Favourite Books of 2015

These are my favourite books I read in 2015 — that doesn’t necessarily mean they came out this year though I just got around to them in the course of the year. I managed to complete 52 books in the end so there was a decent pool to choose from. It excludes comic books of which I read many more than 52(!) — my favourites of them are over here.

1. The Cartel
Don Winslow

My favourite book of the year but not one for the faint of heart. It is the sequel to ‘Power of the Dog’ though I’m not sure how essential it is to have read that first.

The story of the Mexican drug wars seen through the eyes of a ‘maverick’ DEA agent it sounds like it could be the plot of a straight to video (on demand) movie but Winslow has built on the crazier than fiction reality in Mexico and written a thrilling book.

2. The Martian
Andy Weir

A fantastic book that spawned a wonderful movie. I’d avoided reading this for a while as a combination of the hype and the rather meh description of a ‘Robinson Crusoe on Mars’ elevator pitch had put me off but I’m so glad I got over that. The book reads like a manifesto for additional NASA funding and Weir really does ‘science the shit out of this’ — I have no idea if what he was writing was legitimate science but it felt right.

3. Mr Penumbra’s 24-hour Bookstore
Robin Sloan

This is a strange and unexpected little book that I bought on a whim with no real idea of what it was about. I really don’t know how to describe it — it features quite a gentle quest and the characters are a line-up of Silicon Valley, hipster archetypes with the occasional interloper from Armistead Maupin books yet somehow you can’t help but engage. The underlying friction between analog and digital worlds throughout the novel is something that really engaged me and I was genuinely sorry to finish this book.

4. The Water Knife
Paolo Bacigalupi

I loved ‘The Windup Girl’ Bacigalupi’s debut novel and this follow up was equally fun. He has a real gift for building these post ecological disaster worlds that feel believable and quite terrifying and then he writes genuine page-turner thrillers with empathic characters and just enough sci-fi touches to really draw you in.

5. Little Rice
Clay Shirky

Little Rice is primarily the story of Xiaomi the giant, and yet barely heard of in the West, mobile phone company in China. Shirky uses the story of their rise to frame his arguments about the way businesses are changing and the major role China is going to take in this new economic world order. It is an interesting tale of taking risks, listening to users, experimenting and moving very, very fast. Basically it is ‘lean startup’ at scale and including hardware — fascinating.

6. The Beastie Boys’ Paul’s Boutique (33 1/3)
Dan LeRoy

At the beginning of Goodfellas Henry Hill says

“As far back as I can remember, I always wanted to be a gangster.”

For me it was slightly different — I always wanted to be a Beastie Boy 🙂

This is an amazing book that details the creation of their second album — Paul’s Boutique — a record that at the time was a critical and commercial failure but is now seen as a classic. Given the way they grew up and became respected artists and activists it was a wonderful insight to read such a well researched book about a time where they were just evolving from the drunken pranksters of License to Ill to something different but at this point still undefined.

7. The Phoenix Project: A Novel About IT, DevOps, and Helping Your Business Win
Gene Kim, George Spafford, and Kevin Behr

Such a strange idea for a book and yet so successful. The Phoenix Project is basically an instruction manual for a dev/ops type approach to IT masquerading as a novel. The thing is it really does work as a story and I found myself sucked in to the narrative and empathising with the characters while the lessons of the book sunk in chapter after chapter.

This is one of those books where you almost make a list in your head as your reading it of people you want to give the book to!

8. The Girl With All The Gifts
M. R. Carey

This was another book where the hype almost put me off reading it. It is one of those novels that I really enjoyed but I did think it thought it was smarter than it actually was. The initial ‘reveal’ wasn’t that surprising and the final act feels a little rushed but all-in-all I really enjoyed it. It worked best when the characters were forced to interact in close quarters and the claustrophobia and sense of foreboding of those sections was really great.

9. Work Rules!
Laszlo Block

I spent so much time working on recruitment and team building this year I became a little obsessed and so it is probably not surprising that this book about the Google approach to people and performance was something I enjoyed this year.

Block has written a really compelling guide to how Google operate but I have to be honest I found it more inspirational than directly useful — I just don’t think it addresses the massive advantages Google have had since day one. Not always the same advantages I admit but always pretty major ones. Still it helped to change my mindset around hiring etc — I have adopted a very different approach which is starting to pay off I think.

10. Leviathan Wakes: Book 1 of the Expanse
Caliban’s War: Book 2 of the Expanse
Abaddon’s Gate: Book 3 of the Expanse
Cibola Burn: Book 4 of the Expanse
Nemesis Games: Book 5 of the Expanse
James S. A. Corey

Cheating a fair bit here but I discovered the Expanse series on New Years Day 2015 and then proceeded to read them all — and the associated novellas — this year. To be honest the books have been diminishing in quality as they go along and this years ‘Nemesis Games’ was by far the weakest so far but the first 2 or 3 were wonderful. Space opera at its finest and reminded me of Firefly so there is no greater praise available.

SyFy have adapted it as a TV show and the first few episodes are promising — though it actually suffers a little from trying to be too true to the books — there is so much going on it is hard to engage (unless you already know the story!)

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