Category Archives: Books

Reading language, format and age of books (2018 update)

Three years ago, I wrote a couple of blog posts where I reflected on the mix of languages I used when reading books between English, French and Spanish and about the format of the books I read, whether electronic or paper books. In the past two years I have updated the figures in dedicated blog articles and this post, written after having shared last week my 2018 reading list, is just a follow up update of those two tables and a third one:

Reading language

Booksperlanguage_2018

From 2010 to mid-2015 I read mostly in English. From mid-2015 I have started to read more in Spanish than in the past (mainly classics) and in French. In terms of books the mix for 2018 was English 48%, French 26% and Spanish 26%. However, last year I thought that the mix would be better measured in terms of pages read, as the books can vary quite a bit in their length. Thus, in terms of pages: English 45%, French 23% and Spanish 32%. Since then I also compile that bit of information in a different table.

Pagesperlanguage_2018

Reading format

Booksperformat_2017

In 2018 I did not read any book in electronic format, all were in paper format. As I estimated here the amortization of the e-reader in about 20 e-books read with it, I am still just above half way through achieving that. I already anticipated it in the blog post from last year:

Seeing, the stock of paper books that I have in the shelves, I doubt that I will read many e-books in the near term.

Age of the books

Since 2016, I decided to focus more on reading classics and books that have aged well, i.e., that their impact on society has not faded after having made it to the best selling positions of the literature pages for the current the year. Thus, I try to limit the proportion of books that I read from the last 10 or 30 years. This can be tracked as well:

Booksperage_2018

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My 2018 reading list

In this post I wanted to share the list of books I read along the year (1) with a small comment for each one and links to some Twitter threads where I shared some passages that caught my attention while reading the book. I have also included a small rating from one to three “+” depending on how much do I recommend its reading.

2018_reading_list

  1. Dom Juan” (by Molière) (+++): Molière wrote this play for his theater group in 1665 when he faced troubles with Le Tartuffe and inspired by the work of Tirso de Molina. It tells the story of Don Juan, an unscrupulous adulterer who finds a counter point in his servant Sganarelle, with the action taking place in Sicily. I found in the book a good critique of hypocrisy and defence of good morals. [I leave here a Twitter thread with some passages that caught my attention while reading the book]
  2. To Kill a Mockingbird” (by Harper Lee) (++): Written in 1960 and winner of the Pulitzer prize, this novel tells the story of Atticus Finch, widower lawyer and single parent who is raising his two children in a principled way in a setting that does not help: segregationist Alabama in the 1960s in the midst of a trial in which Atticus is defending the weaker part, a black man who has been accused of raping a young white woman.
  3. Aeneid” (by Virgil) (++): the book tells the story of Aeneas, a Trojan character mentioned in the Iliad, who travels to Italy and becomes the ancestor of the Romans. I found the book a good epic legend for Italy, I liked that it mixes the adventurous side of the Odyssey and the cruelty and violence of the combats of the Iliad. However, I found it a bit tedious compared to the other two. [Twitter thread]
  4. Caligula” (by Albert Camus) (++): This play, published in 1944, and part of the cycle de l’absurde, is centered around the Roman emperor Caligula, who following the death of Drusilla engages in different dialogues, at times humorous, absurd or abusive, where he experiences and plays around the impossible, power and finally plots his own assassination. [Twitter thread]
  5. L’Étranger” (Albert Camus) (++): in this novel written in 1942, the main character, Meursault is an French Algerian, who epitomizes indifference. The novel starts with the death of his mother, which already does not move him much. Later, he sees himself hanging around with friends when they are assaulted. Without much thought he finds himself committing a crime, poorly defending himself in court and seeing life go by in front of him in the death row. [Twitter thread]
  6. Skunk Works” (by Ben Rich & Leo Janos) (+++): This book, the biography of Ben Rich (coauthored by Leo Janos, coauthor as well of “Yeager”), tells the fascinating story behind great engineers and legendary airplanes such as P-38, Starfighter, U-2, SR-71 Blackbird or the F-117 Nighthawk. The book includes some insight of the struggle of engineers and managers in developing those programs with the pressure from the authorities and the bureaucracies linked to them. It includes as well some light insight into the engineering innovations behind the successes of those aircraft, mixed with many witty remarks and plenty of humour and passion for aviation, It’s definitely a must read. [Twitter thread]
  7. Juan Belmonte, matador de toros” (by Manuel Chaves Nogales) (+++): I had come across the book as being referred by Spanish author Perez Reverte as the best biography in Spanish language, no less. Written by the journalist Chaves Nogales, it tells the life of Belmonte, a bullfighter from the beginning of the XX century, who had a close “rivalry” with Joselito. From the stories of his childhood in Seville (sneaking naked with friends in the night into the properties of bulls’ breeders to practice the fight), to his becoming a figure of bullfighting (his great days, the times he was injured), to his trips to Latin America (where even he got married by power of attorney as he found ceremonies rather dull!), the life of Belmonte is the life of character to be found only novels. [Twitter thread]
  8. Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind” (by Yuval Noah Harari) (++): written in 2014, I quickly saw this book being very positively referred to in multiple publications, thus I had marked it in my to-read list. I finally did it this year. I was disappointed. The author, a historian, covers in this book the different revolutions of human kind, which he classifies in: cognitive revolution, agricultural revolution, unification of humankind and scientific revolution. It is an entertaining read, with a few original ideas and provoking questions at the end. Otherwise, I found that 70% of the content of the book must have been in my high school history/biology courses’ content. Highly overrated. [Twitter thread]
  9. War and peace” (by Leo Tolstoy) (++): With almost 1,500 pages in the Spanish version that I read, this master piece from Tolstoy is according to him neither a novel, nor a poem, essay or chronicle, but a mix of all those genres. It is a monumental and historical piece, where the author mixes real characters and situations (e.g. battlefields) with fictional (or masked) ones. It chronicles the Napeoleonic wars with the campaigns in Austerlitz and Russia, it describes the life of Russian nobility and bourgeoisie, the missery of the war. This one is definitely a must read. [Twitter thread]
  10. Checklist manifesto: How to get things right” (by Atul Gawande) (++): Gawande, a surgeon at a Boston hospital and professor at Harvard, wrote this book in 2009 and since years ago I had been wanting to read it. It includes a compelling message: use of checklists to improve safety, mainly in operations related to healthcare in general and in operating rooms worldwide. He approached the subject following requests from the World Health Organisation to find ways to drastically improve safety. And he found in check lists, like the ones used in aviation since the 1930s (when Boeing developed the B-17 Flying Fortress, much more complex to fly than previous aircraft), a cheap and effective way to improve operations. There are other lessons to be drawn from the book from the importance of preparation, communication, rehearsing or visualizing in advance the critical steps to be performed, etc.
  11. Apology (of Socrates)“, “Meno“, “Cratylus” (by Plato) (++): Apology is the Socratic dialogue which describes the defence that Socrates made of himself in the trial that that condemned him to death. I especially liked that dialogue and the high moral status that portrays of Socrates. In Meno, Socrates tries to define what is virtue and whether it can be taught. In Cratylus Socrates discusses the nature of the names given to concepts and whether they are linked to them, digging into their etymology. [Twitter thread]
  12. Protagoras“, “Gorgias“, “Seventh Letter” (by Plato) (++): In Protagoras Socrates takes on Sophists and further discusses about virtue, what it is and whether it can be taught. In Gorgias Socrates takes again on Sophists and the use of rhetoric for persuasion. The Seventh Letter is an autobiographical account by Plato of his activities in Sicily and his exchanges with Dion. [Twitter thread]
  13. Ion“, “Timaeus“, “Critias” (by Plato) (+): In Ion Socrates takes on a rhapsode and discusses about skills in different fields of work. Timaeus is a kind of text about physics, chemistry and biology, a kind of genesis… which I absolutely recommend not entering into it. In Critias Plato tells the story of Atlantis and its attempt to conquer Athens. I would not read it either. [Twitter thread]
  14. Normandy 1944” (Remy Desquesnes) (++): During our visit to the Normandy coast in the month of May, I purchased this book to complement what I had learnt through the reading of the panels, the monuments, and the museum at Vierville-sur-Mer. The book in itself is easily read. It covers the preparation, previous attempts by the Allies to land in continental Europe, the refinement of the strategy and the Operation Over Lord itself from different points of view. It includes several maps of the theatre of operations, pictures, figures. Even if the edition of the book (by Ouest France) is not very good (some paragraphs are uncompleted), the reading of the book did provide a good complement to the visit. [Twitter thread]
  15. Fahrenheit 451” (by Ray Bradbury) (++): written in 1953, it presents a future society in which books are forbidden and firemen are employed to search and burn books or the houses in which they are stored. The main character is Guy Montag, on of such firemen. The story shows him troubled by getting in contact with a neighbor who secretly reads or a woman who choses to burn herself rather than parting ways from her books. This makes Montag question some aspects of his society. [Twitter thread]
  16. The Whistler” (by John Grisham) (++): the nth book from Grisham that I read. In this one the plot has a mafia taking benefit of a casino handed to the Native American tribe living in an area in the north of Florida. A team of three lawyers from the Board of Judicial Conduct start investigating the conspiracy with almost no means and serious risk to their lives until late into the story when they manage to get the FBI onboard. Thrilling and engaging as always.
  17. Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion” (by Robert Cialdini) (+++): written in 1984, the book is today a classic of influence, persuasion or negotiation. It introduces what he calls the six weapons of influence and in different chapters he explains how they work in the setting of a negotiation or a sale, providing real life examples and, in the edition that I read, feedback from readers of the previous editions. The six weapons being: reciprocation, commitment and consistency, social proof, liking, authority and scarcity. A very good read. [Twitter thread]
  18. Hergé, Tintin et les avions” (by Jose Miguel de la Viuda Sainz) (+++): this book, written in 2018 by a work colleague, is a compilation of the airplanes that appear in the different books of Tintin by Hergé. The book was edited in parallel to an exhibition about Tintin and airplanes at the Aeroscopia museum in Toulouse Blagnac. For each of those planes, the author reviews the plot of the Tintin book, the setting of the airplane(s) that appear in the book and discusses some technical features of the plane, whether in the book they are adapted from the real plane, whether those planes were marking a moment in aviation history at the time, etc. It is a rather short book (65 pages) but highly enjoyable. [Twitter thread]
  19. Why Nations Fail. The origins of power, prosperity and poverty” (by Daren Acemoglu and James A. Robinson) (++):  The thesis of the book is that the main driver determining whether countries follow a path of prosperity or the reverse is whether they have inclusive (vs extractive) political and economic institutions, i.e., democratic institutions, checks and balances, separation of powers, but as well respect for private property, contract law enforcement, etc. The book is well written, reads easily, and have quite a few facts that I discovered while reading the book, but I found it too long, as once the idea has been transmitted, the book becomes repetitive. [Twitter thread]
  20. Les Fleurs de Mal” (by Charles Baudelaire) (+): The most famous volume of poetry by Baudelaire, published in 1857, it was a must read if I wanted to venture into French poetry. With it Baudelaire tried to extract beauty from decadence, evil, mal. I especially liked the following poems: “La mort des pauvres”, “L’horloge”, “L’homme et la mer”, “Les Phares” and “Spleen”. [Twitter thread]
  21. Le rouge et le noir” (by Stendhal) (+): I took on this book, regarded as one of the best novels from the author, looking for a similar read to Les Miserables (by Victor Hugo), i.e. the struggle of a character from the lower ranks of French society of the XIX century. I was disappointed with the book. The book tells the story of Julien Sorel from his village Verrières to the Parisian society, the jobs he has to take, the relationships he entertains, the parties of the nobility… but I found too much storyline around his love affairs with Madame de Rênal and Mathilde de la Mole and I found the narrative very slow. [Twitter thread]
  22. Le Cid” (by Pierre Corneille) (+): I learned about Corneille and its Cid in one diagram about French literature included in the dossier of one of the Moliere’s books that I had read. Being the Cid a legendary Spanish knight about which I had recently read, I quickly put it into the to-read list. Whereas the Spanish “Cantar del Cid” is an epic poem, this “Le Cid” is a tragedy play for theatre. It confronts the hero Rodrigo Diaz de Vivar and his father with Ximena and her father. Ximena’s father offended Rodrigo’s one and this forces Rodrigo to search vengeance to save the honour of the family. Once that is settled, the course of action for Ximena is in question: whether to follow is loved one or not, once he has killed her own father. [Twitter thread]
  23. Captain of Hungary” (by Ferenc Puskas) (++): Ferenc Puskas was a great football player in the 1940s and 1950s. In 1954, at age 27, after having won a Olympics in 1952 and finishing second in the 1954 World Cup, he wrote this autobiography, when he still had ten years ahead as player and his best pages as club football player to be written. In the book he covers from his first games in the fields of Kispest during his childhood, to being called for the local club junior categories, to his promotion to the first league and national team. He very much focusses on his exploits with the national team with the other big teams of the time: England, Austria, Yugoslavia, Germany, Brazil. His passion for the sport, his dedication to the training and self-improvement and the importance of the tactical innovations, including the playing as a team and sacrificing oneself for the team, are constant themes along the book. [Twitter thread]
  24. Vingt ans après” (by Alexandre Dumas) (+++): “Twenty Years After”, published in 1845 as a serialized novel, is a sequel to the  “The Three Musketeers” and precedes “The Vicomte de Bragelonne”. The main characters are the same (i.e. D’Artagnan, Athos, Porthos and Aramis) though after 20 years their personal situation has changed. The France in which the live has also changed. Now the setting is the Fronde, with cardinal Mazarin and Anne d’Autriche in France, and Cromwell and Charles I in England. The book is as entertaining as the first book of the series, with continuous plots, adventures, surprises, fights, witty dialogues and gasconnades from D’Artagnan. [Twitter thread]
  25. The Sun also rises” (by Ernest Hemingway) (+): After a few visits to the fiesta of San Fermin in Pamplona, Hemingway published in 1926 this book, which has become possibly his most popular work. The plot portrays a group of American and British friends that organize a trip to Pamplona passing by Bayonne, San Sebastian and a few days in the mountains. I did not like much the half of the book that runs the lives of rather decadent characters in Paris, I did not like the intricated relationships among them, but I did like the way the bullfighting (corrida) and the bull run (encierro) are explained. Pamplona’s encierros have world fame, and even if not thoroughly described in the book, they do get a few pages of fast, intense narrative. The corridas get a longer share of the book as they include a fictional bullfigher, Romero, and Belmonte. There is a delicious full page describing the final moments of a corrida, when the bull’s ear is finally handed to Romero. I definitely recommend reading the last ~ 40 pages. [Twitter thread]
  26. Antifragile: Things that Gain from Disorder” (by Nassim Nicholas Taleb) (++): With this book written in 2012, Taleb built on concepts exposed its previous books to offer a new main idea: antifragility, as opposed to fragility and to what would be a midway concept  of robustness. He invites the reader to look for situations in which one can gain from situations of disorder, crisis, uncertainty.  Some steps in that direction would be to reduce the exposure to situations in which he is fragile, to question calls for action when inaction might be more appropriate (via negativa), to question third party forecasts, to pay attention to the effect of low probability risks (fat tails), etc. [Twitter thread]
  27. The first 90 days” (by Michael Watkins) (++): published in 2006, this book is a useful guide about how to face the transition into a new job position. It helps to focus on some aspects of the business, the processes, the relationships involved, questions to be made, the learning process to be had, etc. The book does not bring any breakthrough idea, but it’s a useful reminder of some basic and common sense elements to keep in mind during the transition.

During this year again, I have been able to read at a higher pace than years ago, before I adopted a more rigorous approach following these two tips:

  • a blog post from Farnam Street blog “Just Twenty-Five Pages a Day“, which was published well after I had adopted such an approach to reading but captures it very well,
  • the Wikipedia article about the Pomodoro Technique, which enables you to efficiently use the last hours of the day.

I wish you all very interesting reads in 2019!

(1) You can find here: my 2012 reading list2013201420152016 and 2017 ones.

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Reading language and format (2017 update)

Two years ago, I wrote a couple of blog posts where I reflected on the mix of languages I used when reading books between English, French and Spanish and about the format of the books I read, whether electronic or paper books. Last year I made an update of those stats and this post, written after having shared last week my 2017 reading list, is just a follow up update of those two tables:

Reading language

Booksperlanguage_2017

From 2010 to 2015 I read mostly in English. From mid 2015 I have started to read more in Spanish than in the past (mainly classics) and in French. In terms of books the mix for 2017 would be English 32%, French 20% and Spanish 48%. However, this year I thought that the mix would be better measured in terms of pages read, as the books can vary quite a bit in their length. Thus, in terms of pages: English 25%, French 33% and Spanish 42%.

Reading format

Booksperformat_2017

In 2017 I mostly read books in paper format, with a single book in electronic format. As I estimated here the amortization of the e-reader in about 20 e-books read with it, I am still just above half way through achieving that. Seeing, the stock of paper books that I have in the shelves, I doubt that I will read many e-books in the near term.

 

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My 2017 reading list

In this post I wanted to share the list of books I read along the year (1) with a small comment for each one and links to some Twitter threads where I shared some passages that caught my attention while reading the book. I have also included a small rating from one to three “+” depending on how much do I recommend its reading:

Portadas_2017.png

  1. Iliad” (by Homer) (+++): arguably the first book of Western civilization, I took on reading after having discussed about it and the Odyssey with a friend during 2016 summer holidays. The Iliad is widely seen as the more epic of the book of the two. I would say it is harsher. It is centered in the battle of Troy, fought around the XII century BC between a coalition of Greek armies led by Agamemnon king of Mycenae and Troy, led by Hector. The war features warriors the size of Achilles, Odysseus, Ajax, Menelaus… the origin of the war is the kidnapping of Helen, wife of Menelaus, by Paris, who takes her to Troy, against which the Greek armies fight in order to bring her back. The description of the fights does not spare any bloody detail, reaches at times the point of recreation in the violence and brutality of the characters. Another interesting point to note are the Homeric epithets; every single time the name of character is referred to a series of epithets will be quoted to describe him, such  as “swift-footed” Achilles.
  2. The dragons of Eden” (by Carl Sagan) (++): I was not yet born when the series Cosmos was released and became so popular in 1980, but I had read often about the character and the importance of Sagan as a outreach scientist. I bought this book, on the evolution of human intelligence, about a decade ago and took on it this year after having read “Exploradores: La historia del yacimiento de Atapuerca” by one of the lead researchers of Atapuerca (José María Bermúdez de Castro) last year. The book is read very easily and draws from different disciplines in order to provide examples, outcomes from scientific studies and his vision on evolution. [I leave here a Twitter thread with some passages that caught my attention while reading the book]
  3. Las cuentas y los cuentos de la independencia” (by J. Borrell and J. Llorach) (+++): this short book by the economists Joan Llorach and Josep Borrell (who among other posts was the Spanish minister of Public Works and Transport in the 1990s) originated from an article they wrote for a news paper refuting some of the populist arguments often used by separatist leaders in Catalonia (note: both writers are Catalan themselves). The main point of the book goes around the different calculations methods for what is called the fiscal balance, pointing to the distortions played by separatists. Before that point is tackled many other mantras are dismantled, such as the purported calculations of fiscal balances in Germany and the limits to them often cited by separatists, for which the authors of the book made a thorough research including cross checking with German economics professors and the German embassy just to find out that the whole story is based on nothing, pure invention, hence the title of the book (“las cuentas y los cuentos“, as in the “the calculations and the stories”). [Twitter thread]
  4. The Right Stuff” (by Tom Wolfe) (+++): released in 1979 and awarded the US National Book Award for Nonfiction, this book portrays the lives, the selection process, the training and mission of the Mercury Seven. The book was later adapted to the cinema in a movie by the same title. The movie and the book are classic of aerospace literature and cinema. The images of the mercury seven in their silver space suits or their orange fighter pilot suits are part of popular culture. The book goes into the struggles and ego disputes among the different astronauts and between them and Air Force test pilots, including Chuck Yeager whose auto biography I had read in 2016, thus letting me see that episode from both sides. A definite must read. [Twitter thread]
  5. Odyssey” (by Homer) (+++): this book is partly the continuation of the Iliad, as in it Homer describes the return trip of Odysseus from Troy to Ithaca, his kingdom, where is wife Penelope and son Telemachus suffer for years the absence of the king. This book is more of an adventure book than the Iliad, and some of the passages are quite known such as those of the cyclops or the sirens. [Twitter thread]
  6. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” (by Douglas Adams) (+): the novel is part of a comedy science fiction series released in 1979, originated from radio broadcasts and later taken to TV. I read it as had seen it recommended by Elon Musk a couple of times. The book has some hilarious points and fine criticisms, but other than that I thought it was quite overrated. [Twitter thread]
  7. Oresteia (Agamemnon, The Libation Bearers (Choephoroi), The Eumenides)” (by Aeschylus) (+): Aeschylus is seen as the father of tragedy. The Oresteia is a trilogy first represented at a festival in 458 BC. The play plots several tragic events: the murder of Agamemnon by Clytaemnestra, the murder of Clytaemnestra by Orestes, the trial of Orestes, the end of the curse on the House of Atreus and pacification of the Erinyes. [Twitter thread]
  8. La Bete humaine” (by Emile Zola) (++): published in 1890, this novel by Zola caused a great impact in the French society by its brutality: murder, suicides, abuses… the novel is centered around the rail company and the line Paris – Le Havre, and the plot relates the lives of the president, some workers and their relatives.  [Twitter thread]
  9. 1984” (by George Orwell) (++): published in 1949, the influence of this novel cannot be overstated. It coined terms and introduced figures widely used today such as Big Brother, Newspeak, Thought Police, thoughtcrime… even if I found some passages of the book rather tedious, it is a must read, a wake up call, a reminder of always having to be alert in the defence of individual rights. [Twitter thread]
  10. Puro Fútbol” (by Roberto Fontanarrosa) (++): In the 90s I used to read some newspaper articles of former football player and coach Jorge Valdano, in some of them he would refer to stories from the writer Fontanarrosa. Since then, I had heard about those stories some other times. In April we visited Argentina and we went to a bookshop to enjoy going through book stands, when I found his name in bookshelf I picked one of his books to read a few of his stories. The book is a compilation short stories of Argentinean football. They are fictional stories which feature amateur players and aficionados, either playing football, remembering memorable matches or attending events. I especially liked its fresh and down to earth language, which very easy transmit that for some people football is much more than sport. [Twitter thread]
  11. El Tango” (by Jorge Luis Borges) (+++): during a trip to Argentina I bought 3 books of Borges to approach the author. This was the first one I read. Rather than a book written by him, it is the transcription written in 2016 of a series of lectures Borges gave in 1965 around Tango, its origins, meaning, etc. I loved the book, as it gave me some insight into Argentinean life at the beginning of the XX century, the dance itself, its evolution from a dance of locals of dubious reputation to a dance more than socially accepted. Living in Toulouse, I loved to learn that in fact Carlos Gardel might have been a Frenchman by the name Charles Gardés born in the same neighborhood of Saint Cyprien (Toulouse) where I used to live when I came to France. [Twitter thread]
  12. Ficciones” (by Jorge Luis Borges) (+): published in 1944, the book is a compilation of about 20 short stories. With them Borges plays with different concepts, styles and themes. I saw that it has a great reception by critics, I do not share it.
  13. Dracula” (by Bram Stoker) (++): the count of Dracula and vampires are part of our popular culture. There are countless films, books, comics, plays, that include such characters. This book, published in 1897, set a framework for that popular culture: the prominent teeth, the biting and sucking of blood, the coming out at night, the counter measures, etc. The story is made of a series of letters, entries into the diaries of some of the characters and press articles. I liked the originality of such approach, although in my view it lacked some rhythm at some points. [Twitter thread]
  14. Waiting for Godot” (by Samuel Beckett) (+): I got some books from 1969 Literature Nobel prize winner, the Irish Samuel Beckett, as part of my Irish literature immersion following my 2016 trip to the island. Waiting for Godot is theater play that portrays two characters, Vladimir and Estragon, who wait for a third one, Godot, who never arrives. Meanwhile they engage in a series of discussions, absurd at times, comical at others, or even tedious. I have read reviews of the play stating that it is one the most significant play in English language of the XX century. I found it rather absurd and wouldn’t recommend it, other than for the humorous note of reading once and again the gag “We can’t / Why not? / We’re waiting for Godot”. [Twitter thread]
  15. The travels of Gulliver…”  (by Jonathan Swift) (+++): during a trip to Ireland in 2016, I found out that Jonathan Swift had been about everything in Ireland, I thus decided to take on this classic book, out of which some stories we all have heard of at some point or another, such as the trip to Lilliput. Written in 1726, the book covers several trips of Gulliver, to nations previously unknown to him, where he discovers different civilizations (Lilliputians, giants, a civilization on a flying island) with their own ways of thinking. These travels offer the author situations to explain different points of view from menial subjects to more profound ones, such as fraud, the importance of rewarding good behavior, the importance of attitude over skills, astronomy, the influence of lawyers, taxes… up to a rather harsh criticism on human kind in comparison to the honesty of horses. A classic definitely worth reading. [Twitter thread]
  16. The Price of Inequality” (by Joseph E. Stiglitz) (+++): I had bought this book from the 2001 Nobel prize in economics to my father a couple of years ago. Once he finished it, I grabbed this boomerang gift so I could read it too. The book is a review of income inequality in the USA, the policies that have been taken in the last decades and that have contributed to the increasing of that inequality and its consequences. Criticism of austerity, defence of higher taxes, denouncing the double standards, the fine print of trade agreements, the need of labor unions, globalization and rent seeking are some of the topics discussed in the book. [Twitter thread]
  17. Out of Africa” (Karen Blixen) (++): I visited my sister in Denmark in the summer of 2016 and it was in that trip that I got acquainted with Karen Blixen (not having yet seen the movie based on the book). I bought the book and put it on the reading list. Written in 1937, the book is a passionate story of a farm life in Africa, lovely at times, with some descriptions of landscapes, relationships, the sounds of nature, the animals in the safaris, the flights in the Moth of her friend Denys…, that brings you back to a time and a world that most probably, for good and bad, we will never see again. A melancholic read at times, especially at the end, when the author describes when she was already closing her experience in Kenya. [Twitter thread]
  18. Ajax“, “The Trachiniae“, “Antigone“, “Oedipus Rex” (by Sophocles) (++): Sophocles was one of the great tragedians in ancient Greece, following Aeschylus, he lived in the 5th century BC. The book I read is a compilation of the four plays mentioned above. The plays treat the death of Ajax, of Heracles, of Antigone and the self-blinding of Oedipus, this last one considered to be the masterpiece of Greek tragedy. [Twitter thread]
  19. La tregua” (by Mario Benedetti) (++): written in 1959, this novel by the Uruguayan writer, long time based in Buenos Aires, tells the story of the widower Martín Santomé who falls in love with a much younger female work colleague just prior to his retirement. The book is written in the form of entries into the diary of Martin. [Twitter thread]
  20. El libro de arena” (by Jorge Luis Borges) (+): this book, published in 1975, is a compilation of 13 short stories. Together with “Ficciones“, which I had read a few months before (above), it is considered one of the masterpieces of Borges. Other than some pills of sharp criticism on fairmindedness, self described liberal free thinkers, disdain for science, culture and history, I did not like much this book either. [Twitter thread]
  21. Les Misérables” (by Victor Hugo) (+++): it took over 15 years to Victor Hugo to write Les Misérables, a 1,900-page (in the French version) historical novel considered one of the greatest novels of the 19th century if not of all time. Hugo centers the story around Jean Valjean, who was initially convicted for stealing bread but after a series of escape attempts he ends up serving 19 years. Valjean will be transformed into a benefactor who is always chased by his past and who follows an internal struggle between justice and doing good. Valjean will take as personal mission to save Cosette, a young orphan girl. The book includes some other central characters such as Fantine, Eponine, Marius, Gavroche or Javert, and Hugo will use them and the historical events hapenning at the time around which the novel is staged (1820s and 30s) to discuss about several subjects such as monarchy, social justice, criminal justice, romance, family, French politics…  It took me about 10 weeks and around 70 hours to read it, the longest book I have read so far, but definitely worth it, especially the last about 300 pages. [Twitter thread]
  22. L’Écoles des femmes” (by Molière) (+++): this play, published in 1662, portrays a comedy around Arnolphe, Horace and Agnès, where the first has been isolating and “educating” Agnès to marry her and Horace is her lover. Through candid and innocent dialogues between Horace and Arnolphe and Agnès and Arnolphe, the latter will become aware of the affair going on and the failure of his strategy. A great comedy and criticism of the society of his time in its view of women rights. [Twitter thread]
  23. Social Choice and Individual Values” (by Kenneth J. Arrow) (+): one of the 1972 Economics Nobel prize winner, Kenneth Arrow passed away in February 2017. At that point I thought of reading this book, a 100-page essay in which he derives his “General Possibility Theorem”, known as Arrow’s impossibility theorem or voting paradox: “If there are at least three alternatives which the members of the society are free to order in any way, then every social welfare function (…) must be either imposed or dictatorial”. The exposition of his social choice theory, the implications of the theorem and the particular cases when some conditions are quite interesting. However, the book is a plagued with demonstrations with which he arrives to his theorem; a tough read if not on student mode. [Twitter thread]
  24. Le Tartuffe ou L’imposteur” (by Molière) (+++): the first version of this play appeared in 1664, and after some struggles with censorship it reappeared in its final version in 1669. In this comedy, Molière criticizes the hypocrisy and trickery often hidden behind a pious appearance. In the plot, Tartuffe is an impostor that passes by a fervor devotee who uses religion to trick Orgon, to the point of getting his state and at the brink of getting his wife. A great pointed comedy. [Twitter thread]
  25. L’Avare” (by Molière) (+++): written in 1668, in this great comedy the author takes on greed and its influence on love between parents and children, jealousy, marriage arrangements based on dowries…  [Twitter thread]

During this year again, I have been able to read at a higher pace than years ago, before I adopted a more rigorous approach following these two tips:

  • a blog post from Farnam Street blog “Just Twenty-Five Pages a Day“, which was published well after I had adopted such an approach to reading but captures it very well,
  • the Wikipedia article about the Pomodoro Technique, which enables you to efficiently use the last hours of the day.

I wish you all very interesting reads in 2018!

(1) You can find here: my 2012 reading list201320142015 and 2016 ones.

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Reading language and format (2016 update)

About a year ago, I wrote a couple of blog posts where I reflected on the mix of languages I used when reading books between English, French and Spanish and about the format of the books I read, whether electronic or paper books. After having shared last week my 2016 reading list, this is just a short post to update the two tables I included in those posts:

Reading language

reading_language_2016

From 2010 to 2015 I read mostly in English. This is something I changed in the second half of 2015 and in this 2016 I have continued with a more balanced approach, with 42% of the books I read being in English, 33% in Spanish and 24% in French. I believe I will continue with a similar approach in this 2017.

Reading format

reading_format_2016

In 2016 I have continued with the same ratio of electronic to paper books than in the previous years. As I read more books in 2016 than in any other previous year, I have also read more electronic books, hopefully this will lead to the amortization of the e-reader I have in this year or the next (I estimated here its amortization in about 20 e-books read with it, the first batch of 10 already completed).

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My 2016 reading list

In this post I wanted to share the list of books I read along the year (1) with a small comment for each one and links to some articles in this blog where I wrote a book review for a few of them. I have also included a small rating from one to three “+” depending on how much do I recommend its reading:

books

  1. Reales Ordenanzas” (by Carlos III, King of Spain 1759-1788) (+): these are the set of rules for the Spanish Armed Forces issued in 1768 under the rule of the king Carlos III and which were kept in use until 1978. They are structured in titles and articles, quite like a legal text. Some of the main values conveyed through the rules are respect for the orders received and education in the dealings with subordinates. Find a post with the book review I wrote about it here.
  2. Cronica de una muerte anunciada” (by Gabriel Garcia Marquez) (+++): in this book Garcia Marquez explores a mix of styles between journalism and crime fiction to cover the plot of the murder of Santiago Nasar, and how despite being widely announced, as the time of the death approaches it cannot be prevented by the people who try to do so. Find a post with the book review I wrote about it here.
  3. The Capital in the XXI century” (by Thomas Piketty) (+++): arguably the economics book of 2013, it is a review of the evolution and distribution of wealth and income from the XVIII century till today mainly in Europe and the United States. It discusses how in times of small growth the rate of return of capital becomes the main source of wealth increase and how that contributes to the increasing and maintaining of inequality. A follow-on conclusion is his call for a global tax on wealth.
  4. Common Sense” (by Thomas Paine) (+): published in 1776, it is one of the best selling books in America of all time. The book is a short treatise on the government, democracy, monarchy and a call for the freedom of independence of the American colonies from England.
  5. Pilote de guerre” (by Antoine de Saint-Exupery) (++): published in 1942 while he was living in New York, this book describes Saint-Exupery’s experiences during the battle of France (1940) when he flew aboard a Bloch MB.170 reconnaissance missions over Germany. The English version of the book was published under the title “Flight to Arras”.
  6. Club Dumas” (by Arturo Perez-Reverte) (+++): this novel is centered on Lucas Corso, a fictional book dealer specialized in finding collectors items. Corso is commissioned to find copies of a book and that will take him to travel between Spain, Portugal and France living situations that resemble very much to those of The Three Musketeers, the novel by Alexandre Dumas. The book in itself is an invitation to read other books and to cultivate a passion for reading.
  7. Gray Mountain” (by John Grisham) (+++): published in the fall of 2014, this legal thriller by Grisham tells the story of the lawyer Samantha Koffer, on leave from a big law firm in NY due to the Great Recession, she joins the practice of a small firm in Virginian Appalachia region where she will defend the victims of big coal mining corporations.
  8. quijoteEl ingenioso hidalgo don Quijote de la Mancha” (by Miguel de Cervantes) (+++): Cervantes published the two books that have become the masterpieces of literature in Spanish language between 1605 and 1615, since then, they have become two of the most sold and read books. They cover the stories and encounters of the hidalgo (knight) Don Quixote with Sancho Panza as his helper. Those adventures are used by Cervantes to reflect by way of the characters on different aspects of life, pose rhetorical questions, criticize institutions, etc. Find a post with the book review I wrote about it here.
  9. El sol de Breda” (by Arturo Perez-Reverte) (++): this book is the third one of the series of the fictional Captain Alatriste. In this book, the story is framed around the siege of Breda (1625). The book covers extensively the detail of life at the trenches, the feelings of some of the characters and how they face the uncertainty of the war. He also reflects on the Spanish history and some features that he sees as part of the national character. Find a post with the book review I wrote about it here.
  10. Terre des hommes” (by Antoine de Saint-Exupery) (+++): this is a compilation book of some memories of the aviator Antoine de Saint-Exupéry of his time at the airmail carrier l’Aéropostale.The book was published in 1939, two years later he received the US National Book Award for it. In the book, Saint-Exupéry pays tribute to some of his colleagues, mainly Henri Guillaumet and Jean Mermoz, and he shares some experiences which today seem unbelievable. Find a post with the book review I wrote about it here.
  11. La falsa bonanza” (by Miguel Sebastian) (+++): Miguel Sebastian is an economist who served in the cabinet of Spanish prime minister as economic adviser and as minister of Industry, Trade and Tourism from 2008 to 2011. Those were the years following the financial crash and in which the bubble who had been going on for years in Spain finally exploded. In this book, Sebastian intends to find the causes that fuelled that bubble, the policies that helped it, the actions that were not taken, the institutions that failed at stopping it, etc., with the aim of being better equipped to avoid a similar development in the future. The book is written in a very readable fashion, provides plenty of tables, graphics and references, and at the same time is very synthetic.
  12. Le Tour du monde en 80 jours” (by Jules Verne) (++): Willeas Fog, a character about whom not much is known, bets with his colleagues of the Reform club in London that he is able to travel around the world in 80 days, and so he does embark himself in such endeavor with his assistant, Passpartout. A the same time, there is an ongoing investigation of a robbery of the Bank of England which makes a police investigator, Fix, to follow Fog all along the trip (as he is a suspect), waiting for an authorization coming from England to arrest him before he evades justice. The reader is conflicted by the suspicion laid upon Fog, as all the acts of the character in the story describe an orderly, integer, compassionate person, even if not much is known about him, his profession, origins or his past. Find a post with the book review I wrote about it here.
  13. Les Parisiens comme ils sont” (by Honoré de Balzac) (+): I approached this book, part of the large series “La Comédie humaine“, as a first encounter with the work of Balzac in advance to a trip to Paris. The style of Balzac in this book is very readable, light, direct. I would even say opinionated. I did not particularly like the book very much, especially the chapters referring to how women should behave, dress, and the comparisons between women of Paris and the provinces. It may reflect a view of his time and class, but did not resonate with me today.
  14. keynesThe General Theory of Employment, Interest, and Money” (by John Maynard Keynes) (+++): this book, published in 1936, is considered the magnum opus of Keynes, a character whose contribution to the development of economics and politics cannot be overstated. The book pointed to some of the shortcomings of the classical theory (lack of competition) and introduced some key concepts such as the propensity to consume, the multiplier, the consumption function, the marginal efficiency of capital, etc. The book was not intended for the general public and I must say that it has been one of the most difficult reads I have encountered so far. Nevertheless, I consider it a must read for those having an interest in economy. I may write a dedicated post reviewing it at a later point in time.
  15. El Junkers Ju-52/3m CASA C-352” (by Luis Gonzalez Pavon) (+++): this is a book written by a colleague from CASA (the former name of the Spanish part of Airbus) where he dives in great detail into the history of the aircraft Junkers 52, from the origins of his designers to its production in Germany and under license in Spain. He collected plenty of information on the aircraft from different sources, serial number by serial number, recording the changes of tail numbers, registry numbers, the roles played by each and every aircraft, and in particular the crucial mission they played during the first stages of the Spanish Civil War on the Nationalist side. The book includes at the end charts, drawings and tables with the technical data of the aircraft.
  16. What I talk about when I talk about running” (by Haruki Murakami) (++): Murakami is a quite accomplished runner since the beginning of the 1980s. In this book, published in 2007, he described what running means and has meant to him. Personally, it was very easy to relate to him, sharing not only his passion for running, but a bunch of experiences, from having run marathons in New York or Athens, to having completed a 100km ultra marathon, to 6am morning runs. Find a post with the book review I wrote about it here.
  17. Man’s search for meaning” (by Viktor E. Frankl) (++): Frankl was a psychiatrist who developed a therapy called logotherapy based on the will for meaning. He later became prisoner at several concentration camps during the second world war, which he survived. He described in this book the experiences he and some of his fellow prisoners endured during those years and how that will helped them to survive. That accounts for about two thirds of the book; the remaining third is dedicated to further explanations and clarifications of his therapy.
  18. Poema del Cid” (anonymous, Pedro Abad) (+++): this is oldest epic poem of Spanish literature, which tells the history of the Castilian knight Rodrigo Díaz de Vivar, better known as Cid Campeador. The story goes from the loss by the Cid of the favor of the king Alfonso VI to his leaving of Castile, his continued profession of allegiance to the king, the fights and the conquest Valencia (where he settles), the coming closer againt to the king via the marriage of his daughters with Castilian noblemen and the following vengeance against his sons-in-law.
  19. Voyage au centre de la Terre” (by Jules Verne) (+): this is a science fiction novel centered around the figure of the fictional professor Otto Lidenbrock who has studied the works of the 16th-century Icelandic Arne Saknussemm and believes that getting into the Snæfellsjökull volcano he will be able to reach the centre of the earth. He is accompanied in his trip by a local guide and his nephew, with whom he discusses the scientific implications of such a trip and the features of the landscape they encounter as they travel downwards.
  20. Exploradores: La historia del yacimiento de Atapuerca” (by José María Bermúdez de Castro) (++): this book is a very informative and fascinating trip into archeological science, the different theories within it, the evolution and the discarding of some of those, the relevant place of the archeological site of Atapuerca in the recent developments in the science, etc.; all described by José María Bermúdez de Castro, one of the co-directors of the site since over 20 years ago and one of the persons who have seen all those developments first-hand, coined some of the theories and wrote the papers.
  21. hamletHamlet, Prince of Denmark” (by William Shakespeare) (+++): one of the best known plays by Shakespeare, the plot can be summarized (without spoiling it) as follows: Hamlet’s father, the previous king, has recently died and Hamlet is profoundly affected by his death. A ghost of his father appears to him and this sets Hamlet into the search of who has killed his father. The play takes place at the Kronborg castle, in Helsingør (Denmark), which we visited in August, take a look at the post about that visit here.
  22. American Capitalism, the concept of countervailing power” (by John K. Galbraith) (++): the American economist explains in this book, published in 1952, the concept of countervailing power, necessary to balance in favor of the weaker part situations in which imperfect competition is established, creating oligopolies or monopolies which otherwise would enjoy an extremely powerful hand against individual wage owners or small (farm) producers. The book is a critique to the classical theory, in that it shows that it assumes perfect competition, a kind of competition which in real life very often it is absent.
  23. Dubliners” (by James Joyce) (+): I came to reading this book ahead of a trip to Ireland and Dublin without knowing about it. The book, published in 1914, is a collection of short unconnected stories of the everyday life of common Dubliners. The book has some importance in the frame of the then-high momentum of Irish nationalism, but I particularly did not like it very much. However, apparently some of the characters and stories appear again and are continued in Ulysses, thus the groundwork of having read it may pay off at a later time.
  24. Yeager” (by General Chuck Yeager & Leo Janos) (+++): Chuck Yeager was the US Air Force flight test pilot that broke the sound barrier for the first time on October 14, 1947, flying on board of the rocket-propelled Bell X-1. Reading his autobiography you discover that he went from being an uneducated child in rural West Virginia to retiring as a general of the US Air Force, acquainted with several US presidents and other dignitaries, he was the first pilot to become ace in a single day by shooting down 5 German fighters at World War II. Find a post with the book review I wrote about it here.
  25. goriotLe Père Goriot” (by Honoré de Balzac) (+): this book, published in 1835 and part of the large series “La Comédie humaine“, is considered to be the most important novel of Balzac. The story is centered around some characters who live in the boarding house of Mme. Vauquer, mainly the young Eugène de Rastignac, who is coming from a rural background and trying to reach the upper levels of Parisian society (initially at the cost of his family), and father Goriot, who had spent all his fortune on his daughters in order to marry them to wealthy individuals. Their lives are intertwined in a quite sad plot in which the daughters ignore the father when he is dying and Eugène befriends them and unsuccessfully tries to get them closer to the father.
  26. Candide, ou l’Optimisme” (by Voltaire) (+): this book, published in 1759 by the French philosopher François-Marie Arouet (Voltaire), follows Candide from the time when he is expelled by his uncle when he declares his love to his cousin Cunégonde. The story then takes Candide through Spain, Lisbon, South America, the Ottoman empire, etc., in a sequence of events in which Candide is confronted by situations and characters that put to the test his innate optimism.
  27. Metamorphosis” (by Franz Kafka) (++): this fiction novel, published in 1925, starts with the transformation of the salesman Gregor Samsa into a large vermin (insect-like creature). As the story goes, Gregor gets to learn how to live in his new condition and so does his family, which initially is profoundly impacted. The state of denial of the parents, the disgusting sight and smell of the creature, added to the discomfort of the new situation take a toll in the mood and relationships within the family.
  28. Romeo and Julliet” (by William Shakespeare) (+++): this play, published in 1597, tells the story of the love of two youngsters from rival families of Verona (Italy). This rivalry causes that both Romeo and Julliet have to hide their love and engage in secret with a priest of their confidence, while the family of Julliet wants her to marry a local nobleman, Paris. The bad timing of different events, miscommunications and bad chance steer the story into a fateful ending.
  29. Rogue Lawyer” (by John Grisham) (+++): published in the fall of 2015, this legal thriller by Grisham tells the story of Sebastian Rudd, a lawyer which does not hesitate to take the cases that nobody wants to take, providing a defense to people convicted for the worst kind of crimes. Working in the dark side of the legal system puts him in the situation to negotiate obscure arrangements with the federal institutions.
  30. The Importance of Being Earnest” (by Oscar Wilde) (+++): The play, a critical satire of some of Victorian England social institutions and values (in particular marriage, literary press, religion, honesty, punctuality), is centered around two friends, Algernon and Jack (John Worthing), who go about from criticizing each other’s habits, to sharing each other’s faked relatives, to proposing to each other’s cousin and ward. After drawing several parallels between the two characters and their fiancées, and going about several absurd situations, the play unravels in the most unexpected way. Find a post with the book review I wrote about it here.
  31. The picture of Dorian Gray” (by Oscar Wilde) (++): this book, published in 1890, created a great controversy at the time due to the backwards morals and social conventions of the time. The use of the language and the style of the novel are impressive. The story itself is centered around Dorian Gray, how he is influenced by Lord Henry and his focus on beauty and pleasure, and the painter Basil, who captured in a portrait of Dorian his essence, to the point that Dorian’s life will be very much influenced and even dominated by his relationship with the painting.
  32. mosqueterosLes Trois Mousquetaires” (by Alexandre Dumas) (+++): published in 1844, this masterpiece of Dumas, recounts the story of d’Artagnan, a real character of the XVII century, even if many of the facts of his life are twisted or made up for the novel. The plot includes several real life characters of XVII century France and some of the events taking place during 1625-28 (such as the siege of La Rochelle, the death of the Duke of Buckingham, etc.), though the plot in itself and the explanation of the causes intertwining the events are fictional. The over 800 pages (of the edition I have) read in a frantic pace thanks to the easy style of Dumas and the parallel progress on the different sides to the story.
  33. Wait” (by Franck Parnoy) (++): in this book the author studies the decision making process in situations that range from super fast trading, to the milliseconds before bating a baseball, to the longer term decisions involved in innovation. From the different stories covered in the book the lesson to be taken is the need to take some pause, to wait, to observe, process the information and orient ourselves before taking action.

During this year and the last quarter of 2015, I have been able to read at a higher pace than during the previous ones. I would suggest the reader of this post, if interested in reading more, to check out the following two tips:

  • a blog post from Farnam Street blog “Just Twenty-Five Pages a Day“, which was published well after I had adopted such an approach to reading but captures it very well,
  • the Wikipedia article about the Pomodoro Technique, which enables you to efficiently use the last hours of the day.

I wish you all very interesting reads in 2017!

(1) You can find here: my 2012 reading list, 20132014 and 2015 ones.

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Terre des hommes (Wind, Sand and Stars)

terreTerre des hommes (of which English version was titled “Wind, Sand and Stars”, and apparently differs greatly from the French version which I read) is a compilation book of some memories of the aviator Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, of his time at the airmail carrier l’Aéropostale.The book was published in 1939, two years later he received the US National Book Award for this book. His most known book, “Le Petit Prince“, was published a few years later, in 1943.

Saint-Exupery failed to enter to Naval Academy and started studies of Fine Arts, which he did not finish. While doing his military service, he took flying lessons and there he discovered his passion. He flew first for the French Air Force, then he was a pioneer in the international postal flight, flying for the Aéropostale between Toulouse and Dakar, and later other lines. Those were years in which aviation differed very much to what it is today, and that is reflected in “Terre des Hommes“, where he pays tribute to some of his colleagues, mainly Henri Guillaumet and Jean Mermoz, and he shares some experiences which seem today unbelievable.Those years at Latécoère (which airline later became L’Aeropostale) must have been truly remarkable.

Henri Guillaumet was another pioneer of French aviation who contributed to the opening of airmail routes through the South Atlantic and the Andes. He was said to be one of the best pilots of his time, “Je n’en ai pas connu de plus grand” (I’ve never known a greater one), said Didier Daurat, director of l’Aéropostale.

Guillaumet taught Saint-Exupéry how to see the land they flew over, noticing every minor detail, every tree, corner of a river, and getting to know the locals, their farms, etc., as that was the ground he would have to land on given the case:

“Mais quelle étrange leçon de géographie je reçus la! Guillaumet ne m’enseignait pas l’Espagne ; il me faisait de l’Espagne une amie. Il ne me parlait ni d’hydrographie, ni de populations, ni de cheptel. Il ne me parlait pas de Guadix, mais des trois orangers qui, près de Guadix, bordent un champ : «Méfie-toi d’eux, marque-les sur ta carte… ».”

Jean Mermoz, another French aviation pioneer, first flew for the Air Force and then for Latécoère. It is famous the quote from Daurat who, after Mermoz performed his entry flying exam, he told Mermoz “We don’t need acrobats here, we need bus drivers.” Of Mermoz, Saint-Exupéry describes when he was captured in Africa or how he opened routes through the Andes.

“Quelques camarades, dont Mermoz, fondèrent la ligne française de Casablanca à Dakar, à travers le Sahara insoumis. Les moteurs d’alors ne résistant guère, une panne livra Mermoz aux Maures ; ils hésitèrent à le massacrer, le gardèrent quinze jours prisonnier, puis le revendirent. Et Mermoz reprit ses courriers au-dessus des mêmes territoires.

Lorsque s’ouvrit la ligne d’Amérique, Mermoz toujours avant-garde, fut chargé d’étudier le tronçon Buenos Aires à Santiago, et après un pont sur le Sahara, de bâtir un pont au-dessus des Andes. On lui confia un avion qui plafonnait à cinq mille deux cents mètres. Les crêtes de la Cordillère s’élèvent a sept mille mètres. Et Mermoz décolla pour chercher des trouées.”

There are two stories in the book which are breathtaking. The first one describes a crash Guillaumet suffered in the middle of the snow-covered Andes. He crashed in the middle of a storm and once on ground, he covered himself with the postal bags for 48 hours. As there would be no one coming to pick him, he then walked for 5 days and 4 nights (without ropes, axes, food supplies, or any other equipment for the hike). In those moments, he only wanted to get some sleep but he kept telling to himself that his wife and his friends, all hoped for him to continue walking and he could not let them down. To keep himself awake he thought of movies or books and tried to mentally review them in his mind from end to end. However at some point he fell down and was not capable to stand up again.

“[…] semblable au boxer qui, vide d’un coup de toute passion, entend les secondes tomber une à une dans un univers étranger, jusqu’à la dixième qui est sans appel.”

But then, he suddenly thought that in the case of a disappearance the legal death would be established four years later and this would impede his wife to immediately receive the compensation from the insurance policy. This gave him the will to continue walking just for 50 more meters until there was a great rock where his body would be clearly visible the following summer.

“«Si je me relève, je pourrai peut-être l’atteindre. Et si je me cale mon corps contre la pierre, l’été venu on le retrouvera.»

Une fois debout, tu marcha deux nuits et trois jours.”

He stood up and continued walking, not only for 50 metres but for 2 days and 3 nights more and he saved his life.

“«Ce qui sauve, c’est de faire un pas. Encore un pas. C’est toujours le même pas que l’on recommence…»”

f-anry-2The second story is from Saint-Exupéry himself, when, together with his mechanic, departed from Senegal to Egypt. The last lap would take them from Benghazi (Libya) to Cairo. During that flight they suffered some engine issue which started with heavy vibrations and finally ended in a crash. This time was not in the snow-covered Andes, but in the middle of the desert (close to Simoun). Again, nobody would come immediately after them. Saint-Exupéry started to make some estimates of whether they would find them in 8 days if they had flown straight or in 6 months if they had suffered some drift (derive), and where to walk to try to be closer to civilization.

In that situation he remembered the words and the example from Guillaumet and he pushed himself one step at a time. It is daunting to read how in the night he buried himself in the sand to keep the warmth of his body.

«Je creuse une fosse dans le sable, je m’y couche, et je me recouvre de sable. Mon visage seul émerge

Four days later, four days of thirst, hunger and lack of sleep, they were found by two Bedouins with camels in the desert in Libya.

The figure of Saint-Exupéry is today of worldly fame and I believe that one has to read this book (1) to really know who he was.

***

(1) Apart from “Le Petit Prince“, which I commented here, I have also read his “Vol de nuit” and “Pilote de guerre“, which are short novels based on experiences very close to what he lived and described in “Terre des Hommes“.

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