Books Read in The Past Month – Reviews and Recommendations #1

The past month has been a pretty trying period for me. My depression, which has been somewhat dormant for most of 2017, crept up on me unexpectedly.

To give you some context, prior to 2017 I always had at least 3 bouts of depression a year, average 4 – 5. But last year, I only had one.

I wish I could say, ‘What an accomplishment!’, but I really felt like I could go through all twelve months of 2017 without experiencing any kind of depressive episode.

Now I know I shouldn’t set my expectations that high. I’m more vulnerable than I think, no matter how strong I think I am. I won’t be expecting too much in 2018. But what I will do is prepare myself better.

As such, I’ve been deviating away from my usual stock of analytical and business books to read more ‘spiritual’ books and books about hard living. Thankfully they have been very helpful in my journey.

Here are the books if you want to read them also:

Man’s Search for Meaning, Viktor Frankl

Ever since my teacher in Form 6 showed my class a film about life as a prisoner in Auschwitz, I’ve been intrigued by all kinds of materials about it. So when I learned that this was one of the pinnacle pieces on it, I picked it up.

Man’s Search for Meaning is psychologist Viktor Frankl’s personal account and analysis of his time spent in Hitler’s most dreaded concentration camp Auschwitz.

Other than being Hitler’s favorite place of torment, Auschwitz has unwittingly become a place where observers can see how grown men, upright and moral under normal conditions are reduced to animals that will do anything they can to keep themselves alive – even if it betraying your friends, stealing from a dead man, or watching your loved ones die. In this sense, the survivors are never the best people.

Viktor Frankl’s account shows all these cruelties, but more than that, he shows us what it means to survive beyond our worst hardships. He observed that most people who succumbed to typhoid in the concentration camp rarely did so because of the severity of the disease, but because they have lost their will to live. Having lost everything, they didn’t have anything to live for anymore.

After World World II ended, Viktor Frankl used what he observed to develop a logotherapy, a branch of psychology that teaches people to find meaning in their living. He argues that everyone is here to do something only they can uniquely do. Like how a father’s love for his son can never be replaced by the love of another man for that son.

This was a book that at once fascinating and impactful for me because it gives me a glimpse of how humans can be pushed to their limits and still survive, and to think for myself the question: What am I living for? Is that enough to make me want to continue living?

Nothing to Envy, Barbara Demick

Nothing to Envy is a book about how North Korea was formed, how the initial socialist dreams slowly crumbled into millions of civilian deaths by famine and most importantly, the present struggle of the North Koreans who stay in North Korea and of those who defect through China to South Korea as well as those who continue living in China.

Although this is a non-fiction book, it hardly felt like it. Demick’s writing style is soothing and colorful. She brought out images of what we seldom saw in the media about life in North Korea: two teenagers falling in forbidden love, walking in the dark, kissing once, never going beyond holding hands, both leaving North Korea, but never ending up together in the end; a young woman whose loyalty to Kim Il-Sung was unquestionable, growing into a mother who provided well for her family, and then, losing first her husband, and then her son to famine, and then finally, defecting from North Korea.

Each defector story is unique but the same all at once – a struggle for freedom from the confines of North Korea is later transformed into a struggle of fitting into South Korea.

I read this book with an open mind, and it refreshed me. I highly recommend it to anyone wanting to get a glimpse of life from the point of view of six North Koreans who defected.

Letters from a Stoic, Seneca

These days I’ve also begun to read more work from the ancients. I used to shy away from them because I thought they might be boring. Once I started reading this book all my hesitations vanished. I couldn’t believe how applicable the things that Seneca wrote would be to the world we are living in today.

This book is an easy introduction to the practice of stoicism, which at first sounds like a constrained and harsh life until you dig deeper and realise that starving yourself of common pleasures is the best way to gain uncommon pleasures.

Having said that, stoicism is not everybody’s cup of tea so I will leave you some quotes from Letters from a Stoic to allow you to decide if you like it:

“True happiness is to enjoy the present, without anxious dependence upon the future, not to amuse ourselves with either hopes or fears but to rest satisfied with what we have, which is sufficient, for he that is so wants nothing. The greatest blessings of mankind are within us and within our reach. A wise man is content with his lot, whatever it may be, without wishing for what he has not.”

“It is not that we have so little time but that we lose so much. … The life we receive is not short but we make it so; we are not ill provided but use what we have wastefully.”


So that’s it. Those are three of my favorites books I’ve read in the past month. I read a couple more books about business and finance but I can’t say I loved them as much as I did these three.

Happy reading 🙂

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