What are your five favorite books and why?
Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl. Frankl was an Austrian psychiatrist and a Holocaust survivor. This book details his experiences in a concentration camp connecting them to the larger idea of meaning and finding the meaning of life. He emphasizes the importance of developing the ultimate goals in life, which would lead the individual to achieve more than what they would have accomplished if they have settled for mediocre aspirations. One also can view this book as a manifestation of the human spirit’s resilience in times of adversity. It provides a useful reference point and an inspiration when one faces difficulties in life.
Scarlet Sails by Alexander Grin. Grin was a Russian writer, famous for his romantic prose and evocation of surreal lands — some identify his style as proto-fantasy. I always liked his Scarlet Sails for the triumph of hope it projects, even when most everybody ridicules your beliefs and doubts your vision. Additionally, it is just a very beautiful romantic love story.
Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything by Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner. This collection of studies about a variety of social problems is a very accessible and interesting read. Ultimately, this is what a popular science book should look like. It expands your horizons and makes you think about issues in a different way. What more can you ask for?
Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions by Dan Ariely. Dan Ariely offers a provocative introduction into decision-making processes. Using behavioral experiments he shows the limits of human rationality, in fact arguing (contrary to our assumptions) that we are more likely to be irrational. It is an enlightening and fun read.
Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury. As a science fiction novelist, Bradbury writes about the future, yet you start wondering if the future is already upon us. It is a warning of a potentially destructive way of life, when books are burned and people are more excited about reality shows, in which they are seeming participants, than about discovering the world of knowledge and critical thought. It also addresses the issue of individual freedom and censorship, and the relationship between an individual and the state. Growing up in a totalitarian state (USSR), I take these ideas close to heart and I see diminishing individual freedom as a real threat many face today. Bradbury makes you think about these issues and to not take the status quo for granted.
What is the last book you’ve bought?
The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable by Nassim Taleb. This book was an impulse buy at the airport prior to a transatlantic flight. It was definitely a good investment: It kept my interest by posing questions about our common approaches to understanding reality and collecting and interpreting data. It made me aware of our cognitive limitations and our ability to make predictions based on past experiences. This was a very thought-provoking reading. I am looking forward to reading his next work Antifragile.
What “important book” have you not read and why haven’t you read it?
Oh, I am sure there is more than one. The first to come to mind is James Joyce’s Ulysses. I picked it up because it is considered to be among the top 100 English language books, plus, quite often you hear people referencing it in conversations. I checked it out of the library and I had the most difficult time getting through it. After suffering through the first 30 pages or so I had to ask myself why (given my limited time and energy) am I trying to read something that is not pleasurable AND that has nothing to do with my career. I just decided to stop torturing myself. I might come back to it when I retire after I am done with my list of “must read” books, which currently includes about 200 titles.
What genre of literature do you prefer to read (history, fiction, biography, etc.) and why?
I am an omnivore; however, my guilty pleasure is science fiction — it takes you away from reality (or so it seems) while posing existential questions. Plus, I have always wanted to become an astronaut, exploring different planets and potentially different life forms. Much of science fiction is situated in an intergalactic context; it allows me to continue dreaming about humanity’s further advances into space.
What magazines do you subscribe to and why?
I love The Week: It provides a weekly digest of all the significant publications in the USA and abroad while offering multiple points of view, thus facilitating a more balanced perspective. National Geographic is another notable publication. It brings the world closer to you, especially the remote locations you are probably not likely to visit. The photography is absolutely gorgeous, the subjects diverse and you learn something new every time you open it.