Tag Archives: Book Review

Best books of 2016

   

I managed to read 25 books in 2016 and I hope to finish two or three during my Christmas break.

During 2016, I read the books listed below.

The Prince by Niccolo Machiavelli
Prisoners of Geography by Tim Marshall
Focus by Daniel Goleman
Homo Sapiens by Yuval Harari
Homo Deus by Yuval Harari
Startup Nation by Dan Senor and Saul Singer
A Funny thing happened on the way to Enlightenment by Lenny Ravich
His life biography by Jak Kamhi
Arrested by Can Dundar
Blockchain Revolution by Don Tapscott and Alex Tapscott
An Intelligent Person’s Guide to Education by Tony Little
Power of Palace: Geography, Destiny, and Globalization’s Rough Landscape by H.J. de Blij
Never Give Up: Jack Ma in his own words by Suk Lee
Germany: Memories of a Nation by Neil MacGregor
Confession of a Sociopath: A Life spent hiding in plain sight by M.E. Thomas
Facing with our own history by Emre Kongar
Acknowledging what is: Conversations with Bert Hellinger by Bert Hellinger
Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain by David Eagleman
Blimey! from Bohemia to Britpop: The London Artworld by Matthew Collin
This is London by Ben Judah
Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad
When Breath becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi
2014: The Election that changed India by Rajdeep Sardesai
Last night I Dreamed of Peace by Dang Thuy Tram
Memoirs of Ataturk’s Servant by Cemal Granda

Of course, you learn something from each book and each book has a relative value to each reader. If I were to suggest only three books to read from this list of great books, they would be the following:

  • Homo Sapiens and Homo Deus by Yuval Harari
  • Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain by David Eagleman
  • The Prince by Niccolò Machiavelli

 Both books by Yuval Harari are great and I believe I have already given at least 40 volumes as gifts to my colleagues, friends and clients. In particular, Homo Sapiens is a must read. For those who have not read my review of these two books, here are the links:

http://haskanwrites.com/2016/02/book-review-sapiens-by-yuval-noah-harari/
http://haskanwrites.com/2016/12/book-review-homo-deus/ 

Incognito is also another great book which confirms that while most of us think that we know everything, our brain plays tricks and we are, in fact, missing a large part of the world. I also published a review of this book a couple of months ago.

http://haskanwrites.com/2016/11/book-review-incognito-by-david-eagleman/

Finally, The Prince by Machiavelli is a classic and I bought this book during my summer visit to Florence. I think this is the sort of book that you should read every few years.

I would like to take this opportunity to wish everyone happy 2017!

I am sure 2017 will be much better in many ways than 2016!

Best of luck in 2017.

All the best from Galle, Sri Lanka.
Sukru Haskan
Twitter: @sukru_haskan

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Book Review: Homo Deus

After reading Yuval Harari’s book, Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind early this year, it was almost impossible not to read his next book, Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow as soon as it is published and I can get it.

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Homo Deus is the second book written by Harari and talks about the future of mankind. Since Deus is “God” in Latin, he argues in his book that a new religion called Dataism to raise and humans will not need gods anymore since we will very accurately predict what will happen or who will do what by the help of gather data.

The book starts with striking statistics about the past and the present. Almost three million people–15% of the French population–starved to death between 1692 and 1694.  Today, more people are dying of diabetes, which is linked to being overweight rather than a result of starvation.  According to Harari, in 2014 more than two billion people were overweight compared to 850 million who suffered from malnutrition. Half of humankind is expected to be overweight by 2030.

Some of the quotes from the book that I really liked:

“Sugar is more dangerous than gunpowder”

“We don’t become satisfied by leading a peaceful and prosperous existence. Rather, we become satisfied when reality matches our expectations. The bad news is that as conditions improve, expectations balloon”

Does the above quote remind you of someone?

“Historians don’t ignore objective factors such as climate changes and genetic mutations, but they give much greater importance to the stories people invention and believe”

Like in his first book, Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, in Homo Deus Harari emphasizes the power of stories whether they are true or not. Actually my interpretation is; the less likely they are true and superficial, the more likely the people will listen.

Another point Harari argues is that humankind’s definition of knowledge has kept changing since the Agricultural Revolution. We were simple creatures during this time, so knowledge for reading the scriptures and applying and applying our logic.

“Knowledge= Scriptures x Logic”

Then the Scientific Revolution came and everything focused on collecting data and trying to find meaning for the gathered data.

“Knowledge = Empirical Data x Mathematics”

Finally in 21st century, as much as we are confident about ourselves, we care more about our life experiences and our sensitivities.

Another provocative fact that Harari argues is that there is no free will, and that free will can be manipulated. With the help of technology and data, machines know much better than what we will do or choose. Harari argues that companies are using this to manipulate us. In other words, Harari says what you think you want to do may not be really what you want to do.

He strengthens these points in the following sentence: “We are about to face a flood of extremely useful devices, tools and structures that make no allowance for the free will of individual humans”

Fascinating and provocative! Isn’t it!?

Harari also argues “In the 21st century we might witness the creation of a new massive class: people devoid of any economic, political or even artistic value, who contribute nothing to the prosperity, power and glory of society”  I personally did not get this point. Since societies are manipulated, how can they have this massive new class?

Some other provocative thoughts in the book are about collecting personal data.  Harari states “In the 21st century our personal data is probably the most valuable resource most humans still have to offer, and we are giving it to the tech giants in exchange for email services and funny cat videos”

“After 300 likes, Facebook algorithm can predict your opinions better than your husband or wife!

Yuval Harari is a young and great visionary writer. He definitely make my 2016 and led me to think as well as learn a lot!  He offers great opportunities for readers to think and learn. Harari’s Homo Deus is highly recommended.  His first book, Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind is suggested as a prerequisite to Homo Deus.

I believe he will be in Istanbul on January, 25th which I am planning to fly and meet him in person!

Best Regards from Singapore.
Sukru Haskan

Twitter: @sukru_haskan

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Book Review: Incognito by David Eagleman

I do not know if it is a coincidence, but I have started reading quite a lot of neurology books recently.

Incognito by David Eagleman was recommended by someone who I really value and I immediately ordered it through Amazon in September, but it only arrived in Singapore in early October.

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The author discusses how we run mostly on autopilot and how little we are conscious when we are living our normal lives. One of the provocative parts of the book is: even though we are in a consciousness state in most of our lives, we are not able to access this part of the brain. According to the author, this consciousness is carved by natural selection to solve problems our ancestors faced during our species’ evolutionary history or simply by practising something so hard that it becomes part of our lives such as a tennis player serving a ball or a driver driving a car.

He discusses that when an idea comes to your mind, your unreal circuitry has been working on it for hours, or days, or years, consolidating information and trying out new combinations.

It is just like the apple that fell down from the tree onto Newton’s head and he discovered gravity. He had already been working on it quite hard so that the apple falling from the tree and hitting him on the head was just the last touch to the ball to cross the line for the goal!

He emphasises that the conscious mind is not at the centre of the action in the brain; instead, it is far out on a distant edge, hearing but whispers of the activity.

One of the interesting examples that he uses in the book is that we believe that we see naturally but actually we learn to see and it is interesting that the majority of human beings live their whole lives unaware that they are only seeing a limited cone of vision at any moment.

There is a very provocative blind spot exercise that I will leave you to find out whilst reading the book.

He argues, “Just because you believe something to be true, just because you know it’s true that doesn’t mean it is true.”

According to the author, many people are found to have the neural ravages of Alzheimer’s disease upon autopsy – but they never showed the symptoms while they were alive. This is because these people continued to challenge their brains into old age by staying active in their careers, doing crossword puzzles, or carrying out any other activities that kept their neural populations well exercised. As a result, they built cognitive reserve.

The author gives many very interesting examples throughout the book, which I will leave you to discover. He discusses that a slight change in the balance of brain chemistry can cause large changes in behaviour and he adds that the behaviour of the patient cannot be separated from his biology.

The conclusion is: human behaviour will always remain unpredictable and we are not really responsible for all our actions, since many parts of the brain lead us to do a lot of stuff against our will. In addition, he believes the legal system and punishments should be adjusted to the state of the criminal’s brain where they may not be responsible for their actions, but his brain would (!)

Finally, David Eagleman has a more recent book, Brain: The Story of You, and he has a website, www.eagleman.com, where you can follow him.

Best from Singapore.

Sukru Haskan
Twitter: @sukru_haskan

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Book Review: A Funny Thing Happened On the Way to Enlightenment

 

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I was travelling for a wedding to Tel Aviv and Jerusalem a couple of weeks ago and my mentor and a good friend, Avi Liran, was so kind to arrange some meetings for me while I was there.

Lenny Ravich was my first meeting and, to be honest, I failed to do some research on him before I met him.

Lenny Ravich is a US–born, 70-something young person who is energetic and funny. Apparently, he wrote a book that Avi liked so much that he contacted him and that’s how their relationship started.

Lenny gifted his book to me during our meeting and that’s how I read his marvellous book.

The name of the book is Something funny happened on the way to Enlightenment. His book sold tremendously well in Israel and worldwide.

There are some points that I don’t agree with, such as in order to be funny he thinks a person has to have had a screwed up childhood, but mainly the book is a great eye opener.

It talks about happiness.

Lenny refuses to make himself feel bad by taking serious things more seriously. It takes courage to laugh, especially at yourself, and even more skill to get others to laugh with you at themselves.

Lenny summarized life as a formula, E + R = O. 

E is the event, R is our Response and O is the outcome. 

Events occur and our responses design the outcomes. The event may not be avoidable, but the response is our own production so it can altered and therefore the outcome as well.

I will continue by sharing some of my favourite quotations from the book.

“One way to deal with some of the pain from the past, anger, fears and misfortunes of the past is to find the humour in things and then to laugh at them.”

I accept, it is not easy. But it does not mean it is not possible. We should let our bad feelings go to be healthy and to move forward. Having this kind of mindset is also an important part of success.

“No matter how we look at it, life is one huge, on-going improvisation. None of us gets an orientation manual when we’re born, telling us how to handle every situation that might cross our path throughout our lifetime. Nor can our parents prepare us for every conceivable occurrence.” 

I experience this with teenagers. They expect to find a mentor or their parents to lead their life. Everybody’s life is different and their interests and talents are also different.

Of course, one should utilise other people’s experiences, but you have to create your own manual for your very own life. And that manual will be and should be different than everyone else’s!

Because you are unique!

“Feeling vindictive and unforgiving is a huge waste of time. I have found that love, optimism, and laughter are the most potent tools available to mankind.” 

I happened to fall into this trap.

I came across a sociopath in my life, and I wasted some time. Actually, not only time, but I also felt sorry for him and at some point I felt very unforgiving to him. Now, I understand it is waste of time.

Now, I just laugh off my experiences with him!

“Who is rich? The one who is happy with what he has.”

Definitely!

The desire to attain more material things makes everyone unhappy!

“Poor is the person who believes totally in his mission.” 

Titles, zeros in the bank accounts, and power are easy tools that can poison us and inflate our egos.

It is not hard to become a “bastard”, but by being a bastard you are doing the greatest harm to yourself since you are making yourself very unhappy. As my friend Avi says, “Delight people and operate on a delight system, not on a jerk system.”

Even though it was such a short meeting (it was only 45 minutes), it was nice to meet you, Lenny Ravich!

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All the best,

Sukru Haskan
Twitter: @sukru_haskan

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Book Review: Focus by Daniel Goleman

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I have to admit that I didn’t start reading this book on purpose. It just happened to be in our house, since my wife has read it. I know that Daniel Goleman has another great book called Emotional Intelligence, but I haven’t had a chance to read that book, either.

So, coincidence created the opportunity to read Focus, since I have some time during my gardening leave. (Yes, I am on gardening leave since I am changing my employer. I will continue to be based in Singapore.)

Daniel Goleman starts the book by defining the anatomy of attention and he states boldly that it is important for a child to interact with people to develop the social and emotional circuitry of a child’s brain.

Deep thinking demands sustaining a focused mind, and there are many distractions going on around us every second. For instance, the writer gives the example of Carl Gauss, an eighteenth and nineteenth century mathematician, who worked on proving a theorem for four years with no solution. Then, one day, the answer came to him “as a sudden flash of light.”

The writer discusses self-awareness as a very important feature that leads to success, since you are aware of your weaknesses and you can build a team according to these facts. In addition, overloading the attention shrinks mental control, and we start forgetting the names of people or other valuable information.

Marketers know how to mobilize our brains so that we make some unconscious choices when buying a product. For example, I got a phone call from my favourite football club, Besiktas, yesterday and the voice on the other end of the phone played with my feelings about Besiktas so skilfully that I happened to buy USD 500 worth of Besiktas merchandise just in ten minutes!

The writer discusses that people who are extremely adept at mental tasks that demand cognitive control and active working memory can struggle with creative insights, a point with which I absolutely agree.

He argues that accounts of discoveries tell of them happening during a walk or a bath, on a long ride or vacation. Darwin and Gandhi used to walk a lot to think, and I have been using the same method for more than 20 years now, which has worked for me quite nicely.

Walking clears your mind and focuses you in the present. It is a kind of a meditation.

I would like to share some of my favourite quotes from the book, with my own comments.

“Don’t let the voice of others’ opinions drown out your inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become.”

Some people can be manipulative and they can be jealous of you. You should always follow your own ideas, even if they turn out to be wrong. Once you make your own mistakes, you can learn from them.

“Self-awareness seems to diminish with promotions up the organisation’s ladder.”

When you are moving up the career ladder, the number of genuine people becomes fewer and fewer, so it is hard to obtain healthy feedback.

“The brain is the last organ of the body to mature anatomically, continuing to grow and shape itself into our twenties.”

“The better their self-control in childhood, the better the Dunedin kids were doing in their thirties. They had sounder health, were more successful financially, and were law-abiding citizens.”

“Those at the top never stop learning; if at any point they start coasting and stop such smart practice, too much of their game becomes bottom up and their skills plateau.”

Never stop learning! If you believe your job is not demanding enough, I always think you should change it. When the learning stops, it is like the music stops and time starts going very slowly. You will always be in that kind of situation from time to time, and it is important to recognise it and to be able to make the change.

“Higher vagal tone, which can result from mindfulness and other meditations, leads to greater flexibility in many ways. People are better able to manage both their attention and their emotions. In the social realm, they can more easily create positive relationships and have effective interactions.”

“Global economic data shows that once a country reaches a modest level of incomethere is zero connection between happiness and wealth.”

Absolutely. After a certain amount of income, the rest is for our greed and to feed the soul’s sin.

“Exploration means we disengage from a current focus to search for new possibilities, and allows flexibility, discovery, and innovation. Exploitation takes sustained focus on what you’re already doing, so you can refine efficiencies and improve performance.”

“Being in survival mode narrows our focus.”

“Ambitious revenue targets or growth goals are not a gauge of an organisation’s healthand if they are achieved at a cost to other basics, the long term downsides, like losing star employees, can outweigh short term successes as those costs lead to later failures.”

“People’s grades and the prestige of schools they went to had little or nothing to do with their actual effectiveness.”

 I hope you enjoy Focus at some point after reading this short review.

All the best from Turkey.

Sukru Haskan
Twitter: @sukru_haskan

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Book Review: Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari

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A couple of months back, I published my next five books to read and one of them was Sapiens. Since this week marked Chinese New Year (Gong Xi Fa Cai!), it was a great opportunity to read Sapiens over the four-day break. I will share some of the author’s own sentences with my own comments and I hope that you find it interesting enough to read the whole book.

The author, Yuval Harari, divided the book into four different parts according to humankind’s developments: the cognitive revolution, the agricultural revolution, the unification of humankind, and the scientific revolution.

“The cognitive revolution kick-started history about 70,000 years ago. The agricultural revolution sped it up about 12,000 years ago. The scientific revolution, which got under way only 500 years.”

The author argues that prehistoric humans were insignificant animals with no more impact than gorillas, fireflies and jellyfish, and our closest living relatives include chimpanzees, gorillas and orang-utans. Legends, myths, gods and religions appeared for the first time with the cognitive revolution.

The transition to agriculture began around 9500–8500 BC in the hill country of south-eastern Turkey, western Iran and the Levant. Yuval believes that the agricultural revolution was history’s biggest fraud since the average farmer worked harder than the average forager, and received a worse diet in return.

He names this fraud as the luxury trap by stating that, “The pursuit of an easier life resulted in much hardship, and not for the last time. It happens to us today. How many young college graduates have taken demanding jobs in high-powered firms, vowing that they will work hard to earn money that will enable them to retire and pursue their real interests when they are 35? But by the time they reach that age, they have large mortgages, children to school, houses in the suburbs that necessitate at least two cars per family and a sense that life is not worth living without really good wine and expensive holidays abroad. What are they supposed to do, go back to digging up roots? No, they double their efforts and keep slaving away.

He rightly argues throughout the book that worries about the future became major players in the theatre of the human mind.

So why study history? Unlike physics or economics, history is not a means of making accurate predictions. We study history not to know the future but to widen our horizons, to understand that our present situation is neither natural nor inevitable, and that we consequently have many more possibilities before us than we imagine.”

So true… Everything is happening because of a series of past events and it is important to evaluate the reasons and continue our lives accordingly.

The scientific revolution started with human beings accepting the Latin injunction ignoramus, in other words “We don’t know”. This is still a huge problem in many countries as people think they know everything. Instead, when you accept that you don’t know enough, it opens the door to investigate, observe and learn.

He explains the necessities of holding societies together in quite a comprehensive way and explains why scientific revolution took place in Europe rather than anywhere else.

“In 1500, annual per capita production averaged $550, while today every man, woman and child produces, on the average, $8,800 a year.” 

The scientific revolution has definitely increased our productivity, but has it really improved the overall satisfaction of our lives as well? The book also discusses this point in quite a nice way as well.

“Each year the US population spends more money on diets than the amount needed to feed all the hungry people in the rest of the world. Obesity is a double victory for consumerism. Instead of eating little, which will lead to economic contraction, people eat too much and then buy diet products – contributing to economic growth twice over.”

This is another sad fact of our age. Because our distribution of goods and services channels are not well developed (or maybe we don’t want to develop?) whilst many people suffer from famine, some other people battle against obesity.

He argues that there will not be a large-scale war in the future, which I don’t really agree with. He puts forward the argument that the economical benefits of peace are so great that countries will avoid a large-scale war. Even though the economic benefits of peace along with social benefits are huge, these benefits are being shared by only fraction of the world’s population. Due to this fact, I personally expect a large-scale war to arise from low income people if these issues are not addressed immediately.

He finishes his book with a question: “Is there anything more dangerous than dissatisfied and irresponsible gods who don’t know what they want?”

Overall, the book enlightens us about the series of past events that took place in the history of the humankind and it helps us to think why certain institutions, beliefs and behaviour exist in our lives.

I rate this book 5/5 and recommend you to read it as well. Yuval Harari also has a website where you can watch his videos and even subscribe to his public courses.

All the best from Singapore.

Sukru Haskan
Twitter: @sukru_haskan

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Next Five Books to Read

My friends well know that I love to read and discuss what I read. Even though one may read on any subject, I am quite selective.

The reading rule that has stuck with me since I was a kid is that I don’t read any novels or science fiction. All I read is history, finance, economics, biography, self-development, psychology and philosophy.

This week, I would like to share with you the next five books waiting for me to read.

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1-A Short History of England by Simon Jenkins

I started reading this book almost a  month and a half ago and, since I have been busy reading some international affairs and financial papers, I have only read about the first 100 pages.

England is a great country with a long history and this book is a quick introduction to full English history from British tribes to the modern day. I always advocate that if you want to understand a set of people and a country, you have to master their history first.

It is a great book to enlighten you as to why modern England exists in its present form. The book is about 300 pages, and please don’t expect to get detailed information on each era.

Caution: You may get lost due to the speed of change of the kings, queens, barons and conflicts, but it’s worth a try!

2- Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Harari

This book has been recommended to me by two precious people. One of them is the Vice Chancellor of Bahcesehir University and my economics professor back in Turkey, Elif Cepni, and that’s why it jumped all the books in the queue to be read after A Short History of England.

It mainly talks about different human species that inhabited earth 100,000 years ago compared to only one today, homo sapiens. The book takes you through human history from A to Z and talks about why we have created kingdoms, countries and the current systems such as using money as a medium of payment. It also refers to how and why we have come to believe in gods.

Since everything has a reason and a history, I hope that this book will enlighten me as to why we are so cruel to each other and to the rest of the species in the world, as well.

3-A Line in the Sand: Britain, France and the Struggle for the Mastery of the Middle East by James Barr

The Middle East has been the land of politics for centuries and, unfortunately, the Middle East is known by many for its wars and conflicts. Actually, the Middle East has much more to offer such as its grand culture and history, rather than only its wars and natural resources.

Middle East history goes to back to many centuries ago, but this book focuses on the times of British and French rule in the region.

James Barr is an important modern author on the Middle East and I look forward to reading this book.

This book is also a recommendation from an honourable gentleman in my native land. He is currently in his 80s and I respect his intellectual knowledge very much.

4- Lost Enlightenment: Central Asia’s Golden Age from the Arab Conquest to Tamerlane by Frederick Starr

Central Asia brought wealth, trade and science to the rest of the world, especially between 800 and 1200. Nowadays, this is forgotten, but it is the reality.

The sophistication of its cities and people, along with achievements in different types of field such as medicine, astronomy and mathematics, have established today’s modern world. The people of Persian, Arab and Turkish descent were behind this achievement during the medieval enlightenment.

With the New Silk Road project in China, it is very likely that this notable role will be revitalized, but hard to say if it will again be that influential a region in the world arena.

I believe this book is a good reminder that change is inevitable and you need to keep updated to keep running for the lead.

5-2014: The Election that Changed India by Rajdeep Sardesai

I bought this book in India when I was traveling in Delhi in December 2014. Unfortunately, due to regular queue jumping by different books, it is still standing unread on my shelves.

India is becoming more and more important and 2015 marks the first year that India has surpassed China in terms of growth. There are a lot of expectations from Narendra Modi and his mandate is not easy to deliver in the world largest democracy. I expect to get more insights on India from this book.

Given that it is written by an Indian news anchor, it makes the book more compelling and sincere.

I would like to finish this week’s article with a good website recommendation to keep track of your online bookshelves. If you are still not aware of Goodreads.com, I strongly suggest that you have a look. Nowadays everything is going digital and it is a great platform to establish your reading list and book reviews online.

For bookworms, I also recommend a visit to Daunt Books on Marylebone High Street, London. It is a very different book store from the usual ones and you can get lost for many hours inside.

Having strongly advocated the digitization of everything, I shall admit that I still could not give away my paperback books. I have a Kindle and I have read many books on it, but it has never given me the same feeling as when touching paperback books.

All the best from Singapore.

Sukru Haskan
Twitter: @sukru_haskan

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