Two extraordinary books that impressed me this summer (and will delight you too!)

summerbooks

Summer holiday is always a good opportunity to catch up on some reading. Indeed, I read a few good books during summer months, but there were two exceptional ones that really resonated with me. I would like to share them with you.

Olga Tokarczuk’s “Bieguni” (“Flights”)

“Bieguni” is not really a new book. Published first in 2007 and awarded with the Nike Award in 2008 was recently brought back into spotlight. Translated to English, it was awarded in 2018 with the Booker Prize, a literary prize awarded each year for the best original novel written in the English language and published in the UK. I read the Polish original, but many critiques and reviewers say that the translation is similarly exceptional.

“Bieguni” (“Flights”) takes you on a journey along with mystery travelers. The book is  named (the original title) after a fictional sect of Slavic nomads who endlessly wander the planet. It tells stories about people from different times and places. The theme is travel, and the only constant here is continuous movement from place to place. Sometimes to unexpected spots far away from the beaten tracks, to dark corners of human soul, right next to twisted secrets of human existence. It is a captivating novel with distinct philosophical flair.

The stories are enchanting and intense. The characters are unique and special, driven by strange desires and hidden motivations are looking for answers in different times and places.

Those who spent their time at various airports will quickly identify and feel belonging to the constantly moving anonymous passing crowd. And right then, just after takeoff, the novel will grab and take you to some time and far away place to just to unfold yet another narrative. A must read.

Yuval Noah Harari’s “Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow”

Compared to the above mentioned book, this one belongs to completely different category. After several days of dreamy spiritual journeys, “Homo Deus” was a return to the world of science, knowledge, and reason. A sequel to Harari’s global bestseller “Sapiens” is in many ways worthy continuation to the awarded predecessor.

Chances are that you know other Harari’s masterpiece “Sapiens”. The book unveils the story of evolution and complicated history of humanity. “Homo Deus” takes the discussion even further. Using philosophy, history, sociology, in combination with the latest technological advances, Harari looks for the answer what might happen to us in the future. This is a challenging task because according to the author in the 21st century might bring the most profound change in the history – we might finally evolve beyond limitation of our minds and bodies. Will we achieve eternal life? Or rather, who will belong to the privileged cast of immortals? Undoubtedly our societies will change, religions will have to adapt to the new situation. Will the emerge of AI change everything? Those are only a few of many interesting problems discussed in this brilliant educating book.

And one final recommendation. My wife, who also finished this book few weeks ago, said that reading it was like spending an enjoyable evening with a wise friend who makes sure that you have great time and makes you feel smarter. I think this is the best summary of “Homo Deus”. Get a copy, make a tea, and find yourself.

I can’t do justice to these books, so to learn more take a look at much deeper and detailed reviews here and here.

What students and academics can learn from the greatest Polish athletes

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Storm clouds gathering above the Olympischer Stadium in Berlin during evening session of the European Athletics Championships

What an unbelievable success! Polish athletes showed in the last few days truly inspiring and motivating performance.

They taught us important life lessons on grit, determination, and hard work. Something we all can use, whether we are students, academics, or just human beings looking for inspiration. They showed us what high performers in any discipline need to understand to reach the highest level of skill and grab the prize.

Hard training

One of Polish newspapers had this headline: “many of the winners might not be well known, but they were surely working very hard.” Well. They are known now! The way how Paulina Guba (shot put) bravely reached and grabbed the title of European Champion will make everyone to remember her name!

Such success would not be possible without hours and hours of focused deliberate training. No one can win without proper skill, and to gain this level of skill it is necessary to clock enough hours first. Some say it is 10000, some claim it is more. The lesson is clear, you can’t get to the top unless you roll up your sleeves and work harder. The result? Just look at Justyna Swiety-Ersetic. On Saturday, she won gold medal and European Championship running 400 m, at the same time setting up her new personal best time. If this was not spectacular enough, less than two hours later she beautifully finished 400 m relay and won for her team another gold medal.

Well-thought-out strategy

Success is not only about skill and speed. To become master you need a good strategy. It is impossible to win 800 m finals a without a clear plan when to attack, when to save energy, when to hide, and when to pass your opponents. Down to every second. This is how Adam Kszczot became European Master third time in a row. His friends, his opponents, media, everyone calls him “the Professor”. Also, now you know why this story belongs to an academic-themed blog.

A bit of luck is also important

In the end, this is a still a competition. Very fierce one. Sometimes pure luck, an opponent’s mistake, random push, or even a second of doubt can cost you your precious advantage and ultimately lead to your defeat. There are some factors during the execution of your plan that you just can’t control.

Failure is always an option. Sometimes, passing a baton during relay will not go smooth enough and precious seconds will be lost. Sometimes, opponent will elbow you, and you lose your rhythm. What matters is how you fight despite the obstacles, and our athletes were fighting hard.

Congratulations! Thank you for the inspiration! Thank you for the motivation! You made us all proud! Chapeau bas!

.blog

My .blog domain started to work properly today. This time over, instead of using my own hosting service, I just set up everything on wordpress.com. Have to admit, it was surprisingly easy to configure. Took me maybe half an hour to figure out domain mapping. Fifteen minutes later it was running smoothly. Enjoy!

Hello (again)!

I was wondering for quite a while what to write about. Is it a good idea to write a blog again? I already had a blog and kept it for several years. It was some time in 2003-2009, and it was all about my interests, self-development, and some curiosities related to science. It was written in Polish, and after a while the audience grew up to several hunders of readers. Looking back, I think it was quite an achievement to build a facebook page liked by 800 people, without any kind of plan, strategy, or concrete goal.

Without surprise, I burned out after a while. At that time I was in the middle of my PhD studies, and this period in academic life is, well… it was the best of times, it was the worst of times. My head was was spinning full of ideas, which I was eager to share. Yet, at that time so many blogs were popping up around the web that I started to lose my voice in all that noise. I found it was harder and harder to sound original, and whatever I wrote about, there was something similar already written somewhere. It was a great experience, but I cared too much and after a while it was not fun anymore.

Being slightly older and having slightly more mature view of the world, I found myself longing for that feeling of writing for an audience and to be able to share something. I decided to give it another shot. There will be some differences though. It is not that I don’t care. I am just more confident now, and I think that my experience and voice are more valuable now than before.

If by any chance you are familiar with my previous scribblings, I happily welcome you back. You might notice some similarities, but there will be differences. The most noticeable one is the language because this time I intend to write majority of posts (if not all of them) in English. Also, this edition will be a bit more professional than personal. I will tell stories related to my life as an academic and write about ideas, motivations, and tools that I value.

So, hello (again)!