Review: Ish­mael

Ishmael
Ish­mael by Daniel Quinn
My rat­ing: 5 of 5 stars

Any sto­ry that explains the mean­ing of the world, the inten­tions of the gods, and the des­tiny of man is bound to be mythol­o­gy. You think of mythol­o­gy as a set of fan­ci­ful tales. The Greeks did­n’t think of their mythol­o­gy this way. Sure­ly you must real­ize that. I’m talk­ing about liv­ing mythol­o­gy. Not record­ed in any book — record­ed in the minds of the peo­ple of your cul­ture, and being enact­ed all over the world even as we sit here and speak of it. So you see that your agri­cul­tur­al rev­o­lu­tion is not an event like the Tro­jan War, iso­lat­ed in the dis­tant past and with­out direct rel­e­vance to your lives today.

As we, the Tak­ers, see it, the gods gave man the same choice they gave Achilles: a brief life of glo­ry or a long, unevent­ful life in obscu­ri­ty. And the Tak­ers chose a brief life of glo­ry, bring­ing the whole thing to the point of col­lapse in only five hun­dred gen­er­a­tions. Man is the trail­blaz­er, the pathfind­er. His des­tiny is to be the first to learn that crea­tures like man have a choice: They can try to thwart the gods and per­ish in the attempt — or they can stand aside and make some room for all the rest.

I had to face it: I did­n’t just want a teacher — I want­ed a teacher for life. Over the next decade, he taught me all he knew of the world and the uni­verse and human his­to­ry, and when my ques­tions went beyond his knowl­edge, we stud­ied side by side. Some­one has to stand up and become to the world of today what Saint Paul was to the Roman Empire. Is it real­ly so impos­si­ble in an age when a stand-up com­ic on tele­vi­sion reach­es more peo­ple in ten min­utes than Paul did in his entire life­time? In my expe­ri­ence, you nev­er real­ly know how you’re going to han­dle a prob­lem until you actu­al­ly have it. —Daniel Quinn

A hum­bling account of the extant homo species’ extent of mythol­o­gy in its every­day lives and it’s blind­ing unaware­ness of it. The sto­ry we tell our­selves about us, maybe dif­fer­ent than we pre­sumed and may be coloured by hubris. A sense of con­trol is always what we desired, but in there lies a big assump­tion; that we can sim­ply keep on tun­ing things with­out let­ting the inter­play of sys­tems set­tle in their bal­anced states. Like Icarus, the man that should not fly too high in the sky because of the heat of the sun, nor too low near the sea, because of the damp­ness that clogs his feath­ers. The sun’s heat in the atmos­phere gets ever warmer, slow­ly melt­ing our wax. So too, is the damp­ness of the sea reach­ing greater heights with ris­ing water lev­els and more evap­o­ra­tion. All that makes the zone where Icarus can still fly with­out per­ish­ing to com­pla­cen­cy or hubris speed­i­ly small­er, until both he and we meet one of those lim­its. A good exam­ple of how fic­tion­al­iz­ing sto­ries can help us exam­ine our naive nar­ra­tive, to see where it will leads us and lets us choose whether we want to take cor­rec­tive action or that we rather enjoy our the brief moment of glory.

I give “Ish­mael” five stars.

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Review: Tur­tles All the Way Down

Turtles All the Way Down
Tur­tles All the Way Down by John Green
My rat­ing: 5 of 5 stars

“There’s an expres­sion in clas­si­cal music. It goes, ‘We went out to the mead­ow.’ It’s for those evenings that can only be described in that way: There were no walls, there were no music stands, there weren’t even any instru­ments. There was no ceil­ing, there was no floor, we all went out to the mead­ow. It describes a feeling.”
— TOM WAITS

I know she’s read­ing this right now. (HI.) I felt like we went out to the mead­ow tonight, only we weren’t play­ing music. In the best con­ver­sa­tions, you don’t even remem­ber what you talked about, only how it felt. It felt like we were in some place your body can’t vis­it, some place with no ceil­ing and no walls and no floor and no instru­ments. — John Green, TATWD

After fol­low­ing John Green’s work for many years, I had nev­er got around actu­al­ly read­ing one of his books.
For me it was a feast of recog­ni­tion, due to many of its real life coin­ci­den­tal coun­ter­parts! Know­ing how he is as a per­son, and see­ing how you show your own char­ac­ter­is­tics and traits in your own work was a big eye-open­er for me. I guess, since I pre­ferred non-fic­tion for its objec­tive­ness, this book showed and taught me and what good fic­tion can do, what it can make me feel — me as a reader.

I give “Tur­tles All the Way Down” five stars.

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Review: The Philoso­pher and the Wolf: Lessons from the Wild on Love, Death, and Happiness

The Philosopher and the Wolf: Lessons from the Wild on Love, Death, and Happiness
The Philoso­pher and the Wolf: Lessons from the Wild on Love, Death, and Hap­pi­ness by Mark Row­lands
My rat­ing: 5 of 5 stars

After read­ing the book Run­ning with the Pack, I was delight­ed to find that there was a book that dived even deep­er in the bond between wolf and man. For me this is the best type of phi­los­o­phy book, one that is inter­spersed with more light-heart­ed moments from the author’s life, con­trast­ed with con­struc­tive and deep­er mus­ings on the events in his or her life. I noticed that it took me a lot longer to get through the book, just because it took a while for the mes­sages to sink in and under­stand them. There­fore, this is def­i­nite­ly a book that would not be bet­ter as an audio­book, because I think I would miss things because there’s no time to mull them over. One thing that hap­pened dur­ing the read­ing of this book, is that all the notes and high­lights I took on my e‑reader got delet­ed, due to me shuf­fling around some set­tings. This felt like a set­back, one that tem­porar­i­ly makes you not want to be remind­ed of your mis­take and dis­con­tin­ue read­ing the book. How­ev­er, because I was so close to fin­ish­ing it, it would have been sil­ly not to. It made me think that the mem­o­ries and lessons we gain from read­ing a book, if they are for­got­ten and we can no longer rely on our (dig­i­tal) mem­o­ry. Of course that is not the case, but it showed me how eas­i­ly your brain del­e­gates the task of remem­ber­ing to a third par­ty. Not sure if this top­ic is men­tioned in the oth­er book from this author about exter­nal mem­o­ry, but it made me look for­ward to read that one as well!

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Review: Ik drink niet meer

Ik drink niet meer
Ik drink niet meer by Loïs Biss­chop
My rat­ing: 5 of 5 stars

A per­son­al and relat­able account what it means to give up alco­hol in your life and how it impacts ones rela­tion­ship with oth­ers. The sub­tle humor in this book was great and made the whole book a page­turn­er for me. The most impor­tant les­son in this book was the impact of a relapse after a pro­longed peri­od of absten­tion. Real­iz­ing the impact it can have, makes it so that you do not need to make this mis­take your­self to learn from it. Anoth­er great les­son was that of just bluff­ing, even though you have not fin­ished writ­ing the book, men­tion­ing that you want to pub­lish one can help you make it hap­pen, even if you don’t expect it. All in all, I would rec­om­mend this book to every young per­son read­ing and doubt­ing their own intake of emo­tion-sur­press­ing drugs. 

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Review: Caf­feine: How Caf­feine Cre­at­ed the Mod­ern World

Caffeine: How Caffeine Created the Modern World
Caf­feine: How Caf­feine Cre­at­ed the Mod­ern World by Michael Pol­lan
My rat­ing: 5 of 5 stars

The pac­ing of this sto­ry was quick and kept the atten­tion eas­i­ly, even if one’s recent­ly abstain­ing from caf­feine. Talk­ing about the his­to­ry and impact of soci­ety’s most accept­ed and wide­spread drug. Michael Pol­lan did a great job in relay­ing his expe­ri­ence with tem­porar­i­ly abstain­ing of cof­fee and lat­er on using it as a tool, but insin­u­ates it will creep back to an every­day ordeal. For the com­ing weeks I would like to fol­low his plan and just drink cof­fee on Sun­day morn­ings and only then. Per­haps Sat­ur­days could work as well, but I usu­al­ly tend to do my long run on Sun­days, so it would ben­e­fi­cial for that too. I appre­ci­at­ed the appear­ance of Matthew Walk­er and his view on caf­feine’s effect on the sleep qual­i­ty. I do notice, that even when I drink cof­fee in the morn­ing that my sleep is impact­ed, so that would be a good moti­va­tion. One of the more insight­ful bits was about the dif­fer­ence in spot-focus and can­vas focus, the lat­ter would enhance cre­ativ­i­ty by loose asso­ci­a­tion. Caf­feine enhances the spot-focus and there­fore lin­ear think­ing and might thus reduce one’s cre­ativ­i­ty. Know­ing what it can and can­not do, might help one use it for the right use cas­es. With­out cof­fee, there would­n’t be this cat­a­lyst for the age of rea­son. The fact that it was a replace­ment for alco­hol in the sev­en­teenth cen­tu­ry was new to me and that the cof­fee-hous­es played a big role in the enlight­en­ment by exchang­ing ideas, so much so that the first mod­ern ency­clo­pe­dia found its ori­gin in one of the cof­fee-hous­es in France. 

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Review: Filosofie van de duurloop

Filosofie van de duurloop
Filosofie van de duur­loop by Mark Row­lands
My rat­ing: 5 of 5 stars

Fas­ci­nat­ing book, it is clear that the author spent a lot of time think­ing while run­ning with his dogs/wolf and is equal­ly deter­mined to write down and clar­i­fy his thoughts. There were a few big learn­ings for me, that put run­ning in a new per­spec­tive for me. Main­ly, in the Dutch ver­sion, he talks about “run­ning is remem­ber­ing”, remem­ber­ing what we have lost along the way. A sec­ond, unex­pect­ed les­son was a way to humbly face the inevitable decay that will set in, soon­er or lat­er. The final per­spec­tive that stuck with me was its focus on run­ning being a form of play, not of work and how unique that is.

The one thing that would take away half a star, would be the penul­ti­mate chap­ter in which there is just too much philo­soph­i­cal chitchat on his iden­ti­ty and what he is not, to exem­pli­fy Sartre’s view on the con­scious­ness. Per­son­al­ly i found it to be just a lit­tle con­fus­ing and not help­ing fur­ther his main argu­ment of his phi­los­o­phy on run­ning and its intrin­sic value.

I was sur­prised by the many words I did­n’t know the exis­tence of, these real­ly stretched my vocab­u­lary, but again, makes the book less acces­si­ble to the read­er and pre­vents the deep­er under­stand­ing of its contents.

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Review: What We Talk about When We Talk about Books: The His­to­ry and Future of Reading

What We Talk about When We Talk about Books: The History and Future of Reading
What We Talk about When We Talk about Books: The His­to­ry and Future of Read­ing by Leah Price
My rat­ing: 5 of 5 stars

I found it to be a delight to lis­ten to this book out on a run, while real­iz­ing how I’ve incor­po­rat­ed more read­ing in my life through the abil­i­ty of being able to lis­ten simul­ta­ne­ous­ly and get lost in a vir­tu­al world as I do in the real world by foot. For me, there were a few fun­ny coin­ci­dences that I came across, one was talk­ing about the book Too Much Hap­pi­ness, which I planned to read this month for a book­club, but it got can­celled due to the coro­n­avirus con­cerns. The pas­sage was about bil­bio­ther­a­py and mis­un­der­stand­ing the book’s title as a self-help book. The prac­tice of doc­tors and psy­chi­a­trists pre­scrib­ing books as part of a cure is not a bad thought at all. I do think that I owe a very large por­tion of my cur­rent healthy lifestyle through read­ing, some­thing that I doubt would have hap­pened if a doc­tor told me so. Anoth­er fun fact was con­cern­ing the very first edi­tion of the veg­e­tar­i­an cook­book being made out of parch­ment, thus from dead ani­mals. Guten­berg’s press was most­ly used for sin­gle sheets indul­gences, to reduce one’s sins. And not for print­ing bibles what I had always assumed, so lots of nuggets and over­all it helped me appre­ci­ate how lucky I am to find myself in a time where one can read by lis­ten­ing. This book also dis­cussed its uses, virtues and how it impacts com­mu­ni­ties small and large. In the future I would like to have a phys­i­cal copy on my shelves. 

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Review: Dig­i­tal Min­i­mal­ism: Choos­ing a Focused Life in a Noisy World

Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World
Dig­i­tal Min­i­mal­ism: Choos­ing a Focused Life in a Noisy World by Cal New­port
My rat­ing: 5 of 5 stars

I have been toy­ing with this idea for a long time and per­son­al­ly had a few set­backs that with­hold me from attempt­ing anoth­er dig­i­tal detox. I do think that this book makes the strongest case and it came to me on a time that was right and felt I could imple­ment the key prin­ci­ples direct­ly. The exam­ples were great and diverse, the rest of the ‘the­o­ry’ was well-sup­port­ed and con­cise­ly for­mu­lat­ed. Com­pared to oth­er books of the same top­ic, I found it rather action­able and moti­vat­ing to take steps!
For sure, I will buy a phys­i­cal copy of this book, so I can browse through it at a lat­er moment in time. It would act as a reminder of the direc­tion I want to move in and since it takes mul­ti­ple cycles to get clos­er to this more pre­ferred state of inten­tion­al liv­ing, the chances are high that I would want to re-read it in the future. Best self-help book that I have read this past year!

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Review: Het water komt

Het water komt
Het water komt by Rut­ger Bregman
My rat­ing: 5 of 5 stars

This was a free book­let you could order online and it tries to get peo­ple take action in com­bat­ting cli­mate change and more specif­i­cal­ly, the rise of sea lev­el that would be real­ly chal­leng­ing to fight against, once the increase is a lot more than we have need­ed to fight in the past. As a stu­dent at Delft Uni­ver­si­ty of Tech­nol­o­gy, I was sur­prised to find out that even me and my friends did­n’t know about Johan van Veen, who was the father of the Dutch Delta­works. I vis­it­ed many parts of this world­fa­mous sys­tem to pro­tect the cit­i­zens from flood­ing and hav­ing to aban­don their home­grounds. The main les­son for me would be that his­to­ri­ans can real­ly teach us as a soci­ety a lot. It helps to put cur­rent events in per­spec­tive and they remind us of mis­takes our fore­bears made in the past. 

I would be curi­ous to read the rest of the biog­ra­phy of this for­got­ten engi­neer. How­ev­er, I am a bit less opti­mistic than the author and feel that peo­ple should seri­ous­ly con­sid­er mov­ing to high­er grounds. While one has the chance it is bet­ter to build up a new life in a safer envi­ron­ment for the long term.

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Review: The Fat Switch

The Fat Switch
The Fat Switch by Richard J. Johnson
My rat­ing: 5 of 5 stars

An insight­ful book about the var­i­ous ways fruc­tose wreak hav­oc on the human body. You could almost see it as an anti-nutri­ent, if sup­plied in a high con­cen­tra­tion. Like all sub­stances, the dose makes the poi­son. After hear­ing about the con­cepts in the pod­cast of Peter Attia, I want­ed to learn more about the research that Prof. Richard John­son and his col­leagues had done to sup­port his claims. Sur­pris­ing to me were the rela­tion­ship with yeast and uma­mi foods to uric acid and its fur­ther effects on blood pres­sure. I will def­i­nite­ly reread parts of this book in the future.

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