Lost Connections: Why You’re Depressed and How To Find Hope – Johann Hari

Image result for lost connections

Finding a typically ingenious yet deep way to describe her harrowing experience with bouts of manic depression, the indomitable late Carrie Fisher once said, “One is Roy, rollicking Roy, the wild ride of a mood. And Pam, sediment Pam, who stands on the shore and sobs … Sometimes the tide is in, sometimes it’s out.” According to the World Health Organisation (website accessed on 15th February 2019), depression is referred to as a ‘common illness worldwide’, that afflicted over 300 million people. After setting out these grave statistics, the WHO proceeds to expound further on this pernicious illness in a matter-of-fact way, “depression is different from usual mood fluctuations and short-lived emotional responses to challenges in everyday life. Especially when long-lasting and with moderate or severe intensity, depression may become a serious health condition. It can cause the affected person to suffer greatly and function poorly at work, at school and in the family. At its worst, depression can lead to suicide. Close to 800 000 people die due to suicide every year. Suicide is the second leading cause of death in 15-29-year-olds.

Our stereotypical understanding – bolstered by the findings of research scientists, egged on by discourses on this topic by various medical practitioners constituting experts in this domain, and goaded on by the profit motives of Big Pharma – of depression has been that it is an insidious disease having its origin in an ‘imbalanced’ brain. Just a step removed from branding the unfortunate sufferer as one who is off kilter.

In a fundamentally path breaking and breathtaking book, the New York Times bestselling author Johann Hari upends the received wisdom regarding depression before proposing a radical set of principles that would combat this dangerous phenomenon with a bare minimum recourse to antidepressants. Hari must know being a sufferer himself. Recounting his painful experiences with candor and a dash of wit, Hari reminisces about the reasons proffered by his doctor for depression. Naturally depleted levels of a chemical termed serotonin in the brain is the direct, most proximate and ascertainable cause for depression. The solution – a new generation of drugs termed Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs) or simply anti-depressants.

This spiel linking an innate deficiency in the brain with depression has ruled the roost thereby enhancing the coffers of the Big Pharma immensely. At the time of writing, the market for antidepressants is a whopping $100 billion plus. Hari debunks this obviously causal link by resorting to a degree of research that is frankly, astounding. Examining the social and psychological factors triggering depression, such as disconnection from the future, childhood trauma, disconnection from meaningful work and relationships, loneliness, lack of fulfilment, absence of status and disconnection from nature, Hari argues that these are some of the ‘lost connections’ that both accelerate and exacerbate the onset and course of depression.

Crisscrossing continents, clocking humongous air miles and poring over millions of academic papers in between, Hari has made research the cornerstone and crux of his book. The people whom he has interviewed for this work span a broad spectrum of professions and viewpoints. From a junkie-transformed-into-neuroscientist in Sydney to an avid mountaineer primatologist outside Banff in Canada, from interviewing isolated Amish community members to watching a spider weave its web outside a rehabilitation centre for gaming addicts, Hari leaves no stone unturned to strike at the core of the causes responsible for triggering depression.

Hari also interviews pioneers in path breaking methodologies such as Roland Griffiths of Johns Hopkins University. Professor Griffiths amazingly secures the relevant approvals to bring back experimentation using psychedelic drugs to correlate the effects between the outcomes affected by an imbibing of psychedelic drugs and the results of deep meditation. The conclusion startlingly reveals identical patterns and experiences. Similarly, in the city of London he meets George Brown and Tirril Harris, authors of a groundbreaking study of the social causes of depression that had the duo venturing into the community and interviewing women about their lives. He makes clear the importance of their work and spends 10 pages telling their story, but quotes just a few sentences from each. However, most curiously – and this is a conundrum that manifests itself in almost every page – he devotes a surprisingly short amount of space for their narratives. While there has been no dearth of experts who have been interviewed both formally and informally for this book, the narrative does not find their voice. The results, opinions, methodologies and probabilities are all summarized by the author himself.

So how does one restore such lost connections? Hari’s solution is to “find practical ways to dismantle hierarchies and create a more equal place, where everybody feels they have a measure of respect and status”. This he argues may be done by simple actions such as bonding and banding together and finding meaningful work. Demonstrating fulfilling real life stories that include the now famous Kotti housing project protests in Berlin to a therapeutic horticulture group in east London; a bunch of bike mechanics in Baltimore responsible for setting up a workers’ cooperative to a short-lived albeit successful Canadian government tryst with universal basic income, Hari strings together a succession of ameliorating tales that warm the very cockles of the heart.

Depression has for far too long remained undisturbed as the elephant in the room. A combination of forced as well as ingrained factors such as shame, stigma, societal isolation and reluctance have taken an unfortunate toll on the minds and bodies of the hapless sufferers. It is time that all the relevant stakeholders unite, cutting across personal motives and materialistic drivers, to obliterate this scourge. To accomplish this, as Hari illustrates, huge steps, both mental and physical would need to be taken, boldly and brazenly. “One of the most important slogans of the past few years has been ‘Take back control’,” hari notes.  “People are right to connect with this slogan – they have lost control, and they long to regain it – but that slogan has been used by political force . . . that will give them even less control.”

Indeed, the time has come for us to take control. A control that embraces an welcoming environment rather than an addictive cycle of antidepressants

Collected Stories – Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Image result for Collected Stories - Gabriel Garcia Marquez

There could not have been a better celebratory ring to mark the occasion. While statistics might mean everything and nothing at the same time, on more occasions than not, they cease to be mere numbers. Hence, when I felt a surge of contentment and a sense of fulfillment overwhelm me as the covers gently came down upon the book that I had just finished, there was a seemingly just reason for such a euphoria and the attendant statistic attached to it. I had just completed reading book No.1000. The book in question was “Collected Stories” and the author, Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

Residing in inspired solitude in Mexico City, and chimney smoking 60 cigarettes a day, Gabriel Garcia Marquez ripped the veil off fictional realism. A man who counted amongst others Debussy and Bartók as worthy LPs for his Record Player not only knew class, but oozed it himself. His conventional typewriter cranked out a domain of literary landscape the likes of which were neither seem before nor have been glimpsed since.

An extraordinary exercise in fictional realism, “Collected Stories”, contain twenty-six of Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s original, ingenious and mesmerizing short stories, set out in the chronological order of their publication in Spanish from three volumes: Eyes of a Blue Dog, Big Mama’s Funeral, and The Incredible and Sad Tale of lnnocent Eréndira and Her Heartless Grandmother. The leitmotif in this collection is the author himself. His recurring originality pulsates and courses through the stories in unrelenting spasms. “In my dreams, I was inventing literature,” recalled Marquez in an interview. Yesterday’s dreams are today’s reality.

Laying out a diaphanous combination of mystery, mystique and magic, one of the greatest story tellers of his generation demonstrates with an incandescent brilliance the fact that he is blessed with the depths of perception, bestowed with the breadth of imagination and brimming with an originality that is putting it mildly – extraordinarily uncommon amongst most writers.

For themes, there is the miasma of poverty, the economy of happiness and a perennial tryst with mortality that jumps at the reader out of every page. Curlews that peck out the eyes of three men, a vanishing ghost ship, an old man with enormous wings and a woman who has been transformed into a talking spider complement and compete with one another to make the book a genuine marvel of modern literature.

Death occupies the initial portion of the book and is the ‘protagonist’ of the first eleven stories. Revolving around either persons who are dead or are in the transitory phase of making an exit from the tangible world before becoming part of the intangible plane, these stories have a grotesque and morbid (no pun intended) sense of humour. Employing a no-frills dead pan fashion, Marquez highlights the impermanent nature of life and the permanent feature of death.  The ravages of death leave none in doubt about the ephemeral and often unacknowledged and unrecognized temporary world which merely flatters to deceive.

Garcia’s world is characterized by tumult and turbulence. Mirth and merriment on one side, massacres and mayhem on the other. Garcia’s world is also an oeuvre that has inspired not just imitation but also spawned a new realm of imagination.  Folklore, verbal storytelling, stirrings from Spanish baroque overlapping various epochs form a continuous thread connecting the stories in this collection. Shades of Borges and other Spanish fictional realism writers is clearly discernible in the writings of Garcia Marquez. But the most telling aspect of this riveting mish-mash of stories is an inherent contradiction that begs reconciling. A reconciliation, even attempting which would lead a courageous man into territories uncharted and terrains unexplored. A contradiction between the arcane and the basic, the mundane and the metaphysical and the inevitable and ingenuity.

Reviewing Garcia Marquez and his now eponymous dream theatre of Macondo, John Leonard in the Times discarded economy with a vengeance as he gushed a stream of praise reserved for the highest echelons of writing. “With a single bound, Gabriel García Márquez leaps onto the stage with Günter Grass and Vladimir Nabokov, his appetite as enormous as his imagination, his fatalism greater than either. Dazzling.”

‘Gabo’ as Marquez was popularly known amongst his friends and admirers, didn’t just contend himself writing stories. He breathed life into objects whose very existence couldn’t be envisaged and bestowed a pair of soaring wings to imagination. Wings that took the art of imagining things to a height never scaled before. He also gave me the incontestable privilege and pleasure of penning the 1000th book that I devoured!

Capitalism’s Death-Knell

SPF 10-07-18 CE AYR 4

(Photo Credit: C.E. Ayr)

When it actually happened, the scramble was unlike anything anyone had witnessed ever before. A mildly exciting but otherwise docile event metamorphosed in the mere blink of an eye, into arguably the most ingenious and novel advocacy campaign ever!

The dangerous looking dinosaur, upon its unveiling was supposed to have mouthed a rambunctious “Hello” before going on to mesmerize and hold a packed auditorium in its thrall with a fascinating discourse on the evolution and extinction of itself and its unfortunate brethren.

As soon as the hall was bathed in the harsh glare of the strobe lights, a booming voice thus reverberated:

“Did you know that large forest fires in the western United States has increased over 500%, since the 1980s?”  As a gob smacked and rattled team of organisers, ran helter-skelter to find the hacker source, the animal merrily continued, “Glaciers have shrunk, ice on rivers and lakes is breaking up earlier, plant and animal ranges have shifted and trees are flowering sooner.” Efforts to turn off the speakers failed. “Earth’s average temperature has increased about 2 degrees Fahrenheit during the 20th century.”

Irreparable damage had been done. Heads would roll. But Capitalism had assimilated a deserved lesson!

(Word Count: 199)

This story was written for Sunday Photo Fiction hosted by Susan Spaulding. For more details visit Here.  To read more of the stories based on this week’s prompt, visit Here.

Under The Deodars – Rudyard Kipling


Featured post on IndiBlogger, the biggest community of Indian Bloggers

Image result for under the deodars

Personally, reading Kipling has always been an implicit and difficult exercise in reconciliation. An uncomfortable and reluctant compromise between an apologist for the colonial reign and ramifications in India and an enchanting teller of stories that have spontaneity for a spine and subtlety as their heads. Hence “Under The Deodars” was no exception to this peculiar norm.

“Under The Deodars” is a set of short stories having the quaint and tranquil mountain setting of Shimla as the backdrop. The towering ice capped mountains bear mute witness to the deceit, debauchery and dedication of the protagonists and antagonists alike. The book begins with the story titled, “The Education of Otis Yeere”.  An egregious and enterprising Mrs. Hauksbee proposes establishing a salon in Simla, but is dissuaded from putting her plan into practice by Mrs. Mallowe.  The latter then alleges that Mrs. Hauksbee is experiencing a mid-life crisis and the clearest way to overpower such a situation is by becoming an ‘Influence’ in the life of a young man (a path resorted to by Mrs. Mallowe herself). Taking such an advice to heart, Mrs. Hauksbee chooses a young man named Otis Yeere. But things fall apart and take a dreary turn when the smitten Yeere kisses his self-anointed friend, philosopher and guide.

“At the Pit’s Mouth” has at its epicenter the spouse of a ‘honest man stewing in the Plains on two hundred rupees a month (for he allowed his wife eight hundred and fifty), and in a silk banian and cotton trousers’ enter into an extra-marital affair with a ‘Tertium Quid.’ When things get to a head, the lovers decide to elope to Tibet. While navigating a tricky and slippery path on the mountain slopes, the Tertium Quid’s mare gets spooked, develops the jitters and……

Extra marital affairs seem to rule the roost in Kipling’s collection. In “A Wayside Comedy”, Major and Mrs. Vansuythen are posted to the desolate and isolated station of Kashima. Mrs & Mr. Boulte residing in Kashima give the new arrivals a whole hearted welcome. However, all camaraderie and companionship prove to be a mere charade as Mrs. Boulte suspects that her husband has fallen head over heels in love with Mrs. Vansuythen. This while she herself has been carrying on a surreptitious affair with Captain Kurrell.

My favourite story in the book and one that is far removed from illicit attachments and illegitimate co-habitations is “Only A Subaltern”.  In this moving tale, an enthusiastic Bobby Wick is made a subaltern in a regiment called the Tyneside Tail Twisters. Wick’s cheerful disposition and steely temperament make him a regimental favourite. When one of the soldiers, Dormer, a man of potent ill-temper and an affection towards the bottle runs the risk of causing damage to the regiment, Wick takes him fishing and ushers in a transformation in his behaviour. Wick goes on leave to Simla, but his reverie is cut short by an urgent summons from his regiment. A raging cholera epidemic has run rampant through the regiment laying to waste many soldiers. Wick rallies his men and just when the regiment seems to be back on its toes, the evil disease strikes Wick himself.

Kipling, however, blows the imperial trumpet with vigour and vengeance keeping his allegiance to the Crown undisguised in a lengthy story with the lengthiest title – “The Enlightenment of Pagett, M.P  Pagett, a Member of the British Parliament renews acquaintance in India with Orde, an old school friend now vested with administrative responsibilities in India. Pagett in lengthy conversations with people of various ilk ranging from landholders to indigenous craftsmen concludes that a movement for democracy in India stands in direct conflict with the realities imbued in its people. Examining this story, Alan Sandison, observes, “…in beating the imperial drum, Kipling wrote stories of a directly propagandist sort; but even then the number which had this as their raison d’être is very small. Of these, one of the clearest is “The Enlightenments of Pagett, M.P. where the Anglo-Indian case is carefully argued and, implicitly, the British presence justified.”

Kipling’s unabashed endorsement of the iron fisted British Rule in India also attracts the attention of many other writers as well. For example, Jan Montefiore, in a thought provoking and detailed review of Kipling’s “Kim” draws the attention of her readers to “The Enlightenment of Pagett, M.P  – “Kim’s representation of the English rule of India as harmonious, benevolent and uncontested (except by the ineffective Russian spies) is seductive because it is articulated, not by Anglo-Indian spokesmesmen as in the early propagandist story “The Enlightenments of Pagett, M. P.) but by Indians themselves. Yet it is unrealistic because it suppresses any acknowledgement of the serious Indian opposition to English rule that in reality existed, and was gathering strength during Kipling’s own years in India.”

“Under The Deodars” – an engrossing set of vivid stories and one abominable Panglossian paean to an even more abominable atrocity committed by a marauding and pillaging nation upon another.

Lab Rats: Why Modern Work Makes People Miserable – Dan Lyons

Image result for Lab Rats + Book Review

We are living in times, where under the ruse of change, perpetual upheavals are rocking the inner functioning of the Corporate World. In a bid to keep up with the expectations of shareholders and earnings forecasts of analysts tracking every metric of the company, corporations are constantly looking to ‘reinvent’, ‘re-purpose’ and ‘re-engineer’ themselves. This insane endeavor in turn has spawned a new cottage industry where Management Gurus, Change Consultants and self-proclaimed Life Coaches run riot, upending the very notion of work as it is conventionally known. The proselytization of these prophets (for this is exactly how the consultants with their seemingly imponderable views are looked at by companies), however unconventional, absurd and impractical brooks no resistance and new ways of doing work are foisted on unsuspecting employees.

The tech industry is most notorious for both advocating and purveying constant change. Spurred on by Venture Capitalists seeking to make a quick buck out of new albeit temporary trends, the obsolescence in the industry is not merely restricted to products and processes. In his at times hilarious and at others harrowing book, “Lab Rats: Why Modern Work Makes People Miserable”, Dan Lyons lays bare a mercenary culture that has enveloped the tech industry. As Lyons illustrates this is a culture that wrings every ounce out of the employee, squeezing him dry before moving on to the next in line. Lyons knows what he is writing for he himself has been an unwitting victim of this macabre dance.

Employed as a technology journalist with Newsweek a few years ago, Dan Lyons, joined software startup called HubSpot. This however was not a happy stint. Beneath a glitzy exterior typified by ping-pong tables and beer gardens, not to mention hippie imitation youngsters hustling around, there lay an atmosphere of anger, anxiety and fear. Borrowing noxious concepts such as “we are a team and not a family” (a philosophy for peddling which Netflix gets the credit) and inventing convoluted phrases such as “delightion”, HubSpot soon became Lyon’s nightmare. A nightmare which he captured artfully in an earlier book, “Disrupted: My Misadventures in the Start-Up Bubble (2016).”

In Lab Rats he takes over from where he stopped in Disrupted. The curse of management gurus has only proliferated in recent times as beliefs such as Agile and Lean Start Up take on proportions that are contagious. A former Agile consultant Daniel Markham, says, “This is destroying people’s lives. It’s gotten worse. I drive the ambulance, so I see all the bodies on the road.”  The latter statement a reference to Markham’s latest job of bringing Agile-infested companies back on the rails. The coterie of high end management consultants does not just end with Agile and Lean Start Up. Unbelievably far-fetched and ludicrously insensitive fads such as Holacracy – A self-management practice the brainchild of Brian Robertson, have had companies in a vice like grip. This grip is squeezing the life out of employees – literally. During the years 2014 through 2017 a spate of suicides rocked the payrolls of France Telecom. Most of the unfortunate employees were those above fifty and who were technical engineers forced out of their competencies and made to slog as call centre employees. Subject to constant surveillance and performance monitoring, taking their own lives was the only way in which these people could redeem their dignity.

Lyons also highlights the plight of warehouse workers in Amazon. The workers are so poorly paid that many of them look to food stamps for subsistence. Their performance is monitored in such an inhuman and ruthless manner that there have been instances where employees have resorted to urinating in bottles in order to avoid wasting time on bathroom breaks! This in a company whose owner has clocked up a net worth of $140 billion (before adjusting for inflation).

Operating in lockstep with these companies are a multitude of venture capitalists. Exhorting tech startups to operate a business model that takes for granted a high staff turnover, the combination creates a scenario where, “Employees can (and should) be underpaid, overworked, exhausted and then discarded.”  To aid and assist companies in this endeavor are a few military and sporting metaphors. Sample this: LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman is of the firm conviction that we should think of the employer-employee relationship in terms of a “tour of duty”, while Netflix’s notoriously fierce human resources “culture code” declares that the organisation is “a team, not a family” – the idea being that your place in a team is contingent on your performance, whereas the unconditional love of a family is bound to engender complacency. Lyons rightly pooh poohs this analogy as baseless since, “the best pro sports teams succeed exactly because the players feel like a family”.

However, all is not doom and gloom as Lyons illustrates at the end of his book. There is light at the end of the tunnel, one which does not represent the headlights of an approaching engine! Lyons refers to a “quiet movement” that has at its forefront a combination of responsible companies, empathetic investors and altruistic billionaires all striving to build a sustainable eco-system of employee oriented, inclusive, and diverse companies. “Well Intentioned Rich People” such as Nick Hanauer, the co-founder of The True Patriot Network, a progressive think tank framed upon the ideas he and Eric Liu presented in their 2007 book espousing patriotic progressivism, The True Patriot. Hanauer and his wife, Leslie, co-manage The Nick and Leslie Hanauer Foundation “which focuses on public education and the environment, and additionally supports a variety of progressive causes locally and nationally.”

There are also companies such as Basecamp, formerly named 37signals, and a privately held American web application company based in Chicago, Illinois. Founded by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson, Basecamp’s perks include, among others, “$100 a month for a gym membership, $100 for massages, and $100 toward a co-working space rental if you want one. Basecamp provides $1000 a year for continuing education and will match charitable gifts up to $1000 a year. The company offers profit sharing and a 100 percent match on pension contributions, and pays 75 percent of health care premiums. Every employee gets three weeks of paid vacation, another week or so of holidays, and personal days.”

Dan Lyons identifies ‘four tech-related tendencies’, what he calls “The Four Factors” – that contribute to worker unhappiness: Money; Insecurity; Change and Dehumanisation.”. However, with the Quiet Movement making a resurgent appearance with a focus on Customers, Employees and Communities, there is still hope that all is not lost, yet.

At least let us hope so for the sake of the world in general.

EDGE OF CHAOS Why Democracy Is Failing to Deliver Economic Growth — and How to Fix It By Dambisa Moyo

Image result for Edge of chaos + review

As historian John Dunn has noted “with some very minor exceptions, the word “democracy” has come to symbolise the only legitimate political system in most languages.” However, democracy as is being practiced the world over today, suffers from flaws that are significant and shortcomings that are material. Rising income inequality, continuing gender disparity, appalling lack of opportunities, a burgeoning accumulation of housing and student loans have resulted in turmoil and tumult, causes that culminated in direct consequences such as the election of Donald Trump and Brexit. The inadequacies of democracies have also resulted in a serious exploration and embrace of alternative forms of governance such as the one practiced by China. As Rana Mitter recently wrote in a riveting article titled, ‘The Mystery of China’s eagerness to own the term Democracy’, “China is now in position to redefine democracy for the region, taking ownership and reshaping the term in its own, more authoritarian image.”

The Zambian-born international economist and author, Dambisa Moyo seems to share the same concern about the future of democracy. In her latest book, “Edge of Chaos: Why Democracy Is Failing to Deliver Economic Growth—and How to Fix It”, she bemoans the prevalence of what she terms ‘short-termism’ and ‘political myopia’, facets that emphasise more on the short term thereby at the cost of the longer term, and effectively, the future. “Political myopia is the central obstacle on the path of growth in advanced economies,” she emphasises. Cautioning her readers on the ill effects of ‘short termism’, Moyo states, “a less politicized and more long-term-focused education policy would help circumvent the problem in which the United States ranks among the highest in terms of education spending per capita but in some respects is among the worst in education outcomes when compared against its advanced country peers.”

Moyo identifies 7 factors, or what she terms ‘headwinds’ that hamper growth. These headwinds range from aging societies to limited natural resources. She also reserves her strongest railings for a disturbing rise in the implementation of protectionism. Advocating the rise of protectionism as a complementarity to the devastating financial crisis, Moyo argues that protectionism is nothing but a certain path to perdition.

So is there a way out of this seemingly complex morass? Can democratic capitalism reinvent itself? Towards achieving this objective, Moyo offers ten solutions that are – to put it mildly – radical. Divesting monetary influence from politics, to an astonishing proposal of administering literacy and civics tests on would-be voters, introducing a ‘weighting vote’ system, whereby based on certain pre-determined criteria, votes would carry weightages to longer terms for elected officials together with term limits, reducing gerrymandering and making voting mandatory. These solutions although not easy to either implement or administer needs to see the light of the day sooner rather than later. For as Moyo reiterates, if we are not going to be bold enough to bite the bullet now, it may be too late. As she emphasizes,” overwhelming evidence shows that economic growth is a prerequisite for democracy, not the other way around.”

These prescriptions, especially those relating to imposing restrictions on voting and even curtailing the right to vote might unleash expected opposition and populist backlashes. How would there be a rational division of the voting populace into most credible, credible and less credible voters? Would academic qualifications trump common sense? Would intellectual obstinacy prevail over logical illiteracy? Would quantum physics professors be tagged “most qualified” but Pilates instructors deemed “just about qualified”?  To her credit, Moyo herself admits that this proposition is more than just a timid ruffling of angry feather. Weighted voting “will no doubt be seen as jarring and antithetical to the principles of democracy,” she concedes. Yet “it reduces the influence of those most likely to be apathetic or disengaged from public policy debates and thus to make poor electoral choices.”

Interestingly at the end of her book, Moyo sets out an appendix, depicting how 14 leading countries rank in terms of her vision for transforming and reinventing democracy. While Mexico ranks at the top (having maxed five of Moyo’s milestones), Germany, ranks at the bottom of the heap. Now that is something to keep her readers scratching their heads if not completely tearing out their hair!

Whether we are in agreement with the problems and proposals posited by Moyo, there is no denying that we are inhabiting some troubled times. As per a report issued by Freedom House, an independent watch dog organisation dedicated to the expansion of freedom and democracy around the world, democracy is facing significant rumbles having the potential to transform into a full-blown crisis. Consider the following excerpts from the report issued in 2018:

  • Democracy faced its most serious crisis in decades in 2017 as its basic tenets—including guarantees of free and fair elections, the rights of minorities, freedom of the press, and the rule of law—came under attack around the world;
  • Seventy-one countries suffered net declines in political rights and civil liberties, with only 35 registering gains. This marked the 12th consecutive year of decline in global freedom;
  • The United States retreated from its traditional role as both a champion and an exemplar of democracy amid an accelerating decline in American political rights and civil liberties;
  • Over the period since the 12-year global slide began in 2006, 113 countries have seen a net decline, and only 62 have experienced a net improvement.

It is time that this alarming trend is reversed and credit ought to be given to Moyo for at least coming out with concrete measures and structural reforms to fire the first shot towards redemption.

The 5 A M Club – Robin Sharma

Image result for The 5 AM Club

Robin Sharma’s latest work “The 5 A.M Club” (“the book”) presents itself as a formidable contender for “The Worst Book of 2018” award. Extraordinarily insipid, extremely uninspiring and inexplicably long-winded, the book is well served remaining unread! Replete with borrowed quotes, resonating with irrelevant similes, and riding on a by now familiar philosophy, Robin Sharma feebly and futilely attempts to package old wine in a new bottle. Unfortunately, the damaged quality of the bottle deteriorates the very essence of the wine.

So what exactly is the “5.00 A.M Club?”

A simple, ordinary message stretched to an unimaginably inordinate degree

The message being dished out by Mr. Sharma is neither innovative nor novel. The basic idea being to jump out of one’s bed at 5.00 A.M in the morning and perform a set of activities involving the exercise of both mental and physical faculties. THIS IS IT both in a nutshell as well as in the philosophy’s entire expansion. However, what could have been ensconced within a precise tract or even a pamphlet is extended, elongated and elaborated in a most painful manner that makes a reader plough through 314 excruciating pages.  The fact that in a book titled “The 5.00 A.M Club”, it takes 51 pages for a character to actually wake up at 5.00 A.M speaks volumes about the peripheral irrelevance that masks the core matter.

A story that is totally irrelevant

In order to convey a purely simplistic message, Mr. Sharma bizarrely elects to employ a story telling method which exasperates and enervates the reader to an infuriating degree. Yes, you really become tired reading (or at least trying to) the book. It is an unenviable chore trudging through a morass of pages that has at its centerpiece three characters. An entrepreneur who comes perilously close to taking her own life, courtesy an attempted investor coup before a seminar transforms her. Wearing bracelets with inspirational quotes etched on them, she signs on to become a member of the 5.00 A.M Club. She is joined in this endeavor by an artist who keeps fidgeting with his dreadlocks when not repeatedly mouthing “def” for “definitely. The mentor for both the entrepreneur and the artist is a quirky billionaire who when not mouthing quotes picked from Gibran to Seneca or doing dervish whirls and hand stands, spends time taking his two students on freewheeling tours to Mauritius, India, Italy and South Africa, imparting the tenets of the 5.00 A.M club. To assist him in this endeavor he keeps addressing his students as “cats” while himself using surfer slang such as “gnarly” to such a liberal extent that the reader feels like taking a sail boat over the book!

Pareto Principle in Action with Corny Passages

80% of the book is an astonishing exercise in futility. A communication that could have been accommodated within 20-30 pages takes up a whopping 314 pages. Pages that are packed with passages so reeking with irrelevance that they are enough to make the reader tear her hair out in sheer white frustration! Sample this:

“The artist laughed as a baby gecko jaywalked across a broad plank. He took off his black shirt in the dazzling sunshine, exposing a Buddha-sized belly and man breasts the size of fleshy mangoes.”

“…. she admitted as the skin on her forehead scrunched together like a rose contracting in the cold.”

 “. the artist interrupted with all the energy of a puppy seeing its owner after a long day alone.”

Invest in a book of quotes instead

In addition to beginning every chapter with a famous quote, the book strings together sayings at a speed which would put even the reproductive capabilities of rabbits to total shame! Quotes by the renowned and the reviled fly at you from all angles making both deflection and assimilation equally impossible. One would do well instead to invest in a book of quotes and peruse the same meticulously.

Read these Alternative Books

The 5.00 A.M club borrows liberally from the philosophies of luminaries such as Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and also pop psychologists such as Malcolm Gladwell. In the event one manages to get through the tedium and torture of the “5.00 A.M Club”, the following books may serve as the perfect antidote:

  • “Flow” by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi;
  • “The Power of Habit” by Charles Duhigg;
  • “Eat, Move, Sleep” by Tom Rath;
  • “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” by Stephen Covey;
  • “Think and Grow Rich” by Napoleon Hill;
  • “The Empires of the Mind” by Dennis Waitley
  • Read these Alternative Books

The George Orwell Rule

Mr. Sharma, while meticulously putting together the powerful sayings of many greats who have trod on this Planet, seems to have missed out on a set of most important rules – the immortal Six Rules laid down by George Orwell. One of the rules postulates, “If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.”.

If only this rule was followed the “5.00 A.M club” would have been an eminently readable book.

The “5.00 A.M Club” – deserving of a pass.