Here are some books that I recently read. The two most important features about the books you’ll find below is that (a) I enjoyed reading them A LOT and (b) they taught me something entirely new.
Also, I’ve selected a Book of the Year.
The Swerve by Stephen Greenblatt
The Swerve is a spectacular book about the love of books. More specifically, it’s about a early Renaissance book hunter from Tuscany called ‘Poggio’ who is hunting for books from antiquity, which are gathering dust in old monasteries in Europe. I didn’t expect I would enjoy reading about this quest that much, but Greenblatt is a master of describing people, places and the ultimate quest to rediscover a book by Lucretius that would eventually change history. Also, this book is set during the inquisition by the Catholic Church, which made me realise again how terrible organized religion really is.
Other People’s Money by John Kay
Finally – finally! – a book about finance that is both comprehensible and comprehensive. Kay lays out the ‘first principles’ of finance: what services does it offer to society and how does this work? What’s the difference between Anglo-Saxon finance and ‘Continental’ finance? Then it goes on to show how trading (guessing what other people will guess) and financialization (making finance so complex it becomes incomprehensible) has hurt and is actually hurting the real economy. Nothing new there perhaps, but I found Kay’s writing so wonderfully balanced and informed by his own experiences in the financial sector that I could not stop reading.
Seven Brief Lessons on Physics by Carlo Rovelli
Rovelli – who is a theoretical physics researcher – gives an update about the big things we know about physics and the universe. I found this book the perfect introduction to physics even for people with no interest in physics. Beautifully written (originally in Italian) and very short and concise.
Newton by Peter Ackroyd
Very short, very readable and quite funny biography of Isaac Newton by the British writer Ackroyd. After reading page after page of Newton’s original accomplishments, it struck me again that some individuals are more productive, original and remarkable than perhaps millions of regular people combined.
Our Mathematical Universe by Max Tegmark
There are only a couple dozen equasions that govern the universe. With these equasions we can describe everything that happened and will happen. Tegmark concludes that mathematics can describe reality so well that reality is really just is a bunch of equasions. Tegmark does an amazing job in introducing us to this idea and quite a lot of other insights about physics and the universe. But when he gets going on parallel universes, multiverses and quantum physics, I couldn’t follow him all the way through. And I still don’t get how we can test/verify/falsify many of the hypotheses in his book.
The Copernicus Complex by Caleb Scharf [BOOK OF THE YEAR!]
The Copernicus Complex is fully comprehensible from beginning to end. It’s so good I want to recommend it to random people I meet. It is a majestic contemplation on our place in the universe and gives a stunning overview of what we now (and how we know) about planets orbiting suns. And the great thing is: anyone can understand this book! Caleb is a born science writer. No jargon, just plain English. This book is the best introduction to astrobiology (the science of thinking concisely about the conditions for life in the universe) that I can think of.
Caleb Scharf is really good in weaving three big stories together: how the planets in our solar system formed, how life could start on earth and how it could move beyond single cell organisms all the way up to humans, and thinking rationally about what we can and cannot deduce from our own evolutionary history about life elsewhere in the universe. This is my book of the year because I made an enormous leap in my understanding about (thinking clearly) about the possibility of life in the universe. Some parts about the formation of solar systems and the non-linear behaviour of planetary orbits were so spectacularly written, they should figure in the Bible for Atheists (“In the beginning there was star dust..”).