A masterpiece on football tactics

“Zonal Marking: The Making of Modern European Football” by Michael Cox

This is a story of art vs. science in football. It is the difference in management style between individualistic approach of Johan Cruyff vs. the meticulous organisation of Van Gaal, the clash between the magic of superstar player Roberto Baggio vs. the conservatism in manager Arrigo Sacchi, the contrast between European flair vs. the tough tackling English tradition.

This is also the debate over how to utilise space, over playing from the back, catenaccio vs. zonal marking, the role of the “water carrier”, what to do during the transition, where to put the third attacker and the third defender, the choice between inverted wingers or wide forwards, how to use the full backs, where to place the playmaker, what kind of sprints players have to make, how to win a “second ball”, how to counter-press, and eventually, how to score goals and win a match.

In short, this is a story of football tactics.

Zonal Marking brings us on a historical tour of tactics in European football that began in The Netherlands, then progressed to Italy, France, Portugal, Spain, detoured to Argentina (for a particular false 9 role), back to Europe in Germany, before finishing in England where all of the European styles eventually mixed up together in the 2010s Premier League.

And what a fascinating journey. The evolution of football tactics was narrated using some of the most memorable matches in both club and country across these 7 main European footballing countries, with the long analysis of 1990s Italian Seri A in particular brings back many fond memories for me, with nostalgic mentions of great (but probably a bit forgotten) players such as Moreno Toricelli, Gianluca Pessotto, Angelo Di Livio, Paulo Sousa, Zvonimir Boban, Marcio Amaroso, Ariel Ortega, Taribo West, Marco Delvecchio, Christian Panucci, etc, among the usual superstars such as Pirlo, Ronaldo, Maldini, Nedved, Vieri, Nesta, Batistuta, and Totti.

The book also spills the drama, tensions, and the behind-the-scene infightings. I was particularly surprised when learning about how tactically inefficient Zidane was for France, how Del Piero and Inzaghi did not actually get along but Marcello Lippi can still make it work for them at Juventus, how difficult it was at first to adapt the whole Barcelona team to Lionel Messi, and what really happened when Mourinho opted to use Diego Lopez instead of Iker Casillas in Real Madrid’s goal.

But ultimately, the sheer majority of this book are filled with deep tactical analysis of the matches, and the specific role of the players in them, that would make us see them in a completely different light.

It is an explanation of why Rivaldo and Giafranco Zola initially played at left midfield of a 4-4-2 instead as a number 10, why Roberto Carlos played a wingback role at Inter, why Dennis Bergkamp scored more goals than target man Marco Van Basten, why attack-minded Sinisa Mihajlovic can become a defender wearing no 11 shirt, what is Guardiola’s “15-pass rule” and why did his Barcelona team fielded a 3-7-0 formation in FIFA club World Cup final.

It is also an explanation why Portugal specifically produce great wingers, why Claude Makelele was Real Madrid’s best player during the galactico era, how did Germany beat Brazil 7-1, why Ozil was ineffective in Arsenal, why Ribery and Robben were integral in Bayern Munich, why defending champion France lost to a debutan Senegal at the opening of World Cup 2002, and how on earth can Greece won the Euro 2004.

In a way, this book is like the prequel of Michael Cox’s first book, The Mixer, that tells about the evolution of tactics in the Premier League, as Zonal Marking ended in the same spot as The Mixer in English football, which fitted nicely. It is another masterpiece by Michael Cox, intriguing from start to finish, I enjoyed every reading minute of it.

A tresure trove of random knowledge

“The Book of General Ignorance: Everything You Think You Know is Wrong” by John Mitchinson and John Lloyd

This is a fun book to read, written in a relaxed, funny, but smart manner. It is a book that provides a treasure trove of random knowledge that breaks myths, exposes misconceptions, and could enhance your odds for winning a pub quiz.

Who knew that there are 2500 different species of mosquitos, Ayers Rock is not the biggest rock in the world, sticking pins in dolls is not a voodoo practice, Roald Dahl wrote all his books using a pencil, there are 2 words that rhyme with orange, and the Catholic Church didn’t fully admitted that Galileo’s view on the Solar System was correct until 1992.

The only drawback for me is the absence of reference or bibliography or any form of evidence to support their claims, which, at best, in some cases that I’m familiar with actually contain one or two minor factual errors. Or at worst, in topics with never ending science-based arguments they present their view as the undisputed fact, such as their claim that sleeping 8 hours a day is apparently more harmful than sleeping 6-7 hours, with no further elaboration.

Thus, this is a book for entertainment purposes only, and perhaps a “gateway drug” to further rabbit-hole research for any of the 230 topics. But independently verify them, we still must.

The science of timing

“When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing” by Daniel H. Pink

Every person in the world has a chronotype, a personal pattern of circadian rhythm that influences our psychology and physiology, where we experience the day in 3 stages: a peak, a trough, and a rebound.

However, only about three quarter of us experience it in that precise order (a chronotype that Daniel Pink refers as larks), while the other one in four people (who Pink refers as night owls) experience their day in the reverse order: recovery, trough, and then peak.

Now it might seem trivial at first, but figuring out our chronotype can be crucial for any individual, as we can then maximize our peak time, manage our down time, and insert some strategic “vigilance breaks” before any important task.

As Pink remarks, “[f]igure out your type, understand your task, and then select the appropriate time. Is your own hidden daily pattern peak-trough-rebound? Or is it rebound-trough-peak? Then look for synchrony. If you have even modest control over your schedule, try to nudge your most important work, which usually requires vigilance and clear thinking, into the peak and push your second-most important work, or tasks that benefit from disinhibition, into the rebound period. Whatever you do, do not let mundane tasks creep into your peak period.”

This is a book about our relationship with timing. Daniel Pink spent 2 years to read and analyse more than 700 studies in anaesthesiology, anthropology, endocrinology, chronobiology, economics and social psychology, to codify what becomes this 268 pages book filled with scientific findings as well as tools, exercises, and hacks to put the knowledge of “when” into action.

The book covers a broad range of analysis of timing, including the James Dean Effect (how the perceived end changes the whole outlook), the duration neglect (how we tend to remember the peak of the experience and how it ended while the entire duration isn’t put into account if the ending is pleasant. And vice versa), why do teenagers sleep later and wake up later, how the introduction of a deadline changes the intensity of any task, why do people prefer to hear the bad news first then the good news, and the most incredible example of a time synchronization by the dabbawalas in Mumbai.

It also provides numerous case studies that demonstrate the direct effects of some of the hacks. For example, on the introduction of more breaks in a Danish school, Pink learned that “[w]hen the Danish students had a twenty- to thirty-minute break “to eat, play, and chat” before a test, their scores did not decline. In fact, they increased. As the researchers note, “A break causes an improvement that is larger than the hourly deterioration.”That is, scores go down after noon. But scores go up by a higher amount after breaks.”

This could also applied in a higher stake decision makings, such as in a courtroom after the judges take a break: “Immediately after that first break, for lunch, they become more forgiving—more willing to deviate from the default—only to sink into a more hard-line attitude after a few hours. But, as happened with the Danish schoolchildren, look what occurs when those judges then get a second break—a midafternoon restorative pause to drink some juice or play on the judicial jungle gym. They return to the same rate of favorable decisions they displayed first thing in the morning.”

Moreover, while the 7 chapters all consist of the hypothesis, the scientific testing, and the results, the follow up “Time Hacker’s Guide” for every chapter provides us with the actionable tools to implement the theories. This is where the gems are. This covers everything from the best time to exercise, the goldilocks duration for napping, when to go first, when to go last, to explaining why lunch is the most important meal of the day.

In the end, it’s a fairly quick read for a book with plenty of scientific explanations, as most of the stuffs discussed here are already familiar to us. But nevertheless, it’s like visiting our favourite museum but this time we have a tour guide with us who provides us with more background contexts and explanations that could teach us one or two new important things.

Whatever happens today the sun will rise again tomorrow

“The Sun Also Rises” by Ernest Hemingway

For someone who is a massive non-fiction reader, that is still learning to read fiction, this book is an acquired taste for me. Brilliant at the beginning, can be somewhat dull in the middle, and at a first glance it just abruptly ended without any real conclusion.

But still, this is Hemingway’s famed first novel. The best he ever wrote, according to his biographer Jeffrey Myers.

It is a story inspired by an actual event, during the post World War 1 era that produced the so-called “lost generation” of American expatriates that stayed on in Europe and lived in a hedonic manner. In particular, the book is inspired by the events and people from the summer of 1925 when Hemingway and several expats lived in Paris and went to Pamplona for the Festival of San Fermín.

It is also a soap opera of love entanglement between several people in the group, with Lady Brett Ashley at the center of it. The drama is neatly summarised by Hemingway’s grandson, Seán, in the book’s introduction: “Sometimes love just happens, and it does not always end happily. Brett’s affairs with Jake, Cohn, Mike Campbell, and even Pedro Romero are hopelessly entwined and tragically sad. Love triumphs over all but leaves carnage in its wake. For Jake Barnes, wisdom is gained at the expense of heartbreak.”

Indeed, Brett is a character that you either love or hate. And the fact that people’s opinion of her have been polarized for decades is a testament to Hemingway who created her complex character.

Moreover, in the same introduction Seán also writes about his grandfather’s process of writing, editing, and rewriting of this book, which gives the needed context of what’s going on inside Hemingway’s mind as he wrote it. This comes in handy later on, as my focus on the novel shifted to the style of writing and not the story itself (which can be quite over the top and exaggerated at times).

This is where the book becomes a masterpiece, where Hemingway shows his talent on describing a complex set of personalities, which then mashed them up together in a single narrative. It has a smooth buildup of the introduction of each of the characters from zero to complicated human beings, with the flawed relationships between the individuals become more apparent as the story develops. It is also very impressive how Hemingway can vividly describe the atmosphere of the places as the background context in which the character interactions take place.

All in all, the novel feels like quite a long story filled with so many events, adventures, and tragedies, considering the book is only 98 pages long. And as always, the thing is with Hemingway’s books is that they make you think of all other analogies in a similar situation as his stories. And this is what eventually blew my mind at the after thought.

A case in point, the title “The Sun Also Rises” refers to a biblical verse Ecclesiastes 1:5 where King Solomon (the wisest man ever lived) said “The sun also ariseth, and the sun goeth down, and hasteth to his place where he arose.” Which loosely translated to human condition is a never ending cycle of ups and downs, happy and sad, triumphs and defeats. And by acknowledging this cycle it can lessen some of the pains during all the chaos, such as the despairs occurring in the story, as whatever happens today the sun will rise again tomorrow.

This, makes the otherwise dull and uneventful ending (that conversation inside the taxi) becomes a deep philosophical essence of the entire book. And this, is what makes Hemingway one of the best there is.

One of those in-between books

“The Power of Your Subconscious Mind” by Joseph Murphy

This is a 1967 book, written in the same spirit as James Allen’s “As a Man Thinketh”, Earl Nightingdale’s “The Strangest Secret”, Napoleon Hill’s “Think and Grow Rich”, or their modern equivalent of, gasp, “The Secret.”

It is a book about subconscious mind but written without using any neuro scientific findings whatsoever. But instead it relies heavily on 1960s psychology, and most significantly on the same “Law of Attraction” way of thinking as these books above, but with a little twist: Joseph Murphy aligns his subconscious theory with his very apparent pious world view. So that the law of attraction is not necessarily a magical pull, but instead it comes in a form of answered prayers.

But I didn’t mind reading it one bit. Because it’s almost the holiday season, and I needed to decompress and lower my reading intensity before I can truly enjoy taking a break (that includes a break from reading. Maybe. I dunno. We’ll see).

And there’s arguably no better way to do this than reading a classic bestseller with old lessons obvious enough to be a cliche (which makes it easy to casually read), but good enough to be a subtle reminder. You know, one of those palate cleansers between two heavy topics, or fluffers (truly sorry, can’t think of a better example), or “in-between” books.

And by doing so, in the journey of “curing” my Tsundoku, I can also “tick off” another book that I bought impulsively long time ago, as well as maintaining my monthly reading target a week in advance, so that I can skip reading altogether during the one week holiday, if I want to.

And while the book is filled with phrases like “I prayed aloud for about five minutes two or three times a day repeating the above simple prayer. In about three months my skin was whole and perfect” or “Repeat the word, “Wealth,” to yourself slowly and quietly for about five minutes prior to sleep and your subconscious will bring wealth to pass in your experience”, to be fair, it is not all mumbo jumbo.

Because there are still several great insights from the book, such as one my favourites: “The suggestions of others in themselves have absolutely no power whatever over you except the power that you give them through your own thoughts. You have to give your mental consent; you have to entertain the thought. Then, it becomes your thought, and you do the thinking. Remember, you have the capacity to choose.”

In short, it’s a win-win all around while learning one or two new things along the way. What’s not to like?

The first book I’ll recommend to someone who wants to learn about Islam

“The Islam Book: Big Ideas Simply Explained” by DK

This book is one of the clearest big-picture explanations about Islam. It is a perfect introduction for novices, but the sheer wealth of information can also teach so many new insights to the practitioners of the faith.

The book began with the history of the Prophet Muhammad and the birth of Islam. Then followed by the step by step guide about the 5 pillars of Islam, from the syahada, to explaining about the prayers rituals (even how to do wudhu or cleansing before starting the prayer), to everything there is about zakat (or alms), fasting and the Hajj. The book then moves to the holy Qur’an, where it slowly breaks down the explanation of chapters and verses, including the context, meaning, and usage, before continuing the journey of the history of Islam.

It covers everything imaginable about the religion, from Islam’s stance on other religion, the concept of heaven and hell, prohibition of alcohol and eating pork, the background explanation of sharia banking, the switch from community guided by the caliph into an empire expanding through war, the misconception of women’s role status and opportunities (including all the many benefits and disadvantages), to the wonderful hakawati (ancient story tellers), the amazing stories on the Silk Road, and of course the elephant in the room: on terrorism.

It also provides the clearest and most concise explanation about the schism between Sunni and Shia, how the order of Sufi was born, even the controversial sect of Ahmadiyah. And it dive deep into my favourite subjects on Islam: the Golden Age of Islam, and one special chapter on Islam in Indonesia.

Along the way, it touches upon the stories of some of the most notable Muslims in history, from the rightly guided caliphs, to the many emperors and sultans, Salah al-Din, Avicenna, Averroes, Al Bukhari, Sultan Mehmed II, Harun al-Rashid, scientists such as Al-Khwarizmi Al-Haytham and Al-Kindi, Ibn Khaldul, Kemal Ataturk, Ibn Battuta, Rumi, Jamal al-Din al-Afgani, Mansa Musa, Malala Yousafzai, , Malcolm X, to even controversial figures such as Ayatollah Khomeini, Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab, Muhammad bin Saud, Mahdi of Sudan, Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, and terrorists such as Osama Bin Laden, Bagdhadi, Boko Haram, Taliban and Al Shabab, and so much more.

All in all, the knowledge in the book is so complete that it could be the only book anyone reads about Islam and still come out very knowledgable. It can also becomes the gateway to further specific studies on the many, many topics presented in the book. Very well written, and very well edited. Well done.

The human reasoning behind religious extremists

“Beyond Fundamentalism: Confronting Religious Extremism in the Age of Globalization” by Reza Aslan

On 4 November 1995, a Jewish man called Yigal Amir assassinated Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin after the prime minister signed the Oslo Peace Accord, which promised to return lands seized in 1967 to the Palestinians as the first step towards a long lasting peace.

Yigal Amir has since been branded a radical, a zealot, a madman, and even a terrorist. But in his mind he’s only trying to safeguard the sanctity and inviolability of biblical Israel. And Rabin’s move, in his view, regressed the utopian dream of the totality of the Promised Land, because Israel needs to occupy all off the lands to ensure the coming of the Kingdom of Heaven.

Indeed, Judaism and Christian Evangelist believe that the Kingdom of Heaven will finally come, and Jesus Christ will come down to Earth once again, when the 3rd rebuilding of the Temple Mount occur in the religious quarter in Jerusalem (the First Temple Mount was built in 957 BC but destroyed in 587 BC, and the Second Temple was built in 516 BC before destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD).

But the problem is, in the exact location where the Temple should be now resides the Dome of Rock, which is sacred for Muslims as it is the spot from where the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) ascended to heaven (the Dome of Rock was built more than 600 years later after the Second Temple was destroyed, in the year 692, which then collapsed in 1015, before being rebuilt in 1023 that lasts until today).

To fundamentalist Jews and Christians, this coming of Kingdom of Heaven prophecy somehow justifies Israel government’s awful treatment on the Palestinians, which became the basis of Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s style of leadership. And in response, in their first free election in 2006 the Palestinians decided to ditch the pacifist Fatah and voted to give the leadership role to Hamas, which often resort to retaliate violence with violence that often associated with terror attacks. The Israeli-Palestinian relationship, with extremists in both sides, becomes regressively worse since then.

This is by far the most comprehensive book on the history of extremism. It shows the government policies that triggered extremists to react in a dramatic fashion, or terror attacks that in turn prompted governments to impose dramatic measures. It explains the philosophical and theological roots of some of the most notorious extremists in history from multiple religions, which actually shows that religious fundamentalists are not as “crazy” as they are portrayed to be. Instead, they are surprisingly rational, calculated, and also championing social justice although for a very different indoctrinated justifications.

Central to the fundamentalists’ world view is the idea of cosmic war. As the author Reza Aslan puts it, “[t]he concept of cosmic war which in its simplest expression refers to the belief that God is actively engaged in human conflicts on behalf of one side against the other.” It is also the belief that it is not humans that are fighting on behalf of God, but instead God who fights on behalf of humans and using us as a some kind of pawn or soldier.

This is not a new phenomenon, however, because “[w]hen the Babylonians conquered Mesopotamia, they did so not in the name of their king but in the name of their god, Marduk, who was believed to have sanctioned, initiated, and commanded each battle. The same holds true for the Egyptians and their god Amun-Re; the Assyrians and their god, Ashur; the Canaanites and their god, Baal; and, most especially, the Israelites and their god, Yahweh.”

Or in a more recent history, it is what fueled the spirit of the Christian soldiers when in 1099 they launched the First Crusade to slaughter Muslims and Jews in Jerusalem to “take back” the city, with the Crusaders rallied to the cause with the justification of Holy War in God’s name. It is the same justification used by Salah al-Din who then recaptured Jerusalem in 1187, and eventually the Zionists in 1948 who captured the Palestinian land and created the state of Israel. It is also the same justification used by Al Qaeda when launching their terror attacks, George W. Bush on his “crusade” in Afghanistan and again in Iraq using false WMD claims, the counter-attack by Iraqis on fighting the invaders, and the many ISIS and ISIS-affiliate attacks across the world.

Instrumental to this cosmic war view is the role of framing. As Aslan commented, “[s]uccessful framing has the power to translate vague feelings of anger and resentment into tangible, easy-to-define grievances. It can also connect local and global grievances that may have little or nothing to do with one another under a “master frame” that allows a movement’s leaders to encompass the wider interests and diverse aspirations of their members.”

“These so-called “frame alignment techniques””, Aslan continues, “allow social movements like Jihadism to more easily create in-groups and out-groups. They help identify and, more important, vilify the enemy. They can even assist movement leaders in marking neutral bystanders as either sympathetic or antagonistic to the movement’s cause, all with the aim of compelling people to join the movement and do something about their grievances.”

In other words, framing helps converting the collective identity into collective action. And one of the easiest manifestation of collective action is violence, which transforms many complicated conflicts into a simple black-and-white view of us versus them. This is applicable in the Jihadist doctrine as well as the War on Terror that kills more casualties and destroys more countries than the Jihadists could ever wish for.

Perhaps the biggest takeaway from this book for me is the realisation that there is not much difference between the marginalised extremists throwing rocks in the street or using amateur suicide bombing as its mean to attacks, and those extremists who can have access to world leaders and much better weaponry, better media influence, and better diplomacy at international levels. It shows the gravest problem that the world is currently facing, with its ego and greed, but it also provides with perhaps the simple (but never easy) solution from Aslan himself: strip down all the religious jargons and justifications and address the real human problems and grievances that lie at their very roots, from their economic to social to political struggles.

Because, as they say, there cannot be peace without justice. But as you can tell from the 1 example from the book on the cosmic battle to control Jerusalem, justice is a highly complicated matter.

The life of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) in its geopolitical context

“Muhammad: Prophet of Peace Amid the Clash of Empires” by Juan Cole

This is a very well-researched book about how life was like during the time of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), from the context of geopolitics. While many other excellent books on the Prophet focused on the person or the early Muslim community, this book adds into the dimension of his story by providing the crucial background environment.

It depicts the vibrant mash up of cultures and languages in the region, the crowded markets, the traveling merchants on top of a camel, how the trade routes operate, and most profoundly the influences of political superpowers on the ever changing and ever complicated conditions for trade and commerce.

It also shows the strong existence of Paganism within this rigidly hierarchical society, with Jews and Christian influences slightly receded and played only the minority roles. All of which became the young Muhammad’s working condition as a merchant in his early years, and later on became the political environment during the early days of the Muslim community.

The author, Juan Cole, is a Middle East political expert with decades of experience. And to write this book he reads the Qur’an, the Bible, and their many accompanying texts, as well as many other sacred books such as Zoroastrianism texts, not to mention a huge trove of historical findings – from those carved in stones, to the many scrolls, to academic research findings -, so that he can narrate the stories as accurate as possible with impressive relevant Quranic and Biblical citations to make the points across within the narration.

As Cole remarks, the main purpose of the book is to “puts forward a reinterpretation of early Islam as a movement strongly inflected with values of peacemaking that was reacting against the slaughter of the decades-long war and attendant religious strife.”

Indeed, Islam was born in the middle of a massive clash between two empires, the Romans and the Sasanian Empire (of Iran), that was fought with unparalleled brutality for nearly 3 decades. This shows the extreme difficulties for the Prophet to preach the message of peace, and also explains the context for some of the “war verses” that are often taken out of context and misinterpreted in modern days and/or criticized by those who don’t understand.

However, to be fair, the critics are not entirely wrong. While Cole said the early Muslim community under the leadership of the Prophet “resembles much more the Jesus of the Sermon on the Mount than is usually admitted”, he also acknowledges that “[l]ife in medieval feudal societies did not encourage pacific theologies, and Muslims in later empires lost touch with the realities of the early seventh century.” But Cole then argues that, judging Islam from only the later empires is like judging Christianity from the actions of the likes of Pope Urban II, who launched the brutal Crusades in the Holy Land.

In other words, it is true that after the Prophet passed away Islam became increasingly militant, but as Cole remarks, “[w]e might consider some other historical parallels here. The peaceful spiritual founder of the Sikh religion in medieval India, Guru Nanak (d. 1539), was succeeded by more militant figures such as the fifth Guru, Arjun, and then by the tenth, Gobind Singh (d. 1708), who instituted warlike rules for the religion.” Hence, for those who pinpointed Islam as a violent religion by highlighting only the era after the Prophet has passed away, they’re technically right, but they’re missing the larger context: That all from secular to religious empires were also violent in those eras.

Furthermore, the book also highlighted some of the misconceptions of Islam. Such as the Sharia law, where the word sharia in the sense of Islamic law does not actually exist in the Qur’an, but instead the notion of sharia law was constructed by later generations using collected sayings and deeds attributed to the Prophet, which were passed down orally and many of which were actually folk literature, dubious, or even blatant forgery. In other words, there are also political infighting within the Muslim community, complete with all the egos and political agendas.

Another argument from the book is the possible geopolitical reason for the Hijra movement, where “[s]cholars have increasingly also tied the second half of Muhammad’s career, 622–632, to the maneuverings of Rome and Iran, even suggesting that his move to Medina from his hometown of Mecca may have been connected to Roman diplomacy.” The book also shows the massive backlash for the Muslim community in their arrival at Medina during the Hijra, and how the Prophet masterfully ride and change the political tide into a more favourable condition for Muslims.

But perhaps the most controversial argument of the book is about the eternally-debated intelligence of Muhammad before his encounter with the angel, which makes more sense and actually shows the brilliance of our Prophet more than what he was given credit for.

In Cole’s own words, “[a]lthough most of his biographers have treated him as a provincial holy man, Muhammad traveled widely. He would have been acquainted with Roman law, culture, and languages. Contrary both to later Muslim apologetics and to the assumptions of Western Orientalists, he was literate, as any great long-distance merchant would have been. He knew the Bible, probably in written Aramaic versions and oral Arab traditions, though possibly in Greek as well. In his thirties, I suspect, Muhammad’s inner thirst took him to Christian monasteries, eldritch shrines, Jewish synagogues, and Neoplatonist salons in Damascus and Bostra. Unexpectedly, his quest ended when its object came instead to him.”

All in all, as you can see, the book gives the human side of historical Islam, it provides the much needed context to fully understand what really happened, and shed a light into the political operator side of the Prophet, which, given the complicated geopolitical situation of his days, made his role as a messenger of God looks more important and his overall achievements of building Islam as the religion of peace even more impressive.

A masterclass on practical psychology

“The Laws of Human Nature” by Robert Greene

This is the Robert Greene book that I read the slowest. Not because of it’s big size, but because of the wealth of wisdom at almost every page that made me stop and think way too frequently. And ok, because of its size.

While he has written about power, seduction, war strategies, and mastery, he has never actually dived deeper (way deeper) before into the one thing that connects all of these topics together: human nature. And this is what this book is ultimately about.

In an unmistakable, Robert Greene-esque, manner, this book uses many stories from the huge archive of history that are hand-picked to be the perfect examples for the vast literature in psychology amassed over the last one hundred years. It is academic psychology meets the legendary ruthlessness of Robert Greene that turns the precious information into actionable strategies.

As Greene himself remarked, “[c]onsider The Laws of Human Nature a kind of codebook for deciphering people’s behavior—ordinary, strange, destructive, the full gamut. Each chapter deals with a particular aspect or law of human nature. We can call them laws in that under the influence of these elemental forces, we humans tend to react in relatively predictable ways.”

Never thought that Robert Greene can outdo himself, but my God he just did it.

The inspiring short stories of incredible Muslims

“Amazing Muslims Who Changed the World” by Burhana Islam

This is an inspiring book about Muslims that have made their mark in the world. It is beautifully written and beautifully illustrated, with mini biographies long enough to give us the complete picture, but short enough to make it neat and concise.

The extraordinary characters mentioned in the book range from both men and women, from many different ethnicities, who come from various occupations or roles in society throughout history. They vary from well known historical figures such as Salah Al-Din and Zheng He, to contemporary icons such as Muhammad Ali, Mo Farah and Malala Yousafzai, to several previously-little-known characters that turn out to be exceptional human beings, such as Rufaida Al-Aslamiyah, Khawlah Bint Al-Azwar, Sayyida Al-Hura and Ayuba Suleiman Diallo.

Fittingly, the book is mainly written for young Muslims who are seeking for inspiration from “their own clan”, but adults can also learn a lot from reading it, as have I while enjoying the beautiful but simple narrations.

And boy, what an inspiration. The book serves to show that Muslims can become anything we want to be without hard limitation, from becoming an actor, to athlete, architect, baker, warrior, explorer, healer, badass queen, scientist, senator, gold medalists, poet, DC and Marvel cartoonist, social justice movement leader, to the inventor of algebra and algorithm, and so much more, even becoming a real-life spy.

Now, although the heroes in the book are almost equally divided between men and women, I get the general feel that this book also wants to show that Muslim women are brave, powerful, and can take matters into their own hands (and rightly so in the eyes of Islam) and does not have to fit into the stereotype of oppressed women. Hence, with this in mind, this is a perfect book for my children to read and learn from, especially for my little daughter.