Jared Diamond is patient with the non-academic reader. He presents his intriguing ideas in story form with a minimum of statistics and dry facts. He shares his insights from a long career of living among primitive people in several areas -- mostly Papua New Guinea. He tells about the similarities and differences of their lives compared to ours. Then he asks, "Could they have been onto something that we could revisit in our own lives?" It is a good question and one that stays with the reader long after the book is finished.
One example: in primitive groups, children spend a lot of time in age-mixed groups which allows the younger kids to learn from the older ones and the older ones to feel pride and accomplishment when they teach the younger ones. In our culture, children are separated into age-specific groups and taught together by an adult. The age segregation continues outside school in team sports and play dates. With small families, some children do not have experience with children of other ages -- often until they become parents themselves. As I was reading this, my 10-year-old grandson was playing with his 1-year-old cousin, showing her new ways to play with her "baby" toys. She was delighted with his attention and soon turned her push-car upside down as he had done, spinning the wheels with her hands. Later, the 10-year-old went to a museum with his 20-year-old cousin to see dinosaurs. The 20-year-old grew up in this town and had visited the museum many times, so he was an expert in the eyes of the 10-year-old and he seemed to enjoy the adulation.
This book made me think about the "advances" we have made in our culture and question it. Most of it has been good (sanitation, public health, medical care) but some of the old ways have merit and deserve examination. After all, they were in practice until "just yesterday" and helped us survive and evolve to what we are today.
My book club read this book, thinking we would be familiar with the topic since we live in south Florida and have many friends and coworkers with Cuban roots, but this memoir told a different story than anything we had heard before. Sure, we had heard of the "Pedro Pan" airlift which "saved" lots of kids from Castro's Cuba, but this first-person account was nothing like the glib news releases we had heard years ago. The author tells about his experience as one of over 14,000 children, mostly boys, who were flown to Miami from Cuba between 1960 and 1962. Each was told that their parents would be following shortly afterwards, but in most cases, this was not possible. These kids relied on the kindness of distant relatives in the U.S., former friends or neighbors of their parents, and in one compelling part of this story, an unrelated Jewish family who could relate to losing one's home country. A loose network of social workers, foster parents, and church officials oversaw the welfare of the kids until the parents were able to join them some years later. Carlos Eire tells what it was like to be one of these children. He was 11 when he and his brother arrived in Miami, and this book describes his experience as he travels from one temporary home to another, trying to assimilate and make his way in this new world without much help from anyone. It is funny and sad, and a very honest account of how a preteen boy struggles into adulthood under these conditions. I enjoyed it thoroughly. Eire is a wonderful writer and Fass does a great job as narrator.
I am a big Malcolm Gladwell fan, but I was a little disappointed by this book, both the content and the performance. I didn't find his arguments very compelling, for example the ascertain that dyslexia can produce success because, as kids, these people have had to try so hard to do everything. Sure there are a few outstanding people who have dyslexia, but what about those who aren't outstanding? His argument seems to be that "this works this way . . . unless it doesn't." Not as tight and well-argued as his previous books. His reading of the book is not so great -- it's like he isn't enjoying it very much either. I'm glad I bought it and listened to it, but I was expecting more.
I am a professor of psychology and thought this would be informative and interesting, but I must be honest to say that I did not understand what was going on. I am not a clinician, but I do teach about personality and attachment. This was a stream of consciousness with little grounding in time or space. I guess that may been what the author was getting at, she does have a psychiatric disorder, but after an hour of listening, I realized I wasn't going to learn anything and was not going to be entertained. I gave up. Wish I could return it. If you want to read a good memoir of a person who is grappling with a mental health disorder, read Andrew Solomon's "The Noonday Demon." He is knowledgeable, a terrific writer, and gives a very compelling account of how depression affects all aspects of a person's life, but also the gifts one receives as a result of this struggle. The reader ends up admiring Solomon, liking him, and wanting to learn more about his life.
I had heard about some court cases after Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, pertaining to the possibility that some people were euthanized in hospitals and nursing homes. I didn't know the outcome. This author brings us the facts of this time -- five days -- after Katrina left and the city began flooding due to broken levees. She describes it day by day, using the words of the various people who were at the hospitals. I ended the book wondering what I would do in their shoes. It resulted in many conversations with nurses I know and adult children of nursing home patients. The last chapter describes new practices put into place for future natural disasters, but it left me slow to criticize what choices people make in critical situations.
This was an excellent story that spans many years and many places, from the upper east side of New York to Las Vegas to Amsterdam. An adolescent boy experiences a life-changing tragedy and then stumbles into the world of art forgeries, antiques, drugs, blackmail, unconditional love, and the Russian mafia. Although none of these things especially interest me, I enjoyed the book a lot from the first sentence of the first page to the last. It is probably one of the best books I have listened to in the last 5 years. The narrator reads in a way that makes him actually disappear and lets the story just enter your brain. He does the accents of the rich private school kids, the Russian teenager, the bimbo girlfriend of his father, the Greenwich Village art restorer, and more, so well that you can picture them in your mind. I bought two copies of this book for gifts and recommended it to my book club.
I enjoyed The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by the same author and enjoyed this one even more. It is a story that starts small and then keeps moving, gathering strength as it goes along, until the very nice ending. There are little treats all along, like a character who refers to items by their brand names to make them seem special and separate from the other items in that category. The characters are very likable, even the antagonist. The narrator has a delightful British accent and reads it as if he is telling a story. I was sorry for it to end, and I wish Rachel Joyce had another book I could read.
I just finished The Goldfinch and enjoyed it immensely, so thought I would enjoy The Little Friend. It is set in the south and the narrator has a very distracting southern accent. I am a southerner myself, but could not identify what the accent was supposed to be. But the worst part was that every sentence sounded like it had an exclamation point at the end(!) It was so artificial that I could not pay attention to the story. I quit after a few chapters and bought the hardcover book.
This is a very good book. Bryson weaves together the worlds of politics, aviation, sports, entertainment, crime, invention, and business to give a snapshot view of the United States in 1927.. It works very well and is a pleasure to read. However, Bryson should stick to writing. I had just listened to several books read by actors, and there is a big difference between a professional voice and an amateur. With Bryson, the listener is distracted by his uneven accent -- where is he from, California? with a touch of Brit? Canada? I kept thinking of the characters on Saturday Night Live's skit, "The Californians."And it is just not smooth. The wrong words are emphasized in the narratives and it is really distracting. I finally bought the book and started from the beginning to read it myself. I loved it!
The only things I knew about Ann Morrow Lindberg were that she was the wife of the guy who first flew across the Atlantic Ocean and that their first baby was kidnapped and murdered. Even without those two events, Ann Morrow Lindberg would have been worth a book. Her story, and her observations about her own life, are timeless and give encouragement and counsel to women of all ages. The narrator is wonderful. It seemed a little slow at first, but I think that is a reflection of the times. Soon the listeners feel that they are present in the 1930s and are listening to Ann tell her own story. I recommended this for our book club, along with Ann's own book, A Gift From the Sea.
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