**spoiler alert** On one hand this book is totally brilliant, and hits the psyche hard, on the other hand, it's kind of stale and there is no good “st...more**spoiler alert** On one hand this book is totally brilliant, and hits the psyche hard, on the other hand, it's kind of stale and there is no good “story” per se in the conventional plot sense. Yalom gets poor marks for readability but high marks for sheer brilliance, discourse, and tackling the big questions.
“Readability”: The pace and setup of the “plot” and characters just goes on and on. Really could have been a lot shorter. The first, say, 4/5ths of the book are boring, but unfortunately necessary to understand the rest.
Brilliance: The action starts in Chapters 19 and 20. The end of Chapter 20 and most of 21 are really intense, magnificent even.
Audience: I can’t help but think this was written mostly for men. There are the universal issues of fulfillment in career and life, parental influence on offspring, but much of the angst expressed (and explored) by the central characters is from a man’s perspective. Given that this is based in 19th century Vienna… not that surprising I suppose. Yalom touches on a woman’s plight very briefly towards the end.
Overall: Most of the book is a conversation between a “fictional” Nietzsche and the Viennese doctor. To this end, I wish I had a better understanding of Nietzsche’s core philosophy before reading this, and perhaps even a touch of background in psychotherapy. After all, Yalom is all about “existential psychotherapy” and this appears to be a dive right into it. I’d be curious to know how much of the book is Yalom’s interpretation vs. citation vs. original material.
All in all, as you may have guessed, a very thoughtful piece. Not empty waxing or academic “flexing”- truly a serious and powerful inquiry. Rather, I should say, parts of it are very powerful. See “Readability”.
This is a good little excerpt that doesn’t give away the book or ending:
“So, Josef, once again I say, let this thought take possession of you (thought of every action existing forever in the moment). Now I have a question for you: Do you hate the idea? Or do you love it?”
“I hate it!” Breuer almost shouted. “To live forever with the sense that I have not lived, have not tasted freedom- the idea fills me with horror.”
“Then,” Nietzsche exhorted, “live in such a way that you love the idea!”
Initially murky and mysterious- reads like a detective story, then fast paced and gruesome and shocking. A very quick and very remarkable read- all Pa...moreInitially murky and mysterious- reads like a detective story, then fast paced and gruesome and shocking. A very quick and very remarkable read- all Palaniuk fans will love this one, and in truth it might be the best one to start with if you haven’t read any of his stuff at all. I’d rank this below Fight Club (he’ll never be able to top that, I think), and above Choke and Lullaby.
The only strike against this one is that he goes a bit overboard with some of his mini- chorus/ embellishments (“Like dark hair, like your hair”). He kind of tries to punctuate the story the same way Vonnegut does with his famous “So it goes…”, but these feel random and forced, and don’t really add any enjoyment or meaning to the read.
Random Note- kind has the flavor of two other stories: M. Shalayman’s (spl?) The Village and a movie called The Wicker Man (a drawn out, horrible movie with Nick Cage). But much better. (less)
Okay so in light of the financial meltdown currently going on- I'd like to bring attention to my comments on Green...more**spoiler alert** Revisited 10/8/08-
Okay so in light of the financial meltdown currently going on- I'd like to bring attention to my comments on Greenspan's flawed view of "minimally regulated capitalism"... I was right!!! The deregulation (and, in retrospect, easy credit years) of the Greenspan era isn't really Greenspan's fault, since this isn't the Fed's primary role. He has always advocated deregulation, however, and argued throughout his reign (and in his book) that that government regulators aren't capable of regulating complex and highly sophisticated derivatives and "innovative" financial products.
I dunno- how does the government create institutions that effectively regulate anything?!? The FDA and pharma/biopharma clinical trials? Regulation of all things nuclear? Stem cell research? These are not easily understood and regulated things, yet somehow the government doesn't throw its hands up and say "Well, looks like this is too tough to regulate. Better let 'the market' take care of this".
Summary: Good if you can get through it and know what to expect
Overall I liked it. Greenspan is basically a living legend and it was interesting to get his account of the economic events of the past 30 years, and predictions for the next 30. I would say however, that this book isn’t for everyone. It’s pretty damn dry- I would suggest some kind of econ or financial background, or at least a serious interest in monetary and fiscal policy. Even then, don’t expect to be blown away (contrary to The Economist review, which basically called it refreshing and readable). What do you expect from a central banker?
The book starts with a little peak into Greenspan’s personal life and upbringing (was a musician, consultant, and entrepreneur), and mentions by name all of the famous / A-list politicians and world leaders he is “friends” with (this eventually gets annoying and is sometimes pointless). He then moves on into his lengthy career at the Fed and provides comment for every major economic policy decision made during his tenure. Sprinkled throughout you’ll find all kinds of libertarian propaganda and his mantra- minimally regulated capitalism is resilient, flexible, and the economic system that provides the greatest hope for human advancement… The enterprising reader might supplement this read with “World on Fire”, “No Logo”, or “Theory of the Leisure Class” to understand the problems with that stance.
It doesn’t take much to figure out how one-sided his life has been and to some degree how it has guided his views. One of the most telling passages is about his first trip (in middle age) to Venice- when he “realizes” that not all societies are obsessed with progress and the advancement of GDP. I found it to be a bit sad actually…
For all of his raging republicanism, he takes some very liberal stances on education and immigration reform in the later chapters, though there are inherent contradictions in his views that he conveniently ignores (i.e. where one gets the funding for sweeping social programs like education overhaul).