This is as close as it gets to a philosophy on writing

“Bird by Bird” by Anne Lamott

This is a brutally honest account of someone who lives and breathes writing. It is part autobiography and part lessons on how to become a writer, by an established writer who actually teaches a writing class. “One of the things that happens when you give yourself permission to start writing is that you start thinking like a writer”, Anne Lamott says. “You start seeing everything as material.”

And how to process that material is the absolute gem of this book, gem that has helped numerous writers along the years, gem that has made this book a go-to reference for writing even 25th anniversary edition later.

The first advice from her to the students is to write on, write everything from scratch, let it all out without worrying about structure, grammar, or even plot (that’s for phase 2, the editing part). The first draft of everything is shitty, as they say, and according to Lamott that’s part of the important process where ideas sporadically appear in our mind, and we write them all down in a messy first draft. This is why she puts notebooks in every room in her house, she even brings with her a notepad and a pen when walking the dog, so that any thoughts and ideas that spring up in her mind can be quickly jotted down and will not disappear.

Lamott then elaborates that we should not worry about perfection, because being a perfectionist prevents us for writing the first shitty draft in the first place, it puts so much pressure on us to produce them perfectly right from the start, which is impossible.

Which brings us to the next lesson. “Writing a first draft is very much like watching a Polaroid develop”, Lamott says. “You can’t – and, in fact, you’re not supposed to – know exactly what the picture is going to look like until it has finished developing. First you just point at what has your attention and take the picture.” Indeed, we could not have had any clue of what the story would look like when we first started, we just knew that there was something about this particular material that compelled us, and we stayed with it and focus on it long enough for it to show us what it was about.

And when the story has started to flow, nothing holds a story together better than a likeable narrator. As Lamott remarks, “If your narrator is someone whose take on things fascinates you, it isn’t really going to matter if nothing much happens for a long time. I could watch John Cleese or Anthony Hopkins do dishes for about an hour without needing much else to happen. Having a likable narrator is like having a great friend whose company you love, whose mind you love to pick, whose running commentary totally holds your attention, who makes you laugh out loud, whose lines you always want to steal.”

Lamott then spends the majority of the book providing beautifully written stories from her own life and her students’ life to illustrate what happens with the writing process in the real world. How mistakes were made and corrected, how forming a writing partnership can works wonder, and how the odds of our materials getting published is not really favourable, but why it does not really that matter.

Because one thing that I noticed about her writing class is that all the habits, tools, mentality, and attitude on writing are also good tools for approaching life in general. And in this sense, writing is almost therapeutical or can serve as a good habit for life, regardless of the result of the craft.

Perhaps the best analogy of her approach on writing and how to live our lives comes in the story of the origin of the title of this book: “Thirty years ago my older brother, who was ten years old at the time, was trying to get a report on birds written that he’d had three months to write, which was due the next day. We were out at our family cabin in Bolinas, and he was at the kitchen table close to tears, surrounded by binder paper and pencils and unopened books on birds, immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead. Then my father sat down beside him, put his arm around my brother’s shoulder, and said, “Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.””

The essence of a perfect warrior

“Warrior of the Light” by Paulo Coelho

This is Sun Tzu’s Art of War meets Marcus Aurelius’ Meditation. It is a short book filled with one liners of what constitute a perfect person – with all their demeanour, mentality, and flaws – in the eyes of Paulo Coelho. It serves as a manual on how to act and behave in many different situations, and it also provides us with plenty of strategies to best deal with anything that life throws at us.

Weirdly, or perhaps unsurprisingly, the universal messages in the book really resonate with what I’m going through in general. All the aspirations that I want to achieve, all the struggles that I’m facing, and the ultimate person whom I want to become, all perfectly portrayed by Coelho in the book. I guess this is why he’s one of the best writers in the world. This book is simply unmissable, definitely worth re-reading in years to come.

Football from the lens of statistics

“The Numbers Game: Why Everything You Know About Soccer is Wrong” by Chris Anderson and David Sally

You know that moneyball approach in baseball that has since copied elsewhere after the success story of Oakland A? This book is the story about its implementation in football (soccer).

The book highlights the fascinating world of data-analytics that are already rampant in baseball, basketball, and American football, but often previously overlooked in football. Using heavy sets of data, the book provides some interesting statistical angles that we will definitely miss if not pointed out, angles that could change the way we sees football and perhaps more importantly could change the way managers and players approach the game.

Now, this is an old(ish) book, published in 2013 during a time when data-analytics was still new in football, with the arguments made in the book are already a little outdated today. But the good news is, in hindsight we can immediately see which prediction came true or which arguments render to nothing.

For instance, by the time the book was published, Liverpool – whose new owner is none other than John Henry whom successfully applied the moneyball approach on his baseball franchise the Boston Red Sox – had just started implementing the data-analytics approach. Liverpool began the approach through the trial and error era of Brendan Rogers, and carried forward into great heights by Jurgen Klopp in his throphy-laden and records breaking reign. A success story. But the unsuccessful side of the aproach also saw Roberto Martinez did not quite make it in implementing it in Everton, while another hero in the book, Stoke City, eventually got relegated to the Championship.

Moreover, the book provides a glimpse of what data analytics can do to assist decision makings: Why Chelsea should have bought Darren Bent instead of Fernando Torres in January 2011, why did Alex Ferguson really sold Jaap Stam to Lazio, how catenaccio was designed to protect the team’s weak links, why Andre Villas-Boas failed at Chelsea, why according to Xabi Alonso tackling happens when something goes wrong and not right (and sense of positioning is more important), and what Tony Pulis did with Stoke City and Sam Allardyce did with Bolton: to use long-ball style of play to help maximize their resources and compensate what they lack (they will never be the possession-controlling type with those sets of players).

The book also tells several never-been-told stories, such as English football’s true innovator: Jimmy Hill. He was the person whom in the 1950s campaigned to scrap the Football League’s maximum wage (20 pounds a week) that led to the slow inflation of salaries until today’s millions. He was also the one who commissioned England’s first all-seater stadium, and the 3-point rule (which would be followed by FIFA as late as 1995 where it commands for all its constituent leagues award 3 points for victory).

Furthermore, every now and then the book told few stories in a slight deviation away from football, such as the amazing story of Major League Baseball’s Tampa Bay Rays whose majority owner, president, and head of operations had all been Wall Street guys, and they run the club using sports analytics looking for “positive arbitrage” possibilities. With only 2% edge they could brought the team to the play-offs in 4 of the last 6 years even though their total wage bill was the 4th lowest in the league, way down on the sums paid out by New York Yankees or the Boston Red Sox. In football terms, it is as if Sunderland is reaching the Champions League knockout stages 3 times in 5 years.

And of course, the book provides us with plenty of tales from the footballing archive. Such as the story of Arrigo Sacchi in AC Milan, where in trying to prove his theory (that 5 organised players would beat 10 disorganised ones), in training he took 5 organised defensive players (Giovanni Galli in goal, Tassotti, Maldini, Costacurta and Baresi), and clash them against ten players (Gullit, van Basten, Rijkaard, Virdis, Evani, Ancelotti, Colombo, Donadoni, Lantignotti and Mannari). “They had fifteen minutes to score against my five players”, said Sacchi, “the only rule was that if we won possession or they lost the ball, they had to start over from ten meters inside their own half. I did this all the time and they never scored. Not once.”

And when it comes to longevity, statistically speaking, the greatest manager according to this book is not Jose Mourinho or Alex Ferguson, it’s not Marcello Lippi, Vincente del Bosque, Fabio Capello, Marcelo Bielsa, Arsene Wenger, or Pep Guardiola. But Jimmy Davies. Who? Exactly. That’s moneyball for you.

Football is passion, football is tactical prowness meets luck. It’s chaotic and often messy. It’s about those magical moments that were created time after time that does not make sense – Roberto Carlos’ goal for Brazil against France in Tournoi de France, the two goals by Man Utd in stoppage time 1999 that won them the Champions League, that Roberto Baggio penalty miss in 1994 World Cup final after brilliant previous performances, that Aguero goal at the very last minute of 2011-2012 season – moments that from statistical point of view should not happen. And then of course there’s the mother of all outliers, Leicester City who won the Premier League by beating a 5000/1 odds in 2014-2015 season.

But for everything else, football is measurable. It is a set of habits and repetitive moves that form a predictable pattern, pattern that can be analysed in great depths using statistics. It gives that extra edge in an increasingly tight matches, where even throw ins, or when to best introduce a substitute (minutes 58, 73, and 79), or where the goalkeeper should stand in a penalty shoot, or the choice between in-swinging or out-swinging corner kick can make a slim margin of difference on the outcome of the game.

And while we already know that today the usage of data-analytics are spreading rapidly within football, this book shows us why and how. This is why this book is sublime.

An adventure with a message: Early cancer screening saves lives

“Just a Little Run Around the World: 5 Years, 3 Packs of Wolves and 53 Pairs of Shoes” by Rosie Swale Pope

In 2003, at the age of 57, Rosie Swale-Pope began a journey around the world that would cover 20,000 miles (32,187 KM) in 5 years. Not by car, not by motorcycle, not even by bicycle, but by running. Her quest was to raise awareness and fund for the early diagnosis of cancer, a disease that had just recently claimed the life of her beloved husband.

Carrying all of her belongings in a backpack (and later on in various different small carts), she embarked on the journey from her own front door in Tenby, Wales, to London and Harwich, crossed the English channel by ferry to the Netherlands, then ran the vast length of Western and Eastern Europe to Moscow and all the way to the far end of Siberia, before crossing the Bering Sea. She then continued running through the wilderness of the far north of Alaska, head across to North America towards Nova Scotia where she crossed to Greenland and then north of Iceland, before finally ran down the length of Great Britain back to the doorstep of her home.

While there were quite a few that have attempted a trip around the world by land before, and succeeded, she became the only person in the world that have completed this solo challenge with no support crew following her, while running. So, who is she and why can she get so “crazy”? (with the best possible intention of the word).

Rosie had an interesting childhood. Born in Davos, Switzerland, her mother was suffering from tubercolosis while her Irish father was away on duty serving for the British Army, so Rosie was raised by the wife of a local postman. She was 2 years old when her mother passed away, and little Rosie moved to Ireland to live with her paternal grandmother, and later with his father and his new French wife who loves Rosie. She grew up loving animals and took care of 4 orphaned donkeys, 7 goats, and a pet cow named Cleopatra. She also often go out exploring the countryside riding a black horse named Columbine.

To say that she’s an adventurer may be an understatement. She hitch-hiked her way to India, Nepal and Russia when she was a teenager with almost no money. Trekked 3000 miles (4800 KM) alone through Chile on a horseback. She walked around the entire coast of Wales, and ran a lot of exotic marathon races alongside the usual ones including one in Siberia, Romania, Albania, Cuba, Nepal, South Africa, ran 151 miles (243 KM) at the Sahara Desert, ran 1000 miles (1610 KM) from Arctic Circle to Iceland’s capital Reykjavik, and at one point ran 27 marathon races in 27 days.

Moreover, she once sailed single-handedly across the Atlantic ocean on a small boat. In fact, it was during sailing in 1982 when she met her husband Clive. Together, they had a happy, loving, and adventurous life, including living in a boat at one period of time and sailed around the world, even giving birth on the boat on Italian waters. That is, until Clive was diagnosed of prostate cancer a little too late and he passed away not long after. Rosie remarked of her last few moments with him, “[t]ime generously stopped its bitter headlong race; and stood still, just for a little while. It was time’s gift that meant everything. Things last for ever, not in years, but in the moments in which they happen.”

The run around the world was her way of grieving, and her way of battling against the very disease and awareness (or the lack thereof) that could have saved her husband’s life a little sooner. And what a touching journey. In that 5 years period, she didn’t run continuously but had plenty of stops and was welcomed by a lot of strangers and supporters of her cause. All the people she met, all the many weird and wonderful encounters, occurrences and even tragedies all made the run such a memorable adventure.

There was the 25 KM “Rosie’s Run” organised by her supporters in Netherlands to run alongside her, there was this one occasion where she entered a stranded place in the middle of the woods in Germany and proceeded to be served a delicious breakfast, when she’s serenaded in Poland, invited home by a Polish family during Christmas Eve, and by a Lithuanian family during New Year’s Eve, waking up with 6 other people in a random house, getting 2 Russian god-granddaughters, got ill several times including getting a double pneumonia and hospitalised in Irkutsk and suffered from broken ribs in Alaska, being protected by old men in a dangerous mountain, rescuing a dog that was about to be shot dead and took it with her for a while before giving it to a little girl in the next town, being proposed to get married, twice, almost losing a toe due to frostbite, making friends with the Amish, waking up surprised with a snake with her in bed, and appearing in the Martha Steward Show while in New York, among many others.

And perhaps the craziest ones for me, in between the run around the world she stopped at Omsk to run a marathon race, and halted the run once more to participate in the Chicago marathon (and finished 14th place in her age category). Remember, at this point she’s 60 years old!

While the journey was hers, the lessons were for everyone. And they are profound. Rosie is an incredibly kind soul with a positive outlook on life whom sees the best in people. Now this doesn’t mean that she’s naive and ignorant of the nasty sides of people and the violence occurring around the world (she even encountered violence few times herself in this journey, including getting chased by a murderer). But through her story she shows us and teaches us that even in the poorest and most desperate corners of the world people are naturally nice, and those who are desperate enough to become violent can be softened if we approach them with kindness and care. Even the murderer.

This is reflected in the so many people that she met along the way during those 5 years, who have so little but want to share or help her, all the doctors that helped her nurse back to health (for free), and the many people across many small towns that helped her with her broken equipments and so very often took her home and spoiled her with food and comfy bed. She might be running solo, but she got help from strangers almost in every step of the way. Rosie concluded, “I believe animals and people everywhere don’t just make the journey, they are the journey. It’s true in Siberia, Alaska, Canada, North Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio and the beautiful mountains of Pennsylvania. You never know what will happen next. The most enchanting encounters can end up startling you.”

It’s been years since this journey began and ended safely, and since then the British progressive rock band Big Big Train had wrote a song about this journey in their song “the passing widow”, she has since embarked on another charity-awereness run from England to Nepal, and Rosie received an MBE honour from the Queen of England in 2008 for her charity work. She’s simply an amazing human being.

How intensity is more important than duration

“The One-Minute Workout: Science Shows a Way to Get Fit That’s Smarter, Faster, Shorter” by Martin Gibala and Christopher Shulgan

This is a concise book about High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT). What it is about, why it is beneficial for our body, the history of its discovery, the legends on the field, and most importantly the many different types of HIIT exercises and how to practice them. The lead author, Martin Gibala PhD, is obsessed with the scientific approach on physiology and it is clearly shown in the multiple experiments, the data-heavy findings, and the overall science-based narrative of the book.

Using running as the main focus, through multiple studies Gibala concludes that in a much shorter time frame sprint interval training is just as effective as long distance work (in a slow to moderate pace) for increasing the main predictor of aerobic fitness and longevity: VO2 Max. Gibala explains, “approximately ten minutes of hard exercise a week boosted overall fitness to the same extent as four and a half hours per week of traditional endurance training. It’s mind-blowing. A tiny bit of sprint training has the same effect on the human body as a whole lot of endurance training—despite a much lower training volume and time commitment.”

To illustrate this with a training term, using 3 x 20-second sprints over a 10-minute window (3 times a week) can generate the same impact to cardiorespiratory fitness, mitochondrial density, body fat percentage, and management of blood sugar as 3 x 50 minutes of moderate-intensity runs. That’s 30 minutes vs 150 minutes a week effort with the same benefits. Even interval walking (walking at a normal speed for 3 minutes, then at a faster speed for 3 minutes, then back to normal speed, etc) will generate “more improvements in cardiorespiratory fitness and much larger decreases in blood pressure for those who are out of shape” compared with a regular steady speed of walking.

Moreover, as with any other fitness books, Gibala also provides all the good nutritional checklist and methods that can perfectly supplement high intensity training. It has all the usual suspects, such as intermittent fasting, cutting sugar, the importance of eating more protein in every meal, while restricting our food intake using calorie counting, and drinking only water and not drinking our calories (not even sports drink).

The theory is not without a flaw, however, as the HIIT approach is not readily suitable for everyone. The book provides a careful analysis on many different types of body and capabilities, including people with heart disease, couch potato and people at the age of 50, 60, 70 and above, and provides the more suitable high intensity training for them. Gibala also took a great length for addressing, and solving the problems of, the so-called “noneresponse”, that is those people whose body do not respond to diet and exercise changes, where some even become less fit after exercising.

But for the rest of us, the 12 different HIIT training styles that are guided in the book are relatively simple and easy to follow, which is astonishing considering the complicated science behind them and the obvious benefits that look too good to be true at first, but almost instantly impactful when I tried it myself: It solved the mysterious stagnation in my running performance this year, which was baffling for me because I thought I did a good progress by keep increasing the mileage of the same 3x weekly runs.

But after reading this book (over twice the time I normally read books, so that I can practice them more accurately), I hit that “oh shit!” moment.

As it turns out my previous years’ improvement streak partly got to do with luck, as before the pandemic I used to play football and tennis every week alongside my weekly runs at moderate intensity, two sports that require burst of sprint – walk – sprint – walk (aka speed play). Last year when Covid hits I stopped playing them, but my physical improvement continued simply because I was following Jeff Galloway’s running method, that includes sprints / higher intensity pace. Meanwhile, starting from the beginning of this year I almost exclusively implement Matt Fitzgerald’s 80/20 run, 3x a week, with no other variation.

So, as you can probably see, for an autodidact running geek who loves to conduct my own trial and errors using many different theories, this book is definitely a game changer for me. One that explains the science behind the reason why the best of the best coaches in the world all put a great emphasis on the fartlek (or speed play) training and hill training among their weekly training schedule. One that inspires me to plan a more efficient training schedule and insert fartlek and interval walking in between my 80/20 runs.

And as a result, after a brief slump, my VO2 Max level is now back to before the pandemic level.

The complete encyclopedia for beer

“The Beer Bible” by Jeff Alworth

It’s October, the unofficial month for beer, and I thought you know what will be cool to learn? How to make my own beer! And there’s arguably no better book to learn about this (and anything else about beer, for that matter) than one that is bold enough to claim to be its bible, with a whopping 657 pages of everything you need to know about beers, ales, wheat beers, lagers, tart and wild ales.

And when I said everything, I mean everything. The bible tells us all, from different brewing methods, different styles, and regions that create different taste. It list all the ingredients for making different types of taste, and for how long and at what temperature we should brew them, and which glassware or aluminum can to use to store them, and so on. It covers key activities such as lautering, boiling, chilling, fermentation, filtering and packaging. And it teaches us ways to taste beer like an expert brewer, which includes the intriguing explanation of retronasal smell and the difference between flavour and taste.

The book even trace back the history of beer to as far as 10,000 years ago. It’s really fascinating how many civilizations that presumably had no contact with each others can each separately develop techniques to create what later becomes beer. From Mesopotamia to Mayan to Egypt to China to Scotland and Scandinavia, where at one point after the birth of Jesus Christ and the rise of Christianity, monasteries once became centers of brewing activities.

Charmingly, the book also provides the explanation to many drinking games and how to say cheers in many different languages. It lists all the beer festivals happening around the world. And if we want to go for a “beer tourism”, aka visiting breweries, the book provides the proper route, explanations, and links to the recommended places.

Of course the book would not be complete if it doesn’t provide the names and labels that the author, Jeff Alworth, think as the best of the best beers. And the long list is mighty specific, spread across many different location in the world, covering many local breweries (none of those mass-produced brand names), which includes their ingredients, methods of brewing (what the hell is a stream beer?), and their backstories (such as why Indian beers ended up using more hops). And to be fair Alworth also tells the fascinating stories of the biggest brand names in the world and how they got so big and why they each taste the way they uniquely taste.

And just in case you somehow skip the early pages and only start reading from the middle, note that “Michael Jackson” is a respectful and legendary writer in the industry, and no you’re not drunk for thinking that THAT Michael Jackson is secretly a beer expert (it’s not he-he-em).

Yoga in a nutshell

“Yoga: Your Home Practice Companion” by Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Centre

As a complete novice on yoga, this is a perfect book for me to learn about the ancient practice. It provides the history of yoga, the philosophy behind the poses, and the scientific benefits of practicing them.

The book also teaches us about breathing, meditation, stress management, and proper diet according to yogic tradition (and how to cook or prepare for them). And every now and then the book inserts beautiful gems of wisdom, as a cherry on top of a wholesome philosophy of living.

All of this are wrapped up in digestible, bite size, chapters and sub-chapters that makes it easy to read and pause (so that I can mercifully – and comically – try to emulate the poses). I couldn’t ask for a more concise and straight forward introduction to yoga than this one.

A proper history of the Mongolian Empire

“Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World” by Jack Weatherford

This book was 13 years in the making. The extensive research began when Jack Weatherford, a cultural anthropologist, went in a journey to study the role of tribal people in the history of world commerce, specifically in the Silk Route connecting Europe, the Middle East, and China.

The research journey covers archaeological sites, libraries, as well as meeting with scholars from Forbidden City in Beijing to Topkapi Palace in Istanbul. From Siberia he pursuit the Mongol trails from Russia, China, Mongolia, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Turkmenistan, to as further places as Bosnia, then encircled the old empire via Marco Polo’s sea route, from South China to Vietnam, from the Straits of Malacca to India, the Arab States of the Persian Gulf, and on to Venice. And then back to Mongolia.

This is where he encountered his fork in the road. In Mongolia Weatherford was given access to enter the Forbidden Zone, the sites of Genghis Khan’s childhood and burial, and more importantly the coded text of the “secret history of the Mongols”, the official historical accounts by those who were close to or have worked under Genghis Khan, which once thought had disappeared and faded into the depths of history or concealed for secrecy at best. This encounter changed the course of his research, and he proceeded to spend 5 years focusing on extensive research within Mongolia.

In those 5 years, Weatherford worked together with a team of scholars from different background to deciphered the texts and to find answers from previously mysterious records of Genghis Khan. The team includes archaeologist Dr. Kh. Lkhagvasuren, who had access to the treasure trove of information collected by his professor and mentor Dr. Kh. Perlee, the most prominent archaeologist of the 20th century Mongolia.

He also worked with professor O. Purey, a Communist Party member that had used his position as an official researcher of party history to study the mystical practices of the Mongols. Also in the team was Colonel Kh. Shagdar of the Mongolian army whom took advantage of his station in Moscow to compare the strategies of Genghis Khan against Russian military. D. Bold-Erdene, a Mongolian political scientist whom analyzed Genghis Khan’s political tactics. And O. Sukhbaatar, a geographer who had covered over a million kilometers across Mongolia in the quest to better understand the history of Genghis Khan.

Together, the team then traced back Genghis Khan’s life from his birthplace to every notable places recorded in the “secret history”. Hike where he hiked, farming and herding where he grew up, recreated the many historical scenes under many different sets of weather condition, and along the way learned why the nomadic Mongols did what they did.

The result is this well-researched book, which addresses all the many myths and wrong perceptions about Genghis Khan, the culture and customs of the ancient Mongols, their lifestyle and diet, and most interestingly their winning war strategies. And for once and for all this book tells the story, as accurately as it can gets, of a young boy named Temujin who lived in the harsh nomadic environment, whom would eventually rise to power and build one of the largest empires we’ve ever seen.

The book also tells the story of Genghis’ successors, most prominently his grandson Khubilai Khan, and the effects that the Mongol rule under them had to help shaped the modern world. From further expanding the Silk Road, to building massive infrastructures for its day, forging diplomacy with other kingdoms, devising a legal code and rights, creating a uniform letters across the empire, introducing arts, increasing literacy level, using paper currency, to building what becomes known in the modern era as Beijing, to what arguably the most important thing they did for modernizing the world: extracting wealth of knowledge from its many subject countries, figured out what works and what not, and those that work they spread it to other countries within the realm.

The book concludes with the almost mysterious demise of what once a massive empire into a nearly forgotten country mashed between two giants Russia and China. It is astonishing to read all the great things the Mongols have done to the world throughout many centuries, only to be left forgotten in modern era almost without a trace of its glorious past. This is why this book is so referred by the Mongols themselves, in which the Mongolian government in 2007 even went as far as giving Weatherford the Order of the Polar Star, the country’s highest national award, in recognition of his contribution to Mongolian culture through this book.

Jack Weatherford is now retired, and spend 5 months a year in his home in Mongolia, where he and his wife are legal residents. And since writing this book, he has written another 2 books on Mongolian history.

Emotional intelligence in practice

“Working With Emotional Intelligence” by Daniel Goleman

In today’s world, where cancel culture is the norm, with so many people can get easily offended, where social media become a bonfire of the vanities as well as medium for nasty insults, and where Covid-19 exposes the worst in people’s behaviour, more often than not the underlying problem for it all is simply a severe lack of empathy.

On the other side of the spectrum, there’s an equally problematic trend called empathy distress. It is those people who have abundant empathy and those who care for others a little too much that other people’s suffering will cause them harm as well. If getting out of hand it could lead to emotional burnout or change people into a cynic who once cared too much and got disappointed.

Somewhere between these two extremes lies the psychological faculty of emotional intelligence. It is the ability to recognize, understand, and handle our emotions, and the capacity to use them to guide our perception, behaviour, and effort towards the environment.

The term first appeared in a psychological research paper in 1964, but was only popularized in 1995 by Daniel Goleman after the publication of his first book, aptly named “Emotional Intelligence.” While Goleman’s first book laid out the fundamental theories on emotional intelligence, this second book dives straight into the practical aspects of them.

And he chooses the business world as the real-life working example, covering everything from entrepreneurship, to flow state, leadership, team work, group IQ, delegating tasks, coaching and mentoring, performance review, logistics, office politics, problem solving, and many more management issues. And at the core of every function lies the important role of empathy.

There is a particular line in the book that caught my eyes, where Goleman said that when IQ test scores are correlated with how well people do at work, the highest estimate of how impactful IQ can be is around 25%, while the lowest estimate may be no higher than 10% or even 4%. This means that at best 75% of job success is up to other factors than IQ, and at worst 90-96%.

And this is what the book ultimately provides us and explains to us, the 75-96% edge in the working environment that can be applicable in many other areas in life.

The craziest life story that produces the abundant wisdom

“A Warrior’s Life: A Biography of Paulo Coelho” by Fernando Morais

I know that they say in order to write an interesting story, you have to live an interesting life. But holy crap. Paulo Coelho has a bizarre and turbulent life, it is as if Forrest Gump’s serendipitous tendency was combined with Jenny’s mischief and crazy experiments in life.

Was always ranked at the bottom of the class, he proceeded to have many different vocations after narrowly graduating from school. From creating and acting in theater plays, creating a famous cartoon strip, becoming an editor of a hippie and cult-related magazine, writing multiple best-selling songs, teaching theater, becoming a reporter at O Globo (the most respected newspaper in the country), to becoming a recording executive at 2 giants, and even becoming an expert Vampirologist, before he fulfilled a long awaited dream of becoming a writer.

But nothing was ever smooth sailing for young Paulo. He nearly died the very moment after he was born. And while suffering from many bouts of depression throughout his life, he almost committed suicide and was even admitted to insane asylum, 3 times, 2 of which he escaped (the 2nd of which made a spectacular story that ended him being written in a newspaper column in a town 2000 KM away).

Living at the heart of 1960s – 1970s, Paulo naturally became a hippie, organizing his life through living arrangement with many different “tribes”, experimenting with a lot of drugs, and despite of his mediocre looks he managed to have many women in his life. This includes many moments where he juggled two or three women at once, had various affairs, including one with a married woman, and had several genuine attempts of marriages that it makes the book a somewhat like the series How I Met Your Mother, where I got increasingly curious how he can ended up with that person mentioned at the first chapter when he was already older.

In between the shenanigans, Paulo often got himself into MORE shenanigans. Such as joining a satanic cult, briefly experimenting with homosexuality, nearly killed a person the first time he self-taught how to drive a car, soliciting prostitutes, worked as an actor in a soft porn movie, plagiarizing a newspaper article and claim it as his own, exploring bizarre occult and witchcraft, that weird event which can only be described as meeting with the devil, and went as far as claiming someone else’s work as his own in his book on vampire.

Yes, Paulo is not a saint, nor did he claim to be one. And that what makes his life story so damn interesting. Story that also includes all the injustices occurring to him, like the most prominent one where he experienced the military dictatorship’s brutality and getting jailed for 5 days, enduring torture, as well as being kidnapped by the government, twice.

Another common feature of his life is his many travel stories, which were all gripping and so much fun to read. From his hippie adventure to Bolivia-Peru-Chile-Argentina-Uruguay, to the misadventure to Paraguay, the few months road trip in the US with so little money (in which he nearly died), the 8 months road trip across Western and Eastern Europe, until the many luxurious globe trekking he did after he became an international best seller writer.

Moreover, Paulo is also a person who believes in moments, signs, chances, or mythical meaning of events. For example, he very nearly got into a plane that would later crashed and killing everyone on board, and saw that as a sign. He had an epiphany during his travel in the US on the exact day Nixon resigned as the US President. He also encountered a meaningful moment when he visited Nazi concentration camp in Dacau, which forever changed his life. Hence it was no surprise when he encountered a strange individual in Paris, he was intrigued and ended up joining the Regnus Agnus Mundi (RAM) order, an alleged Catholic order that studies symbolic language through an oral teaching system. RAM would eventually provide him with the experiences that inspired most of his books.

Indeed, after a long last, after about 2/3rd of the book, Paulo eventually did what he’s always dreamed of: to be a proper writer. The remaining of the biography writes like visiting Liverpool to get the feel of the Beatles’ songs, where the writer years provide clues on how he got inspirations for his books.

Inspirations such as his activity in Spain that became the story in “The Pilgrimage”, his travel to Egypt that inspired “The Alchemist”, a woman called Brida for a novel with the same name “Brida”, “the Valkyries” that was inspired by women motorbike gang in Mexico that he met, “By the River Piedra I Sat Down and Wept” on his experience in France, “Veronika Decides to Die” on his own experience in the 1960s (“Veronika is Paulo Coelho”), “Eleven Minutes” from a prostitute named Maria that he met in Geneva, and “The Zahir” which was inspired by a real life war correspondent.

At the very first chapter, the book began with a nice touch by showing what Paulo is doing today, as an international best seller author, jet setting around the world, living quietly in a small village in France. It served as an anchor for his proceeding crazy story, which made me repeatedly think throughout the book how can THIS guy become THAT Paulo Coelho. But after reading it word by word, from cover to cover, it all make perfect sense. It is simply impossible to get that much wisdom poured into the books if he hadn’t had a crazy turbulent life.

There’s never a dull moment in the book, just as there’s never a dull moment in the life of Paulo Coelho. And the author, Fernando Morais, portrays it excellently. One of the best biographies ever written.