As it turned out, 2019 was a busy year. Lots of personal events, lots of work events, but sadly not that many books. In no particular order, my top five books were:
- Starmaker O. Stapledon, 1937
This book took me by surprise. I consider myself something of a sci-fi fan, and figured I’d heard of most significant pieces of writing in the genre. I don’t actually recall how I came to hear of this book, but I know the time between being aware of its existence and being on my doorstep was a matter of hours. Anyway, to say Starmaker is an expansive book is something of an understatement. It quite literally chronicles the entire history of reality in its 288 odd pages. I’m not sure I’d say this is the most philosophically astute sci-fi, nor the most sophisticated narratively, but it is most definitely amongst the most panoramic, imaginative bits of writing I’ve read. As the book progresses, somewhat spiritual elements slip in, with clear parallels to certain religious traditions. These elements culminate in certain revelatory scenes later on in the book that I thought were really pretty great. If you’re into cosmic-scale sci-fi, you need to read this.
- The Bhagavad Gita E. Easwaran, 2007 (2nd Edition)
This one is a bit cheeky. I included The Bhagavad Gita in my 2018 list. I’ve included it again because I think it resonated with me even more this year. I read it on a trip to a couple of islands in the Indian Ocean. It may have been some flavour of western romanticism, or perhaps my existing familiarity with the story, but either way I felt it made me think more deeply than on my previous read of Juan Mascaró‘s translation. Driving past 10+ metre tall statues of Arjuna on a regular basis may have fired my imagination a little too. This translation includes a very informative introduction from E. Easwaran too which gives an interesting introduction to some of the more esoteric concepts that underpin the ideas in this piece of scripture. Still highly recommended.
- The Hard Thing About Hard Things B. Horowitz, 2014
Sometime around the middle of 2019, I became confused about the realities of running a tech business. I’d long since realised that various business functions use overloaded terminology, and that teams, departments organisations and even entire products could trip up over remarkably simple misunderstandings brought on by mismatched perspectives and semantics. After one such discussion, I came to the conclusion that in many cases, this situation is inevitable and that businesses need to roll with it, but had no clue about how ‘rolling with it’ should be conducted in practice. So I asked around for books that dig into the realities of businesses of people with much more experience than I. One recurrent recommendation was this book by Horowitz. I’ve got to say I was a little skeptical at first — and still am in some respects — but this was a good read simply because it increased my empathy for people working across different aspects of a tech, and relaxed me a little about what is normal and what is not in these businesses.
- The Order of Time C. Rovelli, 2018
I clearly remember reading Einstein's Relativity as a teenager. From that point on, I've had a fascination with time. I'd heard good things about this book and decided to give it a go. It's an odd general audience Physics-type book. It's a surprisingly personal and poetic account of time, with Rovelli giving some actually quite moving vignettes throughout the book. These vignettes could have been fatal in lesser hands, but Rovelli still carries off a deep dive into some conceptually challenging material related to our perception of time, and the 'true' underlying nature of time as it 'really' is. It's quite different from any other general audience Physics book I've read, and I think for that reason I grew quite fond of it.
- Small Gods T. Pratchett, 2018
I have to admit, I’ve never read a book by Pratchett. A lot of my friends and colleagues have expressed a deep love of his work, but for some reason I never picked up one of his books. Small Gods was lent to me as one of a stack of light-hearted books by a friend. After a few heavy books, this was a welcome relief. It’s sharply written, funny & easy reading. The story of The Great God Om who, for various reasons, has manifested in Pratchett's world in the form of a small tortoise and meets a slightly dim but well intentioned monk of the religion Om spawned. Together they navigate a surreal narrative filled with single minded dogmatism, general stupidity and at one point a strange gentleman in the desert. This book quite literally lifted my spirits.
Reading List for 2020
I'm planning on making a more concerted effort to get through a few more books this year. Here's my list so far:
- Dune, F. Herbert
- The Iliad, R. Lattimore (Translation)
- Black Elk Speaks, J. G. Neihardt
- Slaughterhouse Five, K. Vonnegut
- Talking to Strangers, M. Gladwell
- Never Split the Difference, C. Voss & T. Raz
- We Were The Future, Y. Neeman
- Bridge of Birds, B. Hughart
- Men We Reaped, J. Ward
- The Odyssey, Homer
- The Argonauts, M. Nelson
Any other recommendations welcome!