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

“The Secret History of Al qaeda” by Abdel Bari Atwan

How frightening it is to read the history of an extremist group and learn that despite the casualties, the destructions and the terror they have caused; their condemned actions have a good underlying reason.

As one of only a handful of journalists who have interviewed Osama Bin Laden in person, Abdel-Bari Atwan wrote this book based on his first-hand knowledge from visiting Al Qaeda camps and interviewing key players, among other in-depth researches. And his findings are intriguing.

What begins as a fight against the corrupt oil-rich Saudi government, the Zionist state of Israel and US foreign policy to control the Middle East; Al Qaeda has evolved from a regional radical organization fighting for oppressed Muslims, to become a global ideological umbrella with many small cells all over the world, conducting complex financing and mastery over the cyber world. The growth and violence are inevitable, especially after the US-led coalition invade Iraq with no legitimate reason, killing hundred of thousands of civilians and destroying the country into a total mess.

What struck me most with this book is the psychology of suicide bombing. How the worst socio-economic and political conditions leave many people with no other option whatsoever in their lives other than to fight against the regime that have killed their family and friends, and destroyed their home and country; by becoming a suicide bomber.

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

“Passing Time in the Loo: v. 2” by Steven W. Anderson

The book is a 606 pages of worthy library filled with seemingly all the information you need to know to be a very knowledgeable person.

In a condensed but well-written style, the book has a perfect balance between fiction and non-fiction collection: short biographies of 25 of the most influential personalities in history, summary of 35 of some of the best business books (from Tom Peter’s “A Passion for Excellence” to Peter Lynch’s “One Up on Wall Street”), 19 synopsis in personal effectiveness books (like “7 habits of highly effective people”), 80+ classical literature summaries (such as Dickens, Shakespeare, Thoreau, Wilde, Voltaire and Hemmingway), and even the synopsis of some of the most influential books for mankind such as Darwin’s “Origins of Species”, Marx’s “Das Kapital” and Plato’s “The Republic.”

Moreover, the book also has a huge volume of inspiring quotations, a no-nonsense guide to a lot of practical things, challenging quizzes and miscellaneous trivial facts from geography, to sports, art and music. Although the title of the book is slightly damaging its credibility, I can’t deny that with the short narrative for each topic, it is indeed best to read the book in a toilet. After all, can you think of a better place to learn and contemplate some of the best knowledge in life?

In the end I still don’t know whether I like it or hate it

“Fooled by Randomness: The Hidden Role of Chance in Life and in the Markets” by Nassim Nicholas Taleb

I can see why there are so many mixed reviews on this book. It is a very smart book, it is thought provoking and it does give several interesting angles on certain things, but my God how arrogant this guy is. Throughout the book he pretty much mocks everyone that he can think of (from Newton to Soros) from a bias point of view, without considering other elements that determine a success. And his unnecessary complex style of writing gives the impression that he’s trying too hard to be recognized as an intellectual, thus sometimes make the book exhausting to read.

Nonetheless, true to his central theme of randomness, he can present a random range of pretty interesting topics, while providing a lot of excellent examples to back up some of his fine theories, such as the ones about “survivorship bias.” And actually he can tell engaging stories, although most of the concluding analysis ended up being an anti climax. But what is up with his long list of “references” at the back section of the book, while claiming in the introduction that he “detest the practice of random use of borrowed wisdom.” Do I smell a hint of hypocrisy here?

In the end I don’t even know whether I like or hate this book, but one thing for sure, this is a book with an attitude. Ultimately, this could easily be a key reference for those who are strongly believe in Random Walk Theory and Efficient Market Hypothesis.

My market bible

“Inside the House of Money: Top Hedge Fund Traders on Profiting in the Global Markets” by Steven Drobny

Ever since I bought Inside the House of Money, the book has been some kind of a market bible for me. I read it when I got interested with the financial market, I referred to it when I wrote my finance dissertation, I hang on to it when I was looking for a job and indeed I often seek inspirations and knowledge from it as a market practitioner.

In its core, the book provides us with the essence of what global-macro hedge-fund world is all about, through the interviews with 13 of the utmost experts on the game. Bottom line, if you like the Market Wizards books by Jack D. Schwager, then you’ll definitely love this book

Read the book and you will never see the world in the same way again

“The New Rulers of the World” by John Pilger

John Pilger is one of the best journalists in the world, and this book shows us why. He’s sharp, focused and brave, he tell the raw truths about international politics as it is, and let us have our own opinions based on the facts that he investigated. Mind you though, it is exactly because of this nature that sometimes he can be seen as a little extreme to the left and too idealistic.

But nevertheless this book will shows us that he’s very well referenced, that he dig out the painful facts straight from the main sources, and he can seriously challenge us to see reality from many different points of view. Read the book, and you will never see the world in the same way again. And it’s a good thing.

Exquisite piece of wordcraft

“Devil take the Hindmost: A history of financial speculation” by Edward Chancellor

Tragic, exuberant and somewhat unchanged; there are probably no other place where history often repeated itself, other than the financial market. And in “Devil Take the Hindmost”, the history of financial market speculation is being brought back to life, through Edward Chancellor’s exquisite writing.

Written in the pages of the book, there were once a Publicani in the Roman Empire era on 2nd century B.C., the primitive form of financial market in Hotel Des Bourses in 16th century Antwerp, and the Tulip Mania in 1630s Netherlands. There were also the eras of Stockjobbing in London’s Exchange Alley, the infamous South Sea Bubble of 1720 where Sir Isaac Newton lost a fortune, and the famous 1929 Great Depression. And there were of course the Masters of the Universe and the Big Swinging Dicks of the 1980s, the Asian Crisis in 1997 and the astounding story of Long Term Capital Management.

With stories from Europe to US, from Japan to Nicaragua, from Indonesia to Mongolia, the book also describes the political and economic complexity of each era, and the irrational human behaviour that has never really changed since the beginning of time. But most significantly now than ever, when it was written in 1998, the book pointed out the root causes of what 10 years later would be known as the Global Financial Crisis. Bottom line, it’s a must read book, especially for market practitioners.

The title speaks for itself

“The Winning Investment Habits of Warren Buffett & George Soros: Harness the Investment Genius of the World’s Richest Investors” by Mark Tier

Based on an extensive amount of research, the author identified 23 winning investment habits that are shared by ALL master investors, even as diverse as (conservative) Warren Buffett and (speculator) George Soros.

In the early chapters of the book, the author began by describing the 7 deadly investment sins, which would make 70% of the things we see or read in CNBC and Financial Times looks irrational. Then he writes in forensic detail each 23 winning investment habits, with an emphasis on psychological factors and the vital role of personalized investment system/strategy.

I instantly fell in love with this book as soon as I read the first few pages. And I strongly recommend it to anyone who wants to learn about investing/trading, or for those who simply love reading books on financial market.

A very fun book to read

“Losing My Virginity – the Autobiography” by Richard Branson

I never thought that I would finish reading this “thick book with small printings.” But quite the contrary. Right after I read the very first page, I was hooked to Richard Branson’s roller coaster life story, and finished the book very quickly.

From fooling around with the principle’s daughter during school, to running a small hippie music store above a barber shop; to his crazy record-breaking adventures, and indeed to the phenomenal success of the Virgin Group; this book tells it all to the very naughty details. All in all, it’s a very fun book to read.