• Thursday, May 30, 2024
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Vacation reading list

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Wendy

When on vacation, I do essentially three things-sleep, watch television and read. Of course if the vacation is outside the country there may also be the obligatory shopping, but that for me is really a bother. In my book, vacation is essentially about rest and reading, with TV supplying complementary news, sports and the occasional movies. My recent vacation (I already feel in need of another one!) was mostly about reading however, apart from wishing along with the Brits that Andy Murray would reach the Wimbledon final, to my eventual disappointment. My reading list was eclectic but carefully assembled-Bitter-Sweet: My Life with Obasanjo by Oluremi Obasanjo; The Da Vinci Code and Angels and Demons both by Dan Brown and The Tipping Point and Outliers both also by Malcolm Gladwell.
Of course I had read extensive excerpts of Mrs Obasanjo book, but I needed to read the whole and I was not disappointed. The author is the wife of Nigeria’s former military and civilian leader, General Olusegun Obasanjo and mother of his older children. It is a surprisingly balanced narrative by a woman who evidently loved and still loves her husband, but one who nevertheless feels compelled to share her story. She offers a unique and valuable historical insight into the person of Obasanjo, his friend and 1966 coup leader, Major Kaduna Nzeogwu and military life and politics from the early 1960s till date. The story as the book’s title indicates started from a loving relationship with the then poor but studious and ambitious Olusegun Obasanjo of Owu, Abeokuta, but then highlights the matrimonial challenges the author increasingly faces as her darling becomes a senior military officer, war hero, federal commissioner and eventually Head of State, culminating in several acrimonious duels with Obasanjo and his mistresses and eventually an apparently illegally procured divorce.
Beyond the book, I am interested in the sociological undertones of marriage (monogamy or polygamy) and religion (Christianity, Islam or traditional religion) that the Obasanjo story brings up. The pattern of an initially-loving marriage between a young Yoruba girl seeking a monogamous marriage and a serious and ambitious young man, an ideal which collapses as the man overcomes poverty and rises in the social ladder and then returns to polygamy and fetish practices as he seeks power and protection is probably not unique to the Obasanjos. It is the story of virtually the entire generation of our fathers. I believe Yoruba (indeed African) converts to Islam and Christianity are yet to finally agree on a sociological context appropriate to their new faith and marriage that is consistent with the fundamental tenets of those religions.
The Da Vinci Code is a fascinating work of faction-fiction resting on some foundational facts or perhaps projecting known facts into a story that could be a combination of both fact and fiction. The facts as the author make clear include the existence of the Priory of Sion, a European secret society founded in 1099 with members including Sir Isaac Newton and Leonardo da Vinci and Opus Dei, a deeply devout and ultra conservative Catholic Sect whose practices include corporal mortification (through wearing of cilice belts-a leather strap studded with sharp metal barbs for two hours a day; using the discipline-a heavy knotted rope that is slung over one’s shoulder; sleeping on a wooden board or on the floor) and which seeks to recruit intellectuals and professionals in society essentially through the educational system. Originating in Spain, Opus Dei’s activities extend to more than sixty countries including the US, Europe, Japan, North Africa and Nigeria.

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The rest of the book is fictional and may indeed be offensive to Christian readers including conspiracy theories about Jesus marriage to Mary Magdalene, a secret child in France, a search for a Holy Grail, murders, plots and feminine supremacy. Angels and Demons may be considered a sequel to the Da Vinci Code. Again it rests on some established facts-the discovery of antimatter (the most powerful but highly unstable energy source known to man (a single gram of antimatter contains the energy of a 20-kiloton nuclear bomb-the size of the bomb dropped on Hiroshima) by the world’s largest scientific research facility-Conseil Europeen pour la Recherche Nucleaire (CERN) in Switzerland and the existence of the Illuminati a shadowy secret brotherhood presumed extinct for over four hundred years after its members were purged by the Church. Beyond these facts, Angels and Demons is also fictional with the plot centred on revenge, murders of scientists and cardinals and a search for clues to defeat the Illuminati.
Tipping Point is not a new book and I have applied the ideas therein for some time, but I felt the need to re-read and re-understand Malcolm Gladwell’s interesting hypothesis. He analyses how ideas, trends and products (brands) get contagious, are propelled by little causes and catch on in one dramatic moment (just like viruses and epidemics)-the tipping point. I find some complementarities between Gladwell’s hypothesis and the idea of the Flywheel in Good to Great. In Outliers, Gladwell examines The Story of Success and argues persuasively that there is nothing like the self-made man but that in addition to talent, successful people usually benefit from a context-parents, cultures, environments, preparation and training etc. that facilitate success, essentially the message in Ecclesiastes 9:11 about time and chance. Next time you are free, I recommend you read these books!