David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants by Malcolm Gladwell

David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling GiantsDavid and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants by Malcolm Gladwell
Published by Little, Brown and Company

From the publisher:

In his #1 bestselling books THE TIPPING POINT, BLINK and OUTLIERS, Malcolm Gladwell has explored the ways in which we understand and change our world. Now he looks at the complex and surprising ways in which the weak can defeat the strong, how the small can match up against the giant, and how our goals (often cultural determined) can make a huge difference in our ultimate sense of success. Drawing upon examples from the world of business, sports, culture, cutting-edge psychology and an array of unforgettable characters around the world, DAVID AND GOLIATH is in many ways the most practical and provocative book Malcolm Gladwell has ever written.

I’m a huge fan of Malcolm Gladwell. I like his take on unusual topics and I love how he turns typical wisdom completely on its head. He always makes me think, and I love challenging my brain. David and Goliath was no different from his previous books in that way – it definitely helped me see things in a new and very different way.

The main thing I got out of this book is that the “Davids” of the world can’t beat the “giants” of the world using the same tactics as the “giants”. Does that make sense? New and innovative ways of thinking and doing things must be discovered in order for underdogs to win. Also, underdogs can win by finding the weakness of the powerful and using that to their advantage.

Gladwell uses several real-life examples to illustrate his point and I really liked the variety of examples used. None of them were an obvious comparison to the David and Goliath story, but each one worked in its own way. The different examples and how he showed how the underdog won against the powerful each time kept my brain buzzing – it was the perfect amount of thinking with entertainment, too.

I love Gladwell’s books on audio. He narrates them himself, and his speech has this strange, almost over-enunciating quality to it that for some reason I just love. I listened to this one, too, and it was just as great a listening experience as his previous books.

I’ve really enjoyed all of Gladwell’s books. If I had to rank them, however, this would probably be my least favorite of the four. That being said, I enjoyed it quite a bit! So definitely pick up one of his if you haven’t, and if you’re already a fan, David and Goliath is a must read.

Hard Choices by Hillary Rodham Clinton

Hard ChoicesHard Choices by Hillary Rodham Clinton
Published by Simon & Schuster
Review copy provided by the publicist

From the publisher:

Hillary Rodham Clinton’s inside account of the crises, choices, and challenges she faced during her four years as America’s 67th Secretary of State, and how those experiences drive her view of the future.

“All of us face hard choices in our lives,” Hillary Rodham Clinton writes at the start of this personal chronicle of years at the center of world events. “Life is about making such choices. Our choices and how we handle them shape the people we become.”

In the aftermath of her 2008 presidential run, she expected to return to representing New York in the United States Senate. To her surprise, her former rival for the Democratic Party nomination, newly elected President Barack Obama, asked her to serve in his administration as Secretary of State. This memoir is the story of the four extraordinary and historic years that followed, and the hard choices that she and her colleagues confronted.

Secretary Clinton and President Obama had to decide how to repair fractured alliances, wind down two wars, and address a global financial crisis. They faced a rising competitor in China, growing threats from Iran and North Korea, and revolutions across the Middle East. Along the way, they grappled with some of the toughest dilemmas of US foreign policy, especially the decision to send Americans into harm’s way, from Afghanistan to Libya to the hunt for Osama bin Laden.

By the end of her tenure, Secretary Clinton had visited 112 countries, traveled nearly one million miles, and gained a truly global perspective on many of the major trends reshaping the landscape of the twenty-first century, from economic inequality to climate change to revolutions in energy, communications, and health. Drawing on conversations with numerous leaders and experts, Secretary Clinton offers her views on what it will take for the United States to compete and thrive in an interdependent world. She makes a passionate case for human rights and the full participation in society of women, youth, and LGBT people. An astute eyewitness to decades of social change, she distinguishes the trendlines from the headlines and describes the progress occurring throughout the world, day after day.

Secretary Clinton’s descriptions of diplomatic conversations at the highest levels offer readers a master class in international relations, as does her analysis of how we can best use “smart power” to deliver security and prosperity in a rapidly changing world—one in which America remains the indispensable nation.

I don’t read a ton of political memoirs, but this one really appealed to me because I’ve always admired Hillary Clinton, for a variety of reasons. This isn’t a place where I discuss politics at all, so I’ll just say that in general, I get where she’s coming from and share many of her beliefs, so I was very interested to learn more about her politics, what she stands for, and the experiences she’d had over her four years as Secretary of State. The fact that she’s obviously considering a presidential run in 2016 certainly didn’t hurt either.

Hard Choices is not an easy read, not by a long shot. Clinton dives deep into her years as Secretary of State and really gets into the politics, risks, and consequences involved in many of the conflicts that arose and decisions that were made throughout those years. That being said, it’s not a difficult read either. Everything is put together in a really accessible way, helping even the most politically naive of us understand the who, what, where, when, and how of many international crises. I learned a TON from this book as a lot of what’s discussed are the things that go on behind the scenes – the situations that America (and the world) never get to hear about as these conflicts are taking place.

I listened to the audio of this book and it was very well done. Kathleen Chalfant was a new voice to me and she did a pretty good job. The only thing that I didn’t love was that Clinton herself narrates the first chapter – making the switch to Chalfant very awkward for my brain to comprehend. Once I got into the audio, though, I was good with Chalfant’s narration.

I found this book exceptionally interesting and got a lot out of it. I think even those who disagree with Clinton’s politics would find something to chew on in this book. So much of it is about international relations and very little of it has to do with her actual beliefs – it’s really just a peek into those four years she spent as Secretary of State, what that actually looked like and what happened in the world throughout that time. Really fascinating stuff.

Highly recommended! Even if you don’t like her. ;)

 

 

Mini-reviews: Books about which I have little to say

The MartianThe Martian by Andy Weir
Published by Crown

If you’re not familiar with The Martian, you must have been living under a rock these past few months. EVERYONE has been raving about this book and I now understand why. Basically, it’s about this guy, Mark Watney, whose mission to Mars was aborted after a huge sandstorm occurred, which caused his crew to believe he died, so they had to leave him there. Except he didn’t die, so he has to figure out how to survive on Mars all by himself for quite a long time. While the scienc-y stuff wasn’t the easiest for me to navigate, the technicalities of it aren’t necessary for understanding the novel, so I was able to skim a lot of those parts. And there’s a point at which NASA figures out Mark is still alive, and that’s when the book really picks up speed and goes from interesting/good to great. Mark is hilarious, super sarcastic and totally makes the novel. I really enjoyed this one and I totally see what all the fuss is about.

Believers: A Journey into Evangelical AmericaBelievers: A Journey Into Evangelical America by Jeffrey L. Sheler
Published by Viking Adult

I don’t really know why I read this book. I guess it’s because I can’t resist any kind of book about any kind of faith, and I’m even more intrigued when I see a different perspective on my own faith than my perspective (which is kind of the case with Believers). The book was mostly good, well-researched, but I’m uncertain as to what exactly Sheler’s point was. I guess he wanted to figure out what Evangelical Christians are all about? It seemed to me like he was looking for generalizations, looking to find out what exactly motivates and inspires and pushes Evangelicals but what he discovered, instead, is that (shocker) Evangelical Christians are a diverse group with tons of different kinds of people in the mix. The conclusion kind of felt like he was saying “gosh, Evangelicals are people too. I didn’t expect that.” But I liked learning more about groups of Christians I was somewhat unfamiliar with – Wheaton College scholars, Focus on the Family (not personally a fan, but interesting to learn more about them nonetheless), Saddleback Church (where my in-laws are members, actually), and more. So, overall, interesting to me but not particularly enlightening.

The Lonely PolygamistThe Lonely Polygamist by Bradley Udall
Published by W. W. Norton and Company

I really did not like this book. I started reading it in audio but it was SO LONG and taking forever that I read the second half in print, and I didn’t enjoy the novel in either format. The book is about (obviously) a polygamist named Golden Richards, who has four wives and twenty-eight children. It’s told from three alternating points of view: Golden’s, his fourth wife, Trish’s, and one of his sons, Rusty’s. Despite the complicated family dynamics and tons of tragedy and even some comedy, I just did not get why I’d heard such great things about this novel. It seemed monotonous, over dramatic, and mostly the people within its pages were just plain miserable. And while the ending was heartbreaking, because I couldn’t bring myself to care about these characters, I wasn’t too emotionally affected by it. I don’t know – this one just wasn’t my thing.

This is the Story of a Happy Marriage by Ann Patchett

This is the Story of a Happy MarriageThis is the Story of a Happy Marriage by Ann Patchett
Published by Harper

From the publisher:

The New York Times bestselling author of State of WonderRun, and Bel Canto creates a resonant portrait of a life in this collection of writings on love, friendship, work, and art.

“The tricky thing about being a writer, or about being any kind of artist, is that in addition to making art you also have to make a living.”

So begins This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage, an examination of the things Ann Patchett is fully committed to—the art and craft of writing, the depths of friendship, an elderly dog, and one spectacular nun. Writing nonfiction, which started off as a means of keeping her insufficiently lucrative fiction afloat, evolved over time to be its own kind of art, the art of telling the truth as opposed to the art of making things up. Bringing her narrative gifts to bear on her own life, Patchett uses insight and compassion to turn very personal experiences into stories that will resonate with every reader.

These essays twine to create both a portrait of life and a philosophy of life. Obstacles that at first appear insurmountable—scaling a six-foot wall in order to join the Los Angeles Police Department, opening an independent bookstore, and sitting down to write a novel—are eventually mastered with quiet tenacity and a sheer force of will. The actual happy marriage, which was the one thing she felt she wasn’t capable of, ultimately proves to be a metaphor as well as a fact: Patchett has devoted her life to the people and ideals she loves the most.

I don’t even know what to say about this gorgeous book of essays. First, I will say that Patchett was already one of my favorite authors (Bel Canto being one of my favorite books ever), but having now experienced her nonfiction as well as her fiction, she cemented her place as one of my favorites. I also closed this book and immediately had the urge to buy her entire backlist, as I wanted to experience more of her beautiful words and, in the case of her nonfiction, more of her life experiences.

There’s so much to love in this collection. Her musings on so many aspects of life will speak to just about every reader out there. She has something for everyone here – she talks about building and owning a business, the love she has for her dog, the time she spent as a caregiver for her grandmother, the mistakes she’s made in her career and in her personal life, triumphs in both her career and personal life, and the craft of writing itself, plus more. Patchett is a wise person but also a very real person, someone I connected to and wanted to keep getting to know even after I finished the book.

If you are a fan of Ann Patchett’s, you MUST read this book. If you are not, read it and become a fan. :)

 

The Cloister Walk by Kathleen Norris

The Cloister WalkThe Cloister Walk by Kathleen Norris
Published by Riverhead Trade

To summarize this beautiful book is not an easy thing to do, but basically it is the fragmented diary of sorts of Katheen Norris, a woman who spent ten years as a Benedictine oblate and another two years living at a Benedictine monastery. In The Cloister Walk, she muses on just about every aspect of faith you can imagine and delivers for the reader a perfect balance of education, beautiful writing, and her own observations and opinions about the faith and her experiences within said faith. The style is rather disjointed and, at first glance, seems disorganized, but when I allowed myself to sink into the book, the writing style and organizational layout of the book felt absolutely right, somehow.

The Cloister Walk is not a book that’s easily explained or understood until you actually experience it. The book is truly an experience – each chapter provides a new and unique perspective on some aspect of religion, usually pertaining to Catholicism but not always. She comes at the faith as a lapsed Protestant filled with doubt, so her observations and ideas are incredibly refreshing for those seeped in the faith for years and years – she’s bound to see things differently than someone who’s always been a believer.

This book is just really quiet, contemplative, reflective, just a beautiful piece of nonfiction. Norris is a gorgeous writer and I loved thinking through the many thoughts and discussions she posed to the reader. Highly recommended.

Mini-reviews on Monday

The Ministry of Guidance Invites You to Not Stay: An American Family in IranThe Ministry of Guidance Invites You to Not Stay: An American Family in Iran by Hooman Majd
Published by Doubleday

Brief publisher’s summary:

With U.S.–Iran relations at a thirty-year low, Iranian-American writer Hooman Majd dared to take his young family on a year-long sojourn in Tehran. The Ministry of Guidance Invites You to Not Stay traces their domestic adventures and closely tracks the political drama of a terrible year for Iran’s government.

I’m always interested in learning more about Iran because I have an uncle who is from there, in fact he came to the US in the late ’70′s for college and ended up staying here, building a career, becoming a citizen, marrying my aunt, etc. However, if I’m being honest, books that are solidly in the history section of nonfiction are sometimes intimidating and oftentimes can bore me. So a book like this, a memoir of a family’s time spent in Iran, with snippets of history peppered throughout, is a perfect balance for me. I learned a LOT about Iranian history, politics, and society in general while also getting to know this courageous and interesting family.

What I most loved about this book is that while Majd was open with the reader and explained much of what was scary and nonsensical about Iranian society and the political structure, much more of his narrative was focused on what he loves about his country of origin. There is so much to love about the Iranians we meet in this book, so much positivity and light and love and it made me so happy to see Majd choose to spend more time on those things than on the negatives. His portrayal of life there and observations of how the country really operates was such a balanced, honest picture of things that it made me immediately close the book and do more research on Iran and the country’s history. I enjoy nonfiction books the most when I learn something while being entertained, and The Ministry of Guidance Invites You to Not Stay was the perfect mix of both.

Grin and Bear It: How to Be Happy No Matter What Reality Throws Your WayGrin and Bear It: How to be Happy No Matter What Reality Throws Your Way by Jenni Pulos with Laura Morton
Published by St. Martin’s Press

If you don’t watch the Bravo TV show Flipping Out, you probably have no idea who Jenni Pulos is. But if you DO watch the show, like me, you probably love Jenni Pulos (like me). So honestly, this book is only for that second group (in my opinion, of course).

If you are already a Pulos fan, this is a fun, quick romp through her life experiences, disappointments, drama, and lessons she’s learned along the way. It’s also a tiny peek into the real truth about her relationship with Jeff Lewis (hint: it’s a true friendship). I mostly read the book because I was interested in hearing from her point of view what really happened with her very public breakup from her ex-husband, and I was treated to a play-by-play of the drama in her own words. So that was fun. I felt for her deeply, of course, but it was nice to hear how she’d gotten through that heartache and moved on to bigger and better things.

Other than that, the advice she shares is kind of obvious stuff – at least to me – and the book overall is kind of silly. But I’m not going to lie, I enjoyed it, and I think if you love Jenni Pulos, you will too.

The Answer to Bad Religion Is Not No Religion by Martin Thielen

The Answer to Bad Religion Is Not No ReligionThe Answer to Bad Religion Is Not No Religion by Martin Thielen
Published by Westminster John Knox Press
Review copy provided by NetGalley

From the publisher:

If you think the only logical response to bad Christianity is to leave the church completely, this book is for you. In an effort to help those who’ve been hurt by or turned off by negative religion, Martin Thielen explains that there is an alternative to abandoning religion: good religion. Thielen uses personal stories to illustrate the dangers of religion that is judgmental, anti-intellectual, and legalistic. While addressing the growth of the new atheism movement and the “Nones” (people [who] have no religious affiliation), this book argues that leaving religion is not practical, not helpful, and not necessary. Thielen provides counterparts to the characteristics of bad religion, explaining that good religion is grace-filled, promotes love and forgiveness, and is inclusive and hope-filled. Perfect for individual, group, or congregational study, a Leader’s Guide and a Worship and Outreach Kit are also available to further the discussion and increase community involvement.

There’s definitely an audience for this book, but unfortunately I am not that audience. Someone who is already a believer, goes to church, reads the Bible, and prays on a regular basis is not exactly the kind of person that this book was written for. BUT I can see the value in the book, so let me tell you who I think should read it.

Let’s face it, Christians do thing sometimes in the name of religion that are just wrong. Christians can be judgmental, even hateful, towards those who don’t share their beliefs. Christians can be exclusionary and shun people who don’t fit the mold of what is “good” and “right”. For those who feel that religion is not for them because of the Christians I just mentioned, this is a great book to read. I personally know a lot of people who have been hurt or just disgusted by what someone has called “Christianity” and have decided to turn away from God altogether. This book is for those people – to show them that just because they have witnessed bad religion, they don’t need to go to the other extreme and choose to practice no religion at all.

Instead, the author lays out a case for what he calls good religion. A Christianity that isn’t judgmental, anti-anything really, and is all about the message of Jesus – that we should love God and love others, pure and simple. And along the way, you know, follow Him, read the Bible, do good works and all of that.

I kind of went through this myself when I first started coming to church with my husband before we got married, and I was able to reconcile this “bad religion” with the fact that the religion I practiced wasn’t that way. The God I prayed to, the Jesus I believe in, isn’t hateful or all about money or anything that turns people away from church. I think that this book would be a wonderful choice for anyone still working through those questions. It sort of sums up why this kind of Christianity isn’t how it should be, and how to find the kind of good religion that most people crave.

I liked this book, and even though I wasn’t the target audience for it, I can certainly see why it would be useful and helpful for those seeking a better experience with Christianity.