My 2020 in Books

Why I am writing these stories? Well, mostly for myself. Revisiting notes of the books, I find that I can recapture all the knowledge that passed by during the year.

Also, I am on the quest to read a thousand books in a lifetime, inspired by the words by George R.R. Martin in Game of Thrones.

“A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies, said Jojen. The man who never reads lives only one.”

― George R.R. Martin, A Dance with Dragons

Photo by Fahrul Azmi on Unsplash

Goal: — 1000
Target: — 25 p/year
2020: — 10
2019: — 17
2018: — 18
Total: — 45
Progress — 30 behind on schedule

Let’s just say that if I made a ‘My 2020 in Netflix’ blog, it would be way more substantial than my book list. Certainly, My Octopus Teacher would be a top favourite on that list.

Admittedly, my memories of the first lockdown seem drowned in a sea of streaming video content and I am definitely not brave enough to confront myself with the raw data of what I all watched. American politics on Youtube most likely most of all. So I will keep it at a blogpost on books. :)

In 2020 though, Goodread’s yearly reading challenge has been a go-to place again for tracking my progress and it helped me to remind myself to pick up those pages.

So, let’s get to 2020’s chosen books and my reviews of them.

The Books

Token Economy: How Blockchains and Smart Contracts Revolutionize the Economy

by Shermin Voshmgir

4 out of 5 stars

This book is a very thorough overview of tokens and their many shapes. Many ideas popped up in my head during the reading of this book. It also made me realise more and more how hard it is to design tokens and that in many situations it might just be easier to stay away from it. Nevertheless, if designed properly, and with the right governance protocols to incorporate changes in human behaviour, we might see very nice tokenised value incentive systems coming up. I myself would like to find one for participation with citizens, for example.

Also this book gave me an idea for a fictional story on a completely tokenised world, where values like freedom, or nature regeneration are tokenised, but create immense side effects that threaten society itself. Plot needs some work, though.

A Comprehensive Guide to Self Sovereign Identity

by Heather Vescent and Kaliya-IdentityWoman

3 out of 5 stars.

In my search for a good overview on SSI, I did find it in this book. It showed me how much there is to know about it and how limited I was still thinking about SSI in many ways.

However, while the technical perspective was quite comprehensive, I did miss some handles that could help me further in setting out SSI processes in a local government, apart from a few references to work from British Columbia. For me it is still unclear which steps I need to take as a government to set up the infrastructure needed to provide SSI services to the people in our city. We are working on that though.

Overall, however, I can say this book has brought my knowledge level on SSI up significantly, even though some parts will remain hard to explain for me.

The Little History of The Hague for dummies

by Léon van der Hulst

2 out of 5 stars

It was good to read up on some history on the city I live. And surely, I understand it’s called ‘the little history’ of The Hague. However, I felt myself somewhat dissatisfied with the book.

The writer touched merely upon the political history of The Hague, whereas I feel there are many more interesting perspectives to take. A little history needs a focus, yes. But the book just did not inspire me in such a way that I started seeing the space around me, the city that I live, in a different way. Therefore, I would not necessarily recommend this book to get a feel of the city.

21 Lessons for the 21st Century

by Yuval Noah Harari

4 out of 5 stars

The third time reading Harari, and I am getting used to his alarmist style. In this book, while expecting 21 answers, I realised that it really is the questions that Harari is posing. The questions we need to ask ourselves to prevent collapse of our socio-economic systems.

One of those questions, however, I was already familiar with. I was happy to read that the topic I chose to spend my own work on, is seen by Harari as perhaps the most important political question of the century. How to deal with data ownership? We are losing the battle over the digital realm to the big corporations, which hoard our data and train algorithms meant to understand us better than we understand ourselves. Not a lot of people get the scale of this problem, and I hope that Harari can aid the move towards more focus on this issue.

This immediately raises the other key question that Harari poses for us: How can we begin to understand ourselves before the algorithms do? Giving us an answer, which some might find unsatisfying, but did hit a note with me that led me to meditate more and appreciate the role of therapy in my life.

Moreover, when we understand ourselves and have a grasp of our own identities, how can we shape our communities around global collective identities. The act of forming these group identities needs to involve stories, and, sadly, the truth does not seem to play the leading part here, nor will the world’s existing religions or belief systems.

However, Harari provides little answers to all the problems. Other than some initial stepping stones, he leaves the hard part of this quest up to the reader. I was not completely satisfied by that, whereas I feel that the world is in dire need of more answers, rather than more questions.

The Age of Surveillance Capitalism: The Fight for a Human Future at the New Frontier of Power

by Shoshana Zuboff

4 out of 5 stars

I was already scared, but now I am terrified.

For almost 2 years I have been advocating privacy-by-design solutions for a local government and been pointing out a failing digital infrastructure. Mostly, I did that from a principle of trying to give people more control over their own data. After reading Zuboff, I can safely say I feel uneasy about making any move on the internet, knowing it can create emotional profiles of me with the slightest bit of information. Even having typed this review on the Goodreads platform, being owned by Amazon, makes me question if it is wise to share my thoughts on all the books I read. And it is not just the content of our data, but also the meta-data around it that can already help to create detailed images of someone.

So, we are in way more trouble than we think. It is not that big tech wants to know exactly what we do. It is that they want to be able to predict what we do, so that they can provide guaranteed outcomes to their advertising clients. And now they don’t just want to predict our behaviour, they want to control it, in whatever way we are controllable. First it was modification of our digital steps, then it became modification of our physical steps, and now more and more we see the emotional modification that is even invading the political sphere.

George Orwell was right to some extend, but not completely. Rather than being the state, it was the company that created this paradigm (though the US and China seem to have jumped on this boat now too), and secondly, it was not the modification of our soul into a preset condition of belief, but our behaviour as a predictable organism, that we are being seduced into. Especially young people are being damaged for life right now. We need to act soon.

Let there be a digital future, but let there be a human one first. This quote from Zuboff says it all for me. We now need to focus on setting the right fundaments of a digital society, and retake what is ours: our humanity.

Why not 5? While the critique of Zuboff is very detailed, I am missing a toolbox to change this paradigm. What should we do? As individuals, but also as governments, or socially responsible companies. The book leaves us with only a few handles to act upon. Also I am missing some more statistics. Societal values are not always captured in numbers, but it would be good to reflect a bit on how big the problem actually is, or where the biggest impact is, so that we could specify corrective measures in a better way.

I Think, Therefore I Draw: Understanding Philosophy Through Cartoons

by Thomas Cathcart and Daniel Klein

3 out of 5 stars

After some heavy reads, this book was a very welcome change. A very light way to bring the world of philosophy into my brain, with the help of cartoons. I always felt that communicating opinions on complex matter through cartoons was a powerful tool that could assist system change. This power is seen in the fact that people are killed over them..

The writers of this book have done a great job of linking cartoons to different branches of philosophy, that is, if the purpose is to explain those branches of philosophy. In a smooth manner, they guide the reader through several ways of thinking and sketch a broad overview of the thinkers that made those branches come to existence. Whether it is the ancient greek and roman thinkers, or more modern ones.

What I felt the writers did not do, is capture the actual meaning and context of the cartoons themselves. Sometimes I felt that they set out to find cartoons that fit their pre-made list of philosophies, no matter the context they were written in. To me, at times, it obscured what the cartoonist had actually meant to communicate, and were rather loosely approximated by the writers of the book. While applying one’s own meaning is perhaps oke and maybe even desirable to do with cartoons, because of that it felt less of a lesson in cartoons, and more of a lesson in philosophy.

What the book has done, is that is sparked my interest in and introduced me to philosophers and I basically made an extensive list of thinkers that I wish to still read in my lifetime, which that they have introduced to me.

Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race

by Reni Eddo-Lodge

4 out of 5 stars

Someone made clear to me that my knowledge on racism issues was level elementary. So I decided to learn. From the books that were still available to buy, after the BLM movement’s surge in demand, I chose Eddo-Lodge’s ‘Why I am no longer speaking to white people about racism’ as my start in trying to understand the situation and our conversation better.

It was at times a frustrating read. As if I was peeling away to the core of an onion of many parts of myself, stinging my eyes and senses in the process. Whilst administering my notes of this book, I realised two things. Firstly, many of the notes and scribbles I made in the early pages of the book seemed silly or misguided later. Several times I threw out those thoughts as being irrelevant to how I was thinking now. So well, that’s a start.

More specifically, reading about color blindness made me realise that my whole life I have been taught that this is the right way to signal your good intentions, even Morgan Freeman once basically said that in an interview he gave, which made a huge impression on me. Hearing black folks push back on this was uneasy, but I hope I get it now.

Another thing was the definition of racism. In the past I have had many discussions about the definition of racism. I had always been taught it as being the discrimination and prejudice towards groups of people because of their heritage, or colour of their skin. With that definition, racism from black to white would be a possibility. Eddo-Lodge’s discussion on the power element within racism has made me accept that prejudice does not equal racism. I could not understand that power element yet. However, this is in the end a play of definitions and language, but following that logic, now I understand that to be racist, you need to have and execute some form of power over another person.

That and much more Eddo-Lodge provided. Ironically, the book has sparked much conversation. I couldn’t give it 5 starts, despite a well researched first part of the book. Not the full score, because the remaining part of the book was based a bit more on just opinion rather than fact for my taste, with my main objection of the bashing of a well-meaning French girl, who is probably as confused as I am still today.

I am giving it 4 stars, though, because is has been a vital source of knowledge in the attempt to reconnect to someone I shut out because of my earlier ignorance on the topic. The book, therefore, offers understanding on a perspective that I will never get from living reality and is hard to talk about for those who do. A reader lives a thousand lives, I guess.

The Complete Guide to Money

by Dave Ramsey

3 out of 5 stars

Dave’s book is a great read for people who are trying to get control over their finances.

In the beginning of the book, Dave expresses an immense empathy for people that get into financial problems and explains plainly that it can really happen to anybody.

Dave’s baby steps to financial stability have really pushed me to get my own basics in order. By now, my emergency savings have risen up to the right level, and I have started investing in two mutual (green) funds. Moreover, the tips for the household finances have also helped us a great bunch.

However, Dave did not need to write such an extensive book, nor needed he refer to his religious beliefs so often as he did. I felt for the larger part of the book that I could skip ahead. The most important part of the book turned out to be the beginning, where Dave’s baby steps approach proved very valuable.

Factfulness

by Hans Rosling

5 out of 5 stars
Read in Portuguese so reviewed in Portuguese.

Meu segundo livro em português. Com a ajuda de um dicionário, pude ler este livro com muita facilidade. Isso é um sinal de que o livro é muito acessível e também muito informativo. Então, cinco estrelas de mim.

O que mais me impressionou neste livro é que, aparentemente, tantas pessoas passam a vida trabalhando em coisas das quais realmente não sabem o estado.

Pesquisadores que realmente não conhecem os dados. Fazemos a maior parte por conta própria, não com conhecimento. Todos nós temos preconceitos, e os Roslings nos mostram com surpreendente clareza.
O mundo não é bom, mas está melhorando, isso é certo, ao olhar para os dados reais.

(English: My second book in Portuguese. With a little help from a dictionary, I could read this book very easily. This is a sign that the book is very accessible, and also very informative. So, five stars from me. What bothers me most about this book is that apparently so many people spend their lives working on things they don’t really know the status of. Researchers who don’t really know the data. We do most of it on our own, not in knowledge. We all do prejudices, and the Roslings show us with surprising clarity. The world is not good, but it is improving, that’s for sure, when you look at the real data.)

Reinventing Capitalism in the Age of Big Data

by Viktor Mayer-Schönberger and Thomas Ramge

3 out of 5 stars

A book with a big title like this promises a lot. However, I am not sure that it delivered on its promises.

The first 8 chapters were not that information dense, I felt I was reading the same thing over and over. Yes, I get it, data rich markets are the next big thing. Actually, I kinda felt many of the things that were mentioned were already in place for a while, like Spotify, Ebay and Google ads.

However, in chapter 9 and 10, the authors took a turn on a pathway of thought I had not taken before. It went into the governmental and regulatory implications for such a data-rich market world. Most inspiring was their plead for setting up new mechanisms, facilitating the feedback of learnings from data by companies back into the society and open for others to use. This could possibly counter-act the monopolies on data we are seeing nowadays. However, these insights came too little and too late for me to give this book more than 3 stars though.

Conclusion

With 10 books a year it will take me a 100 years to read a 1000. I am afraid I don’t have that amount of time, so in 2021 I need devour more pages! I am open to hearing suggestions for good reads here in the comments.

Want to follow more book related stuff, be sure to check out Goodreads and follow me there.

Photo by Paul Hanaoka on Unsplash

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Yvo Hunink

Yvo Hunink

Design goes where complexity takes it. Working on the boundaries of chaos and order, so that we can create a world of justice and peace @ City of The Hague