Personal Development

Review: Just Tell Me What I Want

Cover of "Just Tell Me What I Want," featuring the title in a dark gray box on a background of palm trees and flamingos
Image from Sara Kravitz

Title: Just Tell Me What I Want: How to Find Your Purpose When You Have No Idea What It Is

Author: Sara Kravitz

Genre: Personal Development

Trigger Warnings: Gendered language, Christianity

Back Cover:

This book is for anyone who has ever been told to “follow their bliss” and then immediately wanted to punch that person in the face. Maybe you feel like you should have things figured out by now. Maybe you think things should be better, but you don’t know how to get started. Maybe you would love to work really hard toward something, but aren’t totally sure what that something is.

What if there was actually a way to get you pointed in the right direction? And what if it didn’t involve someone telling you to “follow your bliss”?

This book will:

  • give you concrete tools to figure out what you want
  • help you take steps toward a life that you actually want to be yours
  • help you understand that everyone feels this way at some point, but you don’t have to feel this way forever
  • not tell you to follow your bliss

Change can be scary. Change can feel risky. But taking a chance is always worth it. This book will help you take the right steps for you to figure out what you want.

Review:

This is going to be a short review, because this is a pretty short book.

I found a free copy somewhere, picked it up because I was bored at work, and was honestly unimpressed with chapter one. It was boring and unspectacular, and I almost stopped reading.

But I’m glad I continued, because the rest of the book was pretty good.

Let’s be clear – it doesn’t exactly tell you how to figure out what you want. But it does give you some techniques for figuring out what you don’t want, which is a step in the right direction. It talks a lot about feeling out what’s not right for you and understanding that you have options, which is a great thing to talk about. And it’s also pretty inspiring.

There were a couple things that bothered me about it, though. One was that there was a surprising amount of swearing. Most of the time swearing doesn’t bother me, but in this case it didn’t fit with the tone at all and I think it would have read better if there wasn’t swearing. The other thing that bothered me was a few mentions of God in a Christian context. This may not bother everyone, but I wasn’t expecting it and I wasn’t a fan.

I want to say more about it, but there’s not much more to say. It was good. It had some good tips. There also wasn’t a lot that I hadn’t already heard before. It was a lot better than I expected, but still not fantastic.

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Current Issues/Society

Review: Bobos in Paradise

Cover of "Bobos in Paradise," featuring a long-haired woman holding a coffee cup and sitting next to a laptop and a man in a suit holding a gardening trowel surrounded by trees and large flowers
Image from Goodreads

Title: Bobos in Paradise: The New Upper Class and How They Got There

Author: David Brooks

Genre: Current Issues/Society

Trigger Warnings: None

Back Cover:

Do you believe that spending $15,000 on a media center is vulgar, but that spending $15,000 on a slate shower stall is a sign that you are at one with the Zenlike rhythms of nature? Do you work for one of those visionary software companies where people come to work wearing hiking boots and glacier glasses, as if a wall of ice were about to come sliding through the parking lot? If so, you might be a Bobo.

In his bestselling work of “comic sociology,” David Brooks coins a new word, Bobo, to describe today’s upper class–those who have wed the bourgeois world of capitalist enterprise to the hippie values of the bohemian counterculture. Their hybrid lifestyle is the atmosphere we breathe, and in this witty and serious look at the cultural consequences of the information age, Brooks has defined a new generation.

Review:

I read this book back in high school – it was one of the texts for my AP Sociology class. And I enjoyed it so much that I kept it after the class was over. Lately I’ve been wanting to reread it, so here we are.

This is mainly a sociological text examining the phenomenon of “bourgeois bohemians.” Brooks calls them “Bobos,” I explain them to people who ask what this book is about as “basically hipsters.” Because that’s pretty much what they are, with their “natural/rustic is better” aesthetic and their love of things that are new but look old and their willingness to pay lots of money for handmade/organic/artisan versions of normally cheap things. Brooks’ name for them comes from the way they developed as a blend of the bourgeois capitalist upper class and the artistic bohemian counterculture.

Brooks and I differ on what we consider “upper class,” though. What Brooks describes as upper class in this book is what I think of as upper middle class. Upper class is, to me, people like Jeff Bezos and the Koch brothers – people who have so much money they can’t think of anything better to do with it than buy politicians or research space travel. Whereas the people who Brooks describes are making $100,000+ per year and have debt from living beyond their means. Which sounds more upper middle class than middle class to me.

I’m also not sure how accurate this book is anymore. It was published in 2000, and while I can still see some of the things Brooks points out (especially in the area of cultural values), some of the things he says don’t seem applicable these days. Notably the chapter on politics – Brooks’ point in that section is that Bobos are more moderate and shy away from any sort of radicalism or anything that’s too ideological or dogmatic. And looking at the current state of American politics and our hyperconservative, highly ideological, highly dogmatic current administration, it’s pretty easy to see that that is not true.

Accurate or not, though, Bobos in Paradise is still a highly interesting (and entertaining) read and gives a glimpse of a lifestyle that seems simultaneously hypocritical and desirable. If you’re looking for insight into today’s world, this might not be the best place for you to go, but if you want to learn about hipsters and where the upper middle class was headed in the early 2000s, this book will be an enjoyable place to get your information.

Women's Issues/Feminism

Review: Loving to Survive

Cover of "Loving to Survive," featuring red text on a tan and white background
Image from Thrift Books

Title: Loving to Survive: Sexual Terror, Men’s Violence, and Women’s Lives

Author: Dee L.R. Graham

Genre: Women’s Issues/Feminism

Trigger Warnings: Discussion of rape, incest, domestic violence, sexual harassment, and abuse

Back Cover:

The authors of this book take Stockholm Syndrome as their starting point to develop a new way of looking at male-female relationships. “Loving to Survive” considers men’s violence against women as crucial to understanding women’s current psychology. Men’s violence creates ever-present, and therefore often unrecognized, terror in women. This terror is often experienced as a fear for any woman of rape by any man or as a fear of making any man angry. They propose that women’s current psychology is actually a psychology of women under conditions of captivity, that is, under conditions of terror caused by male violence against women. Therefore, women’s responses to men, and to male violence, resemble hostages’ responses to captors.

“Loving to Survive” explores women’s bonding to men as it relates to men’s violence against women. It proposes that, like hostages who work to placate their captors lest they kill them, women work to please men, and from this springs women’s femininity. Femininity describes a set of behaviors that please men because they communicate a woman’s acceptance of her subordinate status. Thus, feminine behaviors are, in essence, survival strategies. Like hostages who bond to their captors, women bond to men in an effort to survive.

This is a book that will forever change the way we look at male-female relationships and women’s lives.

Review:

This was an interesting book.

Right off the bat I was skeptical of the concept – that because of male violence, all women have Stockholm Syndrome (a phenomenon called “Societal Stockholm Syndrome” in the book) and women’s relationships with men are filtered through that lens. (There was also an implication that heterosexual women are only heterosexual because of Stockholm Syndrome, which was just plain weird to me.) But I decided to give it a chance.

The book started with a discussion of Stockholm Syndrome. It went over in detail the Swedish bank robbery that the syndrome got its name from, which was actually a fascinating read, and covered the conditions necessary for it to develop. Then it moved into examining the situation of women in (modern American) society and matching that up with the conditions for Stockholm Syndrome to develop.

Some of the points made sense – like that women have no way to “escape” from men or be completely positive that they will not be victims of male violence. Others – like the idea that the only perspectives women have access to are male perspectives – seemed like a bit of a stretch. Dee had some good ideas and gave a solid explanation of many aspects of patriarchy, but ultimately, I was unconvinced. It’s definitely a theory worth exploring, but in my opinion, there just isn’t enough solid evidence to call it a fact.

The last chapter, though, was worth the entire read. It covers ways women have and can resist the patriarchy and is full of practical, actionable things you can do to work on de-Stockholm-Syndrome-ing yourself. I’m not a woman, but I definitely plan to use some of those suggestions.

And speaking of that – I am not a woman (I’m agender), and I also don’t have a lot of experience with male violence, so I didn’t find this book all that relatable. Women and those who have experienced a lot of male violence will probably see themselves more in these pages. This book also doesn’t even touch on trans or nonbinary issues – it is 100% about cis women and cis men.

Overall, though it lacked enough evidence to convince me, Loving to Survive presented some good ideas, made some solid points, and gave an excellent discussion of the violence aspect of the patriarchy. And if nothing else, it’s a fascinating read.

Technology

Review: Code

Cover of Code, featuring a white background with the title in red letters; underneath the letters is each letter in braille and binary code.
Image from Charles Petzold

Title: Code: The Hidden Language of Computer Hardware and Software

Author: Charles Petzold

Genre: Technology

Trigger Warnings: None

Back Cover:

What do flashlights, the British invasion, black cats, and seesaws have to do with computers? In CODE, they show us the ingenious ways we manipulate language and invent new means of communicating with each other. And through CODE, we see how this ingenuity and our very human compulsion to communicate have driven the technological innovations of the past two centuries.

Using everyday objects and familiar language systems such as Braille and Morse code, author Charles Petzold weaves an illuminating narrative for anyone who’s ever wondered about the secret inner life of computers and other smart machines.

It’s a cleverly illustrated and eminently comprehensible story—and along the way, you’ll discover you’ve gained a real context for understanding today’s world of PCs, digital media, and the Internet. No matter what your level of technical savvy, CODE will charm you—and perhaps even awaken the technophile within.

Review:

This is not the kind of book I would normally read. But I found a free PDF of it somewhere online, put it in Evernote to read someday, and started it because I’m at my new job for 5 hours every day and I have about 1.5 hours of work per day.

Code is an interesting book. It takes you through the technology from the telegraph to the computer, and explains a lot of concepts in the meantime. Reading it was the first time I felt like I actually understood Boolean algebra or non-base-10 numbering systems like base-8, base-12, and even binary (base-2).

On the other hand, computers are complicated. I’ll admit that the part where he explained how computers use circuits to store information and read it back out went way over my head. If you don’t have an extremely mathematical, mechanical, or engineering mind, it might not be a bad idea to have an engineer or computer expert on hand to explain some of this stuff to you.

This book is a little outdated – copyrighted in 2000 – and doesn’t cover a lot of newer technological advances like smartphones or even the video capabilities of computers. (Towards the end, Charles mentions that videos displayed on computers are poor quality and jumpy.) It’s a good book to understand how computers exist, how coding works, and the way electrical currents can store things as complicated as text and images, but you’re not going to get anything about the sheer power of modern computing.

This is a short review because I really don’t have a lot to say about this book. It was interesting. I learned a lot. Some of it was complicated and I really didn’t understand, even though Charles did his best to put it in simple English. Code was interesting and useful, but there wasn’t anything really spectacular about it.

Personal Development

Review: Braving the Wilderness

Cover of "Braving the Wilderness," featuring a few pine trees in front of a light blue sky
Image from Brené Brown

Title: Braving the Wilderness: The Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone

Author: Brené Brown

Genre: Personal Development

Trigger Warnings: Fatphobia (mention)

Back Cover:

“True belonging doesn’t require us to change who we are. It requires us to be who we are.” Social scientist Brené Brown, PhD, LMSW, has sparked a global conversation about the experiences that bring meaning to our lives—experiences of courage, vulnerability, love, belonging, shame, and empathy. In Braving the Wilderness, Brown redefines what it means to truly belong in an age of increased polarization. With her trademark mix of research, storytelling, and honesty, Brown will again change the cultural conversation while mapping a clear path to true belonging.

Brown argues that we’re experiencing a spiritual crisis of disconnection, and introduces four practices of true belonging that challenge everything we believe about ourselves and each other. She writes, “True belonging requires us to believe in and belong to ourselves so fully that we can find sacredness both in being a part of something and in standing alone when necessary. But in a culture that’s rife with perfectionism and pleasing, and with the erosion of civility, it’s easy to stay quiet, hide in our ideological bunkers, or fit in rather than show up as our true selves and brave the wilderness of uncertainty and criticism. But true belonging is not something we negotiate or accomplish with others; it’s a daily practice that demands integrity and authenticity. It’s a personal commitment that we carry in our hearts.” Brown offers us the clarity and courage we need to find our way back to ourselves and to each other. And that path cuts right through the wilderness. Brown writes, “The wilderness is an untamed, unpredictable place of solitude and searching. It is a place as dangerous as it is breathtaking, a place as sought after as it is feared. But it turns out to be the place of true belonging, and it’s the bravest and most sacred place you will ever stand.”

Review:

I am a huge fan of Brené Brown, so much so that this book make my top 5 anticipated reads of 2018. I was especially excited because it talks about belonging, which – as someone who feels like the misfit in most situations – promised to be really helpful for me.

And overall, this was a solid book. I just had one major issue with chapter four, which made me put down the book for a little bit – but I’ll get to that.

Brené starts by talking about disconnection, how it’s a basic human need and modern society is very disconnected. She also talks about the “wilderness,” which is basically her conception of a place where you’re authentically yourself and radically vulnerable and open to connection with others. Then she goes into four steps her research has found to move towards that wilderness:

  1. People are hard to hate up close. Move in.
  2. Speak truth to bullshit. Be civil.
  3. Hold hands. With strangers.
  4. Strong back. Soft front. Wild heart.

Chapter four was the first step: “People are hard to hate up close. Move in.” And I agree with her idea here, which is that if you make the effort to truly understand where people are coming from and what they believe, it’s hard to hate them. My problem was that she brought politics into it, and she’s definitely coming from a white moderate, “let’s all be friends” view. Which, on one hand, I understand. If you’re privileged like she is (white, straight, cisgender, rich, Christian), it can be easy to want to get along with everyone because politics doesn’t affect you a lot. But if you’re queer, a person of color, poor, Muslim, or any other variety of minority, politics has the potential to affect you a lot. I’m not trying to say that you shouldn’t bother trying to understand someone with different politics from you, but in the age of neo-Nazis who want people dead for being black, queer, Muslim, etc., safety is more important than understanding. Despite what Brené Brown says, it is not necessary to attempt to understand people who want you dead.

Beyond that one problem, though, I didn’t have issue with the book. Brené goes on to talk about setting boundaries and standing up for yourself while still being vulnerable, avoiding black-and-white thinking and searching for the gray areas, avoiding superficial and negative connections based on mutual dislike, and the power of seeing people in person. There are a lot of good and applicable ideas that inspired me and made me want this “true belonging” that Brené talks about.

This one of those books where I feel like I’ll have to read it a couple times to fully … I don’t want to say fully understand it, because I did understand it, but I guess fully acknowledge and understand how I can apply this to my own life. Even though I definitely disagree with Brené’s politics, I still think this is a very worthwhile book.

Current Issues/Society

Review: Quiverfull

Cover of "Quiverfull," featuring a white fist holding a bundle of eight arrows in front of a background of a blue sky with clouds
Image from Kathryn Joyce

Title: Quiverfull: Inside the Christian Patriarchy Movement

Author: Kathryn Joyce

Genre: Current Issues/Society

Trigger Warnings: Spousal abuse, fundamentalist Christianity, patriarchy, institutional violence, male power over women

Back Cover:

Kathryn Joyce’s fascinating introduction to the world of the patriarchy movement and Quiverfull families examines the twenty-first-century women and men who proclaim self-sacrifice and submission as model virtues of womanhood—and as modes of warfare on behalf of Christ. Here, women live within stringently enforced doctrines of wifely submission and male headship, and live by the Quiverfull philosophy of letting God give them as many children as possible so as to win the religion and culture wars through demographic means.

Review:

For someone who is an outsider to this kind of ideology – a mainstream or liberal Christian, an atheist or agnostic, anyone from a non-Abrahamic faith – this book will be a point of curiosity, interest, and possibly anger. For someone who grew up with it, it will be profound.

If you’re not interested in reading about my past and my personal emotional reaction to the book, go to the next section.

I came from this background – sort of. My family was conservative, my parents homeschooled my siblings and I, we had modesty rules and a purity obsession and the expectation that my sisters and I would marry (specifically, marry men), have children, and be stay-at-home mothers and homemakers. But we were also allowed to wear shorts and tank tops, expected to go to college, and told that we would probably have to work outside the house before we had children because of the economy. It was in college that I bought into the extreme beliefs that Quiverfull explores, spending a solid month forcing myself to accept that I had to forget my career ambitions and content myself with raising children.

I normally wouldn’t talk so much about myself, but this background is important to understand my reaction to Quiverfull. Because I don’t believe this anymore. I am no longer a patriarchy-believing Christian. And reading this book was a strange experience for me.

Quiverfull was an in-depth, unemotional look at this culture from the perspective of an outsider. There was no passion and no condemnation, just anthropological curiosity. Which made it strange. On one hand, it was an engaging read about a fascinating subculture and while reading, I had nothing but unemotional curiosity. But it stuck with me.

I have a lot of pain that stems from being raised in this culture, and this book brought some of it back. (I actually had to take a break from writing this review to process some feelings about it.) But more than anything, it made me miss the community. Sure, Quiverfull spent a lot of time on community gone wrong, women attacked and ostracized for refusing to assist in their own subjugation. But it also brought back memories of a community of like-minded people, who all believed the same things and at least acted like they cared about one another. Though I am no longer Christian and do not wish to go back to it, it made me miss when I had a “church family” that seemed like they cared about me.

If you’re skipping my personal story, read from here on.

There’s a lot in Quiverfull. It covers a lot of different topics, from church discipline to the outbreeding-the-competition mindset to individual experiences of people who have left and interviews with people who haven’t. There are some very powerful stories, such as a woman who was not only excommunicated but harassed, attacked, and sabotaged for years by her church for daring to divorce her abusive husband. There are histories of how influential figures in the Quiverfull movement came to power. And there are also stories of women who seem perfectly content and believe in this ideology wholeheartedly.

Overall, though, this book is a look at the Quiverfull ideology through examples. These people believe that their brand of Christianity is the only true religion. They believe that they are in a literal war with the forces of Satan, that feminism and abortion are tools Satan is using to turn America away from God and their way to win is demographically, by outbreeding the secular people. (Their ideology’s name comes from the metaphor that children are like arrows in a quiver for fighting the spiritual war.) They believe that a woman must always be under the power of (in some interpretations, owned by) a man, whether that’s her father or her husband. They believe that the sole purpose of every woman’s life is to be a mother and homemaker.

Quiverfull tries its best to be neutral and not condemn these beliefs, but anyone who isn’t entrenched in it will find a lot to condemn.

This is a very informative and in-depth book. If you’re looking for a quick overview or something light, Wikipedia might be your better bet. Quiverfull is engaging, yes, and you won’t get bored reading it, but you really need to have a lot of curiosity or a desire to know all the details to be interested (or have left that ideology and want an unemotional look at it).

Quiverfull is an excellent book, but you have to be in a specific audience to read it. If you’re interested in religions in general, want to know more about fundamentalist Christianity, or want an uncritical, unpassionate, and/or super in-depth look at Christian fundamentalism, this is your book. If not, you’ll probably be very bored.

Did Not Finish, Personal Development

Review: Enough Already!

Cover of "Enough Already!" featuring a picture of the author below red text on a white background
Image from Peter Walsh

Title: Enough Already!: Clearing Mental Clutter to Become the Best You

Author: Peter Walsh

Genre: Personal Development

Trigger Warnings: None (that I found)

Back Cover:

Does it seem like everything is moving so fast these days you can barely keep up? Do you sometimes feel that your life is spinning out of control? Most of us are so overwhelmed by the stuff in our daily lives — work, bills, family commitments, demands from our kids’ schools — that we rush from person to person and place to place. For many of us, life feels completely out of balance because we give one area of our lives too much attention and the other areas nowhere near enough. This crazy imbalance and the resulting stress and unhappiness you feel are the clutter that Peter Walsh wants to help you tackle in “Enough Already!: Clearing Mental Clutter to Become the Best You.”

Peter examines the six key areas of your life — Family, Relationships, Work, Health, Money, and Spirituality — and shows how these unique parts of your life are so interrelated that if just one is cluttered, that clutter will creep into the other areas and throw your life off balance. He then offers a step-by-step plan that helps you acknowledge and address the emotional and mental clutter that holds you back from living the richly fulfilling life you deserve.

Read to: CD 2 of 5

Review:

This book just advertised itself as something it wasn’t, that’s the long and short of it.

It’s all about mental clutter, right? I assumed clearing mental clutter would involve tools like mind mapping, stream-of-consciousness writing, meditation, and that sort of stuff applied to different areas of your life to help you calm your mind.

Nope. I got through the section on relationships and part of the section on jobs, and it basically operates on the premise that all bad things are clutter. Communication problems? Clutter. Don’t like your job? Clutter. Negative emotions? Clutter. Which really felt like a major stretch – I always interpret clutter as “too much stuff taking up space,” not as “anything that is bad.”

It felt like Peter Walsh really wanted to write a life advice book, but he’d already branded himself as an organization person, so he decided to reinterpret life problems as clutter so he could write his life advice book without going off brand.

And honestly, it wasn’t even that great of life advice. The relationships section was all about communicating with your partner (not even how, just that you need to) and compromising, and didn’t even touch on friendships, relationships with family, or anything outside romantic relationships. When I stopped at the career section, it was going through the generic advice of “think about what you want your career to be, not just your job” and leave your job if you hate your boss.

This book is utterly unremarkable and, in my opinion, pretty much useless. It’s not really a book about decluttering your mind, it’s a slightly-worse-than-mediocre general life advice book that only gives broad, sweeping overviews of narrowly-defined areas of your life. In short, it’s not helpful and just plain bland.

Personal Development

Review: Blink

Cover of "Blink," featuring lower-case blue text on a white background
Image from Library Dude

Title: Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking

Author: Malcolm Gladwell

Genre: Personal Development

Trigger Warnings: Police violence, ableism

Back Cover:

Blink is a book about how we think without thinking, about choices that seem to be made in an instant – in the blink of an eye – that actually aren’t as simple as they seem. Why are some people brilliant decision makers, while others are consistently inept? Why do some people follow their instincts and win, while others end up stumbling into error? How do our brains really work – in the office, in the classroom, in the kitchen, and in the bedroom? And why are the best decisions often those that are impossible to explain to others?

In Blink we meet the psychologist who has learned to predict whether a marriage will last, based on a few minutes of observing a couple; the tennis coach who knows when a player will double-fault before the racket even makes contact with the ball; the antiquities experts who recognize a fake at a glance. Here, too, are great failures of “blink”: the election of Warren Harding; “New Coke”; and the shooting of Amadou Diallo by police. Blink reveals that great decision makers aren’t those who process the most information or spend the most time deliberating, but those who have perfected the art of “thin-slicing” – filtering the very few factors that matter from an overwhelming number of variables.

Drawing on cutting-edge neuroscience and psychology and displaying all of the brilliance that made The Tipping Point a classic, Blink changes the way you understand every decision you make. Never again will you think about thinking the same way.

Review:

This book had some issues.

I was actually moderately excited to read this book. I’m not the biggest Malcolm Gladwell fan, but I love the idea of thin slicing (when your mind comes to a subconscious conclusion from small bits of information) and was excited to learn more about it.

But this book was simultaneously mostly useless, revelatory, and deeply offending.

Let’s start with the relevatory part. It had the same problem as every Malcolm Gladwell book I’ve read, which I just now identified three books in: he sets up a great idea (“how to make good snap judgments,” “how things become popular“) and then instead of actually talking about how (or even why), he just gives example after example. If you want to get the “how” or “why” from it, you have to tease it out from his examples – if you can.

That’s why I described this book as “mostly useless” – in the beginning, the book said you would learn how to make better snap judgments and when not to trust those initial instincts, and then ends with the conclusion “your first impression is good except when it’s not.”

Once I identified Malcolm’s problem, though, I did manage to tease out the main idea – snap judgments made by someone who has a lot of knowledge and understanding about something (e.g. art experts, marriage psychologists) are usually pretty accurate, and snap judgments made on something you’re not an expert in are informed by biases and prejudices. Which is actually good information. Trust your gut if you know a lot about the topic, examine your biases if you’re not. But you’ll only discover that if you read between the lines.

Now let’s talk about the “deeply offending” part.

Towards the end of the book, Malcolm talks about the shooting of Amadou Diallo (a black man) by four (white) police officers. It’s in the section on reading faces, and his point is that the policemen were not experienced enough in reading faces to make the snap judgment that Diallo was terrified, not dangerous. He completely dismisses race as a factor in the shooting, which annoyed me. But that wasn’t really the offending part. Malcolm called the moments when your body is affected by adrenaline and you can’t think clearly or make good snap judgments as “temporary autism.” Which is ableist and extremely offensive (this is speaking as an autistic person, and my autistic fiance concurred).

The idea of this book was good. And once you manage to read between the lines to what Malcolm is actually trying to say, it has a solid conclusion. But it also has issues. Really big issues. And honestly, you can sum up what you get out of the book in one sentence: “If you’re really knowledgeable in an area, trust your gut; if you’re not knowledgeable about it, examine your first impression for hidden biases.” You don’t need to sift through three hundred pages of examples just to get to that.

Work and Business

Review: Creativity, Inc.

Cover of "Creativity, Inc.," featuring the silhouette of Buzz Lightyear holding a conductor's baton on a red background
Image from Ed Catmull

Title: Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces that Stand in the Way of True Inspiration

Author: Ed Catmull

Genre: Work and Business

Trigger Warnings: None

Back Cover: 

What does it mean to manage well?

Creativity, Inc. is a book for managers who want to lead their employees to new heights, a manual for anyone who strives for originality, and the first-ever, all-access trip into the nerve center of Pixar Animation—into the meetings, postmortems, and “Braintrust” sessions where some of the most successful films in history are made. It is, at heart, a book about how to build a creative culture. The joyousness of the storytelling, the inventive plots, the emotional authenticity: In some ways, Pixar movies are an object lesson in what creativity really is. Here, in this book, Catmull reveals the ideals and techniques that have made Pixar so widely admired—and so profitable—based on philosophies that protect the creative process and defy convention, such as:

  • Give a good idea to a mediocre team, and they will screw it up. But give a mediocre idea to a great team, and they will either fix it or come up with something better.
  • If you don’t strive to uncover what is unseen and understand its nature, you will be ill prepared to lead.
  • It’s not the manager’s job to prevent risks. It’s the manager’s job to make it safe for others to take them.
  • The cost of preventing errors is often far greater than the cost of fixing them.
  • A company’s communication structure should not mirror its organizational structure. Everybody should be able to talk to anybody.
  • Do not assume that general agreement will lead to change—it takes substantial energy to move a group, even when all are on board.

Review:

Apparently I only pick up books in the “Work and Business” category by accident.

Well, I didn’t pick up this book on accident. I heard Ed Catmull speak on creativity at the Global Leadership Summit in 2016, which I thoroughly enjoyed. So when I found this book among the library’s slim audiobook selection, I picked it up without really reading the back cover.

To be clear, this wasn’t a bad book. Not at all. But it wasn’t what I expected.

I was expecting something about personal creativity, maybe about how to get inspired or how to solve problems creativity or just about how to be creative in general. What I would have realized if I’d read the back cover was that it was more about how to manage in a way that inspires creativity in your employees.

Interestingly enough, that management aspect was only about 30% of the book, though. The other 70% was a history of Pixar and how it came to exist and later to become a pioneering animation company. Which, again, was very interesting – I didn’t know really anything about Pixar before, and it was so full of ups and downs that it made for a great story in itself.

The downside of this book is personal – I’m not a manager or in charge of any employees. And that means there isn’t a lot in Creativity, Inc. that applies to me. The applicable part of this book is focused on employees and managers, corporate dynamics, and working teams. I’m sure if I looked really hard, I could find ways to apply some of the principles to me as an individual, but with just an initial read (well, listen), I didn’t see anything.

Like I said earlier, this is actually a good book, and it’s very interesting. It just wasn’t super applicable to me (and you know I’m all about the practical application). If you want to know about the history of Pixar, you’ll get a lot out of this book. If you’re a manager or business leader looking to inspire your employees, this will be helpful. But I’m not really the target market for this book.

Personal Development

Review: Essentialism

Cover of "Essentialism," featuring a scribbled mess of lines on the left side, with an arrow pointing to the right, where the word "essentialism" is surrounded by several shaky circles.
Image from Greg McKeown

Title: Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less

Author: Greg McKeown

Genre: Personal Development

Trigger Warnings: None

Back Cover:

The Way of the Essentialist involves doing less, but better, so you can make the highest possible contribution.

The Way of the Essentialist isn’t about getting more done in less time. It’s not about getting less done. It’s about getting only the right things done. It’s about challenging the core assumption of ‘we can have it all’ and ‘I have to do everything’ and replacing it with the pursuit of ‘the right thing, in the right way, at the right time’. It’s about regaining control of our own choices about where to spend our time and energies instead of giving others implicit permission to choose for us.

In Essentialism, Greg McKeown draws on experience and insight from working with the leaders of the most innovative companies in the world to show how to achieve the disciplined pursuit of less.

By applying a more selective criteria for what is essential, the pursuit of less allows us to regain control of our own choices so we can channel our time, energy and effort into making the highest possible contribution toward the goals and activities that matter.

Essentialism isn’t one more thing; it is a different way of doing everything. It is a discipline you apply constantly, effortlessly. Essentialism is a mindset; a way of life. It is an idea whose time has come.

Review:

I wanted to love this book. I really did. It came highly recommended by most of the personal development blogs I follow, and essentialism sounded like an extremely valuable mindset. But this was probably the most underwhelming book I’ve read this year. Which is strange to say, because overall, this wasn’t a bad book. In fact, it was rather good. But I personally got nothing out of it.

Michael Hyatt is a leadership/intentional living/productivity/platform-building blogger who I’ve been following since 2010(ish). Essentialism came out in 2014, so I have to believe that Michael Hyatt either knew Greg McKeown or discovered the same principles on his own, because reading Essentialism was like reading Michael Hyatt Condensed.

Almost nothing in this book was new information to me. From focus to prioritizing, doing only the things that let you make your maximum contribution, even the power of sleep – all of it was stuff I’d heard before from Michael Hyatt. Which was disappointing. I’d expected there to be some overlap (after all, I first heard of Essentialism on Michael Hyatt’s podcast episode that had Greg McKeown as a guest), but I didn’t expect that much.

It was good information and valuable insight into living and making your greatest contribution. The idea of cutting everything nonessential out of your life, focusing only on what’s important at the moment, and giving the majority of your energy to what will make the most impact are all good ideas. And I love that the book is practical, with lots of tips and suggestions for how to prune your life down to “less but better” it promotes (and strategies for not saying yes to too many things).

Essentialism is very black-and-white (both figuratively and literally – section introductions are white text on black backgrounds and all the illustrations are bold black lines on empty white sections). You’re either a productive, focused essentialist or an unproductive, unfocused nonessentialist. Which does actually make sense with what the book is talking about, but as someone who has to work hard to avoid black-and-white thinking in real life, it felt a little strange. Again, not a criticism of the book itself, just something that didn’t work for me personally.

This wasn’t a bad book. On the contrary – if you’ve never heard of Michael Hyatt, I’d highly recommend it. It’s a great book on living with less, but better and having an overall more fulfilling life where you can make greater contributions to whatever work you do. But there’s so much overlap between this and Michael Hyatt’s principles that I got nothing out of it. Personally, it wasn’t for me. But it’s still completely worth a read (assuming you’re not as much of a Michael Hyatt fan as I am, that is).