Category Archives: books

Bad Arguments


Engagingly written and beautifully illustrated, Bad Arguments: Learn the Lost Art of Making Sense, is the perfect guide to this political season.

Example: Appeal to Fear: “Mr. Frog lost the election after Mr. Donkey convinced everyone that if Mr. Frog became the school Dean, soon enough, the entire university would be run by frogs.

There’s a lot of argument from personal incredulity going on in the newspapers post-election. Reporters can’t imagine that President-elect Trump would actually fulfill some of his campaign promises so they conclude that they won’t happen.

Ali Almossawi, the author, holds a Masters in Engineering Systems from MIT and a Masters in Software Engineering from Carnegie Mellon and he’s done a number of data visualization projects. Check his website out.

Endorsed by Cory Doctorow of, Kevin Tang of and Lauren Davis of, I suggest keeping this one handy while reading any kind of news.

Come Home to Yourself

Have you ever had a “failure to communicate”? (a famous line by Paul Newman in the movie Cool Hand Luke).  Thich Nhat Hanh’s The Art of Communicating will help.

It Starts with You

It all starts with communicating with yourself and Hanh devotes a whole chapter to it.

“Many of us spend a lot of time in meetings or e-mailing with others, and not a lot of time communicating with ourselves. The result is that we don’t know what is going on within us…How, then, can we communicate with another person?”

Throughout the book, Hanh urges us to come home to ourselves by breathing, practicing mindfulness and being present to ourselves. Hanh advises that when we begin listening to ourselves, we notice the suffering present in our lives. He urges us to connect to that suffering because, “If we know how to take good care of suffering, we will know how to take good care of happiness.”

Deep Listening

When communicating with others, the keys to effective and true communication are deep listening and loving speech. The quality of our listening and writing is powerful and reflexive. “If you can listen for thirty minutes with compassion, you can help the other person suffer much less.” And “If you can write a letter that’s full of understanding and compassion, then during the time of writhing that letter you will nourish yourself.”

Loving Speech

Hanh outlines 6 phrases that are loving speech.

  • I am here for you. “To be there like that, for yourself and for the other person, is an act of love.”
  • I know you are there, and I am very happy. “You are letting your loved one know that his or her presence is important to your happiness.”
  • I know you suffer, and that is why I am here for you. When you notice that something is not going well with a loved one.
  • I suffer. I want you to know. I am doing my best. Please help. When we suffer, we often want to punish the person we believe caused our suffering by telling them we don’t need them.
  • This is a happy moment.
  • You are partly right. When receiving praise or criticism.

When Difficulties Arise

Hanh includes a brilliant chapter on communicating “when difficulties arise.”Pretending everything is fine isn’t the answer.

“When anger is there, we should handle it with tenderness because our anger is us. We shouldn’t do violence to our anger. Doing violence to our anger is doing violence to ourselves.”

It’s the perfect time to say, “I suffer, I want you to know, I am doing my best. Please help.”

At Work

I love this insight from Hanh:

“Communication is as much a part of your job as is the end product. If you communicate well in your work environment, not only do you enjoy yourself more, but you create a harmonious atmosphere that will carry over into your work. Everything you do will have a stronger element of compassion and be of greater benefit to more people.”

After I finish reading books I usually sell them back. But I will keep this one for a reference and reminder.


The Girl


The Girl in the Spider’s Web by David Lagercrantz continues Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Series which includes The Girl with an assortment: with the Dragon Tattoo, Who Played with Fire, Who Kicked the Hornet’s nest. Larsson had plans for more books but was killed and Lagercrantz is the person who was chosen to write them.

This is a book about:

  • a father, his self-learning AI and his autistic son
  • a journalist who hasn’t written a good story in awhile, his recently purchased employer and his latest investigation
  • A daughter, Lisbeth, her sister, Camilla and their abusive father, Zalenchenko

The Heroes of this story are Lisbeth who is  haunted by her father’s abuse of her mother, Michael Blomkvist whose last greatest scoop to date was awhile ago, and August, who cannot speak. Each person journeys to a new place by the end of the book.

As a hero, Lisbeth is the most relatable. She has amazing hacker skills but eats poorly, dresses gothically and has limited social skills.

The issues raised in this book are not new:

  • the ability to hack into exclusive data
  • the possibility of creating an AI that learns and so becomes greater than its creator
  • corporate espionage and the theft of trade secrets by the very organizations that are supposed to protect them
  • the abuse of women and children and ineffective ways of making it stop
  • the notion of safety

But the exploration of them is riveting and rooting for Lisbeth, Michael and August was fun.



If You Love Words


I had read author Max Barry’s Jennifer Government and knew he was good. So I picked up Lexicon: A Novel, a book about:

  • Emily Ruff, a street urchin, good with words
  • Wil Parke, on the run, for reasons he doesn’t remember
  • A missing word that kills
  • in a world where words are weapons

Lexicon alternates between Emily and Wil’s story like a braid. In the beginning, there’s no evidence of connection. As you progress, the strands become visible but are loosely woven and by the end, the strands are so tightly woven they become one.

Agents who wield word weapons are code named after authors. Each chapter ends with 2 contrasting snippets: one from a news outlet reporting on the events of the chapter and another from a blogger’s view of that same event.

If you love fonts, each section title, like “Broken Hill”, is intricately designed with each letter appearing twice in each space.

Lexicon won NPR Best Book of the Year and Time Magazine Top 10 Fiction books of the Year, 2013.


Esteemed Eleanor


In her book, You Learn by Living, Eleanor Roosevelt wrote about eleven keys for a more fulfilling life. I’m just getting to know who she was as a person. She was quite a prolific and thoughtful author with a voice of the times. She was the First Lady from 1933 to 1945 and was quite a public servant. This book was published in 1960 and she died in 1962.

Here are 5 of her keys that resonated for me:

In the chapter, Learning to Learn, Eleanor wrote, “Life is interesting only as long as it is a process of growth; or, to put it another way, we can grow only as long as we are interested.” And more emphatically, “You must be interested in anything that comes your way.

The advantage of this attitude as she saw it is “If we can keep that flexibility of mind, that hospitality toward new ideas, we will be able to welcome the new flow of thought from wherever it comes, not resisting it; weighting and evaluating and exploring the strange new concepts that confront us at every turn.”

In another chapter called Readjustment is Endless, she wrote, “Readjustment is a kind of private revolution. Each time you learn something new you must readjust the whole framework of your knowledge. it seems to me that one is forced to make inner and outer readjustments all one’s life. The process never ends.”

She made some interesting observations in the same chapter about age: “Every age…is an undiscovered country. We are constantly advancing, like explorers, into the unknown, which makes life an adventure all the way.” And a couple of pages later, “Whatever period of life we are in is good only to the extent that we make use of it, that we live it to the hilt, that we continue to develop and understand what it has to offer us and we have to offer it.”

According to Eleanor, a person’s ability to deal with setbacks in that life and be happy is directly related to how he or she manages her mind because “nothing ever happens to us except what happens in our minds”

In the chapter Facing Responsibility, Eleanor outlined a way to balance perfectionism with reality: “all choice, to some extent, must be compromise between reality and a dream of perfection. We must try to bring the reality as close to that dream of perfection as we can, but we must not demand of it the impossible. It is only an approximation that anyone can reach, but the closer one tries to approximate it, the more he will grow. If he keeps his dream of perfection and strains toward it, he will come closer to achieving it than if he rejects the reality because it was not perfection.”

As we near November’s election day, parts of the chapter, How Everyone Can Take Part in Politics, resonated for me: “The minimum, the very basic minimum, of a citizen’s duty is to cast a vote on election day. Even now [in 1960] to few of us discharge this minimal duty. By such negligence, such indifference, such sheer laziness, we discard, unused, a gift and a privilege obtained for us at gigantic cost and sacrifice.”

And if you wanted to take politics further, in the chapter called Learning to Be a Public Servant, Eleanor points out that learning to learn is a critical part: “To meet these new challenges [of change] we look for new ingredients in our public servants, an elasticity and flexibility of mind that enables them to change in order to meet changes, an alert and hospitable intelligence that can grasp new issues, new conditions, new peoples.”

After reading just one of her books, I’m impressed with Eleanor’s voice, her scope, and her depth. She seems like a real person to me genuinely concerned with and thoughtful about the issues of her time, which, like many, are issues of our time too.


If You Hate Running…

…Jen A. Miller’s Running: A love story: 10 years, 5 marathons and 1 life-changing sport  is for you.


Fair warning: it’s the story of Jen’s transformation from someone who detested running to someone who loved it.

Jen’s first call to running adventure came from her father in humid New Jersey as “conditioning” for softball. She hated it. When she went to college, running became a periodic way to get efficient weight loss. After college, she ran her first 5K because she was going to be paid $750 to write an article about the experience of hating running and training for a 5K. She ran that 5K, even won something and got paid. But running stayed an infrequently used tool for staying thin.

Jen’s enemies took the form of a series of initially charming then increasingly harmful boyfriends who weakened her emotionally. She was too afraid of being alone, being unloved to leave them initially but she did turn to running to keep her sane. Her greatest ally was her Mom who always waited for her at the finish line of each race she attempted during this trying period of years.

When Jen left her last boyfriend in the book, Nick, she confronted her greatest fear of being alone and unloved. She entered a limbo state by moving in with her mother. She trained for a marathon while waiting for her tenant’s lease to expire so she could move into her own house. When her tenant’s moved out she refurbished the house from floors to paint turning it into a place she loved.

Jen’s resurrected her life by moving into her own home alone and by finishing a marathon the way she wanted to. Her reward for the decade-long ordeal was a greater willingness to be alone and a greater acceptance of herself.


Book Pairing

Book pairings like wine and cheese pairings have something unique to offer.


Kim Baker went to Afghanistan in 2002 and her book,Whisky Tango Foxtrot, is based on years of reportage while living there. She combines an outsiders view of how American policy looked to Afghanistan as well as an outsiders view of how Afghan politics themselves worked. Her stereoscopic perspective is fascinating.

The Drifter grabbed my attention with it’s arresting yellow and blue cover. Peter Ash returned from wars in Iraq and Afghanistan with “white static” and an inability to be inside walls for very long. He finds relief under the stars far from city lights but the suicide of a military friend calls him back to civilization to help his widow. What he discovers while fixing her porch keeps him city-bound. How he copes with his “white static” while investigating is the best part.

While Whisky Tango Foxtrot investigates the non-fiction side of the Afghan war, The Drifter shows the interior life of a returning vet of that same war. The net result is greater empathy for those who served. Welcome home.