Year 2020 in Book Review

At the start of 2020, I decided to adopt reading as a habit. I opted to start small and set a target to read at least 12 books by the end of the year. I’m glad that I exceeded this target by finishing 18 books in total. Whereas my pIan was to actually read the books, I found that audio books were a good time filler while training, commuting, gardening or doing household chores so when I could not read my book due to my hands being full, I listened to another. Either way, I met my goal and have summarised the books below in the order I read / listened to them.

  1. The Cuckoo’s Egg: Tracking a Spy Through the Maze of Computer Espionage by Stoll Clifford

In God we trust, all others we polygraph

Teejay from The Cuckoo’s Egg

This was easily one of my best reads of the year. I did a separate review and summary of the book here. I highly recommend reading this book and rate it a 5/5.

2. Sandworm: A New Era of Cyberwar and the Hunt for the Kremlin’s Most Dangerous Hackers by Andy Greenberg

There has never been a time like this in which we have the power to create knowledge and the power to create havoc, and both powers rest in the same hands. We live in an age when one person sitting at one computer can come up with an idea, travel through cyberspace, and take humanity to new heights. Yet, someone can sit at the same computer, hack into a computer system and potentially paralyze a company, a city, or a government.

Bill Clinton

Sandworm tells the story of the worlds first full blown cyberwar that was caused by Russian backed hackers. The book is named after the zeroday malware (worm) – Sandworm which targeted several utility companies in Ukraine, US elections France and etc. Whereas I did enjoy the book, I find that the author did try to cover many different attacks in one book and hence sometimes got a little lost. I’d have preferred full accounts of events and not bits and pieces here and there. It is a good read for those in CyberSecurity but is a little heavy for non technical readers. I’d give it a 3.5 rating.

3. Becoming by Michelle Obama

I had nothing or I had everything. It depends on which way you want to tell it

Michelle Obama

Michelle’s autobiography takes us through her journey growing up, how she met Barack Obama and how they ended up in the Whitehouse. Her readers can easily relate as she is rather open about her struggles: lose of her father, trying to conceive, having to drop her career ambitions to support her husband and family, being criticised by the public for her looks and how she carries herself etc. It is an inspiring story and an interesting read rated at 4/5.

4. Daemon by Daniel Suarez

Another great futuristic techno-thriller with a great storyline. It tell’s a story about a billionaire who died and left a legacy in the form of a computer virus capable of destroying anything or anyone that goes against it. Technology lovers will devour this book in a couple of hours. My rating for this book is a 5/5.

5. Humankind: A Hopeful History by Rutger Bregman

This book is based on the premise that “people are good”. It takes an optimistic look at humankind and is a good reminder to think positively and be optimistic. I enjoyed the positivity that it brought especially during this rather difficult year. My rating is a 4/5.

6. The Book of Koli by M.R Carey

This is the first book in a Trilogy. It tells a story about a young boy, Koli who goes against the rule of order in his village. As a result, he has to leave the village and somehow manages to survive with “tech”. I will definitely be reading the followup books. in the trilogy. Rated 4/5.

7. Kingpin: How One Hacker Took Over the Billion-Dollar Cybercrime Underground by Kevin Poulsen

Another great cyber crime and security read. The book tells a story of Max Vision’s underground hacking escapades. It is well written and leaves the reader wanting more. Found myself hating good “Splynter” for locking bad “Iceman” up. What happens after Max gets out? Does he fall back into being a #BlackHat or does FBI leverage his hacking skillsfor the good of all? Rated 5/5.

8. Hacking: The Art of Exploitation by Jon Erickson

My first technical read as was recommended as a must read for those new to hacking. I found it a little difficult as all the examples used C as the programming language but I believe it was worth my time. It is a great book but I do not think it as the first must read hacker book for a newbie. I rated it a 4/5.

9. American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins

Captivating story of the impact of the Mexican mafia on families. Lydia is forced to flee her country with her son Luca after killers killed her husband and family. The book takes us through her journey out of Mexico and describes how they managed to stay alive despite being looked for by the greatest drug lord that she considered a friend. Rated 5/5 and highly recommend reading it.

10. Who Says Elephants Can’t Dance? Inside IBM’s Historic Turnaround by Louis Gerstner Jr.

This book provided a good historical background of IBM, however, I did not like the boastful tone of the book. I believe those who are outside IBM would not have the correct context to enjoy this book. Rated 3/5.

11. Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens

This was a nice summer read about a girl who was abandoned my her family and left to fend for herself. The community ends up turning against her after a boy she briefly “dated” ends up dead. She somehow manages to get out of it and lives to old age. In the end, an interesting discovery is made. Loved the read. Rated 4/5.

12. The Institute by Stephen King

Is there any book written by Stephen King that I did not enjoy? No! This one is a story about a bunch of kids stollen from their parents because they had unique powers (telepathy and telekinesis). It describes what happens to them in the Institute and how Luke somehow manages to save the day. Really fascinating read. Rated 5/5.

13. To Kill the President by Sam Bourne

Read my review of this political book here.

14. The Testaments by Margaret Atwood

I enjoyed the historical account of Gilead as narrated by three different people: Baby Nicole, Agnes and Aunt Lydia. Rated 4/5.

15. Countdown to Zero Day: Student and the Launch of the World’s First Digital Weapon by Kim Zetter

Stuxnet is a historical account of a digital attack launched by Israeli and US government in an effort to sabotage the Iranian Uranium Enrichment Program. We get to learn about the variants of Stuxnet that were used and the impact caused to Iran. Interesting read for those in Cyber Security and relevant to date. I find that the author used a lot of footnotes that was a little distracting, instead of adding that information to the story, hence rated 3/5.

16. Educated by Tara Westover

As a young girl, Tara had a chance of leaving home with her grandma and attend school but she backed down on that at the last minute. We learn of episodes whereby the family is in a car accident brought about by the father forcing them to leave grandma’s at night and drive long hours. Shawn, her brother, acts violently towards her in front of her mother. Luckily, Tyler, a brother she adored while young but who abandoned her, shows up and rescues her. Tyler advises Tara to leave home and go to college if she wants to do anything with her life. This tragic, yet hopeful recount of Tara’s life story is beautifully written and a good read. Rated 4/5.

17. Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo

I forced myself to finish this audio book, however, I cannot say that I enjoyed it. The book describes the lives of different black, British female characters. Rated 3/5.

18. Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones by James Clear

I picked this up on the last day of the year as I had to do some chores and needed a good book to get me by. Am glad I chose this one. A great read on how to easily unlearn bad habits and learn new ones. I plan on grabbing a hard cover and rereading this one again sometime in future. Rated 4/5.

That’s all for 2020. Hoping for bigger and better in 2021!

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