10 Books that will Change your Mind & Perception of The World [II]


SCI-FI I: Recursion

by Blake Crouch

Life with a cheat code isn’t life. Our existence isn’t something to be engineered or optimized for the avoidance of pain. That’s what it is to be human - the beauty and the pain, each meaningless without the other.
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If you’re looking for a fast and entertaining read that will have your brain wondering if you exist in the here and now - or if there even is such a thing as the here and now - this book is it. I’ve read my fair share of Blake Crouch novels, and there’s no way to deny it: this guy is the overlord of hard-to-put-down sci-fi thrillers. He also does an incredible job when it comes to explaining and incorporating mind-blowing scientific concepts, effortlessly integrating aspects of physics, biology, neuroscience, and chemistry. I won’t give up much of the plot, but let’s just say that this book deals with the exploration of memory and the multiple realities it can give birth to and reshape. Recursion is a brilliant neuroscientific thriller, and it is well crafted. Unlike many sci-fi out there, characters - like the realities they inhabit - are multi-dimensional.

It wasn’t just a matter of hiding what you really felt. If you hid your feelings well enough, it actually changed you.
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If you’re not a fan of engineering, or at least interested in understanding technical concepts in a rather detailed matter, you probably won’t enjoy this one. However, if you love the science part of sci-fi: boy oh boy, are you in for a treat. Seveneves is split into three parts. The first one begins with a slow-moving cataclysmic event that will see the end of the Earth as we know it and shed light on how humanity comes together - or does not - to preserve the human species. I will not expand on part two and three but will give you a bit of a letdown: I did not really enjoy the last one, but the other two are definitely worth the blow. Although apocalyptic style novels can sometimes be a bit mind-numbing, this is definitely not a book that falls into this category. Instead, it explores the social, cultural, and genetic implications of survivability and how societal concepts and norms are linked and shaped to the environment in which they take place. It achieves all of this in an adrenaline-inducing way: think space robots harnessing asteroids and terraformation - if this doesn’t sound cool to you, I don’t know what will.

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Leonardo Da Vinci's mind is a pleasure to dive into. With an endless curiosity and fascination with the world and joy and mastery of creation, this is a figure that you will not regret learning more about. This book, written by Isaacson, is a chronological and in-depth recollection of every known detail of Da Vinci's life. From his illegitimate birth, upbringing, cultural peculiarities, the great minds that have affected his own, and the many different subjects and fields he affected. While not one of my favorite autobiographical work - I prefer military or political figures - it is definitely worth the read due to the fascinating life portrayed in it and the many lessons it gives, one of which being to extend one's curiosity beyond the confinement of everyday work and hobbies. After reading this book, what stayed with me is the following: there will always be room for growth, and perfection is a constant endeavor.

Read chp1 excerpt: ‘‘Leonardo da Vinci had the good luck to be born out of wedlock. Otherwise, he would have been expected to become a notary, like the firstborn legitimate sons in his family stretching back at least five generations.’’

Average rating: 4.13 | Book length: 600 pages | Audiobook length: 17 hrs and 1 min | Synopsis

Biographical II: The Great Successor: the divinely perfect destiny of brilliant comrade kim jong un

by Anna Fifield

Most people who don’t get scared off by their conscience or the stress of being a leader develop narcissism,” Robertson told me. Because it’s an acquired narcissism, it’s a personality distortion rather than a personality disorder
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Although often on the news, North Korea is still shrouded in a veil of mystery - a veil that seems to wrap itself more thickly around its supreme leader Kim Jong-un. In her book, Fifield is able to thin down the fabric of this cover by shedding some light on the childhood, teenagehood, and eventual rise to power of Kim Jong-un. Family secrets are exposed, mainly constituting of suicides and alcohol, and a detailed look at North Korea's population reveals abuse of drugs, present on every level of the echelon. If you're the tiniest bit interested in learning more, read this book, as it contains a fresh new perspective and detailed information on this country.

Beirut’s enduring lesson for me was how thin is the veneer of civilization, how easily the ties that bind can unravel, how quickly a society that was known for generations as the Switzerland of the Middle East can break apart into a world of strangers. I have never looked at the world the same since I left Beirut. It was like catching a glimpse of the underside of a rock or the mess of wires and chips that are hidden inside a computer.
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I am Lebanese, so I might be biased here but hear me out. Lebanon had a civil war lasting from 1975 to 1999 between almost every religious sect present in its region, Palestinian refugees, and - eventually - the Israeli military. I've heard my fair share of horrible war stories from my family and friends, and although I wanted to understand that conflict, I was reluctant, careful not to stumble upon a book written by someone who would be biased to one side or the other. Just to be clear, Lebanon is a mess. It has never ceased to be a mess, and as such, no clear, unbiased historical recollection exists of this country. The author of 'From Beirut to Jerusalem' is an unlikely candidate for a Lebanese-civil-war author: he has Jewish origins and is American. But he also lived in Lebanon for a decade during the conflict as the New York Times Middle East correspondent. Albeit falling into a bit of side-taking at times and verging on the autobiographical at others, his overall account of the war is deeply rooted in historical and empirical viewpoints. I urge you to read this book because it is mainly about humanity: how Sectarianism can lead to its demise and how quickly and deeply it can morph into brutality.

Bloodthirsty fanatics who regarded all Western inventions and practices as works of the devil, they saw themselves as divinely appointed to purify the region by slaughtering all who allied with foreigners or deviated from their narrow vision of Islam.
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This book chronologically follows the trajectories that led to the creation of ISIS (Islamic State in Iraq and Syria). Warrick is able to trace the steps of Abu Musab Al Zarqawi - a Jordanian Jihadist and political prisoner set free in 1999 - from his troubled childhood to his conversion to extremist 'Islam' and his rise in the ranks of al-Qaeda, which inadvertently led to the formation of ISIS under the control of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. If you have closely followed the rise and fall of ISIS and consider yourself as someone very informed on the matter, this book might not be for you. Warrick is an award-winning journalist, and his work is engrossing - at once humanizing and informative - but it feels more like an introductory material rather than an all-encompassing one.

Organon’s not going to turn into fucking Skynet
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I Still Dream examines artificial intelligence from a fresh new perspective as it is devoid of any doomsday scenarios. I'm not going to tell you what the novel is about, but here's the general gist: different evolutionary pathways of AI will be examined during 10-year intervals of humanity beginning in 1997 and ending.. well, not so far away. The future of the book is very reflective of the general direction that the real world is currently taking, giving the story a bit of a black mirror aftertaste but with sweetness quickly following. The history, attitudes, and aspirations of the characters that make up this story give it an almost nostalgic feel, as science and thought-provoking ideas are intermixed with the everyday life of human beings while they attempt to navigate the ebbs and flows of life.

For all its millions of people, Korea is the size of a fishbowl and someone is always looking down on someone else.
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This book is set in Seoul and constitutes of an intimate portrayal of the daily lives of four women in a society of unattainable expectations. Misogyny and sexism, rich men's fantasies, sex and consumerism, and the bleak pressures of finances and economy all play a significant role in this novel. The main theme intertwining all of these topics is that of perfect physical beauty and its unattainability. Frances Cha manages to give us a unique and exciting glance in these women's lives, each abiding or revolting - mostly abiding - to the standards of their society. But although the author magnificently immerses us in Korea, she fails to dive deeper, only managing to reach basal levels, never fully descending into the complex abyss of psychology and morality of her characters' decisions. Nonetheless, it is a window into Korean literature that is worth the observation.

The human head is of the same approximate size and weight as a roaster chicken. I have never before had occasion to make the comparison, for never before today have I seen a head in a roasting pan.
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Have you ever wondered what happened to us when we died? No, I don't mean religiously or spiritually - although this book quickly glances on that matter. I mean physically. Chemically. Biologically. Even financially. Have you ever thought about the kinds of jobs you could have as a corpse? If the answer is yes. Wtf. And if it's no. Same. Mary Roach approaches death in all its gore and glory, managing to intertwine both humor and respect in all of her chapters. Here you'll learn what happens to bodies as they decompose, how corpses are used in the study of impacts in the automotive industry, and how some of your leftover skin might create wound dressings and other... apparatuses. Although I did not find any of the material on this book disgusting, perhaps eating a meal while reading or listening to it is not the best of ideas. The meat you put in your mouth might end up tasting like what a brain looks like.

Read chp1 excerpt: ‘‘The way I see it, being dead is not terribly far off from being on a cruise ship. Most of your time is spent lying on your back. The brain has shut down. The flesh begins to soften. Nothing much new happens, and nothing is expected of you.''

Average rating: 4.05 | Book length: 303 pages | Audiobook length: 8 hrs | Synopsis

science II: how to change your mind: what the new science of psychedelics teaches us

by Michael Pollan

A happy brain is a supple and flexible brain, he believes; depression, anxiety, obsession, and the cravings of addiction are how it feels to have a brain that has become excessively rigid or fixed in its pathways and linkages—a brain with more order than is good for it.
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This is a book about drugs. Psychedelics, to be more exact. What makes it captivating is the way the authors address these compounds from a variety of demystifying angles. First, explaining the historical context that led to their discovery, stigmatization, and consequential outlawing, he follows by exploring the native rites, ceremonies, and spiritual practices intertwined with these substances. His writing offers polarizing views of both old and new influential figures of psychedelics. For me, the most interesting part is his recollection of experiences - both his own and that of others - and how they all seem to have a common theme: the death of ego and birth of love and oneness. Yes, this does sound like some hippy-dippy crap, but trust me, it is everything but. Pollan’s approach is grounded on a biological and medical basis. As such, studies and research are often cited, and the neural pathways that the drug interacts with to yield such neuroplasticity are explained - perhaps he could have done a more thorough job at that last part, but I forgive him.

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