(Read between 02 January 2018 – 12 January 2018)
This was my first book of 2018 and it was an easy choice for me. As an avid rugby fan and also someone who has recently started off their career in the business world, this book seemed like the perfect blend for me! I was interested to see what lessons a business person could learn from the All Blacks and how they could then apply them to their company or business. As the most successful rugby team of all time, the All Blacks seemed like a good place to start!
James Kerr was offered the chance of a lifetime, to shadow the All Blacks team for over a year and see what made them gel and what standards they held themselves to in order to first become, but more importantly to remain the best team in the world. Throughout this time Kerr narrowed all he had observed in to 15 core ‘lessons’ which he believed made the All Blacks so successful and that he believed could be applied to any business team to make them reach their full potential and become successful. Each of these lessons is given a chapter to explain how the All Blacks have mastered it and how to translate each lesson in to the business world, both at a personal level and an organisational level.
I don’t want to spoil the book and list each of the 15 lessons and explain them all here in case you are interested in reading the book! But what the book ultimately reveals is the mentality and focus that is needed to be at the top, but more importantly how to remain there. These lessons give an insight in to the All Black’s mentality and how their coaches have been able to consistently improve and stay ahead of their opposition.
I would highly recommend this book to everyone. I could hardly put it down and was constantly thinking about some of its core messages in the days and weeks following the ending. Even if you don’t enjoy rugby or sports the book still provides interesting and helpful advice on not just business, but also self-improvement.
(Read 15/05/2017 to 17/07/2017)
I started this book because I had realised whilst reading numerous news articles and editorials that I didn’t know very much regarding the territory or how terrorist organisations started in the Middle East and North Africa. As my first book to introduce myself to the topic, the Looming Tower seemed like a good start as it had won the Pulitzer Prize in 2007. This decision was vindicated as the book turned out to be both informative and a throughly engaging read from start to finish.
The first section details Sayyid Qutb and the influence his writings would have later on. This section outlines the situation in Egypt at the time and how it was reaching turmoil. This eventually led to the emergence of the Muslim Brotherhood. It then explains how afterwards al-Zawahiri was imprisoned and how these prisons became a breeding ground for the seeds of 9/11. The prisoners held the west reponsible and whilst imprisoned became attracted to militancy.
The next section describes the relationship between the Bin-Laden family and the Saudi royal family. This relationship was forged initially through Mohammed Bin Laden (Osama’s father) who owned a construction company. He was initially awarded a contract by the Saudi king to build new royal palaces and by completing these contracts, Bin Laden Kaiser construction company became one of the world’s largest. After numerous contracts he received another to renovate the Grand Mosque in Mecca – the most prestigious construction contract in the royal kingdom. When Prince Faisal took over in 1958, there was less than $100 in the treasury! Mohammed bailed them out personally, a gesture which sealed the ties between the Bin Laden family and the Saudi royal family.
Osama was religious from the start. A turning point in his early life was when Soviet troops entered Afghanistan. He had an apartment in Afghanistan and he put up people in his apartment and ran special military camps. The Saudi government funded Bin Laden’s campaign there. As the tide began to turn, they began to see jihad as an ongoing battle. Zawahiri and Bin Laden met and each was pulled in a direction they never intended to go towards. Eventually both of them would create Al-Qaeda, a vector of Egyptian and Saudi forces and they would lead a global jihad. From the beginning of its creation it was an attractive employment opportunity for many and this his how they gained many followers early on. It began as a critique of the West, particularly the U.S. for the plight of the Arab world. Later when the U.S. helped to kick Iraqi forces out of Saudi, Osama saw their ongoing presence there as a crusade.
The book then switches to the FBI. It begins by telling the story of John O’Neill. He was one of the first to notice Bin Laden and consider him a threat. However he became so obsessed with Bin Laden that his colleagues began to question his judgement. This section also introduced the problems of co-operation between the FBI and CIA. The two units would keep information from each other which would be detrimental in the long run for both organisations and the U.S. when it hampered the response to al-Qaeda.
Then Bin Laden issued a war on America. Their first terrorist attack was in Kenya on an embassy. This attack caused horror around the world to Muslims around the world with the deaths of so many innocent Africans, especially Muslims.
The events right up to 9/11 once again illustrated the lack of co-operation between the CIA and the FBI and how this was ultimately one of their downfalls. I would strongly recommend this book to those who are interested in reading about political tensions throughout the Middle East but like me aren’t too aware of the formation and history of some of the biggest groups and events. The book is extremely detailed and well-paced, providing a solid history and background without becoming tedious. The rest of the book reads like a crime novel, with intricate interwoven stories and events leading to the culmination of 9/11.
(Read between 24/04/2017 – 13/05/2017)
The Forever War is a science-fiction novel set in the future where humans are in war with an alien race. The author uses this narrative background to cleverly discuss some of the issues he lived through whilst he served during the Vietnam War. Unlike other books which I’ve read or reviewed on the Vietnam War such as ‘Dispatches’ by Michael Kerr this novel isn’t a memoir. Instead it uses science fiction themes to describe some of the horrors of warfare and the difficulties of readjusting back to civilian life when you return home afterward.
Similar to the soldiers in the Vietnam War the main character in this novel William Mandella is sent off to fight far away enemies and he isn’t entirely sure why he has to and what the enemy did. The enemies in The Forever War are an alien race called the Taurans who are said to have attacked a human spaceship. Without ruining the story for anyone who wishes to read it the main twist in the story is the effect of time dillation and the effects of relativity on the war itself and the pawns in it. Because time is warped as the soldiers travel it means many years have passed as they travel. This means that in between battles, the enemy has years to research new weapons to counter previous attacks and vice-versa. It also means that as the officers return home after each battle many years have passed on Earth and it no longer resembles anything that they left behind.
The returning home after battles, in my opinion represents the most striking sections of the novel. The dystopian world the officers return to are unlike anything they left behind and the people of Earth are either indifferent or opposed to the war they fought in. For me this clever use of relativity mirrored what most veterans returning from Vietnam must have felt. America changed radically in the time which they were away for and how people didn’t offer them a heroes welcome upon return but instead many of those they came home to were opposed to the war. Haldeman uses relativity to describe the feelings he must have been feeling upon returning from his war in a fascinating way.
It is these themes of feeling lost in your own world you fought to keep safe that resonated the most with me. For me the way the author used science fiction to discuss some of these themes was more enjoyable than the actual narrative or plot itself. I would recommend this book to readers who are interested in seeing how people can use science fiction as a vehicle to convey real world issues and emotions they have experienced.