My 2016 Book Reviews

Exactly a year ago, I wrote my first annual review set (29th of December, 2015, link) for the twelve books that I read within the frames of the Goodreads reading challenge. Now, the 2016 aims are met too, and below you can find my spoiler-free brief impressions and recommendations (out of 5 stars) for the books read throughout the soon-to-be-the-past year (2016). Looking forward to where I will be taken in 2017!

The Organized Mind: Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload by Daniel J. Levitin. Hard to describe or recommend such type of (self-improvement) books, since the level of usefulness is expected to be really dependent on what the reader looks for. For me, this book was exciting 1%, interesting 5%, fine 10%, and trivial 84% of time. Particularly interesting were the neuroscientific justifications behind some complex habits that are apparently hardwired and fixated in us through evolution. (★★)
Tau Zero by Poul Anderson. The culmination of the story was predictive and not so thrilling. This, however, might be caused by a familiarity with similar plots palpated in different sci-fi pieces. Cannot comment about the character development part, since, for the hard sci-fi genre, that aspect is secondary to me and is worth mentioning only if the core of the plot succeeds in captivating one's mind. Did not work for me but can still be a nice read. (★★★)

Stories of Your Life and Others by Ted Chiang. Really liked the way the stories drove imagination through abstract paths, yet proficiently enough to induce clear views and scenes in one’s mind. The book is not exactly a sci-fi though. Except for the major story ("Story of your life", the basis of the movie “Arrival” that appeared later in 2016), which, by the way, was an outstanding and unique in describing what an alien non-linear (in terms of time) imagination, consciousness and language would be like, the rest of the stories were more from the genre of alternative reality and fantasy. (★★★★)

Zero to One: Notes on Start Ups, or How to Build the Future by Peter Thiel & Blake Masters. My inability to write something about this book, two months after reading it, is an illustration that there was no take-away message stuck in mind. However, as I mentioned in a past review, for such books influence and impression may substantially vary depending on the aims of a reader. Therefore treat this review as a neutral one. If it can be of any help, I am from the realm of academy, and read such books to get some training from the world of business/networking/fundraising so essential for scientists nowadays. (★★)

The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins. Expected a hallmark book comparable in importance to Darwin’s “On the Origin of Species”, lucidly coining the essential evolutionary biology concepts for a wider readership. The book appeared to be surprisingly boring, paying far more attention to word-plays and fine differences in formulations of certain ideas among different biologists, instead of bringing forward the actual sharp proofs and experiments that are so abundant in science now. I wish this book were less abstract and philosophical, i.e. less “biological” in the pre-20th-century sense of the term. Three stars because I held very high hopes for this book. (★★★)

The Double Helix: the Discovery of the Structure of DNA by James D. Watson. A little precious book providing insider’s view on life and the ways ideas were propagating in Cambridge laboratories at the verge of the important discovery of 1953. Leaves a feeling that not much has changed in Cambridge. (★★★★)

Life at the Speed of Light: From the Double Helix to the Dawn of Digital Life by J. Craig Venter. Another nice read that picks up on the scientific revolution that the DNA helix discovery started (see the book above) and expands further towards the race to sequence genomes. Presented by one of the key players in the area, this is a must read book to know how it all started, though only from a single viewpoint. (★★★★)

How to Clone a Mammoth: the Science of de-Extinction by Beth Shapiro. A book that thoroughly answers the “Why we ain’t got dinos in labs yet?” question. I kind of knew the answer, but was more hesitant about the recently extinct animals, such as Tasmanian wolf and passenger pigeon. Now I know the wider spectrum of problems, and am excited to thinker about some of the computational biology aspects, by advancing which one may come closer to the realization of the de-extinction dreams. The book has also done a great job in exploring what exactly can be considered as a de-extinction and what deeper implications it may bring. (★★★★)

Just for Fun: the Story of an Accidental Revolutionary by Linus Torvalds & David Diamond. If you know Linus Torvalds and enjoy his numerous QA sessions that have found their way to YouTube, you will surely love this book. It feels like having a friendly chat about life and tech with a laid-back person, who is passionate about things you are passionate about, around a pint of beer (ok, I hate beer, but you get the mood). Fills you with strong desire to go back to your computer and write a jam code, just for fun, to change the world. This book has my five stars for showing that great things can (and must necessarily) be fun too. (★★★★★)

What If? Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions by Randall Munroe. This book is a good demonstration that even the most absurd questions may have thorough (and fun) scientific answers and evaluations. Highly recommended if you have a growing kid and are determined to torture him/her with answers other than “it is impossible”, “it is irrelevant” or “it is magic”. (★★★★)
Outliers: the Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell. Circumstances are underrated, as those, more than anything else, are frequently important in determining breakthrough careers and lives. This book is set to reveal the major forces behind many outstanding lives that were omitted or de-emphasized from their respective biographies. Would get five stars if the second part were as good as the first one. (★★★★)

The Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu. This award-winning sci-fi book has a rather unique and captivating plot. Although did not provide the full-gasp “wow” moment I was expecting (hence, -1 star), it certainly left me with a desire to read the sequels and the other works of the same author. Particularly liked the idea of the population-run CPU emulation as tried in early Trisolaris. (★★★★)

This is a blog entry in my personal blog page where I try to gather my notes, thoughts and tutorials on science, IT etc., after making them more readable. All the PDF versions of the notes deposited here can/will be available through my home page ( In case the blog entry is of general interest and you would like to include that in your medium (journal, blog, web-page etc.), feel free to do so, given that you do not alter the content (unless correcting typos) and authorship.


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