Tag Archives: survey book

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All Joy and No Fun

A review of All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenthood by Jennifer Senior, and more.

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In the Mood

Mood: The Key to Understanding Ourselves and Others by Patrick M. Burke (Prometheus Books, $18.95, 275 pages)

Mood

Mood (nook book)

Patrick Burke has written a straightforward and detailed layman’s textbook that explains the importance of recognizing behavioral problems early in life. Before emotions and feelings there is mood. Typically, we think of observable signs like irritability, hostility and withdrawal as key elements associated with psychological issues. What we don’t take into account is that one’s mood is always – for better or for worse – present. For example, it can be happy or anxious. We usually aren’t aware of our mood until it begins to shift.

Mood sets out the scientific explanation of the brain’s structure and the interactions of the physical and chemical elements that allow it to function. There are diagrams and ample text to support the hypothesis that mood exists within us even before we are born. It is the combination of genetic material and environmental influences with mood that are observable as behavior. The accompanying narrative provides the reader with useful, practical information contained within scenarios.

Mood supplies parents and caregivers with valuable guidance that can demystify the difference between occasional behavioral issues in children and/or adults and mental problems that need attention.

Well recommended.

Ruta Arellano

A review copy was received from the publisher. Mood was released on November 11, 2013.

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Mood (nook book)

A review of Mood: The Key to Understanding Ourselves and Others by Patrick M. Burke. “A reader-friendly yet in-depth overview of the latest research on mood as the way we are tuned to the world.”

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It’s Only a Paper Moon

Paper: An Elegy (A Celebration of the Age of Paper) by Ian Sansom (Fourth Estate, $24.99, 230 pages)

Paper

Since paper books seem so clearly to embody knowledge it’s hardly surprising that we have come to believe that the possession of books is in itself sufficient to possess knowledge.

A copy of Paper: An Elegy in e-reader format is unthinkable! From the deeply embossed dust jacket to the creamy off-white thick pages resplendent in their crisp dark type font, the reader needs to experience the physicality of the hard cover original. Inside, the text is supplemented with illustrations and pithy quotes appropriate for the focus of each chapter. It’s not often that tactile, visual and auditory experiences are bound up together so neatly.

At first glance, Paper might be taken for a garden variety survey of the title subject. Author Ian Sansom quickly adjusts the reader’s perspective to his own, wherein he offers an approach that is thoroughly different from the routine of every day non-fiction. Sansom details in depth the notion of paper as a receptacle for knowledge (book), a communication tool (advertising handbill), an object conveying authority (warrant or judicial decree), a stand-in for value (currency), and therapy (origami). His is a style of indulgence that teaches and distracts while ultimately engaging the reader’s imagination. Oddly, the book provides feelings of coziness, charm and intellectual expansiveness — quite a combination for a single-subject non-fiction topic.

Detail oriented readers will delight in the depth of information provided. Book collectors may be willing to lend their volume to a trusted friend.

Highly recommended.

Ruta Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

This book was released on October 24, 2013.

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Bad Habits, Good Habits

Making Habits, Breaking Habits: Why We Do Things, Why We Don’t, and How to Make Any Change Stick by Jeremy Dean (Da Capo Lifelong Books, $26.00, 272 pages)

Making Habits (prev.)

“…habits are both savior and curse.”

Making Habits, Breaking Habits by Jeremy Dean is an interesting collection of 13 article-chapters. Each chapter would make for an engaging airline magazine article, but the whole simply doesn’t deliver on the promise of telling us how to “make any change (in habits) stick.” Most of what Dean tells us is common sense, such as the notion that bad habits lead to depression and good — what he calls happy — habits lead to self-satisfaction and happiness. Naturally, Dean offers the advice of replacing bad habits with happy habits, something much easier said than done; especially as even good habits tend to become boring and less than enjoyable with repetition.

“One reason habits are so hard to change is that we start performing them without conscious deliberation.”

The notion of what constitutes happiness in our lives just about overtakes the topic of human habits, and it’s no accident that Dean often cites Harvard professor Daniel Gilbert. Gilbert wrote the satisfying survey book, Stumbling on Happiness, which for most people would likely make a better choice than Making Habits.

It doesn’t help that Dean’s an Englishman who writes in a style that’s awkward for Americans to read, and poor editing results in words having been left out: “…Twitter, Facebook… and the rest reward us with little bits information…”.

Joseph Arellano

Happiness Gilbert

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Much Ado About Something

Too Big to Know: Rethinking Knowledge Now That the Facts Aren’t the Facts, Experts are Everywhere, and the Smartest Person in the Room is the Room by David Weinberger (Basic Books, $25.99, 231 pages)

What we have here is a situation that’s either really simple or overwhelmingly complex.   This reviewer isn’t so sure of what to make of David Weinberger’s history and background survey of the Internet.   Weinberger’s credentials are impeccable.   He is a senior researcher at the Harvard University Berkman Center for the Internet and Society.   Perhaps it’s his professional training that had led to a penchant for sequencing, numbering and setting forth the pros and cons of an issue.

The book begins with the background of how, over the past few centuries, man has considered knowledge to be facts gathered by elite scholars and used these facts as the basis of a broad acceptance of scientific principles and general information.   Prior to the ubiquity of the Internet, small numbers of experts who were organized into scholarly associations that, along with the publishing industry, controlled access to knowledge.   The limits of peer review and publishing kept this information under tight control.

We have given up the idea that there is a single, knowable organization of the Universe, a Book of Nature that we’ll ever be able to read together or that will settle bar fights like the Guinness Book of World Records.Too Big to Know (nook book)

Weinberger readily offers his own take on the new use of knowledge by everyone and his uncle.   We know that the growing number of online communities provides ample opportunities for anyone with an opinion to broadcast it all over the world.   He argues that specialized communities on the Internet are becoming insular in much the same way past experts operated within the walls of academia, literally echo chambers.   Of course there is a glaring difference between the past scholarly cliques and today’s echo chambers because anyone with a laptop and access to WiFi can appear to be an expert.

On the Net, everyone is potentially an expert in something – it all depends on the questions being asked.

Too Big to Know sometimes bends back on itself with examples.   The premise of the book may be a bit overworked.   The target audience for this book is not clear to this reviewer.   Perhaps it might be someone of an indeterminate age who is inquisitive about knowledge.

This survey book may be the answer to a question that no one was asking.

Ruta Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

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A review of Too Big to Know: Rethinking Knowledge Now That the Facts Aren’t the Facts, Experts are Everywhere, and the Smartest Person in the Room is the Room by David Weinberger.TBTK

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A review of Why Does the World Exist?: An Existential Detective Story by Jim Holt.

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Tequila Sunrise

Taco USA: How Mexican Food Conquered America by Gustavo Arellano (Scribner, $25.00, 320 pages)

“Americans: unite under Mexican food, just like your ancestors, just like your descendants!   It doesn’t matter your dish choice: it’ll sometimes be derided, sometimes mysterious, oftentimes scorching, and not always good, but always, always eaten.   A lot.”

I can guarantee you one thing about this Mexican food survey book by the finely-named Gustavo Arellano.   Read it and you will feel…  hungry!   Of course, it’s probably politically and factually correct to say that this account is about Mexican-American food, although Arellano does often clarify which foods had their creation in Mexico – before being adopted north of the border – versus those foods that are known as Mexican but are purely American/Mexican-American creations.

A trip through the table of contents shows the order in which the food topics are discussed.   They are: the burrito, tacos, enchiladas, Mexican cookbooks written by Anglos, the late Southwestern cuisine, the virtually doomed and much-attacked world of Tex-Mex food, Mexicans cooking food for other Mexicans (really?), the arrival of Mexican food in our supermarkets, the tortilla, salsa and tequila.   There’s also a bonus chapter on the five greatest Mexican meals served in the U.S.; at least it’s one man’s humble listing of the meals that are “just bueno.

“Mexican food had arrived to wow customers, to save them from a bland life, as it did for their parents and grandparents and great-grandparents.   Again.   Like last time – and the time before that.”

The author has great fun in praising the heroes of the Mexican-American food movement (or revolution, if you prefer), such as Larry Cano who developed the El Torito chain of restaurants.   He even praises Steve Ells, the founder of Chipotle Mexican Grill (the second-largest Mexican food chain in the U.S.), and Glenn Bell, the founder of the ubiquitous Taco Bell food stops.   If you’ve ever wondered where Bell got the recipes for his tacos, the answer is found in Taco USA – and it happens to be a hole-in-the-wall taco shop in San Bernardino, California.

On the flip side, Gustavo names names when it comes to finding villains.   Two of them are Rick Bayless and Diana Kennedy who have repeatedly called out for “authentic” Mexican food while allegedly – by Gustavo’s account and others – being somewhat less than authentic themselves.   And then there’s Tex-Mex:

“Tex-Mex.   Tex-Mex.   A hyphen separates two cultures that faced off in blood but are forever linked around the world.   Each exists on its own, each is fine separate from the other, but together the phrase now conjures up something almost universal:  culinary disgust.”

On this, we shall leave the details up to the reader – and an opinion on this much-appreciated or highly-despised cuisine.

What Arellano does quite well is to present us with the scope of the popularity of Mexican food in this country.   For example, you may have heard that more salsa is sold than ketchup, but were you aware that the sale of tortillas is now an $8 billion a year industry?   It’s mind-boggling, and thanks to Taco USA the facts are now literally on the dining table.

“Is the (Sonora) hot dog truly Mexican?   Who cares?   In Tucson, the birthplace of Linda Ronstadt, Americans became Mexicans long ago; it’s now the rest of the country that’s finally catching up.”

Yes, Gustavo’s listing of the five best Mexican meals in the U.S. includes the bean-wrapped Sonora hot dog that’s served only at El Guerro Canelo in Tucson, Arizona.   And while it’s not a bad list (which includes stops in Oklahoma, Arizona, Southern California, Texas, and Colorado), I think he missed one place that I’ll gladly take him to the next time he’s in the Capitol City of California – which is Emma’s Taco House in West Sacramento.   It’s been in business at the same location since 1953, and there’s a reason why this is true.   It is one of the most muy bueno taco houses in all of Taco USA!   And as the fans of Emma’s like to say, if you don’t like “real” Mexican food, there’s a Taco Bell right down the street!

Highly recommended.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.   Taco USA is available as a Nook Book or Kindle Edition download.   Gustavo Arellano is also the author of Ask a Mexican! and Orange County: A Personal History.

Note:   Gustavo would and does argue in Taco USA that ALL Mexican/Mexican-American food is “real” and “authentic”; probably as real as “Chicken Nuggets” from McDonald’s. (Which part of the chicken does the nugget come from?)

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A review of The Other Side of Normal: How Biology is Providing the Clues to Unlock the Secrets of Normal and Abnormal Behavior by Jordan Smoller.

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