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Reviews of what you should be reading next.

Tag: Michael Nail (page 1 of 2)

On Concise Writing – by Michael Nail (Part One)

My writing only seldom appears on this publication. However, those who have paid close attention will have noticed that my most common indictment is for the crime of wasted paper and wasted time. To make a point should only take so long. I allow authors modest space to provide emphasis and even, begrudgingly, personal flourish. Too many non-fiction writers seem to think that they aren’t writers unless they’re writing, and vomit black ink onto their pages, behaving as if they were working under production quotas. In response to the disturbing trend of not making your damned point, I will make a few of my own. Concisely. Authors, please take notes.

 

Your personal, unique voice is in what you say, not how you say it.

The assault of intensifiers, triple-adjectives, color commentary, out-of-place five-dollar words, and gee-whiz-isms has been damaging to your credibility. It is no longer my default reaction to take strong language in a non-fiction text seriously. Instead, I assume that the author is compensating for the weakness of an argument, or an insecurity, and I hope to be proven wrong. Sadly, I’m usually right, and I’m not the only one. If you think that your unique voice as a writer is embodied in your above-described assault, try calling to mind the names of all the friends you’ve won over with your pedantic speech. I’ll wait.

When I am assaulted by a book in this manner, it’s usually when I’m being told how significant something is. This is an easy problem to fix. If you feel like you need to assault your reader, stop, take a deep breath, and see what you can do to better contextualize the point you’re trying to make. The language you use to set the stage for your argument should convey the significance of what is at hand. If you’re telling me that a chemical got into the drinking water, don’t give me a linguistic spectacle about how terrible it is. Instead, make the people who drink that water relatable. Teach me about the health effects of the chemical. Instead of deriding the people responsible, tell me about the critical safety measures and protocols in place, which ones were ignored, and let me come to my own conclusions about the bad actors. Do these things with the fewest words possible.

Reading non-fiction shouldn’t feel like being in stop-and-go traffic. You’ve convinced someone that they should publish your book. You’re a smart person. Those big words. Those adjectives. That’s not you. Your intelligent, deeply-held thoughts and beliefs are enough. Believe me: we readers will accept and appreciate you as you are.

 

Please stop filling your books with examples and anecdotes.

When a concept gets to be a little too abstract, an example can be instructive. Sometimes a story is helpful for showing how a problem impacts real people. I love stories and examples, but they are more often abused than otherwise. Here are some rules to follow:

  1. If examples or stories are taking up more than half of your chapter, then just make the chapter about the example or story.
  2. If examples or stories are taking up more than half your book, then just make your book about the stories or examples. I have read some excellent books that did precisely this, with one chapter per example or story. I enjoyed these books because I wasn’t filled with the false hope that there would be a return of substance.
  3. You only get one example or story per topic. If that’s not enough, then either you didn’t do a good job leading up to the example/story, or you need a better example/story.
  4. Do not use a story as an excuse to set your “unique personal voice” free. Your writing should be about the voices of the people in the story now. Stay out of it.
  5. Please don’t end a story in the middle, only to have it start again where it left off 200 pages later. Sometime I’ve seen authors try to recap what already happened, but now I’m reading something I’ve already read… again? So you can make a point you probably should have make 200 pages ago? Spare me.
  6. To the point of conciseness; I will end this post here to let my suggestions sink in. Look for Part Two in the near future.

The Automation by Anonymous

automation

The capital-A Automatons of Greco-Roman myth aren’t clockwork. Their design is much more divine. They’re more intricate than robots or androids or anything else mortal humans could invent. Their windup keys are their human Masters. They aren’t mindless; they have infinite storage space. And, because they have more than one form, they’re more versatile and portable than, say, your cell phone—and much more useful too. The only thing these god-forged beings share in common with those lowercase-A automatons is their pre-programmed existence. They have a function—a function their creator put into place—a function that was questionable from the start…

Odys (no, not short for Odysseus, thank you) finds his hermetic lifestyle falling apart after a stranger commits suicide to free his soul-attached Automaton slave. The humanoid Automaton uses Odys’s soul to “reactivate” herself. Odys must learn to accept that the female Automaton is an extension of his body—that they are the same person—and that her creator-god is forging a new purpose for all with Automatons…

The novel calls itself a “Prose Epic,” but is otherwise a purposeful implosion of literary clichés and gimmicks: A Narrator and an Editor (named Gabbler) frame the novel. Gabbler’s pompous commentary (as footnotes) on the nameless Narrator’s story grounds the novel in reality. Gabbler is a stereotypical academic who likes the story only for its so-called “literary” qualities, but otherwise contradicts the Narrator’s claim that the story is true.
THE AUTOMATION is a this-world fantasy that reboots mythical characters and alchemical concepts. Its ideal place would be on the same bookshelf as Wilson’s ALIF THE UNSEEN and Gaiman’s AMERICAN GODS—though it wouldn’t mind bookending Homer, Virgil, and Milton, to be specific.
And, yes, “B.L.A. and G.B. Gabbler” are really just a pen name.

Thanks to the author for providing this review copy!

THE AUTOMATION will polarize its readers. Those who expect their books to deliver a story with a plot, who enjoy stories and plots, and who believe that novels ought to be constructed of stories and plots – those people will be repelled by THE AUTOMATION. Yes, the book does have a story to tell. There are plot lines. However, the plot lines are layered on top of one-another, and not side-by-side. The “author” is an unreliable narrator named B.L.A.. The story B.L.A. tells is contradicted throughout by annotations provided by an editor named “GB Gabbler,” who invites the reader to doubt the truthfulness of B.L.A.’s story with annotations that correct B.L.A.’s statements. GB often invites the reader to interpret the elements of the story as allegory, as symbolism, as anything but literal.

The two editorial forces at work in this title (both, for clarity’s sake, produced by the same anonymous author), will quickly leave many readers confused. Some will complain that they’ve read 100 pages, and not knowing what the facts are, can’t follow the story. The story itself, however, is not really the point. Just as the automaton around which the story revolves hoists an unfair responsibility on its human, and complicates its human’s ability to reckon with his own identity by complicating his ability to make an account of himself, the editorial voice in THE AUTOMATION hoists the very same responsibility upon its storytelling voice. B.L.A. could not share this story but for the existence of the editor, but this dependence complicates the very act of constructing that story. What the deity is for the humans and their automata, you become for the author and editor.

The point is not for you to enjoy a story. The point is for you to come out the other end of this book finding yourself in a unique position to consider questions about the ethics of editorial authority, the ethics of literary criticism, and the deep connection between our identities and our ability to make an account of our existence, and how that accounting is at the mercy of influences outside of our control. The allegory of author and editor, which asks you to consider that the story itself may be only an allegory, is itself the allegory.

As I suggested before, this book will not be a way for your mind to escape from the rigors of life. If taken seriously, it will thrust your mind more deeply into them, and then far below them, down to where lots of uncomfortable questions linger. The anonymous author leaves it to the reader to answer them.

Want your own copy? You can pick it up [easyazon_link identifier=”0692259716″ locale=”US” nw=”y” tag=”gimmethatbook-20″]here/easyazon_link].

 

Magic And Loss by Virginia Heffernan

magic-and-loss

Just as Susan Sontag did for photography and Marshall McLuhan did for television, Virginia Heffernan (called one of the “best living writers of English prose”) reveals the logic and aesthetics behind the Internet.
Since its inception, the Internet has morphed from merely an extension of traditional media into its own full-fledged civilization. It is among mankind’s great masterpieces—a massive work of art. As an idea, it rivals monotheism. We all inhabit this fascinating place. But its deep logic, its cultural potential, and its societal impact often elude us. In this deep and thoughtful book, Virginia Heffernan presents an original and far-reaching analysis of what the Internet is and does.
Life online, in the highly visual, social, portable, and global incarnation rewards certain virtues. The new medium favors speed, accuracy, wit, prolificacy, and versatility, and its form and functions are changing how we perceive, experience, and understand the world.

Thanks to the author for gifting me this book for review!

To say, “All that is old is new again,” is that same as saying the inverse: “All that is new is old, again.” Note the comma. For Virginia Heffernan, the author of the highly-cerebral Magic and Loss, the critical characteristic of new technologies that supplant their predecessors is not whatever category by which they are categorically different from their parentages. Instead of committing the intellectually lazy act of declaring that a boundary separating incrementalism from interspectralism has been overcome, she presents the compelling thesis that our tech does little to change what is fundamental to our social consciousness. For all time, our technology has been an imperfect mirror.

From the invention of controlled fire up to the present, that mirror has become increasingly exacting in the image of ourselves that it produces. In the United States alone, this mirror now employs over 110,000 miles of heavy fiber-optic cable, and millions of miles of regional and local cable lines. It promotes the easy, pervasive distribution of photos, videos, and alarming, clickbaiting articles. It provides no built-in buffer time for public expression or reactive thoughts and feelings. Pariahs who would have lived in the shadows a generation ago now enjoy the warmth of like minds. Together, they take their seats at the table of public discourse. If we look different today than we did before the internet, it’s because we can see ourselves my clearly. The mirror changed. We did not.

This point, and many others which are related and equally profound, are trotted out in Magic and Loss with language that is never more vigorous than the subject matter seems to warrant. There is a maturity in the voice of this book that lends extra weight to sentences that contain a blow, that serrates the edges of words that cut. Early on, she quotes author Bruce Sterling: “Poor folk love their cell phones.” Heffernan comments: “Connectivity is poverty, eh? Only the poor, defined broadly as those without better options, are obsessed with connections… The connections that feel like wealth to many of us – call us the impoverished, we who brave Facebook ads and privacy concerns – are in fact meager, more meager even than inflated dollars.”

Every word cuts, and especially so if she’s describing you. She’s not cutting for the sake of cutting. She cutting so that you’ll understand that you’re involved in the issues she’s talking about. Heffernan cuts sparingly, but when she does, no word is chosen arbitrarily. That you are more meager than the inflated dollar that pays for your eyeballs should remind you that you aren’t even the consumer. You’re the product.

Finally, Heffernan’s writing is dripping with only the best influences. She quotes Walter Benjamin multiple times, and the structure of the overall work feels like what part of The Arcades Project might have been like had Benjamin lived to finish it. She drops series of short sentences here and there that taste like passages of Theodore Adorno’s Minima Moralia. What an intellectual joy to read this book was!

Want your own copy? You can pick it up [easyazon_link identifier=”1439191700″ locale=”US” nw=”y” tag=”gimmethatbook-20″]here[/easyazon_link].

 

The End Of The Suburbs by Leigh Gallagher

End-of-the-Suburbs-for-web

 

“The government in the past created one American Dream at the expense of almost all others: the dream of a house, a lawn, a picket fence, two children, and a car. But there is no single American Dream anymore.”

For nearly 70 years, the suburbs were as American as apple pie. As the middle class ballooned and single-family homes and cars became more affordable, we flocked to pre-fabricated communities in the suburbs, a place where open air and solitude offered a retreat from our dense, polluted cities. Before long, success became synonymous with a private home in a bedroom community complete with a yard, a two-car garage and a commute to the office, and subdivisions quickly blanketed our landscape.
But in recent years things have started to change. An epic housing crisis revealed existing problems with this unique pattern of development, while the steady pull of long-simmering economic, societal and demographic forces has culminated in a Perfect Storm that has led to a profound shift in the way we desire to live.
In The End of the Suburbs journalist Leigh Gallagher traces the rise and fall of American suburbia from the stately railroad suburbs that sprung up outside American cities in the 19th and early 20th centuries to current-day sprawling exurbs where residents spend as much as four hours each day commuting. Along the way she shows why suburbia was unsustainable from the start and explores the hundreds of new, alternative communities that are springing up around the country and promise to reshape our way of life for the better.
Not all suburbs are going to vanish, of course, but Gallagher’s research and reporting show the trends are undeniable. Consider some of the forces at work:

• The nuclear family is no more: Our marriage and birth rates are steadily declining, while the single-person households are on the rise. Thus, the good schools and family-friendly lifestyle the suburbs promised are increasingly unnecessary.
• We want out of our cars: As the price of oil continues to rise, the hours long commutes forced on us by sprawl have become unaffordable for many. Meanwhile, today’s younger generation has expressed a perplexing indifference toward cars and driving. Both shifts have fueled demand for denser, pedestrian-friendly communities.
• Cities are booming. Once abandoned by the wealthy, cities are experiencing a renaissance, especially among younger generations and families with young children. At the same time, suburbs across the country have had to confront never-before-seen rates of poverty and crime.
Blending powerful data with vivid on the ground reporting, Gallagher introduces us to a fascinating cast of characters, including the charismatic leader of the anti-sprawl movement; a mild-mannered Minnesotan who quit his job to convince the world that the suburbs are a financial Ponzi scheme; and the disaffected residents of suburbia, like the teacher whose punishing commute entailed leaving home at 4 a.m. and sleeping under her desk in her classroom.
Along the way, she explains why understanding the shifts taking place is imperative to any discussion about the future of our housing landscape and of our society itself—and why that future will bring us stronger, healthier, happier and more diverse communities for everyone.

Leigh Gallagher’s The End of the Suburbs is a book of social history in the same vein as, and of similar caliber to, the ancestral classic of its genre, Crabgrass Frontier by Kenneth T. Jackson. Like that book, this one avoids several of my pet peeves. It shuns ostentatious language in favor of highly function, dense, understandable sentences. No word seems to be solely dedicated to creating emphasis without also fleshing out the meaning of what is being said.  The discipline in research displayed in this book, unfortunately, did not match the the discipline in language.

I understand that it is unfair to expect of any book the thorough and relentless inclusion of data and primary source material provided by Mr. Jackson in Crabgrass Frontier. However, I must note that the difference in reading experiences between these two books is probably founded in this lack. In Crabgrass, the reader doesn’t feel like he or she is being convinced of anything. There is hardly any deductive step in that wonderful book about which the reader must say, “I’ll give Mr. Jackson that one.” Instead, Mr. Jackson would support a statement with publicly accessible data or primary source material, deduce something from that statement, and then support the deduction with MORE data or primary source material. What is different in Gallagher’s work is that reading it is like crossing a bridge of ordinary construction, with what looks to me like enough structural support to safely get me from one side to the other. But hey, what do I know? I don’t build bridges for a living, and she does, so I’ll trust her and drive over the bridge. Reading Mr. Jackson’s book is like driving on what seems to be an ordinary road on solid ground, and then have your rendezvous partner at the end of your journey ask, “How was your passage over the river?” You reply, “There was a river?”

If you don’t mind deductive passages spanning fractions of entire chapters without references to sources (and I imagine that most will not mind) there is much to love in the potentially mind-expanding subject matter here. Mrs. Gallagher connects the decline in childhood outdoor activity not to the advent of television and electronic entertainment, but to changes in the design of suburban landscapes. She investigates the pressures of the Millennial generation on the demand for suburban accommodation, and she provides a rich historical backdrop for the future she predicts. The average reader of Mrs. Gallagher’s book will finish it much more informed about American modern history, demographics, architectonics, and demographics than he or she was before. Furthermore, the relative paucity of primary source material helps to make The End of the Suburbs more fluidly readable than Crabgrass Frontier. This accessibility, and Mrs. Gallagher’s lighter tone, will hearten her work to more casual readers than myself, i.e. nearly everyone.

Want your own copy? You can pick it up [easyazon_link identifier=”B00HTKAEDM” locale=”US” nw=”y” tag=”gimmethatbook-20″]here[/easyazon_link].

ELON MUSK by Ashlee Vance

musk

There are few industrialists in history who could match Elon Musk’s relentless drive and ingenious vision. A modern alloy of Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, Howard Hughes, and Steve Jobs, Musk is the man behind PayPal, Tesla Motors, SpaceX, and SolarCity, each of which has sent shock waves throughout American business and industry. More than any other executive today, Musk has dedicated his energies and his own vast fortune to inventing a future that is as rich and far-reaching as a science fiction fantasy.

In this lively, investigative account, veteran technology journalist Ashlee Vance offers an unprecedented look into the remarkable life and times of Silicon Valley’s most audacious businessman. Written with exclusive access to Musk, his family, and his friends, the book traces his journey from his difficult upbringing in South Africa to his ascent to the pinnacle of the global business world. Vance spent more than fifty hours in conversation with Musk and interviewed close to three hundred people to tell the tumultuous stories of Musk’s world-changing companies and to paint a portrait of a complex man who has renewed American industry and sparked new levels of innovation–all while making plenty of enemies along the way.

Until I read Ashlee Vance’s biography Elon Musk, my impression of Musk was that he was one of these hyper-efficient Silicon Valley boy geniuses who figured that being somewhat irreverent in the media would be advantageous to him. I’m cynical. What can I say?

Now, having read the book, I feel that the irreverence we see from Musk (in interviews and elsewhere)  is less manipulation than it is restraint. Vance has painted Musk as a passionate, brilliant man who would rather end up poor than not have a hand in advancing the industries where he thinks he can make a unique difference. He’s not just crazy by the standards of us mortals, who consider it a good month if we pay all of our bills and have enough left over to buy a gadget or something. After cashing out of his first company, PayPal, in a world where buying a single Cold War-era Russian rocket cost his entire net worth, he decided to design his own instead. You, me, and every other sane person would have said, “I suppose I won’t be starting an orbital shipping company today. Time to go find something to do that’s actually possible.” Elon Musk started SpaceX, and today he’s manufacturing reusable rockets.

This bio isn’t just a rundown of Musk’s accomplishments and the obstacles he conquered on the way. Vance’s account fleshes out the characters in Musk’s story with interviews and investigative fact-finding. Broad foreshadowing and perspective throughout kept me engaged. Impressive stylistic choices peppered throughout the prose brought the locales where Musk’s adventures play out to life. A particular description stood out to me – Musk’s team had recently moved their rocket testing operation to an island called Kwaj that the United States military had used to test Star Wars technology in the 70’s and 80’s:

“The military presence resulted in a weird array of buildings including hulking, windowless trapezoidal concrete structures clearly conceived by someone who deals with death for a living.”

This description punctuates the contrast between the status quo of the arena Musk was entering, and the vision he had for its future. It doesn’t just say what the place looked like, but makes me feel like I understand how it must have felt to be there. Vance is equally adept at selecting vignettes that effectively drive home her point. She included Boeing engineer-turned-SpaceX employee Jeremy Hollman’s anecdote about the ennui-inducing directionlessness on offer from SpaceX’s competitors:

“…Boeing completed its merger with McDonnell Douglass. The resultant mammoth government contractor held a picnic to boost morale but ended up failing at even this simple exercise. ‘The head of one of the departments gave a speech about it being one company with one vision and then added that the company was very cost constrained,’ Hollman said. ‘He asked that everyone limit themselves to one piece of chicken.'”

These anecdotes tend to serve their purposes well, and they never feel like they’re there for their own sake. They’re usually fun, engaging, and genuinely add insight to the narrative. After reading so many biographies that feel like a notebook of research shuffled at random with a publisher’s seal on it, I can genuinely appreciate that she has positively nailed this aspect of her work.

Want your own copy? You can pick it up [easyazon_link identifier=”0062301233″ locale=”US” nw=”y” tag=”gimmethatbook-20″] here[/easyazon_link].

Life On The Edge by McFadden & Al-Khalili

life on the edge

 

Life is the most extraordinary phenomenon in the known universe; but how did it come to be? Even in an age of cloning and artificial biology, the remarkable truth remains: nobody has ever made anything living entirely out of dead material. Life remains the only way to make life. Are we still missing a vital ingredient in its creation?

Like Richard Dawkins’ The Selfish Gene, which provided a new perspective on how evolution works, Life on the Edge alters our understanding of our world’s fundamental dynamics. Bringing together first-hand experience at the cutting edge of science with unparalleled gifts of explanation, Jim Al-Khalili and Johnjoe Macfadden reveal that missing ingredient to be quantum mechanics; the phenomena that lie at the heart of this most mysterious of sciences.

Drawing on recent ground-breaking experiments around the world, each chapter in Life on the Edge engages by illustrating one of life’s puzzles: How do migrating birds know where to go? How do we really smell the scent of a rose? How do our genes copy themselves with such precision?Life on the Edge accessibly reveals how quantum mechanics can answer these probing questions of the universe.

Guiding the reader through the rapidly unfolding discoveries of the last few years, Al-Khalili and McFadden communicate the excitement of the explosive new field of quantum biology and its potentially revolutionary applications, while offering insights into the biggest puzzle of all: what is life? As they brilliantly demonstrate in these groundbreaking pages, life exists on the quantum edge.

Every non-fiction title must match the rigor of its investigative narrative to the weight of its message. Here is a book that seems to herald a brave new world of possible technology and depth of understanding, brought to us by the field of quantum biology. I harbor little skepticism that the authors’ chosen field of study will bring to bear significant impact upon everyday life and scientific conquest of the unknown alike. I am, however, perturbed by the willingness, even giddiness, of the authors to extend their findings into areas of study not directly related to their work, dispensing entirely with intellectual rigor in favor of the eye-catching pizazz of a History Channel or TLC docuthriller.

I wish that I could be kinder to this book, but I can’t. In my relatively short life, I’ve watched worthwhile institutions (from the Smithsonian Institute to just about every news broadcast on the tube) turn into entertainment media. What makes this book part of that media is that its takeaway is a romantic image of a scientific future and a mysterious universe, rather than the science itself. The viewer of a modern Discovery Channel program, for example, often concludes a viewing experience feeling entertained, confusing this “entertained” feeling for the feeling of having learned something. The dynamics that propagate this kind of confusion are all present in Life on the Edge:

-Examples overstay their welcome, explaining the same thing multiple ways, and appealing to different emotions each time rather than to different features of the thing being explained

-Being overly numerous, the examples replace a dearth of content and context with a breadth of verbosity.

-Phrases such as “It could be the case that…” and “Perhaps [subject] could even…” are used to extend verifiable claims grossly beyond the limits of reasonable speculation, and into a land of pure imagination. This would be fine, of course, if it did not happen in a book written by two highly credible and accomplished scientists whose word many will take as gold. By trying to extend the appeal of this book to those who are not fascinated by the wonder of the quantum world alone, the authors risk alienating those who are, their core audience.

I would recommend this book to someone who has no prior knowledge of what the phrase “quantum mechanics” means, perhaps hoping that the hyperbole it contains might ignite his or her fascination. Some say that this is a valid way to spark interest in people. However, I have always found this method to be demeaning to those upon whom it is used, like using the prospect of a career as an astronaut to entice children to become interested in the cosmos. Visionary public scientists like Carl Sagan wouldn’t treat children this way, which is partially why he is still beloved today. Other public scientists who hope to have a positive impact need to follow suit.

I received this book from Blogging For Books in exchange for this review. Want your own copy? You can pick it up [easyazon_link identifier=”0307986810″ locale=”US” nw=”y” tag=”gimmethatbook-20″]here[/easyazon_link].

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Living With ADD – A Workbook for Adults by Roberts and Jansen

living with add

An estimated 3 to 10 million adults in the US struggle with the symptoms of attention-deficit disorder (ADD.) If you’re among this group, this interactive workbook will enable you to identify the personal problems caused by your condition and develop skills for coping with it. Learn how to assess yourself and the ways in which ADD affects your daily life. Then, work through exercises structured to help you deal with self-esteem issues; find out how to change distorted thought patterns, manage stress, and develop a structured approach to starting and finishing tasks. Final chapters offer specific suggestions for handling common problems at work and school, dealing with intimate relationships, and finding support.

 

Thanks to New Harbinger Publications for this review copy!

While LIVING WITH ADD is a book designed to help the individual struggling with ADD symptoms better understand his or her own situation, I believe that this book would be better sold as a “couples therapy” book than a “self help” book. Kyle and I read this book together, and it did much more to help us understand each other than it did to help me understand myself (to be fair, that may have more to do with my having read multiple books on this topic than with any quality inherent to the book itself).

LIVING WITH ADD follows a format of:
• Introducing a problem faced by ADDers – mood swings, for example
• Describing different ways in which people with ADD typically handle or experience the problem
• Asking the reader about his or her own experience with the problem being discussed, prompting him or her to write and answer directly onto the page
• Providing advice on how to limit the negative impact of the problem on the reader’s life

The idea of this workbook is to help the ADD’er work through frequently encountered problems related to ADD. You don’t have to follow the chapters in order, which may bring joy to an ADD’er’s heart! What’s important is that the reader take the time to think about the exercises and answer truthfully. The questions are both probing and simple, and most all of them provoke a thought process.  I found that some of the questions really forced me to come to terms with some of my actions, both in the past and recently.

Kyle would read a chapter first, and then I would read it, filling in the blanks as I went along. She would then look again to see my answers. Since she would have already read the chapter, she would have had time to think about how I might have answered, so that when I would answer differently from how she expected, it would lead to a conversation that made us understand each other more deeply.

I think that people who struggle with ADD symptoms are tired of hearing themselves explain themselves. We feel like we’re making excuses, and our experiences over time teach us that people don’t want to hear it. It’s helpful to have a disinterested third party, like this book, initiate the conversation. For couples who often find themselves getting defensive when they would really just like to get closer, this book might be the right tool to make that happen. If that doesn’t sound like you, you may still stand to learn more about each other.

The wealth of value in this workbook is bolstered by the easygoing, unambiguous prose that neither assumes prior knowledge in the reader, nor disrespects his or her intelligence. It’s an easy read even though it maintains a high level of information density. That is, you won’t find yourself sojourning multiple pages into a chapter wondering when the author will move on. Examples are usually employed to introduce new dimensions to the the problem being discussed. Otherwise, they are included to flesh out a topic that may be difficult to identify with, where the reader might think, “That isn’t me… oh wait. That actually is me.” In LIVING WITH ADD, Ph.Ds. Roberts & Jansen have provided us with a case study for the judicious use of examples in a self-help text.

Finally, the margins on these pages are enormous, leaving tons of room for notes. I was compelled to leave a doodle here and there in my copy!

I feel compelled to conjure up some criticism for this workbook, but nothing serious has come to mind. I would really have to nitpick. One or two of the writing prompts don’t leave enough room for a broad range of possible answers, forcing me to leave them blank. If this wasn’t such a fantastic book, something like this would genuinely irk me. In this case, however, this was a mild curiosity sandwiched by reams of goodness. That these questions stood out to me at all speaks to the overall quality of the rest of the book.

Want your own copy? Know someone with ADD who would like this? You can pick it up [easyazon_link identifier=”1572240636″ locale=”US” nw=”y” tag=”gimmethatbook-20″]here[/easyazon_link].

 

Spritz – Does this app help you read faster?

 

spritz better

 

I know that many people will disagree with my opinion on this matter, but I think that the vast majority of Americans actually enjoy reading, passionately. I say this in spite of every survey and study that says otherwise. Why?

If you ask a significant number of people how many books they’ve read this year, the majority of them will probably express some kind of embarrassment at the number that their actions have forced them to divulge. They will likely try to explain the number away. They didn’t have time. New job. New wife. New kids. New eyeballs aren’t calibrated correctly yet. You’re likely thinking that same thing I am: give these people all the time in the world, and they won’t read even one book more. Right?

But does that necessarily mean that they don’t want to read?

I think that almost everybody wants to read lots of books. I think that the problem lies in that most people can absorb knowledge much more quickly than they can read. Imagine that you had to watch your favorite television show or film at quarter-speed. Would you still enjoy it? Would you still enjoy a morning stroll the same way if you were so narrow-sighted that you couldn’t take in the view? This is the experience of being a slow reader.

I’m a slow reader. I normally read at about 250 wpm (words per minute), but I know that I am capable of consuming information much more quickly than that. For most fiction, I can top out at about 1,000 wpm. For non-fiction, I like to move between 500 and 700 wpm, depending on the topic. Just as you wouldn’t want to watch your favorite show anymore if you had to watch it in slo-mo, I wouldn’t want to read very much if I had to consume books at a painful 250 wpm. That’s why instead of reading, I Spritz!

I gave up trying to learn how to speed read more times than I care to remember. The problem with speed reading is that it requires you to learn two very different skills simultaneously, both of which give you no benefit until you’ve mastered them both. First, you need to learn to recognize entire phrases at once by their shape, like you do with words. That’s a big leap. But in addition to that, you need to change the way you move your eyes across the page. Instead of halting your eye movement on each word, you’re now halting your eye movement on some optimal location within a chunk of words. It’s overwhelming, and for some, not worth the painful learning process.

Spritz speeds up your reading by eliminating the time you would normally spend moving your eyes from one word to the next. You don’t have to learn anything. It just flashes the words at you, and each word is positioned in the way that best facilitates quick recognition. Just keep your eyes pointed at the same spot.

I’ll admit that Spritz takes some getting used to. It only takes a few minutes to surpass your own average reading speed with it, and probably 30 minutes to double it. However, the feeling of strangeness that comes with using it didn’t go away for a few weeks. After finishing my first book with it, I felt like Neo near the beginning of the first Matrix film. Unhooking himself from the simulator, he said, “I know kung-fu,” too bewildered to celebrate that fact.

Just like in the Matrix, where living in the real world was worth it in the end, Spritz is worth the bewilderment. You get to read more books. You get to enjoy the books you read ; more than you might otherwise.  On top of all that, when people see you Spritzing, you’ll look like a super-genius!

Are the Androids Dreaming Yet? by James Tagg

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Alan Turing invented the computer, helped win World War II and left us with one of the greatest puzzles of our time – the imitation game. Can computers do everything a human mind can do? Many scientists think we have a tenuous hold on the title, “most intelligent being on the planet”. They think it’s just a matter of time before computers become smarter than us, and then what? This book charts a journey through the science of information, from the origins of language and logic, to the frontiers of modern physics. From Lewis Carroll’s logic puzzles, through Alan Turing and his work on Enigma, to John Bell’s inequality, and finally the Conway-Kochen ‘Free Will’ Theorem. How do the laws of physics give us our creativity, our rich experience of communication and, especially, our free will?

James Tagg is an inventor and entrepreneur. A pioneer of touchscreen technology, he has founded several companies, including Truphone, the world’s first global mobile network. He holds numerous patents, filed in over a hundred countries. He studied Physics and Computer Science at Manchester University, Design at Lancaster University and Engineering at Cambridge University. He lives with his family on a farm in Kent, England.

 

ARE THE ANDROIDS DREAMING YET? attempts to introduce the lay reader to the landscape of issues surrounding human intelligence and its congruence, or lack thereof, with human intelligence. The author makes an earnest attempt to achieve his goal, and a layperson’s understanding of topics ranging from probability theory to quantum electrodynamics. The tone is light, and each topic is rounded out in just one short chapter. Each chapter concludes with an explanation of how its contents pertain to the way we perceive the relationship between human and machine intelligence. For those who are uninitiated to these topics, the explanations suffice. Such a reader will come out of these segments feeling that they have come to understand something that had previously been far over their heads.

While it is a great thing to bring understanding of complex topics to a lay readership, the unavoidable problem is that the shallowness of the introductions to these topics does not give the reader the tools necessary to follow the author from premise to conclusion. The worst that this problem brings to bear is that the book does not sufficiently address the fact that the conclusions presented are highly contentious in the eyes of professionals in their respective fields. For each mathematical and scientific alcove the author guides the reader through, he seems always to present the conclusion that points most strongly toward human cognition being non-computable. I get the feeling that the author decided before putting pen to paper that he wanted to show that human minds really are special, and then set out to find examples to support him. Nothing in this book indicates that he did the scientifically honest thing: looking at the literature first, and going from there. It doesn’t matter how fringe or mainstream the theory is. If that theory can be twisted to put human beings back in the center of the universe, then you can learn about it by reading this book!

If you’ve read any of my previous reviews, you’ll know that I’m a big believer in the importance of recognizing future AIs as having rights and being deserving of respect, just as any flesh-and-bones creature capable of love, fear, pain, and pleasure is. At the end of the last chapter, the author suggests that we shouldn’t worry about such things since, in 100 years, we probably still won’t be able to fashion an AI. I believe that this sentiment betrays an awesome lack of understanding regarding the power of recursive/iterative development patterns. Humans will not create the first AI. The first AI will probably create itself by means understood by some several dozen people, each of which understand some fraction of the process by which it happened, none understanding it in full. Just as I cannot judge you by your neurobiology because the entirety of your neurobiology is beyond my capacity to comprehend, likewise, we cannot judge the fitness of an AI to deserve rights we reserve for humans because the basis of its being “alive” is not within the possibility of comprehension of any person. Therefore, we simply have to hand those rights over. We also need to have a conversation about AI rights very quickly. Such an intelligence is fast approaching, in spite of the author’s assurance that humans minds perform processes that are non-computable (nonsense!), and that we perform various mental functions that cannot be translated into algorithms and logical circuits (also nonsense).

My final assessment of ANDROIDS is that lay readers will enjoy the expositions of niche topics in science, math, physics, computer science, and philosophy very much, and there is plenty of food for thought here. I would, however, advise savvy readers to keep a keen eye out for fishy-smelling claims and overused superlatives. If something seems odd, Google it.

Want your own copy? You can pick it up [easyazon_link identifier=”1910464031″ locale=”US” nw=”y” tag=”gimmethatbook-20″]here[/easyazon_link].

Adult Children of Emotionally Immature Parents by Lindsay Gibson, PsyD

 

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If you grew up with an emotionally immature, unavailable, or selfish parent, you may have lingering feelings of anger, loneliness, betrayal, or abandonment. You may recall your childhood as a time when your emotional needs were not met, when your feelings were dismissed, or when you took on adult levels of responsibility in an effort to compensate for your parent’s behavior. These wounds can be healed, and youcan move forward in your life.

In this breakthrough book, clinical psychologist Lindsay Gibson exposes the destructive nature of parents who are emotionally immature or unavailable. You will see how these parents create a sense of neglect, and discover ways to heal from the pain and confusion caused by your childhood. By freeing yourself from your parents’ emotional immaturity, you can recover your true nature, control how you react to them, and avoid disappointment. Finally, you’ll learn how to create positive, new relationships so you can build a better life.

Discover the four types of difficult parents:

The emotional parent instills feelings of instability and anxiety. The driven parent stays busy trying to perfect everything and everyone. The passive parent avoids dealing with anything upsetting. The rejecting parent is withdrawn, dismissive, and derogatory.

 

In Adult Children of Emotionally Immature Parents (Called ACoEIP hereafter), Lindsay Gibson, PsyD, has provided an exceptional resource for people who grew up lonely within the company of their families.

To preface my review of her book, I must mention that the issue coping with immature parents, resonates strongly with me. I was fortunate enough to know in advance of reading this book that I was a part of its target audience. However, Gibson wisely acknowledges that most of her target audience will believe that their childhood experiences are normal, and that whatever problems they might have had seeking attention growing up was, and still is, their own responsibility to bear.

I would have felt this way not too long ago, and you may feel the same. If a person’s upbringing is likely to seem normal to them even in the absence of a meaningful parent-child emotional connection, how would a potential reader know that a book like this would be for them?

Below is a selection of statements that Gibson includes early on in the book to determine if you are in her target audience. If you find yourself nodding your head while reading these, then ACoEIP may deserve a place on your reading list.

“I was trying harder to understand my parent than my parent was trying to understand me.”

“I always felt that my parent thought I was too emotional or sensitive.”

“My parent rarely apologized or tried to improve the situation when there was a problem between us.”

For most peoples’ childhoods, some of these statements were true some of the time. For some people, these kinds of statements describe the general tenor of life childhood life. That kind of childhood leaves a lot of emotional baggage.

For some, the fallout of such a childhood is that you internalize. Consider this example: You may get yourself into relationships with others where you forego your own wants and needs as the price of admission for respect from the other. You may find yourself filling the requests of others, never asking favors for yourself. Why? Well, if your parents generally reprised you when you expressed desires, then keeping your wants and needs to yourself would be an expected learned behavior. The danger here is that you’ll look at yourself one day, always giving of yourself to others and letting people walk all over you, and decide that you must be a fool, or that you’re just weak, or some other self-diminishing thing. You would be terribly wrong, and a book like this one finds its greatest value in showing its readers why.

The example above is just one of many. The pages of ACoEIP are stuffed to the margins with relatable stories that are never too long, nor too simplified. Gibson speaks with a knowledgeable tone, but without pretense. Her diverse personal background of reading, life experience, and administering therapy shows in her concise writing style. I would not fault her for including more examples that I might have expected from a book like this because none of the examples feel like padding. All of them add unique value to the segments in which they appear.

Even if you’re not sure that this book is for you, I recommend it. If, while reading it, you decide that it isn’t, you will still gain a window into the hearts of those in your life to whom this book does speak.

Want your own copy? Click [easyazon_link identifier=”1626251703″ locale=”US” nw=”y” tag=”gimmethatbook-20″]here[/easyazon_link].

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