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Caspar Thomas (London, UK)

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Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking
Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking
by Malcolm Gladwell
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting & entertaining book on instinct, 5 April 2013
I found this to be a very interesting and entertaining book. I have read one of Gladwell's books before (called "Outliers") and this book is just as clearly and logically laid out.

If I were to summarise it I would say it is a book about the human faculty of instinct - the ability to make momentary judgements. And as the title implies, this takes no longer than it takes you to "blink". It is a book about the ability of that part of our brain that makes lightening fast calculations and judgements unconsciously, before informing our conscious what that judgement is.

The book goes into detail about the efficiency with which our brains are capable of doing this and also the extent to which it is also prone to errors in certain circumstances (e.g. resulting from our prejudices). In fact I was particularly interesting to read about prejudice and the difference that there can be between our stated beliefs and our actual unconscious biases.

Gladwell also discusses how we can hone our instinct through experience, in what situations it is (un)reliable and how it can be infected by information other than that necessary to make the judgement. A great example of this is when he discusses orchestra maestros auditioning musicians in which the judgement of a musician's musical ability can be affected, unhelpfully, by how he/she looks, is dressed, walks and so on.

I would urge anybody with a general interest in the topic of instinct to read this book.

Life Ascending: The Ten Great Inventions of Evolution
Life Ascending: The Ten Great Inventions of Evolution
by Nick Lane
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.99

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Very comprehensive, but too technical to have popular appeal, 27 Nov. 2012
I was excited about reading this book as I am interested in evolution, having read about the subject in Richard Dawkins' books. I also thought the idea of the 10 best "inventions" of evolution was very clever. I am curious to know how evolution could bring about, say, an eye, or the complex cell, and also why organisms that age and die should have evolved if natural selection is "choosing" those organisms that are better able to survive.

In reality I found the book to be overly technical - particularly the first 3 chapters (The Origin of Life, DNA and Photosynthesis). It seems that the author, who is clearly extremely knowledgeable of his subject, chose not to condense what is known about the subject into a simple idiot-proof, understandable explanation. Instead he has included a lot of technical detail and names of the scientists involved with the discovery of the corresponding theories. What I would have prefered, to be honest, is a layman explanation making use of analogies outside the field of biochemistry.

However, I did get something out of the following chapters: Sex, Consciousness & Death. I found these chapters (especially the latter two) to have slightly less technical detail and found them more readable than the rest of the book.

The author has a literary and thoughtful style and has clearly gone to great pains to make sure there are no errors in the book and I did not detect any typos at all (in the paperback edition).

In summary, I would suggest that this book is suitable for someone who already has a fairly strong background in evolutionary theory and perhaps some knowledge of biochemistry. If that is not the case, then I would be slightly wary about buying the book - although some of the chapters may be of interest (i.e. those three mentioned above).
Comment Comments (5) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Nov 3, 2013 2:03 PM GMT

The Tools
The Tools
by Phil Stutz
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £14.94

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A good self help book, 6 Aug. 2012
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: The Tools (Hardcover)
This book provides 5 so-called "Tools" (i.e. mental exercises) that can be used in various situations in which you may need help. For example there is a Tool to deal with negativity and another to deal with a lack of motivation and so on.

The book makes it clear that it is not a magic pill that will cure all your ills after one read through. It is up front about the fact that applying the Tools requires work and that that work must be kept up continuously in order for the benefit of the Tools to be ongoing.

The book is practical in the sense that the Tools have come about (and been refined) through testing what exercises work on numerous patients and then tweaking them to be as effective as possible. However, the explanation given as to why they work includes the idea of "higher forces" - the details of which are not discussed. These higher forces can be interpreted by the reader as he/she wishes and the authors are careful not to say that they are a god.

In summary - although as the authors state the exercises do require consistent work - I believe the exercises could be truly beneficial, and the book is an interesting read in itself.

The Self Illusion: Why There is No 'You' Inside Your Head
The Self Illusion: Why There is No 'You' Inside Your Head
Price: £5.99

33 of 36 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Thought provoking and easy to read, 11 May 2012
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
I really enjoyed this book and found it a pleasure to read (albeit you do need to concentrate in parts). The concept that there is no "self" is a pretty hard one to get your head around, although it certainly makes sense to me - and even more so given the evidence that Bruce Hood outlines.

The reason I haven't given the book 5 stars is that I would like to have seen a section/chapter that explores what the concept of "no self" means for the way that we live our lives. That is to say, the fact that we have no consistent personality and are not much more than our brains, which in turn is a collection of (changing) memories, must be a very valuable piece of information when it comes to informing the way we live our lives. The other small criticism I had of the book is that the version I read (the Kindle version) had quite a number of typos which makes me wonder whether the book had been rather rushed into publication.

However, overall, I would strongly recommend this book. It has proved, to me, to be a great introduction to the otherwise illusive and mystical concept of there being "no self".
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Sep 25, 2012 12:12 AM BST

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