Deborah Hanus

Some of my favorite books - 2017 edition

Partway through 2017, I set a goal of reading for an hour per day. While some were more engaging than others, all of them were good. In this post, I share the list of books I read and a short description of what I got from each book.

Phenomenally good books

If you have not read these books, you should. Each one either changed how I thought about an issue, or helped me clarify my own thoughts on the topic.

Weapons of Math Destruction by Cathy O’Neil

This is easy to read, but clearly outlines the problems associated with thinking of algorithms as “impartial”. I would highly recommend this book to anyone who wants to easily understand some of the ways that well-intended algorithms can go wrong.

What Works: Gender Equality by Design by Iris Bohnet

This is a slow read that is probably easiest read in small sections. However, it is written by someone who has spent years studying gender inequality, and unlike most writing on the topic, which concludes something like “this is a hard problem”, each chapter is packed with thoughtful, actionable insights that people can use to design systems and workplaces that encourage gender equality.

Unlocking the Clubhouse by Jane Margolis & Allen Fisher

I actually read this one for the second time in 2017, but I had ot include it. It is written by two professors, who tried to get to the bottom of why there are so few women in computer science. For me, reading this gave me a framework that allowed me to see a lot of the uncomfortable situations I sometimes experience as a symptom of a larger, fixable social problem.

Nonviolent Communication by Marshall Rosenberg

This reads like a self-help book in that it has a few key ideas, and it gives more examples than necessary for you to understand the concept. That said, the ideas introduced if implemented can be absolutely life changing. The book tries to provide a framework for developing an understanding of what people are feeling and perceiving, rather than what they are saying.

Really good books

If any of these books look interesting to you, you should read them, because you will almost certainly enjoy reading them. If they do not look interesting to you, you can probably still manage to be a functional human being without reading them.

Everybody Lies by Seth Stephens-Davidowitz

This book taught me a lot about how people interact with Google. As alluded to by the title, it also used data analysis to reveal some interesting quirks about society.

What Happened by Hillary Rodham Clinton and Reset by Ellen Pao

When I read leadership books, I feel that I need to read them somewhat skeptically. Leadership books usually claim some theory based on some observations of people in leadership positions, and after finsihing them, I usually find myself thinking ‘Given X well-studied gender-based bias, I’m really not sure this advice would work for a woman.’ Unfortunately, there are not yet enough women leading large teams to write the data-based leadership books that I would love to see, so in the meantime, learning about the experiences (successes and failures) of women in leadership positions is the best proxy we have.

Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance

This book insightfully describes one family from the appalachians and the economic and social challenges they faced. The story was extraordinarily well told, and I was impressed with how clearly the author described complex emotional situations that people often struggle to convey well.

Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson

This book is written by the founder of the Equal Justice Initiative, a lawyer who represented many people assigned to death row. I highly recommend this story to anyone who believes that the legal system works (or even that it mostly works).

Option B by Sheryl Sandberg & Adam Grant

Option B discusses the importance of resilience in the context of Shery Sandberg’s experience processing her grief associated with the loss of her husband. If you are not familiar with a lot of the big ideas around resilience, this book is an interesting and palatable way to (a) learn about resilience, and (b) better empathize and support people who are processing grief.

Balls by Chris Edwards

This was an informative and entertaining story about one trans-man’s journey to coming out, transitioning, and building a successful career in advertising in Boston. While this is just one person’s story, it could be a valuable read for anyone who wants to understand some challenges facing transgender individuals, so they can be more inclusive.

Entertaining books

These were not in my usual reading repertoire, but both were hilarious and enlightening stories written by very funny people about their lives.

Born a Crime by Trevor Noah

Is everyone hanging out without me? by Mindy Kaling

Otherwise informative books

This was a mix of leadership books, non-fiction, and others that did not fit into a particular genre.

Zingerman’s guide to giving great service by Ari Weinzweig

This was a surprisingly engaging manifesto on how to provide great customer service. I learned a lot in the couple hours that it took me to read it.

The Achievement Habit by Bernard Roth

This was a sort of ‘find yourself and what you care about’ book that contained some interesting ideas.

The No Asshole Rule by Robert Sutton

This was useful in that it defined several ways that someone can be not nice to deal with, inlcuding some of the more insiduious ways. As with many leadership books, I found it a bit repetitive, but the ideas were worth thinking about.

Hatching Twitter by Nick Bilton

This was an interesting telling of the history of Twitter that read like a novel.