Book Review – Teaching a Stone to Talk

Teaching a Stone to Talk

By Annie Dillard, Published 2008

Few of us have trained our eyes to see the world as the Annie Dillard. To take the ordinary and expose its intricacies. This set of essays explores some of the exotic places Annie has visited: Ecuadorian jungles, the Galapagos Islands, places that most of us will never set foot. She also traverses her own backyard. Though different than the places I tread, it seems there is just as much I can learn about living in my not-so-ordinary spaces. Annie’s easy prose speaks of wonder that moves between both physical and spiritual realities.

Recommendation: Read and know that you should never be bored.

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Book Review – Where Good Ideas Come From

Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation

By Steven Johnson, Published 2010

All of Steve Johnson’s books take seemingly mundane topics and turn them into fascinating stories, intertwined with science, history and human behavior. His latest effort, Where Good Ideas Come From is no exception. With such concepts as the adjacent possible, exaptation, liquid networks, the slow hunch, serendipity ,and platforms, he reveals a discovery process that is much more probable, and probably more accurate, than the eureka experience documented by so many idea generators from history. Much credit goes to the tinkerers and those willing to commit errors. One may wonder how Johnson pulls a book of ideas together like this. He shares one of the tools that he uses, DEVONthink, a personal digital journal, database and semantics analyzer. You’ll express dismay as Johnson shares how disconnected our various government entities are that pursue terrorists and marvel at the efficiency of open systems (e.g. universities). It would seem, based on his analysis, that most of the innovation from history comes from a methodical approach, building on the work of others, and an occasional bit of luck.

Rating: ♦♦♦♦◊

Recommendation: Read it and then head back to your lab, or garage, for the next great innovation in…

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Book Review – We Have Met The Enemy

We Have Met the Enemy: Self-Control in an Age of Excess

By Daniel Akst, Published 2011

Two important takeaways from this book. First, gaining self-control is one of the hardest things most people will ever do. Second, you will need help to do it. This book will challenge everyone to think about how much influence we have over our actions. When we are strong of mind and body, we are probably more accountable for our actions, says Daniel Akst. And when fatigue besets us, beware. Daniel covers all topics from greed and overeating to sex, smoking and buying things. After pointing out the areas of struggle that are common, he reviews the research that validates the negative effects of lack of self-control. One example is how one’s level of self-control is a better predictor of academic success than IQ. Control oneself is the central them of the book. And while there are many techniques offered that can assist with that, it is clear that to varying degrees, all of us are dependent on others to moderate our desires. Daniel brings the debate into the public square and discusses the role of government as it relates to self-control. In fact, think about what laws are on the books that, in reality, serve to “protect” us from a lack of self-control. This book won’t draw the line, but it will make you think.

Rating: ♦♦♦♦◊

Recommendation: A read that will open your mind.

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Book Review – Quiet Leadership

Quiet Leadership: Help People Think Better – Don’t Tell Them What to Do!

By David Rock, Published 2006

First half of book was very good. Good insights on listening and how people become more accepting of ideas. At the end of each chapter is a practical exercise to help you “know thyself.” A few seem contrived. Still many will give you a better understanding of how you interact and respond to others. The second half of the book was less valuable. It felt labored and less realistic as I though about conversations I have. If you read this book, your mind will likely wander to others around you. The good ideas in this book will not catch on unless you give them a try.

Rating: ♦♦♦♦◊

Recommendation: Read and try a few of the ideas.

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Book Review – The Toyota Way

The Toyota Way: 14 Management Principles From the World’s Greatest Manufacturer

By Jeffrey K. Liker, Published 2004

Read this book if you want to lead change in your business. Study and practice it if you want to see change happen. The ideas are time tested and no doubt you’ve seen them at work in your business or as a customer.

Rating: ♦♦♦♦♦

Recommendation: Read and act on the knowledge within. It’s never too late.

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Book Review – The Happiness Hypothesis

The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom

By Jonathan Haidt, Published 2006

It’s impossible to summarize one’s life work (this book) in a short review, but so be it. Haidt’s book is pointed to by many as the definitive book on happiness. He draws on the full history of psychology as well as many religious traditions and aligns common threads with research. The book is expansive in its coverage and to the interested reader, offers many launching pads for further reading.

Written by a Jewish Atheist, Haidt moves beyond antagonizing those who’s beliefs he disagrees with, which is so common in current writings. Rather than defining them as irrational, he considers why psychology can explain the different perspectives and how they contribute to happiness. This book does not try and cannot answer the deepest questions of life. It’s good to see the different perspectives.

Rating: ♦♦♦◊◊

Recommendation: Read because it is a good resource for many of the contained topics but search elsewhere for how to live.

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Book Review – Mastering HD Video with your DSLR

Mastering HD Video with your DSLR

By Helmut Kraus and Uwe Steinmueller, Published 2010

Interest in video with DLSRs continues grow as the technology becomes more accessible, that is cameras with high definition capability and interchangeable lenses. Helmut and Uwe introduce all varieties of gadgets that can further enhance the “out of the box” DSLR experience. Having been an amateur with both video and DSLR for several years, I found the crossover discussion in the book very helpful. There is a foundational discussion on hyperfocal distance. Comparing form factors, the difference between full frame sensors and smaller sensors, is also helpful in translating lenses. As excited as I am to explore the world of DSLR video, I can’t help but be overwhelmed by the number of gadgets available to enhance the experience. Be prepared to spend as much, 0r more, on purchasing additional video gear as you did on your DLSR, if you want the best. Knowing you can get into professional looking videos cheaper than through the traditional route is small consolation.

Rating: ♦♦♦♦◊

Recommendation: A good overview of DSLR video

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Book Review – Why Photographs Work

Why Photographs Work: 52 Great Images: Who Made Them, What Makes Them Special and Why

By George Barr, Published 2011

I read a lot of photography books and many offer new (to me) techniques or focus on a specific genre. However, Why Photographs Work has opened my eyes to photography in the way that my fine arts elective in college opened my eyes to art in general. Oh what I’ve been missing!  If you want to “learn” to appreciate photographs beyond a first impression, study this book. George Barr is an exceptional observer and brings an honest eye to all fifty-two photos in this book. What’s additionally helpful is that he’s included thoughts from the photographers. Sometimes they complement one another. Other times the interpretations differ. Either way, I find myself appreciating the image more than when I first looked at it. I also enjoyed the biographies and the website links which introduced me to many brilliant photographers. Many of the images are captured by film and large format camera, but there are some digital and even an iPhone image. If you’ve gone to photography school, this may be familiar territory, but if not and you love photography, you will probably enjoy it as much as I did.

Rating: ♦♦♦♦♦

Recommendation: A must read for any serious photographer

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Book Review – Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience

Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience

By Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Published 1990, Republished 2008

Flow was originally published in 1990. Not reading it until 2011, I missed the original hype and exuberance associated with it. It is like many books that draw from large area of research and draw a common, larger theme out of the material–lots of interesting data but easy to lose “flow” while reading. For this book, I found the mountain of material to be higher than Everest and Mihaly says as much when he talks about having written the book for the “general reader.” His span of experience is broad covering many scientific disciplines, religions, cultures, etc. and I believe that much of the research on human behavior resonates. However, I can’t help but sense that something is missing in this book. The nature of the mind and the research in the first third of the book provide a solid background of the concept of “flow” and “optimal experience”. The remainder of the book was a struggle to finish. Perhaps someone like me, who considers themselves very happy, struggles to find substantial application with what is written. For me to follow one of his suggestion, which is to cast off certain belief systems in search of a new “system” is a contradiction with no value.

Rating: ♦♦◊◊◊

Recommendation: Read to be current on psychology but not to point the way.

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Book Review – The Nature of Photographs

By Stephen Shore, Published 2007

Having never studied photography in an academic situation, I may be missing something of value in this book. Many of the photos have interesting elements but there is nothing profound. Stephen does a good job of explaining why something is not interesting. For example, one photo of the Colorado River, photographed in 1873, would not get a second look by most anyone. It is used to convey a sense of deep depictive space but shallow mental space. I think most modern photographers would find the Nature of Photographs to be more enlightening if the photographs were current or even more familiar. I was also hoping for more commentary from the author.

Rating: ♦♦◊◊◊

Recommendation: Library checkout if you have time

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