Books I read in 2015 - an update

books

It's been about 8 months since I last posted, and also 2015 is now over, so it feels like a logical thing to finish with the list of books I have read last year. This update is going to be embarrassingly short, so I will compensate by elaborating a little more than usually:

  • Not Much of an Engineer by Stanley Hooker (clippings) - an autobiography of one of the Britain's top engineers and one of the few responsible for the success of the famous Merlin piston engine of war period and later jet engines.

    Apart from a lot of technical details, the book also includes some of the author's personal views on various social issues, which are somewhat brutal by today's standards. While almost any stance from 30-50ss would look quite right-wing today, in this case it is also amplified by the natural bias of Sir Stanley as an extremely talented and hard-working individual, who naturally assumes that if it was easy for him to escape some life traps, many should be just as able to do the same.

    The above is a minor topic in the book of course, so whether you can get behind that or not, about 90% of it is still about engines and the organisational structure of British aircraft engine manufacturers, so if you are into that, you certainly won't regret reading it.

  • The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in 1914 by Christopher Clark (clippings) - a little bit too long, but a detailed explanation of the events that, directly and indirectly, led Europe to the First World War. While offering a bigger picture (economic tendencies in the major states, their trade balances, treaties and loans), it also drills down to the biographies and personalities of some actors (kings, presidents and Saraevo conspirators).

    All of that was especially interesting to me as to someone who went to school in early post-Soviet Russia, where very little attention was paid to WWI which was always overshadowed in textbooks by the revolution of 1917.

    You might find it enjoyable as well if you don't mind long books and if you are not too disturbed by the unavoidable thoughts of how similar are the explained events to what is unfolding in Europe right now.

  • Vulcan Test Pilot: My Experiences in the Cockpit of a Cold War Icon by Tony Blackman (clippings) - since the last flying Avro Vulcan, an iconic Cold War era bomber, was retired in 2015, I decided to read a bit more about it. This book is written by one of its test pilots and would be interesting, I suspect, to aviation geeks only. What I was impressed with most was the technical impossibility for some crew memebers to bail out in too many dangerous situations (imagine their feeling when the pilots have already ejected! - and that actually happened), and also by the habit of one of the top test pilots to fly in his pinstripe suit instead of the pilot overalls.

  • Life on the Edge: The Coming of Age of Quantum Biology by Jim Al-Khalili and Johnjoe McFadden (clippings) - one of the best, if not the best of pop biology books I've read, it explains how quantum effects are necessary to understand the core biological processes such as photosynthesis. Of course in one way or another quantum effects are behind every observable effect, but in most cases you can safely get away without ever involving that in your calculations, so it is extremely exciting that in order to understand something very basic and essential to life on Earth, this needs to be considered.

    Not every connection explained there is currently 100% confirmed (e.g. the role in the sense of smell remains a strong theory), and at some point the authors get carried away and deviate from the topic into some shaky philosophy, but the most of the book is eye-opening and quite well written.

  • Britain for the British by Robert Blatchford (clippings) - an early Socialist manifesto by a prominent campaigner from the days when it was a fresh idea, written in a very simple language as it was intended for the masses. In particular, I enjoyed applying provided examples to the current situation to see what has changed beyond recognition and can no longer be evaluated following the same approach, and what remains exactly the same.

    It was also another reminder for me about how far away was Russian Bolshevism from the Western socialism. It is a pity too many modern left-wing politicians find inspiration in Chinese, Soviet or Venezuela atrocious regimes instead of in their own past, certainly not ideal but excellent in comparison.

  • Submission by Michel Houellebecq (clippings) - I found that scandalous novel much less Islamophobic than I expected from random reviews. Actually, there are very few negative statements, if any, it makes about Islamic society - it is rather pictured as a blind 'force of nature' filling out the volume made empty by 'degenerative West'. The protagonist is a typical anti-Western propaganda figure: a middle-aged single male working in a useless industry, incapable of a long-term relationship and at the same time obsessed with sex which he mostly gets through exploiting his position of power.

    I disagree with this message and Houellebecq's view of the modern European and Islamic societies, but he is a good writer and even though I was reading the translation, the language was good and the plot development was okay. What's more to expect from fiction.

  • How Meteors Hit the Ground by Geoffrey Higges (clippings) - another book only interesting to aviation geeks, this time a very short one. It is basically a list of the design flaws of Gloster Meteor aircraft, the first fighter jet that entered mass production (no, it wasn't a German one). It stayed in use after WW2 as well (not only in Britain), but even after a number of improvements Meteor remained a demanding machine to maintain and to control. E.g. in 1952 (the year the author served in his Meteor squadron) a Meteor pilot was killed every four days.

  • The Arrows of Time by Greg Egan - including this book in the list is cheating because I only started reading it in 2015 and am still only 25% through it. The last book in Orthogonal trilogy, it is to the first two books what they all together are to the rest of Greg Egan's books, and also what Greg Egan's books are to the rest of sci-fi. In other words, it is Greg Egan on steroids with even more science of his world involved which makes it quite difficult to understand. So far there has been very little literature but a plenty of alternative physics, and I suspect it is going to stay like this.

    I wrote about the previous (second) volume in my last post, so you can read it if you are interested.

This seems to be it for 2015. Have a good year, everyone.

comments powered by Disqus