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Oliver (Los Angeles)

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The Moral Landscape
The Moral Landscape
by Sam Harris
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.98

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Clear Thinking on Complicated Issues, 10 Jun. 2013
This review is from: The Moral Landscape (Paperback)
Philosophers and others have made morality seem like such a complicated issue. Sam Harris points out that, in the end, morality is about what increases happiness and decreases suffering. No other definition of morality even makes sense. Arbitrary rules set out by religion or other dictators of right and wrong rarely, if ever, are designed to maximize happiness or minimize suffering. In other words, morality is an empirical question about how the world works, and thus one which science can at least try to address. That does not mean that the answers to specific moral questions will be easy, and Harris certainly does not pretend to have them. He does, however, explain what questions to ask. And that is a great start.


Subliminal: How Your Unconscious Mind Rules Your Behavior
Subliminal: How Your Unconscious Mind Rules Your Behavior
by Leonard Mlodinow
Edition: Paperback

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Useful and Enlightening Guide into How Our Minds Work, 10 Jun. 2013
Most of what happens in the human brain is below the level of consciousness. We don't think about how to walk, or how to type or even how to drive home from work. These things all happen automatically, unless we happen to focus our attention on them. And it has to be that way. Imagine if you have to focus your attention on each step of each task. But the subconscious mind is far more important than a servant that manages menial tasks. It also plays an important role in decisions that we think of as conscious and thoughtful. This well-written book provides an excellent guide to how our subconscious minds work, and how important they are in every day life. Everyone can and should benefit from reading books like this.


10,000 Year Explosion: How Civilization Accelerated Human Evolution
10,000 Year Explosion: How Civilization Accelerated Human Evolution
by Gregory Cochran
Edition: Paperback
Price: £11.99

5.0 out of 5 stars A New Chapter in the Story of Evolution, 10 Jun. 2013
Did evolution simply stop 10,000 years ago? Of course not. Evolution is a continuous process. Sometimes it moves more quickly than other times. When a species' environment changes, the species is likely to evolve to meet the new circumstances. About 10,000 years ago, humans began shifting from hunting and gathering to farming. That changed nearly everything about our environment. We ate different foods, including grains and milk. We also started living in the same place, rather than roaming. Perhaps most importantly, we began to live in larger groups, which means we had to learn to get along differently and we became subject to different kinds of diseases. All of these changes in circumstances changed us. Different environments favor different genes, and we began the process of adjusting to a new life, a process that goes on to this day. This book tells that story in a lively and informative way. Highly recommended.


Rosetta Stone Version 3: Japanese Level 1, 2 and 3 Set with Audio Companion (Mac/PC CD)
Rosetta Stone Version 3: Japanese Level 1, 2 and 3 Set with Audio Companion (Mac/PC CD)

2.0 out of 5 stars No Nearly Worth the Price, 2 Jun. 2013
Someone clearly put a lot of time into creating the Rosetta Stone program. The production values are pretty good. But, the purpose of the program is to learn Japanese, and the amount of Japanese you can learn from all three programs is very limited. Better to spend the money on covering more material, and skip the bells and whistles.

In my estimation, all three programs are insufficient to equal even one full year of college Japanese. I'm not saying that the program is bad, just that it is limited in the amount of material covered. Perhaps my expectations were too high, but given the shockingly high price, I think I had a right to have those kinds of expectations. I would have returned it if I could, but I foolishly bought it on sale when it cannot be returned.


The Anatomy of Peace: How to Resolve the Heart of Conflict
The Anatomy of Peace: How to Resolve the Heart of Conflict
Price: £5.49

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Simplistic, But Worth a Read, 2 Jun. 2013
Anatomy of Peace is sort of a prequel to Leadership and Self-Deception. If you loved Leadership, you'll love this one, too. If you are choosing between the two, I'd skip Leadership and start here. Anatomy picks up where Leadership leaves off, and is in some sense more advanced, but the concept(s) in these books are pretty simple and you might as well start here.

In reading both of these books, I felt caught between two feelings. On the one hand, I felt like there is a lot of truth in what the authors are trying to convey, and that I could gain quite a bit by adopting some of their attitudes towards others. On the other hand, the way they delivered their message had a paternalistic, absolutist feeling to it that made me feel like Big Brother was writing to me. The books seems bent on convincing, rather than discussing, and the manner in which the material is presented is quite like propaganda.

This is a short book, and easy enough to read. But, if you are interested in this topic, you could do better. I recommend instead: Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me): Why We Justify Foolish Beliefs, Bad Decisions, and Hurtful Acts by Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson. Mistakes Were Made is a much more direct and balanced look at the same topic, and I highly recommend it.


Running on Empty: An Ultramarathoner's Story of Love, Loss, and a Record-Setting Run  Across Ameri ca
Running on Empty: An Ultramarathoner's Story of Love, Loss, and a Record-Setting Run Across Ameri ca
Price: £8.51

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Inside a Fascinating Mind, 2 Jun. 2013
On its surface, Running on Empty is about Marshall Ulrich's run across the United States. But in a more important sense, the book is hardly about running at all. It is about the struggles and emotional growth of a man whose first wife died of cancer at about 30 years old, shortly after the birth of their first child. Ulrich originally takes up running to literally and figuratively "run away" from his very substantial troubles. Ultimately, however, Ulrich learns to deal with -- "accept" is probably too strong a word -- what happened to him early in life, and his relationship to running, his friends, and family all change for the better. Despite the tragedy, the book is ultimately positive and life-affirming.

The book really works for two reasons. First, Ulrich's unique personality and determination are fascinating. Second, and perhaps more importantly, Ulrich generously shares his feelings with the reader in what felt to me like a very honest and open fashion.

Finally, despite the heavy topic, Running on Empty is an easy read. Ulrich is not going to win any Nobel Prizes for literature, but he communicates effectively and clearly, in his own unique voice.

Highly recommended!


Closing the Opportunity Gap: What America Must Do to Give Every Child an Even Chance
Closing the Opportunity Gap: What America Must Do to Give Every Child an Even Chance
Price: £16.14

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Compelling Explanation of Where Our Education Policy Is, and How to Move Forward, 2 Jun. 2013
For those like myself who are not experts in education, "Closing the Opportunity Gap" offers an accessible collection of research-based essays from top experts explaining how US policy has strayed into a series of misguided choices - and how to steer back onto a sane path. The chapters are relatively short, well-documented, and surprisingly well-written (given that the authors are mainly academics). I was also pleasantly surprised at how well the chapters hang together.

For those with more of a passion about what's now going on in the nation's public schools, the book also offers concrete policy guidance. The authors or editors have also created a website (http://nepc.colorado.edu/book) that has policy recommendations, success stories and other practical resources.

At its heart, the book has a pretty straightforward premise: The nation's excessive focus on measuring outcomes and demanding improvement is out of balance. If we expect to make any real progress, we need to balance the measurement of outcomes with a strong attention to inputs. Specifically, the main body of the book turns to experts in different areas of research, who explain how "opportunity gaps" arise in that given area and how they can be closed. For instance, one chapter makes a compelling case that most of the measured achievement gaps already exist by the time children enter kindergarten or first grade. The authors point to solid research showing the potential of high-quality preschool to make a big difference at the outset.

Other chapters point to opportunity gaps in areas like childhood health and nutrition, housing transiency, and teacher experience. Looking at the policy-recommendations document on the book's website, I counted 19 different areas that could be addressed.

This specificity makes the book particularly useful for policy-maker types. At the very least, I would like to see those behind current policies seriously confront the evidence presented in this book.


Bring Out the Best in Your Child and Your Self
Bring Out the Best in Your Child and Your Self
by Ilene Val-Essen
Edition: Paperback
Price: £12.37

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Bring Out the Best in Your Child and Yourself, 16 April 2010
This book does what it says: make family life a whole lot easier. It gives you an entirely new way to understand children and teens. Even when behavior is awful and kids resist, it's clear that a core part of them actually wants you to help them grow and mature. Despite all the protests, they want you to look beneath the surface and see the best within them'to be firm and help them realize their best. Knowing that gives you the courage to set boundaries and do it in a way that models mutual respect. And that's the valuable goal of this book: to help parents create the environment that brings out the best in everyone'a family based on mutual respect.

You get a ton of help in doing that. In one chapter the author reveals 'The Awful Secret:' under stress, all parents lose it at times, yelling or threatening or behaving in ways they're not proud of. This is the only book I've ever seen that recognizes that reality, shows why it happens to adults and children and gives you practical and positive ways to deal with troubling behavior, whether it's your kids' or sometimes your own. Several exercises (some I practiced, some I didn't) really do help you to deal better'to actually stay calm when the going gets rough.

You learn a lot about children, teens and yourself in this book. It guides you through a process, step by step. In addition to useful insights, there are many practical skills, from handling conflicts to preventing problems before they ever happen. The principles are pretty universal, very helpful in any relationship. In my opinion this book is in a whole different league. You might feel resistant to some parts, as I did at first, but it definitely proves to be valuable.


The Plot Against America
The Plot Against America
by Philip Roth
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Creepily Plausible, 10 Aug. 2008
The premise of this book is unusual, and did not appeal to me before I read the book. Roth invents an alternate history where Charles Lindbergh is elected President of the United States in 1940, defeating FDR. Roth then retells what is presumably his own life story, beginning when he was a seven year old Jewish boy living in New Jersey. Needless to say, things do not go well. President Lindbergh cozies up to the Nazis, the United States withdraws support from England in World War II, and, most importantly for the story, Jews are persecuted here in the United States.

This book is not just an idle story, or at least not in my view. It is a cautionary tale about what can happen, and how easy it is for a society to turn to the dark side. Of course, it is fiction, so it does not prove anything, but the fact that the story seems so plausible makes it very scary indeed. Given my personal views, I felt a bit like I was reading about the Bush administration!

Finally, whatever you may think of the odd premise, the book is well-written and fun to read. I highly recommend it.

p.s. I stole the title for my review from the New York Times review, but it is absolutely accurate.


Freedom from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder: A Personalized Recovery Program for Living with Uncertainty
Freedom from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder: A Personalized Recovery Program for Living with Uncertainty
by Jonathan Grayson
Edition: Paperback

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Guide to Treating Your OCD, 10 Aug. 2008
First, a disclaimer: neither I nor anyone close to me suffers from OCD. If the author made basic mistakes or overlooked certain truths about OCD, I probably would not know it. That being said, the author sure seems knowledgeable to me.

This book is clearly designed to help OCD suffers treat themselves, as opposed to explaining the disorder to those of us who are less familiar with the disorder. Nevertheless, the book is still interesting enough for a general audience, as it does describe in some detail what it is like to suffer from OCD.

The suggested treatment seems well-thought out, even if it is not particularly complicated or particularly easy to follow. In fact, the author makes it clear from the outset that he is not offering a simple treatment, like taking an antibiotic for an infection. Rather, the OCD sufferer must simply get used to whatever it is that bothers him. Now that is a vast oversimplification, and the author has put much more thought into it than just saying, "Deal with it." In the end, however, the OCD suffer must apparently, if gradually, learn to deal with whatever was bothering him.

If I had OCD, however, I would certainly give this book's treatment a try.


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