2013: The Reading Recap

As was the case last year, 2013 was another 365 days full of reading. This year, I managed to get through 38 books, or one book every week and a half. I read as a way to both keep up-to-date on what’s happening in the world, and explore specific topics that really interest me. Below is the full list of the books - my favorite titles are in bold font, and I’ve included some of their most striking quotes in-line with the list. Up top is a collage of every book, just mouse over it to see larger pictures of each cover. With no further introduction needed, let’s get into the list!

Strategic Vision: America and the Crisis of Global Power by Zbigniew Brzezinski

The high frequency of power shifts signals a historical acceleration in the changing distribution of global power… The fact that the West remained globally dominant during the entire twentieth century should not obscure the fact that conflicts within the West undermined its once-dominant position.

China Airborne by James Fallows

Simply building China’s new cities will account for around 20 percent of global energy consumption and up to one-quarter of growth in oil demand over the next decade.

Startup Rising: the Entrepreneurial Revolution Remaking the Middle East by Christopher Schroeder

One can’t be an island of excellence in an ocean of turbulence. We are living in an increasingly interconnected and complex world - where problems in the Eurozone and the U.S. could end up resulting in what IMF president Christine Lagarde called the lost decade.

Mastery by Robert Greene

To learn requires a sense of humility. We must admit that there are people out there who know our field much more deeply than we do. Their superiority is not a function of natural talent or privilege, but rather of time and experience.

Abundance: The Future is Better than You Think by Peter Diamandis

To understand One Planet Living (OPL), Witherspoon explained, I first had to understand three facts. Fact one: Currently humanity uses 30 percent more of our planet’s natural resources than we can replace. Fact two: If everyone on this planet wanted to live with the lifestyle of the average European, we would need three planets’ worth of resources to pull it off. Fact three: If everyone on this planet wished to live like an average North American, then we’d need five planets to pull it off. OPL, then, is a global initiative meant to combat these shortages.

On China by Henry Kissinger

It is one of history’s ironies that Communism, advertised as a classless society, tended to breed a privileged class of feudal proportions… In his essay, ‘Perpetual Peace,’ the philosopher, Immanuel Kant, argued that perpetual peace would eventually come to the world in one of two ways, by human insight or by conflicts and catastrophes of a magnitude that left humanity no other choice. We are at such a juncture.

King Leopold’s Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror, and Heroism in Colonial Africa by Adam Hochschild

When Leopold wrote that the precise boundaries of the new state or states would be defined later, [German Chancellor] Bismarck said to an aide, ‘His Majesty displays the pretensions and naive selfishness of an Italian who considers that his charm and good looks will enable him to get away with anything.’

Travels in Siberia by Ian Frazier

To say that Russia was larger than the full moon sounded impressive, and had an echo of poetry, and poetry creates empires.

A Perfect Spy by John Le Carré

Ideals are like the stars. We cannot reach them, but we are enriched by their presence.

He was learning to live on several planes at once. The art of it was to forget everything except the ground you stood on and the face you spoke from at that moment.

Sometimes we have to do a thing in order to find out the reason for it. Sometimes our actions are questions, not answers.

The Great War for Civilisation: The Conquest of the Middle East by Robert Fisk

Strike against Terror. Victory over Terror. War on Terror. Everlasting War on Terror. Rarely in history have soldiers and journalists and presidents and kings aligned themselves in such thoughtless, unquestioning ranks.

China’s Superbank: Debt, Oil, and Influence - How China Development Bank is Rewriting the Rules of Finance by Michael Forsythe and Henry Sanderson

The Fate of Africa by Martin Meredith

The Way of the Knife by Mark Mazzetti 

The Singapore Story by Lee Kuan Yew

Insights on China, the United States, and the World by Lee Kuan Yew

Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength by Roy Baumeister

Dark Star Safari: Overland from Cairo to Cape Town by Paul Theroux

The Tower of Basel: The Bank for International Settlements by Adam Lebor

The Hidden Reality: Parallel Universes and the Deep Laws of the Cosmos by Brian Greene

The Magnetic North: Notes from The Arctic Circle by Sara Wheeler

The Offshore Renminbi by Robert Minikin and Kelvin Lau

Pakistan: A Hard Country by Anatol Lieven

The Visual Display of Quantitative Information by Edward R. Tufte

Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan

Innovation X by Adam Richardson

Cleopatra: a Life by Stacy Schiff

The Soros Lectures: at Central European University by George Soros

Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed by Jared Diamond

Body of Secrets by James Bamford

The End of Cheap China by Shaun Rein

The Bin Ladens: An Arabian Family in the American Century by Steve Coll

I’m Feeling Lucky by Douglas Edwards

Dirty Wars: The World is a Battlefield by Jeremy Scahill

Taipei by Tao Lin

The 4 Hour Chef by Tim Ferriss

Remote: Office Not Required by David Hansson

The Imperial Cruise by James Bradley

The Dead Hand: The Untold Story of the Cold War Arms Race and its Dangerous Legacy by David Hoffman

09:25 am, by jonbrown  Comments

Drone On

This weekend, I made a quick trip down to San Antonio to visit my grandparents, and had a good time flying a drone for the first time. My grandpa, who always seems to have the latest and greatest gadgets, recently outdid himself by getting a drone. That’s right, drones are for normal people too, not just power-hungry governments. This one in particular had GPS tracking, an HD video camera, and great stabilization technology. What’s even cooler is that it can be flown using an iPhone.


Flying this thing with my own two hands was really fun, and also made me think. Drones are being used more and more in the United States for various purposes, and it’s surprising more is not being said about this significant change in how we interact with such technology. Most people are indifferent or ignorant in regards to how drones can (or are) being used to invade privacy - and in some countries, take lives. That said, I think it would be interesting to conduct a social experiment that would proceed in the following fashion:

Go to a public space (a park, town square, etc), set up the drone in an unobtrusive “takeoff point”, and conceal yourself somewhere so that it will not be apparent to onlookers who is flying the machine. Then, begin to fly the drone around at various altitudes, focusing in on certain people while capturing their reactions using the built-in video camera. My hypothesis is that people would react with confusion, perhaps curiosity, and in some cases, anger. In any case, this would be an interesting case study - not to mention a potentially very entertaining and educational video. Thinking about this reminded me of a drone captured on video in Geneva last year:

It’s interesting to ponder how society will be impacted by the ascendance of automated technology including, but not limited to, drones and other autonomous aircraft. It’s worth viewing this inevitable scenario not through our own eyes, but through the eyes of the machines we have created - a perspective that may prove to be just as unsettling as it is necessary.

06:29 pm, by jonbrown  Comments

America is still great. Let’s fight to keep it that way. Happy Independence Day!

  09:24 am, by jonbrown 2  |  Comments

Go on, new Google Maps. Fuel the trip planning.

  08:25 pm, by jonbrown 2  |  Comments

Today, I made the 1 hour drive from Lake Tekapo to Mount Cook Village to begin 2 days of hiking and climbing in the Southern Alps. Upon arriving at Mount Cook Village, I notified the Department of Conservation of my intent to summit Mount Ollivier and spend 1 night at Mueller Hut, a mountain shelter nestled in between Mount Ollivier and Mount Sefton. At 8,000 feet, Mount Ollivier was the first mountain climbed by Sir Edmund Hillary, who then went on to be the first person to summit Everest. Aside from this historical element, the mountain has a lot going for it – it’s located amidst beautiful scenery, is a moderately difficult climb (>45 degree grade for more than 50% of the climb, and no trail whatsoever for the 2500 feet leading up to the summit, and has great views of the legendary Mount Cook. I began climbing around 9am by following the Sealy Tarns trail halfway up the mountain. The Department of Conservation did a great job with this section of the trail, carving 1810 steps right into the mountain. The steps are pretty steep, so even the first half of the climb was pretty strenuous. Around the halfway point, the steps vanish and the climb turns into flat-out climbing, orientated by following willow wands (brightly colored markers) placed on the mountain slope.

The climbing was not overly technical (ie. no ropes), but I had to take care going up as the cliffs were entirely exposed and even a little slip could have resulted in a very, very long fall. Thankfully, I made it to the summit of Mt. Ollivier safely, and descended in the afternoon to the mountain hut around 7,000 feet, where I stayed overnight. This was one of my favorite parts of the trip, as I got to meet a lot of really interesting people (I spent 3 hours alone just playing Yahtzee with some engineers who were on vacation from their full-time jobs in Antarctica). While up in the clouds, I witnessed what is probably the most beautiful sunset and sunrise I’ve ever seen in my life. The morning and evening colors were incredibly vibrant! In the morning, I made a quick 4-hour descent to my car, and began the long drive north to Akaroa.

01:19 pm, by jonbrown 1  |  Comments