30 Dec

Top 10 books of 2016

For some reason I didn’t read a lot when I was younger. Last year my reading habit really took off. To get myself to continue this trend I set a goal by participating in the Goodreads reading challenge. This is a challenge where you decide the number of books you want to read before the end of the year. I set my goal at 50 books. I have finished my challenge this year, but which books where my favorites? (Note these are not books released in 2016, I just read them in 2016)

My List:

  1. The Martian – Andy Weir
  2. Dune – Frank Herbert
  3. Your deceptive mind: A Scientific Guide to Critical Thinking – Steven Novella
  4. Unstoppable: Harnessing Science to Change the World – Bill Nye
  5. Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space – Carl Sagan
  6. The New History of the World – J.M. Roberts
  7. An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth – Chris Hadfield
  8. Ghost in the Wires: My Adventures as the World’s Most Wanted Hacker – Kevin D. Mitnick
  9. I, Robot – Isaac Asimov
  10. What if?: Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions – Randall Munroe

1. The Martian – Andy Weir

The Martian has become one of my favorite books of all time. Don’t get me wrong, I love my Star Wars like any other true nerd. The Martial feels different because it’s not some galaxy far away, but right here, in our solar system. The mission portrayed in the Martian is something I can imagine happening in a couple of decades as a real Mars mission.

It also aims for scientific accuracy. I realize some mistakes were made in by the writer, but an online community has formed around this, pointing out scientific flaws in the story, which means it comes close enough. The story just feels authentic.

2. Dune – Frank Herbert

My previous favorite book. I had always heard this was supposed to be a science-fiction classic, and as a gamer I have played the game based on the books, but I could have never guessed how much I would like this book.  Dune (the original and the sequel) contains a lot of symbolism. For me part of the fun is trying to figure out what the symbolism means, and going online to read other people’s interpretations.

3. Your Deceptive Mind – Steven Novella

Simply everyone that falls in the category “human” and “alive” should read this book. It gives overview of the essential parts of scientific and critical thinking. Even though these subjects weren’t entirely new to me, this book changed large parts of how I viewed the world, and even more so, my own though process. One of the awesome parts of this book is the further reading section at the end of each chapter giving you direction and recommendations for more in depth discussion off the topics mentioned in this book.

4. Unstoppable – Bill Nye

As someone who is very concerned about climate change, and is interested in science and technology, this book spoke to me on so many levels. One thing I have in common with Bill Nye is despite being concerned, I am optimistic about our future. Climate change is a problem humans can solve. Just like we solved so many problems in the past and will solve so many problems to come in the future. We can get a higher standard of living for more people while using less resources, we just have to apply human intelligence and creativity to the problems at hand.

According to Nye many of the problems come down to energy. His proposed solution is to make a ton of smaller changes, each contributing a little bit to a big change. I really like this idea. It makes everyone, humanity as a whole, responsible for change of our planet. We are in this together, whether we like it or not.

5. Pale Blue Dot – Carl Sagan

I think I don’t really have to tell anyone how amazing Carl Sagan was. I actually listened to the audio-book version of Pale Blue Dot, partially read by Carl Sagan himself. While it wasn’t the first book of his I read, the other book (the Demon Haunted World) , while good, didn’t touch me as much.

Carl Sagan wasn’t just an amazing scientist, but a poet as well. The way he uses words to describe not just clearly his visions for humanity in space, but beautifully as well. Let’s just say I made the ‘mistake’ of listening to this book in the bus, and I started tearing up more than a few times (yes I’m a giant space geek).

6. The New History of the World – J.M. Roberts (& O.A. Westad)

This book is exactly what it says on the tin. It gives an overview of the entire world history. Obviously it doesn’t go into a lot of detail.  I have loved history since I was a little kid, but this was the first time I saw the ‘flow’ of history so to speak. Up until reading this book I had a pretty good idea of the separate parts of history, the classic era, medieval era, renaissance, early modern times, the world wars, but I missed the links between these parts. The New History of the World gave me this extra dimension when looking at history, and I look forward to learning more about our past with this new insight.

7. An Astronauts Guide to Life on Earth – Chris Hadfield

On the surface this an autobiography from the Canadian Astronaut Chris Hadfield. How people are living on the ISS is always fun to read about, but equally interesting to me was how Hadfield got there. His main idea is always being prepared. He didn’t think he could actually become an astronaut (at the time only Americans and Russians went to space), but it couldn’t hurt to be prepared anyway.

Another interesting thing about this book, which I only realized after reading the Martian (and interviews with Chris Hadfield stating the Martian portrayed the ideal astronaut), is the part about the astronaut mindset. This is the idea of working the problem, and if you work the problem long enough you get home alive. While the stakes generally are a lot lower down on Earth, this idea is useful here as well.

8. Ghost in the Wires – Kevin Mitnick

The writing in this book isn’t that great, the subject matter is what made it interesting for me. Kevin Mitnick is (in)famous in the security world for his exploits. He was mostly known for his social engineering and phone phreaking (phone hacking). The book is an autobiography about his hacking exploits. It’s not too technical and can be read by almost anyone. The book itself is not that well written, but the subject matter makes up for that if you are interested in social engineering and security.

On a side node, all chapters contain a small piece of encrypted text, I should probably get around to decrypting them all and posting a blog about it.

9. I, Robot – Isaac Asimov

A collection of short stories from Isaac Asimov about the different occurrences of AI gone wrong, and how the humans involved fix it. As with Dune, this was my first time reading a book from another legendary science-fiction author, Isaac Asimov. Asimov is widely known for his three laws of robotics, and while not that relevant in actual AI research today, the situations described in I, robot (and Caves of Steel, the sequel) make you think. Overall it’s a fun book, but a book that makes you feel uneasy at parts as well.

10. What if? – Randall Munroe

From the creator of the xkcd web comic, Randall Munroe, a book answering silly questions in a serious way. Questions like “What would happen if you tried to hit a baseball pitched at 90 percent the speed of light?” get answered, accompanied by the classic xkcd style illustrations. Overall a really fun read.


Honorable Mentions:

  • Philosophy: The Classics – Nigel Warburton
  • Animal Farm – George Orwell
  • For the Love of Physics – Walter Lewin
  • 2001 A Space Odyssey – Arthur C. Clarke
  • The Dictators Handbook – Bruce Bueno De Mesquita

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