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Summary of reading: July - September 2022

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Summary of reading: July - September 2022

September 30, 2022 at 15:34 Tags Book reviews
  • "The Search for Exoplanets" by Joshua N. Winn (audio course) - an astrophysical review of what's the current state of the search for exoplanets - the main techniques used, the existing telescopes and some ideas for the future. Very interesting overview that provides a good appreciation for the magnitude of the problem as well as the ingenuity of the solutions.
  • "Crying in H Mart" by Michelle Zauner - a touching memoir of the author's growing up as a mixed-race Korean American, focusing on the year surrounding her mother's disease and death. Very good writing that will probably leave you in a somber mood and with a curiosity towards Korean food.
  • "Crafting Interpreters" by Robert Nystrom - full review.
  • "Math Games with Bad Drawings" by Ben Orlin - the author lists dozens of games one could play using pen and paper, sometimes dice, and sometimes just your fingers. All games have some mathematical aspect to them (though if you think about it, what game doesn't?). For each game, after it explains the basic rules and provides a few example sessions, the book moves on to discuss strategies and related topics of mathematics. Great overall! It's fun to read cover to cover, and fun to practice the games with friends and family. The author's usual humor is well suited for this book, and the diagrams attact kids who then get lured into reading the mathematical parts as well.
  • "How I Learned to Understand the World: A Memoir" by Hans Rosling - Rosling's autobiography, written in the last months of his life. He definitely led an interesting and eventful life, and I liked the writing.
  • "The Living Great Lakes: Searching for the Heart of the Inland Seas" by Jerry Dennis - the author builds the narrative around an epic month-long sailing journey he took on a tall ship all the way from Lake Michigan to the US Atlantic coast. The book provides a lot of interesting information about the great lakes' geology, history and biology, along with the human history of the populations surrounding it. I liked it overall, though many sections focus on the author's travels and don't really pertain to the main topic. It's pretty effective at developing wanderlust, though.
  • "The Gulf: The Making of an American Sea" by Jack E. Davis - discussing the geological, natural and human history of the Gulf of Mexico. Some parts of this book are alright; others are very tedious.
  • "Lifespan: Why We Age - and why we don't have to" by David A. Sinclair - the author is a Harvard professor of generits who specializes in the study of aging and how to stop or reverse it. This book is a popularized account of his research and views on the state of the world. I found the first quarter of the book or so to be very intersting from a scientific POV; this is where the author describes some of the recent research in this area and the current theories about the causes of aging. The second quarter of the book is much more speculative, with the author providing advice based on on - frankly - rather slim scientific evidence (a bit disappointing when coming from an actual scientist). Finally the second half of the book is page-filler with rambling on various topics of futurism, environment and so on.
  • "Heart of Darkness" by Joseph Conrad - I decided to give Conrad a try, and this novella is one of his most famous works. It's about a British sailor on an assignment as a ferry captain deep in equatorial Africa, some time in the 19th century. It was probably considered to be a very poignant critique of colonialism back in 1899, but reading this book now made little sense to me. I guess I'll have to try something else by Conrad in the future.
  • "Stories from the Tenants Downstairs" by Sidik Fofana - a collection of short stories about tenants in a Harlem subsidized housing building. The common backstory is the rising rents which put a financial strain on the tenants, though their stories are very different. I really liked the book overall, though the Audible narration presented somewhat of a challenge; the book is narrated by voice actors which is usually great, but some of these had such heavy cultural accents it was a bit hard for me to understand. It started rough with the first narrator, but improved from there.
  • "A Personal Odyssey" by Thomas Sowell - Sowell's autobiography, describing his life in detail from early childhood and until his 60s. It always amazes me how good a memory people have for writing such detailed autobiographies; it's possible that Sowell kept a diary from childhood, but this isn't mentioned. This book is very useful for understanding the background to Sowell's ideas, but it also desrcibes a rather difficult person; unfortunately the book takes some detours to settle old accounts with "enemies", but these parts are thankfully short. Overall I really enjoyed it - the writing is excellent and engaging and tries to entwine Sowell's intellectual development which I found very interesting.
  • "The Four Winds" by Kristin Hannah - a novel set in the 1930s, describing the plight of farmers in dust-bowl era Texas panhandle, and how they move to California in order to look for work and survive. The book is not bad and is of significant historical interest, but it's hard to avoid comparing it to The Grapes of Wrath, since it's so similar to it, and this comparison isn't very positive for Kristin Hannah's work. If you read only one book about the subject, be sure to read Steinbeck - it's by far the better work, hands down. But Hannah's book also has some highlights - like a much more detailed description of the hardships of farmers before they left for California (whereas The Grapes of Wrath mostly covers the California experience).
  • "Wealth, Poverty and Politics: An International Perspective" by Thomas Sowell - a collection of essays focusing on wealth and income inequality, with many interesting historical examples and interpretations. Familiar territory if you've already read some Sowell, but still fairly interesting. Some of the statistics presented in this book are fascinating and thought provoking, particularly on the topics of the accomplishments and financials of Blacks in the northern US states, before and after the 1960s.

Re-reads:

  • "The Making of the Atomic Bomb" by Richard Rhodes
  • "Siddhartha" by Hermann Hesse
  • "Applied Economics: Thinking beyond stage one" by Thomas Sowell

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