Books in 2017

Books I read in the last years: 2016, 2015, 2014.

2017 was a very book-intense year. It has the all-time high of number of books read since I write these posts. I think the only time that I read more was as a teenager. But at that time these were mostly easygoing works of fiction, so nothing comparable to the stuff which I read now.

One of the reasons for this peak is that I travel by subway to work basically each weekday. My workplace is not far for Berlin (~30 minutes from door to door), but in total that already makes ~30-40 minutes reading time each day for the round trip (with one subway transfer). I have heard from other commuters (at least from Markus) that they experience this reading peak as well. Another reason is that I am no longer occupied with university lectures. At university I always read a lot of papers and science literature as part of my studies. This is gone now and I read more books instead.

Ray Kurzweil — How to Create a Mind
Basically Kurzweil postulates that a lot of research on how the brain works goes into the wrong direction. He makes the case that a lot of elaborate findings (e.g. the relativity theory) were made by people sitting in nature and “just” making logical conclusions. In his opinion a lot of the brain research gets lost in details and fine-grained examinations of biological micro-details, thus missing out on the big picture. Kurzweil makes the case that a large part of the brain basically follows an elaborate pattern matching algorithm. The book was an interesting read.

Robert Macfarlane — Karte der Wildnis
The book is published by the German publisher “Matthes & Seitz Berlin” who has a series of natural science books. I discovered them by chance in a bookshop two or three years ago and wanted to buy one of them ever since. The only problem was that this series consisted only of extensive books on insects, donkeys or e.g. trouts. As much as I loved the high quality and typography of the books, I just didn’t think I would be able to finish an extensive book on donkeys. But then I discovered that they published notes of Robert Macfarlane on his search for wilderness! Thus I immediately bought the book. The optical appearance of the book is immensely good. The typography is done very very well, the paper is of very high quality, the book is thread-binded, all pages printed in two colors, etc.. It really is a joy to just flick through the pages.

This book itself was a kinda strange read for me. It’s really different from other books. It’s not really a story, but a mere collection of descriptions of wild places which the author found. Instead of describing his inner feelings he mostly describes the places themselves and paints them with words. This is also reflected in plain chapter titles like “Moor”, “Forest”, or “Valley”. There is no climax in the book and I think it would go against the overall vibe and intention of the book if there were.

In the beginning I found the book very hard to read and get into. In the end it was easier for me. As Markus put it: maybe this is one of those books which I should read again in ten years time.

There are some really nice descriptions of wilderness which he found, places in deep forest, untouched by humans, with lots of animal caves, wild nature, skeletons, etc..

Kein Ort hätte besser meiner Vorstellung von reiner Wildnis ensprechen können, wie ich sie zu Beginn meiner Reisen hatte. Eine räumliche Logik hatte mich hierhergeführt, der Wunsch, an einem Punkt zu sein, an dem sich physische und geografische Höhe summierten, ein hoher Gipfel auf einem hohen Breitengrad. Jetzt aber wollte ich diesen Ort nur noch verlassen. Mich überfiel ein noch stärkeres Unbehagen, als ich es, ebenso unerwartet, schon auf der Felsnadel von Coruisk verspürt hatte.

Douglas Preston — The Lost City of the Monkey God: A True Story
The book is a bit like Jurassic Park in real life and tells the story of an archaeological expedition to locate a rumored city in the jungle of Honduras. The author is a journalist (for National Geographic) who accompanied the scientists. I can definitely recommend the book, it was a very thrilling and interesting read and one of my reading highlights this year. Besides the archaeological highlights it is an interesting account on corruption, grave looting, and the dangers of a jungle.

Brian Jay Jones — George Lucas
This is an unauthorized biography on Lucas. I don’t really like those unauthorized biographies, since they often tell “from hearing”. The same goes for this book. Overall, I think, he is not portrayed as a good filmmaker. To me, it was not really conceivable from the book why he made it as far as he has. I think the book portrays Lucas as a stubborn director who succeeded only because other people helped him decide what’s good and bad. There are often mentions of how he shot a picture or wrote something which was so chaotic (or incoherent) that other people had to help him sort things out.

The book was interesting for the whole history facts, but I was missing emotional insights or glimpses into his characters. But this is just typical for unauthorized biographies which lack access to intimate friends of the subject or, even worse, the subject itself.

Bov Bjerg — Auerhaus
I found this book by chance in a small hostel in Jisr az-Zarca in Israel (there is only one hostel there). It’s a German book and on the first page a “Beatrix” had placed a paper with a note that all of the book had actually happened in a small village near Stuttgart and that she grew up there. This got me interested and I started reading the first pages — three/four hours later I was finished with the entire book, it got me hooked so intensely on those first pages. I didn’t put it down even once and in the end my eyes hurt. But it was definitely worth it.

I really enjoyed the book. It retells a summer in the authors life. One of those summers which will never come again. The book captured me emotionally and I could identify a lot with some of the themes — especially the melancholic mood of looking back on a very happy time of living together with friends. The book captures this spirit very well. Also, it is set in a small village between Ulm and Stuttgart and refers to some places familiar to me.

Christian Rudder — Dataclysm
This is a book by one of the co-founders of OkCupid, he describes statistical insights which he gained whilst building the platform. OkCupid works in a way that you answer questions on all kinds of things…your view on the world, or character traits which you have and which you search for in a partner or friend. The main thing which stuck with me from the book is that even though you can answer thousands of questions on their website they could already predict astoundingly well how likely two people were to get along from these three questions: Are you interested in politics? Do you like horror movies? Have you ever traveled to another country alone?.

Rolf Potts — Vagabonding
Found this one on a flea market (the one in the princess garden in Kreuzberg). It’s a book on the authors experiences and tipps on vagabonding. The topic spoke very much to me, but I found the book bored me and it was a bit hard to finish reading it. I think this was because I am already quite familiar with the topic and most of the stuff from the book I had already heard or talked about a lot of times.

One thing which stuck was a suggestion of how to describe years of work-free vagabonding in a CV: honestly describing where one went and what one took from it — e.g. being able to look after oneself in a remote country, being patient, getting along with all kinds of cultures, etc..

Bov Bjerg — Die Modernisierung meiner Mutter
I was so enthusiastic after having read “Auerhaus” that I was eager to read the one other book by the author. The summary spoke to me: short stories on his childhood in a small, swabian village and on his “exile” in Berlin. However, I was very much disappointed by the book and finished it purely to get it over with.

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry — The Little Prince
A shame that it took me that long to finally take it up and read it. Very good book. I think despite of the illustration style it’s much more of an adult book then a childrens book.

Ramez Naan — Nexus
It’s hard for me to describe how exceptionally good I found this book. I think it’s an extremely visionary and outstanding book. The author really grasps some of the ideas surrounding transhumanism, their applications, and their influence on society. Some of the recent startups in this field (Neuralink, Kernel, opnwatr, ni2o, …) may very well end up building the described technology.

The book is science-fiction, but of a very near future, not too far away. It is set 15-20 years in the future and makes an, in my mind, very plausible extrapolation. I think the disruptive technologies described in the book are plausible and it is highly likely that this is how our world will look in a couple of decades. Be it two or ten decades, this technology will appear sooner or later. You can really grasp it! It’s a glimpse of a future that might well come to be. It’s not science-fiction of intergalactic space wars — it seems to be not that far away, but totally groundbreaking.

Whilst reading the book I often had to stop myself from consuming it too fast. I wanted to prolong the reading experience :-). Often I made pauses and thought a bit about what I just had read.

I especially liked the scientific base of his book. It is very much apparent that he is a computer scientist, his depictions of this realm are very accurate (the Unix stuff, the algorithms, the peer reviews, academic conferences, etc.). Also I liked that he mentions Vipassana meditation and a couple of places in e.g. Thailand where I had also been to. His depiction of Bangkok is pretty much how I remember it as well. I think some of the other stuff which he describes is also pretty authentic and he knows very well what he is talking about.

The book is written in a very visual way and it’s easy to imagine this being made into a movie at some point. Overall I was surprised that this book is so little known in the cyberpunk and trans-/posthumanism scene. I liked it a lot and it has become one of my favorite books. It re-ignited my interest in this whole topic of neocortex, transhumanism, neural enhancement, and brain computer interfaces. It provided a glimpse of a future that I haven’t seen prior to the book. I think it’s very probable that something like the technology he describes will be invented in the next decades.

Ramez Naam — Crux
Naam actually wrote a triology: Nexus, Crux, Apex. I was so very hooked and enthused by the first book that I immediately went on to the second one. The second book is fantastic as well and I liked it a lot.

Ramez Naam — Apex
The third book was also a nice read, it’s a good book, although as with most trilogies: the first one is the best.

Ramez Naam — More Than Human: Embracing the Promise of Biological Enhancement
The Nexus trilogy got me so hooked on the whole trans-/posthumanism scene again, that I immediately continued with this non-fiction book by the author. He describes the state of research in terms of genetics, cloning, neural augmentations, and related domains. He makes an elaborate argument for progress and enhancing human nature. He also describes counter-positions and typical arguments of opponents. The book was a very interesting read and in my eyes makes a valid and probable prediction of how the future will evolve. It was also nice to see counter-positions examined, he makes a very positive case of evolving humans and fostering scientific progress.

Helmut Herold — Linux-Unix-Shells
Markus lent me this book a while ago, when I was attending the course “Systemnahe Software” at university. I’m a bit ashamed that it took me quite some time to pick it up and read it. At some point the guilty conscience was too much and I took the opportunity of big-day-off to read through it. Big-day-off is a thing which we have at work each six weeks; I can do whatever I want for two days, as long as it is loosely related to the company — it doesn’t have to yield any business value. I decided to take this time to deepen my shell knowledge. I skipped the chapters on ancient shells. The rest was informative and brought some stuff up from memory again (null operators in bash, why certain commandos have to be built-ins, etc.).

Sam Williams — Free as in Freedom
Another book which Markus gave to me some (unfortunately) years ago. The guilty conscience was too much as well and I finally attacked it. The book is the biography of Richard Stallmann. It gave a bit more insight into his person and I think I now understand a bit better what his motivations are. The book goes into depth on for example the difference between the terms “GNU/Linux” vs “Linux” and “Free Software” vs “Open Source”.

After I read the book I found out that there is a derivative work in which Stallman — who was dissatisfied with some of the authors depictions of him — changed things around and wrote comments indicated with “RMS: ” below anecdotes, quotes, etc.. Hmm. I’m not really sure what to make of this, but I think it’s a bit over the top and only reinforces the impression of Stallmans urge to micro-manage. It’s a bit ironic that the book actually makes a point of describing this urge quite well.

Samin Nosrat — Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat
The book is a meta-cookbook. It consists mostly of four large chapters: Salt, Fat, Acid, and Heat. Each chapter examines the impact of this ingredient on a dish with the authors main message being that these are the four variables that effect a well-done dish the most.

The books main impact on me was to buy the best salt and olive oil which I could find and to experiment more with varying these variables when cooking. It also reinforced my opinion that the best way to learn cooking is to cook a lot.

Airen — Strobo
The text on the back cover says “the book is experienced in ecstasy and written in ecstasy” and this is totally fitting. I mainly read the book because of my own wanderings in Berlins electronic music clubs.

Airen — I am Airen Man
The book is more mature in literary terms. Its content is the authors time in Mexico and it’s mostly a continuation of “Strobo”. There were some passages which I reflected on for some time.

[…] einer, der sich von so ziemlich jeder Erfahrung ferngehalten hat. (p.59)

[…] wenn all die Küsse und Umarmungen nicht zählten, dieses verschwitzte Lächeln nicht echt wäre, wenn das alles nur eine Dummheit war, ein paar Sünden am Wegesrand, dann sage ich Ja zur Dummheit, Ja zum Leichtsinn, denn nur diese Küsse zählten, nur dieses Lächeln war echt, nur dann und dort habe ich gelebt. (p. 145)

Alexander & Ann Shulgin — Pikhal
The autobiography of Alexander (& Ann) Shulgin. A couple years ago I took interest in his person and read a lot about him. At that time I had also bought the book and now finally took time to read it. The part written by him about himself was interesting to me, but I disliked the part written by his wife (which from my feeling is about five times larger than his part).

Following the death of his mother and griefance of his father:

Finally, I said Enough! Let’s all go on some sort of short get-away, to give ourselves a chance to repair. Where should we go? It didn’t matter, I said; I’ll take care of it.

So my father put a clean pair of socks and a change of underwear into a satchel, and all four of us set out for San Francisco, supposedly headed for San Diego. In actuality, unbeknownst to my father, I had arranged to have the house sealed off for a long absence, and I’d gotten tickets on the P&O ship Chusan for a trip, not just to San Diego, but past it to Panama, then to Trinidad, Barbados, the Canary Islands, England, and on to France, where we would stay for a year. […] The plan worked. My father had to buy a whole new wardrobe; he re-established contacts with Russian-speaking friends whom he hadn’t seen for a quarter of a century; he completely severed himself from his grief-obligations, rediscovered his identity and his energy, and he later remarried, opened a restaurant, and lived another fifteen years.

Hunter S. Thompson — The Rum Diaries
The book is a nice account of Puerto Rico in the 1960s. I liked the whole journalism lifestyle which is depicted in it. It was a nice read and I’d like to read more of his works.

So overall I get to 20 books, seven of them were written in German, the rest in English.

Category: Life itself


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About Me

I am a 29 year old techno-creative enthusiast who lives and works in Berlin. In a previous life I studied computer science (more specifically Media Informatics) at the Ulm University in Germany.

I care about exploring ideas and developing new things. I like creating great stuff that I am passionate about.


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