The year ended with some not great news on the family front but we survived and things seem to be looking up going ahead. That got me thinking, amongst other things I have been very thankful for being able to structure in a generous amount of reading (books, articles, podcasts). I had previously shared a mid-year book list in my Summer Reading 2021 post. Now it's time to share the End of Year version.
My more comprehensive reading updates and forward looking pipeline of books can be found on my Goodreads.
When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi
I finished the book, a bit unsatisfied like a 4/5 rating. I couldn't place my finger on why until I read the Epilogue by his wife, Lucy. She puts it succinctly for everyone else feeling the same - "When Breath Becomes Air is, in a sense, unfinished, derailed by Paul's rapid decline, but that is an essential component of its truth, of the reality Paul faced.....Not fully captured in these pages are Paul’s sense of humor or his sweetness and tenderness, the value he placed on relationships with friends and family. But this is the book he wrote; this was his voice during this time; this was his message during this time; this was what he wrote when he needed to write it.". I have no complaints about the ending anymore as it reminds us that one has to be content with the cards dealt by the quantum randomness of the universe. Exceptional read. Do also read Bill Gates's review of the same book which surprisingly mirrors a LOT of my own conclusions and frustrations on the abrupt end.
Essential Bukowski: Poetry by Charles Bukowski
After almost a 15 year gap, I have found myself drawn back to poetry! The individual responsible is Charles Bukowski. The first poem I encountered of his was Roll the Dice. It was last year when COVID had just started, and it left such an impression that it now sits on my desk at work. The first few lines (& the entire poem really) are perfect for everyone who dreams of a different world and sets out to create change -
"If you're going to try, go all the way.
Otherwise, don't even start.
If you're going to try, go all the way.
This could mean losing girlfriends, wives, relatives, jobs and maybe your mind...."
Bukowski's style is often extreme and feels like a peak behind the proverbial curtain. It often feels he is defining various aspects of the human condition by being able to "touch reality" as we know & feel it rather than how we often say it as a society. Essential Bukowski is the best anthology of his work in my opinion compiled by Abel Debritto.
Snowcrash by Neal Stephenson
With all the recent conversations about Metaverse, it is worth going back to where it all started (well technically it was Neuromancer by William Gibson or even True Name by Vernor Vinge but Snowcrash really got the ball rolling). Snowcrash, published in 1992, predicted a provocative dystopian tech utopia which has for decades since inspired & challenged countless engineers and scientists to bring to reality. I first read Snowcrash during my gap year in 2015, after I had left my banking career. Immediately, in my short-lived newsletter, I compiled a snapshot of the cultural and technological impact of the book. The true Metaverse may still be off by a decade or two but I am glad the conversation is now more public than ever!
The Almanack of Naval Ravikant: A Guide to Wealth and Happiness by Eric Jorgenson
I originally encountered Naval from his appearance on Joe Rogan (during his YouTube podcast days). The quintessential way to follow him is his twitter handle, @naval. Naval's Tim Ferris Podcast appearances are some of the best conversations to hear about angel investing (he started angel.co), crypto and mindfulness in life. His twitter thread on How to Get Rich (Without Getting Lucky) was the single largest influence on my own thesis of angel investment and personal wealth creation. The Almanack can be downloaded digitally for free from here as well.
Heir Apparent by Vivian Vande Velde
It is Groundhog Day meets Ready Player One. A gamer, who due to equipment sabotage, is stuck in a medieval fantasy VR Strategy RPG (VRSRPG pronounced "verserperg" ?). The only way out safely, without brain damage, is by finishing the game! Sometimes table stakes don't feel high enough and the ending is kind of predictable. But with a unique and original Banderdash-like non-linear story progression, side splitting banter between characters, soft magic system and a dragon, the overall experience of reading the book is unique. Highly recommend the audiobook - Carine Montbertrand as the narrator is amazing.
The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion
Picked this up after a glowing review from Bill Gates. The premise is all too familiar and grounded in reality to some extent. Don Tillman, a genetics professor with Asperger’s Syndrome, starts looking for a wife armed with a questionnaire and a quantitative scale to rank the candidates. Dating is hard and personally the nerd in me found it quite easy to relate to Don, the protagonist. Also Don's obsession with optimizing personal schedule hit too close to home! Once again, I would highly recommend the audiobook - Dan O'Grady has done a marvelous job. Unlike Gates though, I found the sequel book to be a bit repetitive and lacking novelty.
Buddhism: A Very Short Introduction by Damien Keown
Growing up in a devout Hindu household (with a Maithil Brahmin lineage), up until this day, I have constantly struggled to reconcile my growing understanding of the mathematical universe and the rigidity of a structured religion's inconsistencies. I first encountered Buddhism on a family trip during my primary school holidays to Bodh Gaya, which is 300km or 7hours drive from my hometown of Jamshedpur in Bihar (now Jharkhand) in India and is credited to be the place where Buddha achieved Enlightenment. This handbook is a 101, non-BS place intro about Buddhism. Hidden amongst a lot of details about Buddhism, there was an interesting astronomical comment. Following Alice down the rabbit hole - Buddha was known to have memories as far back as 91 Eons (1 Eon ~ 1 billion Earth Years). So that puts access to Mitochondrial memory as back as 91 billion Earth Years. Assuming Panspermia, this means the universe could be atleast as old as 91 billion Earth Years. The current age of the universe, based on CMB, is estimated 13.8 billion Earth years. But as we know, the universe is expanding and maybe even faster than it should be. Every day, more and more stellar matter is going outside of our sphere of visible universe due to the universe expanding. The concept of the Big Bang being a singularity has also been debunked (1), (2). Does this all mean that this seemingly insignificant astronomical statement passed down by generations, that the universe and the life within it is magnitudes older than our current understanding, hold some meaning? Probably not based on this specific evidence but like a good Bayesian, I will assign a small credence to it for now.