21 Lessons for the 21st Century – Yuval Noah Harari

Sapiens is likely in my top three favorite books of all time. Although I’ve stopped recommending it to people, because I think, if you don’t have a certain humanist bend you won’t appreciate it. And then, even if you are quite rational, Sapiens is likely to leave you feeling depressed as fuck. Or in the very least largely indifferent as to whether humanity is a ‘good’ thing or not.

As opening paragraphs go that might sounds like an indictment of  Yuval Noah Harari. But I really do love everything he’s written, so I was super excited to read his new book…. until I found out the title.


God I hate number titles. 12 rules. 21 lessons. 6 steps. 4 hour. Fuck you all. Seriously.

Having said that… my bedside table has a stack of paperbacks at the moment that is starting to teeter quite precariously to one side. My reading habits are probably much to be desired and I tend to flit, whimsically, from paperbacks to kindle to comics with no real… agenda. For someone who reads books cover to cover… I am likely the anti-christ.

21 Lessons for the 21st Century I bought on Audible, read by Derek Perkins (who is brilliant).

I’ve been re-listening to Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History series (quite an undertaking) on my morning 5mi… I want to say run… but I think someone who actually runs might take issue with my form of forward locomotion… and be amused that I dain to call that ‘running’.

In any event, 21 lessons has been my staple for the last week on my morning exertions and post exercise, my companion on my commute. Unsurprisingly its really good and I’ve been hooked.

I don’t necessarily want to compare it with Sapiens or Homo Deus. I am however inclined to say that these books should likely be read in the order they were published in, and while they can be appreciated as single entities, to get the full on Harari experience… they should be consumed Sapiens, Homo Deus… *sigh* 21 Lessons. (two great titles followed by an utterly shit one, I blame… well originally Tim Ferriss… but more recently Jordan Peterson)

21 Lessons is more… current… I guess is the best way to describe it. Where as Sapiens is about the past and Homo Deus about the future. We are likely living in a transition period (although all humans throughout time have probably thought this) from the old liberal world order to… something else, as yet undefined… and we are struggling to decide what that new world order will look like. The decisions we as a species make now are absolutely critical to whether we make it as species in the future (unfortunately we will likely all be dead to see the outcomes of those decisions).

I think the biggest takeaway (for me at least) is that we can’t be passengers and spectators in this shift and decision making process and that we all need to start taking a much more active roll in how we progress as humanity and what our legacy will be to those future generations.

The year of living Danishly by Helen Russell

Last week sometime (I can’t remember exactly) I was stuck in the most awful traffic on my way home. My blood sugar was low and I was starting to lose my temper. I’d had a… less than efficient day and all I wanted to do was go home, kick back and eat something. I decided to detour off the highway and sojourn through the suburbs. Which was likely a worse idea.  Eventually I acquiesced to lack of forward motion and defeated, pulled off into a mall. They have a cafe that does a decent sandwich and coffee. Two things I was desperately in need of.

Post caffeine and calories, with some time still to burn before I thought it was safe to rejoin the salmon run, I perused paperbacks at the tiny bookstore there. My efforts were fairly lackluster… I’m feeling very ‘overdone’ in my usual genres… when I picked up this.


I grimaced. Taxes, Hygge and minimalist aesthetics right? I know this stuff. These are my people… I was about to put it down again, but for some reason I carried it around the bookstore for a bit. The girl behind the counter glared at me. I think my aimless demeanor was upsetting her otherwise empty store feng shui. Concerned that this person was silently judging me, I placed the book on the counter in front of her. She gave me a look like you might give someone who had just tossed a stack Playboys down.

I tried to convey a look that said, ‘yeah, I don’t normally buy books like this… its for a friend’ ‘Do I need a bag?’ “eh… no… its fine’, I said, ‘stuffing the book into my messenger and shuffling off’… feeling somewhat owned.

I broke my Playstation controller. This is the other factor in this story. Well… one of the buttons was sticking… so I opened it… you know… to ‘have a go’. After my little oyster shucking maneuver…  little plastic bits, sprocket things and tiny widgets went cascading everywhere. ‘F…. lip’… is not the word I used. Sufficed to say, if it wasn’t truly broken before… it certainly was now. So I picked up ‘The Year of Living Danishly’ and started reading.

It was really good.

Helen Russell writes like journalist. I don’t know why I feel like I need to mention that. She used to write for a glossy. I don’t mean this as a criticism. But its takes some getting used to. Once I was into it though, I was really into it. I like that self-depreciating English thing she’s got going on. I’m generally quite appreciate of this type of humor. Her wordplay is good and I found myself laughing and smiling at her little quips.

While I’ve never lived in Denmark (other than to visit family, friends and Legoland) my father exported enough Danishness that I grew up thoroughly infused with coffee (Danes consume more coffee than anyone else on earth), herring, Smørrebrød and pastries. And it was amusing for me to read an ‘outsiders’ perspective on this.


Joey about to get his beer on at Carlsberg in Copenhagen.

I don’t think I can be completely objective about this book. A lot the things the author finds really strange and different about the Danes is stuff I accept as relatively normal. (I take my shoes off when I go inside and I recycle fanatically)

I am however very weary of people who market Danish ‘socialism’ as something they can just transplant into any culture. And not just because I’m anti-socialist.

What you need to understand about the Danes is that this is an exceptionally tight knit community that has been fostered over hundred of years. There is camaraderie there that is built on a tiny homogeneous population, a huge language barrier (its tough language to learn), isolationism (tough to immigrate to Denmark), wealthy neighbors (Germany and Sweden) and crappy weather (shared suffering). Danes also have insane levels of national pride and they trust each other, which is a huge advantage when building community. You don’t need to lock your bike or even your front door there. To think you can just transfer this to a country where you don’t have these things… it just feels very naive to me. That’s not say you can’t make it work in other places, just that you need to appreciate this is a one to two hundred year journey of generational increments.

Miniature-rant aside. I really enjoyed this book, although its likely not for everyone. Read it if you want to be amused.

The 33 Strategies of War by Robert Greene

I often find myself raging (somewhat pointlessly) against titles like this. I feel it should have been titled ’33 strategies of War’. Prefixing the title with ‘The’ adds an element of finality and egotism into the mix that I don’t like. There are only thirty three strategies. And they’re all in this book. Which is clearly a misnomer.


I know. I’m nitpicking. It might because I’m currently experiencing an un-caffeinated state of being. Also my backspace is occasionally sticking, which is super annoying because I use my backspace almost as much as my spacebar. It’s not sperm. In case you’re wondering. More likely from overuse and general wear and tear. My MacBook Air is getting on in years.

I both really like and really dislike Robert Greene. Let me qualify that antithetical statement. I think his books are amazing. (except for the titles and the boring cover theme that runs through his books) All his books are phenomenally well researched and written. In fact I’m struggling to think of another author that rivals his meticulousness and scale. The amount of reading he must do is staggering. (I’m a little jealous) This book is packed with historical examples of the concepts outlined in each chapter and the volume of quotes and anecdotes is truly mind boggling. I eventually stopped underlining stuff because… well… basically I’d have to underline the entire book. It’s that sort of tome.


I also dislike Robert Greene because of the way me makes me feel about the world. I realize this isn’t really his fault. Ha ha. But his personal ideology is heavily imprinted in his content. I am not an optimist by any stretch of the imagination. But Jesus H Christ, Robert Greene just strips the whimsy out of life.

It’s taken me almost forever to get through War for this reason. I found if I didn’t limit myself to bite-size chunks I’d start feeling very…  (whats’ the word I’m looking) bleak about the world. That might not be everyone’s reaction. Some might just see it as an interesting treatise on certain ‘type’ of operating system. I found War starting to influence my interactions with people, insofar as I started viewing every single interchange in very stark game theory-esque terms with a winner and a loser.

About half way through War I bought the audio version of the book. (which is a 27 hour 29 minute leviathan) I thought narration might soften the impact for me, but it actually made it worse. It’s very good production though and I highly recommend it. (The only ‘longer’ audiobook I have is Strategy, A history by Lawrence Freedman weighing in at 32 hours, 4 minutes)

I love strategy. But I’ve realised that I like it as a thought exercise. Something academic meant to be mulled over will I sip my Rooibos. Something I might haul out, dust off and bandy about in a boardgame. But beyond that, actually living with strategic intent, is a bit beyond me. I don’t have the presence of mind. Or indeed the discipline to live like this.

I think this means that my life will largely be unsuccessful. You know, like how some kids aren’t good at sports…

Oh well.

The Elephant in the Brain by Kevin Simler and Robin Hanson

Oh em gee. I have new favorite people. Forward slash book. I realize this changes from week to week… and that I flip flop between positions of eminence like some sort of Havaiana. (its the best I could come up with)*

*as opening paragraphs go… not the greatest… but I’m typing at pace and feel retraction is admitting defeat (something I’m clearly loathed to do this early on)


Enter, The elephant in the Brain by Kevin Simler and Robin Hanson. A duo, that added together, equals awesomeness. Yes, I realize I overuse the solution in this equation, but this time, its totally justified.

Two things almost stopped me experiencing this exceptional piece of work. I tend to see-saw between audio books and podcasts. Usually dependent on when my Audible credit becomes available…. so I almost missed Sam Harris (The waking up podcast) talking to Robin Hanson. I read the show notes for the podcast (which I often use to gauge my opportunity cost, ie what do I think will add more value, Sam Harris… or killing whatever high frequency hearing I have left with Five Finger Death Punch)

The show notes read like this…

In this episode of the Waking Up podcast, Sam Harris speaks with Robin Hanson about our hidden motives in everyday life. They discuss selfishness, hypocrisy, norms and meta-norms, cheating, deception, self-deception, education, the evolutionary logic of conversation, social status, signaling and counter-signaling, common knowledge, AI, and many other topics.

I grimaced. It sounded dry. And cerebral. Definitely NOT something I was in the mood for… But I listened to the fist couple of minutes anyway, the housekeeping section (more because I was wondering if Sam was going to say anything about Lawrence Krauss*). He doesn’t, but Sam does allude to the poor sound quality in this podcast. ‘Well now I’m definitely NOT going to listen to it…’

*(wordy aside) I don’t have a massive hard-on for Lawrence. BUT… I’m not into Crucifixion by media (if you can call Buzzfeed media) either. If he’s found guilty in a court by his peers let him suffer the barbs of derision… but until then… fuck you all. 

Generally speaking, the only movements I’m into are my bowel movements. I did read Lawrence Krauss… (damn… I’m not sure whether to put an s’ or es onto the end of that… its one of those grammatical rules I never bothered to learn and now its coming back to haunt me) I did read the nine page treatise/response to these allegations by Lawrence Krauss (that’s better) and his explanations seem very reasonable (although they would, wouldn’t they?) I think the only acceptable behavior these days is to NEVER flirt with anyone. Ever. That way the species will die out… and things can just go back to before all this (totally bullshit) evolution happened. To quote Douglas Adams (RIP)


In any event at the moment, guilty or innocent, it sucks to be Lawrence Krauss. (Unless all this media attention has actually helped him in getting his thing wet, which as far as I can tell, is all he ever wanted to do in the first place)

We now return to our regular programming. I ended up listening to the whole podcast and I’m really glad I did. Its really good. Highly recommended. And the sound while not I-max is actually, mostly fine. Robin Hanson comes across as supremely likable. And an interesting foil to a much more dour Sam Harris. (sorry Sam)

This whole endeavor lead me to consumerism.

I must be honest, I stared at the cover for quite a while before I purchased this book. It just doesn’t speak to me at all. I know, I know, ‘Don’t judge a book by its cover…’ But I really hated the Rorschach effect and I hated the ‘Hidden motives in everyday life’ tagline even more.

I finished it in one night.

Which doesn’t often happen anymore because I really love sleeping. (Definitely in my top five things to do with my time now that I’m tiptoeing towards the mid point of my life expectancy)

So… what is this book about? The short answer is everything…  I briefly considered doing a synopsis… but I don’t think I can do it justice. Besides that’s what Goodreads is for. I’m just here to ramble nonsensically and pitch the book from left field.

I can however attest to wanting to read this book again. (also something that almost never happens anymore) I blew through it so fast on my first read I didn’t stop to underline any passages or take any notes… and this is definitely the sort of work that requires some some form of rumination. (the deep considered version of rumination and not the bovine chewing the cud kind)

Otherwise this book is really well written, in a prose that’s very easy going and engaging. I didn’t have to spell out any of the big words and the punctuation all seemed pretty reasonable. A lot of authors (especially academics), while supremely knowledgeable… can be frustratingly obtuse. It makes reading their work more akin to cognitive coal mining,  but maybe you’re into that sort of thing. I, on the other hand prefer my reading to be a slothful (preferably supine) event and if I’m going to receive a mental enema, I prefer to be lubed up. And maybe encouraged with some kind and thoughtful words first.

Its a great book. You guys rock. You managed to succinctly convey your thoughts and ideas and I was thoroughly entertained throughout. More than that, you’ve given me lots of think about. Thank you.

Ready Player one by Ernest Cline (Audiobook)

I’m trying to decide whether this is a good book or not. I know that might sound strange, considering I was absolutely enthralled from start to finish. But now that its over and I’ve blown my load (so to speak) I find myself reaching over for the metaphorical cigarette, taking a deep drag and exhaling towards the ceiling. I now have time to ponder… and potentially make a quick getaway. Assuming I can find my pants.


Let me start by saying Wil Wheaton as the voice artist is superb. I feel this needs to be said. Right up there with RC Bray and Nick Podehl. I’m starting to appreciate Wil as a bit of a Polymath. Even if I don’t agree with his politics.

This is a very niche book. And I think can only appeal to (and be appreciated by) a very narrow stratosphere of people of a certain age and… what are the words I’m looking for, cultural proclivity. I couldn’t for example recommend this book to my wife, whose comment after a hundred pages would be, ‘seriously, what the fuck?’

I was born in 1979, just shy of the sweet-spot target audience for this book. My arcade experience was more Golden Axe, Street Fighter and Shinobi. I was more into Nirvana and Soundgarden than eighties hair metal. By the time I watched Wargames it was already quite dated. Although I (still) love some of the movies from that era. Willow, Ladyhawke, Dark Crystal, Never ending story. But those were… generally more fantasy titles and aged a bit better. (I can probably quote Monty Python and the Holy Grail verbatim). African or European?

Still, all the cultural references in this book made sense to me. Lets be honest, it is largely a homage to a certain era, with a story tacked on. Still… I REALLY liked it. Is that because I played D&D. Programmed text games in basic, spent hundreds over hours playing arcade and video games? Reading comics and absorbing Greyhawk supplements to the point where I have better understanding of the economics and penal code of Flanaess than the real world?



The Spielberg movie is coming out in two weeks. I’m glad I’ve read the book first. I’ve watched the movie trailer… and… well… the stacked trailer park looks like how I imagined it. And there’s a battle scene at the end of the movie with… the iron giant. Who DEFINITELY doesn’t feature in the game at all. Actually, from what I can tell… its going to only follow the book very, very loosely.

At the moment I’m true neutral (see what I did there) about the movie. Mostly because I understand that if you have a fight scene with Mecha-godzilla, Ultraman and Leopardon (a Spiderman robot) most people just won’t get it. So you have to tweak it/change the entire story for broad based appeal. (I’m one of those people who get REALLY upset when the X-men movies deviate from the canon) In fact the only super hero movies I’ve actually liked in recent history have been Deadpool. And to lesser degree Ragnarok (because it was actually quite funny in parts). I’ve adopted a wait and see attitude towards Ready Player one. Its Spielberg. He occasionally does okay. You know… Indiana Jones (only the first three)… The Goonies… *thinks* Gremlins…

Reading or listening to Ready Player One if you’re not ‘that way’ inclined, I can imagine, quickly would become like reading a treatise on the nuances of subway transport. (something I tried to do recently) Being completely out of my depth I got bored and frustrated really quickly.

So in answer to my original question. Is this a good book. I have no idea. Maybe. Only you can decide in the end. I had a great time. Good luck with your quest.



Masters of Doom by David Kushner (Audiobook)

My audible library is, for the most part, bent towards dry and heavy. There is a teeny, tiny bit of whimsy in there in the form of some science fiction (The Bobiverse series) and some fantasy (Kings Dark tidings) for when I’m feeling burnt out and brain dead. But for the most part my audiobooks lean towards the autodidactic. Is that even a real word? It’s not underlined in red so I’m assuming it might be. Even if it doesn’t necessarily mean what I think it should. I think it’s more or less correct, books that help you learn new stuff and expand your points of reference? Maybe not.

In any event…

I tend forget that there’s other stuff out there. Books that won’t necessarily teach you anything… but are REALLY good all the same…


I freely admit, initially, I was super hesitant and this book sat in the cloud for quite sometime after I’d bought it.

Foremost, I am not really a fan of Wil ‘Ban the Nazis’ Wheaton. For me, at least, he embodies everything that is wrong with the left. Sure I think Nazis are motherfuckers. But banning an organization based on ideology? Where do we draw the line. Maybe we should ban Islam and Christianity while we’re at it? They believe some pretty kooky stuff too. And while you may argue degrees of hateful ideology… abrahamic religions are plenty dark (and have a lot to answer for).

Still, I like Wil’s gaming (D&D and board game) advocacy and he a massive fan of ice hockey* (pretty much the only sport I will watch on tv)

*although he supports the Kings (that must be tough)

Despite all my misgivings, Wil reading Masters of Doom is brilliant. I mean right up there with the best.

Masters of Doom follows the lives of the two Johns. John Ramero and John Carmack creators of Doom. Their friendship created one of the most groundbreaking games in history. It also, eventually tore their friendship apart.

This is where I have to stop myself and pause, lest the next ten paragraphs are just fanboy gush. I’m not even entirely sure I can objectively review something that for me at least was a deeply nostalgic journey.

Even if you can’t identify with the D&D, arcade, heavy metal, gaming culture of the 80s and 90s this book is fascinating, expertly researched and expertly read. It is never boring and I was thoroughly entertained throughout.

There are not a lot of books that afterwards I think ‘damn that was truly excellent’. This is definitely one of them.

If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him, by Sheldon B. Kopp

One of the best books I have ever read is ‘If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him’, by Sheldon B. Kopp, although I’m very weary of recommending it to people. I think you need to be at a very specific intersection in your life journey to appreciate it. I’ve resisted reviewing it because I think the takeaway from reading it depends very much on your personal life experience (so far) and that my interpretation of this book will be very different to somebody elses.

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For me at least this book blew my mind. In fact after a couple of chapters I had to put it down for a couple of days while my brain masticated and digested this (perceived) Damascusian experience. I’m still not completely done thinking, which is definitely the sign of something happening under the hood. Either this book has had a profound effect on me… or its indicative that I’m not really used to this level of cognition and that the machinery is starting to seize.

I recently read Jordan B. Peterson’s, 12 rules for life. Our Lego didn’t really click, to use a William Gibson-ism, but I’ve noticed myself burning on simmer since reading it, which has led to some big, weird feelings of resentment. (which is strange, since I agree with him on almost everything) I decided I needed to unpack these feelings.

I’ve realized I’ve reached some sort of a tipping point with lifestyle advice, I’m pretty much done.

I’m done with books and podcasts that tell me (often quite sanctimoniously) how to hack my life, how to improve, what rules I need to follow to lead an efficient, happy, fuck-free minimalist life. I’m done with morning rituals, done with 4 hour work weeks, done being so good I can’t be ignored, done with not giving a fuck, done with discipline equaling freedom and done with twelve rules to live my life by, done with all of it.  Thank you very much and fuck you all.

My life is actually fine.

Contrary to what everyone has been telling me.

There is fortunately or unfortunately no Buddha and no Zen wisdom that comes with him. There is only me and I am the Buddha. (In your case, you). I think maybe I needed to wade through all this drivel first in order to come to this conclusion, an answer that is the sum of all my previous experiences, something where you can’t skip to the end or hack your way to the conclusion. I think that is true, so I don’t regret the time I’ve spent on this exercise.

I also think that I’ve gotten through to the other side. And if the light at the end of the proverbial tunnel turns out to be a train, I think I’m okay with that. I quite like trains.

12 Rules for life by Jordan B. Peterson

I read this book mostly covered in vomit. (As one might be inclined to do) My daughter threw up in her bed. While my wife stripped the sheets I cradled the neophyte girl, who briefly stared into my eyes… and then painted me with peas, carrots and milk (origin both boob and bovine).

Sufficed to say with more upchuck likely in my foreseeable future I settled back down in my chair with my single shot grande and only a perfunctory effort to clean myself. Thirty minutes later I was back in there dealing with more bile. (And then ten minutes after that) (and then an hour after that) ad infinitum.

During episodes where we scrounged for sheets and cleans pajamas I read 12 rules. (Shit title, I blame Tim Ferriss for this slew of lazy literary designations)

Let me start off by saying up until today I didn’t know anything about Jordan B. Peterson. (Kinda sad I know) I don’t really follow the news (other than in a very general sense) and for me identity politics is a serious non sequitur, that interests me about as much as fairies and crystals do. I’m constantly shocked and amazed that this has become a ‘thing’.

I also, up until today, didn’t know anything about the infamous Cathy Newman interview. And the meme storm that followed…

(This one is my favorite)

All I can say is ‘Jesus that escalated quickly’ (having now watched it). Kudos to Jordan for his supreme stoicism in the face of unrelenting awfulness. I doubt I would have remained so composed.

In any event after having listened to Jordan during my commute and then later on my run I decided that I really liked him. (Well… enough to blow $25 on his book) ouch!

This book starts with a forward. Which immediately gets my hackles up. For some reason I get the feeling that the publishers thought this was a good idea. Its long and wordy and I found myself skipping sections (my internet addled brain). It reads like a character witness. Jordan B. Peterson is not the motherfucker he’s been made out to be.

Blah, blah, blah. I thought it was superfluous. Let the work speak for itself, it doesn’t need an anteambulo.

Eventually (with a machete) I got to the first rule. Which involves Lobsters.


I have to quote this line. Because it’s so bad. (It’s even worse when taken out of context)

Lobsters have more in common with you than you might think (particularly when you are feeling crabby – ha ha).’

It’s like a dad joke.

I don’t know why, but sitting there in the gloom, hunched over my kindle app and smelling like curdled milk this line really irritated me. (More than it should have)

In all honesty I struggled to read this book. Although it took me a while to figure out why. Jordan’s sentence structure doesn’t agree with me. I know that’s a weird criticism but I often found myself having to re-read his sentences. I imagined them too long and disjointed somehow (personal preference I guess, but it also might be because I’m relatively stupid) He also uses the Oxford comma. Which… while grammatically sound… I’m not used to it. It freaks me out. (I know, derailed by a comma)

I’m finding it harder and harder to find books in this genre that I like. This isn’t Jordan’s fault. I think I may have reached some level of saturation. Maybe I need a break. Or maybe a Shakabuku*

*a swift spiritual kick to the head (I think it’s from Grosse pointe blank)

Jordan in a spoken word format resonated quite deeply with me. That didn’t translate into text (for me at least). I think this is a case of different strokes for different folks. I do however plan on seeking out more podcasts with Jordan as a speaker, he’s very clever, eloquent and comes highly recommended.

Addendum. I have since bought and listened to the audiobook. Which worked out so much better for me. Highly recommended.

Way of the warrior kid by Jocko Willink

Let me say right near the beginning that I really liked this book. I imagine that once I get about half way into my tirade it might not seem like it.


You know that saying, ‘You should never meet your heroes’. In keeping with modernity perhaps it should be updated. ‘Never follow your heroes on twitter’. Or on YouTube for that matter.

I tend to build up the authors that I like as infallible seers or ubermenschen. Impressed with what they’ve committed to text I seek them out on other media platforms hoping glean new knowledge. Inevitably I am disappointed. We are after all just humans, with our blemishes and flaws, niche expertise and subjective opinions.


Except me obviously. (I’m perfect)

Ha ha.

I mention this because I need to balance my crush on Jocko Willink with some moderation.

If I reduced and distill my gripe its probably with the word ‘warrior’. I worry about people that use that word. And I worry about people that want to be ‘this’ word. Don’t misunderstand me, I appreciate that human existence on this planet is less than idyllic and that one group of humans needs from time to time to assert dominance over another group to achieve some sort of goal through violence of action. And that this is usually done through the warrior caste. I get that.

My concern is that people consider this particular noun first when they describe themselves. Interestingly I have no issue with someone describing themselves as a philosopher who also happens to be a warrior. But a warrior who is also a philosopher makes me hesitate. Maybe I’m just arguing potato semantics, but I find the distinction important. I think a world full of warriors would be a poorer place. Sun Tzu famous mused that war needs to be a highly considered enterprise and that warriors have a very specific task of tearing civilization down. Not so easy to build it back up again. I think as a society we have become far too flippant about war and the warriors that perpetrate this course of action.

On the reverse side, kids don’t get that. And this is a kids book. All I wanted to be growing up was a warrior. (Although I wanted to go to Ranger school) We are primal, savage mammals who want to (pretend) rend and maim our enemies. Its only later in life that we get some perspective.

Then there’s the author, whose jingoism and ethical ambiguity on Fox and friends recently made me feel super uncomfortable. This is why I hate social media. All of a sudden you’re exposed to everyone’s thoughts be they inane and banal or just contrary to your own. The amusing impressionist reality you’ve crafted yourself lies in tatters at your feet.

Fortunately The way of the Warrior kid is not about moral philosophy. Its about a kid called Marc and his quest for self improvement (something I can definitely get behind)




Marc sucks at pull-ups, can’t do maths, eats a lot of crap, can’t swim and gets bullied at school. (don’t worry Marc I suck at pull-ups and maths too). Marc’s mom’s brother Jake comes to stay with them for a bit. Jake is a Navy Seal. Jake turns Marc’s life around.

(the above represents an over simplified synopsis)

I must be honest, the whole time it took me to read this book (about an hour) I kept thinking, where is Marc’s dead-beat dad? And why is your mom letting you eat all this crappy food? (I get all judgmental about fictional parenting faux-pas as I see them)

After reading this book, I went and stood at the pull-up bar at gym. Unfortunately in my gym that’s right in the center with everything else arrayed around this focal point of embarrassment. I imagine this is done on purpose so that everyone can see how pathetic you are. I had, up until this point never in my whole life done a pull-up. But how hard can it be right?

I jumped up and hung there for a moment.

‘Oh my god’, I thought as my shoulders and arms protested this strange new form of abuse. (Looking back, I think its because I masturbate less now, so my forearms have gotten weak from lack of use) Maybe I could just hang here for a bit. You know, pretend I’m just… stretching out my spine. Or something. The guy across from me is squatting like a gazzillion pounds. I never venture into this part of the gym (other than to use the heavy bag), mostly because nothing I own comes without sleeves nor do I possess any really short, shorts. (this seems to be a prerequisite)

I grit my teeth and ignore the noise that sounds like tearing fabric coming from the large muscle groups in my back. Okay, one pull up. Just one, I think to myself. I grit my teeth and… do this weird kicking thing with my legs like a dying bug.

I’d like to say I got about half way before failing. But… the reality is probably less kind than that.

Okay, so doing a pull-up is quite hard. (its on my to-do list for this year)

The thing about this book is that I agree with almost everything in it. I think all kids should jump of bridges and swim in rivers. And do martial arts. My personal proclivity is boxing and Jujitsu. but really any style is OK when you’re a kid.

Kids should be outside and active, not domiciled in front of their tablets.

If nothing else this book inspired me to try and do some pull-ups. There are few books out there that will make you get up and take come concrete actions. So for that I need to give Jocko some serious credit. I might not agree with his personal ideology, but I think this book is a good thing.

Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney

‘Jesus, what an a-hole’ – Goodreads reviewer

(I’m inclined to agree)


My cousin and her ten year old kid came to visit. He’d brought an actual book along, which I thought was commendable. Tiring of the adult conversation (and probably with less subtlety than I imagine) I extracted myself to a sofa on the periphery and picked up his book and started reading through it*. It was the Diary of a Wimpy kid.

*I have limited capacity for grown up stuff. Unless topics wander into my limited Venn which is a fairly rare occurrence.

A couple of weeks later the box set became available as a post Christmas special. So I whimsically bought it. I generally like box sets having recently acquired the Roald Dahl,  Beatrix Potter and the Paddington Bear box sets in similar offerings. (in anticipation of the girl-progeny, in several years starting to read)

I think this series has quite a lot of hype about it. Its a genre (pre-teen) I have limited experience with, but I gather there is some degree of polarization of parents whose children have read this series. Apparently you love it, or you hate it. I have a suspicion that the parents that love it, haven’t actually read it, and are potentially just happy their kids aren’t binge watching cartoon network (this that still a thing?) or surfing Pornhub.

While hate is a relatively strong emotion this series did make me feel uncomfortable.

  1. The protagonist, Gregory Heffley, is a serious a-hole. He treats his best friend REALLY badly and bullies kids of a lesser social standing than himself. Diary of a douche-bag, seems like a less disingenuous title.
  2. This book celebrates mediocrity and makes it seem almost aspirational. Greg lies, cheats, is lazy, has zero-ambition and is kinda pathetic. Why you would want this character as role-model for your child is beyond me. Greg is the kid you hope your child doesn’t become friends with.
  3. Greg’s parents are also a-holes that need to take responsibility for stuffing up their kids. They see-saw between neglect and doing their school projects for them, but don’t actually teach them any values or instill a sense of responsibility in them.

I guess the biggest problem is that I can’t relate to this book at all. My childhood wasn’t like this. In fact I feel a bit sorry for Greg. Even if he is a fictional character.

I think about the sort of books I read when I was ten. It was all pretty heroic stuff. Enid Blytons Famous Five, Secret Seven, Willard Price’s adventure series (I loved these), The Hardy boys, Alfred Hitchcock and the three investigators. Books that inspired me to go outside and build forts, inspired me to play in the pool, to catch bugs, to go camping, ride my bike. Diary of a Wimpy kid does none of these things.

I prefer Way of the Warrior Kid by Jocko Willink. Or The Gutsy Girl by Caroline Paul.

Maybe I’m overthinking this.

Kids don’t necessarily have the same take on the books they consume that adults do. Kids are reading and this a good thing right?

Honestly I don’t know. Society has evolved and with it values and norms. Being a kid in  the 80’s was awesome. (Stranger things makes me super nostalgic) Maybe I should get off my high horse and stop moralizing.

Now where did I put my Playstation controller…

Fighting Fire by Caroline Paul

Caroline Paul is a Nietzschesque Ubermensch. Basically a homo-sapien version two point oh. Normal peeps wither and die in her presence from the radiation of her awsomeness. She is also really measured, reasonable and supremely likable. Which is weird, considering she’s a vegetarian [1]

As a kid I never wanted to grow up to be a fireman or a policeman. I wanted to be a zoo keeper. Looking back, I’m not entirely sure why that was. Possibly because of a Gerald Durrell type upbringing where I collected (and raced) dung beetles, kept tadpoles in terrariums and rescued hedgehogs. I got bitten catching lizards with my friend once. Which lead to my first tetanus shot. In fact… now that I think about it… I’ve been bitten by A LOT of creatures. Including the kindergarten hamster. (which ran up my chest and bit me on the lip)

Whatever strange enthusiasm for animals this was, it waned in middle school. And was likely replaced with (I’d like to say girls… but really it was) Dungeons and Dragons and computer games.

It’s only much later on in life that I decided I wanted to be fireman. (Like five years ago when I was having this big Ikigai-ian, Raison d’êtr existential type crisis) Ie. When I decided I wanted a job that actually meant something (and had a positive impact on the world). You know… that thing that motivates you to get up in the morning. Not that I’ve done anything about it… it was more a theoretical thought exercise…

If you want to read a book about someone else’s enviable life however, this might be it. Caroline is a pilot, white water rafting guide, firefighter, Golden Gate Bridge climber, diver, paraglider and Olympic luge(r)… published author, decent writer, TED speaker….

Writing that last paragraph makes me feel a little inadequate. I can flip pancakes. And… *Joey considers for a moment*

…can block a jab/cross with my face. But really, that’s where my talents ends.

Fighting Fire is a memoir of Caroline’s time with the San Francisco fire department.

I really enjoyed it. It’s a quick, easy, entertaining read. It’s also made me realize I am definitely not firefighter material.

Firefighters have to deal with a lot of seriously disgusting stuff. Some of her stories really gave me the heebie jeebies. A two month old body in the apartment whose face had collapsed inwards and was writhing in maggots for example…

Maggots freak me out. Not as much as sharks. Or getting eaten by a shark. But it’s definitely in my top 10.

And then there’s having to deal with the dark side of humanity. I think cops get this more than firefighters… but still… how they manage to compartmentalize and carry on really impresses me. I don’t have that sort of mental fortitude. I would get angry. And then depressed.

More than the book I really like Carolines personal philosophy and her girl child advocacy. I recommend her various appearances as a podcast guest and her TED talk. It’s because of Caroline that I’ve been really conscious of letting my daughter climb to the highest point on the jungle gym. I’ve also been really careful about demonizing spiders and snakes as something girls should be afraid of. Which of course has led to to snakes, spiders and all manner of insects now being her favorite animals.


;;l;;;””uuu.lpp- kkoop[;;;,,///// /pp;//;l;l …  .,laq*



As if on cue the female progeny discovers me, reclined on the sofa, Macbook balanced precariously on my midsection. She quickly adds her thoughts to his blogpost.

Then she sneezes on me. Some of it goes into my mouth



[1] Caroline replies to my mail to tell me she is now in fact a vegan. She hopes this means I won’t cut her out of my life.

After thinking about it for a while I decide that I still like her.

Musashi by Eiji Yoshikawa

Musashi is one of those books that’s comes super highly recommended by loads of people*. It’s also been a while since I’ve read any fiction. This book details the fictional life story of one Miyamoto Musashi, a real life figure in Feudal Japan (about whom not very much is known, so the author, Eiji Yoshikawa, made some stuff up)

*the ubiquitous ‘they’ who know ‘stuff’.


It’s a super intimidating, hefty, tome of a book that could kill someone if you accidentally dropped it down a stairwell. Which has always put me off in the past…. for some reason I imagined a ‘Lord of the Rings’ type epic in both girth and complexity. Who has the time for that anymore? (which is why I read while on holiday)

Once you start however, you soon realize it’s super easy reading. Whoever translated it from the original Japanese either did a phenomenal job or really dumbed it down for the Gaijin.

Japanese names are also relatively sparse, so it’s not like reading the History of the Peloponnesian war (my go to book on complexity) where five pages in you’re thinking ‘who the fuck are all these people?’ (seriously you need a glossary and map to remember whose who and where’s where).

In Mushasi its easy to remember the main characters. Actually to be completely fair besides Musashi everyone else in this book feels relatively one dimensional. Musashi is the only character that’s really given any depth. Even though, trekking the length and breadth of Japan he keeps bumping into the same people. (Weird)

What I really like about this story is the progression. Miyamoto Musashi isn’t actually (re)born until about 100 pages in. Musashi actually starts out as Shinmen Takezō. Which I wish someone had told me… because initially I was super confused. (Wait… who the fuck is this Takezō fellow and why does the book seem to be about him?)

Anyways, Takezō is a jerk, albeit an injured, dying jerk, after taking part in the battle of Sekigahara. After healing up (and killing some dudes) he is lives as a ‘misunderstood wild man’ in the hills around his hometown (because everyone there hates him). Eventually he is ‘captured’ by a monk who strings him up in a cryptomeria* tree for several days.

*I googled what a cryptomeria tree was. Which is the reason it stuck with me.

While tied to this tree he has this cathartic experience where he decides he actually doesn’t want to die and if given the opportunity he will try to lead a better life.

He gets cut down by his (former) friends fiancé and then goes off to try rescue his sister, whom the local samurai were using as bait to lure him down from the mountains. Anyways. The local daimyo who is friends with the aforementioned monk ‘incarcerates’ Takezō for his crimes. He spends three years locked in a tower reading books. (I can think of worse)

On his release he decides that he going to study the way of the sword, and takes on the Chinese pronunciation of the characters that make up his name (I think that’s right) as a symbol of his rebirth. And so Miyamoto Musashi is born and the book begins.

So… probably nothing like the real story of Mushasi.

I read the book of five rings ages ago. Authored by the actual Miyamoto Musashi. It’s a book about… a personal philosophy, kinda. Although I can’t remember anything definitive about it. For some reason Sun Tzu resonated much more deeply with me. Likely because of its bite sized chunks of wisdom. (Also why Derek Sivers Anything you want and Rework by Jason Fried and David Hannson are some of my favorite books)

The book of five rings offers very little insight into Musashi’s actual life. But strangely I don’t begrudge Eiji Yoshikawa for making this story up to fill in a biographical blank. It’s really good. Boringly I now join the chorus of voices who recommend Musashi as one of those have to read books. It’s a good tale, of someone looking for meaning, while chopping up and disemboweling people along the way. What’s not to like…

In fact I’m feeling inspired to go outside and brush up on my twin-bokken style right now…. If I hadn’t torn the cuticle off my index finger I mean. Its debilitatingly sore. Also… I am currently bokken-less And also eating a pancake. So… not a good time for me.

Ikigai – the Japanese secret to a long and happy life by Hector Garcia and Francesc Miralles

I was super excited to get stuck into this book. The authors reference Victor Frankls logotherapy (of which I am a huge fan) early on which really got my juices flowing. I imaged this fusion treat combining Japanese flavored ‘stoicism’ and the Viennese psychology, expertly crafted with skill and precision and then nearly wrapped in nori.


So imagine how disappointing it was to get stale, conveyor belt wisdom instead.

Ikigai starts off really strong, but by page fifty I let out a long exasperated sigh. The only reason I finished this book was because it was so short. To be fair I skipped through all the yoga/Tai chi/breathing stuff (with illustrations) and only half heartedly perused the Okinawan diet chapter. I feel the authors were just padding out the last half of the book because they’d run out of things to say. None of that is strictly Ikigai anyway.

Stack this on top of your Marie Kondo and donate them both.

This book is largely a missed opportunity to do something profoundly cool. Instead it’s literary clickbait meant to sucker you in with promise and gives you very little in return.

The Wikipedia articles on Ikigai, Victor Frankl, logo-therapy and wabi sabi are much better than the book.

Future note to self don’t read books recommended by magazines. (I feel I should have known this already)

Oh well.

Happy City by Charles Montgomery

Let me start by saying this book is quite niche. And by quite niche, I actually mean, super duper niche.


I don’t listen to/read Tim Ferriss a lot anymore. Back in the day I used to be a hardcore Ferrissian. Before he became the Gwen Stefani of self improvement. Okay, he’s not quite the anti-christ, so maybe that analogy is unfair. I did however get completely wrapped up in the romance* of the 4-hour work week. Which meant I spent an inordinate amount of time trying to achieve this gimmicky state of work-life-nirvana (time I will NEVER get back) To steal a line from Penn&Teller (well, mostly from Penn because Teller never speaks) its all bullshit. Being in love however, you can’t see the forest for the trees.

*which is the section it should be filed under.

To give credit where credit is due. Tim has introduced me to some really interesting people. A large percentage of them are narcissistic, self-involved, assholes (but then again aren’t we all). But some of them are genuinely interesting. Enter stage right Peter Adeney, aka Mr. Money Mustache, early retiree, blogger and (annoyingly) nice guy.

This book was recommended by Mr. Money Mustache as one of his three best reads. The other two, as far as I can remember were a little generic. But this one piqued my interest.

In my youth I played a ridiculous amount of SimCity. When I wasn’t masturbating frantically I mean. I was obsessed with operational efficiency. To an extent I still am. Although my enthusiasm has waned somewhat on a macro-environmental level. I wanted the spurious citizens of Jo-ville, to be the happiest most efficient little imaginary people EVA! I was their (unelected) philosopher king* who ruled from atop the mountain, removed from his burghers, an un-corruptible, benevolent despot.

* I adore the concepts from Plato’s Republic. I just think they are completely unworkable with homo sapiens.

This book came hot on the heels of Tribe by Sebastian Junger (review linked) which I loved. A lot like Tribe this book tickles my sociological and anthropological interests. Why are our cities the way they are? Why are our societies so messed up? Why do we live in these strange, sprawling residential zones miles from our place of work? Why are we all so angry and unhappy?

The answer is largely, fucken automobiles!

I found it completely fascinating. I think I would even still find it fascinating even if I wasn’t this weird tribal-city-planning fruit-cake/nut-job. Truth be told, looking at the cover (and even paging through this book) I would probably never have read it. I’m super glad I did. Although now I feel I have secret insider knowledge that no one else has, but that is largely theoretical and superfluous. Not exactly a hot-topic when you’re grouped together with the other dads at a two-year-olds birthday party.

‘have you ever considered how urban sprawl is affecting our happiness coefficient?’


‘how ’bout them Mets?. (bewildered, betrayed*)

*from The Birdcage. I might be paraphrasing. I haven’t watched it in a while. Also it should be mentioned that when it comes to the Subway series my blood is dark blue and domiciles near 161st street.

I started out by saying this book is a very niche field. But I think everyone should consider the way we live and not just take these sorts of things for granted.

Thus spoke Zarathustra by Friedrich Nietzsche

‘A book for all and none’. I almost led with a deep sigh followed by a long drawn out profane utterance (you know the type you might exasperatedly express after fighting with a crossword for more than two hours). But that would just underscore my intellectual ineptitude. The sad reality is…


I am not smart enough for this book. Which is a strange thing to admit. It is unfortunately also true. Even worse… this is actually the second time I’ve read this book. And my understanding has not improved with age and/or experience. If anything, it actually took me longer this time round. (I read in forty minute bursts, often interjected with Playstation and Stranger Things on Netflix which I enjoy but doesn’t really do anything for my cognitive ability)


It was interesting however to read my notes, which I’d made previously. I was faking intellectual prowess. Ha ha. I look at it now and think, ‘god, I was a pretentious knob’.

Loads of people read Nietzsche and then reference him as this phenom among the intelligentsia. By virtue of the praise heaped upon it, it becomes almost required reading. I obviously can’t speak for everyone. I would read a chapter and think, ‘yeah, this is okay, but I’m not having this profoundly cathartic experience. Why is that? What am I missing? And then I’d re-read the paragraph or the page. And I’d be like… fuck. What am I not seeing here? And then I’d get angry with myself and irritated. As the book progresses my notes start to get more and more sparse. Pages go by without any annotations. Eventually I just started reading it as a story without looking for word games or a hidden wisdom. I think maybe that’s the way to approach this book, don’t try an emulate what others got by reading this….

Besides, they could just be bullshitting you.

I think there is often a great deal of dishonesty that happens with books like this. I imagine its like when your friends are talking about a movie and everyone is animatedly discussing it. And you agree with them, even though you haven’t even seen the movie. I think its something we’ve all done at some stage in our lives. You get caught up in the enthusiasm or the desire to please the group… or something.

I’m not saying Thus Spoke Zarathustra isn’t brilliant. It might be. BUT. It could also just be that Nietzsche is just fucking with all of us (it often feels like he is). I don’t know. Like I said I’m not that smart. What I can attest to is that I’m feeling really drained. I feel like I need something… less intensive for my next foray into words. Maybe something with pictures and speech bubbles. I’m thinking I might re-read Mike Mignola’s Hellboy.

One of these days I would like to tackle Thus Spoke Zarathustra in the original. (some time before I die I mean) I found that with Faust (nowhere near finished) the translation didn’t do the original justice. I mean its a good translation, but it loses the poetry and some of the beauty when converted into English. I found myself wondering if that happened with Nietzsche.


For me Thus Spoke Zarathustra is like Fear and loathing in Las Vegas. I’m not sure if its brilliant or basically the precursor for the decent into madness. I think we need to bear in mind that Nietzsche did eventually go mad. A world without Xanax is a scary world, nothing to bring you back from the brink.

I was expecting Thus Spoke Zarathustra to be an enema for my mind. A purgative event that cleansed me and brought to closer to enlightenment. If anything I’ve decided that I prefer Nietzsche soundbites and disembodied quotes taken out of context. This seems more digestible to a person like me. Fiber be damned.


essentialism; The disciplined pursuit of less by Greg McKeown

I have a semi-rigid rule that I’ve been trying to follow; Be nice. Its been difficult for me because I’m naturally inclined towards pugnaciousness. So in order to combat my inherent nature I decided that I really had to like a book to blog about it. Besides, why would you waste your time running down a book you didn’t like?  I should just be able to move on….


Only this book is titled essentialism*. Which is one of my core tenets and I feel this sort of writing needs to be vehemently opposed. Since I can’t achieve the desired level of disapproval by kicking it in the knee cap I have to resort to verbose text instead.

*Capital letters, for example, totally not essential.

I often feel that there are MANY books out there that would have worked better as a blog post. (97.5% of all business books for example) Instead of succinctly communicating your idea in 1000 words, you pad and obscure your idea with one hundred fifty five thousand other words, package it with a well considered dust cover and then market it as something profound. More words are clearly better. essentialism breaks its own rule. Which I think is kinda funny.

Then again you can’t sell a 1000 word blog post for $11.76. Well, I suppose you could try. But then we have come to expect a certain word to dollar ratio.

I couldn’t finish essentialism. I don’t remember how far I got, maybe half way, before I started wondering, do I really need to read the rest of this? I was grinding, bored and wanted my $5.88 back.


essentialism is about concentrating on the things that matter to you.


See what I did there.

This is not something profoundly difficult to grasp. But if you put your mind to it, you can draw a simple concept out into 12 long chapters.

I should likely mention that Kevin Rose loves this book. In fact he recommended it in his news letter, which is why I bought it. Now I have to treat everything that Kevin Rose likes with suspicion. Annoying. As an aside. I do believe that this book deserves to exist. It might even appeal to some people. For all I know it could be EXACTLY what you’re looking for. So take my criticism with a pinch of salt.

I don’t really know anything about anything anyway.

Presto! How I made over 100 pounds disappear and other magical tales by Penn Jillette

Perhaps the first adherent of the potato diet, fingerling extraordinaire and connoisseur of the nightshade tuber, ladies and gentlemen, please welcome on stage, Mr Penn Jillette.

* cue applause*


I think you probably either love Penn Jillette. Or hate him.

I fall into the love Penn Jillette camp. I think he has a fantastic mind.

How I made over 100 pounds disappear and other magical tales feels like a 350 page blog. It details Penn’s journey from ‘Fat-Fuck (his words) to skinny but still freakishly tall guy, all done while documenting his newfound relationship with the ambrositic* spud.

* I’m trying turn ambrosia into an adjective. Maybe it will catch on.

I really enjoyed this book. But am likely compromised (because I have recently joined the potato-cult) and extremely bias (because I really like Penn&Teller). I blazed through this book and was entertained throughout. Penn’s writing style is quite easy going although also a bit bipolar. He can be so unbelievably clever and stylistic with language in one sentence (to the point of awe). And then completely crass and boorish in the next. It tends to lurch from one extreme to the other throughout the book. That’s just who Penn is though. He doesn’t pretend to be something he’s not.

The book is full of wit and self deprecating humor. Although not really big on the science. In so far as there is any science to this crazy diet. I mean there is some science. But its more a psychology battle I feel.

I only did the pure potato diet for three days. I have less weight to lose, so I feel I don’t have to venture into that level of extremism. I’m sure there are purists who will disagree… still it was mostly nice to read about someone else struggling with big weird feelings while their body goes into detox shock. Day four is the tough one.

This books is very niche and I’m weary of recommending it based on that. If you are a fat-fuck however, maybe this will tip you in the right direction. Maybe it will even save your life. Good luck.

Discipline Equals Freedom Field Manual by Jocko Willink

I’m not sure how I feel about this book.


It is truth wrapped in cold reptilian logic tied with a stark monochromatic  bow.

Let me start by saying that the typeface in this book was tough for me. Maybe that doesn’t really bother other people. I struggled. It was too gimmicky. I also struggled with the short clipped sentences that have had all aggrandizement murdered out of them. It written like Jocko speaks, which is likely intentional because it is completely unlike Extreme Ownership (great book and concept) and The Way of the Warrior kid (which I also really liked, probably because it had pictures).

I find Jocko quit difficult to relate to. Maybe its because I don’t see the world in black and white, good guys and bad guys, right and wrong. Maybe its because I am not a warrior.

I realize that may seem contradictory to everything I have done so far. I have trained in boxing and jujitsu almost my entire life. I am a firm adherent of the right to carry a firearm. Plus the time I spent with the Army and police service. Still, I think I would balk at being lumped into a warrior caste. I would be much happier being thought of foremost as a gardener. Which is something I like doing. Considering yourself a warrior first in my opinion, positions you on a slippery slope.

Although perhaps I can postulate another theory for my weariness, in so far as my father is very much like Jocko. In my case however, the apple fell VERY far from the tree. Likely propelled away by some almost imperceptible decline in the genetic topography. And so having landed decidedly downhill and likely upside I really struggle with this type of mindset.

Living your life like this is so alien to me, so completely devoid of whimsy that I find it a little depressing. Academically this book makes complete sense to me. Sure, if you want to succeed… do this. But first I think you need to have a good hard look at yourself and determine what your metric for success is, and what you deem will have been a life well lived.

If you’re looking to maximize efficiency, boom this is your book. Personally I prefer a gentler operating system with smoother edges. Something that allows me to sleep in every once in a while.

That’s not say I didn’t get anything out of this book. I agree with Jocko on quite a lot of what he writes (especially the martial arts stuff) It more that I think you need to be careful about postulating a personal philosophy. It often relies on the premise that your own personal philosophy is somehow inadequate or flawed. We like to emulate people we admire. Chances are your personal philosophy is just fine. Don’t let other people make you feel somehow deficient.

My concern (as well as my own experience) with life hacks is that we adopt other peoples philosophy to treat our symptoms. Instead of getting to the root cause of why we feel the way we do. Don’t fix yourself with someone else’s band-aid.

However. Don’t always read concepts you agree with. Get out of your echo-chamber once in a while. Challenge why you live the way you do. See other peoples points of view. Poke the box.

Jan Smuts – Unafraid of Greatness by Richard Steyn

If you’ve ever done anything touristy in London you have likely walked through Parliament square. Its a park wedged between the Houses of Parliament and Westminster Abbey. Eleven statues grace this square. As you might imagine, seven of these are British, the most noteworthy (in my opinion) being Winston Churchill. The other four, however are quite interesting.

There is one American, Abraham Lincoln. The other three are Nelson Mandela, Mahatma Gandhi and Jan Smuts. Two South Africans and one Indian who lived in South Africa (for twenty one years). No women. (embarrassed by this, that will soon change)

Jan Smuts lived an extraordinary life. He was an exceptional statesman, commando, soldier, botanist and philosopher. Among his lengthy list of achievements is that he is the only person to sign both treaties that ended the first and second world wars. He was instrumental in creating the RAF and served as a member of the British War Cabinet. He was a founding member of the League of Nations and then later pushed for the creation of the United Nations. He wrote the Preface to the UN Charter and is also the only person to sign both the charter of the League of Nations and the United Nations.


During the Second World War, Winston Churchill (by this stage they were BFF’s) considered him so vital to the war effort and thought so highly of him that it was decided that Smuts would be appointed as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom should Winston Churchill be killed or otherwise become incapacitated, a plan that was approved of by King George VI who was also very fond of Smuts. (Not bad for a frail, sickly, Afrikaans farm-boy who herded sheep until he was twelve years old)

Interestingly Jan Smuts and Winston Churchill first met during the second Boer War, albeit on opposing sides when Churchill was captured by the Boers. After Churchill escaped (by climbing over a latrine wall), Jan Smuts wrote the warrant for his arrest, ‘Englishman, twenty five years old, about five foot, eight inches high, walks with a bend forward, pale appearance, red-brownish hair, small mustache hardly perceptible, talks through his nose and cannot pronounce the letter ‘S’ properly’.

On Jan Smuts passing, an emotional Sir Winston Churchill told the British Parliament ‘In all the numerous fields in which he shone, warrior, statesman, philosopher, philanthropist, Jan Smuts commands in his majestic career the admiration of all. There is no personal tragedy in the close of so long and complete a life as this. But his friends who are left behind to face the unending problems and perils of human existence feel an overpowering sense of impoverishment and irreparable loss. This sense is also the measure of the gratitude with which we and lovers of freedom and civilization in every land salute his memory’.


As biographies go, this one is a very easy read. I found it read more like a novel and at 250 pages you can blaze through it in a day or two.  It doesn’t leave you with the fatigue of reading something like The history of the Peloponnesean war by Thucydides which I bought together with the above and which I’m (together with Google) STILL struggling through. The book gives you a good sense of the man and his achievements without a lot of interpretation or other background noise.

I find Jan Smuts lack of worldly renown quite interesting. He reminds me a lot George Catlett Marshall Jr. Whose name almost no-one knows, but who basically won World War two. Even in his own country Smuts occupies this weird gray area of fame. He was largely disliked by Afrikaners because of his conciliatory nature with the British after the Boer war and was perceived as an anglophile for having studied in England*. He was nick-named ‘Slim-Jannie’ by the South African media. Slim can be translated as ‘clever’ but in this sense it was meant more in a derogatory sense, probably ‘sly’. He also clashed with the Calvinist churches for his education reform (he promoted secular schooling) and his views on Holism and evolution.

*Smuts studied at Cambridge. Lord Todd the master of Christ’s College was quoted that ‘… in five hundred years of the College’s history, of all its members, past and present, three had been truly outstanding, John Milton, Charles Darwin and Jan Smuts’

Being white and coming from an era of racial intolerance in South African (and in the world at large at the time) he is now even less admired. The main international airport in Johannesburg which used to bear his name has been renamed after the Apartheid Revolutionary Oliver Reginald Tambo.

I think its easy for us to try erase the past to make it seem more palatable. We forget that we will likely be judged quite harshly by future generations for our excess, greed and intolerance. Yet we feel quite comfortable judging others. We tend to foist unrealistic expectations on people, forgetting that we are all flawed in some manner or other. It is likely that Smuts did not believe in equality, still I find myself reluctant to condemn him for it. Maybe its easy for me. Still I think forgiveness is the better option.

Jan Smut and the Boers suffered immensely during the Boer war. The British, loosing the war, resorted to the infamous Scorched earth policy* and incarcerated Boer woman and children in concentration camps where thousands died from disease and malnutrition’. (at least four thousand women and twenty thousand children died in these camps)

*this was the systematic destruction by the British Army of all Boer crops, the slaughtering of all their livestock, the burning down of their homes and farms. Water sources and wells would be poisoned and the fields sown with salt. All done to prevent the Boer commando’s from resupplying. A heinous war crime by today’s standards. 

If Jan Smuts can ‘get over’ himself and can see the bigger picture, that he can work together with his former enemy for betterment of humanity,  then so can we.

The Melancholy Death of Oyster Boy & Other Stories by Tim Burton

There once was an author called Tim
And not to read his poems should be considered a sin.
All manner of darkness is contained within
and yet you’ll chuckle and giggle and laugh at them.

He may also have done one or two movies as I understand.


No bookshelf is complete without the The Melancholy Death of Oyster Boy. In my case auspiciously (or perhaps suspiciously) wedged between Thucydides and Christopher Hitchens.  Fine company if ever there was any.

This is not my original copy. I gifted my original, which was a hardcover (which I’m a little bit sad about now) In any event I have gifted this particular book more times than any other. Its unusual, quirky and exceptionally cool. An excellent gift.

A modern day Renaissance Man, Tim committed twenty three poems to paper and then beautifully illustrated each one.  If you love A Nightmare before Christmas (and I cannot fathom why anyone wouldn’t love this movie) you will love this book. Its a little bit Roald Dahl, but maybe with a dash more macabre. With a little piece of Gary Larson floating in it. Possibly his spleen or large intestine.