So much to learn from the maestro philosopher of modern football

“Pep Guardiola: Another way of winning” by Guillem Balague

This is a very enjoyable book to read. As a diehard football fan with a weakness for tactics and philosophy behind every play, this book really hit the spot for me. And there’s arguably no better person to analyse when it comes to tactical mastery than Pep Guardiola.

And he really doesn’t disappoints. The book eloquently portray the complete picture of Pep Guardiola, from the days of his childhood, to La Masía, to becoming the captain of Barcelona, to exile, to assembling what in my opinion as the most exciting team ever play the game of football (Barcelona 2008-2012, that won 14 trophies in just under 4 years). All the struggles, the hard works, the fighting, the opportunities, the doubts, the glories, the pressure, the ecstatic joys, the meticulously planned rules, the passion for the club all written grippingly by Guillem Balague.

The same template is repeated with the coverage of Pep’s time in Bayern München (2013-2016, that won 7 trophies in 3 years) where Pep’s footballing philosophy was implemented with much greater varieties and insane evolution of the modern game. For instance, at one match he deployed a 2-3-5 formation that left only 2 defenders, Xabi Alonso as a holding midfielder plus 2 full backs that turned into midfielders, and the remaining 5 as strikers (a pyramid formation last used in the 1890s!), or another match where Bayern changed formation 7 times, or that match against Juventus where Pep used 4 wingers at once (and won).

The book also illustrate the difficulties of managing star players and their inflated egos, especially when there are more than 1 star competing for the same spots, as well as the difficulties of transferring Pep’s philosophy onto several rigid or entitled players. And it also portrays a vivid picture of the pressure that football managers constantly receive from the fans, the club hierarchies, and the media.

While the football stories are fantastic, I actually learn a lot more from the way Guardiola conduct himself. From his discipline, intellect, and respect for others, to the way he carry himself in many different situations, to how he meticulously planning ahead of the opportunities and risks, how he revamp the club to embody his footballing philosophy (even arranging different lunch seating all the time to ensure no small groups formed within the squad), down to practicing the small specific moves after analysing the opponent and/or the situation. Lessons that can be implemented in many other areas of life.

Perhaps my favourite part of the book is when on top of having learned from being managed by top coaches such as Cruyff, Robson, Van Gaal, Mazzone, and Capello, before taking the job as a coach Guardiola still travels around Argentina to learn a lot from coaching legends Ricardo La Volpe, César Luis Menotti, and of course the fabled meeting with Marcelo Bielsa where he spent 11 hours in Bielsa’s villa and came out of it bringing a book full of notes from cover to cover. My other favourite part of the book is at the very last chapter when Pep talked on Catalan radio in memory of Johan Cruyff that has just recently died, which reveals a lot about Pep’s footballing philosophy that is heavily influenced by Cruyff’s way of thinking.

The only drawback for me is the untidy timeline of the book. Yes it reads like a documentary, with all the back and forth in the timeline, which is fine. Exciting, in fact. But it is exactly because of this that many topics become overlapping, with the unnecessary intention of seeing several events from different vantage points (from Pep, from the players, from the club president, etc).

For example, it occurs in the story of Pep vs Mourinho, which was already told in the early chapters but then repeated in part III chapter 6, and it is also occurs in the story of problems with Zlatan Ibrahimović that was scattered across the chapters that makes it confusing in which season did he exactly played for Barca. But it is perhaps most obviously occur in the story of the end of Pep’s tenure in Barca, which was told at such gruesome length right at the beginning of the book, which then proceeded to be re-told again 4-5 more times.

But nevertheless, in the end of the day it is a beautifully written book, a very thorough book. A book that paid attention to so much details that Pep himself probably could not express his life and his philosophy this well. It is a book that teaches us a lot about the modern game of football and its arguably maestro inventor. And it is a very passionate book written by someone who clearly live and breathe football.

The book ends with one chapter about Pep’s move to Manchester City in 2016 and his potential set up for the English Premier League team. And as we all now know in 2021, Pep eventually has a tremendous success at City, with this season the club is on the way of winning Pep’s 3rd league crown, his 9th trophy overall in 5 seasons. And so, his success story continues.

Connecting the dots between terrorism and the spread of hardliners

“The Wahhabi Code: How the Saudis spread extremism globally” by Terence Ward

Mind map of the Wahhabi sect, taken from the book

Imagine for a moment, a scenario where a gang of radical thugs living in a desert proceeded to raid the holy cities of Mecca and Medina, kill hundreds of its citizens, eventually destroy 98% of its rich historical sites, and turn the center of Islam from a cosmopolitan and high tolerance society into the epicentrum of their radical views.

Meanwhile, thanks to unbelievable luck they strike the largest oil reserves in the world under their occupied lands, and they get to use the petro-dollar to buy their ways into a massive PR campaign and billions of dollar worth of funding worldwide to spread their radical interpretation as the only true path, ignoring (nay, destroying) the 1400 years of evolution that had previously made Islam as an advanced, sophisticated, and diverse religion. Any competing views get demonised, and any protests are labeled apostasy of Islam since they control the two holy cities (and hence becomes the de facto emperor of Islam).

This, in essence, is Wahhabism in a nutshell.

This book tells the comprehensive history of Wahhabism that began with Muhammad Abdul Wahhab (1703-1792), whom founded the puritanical sect that bears his name. As the author, Terence Ward, says, Wahhab “stressed the absolute sovereignty of God , tawhid or “God’s unity,” and rejected any veneration of saints, holy figures, or even the Prophet Muhammad [PBUH].” With this thinking he began to evangelizes the Arabian Peninsula during the eighteenth century where he calls for a return to the “purity” of the Salaf, the practices of the first generation of Muslims in the year 622.

By contrast, before the Wahhabi revolution Islam had experienced more than a thousand years of evolution that have produced the Golden Age of Islam, with all the scientific discoveries, healthy intellectual debates among different schools of thoughts, equality and prosperity across the Muslim World from Cordoba to Cairo to Baghdad to Damascus to Samarkand. Even the holy city of Mecca, the book remarks, used to be the center of the Sufi universe, “where music, dance, and ecstatic prayer celebrated the divine and faithful gathered at shrines and graves of saints.”

But this were all changed after World War 1. When the great war first broke out British agents encouraged Arab revolts from within the Ottoman Empire (its opponent in the war) including Ibn Saud (1875-1953) whom joint forces with the descendants of Muhammad Abdul Wahhab to conquer the lands in Arabia (historically the insignificant backyard of the Ottoman Empire, before the discovery of oil). An Anglo-Saud friendship treaty was soon signed, and the treaty insisted that Ibn Saud respect Britain’s Gulf protectorates (Qatar, Kuwait, and the Emirates) but it conveniently neglected to mention about the Sharifate of Mecca to the west. Hence, with Britain’s blessing, Ibn Saud and his Wahhabi ally were left free to attack, occupy, and plunder the Holy City.

Mecca and Medina were at the time protected by Sharif Hussein bin Ali, heir of the Hashemite family that had ruled Mecca and Medina for 700 years and 37 generations. And true to the Arab revolt, Sharif Hussein had also allied with Britain and proclaimed the great Arab Revolt against the Ottoman thanks to the persuasion of Lawrence of Arabia.

In return, the British promised him full support for the Arab independence movement, and even offered him the title of “King of the Arabs.” But once the war ended, the British and the French created the Sykes-Picot agreement to divide the Arab lands of Palestine, Iraq, Transjordan, Syria, Lebanon into their own colonial states. Feeling that the Arab cause has been betrayed, Sharif Hussein refused to ratify the treaty.

And thus, by letting the Saud-Wahhabi clan to invade, plunder, and occupy Mecca, Medina and the Hejaz, the British backstab Sharif Hussein once again, and practically chose a more obedient servant to guard the oil wells. Ibn Saud was later awarded a knighthood for his loyalty and service to the British crown, while Sharif Hussein had no choice but to flee into exile and eventually died in Jordan. Some Arabs point to the British support of Ibn Saud (instead of the Hashemite family) as the pivotal act that led to the crisis within Islam now.

After the state of Saudi Arabia was declared, Wahhabism was proclaimed as the official religion, where rigid sharia law is imposed in the kingdom. And in less than 100 years the Saudi-Wahhabi partnership destroyed the countries’ rich and mystic past, including 400-500 historical sites. The Prophet’s (PBUH) house, for example, was destroyed, homes of the Prophet’s wives are now parking lots and public toilet, while the house of the Prophet’s loyal companion Abubakr is now a site of a hotel.

Moreover, in the 1970s thanks to the abundant flood of oil revenues Saudi’s Ministry of Religious Affairs proclaimed Dawa Wahhabiyya (the Wahhabi Mission) and the royal family unleashed charities to fund Wahhabi schools, missionaries, and mosques across the world. Within 3 decades, Ward observed, the Saudis have launched 5 projects to spread Wahhabism:

  1. Pakistan 1977, when General Zia ul-Haq seized power he imposed sharia law and gave freedom in the country to create countless Saudi-funded Wahhabi madrasas across the country to fill the gap of a collapsed education system and indoctrinate young children. They also targeted refugee camps full of Afghans fleeing from the Soviet invasion (this is where the Taliban were born).
  2. Afghanistan 1994, 50 of the indoctrinated Afghan refugees and their leader Mullah Omar launched out offensives to take back Afghanistan, taking Kabul in 1996. By 1997 Saudi employees were travelling there for free as tourists on government-paid holidays with their families, to “witness the true Islam.” In 1998 Mullah Omar was invited on Hajj by the Saudi monarch, and ordered to destroy Bamiyan Buddhas, which they did in March 2001, to comply with Wahhabi’s “no-icon” vision. The free tourism program ended abruptly on 11 September 2001.
  3. Al Qaeda’s global jihad financed by Wahhabi funders, which began in Afghanistan and climaxed with the 9/11 attack. 15 of the 19 hijackers were Saudis, including Osama bin Laden.
  4. ISIS. It began with US invasion on Iraq in 2003. The Shia-majority country was ruled by Sunni Saddam Hussein and his cronies, and after US invasion Shia Nouri Al Maliki became Prime Minister. The Sunni ex-Saddam loyalists were captured and radicalized in the many Iraqi prisons under US watch. And after their release, these loyalists turned into a Saudi-funded fighters against Shia government in Iraq and Shia Assad in Syria. Ward remarks, “when ISIS fighters entered newly captured Syrian towns and Iraqi villages, they burned the old secular schoolbooks. Starting with a clean slate, they gave the shell-shocked students fresh new textbooks, all imported from Saudi Arabia.”
  5. The spread of Wahhabism in the world, with Saudi money and Wahhabi-trained imams installed in Western Europe, from Paris, Brussels, Antwerp, Rotterdam, Marseilles to Birmingham. The Wahhabi mission also operates across the Middle East and North Africa, in Central Asia, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Malaysia, Indonesia (which is comprehensively discussed in chapter 12), and other places in Europe such as Kosovo, Bosnia, Albania. As the book remark, “Support has come from the Saudi government; the royal family; Saudi charities; and Saudi-sponsored organizations including the World Muslim League, the World Assembly of Muslim Youth, and the International Islamic Relief Organization, providing the hardware of impressive edifices and the software of preaching and teaching.” Over the next 4 decades since the 1970s, in non-Muslim-majority countries alone, Saudi Arabia have built 1359 mosques, 210 Islamic centers, 202 universities, and 2000 schools.

Curiously, the final US Senate report on 9/11 attack excluded 28 pages of evidence about Saudi Arabia’s connections to the hijackers. As Ward remarks, “[t]he pages revealed what we have known for a long time: Saudis officials had assisted some hijackers with funds once they came to America. After all, two hijackers had the phone number of the Aspen office of the Saudi ambassador to Washington, Bandar bin Sultan al-Saud.”

Now what could possibly be the explanation for that censorship? The answer remains the same as for the British in the early 20th century as in today: oil. Today, thanks to their massive oil leverage the royal House of Saud plays the dangerous double game of becoming an ally of the West while simultaneously allowing funding into terrorist networks, in which Ward commented “[i]n Palermo, Sicilians pay for “protection” the same way.”

This book is surprisingly short for having such an abundant information (only 136 pages long), but it is very concise and so full of enlightening information that I’ve probably highlighted around 70% of the entire book. And there is no way of covering all the nuggets without over-exceeding the word count for this review. For example, after a thorough introduction of the rise of Wahhabism, it digs deeper into how exactly Wahhabi donations are being made, it links the Wahhabi money to the most unthink of connections such as the Mumbai attack 2008 or Boko Haram or the destruction of the many UNESCO heritage sites in Timbuktu (known as the city of 333 saints from its ancient Sufi tradition), and perhaps the most eye opening one for me is the connection between the House of Saud and Erdoğan in Turkey (which explains a lot of his behaviour and his supporters’ behaviour).

The book is not perfect, however, as I discovered in chapter 8 where the author shows a little too much affection for Ayatollah Khomeini (very respectfully paint him as the brilliant and compassionate leader of the Iranian revolution, while in truth he’s no different than the rigid Wahhabis). Ward also portray Shia as a non-violent followers of Ali, “the true heir of the succession”, while in reality nothing was set in stone and both Sunni and Shia have their fair share of violence. Hence, a small grain of salt is needed to put the objectivity of his views in its right place.

Nevertheless, it is still a very important piece of puzzle to read in order to understand the big picture of global terrorism, the never ending war in the Middle East, the rise of Islamic hardliners around the world, and the dynamics of global politics that come with it. And it is especially useful to learn the many contexts from the book, in order for me to fully understand the recent breaking news that MBS has been proven guilty by the US investigators of killing journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Turkey, but with no further action has been taken so far by both the US and Turkey.

How Goldman Sachs become the most powerful institution in the world

“Money and Power: How Goldman Sachs came to rule the world” by William D. Cohan”

This is a very thorough biography of arguably the most powerful financial institution in the world, Goldman Sachs.

Despite written with the co-operation of the top people at Goldman, it doesn’t censor any wrongdoings and instead it reveals the complete spectrum of the firm from the ugly side of the vampire squid to the absolute masters of the universe, which have mold them into what they are today whether we like it or not.

It reminds me of George Orwell who said “Autobiography is only to be trusted when it reveals something disgraceful. A man who gives a good account of himself is probably lying, since any life when viewed from the inside is simply a series of defeats.” Although this is not an autobiography the logic still applies, and “something disgraceful” are in abundance.

As with any other story of the best of the best, their journey is a very long and treacherous one, from a peddler with a horse-drawn cart to small family business shop selling clothes to sole proprietorship to investment banking novice to growing pains and eventually to the distinguishable master of power and money. And the book captured their story quite magnificently.

It is filled with all the family drama, the infighting with partners, the cheating and backstabbing, the trading scandals, trading successes, the profitless years, the profitable years, the Penn Central fiasco, the sex scandals, civil lawsuits, suicide, succession problems, the high divorce rate, their involvement in propping up financial house of cards of crook Robert Maxwell, the many boardroom battles, the leadership coup, the insider trading cases that look like the episodes of TV series Billions, hostile takeovers, mergers and acquisition wars, the many more deals done by Goldman which often occurred alongside their law firm Sullivan & Cromwell that oftentimes look like the episodes of Suits, and the seemingly minute-by-minute account of the subprime mortgage bubble and crash.

It also filled with the background stories of its larger-than-life characters that are worthy of a TV series, from childhood to the road to Goldman and until their progressive rise from bottom to the very top of the ladder of the company. Characters such as Sidney Weinberg, Gus Levy, Bob Rubin, the two Johns, the new two Johns, Bob Freeman, Steve Friedman, Jon Corzine, Hank Paulson, Lloyd Blankfein – all of whom became a legend in Wall Street -, as well as many other names that became prominent in their own right, such as Christian Siva-Jothy.

The book adds nice little details and plot twists along the way, such as how Goldman Sachs and its arch enemy Lehman Brothers used to be close allies, the sweet story of how Bob Rubin’s parents met, how the men in Gus Levy’s era acted literally like the Wolf of Wall Street, Senior Partner Sydney Weinberg’s role as advisor for presidents (FDR, Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson), the Goldman-Washington revolving door, how the HR office’s telephone never stops ringing during the “amnesty period” for office extramarital affairs, the endurance test of 20 interviews before recruitment, how they train their new recruits, or how close it was for Goldman Sachs to go bankrupt (several times).

While the way Goldman people themselves explained how they do several trades is nothing short of amazing, the book also paints the many scenes at the trading floor including during the Word War 2 and the free for all trading culture in Goldman’s trading room in the 1990s. And for every investment banking or M&A deals, the book analysed them in minute details.

Moreover, in writing the book, the author, William D. Cohan, uses all the best of the best reference, including the famous “Goldman Sachs: The culture of success” by Lisa Endlich when discussing about the Goldman way, “When Genius Failed” by Roger Lowenstein for the LTCM debacle, “The Big Short” by Michael Lewis for the subprime mortgage crash, and even THAT anti-Goldman Rolling Stones article by Matt Taibbi for the Goldman image problem.

All in all, the coverage feels so rich and complete that by the end of the 611 pages book if the author says “and that’s it, that’s everything covered” I’d believe him.

Ultimately, reading this book is like reading war stories and its brilliant tacticians. The morality and humanity of whether or not we should go to war in the first place is out of the question, and instead as the war is already happening the question now becomes who are the best and what strategies are they using? To that end, in the context of corporate America at its most vicious environment of predatory capitalism, Goldman Sachs emerge as the undisputed master of the game and the rulers of the world. Love it, absolutely love it.

Philosophy’s greatest hits

“The Philosophy Book: Big ideas simply explained” by Will Buckingham et al

This is philosophy’s greatest hits, featuring all the most influential philosophers throughout the ages. It is a good summary introduction on possibly every big philosophical ideas ever conceived, a good starting point for more deep explorations.

It provides us with the environmental, cultural, and personal contexts in which the ideas came about, and it shows their gradual progressions, cross-influences, and sometimes counter arguments into what becomes a modern thinking that we have now.

The book, however, does not only cover what would be considered as “traditional” philosophers such as Socrates, Voltaire, Spinoza, Nietzsche, or Kierkegaard. But it also includes a broad spectrum of thinkers whose ideas have largely shaped their own respective fields, such as Avicenna (medicine), Machiavelli (politics), Pythagoras (math), Ludwig Wittgenstein (language), Adam Smith (economics), Charles Darwin (science), even Karl Marx (class struggle), among many, many others.

As a recovering Tsundoku-ist (only bought 2 new books this year (so far) to add into my pile of 200+ unread books), I bought this book 10 years ago when the DK Big Ideas series had only just begun with Philosophy and Psychology books. And over the years I only read it scatterly, and never devour it cover to cover like I eventually just did. However, even when reading it randomly the book had already serves me as a some kind of Wikipedia rabbit hole, where it introduces me to some of the big names that I have never heard before (and there are plenty of them in the book) that led me to do follow up readings.

One of the most profound examples is Averroes. When I first read about Averroes in this very book, it prompted me to read several articles and 2 more books about him, one of which opened up my eyes on the incredible Golden Age of Islam, which was very enlightening. This occurred several more times over the years, with the book notably became the first one that also introduced me to Stoicism (I have since read 14 books on Stoicism and live according to its principles).

All in all, it is a fairly light book that breaks down the heaviest ideas into bite-size meditations. It is a treasure trove of a book, a big book, with every sense of the word.

How to teach our kids about money

“The Opposite of Spoiled: Raising kids who are grounded, generous, and smart about money” by Ron Lieber

This book addresses one of the most crucial factors on parenting: how to teach our kids about money.

It covers pretty much everything that you can think of on the subject, including allowance, materialistic trends, peer pressures, how long do we make our kids wait for what they want, how to prevent our kids to become a spoiled brat, down to how much “tooth fairy” should pay for one tooth (which apparently is experiencing a price bubble as we speak).

The book also hit upon the dilemma of loosening the rules at special occasions, on engaging the ego-stand off between parents, on trade offs (such as spending less now in order to have more money later), to teach the kids how to be grateful and humble, how to be compassionate and understanding to the less fortunate, how to behave among the more fortunate, what to do during holidays, and ultimately, addressing on how much is enough?

The format of the book takes life lessons from many case studies, by ordinary parents doing ordinary things just like you and me. Stories that are explained with science and psychology, and include the opinions of child psychologists and personal finance experts, and what they themselves are doing in regards with parenting.

On a personal level, it is a very helpful book for preparing myself for what’s to come in the future, considering I have 2 small kids in elementary school. And while the book is for educating our kids, it is also hugely applicable to us the parents. After all, the author, Ron Lieber, repeatedly state that we’re in the adult-making business, and the lessons in the book are as good as for kids as it is for adults.

Now, if you would excuse me, I’m going to put everything down and play “mute commercial dubbing” with my kids.

The training method that pro runners use

“80/20 Running: Run stronger and race faster by training slower” by Matt Fitzgerald

Over the years, running has become my obsession and I’ve managed to read several books on the subject including Build Your Running Body, few books by RunnersWorld, and a brilliant one by the legendary Hal Higdon. But nothing so far have come close to be as practical as this book.

The first few chapters of the book trace back the various training methods throughout history by enigmatic characters, from Emil Zátopek and Paavo Nurmi, to Arthur Lydiard whom first developed the 80/20 philosophy through 9 years of trial and errors since the late 1940s (and proceeded to became a legendary coach with marathon and Olympic winner disciples), to Stephen Seiler whom codified and scientifically verified the 80/20 method, with several brilliant sports scientists and accomplished athletes in between, including the Kenyans in the early 1960s.

It is fascinating to read about the battle between 2 school of thoughts throughout this timespan: the low-intensity high-volume training vs the speed-based training, in which low-intensity high-volume – which became the basis of 80/20 method – evolved over time to be the method of choice by professional athletes in all endurance sports.

So what is the 80/20 method? The logic is pretty simple: the most crucial key factor to long run (and any endurance sport) is stamina, and we build our stamina through as much training as possible (thus, high volume training). However, higher training volume can expose us to higher risk of injury, and that’s where low intensity training comes into play, to minimise or avoid injuries while we clock in longer training hours. Hence, the 80% effort at low intensity and 20% effort at moderate intensity.

The book then proceeded to make the case for the 80/20 method, presenting the scientific backgrounds for every function and the athletic results that show how the method improves our fitness and skill. It then gets very technical in around halfway through, which, for a running geek such as myself whom loves to dwell into the science, brings out the inner Japanese-schoolgirl in me.

Chapter 7 is the absolute gem of the book, with all the training techniques get to be well-defined and then given the proper example that we can implement instantly, complete with all the heart rate zone analyses. For example, the book lay out the no brainer facts that recovery run is done at zone 1, tempo run is at zone 3, while hill repetition run at zone 5. Although they are seemingly basic, nobody ever mentioned this in the pile of books and hundreds of running articles that I’ve read so far, and it gives me some kind of proper measure to can finally do them right.

The definitions also serve as an explanation of several mix matches that often occur between the techniques, such as what’s the difference between an interval run (zone 3 runs separated by zone 1 recoveries) and speed play (zone 2 runs separated by short bursts of zone 4-5). Moreover, the book does a good job on taking anyone step by step from virtually zero to a progressive journey into a 5K runner (chapter 8), 10K runner (chapter 9), half marathon runner (chapter 10), and full marathon runner (chapter 11), while also discussing at length on the importance of cross training (chapter 12).

All in all, the 80/20 method to the Maffetone method is like Stoicism to philosophy, it is the practical version of slow running method that provides us with the specific tools to properly implement and quantify it. And thus, after finishing the book I can’t help but imagining myself as Margaret Thatcher in that famous cabinet meeting, where she slams down the book Road to Serfdom onto the table and declare “this is what we believe now!”

The big picture on Myanmar’s struggle

“Freedom From Fear” by Aung San Suu Kyi

I bought this book a while ago but never had the priority to read it, then I lost faith in Aung San Suu Kyi in 2017 due to the way she handled the Rohingya crisis, but then 1 February 2021 coup happened. Something doesn’t add up here but I don’t know what, and thus I thought perhaps it’s time to properly read her story, through her own words.

To my surprise, however, unlike most semi-autobiographies the book is not all about her. Instead, it is a thorough history of Burma from the colonial times, to independence, until the current affairs issues as at the time of writing in 1995 (Note that she refers the country as Burma the whole time in the book. While the endonym Burma was derived from the largest ethnic group in the country, the Bama people, the name change to Myanmar – which is politically more correct as it includes the ethnic minorities – was changed in 1989 not long after the military takeover. Hence, the forever association of the name change to military rule).

The first few chapters of the book serve as an excellent introduction to the country Suu Kyi descriptively love and adore, where chapter 2 can easily mistaken for a page from Lonely Planet guide book on Myanmar. Chapter 3-4 cover the story of the struggle for independence and the intellectual elites of historic Burma, while right at the very beginning of the book in chapter 1 Suu Kyi wrote about her national hero father Aung San, whom died when she was just 2 years old and whom never get to see his country’s independence.

The book then proceeded with part 2, with short chapters 5-23 that serve as the core arguments from and for Suu Kyi, some that she wrote herself, few letters to international organizations, several media articles, some transcript to speeches, while there also quite few articles or speeches made by others in honor or on behalf of her. The topics include the psyche of the nation, the social structure of Burma, the political landscape of the country, its dark past present and future, and of course the many arguments for democracy.

Part 3 of the book consist of testimonials on Suu Kyi by several people who knows her personally, and hence gives us the flavour of her real character, which all in all the 3 parts of the book can give us a pretty broad idea about the state of the country and Aung San Suu Kyi as its non-violent “Burmese Gandhi”.

But the future doesn’t look too bright, unfortunately. Here we are 26 years later since the book was written, and most of the names mentioned in the book are still pretty much active in power, or to be more precise, re-surfaced after the coup. And if there is still no real resistance forces from the people (a factor made clear in part 1 of the book as a result of the British colonial ruler), or the lack of leadership in a shape of militant underground like in most struggling countries, there seems to be limited options for the Burmese than to just be submissive to the authoritarian regime once again. But that’s a big if.

Because, while I do not in any way support violence, sometimes it seems that non-violence approach is not working if your opposition is unlike the F. W. de Klerk to Nelson Mandela. Now, for 10 years since 2011 the junta tried to be like Mubarak or Suharto, both of whom “step down” but with backdoor deals that secure their own asses. But as the 2021 coup unfolds, it becomes apparent that the regime could only eventually back down in a Gaddafi way, which, if things remains the same as in the book, is unlikely to happen anytime soon, even 26 years later.

The most exciting book about marketing

“Perennial seller: The art of making and marketing work that lasts” by Ryan Holiday

This is a case for taking it slower and doing it right. To ignore the noise and instead focus on the mastery of our craft. To bidding our time and produce our creative outlet until it is so perfected that it last a long time.

This is also a case of the grueling reality of the producing process and how to handle it properly, and the excitingly bizarre ideas to promote our creations in catchy and effective ways.

And ultimately, this is a case of establishing our platform, developing our network, or in short, building our “1000 true followers.” It’s the difference between building a company and an empire, between a one hit wonder and a perennial seller.

It is by far the most thorough and most exciting book about marketing that I’ve ever read. With the many diverse examples and case studies that are just spot on, which I expect nothing less from a Ryan Holiday book.

In fact, this is like the tell-all book where Ryan Holiday seemingly give away his success formula on his several expertises, from how to be a prolific writer, to how he enduringly handles the producing processes, and how he masterfully conducts the marketing aspects with so many fresh ideas.

In short, it’s a very creativity-provoking book, definitely one not to miss.

The future is going to be incredible

“The Inevitable: Understanding the 12 technological forces that will shape our future” by Kevin Kelly

This is a very exciting book to read, with all the possibilities of our future technology all laid out by Kevin Kelly, the co-founding editor of Wired magazine, whom sees the future with a glass half full approach.

While many smart people from Stephen Hawking to Elon Musk have expressed their concerns over the rise of Artificial Intelligence (AI) that can overtake humans as the dominant force on Earth, Kelly argues that AI can actually help us become better at we do, whether it’s to become a better doctor, better pilots, better judges, even better teachers. Because the most crucial thing about thinking machines is that they will think differently,  just like AI will drive a car differently than our easily distracted minds or sees the mystery of the Dark Matter from completely different angles.

Moreover, Kelly then elaborates that “In the real world—even in the space of powerful minds—trade-offs rule. One mind cannot do all mindful things perfectly well. A particular species of mind will be better in certain dimensions, but at a cost of lesser abilities in other dimensions.” This limitation also applies in AI, thus would then prevent them to become our dark overlords.

For example, the AI that diagnose our illness will have completely different capabilities than the ones that guide a self-driving truck, the one that can evaluate our mortgages aren’t capable of safeguarding our houses, while the AI that can predict our weather pattern will have a different intelligence than the ones that can manufacture clothings.

Kelly then list 25 possible types of AI’s “new minds” that are superior than ours but would be very beneficial for us humans without the risk of overpowering us. And these variations are just so powerful, an absolute goldmine.

And that, in essence, is the bedrock argument of this book, which he then proceeded to discuss every possible technicalities in many areas of industries, covering every single future possibilities in every aspects of life, including the extend of the technology that could make the movie Minority Report a possibility, where the movie describe a not-so-distant future where surveillance are used to arrest criminals before they commit a crime.

The book also explains the progress that are already happening in the world, such as the technology and concept behind the likes of Uber, AirBnb, Spotify, Netflix, Kindle, Wikipedia, Tesla, WeChat, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, among many others, to Torrent, Second Life, Nest smart thermostat, wearables such as Apple Watch, Bell’s bodycam, until cloud services, Bitcoin, “Big Data”, and Virtual Reality.

All in all, the book state that this is just the beginning of the internet era, and that we need to create AIs that can think differently for specific tasks which would immensely help us in progressing as a society. And it has so far proven right, as the book was written in 2016 and today in 2021 a lot of what Kelly had said are already happening, for better and for worse.

Immensely enlightening book, easily becomes one of my top favourites, very highly recommended.

The engine of modern China

“Alibaba: The house that Jack Ma built” by Duncan Clark

I began to read this book after Jack Ma was reported missing, following the controversial cancellation of Ant Group’s massive IPO by the Chinese government just two days before the much-hyped D-day. After reading this book, I can really see why Jack Ma is such a crucial person in the development of modern China, and how the government have the importance to control the very imbedded Alibaba in Chinese society, for better and for worse. And chapter 12 provides a glimpse of why this could happen, with the 2015 disappearance of Guo Guangchang, as also told in the book, may or may not be a precedence.

But this book is of course not only about the Chinese business environment. And as the phrase goes, I came for one thing and stayed for another. So stay I did, as this book has a nice flow of writing on a topic that is so fascinating that makes it hard to put down.

At its core, the book is about the internet evolution in China and the companies that emerge from the new dawn of technology. While the narrative follows the fascinating story of Jack Ma and the eventual rise of Alibaba Group, the book also provide the background stories of Alibaba’s partners and competitors that set up the context and the complicated environment in which Alibaba operates.

Moreover, although the book has the usual rags-to-riches narrative for Jack Ma, it doesn’t focus that much on the “Chinese dreams” but more on the practical tools and tactics that Ma implement to earn the success, in which chapter 11 summarizes it neatly. And just like many excellent business biographies, this book also includes all the struggles, the boardroom wars, the money lost along the way, and the larger than life characters that put the human side of every top notch executives mentioned.

In short, this is an excellent book on one of the hottest and most crucial companies in the world, a book that gives almost like an insider expose on the business environment in China.

PS: Jack Ma eventually re-emerged in the media after “laying low”, and few weeks later Ant Group announce that they will revamp themselves into a financial holding company under the supervision of People’s Bank of China. And so, the story in the book continues.