The world is rolling through a bumpy slip road of a deadly pandemic and cruel abuse of power. This reality shouts loud and clear than ever that the state-society that we have honed thousands of years is imperfect, but continuously evolves for the better, the less violence, the more justice one. Many expert authors such as Steven Pinker and Hans Rosling have statistically validated what some people consider "blind optimism" in The Better Angel of Our Nature and Factfulness. It is real optimism.
I think our civilized society can only advance in the hope of a more inclusive society via education (see more, listen more and stop talking until one really knows what he means). There are abundant alternatives out there, and in this blog post I offer what I can offer. Here comes the time of the year I share with you the most enlightening books, and films and a song (for the very first time) that were significantly impactful so far in my 2020. Frankly, the COVID-19 saved me a tremendous amount of time spent on commuting and spared me extra precious time for working out and reading more books. Though my summer calendar has not closed (till the end of June), I think the list of 30 books I have read in the last five months is ample for making some book recommendations. Hopefully, you will get some gems!
I think the fact that 2020 comes with so many unprecedented disruptions influences how I chose books. Indeed, not until I assembled pieces for this blog post did I realize that most of the books I read this year are non-fiction, so if you are looking for novels and fictional books, I am afraid that my list this time will not offer any.
Being Mortal, by Atul Gawande: The swift technological advancements in modern medication have profoundly altered the standpoints of both doctors and patients toward human’s later haft of life. “Being mortal is about the struggle to cope with the constraints of our biology, with the limits set of genes and cells and flesh and bone,” the author said. Aging and death, which are the two pillars discussed in this book, terrify us in different manners in different people, but there is a common point: many deny them. We scare. This book discusses appropriate attitudes that both doctors and patients should have, facing the uncertainty.
Why We Sleep, by Mathew Walker: This book communicates one of the most alarming and underemphasized challenges we face while many are satisfied with the fact that our death rate has significantly increased: sleep deprivation. I can feel Mathew Walker’s passion for the neuroscience of sleeping and how our brain works during sleep. His statistical approach and systematic researches prove the devastating effects of sleep loss existed in schools, businesses, and governments. In his book, I found the joy of understanding how my mysterious bairn works and the relief of knowing how I can improve my health and others’.
21 Lessons for the 21st Century, by Yuval Noah Harari: As some readers might have read Homo Sapiens and Homo Deus, we should agree that Yuval Noah Harari is provocative and brutally open on his papers. This book examines values and persistent clashes among religious entities and political favors such as nationalism, capitalism, secularism, communism, fascism, militarism, monotheism, polytheism, etc. Besides, it also talks about the possible upcoming future of humans, which is indeed not similar to what we see in Hollywood’s movies. I am impressed by his vision of dramatic changes in the social structure under two inescapable forces of biotech and infotech.
Flow, by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi: This book is about how inner control of consciousness improves our quality of life and how to place ourselves into a sustainable enjoyment, avoiding the constant noises of the society and the randomness of nature. In a nutshell, it is Happiness 101. The reason why I like the book, frankly as many other books on this list, is that Flow persuades me with numbers, evidence, and logical reasoning on such a hardly-defined topic of Happiness. My most significant change after this book is to stop multitasking and start focusing on every day-to-day activity. The book changed me on the fundamental level.
So Good They Can’t Ignore You, by Cal New Port: This book stands out on the market inundated with self-help books because, I think, it tells a naked truth: “Don’t follow your passion.” I did not like how it sounds the first time I heard this, but I read it till the end, and the author made his point compelling, asking me what my passion looks like. Frankly, I made up an answer and eventually gave up, and from there did I know how my perception of the career does not look right. The lesson is the passion does not pre-existent; it instead emerges as the by-product of your skills and experiences which accumulate along the time.
Other books you should have a look
Team of Teams: This book talks about the fragility of the modern world that, I believe, most of us feel, yet are unable to put into words. The author, McChrystal, introduces an inescapable approach to encounter the new age of volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity (VUCA) and shows us how the reductionist managerial ideology which was popular in previous centuries could no longer defend the VUCA’ organic disruptions.
What Money Can’t Buy: Cash for sterilization, tradable procreation permits, paying to kill endangered species, betting on strangers’ deaths, commercialism, to name just a few topics discussed in a relatively short 200-page book. Money is powerful, indeed very powerful that it starts dissolving some of the fundamental & solid moral values that we once much embraced. Let us be open-minded to changes, and the book prepares you to face many eerie truths.
The last two titles I recommend this summer come from Malcolm Gladwell: Outliers & What the Dog Saw. Gladwell never stops surprising me with his ideas and theories drawn from data. I think these two books are very entertaining to read.
Movies that might impress you
Living in this chaotic time where both old pains and new obstacles once again challenge our dominant power over nature, I found these movies highly relatable. I believe that the crises we are encountering signify negative trends at their best of human species. The lack of empathy, selfishness, the abusive entitlement of some trigger waves of anger and destruction, and I found them all here, in the movies below.
Our Planet limited series on Netflix: This whole series is an aesthetic show about our far brother and sisters' lives on the only Earth. From the harsh frozen worlds in the Arctic, the richness of jungles and rainforests, the unknown high seas to the deserts, animals live everywhere except where we live. Their “everywhere” is now turning nowhere due to our greed and brutality. In the magnificent beauty of them, you will be amazed, excited, and sad. The underlying messages are subtle, yet impactful.
Vietnam War series on Netflix: This documentary retells a complete history of the Vietnam War from the beginning of the 1960s to the ending victory of North Vietnam in 1975. The fact that I am a Vietnamese motivates me to understand how my grandparents and parents had suffered from the war and the reasons for those devastating revolutions. So, if you are a Vietnamese, I strongly recommend this series. But if you are not a Vietnamese, I strongly recommend you go and grasp any war documentary (WWII, Korean War, etc.). Because to watch is to penetrate the fluffy heroic cover of the black-hearted war and see and understand and feel and empathize with the ultimate victims and eliminate the ultimate enemy: the selfishness of some on the top.
By the way, I do not listen to music often, but The Sounds of Silence (a song) particularly moves me. I can see how sad, misery and helpless people are in its lyric.
Saving Private Ryan: This is another war film, a WWII one depicting the invasion of Normandy. It is renowned for its naked portrayal of horrible assault on Omaha beach and its agonizing pain of a paratrooper Ryan who lost all his three brothers in the war.
Like Stars on Earth: Less popular than 3 Idiots where the well-known starring Aamir Khan plays the lead role, Like Stars on Earth tells an ethnic story of how an inclusive society where people are accepted to shine in different ways should look like. A teacher (played by Aamir Khan) helps Ishaan, an 8-year old child, with the reading disorder to understand his unique value in a society where everyone’s life is weighed on the same scale. I have watched this movie three times, and it took my tears every time.