Eternal Hope

(Review on Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl)

Frankl’s narrative brings me face to face with Nazi concentration camp: the abhorring degradation of fellow human beings, mass murdering, barbaric treatment of prisoners. Yet, human souls were able to seek comfort in natural beauty in such unbearable existence. Ultimately the book is about triumph, particularly spiritual triumph despite all the suffering one went through. If a person can emerge from such experience: being stripped naked, taken away all possessing, being beaten and starved, doing harsh labor in the bitter winter, facing arbitrary death in every moment, later learned that his parents and wife were all killed in gas chamber, but coming out compassionate, forgiving and becoming a successful doctor and author (publishing 30 books afterwards), how can we not marvel at human resilience?

The eventual survival of Frankl may be due to luck (not boarding the last train), his own social smart (avoiding offending prison guards, befriending the foremen), and kindness from fellow prisoners (extra bread saved, joint escape attempt). But it also crucially depended on his spiritual strength and holding on to the final hope. He called this search of “meaning of suffering”. By assigning meaning to his suffering,  he then would not fall prey to bitter disappointment when liberation did come at an expected date, while a fellow prisoner lost hope and died. In other words, Frankl found a way to maintain eternal hope. It is this hope enables him to stand strong despite any suffering or disappointment.

In the last chapter,  Frankl offered an invaluable explanation on logotherapy. Its methodology is enlightening, much similar to what Anthony Robbins has preached all along in his seminar. Humans need “meaningful goals” to feel happy.

Each of us goes through life with unique experience. No one can repeat that experience for us. Even our suffering is unique. Thus the meaning of our life is put upon us instead of us searching for it. It is how we answer life, in our unique way.

The bare truth of concentration camp, the honesty and the compassion deeply touches me. There is no self pity or hatred. Instead you experience a deep sense of beauty in this writing. All you feel is a much larger understanding for human existence and the ultimate triumph of human spirit.

How can we feel despair when men endured and survived concentration camp? Even if the world problem is daunting, Frankl said, “the world may be in a bad state, but everything will become worse unless each of us does his best”. As horrible as Nazi concentration camp is, Frankl lived to tell the story, to share his experience. All those who died did not die in vain. Ultimately good and justice, and human spirits triumph in this world.

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The Voyage of Beagle

Imagine 170 years ago, a group of people sailed from England, crossing the Atlantic, arriving at the shore of South America to explore today’s Brazil and Argentina. They met indigenous people and Spanish colonists. Imagine our main hero, who ventured into the inland, lived and interacted with local people, collecting plants and animal specimen to sent back to British museums.

Our hero in this story is Charles Darwin, who demonstrated remarkable bravery and dedication to his work.

I am taken by Darwin’s fluid writing and his keen observation on both nature and human society. I marvel at Darwin’s diligent and meticulous way in doing his research, and his courage of venturing into desert, onto steep mountains and islands. He took the risk of being robbed by bandits but still continued his journey inland. He coudld also be attached by wild animals, yet he moved ahead.

As I listen to the audio book, I was deeply moved by how this naturalist/scientist conducted his survey and research. As he seeked all his evidence, collected new information, and constantly learned about the land, plants, geological change, he created hypotheses. He verified them from all angles and put forth irrefutable theory and evidence. In the voyage, Darwin investigated the formation of coral reefs and created a theory that still holds true today.

The sweeping landscape of the whole globe, from England, through Atlantic Ocean, to South America, the Pacific islands, New Zealand, Australia, Indian Ocean and South Africa are all vividly described in this book. It is indeed a true voyage. It tells the power and wide reach the British empire had at that time. Which country can have such sweeping interests on such global scale? Citizens from Britain went to every corner of the world, and most of those places were newly discovered and uncivilized at that time.  The voyage of beagle is a vivid account of British sea power at that time, and its scientific expedition. It is thus natural that the evolutional theory is developed by a British naturalist, who went with British vessel, circling the whole global, and seeing every part of the world landscape and living creatures.

While the external condition provides fertile ground for a British naturalist to come up with evolution theory, a theory that is so sweeping and profound, it is up to a man who has the capacity to do this job. Another naturalist may pick up bits and pieces, but it is Darwin and his penetrating intellectual vigor and his hard work make such a theory possible.

The curiosity and research scope of Darwin is amazing. He is interested in every plant, every living animal, and the land and sea where they inhabit. He is interested in the geological formation and change. He could explore rocks for hours, or meticulously collected 8 different kinds of insects in one expedition. He observed spiders and their habits, he studied birds and locus. He observed people, tribes, and local governments too. If he devotes his attention to human society, he could have been an excellent social scientist. I was awed by Darwin’s intellectual capacity.

Listen to this book, you will never be disappointed and your life is forever enriched.

Book Review: Only the Super-Rich Can Save Us!

I have known Ralph Nader as an excellent public speaker and a brave fighter for political change, but I never knew he is also a good writer. Nader has demonstrated such exceptional grasp of language. This book is so fluid, vivid and fun to read that it is hard for me to put it down.

I especially like the words spoken by each character in the book, such as Warren Buffet and Ted Turner. There is unique personality for each person and the anecdotes they refer to just made you smile.

I started this book with great interest. However I finished this book with certain disappointment and sadness. I am disappointed because the battle was won too easily, and the story lines are too linear. I am sad because this book reveals certain kind of desperation of changing our society. It seems civil movement pales in front of what the super-rich can do. Is this a sad reality and have we given up on hopeful change?

As a political satire, this book is an excellent read. It has in-depth understanding of how corporate boardroom and political offices work. It has close observation of those famous billionaires and their political philosophy. The dialogs are witty and powerful. I highly recommend this book to anyone who is interested in political inside-dealing. Apparently the author’s experience comes in handy here.

As a fiction, this book suffers from the drawback of being linear. There is not enough suspense, emotion, and personal struggle. Our heroes are like action figures, immediately get down to their task and move things forward. Maybe this book should not be read as fiction, but rather as political guidebook for possible actions.

I applaud Nader for a wonderful book that opens our eyes to new ways of making political change, even it has to rely on the super-rich. I doubt the super-rich can be so organized, but it is worth tying, at least in our imagination.

Book Review: The Audacity of Hope

I marvel at a man’s passion and excellence. But more movingly is his deep thinking about this country, about policy issues. I am surprised that his mind is occupied by how to create fame for himself, but how to tackle problems facing this country. He is larger than a politician. There is greatness about this man, who steps out his narrow self.

From his fresh eyes who just joined the Senate for 2 years, Obama describe the process that can corrupt a democratic senate. In order to get large donation, you start to dine and wine the top 1% people: banker, CEOs, venture investors. You start to enjoy private jet and special status. You are indebted to union and large interest group who has the power to break your campaign. All of these is because the large fee of TV advertising which requires millions of dollars. How can we reform this system so that a candidate no longer has to cave to these interest groups?

Obama also mentioned thousands of bills he has to vote for or against each year. The complexity of each bill makes every voting an agonizing experience. I hope we can adopt national referendum soon, like people do in California. This will not only reduce the work load for those law makers, but also empower people to make direct decisions.

The Audacity of Hope is an excellent book. It’s beautifully written with remarkable of literacy flavor. It about a man’s journey in his latest political career (State and US senate, democratic convention speech). But it is refreshingly real, personal. It gives you hope for what is good and what is right.

One Person’s life and family

In his first book, Dreams from My Father, Barrack Obama talked about his youth and growing-up experience, his mother’s white family from Kansas, and his father’s Kenya family. While typical memoire can be boring to readers, this memoire weaves so many good stories together, that it is a lot of fun to read and listen to. The conversation, the depiction are so palpable.

A book that is a masterpiece

If you want to write a book on the history of Chinese immigrants in the US, how will you set out the book the be? What will you include? Iris Chang’s Chinese American achieved this goal brilliantly.

It is the best book I have ever read regarding the history of Chinese in the US. It provides an epic picture of a group people surviving and struggling in a new land, facing hostile treatment and discrimination. It is about a people with great ingenuity, creativity and deep culture heritage.

Behind this book is an author of excellent scholarship, complete integrity of providing objective and deep compassion for common people. The fluent narrative makes you feel like reading a novel that is unfolding by itself.

The success of this book comes from passion, devotion, hard work and deep historical knowledge. Bringing all these together, this book is a masterpiece.