Category Archives: Book Review

So I Finished Reading the Bible…

He dies.

But seriously, if you were smart 2,000 years ago, you probably had something to do with religion (that was the only place they taught anything and where the first universities began). So I figure there’s gotta be somethin’ smart up in there.

Jesus. A very nice dude. In all honesty, I think he was the most understanding man to have lived. He just really loved, understood, and accepted people while wanting the best for them. If you read only his words, it paints an extremely different picture than the rest.

If you want the quick version, you can get 90% of the way by just reading Genesis and Exodus, Matthew, Mark, and Luke (John gets a touch long winded and preachy). Those last three are the new testament and have all of Jesus’s actual words. If you want to have fun, read Revelations. Yikes. The old testament has a lot of… well genealogy and God being mad at various groups of people, telling them to do something, them not doing it, and then him being mad again. Most of the other books in the new testament are letters from Paul or other apostles and they’re pretty preachy. Most of the good solid content is contained in the books I outlined above.

Now onto the Quran.

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Identically Different – Tim Spector: Review

Spector is a highly respected geneticist. His work on the human genome project and the like is daunting, and is a perfect person to write a book that furthers the understanding of the increasingly complex world of genetics.

The reader can tell that he’s not a typical writer. Many chapters end with the reader being required to deduce the final opinion or result. However, a lot of the research (since its so cutting edge) is not conclusive. It only points to possible theories. Much of the time a final result or opinion is possible. Though I think it would flow better if the author simply stated this.

As for content, he basically sums up why genetics is much more complicated than previously thought. His use of twins in statistically deducing the subtleties of hereditary characteristics is wonderful. A main point is that besides genetic code, there is something called epigenetic coding that turns on or off genes. This allows the genes to either be expressed or not. This is a simplification but is indicative of the main idea.

It’s certainly worth the time. I would read Richard Dawkins’ “Selfish Gene” first though.

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War and Peace – Tolstoy: Review

There have been some posts with regards to this book. For someone who doesn’t read a lot of fiction, this was well worth my reading time.

It is Tolstoy’s understanding of complex environments that was found to be so amazing and many human conditions and biases that have, since the time of his writing, been well documented.

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History is more recent than it feels

I’ve finally finished reading the Penguin History of the World. Turns out the zebra did it.
Awesome read. I had never read any history pieces and this was fantastically enjoyable.

There is one salient piece that has jumped out most at me. As you read about all these events that feel, to most people, so ancient, you come to notice that many of them took place not more than 200 years ago. And after having bathed your mind in the full history of civilization and its building, these events feel incredibly more recent.

The Ottoman Empire is a good example. Even how recent some countries became states was surprising. Germany is a good example.

It was very powerful to think that we feel so far from these very different ways of living when in fact, we are merely a speck in time away from them.

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History of the world – cool facts

A lack of posts is due to reading the Penguin History of the World. Which is super cool and has so far yielded the following, not connected, amazingly surprising things:

1. Back in classical China, the best thing that could happen to you was to receive the gift of a family name from the emperor if you were a common people. Hence the reason why, now, 22% of the population has the last name of either Zhang, Li or Wang.

2. On New Year’s day in 1256, Baghdad was stormed and raided and the last Abbasid caliph murdered. But due to superstition of shedding his blood, he was rolled in a carpet and trampled to death by horses.

3. The word ‘slave’ comes from the first major group of peoples to be sold as ‘slaves’: the Slavic people of, what is now, eastern Europe.

4. In 1279 when the great Song empire finally collapsed, the last emperor committed suicide along with 800 members of his royal clan. He was an eight year old boy.

5. Among the most interesting innovations created by the Christian church: in the 12th century, they formalized the theory of transubstantiation. This is the process by which the body and blood of Christ are actually present in the bread and wine served during service.

6. Dominicans, a sect of the Christian church during the 12th century, provided much of the personnel responsible for carrying out the Inquisition. Yes, that, inquisition.

7. The best quote read so far:
“Such movements expressed the great paradox of the medieval Church. It had risen to a pinnacle of power and wealth. It deployed vast estates, tithes and papal taxation, in the service of a magnificent hierarchy, whose worldly greatness reflected the glory of God and whose lavish cathedrals, great monastic churches, splendid liturgies, learned foundations and libraries embodied the devotion and sacrifices of the faithful. Yet the point of this huge concentration of power and grandeur was to preach a father at whole heart lay the glorification of poverty and the humility and the superiority of thing not of this world.”
Shit, my brain almost jumped into my mouth reading that. What I would have given to describe such things so eloquently.

8. The total population of the world is estimated to have gone down to 50 million by 1360. It only began to rise in the 15th century. After the 15th century, it has never again decreased since. Ever.

9. ‘Ivan the Great’ was the first ever to take the title of Tsar. The word comes from ‘Ceasar’. This is the first thing on which I’ll comment… It’s weird to us that a man so engrained within our minds would take something from a culture with which we would not immediately associate him. But that’s the interesting part; to him, the interesting things were what happened 500 years ago… it’s a chronological association that we don’t often realize exists.

10. In 1730, the family line of Peter The Great ended. This is due to the fact that there was no successor to Peter, other than the son whom Peter had tortured to death.

That’s all for now. I’m about three quarters through the book.

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Antifragile – Nassim Taleb: Review

This work lands in my top 10 most enjoyed and effectual books I’ve read in my life.

Among the plethora of interesting and arguments, stories, facts and historical accounts, the main tenant of the book attempts to describe that which, when encountering volatility, is itself improved directly by said volatility. A glass breaks upon shaking enough. A piece of metal does not. But there are things out there that will actually be better off after the shaking.

He applies this idea to numerous facets of life and from it delves into the world of free options, which allow one to take advantage of volatility without the exposure to the downside.

I really don’t want to say much more. It’s very likely the most intelligent book I’ve ever read.

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The Art of Loving – Erich Fromm: Review

Loving as an art and an effort is a very powerful concept that North America has lost on itself. And Fromm argues it smoothly and beautifully.

I recommend spending some wonderful time with this book. It reframes relationships.

Two points of wonderful interest.
a) Most marriages before the advent of America were arranged through many different mechanisms depending on the geography. And people were meant to come together and learn and work to love eachother and build a family. That’s a wholly different construct from the romantic one much of the world uses now, only a few centuries later.
b) That the primal act in loving someone comes from giving. And that one has the ability to give because he or she has abundance. The richest people are often the least giving even though they ostensibly have the most. It is not about physical quantities at all. It’s a mindset.

Those two tidbits are indicative of the rest of Fromm’s sentiments. Simply reading it will make you feel better, practicing the concepts will make you a better person.

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