pages, and Russell goes all the way without really agreeing with any of the philosophers whose thoughts he addresses. A book to go back to, over and over.
The most surprising book I read this year was Vehicles: Experiments in Synthetic Psychology, by Valentino Braitenberg. This book is in Alan Kay’s reading list, and that’s where I got the tip. In it, Braitenberg introduces thought experiments comprised of very simple “vehicles”, with engines and sensors. The first experiment is very simple, featuring a vehicle with a sensor in its front triggered by, say, light, reacting by turning its engine on. It gets progressively more complex, and very soon phenomena that can be called “behavior” emerge. Think love, doubt, jealousy and other deep stuff. To me it was a very nice bridge between technology and psychology, two fields I like, and also a point of departure that’s diametrically opposed to psychologic analysis.
A very fun and sometimes sad book, filled with things I had never known, was Walt Disney: The Triumph of the American Imagination by Neal Gabler. It is an extraordinarily detailed book about Disney and his times. It shouldn’t ruin it for you to know that life was very difficult for him as an entrepreneur, and then we he “made it” it didn’t get much easier.
Finally, another book that had an impact on me was Do No Harm: Stories of Life, Death and Brain Surgery by Henry Marsh. In it, the doctor recalls his career as a brain surgeon. I read it while in bed with dengue fever, and I think my state intensified the ambivalent feelings of helplessness and the relatively miraculous capabilities of contemporary medicine. Mr. Marsh is great at telling lay people about his very technical profession, while at the same time giving his book a lot of heart.