Book review: The silver song of a lark

“Klopp: bring the noise” by Raphael Honigstein

This book reads like the Chicago Bulls documentary “The Last Dance”, with all the going back and forth in Jürgen Klopp’s different periods in life, from childhood to Mainz to Liverpool to Dortmund to Liverpool back to his punditry days in Germany, back to Dortmund, and so on. And it’s gripping.

The author has a special way to depicts a scene and brings us into the mood in the stadiums, in the pubs, and you can just taste the emotions among the supporters. And it is reflected in the book, which gives the overall context and “feel” around the development of Mainz, Dortmund, and Liverpool within Klopp’s respective periods in life, from the wreck at the beginning for each club to the few years of building up the team until its success stories for Dortmund and Liverpool.

But most importantly, in between the stories the book also brilliantly captures the essence of Jürgen Klopp’s tremendous, larger-than-life, personality and the wisdom and intellect that match it. Hence, it is similar with reading books about basketball’s John Wooden or American football’s Vince Lombardy, where we can learn so much more from the great men and from the lessons that they teach us for life outside their respective sports.

Yes, the core of this book is about Klopp’s strong values, it’s about his work ethic, his natural charisma, his clear conscious between what’s right and what’s wrong. One single passage in the book perfectly describes this philosophy: “But unlike Bill Shankly, Klopp has never believed that sport is everything. It can’t be. ‘If life would be judged at the end, and you stood at that door, and somebody asked you “Did you win something or not?” that would be really strange. But: “Did you try everything to improve the place you’ve been in, the house you lived in, the mood, the love?” “Yes, I tried, every day.” “Then come in.” And all the other guys, who won ignoring all the rules, all the laws – I think they have to use another door. I didn’t do that much in my life. But when we won it felt incredible (because) we always won it in the right way. You have to be patient. You have to work harder than others. You have to try, over a long period. Then you have a chance.’”

His philosophies, of course, also projected in his footballing approach. He’s very demanding but fair, he always push his boys to the limit but never throw them discouraging critics. He’s the ultimate authority but he’s “one of them”. He parties with them, exchange jokes with them, the hugs, oh the many hugs, and he genuinely value everyone at the club from top to bottom. In fact at the start of his tenure in Liverpool, he gathered everyone in one room, from players to the toilet cleaner and the lunch lady and ask them introduce to one another, to create a togetherness atmosphere in the club.

And he’s also good at protecting his players: “The Liverpool boss also reminded his men again about the pact he had made with them shortly after coming into the job in October 2015. ‘When you win, it’s down to you and when you lose, it’s down to me,’ he had told them in a bid to ease unspoken concerns about the new, complex and very demanding playing style.”

Now, I know love is a strong word but even if he kills a puppy at this very instance, I bet every Mainz, Dortmund, and Liverpool supporter will still see him as a saint. That’s how much Klopp is loved by the entire city of Mainz, the entire city of Dortmund, and by Liverpool fans worldwide, and it is a testament to his great character.

As a biased Liverpool fan, whose club just won the first English title in 30 years thanks to this err, saint, with many records broken in the process, this book is like the icing on the cake. It is the perfect book for the supporters. Thank Fowler that he’s our manager.

Book review: The best of Stephen Hawking

“Brief Answers to the Big questions” by Stephen Hawking

This is a mind-bendingly incredible book. It asks 10 big questions in science and in life, with Stephen Hawking gives the most thought-provoking answers.

The questions are: 1. Is there a God? 2. How did all begin? 3. Is there other intelligence life in the universe? 4. Can we predict the future? 5. What is inside a black hole? 6. Is time travel possible? 7. Will we survive on Earth? 8. Should we colonise space? 9. Will artificial intelligence outsmart us? 10. How do we shape the future?

The book itself is relatively thin, and the title literally says BRIEF answers. But it sure does feel voluminous and heavy weight, due to its condensed content.

It is one of those books that gives me the physical feel that my brain is being stretched and expanded to the limit of my ability to comprehend. And it’s fantastic. If what reading a book does for our brain equals with lifting weights for our body, then this book is one massive weight that we train with the assistance of the best possible personal trainer.

Different types of people in this pandemic

There are few kinds of people in this pandemic, which reflect their true personality:

  1. The fact checker: they seek the facts and adapt their life according to the reality on the ground.
  2. The conspiracy theorist: they see the world through the lens of conspiracy theories, and tend to believe hoax forwarded messages of the cause of the pandemic, the cure, etc, without verifying it. Even if we show the massive evidence that contradict their view to them, they won’t believe it.
  3. The judgemental: they have a certain judgement on everything and everyone, and will only selectively accept the facts or news that justify their biased views. E.g. I still hang out with my friends with no social distance protocol because they’re nice people.
  4. The dismissive: in the age of information overload, being ignorant is a choice. This type of people believe, with so little information as their basis, that the pandemic thing is so hyped up and overdramatic, just because they’re not bothered to see what’s really going on while everyone else around them are panicking. They only see the panic and not the cause of the panic.
  5. The clueless: they don’t know what’s going on, doesn’t have the initiative to find out what’s going on, and instead live life unchanged as normal. Will accept any bogus information at face value from anyone that they respect or believe, without fact-checking.
  6. The overly paranoid: and then we have the opposite. They know what’s going on, get drowned in the sea of information and misinformation, and become overly paranoid and can even be paralysed by their own scary thoughts (which is always worse than the reality on the ground).

Some are the archetypical of the type, while others are a mixed of the 6 types.

For true Liverpool fans out there

This is for the time Jay Spearing became a regular in the lineup, for every time Erik Meijer came off as a substitute, when David N’Gog was the only senior striker we had, for every, God, damn, Lovren blunder.

This is for that Gerrard slip in 2013-2014 season, for the painful 1 point difference last season, and for the 2008-2009 season when we also gave away our leading position to end up as a runner up.

This is for the dark days of Gillett and Hicks, where we were only hours away from becoming bankrupt. This is for Adidas who abandon us when our ship was sinking.

This is for Thiago Ilori whom we never get to see him play, for that Jamie Carragher’s block tackle on Torres’ first debut for Chelsea, Robbie Fowler’s 4 goals against Middlesbrough December 1996 that started my love affair with football, that Xabi Alonso goal from half way line against Newcastle.

This is for walking through the storm together, through the wind, through the rain, to walking on though our dreams be tossed and blown, with our heads held up high. Until we finally reach the end of the storm, and arrive at the golden sky. They did it! We did it! We fuckin did it!

Book review: Read it with a massive grain of salt

“The Room Where It Happened: a White House Memoir” by John Bolton

This is a God-awful book. For a start, there’s a lot of gibberish to take in, in a writing style that is not well structured, and not to mention the flow of the book that keep following where the author’s rants want to wonder within the chapters, which is messy.

The book is written by the infamous John Bolton, a grade A a-hole that is never trustworthy to begin with. It is the warmongering defense advisor who got fired by the megalomaniac Donald Trump because he’s too aggressive. And this book looks more like a justification of his decision makings during his time as Trump’s advisor rather than a reflective memoir, which is ironic because by “telling it all” Bolton actually shows that he’s indeed one of the main problems in Trump administration.

For example, Bolton actually advised Trump to attack Iran after the country downed an unmanned American surveillance drone (that Iran caught spying in their own backyard). Had Trump jump into the idea, the US would have started multiple conflicts with thousands of casualties. Furthermore, that decision by the US to walk out from the Iran nuclear deal? That’s Bolton’s idea. Also the decision to seek regime change in Venezuela, and, again, the provocations to go to war with them (which Trump didn’t follow). And Bolton even remarks that the US “endured eight years of Obama mistakes” regarding the US’ diplomacy approach towards North Korea and Iran.

Perhaps what makes it even worse, Bolton wrote this book with the smugness, the insulting biases, and the strong believe that his views are the right one and everyone else are wrong and stupid, and that he’s not at fault for every atrocities America have done following his advice.

Don’t get me wrong, I can still enjoy one or two parts of the book, especially the behind closed door conversations between the world leaders, such as the conversations in the meeting between Trump and Kim Jong-un (and their entourages, including Bolton) in Singapore. Or the behind the scene mayhem in White House to issue a response over Jamal Khashoggi’s murder. Also intriguing is the book’s revelation about the concern by Erdogan on the conviction of senior official of Turkish bank Halkbank, Mehmet Atilla, where the ongoing investigation for financial fraud could actually implicate Erdogan and his family.

Ultimately, though, if we can take only few things from this book it’s this: one, Donald Trump is more appalling than we thought he is (he thought Finland is part of Russia, didn’t know that their strongest ally UK has a nuclear weapon, but never bothered to read the daily briefings to be less clueless). And two, John Bolton makes Donald Trump looks like the calm and collected one on foreign policy.

With that in mind, in the end of the day it’s certainly not worth anyone’s time to read the book, even if you got it for free via the PDF version that have been widely circulating. The cost may not be your money, but it’s your time.

Skim read the book if you must, as have I, but don’t waste your precious time diving deep into a trash that may not even be true (some of his claims are denied by others who were in the same room). And even if it’s true, at this point it won’t change our opinion on Trump, it will only add to his already long laundry list of shenanigans that act above the law, in which nobody seems to be able to stop (that thing Trump said about Muslim concentration camp in Uighur, as claimed in the book, are you really shocked?)

So instead, just read the many great coverage of the book in the media, because it’s still an interesting angle and insight into the Trump World. That is, if you can trust John Bolton.

Book review: The Soros that I’ve been waiting for

“The Soros Lectures: at the Central European University” by George Soros

This is a special one for me, not for the content but for the story on how I got the book: the physical book that I have is from none other than George Soros himself, albeit indirectly.

So in 2010 George Soros visited Indonesia, and he brought along several of this book to give away to few people that he met, as a good gesture. And one of those people who received the book was someone who doesn’t know who Soros was, doesn’t have a slight interest on him, but knew that I would probably appreciate the book.

Well, as a person who has a mild case (mild?) of tsundoku I finally read the book, 10 years later. And it’s…. typical of Soros. I’ve read more books written by Soros that I would like to admit (three, three books), and every time I read his book I always have this hope that the next sentence would be the bomb that I’ve been waiting for, akin to his stature as a financial market legend.

But “da bomb” never happened, and this book – or more precisely this lectures – seems to be no exception. Soros is one of a kind hedge fund manager, with a brilliant trader’s instinct, but he’s not a good writer and a vague philosopher at best. But that is precisely what makes him human, and it can even be the antidote to the boogeyman, market-crashing, democracy-interrupting [misleading] enigma that is forever attached to his name. Hey, even Gordon Gekko has a soft side as shown towards the end of Wall Street 2 movie.

But then, just when I nearly wrapped up this book, there it was. Da bomb. Lecture 5 is so good it’s worth one additional star just for this chapter alone. It showed that in 2010 Soros could summarise in a clear manner the problems in international finance and politics since the days of the Bretton Woods up until the 2008 crisis and its aftermath. And the predictions that he made a decade ago in lecture 5? He nailed almost every single one of them. That’s the Soros that I’ve been waiting for, and I’m sure glad I stick with the book till the end.

Book review: What’s behind the rise of Hitler?

“Hitler’s Charisma: Leading millions into the abyss” by Laurence Rees

How can an awkward person, with nothing special to offer, that failed in most of what he do earlier in life, physically unappealing, NOT racist, and just a generally quiet and reserved human being turned into a murderous dictator who can charmed millions of people to rally behind him in his sadistic regime?

This is a terrifying but fascinating book that covers the progression and character development of Adolf Hitler from nobody to one of the most defining persons in history, complete with the supporting context from the incidents that changed his worldview to the people that have influenced him. It tells the stories of the “other side” of the Nazi era, where in a relatively short amount of time the Nazis were able to create several breakthrough in mega structures, in science, in medicine, etc, which contributed to the growing massive support for them many years before the war and before the genocide.

Crucially, the book also analyses the practical psychology of the masses, which shows that in the right environment, at the right circumstance, and with the right tactics a large crowd of people can easily be manipulated.

Now, hate him as much as you want, but there’s no denying that he’s a master in strategy and manipulation. For example, Hitler understood that many of his policies will never be accepted in peace time, such as killing the mentally ill. But when the war have started? He can implement it easily, since “in the context of a life and death struggle for the future of the nation such an action would be readily accepted.”

Another case in point, the Nazi starvation plan in their strategy to weaken the enemy, that surely as horrendous as the gassing of the Jews. This perhaps little-known chapter in history occurred where 600,000 people deliberately left to die in Leningrad due to starvation when Nazi occupied the city between September 1941 – January 1944. This, of course was still a low figure compared with their PLANNED mass starvation of 30 million Soviets.

Now the question is, how can anyone get behind Hitler’s plan to invade the Soviet and conduct such a horrific massacre? The same rhetoric that have since been used in many countries by people who conduct massacres and genocides or want to mobilise the masses: the propaganda that “they” are trying to attack us FIRST, trying to destroy us and kill the women and children, trying to step on our pride, to destroy our economy, etc.

And to that end, the book is really chilling because all of these traits and determining environments can easily be emulated. In fact, it is exactly being repeated in our modern-day politics in different parts of the world. In the spirit of keeping this review purely on the main subject of the book, I will not dwell into political commentary. But just consider these traits of Hitler and see whether it rings any bell:

  • Bogus rhetoric of certain ethnic would destroy them or take their jobs.
  • Have fanatical followers that believed in faith rather than crude facts about him.
  • His hatred of committee meetings and group decisions, and he think that it’s not important to read briefing notes and memos. Instead, relying more on his gut feelings.
  • His constant attacks on lüggenpresse (the lying press), often conduct book burning events (to destroy opposing ideas damaging for Nazi rhetorics), and rely heavily on right-wing radio propaganda.
  • His ability to connect with the feelings, hopes, and desires of millions of his fellow countrymen. The ability to offer his followers a powerful sense of release, including a release from the limitation of conventional restraints. And his ability to stir these emotions for his benefits.
  • Claims that he’s not the aggressor, but that he was acting only in response to a formidable group of enemies, who were growing more dangerous by the day. And that he’s the only person capable to protect the people from these monsters.

Indeed, Hitler is one of the most sadistic and despicable person ever alive, but as that famous Martin Luther King Jr. quotation said, everything he did in Germany were all legal. And his ascendancy to power and massive influence did not occur accidentally either. It is the combination of a damaged environment (hyper inflation due to World War 1 reparations imposed upon them), a bruised national pride, and the quest for something or someone to blame for all of these misfortunes.

And when emotions are high logic often being suppressed. And that’s where Hitler excelled, through his propaganda that stirs the emotions, giving promises to reclaim the national pride (he literally use the slogan make Germany great again), and by giving the people “the face of the enemy”: the outsiders, the non-Aryan, the Jews.

Book review: Make sure to read this book when you’re in your mid 30s

“Tuesdays with Morrie: An old man, a young man, and life’s greatest lessons” by Mitch Albom

Sometimes, books have a weird way to reach out to us. I bought this book 15 years ago and never had the chance to read it, with the book eventually got buried in my pile of unread books for more than a decade. When I move house, I didn’t even bring this book along with the other books that I have.

Since that faithful day I bought the book, I graduated university, got a job, went to a grad school, got another job, got married, have kids, and now I’m at the exact same age as Mitch Albom was when he started regularly visiting Morrie on Tuesdays.

And then few days ago, all of a sudden something I read or heard on podcast (I can’t recollect precisely) made me strongly remember this book. A book that I’ve never read, a book that I even forgot existed. You know that saying, when the student is ready the teacher will appear? I guess I’m now ready to read this book.

And my God how profound this book is. Through the dusty and now brown-ish pages of the book, lies some of the most relatable wisdom that I need right now at this particular stage of life, something that I wouldn’t be able to appreciate or comprehend in 2005.

It is so rich in good old fashioned values, which sets the baseline for “back to basics” principles. It separates the clear lines between what we need and what we want. It is about respect to people, and how to open up and establish rapport even with mental health patients. It is about setting our priorities straight in life.

It is also about how to cope with death, and the degenerating process beforehand. It shows the perspective of a dying old man and his several regrets that make you think and reflect. And ultimately, it is about a great human being and his timeless life lessons.

Mitch Albom was lucky to have had a teacher like Morrie. Judging from the book, everyone who ever crossed path with Morrie most probably could testify that they too were fortunate. While I don’t know where life will take us in the future, but to try to live life like Morrie would be nothing less than a lifelong pursue of excellence.

I am empty, and I am full.

Book review: The ultimate summary of Kwik Brain

“Limitless: Upgrade your brain, learn anything faster, and unlock your exceptional life” by Jim Kwik

This book is like the greatest hits of the brilliant Kwik Brain podcast episodes. It provides so many practical tools from various well-known experts, combined with Jim Kwik’s own teaching method that perfectly underlines the premise that everything is indeed trainable.

It covers Naveen Jain’s exponential thinking, Cal Newport’s digital minimalism, and Edward de Bono’s six thinking hats. It analyses Carol Dweck’s fixed vs growth mindset, Simon Sinek’s purpose behind every action, Marshall Goldsmith’s environmental triggers, and referenced some of the best minds on habits such as Charles Duhigg, BJ Fogg, and James Clear.

The book also explores the depth and range of human capabilities, from Steven Kotler’s findings on limitless human physical capabilities to Joshua Foer’s incredible discovery on the power of memory, while at the same time dismantles the limiting beliefs, habits, and myths that have been installed in our brain since we were little.

All of that, and I haven’t even mentioned the gems of the book yet: the practical tools to help us focus (such as the podomoro technique), learning how to speed read, and how to train ourselves a mnemonic technique to remember everything easily.

All in all, after reading the book you will fully understand that 1. Intelligence is not fixed 2. We don’t only use 10% of our brain’s capacity 3. Mistakes are not failures 4. Knowledge is POTENTIAL power 5. Learning new things is actually not that difficult 6. The criticism of other people doesn’t matter that much 7. Genius is not born, but it’s trainable.

In short, if you ever going to read just one book on personal-development, this is definitely the go-to book.

Book review: Religion’s greatest hits

“Religion for Atheists: a non-believer’s guide to the uses of religion” by Alain de Botton

Reading Karl Marx’s Communist Manifesto doesn’t make me a socialist. Likewise, reading a book on atheism doesn’t instantly turn me into an atheist. In fact, by reading Marxism I learned to understand their worldview and how they think, while simultaneously saw their many flaws that prompted me to be grateful that I am not living in a socialist country.

Now, while I understand atheism and respect their private views, I do not tolerate anti-theism, the extremist idea that all religion are rotten to the core, have no use for humanity, only bring pain and destructions, and thus they all need to be destroyed. This hardliner view are no different than religious fundamentalists who want to destroy everyone else who doesn’t subscribe to their particular narrow view. Richard Dawkins is a prominent extremist example, alongside the ever hypocritical Sam Harris.

But alternatively, for every Spanish inquisition there’s Mother Teresa. For every extreme wahhabi there’s a modern Syafi’i. For every Wirathu, there’s Dalai Lama. And for every Richard Dawkins? There’s Alain de Botton.

De Botton is a contemporary philosopher who champions the concept of atheism 2.0, an idea that believe religion are man made but they were created for a good reason. It is a believe that all the myths, the principles, and the rituals in religion serve as fundamental pillars of humanity. And with this thesis in mind atheism 2.0 is asking one simple question: if religion is man made but still very important for humans and our societies, what can we learn from them?

The answer is this brilliant book, a thorough anatomy of what constrict as a religion. As de Botton points out, religion is excellent in ensuring the good values and principles in their respective holy books to be read and reread, through scheduled reviews, through regular masses, through songs, poetry, reenactment, through the way we eat, drink tea, do walking meditation, etc.

The book also covers what the true purpose of certain rituals were (and are) really for. It explains the psychological objectives of traditions, including plenty of past religious rituals that I didn’t know exists, such as the bizarre Feast of Fools. And when you get angry, or sad, or anxious, or broken? Religion have some mechanism for coping with those emotions, which de Botton argues can be immensely useful tools for seculars.

In the end, with all of these wealth of information on religion, this book could easily have a different title: the best lessons from religion. It’s funny how I can learn so much about various different religions from an atheist book.