The books I read in October 2023

Nov 6, 2023

reading bookclub 100DaysToOffload

Reading time: 6 minutes

In October I read two non-fiction books I only recently came across, and one novel that I’ve had for quite a while and which I wanted to read to relax, but it didn’t turn out to be so relaxing in the end…

Joseph Menn: Cult of the Dead Cow

Cult of the Dead Cow is a loosely organized hacker collective originally from Texas that has been around since the late 70s and is still active.

I’d never heard of them until recently, when they announced the development of Veilid, an encrypted P2P network, so I wanted to know who and what they were about.

The book goes through the history of the collective from its beginnings to the present. They started out, like so many hackers of the time, as teenagers who tricked the American phone system to make free phone calls or access BBS systems.

I always find it exciting to read stories about the early days of computers and hacking, but for me they are mainly historical stories, as I am too young to have experienced it all myself.

Therefore the book became really interesting for me in the second half, from the late 90s onwards, where it covers events that I can actually remember from being online myself. Events and names like George W. Bush as US president, 9/11, Wikileaks, Assange, Snowden, the drama surrounding Jacob Applebaum etc.

All in all, an exciting and entertaining read if you’re interested in underground hacker culture.

Chris Voss: Never split the Difference

Chris Voss was the FBI’s chief negotiator for hostage-taking and kidnappings for years. He was the guy who was sent in when Al-Qaeda or some other fundamentalists kidnapped US-Americans and threatened to kill them if their demands were not met.

In the book, he summarizes his knowledge and presents his method for keeping a cool head in negotiations and getting the best out of the negotiation for yourself (in the case of hostage takings, of course, the release of the hostage with as little or no ransom money paid as possible).

The core of his methodology is what he calls “tactical empathy”, which is ultimately just empathy, seeing the world from the other person’s perspective and understanding where they’re coming from and what drives them. Because you can only negotiate successfully once you have understood your negotiating partner’s motivation and have recognized what they are really concerned about.

The title “Never split the Difference” sounds crass at first, but it also makes sense, as by his definition splitting the difference is something that both sides are dissatisfied with, whereas the result of a successful negotiation should be that both sides are satisfied with the outcome and no one feels that they have been taken advantage of or have allowed themselves to be manipulated into doing things that they didn’t actually want to do.

A very good book and, unlike many other non fiction books, it is really packed with information and does have a lot to offer.

Thomas Harris: Roter Drache (Red Dragon)

Thomas Harris is the author of the novels “The Silence of the Lambs” and “Hannibal”, both of which I read many years ago, and I also saw the movies.

The Silence of the Lambs was fantastic, both the book and the movie, Hannibal I found both rather disappointing, and after Hannibal there was also a movie adaptation of Red Dragon (a remake to be precise, because the book had already been adapted into a movie called “Manhunter”), which I think I might have seen in the cinema at the time, but of which I only remember that Anthony Hopkins looks much older than in Silence of the Lambs, although the story takes place before that.

However, I had never read the book “Red Dragon”, so now was the time to catch up. After all the non-fiction books I’ve read recently, I felt like reading a novel again to relax.

But it didn’t turn out to be very relaxing because the story is extremely thrilling and atmospherically dense, so much so that I had to read the second half of the book outside my normal reading time (in bed at night) because I couldn’t put it down and my sleep suffered as a result.

A psychopathic murderer is on the loose, wiping out entire families and leaving his trademark teeth marks on the victims, which is why the media call him “Tooth Fairy”, which has unfortunately and disastrously been translated as “Tooth Faggot” into German - and it is mentioned A LOT. Makes reading it a bit challenging…

Anyway, FBI investigator Will Graham is put on the case, who (before the events in the book) had already arrested Hannibal Lecter, which almost cost him his life and after which he had retired with his family. However, as he has the ability to empathize with psychopaths and understand their motives better than anyone else, he is reactivated by FBI agent Jack Crawford. So he begins to delve into the case and soon realizes that he needs Dr. Lecter’s help to get into the head of the Tooth Fairy…

I was struck by the book’s clear parallels with “Silence of the Lambs”, which was published a few years later. In both books, a psychopathic killer is leaving a trail of bodies behind, and the FBI has to put a stop to him under enormous time pressure before he strikes again, which is why the imprisoned Dr. Lecter, equal parts psychopath and brilliant analyst, is asked for help.

Still, the stories and characters are different enough to stand on their own. Will Graham and the Tooth Fairy are great antagonists, even if the book spends a little too much time with the killer in its second half for my taste.

Post 012/100 of the 100DaysToOffload-Challenge