May 20, 2022
books

The latest books I’ve read: Summer 2021

Here are the books I read in Summer 2021.

A quick note on how I select books. A bit like browsing the Netflix catalogue, there is a lot of material out there, and a lot of it is bad. Generally, my process is to go and look at some book blogs or lists (e.g. GatesNotes has some great book lists and reviews, Goodreads is another good resource), make a shortlist of the books I want to read, and then send them as a sample to my Kindle. That way, when I feel like reading I have all of the samples there to pick up, and if I like them I can buy them.

A PROMISED LAND (mEMOIR)
by BARACK OBAMA

54493401

In the stirring, highly anticipated first volume of his presidential memoirs, Barack Obama tells the story of his improbable odyssey from young man searching for his identity to leader of the free world, describing in strikingly personal detail both his political education and the landmark moments of the first term of his historic presidency—a time of dramatic transformation and turmoil.

What I liked:

  • A fascinating view into Obama’s personal life, with a genuine focus on not only what made the entire experience and time period exciting and significabt, but also on those moments that were more mundane and challenging
  • Some real insight into how the office of US president operates – if you’re not deep into US politics it is still very accessible and interesting
  • I listened to the audiobook, and Obama is a fantastic narrator (as you’d expect him to be), with an engaging but hugely personable style. I suspect if you read the book, you’d find the language simple but sophisticated – his incredible ability to communicate to an audience is evident throughout

What I didn’t like:

  • The book follows chronological order, which means the climaxes don’t always come at the right time; e.g. him running for president is really early but probably the most important part of the book, while the book ends with the capture of Osama Bin Laden which while interesting, probably isn’t the defining feature of his presidency
  • This is a long book – even on audible it is well over 20 hours long; there is a bit of filler and I think a bit of editorial work would have gone a long way. But then again, it’s his perogative to write it like this, and I ok to give him a pass because his excellent language pulls the book through

Should you read it?

Yes, absolutely. A lot of political memoirs are self aggrandizing, insincere or defensive in the way they explain periods in office. This one is too…a little. But overall, Obama comes across genuine and introspective. It’s also just a cool window into presidential life.

CAN’T HURT ME (SELF-HELP)
by DAVID GOGGINS

54493401

In Can’t Hurt Me, he shares his astonishing life story and reveals that most of us tap into only 40% of our capabilities. Goggins calls this The 40% Rule, and his story illuminates a path that anyone can follow to push past pain, demolish fear, and reach their full potential.

What I liked:

  • An inspiring story with a good number of personal anecdotes (especially those that talked about his younger childhood life) that makes it all come alive – Goggins lets himself be really vulnerable
  • Simple language with good paced narrative; it’s not going to win any literary awards, but it is very easy to pick up and read

What I didn’t like:

  • Can’t decide if it wants to be a self-help book or an autobiography; if it is the latter, then it needs to dial down the advice, and if it wants to be the former, it needs to be slightly broader in terms of the advice it gives (e.g. a lot of the anecdotes are around physical accomplishment and challenge)

Should you read it?

If you’re into self-help, are going through a tough time, or love an overcoming of adversity story, then yes. Otherwise, it’s not an instant pick-up.

At Home: A Short History of Private Life (non-fiction)
by bill bryson

54493401

Bill Bryson and his family live in a Victorian parsonage in a part of England where nothing of any great significance has happened since the Romans decamped. Yet one day, he began to consider how very little he knew about the ordinary things of life as he found it in that comfortable home. To remedy this, he formed the idea of journeying about his house from room to room to “write a history of the world without leaving home.” The bathroom provides the occasion for a history of hygiene; the bedroom, sex, death, and sleep; the kitchen, nutrition and the spice trade; and so on, as Bryson shows how each has figured in the evolution of private life. Whatever happens in the world, he demonstrates, ends up in our house, in the paint and the pipes and the pillows and every item of furniture.

What I liked:

  • Bryson, as always, is well researched, and is able to provide traditionally boring historical information in an engaging and comedic way

What I didn’t like:

  • The beats in the book don’t connect well together. Bryson wants us to move through each room of the house and delve into its history, but often he gets side tracked and starts talking about something entirely different. The start of each chapter has him ‘walking down a hallway’ or ‘up the stairs’ to the next room, but by the end of the chapter, I had forgotten which room he was talking about because he was going on a tangent

Should you read it?

Bryson has better books, namely A Short History of Nearly Everything, and The Body. Give this one a pass.

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