Recently Read #1

alt text Photo by Kimberly Farmer on Unsplash

Intro

Recently I took a holiday which allowed me to catch up on some books. I’ve mostly been a non-fiction reader, but lately, I tucked my teeth into the massive novel Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand. It’s easily the longest novel I read in the last few years.

However, most of the recent books I enjoyed were non-fiction.

How to Avoid Climate Disaster by Bill Gates

Why I wanted to read It?

Even though I’ve heard about climate change since I was young(over 20 years ago), I never had someone explain the numbers. I always wanted to know what noise to cut through to understand the core problem. If you wish for a holistic view on climate change, then this is a good book. It does not focus on one area of human activity, such as eating meat or driving but covers many different areas.

What I Learned?

There is one important number to know. 

51 billion. 
This is how many tons of greenhouse equivalent gases are added to the planet each year. We have to get this number to zero. The breakdown of this number would surprise you. I assumed electricity and transport were the main culprits. However, Gates breaks it down is as follows.

  • Making things(cement, steel, plastic) 31%
  • Electricity 27%
  • Growing Things(plants, animals) 19%
  • Getting around (cars, planes, trucks, cargo ships) 16%
  • Keeping warm and cool(heating, cooling, refrigeration) 7%

The other thing I learned is that we can do this. As individuals, communities, entrepreneurs, and nations, we can do this, but it will take work and innovations in lots of different areas. 

Another interesting concept I learned from this book is that adopting a greener solution sometimes requires a green premium. This means we may pay extra if we pursue a green solution over the alternative. For example, changing a country from burning coal for electricity to wind may increase everyone’s electricity bill to account for the infrastructure involved.

It can also work the other way. Some solutions save money. For example, suppose more cities adopt cycling and pedestrian infrastructure first. In that case, they will save on road maintenance as car infrastructure is one of the most expensive parts of running a city.

Read if

You want a broader understanding of climate change with some numbers thrown in. The book is pretty unbiased. Gates is relatively moderate in his approach, which I appreciate compared to the general media’s constant polarising by special interest groups.

Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand

Why I wanted to read It?

One of my favourite games is called Bioshock. The game’s set at the bottom of the sea in a city called Rapture, built by Andrew Ryan. Andrew Ryan sought to create a society free from laws and religion so capitalism and human endeavour could progress uninterrupted. He is the main antagonist of the game and produces some of the most memorable quotes in gaming. Take this quote which somewhat sums up why Ryan built Rapture away from normal civilization.

Lacking its own ingenuity, the parasite fears the visionary. What it cannot plagiarize, it seeks to censor. What it cannot regulate, it seeks to ban.

Ayn Rand calls the parasites ‘looters’ in Atlas Shrugged, but it’s effectively the same thing.

Bioshock is one of my favourite games, and when I heard that this book largely inspired it, I had to read it. 

Ayn Rand is quite a polarizing character. Her books and ideas have been met with both scorn and fevered admiration.

What I Learned

I joke that this is the most exciting book about building a railway line ever created. 


This book is fictional, but it was written midway during the Cold War. Ayn Rand’s attempt to explain her right-wing philosophy that champions brilliant individualism, competition, and objectivity. It’s fascinating to see the fears of communism explained in a gripping story as America is slowly succumbed to becoming a People’s State where the country becomes a more centrally planned economy. The book is over 1100 pages, so I’m not going to do it justice in a blog post.

Suffice it to say; I love reading books that are so divisive. This book is probably the best way for me to understand the culture of America during the Cold War. Reading the source is also my preferred way of #learning about a particular brand of philosophy.

Read if

I won’t recommend this book unless you’re pretty centrist. What I mean by centrist is that you see value in both left and right-wing ideas but believe extreme in each is silly. If you’re open-minded and have the time, it’s an enjoyable read. Any entrepreneur can relate to the nefarious and sometimes dubious bureaucracy that government can place on you. However, there are some parts of the book that made my eyes roll. If you identify heavily as left-wing or right-wing, I do not recommend it because you will only see what you want to see as your worldview is anchored.

Rand is a terrific writer. Somehow, she was able to get me to read over 1100 pages of a philosophy that I don’t entirely agree with. Rand is a champion of the free market with little to no government interference. Still, if you’re European with access to affordable healthcare, free-roaming, GDPR laws to protect our privacy, free education and much more, the free market of America doesn’t look that great. Breaking Bad, a show about a man dying from cancer turning to crime to fund his treatment, could not be set in Europe. So I’ll stick to my socialism, thanks. 

We see what happens when companies have too much power. Apple and Google extract 30% tax from developers despite the lack of value-added to justify the 30%. Amazon undercuts at a loss to usurp would-be competitors, and oil companies flouted their moral obligation to man-kind to make a quick buck. Maybe if Rand were about a fair market, not a free market, I would agree with her more.

Amusing Ourselves to Death by Neil Postman

Why I wanted to read It?

If you would like to learn precisely how TV changed the minds of a nation, then this may be the book for you. If you also want some clues to the future of what social media is doing to us, this book provides some hints.

This book espouses the values of a ‘typographic mind’ and culture. Amusing Ourselves to Death was written in 1986, but if written today, replacing the word TV with the internet, it would still be relevant.

What I Learned

The book is laid out in 2 parts. In the first part, Postman lays down the argument for why reading is different from watching television, the benefits of reading, and how it differs from watching. When reading, we pay attention, reflect on what was said and then ponder it afterwards. The same is not of television.

In the second part of the book, Postman then talks about the effects of television on a nation. How politicians went from speeches to entertainment, preachers became televangelists, and even TV education has morphed children from active learners to passive observers.

Early America had an unusually high literacy rate compared to other nations of that time. In many ways, before the American Revolution, America was a land of intellectuals where key figures used long-form speeches, books and reading to get their points across. Their intellect would have been examined under scrutiny by the public as they had access to all these printed materials, and reading was the primary form of leisure. The written word forced influential people to think through their ideas as they wrote them down. The opinions presented had to be logical and coherent.

Contrast this with today, where key figures use a combination of camera tricks, good looks and clever editing to entertain to influence.

Postman thinks the 1980s was closer to the book Brave New World instead of 1984. Brave New World describes how the public is so distracted that they do not notice the authoritarian world they occupy. 1984 represents a world where surveillance and misinformation are used to control society.

If Postman lived till 2021, he would see that Huxley and Orwell were both half right.

Read If

If you find it hard to explain why you should read, this is a good book. If you want a hint as to the effects websites such as YouTube, Twitter, Tiktok et al., then look no further.

However, this book does not use science or statistics. Instead, it relies on some intellectual arguments.

Deep Sea and Foreign Going by Rose George

Why I wanted to read It?

Rose George is easily one of my favourite authors. She explores topics that are big yet are somehow out of our sight. This book is no exception. Having read The Big Necessity(a book about the world of poo) and Nine Pints(about the world of blood), I was excited to read more of her work.

My knowledge of the physical movement of goods around the world is lacking. When I look around my desk, most of the stuff comes from abroad. I have only one item on my desk that was made in Ireland.

What I learned

In the book, she is travelling on a Maersk ship which is a company only is only slightly smaller than Microsoft. About 100K ships ship nearly everything you see around you. I doubt many people have heard of them, but they make about 20% of Danish GDP, which is crazy when you think about it.

There is also no manifest on board that matches what’s on the ship. I always assumed nearly everything was accounted for, but this is not the case. Ships are only aware of potentially hazardous materials such as chemicals and bombs. No country scans vessels to prevent illegal goods such as drugs from being shipped because it would slow down trade. Since countries grow when trade is increased, there is no incentive to add this security.

The Suez Canal takes ten days off the trip to the south because it cuts through the continent. It’s easily worth more than $3 Billion to the Egyptian government each year.

Piracy is still a problem. Somalian pirates can make more from one pirate job than they can from a lifetime of work in Somalia.

The book is packed with even more exciting nuances exploring law and crime at sea, the labour on board and just how boring life can be.

Read If

Do you ever wonder how stuff gets to your home? The answer is shipping. If you wanted to learn more about this hidden yet important industry, this is a great place to start. It touches on many aspects of shipping, and if you like learning new facts, this is a great place to start. 



Shipping has a lot of challenges ahead. We have to modernize a lot of ships to be more environmentally friendly. If you want to know how we’re going to do that, it’s good to understand more about the industry.

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