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tech, teaching, and books

Jokes for the Gunmen by Mazen Maarouf

Some macabre, and strange stories from these short stories from a war zone. I'm not sure this book was great, but it certainly was interesting. There is lot of dark humour in the stories.

This book was on the Man Booker International 2019 long list. I make it a habit to read as many of the books on the international list as possible. I like to get different perspectives on the world through translated fiction.

Rating: ★★★ Book #21 in my My 2020 Reading Challenge

#Books #BookReview #MazenMaarouf #ManBookerIntl #TranslatedFiction

How to Be a Dictator: The Cult of Personality in the Twentieth Century by Frank Dikötter

A good overview of 8 dictators of the 20th century that heavily relied on their 'cult of personality' to hold onto power. I read a lot of history, so for me this book felt light to me. The chapters on Hitler and Mao Zedong weren't all that revealing to me as I have read a lot about those dictators. The other chapters were more interesting to though.


Automating Inequality: How High-Tech Tools Profile, Police, and Punish the Poor by Virginia Eubanks

Excellent, heart-breaking examples how tech algorithms are used against the poor, coloured, and sick to deny them government benefits they are entitled to all under the guise of 'stopping fraud', or 'helping those most deserving'. It's ridiculous that people can think we can split homeless people into deserving and not deserving help. All human beings deserve a place to live, a decent job, and health care.

This book should wake up those in non-targeted groups because once governments finish beta testing these techs against the poor, they could, and probably will, turn them against the rest of the population too.

Rating: ★★★★★ Book #19 in my My 2020 Reading Challenge

#Books #BookReview #NonFiction #Tech #Algorithms

The Emperor: Downfall of an Autocrat by Ryszard Kapuściński

What a short and powerful book. It was incredible to hear the descriptions of the palace life of the Ethiopian Emperor. I had never heard this story before. Kapuściński turns these interviews into a very compelling narrative. His book is divided into three sections: The Throne, It's Coming – It's Coming, and Collapse. The Throne, details the intricate details of daily palace life. It's Coming, It's Coming is about the rebellion against the King. Finally, Collapse is about the end of the very long lasting Emperor Haile Selassie.


The Trial by Franz Kafka

For me this novel was good, but I didn't feel it was ground breaking. To be fair, I'm sure I've read a lot of modern novels by authors who were influenced by Kafka. This was still a funny read, and I loved the absurdity of it all. I'm sure if I read this when it came out, it would've seemed fresher to me.

Rating: ★★★ Book #17 in my My 2020 Reading Challenge

#Books #BookReview #Fiction #FranzKafka

The Birthday Buyer by Adolfo García Ortega

How to even review a book like this? It was painful reading it but also cathartic. This is the fictional account of a 3-year old boy, Hurbinek, mentioned in the memoir of an Auschwitz survivor.

Killing a child is easy, killing thousands of children is even easier, but it isn't all that easy to erase the memory of children after they are massacred. I'm not sure why, I sometimes think it is because the lives of dead children are lives that were not lived and that must exist as fables, in a kind of timeless limbo set in history, their unredeemed presence returning to wreak a just revenge. If I believed in ghosts, I would only believe in the ghosts of massacred children.

I've never read a book like this. The author imagines the pain of the boy. He invents stories of his life that might've been. He was actually traveling to Auschwitz but had a major car accident on the way. This left his leg(s) broken and his stuck in a hospital in Germany. He seems to have written this book while in the hospital. He being temporarily crippled, and relating the imagined story of Hurbinek who was actually crippled and unable to speak.

Rating: ★★★★★ Book #16 in my My 2020 Reading Challenge

#Books #BookReview #WW2 #Auschwitz #Fiction #TranslatedFiction

Sword of Destiny by Andrzej Sapkowski

Witcher #0.75

“Doubts. Only evil, sir, never has any. But no one can escape his destiny.”

The second anthology of Witcher stories brings the Witcher character, Geralt, into better focus. The first anthology was light-hearted, even humorous at times, but this one felt a lot more serious. In this collection of stories we learn more about Geralt's 'destiny' and two women who are tied to his life – Yennefer, and Ciri.

I briefly met these characters while watching the first two episodes of the NETFLIX adaptation of The Witcher, but only fleetingly. After finishing both Last Wish and Sword of Destiny I feel I have a better grasp on The Witcher world and am now prepared to tackle watching The Witcher Season 1.

In Sword of Destiny, Geralt kills monsters of course, but also shows us the other side of himself. He after all is still human at heart. He is dealing with his love of Yennefer, his destiny that keeps leading him to the girl Ciri.

Rating: ★★★★★ Book #15 in my My 2020 Reading Challenge

#Books #BookReview #Fantasy #Witcher #AndrzejSapkowski #ShortStory

Recursion by Blake Crouch

What if you could go back in 'time' and fix something in your life – would you do it? To save your child? To become wealthy?

This book is about a scientist who invents such a machine to go back in 'time' and how this utterly fucks up our world. Why do I keep typing 'time' in quotes? This machine actually transplants the consciousness of the person into an earlier memory. Of course this sort of 'time' travel is not without its side effects.


Chinese Spies: From Chairman Mao to Xi Jinping by Roger Faligot

Incredible book about the secret world of Chinese spies. The author has been researching the secret security service in China for decades and the depth of his knowledge is on display in this novel.

I am well versed in the history of China, but it's really interesting to hear about the history behind the history. For example, there is a chapter on Tiananmen Square where he describes the discussions and role of the security service behind the scenes and everything that led to the decision to attack the students.


The Last Wish by Andrzej Sapkowski

Witcher 0.5

I have heard a lot of good things about this series from my Polish friend. This book series has also been turned into a video game, and most recently a NETFLIX series.

This led me to start watching the TV series. It was interesting, but it felt hollow. It felt like it was only scratching the surface of the world Sapkowski has created. I only watched 2 episodes then stopped for fear I was missing out on a richer experience from reading the book.

So I picked up the 'first' book in the series, The Last Wish, [more on this below]. The book is far, far better than the series. You understand much more about the world, and the motivations behind the main character, Geralt, from the books. In the books he has far better, and wittier dialogue than the TV series where he mostly just grunts. Two of the episodes I watched are based on stories from this book; they were both better in the short stories. The TV series seems to skip important dialogue and interactions with other characters to focus more on Geralt and the fighting scenes.