2016: the year in books

Back in 2009 I started posting a summary at the end of the year of what I read during the year (see my posts from 200920102011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015) and people have been enjoying it, so here I present the 2016 end-of-year post. I set a moderate goal of 50 books this year but I only managed 45 – the first year since 2009 that I’ve missed my goal – as I spent a bunch of time catching up with my magazine backlog. Next year I’m setting myself a goal of reading 50 books again.

For the record, I read ‘real’ books – i.e. not in electronic form – I don’t like reading off a screen. Yes, I’ve seen electronic readers – we both have iPads – and I’m not interested in ever reading electronically. I also don’t ‘speed read’ – I read quickly and make lots of time for reading.

Why do I track metrics? Because I like doing it, and being able to compare against previous years. Some people don’t understand the logic in that – each to their own :-)

I went back-and-forth over the last few days about which book to nominate as my favorite, and I just couldn’t come to a decision, so just like in most years, I give you my favorite 3 books: Code: The Hidden Language of Computer Hardware and Software by Charles Pretzold, Gardens of the Moon: A Tale of the Malazan Book of the Fallen by Steven Erickson, and The Departure: The Owner: Book One by Neal Asher. All three are superb books (with the last two being the start of series) and I strongly recommend you give them a try. You can read my review of them in the top-10 list below.

Now the details. I enjoy putting this together as it will also serve as a record for me many years from now. I hope you get inspired to try some of these books – push yourself with new authors and very often you’ll be surprisingly pleased. Don’t forget to check out the previous year’s blog posts for more inspiration too.

As usual I leave you with a quote that describes a big part of my psychological make-up:

In omnibus requiem quaesivi, et nusquam inveni nisi in angulo cum libro!

Analysis of What I Read

I read 19,344 pages, or 53.00 pages a day, and a book every 8.1 days or so. The chart below shows the number of pages (y-axis) in each book I read (x-axis).



The average book length was 429 pages, slightly longer than last year but shorter than previous years. That’s because I again read a lot of series books where each isn’t hugely long.

The Top 10

I read a lot of excellent books this year but because I only read 45, I was able to whittle them down to a top-10, unlike previous years. If you don’t read much, at least consider looking at some of these in 2017. It’s impossible to put them into a priority order so I’ve listed them in the order I read them, along with the short Facebook review I wrote at the time.

1 #2; Code: The Hidden Language of Computer Hardware and Software; Charles Petzold; 396pp; Nonfiction; January 14; (This book is really excellent! It’s a very cleverly written introduction and exploration of how computers work at the logic level, and takes the reader from the basics of electricity and binary to the intricacies of memory busses, CPUs, and assembly language. I quickly skimmed the first hundred or so pages until I got to the part about building counters from relays and it started to refresh my memory with things I’d learned back in 1990 when I did my B. Eng (Hons) degree in computer science and electronics in Edinburgh.I read this book as a way to kick start getting back into computer design as I want to build a CPU and computer system out of TTL logic (one of my many, many ‘spare time’ goals). First though, when I get home I’m going to build some logic circuits out of relays – just for the fun of hearing all the little clicks as the relays change state :-)! I highly recommend this book for anyone who wants to know a bit more about how computers work.)

2 #12; The Information: A History, A Theory, A Flood; James Gleick; 544pp; Nonfiction; February 12; (This is an excellent history of the methods of dissemination of information (think printing press, visual telegraph, morse code), and on the creation and development of the various facets of information theory, including quantum computation and genetics. Dense, but very interesting, and highly recommended.)

3 #13; Gardens of the Moon: A Tale of the Malazan Book of the Fallen; Steven Erikson; 752pp; Fantasy Fiction; March 2; (This is the start of a 10-volume, fantasy epic. I picked up the first few to try out and have been enjoying it since I started the first one on the flights home from diving earlier this month. The story is very involved, with magic, immortals, empires, and lots of intrigue and the book throws you right in from page one. All the books are 700-1000+ pages, so a real treat to read. Highly recommended!)

4 #20; SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome; Mary Beard; 606pp; History; May 14; (This is an excellent book for history buffs and anyone interested in ancient Rome. She adroitly covers how Rome developed over its first 1,000 years, clashes between prominent Romans, the rise of the Emperors, the development of political democracy and on into a dictatorial empire, how they treated slaves and women, and much more. I found it hugely readable and not dry in the least, and it’s inspired me to read a bunch of books on Rome and the Romans that I’ve had for a while. Highly recommended!)

5 #22; World Order; Henry Kissinger; 432pp; Nonfiction; June 3; (Kissinger’s excellent disquisition is part history, part survey, and part explanation and I found it immensely interesting. He examines in great detail the Westphalian order (named after the 1648 Treaty of Westphalia that ended the devastating Thirty Years War), where there’s a balance of power between states, and the problems that arise when the balance is disrupted (e.g. both World Wars), along with sections on Europe, Islamism and the Middle East, and Asia and China. Almost 1/3 of the book is dedicated to the history of major U.S. foreign policy since WWI, and all the wars we’ve fought since then to try to maintain order and/or defend a people being wrongly subjugated. He ends with an analysis of how technologies are affecting world order, and a call to action for future policy changes to maintain it. This is the first book of Kissinger’s that I’ve read, and his powerful intellect and clarity of thought are obvious throughout; I have many of his other works and I’m looking forward to reading them too. Hugely recommended!)

6 #23; The End of Alchemy: Money;  Banking;  and the Future of the Global Economy; Mervyn King; 447pp; Nonfiction; June 7; (King was the Governor of the Bank of England from 2003 to 2013, so had a ringside seat of the financial crisis in 2008-9. Rather than being self-aggrandizing or trying to deflect blame, he dispassionately analyzes what he believes led to the crisis: an unwillingness to look beyond liquidity problems to solvency problems, coupled with the alchemy of creating supposed liquid assets (e.g. derivatives based on slices of mortgage loans) from illiquid assets (e.g. sub-prime mortgages). He also explains why the world economy is still in disequilibrium rather than rebounding and presents some interesting ideas for how to change; basically a major reform of the banking sector, including how central banks respond to monetary crises. Unfortunately, it’ll require a multi-country effort to fix the financial problems the world faces – which at present seems unlikely to happen. Along the way King explains a lot about macro- and micro-economic theory and the history of finance over the last 100 years, which in itself makes for a fascinating read. Highly recommended!)

7 #28; Desert Air; George Steinmetz; 380pp; Photography; July 11; (Steinmetz is an aerial photographer who specializes in deserts and this book is a visually stunning collection of photography of major deserts and features in them from across the world. Other books of his I’ve read are African Air and Empty Quarter: A Photographic Journey to the Heart of the Arabian Desert, and I highly recommended all of them.)

8 #31; The Silk Roads: A New History of the World; Peter Frankopan; 645pp; History; August 11; (This is a very interesting book tracing the varied history of the countries along the Silk Road, including empires, explorers, and religions that affected the various routes. A lot of what’s in the book I already knew, but having it all presented in one volume in a chronological sequence was excellent. The last 100 pages or so detailed the quite despicable British and American machinations around the countries in the Middle East for their own (mostly oil-related) gains, to the huge detriment of the native populations, which I felt quite ashamed to read about, being of both nationalities. Highly recommended for history fans!)

9 #36; The Departure: The Owner: Book One; Neal Asher; 412pp; Science Fiction; September 29; (Asher is one of my favorite sci-fi authors and most of his novels are set in his Polity universe. This is the first in a trilogy, set on Earth a hundred years or so in the future, where there’s a single brutal government, and the colony on Mars that’s just been abandoned by Earth. The protagonist wakes up inside a sealed box on a conveyor belt leading to an incinerator and has to figure out his previous life and then start working on revenge. Lots of action, cool machines and robots, futuristic technology and all very fast paced. I can’t wait to read the next two – highly recommended!)

10 #40; Trainspotting; Irvine Welsh; 348pp; Contemporary Fiction; November 21; (This is one of my all-time favorite movies and Kimberly bought me a leather-bound, signed edition of the book for my birthday in July, so I decided to read it again. It jumps straight in to the lives of a handful of degenerate heroin addicts living in Edinburgh (see the prequel book Skagboys for the back-story). It’s a fantastic book, but not for the faint-hearted at all – it’s written in colloquial Scots, littered with four-letter words, and will likely be hard going for most people reading it. However, if you can stomach it, it’s well worth reading for insight into the Edinburgh drug culture of the 1980s and 1990s.)

The Complete List

And the complete list, with links to Amazon so you can explore further. One thing to bear in mind, the dates I finished reading the book don’t mean that I started, for instance, book #2 after finishing book #1. I usually have anywhere from 10-15 books on the go at any one time so I can dip into whatever my mood is for that day. Some books I read start to finish without picking up another one and some books take me over a year. Lots of long airplane flights and boat trips help too!

  1. Path of the Assassin; Brad Thor; 503pp; Contemporary Fiction; January 2
  2. Code: The Hidden Language of Computer Hardware and Software; Charles Petzold; 396pp; Nonfiction; January 14
  3. Sarum: The Novel of England; Edward Rutherford; 1344pp; Historical Fiction; January 16
  4. The Orphan Master’s Son; Adam Johnson; 480pp; Contemporary Fiction; January 20
  5. Desolation Island; Patrick O’Brian; 325pp; Historical Fiction; January 21
  6. The Abominable; Dan Simmons; 663pp; Historical Fiction; January 24
  7. Out of the Flames; Lawrence & Nancy Goldstone; 368pp; History; January 27
  8. The Fortune of War; Patrick O’Brian; 329pp; Historical Fiction; January 28
  9. A Short Guide to a Long Life; David Agus; 190pp; Nonfiction; January 29
  10. The Surgeon’s Mate; Patrick O’Brian; 382pp; Historical Fiction; January 30
  11. The Ionian Mission; Patrick O’Brian; 400pp; Historical Fiction; February 1
  12. The Information: A History, A Theory, A Flood; James Gleick; 544pp; Nonfiction; February 12
  13. Gardens of the Moon: A Tale of the Malazan Book of the Fallen; Steven Erikson; 752pp; Fantasy Fiction; March 2
  14. Soviet Ghosts: The Soviet Union Abandoned: A Communist Empire in Decay; Rebecca Litchfield; 192pp; Photography; March 26
  15. A Death in Vienna; Daniel Silva; 400pp; Contemporary Fiction; March 28
  16. Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand; Helen Simonson; 384pp; Contemporary Fiction; April 12
  17. The Swerve – How the World Became Modern; Stephen Jay Greenblatt; 368pp; History; April 13
  18. The Geography of Genius: A Search for the World’s Most Creative Places from Ancient Athens to Silicon Valley; Eric Weiner; 368pp; Nonfiction; April 26
  19. The Empty Throne; Bernard Cornwell; 296pp; Historical Fiction; May 11
  20. SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome; Mary Beard; 606pp; History; May 14
  21. Monsoon: The Indian Ocean and the Future of American Power; Robert D. Kaplan; 400pp; Nonfiction; May 21
  22. World Order; Henry Kissinger; 432pp; Nonfiction; June 3
  23. The End of Alchemy: Money; Banking; and the Future of the Global Economy; Mervyn King; 447pp; Nonfiction; June 7
  24. The Old Ways: A Journey on Foot; Robert MacFarlan; 448pp; Nonfiction; June 24
  25. Rubicon: The Last Years of the Roman Republic; Tom Holland; 464pp; History; June 27
  26. The Vikings: A History; Robert Ferguson; 464pp; History; July 10
  27. Journey Without Maps; Graham Greene; 272pp; Travel; July 11
  28. Desert Air; George Steinmetz; 380pp; Photography; July 11
  29. Travels with Charley: In Search of America; John Steinbeck; 288pp; Travel; July 13
  30. Treason’s Harbour; Patrick O’Brian; 314pp; Historical Fiction; August 6
  31. The Silk Roads: A New History of the World; Peter Frankopan; 645pp; History; August 11
  32. The Far Side of the World; Patrick O’Brian; 355pp; Historical Fiction; August 12
  33. The Reverse of the Medal; Patrick O’Brian; 269pp; Historical Fiction; August 13
  34. The Letter of Marque; Patrick O’Brian; 287pp; Historical Fiction; August 15
  35. Deadhouse Gates: A Tale of The Malazan Book of the Fallen; Steven Erikson; 959pp; Fantasy Fiction; September 27
  36. The Departure: The Owner: Book One; Neal Asher; 412pp; Science Fiction; September 29
  37. Zero Point: The Owner: Book Two; Neal Asher; 406pp; Science Fiction; October 9
  38. A Burglar’s Guide to the City; Geoff Manaugh; 304pp; Nonfiction; October 13
  39. Jupiter War: The Owner: Book Three; Neal Asher; 356pp; Science Fiction; November 3
  40. Trainspotting; Irvine Welsh; 348pp; Contemporary Fiction; November 21
  41. The Atrocity Archives; Charles Stross; 368pp; Science Fiction; December 5
  42. The Jennifer Morgue; Charles Stross; 416pp; Science Fiction; December 9
  43. The Thirteen-Gun Salute; Patrick O’Brian; 324pp; Historical Fiction; December 17
  44. The Nutmeg of Consolation; Patrick O’Brian; 384pp; Historical Fiction; December 20
  45. The Truelove; Patrick O’Brian; 267pp; Historical Fiction; December 2

7 thoughts on “2016: the year in books

  1. Nice list Paul.
    I am sure you get many recommendations but I will offer one anyway.
    When Computers Went to Sea: The Digitization of the United States Navy by David Boslaugh

    This book was particularly interesting to me because my last commanding officer in the US Navy, was an Ensign on board one of the ships involved in this project. At the time he was assigned as an Air Intercept Controller.

    The book is a mix of technical detail, project engineering/management, history, and personalities.
    Always enjoy you book list. I think SPQR, the Petzold, and the Kissinger are going on my list :)

  2. I’m about 160 pages into “Code” and am getting bogged down a bit. (I studied Philosophy at college so I don’t really have any CS/EE background.) I’ve really enjoyed it so far, but am feeling discouraged. Does one need to understand all of the details in these early chapters in order for subsequent chapters to be meaningful?


  3. A well researched history is The Imperial Cruise: A Secret History of Empire and War by James Bradley. I recommend it but caution you that parts of it can make you angry at just how foolish people can be.

  4. Thanks for the list, Paul. I have enjoyed most of the books you recommended and have therefore made your annual list a reference when I wanted to add a new book to mine. Out of curiosity, where do you mostly get the recommendations for the books you read?

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