The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business (which I'll just call Habit) makes some very interesting points and dis...more3.5 stars really.
The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business (which I'll just call Habit) makes some very interesting points and discusses some interesting research. It's not a self-help book in the classic sense. It doesn't exactly spell out how you can change your habits in a step-by-step basis, but what it does say is that you can change your habits, without actually getting rid of them. Once you've developed a habit, it's permanently imprinted on your brain. Once you are a smoker, you are always, on a neurological level, a smoker, even if you've successfully quit for decades. You are not doomed to repeat them thoughtlessly forever, Habit makes the point, and addresses the process, by which you can overwrite your bad habits with better, less destructive ones. So even if you are a smoker, you can overwrite that habit, those cravings, with other, far less detrimental, habits and cravings.
It also points out that habits are necessary, and that most of our lives are governed by them. Life as we know it would be unthinkable without them. Driving a car, it points out, would be insanely difficult if we had to relearn to drive it every time we went on vacation.
Habits are learned behavior, but habits are also taught behavior. The most frightening sections of the book are about advertising and how we are manipulated into buying things, not just once, but again and again.
A couple of times the book seems to veer away from its intent and subject and wander into areas I felt were tenuous at best, particularly in the "social habits" of religion and the civil rights movement. I didn't feel like they belonged, as interesting as they were. They seemed to be a part of another book.
While I don't think Habit is quite the book Influence is, I nonetheless would recommend it as a companion to that book. They both go into insightful detail about the neurology of our every day lives. It can't get much more interesting than that. (less)
Sebastion Junger's War is haunted by the dead and dying. One thought that struck me after I'd finished War was that someone in 100 years is going to r...moreSebastion Junger's War is haunted by the dead and dying. One thought that struck me after I'd finished War was that someone in 100 years is going to read it. It will be assigned to high school or college kids who will unfortunately romanticize what it must have been like on top of a mountain in Afghanistan during the war that their grandparents' parents fought.
He makes it clear that he wants to strip any politicizing about the war from the book and leave the reader with a reflection of a soldier's experience. This isn't new ground, but it's fertile and he makes the most of it. I'd like to hear a veteran's opinion, but from a civilian's perspective the text is a vivid depiction of something that's not just bloody and brutal, but also hot and freezing, terrifying and boring, steep and flat.
He makes it resonate. How can he convey and make us relate to the experience of being ambushed? By illustrating exactly how unprepared we are, how dead we'd be if we were ambushed, and how well-trained and hardened the men are who are able to survive and fight back.
What War really brought home to me was just how large of a gap there is between my own experience, and the men he wrote about. I have as much in common with them as I do Neil Armstrong, and that's both comforting and shameful.
Finally, it's a book so brutal that I'm glad I didn't have to write it.(less)
I'm coming close to the end of this book and so I thought I'd finally give a goodreads update.
Six Months ago I'd never read any Neil Gaiman, this is...moreI'm coming close to the end of this book and so I thought I'd finally give a goodreads update.
Six Months ago I'd never read any Neil Gaiman, this is my second book in that time and when I'm finished with this I'll pick up another. His style and narrative sits right in my wheelhouse.
Like the other title I read, Neverwhere, The Graveyard Book is set in England, which is always a plus for me. And not just England, a dark and fantastic England, fog-shrouded, haunted, half professionally evil, almost omnisciently so, and half gapingly, willfully naive, like a Monty Python character. Of course the latter characters rarely figure centrally, they merely populate the landscape to give contrast to the mains.
But what I'm most drawn to in the one and three quarters books of his I've read is the fantasy elements. The way that he creates worlds of extraordinary potential and constant interest. I'm not normally someone who would read a fantasy novel or get excited about dragons and magical knights or kingdoms or whatever. Gaiman's worlds are a part of our own, we just can't see them.
He can see them, and he describes them really well.(less)
I had to read this book in grad school (for film mind you) that was primarily about different forms of narrative. The prof. for the course was a mad g...moreI had to read this book in grad school (for film mind you) that was primarily about different forms of narrative. The prof. for the course was a mad genius named Marsha Kinder. She's smarter than you. And she could read, and retain information, at an unbelievable rate. But this meant that she assigned a huge amount of reading each week because she assumed that it was doable. It wasn't, but that's okay. Being grad school there weren't tests, just papers. So you'd read whatever you could and just go with it. During discussions you'd load your comments to be about whatever you happened to read and let everyone else cover the stuff you missed.
Well, in all this ridiculous amount of reading the one book I recall is If On A Winter's Night A Traveller. This is a book for readers. (less)
I've read Bluebeard a few times. The first time I read it was during a summer break from college when I read every Vonnegut book that was available at...moreI've read Bluebeard a few times. The first time I read it was during a summer break from college when I read every Vonnegut book that was available at the time. Most of his books I loved, adored even, of course there was one that I largely didn't like—Slapstick—but they were all memorable...except Bluebeard. Fifteen years later I couldn't remember what it was about. I had a feeling that I liked it when I read it, but I just couldn't remember it.
So I reread it.
It's not my favorite Vonnegut, but it does have my favorite Vonnegut line (which I won't quote because it's got spoiler potential). Actually, without that line I'd probably give it three stars. But the book suffers just because you invariably compare it to his other, better works. On it's own, without an author, I'd recommend it to anyone. But as a Vonnegut work I'd rattle off at least five other books before I'd recommend Bluebeard.
The duck swallows the worm, the fox kills the duck, the men shoot the fox, and the devil hunts the men. -William Hamleigh, The Pillars of the Earth
This...moreThe duck swallows the worm, the fox kills the duck, the men shoot the fox, and the devil hunts the men. -William Hamleigh, The Pillars of the Earth
This is probably the fifth review I've started for The Pillars of the Earth. The first thing you'll notice is that it's a long read, 900+ pages. Whenever I've attacked a book with similar length I've usually felt that the author was trying to impress me with his big phallic novel, as though the book were really about the size of the book and his ability to produce such an enormous work. This is not true with Pillars.... It starts where it should start, ands where it should end, and everything that happens in between is meaningful.
I have to admit that I bought Pillars... without really knowing anything about it. I knew Ken Follett was an author of books my dad read on planes but that was about it. I had no idea that Pillars... was an Oprah Book Club selection, but found that out shortly after I purchased it (and then I realized that that was the reason Pillars... was front and center when I was browsing.
I bought it because the concept intrigued me. I'm a history dork and a novel structured around the building of a 12th century cathedral is in my wheelhouse. But for the first eighth of the book or so I kept hearing Oprah and my dad talking and making feel as though I shouldn't like the book because I generally don't like what they like. In fact, for a month or so I let their imaginary voices talk me out of reading it altogether and I simply put it down and left it.
After the month, though, I realized that if I didn't pick it up right then I'd lose the story and never read it. So I put my preconceptions out of my head and dug in. And wow, how I was rewarded.
Pillars... doesn't strike me as a book that I'd have been assigned to read in grad school. It's not a heavily intellectual treatise about the inequities of power, or distribution of wealth or something. It's a novel, a story, one well-told. Actually it's many stories that weave in and out of each other. Each story is gripping in its own peculiar way.
One of the most striking aspects about Pillars... is that Follett masterfully heightens the tension and conflict for so long. 900 pages is a really long time to build suspense and he pulls it off on nearly every page. There are so many defeats, victories, and reversals of fortune that you never feel stable, or bored. If a character gets sick you feel there's an equal chance that that character will die, or get better with no affect to the story, or cause a plague that wipes out five more characters. You just don't know. There were many moments when a character's actions made me gasp, sometimes because I was shocked at their malevolence, sometimes because I was shocked at their fate, and sometimes because I was truly happy for them.
And there are some truly malevolent characters. Loathsome in the extreme. It's also surprising how Follett was able to create such truly horrible people without making them cartoonish, or like that evil guy from silent movies who always tied the heroine to the train tracks. They felt real, despicable, but real.
But what knocked my rating up from 4 to 5 stars was that when I'd finished reading, I felt like I'd just read a really gripping best seller that actually meant something. After going all that way when I finally got to the destination there was really something there. It was a good trip that was worth the journey.
And one final thought, after putting Pillars... down for a month (or longer) when I finally picked it up again, I could barely put it down again. I was riveted, edge of my seat riveted.
(below were my initial impressions of the book as I began reading it.)
I just started this the other day. It's not bad, some of the writing is entirely gripping and it's such a monumental effort that there's huge promise. But so far there's been a fair amount of sex and struggles of desire. Normally I'm all about sex and struggling with desire, but this comes across as titillating for an older generation. Like maybe your parents, or people who watch JAG would find it provocative. More later.
Okay, so I'm several chapters away from the clumsy sex of the opening chapter. Follet, not surprising, is significantly more interesting when he's weaving his narrative around political intrigue. Significantly. But the point isn't just to dwell in the tower with the power brokers, he wants to be in the dirt with the little people too. And showing how they are connected brings a power to the book because of the way they are handled. I still find the sexuality to be stilted and overwrought, but I'm fascinated by the grand human drama he's able to tease out with from the delicate strands of seemingly small interactions and decisions. I've still got over half a book to read though.
It's not good that I haven't touched it in several days is it? I just can't get into this book as much as I'd like to. (less)
What I learned from this book is that A.J. Jacobs is a nerd and I'm just like him. Damn it makes me sad.
I enjoyed most of this book, and I even learn...moreWhat I learned from this book is that A.J. Jacobs is a nerd and I'm just like him. Damn it makes me sad.
I enjoyed most of this book, and I even learned a few things. This task, reading the entire E.B. is one of those completely worthless tasks that I find fascinating, like reading the dictionary. At least he got a book out of it. Unfortunately it seems that he'll take this conceit and beat it to death.The Year of Living Biblically, the Year of living Magically, the Year of Living Scottishly, etc. Everyone has to make a living, and it sounds like a lot of fun to turn your life into a cultural lab where you get to try on any old crap and pretend to learn something about yourself, but enough is enough. For my tastes anyway. More power to you A.J. I liked your two books but I think I'm full.(less)
Way back in college I took a neuroscience course to fulfill a requirement. In four years of college and two of grad school this was the most interesti...moreWay back in college I took a neuroscience course to fulfill a requirement. In four years of college and two of grad school this was the most interesting course I took. This book was the most interesting book we were assigned to read. I've reread it two or three times since then and bought it at least once more.
Influence has saved me more money than any coupon I've ever cut, or any Costco membership I've ever used. If you've ever given so much as a quarter to someone you feel is scamming you then this is a book you should read. You should read it before you buy a car, or a computer, or any other purchase where your knowledge is tenuous. You should read it if you live amongst people. Just read it.(less)
Neverwhere settles reluctantly into the same category as Harry Potter or The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, only it aims to satisfy that magical w...moreNeverwhere settles reluctantly into the same category as Harry Potter or The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, only it aims to satisfy that magical wanderlust in adults instead of kids or "young adults." Who wouldn't want to find out that in addition to this reality there's another one just below the surface? And in Neverwhere, literally below the surface.
Of course, when I say it aims for adults, what I mean is, it's darker than a Harry Potter. The protagonist doesn't slip into this other reality and learn that in it he's worshipped as a hero and, btw, he's rich. No, in the alternate reality he's even more ineffectual and powerless than in our own; the major difference is that now he's wet, dirty, hungry, and hunted by two deliciously evil cutthroats (who reminded me of the protagonists in Of Mice and Men gone horribly, horribly wrong).
I enjoyed the ride, but I didn't really come away with any clearer insight into my own humanity, other than the daily grind is less exciting than an alternate reality filled with adventure. I wasn't looking for anything but escapist fantasy when I bought Neverwhere, and it delivered that really well, with Just-one-more-page-and-then-I'll-go-to-bed prose.
I must have read this book at least 20 years ago, and it was the first Thompson book I'd read. It still haunts me. Of course my caveat is that I love...moreI must have read this book at least 20 years ago, and it was the first Thompson book I'd read. It still haunts me. Of course my caveat is that I love basically everything Jim Thompson wrote, but The Getaway stands out in my mind as particularly unnerving. It's dark irony, mercilesss distrust, and macabre claustrophobia turned me inside out and left me stunned, shattered, and deeply in love with an author whose vision is so dark and painful it sometimes unspools into a surreal tangle that knots in your psyche for the rest of your life.
Unfortunately there are not one but two film versions of The Getaway. Just know that if you've seen the films without reading the book, that the moment the films end is about the halfway point of the book. (less)
Ugh. I bought into the hype one summer and was excited by the promise of an intelligent, intellectual thriller. A good portion of his decoding of the...moreUgh. I bought into the hype one summer and was excited by the promise of an intelligent, intellectual thriller. A good portion of his decoding of the semiotics that leads the protagonist seemed alternately very basic, obvious readings (annoyingly presented as "a ha!" type insights) or far out cloud reading. But I could forgive all that and suspend my disbelief if it weren't for the ham-fisted handling of the actual human relationships. Any passage with any sort of human subtext, usually some moderately off-putting sexual tension, felt like it was written by a non-too-insightful teenager.
I still have to give DB credit for weaving what could have been a convoluted and complex plot into a clear and concise narrative. Had the touching of hands and looking into each others' eyes goop been removed I probably would have given it three stars. Honestly though, two stars is pretty good considering the book made me groan audibly at least a half dozen times.(less)
I doubt many believers are going to go atheist after reading this Dawkins—though they may after reading his much more interesting and thoughtful scien...moreI doubt many believers are going to go atheist after reading this Dawkins—though they may after reading his much more interesting and thoughtful science-oriented books—it's still a fun read for the godless heathens (of whom I'm one). It can get a little too flippant for me on occasion, but only when I imagine my believer friends reading it. I think The God Delusions greatest value is that it offers the nonbeliever a stick to hold so s/he doesn't drown in the torrent of religious dogma we're swimmin' in.