You want to know about anybody? See what books they read, and how they’ve been read – Keri Hulme

Ernest Hemmingway once said “there is no friend as loyal as a book.” Friends come and go, even family can abandon you, but books, they’re always there for us. Awaken the Giant Within by Anthony Robbins helped me survive my teenage years, Adventure Capitalist by Jim Rogers inspired me to alter my life to finance, while The Hacking of the American Mind by Dr. Robert Lustig prompted me to modify my lifestyle towards a healthier one.

Some books can completely change the way we see the world, like The New Rulers of the World by John Pilger and The Shock Doctrine by Naomi Klein. Others show us the root cause of some complex problems, like Fields of Blood by Karen Armstrong and Why Nations Fail by Daron Acemoglu and James A. Robinson. Some are intellectually stimulating, like Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman. Others are hilarious and give fresh perspectives on the world, like the Freakonomics series and any book by Michael Lewis.

And while every book has its own merits, and one life-changing paragraph is all it takes to make an awful book useful, every once in a while we’ll discover some books that are just simply mind-blowing, like 48 Laws of Power by Robert Greene, Debt: the first 5000 years by David Graeber, or Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari.

Of course we don’t have to agree with everything that we read, and sometimes reading books or authors that have opposing views with us is exactly what we need to do to understand the big picture. We can read the Bible, the Quran, Bhagavad Gita, and every other religious scriptures to understand why different religious people act the way they act, or read Communist Manifesto to understand how socialists organise their thoughts, and read science books to understand the development and logic of human discoveries, which would prevent us from getting fooled by amateur hoaxes. Indeed, books teach us multi-perspectives that would keep us from having rigid views and keep us from being a judgemental extremists. After all, just like Thomas Aquinas once said, beware with a man who only reads one book.

Books also teach us empathy, to see the world from other people’s perspectives, and to learn a lot from them. George R R Martin said it best: “a reader lives a thousand lives before he dies, the man who never reads lives only one.”

With that in mind, I’ve lived the crazy adventure life of Richard Branson, the thug life of young Stalin, the interesting life of the man who broke the Bank of England, and the little boy named Temujin who would build a massive empire from scratch. I’ve lived in the Golden Age of Islam, in the medieval Europe, in the Incan jungle fighting the Spanish invaders. I witnessed the ethnic cleansing of Palestine, the fall of the Soviet Union, the disappearance of Kurdistan, and the 11th hour of the Indonesian independence from Japan.

I’ve also lived in the complicated network of drug cartels, the modern hackers, the Asian Godfathers. I’ve learned the secrets of the wealth of the Medici family, and how they lost them. The secrets of the power of the Bilderberg group, and how they got them. I saw the rotten practices of the Aid industry, the dodgy microfinance violations, and the inner workings of our current ruling empire.

I was there when Hitler was given 80 drugs per day, when Amazon crushed Wallmart, when Isaac Newton lost his money in South Sea Bubble, when Elon Musk was nearly bankrupt during Christmas. I was also there when Deng Xiaoping’s son got crippled, when Che Guevarra was surrounded in Bolivia, and when Alexander Hamilton lost in that duel.

Indonesian 1st vice president Mohammad Hatta once declared “I’d volunteer to go to prison, as long as there are books. Because with books I am free.” That’s exactly what happened with Nelson Mandela, where he kept his sanity for 27 years in prison by reading books, particularly Meditations by Marcus Aurelius. Indeed, it doesn’t matter where we are, when we bring a book with us there’s a new world awaits at the palm of our hands. Even in prison. This is why I always bring something to read wherever I go.

Pablo Neruda once said “The books that help you most are those which make you think that most. The hardest way of learning is that of easy reading; but a great book that comes from a great thinker is a ship of thought, deep freighted with truth and beauty.” They call these types of books as quake books. And the following are the reviews of some of the quake books I’ve read over the years:

The complete picture of Stoicism

Clear and direct answers to the most frequently asked questions on Islam

Veteran traders telling their fascinating war stories

The perfect introduction to Stoicism

A vital book to understand political Islam

The short stories of almost everything

How the beast works

One of the most innovative person in Silicon Valley has a very interesting life story

The summary of every single Berkshire Hathaway annual shareholders meeting between 1986 and 2015

A very smart book, on a passionately entertaining subject

The importance of khatam

How to control our cognitive biases

History’s amusing lost stories

The funnest, most out-of-the-box, analysis on the keys for success

This should be the 1st book anyone read to understand about Islam

Sometimes great wisdom comes from the thinest books

16 million copies sold since the 1930s and it’s not difficult to see why

Never knew that accounting can be this interesting

A detailed account on what’s going on in the dark side of the world

The men who bring out humanity from the dark ages

The Rakai Pikatans of Indonesian history

Very good lessons in business, from unusual trades around the world

A vital book to read to understand Islam in Indonesia

When it comes to violence, Buddhism is no different than other religions

A brilliant, out of the box thinking, outside the existing ideologies

It’s not religion that causes violence, it’s power struggle

Successful people have winning habits, and this book analyses them well

The scientific explanation for mind vs heart situations

It’s like history’s greatest hits!

World class investigation on the murky International Aid industry

And I thought I knew my own country Indonesia

A beautifully written book on Islam that takes us back to basic: the reading of the Holy Quran

The ugly truth on how to become wealthy

A Rosetta Stone on the complex theological debate during the Golden Age of Islam

A well-rounded book to learn all about the real microfinance sector

Important, but best to read with prior knowledge about Indonesia

I can’t think of a better way to learn everything about India than by reading this book

If I was stranded in an island and can only bring 1 book, this would probably be it

How arguably the best news channel challenged the world

Exquisite piece of wordcraft

Brilliant book written by one of only a handful of journalists who have interviewed Bin Laden in person