In this edifying and often quite moving book, Leland presents the “lessons” taught by his subjects even as they themselves...

HAPPINESS IS A CHOICE YOU MAKE

LESSONS FROM A YEAR AMONG THE OLDEST OLD

New York Times reporter Leland (Why Kerouac Matters, 2007, etc.) chronicles the year he spent communing with the “oldest old,” gleaning as much of value about his own life as about those he followed.

Drawn from a remarkable newspaper series, this book, though sometimes repetitive and studded with occasional obvious insights, harbors far more than advice and received wisdom. The author offers an adaptive framework for a way of thinking about aging that can be transformational, and not in the conventional self-help sense. From the engrossing opening chapter to the close, Leland gives us a felicitous though practical perspective that mines a year in the life of six people ages 88 to 92, who “came from different backgrounds and social strata.” Many readers will find it encouraging to know that the future need not be all decline and diminishment. The author does not gloss over the physical and emotional difficulties of advancing years, some of which may seem insurmountable. But guided by the evolving outlooks of his subjects, Leland discovers strategies for compensating, for enrichment and usefulness at any age, including his own. Divorced at 55, living alone for the first time, and responsible for an 86-year-old mother whose only wish is to die, Leland finds his own path to acceptance and joy. If the title of the book sounds banal, it is no less valid for its (deceptive) simplicity. It is, in fact, absolutely true, as the six culturally diverse “seniors” demonstrate in their own fascinating ways. Few books about aging show such clarity and purpose or so deftly blend cleareyed examinations of social issues with a realistic but hopeful cast of mind.

In this edifying and often quite moving book, Leland presents the “lessons” taught by his subjects even as they themselves are learning them, and he does so with an empathy and thoroughness that deserve our gratitude.

Pub Date: Jan. 23, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-374-16818-6

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Sarah Crichton/Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Oct. 11, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2017

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The Stoics did much better with the much shorter Enchiridion.

THE LAWS OF HUMAN NATURE

A follow-on to the author’s garbled but popular 48 Laws of Power, promising that readers will learn how to win friends and influence people, to say nothing of outfoxing all those “toxic types” out in the world.

Greene (Mastery, 2012, etc.) begins with a big sell, averring that his book “is designed to immerse you in all aspects of human behavior and illuminate its root causes.” To gauge by this fat compendium, human behavior is mostly rotten, a presumption that fits with the author’s neo-Machiavellian program of self-validation and eventual strategic supremacy. The author works to formula: First, state a “law,” such as “confront your dark side” or “know your limits,” the latter of which seems pale compared to the Delphic oracle’s “nothing in excess.” Next, elaborate on that law with what might seem to be as plain as day: “Losing contact with reality, we make irrational decisions. That is why our success often does not last.” One imagines there might be other reasons for the evanescence of glory, but there you go. Finally, spin out a long tutelary yarn, seemingly the longer the better, to shore up the truism—in this case, the cometary rise and fall of one-time Disney CEO Michael Eisner, with the warning, “his fate could easily be yours, albeit most likely on a smaller scale,” which ranks right up there with the fortuneteller’s “I sense that someone you know has died" in orders of probability. It’s enough to inspire a new law: Beware of those who spend too much time telling you what you already know, even when it’s dressed up in fresh-sounding terms. “Continually mix the visceral with the analytic” is the language of a consultant’s report, more important-sounding than “go with your gut but use your head, too.”

The Stoics did much better with the much shorter Enchiridion.

Pub Date: Oct. 23, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-525-42814-5

Page Count: 580

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: July 31, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2018

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AN INVISIBLE THREAD

THE TRUE STORY OF AN 11-YEAR-OLD PANHANDLER, A BUSY SALES EXECUTIVE, AND AN UNLIKELY MEETING WITH DESTINY

A straightforward tale of kindness and paying it forward in 1980s New York.

When advertising executive Schroff answered a child’s request for spare change by inviting him for lunch, she did not expect the encounter to grow into a friendship that would endure into his adulthood. The author recounts how she and Maurice, a promising boy from a drug-addicted family, learned to trust each other. Schroff acknowledges risks—including the possibility of her actions being misconstrued and the tension of crossing socio-economic divides—but does not dwell on the complexities of homelessness or the philosophical problems of altruism. She does not question whether public recognition is beneficial, or whether it is sufficient for the recipient to realize the extent of what has been done. With the assistance of People human-interest writer Tresniowski (Tiger Virtues, 2005, etc.), Schroff adheres to a personal narrative that traces her troubled relationship with her father, her meetings with Maurice and his background, all while avoiding direct parallels, noting that their childhoods differed in severity even if they shared similar emotional voids. With feel-good dramatizations, the story seldom transcends the message that reaching out makes a difference. It is framed in simple terms, from attributing the first meeting to “two people with complicated pasts and fragile dreams” that were “somehow meant to be friends” to the conclusion that love is a driving force. Admirably, Schroff notes that she did not seek a role as a “substitute parent,” and she does not judge Maurice’s mother for her lifestyle. That both main figures experience a few setbacks yet eventually survive is never in question; the story fittingly concludes with an epilogue by Maurice. For readers seeking an uplifting reminder that small gestures matter.

 

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2011

ISBN: 978-1-4516-4251-3

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Howard Books/Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: July 26, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2011

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