BOOK REVIEW: The Art of the Good Life, by Rolf Dobelli

BOOK REVIEW: The Art of the Good Life, by Rolf DobelliTitle: The Art of the Good Life: 52 Surprising Shortcuts to Happiness, Wealth, and Success by Rolf Dobelli
Published by Hachette Books
Published: November 6th 2018
Genres: Non-Fiction
Pages: 272
Format: Trade Paper
Source: Publisher
Goodreads

Since antiquity, people have been asking themselves what it means to live a good life. How should I live? What constitutes a good life? What's the role of fate? What's the role of money? Is leading a good life a question of mindset, or is it more about reaching your goals? Is it better to actively seek happiness or to avoid unhappiness?

Each generation poses these questions anew, and somehow the answers are always fundamentally disappointing. Why? Because we're constantly searching for a single principle, a single tenet, a single rule. Yet this holy grail -- a single, simple path to happiness -- doesn't exist. Rolf Dobelli -- successful businessman, founder of the TED-style ideas conference Zurich Minds, bestselling author, and all-around seeker of big ideas -- has made finding a shortcut to happiness his life's mission. He's synthesized the leading thinkers and the latest science in happiness to find the best shortcuts to satisfaction in THE ART OF THE GOOD LIFE, his follow up to the international bestseller The Art of Thinking Clearly (which has sold more than 2.5 million copies in 40 languages all around the globe).

THE ART OF THE GOOD LIFE is a toolkit designed for practical living. Here you'll find fifty-two happiness hacks - from guilt-free shunning of technology to gleefully paying your parking tickets - that are certain to optimize your happiness. These tips may not guarantee you a good life, but they'll give you a better chance (and that's all any of us can ask for).

For the most part, I liked this book. I don’t think it’s ultimately got anything life-changing in it. However, I do think it serves as a good reminder in how to think about what you want in your own “good life.” Not every self-help book is going to be the cure, but I think if you read them critically and think of ways to apply someone else’s thought processes to your own life, you might make your own discoveries.

I read it in short bursts over lunch breaks over the course of a week, and I think it’s best read in little bits rather than all at once. In fifty-two essays, Rolf Dobelli tells us how to live a good life. The essays focused a lot on modesty, on not being overly flashy, that the “mediocre” is often okay. Some of it I agreed with, some of it I was ambivalent towards, and some I disagreed with. The bits about saving and not overspending and overextending yourself I agreed with. We all have a limited resource of time, focus, and energy, and we should be mindful of where we spend those resources.

However, when it came to the subject of giving back to the community, Dobelli suggests that it’s better to just throw money at it and not worry about it otherwise. Living the “good life” to me is not about throwing money at something and forgetting it exists. If I can donate some energy and time to making someone else’s life a little bit better, I feel like I’d get much more out of it than just by donating money. Granted, some of the examples he gave were giving money rather than volunteer tourism, but what about in your local community? The examples Dobelli gave sometimes felt like he’d rather hole himself up inside and not communicate with other people because it’s too exhausting. For me, I think one of the key points of a good life is the relationships and connections you build with other people and your community.

The best ideas out of this book that I needed to be reminded of is the circle of competence (doing what you’re good at), the five-second no (because saying yes all the time is not always a good thing), and a circle of dignity (your foundation, essentially). I know I can devote myself to being good at a lot of things, but I would ultimately rather focus my skills and attention on being great at a few things. Saying no and saying yes without a second thought will ultimately give you more work and stress than you’re expecting, so it’s good to take a few moments to consider it and give a response that’s true to you and your foundation. And you can’t have a foundation until you’ve lived a little, lost a little, and experienced the world in real time. I enjoyed the afterword a lot, too, as it made the entire thing a little more personal to Dobelli.

If you’re looking for a bite-sized pick-me-up based on research and using real-life examples, you might enjoy what you find in here!

Thank you to Hachette for sending me a complimentary copy to review!

WAITING ON WEDNESDAY: 2019 Adult SFF

Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly meme originally hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine (though it seems as though it’s been a while since she updated that particular blog, so if you know of the current host, if there is one, please let me know) that highlights upcoming releases that we’re impatiently waiting for. This week I’m highlighting three adult SFF books coming out in 2019 that I’m dying to read.

Kameron Hurley’s The Light Brigade is a book I’ve been waiting to read ever since it was announced. Hurley became one of my favorite authors after I read The Stars are Legion early last year, and I’ve slowly been enjoying the rest of her work. I want to read everything, but I also want to leave some left for the time in between her other works. The Light Brigade is “what soldiers fighting the war against Mars call the ones who come back…different. Grunts in the corporate corps get busted down into light to travel to and from interplanetary battlefronts. Everyone is changed by what the corps must do in order to break them down into light. Those who survive learn to stick to the mission brief—no matter what actually happens during combat” (from the blurb). A fresh recruit named Dietz’s drops are different than other’s experiences in the war and it becomes a struggle to figure out what is real and what isn’t in the midst of war.

Before the film Arrival came out in theaters, Vintage Anchor released Ted Chiang’s collection of short stories and I devoured them over the course of a few days. His stories are some of the best I have ever read, and I’m incredibly excited for Exhalation. From the blurb: “In this fantastical and elegant collection, Ted Chiang wrestles with the oldest questions on earth–What is the nature of the universe? What does it mean to be human?–and ones that no one else has even imagined. And, each in its own way, the stories prove that complex and thoughtful science fiction can rise to new heights of beauty, meaning, and compassion.” Why isn’t this in my hands yet??

A People’s Future of the United States is an anthology edited by Victor LaValle and John Joseph Adams and aside from the play on A People’s History of the United States, I’m incredibly excited for the lineup of authors included in this anthology. LaValle and Adams “asked for narratives that would challenge oppressive American myths, release us from the chokehold of our history, and give us new futures to believe in. They also asked that the stories be badass. The result is this extraordinary collection of twenty-five stories that blend the dark and the light, the dystopian and the utopian. These tales are vivid with struggle and hardship—whether it’s the othered and the oppressed, or dragonriders and covert commandos—but these characters don’t flee, they fight.” YESSSS.

BOOK REVIEW: City of Ghosts, by Victoria Schwab

BOOK REVIEW: City of Ghosts, by Victoria SchwabTitle: City of Ghosts by Victoria Schwab
Series: Cassidy Blake #1
Published by Scholastic Press
Published: August 28th 2018
Genres: Fantasy, Middle Grade
Pages: 285
Format: Hardcover
Source: Purchased
Goodreads

Cassidy Blake's parents are The Inspectres, a (somewhat inept) ghost-hunting team. But Cass herself can REALLY see ghosts. In fact, her best friend, Jacob, just happens to be one.

When The Inspectres head to ultra-haunted Edinburgh, Scotland, for their new TV show, Cass—and Jacob—come along. In Scotland, Cass is surrounded by ghosts, not all of them friendly. Then she meets Lara, a girl who can also see the dead. But Lara tells Cassidy that as an In-betweener, their job is to send ghosts permanently beyond the Veil. Cass isn't sure about her new mission, but she does know the sinister Red Raven haunting the city doesn't belong in her world. Cassidy's powers will draw her into an epic fight that stretches through the worlds of the living and the dead, in order to save herself.

It comes as no surprise to anyone that Victoria Schwab is one of my favorite writers of all time. Her Shades of Magic trilogy is one of my all-time favorite fantasy series, and her YA fantasies — The Monsters of Verity duology and the Archived series — are complex and SO GOOD. When she announced City of Ghosts, I immediately preordered it and couldn’t wait to have it in my hands.

City of Ghosts follows Cassidy Blake’s and her parents’ move to Edinburgh, Scotland, to begin filming a television show (The Inspectres) episode centered on the ghostly activities in old places within Edinburgh. Cassidy has a ghost-friend named Jacob and I loved their interactions, because there’s a lot of spooky in Jacob’s existence. I also want to know Jacob’s history. How did he die? Why did he decide to choose to save Cassidy?? I also enjoyed Cassidy’s friendship with Lara, and I hope to see that developed further in the future books in the series. I liked that Lara was a little bit of a foil for Cassidy in the sense that Lara is able to do some things that cause Cassidy to rethink her own abilities. I won’t spoil anything for you, though!

I read a few pages of this one night, and then I sat down and finished the rest of it in a single sitting. This is just the right amount of scary for younger readers and was just enough spooky for me. In fact, it reminded me a lot thematically and atmospherically of Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book to the extent that I considered City of Ghosts to be a companion series of sorts! Both City of Ghosts and The Graveyard Book deal with thematic horror of growing up and facing the unknown as we “cross the border” between the innocence of childhood and the awareness and understanding of adulthood. It’s in those in-between times that we really come to know ourselves and what we’re capable of.

If you enjoy middle grade fantasy/horror and want to be chilled to the bone in similar ways after reading The Graveyard Book and Coraline, definitely pick this one up!

BOOK REVIEW: Making the Monster: The Science Behind Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, by Kathryn Harkup

BOOK REVIEW: Making the Monster: The Science Behind Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, by Kathryn HarkupTitle: Making the Monster: The Science Behind Mary Shelley's Frankenstein by Kathryn Harkup
Published by Bloomsbury SIGMA
Published: February 6th 2018
Genres: Non-Fiction, History, Science
Pages: 304
Format: Hardcover
Source: Purchased
Goodreads

The year 1818 saw the publication of one of the most influential science-fiction stories of all time. Frankenstein: Or, Modern Prometheus by Mary Shelley had a huge impact on gothic horror and science fiction genres. The name Frankenstein has become part of our everyday language, often used in derogatory terms to describe scientists who have overstepped a perceived moral line. But how did a 19-year-old woman with no formal education come up with the idea for an extraordinary novel such as Frankenstein? The period of 1790-1820 saw huge advances in our understanding of electricity and physiology. Sensational science demonstrations caught the imagination of the general public, and newspapers were full of tales of murderers and resurrectionists.

It is unlikely that Frankenstein would have been successful in his attempts to create life back in 1818. However, advances in medical science mean we have overcome many of the stumbling blocks that would have thwarted his ambition. We can resuscitate people using defibrillators, save lives using blood transfusions, and prolong life through organ transplants--these procedures are nowadays considered almost routine. Many of these modern achievements are a direct result of 19th century scientists conducting their gruesome experiments on the dead.

Making the Monster explores the science behind Shelley's book. From tales of reanimated zombie kittens to electrical experiments on human cadavers, Kathryn Harkup examines the science and scientists that influenced Mary Shelley and inspired her most famous creation, Victor Frankenstein. While, thankfully, we are still far from being able to recreate Victor's "creature," scientists have tried to create the building blocks of life, and the dream of creating life-forms from scratch is now tantalizingly close.

Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is one of my favorite books of all time, and definitely in my list of top ten classics. So when I saw Kathryn Harkup’s Making the Monster beginning to make its rounds on Twitter and Instagram, I added it to my TBR and wishlist and waited for a good sale because based on the cover and title alone, I wanted it for my own collection.

I love literary histories like these that give the reader an insight into the creation of the novel while also providing context for the scientific aspects of Frankenstein. Sometimes I felt that the structure of the book could be better managed, but overall, I thought that the back and forth between Mary Shelley’s life and the real-life science that inspired the science in her novel worked effectively. Harkup’s book is incredibly well researched, and her meticulous attention to detail adds so much to the experience of reading this. For someone like me who isn’t wholly aware of a lot of medical and science history, the chapters focusing on the medical and science history were the most chilling and most engaging, especially the chapter regarding autopsies and the lucrative business surrounding the digging up of cadavers to sell to institutions of higher learning.

The main issue I had with the book were the biographical sections involving Percy and Mary Shelley because a good portion of those sections read as if they had been poorly edited or were a draft that could have easily been tightened up or finished off. I think Harkup’s strengths lie in scientific writing that is readily based upon set-in-stone information, whereas biographies do require a little more finesse in terms of narrative structure. For example, a lot of sentences in the biography sections ended with prepositional phrases and included digits instead of spelled out numerals for numbers under 100. Several sentences contained dangling participles, and I had to reread the sentences several times to be sure what the “it” was in the second half of the sentence. These are my editorial quibbles from my days editing student essays, so my reading experience is jarred when I notice these things in published works.

Overall, the science and medical histories and the biographies in Making the Monster are accessible to a variety of readers, whether or not they are familiar with Shelley’s Frankenstein. If you’re interested in the sometimes gruesome practices in the history of medicine and/or enjoy literary biographies, I recommend checking this one out!

BOOK REVIEW: Code Girls, by Liza Mundy

BOOK REVIEW: Code Girls, by Liza MundyTitle: Code Girls: The Untold Story of the American Women Code Breakers of World War II by Liza Mundy
Published by Hachette Books
Published: October 2nd 2018
Genres: History, Non-Fiction
Pages: 448
Format: Trade Paper
Source: Publisher
Goodreads

Recruited by the U.S. Army and Navy from small towns and elite colleges, more than ten thousand women served as codebreakers during World War II. While their brothers and boyfriends took up arms, these women moved to Washington and learned the meticulous work of code-breaking. Their efforts shortened the war, saved countless lives, and gave them access to careers previously denied to them. A strict vow of secrecy nearly erased their efforts from history; now, through dazzling research and interviews with surviving code girls, bestselling author Liza Mundy brings to life this riveting and vital story of American courage, service, and scientific accomplishment.

When I think of code breaking in World War II, I think of Alan Turning, British spies, and the Enigma machine. The history I was familiar with growing up didn’t mention much about American code breaking, let alone no mention of women’s involvement in code breaking during World War II.

Liza Mundy explores women who joined both the Army (WAC) and Navy (WAVES) to aid the war effort in code breaking. She focuses mostly on two women named Dot and Crow, but also includes other notable women who contributed. Mundy draws on her own research and interviews she conducted with these women, and I felt like I could read countless pages about the lives of these women and the risks they took.

It is both inspiring and frustrating to realize how much work these women did to aid the war effort and how little credit they have received in our history books. Now knowing that the work these women did to break codes entirely shifted the American’s trajectory during World War II, I want everyone who is interested in women’s history and war history to read this. It further goes to show that the paths taken in wartime are never black and white, never just a boy’s club, and never as straight as some would like to assume. War is complicated, and these women sometimes had to break codes containing information that lead to the direct harm of people they knew without being able to put a stop to the attacks. Mundy showcases the strength and resilience of these women in then-unheard of situations.

This comes highly recommended from me, so if you are interested in women’s history and World War II history, add this to your TBRs immediately.

Thank you to Hachette for sending me a complimentary copy for review. All opinions are my own.