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Archive for the ‘Book Review’ Category


When putting your words, thoughts, and ideas out for public consumption you hope people enjoy it, perhaps even reflect upon it a bit. With so much competing for our ever-shortening attention spans having someone read your work is an accomplishment in itself. 

Having achieved such a benchmark one must also accept that their thoughts of your work are equally as valuable as you feel your work is—good or bad, a review is important.

But good ones feel so much better .. . .

So it is that I am much pleased that my first review, by Sharon Chance at Sharon’s Garden of Books was positive. Have a look for yourself!

Thank you to Sharon and to all those who take a few moments to check out her thoughts.

Tomorrow, Hagren’s daughter, Alina, gets her Dear Santa letter published. Hope you check back for that!

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1001 First Lines book cover“Jesus, just grab me already!”

Have you ever picked up a book, started reading it, and been frustrated by how utterly inadequate the beginning is? Conversely, have you ever bought a book because the beginning absolutely affixed itself to your imagination? Anyone who reads has most likely lived both these experiences, and Scarlett Archer’s 1001 First Lines is just the recipe book to reveal your tastes.

“Recipe book?” you say to yourself. “I’m confused.” A cookbook lists ingredients, measures, cook times and temperatures—but it doesn’t actually do the work for you. It can’t tell you how the dish will taste upon your tongue. Based on experience with the ingredients you may have a fair idea of whether or not you’ll like the outcome. But what if you’re in a I’ve-never-tried-this-before mood; you can’t say for certain you’ll like it.

Likewise, Ms. Archer doesn’t do the work for you here. She gives you the tidbits, morsels, seasonings, all the stuff you need to make your own subjective decision.

Ms. Archer’s approach, initially, disappointed me; this because of the almost always dangerous practice of presupposition. I chalked up the book’s title to something metaphorical, hoping the book would be an excursion into analysis of some of the best and worst first lines published. Not so. What Archer has done, however, is given the curious reader a looking glass through which one is able to catch a glimpse of one’s deeper pockets of curiosity, to shed some light on why we are (or are not) captivated by the first words in a book.

I tried the time-tested method of reading: pick the book up and start at the beginning. I quickly found that wasn’t working. Reading 1001 First Lines is an exercise in fun, actually. A highlighter and pen became necessary complements to my journey through its pages. And here’s why . . .

At the outset I was chagrined to see that these first lines were not given the label of “bad” or “good.” But in the absence of those labels lays the beauty of her approach. I got to highlight lines I thought good, then made a note explaining why I thought it deserving. The same held true for those I felt truly bad. Therein lies the key: I don’t read the same way or with the same emotional experiences you do. Having Archer declare a given first line good or bad immediately removes from the experience all the joy or disgust we seek as readers and instead would bring it down to some manner of quantification, requiring some way to measure against a list of criterion or standards . . . and for most reading that simply can’t work. The experience is largely a function of solitude and personal willingness to suspend one’s own conceptions and hitch one’s wagon to the authors words.

For example, here’s one I feel is good:

Are you there God?

My reasons for liking it may differ from yours, but I would bet most people would say this is a good first line. Why? Who among us hasn’t, at one time or another, wondered if God was listening? The next question in a readers mind should be “Why is this character asking that strong a question?” In case you’re wondering that’s from— Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret by Judy Blume.

Here’s another one I feel is good:

Where’s Papa going with that ax? said Fern to her mother as they were setting the table for breakfast.

Papa clearly means to kill something . . . but what? Now you have to read on to find out.

That, in case you didn’t know, is from E.B. White’s Charlotte’s Web.

How about a bad one—and I’m not making this one up:

It was a dark and stormy night.

Most any teacher, instructor, professor, editor, or friend (at least a good friend) will tell you that line is so overused by amateurs it’s evolved to something well past banal and cliché and has arrived at eye-rolling awful. I (and many other kids) read this book in grade school—A Wrinkle In Time by Madeline L’Engle.

A book’s cover may draw you in, catch your eye, but the meal begins when you start reading. That first line is, in many cases, a fish-or-cut-bait proposition—it snags you or it falls flat. 1001 First Lines is loaded with examples of both. Kinda fun to see these first lines, isn’t it?

Archer has classified her collection of first lines into 15 categories, from Comedy and Romance to Erotica and Biography. The more you read, the more you begin to see why certain writers are so widely read any why others seem to disappear. Want some more examples, don’t ya?

Good:

It is so appropriate to color hope yellow, like that sun we seldom saw.

Flowers In The Attic by V.C. Andrews

My note for this line: Beautiful yet haunting.

Bad:

Hello.

After Midnight by Richard Layman

My thought: It’s distractingly cardboard-ish. Surely there’s something more creative to be said.

Another good one:

Nothing ever begins.

Weaveworld by Clive Barker

Me: Cerebral, poetic, and creepy.

Not so good:

It was night again.

The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rathfuss

Me: Lackluster.

As with the lions share of books published now 1001 First Lines is available as an ebook. Here’s a pleasant surprise: I was told it was available digitally but I lean heavily toward “traditional” reading—you might remember it as holding an actual book in your hands and turning physical pages. “If available,” I wrote to the tour coordinator, “I would certainly prefer a hard copy for review.” And I received one. That wasn’t the surprise (although the curmudgeon in me is most grateful).

The cover is striking in its simplicity, yet as a reader its bullseye red circle immediately grabs your attention. I was told how the hard copy was produced but forgot by the time I received the book. It looks like any other professional release from a traditional publisher . . . but this was produced by Amazon’s CreateSpace. Color me surprised!

If you belong to a reading group 1001 First Lines would prove a sensational conversation piece. Part of a critique group? What better way to sharpen your skills than to bandy about some of the best and worst since Gutenberg put ink to paper? Whether reader or writer 1001 First Lines is a fascinating peek at words that grab us, and those that repel.

As readers we all know that many times the first line is long forgotten by the time you get firmly sucked into the story. 1001 First Lines is by no means an indictment of poor writing nor an apotheosis for the better examples. Nor is it a do-it-yourself manual for getting the perfect first line for your story. It’s a lot like the “serving suggestion’ image you see on food packaging—you know when you make the dish it won’t look anything like the image, but it will, ultimately, be your own.


Ready to read it? You can find 1001 First Lines at:
Amazon
Scarlett’s blog

A review copy of 1001 First Lines was kindly provided by the author, Scarlett Archer. My thanks to her and Dorothy Thompson for the opportunity to participate in the 1001 First Lines virtual tour.

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The Sun's Heartbeat book coverRhythm; it moves our feet, affects our sleep patterns, provides the very current of life. Every living thing taps into it, must participate in it, to survive. The Sun’s Heartbeat is Bob Berman’s passionate appeal that our Sun not only governs life on Earth but has a rhythm all its own.

Books covering scientific topics can often be heavy slogs, but Berman takes every long-forgotten notion we thought we understood about the Sun and serves it up fresh and accessible without sacrificing the least element of giddy fascination. The élan present in his words borders on the romantic lending a palpable air of almost sublime adoration of his subject.

A dry statistical analysis this is not. While not bereft of solid science to support his work his approach to the material soars well beyond the arid scope of textbooks and drops anchor in the pleasant and playful manner of one who chases his obsession like a dog chases its tail. The Sun’s Heartbeat is the book to bring us all up to speed on the one true celebrity in our solar system; those here on Earth are mere pretenders by comparison.

Tweet-sized factoids are rarely as much fun and thought provoking as those peppered amidst the pages:
• The sun’s core is 320,000 miles below its surface; that’s forty Earth widths.
• In Earth’s youth, the sun was 30% dimmer. In 1.1 billion years it will give off just 10% more energy, enough to boil away the oceans and sterilize the entire planet.
• Every second the Sun loses four million tons of its weight.

To an extent, therein lies the subtle irony—Twitter is a very self-centered media by which its users can declare “here’s what I’m all about at this moment, world!” Berman leaves little doubt that our only star is, at least in the astrophysical sense, the prime presence in our lives, that it, above everything else we rely upon for survival, is supreme. If we think we are the center of the universe then a simple glance skyward should be all that’s required to set the record straight.

Berman’s approach exceeds the bounds of “lively,” at once bristling and compelling in its meld of science with the satisfying ability to repeatedly draw the jaw down and up again. Without exception each chapter leads to a new discovery, and ultimately a renewed respect for the one celestial body we perhaps take the most for granted.

The author’s many years at Discover magazine serve to bring a complex subject to a level of layman understanding. His method of informing draws upon our innate sense of wonder without resorting to the drool inducing dullness of the overly academic. Principles we learned long ago in the classroom are given a fresh update and pigtailed upon the latest solar research, yet as boring as that may sound Berman makes it obvious that he’s not just passing along the latest bits, he wants us to take it all in, to marvel and appreciate (as well we should) everything—quite literally—under the sun.

Knowing more about ones surroundings is always good, even knowing more about the larger universe around us. But the most basic of questions begs—is it useful or practical?

Is knowing that light travels in differing wavelengths useful? If you want to understand the benefits and dangers of ultra-violet radiation it is; it could literally save your skin, if not your life.

Consider the very air we breathe, the atmosphere above our heads. Did you know it absorbs all but about one percent of the sun’s UV radiation? Not amazing enough for you? Even at a paltry 1% a sunbather is bombarded with a million trillion DNA altering protons per second. Useful information, indeed.

Here’s a fun fact: Because the moon has no atmosphere to block radiation exposed flesh would receive a painful sunburn after a mere 90 seconds. Not only is the air we breathe free, but it’s working hard to protect us too.

What about sunspots and their correspondingly media-rich phases solar minimum and solar maximum? They are as essential a part of the Sun’s rhythm as our own need for respiration, or our very heartbeats. They also affect our global climate, provide stunning atmospheric light shows, and have the potential to reduce our technological goose-step to a toddler’s crawl. “Useful” doesn’t aptly describe how important that is to us three planets away.

It is perhaps folly to think of humankind’s perpetuity, the conceit that we will eventually undergo a species diaspora and spread to far reaches of our galaxy and beyond. Berman points out that our bodies are not designed to handle the staggering volume of cosmic radiation awaiting us on the other side of our atmosphere. Moreover, although our sun is breathtakingly huge, by galactic measure it’s mediocre. Let that sink in for a moment.

Indeed, useful and practical are removed from the theater of conceptual notions and made fundamentally necessary verbs.

The Sun’s Heartbeat beams with enjoyment—authoritative in scope and informing in a page-turning, captivating way. Give a copy to young readers you know, give one to anybody you know who delights in the wonders of science and nature. Pick up a few copies of this paperback book for members of your reading group (don’t miss the reading group guide in the back!). Share Berman’s awe and respect for the star that not only powers our solar system but helped make it all happen.


Once again, my thanks to Rhonda Sturtz at New York Journal of Books for procuring my review copy of this book, and to Little, Brown and Company for graciously providing said book.

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The Apple Experience book coverTake a quick moment to think back through the last seven days of your life. Recall places you went: restaurants, shopping, perhaps traveling. In those seven days odds are excellent you probably experienced, at best, mediocre service in some regard. If you had truly memorable service, the kind that makes you want to convince others to patronize said business, then you are in the minority.

The Apple Experience: Secrets to Building Insanely Great Customer Loyalty is, fair to say, a most welcome antibiotic for a woeful and ailing service industry.

Think divorce isn’t relevant to a discussion of customer service? Think again. Studies have shown that a large percentage of divorces are not so much the result of relationship symptoms—like an extramarital affair—but rather take root much more deeply: Most such affairs come about because one partner no longer feels special—which of course the “other” party accomplishes.

That’s a painful, yet incredibly potent way to truly understand what great customer service can do for one person. Wouldn’t you like to know how to keep your customers and clients so happy that they not only stay with you and return again, they also actively evangelize your business?

Carmine Gallo doesn’t ask you simply to look through the glass doors of Apple stores, he wants you to study and embrace the simple elegance—and a large part of that experience has little to do with selling, but rather relationships.

Mr. Gallo acknowledges that not every business model is conducive to a literal application of Apple’s “5 Steps of Service,” but within The Apple Experience he provides the tools and reasoning necessary for any owner, manager, or supervisor to elevate their offerings, to differentiate themselves from the competition not from a cost perspective but from touching people’s lives. Apple’s word of choice is “enriching:” as in the ability to achieve a deeper emotional connection with employees and customers.

Among the concepts discussed are:
• resetting the customer’s “internal clock;”
• hiring for passion and other non-typical traits—a company can train to do tasks but cannot train for personality;
• creating “wow moments” that not only exceed damage control but also provide fantastic opportunities to convert detractors into promoters;
• understanding that costs go far beyond bottom line labor numbers;
• enriching lives is not just for customers and clients, but especially important: for your employees.

That last bullet point gets a good deal of real estate in the book and for good reason. Once again, recall the last few times you experienced standard, blasé service. People in positions like that are going through expected motions.

The author states early on the seemingly obvious yet most often overlooked facet of great service: “Gallup has found that 71 percent of employees in the United States are “not engaged” or worse, “actively disengaged and emotionally disconnected” from their workplace.” Outside of the all-important paycheck, it’s hard to remain passionate about a job you don’t care about or a company that lacks vision.

Mr. Gallo fans the flames of another incredibly important facet of human motivation: that monetary incentives work only to a small degree. Most people thrive upon—and want—some form of praise; and many want to feel like they are part of something bigger, a genuine part of helping their company grow. These are psychological intangibles that wield far more power than mere trinkets or bonuses.

Apple, via Steve Jobs’s vision, has taken a retail concept most analysts predicted would quickly fail and turned it into a stunning revenue juggernaut with an almost rabid following.

The crux of Apple’s revolutionary tale is that success isn’t just about cool looking products or spiffy, trendy retail spaces—those are contributing factors to be certain. But profits steadily grow because, to a person, Apple employees are trained and are genuinely passionate about not only the brand but also about creating that special je ne sais quoi—that feeling of connection. Apple’s cultural tenet according to the author: “They want to reach your heart, not your wallet.”

From the very beginning, The Apple Experience compares religion to the loyalty/fervor Apple engenders. The parallel is explained clearly enough in the book, and any reader serious about learning and profiting from Gallo’s research will completely understand the analogy.

The author is to be applauded for calling out Sears customer service (and others) by name. It certainly would have been far less troublesome to state something like “a once great retail giant” or “an institutional retail chain.” Instead he chooses to take the shot straight up, with no chaser, and juxtaposes his personal experience with Apple’s customer service. The upshot? A social media-heavy consumer base can do damage more quickly and more easily than at any other time in retail history.

Any of these companies can change their culture. It must come from within, and it must be more than lip service. Mr. Gallo challenges the reader to go into any Apple store and experience the principles he outlines for themselves, to observe interactions between Apple staff and customers, to pay attention to expressions and body language as customers exit the store.

The Apple Experience is bursting with paradigm shifting ideas and plenty of solid reasons for putting the Apple model to work, supported by such successful top tier companies: FedEx, Zappos, Disney, Lush, Outback Steakhouse, just to name a few. Their stories hammer in the notion that ho-hum customer service most other companies egregiously pass off as a quality “customer experience” is, in a word, not.

“Average is officially over” the author quotes. Say what you will about the Apple brand or its products. From crossing the store threshold to the very box your purchase comes in, every detail of the Apple experience is designed to touch a part of our nature that most retailers utterly disregard.

Over ten years of retail dominance . . . isn’t it worth considering what Apple is doing right? Any service provider, doctor, lawyer, bartender, accountant, or tailor can leverage The Apple Experience to work in their favor. The first question to ask is sublime yet simple: Are your current results satisfactory . . . or do you want insanely great service—and the loyalty of your customers that goes with it?


Another hearty thank you to Rhonda Sturtz of the New York Journal of Books, and to McGraw Hill for their efforts in acquiring the review copy for this review.

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Nothing that teaches us about history is irrelevant. Nothing is irrelevant that instructs us regarding hubris. Posterity, when heeded, can illuminate far more than just the past—its brilliance can cast a meaningful glow into our future. Farewell, Titanic – Her Final Legacy should not be taken as just another book about a tragic ship or her history—author Charles Pellegrino has provided a wider scope of history, a template of humanity held against the context of Titanic‘s story.

Farewell Titanic book coverPerhaps the most immediate question for the potential reader is: “Does it tell the story of the sinking?” The easy answer is “It does indeed.” But so do countless other books on the subject, not the least of which is Walter Lord’s A Night To Remember, which the author used as source material—including personal correspondence with Lord. Lord’s fascination with the Titanic began at a very early age which gave him the time to accrue a depth of knowledge regarding the event (her sinking) which few others could come close to except her survivors; Pellegrino does both Walter Lord and Titanic‘s human descendants a deft, factually thorough, and humanistic service in Farewell, Titanic.

Pellegrino’s approach is perhaps the most gripping in its narrative style. Outside of global war the Titanic story is one of history’s greatest cautionary tales of man’s arrogance and tragic greed. Having the chutzpah to sail not just into but through an ice field is (cetainly, in hindsight) hair-raisingly stupid—but to do so, on a moonless night in calm waters and run the engines “full ahead” based on human claims of “unsinkable” construction is barely a stones throw from qualifying as murderous. Farewell, Titanic is not a story told from the periphery, from solely a journalistic perspective or a ‘top down’ view, rather it is told from the ‘bottom up’, that is, from individual accounts and outwards. The accounts make for fascinating consumption but the sense of tragedy is crystalline—there is no distinct sense of removal from the unfolding horrors, from the first call from the crows nest to the life-long burden bore by some of her survivors.

This is not a book of generalities or reconstructions based on nebulous recollections or skewed newspaper reports. The author has been down to Titanic and experienced her firsthand. Pellegrino’s observations and analysis as part of James Cameron’s crew resulted in the director using some of his source material for the Oscar-winning film Titanic. Not only is the historic event recounted from people who were there but it is also a captivating record of what happened to the ship itself, as it broke up, sank, hit bottom, and rested 2.5 miles below the surface of the North Atlantic ocean.

Again, that would be the expected birds-eye-view of the event. Herein, however, one gets a wonderfully accessible scientific account of the forces at play in this drama. One of Pellegrino’s gifts is in his ability to convert such empirical properties into passages of uncomfortable understanding—”uncomfortable” only in the sense that one can truly grasp the chilling fear of a given moment as if you were present and watching it happen, such as in this passage:

“By the time Hendrickson reached the spiral stairs the sea appeard to be erupting through a geyser somewhere on the starboard side. Overhead, Hendrickson saw the tarpaulin beneath the number 1 cargo hatch ballooning upward like a huge dome. The surge of air pressure—which measured the pulse of water rushing in from below—whistled through the firemen’s quarters with ear popping force.”

Imagine what it must have been like to be close to the area where her hull struck the iceberg. Several accounts of this very instance are described by the folks who experienced it, and not just near the bow—you get a feel for how the collision was experienced from bow to stern, from first class to third class, from crew cabins down to boiler rooms, and certainly the terror experienced from the bridge down as more and more of the crew began to understand the truth of the situation as it unfolded.

Compartamentalization, the builder’s claim of man’s victory over nature, likely would have prevented the ship’s loss if not for metal weakened by excessive heat during an earlier boiler room fire; portholes left open to provide cabin cooling in the aftermath of the fire contributed to the speed of Titanic‘s sinking; the number of lifeboats available were not a direct result of designer intent, rather the number were reduced by money men trying to maximize deck space, again, based on the hubristic assumption that the ship could withstand anything.

Long held untruths are clarified, as in the case of the common belief that every lifeboat was launched only half full. Initially this was the case, as Pellegrino explains, but only because the officer loading the crafts had prior experience with boats of inferior quality and was highly concerned that loading Titanic‘s boats to capacity may cause them to literally disintegrate upon hitting water; her lifeboats had not been tested prior to her launch.

Titanic‘s legacy isn’t solely vested in the ghoulish allure of Victorian technology gone awry. Formerly undiscovered sea life has been found seeking refuge in her remains, not the least of which is the now familiar image of what the casual viewer would say looks like an underwater, rust-colored icicle—appropriately enough they are called “rusticles.” This life form is slowly dissolving away the available iron at the site. Other life in the depths have actually protected letters and photographs. The ship has, like Vesuvius, Hiroshima, Nagasaki, and the World Trade Center collapses brought new insights to our understanding of “down blast” effects and shock cocoons. In some places contents of the great ocean liner are fully intact while the stern section has been flattened like a pancake, her hull rippled outward like taffy. Pellegrino explores these forces, too, with parallels drawn between each one, often interconnnected by the fragile thread of human life.

Therein lies a key facet of what he has set out to accomplish with Farewell, Titanic. Without properly seeing the larger picture one could attempt to cast aspersions upon the writers’ odd sense of structure and adherence to the subject matter. Truth is, the subject matter, all along, is us—certainly us from a historical perspective, or us from the posture of failing to fully attend to our own better angels. Either way, this is not simply a story about iron against ice, nor one of science versus nature. Farewell Titanic rides a timeline of human frailty from 1912 to present day. To argue that the subject or context does not stay lashed to the narrative only serves to boldly emphasize the entire point—that life isn’t neat and tidy. Beyond our best intentions lie considerations we perhaps are neither capable nor ready to see. Life can be harsh and cruel . . . man can be utterly idiotic even while striving to beat nature at is own game—or man can be barbaric in nature’s name. Man, science, and the panoply of physics are all put under the proverbial microscope here; the connections between man’s nature and any event, large or small, are not always immediate to one another, but as Pellegrino makes clear Time always gets the final word, and eventually Time connects the dots.

Sixteen pages of photos provide a visual glimpse of what the author describes thoughout the book. And visuals, or the lack of them, are the book’s sole Achilles heel. I had very much hoped (frankly even expected) a diagram of Titanic to aid in my understanding of the various events as they are so vividly described—as a land lubber I have precious little sea-going experience, much less any functional knowledge or experience on a cruise ship, One can easily find such diagrams online, but that presumes that one has quick access to the internet when reading. It would seem logical to have such an illustration near the beginning of the book. Alas, the only illustrations, while compelling indeed, are of the ship’s resting place on the sea floor. It should be understood that considerations of such things are often well outside the authors control. Given the strict attention to detail throughout I can hardly conceive that Pellegrino didn’t include more illustrations for print. In his two prior books on this same subject, Her Name, Titanic and Ghosts of the Titanic there are multiple such images, although each book is from a different publisher, so some form of economizing should not be ruled out in the case of Farewell, Titanic.

Titanic presents a wealth of relevance to us today. Her shell slowly decays in the “ever-black” yet her very presence, after 100 years, still reveals secrets of time and lives lost, still illuminates stories of the human condition, both worthy and shameful. Farewell, Titanic indeed preserves her legacy and brings to light startling new details and tells a century-old story with the fierce vigor and endless curiosity only mankind could display. Pellegrino has allowed us not just a glimpse but a full-fledged tour of his fascination with the ship; at once haunting and enthralling, yet remarkably poignant in its undercurrent of humanity.


Extra! Extra!The author has a very interesting addendum to the book on his website titled The Californian Incident. This intriguing addition tells the story of a ship which many Titanic survivors believed they saw just north of Titanic’s location on April 12th, 1912. It relates the controversy surrounding the Californian‘s captain and his decision not to investigate continued oddities that evening. It also relates stories of two other ships besides Carpathia which were in the area. As with the book Pellegrino has let the audacity of human decision making shine through. This web-only addition I highly recommend reading after you finish the book. It truly puts the final chill on a tragic event.


I would like to profusely thank Wiley Publishing for providing a copy of Farewell Titanic for review.

Surely you’d like a copy of this beautiful book for yourself! You can find it online at the following places:

Amazon.com Kindle/digital and traditional print
Barnes and Noble (bn.com) Nook/digital and traditional print
From the publisher, Wiley also available in epub format for digital readers

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Romancing The Soul by Dorothy ThompsonIs there a difference between a ‘soul mate,’ ‘friend,’ or ‘acquaintance’? Certainly, I am in no way degreed or trained to say so with any force of credibility. But I would submit that even those who are, individuals who’ve spent years of their professional (even personal) lives in almost ascetic study of the human condition, would be hard pressed to affix a definitive “yes” or “no” to the question. It is chiefly a matter of individual instinct, more a sense of innate connection than physical definition—an essence of faith versus an easily digestible answer.

The question is undeniably intriguing; the answers as numerous as a star-filled night sky.

Dorothy Thomspn, and a host of contributors, make no attempt to compromise upon any one definition; they display a rational yet emotional antithesis to the one-size-fits-all school of pop culture. Romancing The Soul is a tour de force of very personal storytelling in the truest sense. Most of the accounts related could easily be construed as fodder for a movie script, yet their power comes from their firm roots in real life experience.

The stories speak not only of the individuals who experienced them, but also to the greater cosmogony of paired soul theory. Allusion is made to creation theory as it pertains to the soul, that through the passing of spiritual time all souls evolved in intimate union until eventually becoming one entity, which then divided and the two halves seek one another—”each half having not only its own gender, but a portion of the contra-gender.” This breaking up of a primal unity is echoed in the creation myths of many peoples the world over.

But Thompson and her contributors don’t delve into any theoretical forensics in search of universal answers. Doing so may have provided an intriguing framework from which to view the stories in, but would have tossed the empirical into the necessarily emotional, perhaps a bit like watching someone who has jogged in circles while touching their forehead to a baseball bat—they come away awfully dizzy and disoriented. Appealing to our better angels gives the book presence and an impressive personal jolt.

Two words spring to mind regarding this book: evocative and affecting. Even from a male perspective I can clearly perceive the emotional tug some of these stories contain. To list even a few examples here would only serve as distraction from the whole, but I can best convey the sum feeling with a movie-type analogy:

Think of any movie you’ve watched where two characters seem hell bent on remaining apart, whether through circumstance or willful control. Imagine the feeling you’ve had sitting and watching these people attempt to bond with others when you instinctively know that these two characters are meant to be together. Now try to recall the anxiety you may have felt each time one or the other is reluctant or outright dismissive—now recall the feeling you had at the end when they finally came together and how enitrely fitting it was for both of them . . .and you.

Many of these stories—more properly termed personal events, I suppose—engender that same slap in the face and tug upon the heart. If ever you have had doubts about the concept of a soul mate these episodes can only serve to squelch such dubiety and plant the seed of wonder.

But to approach this book in an effort to learn in some academic fashion would be to miss the point entirely, to succumb to primitive or “prelogical” thinking. Ms. Thompson’s goal is neither to validate one theory or another, nor is it to dismiss as trite any nuance of thoughtful assumption. During an e-mail exchange about the book she offered this insight: ” . . . it isn’t all about love and romance . . . it’s about” an ascension upon “your own personal ladder, of knowing who you are, what you are, why you are on this earth.”

The overtones should not be mistaken for being dogmatic or religious. Quite the contrary, actually. The intense experiences shared rise upon one common foundation: spirituality. If you can’t separate the two concepts—spirituality and religion—then you likely won’t properly understand the more ephemeral yet unmistakable truths the book contains.

Those possessing a more logical bent will undoubtedly hew toward the rationalization of soul mates as contrived personal mythology. But again, you must open mindedly approach the theme of souls as a matter of inherent emotion, not logic. A myth can only be a myth if you don’t believe it, that is, if you stand outside it in some manner. If you stand inside a myth it embodies something different—it becomes divine truth. Somewhere in-between those liminal stages is the emotional singularity we refer to as our soul.

Romancing The Soul is an invitation to explore, via flesh-and-blood testament of others, perhaps the most profound intrigue of enlightened man—a puzzle which only the individual can truly answer: Is there a kindred spirit for me, a duality of contra-gender invisibly fused into the profound purity of Oneness?

The answer is never handed to us on a silver platter; we must attentively seek it if we truly desire such wisdom. Ms. Thompson, et al., summon those who pursue such knowledge of transcendence and ask only for them to read with an open mind . . . and an open heart. Plato proposed the idea that humans are of two minds: one for thinking and reasoning, and the other for emotion and passion. Arguably the evidence presented in Romancing The Soul leans heavily in favor of the latter, yet is wrapped firmly in tensile strength of deeper intuition — the ‘you just know’ factor.


Ready to read it? You can find Romancing the Soul at:
Amazon
Zumaya Publications
• In eBook form from FictionsWise

A review copy of Romancing the Soul was kindly provided by the author, Dorothy Thompson. My thanks to her and Zumaya Publishing for the opportunity to participate in the virtual tour.

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Some of us . . . okay, most of us . . . are content to ride the current of technology, comfortable in knowing that the next great thing, the next device we can’t do without, is assuredly on the horizon. The largest demand we make is that our technology work; the more reliant we become upon it the more we insist upon ease of use—upon simplicity to camouflage its inherent complexity.

Steve Jobs got that. He got us.

I once worked for Apple, as part of the Apple help desk. I was one of the support people (back in the good old days when phone support still took place on our continent), this back in the dark days of Gil Amelio, MacOS 6.5 and 7, a bloated product line, and a stock price almost as low (at the time) as two tickets to a movie. I had been weaned on the Macintosh, starting with the original Mac Classic.

I loved the tight integration of software and hardware. As I started (of necessity) moving to the dark side I become ever more appreciative of the MacOS’s elegance.

I, too, raged against the onslaught of Microsoft and their mimicry of the Macintosh graphical interface.

You may think these things have little relevance to Mr. Isaacson’s subject, much less the book itself. In truth, they do.

My exposure and experience with Apple computers, nestled with my knowledge of the company’s background and history, made me wary of the potential slant of the forthcoming book. When I read about its impending release, a part of me wondered how much of the work would be a glorified PR piece for Jobs and Apple.

Would this be a life story as filtered through Jobs’s well-documented “reality distortion field,” (in which the notoriously difficult yet insanely visionary Jobs would call for an impossible task to be achieved in a impossibly short span of time—and, miracle of miracles, it would happen) or would the book be a genuine representation presented from every possible, genuine vantage point?

Walter Isaacson—hand picked by Jobs himself—brings Jobs’s life story to the consumers Apple sought and so often beguiled. In 2004, when Jobs initially broached the idea of Isaacson writing his life story, the author politely brushed him off– “Because I had assumed he was in the middle of an oscillating career that had many ups and downs, I demurred. Not now, I said. Maybe in a decade or two when you retire.” It was with trademark persistence that Jobs, along with his wife, Laurene, finally convinced Isaacson to commit to the project. Given unconditional control over the content, and Laurene’s admonition—“You shouldn’t whitewash it. He’s good at spin, but he also has a remarkable story, and I’d like to see that it’s all told truthfully.”—Isaacson has taken great care to bestow balance regarding all parties and the information presented.

From the very start, Steve Jobs had a reputation that spanned from caustic and fiery perfectionist to loving family man. Forty interviews with Jobs and over 100 interviews with family, friends, rivals, and adversaries have produced a work documenting that reputation, a work empiric and qualitative, yet firmly rooted in the humanity of his subject.

Almost from the beginning of the book we are shown a foggy mirror—one which a very young Steve Jobs looks into, seeing endless technological possibility and conversely very little doubt in his own abilities. As the steam begins to clear, so does the image, becoming sharper and more defined with each page; yet one constant remains: Jobs’ strong conviction that he could achieve whatever he set his mind to; moreover, whatever he willed.

One of the most compelling reasons for reading any biography is to learn what made its subject tick, what inspired or moved him or her. In the very beginning of the book, Isaacson succinctly declares the rules of engagement that Jobs set down before starting the interviewing process—and then very quickly offers up Jobs’s uncharacteristic willingness to accede control:

“. . . after a couple of months, he began encouraging people to talk to me, even foes and former girlfriends. Nor did he try to put anything off limits. ‘I’ve done a lot of things I’m not proud of, such as getting my girlfriend pregnant when I was twenty-three, and the way I handled that,’ he said. ‘But I don’t have any skeletons in my closet that can’t be allowed out.’ He didn’t seek any control over what I wrote, or even ask to read it in advance.”

Jobs’s creativity and business passion derived from a number of personal convictions, but ostensibly none more influential than learning of his abandonment by his birth parents and subsequent adoption by Paul and Clara Jobs. Many around him ascribed his drive to this single event, a notion which Jobs, on its face, proffers dissent.

In Jobs’ own words:

“What drove me? I think most creative people want to express appreciation for being able to take advantage of the work that’s been done by others before us. I didn’t invent the language or mathematics I use. I make little of my own food, none of my own clothes. Everything I do depends on other members of our species and the shoulders that we stand on . . . We try to use the talents we do have to express our deep feelings, to show our appreciation of all the contributions that came before us, and to add something to that flow. That’s what has driven me.”

Mr. Isaacson can’t properly tell the story without including a healthy dose of personal exposition. Doing so has had the effect of disappointing gear-heads while surprising and delighting those who want to know more about Jobs. Those who have at least a passing understanding of technology will marvel at Jobs’ innovative genius, while those who want a broader stroke might be pained by the trotting out of Apple’s successes one by one. To crow that the book is too long because it dwells on formative detail is to completely disregard the pattern of the fabric—to embrace the utilitarianism of a doormat while eschewing the textured beauty of its finely woven components.

That said, the delineation between Jobs and Apple is wonderfully blurred—if it can be said to exist at all.

Perhaps one of the most fantastic stories in American business isn’t so much Apple’s rise to become the world’s best-known brand, but its later march to almost certain dissolution—seven weeks from fiscal oblivion.

Critical steps in Jobs’s wildly fluctuating career are, in Isaacson’s practiced and deft hands, delivered at an almost torrid pace, yet still not so detailed as to induce boredom (I’ve read Microsoft certification books, so trust me when I say I know of such inducements).

Thorough attention is paid to Jobs’ storied ouster from Apple by John Sculley, the genesis of NeXT, the wonderful development of Pixar and its bouts with Disney, and the purchase of NeXT by Apple. It is with Jobs’s return to the company he founded that we revel in the story of a modern-day Sisyphus managing not only to push the boulder up the steep hill, but to launch it into outer space—to, as Jobs stated himself, “make a dent in the universe.”

Jobs employed an almost Ghengis Khan-like quality in his approach to business relationships. He had a stubborn need to conquer then best his perceived adversaries or opponents, while adhering to deeply held artistic and innovative principles. This combination—added to a fierce attachment to elegant sophistication that often required numerous product iterations until an almost ascetic perfection was achieved—is one that precious few companies would dare attempt with each and every product line.

And given Jobs’ unabashed propensity for controlling almost everything around him, one might believe that Jobs was earnestly dedicated to obscurantism, using sheer force of will to prevent anyone from making a decision without him. Repeatedly, and in his own words, Jobs reminds us that his execution in some cases was certainly flawed, but that he was more often proven right, his mercurial approach pushing people to accomplish what they had believed to be impossible.

As he got older, Jobs’s perfectionism never wavered. He pursued and ultimately incorporated into his life many principles and practices of Eastern spirituality and Zen Buddhism. Unmaterialistic by nature, Jobs enjoyed the fruits of his success, but much in the way a child does who does not truly comprehend the addition of many zeroes to a number. Isaacson readily points out Jobs’s mercurial nature, but also takes us to the intersection where his minimalist bent became the stage for creating products imputed with such significant elegance as to become not merely consumer devices but rather extensions of ourselves. For Jobs, money wasn’t the goal, giving people what they didn’t know they needed was.

Ultimately, Steve Jobs, with all his imperfections, managed to achieve what he had set out to from the very start: He changed the world.

I have read biographies of American historical figures, of men and women taken to apotheosis by the time-tendered, careful scholarship of many a gifted writer. Each had such an impact on our culture that we still find analyses of their lives worthwhile, find deep value in their life lessons. The truly storied, infallibly American life of Steve Jobs surely belongs in our pantheon of visionaries. Walter Isaacson’s biography certainly won’t be the last written about this extraordinary corporate icon, but it establishes itself as the gold standard.

Isaacson has taken a pointillistic life and arranged the myriad dots such that we can view Jobs’s life, indeed his essence, from the perspective of a mortal work of art, not a bland confessional.

The artist in Steve Jobs would have certainly approved.


Another hearty thank you to Rhonda Sturtz of the New York Journal of Books, and to Tracy Guest at Simon & Schuster for their efforts in acquiring the review copy for this review. Special thanks to Lisa Rojany Buccieri at NJYB for her patience and editorial nudging.

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