2019 Book Review

With 2019 wrapping up, I’ve put together a list of books that I read over the previous year — 22 new books in total! These books span multiple genres, including Business, History, Science Fiction, Fantasy, Thriller, and more. Some are new and some are old. This post sums up my most interesting reads of the year, which might make good additions to your reading list too.

I always enjoy fiction, but there’s a lot that anyone can learn from picking up books on software, usability, business, and other professional topics. I’m highlighting three books that I read this year, which I discovered through recommendations by people I work with and MBA coursework.

  • Don’t Make Me Think — This well-known book on usability describes consultant Steve Krug’s approach to designing web apps. Software should not only be simple, but should reduce the amount of thinking that a user has to do, by making controls easy to find, and placing information in contextual locations, so that users don’t need to remember it. The book touches on other topics in usability as well, such as how to perform good user tests, and resolving opinion-based disagreements.
  • The Phoenix Project — This novel follows a newly promoted Vice President of IT who learns to apply Lean Thinking in optimizing his team’s operations. I’ve been interested in these business methodologies ever since reading The Lean Startup by Eric Ries a few years — The Phoenix Project takes a similar approach to that book, but focuses on an established business rather than a startup, and goes deeper into a few concepts like the Theory of Constraints. As a novel, it is an interesting read, too.
  • The End of Marketing as We Know It — This was assigned reading as part of my MBA program, and was certainly an interesting read. It was written by Sergio Zyman, who was the Chief Marketing Officer at the Coca-Cola Company during the 90s. He emphasizes that marketing should be focused entirely on increasing a company’s profits — selling more volume at higher prices, rather than award-winning ad shoots in the Caribbean.

I’ve always enjoyed history. This year I picked up three books on the subject, two of which fit and one of them — bear with me on this!

  • The End is Always Near — This first book by podcaster Dan Carlin covers topics that are familiar to Hardcore History listeners, such as the “logical insanity” of strategic bombing during the second world war, and new topics like the fall of Assyria and the plagues of Medieval Europe. Woven into the narrative is the idea that civilization is fragile, and as we can see from examining past history, can collapse even when we suspect the least.
  • Fire & Blood — I did a double-take when I first saw this book categorized as Historical Fiction. It is, in fact, set in George R. R. Martin’s alternative world of Westeros. After reading the book though, I have to agree with this assessment; in the same way that good science fiction exposes us to real scientific ideas and principles, this book is a celebration historical study. As with real history, everything is subjective — the fictional historian who writes this book tells us a narrative that is pulled from primary and secondary sources, including the writings of other Maesters and the songs sung by bards in taverns across Westeros. While this book isn’t about real historical events, it is indeed about the practice of history, and the subjective lens through which we view our own past.
  • SPQR — This history of ancient Rome follows key events and historical figures from the founding of Rome to the advent of universal Roman citizenship during the imperial era. While it cannot match the depth of a work like The Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire, it is an excellent survey of Roman history, analyzing conflicts that lead to the formation and fall of the republic.

Science Fiction is one of my favorite genres. I made progress on several long series this year, including The Expanse, Expeditionary Force, and the Star Wars universe. I will be continuing all of these, and more, in the new year as well!

  • Babylon’s Ashes — I actually read two books in The Expanse this year, including Nemesis Games, which comes before Bablyon’s Ashes. Events certainly took a turn for the worse in this universe, but the story is taking a turn for the better! I move slowly through these books, since they tend to have a lot of new viewpoint characters, so are harder to follow. I may finally get current in this series in 2020.
  • Expeditionary Force: Armageddon — Best consumed in audio, this series follows the “Merry Band of Pirates:” a team of contemporary Earth military personnel who fly around in a commandeered alien spaceship, protecting Earth’s secret through all sorts of covert operations. They have help from an ancient AI with a… less than amicable personality. This year I finished Renegades and Armageddon in the series, both new releases — Craig Alanson is very prolific.
  • Star Wars: Thrawn — This disney-era return to the Thrawn chracter brings the original writer, Timothy Zahn, back to writing the exploits of the tactical genius and imperial Grand Admiral. We see that Thrawn is a challenging opponent, even without a starship, and we get an immersive view at imperial society in the star wars universe, which includes the underbelly of Coruscant and the small-town politics of an outer rim mining world.

Full list & the year ahead

My full reading list can be found on this page: Reading List. Some of my upcoming reads this year include Legion versus Phalanx, The Unicorn Project, and Promise of Blood.