Books

This is a list of novels and books I have recently read, sorted by the date when I finished reading the book. "Language" refers to the language in which I read the book, not necessarily the original language of the book.

2014

Title Score Comments
Author Language
The better angels of our nature: Why violence has declined 7 It's good to look back from time to time and see how much we've progressed. There's still a long way to go, but this book proves violence has decreased with centuries, contrary to popular belief that past times were better, or that savages are more peaceful than civilized people. The first chapter was very interesting, and I'd give it a 10, but the rest of the chapters contain too many statistics, and it can get really thick and boring at times. It made me really sleepy, to the point I've been using it to get fast asleep at night for a WHOLE year, because that's what took me to finish this book...
Steven Pinker
ひとにぎりの未来 (A tiny piece of the future) 7 More short stories by Shin'ichi Hoshi. I like the irony in some of them, but I find some others a bit lame. The second next to the last, about a society where people used tears as the base of their social interactions, was specially long and boring. Also, he imagined a future all based in "telephony" and big machines with gears, but now that we live in the digital era, his vision of the future looks more like a "retro-future". It is cute, though, and envisioning the future of engineering is not the main point, anyway. I think these stories have not been translated to English. It's a pity.
星新一 (Hoshi Shin'ichi)

2012

Title Score Comments
Author Language
The language instinct 8 How the mind creates language. It's a bit thick, and sometimes I wished he went more directly to the point, but I guess he has to try to convince everyone… I agree with almost everything he says, so much shorter explanations would do for me…
Steven Pinker
Musicophilia 9 A very interesting reading that tries to explain all that goes on in our brains when we listen to or play music, through moving cases of real patients. It's a very interesting reading who made me more curious about music. After reading it, I've started asking to some people in my surroundings and I've found out, for instance, that my piano teacher is a synesthete! Oliver Sacks is also the author of "Awakenings", the book that inspired the Oscar-nominated movie with the same name.
Oliver Sacks
Thinking, fast and slow 9 This is an important book that teaches you how your mind uses 2 types of thinking, a fast one that guides intuitions, and a slow one for deep deliberations. Common sense is born from fast thinking, by averaging and categorizing everything that surround us. It is indispensable for survival, but it has systematic errors that this book teaches us to recognize. For example, in the previous book review I mention something known as the "halo effect". There are many interesting concepts you better check up. Kahneman is also considered the father of "behavioral economics", and with a Nobel prize in economics, for sure you'll learn to think "slow" about money matters.
Daniel Kahneman
僕が六本木に会社をつくるまで
Story of the Social Networking Service "GREE"
6 A success story written in plain Japanese, so very easy to read. However, let me cite Daniel Kahneman: "stories of success and failure consistently exaggerate the impact of leadership style and management practices on firm outcomes, and thus their message is rarely useful" (from "Thinking, fast and slow"). I guess the lesson to be learned is that anyone trying hard enough can make a successful business. But of course, not everyone succeeds since I believe there's a component of luck -from the book of Kahneman, speaking about Google: "Of course there was a great deal of skill in the Google story, but luck played a more important role in the actual event than it does in the telling of it. And the more luck was involved, the less there is to be learned."
Yoshikazu Tanaka

2011

Title Score Comments
Author Language
Hijos de nuestro barrio
Children of Gabalawi
9 The late Nobel laureate Naguib Mahfouz wrote this book in 1959, and it seems it's still banned by Islam… The book is very well written, with a dynamic style, and the allegories it contains could be considered as provoking for the time as "South Park" would be today. It is, of course, not so grotesque for today's standards ;) The synopsis from Wikipedia: "The story recreates the tied history of the three monotheistic Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam), allegorised against the setting of an imaginary 19th century Cairene neighborhood. Gabalawi being an allegory for religion in general, the first four sections retell, in succession, the stories of: Adam (Adham أدهم) and how he was favored by Gabalawi over the latter's other sons, including Satan/Iblis (Idris إدريس); Moses (Gabal جبل); Jesus (Rifa'a رفاعة); and Muhammad (Qasim قاسم). Families of each son settle in different parts of the alley, symbolising Judaism, Christianity and Islam. The protagonist of the book's fifth section is Arafa (عرفة), who symbolises modern science and, significantly, comes after all prophets, while all of their followers claim Arafa as one of their own."
Naguib Mahfouz
Obabakoak 9 I had no idea what this book was about. I just knew it was from a Basque author, and that it was originally written in Basque. I have no idea of Basque so I read the Spanish version, of course. The book has also English and Japanese translations. The title means "The ones from Obaba" in Basque, and it's a collection of short stories around an imaginary Basque town called "Obaba". The first 100 pages are short stories related to kids, and I think they are the best of the book. The later were loosely related one to another, but I would have preferred they were not, because this connection makes you expect more than what you get in the end.
Bernardo Atxaga
ángeles y demonios
Angels & demons
9 This is really a page-turner! I couldn't stop reading the book! I finished it in a couple of days. I think it's far better than his next book, "Digital fortress". Perhaps it's because I was more familiar with the topic in "Digital fortress" and it seemed absurd… The only bad thing of the book is that the end is "too much"… In this sense, is similar to "Digital Fortress" and "Da Vinci's Code", where a very good guy is suddenly a very bad guy. It turns out to be very predictable, plus the negative effect that making the character that "very bad" suddenly gives an almost comical turn to the story… On a side note, it's been years since I last read a novel in Spanish. The translation was quite good, although the last joke about "mass" I couldn't get it without mentally translating it to English…
Dan Brown
The Upside of Irrationality: The Unexpected Benefits of Defying Logic at Work and at Home 8 The successor of "Predictably Irrational". Both books are on behavioral economics, but while the previous book was more about economics, this one is more about behavior itself. There's even a chapter about online dating, all seen from a market's perspective. Quite an interesting reading!
Dan Ariely
Predictably Irrational 8 From Publisher's Weekly: "Irrational behavior is a part of human nature, but as MIT professor Ariely has discovered in 20 years of researching behavioral economics, people tend to behave irrationally in a predictable fashion. Drawing on psychology and economics, behavioral economics can show us why cautious people make poor decisions about sex when aroused, why patients get greater relief from a more expensive drug over its cheaper counterpart and why honest people may steal office supplies or communal food, but not money. [...]". Very interesting!
Dan Ariely
Physics of the future: How Science Will Shape Human Destiny and Our Daily Lives by the Year 2100 9 From Publisher's Weekly: "Kaku (Physics of the Impossible), a professor of physics at the CUNY Graduate Center, gathers ideas from more than 300 experts, scientists, and researchers at the cutting edge of their fields, to offer a glimpse of what the next 100 years may bring. The predictions all conform to certain ground rules (e.g., "Prototypes of all technologies mentioned... already exist"), and some seem obvious (computer chips will continue to get faster and smaller). Others seem less far-fetched than they might have a decade ago: for instance, space tourism will be popular, especially once a permanent base is established on the moon. Other predictions may come true—downloading the Internet right into a pair of contact lenses—but whether they're desirable is another matter. Some of the predictions are familiar but still startling: robots will develop emotions by mid-century, and we will start merging mind and body with them. Despite the familiarity of many of the predictions to readers of popular science and science fiction, Kaku's book should capture the imagination of everyday readers." Highly recommended reading :)
Michio Kaku
Digital Fortress 7 Fast-paced hacking conspiracy thriller. Full of cliches.
Dan Brown
Parallel Worlds: A Journey Through Creation, Higher Dimensions, and the Future of the Cosmos 8 Very interesting book about the future of intelligent life in the universe. The physics on this book are a bit thick, though. If you want a shorter version of the same, probably better just to read "Physics of the impossible" by the same author.
Michio Kaku
South Park and Philosophy 6 Interesting book, but contains a lot of blabling... I enjoyed the introduction, that basically says that South Park is full of "Bullshit alarms", things that make us thing there's something wrong in the world today... And the last chapter is quite nice too, on fake physhics and "cold reading". The last chapter was written by the creator of DHMO.org.
Richard Hanley (and friends)

2010

Title Score Comments
Author Language
Gulliver's Travels 7 Everyone knows Gulliver's travels. Kids read simplified versions of this book. But I was curious about the original novel, and since it's out of copyright and you can download for free, I gave it a try. It's quite interesting to find out all the influence this book has. For instance, I learned that the computer terms "big-endian" and "little-endian" come from this book. Also, some anime fans fail to notice that the movie about the flying island of "Laputa" was also inspired by the flying island of the same name that Gulliver visits in one of his travels. Apart from that and some interesting references, I find that after almost 3 centuries, some of the explanatanions from the author sound now very naive. Obviously we now much more about physics now as to fall to the detailed pseudo-scientific explanations the author tries to give as if to add veracity to his tales. I would take out those... Anyway, check Wikipedia for a nice analysis of the book.
Jonathan Swift
The Comet & The Tornado 8 A touching and enlighting story about the creation of the Entertainment Technology Center, and about Randy Pausch, and his Last Lecture. Don Marinelli, co-founder of the ETC, gave a very inspiring talk in Siggraph this year, and I bought his book. It says more or less what he said in his talk: education should be about uniting the left and right brains. Art and technology should come together, and there's no better place for that than videogames. "Anyone who thinks there is a difference between entertainment and education doesn't know much about either" (Marshall McLuhan).
Don Marinelli
The God Delusion 9 This is an important reading in order to combat ignorance. On a side note, it's the first digital book I read, on my new Amazon Kindle DX :)
Richard Dawkins
La Cadena de los abusos 10 A very interesting reading about harassment, at all levels: emotional, physical, at work, at home, ... A must-read for everyone so we can build a better world! Check tuPsicologa.es
Olga Gavilán
Physics of the impossible 10 Michio Kaku is the cofounder of string field theory. In this book he discuss things we see in sci-fi, like invisibility or teleportation, and explains wether these things will actually become possible or not. He talks about existing technology and ongoing research, so it's not only talking about sci-fi but about stuff that matters. It's also very easy to follow and some of the personals notes on important scientists in history are also quite interesting.
Michio Kaku

2009

Title Score Comments
Author Language
My stroke of insight 8 The author is a brain scientist who had a brain stroke on her left hemisphere. She tells her experience and gives and insight on how the brain works and how we can use the right hemisphere to feel happy.
Jill Bolte Taylor
The Stuff of Thought: Language as a window into human nature 7 This is the third book of Steven Pinker I read. It's the link between "The language instinct" (which I haven't read yet), and "How the mind works". The book is interesting, but I give a lower mark than the previous ones for two (personal) reasons: (1) I already knew most of the stuff he talks about because of his previous books, so it's not "enlighting" any more; (2) I'm not a linguist, so some of the descriptions are a bit boring for me. I think the book would be much more shorter if he got straight to the point...
Steven Pinker
Metal Gear Solid 7 Novel adaptation of Konami's Metal Gear Solid game for PS1. It's exactly as the game, although when I played I tried more stealth and less violence, hehe. The ending is a bit different though. Anyway, if you played the game long ago, it may be worth reading.
Raymond Benson
Crónicas Marcianas (The Martian Chronicles) 8 Very nice approach to colonization of Mars. Since its like a collection of short stories, it's very easy to read. What I don't like it's the pessimistic vision of human nature. I guess the author is influenced by the wars of his time, and the atomic bomb. I think this vision of humans being like "plague" is too old-fashioned (the book is from 1950, so it can't be helped, I guess).
Ray Bradbury
宇宙の声 ("Voice from outerspace") 9 This SF novel contains two stories. If you let me translate them freely, "Voice from outerspace" (宇宙の声) and "The phantom planet" (まぼろしの星). Shin'ichi Hoshi is well known for his short stories, and although these are a bit longer, they are distributed in small chapters, each containing a small travel, that can be thought of a short story in itself. Because of this and its simple style (I guess it's SF for Japanese kids?), it's very easy to read (it took me 2 weeks, just reading on my way to work). I'd say it's almost phantasy, rather than SF.
星新一 (Hoshi Shin'ichi)
Tabloid Tokyo 2: 101 All-New Tales of Sex, Crime and the Bizarre from Japan's Wild Weeklies 7 Can't hardly believe all those are true... but anyway, kindda funny.
Mark Schreiber

2008

Title Score Comments
Author Language
ありふれた手法 ("Commonplace technique") 8 A collection of short stories by Shin'ichi Hoshi. In my opinion, not as deep as "Future Aesop" (未来いそっぷ), but interesting nevertheless. And since they are short, even in Japanese they are easy to ready.
星新一 (Hoshi Shin'ichi)
The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature 10 Another enlightning reading about the mind by Steven Pinker. Our brain is not a blank slate, despite people trying to prove so.
Steven Pinker

Older readings: [1994-2007]