Category Archives: Book Reviews

Book Review: “Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance” by Angela Duckworth


I listened to the audiobook a couple of months ago. It’s so good to know scientifically that efforts or “grits” plays a bigger role in a person’s success than talents. In this book, Angela Duckworth showed that through research, observations, and convincing evidences that the right approaches to raising a successful kid is to raise their “grit.” I think I had concluded long time ago that effort or “grit” plays a bigger factor than talent but it’s definitely easier when you’ve got talents and being modest about it by applying extra effort to be successful.

The book basically started out showing you what grit is and why it matters (Part I). Then the author shows you how to grow grits from inside out through interest, practice, purpose and hope. Next she shows you how to grow grit from outside in via parenting for grit, playing fields, and culture.

This is a very informative book for those who want to succeed and want their loved ones to succeed in life.

Short Summary:

Part I: What grit is and why it matters
By author’s definition, to possess grit is to have two characteristics: 1) unusually resilient and hardworking (perseverance), 2) know in a deep way what they wanted (passion). The author chose as examples the West Point cadets training and success rate, spelling bees contest, and his growing up and career choices (management consultant to inner city middle-/high-school teacher to being a psychology researcher. Can talents be distracting? Yes, because it came too easy for them. The author came up with an equation: talent x effort = skill, skill x effort = achievement, this means that talent x effort^2 = achievement. Might want to try the treadmill test.

How to grow more grit? It takes both nature (genes) and nurture (experience). The Flynn effect explains why as a species, we’re getting bettery in abstract reasoning. All of us are getting smarter (higher IQ) due to the social influence. To grow grit, you need to first have an interest, then practice, purpose, and finally hope. More on the four in Part II.

Part II: Growing grit from the inside out
Interest: “Passion for your work is a little bit of discovery, followed by a lot of development, and then a lifetime of deepening.” Interests are NOT discovered through introspection but are triggered by interactions with the outside world, supported and encouraged by your loved ones, teachers or peers. “Sample” your interests first like an athletes before focusing on one or two interests. The author cited several stories including those of Jeff Bezo’s upbringing, Will Shortz, the crossword puzzle master. Follow your passion but it’s helpful to understand how passions are fostered – keep on experimenting.

Practice: “Continuous improvement” or Kaisen is the key to practice – look forward and grow. The average of 10K hours over 10 years seems to be the norm to be a world expert. It takes “deliberate practice” according to Ericsson’s research 1) set a stretch goal, 2) full concentration and effort, 3) immediate and informative feedback, 4) repetition with reflection and refinement.
To get to the “flow” experience durin performance, you must have sufficient “deliberate-practices” behavior in preparation.

Purpose: defined as the intention to contribute the well-being of others. The more gritty you are, the more purpose-driven and less pleasure-driver you are. Do you have a job, or a career, or a calling? Keep asking yourself “Why? Why? Why?” It’s suggested that you reflect on how the work you’re already doing can make a positive contribution to society. Also do “job crafting” by thinking about how, in small but meaningful ways, you can change your current work to enhance its connection to your core values.” Lastly, find inspiration in a purposeful role model? In author’s case, it’s her mom.

Hope:: Taking a chapter from Carol Dweck’s Mindset book, learn the “growth” mindset rather than the “fixed” mindset. Having a feeling of control (or hope) in spite of difficulties at young age could help develop grit. Need to learn how to succeed as well as how to fail. Author recommends going from “growth mindset” to “optimistic self-talk” then to “perseverance over adversity.” Of course, having someone to encourage you goes a long way.

Part III: Growing grit form the outside in
Parenting for grit:: Ex-49er, Steve Young’s upbringing provides a grit example: his father taught him not to give up too easily in making the baseball and football team. “Endure to the end,” his father, Grit Young said. Be the wise parent: demanding and supportive. Commit to Hard Thing Rule: pick a hard thing and try to do your best.

Culture of Grit: Seattle Seahawks’ head coach, Peter Carroll builds a culture of grit.

Ted Talk:

Talks at Google:

Book Review: “A Girl with All the Gifts” by M. R. Carey


I heard of this book through a youtube channel that recommended this book highly. Little did I know that it’s been made to a movie. Then I went ahead and watched the movie half way through the book, which sort of spoiling the ending for me but I was hoping the book ending would differ from the movie, but no, it’s not as predictable as other books/movies when humans win back the world. The book was well written and in fairly good pace. Most of time, I thought I was watching/reading the “Walking Dead,” which I follow except the zombies or hungries were faster and meaner with a faster and more deadly consequence when infected – they turn immediately. Since we don’t know the ending of the Walking Dead, we cannot compare the endings.

I thought Justinau was a bit more aggressive than I expect a teacher to be. The two soldiers, Parks and Galagher were what they should be – courageous and masculine. Caldwell, the scientist, was dedicated to saving the humans and was willing to try any means, including cutting up children’s brains, to be the savior of man kind – very believable. Melanie, was portrayed as a smart kid who learned from the best, loyal to people who’s kind to her but ultimately self-determined when she had to choose between humans and her kind. She had the gifts of being half humans and hungries and possessed the ability to switch back and forth.

There are subtle differences between the book and movie: 1) no “junkers” (human bandits) in the movie, probably because of the time limitation. 2) Ms. Justineau was nicer in the movie than in the book, probably because Dr. Caldwell, acted by Glenn Close, seemed meaner to be Justinau’s punch bag. 3) The grand tower of fungus climbed on a tall building instead of its own – probably better visual in the movie.

Overall, I enjoy and recommend the book and the movie; it’s a nice mental getaway from daily grind of work and escape from the weighty non-fiction books. Nothing like an apocalyptic book can put you in proper perspectives.

Here’s a quick review of the book and the movie. Be aware that the review will spoil/reveal the ending. You might want to wait until you read the book or watch the movie. Also the author M. R. Carey had the foresight or privilege of writing the book and the movie script simultaneously. Very clever. The movie differs slightly from the book but mostly follow the book’s plot.

The book started with the imprisoned kids being strapped in wheel chairs during a class room really piqued my interest in the beginning. It gets more interesting or suspenseful when the zombie characteristic was revealed in those kids. This was where it reminded me of the “Walking Dead” or other zombie movie.

Melanie was the girl with all the “gifts.” What kind of gifts? You’ll discover along the way as story continues. The book was written in the present tense to enhance the suspense as if you are watching the story unfolds. Ms. Justineau was the teacher who’s teaching all these special kids, who could turn into monsters like the other “Hungries” who at this time most of the humans have become after being infected by the fungus of a funny name. However, these kids were special because they possessed most of the human characteristics until they smelled humans or living things, at which time the monster or the fungus-occupied brain would take over, attack and feed on all living things. To prevent them from “turning,” the humans had to put on e-blocker to prevent the human scents. The kids were stationed in a special research camp for Dr. Caldwell to research and cut/slice their brain cells for experimentation.

Then the camp got run over by hungries, leaving Justinau – the teacher, Caldwell – the scientist, Sargent Parks – the protector, Galagher – Park’s subordinate and of course Melanie. They ran from one place to another trying to get to Beacon, the headquarter of human intelligence. Along the way, they found Rosie, the special, mobile research truck that Caldwell use to work in. At this time, they encountered a bunch of kids like those in the camp, except they’re raw and uneducated. They attacked Rosie and ended up killing all humans because of Melanie’s scheme in tricking Parks into starting the flame of the grand tower, the mother of all fungus. In doing so, the spores from the hard pods were spread into the air and infected all humans, turning them into “hungries,” except for Justinau who would stay in the Rosie and teach the kids language and culture just like the beginning of the story. I don’t think she would last long in that truck, but that’s another story.

I was hoping that humans would make a comeback and retake the world but the ending ushered in the demise of humans and the beginning of new civilization when the fungus and human form would coexist, starting with these kids. Now, how they were going to propagate themselves, we don’t know or weren’t told. Maybe that’s for a sequel…

Book Review: “Unfinished Business” by Nora Roberts

I’m not much of a novel aficionados, but once a while I’d like to kick back and learn about how stories are told to help my narration skill, which is important for speeches and conversations.

Just finished the novel while on vacation in Southern California. It’s a good novel to read when you are on vacation, relaxed and bored without the stimulation of work and Internet. I’m not sure why this novel is so highly rated but I enjoyed it all the same. A graduating high-school girl got taken out of her comfort zone in a small fictitious small town, Hyattown, and became successful being a virtuoso pianist, thanks to her Dad’s direct control and command without her Mom next to her. She came back to see her Mom after her father died of cancer and re-acquainted with her first love, Brady Tucker. The story was about what she found out why her Mom didn’t connect with her all these years and how she handled her first love, Brady. This is a fine romance book and a little of a mystery book to read while on vacation. Not really earthshaking. The book, “Unifinished Business” is written in omniscient narration point of view. The narrator knows everything and all points of views and their thinkings at the time. It doesn’t beat around the bush too much for those impatient readers. I enjoyed it but the plot was quite predictable though there were some small mysteries to keep the readers interested: like why her Mom never contacted her and who her Mom was with all these time. This is a perfect novel to read if you don’t want to think too much, especially in a vacation. More on the plots below: Spoiler Alert!

Vanesa came back from years of touring after her father died of cancer. She saw her Mom for the first time since she left for Europe to achieved what she achieve, thanks to her father’s moulding and pushing. She came back to Hyattown and had to reconnect with her Mom, who had fell in love with her family doctor. Vanesa carried a grudge against her Mom why she didn’t contact all these years when she was accomplishing all she did with her Dad. By the way, this type of situation probably wouldn’t happen nowadays with all the mobile technology we have in our hands. Just texted or Facebook your Mom, Vanesa! Meanwhile, she fell in love again with the high-school sweetheart, now a family doctor and also a son of her Mom’s fiance and the brother of her high-school friend. Brady Tucker was still handsome and full of emotion for her. She wasn’t sure she wanted to rekindle the emotion for him. Then she got more comfortable with the small town people, who kept bringing their children to her to teach piano lessons. But more importantly she got more familiar and in love with her Brady, now a mature, responsible family doctor. After a small performance in a fictitious European country, Cordina, Vanesa finally figured out what she really wanted – to be with Brady.

Book Review: “Between the World and Me” by Ta-Nehisi Coates


This book is written as letter from the author, Ta-Nehisi Coates, to his son, Samori. He shared his experience of being brought up in the poor black neighborhood being bombarded with street violence, to his college days in Howard University and finally to the present of being a journalist and a great book writer.

The book is well written and reads like poems or songs, the quality that make reading this book so rewarding. It’s a relatively short but an impactful book especially when the violence between blacks and police gather lots of news these days. Personally, I don’t think I can truly understand the plight of the black Americans and the plundering of their bodies as I didn’t grow up here in this country under the same circumstance. But being an immigrant myself, I think I felt the same kind of helplessness as the author did: being discriminated and talked down when I was younger.

The author had a satirical view of the Dream, the peaceful changing of the society that Martin Luther King spelled many years ago. It’s the “Dream of acting white, of talking white, of being white.”

This is a good book if you’re not a black and want to know what it’s like to be brought up as a poor black in a bad neighborhood. I listened to the audiobook twice and re-read the physical book to enjoy the poetic prose throughout the book.

A few good quotes:

“Black people love their children with a kind of obsession. You are all we have, and you come to us endangered.”

“You have been cast into a race in which the wind is always at your face and the hounds are always at your heels… you do not have the privilege of living in ignorance of this essential fact.”

Summary:
Part I: is about the author’s upbringing all the way to attending the Mecca, Howard University, a renowned college attended mostly by blacks.

Part II:
The author describes the tragedy of Prince Jones, shot by a black police, Carlton Jones, from PG County (Prince George County), a notorious place where police brutality is rampant. Also, he went through his post-college years of getting a “writing” job after following his wife to Brooklyn, next to which is Manhattan where the “master of galaxy,” the rich white folks live.

He talked about his encounter with a white woman who pushed his boy in the subway and the subsequent confrontations with the white folks.

Then he talked about bringing his son to the civil war and described how much of the civil war was about the slaves. Next, he brought up the story is a black man being shot because he was playing loud music.

His first trip to Paris allowed him to draw a comparison between a foreigner in France and a “foreigner” in his own country. He spoke the shooting of the Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO for his son being similar to the shooting of Prince Jones for the author.

Part III:
The author ended the book with a visit to the mother of Prince Jones, Mable Jones, who rose up from poverty to achieve personal success in the medical field as Radiology physician. He came away from the visit with a solemnly apocalyptic view of the future for blacks in this country, with the ghettos and prisons in the background.

If you are a black or a “Dreamer” in this country, this book may paint a gloomy picture for your future but yet hopeful that someone like Coates took the courage to speak out about the injustice for blacks. If you are a white, you may gather from the book that you are a privileged group at the expense of the others, especially blacks. And if you’re none of the above like me, then you should count your blessing and struggle for the harmonious society where all people can get along and live happily in this great country of ours.

Book Review: “The Art of Work” by Jeff Goins


The art of work is the lighthouse to those who are lost in finding meaning in their lives. This book will give you some hints how to find your ways. This book is also a guidepost to those who think they’ve achieved success and met their callings. This book will prod you to rise above it and continue to leave a legacy.

The author provide fitful examples to make his points. It’s wonderfully done. I came away so pumped up and convinced of working on my calling(s). I highly recommend this book. The book’s website is here.

Summary

The 7 Stages of finding your calling:

1. Awareness: Listening to your life
“The worst way to be happy is to try to be happy.” We need a reason to be happy. “A calling comes when we embrace the pain, not avoid it.” You must believe in that you’re called to something. To cultivate awareness, you must be willing to act, to step out and see what happens. Opportunities always come to those with open eyes. “You do know what your dream is. You’re just afraid to admit it!” Write down and note the significance of every major event in your life. It takes commitments. The risk of not committing is greater than the cost of making the wrong choice. Because when you fail, you learn. Walt Disney decided to become a cartoonist when he got injured and stayed at home for 2 weeks.

2. Apprenticeship: The teacher appears when the student least expects
Traditionally, it took 10 years to go from an apprentice to a “journeyman” to a master. You cannot master a craft on your own. Accidental apprenticeship are everywhere; you must listen to your life to recognize them. There lies Ginny Phang’s story in going from a unwed pregnant woman abandoned by her boyfriend and her own family to becoming a doula (pregnancy coach) and running her own business. Her story is a testament to the ability of human spirit to endure and the power of community. We never find a calling on our own; we all need help.

3. Practice: When trying isn’t good enough
Excellence is a matter of practice, not talent. “Even the most gifted people do not have what it takes to succeed without the right attitude and years of ‘deliberate’ and ‘deep’ (resulted in failures) practice.” 3 Requirements for “deliberate” practices: 1) Requires a context: time and energy from the individual as well as trainers, 2) Not “inherently motivating” activities – not enjoyable, 3) Cannot be done a very long time without leading to exhaustion – needs to push yourself to the point of sheer exhaustion. Often the only way to know the difference between a hobby and a calling is to put yourself through the crucible of painful practice. Accidental Apprenticeship is such that “long before a person is ready for his calling, life is preparing that person for the future through chance encounters and serendipitous experiences.” Seizing the “lucky” moment and doing something about it may be the difference.

4. Discovery
The process of finding and claiming your calling is a “journey,” like the bible story of Samuel, who had a “transcendental encounter” with God. The three stages: 1) hear it, 2) respond to it, 3) believe in it then leap or more like build bridges and keep moving toward something meaningful and life changing for yourself and the world.

5. Profession
On the way to meet your calling, you may encounter many failures when you’d need to “pivot.” Successful people and organizations like Groupon don’t succeed in spite of failure; they succeed because of it. “Pain is the great teacher and failure a faithful mentor.” Don’t turn a season of failure into a lifetime of failure by 1) recognize hardship as an opportunity to learn, 2) not to succeed in the wrong things, 3) be ready to make pivots along the way. Don’t ask “what if” but say “let’s.” Stop “dreaming” but start “doing.” Not all callings lead to successes or fame though.

6. Mastery
Living a “portfolio life” may be the way of the future. You don’t just have one job, you are all of these things that you do: fee work, salary work, home work, study work and gift work. Combining work, home, play and purpose in your portfolio life. “Mastery is something that goes beyond competence and skills. It means approaching one’s life as a creative work.” Stop trying to be famous and focus instead on trying to be successful. Try to reach the state of “flow” as Csikzentmihalyi described. Our responsibility is to use our gifts in challenging ways so that others can benefit – to be given away.

7. Legacy
Think of your work or calling as leaving a legacy to help others could make your work/calling more meaningful. No need to wait until your retirement. “Life has a funny way of teaching us that sometimes the most important stuff is the ordinary stuff. The smallest moments, the ones we think are insignificant, are the ones we will cherish the most.” Your calling is not about dong something good in the world but becoming someone good and letting that goodness impact the world around you. Success isn’t the final goal, legacy is. On the other hand, don’t let your calling consume you. Life is not a support system for your work; your work is a support system for your life. The author suggests to work hard and passionately, but acknowledge the limitation of what one life is capable of. In the end, success isn’t about what you do with your life but what you leave behind. Calling is about leaving a legacy that matters.

The book provides several questions and exercises in the appendix to help find your callings.

Book Review: “Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex” by Mary Roach


After reading this book, I felt I had just taken another sex education class. I’m amazed by how the researchers in pursuit of science would do to acquire the data they need. They took criticism from people in general while contributing to demystify human sexuality. They are true pioneers.

I even learned a few things I never knew before like:
– how each part of sex organ works exactly.
– There were so many sex researches since as far back as science researches were recorded.
– Best indicator of organism is heart rate and blood pressure, better than its use for detecting lies.
– Animal sexual behavior is not too much different from ours. After all, we all have to derive pleasure from it in order for our species to survive the evolution.
– Dr. Hsu from my home country, Taiwan, is a world-famous penile surgeon in fixing erectile dysfunction and other male-organ-related illnesses.

This is an interesting and thought-provoking book for people who enjoy reading about difficult and controversial researches. Funny at times in Mary Roach’s side comments. Highly recommended.

Summary from each chapter:
1. Highlights from the pioneers of human sexual response. In this chapter, Author highlighted the pioneers in human sexual research. Started with Albert R. Shadle, who peered through animal sexual behavior in 1940’s. John Watson observed sexual behavior in the lab settings in 1910’s. Alfred Kinsey performed the experiments in secrecy. In 1960’s, William Masters and Virginia Johnson performed and published the controversial “Human Sexual Response” book. It was the “right” time as the society was more open to it. He had a penis camera built to better observe the “action.”

2. The orgasm machine for woman. The author describe her search for the penis camera without success and witnessing the orgasm machine in an exhibit event. The fact that the woman had a better control of the speed, angle and thrust may explain why they could get off using the contraption.

3. Some theories about why some women don’t experience normal “voluptuous reaction” – orgasm. The distance between vagina and clitoris may play a role – ideally less than the width of the thumb or the “rule of thumb” by Kim Wallen of Emory University. The distance seems to be proportional to the height of the woman and breast size – bad news for tall women with big breasts. G-spots are discussed quite liberally here – stimulating through different positions (doggy style). Or maybe it’s purely the sense of control that allows a woman to reach orgasm.

4.The author describes the artificial collections of boar sperms and insemination of sow. Some of the youtube videos may do a better job. But the question lingers whether female animal experience organism and whether organism helps with fertility. The answers are most likely ‘no’ for animals or at least no discernible by humans.

5. In this chapter, the author convince her husband to have a MRI 4-D (3D + time) imaging of their sex act and ejaculation. Now that’s professionalism.

6. This chapter started out with the work of Dr. Geng-long Hsu of Taipei, Taiwan who specialized on repairing penile injury and erectile dysfunction. The history of impotence is then described in great details. In the Middle Ages, it was blamed on witches. Then the psychological state of the men was accused, followed by many ridiculous causes like masturbation. Impotence could be a cause of divorces in the late 16th and early 17th century.

7. The author investigated boosting virility with transplanting animal and human testicle, ingesting animal testicles, and other means. Use of Viagra brings in more discussion. It ended with suggested pelvic exercises.

8. If you must, inflatable penile implant maybe the way to go. Roach described Dr. Hsu’s operation on a patient and even got to touch his penis. If the penis is castrated by a jealous wife accidentally, of course, the cure could be in the hand of their microsurgeons, though not to its full potential.

9. Is the clitoris a tiny penis? Yes, but Viagra doesn’t help in woman’s FSAD (Female Sexual Arousal Disorder).

10. Can frequent masturbation (or resulting in orgasm) contribute to your health (or hiccups in one case)? Roach investigated the use of vacuum pump for women’s clitoris that seem to increase flood flow. Roach paid a visit to Topco, US’s largest sex toy maker, which was an interesting encounter with their employees.

11. Orgasm can happen in quadriplegic persons or came about without physical manipulation (hand-free). The nerve paths from organism evidently are NOT blocked by spinal cord injuries.

12. Female sexual arousal poses a challenge for scientist to detect and unlock its mystery. In most cases, it’s in their mind. A promising drug, flibanserin, appears to be effective and in Phase III trials.

13. Sex studies in conservative countries like Egypt could be very difficult. But merely talking about sex already help the society to pay attention to it.

14. The last surprising experiment performed by Master and Johnson was this random matching of sexual partners. Almost all of them had “efficient” sex but not necessarily “amazing” sex. Gay men and women tend to pay more attention to their partners’ needs while heterosexual didn’t benefit from “gender empathy.”

See Mary Roach’s Ted Talk on 10 Things You Didn’t Know About Orgasm | Mary Roach

Book Review: “The Wright Brothers” by David McCullough

David McCullough is a master writer in biographies. I have read a few of his books including John Adams and Harry Truman. This book is no exception. A wonderfully written and researched book about two of most important people in 20th century – the Wright brothers.

My Key Takeaways:
– Wilbur’s original plan to go to Yale was destroyed when he got smashed on his front face by a hockey stick in the hand of a future serial killer. Hard to speculate if it’s intentional or accidental.
– Wright brothers are really brave to put their lives on the line to test flights – their invention.
– They picked Kittyhawk, a place seven hundred of miles away from Dayton Ohio, as the place of experimentation to try out their flying machines, overcoming the sever wind, hunger and most notably mosquito attack.
– Wright brothers are the the good old entrepreneurs funding their own new adventure using their the money they earned from the their bike shop. They didn’t want to accept any potential “venture” fund from others.
– The mechanical know how may have come from their years of repairing bicycles. But their ambition didn’t stop at bicycles. At that time, automobiles were starting but they have their eyes on something bigger – an ultimate flying machine.
– The tragic story of the crashing the plane and having the passenger killed and ended up injuring Orville himself takes lots of guts.
– Having to interest the French people seemed to show the lack of vision of the US government, which eventually made a comeback in recognizing their accomplishments.
– Orville lived long enough, until 1948, to witness the use of jet engine in planes that broke sound speed and two World Wars which deployed the planes of their original invention.
– Like all good inventions, people would take advantage of it if they can get away with it. Both Wilbur and Orville had to defend their patents in courts in order to protect their intellectual property.
– Neither Orville nor Wilbur ever got married but their little sister, Katharine did eventually get married at age of 51 against Orville’s will (don’t know why) but died 3 years after at age of 54. Orville refused to talk with her until her dying days. She played a huge role on nursing Orville to health after his crash and supported her two brothers’ adventure throughout.
– Like all disruptive inventions, it’s much easier when you know someone has done it and there is a model to follow. I believe the airplane’s invention is the same. Had it not been the Wright Brother’s invention, the world may be delayed in inventing the plane. Just think how inconvenient not having the airplane.
The Five facts about The Wright Brothers were outlined by the author David McCullough himself: 1) Didn’t have much but they had books. Both are avid readers. 2) A pond hockey injury helped forever change human history. 3) Wilbur and Orville were budget conscious and self-sufficient. 4) Nobody in America seemed to care, but the French took notice. 5) The Wright Brothers were forever sons of Ohio.

This is a great book if you want to know how about the two of greatest inventors of the 20th century: