Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Why The West Rules~For Now

This short review is written by a friend of the Buku Project's, Nazri Awang*

This brilliant book is written by Ian Morris, a professor of history at Stanford University. In it, he argues that it is geography rather than racial supremacy, religion, or luck that somehow shapes the world as we know it today. From the start to finish, the author tries to compress and summarize 15000 years of humanity development into a comprehensive analysis of bits and pieces of history, as left by our ancestors.

Over the very long period of human existence, the old world was already shaped by its two geographically unique communities of the east and the west. Morris focused more on the biggest and most developed civilizations at different time instances, therefore some empires were not mentioned as frequently as the more prosperous ones. The main theme of the book was about the advantage of backwardness, explaining how a previously laggard, poorly governed area can evolve in a span of a few hundred years, overtaking the previous super-power.

Western centre of civilization had changed plenty of times, from the ashes of the Greek empire, more city-states sprawled and grew faster than ever. The Romans, Persians, ancient Egyptians were the stars of their time, each one of them occupying distinct prosperous period. Renaissance movement induced more development in northern Europe, Britain in particular. However, in 20th century Pax Britannica slowly faded away and from there, came the new super-power in the form of the Great United States of America.

A similar kind of development was unfolding in the east as well, largely in Chinese mainland. Throughout history, it was not always the west who hold the the winner cap. The east was far on top for a few hundred years before western Europe bounced back from its dark age. Again, applying the theory of advantages of backwardness, the hegemony of the world will always change, favouring those who successfully adapt themselves to the changes in humanity evolution faster and better than the rest, it is inevitable.

"The farther backward you can look, the farther forward you are likely to see." ~ Churchill

*Nazri Awang is a final year MORSE student at the University of Warwick and is expected to graduate in a few months. Nazri now lives in Coventry and keeps a very informative blog: http://www.nazriawang.com/

Friday, January 14, 2011


This review is written by a friend of the Buku Project's, Hamedullah Muhammad*

Outlier (def): A person or thing away from others or outside its proper place.

Often, when we read about a success story or a rags-to-riches tale, it talks much about the person. It talks about sacrifice, dedication, perseverance and uncompromising attitude.

More often than not, we will also come across something along the line of "..despite his poor background..." or "..although disadvantaged in.." or something similar. Well, "Outliers" is a book about success. But, it is also about why we should, instead of saying "despite" and "although", say "because".

The author, Malcolm Gladwell, divides this book into two chapters. The first is entitled Opportunity. Malcolm asserts that in order to make sense of success, we need to look at a bigger picture rather than merely concentrate on individuals. He talks about advantage, opportunity and luck; inter alia

  • How being born in the first four months of the year can make one a professional ice hockey player in Canada,
  • Why without Hamburg there would be no The Beatles,
  • Why out of 70 of the richest people throughout human history 20 are Americans born around 1834 and
  • Why IQ scores don't really matter.

By the end of chapter one, you will get a sense of what Malcolm wanted to convey; success is not as individualistic as we have come to acknowledge it today. He said “the biggest misconception about success is that we do it solely on our smarts, ambition, hustle and hard work”.

His second chapter is titled 'Legacy'. Malcolm argues that we have become a society too wary of making generalization. We thought that it would be rude to associate success or in more obvious case, failure with race or culture. We're afraid that we may appear to be undermining people. Malcolm begs to differ. He mentions about:

  • How being a Korean or Colombian flight pilot makes one more prone to crash a plane in the 70's, and
  • How Korean Airlines turned from notoriously known for plane crashes to one of the safest in the world today.

Interestingly, Malcolm also tackles the "Asians are good at math" notion in one of the subchapters entitled Rice Paddies and Math, explaining the influence of language and rice paddies on children's mathematical ability.

Malcolm has an extraordinary skill of turning dry statistic data, one that would probably bore us in its raw form, into something we can identify with and worth pondering over. This book is not in any way undermining the determination and effort of successful individuals. It is merely saying that success has a blueprint; it is a function of opportunity and legacy. Success is intertwined with society. Bigger forces are at play. And they could be measured. And what gets measured gets managed.

The enjoyment of reading Outliers, in my opinion, comes from its ability to make one think "I am an outlier". Not that one could become successful suddenly. But one would become more appreciative of his/her world and possibly would look harder for opportunity and chance. That is probably the main message Malcolm wanted to pass through; that success can be shared to everybody if we as a society can make sense of it.

*Hamedullah graduated from UCL in Naval Architecture and Marine Engineering.He's currently employed by MISC Bhd. Being a Malaysian, he started taking interest in reading a bit late, about two years ago. He heard about thebukuproject some time ago in London, thought it is a brilliant endeavour but only now decides to contribute something. As they say, "Hands that give also receive".

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Delayed Chic Flick Chic Part 1: Eat Pray Love

Okay, okay I know that my last post was quite a decade ago (In which i am meant to say, happy 2011!). Wasting a few lines for an excuse is pretty much pointless so, let's go straight to the point. Now, drum-roll please!

Yes, yes I know. This is quite an outdated book, some might say, since the sequel is already been published (and some already reviewed it). I am so wishing to make this earlier but again, due to the time constraints, earliest would be now.

So here's the story of the book and I, behind the scene : First, the only thing that I knew the moment I ever touched this book, made my way to the cashier and paid for it was: It is a movie by Julia Roberts. The rest, zilch. I even thought that this book is 100% fictional! Yes I know, I should have made my own research first. I just love surprises, most of the time.

Luckily, the book worth every penny. Or ringgit.

This book revolved around the life of the author herself, Elizabeth Gilbert (or Liz), post-divorce in which she had traveled to Italy, India and Indonesia (Bali, to be exact). She went all the way crossing the continents, for the love of exploring the world and most importantly, herself. In Italy, she spoiled herself with the lavish food (Now now, this doesn't do much justice. Who doesn't love Italian food, anyway? My sympathy, and *ahem* your loss!) and of course, Italian language. She joined the crowd of soccer fans, swooned by the famous arch and buildings of Rome, and get spontaneous and surprised herself everyday with new things as she enjoyed Italy. In India, she went into another "side of the world", in which she joined the meditation of Guru's Ashram. The first part of her India "exploration" immersed her into frustration as the whole atmosphere brought her into something different than Italy. She met a friend, Richard, in which often referred her as "Groceries", a nickname he profoundly used after he saw how much amount of food she could eat. This journey that started off with depression, swiftly turned 180 degrees as she found tranquility and reason to live: God. Lastly, she found herself on her way to Bali, Indonesia to meet a medicine man she formerly met a couple of years before, Ketut. She promised she would return to Bali to teach Ketut English (how cute!) English, only to find that Ketut, being an old man, had little fond of memories of her. In Bali, she discovered another different culture of Balinese, in which she described as "lodged, completely held, within an elaborate lattice of customs." Think of Hinduism traditions met hierarchical village communities met rich and beautiful paddy fields operated by the local people. She spent her days in Bali to meditate, daily meeting with Ketut, and walked around the town, enjoying the picturesque view of the paddy field ( Ubud's paddy field has such magnificent view! ) or just talked to the people themselves. She met Wayan, a Balinese healer which later turned into a friend, and later on she found herself the "love" part of the "Eat, Pray, Love" ( geddit?), a Brazillian man named Felipe.

My verdict: 4 out 5.

1) In a way, this book is rather a book for feminist. But then again, it's a documented life of a woman, what can be manly about that?

2) What created attention here is how Liz put the story lines and plot. I like the way she narrated in this book for it is so honest, even for the darkest thought. Funny and odd, but honest. She is lucky for she has met people like Ketut, Wayan, or even Richard (who seemed to like nothing but to mock her at the first place) and her bunch of Italian friends. I like how Ketut put it:
"To find the balance you want, this is what you must become. You must keep your feet grounded so firmly on the Earth that it's like you have four legs, instead of two. That way, you can stay in the world. ." ( para 3, page 27)
and how Richard quoted:

" See, now that's your problem. You're wishin' too much baby. You gotta stop wearing your wishbone where your backbone oughtta be." (page 150)

And how Liz used to write to herself in Italy:

"I am stronger than Depression and I am braver than Loneliness and nothing will ever exhaust me." (para 5, page 54)
(We all have one of the days when we feel the world is coming to get us. Come on, admit it.)

and many more I wish I could share. But then again, what fun could it be without reading the book itself, right?:)

3) If you happen to read one of my posts in my personal blog, I have once said that I'd love to do some world-travelling and exploring and consider it is as a job (like Ian Wright and Samantha Brown. Watching too much of Travelling Channel, I presume). What Liz did, was too good to be true to ever happen to me, for this moment of course. I always want to go to Rome or Italy, generally (Ede, remember our foreign exchange students interview? Haha. I said I wanted to go to Italy because of its food. Signed, honest me. Duh) But someday, insyaAllah. Someday. And Ubud, Bali is beautiful too. India, yes. (But my ex-supervisor used to say that if you went to India and returned home without diarrhea, consider your trip invalid. LOL)

4) Liz's favorite word: Attraversiamo :)

5) Apparently I am not really bothered with Felipe, or David (Yes, despite the fact that the role is played by James Franco in the movie version) , or any of Liz's love interest. What amazed me is the people Liz got to meet, like Giovanni, or Sofie, or Ketut, or Wayan or even Richard from Texas. These kind of people she met, by taking chances (and challenges) to go by herself travelling alone. And also, she really is lucky for having friends to help her raised money for Wayan's house. Now that's just awesome, no?

p.s: Delayed Chic Flick Chic Part 2 is coming, erm, soon? I won't promise anything "legend-wait for it-ary* but I will try my best!