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ISBN: 1416592814
Alexander The Great

This is an entertaining book about how Alexander conquered the Persians to create one of the largest empires of the ancient world. The author takes you along all the key battles while giving you insight into the personality of perhaps the most known man to have ever lived.

What struck me most about Alexander was that all he cared about was glory and conquest, not money or women. He was the human incarnation of the saying, “If it’s not hard, it’s not worth doing,” and simply wanted to accomplish what no other man had done. He even preferred winning when disadvantaged because he know it would increase his glory. He wanted to be a legend, and on that front he succeeded.

Even though he killed an untold number of people, I couldn’t help but root for him along the journey. Perhaps an unfortunate quirk of human nature is that we love winners, no matter what they have to do in order to win. Those who consider him a murderous tyrant must realize he was a man of his time, no more brutal than other generals who conquered the lands before him.

The only problem with this book is that writer goes on historical tangents that don’t relate to Alexander, needlessy listing names of historical extras and foreign lands without giving you much context to work with. Other than that, I had trouble putting this book down. If you like reading about war or history, you’ll enjoy it.

“Alexander was seeking the glory that comes from taking an unexpected risk—and winning.”

“Brave deeds are what true men do.”

“To truly understand Alexander we must realize that—perhaps more than any man in history—he hated to lose. Alexander was and is the absolute embodiment of pure human ambition with all its good and evil consequences.”

ISBN: 0470928077
Poorly Made In China

“This is a book about Chinese obfuscation and subterfuge. It is about gaming, strategy, and tactics.”

The author of this book worked as a consultant for American importers who wanted to manufacture in China, acting as translator, inspector, and local expert. He has written a surprisingly entertaining book about how the crafty Chinese try to squeeze importers through a variety of tricks, either by producing goods using inferior raw materials or gradually raising the cost of production. With some of the stories I was on the edge of my seat wondering which party was going to get screwed, and at times it read like funny travel memoir with episodes of tourist scams and culture clash.

“Chinese factories often engaged in quality fade—the incremental degradation of a product over time. They quietly reduced the amount of materials or else manipulate the quality of raw inputs. The changes were gradual, almost imperceptible. The importer was neither asked for permission nor told.”

I can never look at common items the same way. Essentially everything you buy that is made in China is prone to faulty, deceitful, and unsanitary manufacturing practices. In one of many examples, a Chinese factory changed the formulation of liquid soap so that it congealed under cold temperatures, coming out of the bottle in clumps of jizz. The importer could no longer say with confidence what the ingredients were after the factory owner tinkered with the recipe. Through trickery and superior negotiation skills, Chinese factory owners made importers so dependent on them that in essence they becomes the boss while the Americans became middlemen, mere agents.

In a passage from Upton Sinclair’s “The Jungle,” which took place in the early 20th century, a poor young mother goes to the store to buy milk that has a blue tint. It was obviously tainted, but there were no regulations or enforcement in place to ensure she was getting a quality product. There is an assortment of agencies now to help prevent that sort of thing, but just a tiny percentage of goods coming from China, some of it food, is being inspected. We’re back in the wild west where buyer must beware. While you probably trust big brands, you shouldn’t trust the factories those brands outsource to.

The book also points out that shaming companies who outsource isn’t the answer to America’s problems. If just one company in your field successfully outsources work, you will go under if you don’t find a cheaper way to do business. A problem is that Americans don’t give a damn about Made In USA, and will happily purchase the Chinese product if it’s a nickel cheaper. Every American whining about there not being enough manufacturing jobs—while shopping in Walmart or Target—have to do some soul searching, because it’s that behavior which began the exodus of jobs to Chinese shores.

It was bittersweet to read about the economic implications of China’s success because ultimately globalization is a zero-sum game. One country’s gain is another loss. While Americans currently get to pay less for goods than the rest of the world, they give up their factory base in the process. Cheap crap at Walmart will end once our credit line runs out. Then we will have no cheap imports or jobs. We’ll have to depend on China for the most basic of necessities. China is in it for the long-term while Americans are living paycheck to paycheck, quarterly report to quarterly report.

“Importers were thinking checkers, while manufacturers were playing chess.”

All that’s left is checkmate.

ISBN: 1840241896
Watch My Back (Kindle) / (Paperback)

“My goal became to control and master fear, rather than erase it.”

This is a memoir of an Englishman who grew up having intense anxiety and fear of physical confrontations. He decided to face his fear by becoming a bouncer, ending up in a rough club called Busters. The book features exciting tales of bouncing and fight stories combined with his personal development.

The bulk of this work features simple stories of him beating people into a pulp. The knockouts never got old and I laughed out loud many times throughout the book. With this great power of destruction came his transformation into a bully, where he was ready to hit anyone at the slightest provocation. In spite of that, you root for him to continue knocking people out.

Towards the end of the book, the author talks a lot about the physiology of fear and how to deal with it. Many times he stated how he had trouble dealing with the fear before every fight, that a new match could lead to his end. He repeatedly stresses that fear can be tamed but not completely eradicated.

This is a book of one man facing his fears and getting what he wanted out of life. My only complaint is that he goes off on little side-jaunts while in the middle of the action, but otherwise it’s a captivating story that I recommend.

“Your own mind can be your worst enemy and that as soon as you give in to these thoughts, even a little bit, they grow stronger and stronger, feeding on each little victory, making you weaker and weaker.”

ISBN: 0425241181
Stuff Parisians Like

This is the Parisian version of Stuff White People Like, best for people who are planning a trip to France. I bought it as a temporary substitution for going to the country. The book portrays French people as insecure and snobby, obsessed with what other people think of them (I guess you could say the same thing about Americans). Overall I found it interesting from a cultural standpoint and sometimes funny, but it’s a better read if you know some French since the author sprinkles many French words throughout without giving English equivalents.

“Rule number one is that jeans are never to be worn with sneakers in Paris. A person walking the streets of Paris wearing jeans and New Balance shoes is American.”

Guilty as charged!

(I thought the author’s biography was interesting. He seems like a go-getter.)

ISBN: 1445219948
The Pomodoro Technique (free download)

The Pomodoro technique is for managing your time and getting shit done, based on doing uninterrupted 25-minute periods of real work that you time using a basic kitchen timer. I already do a remix of this technique from various productivity tips I’ve implemented in the past ten years where I work for periods of 60 or 75 minutes instead of 25 (I also take longer breaks). When it comes to writing books, I find that 60 minutes should be the minimum work unit because of the time it takes to get into the writing “mood.” For regular office tasks which the book seems geared to, 25 minutes should be sufficient.

It also contains a system for helping you deal with distractions and eliminating bad work habits like getting up for a drink you don’t need or “quickly” checking something on the internet. This book reads like a technical report, but it contains a lot of useful tips if you’re interested in improving your productivity.

ISBN: 1592572723
The Complete Idiot’s Guide To Understanding Islam

I read this book because I’m converting to Islam. Just kidding, I read it before launching Fat Girl Jihad so I could make better jokes. However I did read it with an open mind to try and understand one of the world’s largest religions.

The book was mostly a disappointment. It offered a rosy propagandist view of Islam that did a horrible job of batting down counter-arguments to some of the religion’s problems. The story of Islam presented here is just as silly as Christianity’s, but you got to respect how efficiently the religion commits its disciples through a ridiculous amount of prayer and a yearly fast. Having to pray five times a day means god and his potential punishments will be constantly on your mind. You become obsessed with god.

The argument made here is that Islam is awesome and peaceful and any negativity you perceive is from media distortions, extremist groups, and misrepresentations by backward cultures. In other words, Islam can do no wrong. Unconvincing elementary school logic is used throughout, such as: “If [Muhammad] was addicted to sex, he would have married all young women. Instead, they were mostly old and/or widowed. Each wife had a special status in the community.”

The most disturbing part of Islam is that it declares humans to exist merely to serve god, placed above your family and even your own life. Every negative thing that happens to you in life is god’s way of testing your faith to him. You are his pawn, his slave, and he is the puppet master of your existence. Your earthly life is his way of testing you to see if you should be admitted to Paradise, but entering is a little tricky.

When you die, your soul enters a sort of purgatory, or soul storage. You chill there for a while until Judgement Day when you line up in a huge hall where every human who has ever lived, regardless of their faith, waits to be judged by god. That “day” of judgement actually takes 50,000 years, so all those suicide bombers who are aching for their 72 virgins, which the book does not mention, still have to wait a little while longer. Can I take my Kindle while I wait?

Another problem with Islam is that your life is more or less pre-ordained by god. It is his will for you to be who you are, which is why most believers say “god willing” when they want to improve their lot. This squelches most forms of ambition and achievement in its followers. While Muslims don’t prefer poverty, it’s better to accept god’s will than work your way out of it since you’ll be rewarded in the afterlife anyway.

Islam believes that a woman’s natural state is very seductive and distracting to men, and that efforts must be made to temper their allure so that men will not be urged to sleep around outside of marriage. For example, during prayers women must line up all the way in the back so that men do not get excited at seeing them bend over in front of them. While I consider that extreme, I do agree with Islam’s view that a woman’s vagina must be protected before marriage. As American culture has shown, a woman should not be trusted with what to do with her vagina from the standpoint of securing long-term relationships (they give it up easily during their prime years when they should be using it as leverage to land a male provider).

In most countries that practice Islam there are no unchaperoned dates. There is no drinking at the club and no sex before marriage. The man pays a dowry to invest himself into a marriage with his virgin bride. While virgins make for horrible casual sex partners, I would pick them over the slut for long-term commitment any day. Islam gets it right in this regard.

Finally, this book documented the first historical case of trolling: “Some Jews actually pretended to convert just so they could gain entry into Muslim meetings and ask confusing questions to sow doubt into the minds of recent converts.” Obviously the trolls did not succeed (do they ever?). I suspect it only inoculated the believers against further criticism.

I’m glad I read the book from the standpoint of being more learned about Islam, but I can’t say it was an enjoyable read.

ISBN: 0312421958
Natasha’s Dance

I’ll be honest: I picked up this book so that I could learn more about Russian culture in order to bang the women. On that respect, the book failed. It was what it said it was, a cultural history that reviews the intersection of art, the common man, government, and foreign influence, starting with Peter The Great when he built Russia’s first “European” city, St. Petersburg. It gives a blow by blow account of various artists and dandies with muted action and cutesie anecdotes.

The book started off describing the Russian duality of being Russian versus being European, which comes from Peter’s modernization push in the early 18th century. At one point, Russian aristocracy were better at speaking French than their own language, but the whole thing about Napoleon invading the motherland soured them on French culture.

I got so bored with this book that I had to stop reading (it’s almost 800 pages long). I don’t want to be harsh and say it sucks, but it definitely didn’t serve my sexual needs. Unless you’re interested in old Russian culture and art on a scholarly level, skip it. It will not help you bang Russian broads in the year 2012. I repeat: it will not help you get your Russian flag.

Do you want to read more book reviews? Click here for the previous set.

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