Category Archives: Book Review

Book Review: Banat Al-Riyad

Warning: This book is in Arabic.

This book tells the story of 4 girls, and their struggle in the Saudi society. Lamis, Komra, Michelle, and Sadim are 4 friends each from a different background and with a different personality but they all share a common struggle within the highly conservative Saudi society.

The kind of struggle that i am talking about is the simple “live your life as you see fit” experience that people who live in a western culture often take for granted. Living in a conservative society, and specifically within the Arab culture is quite a demanding lifestyle. Even more so within the Saudi community.

The fact that Saudi women have to cover their heads and bodies with a black garment whenever they go outside of the privacy of their homes might seem harsh and incomprehensible to some. But the life that they are forced to lead and the even more imposing restrictions even within the security of their own homes is even more incomprehensible.

The story goes on to describe how each girl goes through a different, yet similar, tale of seeking love, life and an overall achievement of one’s dreams. Each story ends differently and although all are full with sad tales and suffering, they all somehow reach a positive outcome.( i don’t want to ruin the book for you)

One story goes on about an arranged marriage and how it fails miserably to the detriment of the woman who believes that by following the path that her mother shows her, she would go on to achieve every Saudi girl’s dream….that of marrying a man and having kids….Some dream that is.

Another story describes a blossoming relationship that has to be lived in secret and how that secret, and again because of the overwhelming restrictions placed on men and women, leads to the destruction of the relationship.

Another story also tells us about the unusual quest of one of the girls to excel at her career(medicine) and the different experiences that this girl goes through because of this dream. The unusual part being that Saudi women in general should only look forward to marrying a God-fearing man with some money and having a bunch of kids…i do not personally share that view.

And And And…..You get the picture.

Overall, this book was a very interesting read. But being an Arab myself and knowing first hand about such do’s and don’t’s in our culture(which is no way near the Saudi restriction), the book probably didn’t have the proper effect on me. Don’t get me wrong, i think its a very good book. But…..I have no sympathy for such stories. I have always said that extreme restrictions will lead to extreme ideologies(it actually sounds better in Arabic). And we hear about such stories all the time(being closer to Saudi Arabia and it being the largest tourism source for my country, Lebanon).

I think that this is an excellent read that fits well in the “read before you go to sleep” list. But a word of caution. This book will probably never get translated because of the language used. The Saudi dialect and the English-Arabic words(writing the English pronunciation but in Arabic letters) make this a book somewhat harder to read. So if you find yourself wondering what a certain word means…this is probably the reason.

I give this book 3 stars out of 5.


Update: The book was translated but I haven’t read it in English.

Book Review: From Program To Product

Two years ago, I learned that you can be a brilliant programmer and write awesome code but if your code doesn’t help solve some problem or doesn’t ease someone’s pain, then you’re not really doing your part.

This is exactly the lesson that this book tries to drive home. It goes through the different aspects of creating a product from the programming and support to the licensing and legal side. The book also includes several interviews with people who have already done that. Personally, I found the interviews the most enjoyable part of it all.

The interesting part, to me, in all of this is the applications described in those interviews were really boring. As a programmer, they’re not exactly the kind of work that we love to do. I mean come on, a product to manage a stable? Tracking horses and lessons? Zzzzzz…. Not exactly the kind of work that would keep you up coding all night long. However, the applications were a success because they helped people to do their job better. They eased the pain of doing those things manually and, who knows, maybe gave someone less stress and more time to spend with their family. That is certainly what computers and programs are meant to do. To help us do what we’re supposed to do. And we’re all here to do what we’re all here to do.(The Matrix reference)

It took me a while to learn that lesson. I first noticed it when, as a freelancer, I had to work on a few jobs just to pay the bills. The tasks weren’t enjoyable to me as a programmer, I was just doing it for the money. And as a programmer, a lot of those tasks were very simple to do. Yet the people who I worked with were very grateful that I helped. And, as a business and a person, there’s nothing like a happy customer.

On the cons side of things, this wasn’t exactly a page-turner. Don’t get me wrong, the book is interesting. But recently I’ve been reading a lot of books about entrepreneurship and starting a business. And aside from the inspiration, once you’ve read one, you’ve read them all.

Overall, I give this book 3/5 stars. You can get the book from From Program to Product: Turning Your Code into a Saleable Product (Expert’s Voice).

Book Review: Leaving Microsoft to Change the World

A few months ago, i bought the book Leaving MicroSoft to Change the World and on a flu episode with a fever that lasted two days, i got to finish it.

Now, i read a lot of books. And over time, i got to quickly notice good books from bad books. And ever more, i get to know great books from “books you buy to balance your shelf” books. I try to buy only good books and strive to get all the great ones. This is one of the great ones.

When first browsing through Amazon(yes, i am a very loyal customer), i noticed the title. And being the geek that i am, i wondered what it would talk about(you have to admit, MS and changing the world do not mix easily). I was afraid it would turn out to be a lame book as many books which carry a similar title are. So i took a gamble and i bought it.

It talks about the story of a man(John Wood, marketing executive working at Microsoft) who took a “no-computers” vacation to Nepal. And this vacation changed his life. He describes his life in detail. The details are typical of a modern young successful man working in a high-tech firm. Basically his life consisted of work, work, work and an almost non-existent social life(or any other kind of life for that matter). He thought he was happy this way, we all do, until we stop and take a good look at what we have accomplished.

In Nepal, he noticed that even though some provinces had schools, there were no books and no libraries. So he started out with a little project of collecting a few books for one particular school in Nepal. This all started with a promise to return to Nepal with books. And the whole idea avalanched into one of the most successful projects. An organization that builds schools/libraries and provides books and scholarships for young girls.

I don’t want to give out too many details. The beauty of this story is in the events that took place and their chronological order. So i don’t want to spoil it. However, i will talk about why i liked this book so much.

John saw the kids in Nepal. He saw that they were trying to learn, but with very poor resources. He also understood that education is the most important gift that you can bestow on a child. Especially girls, since these girls will grow up with this education in mind and carry this belief over to their children and families. “You educate a girl, you educate an entire generation.”

After John returned from Nepal, he tried to get back to his old lifestyle. But he could not. How could he? Everything he will do now will seem so empty. How can he go on working knowing that there are children in the world that are not getting the opportunities that we take for granted. He felt so empty. And even if, according to our standard, he is very successful….his life felt meaningless in light of this issue. Everything he accomplished looked so insignificant.

What is truly remarkable though, is that he ran his organization in the same way he would run a normal business. So unlike the other charities around, he never asked people for money out of pity. So instead of showing children with sad faces and sick people like all charities do, he showed the schools he built and the books that he got and the children making use of all of this. It is his belief that contributers do not give money to charity because they don’t know where their money is going. They never see results.

I also believe that any book you read must alter your way in some sense. This book did just that. I learned that you shouldn’t listen to all the nay-sayers. I learned that for every 1 idea you come up with, there will be a 100 people telling you how it won’t work. I also learned to never give up.

If i would only take away one thing from this book, it would be my current favorite quote(which according to the book is an old Chinese quote)

Those who say it cannot be done should not criticize those who are doing it.

This books is highly recommended with 5/5 stars. You can get it from here