Monthly Archives: November 2011

Book: Happiness: A Guide to Developing Life’s Most Important Skill

Healthful soul tonic that everyone needs. Read it with Orchid-Scented Phoenix Tea.
272 pages, ★★★★★

Happiness is an extroverted book with nothing to hide. You’ll notice this from the moment you open it. The friction coefficient of the paperback cover is equal to that of the pages inside, so the fingerfeel of the inside and outside seem to be ‘one’ (very Buddhist). The paper is grippable, not polished, and the pages are slightly imperfectly-cut, which helps author Mattieu Ricard emanate his soothing modesty and humour onto paper. Watch him speak here at TED.com, again, with nothing to hide.

Happiness covers Buddhist teachings of the ego, karma and inner happiness. First, a true Buddhist is egoless. Second, karma (or 因果, “cause-and-effect”) rules the universe: “If we sow the seeds of poisonous weeds, we cannot expect to reap crops”. Third, happiness is independent of external circumstances, particularly material abundance. This is illustrated with numerous examples and meditation exercises. The classic anecdote of a lottery winner becoming ecstatic, then indifferent, then increasingly depressed over time (sometimes suicidal) is used. However, metaphors that relate to nature will dominate this book (in a very Tibetan way), for example, “sating desire is like drinking seawater—it only makes you more thirsty”. The best anecdote of how happiness differs from pleasure comes in the form of the lab-rat who, in control of an electrode that stimulates the ‘pleasure’ parts of its brain, will continue to stimulate itself until it dies of hunger or exhaustion. Happiness uses science and Buddhism, East and West, modern and traditional in tandem.

Science is used throughout Happiness. Compassionate people can withstand pain for longer. Optimistic people live 19% longer. Experienced meditators exhibit significantly-higher gamma-wave activity in the left pre-frontal lobe (associated with happiness) when meditating. Despite knowing that we should never take the pop-sci genre for face-value, the author’s biochemistry background leaves me questioning not the credibility of his research (which has been submitted to Nature), but the credibility of a slightly-conflicting book, A Whole New Mind (read my review here). Both books discuss brain-waves and happiness.

There was an apparent contradiction in this book. The author writes that enlightenment needn’t be preceded by suffering or wrongdoing; that benevolence is not merely practiced to counteract previous crimes. But at the same time, the author writes in the first chapter, that “the first step to ‘happiness’ [in the book’s sense] is to acknowledge that our way of acting and feeling has been wrong”. Whether suffering is to alleviate our own pain or that of others, it does seem that experiencing pain and focussing on it does seem to be a prerequisite to enlightenment. Fight Club‘s chemical burn scene was right.

Another thing that surprised me were his repeated references to China. Being a compassionate monk, he showed no anger in writing (8 times) about the plight of the Tibetans during the Chinese Liberation period. But as a Sinophile, I’m tempted to now go and read more books by Tibetans in exile, and the Communist Party’s official view of this slice of Tibet’s history. Did Tibetans suffer any more than the Han suffered during Liberation and the Cultural Revolution? Possibly not…

I should have read this book years ago (it was published in English in 2006). The section labelled “Why blame the world?” would have been particularly educational for me when struggling a few years ago. I found guidance in Marxism and Maoism, but would have been infinitely better-off with Buddhism (and happiness). I recommend this book for anyone caught up in the superficialities of democracy, the “captivity of negativity” or the trivialities of daily life. ★★★★★

Book: On Revolution

Entropy decreases wherever humans exist. All successful revolutions follow that law by consolidating more power than they destroy.
272 pages, 

I’m 23, and am therefore to young to understand this book. It requires background reading on the American and French revolutions and discusses them in great detail, which I’ve never done. I should read this again when I’m 30.

However, chapters 1 and 2 of On Revolution were understandable. I learned that successful revolutions put order back into society (i.e. decrease entropy). Revolutions destined to fail take order away. (I think.)

Chapter 4 backed this up. The US constitution created far more power than it destroyed. And since [destructive] violence defeats [constructive] power, which defeats the law (chapter 4), the French Revolution descended into destructive violence and left France to Napoleon, whereas America thrived. (Or something like that.) I learned that revolutions, in order to succeed, must build more than they destroy.

Three thoughts on “On Revolution

This makes me wonder: today’s China is the China that would have existed 30 years ago if the Nationalists had one the Civil War. In China, we are now surrounded by all the ideas and institutions that the Communists originally vowed to destroy. It’s classic Animal Farm: it’s only because they changed mindsets in 1978 (Opening Up & Reform) that the “Communists” are still in power.

Which makes me wonder more… successful revolutions just ‘spur on progress’, rather than turn things upside-down. Successful revolutions encourage lazy governments to be more effective leaders. (Talking about roles, not individuals).

Which leads to… governments are toppled not because they become too large (a view I’ve heard in reference to ancient Chinese history), but because they stop growing, (i.e. they stop decreasing entropy, or stop consolidating power). Revolutions occur in politics for the same reason that recessions occur in economics: if you halt growth (i.e. the consolidation of power) then the laws of political and economic entropy will solve all your problems through recession or revolution.

Two more thoughts (are these in connection to the book? I don’t know)

  1. Where humans exist, entropy always decreases.
    The absolute number of people in power will always increase despite political and economic crises. Despite their appearances, revolutions and recessions consolidate power more than they dissipate power, i.e. they decrease entropy. (The number of UK and US billionaires increased during the recent financial crisis.)
    – 
  2. As productivity increases, so does the consolidation of power.
    Even if inequality within a developed country shrinks, the corporations who outsource their factories abroad to facilitate this shrinkage counteract the domestic inequality reduction they created by consolidating their power, wealth and influence in markets overseas. When dollars move across borders with such ease, measuring Gini Coefficients and GDP within national boundaries just disguises the truth: only technology and population growth have made humans more productive, while financial trickery has merely accelerated the consolidation of wealth. (But as long as productivity increases, then we don’t feel the effects). (Not only do 1% of Americans control 42% of America, but they control large parts of the rest of the world as well. That’s the “consolidation of power” that we tend to ignore.)

I might be completely wrong, because I’ve never studied anything, ever. Would anyone who understands this book more than I do please share their insights? Thank you. ★★★★★

Book: A Whole New Mind

Like chatting to a wise man at the bar.
252 pages, ★★ 

The book is a no-brainer but it’s interesting to read. His thoughts are stuffed into sections, then into subsections, with little connection to each other. It’s like reading stories you’d hear at the bar. He recommends dozens of books and websites throughout the book, which look interesting, but not particularly professional.

He writes like a teacher: question—speak—rephrase—repeat. This is just in case you weren’t listening (or didn’t look like you were listening) for the first time. You can therefore skim-read this book without missing anything.

This book isn’t finished. In chapter two, he proudly coins two new terms, which he subsequently uses only once. He deviates wildly from his thesis. There are even punctuation mistakes. It’s also clear that conclusions have been stuck onto otherwise-incongruent chapters.

I think that Daniel H. Pink wanted to call this book, “The Right Mind”, but was told to back down because after the first two chapters, it doesn’t refer to the “right side of the brain” at all.

However, I did learn one thing from this author. I learned never to take an office job:

[after finally getting to sleep at 3am…] “About three hours later, the eighteen-month-old stood up in his crib and began bellowing his traditional morning milk chant. By 7 A.M., the house had erupted into full morning mania. And by 8 A.M., I was back in my office, where I now sit, facing another day of deadlines. I’m tired, really tired. In fact, I just yawned. And as I think about the day before me, I’m yawning again. Despite the three cups of coffee I’ve just guzzled, I could fall asleep in about thirty seconds. But sleep will have to wait. Too much to do. So I soldier on—and I yawn.”

I never, ever, ever, want to do that.

Daniel H. Pink should hire another editor and get this book finished. Under a different title, and a different subtitle (e.g. “6 Skills for the Knowledge Economy—and how to train them”), and a different chapter structure (e.g. delete the parts on brain-scanning and election machines), this book could earn an extra star. ★★

Book: Steve Jobs

I am Steve Jobs!”
598 pages, ★★★★★

Everyone’s reading this in Beijing. And suddenly, everyone thinks they’re [the next] Steve Jobs. Of course, I was no exception.

We’re alike. Steve Jobs found enlightenment in India, whereas I found it in China. Neither of us work for the money, which makes us both very difficult people to manage. While Steve was extremely passionate about projects he believed would succeed (the iMac, the iPod), he was also quick to throw tantrums of “this is shit” and destroy other people’s plans (the Newton, the first cancer diagnosis). I do this too.

Steve Jobs admitted he never worked for the money, and I could relate to that. He proved this by working for no salary as the “iCEO” of Apple from 1997. This book actually inspired me to walk away from a well-paying job I didn’t enjoy, which freed up 3 more days of my week to do things that I do enjoy (such as reading books).

Steve Jobs later postulated that the year he spent running around making billion-dollar deals for other people (Pixar) made him stressed and weak, which allowed his cancer to grow. I could relate to that, too: in the last 2 years, I’ve learned that one should only ever work for oneself, i.e. in projects that one truly believes in. Working for anyone else makes you feel sick at worst, and unsatisfied at best.

I read faster in the middle (where Jobs was ousted from Apple) because the ever-increasing sums of money didn’t interest me. Fortunately, it’s the only part of the book which focusses on his financial negotiations (“$”, “billion” and “CEO” were keywords in these chapters). I slowed down significantly towards the end because I didn’t want him to die. Useful spoiler: he doesn’t die in the book.

Al Gore was missing from this book. Having read The Assault on Reason and this TIME feature article (long ago), I expected to see Al Gore more in this book than the 2-3 times that he contributed to Apple meetings. I’ve read elsewhere that Jobs and Gore were good friends outside the boardroom. They even had similar N-shaped careers (being ousted from Apple; the 2000 election respectively). The fact that Gore has massive political and economic interests at stake (Apple, Current, the Alliance for Climate Protection, and many green start-ups) means he probably doesn’t want certain things exposed. To learn more about Steve Jobs, I look forward to reading Al Gore’s next, and hopefully more revealing, biography. ★★★★★

Book: 背包十年

让你的叛逆的灵魂终于找一个出口
235页, ★

背包十年是应该给所有颗自由自在的心的年轻人看。这本书让我成长得挺多。主题是关于一个年轻主角毅然决然选择离开他的老家。离开家后,他花了整整十年的时间行走在路上。你的心有多远,那么,就请你走多远。那些在路上的种种记忆会串联你精彩的一生。而当你老去,你可以有可以回味的东西,而不致于于后悔在那一年的某一天,你没有坚定的拿起你的相机和背包,走出去。他不光写的是一本书,也是一种精神,是那种寻找自由的精神,是那种穿越沙漠的勇气,是那种在异国他乡寻找在黄昏在舞蹈的吉普赛女郎的浪漫。而这通通取决于你的内心有多强大。

我特别推荐背包十年给刚刚到中国的外国移民着。来自我以往的经验,大部分刚刚到中国的老外都有一点疯狂,有一点叛逆,有的也讨厌他们自己的国家。我曾经是这样的。那种喜欢上中国的老外都有我上面写的共同点,跟60、70年代的时候喜欢去印度的年轻人一样(Steve Jobs、The Beatles 等)。看背包十年真的给我叛逆的灵魂找了一个出口。★★★★

Book: 23 Things They Don’t Tell You About Capitalism

Soaked in sunshine. Blurs all boundaries.
285 pages, ★★★★★ 

Reading 23 Things They Don’t Tell You About Capitalism feels like gazing out of the window on a sunny Sunday morning.  The cover image even spills sunshine around the pages when the book’s open.  See the larger image below.

To feel the calmness and balance of the author, I recommend drinking a very light green tea (绿茶) or even a white tea (白茶) with this book. I chose Yiming Tea (怡明茶) for its light taste, high Qi (气) and pale-peppermint liquor; but a fine White Peony (白牡丹) would have worked equally well.

Author Ha-Joon Chang comments on the world economy like an innocent bystander (including democrats, republicans, Karl Marx and Friedrich Lint).  He writes with delightful balance, and, without getting caught up in frivolous quarrelling or extreme points of view, he tells both economic camps to put down their ideological weapons and make some real progress.  All the ideas he advocates are backed not by hot-headed ideology, but by real-world results.

Despite entering a political (and sometimes ethical) minefield, he remains so calm that there’s even a picture of him laughing on the back cover!  If only all economists were this calm and analytical, then we’d have neither cocaine nor protesters on Wall Street.

Each of the 23 chapters in 23 Things follows a very simple formula: fallacy—truth—anecdotes—metaphor. The metaphors are always very down-to-earth, for example:

“When some people have to run a 100-metre race with sandbags on their legs, the fact that no one is allowed to have a head start does not make the race fair.” — Ha-Joon Chang, “Thing 20” of “23 Things”

23 Things is what Prosperity Without Growth would have been, were it not written in the midst of an economic panic. Prosperity Without Growth ended up being narrow-minded, CO2-obsessed, alarmist and plainly delusional in places.  It was based more on hot-headed extrapolations into fairy-tale-land rather than real-world situations.  I’ll therefore prescribe 23 Things, sunshine and a light green tea to everyone who was confused by Tim Jackson’s Prosperity Without Growth.  For everyone else, 23 Things is possibly the healthiest, and simplest viewpoint in economics from which to start. ★★★★★

"23 Things" is framed by sunshine (see the hard cover poking out the edges of the paper). Reading this feels like gazing out of the window, contemplating on a sunny Sunday morning.

Book: The Importance of Living

Practical Handbook for Life. Soul Food.
471 pages, ★★★★★

The Importance of Living should be read at leisure with 耐泡 tea (any tea that rebrews well), a large pad and pens, with nothing to do and nowhere to go for two days. Get very comfortable. Put everything you need within reach.

For tea, I recommend a very fragrant, full-bodied black tea (红茶) with a strong, sour, fruity after-sweetness (回甘) such as Jinjumei (金骏眉); because it pleases your tongue, body and soul in a manner that builds after being sipped. Or try the redder, high-Qi (气) end of the Oolong spectrum, such as Big Red Robe (大红袍), which is designed to be inhaled rather than drunk. Both teas would work equally well. Reading this, coupled with the tea, feels like being hugged.

Then curl up with this book, a heavy blanket and a large, ring-bound notepad. Sip this book like you would chicken soup or a hot lemon drink when you’re ill. You’re not ill, but you’ll feel as cured and rejuvenated in two days’ time as if you were. It’s a great excuse to stay home.

However, that soup gets filling. Take breaks every so often to make sure you’re taking everything in (by “filling”, I mean that it’s full of beautiful, palatable, digestible answers and doesn’t ask the reader many questions).

The Importance of Living is a detailed and healthy definition of a good life well-lived. It’s laced with Chinese history, culture and language (with explanatory footnotes) and written with childlike amazement at every simple aspect of life. It’s a childlike re-analysis of everything you do. He philosophises about:

  • how tall your chair should be
  • how to drink tea
  • how to categorise national stereotypes
  • with whom to smoke tobacco
  • why not to care too much about money
  • the ideal school curriculum
  • and hundreds of other life-tips

It makes a delightful and reassuring read. His thoughts are peppered with supporting quotes from ancient Chinese scholars such as Mencius and Confucius, and the book’s both beautifully-written and logically-structured. On the first read, I recommend making detailed notes. See these two mind maps on my wonderfully red bed below.

Then try to familiarise yourself with The Importance of Living as you would a Bible, a reference manual or a handbook. Familiarise yourself with the book’s layout so you can look up answers to life’s questions later.

Each reader will find musings in this book relevant to his or her own life. So I was delighted to read that Confucius had described exactly how I feel about my work as an educator in Beijing:

“Confucius seemed to have felt that scholarship without thinking was more dangerous than thinking unbacked by scholarship” — Lin Yutang 林语堂

“Thinking without learning makes one flighty, but learning without thinking is a disaster” — Confucius

Lin Yutang then talks almost prophetically about the state of Chinese education today when he asks:

“Why are there school marks and diplomas, and how did it come about that the mark and the diploma have, in the student’s mind, come to take the place of the true aim of education?” — Lin Yutang 林语堂

I blogged about “following passions” and “eliminating credentialism” some time ago, so this passage on page 390 particularly moved me. Read the middle paragraph in the picture below (starting with “Confucius”). It’s exactly what I’ve been saying on WordPress…

The book is full of gems like this, but you’ll have to read it and find your own. Give this book unrestricted access to your brain. This book requires that you reflect on every minute aspect of your daily life. In terms of living books (and not just reading them), The Importance of Living would make an ideal sequel to Fight Club because it builds a highly-refined life from scratch, like a beautifully-written, logically-structured instruction manual.

This book is what the terrible Instant Turnaround could have been if it were written by a refined, cultured, spiritual (and Chinese) author; and not by a bored Western office-worker with all the imagination drained out of his corporate monkey-skull. Everyone should put aside their moneymaking trivialities for two days and read this book on the couch. ★★★★★

Book: The Essential Difference

An insightful over-interpretation
269 pages, ★★★★

The Essential Difference is a easily-readable popular psychology book. Its thesis is that “men are different from women in just about every conceivable way” (it’s the sex equivalent of The Geography of Thought, which pulled East and West apart to equal extremes)All the book’s claims are supported with scientific studies, so I’m not doubting the validity of the research. However, I am left asking, “why?”

I learned the most from chapters 8 (with a large, and surprisingly flattering section on Autism and Aspergers’) and chapter 12 (on extreme feministic traits). The self-test section taught me that I have a below-average EQ, an above-average IQ, and half the symptoms of Aspergers’ (however, I also have half the symptoms of schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and some sort of personality disorder, but doesn’t everyone?)

To enjoy this book, refrain from reading it as a tennis match between two sexes (it isn’t, but lends itself to being misinterpreted as such). The Essential Difference mixes ethical balance and scientific data very well.

Interesting highlights include: a definition of empathy, five definitions of gender, an EQ test, and the fact that “women with a bigger right breast are better at math”.

Disappointments include: excessive stereotypes, and the fact that “women with a bigger right breast are better at math”.

My views are unchanged. I still think that men are only good at certain things when you compare them to women, that women are only good at other things when you compare them to men, and that to imply that either sex is wholly superior over the other is a very male way to think. The Essential Difference didn’t change my viewpoints (on gender, autism, empathy, and on my own character), but it did further my understanding. 

Book: 小王子

非常适合汉语学生之书
165页,★★★

小王子是享誉世界的寓言书籍《The Little Prince》我阅读的这本是双文版。前半部分是中文,后半部分是英文。即使跟法文原版对比的话,这本书的文字翻译也非常的完美,黑白草图也跟法文原版书一样。这本书通俗易懂,深入浅出即便是掌握一般水平的学系英语的学生也会看得很快,也会体味出里面深深的含义。

因为小王子原来就是适合给小孩子看的,这本双语书也非常之适合所有的学生。不管是什么语言水平,谁都能从这本书学到一定的道理。其实,里面的词并不难,故事内容也很容易明白。我第一次看,就学了很多生词。而当我看完第二遍的时候,才开始深深地明白作家的思想与隐喻。

我会对所有的要认真地学习汉语的老外推荐这本书。最少看两次。★★★

Book: Instant Turnaround

He wanted to write Fight Club but started too late.
151 pages, ★

The same office boredom that spawned such classics as Fight Club (and, even, The Office), has been wasted on Instant Turnaround. Its authors were presented with the time and space to let their imaginations run wild… and all we got was a description of their immediate surroundings.

I already wrote this book in middle school. On a rainy afternoon in Ysgol Gyfun Aberaeron, we had to write a spontaneous story to test our imagination and creative skills in an assessed English assignment. Being me, I wrote exactly that: that I was in middle school on a rainy afternoon trying to think of a topic for my English assignment. The teacher was less than impressed, and said, “This has been done at least once before, and I’m no more impressed this time than I was the last.” And I feel about this book how my teacher felt about that test: bored, disappointed, appalled.

Who would read this? Nobody, because the authors have nothing to share except for the fact that they have nothing to share. Instant Turnaround has reinforced my detest for 12-hour days in a stuffy office, for fear that I’ll turn into author and run out of stories to tell my grandchildren before they’re even born.

One of these authors, in his cornflower-blue tie, felt so weak as to need to write ‘PhD’ after his family name. Technically, I have a PhD credential, too. I just keep it secret.

Book: The Story of Tea

Tea is far more than a drink.
418 pages, ★★★★★

The Story of Tea refined my palate. It taught me to taste the difference between Beijing cabbages and Shandong cabbages, which, (as indicated by the price), are softer, sweeter and less bitter. It taught me to find the best olive oil and the best mineral water, neither of which are the most expensive on the market. By understanding tea, I’ve learned to pursue quality and health in everything I do, and to take (much) time to enjoy life’s pleasures in parks, teahouses, and on our 12th floor balcony. Tea is far more than a drink.

Understanding tea helps you to understand life. Having developed a gong-fu tea habit, I feel calmer, more alert, more thoughtful, and have a regular sleep pattern. I relax more, work less, earn more and am less stressed than when I drank coffee and worked 7 days a week (last year). I think more, do more, no longer crave corporate office jobs, and I read more than ever. Let great tea change your life.

The middle-aged couple who wrote The Story of Tea have inspired me more than Joseph Needham (the Cambridge-graduate protagonist of Bomb, Book and Compass). Firstly, they’re two people; secondly, they love tea despite not speaking Chinese; thirdly, they’re making a profit pursuing a passion and lastly, they’re still alive. By contrast, Joseph Needham, in his epic encyclopaedia of China, devoted only 2½ pages to Chinese tea! The Story of Tea would make a perfect amendment to this classic as Needham’s unwritten eighth volume.

The Story of Tea is very well-organized. There’s a comprehensive tea directory with tasting notes, a section on the production process of each of the seven main types of tea (green, black, dark, oolong, yellow, white and traditional flower teas), a history section and a travel section. Read from cover-to-cover and make detailed notes. Tea is not just a pleasurable drink, it’s an exquisite lifestyle. Everyone should read this. ★★★★★

Book: Guanxi

Neither sexy nor clever.
293 pages, ★

Guanxi is a drawn-out advertisement for Microsoft that’s loosely based on fiction.

Microsoft is doing terribly in China. Guanxi claims that Microsoft’s put its foot in the door of the Chinese market by flooding billboards with “Use Genuine Windows” advertisements, when the truth is that not one person in China has ever paid more than $1.50 for a pirate version of their software (even if they then claimed the full retail price on expenses). I even paid $1.50 for a pirate copy of this book from a wagon on the street.

Guanxi is full of metaphors that leave me stone cold, like “Sculley” and “Darth Vader”. And when geeky metaphors aren’t used, the language is as bland as Western tofu. Take this conversation for example,

“People realized that those guys in Beijing could really do something”.
“That was the moment that people thought, ‘Okay, from now on, we mean business’.”

Unfortunately, that drab conversation sits at one of the climaxes of the story.

As a foreigner in China, I can testify that a large part of Microsoft’s popularity is a direct result of its popularity in the West. In light of China’s obsessive “West is sexy” mentality, copying a business model from the US to China (and achieving almost zero) is no cause for celebration.

Microsoft did nothing special in China, let alone anything worthy of a book. Apple, on the other hand, reinvented itself from a rebel to a white-elephant for the super-rich, and can’t build stores in China fast enough. If only because he studied calligraphy and supported the liberal arts, read Steve Jobs’ biography instead. 

Book: Fight Club

Biblical scripture. Enlightenment.
209 pages, ★ 

Fight Club has already been the subject of extensive philosophical, cultural, psychological and literary analysis, because it carries enough metaphors to allow readers to see entirely what they want to see. It’s convenient that the protagonist has no name, because for most readers, it’s actually a prophecy about some repressed part of the reader. We step into the protagonist’s shoes. I therefore saw this book as an introverted salaryman’s enlightenment because, secretly, that’s what I needed in my life.

For years before reading this, I craved the boring office-job of the protagonist. Long hours, photocopiers, fax machines, coffee, suits with cornflower-blue ties and a £24,000 pay-check were the natural fate of Cambridge graduates (in Deloitte or Accenture… does anyone know what those companies actually do?)

Fight Club was, in part, the encouragement I needed to throw that away without knowing what would replace it. And it paid off in every respect: I work less, earn more, am happier and healthier than the corporate monkeys that walked out of Cambridge with good grades. I got the worst grades in my class, but, one year later, am without doubt earning more than all of them, dollar-for-dollar. I feel liberated.

Remember that this is half a book. The whole point is that it ends at a nadir, from which point on (presuming you’ve been acting out Project Mayhem in your own life), it’s up to you to steer your newly-worthless life in a direction of your choosing. It would be against the book’s revolutionary nature to impose a “happy ending”, or vision of what success looks like for the protagonist. All Fight Club does is demonstrate how to destroy what you’ve got, leaving you with, “a white canvas upon which the most beautiful words can be written”, as Chairman Mao once said. It’s a scary ride, but I recommend this book (and its associated lifestyle) for anyone who’s considering a career in a suit.

Fight Club is so pumped full of quotable lines (or “Tweets”) that it was almost designed to be made into a film. Of course, perfectly, it was.  

Book: Bomb, Book & Compass

An introduction to Sinophilia (not China).
300 pages, ★★★★

Protagonist Joseph Needham and I studied the same course at the same university, 89 years apart. We both came to China at the same age, fell in love, and (probably) spent the rest of our lives trying to understand this great civilisation. Without that connection (and add to that the highly misleading title), this book would have been a bore.

Bomb, Book and Compass should be read as a preface (or a proxy) to Needham’s epic seven-volume, one-thousand-dollar encyclopaedia on China. It’s hard to find, but excerpts on Amazon show that it’s much better-organised and much better-written than Bomb, Book and Compass. I recommend Bomb, Book and Compass only for those Sinophiles who intend to read the entire encyclopaedia… if they can find it. ★★★★

Book: The Speed Reading Book

Just motivation to read
220 pages, ★★★

Tony Buzan is rivalled only by Steve Jobs and Ron L. Hubbard in terms of cult status. When reading Buzan, it’s the reader’s responsibility to take necessary precautions not to be fooled by his magical promises.

The Speed Reading Book shows, via many detailed steps, how reading speeds of 750 words per minute can be achieved (on a few occasions, he inflates this to a superhuman 10,000 words per minute). He starts be telling you to forget everything you were learned in school, and uses self-tests throughout to demonstrate that speed-reading comes at no sacrifice in terms of comprehension.

The cult of Buzan is welded with revolutionary optimism. Like revolution, many of his life-changing claims are total fabrications. If, like me, you’re wary of such extremes, then interpret this book as the Platonic Ideal of what reading should be. Let this book inspire you like fiction.

For me, this book was the realisation that I should start reading like an old man (with a lamp and a stick), start reading with a stopwatch, and with proper lighting and a desk that’s 8 inches higher than my kneecaps. It taught me that reading slowly doesn’t make me understand more. It also made me realise why the iPad is so amazing to read books on (because screens attract eyes like magnets, and because it makes reading with your finger on the page look cool and not retarded).

This book is smaller than the mere 200 pages from cover to cover. Large parts are imported from other sources or repeated multiple times. Read it fast. ★★★