Maciamo's Blog

Articles about topics close to my heart, as well as news analyses, maps, statistics, book reviews and more.

Selection of my most popular forum topics

Do Sub-Saharan African countries have a better quality of life than the West in the 1950s?

It may sound like a strange question. Many Westerners still have an image of Sub-Saharan Africa as an underdeveloped place where people live in huts and hunt with spears like in the early 20th century. But even if some tribes of hunter-gatherers survive in isolated parts of the continent, this is by and wide a bygone image of Africa. Nowadays you are more likely to see flashy new skyscrapers than wooden huts.

For example this is the 300m-high Pinnacle Tower in Nairobi, Kenya.


This is the skyline of Addis Ababa in Ethiopia, and Ethiopia is poor even by African standards (it...
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Best books about Ancient Rome

I have read over 70 books about ancient Roman history over the past five years. Most of the books I have read are in English, but I have also read books in Italian (notably those of Alberto Angela) and in Spanish (Santiago Posteguillo). Here are my recommendations sorted by category.


Life in Ancient Rome

24 Hours in Ancient Rome: A Day in the Life of the People Who Lived There, by Philip Matyszak. A great way to experience what daily life was like in Rome at the peak of its glory at the time...


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Economy These are the best mobile banking apps in the world

Sia Partners examined 135 banks from 17 different countries around the world, mostly in Western Europe, the USA, Canada, the Middle East, and East Asia.

The two best banking apps were both from Belgian banks, KBC and Belfius. KBC's app has a digital assistant in the line of Apple's Siri or Microsoft's Cortana. It lets you ask questions and requests operations in English, Dutch or French. Its capabilities are not limited to managing banking operations. Customers can book train tickets, monitor if the parking meter payment is close to run out, get recommendations on cheaper utility...
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Where and when were famous board games invented?

Have you ever wondered what the oldest board games were? Which country has produced the most board games that are usually found in people's homes? Or the most board games per capita? Here is a table to summarise it all.

Board gameYear inventedPlace invented
The Game of Life1860USA (Massachussetts)
Sorry!1929United Kingdom (Essex)
Monopoly1932 (published in 1935)USA (Pennsylvania)

Nature How to help the planet and create a better world?



I have long been a defender of the environment. I joined the WWF when I was about 9 years old. I still donate regularly. I have since joined or supported to many other conservation groups such as:

- The Nature Conservancy
- Rainforest Alliance
- Rainforest Action Network
- Rainforest Rescue (you can support them through free online petitions too)
- Save the Elephants

I have never really liked the aggressive (sometimes almost sociopathic) approach of Greenpeace though. Furthermore...
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Maciamo's book selection

I am interested in nearly all the domain of human knowledge. That makes a generalist rather than a specialist, which is also the nature of the philosopher always craving to understand better the world around us.

There is too much information out there to waste time reading uninteresting or badly written books. I have selected here the works which I think are the best at summarising the knowledge in their field while being well written enough to be comprehensible and enjoyable for lay people. I have intentionally left out books that were too heavy or too technical.

I have created separate...
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25 recommended history books

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12 books about the world's past, present and future that you should read

I read a lot - one book per week in average this year, and almost exclusively non-fiction books. You can find the list of the books I read on Libib, which has just reached 300 volumes (excluding textbooks, guidebooks and the like). Of all the books I have read, these 10 books are the most important for anyone to read to understand where we come from, how the world really is today and where it is going. They are the greatest compendium of knowledge necessary for life in the early 21st century. Enjoy!

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Non-American actors dominate top roles in TV series


In 2010 I posted that foreign (English-speaking) actors increasingly dominate Hollywood. I thought I would be more thorough and analyse all the best TV series of the last 20 years and see what proportion of the main roles were taken by non-American actors and actresses. I have listed them by IMDB rating. I will first have a look at series where the story takes place in the United States, as the presence of foreign actors is least expected there. It's obvious that British series have mostly British actors, French...
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Religion Why is cannibalism glorified by Christianity?

When you think about it, one of the most fundamental requirement of any Christians is to eat human flesh and drink human blood, or at least the bread and wine that symbolise it. But the way it is written in the Bible is ambiguous and could be interpreted as the duty of all Christians to eat human flesh.

Jesus said: "I tell you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you cannot have eternal life within you."
Human flesh is said to resemble most pork. When Europeans first arrived in Hawaii, the cannibalistic Hawaiians called them the 'long pigs' as they...

Ranking of British, Irish, Australian & NZ actors by net worth (from $5m to $250m)

Ranking of British, Irish, Australian & NZ actors by net worth (from $5m to $250m)

In 2018, I posted a ranking of the richest celebrities in the world. Here is a ranking of of British and Irish actors and actresses by net worth. When their wealth is tied they are listed alphabetically. Deceased actors were omitted (e.g. Sean Connery, Christopher Lee, Ray Stevenson). I only listed those with a net worth of at least $5 million. I hope that I didn't forget too many.

Net worth is the total of all one's assets, including checking and savings accounts, real estate, cars, and other...
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Ranking of French actors and actresses by net worth (from $10m to $250m)

After the ranking of British, Irish, Australian & NZ actors, here is the list of the wealthiest French actors and actresses. This ranking also doesn't include deceased actors. As the golden age of French cinema was mostly from the 1960s to the 1980s, many of the greatest French actors are already dead (Bourvil, Fernandel, Louis de Funès, Jean Gabin, Jean Marais, Jean-Paul Belmondo, Yves Montand, Jean Rochefort, Jeanne Moreau, Michel Serrault).

These estimates are mostly from Other sources can sometimes give very different net worth. I didn't list the actors...

Which linguistic group is most active on Wikipedia ?

Wikipedia, the world's largest encyclopedia where everybody can write or amend articles, is an excellent indicator of the intellectual activity level of a particular linguistic group.

Have a look at the complete list of Wikipedia versions with the number of articles, edits, and members for each language.

English is obviously the most popular language of information and e-communication, which explains the big gap with other languages. It is also the only language in the top 30 with Spanish and Chinese to have more users than articles.

What interests me here is the ratio of articles...
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Society Food maturity index by country

After observing and analysing cultures around the world, it became evident to me that the cultural sensitivity and psychological acceptation towards food differed greatly from one linguistic group to another. More often than not the division was really by linguistic group rather than by country, so that, for instance, cultures as different as England, Scotland, the USA or Australia had fairly similar culinary predisposition when compared to Italian-, French-, Japanese- or Chinese-speaking people. Religion sometimes play a part in the acceptation of food. The Muslims don't eat pork, and...
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Society World Happiness Report 2018

The new World Happiness Report 2018 was published last week. 156 countries were surveyed. The ranking includes a number of factors such as y: GDP per capita, social support, healthy life expectancy, freedom to make life choices, generosity, and perceptions of corruption.

Generosity is based on the question “Have you donated money to a charity in the past month?”. However I fail to see how this impact local happiness, as charities are often international (e.g. scientific research) or geared toward poorer countries.

The survey also includes what they call "Positive affect" (defined...
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Religion Correlation between obesity and religiosity

In the USA, fundamentalist Christians and most people who consider themselves very religious tend to reject many biological facts (evolution of species, existence of genetic predispositions, genetics playing a major role in intelligence or temperament, etc.). I was wondering if this ignorance would lead them to make detrimental choices about their health and lifestyle, which would result, for instance in much higher rates of obesity. It turns out that it does, especially for women. Have a look at this study: Does Religion Increase the Prevalence and Incidence of Obesity in Adulthood?...

Politics Net monthly salaries of presidents, ministers, lawmakers and mayors in OECD

The salary of politicians is a topic that a lot of people like to broach because most of us feel like their taxes are paying these salaries (and yet many people are dissatisfied with their politicians). But the question few people ever ask is: "Do politicians in my country earn more or less than in other countries?" That's what we'll see here for a selection of developed countries.

Comparison is made more difficult by the fact that many salaries are given as gross salaries, but the tax rates and tax brackets vary considerably between countries. Then, outside the Eurozone, the local...
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Politics How GDP per capita can influence the stability of a democracy

Adam Przeworski, a Polish-American professor of political science at New York University, has written several papers and books regarding the relationship between economic prosperity and the stability of democratic regimes. He was able to calculate the life expectancy of a democracy based on average annual income per capita. It would last in average for 8 years with a GDP per capita of less than $1,500, and 18 years when GDP per capita was comprised between $1,500 and $3,000. Once the $6,000 threshold was reached, there was only one in five hundred chance that a democracy would be...

Economy Most popular car makers by country (with market share)

Travelling in different countries I couldn't help but notice that the brands of cars on the road can vary quite a bit. Obviously people tend to buy more cars from their own country, either for patriotic reasons or because the marketing is better, the cars are designed in accordance with the expectations of the local culture, or simply because their are more car dealers in rural areas, which makes it more convenient for the maintenance. Countries that do not have local car makers may therefore be more interesting to compare if one wants to get an idea of what kind of car people really like...

Economy Are some countries doomed to high unemployment due to their genetic pool ?

I was reading in The Economist that "many of society's ills, from economic stagnation to poor social mobility, could be solved by creating a more entrepreneurial society." The timing couldn't be better as I had been thinking about that very issue lately. Why is it that northern European countries, especially Germanic ones, have for so long had a lower unemployment rate than other countries, regardless of the economic climate ? I believe this indeed has something to do with the fact that northern European people are a particularly entrepreneurial bunch. Not only are they...

Ranking of richest celebrities (actors, singers, athletes)

The celebrities below are American unless otherwise specified.

Richest actors/actresses

  1. Shahrukh Khan (India) : $750 million
  2. Tom Cruise : $550 million
  3. George Clooney : $500 million
  4. Amitabh Bachchan (India) : $425 million
  5. Mel Gibson (Australia) : $425 million
  6. Jack Nicholson : $400 million
  7. Sylverster Stallone : $400 million
  8. Jackie Chan (China) : $395 million
  9. Clint Eastwood : $375 million
  10. Keanu Reeves : $360 million
  11. Tom Hanks : $350 million
  12. Arnold Schwarzenegger (Austria) : $350 million
  13. Michael Douglas : $300 million
  14. Adam...
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Amazing short videos about science and other topics

I have found a series of educational videos on YouTube sponsored by various organisations around the world, including the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Australian Academy of Science. It is called Kurzgesagt, which is German for 'shortly said', but better translated as 'in a nutshell'. Each video last between 5 and 10 minutes, but they are very well made and incredibly informative. I highly recommend to watch all of them. Many videos are also available in German and Russian.

Here are a few videos about biology.

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History xx14, the true turn of century in European history

Having a look at European history, it is startling to see that a great number of wars, revolutions, peace treaties or other major events took place in (or around) the year 14 of each century.

1914 : start of the First World War, the single bloodiest war in European history.
1917 : Bolshevik Revolution starts in Russia. Foundation of the world's first communist state, which will lead to the Cold War.
1918 : End of WWI.
1919 : Redrawing of the borders of Europe. End of the Habsburg, German and Ottoman Empires.

1814 : collapse of the Napoleonic Empire, abdication of Napoleon I, and opening...

Religion Lack of religious affiliation set to become mainstream in Western countries

Atheism and agnosticism have been gaining a lot of grounds in Western countries over the last decade thanks to the Internet.


According to this chart (source), the percentage of unaffiliated in the USA started soaring from 1995, which is the year the Internet really took off. Most of the 'conversions' took place among the richer and more educated mainstream Protestants, while hardly any change can be seen among Evangelical Protestants, Black Protestants and Catholics.

This chart only goes until 2012. According to the Pew Research Center, the number of...


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Foreign (English-speaking) actors increasingly dominate Hollywood

Hollywood represents the image of the USA for many people around the world. For some, Hollywood equals America. It is obvious that one shouldn't think that life in the USA is just like it looks like on TV. But what I want to discuss here is whether it is correct at all to describe Hollywood as an American enterprise.

The cinema business in the United States goes by the nickname of "Hollywood", because of the movie studios located in the Los Angeles neighbourhood of that name. For almost everyone on Earth Hollywood is American because it is US-based and because that is America's most...
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Politics Democracy : the law of the richest ?

I am becoming seriously annoyed by the attitude of media towards democracy. The French and Belgian media have this naive, mistaken image of democracy as an idealised system that would solve all of the world's problems. I think this is a common view in Europe, though less so in Britain.

I hear all too often people complaining about companies relocating or offshoring to developing countries. But that is a fundamental right of democracy. Why wouldn't companies be allowed to do that? Private entreprises have not vowed or pledged to help the local population by providing work to them over...
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Riverless cities & island cities in Europe

Most of the great cities in the world developed around major rivers. The Hudson River in New York, the Yangtze in Shanghai, the Gange in Dehli and Calcutta, several rivers in Tokyo...

Almost all big cities in Europe, like on any other continent, are traversed by a river, often splitting the city in two halves, like in Paris, London or Budapest.

Nevertheless, a few major cities in Europe do not have a river, or at least not a proper river, but just a small stream.

River-less cities are typically coastal cities built against a mountain flank, like Athens, Naples or Marseille (all founded...
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