Re-review of Lost on Planet China

8 05 2010

Before going to China, Elínborg and I read Lost On Planet China by J. Maarten Troost to prepare us for what was to come.  We both really liked the book, it was both entertaining and interesting and a good preparation for our trip.  You can see my previous review here.

First I would like to restate that reading the book was a great preparation to visiting China.  What the book did was lowering almost all of my expectations of China.  The book displayed the people as rude  and difficult and I found the author, especially towards the beginning, to a bit like a baby that has leaving home for the first time without the knowledge that other people might be different from him self.

I can see now, after travelling through China for three weeks, that the author obviously chose to exaggerate quite a bit to be create a more compelling story.  After all, fiction is so much more exciting than ordinary life, so who can really blame him? 

To the author’s defense I’ve read that before the Olympics, Chinese authorities campaigned for a better behavior from Chinese citizens, hanging up signs and handing out pamphlets – no spitting on the street  and so on – so that might contribute to the discrepancy between our experience and his.

Of course we didn’t travel as extensively as Mr. Troost but I don’t think that really changes much.  As I’ve said before he seemed to like China more and more each day.  We definitely loved China and the Chinese people (as you can see here) the culture and the many historic sites in China – even though we thought that quite many of them were way over hyped.

Just to summarize, I would again highly recommend this book to anyone that intends to visit China.  It is highly entertaining and if nothing else, at least it will lower your expectations.  Like someone told me – happiness is nothing more than expectation management!

Blue Ocean Strategy: How to Create Uncontested Market Space and Make Competition Irrelevant by W.C. Kim & R. Mauborgne

23 04 2010

blue_ocean Sophisticated models and analytical tools that assist in the creation of a corporate strategy in contested markets have been around for a while.  These models and tools help create what the authors of the book call “red ocean” strategies where the focus is on competing within the current market boundaries by monitoring the competition and seeking either differentiation of products and services or cost leadership.

“Blue oceans” however are new uncontested markets where the competition is weak or none existent and therefore irrelevant.  The reason that only a few companies are able to open up those uncontested markets, according to the authors, is the focus on red ocean strategies in the strategy process.

In this book the authors set forth analytical tools to help companies structure their strategy process in a way that can lead to the opening of highly profitable blue oceans.

I thought that the idea of blue oceans is rather straight forward and common sense stuff.  However it is valuable to see the idea formulated into a thorough process that can be easily emulated during the strategic process within companies.  I agree with the authors that companies must have capabilities in both red and blue oceans in order to reach excellence – otherwise they will never break out of the boundaries set by their perspective industries.

I found the book to be an easy read and a bit thin at times.  The examples in the book were quite interesting but I often get the feeling that you can always find examples to support any theory if you search hard enough.  I’m sure someone could show that Apples success is due to the fact that the employees wear jeans to work or that Microsoft is so successful just because a lot of their employees wear glasses.

But anyway, I thought it was an interesting book and would surely recommend it to anyone interesting in strategy and innovation but for the rest of you – just wait for the movie!

Previous book reviews can be found here.

A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking

2 04 2010


I have never really been interested in astronomy, cosmology nor physics but I happened to have a copy of this book in audio form so I gave it a try.  I can definitely say that I became fascinated by the book and its contents, listening to it twice in one week.

A Brief History of Time – From the Big Bang to Black Holes by Stephen Hawking tells a story of how us humans have thought the universe to look like through the ages.  Hawking starts his tale when the common believe was that the earth was flat and carried by a tortoise and goes through the evolution of science and physics up until our times.  Along the way Hawking explains the theories as they are developed, theories like Copernicus’ theory of the earth orbiting the sun, the contributions of Galileo Galilei to astronomy, Newton’s laws of gravity, Einstein’s theory of relativity and finally newer theories in cosmology and quantum physics.  Hawking also speculates on what role a divine creator or god can have in the creation of the universe and in its workings there after.  This role changes drastically as science advances

Not only is Hawking one of the most brilliant minds of our era and a leading scientist in theoretical physics, he also has a fantastic ability to explain extremely complex theories in a simple manner – so simple that I got some them (I had to listen twice though :) – and this is one of the strengths of the book.  Hawking also has a good sense of humor in a nerdy kind of way, which fits the book perfectly. 

I’m not going to pretend that I understood everything in the book but I think that I got a good deal.  The theories get more complex after Einstein’s theory of relativity but I felt that I could follow all along while listening even though I’m not sure I could explain any of it to another person ;)

When reading a paper book one can always read slowly, re-read hectic lines and pause to digest the content as is necessary when reading about as complex matters as in this book.  This is not so easy when listening to an audio book and that is one of the faults of this form.  While listening to this book I had to stop often, rewind and listen again and still I didn’t feel like I got it all and therefore I listened to the book again a few days later.  I’m sure that I’ll read the book again later in a paper form and enjoying the pictures will be a big plus!

The only fault with the (audio) book in my opinion was the reading – by no other than Michael Jackson – though probably not THE late Michael Jackson that first comes to mind.  It felt at times like Jackson was reading the book for the first time.  This part should definitely have been done better.

All in all the book was fantastic and I’m sure that I’ll be looking for other books  by Mr. Hawking in the future.  I would recommend it to anyone curious about the world we live in, how it came about, how it evolved and how it will end.

Previous book reviews can be found here.

Lonely Planet – Southeast Asia on a Shoestring Travel Guide

28 03 2010

southeast-asia Before going on our trip we bought the latest Lonely Planet – Southeast Asia on a Shoestring Travel Guide (14th Ed.), published in March 2008.  The book contains separate chapters on each of the countries in South East Asia and for each country it lists the main cities, towns and other notable places.  For each of those places place it in turn lists the main activities, main sights, accommodation options and eateries and lists the prices for everything above.

We thought we would be all set with this book as it covered all the four countries that we planned to visit and we were not alone with that thought.  A great majority of the people we have seen on the road have been carrying this same book. 

I can only say for us that we were greatly disappointed.  We weren’t satisfied with this book at all!  It focuses mainly on accommodation and where to eat but less on what is really interesting in the places it recommends so it hardly passes as a travel guide – its more of a hostel/guesthouse/restaurant directory.  If the book would have been a good hostel/guesthouse/restaurant directory we wouldn’t have any complaints but it wasn’t at all.  The info it gave was too out-dated for that, the prices were way wrong and the descriptions were often inaccurate.  Maybe we should have known better, buying a book that was one and a half year old at the time but it was the latest version and we didn’t give it a second thought.

Before the trip I had read a lot of reviews that complained about Lonely Planet and this book might be the reason.  If we were repeating the same trip we would not buy this book.  We probably wouldn’t even take it if it would be given to us!  Therefore we really can’t recommend this book for anyone unless they have a brand new version. 

We however bought the Lonely Planet – Vietnam book while in Cambodia and that one was very good.  It had good descriptions on every place we visited with a lot more info than the shoestring book and the info was very accurate and thorough.

If we would have known then what we know now we would have bought the Lonely Planet – Thailand book before leaving home – so that we could plan the first couple of weeks.  For the ten days we spent in Cambodia we didn’t really need a guide book and we really liked the Vietnam book we bought in Cambodia so I guess we would buy that one again – or the Rough Guide – Vietnam. 

By the way, they sell a lot of really cheap copies in Cambodia (we saw them in Vietnam as well) so keep that in mind.  The copies are of decent quality but the maps, pictures and drawings are nothing special.  What is good about them is the price, a Lonely Planet book that costs around $20 on Amazon is available for just $3-4 in Cambodia.  With that kind of an investment it is easy just to leave the book behind when you don’t need it anymore.  Of course the downside is that they are illegal so you wouldn’t be buying those books, would you?

For the ten days we spent in Laos we didn’t really need a book but we would have liked to travel more in Laos and then we would surely need a guide book and I guess that the Lonely Planet – Laos is as good as any but just to get the comparison it might be a good idea to get the Rough Guide – Laos for cheap in Vietnam before entering Laos.

For the China part of our trip we have purchased Lonely Planet – China and it looks good but the real judgment will be handed out after we have used it in China.

The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins

26 03 2010

small.DAWKINS_The God Delusion Richard Dawkins is an atheist and has been very active in public debates about religion, both in the UK and in the US.  He has both written books and hosted TV shows where he scrutinizes religion and argues all religion is harmful and that atheism is the only way forward.

In this book, The God Delusion, Dawkins has two main goals: first “To raise consciousness to the fact that being an atheist is a realistic aspiration” and secondly, to convince believers, from any faith-system, that there is almost certainly no god and therefore they should convert to atheism.

In the book Dawkins tries to answer questions like – Is it possible that God created the universe? Why do almost all civilizations have some sort of a faith system? Do we need god to be moral? Aren’t we better off having a god to console us?  Is it possible that there is no God?

Without passing any judgment here on whether Dawkins is right or wrong, I thought it was a very interesting book in deed and entertaining at times.  Dawkins has a been debating the issue for years and his arguments are quite polished and his coverage of the topic thorough.

This is a topic that most humans think about at some point in their life and some minds are constantly on the subject.  This book comes from a side that is not very often heard and I think it is very healthy for anyone to read the book and familiarize them selves with its content, even if they don’t agree with the author.

The only fault I could find with the book is that sometimes Dawkins is too academic in his arguments and I sometimes felt that he was arguing for the arguments sake.  I also noticed that occasionally Dawkins interprets what people were actually thinking while saying certain things, which he has really no idea about.  He has plenty of good arguments and doesn’t need to add the bad ones as well.

I would recommend this book to anyone contemplating faith in any way or is having doubts of their own faith. I think that the book is also an excellent read for people that are interested in the public debate regarding faith and religion in modern society as it speaks the voice that is not too often heard in that same debate.

Wake Up – A Life of the Buddha by Jack Kerouac

24 03 2010

kerouac_wakeup As with so many books recently, I listened to Wake Up – A Life of the Buddha as an audio book.  It comes from Penguin Audio as 5 cds read by Danny Campbell, who in my opinion didn’t do the book justice with his monotone voice that hardly gave the story the life it needed.  Still the story is very interesting and a fundamental story in the lives so many people around the world so I tried to looked past this fault in the production.

This book tells the story of the Buddha or to be correct it tells the story of XXXXX that later in life becomes the Buddha or the Enlighten One.  The story begins when XXX is still a little prince growing up in Hindu India. XXX becomes disillusioned with the life of riches that he lives and leaves the palace to search for answers on life it self – on deaths and rebirths or reincarnation, one of the cornerstones of the Hindu religion.  To my understanding the prince discovered the secrets of life and becomes the Buddha and the book follows the Buddha to the end of his human life or until he enters Nirvana.  The book also goes through some of Buddha’s teachings as he is preaching to his disciples.  To create a coherent story the author both cites old scriptures from different Buddhist traditions and uses his own words to bind the scriptures together.

Before I read the book I had heard some stories of how the prince became the Buddha but is was very interesting to read it again as a coherent story from beginning to end.  Reading the book at this point in time, while traveling through South East Asia, gives it a good and solid context and makes the reading (listening) even more enjoyable. 

About three fifths of the book follow the life story of the Buddha and about two fifths are from the Buddha teaching or preaching to his disciples.  The former I liked immensely The latter part I didn’t get so well and I have to admit is went a bit over my head.  The Buddha talks about the self, the true self, the mind, the essence of mind, the conscious mind, the brain mind, the essential mind and so forth and it was a bit too complex for me to make any sense of it. 

To summarize, I really likes the story of how the prince became the Buddha and how he spent his life after becoming the Enlightened One.  I didn’t like the teachings since I didn’t fully understand them – maybe I’ll have to give that part another try later. 

I would recommend this book to anyone that wants to learn about the Buddha and Buddhism but at the same time, I would recommend going quickly through the teachings unless you are very enthusiastic about the subject.