I find it very hard to chose a book to read, because they take considerable effort and time, and we don't want to realize at the end that it was not worth it. I put this list out with the hope that it may help someone to pick their next read. Happy reading.
Here's my 2018 list in reverse chronological order...
The Book of Disquiet (****)
by Pessoa, Fernando
Fernando Pessoa wrote as multiple people. He called them heteronyms as these are complete personas with their own biographies, philosophies and writing styles. Many years after his death a box full of writing was discovered, created by one of his heteronyms, Bernardo Soares. This book is a collection of these short biographical pieces.
I am not sure what can I say about this book. I could not agree with most of the philosophies of the author, but yet I wish I could sit down with him and debate, and I don’t think I would have minded if he could convince me otherwise. This is incredibly powerful writing, and a deeply rich philosophy that is beautiful but, I am convinced, fundamentally wrong. His entire philosophical structure rests on assumptions that I find aesthetically unpleasing and rationally unacceptable. To him life has a deeper aesthetic purpose, far beyond the reality of the natural world. He lives in this purely mental world by what he calls “dreaming”. He travels in his dreams, he loves in his dreams, and anything else that is “real’ is just uninteresting and a tedium to him. A fascinating existence, but how much did he, Pessoa, really believe in it?
The book left me with hundreds of questions, and thousands of fragmented thoughts that I’ll cherish all my life.
Killing Commendatore (***)
by Murakami, Haruki
For me, picking up the latest Murakami is a very special experience as I prepare myself in anticipation of a magical journey. Killing Commendatore was no different, but I came out with mixed feelings. The story telling is compelling, but the feeling of magic just wasn’t there. What makes his novels so powerful is when magic blends into reality, almost surreptitiously, and one senses a deeper reality somewhere, but we can never put our finger on exactly what it is saying. This intentional vagueness is what allows each of us to resonate with the book, but without being able to summarize it into a few sentences.
In this novel I think he is a little too explicit. With characters that introduce themselves as “idea” or a “metaphor” leaves too little room for our imagination to play freely. Also, the interplay between these conceptual beings with flesh and blood people seemed a little awkward. He tried to tackle the intriguing subject of free-will, but his arguments didn’t work for me logically or at an emotional level.
However, the book reads very well, and at the end of every chapter I was eager to move into the next. The atmosphere of this secluded mountainous milieu is also beautifully portrayed. It almost felt like I have been to this place and walked through the house where the artist lived and worked.
21 Lessons for the 21st Century (*****)
by Harari, Yuval Noah
Of all the books I’ve read this year if I have to name a single book that I would insist you to read then this is it. The world we live in is getting evermore difficult to understand and comprehend by our brain that evolved to survive in the African savannas, but not that well equipped to deal with the problems we are encountering today. Yet making sense of this world is getting increasingly essential. As enormous forces change the world we live in, If we can’t figure it out in the next few decades then we may never get a chance to do so.
Yuval Noah Harari’s latest book tries to do exactly that, but he is wise enough to remind the reader that a book can be a good place to start, but It has to be a personal discovery. This book can help in defining a path, but it still has to be a personal journey.
It takes at least three qualities to chart a meaningful path through this labyrinth.
- One has to have a reasonably deep understanding of a wide range of subjects, including philosophy, history, science, theology, and technology.
- One must have the training to transcend beyond our many cultural biases
- One must have the rare ability to clearly communicate all this
I think Harari’s success in his three recent books is due to this rare combination. He has equipped himself to take a view that is broader than a technologist talking about AI, a philosopher talking about consciousness, or a climatologist talking about global climate change. He has the ability to detach himself from most cultural biases and ideologies and taking a penetrating perspective to strip all intellectual traditions naked. But above all, he can do it with astounding clarity. This is what makes his books extremely though provoking, and allows him to reach a mass market at the same time. It is wonderful to see a book of this depth and vision to be placed prominently in airport bookstores!
In a Free State (***)
by Naipaul, V.S.
The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life (***)
by Manson, Mark
A House for Mr Biswas (*****)
by Naipaul, V.S.
Once in rare while one comes across a book that is so rich in detail that it makes the reader believe that he has been to this place, this house, seen these people and know them as intimately as his own friends and family. Yet the world that Naipaul draws here is remote in terms of place, time, and history.
I grew up in recently post-colonial India and have intimately seen the effect that colonial life leaves behind long after it is gone. The novel takes place in a country suffering from the effects of the same colonial rule, but on a group of people who left India a long time ago. These are rootless people, desperately trying to hold on to gossamer threads of an old culture that makes little sense in a remote place. These are people who have been robbed of all dignity, and yet they want to build a dignified life with the little they still have. Mr. Biswas, the protagonist, lives through a bitter and intensely cynical life, perennially trying to build something he can call his own. It is a deeply tragic story, but told mercilessly in a strange tone that is humorous and cruel at once.
The most remarkable aspect of this great novel is Naipaul’s astounding ability to observe people and paint them with infinite detail and clarity through the use of tiny details of their behavior. His use of language is so mesmerizing that it almost made me feel jealous
Last Orders (***)
by Swift, Graham
All the Light We Cannot See (*****)
by Doerr, Anthony
I have been reading a number of fictional books on World War II during the last few months. Many of them touched me deeply, but none of them had the poetic and metaphorical power of this book.
It tells a story that exposes the brutality of war through the eyes of a young German boy who is full of questions and curiosity and loves to build radios so that he can listen to the wonders of the universe, and through the eyes of a blind French girl who knows her neighborhood through intricate models that her locksmith father built for her.
This is a rare book that can paint a world that is full of beautiful things, wonderful people, and hope, without romanticizing the ferocity of war and brutality that only humans are capable of performing.
The Nightingale (****)
by Hannah, Kristin
I was not too thrilled when I started reading the book, as it sounded somewhat predictable, sentimental, and the language was little too cliched. However, things improved considerably as the book progressed, and the characters drew me in. In the end I was happy that I read it.
Reading any war book makes me feel infinitely grateful that not only I didn't have to face a war, but most human beings born during the last 50 years did not have to live through the horrors of a war. Unfortunately, wars are still a reality for too many people, but it is far fewer than ever in human history. Things are getting better, and I hope we can make it even better.
The Faraway Nearby (***)
by Solnit, Rebecca
The book started so well - deeply profound and sensitive. But as soon as the author changed the focus from her aging mother to her own problems, it became a little too self indulgent. The rest of the book is still sprinkled with amazing passages - thoughtful, thought provoking, and poetic. However, I do not enjoy forcing poetry into things that are interesting in their own right, and does not need or benefit from contrived poetic layers. There are moths in the world that survive on animal tears, but viewing it as a creature surviving on human emotions of sadness and joy is pointless and intellectually dishonest.
The Inheritance of Loss (****)
by Desai, Kiran
Few novels cover such a broad range of contemporary issues – post-colonialism, globalization, multiculturalism, extremism. Yet, the book doesn’t feel overloaded with ideological burden, but flows naturally with its strange array of characters. I could not fully align with the author’s uniformly dark view of the present and the future, but I was mesmerized by the suffocating atmosphere it creates, and by her beautiful language.
The Underground Railroad (***)
by Whitehead, Colson
Reality is Not What it Seems: The Journey to Quantum Gravity (****)
by Rovelli, Carlo
Yet another wonderful read from Carlo Rovelli, who knows so well how to make Physics poetic and philosophical. However, any book that tries to express modern physics without mathematics often makes it sound mysterious and even mystical, and this one is no exception.
For anyone who believes that science tries to box things in and that scientists believe they have answers to everything, I would strongly recommend that they just read the last chapter of this book. He explains it better than anyone else why just the opposite is true. What distinguishes science is the constant humility of not having the answers. Every single scientist spend good part of their day painfully realizing how must that is still unknown. Not only they don't know all the answers, science questions anyone who pretends that they have the truth in their pocket. That is why it progresses.
When Einstein Walked with Gödel: Excursions to the Edge of Thought (****)
by Holt, Jim
It is a fascinating read, covering a wide range of topics from Mathematics to Physics to Philosophy, but all in a language that all of us can understand. However, he is careful not to oversimplify things, which often happens in popular science writing, where the information gets vague, useless, and even misleading. The book will make you think, and perhaps push you to know more about these topics.
The book is a celebration of the highest intellectual achievements of the human race, or at least that's what it claims in the description. However, in reality it is a collection of essays, perhaps written at different times. As a result the collection seemed a little nonuniform to me, both is theme and tone. They are all brilliantly written, but they don't always form a single whole. If we are celebrating the peak achievements of human intellect then Darwin certainly has a place there, but not Dawkins (though I love his books), and even if Dawkins finds a place then it should not be one of his lesser books (The God Delusion) that should be the focus. In terms of tone, while some essays are written with a non-partisan tone, others are strongly opinionated.
The Content Trap (***)
by Anand, Bharat
The Unwomanly Face of War: An Oral History of Women in World War II (*****)
by Alexievich, Svetlana
I have never read her before, and I didn’t know what to expect. I came out with the most powerful and disturbing reading experience of the year.
Svetlana Alexievich interviewed dozens of Soviet women in the 70s and 80s who all served during the Russian invasion by the German army in World War II. It is a collection of these interviews with occasional commentary by the author. But behind these first person war stories is a deep ocean of emotions, the kind of which I have rarely experienced. How often do we hear about the front lines of a war from the perspective of a woman? This is dramatically different from the male heroic perspective and takes the reader into a world that is both utterly unfamiliar and devastatingly sad.
At every moment I was confronted with two opposite poles of humanity. On one hand there are all these stories of young girls who, against the wish of their parents and even the authorities, forced their way into the front lines of a horrendous war, simply because the political atmosphere made them feel that this was the right thing to do. They knew the incredible hardship, and they knew the chances of survival was little, and yet something powerful and profound compelled them to jump into a war with no preparation. At the same time I come across the darkest side of humanity where people can do terrible things. People with pictures of their wife and children in their pocket can burn other children to death. One cannot avoid asking the question how is this possible? How can the same human soul act so differently? And above all, it forces one to ask the question what am I capable of doing if the conditions are the same? Can I make the same sacrifice for an abstract cause? Can I lose all of my compassion and turn into a brutal killing machine? The scary answer is probably 'yes'.
The book also raised some fundamental questions and doubts in me. As I have grown older, I have learned to mistrust faith. I have seen again and again how faith can lead us to do things that our thinking mind would not allow. I have learned to trust rational thinking as a more reliable guide to a morally justifiable life. I have come to the conclusion that faith and ideology is a dangerous thinking crutch, that can cloud our vision and make us follow a path unquestioningly. I have come to realize that ideology, any ideology no matter how well intentioned, makes us a lazy thinker, where we expect the answers to all questions in a black box. Once we pick the right box, the box will provide all the right answers.
However, the interviews in the book makes it clear that the war would have been lost, along with millions of more lives, if a few people did not get inspired by an idea to a point where they would willingly sacrifice their own lives to achieve something that is utterly abstract. So, can I casually dismiss such a powerful force? Yet, if I don’t, then I have to also respect equally powerful beliefs based on superstition that ultimately leads to long term misery.
Only a truly powerful book can make us question and doubt our long held positions…
The Bell Jar (****)
by Plath, Sylvia
How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence (***)
by Pollan, Michael
A wonderful read. I am so curious to experience it.... very tempted!
The Order of Time (*****)
by Rovelli, Carlo
Time is by far the most enigmatic thing our mind can deal with, and it intrigued, baffled and frustrated the greatest thinkers for thousands of years, and it still does. That’s what attracted me to this book. Written by a physicist, with the soul of a poet, and the vision of a philosopher. He beautifully brings together all that we have learned about this mysterious thing called time -- the strange physics of time, time through philosophy, and our own subjective perception of time. It is not an easy read, and I know I have to read this book again and again to get it all in, but I know it will be beautiful every time.
by Halliday, Lisa
What a stunning and unusual novel by a first-time novelist! The book is broken into three unequal parts, where the first and the third are connected, but the one in the middle has no obvious connection to the rest. The first, and the longest, segment is about an affair between a well-known writer who is around seventy, and a young editor and an aspiring writer in her late twenties. This relationship is asymmetric in every possible way – their age, experience, power, success and aspiration. Yet, they face the same questions about reliability of memories, whether we can ever see the world through another person’s eyes, about the accidental nature of life. Somewhere the young woman, Alice, briefly mentions that she is trying to write about the life of a young Arab man.
Perhaps, this becomes the second part of the book, where we follow the protagonist, a young Iraqi American man, finishing his PhD is economics, who spends a few days in the detention room at Heathrow airport. The novella goes back and forth in time and space between Iraq, UK and the United States, between his childhood and the present time around 2008. There is also asymmetry all over – war and peace, poverty and affluence, safety and omnipresent risks. There is no obvious connection between this story and the first except for the slight hint that this could be the story that Alice mentioned in the first segment. If so, she speaks in a very different voice here, mature and confident, where the apprentice reaches out and touches the mentor.
In the last segment we come back to the aging author, after receiving his Nobel Prize that eluded him during the earlier years, being interviewed by a well-known British radio program.
It is hard to put ones finger on what the novel is exactly about, but there are hints scattered all over the book. Perhaps it is about the strange link between creativity and relationships – how it feeds each other, and it is almost impossible to imagine one without the other. It is certainly about how asymmetry makes life interesting and worth thinking about. As in visual arts, pure symmetry can trigger instant and superficial joy, but the deepest joy comes from when symmetry is broken, and we try to make sense of it all. It is about power in any relationship, and how we succumb to its comfort, but also struggle for our independence, and eventually declare ourselves as a new identity. Finally, like Alice of Wonderland, our Alice also allows herself to fall through a rabbit hole, getting a little lost, tries to look through the looking glass into another life, another world, and finally comes out a little wiser.
by Sedaris, David
Scale: The Universal Laws of Growth, Innovation, Sustainability, and the Pace of Life in Organisms, Cities, Economies, and Companies (*****)
by West, Geoffrey Brian
"Scale" is a surprising book of ideas that connect living things, companies, and cities. It exposes mathematically precise properties that are essentially the same between squirrels and elephants, Tokyo and New York, and human beings and large corporations. It tries to explain why we live around a 100 years, and not 10 or a 1,000 years. It explains why animals and companies die, buy cities don’t. It is a book where physicists bring their universal view to focus on highly complex systems and their attempt to discover fundamental laws that unite these apparently disparate systems.
While I could agree with most of the author's views, sometimes I found him a little trapped by his own ideas. For example, we assumes throughout the book that world population will continue to grow indefinitely, until we reach an unsustainable stage. However, most projection models predict a slowing down, and some models predict a decrease in population after reaching a high of around 9 billion.
When talking about sustainable energy source, he claims that the only way to reach that state is through an open system, where the source is outside of our planet. While that is certainly true from a theoretical perspective, a source based on fusion would be virtually inexhaustible. Of course controlled fusion power at scale is still a technical challenge, but there is no reason to believe that it cannot be done, especially at time scales he is talking about.
He is also dismissive of the possibility that advanced AI algorithms can solve problems and innovate at ever increasing speed, thus feeding the machine of continuous growth. I am not claiming that it is a likely scenario, but we cannot rule it out.
In spite of all this and many other minor disagreements and doubts, the book makes a very compelling argument that an universal theory of all complex system is not only possible, but almost inevitable.
The River of Consciousness (****)
by Sacks, Oliver
This is the last book authored by Oliver Sacks. Like all his other books, it is wonderfully narrated. In a series of essays he spans a wide range of topics from evolution, to the evolution of consciousness, characteristically drawing from his amazing collection of anecdotes about neurological disorders. A wonderful read!
The Lemon Table (****)
by Barnes, Julian
It is a wonderful collection of tales about people who have reached the end of their lives. It explores the brutality of this phase of life and the resulting rage, hopelessness, regrets, and even occasional tenderness. I have seen my mother pass through this, and I am watching my father drowning in the relentless assault of time. I myself cannot ignore it anymore. I think I was ready to read this book, but I will be more ready in another ten years. It is a dreadful inevitability, but it is better to walk into it a little prepared, and this book may help.
Talking It Over (****)
by Barnes, Julian
Perhaps it would have been better to read this before “Love etc”, as the story continues. Another penetrating novel from Julian Barnes
The Only Story (****)
by Barnes, Julian
Few contemporary writers can capture the depth, intricate colors, and the complexity of love as Julian Barnes can. I find his character sometimes a little contrived, but he can ultimately transcend beyond that by taking us into an amazing journey through the minds of lovers. We humans suffer from chronic sadness, and yet we survive. It is mind blowing that after thousands of years of story telling, we have not exhausted the subject of love. We still try to figure it out, and we still suffer because we don't understand it. At one point he writes “Which are truer, the happy memories, or the unhappy ones? He decided, eventually, that the question was unanswerable.
Love, Etc. (****)
by Barnes, Julian
A wonderfully complex love story. Like all good stories, at every turn it made me look back at my own life. This quote from the book perhaps capture the general mood -- “every relationship contains within it the ghosts, or the shadows, of all the other relationships it isn’t. All the abandoned alternatives, the forgotten choices, the lives you could have led but didn’t and haven’t.
The Strange Order of Things: Life, Feeling, and the Making of Cultures (**)
by Damasio, Antonio R.
I am terribly conflicted about this book. I found the first half interesting, as it provided another piece of the puzzle towards our understanding of how our mind evolved and works. The extra insight it brings in is the idea that feelings, the ability of all living things to have a constant perception of our internal state, plays a very important role in development of our mind, including our consciousness. The author extends this idea not just to humans, where the mechanism has reached a new height, but to all living things, including the most ancient bacteria. Even there, the organism had a sense of its wellbeing through a complex array of chemicals and modified its behavior based on these chemical signals. The author tries to explain that life's most fundamental code of conduct is based on the homeostatic principle, which tries to regulate the system to keep certain wellness parameters within a certain range. In order to do this well, the system uses the "feelings" as the main feedback mechanism.
However, things went south for me as the book entered its later half. I could agree with the argument why we should not subscribe to the view that the mind is controlling a simple mechanistic body, but rather it is the mind+body as a single interconnected entity that is responsible for our behavior and our conscious self-awareness. This view can find support from many observations that we are discovering about the two-way interactions between mind and body. However, then the author claims that since the substrate on which the mind works is so important, there is no substrate-independence, as is believed by many researchers, and therefore it is impossible in principle to construct a "real" mind outside of life processes. That is, artificial intelligence will always be a mimicry of real life, and no matter how convincing the mimicry, it will still not be real.
This is strange leap to take. If the substrate of life is an important factor then why not incorporate that into the concept of the mind? That is, why not define the system as a combination of the brain+body? It is still a system that has to obey the laws of physics and chemistry, and therefore, in principle, be "understandable". He makes another implicit claim that even if we can simulate a process, the simulation is always different from the real thing. I have difficulty accepting this position. To me, ultimately everything in the universe is about information flow, and if a simulation cannot capture all the nuances of the physical system, then it can be improved by making the simulation deeper, going one more level granular. At some level of observation, a simulation becomes indistinguishable from the system it is simulating. The simulation of the human mind can very well require incorporation of the body and feelings, and at some point if we cannot perceive any difference between the simulation and the "real" thing then shouldn't we call it "real"? Not doing so is not a scientific view, but pure prejudice.
I am surprised by Damasio's shallow understanding of the concept of algorithm. He explicitly assumes that algorithms are predictable, and therefore cannot model something as life, which is inherently unpredictable. In this argument he is restricting himself to the most mundane types of algorithms, and ignoring the emergent properties of another class of algorithms whose net output is as unpredictable as any biological system. Here again, he falls into the trap that life is something magical, beyond our full understanding, and therefore simulation.
The author also makes an absurd claim that since it took nature millions of years to evolve the "feelings" system, how dare we think we can do the same in a mere thousands of years. Here he completely missed the point that while evolution is a blind process, depending on chance and relatively long lifespans of the creatures, intentional design does not depend on either, and therefore can go incredibly faster. Moreover, since something is difficult does not make it impossible. The author constantly confuses between difficulty and complexity with impossibility.
At the end of the book he goes into a discussion of what is wrong with the present day society. While I agree with some of his concerns, I don't think he could make a strong case of how that is connected with the topic of this book. It seemed like he is pained by the state of things, and he was a desperate to somehow force that into the book, with very little justification. I am also significantly more optimistic about the future, but that is a matter of taste.
Lincoln in the Bardo (****)
by Saunders, George
To me, it was not so much a book of stories, but it felt like a source of music that played in the background and made me reflect on my own life. It is a book about regrets. As we age, we all collect regrets like rust, and in the end it may cover our entire self. Lucky are those who do not rust, but I am yet to meet one.
Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams (****)
by Walker, Matthew
I was always very curious about sleep and dreams, and I finally found a book that answered many of my questions. It is not only a great book about the latest science behind these mysterious phenomenon, but it is also an unintended self-help book that can actually change your sleep habits by convincing you of its importance, both in terms of physical and mental health. I'd strongly recommend this book to anyone who is trading sleep for something else.
The Sirens of Titan (***)
by Vonnegut, Kurt
The Tin Drum (****)
by Grass, Günter
I loved the film by Volker Schlöndorff many decades ago, and finally read the book. I know one should not compare the two, but I was moved more deeply by the film. That is not to say I enjoyed the book any less, but there was something more raw and powerful in the film. Incidentally, I remember seeing Gunter Grass in our own living room in Calcutta, but I was a little too young to understand the importance of this person.
The Jungle (****)
by Sinclair, Upton
A really powerful novel from the early 1900, from a time when industrial exploitation was at its worst, in the hell hole of Chicago’s meat packing district, and when the belief was still strong that a socialist revolution was the only way out, and just around the corner.
Today I live in the same city. Industrial workers are now part of the middle class and unions are often seen as unnecessary and unwanted. Very few believe in a socialist utopia anymore. Yet, we tend to forget this change would not have happened unless there was the threat of organized labor, and the possibility of a revolution. The progress we have made, we owe it to the pain and struggle that the characters of this book had to endure.
Notes from Underground (*****)
by Dostoyevsky, Fyodor
Here is a short novella, written more than 150 years ago, that still retains the power to question our lives and makes us think deeply about our place in the world. Who, but Dostoyevsky can do that.
The unnamed protagonist is not like any of us, and yet we all can see ourselves in his angst. I could not agree with many things he believes in, but it made me think very hard about why. I wish I could travel back in time and argue with this man, and through him, with Dostoyevsky himself.
A Hero of Our Time (***)
by Lermontov, Mikhail
Enlightment now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism and Progress (*****)
by Pinker, Steven
It was a while ago when I gradually started to find any type of ideological thinking unpleasant to my taste, and I drifted towards a mode of thinking that required me to focus on a specific issue, and try to think independently, with the help of reason and available data. Of course I could not always unshackle myself of the evolutionary burden of trying to belong to a group and therefore adopt the group-think, but I tried. This book, coming from one of the most original, sharp and courageous thinkers of our time, Steven Pinker, provides the strongest rational and data-driven support for such thinking.
It starts with the precepts of the Enlightenment thinking -- that reason, science, and humanism can lead to progress of the human condition, and shows how, through every conceivable measure, we have progressed in each front, and the world we live in today is better in every respect than the world of 18th, 19th, and 20th century. Barack Obama once said that if he had to choose which time in history he would like to live if he had no control over his gender, geographical location, or economic status then no doubt he would pick today.
Pinker, as always, makes his point not through metaphors, dense arguments, or wordsmithing, but purely through data. The book is full of astounding charts, supported by excellent references. It is iconoclastic to the core, and does not hesitate to challenge many mainstays of 20th century academic thinking, including many post-modernist, Marxist, and relativist ideas.
No matter where you stand in this debate, and particularly if you have an ideological position, I'd strongly recommend that you give this book a try. It may not change your mind, but I'll be very surprised it it fails to introduce some doubts in your current thinking. That's the best thing any book can do, and the rest is up to us.
If on a Winter's Night a Traveler (*****)
by Calvino, Italo
I just finished reading one of the most astonishing books that I have ever read. Like any great book, it is almost impossible to summarize, and I can only try to convey its flavor. It is a book where the reader and the characters are constantly interchanged, and after a while you do not know whether you are inside the story or outside reading it. It is book with ten stories that start but never end. Each story starts, and then you realize you are inside another story. It is a book about the ultimate meaning of the written word. It makes you think that all the books you have ever read is part of a single book that you are trying to finish, but you never will. It makes you feel that we are all ultimately connected to other human beings through stories. The universe we live in is a universe of ideas and thoughts, and the book could make you a little more conscious of your journey through this strange world.
by Lee, Min Jin
I knew very little about the Korean experience in the 20th century, and even less about the Koreans in Japan. This book offers a wonderful window into this world through the eyes of five generations of unanchored people. It was a pleasure to read, but I wish not all the characters were such wonderful examples of the human race.
Ready Player One (Ready Player One, #1) (****)
by Cline, Ernest
Such a pleasurable read! Don't expect any profound thoughts or brilliant writing, but the plot line is very innovative and enjoyable. The author could successfully mix magic with hard science fiction, which is totally unique. I could also nostalgically relate to the early days of personal computing and gaming that bloomed in the late seventies and eighties.
by Shelley, Mary
The Gathering (**)
by Enright, Anne
The Sellout (****)
by Beatty, Paul
An amazing satire about race in 21st century America. It is irreverent, funny, and strangely poignant. Whatever ideas you may have about race is bound to get questioned by this book. It does not offer easy solutions or paint a rosy or dystopic future, but rather makes us realize that race is very real in all our activities, and sweeping it under the rug is just plain naive. The protagonist, a quixotic character, who is trying to reintroduce segregation in a Los Angeles neighborhood with the help of his self-appointed slave helping hand is unbelievably funny and brutally bitter at the same time.
A Crack in Creation: Gene Editing and the Unthinkable Power to Control Evolution (***)
by Doudna, Jennifer A.
I'd recommend all my friends to become familiar with this new technology called CRISPR/Cas9, as it has a good chance of playing a very important role in many of our lives, but more importantly, may determine the future of humankind in the next few decades in extremely profound ways. It has the potential of redefining the human DNA, and thus our biological future -- hopefully for the better, but maybe for worse. We will all have to have an informed opinion about it, rather than reacting emotionally with distorted knowledge as we are doing with GMO, Global Warming, or vaccination.
We must remember it is pointless to take a position of disliking this technology, as it is pointless to say we don't like winter. It is here, and the tools will evolve. It is up to us to decide the course of its development. The more informed we all are, we can take part in this conversation and collectively decide its course.
This book is a very good place to start that education process as the pioneers of this technology describe the story of its discovery, its positive potential, the dangers, and what to expect in this exploding area of research.
by Stoker, Bram
I was very unsure if I would enjoy the original Dracula story but started reading it when a friend mentioned that he enjoyed reading it recently. He was not wrong. It is a thoroughly enjoyable book, written in the form of multiple first-person narratives. Once I could swallow down the religious references, I was totally engrossed by the highly evocative story telling.