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.

0062877003

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!

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.

71qZUVeWy9L

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.

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.

UK-Sapiens-e1486635350531

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.