Reading: 2020

I didn’t start keeping a list until the last few months of 2020.

Networking for System Administrators

Author: Michael W. Lucas
Published: 2014
Length: 186 p., with index

On page 4, Networking for System Administrators itself asks and answers the question, “Who should read this book?”

Every sysadmin, database admin, web admin, developer, and computing professional should understand the basic principles of networking. This books grounds you in modern TCP/IP without demanding a month’s dedicated study. Understanding the network will empower you to identify the real source of problems, solve your own problems more quickly, and make better requests of your team members.

Amen. To this I would also add specifically: if you work in technical support, whether as part of a general support desk or as product support for software that works on the network, the same applies to you.

This was a reread to refresh my knowledge. When I was managing tech support reps, I bought—out of my own personal funds—a copy of this for each new hire under me. It was money very well spent.

In addition, for those working in IT or with technology generally, I cannot recommend Michael W. Lucas highly enough. If you need to know about a topic he has written about, you should definitely buy the book. The only problem is that he hasn’t written about absolutely everything.

5/5 (for the target audience)

The Power and the Glory

Author: Graham Greene
Published: 1940
Length: 225 p.

I bought a copy of The Power and the Glory because it’s the first entry on the Ancient Faith Book Club’s list. I later discovered we already had a copy, apparently received as a discard from my brother-in-law. Oh, well.

I found this somewhat of a slog. The Penguin Classics edition I bought, linked above, has an introduction by John Updike that, frankly, I found more enjoyable and interesting than the book itself. The setting didn’t grab me, the whisky priest mostly bored me, and the plot proceeded predictably and exactly like I expected. I didn’t hate it, really, but if I hadn’t set myself the book club’s list as a goal, I’m not sure I would have finished it. As it was, it took me two tries. I almost certainly won’t reread it.

That may just have been me, though. The back cover notes that Time magazine called The Power and the Glory “one of the 100 best novels of the twentieth century,” so clearly it has its admirers. I did enjoy the podcast episode about it.



Author: Frank Herbert
Published: 1965
Length: 533 p.

I first read Dune in middle school. I think it was recommended by the father of a classmate who lived in our neighborhood. I remember being surprised that here was an adult who liked science fiction! Obviously, I came to discover that many, many people like science fiction, but at the time, this was a new experience.

Since then, I’ve reread it multiple times, and it’s an easy read. For me, one of the most important—I’m tempted to say the only important—criteria in judging a book is how well it rewards a reread. The story is well trodden, but it’s so tightly written I never find myself thinking “Get to the point!” like I do occasionally with other books.

Every review I’ve read talks about how well Dune does world-building, and I agree. Most reviews also recommend not reading the sequels (or the prequels written after Herbert’s death by his son and another writer), and I agree with this as well. Russ Allbery captures why quite accurately in his review from 2012:

Human history is fractal: any specific detail can be examined in more depth and will usually lead (provided that information is available at all) to even more fascinating detail. The best world building conveys that impression of depth. That’s what Herbert achieves here with hints, notes, and asides: the sense that galactic history is a vast ediface with the same fractal complexity as real human history. It makes for a compelling background, but it also inspires people to dig into that background and flesh out all of the details the way that we do with human history. But this doesn’t actually work; invented history created by one person simply cannot be fractal in the same way. Human history is endlessly complex because it was generated by the complex interactions of many people. Invented history is an illusion that hints at complexity by building the same surface, but one mind, or even a small number of minds, cannot generate the same depth. The result is that if one digs too deep, one removes that convincing surface and ends up with a mundane, simplistic, and unsatisfyingly fake set of events.

I think that’s what’s happened with all of the supporting material that’s been written around Dune since its original publication. Dune is of a piece, a single story that’s deeply enjoyable on its own terms and leaves the reader with a satisfying impression of complexity. The systemic excavation of that complexity lessens it and reveals too much of the illusion. Yes, I want to know more about the Butlerian Jihad, but that’s the point: the wanting is the sign of succesful crafting of imagined history. Reading the definitive account is more likely to leave me unsatisfied than to lead to the recursive curiosity that human history can create.

The sequels to Dune written by Herbert himself are, for me, another matter. Some reviewers level the same criticism at them: that Herbert dives too far into background best left unexplored. But they have the advantage of moving forward, telling more of the story set off by Paul, and the end of Dune is a clear setup for a sequel. One of Paul’s goals throughout most of the book has been left unaccomplished. I don’t think Herbert dove too deep into his creation; rather, my problem with his sequels (all of which I’ve read, although it’s been some years now) is that he took the story in a direction that I actively disliked and found painful to read.

Apologies for the long quote, but I completely agree here, and why reinvent the wheel? (The whole review is worth reading.)

I’ve linked to a fancy edition above, but if you don’t want to spend $140, there is of course a more workaday edition as well.


Other Books

  • The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch by Philip K. Dick
  • The Birth of Britain by Winston Churchill
  • A Mathematician’s Apology by G.H. Hardy