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05 May 2021

Books of 2020


chickenhawk cover

Most first hand accounts of wars I have read are written by a somewhat amateur author. Not this one. Robert Mason infused his terrifying tale with plenty of drama and humanity, and managed to write one of the best personal military history I have ever read.

Part of it is surely the subject matter, as I am a huge fan of aviation and its lore. And part of it is that I haven't yet read a lot about the Vietnam War.

But either way, I could not put this book down. Every mission seems to be more dramatic than the last, and you can see Mason's flying and survival skills just barely keeping up with the challenge. You can also viscerally feel the surviver bias at work, with plenty of close calls and dead friends. It's terrifying and thrilling at the same time.

And towards the end, the book truly surprised me with a very frank account of PTSD and the life of a veteran, which I hadn't read anywhere else in this level of clarity.

I cannot recommend this book enough. Perhaps a bit depressing at times, but an utterly compelling story, and without a doubt one of the best books I have ever read.

Mountain Light

mountain light cover

Quite simply, the best photography book I have ever read. From the era of color film, that short time between the black-and-white darkroom and photoshop, where pictures really couldn't be edited. It all came down to the skill of the photographer, which makes a book from this era much more useful than its darkroom-edited predecessors or photoshopped successors.

Besides that, the story of an avid adventurer who took part in several expeditions to climb the most difficult mountains in the world for the first time, and document life in the most remote places on earth before man could ever touch them.

All in all, a fantastic book of outdoorsmanship, adventures, and photography, three things I love dearly.

Two Years Before the Mast

two years before the mast cover

The story of the young author joining a trader ship to the US west coast, in 1834, when it was still largely uninhabited and wilderness. They traveled to many a well-known place, such as San Francisco or Santa Barbara, but these places were still merely trading outposts and missions.

At the same time, the author chronicles a sailor's life on board the last generation of sailing vessels, just before they were replaced by steamers. He joined the ship on a two-year-or-so contract around the American continent, on an entirely self-sufficient ship with only the occasional sighting of a fellow ship or the lighting of cargo in a trading depot. Which is an utterly fascinating historical perspective considering that the story happens more-or-less at the same time as the comparatively modern-seeming Sherlock Holmes.

But a true eye-opener happens at the very end, where the author re-visits San Francisco later in his life. The city by then has grown to a bustling trade town with regular ferry routes and rail connections, churches and pubs, and all the amenities of modern life. It is hard to believe how such industry would grow from these humble beginnings in just a few decades.

Bobiverse: We Are Legion / For We Are Many / All These Worlds

we are legion cover

Like good candy, I just couldn't stop reading. The story of a regular guy, uploaded into a colony ship as an AI, roaming the galaxy, and exploring the boundaries of what it means to be human. Which sounds much more philosophical than it actually is. The book is written in a lighthearted and fast-paced style that I could hardly put down. I read the first book in one week, and immediately followed through with book two and three.

And it actually comes to a satisfying end in the third book, instead of methastesizing into a franchise, which I can't praise highly enough. Perhaps a little bit superficial and handwavy at times, but a thoroughly good time for a science fiction fan.

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