Blake Snow

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Tagged books

Book review: Raising Good Humans will make you a better parent

As the father of five kids, I take parenting very seriously. I used to read a lot of parenting books when my children were young, but I haven’t read any in recent years until stumbling upon Raising Good Humans by Hunter Clarke-Fields and Carla Naumburg

I didn’t like the workbook-like format and belabored thoughts on mindfulness, but I did enjoy several of the insights, especially as I’m increasingly raising teenagers over toddlers these days.

These are some of the lessons that stood out:

  1. You literally cannot access the rational part of your brain when your stress response is triggered.
  2. If you make your body seem less threatening, and speak in a calmer voice instead of yelling, you’ll have a less-stressed child—and you’ll get more cooperation.
  3. If we’re not fully present with our kids, we miss the chance to attune with their cues about what is happening for them under the surface. We might miss the signal that our children need a hug or help instead of more direction in this moment.
  4. Parental presence is key to optimizing the chance of your child having a life of well-being and resilience. “When you love someone, the best thing you can offer is your presence. How can you love if you are not there?”
  5. Instead of learning from the moment, their stress response bypasses the upper parts of the brain and causes children to fight back, talk back, withdraw, or run away. They are not “misbehaving” in these moments, they are experiencing a stress response.
  6. Feeling compassion for ourselves in no way releases us from responsibility for our actions. Rather, it releases us from the self-hatred that prevents us from responding to our life with clarity and balance.
  7. “Instead of teaching children how to consider their own needs in relation to the needs of those around them… we force children to do what we want because it seems more efficient, or because we lack the energy or skill to do it differently.”—Oren Jay Sofer
  8. “The greatest gifts you can give your children are the roots of responsibility and the wings of independence.”—Denis Waitley
  9. Simplify Schedules: Children (heck, all of us) need free time to balance out their activities, get to know themselves, and feel peaceful.

Rating: ★★★☆☆

Book review: The Good Earth is good reading, like Steinbeck on Chinese culture

I recently finished reading The Good Earth by Pearl Buck. It was the best-selling book in America in 1931.

Despite being nearly 100 years old, I found both the writing and story to be a fascinating inside look into Chinese culture, as observed by the author who lived in the country for many years with her missionary parents.

While reading the book, these adages quickly came to mind: “History repeats” and “You can’t always get what you want.” I also came up with another: “Corrupt culture corrupts men faster than usual.”

Rating: ★★★★☆

These were my favorite passages:

  • Moving together in a perfect rhythm, without a word, hour after hour, he fell into a union with her which took the pain from his labor. He had no articulate thought of anything; there was only this perfect sympathy of movement, of turning this earth of theirs over and over to the sun, this earth which formed their home and fed their bodies and made their gods.
  • But out of the woman’s great brown breast the milk gushed forth for the child, milk as white as snow, and when the child suckled at one breast it flowed like a fountain from the other, and she let it flow. There was more than enough for the child, greedy though he was, life enough for many children, and she let it flow out carelessly, conscious of her abundance. There was always more and more. Sometimes she lifted her breast and let it flow out upon the ground to save her clothing, and it sank into the earth and made a soft, dark, rich spot in the field. The child was fat and good-natured and ate of the inexhaustible life his mother gave him.
  • He belonged, not to this scum which clung to the walls of a rich man’s house; nor did he belong to the rich man’s house. He belonged to the land and he could not live with any fullness until he felt the land under his feet and followed a plow in the springtime and bore a scythe in his hand at harvest.
  • Then in this city out of which something new was always springing at him, Wang Lung saw another new thing he did not understand.
  • But over the fields and the water the moonlight hung, a net of silver mist, and in his body his blood ran secret and hot and fast.
  • But O-lan returned to the beating of his clothes and when tears dropped slowly and heavily from her eyes she did not put up her hand to wipe them away; only she beat the more steadily with her wooden stick upon the clothes spread over the stone.
  • Then the good land did again its healing work and the sun shone on him and healed him and the warm winds of summer wrapped him about with peace.
  • Now five years is nothing in a man’s life except when he is very young and very old.
  • Wang Lung felt as though air and sunlight had been suddenly cut off because of the numbers of grey men tramping heavily and in unison through the town.
  • There was the third son to wed one day soon, and with that over there was nothing left to trouble him in his life, and he could be at peace. But there was no peace.
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BOOK REVIEW: Lost City of the Monkey God is riveting non-fiction; 5 stars out of 5

I recently finished Douglas Preston’s fantastic The Lost City of the Monkey God. It is an adventurous and profound true story about the recent discovery of a 500 year forgotten city located deep in the cartel-riddled jungles of Honduras. I. Could. Not. Put. It. Down.

Without spoiling the ending, this is what I wrote in my journal after pondering the finish for several minutes: “Survival of the fittest, a total inevitability, is difficult to accept. But survivors are not all criminals. Few of them actually are, in fact.

“Our modern existence is not a tragedy or sad story. Yes, death and destruction checker our past. But it does not define our existence. We are better off as a species because of our past, not in spite of it.”

Rating: ★★★★★

These were my favorite passages: Continue reading…

Book review: Phoenix In Their Own Words is a little off-putting, but mostly awesome

You can take a band out of France, but you can’t take French out of a band. Any foreigner who has interacted with a lot of French know precisely what I mean by that. It’s one of the many things Americans and British share knowing looks over. (Or conversely how foreigners share knowing looks over me and my fellow Americans.)

And I only mean that in a slightly derogatory way. I love the French and that’s not a backhanded compliment. I love that they invented modern democracy, cooking, and Daft Punk. Everyone outside of Paris are easily the most warm, welcoming, and endearing people on the entire European continent. I know because I backpacked through their rural towns for a week. Heck, I even like Parisians as much as I do New Yorkers, and that’s a lot.

But for many of us, there’s something slightly off-putting about the French and New Yorkers. In this case, after reading Phoenix: In Their Own Words, there’s a foreign arrogance, seriousness, and overly romantic way in which some of the band members tell their story.

The story is this: the band gives an album by album account of their life from their early years, into their successful years, and onto the recent years where they’ve still churned out incredibly catchy indie melodies. Published just before pandemic started and filled with candid photos, I really enjoyed the account, minus the aforementioned, albeit brief, encounters with foreign arrogance.

The vast majority of the book, in fact, is totally endearing. While I wish there was a little more inside music information, I quickly read the entire thing as an avowed fan and lover of both music and French culture. My favorite part is after being dropped by their label since their first three albums failed to achieve mainstream success, the thirty-something members doubled down, paid for their own fourth album, and turned it into their greatest success to date, both commercially and artistically. Later that year while headlining Coachella, Beyonce and Jay-Z were at the side of the stage belting the lyrics of not only their lead singles, but deep cuts from that album.

What an honor. What a story. What a band. ★★★★☆

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Book review: Authentic by the founder of Vans is simple and clean business advice

It’s not as iconic, big, or as juicy as Shoe Dog, but Authentic: A Memoir of Vans by Paul Van Doren is a straightforward, if not understated, perspective on business success. Just like the shoes themselves. I enjoyed this quick read and threw it in the growing pile of inspiring American success stories.

Rating: ★★★☆☆. These were some of my favorite passages:

  • Hard work, honesty, and caring for people are what yield success. The beauty lies in simplicity, so don’t overcomplicate things.
  • My belief is that you can always teach people how to do things. What you cannot teach people is how to understand other people.
  • My experiment proved that we did indeed have a serious quality control problem: the people in charge of quality control had no idea what they were looking at.
  • When I started interviewing people for jobs with us, the first thing I would do after someone handed me his or her résumé was toss it in the trash. They would be horrified, of course, and get nervous, but when I proceeded to ask questions and have them tell me about themselves in their own words, they relaxed. How else could I find out who they really were?
  • We can all recognize that we need one another. I said it at the outset of this book, and I’ll say it again: no one gets anywhere alone.
  • Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.

Book review: When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi is absolutely haunting

I recently finished When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi. I was utterly moved by this powerful account of Kalanithi’s own life as a neurosurgeon, the most demanding physician in the world, and his own premature death in his mid thirties after contracting terminal cancer.

Not only was Kalanithi a paragon brain surgeon, though, he is an absolute poet on the meaning of life, the humanity of doctors, and making the most out of a terrible situation.

Rating: ★★★★★. These were my favorite passages: Continue reading…

Why are humans gullible? Thinking Fast and Slow helps avoid mistakes in life

thinkingfastandslowWhy are suckers born every minute? How can we explain “If it seems too good to be true, it probably is“? Why are humans encouraged to “think twice” before doing things? And why do we judge “books” by their covers?

The answers to those questions and many more can be found in Daniel Kahneman’s eye-opening book, Thinking Fast and Slow. It’s a fascinating, enlightening, and scientifically accessible read.

After decades of research, Kahneman discovered that the brain makes decisions in two ways. The first is system 1 thinking—the fast, almost involuntary, and largely gut-based decision-making required to operate. It quickly processes tasks like “eat this, pick up that, move out of the way,” and even, “stay alive.” System 1 makes hundreds, if not thousands, of decisions each day and is the “hero of the book,” says Kahneman. System 1 gets things done.

System 2, on the other hand, is slow to engage, deliberate, and lazy. It deals with doubt, uncertainty, statistics, and heavy cognitive loads like writing, performing surgery, solving advanced math—anything that requires intense focus, really. System 2 is not emotional. It’s the part of your brain that questions the source, asks for hard numbers to back up claims, and is innately critical. It deems things guilty until proven innocent.  Continue reading…

Book review: Catch Me If You Can is a fun, albeit too good to be true, read

Dreamworks Pictures

After first seeing the movie decades ago, I read Catch Me If You Can this month. It was a heck of a story and page-turner for sure. But I had an inkling while reading that it’s just too good, in this case outlandish, to be true.

In that way it seems as though author Frank Abagnale conned as many listeners and readers as the reported check and identify fraud he alleges to have committed, according to Wikipedia. Multiple reports state he didn’t come close to cashing $2.5 million in bad checks, that his exploits as a fake pilot, doctor, lawyer, and professor are grossly exaggerated (if not patently false), and that he never evaded police like he claims or worked for the FBI after being caught. “The man is not an imposter, he is a liar,” said one US Attorney General.

For that, I award it ★★★☆☆. These were my favorite passages:

  • It’s not how good a check looks but how good the person behind the check looks that influences tellers and cashiers.
  • “You’ll learn, Frank, that when you’re up there’re hundreds of people who’ll claim you as a friend. When you’re down, you’re lucky if one of them will buy you a cup of coffee. If I had it to do over again, I’d select my friends more carefully.”
  • “It’s not what a man has but what a man is that’s important… As long as a man knows what he is and who he is, he’ll do all right.”
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Book review: I Am Legend is a short but gripping ★★★★☆ read

I finished Richard Matheson’s engrossing 100 page I Am Legend recently. Published in the 1950s and made into several film adaptations, the book is about the last man living after a vampires take over the world.

Like many classic books, the plot just limped to its ending. For that I deduct one full star, but the other four are gripping. These were my favorite passages:

  • There was no sound but that of his shoes and the now senseless singing of birds. Once I thought they sang because everything was right with the world, Robert Neville thought. I know now I was wrong. They sing because they’re feeble-minded.
  • He put the drink down on the table. I don’t need it, he thought. My emotions don’t need feeding any more. I don’t need liquor for forgetting or for escaping. I don’t have to escape from anything. Not now.
  • All these books, he thought, the residue of a planet’s intellect, the scrapings of futile minds, the leftovers, the potpourri of artifacts that had no power to save men from perishing.
  • He suddenly realized that he had become an ill-tempered and inveterate bachelor again. He no longer thought about his wife, his child, his past life. The present was enough. And he was afraid of the possible demand that he make sacrifices and accept responsibility again.

Book review: East of Eden isn’t a novel—it’s long-form poetry on emotional humans

I read my first Steinbeck novel recently, starting with his magnum opus, East of Eden. Spoiler alert: the celebrated author deserves all the hype he received over the last century. This book is a masterpiece of biblical proportions.

At first I didn’t think it was perfect, though. I didn’t love how one of the main characters quickly exists the book towards the end with an unsatisfying resolution, until my more astute reading wife explained to me that said character was already likable and therefore disposable without having to change like the other main character.

That realization changed my mind. This book is perfect. It is long-form poetry that made me laugh, broke my heart, filled me with rage, let me celebrate, and taught me over two dozen proverbs.

Five stars out of five—I loved it. These were my favorite passages: Continue reading…

Book review: Among The Thugs is hilarious at first, but ends tragically in crowd violence

Sometimes I read something by someone that’s so brilliantly written, it makes me doubt my status as a professional writer. Bill Buford is one of those writers.

For years I’ve wanted to read his first book, Among The Thugs, published in 1990 about violent English soccer fans, but it was out of print or not in ebook form until I last checked this month. After securing a copy, I devoured the book in two days.

One critic describes it as “A grotesque, horrifying, repellant, and gorgeous book; A Clockwork Orange come to life.” I enthusiastically agree.

During the early chapters, I laughed out loud twice. By the middle chapters, I felt complicit if not guilty for reading such eyewitness horrors. I admired Buford’s honesty and vulnerability, both as a writer and journalist. As the New York Times noted in its review of the book, “Buford pushes the possibilities of participatory journalism to a disturbing degree.”

That’s because each of us become who we associate with. And after studying and associating with weekend thugs for eight years, Buford admittedly got close to becoming one. In that way, Among The thugs is an uncomfortable but important work on group think, violence as a symptom, and what can happen in overly proper societies when the root cause of problems are rarely addressed.

Five stars out of five, although it dashed my spirits for a couple of afternoons. These were my favorite passages: Continue reading…

Science: “A mountain of theory built on a molehill of evidence”

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I recently finished A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson. From a single book I’ve never learned so much and so little at the same time. I’ve also never read a more absorbing science book. Whereas I usually highlight a few passages from each book, I highlighted more than two dozen parts of this book upon completion — it covers that much ground.  Continue reading…

Book review: One Summer is the fascinating story of how America became a super power

Most historians agree that America became the wold’s superpower in the early 1900s, either after the building the Panama Canal or certainly for their help in winning World War I.

Author Bill Bryson, however, convincingly argues that the county truly congealed that status in the summer of 1927, when Charles Lindberg became a global superstar after becoming the first person to fly across the Atlantic; “talking pictures” began exporting American thoughts, attitudes, and culture en masse; installment plans made modern consumerism possible; television was invented, and Babe Ruth became the first athletic superstar. Amazingly, a lot more happened that summer, too, which you’ll need to read to find out for yourself.

With one or two exceptions later in the book—where Bryson sorta goes off on a tangent about seemingly unconnected things that happened that summer (such as what book publishers did that summer)—I found the history to be fascinating and often gripping. Either way, “It was one hell of a summer,” Bryson writes.

Here’s my favorite passage: “It is a little hard to imagine now, but Americans in the 1920s had grown up in a world in which most of the most important things happened in Europe. Now suddenly America was dominant in nearly every field—in popular culture, finance and banking, military might, invention and technology. The center of gravity for the planet was moving to the other side of the world, and Charles Lindbergh’s flight somehow became the culminating expression of that.”

★★★★☆

Thinking we’re “important” by overworking

Courtesy Shutterstock

The following expert from Log Off: How to Stay Connected after Disconnecting was cited by a recent reader as their favorite passage in the book:

People want their lives to have meaning. They don’t want a third of it (i.e., the ideal time spent working) to be spent in vain. So we delude ourselves into thinking that our work has some cosmic purpose to justify working more hours, which, on the surface, would suggest more importance. But quantity is not the same as quality. If I’m really being honest, my epitaph should read: “Occupation: Helped companies sell more widgets and advertising with written words.” None of us are that big of a deal. Yes, industry and economy are an important endeavor. But it’s not as important as sharing a smile with someone, realizing your child will be smarter than you, feeling insignificant amid a majestic landscape, experiencing and nurturing true love, finding your groove, watching an underdog upset the establishment, catching a wave, or eating a homemade chocolate chip cookie. The sooner we accept our dispensability and nothingness, the sooner we’ll rightfully fill our lives with greater, more qualitative meaning.

Thanks for reading. Happy Thanksgiving!

Why people love Dan Brown, the world’s most polarizing writer

This is a great read by Jason Diamond on why critics hate Dan Brown but readers love him.

“William Shakespeare and Agatha Christie have sold in the billions. Danielle Steel and J.K. Rowling have both moved somewhere on the order of 500 million. Stan and Jan Berenstain sold about 250 million copies of their picture books about a family of eponymous, anthropomorphized bears. Stephen King beats out Brown, checking in around 350 million, and a handful of Japanese manga writers are up there as well. But at around 50th on the list, you’ll find him: Dan Brown, American author of just seven novels (Digital Fortress is the only pre-Langdon title), with 200 million sold copies to his name.”

I devoured Brown’s first four page-turners (Digital Fortress, Deception Point, Angels & Demons, Da Vinci Code) at the turn of the century and have fond memories of doing so. He’s more than deserving of his popularity.

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Book review: The Maltese Falcon is powerful without ever sharing thoughts or feelings

Courtesy Warner Bros.

Remarkable author Dashiell Hammett keeps this classic murder mystery going by only describing what characters see and do—never their thoughts or feelings. This makes for a tense and innovative approach to a who-done-it, and even started the hard-boiled, film noir trend of later detective novels and movies. Four out of five stars. 

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The real Lord of the Flies were friendly, loyal, and successful young men

Courtesy Columbia Pictures

Lord of the Flies by EL Epstein was one of my favorite books I read in my adolescence. It’s shocking, sad, and discouraging.

It’s also entirely made up and based on the fear-mongering belief that humans will basically eat each other when the going gets rough. Many humans often think like that in times of uncertainty—global quarantines very much included.

But “it’s time we told a different kind of story,” argues Rutger Bregman, who researched the reality of shipwrecked isolation and found that the vast majority of evidence suggests that adolescent boys would act very differently. In fact, they would largely cooperate and thrive instead of succumbing to war, murder, and anarchy.

“Readers were still skeptical,” Bregman reported, however. So he searched high and low for a real-life example of what shipwrecked boys might actually do. After sleuthing on the internet, he discovered a story of six boys from Tonga in 1965 who were shipwrecked on a Polynesian island for 15 months. He went and visited one of the survivors and heard a detailed and inspiring true story. The short of it: when the boys were finally rescued by a passing ship on September 11, 1966, a physician was “astonished by their mulled physiques” and overall health.

“The real Lord of the Flies is a tale of friendship and loyalty,” Bregman concludes. “One that illustrates how much stronger we are if we can lean on each other.”

Need more proof? Look how far humanity has come over the last 2000, 200, 100, or even 10 years! If the haters, pessimists, and naysayers were actually right, we would have all died along time ago. 💪

What does “American” mean? Hampton Sides has a pretty good answer

Below is excerpted from Americana by Hampton Sides, which I recently enjoyed reading. 

A few years ago, I was passing through Marrakech on my way to the Sahara for a magazine assignment. One afternoon, outside La Mamounia Hotel, I was accosted, as all tourists inevitably are, by a “guide.” He was an intense young Berber with penetrating eyes and a brisk stride, one of those canny creatures of the bazaar. He wore a slick black suit.

“Hello, American?” he said, instantly sizing me up.

”No, no American,” I replied and walked on as fast as I could. Not that I’m embarrassed by my nationality, but I’d been told the guides assume all Americans are loaded. Besides, I didn’t want a guide that day, and this guy really seemed like an operator.

He looked puzzled. “American, yes? You need guide for the souk. We buy rugs now.”

I shook my head vigorously and picked up my step, but he persisted. “British. German, yes? Canadian?” I could almost hear his brain racing.

“I am Finnish,” I said. Someone had told me this always throws the guides. Continue reading…

They made a movie out of it: Why I’m okay with million dollar long-form articles

I recently read a thought-provoking essay by James Pogue on the rise of long-form articles that are later optioned into feature films and narrative-driven books, sometimes to the tune of several million dollars, as was the case with Argo, a movie that was based on a previously published Wired article.

As Pogue seemingly sees it, this new economy of article-to-film adaptations turns previously idyllic literature into modern day “trash,” which is as harsh as it is inaccurate. For example, Say Nothing, a book written by the New Yorker’s Patrick Keefe and based on his previously published articles, is hardly trash for soon becoming a TV series. In fact, the book is phenomenal and proof that great authors and their stories deserve to be told across as many mediums and adaptations as possible, in an effort to reach as many people as possible—even ones that don’t like to read books or long-form articles.

On the whole, it seems like Pogue is just bemoaning change. Continue reading…

Book Review: The Body by Bill Bryson is ★★★★☆ fascination

Over the holidays I read The Body: An Occupant’s Guide by Bill Bryson, one of my favorite authors. It is well-researched, captivating, and enlightening. It loses steam in the third and final act, however, which is why I dock it a single star, while still recommending it. These are my favorite passages:

  • It’s a slightly humbling thought that the genes you carry are immensely ancient and possibly—so far anyway—eternal. You will die and fade away, but your genes will go on and on so long as you and your descendants continue to produce offspring. And it is surely astounding to reflect that not once in the three billion years since life began has your personal line of descent been broken. For you to be here now, every one of your ancestors had to successfully pass on its genetic material to a new generation before being snuffed out or otherwise sidetracked from the procreative process. That’s quite a chain of success.
  • The body is often likened to a machine, but it is so much more than that. It works twenty-four hours a day for decades without (for the most part) needing regular servicing or the installation of spare parts, runs on water and a few organic compounds, is soft and rather lovely, is accommodatingly mobile and pliant, reproduces itself with enthusiasm, makes jokes, feels affection, appreciates a red sunset and a cooling breeze. How many machines do you know that can do any of that? There is no question about it. You are truly a wonder.
  • With such an unrelenting work rate, it is a miracle that most hearts last as long as they do. Every hour your heart dispenses around 70 gallons of blood. That’s 1,680 gallons in a day—more gallons pushed through you in a day than you are likely to put in your car in a year.
  • Even with the advantage of clothing, shelter, and boundless ingenuity, humans can manage to live on only about 12 percent of Earth’s land area and just 4 percent of the total surface area if you include the seas. It is a sobering thought that 96 percent of our planet is off-limits to us.
  • When a teenager struggles to get up in the morning, that isn’t laziness; it’s biology. Matters are compounded in America by what The New York Times in an editorial called “a dangerous tradition: starting high school abnormally early.” According to the Times, 86 percent of U.S. high schools start their day before 8:30 a.m., and 10 percent start before 7:30. Later start times have been shown to produce better attendance, better test results, fewer car accidents, and even less depression and self-harm.
  • Medical science has never produced a more noble and selfless group of investigators than the pathologists and parasitologists who risked and all too often lost their lives in trying to conquer the most pernicious of the world’s diseases in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. There ought to be a monument to them somewhere.
  • As Daniel Lieberman told me, reaching 80 is largely a consequence of following a healthy lifestyle, but after that it is almost entirely a matter of genes. Or as Bernard Starr, a professor emeritus at City University of New York, put it, “The best way to assure longevity is to pick your parents.”
  • It is an extraordinary fact that having good and loving relationships physically alters your DNA. Conversely, a 2010 U.S. study found, not having such relationships doubles your risk of dying from any cause.
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BOOK REVIEW: A Confederacy of Dunces by John Toole is an American masterpiece

My wife is reading America’s 100 most beloved books and recently stumbled upon this masterpiece, A Confederacy of Dunces by John Toole.

Written in 1962 while Toole was stationed in Puerto Rico on military duty, the novel has been described as “Don Quixote meets the French Quarter,” which is a total abortion. In truth, protagonist Ignatius J. Reilly is much more likable, hilarious, and compelling than the former. His misadventures through New Orleans with an ensemble cast of nearly a dozen charismatic characters are a joy to read, as is Toole’s exceptional writing, satisfying storytelling, and clever dialogue.

In short, I could not put Dunces down and cannot recommend it enough. Sadly, the Pulitzer Prize-winning work wasn’t published until 1980, this after the author was rejected by multiple editors who called his writing “pointless,” which partially caused him to succumb to depression and later suicide in 1969.

Thankfully Toole’s mother and an a university professor re-pitched the book posthumously until it was finally published. I’m so glad they did and wonder what could have been had its genius author lived to tell another tale. “Just wait till they hear all that originality pouring out of your head.”

Rating: ★★★★★

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REVIEW: Riders of the Purple Sage is a pioneering ★★★★☆ book

I know I’m a good writer and author. But then I read something masterful by Laura Hillenbrand, David Foster Wallace, Norman Maclean, Bill Bryson, Mark Twain, Gay Talese, Alexander Dumas, Leo Tolstoy, or H. G. Bissinger and I begin to doubt myself.

After finishing Riders of the Purple Sage this week, I would add Zane Grey to that honorable list, especially since he was a dentist by trade, a semi-professional baseball player, and only wrote his popular adventure novels on the side!

But not only is Grey a great writer, he was also a pioneer. In fact, Riders invented the Western genre of storytelling when it was first published in 1912. Gun fights, southwestern backdrops, life and death on the American frontier.

But don’t let that genre or any misconceptions of it deter you. Riders is really two love stories in one, starring both a heroine and two heroes. It’s fantastically descriptive and emotionally engaged. I only dock it one star because there were a few times where Grey’s prose goes confusingly off trail, which forced me to re-read and decipher some paragraphs for clarity.

Nevertheless, it is a wonderful read. ★★★★☆

These were my favorite passages: Continue reading…

Blood and Thunder is riveting history on the half truths of the American West

I recently finished Blood and Thunder by Hampton Sides and was mightily impressed.

Not only does the book demystify the Wild Wild West, of which only half of what you heard it true (although the other half is still amazingly true!), the book clarifies the always complicated Indian-American relations as the nation expanded west to California. That understand is powerful enough.

On top of that, however, Blood and Thunder is an epic telling of the heroic Kit Carson, who scouted the west for early pioneers and settlers to eventually follow. For its well researched, balanced, and shocking reporting, I award it five stars out of five.

These were some of my favorite passages:

  • From an early age, Carson learned an important practical truth of frontier life—that there was no such thing as “Indians,” that tribes could be substantially and sometimes violently different from one another, and that each group must be dealt with separately, on its own terms.
  • The trappers murdered Indians in countless kill-or-be-killed scenarios, and some made a practice of hammering brass tacks into the stocks of their rifles for every native dispatched. But their greater slaughter was unwitting: As the forerunners of Western civilization, creeping up the river valleys and across the mountain passes, the trappers brought smallpox and typhoid, they brought guns and whiskey and venereal disease, they brought the puzzlement of money and the gleam of steel. And on their liquored breath they whispered the coming of an unimaginable force, of a gathering shadow on the eastern horizon, gorging itself on the continent as it pressed steadily this way. Continue reading…

Year in review: My 3 favorite books by genre

I read a lot of good books this year, but these were my favorites (all four stars out of five or higher):

Children’s

Fiction

Non-fiction

READ ALSO: Log Off: How to Stay Connected after Disconnecting by Blake Snow (wink)

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NEW BOOK REVIEW: “Blake Snow’s Log Off is this plug-in generation’s playbook for true social networking emancipation”

I’m flattered by the Midwest Book Review’s endorsement of my book and “Reviewer’s Choice” award to the syndicate libraries and media outlets it contributes to.

The concept of “offline balance movement” is genuine and Blake Snow’s Log Off is this plug-in generation’s playbook for true social networking emancipation. Exceptionally well written, organized, and presented, Log Off: How to Stay Connected after Disconnecting is a well timed ‘how to’ manual for social media emancipation and control that should be a part of every community, college, and university library collection. It should be noted for the personal reading lists of students, academia, and non-specialist general readers that Log Off is available in paperback, digital book, and audiobook formats.

Thanks, James, for promoting my book.

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Three books that changed my life


I was recently asked which three books changed my life. This is what I said:

  1. A Short History of Nearly Everything. How did we get to where we are today? Bill Bryson spent three years asking dozens of experts that very question to produce this awe-filled masterpiece of everything we know and don’t know about the world. Unlike other “science” books, Bryson turns astronomical numbers into metaphors you can not only understand, but gain inspiration from.
  2. Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage. I literally gulped and grasped for air while reading this gripping true account of bravery, loyalty, and beating all odds.
  3. Log Off: How to Stay Connected after Disconnecting. I’m biased because I wrote it, but the explanations, principles, and lessons contained therein changed my life and can for anyone else who struggles with digital obsessions. At just over a 100 pages, the helpful advice can be read over a weekend, if not a few hours.

Honorable mentions: Thinking Fast and Slow—a tad dense a times, but also the most empowering research on how to use your brain more wisely. The Book of Mormon—also dense at times, but waaaaay better than the Bible if you want to understand the doctrine of Christ, which also changed my life.

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BOOK REVIEW: Boys in the Boat highlights American grit, hardship, and winning history

The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown is a wonderful story about overcoming neglect, economic depression, immense pain, and even global fascism in the 1930s. With exception to the Nazis, the characters are likable. The prose is poetic. And the well-documented feat is awe-inspiring. Five stars out of five.

These are my favorite passages:

  • The sport offers so many opportunities for suffering and so few opportunities for glory that only the most tenaciously self-reliant and self-motivated are likely to succeed at it.
  • Physiologists, in fact, have calculated that rowing a two-thousand-meter race—the Olympic standard—takes the same physiological toll as playing two basketball games back-to-back. And it exacts that toll in about six minutes… The common denominator (of rowing)—whether in the lungs, the muscles, or the bones—is overwhelming pain.
  • For eight hours a day, he shoveled steaming asphalt out of trucks and raked it out flat in advance of the steamrollers, the unrelenting heat rising from the black asphalt melding with the heat from the sun overhead, as if the two sources were competing to see which would kill him first. Continue reading…

Book recommendation: Red Card is a riveting and dizzying expose of FIFA bribes, world soccer, and colluding corruption

I feasted upon and finished reading Red Card: How the U.S. Blew the Whistle on the World’s Biggest Sports Scandal in just two days.

Although I’m a devoted World Cup fan, you don’t have to be a soccer fan to enjoy it. The hard-to-believe true story, mob-like drama, and lavish chicanery are more than enough to keep the average reader interested.

Written by Ken Bensinger, a wonderful wordsmith and storyteller, the book is the most well-researched non-fiction I’ve encountered since Hillenbrand’s Seabiscuit or Unbroken.

For its ability to show how bribery hurts everyone except the few involved, I highly recommend it.

Four stars out of five.

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THIS WEEK ONLY: Log Off on sale for just $5.99 (45% off)

Hi, readers—My new book, Log Off: How to Stay Connected after Disconnecting, is on sale this week for just $5.99 (45% off). If you haven’t already, I hope you’ll read the Kindle, audiobook, or paperback version. If you have, I hope you’ll share a copy with your friends and/or review it on Amazon. Thanks for your support.

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10 reasons we’re wrong about the world (and how to fix them)

The news is wrong.

In terms of health, nutrition, income, vaccinations, education, sanitation, transportation, homes, lifestyles, modern conveniences, violence (i.e. death from wars or terrorism), abuse, and many other parameters, the world is a much better, happier, healthier, and peaceful place than ever before, according to consensus data.

As proof of this, Factfulness by Hans Rosling is the latest in a growing number of fact-based news that show we really do live in the best time ever, and things are getting even better.

Why does the news and human perception bemoan our impressive existence rather then celebrate it? The short answer is fear sells and human are irrational beings. But Rosling adds 10 specific myths that keep us from seeing the truth, along with ways to fix them.

They are as follows:  Continue reading…

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My favorite book review so far: “Log Off is an amazingly honest and engaging read”

Writes Bryce in his 5/5 star review:

“Log Off is chock full of delicious nuggets of behavioral wisdom. Concise and engaging, Snow lays bare a decade worth of personal experience, research, and experimentation. This personal journey is tied to, and sometimes driven by, recognized scientific study, and does not sugar coat any of the author’s personal struggles or failings. This honesty and frank vulnerability creates a narrative that is both relatable and inspiring, and I highly recommend this read to any connected individual seeking more meaning and focus in their life.”

Thank you, Bryce. I can tell by your writing that your read a lot, so it means a lot that you liked my book as well as you stated. High five!

Think you can do it alone? This book is proof that we all need backup

Having first seen the movie, I read Nick Hornby’s About a Boy over the holidays and am glad I did. Here’s what stood out:

  1. Writing a book with one interesting character is hard enough. Here, Hornby somehow managed to write a book with several endearing characters, all of which kept me interested until the final period.
  2. Although I enjoyed the movie’s ending, the original book ending and additional character development is much better. I’m convinced Hornby could double as a behavioral psychologist—he understands and articulates human nature so well.
  3. The prose. For example, “The conversation in the arcade at least had the virtue of creating a mutuality between them: they had both confessed to something they wanted, and those somethings were, when all was said and done, not entirely dissimilar, even though the someones connected with the somethings evidently were.” And, “Ellie spent her whole time wanting life to be shit, and then making life shit by making life difficult for herself.” (i.e. getting in trouble for refusing to wear her school uniform, shouting at people, fighting just to fight.)
  4. The universal truth that all of us need back up, whether young or old, girl or boy. “Two or three isn’t enough,” says Marcus. “You need loads more backup in case someone decides to top themselves.”

Four stars out of five.

Two terrific books to read: The Disaster Artist (4/5 stars) & Frankenstein (4/5 stars)

I devoured two wonderful books recently.

The first was Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, recommended by my sister Sara. Not to be mistaken for the horrific name, popular movie, and Halloween theme it inspired, the book is actually about what it’s like to be human. Masterfully written by Shelley when she was only 20 (!), Frankenstein made my heartbreak and made me ponder humanity more than another other book recently (save for this, this, and this).

Due to a few slow pages and an ending that abruptly stops (like most classical literature), I award it four stars out of five.

The second I read in less than 48 hours. It’s called The Disaster Artist: My Life Inside the Greatest Bad Movie Ever Made by actor Greg Sestero and journalist Tom Bissell. About the making of The Room (aka “The Citizen Kane of bad movies”), this book made me laugh out loud, cringe, and cheer on numerous occasions. I admire Sestero for his candor, for seeing the good in the world, for sharing his story, and for shining the spotlight on the conflicted, inspiring, and likable man named Tommy Wiseau. “What a story, Mark!”

For its hilarity and heart, I award it four stars out of five and anxiously await the movie adaptation starring James Franco.

These are my favorite passages from each:  Continue reading…

Not much: What I learned from The Minimalist Mindset

Earlier this year, I skimmed The Minimalist Mindset by Danny Dover. In my case, Dover was preaching to the choir. But I did enjoy two important points:

  1. Every living human being shares the same two overarching limitations, time and money. You can trade time for money (we call this a job) and you can trade money for time (we call this convenience). Harmonizing these two resources leads to maximum enjoyment of life.
  2. When prioritizing our time and expenses, we must consider their significance as much as their importance and actual cost. In other words, ask yourself “How long will this matter?” For better fulfillment, we must prioritize our commitments and expenses from most significant to least. Similar to what Rory Vaden linearily argues in Procrastinate on Purpose, “Spend your time on things today that give you more time and a better life tomorrow.”

That said, I don’t endorse Dover’s recommendation to auto respond to all incoming emails with “I’m booked solid with previous commitments.” That’s a dick move. Just say, “No, thank you.” But I do like his recommendation to ask for a timed agenda before agreeing to a meeting and keeping meetings to a single day or slots per week (i.e. late afternoons only).

Three stars out of five.

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Why I quit reading Anna Karenina, one the most beautiful books ever written

Courtesy Focus Features

I did it again. I came oh-so-close to finishing a really long and critically-acclaimed literary classic before quitting it after three quarters completion.

I first did this 10 years ago with the unabridged version of The Count of Monte Cristo, a book by the masterful Alexander Dumas that features some of the most beautiful, if not poetic, prose I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading.

I did it again this spring with Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina—an even more powerful book—which is widely regarded as the greatest novel ever written. So why did I abandon it after 640 pages out of 864 total?  Continue reading…

The best children’s books, according to my nine year-old daughter

The book reviewer at Green River Overlook in Canyonlands

In addition to books for young and adult readers, my family buys a lot of picture books. We have three shelves packed tight with them and three overflow stacks spread across the rest of the house.

For years I’ve wanted to catalog my favorites but never got around to it. So this spring, I hired my nine year-old daughter to do it for me.

After reviewing well over 100 children’ books, these were her favorites rated 4.5 out of 5 stars or better:  Continue reading…

20 things I learned about life and business reading Shoe Dog by the creator of Nike

Phil Knight seemingly had a lot of slick editors to help him write his wonderful book (4/5 stars) on the creation and rise of Nike. But his passion, character, and insightful war stories all ring true. These were my favorite excerpts:

  1. What if there were a way, without being an athlete, to feel what athletes feel? To play all the time, instead of working? Or else to enjoy work so much that it becomes essentially the same thing.
  2. Every runner knows this. You run and run, mile after mile, and you never quite know why. You tell yourself that you’re running toward some goal, chasing some rush, but really you run because the alternative, stopping, scares you to death.
  3. The Japanese believe climbing Fuji is a mystical experience, a ritual act of celebration, and I was overcome with a desire to climb it, right then. I wanted to ascend into the clouds. I decided to wait, however. I would return when I had something to celebrate.
  4. After shaving, I put on my green Brooks Brothers suit and gave myself a pep talk. You are capable. You are confident. You can do this. You can DO this. Then I went to the wrong place.
  5. Continue reading…

10 things I learned after reading The World Is Flat by Thomas Friedman

  1. With notable exception to most of Africa, the global economic playing field has been flattened (i.e. the world is flat)
    Layout 1
  2. Giving people remote access to collaborative tools, search engines, and billions of pages of information ensures that “the next innovations will come from all over Planet Flat.”
  3. True education teaches students how to develop inquisitive minds (i.e. be curious, absorb as much as you can, seek answers to questions that inspire you)
  4. America is losing its competitive edge of trust, stability, and entrepreneurial infrastructure (i.e. “its secret sauce”) because it’s increasingly becoming entitled, lazy, and out-collaborated by hungrier nations, Friedman argues. It also succumbed to fear-mongering after 9/11 instead of focusing on optimism and hope as it had done so well up to that point.
  5. Globalization winners take care of their own, but they are also compassionate and considerate of others, not protectionists playing an illusionary zero-sum economic game (i.e. domestic manufacturing jobs).
  6. Economic success is the result of hard work, thrift, honesty, patience, tenacity, and openness to adapt from others (i.e. “glocalization”)
  7. Authoritarian Muslim countries (e.g. Egypt, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, ISIS) have struggled to adapt to a flattening world because they don’t “glocalize.” More tolerant India, Turkey, Lebanon, Bahrain, Dubai, Indonesia, and Malaysia are notable exceptions to this rule, Friedman argues.
  8. The roots of terrorism are based on religious fanaticism and an education system that condemns Western decadence to create an atmosphere of intolerance (rather than a “live and let live” mindset).
  9. Although the U.S. still benefits from being the most dominate popular culture, globalization is is not the same as “Americanization” or American imperialism.
  10. No two countries that are part of a major global supply chain, such as Dell or McDonald’s, will ever fight a war against each other so long as both remain in said supply chain (i.e. money talks more than peace talks).

Despite Friedman’s verbose and scatterbrain writing, his insights deserve four stars out of five.

Published columns: Kid travels, universal sensations, foreign foods, paddle boarding

Credit Lindsey Snow

Credit Lindsey Snow

Here’s where my travel column went last month:

The Princess Bride: Another movie that is better than the book

princessbrideFound another one. In addition to Stardust and The Natural, The Princess Bride by William Goldman is a better film than book.

I read the latter this month and was in awe of the actual book within a book. Admittedly, Goldman is a remarkably creative, funny, and powerful writer. But the literary mechanism he uses to set up, interject, and conclude the beloved ’80s story — in this case pretending to be a humbled author searching for his next great hit by abridging “the good parts version” of another fictional author’s larger work — detracts from an otherwise five-star effort.

I suspect even Goldman realized this when writing his award-wining screenplay for the actual movie 14 years after publishing the book. Instead of his original, confusing, and over-the-top author trope, Goldman instead opts for the much cleaner “grandpa reading the story to his sick grandson” setting.

Either way, Goldman is a sarcastic genius. And I’m glad he finally got it right. Four stars out of five. Would have awarded it five stars had it not been for the above oversight.

If you do read it, skip the setup, treat Goldman’s interjections as author’s notes, and head straight for the exceptional story of true love, Inigo’s heartwarming backstory that is strong enough to stand on its own, and dozens of beautiful passages like this:

  • The woman who emerged was a trifle thinner, a great deal wiser, an ocean sadder. This one understood the nature of pain, and beneath the glory of her features, there was character, and a sure knowledge of suffering.
  • The rope seemed almost alive, the greatest of all water serpents heading at last for home.
  • His eyes bulged wide, full of horror and pain. It was glorious. If you like that kind of thing.
  • I really do think that love is the best thing in the world, except for cough drops. But I also have to say, for the umpty-umpth time, that life isn’t fair. It’s just fairer than death, that’s all.

The mother tongue: Why English is the most global of languages

mothertongueAlthough English is the third most spoken language after Mandarin and Spanish, it is the most spoken second language in the world. This is due to the power-brokers that speak it, its uniquely expressive vocabulary, and how it came to be, argues Bill Bryson in The Mother Tongue.

For being more like Bryson’s interesting read on domestic life and less like his masterpiece on science, I award it three stars out of five. These were my favorite passages:

  • What most immediately sets English apart from other languages is the richness of its vocabulary. Altogether, about 200,000 English words are in common use, more than in German (184,000) and far more than in French (a mere 100,000). This richness and wealth of available synonyms means English speakers can often draw shades of distinction unavailable to non-English speakers. Continue reading…
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Ready Player One persuasively challenges extreme escapism and digital obsession

ready-player-one

What might happen if humans lived an entirely simulated life, doing everything online except for eating and sleeping?

Earnest Cline has a dystopian, geeky, and fist-pumping answer in Ready Player One, his best-selling novel which I read over the holidays.

The story takes place in 2044 and follows a teenage prodigy named Wade as he seeks hidden fame, power, and fortune bequeathed by the world’s richest man. “But when Wade stumbles upon the first clue,” reads the synopsis, “he is beset by rivals that will kill for the prize, forcing him to confront the real world he’s always been so desperate to escape.”

Clever, huh? USA Today accurately described it as “Willy Wonka meets The Matrix.” I’d add a little Brave New World, ’80s game geek culture, Tron, and “The Wreck-It-Ralph of books” for good measure—all good things.

For fellow nerds who appreciate those things, I award the book a tilted four and a half out of five stars. For everyone else, particularly those who share my desire to curb compulsion disorders, I give it four stars.

These were my favorite passages:  Continue reading…

Book highlights: Shackleton’s incredible Endurance

wikimedia commons

wikimedia commons

I recently finished Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage by Alfred Lansing, which tells the unlikely true story of the titular captain saving all of his crew after his ship was crushed by Antarctic ice floes in 1914.

All told, the 28 men survived 18 months on sea, ice, and one inhospitable island, while enduring unthinkable cold, the worst weather ever, and the first terrestrial crossing of South Georgia. Even more amazingly, they largely did it with jovial spirits, which helped them persevere and ultimately conquer death.

As I said before, Lansing’s writing is so intensely riveting, I was literally gulping and gasping for air at times. If it weren’t for a somewhat halted plot in the second quarter, I would award the book five out of five stars. These are my favorite passages:  Continue reading…

These are the best books I read this year

KindleI only read six books this year. Eight if you count the 50 page summaries I read of How To Influence People and Millionaire Next Door, two popular business books.

Regardless, the total was less than half of what I normally devour in a year — a little over one a month. No matter. I’d like to think I’m doing this instead.

Still, I’d like to read more next year. So before starting The Space Merchants, The Power Broker, and a dozen more samples I have downloaded to my Kindle, these are the books I enjoyed most in 2015:  Continue reading…

Deadly expeditions: Like Into Thin Air? You’ll relish The Last Place on Earth

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I recently finished The Last Place on Earth, Roland Huntford’s well-researched, sometimes heavy-handed, but always legendary retelling of the 1911 South Pole race between Roald Amundsen and Robert Scott. In addition to being published the year I was born, the book’s important for the following reasons:  Continue reading…

At Home: A not-so riviting history of domestic life

athomeBecause he wrote this masterpiece, I consider Bill Bryson one of the greatest non-fiction writers of our time. And while his similar At Home: A Short History of Private Life is brimming with domestic insights, it’s not as powerful or focused as the former. Three stars out of five. I’d only recommend it to die-hard home owners. My favorite passages:

  • That’s really what history mostly is: masses of people doing ordinary things… eating, sleeping, having sex, or endeavoring to be amused.
  • So sedentism meant poorer diets, more illness, lots of toothache and gum disease, and earlier deaths. What is truly extraordinary is that these are all still factors in our lives today.
  • The dining table was a plain board called by that name. It was hung on the wall when not in use, and was perched on the diners’ knees when food was served. Over time, the word board came to signify not just the dining surface but the meal itself, which is where the board comes from in room and board.
  • It has been estimated that 60 percent of all the crops grown in the world today originated in the Americas. These foods weren’t just incorporated into foreign cuisines. They effectively became the foreign cuisines. Imagine Italian food without tomatoes, Greek food without eggplant, Thai and Indonesian foods without peanut sauce, curries without chilies, hamburgers without French fries or ketchup, African food without cassava. There was scarcely a dinner table in the world in any land east or west that wasn’t drastically improved by American foods.
  • Had Thomas Jefferson and George Washington merely been plantation owners who built interesting houses, that would have been accomplishment enough, but in fact of course between them they also instituted a political revolution, conducted a long war, created and tirelessly served a new nation, and spent years away from home. Despite these distractions, and without proper training or materials, they managed to build two of the most satisfying houses ever built.
  • Continue reading…