21 Lessons for the 21 Century

“Humans think in stories rather than in facts, numbers, or equations, and the simpler the story, the better.” — Yuval Noah Harari, 21 Lessons for the 21 Century

21 Lessons for the 21 Century is the newest work of best-selling author Yuval Noah Harari, first published just few weeks ago. We learned about the past from Sapiens. We learned about the future from Homo Deus. And in 21 Lessons for the 21 Century we embrace the NOW.

It’s hard to form words to describe my excitement and adoration for this book. As previous books, it certainly doesn’t let you down. 21 lessons cover many interesting topics about truth and how we are post-truth species and how some fake news only lasted for 700 years… So what you’re getting now is nothing.

Book is divided in five parts. First part explores the technological challenges: you might not have a job when you grow up because the world is changing so fast and because many jobs will be lost and it is still uncertain whether new jobs would come in their place. How big data is always watching and what would happen in case of a digital dictatorship. We are not equal now and we’ll be less so in the future because who will own all the data?

Second part explores political challenges of 21 Century. Humans have bodies…or do we, as separation of online and offline world is decreasing. And the immigration. No one seems keen to emigrate to Russia. Third part of the book is called ‘Despair and Hope’ and it is more philosophical and already offers some answers on big global questions like terrorism, wars and religion.

“Truth and power can travel together only so far. Sooner or later they go their separate ways. If you want power, at some point you will have to spread fictions. If you want to know the truth about the world, at some point you will have to renounce power.”— Yuval Noah Harari, 21 Lessons for the 21 Century

Fourth part is exciting because it combines truth and science fiction (just kidding…or not). We do not only groupthink, we are also post-truth species. If you think propaganda spread out by Putin or Trump is bad, just imagine how some fake news lasted for centuries. Or forever. And we get to science fiction. You love movies and series like The Matrix, Westworld and Black Mirror. I know I do. But all of them seem to imply that machines would take over or that our authentic selves are trapped somewhere.

Last part, funnily, because I always tend to think that Harari is a hopeless pessimist, gives some hope and advise. By learning to adapt fastly, you might survive as change is now the only variable you can trust. And also a lot can be learned by just observing the world.

Perhaps, unlike Sapiens and Homo Deus, this book did not shock me and completely alter how I see the world (Homo Deus made me love evolution theory and turned me into atheist from agnostic). 21 Lessons for the 21 Century is deeply thoughtful and it mainly questions big global trends, not as much giving direct answers. This was also much more personal as Harari questions Judaism and openly discusses him being married to a man as well and his personal journey on how he came to understand reality through meditation for example. It’s a bit repetitive on fictional stories we love to weave though I guess that’s essential here. I loved this and would give it 5/5 stars

“To run fast, don’t take much luggage with you. Leave all your illusions behind. They are very heavy.”— Yuval Noah Harari, 21 Lessons for the 21 Century

How-To Read 21 Lessons for the 21 Century

1. Read, digest, think. And then think more. Maybe start meditation?

2. You should read Sapiens and Homo Deus before tackling this one although it’s great independently as well.

3. Not a book that will revolutionize your thinking, though definitely great tool for deeper reflection on the world.

Have you read it? Would you want to read it? Thoughts?

A First-Rate Madness: Uncovering the Links Between Leadership and Mental Illness

“Was Hitler mad?”
“Corollary questions are: Were Nazi leaders mentally ill? Was the German nation, as a whole, deranged?” ― S. Nassir Ghaemi, A First-Rate Madness: Uncovering the Links Between Leadership and Mental Illness

At  First- Rate Madness is a book by  Dr. Nassir Ghaemi. It was first published in 2011 and as the title suggests, the book deals with mental illness and its connection to the leadership. It might not be the first thing you think of, but notable leaders such as Lincoln, Churchill, Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., JFK, Hitler all suffered from some sort of a mental illness. Or if not of mental illness then they were the ones to face big difficulties in their lives as was the case with Franklin D. Roosevelt’s who spent last years of his life in a wheelchair.

The author doesn’t want to point out any upsides of mental illnesses, however, the book seems to do just that, when it argues how some mental illnesses such as mania and depression appear to promote a kind of crisis leadership. And characteristics that are associated with leadership: realism, resilience, empathy, and creativity.

“The depressed person is mired in the past; the manic person is obsessed with the future. Both destroy the present in the process.”  ― S. Nassir Ghaemi, A First-Rate Madness: Uncovering the Links Between Leadership and Mental Illness


For me, this was a very fascinating and refreshing read. And no German nation is not deranged as a whole. Regarding madness or mental illnesses…I don’t think it’s the first thing we think about the leaders that they are half mad or burdened by a mental illness. Often, instead, we see them as icons and worship them. Ghaemi has some interesting facts in his book, however, I would have enjoyed it much more if it would have been longer. I think that would have enabled the author to cover more theory and present more facts as to why he chose those particular leaders. Moreover, the book lacked the presence of the female leaders and current day leaders. I think that would have made this a much better read. All in all, I learned many new things so 3/5

How-To Read A First-Rate Madness
1. Very refreshing read especially if you have read a lot of political biographies and need a break from them. However,  I wouldn’t take it too seriously or after reading this. You shouldn’t automatically assume that all leaders must have some kind of a mental illness.
2. I warmly recommend this book if you like historical or psychological nonfiction or biographies.
3. Just 340 pages make it quite a light book when you consider how heavy the topic is.
4. There is some lack of neutrality in describing some leaders like George W. Bush and then because it’s a man’s world, there are no female leaders mentioned.

Thoughts? Are they all mad?

Picture of the book &cover image: Suspicion, rage, remorse Rare Books Keywords: Physiognomy; Bell, Charles

The 48 Laws of Power

“Be wary of friends—they will betray you more quickly, for they are easily aroused to envy. They also become spoiled and tyrannical. But hire a former enemy and he will be more loyal than a friend, because he has more to prove. In fact, you have more to fear from friends than from enemies. If you have no enemies, find a way to make them.”
― Robert Greene, The 48 Laws of Power

Kuvahaun tulos haulle 48 laws of power

The 48 Laws of Power is a self-help work  by Robert Greene. It is  seen as a modern day classic. As the title says, the book is about 48 Laws that will help you to achieve a position of power and to master it.

This book stunned me. People want different things in life, however if you want power then this book is the one you must read.  I really loved this book. I don’t think there is a clearer book about power. There’s Art of War by Sun Tzu, yet that only gives vague tips that are open to all kinds of interpretation.

“To succeed in the game of power, you have to master your emotions. But even if you succeed in gaining such self-control, you can never control the temperamental dispositions of those around you. And this presents a great danger.”
― Robert Greene, The 48 Laws of Power

Book follows an interesting formula, it starts by stating the law of power, for example: Law 10. Infection: Avoid the unhappy and unlucky. Then the book explains the transgression of the law and interpretation: Law 10: If you associate yourself with people who seem to attract misfortune then you might be infected with this misfortune as well. Then, observance of the law and interpretation: Book tells us an historical example of Lola Montez and every man who associated themselves with her was doomed (great men like Ludwig I of Bavaria fell). Keys to power: this part explains step by step instructions on how to follow this law. For example, with law #10: if you are gloomy by nature, try to associate yourself with cheerful people, if you tend to avoid human company, surround yourself with sociable people, only associate yourself with successful people in short. Last part of the book formula is Reversal of the law explaining when you should behave exact opposite from what the law tells you to do. I might be confusing transgression and observance of the law parts but I hope you get my point still.

“Never waste valuable time, or mental peace of mind, on the affairs of others—that is too high a price to pay.”
― Robert Greene, The 48 Laws of Power

I like how 48 Laws of  Power tells you to do the exact opposite of what many others will try to tell you. It tells you to play games, wear masks and never trust another person completely no matter who they are to you. Never let other people to pull you down and always take credit even if you didn’t do it. Cunning, isn’t it? I loved the various historical examples in this book. For example, I was aware of the fact that Rubens barely painted any of his painting himself, he rather relied on the students of Rubenshuis, however I did not know that the great Thomas Edison did this as well. Edison might be remembered as one of the greatest inventors of our time and what he really was a cunning businessman. ‘War of the currents’ is not just about whether AC or DC was better, it was about Edison ruining Tesla’s reputation. He most surely did not come up with ideas for 1, 093 patents under his name by himself.

And stories of countless emperors, kings and rulers as well as  some amazing con artists. Like “Count” Lustig who sold the Eiffel Tower twice and who managed to con 5000$ from Al Capone just by showing Capone some good will.

“…But the human tongue is a beast that few can master. It strains constantly to break out of its cage, and if it is not tamed, it will turn wild and cause you grief.”
― Robert Greene, The 48 Laws of Power

It’s a long time since I have read a book as good as this one. Audio version on Audible was nearly 24 hours but it was definitely worth it. Simply wonderful book.
5/5 stars

How-To Read 48 Laws of Power

1. If you’re familiar with Art of War and have liked it, this is very similar to that. It’s one of those books you should keep on your nightstand.
2. Ste Davies has written a wonderful review (link) of this book also including all the laws and a nice graph, check it out. Laws alone even without explanations make a lot of sense.
3. Over 500 pages long so it’s quite hefty book so take it slow. Or I would recommend the Audible version. It is long as well, however the narrator was just wonderful. He had a powerful and clear voice which suited this book really well.
4. Be careful about applying these laws in your own life. You absolutely should apply them, however if you just suddenly start taking credit of all the ideas of other people, I can imagine what will happen to you. Be tactful and patient, power is like playing chess.
5. If you are not that interested about power and cunning people (I know it sounds evil…) I still warmly recommend this book for all the historical facts it gives.

Cover image source: Statue of Janus

Thoughts? Have you read this? Would you be interested in reading this?

Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers

“We are biology. We are reminded of this at the beginning and the end, at birth and at death. In between we do what we can to forget.”
― Mary Roach, Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers

Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach is non-fiction work first published in 2003. It details the unique scientific contributions of the deceased.

Yeah. . Umm…This was a really strange book and I really liked it although I wouldn’t recommend reading my review with a cup of coffee…or anything edible.

Opening line of the book: “The way I see it, being dead is not terribly far off from being on a cruise ship. Most of your time is spent lying on your back.The brain has shut down. The flesh begins to soften. Nothing much new happens, and nothing is expected of you.” is probably what got me into this book. Roach has a very different approach to the topic and she’s very humorous about that approach.

Stiff covers a wide set of topics. Starting from the beginning of dissecting bodies and how body snatching occurred. Before the Anatomy Act of 1832, the only legal supply of corpses for anatomical purposes in the UK were those condemned to death and dissection by the courts. And this was considered fate worse than death because how can you get to heaven if you’re all chopped up? So they had to steal bodies from cemeteries. Renowned doctors would criticize this in public and support it monetarily in private… I’m glad how times have changed and how doctors and surgeons don’t have to go in blind.

“The human head is of the same approximate size and weight as a roaster chicken. I have never before had occasion to make the comparison, for never before today have I seen a head in a roasting pan.”
― Mary Roach, Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers

Then, we move onto how cadavers for used as crash test dummies. You could use normal dummies but then you wouldn’t know which bones are most likely to crush in a car accident. And then all the other interesting topics like: crucifixion experiments, beating heart cadavers, decapitation, cannibalism and alternative ways to burying and cremation…

This is a terribly important book. And I think it’s good to get out of your comfort zone (very much so with this one) and to think differently about some issue. I think for so many years, this was exactly the reason why dissecting humans was not allowed. Because people found it unmoral. But is it worse than letting people die? And they tried to learn by using pigs or primates and obviously unsuccessfully. Even if the dead feet here are quite disgusting…in the end, they’re just feet.

Stiff was very entertaining read. I never would have expected to like this book this much.
4/5 stars

How-To Read Stiff
1.
It’s great nonfiction. But you kind of need to stomach the topic first. Stop thinking of corpses and start thinking about cadavers who have a lot to tell us. Stop thinking about all the reasons why they are now what they are…
2. Then you will start wonder why things like dead bodies are funny. Or maybe it’s Roach’s storytelling. Either way, it’s ok. It happens.
3. I liked the audio version. Maybe reading all the “cadaver” words wasn’t as gross as hearing them?

“Death. It doesn’t have to be boring.”
― Mary Roach, Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers

Featured image: In the morgue by Allsha Vargas (link)

Behave: The Biology of Humans at Our Best and Worst

Why do we do things we do?

Behave: The Biology of Humans at Our Best and Worst is a book by American author Robert Maurice Sapolsky. It was first published in May, 2017. This is  one miracle of a book. I don’t know where to start…

“Someone does something lousy and selfish to you in a game, and the extent of insular and amygdaloid activation predicts how much outrage you feel and how much revenge you take.”
― Robert M. Sapolsky, Behave: The Biology of Humans at Our Best and Worst

Book focuses on Robert Sapolsky’s attempt to tackle seemingly impossible question. That is to look at our behavior from every possible angle: biological, psychological, physiological…and there are some historical and cultural angles thrown in to it too.  We start with neurobiological angle: what happens in our brains when some specific behavior occurs, what effect do our hormones have on us, what is our genetic makeup, how are we different or even not that different from rest of the animal kingdom… This is not enough. Sapolsky continues by how environment affects us and also focuses on age-old question:  are we formed more by nature or nurture? And indeed as mentioned, then  we continue with psychology, history, culture…

Behave is among the best nonfiction reads ever. It’s stunning, it’s big and it’s absolutely beautiful. I learned so much and it also changed the way I see some things.  Here are some of my picks throughout the chapters of the book:

Chapter 4: Hours to Days Before: How testosterone increases confidence and optimism and decreases fear and anxiety.  Chapter 5:  Days to Months Before: Enough time for Arab spring, for a discontented winter or for STDs to spread a lot during a summer of love…and also plenty of time for our brains to change…How there’s long-term LTP and LTD. And veryy long term LTP and LTD and how they work differently in different regions of our brains.

“Testosterone makes people cocky, egocentric, and narcissistic.”
― Robert M. Sapolsky, Behave: The Biology of Humans at Our Best and Worst

Chapter 15: Metaphors We Kill By: How Rwandan genocide came to be and how metaphors were used as a weapon.  Oh the power of metaphors. I have never before realized this. During Rwandan genocide, Tutsis were described as cockroaches. And those cockroaches would steal your husband. They became something that had to be exterminated, swept away from the country. Almost 1 million people dead within 100 days.

“Some translation is needed. The Rwandan genocide did not involve tanks, airplanes, dropping bombs or shelling at civilians. There were no concentration camps. No transport trains. No Zyklon-B. There was no bureaucratic banality of evil. There were hardly even many guns.”
― Robert M. Sapolsky, Behave: The Biology of Humans at Our Best and Worst

Chapters 6 & 16: Author explained PMS syndrome.  He also explained how PMS syndrome has been used as a criminal defense. And this is not the only sort of crazy sounding criminal defense in the book. There’s also a lot of talk about the development of the brain in earlier chapters and whether a person is or isn’t fully aware of his actions and consequences of those actions due to it… Adolescence. Or. Dude, where is my frontal cortex as the chapter is called.

What else… Sapolsky uses the analogy of a car with faulty brakes to describe antisocial human behaviour. How judges give less harsh sentences after they have had lunch! Yes you read that right, judges’ rulings’ are harsher when they are hungrier. And this also works with smells. If you’re in a place that smells bad, you more likely to judge a person or a thing in a negative manner, how there was a Christmas truce in 1914 and how in many wars since soldiers had to be threatened to go kill soldiers from the opposite side. And how opposite of love is not hate …it’s indifference. And to conclude. There is no such thing as free will.

I loved this book. As you can probably tell from my review, it’s packed with loads and loads of information in a very simplified, easily understood form. Moreover, there’s a sense of humor or sarcasm in the writing and that always gets one more star from me because it’s like authors are laughing at how idiotic some of the things we do are and I really appreciate that (…we do a lot of dumb shit). Maybe the only downside to the book as I was listening to audio version were all the: “footnotes” and “i see her see i see her see i see?”. They were a bit much in spoken. All in all, a fantastic piece of literature.

5/5 stars

How-To Read Behave

1.Please read it. If you read one nonfiction book a year, let this be it. And watch this awesome video too:  https://www.ted.com/talks/robert_sapolsky_the_biology_of_our_best_and_worst_selves
2. It’s not a easy book. Writing and thinking of Sapolsky is clear and easy to understand, however it’s still nearly 800 pages long…or 30 hours on Audible. But big is beautiful.
3. I think it was wonderful book to listen to. However, if you’re not used to audio books, don’t start with this one.
4. Chew on it.
5. Sapolsky has written a lot of books so check them out as well.

How does this sound?

/Anastasia

Picture credits: Behavior CC BY-SA 3.0 Nick Youngson / Alpha Stock Images ,Christmas Truce image from Wikipedia and cover of the book used as featured image on this post.