Son Of Sun Tzu blog

Son Of Sun Tzu blog

They keep saying my audience will find me…

02 Jan 2023

Some books that mean a lot to me

Inspired by this toot1 from John Willshire I thought I’d also jump on this idea he references, that has its roots back in 2005. I like the questions, I think I’ve finally got back into reading so I have answers worth sharing, and also I support John’s push for people to start blogging rather than posting on more interactive platforms.

The questions from the original post are:

  • How many books do you own?
  • What is the last book you bought?
  • What is the last book you read?
  • What are 5 books that mean a lot to you?

My answers are below:

How many books do you own?

I’m not sure, partly because books are tucked into many places in a relatively small house, including the attic and the garage; but also the collection is shared with my partner. I think most of the books are technically mine or theirs, but they’re all mostly in the same places so it’s hard to count how many that I own. I’ll have a better answer once I’ve put them into LibraryThing ( which is recommended ) but as a guess, around ten to fifteen hundred I think, but that could be way off.

I, of course, have read only a fraction of these. Partly they’re really easy to ask for as presents, and easy to order online - and inevitably citing the common reference to Foucault’s library of unread books, I like the idea of books being potential, rather than something worthy to trawl through.

What is the last book you bought?

Fire and Stone: The Science of Fortress Warfare, 1660-1860, by Christopher Duffy. Duffy recently passed away, and the subject of his book came up as a result of that being discussed. I’m intrigued by medieval combat in general, and siege warfare in-particular - both inherently, and as a working or broken metaphor for many other kinds of conflict. So I grabbed one of the second hand copies of this work, just in case the price rose. The anticpiated price rise hasn’t happened, so do pick up a copy if this subject appeals.

Fire and Stone.

What is the last book you read?

An authentic but overly complex answer to this one.

Originally, this would have been Football For Dummies, a reasonable overview of the game of American Football by Howie Long - I’m trying to figure out the basics of a very complex game.

Football For Dummies.

At the time of starting to write this post, the answer was Board Games in 100 Moves by Ian Livingstone and James Wallis. It’s a rapid run through thousands of years of board games, but with just enough on each era and game to be intriguing.

Board Games in 100 Moves.

But at the time of finishing writing this post, the answer is Parker Pyne Investigates, an enjoyable read of short stories by Agatha Christie. I expect to write a little more on it in my next weeknotes.

Parker Pyne Investigates.

What are 5 books that mean a lot to you?

As opposed to answers, I think questions are an under-appreciated aspect of thinking. “What are 5 books that mean a lot to you?” is a really well put question, and an example of what I mean. It’s not the 5 most impactful books, it’s not the 5 books that mean the most to you… just 5 books that mean a lot. And with “to you” the question makes it clear that a personal and subjective reply is expected.

Inevitably The Art of War by Sun Tzu. I think it contains a great many useful ideas if you think about conflict. But also it shows how much value someone can bring when they use a phrase from this book in their own situation. A lot of The Art of War is very vague, and I think readers and analysts under-estimate what they add when they bring weight to its aphorisms. And I think the book reveals deeper issues with how “Eastern” thinking can be regarded by “Western” thinkers, and all the unhelpful over-generalisations that come from that, including the definitions of Eastern and Western. For all those reasons it means a lot to me.

Don't let the quotes put you off a useful work.

Range by David Epstein, which mainly means a lot to me because it gives me hope. I am very much a generalist, and tend to think across domains naturally. It can be incredibly difficult to demonstrate the value in this, but Range reminds me of how useful my ability can be. I wrote up more on the book here.


It’s arguably recency bias but another book I finished recently, Rebel Ideas by Matthew Syed. It means a lot because I think it is a well put argument to a key idea, a key idea I very strongly agree with: that teams tend to have superior ideas to individuals, and that in a complex situation a collection of diverse team members who can work together is better than a group of similar individuals picked using an apparently meritocratic method. I wrote up more on the book here.

Rebel Ideas.

The Handbook of Cyber Wargames, written by John Curry, and myself. This means a lot because I made a thing, I worked successfully with someone, and I’ve received some really favourable feedback. It also means a lot because of what is has and hasn’t led to - sometimes I’m “the guy who wrote the book” with all the kudos that comes with that, but also it does show that it’s something I need to build on, to run more games, and to design more games and put them out there.

I made a thing.

Standing as an example, the fifth book is New Model Army by Adam Roberts. A near future Science Fiction book about a fully democratic army available for hire. But it means a lot to me because it’s the book I’m currently reading. If I want to go somewhere else, for enjoyment and distraction, I go towards as little friction as possible… Twitter is only a click away and is full of interesting people and new ideas, Fortnite is an immersive experience of 3D battlespace computations that is both high involvement and incredibly low investment. But a book can give so much more, reading reminds me that my imagination and concentration are still active given the right prompts, and with just a little more effort I can enjoy new ideas and concepts.

The book cover of New Model Army. Your screen reader might be able to see this text, maybe let me know?

I'm currently reading this...


As per John’s original toot - if you take anything from reading down this far, it should be that it’s better to put your ideas out there half-formed than to expect you can somehow write the perfect piece. Unlike the very original idea, I won’t be “passing the baton” to anyone… but maybe I’ll give John a friendly nudge to write up his answers too.

  1. “toot” sounds kinda stupid, but we’ve ( I’ve? ) become completely acclimatised to “tweet”, so “toot” it is. ↩︎