Reading List: Against the Gods

“Against the Gods”:http://www.amazon.com/dp/0471295639/ : The Remarkable Story of Risk (Paperback) by Peter L. Bernstein

The author talked about the history of statistics and other theories and how they are applied to finance. The risk in this book is mostly about the risk of doing business. I find the parts about statistics hard to follow if you don’t already understand the mathematical concepts. Otherwise, it is very well written book. At the end, the author discussed more about financial markets which is interesting.

Reading List: Freakonomics

“Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything”:http://www.amazon.com/Freakonomics-Economist-Explores-Hidden-Everything/dp/006073132X by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner.

In short, they applied economics to analyze various familiar topics such as

bq. Which is more dangerous, a gun or a swimming pool? What do schoolteachers and sumo wrestlers have in common? Why do drug dealers still live with their moms? How much do parents really matter? How did the legalization of abortion affect the rate of violent crime?

They drawn conclusions after clearly demonstrating the points using economic theory (a lot of statistics). I found most of the analyses interesting. However, nothing seems so groundbreaking or really new. The methods are standard in economics, they studied some common questions and reveal that common belief sometimes correct (in case of sumo wrestlers cheating) sometimes wrong (in case criminal drop in US).

I wonder why no one has done similar studies before. The contribution of this book, IMHO, is to educate the public that many questions can be studied instead of debating endlessly. For example, one can draw a conclusion from this book study that in order to fight criminals at its root you have to improve the living standard of the poor, give the poor education and opportunities to earn decent livings.

Reading List:Nhật ký Đặng Thùy Trâm

Available in English at Amazon as “Last Night I Dreamed of Peace: The Diary of Dang Thuy Tram”:http://www.amazon.com/Last-Night-Dreamed-Peace-Diary/dp/0307347389/ref=pd_bbs_sr_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1217815904&sr=1-1

Một người bạn thân của tôi viết:

Các bạn yêu quý, cho phép tôi được chia sẻ những cảm xúc của mình với các bạn về nhật ký Đặng Thùy Trâm – Sulico.

Tôi đã từng rất tự hào khi nói với một chị nhà văn người Mỹ rằng “my father, he was a soldier”, đã rất xúc động khi xem những thước phim tài liệu về chiến tranh Việt Nam, nhưng quả thực chưa bao giờ tôi xúc động như vậy, sau khi đọc nhật ký của chị Đặng Thị Thùy Trâm. Không mượt mà đằm thắm như Nguyễn Văn Thạc, nhưng những gì tôi đã cảm nhận được về chị, từ sự cảm phục sâu sắc tâm hồn chị, mà với tôi – cho dù trước đây đã từng cho rằng – ngôn ngữ C có thể diễn tả mọi sắc thái cảm xúc, :D, cũng không thể diễn tả hết, đã tiếp thêm sức mạnh cho tôi khi tôi chớm bắt đầu lo lắng và mất dần niềm tin của tuổi trẻ.

Tôi đã đọc, ngập ngừng, nửa muốn đọc tiếp, nửa muốn dừng lại, vì khốc liệt quá, mỗi một dòng là một sự hi sinh, nếu cứ thế này thì chết hết à, :D, nhưng sau mỗi mất mát đó, tôi lại thấy chị trưởng thành lên, thế là tôi lại đọc tiếp, và không muốn nó kết thúc, vì tôi biết, khi nhật ký kết thúc, cũng là lúc chị hi sinh. Các bạn ạ, chị hi sinh đấy và nhật ký đang viết dở đấy, nhưng lòng thương tiếc của tôi chẳng thể nào sánh bằng sự cảm phục cách chị đã sống và cách chị đã ngã xuống, như một huyền thoại.

Các bạn yêu quý, tôi gửi đến các bạn những dòng này không phải muốn tuyên truyền kêu gọi các bạn hãy noi gương chị Trâm, :D, mà chỉ đơn giản là muốn chia sẻ với các bạn, một niềm tự hào mà tôi vốn có, rằng tôi là người Việt Nam, tôi cũng trẻ, và tôi cảm phục chị. Tôi xin trích dẫn vài dòng mà Fred – người đã giữ cuốn nhật ký suốt 35 năm – đã viết cho mẹ chị Trâm: “Con gái bà đã một mình chiến đấu với 120 lính Mỹ để bảo vệ các bạn mình. Ở bất cứ đất nước nào trên thế giới điều đó đều được gọi là ANH HÙNG và những người anh hùng đều được tất cả mọi người tôn kính, dù người đó là đàn ông hay đàn bà. Thế giới phải được biết về sự dũng cảm của con gái bà và mãi mãi học hỏi được điều gì đó từ tình yêu và những suy nghĩ của chị.”

Nếu các bạn quan tâm mà không có điều kiện mua sách, thì hãy vào trang web báo tuổi trẻ, http://www.tuoitre.com.vn, mục phóng sự – ký sự, đang đăng tải cuốn “Nhật ký Đặng Thùy Trâm”

Chúc các bạn ngày nghỉ cuối tuần vui vẻ!

Thân,

Tuấn Cận,

Reading List: The things they carried

bq. They carried all the emotional baggage of men who might die. Grief, terror, love, longing–these were intangibles, but the intangibles had their own mass and specific gravity, they had tangible weight. They carried shameful memories. They carried the common secret of cowardice…. Men killed, and died, because they were embarrassed not to.

Viet Nam has Bảo Ninh to write “Nỗi buồn chiến tranh”:http://www.amazon.com/Sorrow-War-Bao-Ninh/dp/1573225436/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1217814487&sr=1-1, and US has Tim O’brien to write “The things they carried”:http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/sim-explorer/explore-items/-/0767902890/0/101/1/none/purchase/ref%3Dpd_sxp_r0/002-6819021-2398416. Highly recommend both. But I don’t think the English translation of “Nỗi buồn chiến tranh” – Sorrow of War- is that good. The style of Bảo Ninh is hard to be translated.

Amazon has a very good editorial review of “The thins they carried”; I wanted to write something about this book; however, the Amazon review told everything I wanted to tell. My first impression after reading the O’brien’s work was its striking similarity with Bảo Ninh. Amazon’s page of “The Sorrow of War” offered discount if you buy both books together; not sure how they detect that.

Reading List:Hot Commodities

“Hot Commodities: How Anyone Can Invest Profitably in the World’s Best Market”:http://www.amazon.com/Hot-Commodities-Anyone-Invest-Profitably/dp/0812973712/ref=pd_bbs_sr_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1211783477&sr=8-1 by Jim Rogers

Basically, the book wants to convince you that “A new bull market is under way, and it is in commodities”. The author explained about the importance of commodities, described briefly how to commodity market worked, and convinced you that a bull market is under way. All his points are reasonable to believe in. Market analysis and arguments in the book are sometimes shallow. However, it is a good read overall.

Reading List: Animal Farm

“Animal Farm”:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Animal_Farm by George Orwell.

A beautiful written book, George Orwell is considered one of the best political authors. He wrote about politics without losing the beauty of literature. Before reading, I thought this book was written like a children book similarly to the Little Prince, but it is not. I wonder who is the George Orwell of the current age?

Reading List: Palestine Peace not Apartheid

“Palestine Peace Not Apartheid by Jimmy Carter”:http://www.amazon.com/Palestine-Peace-Apartheid-Jimmy-Carter/dp/B00119PSS8/ref=pd_bbs_sr_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1203344757&sr=8-1

Cater is considered one of most dove figures in US politics. In this book, he criticized Israel’s policy as the main obstacle to the peace in Middle East. The book spelled out many Israel’s crime toward Palestinians, those facts are not normally reported in mainstream media. However, as a regular reader of Noam Chomsky’s work, I would urge you not to fall for all the things Carter said in the book.

IMHO, Carter has a bias against Palestinians, even though in a subtle form of wording. For example, in many places in the book, he often expressed the conflict as “” Israel responded the the violence committed by Palestinians” but not the other way around. Or “Palestinians provoked Israeli response”. He also omitted many inconvenience truths. He did not project a correct picture of the important role US has in the region. US has a lot of influence on Israel policy, however in the book, Cater gave an impression that US gov could not do anything (at least under his president term) but try to convince Israel on certain issues.

Btw, Carter is not really a dove as mainstream media suggested, http://www.zmag.org/content/showarticle.cfm?ItemID=2463. Having said all these, the book still spoke a lot of truths. I just want you not to take his words for granted but try to learn about this complex matter from many different point of views.

Updated: (from “Link”:http://www.zmag.org/content/showarticle.cfm?ItemID=12604)

AMY GOODMAN: Do you think it’s changing, for example, with Carter’s book coming out?

NOAM CHOMSKY: I think it’s one of the signs of change and there are many others. Or is it just a change mood in the country, I mean, anybody who’s been giving talks about this just knows it from personal experience. I mean not very long ago, if I was giving a talk on the Middle East, I mean, even at MIT, there would be armed police present, or at least undercover police to prevent violence, disruption, breakup of meetings and so on. That’s a thing of the past. By now it’s much easier to talk about this. Actually, Carter’s book is quite interesting. Carter’s book was essentially repeating what is known around the world.

AMY GOODMAN: Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid.

NOAM CHOMSKY: Yeah. He — there were a couple of errors in the book, they were ignored. The only serious error in the book, which a fact checker should have picked up, is that Carter accepted a kind of party line on the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982. Israel invaded Lebanon and killed maybe 15,000-20,000 people and destroyed much of southern Lebanon. They were able to do it because the Reagan administration vetoed Security Council resolutions and supported them and so on.

The claim here, you know, you read Thomas Freedman or someone, is that Israel invaded in response to shelling of the Galilee from — by Palestinians, Palestinian terror attacks and Carter repeats that, it is not true. There was the border, there was a cease-fire, the Palestinians observed it despite regular Israeli attempts, something as heavy bombing and others to elicit some response that would be a pretext to the planned invasion. When there was no pretext, they invaded anyway. That’s the only serious error in the book, ignored. There are some very valuable things in the book, also ignored. One of them, perhaps the most important is that Carter is the first, I think, in the main stream in the United States to report what was known in dissident circles and talked about, namely that the famous road map, which the quartet suggested as steps towards settlement of the problem, the road map was instantly rejected by Israel.

Reading List: Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies

“Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies”:http://www.amazon.com/Guns-Germs-Steel-Fates-Societies/dp/0393317552 by Jared M. Diamond.

For me, the book provides the basic to refute racism. It explains why certain societies became more advanced than others. The author did not stop at proximity causes but went further to examine what necessary conditions for advanced societies emerge are. One of the conclusions is that a civilization was achieved not because of the intrinsic superiority of the race. It was shown in the history that people in different parts of the world in similar environments came up with equally advanced societies. Note that the book discussed the human development in a macro level.

Cultures, religions, and politics are important human aspects which are not discussed in the book. I hope someone can write a similar book on those subjects.

The latest theory says that around 7 millions BC _homo sapiens_ started spreading to the rest of the world from Africa. If we subscribe to this theory, people around the world were equally smart, as in they had the same DNAs hence have similar “thinking capability”. In some parts of the world, due to the environments, the people there had a much earlier head start to build civilizations. Since evolution is a continuing progress, people in different places have been continuing evolved to adapt to the environments. Therefore, those live in a civilized society will evolve to have better skills in mathematics, abstract thinking, philosophy, literatures, etc. Through the natural selection, those capacity will become innate, built into genes, DNAs. As the consequence, one can draw a conclusion that Europeans are innately better than Native Americans, for instance, in the skills required by modern societies. I just wonder what might be the flaw of this argument.

Reading List: Totochan

“Totto-Chan Little Girl at Window”:http://www.amazon.com/Totto-Chan-Little-Girl-at-Window/dp/4770020678

Everyone has some good moments in the past, and reading this book will likely bring you a moment of nostalgia. It tells a story of a little girl went to a _perfect_ primary school, that to say it does not suck. The little girl is weird in a cute way, and the head of school has a very modern and liberal method of teaching. It sounds like a dream for most of readers. Yet this story was based on the childhood of the author just before WWII happened. This book, like The Little Prince, is for everyone, children and adults. I just wish every educators in the world has a copy, and reads it once a year.

The limitation of this book, IMHO, is that it does not have a strong story line. The story was based on real life events of the author, but it reads like a non-fiction. Regardless of which genre the book is, the story does not “flow”. The second half is more like a collection of very short stories than a book. The author, in fact, wrote a series of stories for a magazine; the series are so well received which led the author edit them into book. I noticed this kind of snags in other books done that way too.

Reading List: Design Patterns

“Design Patterns by GoF”:http://www.amazon.com/Design-Patterns-Object-Oriented-Addison-Wesley-Professional/dp/0201633612

It is definitely an important book. I helped to popularize the concept of design patterns, good solutions for certain frequent-seen problems. And really, it is all about design patterns. I cannot help but thinking the book make the concept much more academic than it is. The authors presented patterns in a elaborate way of a scientific paper; and again design patterns are no science. Recently, I think many design patterns are the direct result of language weaknesses. For example, the book used C++ to illustrate examples, however many patterns will be redundant if you use Python. The reason of many patterns is due to the weakness of current programming languages, particularly C++.