Some Recent Reads (February 2019)

This month I focused heavily on fiction, reading a wide variety of fantasy, sci-fi, and adventure.  That being said, I did read a few nonfiction books and once again I will give a brief response of my thoughts.

Finite

Finite and Infinite Games by James P. Carse

From the book flap:

“Finite games are the familiar contests of everyday life they are played in order to be won, which is when they end.  But infinite games are more mysterious. Their object is not winning, but ensuring the continuation of play. The rules may change, the boundaries may change, even the participants may change – as long as the game is never allowed to come to an end

What are infinite games? How do they affect the ways we play our finite games?  What are we doing when we play – finitely or infinitely? And how can infinite games affect the ways in which we live our lives?

Carse explores these questions with stunning elegance, teasing out of his distinctions a universe of observation and insight, noting where and why and how we play, finitely and infinitely.  He surveys our world – from the finite games of the playing field and playing board to the infinite games found in culture and religion – leaving all we think we know illuminated and transformed. Along the way, Carse finds new ways of understanding everything, from how an actress portrays a role to how we engage in sex, from the nature of evil to the nature of science. Finite games, he shows, may offer wealth and status, power and glory, but infinite games offer something far more subtle and far grander.”

Philosophy, without a doubt.  This book poses the concept of finite and infinite games to the reader as a way to approach life and how people’s perspectives change when a different approach is taken.  Carse himself spent many years being the sole professor of religion at New York University while publishing a number of books tempting human thought.  As with all philosophy, take everything with a grain of salt, just because something is logical or reasonable does not make it just or right.

Why did I read this book?

I was sent a video one day by a good friend of mine in which Simon Sinek explains What Almost Every Reader Gets Wrong.  Sinek is a world renowned organizational consultant who is coming out with a new book, The Infinite Game, and had a piece on Inc.’s YouTube channel promoting his thoughts.  After a few hours of diving around, my friend had given me the next book to read.  Its worth noting two important realizations here: first, your friends are full of wisdom and suggestion, might as well use it, second, most modern books reference older books (the so-called origin, periodicals, primary source, etc.) and it is always worth a journey to see what the book is all about.

Having read the book, my postmortem would likely yield my desire to read the book because it is a new way to use a perspective in life.  It is a process to tackle problems and observations and the book flap does a great job of selling this point.

So…What’s my opinion?

The book is a bit challenging to read.  I struggled at times to comprehend what Carse was saying – his style of writing is short and abrupt very much like those of fellow philosophers.  That being said I have yet to read another book that takes the same perspective on life.  The concept of infinite and finite games when applied to relationships, decision making, happiness equations, etc. opens up a whole new world of how we look at any given moment and decide how we go forward.  Not everything in life has an end, life itself and the various aspects are infinite with endless possibilities of how we may “win”.  Overall, I found satisfaction in learning a new perspective to approach moments with.  Rating: 3/5.

Who do I recommend this book for?

Not for the faint of heart, you need to have some interest in peculiar philosophical books.  As I said before, it was a difficult book to read and takes time to fully understand the concepts presented in the books.  I found that the concepts directly correlate to business, social, or economics for the most part – but really it is up to you how you would apply what Carse has put forth.  I might also recommend this book to a group of friends that are after friendly debate.  Lots of interesting concepts that are briefly stated that can be rapidly expanded to lengthy debates in the evening.

when

When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing by Daniel H. Pink

From the book flap:

“Every day we confront a never-ending stream of “when” decisions. When to change jobs. When to schedule a meeting or a class. When to get serious about a person or a project. Yet we make such decisions haphazardly – based on intuition and guesswork. In When, Daniel H. Pink argues this is exactly the wrong approach.

Drawing on a rich trove of research from psychology and biology, neuroscience and economics, Pink reveals how best to live, work, and succeed. How can we use the hidden pattern of the day to build the ideal schedule? Why do certain types of daily breaks dramatically improve our children’s test scores? Why do endings boost motivation and deepen meaning? And how can we make time our ally rather than our enemy? Pink distills cutting-edge research and data and synthesizes them into a fascinating narrative that’s packed with irresistible stories and practical takeaways. Bursting with big ideas and enduring lessons, When will transform how you think about your past, your present, and your future.”

Another interesting book from Daniel H. Pink and another to add to his growing collection of books he has written.  His books generally read as self-help books because of their teaching nature of how to tackle life’s problems.  He is without a doubt an excellent author when it comes to taking complex and detailed scientific papers and distilling them down into layman’s terms for readers to follow along and use the information presented.  I have yet to fully read another of his books, but after seeing how enjoyable and easy it was to read this one, I will likely pick another of his to try out.

Why did I read this book?

Part of my interest in reading nonfiction is finding that inquisitive drive other people explain.  When the back flap of a book reads dull and verbose to the book itself, I tend to avoid those, but when the book raises difficult questions and hints of what is to come, I tend to grab these ones.  When I first picked up this book at Barnes and Noble, I was not sure whether I would like it.  On one hand, I know from experience timing on some level has to do with luck and luck is not my friend and on the other hand there is so much to time that I probably have never thought about.  My decision ultimately was made because of one question posed on the back, how can we use the hidden pattern of the day to build the ideal schedule?

That question posed some new thoughts for me – what is my hidden pattern?  Can I use the hidden pattern to up my productivity and make me happier?  Do I have an ideal schedule? (seems to me if I do, I can never keep it!)  What is the purpose of modern corporate schedules if everyone has their own daily schedule?  These are the questions I strive to find in any book I read whether it be nonfiction, fantasy, or biographies.

So…What’s my opinion?

Found quite a few interesting tidbits of information to follow up on and think about.  One of the more interesting ones is that humans in general struggle with the middle.  Whether it be the middle of the day, i.e. the afternoon, the middle of a project, or the middle of a meeting, we all seem to dwindle away until we pick back up a few hours later.  What this tidbit means for each of us is a little bit different, for me I realized I need to change how I approach the middle and use a restorative break to replenish my energy.  Is this line of reasoning new?  Not necessarily, but Pink makes sure to cater it to the normal person, not the scientific mind.  This catering allowed me to understand the book better than a scientific paper, and because of that I enjoyed When.

One of the pitfalls of many nonfiction books is there are simply too many pages to fully understand.  If chapters are not written in a self-contained way, then you begin to forget the beginnings of the book that are necessary to understand the later parts.  I found Pink did an excellent job of breaking up the topics and making sure that he reinforced key concepts throughout the chapters to keep the reader on track to learn and understand the content.  Rating 4/5.

Who do I recommend this book for?

Everyone.  Whether you are in high school, college, or a 20+ year professional in the work place, everyone needs to understand the importance of restorative breaks and time in our lives.  It is more than having a limited period on Earth, it is about how you enjoy and use the time, what five-minute breaks can do to make hours a lot more enjoyable.  Easy to read overall, does not dive too deep, and important material – recommended for everyone.

einstein

Einstein: His Life and Universe by Walter Isaacson

From the book flap:

“How did his mind work? What made him a genius? Isaacson’s biography shows how his scientific imagination sprang from the rebellious nature of his personality. His fascinating story is a testament to the connection between creativity and freedom. Einstein explores how an imaginative, impertinent patent clerk—a struggling father in a difficult marriage who couldn’t get a teaching job or a doctorate—became the mind reader of the creator of the cosmos, the locksmith of the mysteries of the atom, and the universe. His success came from questioning conventional wisdom and marveling at mysteries that struck others as mundane. This led him to embrace a morality and politics based on respect for free minds, free spirits, and free individuals.”

Walter Isaacson writes incredibly high quality and in-depth biographies of famous figures ranging from famous political figures like Henry Kissinger to the astonishing mind of Albert Einstein.  He is able to tap into his creative prowess to present the figure in new perspectives and shine light into letters written by the figures, friends, political leanings, and more.  His ingenuity with biographies means his books are page turners (that is if you like biographies) and his extensive background in news editing allows there to be purpose in every tiny detail presented.  Overall, this book is a masterpiece on the life of Einstein and the many strange things a strange man did.

Why did I read this book?

I have always had a drive to learn about others, what makes them tick, how they decide certain paths to take, what were their greatest accomplishments, where did they find pleasure, etc.  Biographies are a great way to explore someone’s life and mind to search for perspectives, pleasures, and pains and learn from their many successes and failures.  I specifically wanted to read about Einstein because during school his name is emphasized as arguably the greatest mind in physics of all time – always a matter of opinion, but still intrigues my inquisitive mind.  Most of my life sits in the realm of technology and science and that would lead to the assumption that reading about Einstein would benefit me.  I also very much enjoy Isaacson’s writing style, so there you have it, great author, great subject.

So…What’s my opinion?

After reading the book I was a bit disappointed, not because of the quality of work from Isaacson, nor the subject of the biography, but Einstein’s life itself – the man has been put on a pedestal and I thought (having never read about him before) that he would be a near demi-god.  In reality, the man is human like the rest of us and I found Isaacson’s ability to convey this point to be astonishing.  Instead of dumping endless high-level mathematical gibberish on the reader, Isaacson conveys Einstein’s scientific pursuit as a normal human who has normal problems like marriage, children, and politics.  Overall, the book was well written and flowed relatively well, a few stumbles around the math-related sections, but not enough to detract from the quality.  I learned all I ever need to know about Einstein and then some, a testament to what quality research and analysis will do.  Rating 5/5.

Who do I recommend this book for?

Obviously, anyone who likes biographies, but in addition anyone who has interest in learning the human side of science.  It is a tough read if you have never read on Einstein or any of his scientific accomplishments and failures and that is why I recommend this book for college students, people in scientific fields, and avid biography genre readers.

 

 

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