Multi-Disciplinary Reading - Book Reviews

Hi All

Read the book Keep Sharp by Sanjay Gupta. This is a book about how to keep one’s mental fitness up.

This book is divided into 4 parts:
Part 1: Talks about how our brain functions. What are the causes of certain brain impairments and cognitive decline. Goes into history also and the author shares his experiences
Part 2: Talks about 5 aspects of keeping the brain fit. Outlines plans for each area in detail. Gives a recommendation on how to achieve it.
Part 3: Goes into how cognitive decline is diagnosed.
Part 4: Talks about care, development in the field and future.

My short summary and takeaway for me personally:
Eat healthy: IF. Everything in moderation
Move: Both aerobic & strength.
Mental exercise and new hobbies: Try your hands at things which makes your brain tick. Someone who codes for a living might want to give water colours a try and someone who has studied philosophy might want to start solving sudoku.
Sleep: Mutlitasking is not good for us. Sleeping 4 hours is harmful. Get 8 hours of sound sleep (note to myself)
Socialise: Meet people. Share your interests . Discuss. Talk (note to myself)

These are the 5 things the author says one has to improve.

The most important thing is to always have a mission and be working towards something.

Last part I was not the audience. One can give it a quick read. It is a decent investment.



@phreakv6 – thanks for sharing your detailed notes! Does the book provide any commentary or insight into crypto assets in metaverse?

Trick Or Treatment? (2008) by Edzard Ernst and Simon Singh

The global alternative medicine market size was valued at USD 82.27 billion in 2020 and is expected to expand at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 22.03% from 2021 to 2028 [link]

Book summary:

I picked up this book to better understand Homeopathy which some of my friends and family members have blind faith in. The book examines four main alternative therapies – (1) Homeopathy (2) Acupuncture (3) Chiropractic (4) Herbal medicine – for their medicinal and therapeutic value in the light of scientific evidence.

Authors conclude that all four therapies offer a disappointing level of benefit, if any:

  • Herbal medicine can claim a few successes, but the majority of herbs appear to be overhyped.
  • Acupuncturists might be able to offer some marginal benefit in terms of relieving some sorts of pain and nausea, but the effect is borderline.
  • Chiropractic therapy might offer some marginal benefit, but only for back pain – all its other claims are unsubstantiated.
  • Homeopathy is the worst therapy of the lot – it is an implausible therapy that has failed to prove itself after two centuries and some 200 clinical studies.


  • In recent decades homeopathy has become one of the fastest-growing forms of alternative medicine, particularly in Europe.

  • The proportion of the French population using homeopathy increased from 16 per cent to 36 per cent between 1982 and 1992, while in Belgium over half the population regularly relies on homeopathic remedies.

  • The greatest number of practitioners is in India, where there are 300,000 qualified homeopaths, 182 colleges and 300 homeopathic hospitals. Homeopathy had been introduced in India in 1829 by Dr Martin Honigberger, a Transylvanian physician who joined the court of Maharajah Ranjit Singh in Lahore. The idea then spread rapidly throughout India, prospering largely because it was perceived as being in opposition to the imperialist medicine practised by the British.

  • While America has far fewer homeopaths than India, the profits to be made are much greater. Annual sales in the United States increased fivefold from $300 million in 1987 to $1.5 billion in 2000.

  • A German physician called Samuel Hahnemann invented Homeopathy at the end of the eighteenth century. Hahnemann had studied medicine and earned a reputation as one of Europe’s foremost intellectuals. He published widely on both medicine and chemistry.

  • In 1790 Hahnemann moved away from all conventional medicine. After experimenting a drug named Cinchona (used for treating malaria) on himself, he proposed a universal principle, namely ‘that which can produce a set of symptoms in a healthy individual, can treat a sick individual who is manifesting a similar set of symptoms’ in other words ‘like cures like’.

  • Further, he went on to propose that he could improve the effect of his ‘like cures like’ remedies by diluting and shaking them. According to him, and for reasons that continue to remain mysterious, diluting a remedy increased its power to cure, while reducing its potential to cause side-effects.

  • The combination of dilution and shaking is known as potentization.

  • In 1807 Hahnemann coined the word Homöopathie, from the Greek hómoios and pathos, meaning similar suffering. In 1810 he published Organon der rationellen Heilkunde (Organon of the Medical Art), his first major treatise on the subject of homeopathy, which was followed in the next decade by Materia Medica Pura, six volumes that detailed the symptoms cured by sixty-seven homeopathic remedies. Hahnemann had given homeopathy a firm foundation, and the way that it is practised has hardly changed over the last two centuries.

  • Homeopathy medicines can be based on animal sources, which sometimes means the whole animal (e.g. ground honeybee), and sometimes just animal secretions (e.g. snake poison, wolf milk). Other remedies are based on mineral sources, ranging from salt to gold, while so-called nosode sources are based on diseased material or causative agents, such as bacteria, pus, vomit, tumours, faeces and warts.

  • Dilution: A 1X remedy is has one part mother tincture (active ingredient) dissolved in nine parts water. A 4X leads to dilution by a factor of 10 x 10 x 10 x 10.

  • 30C homeopathy remedies are common, which means that the original ingredient has been diluted 30 times by a factor of 100 each time. The chance of having one molecule of the active ingredient in the final 30C remedy is one in a billion billion billion billion. In other words, a 30C homeopathic remedy is almost certain to contain nothing more than water.

  • Some homeopathic pharmacies stock 100,000C remedies which can cost more than £1,000

  • Materia Medica is the encyclopaedia that lists the remedies and what they should be used for.

  • Hahnemann identified just a few dozen remedies in his time; the homeopath William Boericke included over 600 in his Materia Medica in 1901, and today The Homeopathic Pharmacopoeia of the United States recognizes over 1,000.

  • Finding the correct remedy is such a complicated and subtle task that a patient who visited different homeopaths and who underwent different interviews would be likely to receive different remedies

  • With many approaches and many possible remedies, some homeopaths employ specific and peculiar techniques for checking that they have found the appropriate treatment. This can include dowsing, whereby a pendulum is held above a shortlist of possible remedies. The direction of swinging should indicate the correct remedy, yet a scientific trial conducted in 2002 showed no evidence for the power of homeopathic dowsing.

  • By the 1920s Homeopathy was in continual decline and it seemed that it was destined to become extinct. Then, in 1925, there was a sudden and unexpected revival in Germany. The man behind the resurgence was an eminent surgeon called August Bier, who used the homeopathic principle of ‘like cures like’ to treat bronchitis with ether and to cure boils with sulphur. This was a timely development for the Third Reich, whose leaders sought to develop the Neue Deutsche Heilkunde (the New German Medicine), an innovative medical system that would combine the best of both modern and traditional medicine.

  • In June 1988 Nature published a research paper that shocked the scientific establishment and made headlines around the world. The paper was titled ‘Human basophil degranulation triggered by very dilute antiserum against IgE’.” If the paper was correct, then ultra-dilute solutions that did not contain any active ingredient did indeed have an impact on biological systems – essentially the memory property of water which homeopaths had been claiming for 200 years.

  • This piece of research has become the most famous experiment in the history of homeopathy; it was conducted by a charismatic French scientist named Jacques Benveniste.

  • Benveniste sent a paper describing his experiments to John Maddox, editor of Nature. Maddox duly had the paper refereed to check any new results and discuss whether or not the research has been conducted properly. The experimental protocol seemed to be in order, but the claims in the paper were so extraordinary that Maddox took the step of adding a disclaimer alongside the published paper. The last time that Maddox had adopted this highly unusual approach was back in 1974, when he published a paper about Uri Geller’s supposed spoon-bending powers.

  • Subsequently it emerged that Benveniste had never personally conducted any of the experiments, but had always left everything to an assistant who believed in homeopathy and had fudged the results.

  • Dr Aijing Shang and his colleagues at the University of Berne did a meta-analysis of all the trials published up to January 2003. This research group has a world-wide reputation for excellence. Shang was ruthless in his demand for quality, which meant that his meta-analysis included only those trials with large numbers of participants, decent blinding and proper randomization. In the end, he was left with only eight homeopathy trials.

  • Shang published his results in the Lancet in August 2005. Based on his meta-analysis, he concluded: ‘This finding is compatible with the notion that the clinical effects of homeopathy are placebo effects.’ Reinforcing this point, the Lancet ran an editorial entitled ‘The end of homeopathy’ in which they argued that ‘doctors need to be bold and honest with their patients about homeopathy’s lack of benefit’. This sparked major news stories around the world, angering homeopaths who refused to accept the conclusions of the study.


  • Acupuncture is an ancient system of medicine based on the notion that health and wellbeing relate to the flow of a life force (Ch’i) through pathways (meridians) in the human body.

  • Acupuncturists place fine needles into the skin at critical points along the meridians to remove blockages and encourage a balanced flow of the life force.

  • The first detailed description of acupuncture appears in the Huangdi Neijing (known as the The Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Internal Medicine), a collection of writings dating from the second century BC.

  • Although Ch’i is a core principle in acupuncture, different schools have evolved over the centuries and developed their own interpretations of how Ch’i flows through the body. For instance, some acupuncturists work on the basis of fourteen main meridians carrying Ch’i, while the majority support the notion that the body contains only twelve main meridians.

  • Each meridian is associated with and connects to one of the major organs.

  • The penetration depth varies from 1 centimetre to over 10 centimetres, and often the therapy involves rotating the needles in situ.

  • Needles can be left in place for a few seconds or a few hours.

  • Patient diagnosis relies on five techniques, namely inspection, auscultation, olfaction, palpation and inquiring.

  • Acupuncture became very popular in the West after Nixon’s 1972 visit to China when one of his assistants was miraculously saved by Acupuncture treatment.

  • A huge number of trials had been conducted by the end of the 70s, and in 1979 WHO asked R. H. Bannerman to summarize the evidence for and against acupuncture. His conclusions shocked sceptics and vindicated the Chinese. Bannerman stated that there were more than twenty conditions which ‘lend themselves to acupuncture treatment’, including sinusitis, common cold, tonsillitis, bronchitis, asthma, duodenal ulcers, dysentery, constipation, diarrhoea, headache and migraine, frozen shoulder, tennis elbow, sciatica, low back pain and osteoarthritis.

  • In 2003 The WHO did another meta analysis which took into consideration the results from 293 research papers and published their conclusions in a report entitled Acupuncture: Review and analysis of reports on controlled clinical trials. The report concluded that the benefits of acupuncture were either ‘proven’ or ‘had been shown’ in the treatment of ninety-one conditions. It was mildly positive or equivocal about a further sixteen conditions. And the report did not exclude the use of acupuncture for any conditions. The WHO had given acupuncture a ringing endorsement, reinforcing their 1979 report.

  • The Cochrane Collaboration did an independent review of the 2003 WHO report and found it to be shockingly misleading. A large proportion of the 293 papers were low quality research and/or had been authored practicing acupuncturists based in China. Upon restricting the meta analysis to high quality studies they found acupuncture to offer some marginal benefit in terms of relieving some sorts of pain and nausea.

  • The Cochrane Collaboration, a global network of experts coordinated via its headquarters in Oxford. Firmly adhering to the principles of evidence-based medicine, the Cochrane Collaboration sets itself the goal of examining clinical trials and other medical research in order to offer digestible conclusions about which treatments are genuinely effective for which conditions.

  • Infection is a big concern in Acupuncture; there have been several documented cases of patients contracting diseases such as hepatitis. The journal Hepatology documented how 35 out of 366 patients contracted hepatitis B from an acupuncture clinic in Rhode Island. The infection is caused by re-using needles that have not been properly sterilized.

Chiropractic Therapy

  • A form of treatment developed at the end of the nineteenth century, which involves manual adjustments of the spine. Although some chiropractors focus on treating back pain, many others also treat a whole range of common illnesses, such as asthma. The underlying theory claims that manipulating the spine is medically beneficial because it can influence the rest of the body via the nervous system.

  • Chiropractic therapy, which emerged out of the bone-setting tradition, was founded by Daniel David Palmer, who was born near Toronto, Canada, in 1845 and who moved to Iowa at the age of twenty.

  • Palmer therapy argued that poor health was due to subluxations, by which they meant slight misalignments of the vertebrae in the spine. In turn, they believed that subluxations interfered with the flow of so-called innate intelligence (akin to a life force or vital energy), which then led to health problems of all sorts.

  • Chiropractors are most widespread in America where roughly $3 billion is spent annually on chiropractic treatment.

  • Excessive use of X-ray and manipulation of cervical region are two biggest risks with this therapy.

  • Chiropractors may X-ray the same patient several times a year, even though there is no clear evidence that X-rays will help the therapist treat the patient. X-rays can reveal neither the subluxations nor the innate intelligence associated with chiropractic philosophy. The increased risk of cancer due to X-rays is small, but it is not negligible. According to a paper published in the Lancet in 2004, roughly 700 of the 124,000 new cancer cases diagnosed each year in the UK are due to medical X-rays.

  • The spine consists of five regions – the coccygeal region is at the base, followed by the sacral, lumbar and thoracic regions, with the cervical region at the top. The most severe risk from this therapy relates to manipulation of the cervical region. There are seven vertebrae that make up this region, running from the base of the neck to the back of the skull. This is one of the most flexible parts in our body, but this flexibility comes at a cost. The region is hugely vulnerable as it carries all the lifelines between the head and the body. Manipulating the cervical can lead to vertebral dissection and the blockage of blood to the brain. The link between chiropractic therapy and strokes went unnoticed for decades because there is often a delay between therapy and dissection.

  • There have been so many systematic reviews of this therapy; in 2006 Edzard Ernst and Peter Canter at Exeter University decided to take all of the current ones into account in order to arrive at the most up-to-date and accurate evaluation of chiropractic therapy. Published in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, their paper was entitled ‘A systematic review of systematic reviews of spinal manipulation’. All in all, the evidence was insubstantial that this therapy is effective for any symptom other than for back pain.

Herbal medicine

  • Cinchona tree bark had long been used by the Peruvian Indians to treat malaria. Jesuit priests learned of its curative powers in the 1620s, and within a couple of decades the so-called Jesuit’s Bark was highly valued in large parts of Europe.

  • In 1820 two French chemists, Pierre-Joseph Pelletier and Joseph-Bienaimé Caventou, isolated a compound that they called quinine, based on the Inca word for the cinchona tree. Thereafter, scientists could properly study in detail the effects of this anti-malarial substance and optimize how it could be used to save lives.

  • Just a few years after quinine was isolated from cinchona bark, scientists focused their attention on willow bark, which had been used to reduce pain and fevers for thousands of years. Once again, they successfully identified the active ingredient, this time naming it salicin, based on salix, the Latin word for willow.

  • Chemists realized that they could largely remove toxic side-effect by of salicin by transforming it into another closely related molecule known as acetylsalicylic acid. The Bayer Company in Germany started marketing this new wonder drug under the name of aspirin in 1899.

  • Aspirin is now the cheapest and biggest-selling drug in the world, and it has become far more than the painkiller it was first believed to be. Clinical trials have shown that it can reduce the risk of heart attack, stroke and many types of cancer. On the negative side, scientific investigations have also revealed that aspirin can lead to stomach bleeding in 3 out of every 1,000 people and can increase the risk of asthma attacks.

  • Modern drugs based on plants includes the anti-cancer agent taxol (from the Pacific yew tree) and the anti-malarial drug artemisinin (from the artemisia shrub)

  • Madagascar, home to a species of the periwinkle has yielded dozens of interesting chemicals, including the drugs vincristine and vinblastine used in chemotherapy.

  • The word drug comes from the Swedish word druug, meaning ‘dried plant’.

  • Using St John’s wort to treat sciatica, arthritis, menstrual cramping, diarrhoea and many other conditions over 2,000 years ago, but it was not until the sixteenth century that the physician Paracelsus provided the first documented evidence indicating that the plant was being used to treat mental conditions, otherwise known as phantasmata. In the following century, an Italian doctor called Angelo Sala also described how this plant could be used to treat depression, anxiety and madness.

  • The first meta-analysis of St John’s wort was conducted in 1996 and included the results from twenty-three studies. Referring to St John’s wort by its Latin name of hypericum, it concluded: ‘There is evidence that extracts of hypericum are more effective than placebo for the treatment of mild to moderately severe depressive disorders.’ Because it is backed by research, St John’s wort has grown to be one of the biggest sellers in an annual worldwide market for herbal remedies that is now worth roughly £10 billion per year.

  • A large proportion of the public assumes that herbal remedies are inherently safe because they are natural. An Israeli survey, for instance, revealed that 56 per cent of people using herbal remedies believed that ‘they caused no side-effects’.

  • In the early 1990s, a Belgian doctor called Jean-Louis Vanherweghem discovered that sudden and unexplained kidney damage (known as nephropathy) in his patients was caused by usage of a Chinese herb known as aristolochia. Vanherweghem published his observations in the Lancet in 1993.

  • Ephedra is a remedy extracted from the Chinese plant ma huang (ephedra sinica). Scientists had long been concerned about the side-effects of ephedra, so they developed a safer version called pseudoephedrine, which acts as an effective decongestant and which can still be bought today as a component in many cold remedies. The original herbal extract has continued to be used by millions of people, particularly athletes and slimmers, to improve physique and lose weight. However, by 2005 there was strong evidence that 19,000 people had suffered severe reactions and at least 164 had died as a result of using ephedra. The sale of ephedra is now banned in most countries.

  • The most infamous case of herbal medicine contamination concerned PC-SPES, a remedy that was supposedly based on a mix of Chinese herbs. It was promoted as being beneficial to prostate health and as a treatment for prostate cancer – PC is an abbreviation of prostate cancer and SPES is Latin for hope. Men began using it in the mid-1990s as an apparently safe and natural alternative to hormone treatment. By 2001, however, it became clear that PC-SPES had been doubly contaminated. The first contaminant was diethylstilbestrol, an artificial substitute foroestrogen, which had fallen out of favour in the 1970s due to its numerous adverse reactions, including blood clots.

  • Ayurvedic herbal medicines are prone to heavy metal contamination. In 2003, a group of Boston medical researchers trawled their local shops and purchased seventy distinct Ayurvedic herbal medicine products. One in ten contained more arsenic than the standard safety level, with the worst case having an arsenic content 200 times greater than the allowed level. One in ten products also contained excess mercury, with the worst case having over 1,000 times more mercury than the recommended safety level. Most worrying of all, one in five products also contained excess lead, with the worst case having over 10,000 times more lead than the recommended safety level.

  • Laetrile has been promoted as a natural anti-cancer agent. It is an extract derived from various natural sources, often apricot pits, and it has been in use since the nineteenth century. Early proponents argued that laetrile could attack tumours by entering cancer cells, where it decomposed into cyanide, thus destroying the cells. Another hypothesis was that laetrile was a vitamin (even though it is not), and that cancers were due to a laetrile deficiency. Few doctors, however, took laetrile seriously and it remained on the fringes of medicine until the early 1970s, when it was cleverly promoted and marketed, thus persuading many cancer patients to see it as their only hope for survival. In 1982, the New England Journal of Medicine published a paper which stated conclusively that laetrile was ineffective. Four prominent cancer clinics monitored 178 cancer patients taking laetrile and observed that their overall condition deteriorated.

Misc. notes:

  • Since 2000, there have been some 4,000 research studies into alternative medicine published worldwide.

  • Leech Therapy: Hirudo medicinalis is a small, black, worm-like animal. It is capable of attaching itself to humans or animals, sucking substantial amounts of blood from the skin. A German group recently published a series of clinical trials which suggested that the application of several leeches over the knee eases the pain of osteoarthritis. These studies still await independent replication.

  • Vesalius is acknowledged to be the founder of modern anatomy. In 1543 he published his masterpiece, De Corporis Fabrica or The Construction of the Human Body.

  • The word placebo is Latin for ‘I will please’, and it was used by writers such as Chaucer to describe insincere expressions that nevertheless can be consoling: It was not until 1832 that placebo took on its specific medical meaning, namely an insincere or ineffective treatment that can nevertheless be consoling.

  • The placebo effect may be linked to either conditioning or expectation or both, and there may be other even more important mechanisms that have yet to be identified or fully appreciated. It is known, for instance, that a drug administered by injection has a bigger placebo effect than the same drug taken in pill form.

  • Green pills have the strongest placebo effect on relieving anxiety, whereas yellow pills work best for depression.

  • Placebo effect is increased if it is given by a doctor wearing a white coat, but it is reduced if it is administered by a doctor wearing a T-shirt, and it is even less effective if given by a nurse.

  • If both the patient and the doctor are unaware of whether a placebo or a supposedly active treatment is being administered, then the trial is said to be double-blind.

  • ‘Heroic medicine’ was a term invented in the twentieth century to describe the aggressive practices that dominated healthcare up until the mid-nineteenth century. Patients had to endure bloodletting, intestinal purging, vomiting, sweating and blistering, which generally stressed an already weakened body. On top of this, patients would receive large doses of medications, such as mercury and arsenic, which scientists now know to be highly toxic.

  • Unaware of how blood circulates around the body, Greek physicians believed that it could become stagnant and thereby cause ill-health. Hence, they advocated the removal of this stagnant blood – a practice known as bloodletting.

  • The boom in bloodletting started in Ancient Greece, where it fitted in naturally with the widespread view that diseases were caused by an imbalance of four bodily fluids, otherwise known as the four humours: blood, yellow bile, black bile and phlegm.

  • Blood was associated with being optimistic, yellow bile with being irascible, black bile with being depressed and phlegm with being unemotional. We can still hear the echo of humourism in words such as sanguine, choleric, melancholic and phlegmatic.

  • George Washington died after he had been drained of half his blood in less than a day to treat a throat infection.

  • The human body uses vitamin C to produce collagen, which glues together the body’s muscles, blood vessels and other structures, and so helps to repair cuts and bruises. Hence, a lack of vitamin C results in bleeding and the decay of cartilage, ligaments, tendons, bone, skin, gums and teeth.

  • In 1747 a Scottish doctor named James Lind carried out the first modern clinical trial to find a cure for scurvy.

  • “The plural of anecdote is not data”

About the authors

  • Simon Singh is a particle physicist and a well-known popular science writer (Fermat’s Last Theorem; The Code Book).
  • Edzard Ernst is a professor of Complementary Medicine at the University of Exeter, allegedly the world’s first such academic position in complementary and alternative medicine.

The Beginning of Infinity, David Deutsch, 2011 - Books like these are soaring, inspirational and educational at the same time. They are good because they lead into many alleys of thought and shift your perspectives into seeing the world more critically. The book is filled with a lot of ideas which are probably mere conjectures and it is possible for you to question the audacity of some ideas and that is precisely why its so engaging and fun.

My notes -

• Rapid noticeable progress has happened only once and it started with the scientific revolution in the 16th century

• All progress, theoretical and practical can arise only from the quest for ‘good explanations’

• Within reach of our best telescopes that can see more galaxies than there are stars in our galaxy, there are several supernovae explosions per second that are brighter than all stars in the galaxy put together

Empiricism - Belief that sensory experiences lead to theories and knowledge of reality. But scientific theories are never derived but “guessed” by making bold conjectures and verifying them. So experience is not the source from which theories are derived but is merely used to choose between theories that have already been guessed

Inductivism - The process of obtaining reliable information on the future from the past, or inferring the general from the particular is inductive inference or induction. The belief that scientific theories are derived this way is inductivism

• No man ever steps into the same river twice, for it is not the same river and he is not the same man - Heraclitus

Justificationism - Knowledge doesn’t need authority and ‘how do we know…’ questions don’t need to be transformed into ‘by what authority do we claim’. If not, then a quest for truth is converted into a quest for certainty. This misconception is Justificationism

Fallibilism - There are no authoritative sources for knowledge, nor any reliable means for justifying ideas as being true or probable

• Fallibilists expect even their best and fundamental explanations to contain misconceptions and are predisposed to improve them for the better. In contrast, justificationists seek ways of securing ideas against change. Fallibilism is essential for initiation of unlimited growth - the beginning of infinity

• All observations are theory-laden and hence fallible (Karl Popper), unlike what empiricists like to believe. Sherlock Holmes (Empiricist) when he says it is a capital mistake to theorize before one has data unlike Watson who puts down circumstantial evidence as sketchy based on shifts in perspective and says there’s nothing more deceptive than obvious fact (Fallibilist)

• How is it that we can predict with some non-negligible degree of confidence that a design of microchip will work or a new drug will cure a particular disease even though they have never existed before? (we are great at formulating theories and coming up with explanations)

• Discoveries like fire, clothing, stone tools, bronze happened so rarely that from an individual’s point of view, the world never improved (not observable, unlike the change we have since 16th century)

• Scientific revolution was part of a wider intellectual revolution (Enlightenment) which also brought progress in moral and political philosophy and societal institutions. It was a rebellion against authority in regard to knowledge

• Pre-enlightenment belief was that everything important that was knowable was already discovered

• Royal society was formed in 1660 had the motto ‘Nullus, in verba’ (take no one’s word for it).

• A tradition of criticism is necessary for sustained, rapid growth of knowledge. Although usually the whole point of tradition is to keep things the same. The Enlightenment was at its root, a philosophical change

• Testability is the defining characteristic of scientific method. Popper called it ‘criterion of demarcation’ between science and non-science.

Instrumentalism - It denies that explanations can exist at all. It denies that physical world is accessible to rational enquiry

Relativism - There can be no objective true or false - only relative judgements can be made

• Curiosity about something implies that we believe that our existing ideas do not adequately capture or explain it

• Political, moral, economic and intellectual culture of what we now call ‘West’ rose around the quest for ‘good explanations’ and values around it like tolerance for dissent, openness to change, distrust of dogmatism and authority and an aspiration to progress by individual and society as a whole

• We do not test every theory but only the ones where we find ‘good explanations’ (like explanation for why gravity must bend light came before the experiment that proved light is bent by gravity)

• Conjectures are products of creative imagination but imagination can create fiction with ease than truth

• An explanation has reach when it solves problems beyond those that they were created to solve

• It is the 99% perspiration that powers the 1% inspiration (in a scientific discovery)

• We keep learning about how not to fool ourselves - Feynman

• We observe nothing directly - all observation is theory-laden

Anthropocentric - Centered on human beings. Before science winter was attributed to someone’s sadness, harvests to someone’s generosity, disasters to someone’s anger and so on

Parochialism - Mistaking appearance for reality or local regularities as universal laws

Principle of mediocrity - There’s nothing special about human beings in the cosmic scheme of things

Spaceship earth metaphor - That earth is like a hospitable spaceship that carries humans and is a friendly environment that provides

• Principle of mediocrity and Spaceship earth and have gained lot of acceptable among scientifically minded people since both oppose arrogance. First opposes pre-enlightenment arrogance of anthropocentricism and the second the enlightenment arrogance of aspiring to control the world. (We shouldn’t consider ourselves significant, we shouldn’t expect the world to submit indefinitely to us) - But both are false since we are significant in the cosmic scheme of things and earth was not a very hospitable place until man made it so (99.9% of species that ever existed on Earth is now extinct)

• Universe is a vast, empty place, mostly vacuum, dark matter and radiation. Concentrations of dense matter is very rare. It is familiar to us only because we are made of it. The density of atoms is below 1 per cubic meter. Almost all atoms are hydrogen or helium and there’s no chemistry - chemistry itself is very rare in the universe

• Our senses can’t detect neutrinos or quasars so there’s no reason to expect our brains to understand them. To the extent they already do understand them, we have been lucky

• There’s a intimate connection between explaining the world and controlling it

• Considering a genetically altered human as no longer human is a anthropomorphic mistake

• In present century there’s a 1/1000 chance of being hit by an asteroid. A child born today is more likely to die of an astronomical event than plane crash. Once diseases and ageing are successfully eliminated, people will care about ever longer-term risks.

• Progress is both possible and desirable is the quintessential idea of the Enlightenment

Evolution - both biological and intellectual creates knowledge through error-correcting processes. In case of biological it is through accidental random mutations and in human knowledge, it is through non-random conjectures

Creationism - Belief that some supernatural being or beings designed and created all biological adaptations (the gods did it). This is hard to reconcile this with the fact that there are several suboptimal features and organs without utility. (Argument that poor design has undiscovered purpose is a “bad explanation”)

• A child can design a video game biosphere than our so called gods, rendering them morally deficient and intellectually unremarkable

Spontaneous generation - The belief that living organisms spurted out of non-living things - like mouse from a pile of rags

Infinite regress - An argument or explanation depends on sub-argument of same form which tries to solve the same problem as original argument

• The argument from design is a bad explanation as it gets into infinite regress (who designed the designer?)

• An object like a watch found in earth’s crust would be hard to explain as it signals the presence of knowledge. The watch unlike a rock not only serves a purpose but its adapted for that purpose (several parts put together for a purpose - a rare configuration of matter).

Lamarckism - Idea that improvement acquired by an organism in its lifetime can be inherited by its offspring which is bunkum since nothing in a tiger “knows” what its stripes are for and what would improve it. Knowledge must be first conjectured and then tested

• Not all evolution constitutes progress and no evolution optimizes progress. It can sometimes favor genes that are suboptimal and harmful to the species and all its individuals

• Knowledge embodied in genes is the knowledge of imparting functionality to the organism and replicating themselves (at the expense of other genes)

Fine-tuning - Belief that a higher power tuned our biosphere for evolution to happen (type of creationism). Only in universes that contain astrophysicists can anyone ever wonder why physical constants seem fine-tuned (Weak-anthropic principle)

• Fermi’s problem - If extraterrestrials exist then ‘where are they’?

Memeplex - A group of memes that help each others’ replication - similar to genes

Emergence - Emergent phenomena are ones that pertain to a high-level of a configuration (like pressure of gas vs individual configuration of atoms at lower level)

Reductionism - The doctrine that science always explains and predicts things reductively i.e by analyzing them into components

You can’t derive an ‘ought’ from from an ‘is’ - moral theories cannot be deduced from factual knowledge (David Hume)

• Beauty, right and wrong, primality, infinite sets - they all exist objectively but not physically - you cannot trip over them in the street

• A writing system based on alphabet can cover not only all words in the language but also words that are yet to be coined. Ancestors to Phoenicians conceived it, spread it to mediterranean - the greeks added vowels to it

• Counting is next level above tallying. When tallying you are going ‘another, another, another’ rather than 1, 2 and 3. Tally marks, grouped (in 5) tally marks, I, V, X representation for them were incremental improvements that lead to counting

• Positional system of numerals that originated in India marked a vast jump in potential in science, math, engineering and trade

Jump to universality - Gradually improving systems have a tendency to make a large jump in functionality, becoming universal in some domain (Like the positional numbers or Gutenberg’s movable type that triggered an avalanche of progress)

• Difference Engine (hardcoded functions) and Analytical engine (punched cards for automation) by Babbage and Ada Lovelace were made in the 18th century. Yet the internet revolution took a whole 200 years! ENIAC was allowed to jump to universality and put to diverse uses from weather forecasting to hydrogen-bomb project

• Douglas Hofstadter (one of my fav writer/thinker btw) argument for reductionism lies on the belief that it is not possible for low-level computational steps to add up to a higher level “I” (Deutsch disagrees)

• The genetic code has bases as its alphabets and replication is like programming in that language. For well over a billion years this system however was only making bacteria despite its jump to universality

• Qualia - subjective aspect of sensations - what blue will look like. Qualia are currently neither describable, nor predictable

• Testing intelligence - if you can’t program it, you haven’t understood it. In terms of explaining nature of consciousness or any computational task

• Chatbots have knowledge that is created elsewhere - its more a Lamarckian idea of intelligence. It can do Edison’s 99% perspiration but not the 1% inspiration

• Knowledge must be created during the “running” of the program than during the “creation” of it for it to be intelligent. Turing test doesn’t take this into account

• We do not understand how creativity works

Finitism - The doctrine that only finite abstract entities exist (in math). Finitism is inherently anthropocentric and it regards parochialism as virtue than a vice. In finitism, the concept of infinity has no meaning and doesn’t exist (Wittgenstein denounced it, including whole of philosophy and his own work)

• Cantor founded the modern mathematical study of infinity - with his infinite sets. Taken forward by Hilbert’s infinity hotel which moved the needle a lot on understanding infinity

• An infinity that is small enough to be placed in one-to-one correspondence with natural numbers is a countable infinity

• Singularity - The abstract nowhere that exists at infinity. This might happen in reality too inside blackholes. If people in an infinite hotel passed trash from one room to next room, the trash would end up not in room number infinity but would cease to exist. If the reverse were to happen and something ends up in room 1, that wouldn’t be logically impossible but would merely lack an explanation. Big bang may have been a singularity

• The attributes of probable or improbable, typical or untypical, rare or common have literally no meaning in regard to comparing infinite sets of natural numbers

• Almost all mathematical truths have no proofs. They are unprovable truths (Kurt Godel)

• There’s nothing special about undecidable questions, non-computable functions, unprovable propositions - they are distinguished by physics only (Only laws of physics determine what’s finite in nature)

• Problems are conflicts between ideas

• P != NP. Class of mathematical questions whose answers can be verified efficiently once one has them but cannot be computed efficiently

• Interesting property of infinite sequences - Every element is exceptionally close to the beginning than the end. Unlimited progress is hence inevitable and we are only at the beginning of it and we will always be

• The future of civilization is unknowable because the knowledge that is going to be affect it is yet to be created

• Prediction and prophecy are only separated by a good explanation

• Churchill suffered intense depression, yet was an unusually positive person. Malthus, the notorious prophet of doom is said to have been a serene and happy fellow

• An alien civilization will never come here to invade us and steal our gold, oil or water for such a civilization would be capable of cheap transmutation

• The idea that there could be beings that are to us as we are to animals is a belief in the supernatural

• At any instant, our best knowledge contains both truth and misconception

• Prophecy is prone to systematic pessimistic bias

• Science is what we have learned to keep from fooling ourselves - Feynman

• Systems of govt. shouldn’t be judged for the ability to choose good ones but the ease with which bad ones can be removed

• Unless a society is expecting its own future to be better, it will strive to make its present as immutable as possible

• All evils are caused by insufficient knowledge.

• Optimism is a way of explaining failure, not prophesying success

• The fable of prisoner who made a deal with tyrannical king from being sentenced to death by promising to teach the king’s fav horse to talk within a year - his reasoning - ‘A lot can happen in a year. The horse might die. The king might die. I might die. Or the horse might talk’ :slight_smile:

• An easy problem that is not deemed interesting or useful is better left unsolved, than a hard problem that is interesting or useful (like going to the moon)

• Sparta vs Athens. Pessimistic civilisation with rigid education, beliefs vs an optimistic one with flexible beliefs and learning. Sparta seeks stasis while Athens seeks improvement. While both can co-exist, the very existence of Athens is a deadly threat to Sparta’s stasis

• Epistemology - knowledge about knowledge

• Justified belief is unattainable to humans except in the form of self-deception.

• People who converge upon the truth converge with each other

• The rare and deadly sort of error is the one that prevents from undoing itself (say a dictatorship). The only moral imperative should be to not destroy the means of correcting mistakes

• Nothing is easy to see without prior knowledge. (What we observe is completely a function of what we have already seen/known). When we hear something being said, we guess what it means, without realizing what we are doing. Guesswork is the origin of all knowledge, it is also the source of error

• Socrates is the wisest man in the world because he is the only one who knows he has no knowledge, because genuine knowledge is impossible

• Plato may have faithfully conveyed Socrates philosophy when he was young but later in life simply used Socrates as a vehicle for conveying his own views

• If we were to discover that Einstein wrote all his work at gunpoint, it wouldn’t change a thing in physics textbooks

• Good plot always rests, implicitly or explicitly on good explanations of how and why events happen

• Dollars in bank accounts are completely fungible. There is no meaning to which dollar was spent or received - they are configurational entities, not physical objects. Same thing applies to energy dissipated as heat - it makes no sense if its first 5 KJs or what was added later

• Since dollars in an account are fungible and you owe a certain sum to the tax authorities - now we have a situation in which a collection of entities though fungible do not all have the same owner. Quantum mechanics and randomness is driven by similar underlying fungibility

• Common sense and classical physics carry the parochial error that only one history exists. This makes it sound odd that an event can in one sense by extremely unlikely and in another certain to happen

• Interference provides evidence that multiple histories exist without allowing the histories to communicate. Interference can only happen in objects that are unentangled with the rest of the world (fantastic explanation for these parts in the book)

Decoherence is undoing the entanglement of all affected objects. This is possible only at microscopic scales

• Speed is defined as distance/time but its not meaningful in a situation where there’s no such thing as a particular instance of the particle

• Atoms cannot exist at all according to classical physics - electrons would fall into the nucleus from attraction in a flash of radiation. We mistook the structure of atoms to be analogous to the solar system. In reality the electron is more like an ink blot.

• Typical electron is an irreducibly multi-versal object. Uncertainty principle - uncertain on position/speed is no different from being uncertain on which dollar in your account belongs to the tax dept.

• In quantum computation, special care is taken to prevent qubits from entanglement by cooling them close to absolute zero. Interference process collects all the individual information into a single history. A quantum computer with only a few hundred qubits can perform far more computations in parallel than there are atoms in the visible universe

• Quantum mechanics of time isn’t well understood and wont be until quantum theory is unified with general theory of relativity

• Different times are special case of different universes (time is an entanglement phenomenon)

• When we observe anything, a galaxy or a human being, we are observing a single-universe perspective on a larger object that extents some way into other universes. We are channels of information flow

• They are not alternatives but all happen simultaneously - Schrodinger in 1952 - earliest known reference to the multiverse

• Error is the normal state of our knowledge and is no disgrace

• Bad philosophy cannot be easily countered by good philosophy since it holds itself immune. Progress makes bad philosophy harder to believe (No religion’s god claims thunder anymore)

• Democracy isn’t just about people choosing who should rule, like choosing a priest or an oracle, or a king. Very essence of democracy lies in what happens between elections - the ideas created, tested, modified and rejected - So its not the choosing of options but the creation of options that makes a good democracy

• Extraterrestrials whose senses detected radio waves but not light or sound would have an art inaccessible to us

• We have an inborn aversion to heights and to falling and yet people go skydiving - not in spite of this feeling, but because of it

• Flowers create objective beauty and insects evolve to be attracted to it - both genes co-evolved. But what is surprising is human-beings liking flowers - perhaps due to our inborn tendency to like symmetry

• Poetry, math and physics develop different language because ordinary language would be inefficient for its purposes

• It is very rare for two people to hold precisely the same cultural idea in their minds. This is typical of cults that split post founder’s death. Overwhelming majority of ideas disappear within a lifetime or less

• So behavior of people in a long-lived culture is therefore affected by soon-to-be-extinct recent ideas and partly by long-lived memes, ones that have been replicated faithfully across many lives in succession

• Just genes, memes affect people the same way. People enact behaviors and give false explanations, even to themselves as to why they are behaving a certain way

• Genes get replicated irrespective of immediate use (gene for fixing broken bones will be passed on, irrespective of either parent having a fracture in their lifetime), vs a meme which needs to be enacted as behavior for it to be replicated

• Memes like genes are selfish, they do no necessarily evolve to benefit the holders. Memes that harm society are a familiar phenomenon (This book was written pre-internet meme craze, so mostly refers to religious and cultural ideas as memes)

• Static societies always have ways of crippling creativity of their children to extend tradition. It can perpetuate itself only by suppressing its members self-expression and breaking their spirits - its memes are tuned to doing this

• It is impossible to speak in such a way that you cannot be misunderstood - Popper

• Apes are able to imitate behavior without ever creating explanatory knowledge via behavior parsing

• People are problem-solvers - while solving they inevitably create the next set of problems with their unsustainable solution and the cycle is what leads to progress. Problems are inevitable and problems are soluble and progress is sustainable.

• Almost no one is creative in fields in which they are pessimistic

• Theories can perhaps be called misconceptions to aid progress - like Einstein’s misconception of gravity was an improvement over Newton’s misconception which was an improvement over Kepler’s misconception

Infinite ignorance is a necessary condition for there to be infinite potential for knowledge

This is one of the most optimistic books you can ever read although it takes a very different route to that optimism instead of hammering the point like Matt Ridley’s ‘The Rational Optimist’. People with a growth mindset and love physics are bound to relate to it a lot more than others. 11/10


Calling Bullshit (2020)
By Carl T. Bergstorm and Jevin D.West

We live in a world that’s literally drowning in information. We have more information at the tip of our button than our ancestors combined. Despite the fact that we have more information at our tips than any other generation, we are also prone to a lot more misinformation. And at a much larger scale. And sometimes that can lead to disastrous consequences at an individual as well as cultural level. We might have more information in this age, but the average quality of information has dropped quite drastically.
This might be due to the fact that despite the abundance of information, the analytical capacity remains the same. It has become harder to spot the True from the Fake. Or the Real from The Bullshit.

This is an extremely important topic as in my opinion, spotting bullshit is underemphasized and under-taught. And having a rigorous bullshit detector is one of the greatest gifts one can ask for in this data-drowning world.

These are my (non-exhaustive)notes from the book

The difference between lying and bullshit is that lying is a manipulative tactic designed to lead you away from the truth whereas bullshit is written with a gross indifference to it.

The reason bullshit spreads like fire in the internet as the most widely shared posts are one that spark a sense of wonder, shock you or anything that makes extreme ends of your emotions tick. And most extreme claims are too good or too bad to be true.

Successful headlines don’t convey facts, they promise you an emotional experience
Finding true statements in a sea of false ones is like looking for a needle in a haystack

Correlation, Causality, Numbers

• Correlation is not always equal to Causation. There can be an infinite number of variables on the planet and it is highly likely that two totally unrelated metrics can show some correlation for a given period of time and fool you into thinking there is a pattern. A lot of spurious correlations can be created if you try to look for them. Idiots find patterns everywhere, Wiser folks find where there are none.
• The problem with correlation in psychological studies is individual behavior doesn’t map out to the collective behavior often.
• One way to know whether correlation means causation is to view things via inversion and check whether it still holds true. There has to be some creativity in order to debunk spurious-looking correlations that don’t imply causality.
• It is not enough for numbers to be correct. They need to be placed in an appropriate context so that reader can interpret them. Often numbers are presented without an appropriate context.
• Advertisers often use numbers to persuade and will use metrics to show them in a better limelight
• ‘Mathiness’ is the tendency to form mathematical equations to impress and persuade an audience. They are many times done with zero respect for accuracy, rigor and even consistent units.
• There are a lot of zombie statistics out there as numbers by the virtue of being quantitative have a tendency to spread.

Goodhart’s Law - When a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a good measure. This is because people start gaming the system for rewards of the target leaving other parts of the system exposed to unseen risk. This law can explain what caused Banks to blow up in 2007, academia to degrade, etc

Friendship Paradox - Most of your friends are likely to be friends with more people than you are. The explanation surrounding this is an interesting one.

Familiarity increases the stickiness of the myth

Selection Bias

• Selection bias arises when individuals selected for study differ vastly from the individuals eligible for the study.
• “If something is too good or too bad to be true, it most likely is”. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. Or Assume a fraud unless proven otherwise.
• Data censoring can be done to bolster a study that might not have been true otherwise. Right censoring problem is a type of data censoring problem.

Never assume malice/fraud when incompetence is a likely explanation (in most cases it is). And never assume incompetence when a reasonable mistake can explain things.

In this day and age, data visualization techniques can enhance or mitigate the impact on how data is perceived. Designers have great control over how data is perceived. They can use visually appealing techniques for that purpose in many ways.
• They can use 3D pies and graphs such that lower pie can look larger and vice versa
• They can use slanted or creative charts/graphs which at a first look to the casual reader can reduce/increase the impact of the message
• There were a tonne of such ways of data manipulation via charts and graphs shown in the book which is worth a read. It’s always crucial to ask yourself that whether the story data tells aligns with the way it is presented. It can uncover any malice on the behest of designers

Bullshit in Big Data

Big data doesn’t necessarily mean better, it’s just bigger.
Machine learning - a term that gained newfound popularity in recent years is just algorithms combined with more data and higher processing power
GIGO - Garbage In, Garbage Out. An indication that training data is as much if not more important than algorithms. Training Data usually comes from the real-world - which is full of human biases and their consequences. Training algorithms on that data perpetuate those biases.
News articles have immensely misinterpreted any advance in artificial intelligence or machine learning in order to make compelling stories
Machines still fall short when identifying humour, sarcasm or fake news - for now

Bullshit in science

P values can be hacked by various methods as explained in the book
The P-Value hacking is an example of Goodhart’s law in full flow
News articles tend to mold headlines about science in a way to get more clicks. Rarely are the mistakes in original articles retracted
Researchers tend to read only positive results in scientific literature and negative results are rarely published. Meta-analysis can be useful: looking at multiple studies simultaneously to get a clearer picture.
Peer review cannot catch every innocent mistake, let alone well-concealed acts of scientific jargon

Refuting Bullshit

Use reductio ad-absurdum , Counter examples, Analogies, Null Models to get a clear picture.

Spotting Bullshit
Developing a rigorous bullshit detector is a lifelong process and takes continual practice. Thankfully the modern world offers the practice regularly.

The ways to spot bullshit
1. Check out the source
2. Beware of unfair comparisons
3. Be wary of extraordinary claims
4. Think in orders of magnitude - Use fermi estimation for quick check
5. Avoid confirmation bias
6. Consider multiple hypotheses

Spotting bullshit online is hard and is getting harder day by day. It might be better to reduce the amount of information. Also, the use fact-checking websites can be extremely useful.

Just because someone has an explanation for a phenomenon doesn’t mean it is the explanation for the phenomenon

The major issue I have from this book is that it barely touches the surface of the art of bullshit and how it pervades various different disciplines. It could have been a lot more elaborative. The rot runs too deep in this modern world and it did feel that authors have squandered a golden opportunity. Despite that, I would recommend this book to almost everybody. I am extremely glad someone wrote a book on this topic and hopefully many more similar books are written. A good book but somewhat falls short of being a great one.



Can’t find on kindle

The Rare Metals War: the dark side of clean energy and digital technologies by Guillaume Pitron (2020)

The first industrial revolution was powered by coal, the second one by diesel/petrol and the modern industrial revolution is being powered by rare earth metals. All modern gadgets and technologies – including all “green technologies” will not be possible without rare earths.

So what?

For one, the mining and refining rare earths produces high amounts of pollution. This is due to their natural association with radioactive elements, such as thorium and uranium. Cancer incidents have surged, and underground water has become unpotable in places where these are mined and refined.

Secondly, the transition to green energy – which the world has made a commitment towards – depends on rare earths…this transition is bound to come at a heavy ecological and environmental damage.

Thirdly, it’s China. In 1992, Deng Xiaoping said “Middle East has oil but we have rare earths". China not only has one-third of known deposits of rare earths but it has a complete monoploy in production of most of the rare earths. Further, rare earths have become central to China’s foreign policy and it is using it as a geo-political weapon – arm-twisting other countries into getting whatever they want, including technology secrets.

Lastly, rare earths are called rare for a reason – there isn’t enough of this stuff available in the earth’s crust to meet the projected demand. Moreover, these are very hard to recycle becuase mostly they are used in an alloy form (current recycle rate is < 3%).

This book a timely and an excellent commentary on rare earths.

Detailed notes follow:

Traits of rare-earths

  • Rare-earths form a family of seventeen elements, featuring exotic names like scandium, yttrium, lanthanum, cerium, praseodymium, neodymium, samarium, europium, gadolinium, terbium, dysprosium, holmium, erbium, thulium, ytterbium, lutetium, and promethium.

  • While mineralogists have known the existence of rare-earth metals since the eighteenth century, they garnered little interest while their industrial applications remained undiscovered. But from the 1970s, humans began to exploit the exceptional magnetic properties of some of these metals to make super magnets.

  • Magnets are now — to a vast majority of electric engines — what pistons have been to steam and internal-combustion engines. Magnets have made it possible to manufacture billions of engines, both big and small, capable of executing certain repetitive movements in our stead — whether it be running a motorbike, powering a train, making an electric toothbrush or mobile phone vibrate, operating an electric window, or launching an elevator to the top of the tallest skyscraper.

  • But that is merely scratching the surface of rare metals, for they possess a wealth of other chemical, catalytic, and optical properties that make them indispensable to myriad green technologies. They make it possible to trap car-exhaust fumes in catalytic converters, ignite energy-efficient light bulbs, and design new, lighter, and hardier industrial equipment, improving the energy efficiency of cars and planes

The acceleration of rare metal consumption

  • Between the ages of antiquity and the Renaissance, human beings consumed no more than seven metals; this increased to a dozen metals over the twentieth century; to twenty from the 1970s onwards; and then to almost all eighty-six metals on Mendeleev’s periodic table of elements.

  • Our appetite for metals boomed — and it didn’t stop there. On the one hand, consumption of the three main sources of energy currently used in the world (coal, oil, and gas) tends to stabilise, decrease, or, at best, moderately increase. On the other hand, the potential demand for rare metals is exponential.

  • We are already consuming over two billion tonnes of metals every year — the equivalent of more than 500 Eiffel Towers a day. By 2035, demand is expected to double for germanium; quadruple for tantalum; and quintuple for palladium. The scandium market could increase nine-fold, and the cobalt market by a factor of 24. There is going to be a scramble for these resources, for the resilience of capitalism relies increasingly on the emergence of green and digital technologies. The market will become less and less dependent on the fuels of the last two industrial revolutions, and will increasingly rely on the metals that are driving the impending transition.

  • The US Geological Survey and the European Commission agency in charge of raw materials have produced a map of the world’s rare metal production areas. It shows that South Africa is a major producer of platinum and rhodium; Russia of palladium; the US of beryllium; Brazil of niobium; Turkey of borates; Rwanda of tantalum; and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) of cobalt. Yet most of these metals come from Chinese mines. This is the case for antimony, germanium, indium, gallium, bismuth, tungsten, and, above all, the supreme ‘green’ metals, whose staggering electromagnetic, optical, catalytic, and chemical properties surpass all others in performance and fame: the rare-earth metals.

The environmental cost is exorbitant, inhumane, and outrageous.

  • China is the biggest emitter of greenhouse gases (producing 28 per cent of global greenhouse-gas emissions in 2015), and the alarming figures coming out of the country are multiplying. Ten per cent of its arable land is contaminated by heavy metals, and 80 per cent of its ground water is unfit for consumption. Only five of the 500 biggest cities in China meet international standards for air quality, and there are 1.6 million deaths per year due to air pollution alone.

  • The pollution caused by rare metals is not limited to China. It concerns all producing countries, such as the Democratic Republic of Congo, which supplies more than half the planet’s cobalt. This resource — indispensable to the lithium-ion batteries used in electric vehicles — is mined under conditions straight out of the Middle Ages. One hundred thousand miners equipped with spades and picks dig into the earth to find the mineral, especially in the southern region of Lualaba. Given the DRC government’s inability to regulate the country’s mining activities, the pollution of surrounding rivers and turmoil in the ecosystems are legion. Research by Congolese doctors has found that the cobalt concentration in the urine of the local communities living near the mines of Lubumbashi, in Katanga province, is up to 43 times higher than a control sample.

  • Kazakhstan produces 14 per cent of the world’s chrome — prized by the aerospace industry for the manufacture of superalloys that improve the energy performance of aircraft. In 2015, researchers discovered that chrome mining was responsible for the colossal pollution of the Syr Darya, the longest river in Central Asia. Its water had become completely unfit for consumption by the hundreds of thousands of inhabitants, who are now even advised against using it for their crops.

  • Latin America has already started to experience similar problems with lithium mining — a white metal lying below the salt flats of Bolivia, Chile, and Argentine. It is considered critical by the US, and demand is expected to soar on the back of the electric car boom that has jacked up its global production. Naturally, Argentina has its sights set on becoming the giant of lithium, and between now and 2025 the country has the capacity to produce up to 165,000 tonnes a year, or 45 per cent of global demand, provided it can get foreign investors on board.

The dark side of green and digital technologies

  • Green technologies require the use of rare minerals whose mining is anything but clean. Heavy metal discharges, acid rain, and contaminated water sources — it borders on being an environmental disaster. Put simply, clean energy is a dirty affair. Yet we feign ignorance because we refuse to take stock of the end-to-end production cycle of wind turbines and solar panels.

  • International Energy Agency expecting the share of renewables in global electricity output to increase from 26 per cent in 2018 to 45 per cent in 2040.

  • In the space of ten years, wind energy has increased seven-fold, and solar power by forty-four. Renewable energy already accounts for 19 per cent of world final energy consumption, with Europe planning to increase its share to 27 per cent by 2030.

  • Our quest for a more ecological growth model has resulted in intensified mining of the Earth’s crust to extract the core ingredient — rare metals — with an environmental impact that could prove far more severe than that of oil extraction. Changing our energy model already means doubling rare metal production approximately every fifteen years. At this rate, over the next thirty years we will need to mine more mineral ores than humans have extracted over the last 70,000 years. But the shortages already looming on the horizon could burst the bubble of green-tech industrialists.

  • Uragold — a company that makes equipment for the solar industry calculated the ecological impact of photovoltaic panels: on account of their silicon content, producing just one panel generates as much as 70 kilograms of carbon dioxide. The 23 per cent annual increase in the number of solar panels over the next few years will increase their power-generation capacity by 10 gigawatts every year — but will also generate 2.7 billion tonnes of carbon emissions into the atmosphere, or as much pollution as 600,000 vehicles on the road in a year.

  • Thermal solar panels make an even bigger splash, with some consuming as much as 3,500 litres of water per megawatt hour. That’s 50 per cent more water than a coal-fired plant. More problematic still is the fact that solar farms are more often than not located in water-scarce areas.

  • In 2012 researchers at UCLA compared the carbon impact of a conventional fuel-driven car against that of an electric car. Their first finding was that the production of the supposedly more energy-efficient electric car requires far more energy than the production of the conventional car. This is mostly on account of the electric car’s very heavy lithium-ion battery. The battery of Tesla’s Model S weighs in at 544 kilograms, or 25 per cent of the car’s weight. Then there’s the composition of the lithium-ion battery: 80 per cent nickel, 15 per cent cobalt, 5 per cent aluminium, as well as lithium, copper, manganese, steel, and graphite. The UCLA researchers reached the conclusion that industrialising electric vehicles is three to four times more energy-intensive than industrialising conventional cars.

  • The 2016 report by the French Environment & Energy Management Agency (ADEME) finds: the energy consumption of an electric vehicle [EV] over its entire lifecycle is, on the whole, similar to that of a diesel vehicle.’11 The report also finds that its environmental impact is ‘on a par with [that of] the petrol car’. In fact, an EV might even emit more carbon dioxide than it consumes if the electricity it uses comes predominantly from coal-fired plants, as is the case in countries such as China, Australia, India, Taiwan, and South Africa. These are precisely the conclusions of research published in the journal Nature Energy in 2018: if everyone in China were to rush to a fast-charge station during a peak in electricity consumption — when only thermal power plants are able to meet most of this demand — an electric car in China might generate, over its entire life cycle, more carbon dioxide than a conventional car.

  • Digital technology requires vast quantities of metals. Every year, the electronics industry consumes 320 tonnes of gold and 7,500 tonnes of silver; accounts for 22 per cent (514 tonnes) of global mercury consumption; and up to 2.5 per cent of lead consumption. The manufacture of laptops and mobile phones alone swallows up 19 per cent of the global production of rare metals such as palladium, and 23 per cent of cobalt. This excludes the other forty or so metals, on average, contained in mobile phones. The manufacture of just one 2-gram chip produces 2 kilograms of waste.

  • An email with attachment uses as much electricity as a high-wattage energy-saving lightbulb for one hour. Every hour, some ten billion emails are sent around the world. That’s ‘50 gigawatts, or the equivalent output of 15 nuclear power stations for one hour’.

  • One data centre alone uses as much energy as a city of 30,000 inhabitants to manage the flow of data and run its cooling systems.

  • A US study estimated that the information and communication technology sector consumes as much as 10 per cent of the world’s electricity, and produces 50 per cent more greenhouse gases than air transport annually.

  • According to a Greenpeace report, ‘were the cloud a country, it would be the world’s fifth-biggest consumer of electricity’.


  • Every year, humans produce the equivalent of 4,500 Eiffel Towers of electronic waste, or six kilograms of waste per individual. This figure that has ratcheted up an alarming 20 per cent over the last three years.

  • Japan has broken new ground by recognising the sheer quantity of rare-earth metals contained in the thousands of ‘urban mines’ (e-waste dumps) littering its territory. For example, every one of Japan’s 200 million used smartphones contain a few tenths of a gram of rare metals that can be isolated. That’s 300,000 tonnes of rare-earth metals potentially lying dormant across the island country — enough to keep it self-sufficient for the next three decades.

  • For rare metals such as indium, germanium, tantalum, and gallium, as well as certain rare-earth metals, the recycling rate is between 0 and 3 per cent.

The West under embargo

  • Having the upper hand on rare metals is a question of survival for Beijing; the United States is not the only country very concerned about its supply security.

  • Every year, the United States Geological Survey does an assessment of mineral resources for the preparation of its vital Mineral Commodity Summaries. In the report, analysts pore over ninety raw materials considered critical to our modern economies. Its 200 pages provide detailed statistics on resource availability, global stocks, and, most importantly, where in the world resources are mined.

  • In 2017 it reported that China produces 44 per cent of the indium consumed worldwide, 55 per cent of the vanadium, nearly 65 per cent of the fluorspar and natural graphite, 71 per cent of the germanium, and 77 per cent of the antimony; concluding: ‘China is the most influential country in terms of global supply of the majority of critical raw materials.’

  • The Democratic Republic of Congo produces 64 per cent of the world’s cobalt; South Africa 83 per cent of the world’s platinum, iridium, and ruthenium; and Brazil 90 per cent of the world’s niobium.

  • For its beryllium needs, Europe is dependent on the United States, which accounts for over 90 per cent of production. There are also countries whose share of global production is substantial enough to trigger temporary shortages and wild price swings. For instance, Russia alone controls 46 per cent of the world’s palladium supply, and Turkey 38 per cent of the world’s borate supply.

  • A sudden jump in China’s domestic demand is enough to trigger massive shortages. This is what happened with titanium — a mineral 50 per cent supplied by China globally. An unexpected rise in Chinese consumption between 2006 and 2008 increased titanium prices tenfold, and put French aircraft manufacturer Dassault Aviation in a serious supply shortage.

The resurgence of mining nationalism

  • Today, more and more states are refusing access by foreign industrial companies to promising mining areas. In 2013, the Mongolian government halted the operations of Rio Tinto in the Oyu Tolgoï copper mine in the Gobi Desert.

  • Other countries banned foreign companies from buying local mining companies: in 2010, the Saskatchewan province in Canada stymied an attempt by Anglo-Australian company BHP Billiton to buy out the Canadian group PotashCorp, the world’s leading potash producer.

  • Other than a handful of metals listed on the London Metal Exchange, there are no official reference prices, and everything is traded over the counter. Buyers often need to consult specialised journals or connect to Weibo, the Chinese microblogging website, where brokers and traders drip-feed information about their latest transaction amounts.

High-tech hold-up

  • At equal magnetic strength, a rare-earth magnet is 100 times smaller than a ferrite magnet.

  • In the 1980s, magnet manufacturers were mostly situated in Japan, from where they supplied the bulk of global demand. At the end of the 1990s, Japan, the US, and Europe made up 90 per cent of the magnet market, but now China controls three-quarters of global output. Using blackmail in the form of a technology-versus-resources trade-off, China expanded its monopoly in mineral production to include mineral transformation.

  • Bangka (Indonesia) is the world’s biggest producer of tin — a grey-silver metal essential to green technology and modern electronics, such as solar panels, electric batteries, mobile phones, and digital screens. Every year, over 300,000 tonnes of tin are mined around the world. Indonesia represents 34 per cent of global production, making it the biggest exporter of this high-tech mineral, which is not considered rare. From 2014, all of Indonesia’s mineral resources — from sand to nickel, and diamonds to gold — are no longer exported in raw form.

The day China overtook the West

  • In 2018, China filed a staggering 1.4 million patents — more than any other country in the world.

  • By 2020, China was expected to be producing 80 to 90 per cent of electric vehicle batteries. With a monopoly in the production of rare metals and in the green technologies that depend on them, China intends to become the biggest green-tech-producing country.

  • Baotou (a city in China) is the rare-earths capital. Every year Baotou produces 300,000 tonnes of rare-earth magnets — one-third of global production. The Chinese prefer to call it the ‘Silicon Valley of rare earths’. The city hosts over 3,000 companies, fifty of which are backed by foreign capital, manufacture high-end equipment, and employ hundreds of thousands of workers who generate revenues of up to €4.5 billion every year.

  • The annual rare-earths market is worth a derisory US$6.5 billion — 276 times smaller than the oil market. But because these small metals are found in just about everything we use, this microscopic industry takes on gigantic proportions.

The race for precision-guided missiles

  • For decades, the Pentagon sourced its magnets from manufacturers in the US. One of the most strategic of those was a company called Magnequench. By specialist accounts, it was the best rare-earth magnets producer in the world: its factories were the pinnacle of the production line for Abrams battle tanks and for Boeing’s JDAM smart bombs, which were used in the Afghanistan and Iraq wars.

  • Rare metals are changing the face of modern warfare. China knows that the master of their production and application will undeniably have the upper hand strategically and militarily. China targeted Magnequench and acquired its patents and, therefore, its secrets. The acquisition helped them advance their ability to produce long-range cruise missiles.

  • Magnequench’s parent company, General Motors, agreed to sell the magnet manufacturer to the Chinese in exchange for approval to build a vehicle plant in Shanghai.

  • In a spectacular military parade in Beijing in 2015: the Dongfeng-26 ballistic missile, capable of reaching the US base on the island of Guam, and the Dongfeng-21D anti-ship ballistic missile were displayed.

  • Nicknamed the ‘aircraft carrier killer’ and operational since 2010, the DF-21D has been central to Beijing’s policy of prohibiting access to the South China Sea these past few years. Having control over this strip of ocean running from its coasts to the south of Vietnam would increase China’s strategic leverage, and give it access to prodigious quantities of offshore hydrocarbon resources, as well as an eye on the comings and goings of half the world’s oil.

  • During questioning before the Senate Intelligence Committee in 2017, CIA director Mike Pompeo stated that the United States’ dependence on rare-earth supplies from China remains ‘a very real concern’ for the agency.

  • Developed by the US defence group Lockheed Martin and co-financed by numerous US allies, the F-35 fifth-generation stealth fighter jet has already cost US$400 billion, making it one of the most expensive programs ever run by the US army. America’s hopes in the aircraft are as high as the tax bill for citizens: not only will the F-35 allow the US to dominate the sky, it will stimulate the country’s defence industry, restore the trade balance, and create tens of thousands of jobs. Over the next few decades, some 2,500 orders for the F-35 are expected to be delivered to Australia, the UK, the Netherlands, Israel, Italy, Turkey, Japan, and South Korea.

  • In August 2012, two of Lockheed Martin’s biggest suppliers, Northrop Grumman and Honeywell, went to the White House with their concerns about the rare-earth magnets used in some of the radars, landing gears, and computer systems that they supplied for the assembly of the F-35. Northrop Grumman had discovered that its radars, installed on the 115 already-delivered stealth jets, contained magnets that were not made by a US manufacturer, but by a Chinese competitor, ChengDu Magnetic Material Science & Technology. Apparently, an unscrupulous intermediary had circumvented US regulations, making the F-35 program partially.n.

  • Pentagon further discovered that raw materials from China were being used in other vitally important military equipment — namely, Boeing’s Rockwell B-1 Lancer long-range bomber, certain Lockheed Martin F-16 fighter jets, and all the new SM-3 Block IIA defence missiles manufactured by Raytheon.

Metals shortage ahead?

  • Experts predict that by 2040 we will need to mine three times more rare earths, five times more tellurium, twelve times more cobalt, and sixteen times more lithium than today.

  • Olivier Vidal, a French researcher has shown that massive quantities of base metals we will need to extract from the subsoil to continue to fight against global warming.

  • Wind turbines guzzle more raw materials than previous technologies: ‘For an equivalent installed capacity, solar and wind facilities require up to 15 times more concrete, 90 times more aluminium, and 50 times more iron, copper, and glass than fossil fuels or nuclear energy.’

  • According to the World Bank, which carried out its own study in 2017, the same applies to solar and hydrogen electricity systems, which ‘are in fact significantly more material intensive in their composition than current traditional fossil-fuel-based energy supply systems’.

  • Because global metal consumption is growing at a rate of 3 to 5 per cent per year, ‘[t]o meet global needs by 2050, we will have to extract more metals from the subsoil than humanity has extracted since its origin’.

  • At the current rate of production, we run the risk of exhausting the viable reserves of fifteen or so base and rare metals in under fifty years; we can expect the same for five additional metals (including currently abundant iron) before the end of the century.11 In the short to medium term, we are also looking at potential shortages in vanadium, dysprosium, terbium, europium, and neodymium.

  • Titanium and indium are also stretched, and cobalt is heading in the same direction. ‘This will be the next metal shortage,’ predicted one expert. ‘No one saw this coming, and time is running out.’

  • The black market for rare earths, which caters for one-third of official demand, is using up mines much faster, with some reserves facing depletion from 2027.

  • It takes fifteen to twenty-five years to get a mine up and running. But according to some projections, a new rare-earths mine will need to be opened every year from now until 2025 to accommodate growth needs. Any delay will cost us dearly in the next two decades.

  • One century ago, extracting one hundred barrels of oil required, on average, the energy supplied by one barrel of oil; today this same barrel only produces thirty-five barrels of oil in some drilling areas.

  • Drilling technologies are more efficient, but the most accessible oilfields are now depleted, and more energy is needed to reach new and harder-to-access reserves. For non-conventional crude (shale oil and oil sands), one barrel will produce five barrels at the most.

  • For the same amount of energy, mining companies today extract up to ten times less uranium than they did thirty years ago — and this is true for just about all mining resources.

  • In Brazil, President Jair Bolsonaro wants to accelerate the production of niobium — a metal of which Brazil already produces 90 per cent.

  • Countries are striking up new alliances for rare metals exploration: Tokyo and Delhi have concluded an export agreement for rare earths mined in India; Japan has deployed its rare-earth diplomacy offensive in Australia, Kazakhstan, and Vietnam; Chancellor Angela Merkel has made numerous trips to Mongolia to sign mining partnerships; South Korean geologists have made official their discussions with Pyongyang on the joint exploration of a deposit in North Korea; France is carrying out prospecting activities in Kazakhstan; Brussels has engaged in economic diplomacy to encourage mining investment with partner states; and the US has expressed the interest in buying Greenland — rich in iron, rare earths, and uranium.

The last of the backwaters

  • The rare-earths battle is taking to the seas. Spearheading the offensive is the Canadian group Nautilus. It is preparing to start operations off the coast of Papua New Guinea, and has identified some twenty additional underwater sites to be mined in the future. The ‘blue economy’ has the potential to generate exponential wealth.

  • Japan recently uncovered staggering quantities of rare earths off the coast of the Ogasawara archipelago, 2,000 kilometres south-east of Tokyo.
    China has designed submersibles capable of exploring the ocean floor at record depths.

  • The International Seabed Authority has been flooded with mining-permit applications. France is also ahead of the pack. It has successfully executed its maritime-extension policy in the last few years by applying the international law of the sea, defined in the Geneva convention of 1958.

  • For thousands of years, 71 per cent of the planet’s surface did not belong to anyone; for sixty years, countries owned 40 per cent of the surface of the oceans, and a further 10 per cent is the subject of continental shelf extension requests. The allure of rare metals has led to the biggest ‘land’ grab in history, and in record time.

  • France’s maritime domain now spans over 11.7 million square kilometres — twenty times mainland France’s surface area — making it the world’s biggest territory, followed by the US (11.3 million square kilometres) and Australia (8.5 million square kilometres).

  • The 1967 Outer Space Treaty states that the space beyond the ozone layer is the common property of humanity.

  • In 2011 asteroid UW-158, which narrowly missed the Earth’s surface, was estimated to be worth €5,000 billion. It was crammed with 90 million tonnes of rare metals including more platinum than humans have ever extracted from the Earth’s crust.

  • Space Resources Australia, its US counterpart, Platinoid Mines Corporation, and its British counterpart, Asteroid Mining Corporation, have announced the launch of its first asteroid-exploration probe for 2023


Applications of rare earth metals

Countries accounting for the largest share of global supply of critical raw materials

Overview of the rare metals contained in an electric vehicle


Few takeaways from the book:

  • Russia has been invaded several times from its Western border through the North European Plain (by the Poles in 1605, the Swedes in 1708, the French in 1812, the Germans in 1914, and the Germans again in 1941). This is a vast flatland in Europe that is narrower near Poland but widens at an angle towards Russia; this means that it is easier and cheaper to defend the border the further West the border is. This helps explain why Russian leaders have always seeked to dominate the regions to its West. However, it has never been successfully conquered from the West because of the long supply lines required by the army, before it reaches Moscow.

The North European Plain broadens significantly towards Russia

  • Several Russian ports (e.g., the one at Vladivostok) freeze for one-third of the year due to the cold, weakening the navy and hurting trade. Russia’s only major warm-water port is at Sevastopol in Crimea, which allows movement through the Black Sea, through the Bosporus Strait and into the Mediterranean Sea. Earlier, the port of Sevastopol was operating on lease from Ukraine, but it was later taken over after Russia’s annexation of Crimea.
  • Russia is the world’s second-largest oil producer and several European countries get anywhere between 50% to 100% of their oil from Russia. Politically, it is interesting to note that countries who have a heavy dependency on Russia for oil (e.g. Germany, at 50%) tend to be more restrained in their criticism of Russia’s aggressive behaviour than the others (e.g. Britian, at 13%).
  • The North China Plain has among the most fertile land in the world. The climate there allows double cropping (harvesting twice-a-season).
  • Tibet is very important to China because, if it were free, it would always be possible that India might control it. This would be devastating because- a) this would allow the Indian army to attack downwards from the heights of the Tibetan plateau and b) India could control China’s water supply, since the Yellow, Yangtze and Mekong rivers all originate from the Himalayas in Tibet. To Chinese leaders, it does not matter whether India wants to cut off China’s water supply; only that it would have the ability to do so.
  • Chinese investments in deep ports in Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Myanmar etc. gives them good political relations with these countries, and the ability to acquire a naval base near India.
  • Xinjiang is important to China because- a) it is rich in oil, b) it is a ‘buffer zone’ bordering 8 different countries and c) it is a testing site for nuclear weapons.
  • The Western bank of the Missisippi river was earlier controlled by the French but the Louisiana purchase of 1803 for $15M gave the USA access to the world’s longest navigable inland waterways.
  • The Transcontinental Treaty of 1819 gave the USA a border with the Pacific Ocean on the west.
  • As of 1821, the Mexican border extended upto California and Texas. The latter borders Louisiana, which- a) is where the Missisippi river empties into the Gulf Of Mexico, and b) has the port of New Orleans. This made Louisiana vulnerable to an invasion from Mexico, and hence, the Americans strived to control Texas, which would act as a ‘buffer zone’. The achieved this by encouraging the population to shift to Texas. Once large numbers of Americans resided in Texas, they outnumbered the population of Mexicans in Texas, leading to the Texas Revolution of 1835-36.
  • Cuba has access to and potential control of the Yucatan Channel and the Florida Straits, the sea routes to-and-from the port of New Orleans. The Cuban missile crisis of 1962 was probably the closest we have ever reached to full-scale nuclear war.
  • Western Europe has several long, flat rivers that enhance trade and act as natural borders between countries.
  • African rivers have several waterfalls (they are not long and flat) and this makes trade difficult. Air and road trade is always possible, but they are both much more expensive than water trade.
  • The size of Africa is often underestimated. On a standard world map, it appears to be the same size as the USA, but it is actually three times larger! In fact, the Sahara desert alone is almost as large as the USA.
  • Sub-Saharan Africa is isolated from Europe and Asia, thus preventing trade and exchange of ideas.
  • Several country borders in Africa are lines drawn on the map by Europeans, rather than natural borders of geography. This has forced opposing cultures to live together in artificial boundaries, leading to social unrest.
  • Korea has frequently been used as a route to somewhere else. North and South Korea are divided along the 38th parallel.
  • Japan has historically intended and attempted to control Korea to- a) obtain a ‘buffer zone’ safeguarding it from Russia and China and b) to obtain natural resources like iron ore and coal
  • In the USA, land was sold to or given to small landowners, but in Latin America, it was controlled by large landholders.
  • Bolivia-Chile relations are not great, because of Bolivia losing 250 miles of coastline to Chile in 1879 and becoming landlocked. Bolivia does not sell gas to Chile.
  • China is investing heavily for the construction of the Nicaragua Grand Canal but it does not seem likely to be functional in the near future.
  • The Arctic is not a regional issue but a global one, since the melting of icebergs affects low-lying countries like Bangladesh, as far as they may be from the Arctic.
  • Denmark, Canada, Norway and Russia are all building Arctic army forces but Russia has, by far, the largest fleet of icebreakers.

The central thesis of the book is that geography partially (the author emphasises that he is not a determinist), yet importantly, influences the choices of politicians and the prosperity of countries. Technology does not make geography less important- the Himalayas will always exist to separate India and China, and Russian leaders will always seek to dominate the Western border. It is a well-researched book for anyone seeking to learn about geopolitics.



Masterclass with super investors, Mittal and Basrar, 2019 - The book covers the investing styles, philosophy and historic investments/trades of some prominent names in the Indian investing landscape. This book has made a good name for itself since there are only a handful of books that cover what works or doesn’t in India and since most of our literature is from the West. It is organized into chapters that cover each of those investors so is very readable. What I also liked is that it covers investors with very a diverse range of styles.

Ramesh Damani

• The stock market is about looking ahead and not looking behind

• Earliest multibaggers are Infosys and CMC (40x in a year). He thinks its due to his circle of competence in tech. Infosys was a small bet that went up 500x,

• Great ideas are very rare (So back up the truck or average up)

• The market gives you money when you are uncomfortable

• A bull market leader is a bull market favorite and market doesn’t care if its 80 P/E or 100 P/E (and when it falls, it doesn’t care if its 20 P/E)

• You want to buy in a bear market and be patient and ride the bull market

• Get out of self-limiting mindset saying ‘I only buy technology stocks’ or ‘I only do real-estate’

• The next Xerox is Xerox (Has been applied to HDFC Bank here)

• A great company doesn’t happen overnight. It happens once every 2-3 years or at the end of every bear market (Maybe he means a great investment?)

• Lost money in MTNL in the middle of the telecom boom - equates it to being given a franchise with a multiplex, popcorn and coke stand and you still end up losing money

• If everyone disparages it, you probably have a good investment idea - there has to be skepticism in what you are buying.

• Worries only about the quarterly earnings of 5 companies which are large positions in his portfolio

• Vinod Sethi reads 3 annual reports a day everyday in his life (considers him the gold standard)

• Managements can run any dog and pony show - if we can’t judge them, we aren’t for for the markets

• Infosys was 90% of his portfolio once - he kept riding the winner

• If you double your money every 3 years and do it 10 times, you will be rich beyond your wildest dreams

• Before a bull market tops out, you fall in love with your stocks as the more you sell them, the more it appears to keep going up (Chandrakant Sampat). But it is necessary to do it disciplined, like 11am every wednesday

• Most of the time timing the market can be a futile exercise but at the extremes, it can be very profitable exercise (News flow and sentiment is a good indicator of tops and bottoms).

• Finding the top can be easier than finding the bottom since bottoms can drag for long

• When there is selling despite good news, smart money might be anticipating bad times

• Recommends and and 'The spirit of st. louis by Lindberg)

Raamdeo Agrawal

• Delegates fearlessly. To build big things, one must delegate. Building trust is key

• Sometimes just by sitting, one makes money by luck

• CESC investment - fall in interest rates brought interest down from 400 Cr to 200 Cr which made PAT go up 30x. Depressed markets give such opportunities

• Good businesses have high return on tangible assets of company. Great businesses are able to deploy at higher rates of return. 90% of businesses are gruesome, about 10% are good and less than 1% great

• 25% CAGR = 10x in 10 years

• Div Yield / Div Payout ratio = P/E. When payout ratio doubles, P/E may double over time

• Books - Value Migration, Competitive Strategy, Expectations Investing, Measuring the Moat, Adaptive Investing, 100-to-1

Rajashekar Iyer

• When interest rate rises and economic growth stalls, smaller companies are the ones that are impacted most (was stuck in a lot of midcaps in 1995)

• Selling too early ('88-'91 - did well) and holding too long ('94-'95 - did poorly) will both be suboptimal. Sat out '96-'98 due to limited capital, made a killing in 2000

• Trailing stop at 20% of top to protect profits

• 2000-2003 wasn’t a bull market, so stayed 70% cash and traded with 25-30% of capital only with short horizon

• Books - Market Wizards, Trader Vic, Winning of Wall St., Trading in the Zone, Darvas book, Dow theory, Battle for investment survival, psycho-cybernetics, will o’ neal’s book,

• So long as you know how much you can lose, you can buy anything that you find attractive (No one says it like this)

• Pyramids to build positions (but only in rare high conviction stocks), held a 25% CAGR PAT grower for 10 yrs with 25% allocation.

• Reduces allocation when earnings doesn’t grow and then tracks and reallocates when it does

• Has hard stop at 1% of capital for any position. So if a position may decline 50%, he won’t allocate more than 2% of capital. For him to allocate 15% of capital, he will put a S/L at 6% drawdown

• Not comfortable with 30-35% drawdowns at portfolio levels so takes aggressive cash calls when anticipating a bear market

• Finds good companies by aggressively rejecting bad ones (by elimination). Good 10 year growth without equity dilution or debt are preferred

• Likes businesses that made 30% RoE in the past which is now down to 15% but earnings are recovering

• Sometimes you get too impulsive when you have too much cash (so true!)

• Switches overvalued stocks to other good ideas if he has any, else stays put

• When companies cross the Rs100 Cr barrier for first time, their growth opportunities expand and with it, the multiple (probably as funds get interested?)

• 5-6 stocks make up 2/3rds of the portfolio and another 5 make up 15% and rest are being liquidated or built

• In a cyclical business, ability to manage downturns is an indicator of management quality

• His big winners had deep undervaluation, immediate trigger to buy and big long-term position

• Doesn’t mind benefitting from excesses of the market but doesn’t position himself for the same

• Not investing in anything when there is nothing to do is good capital allocation

• Power, cement, steel - goes by discount to replacement cost. Especially with large debt so the equity multiple is easily 4x on re-rating

• Smaller capital, one must be willing to churn, identify and trade breakouts and not wait 6 months for stock to move and focus on risk management

• Survival is key to long-term success.

• As portfolio size increases, say from 50 lakhs to 5 Cr, one must get used to investing larger positions - say from 5 lakhs to 50 lakhs

Anil Goel - No notes

Govind Parekh

• Look for businesses that are first ones in the industry to do innovative things (eg of Rajapalayam mills bringing in Combidan mill)

• Sundaram Finance raised money through FDs and people needed contacts to invest in them (talks highly)

• Equity-to-turnover ratio - New plant would increase turnover and if margins go up, then profits shoot up on an increased turnover base and on a low equity base (MRF had a 2 Cr PAT on a 3.8 Cr Equity base

• Bought Bajaj Finance at Rs 17.50 (adj) and sold around 300-600. Regrets it though returns are phenomenal.

• Doubles money every 2 years and 4-5x in 5 years. Buys small positions to get foot-in-the-door - calls it platform ticket to board the running train later

• Best in capital allocation - Sundaram Fasteners, Carborundum Universal, Coromandel Fert, HDFC Bank, 3M India, Bosch, SKF, Rajapalayam mills

Bharat Jayantilal Patel

• Has a broking business and also invests but never both at the same time - says clients influence investing decisions and so he can’t be balanced

• Anything above 85% utilization will give pricing power to cement industry (65% in the south, due to price “understanding”)

• Bull or bear trends hit stock market first and then the real-estate market with a gap of 1.5-2 years

Hiren Ved

• Our market is very illiquid by global standards, so FII capital will keep pumping the few with disproportionately high valuation

• Individual investor not answerable to anybody can follow any investing philosophy they want (funds cant)

• Bajaj Finance would do internal evaluation against other NBFCs on 6 parameters and see how they stand against others regularly (unheard of in the industry before)

• P/E re-rating and de-rating is more sensitive to RoE than to growth

• Most extraordinary companies have surprised every analyst in the early phases of their growth

• Every time the system corrects for marcro issues, the corporate sector pays in terms of profitability on an “aggregate” basis

• We think companies always know their worth but they always have their blind spot (on buying stake from promoters)

• You cannot scale up complexity but simplicity can be scaled

• You cannot always be the creator of original ideas and must be willing to adapt to others’ ideas

• One must strike a balance between being independent and being egoistic

• In manufacturing any company that does RoE of 25% is respectable

• Special situations - you don’t have to play an event. You can play it “seen” instead of “blind” - invest post event rather than before (buy from people playing the event)

• When market is elevated, people start looking at value plays but deep value never work out (I disagree)

• Earnings have no meaning in bottom and top of cycle - only in the middle when trend is established

• Getting risk:reward right is more important than having patience and conviction

Kenneth Andrade

• Its nice to find an industry where everybody is making losses, since mostly its a matter of time before they bounce back

• If you buy something you dont understand, you don’t know when to sell it and will get stuck

Vijay Kedia

• Used to put all money made in earlier trade into subsequent trades and lost it faster than it was made

• Worked supplying materials while trading in early days to support himself with daily expenses

• People carrying or reading annual reports were considered educated (in the kolkata ring)

• When you have nothing, your intuition helps

• Markets reward you as per your perception

• When you reach a certain level and basic expenses are taken care of, you can fly

• Once a management thinks they have made lots of money, their hunger goes away

• We do everything twice - once in our mind and once in reality (wow)

• Has been able to catch big winners in every bull market - typically small caps move after the large caps do, so there is ample time

• Stock market is a game of the mind. If you think short-term your behavior will be different from if you think long-term

• If the management does not become billionaire, you cannot become millionaire (find managements with intent)

• If you see a 70 yr old company still at small size, then his exp. is only 5 years - the last 5

• Best time to sell is when the management changes focus

• Will sell all the stocks without question of price if there’s a bear market coming

• Common threads in successful stocks - unknown/unpopular company, capable management, good business, and illiquid stock. There’s no belief, then there is and stock moves and same people invest, followed by FII and MFs

• Started in market '78-'80. Took 20 years to reach net worth of 5 lakhs. Big money was made in last 15 years

Shyam Sekhar - No notes
Chaitanya Dailmia - No notes

I liked some sections a lot more than the others, some I found outright boring perhaps due to my biases to certain styles more than the others, or to certain individuals more than the others. It is perhaps my misgivings and faults, than to the book or the investor. 8/10


Excellent thread, liked the best on Ramesh Damani and Vijay kedia. However do keep in mind these investors can change their style over period of time & their mind quite quickly.

1 Like

The notes written by @phreakv6 serves an inspiration to read the whole book.
It’s an enlightening experience to read the investor’s journey to financial freedom.


The Language of Food: A Linguist Reads the Menu by Dan Jurafsky (2015)


The book is full of very interesting stories related to food, for example, how the bird turkey came to be called turkey and why the same bird is called Hindi in Turkey and Peru in Portugal. This book is a fun read, I’d highly recommend it esp. if you have interest in food or history or both.

Author Dan Jurafsky is a professor of computational linguistics at Stanford. This book is his only non-academic work.

Notes from the book follow:


  • Jurafsky analyzed a very large dataset consisting of 6500 modern menus (describing a total of 650,000 dishes); below are insights from his analysis:

  • Very expensive restaurants mention the origins of the food more than 15 times as often as inexpensive restaurants! This obsession with provenance is a strong indicator that you are in an expensive, fancy restaurant.

  • Even on a la carte menus, a more expensive restaurant is more likely to offer a prix fixe selection, or to describe an individual dish as being composed of a “chef’s choice” or the “chef’s selection,” (“Antipasto Della Casa: The chef’s daily selection”)

  • In cheaper restaurants the diner has a lot of choice. First of all, inexpensive restaurants just have far more dishes. On average twice as many. Cheap restaurants are likely to give a choice of sizes (small, medium, or large), or a choice of proteins (chicken, shrimp, or tofu). Another linguistic cue on menus of cheap restaurants is that the word you appears much more often, in phrases like “your choice” or “your way.” Here are some examples: [“Baby lamb chops grilled to your liking”, “Marinated flank steak with eggs your way”]

  • Fancy restaurants also use fancy words. In menus from 50 to 100 years ago this often meant long French words, but now lots of other foreign words are used on fancy menus. In our sample of expensive modern menus this means words like tonnarelli, choclo, bastilla, kataifi, persillade, and oyako (from Italian, Peruvian Spanish, Arabic, Greek, French, and Japanese, respectively).

  • Rare, long, fancy words that appear more often in expensive restaurants are words like decaffeinated, accompaniments, complements, traditionally, specifications, preparation, overflowing, magnificent, inspiration, exquisitely, and tenderness. By contrast, cheaper restaurants use shorter forms: decaf instead of decaffeinated, sides instead of accompaniments or complements.

  • Descriptive adjectives like fresh, rich, spicy, crispy, crunchy, tangy, juicy, zesty, chunky, smoky, salty, cheesy, fluffy, flaky, and buttery appear significantly more often in menus of middle-priced restaurants (“Crisp Golden Brown Belgian Waffle with Fresh Fruit”)

  • Fancy menus are lightly seasoned with something else instead: carefully selected obscure food words and pastoral images of green pastures and heirloom vegetables.

  • In the 1930s linguist George Zipf suggested that frequently used words are shortened so as to make communication more efficient; you can pack more words in a smaller space and time for your listener if the ones that you use more often are shorter. Zipf’s ideas helped lead to the brilliant work of Claude Shannon 10 years later at Bell Labs in creating information theory. Without these ideas, our modern digital collections of menus (or sound recordings, or photographs) would be impossible.

  • Linguist Mark Liberman suggests that overmentioning is a symptom of “status anxiety.” Expensive restaurants don’t use the word ripe (or fresh or crispy) because we assume that food that should be ripe is ripe, and everything is fresh. Middle-priced restaurants are worried that you won’t assume that because they aren’t fancy enough, so they go out of their way to reassure you.

  • The word menu comes from shortening of the Latin word minutus meaning “small, finely divided, or detailed.”

  • The word entrée originally (in 1555) meant the opening course of a meal, one consisting of substantial hot “made” meat dishes, usually with a sauce, and then evolved to mean the same kind of dishes but served as a third course after a soup. American usage kept this sense of a substantial meat course.


  • Ketchup originally meant “fish sauce” in a dialect of China’s southern coastal region, mountainous Fujian Province, which also gave us the word tea (from Fujianese “te”). People living along the coasts and rivers of Southeast Asia and what is now southern China began to preserve local fish and shrimp by salting and fermenting it into rich savory pastes to make it through the dry season. The enzymes in the fish convert the starch in the rice to lactic acid, resulting in a salty pickled fish that could be eaten by scraping off the goopy fermented rice.

  • By 700 CE the Japanese began to use this Southeast Asian method of fermenting fish together with rice, calling this newly borrowed food sushi. This early fermented fish, now technically called narezushi in Japanese, is the ancestor of modern sushi. Sushi evolved to its modern fresh form in the eighteenth century as the lactic fermentation was replaced with vinegar.

  • English word sauce comes from the Latin word salsus originally meaning “salted”.

  • In semantics and historical linguistics, semantic bleaching is the loss or reduction of meaning in a word as a result of semantic change. If a word’s meaning becomes so vague that one is hard-pressed to ascribe any specific meaning to it anymore, it is said to have undergone bleaching.

  • By the time British sailors brought ketchup back to England in the late seventeenth century, China was the richest nation in the world by any measure—including standard of living, life span, and per capita income—and produced the bulk of the whole world’s GNP. China’s control of intra-Asia trade together with its superior manufacturing technology (in textiles, clothing, ceramics, and distillation) meant that China dominated the world economy until the Industrial Revolution.


  • Semitic and Indo-European cultures show early evidence for a concept related to toasting, the idea of libation. A libation, an offering of mead (a fermented honey beverage) or wine or oil poured to the gods before drinking, was central to Greek religion.

  • These libations date back even earlier to the Indo-Europeans, who poured libations for the gods to avert bad fate. We know this from linguistic evidence; languages across the Indo-European language family have many words for libation, often linked with words relating to health, security, or guarantees. Thus Greek spendo indicates a wine libation that is poured while asking the gods to guarantee someone’s security or safe return, while the related Latin spondeo means “to guarantee,” from which we get our word spouse. The root *g’heu (pour) is the ancestor of Latin fundere (to pour, from which come English words like fund, refund, found, fuse, suffuse), and of Sanskrit hav-, used for the liquid offerings in Vedic ritual, and of Iranian zav-, meaning to make an offering, and Iranian zaotar, meaning priest.

  • Toasting may have begun as a way of strengthening ties of friendship between people; early Chinese writings prescribe toasts as part of elaborate social rituals. Other anthropologists have suggested that toasting and libation may have originally had to do with the evil eye, a superstition widespread in Indo-European and Semitic cultures that boasting about your good fortune can cause the gods to harm you. Because the evil eye was a dessicating force (withering fruit trees, or drying up cows’ milk), liquid was a kind of cure or placation.

  • The curative power of liquids also explains the old folk custom of spitting three times to scare off the evil eye (opera singers still say toi toi toi before going on stage, a verbal representation of this spitting).

  • Toasting may be related to health or appetite that Indo-European, Semitic, and many other cultures wish for before eating: like French bon appetit, Levantine Arabic sahtein (two healths), Yiddish ess gezunterheit (eat in health), or Greek laki orexi (good appetite).


  • The existence of more types of words, with more differentiated meanings, for describing negative opinions than positive ones occurs across many languages and for many kinds of words, and is called negative differentiation. Humans seem to feel that negative feelings or situations are very different from each other, requiring distinct words. Happy feelings or good situations, by contrast, seem more similar to each other, and a smaller set of words will do.

  • Negative differentiation comes up in all sorts of domains. For example, across languages there seem to be more adjectives to describe pain than pleasure. We use more varied vocabulary to describe people we dislike than people we like. People even describe attractive faces as more similar to each other while unattractive faces differ more from each other. This generalization that there are more different ways to be negative than to be positive was most famously stated by Tolstoy at the beginning of Anna Karenina: “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”


  • English has no commonly used positive word meaning “smells good” that corresponds to delicious for taste or beautiful for sight. Languages generally seem to have a smaller vocabulary for smell than for other senses, relying on words for tastes (like sweet or salty) or names of objects (like gamy, musky, skunky, or metallic).

  • Some languages do have somewhat richer olfactory vocabularies, like Cantonese. Unlike English, Cantonese has a common word that means “smells good,” heung, often translated as “fragrant.” Fragrant in English is rare and poetic, but the everyday Cantonese heung (and its Mandarin cognate xiang) is just how you say you like the smell of what’s cooking. Heung is the first part of the name Heung Gong (Hong Kong; “smells-good harbor”).

  • Cantonese has six tones, characteristic rising or falling pitches, and the meaning of a word varies depending on the tone used.


  • Jurafsky investigated a million online restaurant reviews on Yelp and…

  • Bad reviews are stories about bad things done by other people. The waiter or waitress made some mistake, messed up the order or the bill, or had a bad attitude, the manager didn’t help, the hostess caused a long wait, and so on.

  • Bad reviews overwhelmingly use the pronouns we or us (“We waited,” “our entrées,” “us having to”). While other reviews use those pronouns too, “we” and “us” are vastly overrepresented in negative ones. What is the common denominator of these three features: negative emotional words like terrible and horrible, narrative stories about other people, and a vast increase in we and us, all strongly linked to 1-star reviews?

  • People use a very different metaphor when they like the food at cheap restaurants. In reviewing inexpensive restaurants, they use the language of addiction or drugs (“garlic noodles . . . are now my drug of choice”, “these cupcakes are like crack”)

  • The more Yelp reviewers mention dessert, the more they like the restaurant.

  • Positive words, though weak in variety, occur much more often in reviews than negative words. Restaurant reviewers use words like great, delicious, and amazing 3 to 10 times more often than words like bland, bad, or terrible.

  • Review scores themselves are also skewed toward the positive. Reviewing scores on most sites go from 1 to 5, so the median score should be 3. Instead the median score, whether for restaurants or beers, is about 4 out of 5.


  • Tendency towards the positive is not a recent trend due to Internet but has been shaping our language for millennia. Linguists are deeply interested in linguistic phenomena that hold across all languages, key to our goal of discovering true human universals. A bias toward positivity in vocabulary is one of the strongest universals we have found. This idea that people are positive is called the Pollyanna effect, after the heroine of Eleanor Porter’s 1909 book for children, Pollyanna, an orphan who always looked on the bright side.

  • The Pollyanna effect is not just specific to reviews. If you ask Google how frequent a word is (or check the frequency in a carefully constructed academic database of texts), positive words are (on average) more frequent than negative words. English good is more frequent than bad, happy than sad; Chinese kaixin (happy) is more frequent than nanguo (sad); Spanish feliz is more frequent than triste.

  • The Pollyanna effect (or positive bias) has been confirmed in dozens of languages and cultures, and comes up in all sorts of nonlinguistic ways as well. When psychologists ask people to think of items or remember them from a list, they name more positive things than negative things. When people forward news stories, they are more likely to forward the positive stories than the negative ones.


  • Similar to menus for expensive restaurants, text describing expensive chips is riddled with natural authenticity, calling chips “natural,” obsessed with the lack of anything artificial or fake, and emphasizing the handcrafted wholesomeness of the manufacturing process. Researchers call this craft authenticity, and you’ve seen it in phrases like “sea salt,” “nothing fake or phony,” “absolutely nothing artificial,” “only the finest potatoes,” or “hand-rake every batch.”

  • Expensive chips also have a lot more negative markers, like the word “no” or phrases like “never fried” or the word don’t in “we don’t wash out the natural potato flavor.” Negation emphasizes bad qualities that a chip does not have, subtly suggesting that other brands have this bad quality. The message is that other chips are unhealthy, unnatural, or addictive


  • French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu (famous for his book “Distinction”) surveyed French society in the 1960s, examining the daily habits and tastes of the upper class and the working class. Bourdieu showed that our position in society heavily influences our tastes. In food, the lower class expressed preferences for traditional hearty meals, heavy in starch and fat and generous in portion size. The high-status classes instead tended to value more exotic foods like curry and other ethnic foods newly arrived in France at the time, or health foods like brown rice.

  • Bourdieu argues that there is nothing inherently better about curry versus cassoulet; that hip or fashionable tastes are just a way for the upper class to display their high status, to distinguish themselves from other classes. Taste, says Bourdieu, is “first and foremost . . . negation . . . of the tastes of others.” A high-status group maintains its status by legitimizing some tastes but not others, independent of inherent artistic merit, and by passing on these tastes as cultural preferences.

  • Bourdieu’s model explains the massive amounts of comparison (less fat, finest potatoes) and negation (not, never) in expensive chip advertising as a way of explicitly emphasizing these distinctions. Upper-class taste in food advertising is defined by contrast with tastes of other classes; what it is to be upper class is to be not working class.


  • Bread and salt (khubz wa-milh) is an Arabic phrase that means the bond created by sharing food; the Russian word for hospitality is similarly khleb-sol (bread-salt).

  • An English word for flour with particularly ancient roots is semolina. Semolina comes from Latin simila (fine flour) and Greek semidalis, both of which come from the Akkadian word samidu (high-quality meal). Akkadian was the language of ancient Assyria and Babylon, and samidu occurs in recipes in the world’s oldest known cookbook, the Yale Culinary Tablets. These were written in cuneiform around 1750 BCE.

  • Salt’s importance in cuisine is visible in the vast number of foods in English with salt in their name. Salad and sauce (from French), slaw (from Dutch), salsa (from Spanish), salami and salume (from Italian) all come originally from the Latin word sal and originally meant exactly the same thing: “salted.”

  • The word salad, originally from Medieval Latin salata, came to English from Old French, borrowed from Provençal salada. The very first written recipe for salad in English is in the first English cookbook, the 1390 Forme of Cury.

  • The main use of salt throughout human history was to preserve foods. Cabbage salted into sauerkraut could last through the winter. Salted sausages, salami, ham, salt pork, and salted fish were able to last long enough to allow merchants and soldiers to travel across Europe and cross the Atlantic and the Pacific.

  • Until about 1800 preservation meant salting (or smoking, or soaking in vinegar, or candying in sugar), and food preservation was essential for a population to get enough to eat. Starting around 1790, two major scientific and technical advances led to superior methods of food preservation. The first was around 1790 when Nicolas Appert, a French confectioner invented thermal processing (appertization) which led to storing all sorts of foods in glass jars for a long time. The second advance was refrigeration, invented in stages through the nineteenth century, widespread in commercial breweries by the 1880s, in meatpacking by 1915, and by the mid-twentieth century available to every household.


  • The phenomenon of sounds carrying meaning is called sound symbolism. Sound symbolism has ramifications beyond its deep philosophical and linguistic interest. Like other linguistic cues to marketing strategies sounds are crucial to food marketing and branding.

  • Sound symbolism has been most deeply studied with vowels, and in particular the difference between two classes of vowels, front vowels and back vowels, which are named depending on the position of the tongue when articulating the vowels.

  • A number of studies over the last 100 years or so have shown that front vowels (like I and i) in many languages tend to be used in words that refer to small, thin, light things, and back vowels (like a and ο) in words that refer to big, fat, heavy things.

  • Since ice cream is a product whose whole purpose is to be rich, creamy, and heavy, it is not surprising that people seem to prefer ice creams that are named with back vowels.

  • Humans instinctively associate the pitch of sounds with size. All vowels are composed of different frequency resonances. We instinctively associate higher pitch with smaller animals, and by extension smaller things in general.


  • The word dessert comes from French, where it is the participle of desservir, “to de-serve,” that is, “to remove what has been served.” The word was first used in France in 1539 and meant what you ate after the meal had been cleared away.

  • Ziryab – a 9th century musician from Andalusia – was said to have first proposed that meals be served in courses, starting with a lamb soup he invented called tafaya made with almonds and cilantro. A 13th century Andalusian cookbook first specified that meals be served in seven courses, beginning with tafaya and ending with three courses of desserts.

  • Chinese meals don’t have the concept of a final sweet course (dessert), but they do have structure of a different sort: constraints on the ingredients and their combination. A Cantonese meal consists of starch (rice, noodles, porridge) and nonstarch portions (the vegetables, meat, tofu, and so on). These can be mixed together in one dish (to form chow mein, chow fen, fried rice, and so on) or served as separate dishes.


  • The family of dishes that are claimed by many nations as cultural treasures (ceviche in Peru, Chile, and Ecuador, fish and chips in Britain, tempura in Japan, escabeche in Spain, aspic in France) descend directly from the favorite dish of the Shahs of Persia more than 1500 years ago called Sikbaj. Sikbaj, from sik, Middle Persian for “vinegar.”

  • The French and English first called this bird galine de Turquie (Turkish chicken) or Turkey cock, after the originally Turkish Mamluk sultans who first sold the bird to the Europeans in the 1400s. The bird turkey is called Hindi in Turkey (the country) and Peru in Portugal.

  • The words for turkey in Nahuatl, the Aztec language, is totolin for English words from Nahuatl include avocado, tomato, chocolate, and chile.

  • Word arrack comes from the Arabic ‘araq (sweat), and is related to words for other distilled spirits like anise-flavored Levantine arak and the Croatian plum brandy rakia. Distilled spirits don’t go bad in the tropical heat, and they don’t oxidize.

  • Arrack became the main ingredient in what cocktail historian David Wondrich calls “the original monarch of mixed drinks”: punch—a combination of arrack, citrus, sugar, water, and spice. Wondrich thinks this first cocktail was likely invented by British sailors, making good use of the lemons they were supplied with as the recently discovered cure for scurvy.

  • Worcestershire sauce created in the nineteenth century to imitate a sauce from Bengal, and budget replacements for arrack were also developed, using local sugar in the Caribbean. “Rum” is the most popular of these imitation arracks.

  • Spanish silver pieces of eight became the first international currency, the dollar of its time.

  • Panchatantra, a collection of c. 200 BCE Sanskrit animal fables that the Persian physician Borzya brought back and translated into Persian, and which was the source of stories in One Thousand and One Nights and Western nursery tales like the French fables of Jean de La Fontaine.

  • Rakia is the generic name for the fruit-based brandies of southeast Europe. While rakia may be made from apricots, cherries, or grapes, the most common type of rakia is made from plum and is called šljivovica or slivovitz.

  • Wine reviews changed over time from 1975 to 2000. In the 1980s wine reviewers began to increase their use of the body as a metaphor, starting to use words like fleshy, muscular, sinewy, big-boned, or broad-shouldered.

  • The idea of using different linguistic devices to target different audiences comes from the father of advertising, ad executive giant David Ogilvy, the 1948 founder of Ogilvy and Mather and inspiration for Mad Men. Ogilvy was a famous eccentric creating a scene at restaurants by ordering a plate of ketchup as his entire meal.

  • Lauznaj was a confection of almonds ground together with sugar, mixed with rosewater, and wrapped in a delicate pastry. The chefs of the Abbasid Dynasty in Baghdad had borrowed lauznaj from the Sassanid kings of Persia, who ate sweets like this for Nowroz (the first day of the new year in the Persian calendar, celebrated on the vernal equinox).

  • Marzapane (marzipan in English) comes from the Arabic word mauthaban, which originally meant the jars the tarts came in, and then by extension the pastry shell.

  • Different regions used different words for pasta, among them tria (from Arabic itriyah), lasagne, and vermicelli (“little worms”). The idea that Marco Polo introduced pasta to Italy from China is a myth that grew accidentally out of a humorous piece from 1929 in a Minnesota trade publication called the Macaroni Journal; by the time Polo returned from China in 1296, pasta had been a major export commodity for almost 150 years.

  • The medieval Arab sweet fruit concoctions were left in syrup form, where they were swallowed medicinally or combined with water to form refreshing beverages. The Arabic word for these syrups was shara-b, from a root meaning “drink.” When these Arab medical manuals were translated into Latin the word sharab became the medieval Latin word siropus, the ancestor of our English word syrup.

  • In the ninth century, during the Tang dynasty, the Chinese first realized that saltpeter (potassium nitrate) could be mixed with sulfur and coal to create the explosive mixture we now call gunpowder. Gunpowder was quickly adopted by the Arab world, where potassium nitrate was called “Chinese snow” in Arabic.

  • It was in the Arab world rather than in China that the process of purifying and refining potassium nitrate was perfected, and it was in Damascus that it was discovered that saltpeter had refrigerating properties: when potassium nitrate (saltpeter) is added to water, it chills the water.

  • The anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss suggested that the opposition between the raw and cooked is probably universal across cultures: that cooking is everywhere associated with civilization and with socializing and controlling nature.

  • In the Basque-speaking country of Spain there are private cooking clubs called txoko which are a central part of the culture. The txoko (or in Spanish, sociedad gastronómica) was first created in the nineteenth century when members would get together to cook and eat at a communally organized kitchen.

  • Synesthesia is the general name for the phenomenon of strong associations between the different senses. Some people, like Dan Slobin, a Berkeley professor of psychology and linguistics, are very strong synesthetes. For Slobin, each musical key is associated with a color: C major is pink, C minor is dark red tinged with black.


I have been an avid follower of this thread since the beginning. But unfortunately, in last four years the format of reviews have taken a turn for the worse. If we analyze the earlier reviews, they were concise, brief and would entice one to take a jump to read the book.

Now a days reviews are summarizired chapter by chapter with extensive notes much like the exam notes which take away the thrill of the reading the book and just read the review itself, instead.

From the earlier format of movie trailers, it has now become something like YouTube movie recaps, IMHO.


Speaking for myself: I’d follow a thread like this if it helps me in reading one less book which a long-format note-taking-style review affords. At ~20 books a year I am looking at reading ~800 books in the rest of my days…when about 3 million new titles are printed every year.


Rare: The High-Stakes Race to Satisfy Our Need for the Scarcest Metals on Earth (2015) by Keith Veronese


This book will make you fall in love with the elements of the periodic table – especially the ones that you may have rarely heard about.

There are many interesting stories in the books, however, I have stripped out all of that and put only the fact-type of information in the notes below:


  • Promethium is the rarest (naturally occuring) element on Earth. Scientists first isolated promethium in 1963 after decades of speculation about the metal. It would be very useful if available in substantial amounts – it could be used to power atomic batteries that would continue to work for decades at a time. However, estimates suggest there is just 586 grams of it within the crust of the entire planet.


  • Due to the difficulty in purifying aluminum found in ore, the metal became extremely prized and more valuable than silver in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. In 1886, Charles Martin Hall discovered a simple but unique process to separate aluminum from ore impurities using electricity. Due to Hall’s process, use of Aluminium increased exponentially with supply keeping up with the demand.


  • Platinum, palladium, and rhodium are used in catalytic converters, a key component in every automobile built and sold in the United States since the 1970s. Each converter contains a little over five grams of platinum, palladium, or rhodium, but this meager amount acts as a catalyst that turns carbon monoxide into a water vapor and harmless emissions for hundreds of thousands of miles, with the metal unchanged throughout the process.


  • Europium is used to create the color red in liquid-crystal televisions and monitors, with no other chemical able to reproduce the color reliably.


  • As copper communication wires are replaced with fiber-optic cable, erbium is used to coat fiber-optic cable to increase the efficiency and speed of information transfer.


  • Rare earth metal (often abbreviated as REE) is a descriptor given to a group of seventeen different elements that sit side by side (almost) on the periodic table.

  • “Rare” suggests that the metals are impossible to find in any form, but this is not really the case. The majority of the seventeen are not rare; they are spread throughout the planet in reasonable amounts. The metals are in high demand and inordinately difficult to extract and process, and it is from a combination of these factors that the seventeen derive their rarity. To obtain enough of any one of these seventeen to secure a pure sample, enormous quantities of ore must be sifted through and chemically separated through a series of complex, expensive, and waste-creating processes.

  • Five species of minerals dominate our concern in the hunt for rare earth metals: columbite, tantalite, monazite, xenotime, and bastnäsite.

  • China holds one-third of the planet’s rare earth supply, but a vast number of mining and refining operations ongoing within its borders allow China to account for roughly 97 percent of the available rare earth metals market at any given time.

  • The government of China made a decision to play the “long” game in the 1970s—sell large quantities of rare earth metals at very low prices, prices low enough that the rest of the world would flock to this new and inexpensive supplier. Years of allowing outsiders to purchase at below-market value devastated the rare earth mining industry in other parts of the world, and by the turn of the millennium China’s mines were the only ones left standing.

  • The rare earth metals dysprosium, neodymium, terbium, and lanthanum are the four-pronged linchpin of efforts to create an environmentally friendly transportation sector, with each metal needed in massive quantities if the electric car revolution succeeds in removing combustible engines from our roads and highways.

  • Over thirty pounds of rare earth metals is inside of each Toyota Prius, with most of that mass split between rare earth components essential to motors and the rechargeable battery. Of this thirty, ten to fifteen pounds is lanthanum, with the lanthanum used as the metal component of nickel metal hydride (NiMH) batteries. As the first generation of hybrid/EV automobiles reaches the end of its lifetime, owners will be forced to replace their battery or move on to a different car, with both alternatives bringing an uptick in rare earth metal consumption.

  • The amount of rare earth metals needed to create of a state-of-the-art wind turbine dwarfs that needed for an electric car, with five hundred pounds of rare earth metals needed to outfit the motors and other interior components of a single energy-generating wind turbine.

  • The first of the seventeen rare earth metals discovered was yttrium (from Ytterby, Sweden)

  • Neodymium and its neighbor on the periodic table, samarium, are used to manufacture critical components of smart bombs and precision-guided missiles, ytterbium, terbium, and europium are used to create lasers that seek out mines on land and under water, and other rare earth elements are needed to build the motors and actuators used for Predator drones and various electronics like jamming devices.


  • Oil refineries use the mixture of two elements as a catalyst in petroleum cracking, a heat-intensive process necessary to break down carbon to carbon bonds present in extremely large molecules en route to the culling of octane for use in gasoline.


  • Of the one hundred and eighteen elements currently included on the periodic table nineteen do not exist in any form on our planet.

  • Modern scientists continue to search for new elements, with most existing for only a few seconds within particle accelerators. Due to the progression of the periodic table, all but one of the elements—all synthetic—discovered since the early 1980s—hassium, meitnerium, roentgenium, copernicium, flerovium, livermorium, and the five generically named “unun-” elements—are metals or are expected to exhibit metallic characteristics if scientists are ever able to create a sufficient number of atoms to test.


  • Glenn Seaborg brought plutonium into the modern purview through a series of experiments carried out by his research team at the University of California–Berkeley at the dawn of World War II.
  • The plutonium-239 isotope is prized, while plutonium-240 and plutonium-241 are seen as impurities. The amount of these two isotopic “impurities” leads to the designation of grades for refined plutonium, dividing up samples into weapons grade, nuclear reactor grade, and so on.
  • Weapons-grade plutonium is the purest, containing around 95 percent plutonium-239, while reactor-grade plutonium needs only half the amount of plutonium-239. From an energy-generating perspective, the other isotopes of plutonium are viewed as less energetic dead ends.5


  • Technetium (43rd element in the periodic table) became the first element to be synthesized by humans in 1937
  • It is used in nuclear medicine as a radioactive tracer.


  • Currently, there are thirty-eight naturally radioactive elements known to humankind. The first synthetically created element, technetium, is radioactive. Due to its short half-life it is used as a radioactive tracer prior to an invasive procedure.

  • Each element from position eighty-four to the end of the periodic table at one hundred and eighteen is radioactive, and of these thirty-six elements, only twelve are available in large enough quantities to be useful to humans.

  • The prized and widely used metals rhodium, ruthenium, and palladium are created in significant quantities within fuel rods of nuclear reactor.

  • France is the world’s leader in widespread use of nuclear energy, providing over three-quarters of its electricity through nuclear power in the first decade of the twenty-first century, along with generating a significant portion of that energy, 17 percent, through the use of recycled nuclear fuel.

  • Fourteen deep geological repositories are spread across the globe for radioactive waste elimination, while another eight are in the construction phase in Finland, Japan, Canada, Sweden, and Germany. Deep geological repositories make use of preexisting rock and salt formations and massive caves and kilometer-long boreholes.

  • Ruthenium-106 is used in medical research, as the steady stream of low-power energy emitted by the radioactive isotope can be used to experimentally treat certain forms of cancer, including malignant uveal melanoma.


  • Tungsten has the same specific gravity as gold and is a popular choice for making counterfeit gold-bars (with Tungsten in the core)
  • It’s not possible to tell a Tungsten-Gold hybrid from pure Gold using traditional methods. The most sophisticated way to identify is by using ultrasound: the speed of sound through tungsten is nearly twice the speed of sound through gold.


  • Thallium sulfate is an odorless and tasteless powder – and is highly toxic. It has been used in some famous murders and earned the nickname “inheritance powder”. Prussian blue (pigment) is an anti-dote to thallium poisioning. The pharmaceutical company Heyltex produces Prussian blue for medical use, selling it under the brand name Radiogardase.

  • Polonium-210 is the poision of choice for Russian FSB. Alexander Litvinenko – a KGB agent who defected – was famously poisioned using radioactive polonium. Yasser Arafat was also purportedly poisoned with Polonium-210.

  • In 2010, McDonald’s recalled over thirteen million souvenir glasses created to promote the animated movie Shrek Forever After due to fears of cadmium contamination. McDonald’s distributed an estimated seven million glasses prior to the recall, which stemmed from a fear that cadmium used in paint adorning the glasses could, in time, leach from the surface.


  • Thulium, one of the seventeen rare earth metals (and one of the rarest), is a possible candidate for use in brachytherapy. Brachytherapy is a form of radiation treatment wherein the metal of import, in this case thulium, is placed in proximity to the tumor. The thulium-170 isotope emits x-rays and has a relatively short half-life, allowing for the placement of a steadily firing atomic gun in the vicinity of cancerous cells, particularly in the case of prostate cancer.
  • Use of thulium-doped lasers in surgical procedures to alleviate bladder cancer shows promise over traditional methods, but this research is in its infancy.


  • Radioactive thallium allows physicians to perform myocardium perfusion imaging tests—studies used for the diagnosis of blocked arteries—and follow the movement of thallium-tinted blood through the body.


  • Palladium, the only metal outside of gold, silver, and platinum deemed a precious metal and traded on foreign currency exchange markets, is a popular material used in restorative dentistry. Palladium is chosen because the metal exhibits similar properties to and costs less than gold, the metal historically used to fashion crowns.


  • Erbium, one of the seventeen rare earth elements, has a dental application. Lasers constructed from erbium-doped crystals, with the erbium allowing for the emission of light at a wavelength that water readily absorbs, can eliminate small cavities, making drill-less dental work possible. As the laser works to remove the cavity, the emissions also temporarily numb local nerves, removing the need for anesthetic in certain cases and making erbium-doped lasers perfect for the future of pediatric dental work.


  • Tantalum is a corrosion-proof metal used to increase the efficiency of capacitors—a useful application that has allowed mobile devices to shrink in size or increase in processing power at a rapid pace in the past decade. Tantalum is found alongside the metals tin and tungsten, with the latter commonly used to make top-of-the-line golf clubs.
  • Apple Inc and a handful of other companies use significant amounts of tantalum, tungsten, and tin from conflict-ridden Central Africa. Apple is taking revolutionary steps to verify that its sources of tin, tungsten, and gold are ethically-sourced.


  • In 2010 the Pentagon released the results of the US Geological Survey operation carried out to observe and catalog the potential rare earth resources in Afghanistan. The fabled 2010 report christened Afghanistan the “Saudi Arabia of Lithium”. Early speculation placed a one-trillion-dollar value on the accessible deposits.


  • Name Platinum comes from the phrase “platina del Pinto” translating to “little silver of the Pinto River”

  • British scientist Charles Wood smuggled a small cache of platinum from South America in 1741, adding platinum as the eighth known metal (after iron, gold, silver, tin, mercury, lead, and copper).


  • According to the US Department of Defense, high-purity beryllium is necessary to “support the defense needs of the United States during a protracted conflict,” but procuring a supply is not easy.
  • No fewer than five US fighter craft, including the F-35, rely on beryllium to decrease the mass of their frames in order to allow the nimble movements that make the planes even more deadly.
  • Copper-beryllium alloys are a crucial component of electrical systems within manned craft and drones, along with x-ray and radar equipment used to identify bombs, guided missiles, and improvised explosive devices (IEDs).
  • Mirrors fashioned out of beryllium are used in the visual and optical systems of tanks because it makes the mirrors resistant to vibrational distortion.
  • High-purity beryllium is worth just under half a million dollars per ton


  • Lanthanum hasn’t had many everyday applications—it’s been used in welding equipment, in lamps used for camping, and in movie theater projectors—but the metal’s status has increased dramatically with widespread consumer acceptance of the electric car.
  • Lanthanum is the key component of nickel-metal hydride, with each Toyota Prius on the road requiring twenty pounds of lanthanum in addition to two pounds of neodymium.
  • The metal will become even more relevant as automobile manufacturers push the limits of battery storage, an effort that will require significantly more lanthanum.

GRAPHENE (not an element)

  • Graphene is a sheet of repeating carbon atoms oriented in an array identical to that of a bee’s honeycomb, but the material exhibits a great many physical characteristics that are prized in metals.
  • A layer of graphene is extremely thin—the width of a carbon atom—but due to the number of unusually oriented carbons in the molecule, the material is stronger than steel and comparable to that of diamonds. The material also conducts energy very well, a fact that puzzled scientists
  • It became a darling of chemists, physicists, and engineers shortly after its discovery in 2004, a discovery for which its creators—Russian scientists Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov—won the 2010 Nobel Prize in Physics.
  • Using graphene to fill existing needs seemed to be the work of science fiction at the time of its discovery, but an outpouring of interest, effort, and funding from academic and corporate institutions may place graphene-containing products on the shelves of stores within the next decade.
  • Creating large amounts of high-quality graphene was the major stumbling block until early 2014, when Samsung’s Korea-based Advanced Institute of Technology published in the journal Science a promising synthesis method using the metalloid germanium to make uniform, and thus usable, sheets of graphene.
  • Foreseen applications of graphene already run the gamut of imagination and include aircraft bodies, large-scale water desalination, super-efficient transistors, radioactive waste disposal
  • Manufacturers of three-dimensional printers are eagerly awaiting widespread availability of graphene


  • There are three type of nuclear reactors (i) solid fuel (ii) liquid fuel (iii) molten salt – pretty much all nuclear reactors currently in use are solid fuel.
  • Dream of a thorium reactor (using thorium-fluoride molten salt) is not far-fetched—the United States operated a full-scale thorium reactor for power generation within the military boomtown of Oak Ridge between 1965 and 1969.
  • Plausible reasons for thorium reactors getting overlooked: (i) the fuel does not create weapons-grade waste as a by-product, a perceived benefit of solid fuel uranium reactors. (ii) Thorium power plants need constant maintenance and a highly skilled set of workers on around-the-clock watch to oversee energy production because Thorium molten salt reactors create poisonous xenon gas, a contaminant that must be monitored and removed to maintain safe and efficient energy generation. Because of this toxic by-product a squad of highly educated and dedicated engineers will be needed for analyzing data and making changes around the clock.
  • India is committed to generating energy using thorium as well, aiming to make use of their own extensive thorium reserves to meet 30 percent of their energy needs by 2050.


  • Neodymium is the most widely used permanent magnet – found in hard drives and wind turbines as well as in lower-tech conveniences like the button clasp of a purse.
  • Along with the rare earth metal neodymium, niobium metal magnets are becoming increasingly necessary in recreational items, in particular, safety implements, electronics, and the tiny speakers contained in expensive headphones.


  • Niobium, a metal typically used to make extremely strong magnets, is also quite stable and has the added bonus of mild hypoallergenic properties—a boon to the medical world in which niobium became an obvious choice for use in implantable devices, specifically pacemakers.

  • CERN’s Large Hadron Collider used advanced magnet technology to the search for the Higgs particle, with the LHC’s superconductors built with magnets made from niobium-titanium alloys.

  • Estimates claim a magnetic launch system would slash the cost of launching payload into orbit by 95 percent over current chemical propulsion methods. Current NASA figures place the cost of sending cargo into space at ten thousand dollars per pound, but magnetic-launch systems cost less than 1 percent of that amount.


  • When a few grams of the nuclear isomer of hafnium-178 is exposed to a beam of x-rays, it releases energy hundreds of times larger than the amount of energy released through the detonation of a stick of TNT, but considerably less than the potential released when a nuclear bomb explodes.

  • Hafnium-178 is a sweet spot for many energy projects and viable if it becomes not only a controllable range useful in a number of opportunities but also the bleeding edge of environmentally friendly alternatives to coal and natural gas.


  • Measures governing the resources of Antarctica were reinforced in 1991 with the Greenpeace-championed Madrid Protocol, which sought to prevent exploration or mining for financial gain. The Madrid Protocol further establishes Antarctica as the world’s foremost nature reserve. As it stands, there is a definite risk that the treaty will be abandoned or heavily amended when the protocol comes up for renewal in 2048.

  • Thirteen countries currently lay claim to areas of Antarctica under the original provisions of the 1961 Antarctic Treaty.


  • Greenland has long been hypothesized to have rich resources of the metals, but any and all attempts at commercial mining have been halted because uranium is commonly discovered during excavations of rare earth metals and Greenland had a ban on the mining of radioactive materials in the country.

  • However, in 2013, the parliament of Greenland voted to lift a two-and-a-half-decade ban on the mining of radioactive materials, making real the possibility of mining for a number of rare earth metals within the country’s borders.

  • The Kingdom of Denmark provides armed forces to maintain the security of Greenland.

  • Early estimates suggest that Greenland’s supply is sufficient to supply a quarter of the planet’s needs for the next five decades.


  • The De Beers Corporation currently operates five full-time vessels for ocean floor mining, with all five dedicated to sifting through shallow sediment beds off the coast of the African country of Namibia.

  • Despite the effort and controversy, deep-sea mining will be worthwhile for many nations. Japan is not alone in its interest: India’s National Institute of Oceanography is actively studying polymetallic nodules in order to acquire its own strategic reserve of rare metals from the surrounding Indian Ocean.


  • The United Nations put forth the poorly received Agreement Governing the Activities of States on the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies in 1979. The treaty states that all nations enjoy a joint-claim to bodies outside the boundaries of our planet, but as of today, only nineteen countries have supported the treaty in the nearly four decades since the United Nations opened it for signing. The three leading spacefaring countries on the planet—China, the Russian Federation, and the United States of America—are noticeably absent.


  • Moon has a thin covering of metal-containing dust and soil along its rocky surface, a mixture given the name regolith—Greek for “rock blanket”—by geologists. The Apollo missions brought a combined 842 pounds of rocks back from the moon, contributing to the knowledge base by giving us a very good idea of the satellite’s composition.

  • Regolith is rich in helium-3, an isotope of helium featuring one less neutron than helium present in abundance on Earth, which is a potential clean energy source for use on Earth or by lunar bases. Helium-3 readily enters into two safe and efficient fusion reactions without the formation of radioactive waste.


  • The profitability of individual known asteroids in our solar system is debated and ranked, with those named 4034 Vishnu and 2000 BM19 estimated to contain more than twenty trillion dollars of material each and likely mining targets due to their near-Earth proximity.

  • The first unmanned asteroid visit has already taken place, but the mission has been overlooked by many. Japan, a country desperately in need of rare earth metals to provide a stable supply for consumer use and manufacturing, developed and launched the Hayabusa in 2003 to visit a preselected asteroid and return home with a sample in tow. The Hayabusa made use of a novel propulsion technology that will be essential to asteroid mining: ion drive engines. {Not in the book: NASA’s OSIRIS-REx mission to mine asteroid Bennu successfully collected a sample from Bennu in October 2020 and will bring it to Earth in 2023}

  • Ion-drive thrusters are used as a means of propulsion on unmanned spacecraft (NASA’s Dawn and Deep Space 1 probes) and move the probes through space by ejecting charged atoms of hydrogen, bismuth, and xenon. An array of ion-drive thrusters would need to be placed carefully on the asteroid and powered in tandem to move and direct large asteroids along, but the possibility is within the practical realm, thanks to existing technology.

  • Google cofounders Larry Page and Eric Schmidt have teamed with filmmaker and explorer James Cameron to form Planetary Resources Inc with the goal to develop and deploy the technologies for asteroid mining. {Update (not in the book): the company shut down in 2018 due to financial troubles}


I have this book in my list. So, I will read your review after I finish it. Thanks :slight_smile:

1 Like

Love your suggestions on the books and the summaries of the same.Got lot of great -reads. Thanks a lot.

1 Like

Paul Kalanithi – a literature, philosophy and medical student and one of the best neurosurgeons in the US – gets diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer shortly before completing his residency at Stanford medical school. He wrote this memoir after being diagnosed with cancer and it was published posthumously by his wife. At one level it’s autobiographical but at another level it’s very philosophical. Confronted with his mortality the author strives to answer deeply metaphysical questions about life and identity in this book.

Perhaps the book doesn’t fit the criteria to be talked about in an investor forum but it’s one of the most touching, heartbreaking and lyrical book I read in a long time…so couldn’t help sharing it here.


The Lessons from History, Will & Ariel Durant, 1968 - This is a stunning account of 5000 years of human history in a short collection of essays. As with most of written history, it is clouded with biases here and there but they are few and far between. The eloquence of several lines bowled me over and this should be necessary reading for being so concise and full of ideas and for maintaining its relevance 50+ years later

My notes -

  • History is incomplete, probably inaccurate accounts of events based on ambivalent evidence narrated by biased historians

  • Most history is guessing, rest is prejudice

  • The present is the past rolled up for action and the past is the present unrolled for understanding

  • When the universe has crushed him, man will still be nobler than that which kills him, for he knows he is dying, and of its victory, the universe knows nothing

  • Generations of men establish growing mastery over the earth, but they are destined to become fossils in its soil

  • The influence of geographic factors diminishes as technology grows (Coastal cities may not retain their advantage when air transport is cheaper)

  • Man, not earth makes civilization

  • Competition is not only the life of trade but the trade of life - peaceful when food abounds, violent when mouths outrun food

  • War is a nation’s way of eating. It promotes co-operation because its the ultimate form of competition (co-operation as a form of competition is a very useful way to think)

  • Nature loves difference as the necessary material for selection and evolution

  • Inequality is not only natural and inborn, it grows with the complexity of civilization

  • Freedom and equality are sworn enemies - when one prevails, the other dies (wow!). Leave men free and their natural inequalities multiplies exponentially

  • To curtail growth of inequality, liberty must be sacrificed. Utopias of equality are biologically doomed

  • Nature is more interested in the species than the individual through birth, variation, competition, selection and survival

  • Civilization is co-operative product that belongs to every man and woman, howsoever lowly

  • Human nature across time, from Greeks to Romans to the English or across classes today has barely changed - means change but the motives remain. To act or rest, acquire of give, fight or retreat, mate or reject…

  • Great men are merely a product of their times and land, with situation requiring a new response which at other times would have been impracticable

  • Eloquence like Churchill’s may have been worth a thousand regiments

  • A Pasteur, A Morse, an Edison, a Ford, a Wright, a Lenin, a Marx or Mao are effects of a numberless causes, and causes of endless effects

  • Imitative majority follows the innovating minority

  • A conservative who resists change is as valuable as the radical that proposes it. New ideas should be compelled to go through the mill of objection, opposition and only surviving innovations be allowed to enter the human race

  • Morals are the rules by which the society exhorts and laws the rules with which it seeks to compel

  • Moral codes have changed with economic history from hunting, agriculture and industry

  • Hunting to Agri - some old virtues became vices. Industriousness more vital than bravery, regularity and thrift more profitable than violence, peace more than war. Children were economic assets and birth control was made immoral

  • Agri to Industrial - Men and women left home and family, authority and unity, to work as individuals. Children were no longer economic assets, marriage was delayed. With individualism, the authority of mother and father lost its economic base. The rebellious youth no longer constrained by the village surveillance could hide his sins in the anonymity of the city. Old agri morality began to die

  • In every age men have been dishonest and govts corrupt - probably less now than before

  • Written history is usually different from the lived history. The historian records the exceptional because its interesting - because its exceptional

  • Civilizations decay quite leisurely

  • Freedom of the part varies with the security of the whole (individualism will diminish as geographical protection ceases)

  • Religion has brought supernatural comforts to the unhappy, the suffering, the bereaved, the old more than any natural aid. It has kept the poor from murdering the rich

  • Some supernatural hope may be the sole alternative to despair. Destroy that hope and class war is intensified

  • It was fear that first made the gods

  • Atheism ran wild in the India of Buddha’s youth and Buddha himself founded a religion without a god. The complex theology in Buddhism including gods, saints and hell developed post his death

  • Moral disorder may generate a religious revival; atheists may again send their children to catholic schools to give them the discipline of religious belief

  • Rationalism wishes to govern the world without regard to the religious needs of the soul - the French revolution teaches us this is a blunder (Renan, 1866)

  • Communism as religion in Russia - if the regime should fail, this new religion may lose its fervor and efficacy and the state may wink at restoration of supernatural beliefs as an aid in quieting discontent (written in 1968 before Soviet Russia collapsed)

  • As long as there is poverty, there will be gods

  • History is economics in action (Marx)

  • The crusades were attempts of the West to capture trade routes to the East (Discovery of America)

  • History is inflationary and money is the last thing a wise man will hoard (historical war financing)

  • Normally men are judged by their ability to produce, except in war when they are ranked by their ability to destroy

  • Concentration of wealth is a natural result of the concentration of ability and recurs in history (Despotism retards it, democracy accelerates it)

  • When strength of ability in the poor rivals strength of ability in few rich, the critical situation caused by unstable equilibrium is fixed through legislation redistributing wealth or by revolution distributing poverty

  • Socialism and capitalism - has a historic rhythm, a systole and a diastole of concentration and dispersion of wealth

  • Socialism in Rome under Diocletian - Barbarians at the gate compelled for individual liberty to be shelved until collective liberty could be made secure. War economy, expanding corrupt bureaucracy made taxation rise - with lawyers finding devices to evade taxes and on other hand also formulating laws to prevent evasion

  • Communism was a war economy. It survives through continued fear of war. Given a generation of peace, it would be eroded by the nature of man

  • Fear of capitalism has compelled socialism to widen freedom and fear of socialism has compelled capitalism to increase equality

  • First condition of freedom is limitation - make it absolute and it dies in chaos

  • Monarchy might be the most natural form of govt. for it applies to the group, the authority of a father in a family

  • Sanity of individual lies in the continuity of his memories - sanity of the group lies in the continuity of its traditions

  • Violent revolution do not as much as distribute wealth as destroy it

  • Only real revolution is in the enlightenment of the mind (only real revolutionists are philosophers and saints)

  • Dictatorship naturally arises out of democracy, and the most aggravated form of tyranny and slavery out of the most extreme form of liberty

  • If our economy of freedom fails to distribute wealth as ably as it was created, the road to dictatorship is open to any man who can promise security to all and a martial govt. will engulf the democratic world

  • In the last 3421 years, only 268 have seen no war. Peace is an unstable equilibrium. The state has our instincts without our restraints

  • War is a potent source of ideas, inventions, institutions and states.

  • Long peace may fatally weaken the martial muscles of a nation

  • Prolonged negotiations in a fundamental conflict that cannot be resolved by negotiation lead to subversion

  • A world order will not come by a gentlemen’s agreement

  • Life has no inherent claim to eternity, whether in individuals or states. A mature mind will take no offense from the coming of death

  • Education shouldn’t be a painful accumulation of facts and dates and reigns, nor merely a way for the individual to earn his keep in the world. It should be a transmission of our mental, moral, technical and aesthetic heritage as fully and to as many as possible.

This book is absolute bang for time spent and perhaps someday I will read the 11 volumes of The Story of Civilization that took them 40 years to write. This is a great introduction to their work. 11/10


Goat/car problem is a classic example of intuitive vs. probabilistic decision making, in my opinion. Before I read detailed explanations, I also thought it’s 50/50 chance of switching!
Thanks a ton for sharing your notes. Cheers.

1 Like