2019 is the year when I decided to commit to read everyday. I realise that this is one of the best decisions I’ve ever made in my life; and therefore I want to promote reading books to everyone. Maybe in later posts I will write the benefits of reading that I personally have experienced.
Among a myriad of inducers, one thing that I find really useful to kick-start this habit is to look at book reviews. Not only can they spark interest within me, they also give me insight about what people from different backgrounds think about a certain book.
An economist and a behavioural psychologist will certainly view Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking, Fast and Slow differently; a devout Christian and an agnostic will agree with each other to a certain level about the premises in Yuval Noah Harari’s Sapiens.
It’s captivating that a concoction of the same letters brings about totally distinct opinions and feelings to separate groups of people.
This year, I read 25 books, ranging from crime novel to popular science, from apologetic Christianity to atheism.
Here I will tell more about six of those books that I found really amusing, thought-provoking, and even life-changing (I initially wanted to write only the top five, but I had a hard time deciding them). I also will list all the other books with one or two sentences of description. All is in chronological order.
My top six books recommendation
- Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking - Susan Cain
If there’s one book that totally changes the way I conduct my daily life, it’s this book. Prior to reading this, I had always known that I was an introvert; I didn’t like meeting new people, I didn’t like telling others about my personal life. I also had always known that there was more to introversion than just these.
But I never knew that there was this much more to it.
Cain gives explanations as to what is introversion and extroversion, why are there they in the first place, whether they are hereditary traits that are blueprinted in our genes, how stark is the difference in public opinion about introversion back then and now — little spoiler, it used to be deemed as a disease — and a tons of other related topics.
The best thing about this book is that it taught me how to make the best out of my introversion, to maximise my mental energy throughout the day, when, where, and how to show your true self or to be a social chameleon and just fake it, how to recharge yourself after a long session of being in a crowd, and plenty more.
It is also worth mentioning that she is an introvert as well, and that she had been a lawyer — a profession rife with meeting and talking to people — before she decided to quit and wrote this book.
Her life story ensured me that I read the right book written by the right person.
- Thinking, Fast and Slow - Daniel Kahneman
Other life-changing book is this masterpiece by a Nobel Prize winner in economics. Kahneman explores our way of thinking, with approach from and to psychology, statistics, and even economics.
This book teaches us how to doubt my and other’s thought. It humbles us with stories of experts and brilliant people that fail to think logically. It forces us to stop and think more before talking and deciding. Ultimately, it exhibits that our brain is not that smart, after all, despite whoever we are and however smart we consider ourselves to be. We are all vulnerable to cognitive traps.
Condensed to 500 pages, it is sometimes tedious to read this book; tons of new information, sometimes told with esoteric parlance, written in relatively small font, in pages with relatively small-margin. It is a lot to stomach. At least for me, who’s a layperson in the topics discussed in this book.
But one thing I can be sure of this book, it’s worth the struggle.
- Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind - Yuval Noah Harari
Being one of New York Times best seller, the public’s opinion speaks loudly for itself, and in this review I just want to point out features that personally struck me amazed.
One thing that like the most about this book is how Harari writes so fluidly of a subject that a lot of us find tedious: history. His writing style brings out to surface the connection between seemingly distant and unrelated things; among which, my favourite is of how wheat as a type of plants led humans to the dawn of religion.
The use of words that are both not too technical but still sophisticated, the inclusion of relevant illustrations and graphs are immensely helpful to make laypeople understand more thoroughly the concepts he brings to life in this book.
Bill Gates was right: You’ll have a hard time putting down this book.
- The Bad Food Bible: How and Why to Eat Sinfully - Aaron Carroll, M. D.
In short, this book is a science-based examination of foods that are often scapegoated to be the cause of our ailments and diseases, that are often cause misconceptions and misunderstandings about our health. Dr. Carroll put so much efforts in gleaning all the necessary information from high-quality studies, in contrast with what our popular media is doing, which more often than not, just quoting parts of low-quality studies.
Not only does he tell people what to do, he also aims in shaping public’s opinion towards nutrition science; to be sceptical about everything you see and hear, even if the information comes from your own physician. To further ensure us, these tips and tricks he has given have also been applied to his own daily life, with his family.
This book is really a timely reminder for us, to base as much as possible, if not all, of our daily lives on evidence, preferably scientific ones. In an era of scientific and technological advances, we can and should still improve the public understanding of science, especially on something that we encounter everyday, such as food.
- The God Delusion - Richard Dawkins
This is one of those books that are condemned to ever bring up the topic of religion vs. science and make science the champion. Some condemnations are also written in this book, as Dawkins tries to counterattack them with scientific explanations in hope that, as Dawkins explicitly says, “religious readers who open it will be atheists when they put it down.”
Dawkins is a prominent figure in evolutionary biology from Oxford University, and thus little, if not nothing, is doubtful about what he exposes about evolution in this book. He also explains some other topics, including ethics and philosophy— two inevitable topics having to be discussed alongside religion.
Granted, some people may view this book as perversion to long-held beliefs; especially in countries where religions and the beliefs to deities are still the basis for other rules, including constitution. However, open atheism unarguably has never been more pervasive; and whatever your belief is, however believing you are, it is still necessary to objectively know why you’re there in the first place, and not in the place where Dawkins is now.
Also, as tangential information, if you’ve ever heard of the word ‘meme’, it was him who coined it first in his work on the Meme Theory.
- Flatland - Edwin A. Abbott
I had known this book for a long time before I actually bought it. You too must’ve stumbled upon it if you ever randomly browse thought experiments on the internet.
It tells a story about a two-dimensional square named, well, Square that lives in a two-dimensional world called Flatland. Living within only two axes, the inhabitants can only see lines, and can move in two directions.
It has been rumoured for a long time that revelations has fallen upon some citizens, regarding the third dimension. However, other Flatlanders can’t conceive such idea and deem it nonsensical, even blasphemous.
One day, Sphere — a three-dimensional creature — visits Flatland, and communicates with Square about the presence of the third dimension. Being only able to see lines, Square only sees sphere as just normal circle, so that Square doesn’t believe Sphere. Sphere then tries something more than just words; he moves up and down, so that Square sees shortening-and-lengthening line, which eventually vanishes to thin air. However, Square still doesn’t believe, and Sphere tries another method.
I’m gonna leave it here before I spoil your reading experience.
This book, in my opinion, is the perfect starting point for you who wants to let your mind free to think about higher dimensions, even further than just four-dimensional space-time posited by Einstein. Thinking of higher dimension, too, is somewhat a prerequisite to modern quantum physics; including but not limited to, string theory.
One thing that I found quite strenuous was the use of Victorian English vocabularies and grammars. I had quite a hard time discerning what Abbott meant in some sentences. Otherwise, it was a fully mind-boggling piece enough to stimulate your brain to think the seemingly unthinkable.
The other books
- The Kite Runner - Khaled Hosseini
A novel about the life of an Afghan man named Amir and his closest friend, Hassan, who also happens to be his servant; from their youth to their adulthood. It tells a story about friendship, betrayal, war, family, and many others. Being the New York Times best seller for more than two years, the reviews speak for itself.
- Milk and Honey - Rupi Kaur
This is my first Kaur’s book. It is a collection of poetry and prose, mainly about survival from violence and abuse in love relationships, viewed from a female’s perspective.
- When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing - Daniel H. Pink
Pink claims that this book can be considered as an exponent of a new genre, i.e. ‘when-to’, in comparison with ‘how-to’ genre. You may think that this is one of those oft-met book of time management, but it is way beyond that.
It is a book of time management, but while other books may talk of time management in short time frames, Pink talks about it in long time frames. So it doesn’t tell us about what time to sleep if you have a meeting tomorrow at eight; but it tells us when to marry, when to start a new habit (and how), when to divorce, when to tell a bad news. It also have information on how people perceive time, and also on time synchronisation.
- Hujan Bulan Juni - Sapardi Djoko Damono
Hujan Bulan Juni (literally translated from Indonesian: ‘June Rain’) is one of the most recent works by Damono. Damono is one of the most popular Indonesian litterateurs. In this novella, he tells a story about the love life of a couple of lecturers who experiences some problems, the most ominous one being the difference of their religions.
- The Sacred Search: What If It’s Not about Who You Marry, But Why? - Gary Thomas
This is a Christian dating book, and it exposes around one verse in the bible, that is, Matthew 6:33. Not much can be told about this book, the title speaks for itself.
- Jangan Masuk ITB — Darda Fizari & Ibrahim Aji
Contrary to the the title itself, literally translated from Indonesian to ‘Don’t Get In to ITB’, it tells a story of how you should get in to ITB (Institut Teknologi Bandung, or Bandung Institute of Technology, one of the most prestigious universities in Indonesia).
- Rich Dad Poor Dad: What The Rich Teach Their Kids About Money — That The Poor And Middle Class Do Not! - Robert T. Kiyosaki
This is one of the staple books that people in their quarter-life crises have to read. The main tenet that Kiyosaki conveys can be summed up in one sentence: Don’t work for money; instead, get the money work for you.
- The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life - Mark Manson
This is the book with a eye-catching orange cover you’d find in your local bookstore. Manson, who’s already a popular blogger, argue that in order to be happy, you should give less care to things that actually don’t deserve your attention, let alone care.
- Everything is F*cked: A Book About Hope - Mark Manson
After the orange book, Manson wrote a bright turquoise book. In addition to his premise in the prior book, he tells of more reason why we should be happy in these times, when people think that the present is worse than the past.
- Tuesdays with Morrie - Mitch Albom
In one of his most popular books, Albom tells a real story of him and his former sociology professor, Morrie Schwartz, as he’s slowly dying from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). As can be inferred from the titles, the book consists of fourteen Tuesdays of so-called ‘last lectures’ from Morrie. Evidently a wise man, Morrie speaks about friendship, life, family, education, and even existence.
- Crazy Rich Asians - Kevin Kwan
Crazy Rich Asians is a 2013 book that later brought to movie in 2018. Like the title suggests, the book is on the unimaginably rich Asians and their lavish lives, inherent with intrigues and scandals. Not only purported to be satirical, Kwan also managed to make the story wittily comical, which presumably makes this book receives great receptions.
- More Than a Carpenter - Josh McDowell & Sean McDowell
Josh McDowell, who was unbelieving about God and specifically, Christianity, tries to disprove the belief with historical and philosophical approach, only to finds himself eventually believing in God and Christianity.
- How to Poo Your Way to the Top: Get Ahead by Using Your Behind - Mats & Enzo
I don’t actually know what to say about this book. It is actually a comedy book about what the title say. But reading it, I actually find some of the tricks in this book quite applicable to be as close as possible to being number one of the hierarchy by managing your number two. This book also gives tips and tricks to undercut your coworkers or even your superiors by pointing dirty fingers at them. Just wow, unbelievable.
- The Big Sleep - Raymond Chandler
This is my first Phillip Marlowe Series book. In this, Phillip Marlowe is faced with a blackmail case directed towards a prominent general, named Guy Sternwood. Throughout his investigation, he is forced to also involve with Sternwood’s two daughters. Guns, blood, and sex, are just some things accompanying Marlowe to crack this case. One peculiar thing about this book is that this book is rife with 30s-40s American street slangs, which for people like me, whose mother tongue is not English might find difficult to understand and even to search in the internet because of their uncommonness.
- Catatan Seorang Demonstran - Soe Hok Gie
Soe Hok Gie was a Chinese-Indonesian student activist from the 60s. He wrote his daily life of politics, friendship, and love life in his diary, hence the title, translated literally from Indonesian to ‘A Diary of A Demonstrator’.
- Breaking Barriers: Portraits of Inspiring Chinese-Indonesian Women - Aimee Dawis
Along with Catatan Seorang Demonstran, I read this book in part of my research on Chinese Indonesians. And, this book fulfilled my expectation of what can the once-doubly-oppressed racial group in Indonesia, i.e. Chinese-Indonesian women, can do to make significant changes in many fields; including politics, science, and fashion.
- Farsighted - Steven Johnson
Farsighted’s main point is that we have to start employing (more) scientific approaches to making long-term decision, and to think deep into the future; in contrast to some stories he tells in this book of decision made only based on today’s needs, or even worse, just out of a whim.
- Inside the Cell: The Dark Side of Forensic DNA - Erin E. Murphy
Murphy is a professor at NYU School of Law and an expert in DNA forensics, and in this book she tells us just about those. She compiled tens of cases that are epitome of one premise: That the use of DNA in forensic and crime is still largely misused and should be take with a grain of salt. These cases, more often than not, have negative implications to people that are not necessarily the victims or the crime doers.
After every splendid book read, you might feel what J. D. Salinger wrote in The Catcher in the Rye:
“What really knocks me out is a book that, when you’re all done reading it, you wish the author that wrote it was a terrific friend of yours and you could call him up on the phone whenever you felt like it. That doesn’t happen much, though.”
― J.D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye
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