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  I was watching a chess game that started with e4 and Black responded with the Modern Defense. Black challenges the center with a c-pawn push, but then delays the capture and develops the knight, prompting White to chase it across the board. By the time the knight retreats to c6, there have been only three chess games that reached the position on Lichess, but none of them continued with the move recommended by Stockfish: Bxf7+

  The only reasonable move for Black is to take the bishop with the king, and after dxc5 from White, the Black knight is trapped! Only squares not covered by the White queen are either occupied by Black pieces or leading into a direct fork at Qd5+.

  I found this interesting because the computer suggested continuations are quite unintuitive, while the things that feel natural to me (not an expert, mind you) lead to huge gains for White. Also, it's a move that has never been played AFAIK.

  So, a long overdue chess post and some PGN: 

1. e4 g6 2. d4 Bg7 3. c3 c5 4. Be3 Nf6 5. e5 Nd5 6. Bc4 Nb6 (6. .. Nxe3 7. fxe3 d6 (7. .. O-O) 8. exd6 exd6 9. Nf3 d5 10. Bb3 O-O 11. O-O) 7. Bxf7+ Kxf7 8. dxc5 {Knight on b6 is now trapped. The only escape squares are covered by the White queen or leading to a fork at d5.} d6 (8. .. Nc4 9. Qd5+ Ke8 (9. .. e6 10. Qxc4 Rf8 11. h4) 10. Qxc4) (8. .. d5 9. cxb6 Bxe5 10. Nf3 Bf6 11. bxa7 Nc6) 9. cxb6 dxe5 10. Qf3+ Bf6 11. bxa7 Nc6 {It's not a huge advantage, but Black can't castle, has double pawns and the fianchetto bishop is a glorified pawn. White develops either knight and is just fine without both center pawns.} *

In my previous trading post I was recommending taking your savings and investing them in stocks. And to minimize risk and effort, just put them in a so called "index fund", which is an aggregation of top stock. History shows that this strategy outperforms the market and any bank savings interest in the long run. But why?

Common sense would say that if a strategy to beat the market exists, then everybody would do it, pulling the market to the same level. The definition of "top" is also something nebulous that doesn't mean anything unless clearly defined. So here is a video that explains some of the shortcomings of the index fund. Basically:

  • "top X" syndrome, where the items accepted as top are more discoverable, therefore performing better from sheer demand size
  • wrong criteria for stock inclusion, where fundamentals lose to market demand and trading size
  • fake diversity, where the X seems large, but most funds are based on a much smaller subset of stocks, with the rest having no impact
  • exaggerated past, where a fund may have been defined a century ago, but came in actual use a lot more recently

[youtube:95OR1ZNj3iY]

Index Funds Are The Biggest Bubble Of Our Time (Hypothesis)

Also, there is a very interesting link that shows the constantly updated index funds may have performed worse than just investing once in a fixed number of companies, even if some of them have long disappeared.

Personally, I think that the gain in time you get by investing in a fund is worth the loss of efficiency. And there might not even be a loss, since until you create a diverse enough portfolio, chances are you are going to lose money, not make any. Keeping all of your savings in a bank is stupid, I am convinced of that! But that doesn't mean you should keep them all in stock (or in any one financial instrument). At this moment don't take my word for anything, but as soon as I gain more knowledge and confidence, I will post about trading and investing. At least it keeps things interesting.

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  I was expecting a deep dive into the fascinating biological realm of the fungi - I even postponed reading it until I could give it my full attention. Instead, I got a long string of tiny chapters, each telling some story related to fungi, but never going anywhere. A book that is part journal, part cook book and part history anecdotes and has the compelling title The Secret Life of Fungi cannot say so little about fungi and be so shallow.

  It's not even a long book, it's a one evening read, but it never explains enough to shed light on the subject, it brings in unrelated ideas from too many other directions and has no continuity or narrative thread. It's just a series of episodes that might be interesting, but most of the time are completely forgettable. I don't know what Aliya Whiteley thought when deciding on this format, but I personally loathe it. She doesn't love fungi, she loves hearing herself say things.

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  While it happens after Alien: The Cold Forge and features one of its characters, Alien: Into Charybdis is standalone enough to not feel like a sequel. It can be read by itself with no problems. That being said, you should start with The Cold Forge, also by Alex White as it brings not only extra context, but is a very decent book.

  Into Charybdis tells the story of human sacrifice on the altar of corporate/military greed, with the aliens as a trigger and then used more like a backdrop. In that sense, it's very similar to Cold Forge. While there is plenty of creature action, the focus is never on them, but on psychotic humans who are the true monsters. That's both interesting and frustrating, but there are plenty of new features that subvert expectations and expand the Alien universe even if, as curious as this sounds, both novels are set in the Prometheus timeline of Alien and even features black goo. That someone can write a decent story in the universe corrupted by that stupid movie is a testament to White's talent.

  Now, without spoiling stuff too much, there is an idea that I really want explored further, the one of the human alien hybrid. While the book ends things pretty definitively, there is some wiggle room left so that that idea could be continued in a third book. It would be a terrible loss to have reached this point and not go a little further.

  Bottom line: I liked The Cold Forge and I liked Into Charybdis, which managed to outdo the first book without just making things bigger and exploding more and instead bringing new ideas, building on the old ones and even subverting expectations. I don't know about other Alien books, but I will follow what Alex White writes next in this universe.

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  I've read several fantasy satires before and some of them were absolutely brilliant. Now, I am not saying that Dark Lord of Derkholm is not good, for it is competently written and complex in both plot and characters. What I am saying is that it is not that funny. Reading the book is like hearing a corporate colleague make fun of what happens at the office, which should be entertaining and humorous, but comes off as sad and frustrating. The trigger for change in the magical land is a conspiracy of women who couldn't bother to consider the emotional consequences of their actions to the people they supposedly love. And the ending was terrible as well, with a slap over the head moral that lacks any subtlety.

  I didn't know Diana Wynne Jones was famous. She wrote Howl's Moving Castle, which I had no idea was a book, on which Ghibli's anime was based, among many other works. Anyway, I had no expectations, but still I stand disappointed. First published in 1998, Dark Lord of Derkholm is quite prescient with its very interesting premise: corporate psychos from Earth (or something similar) manage to find a doorway to a magical land which they immediately proceed to exploit for their own gain. The inhabitants of said magical land need to find a way to protect it.

  The book is a not so subtle satire of our own magically beautiful land that we, through inaction, let it be despoiled by greedy idiots who can't think further than the length of their noses. But that's all that it is. There are a lot of inconsequential characters, a lot of setup and world building that leads nowhere and a final act in which so many new characters and races and lands are added for no good reason. The ending neatly closes all story lines, but in a blunt and narrated way that I felt very dissatisfying.

  Bottom line: interesting premise, competent writing, but a rather bland and inconsistent story.

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  Oh, wow! I vaguely remember Sven Hassel as an author of war novels, written with irony and humor, because this is how I remember people referring to his books. I might have even read some of them, but I was a child and if I did I don't remember and clearly they made the wrong impression on me. Because reading Legion of the Damned, especially now, in times of war in Ukraine threatening to spill over, was an amazing experience. I think this is one of the most anti war books I know about and one of the best I've read. One thing is for sure: Vladimir Putin did not read this book.

  Apparently Sven Hassel himself asked that this book be considered a documentary and in it there is a scene where a few German soldiers, unwillingly fighting for the Nazi regime, swear that whoever survives must write a book to expose to the world the horror and hell they went through. Well, he did write the book and thirteen others after. I don't know if I will have the courage to go through them all.

  The book starts with Hassel being tried for desertion and, because of a woman sacrificing herself to say she seduced him into it, his life is "spared" and he is sent to a concentration camp. He survives the atrocities there only to be "pardoned" and sent to the war, as part of a battalion of convicts. More horror follows, only for him to be captured by the Russian army and send to a prison camp. Again, pain and pointless suffering ensues, but he survives and escapes, only to be sent to fight again in a war he and all of his comrades consider pointless, barbaric and inhumane. He suffers personal loss, he almost goes mad, but he has his friends and together they keep each other alive, mentally and physically. Then he is wounded and has to go through the horror of military hospital, where people are actually competent and kind, but death and suffering is inevitable. And after all of this, the ending might be the most heartbreaking of it all.

  The traditional portrayal of hell is a place where devils take great pleasure torturing sinners in perpetuity. You read this book and you realize how childishly optimistic that vision is. Try to imagine something similar, but where devils are educated, kind and compassionate and punishing sinners is just as much a punishment for them, forced to do it and loathing the pointlessness and brutality of it all. Yet one cannot escape the system Satan implemented, himself too far removed to be witnessing the horror and pain he architected and immune to retribution.

  Sven Hassel is a very good writer, perhaps because he is writing from his heart and it just pours out of him, and the subject is terrible and captivating at the same time. Yet the best part of the book, for me, was the feeling of joy in the little things, the things we take for granted and these damned people enjoyed every single one of them, whenever rarely afforded, to the fullest. Stripped of the complacent veneer of civilization that most humans live under, they lived every moment as if it were the best and last of them all. At no time is there an accusation or bitterness towards another people or group, or attempts to vilify anyone other than the bourgeois and generals that started and perpetuated war, from both sides, to appease unknowable urges that no ordinary person understands or supports.

Bottom line: a very strongly recommended book, one that I think is so apropos of these times, not only because it applies to war in general, but also because (from pure coincidence) the war locations described are places like Donetsk and Kharkiv (which is razed to the ground in the book, as the Germans retreat). The writing is both sweet and personal, educated and educational. It's a heart laid bare and printed into words. A must read.

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  Imagine if the fairy godmother would teach Cinderella the very basics of magic, warned her to not do it, then promptly vanished forever. Then imagine Cinderella was French right around the time of the French Revolution. That's the plot in a nutshell.

  All That Glitters has the hallmarks of greatness: good writing, a very interesting world and a character that grows with the reader. However, I found it really difficult to finish it. I believe the reason was the telegraphing of the protagonist's suffering, making me think of all the horrid things that were going to happen to her, only for her to actually find rather convenient and facile ways of getting out of trouble. 

  And I have to tell you that it was a weird feeling throughout. Made me feel guilty for fearing of all the bad things that were predictably going to happen to the heroine and then resentful of Gita Trelease for letting her off the hook. I mean, this girl and her sister have to deal with the death of their parents, systemic classism, being disconsidered for being women, having a violent addict and gambler of a brother that leeches from them even the money for food and rent, nobles, sorcerers and, of course, the worse of it all, romantic triangles! We can't miss those. And the only solution, a form of magic that feeds on one's sorrow and actual blood and only gives illusions in return.

  Now, of course, this is the first book in a bloody series, luckily a duology, at least for now. There are no standalone books anymore. Therefore the author has all the opportunity to grow as a writer, torture her protagonist to her and the readers' content and determine the most important thing of them all: who is Camille going to marry? Can you imagine being able to turn anything iron into coins for a limited time and not once considering what (or who) else can you turn into what? Maybe that will happen in the next books, but I won't be reading them.

  Bottom line: a definite success of a debut and full of potential and value. However it seems the author and myself are focusing on different things in life and even if we witness the same story, we only want to see the parts the other doesn't. I guess the book appeals more to the feminine side of the reader.

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  You've seen this before, either as a book or as a TV series or something similar: the hidden world of magic, the gatekeepers tasked to keep the veil on the eyes of the common folk, the particular technique that they use (in spite of many others in existence), the ethnic flavor of the inspiration, even the formulaic definitions of good and evil. As it stands, Ink & Sigil is a rather bland book, with very little original content and the little that is being inspired by other cultures than the one of the author.

  You see, it all happens in Scotland, where everybody speaks with a strong Scottish accent, even the goth lesbian battle seer girl who is Indian. And there is a magical world of the fae, separated from ours by ... legal bindings, enforced by only five people in the whole world who work for no particular reason, with little resources and themselves bound by inexplicable moral qualms. Every fae described is a horrid caricature, an average of the most common clichés. Every fight is fought exclusively with the particular magical trinkets specific to the gatekeepers and nothing else.

  So forgive me when I am not impressed by Ink & Sigil, another uninspired fantasy millionology which translates to a classic detective story with a little bit of magic and locale sprinkled for taste. It's as authentic as a Margarita in a Ruby Tuesday or a single malt whisky made in Texas.

  As for Kevin Hearne, I didn't know who he was, but I could feel he was not Scottish in any way or form. Not because I am an expert in the culture of Scotland, mind you, but because it was obvious. It was funny how American the world view was, even when bad mouthing Americans, people who leer when they see an attractive girl or, God forbid, are racist. The author tried to be subtle and not stink up his writing with politics, but he couldn't help being a raging progressive from time to time.

  Bottom line: it was partly fun, but it was a chore finishing the book while knowing exactly what was going to happen and trudging through the flood of clichés that made up this story. I would not recommend it.

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  Sorcery of Thorns starts with an interesting idea that made me curious and involved: a library like a prison of Necronomicon-like books, bound in flesh, partly alive, trying to manipulate people in various ways, fighting amongst each other, destroying minds and bodies of unguarded people and able to transform into murderous demonic beasts when damaged.

  Then, almost immediately, Margaret Rogerson turns away from that premise and proceeds to write a very young adult fantasy romance where a Mary Sue orphan girl who has lived all her life in one of these libraries leaves it and falls in love with a young very eligible sorcerer while battling an old sorcerer in authority and patriarchy in general. Gad!

  The writing is not bad, but nothing spectacular either. It's the way the author fails to put her character in even the slightest challenge that makes this book average at most. Whenever something bad happens, or rather about to happen, she immediately finds a new ability or a new friend to save her. Her "best friend" is there just to be used in various occasions and then forgot for the rest of the book. Men dismiss her opinions, not because she is a shut-in orphan and poor and uneducated and doesn't know anything, but because she is a woman. Only then to do 360s and completely believe and support her when the actual need arises.

  And that ending! There is one thing that feels like a consequence, like it all wasn't some sort of bed game to spice up Elisabeth's romance, then it goes poof!

  In conclusion I can't recommend this book. It's not bad, but certainly not good. Somehow I got duped again by the legions of horny girls using fantasy to scratch their itch and then rating books in droves. The only good thing I can say about the book is that it's standalone and not part of some misbegotten series.

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  Using my system of randomizing the choice of books, I started reading Dread Nation. The very first page there is a dedication to all people of color. So I immediately deflated, as there are some people who think writing with a political agenda doesn't require any actual knowledge of bookcraft. Then there was the author's name, Justina Ireland, suggesting anything else than the Black female writer she is. And then it was a period piece, set right after the American Civil War. And then... it was also about zombies! So I prepared for a bad woke book written by a woman who looks to the past to justify her antiracist outrage. Yeah, I know, I'm a monster. But then I kind of liked the book!

  That doesn't mean I wasn't partly right. The story is told from the first person perspective of a character who is a Mary Sue. She is a Black girl, birthed by a White woman, but also partly raised as a slave, but also knowing how to read and being well read, but also speaking in Black English, but only randomly or when it suits her, she is smart, perfectly trained to fight zombies and also trained in etiquette, but also a rebel and a tomboy, but also cute enough to attract the attention of a beautiful and fiery Black boy, oppressed her entire life, but also capable of taking control of any situation, small of build and being hurt repeatedly, but then shrugging off damage like an action hero, which she also is, and so on. Then there are the male White characters, which are all bad, except maybe some which I am pretty sure will turn out to be bad too in the end. White women are vile, but some of them, if they are not rich, are OK. Black boys are naive and needing guidance, even if they have their hearts in the right place.

  In short, the book is very inconsistent in its characterization and this girl can do *everything*, except maybe feel when people are sneaking up to her to cock guns when the story requires her to get caught and brutalized. But the world building is good. The author researched books about the forced Native American "educational" centers, another bright spot in the U.S. history - land of the free if you survive, are not enslaved and are White - and created this world where the dead had risen right in the middle of the Civil War, abruptly terminating it, yet not solving any of the social issues that had been in dispute during it.

  And yes, it does feel a little "inspired" from the likes of Lovecraft Country, only instead of cosmic horror you get the run of the mill zombie outbreak as the background for a story about racism. The writing is typical Young Adult, focused on what the character feels, intends and believes, with action and interaction with other people just there to further the story in a blatantly obvious way. But it was also fun. Unfortunately, it is yet another "first book in a trilogy" and you would have to read the two other books to get any closure. I liked the book, but not that much to continue reading the rest.

  So yeah, I've decided to try out stock trading. I wanted to see how it works, how it feels and if it's a valid avenue for investment versus something like placing money in a bank. Long story short: it is! I fact, I would say placing money in banks feels stupid now. Will this make me a billionaire in Euros? No. But let me detail.

  Usually, when people get some extra money they think: should I leave them in my expenses account or should I move a sum to a savings account? The difference being the amount of interest and some rules against retrieving money from the savings account. One account is for fast operations, the other is for the rainy days, one you think of in days, the other in months. Well, imagine you have to save money in order to someday retire. That's one you would think of in decades. Well, in that case, stocks are what you need. 

Here is a chart of QQQ, a aggregate stock on the top performing stock, for the last 22 years. Its value rose consistently and grew 536%. That's 8.7% a year on average. In comparison, the average inflation rate in the same period is something like a third. Tell me, which bank will give you this interest?

But take a closer look. You see that big spike at the end? That's November 2021, when the U.S. market reached its apex, due to various reasons. Since then it plummeted, so the value now is the same as in June 2021. If you would have read a blog post like this and invested all your money in QQQ stock in November, you would have found a special set of skills, found me and killed me now. Or look on the left of the chart, to the spike there. In March 2000 the value increased to 118, only to then go down for a period of 16 years, only to grow 250% in the next 6 years!

So in the end, it goes to your trust in the world as a whole. Will it grow, stagnate or disintegrate? If you are optimistic in the long run or at least think that the next 20 years will go the same, then this is for you.

Of course, it was an interesting moment to start learning and experiment with stock trading in 2022. The boom that the trillions of US dollars injected by Biden in the economy because of Covid (so yeah, you read that right, the economy went up during the pandemic) ended, also the distraction caused by Covid which turned from an excitingly unexpected threat to life to an endemic virus that coexists with all the others we got used to. Now we have to look back at how to get those trillions paid, how much good Brexit does to the economy, how the European Union economy recovers and, to add insult to injury, another psychopathic world leader threatening World War III. Can you even think of making money on the stock market now?

The answer is again, yes! Did I make more money? No. But I didn't lose that much either and I believe that loss will disappear. I won't go into the details, but enough to say that while the stocks that took the market to that November high dropped, but other stocks that are considered safe, like the dividend stocks of huge companies, went up. And there is another hook: if the market goes down and you trust it to increase (on average) every year, that means the lower the stocks the higher they will rise in the future!

But, you will ask yourself, what am I missing? I everybody could do that, why don't they? Where is the high risk that everybody warns me about when talking about the stock market?

Well, first there are the short to medium term risks like the 2008 economic crisis or a measly World War. However, can you show me without looking at the years where is that crisis on the chart above? As I said, this is a "sure thing" only on large periods of time and while the global order remains largely unchanged. Also, money itself is a form of national stock. That's why you get inflation, where the buying power of the same sum of the same currency is vastly different from year to year. It's not a matter of money vs stock, but of stock vs stock, of managing risk.

Again with the risk! Where is it? Personally I think there is a huge psychological risk. Because you have a lot more options, you get more opportunities to fuck it all up. For example a guy sold his house and bought Tesla stock for all the money. He even tweeted to Elon Musk to encourage him to increase the value of the stock from $900 to $1000. The highest value for Tesla was 1222, but now it's 838. The guy could have increased his personal wealth 20% in just 20 days if he bought in October 2021. He didn't.

There is a huge pressure to perform when you gamble (and that's the correct word) with your money. You may take a few hundred Euros like me and play around, then the pressure is not that high, but if you put most of your savings into this, you always get to second guess yourself. Did I buy the correct thing? Oh, it's growing! Oh, it's going down! Oh, no, I am losing money, should I sell early or wait until it gets back up?

Sometimes you trust a company so much that it makes no sense to invest in something else. So you just buy the one stock. And then it goes bankrupt! Or the stock falls so much and forever that you have lost all of your savings. Having a diverse portfolio decreases your risk, but also your revenue.

There is a saying among traders that goes something like this: 95% of people trading are losing money and the rest of 5% bought some stock and then forgot about it for a few years. This says something about the safest way to proceed, but also tells you something about where the money from trading is coming from: those 95%.

So I am not an expert in any conceivable way, but I am going to try things out. There is a lot to learn, but when you push everything aside, there are two basic strategies: timing the market and investing long term.

Timing the market is to "buy the dip" when the stocks are low and sell them when they spike. The good news is that it makes you filthy rich, the bad news is that you can't time the market. And I am not joking. This is basically playing Roulette. If you consistently place your bets on the right number, you become filthy rich (or are thrown out of the casino), but that's theoretically impossible. And while a casino game is probabilistic, the market is actually fighting against you, adapting to strategies and making them obsolete in days (if not in minutes, considering you are competing with AI algorithms run by companies betting billions).

Investing long is what I described above. You take your savings (which come after you've bought your house, saved some in the bank and you have a comfortable sum left to live on) and you buy either diverse stocks from the top 500 or ETF (Exchange traded fund) which does this for you, for a small percentage. Invesco QQQ from above is an ETF, for example. And you do it with your monthly savings, every month. And you leave it alone. And you count your money (or lack thereof) when you retire.

That being said, there is a lot to learn about trading. The statistical indicators, what they mean, the math, the taxes, the way to investigate companies, how to structure your portfolio, the information sources, the gotchas, the various people and tricks that want to manipulate you and/or the market so that they make the money.

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  Senlin Ascends reminded me of many things: the intellectual protagonist, lost in a world that feels part dream like in Zamyatin's We, a metaphorical world that reflects our own social order like in Snowpiercer, the cruel tourist traps hiding horror like in Song of Kali. But the book is anything but derivative. Josiah Bancroft writes this in his own voice, slowly building both the world and the characters.

  Have to admit that I've found it difficult to keep reading the book. The naïve character that never seems to catch a break and keeps getting abused by an uncaring world makes it hard to enjoy. The book is very well written, but starts by destroying your faith in humanity. This also does make the last quarter of the book a little jarring, as the winds suddenly blow in a slightly different direction. It is possible that Bancroft found it as hard to torture his protagonist as I found it to bear reading about it. Yet, he seems to have kept at it, as this is just the first book of a series of four books (and a series of shorts).

  The book is a steampunkish novel set in a fictional tower of Babel where a teacher and his new bride go on a honeymoon, only to be swept into the tumultuous world contained by the tower. Each level of the tower is separate in culture and resources: the higher the level, the harder to get to and the richer the society. But that doesn't mean better, in any way.

  That's the plot in a nutshell, but the beauty is in the details. I can't say the book is perfect, but I am going to give it my highest rating because it is certainly a good book and refreshingly original.

 T-SQL Querying is a very good overview of SQL Server queries, indexing, best practices, optimization and troubleshooting. I can't imagine someone can just read it and be done with it, as it is full of useful references, so it's good to keep it on the table. Also, it's relatively short, so one can peruse it in a day and then keep using it while doing SQL work.

What I didn't like so much was the inconsistent level of knowledge needed for the various chapters. It starts with a tedious explanations of types of queries and what JOINs are and what ORDER BY is and so on, then moves on to the actual interesting stuff. Also, what the hell is that title and cover? :) You'd think it's a gardening book.

Another great thing about it is that it is available free online, from its publishers: Packt.

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  I have a problem with LGBT books, because they are read by mostly LGBT people who then feel obliged to praise the story and how they identified with the characters. Have the writer be a woman and you will be hard pressed to find the few reviews written by people who just randomly stumbled upon the book or maybe lazily read some very positive reviews and decided to read it, like I did. And when you get burned like that, the more you stop trying to read these books, amplifying the effect.

  Unfortunately, Karen Memory is one of those books. Funny enough, I've previously read a short story collection by Elizabeth Bear and I've forgotten all about it, but then I reread my review and... it's kind of the same. She writes well, but I can't relate to the stories or the characters and mostly because she uses fantasy settings to sell basic bland ideas that are not related to fantasy or sci-fi. A bit of a bait and switch.

  Karen Memery (with an e) is a teenage middle-end lesbian prostitute who knows horses, fighting, shooting and is also a seamstress. In a Western-like steampunk universe which sounds suspiciously similar to episodes from Warrior (great TV show BTW), she is the protagonist, but there is very little steampunk and no sex. Instead it's all about diverse people caring about each other's feelings while the bad men are coming for them.

  20% of the book in, I've decided to abandon it, but I did make the effort to hunt down the reviews that were focusing on the story and not on the diversity or how cool steampunk westerns are. People finishing the book didn't think much of it either, especially since she seems to go all Mr. Nobody towards the end. She's a teenage girl!

  Anyway, no.

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  I started reading this book at random, and by random I mean I used a tool to choose it for me. And what a coincidence that, published in 2011, it talks about the geopolitical and economical drivers that would shape the next decade while I read it in 2022, as a conflict between Russian and the U.S. in Ukraine is looming. Was Friedman a sort of Hari Seldon and he predicted it all or was it all just bull? Well, a bit of both.

  The Next Decade wants to be a U.S. centric but objective dissection of the world, all pretenses aside, with the goal of predicting what will happen and what Americans should be doing about it. George Friedman starts by explaining why the United States have become an empire, almost by accident, and that while the reality of the fact cannot be denied, the anti-imperial principles upon which the nation was founded as still relevant and even essential to the wellbeing of America (and hence the world). He decides that the most important actor in this story is the American president, the modern embodiment of both the principles of the nation and of a Machiavellian prince. The rest of the book is a continent by continent analysis of what countries are driven by and will do and what this prince has to do to ensure and promote American supremacy over the world. In the author's view, the highest virtue of a good leader is to act in the best interests of his nation, while attempting to follow a moral code as well as possible in the circumstances.

  Does it sound arrogant, pompous and presumptuous? Yes, quite. But does it also sound close to how heads of state think and make decisions? A resounding yes. In fact, his talk of the Georgian conflict, where Russians invaded and Americans wrote some stern condemnations in response is terrifyingly close to what happens now in Ukraine, only the U.S. cannot afford to repeat that performance now.

  Here's a quote:

  In order to understand this office I look at three presidents who defined American greatness. The first is Abraham Lincoln, who saved the republic. The second is Franklin Roosevelt, who gave the United States the world’s oceans. The third is Ronald Reagan, who undermined the Soviet Union and set the stage for empire. Each of them was a profoundly moral man … who was prepared to lie, violate the law, and betray principle in order to achieve those ends. They embodied the paradox of what I call the Machiavellian presidency, an institution that, at its best, reconciles duplicity and righteousness in order to redeem the promise of America.

  Friedman thinks, for example, that bin Laden forced the hand of the American president to overextend in the Middle East, a pointless military gesture, but a politically necessary one, which lead to a rise of Iranian influence and distracted from Russia. As in The Next 100 Years, the author is still obsessed with the importance of Mexico, Poland and Turkey, but he adds more stuff related, for example, to Romania, which must be built up militarily so that it defends the Carpathians for the Americans for free. The European Union is a joke, fractured by history, culture, economy, financial systems, laws and held together by a fairy tale ideal of a bureaucratic world where war (inevitable to Friedman) doesn't exist. But even so, Germany must be stopped from joining up with Russia and as best as possible removed from its alliance with France. Africa is a place that the U.S. should just ignore. And so on and so on. Basically, America should make sure that in no place will any power even begin to rise in a region because it would impede its natural right to rule the world.

  The scary thing is that every one of these predictions or analyses are propped by well explained and documented arguments. It's not that Americans are assholes for doing that, it would be costly and stupid for them to not do that. As Friedman puts it, the U.S. has become empire without intention and is now forced to act as such for better or worse.

  I must warn you that this is not your school history book, where valiant heroes defend their homeland against evil, but a very cynical overview of how foreign policy is done. It describes a world in which every country is at war with every other country and any sense of morals is slave to necessity and only serves to bring a modicum of validation to the inevitable evil nations do.

  Bottom line: a very well written book, extremely apropos these days, something that I urge to be taken with a grain of salt, but highly recommended as a read.