Home Notes Books of 2019

Books Of 2019

Last year, I made a New Year’s resolution to write a website post once a month and read 35 books. I didn’t complete either. Below is a review of the books I read last year and my thoughts of them.

Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace

I would not recommend you read this book, unless you want to. In school, I didn’t read many books, Sparknotes was my friend. Part of me is glad to have finished this book due to the size alone, but that is a horrible reason to read a book. This book won awards in 2009. And I thought it would be good. It definitely changed the way I read. By now I have forgotten most of the book and I hope the good stuff is what remains.

The book is not a single cohesive story, it’s a mixture of a dozen half-complete ones. The stories circle around the theme of addiction. There is also a lot of unrelated funny events happening. I found the non-linearly of the book interesting, it really separates the view point from the book and the actual events of the story. It made you think about where the words you were reading exists in the context of where and when it occurred.

Even with the size of the book, the entire story is even larger. There is a whole other side which occurs but is not written down and is implied throughout the book. It is like a story that reads backwards, where you start seeing the story lines come together and it all makes sense in the end but in this case it doesn’t reach a conclusion.

To add to the disorientation, the book has many references which you need to read the footnotes. The footnotes are long enough to warrant their own footnotes. I also had to use an Infinite Jest dictionary online. I had the book on my e-reader, the physical book for the footnotes and the laptop open for the dictionary at the same time. It actively makes me think that the author did not want you to understand what was going on so you would put your own story together. Below is except from the Infinite Jest dictionary.

Tyrolean hats: The Tyrolean hat, named after the region of Tyrol, is associated with the Austrian Alps. Tyrolean hats have a cord wrapped around the base of the crown and a feather or brush on the side as trim.

H.E.W.:the U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare

rife: abounding

Eminent nondomain: “Eminent domain” is the right of the government to seize private property to serve a greater good. This would be the opposite, i.e., the right of the government to divest or cede private property to serve the greater good.

bien sûr: French: of course

U.S.O.: United States Organizations, an organization dedicated to entertaining troops at war

source

I found many quotes of the book, don’t give a good taste of what the book is about. Below is an except from a main character, Gately.

“I think there must be probably different types of suicides. I'm not one of the
self-hating ones. The type of like "I'm shit and the world'd be better off without
poor me" type that says that but also imagines what everybody'll say at their
funeral. I've met types like that on wards.
Poor-me-I-hate-me-punish-me-come-to-my-funeral. Then they show you a 20 X 25 glossy
of their dead cat. It's all self-pity bullshit. It's bullshit. I didn't have any
special grudges. I didn't fail an exam or get dumped by anybody. All these types.
Hurt themselves. I didn't want to especially hurt myself. Or like punish. I don't
hate myself. I just wanted out. I didn't want to play anymore is all. I wanted to
just stop being conscious. I'm a whole different type. I wanted to stop feeling this
way. If I could have just put myself in a really long coma I would have done that.
Or given myself shock I would have done that. Instead.” 

Merchants of Doubt by Naomi Oreskes

Merchants of Doubt is about people that cast doubt in science towards the public. An example given in the book is the correlation between smoking and cancer. This correlation was proven in 1929 in Germany, re-proven in 1950 in the UK and was included in a Surgeon General’s Report in the United States in 1964. Tobacco companies claimed that these study lacked credibility and health authorities sided with these claims until 1998. One of the main arguments the “merchants of doubt” used was that a perfect relation could not be found, not all people that smoke got cancer. There is so much room for interpretation and bias in gathering a dataset. Everything is relative and we can trick people and even ourselves.

I learned a lot about how political movements work and why we think they occur. A small group of people that really care are much more powerful than a large group of people who only have a preference and not a strong belief.

I found refreshing, is the book didn’t portray these “Merchants of Doubt” as evil. The Merchants of Doubt legitimately thought they were making the world a better place. It’s unfortunate that they had to name names but I think it helped solidify the statements, making it more grounded. A nuclear physicist, with the credentials to match, believed that cigarettes didn’t cause cancer and pushing for more research, when what was needed was to act at that moment.

There seemed to be a common themes in the opposing view. That more research is needed. People believe that government intervention is not always the best method. Before I thought it was money that motivated these people from large companies that would appose this need for government regulation.

Another topic brought up in the book, is there a need for equal sides. This was something that I never thought of. Does every decision have two equal sides? As an example for climate change, you could have a member of the scientific community saying that climate change will have long term effects and then the opposition says they want representation and believing there will be no long term effects. When looking from it from someone totally new to the topic, it looks like the scientific community is split. Even with the good indention of the news company. Have a fair representation should not be equal but should align with the consenseis. To compound the issue, science is full of questions, and they don’t try to hide that uncertainty.

I enjoyed Why We Sleep by Matthew Walker, until I learned that it lied… a lot. The premise of the book is that sleep is good for you, it reduces cancer risk, makes you more alert, makes you live longer. I love my sleep and what was being said made sense and the author has a PhD and many years experience and I thought it was a trusted source.

From further research it has been found incomplete context was given. In each almost every result the author used the most compelling argument for his case and ignored any information that would have contradicted him. For an example in the part about beauty. The author gives an example. A group was split into 2 one group slept for only 5 hours and the other 8 hours. The result found that when the photos of them were rated. The participates with 8 hours were labeled more beautiful and healthier than the participants with only 5 hours of sleep. What the author failed to mention was at what time the photos were taken. In the study, the participants who slept 8 hours had their picture taken 7 hours after waking where the participants who slept 5 hours had their picture taken 31 hours after they awoke.

The author of this book lied by leaving out crucial information and context. And this isn’t isolated but is basically the entire book. This book a learned about how to lie without giving false facts. And it showed what was being done in the merchants of doubt. There are facts, the context to the facts and how you present then, adding irrelevant information and leaving out information. It made me change how I think about scientific results.

This didn’t really fit in the review, but Hank Green’s critic of someone apposing climate change and how masterful you can skew a topic with language. Youtube

The Rest

Consider Phlebas by Iain Banks

The Restaurant at the End of the Universe by Douglas Adams

The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro

The Handmaids Tale by Margaret Atwood

How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big by Scott Adams

100 Years of Solitude Gabriel García Márquez

Thinking in Systems: A Primer by Donella Meadows

Philoshopy of Software Design by John Ousterhout

Thanks for reading