During my last few years in the service, I was attached to a special operations unit where the concept of the 'Quiet Professional' was a common refraiDuring my last few years in the service, I was attached to a special operations unit where the concept of the 'Quiet Professional' was a common refrain, so much so that the irony of its constant repetition was lost on those doing the repeating. I was fortunate to have worked with folks of Mark Owen's ilk and still have friends on active duty that wear spiffy hardware and remain engaged in unkind areas dealing with mean people.
There's been a lot of noise made in different places about folks like these writing books about their exploits. Some declare that they've made a mockery of the Quiet Professional ethos. Others just think they're grandstanding. Personally, as long as they're not compromising their teammates or national security, I think they have as much of a right to talk about what they've done, seen, and accomplished as anyone else, especially if it's in any way therapeutic. Also, and perhaps more importantly, I would be fine seeing and hearing fewer people who have never served in any capacity malign such authors for what they write or what they might've done or thought in a specific situation.
This is the follow up to the author's first book, No Easy Day, which I haven't read. I admittedly picked this one up only because I was waiting on something and had a couple of hours to kill. The is an example of a 'What I Learned While Doing Something Pretty Unique' book that grabs your interest based on the level of uniqueness being discussed. The book is fine and I did enjoy it (it's a bit of a bummer that two stars seems like a slam on Goodreads, even though it still means that you liked something).
The most interesting portion comes at the end when he discusses the stigma associated with PTSD and the mixed feelings and overwhelmingly anticlimactic process of leaving the teams, specifically, and the service, in general. While I was certainly not in his shoes, I do recall the feelings of loss and being a square peg in a culture full of round holes for longer than I'd anticipated. In this regard, I certainly can't fault him for writing a book that he admits is partly to remind himself of the amazing things he's learned and the qualities he possesses at levels that most human resources drones fail to appreciate.
My hopes of joining the ranks of actual special operators when I was young were dashed due to horrendous eyesight and an aversion to drowning, but we make do with the talents and limitations we're given. What I found over the years of knowing and working with such people was that they're not the supermen they're made out to be. They're astonishingly normal, aside from the confidence levels and the ability to focus when being shot at (good resume fodder). This and other books of its kind stand as subtle reminders that these folks are still horribly, messily human and that no amount of training is foolproof preparation for that.
Some audiobooks benefit from the author-as-reader setup. Authors know when and how to inflect, when to whimper, when to be angry or scared. Gaiman's aSome audiobooks benefit from the author-as-reader setup. Authors know when and how to inflect, when to whimper, when to be angry or scared. Gaiman's an excellent whimperer and he's great at being a scared child.
I admire the book's premise. The damages capable of being inflicted by childhood are certainly myriad and, my take on the author's point, tend to revolve around the powerlessness children have over their situations and surroundings. Little people at the mercy of larger, hairier versions of children (adults) is nothing new to fiction, but Gaiman's delivery is unique and ingeniuos.
The ambiguous nature of the girl and her mother and grandmother was a safe approach to the concept of 'something larger that pushes and pulls at the world'. Good and evil balance the cosmic scale, there can be no light without darkness, everything happens for a reason, etc. It's theology without dogma and with enough metaphysics to keep folks capable of open-minded, critical thinking interested.
Empathy develops from being slapped around by fate in its various fickle forms and is augmented by the understanding of how little control we have over many of the things that happen to us. In this way, adults and children are ultimately scared of the same things with different context. The main character is afforded an opportunity to see that there may be more to the story than what happens right in front of us. What that is, whether we believe it, and how we let it alter our perspective is ultimately the basis of faith and can either serve as a comfort or a torment.
Synopsis: Life is tough, but occasionally there's cake.
[3.5 stars because the author frequently gets long-winded and overly expositional]...more
The book begins with the author at a motivational seminar in Texas, which is a lethal combination of horrible. I would prefer the certainty of a fieryThe book begins with the author at a motivational seminar in Texas, which is a lethal combination of horrible. I would prefer the certainty of a fiery pit to the mewlings of grinning hucksters. Standing at the edge of a fiery pit would provide exactly the kind of clarity and context necessary to alter a person's characterizations about what 'negativity' really entails. Come to think of it, if you're in Texas, it's really not that hard to find fiery pits with huge slabs of brisket nearby. Which is actually kind of motivating. Huh.
This book encourages a way of thinking that I've been relentlessly mocked for living by since I was old enough to realize that stoicism was a branch of philosophy and that Seneca wasn't just the name of a county in Ohio:
"I expect the worst to happen, which means that I can only ever be pleasantly surprised."
This became extraordinarily beneficial in the military and more or less mandatory at the military school I attended, where relentless positivity was taken out behind the shed and beaten. It has helped me survive calamity, maintain perspective in both success and failure, and sustained me through two graduate degrees and the psychological and emotional scissor-kicking of scientific research. Here is my mental image of people who hitch their wagon to unchecked positivity and the platitude-flinging self-help industry:
They're driving a Ford Pinto through an enormous cow pasture. They're blindfolded and laughing as loudly as they possibly can, oblivious to their surroundings and how oddly bumpy the road has become. Eventually, things are going to end poorly, which is completely unfair to the livestock, however, the driver is oblivious because he/she just read The Secret and paid $2,000 to walk over hot coals with Tony Robbins. Moral: Sometimes, reality is a cow crashing through your Pinto's windshield.*
This book is wonderful, well-written, and I squealed with glee at least once during each chapter. Also, I recently read a quote from the author regarding America's odd reliance on the commencement speaker as motivational catalyst:
Every year, thousands of young British people collect their degrees and head into the world in a dangerously uninspired state-not knowing, for example, whether or not they should say 'yes' to life, or follow their hearts, or dare to be different."
* Why, yes, I am available as a guest speaker at children's birthday parties....more
I can't explain how I failed to find this book during The Great Self-Help Binge of 2004/2005, but I found it recently and, y'know...better late than nI can't explain how I failed to find this book during The Great Self-Help Binge of 2004/2005, but I found it recently and, y'know...better late than never.
Despite knowing better, I spend almost all of my time dwelling on a past that I can't change or worrying about a future over which I have no real control. Specifically, I dwell on how painful parts of my past were and how inevitably woe-ridden the future will be. The good parts of history, 85% of the pie chart, never come up. Similarly, all the moments when predictions of catastrophe ended up in overwhelmingly non-catastrophic reality are selectively edited out as potential plots in the future movie. Happiness is too implausible. Better to expect the worst and be pleasantly surprised.
So, in walks this soft-spoken German dude who slaps me in the face with his book while asking, 'Instead of spending all of your time in the past or the future, why not focus on the present?' Of course. I know. And yet.....it just never occurs to me. Or rather, it does, but I tend to burn more calories by making myself miserable. Also, there's the ego. Protecting me, reminding me how important I am, how devastating it will be if [fill in the blank] happens, how necessary it is to prepare for said devastation, etc. Ideally, I would work constantly toward improving and maintaining my emotional equilibrium. Ha! Good one!
For nearly a decade, I've constantly reminded myself to be the observer of my thoughts. This is similar to what the book advises. From such a perspective, it's easy to see the jackassery within much of your inner monologue. While I have managed some success at this, it remains something that I need to actively think about and remind myself to do almost constantly. My continued lack of automation in this area is a little annoying, which makes finding books that remind me about the importance of doing small things correctly and with discipline so important. This is a good book to have on the shelf so that when (not 'if') I need it again, I'll know where to find it....more
I was a nightmare for preachers as a kid because I was insatiably curious. Extensive questioning can be a difficult thing for folks of certain religioI was a nightmare for preachers as a kid because I was insatiably curious. Extensive questioning can be a difficult thing for folks of certain religious stripes, as can certain elements of critical thinking. Belief and faith are nuanced and (should) require a little more effort than simply believing whatever is written or spoken. This has seemed obvious to me for a REALLY long time.
For the sake of transparency, I'll admit to believing that there's something (or Something) else out there and that there exists within us this thing called a 'soul'. Simultaneously, I admit to agreeing with some of Christopher Hitchens' blowhardiness where religion is concerned. Religions and their associated texts have a long and distinguished history of being initiated, translated, and manipulated by individuals with a great deal to either gain or lose based on the details underlying each of those activities. And no one with an ability to read widely and think critically about history can argue that much of religious activity through the ages reeks of hypocrisy and the selective application or exclusion of specific portions of reportedly infallible, devinely-inspired texts. It's astonishing, really, that we in the 21st century are still arguing over 14th-century details where religion is concerned. It makes one yearn to beat dogmatic protestants and catholics alike with socks filled with Allegory-brand mayonnaise in the hopes that it might help them read the bible with eyes opened a little wider.
Rob Bell is a breath of fresh air. He explains things through a filter of common sense, which is why serious Christians picket his speaking engagements and denounce him (it's curious how people of such profound faith can be so easily shaken by one person altering his course from theirs). The book basically explains how Christianity has become a sort of prison. Fear, to a much greater extent than love, has become what motivates the approach to faith in organized religions. This is certainly nothing new, but it's rare to find people within the flock speaking out in such an open and honest way. For most of religious history, doing so was very bad for the speaker's health. It takes courage to swim against the current and to stand for what one believes. The author's approach to faith is refreshing and that's a word rarely used to describe religion in any of its forms. ...more
Despite themes of suicide, cancer, and mild robbery, I feel this belongs squarely in the 'comfort food' aisle. The story is lovely, well-written, clevDespite themes of suicide, cancer, and mild robbery, I feel this belongs squarely in the 'comfort food' aisle. The story is lovely, well-written, clever, and, given the audiobook experience, a great book to have someone read to you....more
You hear talk of bosons and quantum particles, but efforts to satisfy your curiosity have proven fruitless.
At some point, say in a crowded bar outsidYou hear talk of bosons and quantum particles, but efforts to satisfy your curiosity have proven fruitless.
At some point, say in a crowded bar outside of a major university, your ear may have plucked from the air part of a conversation between two very hairy people about how glorious and miraculous and beautiful are the mathematical symmetries governing the universe. Suddenly, some piddling disagreement about a minor theoretical point bursts into flames. Fists pound tables. Mothers are pilloried. Spittle flies. Accusations!
As a kid watching Star Trek, you may have wondered: "If Scotty sneezed and his hand slipped while activating the transporter with me in it, what would happen to 'me'? Would there be any 'me' left? If so, could one gather the parts of 'me' still available in order to reconstruct 'ME'? Is the story of Humpty Dumpty an allegory for the dangers of teleportation?" You ask these questions to your parents over dinner and they're struck dumb, demand that you shut your dirty mouth while you eat, then become enraged when you point out the impossibility of their request.
The point is that most people curious about the universe are really interested in physics, whether they realize it or not. Physics, however, can be intimidating. Especially the equations (in quantum mechanics, it's perfectly normal to multiply a letter by an upside-down triangle). Books like these by authors like this are valuable because they communicate difficult concepts in ways that anyone can understand, all while keeping the reader engaged, entertained, and awake. The talent required to effectively communicate difficult scientific concepts is a rare thing. Carl Sagan had it and Neil deGrasse Tyson currently has it. Mr. Goldberg is impressive, is what I'm saying. The book's first sentence: “Why is there something rather than nothing?” If you're curious about the answer, this book is as funny, enjoyable, and efficient (read: Quick) a place to start as any I can imagine.
I felt that a little distance was needed between my finishing this book and slapping together a review. This is relevant because immediately after finI felt that a little distance was needed between my finishing this book and slapping together a review. This is relevant because immediately after finishing the book, I felt a little cheated. Being as vague as possible in order to not spoil anything, I'll just say that one character turns to the other and verbally gut punches him at the very end of the book, leaving the reader nothing more than his/her delicate constitution to deal with the cruel, unexplainable harshness of it all.
It might've been while driving back from Ohio after Thanksgiving that I figured it out. Specifically, it was while stuck in the traffic jam/parking lot that was I-77 in West Virginia that clarity struck. “Riiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiight,” I whispered, while wishing for a meteor or a dinosaur to show up a put us all out of our misery.
Here's my recollection of the book. Two boys grow into men in a monestary. They're both very intelligent, but one is more inclined toward learning, while the other grows restless. Eventually, the restless one leaves, go out into the world, wanders hither and yon, sows wild oats, has adventures. He's Kane from 'Kung Fu'. The other stays and embraces a life of study, meditation, reflection, and becomes the head of the monestary. He's highly respected, but very cloistered, as happens in such situations.
The wanderer faces all kinds of hardships and deprivations, betrayals and heartbreak, then one day, almost literally rolls back into the monestary nearly dead with illness and malnutrition. The head of the monstary is overwhelmed with joy to see his old friend again and nurses him back to health. Months pass, the wandered heals, but suddenly his feet start get itchy. He loves the monestary and his friend, the headmaster, but he just can't stay. So, he leaves, doesn't get far, gets caught in a storm, is rescued, and brought back to the monestary.
Sadly, there's no saving him this time. And as the headmaster mourns by his friend's bedside, wondering why he would choose to go back out into a world that very nearly killed him once and then finished the job the second time, the wanderer turns to him and says......
Read the book.
My answers to what it all meant arrived as rhetorical questions: Does a life full of denial actually involve living or is it just being alive? If you never acknowledge your dark side, do you ever know who you really are? What's the point of knowing everything in theory if you never test it experimentally? What kind of a life is entirely regret-free?
Goldmund felt sorry for Narcissus, and right before he died, he tried to make his friend see this in the strangest, most loving, and curiously insulting way that the author could muster after finishing his tumbler of absinthe. But I get it, I think.
Also, the character's name is Narcissus. He spent his life learning for the sake of being learned. It was like Joseph Campbell was standing on my hood in the traffic beating on my windshield with a rock inscribed with the word 'allegory'. ...more
People come up to me all the time and ask, "M'Lord, why do you read books about WWII submarine warfare written by people who commanded submarines duriPeople come up to me all the time and ask, "M'Lord, why do you read books about WWII submarine warfare written by people who commanded submarines during WWII?" My response is that I read such books because there's nothing in the fiction genre (excepting perhaps The Hunt for Red October or Run Silent, Run Deep) that packs a wallop equal to the exploits of extraordinary people living in extraordinary times and doing extraordinary things. Submarine warfare and those who were involved in its execution are extraordinary in every sense of the word. This is why in a slap fight between History and Fiction, History wins with me every time (the fight is refereed by Historical Fiction, who, when done well, rules them all).
This is a first-hand account of the war patrols of the U.S.S. Tang, including its final and fateful one, wherein all but 10 lives were lost. The author commanded the ship from its christening and was one of the ten survivors of its sinking. Survivor's guilt is one thing, but being the commander who survived his ship's sinking likely adds to an already heavy burden. He was subsequently awarded the Medal of Honor for his exploits, which was no doubt humbling and bittersweet. All this to say that I'd deem just about anything written by this guy worthy of reading.
The book is mostly riveting, however, there's a fair bit of detail and downtime between engagements. This may have been planned in order to give the reader an idea of the bored-until-hair-on-fire aspect of submarine warfare. Also, the 'Minutiae Alarm' in my head went off repeatedly, meaning that you get serious details about stuff that only other submariners might find chin-rubbingly fascinating.
But the characteristic that consistently comes across in books like these is the constant presence and ho-hum nature of death. When a torpedo hits its mark and a ship sinks in minutes, that's hundreds of lives gone in mostly unpleasant ways. When the Tang sinks (in a way that's horrible and infuriating), the survivors watch it disappear in less than a minute. Books like these remind one of the brutal necessity associated with death in war and how it becomes so commonplace that the only things that register are tonnage sunk, fuel or hardware lost, or lives potentially saved as a result. The cost in human terms to the enemy is statistically significant, but to dwell on their humanity would remove an edge necessary to keep going. Later, when that edge is no longer required, thoughts long compartmentalized return and suddenly there's plenty of time for reflection. This, I think, is a common refrain to the real cost associated with surviving war(s). What's extraordinary about survivors isn't that they're alive (this is mostly a combination of luck and timing), but that they experienced something, the totality of which can't be duplicated. This is why I read books like this....more