Matthew DiLoreto

A place to keep track of some of my things.

My Reading

What am I Reading now?

Thus Spoke Zarathustra FN

Thus Spoke Zarathustra

Friedrich Nietzsche. 1885

A friend of mine recommended Nietzsche, and I had heard of this book before, so decided to start with it. Since then I’ve read a few “How to Read Nietzsche” articles, and none of them suggest starting with Zarathustra. In fact, some don’t recommend it at all. Despite that I’m finding it to be an incredibly exciting read. Maybe those articles assume I’m some sort of Philosophy student, but I don’t really care about whether this is his best or most influential work of philosophy, I’m just interested in reading a good book.

I see why some folks take issue with Nietzsche, calling him misogynistic / inspiring Nazi idealogy, but as long as you know those things going into the book it’s fairly easy to navigate, and the work itself is so much more than those things.

If he had written earlier I’m convinced he would have been called “prophet” instead of “philosopher”. He seems so far ahead of his own time, and perhaps even ahead of ours.

What Have I Finished Recently?

The Sound and the Fury WF

The Sound and the Fury

William Faulkner. 1929

I picked this up at an estate sale along with four other old-looking hardcovers for $15:

  • The Apocrypha (King James Version). 1611
  • The Life of Greece - Will Durant. 1939
  • The World’s Great Thinkers; Man and Spirit - The Speculative Philosophers. 1947
  • The World’s Great Thinkers; Man and State - The Political Philosophers. 1947

Whosever estate I had picked was obviously very well-read and a lover of history.

The book itself was challenging, especially during the first half, which was mostly stream-of-consciousness from the perspective of a severely mentally handicapped person. I see why English teachers would like to assign this book (I’m convinced they all have a sadistic streak in them), but I don’t feel particularly enlightened after reading it. I now understand why it’s considered a great work of literature, but to me it isn’t a good work of literature.

Consilience; The Unity of Knowledge EW

Consilience; The Unity of Knowledge

Edward O. Wilson. 1998

I read excerpts from The Ants by E. O. Wilson in high school during a science project, which involved working with ants. The more I researched, the more I kept seeing this name pop up over and over. It was clear to me from that point that Wilson was a prolific and impactful biologist, so when I saw his name pop up on HackerNews I was intrigued.

Unfortunately the post was about his recent death, and some of the commenters touched on his “controversial” opinions. None really dug into anything concrete about his beliefs, but many others pointed out that Consilience was a brilliant masterpiece.

After having read it, I’m inclined to agree with the readers who found the work brilliant. I understand exactly why many also find some of the opinions controversial, but to me the whole book was so carefully and accurately worded, and everywhere reflected the fields where scientific consensus exists, and where opinions and politics dominate, that I find opponents of the book/its author either ignorant of the actual contents of the book, or simply bitter partisans.

The book is a pithy guided tour of all the intellectual accomplishments since the enlightenment, and also a cogent argument for a unified perspective of science. I wish I had read this book in Sophomore or Junior year of high school, because it would have saved me a lot of introductory research into many different fields. The way I learned about pretty much everything since high school consisted of randomly encountering a concept, name, philosophical movement, historical event, etc., and, if I was feeling curious, a deep-dive on the internet to learn the very basics and historical context. This book accomplishes the same introduction to hundreds of different concepts in a way that’s beautifully written and perfectly understandable, even to a high-schooler.

I’m not sure if consilience of Science and The Arts is really possible, or more importantly, within the capacity of mankind. I have to admit I’m skeptical, but I really loved this book, and would consider it one of the greatest I’ve ever read.

The Passionate Programmer CF

The Passionate Programmer

Chad Fowler. 2009

This was recommended online as a spiritual successor to The Pragmatic Programmer, so I figured it was worth a read. Honestly, I wasn’t a fan. It reiterated a lot of the common sense from The Pragmatic Programmer, but where it diverged was mainly a lot of corporate boot-licking and self-congratulation on the author’s part.

I did enjoy the dozen or so short essays from other authors that were sprinkled between the chapters.

The Pragmatic Programmer, 20th Anniversary Edition DT

The Pragmatic Programmer, 20th Anniversary Edition

David Thomas & Andrew Hunt. 2019

I just recently finished this book. It has a lot of good advice - mostly what I would call “common sense” - but maybe I only find it common because I had good professors and mentors who taught me all those lessons early in my career.

Deep Work CN

Deep Work

Cal Newport. 2016

This was a fantastic read. I often struggled (especially during the initial work-from-home phase of the pandemic), to get into the flow of work everyday. This book revealed what I already knew, but didn’t put into such plain terms. My problem was distraction.

This book resonated with me to such an extent that I implemented the scheduling practice Newport proposes as an emacs lisp package.

What Have I Stopped Reading Before the End?

I’m not a believer in the idea that every book has to be read cover-to-cover, and I certainly don’t consider it a “failure” in any way to put down a book partway-through. In that way it’s different from other pursuits in life:

  • coding projects
  • work tasks
  • exercise, diet routines

All these things are bad not to finish. But books are different.

For me, books are about extracting value: changing perspectives, learning interesting (and sometimes useful) things, broadening or deepening ones understanding of some of the greatest minds of any generation. When a book stops providing that value, there’s no shame in putting it down, so that’s what I often do.

The Machinery of Life DG

The Machinery of Life

David S. Goodsell. 2009

This book was recommended as part of James Somers’s excellent blog post I should have loved biology. As someone who always has loved biology and worked as an intern in a biology lab, I also struggled initially - as Somers did - to imagine precisely the scale, speed, and density of biological processes in the cell.

This book is filled with gorgeous illustrations and relatively simple explanations of the structure and interactions inside living cells.

Why did I Stop Reading?

As I’m no longer actively pursuing biology, the details became tedious, so I put the book down after reading about a quarter of it. I did skip ahead and look at all the illustrations though, since that was my purpose for buying the book in the first place.

Thinking, Fast and Slow DK

Thinking, Fast and Slow

Daniel Kahneman. 2011

I’ve seen this recommended in tech circles over and over again, and I’m familiar with the basic premises of the book. Since I enjoyed Cal Newport’s Deep Work so much, I figure I would continue down that vein with this book.

The book contains many interesting statistical facts, and prompts the reader with small puzzles and interactive sections that will make you say “wow!”, or at least “huh”, or “neat”. This is one of those books that you try to quote to a friend, but miscommunicate partially until it doesn’t make sense, then say, “Ah you just have to read the book I swear it’s cooler than it sounds”.

Why did I Stop Reading?

Kahneman prefers to write simple sentences with simple words, and elaborates each point until there is zero ambiguity. While this style of writing makes for exceptionally clear reading, after 200 pages (in a >400 page book), it became painfully boring, and incredibly easy to predict what was going to be said in the next sentence.

I’m normally a pretty slow reader, since I like to read by listening to the voice in my head utter every word on the page, but with this book that style of reading was way too slow. I ended up parsing multiple sentences at a time, with no internal monologue (which, to my understanding, is the approach used by speed-readers), and would finish a page in 20-30 seconds.

There were some interesting facts and perspectives in the book, but having already taken multiple statistics courses I was already familiar with almost everything Kahneman discussed, so reading this book was no longer fun.

Thomas Jefferson: A Strange Case of Mistaken Identity AM

Thomas Jefferson: A Strange Case of Mistaken Identity

Alf J. Mapp, Jr. 1987

I picked this book up at Goodwill recently, mostly because a friend of mine has been repeating polemics and character attacks against the 3rd president that seemed off-base and uninformed to me. So I figured I would get informed.

There was a sticker on it which read 03/14/05. Apparently it had waited 17 years for me.

I thoroughly enjoyed the style of prose the author uses, which is reminiscent of the rhythmic writing of Jefferson himself.

I learned a lot about the actuality of life in Revolutionary America, as this book paints a vivid and dynamic picture.

Why did I Stop Reading?

It really was a joy reading this and I will probably come back to it every now and then to finish another chapter, but as it stands the book is long and my attention for the topic short. I was able to convince my friend that perhaps they misunderstood this particular president - value extracted.

What do I Plan on Reading?

Noise DK


Daniel Kahneman. 2021

Kahneman’s work seems fascinating to me, and I haven’t read him yet. From the synopsis this book appears to be in line with the thinking of Wilson’s Consilience, and I am always intrigued by the more mechanistic explanations of human psychology, which Kahneman’s work seems to align with.

The American Spirit: Who We Are and What We Stand For DM

The American Spirit: Who We Are and What We Stand For

David McCullough. 2017

I really enjoyed the HBO adaptation of McCullough’s John Adams, and from what I can tell he seems pretty prolific on the topic of early American history, so I’m interested to hear what he has to say about the American Spirit.

I wonder what he will say about Jefferson or Thoreau, and what his commentary on modern America will be.

The Overstory RP

The Overstory

Richard Powers. 2018

An arboreal drama? Count me in. What can I say, I really like trees. From what I skimmed in the book store, this seems like a very interesting read, and I don’t read enough novels, so I’ll give it a shot.

Books that Made an Impression on Me

Meditations MA


Marcus Aurelius

Translated by Gregory Hays. 2003

This is my favorite book of all time, and has influenced me more than any other. I’ve written about it before.

Siddhartha HH


Herman Hesse. 1922

I had a fantastic English teacher my Sophomore year of high school, and this was one of the books we read in her class. It might have been part of the stardard curriculum, but she definitely got it, and wasn’t just regurgitating some shallow standard lesson plan. I remember she told us one Monday that she had spent the entire weekend at a some kind of silence retreat, where she spent all day in complete silence in a cell on some compound somewhere, which at the time seemed pretty badass to me. She challenged the class to sit in silence, without thoughts, for just one minute, and told us we probably wouldn’t be able to. This, combined with reading both Siddhartha and Teddy were my introduction to meditation and the themes of eastern spiritual thought.

The book deals with consciousness and spiritual awakening, which made it stand out among the sterile book choices of the rest of the standard curriculum in high school. I remember deeply admiring Siddhartha and the simple ascetic lifestyle he lived.

I credit this book as being probably the most influential on me during my underclassman years.

Teddy JDS


J.D. Salinger. 1953

This was another required reading from that awesome Sophomore year English teacher, following the themes of Siddhartha with more eastern philosophy tempered for Western ears. J.D. Salinger’s prose in this short story was captivating, and I distinctly remember multiple girls crying over the ending in front of the whole class. Not in an embarrassing way though, because every single person in the room was deeply moved by the group reading. I’m not sure I will ever experience anything quite like it again, but I’m glad I had the experience.

Self-Reliance RWE


Ralph Waldo Emerson

Absolutely the most influential essay I read my Freshman year of high school. We were only required to read it once (which most of the class didn’t do), but I remember rereading it a second time right after finishing it. The Transcendentalist movement for some reason resonated deeply with me, and still does to this day. I remember reading Emerson’s The Oversoul and thinking how absolutely bizarre it was to hear such complete and unforgiving metaphysical speculation in school of all places.

I’m glad my class read Emerson’s essays over Thoreau’s Walden Pond, because I never felt the visceral connection to the surrounding intellectual movement reading that book. Self-Reliance itself shaped my personal philosophy early on, and I have not since renounced the lessons I learned in it.

Everything That Rises Must Converge FO

Everything That Rises Must Converge

Flannery O’Connor. 1965

This was another standout book from my Sophomore year of high school. I remember actually looking forward to reading and discussing these stories in class, because some of them were absolutely wild. The teacher focused a lot on the imagery and symbolism in the different stories (as every English teacher does), but I remember these being powerful and interesting symbols, not the bland kind found in some other high school book choices.

In particular I remember “Parker’s Back”, “The Lame Shall Enter First”, and “Everything That Rises Must Converge” from this collection of short stories.

In “Parker’s Back” I remember learning the word hoary, which someone made a joke about in class.

The Pleasure of Finding Things Out RF

The Pleasure of Finding Things Out

Richard Feynman. 1999

I remember in high school an old mentor of mine, who was a physics professor, had taught me about genius. I had made some comment about those “geniuses” (because in my mind at that time, anyone smarter than me was a genius) Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, and my mentor quickly corrected me.

“Those men are not geniuses. They didn’t discover anything new. They just perfected something already existing. That’s commendable, but it isn’t genius. Geniuses are people like Bach, Newton, or Richard Feynman”.

I specifically remember him calling out Feynman as one of the small group of people he considered genius, so I set out to figure out why. I came across his lectures on YouTube and they were completely enthralling.

Feynman has a way of explaining things which is so utterly simple that you can’t help but understand exactly what he says. It doesn’t matter if it’s an advanced concept in physics or mathematics, or simply something he noticed about people, it’s so easy and entertaining to listen to him talk. This book reads exactly the same way - his voice comes through so clearly that I was even reading with his distinct accent in my mind most of the time.

This book is overflowing with an earnest and eager excitement for learning. Feynman has a childlike wonder about the world, and he shares it here using vivid imagery and humorous anecdotes.

Elementary School

The Dangerous Book for Boys CI

The Dangerous Book for Boys

Hal Iggulden. 2007

This book’s Wikipedia entry contains a section called Reception that covers it pretty well (emphasis mine):

Some reviewers have criticised the book for encouraging its young readers to partake in activities that could result in injury, although there is a liability warning below the copyright information, as well as for promoting gendered stereotypes.[5] Others have praised it for helping to counter “PlayStation Culture”[2] through its promotion of outdoor activities and games.

Activities that could result in injury? Uh yeah, that’s the whole point. This book was so awesome for me as a kid. I reread every single page and did just about every single activity the book mentions for years, probably from the ages of 8 to 12. Camping, whittling, navigation, knots, flags, games, history, making weapons, you name it, everything fun to do indoors and outdoors seemed to be in that book. They even taught you how to do the paper marbling effect that was on the front page of the book.

It was completely empowering, and rereading the opening statement of the book now, I realize how profound an impact this book actually had on my intellectual and emotional development.

Don’t worry about genius and don’t worry about not being clever. Trust rather to hard work, perseverance, and determination. The best motto for a long march is ‘Don’t grumble. Plug on.’ “You hold your future in your own hands. Never waver in this belief. Don’t swagger. The boy who swaggers—like the man who swaggers—has little else that he can do. He is a cheap-Jack crying his own paltry wares. It is the empty tin that rattles most. Be honest. Be loyal. Be kind. Remember that the hardest thing to acquire is the faculty of being unselfish. As a quality it is one of the finest attributes of manliness. “Love the sea, the ringing beach and the open downs. “Keep clean, body and mind.’”

—Sir Frederick Treves, Bart, KCVO, CB, Sergeant in Ordinary to HM the King, Surgeon in Ordinary to HRH Prince of Wales, written at 6 Wimpole Street, Cavendish Sqare, London, on September 2, 1903, on the occasion of the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Boy’s Own Paper

As for gendered stereotypes, I remember they had one small section called “Girls” which seemed odd to me even at the time, and reading back, certainly does contain stereotypes you would only hear repeated by an old uncle today, or probably great-uncle. However, this is one page among over 200, and the general gist I remembered was essentially - be nice, listen, don’t be vulgar, don’t worry too much about them, and be yourself.

My sisters had The Dangerous Book for Girls, which I remember didn’t cover nearly as many cool topics, and which they didn’t enjoy nearly as much as I enjoyed mine. If I ever had a daughter, I would definitely just give her this book instead.

Inkspell CF


Cornelia Funke. 2005

This was the first fantasy book I remember being totally lost in, which I read in grade 4. I never read the first book in the series, Inkheart, because I didn’t know this book was part 2 in the series. My teacher just had it on the shelf, it was the thickest book in the classroom (which I thought would be the most impressive to read, when in actuality nobody cared whatsoever).

Clockwork PP


Philip Pullman. 1996

This was the first book I remember subverting my expectations, which I read in grade 4. I remember it being creepy, dark, and almost scary. I recommended it to my younger sister when she hit grade 4, and she also still remembers this short book being quite good.

My Side of The Mountain JCG

My Side of The Mountain

Jean Craighead George. 1959

This book precipitated my love for Emerson’s Self-Reliance, and interest in American Poets like Walt Whitman. For some reason there’s just something so compelling about the solitary hermit life to a young boy. Though just a young man, the main character navigates the perils of nature with his rational planning and stoic endurance, and is eventually rewarded with a deep symbiosis with the plants, animals, and natural environment he occupies.

He lives in a hollowed-out oak tree and becomes friends with a hawk, it’s great.

Middle School

I didn’t read much in Middle School. Personal reading wasn’t required as much as other homework, and I was busy with extracurricular activities. I also thought reading was kind of lame, but there were a couple of books I distinctly remember enjoying in this period.

Bartimaeus; Ptolemy's Gate JS

Bartimaeus; Ptolemy’s Gate

Jonathan Stroud. 2005

This fantasy book paints an occult alternative history, where world events are decided not by mankind, but by powerful forces of Djinn, spirits summoned by great human sorcerers.

Winston Churchill? Sorcerer. Egyptian Pharaohs? Sorcerers. American Founding Fathers? All sorcerers, who succeed by subjugating strong supernatural beings to their will.

A huge 700+ page tome, with multiple entries in the series, and the longest and most frequent footnotes I’ve ever encountered (footnotes often span more of the page than the story itself), this book dives so deeply into the fantastic it’s almost impossible not to lose yourself in it.

About this Page

This page uses Peter Gyurov’s virtual library implementation. I took him up on his offer to incorporate the code into my own site. The only difference is I added a summary section you can view when you click each book. It’s a bit convoluted, since I use a custom org-mode exporter to render Hugo markdown to render html in the end.

The transition to the open state can probably be more elegant, with the book moving to a fixed position centered in the viewport, since this would look better on smaller screens, but the day for that is not today. I also know you can hover books underneath an open one. Props if you can tell me why that’s happening (I suspect it’s because the open book is a 3D rotation of an absolutely positioned element).