Review: Forecast

Mark Buchanan – Forecast: What Physics, Meteorology, and the Natural Sciences, Can Teach Us About Economics

I have a request, plz. More physicists write more books about things that are not physics. Please and thank you. I want to hug him, because he brings out new science metaphors. Not the same old ones we’ve all heard before, but brand new ones. Hugs. If he wants them, of course.

This guy is pretty smart, and he has some smart things to say about economics. Specifically, that most of economic theory is stupid, and that economists keep throwing good money after bad (see what I did there?).

Specifically: The belief that markets reach equilibrium and return to equilibrium when perturbed is bullshit. Markets are chaotic, unpredictable, and tiny perturbations can make them explode. Like the weather. And market predictions fail for the same reason that meteorological ones always used to, before meteorologists accepted that they even if they had 100% of all the information about all the mosquitos in the world, they were still not going to be able to predict the weather perfectly.

So, the book has some tools for prediction that actually work, and talks about how one would go about making additional tools. It also spends many, many words whining about how dumb social scientists are. If you’re a hard scientist, you’re used to that and it feels like home, but everyone else might find it a little off-putting.

I like and approve of this book.


Review: The Making of a Story

Alice LaPlante – The Making of a Story: A Norton Guide to Creative Writing

Writing books are so tricky, because the hard part of writing is not the technique. Yes, you need to learn technique at some point, but it won’t get you more than 5% of the way. So technique books, fun as they probably are to write, are just really not that helpful in general.

Especially this type, the “General Advice for All Kinds of Writing” type. Too general to actually be helpful in any way to anyone.

So, now that I’ve declared the whole genre worthless, let me tell you about this specific book. Despite its claim to be general advice, this book is about writing short stories and creative nonfiction. And it does that by example. The book is easily half filled with actual short stories and actual pieces of creative nonfiction. Which sounds like a great idea, but it was not for me. I am not a fan of either of those genres, and wouldn’t be writing them anyway, so probably I should have just put the book down once I realized what it was about.

The techniques offered were completely standard. If you have ever read a book of writing advice, you have read this book. And with one exception, I didn’t feel the stories added anything to the book. That exception was a Raymond Carver story, first as it was originally published by his crazy minimalist editor, then a second time as he would have published it, with significantly fewer edits. It was pretty excellent example of how much editing can change a story, so that was pretty great.

Did I mention it’s long? Really long. And for nothing. So, I’d say, unless you really love short stories, read a different technique book.

Review: The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Verbal Self-Defense

Lillian Glass – The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Verbal Self-Defense

Do you have the kind of crippling social anxiety where you just wish that someone would make a list of EVERY SINGLE acceptable small talk topic? Boy, do I have a book for you. Other lists include: a list of everything that might be wrong with your voice and/or body language that you aren’t anxious about yet, a Helpful List of things YOU ARE DOING that are RUINING YOUR VOICE (including eating dairy, talking, and clearing your throat), a list of Important Things You Should Know About Yourself, a list of foreign words borrowed by English, a list of things to do when you are in need of self-care, a list of commands for men, a list of commands for women, a list of things you should expect to hear from your teenager at some point in their teenagerhood, and dozens of separate lists of types of people you may have to talk to.

But wait, you may be saying, a lot of those lists have nothing to do with verbal self-defense. True, but we here at Idiot Industries believe that you wouldn’t need verbal self defense if you just weren’t an idiot.

This book is exceptionally comprehensive. So comprehensive it’s insulting. I came to this book looking specifically for how to deal specifically with a couple of really venomous people. I didn’t come to it for speech therapy, body language, or how to make friends. While I would have needed such a book several years ago, I would have looked for a book called, “The Idiot’s Guide to Basic Social Skills.” Maybe it’s me, but I don’t think that “verbal self-defense” is exactly a beginner technique.

Review: The Power of Positive Choices

Gail McMeekin – Positive Choices: Adding and Subtracting Your Way to a Great Life

Gimmick time! Guess what! Positive Choices is an acrostic! Guess what it stands for! Priorities, Opportunities, Subtraction, Insight, Timing, Invitation, Visualization, Empowerment, Centering, Honoring, Owning, Inventing, Committing, Empathizing, Synthesizing.

Buzzword buzzword buzzword, buzzword buzzword. Buzzword?

If you have read any other self help books, you have read this book. It is the same material as all the other self help books. But, there are exercises, and exercises are awesome! I didn’t do any of them, but they’re awesome!

If you haven’t read any other self help books, or if you’re still in the “repeat it till I get it” phase, this book is good. The information is solid, concise, and well put together, and you probably haven’t read enough self help books that the acrostic makes you cry and scream. Go for it!

Review: Write

Karen E. Peterson – Write: 10 Days to Overcome Writer’s Block. Period

This book is one of those right brain/left brain books in disguise. There were no hints that it would be like that, but it is all about that. There are a bunch of checklists, and you’re supposed to fill them out with your dominant hand, then do it again with your nondominant hand.

I really, really hate that shit, so I’m calling false advertising. I did read the book but I read it so fast I barely got anything out of it. So bleh.

Dennis Bakke – The Decision Maker

Dennis Bakke – The Decision Maker: Unlock the Potential of Everyone in Your Organization, One Decision at a Time

I’m just going to say this straight out: This book doesn’t work. It’s a fictionalized account of a couple of executives putting all the decisions in the hands of the workers close to them and how that worked out perfectly and everything was sunshine and rainbows and profits. It doesn’t work as “fiction” because everything is way too contrived and wraps up far too neatly, and it doesn’t work as business advice because it’s clearly made up.

It certainly makes you think, I’ll give it that, but if I were running a huge company, I would want some solid evidence that this would work before I tried it, not fiction. Actually, the fact that he chose to tell this story in fiction makes me more leery of the idea than I was going in. If it works in the real world, why doesn’t he just say so? Why the song and dance about how everything is perfect in storyland? I’m not willing to purchase this tale. Try someone else.

Bruce Nussbaum – Creative Intelligence

Bruce Nussbaum – Creative Intelligence: Harnessing the Power to Create, Connect, and Inspire

It has been a couple of days, and I have already forgotten everything about this book. Not a glowing recommendation, I guess.

This book is 100% a business book. It is about bringing creativity to the workplace. Specifically, it is a collection of stories about businesses that did creative things, with some guesses as to how they did those things.

It contains such shockingly original advice such as “Playing sparks creativity.” And “Looking at things differently sparks creativity.” So basically, if you’re already a creative person, this book is worthless to you.

The target audience of this particular book is that guy who sits in his cubicle reading Lifehacker whenever the law mandates that he takes a break, and says things like, “I don’t understand how getting beers after work will improve my personal productivity.” He probably spits a little when he talks. And he needs this book badly. Somebody buy it for him, please.

Steve Flowers – Living With Your Heart Wide Open

Steve Flowers and Bob Stahl – Living with Your Heart Wide Open: How Mindfulness & Compassion Can Free You from Unworthiness, Inadequacy & Shame

It’s hard for me to remember what life was like for me before I read every single book that exists on this topic. And, more than other topics, mindfulness books are all exactly the same. So, I am basically saying, I didn’t get a single thing out of this book. Not that there’s nothing to get, but at some point you have to stop reading and start doing. And I would rather just read.

So this book is about using mindfulness to wrangle your assorted bad feelings. In a lot of ways, it is like a therapist, but a lot colder. More like an analyist, maybe. In fact, the tone of the book is very cold and clinical. I guess that must appeal to some, but I prefer feelings books that are more compassionate. It’s also super beginner level. Like, it assumes you will be intimidated by even thinking about sitting for ten minutes, and it sneaks around, hinting at the fact that you might, someday, in the very distant future, have to do such a thing, for probably fifty pages. It also assumes that you have never even thought about critically examining one of your thoughts. Like it has never occurred to you that thoughts are something that you can think about.

And all of those things are true for some people, but I just don’t see them going looking for a book about mindfulness, and I don’t see them getting a lot out of this one, either. It tries to cover everything you learn in many years of therapy in one tiny little book, and I just don’t see how it can work.

Upside: Exercises, lots of exercises. I love exercises.

Nassim Nicholas Taleb – Antifragile

Nassim Nicholas Taleb – Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder

Boy, this book was a roller coaster. I kept swinging back and forth between hating it and thinking it was absolutely brilliant. One thing is for certainzies: Nassim Nicholas Taleb is an asshole. He never misses an opportunity to be sexist, racist, and generally prejudiced, inserting those things into places where they have absolutely no business. “I am talking about something perfectly factual, let’s just have an aside here about how prostitutes have the perfect life.” “Oh my, isn’t it funny how fat people are horrible? Let’s talk about fat people being horrible for a second, even though it has nothing to do with anything.”

Also, I’m sure he thinks he’s being funny, but some of the things he did to English had me scratching my head for hours. I’m still not sure what “Soviet-Harvard” means, although he used it approximately two times a page, and I am pretty sure taxi drivers and prostitutes (have I mentioned that this guy never stops taking about prostitutes?) are not “artisans” in the traditional sense of the word. Of course, neither is artisan cheese you buy in a supermarket, so whatever.

The organization of the book leaves something to be desired. It is pretty much just him rambling, declaring it a new Book Roman Numeral whenever he loses his train of thought and has to shlep back to the station and get on a different one. I am wanting to summarize his ideas for you, but I would practically have to write you a new book, because the ideas are stored in my memory as rambling. So, here is a rough list of the things he said that I thought were smart, in no particular order (since they weren’t in any particular order in the book anyway):

  • You should distribute your risk to the extremes, having extremely safe things and extremely risky things, rather than taking on the same amount of moderate risk.
  • It is usually better to subtract than add. For instance, if you are sick, it’s better to stop working and rest than to take medicine. Or stop eating something poisonous.
  • Beware of situations where the benefit is immediate, obvious, and small, and the risk is delayed, hidden, and large.
  • Situations where the risk is immediate, obvious, and small and the benefit is delayed, large, and may not even happen, are much better for you.
  • Beware of conflation.
  • It is immoral for people to benefit while placing the risks on others (example: banks big enough to be bailed out get all the benefits of their risky decisions while forcing taxpayers to shoulder the risk)
  • Options are awesome.

It’s a tragedy that this book is such a nightmare to read, because I really think it’s important and valuable. Worth slogging through if you have a strong stomach. Or if you’re an asshole, then you’ll probably like it a lot.