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Author: Jared Diamond
Rating: ★★★★½

The author sets off to answer one of the most challenging questions about human history, why did human civilizations become so diversified in their forms, and especially why did they develop in such different pace? Why is it countries in the Eurasian continent that dominated civilizations in other region? Dr. Diamond presents a lot of researches, data and diagrams to support his conclusion, however, this is more of a logic book than a historical book to me. I have never read a book with such a rigorous reasoning that demands a vast amount of critical thinking, at the same time keep me intrigued and reading more.

The conclusions should only be applied to the large scale, the entire history of human development in the past tens of thousands of years. It is certainly tempting to derive certain explanation based on the recent history of the last several hundred years, but the results will be far less convincing.

Author: Mark Miodownik
Rating: ★★★☆☆

A fun reading about the modern materials around us.

Author: Serhii Plokhy
Rating: ★★★★☆

The author uses the first-hand materials and previous classified documents to outline a series of events between the failed coup in August 1991 and the collapse of the Soviet Union by the end of the year. He reveals that financial difficulties and independent movements were the major drivers that crumbled the empire in a unthinkable pace, and Bush’s administration was actually trying to keep the Soviet Union alive longer. Sometimes, the history just cannot be designed.

Author: Peter Frankopan
Rating: ★★★★☆

An epic view of the place between the east and the west, the place that has been the center of the world for thousands of years, connected by the trade and fought by the powers, where the civilizations met and collided. I wish the author had more materials to cover the further east where the Silk Road starts, China.

Author: Amy E. Herman
Rating: ★★½☆☆

It’s a unique approach teaching people how to see and communicate effectively by studying works of art, and it’s practically useful to apply these skills to the everyday life no matter what your occupation is. However, the originality cannot support entire 300+ pages. In a lot of sections, the author keeps offering anecdotes as testimonials to back her lengthy advice, obviously good advice but common senses as well. I’d hope the length of the book could be cut in half or include more drawings, which are the most interesting.

Author: Yuval Noah Harari
Rating: ★★★★☆

Author: Cixin Liu
Rating: ★★★★★


Author: Andy Weir
Rating: ★★★★☆

Mark Watney is left on Mars by himself due to a dust storm. For the next 550 sols, he has to find ways to survive, solving problems, beating the odds, being healthy and positive. Luckily, Watney is a resourceful and creative man, and he has whole world at his back.

Mark Watney is a Crusoe of the future, and the book is a science fiction of the future too. Lavish in meticulous technical details without losing the pace of story narrative, even for me, as a mostly non-fiction reader, find the book intriguing and inspiring.

Author: Roland Huntford
Rating: ★★★★½

I saw this book in the library on our cruise ship to Antarctica. I bought the book after we came back from the trip and have been reading it on and off for the next one and half years.

Although Amundsen was the first to reach the south pole, his seemingly uneventful journey was less talked about and largely forgotten by the public; instead, the one who lost the race, Scott, earned more long lasting status. On one hand, Scott was a British, England has much stronger culture influence than Norway, where Amundsen came from. On the other hand, it seems it’s a typical phenomena that the only way to beat a winner is being a tragic hero. (The author implies that this was indeed what Scott intended to do.)

Mr. Huntford is set to correct this thought in most people’s mind by telling what really happened in the heroic age of Antarctic exploration and who these two persons truly are. Amundsen was an open-minded, passionate and prudent leader, his trip was well prepared in every detail; on the contrary, Scott was depicted as an insecure, inapproachable and unprepared person who ultimately unqualified to carry out the task.

I can’t say if the author’s view is too much biased, but the fact is, it’s not just one but a series of failures in Scott’s plan that not only lead to loss of the race but also costed lives of his whole team. It’s more than just weather and unluckiness should be blamed.

Amundsen’s own words best summarize his success.

I may say that this is the greatest factor—the way in which the expedition is equipped—the way in which every difficulty is foreseen, and precautions taken for meeting or avoiding it. Victory awaits him who has everything in order — luck, people call it. Defeat is certain for him who has neglected to take the necessary precautions in time; this is called bad luck.