The Soccer War – Ryszard Kapuscinski

The Soccer War by Ryszard Kapuscinski is a collection by this one-of-a-kind author of his escapades, adventures and experiences in some of the 27 (yes, twenty seven) revolutions slash wars he personally experienced during the 1960s and early 1970s. Ryszard was a Polish journalist with responsibilities at any one time for over 50 countries in Africa and South America, and this book offers his insights and experiences into among others, Patrice Lulumba, the Algeria  of Boumedienne and Ben Bella, barbarous civil war in Nigeria, and the eponymous Soccer War between El Salvador and Honduras.

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Virtually You – Elias Aboujaoude MD

Virtually You – The Dangerous Powers of the E-Personality, by Elias Aboujaoude MD, is a timely and much-needed look at how the omnipresent Internet is effecting the personality, behavior, and indeed the life, of the multitudes who interact with it. Elias is a psychiatrist and specialist in Obsessive Compulsive Disorders, and Impulse Control Disorders, and makes an excellent case in this book for a new psychiatric condition, namely, Internet Addiction.

To be clear though, this book is not a thesis on this proposed condition, it is so much more than that – it is built on insightful and very original thinking, and quite shockingly exposes the effects that the Internet is having on people from all walks of life. This book is a real metaphorical eye-opener, but despite this, it is not alarmist at all, and the author comes across as very reasonable throughout. The author is not some old foggy trying to flog his fire-and-brimstone prophecies of a wicked “interweb” technology on us, but rather a very Internet-savvy guy, with a truly impressive grasp and understanding of the essence and nature of the Web, and this coupled with his obvious knowledge of psychiatry and the human mind, makes it impossible to dismiss him.

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The Greatest Show on Earth – Richard Dawkins

The stated aim of The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution, by Richard Dawkins, is to prove that evolution is not a theory, that it is a fact. Confusingly though, having stated the aim of the book is to prove the “theory” of evolution, Dawkins in typically combative style says that “it is no longer possible to dispute the fact of evolution” – makes you wonder what the point of this book is at all then, doesn’t it? Also, is it not utterly unscientific to assume a theory (I am aware he calls it a fact and answer this below) is infallible? Worrying signs then, right at the start of this work, which purports to be a scientific proof of evolution.

I came to this book open-minded, genuinely anticipating the “proof” of evolution, as I had never quite fully believed all of it. For example, I wondered what the answer would be to evolution violating the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics (the law of increased entropy), the attack on evolution on the micro-biological scale, the errors in Darwin’s initial timescales which were an essential element of the “theory”, and of course the fact that no transitional fossils had ever being discovered, nor any species observed throughout the history of humanity to “evolve” into another. I would leave the book extremely surprised and disappointed, that the “arch-darwinist”, as he calls himself, did not actually address any of these, to any sort of degree. As we will see, he has plenty of glib arguments, zealously and nastily attacks “creationists” and “history-deniers”, debates the meaning of the words “theory” and “fact”, questions whether species actually are distinct, but does not truly scientifically address any of the above. If that sounds like your cup of tea, so to speak, bully for you!
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Influence – The Psychology of Persuasion – Robert Caldini

Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion is an analysis and explanation of what Robert B.Caldini, PH.D, calls the 6 “Weapons of Influence”. These weapons are omnipresent nowadays, and are wielded by marketers and advertisers of all persuasions, con-men and scam artists, people collecting for charities in the street, and more than likely by your boss! His aim is to inform us of these methods of manipulation, and to arm us with ways to combat them, through his “How To Say No” section, at the end of each chapter.

Dr. Robert is a behavioural psychologist, and purports that we humans have “fixed-action” responses ingrained in our being, which these weapons are targeted against, with the aim of triggering and manipulating these responses. Now, I am a sceptic when it comes to self-help books and such, but believe me, this book is the real deal (or maybe that’s exactly what Dr. Robert persuaded me to think!), and the multitude of real-life examples he gives for each “weapon” and response are fascinating and really ring true.

So, to the weapons, which are:

  1. Reciprocation
  2. Commitment and Consistency
  3. Social Proof
  4. Liking
  5. Authority
  6. Scarcity

Throughout the book, the good doctor describes what he calls our “click, and whirr” reaction – an almost mechanical reaction – to each of the persuasion techniques. I’ll just give you a little flavour of some of these, as I was genuinely astonished as I read about each one, to discover how effective these are on people, and how susceptible I am to them too! One of the more striking ones, was related to Reciprocation, where in a supermarket a lady may offer you free samples of cheese. Click, and whirr – once you accept and taste, your deep-seated tendency to feel obliged to return the “favour” kicks in, and it will be damn difficult for you not to buy some cheese. After all, you owe her something, right?

Our how about the Commitment and Consistency example, which revealed to me the solution to a long-held mystery of mine – why do cereal boxes perpetually have those stupid “Write why you love Nutty Cereal in 15 words or less” competitions? The answer is, that once we humans commit to something, no matter in how seemingly blase a fashion, click and whirr, we are sticklers to be consistent with that commitment, even if we don’t fully realise we even made a commitment. So, picture you this – you physically write down “I love Nutty Cereal because I am nutty too”, ostensibly to win a prize (snigger), and sign your name to that. That’s a pretty big commitment, like it or not. The good doc shows how the act of writing and signing your name to something is a pretty big deal for people, commitment-wise. Chances are, next time you are in the big S, mulling over what cereal to buy, once you see or think of the Nutty Cereal brand, click and whirr – “I’m nutty too” and your commitment reaction will likely nudge your brain into erring on the side of Nutty Cereal.

Please indulge me with one more example – you will learn from this, I promise. Its a familiar scenario: its Christmas, you’ve promised your child a certain toy, but it is mysteriously sold out of every shop. Hmmm, why is it that this happens every year with ultra-popular brand name toys? The answer is, that it is to trigger your Scarcity and Commitment and Consistency reactions. You have promised your kid – you made a commitment dammit. The toy is sold out – proving its worth and how special and brilliant it is! Combined, these two fators are extremely powerful. The toy manufacturers know that as it is Christmas you are going to buy another toy right now instead, for the same monetary value probably, as a replacement. But, because you have committed to the currently unavailable item, they know you will be back for it, likely in January when they have a real slump in sales. So by making something very popular be unavailable now, they are hedging that you will still spend now, AND also spend in the future. I believe this is true and deliberate strategy. From personal experience, last Christmas I promised my daughter a Monster High Doll. Sold out of course, literally everywhere. In its stead I bought a Barbie doll. But I had promised, and sure enough, in January the local toy website was advertising Monster High Dolls. Luckily, my wife curbed my impulses then and there to rush out and buy it, but I can testify that it was ultra tempting.

Apologies if this review is a bit anecdotal almost, but that is the effect this book had on me – I fear my enthusiasm is uncontrollable. This book will change your life, or at the very least open your eyes to the weapons of persuasion that are undoubtedly employed en-masse against us all in today’s society.

So next time someone tries to give you something seemingly for “free”, you know what to do. Just scream in their face “NO WAY, I’m on to you!!”. Then slink off backwards, staring and wagging your finger at them – that’ll learn ‘em. Just kidding Doc.