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…
I’ve been working my way through some of history’s best-rated science fiction novels. And “no,” I don’t distinguish sci-fi from fantasy.
Overall, I find the technical language of books such as Hyperion, Shockwave Rider, and others with ridiculous covers—the kind Gentlemen Broncos makes fun of—too distracting to enjoy. Reading them feels like work. It’s almost as if the author wants me to decipher or decode the language before understanding it. It’s why I abandon many of these books, including The Hobbit. After all, I read to enjoy or educate myself—not learn a fictional language.
When they’re not using overly technical and distracting language, sci-fi novels often finish in confusing or unpoetic form, as is the case with Ender’s Game, an otherwise clever book. Now, I haven’t completely given up on the genre. I still have Dune, Starship Troopers, 10,000 Leagues Under the Sea, A Hitchhiker’s Guide to The Galaxy, and others on my list.
My faith in the genre skyrocketed today, however, after reading the first chapter of Planet of the Apes. It’s one of the best opening chapters I’ve read of any genre. It’s so captivating, I dare any imaginative mind over the age of 10 to read the first chapter and desist. It’s humanly impossible. Try it yourself if you don’t believe me, for free even.
That’s how you pull someone into a novel. Bravo, Pierre Boulle.
UPDATE: After finishing the book, I now regard Planet of the Apes as masterpiece literature—from beginning, middle, to the very ironic ending. Five stars out of five.
My wife and I watched Stardust recently. It’s been on my watch list for years, given its high viewer rating. But the crap poster always kept me from hitting “play.”
I’m glad I finally did. Stardust is a five-star film. The best fantasy movie I’ve seen since The Princess and the Bride—maybe even better. It’s certainly better than the under-edited Lord of The Rings, the most popular fantasy film of late. (Don’t worry nerds, I kept my sub-genres separated.)
In any case, I liked Stardust so much, I immediately read the book. It’s good but ends with a limp. The movie, on the other hand, ends with an enormous and climatic bang. The similarly-ended The Natural is the only other movie I can think of that is better than the book.
Can you name any others?
Humans are usually influenced in one of six ways, argues Robert Cialdini in Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion. I suspect there are a lot more subtle and intricate ways to influence, but I think Cialdini certainly covered the highlights in his popular book published in 1984. They are as follows:
- Reciprocity. Humans feel obligated to return favors and gifts, even unwelcome ones—which partially explains why their are so many free samples in life. Hence, giving away something for free is an effective way to influence. You can avoid this influence by distinguishing uninvited gifts from welcome ones. For example, “I didn’t want this free food sample to being with, so I won’t feel obligated in giving you anything in return if I take it. Another thing to beware of are unwelcome concessions; say a door-to-door salesman that asks you to donate a large sum to a cause you aren’t interested in, only to lower the donation amount in the hopes you’ll donate something. The takeaway: Don’t donate unless you want to, not because someone is seemingly compromising. Continue reading…
Why 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…
Build character, not intelligence. That’s the gist of what parents, educators, and society should do to help children succeed, argues Paul Tough in his new book.
Many of Tough’s “findings” are obvious, mind you. More scientific validation of common sense than childrearing enlightenment, at least for balanced parents.
Nevertheless, Tough succeeds in synthesizing some important focal points for raising upstanding kids. Here they are, with my added commentary:
- Let children fail. It’s tempting to want to force a child to learn from yours and other’s mistakes. Life doesn’t work that way. You should certainly own up to your mistakes while showing them others’ and hope the child listens. But you must respect a child’s right to fail. It’s the only way they’ll feel the full experience of life. Let them own their failures as much as society lets them own (if not coddles) their victories. And let them know that failure is not who they are, it’s just something they do en route to winning. Continue reading…
I finished reading A River Runs Through It last week. The prose — written by Norman Maclean in his ’70s — is so powerful and poetic, it halted me on several occasions. The ending made me cry.
Among other things, Maclean dishes advice on faking it until you make it: “Many of us probably would be better fishermen if we did not spend so much time watching and waiting for the world to be perfect,” he writes. Or as his brother Paul often said, “Gentleman, you can’t catch fish with flies in the air.”
Maclean also takes aim at modernization: “What a beautiful world it was once… You could leave beer to cool in the river, and it would be so cold when you got back it wouldn’t foam much. It would be a beer made in the next town if the town were ten thousand or over. So it was either Kessler Beer made in Helena or Highlander Beer made in Missoula… What a wonderful world it was once when all the beer was not made in Milwaukee, Minneapolis or St. Louis.” (NOTE: You can replace the word “beer” with just about anything. Nostalgic.)
But my favorite passage was this: Continue reading…
I finished One Man’s Wilderness recently and enjoyed its simple prose and short stories. It’s a 200 page book about one man building a log cabin in an isolated part of Alaska and living alone for sixteen months.
It’s similar to Walden, although more adventurous. It’ll compel you to visit Alaska and encourage a new appreciation for hard work and minimalism. Three stars out of four. Some of my favorite passages were:
- “Chores are easier if forethought is given to them and they are looked upon as little pleasures to perform instead of inconveniences that steal time and try patience.”—p. 30
- After a hard day of work chopping wood: “The grand finale! Drive the ax into the block, look around, and contemplate the measure of what you have done.”—p. 33
- “There’s no sleeping pill like a good day’s work.”—p. 39
- “Needs: I guess that is what bothers so many folks. They keep expanding their needs until they are dependent on too many things and too many other people… I wonder how many things in the average American home could be eliminated if the question were asked, ‘Must I really have this?'”—p. 209
I read Unbroken last year and liked it so much I emailed the author after finishing it because it was so well researched, written, and told. Yesterday I finished Seabiscuit, Hillenbrand’s first book. Despite seeing and really liking the movie first, reading the story allowed me to cheer for the Biscuit as if I were there. A lot of fun. 4 stars out of 5. Not quite as accomplished as Unbroken, which I give 4.5 stars out of 5. But certainly more “exciting” non-fiction with more endearing characters. Either way, both are wonderful.
Assuming his biography well represents him, Steve Jobs was a jerk for much of his life. A work-a-holic with eating disorders, incredibly bratty, ruthless.
I’m sure a lot of devout followers will excuse his actions with “no one is perfect.” I prefer that justification, however, for people who are at least trying to improve their social skills with age, instead of sticking to their anti-social guns as Jobs did for much of his life.
Almost like something Orwell would write fiction about. For example, derelict buildings devoid of capitalism. See more
A year and a half ago, I ignorantly called e-readers The Emperor’s New Clothes.
Today, it is I who stands naked before you.
To be fair, I still buy printed books. But only because I’m a cheap skate and I like being able to pass my favorite books on to friends and family—can’t do that with my Kindle.
That said, e-readers are a great way to own hundreds of classics for free, not to mention the occasional contemporary book bought on discount. Not only that, but Kindle is a wonderful way to read literature.
New prediction: E-readers, will in fact, replace the majority of books (but not all, they will stay niche like pencils).
I have. On many occasions, in fact.
It all started in college. I’d head to class early to get a jump on my studies, get bored within 30 minutes, then open to whatever novel, biography, or paperback I had bookmarked for personal enjoyment. In the course of my four year, 63-credit undergraduate education, I’d do this several times each semester.
Once I remember ditching an entire day of classes — Neverending Story-style — just to read Dan Brown. I had only planned to skip my first lecture.
I’ve even been know to play professional hooky from time to time. Deadline at work? Too bad, I gotta see how Tom gets out of his latest pickle.
Just today, I slotted in a few minutes of And Then There Were None underneath the backyard maple tree, after eating a delicious meatball sandwich (thanks, Lindsey). Once my mental clock chimed in telling me to get back to work, I consciously dismissed it just so I could see how soldiers five, six, and seven died.
(The book is bloody brilliant, btw. Not only that but it’s remarkably written.)
Admittedly, my boss is a softy and does a horrible job in tracking my time. But I can’t think of a better way of grabbing life by the horns than reading a book when you really should be doing something else.
That or an afternoon baseball game, whichever comes first.
See more: Books I’ve blogged about
Fascinating book. To the point and practical.
For example, the best way to describe a retail bank is to call it a piggy bank. The best way to describe an investment bank is to call is a casino, which is precisely what each are.
Who knew a book about high finance, banking, and The Great Recession could be such a fun read?
As the value of higher education continues to decline, these are some great alternatives: Start a business, travel the world, create art, make people laugh, write a book, work for a charity, master a game, master a sport. Splendid!
It took me a while, but I finally got around to reading Mark Twain, starting with The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, which I finished this week.
I figured the author was good, given all the praise that’s continuously heaped on him. But I didn’t know he’d be this good. I had no idea he was as laugh-out-loud funny as Jerry Seinfeld (even more so, maybe).
More than that, Twain has the uncanny ability to turn even the most mundane occurrences into entertaining literature (i.e. a poodle playing with a beetle). He is a master of the English language and a joy to read. As a bonus, he’s a modern day Confucius, sharing wisdom and life hacks throughout this 184 page book.
Here are 10 of my favorite passages: Continue reading…
As recently seen in a book read to the girls. Anyone know the book?
… than watching this. Usually (I make exceptions for high-profile sporting events and the occasional Netflix stream.)
Point is, DVR lowers your standards. You wouldn’t watch half that crap (and by “crap,” I mean poorly produced, written, and acted shows when compared to movies) if it were live. So why subject yourself to lesser entertainment? I’m sure some people use DVR as it was designed: to make it easier to watch the shows you used to watch live. But the majority of DVR users actually abuse the technology, and end up watching more television (i.e. settling) than they normally would.
In that sense, DVR is not better living through technology. It’s clouding our judgment. It’s reducing our ability to think critically.
I read Nineteen Eighty-Four this month for the first time. What struck me most about the book was not George Orwell’s impracticable vision of totalitarianism. (On the contrary, there are “less arduous and wasteful ways” of satisfying a government’s lust for power.) Rather, it’s how overwhelming the antagonist is. For example, consider this “you can’t stop us” speech given by Comrade O’brien, as he tortures our anti-hero Winston into submission: Continue reading…
As the father of two girls, with another on the way, I’ll take all the help I can get concerning their well-being and development. And although it could have been written using fewer words, the 197-page Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters was an enlightening wake-up call to some of the challenges my daughters will likely face. After reading it, I felt empowered and reassured of the fathering techniques I already held to be true.
Written by Meg Meeker, a child psychiatrist and mother of four, the book is peppered with personal stories and alarming statistics. The stated “10 secrets” aren’t really secrets as much as their are good advice. To summarize, they are as follows: Continue reading…