Blog Archives

Smarter, Faster, Better (Charles Duhigg)

3 out of 5 stars
The short version:
This felt like a second-rate rehashing of The Power of Habit. Even though the stories are different and *some* of the points are different, you could have probably whittled this down to 2-3 chapters and stuck it onto the back of The Power of Habit and called it a day…

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Posted in Nonfiction

Headstrong: 52 Women Who Change Science — and the World (Rachel Swaby)

3.5 out of 5 stars

This is a very well-intentioned book that is more informative and encyclopedic than actually inspiring. As a female engineer with two daughters, this is the type of reading material I want to see more of, and perhaps because I had such high expectations, I was ultimately disappointed.

The idea behind the book is fantastic: the introduction explains that a New York Times obituary for rocket scientist Yvonne Brill highlighted her cooking skills (I think specifically, beef stroganoff) and her relationship with her husband (following him to different jobs, raising three children)… as opposed to her own, individual accomplishments.  You know, like being a rocket scientist.

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Posted in Nonfiction

Subliminal: How Your Unconscious Mind Rules Your Behavior (Leonard Mlodinow)

4.5 out of 5 stars

Cut to the Chase:
Well-written, clearly planned and researched book on how our subconscious often has undue influence over what we believe are logically-driven, thought-through decisions. There’s a nice blend of information with anecdote which will be appealing to most readers. Strict scientists will probably occasionally be annoyed by the use of overarching summation instead of strict numbers and statistics, and non-scientists might sometimes wish for a little more to be grounded in friendly anecdotes. Overall, I found this to be a nice blend of science and well-written non-fiction.

Greater Detail:
Mlodinow starts by using a series of anecdotes and past experiments to help ground you in the history of what eventually becomes brain and cognitive science/neuroscience and lays the foundation for quite a bit of marketing madness that has happened over the past couple of decades. We go from some basic definitions (like what does subliminal actually mean) to how the “science” behind this field slowly grew from pseudo-science to a respected, hot-topic field.

A lot of the history shared was interesting, even if you have taken those intro psychology courses — he goes through everything from some of Freud’s less famous early starts to some better-known experiments in the field (everything from Coke vs. Pepsi to reward pathways in our brain and how we often trick ourselves).

I found a lot of the historical asides to be fascinating (especially as they relate to how the field gradually became established) though the beginning sections were more interesting than some of the middle chapters (which I felt meandered a bit).

A very quick, informative, thought-provoking read overall: enough to make you question the validity of this visceral instincts that sometimes guide us (that are perhaps just an unconscious but active processing of subliminal cues) and also make you wonder how much our senses and logic fool us…

Comparison to Other Books:
This is like a far more science-based version of a book like The Power of Habit, and a far less technical version of something like Thinking Fast, Thinking Slow. It’s a really nice blend of science and story-telling, and will definitely make you wonder about just how you’re making your day-to-day decisions.

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Posted in Nonfiction

The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do In Life

4.5 out of 5 stars

Cut to the Chase:

Super-interesting, mostly-research-based book that details the habit loops of people (from athletes to addicts) and organizations. It’s full of interesting anecdotes and small business history lessons and functions mostly as a quick and easy read, one that is full of little snippets of advice on how you might change your personal habit loops, as well as concrete examples of how such patterns have worked in the past. There are definitely times when he’s chosen to present one particular side of a very controversial event, and other times where things seem to be a bit glossed over, but it’s a fun read (which I valued slightly more for entertainment/habit-thought-provoking, than actual research).

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Posted in Nonfiction

Will Not Attend: Lively Stories of Detachment and Isolation (Adam Resnick)

3.5 out of 5 stars

*Got an ARC from Goodreads*

Pros:

1. Strong, comedic voice. There are times when Resnick’s voice (though that’s almost not a strong-enough word, it’s almost like a developed and honed persona here) really shines through, and that’s when the writing is the strongest. Though it’s meant to be memoir-like, there are parts when it feels more stand-up-comedy rant, and that’s when it actually flows the best, when you can almost picture a younger, maybe slightly-less-angry Lewis Black narrating this to you…

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Posted in Nonfiction

Weekend Wonder Detox (Michelle Schoffro Cook)

3.5 out of 5 stars

Cut to the Chase:
As someone who’s never tried a “detox” week/weekend/recipe and who still isn’t going to, I’m clearly not the target demographic for this book. Still, it was a quick and interesting read. I found the beginning sections citing toxins in our food/processing systems/packaging systems to be far more informational than the latter “solutions” type of sections, but it’s possible I’m just always more interested in the problems than in the so-called fixes. The writer has a nice, succinct style of writing, and the sections are clearly organized and well delineated. That said, I’m a skeptic who stayed a skeptic. Despite the persuasive writing and authoritative tone, I wasn’t invested enough by the earlier sections to want to actually try any of the detoxes described. I’m giving it 3.5-stars because it was well-written, interesting and entertaining… not because I tried any of the solutions recommended within.
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Posted in Nonfiction

A Guilty, Low-Calorie Recipe Book that Makes me Crave Fast Food — aka My Review of The Guilt Free 3

1 out of 5 Stars

Short and Sweet:
This was a nice teaser, and it’s nice that it’s free. It also has fine pictures, a great concept, and a nice explanation as to why 300 calorie dishes are good ideas.

BUT, and this is a big but, despite the fact that the pictures try to make the dishes sound appealing, the ingredients alone make me not at all interested in trying the dishes (which is terrible, I know, but I can’t see myself getting this book or others when just looking at the ingredients makes me go, ew…)

To me, the combination of Skinny Cow cheese, turkey burger, and ketchup just doesn’t sound at all appealing. It feels like I’d rather have a smaller portion of the full-fat version than an only-slightly-bigger version of a too-”healthed”-up version.

I know this means that I’m reviewing the book without trying the recipes, but I just can’t bring myself to try them :(

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Posted in Nonfiction

Into the Wild (Jon Krakauer)

2 out of 5 stars

Cut to the Chase:

It’s possible that I just wasn’t in the mood for a fiction/non-fiction, man-against-wilderness read, and for that, I apologize. I was helping a student with this assignment, and thus, had to read it. I found the book… unbearably frustrating. It delves deeply (almost too deeply) into the teenage angst-y feelings and emotions of McCandless. We have interviews from his father, his mother, his friends, and it just feels… too much. For a book that’s about a wilderness adventure, we spend remarkably little time hearing about those final days, and the pages and pages of details describing his unhappiness, his desire to be bigger and better and leave behind the shackles of society, all felt like kind of cliched pre-pubescent ramblings (from both the author and the protagonist). There are bits of writing that are quite well done, even beautiful, but they’re buried until needless trivia and overly-long descriptions.

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Posted in Nonfiction

Kale Made Easy: Simple and Delicious Recipes (Deborah Kirk)

Friend of the site Deborah Kirk has just published her new Kindle e-book of kale recipes.  Since she’s a friend of the site, we can’t provide an unbiased review, so we’ll let her speak for herself:

In Kale Made Easy: Simple and Delicious Recipes, you’ll find 20+ irresistible recipes to incorporate into your breakfasts, lunches, dinners, and snacks, from berry kale smoothies and honey mustard kale chips, to kale and white bean Italian soup and sesame parmesan kale fettuccini!

This great book includes healthy recipe ideas for:
Breakfast
Kale Chips
Snacks & Appetizers
Soups
Salads
Main Dish & Entrees

Hailed as a super food, kale is full of nutrients and easy to grow in home gardens or window pots. Kale is low in calories and high in vitamins A, B6, C, and K, as well as being a great source of calcium, magnesium, copper, potassium, iron, manganese, and phosphorus. Yet many people are unsure how to cook kale properly or combine it with other ingredients to create delicious dishes. Raw, cooked, or baked, kale takes on a different flavor depending on how it is prepared. Learn how to make it a family favorite with easy recipes for snacks, smoothies, and every meal of the day.

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Posted in Nonfiction

The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Undermine Education (Diane Ravitch)

5 out of 5 stars

Cut to the Chase:
This is one of the most important books about education currently in print. It is timely, it speaks to important issues at both a policy and practical level (though more the former than the latter), and most importantly, it is not only well thought out and well researched, it is also accessible. Too often, I’ve read education books that are clearly tiered towards researchers, towards economists, towards just teachers, or just school leaders. This is really a book that sums up the state of education (and truly, it’s a sad state of affairs) as well as how we got here (the good intentions and so on). It’s kind of short on solutions (I think), and some have claimed that it’s a little idealistic… so fine… it’s not perfect. But, it is important, well-written, and something that I think parents and educators should read to better educate themselves on our current K-12 school system.

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Posted in Nonfiction