When the price of time is set at nothing, finance becomes absurd

“The Price of Time: The Real Story of Interest” by Edward Chancellor

Interest rate is so misunderstood. So much so the bunch of people who were among the firsts to master it and made it their vocation – namely, the Jews – get a bad reputation for greed, from their role depicted in the Bible as a usurer to the global finance conspiracies. But what is really an interest?

This book covers the 4000 years of evolution of interest. Using many intriguing examples from history, economics, politics, even religion, it tells the many trial and errors of using it, the debate over its function and its legal limit, the exploitations of it, the usage of it for a natural selection, the benefits of it, all of which serve as the foundations for the core thesis of the book: “when the price of time [aka interest rate] is set at nothing or turns negative, and central banks print money without limit, finance becomes absurd.”

It is written by Edward Chancellor, an award-winning financial writer whose role in the industry includes working at Lazard Brothers in the 1990s and serving as a senior member of the asset allocation team at GMO between 2008-2014. His book on financial speculations, “Devil Take the Hindmost”, remains in my top 10 favourite even today after nearly 2 decades since the last time I read it. And in a way, this book is similar with his first book, where Chancellor uses the familiar stories we found there but he illustrates them with a different (complementary) angle: the interest rates rather than the madness of the crowds, the trigger rather than the reaction.

The book argues that the crisis from 2008 is far from over, only delayed and prolonged, and that we’re in the prospect of having a colossal meltdown as an effect of the policies implemented since the downfall of Lehman Brothers: the cause and effects link between low interest rates and inflation, the problems arise in the easy credit environment, the “zombification” of corporations from Japan to Europe to the US, and the many spillover effects ever since, like the Arab Spring 2011, the collapse of Brazil in 2013, Greece in 2015, the crash of Turkish Lira and Argentinian Peso, the political chaos in Italy, the boom and bust of China, and indeed the global inflation since 2022.

And along the spectacular example stories, Chancellor inserts the intellectual debates behind the decision makings by those in charge, including the citations of original thinking from past legendary economists – from Bastiat and Smith, to Marx, from Keynes and Hayek, to Schumpeter – combined with the zeitgeist of each example’s era, which filled the book with a front row seat in witnessing the battle of ideas that have shaped today’s global financial environment.

For example, It is fascinating how eerily similar today’s global economic situation is with 1700s France. While the bailouts and interest rate cuts down to zero by the Fed in 2008 subsequently led to the inflated global asset prices and the battle against high inflation today, France began their economic woes after the wars since the death of Louis XIV left the country with mountains of debts.

Orchestrated by John Law – an outlaw in England that managed to escape to France and climb his way up to practically become a finance minister/financial manipulator – France then went into a similar pattern of pushing down interest rates and printing money by buying government debts, which was tied to the Mississippi Company that Law created. Long story short, it didn’t end well in 18th century France after it eventually triggered an inflation (23% at its height) alongside the inflated share price of the Mississippi Company, which then culminated in the crash of the Mississippi Bubble in 1720.

Moreover, from other examples such as the Roaring Twenties, Railway Mania 1840s, and Japan in the 1980s, Chancellor shows that when interest rates get too low investors usually become restless, looking for other investment vehicles that have a higher return, and that market unrest always follows a period of low interest. “Easy money fostered credit growth, and credit growth fostered speculative excesses”, argued Chancellor, a remark also echoed by legendary investor Warren Buffett when he said “interest rates basically are to the value of assets what gravity to matter”, once this gravitational force is removed (i.e. becoming zero interest rates) all sorts of speculative assets – from stocks, to bonds, property, commodities, to crypto currencies – were free to float into the stratosphere.

A 17th century economist Richard Cantillon provides even more accurate descriptions of the current global situation when he said back then “when a national bank turns on the printing press and buys up government debt, the newly created money is initially trapped within the financial system, where it inflates financial assets rather than consumer prices, and only slowly seeps out into the wider economy.” This thesis is evident in how covid relief measures (rate cuts and bond buying/money printing that doubles the Fed’s balance sheet from $4 trillion to $8 trillion) exacerbates the inflation firstly towards financial assets in 2020-2022 and then eventually spillover to the economy in a form of severe inflation, which, according to Chancellor, “the acceleration of these tendencies brought them closer to an endpoint”, a potential disaster that never ends well for any of the examples from history.

This is where we are at the moment, on the verge of another catastrophe. As I write this review Signature Bank shuts down, First Republic Bank’s share price is collapsing, UniCredit’s shares halted, and Credit Suisse’s CDS hits record high, while the stock price of other US regional banks are enduring a sell-offs, after the US government just bailed out Silicon Valley Bank the previous day (the second largest bank failure in US history after Washington Mutual Bank in 2008), as a ripple effect of the change of environment from decade-long zero rate to the aggressive rate hike by the Fed.

This makes this book very timely, a strong warning of what may come in the near future. And as you can see we’ve been warned, even by long-dead economists centuries ago. But we just never listen.

Sprinters are born, but endurance athletes are made

“1:59: The Sub-Two-Hour Marathon Is Within Reach – Here’s How It Will Go Down, and What Can Teach All Runners About Training and Racing by Dr. Philip Maffetone

This book has a simple goal, but a highly ambitious one: to reach a sub-2-hour marathon. Unlike his other “general theory” books, in this book Phil Maffetone uses the tools and tactics directly as an action plan to develop our physique and mentality to be able to run the marathon in just 1 hour and 59 minutes.

Now, as I write this almost a decade later since publishing date in 2014 the sub-2-hour marathon has finally been achieved in Vienna 2019 by Eliud Kipchoge, one of the main contenders expected in the appendix to break the barrier. So, 1:59 is humanly possible.

But of course the rest of us mortals are not a pro runner and won’t likely to reach 1:59, but it’s the effort and science behind it that makes this book so interesting, as we now have the ideal benchmark if we choose to train and live like the pros. Or at least close to it. And for a running geek like me, this is a goldmine.

The book neatly covers all the most important subjects on running, from vitamin D, to running economy, slow twitch and fast twitch muscle fibres, recovery and rest, lactic level, aerobic and anaerobic, heart rate variability, VO2MAX, cortisol, addressing over training, stretching (or why you shouldn’t do it), nutrition and diet, glycemic index, massage therapy, on the right shoes, barefoot running, cadence, altitude training, to how he use time (not miles) for training, and many more, including a special analysis of the Kalenjin people in Iten, Kenya (the de facto Mecca for running) and why they produce so many pro runners.

“Sprinters are born, but endurance athletes are made”, Maffetone remarked. And this mindset indicates that although it is far from easy, we don’t really need a special talent to become a distance runner and that everything written in this book is actually trainable for anyone.

The blueprint of seduction

“The Art of Seduction” by Robert Greene

Sexual desire is a big part of human emotion. It can also be a tool, which was first used by powerless women in history as a power play that does not need physical strength but only psychological strength. And this, is what seduction is all about.

As Robert Greene remarks, “[i]n the face of violence and brutality, these women made seduction a sophisticated art, the ultimate form of power and persuasion. They learned to work on the mind first, stimulating fantasies, keeping a man wanting more, creating patterns of hope and despair—the essence of seduction.”

These techniques were then slowly adopted by men who saw the potentials in this so-called soft power. Starting from the likes of Duke de Lauzun, the Spaniards who inspired the Don Juan legend, Casanova, and Ninon de l’Enclos. Seduction techniques also began to be implemented within the ranks of the military, by men like Napoleon who saw the techniques valuable for diplomacy and political edge, until today in our lifetime where seduction has become a common tool for persuasion for men and women alike, in politics and business.

“But even if much has changed in degree and scope,” Greene commented, “the essence of seduction is constant: never be forceful or direct; instead, use pleasure as bait, playing on people’s emotions, stirring desire and confusion, inducing psychological surrender. In seduction as it is practiced today, the methods of Cleopatra still hold.”

Seduction also works by filling a void inside, fulfilling a dream or fantasy, enhancing some part of them that they wanted to be recognised, helping them to achieve something, creating a festive environment where everything goes, or sometimes become the risk that they are craving in their steady and boring life.

And this is where Robert Greene brings out his Midas Touch once again and lives up to his reputation for being a modern-day Machiavelli, as he dissected the anatomy of seduction and dives deep into the archive of history to illustrate the key points in action, using stories and their interpretations.

The stories varies widely from Cleopatra, to Bill Clinton, JFK, Cora Pearl, Queen Elizabeth I, Krishnamurti, Mao Zedong, his Mrs Mao, Lenin, Moses, Sigmund Freud, Charles De Gaulle, Marilyn Monroe, Abraham Lincoln, Andy Warhol, Chiang Kaishek, Fidel Castro, Napoleon Bonaparte, his Josephine, Benjamin Disraeli, Rasputin, Elvis Presley, Joan of Arc, Malcolm X, Duke Ellington, Henry Kissinger, Evita Peron, Oscar Wilde, my boy Soekarno, even Charlie Chaplin, which amounts to 10 types of seducers and 18 types of seducers’ victims.

In a way, the book feels like a sequel to Greene’s first masterpiece, the 48 Laws of Power, where in the first book he describes the 1st type of power and in this second book he describes how to use the 2nd type of power (or what Greene refer as “the ultimate form of power.”)

But as usual with all Robert Greene books, I’m reluctant to spill any more “cheat code” in life. So, if you want to know more you just have to read the book. Or not. You know what, it’s not really that good, I only gave it 5 stars and tagged it under the “favourite” folder.

When compounded, the smallest things can make such a big difference

“The Compound Effect: Jumpstart Your Income, Your Life, Your Success” by Darren Hardy

This book is brilliant and awful at the same time. It’s very inspirational at some parts, but cringy at many others.

At first impression, the book is one of those cliche books that tries to stand out from the rest of the cliches. It promises to go back to the basics, to clear the clutter of unnecessary information and instead becoming laser sharp focus on the core fundamental principles that truly matter: how to become successful through step by step guide that are measurable and sustainable. The author’s guide, of course.

In fact, Darren Hardy has “the only process you need for ultimate success”, which he obviously learned himself personally through trial and error, which made him rise from nothing to becoming the CEO of his own goddamn company at the age of 24. Yes, he has this principles that have since been perfected and codified so that he can share it with us in this book, the same lessons he teaches entrepreneurs and executives in his coaching class!

To put the cherry on top, if you listen to the audiobook version it is read by none other than himself, in a pump up voice that could probably make you hyped up. Probably. Because, his role model and mentor just happens to be Tony Robbin’s role model as well: Jim Rohn (Of course, who else?). In fact, you will stumble upon a lot of Jim Rohn references in this book – like the way Robert Kiyosaki keeps referring to Napoleon Hill – as well as quotes from his aptly named (and with all capital letters) SUCCESS Magazine. This, ladies and gentlemen, is peak self-help.

But then, without further ado he proceeded right to the main points of his theory, the compounding effect. And it was actually pretty good. Good enough that the book was mentioned in the “must read” list in one of the many book review articles that I’ve read. Which sucked me into this.

The key thesis of his theory is this: Small things if done consistently over the long run will generate something good. Or bad. Indeed, the ripple effects from doing small things consistently over time can either be a virtuous cycle or vicious cycle. It can add small calories into our body or subtract less calories. The little money we didn’t spend on meaningless things become the big savings we have for the future, or dwindling our savings with us not realising what had happened. It can mean one small progress in our work overtime, or small leaks that will lead us down hill. Or small progress in our stamina or fitness ability overtime, or the deterioration of them.

That’s it, that’s chapter one, “the compound effect in action.” The rest of the book is some form of supporting arguments or elaborations for his main premise, which is fine but they are filled with humble-brags and name droppings that suspiciously look as if he’s trying a little bit too hard to boost his credibility (which is unnecessary).

But ignore the ego and you might learn one or two more things, like his take on habits, triggers, his friend the “big mo” (momentum), clean environment, sticking to our core values, identifying our “why”, proper goal-setting, getting rid of the inefficient habit (such as reading news a little too much), “vice test”, or how the attitude that the path to ultimate success is not through winning a lottery or a jackpot but through a continuation of mundane, unexciting, and unsexy daily disciplines that compounded over time. Like I said, supporting arguments or elaborations, which at this stage are nothing new but nevertheless good for reminder.

Having said all of that, this book will definitely be one of the first self-help books that I slowly introduce to my young kids, as it neatly compiled (or copied?) all the wisdom I’m familiar with from the work of Charles Duhigg, Simon Sinek, Tim Ferriss, Marshall Goldsmith, and of course Tony Robbins. Yes it has an abundance of cliches, but for any newbie at self-help? It’s a good starting point.

Bob Marley as told by the people around him

“So Much Things to Say: The Oral History of Bob Marley” by Roger Steffens

This book puts the human behind the icon, the stories behind the songs.

It is written by Roger Steffens, a kind of polymath with an interesting life: a Vietnam war veteran that became an author, actor, editor, lecturer, photographer, reggae music producer, reggae radio host, and the founder of Reggae Archives, the world’s largest collection of Bob Marley material and other reggae memorabilia. On top of this, Steffens had actually toured with Bob Marley and the Wailers in the 1970s and was closely acquainted with them.

Unlike the other 500+ books on Marley, this book is written not from the vantage point of the reggae legend, but it is a book about his life’s story in a 360 degree angle as told by the people around him. More precisely, it is the culmination of the interviews (a.k.a. “oral history”) conducted in the span of 4 decades with 75 of the people closest with Marley and those who have crossed paths with him, including family, friends, neighbours, musicians, business managers, photographers, filmmakers, and journalists.

The book tells the tale of Jamaica in the turbulent political years in late 1960s and 1970s that became the environmental context for the birth of the reggae music. It tells the story of the pre-recording early days of the Wailers, the backstage reality of the Studio One, the JAD period, the complicated world of music business, song royalties, confrontation with producer Lee Perry, what happened in Gabon, the breakup of the group in 1973, Marley’s encounter with Johnny Nash and Nash’s big influence on Marley’s music. It is about the events that inspired the making of the songs, like how “get up, stand up” was written during their tour in Haiti after he was deeply moved by the poverty there, or how “I shot the sheriff” is actually about birth control.

The book also covers his personal life. Marley’s upbringing in the slums of Trench Town, that time he lived in Delaware and London, his volatile relationship with Rita Marley and Cindy Breakspeare, his visit to Ethiopia, his exile from Kingston in 1966 and 1967, his diet and exercise, his love of football, the ego, his near psychic ability, his 19 children from multiple mothers, marijuana, lots of marijuana, the Rastafari religion, the story behind their unique dreadlock hair style, more marijuana, when he met with emperor Haile Selassie II, and how he didn’t really care about money and gave a lot of them away to others throughout his lifetime.

The many interviews in the book also reminisce about the iconic moments in Marley’s life, such as that time when they were the opening act for the Commodores at Maddison Square Garden but “stole” the show, the mysterious assassination attempt on him in 1976 (and who really did it), the tense events leading to the One Love peace concert, his ability to unite two party fractions in Jamaica during a bloody battle, his moment in the independence celebration of Zimbabwe, his last months living on Earth before his death on 11 May 1981 at the age of 36 due to skin cancer, and his funeral where literally half of the entire population of Jamaica came to pay their last respect.

That’s how much Marley was loved and respected. That’s how big his personality was. And that’s how impactful he was in the global scenery. And this very enjoyable read can capture all of the essence and moments perfectly, to show the Robert Nesta Marley from Trench Town behind the legend of Bob Marley.

The methods of top writers

“The Art of Writing and the Gifts of Writers” by C. S. Lewis

This is a neat book that shows C. S. Lewis is first and foremost a reader. In here, he analyses the writing styles and the main lessons that the most influential writers for him are trying to instill in their respective books, each with their own unique style. Writers such as Homer, Dante, Shakespeare, Chesterton, Kafka, and many more including special chapters for E. R. Eddison, Tolkien, Haggard and Orwell.

Moreover, in a series of short essays Lewis also covers many things related with writing, such as his philosophies in life, his take on science fiction, the nature of literature, ethical issues, good characters in a story, Christian theology, on criticisms, on writing for children, his preference for Animal Farm over 1984, or gems like how he came up with the ideas for his books like the Chronicle of Narnia.

It is a short but impactful book that teaches us how to see literature from the correct angles, and most importantly how to properly read them and get carried away by them.

The case for lost advanced civilisations

“Fingerprints of the Gods: The Evidence of Earth’s Lost Civilization” by Graham Hancock

They say he’s polarising. It’s always best to keep our skepticism intact when reading a book that contains bombastic claims, and this book probably has one of the grandest claims of them all: that there were advanced ancient civilisations before our supposedly “official” beginning roughly 6000 years ago, as agreed by the archeologists. But they’re all vanished due to an apocalypse. Which is an intriguing hypothesis to say the least.

Hence, the rabbit hole that I dug to eventually arrive at this book: Like many others in 2022, I first heard about Graham Hancock from his Netflix documentary, and then I saw that he was interviewed in the Joe Rogan Podcast so I listened to the 6+ hours of rich conversations spread among 2 episodes. Still not fully convinced by what I’ve heard, I then decided to dive deeper into this book, to see what he is talking about.

There’s nothing really new about the narrative that he hasn’t already elaborated in the podcast interviews, or summarised neatly in the Netflix documentary (especially episode 8). But the book does give a more detailed and in-depth explanations, as well as the interpretation of evidences (including several thorough chapters on Egypt that was not covered in the documentary, because he wasn’t given the permission to shoot there). And it is these voluminous explanation that makes reading this book so damn challenging due to the abundance of information that come flooding.

You see, for a long time I found Joseph Campbell’s book The Hero with a Thousand Faces to be the most well-researched and well-written book that is hard to emulate. But here in this book Hancock, just like Campbell, not only found the common themes of the myths and merge them into an insane single narrative, but he also takes the similarities into a more investigative mode and turned the stories somewhat into historical records.

At the core of Hancock’s argument is this hypothesis: like I said above, there once exist lost ancient civilisations that have advanced technology, living during the Ice Age. But then they all quite abruptly disappeared due to the end of the Ice Age that saw melting ice became floods. As Hancock remarks, “[h]ow different the world was during the ice age. The sahara desert was green. The amazon jungle lies under a deep canopy. 400 feet sea level rise at the end of ice age, the prime real estate 27 million square km were submerged.”

The floods were all actually told in the many mythology and religion around the world, from the flood of Noah in the Bible, to the story in Hindu scripture, to South American mythology, to Greek tragedy. Hancock believes that myths are not necessarily created by unsophisticated society trying to understand the world from a primitive point of view, but rather a historical record occurring in many parts of the world that have a similar storyline. To be exact, the apocalyptic event happened on Earth between 12800 and 11600 years ago, when during that 1200 years the Earth was an inhospitable place.

Another core hypothesis of his is the similarities among the records kept by ancient civilisations about the story that wise bearded men came to teach them how to re-build a society from scratch after the great disaster. “What is surprising,” Hancock remarks, “is that the myths not only describe shared experiences but that they do so in what appears to be a shared symbolic language. The same ‘literary motifs’ keep cropping up again and again, the same stylistic ‘props’, the same recognizable characters, and the same plots.” Literaly motifs, like the carvings they have in the temples that shows similar stories, such as the serpents from the sky.

What are these serpents? They were what Hancock believes to be the trigger that ended the Ice Age, which caused the melting of the ice and ignited the hell on Earth during what they called the younger dryas period where the Earth was so unstable and natural disaster occurred everywhere. The sky serpents in all ancient myths are the debris of a meteor, that came in the form of thousands of meteor showers into the Earth, whose impacts equivalent to atomic bombs and produced dusts, fire, and flooding, increased the Earth’s temperature and caused the ice to melt.

And thus another of his hypotheses: the many ancient monuments – like the Pyramids in Egypt, the monuments in Maldives, the Stonehenge – that are weirdly perfectly aligned towards the stars, and all that ancient obsession with astronomy. They are simply the ancient civilisations’ way to observe the skies to ensure that they will be more ready if another “serpents” striking down Earth and to also warn future generations.

Curiously, In 600 BC Plato mentioned about the disappearance of Atlantis 9000 years from his time. Which makes it 9600 BC, exactly 11600 years ago at the end of the younger dryas of the Ice Age, a period called meltwater pulse 1B where there were a single biggest rise in overnight sea level.

This is of course a separation from the generally agreed narrative by archeologists, where the academic consensus believe civilisation was first developed in the Fertile Crescent in the Middle East, in Mesopotamia. According to the “official” consensus, the development began after 4000 BC and culminated in the emergence of the first true civilisations around 3000 BC: Sumer and Egypt, followed by China and the Indus Valley, and civilisation took off spontaneously and independently in the Americas in about 1500 BC.

However, as Hancock shows repeatedly in the book, there are several evidence that refute this narrative – from the Piri Reis Map to Gobekli Tepe – which shows that there were already an advanced technology or advanced understanding of the world way before 4000 BC but all of which are ignored or dismissed by archaeologists simply because they don’t fit with the agreed upon narrative. As Hancock remarks, “[m]ore than 500 deluge legends are known around the world and, in a survey of 86 of these (20 Asiatic, 3 European, 7 African, 46 American and 10 from Australia and the Pacific), the specialist researcher Dr Richard Andree concluded that 62 were entirely independent of the Mesopotamian and Hebrew accounts.”

Naturally, this bold claim does not bode well with the archaeology community, and since 1995 (the publication year of this book) there were many that tried to discredit Hancock. But out of the many counter-argument articles from archaeologists that I’ve read so far – even the most credible ones like Flint Dibble from Cardiff University – none of them have convincingly debunk him.

Because, Hancock structures his arguments through the scientific method. So, at the very least give me a similarly neatly organised evidence on how he is a fraud, and I’ll believe you. But so far I haven’t seen a single counter argument that can manage to do that instead of calling him crazy, or pseudo this pseudo that, or picking just one or two claims and unconvincingly attack them. Like the most credible critic in Scientific American mentioned about his take on Gobekli Tepe, where the article defends archaeologists’ definition that it is a “ceremonial religious site, not a city” but fail to address the fact a civilisation much older than 6000 years can make such a temple and completely ignore Hancock’s finding that Pillar 43 at gobleki teppe leads to a particular date 10,900 – 10,800 BC.

I’m not saying that Hancock is 100% right, nobody knows this for sure because in the end his hypotheses are indeed speculations. But if we spend much time digesting his work, it’s all calculated speculations. He’s asking the right questions, questions that archaeologists refuse to entertain for some reason (and being so defensive about it. He definitely hit some status quo’s nerves). And this book in particular shows very strong arguments with meticulous detail, he keeps referring to data, data, and data. And if all of the findings and arguments in this book turns out to be wrong, then at the very least it has made some big narrative worthy of a Dan Brown novel. But if it’s true, then it can significantly change the course of history and our understanding of our civilisation, not to mention what they are trying to tell us so that we can be more prepared for the future.

At the Joe Rogan Experience Podcast episode 1897, Hancock and Randall Carlson mention about ancient technologies that are way different than ours, such as the technology of sound that was used by the Egyptians to cut and move stones, and that the technologies are being tested by scientists as we speak. But then again, Nikola Tesla once tried to re-create these ancient technologies but he was then quickly suppressed and labelled as crazy. By whom and why, we can only guess.

But according to Carlson this time is different, Mazda is already on board and lending their facilities for the testings, and the white paper of these technologies will be published for the public in February 2023. So, buckle up, a bombastic news might or might not come out very soon.

This is for boys of all ages

“How To Raise A Boy: The Power of Connection to Build Good Men” by Michael Reichert

This one is personal, and I took as much time as needed to slowly digest the lessons in the book. Because my little boy is growing up fast, closer to his tweens now and along with it comes the growing dilemmas of all young teenage boys. So I need to understand more about his inner struggles and feelings and how to best help him and cater to his needs.

This book is a great source of information to learn just that. Written by an applied psychologist Dr. Michael C. Reichert who has studied and worked with children for more than 3 decades. To make his points across, apart from his own expertise in the field, Dr. Reichert also use a tremendous list of books, publications, huge amount of data, and most importantly real life cases of “troubled boys” and the responding approaches to properly solve the problems.

Here are the bottom lines: 1. be the boy’s safety net. Not necessarily to always rushing to rescue him, but to notify him that he is not alone and we will stand with him and provide a shield if necessary. 2. Offer relationship with a strong sense of self, that our relationship with him is their primary fortification, to prevent overcompromise. 3. Encourage emotional expression. 4. Exercise authority. 5. But also promote autonomy.

Now, here are few key messages from the book that I think worth a little elaboration:

Firstly, the vital importance of good communication. Such as listening without judgement or without adding any opinion, to make the boy felt heard and understood. As Dr. Reichert remarks, “[t]here are several rules to get the most out of special time: not giving advice, not dividing attention among other tasks, not talking to others or interrupting the time that’s been promised, and not modifying the activity the boy has chosen, no matter how hard it might be to see its point.” Or simply put, “boys want what everyone wants: to talk with someone who will listen, understand, and care.”

This includes the importance for us to acknowledge their feelings (and not being dismissive), and our reliability in their eyes: “Alone with their own feelings and reactions, children feel frightened and insecure. Research on secure attachments teaches that children who are able to depend on their caregivers are stronger, happier, and more confident.”

Secondly, on shame. The book addresses the brave “face” that boys are putting while having emotional turmoils inside, to hide shame. As Dr. Reichert remarks, “[k]eeping secrets is a normative part of boyhood. But bottling up feelings never works very well, often leaking into behaviour.” Dr. Reichert then added, “feelings of shame can cause a boy to isolate himself in order to still anxious self-criticism.” Again, just like the next two points, establishing a good rapport with the boy and a good communication are the absolute keys.

Thirdly, just like the rest of us, boys are the product of their environment. The many stories told in this book illustrate the behaviour change on them after a traumatic thing happened, whether domestic violence, bad neighbourhood, bullying, or many others, with them unable to properly processed what happened and instead resort to rebelliousness or sinking to a secluded depression. The key problem lies in the way they decide to keep the story and the emotions to themselves. As Dr. Reichert commented, “once the habit of keeping things to himself was established, it took deeper root.”

Fourthly, the pattern of male isolation. As Dr. Reichert remarks, “[t]he pattern of male isolation develops early. Normal feelings of wanting to be close with his mother, for example, become suspect when a boy receives messages that he should be tough, independent, and self-sufficient.” This is a crucial point in a boy’s transition from a young kid to a teenager (those difficult years), where according to psychologist William Pollack, “[t]his painful separation process by which many very young boys are shamed into withdrawing from their mothers more than they naturally want to, and then are only partially nurtured by their fathers, is a devastating disruption in a boy’s emotional life.”

Indeed being a boy is not easy, with all the pressure from society to “man up” or “rough it out” and trying their best not to be seen as a “mama’s boy.” And the book is not easy to read either, as it dived deep into the most chaotic and messy problems that boys have, but that’s exactly what the book is written for, to address all of the issues.

The book then proceeded to cover a lot of topics that expand from these 4 key messages, including popularity contest, romantic relationship, the awkward conversation about sexual desires, body and health, playing sports, drugs and alcohol, self harm, integrity, bullying, how to respond to violence, and so much more, including that delicate situation when our boy is starting to crave for more independence from us.

It’s heartbreaking to read all the struggles that the boys are having in the book, whether those who were successful on turning things around or those who don’t and became a cautionary tale. And to my surprise, I can identify some of those struggles in my own experience. Even today as an adult. I didn’t know this was a problem or that isn’t supposed to be the way we feel, and there’s actually a healthier way to express/solve them.

As Dr. Reichert remarks, “[i]t has surprised me how often, as boys grow into men with deeper voices and bigger muscles, parents forget that they still need care and protection. The myth that a man bears responsibility on his own seeps into relationships with boys as they grow.”

Like I said, this one is personal.

The perfect book to make me understand and appreciate literature more

“The Literature Book: Big Ideas Simply Explained” by DK

This book is the greatest hits of literature, arranged in a chronological order so that we can “feel” the literaly evolution and innovations alongside the social, economics and political environment of their time.

The literature works that are chosen in this book are not necessarily the ultimate must-read ones. But it was chosen due to their influence on society and other subsequent literary works. The fact that this book provides a list of 200+ more books for further reading in the appendix is a testament to this. Nevertheless, you can still find the “greatest hits” list of all the best of the best literatures from across the globe, from many different generations.

The additional context for these body of works are also very insightful, such as the inspirations for their stories, when then use satire, how they use paradox, what type of narration they are using, or the way they organise their chapters, not to mention the main point summaries of some of the biggest stories by legendary authors.

The book also analyses the writing style used by many different era, region, and type of society, which is so interesting to learn about the many different local touches. Perhaps it is like listening to many different types of music, from Baroque classical, to Reggae, to Jazz, in order to understand the many different influences in sound from around the world. Once you understand them all, you could easily spot, for example, an Arabic tune influence in a rock band, the same with different types of historical influences that made up a modern work of literature.

This interestingly shows the common psyche of the era, where the books represent the epitome of what the values and principles that the society adhere to, or conversely for some books they became the main source for the way people think in their respective eras. Moreover, this can also placed literatures in the context of their time, that we can easily predict the era that they came from, for example, from the dark tone of the narrative or the extravagance in the characters.

Indeed, the best literature are the ones who can capture the very essence of their respective era, complete with all the prevailing values, the injustice that people felt, the poverty, the tragedies, or the political uprising. Some emerge as a respond to a new social or political changes, filling the void that people are yearning for. And some even deliberately written as a social and political commentary towards the status quo.

It’s such a pleasant read, especially for me who is just learning to learn to read fiction and literature.

History’s all-stars

“The Greatest Minds and Ideas of All Time” by Will Durant

Will Durant is considered as one of the greatest historians that has ever lived, a Pulitzer Prize winner for literature in 1967 who received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1977.

This book was published posthumously and contain a somewhat conclusion to his years of covering history: his best list of greatest minds and ideas from the past. Now the list of people here are amazing, but the best part is the reasoning behind his choice of people. The followings are the list, organized under several sub headers.

The 10 greatest thinkers: (1) Confucious over Jesus, Muhammad, and Buddha because Confucious is a moral philosopher who is secular by nature but yet can have huge influences even towards nations. (2) Plato and (3) Aristotle, but not Socrates because unlike the half myth Socrates, Plato and Aristotle were real. Both wrote compelling books and had much direct influence towards the Western Society. Plato also created the Academy. (4) St Thomas Aquinas, for becoming the bridge between knowledge and faith. (5) Copernicus, on transforming our understanding of the universe.

(6) Sir Francis Bacon, the voice and symbol of the enlightenment age, who binds all of new knowledge together. (7) Sir Isaac Newton, on his role in science including the theory of gravity. (8) Voltaire, who ignited the age of enlightenment in France and eventually the Western civilisation and mankind. (9) Imannuel Kant, for restoring mind over matter in the days of religious backlash over logic. (10) Charles Darwin, whose work became the turning point of Western civilisation by introducing the theory of evolution.

10 greatest poets: (1) Homer, the pioneer (2) David, the Biblical character which is referred here due to his songs and lyrics expressed in the Old Testament. (3) Euripides, the Greek poet that was the first to tell stories as it is, without censor or propaganda. (4) Lucretius, a Roman poet, the greatest philosopher of Rome. (5) Li Bo, the multitalented Chinese poet with an incredible life story (told in the book).

(6) Dante, whose poem, the Divine Comedy, is among the greatest poems ever written. (7) William Shakespeare, for obvious reasons. But the gem in this book is his antics and shenigans that I have never heard before. That his best, more complex, works were produced after a dark period of time. (8) John Keats, which Durant said that he has left behind poems more perfect than Shakespeare. (9) Percy Bysshe Shelley, English poet with the most controversies. (10) Walt Whitman, the American poet in the revolutionary era, whose work captured perfectly the causes of the common men.

Durant then proceeded to what I think the best part of the book: his take on the best 100 books. He doesn’t list them all in chronological order anymore, but instead guide us through the importance of books and how to read them properly. Durant remarks “let me have 7 hours a week, and I’ll make a scholar and a philosopher out of you,” which is roughly 1 book a week and 52 books a year, broken down into just 1 hour a day. He teaches how to mix the reading list, how to endure a big book and topic, how we should take notes and avoid dwelling too long in a topic that doesn’t interest us, as Durant remarks, “there will be blocks along the line, occasionally you will come to an obscure or lengthy book, a bad upgrade, and all of your strength will need to be subpoenad to your task.” Skip few pages if you will, Durant elaborates, and if you find it irrelevant keep skipping until you find the sentences that speak to you.

It is an honest portrayal of the ups and downs of reading a book, where “you must not expect any material gain from this intimacy with great men.” “Indeed, you will be losing time from your profession or your business.” Moreover, Durant teaches us to read actively not passively, read with the intention of seeking knowledge that can be applied in our lives. If we find something that we disagree with? Read on, as tolerance towards what we disagree with is one mark of a gentleman. Make notes, and classify them.

And the mix of the best books are then mentioned in a manner so fast I swear it could easily get mistaken as a rap lyrics, containing his mashed up random thoughts on history, which is immense and incredible. The mix includes the topic of the latest science, astronomy, biology, chemistry, physics, conflicting ideas about science, William James on psychology, read on how religion evolve into philosophy, a lot of Greek thinkers, learning from the decline and fall of the Roman Empire, religion and its political influences in history, and so, so much more.

Durant then continues with the 10 peaks of human progress: (1) Speech. (2) Fire. (3) The conquest of the animals. (4) Agriculture. (5) Social organization. (6) Morality. (7) Tools. (8) Science. (9) Education. (10) Writing and print.

And he concludes the book with 12 vital dates in history. While the majority of the dates are related with the death of an historical figure, it is not to celebrate the death of the person but rather to witness the continuity of their respective influences to the world or the evolution that the death ignited. Here are the dates: (1) 4241 BC: the introduction of the Egyptian calendar. (2) 543 BC: The death of the Buddha. (3) 478 BC: the death of Confucius. (4) 399 BC: the death of Socrates. (5) 44 BC: the death of Caesar. (6) Unknown BC: the birth of christ. (7) 632 AD: the death of Muhammad. (8) 1294: the death of Roger Bacon. (9) 1454: the first printed press by Gutenberg. (10) 1492: Columbus discovered America. (11) 1769: James Watt brings the steam engine to practical utility. (12) 1789: the French revolution.

Oh, that was so amusing to read.