A smart, provocative book that guides readers to better decision-making when confronting seemingly intractable problems.

UPSTREAM

THE QUEST TO SOLVE PROBLEMS BEFORE THEY HAPPEN

Psychology meets neuroscience and self-help in this engaging study by business writer Heath (co-author: The Power of Moments: Why Certain Moments Have Extraordinary Impact, 2017, etc.).

If the fish floating down a river have three heads, then it behooves any curious-minded person to travel upstream and find out why. Just so, if half of high school students are failing in a certain district, then one can either try to throw money and words at the problem (“Stay in school, kids!”) or venture into the alien territory outside the classroom to find out how to keep them going. That’s just what happened in Chicago, writes Heath, where teachers formed interdisciplinary teams offering support to legions of at-risk students, determining that if first-year students can be kept on track, they’re likely to stay in school to the end—and wind up making at least $500,000 more over a lifetime as compared to their dropout peers. The author examines numerous turning-point moments when finding “upstream” things to fix might have led to better and different results. For example, when, in 1974, a scientific paper was published describing a disappearing ozone layer, that was the time to do something about it—not now. “Creating urgency” is one task the would-be problem-solver must address. Another is getting the right people on board to create desired effects, such as lowering teen drug use by making it outré: “What if drug and alcohol use came to feel abnormal in their world rather than normal?” A change of mindsets is rarely easy, but it can be done, and best so, by Heath’s account, by looking farther along at the chain of events than the problem itself. That habit of mind, he writes, helps explain why the incidence of death by thyroid cancer is so low in South Korea, and it also points to a central truth: “Systems have great power and permanence; that’s why upstream efforts must culminate in systems change.”

A smart, provocative book that guides readers to better decision-making when confronting seemingly intractable problems.

Pub Date: March 3, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9821-3472-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Avid Reader Press

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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Readers unfamiliar with the anecdotal material Greene presents may find interesting avenues to pursue, but they should...

MASTERY

Greene (The 33 Strategies of War, 2007, etc.) believes that genius can be learned if we pay attention and reject social conformity.

The author suggests that our emergence as a species with stereoscopic, frontal vision and sophisticated hand-eye coordination gave us an advantage over earlier humans and primates because it allowed us to contemplate a situation and ponder alternatives for action. This, along with the advantages conferred by mirror neurons, which allow us to intuit what others may be thinking, contributed to our ability to learn, pass on inventions to future generations and improve our problem-solving ability. Throughout most of human history, we were hunter-gatherers, and our brains are engineered accordingly. The author has a jaundiced view of our modern technological society, which, he writes, encourages quick, rash judgments. We fail to spend the time needed to develop thorough mastery of a subject. Greene writes that every human is “born unique,” with specific potential that we can develop if we listen to our inner voice. He offers many interesting but tendentious examples to illustrate his theory, including Einstein, Darwin, Mozart and Temple Grandin. In the case of Darwin, Greene ignores the formative intellectual influences that shaped his thought, including the discovery of geological evolution with which he was familiar before his famous voyage. The author uses Grandin's struggle to overcome autistic social handicaps as a model for the necessity for everyone to create a deceptive social mask.

Readers unfamiliar with the anecdotal material Greene presents may find interesting avenues to pursue, but they should beware of the author's quirky, sometimes misleading brush-stroke characterizations.

Pub Date: Nov. 13, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-670-02496-4

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Sept. 13, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2012

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A timely, vividly realized reminder to slow down and harness the restorative wonders of serenity.

STILLNESS IS THE KEY

An exploration of the importance of clarity through calmness in an increasingly fast-paced world.

Austin-based speaker and strategist Holiday (Conspiracy: Peter Thiel, Hulk Hogan, Gawker, and the Anatomy of Intrigue, 2018, etc.) believes in downshifting one’s life and activities in order to fully grasp the wonder of stillness. He bolsters this theory with a wide array of perspectives—some based on ancient wisdom (one of the author’s specialties), others more modern—all with the intent to direct readers toward the essential importance of stillness and its “attainable path to enlightenment and excellence, greatness and happiness, performance as well as presence.” Readers will be encouraged by Holiday’s insistence that his methods are within anyone’s grasp. He acknowledges that this rare and coveted calm is already inside each of us, but it’s been worn down by the hustle of busy lives and distractions. Recognizing that this goal requires immense personal discipline, the author draws on the representational histories of John F. Kennedy, Buddha, Tiger Woods, Fred Rogers, Leonardo da Vinci, and many other creative thinkers and scholarly, scientific texts. These examples demonstrate how others have evolved past the noise of modern life and into the solitude of productive thought and cleansing tranquility. Holiday splits his accessible, empowering, and sporadically meandering narrative into a three-part “timeless trinity of mind, body, soul—the head, the heart, the human body.” He juxtaposes Stoic philosopher Seneca’s internal reflection and wisdom against Donald Trump’s egocentric existence, with much of his time spent “in his bathrobe, ranting about the news.” Holiday stresses that while contemporary life is filled with a dizzying variety of “competing priorities and beliefs,” the frenzy can be quelled and serenity maintained through a deliberative calming of the mind and body. The author shows how “stillness is what aims the arrow,” fostering focus, internal harmony, and the kind of holistic self-examination necessary for optimal contentment and mind-body centeredness. Throughout the narrative, he promotes that concept mindfully and convincingly.

A timely, vividly realized reminder to slow down and harness the restorative wonders of serenity.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-525-53858-5

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Portfolio

Review Posted Online: July 21, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2019

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