Summary of reading: April – June 2014

June 29th, 2014 at 2:39 pm
  • "A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy" by William B. Irvine – An overview of Stoicism, one of the ancient Greece’s schools of philosophy. It’s interesting to draw parallels between it and modern "self help" approaches. Even more interestingly, it’s an important lesson to keep in mind that people more than 2000 years ago were concerned about very similar things as today, and came up with very similar solutions. I can’t say I liked how the book itself was written, but Stoicism is definitely interesting.
  • "Mastery" by Robert Greene – The author explores what it takes to become a master in some profession/craft, and provides mini-biographies of a number of successful historical figures, such as Mozart or Benjamin Franklin. While the biographical parts are pretty interesting, I found the thesis overall not too insightful. Greene tries to demonstrate that mastery comes from practice rather than inborn talent, but his biographical examples mostly show the opposite, it seems to me. That said, the book isn’t bad all in all. A particularly positive mention goes to the chapter about social intelligence which is pretty good.
  • "The Five Major Pieces to the Life Puzzle" by Jim Rohn – not what I expected :-/ This book is a brief rehash of common self-help slogans, without a lot of substance.
  • "Got Fight?" by Forrest Griffin – extremely funny and extremely politically incorrect. Don’t expect too much real advice from this book – mainly jokes and anecdotes. I’ve actually liked the last part of the book, where Griffin shows "tips" for actual MMA moves and techniques the least useful. You can’t really learn martial arts from a book… If you’re up for a quick read and a good laugh, though, this book will certainly deliver.
  • "Dr. Atkins’ New Diet Revolution" by Robert Atkins – The new edition of the classic book that launched the low-carb diet revolution. My expectations weren’t high here, and I was mainly looking for a more practical complement to Gary Taubes’s books, which explain why refined carbs are bad very well, but don’t give much in terms of practical advice of how to eat. While Atkins easily hits all the check-points of a sleazy self-help book, in terms of practical advice and todo-s it’s not bad. It provides reasonably detailed paths to weight loss and maintenance using a ultra low-carb diet, as well as helpful advice in terms of what foods to use to achieve it. One thing that really bugs me about the book, though, is that its claims of "no caloric restrictions" are disingenuous. On one hand the author says you don’t have to count calories at all when limiting carbs; on the other hand, he uses every opportunity to mention that all meals should be small. The "recommended daily menus" at the end of the book are very ascetic indeed. I’d say that it you eat three small meals a day, and your only snack in between is cantaloupe, that’s a diet any way you want to call it, because it will be very low calorie too.
  • "Two Scoops of Django: Best Practices For Django 1.6" by Daniel Greenfeld and Audrey Roy – with the surging popularity of Python for web development, and Django being its most widely used framework, this book fills a needed niche. The Django documentation is known for its high quality, but after having gone through it and having built a few simple applications, one may wonder about some of the more advanced techniques used by experienced Django developers. "Two Scoops" aims to provide a wide overview of such techniques. It has a lot of useful information, which can only be fully appreciated when you intend to apply it to a real project. An interesting fact about this book is that it’s self published – while the efforts of the authors with this aspect are admirable, the quality leaves something to be desired (both proofreading and in general the way the content is laid out graphically). That said, I’ve seen lower-quality books from established publishers, so this may not mean much.
  • "The Invisible Man" by H.G. Wells (Audiobook) – A very light and entertaining read. The audio recording available for free on Librivox is outstanding.
  • "Winter of the World" by Ken Follett – Second part of the trilogy, and also very good. The only thing that really bothered me is how involved the main characters are in the key historic events around World War II. I think the author went a bit overboard on this one. I realize it would be difficult to describe these events with the same amount of intimacy, but he did succeed in one of the cases. For example, Greg was a secret service supervisor on the Manhattan project – he didn’t have to be one of the scientists in it. A similar role could be carved for the other characters, putting them a bit away from the lime-lights. In general though, it’s a very good book.

Related posts:

  1. Summary of reading: April – June 2013
  2. Summary of reading: April – June 2011
  3. Summary of reading: April – June 2012
  4. Summary of reading: January – March 2014
  5. Summary of reading: May – June 2010

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