Book Corner


Mary B. “: an Untold Story of Pride & Prejudice” by Katherine J. Chen.

I kind of liked it; admittedly I don’t read much Jane Austen fiction, so I don’t know how it stacks up.  It wasn’t a great book; I wish Mary had been a more consistently drawn character, and that her nemeses were a little less blatantly mean to the point of silliness.  But I did want to keep reading to see what would happen, and I did end up liking her.

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The Elephant in the Brain: Hidden Motives in Everyday Life by Kevin Simler

I really didn’t learn anything.  We are primates who seek to elevate our status.  Almost anything we do can be viewed in this light, if you squint hard enough.  This really didn’t add to my life any “a-ha” moments, or “gotta tell someone this quote” moments, or “can’t wait to read what’s next moments” – nothing I really look for in a non-fiction book.  It also can’t help but be a downer that the author actually comes out and says he only wrote the thing as a vanity project, i.e. to elevate his status.  It kind of shows.

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Go, Went, Gone by Jenny Erpenbeck

A man living in Berlin has just retired from academic life and has been widowed in recent years.  Finding himself with a lot of time on his hands, and noticing a protest of African refugees taking place in his city’s square, he finds himself curious to learn the stories of these men.  One by one, he asks them to simply tell him their stories, and they do.  Naturally, the more he learns, the more he becomes involved in their lives.  We too become wrapped up in their stories, and ultimately his.

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Short & sweet.  Lots of numbers talk may make you zone out.  But it’s numbers that I’m glad someone out there is crunching.  I found it to be extremely valuable information for deciding on charities to donate to.  It seems it would also be a great resource for someone trying to decide on a career; alas, that’s a ship that has long since sailed for me.  Very well researched with copious endnotes.

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This book does not disappoint a long-time Haidt fan. His arguments continue to be exquisitely measured and explained to appeal to any reasonable person willing to listen. He does not suffer for collaborating with co-author Lukianoff, either, who seems to have the same style.
The title makes it sound like it is going to be a conservative or curmudgeonly rant – “coddle” is such a smug and “when I was your age” kind of verb. But you can trust Haidt. He’s very sympathetic, for example, to what even the most strident and intolerant protesters may be trying to achieve; he’s just pointing out, clearly and convincingly in my opinion, how they are harming their cause more than helping. That is one major area covered in the book – college protest; and although I was familiar with many of the cases described here, such as Charles Murray’s appearance in Middlebury in my home state of Vermont, I had no idea of the extent of some of the other things going on in the rest of the country, like the truly anarchic takeover of Evergreen College in Washington state. Again, don’t think this is just some conservative outrage-generating listing of cases where those liberal students went too far in their political correctness. There are some eyebrow-raising incidents described here, but the authors aren’t out simply to raise ire about them; but to explain where they feel things went wrong.

Another subject covered in the book is the overprotectiveness of parents in our modern culture, and effects of excessive screen time on kids; they authors see these as roots of the excessive fragility of the younger generation of today’s adults.
The authors hold up cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) as a proven successful method of dealing with depression and anxiety, and use its tenets as models of how we SHOULD be raising children and encouraging young people to deal effectively with their feelings of fragility.
Major fault: I don’t understand why they felt they had to end every chapter with a summary – and then end the book with an overall summary, as well! For Pete’s sake, have a little faith that I know what I just read.
The only other fault was really just a personal disappointment that there was a lot in it about raising children, and the rest was almost all about college students – I guess if I had read the description I would have been more prepared; but I selfishly wanted more things to apply to my own life.

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harari  21 Lessons for the 21st Century by Yuval Noah Harari

Sapiens being the best book I have read in recent memory, and Homo Deus coming close behind, this had a lot to live up to.  It had strong and weak parts.  It could get repetitive.  The structure was very good – one “lesson” leading into another, each one feeling complete and there for a reason.  When it was good, it was very good.  I have no fewer than eight little sticky notes sticking out of it pointing to excellent quotes.  Here are some:

“Panic is a form of hubris.  It comes from the smug feeling that one knows exactly where the world is heading: down.”

“We are now creating tame humans that produce enormous amounts of data and function as very efficient chips in a huge data-processing mechanism, but these data cows hardly maximize the human potential.”

“[Facebook] and the other online giants tend to view humans as audio-visual animals – a pair of eyes and a pair of ears connected to ten fingers, a screen, and a credit card.”

“We must realize that nothing the terrorists do can defeat us.  We are the only ones who can defeat ourselves, if we overreact in a misguided way to their provocations.”

“Apparently ape leaders developed the tendency to help the poor, the needy, and the fatherless millions of years before the Bible instructed ancient Israelites that they should [do the same]…”

He ends with a chapter on meditation on a slightly more personal note.  Serious talk about meditation always leaves me with three questions: What motivates Buddhists to get up in the morning?  Why shouldn’t I work with the nature of my mind rather than against it?  If many fictions are useful, why not use them?

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scrum.jpg  SCRUM: The Art of Doing Twice the Work in Half the Time

by Jeff & J. J. Sutherland

There are surely better SCRUM books to buy (but this one was recommended by me by my pal and co-worker James).  The author, CEO of Scrum, Inc. (it’s his story, co-authored with his son), is a bit self-congratulatory, and his cheerleading for SCRUM often comes across like he’s plugging a miracle weight loss regimen.  That said, it did get me excited about some scrummy ideas, and inspire me to try to put some into practice.  My job is allegedly going to try to tackle its next project in an “agile” manner.  Ha.  We’ll see how that goes.