In this Very Short Introduction, Michael Cook gives vivid accounts of the Koran's role in Muslim civilization, illustrates the diversity of interpretations championed by traditional and modern commentators, discusses the processes by which the book took shape, and compares it to other scriptures and classics of the historic cultures of Eurasia.
By now I have read quite a few non-fiction books about all kinds of different topics. Some authors (e.g., Sam Kean) write in an engaging style that captures the reader and takes them on a journey in which they are entertained and enlightened simultaneously. Other authors are not so good at the capturing part but still manages to provide enough insights to make the book worth your while. However, in some cases, the author offers neither – writing a tedious book that offers little insight, so that even if you do manage to stay awake and pay attention, the reward is small.
This book, unfortunately, belongs to this latter category. Since it is "A very short introduction" I was thinking that the book would describe what the Koran is about and perhaps also go into some of the controversies surrounding the text. Instead, the book almost exclusively discussed linguistics. Time and time again the author will, at length, consider how the meaning of a single word can get lost in translation from say Arabic to Egyptian and English, etc. Sure, this is probably fascinating if you are a linguist, but not if you are someone who wants to know more about the Koran. When reading this book, I did often drift away in my thoughts – which usually only happens when books are boring (yes, I blame the author). So, there is a possibility that somewhere in the book one might also find non-linguistic discussions.
If I could rename this book, I would call it “A short in-depth analysis of different possible meanings of words in the Koran”. This would have the double advantage of being a more accurate title and scaring potential reader away from reading it. If linguistics is your passion in life, then, by all means, read the book. If you want to learn about the Koran, find a different book!
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Tribes are groups of people aligned around an idea, connected to a leader and to each other. Tribes make our world work, and always have. The new opportunity is that it's easier than ever to find, organize, and lead a tribe. The Web has enabled an explosion of all kinds of tribes - and created shortage of people to lead them. This is the growth industry of our time. Tribes will help you understand exactly what's at stake, and why YOU can and should lead a tribe of your own.
I recently took part in a leadership course designed for young scientists. The course was inspiring but I was frankly amazed that even though the course was for scientists, the scientific basis of the material was dubious to say the least.
The same is true for this book. On the surface the advice in this book makes sense. Be a heretic, have faith, pursue your idea. This is what leaders do! It is of course easy to think of many people who followed this recipe and became famous world leaders or multi-billionaire entrepreneurs, and the author use such examples to backup the advice given.
However, although anecdotes and inspiring examples are nice, scientifically speaking they don't hold much water. Is it always good to have faith, and to follow your own path? Aren't there also people who follow these principles who are seen as stubborn idiots? These people, unlike the ones who ‘make it’, receive no media attention.
The bottom line is that one can find examples of almost anything - which makes them close to meaningless. Until then, the jury is still out. And hence when it comes to the advice in this book I would also say that the jury is still out.
2 of 2 people found this review helpful
Meditations is former U.S. President Bill Clinton's favorite book. This audio consists of a series of personal writings by Marcus Aurelius, Roman Emperor 161-180 AD, setting forth his ideas on Stoic philosophy.
I wish I could be more like Marcus Aurelius. Stoicism is my favorite life philosophy and Marcus is one of the most impressive stoics every - in theory and in practice. The philosophy of stoicism is basically a mindset, a mindset of endurance and inner peace. You will meet idiots, but it is not their fault that they are idiots. You, who know better, know that is is better to remain calm in every situation. Idiots cannot hurt you unless you let them. Instead, be nice, be gentle, be reasonable, at all times and in every encounter.
These are the principles spelled out in this book. Marcus, despite being a very powerful man comes across as humble and reasonable and he is, I think rightly, considered one of the greatest leaders of all time. It, therefore, pains me to say that the book was not very readable. Indeed, I would say that if you finish this book you are already a proven stoic. The reader should keep in mind that Aurelius lived almost 2000 years ago. Language evolves a lot in 2000 years and his contemporaries probably didn't experience the same issues when reading his book. Nevertheless, his promiscuous use of conjunctions (and, or, nor), leads to insanely long sentences - so long that you forget what the sentence was about by the time you reach the end of the sentence.
So even though I am a fan of stoicism and of Marcus Aurelius, I can't recommend this book unless you are one of those persons with a concentration ability made of concrete. In short, the book has a nice message but it is very boring.
1 of 1 people found this review helpful
Discover the classic behind-the-scenes chronicle of John E. Douglas’ 25-year career in the FBI Investigative Support Unit, where he used psychological profiling to delve into the minds of the country’s most notorious serial killers and criminals - the basis for the upcoming Netflix original series.
Every year, well known psychics make a number of predictions about what is going to happen the next year. There will be an earthquake somewhere in Asia! The housing market will implode! a celebrity couple will divorce! An atomic bomb will go off! And so on. Sometimes their predictions come true, and sometimes they fail. The problem is that the public, especially the ones who wants to believe that psychics have special powers, only count the hits and forget the misses. And if you make predictions such as “there is going to be an earthquake somewhere”, then you will certainly be correct because earthquakes occur every day.
Why am I talking about psychics? Because I fear that profilers, including the infamous author of this book, John Douglas, are a bit like psychics. They get credit for trivial predictions such as ‘The perpetrator is a man between 20-40 years old with a troubled past” - which is true of pretty much every murderer. They are not, to the same extent, held accountable for inaccurate predictions, or they just call them off as anomalies. As with psychics, people forget the errors. To be fair, sometimes profilers also get other more difficult predictions right. The real question is whether this is because they were really good profilers or were they just lucky?
If you read this book you will almost certainly feel that profiling is valid. John Douglas, the authors talks about many cases he has been involved in and you do get the feeling that he is a modern Sherlock Holmes. Yet, it sounds almost too good to be true, and there is almost no mention of any profiling gone wrong, which makes me suspicious. If you go to the wikipedia page about criminal profiling you will find that the profiles created by professional profilers are not any better than those made by ‘amateur’ college graduates. It is also suspicious that Douglas says that you cannot systematize the profiling procedure using computers. In my experience, when you cannot formalize what you do, it usually means you don’t really know what you are doing. It is also highly discrediting that Douglas himself seem to have some belief in psychics… For example, in one case a psychic “heard dripping water” when thinking about a crime and Douglas writes that this is obviously because the crime took place near a river.
Ok, enough ranting. My skepticism apart. What you will get from this book is an inside account of some high-profile murders in the US as well as the history of profiling within the FBI (although it is a biased history). There is no denying that the book is quite entertaining, if you enjoy reading about crimes that is. Just keep your skepticism at high alert.
With extraordinary access to the West Wing, Michael Wolff reveals what happened behind-the-scenes in the first nine months of the most controversial presidency of our time in Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House. Since Donald Trump was sworn in as the 45th President of the United States, the country—and the world—has witnessed a stormy, outrageous, and absolutely mesmerizing presidential term that reflects the volatility and fierceness of the man elected Commander-in-Chief.
I decided to read this book because the author claimed that it would end the Donald Trump's presidency. I doubted this claim because to me it seems that Trump does things that should end his presidency on a weekly basis. Nevertheless, I decided to give the book a try. I thought that if nothing else it is entertaining to read about what a sorry excuse for a president “The Donald” is. This book solidified my picture of Trump and his associates, however, I did not feel that this book gave me anything new. Neither was the book particularly entertaining. I was even taken aback by the author's tendency to sometimes treat rumors as facts - making him look like the man he is trying to take down.
I think this book could potentially be good to read for people who believe that Trump is a serious and intelligent politician who is just acting like a giant baby. This book will illustrate - through lots of dialogue and descriptions of interactions between Trump, Bannon etc - that the current US president is not at all presidential.
Then again, I don't think people who have not already reached this conclusion will be swayed by this book. It is simply more of what you see on the news on a daily basis. Personally, I would not be surprised if Trump turned out to be a serial killer or a closet homosexual. If it was any other leader I would be shocked by the ignorant and childish behavior described in this book. But in this case, I merely think ‘what’s new?’.
All in all, this book wasn't bad, but I find it hard to come up with a single reason for why anyone would want to buy it...
Is the world really falling apart? Is the ideal of progress obsolete? In this elegant assessment of the human condition in the third millennium, cognitive scientist and public intellectual Steven Pinker urges us to step back from the gory headlines and prophecies of doom, which play to our psychological biases. Instead, follow the data: Pinker shows that life, health, prosperity, safety, peace, knowledge, and happiness are on the rise, not just in the West but worldwide.
Did you know that the life expectancy, globally, today is 71 years whereas 200 years ago the life expectancy was 31?. Did you know that there is a much smaller chance today that you will be murdered, go to war, die in a plane or car crash, or die from a lightning strike than in any other time in history? Did you know that a higher proportion of people are born into democracies and have access to sufficient food and money than ever before? To quote a quote from this book: “If you could choose to be born anytime, you would choose now” - Barack Obama
Steven Pinker is, without doubt, one of the most important and knowledgeable intellectuals in the world today. With Enlightenment Now, he proves this point again. Few write as well as Pinker. And even fewer can pack so much information and statistics into a book and still maintain such beautiful prose. Even if you only remember a small part of all the knowledge you will acquire if you read this book, you will have learned a lot.
The book has two parts. The first and longest part (around 20 chapters) describes the progress that has occurred in a number of different areas of life (see below). The second part of the book is a defense of the ideas of the enlightenment - the ideas that are responsible for much of the progress that has been observed. Below is a non-exhaustive list of topics reviewed by Pinker in this book
Life duration - Life expectancy, at any age, is longer today than it has ever been i.e. old people today also have a longer life expectancy than old people in the past
Economics - We are much much richer and every day another 130.000 people in the world exits extreme poverty
Access to food - All parts of the world have access to more food, in the west, the poor are often obese
Equality - There is more equality between the genders and between different ethnic groups and people (especially youth) value equality more than ever before
The environment - Climate change IS a potential concern however we are making progress and in most other respects the environment is getting better: more trees, cleaner air etc. As we are entering the digital age we are also using fewer resources (paper, plastics etc).
Wars - Whereas wars used to be the norm, there are no wars between major powers today and even with the terrible civil war in Syria, casualties are nowhere near that in previous wars
Accidents - People are less likely to die from car crashes, lightning strikes, falls etc. We seem to value life more today and we have taken steps to look out for and prevent all kinds of accidents
Violence - Murders, rapes, and violence are less common. It is very unlikely that you will die in a terror-attack.
Political systems - Contrary to what you might think if you watch the news, democracy is on the rise and has been for a long time. The anti-enlightenment populism (ex Trump) is a concern however, it is an old-people movement and will likely dissipate
Quality of life - More people today find their life exciting and meaningful than before. We have more spare-time and we don’t have to work until we die
Happiness - People are happier today and happiness comes with progress in the other variables described here.
Existential threats - The hole in the ozone is gone, forests are growing, no nukes have been launched (despite what doomsayers of yesterday would have you believe).
To sum up the first part of the book: Things have gotten better. Much better. Still, don’t think that Pinker believes that all problems are gone. He reiterates the point that the laundry does not wash itself - and global challenges don’t solve themselves. Despite the progress we have seen there are ample challenges left. There are still wars, famines, genocides, and environmental issues. Pinker acknowledges this, however, he emphasizes that the world has seen progress, not regress. And it is important to acknowledge that things have gotten better - not to pad ourselves on the shoulder - but rather so that we can analyze what it is that has worked so that we can keep doing that.
Is it the enlightenment ideas that have caused the undeniable progress in the world? This is the question addressed in the second part of the book. Since progress occurred in the world before the enlightened philosophers took the stage I would say only partly. Then again there were people acting in the spirit of the enlightenment even before Hume, Voltaire and the rest. And it feels safe to say that progress is not achieved through irrationality, populism, and closed-mindedness. To me as a scientist, this seems like a relatively trivial point, but I get reminded that it isn’t a view shared by the rest of the world every time I turn on the TV or radio.
The objections to this book are predictable (see other reviews). People are accusing Pinker of being a politically motivated naive optimist. If you think so then I can only advice you to read the book (and finish it), and then make up your own mind. Unlike most of those who criticise him, Pinker provides data to back his claims. I can only assume that it is Pinker’s critics, not Pinker himself, who are politically motivated “progressophobics” who, upon hearing a couple of anecdotes or reading about the war in Syria, throws all data out the window and claim that things are getting worse and that anyone who says otherwise is a naive optimist, right-wing fundamentalist or climate change denier.
This book is another masterpiece from one of the best non-fiction writers, and on my rating scale it no doubt deserves the top rating. However, I still think that Better Angels, with its more narrow focus, is probably a better book. To some extent, this book is a follow up to Better Angels, even though this book has a broader scope. Since Better Angels was published many people seem to think that things have turned around and that the world is now regressing. If you read this book you will learn that this is not the case. The progress until 2011 when Better Angels were published has continued and is expected to continue into the future as well.
So, to sum up, read this book if you want an antidote to all the doomsayers that dominate the media. Read this book if you want to revive the optimist in you. Evidently, we can make the world a better place - as we have done in the past.
55 of 61 people found this review helpful
The fascinating science and history of the air we breathe. It's invisible. It's ever present. Without it, you would die in minutes. And it has an epic story to tell. In Caesar's Last Breath, New York Times best-selling author Sam Kean takes us on a journey through the periodic table, around the globe, and across time to tell the story of the air we breathe, which, it turns out, is also the story of earth and our existence on it.
This book is about air. When I first realized this I thought to myself, how interesting can air possibly be? As it turns out air is abundantly interesting. Not in my wildest imagination (ok, maybe in my wildest imagination), did I think that anyone could fathom so many, so interesting stories about such a seemingly mundane thing as air. With its perfect mix of historical anecdotes and well-explained science, this book is a real masterpiece and I would have given it more stars if I could.
The first chapter gives you the story of Caesar’s last breath. Where are the molecules that left Cesar's lungs in his last exhale today? Specifically, what are the chances that in your next breath you will inhale one of these molecules? I vaguely remember having heard this example before, but I still thought that the size of Earth's atmosphere relative to a single breath means that the chance is very very small. But no, on average every other breath we take will contain one or more molecules that left Cesar's lungs in Rome 2000 years ago. This is because simply put, there are a lot of molecules in every single breath. Still a skeptic? I don’t blame you, but let Sam Kean inform you (if you are wondering, yes Kean does do the math).
Subsequent chapters are about different molecules that exist in the air. The privileged reader will meet the comatose nitrogen that really doesn't like to interact with anything else. Despite its passivity, nitrogen in the air helps feed 50% of the world's population since it is crucial for making fertilizer. How this extraction process was first accomplished is a fascinating story. And it is a story that no one tells better than Sam Kean. The reader will also meet nitrogen's counterpart, Oxygen, the madman that reacts powerfully with everything. The fact that organisms have managed to tame this rogue molecule is a miracle (perfect for God of the gaps people). Noble gases and radioactive gases also make prominent appearances. For each air constituent, Kean explains the relevant science and gives you one or a few well-selected anecdotes to hang your new knowledge on. The most hilarious part of the book is when Kean introduces Le Petomane, who was the best-paid artist in France. His trick? Farting like no one else in the history of mankind (do Google this person, you will not regret it (or maybe you will)). Of course, you will also learn what farts are made of and how many fart molecules you inhale each time you take a breath. I know I am repeating myself, but Kean really is one of the very best when it comes to giving life to science.
The writing is clear and accessible but the book does not compromise on scientific details. The book even has a beautiful prosaic ending which is not something I usually associate with or expect from non-fiction books. When writing reviews, I usually feel I must balance praise and critique but in this case, I feel that the book is close to being perfect. Read it! Now!
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Spanning eras and cultures from ancient Rome to medieval England to 1950s Hollywood, Jennifer Wright's It Ended Badly guides you through the worst of the worst in historically bad breakups. In the throes of heartbreak, Emperor Nero had just about everyone he ever loved - from his old tutor to most of his friends - put to death. Oscar Wilde's lover, whom he went to jail for, abandoned him when faced with being cut off financially from his wealthy family.
I fear what people might think of me if they read my collection of book reviews given that I consistently find books about serial killers and violence “entertaining”. I don’t kill people and I like to believe that I am a good husband - but I thoroughly enjoy reading about other people who do not live up to the same standards, and this book features a nice collection of seriously nonconforming people, romantically speaking.
This book is meant to be entertaining, however. Jennifer Wright (who has instantly become one of my favorite authors) writes about a number of break ups that stood out for one reason or another. The stories span several historical epochs, from the Roman empire up until modern times.
For example, the first chapter is about Nero. Nero was, without doubt, the most insane ruler Rome have ever seen, and his personal romances were similarly twisted. I would actually disagree with the author when she claims that Norman Mailer (Chapter 12) is the worst breaker-upper in the book. I would say that Nero was worse, although admittedly, he lived in crazier times. Briefly, Nero jumped on his lover’s stomach when she was eight months pregnant, killing her (and the child). He appears to have regretted this act of madness because next, he married a prepubescent boy who looked like his dead girlfriend, despite that homosexuality was not generally accepted in Rome. In his spare time, Nero’s fetishes included pretending to be a caged, wild animal. When he was let loose he would attack the private parts of people who had been tied up around the cage.
In each of the featured stories a relationship ends – sometimes because one partner killed the other – and then we get to read about what happened next. The breakups elicit some pretty cracked reactions such as ordering a sex doll that looks like your ex and taking her, it, for dinner with friends. Or, there is the guy who just started pretending his wife was a ghost. Jennifer offers running commentary and modern real-life analogies that spice up the stories.
All in all, this is a highly entertaining book. The book will give you a few history lessons that will make most history teachers look uninteresting in comparison. The book will also give you some top-notch tidbits about breakups that you can share at parties or with friends in heartbreak. The book gives you this and a lot more in a truly entertaining and well-written package. Highly recommended!
What drug lords learned from big business. How does a budding cartel boss succeed (and survive) in the $300 billion illegal drug business? By learning from the best, of course. From creating brand value to fine-tuning customer service, the folks running cartels have been attentive students of the strategy and tactics used by corporations such as Walmart, McDonald's, and Coca-Cola.
Explaining the central pillars of economics is difficult. Doing so in an entertaining and engaging manner, I thought was impossible. This truly excellent book proved me wrong.
Economics govern human societies in the same way that physical laws govern the universe we live in. This is true (or at least almost true), for legal businesses as well as illegal businesses such as the narcotics industry. Like any legal business, drug cartels, in order to survive prosper and generate revenue, must harvest and develop their product in a cost-effective manner. They must market their product. They must handle the often daunting human resource headache that comes with a pool of employees that will periodically sit in prison. Drug cartels must also bring their product to the customer, a process that is more difficult when your product is illegal and the prime focus of the border officers.
This book describes all of these aspects of the drug trade in a detached non-judgemental fashion. Indeed, as a reader I even developed some sympathy for the drug lords when I was forced to think about how tedious it must be to run such a disorderly business and how you must have brutal violence and gang warfare in your toolkit in order to survive (although admittedly, many drug lords are probably attracted to this aspect).
This book is not written to make readers feel sorry for the drug trade, however. Rather the book (I think) want to accomplish two things. The main purpose is to teach economics. The second purpose is to show the reader how to stop the drug trade or at least hinder the human suffering that seems to be an inevitable byproduct of the business. For example, the author argues that it is generally a bad idea to try and destroy drug crop fields in Latin and South America. Sure, it is a problem for the cartels, but the main cost for the cartels is transport (usually to the US and Europe). Before the drugs have crossed the border it only has a fraction of the value in the eyes of the cartels (the DEA likes to inflate these figures).
So to really hurt the cartels one should fight them in the end market - either by targeting dealers or smugglers or by competing with them. The author maintains that the legalization of marijuana in some American states is a nightmare for the modern-day Escobars. It is hard to compete with a legal well-oiled drug factory when your own organization must simultaneously wage war etc. I don’t know if I am entirely convinced that it is a good idea to legalize drugs in general because I think that would lead to more people taking drugs. Nevertheless, it is an interesting argument to consider.
While the main focus of the book is on the drug cartels in Central and South America there is also a chapter on the new market i.e. the internet. Today new drugs are developed almost every day - faster than the authorities can deem them illegal even though they are just as dangerous (sometimes more so) than traditional drugs. In Sweden where I live, an extremely potent opioid known as fentanyl is causing many deaths among teenagers. Whenever a certain version of the molecule is categorized as illegal, a new one that has the same effects is simply developed.
There is of course much more in this book which is interesting from the first to the last page. So if you are even remotely interested in either economics or the drug trade, this book is highly recommended!
For centuries in Europe, innocent men and women were murdered for the imaginary crime of witchcraft. This was a mass delusion and moral panic, driven by pious superstition and a deadly commitment to religious conformity. In Witch: A Tale of Terror, best-selling author Sam Harris introduces and reads from Charles Mackay's beloved book, Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds.
This is an excerpt from the book Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds by Charles Mackay. He wrote this book in 1841, almost 200 years ago. Based on the excerpt, the title more or less says it all. The book, which has a slightly catalog-esque feel to it, describes a number of cases where a person, usually a woman or a girl, was accused of being a witch. It also gives you a brief history of witch hunts - from its peak in the beginning of the 17th century to the end in the late 18th century (although in some countries people still believe in witches).
It is entertaining in - a macabre kind of way – to read about the witch trials. Although I have read a fair amount about witches, I am still amazed every time I read about the trials. Witness accounts in which someone claimed to have seen a cat that looked like the accused were taken seriously. Experts claimed that if you talk at loud to yourself then you are definitively possessed by a demon and must, therefore, be a witch. I am guessing that to some extent the witch hunts were a way to satisfy the crowd's lust for blood and their desire for vengeance over the extreme hardships in their life. We should keep this in mind today when people on social media seem to think that they are better jurors than the people working within the judicial system.
If you want a brief introduction to the history of the witch-hunt, with a European bias, then this book is a good buy. However, you can get more detailed accounts (remember that this is an excerpt) and while the book has a Sam Harris feel to it, only small parts of it were actually authored by him.
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