Book review time: Homo Deus

Homo Deus: A Brief History of TomorrowHomo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow by Yuval Noah Harari
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It has been a very long time since my last book review. Heck, since I last wrote in this blog. But better get restarted.

This book was a Christmas gift, from one of my best friends. He strongly recommended it, as a very insightful read. Have to admit, it has been in my “to-read” pile of books for a while. And as it is a hard copy, it is harder to carry this brick on the train.

The style of Mr. Harari is superb. You can tell this man has written a lot of high quality text throughout his academic career (he holds a PhD from the University of Oxford). It is crisp and concise, and gets the point with perfect examples.

The main objective of the text is to start from the premise that humanity succeeded during the 20th century to overcome famine, war and plague (as a whole, and in the grand scheme of things).
Then the question arises: what comes ahead? Lots of ideas from Mr. Harari flow through the text.

He argues that algorithms, AI, machine learning, genomics, bio engineering will have a huge role to play on it. The examples for these scenarios are alright (I guess), but in my opinion a bit vague, and sometimes lack plausibility because lack of detail. Perhaps that is the engineering mind in me wanting more specifics. Probably too many hardcore science fiction for me!

Another negative point for me was that I am tired of hearing these “catchy” and trendy tech words in the CS/engineering circles, Silicon Valley, Twitter feeds, etc. It seems nowadays it is in everyones’ mouths, and it is a bit too much. I have my opinion on this subject, but that is for another post!

All in all, and despite the above, I do highly recommend this book to all people interested in history, humankind, philosophy and more. It delivers. And all the claims and quoted studies are heavily cited and quoted, so you are free to thread deeper in to the details!

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Book review time: American Gods

American GodsAmerican Gods by Neil Gaiman

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Neil Gaiman came to my attention many years ago through the excellent Sandman comic books. Since then, I read his Neverwhere novel, and although I consider myself a big fantasy/sci-fi reader, I wasn’t convinced. That booked lacked in my opinion a lot of the characters that made Mr. Gaiman’s Sandman excellent.

Luckily, there are second chances. And this one came through a discounted Amazon kindle edition. I had to fight a bit to get the book into my kobo reader (DRM protection, why?). In any case, after some fiddling, and probably doing some illegal stuff with my calibre copy, I was able to have (the legally purchased book) on my kobo!
And OMG did I read it fast. And enjoy it. Shadow, the main character, was a much Gaiman one. The story itself talks about gods, their meaning, mythology, religion, etc. And as every excellent genre book, arouse a lot of questions transferable to the “real” life (whatever that means) from the fantasical story. Another good example of such a case is in my opinion Foundation, by Asimov, where you can learn and think quite a bit about sociology from a fictional universe. Or Game of Thrones, where you can learn some about politics.

The best part of all? Neil Gaiman is British, and he completely captured the American spirit and culture. And one of the biggest struggles associated with the USA: immigration. And the fact that nobody is truly American, but descendant of European/African/Asian immigrants. This topic was, in my opinion, very well covered. And is also one that truly trascends time.

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Book review time: Start-up Nation

Start-up Nation: The Story of Israel's Economic MiracleStart-up Nation: The Story of Israel’s Economic Miracle by Dan Senor

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I read this one pretty fast.
To be honest, I was (am?) a complete disaster when it comes to Middle East contemporary history, Israel included. All my previous knowledge comes from scouring through a couple of Wikipedia articles and watching Waltz with Bashir (if you haven’t seen that movie, shame on you!).

In any case, a book with the catchy premise this one had really caught my attention. And it delivered. The facts were really well researched, and helped to throw some light on why a handful of circumstances have led Israel to be a start-up/venture capital/patents reference. I really wish my home country (Spain) could learn some lessons from the Israeli model.

The only point I don’t fully 100% agree is the need of a strong military/defense plan for a country to strive for innovation. The USA/USSR and their history prove me wrong once again, as does Israel. But I truly wish to believe that there is another way to foster R&D at gigantic steps, at a national level.
With what I do agree (and I know it might be controversial) is the need of a good down to Earth education before college. In Israel’s case, it is the IDF. In my case, it was elite basketball training during high-school, and the private high-school I attended. Those experiences, abilities learned, and networks developed have proven to be key in my adult life so far.

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