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.
- “Políticamente indeseable” (by Cayetana Álvarez de Toledo) (+++): The book is partly an autobiography and partly an essay where the author (a politician of the Spanish Popular Party) recollects memories from her childhood, to her settling in Spain around 25 years ago, her career as a journalist and to the current status of Spanish politics (to the end of 2021). The book is a call against nationalism, collectivism, tactics, and in favour of reason, freedom and individual responsibility. [Twitter thread].
- “La revolución española vista por una republicana” (by Clara Campoamor) (+++): The author is described in the Wikipedia as follows: was a Spanish politician, lawyer and writer, considered by some the mother of the Spanish feminist movement. In this book she describes her memories and provides an analysis of the months prior to the onset of the Spanish civil war (1936-39) and its first months, with emphasis on the government rearguard that she lived through. The irrationality on both sides that she describes is devastating, to the point that she fled Spain fearing for her life, while she was a Republican, was in Madrid (under the Republican side until the end of the war) and she still felt in danger from the Republican side. [Twitter thread].
- “Extremo centro: el manifiesto” (by Pedro Herrero and Jorge San Miguel) (+++): I started following the authors (who formerly worked for the Spanish political party Ciudadanos) in social media and in a podcast they started years ago. In this book they condensed many of the ideas they have come up along these past years. They offer many interesting analyses and various proposals around the caring for others, in favour of the creation of culture, creating ties with the community… Something special about the book is the fresh and provocative language they use together with a kind of “cards” that they have used to represent some stereotypes of characters of the Spanish public life. [Twitter thread].
- “Emma” (by Jane Austen) (+): I wanted to read Emma as this is the book from Austen included in the Great Books curriculum for the bachelor in arts of Saint John’s College (see section at the bottom of the post). However, chronologically Emma came after Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice, so I arrived to Emma after having read the other two. The plot is around Emma’s willingness to play matchmaking with her acquaintances (even if her skills on that front are unimpressive) and her own negative views on marriage. Once again, as with the previous two Austen books, I found the narrative very slow, quite dense and too detailed. On the positive side: the plot and Emma’s situation are turned upside down at the very end of the book. [Twitter thread].
- “La matemática en el arte” (by Pedro Miguel González Urbaneja) (+++): This is a book from a collection of 40 short books on mathematics that my mother gifted me with in 2019. My idea is to read a few of those books per year. This one offers a review of the influence of mathematics and the Greeks on art since the Renaissance. Some of the artists that are looked at in the book are: Della Francesca, Pacioli, Alberti, Dürer, Leonardo, Raphael, Gaudí… [Twitter thread].
- “Soumission” (Submission) (by Michel Houellebecq) (++): I remember that when the book was published back in 2015 it created some controversy in France. I only got interested in the book more recently after having heard some positive reviews of it. The book tells the story of a university professor during the fictional transformation of a France governed by the Muslim Brotherhood, where the public university becomes Islamic, hence the profressor first resigns from his position and then after wandering around France for some time he yields in to the times, submits himself, prepares to convert to Islam and comes back to the university. When reading it I did not find it so provocative as to create the noise it did in 2015. [Twitter thread].
- “The End of History and the last man” (by Francis Fukuyama) (+++): First published in 1992, after the end of the Cold War and fall of the Soviet Union, the book’s case is that after old regimes and the failure of fascist and communist totalitarianisms, liberal democracy and capitalism stand out as the remaining system at the end of History. [Twitter thread].
- “Air Wars. The global combat between Airbus and Boeing” (by Scott Hamilton) (+++): The author is the editor of Leeham News and Analysis, a reference blog on aerospace industry. This book starts out as a biography of John Leahy (former chief operating officer for Customers at Airbus – retired in 2017) and frames it on the background of Airbus and Boeing competition during the last ~40 years until 2021. It is a very good read for anyone who has been working in the industry in the past years as it will trigger many memories. [Twitter thread].
- “Le Vicomte de Bragelonne“, tome II (by Alexandre Dumas) (++): This book is the second tome of the sequel to Twenty Years After and continues the Dumas’ story on the musketeers (see below). This is the book that I liked the least of the series. There is very little action with the musketeers and to my taste far too many amorous intrigues at the court of Louis XIV (I found it slow, almost as Jane Austen’s books). However, it serves the purpose of introducing the characters and jealousies that will be key in the development of the last book of the series.
- “Critón” (Crito) and “El Político” (Statesman) (by Plato) (++): These are two dialogues that show (1) the ethics of Socrates after being tried (the trial being described in a different dialogue, Apology) where he abides by the outcome of the trial even if unjust to the point that he resists Crito’s offer to flee and explains that he has to live up to his principles to the end; and (2) a criticism of politicians and the differentiation of what a statesman should be in contrast to sophists. Plato offers how the city should be governed and the preferences of some systems (monarchy, oligarchy, democracy) over others depending on whether the laws are respected or not, although he goes into less detail than in Republic. [Twitter thread].
- “Le Vicomte de Bragelonne“, tome III (by Alexandre Dumas) (+++): This was the last of the five books that make up the story of the three musketeers, after The Three Musketeers, Twenty Years After and the first two volumes of Le Vicomte de Bragelonne. In all they make up for over 4,200 pages of reading and with no doubt it is among my favourite books or series of books. In this final book Aramis tries to strike a coup that could have changed the history of France with the man in the iron mask, the twin brother of Louis XIV, Philippe, who had been concealed and imprisoned from birth by his father, Louis XIII, and his mother, Anne of Austria. However, Fouquet (finances superintendent) rejects taking part in that plot even if he would have benefitted from it. That part of the book is thrilling. The last ~300 pages of the book are dedicated to giving an ending to each of the main characters: Aramais, Porthos, Athos and his son Raoul and d’Artagnan; some parts of this last section can be quite moving as by now one is attached to these characters.
- “Confesiones” (Confessions) (by Saint Augustine) (++): The first half of the book is a kind of biography of Saint Augustine until his conversion to cristianism and the death of his mother (Saint Monica); there he confesses the struggles he goes through, how with the help of Saint Ambrose and some friends he quits his previous lifestyle and gets baptized. From that point the confessions take the form of shared reflections on memory, time, evil or how to interpret the Creation in the Bible (book of Genesis). [Twitter thread].
- “Sobre la vejez” (Cato the Elder on Old Age) and “Sobre la amistad” (Laelius on Friendship) (by Cicero): Cicero was a Roman politician, lawyer and philosopher who lived first century BC. In these books and through dialogues he uses the characters of Cato the Elder and Laelius to explain the goodness of (1) old age, where different complaints against old age are addressed one by one, such as the lack of activity, strength, health…; and (2) friendship, which is shown as making life more enjoyable, bringing the best in people, not to be used as an excuse for wrongdoings and the only thing around which there is a consensus on its utility. [Twitter thread].
I started 2022 reading at a good pace until summer, then I got stuck with the second volume of Le Vicomte de Bragelonne and a series of trips interrupted my pace, and it took me months to recover it, as always, 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.
Even so, in this 2022 I managed to read just 13 books, the least since 2015 (when I adopted the approach described above). In terms of pages I read just over 4,800 pages, also the least in the last 6 years. Fun fact: even if I only read 3 books in French language, they accounted for over 42% of the pages I read.
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 try to advance at a pace of 5 to 8 books out of that curriculum per year, thus it will take me around 20 more years to finish the programme.
I wish you all very interesting reads in 2023!