One Book Per Week: Tumblring My Findings

Since coming to New York, I’ve developed a healthy habit of reading on the subway going to and fro from meetings. My Kindle has made it a lot easier to read in a packed subway car and my expanded networks have provided me a wealth of books to add to my reading list. After a conversation with a good friend who inspired a goal setting quest, I decided to embark on a One Book Per Week Project – where I would read a book a week as a personal self-development goal. It has been two months in, and I am pleased to share that reading is firmly back in life and can officially say that I have read all the books on my shelf. I’ve added some of the books that I read and loved to my Book List but more than that, I would love for my readings and discoveries to be shared in a more public way. Hence, going forward, I will be doing this in two ways:

1) Tumblr

I started a tumblr where I would post quotes and highlights from books that I am currently reading. Majority of my readings are now done on my Kindle and thanks to this awesome tool called:, all the highlights from my Kindle readings will be shared to my tumblr. Quotes Galore aka. my personal quote bank and tracking of books that I am currently reading. Below is a snapshot of I definitely recommend that you check it out!

2) Moleskin Book Visualization 

One of the skills that I have been working on is the Art of Visual Thinking. I am naturally a visual leaner, but the art of translating thought and complex ideas into pictures is a completely different thing. Hence, to help me along with this learning process, I decided to combine it with my One Book Per Week Project. I bought some brand new moleskins and will be summarizing up the books I am reading into one page in my moleskin. This not only enables pushes my ability to retain information, but also allows me to piece together the book in my own way.

On The Art of Learning & Searching for Creativity

I have been on a learning rampage for the last few months and had read this book a while back. Admittedly, although I thought it was a good book, it didn’t resonate as much with me as it did for those who continuously recommended the book to me. This past weekend, I picked it up again (yes, I’m one of those people that re-reads books over and over) and lo and behold, I felt like every page in the book was screaming out one fascinating learning technique to another. Perhaps it has something to do with the way I am learning right now compared to back then.

The book, written by Josh Waitzkin, is part autobiographical, part chess memoirs and part martial arts techniques. He has an incredibly impressive background that includes an 8th time National Chess Champion in his youth, developed Chessmaster – the largest computer chess program in the world and then, moved on to perfect martial arts, where he currently holds a combined 21 National Championship and several World Championship titles. Given his impressive list of accomplishments, the premise of the book is that learning is a transferable art and our current ways of learning often don’t deep enough into understanding how we learn. I really enjoyed the fact that it wasn’t a typical list of learning techniques but instead, a blend of great storytelling and personal insight.

 “A key component of high-level learning is cultivating a resilient awareness that is the older, conscious embodiment of a child’s playful obliviousness. – Josh Waitzkin”

The book touches upon a lot of techniques that range from building triggers to emotional control, but one particular insight really stood out for me. It was on the source of creativity. Waitzkin writes that when he thinks about creativity, he thinks of it in relation to a foundation. Knowledge needs to be so deeply internalized that we can access it without even thinking about it. Then, we use our knowledge base to make a leap to get a couple steps ahead – a creative discovery. Now, most people stop here and hope that they manage to find another “burst of creativity”, however, Waitzkin shares that this is a “missed opportunity” if you just stop there.

The creative process is more than just breakthrough moments. It doesn’t just appear out of thin air and you just wait for it to happen. Waitzkin asserts that when you have those moments of creativity, what you should be focusing on – is the connection between your new discovery and what you know. Once you have figured that out, create techniques to re-create the process to “create a body of theory around a fleeting moment of inspiration.” Once this is done, our knowledge pyramid is that much higher and it’s foundation that much more solidified.

“I believe that one of the most critical factors in the transition to becoming a conscious high performer is the degree to which your relationship to your pursuit stays in harmony with your unique disposition. There will inevitably be times when we need to try new ideas, release our current knowledge to take in new information – but it is critical to integrate this new information in a manner that does not violate who we are. – Josh Waitzkin”

Now, to throw a curveball into my own post, here’s a brilliant talk by Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love on nurturing creativity. Gilbert’s take on creativity is much for mysterious – a fragile connection to the eternal and the past, perhaps on loan to us for a brief period of time. It’s quite contrary to Waitzkin’s structured approach but yet the crypticness of her findings really intrigued me.

I like to think that the creative process is a combination of both, that the initial spark/leap forward – is driven by something we are yet to comprehend. Once we able to identify this, we create techniques to re-create this burst of creativity by drilling deep into understanding the triggers. I believe that some people are more ‘prone’ to creativity because somehow they have (un)knowingly surrounded themselves with a process/environment that can help kickstart a breakthrough. All creativity is sourced – one way or another from a current body of knowledge. How you connect, piece together perspectives, uncover a different angle – that’s where the magic happens.

These Borrowed Words

There is one element that has always been a consistent theme in my life, wherever, whenever: and that is books. I’ve had a reading obsession ever since the age of seven, which till to this day, I remember the book that started it all – The Magic Paintbrush. I remember hiding books in the drawer of my school desk back in Malaysia, and whenever I thought the teacher was looking the other way, I would pull the book out and sneak a couple pages of reading. It was easy, see, with 50 other kids packed in a class, elbow to elbow, to get away with it. I believe(d) that books would teach me things about life that a classroom never could. One that I still maintain to this day. I devoured books from Enid Blyton’s entire collection to the reminiscent Sweet Valley days of teenage-hood. And then, my world of books changed when I discovered the world of literature and non-fiction. I’ve never looked back since.

I recently stumbled across this incredible list of books, that I am now determined to get through in a year (I’ll let you know how it goes!). It’s a list by one of my fav organizations: Acumen Fund and it’s actually the recommended reading list for their Fellows. I’ll try to share my thoughts on each book as I move through the list. But meanwhile, here it is, below:

*I’ve bolded the ones I’ve read.. it’s a start!

Rights and Responsibilities

“Culture Is Destiny: A Conversation with Lee Kuan Yew” by Fareed Zakaria (Foreign Affairs, March/April 1994)
“Empowerment for a Culture of Peace and Development” by Aung San Suu Kyi (address to World Commission on Culture and Development, November 21, 1994)
“Letter from Birmingham Jail” by Martin Luther King Jr. (April 16, 1963)
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (General Assembly of the United Nations, December 10, 1948)

Liberty and Social Order
“The Contrariness of the Mad Farmer” by Wendell Berry in Farming: A Hand Book (Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich)
“Democracy” by Langston Hughes
Leviathan by Thomas Hobbes
“Message to the Congress of Angostura, 1819” by Simón Bolívar
The Prince by Niccolò Machiavelli
“Two Concepts of Liberty” by Isaiah Berlin (address before University of Oxford, October 31, 1958)
Equality and the Quest for Social Justice
The Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels
Democracy in America by Alexis de Tocqueville
Long Walk to Freedom: The Autobiography of Nelson Mandela by Nelson Mandela (Little, Brown and Company)
“O Yes” by Tillie Olsen in Tell Me a Riddle (Random House)
The Social Contract by Jean-Jacques Rousseau

Community and the Search for Humanity
The Book of Genesis
The Four Noble Truths of Buddhism
“How to Write about Africa” by Binyavanga Wainaina (Granta 92, Winter 2005)
On Identity by Amin Maalouf (Harvill Panther)
Silent Spring by Rachel Carson (Houghton Mifflin)
“Speech upon Receiving the Philadelphia Liberty Medal” by Václav Havel (July 4, 1994)
Property and Productivity
Development as Freedom by Amartya Sen (Anchor)
Equality and Efficiency: The Big Tradeoff by Arthur M. Okun (The Brookings Institution)
The Muqaddimah by Ibn Khaldūn (Princeton University Press)
The Republic by Plato

“Because We Can, We Must” by Bono (commencement address at the University of Pennsylvania, May 17, 2004)
A Confession by Leo Tolstoy
Death and the King’s Horseman by Wole Soyinka (W.W. Norton)
“A Far Cry from Africa” by Derek Walcott in The Norton Anthology of Poetry (W.W. Norton)
Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap…and Others Don’t by Jim Collins (HarperCollins)
“Great Expectations” by Bill Gates (commencement address at Harvard University, June 7, 2007)
Leadership on the Line: Staying Alive Through the Dangers of Leading by Ronald A. Heifetz and Marty Linsky (Harvard Business School Press)
Leading from Within: Poetry that Sustains the Courage to Lead by Sam M. Intrator and Megan Scribner (Jossey-Bass)
Letter to Daniel: Dispatches from the Heart by Fergal Keane (Penguin Books)
The Opposable Mind: How Successful Leaders Win Through Integrative Thinking by Roger L. Martin (Harvard Business School Press)
“Rebellion” by Fyodor Dostoyevsky in The Brothers Karamazov
Self-Renewal: The Individual and the Innovative Society by John W. Gardner (HarperCollins)
Servant Leadership: A Journey into the Nature of Legitimate Power and Greatness by Robert K. Greenleaf (Paulist Press)

Black Boy by Richard Wright (HarperPerennial)
A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry (Vintage International)
A Grain of Wheat by Ngugi wa Thiong’o (Heinemann)
Independent People by Halldór Laxness (Vintage International)
Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie (Penguin Books)
The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas by Ursula K. Le Guin (Creative Education)
Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (Anchor)
Season of Migration to the North by Tayeb Salih (NYRB Classics)
Shadow Lines by Amitav Ghosh (Mariner Books)
Shooting an Elephant by George Orwell (Penguin Books)
The Tempest by William Shakespeare
Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe (Heinemann)

Train to Pakistan by Khushwant Singh (Grove Press)

“A Behavioral-Economics View of Poverty” by Marianne Bertrand, Sendhil Mullainathan, and Eldar Shafir (American Economic Review 94, no. 2)
The Bottom Billion: Why the Poorest Countries are Failing and What Can Be Done About It by Paul Collier (Oxford University Press)
Capitalism as if the World Matters by Jonathon Porritt and Amory B. Lovins (Earthscan Publications)
Development as Freedom by Amartya Sen (Anchor)
The End of Poverty: Economic Possibilities for Our Time by Jeffrey D. Sachs (Penguin Press)
The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid: Eradicating Poverty Through Profits by C.K. Prahalad (Wharton School Publishing)
Making Globalization Work by Joseph E. Stiglitz (W.W. Norton)
Maximum City: Bombay Lost and Found by Suketu Mehta (Knopf)
The Mystery of Capital: Why Capitalism Triumphs in the West and Fails Everywhere Else by Hernando de Soto (Basic Books)
Pathologies of Power: Health, Human Rights, and the New War on the Poor by Paul Farmer (University of California Press)
Philanthrocapitalism: How the Rich Can Save the World by Matthew Bishop and Michael Green (Bloomsbury Press)
Plan B 2.0: Rescuing a Planet Under Stress and a Civilization in Trouble by Lester R. Brown (W.W. Norton)
Portfolios of the Poor: How the World’s Poor Live on $2 a Day by Daryl Collins, Jonathan Morduch, Stuart Rutherford, and Orlanda Ruthven (Princeton University Press)
The White Man’s Burden: Why the West’s Efforts to Aid the Rest Have Done So Much Ill and So Little Good by Williams Russell Easterly (Penguin Books)
Wikinomics: How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything by Don Tapscott and Anthony D. Williams (Portfolio Hardcover)

The World’s Banker: A Story of Failed States, Financial Crises, and the Wealth and Poverty of Nations by Sebastian Mallaby (Penguin Press)

Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide

Women hold up half the sky – Chinese Proverb

Reality is hard. It is a startling revelation at times often because we choose to surround ourselves with our view and experience of the world. This Thanksgiving, I am reminded of reality when I sat down to read Half the Sky by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn. In Half the Sky, Kristof and WuDunn throw an interesting twist into the conventional view of plights of women around the world: by telling their stories. From Cambodia to South Africa. From sex slaves to maternal health. By putting a name, emotion and passion into the stories. This tentative foray into the realm of story-telling melds surprising well with what is, essentially, a passionate call to action against our generation’s most pervasive human rights violation: the oppression of women and girls worldwide.

The opening of the book follows the story of Srey Rath, a young Cambodian teenager, who was sold as a sex salve across the borders, ending up in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia where she endured routine brutality and constant humiliation. It was a huge shock to my system, as Malaysia is someplace I call my home town…  to read in such vivid detail the human rights violation done to Srey Rath was stunning in every sense.

These stories of human perseverance, injustice and ultimately hope, just like Srey Rath, are woven into three main issues: sex trafficking and forced prostitution; gender-based violence e.g. honor killings and mass rape and maternal mortaility. Sub issues include education, microcredit and religion. The stories in the book are shocking, but ultimately this is the central truth of the book: Women aren’t the problem but the solution. The plight of girls is no more a tragedy than an opportunity.

“It appears that more girls have been killed in the last fifty years, precisely because they were girls, than men were killed in all battles of the twentieth century. More girls are killed in this routine “gendercide” in any one decade than people were slaughtered in all the genocides of the twentieth century.

In the nineteenth century, the central moral challenge was slavery. In the twentieth century, it was the battle against totalitarianism. We believe that in this century, the paramount moral challenge will be the struggle for gender equality around the world. “

Through stories, Kristof and WuDunn demonstrate how the key to economic progress lies in the fact that as a society, we need to stop ignoring women who hold up half the sky. Unleashing this incredible human potential is not only the right thing to do in terms of our own shared humanity, but also the best way to tackle poverty. They show how in vastly different circumstances, the endurance of the human spirit and how a little help can go a long way e.g. the simple act of iodizing salt to improve a baby’s IQ.

I won’t go into the details of the book because my summary will not do these incredible stories justice. However, on a personal level, this book’s message has imprinted itself deeply within my beliefs in international development. After all, how many books make such a  statement about a matter than concerns everyone because of our shared humanity? The stories of these women show me the resilience and amount of hope they have within themselves who have every reason to give up but continue on. It’s so moving and inspirational that I just want to shout it out loud and tell everyone about the issues Kristof and WuDunn have written about. If there is one thing that this book is about, it is the story of transformation.

Rating: 10/10

“If you think education is expensive, try ignorance.” – Derek Bok