Tag Archives: Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

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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Filed under Aerospace & Defence, Books

My 2015 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 (2), links to Wikipedia articles about the book (if available) and to the authors (in case you want to read about them). I have also included a small rating from one to three “+” depending on how much do I recommend its reading:

  1. DSC_0342Profiles in Courage (by John F. Kennedy) (++): written by then senator Kennedy when he was convalescent from a back surgery in the 1950s, this book analyzes the context, figures and controvert decisions made by 8 different US senators mainly from the XIX century (from John Quincy Adams, Daniel Webster… to Robert A. Taft), decisions that were not popular at the time in their constituencies but the politicians understood were needed to be taken and demanded courage to do so. For this book Kennedy obtained a Pulitzer prize in 1957. From the analysis, Kennedy extracts some lessons in the last chapter that are well encapsulated in the following dilemma: “[…] the loyalties of every Senator are distributed among his party, his state and section, his country and his conscience. On party issues his party loyalties are normally controlling. In regional disputes, his regional responsibilities will likely guide his course. It is on national issues, on matters of conscience which challenge party and regional loyalties, that the test of courage is presented.” 
  2. “El arte de ser padres” (by Fitzhugh Dodson) (++): a loan from my parents to help us in the quest of upbringing our daughter, the book, written in the late 1970s, did help in removing weight from some situations when the child was at the turn of being 2 years old. Among other things, it teaches you to get more relaxed, laid-back, not to enter into conflict trying to impose things, etc. It was also interesting to see how society and some social conventions have changed from the 1970s to today (e.g. drinking and smoking during pregnancy).
  3. TheSpiritOfStLouisThe Spirit of Saint Louis (by Charles A. Lindbergh) (++): this autobiographic book describes one of the great adventures of the XX century, the first non-stop flight across the Atlantic ocean in May 1927. For this book Lindbergh received a Pulitzer prize in 1954. The beginning of the book covers the days of Lindbergh working for the postal service of Robertson Aircraft Corporation and how he gets engaged into the race of who would be the first pilot(s) to cross the ocean. He later describes the conception, development and testing of the Ryan aircraft he flew for the feat. He finally gives a detailed account of the 33h30′ flight; hour by hour, alone, squeezed in his seat, with scarce food and water supplies, cold, flying day (within the clouds at times) and night, thrilling and semi-unconscious (asleep) at times, until he lands in Le Bourget. I wrote a post review the book, find it here.
  4. El General en su Laberinto (by Gabriel García Márquez) (+): this book is a novel trying to figure out how the last days of the Venezuelan revolutionary Simon Bolivar were. The characters, trips, locations, etc., are real. The dialogues, thoughts, feelings, are the work of Garcia Marquez. As always with Garcia Marquez, there are very vivid dialogues and reflections in the book by way of its characters, however this wasn’t the book I liked the most from him. On the hand, to get a better feeling and description of the last days of a person I very much preferred for the uneasiness it puts you as a reader The Death of Ivan Ilyich by Tolstoy.
  5. Pensar con Arte (by Manuel Conthe) (++): this book shows how our minds work in their way of thinking with their biases and the situations that may arise. The concepts covered are similar to other books that I have read in the past (Thinking Fast and Slow, Seeking Wisdom: From Darwin to Munger or Poor Charlie’s Almanack), the originality here comes from the parallels and connections that the author brings and offers with the arts (literature, paint, cinema, music…), showing examples from different art craft.
  6. España 3.0: Necesitamos resetear el pais (by Javier Santiso) (+++): this book is call for action, for change, for resetting Spain into a country which bases its economy and growth on innovation, education and technology. It starts by offering a rather harsh and in my opinion good diagnostic of many of the ailments of the country. Then shows how several things do work in the country and how in previous occasions the country has raised up to similar challenges and it can and has to do so again. The sooner the better.
  7. The Diary of a young Girl (by Anne Frank) (++): the diary of a 13-year-old girl when she starts writing it and 15-year-old when it finishes, Anne Frank describes how she, her family and some others live day by day in hiding from the Nazis. Throughout the book there are many comments, appreciations, worries, misunderstandings, etc., very typical of that age. Despite of that, at some points of the book Anne provides a great example of resilience, attitude and hope: e.g. at times she reflects that all in all she cannot complain, she doesn’t lose time and imposes onto herself a rigorous studying and reading time schedules, etc. In that extent, her attitude and the diary reminded me of another book I have often seen recommended that I must read, “Man’s Search for Meaning” by Viktor Frankl, a jew imprisoned at a concentration camp.
  8. LeeLee (by Douglas Southall Freeman abridged version by Richard Harwell) (++): this is the biography of Rober E. Lee the general of the Army of Northern Virginia on the Confederate side during the US civil war. The book covers from the origins of the family, the birth and early education of Lee, his days at West Point where he specialized as an US army engineer, and how as the different states start seceding and viewing that his allegiance shall remain to Virginia he resigns from the US army. The book then describes the different battles, the style of Lee during the war and the surrender at Appomattox. Then it covers his final years as president of the Washington college in Lexington. For the extended version of this biography, Douglas Southall Freeman received a Pulitzer prize in 1935.
  9. commonstocksCommon stocks and uncommon profits and Other Writings (by Philip A. Fisher) (++): a classic book about investing strongly recommended by many, among others Warren Buffett. The first edition was written in 1950s, the edition I read dates from the 1970s and includes some reflections of what he wrote in the first one. The main contribution of the book is what the author calls the scuttlebutt (rumor, gossip) technique, that is the thorough research ground work an
    investor must make before investing in any stock by way of talking to sales men of competitor companies, customers, experts on the field, academics, management of the company, etc., and which he summarizes in 15 points. A quick takeaway from the book is that, if you lack the time to thoroughly proceed with the scuttlebutt, it might be better to leave for others, who have, the task of picking your stocks. The Other Writings included in the book relate to what is and how it was developed his investment philosophy and on whether the markets are efficient.
  10. The gospel of wealth and other timely essays (by Andrew Carnegie) (++): In the main essay of the book (The Gospel of Wealth), Carnegie, discusses the moral obligation of the wealthy to redistribute their wealth in life back to the society. He positions himself against charity and offers several options that would have a great impact in lifting those among the poor willing to work in their own progress: funding of educational institutions, hospitals, libraries, parks, monuments, etc. Other essays relate to whether the United States (the Republic) should or not follow the path of Britain in having colonies and dependencies (in relation to the Philippines), a speech explaining the arrangements of the American constitution, critiques on proposals for free trade agreements between Britain and its colonies, etc. A good review of business and politics at the end of the XIX century.
  11. Vol de nuit (“Night Flight”, by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry) (++):  in Saint-Exupéry’s second novel he describes the operations of an air mail business based in Buenos Aires and with aircraft incoming from different locations in South America. The book describes the difficulties of night flight at the time and of developing this new type of service. One particular flight under cyclonic conditions will put into question the whole operation and the different characters, the pilot, her wife, the line operations’ chief, radio operators, etc.

(1) You can find here: my 2012 reading list, 2013 (embedded in my summary of 2013) and 2014 ones.

(2) In this 2015 I have not written many dedicated posts about the books I have read (just one about the The Spirit of St. Louis), but I do not discard making a review of some of them in the future.

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My 2012 reading list

At the beginning of the year I set as a personal objective to read at least 15 books. This will be a low number for some of you and a high one for others. To me it looked challenging but achievable… though, I did not achieve it. I completed 10 books and started other 4 which I have not yet finished (they’ll be included in the next year reading list).

See below the list with a small comment for each one, the link to a post about the book in the blog (when applicable), links to Amazon (in case you want to get them) and sometimes to the authors. I have also included a small rating from one to three “+” depending on how much do I recommend its reading:

  1. This time is different” (by C. Reinhart and K. Rogoff) (++): very interesting book offering a comprehensive book to economic and financial crises since 8 centuries ago. The book is full of graphics, statistics, example, anecdotes… I already wrote three posts about it: “The Republic of Poyais“, “The march toward fiat money” and “¿Cómo le ha ido a España en esta crisis?“. 
  2. Le Petit Prince” (by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry) (++): even if narrated as a children’s book, it contains several idealistic messages, fine criticisms of how adults behave, etc. The teachings are mainly transmitted through conversations between a child and the prince and encounters with other characters… I wrote a post about it “Le Petit Prince“.
  3. The consequences of the peace” (by John M. Keynes) (+++): the book was written at the time of the Versailles Conference after the World War I, which he attended as a delegate from the British Treasury. In the book, Keynes explained how the disaster in the making was being produced, due to lack of communication between representatives from USA, UK, France and Italy, and the intention from Clemenceau of taking as much as possible from Germany. Keynes makes a series of estimates of Germany’s production capabilities and that of the regions being taken from it and comparing them with the pretensions that were being included in the negotiations of the treaty. In the book, he warns well in advance the economic and social disaster that the treaty is going to send Germany into. (I have not yet written a specific review of the book, but since I had underlined several passages I don’t discard writing it).
  4. Le bal des ambitions” (by Véronique Guillermard and Yann le Galès) (+): the book tells the story behind the creation of EADS and its first years. Very much like in a thriller, it gives account about the characters involved, the battles for power, etc. I wrote a post about it “Le Bal des ambitions“.
  5. Desolé, nous avons raté la piste” (by Stephan Orth and Antje Blinda) (+): The book consists of a series of awkward situations in a flight described by passengers, pilots and cabin crew, mainly miscommunications between the crew and passengers or funny messages received from the cockpit. The book originated after a collection of the anecdotes posted by readers of the online version of Der Spiegel. . See the review I wrote about it “Sorry, I missed the runway“.
  6. Poor Charlie’s Almanack: The Wit and Wisdom of Charles T. Munger” (by Charlie Munger, compiled by Peter D. Kaufman) (+++): the book is a compilation of Munger’s speeches, quotes, interviews, articles, letters, etc. Some of his speeches are available in Youtube (e.g. this one given for the commencement of USC Law in 2007). One of the main takeaways is the use of several mental models to analyze situations we live in our lives (instead of being stalled in the few models which we are more comfortable with). Another recurring topic is the lack of training in psychology that we get (or even his criticism of how psychology is taught in faculties). I haven’t written a post about the book, but I think I should, if only to share more of his wit and wisdom with you.
  7. The Peter Principle: Why Things Go Wrong” (by Laurence J. Peter) (+++): the book is a hilarious account of situations that arise in companies and institutions of why and how people are promoted, cornered, etc., or in his words is a treatise on hierarchology. The name of the book comes from the Peter Principle which says: “In a hierarchy, every employee tends to rise to his level of incompetence”. I already wrote about it here.
  8. 2010 Odyssey Two” (by Arthur C. Clarke) (++): the book is a sequel to the famous “2001: A Space Odyssey“, and there is a movie as about this book. The story starts with doctor Heywood Lloyd travelling in a combined Soviet-American mission to Jupiter in order to find the spaceship Discovery One from the previous mission and what went wrong with it… I won’t tell more of the plot to avoid spoiling it for someone. I would say that I liked more this book (and movie) than the first one.
  9. The Litigators” (by John Grisham) (++): this novel is very much like most of John Grisham. In this one the plot is about a star young lawyer graduated from Harvard Law School who cannot stand the pressure from a big firm and quits it to join a mediocre small firm with two partners who chase victims of small accidents to help them get some  compensation from insurance companies, with the hope of reaching the big class action which could make the rich.
  10. Soccernomics” (by Simon Kuper and Stefan Szymanski) (+++): the authors use economics’ techniques, plenty of data, statistics, citing several papers, studies, etc., in order to bring up uncovered issues about football (such as transfer market, what makes some nations more successful in football…) or refocus the attention about other ones. See the review I wrote about it.

I also completed two other partial objectives: to read at least 2 books in French and 2 about politics/economy. And as always, on the learning side from reading there is Twitter (a source of information or distraction?), the subscriptions delivered to home of the weekly The Economist and the two monthly magazines Scientific American and Toastmasters.

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Le Petit Prince

Le Petit Prince.

Last summer I visited an exhibition on occasion of the celebration of “2011 Year of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry”. Elsewhere he is mainly known as the author of “The Little Prince” (Le Petit Prince), however I learnt in that exhibition that in Toulouse he is mainly known as an aviation pioneer, flying airmail routes (for the emblematic Aéropostale based in Toulouse) and then for the French Air Force.

I guess that some of you had read Le Petit Prince early in your lives, I didn’t. I received the book as a present from former colleagues when moving to France and only finished it some weeks ago, being the first book I’ve read in French. Not bad for a start, as according to the Wikipedia it is the most read book in French language and was voted as the best book of the 20th century in France.

It has some idealistic messages or fine criticisms, to name a few:

  • “One sees clearly only with the heart. What is essential is invisible to the eye.”
  • A businessman who goes on “owning” stars and counting them not having time for anything else, not knowing what to do with them and having a very serious thought of him.
  • The geographer, proud of his profession, but who lacks any practical knowledge as “that” is the responsibility of someone else, the explorer in this case.
  • The concept of domestication being two-ways. I loved when the prince goes Il y a une fleur… je crois qu’elle m’a apprivoisé… (“There is a flower … I think she domesticated me …”) I believe this could be applicable to many pet owners.

I felt especially caught when the book first said “Les grandes personnes aiment les chiffres” (adults love numbers) and later when it went:

“Si les deux milliards d’habitants qui peuplent la terre se tenaient debout et un peu serrés, comme pour un meeting, ils logeraient aisément sur une place publique de vingt milles de long sur vingt milles de large. On pourrait entasser l’humanité sur le moindre petit îlot du Pacifique.

Les grandes personnes, bien sûr, ne vous croiront pas. Elles s’imaginent tenir beaucoup de place. Elles se voient importantes comme des baobabs. Vous leur conseillerez donc de faire le calcul. Elles adorent les chiffres: ça leur plaira.

(“If the two billion inhabitants who people its surface were all to stand upright and somewhat crowded together, as they do for some big public assembly, they could easily be put into one public square twenty miles long and twenty miles wide. All humanity could be piled up on a small Pacific islet.

The grown-ups, to be sure, will not believe you when you tell them that. They imagine that they fill a great deal of space. They fancy themselves as important as the baobabs. You should advise them, then, to make their own calculations. They adore figures, and that will please them.”)

When I read the first paragraph and before reading the second, I was already writing a remainder note to make the calculation…

In demonstrations, the range of people per square meter is between 2 and 3.5 (4 being “like a rock concert”). A square of 20 miles by 20 miles covers an area of 1,035 millions of square meters. Therefore, in such a square we could pack between 2 and 4 billion people, the population of the Earth at the time, yes.

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