10 min read  ●  Feb 29, 2024

2023 Books in Review

In 2023, I read more books in a year than ever before. The main reason my reading habits finally picked up was getting myself an e-reader, which made reading convenient in any and all circumstances. My physical book purchases are now mostly limited to graphic novels and design or photography books.

Since the list is long-ish, I’m breaking it down into three parts, following the order in which I read the books. This is part one.


Author: Tara Westover | Goodreads

How does someone raised in a survivalist household in isolation on a mountain in Idaho, with little to no education and healthcare, become a best-selling author with a PhD from Cambridge University? This is a jaw-dropping memoir of the author's life story.

Although I’d briefly heard about survivalism, this book showed me a reality so distant from mine that I kept forgetting I was reading a non-fiction book. Tara's vivid storytelling takes us through her journey of escape and self-discovery, recounting multiple episodes from her childhood, ranging from sweet memories to highly traumatic experiences. What started as a bit of teenage rebellion ended up clashing violently with her family’s beliefs. When she’s able to enter college, having seemingly freed herself at last, she still questions her decisions and struggles to navigate society after years of living in a bubble shaped entirely by her family.

Tara recounts these experiences in an incredibly articulate and thorough way. This book cost me precious sleep, and it is now on my “books to gift” list, which means it’s a favorite 🙂

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone

Author: J.K. Rowling | Goodreads

Like many from my generation, Harry Potter was *the* story that defined my childhood. Even before I knew how to read, my dad read these books to me as bedtime stories. Though I read the saga a couple of times when I was younger, it’s been nearly a decade since I last picked these from the shelf. After watching the first movie with friends at the New Year’s party (such a wild party, I know), nostalgia had the best of me and I decided it was time to relive this magical work by JK Rowling. If my dad’s enthusiasm for the books wasn’t evidence enough, I’m now certain these are great for both kids and adults.

The 4-Hour Workweek

Author: Timothy Ferriss | Goodreads

I was skeptical about this book, as it sounded a bit too much like the typical “get rich quick” rhetoric. However, since I’m planning to retire early, I thought it could have some interesting insights and decided to give it a shot, but my intuition was mostly right. Let me start with the negative points.

First and most importantly, I couldn’t agree or relate to many of the things suggested by the author. Some are borderline unethical and others are plain uninteresting. To give you an example, the author advises people to lie to coworkers and employers, sometimes with passive-aggressive strategies, to avoid doing work; basically, relying on an “as long as you don’t get caught” approach that I can’t condone – I wouldn’t want Ferriss as my coworker. In another instance, the author brags about having won a kickbox championship, describing how he achieved this by finding a technical loophole in the rules instead of getting good at the sport. This isn’t something that would feel rewarding for me.

Secondly, its contents feel a bit outdated now. His main advice for passive income is creating online businesses, which might have been a recent concept when it was first written, but not anymore. And, once again, some of his examples are ethically questionable.

Finally, the book was too long and became repetitive after a while, which was worse considering the previous point.

I won’t say reading this was a waste of time because I took some interesting takeaways from the book, mainly around the value of time and how one should manage it. We just need to filter out the unethical bits and outdated advice.

I’m not working 4 hours a week (not even 4 hours a day), but the book was a trigger to some important changes that helped improve my well-being and efficiency at work.

Midnight Sun (The Twilight Saga #5)

Author: Stephenie Meyer | Goodreads

I read the original Twilight Saga when I was a teenager, and back then I loved it; so I owed this to middle school Rafa. This is a retelling of the first book but from the other main character’s perspective. It’s a shame this didn’t come out 15 years ago because I believe I would have enjoyed it then – I guess I wasn’t as critical about abusive relationships at that time. Bella is a one-dimensional soul with no life goals except to marry Edward. Edward graduates from a creepy stalker to a controlling boyfriend. But it was still fun to read and remember how I once liked these stories, the fact that it’s not an amazing literary work didn’t come as a surprise.

What if? Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions

Author: Randall Munroe | Goodreads

This was one of my favorite books from 2023, and it already has a second part that I’m dying to read. Written by the author behind xkcd comics, it’s an enjoyable fusion of humor, wit, and intellect. It reminded me of “Letters from an Astrophysicist”, an excellent book by Neil deGrasse Tyson. Randall Munroe does a brilliant job of explaining relatively complex concepts in a manner that readers of different ages and backgrounds can understand and appreciate. I’ve shared passages from this book with both of my siblings. One is an Aerospace Engineer who devours books for breakfast, the other is a sarcastic (yet adorable) teenager whose interests don’t usually revolve around books–both of them loved it. Even if you don’t follow the author’s cartoons and if you’re not super into science, it’s worth giving this book a try. It triggers some pretty interesting conversations.

Some of the silly questions he distills with science:

The Martian

Author: Andy Weir | Goodreads

For a long time, The Martian was one of my go-to movies when I was craving something familiar, but it took me years to discover it was based on a book (thank you to whoever made it show up on my Goodreads feed).

Now, I’ve been upset about missing a bus and having to wait a couple of hours. Here, the narrator, Mark Watney, missed his ride and the next one isn’t due for another four years (oh, and there’s not nearly enough food). It’s safe to say Mark found himself more screwed up than most of us have or will ever be, but the character is creative and optimistic to the point of delusion. It was a pleasure to be inside its head. The author is able to introduce science bits and details that make the whole narrative feel authentic. However, don’t expect this to be an emotionally taxing survival drama; it qualifies more as a fun space thriller. Despite the humor getting a bit too corny at times, this book made me laugh out loud multiple times. I haven’t read any other works from the same author, but they’re on the list.

A Life on Our Planet: My Witness Statement and a Vision for the Future

Author: David Attenborough | Goodreads

These stats form the backbone of the book, showcasing the profound impact of anthropogenic climate change and biodiversity loss that David Attenborough witnessed during his lifetime.

We live our comfortable lives in the shadow of a disaster of our own making. That disaster is being brought about by the very things that allow us to live our comfortable lives.

I quite enjoyed the documentary adaptation of this book, and while the book didn’t make it to my top favorites, it’s still a pleasant read. It’s well written and it’s easy to visualize the scenarios Attenborough describes. It’s concise and backed by data and research, two qualities I appreciate. The author doesn’t sugarcoat the environmental changes we’re witnessing over the years, but also doesn’t “preach” – he simply presents the historical context, current state, and expectations for humanity and the other species sharing this planet with us. Despite the losses that already happened and those due to happen, he remains ultimately optimistic, reframing climate change as a challenge we must solve to ensure our species’ survival, not just as an altruistic gesture we owe the “planet” – the planet will do just fine without us. As he puts it:

We often talk of saving the planet, but the truth is we have to do these things to save ourselves. With or without us, the wild will return like the forest has taken over the city of Pripyat after the Chernobyl disaster forced people to evacuate the city

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

Author: J.K. Rowling | Goodreads

Not much to say, just continuing my journey through the Harry Potter series. “Chamber of Secrets” was my favorite for a while when I was little, probably because it wasn’t too scary and the storyline was quite easy to follow. Big snake, bad.

The Zoologist's Guide to the Galaxy: What Animals on Earth Reveal about Aliens – and Ourselves

Author: Arik Kershenbaum | Goodreads

Such an interesting read! While it didn’t glue me to the e-reader day and night, it definitely offered interesting insights of how aliens might look like. It debunks common Hollywood sci-fi stereotypes based on universal scientific principles such as Darwin’s theory of evolution and how essential “features” like movement, reproduction, communication, etc. evolved on species on Earth. It thoroughly illustrates how studying the development of different Earth species can inform our speculation about extraterrestrial evolution. Previously, I believed that aliens could take on any form and defy everything we know, and this book convinced me otherwise – that our existing knowledge can tell us a lot about the characteristics of alien lifeforms.

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

Author: J.K. Rowling | Goodreads

This was the first movie I ever watched in the cinema with subtitles and I vividly remember scattering popcorn all over the theater floor after getting startled by the werewolf suddenly appearing behind a tree.

Não Pai (PT)

Author: Daniel Blaufuks | Goodreads

In a blend of text and photography, the author reflects about his absent father, exploring the question “Can an absence be more present than a presence?”. This short book prompts reflection about a deeply complex subject: how the deliberate absence of a parent can impact a person throughout their life. The author navigates a spectrum of emotions ranging from longing and resilience to frustration and acceptance – all of which I’ve witnessed in friends in similar circumstances.

Thanks to my friend Sérgio Santos for lending me this book.

Think and Grow Rich

Author: Napoleon Hill | Goodreads

While reading this book, my prevailing thought was “what a waste of limited resources”.

I have trouble dropping a book once started, and this book is recommended so often that I clung to the hope it would eventually live up to the hype, but I was disappointed. Rather than offering insights into finance, it’s more of a self-help manual filled with quotes about how everything comes from faith and persistence. For instance, it suggests that the only reason for a business to fail is if the founder didn’t desire it enough, disregarding all other variables. About his deaf son, the author explains that he and his wife forbade him to learn sign language because they “desired him to be normal”. I can forgive the author’s misogynist worldviews given the book was written in 1937. But ultimately, unless you’re seeking a motivational book with simplistic mantras like “you can do anything if you desire it with all your being”, this book falls short as a resource on finance. My bad for assuming the “think” in the title implied strategic thinking.

The key takeaway is that, if you wish to be rich, you must put aside distractions such as family and personal well-being, instead developing an all-consuming obsession for wealth.