Book Notes

Short reviews of books I've read. I'll continue updating this list so be sure to check back for more.

No Rules Rules: Netflix and the Culture of Reinvention


An excellent look inside the culture at Netflix and how they operate. Most of the ideas here can be seen as controversial but Reed and Erin do a good job adding context about why they work at Netflix.

An Elegant Puzzle: Systems of Engineering Management


While some of the advice here may be more applicable to those at larger companies (100+ employees) it still consistently hit upon relevant topics. I think this will be good to keep as reference to frequently look back on.

So Good They Can't Ignore You


Cal Newport tackles the common advice of "follow your passion" and instead looks into how passion can also come from hard work. It's a good read although it mostly relies on a series of stories about people whose careers have followed this particular approach without many other details.

Second Nature: A Gardener's Education


A good book contemplating gardening and digging into things such as balancing structure with letting nature take over. It had a more American focus than I expected but at the same time it was interesting to hear about that perspective of gardening.

The Art of Learning: A Journey in the Pursuit of Excellence


A fascinating story of how Josh Waitzkin mastered both chess and Tai Chi. I've always enjoyed learning about the similarities of such different disciplines and Josh does a great job highlighting how much his chess career helped him in Tai Chi.

Project Hail Mary


If you were a fan of The Martian you'll love Project Hail Mary as well. The Martian was one of my favourite books but I was less of a fan of Andy Weir's next book Artemis. This is right back on the level of The Martian. While the story-line sounds similar from the description but it's got a lot of fun new concepts which I won't spoil here.

The Midnight Library


I thought The Midnight Library was an enjoyable read, it's a unique idea and well written. I did find it was a very predictable book but that didn't bother me too much. Matt Haig does a good job writing about a lot of tough mental health issues.

You Look Like a Thing and I Love You


This was a fun book. It's a great way to familiarize yourself with a lot of the basic algorithms used in artificial intelligence. The examples do a good job of highlighting areas where AI is excellent at it's job and areas where it struggles.

Digital Minimalism


I preferred Cal Newport's other book Deep Work overall but Digital Minimalism is definitely a good read if your trying to cut down on your digital usage. I liked the concept of picking active work (fixing things around the house) each week to replace the time spent online.

How to Avoid a Climate Disaster


Bill Gates does an excellent job clearly explaining the many issues surrounding climate change. This is a great source of information if you want to get up to speed about both the biggest problems and the people and ideas trying to fix them.

The Compound Effect


While this wasn't my favourite book you can definitely tell it's the source so many others have built upon. Hardy has some good concepts but it's almost hilarious how terribly every person used as an example has progressed since this was written.

Elon Musk


This was a really fascinating dive into Elon Musk's career. It's particularly interesting to read about things that were far out goals when this book was released that have now been accomplished. Ashlee Vance also did a good job capturing Elon's personality and didn't hide some of the more negative attributes which helped keep the book well balanced.



One of the best books I've read on both business and education. Range does an excellent job explaining why generalists are becoming more important in a specialized world. Specialists are still important but innovation comes more often from crossing disciplines.

It Doesn't Have to Be Crazy at Work


A good follow up to Rework diving into the importance of work life balance. It explains how Basecamp runs their business and has lots of practical tips you can apply to your own business.

The Alchemist


A fable about the importance of following your dreams. While enjoyable I kept expecting the story to go deeper and felt like it never got there. A simple and predictable story overall.

Deep Work


Deep Work does an incredible job explaining why focus is becoming such a huge advantage as people become more distracted online. Cultivating frequent deep and focused work can lead to enormous learning and productivity gains.

Leonardo da Vinci


This is a truly captivating biography of Leonardo da Vinci. I had no idea that so many of his notebooks remain intact allowing for a thorough look into his life. The breadth and curiosity shown in his work are incredible. A reminder for everyone to stay curious in their own life.

The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck


While it does contain some good points I didn't love the writing style in this one. It came across over the top to attract more readers and Mark Manson's life was fairly unrelatable to me. A good message about needing to focus your energy on things that matter though.

Life 3.0


A fantastic exploration of artificial intelligence and some of the possible outcomes both good and bad. It does a good job introducing a lot of the areas that are being researched and why they're important.

The Wise Man's Fear


This is an excellent follow-up to the first book. The series has become one of my favourites. Patrick Rothfuss creates such an incredible world that's easy to get lost in.



This is a fairy tale for adults. It's a fun concept and showcases Neil Gaiman's creativity. A nice change of pace after reading a lot of non-fiction.

Hell Yeah or No: what's worth doing


A short but insightful read. This is probably one of the books I'll come back to reference the most. Derek is really good at talking about problems that come up in day to day decision making.

Company of One: Why Staying Small Is the Next Big Thing for Business


Company of One contains a lot of excellent ideas but the format of the book wasn't my favourite. It largely presents an idea then gives a couple of short examples of people or businesses that have used that idea. I think I would have preferred either deeper dives into the examples or including less of them for a shorter book.

Humble Pi: A Comedy of Maths Errors


This is an entertaining book covering lots of examples of where math has gone wrong. You can tell how enthusiastic Matt Parker is at digging into these stories which makes it a fun read. Also a good cautionary tale of how simple mistakes can have a huge impact.

Your Music and People: creative and considerate fame


This book is worth a read even if you aren't making music. It's one of the best books I've ever read on marketing and building a career. Lots of quick and actionable insights.

Stillness Is the Key


Ryan Holiday shows the importance of stillness through the lives of famous subjects. I enjoyed these stories which were both examples of mastery and failure. This book also provided introductions to some philosophers I've heard of but didn't know much about.

Purple Cow: Transform Your Business by Being Remarkable


While lots of the examples are outdated the advice Seth Godin gives still seems relevant. It's actually quite fascinating to see which of the example companies have done well and which have gone downhill since this was written.

Anything You Want


I've heard various pieces of Derek Sivers' story from his website and various interviews. Anything You Want does a great job bringing a lot of those stories together in a short but thoughtful format. It's a very quick read and I suspect I'll come back to it frequently for it's wonderful unconventional advice.

The Mind's Eye


There are lots of fascinating accounts of how the brain and eyes interact from both patients and Dr. Sacks. It's amazing how differently people perceive the world around them and adapt to each situation. Sometimes Dr. Sacks' own accounts go into more detail than I felt was necessary making the second half of the book slower to read.

Let My People Go Surfing


Fun to hear the origins of Patagonia and all the stories around the early days. Also lots of advice from continuing to grow the company. Yvon Chouinard cares deeply about sticking to your principles, and minimizing environmental impact.

Every Tool's a Hammer: Life Is What You Make It


A wonderful combination of maker stories and practical tips. Every Tool's a Hammer is incredibly inspirational and relatable to anyone who likes to make things of any sort. Adam's career has been a fascinating journey and he shares a ton of wisdom he's gathered along the way.

Atomic Habits


There are lots of actionable pointers in this one. James Clear does a great job of layering existing ideas together into an insightful system for building habits. Atomic Habits strikes a good balance of anecdotes and instructions as not to feel off topic or too much like a textbook.

The Graveyard Book


Another imaginative and thoroughly enjoyable Neil Gaiman book. I listened to the audiobook version and Gaiman does an excellent job narrating this one.

Anansi Boys


Neil Gaiman blends reality and myth into a fascinating world. While I didn't enjoy the story quite as much as Neverwhere it was still an incredibly fun book to read.

The Name Of The Wind


It's been a while since I've gotten into a series but after this excellent start I'm looking forward to diving into the rest of these books. The Name Of The Wind is well written and filled with unique characters and ideas.



The brilliance of Andy Weir's writing is his ability to create elaborate and technically detailed settings. While this remains consistent from his previous book The Martian I found the characters in this story didn't fit into that environment nearly as well. Even though the characters weren't my favourite this was still a good quick read.

Ready Player One


Packed with 80's gaming references Ready Player One is a fun adventure to read. Even without a complete knowledge of all the references the detailed descriptions are enough to make it entertaining. While it offers a rather extreme version of the future there are a surprising number of eerie similarities to current trends.

Code to Zero


A decent story and well written but I felt very little connection to the characters. While overall an enjoyable read I found it was an easy book to put down and forget about.



Quick to read, Rework is a compilation of short essays rather than one long story. While it contains little new information it serves of an excellent reminder of what to strive for in business and how to get there. For those who would like a preview lots of similar content can be found on Signal v. Noise, one of my favourite blogs.

The Martian


This is one of my all time favourite fiction books. I picked up the Martian a week before the movie was released planning on reading it before watching the movie. It only took 3 days to finish the book which is highly unsual as I tend to read slowly. The Martian wasn't afraid to dive into technical detail but always remained highly entertaining.



I read Neverwhere after a very long break from fiction and it proved to be an excellent reminder of how great fiction can be. Neil Gaiman creates a world that's vivid and imaginative allowing you to quickly feel a part of the story. A great book to get lost in after a busy day.

The 4-Hour Work Week


Once you get past the sales pitch style portrayed by its title the Four Hour Work Week is packed with valuable lessons. It's not about working less but about maximizing your time and designing the lifestyle you want. This is a great book to demonstrate that the common path in life and business is not always the right path.

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