The rough corner of human history

“The Theory of Everything Else: A Voyage Into the World of the Weird” by Dan Schreiber

This is a fun book about the weird, the unknown, and the unexplainable in our world. It is about bizarre occurrences that have helped to shape our society at the background and theories that belong in the “rough corner” of history, just like a perfectly neat Zen gardens have a “rough corner” to allow things grow uncontrollable as nature intended.

Suitably written by Dan Schreiber, 1 of 4 of the cast of my favourite podcast There’s No Such Thing As A Fish, the book dwells into mad scientists, alien chasers, thill seekers, and all the batshit crazy people that seem to be just one lab accident away from becoming a supervillain. It is celebrating the strangeness of characters, embracing the weird means to achieve solid and respectful goals, and telling the tale of those who will make us laugh at first, then think, then say “huh, I guess it works.”

The cast of the weird and wonderful are in abundance. Such as a doctor who trained a dolphin playing fetch using its erect penis. A real-life character that the series Ghost Whisperer is based on. The curator that published a seminal scientific paper that recorded the first ever case of homosexual necrophilia in the mallard duck. A woman who teaches a dolphin to speak English (but ended up having a sexual affair with the dolphin). The psychics hired by Los Angeles Dodgers, or the monks hired to bless Leicester City in their matches during THAT 2015/16 winning season.

Or the story of Tu Yoyou, the first native Chinese to win a Nobel Prize in Medicine by practicing Chinese herbal medicine, and doing so not with a medical degree or a doctorate but through travelling around China and devouring endless list ancient books to find a cure for Malaria. But the most remarkable part of her story is how she got her unusual name, and that the poem that her dad got her name from have a picture of a deer chewing the same plant that would become Tu’s life saving cure.

It is also endearing that no matter how successful people are in their chosen field, we can still find some batshit in them. For example, how Thomas Edison always sleep in his work clothes. How Novak Djokovic often visits an ancient pyramid in Bosnia to collect mystical energy. Or the incredible story of Kary Mullis, a Nobel Prize winner whose life was filled with batshit ideas they dilute the one brilliant thinking that won him the Nobel Prize, the PCR test.

Moreover, the book tells about the many amusing scientific theories or discoveries: How humans are too smelly for man-eating carnivores. How to say “thank you” to plant from a leading botanist. How Cleopatra is believed to had been reincarnated as a worm. The discovery of Canadian blue-grey taildropper slug, whose bum falls off when it gets too scared. The theory that the birth of civilisation in Mesopotamia was possibly sparked by a supernova, thanks to the clue from dancing Indians in Bolivia. The theory that plants have their own internet, which botanists call the “wood wide web”, and one guy’s plan to train a plant detective.

The book also attempts to explain some of the weird conspiracy theories. Such as the origin of the thinking behind a reptilian overlords. Or a guy who claims to have found the fountain of youth in the Bahamas. An alien conspiracy theorist that believes Jesus Christ himself was an alien, or another story believing that he was replaced by his brother at the cross and that Jesus fled to Shingo Japan, until he died and buried there aged 106 (with very convincing “signs” of traces of Jesus in the town). And of course, We have the usual “greatest hits” such as on Loch Ness Monster and Big Foot.

Indeed, some things are simply unexplainable, and the book have loads of these kind of stuffs: how a science fiction book can predict, in detailed accuracy, that Mars has 2 moons, 151 years before the moons were officially discovered. The phenomenon of the “third person” right before someone passed away. How everything “Titanic” – from the ship, to the museum, to the play – all experiencing a disaster. Another book that predict the future precisely: The weird 1889 novel that describe Donald Trump’s behaviour right to the tee. Or a 1953 science fiction novel written by Wernher von Braun who wrote about human colonisation of Mars, with elected leaders with the title of “Elon.”

But perhaps the most perplexing thing for me is the case where classical composers still allegedly create music years after they died, through a very convincing medium. How Mark Twain comes back to live in ghost form and write a new novel through an ouija board, or Victor Hugo who completed Les Miserables thanks to a three-legged table that told him to.

Meanwhile, some things in the book are just plain hilarious: the existence of big-foot erotic fiction. The art of rumpology, that is, astrology not through reading palms but instead using butt cheeks. The story of the unluckiest man alive that had 7 plane crashes in one solo trip (and ended up retiring from flying a plane but somehow got a job at Disney World driving a ferry boat). The backstory of two gravestones in the middle of the tarmac of runway in the Savannah Airport. Even Dan Schreiber himself is not off the hook, where while he’s composing all of these weird and wonderful things, he got caught by his wife reading a Neanderthal-human erotica novel in bed.

In this information age, where knowledge are in abundance and information often becomes diluted or exaggerated, this book is a refreshing oasis in the overindulgence desert. I thought that we have pretty much seen it all and getting harder and harder to be amused and surprised, but hot damn this book nailed it. It is so out of the box, it ventures toward the uncommon imagination and way of thinking outside the usual norm of society – that it’s ok to be messy and chaotic and crazy – and it inspires the exciting premise of putting oneself in the wrong place at the right time.

And perhaps the biggest realisation after reading the book is that craziness and chaos are indeed part of our big picture history, that batshit people are also contributing to shape society, just like Zen gardens have their “rough corner.” As Schreiber remarks, “you can’t always take the good without the bad – you can’t have the theory of everything without the theory of everything else.”

Not yet ready for this book

War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy

I’m calling it quit, 6% into the book. It’s too long, and I didn’t have full comprehension on it since the beginning.

Maybe it’s because I’m listening to it through Audible instead of reading it, or maybe I’m just not ready yet for a literature work with this type of magnitude.

Either way, I will revisit this book later when I have more mileage in reading literature.

It could use a little brevity

“The Stuff of Thought: Language as a Window into Human Nature” by Steven Pinker

Steven Pinker is a psychologist and a psycholinguist, which makes this book his niche area of expertise. And it immediately shows right from the beginning.

It is a clever book about words, and the thought process behind their usage in a sentence. It is about how the structure of languages dictates our way of thinking. It is about how learning a new word in its context can shape or even alter the brain. It is about the intonation and aggression of a language that create cultures.

But regretfully, the brilliant idea isn’t matched by an equally excellent execution.

This is my 3rd Steven Pinker book out of 5 that I have in my possession – talking bout Tsundoku. And as it is the pattern with the first 2 that I’ve read, although the core ideas are superb he dwells on them a little too much that it dilutes the brilliance of his arguments.

Indeed it’s never straight forward with professor Pinker, he cannot go from A to B without tempted to detour first to J, M, Q. Hence, the unnecessary 500+ pages in his books.

They say that we do not need to finish a book if it’s a lost cause, with the golden rule of 100 minus your age. Hence, if you’re 60 years old, if after 40 pages you still cannot find the benefit of reading the book, just stop reading. If you’re 30 years old, stop after 70 pages if it doesn’t interest you further.

Still, he’s THE Harvard Professor Steven Pinker, and his ideas are world class, just look at his brilliant speeches and talks. And beneath the messy professor vibe, there are important pointers to be learned. If only we can find it.

So, in the end I still managed myself to skim read the rest of the book to find some gems about words and language in the middle of the mumbles of his words. Irony not intended. And sure enough I find some valuable lessons along the way such as the 5 different ways people swear, using only the F word to make the points. Delightful.

The key tools of Stoicism

“Discipline is Destiny: The Power of Self-Control” by Ryan Holiday

If you were asked to describe what Stoics look like, how would you describe them?

First and foremost, they are visibly calm and patient, able to wait for the right time and the right moment. They also have self control over their indulgences, and not letting impulses to undermine them. And while they still enjoy all the perks and luxuries in life, they do so within limits and nothing in excess. Everything in moderation, they would say.

They of course still get angry and can even be very passionate, but they won’t do anything out of anger. They respond, not react. They are able to not getting victory or criticism get into their head and affect them. They have the patience to not getting triggered by provocations, have the self restrain of avoiding all the quick fix scam or euphoria or gurus.

Stoics understand their own weak points, their triggers whether it is anxiety or aggression or lust, and how to contain them and address them. They also have the self-restraining ability from being trapped by a perfectionist prison, that you need everything to be perfect that it makes you refrain from doing things imperfectly and ended up not doing anything at all.

And instead, they have the strength and ability to finish the job through all the messiness, have intense focus while doing it, have the sense of urgency, but doing so by projecting grace under fire. They are quick, but not in a hurry. Indeed, while courage was defined as the willingness to put your ass on the line, Stoics have the ability to keep this particular ass in line, to go to the right length and no further.

Nevertheless, although they have the strength and endurance to weather any storm, they also have the decisiveness to cut loss, to step back, to throw in the towel when it’s a losing cause. It also means load management, knowing when to take a rest, giving their body enough time for recovery, taking a break, avoiding burnout, or simply to have a restful sleep. Everything is measured.

Moreover, Stoics are responsible with money, able to constrain themselves from splurging or wasting them on things that don’t matter. They also use time efficiently, use words wisely (brevity – not using two words if one word would do, or not using one if none would do), they also have the ability to put boundaries, to say no to all the unimportant things.

Last but not least, they keep their environment clean and minimalist. They keep themselves neat and tidy, dressing appropriately for the occasion and situation, demonstrating that they are in control over their outer appearance as well as their inner, aware of their surroundings, and can present themselves appropriately.

This, in a nutshell, is what discipline looks like. It is virtue no. 2 out of 4 on the four Stoic virtues of courage, temperance, justice, and wisdom. And it is arguably the most visible trait of a practicing Stoic.

In another unmissable Ryan Holiday signature style of writing, this book illustrates the traits mentioned above through so many stories from history and its many prominent figures. It shows that discipline is the key feature of all successful people, and more importantly it shows how these great men and women implement them despite their shortcomings, unfriendly environment, or upbringing.

Holiday reflects these lessons from the incredible habits of Lou Gehrig, the resilience of Theodore Roosevelt, the Stoic nature of George Washington, the calm and dignified Queen Elizabeth II, the restraint of Dwight Eisenhower, the grounded nature of Angela Merkel, the practicality of John Wooden, the 100% effort of Jimmy Carter, the importance of load management from Harry Belafonte and Martin Luther King Jr., to cautionary tales from King George IV and Babe Ruth, and lessons from many others such as Martha Graham, Joyce Carol Oates, Booker T. Washington, Floyd Patterson, and as usual the Stoic greats like Cato, Seneca, Epictetus and Marcus Aurelius.

Now, of course discipline is not easy. But as Holiday remarks, “the good news is that because it’s hard, most people don’t do it. They don’t show up. They can’t even do one tiny thing a day. So yes, you’re alone, out there on the track in the rain. You’re the only one responding on Christmas. But having the lead is, by definition, a little lonely. This is also why it’s quiet in the morning. You have the opportunities all to yourself.”

And this is why discipline can be an edge. Discipline is the reason we get up and do our thing every single day, on time. It is what keeps us going even during hardship. It is what prevents us from risk and catastrophe. What helps us maintain our habit, our flow, even our savings. Discipline keeps us in check to do the right things, even if we don’t like it. It paved the road to the good life, it keeps us healthy and happy. Discipline is the key ingredient to shape our destiny.

How a perfectly engineered society looks like and how creepy it is

“Brave New World” by Aldous Huxley

This is a story of a disturbing dystopia, set in the year 632 AF (After Ford – their messianic figure), the equivalent of the year 2540 in our Gregorian Calendar, at a place called the World State.

It is a world where advance science can engineer a human embryo to create a perfect human being, where babies aren’t born through mothers anymore, they are raised in state conditioning centres instead of by their parents, and they are programmed from childhood not to feel strong emotions but rather to obey orders.

In World State, there are no countries or borders, no individual or private home, no religion, no heaven, no parliament, no democracy, while Polish, French, and German have become dead languages as everybody now speaks the same language. In the spirit of unison even monogamy, romance, and family are prohibited, as “everyone belongs to everyone else.”

Ending is better than mending, as they also often say in this society, as they immediately throw away old stuffs and encourage consumerism over brand new things. You see, they thrive on efficiencies. But they should not fear of being discarded themselves, because thanks to the advances of science ageing does not occur anymore.

The society in the World State is organized through caste system that divide people into 5 classes: Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta, and Epsilon. All judged based on intelligence. And this is where the problem lies, as a lot of humans are engineered to be born and conditioned into a pre-designated caste. Because not everyone can become an Alpha since the world still needs someone to do the hard labour, which is the lower caste, as proven in the failed experiment of an all-Alpha society in Cyprus a while ago.

Indeed, the brilliance of this book is that it shows the flaws of attempting perfection, where this advanced society is trying to eradicate hardship, unhappiness, inefficiencies, violence, and inconveniences, but ended up oppressing people in the journey towards their utopian dream. In truth, life becomes dull without the struggles and people become less human and increasingly naïve as they lack the necessary experience of hardship to contrast evil with kindness, discomfort with comfort, failure with winning.

It is in this environment that the story of our protagonists is set. They do so firstly by being exposed to the “ordinary world” when they travel outside the World State to the Savage Reservation in New Mexico, one of the only places left that has not been influenced by the World State.

Over there, they observe for the first time natural birth, ageing process, disease, other languages, religious lifestyle, and all the spectrum of emotions including lust and love. And the novel witnesses their progress of embracing all the flaws, messiness and struggles to become human once again.

The narrative itself is intriguing, filled with twist and turn and drama, but as always with fiction work – whose strong point is in the story – I will not spill any further. The audible version in particular, narrated by Michael York, gives an additional creep to it, thanks to his brilliant expressions at reading it.

All in all, the book is so disturbing, it’s so good. And it’s astonishing how our real-life modern society is progressing towards this fictitious world, a world that was already cautioned by Aldous Huxley back in 1932.

The long history of the Targaryens

“Fire and Blood: 300 Years Before A Game of Thrones” by George R. R. Martin

I love history. And I love the Game of Thrones series, all 7 seasons of it. While it’s been years later, I’m still mending my utter disappointment for season 8, which I heard could’ve been stretched for 6 seasons until season 13.

So when the series House of Dragon came out, I hesitated. But then a certain self-proclaimed Game of Thrones walking dictionary (he has read every GoT books) suggested me to read this book instead.

And in a way it’s perfect, as I understand the world of GoT well enough having watched the series twice in a row. And reading this book is like reading a history book over a familiar current affairs issues, which is what I’m used to.

Not going to spoil anything from the book, but in a nutshell, let me just say it’s so astonishing that a book can have an unbelievable scale of imagination with all the richness of the backgrounds and legends about the Targaryen Dynasty, considering that this is a work of fiction. All of the human greed, emotions, injustice, political in-fightings, conspiracies, sibling rivalries, the barbarity of peasants, even plagues, are all felt so real, not unlike the real events occurring in world history.

I’ve never read fiction in this kind of porpotion before, and never read any of George RR Martin’s book before. Now I understands my friends’ obsession with the books. Very well done.

Where Hemingway became Hemingway

“Hemingway’s France: Images of the Lost Generation” by Winston Conrad

Once upon a time, not long after World War 1 ended, several Americans lingered and stayed on in Europe. Among them, many chose Paris as their new base because of the laissez-faire attitude of the society towards art, politics and sexuality, which was the perfect environment for creativity.

It is in the flourishing cultural scenery, the 50,000 restaurants across the city, the quality of the food. It is also the cheap exchange rate in relative to US Dollar, and perhaps most crucially, it is in the availability of alcohol while Prohibition was still ongoing back in the US.

It is no wonder that the unofficial title of cultural capital of Europe moved from Vienna to Paris, and that so many talented artists and writers reside there during the 1920s, from Pablo Picasso, to F. Scott Fitzgerald, Henry Miller, Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound, James Joyce, and of course the main focus of the book, Ernest Hemingway.

This is a short book about that time Hemingway lived in Paris. It tells the tale of the growth that he experienced in the vibrant city, his daily habits, the influences that shaped him, the books he read, and the cafes where he spent his time writing on.

And of course it also tells the drama that he brings into the expat social circle, a group of people filled with jealousy and wounded pride as well as comradery, which was so dramatic that it would later became the inspiration for his novel “Sun Also Rises.”

Yes, it is fitting that Hemingway’s larger-than-life character was shaped and molded in this kind of environment, a place full with extravagances. And that the experiences that he gets from this era in Paris will forever be imprinted in his behaviour until old age. Or As the author Winston Conrad remarks, it is where Hemingway became Hemingway.

Every Naval Ravikant’s wisdom compiled in one place

“The Almanack of Naval Ravikant” by Eric Jorgenson

Naval Ravikant is an angel investor who has invested in more than 100 companies from their early stage, including in Twitter, Uber, FourSquare, and Stack Overflow. He has also ventured into several other investment types, including a cryptocurrency hedge fund in the early days of 2014 before the big rally.

Apart from his investment credentials he is famous for being a wise philosopher of life, with insights at par with those of Buffett’s and Munger’s. In fact, this book – co-written with Eric Jorgenson – is styled in a manner similar like Charlie Munger’s Poor Charlie’s almanack.

It gathers all of Naval’s thoughts from twitter, essays, and podcasts over the past decade, and provides the blueprint for the way of thinking that makes Naval successful as an investor, a technologist, and an overall well-rounded human being.

And in it, he talks about a lot of things in life, from start-up, investing, wealth, to values, judgements, the importance of time, the state of the world, math, science, to health, meditation, habits, happiness, even the meaning of life.

Here are some of my favourites:

  • Happiness = health + wealth + good relationship.
  • Health = exercise + diet + sleep.
  • All greatness comes from suffering.
  • Love is given, not received.
  • If you can’t decide, the answer is no.
  • When solving problems: the older the problem, the older the solution.
  • When everyone is sick, we no longer consider it a disease.
  • Before you can lie to another, you must first lie to yourself.
  • There are basically three really big decisions you make in your early life: where you live, who you’re with, and what you do.
  • If you are a trusted, reliable, high-integrity, long-term-thinking dealmaker, when other people want to do deals but don’t know how to do them in a trustworthy manner with strangers, they will literally approach you and give you a cut of the deal just because of the integrity and reputation you’ve built up.
  • If someone is talking a lot about how honest they are, they’re probably dishonest. That is just a little telltale indicator I’ve learned. When someone spends too much time talking about their own values or they’re talking themselves up, they’re covering for something.
  • The really smart thinkers are clear thinkers. They understand the basics at a very, very fundamental level. I would rather understand the basics really well than memorize all kinds of complicated concepts I can’t stitch together and can’t rederive from the basics. If you can’t rederive concepts from the basics as you need them, you’re lost. You’re just memorizing.
  • What we wish to be true clouds our perception of what is true. Suffering is the moment when we can no longer deny reality.
  • What you feel tells you nothing about the facts—it merely tells you something about your estimate of the facts.
  • When you’re reading a book and you’re confused, that confusion is similar to the pain you get in the gym when you’re working out. But you’re building mental muscles instead of physical muscles. Learn how to learn and read the books.
  • I have people in my life I consider to be very well-read who aren’t very smart. The reason is because even though they’re very well-read, they read the wrong things in the wrong order. They started out reading a set of false or just weakly true things, and those formed the axioms of the foundation for their worldview. Then, when new things come, they judge the new idea based on a foundation they already built. Your foundation is critical.
  • The three big ones in life are wealth, health, and happiness. We pursue them in that order, but their importance is reverse.
  • Every positive thought essentially holds within it a negative thought. It is a contrast to something negative. The Tao Te Ching says this more articulately than I ever could, but it’s all duality and polarity. If I say I’m happy, that means I was sad at some point. If I say he’s attractive, then somebody else is unattractive. Every positive thought even has a seed of a negative thought within it and vice versa, which is why a lot of greatness in life comes out of suffering. You have to view the negative before you can aspire to and appreciate the positive.
  • The world just reflects your own feelings back at you. Reality is neutral. Reality has no judgments. To a tree, there is no concept of right or wrong, good or bad. You’re born, you have a whole set of sensory experiences and stimulations (lights, colors, and sounds), and then you die. How you choose to interpret them is up to you—you have that choice.
  • When you’re young, you have time. You have health, but you have no money. When you’re middle-aged, you have money and you have health, but you have no time. When you’re old, you have money and you have time, but you have no health. So the trifecta is trying to get all three at once.
  • At the end of the day, you are a combination of your habits and the people who you spend the most time with.
  • If you can’t see yourself working with someone for life, don’t work with them for a day.
  • The most important trick to being happy is to realize happiness is a skill you develop and a choice you make. You choose to be happy, and then you work at it. It’s just like building muscles. It’s just like losing weight. It’s just like succeeding at your job. It’s just like learning calculus.
  • First, you know it. Then, you understand it. Then, you can explain it. Then, you can feel it. Finally, you are it.
  • In any situation in life, you always have three choices: you can change it, you can accept it, or you can leave it.
  • We don’t always get what we want, but sometimes what is happening is for the best. The sooner you can accept it as a reality, the sooner you can adapt to it.
  • When your mind quiets, you stop taking everything around you for granted. You start to notice the details.
  • The greatest superpower is the ability to change yourself.
  • Life is going to play out the way it’s going to play out. There will be some good and some bad. Most of it is actually just up to your interpretation. You’re born, you have a set of sensory experiences, and then you die. How you choose to interpret those experiences is up to you, and different people interpret them in different ways.
  • If there’s something you want to do later, do it now. There is no “later.”
  • I think that’s why the smartest and the most successful people I know started out as losers. If you view yourself as a loser, as someone who was cast out by society and has no role in normal society, then you will do your own thing and you’re much more likely to find a winning path. It helps to start out by saying, “I’m never going to be popular. I’m never going to be accepted. I’m already a loser. I’m not going to get what all the other kids have. I’ve just got to be happy being me.”
  • Be aware there are no “adults.” Everyone makes it up as they go along. You have to find your own path, picking, choosing, and discarding as you see fit. Figure it out yourself, and do it.
  • Don’t spend your time making other people happy. Other people being happy is their problem. It’s not your problem. If you are happy, it makes other people happy. If you’re happy, other people will ask you how you became happy and they might learn from it, but you are not responsible for making other people happy.
  • All benefits in life come from compound interest, whether in money, relationships, love, health, activities, or habits. I only want to be around people I know I’m going to be around for the rest of my life. I only want to work on things I know have long-term payout.
  • I always spent money on books. I never viewed that as an expense. That’s an investment to me.
  • And my personal favourite: A fit body, a calm mind, a house full of love. These things cannot be bought, they must be earned.

All in all, this a unique book as Naval does not earn any money from it, and instead the entire project of the book is run on donations and it is actually available for free to download at In terms of return for value, it can’t get any better than this.

The origin story of PayPal and the early days of the Silicon Valley

“The Founders: The Story of Paypal and the Entrepreneurs Who Shaped Silicon Valley” by Jimmy Soni

This is a story about a bunch of misfit geniuses that came together in the early days of the internet between 1998-2002 and founded what would later becomes PayPal.

The book took 5 years in the making, which includes interviews with hundreds of PayPal’s pre-IPO former employees within those 4 years, all the original 10 co-founders and most of their board members and early investors, as well as the agencies and advisors that they consulted with, not to mention the many books, podcasts, articles, and academic papers that the author, Jimmy Soni, found on PayPal.

And it immediately shows in the depth and detailed nature of the story. It demonstrates that PayPal is not only the likes of Peter Thiel, Elon Musk, Max Levchin, and Reid Hoffman, but it’s also the other backbone of the company such as David Jaques, David Johnson, Sandeep Lal, David Sacks, and Jamie Templeton.

There’s no one able-all maverick but it’s the engineers, UX designers, database administrators, network architects, product specialists, fraud fighters, and support personnels. And perhaps quite pivotal in the story, it’s also shaped by names such as Roelof Botcha, the financial wizard that puts every cash flow into perspective and discovered the grave financial error that almost put the company into bankruptcy.

Indeed, PayPal is the collective effort of many individuals – many of whom are immigrants – that join forces together like the soldiers in the Band of Brothers and create something remarkable amidst the utter chaos of the world of start ups in 1990s Silicon Valley, during which the bubble was happening.

As Soni remarks “PayPal’s story is a four-year odyssey of near-failure followed by near-failure.” And in the book you can feel the craziness of that period of time, through the everyday headaches such as the engineering and systems dilemma, and the growing sophistication of fraudsters and international hackers along with the growth of the company.

It was visible during the time when the company’s burn rate left it with only months of funding left. It was also notable during the naming debate between PayPal and, in the post-merger environment, and throughout the many nasty infightings and even board member coup.

But as the book illustrates, those 4 years were also watershed experience that influenced these people’s approach to leadership, strategy, and technology. It was in the company culture, the puzzle-solving spirit, the culture of sleeping on the floor, it’s about implementing a revolutionary idea into a very uncertain environment. It is also in the office pranks, executives wearing oversized sumo suit and wrestled in an oversized ring, which made the story colourful.

The conclusion of the book is one of the best I’ve read, which will make the title of the book (with the focus on the founders) more make sense. While the entirety of the book is about the story of PayPal, the conclusion knits all the stories together into a perspective from what these individual geniuses brought into the collective force of the company.

And how fitting it is as a Silicon Valley folklore that after a relatively brief few years together they all went to their separate ways to make their own marks in the world, with the likes of YouTube, Yelp, LinkedIn, Kiva, Affirm, Palantir Technologies, Slide, SpaceX and Tesla, as well as the numerous companies that they invested in.

Make sure to read on until the epilogue, where Soni tells the story about Chris and Stephen and the PayPal Mafia that became an unlikely inspiration for prison inmates.

The little book of ass-kicking

“Put Your Ass Where Your Heart Wants to Be” by Steven Pressfield

This is a fun little book about grit, about the drive and passion to pursue our goals.

As the title suggests, we need to put our ass where our heart wants to be. And this includes packing up everything and move our ass to the epicenter of what we want to do. Want to be a country singer? Move to Nashville. Want to be a Broadway actor? Move to New York. Not only that we will be present in the environment, but there’s where the peers and mentors are residing, as well as the opportunities.

“Magic happens when we put our ass in the same space with other dreamers that already put their asses there” says Pressfield, “these are our peers.”

He gives a delightful list of examples for this, from Hemingway in Paris trading writing tips with other writers, John Lennon in London sharing stages with Mick Jagger and Eric Clapton, Arnold Schwarzenegger moving from Austria to California to chase his Hollywood dream, none of whom would be as successful had they stay at their respective homes.

Now of course “being there” could also means being presence in the state or mind or even virtually, but it doesn’t matter whether we’re there physically or mentally, once our ass is there we have to work our ass off, so to speak. That’s where the part of “never take no for an answer” comes, taking one rejection after another without losing our optimism and spirit, while still giving our all to the process.

In fact, Pressfield argues that self reinforcement is a character trait that is more important than talent, as there are plenty of talented people who didn’t succeed because they have given up halfway the battle.

The book has the feel of what Enchiridion did for Stoicism, it’s the very essence of Steven Pressfield’s philosophy (i.e. the War of Art) re-written to accommodate and elaborate one specific part (the ass kicking part). And it’s so pleasant to read, where we can just feel that the author also enjoyed writing it.