Sunday, March 01, 2020

Catching up on 2019 reading!

I've read more books than I've had time to record.  Hoping to catch up with that soon.  

Sometimes I feel like this blog is "sloppy" as a professional tool, though I remind myself it is my web-log and online "journal" as much as anything.  It's for me! :-) 

Quite often people ask me about books and/or I recall something I read and don't remember which book informed my perspective . . . unless I have some written record to prompt my memory. 

Some recent readings:

I love science books like this. 

From an review: "This was a book that once I started reading I couldn't put down. It isn't perfect but what is? This book is a chronological accounting of one stubborn scientist's dream of taking a radio image of the shadow of Sagittarius A* the black hole at the center of our galaxy the Milky Way.The author brings out the difficulty of doing this very well. The frustration of this undertaking is palpable through great descriptions of getting many very smart people together manning radio telescopes all over the world that had to deal with equipment problems, weather issues and the fact that they all had to start together. The book also explains the quagmire of bureaucratic hurdles that had toe overcome from both a scientific and financial standpoint."

In truth, I don't remember finding this book to be compelling.  Like other books on sleep (yes, I said sleep) this book supposes that timing is perfect and once we time perfect events, all other things will come into play. And yet, we can't time everything.  So many things and external factors lie outside our control - where/how/when we can get to work, get rest, plan for events, have time or space between events to make things better. This book assumes the reader (creator of their life) has the social/physical/life space to implement each of these suggestions - and too many people do not.  As a single example, I may be better off with more sleep, my own circadian rhythms, but, if my boss says I have to be in the classroom at a set time, I can't NOT be there.

From an Amazon review who loved the book:  

"In this intriguing book, Pink examines the importance of good and bad timing. He begins by explaining how our individual chronotype (easily established) determines both our mood and our ability to perform at any given time of the day: how it affects our professional and our ethical judgements, as well as our physical function. . . . Pink also gives practical suggestions for dealing with less than ideal conditions, as well as hints and tips to improve everyday life. . . . the most useful thing about this book is his Time Hacker’s Handbook: salient points from each section are condensed into summaries full of hints and tips and practical exercises that appear after each of the first six chapters.

Pink explains in detail: why having a coffee before a power nap makes sense; why combining a lunch break with an education session at 1pm (as some teaching hospitals do with their Grand Rounds) is counterproductive (ditto 8am lectures for University students); when the worst time to be a hospital patient is, and why; and the reason some people have the so-called “mid-life crisis”. He looks at the effects of starting one’s career during a depressed jobs-market; why a mid-point (in a project, in a career, in a life) can cause a slump or a spark; how to overcome a bad start; when to quit your job; when to get married; when to exercise; the importance of breaks; and much, much more.”

A compelling read!  A widening income gap (that any person working with the poor and homeless has seen for years) - growing disconnection from the wealthy/political leadership (not just the elite) in what matters for the lived reality of most persons in most towns - and the growing disparity between types of persons which need not exist.  American culture/infrastructure is shifting - moving - crumbling (?) - only the next years will tell for sure.  I hope Herbert is wrong.  I fear he is correct.

From the publisher: "working poor and the middle class. After filing his last column in 2011, he set off on a journey across the country to report on Americans who were being left behind in an economy that has never fully recovered from the Great Recession. The portraits of those he encountered fuel his new book, Losing Our Way. Herbert’s combination of heartrending reporting and keen political analysis is the purest expression since the Occupy movement of the plight of the 99 percent.     Herbert reminds us of a time in America when unemployment was low, wages and profits were high, and the nation’s wealth, by current standards, was distributed much more equitably. Today, the gap between the wealthy and everyone else has widened dramatically, the nation’s physical plant is crumbling, and the inability to find decent work is a plague on a generation.  . . .  Searing and unforgettable, Losing Our Way ultimately inspires with its faith in ordinary citizens to take back their true political power and reclaim the American dream."

Brewer summarizes/details much in the way of the brain/neuroscientific data about how we process data/crave/pursue ideas based on how we are wired.  However, the book offers little to teach persons how to change.  Much of what is here is found in other books - and, of course, in the scientific journals on addiction/habits/cognition.

From an Amazon review: ""The Craving Mind" by Judson Brewer  . . .  was deeply disappointing in one important sense, and unfortunately I am not able to recommend it. The critical problem is that it doesn't fulfill the second half of its title, "How We Can Break Bad Habits." The book begins well and describes the methodology the author used to test mindfulness as an aid to cigarette cessation. He describes the protocol his program used to help the smokers. Great! The entire rest of the book, however, is about research and without practical steps that people can use to conquer their own addictions.  . . .  active next steps never happen. I started wondering if perhaps this book just outlines research and if perhaps the author hasn't formulated practical suggestions for his readers. The author mentions near the end of the book, however, that he DOES have a program. . . .  If you want the practical steps that can really help you, you need to pay a $26/month subscription. If this book were intended to simply outline research in the field, I would've given it five stars. But knowing that he intentionally withholds his help from the readers of this book is something I find unethical. He offers readers nothing concrete they can do other than modify his smoking cessation program to their addiction. A better title would be: "The Craving Mind: ...Why We Get Hooked and How You Can Pay My Company $26/Month to Help You Break Bad Habits.""


Not sure how I wandered into this short set of anecdotes from an actress.  Maybe I hoped this expanded hometown graduation high school speech would offer something I could share with my daughters.  It's no David Foster Wallace.  Not worth the read.

Perhaps shaped by the time when it was written, and my cognitive and attentive space in reading this book, I did not "get into" the book, even as I lament that I had not read the book earlier in my life.  Narrating his lived experience as a slave, this book chronicled and still shapes how we discern what white persons living in what is now America, did to Africans they forced into subjugated slavery.

The power of positive thinking. Think and Grow Rich is the mantra of "The Secret" to extending one's life and growing in wealth, health, etc.  I don't buy it.  

I do think we can think differently - and thus - shape the way we perceive where we are and how we are in life - but we can't CHANGE fundamental aspects of our lived reality/culture/genetics/connections such that "thinking positive" thoughts enables us to become billionaires, etc.

Not a book I can accept, though the history of the frame/form of the positive thinking "new thought" movement(s) was excellent at the start of this book.

From an review: "“One Simple Idea” is a compelling book that traces Americans fascination with positive thinking and self-help teachings. What began as a mid-1800s alternative spiritual movement called New Thought has transformed into the secular self-help books and seminars of today exemplified by the motivational guru Tony Robbins. Today positive thinking is ecumenical embraced by Christians like Joel Osteen and Norman Vincent Peale (who influenced Donald Trump), and those in alternative spirituality like Deepak Chopra.
Author Mitch Horowitz is no Pollyanna apologist for positive thinking. In this book he soberly assesses what he sees as the movement’s strengths and weaknesses.
The New Thought movement that began in the 1800s had several positive cultural effects, according to Horowitz. First, it was a form of DIY spirituality that empowered individuals to have their own spiritual revelations apart from an established church. It legitimized what we would term today an individual’s spiritual search. Second, the positive thinking movement practiced tolerance, seeing truth in all religions, and was ahead of the curve on racial and gender equality. It was among the first to welcome women ministers and spiritual teachers.”

I enjoyed the short chapters of historical detail in this fun book.  Nice to get away from longer pieces.  Not every story narrated was a gaffe/mistake - though the events narrated did reshape history.  (Doesn't every event, technically, reshape history?)  

From an review: "101 Stumbles is a collection of essays mostly written by Bill Fawcett, but with several other contributors including noted alternate history/SF writers like Harry Turtledove, Eric Flint and Mike Resnick. As the title suggests, the authors discuss famous historical mistakes such as the Aztec's indecisiveness over what do with the Spaniards or General MacArthur's complete refusal to see that the Chinese were getting ready to intervene in the Korean War, with the earliest mistakes coming first in the book. Thus, an alternate title for 101 Stumbles is "The Big Book of Hindsight", but to be fair Bill admits early on that they are aware of this and are using these mistakes as a teachable moment for the present and future."

Not as enjoyable as the first books I ready by Bryson many years ago - as his books have become seeming too focused and detailed (?) with gaps (?) - though, this was not bad reading. 

From the publisher: "With dazzling wit and astonishing insight, Bill Bryson—the acclaimed author of The Lost Continent—brilliantly explores the remarkable history, eccentricities, resilience and sheer fun of the English language. From the first descent of the larynx into the throat (why you can talk but your dog can't), to the fine lost art of swearing, Bryson tells the fascinating, often uproarious story of an inadequate, second-rate tongue of peasants that developed into one of the world's largest growth industries."

I liked the book before reading it - that, no doubt, is my cognitive bias and lived experience shaping my perception of my moods/abilities.  The books premise is simple - found in the title.  The science is not strong, though my bias wants to make more of it.  I do have a biased belief that being out-of-doors makes us more human, smarter, kinder, healthier, happier, more social, more "in-tune" with "the world around us" and much more.  From the publisher: "From forest trails in Korea, to islands in Finland, to eucalyptus groves in California, Florence Williams investigates the science behind nature’s positive effects on the brain. Delving into brand-new research, she uncovers the powers of the natural world to improve health, promote reflection and innovation, and strengthen our relationships. As our modern lives shift dramatically indoors, these ideas―and the answers they yield―are more urgent than ever."

Some people love this book.  I couldn't pull it off.  Didn't make it too far in.  From an review: "At the heart of gender politics is the question of whether men and women are inherently different, or are shaped by our experiences. The Power takes this on by asking, what would happen if women gained a physical advantage over men? Would the world be transformed into a nurturing, empathetic utopia? Or do women and men who get power inevitably exploit it?

The novel is framed as the manuscript of a (subservient) male academic called Neil, writing five thousand years in the future, which he has sent to ‘Naomi’ for review. He is trying to make sense of events that occurred in our present."

Knowing the author wrote in the 1960's/70's and that it's shaped by Zen Buddhism might help.  A fine read, nothing at all compelling in the whole piece as necessary for discerning the key ideas.

From an review: "the highest happiness, the supreme spiritual insight and certitude are found only in our awareness that impermanence and insecurity are inescapable and inseparable from life."

From another review: “ . . . To live perfectly in the moment, to understand that the experience and the "experiencer" are one in the same just as a wave is not part of the ocean, but is the ocean, all of it - I can begin to fathom how one would be able to shed so much pretense and predispositions. . . . In any case, a worthy read, but definitely not a book if you're looking for "10 Ways to Reduce Anxiety." It is rather an exhortation to awareness."

From the publisher: "Ten thousand years ago, our species made a radical shift in its way of life: We became farmers rather than hunter-gatherers. Although this decision propelled us into the modern world, renowned geneticist and anthropologist Spencer Wells demonstrates that such a dramatic change in lifestyle had a downside that we’re only now beginning to recognize. Growing grain crops ultimately made humans more sedentary and unhealthy and made the planet more crowded. The expanding population and the need to apportion limited resources created hierarchies and inequalities. Freedom of movement was replaced by a pressure to work that is the forebear of the anxiety millions feel today."

This long, though well shaped review: "The enormous change brought about by the invention of agriculture is well documented. . . Geneticists have now discovered numerous recent mutations to the human genome which resulted from the abrupt change in our environment and our diet. The story which the author develops explains in detail both the scope of these changes and the fact that the impact of those genetic mutations and the dramatic shift in the human environment is still unfolding. He goes on to consider the potential future impact of the tools which geneticists have now developed, which could permit designer children as in the movie Gattica. Thus the initial chapters of the book are powerful and enormously important. . . In the final chapter the author summarizes the issues which suggest humanity is on an unsustainable and catastrophic course. He then proposes a `solution' by suggesting that we need to learn to `want less.'  . . . Mr Wells has left us with just the slogan and no further practical guidance. But it is an important an important start and Pandora's Seed is an important book despite my few critical comments."

Stories of kindness where lives are transformed as a result. That's it.  For those who need compelling stories to tell in "chapel" or a sermon - this has good tales.

Simple reading.  Not "my style."

From an review: "“Delightful… Schroff’s uplifting book underscores the power of simple connections and our ability to protect and guide others who are in need of compassion, charity, and acceptance.” Source: Publishers Weekly."

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