Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Review: People of Darkness

People of Darkness People of Darkness by Tony Hillerman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Jimmy Chee and Joe Leaphorn are both great characters but are also quite different. Leaphorn seems more at home or comfortable in the white man's world, while Chee's bewilderment and curiosity gives the story a tone that it is different. Chee is not uncomfortable in the white man's world, but it is more foreign to him than it seems to Leaphorn and so through his eyes one gets a novel look at the familiar. The plot is standard mystery fare. Hillerman does his usual good job of balancing the keeping of the mystery plot going with the beautiful descriptions of the landscapes of New Mexico and the Navajo Reservation and the integration of Navajo traditions and customs.

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Wednesday, September 07, 2016

Review: The Willpower Instinct: How Self-Control Works, Why It Matters, and What You Can Do to Get More of It

The Willpower Instinct: How Self-Control Works, Why It Matters, and What You Can Do to Get More of It The Willpower Instinct: How Self-Control Works, Why It Matters, and What You Can Do to Get More of It by Kelly McGonigal
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I first came across Kelly McGonigal through a TED video where she explained how to make stress a positive force, rather than the dangerous negative force it usual is. In that talk, she discusses how things like mindfulness and acceptance can help channel stress into healthier channels. I found the research she discussed intriguing and some of the suggestions helpful. So when I decided to read her book, I was hoping for a similar outcome. And I was rewarded.

I don’t think, for the most part, that I have serious willpower issues. But I am interested in the psychology and neuroscience of self-control, as well as how to improve our mental practices to lead happier lives. So while this book can be a self-help guide for someone struggling with their willpower in terms of quitting smoking, dieting, or watching too much TV, it also discusses some of the research behind the methods that might work best at helping people with those issues. She has many practical, DIY sections in each chapter to help you apply the concepts to your own life. It’s not too ‘science-heavy’ in terms of the studies, indeed I would have liked more on that, but she does summarize and discuss the major work on self-control, willpower, and behavior change.

I did find myself making use of the ideas in my regular life. For example, I was setting up an assignment for my students on my school’s online course management system. There is an option that you can run the students’ papers through a software program that checks for plagiarism. If you select this option, the students are warned that their assignments will be run through this anti-plagiarism program. As I was thinking about whether to make use of this, I recalled McGonigal’s discussion of how the perception that many others are cheating tends to increase the chances that you will cheat. I wondered if the advertised use of this anti-plagiarism software sent the signal to the students that many students are cheating (after all, that’s why we need software to find it, right?) and so actually have the perverse effect of increasing the chances that a student will cheat. Now, I don’t know if that’s true, but I decided against using the software and will instead rely on my well-honed skills of ferreting out cheating.

I recommend this book for those interested in an intelligent laymen discussion of the psychology and science of self-control and willpower or those looking for some practical tips on to improve their own self-control. That said, the book could have been a little shorter; it felt a bit stretched out to me. McGonigal has quick-paced, casual style with many funny and interesting anecdotes that give life to the science she is discussing.

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Monday, September 05, 2016

Review: The English Spy

The English Spy The English Spy by Daniel Silva
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is one of my favorite Allon books. The pairing of Keller and Allon works really well, though I did miss the rest of Allon’s team. The integration of the plot with previous story lines was well done and sets, I presume, the stage for later books.

Now that I’m almost caught up with series, it is fun to see how Silva captures and uses contemporary events and news stories. I don’t imagine Silva sells well in Moscow.

As much as I enjoyed the book, the plot, and the characters, I would like to see Allon operate, for lack of a better way of putting the point, more in an Israeli context. The European theater is interesting, but you can get that from other series. One of the special aspects of Allon is that he is Israeli and Jewish, and I think Silva should take advantage of that more. The next stage of Allon’s adventures--personally and professionally--should be interesting!

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