Literature Books (Classic but short! so don’t be scared…)

I was never a fan of classics. They are thick, and often filled with words from ancient times that are beyond my vocabulary. And as a result, they are boring.

However, after beating around the bush with philosophical theories and modern novels for a while, I was pleasantly surprised that I had developed a liking for classics. Perhaps it is because I had started with these short books written by noble prize winners from not too long ago.

So if you shared my lack of enthusiasm for classics and but have a bit of time on your hands, I hope you would consider the following books that have brought me much delight.

IMPORTANT NOTE: some of the reviews may review the plot of the story

  • “The Stranger” By Albert Camus, winner of the 1957 Noble Prize For Literature


If I had to describe my takeaway from this book with one word, it would be honesty. Brutal honesty with oneself, to be more precise.

Meursault, the hero of the book, may be many things. You could call him a killer, an atheist, a cold-blooded and indifferent animal unworthy of a place in society or even a robot, but you can not say that he is a hypocrite. He ate when he was hungry, drank when he was thirsty, slept when he was tired. He would not shed a tear just because the occasion (ie. his mother’s funeral) demanded it or people around him expected it. When asked by his girlfriend if he loved her, he said “No” flatly. He didn’t sugar-coat it, didn’t make up some excuse, didn’t avoid the question. He spoke his mind directly, simply and truthfully. Even when his own life was at stake in the court room and being asked to state the motive of his killing, he “blurted out that it was because of the sun”, which for all we know as readers of the book, is the whole truth. He didn’t beg for his life or try to portray himself to be anything but his true self. It is then not surprising that at his final hour, when confronted by the chaplain about God, he would say that it didn’t interest him, because it simply didn’t.

Meursault behaved in this truthful way naturally. It’s not as if he had a profound ideology or belief about being honest or truthful is good or bad, he just did it as a matter of course. It is who he is. But of course, he is also a killer, and that makes things more complicated. Should we as a society educate and encourage people to be true to themselves at the risk of them becoming criminals, or shall we make sure that everybody conforms to a social normal even if they are just pretending to be?

I felt a connection with Meursault, deeply moved by his brutal honesty and also, dare I say, his kindness towards people around him. Throughout the whole story, he did not blame anybody, not even when he knew he was to be hanged; and he thought about shaking hands with the magistrate. Perhaps all of this could be explained by the fact that he always lived in the present (and the future) and never found it useful to dwell on the past. As per his thoughts when blamed for the lack of remorse by the prosecutor, “I had never been able to truly feel remorse for anything. My mind was always on what was coming next, today or tomorrow.”

If he hadn’t killed the Arab, perhaps Meursault would have married Marie, learnt from her and developed a (stronger) capacity to love.

  • “The Old Man and the Sea” by Ernest Hemingway, winner of the 1954 Noble Prize For Literature

The thing about classics is that, it has been sliced and diced already in a thousand different ways by people from all ages. Anything that can be said about it has probably been said already. It’s like in the movie “Truman Show” when the young Truman said to the teacher: “I want to be an explorer!”, and the teacher pulls down a map of the world and replies: “… you’re too late. There’s really nothing left to explore.”

Oh well. Then perhaps this is only relevant to people who are interested in what I thought of the book. For surely there hadn’t been another “I” before this?

My takeaway from the book is one about freedom. As a man grows old, he is less and less attached to materialistic things. The old man lived in a small one-room shack, a bed, a table and a chair was all it had, if you discount the “place on the dirt floor to cook with charcoal”. He wore a shirt that had been patched so many times, and used his rolled-up trousers as a pillow and old newspapers as his mattress. He lived in such simplistic conditions without a hint of despair. He is a true minimalist without knowing what a minimalist is. He seems to have attained freedom from materialistic things.

Further, the old man seems to have freed himself from the desire for food – one of the hardest things to do for men. My favourite paragraph of the book was this: “The old man drank his coffee slowly. It was all he would have all day and he knew that he should take it. For a long time now eating had bored him and he never carried a lunch. He had a bottle of water in the bow of the skiff and that was all he needed for the day.” If it weren’t for the fact that he knew he needed it, he probably would have gone without the coffee as well!

Thirdly, the old man seems to be free from, though not completely, human relationships. He lived alone, fished alone, seems to have no real relationship with anybody except for the boy. He did have a picture of his wife though which is kept with his clean shirts. At sea, the boy was the only person he thought about, repeatedly. It seems to imply that, human relationships are harder to be free from compared to external materialistic things, and harder even than basic human needs such as food.

Lastly, the old man was faced with the hardest thing to be free from – one’s own physical body. He worked hard to command his own body as if he was separate from it. Pain and discomfort experienced by the body was not of chief concern for the old man, as long as the body was able to carry out whatever task the mind commands. Perhaps this is the reason people often describe the old man as “tough”. Toughness is not by measured by how much pain your body can endure, but how much your mind gives a damn about whatever pain your body experiences.

Was the old man a happy old man? I think so. With such freedom from materialistic things, from bodily desires, from human relationships and from his own physical form, he is probably happier than most of us.

  • “Siddhartha” by Herman Hesse, winner of the 1946 Noble Prize For Literature

(Review to come)


Knowledge gainer books

On Democracy
by Robert Dahl

A cute little book that explains democracy in a nutshell. Great for people who can’t even spell democracy.

“Dahl has written a fine little book on his favorite subject, aimed as much at the general reader as at the student of politics… On democracy is a great success.” — The Economist

The Clash of Civilizations And the Remaking of World Order
by Samuel Huntington

Thirsty for knowledge on international affairs / social science / anthropology? This is a great book to start, very readable and rich in content.

An exerpt from the last chapter on a potential WW3 scenario:

“Assume the year is 2010. American troops are out of Korea, which has been reunified, and the United States has a greatly reduced military presence in Japan. Taiwan and mainland China have reached an accommodation in which Taiwan continues to have most of its de facto independence but explicitly acknowledges Beijing’s suzerainty and with China’s sponsorship has been admitted to the United Nations on the model of Ukraine and Belorussia in 1946. The development of the oil resources in the South China Sea has proceeded apace, largely under Chinese auspices but with some areas under Vietnamese control being developed by American companies. Its confidence boosted by its new power projection capabilities, China announces that it will establish its full control of the entire sea, over all of which it has always claimed sovereignty. The Vietnamese resist and fighting occurs between Chinese and Vietnamese warships. The Chinese, eager to revenge their 1979 humiliation, invade Vietnam. The Vietnamese appeal for American assistance. The Chinese warn the United States to stay out. Japan and the other nations in Asia dither. The United States says it cannot accept Chinese conquest of Vietnam, calls for economic sanctions against China, and dispatches one of its few remaining carrier task forces to the South China Sea. The Chinese denounce this as a violation of Chinese territorial waters and launch air strikes against the task force. Efforts by the U.N. secretary general and the Japanese prime minister to negotiate a cease-fire fail, and the fighting spreads elsewhere in East Asia. Japan prohibits the use of U.S. bases in Japan for action against China, the United States ignores that prohibition, and Japan announces its neutrality and quarantines the bases. Chinese submarines and land-based aircraft operating from both Taiwan and the mainland impose serious damage on U.S. ships and facilities in East Asia. Meanwhile Chinese ground forces enter Hanoi and occupy large portions of Vietnam.

Since both China and the United States have missiles capable of delivering nuclear weapons to the other’s territory, an implicit standoff occurs and these weapons are not used in the early phases of the war. Fear of such attacks, however, exists in both societies and is particularly strong in the United States. This leads many Americans to begin to ask why they are being subjected to this danger? What difference does it make if China controls the South China Sea, Vietnam, or even all of Southeast Asia? Opposition to the war is particularly strong in the Hispanic-dominated states of the southwestern United States, whose people and governments say “this isn’t our war” and attempt to opt out on the model of New England in the War of 1812. After the Chinese consolidate their initial victories in East Asia, American opinion begins to move in the direction that Japan hoped it would in 1942: the costs of defeating this most recent assertion of hegemonic power are too great; let’s settle for a negotiated end to the sporadic fighting or “phony war” now going on in the Western Pacific.

Meanwhile, however, the war is having an impact on the major states of other civilizations. India seizes the opportunity offered by China’s being tied down in East Asia to launch a devastating attack on Pakistan with a view to degrading totally that country’s nuclear and conventional military capabilities. It is initially successful but the military alliance between Pakistan, Iran, and China is activated and Iran comes to Pakistan’s assistance with modern and sophisticated military forces. India becomes bogged down fighting Iranian troops and Pakistani guerrillas from several different ethnic groups. Both Pakistan and India appeal to Arab states for support—India warning of the danger of Iranian dominance of Southwest Asia—but the initial successes of China against the United States have stimulated major anti-Western movements in Muslim societies. One by one the few remaining pro-Western governments in Arab countries and in Turkey are brought down by Islamist movements powered by the final cohorts of the Muslim youth bulge. The surge of anti-Westernism provoked by Western weakness leads to a massive Arab attack on Israel, which the much-reduced U.S. Sixth Fleet is unable to stop.

China and the United States attempt to rally support from other key states. As China scores military successes, Japan nervously begins to bandwagon with China, shifting its position from formal neutrality to pro-Chinese positive neutrality and then yielding to China’s demands and becoming a cobelligerent. Japanese forces occupy the remaining U.S. bases in Japan and the United States hastily evacuates its troops. The United States declares a blockade of Japan, and American and Japanese ships engage in sporadic duels in the Western Pacific. At the start of the war China proposed a mutual security pact with Russia (vaguely reminiscent of the Hitler-Stalin pact). Chinese successes, however, have just the opposite effect on Russia than they had on Japan. The prospect of Chinese victory and total Chinese dominance in East Asia terrifies Moscow. As Russia moves in an anti-Chinese direction and begins to reinforce its troops in Siberia, the numerous Chinese settlers in Siberia interfere with these movements. China then intervenes militarily to protect its countrymen and occupies Vladivostok, the Amur River valley, and other key parts of eastern Siberia. As fighting spreads between Russian and Chinese troops in central Siberia, uprisings occur in Mongolia, which China had earlier placed under a “protectorate.”

Control of and access to oil is of central importance to all combatants. Despite its extensive investment in nuclear energy, Japan is still highly dependent on oil imports and this strengthens its inclination to accommodate China and insure its flow of oil from the Persian Gulf, Indonesia, and the South China sea. During the course of the war, as Arab countries come under the control of Islamic militants, Persian Gulf oil supplies to the West diminish to a trickle and the West consequently becomes increasingly dependent on Russian, Caucasian, and Central Asian sources. This leads the West to intensify its efforts to enlist Russia on its side and to support Russia in extending its control over the oil-rich Muslim countries to its south.

Meanwhile the United States has been eagerly attempting to mobilize the full support of its European allies. While extending diplomatic and economic assistance, they are reluctant to become involved militarily. China and Iran, however, are fearful that Western countries will eventually rally behind the United States, even as the United States eventually came to the support of Britain and France in two world wars. To prevent this they secretly deploy intermediate-range nuclear-capable missiles to Bosnia and Algeria and warn the European powers that they should stay out of the war. As was almost always the case with Chinese efforts to intimidate countries other than Japan, this action has consequences just the opposite of what China wanted. U.S. intelligence perceives and reports the deployment and the NATO Council declares the missiles must be removed immediately. Before NATO can act, however, Serbia, wishing to reclaim its historic role as the defender of Christianity against the Turks, invades Bosnia. Croatia joins in and the two countries occupy and partition Bosnia, capture the missiles, and proceed with efforts to complete the ethnic cleansing which they had been forced to stop in the 1990s. Albania and Turkey attempt to help the Bosnians; Greece and Bulgaria launch invasions of European Turkey and panic erupts in Istanbul as Turks flee across the Bosporus. Meanwhile a missile with a nuclear warhead, launched from Algeria, explodes outside Marseilles, and NATO retaliates with devastating air attacks against North African targets.

The United States, Europe, Russia, and India have thus become engaged in a truly global struggle against China, Japan, and most of Islam. How would such a war end? Both sides have major nuclear capabilities and clearly if these were brought into more than minimal play, the principal countries on both sides could be substantially destroyed. If mutual deterrence worked, mutual exhaustion might lead to a negotiated armistice, which would not, however, resolve the fundamental issue of Chinese hegemony in East Asia. Alternatively the West could attempt to defeat China through the use of conventional military power. The alignment of Japan with China, however, gives China the protection of an insular cordon sanitaire preventing the United States from using its naval power against the centers of Chinese population and industry along its coast. The alternative is to approach China from the west. The fighting between Russia and China leads NATO to welcome Russia as a member and to cooperate with Russia in countering Chinese incursions into Siberia, maintaining Russian control over the Muslim oil and gas countries of Central Asia, promoting insurrections against Chinese rule by Tibetans, Uighurs, and Mongolians, and gradually mobilizing and deploying Western and Russian forces eastward into Siberia for the final assault across the Great Wall to Beijing, Manchuria, and the Han heartland.

Whatever the immediate outcome of this global civilizational war—mutual nuclear devastation, a negotiated halt as a result of mutual exhaustion, or the eventual march of Russian and Western forces into Tiananmen Square—the broader long-term result would almost inevitably be the drastic decline in the economic, demographic, and military power of all the major participants in the war. As a result, global power which had shifted over the centuries from the East to the West and had then begun to shift back from the West to the East would now shift from the North to the South. The great beneficiaries of the war of civilizations are those civilizations which abstained from it. With the West, Russia, China, and Japan devastated to varying degrees, the way is open for India, if it escaped such devastation even though it was a participant, to attempt to reshape the world along Hindu lines. Large segments of the American public blame the severe weakening of the United States on the narrow Western orientation of WASP elites, and Hispanic leaders come to power buttressed by the promise of extensive Marshall Plan-type aid from the booming Latin American countries which sat out the war. Africa, on the other hand, has little to offer to the rebuilding of Europe and instead disgorges hordes of socially mobilized people to prey on the remains. In Asia if China, Japan, and Korea are devastated by the war, power also shifts southward, with Indonesia, which had remained neutral, becoming the dominant state and, under the guidance of its Australian advisors, acting to shape the course of events from New Zealand on the east to Myanmar and Sri Lanka on the west and Vietnam on the north. All of which presages future conflict with India and a revived China. In any event, the center of world politics moves south.”

by 陈志武

I have mixed reactions about this book. The author’s ideas are quite interesting but a bit extreme at times.

The most interesting parts are the final chapters, discussing Confucius values and the development of finance.

Not 100% agree with the author’s strong views, but nevertheless worth a read.

Excerpt from later chapters:






心理世界能够天马行空,飞翔到朴素感情之外。 ….”

Beating the Street
by Peter Lynch

The truth is, cash starts to deplete fast without a job! In order to enjoy and prolong a happy “retirement”, it is important to start planning as early as possible. If you haven’t already deployed your capital, this should be one of the first books to read!

Hardcore soul searching books

Mere Christianity
by C.S. Lewis

Don’t be fooled by the name, this book is not just for Christians. In fact, I think it’s even more for non-Christians.

The author takes baby steps to reason out why the whole idea of religion, in a very easy-to-understand manner. No jargon, just layman’s words.

It is one of the best books, if not the best book, I’ve read in the past year.

Many people say that it is this book which turned them into believing Christianity.


A good entry level book on Buddhism, although it’s better to read it after some elementary knowledge of Buddhism. Suggest to read after watching 和谐拯救危机.

从康德到朱熹 – 白鹿洞讲演录
by 朱高正

<< Mere Christianity >> to Christianity is like <<和谐拯救危机>> to Buddhism, and this is the book for Confucianism, and much more!

The author is the decedent of 朱熹, from Taiwan, with PhD in Philosophy from Germany specializing in Immanuel Kant.

A very good introduction to Confucianism, even for those who know very little about it. It’s very easy to read as it is based on lectures given by the author.

Basic Christianity
by John Stott

“This book has introduced more people to Christ than any other book i know except the Bible.”

Another solid book on the introduction to Christianity. More structured and concise than Mere Christianity, but lacks the appeal non-believers as it dives right into the religion. Suggest reading Mere Christianity first.

by 张尚仁

A good intro book into Taoism, perhaps a good step stone before you read 道德经 or 庄子 directly.

What I find particularly impressive about the book is its unassuming tone. It feels like the author is discussing an issue with you as peers rather than trying to force something onto you as an authority. I find it quite rare in books of such nature.

by 詠給•明就仁波切

Another good book on Buddhism and mediation. Better to read it after some basic knowledge of Buddhism.

Relaxing time-killer books


Considered the best detective novel in Japan, a great pass time during a flight or train journey. Took me 4 hours to finish.

Been made into a film called 神探伽利略.


One of the best and most addictive novels I’ve read in years! Great for reading while relaxing on the beach… have the risk of reigniting your passion for business!

Gentle soul searching books

The Alchemist
byPaulo Coelho

Few people in search of the meaning of life have not read this international best selling phenomenon.

The book won the Guinness World Record for most translated book by a living author.

A short story with long lasting impacts.

Sophie’s World
byJostein Gaarder

A brief but thorough history of philosophy. A good starting point for those who are, for the first time, in search of the meaning of life. Good for soul searching, albeit a bit heavy.

The Selfish Gene
byRichard Dawkins

I have not been as much addicted to a book as this one since reading Jin Yong’s novels as a boy. Its 330 pages were finished in 3 days.

It is such a crucial step stone in any attempt to understand the meaning of life that I can not over emphasize it. It is arguably plain pointless to discuss the topic of “soul searching” with anybody who has not read it.

If I was stranded on an island and allowed one book, “The Selfish Gene” would definitely be among the top contestants.

NOTE: Make sure you read the 30th anniversary edition of the book which is more complete with notes.

The Art of Travel
byAlain de Botton

A witty book that looks at why people travel and much more. I wish I had read this book before doing much of my travelling, the experience would have been enhanced significantly if I had done that.

Some quotes:

“If our life is dominated by a search for happiness, then perhaps few activities reveal as much about the dynamics of this quest – in all its ardour and paradoxes – than our travels”

“Journeys are the midwives of thought”

“A danger of travel is that we may see things at the wrong time, before we have had an opportunity to build up the necessary receptivity, so that new information is as useless and fugitive as necklace beads without a connecting chain.”


See how one of the most successful business leader in Japan looks at life. Good for soul searching as well as corporate/business.

The Art of Learning
byJosh Waitzkin

Presumably, you will be learning a lot of new things now you have all the time in the world! Suggest to read this book soon after quitting in order to improve your learning techniques.

燃灯者 – 忆周辅成

I was only able to understand 20% of the content, but an extensive list of other books were mentioned in this one, which gave a good road map for those who are interested to understand life’s true meaning:

1. 《反杜林论》,恩格斯
2. 《唯物主义与经验批判主义》,列宁
3. 《国家与革命》
4. 《法兰西内战》
5. 《帝国主义是资本主义的最高阶段》
6. 《共产党宣言》
7. 《纯粹理性批判》,康德
8. 《康德〈纯理性批判〉解义》,斯密
9. 《矛盾论》,毛泽东
10. 《实践论》,毛泽东
11. 《宇宙发展史概论》,康德
12. 《历史》,希罗多德
13. 《伯罗奔尼撒战争史》,修昔底德
14. 《莎士比亚戏剧集》
15. 《莎士比亚的人格》,周辅成
16. 《古代哲学家》,汤姆逊
17. 《申辩篇》,柏拉图
18. 《文艺复兴至十九世纪哲学家、政治思想家关于人性论人道主义言论集》
19. 《论人的尊严》,皮科
20. 《愚人颂》,爱拉斯谟
21. 《与山巨源绝交书》,嵇康
22. 《阿房宫赋》
23. 《艺术哲学》,丹纳
24. 《自愿奴役论》,拉伯哀西
25. 《希腊哲学史》,伯奈特
26. 《山打根八号娼馆 – 底层女性史序章》,山崎朋子
27. 《音乐哲学》,阿多诺
28. 《法兰克福学派史》,杰伊 盖
29. 《吴宓日记》
30. 《斐多篇》,柏拉图
31. 《理想国》,柏拉图
32. 《卢梭与浪漫主义》
33. 《法国批判大师》
34. 《美育书简》,席勒
35. 《判断力批判》,康德
36. 《审美之维》,马尔库塞
37. 《康德的审美哲学》,周辅成
38. 《白鹿洞书院学规》,朱熹
39. 《歌德之认识》
40. 《五人墓碑记》,张溥
41. 《明清之际党社运动考》,谢国桢
42. 《玉镜新谭》,朱长祚
43. 《明夷待访录》,黄宗羲
44. 《新旧约全书》
45. 《暴风雨》,莎士比亚
46. 《马克思与人》,周辅成
47. 《1844年经济学—哲学手稿》,马克思
48. 《尼克马可伦理学》
49. 《剑南诗稿》
50. 《自传》,克鲁泡特金
51. 《法国大革命》,克鲁泡特金
52. 《论人和人的解放》,周辅成
53. 《正义论》,罗尔斯
54. 《政治自由主义》,罗尔斯
55. 《西方伦理学名著选集》,周辅成
56. 《戴震》,周辅成
57. 《论董仲舒思想》,周辅成