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.
- “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]
- “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.
- “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]
- “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]
- “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]
- “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]
- “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]
- “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]
- “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]
- “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.
- “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]
- “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]
- “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]
- “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]
- “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]
- “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.
- “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]
- “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]
- “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]
- “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]
- “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]
- “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]
- “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]
- “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]
- “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]
- “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]
- “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 list, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2017 ones.