As I’ve said in other reviews, any book about college is bound to stir up my emotions. This one showed over and over again how the majority of collegeAs I’ve said in other reviews, any book about college is bound to stir up my emotions. This one showed over and over again how the majority of college students choose the wrong fit for themselves, end up failing out or drifting through majors, and never reach their full earning potential once they join the workforce. Darned if that doesn’t sum up my life.
But the book isn’t all doom and gloom. It’s also about the many educational alternatives cropping up, mostly because of the Internet. Aside from free online college courses like the ones at coursera.org, the book suggested the development of computer-aided programs to match kids to the right colleges. In this data-driven age, when Goodreads can tell me that people who liked book X also liked book Y, then surely some program can match a high school kid’s profile to the colleges he might not have thought of because they’re not high enough on the US News and World Report ranking list. Some people might call that Big Brother, but the author argues that most parents and kids base their college decisions on less rational things, namely prestige. The most prestigious college isn’t necessarily the best fit. Neither is the one that offers the best financial aid package. It’s a combination of factors. The main thing to look at is return on investment, and the way to determine that is from the college’s past records of graduates with profiles similar to yours.
The book also suggested more structured gap year programs and a national service so that kids can get some real world experience. I would have jumped at the latter when I was eighteen.
Some of the online educational tools were so intriguing, I wrote them down for future reference, but there was one glaring omission: Goodreads. I think it could revolutionize classrooms across the world just as much as any of the tools the book mentioned. The book shared the staggering statistic, which I don’t remember precisely, of how many texts kids have read by the end of high school compared to the number of books. The difference was in the order of the ten thousands. But the social network of Goodreads could correct that trend. I know that I read a lot more because of it. What if schoolteachers would start using Goodreads in their classrooms? It would improve college readiness a lot better than memorizing SAT words.
If you care about education, and I’d imagine most Goodreads users do, you’ll appreciate this book. And if you’re a parent or a student planning for college, it’s a must-read. Some of it’s scary, and some of it will tarnish dreams, but it’s better to plan your college career with information than a vague idea of “prestige.” ...more
There are plenty of people in the world who’d say that history is boring. There are probably even more people who’d say that accounting is worse. So aThere are plenty of people in the world who’d say that history is boring. There are probably even more people who’d say that accounting is worse. So a book about the history of accounting, as an actual CPA said to me, is never going to be a best seller. And while that may be true, this history of accounting was mostly informative, sometimes exciting, and at the end, downright inspiring. That’s because the author frames it as a tool of transparency with the power to topple corruption in government and business.
Double-entry accounting was invented by a Florentine monk in the Renaissance era. He was the first Westerner to adopt Arabic numerals instead of the Roman, so it was really the beginning of mathematics as we know it, at least in the Western world. But revolutionary as it was, I couldn’t help but wonder about other cultures through these for these early chapters. What about the Arabs who invented the numerals? What about the Chinese, whose language, according to Malcolm Gladwell, is embedded with mathematical concepts? And of course, what about the Jews? From the collections for the Bais Ha Mikdash (Holy Temple) to our early days as merchants, surely we had some way of accounting for who paid for what.
The chapters progressed through history from the medieval era to the present day, sometimes showing how societies that embraced accounting flourished, and sometimes showing how far kings and nobles would go to cover up their overspending. The most exciting chapter was about the French Revolution and an accountant and reformer named Jacques Necker. I’d never even heard of him, but not only was his work responsible for revealing the excesses of the king and queen to the public, if they had continued to listen to him, the ending might not have been so bloody. He was more reformer than revolutionary.
The book goes on to the industrial revolution and then to our present day. And herein lies our current conflict: as the economy became more complex, so did accounting, which allowed it to become as much of a tool for fraud as it can be a tool for transparency. With the Enron scandal and the 2008 financial crisis fresh in our memories, the author ends with a call to stop thinking of accounting as boring but as necessary to democracy and prosperity. Just as the first accountants were priests who did their financial reckoning alongside their spiritual one, he wants the study of accounting and economics to be enmeshed with our humanity, not just the realm of profit-hungry businessmen and cold, calculating machines. With this history book, he’s taken one big step forward. He appealed to a liberal arts major like me. ...more
I’m a big Freakonomics fan. I’ve read the two previous books, seen the movie, and I regularly listen to the podcasts. So for a fan like me, this bookI’m a big Freakonomics fan. I’ve read the two previous books, seen the movie, and I regularly listen to the podcasts. So for a fan like me, this book was slightly disappointing because I’d heard most of the material before on the podcasts. Still, since I love the lessons so much, I didn’t mind a review. I especially liked the lesson of embracing failure instead of fearing it. Temporarily putting away your moral compass before analyzing problems was a good one, too. As the authors say, you can’t solve a problem if you’ve already decided what to do about it.
Thanks to Freakonomics, the subject of economics is more human to me, and I’ve gone on to read more books on the subject, most of them more academic in style. Because of that, the light-hearted style that appealed to me so much with the first books seems a little too light to me now. But ultimately, I love what these authors have to say, so I’ll read/listen to/watch anything they come out with, and I’m always looking forward to more. ...more
Bah! First abandoned book of the year! I first heard of it on the Freakonmics Radio Podcast, and I was intrigued by the thesis: that mayors accomplishBah! First abandoned book of the year! I first heard of it on the Freakonmics Radio Podcast, and I was intrigued by the thesis: that mayors accomplish much more than heads of nations because they deal with the practical realities of day-to-day living. Reality forces them to put ideologies aside. The book follows the format of one chapter outlining the author's ideas and then a profile of a mayor. Parts of the first chapter was tough to get through because much of it was theoretical and academic, but I was willing to push my way past it to get to the first profile on Mayor Michael Bloomburg. Well, guess what? The profile was mostly dry and academic, too. Some of the writing was readable, but I wish the author had done with his book what he says the mayors do: stick with the practical stuff. Theories pale in comparison. ...more
This little memoir by actor Michael J. Fox is marketed as a gift book for a new graduate, but anyone who grew up with him will enjoy it. First of all,This little memoir by actor Michael J. Fox is marketed as a gift book for a new graduate, but anyone who grew up with him will enjoy it. First of all, he is nothing like Alex Keaton. Far from an over-achiever, he dropped out of high school to go to LA and pursue a career in acting. Because he was successful, he didn't even get his high school equivalency diploma until his middle age. Till then, though, he was learning the lessons of life, and he summarizes them in this short book. His years of poverty in LA were a surprise to me, and his reflections on his current struggle with Parkinson's are inspiring. It made me curious to read more of his writing, and I definitely want to pass the book on to my son. So this book is not just a good gift for a new graduate. Share it with an "underachiever" you love! ...more
My one and only outing this Passover was to a little town in upstate New York called Sugar Loaf where a group of craftspeople live, work, and sell theMy one and only outing this Passover was to a little town in upstate New York called Sugar Loaf where a group of craftspeople live, work, and sell their crafts. The man who serves on the town's Chamber of Commerce also owns a little shop called "Be Positive," and he is the one who gave me this book. It was a pleasant enough read, but I didn't find the insights to be anything I didn't already know. That famous quote that "Nobody on their deathbed ever wished they'd spent more time at the office" appears in there twice, which is quite a lot of a repetition for such a short book. Basically, the message is to remember to smell the flowers as you live your life, which was an especially fitting message to read in picturesque Sugar Loaf, where I doubt anybody is getting rich, but everyone is striving to remain true to their art....more
The transition from the mystical Jerusalem of In the Courtyard of the Kabbalist to the gritty LA of this book was jarring at first, but the plot sooThe transition from the mystical Jerusalem of In the Courtyard of the Kabbalist to the gritty LA of this book was jarring at first, but the plot soon gripped me. Mickey Haller, the tough but honorable protagonist, and the circumstances he lands in are definitely formulaic, but the book is still a page-turner. Having recently read about the real state of public defense in Chasing Gideon: The Elusive Quest for Poor People's Justice, I knew to take this fictional legal thriller with a few grains of salt, but I did like the views the author expressed about criminal defense in general. So good enough that perhaps someday I will check out the next Mickey Haller novel, but not awesome enough to make it even close to the top of my to-read list. ...more
When it comes to books on the Holocaust, I generally prefer memoirs by the victims who kept their faith and helped others survive, but this book, whicWhen it comes to books on the Holocaust, I generally prefer memoirs by the victims who kept their faith and helped others survive, but this book, which traces the lives of Rudolph Hoss, Kommandant of Auschwitz, and Hanns Alexander, a German-born Jew who escaped to England, joined the Allies, and ended up a Nazi hunter, was still very good. It might even make a good introduction to the subject for someone, the kind of book to be assigned in high school or college. By focusing on two individuals, it makes the period understandable. It’s by no means the only book a person should read on the Holocaust, but it’s a good springboard for beginners and adds depth to those of us already well-read on the subject.
The book alternates between the two men’s lives, so you see Hoss as a soldier in the First World War, his involvement in the “volkish” groups in the 20’s, and his rise through the ranks of the Nazi party. In parallel, you see the Alexander family’s rise to prominence in the 20’s and their scramble to escape once Hitler came to power. Hanns’ and Hoss’ stories merge after the war when Hanns uses his fluent German and his hatred for the Nazis to track Hoss down and bring him to justice. Hanns’ methods were sometimes ruthless, but I suppose that’s the only way to catch a Nazi on the run.
The part of the book that really made my blood run cold was the description of Hoss figuring out the most efficient means of extermination, ie the crematoria. There’s been plenty of discussion on the History Group boards about how anyone could be so evil. The answer, of course, is complicated, and probably beyond our understanding, but I think it’s significant that once the mass killings started, Hoss could no longer sleep with his wife. When he silenced whatever natural compassion was within him in order to kill, his personal impulse for love went along with it.
As I said before, this is not THE definitive book on the Holocaust, but then perhaps, no such book can exist. For general history, there are plenty of excellent documentary films – a picture’s worth a thousand words – but for the human experience, this book, as long as it’s supplemented with some books by Orthodox Jewish survivors and stories of righteous gentiles, is a fine addition to anyone’s Holocaust education.
Disclaimer: I received this book for free through the History Book Club on Goodreads. Thank you, Simon and Schuster ...more
As of this writing, it’s two days till Pesach. I have a ton of cooking to do, not to mention some last touch-ups on cleaning, and yet I’ve done somethAs of this writing, it’s two days till Pesach. I have a ton of cooking to do, not to mention some last touch-ups on cleaning, and yet I’ve done something utterly foolish and yet thoroughly pleasurable: I’ve let myself get addicted to a novel. I started it on Shabbos, continued through on Saturday till 1:00 in the morning, and when I woke up, instead of getting to my Pesach cleaning, I went right back to the novel until I finished it. And now, here I am, writing about it – though I made myself get two pots going on the stovetop first.
The novel is about the college admissions process, which for me is always an emotional topic. My own first two years of college were absolutely nightmarish, so even though I am the middle-aged mom of a kid old enough to be applying for colleges himself right now (and isn’t because he’s in yeshiva instead), it takes very little to send me right back to my own pre-college process. Rare is the day that goes by without my thinking, “If only I’d taken Course X in high school and chosen College Y instead of University Z, perhaps my life now would be happier.” And yes, I know it’s foolish and even faithless to think that way. The point of this book – and I agree with it – is that if you don’t let other people run your life, you’ll become the person you’re meant to be no matter what college you attend.
The protagonist of the book is Anne, a twenty-seven year old single woman who earns her living coaching high school seniors on composing their college entrance essays. As I learned from the non-fiction book on the admissions process, The Gatekeepers: Inside the Admissions Process of a Premier College, these essays really do get read and are an important part of the evaluation process. The parents who typically hire Anne are wealthy and have high and often specific expectations for their kids. “Don’t tell me about any colleges I’ve never heard of,” one parent tells Anne. He wants his son at Amherst.
Anne’s caseload is made of six students this season, five of whom have paying parents and one of whom is a potential scholarship student she’s volunteering to work with. The paying parents all have big dreams for their kids, but the kids have dreams of their own, and they don’t always conform to their parents’. How each one resolves (or fails to resolve) that conflict is the thread of the whole book, and you see their growth through their essays. While dealing with their pre-college issues, Anne is struggling with life’s next Big Decision: marriage. Since I’d just finished One Perfect Day: The Selling of the American Wedding, the parallels were clear to me. Just like marketing has created the Bridezilla culture, college marketing has created a culture of overbearing parents and overwhelmed kids. If anything, the college process is worse because it forces the kids to market themselves, and too often, the message they get is: “Sorry, kid, but you’re just not good enough for us.”
I would highly recommend this book, along with the non-fictional The Gatekeepers: Inside the Admissions Process of a Premier College, to all parents and kids on the verge or in the midst of applying to college. The parents in this book are so over the top, anyone can laugh at them. But the main message is for the kids. You don’t have to go to Harvard to have a happy life. ...more
This book compares and contrasts the political careers of LBJ and Ronald Reagan in the mid-sixties. LBJ was president, winning by a historic landslideThis book compares and contrasts the political careers of LBJ and Ronald Reagan in the mid-sixties. LBJ was president, winning by a historic landslide in 1964, and Reagan was just entering politics, winning a landslide gubernatorial election in 1966. His was a Republican victory in a populous state in a midterm election - a great disappointment for the sitting Democratic president, much as we just saw this past November.
But the similarities to today's times don't end there. Though the book has plenty to say about the personalities of both men, the main contrast is in the myths they both represented, myths that we're still hearing over and over again today. LBJ, founder of "the Great Society," was the force behind our current social safety net a/k/a welfare state. (Language is so politicized.) Reagan called himself an opponent of big government, so one of the main aims of his program was to cut social programs a/k/a entitlements. Sound familiar?
The author stays in the 60's for the bulk of the book and never makes any direct comparisons to the present until the Afterword. I don't think President Obama's name appears even once in the book. But any astute observer of politics will see the ideological origins of the red state/blue state divide at the very beginning, which makes the book an astounding achievement. It simultaneously gives you a picture of the 60's while keeping you connected to 2014.
I received a copy of this book from the publisher through the History Book Club on GoodReads....more
Biz Stone is one of the founders of Twitter, and though parts of his account of its origin story contradict the account in Hatching Twitter: A True StBiz Stone is one of the founders of Twitter, and though parts of his account of its origin story contradict the account in Hatching Twitter: A True Story of Money, Power, Friendship, and Betrayal, he has such an engaging writing style and admirable message, I couldn’t help but conclude that whatever really happened, he did his best to stay above the fray. He comes across as a really likable guy.
More than just an origin story, the book is Biz Stone’s philosophy of life and business, a combination memoir and self-help book. On its face, some of his advice might seem cliché, but because he backs it up with personal examples, you can see practical ways of applying it to your own life. For example, he says, “Create your own opportunities.” Well, everyone says that, but most of us wait around for an unexpected tip to come out of nowhere. I’ve had a few show up in my life, so I’m always waiting for the next one, but Biz has a point: they don’t show up all that often. Aside from that, rarely are they tailor-made to your interests. Biz is a big believer in “following your passion.”
Here’s an example of an opportunity he created for himself. A child of divorce, money was always tight in his family, so in his college years, he had a part-time job packing boxes in a book publishing firm. He knew the firm was looking at designs for a new book cover, so one day when nobody was around, he turned on one of the computers, designed a cover, and added it to the pile of designs under consideration. When his was chosen, he was offered a full-time job, so he took it. Others might not be so bold as to quit college, but he felt the reason he was going to college was to qualify for a job like that, and now he’d landed it three years before graduation.
That brings me to the subject of taking risks. Biz is a big advocate of risk-taking, too, saying the usual, “If you want the big pay off, you have to take big risks.” The difference is: he actually explains how to do it intelligently. He gave the example of learning to do a back flip. When he was taught how to do it, he was shown the point in the execution where accidents are most likely to happen. So instead of just “envisioning yourself succeeding,” Biz suggests you also envision yourself failing. Embrace the worst-case scenario. If you’re willing to live with falling on your back, you’re ready to take the risk.
Personally, I’m not willing to risk much. But what I like is that Biz broke down the process for me. Face your fear: can you handle it or not? He’s got a similar approach to work. Does your job excite you? Is it challenging and creative? If not, and you’re not willing to live with the consequences of quitting either, then find something to do within your company to enjoy your job more. That advice has made me a more cheerful worker in these past few days.
So all in all, an excellent book. It’s light in tone, but it packs some big and important ideas from someone who’s really living them. ...more