Monday, December 30, 2019

2019 list of books read

I managed to read 52 books this year despite a heavier than usual work schedule. What did I sacrifice to read more? Nothing that I would have missed anyway. Instead of logging on to social media apps (I deleted them), and reading short news articles from websites, I just used my handphone to read ebooks. My reading habits had changed a little since I had a kid because I couldn't sit down and read for extended hours, so a handphone with an ebook reading app would be more than sufficient to occupy those waiting times that pop up every now and then.

Of the 52 books, 19 of them are fiction - that's about 36%. Some people don't read fiction at all, which is like me in the past. I'm quite a late adopter of fiction. These days, I can't tell for sure which is fiction and which isn't, frankly. The 19 fictional books that I said earlier in this paragraph, I had to do some interpretation myself.

Here's the list of the books I've read:

52) The end of absence - Michael Harris
51) Surrounded by Idiots - Thomas Erikson
50) Everything is F*cked - Mark Manson
49) The Rosie result - Graeme Simsion
48) The Redemption of Time - Baoshu
47) Permanent Record - Edward Snowden
46) Gulp - Mary Roach
45) Montauk Project - Preston B. Nichols / Peter Moon
44) Ball lightning - Liu Cixin
43) Uncle Hitler - Alfred Nestor
42) Efficiency - Wall Street Playboys
41) How to raise successful people - Esther Wojcicki
40) Death's End - Liu Cixin
39) The Dark Forest - Liu Cixin
38) The Three-Body problem - Liu Cixin
37) Educated - Tara Westover
36) Band of brothers - Stephen E Ambrose
35) The whole-brain child - Daniel J. Siegel
34) Miniatures - John Scalzi
33) Total recall - Arnold Schwarzenegger
32) The paper menagerie and other stories - Ken Liu
31) Norse Mythology - Neil Gaiman
30) The Compound Effect - Darren Hardy
29) Broken Stars - Ken Liu
28) The great cholesterol myth - Jonny Bowden
27) Lies my doctor told me - Ken D. Berry
26) Ms Bixby's last day - John David Anderson
25) Zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance - Robert M. Pirsig
24) Thinking in Bets - Annie Duke
23) HIIT explained - James Driver
22) Solitude - Michael Harris
21) American Gods - Neil Gaiman
20) Leaders eat last - Simon Sinek
19) The Time paradox - Philip Zimbardo / John Boyd
18) The Fifth Risk - Michael Lewis
17) The hour between dog and wolf - John Coates
16) Hero - R.A. Salvatore
15) Crash course - Kim Bearden
14) The Singapore Blue Chips - Nandini Vijayaraghavan & Umesh Desai
13) Little soldiers - Lenora Chu
12) Flatland - Edwin. A. Abbott
11) The Pianist - Wladyslaw Szpilman
10) Keep calm and mother on - Pauline Loh
9) Archmage - R.A. Salvatore
8) How to write a sentence - Stanley Fish
7) The smartest kids in the world - Amanda Ripley
6) Laws of Human Nature - Robert Greene
5) Maths learning difficulties, Dyslexia and Dyscalculia - Steve Chinn
4) Head on - John Scalzi
3) Shoe Dog - Phil Knight
2) Neither Civil nor Servant - Peh Shing Huei
1) Vengeance of the Iron Dwarf - R.A. Salvatore

I'll try to shorten the huge list into just 5 books that I would recommend to people who are following my book list.

1. Neither Civil Nor Servant - Peh Shing Huei

This is a book about Philip Yeo, one of the important people who built up Singapore as we know today. He was in various portfolio, including the set up known as ST engineering today, EDB, SPRING, ASTAR etc. He is an engineer, first of all, and someone who can be relied on to solve problems, even if it means breaking a few rules and knocking a few heads on the way there! It is a thoroughly joyful read if only to see how much problems Singapore is saddled with in those important years after independence and trying too hard to survive. I don't know why, but as I get older, I wanted to find out more about this home that I've been living for so many years. I will read this along with Goh Chok Tong's and Lee Kuan Yew's books, just to have a good overall grounding of the history straight from the horses' mouth. Even though he is one of the greats in Singapore who managed to push things through, I think working for him will be a nightmare.

2. Little Soldiers - Lenora Chu

This book is highly recommended by me. It's about how a pair of Chinese parents who migrated to the US, had a daughter who is raised in the US and essentially an American and then going on to have kids who are subsequently back in China again for their education. One complete cycle. It talks about how the education system is like in China, and always in contrast to other nations, specifically in the US. This book is interesting to me because it makes me think about the good and the bad in each system, the straitjacket authoritarian Chinese education system vs the laissez-faire self-directed play to learn style in most Western education system. This book is so interesting that I passed it to my wife to read. And she agrees, which is rare. Personally, I think my style of teaching is more towards China's disciplinarian no-nonsense stuff, while my wife is more towards the Western play-learning style. Between us, hopefully, our kid will get the best of both worlds, haha

3. The Fifth Risk - Michael Lewis

I like all books by Michael Lewis. Okay, to be honest, most books. I don't like his "The New New Things: A Silicon Valley story", but this book is not like that. "The Fifth Risk" talks about the things that we can't imagine that will harm us. Sounds a little like the concept of black swan, isn't it? I think I can divide this book in two parts. The first part being how US president Donald Trump came unexpectedly into a position of power and started, should we say, commercializing the works of different agencies. The heads of these government agencies get replaced by his loyalists, who started upending the good work done by previous officeholders. Maybe 'destroying' is a better word than 'upending'. The second part talks about the weather, and how using big data released for free by the Obama Administration had made prediction less of a random guess. Guess what? It's no longer for free now that the head of the country is changed. Like the other books he wrote, Michael Lewis has a knack of making you interested in things that you are not even remotely interested in the first place.

4. The Time Paradox - Philip Zimbardo and John Boyd

A very insightful book that introduces a new model of thinking for me. We are all familiar with the MBTI test on our personality, but what if our personality is based on time? The authors introduce 6 time perspectives - past positive (focuses on past tradition, values history and cultural inheritance), past negative (focuses on past negative events), present-hedonistic (life of the party, epicurean, love new and fun things), present-fatalistic (believes nothing can change fate), futuristic (sets goals, do month-end accounting, punctual, hates wasting time) and transcendental-future (believes in reincarnation, life after death, karma). The rest of the chapters is about how the different people - pasts, presents and futures - handle different things. I believe financial bloggers are mostly futures, while lifestyle bloggers are mostly present-hedonistic. A lot of messages are preached by the futures for the futures, so for example to prevent teenage pregnancies (the majority are the presents), the advice is to use contraceptives or abstain. The advice works for the future, but they are not the ones needing advice, which is why such campaigns have limited effectiveness. Wow, that really introduces another model to think about things. I highly recommend this book to another who is interested in psychology. By the way, Philip Zimbardo is the researcher behind the infamous Stanford prison experiment, of how our behaviour changes when we just put on a new uniform and change our environment.

5. How To Raise Successful People - Esther Wojcicki

Adopt TRICK principles - Trust, Respect, Independence, Collaboration and Kindness in kids. Each of the chapters in the book talks about the 5 characteristics that successful kids should have, with plenty of examples of how she did it herself. The author had raised several kids who are all very prominent and useful members of their community. I think she is also a good teacher with very strong principles that happened to be spot on after researchers found out years later. Very good read on parenting. If you have kids and is interested in parenting, this is the book to read.

Special mentions

Usually, I don't recommend fiction, because our tastes are seldom the same. But if you're even remotely interested in sci-fi, then you should read Chinese sci-fi. That is the new genre that kept me captivated to no end this year. The original text are in Chinese (read it in its original form if you dare), but is translated by Ken Liu, who is himself a sci-fi writer of quiet renown. It's really fantastic. I would say the works of Liu Cixin rivals that of the greats in the Western world, like Issac Asimov, John Scalzi, Robert Heinlein etc etc

Read the Three-body problem saga by Liu Cixin (LCX) and Baoshu in the following order (as recommended by Unintelligent Nerd), and I guarantee you'll be mind blown by one of the greatest epic science fiction that spreads across thousands and thousands of years.

1. The Three-Body problem - LCX
2. The Dark Forest - LCX
3. Death's End - LCX
4. Ball lightning - LCX
5. The Redemption of Time - Baoshu


lateinvestor said...

I like Peh Shing Huei's works. You should buy Dream Island, the mad mad world of Philip Yeo for your little one. haha.

la papillion said...

Hi lateinvestor,

Haha, looks like a good book :) I've always enjoyed children's book

Adrian said...

You might want to consider Goh Keng Swee A portrait. Read that a couple of years ago, really enjoyed it. Here's my short review on it:

"Reading this gave me a better picture on the challenges faced by modern Singapore in the early years. While there are many books that do discuss about the history of Singapore, there are snippets here and there that would not appear in such books.

Above all, it tells the story of a man who was pragmatic and willing to learn new things in order to build a nation."

la papillion said...

Hi Adrian,

I will do that, thank you for your recommendation!

km coaching said...

did u write on book solitude by michael harris. i read it recently with some people making pencil marking

la papillion said...

Hi km,

No, I didn't write on books. It was an ebook too, so it's not me.

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