My favorite books of 2017

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The Apprentice: My Life in the Kitchen, Jacques Pépin

Jacques Pépin retired in 2016, and I learned about him after the fact from an article in Slate. Watching him work is mesmerizing, so I checked out some of his cookbooks and his masterpiece, Technique. I also stumbled across his autobiography in the library. By itself, The Apprentice might not rate a pick as one of the best books I read last year, but it stands in for Pépin's body of work. What I like most Pépin is how unpretentious he is. He is one of the last generation to rise up through the apprentice system in France. He came to America at the right time an place to be introduced to James Beard and Julia Child. After a terrible car crash, he refocused on teaching. His story is inspiring, and the book includes some great recipes, too.

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Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right, Arlie Russell Hochschild

Hochschild is a sociologist at UC Berkeley who spent five years studying the Tea Party in Louisiana through the lens of environmentalism. Louisianans of all political affiliations cherish outdoor activities and sports, but the state is one of the most polluted in the country. In her time there, she became friends with many conservatives and tried to understand their sense of fatalism about the inevitability of environmental destruction. She was at the right place at the right time to catch the start of Donald Trump's rise. She explains the appeal of conservative resentment through what she calls a "Deep Story": people who have been patiently waiting in line for their chance at the American Dream are being pushed back by line cutters -- minorities, immigrants, women -- led by the Line Cutter in Chief, Barack Obama. This Deep Story makes sense to me, though I found her attempt to express the liberal Deep Story less compelling.

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Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA, Tim Weiner

This is a book about how the CIA has over-promised and under-delivered, going to great lengths to hide their screwups from the American people. Even their so-called successes have had wide-ranging negative side effects. Again and again, presidents have called on the CIA to solve foreign problems quietly, and the CIA has messed up. Reading this book was eye-opening, because in the countries where the CIA operates, its interference is common knowledge, but at home, people are generally ignorant.

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You & a Bike & a Road, Eleanor Davis

Cartoonist Eleanor Davis's journal of her cross-country bike tour. Sparse and beautiful, this book captures the small moments of riding and the people she met along the way.

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Designing Data-Intensive Applications: The Big Ideas Behind Reliable, Scalable, and Maintainable Systems, Martin Kleppmann

I don't read a lot of tech books any more. However, I made an exception for this book after watching a few of Kleppmann's conference talks. I wish I could have read it early in my career. It would have saved me a lot of pain. Kleppmann surveys the entire field of data storage and distributed systems including data models and query languages, data storage, serialization, transactions, partitioning, consensus, and batch and stream processing. If you work on anything related to data storage, this is a must-read.

My full list of books from 2017 is below. You can also review lists from previous years: 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010 (retroactive favorites), 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, and 2016.

The Apprentice: My Life in the Kitchen, Jacques Pépin

The Left Hand of Darkness, Ursula K. Le Guin

Unfinished Business, Anne-Marie Slaughter

The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine, Michael Lewis

The Reactionary Mind: Conservatism from Edmund Burke to Sarah Palin, Corey Robin

Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right, Arlie Russell Hochschild

The Corporation Wars: Dissidence, Ken MacLeod

The Corporation Wars: Insurgence, Ken MacLeod

Rhinoceros, Eugene Ionesco

Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World, Haruki Murakami

Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA, Tim Weiner

Lovecraft Country, Matt Ruff

My Life on the Road, Gloria Steinem

Al Franken: Giant of the Senate, Al Franken

The Awkward Thoughts of W. Kamau Bell: Tales of 6'4", African American, Hetrosexual, Cisgender, Left-Leaning, Asthmatic, Black and Proud Blerd, Mama's Boy, Dad, and Stand-Up Comedian, W. Kamau Bell

You & a Bike & a Road, Eleanor Davis

The Cold Between, Elizabeth Bonesteel

Empire Games, Charles Stross

Protector, Larry Niven

The Kill Artist, Daniel Silva

Soonish: Emerging Technologies That'll Improve and/or Ruin Everything, Zach Weinersmith and Kelly Weinersmith

Why Liberals Win the Culture Wars (Even When they Lose Elections), Stephen Prothero

Between the World and Me, Ta-Nehisi Coates

On Stranger Tides, Tim Powers

Designing Data-Intensive Applications: The Big Ideas Behind Reliable, Scalable, and Maintainable Systems, Martin Kleppmann