Summary of reading Q4 2019

Taking inspiration from Eli Bendersky’s excellent blog (which you should definitely check out) I’ve decided to write my own mini reviews of books I’ve read recently.

The purpose of these posts is to record my thoughts on each book for my future self, and share them in the hope it helps someone find good books whose interests intersect with mine.

Without further ado here’s a summary of what I’ve been reading in the last quarter of 2019:

Permanent Record - Edward Snowden

The autobiography of the former analyst at the CIA and NSA documents his life. He takes us through becoming obsessed with computers and the internet as a child, joining the army after 9/11 then leaving due to fracturing his legs, before joining the intelligence services. Filled with personal stories, technical details, why he became a whistleblower, and how he sneaked top secret documents out of the secure facility in Hawaii, I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Dataclysm - Christian Rudder

Written by one of the founders of OkCupid, the online dating site, this book reveals how much about human psychology and behaviour can be extracted from the enormous and diverse data sets being compiled from all our digital data. Overall, the book made me think about the power of data and what other interesting research questions could be investigated using these large data sets.

Digital Minimalism - Cal Newport

Technology addiction is becoming a serious 21st century problem and although many people will admit that they probably use their computer and smartphone too much, they haven’t yet recognised that their compulsive notification checking has become an involuntary and degrading habit. This book analyses the causes of technology addiction and suggests ideas and methods to help take back control of your digital life. I am trying many of them myself and will probably write a follow up blog post to document which techniques I found most valuable.

Getting to Yes: Negotiating agreement without giving in - Roger Fisher

I’ve always wanted to improve my negotiation skills and this is the first book I’ve read on the subject. The ideas presented in this book are reasonable and realistic and I wish I had been aware of them when I’ve negotiated in the past. My impression is that most people (including myself) are inherently bad at negotiating, but the techniques in the book are helpful even if the person you are negotiating with is particularly disagreeable.

Difficult Conversations - Douglas Stone

Another valuable book that I wished I had read earlier in my life. In many ways the techniques parallel those described in “Getting to Yes”. Essentially the central idea is to seek to understand the opposition’s story in order to appreciate how they came to have the viewpoint they have taken. Once you understand why they think the way they do, you can then direct and respond to the conversation more intelligently, rather than sitting there not knowing how to respond or getting stressed and reacting rashly. Having a framework for dealing with difficult conversations improves your confidence, and consequently makes you better able to handle them. A book I will definitely come back to in the future.