Tag Archives: Adam Smith

My 2020 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 books. I have also included a small rating from one to three “+” depending on how much I do recommend its reading.

  1. Le Vicomte de Bragelonne“, tome I (by Alexandre Dumas) (+++): This is the second sequel, or the third book in the series of the Three Musketeers, where D’Artagnan, Athos, Portos and Aramis are portrayed ~35 years after the first adventures. The novel follows the same engaging style and the use of historical context at convenience, this time describing in France events with Louis XIV as king, Colbert as finance minister, or in England the restoration of Charles II. [Twitter thread].
  2. Julio. La biografía” (by Óscar García) (++): Nice biography of Julio Iglesias, written in a light style. It follows a chronological structure going from its beginnings, first songs, life in Madrid, describing his different albums, tours, collaborations, his successes abroad, the struggles with the family life.
  3. Ultralearning” (by Scott H. Young) (++): The book provides some principles and tactics to take on individual, focused learning projects. Some of those can be applied to any learning project and could be seen as common sense (investing time in advance in the what, how…, focus, directness, retrieval/memory check approach, feedback…). The book is though short of examples as it comes back once and again to the same few the author had gathered from his experience and some others.
  4. On the Nature of Things” (by Lucretius) (+++): Written in the first century BC, the book is a great exercise of observation and deduction. The author tries to describe the universe, matter, the forces, death, the soul, etc. [Twitter thread].
  5. Sense and Sensibility” (by Jane Austen) (+): Published in 1811 in this book Austen elaborates on the quest of partners for two sisters: Elinor who has much too sense and little assertiveness and Marianne who has more innocence than sensibility. I struggled with Austen’s use of never ending complicated sentences.
  6. Noticia de un secuestro” (by Gabriel García Márquez) (++): In this book written in 1996, García Márquez describes the kidnapping, life in custody and liberation of several journalists at the beginning of the 90s by the terrorist group FARC. It describes the nuances of the “extraditables“, how the FARC negotiated to secure that Pablo Escobar and others would not be extradited to the USA when surrendering. [Twitter thread].
  7. Business adventures“, (by John Brooks) (++): I bought this book years ago as it was highly recommended both by Warren Buffett and Bill Gates. Written in 1966, the book is composed of a collection of stories on product launches, insider trading, income tax, trade balance and devaluations, stockholders meetings, trade secrets, communication in business, etc. Some of them are very interesting and you can learn a lot about those subjects and business in general, but it is not for the faint-hearted reader. [Twitter thread].
  8. Managing uncertainty” (by by M Syrett and M Devine) (++): I had this book at home since years ago as a compliment from The Economist for answering to some survey. It was written in 2012, based on surveys and interviews following the 2008/09 financial crisis. The editing job was poor. Otherwise, I read during the first weeks of lock down following the Covid-19 outbreak in March 2020 in Europe and it provided valuable feedback and examples. Elements discussed: flexibility and responsiveness, anticipation and scenarios, looking for opportunities, strong leadership, sense of direction, motivation, confidence in the organisation, transparency, accountability, governance, speed and informed decisions, engaging staff. [Twitter thread].
  9. La Peste” (by Albert Camus) (+++): This is a classic from 1947 that had to be read during the first weeks of the lock down following the Covid-19 outbreak. The book describes the development of a plague in the city of Oran (Algeria). The parallels to what we could live or learn from Covid-19 were many along the book: from the illness and desperation of the sick, to the confinement, the lack of resources, drastic measures, anguish, the loss of loved ones… [Twitter thread].
  10. A sangre y fuego” (by Manuel Chaves Nogales) (+++): The book was written by the author shortly after leaving Spain in 1937 to be exiled first in Paris. It is a collection of stories of the Spanish Civil War based on real facts. It conveys the horror of the war, the hatred with which both sides acted both in the front and in the rearward, the disorganization of the republican side (where the author was while in Madrid), the fights and disputes between militias from the republican side, the lawlessness… A must read. [Twitter thread].
  11. Glory Lost and Found” (by Seth Kaplan and Jay Shabat) (++): The book was written in 2016 and provides a very detailed review of Delta Airlines’ history from its creation and especially its remarkable turnaround post 9/11, including a year by year (2002-2014) review of the industry. When the Covid-19 crisis is past, the book will deserve a follow up. [Twitter thread].
  12. En el principio fue el número” (by Francisco Javier Mateos Maroto) (++): This is the first book of a collection of 40 short books on mathematics that my mother gifted me with in 2019. My idea is to read about 5-8 of those books per year. This book introduces the origin of numbers, numbering systems in different cultures, notation, numbers’ position, the origin of zero, etc. [Twitter thread].
  13. El infinito. ¿Es un viaje o un destino?” (by F. Rossell i Pujos) (+): The 2nd book of the math collection. Its beginning (discussion of Greeks, Aquinas, Bernouilli…) and its ending (Brunelleschi, Planck) were interesting but half of the book was too technical (Cantor set theories…).
  14. Tragedies” (by Euripides) (+++): The book I read is a compilation of 9 of the 18 tragedies that have survived to our days, the following ones: Alcestis, Medea, Hippolytus, Hecuba, The Trojan Women, Iphigenia in Tauris, Iphigenia in Aulis, Bacchae, Cyclops. A must read together with Aeschylus, Sophocles, the Iliad and the Odyssey. [Twitter thread].
  15. Números irracionales” (by Bartolo Luque and Jorge Calero) (++): Another book from the math collection. This one offers an entertaining foray into the discovery of different irrational numbers (pi, e, 2^1/2…) throughout history and how they were estimated. [Twitter thread].
  16. Todo es número” (by Manuel Alfonseca) (+++): Another book from the math collection. This book takes the reader through a light review of the history of philosophy and science since ancient Greece till today. [Twitter thread].
  17. Pride and Prejudice” (by Jane Austen) (++): In this novel the story centres around the quest of partners for the Bennet sisters. I liked this novel much more than “Sense and Sensibility”. It has very good twists in the plot, it shows how the mistrust between social classes difficults open relationships from the outset, its reading is more fluid and it has a very strong protagonist in Elizabeth. And I loved this line by the end “Now be sincere, did you admire me for my impertinence?” [Twitter thread].
  18. Meditations” (by Marcus Aurelius) (+++): Marcus Aurelius was a Roman emperor in the late II century AD. This book consists of a collection of his thoughts, advice, quotes and reflections on several subjects. He wrote them as a guidance for self-improvement, being part of the Roman Stoicism school. [Twitter thread].
  19. Parmenides” (by Plato) (+): This is one of the dialogues of Plato, though it is a very difficult one to read. Either you are very motivated to attempt it or I would not recommend it. It discusses its theory of ideas, the one which is, the one which is not, the Others. A tough one. [Twitter thread].
  20. Argonautica” (by Apollonius Rhodius) (++): Written in the III century BC, this book tells the story of the trip that Jason and the rest of the heroes on board of the ship Argo make in search of the Golden fleece (which is in the region of Colchis in the East of the Black Sea), how they meet Medea and how they later flee making a detour around Europe. [Twitter thread].
  21. The brothers Karamazov” (by Fyodor Dostoevsky) (++): Lots of passion and difficult characters in this psychological novel from Dostoevsky, especially the father Fyodor, the older brother Dimitri (Mitya) and Grushenka. At times it gets a bit boring, especially the spells around the starets Zosima and the monastery. The last quarter of the book with the dialogues and speculations around the trial is great. [Twitter thread].
  22. The Clouds. Lysistrata. Wealth” (by Aristophanes) (+++): This book contained 3 of the 11 surviving comedies by Aristophanes. The first one is a critique of intellectuals in Athens and a caricature of Socrates. The second shows the bargaining power of abstinence as proved by the stance taken by the Spartan women of the play during the Peloponesian war. The third one portrays poverty as a virtue, a call for a fairer redistribution of wealth and shows the incentives that money creates. I found the comedy of Aristophanes quite direct and rich in double meaning. [Twitter thread].
  23. El archivero de la Lubianka” (by Travis Holland) (+): I received this book as a present many years ago but I forgot from whom. The story is based on a clerk working in the literary archives of the Lubianka. It depicts the fear, the lack of freedom and the arbitrary prosecution in the times of the Soviet Union under Stalin in 1939. [Twitter thread].
  24. Este no es el titulo de este libro” (by Nelo Alberto Maestre Blanco) (++): Another book from the math collection. This book discusses some paradoxes, axioms and fundamentals of mathematics. It touches the work of several mathematicians from the past: Euclid, Leibniz, Boole, Cantor, Frege, Russell, Hilbert, Peano, Gödel, Turing, Shannon.
  25. Los secretos de la defensa de Madrid” (by Manuel Chaves Nogales) (+++): This is another great book from the journalist Chaves Nogales. It describes the details of the defence of the city of Madrid during the first months of the Spanish civil war in 1936 while it was besieged by the rebels and defended by the republicans and other militias. It provides a very positive depiction of the general Miaja (loyal to the Republic) and a rather negative one of Largo Caballero (PSOE), and of actions carried by the unions (CNT and UGT) in the republican side, such as stealing food, weapons and ammunition either from the people of Madrid or the republican army defending Madrid at the front. The book provides a very detailed account of the fights and moves street by street, parks, bridges and around Ciudad Universitaria. [Twitter thread].
  26. The birds. The frogs. The assemblywomen” (by Aristophanes) (+): This book contained 3 of the 11 surviving comedies by Aristophanes. The first one is a comedy about gods. The second one mainly centres around a duel bewteen Euripides and Aeschylus in the Hades. The third one is a sexual and scatological comedy where women rebel and take control of the government. I found these 3 comedies a bit softer than the others I read from Aristophanes. [Twitter thread].
  27. Historia de la Guerra del Peloponeso” (by Thucydides) (+): For this work Thucydides is considered by some the father of scientific history or the first historian, as he applied a rigorous chronological description of the Peloponnesian war providing analysis without the intervention of Greek deities and from a neutral perspective, despite him being an Athenian general during the war. It covers the war between Athens and Peloponnesian League (led by Sparta). Some of the main historical characters appearing along the battles are: Brasidas, Pericles, Demosthenes, Alcibiades (a quite controversial character who changes sides a few times betraying his camp to avoid justice and advance in his career), Agis, Hermocrates… The books shows the importance of the naval power and dominance of the seas, and the ephemeral nature of alliances. [Twitter thread].
  28. Factfulness” (by Hans Rosling) (+++): The late Hans Rosling advocated for decades for a good comprehension of the World through knowing basic data about it and to improve the decision making processes. This book is organized around a series of 10 biases or “instincts” that we need to be aware of when analyzing data (e.g., size, gaps, linear extrapolations…) and provides some rules of thumb or tips to overcome them. [Twitter thread].
  29. The Rooster Bar” (by John Grisham) (++): A fine novel by Grisham, in which the protagonists are Law students dropouts illegally practicing law in order to get out of their student’s debt. It also touches on the difficulties of illegal immigrants in the US. [Twitter thread].
  30. The Rational Optimist” (by Matt Ridley) (++): Written in 2010, this book is a defence of exchanges, free trade, the value of ideas, the gains obtained from specialization, the advances achieved through technology, the importance of institutions, the overall improvement of societies thanks to continuous growth vs regression. It is an ode to the market economy in times when it is attacked from many fronts. [Twitter thread].
  31. The age of innocence” (by Edith Wharton) (++): Written in 1920, the book shows how was family and social life, and the morals of the old New York of 1870s. The change of that society at the turn of the century. At times the prose and language are rather baroque, and lack rhythm, but I want to remark the impressive last chapter with unexpected twists through the last sentence. [Twitter thread].
  32. This side of paradise” (by F. Scott Fitzgerald) (+): Written in 1920, the book portrays the young Amory Blaine forming his personality before and after WWI, throughout his years studying at Princeton, his attitude and relationship with girls, his first loves, the life New York, his failures… A fast paced first novel of the author.[Twitter thread].
  33. The wealth of nations” (by Adam Smith) (+++): First published in 1776, the book is for a reason a masterpiece of economic analysis. It covers in a didactic way and with several historical examples a large variety of economic subjects: the division of labour, competition and free trade vs monopolies, income from wages, land and stock, the relationship of the European powers (mainly England, Spain, Portugal and The Netherlands) with their colonies, public finances. [Twitter thread].
  34. Le Comte de Monte-Cristo“, tome I (by Alexandre Dumas) (+++): I started reading this first part of the story to try to read it at the same time as my brother. It portrays the story of Edmond Dantès and his transformation through injustice inflicted upon him into the Count of Monte-Cristo. In his comeback he looks for the characters of his previous life to reward them or seek vengeance. All in the historical context of the escape from the island of Elba and the hundred days of Napoleon followed by the Bourbons restoration.
  35. Midiendo el cielo y la Tierra” (by Fernando J. Ballesteros) (+++): Another book of the maths collection. This one describes the evolution of estimating and measuring distances both in the Earth (latitudes, longitudes, navigation, the size of it) and in outer space (distances to the Moon, other planets, the Sun, other stars), including the triangulations used, Thales theorem, trigonometry, Kelper’s laws and the tools employed. [Twitter thread].
  36. The Guardians” (by John Grisham) (+++): This fast paced novel is centred on a small law firm, practically pro bono, which operates mainly in South Georgia and North Florida trying to get innocent inmates that have been wrongly convicted. In doing so they confront sheriffs, prosecutors, drug traffickers…
  37. Cambiemos el mundo” (by Greta Thunberg) (-): This is a short book with a collection of the speeches that Thunberg had given up to some point in 2019. It was a thought provoking present from last Christmas. The book in itself is badly edited as there are no references, bibliography or any support to the claims the speaker does, which may be normal in a speech but not so in a book. The editing job was poor. Other than that, in the speeches she did nothing but advocate for degrowth and forecast the doom. Surely solutions will come through technologies, policies and investments that she does not bother to go into.

During this year, with the lock-downs, confinements, etc., there was plenty of time to read and I have been able to read at a good pace thanks to the 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.

Another question that I have got a couple of times is about the source of the list of some of the classics that I read. That one comes from yet another blog post from Farnam Street blog. That post mentioned the Great Books curriculum for the bachelor in arts of Saint John’s College in Annapolis. You can get the list from the Wikipedia or directly from the college website. As I am not reading exclusively those books I advance at a pace of 5 to 8 books out of that curriculum per year, thus it will take me other 20 years to finish the program.

I wish you all very interesting reads in 2021!

(1) You can find here: my 2012 reading list201320142015201620172018 and 2019 ones.

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Scotland

On the 2nd of June I flew in the morning from Toulouse to London Gatwick. At more or less the same time Luca flew from Amsterdam, our friend Elena from Madrid and Maicol drove from Bournemouth, in the South of England. From then on, we embarked into the adventure of seeing as much as possible of Scotland in a week. There we go!

Day 1: Gatwick, York, Riding Mill.

Day 1

At first we encountered heavy traffic in the road, thus we arrived to York later than we wished. We could have a walk around the city. We then followed to Riding Mill where we would sleep at the Low Fotherley Farm, the first of the many Bed & Breakfasts that we would be hosted at. This is a feature which I loved of the trip: those breakfasts! I also enjoyed much the suppers at pubs.

Day 2.

Day 2: Scottish Borders, Markinch, St. Andrews, Edinburgh

We continued our way to the North, making our first stop at the Scottish Borders, listening for the first time to the pipes and starting to see Scottish flags (St. Andrew’s cross). We then reached Edinburgh and passed it as we wanted to reach Markinch to witness the Highland Games, of which I already wrote one post.

Scottish Borders.

We then went to St. Andrews to visit the Old Course, which I explained in a post about golf in Scotland, and back to Edinburgh where we arrived just in time for dinner.

Day 3.

Day 3: Edinburgh, Stirling, Glamis, Cairngorms, Balmoral, Aberdeen

In Edinburgh we slept near Arthur’s Seat, but we decided to skip the trekking to the hill and head to the city centre. We then visited the Castle, where they were getting prepared for the Military Tattoo (where this year an official name for A400M may be given!).

In the castle we saw Mons Meg cannon, St. Margaret’s chapel, the Great Hall, the Scottish War Memorial, the One O’Clock Gun firing at 13:00, the Stone of Scone… We then went down to walk along the Royal Mile to see some more highlights of the city, such as the Cathedral or the statue to Adam Smith.

Edinburgh Castle.

We then went to visit the Stirling Castle, but was already closed (as were Glamis Castle and Balmoral, which we also passed by later on in the day). We took a look of the views of the fields around the castle, where many battles central to Scotland’s history were fought, among them those involving William Wallace and Robert the Bruce, who has a statue just at the entrance of the castle.

Fields at Stirling.

Instead of taking the fastest way by the coast to Aberdeen, we decided to take the route through the national park of the Cairngorms, where the highest mountains of Scotland are. There we saw plenty of deers (we almost bumped onto some of them suddenly crossing the road!), cows, rabbits, etc.

Cairngorms.

Day 4: Aberdeen, King’s College, Loch Ness, Badbea, Dunnet Head, Thurso.

In the morning we took a walk around Aberdeen, the silver or granite city. It was a pity that the cathedral and other places were closed. We could visit the Maritime Museum. We then headed for the beach. We did not take a bath yet, as we were not enough in the North. Close to the beach we saw the football stadium of Aberdeen football club, one of the two which defeated Real Madrid in a Cup winners’ Cup (Recopa) final in one of the four times it took part in the competition. We then went to see King’s College, founded in 1495, with its idyllic campus. Close to the university we visited St. Marchar’s Cathedral where we enjoyed its heraldic ceiling with the coat of arms of many European kingdoms of the time (including Castile, Leon, Navarra…), and where a quarter of William Wallace is supposed to be buried in the walls.

St. Marchar’s Cathedral heraldic ceiling.

Nessie, at Loch Ness.

Once we left Aberdeen we went to Inverness and crossed it to see the Loch Ness, and we did found Nessie!

On the way to the north coast we stopped at Badbea, a former village by the cliffs of the east coast established during the Highland Clearances, a dark episode in Scottish history.

Badbea (what it’s left of it).

We finally reached Thurso, on the north coast, but that was not enough, we needed to reach Dunnet Head, the northernmost point of the island (being this the one and not John o’Groats). There we could see the lighthouse and some fortifications built during WWII.

Day 5.

Day 5: Thurso, Bettyhill, Durness, Ullapoll.

We departed from Thurso and started our tour along the north coast of Scotland, one of the requirements for the trip. We made some stops along the way, to see some sight spots, to have a swim at the North Sea (close to Bettyhill), to visit the Smoo Cave at Durness, to see Durness’ beach and unexpectedly to play golf at Durness Golf Club, as I already explained in an earlier post.

Having a bath at the North Sea.

Luca “flying” at Durness beach.

Day 6.

Day 6: Ullapoll, Isle of Skye, Glencoe, Goban.

We had been recommended the visit of the Isle of Skye, as the most beautiful of the islands. After almost rounding it completely we do not recommend the visit. We had some lunch at Portree, which we didn’t either find particularly beautiful. Sincerely, we found dozens of more beautiful spots driving down the west coast of Scotland.

Continuing with our tour we made two short stops: at Glencoe, to visit the memorial of the massacre, where most of the MacDonald clan was killed, and at Goban, a nice port city.

Day 7.

Day 7: Islay

In Islay the main attraction was to visit Bowmore distillery, which I described in an earlier post. We had a walk around the village and then went on to visit the other villages of the island, Port Ellen and Porthaven, where we had some coffee.

Day 8.

Day 8: Islay, Glasgow, Lockerbie, Liverpool.

On the way to Liverpool we stopped to have a walk in Glasgow, where we had lunch at the restaurant “The Willow Tea Room“, designed by Charles Mackintosh in 1904. Later on, as we saw in the road the signpost of Lockerbie we drove by to see if there was any memorial of the tragedy with the Pan Am Flight 103 which exploded on air; we didn’t find it.

In Liverpool we went by Anfield, though we were late for taking on any guided tour. This is something for which I’ll have to come back. We then moved to the centre to visit The Cavern Club (where The Beatles made their first performance) and have some dinner.

Anfield, “You Will Never Walk Alone”

Luca at The Cavern Club.

Day 9.

Day 9: Liverpool, Gatwick.

This was the last day of the tour, with the only goal to get to Gatwick in time for our flights. The only remarkable thing we saw were some paratroopers being dropped from a C-130J-30 from the UK Royal Air Force, some miles to the East of Brize Norton air base.

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