The Best Books I Read in 2015

46 book in 52 weeks, just 4 shy of my goal of 50! Despite coming up just short, I think 2015 was one of the most thoughtful and well rounded years of reading I’ve ever had. I still read an outsized proportion of sci-fi and fantasy books; however I also read more non-fiction (thanks largely in part to Mandy and Stephan). Here is the rundown of my favorite books I read in 2015:

Top Non Fiction Books

The Big Tiny: A Built-It-Myself Memoir, by Dee Williams. This book had a little bit less about actual tiny house living than I was expecting; however I enjoyed Dee’s account of the motivations behind moving into her own tiny house. Given my current frustration with the state of material wealth in the modern world, the tiny house and minimalist movement is a breath of fresh air.

Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear, by Elizabeth Gilbert. The first quarter of this book made me want to quit my job and strike out on my own, which is ironic since one of the central themes of Big Magic is that creative living doesn’t have to be an all or nothing affair. I disagree with some of the fundamentals of this book, like the religious nature Gilbert attaches to creativity, but I decided to put it on this list because of how much introspection reading this book triggered in me.

Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future, by Peter Thiel. Contrarian is a common way to describe Thiel, and an excellent way to describe this book. Again, this book caused a lot of internal sparring, which is an excellent reason to recommend it. You might not agree with everything he says, but Thiel’s viewpoints are a lot more unique than most ‘entrepreneurship’ books I’ve read. One of the opening questions of the book is:

What is something you think is true, but that most people disagree with you on?

To which I have to answer, bidets. Developing countries in Southeast Asia have figured it out… why are we still scratching ourselves with paper in the States?

Top Sci-Fi Books

A Fire Upon The Deep, by Vernor Vinge. The creativity in which Vinge imagines the universe, through the idea of the ‘Beyond’ and ‘Slow Zones’ is compelling enough in it’s own right to pick this up. I also enjoyed the exploration of the ‘Trine’ species in which each ‘life’ is composed of individual pack members (wolves). The intelligence of each Trine is based on their pack size, and their attitudes are affected by their constituent members as well. Worth a read for the expansive lateral thinking involved.

Ancillary Justice, by Ann Leckie. A lot of people already know about this one since it won a ton of awards when it was released, but I just recently stumbled upon it. The programmer nerd in me loved the AI concepts laid out in the book, specifically around emotion, even if they were not delved into deeply. In my head, the leap between the AI we have now, and sentient AI is unfathomable due to the problem that AI is still logic at it’s core. There are a lot of philosophical questions here (Is love really just logic? At what point does machine learning seem more like sentience than logic? Could we train an algorithm to love based on human experiences, and how would it differ from human emotion?). Couple those concepts with a revenge quest, and it definitely makes my list for 2015.

Top Fantasy Books

Riyria Revelations, by Michael Sullivan. To me, Riyria Revelations has everything that a classic fantasy novel should. Badass main characters with troubled pasts, a bit of magic, solid character development, and an interesting plot line. I also enjoyed the fact that the main characters are already equipped with their badass skills from the beginning, rather than having to figure them out. If you like fantasy, pick this series up!

The Demon Cycle, by Peter V. Brett. My favorite part of this series is the exploration of different cultures, and how that can affect our perception of good and evil. The entire series is not out yet, but there are enough books published to keep you intrigued.

Top Technical Book

Rails 4 Test Prescriptions, by┬áNoel Rappin. If you are a Rails engineer, this book is an outstanding overview of TDD within the Rails ecosystem. AppFaqs benefited greatly from it, and my grasp of RSpec also improved, which has helped ease my frustration with it’s sometimes trippy syntax. If you are serious about improving your TDD skills, pick up a copy of this book.

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