19 April 2014

Review of Robert Wright's The Moral Animal

The Moral Animal: Why We Are the Way We Are: The New Science of Evolutionary PsychologyThe Moral Animal: Why We Are the Way We Are: The New Science of Evolutionary Psychology by Robert Wright
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I was introduced to this book during a course on Buddhism and Modern Psychology. Wright covers a lot of ground in this well organized and tightly written book.

Wright doesn't hand down laws, saying "This is how it is," but rather leads with questions and tries to work out the answers based on Darwinian Natural Selection. This is not an easy task; so much is not available when examining the world from a purely materialistic point of view. When one is not allowed to give credit to supernatural, or even non-biological mental events, it really demands a serious and deep interrogation of the biological, chemical, and other physical causes of why people do the things they do. Wright uses several events from Darwin's life as examples, and in doing so makes both evolutionary psychology and Darwinian Natural Selection accessible to his readers.

If you're interested in morality, Darwin, evolutionary psychology, or why people do what they do, this is an excellent read.

If you're not interested in those topics, it's STILL and excellent read! I highly recommend it.

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18 April 2014

Review of Joshua Foer's Moonwalking With Einstein

Moonwalking With EinsteinMoonwalking With Einstein by Joshua Foer
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Foer uses several examples of how these mnemonic techniques work, and compares/contrasts them to those few people who have unexplained super-memory because of brain damage or brain syndromes. He investigates and includes stories about several people who have such syndromes and are able to do amazing things with their memories, or in some cases, can't remember anything after a few seconds: i.e. they can't develop long-term memories.

Joshua Foer participates in the U.S. memory competition, being trained by one of the top Mental Athletes, as they are called.

Several mnemonic techniques are explained and shown through example. It may be a jump between some of these techniques and real-world application of them, but many can be used immediately in "the real world."

It was a fun read/listen, and if you're interested in the memory, memory competition, mnemonics, memory palaces, or anything like that, I recommend this book. Even if you've read Tony Buzan, Harry Lorayne, Gary Small, Cicero, and others' books on memory, this is a new view on an ancient topic.

Enjoy.

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Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything

15 April 2014

Review of Michael Krasny's Spiritual Envy: And Agnostic's Quest

Spiritual Envy: An Agnostic's QuestSpiritual Envy: An Agnostic's Quest by Michael Krasny
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Krasny asks a book long question (that I shared to some extent), and asks the reader to join the question; he invites the reader to seek along with him. It's probably safe to say that not all agnostics feel the way he feels; but, questioning comes with the territory, I think. Krasny doesn't claim to know the answers. I really appreciate that in this time of such overpowering (sometimes almost nauseating) certainty: in both the believer and atheist camps. Certainty eludes me, as it eludes Krasny, and he isn't afraid to share his uncertainty and what he is doing in spite of it.

Lately, I've had some slight envy, similar to what Krasny writes about, and questions of how to be the best person I can be in this life I have. I don't believe religion is necessary for morality, but I can see how it has shaped morality, mores, and ethics in different societies and for individuals within those societies.

What I miss is the camaraderie that I enjoyed when I was a practicing Christian and that is the envy I have for those who are confident and solid in their faith. Occasionally, I envy the comfort that would come with certainty, but then I remember that if I were certain, I would not have the curiosity to keep my mental hunger fed.

If you are interested in how some agnostics think, this book can help you ask the kinds of questions to find your own way, without telling you how you should think or believe. Read it and see what you think.



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Spiritual Envy: An Agnostic's Quest

13 April 2014

Review of Thomas Merton's Echoing Silence

Echoing Silence: Thomas Merton on the Vocation of WritingEchoing Silence: Thomas Merton on the Vocation of Writing by Thomas Merton
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I enjoyed this book, but didn't get a lot out of it as far as the "vocation of writing" is concerned. It is more memoir-ish, dealing with Merton's own vocation. And that leads to another concept: I think it has to do with his vocation to be a Catholic monk and a writer. Vocation in the narrower/earlier sense: i.e. a calling, rather than the more broader/more current sense of a career/job. And I really expected more about writing itself--as a skill/practice. There is some of that, but as you probably realize (and I missed) is that it deals more with being a Catholic monk, contemplative, and a writer in the world, in the context of readers and fellow-writers, etc.

That being said, there are a few ideas and concepts that are important across the board for writers from any lifestyle. So, that begs the question: is it worth reading to get those few nuggets that one may find in other books on writing? I guess that depends on the potential reader's interest.

If you're interested in Christian writing/writing as a Christian: yes
If you're interested in Thomas Merton's writing in general: yes
If you're interested in being a monk and a writer: definitely
If you are simply interested in becoming a writer: there's probably a better book out there, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't read this one....

The things I like most about this book is that it is a sort of anthology, with parts taken from several of Merton's books, so it's an introduction to his writing while trying to focus on the vocation of writing. There are a lot of good thoughts within the pieces included. Thoughts on life and on living, but that are (imho) not that pertinent to writing.

I recommend this book and hope you enjoy it as much as I did. But, if you're looking for a book on how to be a writer don't expect too much.

Echoing Silence: Thomas Merton on the Vocation of Writing

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Echoing Silence: Thomas Merton on the Vocation of Writing

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11 April 2014

Review of Susan Cain's Quiet

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop TalkingQuiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking by Susan Cain
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Excellent book. I think every parent, educator, .... actually, every human being should read this. If you are an introvert, it will help you understand yourself better. If you are an extrovert, it will show you ways to strengthen your relationships with introverts.

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Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking