Book Review — Coming into the Country

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Cross-posted from Goodreads

It’s said that Coming into the Country is one of the finest books on Alaska and wilderness ever written. That may be true, but I wouldn’t know as this is the only book on wilderness I’ve read. I picked up this book from The Tim Ferriss Show podcast episode with David Heinemeier Hansson.

At the outset, one likes the literary style used by McPhee to describe complex sceneries and wildlife. The detailing is so vivid that one wonders if the author was taking notes every minute of his stay in Alaska. Perhaps there’s an element of fiction in this nonfiction work, one continues to ponder. The fact that McPhee is considered a pioneer in creative nonfiction writing probably solves this puzzle. I discovered this fact after finishing the book. As an aspiring writer, there is much to learn from McPhee’s mastery of describing everyday objects and extraordinary stories with the same panache that makes them sound entertaining.

The book is divided into three parts — expeditions in the wilderness (around the Brooks mountain range), life & politics in towns and cities (Juneau, Fairbanks, Anchorage), and stories of settlers in the wild (in and around Eagle and the Yukon river). Each part approaches Alaska with a different theme, tonality, and sentiment.

I was amazed to discover in part 1 that Alaska is not all that white all through the year. In part 2, it was enlightening to know the differences in the attitudes of villagers and townsfolk, and the power struggle ensuing from statehood and the construction of Trans-Alaska pipeline.

I had mixed feelings about part 3 where McPhee tells the stories of people with roots in the “lower forty-eight states” who have adopted Alaska (come into the country) as their new home, and of the indigenous people, their modernization, and attitude toward the government. A handful stories of capitalistic Alaskans provides some contrast, but the last part of the book is mostly dominated by isolation-loving folks who wanted to live a life of self-sufficiency away from civilization. Trappers, hunters, fur traders, nomads, Indians… you’ll find them all in there. To be honest, I enjoyed the initial few stories but after a while, the narrative became repetitive and redundant. It made me a bit impatient, wanting to finish the rest of the book ASAP. I even skipped a few pages, something I never do.

All in all, it’s a good book to learn about a very different part of Earth — its climate, wildlife, culture, habits of people, civilization, etc. I had never read such a book before, so it took me more will and effort to read it till the end. Maybe people with excellent reading skills will cruise through this one much better than I did.

Book Review — The Psychology of Money

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Cross-posted from Goodreads

The book presents a collection of simple and neat ideas around how to think about managing your money. Notice my emphasis on “how to think about managing” rather than “how to manage.” I guess the title itself makes it abundantly clear that rather than discussing “proven” formulae for increasing your wealth it will talk about the psychological or emotional part of wealth management.

It’s much like how the book Never Split the Difference: Negotiating As If Your Life Depended On It discusses the various tactics of negotiating in the light of human behavior and emotions. So, rather than giving you step-by-step techniques to increase money, it tries to convince you to change your mindset and lifestyle in order to be wealthy. The author nicely backs his arguments up with some good real-world stories and examples. I found it thought-provoking enough to take away a lot of ideas for my own good, and note them down in my personal diary.

If I were to reduce the book to one or two lines, it would be this — the only way to get rich is to save more, be consistent and patient with your investments, believe in the power of compounding, and the ideal financial goal is to be able to do whatever the fish you want to do in life.

The postscript chapter on how the American economy became the biggest in the world through self-sustenance and internal growth is an interesting read. Not to be skipped!

Book Review — Never Split the Difference

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Cross-posted from Goodreads

Practical, on-the-ground tips from a long-time FBI hostage negotiator. While some tips from hostage crises may not translate 1:1 to business or personal negotiations, most of them do (you’ll instinctively feel so).

The author does an excellent job in pushing across two major takeaways — (a) you cannot separate out emotion from negotiation (rationality is intrinsically based on emotions or worldviews) and (b) do not run/shy away from difficult conversations even when you feel uncomfortable (conflict, however small or big, is part of human interactions and not such a bad thing – it requires collaboration to resolve it).

Tips shared in the book certainly feel more modern than the techniques presented in You Can Negotiate Anything: The World’s Best Negotiator Tells You How To Get What You Want (Voss even explicitly points that out somewhere in the middle of the book). Still, a lot of stuff in Cohen’s book feels still relevant, at least from a confidence-boosting perspective. I’d take good parts from both the books to test my newly learned skills in the real world.

Book Review — Dark Matter

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Cross-posted from Goodreads

Dark Matter is a rare, well-written concoction of science fiction and thrill. It is a tale that illustrates the horrors of living in the multiverse, reminiscent of how Chistopher Nolan’s Interstellar told of the horrors of time travel.

Through all the shock and terror, it’s a story of a ‘regular’ family man who despite the horror or because of it comes to realize what matters most to him in life – his wife and son – and is ready to do anything to get them back. Despite the seemingly grim backdrop, the story moves along optimistically at a quick pace. The various monologues of Jason Dessen, the protagonist, are lovable and so relatable.

Jason’s character development is so well down as to be an inspiration for your own creative writing endeavors. The story is neatly written and polished, and the overarching premise is exceptionally original.

Book Review — A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy

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Cross-posted from Goodreads

Seneca, Musonius, Epictetus, Marcus Aurelius… these famous Roman stoics would be happy to see their philosophies being passed on to the twenty-first-century civilization with a pragmatic simplicity.

This one has to be one of the few philosophical books written in a clear, direct, and instructive language. Understanding the Stoic way of life can itself be challenging. However, Dr. Irvine has done a fantastic job at simplifying definitions, histories, bios, and the Stoic philosophy itself using plenty of relatable analogies. The text is a little repetitive, though, but repetition may be good or bad depending on how well one retains the lessons. I don’t mind repetition as I am a relatively slow reader, so a refresher after a couple of days feels good.

I think the book has done its job to convince me about the benefits of Stoicism and the possibility to try it without much effort and side effects.