Reading Interview Episode 2: Amy Ratsara

Reading Interview Episode 2: Amy Ratsara

This is the second episode of the Reading Interview Series, where I chat with bookworms, avid readers and learners, to unpack their reading habits and philosophy.



In this episode I chat with Amy Ratsara. She is an attorney in the state of Michigan, who is a good friend. We love to talk about books and podcasts we like. One of the main reasons I want to interview her is her background in history and law, and we talk a lot about reading history in this conversation. For those of you who are thinking about or currently attending law school, she has some great tips on reading case laws and preparing for class. Hope you’ll enjoy this episode. As usual, all the books and links mentioned in the interview can be found below.


Connect with Amy on Twitter and Instagram: @amyratsara



Mentioned Books, Authors, Podcasts, and Links
Feedly RSS reader
American girl books
Minute Markers:
Childhood reading [1:08]
How her reading changed as she grew older [4:16]
Discovering her love of history [12:00]
Why history is important and inexhaustible [15:41]
How she picks books and resources now [21:00]
Good audiobooks she listened to recently [23:27]
Continual learning in law [26:26]
Reading tips for law students, how to annotate passages [30:15]
Applying the reading tips for general reading [36:31]
How to learn the historiography of a topic [37:25]
Debates on how history is popularized [40:20]
Bias in biographies [43:43]
Methods to select books to buy/borrow/purge [46:48]
What she’s reading right now [51:37]
Resources for people who want to start learning about American History [53:55]
How 2017 impacted her reading habits [57:15]
How to keep learning [1:00:39]




*Amazon Product links on this blog are Amazon Affiliate links, which means that each time you purchase something through those links, I get a small commission without you paying any extra. Of course you don’t have to use them, but if you want to chip-in towards content creation for this blog, I’d really appreciate it!


Best Books of 2017: Part 2

Best Books of 2017: Part 2

It’s time for the 2nd installment of best books of 2017. This year has been an especially good reading year for me, clocking at 54 books of different varieties. Part 1 of my 2017 favorites can be found here. For the whole reading list, check out this link below:
I read a lot of great books this year, but the ones that made this list were the ones that I felt were fantastic reads.

1. Dad is Fat by Jim Gaffigan

As a new parent, I found this book super entertaining. Gaffigan is one of my favorite comics, and these funny stories about his family of 7 (5 kids) and parenting are hilarious and refreshing, especially if you want to escape high-brow, too-intellectual topics for a while (anyone tired of politics this year?). I recommend the audio version, which Gaffigan performs himself.


2. Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World by Cal Newport

Deep Work is for anyone who’s looking for tips on working in a focused way and achieve excellence in a world where we’re dinged, pinged, alerted, and notified constantly. Newport’s advice is practical, but he also recommends different productivity strategies based on the nature of your work (i.e., this is not the type of book that offers a singular method and is adamant about it).




3. The Art of Learning: A Journey in the Pursuit of Excellence by Josh Waitzkin

Nicely coupled with Deep Work. While Newport focuses mostly on the logistics of productivity, Waitzkin focuses on methods of mastering new skills. He taps into his deep experiences as a chess child prodigy and martial arts competitor. True to its title, the book teaches you how to surpass learning as a way to satisfy curiosity or to become more knowledgeable, into a realm of expertise where learning turns into art. I can’t recommend this book enough.



4. Black Hole Blues and Other Songs from Outer Space by Janna Levin

The discovery of gravitational waves shook the world, in a good way, when it was publicized in early 2016. The quest earned Rainer Weiss, Barry Barish, and Kip Thorne the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2017. But the search for these elusive waves began many decades before and involved numerous scientists with varying personalities and quirks. Their tireless toils lead us to understand a bit more the nature of our universe. This book tells the story of this quest, one of humanity’s most noble quests, I daresay, from the beginning. A marvelous story.

5. Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future by Ashlee Vance

These days, it’s not outrageous to make the claim that Elon Musk is probably the world’s most interesting living person. His name has become synonymous with the most outrageous and audacious projects that Silicon Valley has ever undertaken. Yet Musk’s life story told in this book makes this man even more interesting, if that is even possible. He lives a gutsy life, which is such an understatement. This book was published in 2015, yet merely two years after, it feels outdated already simply because its subject has continued moving, creating companies, and undertaking out-of-this-world projects. It’s a fantastic biography.


6. Wonder by R. J. Palacio

Wonder is a heartwarming story of a boy with facial differences who attends school for the first time. Making friends, being kind, facing bullies–all things character building, for kids and adults alike, are touched here. I’ll be reading this with my baby one day.


To see the previous best-of lists, check out these links below:

2017: Best Books of 2017 Part 1

2016: Best Books of 2016 Part 1, Best Books of 2016 Part 2.

2015: Best Books of 2015 Part 1, Best Books of 2015 Part 2.

What are your best reads in 2017?

The Reformers Timeline

The Reformers Timeline

The year 2017 marks the 500th year anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. October 31, 1517 is traditionally believed as the day when Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses on the door of the church in Wittenberg, which started the wave of theological movements all throughout Europe.


To commemorate this quincentennial, my church is doing a series on the Protestant Reformers, which syncs well with my current preoccupation with timelines. I was curious to see how the lives of the Reformers overlapped each other, since they certainly influenced each other’s work and ministry.


This Reformers timeline is based on the names mentioned in the book the Great Controversy. It’s by no means the most comprehensive list, but it transcends the 16th century Reformers to a few individuals who were precursors to the Reformation and to a few who influenced Christianity in the succeeding centuries. Here it is.


Reformers Timeline

(Click image to enlarge)


A few interesting things to note:

  • In 1517, Martin Luther was about 34 years old, younger than I initially imagined.
  • Most of the other Reformers were also in their 20s and early 30s. Their protests would continue for the rest of their lives.
  • From this chart, Hugh Latimer and Nicholas Ridley were executed (burned at the stake) together.
  • These Reformers were in different countries, England, Bohemia, Germany, Switzerland, France, Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden, and Scotland. William Miller was in America. I probably should have differentiated these locations in the plot. Next time.


Now the interesting part for me, and the whole reason of doing these timelines, is to combine different historical narratives in one visualization. In the image below, I added William Wilberforce, the English MP who championed the abolition of the slave trade (a personal hero), to see who were his contemporaries. One of the last letters that John Wesley wrote was for Wilberforce, encouraging him in his work to abolish the slave trade. John Newton, a former captain of a slave ship, author of the popular hymn “Amazing Grace”, was also Wilberforce’s mentor (also on the plot).

Reformers and U.S. Presidential Timeline

Adding to the fun, here’s a combined timeline of the Reformers and the U.S. Presidential Timeline from the last post.


It’s interesting to see that William Miller, a preacher during the Second Great Awakening in America, lived through 12 presidents. He died during the short presidency of Zachary Taylor. William Wilberforce corresponded with some of America’s founding fathers. There are probably many more fun facts that can be unearthed from this timeline. If you know any, let me know!



U.S. Presidential Timeline

U.S. Presidential Timeline

Longtime readers of this blog know that I’m a big fan of timelines. Timelines are a great visualization technique to see a “slice” of history–what events take place at the same time in different places? This time, my subject of choice is the U.S. Presidential Timeline.


As an immigrant who did not grow up in the U.S., and someone who pursues a STEM education through and through, it so happens that I have never studied American History in a classroom setting. But ever since I became a permanent–as opposed to alien–resident, and now have given birth to an American, my interest in this nation’s history has increasingly grown. It’s hard to fully engage and understand today’s sociopolitical and cultural conversations without proper background, something like walking into somebody else’s conversation, and the American conversation is often rapt with historical jargon.


Everything I’ve learned about American History is self-taught, from reading, watching, listening, basically consuming all kinds of media. Thanks to my friend, Amy, my current obsession is binge-listening to the Presidential podcast by Lilian Cunningham of the Washington Post. It’s a great first pass of the last 241 years of history. I’ve thought about reading one of each U.S. President’s biographies–sounds like a great education–but since they’re typically 1000 pages apiece, this will be slow going. (Anyone else interested? Let’s form a support group, maybe? By the way, the Presidential podcast has a great reading list here.)


In any case, it’s hard for me not to see data whenever I delve into history. I have a long term project of synthesizing everything I read into a big giant timeline, to gain perspective of how things relate, or don’t, across the globe. For the U.S., this is the start.


U.S. Presidential Timeline

(Click image to enlarge)


This U.S. Presidential Timeline has both each President’s lifespan and their presidency. The trivia masters among you can probably spit out the-most facts of presidential history, like the shortest presidency, the longest, the youngest to take office, the oldest, who died in office, etc. For the rest of us, maybe we can turn this timeline into a game.


One thing that jumps out to me though is the gaps in the Presidents’ ages between before and after Eisenhower, and before and after George H. W. Bush. It seems like the presidency skips a generation born circa early 1900s and 1930s (WWI and WWII? Is this real?). Internet, please enlighten me.


What do you observe from this timeline? Comment with your interesting observations!


As usual, if you’re interested in the source file for this timeline, let me know! There are more details there than displayed here.




Best Books of 2017: Part 1

Best Books of 2017: Part 1

It’s time for the mid-year highlights of the best reads of 2017! I’ve been having an especially voracious appetite for reading this year. Since I no longer have to commute to work, the amount of reading time in my life has multiplied. You can view the complete list of the books I’ve read in 2017 and 2016 below. Click here for Part 2 of this list.

These are my best picks from this year’s list:

1. Born A Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood by Trevor Noah

This was the first book I finished in 2017. It is both hilarious and insightful. Trevor Noah, a comedian from South Africa, is a brilliant storyteller. Noah was born during apartheid, and grew up in the complex post-apartheid South Africa. His life stories are out of this world. If you can, I would recommend listening to the audiobook version. He narrates it himself, which is awesome, since he speaks many languages and does accents very well. You’ll get the full characterization of the people he mentions in the book.



Blog posts inspired by the book:

Trevor Noah’s Insights on the Power of Language

Home in Language: Why Speaking in Your Mother Tongue is So Refreshing

2. Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging by Sebastian Junger

This concise and poignant volume is a critical view of modern society and its isolation. Junger elucidates the power and importance of living in communities, most of which is lost in our typically individualistic lives.





Blog post inspired by the book:

Tribe: Home in Community


3. Homegoing: A Novel by Yaa Gyasi

Homegoing is a beautiful novel that traces the lineage of two half-sisters, spanning about 300 years of Ghanaian and American history. Through the story of this split family, we are carried along through history, seeing the impact and legacy of colonization and slavery to individuals, families, and societies. Incredible work of fiction.




Blog post inspired by the book:

Home-Longing: Thoughts on Home and What It Means. A Prequel.

4. Tools of Titans: The Tactics, Routines, and Habits of Billionaires, Icons, and World-Class Performers by Tim Ferriss

This is the mother book of all business and self-help books. Lots of inspiring quotes and life hacks from top performers of all fields.





5. Stories of Your Life and Others by Ted Chiang

If you’re into science-fiction, this is a fantastic collection of short stories. One of these stories became the basis of the acclaimed movie Arrival, starring Amy Adams. It’s great writing, combined with provoking exploration on how humanity would behave in alternate realities.




6. The Undoing Project: A Friendship That Changed Our Minds by Michael Lewis

A book by a great storyteller, on a great friendship story between Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky, two Israeli psychologists whose work on the mind’s judgment-making processes have influenced probably everything in modern psychology. Kahneman is the author of Thinking, Fast and Slow, one of my all time favorite books, where he describes the key conclusions of his and Tversky’s work. The Undoing Project is the behind-the-scenes story on how the research and collaboration took place between these two great minds.



7. Purple Hibiscus: A Novel by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

I read several of Adichie’s books this year and though I enjoyed all of them, I especially appreciated Purple Hibiscus. She portrays the inner life of the novel’s protagonist–a teenage daughter of a deeply religious and abusive man–and her complex relationship with her family very powerfully.




8. Smoke Gets in Your Eyes: And Other Lessons from the Crematory by Caitlin Doughty

For a book about death, this book is a surprisingly delightful read. Doughty works in the death industry and takes us through her reflections–both humorous and serious ones–as she learns about her work in a crematory. It has just enough irreverence to be funny, but it also poses deeper questions about how modern society handles death and the dead.




To see the best-of lists from previous years, check out these links below:

2017Best Books of 2017 Part 1Best Books of 2017 Part 2

2016: Best Books of 2016 Part 1, Best Books of 2016 Part 2.

2015: Best Books of 2015 Part 1, Best Books of 2015 Part 2.

What are your best reads in 2017 so far?

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