Posted on December 16, 2019 by Noon van der Silk | Back to recent posts

2019 Books

Tags: thoughts, books

Last year I put together a list of the books that I read. I thought I’d keep the tradition going this year.

So, here we go, the books that I finished this year, in no particular order.


On Fire: The Case for the Green New Deal by Klein, Naomi

Amazing. I had never read anything by Naomi Klein before, which I now realise is a mistake. She’s awesome, and this book is very inspiring. Can’t say enough good things about it. Read it now!

Finding the Heart of the Nation - The Journey of the Uluru Statement towards Voice, Treaty and Truth by Mayor, Thomas

Thoughtful, well-written and a very interesting read. I’m taking my time with this one; and am still reading it, but it’s nice to let the stories settle in your mind. This book is about the journey towards creating the Uluru Statement From The Heart, and a subsequent journey of taking the statement around Australia, and talking with people about what it means to them, and what their life and experience has been.

I’ve learned a significant amount of history from this book that I’d never been exposed to before. I like this book so much it’s permanently linked in the footer of this website.

The Age of Surveillance Capitalism: The Fight for a Human Future at the New Frontier of Power by Zuboff, Shoshana

Incredible book. Amazingly well-researched, and highlights many issues that have bothered me for many years, but I’ve never been able to express well. It’s a huge read, but absolutely worth your time. Highly recommended to anyone working in AI or with data and people.

Community and Privacy: Toward a New Architecture of Humanism by Chermayeff, Serge

A weird one, but good if you’re a fan of the work of Christopher Alexander and collaborators. I got a lot out of this, in terms of how to think about the relationships between “a list of tasks” and “a coherent grouping of those tasks into an atomic item”, but that’s an idea for another blog post.

Refugee Rights and Policy Wrongs: A frank, up-to-date guide by experts by Chong, Fiona

Great, and informative, and of course infuriating. I learned a lot about the policy around refugess, and just how unfair it is.

The Power Of Hope by Karapanagiotidis, Kon

Interesting read. Read this after visiting the ASRC a few months ago. I’m always inspired by people that dedicated their lives to helping people so fully.

Gut: The Inside Story of Our Body’s Most Underrated Organ by Enders, Giulia

Not bad. Has some practical advice and thoughts on gut health and bacteria.

How Powerful We Are: Behind the scenes with one of Australia’s leading activists by Rugg, Sally

Interesting behind-the-scenes view into the politics and campaigning around marriage equality. I think it’s always aggravatingly frustrating to hear what happens around these campaigns, but nice to know that there are good and thoughtful people involved.

The Tao of Leadership: Lao Tzu’s Tao Te Ching Adapted for a New Age by Heider, John

Not bad; very quick read, I kind of like things like this, but only insofaras it agress with a lot of the other buddhism books I’ve been reading.

Trick Mirror: Reflections on Self-Delusion by Tolentino, Jia

Not bad. This was one of the books we picked up at the Broadside festival. It’s a nice collection of topical essays.

Thick: And Other Essays by Cottom, Tressie McMillan

Personally, I found most of these essays hard to relate to, but at least it was interesting to get a viewpoint that I don’t normally never have access to.

The Seven Necessary Sins for Women and Girls by Eltahawy, Mona

Amazing book, and again you should read this now! Mona has a very powerful viewpoint and message, and I like the way she communicates.

Sand Talk: How Indigenous Thinking Can Save the World by Yunkaporta, Tyson

I found this one quirky, controversial, and a bit interesting. He makes some interesting points, and overall I think it’s a useful read, but it might be a bit too strange for a lot of people.

Permanent Record by Snowden, Edward

This book is very “american”, but I didn’t mind, and I find it very interesting to think of the kind of decisions Snowden had to make, and in effect making a moral decision that cost him his freedom. Worth reading.

No Friend But the Mountains: Writing from Manus Prison by Boochani, Behrouz

Really an amazing read. It blew my mind to learn that he wasn’t free at the time the book is published. This is really fascinating for what it reveals, and also the style of writing, combined with poetry, that I found really interesting.

Solitary by Woodfox, Albert

I read this immediately following No Friend But the Mountains, and as a result it was a bit interesting. No Friend has a distinc style, and this one doesn’t, but this was a very revealing story for the kind of mistreatment that black people have suffered in America, and especially as it relates to the Black Panthers. Worth reading.

Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup by Carreyrou, John

I was just shocked basically the whole time I read this book. I’m amazed (kind of) that this company survived for so long. The main thing I learned from this book was to watch out for the fact that just because people you trust are on the Board of Directors, don’t trust the company! Maybe they are paid, or maybe they don’t know all the details. Horrible company. Worth reading.

Milk and Honey by Kaur, Rupi

Poetry never used to be my thing, but this isn’t bad reading.

After Piketty: The Agenda for Economics and Inequality by Boushey, Heather

This is a collection of essays reacting to the ideas presented in a recent famous book in economics by Thomas Piketty. I haven’t read the original book, Capitalism in the Twenty-First Century, so I was not sure how I’d find this one. In the end, I only made it part the way through. I think a few of the articles were interesting, but a lot of it seemed to be kind of in-fighting between other economists who wanted their ideas heard of Piketty. Might be worth a glance for the hard-core economics fan, but I’m not sure I’ll ever finish it.

Start Where You Are: A Guide to Compassionate Living by Chödrön, Pema

I really love this book, and all others by Pema. She has great thoughts on how to convert pain and suffering into tools for personal growth.

White Tears/Brown Scars by Hamad, Ruby

Amazing reading. In this book Ruby tackles the difficult topic of racism within feminism. Very much in line with the book of Mona; I got a quite a lot out of this book.

A City is Not a Tree by Alexander, Christopher W.

A short, quirky one. Someone at a meetup I went to early in the year recommended it to me. Probably only worth reading from Christopher Alexander fans.

So You Want to Talk About Race by Oluo, Ijeoma

Pretty good. This was assigned as part of a book club at OC House. I enjoyed it, and it has some useful tools for those who want to be able to talk confidently about race and racism.

Invisible Women: Data Bias in a World Designed for Men by Criado-Pérez, Caroline

Amazing reading. Very relevant for the world of machine learning and AI. In particular this made me think a lot about when it’s appropriate to gather “sex-disaggregated” data (i.e. recording sex, or ignoring it). If you’re working in AI, definitely worth reading.

When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times by Chödrön, Pema

My favourite Pema Chödrön book, and suitable for every day life. I’ve lent this one to a friend, and I can’t wait to have it back so I can read it again!

Notes on the Synthesis of Form by Alexander, Christopher W.

A cult classic among Christopher Alexander enthusiasts. It’s kind of hard reading, but it has a key point about abstraction and design and complexity that is really interesting, that I’m stilling trying to make sense of in my head.

Arctic Dreams and Horizon by Lopez, Barry

I loved these books, and found them incredibly inspiring. They both convey the idea and importantance of indigenous and local knowledge, and the search for meaning in place. Very poetically written.

Old Path White Clouds: Walking in the Footsteps of the Buddha by Thích Nhất Hạnh

A very solid book, only for those really interested in the story of the Buddha. I found this book interesting and amusing. It’s funny to me to see the Buddha presented as a kind of “genius child” good at sports and thinking and sword-fighting. Despite that, I got a lot out of this book.

Debt: The First 5,000 Years by Graeber, David

Another one that was assigned by the OC House reading group. I found it odd, but also quite fascinating. It covers the origin of money, and the idea of “the myth of barter”, which I believed myself, before reading this book.

Brave by McGowan, Rose

Interesting and disturbing to read about Rose’s life, and the abuse she suffered in Hollywood. She’s an interesting person, and is just interested in making things better for people coming after her.

She Said: Breaking the Sexual Harassment Story That Helped Ignite a Movement by Kantor, Jodi and Twohey, Megan

Covers the story of Harvey Weinstein, and also Brett Kavanaugh, and the lives of the women that brought up claims against them. I couldn’t put this one down. It was quite shocking to learn of all the confidential pay-offs made in order to silence the victims, and the basically criminal compnents of those agreements which prevents people from ever speaking out. It’s also totally astounding to learn of the terrible people that work with these abusers to cover up their behaviour. It’s actually some of the same laywers that were involved in the Bad Blood story!

Ultimately, shows the power of speaking up, as a group, but also the risks and difficultities of coming to such a decision.

Catch and Kill: Lies, Spies, and a Conspiracy to Protect Predators by Farrow, Ronan

Also covers Harvey Weinstein, but also Matt Lauer and (briefly) Trump. I read this following the “She Said” book. Both are good, and really demonstrate the completely horrible environment that was, and probably still is, present in many of these entertainment companies, and again the power of collective action and of investigative journalism in general.

The Guilty Feminist: From Our Noble Goals to Our Worst Hypocrisies by Frances-white, Deborah

Funny and enjoyable reading. I definitely have my own guilty feminist moments.

Falter: Has the Human Game Begun to Play Itself Out? by McKibben, Bill

I started reading this one because I found out that some of the team were based in my co-working space at OC House. It’s about climate change, but also covers a few other technologies that seek to fundamentally change what it means to be human. I found his coverage of AI to be a bit weak; but I think it’s always hard to be an expert in so many fields, when you try and make such broad-reaching statements. Overall, I found it good, but I’d recommend “On Fire”, over this one, if you’re looking for optimisim.

One of the interesting points I take away from this is his comment that nonviolent campaigning is an important “technology” that we should harness. I really like this idea. And, of course, we should use solar panels everywhere!

The Snow Leopard by Matthiessen, Peter

I picked this one up from the local bookstore in North Melbourne on a whim. I’ve not read many classics, but this one seemed interesting in that it combines my (new) love of travel writing and buddhist-style books. I really enjoyed this book, despite it being a bit dated. It’s especially cool to go and look up the places that they travelled on and see pictures!

Well worth reading, especially if you’re into other peoples journeys into Buddhism.


The Hate U Give by Thomas, Angie

Really great story. Loved it.

Magician (The Riftwar Saga, #1-2) by Feist, Raymond E.

A classic that I’d never read. Not bad.

The Final Empire (Mistborn, #1), The Well of Ascension (Mistborn, #2), and The Hero of Ages (Mistborn, #3) by Sanderson, Brandon

Actually quite enjoyable. Would definitely recommend.

New Spring (Wheel of Time, #0) by Jordan, Robert

The Wheel of Time series were the first books I ever read, as an adult, so they have a special place in my heart, even though the books are a bit dated now. I enjoyed this simple prequel.

Elantris by Sanderson, Brandon

Simple, but enjoyable, stand-alone story.

Redshirts by Scalzi, John

Wasn’t a big fan of this one. The idea was good, but the book itself was quite sexist, and ultimately a bit boring.

Snapshot by Sanderson, Brandon

Not bad, but not amazing. I think there was just a cute idea here, that was explored in an interesting way.

The City in the Middle of the Night by Anders, Charlie Jane

I quite liked this one, it was definitely unique, as the reviews say.