Since I’ve started using GoodReads to post reviews, it doesn’t make much sense for me to duplicate those here. So, instead, I want to share some of my favorite books that I’ve read for 2014!
My favorite fiction books for the year are Andy Weir’s The Martian, Herman Hesse’s Siddhartha, and George Orwell’s Animal Farm.
The Martian (Andy Weir)
Andy Weird, a first time novelist, has hit a home run with his debut novel. Briefly, the story is about an astronaut that is stranded on Mars with no hope of immediate rescue (due to the literally astronomical distances between him and the rest of humanity). What ensues is a thrilling story of human ingenuity (a la McGuyver), survival instincts (a la Tom Hanks from the movie “Cast Away”), and space-tech-savvy (a la the movie “Apollo 13”). The Martian is fast paced and therefore is a fast read. I think I read a bit near half the book after I first picked it up.
Siddhartha (Hermann Hesse)
Hesse’s poetic classic, Siddhartha, is simply put profoundly beautiful. The writing is elegant and insightful of human nature throughout. It’s rare, in my opinion, for a book to have simultaneously such great style as well as thought-provoking content. Although a short, Hermann’s book is an epic story of a young religious man who grows up searching for meaning to his life. It seems that no religion fulfills the absence he’s felt his entire life and, even after meeting the Buddha, Siddhartha still does not know what to do with his life… until he meets an old man who helps him cross a river.
Animal Farm (George Orwell)
Yea, I know. It’s miraculous that I had never read this book before. It is, like Hesse’s Siddhartha, very short and classic. Yet, somehow I managed to avoid reading for 30 years of my life! I’m either genuinely talented in avoiding great books or just stupid (I think it’s the latter). Anyhow, where do I start with this book? Well, I won’t go on the well-trodden path about Orwell’s intentions and so on, but I will say that whatever your political dispositions, this book is truly a wonder in the same way 1984 (one of my favorite books of all time) is. It’s wonderfully written and entertaining even when dispensing with the metaphors, but along with those it truly is a well reckoned classic.
I’ve read a few nonfiction books this year — some good, some bad — and from that (admittedly) short list, I believe the creme are Keith Devlin’s The Language of Mathematics, Henry Kissinger’s World Order, and Richard Dawkins’ The Selfish Gene.
The Language of Mathematics (Keith Devlin)
Devlin’s book is remarkable. Not only is it thoroughly comprehensible even when discussing very abstract ideas, it is also very entertaining and relevant! while not comprehensive, Devlin’s sojourn through the world of mathematics (including its history) covers a lot of extremely fascinating ideas that have come from mathematics such as how digital communications and stacking oranges have a lot more in common than you’d think, how number theory is used in cryptography, and why one man’s personal notes in a book have had continued relevance in the field of mathematics of centuries!
World Order (Henry Kissinger)
History, for some, does not shine admiringly on Kissinger. His connection to the Vietnam War has, it seems, tarnished the reputation of a very thoughtful and deep thinker. Kissinger’s book is a great introduction to the world of diplomacy and “order” for those who did not get their degrees in political science or international affairs. Kissinger’s book charts a very fascinating path of history which focuses heavily on the west (particularly the Westphalian era) to explain current and future trends in the world of foreign policy and diplomacy. A great read!
The Selfish Gene (Richard Dawkins)
Not without controversy, Dawkins’ Selfish Gene is truly fascinating. In the same way that Copernicus reoriented the planets around the sun, Dawkins reorients the mechanism of evolution around the gene instead of the larger organism that houses it. Such is the thesis of his book and in going about explaining and describing its implications, Dawkins draws a convincing portrait of a new way of regarding life on Earth.