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Books I've read in 2023

Keeping up with the tradition, here are the books I’ve read in 2023.

Enrico Fermi

by David N. Schwartz

Enrico Fermi was without any doubt one of the top physicists ever. This book describes his life: infancy, scientific discoveries, teaching, Manhattan Project and tragic death.

A couple of notes, in no particular order:

  • I didn’t know the role of Orso Maria Corbino in Fermi’s career. Recognizing the kid was way more talented than himself, Corbino tried to open every door he could for Fermi to shine. He could have been envious, or he could have tried to hinder Fermi’s career - like many older physicists did. And Corbino benefited himself greatly from his attitude: this is just your friendly reminder that recognizing people better than you and doing what you can to help them can pay off.
  • Think whatever you want of immigration, but basically every scientist that took part in the Manhattan Project was either an immigrant himself or had immigrant parents.
  • Fermi would halt work for lunch at any cost, even during the critical phases of testing the first nuclear reactor. If you have ever worked with me, you know that I hardly ever skip lunch: I feel much better about it now. “If Fermi could make time for lunch, so can I” will be my go-to response to those of you who like to skip it.

Overall, a very enjoyable read.

Growing a business

by Paul Hawken

I don’t remember where I got this book recommendation. It might have been mentioned on of Peldi’s talks. Granted, some things don’t feel that relatable - the book dates back to the 80s after all - but it’s still interesting.

One passage was particularly interesting to me:

The farther you look ahead in the planning process, the easier it is to realize that the product itself is not the business you are in. Your business is creating satisfaction for the customer, and the means to do that is your new product or service. Technologies, products, and fashions change, but with long term goals you still have a business.

Think about oil companies, who have enjoyed a century of huge profits by selling fossil fuels. Those in the business of selling oil will face difficult times in the next decades, whereas those who look at their company as an energy provider will have a chance to survive.


by Eric Berger

Highly recommended: I had an intuition for how hard rocketry is, but in fact I greatly underestimated it. It’s unreal how close to success the first three launches were, yet we all remember the story along the lines of “three failures, then finally one success”.

And what about a rocket tank imploding because a manual provided by the Air Force had outdated information about descent and depressurization rates for the C-17 military cargo plane?

Made in America

by Sam Walton

The first 90% of the book is an enjoyable story, but not remarkable at all. The most interesting passage is the one about competition: Sam cared a lot about understanding what good things the competition was doing. While this seems easy, it means you have to overcome your intrinsic bias - “mine is better”.

But in the end everything changes: I found his thoughts over how his life was spent so good.

The one device

by Brian Merchant

Great one. There has been incredible research behind this book, and it shows: I mean, who would try to sneak into Foxconn just to see how people are working with his own eyes?

The laws of simplicity

by John Maeda

Thought I would like this one more. It’s a collection of a few design principles, all revolving around “simplify, remove, organize”. It reads very quickly, however.


by Tyler Cowen and Daniel Gross

I suspect their set of interview questions will soon prove to be useless, but good reading nonetheless. I really appreciated their attitude over diversity: not from an, also right, social point of view - but from a merely capitalistic one. See the Asperger’s syndrome discussion for reference.

The obstacle is the way

by Ryan Holiday

Been there, done that. Self-helpish, some stoicism here and there, definitely not my thing. I’d go straight to the source - Seneca, for example.

Memorie di Adriano

by Marguerite Yourcenar

Title translation: Adriano’s memoir

While reading it, you sometimes forget this was the most powerful man on earth - much more than anyone today. Yet, he’s perfectly conscious that someday even one of the most powerful empires ever existed will fall apart - and his doubts and fears are so human.

A detail I found quite enjoyable: you don’t get to understand who this (fictional) letter is addressed to almost till the end.

The world for sale

by Javier Blas and Jack Farchy

By reading this book, I came away with two things. The first one, is an astonishment for how concentrated power can be. The second one is a bit of optimism: the book shows a trend towards more transparency. It’s very well researched.

De brevitate vitae

by Seneca

Title translation: On the shortness of life

This is one of the short books I like to read once every few years (another notable mention: Man’s search for meaning, by Viktor Frankl).

You’ll never read posts on social media about the importance of keeping your calendar free of meetings without a grin on your face: Roman and Greek ideas are constantly being reshuffled and monetized, but copies don’t even get close to the originals.


by Ricardo Semler

You can’t deny the man was ahead of his time - I mean, remote work, in the 90s.

While I’m a bit skeptical on some points - letting people setting their own salaries - it’s an enjoyable read. The most interesting - obvious, therefore not always apparent - argument is in favor of information being much more important than money.

On the move

by Oliver Sacks

The man didn’t have a boring life: neurologist, writer, bodybuilder. I don’t know why, but I enjoyed this one quite a lot - recommended!

What I haven’t finished

  • Bioprinting: sometimes I have fun thinking about what will seem absurd in 1000 years. Knock on wood, imagine you’re seriously ill and need an organ transplant. You’ll find yourself waiting for a donor, so you’re - more or less indirectly - hoping someone else dies: how crazy is that? Is the solution 3d printing organs as replacement? Is it developing ever - more powerful medicines? I have no answers for it, but I need to dust off my biology before I can give this a proper go


I’ll start 2024 with a book that has been sitting on my bookshelf for at least a year, The hard thing about hard things. Then Michele Ferrero’s biography - yes, the Nutella man.

Any ideas for books I should read in 2024? Let me know!

Published Dec 31, 2023

Mechatronics Engineer, machine learning enthusiast, busy building Compiuta.