Book Recommendations – Winter 2022

by Zhijing Jin and Rada Mihalcea (Michigan AI)

Zhijing Jin recommends: 

How to Avoid a Climate Disaster, by Bill Gates (2021), offers a detailed overview of the current state of climate change and the steps that need to be taken to avoid a climate disaster. The book draws on Gates’ extensive knowledge and experience in technology, business, and philanthropy to provide a unique perspective on the challenges and opportunities presented by climate change. To achieve the goal of getting rid of 51 billion tonnes of greenhouse gases and achieving net carbon zero emissions by 2050, the book discusses the science behind global warming, the impact of greenhouse gas emissions, and the technologies and policies that can help reduce those emissions. It also discusses the role of governments, businesses, and individuals in addressing climate change, and offers practical and innovative solutions for reducing greenhouse gas emissions in various sectors. One of the key messages of the book is that addressing climate change will require a collective effort from all sectors of society and it is important to take action now. Overall, How to Avoid a Climate Disaster is an informative and thought-provoking book for anyone interested in understanding the challenges and opportunities presented by climate change and in finding ways to take action to address this global crisis.

Totto-Chan: The Little Girl at the Window, by Tetsuko Kuroyanagi (1981), is a beautifully written and deeply moving memoir tells the story of Totto-Chan’s childhood growing up in Japan during World War II. Through her experiences at the Tomoe Gakuen, a revolutionary school that placed emphasis on creativity and individuality, Totto-Chan learns valuable lessons about friendship, kindness, and the power of education. This book is a lovely and heartwarming read for anyone interested in education, childhood, and personal growth, and it is full of inspiring tales that will stay with you long after you finish reading it.

Rada Mihalcea recommends:

From among the books I read this year, there are several that I really enjoyed and would recommend. The three that I believe would make a great reading over the winter break:

The Power of US, by Jay Van Davel and Dominic Packer (2021), is a great overview of what we know about the power of groups, and how we can leverage this power to our benefit. As it turns out, group affiliation is one of our strongest psychological traits, and also one that explains much of our human behavior. Consider for example the resolution of religious conflict: the book gives the example of the disagreements among Muslims and Christians in Iraq, addressed through … soccer. All it took to remove the religious tension was to ‘break’ the groups and reconstruct them by assigning people to interfaith soccer teams: the new ‘grouping’ created same-group affiliation among previously disconnected people, and gave their affiliation a new meaning. Or consider the example of misinformation: because of group affiliation, most people would endorse it even when they know it to be fake news just because the author of the misinformation belongs to the same group (think democrats and republicans). The book abounds in such examples and reasons for how and why this works. It also points to new solutions for major world problems, such as climate or poverty, which could be addressed through an “Earth affiliation” (ie, having all humans realize that “we are in this together’’).

Side note: this book was a recommendation from Ben Kuipers.

I Must Betray You, by Ruta Sepetys (2022), is a book that hits close to home. I am Romanian, and I was 15 when the communist regime fell, so I got to live a good part of my life under the darkest years of the Ceausescu dictatorship. This book is a very good documentation of those years, including the informers everywhere; the lack of trust in those around you; the lack of food; the sitting in long lines for absolutely anything (milk, bread, …); the daily energy outage; the cold winters; the communist prisons for the “intellectuals”; the dictator’s portraits in all the classrooms; etc. If you are curious about life under the East European communist block, this historical fiction will give you a sense of how it was like to live during those years. 

Side note: this book was a recommendation from Rada’s daughter, Zara.

Sum: Forty Tales from the Afterlives, by David Eagleman (2009), is a collection of 40 brief (3-4 pg.) stories with imagined afterlives. Each of them is stretching the mind in a different way. In one afterlife, you choose to see how it’s like to be a horse, except that once you change your identity you don’t possess anymore the intelligence that will make you want to become human again; in another afterlife, same-activities are grouped together, so you spend three months doing laundry, then two days tying shoelaces, thirty years sleeping, six days clipping your nails, and so on; in yet another afterlife, everyone is equipped with a camera, to take pictures of everything around and help create a map of the world, except it doesn’t worked as planned, as everyone ends up only taking only pictures of themselves. Fun, creative, and thought-provoking at the same time, these stories will spark your imagination about how an alternate world could work

Side note: this book was found randomly while walking through the AADL library.