I love reading books. Books are a unique form of information. An article purpose is to dwell into a particular topic and cover as best as possible in the least words possible. The shorter and more to the point an article, the better. This applies to newspapers, blogs, magazines or Wikipedia. The same could be said to apply to videos and how-tos. No one watches a 3-hour video tutorial and much less a 10 pages article.
A book is a completely different form of in delivering information, it usually covers a much wider topic and usually a book’s purpose is to try and go as deep as possible into such topic, explaining many things that have an effect on the topic. A book covers so much more ground than any other information medium, it can contain knowledge and wisdom. People pour their souls on books and you take part of their souls forever with you.
I record all the books I read in Goodreads, a “social media” of books. In 2015 I read a total of 56 books, some of them absolutely amazing and some of them not so much, in overall it was a productive year for reading.
This year I was more focused on reading non-fiction, on learning and improving, and when it came to fiction, I read only the classics, acclaimed books that have survived the test of time. Surprisingly I learned as much from the fiction books I read than from the non-fiction ones.
Here are my top 10 books of 2016.
A quick extra: 11) Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series by Douglas Adams. (4 books)
I’ve never seen (and I doubt I ever will) such nonsense that, somehow, makes sense in a book. You are taken on a unique journey by Douglas Adams, one in which North is East and West is fish, who knows what South is. Every single paragraph was nonsense followed by even more nonsense followed by two or three sentences of the story, giving sense to all these nonsensical nonsense. Somehow you can actually feel there is a story in there and a really good one at that. I can remember vividly a lot of the scenarios and plot twists of the book because of their uniqueness.
What did I learn from this classic?
You don’t have to follow the rules to create something wonderful. Douglas Adams is considered by many as a top writer, and he is. And of course:
The answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe and everything, is, 42.
10) “A Brief History of Time” by Stephen Hawking
A classic in popular science literature, Stephen Hawking accomplished something truly fantastic, to compress a lot of the history and knowledge we’ve gathered about science into a medium sized book, while making most of it easy to understand by a layman.
Reading A Brief History of Time was nothing short of delightful for my geek brain, I had already learned about 50% of the book, Newtonian physics, Maxwell’s equations, electromagnetism, Einstein’s theory of relativity and the such; 25% of it I’ve heard of but not in detail; the last 25% was simply mind boggling. The book starts soft, with
The book starts soft, with Newtonian physics we’re all familiar with, slowly moving to more advanced theories and findings while explaining why each theory was important and how each new finding was building up on top of previous discoveries and observations.
It was fantastic to read such a shortened and easy to digest version of the history of science, with just enough technicalities to remain engaging but not overwhelming. It all changed, however, when it came to that last mind boggling 25% of the book, in which Hawkings tries to engage in a truly remarkable journey, to explain quantum mechanics, along with the theories that we currently have about how the universe was formed.
“If you think you understand quantum mechanics, you don’t understand quantum mechanics.” – Richard Feynman
What did I learn from this book?
Science is fun when explained correctly and everyone is interested in understanding the universe we live in.
If you love science and want to read science best-selling book (which is not common), go give this a try, you won’t regret it. Plus the book is filled with beautiful quotes.
“The increase of disorder or entropy is what distinguishes the past from the future, giving a direction to time.”
9) “Capital in the Twenty-First Century” by Thomas Piketty
A gigantic 700 pages economics book that becomes 26 hours of listening as an audio book. It translated into hours of making myself more acquainted with the history of money, social equality and economics than I’ve ever been in my whole life.
The book is boring compared to the other 9 in this list, but if you wish to learn about capital, money, social movements, and that led to the most egalitarian society humanity has ever seen, this is the book for you.
Piketty is the middle of the expert or normal person spectrum, taking his time to explain each equation and its implications so anyone (that pays attention) can follow him through his tale. The book is, against all odds, a best seller. A lot of people such as myself decided to read it, even though Piketty himself created it with a much more academic idea. In fact, the book is not so biased, it’s common for economists to have strong biases towards one methodology or theory, Piketty tries to base his theories on data, rather than bias.
The title of the book might be misleading as most of it takes before the 21st century. It explains all the intricacies of economic policies, movements of capital, and social hierarchies, along with the slow changes in the world’s dynamics towards capital from the 18th century until now. All these information is necessary to illustrate how the world we currently live in is extremely rich and unique when compared to most of our history.
We’ve experienced an unprecedented global growth but we miss to acknowledge the reality that we might be creating single-individual powers. Humans so incredibly wealthy that their capital is bigger than the capital of many countries. These individuals withhold power to shape society than big chunks of society, and they alone can change the course of history. Our lack of knowledge and understanding about this is shameful.
What did I learn from this book?
We’re living in the best human era, we’re more wealthy than ever before, capable of achievening greatness by our labour alone, something unthinkable in the days of old. But we have to be careful, we might be dooming our own future with so much wealth.
“For millions of people, “wealth” amounts to little more than a few weeks’ wages in a checking account or low-interest savings account, a car, and a few pieces of furniture. The inescapable reality is this: wealth is so concentrated that a large segment of society is virtually unaware of its existence, so that some people imagine that it belongs to surreal or mysterious entities. That is why it is so essential to study capital and its distribution in a methodical, systematic way.”
― Thomas Piketty,
8) “Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World” by Jack Weatherford
Everyone loves the sense of surprise, the feeling of adventure and the ability to discover the unkown. That’s why we study the universe, the stars, our ancient history.
For most of our history since Genghis Khan death in 1227, he was mostly an unkown figure, his life and achivements lost in the midts of time. The west came to see him as a barbaric lord who reighned with a blood fist, destroying anything that stood in his way, raping, killing, stealing, breaking havoc wherever he could.
Doctors started to blame the short-lived mongolian invasion of Genghis Khan into Europe as the cause of mental illnesses. Calling retarded children “Mongolics” as to connect their state with the cause, an ancestor raped by mongols.
It’s not hard to see why Europe came to hate the mongols, they appeared suddenly from the East and started to savage the land, eventually leaving because “Europe was not as wealthy as Asia”. Genghis Khan was dissapointed by the lack of treasure found in Europe in comparison to his invasion of Asia, from which he based the creation of his whole empire.
What is remarkable about this book is that Genghis Khan was not a savage, he was a just, highly intelligent and accepting man, for what history can tell us, he created the most openly minded, free and lawful cities, comparable only to our modern cities.
If you can’t swallow your pride, you can’t lead. Even the highest mountain had animals that step on it.
He put in place an strict set of rules to gobern the empire by, connected all of his conquered cities to each other by trading routes, protected all his land while allowing each individual territory to maintain their culture and even their laws if they were smart enough not to fight back. All these for the cost of taxes.
Genghis Khan improved commerce and created one of the most advanced paper-money and loan systems of the old ages, accepting money through his empire using nothing more than the empire currency. The city state of the empire was known for its openness, all kinds of cultures and races roamed free, there was no “official” religion or race, all were accepted. Everyone knew the Mongols were the rulers though, and they continued to be until the fall of the empire caused by decendants of Genghis Khan fighting over the highest throne.
The accomplishments of Genghis Khan were many, and this is beautiful book explains it all, it shows you who this unknown man was and how he managed to single-handedly conquer and create the biggest empire in human history, in a time when traveling was made with horses, an empire topped only by the British empire which, by any measures, was not built by one man alone.
What did I learn from the greatest conqueror of all time?
Our history might be completely wrong, even today a lot of what we consider settled could be wrong, we seem to believe we know our past but in truth we don’t. Through this book I remembered how much I loved to be surprised by what I’m learning.
7) “How to Win Friends and Influence People” by Dale Carnegie
An actual book that has been called “the classic that changed the way North America behaves”. First published in 1936 and with a somewhat strange title, this is by far the best book on business and human behavior I’ve read.
It isn’t what you have or who you are or where you are or what you are doing that makes you happy or unhappy. It is what you think about it.
The book is in itself a book of tales, filled with stories of success by people applying the simple yet effective practices outlined in the book. I would summarise it in: truly appreciate others and show it to them!
Even though Carniage uses the words like win and influence people, it teaches a way of living rather than a way of deceiving. By winning Carnegie refers to make a connection through real and emotional apppreciation of others, and for influence he means emphatise with others to make both parties win.. Still, it is filled with gold. Silly yet undone things
Smile more often, praise others for a job well done, never critizise, show appreciation, be more expressive of positive feelings, be more emphatetic, create rapport through tales, focus on the other person’s interest, remember people names, listen carefully. These are all recommendations made in the book, and who doesn’t like being appreciated and someone who pays attention when you talk?
Don’t be afraid of enemies who attack you. Be afraid of the friends who flatter you
Sound like things we all know are good, right? But how many of us does actually apply all these on a daily basis? I know I don’t. These are just but a few.
What did I learn from Carnegei’s decades of experiencie?
Oh boy. Be good, be very good with others. That’s the best way you can ensure they will be good to you. We’re brough up rather harshly, most of us, but nice words and actions come a much longer way!
6) “dsd” by Peter Bevelin
We all wish to be wiser. The word itself “wisdom” can be understood in many ways. They say age brings wisdom, yet we see so many adults and even elders with a terrible lack of wisdom. We assume the years and experiences will make us wiser, but I don’t believe that’s the case. How then, did the wise people became wise?
Wisdom in this book is seen as knowledge of the world that leads to understanding of it and helps to have the correct mindset to make good decisions. I think that’s a really good definition of wisdom.Based on that definition, this book is absolutely packed with wisdom, it is a must re-read book for me.
Bevelin talks a lot about science, and as many other of my favorites books this year, applies it to every day life. When psycologists and economists where studying and “discovering” human behaviors that were surprising, people like Darwin and Munger, amongs many others, already had that wisdom and used it constantly. Things like incentives, which are only starting to be understood by behavioural economics, were long used by wise people to device plans that would not flop. I recently learned from “In the Plex: How Google Thinks” that the Google engineer who created the auction based system Google uses to price their Ads, thought about incentives when developing it. He changed the way the auction took place as to avoid the pitfall of people lowering their bids over time yet still winning. The buyers using his system ended up raising the prices naturally instead! All thanks to the understanding of human behavior.
I’ll leave here one of the stories that stuck with me, for example a police force in one of the US states, used to pay the retirement wage based on how many hours the officer worked in his last year of office, this lead to all the officers taking vacacion so the only officer retiering next year would have a tremendous amount of worked hours in his last year, irrealistically inflating his actual worked hours. Were the police officers corrupt? Kinda. Were they bad people? I doubt so. But the same, exact people wouldn’t do such a thing if the huge incentive to do it wasn’t there in the first place. You can’t hope for people to behave nicely when they can game the system, instead the system needs to be made in a way that is hard to be gamed in the first place. Good systems make good people.
What did I learn from many brilliant minds packed in a few hundred pages?
Wisdom is not adquired by age or by experience alone, but by hard mental work, studying and thinking about hard problems. Trying to understand our fellow men and the world we live in is what makes one wiser.
5) “Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman!: Adventures of a Curious Character” by Richard Feynman
Richard Feynman was an MIT graduate in theoretical psysics, he was much more than an incredibly bright mind, a winner of a nobel prize and part of the Manhattan Project which developed the nuclear bomb. He was also: a safe cracker master, bongo player, decent enough painter, pretty good with the ladies and a loved and bright teacher. Did I mention he won a nobel prize but didn’t want to receive it because it was “annoying”?
I’ve heard of Feynman before and I had seen him in old psycics or nature videos, explaining the world and stuff, the guy is famous! But I loved this book so much I had to read another one of his adventures compilation ” The Pleasure of Finding Things Out”. What a guy.
There are too many stories in the book for me to give even a glimpse here, but to summarise, Feynman was an ingeneous, clever yet playful guy, with a gigantic and curious brain. He reminded me that we should never lose our curiosity and that not everything is set in stone. Most things are more based in tradition rather tham in science.
You have no responsibility to live up to what other people think you ought to accomplish. I have no responsibility to be like they expect me to be. It’s their mistake, not my failing.
What did I learn about a bongo player, Nobel prize winner, atomic bomb, safe cracker, nut head?
SCIENCEEEEEEEEEEEE! And a lot of other equally important things, like not being a gentlemen to girls you like (read the book!) and having a healthy social responsibility to be disobedient.
4) “The Selfish Gene” by Richard Dawkins
Now we’re talking. The following books, including this one, have dramatically changed the way I see the world, and how much of it I understand.
Most of us were taught in school that our behavior is dictated by two factors, our genes and our environment. We’re created as a flexible mold thanks to our genes and the experiences we live through shape that mold. Certain things are very hard to change because they’re literally encoded inside of us, such as our desire for pleasure and the avoindance of pain. Our DNA is nothing but a huge set of instructions that define who we are; our hair, eyes, skin colour; our stature, memory, fitness; our inmune system and how likely we are to get certain diseases. Everything is encoded within us.
However, our DNA shapes much more than our body. In “The Selfish Gene”, Richard Dawkins explains how his theory of self interested genes explains most, if not all, the bahaviours we find in nature, including of course the behaviour of Humans. The book is one of best I’ve ever read, but be cautious, depending on your outlook of the world it might deeply affect you.
Dawkins demonstrates that most what we consider human or even what we think is unique to ourselves, is nothing more than our selfish genes creating the best possible survival machine, we’re but a carrier of complex genetic molecules and our purpose is nothing more than that of passing along those very molecules to the next generation. Our “altruistic” behaviours can be perfectly explained by selfishness, our cooperative nature as well. We’re but programmed machines that run mostly on a concious autopilot!
Sounds cold? Fear not. As Dawkins comments multiple times in the book, the fact that we use preservatives to prevent having offspring proves that we’re not totally under our genes’ control, as he convincingly argues, having a highly intelligent survival machine (a body) is extremely desirable for our genes, even if that allows us to prevent the decimination of our very genes.
Let us try to teach generosity and altruism, because we are born selfish. Let us understand what our own selfish genes are up to, because we may then at least have the chance to upset their designs, something that no other species has ever aspired to do
The book is filled with amazing explanations on how a selfish gene (gene referring to a group of genes rather than a specific solitary gene) can perfectly explain the variety of behaviours we see in nature, even the really unexpected ones.
What is most compelling in the book for me is the explanation Dawkins gives to seemingly altruistic behaviours, not only in humans but in the animal kingdom as such. Dawkins theory propones that in small communities, there is a high chance we’re related to whoever we happen to be “alstruistically” helping, therefore we (our genes) are actually helping another set of the same genes (another individual) survive longer and possibly reproduce. More importantly, cooperation leads to a higher survival of the genes within us. A gene that makes a wolf go solo will likely get him killed, and a gene that makes wolfs cooperate to hunt together will make them survive longer and reproduce, making cooperative genes spread better than lonely genes.
Something that is worth noting: the fact that Dawkin’s theory is a theory doesn’t mean it’s not true, as when people say that “evolution is just a theory”. The selfish gene theory has become one of the most accepted evolutionary theories out there since the publication of Dawkin’s book in 1976. A theory is a complex and throughout explanation of something with the ability to make correct predictions, not guesswork.
What did I learn from understanding how our genes shape us?
While for some people the book is a gruesome and almost evil revelation on how little our destiny is controlled by ourselves, for me it was liberating. To understand that most of the ilogical behaviour we see in others and in ourselves is not so ilogical after all but caused by our genes and almost unavoidable was eye opening. It makes me feel special, as not one soul shares or will ever share the same gene combination each one of us has, for good or bad.
3) “Misbehaving: The Making of Behavioral Economics” by Richard H. Thaler
If you’re slighly interested in psycology or economics, or if you read any semi scientific articles, you’ve likely read about behavioural economics. Not boring old economics, no, no, this one is behavioral. Another way or putting it, real human economics. Sort of like Economics on steroids and actually interesting to people.
Economics is a social science concerned with the factors that determine the production, distribution, and consumption of goods and services.
The problem with classical economics is that it considers humans to be completely logical, economic theories predict that we will always buy the best product that is at the best price, disregard loyalty over quality and, according to them, marketing is a farse, what matters is the quality and the price, nothing else. However, we all know this is not how the world works. We buy the brand we know, and we know them because of their marketing. We are loyal customers of some brands, even if they let us down from time to time. Apple comes to mind, not all their products are the best and their price is sky-high, but they still sell more products than any other company
The purely economic man is indeed close to being a social moron. Economic theory has been much preoccupied with this rational fool.
To explain this enter: behavioural economics.
Richard Thaler could be considered one of the founders of behavioural economics, making studies that prove how unreliable the classical economic models were to predict real human behaviour, and proposing some theories and models that describe how real customers behave.
One experiment which has been replicated a many times is the university mug experiment. Out of 100 students, 50 are asked how much they would pay for a cup with the university logo, let’s imagine the average they would pay is 3$, and imagine that the cup is for sale in a store for exactly that, 3$, so far it makes sense, price meets demand, no store can sell something at a higher price than people are willing to pay.
Now, the other 50 students are each given a mug with the university logo in it, then they’re offered 3$ to give back the cup. Result? They refuse. It’s their mug! They want more than a mere 3$… Imagine now they ask for at least 5$ to sell the mug. That doesn’t make any sense! We stablished the price of the mug to be 3$, now the group with the mug is asking for 5$ instead. They’re asking more money than the mug is worth.
Richard Dawkins explains this, it’s called The Endowment effect, we aspire to get more out of things we own than to we’re willing to pay to adquire the exact same thing. When something it’s ours we appreciate it, it’s ours! When we don’t own it, we don’t care about its value. It’s absolutely fascinating.
Another set of experiments show that we get double the pain from losing something we have than the pleasure we get from adquiring the exact same thing. For example, we feel much more pain by losing the wine bottle we’ve stored for 2 years than the pleasure we get from getting that exact same bottle as a present, or buying it from the store. A lot of people would greatly enjoy drinking that wine, but would never think of buying it at present for an expensive price to drink it.
The book is full of discoveries like these, and even though I was already familiar with most of them thanks to the guys at Freakconomics, it was fascinating to read in detail how the pioneers of this field found about all these behavioural pitfalls.
What did I learn from a raising field of science?
Humans are hard to predict, our behaviour is extremely complex and little variations in the scenarios can change the outcome widely. We now have a better idea, but it’s still a losing battle trying to predict human behaviour in complex scenarios.
2) Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
We’ve all imagined a world full of fear and represion as depicted by George Orwell’s 1984, however what is in my opinion a masterpiece, Aldous Huxley’s Breave New World feels much more realistic nowdays than 1984.
Maybe 1984’s comunist world was a scary reminder of what the cold war or the Nazis could have made of the world, but now in the 21st century, when comunism feels like an idea of the past and we’ve confirmed the power of capitalism and “freedom”, the happy but controlled world of Huxley feels more real, and more scary.
Orwell shows the horrors of a world without freedom, in which every move is monitored and loyalty must be absolute if you want to continue living, a society in which the government enforces their wishes on naturally rebel humans by force. The book in itself is amazing, and reading it in the middle of the Cold War must have been absolutely fritghtening, a reminder of what the future might look like, not a future we want to live in.
Who could imagine that the world would look much more like Brave New World, published 18 years before Orwell’s 1984?
Far in the future, the World Controllers have created the ideal society. Through clever use of genetic engineering, brainwashing and recreational sex and drugs, all its members are happy consumers who use their minds for nothing else but get pleasure.
Huxley’s masterpiece is all about control, as 1984 is, but not forced, frightening and horrendous control, instead, it is the control of happiness and emotional satisfaction. In Brave New World the society is technologically advanced, so much that natural conception is a thing of the past. Every individual is created from a batch of cloned embrios, bringing to life thousands of clones at the time, all of them to fulfill the exact same role, in the exact same factories.
Society is divided into factions, from the lowest, idiotic and deformed Epsilons, up to the almost genius elite of Alphas, who are unique individuals rather than clones.
Every human is conditioned to believe in what the nation wants them to believe, the leaders themselves being conditioned from the moment they’re born. What do they believe in? Absolute happiness.
But I don’t want comfort. I want God, I want poetry, I want real danger, I want freedom, I want goodness. I want sin.
The state provides everything anyone wishes for, everyone is as healthy as they could be, as happy as they could be. Food, entertainment and of course, drugs, are provided freely and lavishly. Every citizen is made happy, and when the stress of society is too much to handle, chemically induced happiness is at hand.
Thanks to Soma, the almighty drug that makes you absolutely static while helping you forget any trouble you might have, without the side effects, the world is finally at peace.
Brave New World, with Soma, conditioning of the masses and indirect control makes you think: are we really that far from such a world? Or aren’t we living in it already?
In “Brave New World Revisited”, Huxley himself talks about the fiction world he wrote about, and the dangers of our society turning into his fictionary one. The revisited, non-fiction book is almost as good as the fiction book and makes you think twice about this guy whom, 5 decades ago, managed to understand the world we currently live in better than us.
Words can be like X-rays if you use them properly — they’ll go through anything. You read and you’re pierced.
—Brave New World Revisited. Aldous Huxley.
Huxley talks and explains about the way the media controls us, how masses are easily manipulated by aggresive speech as used by Hitler and so many others, how a mob of people has its own mind, regardless of the individuals forming it, the slow but secure transition from individualism into group thinking and the lose of our own selves in exchange for fancy new objects. It’s a book I believe everyone should read, it opens your eyes and expands your mind.
Brave New World is an amazing book in itself, showing that even a truly happy society and a utopia is not what we would want our world to become. I found myself actually compelled to believe this brave new world Huxley depicted was good. If everyone is happy, then it’s all good, right? Everything changed after reading the revisited version. Huxley makes the arguments that only through diversity and free will can humanity advance, along with an understanding of history and what has caused to the calamities of the past.
I have to agree with Huxley, even though this is a subject I still feel unfamiliar with, it seems diversity and real freedom of choice, without biases of conditioning, is the way humanity can continue to advance.
What did I learn from a happy but emotionally empty world?
Brave New World and the Revisited version changed the way I see a big chunk of society, and made me understand better how people like Hitler, Chavez or many other dictators became such powerful individuals, shaping history in the wrong way.
1) “Dune” by Frank Herbert
The first spot belongs to one of the best books I’ve read not only in 2016 but in all of my life. An absolutely unique and amazing book that is considered by many as one of the best sci-fy stories ever written.
Frank Herbert’s Dune is not a single book, but a whole universe. Herbert wrote 6 gigantic books focused on depicting the human universe following the events of Dune book 1. Herbert had a grandiose idea, to show how a human race spread all over the universe can be enlighted thanks to a single set of individuals, but I’m getting way ahead of the story.
Dune starts with Paul Atreides, the descendant of Duke Leto Atreides who was the leader of the House Atreides. Paul is going through a series of challenges set up by her mother’s religious “sect”, we start to learn that Paul is somewhat destined for greatness but that his father is invariably going to die, no matter what.
The novel sets the tone of secrecy very early. From the first few pages, you learn about a group called the Bene Gesserit whom you don’t really understand until later in the series. Their purpose is to create a super-human with the ability to see the past through ancestors and the future of himself.
The story shows how The Emperor has commanded House Atreides, one of the few Great Houses in the universe, to become the new rulers of Arrakis, a desert world that contains the most valuable substance in the whole the universe, Melange. Melange can increase life by decades and is needed by “The Guild” to see the future partially and move their interstellar ships from planet to planet. The Guild has a monopoly on interstellar travel and its shadowed in secrets throughout the series.
I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.
—Lady Jessica reciting The Litany Against Fear.
If you’re a bit lost between Great Houses, The Guild, Bene Gesserits, an Emperor, Melange and Arrakis, let me tell you, that’s the very best part of the book! Herbert somehow manages to give just enough detail to keep you engaged but never enough for your mind to give rest to any of the many topics. The whole book is just one big piece of complicated encyclopedia, giving away small details everywhere, I certainly missed many and I’m eager to find them in the future when I re-read Dune.
The plot thickens when you learn that the worst enemy of House Atreides, the House Harkonnen was the one holding Arrakis and the one that had to give up the best gold mine in the universe to their enemies. They will certainly attempt to kill Duke Leto in Arrakis and regain control of the planet.
Even though they’ve already condemned Duke Leto to die, you can’t avoid hoping that his genius will save him and the whole family. I know I did. You learn that Leto’s is one of the finest strategic minds in the universe and has one of the best armies, challenged only by the Emperor’s itself. Whether Duke Leto planned for the outcome of the fight it’s something left hanging and for the reader to decide.
Fast forward and we see Paul Atreides becoming Paul Muad’ Dub, a living legend, taking back his father’s throne by defeating the most powerful forces in the universe; the Emperor’s army, the feared Sardaukar.
Paul becomes a legend in Dune, leading the powerful Fremen tribes and becoming the ruler of Arrakis, and eventually The Emperor of the universe as well as the leader of House Atreides.
Deep in the human unconscious is a pervasive need for a logical universe that makes sense. But the real universe is always one step beyond logic.
—Paul Muad’ Dib, by Irulan.
He eventually became the messiah of Arrakis and his armies spread the new faith in Muad’ Dib to all the corners of the universe in the most terrible jihad humanity had ever seen. The messiah of a future without computers but with interstellar flight, with atomic power but sword fighters.
Dune needs to be the number one on this list for many reasons.It’s a book filled with so many details yet so vague at the same time that describing it correctly is extremely hard. Reading Dune can be compared to living an experience, talking about it and living are two very different things.
The universe in which Dune is based is a complex one, as you go deeper into the series new secrets start to pop up and you start to slowly learn new information about each faction, each power and each house. The universe is governed by strict rules and you learn the deep meaning of each and every rule, they all have deep roots in the tragedies of the past and the hopes or fears of the future.
Through the Dune series, I learned about the irrationality of the world. Dune portraits the duality of the human mind beautifully, showing you both sides of the coin almost at all times. The most striking example is for religion. After Paul becomes the messiah and billions of people follow his teachings either by faith or force. You come to see how the church that sprung out of Paul’s teachings is nothing compared to what Paul truly taught and how he lived. It’s the ultimate pantomime.
The new Faith was created in an attempt to hold onto the void of power Paul left after he was gone. Even though Paul had a set of unique and powerful abilities, the propechies that called upon the “return” or birth of the Messiah were nothing but a set of prophecies a group of Bene Gesserits planted in multiple worlds throughout the ages to help protect their emisaries in the future. This is only known by Lady Jessica (Paul’s mother and Duke Leto’s beloved) and even she is stunned at the usefulness and accuracy of these prophecies in protecting Paul and herself in times of need. Herbert does a really good job of shdering light into these often misterious things.
Herbert does a really good job of giving light into these often mysterious myths that surround life. Just as Arrakis’ prophecies of a returning Messiah were nothing more than planted ideas by a group of nuns through the ages, so it’s with our myths and beliefs. You have to look only at your own life and behaviour to find innumerable decisions that are made not based on data, knowledge or wisdom, but based on myths and what we’ve been incorrectly taught by our even more gullible parents (sorry Mom and Dad, love you).
Here on Earth, we have an almost prophecy-maintained society. The amount of pseudo-science and myths we believe in is stunningly high. How many people still believe you get the flu from being outside without proper clothing while it’s cold? Hint: it absolutely, positively, definitely, doesn’t. Yet millions upon millions believe in such a myth and make decisions based on such faulty and mythical knowledge. Now simply interpolate that to religion, and we have from hundreds of virgins awaiting you in heaven to an—inlude almighty being here— in the sky. I truly don’t know what happens after death, but surely our myths are just that, myths. There have been thousands of extremely different religions through the ages, yet everyone believes theirs in the only correct one. How’s that possible?
In later books, most specifically the 4th, “God Emperor of Dune”, the main character (no spoilers) , argues multiple times about his purpose in life and in the future of the universe. He’s seen as a radical tirant, rulling over a universe in famine with an iron fist while destroying anything in his path, all of these while endulging himself in some extravagant desires.
The mystery of life isn’t a problem to solve, but a reality to experience.
—Paul Muad’ Dib.
Yet we’re made to understand that his behaviour is bound to a plan, he’s creating the worst Human epoch, so future generations can look back at the miseries of the past and be grateful for their present. He suffers endlessly while doing so, as well. We see the worst tyrant in history while understanding his earth is but gold.
Even though there is no doubt of the evil natures of certain characters in History, most progress can only be achieved through the suffering of others, we’ve proved this time and time again. It’s truly horrible, but history is unchallenged in it, any type of progress requires the sacrifice of many. I believe a close-to utopian world is possible, but even if that’s achieved, greatness only comes after destruction. We live the best era of Humankind, after surviving two World Wars. This is a very different belief than I had a few years ago, and a much more mature one than just saying “wars are bad!” and end it at that.
There is no escape—we pay for the violence of our ancestors.
—Paul Muad’ Dib.
Last, but not least, the book is just f. good you know? The story, the characters, the plot, it’s all there. The sci-fy, the futuristic set up you can’t fully understand, the Hero Journey, everything. Sigh, I miss Dune.
What did I learn from the best book of my 2016?
A fiction novel set up in the far future with a crazy set up can still teach you more about society than your school can.
I look forward to this year’s books. Hopefully, they’ll be as good.
If you finished reading this longer-than-expected post, I salute you and truly appreciate it!