Some Recent Reads (January 2019)

Continuing my series on books I read, in January I read 21 books consisting of 5 nonfiction and 16 fiction books.  Traveled to three fictional universes to finish up two series I had started and start a new one, The Ranger’s Apprentice realm (9 books), The Summoner realm (2 books), and the Throne of Glass realm (4 books), and found myself dabbling in philosophy, physics, and history for nonfiction.  As usual, I will address my three favorite nonfiction books below focusing in on life lessons and enjoyment.  You hopefully will find my thoughts on why I chose to read these books, what my opinion of the book is, and who I recommend this book for.


The Taking of K-129 by Josh Dean

From the book flap:

“In the early hours of February 25, 1968, a Russian submarine armed with three nuclear ballistic missiles set sail from its base in Siberia on a routine combat patrol to Hawaii. It never arrived.

As the Soviet Navy searched in vain for the lost vessel, a top-secret American operation using sophisticated deep-sea spy equipment found it—wrecked on the sea floor at a depth of 16,800 feet, far beyond the capabilities of any salvage that existed. But the potential intelligence assets onboard the ship—the nuclear warheads, battle orders, and cryptological machines—justified going to extreme lengths to find a way to raise the submarine.

So began Project Azorian, a top-secret mission that took six years, cost an estimated $800 million, and would become the largest and most daring covert operation in CIA history.

After the U.S. Navy declared retrieving the sub “impossible,” the mission fell to the CIA’s burgeoning Directorate of Science and Technology, the little-known division responsible for the legendary U-2 and SR-71 Blackbird spy planes. Working with Global Marine Systems, the country’s foremost maker of exotic, deep-sea drill ships, the CIA commissioned the most expensive ship ever built and told the world that it belonged to the reclusive billionaire Howard Hughes, who would use the mammoth vessel to mine rare minerals from the ocean floor. In reality, a complex network of spies, scientists, and politicians attempted a project even crazier than Hughes’s reputation: raising the sub directly under the watchful eyes of the Russians.

The Taking of K-129 is a riveting, almost unbelievable true-life tale of military history, engineering genius, and high-stakes spy-craft set during the height of the Cold War, when nuclear annihilation was a constant fear, and the opportunity to gain even the slightest advantage over your enemy was worth massive risk.”

This book is rather intriguing and Josh Dean does a wonderful job of keeping the book moving when the dullness of history comes out.  Project Azorian is perhaps the greatest top-secret shindig the U.S. government has ever attempted and only recently declassified – take the book with a grain of salt, not everything is for the public eye even today.  Not a ground-breaking book by any means, it is, however, a complete history of the project for the public eye.

Why did I read this book?

History is a wonderful subject to read.  It provides a plethora of information on how to solve tough problems, the people who solved the problem, and why the need to solve the problem was so great.  In the case of Project Azorian, the U.S. government had a significant need to raise a lost submarine from over 15,000 feet below the ocean’s surface, a feat that is hardly matched by even todays standards.  My background skirts on the engineering field and as a result I enjoy stories that talk about significant engineering feats and impossible problems that were solved.  The second main reason I read The Taking of K-129 is the book and topic are surprisingly interesting.  A large quantity of all history books written are dry, long, and cumbersome as the author tackles every known detail on a matter and gives it to the reader chronologically.  The best authors take the same book as another author and are able to pull out the significance and enjoyment from reading history and display it in a way that interests the typical reader.  I have never read anything by Dean before, but the topic itself is enough to convince me to read the book and sure enough it was an excellent risk.

So…What’s my opinion?

The book passes the usual tests, well written, interesting topic, put together, not overwhelming, not incredibly long, etc., but does leave the thirst for more about the subject.  Unfortunately, the U.S. government still limits the amount of additional information we could obtain, so I cannot take away from the author nor book on that.  There were parts that were slow and hard to follow, with many more parts filled with interesting stories from eye witnesses and government files.  Overall, the book makes an excellent choice if you are looking for a bit of history, not filled with doom and gloom, and still easy to read.  Rating: 4/5

Who do I recommend this book for?

Anyone who has interest in the history of espionage, intelligence, and engineering marvels.  It is useful to have a small bit of engineering background, a small bit of understanding on how espionage works, and an interest to learn a new piece of history.  The book is relatively easy to follow and has a selection of cool photographs included.  If you are a person who plans to read the book over months or read it in one go, then this book fits that description (and then some).


21 Lessons for the 21st Century by Yuval Harari

From the book flap:

“How do computers and robots change the meaning of being human? How do we deal with the epidemic of fake news? Are nations and religions still relevant? What should we teach our children?

Yuval Noah Harari’s 21 Lessons for the 21st Century is a probing and visionary investigation into today’s most urgent issues as we move into the uncharted territory of the future. As technology advances faster than our understanding of it, hacking becomes a tactic of war, and the world feels more polarized than ever, Harari addresses the challenge of navigating life in the face of constant and disorienting change and raises the important questions we need to ask ourselves in order to survive.

In twenty-one accessible chapters that are both provocative and profound, Harari builds on the ideas explored in his previous books, untangling political, technological, social, and existential issues and offering advice on how to prepare for a very different future from the world we now live in: How can we retain freedom of choice when Big Data is watching us? What will the future workforce look like, and how should we ready ourselves for it? How should we deal with the threat of terrorism? Why is liberal democracy in crisis?

Harari’s unique ability to make sense of where we have come from and where we are going has captured the imaginations of millions of readers. Here he invites us to consider values, meaning, and personal engagement in a world full of noise and uncertainty. When we are deluged with irrelevant information, clarity is power. Presenting complex contemporary challenges clearly and accessibly, 21 Lessons for the 21st Century is essential reading.”

Yuval Noah Harari.  If you have never read any of his work, its provocative and spurs new thought patterns – it also can be controversial and different.  Harari’s work is high quality and written with passion and in 2018 he published 21 Lessons for the 21st Century a book that Bill Gates himself recommends.  Amongst his other books two stand out, Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind and Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow.

Why did I read this book?

Part of life is learning what matters and how to decipher new things found.  I am always looking for books to help expand my tool set in how I can approach the world, how I can take new perspectives on topics, how I can explain cool ideas to others, and many more trains of thought like these here.  Reason one why I read this book is it came recommended to me by a few family friends, popped up on the front table at Barnes and Noble, and was recommended by Bill Gates and his reading list of 2018.  The book also had many reviews written about it, can’t say I read any of them, but I did take notice that there were a lot of them.

The second reason is the concept of learning.  As I said above, there are many answers and questions I seek when starting a new book.  The topics have to be strong, bold, and interesting, the writing style needs to leave questions while providing answers, and the length of the book needs to make me feel accomplishment while testing my abilities to stay focused.  The book flap immediately intrigued me and caused me to read a few pages which led to my acquisition of the book.  I had found a new book to expand my perspective on life.

So…What’s my opinion?

The book offers an excellent, simple framework that you can apply to life.  Harari breaks down some of the largest issues we face on a daily basis – most issues being even more present now and the past few years due to the various paths we as a society have chosen (on a global perspective nonetheless).  He breaks the book down in a clear way, splitting the book into five parts with many subsections that isolate a different significant aspect of modern society.  The book does not look to provide every answer you may seek or to every question asked, but does provide a new perspective and framework to approach life with the intention of good.  Regardless of how people skew information or how the media attempts to distort reality, you must find the good even in the darkest corner and I feel that Harari conveys that through his writing style and information he provides.  Rating: 5/5

Who do I recommend this book for?

Anyone.  You do not require any prior knowledge to read nor require any purpose for reading the book.  I do recommend that you have an open mind going into the book and do not rush reading, instead savor the pages as you go and when you need to take a break, do so.  This book likely would go on my list of books that I slowly build to prepare anyone for life.


Brief Answers to the Big Questions by Stephen Hawking

From the book flap:

“Stephen Hawking was the most renowned scientist since Einstein, known both for his groundbreaking work in physics and cosmology and for his mischievous sense of humor. He educated millions of readers about the origins of the universe and the nature of black holes, and inspired millions more by defying a terrifying early prognosis of ALS, which originally gave him only two years to live. In later life he could communicate only by using a few facial muscles, but he continued to advance his field and serve as a revered voice on social and humanitarian issues.

Hawking not only unraveled some of the universe’s greatest mysteries but also believed science plays a critical role in fixing problems here on Earth. Now, as we face immense challenges on our planet—including climate change, the threat of nuclear war, and the development of artificial intelligence—he turns his attention to the most urgent issues facing us.

Will humanity survive? Should we colonize space? Does God exist? These are just a few of the questions Hawking addresses in this wide-ranging, passionately argued final book from one of the greatest minds in history.

Featuring a foreword by Eddie Redmayne, who won an Oscar for playing Stephen Hawking, an introduction by Nobel Laureate Kip Thorne, and an afterword from Hawking’s daughter, Lucy, Brief Answers to the Big Questions is a brilliant last message to the world.”

Stephen Hawking, a visionary of knowledge, and a rather funny man.  Some of his books are complexity squared and others are fun to read.  There is obviously a long list of accomplishments I could state about Hawking, but I think he requires no introduction.  His name alone inspires people and tempts people to learn about science (and enjoy themselves in life).

Why did I read this book?

Space is one of those topics that as a kid you are infatuated with.  There is mystery, action, and craziness that can only be imagined as a young child and never understood.  Or can it?  That is the reason I picked this book up.  Hawking in this brief book helps people understand some of the biggest questions we face today, ranging from religion to time travel to how we can change the future.  These topics are not easy to understand on a technical side, but on the side of reality and pleasure, the material can be easily understood.  Hawking has a reputation of teaching, never shying away from the troubles of explaining time travel to a young child, a college student, or an expert in the field.  I was open to learning a bit more about astrophysics and that realm, not needing the nitty gritty formulas and theories, but wanting to understand how time travel might work or the significance of religion in science.  I also did not want a scientific paper, I wanted a book written from the heart using humanity and hope to explain what quite honestly can be viewed as scary topics.

I have picked up a few of Hawking’s papers and books before, but ran into the problem of not understanding a single word.  This book on the outside appeared to be an easier to understand guide to the big questions, some of which I had been asking recently.  I also find people’s differing perspectives on topics to be enlightening especially when they are meant to be enjoyable and stretch one’s mind.

So…What’s my opinion?

Excellent.  Much like Yuval Noah Harari, he is a teacher at heart.  Hawking wants to help anyone learn the big questions in life and how these questions are answered.  I found the text relatively easy to follow given the complexities of the topics and the logic behind the flow that kept me reading.  Its often easy to get lost in astrophysics losing sight of the goals in mind, but in Brief Answers to the Big Questions, Hawking is able to keep the reader focused on a small subset of the world and provide a glimpse into what people are thinking.  Rating 4/5

Who do I recommend this book for?

I think this is another book that anyone can read.  I do not think it should be left to physics people or scientists, it should be for anyone who has interest in learning about some big problems in life.  That being said, it does help to have a general understanding of the topics he discusses to help you understand the significance and the words used, but even without a prior knowledge the book is still not impossible to read.  Lastly, it’s a quick read, there is no need to commit a lengthy period of time to it, you can read chapter by chapter over the course of months and still get as much out of it as if you read it all in one sitting.


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