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Hande Z (Singapore)
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The Worm at the Core: On the Role of Death in Life
The Worm at the Core: On the Role of Death in Life
by Sheldon Solomon
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £15.00

4.0 out of 5 stars Right to the core, 22 Jun. 2015
The three authors of this book are psychologists who met in the 1970's in their common research into the fundamental motivations of human behaviour. Inspired by a book by Ernst Becker called 'The Denial of Death', they felt as if that book was the Rosetta Stone of their endeavour. In this book the authors expound their views that it is the thought of death and our attitude to death that shape and direct our lives.

Humans are infused with a heightened sense of sel-esteem, explained by the authors as 'the feeling that one is a valuable participant in a meaningful universe. This feeling of personal significance is what keeps our deepest fears at bay'. They trace the history of the early primate to modern human and the creation of myth and religion as sources that help him cope with the threat of the loss of self-esteem and death. They go on to show that in modern times, even non-religious intellectuals 'have tried to use logic and reason rather than faith to convince themselves and their fellow humans that the soul is everlasting'.

They discuss how death thoughts creap into the minds of people with mental illness such as schizophrenia, and how such people cope - often with 'grandiose delusions, imagining themselves as magically omnipotent and physically invulnerable'. They discuss the influence of death in phobias and obsessive compulsive disorders.

The authors lead to the final part of their book with 'Coming to terms with death' by asking how would we face the 'cold reality' that one day our 'wonderful soft body' is 'going the way of all other animals and humans that have existed before [us]. They explore the transcience and the transcendance modes of making peace with death, thus emphasising Albert Camus' simple but difficult axiom: Come to terms with death. Thereafter anything is possible'.


The Tale of Genji (Vintage Classics)
The Tale of Genji (Vintage Classics)
by Murasaki Shikibu
Edition: Paperback

4.0 out of 5 stars Shorter and as sweet, 21 Jun. 2015
The original work is far longer than the 360 pages of this edition. This is a translation by E.G. Seidensticker. The editors merely removed some chapters entirely from the original 1,000 plus-page book. The chapters that were removed were side stories that do not affect the main plot. Hence, for readers who prefer an abridged version, this edition is the answer. If not, there are a couple of translations of the full book including one by Seidensticker.

I have the Royall Tyler translation and was looking forward to comparing that with Seidensticker's unabridged version, but I found that the editors or proof-readers responsible for that edition (Seidensticker's unabridged translation) did the publisher and all concerned a disservice in not spotting the error in the Introduction (page ix was missing and in its place page x was repeated). I initially gave the Seidensticker unabridged version a solitary star because of the poor edioial work. However, I have since persevered and read it in comparison not only to the Tyler translation but also the 2010 Arthur Waley translation (Tuttle Publishers) and found that Seidensticker version reads most easily among the three. Seidensticker's first line reads: "In a certain reign there was a lady not of the first rank whom the emperor loved more than any of the others." Tyler's: "In a certain reign (whose could it have been?) someone of no very great rank, among all His Majesty's Consorts and Intimates, enjoyed exceptional favour." Waley's: "At the Court of the Emperor (he lived it matters not when) there was among the many gentlewomen of the Wardrobe and Chamber one, who though she was not of very high rank was favoured far beyond all the rest;" sic. Not familiar with Japanese, I am unable to say which was the more faithful translation.

The Introduction by Seidensticker himself was as informative as that in Tyler's, but Denis Washburn's Introduction in the Waley translation was mainly a long synopsis of the story.


Alibaba's World: How a remarkable Chinese company is changing the face of global business
Alibaba's World: How a remarkable Chinese company is changing the face of global business
by Porter Erisman
Edition: Paperback
Price: £13.48

4.0 out of 5 stars Open sesame, 19 Jun. 2015
‘One of the reasons Alibaba survived is because I know nothing about computers. I’m like a blind man riding on the back of a blind tiger’ so said Jack Ma (a co-founder and the main face of Alibaba) in a speech he made in 2006 as recounted by Erisman, a vice president in Alibaba. Erisman tells us that a man was crouched in that packed auditorium copying down every word Jack Ma said. That man was none other than Jeff Bezos of Amazon. In this fascinating and exhilarating book, Erisman tells the story of Jack Ma and Alibaba – how the company grew from its place of birth in a little apartment in Hangzhou to the company that went IPO for $25 billion in 2014, eating up eBay, Google, Facebook, and Twitter – combined.

Erisman tells how Jack Ma quietly told him one day that Alibaba was going to war with eBay, and how Alibaba eventually won. Victory was a result of Ma’s vision and ambition as well as eBay’s strategic errors such as forcing its China customers to adopt its Western platform, and giving up their online names whenever it conflicts with a name from eBay’s Western customer. Alibaba’s Alipay also proved superior to eBay’s Paypal.
Larry Page and Sergey Brin went calling on Ma and company in 2004. Erisman’s account of that meeting showed how ignorant the ‘Google people’ were of Alibaba and how business is done in China. In spite of genuine efforts to steer between its moral choice of free trading and accepting self-censorship, Google eventually pulled out of China, leaving the path free for Alibaba and Yahoo! To make the ‘Deal heard ‘Round the World’.

Erisman has since left Alibaba but he believes that ‘we can expect Alibaba to continue to grow its ecosystem and plug in more related services, such as cloud computing, logistics, navigation, and mapping’. The West has always touted its democratic and business models as superior to any in the East. They must surely learn a lesson or two from Jack Ma, an English language teacher from an autocratic China.


Oxford Studies in Philosophy of Religion Volume 6
Oxford Studies in Philosophy of Religion Volume 6
by Jonathan Kvanvig
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £55.00

3.0 out of 5 stars Non sequitur, 16 Jun. 2015
This latest volume edited by J Kvanvig is a continuation of the series in which theology comes packaged as philosophy. It would have been more accurate to name the series 'Oxford Studies in Religion'. The core of every essay in the series is premised on the existence of God. Thereafter, the writers proceed to spin a circuitous logic in support of their theme. Robert Koons essay in vol 1 entitled 'Epistemological Foundations for the Cosmological Argument' is an example. Citing the logic of Alvin Plantinga, Koons goes on to construct a logical structure to show that the premise that there is a first cause is valid. Koons does not answer the unanswerable question, 'If everything as a first cause, what in his view, was the first cause?' He alludes, but cleverly does not say, that the first cause is God. Had he done so it would lead to an inquiry in which he would have no answers: What are the features and attributes of this God? He has to define the cause. An even more daunting task for Christians who accept the cosmological argument (there are many of them) is to show the evidential and logical basis for identifying the first cause as Jesus. This volume seems to have jumped ahead of volume 5 because the volume before this is volume 4 published in 2012.


Confucius
Confucius
by Michael Schuman
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £19.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Towards a more sgely world, 16 Jun. 2015
This review is from: Confucius (Hardcover)
Schumann traces the teachings and influence of Confucius over a period 2,500 years. Confucius was born about 406 BCE and died in 479 BCE. Though clearly not a deity he has been revered almost as one. Confucius believed in character development as a means of attaining man’s inherent goodness. He taught how one can achieve moral uprightness (without which no emperor would be mandated by heaven to rule). Filial piety and education are some of Confucianism’s notable precepts but perhaps the most enlightening and universal one is the ‘Golden Rule’, ‘Do not do to others what you would not have others do to you’. That has not only found its way into the thoughts of Western philosophers like Immanuel Kant, but also Western religions such as Christianity.
During his lifetime when the rulers of China were preoccupied with armies and military prowess Confucius tried to tell them ‘that they were going about nation-building the wrong way’. He taught that benevolence was the only correct way to rule. He left behind great scholars like Mencius and Xunzhi who have become as well-known as he was.
Schuman tells us that Confucianism went through a period of change after the Sage’s death, and what might today be regarded as Confucianism are in fact, Neo-Confucianism. That is not a fault but a strength because the Neo-Confucians brought Confucianism to the masses. Much of Neo-Confucianism occurred in the Song Dynasty, but Schuman points out later in his book, the progress continues. Indeed it is his hope that Confucianism we might invent ‘a new Confucius for our age’.
Schuman’s view that Confucianism has much to offer in modern lies in the economic and political development in East Asia. Before coming to that, Schuman describes how Communism during the Cultural revolution found Confucianism to be an enemy of the people because Mao tried to rid China of the ‘Four Olds’ – old customs, old habits, old culture, and old thinking. No one represented the four olds more than Confucius, who thus became the chief public enemy. Even his tomb was desecrated.
But today, many Asian countries have become successful through Confucian practices and ethics. Schuman devoted many pages to the development of Singapore, quoting its former Prime Minister, Lee Kuan Yew and erstwhile education minister, Goh Keng Swee, for their embrace of the Confucian way of governance. The Institute of East Asian Studies was set up by Goh as a Confucian institute. Schuman compares Western capitalistic models with Singapore’s Confucian driven model and concluded that the West today might be making the same mistake as Max Weber who thought that Confucianism lacked the Protestant ‘spirit’ to drive capitalism. While it may be true that Protestantism seeks to change the world whereas Confucianism teaches one to adapt to the world, Schuman says: ‘Now Lee [Kuan Yew] and others had reversed the argument: zeroing in on the success of East Asia, they came to the conclusion that Asian values were better than Western values’.
Quoting Lee again, Schuman writes, ‘Over the last 30 years, one of the driving forces that made Singapore succeed was that the majority of the people placed the importance of the welfare of the society above the individual, which is a basic Confucianist concept’. Schuman devotes a chapter entitled ‘Confucius the Communist’ and describes how China has grown by changing its attitude towards Confucianism. The Confucius that some Chinese leaders see as critical to China’s future may not be the original Confucius but the Confucian, not Western, model of capitalism and democracy has been the way forward. One of the things the Xi Jinping did as the new leader of China, was to visit the grave of Confucius.


The Globalization of Inequality
The Globalization of Inequality
by François Bourguignon
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £16.56

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The inequality virus, 11 Jun. 2015
Bourguignon starts by explaining and defining the scope of inequality. There is inequility of individual earnings, personal incomes, family incomes, consumer spending, and individual economic well-being. He also discusses inequality between nations as well as inequality within nations, explaining the differences and connection between the two. How is it that with ostensible wealth increasing throughout the world, inequality both between nations and within nations seem to be increasing? In his effort to present a complete picture, Bourguignon also discusses the non-monetary inequalities such as social justice and inequalities of opportunities.

Bourguignon explores the forces behind the rising inequalities - such as the regulation and control of labour, and also the control of minimum wages which, on the one hand, raises the incomes of the lower wage earners but also increases unemployment resulting in further inequality. He examines the factors that lead to inequality and the effect of globalization on rising inequality. Bourguignon discusses the policies for a fairer globalization, noting the use of economic aid currently in use and the debatable outcome, he turns to education but sees the problems in implementation.

This is a rich and thought-provoking book, warning that the inequality between nations in the past two centuries might spread like a virus creating huge inequalities within nations. The prevention requires both international and national interventions, but are the politicians able to concur?


Strategy Rules: Five Timeless Lessons from Bill Gates, Andy Grove, and Steve Jobs
Strategy Rules: Five Timeless Lessons from Bill Gates, Andy Grove, and Steve Jobs
by David B. Yoffie
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £15.90

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Five rules to ring them in, 10 Jun. 2015
The authors are professors from Harvard and MIT. They spent 30 years studying the three men, Bill Gates, Andy Grove, and Steve Jobs – former CEOs of Microsoft, Intel, and Apple, respectively. This book contains their analysis of how they made their companies so successful. It is not a biographical work in which pages and pages turn on the statistics that show how their companies become the giants that they are today, nor is this an historical account of the slow rise of these three men. This book dives straight to the results of the 30-year research.
The authors are of the view that there were three rules which the three men observed fervently and consistently. The authors set out these five rules as their opinion of the formula and not as the usual management mission statement. The five rules are as follows.

The first rule is, ‘Look forward, reason back’. The authors reasoned that strategy is always forward-looking, but history’s lessons must be also be learnt. They caution that in planning strategies one cannot assume that the future will always be like the past. Looking forward means anticipating the needs of customers; then looking back to see what one’s capabilities are. Grove, having expanded Intel, realised that the way forward was to concentrate on its core business and not compete with its customers.

The second rule is to ‘make big bets without betting the company’. The authors are of the view that: ‘Great strategists do the non-obvious, the difficult, and the counter-intuitive in order to alter the landscape in their favor’. The authors analyse how Gates, Grove, and Jobs place their bets at crucial periods. Gates went big when Microsoft was strong enough so that the threat of bankruptcy was low.

The third rule is, ‘Build platforms and Ecosystems – not just products’. This requires a vision of what the company and its business is capable of. In the context of the authors’ analysis, ‘Platforms bring individuals or groups together for a common purpose, usually with access to shared resources’ – such as reaching out to IBM when it went to Microsoft looking for an operating system. Gates made the DOS (‘Disk Operating System’) a universal system and not just a product for IBM.

The fourth rule is ‘Exploit leverages and Power – Play Judo and Sumo’. This requires one to ‘stay under the radar’, and like a page from Sun Zi’s ‘Art of War’, keep your enemies close, but at the same time embrace and extend the competitors’ strengths. Instead of buying Universal Music and making enemies of all music labels, Jobs took the harmless line, ‘What harm could it possibly do to license us the music on the Mac?’ The authors explain how ‘throwing one’s weight’ helps. The use of ‘vaporware’ by Gates is one example – this is the tactic of preannouncing new lines when the product is far from complete. It unsettles the customers of competitors.

The fifth rule is, ‘Shape the organization around your personal anchor’. The authors here show how, despite their personal flaws, the three men drove performances and organizational effectiveness. ‘Although willing to be proved wrong, each CEO saw himself as the smartest man in the room.’ This rule implicitly requires deep personal insight (although one might question whether arrogant men have this quality). This rule requires one to ‘pay extraordinary attention to detail’ but ‘never lose sight of the big picture’, and to ‘give power to the people with “the knowledge”’.

If the slant of this book is towards depicting the three CEOs as men of vision, it might have given less credit to the role of luck that ran the course of their lives and their companies – as indeed it does everything in this universe.


Pressed for Time: The Acceleration of Life in Digital Capitalism
Pressed for Time: The Acceleration of Life in Digital Capitalism
by Judy Wajcman
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £17.00

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars No time to lose, 6 Jun. 2015
With the industrial revolution gaining steam John Maynard Keynes felt optimistic enough to declare that in the future we need only work 3 hours a day. The rest of the time we can devote to the pursuit of leisure. Here we are today screaming for work-life balance and ‘quality time’. The advancement in technology is so astounding that Keynes cannot even imagine what machines can do today. Yet why is it that his general imagination of a more leisurely life seem as distant today as it was before?

Wajcman is a sociologist who studies the effect of machines on us, and the effect we have on them, and the connection between the two fields is where we can find the answers about the shortage of time. Wajcman first puts things in context and perspective by making sure that the premises are objective and uncontroversial. We have the same 24 hours a day. So when we feel pressed for time it is not because the hours have grown shorter or that there are fewer hours now. Cars move so much faster than a horse and carriage but Wajcman points out that in congested London, it takes a car just as long to travel the same distance a horse and carriage used to do.

Wajcman’s thesis is that technology and machines are not the cause of pressing us for time. She believes that it is human nature and culture that have yet to harness technology properly. We tend to make busyness a badge of distinction when often it is just a mark of incompetence or deceit. But working in the internet age with constant connectivity is a challenge if we wish to realise the Keynesian dream. We must realise, as Wajcman tells us, that ‘The very same machines that can make us feel harried also free up time, allowing for greater autonomy, flexibility, and versatility in how we organize human affairs.’ It is true that technology now allows work to intrude into our leisure time, just as it allows us to carry out personal activities during work.

Wacjman presents a clear and thoughtful study determined to show that technological acceleration does not ‘necessarily hasten the pace of our everyday lives’. She takes into account many cultural changes such as the impact of women in the workforce and men at home. Perhaps we might soon learn how to use machines to our advantage.


The Edge: Is the Military Dominance of the West Coming to an End?
The Edge: Is the Military Dominance of the West Coming to an End?
by Mark Urban
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £9.09

5.0 out of 5 stars Prophet or Alarmist?, 27 May 2015
The Edge is gone. Mark Urban believes that the economic and military might of the West, namely, America and Europe, has deteriorated so much that the West has now lost the ability to ‘deter people in parts of the world from doing desperate things’.

The ‘worst case’ scenario that Urban depicts is scary. What makes it chilling is that it is happening. Urban illustrates the helplessness in which the West, post Iraq and Afghanistan, faces the display of violence or aggression by non-states such as ISIS and Boko Haram, and states such as Russia and China. Russia has got its way, mostly, with the events in Ukraine and the Crimea. China is flexing its muscles in disputed territories.

Urban fears that soon, India, Brazil, and even Iran and North Korea may become embolden by the fact that the West can no longer muster the money, equipment, and will to stand in their way. In this book, Urban provides an account of the areas in which Russia and China are racing ahead of the West. For example, he thinks that Russia now has the ability to detect stealth aircraft, thus rendering the new F-35 fighter-bomber obsolete even before it begins production. The West has no equivalent of the Russian BUK type missiles that (he says) shot down the Malaysian civilian aircraft over the Ukraine.

The greater fear is that the West may resort to nuclear weapons now that it is unable to meet its enemies in a conventional war. This makes brinkmanship and leadership matters of great importance. If Putin is bad, his successor might be worse. If Western airplanes provoke Russian and Chinese ones, it only takes an incident to trigger a major conflict. Furthermore, a weakened West may also be dragged into conflict by its treaty allies picking fights with Russia and China.
Urban does not offer any positive outlook.


Our Ageing Brain
Our Ageing Brain
by André Aleman
Edition: Paperback
Price: £12.08

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Never too old, 24 May 2015
This review is from: Our Ageing Brain (Paperback)
This is a book that will interest every aging person. Aleman begins by describing the different types of memories and the rate and process in which they deteriorate as we age. He also discusses the difference between the processes of storing and accessing memories. Older people tend to have difficulty repressing irrelevant information and that contributes to ‘poor memory’ because we need to free the space so that relevant information can be accessed more quickly.

Next Aleman discusses the different types of dementia, of which Alzheimer’s disease is the most prevalent. Dementia occurs with age but at different rates for different people – and also in different degrees and forms. He writes about the case of an 82-year-old woman who thought that she would soon die and so decided to donate her body for science. When she reached 111 she called up the University Medical Center Groningen and asked if such an old body was still useful. The Center visited her and explained that it would be very useful if they could ask her to perform some cognitive tests. She did very well and took the test again when she was 112 and again when she was 114. She could recall stories better than a 70-year-old. All that occurs with changes to the brain. Aleman discusses this in great detail in his chapter on ‘Forgetfulness or Dementia?’ Here he describes the forms of Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI) and how they lead to dementia. He tells us what can be done about MCI.

All is not bleak for older people because Aleman reports that older people are emotionally more stable and also calmer. He gives an account of why this is so. He also discusses the reasons that causes depression in older people. Many of the causes are related to an aging brain, but older people, he reports, are actually less depressed than younger people. Further, the reasons for their depression are also different. Some of which is due to the fact that they are, physically, more dependent on others.

Aleman also discusses the types of food that might help slow down the deterioration of the brain. He reports on the studies of pills and supplements such as Omega-3. He also discusses why exercise is relevant. He concludes with a chapter called, ‘The Best Possible Brain’ in which he summarises the factors that help older people understand and cope with the aging brain.


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