Book Reviews from 2019

I am reformatting my Bookshelf page and I decided that I would move my reflections on the books I had read to blog posts so that I could keep the Bookshelf list of titles clean and easy to scan. Here are 3 reflections on books that I read in 2019.

  • Educated by Tara Westover – This book has skyrocketed to my top 5 favorite books of all time. Westover describes her upbringing in rural Idaho, cut off by her zealous parents from public education and modern medicine, and the journey she took to become a Cambridge-educated historian. Westover also describes the terrible abuse she suffered at the hands of an older brother, and the heart-wrenching decision she took to separate from her family when they would not acknowledge the wrongness of her brother’s actions. These storylines made for a thrilling read that I obsessively returned to every evening, but what I appreciated most about this book was the prose itself. Westover describes herself at one point in the book as someone with a quiet, mature perspective on the events around her, and that emerges powerfully in her writing. She articulated things that I have always known to be true, but have never been able to speak aloud. She analyzed and synthesized the events of her childhood into universal lessons that were as true for me as they were for her. I admire Westover’s ability to review the dramatic moments of her life, to understand them without judgement, and to find the answers in herself for how she would respond to them. I will probably start re-reading this book immediately now that I have finished it.

  • I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzai with Christina Lamb – We have all heard about Malala, the girl who was shot by the Taliban for being an outspoken advocate for educating women in Pakistan. She is the youngest recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize and continues to be a passionate defender of the right to education for women, even though she and her family were forced to relocate to the UK after the attack. I was inspired by her clear-eyed and determined arguments for educating women in her book; I also enjoyed having a glimpse into life in rural Pakistan as told by a native who was my own age. The book opens with Malala’s family history and travels forwards in time to the moment she was shot in the face in 2012. Along the way, we learn about the food Malala’s family eats, we see the mountains and the rivers through her eyes, we travel to Islamabad and see it as the metropolis that it is in comparison with Swat, where Malala lives. Years ago I read several of Christina Lamb’s books on the region - The Sewing Circles of Herat and Goodbye Kabul - and thoroughly enjoyed them. However, neither had quite the same flavor as Malala’s writings, since Christina is still an outsider like me whereas Malala is a born, proud Pakistani woman who enjoys sharing her culture with the reader. Moreover, Malala is my contemporary and it is both jarring and hilarious to encounter references to the Twilight books - books I also was obsessed with at the same time, but oceans away, in North America. Even if you already know the story of the Taliban attack on Malala, I would still highly recommend reading this book so that you can discover the vibrant world that Malala comes from, and the drive behind her campaign for educating women globally.

  • The Hardware Hacker by Andrew “bunnie” Huang – A thoughtful, wide-ranging exploration of different topics from engineering, biology and manufacturing. I loved the author’s willingness to ask questions and investigate - his curiosity is infectious and it also pays off in a very well written, informative book. I would recommend this book to anyone interested in manufacturing, China as an industrial giant, open source legal issues, detective work and looking at DNA as a computer program.

Written on June 7, 2020