Retroactive favorites: 2008 books

In 2011, I started writing up a few notes about my favorite books of the year. Since I hadn’t done this in prior years, I’ve been going back in time picking retroactive favorites, starting with 2010. Here’s my retroactive picks from 2008. This is obviously colored by time – I doubt these would have been the favorites at the time.

Post Office

Post Office, Charles Bukowski

I went through a bit of Bukowski phase after seeing Born into This at a documentary film festival. Post Office remains my favorite.

Arsenals of Folly

Arsenals of Folly: The Making of the Nuclear Arms Race, Richard Rhodes

When I was in high school, I started reading Richard Rhodes’s series about the history of atomic weapons (The Making of the Atomic Bomb and Dark Sun: The Making of the Hydrogen Bomb), so when this came out in 2007 I was eager to read it. I would like to revisit these books.

Founders at Work

Founders at Work, Jessica Livingston

I wouldn’t say this is a favorite, or that I particularly remember anything about it. I include it here because my interest in startups and Y Combinator in particular led to choices that changed the course of my life, for both better and worse. Reviewing the interview list is a hit of web 2.0 nostalgia.

Lord of Light

Lord of Light, Roger Zelazny

This is a fun book that I like to reread every once in a while. The original colonists of a new planet have hoarded all the advanced technology and set themselves up as gods from the Hindu pantheon, lording over the peasants who populate the world. All of them, that is, except for Sam, who plays Buddha and tries to overthrow them. It won the Hugo award in 1968.

1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus

1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus, Charles C. Mann

Having a fairly standard American public school and an engineering undergraduate education, I didn’t learn much about Native cultures or history. This book is a good corrective. It presents research that suggests the original inhabitants of the Americas were more numerous and advanced than the racist settlers assumed. European diseases devastated the indigenous populations, which upended the environment they had been managing. This gave the settlers an incorrect view of what life had been like before they arrived.

Choosing the Right Pond: Human Behavior and the Quest for Status

Choosing the Right Pond: Human Behavior and the Quest for Status, Robert H. Frank

I don’t remember a whole lot about this book, but one idea has stuck with me over the years. Frank proposes that there is a psychological cost to low status, and therefore workers with the lowest productivity at a firm receive an income boost to compensate, which is derived by paying high producers slightly less. Those high productivity workers could earn more money at a more productive firm, but they’d have to take a status hit by no longer being the high productivity workers. I have no idea if this is true in the real world, but I think about it when considering companies and teams within companies.

Revelation Space

Revelation Space, Alastair Reynolds

This is the first novel set in Alastair Reynolds’s dark hard science fiction Revelation Space universe. (“Hard” probably should go in scare quotes, as the only realistic aspect is the lack of FTL, almost everything else is magic nanotechnology). It’s bleak, but the universe he built is expansive and immersive. Over the years, I’ve read most of the books and stories set in the Revelation Space universe.