arkadi cloud

tech, teaching, and books

21 Lessons for the 21st Century by Yuval Noah Harari

This book looks at 21 things the humankind has to consider, change, and contemplate so that we avoid extinction and irrelevance by the 22nd century and beyond. Harrari has a knack for making astute observations and predictions about the future in a humorous way. You wouldn't think this sort of book would elicit laughter, but at times it did. He tears down almost every religion, and ridicules the other self-destructive tendencies humans have to make his point.


Reading the Classics

I want to start reading some more classic books. For my purposes, I will consider everything written from before the 20th century as a classic. I hope to read at least one classic book from every century from the 19th century, to before 0 CE. This project might take me a while, but I feel it's important to read the voices of our past, as it helps us understand the present.

Books with links to my reviews and/or check marks have been read.

20th Century CE (1900-1999) Ulysses by James Joyce (1922) ✓ The Code of the Woosters by P.G. Wodehouse (1938)

19th Century Frankenstein: The 1818 Text by Mary Shelley (1818) ✓ Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky (1866)


The Paper Trail: An Unexpected History of a Revolutionary Invention

by Alexander Monro

A super, detailed look at the paper in the way it influenced empires, their culture, and religion. This book reaches back to the Tang dynasty to the origins of paper. It stays with China for quite awhile because they were very important to paper in the beginning. Then it moves onto how Buddhist writings helped spread the acceptance of paper. Next, it moves into the Middle East. Finally, it moves into Europe and how the Renaissance, and religious writings there helped move the rest of the world to paper.

I really enjoyed this book. It doesn't delve much into the physical way that paper is made, and I wish it did a bit, but focused wholly on the culture of using paper in government and personal use. There is a lot of detail here. If you like little tidbits about how certain words came about like 'gazette' (a word derived from a Venetian monthly newspaper, published in 1556), you'll love this book. If not, move along.

The author has an extreme passion for books and the way they changed our lives. I would say the middle section of the book about the Middle East is not as strong as the parts about China, and Europe but that's to be expected I think from a non-Arabic speaking author. I also venture a guess that Middle East paper use is not as well researched as in the context of China and Europe.

I really liked this book and now have to make a decision, either to keep it as part of my reference books I collect on China/Taiwan, or sell it to make room for new books. It's certainly a dilemma I now face.

Rating: ★★★★★ Book #47 in my My 2019 Reading Challenge #Books #BookReview #History

Waiting by Ha Jin

Good things come to those who wait, or so we're told. This is a story of love in a difficult time, during the Cultural Revolution in China. A man has a wife, then falls for another, but how can one horse pull two carts?, as one character in the story puts it. He has to wait for a divorce but there are complications and he changes along the way too.

This novel is about the passing of time. It's about how people change. It's about how sometimes we don't know what we really want.

The setting is nice too as it puts it into the historical novel category and you get a feeling for what it was like to be working as a medical professional in the Chinese Army during the Mao era.

I enjoyed this novel. It doesn't have even a 4 star rating on GoodReads. It won both the National Book Award for Fiction and the PEN/Faulkner Award. I think this novel has low ratings because people want novels that have excitement and a fast moving plot.

This book is neither fast, nor 'exciting'. It's about the main character, Lin Kong, the man who's juggling two women. It's about his character and how he navigates a difficult path: divorcing his wife with honor, while not cheating on his wife with a new woman, and also keeping work off his back about it all.

Rating: ★★★★★ Book #46 in my My 2019 Reading Challenge #Books #BookReview #TranslatedFiction

Leonardo (DK Eyewitness Guides)

I love these books. Whenever I visit a used bookstore, I buy any DK Eyewitness whenever I see them.

This one is titled: Leonardo: Discover the Renaissance – an age of experimentation, creativity, and discovery. Don't be fooled by the title; it isn't all about Leonardo. That may be a relief or disappointment to you. Leonardo is mentioned a lot in the book as an important person during the Renaissance, but it doesn't ignore other figures of the time.

All in all, a good introduction to the Renaissance with great pictures. The best thing about the DK Eyewitness Guides are the large, detailed images. It is like visiting a museum.

Rating: ★★★★ Book #45 in my My 2019 Reading Challenge #Books #BookReview #NonFiction #Kids

The Ancient Greeks by Imogen Greenberg & Isabel Greenberg

While wandering the aisles of the Big Bad Wolf Books, I found this gem. As I'm a Greek-Canadian living in Taiwan with kids, it's very important for me to pass on my Greek culture to my children; one way I can do this is through books!

This book is sort of like a graphic novel with interesting facts about the ancient Greeks. I learned a few facts from this book, but this book is mostly aimed at children 8+. I enjoyed flipping through this book, which is tall and not very wide, like a menu. The graphics are cute and the captions are funny!

This book is a good introduction to the ancient Greek civilization. They introduce poets, the ways Greek civilization has influenced other countries, the Olympics. It also has a great big map at the back of ancient Greece and a timeline of major events and famous Greeks. It certainly will quickly become a favourite of my children I'm sure.

They also have books about the Aztecs, the Egyptians, and the Romans. I will have to collect them all!

Rating: ★★★★ Book #44 in My 2019 Reading Challenge

#Books #BookReview #NonFiction #Greek #Kids

Galatea by Madeline Miller

Miller has a talent for bringing to life the world of Greek mythology. As a person of Greek heritage, I'm glad that she's bringing the passion of Greek myths to people who might know the myths. I read her books Circe, and Song of Achilles and thought they were both excellent stories that remained faithful the the spirit of the myths they were based on.

Galatea is based on a myth I'm not familiar with I'm ashamed to say. This is based on the story of Pygmalion. He is a gifted sculpture who makes a very beautiful marble statue of a woman. He falls in love with the statue and the Gods turn her into a real woman for him. Then they get married and live happily ever after (I suppose?).

The story of Galatea doesn't retell that part of the myth but rather looks ahead to what would their marriage would be like if the statue was married to the man. What feelings would she have? What would she life (or die for)? This is a short story but still a nice read. I love how Miller retells these myths from the female perspective with is almost always neglected in Greek mythology.

Rating: ★★★★★ Book #43 in My 2019 Reading Challenge #Books #BookReview #Fiction #GreekMythology #ShortStory

The Gods Themselves – Isaac Asimov

Asimov is a giant of sci-fi , for good reason; his novels always incorporate some unique science concept mixed with some sort of ethical dilemma.

In this book, humans stumble onto this magic technology which gives us unlimited, clean energy. Of course it's not quite that simple and the energy is actually coming from another universe which is inhabited by aliens who are also in need of energy/food. Due to the inherent design of the tech, it will destroy one of the universe's in time. There are scientists scrambling for the glory of the discovery of the tech, while others are trying to prove how dangerous this tech is and try to stop it. The other universe aliens have their own reasons for wanting this tech, and they have their own different kind of triad society. For the final part of the book, the perspective shifts back to the moon colony, and some scientists try to 'save' the day by fixing the tech.

This book was written in the 70s but could easily have been written just a few years ago. The magic tech with limitless energy is so convenient to use that nobody wants to switch. This is like the Earth's dependence on oil. In the final part of the book, a character quips that nobody will listen to the problem with the magic tech unless they present a solution at the same time. I enjoy novels like this that explore ethical quandaries that society finds itself in due to new technology because lasers and spaceships exploding for no reason just gets boring without a purpose.

Rating: ★★★★★ Book #42 in My 2019 Reading Challenge #Books #BookReview #Scifi

Early People (DK Eyewitness Books)

Yes this is a kids book but they are still lovely to read as an adult. I remember reading these books as a kid. They I would go to the library and read one after another. It was like visiting a museum. History would come alive on those pages and I would learn a lot about animals, knights, and other things.

This one is about early humans from even before homo sapiens. There is lots of detail for civilizations from the western world but not much for Asia. China is only given 2 pages. The theme of this book is very expansive so they included what they could. A book about Early Humans could easily fill thousands of pages!

I credit DK Eyewitness Books for awakening the love of history in me when I was a kid. When I read this on the couch, my daughter poked her head in and asked “Daddy, what's this?” and I got to explain the way of the world to my daughter. Is this not the magic of a book? The internet cannot compete with the joy of flipping through these sorts of rich, graphical books and sharing them with children.

I'm going to read 3 more of these books I have sitting on my shelf: Butterfly & Moth, Explorer, and Leonardo.

Rating: ★★★ Book #41 in my My 2019 Reading Challenge #Books #BookReview #NonFiction #Kids

Vermilion Sands by J.G. Ballard

A collection of short stories taking place in a futuristic desert, beach-like resort of Vermilion Sands, where the rich, and eccentric reside. Each of these stories has a different type of tech that is at the center of story: sonic sculptures, VT machines (to write poetry), pychotropic homes, singing plants, etc. These stories are neither utopian nor dystopian but rather show a possible future the author had in his head in the 1970s. It's certainly weird, but is it good? Some of the stories were, others were sort of stale.

A much better book by J.G. Ballard is “High Rise” which is a dark humor story about living in a futurstic high-rise where things go awry.

Rating: ★★★ Book #40 in My 2019 Reading Challenge #Books #BookReview #Scifi