Thursday, August 30, 2007

Reviewing ‘On-Road in the UAE’

On-Road in the UAE is another welcome literary addition to the books written in or about the United Arab Emirates. This book will be appreciated by both tourists and permanent residents. It goes beyond the suggestions offered by tourist brochures and when many signposts are missing or unclear, this book gives travelers practical advice and confidence to venture beyond the familiar, urban tourist spots.

Author Gareth Leggett, is a self-confessed traveler with wanderlust in his blood. His intention is to encourage people to discover the nooks and crannies of the UAE, to experience its natural wonders and to interpret the numerous archaeological signs that tell the story of the ancient inhabitants of this peninsula.

Leggett has written for the ordinary person who does not have a 4-wheel drive or a car that is equipped with GPS. The book describes 17 day trips through the UAE and into Oman (the parts where passports are not needed) with a host of side routes. The directions are simple and clear with line maps indicating the exact distance between crossroads, roundabouts and petrol stations. There are ratings for each route according to the quality of the road, the extent of shade, the availability of amenities, accessibility and the time that each trip takes. To cap it off the author has enthusiastically given his own overall ‘Leggett’ rating.

The book contains a detailed check list with safety warnings related to the unique aspects of traveling on UAE roads. Leggett warns of fast driving Emirati drivers, who treasure their cars like they prized their camels, the lack of indicating, the places where warm clothing is needed and, speaking of camels, the roads where camels and goats tend to wander. A future edition might well include information on how one negotiates roundabouts in the UAE, the way ‘Stop’ signs are commonly regarded as ‘Give Way’ (Yield) and what one does or what might happen to you if you involved in a car or camel accident.

The style of this book is simple and clear and it is small enough to keep in the glove box of your car. It contains lots of helpful information including phone numbers of consulates and embassies, the Arabic words needed to greet people or to ask for the police and the birdlife to look out for in different areas. As well as being a skilful writer, Leggett is an adept photographer, for this book is illustrated with many sensational pictures.

Gareth Leggett, On-Road in the UAE (London: Zodiac Publishing), 2005 is available in the United Arab Emirates from Magrudy’s bookshops at a cost of Dh65.00.

Geoff Pound

Image: Front Cover of On-Road in the UAE.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Reviewing ‘The Monk who sold his Ferrari’.

It pays to have a snazzy, succinct title although to be accurate, this book should be called, ‘The Hot-Shot Lawyer who sold his Ferrari and became a Monk’.

Author, Robin Sharma, is a lawyer who became a Leadership guru, a Life Coach and the CEO of the multi-million dollar leadership development firm, Sharma Leadership International.

Reading his books or seeing him on CNN, Sharma is an able communicator. This book is not a series of PowerPoint Presentations on coping with stress and finding life’s secrets. Instead, Sharma tells the captivating fable of the superstar lawyer who has a cardiac arrest in the court room which is the wakeup call to discover the things that are most important in life. Leaving the courts he treks the mountains to learn from monks who agree to impart their wisdom on the proviso that he shares these lessons with others on his return. The book is predominantly a twelve hour conversation between this Ferrari-less monk and Sharma. It is a good format for the book but in places the conversation becomes contrived.

Anyone who is working long hours, is having a struggle to keep to their diet and is sensing that their life is empty will find themselves in this story. Just as the lawyer had a values overhaul, this book strikes the note that life is short and that personal transformation is possible. Deviating from the traditional storytelling method Sharma has the monk sharing seven virtues (similar to Stephen Covey’s ‘Seven Habits’) each encapsulated in a symbol such as a garden or Sumo wrestler. Following the seven virtues readers are encouraged to do certain things for twenty days (the time needed to install new habits) which will address all of one’s life—body, mind, soul and spirit.

It is not entirely clear from the book whether Sharma is advocating that readers embrace the Buddhist religion but the monk expresses an eclectic range of truths with a coating of eastern mysticism. Sharma is a skilful popularizer of Buddhism and eastern philosophy who presents wisdom in non-religious ways.

Readers will resonate with the call to simplicity, the need to know yourself, to cherish life and to live in the now. Sharma writes about dealing with fear and how to sleep contentedly. In an age when plastic surgery is commonplace, this book advocates a transformation pathway that changes people from the inside out. Several weeks out of the courtroom and exercising in the mountains with a wise exposure to the sun and a vegetarian diet did wonders for the monk’s complexion and countenance.

Many sayings from David Suzuki to George Bernard Shaw are given that distill wisdom in a nutshell. Who can argue with this adage: “There is a huge difference between making a lot of money and making a lot of life.”

Readers will find this book to be inspirational, like its author. It is a self-improvement book with a veneer of spirituality that is individual (rather than communal) and non-institutional (rather than calling readers to sign up to a religious community). While The Monk who sold his Ferrari prescribes a holistic overhaul, the facet that is least addressed in this book is the development of one’s spiritual life. Whatever is mentioned is framed in ways that will help people to aspire, reach their dreams and discover their true passion in life. Unlike many self-help books which tend to encourage improvement for selfish gains such as success and happiness, Sharma writes about giving to others and how happiness springs from contributing to other people.

Robin S Sharma, The Monk who sold his Ferrari (London: Harper Element, 2004; first published, 1997), is available in the United Arab Emirates from Magrudy’s bookshops at a cost of Dh70.00.

Geoff Pound

Image: Front Cover.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Reviewing ‘Falconry and Birds of Prey in the Gulf’

It is heartening that David Remple and Christian Gross have produced a home grown book on the falcon, one of the national icons of the UAE and the Arabian Gulf. This volume is a reprint and update of the book first published in 1993. Since the initial launch Falconry has gone through four reprints, such is its popularity among UAE residents, tourists, students doing projects and the growing number of serious falconers.

If one is looking for an activity that is quintessentially Emirati, observing or flying falcons in the Arabian desert is the sport. The book commences with an illuminating history of falconry written by Cheryl Remple that describes the development of the art from as early as the thirteenth century B.C. The book distinguishes between eastern and western features of the practice of falconry and despite the lack of written sources in the Gulf region it sets out the distinctive aspects in the Arabian region. Falcon terminology such as ‘quarry’ and ‘raptor’ are explained and throughout the English text the key Arabic terms are also included. It is interesting to note the Arabic feature in which falcons in the Gulf are kitted out with a burqa or hood.

Authors, American zoologist, vet and founder of the Dubai Falcon Hospital, David Remple and Swiss naturalist, Christian Gross have teamed up to offer a comprehensive but highly practical book. Readers will discover the reasons that motivate people in the activity of falconry and will learn how to capture, train and look after them. The varieties of falcons and other birds of prey are described in detail and illustrated in a host of colorful pictures. The book is furnished with several black and white photos of early and notable Arabic falconers, including the late Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum.

The final chapter sets forth the threats facing falcons and their owners today and sketches how the art might develop in the future. Such is the changing face of falconry that the book requires regular updating. While Falconry describes the recent innovation of attaching radio transmitters to the legs or tails of falcons to track them when they get lost it would be important to include in a future update a statement about the threat of bird flu and the 2005 UAE requirement that all falcons be issued with an individual passport. Additional information would be helpful on where prospective falconers might purchase their falcons (if they cannot trap them), the cost of these birds and details about falconer schools and clubs.

This book is an interesting read. It needs to be in every school library and it is a good idea for a souvenir and a gift from the Emirates.

David Remple and Christian Gross, Falconry and Birds of Prey in the Gulf, (Dubai: Motivate Publishing, 1993, reprinted 2007). This book is available from Magrudy’s Bookshops in the UAE at a cost of Dh 75.00.

Geoff Pound

Image: Peregrine falcon with burqa.