Covers of some of the books I've read in 2015

in Books, Digital Rights

The Books I Read in 2015

At the end of each year I list the books that I have read during that year. Earlier years were 2012, 2013 and 2014. Below you will find the list of books that I’ve read in 2015. Like last year I have also included my other media consumption (podcasts, RSS feeds and magazines).

My goal was to read 50 books of which at least half would be written by women and half by non-American authors. I managed to read 48 books (so close!) of which 12 were written by women (so far!) and 32 by authors that weren’t born in the US. Although I did read nearly twice as many women as last year, I really should do better. Here is the list of books and what I thought of them.

Digital Rights

I’ve read some wonderful books in this category. I now recommend Schneier’s book as a great introduction to current issues in digital rights. Brunton and Nissembaum published a beautiful little book with obfuscation tactics from many different domains. Van Gunsteren shows clearly how much damage a strong government focus on safety can do (and why we should always have a healthy distrust of our secret services). Levy’s history of the development of strong public crypto is a must-read to be able to understand the current crypto wars.

  • Bruce Schneier — Data and Goliath: The Hidden Battles to Collect Your Data and Control Your World (link)
  • Finn Brunton and Helen Nissenbaum — Obfuscation: A User’s Guide for Privacy and Protest (link)
  • Herman van Gunsteren — Gevaarlijk veilig (link)
  • Steven Levy — Crypto: How the Code Rebels Beat the Government — Saving Privacy in the Digital Age (link)
  • Hans Schnitzler — Het digitale proletariaat (link)
  • James Gleick — The Information: A History, a Theory, a Flood (link)
  • Maurits Martijn and Cees Wiebes — Operatie leunstoel (link)
  • Mireille Hildebrandt — Smart Technologies And The End(s) Of Law, Novel Entanglements of Law and Technology (link)
  • Neil Richards — Intellectual Privacy: Rethinking Civil Liberties in the Digital Age (link)
  • Privacy in the Modern Age (link)

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This year, like last year, we managed to read seven books in our book club. Brunton has shown me how every phase of the internet has its own version of spam, I can’t wait to read his forthcoming book on digital cash. Bostrom’s book was by far the most scary book that I’ve read all year, whereas Ronson’s was the funniest. Graeber’s book on bureaucracy wasn’t as strong as his book on debt.

  • Finn Brunton — Spam: A Shadow History of the Internet (link)
  • Nick Bostrom — Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers, Strategies (link)
  • Ashlee Vance — Elon Musk (link)
  • David Graeber — The Utopia of Rules: On Technology, Stupidity, and the Secret Joys of Bureaucracy (link)
  • Gabriella Coleman — Hacker, Hoaxer, Whistleblower, Spy: The Many Faces of Anonymous (link)
  • Jon Ronson — So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed (link)
  • Edwin Giltay — De doofpotgeneraal (link)

Fiction

Bulawayo’s book was the one that I couldn’t forget this year. Her first-person perspective of a little girl in Zimbabwe (and then later in the US) was soul crushing at times. Naipaul’s famous novel about the African interior was harrowing. I loved reading Van Leeuwen’s timeless children book to a young boy in my family. Houellebecq’s take on a near future France where a moderate Islamic party has come to power was thought provoking.

  • NoViolet Bulawayo — We Need New Names (link)
  • Joke van Leeuwen — Het verhaal van Bobbel die in een bakfiets woonde en rijk wilde worden (link)
  • V.S. Naipaul — A Bend in the River (link)
  • عاشقانه‌ها – اشعار عاشقانه ایرانی (link)
  • Jhumpa Lahiri — The Namesake (link)
  • Matthijs Ponte — Gemeenschap (link)
  • Michel Houellebecq — Onderworpen (link)

Non-fiction

Krog was a witness at South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation commission and has written a masterpiece about the process. This is where you would start to try and understand South Africa I guess (and damn do I love Desmond Tutu). Most people will not have read Piketty’s book after buying it. They are wrong: it is a brilliant lesson in macro economics and the details are worth the effort. I’ve learned a few practical skills from books this year: Marie Kondo has changed my life with her distinctively Japanese take on organizing your house, Pro Git has taught me how to use Git productively and Practical Vim has finally managed to turn me into a decent Vim user. All men should read Solnit’s essay on ‘mansplaining’. Finally, Westerman has written a book with an insightful reflection on race. It is very meaningful voice in the current Dutch debates on racism.

  • Antjie Krog — Country Of My Skull (link)
  • Christopher McDougall — Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, The Ultra-runners, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen (link)
  • Drew Neil — Practical Vim: Edit Text at the Speed of Thought (link)
  • Frank Westerman — El negro en ik (link)
  • Marie Kondo — The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing (link)
  • Scott Chacon — Pro Git (link)
  • Thomas Piketty — Capital in the Twenty-First Century (link)
  • Bruce Sterling — Shaping Things (link)
  • Douglas Thomas and John Seely Brown — A New Culture of Learning: Cultivating the Imagination for a World of Constant Change (link)
  • Haruki Murakami — What I Talk About When I Talk About Running (link)
  • Ineke Holtwijk — De mannen van de droomfabriek (link)
  • James Lovelock — The Revenge of Gaia (link)
  • Karen Armstrong — Islam: A Short History (link)
  • Marcel van Roosmalen — Op Pad Met Pim (link)
  • Miriam Sluis — Zoutrif (link)
  • Mortimer J. Adler — How to Read a Book: The Classic Guide to Intelligent Reading (link)
  • Naomi Wolf — The Beauty Myth (link)
  • Rebecca Solnit — Men Explain Things to Me (link)
  • Sandra Sprott and Janice Deul — Little black hair book (link)
  • Diederick Janse and Marco Bogers — Getting teams done (link)
  • Joan de Windt — Weg met Mental Slavery (link)
  • Simon Garfield — Just My Type: A Book about Fonts (link)
  • Roland Lazenby — Michael Jordan: The Life (link)

My consumption of other media

I had three subscriptions in 2015 and they were the same as the year before: Wired Magazine, The New York Review of Books and De Correspondent. The latter has really matured in the last year and I enjoy their pieces every single morning.

On my Podcast player I still had This American Life and This Week in Tech on the top two spots. New podcasts that I don’t skip are Note to Self and Reply All. I still listen religiously to 99% Invisible and RadioLab, check out an occasional Planet Money episode and enjoyed Kritische Massa, the only Dutch podcast that I listened to.

My favourite feeds in my RSS Reader (shout out to Tiny Tiny RSS) are Morozov in The Guardian, Cory Doctorow on Boing Boing and Prosthetic Knowledge on Tumblr. In the digital rights space I follow EDRi, the EFF, Open Rights Group, Slashdot’s Your Rights Online, Privacy Nieuws, Privacy Barometer, Tactical Tech, Greenhost, Jaap-Henk Hoepman, Hans Schnitzler, Bruce Schneier, the Privacy Surgeon and Axel Arnbak. To see what evil they are up to I check out Facebook’s newsroom and the Google Blog. I also make sure I keep up to date with the self-hosted open source projects I use like Owncloud, Lychee, Yourls and Wallabag. The NRC decided to wall their garden and kill their RSS feeds. That meant I stopped reading Bas Heijne and Marcel van Roosmalen and that I switched to Trouw as my regular source of news.

As long as they keep writing newsletters I will keep reading Stephen Downes and Audrey Watters.

A goodbye to Goodreads

For quite a few years I have used Goodreads to keep track of what books I read and wanted to read. I was increasingly uncomfortable with feeding Amazon’s algorithms and databases so decided to code my own book management system with the features that I like. With a little help from PHP, Bootstrap and SQLite you can see the result at books.hansdezwart.nl. It isn’t completely finished yet (RSS feeds are the most important missing feature), but it is getting close and already is making me very happy.

What will I be reading in 2016?

I want to make even more conscious decisions about what I read in the coming year. I want to read more female, more non-Western and more non-white authors. I also want to read more books that are at least 30 years old. I’ve written it two times before, but next year should now really be a year in which I’ll read more McLuhan. One book a week is the quantitive goal.