Review: Incarceration Nations: A Journey to Justice in Prisons Around the World (Hardcover)

“I loved it” is the wrong lead for a book like this; that said, Incarceration Nations is an excellent book, I’m glad I selected and read it, and it has pointed me on the road to much more reading in the field.

I’ve done a tiny amount of Big Sister work at a women’s prison, and it wore me out. I had no theoretical preparation for the work; recidivism in the group we sponsored was 75%. I had no way to process this experience.

“Most” of the people in prison are not vicious psychopaths; most of them will get out, and many of those will have an incredibly difficult time returning to life outside prison. If you are outside the system entirely, reading Incarceration Nations will shift your perspective toward “what works, and what could be useful.” I hate trying to discuss prison reform with people who have absolutely no experience with any part of the system; at least I can send them to this book now. (Won’t help them, any; but it’s still a reference.)

Review: Where Did The Money Go?

Easy Accounting Basics for the Business Owner Who Hates Numbers

I’m in a circle of “accidental” business people, who came to this life through chance or happenstance or some other career decision that didn’t really look like “business” when we made it. I thought the choice I was making looked like “art,” myself, and funny, but there’s money at the bottom of that field, if you want to live off your work.

I took accounting in college. I was baffled. I’ve taken accounting classes from the SBA. I was bored. I’ve looked at QuickBooks. I can balance my checkbook, and do my own taxes, and that’s about where my understanding of what happens with money stops. Ellen’s two books are lifesavers for people in my position. I came to her work through “How Much Should I Charge?,” which I think has a more immediate impact to people in service businesses. Although she (being an accounting type) thinks you should have a chart of accounts first, you can actually work the program laid out in HMSIC? first. However, buy the pair. You’ll need WDTMG? soon enough, and why pay two shipping charges?

People who are good at accounting have trouble, in my experience, understanding how foreign the thinking can be to those of us who are fluent in other forms of thinking. If you are fluent in accounting and financial language, you may find this book simplistic. Simply walk away, or buy a caselot and give a copy to all of your clients who go cross-eyed when you try explaining their balance sheet. I have not met a CPA in the real world who can explain money as clearly as WDTMG?

I only wish I had a way to let more people know about this resource.

Where Did the Money Go?” target=”_blank”>Where did the money go?

Review: Switched On: A Memoir of Brain Change and Emotional Awakening

If you’ve read any of the books written by John Elder Robison or his brother Augusten Burroughs, you’ll want to read Switched On as well. The family saga is remarkable; this is the latest chapter and fascinating.

If your life has changed due to brain injury or mental illness and you follow news about new treatment modalities, you’ll want to read Switched On.

If you think your life is stuck and you can’t imagine becoming seriously different after age 50, read Switched On. You may find reason to hope.

All in all, well worth the time it takes to read. If you haven’t read any of the earlier books yet, you can read Switched On by itself; you may want to go back later and catch up on the backstory.

Also by John Elder Robison: Look me in the Eye.

Review: Your Medical Mind

Best of Groopman’s books, IMO

I’ve read Groopman’s other books, and while it’s useful to know about how my doctors make up their minds, it’s much more important to me to understand the factors going on in my conscious and unconscious mind. This also applies to the people-as-patients who are close to me as they make decisions about medical treatment.

Some people are unhappy because Groopman & Hartzband fail to make the case for how to convince patients to follow the statistically best course of treatment, while missing the point that for most of our medical decisions, there may not be a “best” treatment. OK, colonoscopy is the gold standard for intestinal cancer screening. Fine. But there simply aren’t all that many “best” options, and almost any medical intervention varies hugely according to patient expectations, willingness, acceptance, income, etc. etc. and so forth.

The statistics about how many “best” treatments changed every year were the most interesting to me. HRT, no HRT; vitamins or not, drugs that work and then get yanked; surgeries that are found to be less than ideal. It rather strikes me that the act of believing in a “best” is possibly as irrational as any factor patients bring into the examining room.

Perhaps, if all patients truly understood statistics, we would make different decisions. Perhaps, if more doctors understood the reality of a patient’s experience with a treatment protocol and how it fits into a life, they would make different recommendations. Hard to say.

My best friend is evaluating a serious, expensive, and necessary but not urgent surgery. Her family medical “story” is vastly different from mine. Reading about other people’s backstories helps me get a handle on why she processes information one way, and I take similar data and go a different direction. This surgery is too new for there to be any useful “best” statistics, not unlike the chapter about making transplant decisions. Her processing is simply her way of thinking, not necessarily “full of cognitive errors.” This surgery could involve input from four different specialists, at least two of whom will need to be in the OR at the same time. They make a plausible case for why each is the better expert for her problem. They have stats. However, statistics fail in an N = 1 decision, when every 1 who faces this situation is significantly different from every other 1.

Your Medical Mind is NOT a checklist, or step-by-step, or even a deliberate guide to making the “right” medical decision, primarily because there is no such thing as the “right” decision, most of the time. It’s all a series of trade-offs, bartering an expected but unknown future outcome against a very present-day option. The best any of us can really do is understand what we bring to the table. I happen to think reading other people’s stories as examples of their decision-making process is a pretty good way to help me think about mine.

The book is also useful for directing conversation with the people in your life for whom you may be asked to make medical decisions, such as parents, partners, and children. I had not recognized how nearly completely useless my own medical directive documents are in the event of a near-death experience, and I’m (statistically) ahead of most in that I have the documents at all.

Every time I step into a medical practice, I sign a paper that says I will be, in the end, responsible for the charges if/when my insurance company is done. In the long run, I am also responsible for the outcome. Should it turn out “wrong,” I may have recourse and get money, but it’s still my body that’s broken, and my life to rebuild after. As such, understanding my side of the decision is totally my responsibility. IMO, Groopman and Hartzband could have gone a bit farther down this path.

Your Medical Mind

Review: Lost and Found: Unexpected Revelations About Food and Money

It’s not really about “food and money,” it’s about money. However, I can understand that Geneen would link the two. I’ve followed her books on and off over my own path to whatever degree of enlightenment I have today; have had to chuckle at how each “next book” has revealed that the previous book had a bit less of “the answer” than I, at least, recognized while reading.

Lost and Found is the same. Read it, give it a day, and go at it again. If your process is anything like mine, you’ll find they somehow the author inserted a whole lot of new content in the first chapters while you were reading the end of the book. I hardly ever reread books, and almost never twice in a week, but Lost and Found is one that repays more than one pass.

I’ve read them all–Orman, Quinn, Kiyosaki, Dacyzyn, Robins & Dominguez, Ariely, etc etc and so forth. I’ve learned and shifted and can’t say they were useless, and perhaps I had to read them all to follow what Geneen has to say in Lost and Found. I do know that Lost and Found kicked me into a MUCH deeper understanding of where I have blind spots about money than any of the others, mixed metaphor aside.

You could do way worse than spend a little of your tax refund on this book, for sure.


Review: Elmore Leonard’s 10 Rules of Writing

I found this book in the store and read it right there in the aisle. All the way through. Put it back on the shelf thinking, “OK, I know that…” Walked away. Came back. Put the book in my shopping cart (nice bookstore, that, with a cart so you don’t have to lug your books all over).

Ten little rules, LOTS of white space, instant comprehension, and a LIFETIME to learn. “leave out the parts the readers tend to skip.” If only I could do that on the first pass! OR the 23rd!! (and there are my three exclamation points, so I’m all used up for the next 99,800+- words…)

I have Stephen King On Writing. I have Robert Bly. All my books on how to be a better writer serve their purpose. 10 Rules for Writing will go on the shelf next to the others, and I’ll bet it comes down a whole lot more often. When I need to remember that beautiful books and great book design matter. When I need to be reminded that it really is pretty simple. I spend a whole lot more on a whole lot less. Three fancy coffees will leave only weight gain; this little book might actually make a difference in my life.

By the way, the Limited Edition, hardback version, is a delight to experience. Wonderful paper, great printing, fab design. Splurge on this.

Review: First Hundred Million: How To Sky Rocket Your Book Sales With Slam Dunk Titles

The First Hundred Million is a charming book, almost scary in its faith and innocence, written in 1927 with no idea that the financial end of the era was looming. You won’t skyrocket your own book’s sales using the titling information in this book–in that much, the one-star reviewer and I are in agreement. However: if you read Ogilvie on Advertising, or The Science of Advertising, or anybody on split testing, or if you think split testing was something Google forced us to invent for AdWords–read E. Haldeman Julius.

My stars, he’s verbose! Never use one word where five will do. But he’s linear, and clear, and the words aren’t that out of date even if we don’t write like that anymore. We don’t need to buy a dollar’s worth of nickel books to hide what we wanted to know about sex. We don’t read for quite the same reasons, maybe. Hard to say–I saw some of those titles and wondered if I should write an info product on the topics to sell today. If they needed to know the material in 1927, they sure aren’t getting taught it today.

Seriously–if you study advertising that works, this is a book you should have at hand. I don’t read a lot in history, so I don’t know what it’s like to read the original sources in the original. This particular edition is well produced and easy to read, totally affordable, and entertaining in its own way. I got my money’s worth.

Review: Oster BLSTPB-WOR My Blend 250-Watt Blender, Orange

Note: this is my most controversial review; the one that generated the most comments, and the most animated comments, of any I have written. Linking here so I can easily find the review when I talk about it in social media classes about writing product reviews.

I am a bad cook. I am one of those people who can tell hilarious kitchen disaster stories after the fact, stories that hide how dangerous the situation actually was. I understand this about myself, and I shop accordingly, and I am careful not to bring clearly dangerous equipment into my home.

When I told my boyfriend that this blender didn’t have an “on/off” switch, that “on” happened right away, as I twisted the container into the base, he immediately said, “Not for you!”


I don’t like appliances that scare me. I don’t see this relationship working out well. I want an on-off switch, so that I can settle the container into the base and then decide to set the blades to whirling. I don’t like leaving small appliances plugged in. What happens if the cat steps on this when the container isn’t inserted? George the cat nearly lost a tail to a badly designed switch once when he stepped on the shredder. (That shredder doesn’t live here anymore.)

Is this appliance an energy-sucking vampire when it’s plugged in? I don’t know.

I gave the blender a second chance, paying careful attention to the “twist-on-go-automatically” “feature,” and I can see that for people with better appliance skills & kitchen consciousness, it might work. If you’d use it every day and it therefore earns its counter real estate, I guess it’d work out OK. I suspect I won’t, and will therefore want to put it away, and will therefore forget about the whacked auto-on feature, and find myself scared by an appliance, again.

A substantial %age of the people who read this review will have no clue what I’m talking about. If you’re among the kitchen-literate, the people who don’t have two left arms at the stove, ignore this. For the others–the ones who understand just how easy it is to get the Endust and Pam cans wrong, who know through first-hand experience what happens when the eggs boil dry, who’ve set fire to the deck with a red hot cast iron skillet–take heed. This blender is one more straw on that camel’s back.

Review: Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking

Oh Lord, I loved this book. Full disclosure: lifetime INFP; which I’ve known since 1987. Happy with it; no plans to change or “develop the other half of myself.” (A psychologist friend tells me Jung intended the system to help you know what you needed to work on. After reading Quiet, the thought flashed across my mind: Jung’s dead. Maybe he would have changed his thinking about needing to work on my weak side if he’d lived long enough.)

I was encouraged to open a bio of Dale Carnegie after reading Quiet, and I think Cain does him a bit of a disservice. Yes, he’s the key to the cult of personality. OTOH, he’s also the reason we learned how to teach public speaking in a way that worked. I’m a fluent and skilled public speaker as a result of that course. Carnegie’s system works. There’s no contradiction between introversion and acquisition of a skill like public speaking.

Funny, but while I’ll defend Dale, I loved the rip on Harvard Business School.
A few other quibbles from a note I made while reading:

  • the habit of referring to content addressed in future chapters quickly became irritating.
  • In the Collaboration / Creativity chapter, Cain dismisses those musicians training to be music teachers at the “elite Music Academy in West Berlin” as “the worst group.” Huh? Perhaps these people are the least skilled at musical performance. But by the time you’ve been accepted into the eMAinWB, you’re hardly the “worst” in any musical comparison. p. 80, my copy) Sloppy choice of words.

I think I will read Quiet again, and that is a rare behavior for me. I was encouraged by the chapter on creativity as a solo experience, having just struggled through Robinson’s Out of Our Minds, which says creative people love collaboration. I couldn’t finish that book. My creativity is a solo thing. I am encouraged to be reminded of “remote” and highly successful introverts; if “remote” and “introverted” aren’t redundant (they are at least side-by-side).

I can’t find more to say that the other reviewers haven’t already covered. A large % of the highly ranked reviews have been written by people who review a lot of books.

Unfortunately, no designer credit is given in the pre-release copy of this book. It is a joy to hold and read the paper edition.

Review: Drug Dealer, MD

Drug Dealer, MD, by Anna Lembke

I needed to know more about the current situation with pain meds and street drugs; now I know more than I did.

This book is an easy read and covers a lot of ground. It was engaging and drew me in to the subject. I wish it had covered a little more.

Two big gaps: if not pills-for-pain, then what? Sure, plenty of people are hooked on meds, but plenty of people are in debilitating pain, too. I can only imagine that the author has not yet encountered patients in severe, life-long, untreatable pain. The real problem is that we don’t have any good way to treat pain, and that point appears not to be addressed.

Secondly, the author has a touching faith in the efficacy of current substance abuse programs; apparently believing that if addicts can simply get into treatment, they will be able to stay off their substances, and that the only reason that aren’t able to quit is that their insurance companies won’t pay for treatment. IME, our collective experience in treating addictions is only marginally better than our experience in treating severe pain.

Hate the title; let that go. The pre-release review copy I read was set in tiny type that made the book an effort to read. It might be a great Kindle option if you have trouble with tiny text. Fortunately, the writing carries you into the book.