26 July 2014

Review of Stumbling on Happiness by Daniel Gilbert

Stumbling on HappinessStumbling on Happiness by Daniel Gilbert
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is an enjoyable book, at times laugh-aloud funny, but always serious. The topics he covers have been covered before, but I can't remember the last time I enjoyed reading about them so much.

Gilbert states that we often don't really know what makes us happy; that we often do things believing they will make us happy, but we misjudge because we base our future on the memories of our past. Often, those memories are unreliable. These thoughts aren't new, but the way Gilbert presents them is and it is worth the laughs you'll get to read them.

It did slow down a little toward the end, the density of the information building, but Gilbert does a good job of keeping it accessible and fun.

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Review of The Tools by Phil Stutz and Barry Michels

The Tools: Transform Your Problems into Courage, Confidence, and CreativityThe Tools: Transform Your Problems into Courage, Confidence, and Creativity by Phil Stutz
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I am working through The Tools: 5 Tools to Help You Find Courage, Creativity, and Willpower--and Inspire You to Live Life in Forward Motion a second time. Initially, I thought that a lot of what Barry Michels and Phil Stutz teach here seems very New-Agey. After thinking about the Tools, I see that the Tools have cognates in Buddhism (esp. Tibetan Buddhism as it has come to North America). Active Love can easily be related to the practice of Tonglen: giving and receiving. A person first must receive love before it can be given.

Okay, you can say: "That isn't real, you're not really giving anything to anyone." I have to agree with that. I'm reminded of Elizabeth Gilbert and the "sending light and love" idea she writes about in Eat, Pray, Love. Even if you don't believe that you are sending actual love to someone, that is not the point. The point is: You are practicing loving that person; if you love someone, you have a harder time being angry (or sad, vindictive, or any other negative emotional state) toward/about that person. I have used Active Love more than any of the other Tools in this book and I can say that it has made it easier for me to stop renting space to those people who have "done me wrong." We often give too much thought to those people we dislike. I have no idea why. But, if you're like me, i.e. sick of doing that, then you'll read this book and use these tools to STOP DOING THAT!!!

What these tools do (only if you use them and use them use them) is give YOU more control over what YOU focus on. And, that is what the last tool focuses on: how to keep yourself using the tools. The authors say that these are not magic pills that you can use only once and then forget. Like anything that really matters, you will have to work at making the changes you want to make in your life.

Barry Michels writes that he was skeptical about the Tools initially, too, but that as he kept using them he realized how much they were helping him. Yes, there may be a time of uncomfortable repetition, but eventually the lack of faith is overcome by belief; and any self help program requires some degree of faith (in my humble opinion).

The authors recommend really sticking to the program, really giving it your all; they recommend not trying them once and then, immediately jumping on to another program and then, to another. As the writers argue is what is often done in consumerist societies: always looking for a magic pill, whether it's weight-loss, money-making, time-management, or whatever.

I have had some success with these tools. Does that mean that you'll have success with them? I have no idea. As usual, all I can say is: read it and use them and see for yourself.

Get yourself a copy, here:
The Tools: 5 Tools to Help You Find Courage, Creativity, and Willpower--and Inspire You to Live Life in Forward Motion

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18 July 2014

Early Review of Mitchell Bard's Death to the Infidels: Radical Islam's Against the Jews

Death to the Infidels: Radical Islam's War Against the JewsDeath to the Infidels: Radical Islam's War Against the Jews by Mitchell G. Bard
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Mitchell Bard's Death to the Infidels: Radical Islam's War Against the Jews, is an information packed history of the Israeli/Arab conflict. Bard makes the argument that Muslim states, particularly those who are radical will stop at nothing to see Jews wiped from the face of the Earth. I was gripped with the intensity with which the Israeli Jews fear for their lives.

The book is useful; I would have liked a few more sources, especially for those areas speaking against Israel's enemies. I know I can search online, but when I'm in the middle of a book, the last thing I want to do is to go online and get distracted while trying to find some piece of information that I expect to be in a book like this. Bard includes several sources, but there are a few places where he doesn't—and in those places they would do a lot to strengthen his side of the argument. As I pointed out, Bard includes a fair number of sources; a bibliography would facilitate the further study of these issues.

Bard argues that the conflict is at that bottom a religious one rather than a political one. It could be political using religion to carry our its ends. It wouldn't be the first time and that interpretation can be gathered from Bard's book.

I'm reminded while reading Death to the Infidels to try to look at both sides of the issue. When so much smoke and mirror propaganda and spin is being used by both sides of the issue, it's very difficult to know where to stand. From my view, which is not in the thick of it, I can see that both sides have done atrocious things to the other; that many people: soldiers, as well as non-military fighters, as well as civilians not involved in the fighting—innocent men, women, and children have died in this conflict that goes on for so long that media in the West stops covering because it's no longer news.

My heart breaks for the Israeli Jews who just want a homeland and it breaks for the Palestinians who want the same thing. It breaks for all those who are caught in the middle of this religio-political melee.

It's difficult to read/research both sides because each side has its own suffering and each side has its spin-doctors. I tend to agree with what Daniel Gilbert writes in Stumbling on Happiness, “When pro-Israeli and pro-Arab viewers [of news] are shown identical samples of Middle East news coverage, both proponents claim that the fact clearly show that the press was biased against their side” (168). They also claim that the other side started it. Gilbert later writes: “Alas, the only thing these facts clearly show is that people tend to see what they want to see” (168, emphasis in original). Bard has made it easier to see the Jewish side, and the fear that keeps the Israelis from giving in to the demands of the Palestinians.

According to Bard, every time the Israelis have given an inch, the Palestinians have taken a mile and have continued to bring terror in the form of firing rockets and suicide bombings. He makes the point, however, that when Israel fires back in defense, they are reprimanded by other nations. It's also interesting that each side claims that the West, especially the U.S. is aiding the other side: the Palestinians say that the U.S. helps Israel; Israel says the U.S. helps Palestine. Books like Bard's are important; he's not afraid to go against the current “politically correct” flow and to tell it like he sees it. He pulls no punches in saying that those who want Israel's and especially the Jews' demise are not moderate and radical, but should rather be called radical and more radical. He quotes (with sources) several who call for the decimation/annihilation of the Jews even if it takes centuries. Because of the lengths to which these radicals are willing to go, Bard argues, Jews and Israel have a long, hard road ahead of the them.

Bard covers a lot of information in a short book, and all of it is important. Read this if you're interested in this heart-wrenching conflict that has cost so many lives and will cost many more before it's over, if it will /can ever be over. I for one hope (probably foolishly) that Bard is wrong, even a little. Alas, it's not very likely: just look at the new escalation that is in the news right now (18 July 2014).

NOTE: This book is due to be published in September 2014.

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13 July 2014

Review of Don Miguel Ruiz's The Four Agreements

The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal GrowthThe Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Growth by Miguel Ruiz
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A simple, but not simplistic, twist on personal growth and self-help. Several times the author states that is takes a strong will to make and keep these four agreements. The beauty is that they are things that we should be doing anyway.

If you're interested in self-help, personal growth, or just plain, good wisdom, then I recommend this book. But, be careful: you may find yourself making some serious agreements with yourself that will change your life.

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04 July 2014

Review of Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy

Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, SpyBonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy by Eric Metaxas
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Overall, I enjoyed this biography. As I read/listened to it, I kept trying to connect it to what I know of Church history and history in general from this time. It was fascinating to learn new things about the Nazi party, such as: they started their own Church: Reichskirke (officially: The German Evangelical Church).

Metaxas shows the many sides of Dietrich Bonhoeffer and does an excellent job of bringing the young pastor's internal and external struggles to the reader. Many people played many roles in the stand against Hitler's Nazi party during those years in Germany; it's interesting to see what role those leaders in the Protestant Church (particularly Lutheran) played.

Bonhoeffer and many of his friends and colleagues were punished and killed for their role in the downfall of the Third Reich.

If you're interested in the Lutheran Church, Church History, History before/during WWII, or the role played by the Church during the Nazi Third Reich, this is an interesting place to begin looking at those various topics/subjects.

As always, you'll just have to read it to discover if you'll like it or not.

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