Monday, May 21, 2012

The Homeless Teacher's Amazon Sample Book Review Corner

Because most non-fiction books published today, and even lots of novels, are simply bloated, feculent, and endless restatements of an initial theme or "main idea" (remember picking that out in high school or the SAT?) presented in the preface, introduction, or first chapter, I've decided to offer a valuable service by reviewing Amazon Kindle Samples, which are almost always the first 5% or so of the book (I hasten to add that my harsh judgement of many books as repetitive may not apply to the works mentioned in this post, but I can't know that since I only read the samples).  If you check in on my blog often enough, (hint) you won't even have to read the samples of what might be good books. 

In today's "rush rush" society and for the homeless person "on the go," Kindle Samples are the ideal solution for the multitasking demands of this crazy old spinning ball we call Planet Earth!  Not to mention they're free.  The following review refers to samples I read today on the bus traveling to a 3rd grade sub job, during recess, lunch, and an hour-long National Geographic video on Volcanoes that was pretty good (kids love lava) and a nice filler-gift from the teacher.  Ready? Let's go!

The Hunt for KSM, by Terry McDermott and Josh Meyer was recommended by my attorney and concerns the pursuit and capture of the 9/11 mastermind Kalid Sheikh Mohammed.  Best parts: A massive CIA/Pakistani raid on a house to capture a high-level terrorist known as Abu Zubaydah, and the FBI's Keystone Cops-like attempt to muscle on on the CIA and fingerprint Zubaydah before he's loaded onto a plane.  At one point they actually drop the still-living, bullet-mangled terrorist onto the tarmac where he writhes in agony.  Main Idea:  The CIA and the FBI clashed a lot and hated each other while hunting terrorists.   Also, the FBI seem to be resentful bunglers.

Among the Creationists by Jason Rosenhouse.  Jason is a math professor who has an excellent blog called EvolutionBlog. Baffled by the persistent and widespread opposition to evolution in America, he spent a year or so attending as many creationist conferences as possible and talking to as many evolution opponents as he could handle.  Best part: Jason stands in line at Subway with about 100 creationists on break for lunch and gets into a theological/philosophical/scientific wrangle with some Christians, one of whom grabs his hands and claims him for Jesus.   Main idea:  Creationists are insular, breathtakingly ignorant of science, trapped in circular reasoning regarding the truth of the Bible, but are basically nice, well-intentioned people.  Also, they are wrong. 

Free Will by Sam Harris.  Okay, I'm cheating a bit here because this is actually a short Kindle "Single" (about 40 pages) that you have to pay a couple bucks for, but the brevity, compression, and blinding clarity of neuroscientist Harris's assault on the idea of free will makes it just about worth it.  Best part: the argument that a seemingly bleak deterministic view of human nature actually generates more compassion and good works, once you accept the Main Idea: Not only do we not have free will, we are mistaken in our traditional subjective sense that we have free will.  Also, you can't say you could have done otherwise than eat the whole pizza, because there's no way to test this counterfactual empirically.

The Emotional Life of Your Brain by Richard J. Davidson, Ph.D. with Sharon Begley.  Davidson is a neuroscientist who claims to have discovered via 30 years of brain-research 6 dimensions of Emotional Style.  They are Resilience, Outlook, Social Intuition, Self-Awareness, Sensitivity to Context, and Attention.  He claims also that the ordinary fellow wouldn't have thought of these things if not for his research.  Best part: He promises his book will show you how to change your Emotional Style and transform your wretched life.  Main Idea: Understanding Emotional Style and how its Six Dimensions are encoded in the brain is the key to success and happiness.  Also, nobody would ever know these things without this book.

The Death and Life of the Great American School System by Diane Ravitch.  I plan to read the rest of this book because it seems honest and because of the Main Idea(s):  The Bush administration's No Child Left Behind program was/is an inhuman and inhumane elevation of standardized testing to a end in itself, and charter schools are generally a bad idea.  Also, it's bracing to read a book by someone who once held opinions opposite to those expressed here and who agrees with me. 

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