Blog Archives

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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Good Prose: The Art of Nonfiction (Tracy Kidder and Richard Todd)

4.5 out of 5 stars

Cut to the Chase:
This book is full of well written prose that gives opinions and examples on a variety of things that go into “good writing:” everything from characterization and choice of first vs. third person narration to the placement of essayists in the literary hierarchy. The story also details the almost lifetime of friendship between Kidder and Todd in a very interesting, introspective way. I didn’t always agree with the “advice,” and found some of the example they chose to be somewhat contradictory to the points they were making, but still, it was well written, interesting, and kind of like a collapsed recommended-reading list (in that they were often quoting from other books, some of which I had never heard of, but now want to look up).

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Dickens’ London (Peter Clark)

3.5 out of 5 stars

Cut to the Chase:
If you’re a Dickens enthusiast, this is actually kind of interesting… very, very dense (despite the pictures) and with lots and lots of references to Dickens’ life and works. The book is organized via a series of “walks” and oscillates between quotes from Dickens’ works and brief historical notes about particular buildings, when they were constructed (and with what intentions), as well as how researchers deduced how Dickens’ fictional places corresponded with real geographical places (largely through letters Dickens had written and based on what travels Dickens had taken while writing).

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Crash: A Mother, a Son, and the Journey from Grief to Gratitude (Carolyn Roy-Bornstein)

3 out of 5 stars

Cut to the Chase:
Just as it was a difficult book to read, this is a tough review to write. In terms of the story being presented: a mother who was a nurse and is now a doctor  is trying to learn how to care for her son after a horrific car accident that kills his girlfriend and leaves him with a head injury that changes his personality and memory… it’s compelling and moving. Of course it’s compelling and moving. On the other hand, the writing felt uneven to me: there are sections that are beautifully sparse and sympathetically drawn, and there are other times when it almost feels as though she’s sharing her worst memories just to share them  (one particular example of a newborn she treated, though she knew the baby was dying comes to mind). Parts of it do come off a little holier-than-thou, which is tough, because so much of the novel is meant to be her struggling to care for her son (and her son telling her she’s a bad doctor) as a mother as opposed to as a doctor/former nurse. The story is compelling, but the writing and the pacing made it much harder for me to relate to the people.
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2013 Writer’s Market Deluxe Edition (Carol Tice, Jane Friedman, C. Hope Clark)

3.5 out of 5 stars

Cut to the Chase:
The detailed and updated list of literary agents, book publishers, and consumer magazines is probably the most worthwhile part of this book (and they obviously know this, as these “indices” account for about ⅔ of 900+ pages). There are nice snippets of information throughout (for example: writing a query letter, how to handle social media/marketing), but as usual with this series, none of the introductory chapters provide any really meaty information and the indices, while very helpful, are nowhere near complete. As an aspiring writer, I feel that it’s still nice to have say, 80% of the information I need gathered in one easy place, but you could definitely recreate any individual chapter by just Googling the topic for a few hours.
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If Chins Could Kill: Confessions of a B Movie Actor (Bruce Campbell)

5 out of 5 stars

Cut to the Chase:
If you’re a fan of Bruce Campbell (from the Evil Dead movies, or maybe you’ve seen him on Burn Notice) then this is unquestionably a 5 out of 5 star book. The writing style is conversational and you feel almost like you’re hanging out with him, asking him all those questions you’ve always wanted to know — how’d you get that scar? You really met Sam Raimi in high school? How’d you make all that fake blood, Karo syrup? Really? Tell me more. If you’re not a Bruce Campbell fan… I still think it’s a fun, worthwhile read about how low budget movies get made, how cult followings sometimes develop and how difficult and kind of hilarious trying to make it in Hollywood can be. He rants, he jokes, he reminisces about how a comedy of errors became a comedy of terrors… he keeps you interested and turning the pages with that familiar (again, if you’re a fan) odd charm of his.

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You Are Not So Smart: Why You Have Too Many Friends on Facebook, Why Your Memory Is Mostly Fiction, and 46 Other Ways You’re Deluding Yourself (David McRaney)

3.5 out of 5 stars

Cut to the Chase:
This book is probably fine for readers who have very little background in human psychology, but if you’ve ever read anything else on the topic, it’s likely to be repeated here.  The chapters, though numerous, are extremely short and give a very superficial treatment to common cognitive errors and logical fallacies.  If this is your first encounter with the subject material, you will likely find this to be an entertaining and interesting overview.  If, on the other hand, you already know anything at all about these topics, you will find this book to be a frustrating repetition of snippets you have seen or heard elsewhere.  There’s nothing new here, but McRaney has an engaging style and a great knack for humor, so this has the potential to be a great read for the right audience… that just wasn’t me.
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Great by Choice (Jim Collins and Morten T. Hansen)

3 out of 5 stars

Cut to the Chase:
This is an interesting look into some companies that have thrived throughout the sometimes chaotic economic ups and downs of recent years. Similar to what he has done in his past works, Collins (working with Hansen here) researched a variety of companies and then chose the ones that significantly outperformed their peers despite similar circumstances and starting points. The book focuses on the set of companies that succeeded despite uncertain environmental influences and conditions.  If you’ve read other works by Collins, it has a similar feel and ring — with a lot of well told/interesting anecdotes followed by seemingly boiled down, bare bones advice and to-dos. It’s an interesting read, though a little repetitive compared to Collins’s past works.
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First, Break All the Rules (Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman)

4 out of 5 stars

Cut to the Chase:
Written by two consultants for the Gallup Organization, this is an interesting synopsis of what the authors learned while interviewing and researching a variety of managers and supervisors (I think they said 80,000 interviews in all).  A wide variety of interviews and stories are presented and summarized here — from basketball coaches to hotel workers to restaurant managers, there is great breadth in terms of the levels of leadership and also (you would think) the types of skills required to hold these various positions.  Ultimately, their conclusions were (perhaps necessarily) a little over-reaching and broad, i.e.: great managers focus on talent rather than skill (without clearly delineating between the two), try to encourage their workers’ strengths rather than create/grow new strengths, etc. Still, it was a more in-depth dive than many other business books, and had some interesting anecdotes without really being a detailed how-to-guide.
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Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap… and Others Don’t (Jim Collins)

3.5 out of 5 stars

Cut to the Chase:
A well-written synopsis of 11 “great” companies and some of their similar characteristics, this is a fun, quick read that is great in terms of party trivia and information… but it’s tougher to judge if you’re looking for more of a business how-to.  Partially, it has aged poorly — many of the companies selected have since had meltdowns of epic proportions (for example: Fannie Mae, Circuit City), and the “how to” part of the book feels generalized and far more subjective than the methodology/selection criteria would have you believe. Still, you’ll learn quite a few fun facts about how some of these business started and/or converted to become the giants they are today.
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