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.

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!

Shoe Dog By Phil Knight

shoedog

I bought this book for my 16 year old. I wasn’t planning to read it myself.

As the cover says, it’s a memoir by the creator of Nike, Phil Knight.

My son loves shoes. He loves finding out about how people make money. And he’s a voracious reader.

My son loved it. His review: “Cool, but it all sounded a bit unbelievable.”

After he said that… I couldn’t help it. I had to read it for myself.

I loved it!

At the time of the book being published, Phil was 78 years old. He tells the story of his childhood, his education, his travels, his career pathway, the tales of setting up a business, launching NIKE, the struggles, his family life and his life lessons. He has a few “life regrets” which I do admire him for sharing.

I don’t usually read memoirs. Yet I found it exciting. Insightful. Gripping. It’s quite a ride.

It’s very easy to read. And it’s a brilliant story.

I learned so many things:

Phil was one of the first people to introduce Japanese-made sneakers into the American market.

He had to work as a full time accountant, while trying to run his shoe business.

At one point, his shoe selling business (the one he ran, before he created Nike) was making millions of dollars, but he was still flat broke.

He travelled all over the world as a young man and was introduced to different cultures and philosophies, which gave him a broad appreciation of the world and people.

And lastly… I finally realised that I will never become a billionaire. Phil’s life – as visionary and exciting as it was – was just waaaay too work focused, insanely stressful and he lived on the edge of financial ruin for years. Don’t think I could handle that, haha oh well!

The Odyssey by Homer

The Odyssey by Homer

After reading my last book, Circe by Madeline Miller, I was utterly obsessed with the Greek Gods and mythology… and I realised that I knew very little about all the classic Greek stories.

So I decided to go all hardcore and challenge my brain a bit…

I read The Odyssey by Homer.

I loved it so much, that I read TWO versions of it.

Apparently The Odyssey is the 2nd oldest book in Western literature, written around 750BC.

It’s actually an epic poem, telling the story of a hero name Odysseus trying to get home after the Trojan War, but the Gods kept messing with his journey, which involves him bumping into the Cyclops, Calypso, the sea monsters Scylla and Charybdis, the Sirens and more.

Obviously it was written in Ancient Greek, so most of the modern English editions have been translated into text that is VERY READABLE.

It’s not heavy at all. It’s a fun, adventurous read.

(Gets a bit violent in parts. Gets a bit long winded too.)

One version I read, the story was adapted into a novel form (the teal cloth-bound book in the photo above), so it reads like a story. It was written and translated in 1991 by D. C. H. Rieu. I recommend reading this version if you’re a newbie.

The other version I read, (the dark red book in the photo) retains its original poem form and it’s a lot more lyrical and rhythmic. Some words are kept in their Greek spelling such as Circe = Kirkê and Sirens =Seirênês.

But omg it’s absolutely, intoxicatingly beautiful to read as a poem.

That edition was written and translated in 1963 by Robert Fitzgerald.

(In fact, I was so intoxicated by the text, I went to the library to find another version, as I wanted to read it in a super-modern poem form, but it wasn’t as good and fun to read – and I felt that lots of the over-the-top, dramatic Greek spirit was left out. Omg listen to me crap on like this. Do feel sorry for my husband who had to hear me blabber about this every night for the 1 month it took me to read 2.5 editions).

I have now added “The Iliad by Homer” to my reading list, but I think I’ll give my brain a bit of a break haha.

Also… I think I would like to learn how to read a few words of Ancient Greek before I die :)