Author: evanlee8020

Book Review/Notes: Through the Valley: My Captivity in Vietnam

Through the Valley: My Captivity in Vietnam by William Reeder Jr.

Finished: January 15th, 2018. Rating: 9/10

Overall Thoughts:

This is a story of resilience. Reeder was shot down during the Vietnam war and spent about a year in captivity as a prisoner of war (POW). During his year as a POW, he endured gangrene, dysentery, 3 kinds of malaria, broken toes, dislocated shoulders, a broken back, and much worse. Not only is this an incredibly moving story about how he survived imprisonment, torture, and war, but how we can all survive and turn our trials into triumphs that change our lives for the better.

Check out the Amazon page.


If you like this episode of the Jocko Podcast, you will like the book:

Book Review/Notes: Discipline Equals Freedom: Field Manual

Discipline Equals Freedom: Field Manual by Jocko Willink

Finished: November 2nd, 2017. Rating: 10/10

Overall Thoughts:

I have become obsessed with the soldier, be they a Roman centurion or a Navy SEAL, a spartan or a Green Beret. Soldiers are designed to be the toughest people on the planet. That is why I love studying them.

Within their lives is a blueprint for building toughness and discipline. And within Discipline Equals Freedom: Field Manual, we get a look inside the mind of Jocko Willink, the SEAL officer who led SEAL Task Unit Bruiser to become the most highly decorated Special Operations Unit of the Iraq War. This book is a how-to guide to toughness.

Understand the ideas, see how they are applied, and then apply them rigorously.

Check out the Amazon page.


If I wasn’t familiar with Jocko or his speaking style, I may have completely dismissed Discipline Equals Freedom: Field Manual. This is why that I think the best way to give you the feel of the book is to get you the aura of Jocko. Remember, understand the ideas, see how they are applied, and then apply them rigorously:



Book Review/Notes: Rome’s Last Citizen: The Life and Legacy of Cato, Mortal Enemy of Caesar

Rome’s Last Citizen: The Life and Legacy of Cato, Mortal Enemy of Caesar 

by Rob Goodman and Jimmy Soni

Finished: October 15, 2017. Rating: 7/10

Overall Thoughts:

Feel like the world is crumbling? Read this. Because when the world crumbled around Cato the Younger, he stood strong. When Julius Caesar marched on Rome and usurped Rome’s republic with his dictatorship, Cato fought him every step of the way.

Cato is the uncompromising soldier, aristocrat, senator, and Stoic. He is the man whom the Founding Fathers turned to for guidance during the Revolutionary War. George Washington put on the play Cato: A Tragedy to motivate his troops, John Adams quoted Cato in letters to his wife, and Benjamin Franklin cited and praised Cato in the famous Poor Richard’s Almanac. 

Cato’s life teaches us how to stand strong even against overwhelming odds, and his death teaches how to stay strong even when defeat is certain.

Check out the Amazon page.


The Founding Fathers turned to Cato for guidance when obstacles felt overwhelming. We should do the same. Here are some brief accounts of Cato’s honor you can use for inspiration:

  • “Cato’s Rome teemed with imported wealth; Cato chose to wear the simple, outmoded clothing of Rome’s mythical founders and to go barefoot in sun and cold.”
  • “Powerful men gifted themselves villas and vineyards; Cato preferred a life of monkish frugality.”
  • “Roman politics was well-oiled with bribes, strategic marriages, and under-the-table favors; Cato’s vote famously had no price.”
  • Cato never backed down nor compromised his principles: “Cato made a career out of purity, out of his refusal to give an inch in the face of pressure to compromise and deal.”
  • “Once elected quaestor, Cato . . . summarily fired all clerks and assistants whom he judged unfit for office or guilty of corruption. It was the kind of wholesale housecleaning that made headlines—and drew out the long knives of the career clerks. . . . Cato, though, was oblivious to any backlash. What was there to know besides the fact that the law had been broken?”
  • As a legionary commander, rather than rely on corporal punishment for discipline, he led by example, “sleeping on the ground with his troops, eating the same meager food, wearing the same clothes, digging ditches beside them, and joining them on the march, always on foot.”

If you need to draw strength to fight against the wrong you see in life, Rome’s Last Citizen is your watering hole.

Book Review/Notes: Leonardo Da Vinci: A Life From Beginning to End

Leonardo Da Vinci: A Life From Beginning to End by Hourly History

Leonardo da Vinci: A Life From Beginning to End by [History, Hourly]Finished: September 22nd, 2017. Rating: 6/10

Overall Thoughts:

Leonardo Da Vinci: A Life From Beginning to End is a quick read. You can finish reading it in about an hour. However, due to the length, you won’t be getting deep insights into Da Vinci’s psyche. You’ll get a list of his achievements, but this book ventures no further.

Check out the Amazon page.


The bubonic plague was succeeded by the Renaissance. Some historians even believe that no bubonic plague would mean no Renaissance.

Book Review/Notes: Who Was Leonardo da Vinci? by Roberta Edwards

Who Was Leonardo da Vinci? by Roberta Edwards

Image result for who was leonardo da vinci bookFinished: 2016. Rating: 6/10

Overall Thoughts:

I picked up one factual inaccuracy (Da Vinci did not design the bicycle), but this still provides a solid overview of Leonardo da Vinci’s life. You won’t get a detailed picture of Da Vinci, but you will get an outline. It’s up to you to fill the rest of the picture.

Check out the Amazon page.


Good overview of Da Vinci’s life, but there was nothing deep to be learned.

Book Review: The Road by Cormac McCarthy

The Road by Cormac McCarthy

Finished: September 2nd, 2017. Rating: 8/10

Plot Synopsis:

“A father and his son walk alone through burned America. Nothing moves in the ravaged landscape save the ash on the wind. It is cold enough to crack stones, and when the snow falls it is gray. The sky is dark. Their destination is the coast, although they don’t know what, if anything, awaits them there. They have nothing; just a pistol to defend themselves against the lawless bands that stalk their road, the clothes they are wearing, a cart of scavenged food—and each other.”

Check out the Amazon page.

Brief Review:

The Road is the first Cormac McCarthy book I’ve ever read, and the first book to wring tears from my eyes.

The plot “a father and his son walk alone through burned America. . . . Their destination is the coast . . .” is straightforward, but the journey, both the physical and emotional, is not. They shamble their way across the country and struggle with moral dilemmas. It is fascinating to see how they trek the physical world as well as the moral landscape.

Overall, it is a privilege to read McCarthy’s prose, for McCarthy paints as well with words as Picasso does with oil.


Book Review/Notes: Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl

Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl

Finished: August 27th, 2017. Rating: 10/10

Overall Thoughts:

If war is Hell, World War II is the deepest, darkest pit within. And in this pit laid Viktor Frankl. He survived 4 concentration camps, including the infamous Auschwitz, which alone is responsible for an estimated 1.1 million deaths, more than the United State and United Kingdom’s World War II casualties combined.

But though Frankl paints a vivid self-portrait of his experience of the horrors of the Holocaust, the focus of Man’s Search for Meaning is not about how the dead died; it’s about how the survivors lived.

We, the outsiders, will never understand the cruelty and torment of the death camps. However, what we can understand and what Frankl offers is a look at how the survivors outlasted hell and thus how we too can outlast our own.

Check out the Amazon page.


When life—or anything—gets hard, remember this: “. . . someone looks down on each of us in difficult hours—a friend, a wife, somebody alive or dead, a God—and he would not expect us to disappoint him. He would hope to find us suffering proudly—not miserably—knowing how to die.”

When you direct your perceptions correctly, you can outlast anything: “. . . man’s inner strength may raise him above his outward fate.”

Great adversity leads to great achievements: “If there is a meaning in life at all, then there must be a meaning in suffering. Suffering is an eradicable part of life, even as fate and death. . . . The way in which a man accepts his fate and all the suffering it entails, the way in which he takes up his cross, gives him ample opportunity—even under the most difficult circumstances—to add a deeper meaning to his life. It may remain brave, dignified, and unselfish. Or in the bitter fight for self-preservation he may forget his human dignity and become no more than an animal. Here lies the chance for a man either to make use of or to forgo the opportunities of attaining the moral values that a difficult situation may afford him.”

These are merely a few of the passages and lessons I took from Man’s Search for Meaning. If you like these passages, you will love the book. As Harold S. Kushner said in the foreword of Man’s Search for Meaning, “Typically, if a book has one passage, one idea with the power to change a person’s life, that alone justifies reading it, rereading it, and finding room for it on one’s shelves. This book has several such passages.”


Book Review: Blood on Snow by Jo Nesbø

Blood on Snow by Jo Nesbø

Finished: August 20th, 2017. Rating: 7/10

Plot Synopsis:

“Olav lives the lonely life of a fixer. When you ‘fix’ people for a living—terminally—it’s hard to get close to anyone. Now he’s finally met the woman of his dreams. But there are two problems. She’s his boss’s wife. And Olav’s been hired to kill her.”

Check out the Amazon page.

Brief Review:

Jo Nesbø (pronounced: you-ness-pa) is a master of constructing flowing narratives and creating characters. However, this story is fairly simple and, unfortunately, remains so throughout the novel. But the lack of complexity is effaced by the abundance of tension. Reading Blood on Snow is a good way to spend a few hours. But if you want more, if you want a mind-blowing introduction to Jo Nesbø, I would suggest The Redbreast. 

Book Review: A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms By George R. R. Martin

A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms by George R. R. Martin

Finished: August 16th, 2017. Rating: 8/10

Plot Synopsis:

“A young, naive but courageous hedge knight, Ser Duncan the Tall towers above his rivals—in stature if not experience. Tagging along with him is his diminutive squire, a boy called Egg—whose true identity must be hidden from all he and Dunk encounter: for in reality, he is Aegon Targaryen, and one day he will be king. Improbable heroes though they be, great destinies lie ahead for Dunk and Egg; as do powerful foes, royal intrigue, and outrageous exploits.”

Check out the Amazon page.

Brief Review:

While A Song of Ice and Fire is about the politics and wars of kings and queens, A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms is about Dunk, a hedge knight from Flea Bottom, and Egg, his squire. Rather than being a game of thrones, A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms is the simple adventures of Dunk and Egg.

However, though the scale is smaller, it is still the same cutthroat, shades-of-grey, twisty-turny world. The unpredictability of George R. R. Martin remains. You never know whose allegiances are where and whether they care more for murderous frenzies or loyal friends. It is George R. R. Martin’s world.

If you like A Song of Ice and Fire, you’ll like A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms. 


Book Review/Notes: A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy

A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy by William B. Irvine

Finished: July 30th, 2017. Rating: 8/10

Overall Thoughts:

Is this book a guide to the good life? Yes. A Guide to the Good Life is a brilliant introduction to Stoicism. It outlines the history, the evolution, the core principles, the exercises, and much more. If you want to practice Stoicism, this is your introduction.

Check out the Amazon page.


Stoicism is not about the death of emotions. It’s about the death of destructive ones. Seneca the Younger, one of the four major figures in Stoicism (others being Gais Musonius Rufus, Epictetus, and Marcus Aurelius), reminded his friend Lucilius that he must “learn how to feel joy” so he is not “ever deprived of gladness.”

Negative Visualization: How happy are lottery winners when they become instant millionaires or billionaires? Pretty damn happy. But after some time, they end up no happier than they were before winning. Yes. Even with the millions and billions, they are no happier than you and me. Why? Because we rarely ever appreciate what have. When we get something we’ve always wanted, we’re happy for a time, but then the joy fades out. For example, you’re single and yearn to have a special someone in your life. You go out on a date, you hit it off, and now you have a girlfriend/boyfriend. You’re happy. But, of course, this only lasts for a bit. Now you have to check in with your significant other before you go out, you have to wait for them before you can binge Netflix, you have to work around their schedule, and on and on and on. You think about how free singledom was. You are now no happier than you were before. A frustrating cycle.

Negative visualization fixes all this. Set aside time to imagine you’re deprived of all that you value, remember a time where you lost or did not have what you valued, or think of someone who lacks what you value. Try to make this visualization as concrete and as real as possible. Be specific and personal.

If you understand that “all things everywhere are perishable,” you will gain a deeper appreciation for them and you will lessen the impact of their loss.

  • Think of it this way: you’re eating at your favorite restaurant and find out that they’ll be closing down in a month. You will be upset, of course, but you’ll cherish every single meal you have here between now and when this restaurant closes. But now let’s say that you’re eating at your favorite restaurant and find out that today is their last day of business. You will be even more upset, and you may even be filled with regret that you did not enjoy this restaurant as much as you could have.
  • “All we have is ‘on loan’ from Fortune . . . ‘we should love all of our dear ones . . . , but always with the thought that we have no promise that we may keep them forever—nay, no promise that we may keep them for long.’ ” (Irvine 68)

Self-Denial: Everyone will face pain and struggle; therefore, we must put ourselves in uncomfortable situations to inoculate ourselves to pain and struggle. We won’t be able to completely eliminate stress, of course, but you will be ready to face it. By living the discomfort, you become more confident that you can endure greater discomfort.

Besides envisioning negatives, we should live them periodically:

  • Set aside a day for fasting.
  • Take cold showers.
  • Wait until you’re thirsty to drink.

Furthermore, we should even forgo pleasures on occasion:

  • Deny yourself a warm shower.
  • Deny yourself wine, beer, whiskey, etc.
  • Deny yourself a steak dinner, ice cream, sweets, etc.

These are just two of the many exercises in A Guide to the Good Life. If you liked these, you will like the book. If you like Stoicism, you will like the book.