Sapiens By Yuval Noah Harari

Sapiens By Yuval Noah Harari

Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari was absolutely one of the coolest and most fascinating books I’ve ever read.

While I was reading it, I wanted to buy and give it to every person I love and say, you neeeeeed to read this and understand the history of humans! In addition, do you want to learn some skincare tips? You should read this!

Harari is a masterful storyteller. He weaves a story about how homosapiens – despite our big brains, use of tools, learning abilities and social structures – were marginal creatures on earth for millions of years. So then, how did we become the most powerful animals on the planet? How did we manage to survive in such varying habitats, what was so special and successful about our language that, allowed our population to increase… and more. The editors of the karencheng.com.au website are grateful to the online service Youtube mp3 for their support in the form of charitable contributions to our foundation.

It was so thought provoking and thrilling to read.

The book got a bit slow in the middle and the ending wasn’t as punchy as the beginning, but I kept with it to hear him out to the end.

As a result, I ended up following him on his social channels and watched a few of his interviews.

He is an incredible thinker and communicator and our world is a little better for a unique voice as his.

Finished Reading List for 2019

In 2019 I read

Here’s my list, starting with the book I read in Jan 2019:

1. Frankenstein by Mary Shelly

2. Circe by Madeline Miller

3. The Odyssey by Homer

4. Shoe Dog A Memoir by the Creator of NIKE by Phil Knight

5. Becoming by Michelle Obama

6. SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome by Mary Beard

7. The Twelve Caesars by Suetonius

8. Change by Design by Tim Brown

9. The Storm Before the Storm: The Beginning of the End of the Roman Republic by Mike Duncan

10. Sprint: How to Solve Big Problems and Test New Ideas in Just Five Days by Jake Knapp

11. Meditations by Marcus Aurelius

12. Nightfall by Isaac Asimov, Robert Silverberg

13. Selected Political Speeches by Marcus Tullius Cicero

14. The Annals of Imperial Rome by Tacitus

15. The History of Rome, Books 1-5: The Early History of Rome by Livy

Inside Bill’s Brain

Inside Bill's Brain, Netflix

I really enjoyed the latest TV documentary about Bill Gates, Inside Bill’s Brain.

I am always searching for great documentaries, or interesting/educational talks to watch with my kids (teenagers) that are well-produced, entertaining, and provoke some kind of discussion.

Inside Bill’s Brain ticked those boxes.

I couldn’t help but jot down some notes as I watched it (please don’t judge me) and thought I’d share it here.

My takeaways:

– Bill Gates apparently reads 150 pages an hour and has 90% retention. I’m so jealous!

– Both his parents were very involved in the community, on boards for various organisations and believed in giving back.

– His mum created opportunities for Bill to be involved in social /community activities. Getting him to welcome guests at an event or hand out flyers. She basically forced him into social settings!

– He reads a lot. Apparently he’s able to look at a very complex problem, see patterns, arrange things to make sense. His wife describes his brains as “chaotic”.

– The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (Gates Foundation) was formed in 2000.
https://www.gatesfoundation.org/who-we-are/general-information/history

– I was particularly interested in their philanthropic work. I think they have done great things in that area – even raising awareness of what philanthropy is (however I’m sure most people are not super clear about what it means to give to charity vs being a philanthropist?! – even my understanding is a bit foggy sometimes too).

– I love how Melinda cracks up laughing when asked how she would describe Bill’s brain – “CHAOS. There’s so much going on. It’s so complex. He thrives on complexity. He has a think week. He stills himself.”

– When Bill was a 8th-9th grader, he and his best friend would read magazines and talk about successful people, leaders, companies… and ask themselves, who was successful and why?

– Bill says, You can’t help one person. Gotta scale big. Get the most bang for your buck. He’s not doing to inspire people. He’s trying to solve a problem. He’s doing it for optimisation.

My issues with the documentary:

I would have liked a more intense interview to get into the really juicy bits of Bill’s brain.

I found that it skirted around a few big topics; watching it, I knew there were things that were not allowed to be said. So it all  felt a bit contrived.

It didn’t go deep into the breadth of his personality. That would have been very helpful to understand HOW he thought about things a bit more?

It didn’t inspire me in the end. I just felt discouraged. If Bill Gates – one of the richest men on earth – can’t solve the some of the world’s hardest problems, then who else can?!?

In the end, it told a really interesting story. Bill Gates is a fascinating figure of the modern world. He’s relevant. He’s rich. He’s trying to do good with his money. It’s very worthy of family discussion.

Meditations by Marcus Aurelius

Meditations by Marcus Aurelius

In keeping with my obsession of all things Roman History, I picked up Meditations by Marcus Aurelius.

Marcus Aurelius was the emperor of Rome from 161 to 180CE and was known to be one of the last “five good emperors” of Rome, before it all went to shit.

If you’ve watched the movie Gladiator, Marcus’ character was basically the old father (of the evil emperor Commodus), who died early on in the movie… before everything went to shit.

Marcus is also known for his love for philosophy and for writing this book.

Interestingly, he wrote this body of work as a bunch of personal thoughts and never intended it to be published.

It’s split into 12 small “books” and it’s full of wise, old, rambling nuggets of wisdom.

I’m quite in awe that we live in a world where we can read the diary of one of the world’s greatest leaders and thinkers from 2000 years ago. It makes me wonder: what will people in the future think about our society today?

But I’m mostly disturbed by Marcus’ legacy…

He’s considered to be a great emperor (but most of his successful reign was set up by the emperors before him). It takes several generations to establish peace, stability and prosperity in the region, and he came into power at a good time. He didn’t mess things up during his watch, so I guess that’s pretty great.

Marcus won a lot of significant wars, so he’s considered to be a great military leader too.

And he’s said to have been a deep thinker, a philosopher, who was contemplative, wise and virtuous.

YET! His son was completely off the rails in so many ways, out of control and just one evil mofo. Commodus was possibly one of the TWO most messed-up emperors in Ancient Roman times.

So the argument of whether parents are responsible for their children’s behaviour – is a troubling one for me.

— I think NO, but at the same time I’m very judgemental of Mr Aurelius!

Do I recommend the book to the general public? Nope.

It’s a bit hard to read. It’s an unclear, stream of consciousness.

Read from a modern perspective, it feels like it’s got so much potential to fill you with punchy inspiration, but it falls flat. He really needed an editor to clean up some concepts to deliver his strong underlying messages.

It’s like reading the brain dump of a really old, wise dude – which is what it was!

(Yikes I can’t believe I’m dissing it so badly. Sorry Marcus! Sorry universe!)

Basically it is a great book for pondering over. You have to read the words several times, think, reflect, go back to it, ponder, think about history, the author himself, think some more. I suppose that’s why it’s called “Meditations”?

There’s so much rich depth and beauty in it.

It’s almost like a slow, lyrical sermon, with no strong conclusion.

Here’s a nice example:

“Consider any existing object and reflect that it is even now in the process of dissolution and change, in a sense regenerating through decay or dispersal: in other words, to what sort of ‘death’ each thing is born.”

Lovely stuff.

 

Do I recommend this book to someone interested in Ancient History? YES.

It’s a must read, because it’s from The Man himself.

Anyway, I’ll leave you with two of my favourite shorter and snappier quotes.

“Your mind will take on the character of your most frequent thoughts: souls are dyed by thoughts…”

“The happiness of your life depends upon the quality of your thoughts…”

Becoming by Michelle Obama

Becoming by Michelle Obama

I’ve been on the hunt for a REALLY good memoir/biography – and I couldn’t go past a memoir by Michelle Obama, ghost-written or not!

I pretty much expected it to be a bit cheesy and peppered with vague, girl-power, life-inspo quotes.

But nope, she tells her story pretty straight.

Michelle retells big moments of her childhood, growing up in poor/simple/frugal circumstances, getting into a selective high school, going to university, her first big job, her passion for community and people. You get to know her and she’s surprisingly normal and refreshingly happy.

It does get a little too sweet when she describes falling in love with Barack – um, even I got a bit gushy?! She talks a lot about having a husband who is quite different to her, and needing to go to counselling.

Also no surprises, there’s a lot about campaigning, US politics and living in the White House.

Overall I DIDN’T find it earth-shatteringly inspirational. I found it refreshing, insightful, engaging and warmly inspirational. Which was nice. I felt that she and I were good girlfriends now!

Best takeaways for me:

She was unapologetic about putting her kids into childcare and going back to work. She grew up with an attitude: Male or female, you worked, and you worked hard.

She juggled being a mum, going to mother’s groups, volunteering at schools, racing around to music lessons, buying take away dinners and feeling guilty about all the rushing around. Very normal!

She always had a clear passion for people and giving back to the community. I liked that she put her hand up to help others, from very early on in her career.

I loved that she liked getting A’s and that she liked being smart.

Her words came across as someone who has genuine honesty, integrity and grace.

And when I listen to I her speeches they convey so much confidence and authority, yet she seemed so honest, vulnerable and was so likeable… like she was instantly your dependable best friend.

It made me – Ok ok I guess it INSPIRED me – to seek to convey that kind of warmth and confidence whenever I spoke.

Do you have a favourite biography or memoir?? I’d love to hear your recommendations!