Tag Archives: Matt Ridley

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.


Filed under Books

Project managers and Pencils

Today I was attending a project management course at Airbus. After some introductions, the teacher came to the always controversial (within such a technological company) comment that “the project leader needs to have experience in project management not in the technical issues related to the project”… she then cited aircraft as an example: “nobody within Airbus may know every technical detail of an aircraft which counts with hundreds of thousands parts, yet there is someone managing its development…”

That example seems very clear. Tonight, while listening to a TED Talk on the exchange of ideas, by Matt Ridley, I got the thread to a way better example: that is the essay “I, Pencil: My Family Tree as told to Leonard E. Read” by Leonard E. Read, which can be found at the Library of Economics and Liberty.

I believe this a much better example because of exactly the same reasons Mr. Pencil gives:

“[…] I have a profound lesson to teach. And I can teach this lesson better than can an automobile or an airplane or a mechanical dishwasher because—well, because I am seemingly so simple.

[…] Simple? Yet, not a single person on the face of this earth knows how to make me.”

Then, the pencil goes explaining where all its components are coming from…

“[…] My family tree begins with what in fact is a tree, a cedar of straight grain that grows in Northern California and Oregon. Now contemplate all the saws and trucks and rope and the countless other gear used in harvesting and carting the cedar logs to the railroad siding. Think of all the persons and the numberless skills that went into their fabrication: the mining of ore, the making of steel and its refinement into saws, axes, motors…”

If it’s clear that nobody knows how to make simple pencil, clearer will be for any other case of a more complex product.

There is indeed a Mr. President of the pencil company, there may even be a Pencil Programme Manager, but as Pencil says: “There is a fact still more astounding: the absence of a master mind, of anyone dictating or forcibly directing these countless actions which bring me into being.”

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Filed under Aerospace & Defence, Economy