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The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris

Plot Summary

The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris is based on the story of Lale Sokolov, a Slovakian Jew, during World War II.

In April 1942, Lale was forcibly transported to the concentration camps at Auschwitz-Birkenau. Due to his positivity and his ability to speak multiple languages, Lale quickly became a figure other captives gravitated towards and was put to work by his captors as a Tätowierer (the German word for tattooist).

As a Tätowierer, Lale was responsible for permanently marking his fellow prisoners for identification. One day in July 1942, Lale came across a young woman who he was to tattoo the number 34902 on her arm. They were captivated by each other’s gaze and soon fell in love. Lale then vowed to survive the camp and marry her.

Living in an environment where tomorrow is not guaranteed, Lale had to find ways to navigate through the cruelties and to find the strength and will to survive.

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Book Review

The story centers on Lale’s experience of the Holocaust and how he manages to survive. It is succinct and it doesn’t deviate from the main plot. Not too many characters are fully developed but it feels just right to focus on Lale and his perspective. I didn’t find it emotional due to how quickly characters seem to be introduced and taken away, however, it is very engaging and is a great read.

The Tattooist of Auschwitz not only shows the cruelties of concentration camps but also the power of togetherness. Lale was close to death multiple times and although his resourcefulness is crucial to his survival, it is the help of his friends as well as his enemies that keeps him alive.

Even though this story is not entirely true, I was able to learn a lot about the Holocaust and the perspective of someone living through it. I would recommend this book to anyone who loves reading books with historical context.

 

Have you read this book? And is there any book you would recommend? I’ll love to hear your thoughts. Thanks!

I’m currently reading Educated by Tara Westover.

Start With Why By Simon Sinek

Why did we start doing what we are doing in the first place? Often times when a company becomes successful, its leaders start to focus on what they are doing as opposed to why they founded the company in the first place. Although focusing on what you are doing can get you far, it is having a clear sense of why you are doing things that make people connect with you and support you.

Start With Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action by Simon Sinek explains how great leaders are able to propel their organizations to excel by starting with why. Simon demonstrates how organizations with a clear sense of why are able to have great brand loyalty whereas organizations with a fuzzy sense of why eventually lose their competitive edge.

Even though Start With Why contains less than 250 pages, I find it 200 pages too long. A lot of the same points are made repeatedly with the same set of examples. With that said, I watched Simon Sinek’s Ted Talk on Start With Why and I highly recommend it.

People Buy Why You Do It

People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it

Companies are founded for a cause and to address a problem. However, often times companies forget why they are founded and start to focus on what they are doing. Apple is a great example of a company that starts with why.

Led by Steve Jobs, Apple believes in challenging the status quo and thinking differently. It is reflected in how they develop their products by making it beautifully designed and user-friendly. And they just happen to make great computers. Having a clear why/belief is the reason Apple has great brand loyalty and will have people line up for hours just to get their products. If you focused on what I just said, you would notice I didn’t say computers but products instead. It seems natural that we would buy an mp3 player or a smartphone from Apple. But would you consider getting an mp3 player from Dell?

Dell came out with an mp3 player over a decade ago and it got discontinued shortly after. It’s not because its products are less superior. Dell has access to the same talent and same resources as Apple and definitely have the technical capabilities to design great technology products. It is instead because Dell loses it’s why and started to focus on what which is selling computers. We see Dell as a computer company and can’t imagine getting a smartphone or a smartwatch from a computer company. However, we do that all the time with Apple. This is because Apple has a clear sense of why and people who share that why can connect to its products and even get inspired by it.

Start with why and be consistent with it. That means how you do things, which include your marketing, the people you hire, and your products need to reflect on why you are doing things. And with consistency, people will see and hear what you believe.

Great Leaders Lead With Why

Great leaders embody a sense of purpose that inspires those around them. You can motivate your employees with a higher salary and more benefits. But to get the best out of your employees, they need to feel that the company cares about them and get inspired by the cause that the leader is leading them. Average leaders give their people something to work on, whereas great leaders give their people something to work towards.

Summary

Simon Sinek is a great speaker and an idealist. Although I don’t enjoy the book due to how dragged out I find it to be, I do find the core insights of starting with why valuable. So instead of reading the book, I would recommend watching Simon’s Ted Talk that I shared above.

 

I’m currently reading The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris.

The Book of Negroes by Lawrence Hill

Lawrence Hill: I used The Book of Negroes as the title for my novel, in Canada, because it derives from a historical document of the same name kept by British naval officers at the tail end of the American Revolutionary War. It documents the 3,000 blacks who had served the King in the war and were fleeing Manhattan for Canada in 1783. Unless you were in The Book of Negroes, you couldn’t escape to Canada. My character, an African woman named Aminata Diallo whose story is based on this history, has to get into the book before she gets out.

Plot Summary

The Book of Negroes by Lawrence Hill is a novel that narrates the life of Aminata Diallo,  who was abducted from her village, Bayo, at the age of 11. Aminata was bright beyond her years and even at a young age had learned from her mom how to be a midwife and from his father how to read. Using the skills she learned, Aminata took on the role of a midwife and eventually learned how to communicate in English as well. During the slave voyage to South Carolina, a boy her age, Chekura, who had been forced to help the slave traders, had cared and grown close to Aminata.

When the ship arrived at South Carolina, the captives who survived were sold and dispersed in a slave auction. Even though this separated Aminata and Chekura, they sought out one another and their affection for each other grew as time went on. This novel is centered on Aminata’s pursuit of freedom and her dream to return to Bayo.

Book Review

The Book of Negroes is a book that makes you understand the cruelty of slavery and the implications of not being free. The storyline is compact and successfully communicated the different nuances of the challenges Aminata faced. Despite having introduced many characters throughout the novel, the character development is brilliantly done. You can feel connected to the characters and have an understanding of all the different perspectives presented.

The Book of Negroes goes into great extent detailing the cruelties humans can do to each other. However, it also shows how far having a strong will can go in helping you achieve your dreams. Being separated by slavery, Aminata and Chekura were able to stay loyal to each other no matter the distance or danger presented in their way.

The book is beautifully written and provides a good understanding of what living in slavery means. You learn to relate and care for the characters and especially Aminata Diallo. I’d recommend this book to anyone who enjoys great character development or to anyone who wants to have a deeper understanding of what it means to live in slavery.

 

What book are you currently reading? I’d love to hear any books that you’d recommend as well!

2019 Resolutions!

2018 was the first year I set resolutions. I was able to build up some great habits and also learned how important it is to set S.M.A.R.T. goals.

This year I decided to add a twist to it and I’m competing against a friend on who can accomplish their resolutions more on a weekly basis. But before I get to my 2019 resolutions, let’s take a look back at my 2018 resolutions and see how I did!

2018 Resolutions

My 2018 New Year’s Resolution

2018 Mid-Year Reflection

#1: Be Conversational in Spanish

I had spent more time in 2018 improving my Spanish than I’ve had in prior years. I enrolled myself in a Spanish course which has improved my grammar and my communication skills. I’ve also been watching tv shows/animes and reading books in Spanish.

Despite the improvements I’ve made, I do not feel comfortable enough to say I have accomplished this goal. If I travel to a Spanish speaking country alone, I’m confident I can get by with the day-to-day with my current communication skills. However, I’m not able to follow a conversation if it’s not slowed down a bit for me. This year I’ll make my resolutions more habit-centered so it’s more focused on the time and effort I put in.

#2: Complete and Promote My Flashcards Mobile App Project, My Vocab

My Vocab is a vocabulary builder mobile app that I spent the last few years working on. While learning Spanish a few years back, I needed an app to help me record, translate, and review the vocabulary I wanted to learn.

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By June of 2018, I finished developing all the key features that the app was planned for. All the reported bugs were addressed and I also redesigned and updated the app store listing for app store optimization.

I’m happy to have built an app that is beneficial to not only me but other users as well!

#3: Read 20 Books

I ended up reading 17 books for the year. Even though I fell short of my goal, I was able to develop a habit of reading regularly. Reading regularly is a habit I advise everyone to build. A piece of knowledge, an insight, or a different perspective can have an everlasting positive impact on you.

Looking back at it, I didn’t account for the extra time it’ll take me to read books in Spanish. However, I’m very glad I picked up some books in Spanish since it has significantly improved my Spanish reading comprehension.

#4: Develop My Personal Brand

This resolution is stemmed from one of the first books I read, Crush It!, last year. I have published 20 blog posts since I started this blog March of 2018. I have been posting ever since and have dedicated time to write and share my learnings regularly. My blog has not only given me a platform to share my learnings but more importantly serves as a medium for me to reflect and organize my thoughts, to improve my writing, and to document my growth.

#5: Start a New Project Improve My Verbal Communication Skills

After reflecting on my resolutions mid last year, I decided to focus on improving my verbal communication skills instead of starting a new project to improve my technical skills. I completed an online public speaking course given by TJ Walker and was able to improve my communication skills through video recordings of myself speaking, giving training sessions and communicating with internal teams at work. Even so, I didn’t allocate a concerted effort to improve my communication skills once I completed the online public speaking course.

One of the key things I learned from last year is the importance of setting specific and measurable goals. Since “Improve My Verbal Communication Skills” is vague, I let myself get by without allocating extra time and effort on the resolution. Moving forward my goals will be more specific and measurable.

2019 Resolutions

#1 Read 20 Books

Since I failed to reach this goal last year, I’ve decided to try to accomplish it again this year. I have developed a habit of reading, but I still want to allocate even more time for reading.

#2 Spend 30 Minutes Studying Spanish Twice per Week

Last year my resolution of “Be conversational in Spanish” was too generic and unmeasurable. Through listening to songs, reading books, and watching tv shows/animes in Spanish, I was able to improve my Spanish consistently. However, I didn’t allocate blocks of time to improve my Spanish outside of a 2 month period where I enrolled myself in a Spanish course.

Spending 30 minutes studying Spanish twice per week probably doesn’t sound much, but it’s the habit of allocating time and focus on improving Spanish that I want to build. Just earlier this week I signed up for Rosetta Stone. Since I have already studied Spanish for a few years, this is more so a refresher to reestablish my Spanish foundations and grammar. I’ll most likely go through all of the available course materials very quickly. By then, I might spend the two 30 minutes sessions per week on studying Spanish songs or attending a Spanish speaking meetup.

#3 Work out 4 Days per Week in the Morning

I have heard many people talking about the benefits of working out in the morning. Compared to working out at night when you are low in energy after work, working out in the morning can be more effective and can also set the tone and mindset of your day.

Although my resolution is to work out 4 days per week in the morning, I’m striving to work out every weekday morning before work. It’s still early but I have kept it up for 2 straight weeks. I’m looking forward to developing this habit as it can help me become fit and be more energetic throughout the day.

#4 Learn How to Play 5 Songs on the Piano Through Memorization

One of the activities I enjoyed doing when I was in primary school was playing the piano. However, I haven’t played piano since I moved to Halifax for high school. I want to develop a skill this year and being able to play the piano well is always in the back of my mind. I already ordered an electronic piano, Yamaha P-125, during boxing day and it is expected to get delivered by this upcoming week. I’m still compiling a list of the songs that I want to learn and I can’t wait to get started!

#5 Get Better at Public Speaking

Although I want to focus on getting better at public speaking, I do not know what habits I plan to develop for it yet. I went to a few Toastmaster sessions near the end of last year and I didn’t find it useful since due to the popularity of Toastmaster you only get a chance to present at most once per month. Due to that, I’m not sure what’s the best way to improve public speaking. I’m considering joining a debate club or volunteering for a project that will require me to do presentations. I have reached out on Twitter and on Reddit, and will hopefully get some ideas on how best to get more public speaking practice. So if you have tried something that you find useful in helping you improve on public speaking, please do let me know. 🙂

Until I narrow down on the habit I want to build, I’ll mark this resolution as on hold.

On a Side Note…

To motivate myself and my friend to accomplish our resolutions, I started a competition on who can fulfill their resolutions more frequently on a weekly basis.

I created an Excel template where my friend and I listed the resolutions that we want to compete with each other on. Through a calendar, we update it daily so that each of us is aware of how the other is progressing on their resolution. At the end of the week, the week will be reflected and examined to see if each person has accomplished their weekly resolutions. Then whenever we meet up, whoever is ‘losing’ will have to treat the other person to dinner. It has gone very well so far and has motivated me to accomplish my weekly resolutions since we started this competition two weeks ago. I’ll share the look of the excel template here in case you are interested in trying this out with your friends and family. 🙂

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Thank you for your time and I’ll love to hear any feedback!

Book Review: The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People

Leadership is communicating others’ worth and potential so clearly that they are inspired to see it in themselves.

I have seen mixed reviews on The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey. Some reviews said it’s life-changing and others said you just need to know what the 7 habits are and the book doesn’t warrant a purchase. After hearing the book getting recommended by my mentor, I decided to give it a read and to stop the “should I give this book a read?” internal dialogue whenever I go book shopping.

Even though this book can be much more concise, it is very beneficial. The 7 habits are indeed easy to grasp, but it’s the methods that Stephen uses to build and reinforces these habits that I can take away and incorporate myself.

Habit #1 – Be Proactive

Until a person can say deeply and honestly, “I am what I am today because of the choices I made yesterday,” that person cannot say, “I choose otherwise.”

Be proactive and look for ways to get the results you are after. Often times, people attribute their mistakes and failures to external factors such as your boss, your coworkers, or your living conditions. These external factors do have an impact on your results, but they do not determine it. If you have to work with coworkers who often cause mistakes due to their inexperience, spend the extra time to understand and to train them rather than simply be frustrated by their low productivity. You may not determine the situation you are in, but you can take the initiative and the responsibility for you to improve your situation and to make things happen.

Habit #2 – Begin with the End in Mind

You can do it in every area of your life. Before a performance, a sales presentation, a difficult confrontation, or the daily challenge of meeting a goal, see it clearly, vividly, relentlessly, over and over again. Create an internal “comfort zone.” Then, when you get into the situation, it isn’t foreign. It doesn’t scare you.

Efficiency is a big focus nowadays. You study hard and get the highest grade for your courses. You try to do your tasks at work more efficiently. You try to get promoted sooner by putting in the work. But how often do we take a step back and consider if we are taking the right courses and whether we should consider a different degree? How often do we consider whether the tasks we are working on solves a key problem and if it does whether there’s a better solution or an even more important problem that we should be tackling? And how often do we consider whether to switch careers when we do not enjoy what we are currently doing?

Know what your goals are first before you start working. Picture yourself at your own funeral. You see your family, friends, and coworkers giving speeches about you. What do you want them to say? That will be your ultimate goal for the different roles you take on in life. With a lifelong goal in mind, you can work backward and establish yearly, monthly, and weekly goals. Plan out your week around your weekly goals. Doing this will help you allocate your time effectively and let you work with a purpose.

Habit #3 – Put First Things First

If we don’t have a clear idea of what is important, or the results we desire in our lives, we are easily diverted into responding to the urgent.

When you begin with the end in mind, you will have goals for the different roles (ex. brother, coworker, employee, friend, son, individual) you take on in life. Schedule time to achieve the weekly goals for each of your roles. This will give you clarity on what to focus on and will bring attention to the roles that you aren’t dedicating enough time to.

Ask yourself: What is one thing you could do (something you aren’t doing now) that, if you did it on a regular basis, would make a tremendous positive difference in your personal life? Allocate time for it and spend less time on things that don’t help you accomplish your lifelong goals.

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Keep in mind that urgent is different from important. Focus on and prioritize things that are important. If you don’t schedule time for things that are important, they will not get done since urgent things will take priority.

Habit #4 – Think Win/Win

Win/win is a frame of mind and heart that constantly seeks mutual benefit in all human interactions.

Simply put, win/win is when both parties involved in an agreement or relationship are happy with what they signed up for. For any human interactions, think win/win. There will be situations where both parties can’t come to a win/win solution and if that’s the case, you are most likely better off to go for “no deal” rather than forcefully accepting a solution either side isn’t happy with. Even though going for win/lose, when you win and the other party loses, can benefit you in the short term, it can hurt you in the long run as you will have a hard time earning the trust of the other party when you don’t have their best interest at heart.

Emotional maturity is the ability to express one’s own feelings and convictions balanced with consideration for the thoughts and feelings of others.

To go for win/win, you not only have to be considerate but also courageous. If you’re not courageous, you won’t express and stand up for your own ideas and will often end up in a lose/win situation.

Habit #5 – Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood

The key to effective personal communication is to seek first to understand, then to be understood. Everyone wants to be understood, however, not all of us take the time to understand others.

Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply. They are either speaking or preparing to speak.

Before making suggestions or providing solutions we often don’t take the time to understand the problem and all of the different perspectives. We don’t trust doctors who prescribe solutions without doing a detailed diagnosis so we shouldn’t take the same approach when we communicate with others to solve problems as well.

When you can present your own ideas clearly, specifically, visually, and most important, contextually – in the context of a deep understanding of other people’s paradigms and concerns – you significantly increase the credibility of your ideas.

Habit #6 – Synergize

Synergy means that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. When cooperating with others, value your differences and build on each others’ strengths to compensate for each others’ weaknesses. Ideas that stem from different perspectives can often be leveraged and merged into a better solution.

Habit #7 – Sharpen the Saw

Sharpen the saw is preserving and enhancing the greatest asset you have – you.

I’m a firm believer that the best investment you can make is to invest in yourself. The knowledge you gain, the skills you learn, and the character you develop will always stay with you and benefit you.

When investing in yourself, remember to invest in all four dimensions of your nature – physical, spiritual, mental, and social/emotional. The physical dimension involves caring effectively for your own physical body. This means eating healthy and exercising regularly so you will have the energy throughout the day to accomplish your daily goals. The spiritual dimension is your core, your center, your commitment to your value system. Establish your value system and reflect regularly upon it to see if you are abiding by it. The mental dimension involves education, reading, and writing. Allocate time for learning so your mind is constantly improving and gaining new knowledge. The social/emotional dimension is about communication with others. This is something that we constantly do all the time naturally. Throughout these communications, try to be a better listener, a more creative problem solver, and a better communicator.

Summary

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People is a book I highly recommend to anyone. The concepts themselves are simple but it’s how Stephen Covey implements them that makes the book so insightful. I’ll personally try organizing on a weekly basis rather than on a daily basis as well as try to become a better listener. As always I’ll love to hear your feedback and happy new year to you all! I’ll reflect on my 2018 goals and share my goals for 2019 with you soon. 🙂

I’m currently reading The Book of Negroes by Lawrence Hill.

Book Review: High Output Management by Andrew S. Grove

Andrew S. Grove is the former chairman and CEO (and employee number three) of Intel. Having led Intel into the world’s largest manufacturer of semiconductors, Andrew shared his insights on management that are still relevant to this day.

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Although this book is more applicable to managers, it is not limited to people who hold management positions. From the outset of this book, Andrew mentioned that this book is also relevant for “know-how managers” – people who are sources of knowledge, skills, and understanding to people around them in any organization.  These know-how managers regularly affect and influence the work of others even without strict organizational authority.

I transitioned to the data engineer position from my previous solutions engineering role roughly 3 months ago. Even though I’ve never held a management position, I regularly help, train, and/or affect the work of engineers, engineering leads, commercial teams, and product managers. I see myself as a know-how manager and with this mindset, it gives me a new perspective on how I should approach my work which I’ll discuss below.

I’ll also encourage anyone who reports to a manager to read on further since I find it insightful to understand what a good manager should focus on. A good manager will have a huge positive impact on your career growth whereas a bad manager will negatively affect your desire to stay at your current company. The earlier you can identify signs of working for a bad manager, the more prepared you can be on your plan (ex. presenting new ideas to your manager, transferring departments, preparing for a new opportunity) going forward.

Helping others is a responsibility

The output of a manager is the output of the organizational units under his or her supervision or influence.

This quote above is my biggest takeaway. I love to help others and to see those people perform well. Due to that as well as some bad internal processes, I had to work long hours until recently for my own workload as well as the time I allocate to help and train others. I do it not because I have to but because I want to see these people along with the company succeed.

However, this book has given me a different perspective. Since I consider myself as a know-how manager, my output should be based on not only the output of my individual work but the output of all the people under my influence. Helping others is no longer just an act of goodwill, but a responsibility instead. Like my individual work, the time I spend on helping others need to be taken into account as my workload by both my manager and me. This means that I need to be more rigorous when helping others and the time I spend to help others will need to be properly allocated and prioritized against my own individual work.

Time management

How you handle your own time is the single most important aspect of being a role model and leader.

Andrew introduced the concept of managerial leverage, which is the output generated by a specific type of work activity.

It is crucial for managers to spend their time on high leverage activities since time is a finite resource. With that said, choosing the right activity to spend time on only allows you to exert the highest impact. The key is not to maximize your impact but to maximize positive impact. Therefore attention and focus need to be applied to the high leverage activities that you identified to ensure your impact is a positive one.

One example that many people can relate to is getting their performance reviews. Performance review usually happens annually and is the time when you get performance feedback along with any additional compensation or promotion that is deemed warranted by your manager. Performance review when done right will motivate employees to strive to perform at their best. And when done poorly (ex. ambiguous feedback, unclear leveling requirements, no feedback on how to improve) can demotivate employees for the rest of the year and in many cases cause employees to look for opportunities elsewhere. This is why Andrew was very rigorous on carrying out performance reviews and would also give training sessions on doing performance reviews since he was well aware that this is a particularly high leverage activity that can impact Intel’s ability to attract and keep great talent.

Normalize irregular activities

To make something regular that was once irregular is a fundamental production principle, and that’s how you should try to handle the interruptions that plague you.

One of the most costly time sinks is context switching. During context switching, you will need some time to change your mindset and continue from where the task was last left off. Working in a fast paced environment with multiple tasks I need to attend to, I incur context switching constantly. As many as 10 people can message me any given day for me to help resolve an issue. No matter how efficient you work, these interruptions do take a toll eventually. Getting unexpected interruptions throughout the day can drastically reduce your efficiency at any given task. And before you know it the day will be over and you wouldn’t be able to dedicate much time and focus on the core tasks that you planned for the day.

One thing that really helped me was to ask people that need your help to schedule regular meetings with you instead. This will achieve multiple objectives. First, people usually come more prepared with their questions when they come to meetings since they know it’s time-boxed. Second, it gives them an opportunity to group related questions together for you to resolve at the same time. And lastly, it gives people that need your help an idea of when their issues can be resolved. This is one example of normalizing irregular activities that have really benefitted me. If you have any other examples please share with me as well. 🙂

Summary

I’ll say this is a must-read for managers of different levels. Being a good manager is not easy and this book shows how managers can improve the lives of people under their influence which will, in turn, improve the performance of the team. Often times managers simply do not know what they need to focus on and giving this book a read is definitely a great first step.

 

I’m currently reading The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey.

Book Review: Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan

Before heading back to Taiwan to visit my family during my vacation, I decided to change up the pace and pick up some books that aren’t learning focused like the management books that I’ve been reading so far. One of the books on the discount section that immediately caught my attention was the Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan. The movie was released just a few months ago and I’ve already been hearing great reviews from my friends who’ve watched it. I was able to finish reading it during my vacation and I’ll say it’s a great read especially when you are looking to unwind and relax.

Plot Summary

Rachel Chu and Nick Young are a young couple living in the States who are both professors at the New York University. They have been dating for a few years and are still madly in love.

When Nick invited Rachel to visit his family in Singapore and to attend his best friend’s wedding, Rachel accepted without any inclination of what is about to happen. As Nick has been raised up to not discuss his background, Rachel never knew Nick’s family along with their background and the tradition that comes with being in a crazy rich family.

Nick’s family is among the top 10 wealthiest in Asia. With the amount of wealth and the associated social status that comes with it, the vast majority of Nick’s extended family grew up with a sense of entitlement and materialism that Rachel is unaccustomed to and disliked. Before Nick and Rachel even set foot in Singapore, Nick’s Mom, Eleanor Young, as well as numerous women who are obsessed with prestige and pride have begun to scheme against Rachel and her relationship with Nick. Rachel and Nick’s relationship is challenged as they have to navigate through the obstacles that come from the cultural difference as well as the disapproval from Nick’s family.

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Book Review

The book started out introducing numerous characters that are in Eleanor Young’s social circle. It is hard to follow the storyline at times as too many characters are being introduced around the same time. However, as the character development of Rachel and Nick strengthens, it becomes clear how each character is related to Nick’s family and the story really starts to kick off.

The Crazy Rich Asians shows the different people dynamic of a crazy rich Asian family. Growing up in an environment surrounded by wealth, it shows how people can have a sense of entitlement and even look down upon those who come from families who are less fortunate financially. Despite that, although the environment you grow up with can strongly affect your value system, there are also people like Nick who are down to earth and modest.

People often focus on the positive impact that comes with wealth. Whereas this novel also demonstrates the negative impact it can have on your value system and social circle. It uses different characters to explain how each person handles wealth and its impact on their lives.

I’ll refrain from spoilers, but I do not particularly enjoy the ending. I’ll prefer it to focus more on the relationship between Nick and Rachel and how they face and resolve the obstacles that Nick’s family presents. However, all in all, I really enjoy the book and the change of pace from the usual management type books that I’ve been reading. Here’s a link of the book and as always please let me know your feedback and your thoughts. 🙂

I’m currently reading High Output Management by Andrew S. Grove.

Reseña: Aleph de Paulo Coelho

Sinopsis

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La autobiografía de Paulo Coelho, Aleph, narra su viaje recorriendo Europa y Asia en el tren Transiberiano. Aunque Paulo fue un autor de renombre, sentí incompleto y infeliz. En su viaje, conoció a Hilal, una joven violinista a la que amó y tracionó 500 años antes. Por causa de este acto de traición, Paulo todavía no podía encontrar la verdadera felicidad. Juntos descubrieron sus pasados y se ayudaron mutualmente a recuperar sus vidas y vivir en el ahora.

Opiníon Personal

Aleph es una toma única de autobiografía de Paulo. Permite que los lectores entienden sus pensamientos, sus creencias, y la dinámica que tuvo con las personas que lo rodean. El argumento principal de la historia gira alrededor a él comprendiendo su pasado con Hilal y pidiéndole perdón.

Encontré la conversación espiritual sobre universos paralelos y el autodescubrimiento un poco arrastrado y redundante a veces. Prefiero sus otros libros como La Espía y El Alquimista que me trajeron nuevas experiencias y conocimientos. Este no es un libro que recomiendo, pero aquí está si eres fanático de su estilo de escritura.

Estoy leyendo High Output Management de Andrew S. Grove.

Reseña: La Espía de Paulo Coelho

spy

Sinopsis

Paulo Coelho narra una historia sobre Mata Hari quién terminó siendo ejecutada como espía en la Primera Guerra Mundial. Mata Hari, cuyo nombre real es Margaretha Zelle, fue una bailarina muy famosa que alcanzó la fama debido a su belleza y su deseo de cumplir sus sueños.

Todos sabemos que no moriré a causa de este alegato estúpido de espionaje, sino porque decidí ser quien siempre soñé y el precio de un sueño siempre es alto.

Por causa de las limitaciones impuestas a las mujeres, Mata aprendió muy temprano cómo seducir y manipular a los hombres para obtener lo que quiere. Fue una luchadora capaz de superar todos los obstáculos que se presentan en la cumplimiento de sus sueños. A medida que envejecía, su fama desvanecía con su belleza. Atrapada en tiempos de guerra, accedió a ser una espía para Alemania para escapar de la pobreza y regresar a Francia. Como Mata no tenía la intención de ser una espía, nunca proporcionó información útil sobre Francia a Alemania. Sin embargo, cuando Francia vio indicios de que Mata era una espía para Alemania, fue ejecutada a pesar de no tener ninguna evidencia concreta en su contra.

Opiníon Personal

Esta ficción histórica está narrada desde dos perspectivas, una carta de Mata Hari a su abogado y otra carta de su abogado a Mata Hari. La carta de Mata Hari ofrece una gran perspectiva sobre cómo se convirtió en la persona que era y las luchas internas que tenía. Señala la desigualdad que enfrentaron las mujeres y el precio que las mujeres necesitaban pagar para cumplir sus sueños. Para la carta de su abogado, ofrece una perspectiva diferente y muestra cómo el mundo estaba tratando a las mujeres como Mata Hari.

Disfruté mucho el desarrollo del personaje de Mata Hari. Te hace pensar en la desigualdad y los desafíos de perseguir tus sueños. Te recomiendo este libro si te gusta el desarrollo de personajes en un contexto histórico.

Estoy leyendo Aleph de Paulo Coelho.

Book Review: Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari

Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari is an international bestseller on the history of humankind. Sapiens is categorized into four parts: The Cognitive Revolution, The Agricultural Revolution, The Unification of Humankind, and The Scientific Revolution. Yuval studies how humans have evolved into the most powerful animal on earth and the impact of it.

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The Power of Shared Myths

One of the most important things that set us apart from other animals is our effectiveness in cooperating in large numbers, which Yuval argues is due to our unique ability to believe in shared myths. Ants and bees can cooperate in large numbers but can only do so with close relatives and in a very rigid manner. Chimpanzees can cooperate more flexible than ants and bees but mostly with those who they know intimately. Humans, on the other hand, can cooperate on a much larger scale and even have the ability to cooperate with complete strangers. Thousands of people have worked together to achieve the vision of their corporation. Millions of people have cooperated to fight for their country or to defend their religious beliefs. And billions of people are able to exchange goods and services without knowing each other. This is all possible due to our ability to believe in shared myths.

What are corporations? Unlike things like bananas and refrigerators that have intrinsic value, corporations aren’t tangible things you can see or touch. It is simply a shared fiction defined by legal documents that exist in the mind of people. Even though nations and corporations are shared fictions, it is the reason why my co-workers and I can cooperate to achieve a common mission and why millions of people support and cheer for the same national team.

The most powerful shared myths above all are perhaps money. People work in exchange for money which in today’s age mainly refers to cash or electronic payments. Why would anyone work for the majority of their lives to get “colored papers” or electronic payments which don’t have any intrinsic value? This is all due to our shared belief in money and the value that it has. If tomorrow, nobody believes in the value of the dollar bills that you have or in the banking system, your savings will essentially be almost worthless.

There are other factors such as intelligence and communication that contributed to humans rise to power. But without the ability to believe in shared beliefs, our ability to cooperate will be greatly reduced and we’ll not be where we are today.

Human Happiness

Since 500 years ago, we have had numerous technological advances. Transportation is much more convenient with cars and planes. Communications is much quicker with the invention of phones and the internet. And with a global economy, a product that is only produced in certain parts of the world can easily be attainable via online shopping.

But are we any happier than we were 500 years ago? As there is no way to measure happiness, nobody can say for sure. With so much scientific and technological advances, one would think that humans are happier now. After all, what is the value of these technological advances if it makes our lives more miserable? I’m sure most people have either complained about the transportation system or heard about these complaints. When your commute to work gets delayed by 1 hour due to public transportation, you most likely won’t feel any less frustrated if someone were to remind you that 500 years ago your commute would’ve taken 10 times the time it takes now. That is because happiness is not really dependent on objective conditions such as wealth, but more so on the correlation between objective conditions and subjective expectations. So even though the scientifical and technological advances have brought us greater objective conditions, it also raised our subjective expectations too. With social media, people can be more expressive than ever, but it also exposes ourselves to others’ opinions of us. With phones and emails, we can communicate with our friends and loved ones instantly. However, because of these communication tools, people nowadays expect you to reply instantly as well.

More and more scholars have begun to study the history of happiness, so maybe one day we will be able to measure and understand the factors that impact happiness and how the factors have evolved over time.

Natural Selection

Natural selection : the process whereby organisms better adapted to their environment tend to survive and produce more offspring

We have gained so much power that you can arguably say that we have affected natural selection. The evolution of other animals is increasingly impacted not by their natural environment, but by the needs of humans. It would be rational to think that chickens on average will become faster as the slower ones will have a harder time to survive and therefore not make it through natural selection. However, due to our chicken consumption, selective breeding is done where the fattest hen are mated with the slowest cock. And throughout history, it’s shown that once humans set foot in an area it drives most large animals of that area to extinction. On the other hand of the spectrum, domesticated animals, such as dogs, cats, and pigs grow in numbers.

With the advances in the field of biological engineering, we have even gained the ability to genetically modify animals. This raises questions that pertain to our responsibility towards the planets and especially the other animals that are negatively impacted by our behavior.

Summary

Yuval discussed the history of humankind and offered his unique perspective on it. It puts into perspective how long humans have been around and makes you think about the impact we are making and the history we are leaving behind us. It’s a very thought-provoking book and I’ll recommend it to people who are interested to learn about the history of humankind and its impact.

I’m currently reading La Espía by Paulo Coelho.