Tag Archives: Twelve Books

Lost On The Journey

The Point Is

The Point Is: Making Sense of Birth, Death and Everything in Between by Lee Eisenberg (Twelve, $26.00, 279 pages)

Who am I? Where am I going? Why am I here? Is that all there is? What’s the point?

Over-promising and under-delivering.

Having spent years in college studying philosophy and religion – the very things meant to explain birth, death and everything in between, I was skeptical that Lee Eisenberg could supply these answers. I think I was right. This is a sometimes interesting, sometimes rambling, journal about various insights that dropped into Eisenberg’s mind as he attempted to give meaning to life.

Eisenberg is one of the people that he references as thinking too much about things in life. As such he often seems to miss the living forest while he’s wandering around writing about the trees.

Eisenberg is first and foremost a writer and he sees life and living from a writer’s perspective: “The point is to write the best story we can.” Fine, but being a diligent writer-detailer is not the same as understanding the deeper what and why of existence.

Eisenberg may have intended this to be a book of modern philosophy, but even here it falls short. One often-covered subject he tackles is happiness. The conclusion is best expressed by P.D. James: “…happiness is a gift not a right.”

the point is 3d

The Point Is might have been titled Random Thoughts and Ruminations. It’s less, far less, than satisfying.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

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An Unfocused Journey

The Autobiography of an Execution (Twelve, 288 pages, $24.99)

“Outside the prison gates on Fridays, the parking lot is like a carnival.   Vans and RVs and pickup trucks with campers fill the visitor spaces.”

David R. Dow’s strangely titled book is part journal of his legal defense work in death penalty cases, and part memoir of his personal life with his wife and son (he was late to marry).   Unfortunately, it never quite decides what it want to be so it offers a not-so-fascinating look at both aspects of his life.   There also seem to be two characters vying for attention here:  Dow the brass knuckled street fighting gritty attorney and Dow the gentle family man.   The one thing that is obvious is that Dow has an immense ego, something that he quotes his wife as commenting upon.   (Think about the ego is takes for someone to include a quote from a loved one who has said that he has an outsized ego.)

Then there’s the writing style.   Dow admits that he’s not an accomplished writer and the style of Execution might be categorized as without style.   Dow bounces around in a quirky fashion moving from tense legal cases to family matters, and back again, without any apparent map or hint of structure.   The plus side to this stream of consciousness approach is that it does not require a lot of attention from the reader as Dow does not stick to any one topic for very long.

This is an airplane ride book, which offers far less substance on the death penalty debate than a prospective purchaser might expect.  

Reprinted courtesy of Sacramento Book Review.

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The Art of Choosing

The Art of Choosing by Sheena Iyengar

How We Decide by Jonah Lehrer

The notion of choosing is so complex that there are now two popular books on the subject.   Each was written by an author who is an expert in their field of study.   Scientific writer Jonah Lehrer provides examples of how the brain and neurology affect the choices we make in How We Decide.   Sheena Iyengar, a professor of business at Columbia University, explores the notion of choice in her recently published book, The Art of Choosing, focusing primarily on psychology; however, she also views choice from the perspectives of business, philosophy, public policy and medicine.

Dr. Iyengar draws upon her personal experience, a vast network of academic associates and other experts, including Lehrer, to achieve her goal of broadening the reader’s perspective and understanding of the implications of the notion of choice.   She encourages her reader to engage in self-exploration in order to make more informed decisions.   In true professorial style, Dr. Iyengar supports her approach with accounts of past scientific experiments, both human and animal.   The tone of her writing in the opening chapter is calm and patient.   It is clear that she expects the reader to pay close attention.

The story of her parents’ marriage in chapter two is engaging and thought-provoking; however, other aspects of this chapter are dry and academic.   There is also a sharp contrast between the description of her parents’ Sikh wedding and what might easily be the text of a general survey course in psychology.   One heavily academic sentence contains 65 words.

The reader must employ perseverance in wading through Dr. Iyengar’s expansive discussion of the concept of the cultural differences between socialism and capitalism as they relate to choice.   Her notion of striving “for a metaphorical multilingualism” takes on a note of proselytizing that seems out of sync for a book that purports to be about making informed personal choices.   There is a disconnect between the colloquial and academic voices that Dr. Iyengar uses as she brings the reader along on her journey of exploring the concept of choice.

By the fourth chapter the book settles into a pleasant, advice-giving counselor’s voice.   There are well-related concepts and suggestions for making personal choices.   While these helpful hints are supported using psychological terms, Dr. Iyengar brings in popular references to illustrate her points such as the television show “Lie to Me” and the rental of movies using Netflix.

The seventh and final chapter brings the matter of choice down to the most personal aspect, that of making medical and other unpleasant decisions.   It is here that the reader is fully engaged via role-playing scenarios concerning life and death.   The concepts of worth and value are well developed and they lead the reader to the inevitable conclusion that choice involves price and responsibility.   Clearly, there is no surefire solution to the challenge of making a selection given the wide array of choices available today, whether it is among the many breakfast cereals in the supermarket or in deciding which path to take in life.

The Art of Choosing illustrates several approaches to making sense of the puzzle of life that so many authors and readers find challenging.   This book does a good job of providing an overall survey of the topic and, although a bit disjointed, provides the reader with food for thought.   However, if this reviewer were asked to choose which book someone with an interest in the subject should purchase, it would be How We Decide.   Author Jonah Lehrer begins each chapter with a compelling vignette that illustrates the aspect of decision-making being addressed.   His writing style is smooth, authoritative and entertaining.

How We Decide by Jonah Lehrer is well recommended.

Ruta Arellano

 The Art of Choosing is available from Twelve Books and in audiobook form from Hachette Audio.   How We Decide is available in trade paperback (Mariner Books, $14.95, 320 pages) and as a Kindle Edition and Nook Book download.

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A New Audio-book Giveaway!

Thanks to Anna at Hachette Audio, we will be giving away three audio book copies of The Art of Choosing by Sheena Iyengar.   This is an unabridged 9-CD set that has a value of $34.98.   You can see a video trailer-preview for this book at the Twelve Books website (Google it).   The following are some comments about this unique non-fiction book.

Sheena Iyengar’s work on choice and how our minds deal with it has been groundbreaking, repeatedly surprising, and enormously important.   She is someone we need to listen to.   Dr. Atul Gawande, author of Better and Complications

No one asks better questions, or comes up with more intriguing answers.   Malcolm Gladwell, author of Outliers

As you take exciting steps into this wide-ranging exploration of the choices we make, you will traverse the worlds of psychology, biology, philosophy, economics, business, public policy and medicine.   Malcolm Gladwell popularized some of Professor Iyengar’s research in Blink, but that is just a glimmer of what readers will discover in The Art of Choosing.

The author’s objective in these pages is a great one:  to help us become better choosers, with greater self-awareness of our biases and values.   She is tackling nothing less than the subtext of our lives – what we are thinking when we make choices; how our environment influences us; and how choice drives, frustrates, sustains and satisfies us.

You will learn why we need choice in our lives to feel control and contentment… (yet) we can sometimes be paralyzed by too many choices.   Unquestionably, it is one of the best books I’ve had the privilege of publishing.   Jonathan Karp, Publisher and Editor-in-Chief, TWELVE

It’s easy to enter this book giveaway.   All you need to do is post a comment here or send an e-mail (using the subject line The Art of Choosing) to Josephsreviews@gmail.com .   This will count as a first entry.   For a second contest entry, tell us what the hardest choice was that you had to make in your life, and why it seemed so difficult at the time.   That’s it.

This contest will run until Midnight PST on Friday, May 7, 2010.   In order to enter, you must be a resident of the United States or Canada, with a residential address.   Audio books cannot be mailed to P.O. boxes.  

Good luck and good listening!

 

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A new book giveaway!

My name is Will 2To celebrate the upcoming Wordstock book festival in Portland, Oregon – about which we’re more than a bit excited – we’re announcing our fourth book giveaway.   This time we’re giving two books away to one lucky reader.   The first is a new trade paperback copy of My Name is Will by Jess Winfield.   This book has received a 4.5 average star rating at Amazon and a 4 star average rating at Powells, so you know it has to be good!   “What a piece of work!” said the New York Times Book Review.   It’s a unique story about a University of California at Santa Cruz (UCSC) student, Willie Shakespeare Greenberg, whose life in 1986 shares some interesting parallels with an 18-year-old William Shakespeare circa 1582.   How’s that for a set-up?

The second book is an advance review copy (ARC) of Sara Paretsky’s mystery Hardball, which we just looked at.   Yes, this ARC is a bit used, but it is still in B+ condition.   Also, keep in mind that this 13th entry in the Detective V.I. Warshawski series will cost you $26.95 to purchase new.   This ARC is basically a trade paperback version that’s for your personal use only – it is clearly marked NOT FOR SALE.   

So, we’re offering a brand new book and a collector’s item ARC…   What do you need to do to enter?   Simple, just send your name and e-mail address to josephsreviews@gmail.com to enter this contest once.   To enter a second time, fill in the blank in this sentence, “Chicago is known as a ______ city.”   Anyone living in the continental U.S. is eligible to enter this contest, prior winners are eligible and in this instance we can and will mail to a P.O. box.     

This contest closes at midnight PDT on Wednesday, October 13, 2009.   Munchy the cat will pick the winner of the two books on October 14th and the winner will be announced here on the 15th.   That’s it, good luck and good reading!  

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Missing You: A Review of Losing Mum & Pup by Christopher Buckley

According to his only child, Christopher, William F. Buckley, Jr. often said, “Industry is the enemy of melancholy.”   Accordingly, Christopher Buckley has written this memoir – literally a book of memories – about his parents’ final years as a way of dealing with his loss and sense of disorientation.

We all, of course, knew about his father, the late conservative icon often symbolized by the initials WFB.   WFB wrote 5,600 newspaper columns between the years 1962 and 2008; hosted Frontline for 33 years; and had completed 56 books as of the time of his death.   Patricia Taylor Buckley, WFB’s wife, is someone we knew little of, but she comes to life in her son’s telling as a regal and charming – if occasionally impatient – woman.Losing Mum and Pup mediumLosing Mum and Pup cover

What is very clear about the Buckleys is that they were, indeed, larger-than-life figures.   When Patricia one day received a call intended for WFB and was told the president was on the line she responded, “The president of what?”   Of a female politician she said, “That woman is so stupid she ought to be caged!”

While we may think we knew WFB, this book provides a few new views and perspectives.   It was clear that the author of God and Man at Yale was an intellectual (a man who could dictate using perfect punctuation), but not many of us suspected that he was a daring sailor and pilot whose near-death escapades make for lively reading.   As summed up by Chris, “Pup was the bravest man I knew.”

Well, but then politics is a dangerous sport.   Christopher, who supported Barack Obama, has the great sense to touch lightly on conservative versus liberal in this memoir.

Christopher does show us that WFB was both a prideful man and a man of fine humor.   When asked, back in 1965, what he would do first if elected mayor of New York City, WFB answered, “Demand a recount!”

WFB was to say that “Despair is a mortal sin”; and also that “I believe in neither permanent victories nor permanent defeats.”   Perhaps this is why his son crafted this book of memories so that it celebrates the lives of his parents – despite some personal faults that he clearly divulges – rather than the defeat he felt from their passings within a year of each other.

“Christo,” as he was known to WFB, was able to directly tell his father, “I love you very much.”   This despite the fact that WFB could be a harsh critic of his son’s work, including sending this e-mail message just after receiving his son’s latest book:  “This one doesn’t work for me sorry.   XXXB.”

There’s little cause to doubt that Losing Mum and Pup would have “worked” for both WFB and Patricia Taylor Buckley.   While, in the words of a traditional American folksong, “Death don’t have no mercy in this land…”, this is a life-affirming work.

Losing Mum and Pup: A Memoir by Christopher Buckley, Twelve Books, Illustrated, 251 pages, $24.99.

This review was written by Joseph Arellano.   Thanks to Karen at Hatchette Book Group USA for supplying the review copy; much appreciated!

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