In the last few years, I’ve published lists of my favorite reads at the end of the year. (Here are last year’s.) I love reading, and usually have lots of books to pick from when making these lists. But for various reasons, this year I didn’t read as much as in previous years. Still, I hope this list is useful to you if you’re looking for something to read over the holidays.

As always, a few disclaimers:

  • These books weren’t all published this year; this is just when I got to them
  • They’re shared in no particular order
  • Amazon links on this page are affiliate links; I get a small commission if you buy something after following them

Also, this year I’ve listed audiobooks separately. That’s because I listened to two that IMO are best experienced in that format, so I’m not recommending them as books that happen to be read by their authors but as works that stand on their own in that medium.



Scrolling Forward: Making Sense of Documents in the Digital Age
by David M. Levy
A poetic and philosophical treatise about the role of documents in society. Written by a former Xerox PARC researcher who was involved in the creation of early WYSIWYG digital documents. Among other things, the book deals with how documents mutate over time as they change forms — somewhat ironically, as the Kindle version of the book is riddled with OCR errors. Amazon

Too Much to Know: Managing Scholarly Information before the Modern Age
by Ann M. Blair
How people (especially scholars) managed information in the pre- and early modern eras. Fascinating, erudite, and comprehensive. I read it as a dead tree book, which made a difference given the subject. Amazon

The Dream Machine
by M. Mitchell Waldrop
A history of key digital technologies we take for granted today, especially personal computer workstations and the internet, framed in a biography of J.R. Licklider. Among other things, Licklider led ARPA during its most seminal period; he arguably did more than any other individual to shape how we use computers today. AmazonMy book notes

Genius: The Life and Science of Richard Feynman
by James Gleick
Authoritative biography of the great physicist. I was less interested in Feynman’s unorthodox personality (I’d already read Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman) and more on how he used notes to think. This book delivered. AmazonMy book notes

Whole Earth: The Many Lives of Stewart Brand
by John Markoff
Another biography, this one of a personal hero. Inspiring: Brand’s projects — multimedia presentations, publications, new institutions — came from following his curiosity. He’s led a fascinating life, and Markoff knows how to tell an engaging story. Amazon

The Courage to Be Disliked: The Japanese Phenomenon That Show You How to Change Your Life and Achieve Real Happiness
by Ichiro Kishimi and Fumitake Koga
Tacky subtitle, but there’s substance here. How do you live a happy life? The authors suggest looking to Alfred Adler’s philosophy. The book unfolds as a dialog between a middle-aged philosopher and a young man with personality problems. The premise is contrived, but the ideas are compelling. Amazon

Hypertext and Hypermedia
by Jakob Nielsen
Early 90s (i.e., pre-web) book introducing hypermedia to the general public. Nielsen contrasts hypertexts with “traditional” linear texts such as books and long–form articles — hypertext as “generalized footnote.” Some concepts are still relevant and there are lots of beautiful screenshots of monochromatic Mac screens (Mostly HyperCard. ❤️) Amazon

How the World Really Works
by Vaclav Smil
Explains how modern societies operate by examining our energy needs, ranging from the generation of electricity to the harvesting of food to the production of basic materials. The uncomfortable conclusion: we’re more dependent on fossil fuels than most of us understand; decarbonizing won’t be quick, easy, or cheap. But we have to do it — and it’s best if we understand the challenges ahead. AmazonMy book notes

The Art of Gig, Volume 1: Foundations
by Venkatesh Rao
I’ve been aware of Rao’s newsletters and blogs for years, but somehow his writing hadn’t clicked for me in that format. He’s now repurposed his newsletters about consulting as a two-volume book. I have yet to read volume two, but the first one helped me reframe my work in useful ways. Amazon

by Plato (tr. Paul Woodruff, Alexander Nehamas)
Socrates analyzes two speeches (one by Lysias and the other by himself) to inquire into the nature of rhetoric, both written and spoken. Amazon


Mary Toft; or The Rabbit Queen
by Dexter Palmer
Outrageous novel based on an unlikely true premise: 18th century English rural woman births seventeen rabbits. The novel focuses on social dynamics — especially how groupthink leads people to believe nonsense. I.e., an appropriate subject for our times. Amazon

The Elegance of the Hedgehog
by Muriel Barbery
Life in a wealthy Parisian condo seen through the eyes of two residents who develop an unlikely friendship: the building’s fifty-something concierge and at 12-year-old girl. In the process, they explore philosophical issues around art, knowledge, mortality, and economic and social class distinctions. Amazon

Foucault’s Pendulum
by Umberto Eco
An intellectual mystery/adventure story that may be Eco’s masterpiece. Works on several levels; keeping track of them is one of the book’s many pleasures. I first read it many years ago but thought it worthwhile to revisit it now that so many people seem prone to outlandish conspiracy theories. It’s especially compelling when read in that light. Amazon

Charlotte’s Web
by E.B. White
Classic children’s story. I read it to my son and we were both sobbing by the end. If you’ve only seen the 1970s Hannah-Barbera movie, read the book. White was a master of the English language; his prose will affect you even if you know what’s coming. The book also features charming illustrations. Amazon


Miracle and Wonder: Conversations with Paul Simon
by Malcolm Gladwell and Bruce Headlam
More of an audio documentary than a “book.” Gladwell and Headlam interview Simon about his career and music. But you don’t have to be a fan to appreciate this audiobook; it’s one of the most insightful expositions of the creative process and the nature of art that I’ve come across. Highly recommended. Audible

Surrender: 40 Songs, One Story
by Bono
Memoir by the activist and singer of U2. Each chapter riffs on a different song by the band. The key theme is relationships. Differently from the Simon book, you’ll get more from this one if you like U2’s music. But it really pays off to listen in audiobook format: there are clips from songs and Bono does impressions. AudibleMy book notes

I hope you had a great year that included great books. May the next be even better!