← back to all talks and articles

My year in books 2018

In 2018 I read 52 books. Just as in 2017, some of them were great, some of them poor, and some of them were “just” nice entertainment. Here, in no particular order, are my favourites.

It doesn’t have to be crazy at work by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson

It doesn’t have to be crazy at work is a short, well-titled book: it explains why frantic busyness is undesirable; that the calm alternative does work, evidenced by the authors’ own company Basecamp; and how you can put it into practice in your own organisation. It’s energising, inspiring and highly convincing, in no small part due to its refreshing brevity. My favourite bit is treating your company like a product, continuously iterating on how things work.

Enlightenment now by Steven Pinker

Enlightenment now claims the world is not so bad as it looks, and tries to both convince you of that view (with facts and figures) and to explain why most people need convincing in the first place. It’s easier to believe things are getting worse all the time, than it is to see progress. His positivity is inspiring and the analysis of our negative bias fascinating. Ascribing all the progress to enlightenment ideals is not always as convincing, but it doesn’t hurt his argument.

The self-driven child by William Stixrud & Ned Johnson

The Self-Driven Child: The Science and Sense of Giving Your Kids More Control Over Their Lives argues an increasing feeling of stress and anxiety in kids these days is best fought by giving kids more control over their own lives. Make it “their call” without sacrificing your own authority and values. The main take-away is that as parents, it’s not our job to guide our kids through life’s challenges, but to prepare them to do so themselves.

Atomic habits by James Clear

Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones is a book about changing your life through good, small habits that accumulate to great results. It’s not a shocking departure from Clear’s online writing, but the book combines various concepts, theory, anecdotes and practical advice into a neat, well-written package. The main take-away is that every repetition of every good habit is a vote for the kind of person you want te become.

Give and Take by Adam Grant

If we accept that some people are givers and some takers, who would you think is most “successful”? Unsurprisingly, the least successful people are givers. But the most successful people are not takers, but also givers. In Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success, Adam Grant explains why this is, and what distinguishes the unsuccessful givers from the successful. My main take-away is a new mental model about why and how to be a giver; but also this idea: if you are a giver — one of the unhealthy kind especially — try playing the role of mentor for yourself, and fight for your own position.

Domain Modeling made Functional by Scott Wlaschin

Domain Modeling Made Functional: Tackle Software Complexity with Domain-Driven Design and F# is a programming book that made statically typed, functional programming click for me in a way I didn’t realise was necessary — much like Sandi Metz’s talks and books did for OOP. It’s not just about programming, it’s about putting domain-driven design in practice. Key take-away is to leverage the type system to write most of your business logic.

12 Rules for Life by Jordan B. Peterson

12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos is, if not necessarily good, at least a though-provoking book. There’s plenty to dislike here, not least of which are its verbosity, pompous style, occasional sweeping statement and bland “take responsibility for your own life” message; but there’s enough in these rules to either nod along to or being outrageously opposed to, making it — if nothing else — a great prism for your own beliefs. Peterson’s second rule, treat yourself like someone you are responsible for helping, stuck with me the most.

  • books
Arjan van der Gaag

Arjan van der Gaag

A thirtysomething software developer, historian and all-round geek. This is his blog about Ruby, Rails, Javascript, Git, CSS, software and the web. Back to all talks and articles?


You cannot leave comments on my site, but you can always tweet questions or comments at me: @avdgaag.