This post is an experiment. In the comments I’ll post book reviews. The criterion is simple: They have to have changed me in some way. No matter good or bad.
I quickly realized that it will get confusing, so I’ll list all the books I’ve reviewed here. You can ⌘F the book name to find the relevant comment.
- On China, where I praise Mao.
- In Praise of Love, where I ask you to read the book because I’m too lazy to review it, having talked about this book to my friends for too many times.
- War and Peace, where I talk about how it helped me get over a girl.
- The Golden Age, where I was spurred on to tell a girl that I liked her.
- Harvard’s AFVS58T: A Videomaking Toolkit, where I resolve not to take a Humanities class at Harvard again and, in an effort to console myself, tries to write out one interesting thing that I learned from the course.
- Antifragile, where I convinced myself that getting rejected is better than being accepted.
N.B. The list may not be completely up to date.
N.B.B. The list is probably up to date; I have proven much more neurotic in updating the page than I anticipated
N.B.B.B. One can easily observe that these reviews are all related to one girl or another. The reader should take from this what they may.
7 thoughts on “Miscellaneous Reviews of Wonderful Books”
Review of Kissinger’s “On China”:
Wow. What can I say. Post-WWII Chinese History is really an interesting shit-hole. Made more interesting by Kissinger. One of the best portrayals of Mao that does not fall to the “oh yeah the man is just a sociopath” but portrays the sheer personality within that human being.
The first chapter is one of the best analysis of the Chinese character that I’ve read. According to Kissinger, we’re:
—>Certain of our cultural superiority (thinks that everyone else are simply Barbarians).
—>Has this weird vitality that makes us almost a life-force (what other culture can survive all the horrible mess that the Chinese has gone through?).
—>Grasps uniquely the importance of creating favorable conditions (“Shi”) over direct attack.
Quoting Hartley from goodreads: “Kissinger is such a good writer it makes you forget he may have committed war crimes.”
Dual Review of “In Praise of Love” and “To All The Girls I Loved Before”:
Genesis of the Review:
I was (it was one of those days) telling my life story to Megan, and she was like, oh, you’re basically like that guy in the song “To All The Girls I Loved Before.”
So True, bestie.
What I’ve come to realize is that only love really changes one’s personhood. In all other domains, no matter what I’m engaged in, I remain fundamentally the same. One’s Identity is only changed by Love’s Difference.
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – — – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
Now, I know that “Identity is only changed by Love’s Difference” is a really f**king stupid sentence. But after reading Badiou’s “In Praise of Love,” you’ll kind of see in what ways the sentence is stupid.
But I don’t really want to explain what the book talks about. So I’ll only highly recommend you to read the short (max[f(x)] = 2h) book yourself. I can recommend it with good conscience because I’ve read it thrice.
I think Badiou is basically right. He was right in a really nice and practical way. And he was right much more explicitly than any other things on love that I’ve read (and trust me, I’ve read plenty—it’s like 50% of my readerly life).
Review of War and Peace:
1. It’s far superior to Anna Karenina; you’re better off spending the time reading AK to re-read W&P.
2. It is unimpressive at first. And probably will remain unimpressive until you realize that you’re constantly thinking about it weeks or even months after finishing it.
3. Reading War and Peace is kinda like using a conditioner. People who haven’t used it (like me) don’t think it’s worth it. People who just begin using it won’t feel much effect either. But people who’ve structured their lives around conditioning cannot live without it (or so I’ve heard).
Now, story time about a girl and War and Peace.
During the summer I had a crush on a girl. (She’s not at Harvard.) As I moved to campus I’d talk to my friends every day about her. What was kinda fun quickly became BoRinggg. I was turning into that one guy who seems to have no life other than thinking about a crush that they are never going to date. It was pretty darn bad.
Then 2 weeks into the semester I was reading W&P’s epilogue and a thought just popped into my head, that “Life is too important to be wasted on thinking pointlessly about the girl.” Then I went on to more interesting things—like writing this blog.
(Until, of course, when I started thinking about another girl. That was much more productive though and I managed to write some bad Chinese poetry about why life is so sad, shamelessly appended below:
像哑巴 想说话 但不知道说啥
If you’re like me, go read War and Peace. If you’re not. Still go and read it.
Sharing your thoughts and experiences with others can be a great way to recommend books that have had a meaningful impact on you and to encourage others to read and engage with them.
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Review of The Golden Age (Wang Xiao Bo):
The book is basically what happens when one upload to XVideos footage of Camus and Orwell copulating.
It made me want to live; it taught me that Life is an end in itself; it encouraged me to tell a girl that I like her.
I wrote much more. But they were all lacking. Perhaps this is because Wang’s is a vitality that can only be experienced, but not described.
So here is a small taste of Wang Xiao Bo, translated by yours truly.
That year I was 21; in the Golden Age of my life. I had such hopeful desires. I wanted to love, to eat, and to become in a heartbeat that half-dark-half-lit cloud in the sky.
Sometimes you’re actually writing. But more often than not you’re living a certain kind of life. This is just like making love. If a man and a woman both want to do it, then they’re really making love. If they don’t, but other people expect them to, then they’re not making love, but living marital life. We sat there in the office, not writing, but living writerly life. (From The Silver Age.)
Being itself is inexhaustibly alluring; for it all Appearances are worth giving up.
Review of Harvard’s AFVS58T, A Videomaking Toolkit:
I thought that filming stuff would be really fun and cool. It turned out to be tedious than anything else. Thanks to the class, I realized that the visual arts are not for me. Words are easier and much more fun.
Along with Hum20, AFVS58T helped me realize that college Humanities/Arts classes are useless. I learned much more this semester writing the blog than going to classes.
N.B. “Useless” as used here does not mean to be a value judgement. I mean it in its very literal sense—”being of no use.”
Despite the criticism, I did learn one thing from AFVS58T after spending 6 hrs/week this semester critiquing badly made videos. I learned that the big problem of Art is the problem of Akrasia—the unity of intention and action.
That is, an artistic object always functions at two levels. It tells me what it wants me to feel, and it makes me feel some things. Using the Akrasiac analogy, it acts whilst communicating its intention-in-action.
A work of art is good to the extent that its intention and action cohere. When there is clear intention but unclear action, the object is “cheap”, “forced”, “kitsch,” and when there is clear action but unclear intention, the object is “confusing”, “feels arty”, and “obscure.”
Applications to life in general seem quite evident.
E.g. Morality, communication, metric-design, love.
(And anyone who has read any badly written essays can recall how much the two can diverge.)
Review of Nassim Taleb’s “Antifragile”:
There are some books that change your life. And some that change your life every time you read it. I’m reading Antifragile for the 4th time and it has changed my life again.
A) First time I read it I was too young and confused by the book. Doesn’t count.
B) Second time I read it I was crazy for Economics. Antifragile helped me realize that I was interested in the more philosophical, systems-level thinking that some Economists engage in, but most don’t. I then went off studying Philosophy, Literature, Math, you know, the good stuff.
C) Third time I read it it taught me that good thinking comes out of interfacing with the real world. The academic silo ain’t it. So I decided to stop studying Philosophy, went into Applied Math, and continued my “humanities” learning outside of academia by writing blogposts and trying to be as good a friend, brother, and son as I can be.
D) Fourth time I read it I couldn’t decide whether to tell a girl I like her. Antifragile reminded me that failure is good; that life is at its most basic level the process of confronting and learning from failures. So I decided that telling is a game-theoretically dominant strategy, and did it. One of the best decisions I’ve ever made.
(In this sense, this entire post is about Antifragility. I didn’t use the term though, because it only made the relatively straightforward ideas more confusing. https://warrenzhu.com/2022/12/22/a-major-thing-i-learned-about-myself-in-the-past-month-that-may-perhaps-be-interesting-to-you/.)