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Archaeology from Space: How the Future Shapes Our Past by Sarah Parcak

Archaeology from Space: How the Future Shapes Our PastArchaeology from Space: How the Future Shapes Our Past by Sarah Parcak

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I requested an advance review copy of this last year but I wasn’t selected. As I only request books I am interested in (novel concept, I know, but some people just like to get lots of books and shotgun their requests…I’m judicious with the reading time I have left!), I filed it away for some day in the future to look for after it was published. So it’s someday. Actually, last month was someday. I finished this at the end of January, but have had a hard time taking the time to write reviews. Call it “reviewer’s block”. Anyway… Continue reading

The Rare Find: Spotting Exceptional Talent Before Everyone Else by George Anders

The Rare Find: Spotting Exceptional Talent Before Everyone ElseThe Rare Find: Spotting Exceptional Talent Before Everyone Else by George Anders

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I’ve had this on my professional shelf at work for a few years and took time to dig into it. In Anders’ Introduction, he bemoans the ability to identify great people as having deteriorated. My margin note was “we all want ‘great’ people, but not everyone is great. Not by a long shot (90% of all Navy officers used to be in the top 10%)”. The parenthetical aside recalled the old evaluating system, where if someone was not in the top 10%, it was a career killer, so everybody was – except the ones who needed a new career. The Introduction is littered with superlatives like “crucial new terms”, and definitive pronouncements like [a notion] “will show”…yes, I understand if you’re selling a concept, you have to guarantee something, but that’s a mental eye-roll for me when I see stuff like that.

Anyway, there are nuggets to be found in here for the “regular” hiring supervisor/manager, but they are hidden in plain sight among a lot of anecdotes that really don’t apply to that regular world. Fortunately, some of those nuggets are bolded. Not all of Anders’ bold choices are usable, but I’m sure some will be for some readers. I’ll share here a few I flagged. Continue reading

Humans: A Brief History of How We F*cked It All Up by Tom Phillips

Humans: A Brief History of How We F*cked It All UpHumans: A Brief History of How We F*cked It All Up by Tom Phillips

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Okay, the title grabbed me and Smith’s writing kept me.

He says, “There are lots of books about humanity’s finest achievements— the great leaders, the genius inventors, the indomitable human spirit. There are also lots of books about mistakes we’ve made: both individual screw-ups and society-wide errors. But there aren’t quite so many about how we manage to get things profoundly, catastrophically wrong over and over again.” Yep.

First chapter nails it with the root of all the upf*cking…our brains. From availability heuristics to pareidolia to confirmations biases, Smith condenses a host of our problems into an informative and sardonic yet still funny package.

He’ll probably be dismissed by many for his cavalier relation of the topics, but the source material is there under, around and over his wonderful sense of humor. On pareidolia, he says he used to think confirmation bias was the real culprit, and everything he’d read, uh … confirmed that. (See where he’s going with that?) Continue reading

So Many Books, So Little Time: A Year of Passionate Reading by Sara Nelson

So Many Books, So Little Time: A Year of Passionate ReadingSo Many Books, So Little Time: A Year of Passionate Reading by Sara Nelson

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This was nice, quick read on a three hour flight from Fort Lauderdale to Dallas on Monday, even with a fever starting to bake my brain. A List, with life fillers, candid and sometimes vulnerable. Ms. Nelson read many things I wouldn’t, gave me a few suggestions for things I want to check out, didn’t read some things, didn’t finish some (more on that…) Some of her quest was a touch of regret, touch of nostalgia, touch even of guilt, as well as desire to read some things that had been avoided, ignored, and set aside.

With respect to nostalgia, she says

It’s always dangerous to reread the pivotal books of your youth. Like discovering poetry or journals you wrote as a teenager, revisiting your adolescent feelings about books can be at best embarrassing and often excruciating.

I might be the oddball, but I only have a few “pivotal” books, and only one author is embarrassing. Okay, I’ll admit it here…Ayn Rand…but like most intelligent adults, I outgrew her (sorry, certain political party.) I rather still like Herbert, Tolkien, Chalker, Asimov. Even Jay Williams doesn’t embarrass me. I’ll sometimes run across and download books from Open Library for the Nostalgic Re-Read. None embarrass me.

On not finishing books, and James McBride’s Miracle at St. Anna

It’s an amalgam of history, myth, and politics—and it just doesn’t work. I kept trying, because I liked McBride so much. I didn’t know him personally, but his memoir was so powerful and rich that I, along with 1.3 million other readers, felt as if I did. Saturday: an hour in bed telling myself that lots of great books start off slow (The Corrections, anyone?) and that I owed it to him to keep trying. So after a perfect winter lunch of soup and bread, I tried again. By page 60, I still hadn’t latched on to any of the characters. By page 70, my mind wandered to the words of that song in A Chorus Line: “I feel nothing.”
So I did something I have only in my maturity learned how to do: I stopped reading. Right there, on page 71, right after the hero, a brain-damaged soldier, encounters the little boy who will change his life. I might pick it up again, I told myself. And I might. But I doubt it.

Some seven years ago, I was bemoaning to a friend both my inability to slog through yet another atrocious Heinlein novel and my doggedly trying to finish a leadership book by Kouzes and Posner. His wisdom is still a challenge for me: “If I’ve gotten enough out of a book, I’ll stop reading.” I struggle with that, even if the book has little value to offer. Or, in the case of Heinlein, “Why keep reading crap?” “Because I’m stubborn.” “But it’s crap.”

He was right. But I still have a hard time not finishing a book. Sometimes, I have a hard time starting a book. Ms. Nelson relates

I’m like an animal off its feed. I can’t get into a novel to save my life. Biographies bore me. I’ve left so many open books, belly down, on the green bedroom rug that the whole place is starting to look like an aerial view of a town full of Swiss chalets. I’m out of sorts. I’m off my game. I’m irregular.

Boy, do I know that feeling! I call it “reader’s block”. Turns out, a week later (this was more or less a weekly diary), she used the same term.

She’s honest when a popular book doesn’t cut it.

Margaret Atwood’s Alias Grace, a 1996 novel that may have been inspired by the same historical crime. When I read that much-praised book, I felt as though I were reading about issues and symbols rather than people. I was not a fan.

“Issues and symbols rather than people”…yeah…sometimes.

I really liked her part on the great opening lines of novels that grab you…one she noted grabbed me (and I’m going to find the book): The Miracle Life of Edgar Mint by Brady Udall. The opening lines? “If I could tell you only one thing about my life it would be this: when I was seven years old the mailman ran over my head. As formative events go, nothing else comes close.” How could that not grab your attention?

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