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Donald Mitchell "Jesus Loves You!" (Thanks for Providing My Reviews over 124,000 Helpful Votes Globally)

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Antifragile: Things that Gain from Disorder
Antifragile: Things that Gain from Disorder
by Nassim Nicholas Taleb
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.45

2 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Useful Concept Introduced and Explained in Unnecessarily Confusing Ways, 31 July 2013
"Though your beginning was small,
Yet your latter end would increase abundantly." -- Job 8:7 (NKJV)

Something that's antifragile isn't just the opposite of something that breaks easily, it's actually something that benefits from buffeting. The book's choice of its title demonstrates its biggest weakness: It takes a pretty simple concept and mostly defines it in negative terms. Antifragile would have been much more useful if it had focused on identifying many examples of such instances and discussed how to think about interacting most effectively as an individual and an organization in such environments.

Professor Taleb comes across as someone who greatly feels that he's been treated unfairly by critics and the uninformed. Much of the book expresses such experiences and his understandably annoyed reactions to them. In that sense, there's a sense of reading a memoir in places.

I found that the concept made sense to me and provides a useful way to express circumstances and relationships that offer great potential ... but for which I previously had no terminology to describe. Seldom have I found a book that adds to my thinking as usefully in terms of both the concept and the ways to apply it. I felt as if a major part of my brain's map of the world was sketched in for the first time.

I was almost as greatly indebted to the many explanations of why optimizations are bad, due to increasing fragility ... so that when variability inevitably occurs the negative consequences will be increased.

I also appreciated the careful way that resiliency and antifragility were distinguished from one another.

Very nice ... but please, Professor Taleb, make your next book less of a diatribe against those who don't understand you for those of us who like your ideas.

Double Double: A Dual Memoir of Alcoholism
Double Double: A Dual Memoir of Alcoholism
by Martha Grimes
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £16.22

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Mother and Son Relate Their Escapes from Alcoholism, 31 July 2013
"Woe to men mighty at drinking wine,
Woe to men valiant for mixing intoxicating drink," -- Isaiah 5:22 (NKJV)

I've known my share of alcoholics. But I must admit that I have never understood what they were going through, despite wanting to help. Most were too overwhelmed by the booze to be able to articulate what they were feeling and thinking ... or trying too hard to hide the quantity of their drinking.

I've also read my share of memoirs by alcoholics. Some of these didn't ring true with me. They seemed to be exaggerated and disconnected from what I'd observed in others.

In none of what I've experienced or read have I had the opportunity to understand the interactions that two alcoholics in the same family can have with one another.

Double Double provides just that perspective. It's also quite interesting in terms of how Martha Grimes was able to function at a high level as a writer while not being on the wagon. I tend to think of all alcoholics as not being able to function. That certainly has been what I've observed among those who were still drinking.

What most interested me about Double Double were the reasons that Ms. Grimes and her son give for why they drank. I thought that what they had to say rang true.

What was less clear to me is why some methods worked for these two, while others didn't. I would have liked some broad hints for what family members should be looking for and doing with regard to those who may have similar issues.

I didn't know what to expect from the book, and I felt that it was well worth reading. I think you will, too.

Mission to Mars: My Vision for Space Exploration
Mission to Mars: My Vision for Space Exploration
by Buzz Aldrin
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £19.99

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Reflections on Space Exploration, Summary of Current Activities and Plans, and a Policy Proposal, 24 July 2013
"And see the highest stars, how lofty they are!" -- Job 22:12 (NKJV)

If you have even the slightest interest in space, Buzz Aldrin is familiar to you. As the second man to set foot on the moon and an engineer, he brings a unique perspective to the question of what the United States and the world should be doing in space. I was greatly blessed to read this volume that nicely summarizes lessons from past exploration (don't waste money on single-use equipment and have plans to continue what you start), summarizes current activities and plans of the various nations (moon, mars, and asteroids) and private companies (space tourism and supplying government missions), and shares his own vision (as well as that of others) about what should follow and when for space exploration (where, what, and how), development (making development more self-sustaining), and permanent residency (through terraforming). I can rarely remember gaining so much interesting information as pleasantly and as compactly.

While Dr. Aldrin has his own views, he generously shares others and points out some of the weaknesses in his own thoughts. I liked the way that he attempts to use the best of what everyone is doing to assemble a more effective and valuable space program for humankind. Although the title obviously focuses on Mars, you'll find useful thoughts about space stations, space shuttles to and from the moon, moon mining, a second "space race" to the moon, visiting asteroids, defending Earth against impacts with asteroids and comets, and developing permanent colonies on Mars and elsewhere.

I struggle a bit to find any weaknesses in the book. The only ones I can think of are the lack of greater explanation of how various constraints limit current space options compared to one another (such as costs of refueling versus providing oxygen versus providing energy, etc.). In a number of places, I was struck that atomic energy sources might present options ... but such were not discussed even in terms of the security dangers. Without such information, it's hard to assess the true pros and cons of the various approaches that might be taken. Of course, trial and error will soon prove some options superior to others.

I applaud Dr. Aldrin and co-author Leonard David for putting together a helpful and thought-provoking book.

Read it!

Bad Monkey
Bad Monkey
by Carl Hiaasen
Edition: Hardcover

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Roach Detective in Search of His Regaining His Career, Dignity ... and View, 24 July 2013
This review is from: Bad Monkey (Hardcover)
"My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience." -- Luke 1:2-3 (NKJV)

Isn't it interesting how the difficulties of others can strike us as really funny? Knowing that a book is fiction relieves my guilt at such laughter. Bad Monkey elicited from me some of the biggest laughing jags I've experienced in several years. I think it will with you, too.

Carl Hiaasen has a way of imagining the goofiness that can overtake an ordinary life in ways that make me wonder if he lives out some of these fantasies in private. Andrew Yancy, roach detective, is one of his most inspired creations. Due to an unmentionable assault on the husband of his girlfriend, Yancy is no longer a real detective. He's lucky to still be employed, but as a restaurant inspector. In the Florida Keys, that means finding bugs, rats, ... and worse in restaurants. Your joy at dining out may never be quite the same after reading the candid descriptions of what he finds. He has a crazy love life (two quite unusual women float in and out of his life during the book) and a neighbor whose driving him crazy with an illegally tall spec house that's destroying his view ... and driving away the tiny native deer.

The Keys can definitely house some unusual matters, but you won't remember Hemingway in the future as much as you will the arm that Yancy serves and protects ... and draws on for detecting.

The criminals are of the kind that only Florida can breed (at least in reputation) and the book has many humorous twists and turns before settling down to a predictable, almost-serious ending. The serious landing is the book's primary weakness. If Mr. Hiaasen had only remembered the old saw about "leave them laughing," he could have written a comic masterpiece. As it is, he's written an entertaining source of many happy laughs for just about any reader. Moving some of the action to the Bahamas increased the potential for craziness a little, but some may find references to some of the characters there to be offensive.

What about that bad monkey? Well, he provides one of the wildest images in the book (an X-rated one). I'll say no more.

Thanks for adding many satisfying laughs to my week, Mr. Hiaasen!

Counterclockwise: A Proven Way to Think Yourself Younger and Healthier
Counterclockwise: A Proven Way to Think Yourself Younger and Healthier
by Ellen Langer
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.99

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Integrate Mind and Body through Fresh Thinking about Living a Fuller Life at Any Age, 19 July 2013
"Now Abraham and Sarah were old, well advanced in age; and Sarah had passed the age of childbearing." -- Genesis 18:11 (NKJV)

As a youngster, your may remember occasions when you didn't want to go to school and claimed to be sick. Your mother may have responded by noting, "It's all in your mind." If she did, she had it right.

In this fascinating work, Professor Ellen J. Langer of Harvard recounts her seminal study of how aging was reversed by taking elderly men for a week-long experience where they relived the past as though it were still occurring. As fascinating as I have always found this study, I had never fully appreciated how it was conducted until reading Counter Clockwise. If that's all the book did, it would be well worth your time.

Professor Langer goes on to share other studies that demonstrate how mindfulness has important benefits for quality of life and longevity. If you aren't familiar with her work, you'll find these studies equally fascinating.

Beyond that, she raises what for me were new questions for how to think about assisting the elderly and growing older oneself. She has profoundly affected my thinking. As an example, a discussion about an elderly drive started the other day about "taking the keys away." I noted that the person is still fairly competent at driving in the daytime and suggested that the person be asked to start having someone younger ride along at night to do the driving then. After that, I noted that the person might need someone to ride along during the daytime to watch out for unnoticed hazards. Eventually, the "ride-along" person might turn into a permanent driver for longer trips. And so on. I was delighted to see that the conversation about "taking keys away" was totally squelched, as it should have been. This person's life is tied up in driving, and we should enable his driving safely ... not plot to stop it.

Unless you plan to die young and don't care about older people, this book should not be missed. You owe it to yourself!

Brava, Professor Langer!

The Twenty-four Hour Mind: The Role of Sleep and Dreaming in Our Emotional Lives
The Twenty-four Hour Mind: The Role of Sleep and Dreaming in Our Emotional Lives
by Rosalind D. Cartwright
Edition: Paperback
Price: £11.99

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Sleep Is Good for You!, 19 July 2013
"How long will you slumber, O sluggard? When will you rise from your sleep?" -- Proverbs 6:9 (NKJV)

Many people avoid sleep, thinking it to be a waste of time. Should you have ever held that thought, I strongly recommend that you read The Twenty-Four Hour Mind to appreciate the many valuable processes that occur during sleep, especially in the last hour or so.

If you are like me, you haven't sought out the various sleep studies to learn what they say. Even if you have, you may not have been able to integrate the knowledge into a total perspective on sleep. If you have any interest in sleep or better health, this book will bless you by filling in such perspectives by one of the most important contributors to the field, Dr. Rosalind Cartwright.

At another level, this is an entertaining book about applying ingenuity to access information that seems unavailable. I was also intrigued by the physical challenges for researchers of staying awake night after night to probe this night-time activity.

If you only read one new book about health this year, I recommend this one.

Brava, Dr. Cartwright!

The One Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results
The One Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results
by Gary Keller
Edition: Paperback
Price: £12.78

7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Helpful Reminders and Powerful Metaphors for Concentrating on What's Most Important, 17 July 2013
"Then Jesus said to them, 'I will ask you one thing: Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do evil, to save life or to destroy?'" -- Luke 6:9 (NKJV)

The title tells the book's key message: concentrate, concentrate, concentrate!

Yet most people probably find doing so to be harder now than ever before, as they fend off interruptions, multiple responsibilities, and being more easily bored. This book is a timely reminder that we do better by focusing our minds and efforts to do just what is most important until it's accomplished. That's because we are limited ... as well as the way that the right results accomplish far more than achieving lots more of other results.

Reminded of this lesson, I resolved to focus my students more in what they learn at one time. I am so glad that I did. Their rate of learning zoomed!

I had learned this teaching concept as "chunking down," an expression I have never liked and that doesn't clarify my thinking very much as a teacher.

The metaphors in the book's early chapters moved me. I especially liked the one about how a falling domino can tip over a much larger one, such that the effects of pushing the first one over quickly multiply to creating enormous results.

Once past these exciting, powerful lessons, I was disappointed to find that the detailed advice for choosing what to concentrate on is far more pedestrian. I also felt that not enough was done to explain how to pick the most valuable improvements, nor the methods to use for accomplishing them. The advice is pretty much same-old, same-old linear thinking that doesn't fulfill the potential of the domino metaphor.

But if you have never read anything about the importance of concentration and what to apply your concentration to, you will find this to be an excellent book to get you started. If you think you know what to do, I believe you will at least gain some new encouragement to follow more often what you know.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jan 11, 2014 10:28 PM GMT

The Finkler Question
The Finkler Question
by Howard Jacobson
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

2 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Identity Probed from the Outside In ... Slightly Softened by Humor, 29 Jun. 2013
This review is from: The Finkler Question (Paperback)
"Who is like the Lord our God, Who dwells on high, Who humbles Himself to behold The things that are in the heavens and in the earth?" -- Psalm 113:5-6 (NKJV)

Calling The Finkler Question a funny book is like calling Hamlet a humorous play ... just because it has the gravediggers commenting on a skull. There certainly is humor in The Finkler Question, humor designed to soften what otherwise would be too much angst and gloom for many readers to sustain.

So if you are looking for a good old belly laugh, look elsewhere.

If you want to learn more about identity, this is your book. Howard Jacobson has succeeded in providing the kind of multi-layer story that delivers new insights each time it is reread or thought about again. While on the surface the main story line is about a life-changing event that causes a Gentile to see himself differently, the application of that story is much broader.

While I'm sure many people who are Jewish or know much about Jewish life will point out the inaccuracies in what is portrayed, I think that they will miss what I take to be the author's point in choosing to do so: identity looks much different from without than from within. For that reason, Jewish people will probably "get" more of the book's intended message ... to the extent that they don't take the details as an attempt to portray their own lives and beliefs.

The book also has much to say about the forms of identity that form our foundation, contrasting identity through birth, connection to others, relative to others, and in contrast to others. Through the story's development, it's clear that Mr. Jacobson favors seeking a firmer foundation based on a sense of the uniqueness that defines a person.

It's not an easy read. You have to chew on it. I took the book in small doses and felt rewarded for doing so over four weeks. Stop whenever you've got a mouthful and don't start again until that mouthful is swallowed and digested.

Before you leave the book behind, reflect on who you are? Who is that person?

Bravo, Mr. Jacobson!

Paris: The Novel
Paris: The Novel
by Edward Rutherfurd
Edition: Audio CD

0 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Eiffel Tower, France, and Thomas Gascon Outshine Paris, 20 Jun. 2013
This review is from: Paris: The Novel (Audio CD)
"You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden." -- Matthew 5:14 (NKJV)

I admire anyone who attempts to write a novel called "Paris: The Novel." I think it's an impossible task, but I deeply appreciate the opportunity to enjoy the best of what is provided. And I thought that the best in this book was pretty interesting: glimpses of the Eiffel Tower that reminded me of visits there and extended my understanding of its structure and history, spotlights placed on some of the lesser-known parts of French history (such as the Commune), and an interesting character who is well-woven into much of the plot (Thomas Gascon).

Unfortunately, the book isn't as consistently interesting, focused, and detailed. The characters are often little more than sketches. And Mr. Rutherfurd loves to quickly switch centuries to make ironic connections between families that must be more amusing to him than they were to me. Many favorite spots in Paris receive only a quick dab. I think the book's plan was too ambitious. Cut it back to just following the last 150 years with fewer of the best-developed characters, and I think the book could have been a big winner. It's not a strike-out by any means, but more of a bloop hit rather than a line-drive after making solid contact.

I do recommend the book, but don't expect that you will find the same Paris that you know and love. In many cases, you'll get more of a passing reference to names and places that are familiar ... but little else. The book is actually more focused on France than on Paris. But if it had been called "France: The Novel," the difference between the title and scope would have been even more obvious.

Pay attention to the Family Tree in the front of the book (better yet, stick a bookmark there for easier access), or you may find that you are struggling to keep track of characters whose names are different, but whose characteristics aren't especially memorable.

One final word: If you aren't especially interested in how the Statue of Liberty and the Eiffel Tower were built, you won't like this book as much as I did.

Solid work, Mr. Rutherfurd!

Whiskey Beach
Whiskey Beach
by Nora Roberts
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £14.28

2.0 out of 5 stars A Novella Stretched Out of Shape into a Novel, 20 Jun. 2013
This review is from: Whiskey Beach (Hardcover)
"I am slow of speech and slow of tongue." -- Exodus 4:10 (NKJV)

If you have never read a Nora Roberts novel, you will probably like this book better than I did. I expected a lot more than the book delivered. As I read it, the book felt to me as if it had been written as a brief plot draft and padded out to novel length. There was enough here to make a nice, tight novella ... but not enough for a novel. As a result, it's oh so slow!

Having shared those views, the book has one redeeming quality: Abra Walsh is an interesting character, well developed in every way. Otherwise, I would have described Whiskey Beach as a one-star book. I hope Ms. Roberts will write a whole book about Abra Walsh. Now, that would make for good reading!

The lead character, Eli Landon, reminds me of the lead sinkers that I put on fishing line to get the bait below the surface where only the fish will see it. Abra Walsh needed a male foil, but Eli Landon is as leaden a one as I've had the misfortune to read about in some time. Ms. Roberts could have just called him, "John Victim," and let him soak in his victimhood for 80 percent of the book ... and few would have noticed the difference.

There are some tiny mysteries in the book (not much more than what would sustain a short story), and I don't think those will draw you in.

While there is a love story here, it's more of a "nurse Abra takes on the self-crippled victim" than a love story that would inspire many readers.

It's very watered-down whiskey, indeed!

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