2018 in books

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Photo by Janko Ferlic

This year I paid extra attention to selecting female authors since I realised that on my previous reading lists women make barely 30%. And I indeed found some amazing authors.

Top 5 books I read this year (including all genres):

Naomi Alderman: The Power – amazing must-read thought experiment about power and inequality. I wrote about it here.
N. K. Jemisin: The Fifth Season – breathtaking incredibly imaginative fantasy dealing with issues in freedom and inequality in most carefully constructed world I read in a long time. No wonder she won 3 Hugos in a row!
Ronan Farrow: War on Peace – Ronan writing with his staple charming witty style about his years in US foreign service. He is not blind towards recent failures of US foreign policy – great fun and informative read.
Madeline Miller: Circe – re-imagine Greek legends you know from school but told from the perspective of women not men. Ever wondered why is it that Circe or Medea have horrible reputations for torturing men?
Masha Gessen: The Future is History – how USSR became Russia with its current president told from the point of view of few families Masha interviewed plus larger political context. Incredibly thorough and fascinating read.

In Sci-fi/Fantasy I further recommend Becky Chambers for heartwarming and entertaining, Ann Leckie for genius and AI-chilling, and Nnedi Okorafor for super innovative reads. Also Scalzi new book, The Consuming Fire, was out this year and I loved it as much as all his other books. But, man, if you’d taken more than 2 weeks to write it, it could have been even better!!

In non-fiction, Maya Angelou memoir is heart-breaking and amazing, Madeleine Albright‘s Fascism puts current moment in perspective, and Angela Saini‘s Inferior should be compulsory reading for everyone alive.

From the classics I should have read a long time ago: Margaret Atwood (Handmaid’s Tale), Khaled Hosseini (The Kite Runner), and Jane Austen (Emma) were all predictably amazing. And then I spiced the year up with couple of Terry Pratchetts for the days when I couldn’t take anything else because how horrible the news was. You can check out my complete reading list here.

Overall, I couldn’t be happier with this year readings, almost all of the books I read (even though there was not space to mention all of them here) were amazing! That is, except Dark Matter by Blake Crouch which is sexist, lame, boring and I hated every single page of it. This comes with the disclaimer that I actually know about quantum mechanics, so that probably made it worse.

A Book That Everyone Should Read: Angie Thomas

It’s about Seven. Sekani. Kenya. DeVante. It’s also about Oscar. Aiyana. Trayvon. Rekia. Michael. Eric. Tamir. John. Ezell. Sandra. Freddie. Alton. Philando. It’s also about that little boy in 1955 who nobody recognized at first – Emmett.

The messed-up part? There are so many more.

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Photo by 3Motional Studio on Pexels.com

For a long time I couldn’t bring myself to start reading Angie Thomas’ timely masterpiece The Hate U Give. Having read quite a bit about police violence in US and seen the tape of the horrifying shooting of Philando Castile, I knew I was going to cry throughout the book. Even though the book is conceptually very different it reminded me of Malala Yousafzai autobiography in the tone of horrible things seen and described through the eyes of a young girl. This incredibly powerful story of Starr whose friend gets shot by police officer is both eye-opening and heart wrenching and is most definitely far from one-sided. It is an acute portrait of ugliness of racism and violence that at the same time manages to be thoughtful and implicit letting the reader understand the bigger picture through Starr’s experiences. Angie Thomas is Harper Lee of our time and this book is an absolute must read for everybody.

Machine learning blog at ETH

 

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The interest in possible applications of machine learning in physics has been growing exponentially for a while now and there seems to be a sea of literature. Couple of months ago we decided to review the literature and have weekly seminar about the papers we found interesting. There is a dedicated blog post for each of these on our group website.

Recently I have contributed with the discussion of the paper by E. M. Stoudenmire and D. J. Schwab: Supervised Learning with Quantum-Inspired Tensor Networks (arXiv:1605.05775 (2017)). In this paper the authors propose to train a tensor network with DMRG-like sweeps. You can read my full post here.

A Book That Everyone Should Read: Naomi Alderman

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I can’t even begin to describe the impact that reading The Power by Naomi Alderman had on me (and I am sure I am not alone). I would even go as far as to predict that this book will become a classic that will keep on being discussed for many decades.

The main premise is the following: at some point teenage girls start experiencing the ability to strike someone with the electricity thanks to the new organ they developed. This new development than leads to complete re-definition of the gender norms on unprecedented scale.

The point that the book is making in the incredible clever and spot-on manner is that the inequality is about power and it has absolutely nothing to do with race or gender by default. I read lots of angry counter arguments to the book stating that if power dynamics were switched women would never ever be so violent or power hungry. But I believe that truth of the matter is when there is an opportunity, means and societal approval people are ready shift their morals surprisingly quickly.

In my opinion, the problem we have nowadays is not there is a better race or gender for politics, computer science or battle against climate change, it is the disproportional representation of people with the certain kind of opinion in the position of power. And what Ms Alderman illustrates wonderfully by the means of extremely readable fiction is that true equality is not that women and minorities can in principle do whatever they want, true equality is the proportional representation of all humans in all the relevant position of power.