Book Review ∣ Book of the Year


Before ending the year of 2013, I decided to list the top 10 books that I found very fascinating to read during the year of 2013. I can say that few of these books have changed how I think, how I conduct myself, my philosophy and my life. I never found reading books really fascinating before however after reading few, I completely changed my mind. Now I really love reading.

For your information, due to the fact that I was in Korea since April, majority of the books that I read were Korean books. 

So, here are the top 10 books of the year that I read during 2013:



1. 공부기술 (Skill of Studying)

This book has changed my life. It may sound overdramatic, but it really did; It gave me a very very clear solutions of what really education is. When I first encountered this book, I was a teenager (I was year 9, in middle school) and obviously one of the major concern that I had during this stage of my childhood was studying. Like the same of all other students around the globe, I practiced same mundane routine of commuting to school from my house, not clearly thinking why I am doing this; I remember that I was going to school and did the homework's because that's what my friends did. As time went by, big examinations started to stumble in front of me such as IGCSE (International General Certificate of Secondary Education), AS levels (Advanced Subsidiary level) and A level (Advanced Level) education examinations. And during this time I found this book and changed the course of my education life entirely.

This book tackled me to question the most fundamental question of education; why on the earth are we studying? Why are we working so hard to cram all the knowledge that is recorded in 3 inch textbooks? And the solutions were very simple: self development.

During this book, I realized that when we look at the history of education, it was mainly the nobles in the 18th century who enjoyed the practice of studying, as a leisure. This shocked me. How can studying be considered as one of the leisure activities? But the explanation was clear. The act of acquiring a knowledge allowed the nobles to be respected by other people and allowed them to debate intense philosophical topics between other noble individuals because it was considered as a good entertainment at that time. Nobles also were known to learn how to play harpsichord and studied how to improvise good poems as a person how were really good at this were respected and honored. Comparing to nowadays, it is like a person who can sing really well in Karaoke gets the all the girls attentions. 

Surprisingly this fundamental concept of education has changed how I view the act of studying. Now the act of learning was no longer a cumbersome and tedious task, but an act of self development to become a better human being.



2. 자기혁명 (Self Revolution)

This book was a book that helped me to clarify whether I am going in a correct direction of my life. I was able to realize that the decisions that I was making during the course of my life was not incorrect but correct. It was also the book which made me understand how and why studying philosophy was important.

While reading this book, I was able to discover few quotes that I found absolutely captivating and I would like to share one quote from Jeremy Rifkin:


사회학자들은 지난 20만 년간의 인류문명 발전이 그동안 이 땅에 살아온 모든 인류의 노력의 결과라고 말한다. 이것은 모든 인류의 경의를 표하는 우아한 시각이지만 진실은 아니다. 지금까지 문명과 문화의 발달은 0.1 퍼센트의 창의적 인간이 다른 사람은 생각하지 못하는 것을 생각하고, 다른 사람은 꿈꾸지 않는 것을 꿈꾸며, 모두가 보지 못하는 어두운 곳에 깃발을 꽂고 이곳이 젖과 꿀이 흐르는 새로운 땅이라고 외치면, 0.9퍼센트의 안목있는 인간만이 그것을 알아보고 그들과 협력하고 후훤하며 새로운 문명을 건설한 결과다. 나머지 99퍼센트는 이 1퍼센트가 모든 것의 기초를 닦고, 새로운 계단을 놓고 난 다음에야 비로소 그 위에 올라와 세상 참 많이 달라졌다는 감탄사를 연발하며 또다시 그곳에 안주한다.
— 자기혁명, p. 162 (엔트로피 (Entropy) - 제레미 리프킨)
Sociologists say that the development of human civilization for the past two hundred thousand years is a result due to all the effort made by all the human beings. This is an elegant perspective to express the respect to all human beings, however not the truth. The development of human civilization is the result of when the 0.1 percent of creative individual, thinking what humanity have never thought of, dreaming something that other people never dreamt about, putting a flag in a darkest places where humanity have never saw and shouts that this is the land that milk and honey flow, the other 0.9 percent of people with insights sees the value then co-operates and supports the 0.1 percent, finally creating a new civilization. After the 1 percent completed all the foundations and made the stairs for the new civilization, then the rest of 99 percent of humanity goes up the stairs and marvel that the world has changed so much and then again, settle down as they did before.
— Entropy, Jeremy Rifkin (Translated by Will Kim)


I consider this quote beautiful, as it captivated the change and development of human civilization in just one paragraph. I also made a post about this quote and if you want more thoughts on this, you may able to read it here.

The book also talks about how society worked, the problems and possible solutions for these problems, and suggestion of who I should be as a citizen of Republic of Korea, the citizen of the Earth and how should I think and conduct myself. Not to be boasting, I realized about 70% of the suggestions were things that I was already doing and this helped me realize that I am going in a correct direction of a journey which we call life.



3. Howard's Gift

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Howard's Gift was a book that caught my eye while I was wondering in a bookstore. When I first saw it, I knew it was a book about life, how we should face, react and act. While reading this book, I was able to understand that there are so many different lives. There are not a single one person in the Earth who had exactly a same life compared to different person. And all these lives could be considered 'successful' and a 'happy' life, however only in a way a person views his life differently. 

Here is one of the phrase in this book that Professor Howard said which I would like to share with you:


I actually don’t really worry about being successful,” I said in response to his question. “Somehow I figure that success will work itself out. What I worry about is whether or not I’ll be happy.
— Page 12 - 13


I would definitely recommend this book to anyone who is wondering how he or she should live his or her life and questioning the fundamental questions of philosophy and life.



4. 환상적 생각 (Fantastical Thinking)

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This book was another self contemplating book that I read. But what's interesting about this book was that the author of this book is an architect. In other words, I was able to get a good opinion about self contemplation from an artist; since I do art as well, I was able to get a good idea how an artist contemplate ones life and how they treat his or her works of art and designs.

One of the notable things to mention about this book is that this book contemplates about what should be the main goal of learning. Many people (especially Korean citizens) sets their aim of education to get a job. But what this book tells us is something more deep. It tells us that the purpose of learning should not be getting a job, but something personal. The act of getting a job should be a method of achieving your dream, not the dream itself.

During this book, I also was able to discover few good phrases:

매일 노는 줄 알았는데 일을 하긴 하는군요?”
”하하. 당연하죠. 디자인은 책상에 앉아서 노력한다고 얻어지는 것이 아니거든요. 갑작스럽게 다가와요. 별똥별처럼 순간적이죠. 그 순간을 낚아챌 줄 아는 사람이 디자이너입니다.
— 환상적 생각 중에서, p. 217
I thought you are fooling around every day, but you actually are doing some work.” “Haha, of course. Design is something that you can’t just sit down in front of a table and do it. It comes very suddenly, like a shooting star. And a designer is someone who is capable of catching that moment.
— During Fantastical Thinking, P. 217
창의적인 생각은 누구나 할 수 있는 것인데 왜 창의적인 사람과 창의적이지 않는 사람이 구분되는 것일까? 사실 이 질문은 구분 자체가 틀렸다. 창의적인 사람과 창의 적이지 않는 사람으로 구분되는 게 아니라, 작고 일반적인 생각을 발전시키는 사람과 그 생각을 버려두는 사람으로 구분되어야 한다.
— 환상적 생각 중에서
Everyone can think creatively, but why people are divided into creative and uncreative people? Actually, this whole question is incorrect. Instead of dividing the people into creative and uncreative people, it should be rephrased as: a person who develops very small and ordinary ideas and a person who just leaves the idea.
— During Fantastical Thinking

5. What the Best College Students Do

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This book talks about how education should be treated by students in college. In other words, it suggests some good direction of how students should deal with their education, beyond the studies during their college career.

I realized that this book talks in a similar manner compared to the first book that I mentioned in this review. The most fundamental question we should ask ourselves: 'why on the Earth are we studying?'

By questioning the core reasons of the purpose of education, the book offers a good direction how to approach, react and treat education in college and beyond college level. I would definitely suggest people (especially students) who is unsure why of purpose of their education, which I assume a large number of people will fall into this category.



6. 나는 하나님의 가능성이고 싶다 #1 (I want to be the possibilities of God)

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This is book is a Christian book which offers very good example of what and how should Christian should act and live during this era of 21st century. Many people say that they are christian just because they goes to church but acts exactly the same as the non-chrsitians; drinks, do drugs, sex etc. This book suggests the tag 'Christian' does not come that easily as you think. It is something that you will even feel ashamed to be called since you are so embarrassed and grateful to be called as sons and daughters of God. It is not simple as just commuting to church on every sunday, but it is something much more intimate and personal.

I would definitely suggest all the Christians (especially the teenagers) to read and contemplate about being a Christian. Because this book clearly shows a good role model of Christian individual, how he was able to overcome his difficulties, discovering the relationship and maintain the relationship with God during his life.


7. 나는 하나님의 가능성이고 싶다 #2 (I want to be the possibilities of God)

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This is a continued version of the book, '나는 하나님의 가능성이고 싶다 #1'. In this book, it talks to more deeply about the life of Christian and the stories of how the author dealt with his sins during his life. It also shows how christians should communicate with God, maintaining the intimate relationship with God. 

This book has clearly gave me a good direction how I should make a relationship with God. Although everyone of you is different and God will make an intimate relationship differently to each of you, this book offers a good example of a Christian life.


8. 여덟단어 (Eight Vocabularies)

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This book was a book which helped me to refine my philosophy of life (as a 20 years old man), how we should act in front of Korean society, how we should appreciate the classic art and historical remnants. I really liked few of the suggestions that the author of this book suggested about how I (as a Korean) and other people should act in front of other Korean people and Korean society.

Korea is a country which is somewhat consumed by preconceptions. There are sets of rules that people must follow, and if not, people will treat you unfairly. Now the word unfairly is a polite (actually very polite) way of describing the consequences of being the 'odd'. Although from the perspective of foreigners, Korea might be perceived as a country with very sophisticated IT technology with dynamic energy, overwhelming with the vibe created by young individuals. This is true, but in a very shallow manner. Deep inside lies the excruciating pain and history which manipulates Korean citizens in a manner which I found pitiful but at the same time beautiful.

Education plays a big role in this culture as students were forced to shut down their creative wings to expand their knowledge. Instead, they are forced to cram floods information for examination coming up soon in few months. This method of education is, I think, one of the core reason for the preconception which lies in this country. I am not saying that this culture is wrong, but I want to offer that this is ineffective if the Korean citizens wants their (and my) country to be the leading countries of 21st century.

Since all the teenagers and captivated in a vicious cycle of ineffective education all the creative minds are forced to shut down and everyone were manufactured to be obedient and be the same compared to other people. Just like how the German school conducted their education during the industrial revolution to create obedient german citizens to work in the factories for tedious working routines. As a consequence, large number of students finds difficult to find and construct their life because they never tried to 'think' properly and when they find a student who is unique (who thinks creatively and outside the box), they will treat him or her unfairly. 

The book, Eight Vocabularies offers a good way of how we should conduct in this society and how we should live and treat our lives. This, I think is extremely important considering the movements and shift of cultures as the humanity is entering the era of globalization.

The Eight Vocabularies also suggests the importance of appreciating the arts, humanities and the classics. The reason that I found myself reading books again was due to this book. I would definitely would suggest this book to people, especially teenagers. To foreign people, I would like to advice them to study the Korean history and the culture before reading this book.


9. The One World School House

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I saw the future of education after reading this book. This book does not suggest ways to improve the current education, but innovate the education. Education in the 21st century has many problems. Even in USA, Korea, Japan etc, everywhere I think I never have found yet a single country where the education system is 'perfect'. Due to the advanced technology, we can communicate with people who is in the other side of the globe with a touch of a mouse and at the right time, Salman Khan has laid the first stepping stone of the next generation of education.

As you can see, large number of books that I read deals with education - the problems and the solutions; It talks about what and how the education should be practiced for students. While reading few books about education, I saw few common factors which is stated in every book about education and one of the factors is that education is organic process, not a mechanical process. 

As you have noticed, there is no single human being which is identical. Everyone is different and unique, have their own pace of learning. And I think Salman Khan has provided us an exceptional solution to this problem of education. I would definitely recommend this book to people who interested in innovation and how technology is utilized in education.


10. Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson

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Last but not the least, Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson was the book which has influenced me significantly in my philosophy of design and my life. By reading this book, I was able to understand his pure passion about his product and his design philosophy. I was especially touched when he sincerely wanted to make great products. Not for money. Although there could be some controversies about this, I personally respect his mind of creating a perfect product, pushing the design and technology to the edge because this is what develops and influences the humanity. 

The Book of Steve Jobs gave me some very good ideas about how influencing the world is important and allowed me to understand the beauty of hippy philosophy, which is a culture where human beings believed that they can achieve anything by themselves, making the fantasy becoming the reality. They lived the dream world. I certainly agree and am very excited as well about the capabilities and the unlimited possibilities that the people in silicon valley are have achieved and still thriving for, and the book of Steve Jobs initiated my interest of how attractive and powerful this culture and the technology. After reading the Steve Jobs, I was able to understand how beautiful the culture of 70s~80s in America (the hippy movement) was and allowed me to realize that this was the genesis of a new age which will be marked in the history of humanity. 

I would definitely recommend this book for people who wants to understand the deep meaning behind how one company named after a fruit which we consume daily have changed the way we live.



I would like to end this post saying that reading all of these books were extremely enjoyable yet challenging. I am also excited and curious what books I will be able to read in 2014. I sometimes wish I knew this joy of reading when I was younger, however I am grateful that I was able to discover this joy now as well, since every bit of my life at the moment is unexplainably beautiful.