Book review: The Abyss: Bridging the Divide between Israel and the Arab World

TL;DR If you are an Israeli and don’t feel like learning the behind the scenes stories, skip it. Otherwise, I do recommend reading this book. I enjoyed it a lot 4.5/5

The Abyss: Bridging the Divide between Israel and the Arab World went to print slightly after the outbreak of the “Arab Spring.” The author, Eli Avidar, is a former Israeli intelligence officer and diplomat. Among other things, Eli Avidar served as the head of the Israeli diplomatic mission to Qatar in 1999. Today, Eli Avidar is a Knesset member for the right-wing Yisrael Beiteinu party. Even though so many things have changed since the book was published, I didn’t find any claim that Eli Avidar made, and that turned out to be wrong, nine years after the publication. 

I enjoyed reading this book a lot despite the fact that most of Eli Avidar’s claims are not new to me. Most of them are widely known to all the Israelis, and the real question is not whether you are aware of these claims, but whether you agree with them and what conclusions you make out of them.

On the other hand, The Abyss is an interesting storybook full of behind the scenes anecdotes and gossip. All who know me know how much I like gossips. It also provides a great introspection of how the (Jewish-)Israeli society sees the Arab-Israeli conflict, and what it feels towards it.

Should you read the book? If you are an Israeli and don’t feel like learning the behind the scenes stories, you may skip it. Otherwise, I do recommend reading this book. I don’t know how accurate is Avidar’s description of the Arab world, but his analysis of the Israeli behavior and attitude is very accurate. If you ever cough yourself wondering “What the fuck do the Israelis think?”, this book might shed some light for you. That is why I write this review in English, despite my tendency to review Hebrew books in my Hebrew blog.

Fun fact. I finished reading this book on August the 13th. I closed the book, opened Twitter, and saw my feed FULL with news about the upcoming normalization treaty between Israel and UAE. 

Book review: The Year Without Pants. and the future of work by Scott Berkun

TL;DR Interesting “history of work” book (definitely not “future of work”) with insights on transition-state organizations. Read it if history of work is your thing, or if you work in a small company that grows rapidly. 4.5/5 (due to the personal connection)

I got The Year Without Pants in 2014 as an onboarding present when I joined Automattic. The author, Scott Berkun, used to work as a manager at Microsoft (and maybe more places) before he quit and became a career of an adviser and an author. In 2011, the Automattic founder brought Scott to work at the company. About seventy people were working in the company back then and the company was growing rapidly. Automattic has just introduced a concept of teams, and the idea was that Scott will work as a team leader, consulting the management on how to deal with the transition.

Being an ex-Microsoft manager, Scott was fascinated by the small distributed company, and wrote a book on it, proclaiming that the way Automattic worked was “the future of work”.

The book was published in 2012. Today, in post-COVID 2020, nobody is surprised by people who don’t need to go to the office every day. Automattic has now more than 1,000 employees and has adopted many of the rituals big companies have, such as endless meetings, tedious coordination, name tags, and corporate speak.

Why, then, did I enjoy the book? First, for me, it was a pleasant “time travel.” I enjoyed reading about people I knew, teams I worked with, and practices I used to love or hate. Secondly, this book provides insights on a transition from a small group of like-thinkers to a formalized organization.

Book review: Great mental models by Shane Parrish

TL;DR shallow and disappointing

The Great Mental Models by Shane Parrish was highly praised by Automattic’s CEO Matt Mullenweg. Since I appreciate Matt’s opinion a lot, I decided to buy the book. I read it and was disappointed.

Image result for great mental models

This book is very ambitious but yet shallow and non-engaging. If you consider reading a book on mental models, then chances are you already know some of them. I expected the book to shed light on aspects I didn’t know or didn’t think of. Nothing like that happened. I didn’t learn new facts, neither was I impressed by a new way of thinking. I also think that this book won’t do the job with teenagers who still don’t have the arsenal of mental models, for them this book is full of unclear shortcuts.

The book is based on the materials of a highly praised blog and is a good example how some stuff can work well as a blog post but feel bad as a book.

The bottom line: 2/5 Skip it.

Book review. Replay by Ken Grimwood

TL;DR: excellent fiction reading, makes you think about your life choices. 5/5

book cover of "Replay" by Ken Grimwood

“Replay” by Ken Grimwood is the first fiction book that I read in ages. The book is about a forty-three years old man with a failing family and a boring career. The man suddenly dies and re-appears in his own eighteen-years old body. He then lives his life again, using the knowledge of his future self. Then he dies again, and again, and again.
I liked the concept (reminded me of the Groundhog Day movie). The book managed to “suck me in,” and I finished it in two days. It also made me think hard about my life choices. I think that my decision to quit and become a freelancer was partially affected by this book.

What did I not like? Some parts of the book are somewhat pornographic. It doesn’t bother me per se, but I think the plot would stay as good as it is without those parts. Also, I find it a little bit sad that every reincarnation in “Replay” starts with making easy money. Not that I don’t like money; it just makes me sad.

Photo of my kindle with text from "Replay" by Ken Grimwood

Bottom line: Read! 5/5

(Read in Nov 2019)

Don’t we all like a good contradiction?

I am a huge fan of Gerd Gigerenzer who preaches numeracy and uncertainty education. One of Prof. Gigerenzer’s pivotal theses is “Fast and Frugal Heuristics” which is also popularized in his book “Gut Feelings” (listen to this podcast if you don’t want to read the book). I like this approach.

Today, I listened to the latest episode of the Brainfluence podcast that hosted the psychologist Dr. Gleb Tsipursky who wrote an extensive book called “Never Trust your Gut” with a seemingly contradicting thesis. I added this book to my TOREAD list.