An illuminating look at the surprising upside of ambiguity - and how, properly harnessed, it can inspire learning, creativity, even empathy. Life today feels more overwhelming and chaotic than ever. Whether it's a confounding work problem or a faltering relationship or an unclear medical diagnosis, we face constant uncertainty. And we're continually bombarded with information, much of it contradictory.
The material in "Nonsense" is great. It explores why the mind greatly desires certainty such that it will prefer certain-sounding nonsense over easily observed contradictions of that nonsense. It explores why the mind tends to shun ambiguity and uncertainty, yet engaging with ambiguity and uncertainty has great value, in creativity, performance, and mental tranquility. It also gives some techniques on how to get comfortable with ambiguity and uncertainty and to use that comfort to achieve desired results.
The author narrates the book. He's one of the better author narrators, but presentation is slow and on the flat side. I almost never listen above 1x speed, but I had to do so with this book to make the pacing tolerable.
A further weakness is that the book could use tighter editing. It's not so bad that it's an article inflated into a book, but probably 20% of the words could be removed with no loss in meaning. One could say that the text wallows a bit too much in ambiguity and uncertainty. This, combined with the slow narration pace makes this book a somewhat annoying read despite the otherwise excellent quality of the material.
As with many books, it is most polished at the beginning and least polished towards the end. The book would be improved with a concluding summary that boils down the content to a few actionable ideas. My desire for this, is of course, is probably from my desire for certainty. But that's how we humans are.
1 of 1 people found this review helpful
Renowned psychologists describe the most useful insights from social psychology that can help make you "wise": wise about why people behave the way they do, and wise about how to use that knowledge in understanding and influencing the people in your life. When faced with a challenge, we often turn to those we trust for words of wisdom. Friends, relatives, and colleagues - someone with the best advice about how to boost sales, the most useful insights into raising children, or the sharpest take on an ongoing conflict.
"The Wisest One in the Room" is a rehash of almost every interesting finding of social psychology research. No new research is presented. All the authors have done is to attempt to reposition knowledge of these findings as wisdom. The attempt almost completely fails, and quite glaringly so when it tries to transition from the anecdote at the beginning of the book about Eisenhower and D-Day to the main body of the book, not one bit of which has any explanatory power about the introductory anecdote.
If one has not read much in social psychology, then this book might be as good as any of several others to give an overview of some of the most interesting findings of the field. It's not actually a bad book. It's just an unnecessary one.
10 of 19 people found this review helpful
William Stoner is born at the end of the 19th century into a dirt-poor Missouri farming family. Sent to the state university to study agronomy, he instead falls in love with English literature and embraces a scholar's life, far different from the hardscrabble existence he has known. And yet as the years pass, Stoner encounters a succession of disappointments.
In deciding to read "Stoner" I read a comment that it was "the best novel you've never heard of." I now agree. It's up there with Tolstoy's works. If my next paragraph does not totally repel you, you should read "Stoner."
There are reasons you've never heard of it. It's not a pleasant story. There's no action. The first few chapters, about the protagonist's youth, are boring. The most interesting parts are during the protagonist's middle age. (With subtle irony the author made the protagonist an expert in the literature of the Middle Ages). The heroism of the protagonist is through his stoicism, not his efforts or cleverness. He's trapped in an unsatisfactory life.
That said, "Stoner" is one of the most moving novels I've ever read. Haunting. Real. It's about mistakes and lost opportunities, and human frailties and pettiness. It's about coming to an understanding of self and life.
4 of 4 people found this review helpful
Most new products fail. So do most small businesses. And most of us, if we are honest, have experienced a major setback in our personal or professional lives. So what determines who will bounce back and follow up with a home run? If you want to succeed in business and in life, Megan McArdle argues in this hugely thought-provoking book, you have to learn how to harness the power of failure. McArdle has been one of our most popular business bloggers for more than a decade, covering the rise and fall of some the world' s top companies and challenging us to think differently about how we live, learn, and work.
What disappointed you about The Up Side of Down?
The author has simply read a bunch of popular books and assembled snippets of them, along with some personal experiences, to write an obviously derivative and non-original book.
Would you ever listen to anything by Megan McArdle again?
The author is an excellent writer. I might if there was good reason to believe she was going to write something original.
You didn’t love this book... but did it have any redeeming qualities?
If your interest in this topic is marginal, such that you're likely to read only one book on the subject, this book would be okay.
Any additional comments?
Consider reading Scott Adams' "How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big: Kind of the Story of My Life" instead. It's totally original and far more entertaining.
Or "Adapt: Why Success Always Starts with Failure" by Tim Harford.
Or some of the books the author steals from, such as "Thinking Fast and Slow" or "The Invisible Gorilla"
8 of 10 people found this review helpful
Brimming with counterintuitive advice, numerous examples from various countries, and surprising findings, this groundbreaking guide reveals the strategies and tactics that separate the winners from the losers. Power is a force that can be used and harnessed not only for individual gain but also for the benefit of organizations and society. Power, however, is not something that can be learned from those in charge....
This is an excellent book on how power is use in the workplace. Many of the examples echo experiences I've had in my career. I wish I had had the knowledge in this book year ago.
The negative reviews of this book say more about deficiencies in the reviewers than deficiencies in the book. This is a book about the – at best – morally ambiguous techniques people use to obtain and retain power. For many readers, the experience of having those techniques articulated is repugnant, and their reaction is to blame the messenger.
The sad fact is that at times power is achieved with dirty tricks. You’re better off knowing about these tricks; otherwise, you’ll be blindsided. For example, one case provided in the book was about an employee who was fired because she was too competent, and was a threat to her new boss. The exact same thing happened to me early in my career. And I’m not just relating my opinion of the case. A decade after the incident I encountered my boss’s boss on a flight I was taking. She apologized to me. In the months after my firing it had become clear that my boss was incompetent and was making up lies to protect herself.
It can be a cruel world out there. The information in this book can help you defend yourself.
5 of 6 people found this review helpful
Emerging science is showing that cholesterol levels are a poor predictor of heart disease and that standard prescriptions for lowering it, such as ineffective low-fat/high-carb diets and serious, side-effect-causing statin drugs, obscure the real causes of heart disease. Even doctors at leading institutions have been misled for years based on creative reporting of research results from pharmaceutical companies intent on supporting the $31-billion-a-year cholesterol-lowering drug industry.
It's easier to successfully find fault than it is to find new correct solutions. So is the case with The Great Cholesterol Myth. While the authors appropriately acknowledge that there's some truth to the myth -- the data do show that cholesterol does matter for middle-aged white males with heart conditions -- the medical establishment has vastly over extrapolated from these findings to conclude that lowering cholesterol levels for huge portions of the population is a good thing -- and that any side-effects aren't worth paying attention to.
I have first-hand experience with this. A couple of years ago I developed a textbook case of walkthrough angina so obvious I could diagnose myself with a simple internet search, but I dutifully followed my GP's orders to go to the cardiologist and have multiple tests done, whereupon the cardiologist concluded "you have a textbook case of walkthrough angina." He went on to prescribe the "standard treatment" of beta blockers to "lower my high blood pressure" and statins to "lower my high cholesterol".
I first replied, "I don't have high blood pressure". The cardiologist then looks at my chart and reads the blood pressure readings that have been taken at the beginning of each of my visits. They're actually on the low side. Disregarding my response and his own assistant's work, he takes my blood pressure himself and concludes that I don't have high blood pressure and don't need the beta blockers.
I then say I don't have high cholesterol. He pulls those data too, then protests that they're several months old. I respond that I've never had high cholesterol. He says I should take statins anyway. I decline. He unhappily shrugs and indicates we're done.
Of course there was never a discussion about diet as a way to lower cholesterol.
I've read everything I can find on "walkthrough angina". It's uncommon, untreatable, and it has a small negative correlation with having a heart attack such that it is believed to be a protective mechanism. It's annoying, but benign.
Statins and beta blockers have side effects, yet there was a knee-jerk reaction to prescribe them. Perhaps that's because of the biggest side-effect of all: It makes money for cardiologists and pharmaceutical companies, a fact clearly pointed out by the authors.
Pointing out that the emperor has no clothes is the easy part. The hard part is what to do about heart conditions. The authors go on to cover some more respected and more speculative recommendations about diet and lifestyle, then they get deep into recommending supplements -- not coincidentally supplements that have author Dr. Sinatra's name on them, and for which the supporting evidence is spotty.
Maybe some of the work some of the time. I even bought one to try. But I'm skeptical, and you should be too.
Do your own research, get dissenting views, and don't just take the authors' word on everything here, especially as they gain financially from your doing so.
19 of 22 people found this review helpful
What if the inattentiveness that makes school or work a challenge holds the secret to your future as an entrepreneur? What if the shyness in groups that you hate is the source of deep compassion for others? What if the anxiety and nervousness you often feel can actually help energize you? What if the mood swings you sometimes experience can be the source of tremendous creativity?
Only about one out of every 50 audiobooks that I buy I find so boring that I give up on them. This was one of them. The problem is that the contents of the book just seem so obvious.
The author's point is that several personality traits that at the extreme ("extreme" meaning the traits are so strong that they directly cause the person to have problems functioning throughout much of what they do) are each part of a personality spectrum. These traits exist because even at high levels they are adaptive for our species, and most important, adaptive for individuals given that they understand their traits and the manage their lives appropriately.
The problem is that our current society is so focused on what is "normal" (and by this what is really meant is what is average), that people with traits well outside what is average, but within what is healthy and adaptive, are stigmatized and told, either directly or implicitly, they're not normal and that they should get help.
The traits discussed are:
1. Adventurous (ADHD--Attention Deficit Disorder)
2. Perfectionist (OCD--Obsessive Compulsive Disorder)
3. Shy (Social Anxiety Disorder)
4. Anxious (Generalized Anxiety Disorder)
5. Dramatic (Histrionic)
6. Self-Focused (Narcissism)
7. High Energy (Bipolar)
8. Magical (Schizophrenia)
For each trait the author describes what the trait is and how it is useful and adaptive. He then gives examples of people high in the trait, how they have been situations that have made them suffer for the trait, and how they have figured out how to arrange their lives to use their traits to their advantage.
If you don't know what these traits are or have trouble thinking of ways the traits can be used to an individual's advantage, then this book may be interesting. Otherwise, it will all seem obvious and uninteresting.
Marc Cashman does an excellent narration.
3 of 3 people found this review helpful
Here, Nassir Ghaemi draws from the careers and personal plights of such notable leaders as Lincoln, Churchill, Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., JFK, and others from the past two centuries to build an argument at once controversial and compelling: the very qualities that mark those with mood disorders—realism, empathy, resilience, and creativity—also make for the best leaders in times of crisis.
If your criterion for what makes for a first-rate non-fiction book is for you to change your thinking, then A First-Rate Madness should go into your reading list.
Since antiquity some thinkers have argued that madness and genius are closely related. Ghaemi makes a compelling case for this being true, at least for certain disorders: hyperthymia, bipolar disorder, and depression. Ghaemi also makes an interesting case for how drugs can modulate the disorders to make leaders more effective, with JFK as an example, or can worsen their disorders, showing how Hitler dramatically worsened when he started taking intravenous methamphetamine five times a day.
Depressive episodes give the leader greater empathy and realism. Hyperthymia and mania give the leader greater creativity and huge bursts of energy at critical moments.
Ghaemi argues that these first-rate mad leaders are optimal for periods of crisis because of the superior perspective and depth their madness gives them. Correspondingly,Ghaemi argues that while mentally normal leaders are likely to do a better job during non-crisis times, during crises they are prone to blundering because of their shallowness.
Ghaemi presents his argument via the case method, with biographies of several famous leaders going back to the American Civil War. These biographies focus on the leaders' mental state, using the same methodologies used to diagnose living patients.
The result is a tour de force that will appeal to readers interested in leadership, psychology, and biography alike.
Sean Runnette, as usual, does an excellent narration.
7 of 7 people found this review helpful
Why do some products get more word of mouth than others? Why does some online content go viral? Word of mouth makes products, ideas, and behaviors catch on. It's more influential than advertising and far more effective. Can you create word of mouth for your product or idea? According to Berger, you can. Whether you operate a neighborhood restaurant, a corporation with hundreds of employees, or are running for a local office for the first time, the steps that can help your product or idea become viral are the same.
This is a must-read for anyone professionally involved in the creation of advertising. It's written for people without background on the subject, but does such a good job in organizing and clarifying the principles that it's a good read for even marketing veterans.
Berger does an excellent job exploring and detailing the message elements that cause people to remember advertising messages and stories, and to want to pass around those stories (with or without embedded ad messages). The book explores 6 principles involved in why things catch on:
* social currency
* practical value
These principles serve as a checklist for the creation of advertising, especially any advertising that attempts to be viral.
30 of 32 people found this review helpful
Every year, the average American eats 33 pounds of cheese (triple what we ate in 1970) and 70 pounds of sugar (about 22 teaspoons a day). We ingest 8,500 milligrams of salt a day, double the recommended amount, and almost none of that comes from the shakers on our table. It comes from processed food. It’s no wonder, then, that one in three adults, and one in five kids, is clinically obese.
If you want to know what caused the obesity epidemic, here it is!
Sugar, Salt, Fat is about how the processed food industry figured out how to use sugar, salt, and fat to make processed foods taste more than just good, but to make them something close to addictive. With this technology, they could make cheap, unnutritious foods taste good, and use the resulting high margins to fund advertising to drive demand. The food industry also made these foods more convenient than cooking. They even played a role in killing off home economics in the schools to ensure the next generation would not know how to cook.
Oh, one little side-effect that the industry needs to sweep under the rug: because these processed foods are so unlike foods found in nature, the body body can't properly gauge when these foods make the body full -- causing people to consume far more calories than they need.
Some interesting angles to the story are the involvement of the tobacco industry, such as Phillip Morris’s acquisition of food companies; and the healthy lifestyles pursued by the food industry executives, who eat their own products far more sparingly than the general public does.
This is not rocket science, but it’s great investigative journalism. It may be the best investigative journalism about the food industry since Upton Sinclair's work a century ago about food impurities. Yes, that good; that important.
One minor annoyance is that the narrator, Scott Brick, over dramatizes. Brick mostly narrates fiction, which he should probably stick to. He was perhaps chosen because he did an excellent narration of The Omnivore’s Dilemma (another great book for folks concerned about modern food), but that book was more of a memoir, making it a better fit with his narration style. Sugar, Salt, Fat is pure investigative journalism. The emotional level of Brick’s reading doesn’t fit with this genre.
29 of 30 people found this review helpful