Wealth Secrets of the One Percent: A Modern Manual to Getting Marvelously, Obscenely Rich is resolutely not a self-help book, but rather a tongue-in cheek history of how great fortunes were made, starting with Marcus Crassus in ancient Rome and ending with Bill Gates. Along the way, we meet robber barons and many bankers, and, it must be said, a lot of cheaters, exploiters, and traitors to their friends and associates. As the author says, one of the important traits of people who make a lot of money is that they want to make a lot of money… They are also very good at harnessing the power of government to their benefit. A sobering tale, full of telling details (and, occasionally, overly geeky).
Monthly Archives: November 2015
After too many years of loathing time spent on planes (first world problem) I vowed to fully appreciate the wonders of takeoffs and the delights of landings. It’s transformed my experience. With Skyfaring: A Journey with a Pilot, we meet a pilot who never ceased to be amazed at the world he sees from up high, the planes he flies, and the naval terminology that aviation adopted.
He can talk lyrically about clouds and about the redcaps, the flight coordinators who ensure that people, food, fuel, and luggage all make it onto the plane; about the arcs around the world that planes follow to take advantage of ever-changing winds and the funny little bunks off the cockpits where the pilots can nap on long-haul flights. And he has many anecdotes about sun visors, two-hour countries versus four-hour countries, and the funny names of beacons and air-control regions, all behind-the-scenes knowledge that is a delight to the passenger-reader. Wonderful!
The Road Home: A Contemporary Exploration of the Buddhist Path invites the reader to embrace meditation as a way out of essential anxiety. The author’s voice is kind and not overly spiritual, so the text is quite accessible. He also manages to take abstract, even obtuse Buddhist concepts and translate them into clear, sometimes colloquial English. My favorite part of the book came at the end, where he shows how the Buddhist tradition encourages students to use the energy of so-called sacred emotions to change the world. If you thought that Buddhism was essentially passive, you are in for a surprise!
Still, I would not quite wrap my head around the fact that anxiety is our default state….
Making Space: How the Brain Knows Where Things Are is a book about serious science, so as early as page 17 it discusses how opsin helps us detect light — and I will admit that I don’t care to know in that much detail, nor do I think that the densely written page 17 can successfully explain to a novice what a protein is, what active sites on a protein are, and exactly what opsin does. That being said, if you can either muster the patience and courage to dive into the details, or if you have the fortitude to skip over them, you will find plenty of interesting experiments that show how we use our hearing, eyes, and touch to figure out where we are in space and where everything else is.
Until I read Imperium: A Fiction of the South Seas, I did not know that Germany used to have a presence in what is now Papua New Guina, an island called New Pomerania, which is the setting for the novel. Starring a lunatic young man who believes that eating coconuts and running around naked will bring health and happiness, it follows this real, but heavily massaged voyage to the Pacific and eventual death on a small island off New Pomerania, conveniently comprised of a coconut plantation. The story is different and farcical. Its end is truly bizarre, and since it’s the part of the story that was totally invented by the author, it makes one wonder.
The rest of the book can be enjoyably read while thinking about today’s fad diet aficionados…
I have many quibbles with NeuroTribes: The Legacy of Autism and the Future of Neurodiversity, the main one being that the author focuses on high-functioning individuals on the autism spectrum, starting with his example of Lord Cavendish. If all autistic adults were like him, surely many would wish for autistic children — and although the author does bring up other examples, he for the most part presents fairly well-adjusted adults and children, with dedicated parents and resources to help. Not exactly a realistic portrayal of life in the trenches.
That being said, the book presents a vivid history of autism and Asperger’s syndrome, from the first researchers of autism, Hans Asperger himself and Leo Kanner, to the Nazi purges of the disabled, including autistic children and adults, the awful experiments that (non-Nazi) doctors inflicted on autistic children while searching for a cure , and the dreadful “refrigerator mother” theory of Bruno Bettelheim, and finally the rise of parent (and patient) activists. In an age when “autistic” is thrown around carelessly, it’s interesting to see how long it took for the theory and acceptance of it to take hold.
A young son dies and The Loved Ones remain bereft and a bit lost. In the case of the Devlins, the father is bizarrely sent over to London to head a cosmetic company, despite having no experience at all, which allows the reader to wallow in luxury hotels and chauffeur-driven limos, alone with a few last-minute plane trips. Meanwhile rapist boys hang around the daughter, protected by their mothers, suicides are attempted, and the worst is: we don’t care that much.
Making Democracy Fun: How Game Design Can Empower Citizens and Transform Politics may have created the least fun way to present the rather fun examples at its foundations — so if you’d like to tackle it, either deploy considerable patience for the first 100 pages or so, or skip to chapter 4. For some reason the author is intent on giving the reader an exhaustive description of game design theory before jumping into the examples, and I almost gave up before getting to the two examples that are described in detail: the process to transform an Argentinian slum and so-called participatory budgeting for a Toronto housing project. I’m glad I kept going because the examples, presented transparently, both what worked and what did not, are inspiring, and the techniques used to get participants involved can be used in many other settings.
What is it with Scandinavians and wacky, leave-it-all-being plots like The 100-year Old Man? In The Year of the Hare, the hero is considerably younger when he decides that his job as a journalist is stifling and he’d rather rescue a maimed hare. Abundant adventures ensue, including some jail time, an encounter with a raving bear, and cross-border diplomatic incidents. It got a little too unlikely for me by the end but the premise was delightful and the story was fun.
In The Love She Left Behind, two adult children with little in common are reunited on the occasion of their mother’s sudden death. The story follows them, one a successful lawyer with a conventional family and the other a single mother with financial and children issues, as they untangle her affairs and revisit her second marriage with a difficult playwright, marriage that caused her to essentially abandon them for her new life.
The setting, in an isolated country house and the cast of characters, starting with the curmudgeon widower but also including a desperate graduate student who comes to interview him and almost marries him make for a very entertaining plot. It does not quite come together in the end, as we never discover the true secret of the marriage, and the final scene is over the top, but it’s good fun until the last pages.