BETTER THAN BEFORE

MASTERING THE HABITS OF OUR EVERYDAY LIVES

The airy, conversational writing style makes this a quick but not terribly substantial read.

A slight twist on the happiness message that made Rubin (Happier at Home: Kiss More, Jump More, Abandon a Project, Read Samuel Johnson, and My Other Experiments in the Practice of Everyday Life, 2009, etc.) famous, with few new insights.

Like she did in her best-selling book The Happiness Project (2009), the author uses herself as her own best example. This time, she considers the concept of habits: how we form them, why we break them and how to get better at them. While she cursorily mentions habit research conducted by the likes of Daniel Pink, Charles Duhigg, and Chip and Dan Heath, Rubin doesn’t dig very deeply into their work. Instead, she writes mostly about her own investigations, which often amount to stories from her sister’s struggle with finding a diabetic diet or her own efforts to declutter a messy friend’s apartment. Rubin emphatically refers to these events as experiments, and her findings as research, but there’s scant evidence of the scientific method in her scattered anecdotes. She gives a nod to the field of psychology, offering many personality types and labels that can help you figure out what type of person you are and, thus, the types of interventions that might help you develop better habits. It’s no Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory, but the author provides a brief quiz to help readers determine if they are Obligers, Upholders, Questioners or Rebels. It makes sense that self-knowledge should help guide your decisions, and this could be a useful breakdown if Rubin’s default descriptions didn’t skew so heavily toward her own personality type. As an Upholder, she is drawn toward developing, scheduling and carrying out habits, after all. Readers looking to keep those New Year’s resolutions should consider consulting Rubin’s suggested reading section for more robust data.

The airy, conversational writing style makes this a quick but not terribly substantial read.

Pub Date: March 17, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-385-34861-4

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 28, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2014

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MASTERY

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

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. 12, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2012

Categories:

BRAVE ENOUGH

These platitudes need perspective; better to buy the books they came from.

A lightweight collection of self-help snippets from the bestselling author.

What makes a quote a quote? Does it have to be quoted by someone other than the original author? Apparently not, if we take Strayed’s collection of truisms as an example. The well-known memoirist (Wild), novelist (Torch), and radio-show host (“Dear Sugar”) pulls lines from her previous pages and delivers them one at a time in this small, gift-sized book. No excerpt exceeds one page in length, and some are only one line long. Strayed doesn’t reference the books she’s drawing from, so the quotes stand without context and are strung together without apparent attention to structure or narrative flow. Thus, we move back and forth from first-person tales from the Pacific Crest Trail to conversational tidbits to meditations on grief. Some are astoundingly simple, such as Strayed’s declaration that “Love is the feeling we have for those we care deeply about and hold in high regard.” Others call on the author’s unique observations—people who regret what they haven’t done, she writes, end up “mingy, addled, shrink-wrapped versions” of themselves—and offer a reward for wading through obvious advice like “Trust your gut.” Other quotes sound familiar—not necessarily because you’ve read Strayed’s other work, but likely due to the influence of other authors on her writing. When she writes about blooming into your own authenticity, for instance, one is immediately reminded of Anaïs Nin: "And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.” Strayed’s true blossoming happens in her longer works; while this collection might brighten someone’s day—and is sure to sell plenty of copies during the holidays—it’s no substitute for the real thing.

These platitudes need perspective; better to buy the books they came from.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-101-946909

Page Count: 160

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Aug. 15, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2015

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