Book Reviews: My Year in Books (pt. 2)

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From crying to laughing, from apartheid in South Africa to magic in the Final Empire, books have taken me on lots of adventures this year.

My year in books – links to all three parts
Part 1 // Part 2 // Part 3

We’re continuing to review (and maybe recommend) the list of books I read in 2018, and this round covers two different kinds of doctors, how to be successful in sport and life as well as science fiction space travel.

WHAT I READ IN 2018 – Continued

When Breath Becomes Air

– What makes life worth living in the face of death

By: Paul Kalanithi
Pages: 225
Published: January 5th 2017
Publisher: Vintage
Genres: Nonfiction, Autobiography, Memoir, Medicine

At the age of thirty-six, on the verge of completing a decade’s training as a neurosurgeon, Paul Kalanithi was diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer. One day he was a doctor treating the dying, the next he was a patient struggling to live.

Well, I’m just gonna spoil the ending of this book, and say it’s not a happy one.

But that’s not really what this book is about – it’s about the time before. The unique perspective of a doctor, usually saving people’s lives, being confronted with his own mortality. It’s a fascinating book, and it’s interesting to hear Kalanithi’s take on science and philosophy, and how his death sentence affected that. It’s not a depressing book, but it is ultimately a heartbreaking story. What really made me cry though, was the afterword by his wife, which is a whole other kind of heartbreaking.

My rating: ★★★★★

Science may provide the most useful way to organize empirical, reproducible data, but its power to do so is predicated on its inability to grasp the most central aspects of human life: hope, fear, love, hate, beauty, envy, honor, weakness, striving, suffering, virtue.

Paul Kalanithi, When Breath Becomes Air

This is going to hurt

– Secret diaries of a Junior Doctor

By: Adam Kay
Pages: 256
Published: September 7th 2017
Publisher: Picador
Genres: Nonfiction, Autobiography, Memoir, Medicine

Adam Kay was a junior doctor from 2004 until 2010, before a devastating experience on a ward caused him to reconsider his future. He kept a diary throughout his training, and This Is Going to Hurt intersperses tales from the front line of the NHS with reflections on the current crisis. The result is a first-hand account of life as a junior doctor in all its joy, pain, sacrifice and maddening bureaucracy, and a love letter to those who might at any moment be holding our lives in their hands.

Two Doctor’s biographies in a row here. In a way they’re similar; they both show the seriousness of working with life and death every day. While When Breath Becomes Air is heartbreaking and profound, This is Going to Hurt is absurdly funny (and makes your heart hurt for the NHS). There’s some very silly stories, and some you wish you didn’t read (I’m thinking of the ‘degloving’ injury, which is bound to get a strong reaction, especially from men).

You can get a sense of this humor in this interview with Russel Howard.

My rating: ★★★★☆

Tuesday, 5 July 2005. Trying to work out a seventy-year-old lady’s alcohol consumption to record in the notes. I’ve established that wine is her poison.
Me: ‘And how much wine do you drink per day, would you say?’
Patient: ‘About three bottles on a good day.’
Me: ‘OK . . . And on a bad day?’
Patient: ‘On a bad day I only manage one.’

The Gold Mine Effect

– The secret of the world’s best athletes

Original Danish title: Guldminerne

By: Rasmus Ankersen
Pages: 341
Published: 2013
Publisher: Turbulenz (Danish version)
Genres: Nonfiction, Sports

How can we identify and develop business talent? Ex-professional footballer and high performance anthropologist Rasmus Ankersen quit his job and traveled the world for six months, visiting “gold mines” of talent; living and training with the planet’s best athletes in an attempt to answer this question and adapt his findings into a revolutionary business context.

I love sports, so the premise for this book – What makes certain areas produce such high talent repeatedly? – is very interesting. Hint: It’s more than DNA, it takes a special sociocultural environment too.

In Danish, this is marketed towards people are interested in sports and what makes the best athletes. In English, this is marketed towards business people. It’s the same book, so I guess the publishers discovered it’s a better market?

I mainly point that out, because I think Ankersen’s attempt to transfer lessons from sport to business is quite a stretch.

It’s a fascinating book, but overall I wish his big claims was better substantiated. Other authors who write on this subject, like Malcolm Gladwell, does a better job at it.

My rating: ★★☆☆☆

Honest feedback is frequently like getting into a very hot bath. It scalds to begin with, but then you get used to it and begin to like it. Eventually you start thriving on it!

Rasmus Ankersen


– The story of success

By: Malcolm Gladwell
Pages: 309
Published: November 18th 2008
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
Genres: Nonfiction, Psychology, Business, Economics

What makes high-achievers different? Malcolm Gladwell’s answer is that we pay too much attention to what successful people are like, and too little attention to where they are from: that is, their culture, their family, their generation, and the idiosyncratic experiences of their upbringing. Along the way he explains the secrets of software billionaires, what it takes to be a great soccer player, why Asians are good at math, and what made the Beatles the greatest rock band.

Another couple of similar books in a row! Where Ankersen failed, Gladwell does a much better job. Obviously the level of evidence doesn’t live up to that of a scientific journal. But he does a great job of communication ideas and analysis.

It’s interesting to think about how the combination of given opportunities and hard work (not just the latter) affect a person’s chance of success. This book offers a good opportunity to reflect on your own life, as well as on a societal level. Lots of food for thought in between this cover.

My rating: ★★★★☆

It is those who are successful, in other words, who are most likely to be given the kinds of special opportunities that lead to further success. It’s the rich who get the biggest tax breaks. It’s the best students who get the best teaching and most attention. And it’s the biggest nine- and ten-year-olds who get the most coaching and practice. Success is the result of what sociologists like to call “accumulative advantage”.

Malcolm Gladwell, Outliers: The Story of Success

The HitchHiker’s Guide to the galaxy

By: Douglas Adams
Pages: 193
Published: April 30th 2002
Publisher: Del Rey Books
Genres: Fiction, Humor, Science Fiction

Seconds before the Earth is demolished for a galactic freeway, Arthur Dent is saved by Ford Prefect, a researcher for the revised Guide. Together they stick out their thumbs to the stars and begin a wild journey through time and space.

It’s a stupidly funny classic.

Back when this blog was still a baby, one of the first posts I wrote was actually a review of this very book.

It’s weird and funny in just the right way, and it continues being funny on rereads, as I notice even more silly jokes and hidden references.

My rating: ★★★★★

“You know,” said Arthur, “it’s at times like this, when I’m trapped in a Vogon airlock with a man from Betelgeuse, and about to die of asphyxiation in deep space that I really wish I’d listened to what my mother told me when I was young.”
“Why, what did she tell you?”
“I don’t know, I didn’t listen.”

Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

And that’s where we’ll hit pause until part 3, which will be live soon.

Have you read any of these books? Let me know in the comments!

Gif that says lots of love, Anne xx

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Book Reviews: My Year in Books (pt. 2)
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