In terms of reading, 2021 was a productive year for me. I read several books, here is the list of those that I loved most.
Outliers: The Story of Success
When the books I had ordered online were delivered to me, I saw the Outliers were also in the package. I was disappointed because I hadn’t ordered this, and after contacting the seller, he said he mistakenly put this book instead of another book that I’d ordered. Because he had put another book in the package, I decided to keep the book, although I’m not a fan the books about success. But the Outliers proved me wrong. This book is not about how to be an outlier; it’s about the hidden opportunities that outliers benefit from:
“What is the question we always ask about the successful [people]? We want to know what they’re like, what kind of personalities they have, or how intelligent they are, or what kind of lifestyles they have, or what special talents they might have been born with. And we assume that it is those personal qualities that explain how that individual reached the top.
It is those who are successful, in other words, who are most likely to be given the kinds of special opportunities that lead to further success. It’s the rich who get the biggest tax breaks. It’s the best students who get the best teaching and most attention. And it’s the biggest nine- and ten-year-olds who get the most coaching and practice. Success is the result of what sociologists like to call “accumulative advantage.”
In another chapter, he tells us about Bill Gates and what kinds of hidden opportunities he had that made him one the most successful entrepreneur in the world:
The lesson here is very simple. But it is striking how often it is overlooked. We are so caught in the myths of the best and the brightest and the self-made that we think outliers spring naturally from the earth. We look at the young Bill Gates and marvel that our world allowed that thirteen-year-old to become a fabulously successful entrepreneur. But that’s the wrong lesson. Our world only allowed one thirteen-year-old unlimited access to a time sharing terminal in 1968. If a million teenagers had been given the same opportunity, how many more Microsofts would we have today?
A Brief History of Time
One of Goodreads reviews describes this book very well:
Isn’t it amazing that a person can read a book like A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking and come away feeling both smarter and dumber than before he started? What a universe we live in!
Although it’s a brief history of the universe, the amount of information that it had, at least for me, was shocking. He starts the book with a bunch of questions, and throughout the book, he tries to explain what we know, what we assume that we know, and things that we have no explanation for, such as quantum physics, black holes, neutron stars, time travels, and et Cetra:
A well-known scientist (some say it was Bertrand Russell) once gave a public lecture on astronomy. He described how the earth orbits around the sun and how the sun, in turn, orbits around the center of a vast collection of stars called our galaxy. At the end of the lecture, a little old lady at the back of the room got up and said: “What you have told us is rubbish. The world is really a flat plate supported on the back of a giant tortoise.” The scientist gave a superior smile before replying, “What is the tortoise standing on.” “You’re very clever, young man, very clever,” said the old lady. “But it’s turtles all the way down!”
Most people would find the picture of our universe as an infinite tower of tortoises rather ridiculous, but why do we think we know better? What do we know about the universe, and how do we know it? Where did the universe come from, and where is it going? Did the universe have a beginning, and if so, what happened before then? What is the nature of time? Will it ever come to an end? Can we go back in time? Recent breakthroughs in physics, made possible in part by fantastic new technologies, suggest answers to some of these longstanding questions. Someday these answers may seem as obvious to us as the earth orbiting the sun – or perhaps as ridiculous as a tower of tortoises. Only time (whatever that may be) will tell.
Man’s Search for Meaning
Victor Franke in his book, Man’s Search for Meaning, is telling his experiences during WWII when he was imprisoned in the Nazi concentration camp, and how he struggled, was humiliated, and in the end, how he could find meaning in his sufferings.
If there is a meaning in life at all, then there must be a meaning in suffering.
He believes that life is a quest for meaning, and the greatest thing everyone can do is to find meaning for their life, and we can find the meaning by the way we respond to our suffering:
Frankl saw three possible sources for meaning: in work (doing something significant), in love (caring for another person), and in courage during difficult times. Suffering in and of itself is meaningless; we give our suffering meaning by the way in which we respond to it.
When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times
In this delightful book, Pema Chodron gives us some advice and enlightens us on how to be ready and keep our strength during difficult times. He says life is unpredictable, and what is going to happen is unknown, so there is no reason to be sad, depressed, or anxious when we don’t know what will happen tomorrow:
Things falling apart is a kind of testing and also a kind of healing. We think that the point is to pass the test or to overcome the problem, but the truth is that things don’t really get solved. They come together and they fall apart. Then they come together again and fall apart again. It’s just like that. The healing comes from letting there be room for all of this to happen: room for grief, for relief, for misery, for joy.
When we think that something is going to bring us pleasure, we don’t know what’s really going to happen. When we think something is going to give us misery, we don’t know. Letting there be room for not knowing is the most important thing of all. We try to do what we think is going to help. But we don’t know. We never know if we’re going to fall flat or sit up tall. When there’s a big disappointment, we don’t know if that’s the end of the story. It may be just the beginning of a great adventure.
The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse
A children’s book from Charlie Mackesy, which I read in one run when I was in the bookstore. It’s written and illustrated in the most simple way, but behind this simplicity lies powerful messages about love, kindness, self-esteem, and friendship. This is a book that everyone should have in their library.
The Midnight Library
I came to know Matt Haig by his book, Reasons to stay alive, in which he was talking about his experience of depression and anxiety. The Midnight Library is a fantasy novel about a girl who is suffering from depression and loneliness, and when she wanted to end her life, she sees herself in a library, which each book is about a different version of her, in a different universe. She starts living her other lives when she starts reading each book. The idea of the book is amazing, and more than that, the message the book is trying to tell us is wonderful:
It is easy to mourn the lives we aren’t living. Easy to wish we’d developed other talents, said yes to different offers. Easy to wish we’d worked harder, loved better, handled our finances more astutely, been more popular, stayed in the band, gone to Australia, said yes to the coffee or done more bloody yoga. It takes no effort to miss the friends we didn’t make and the work we didn’t do the people we didn’t do and the people we didn’t marry and the children we didn’t have. It is not difficult to see yourself through the lens of other people, and to wish you were all the different kaleidoscopic versions of you they wanted you to be. It is easy to regret, and keep regretting, ad infinitum, until our time runs out. But it is not lives we regret not living that are the real problem. It is the regret itself. It’s the regret that makes us shrivel and wither and feel like our own and other people’s worst enemy.
We can’t tell if any of those other versions would have been better or worse. Those lives are happening, it is true, but you are happening as well, and that is the happening we have to focus on.
The Martian and Project Hail Mary
When it comes to science-fiction books, especially if you’re not a SciFi reader (like me), it’s hard to start a book in this genre, and it’s even harder to finish it. But The Martian hooked me up from the start till the end, and I listened to its audiobook in one sitting. The story and the details are mind-blowing. Unfortunately, the movie was not as good as the book, and I wished I hadn’t seen the movie before reading the book. Another book, Project Hail Mary, by the same author, Andy Weir, was also an amazing journey with dozens of scientific details.