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148 of 166 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars iPads and minority issues
Another near-excellent collection of essays from the folks who do it best. This year, it seemed, the editor wanted to explore the themes of technology, boredom, and the quality of life. But in the end, as is inevitable these days, the volume ends up getting swamped by essays concerned with gender and ethnic issues. I don't think it takes much to choose the essays for...
Published on October 17, 2012 by Caraculiambro

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Too much political correctness on it
I was disappointed about the bend of the editor choosing the worldview of his predilection and that appears to be taken for granted by young college graduates of our present day who seem to follow academicians in every way possible rather than thinking for themselves.
Published 23 months ago by Domingo Luiggi


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148 of 166 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars iPads and minority issues, October 17, 2012
By 
Caraculiambro (La Mancha and environs) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Best American Essays 2012 (Paperback)
Another near-excellent collection of essays from the folks who do it best. This year, it seemed, the editor wanted to explore the themes of technology, boredom, and the quality of life. But in the end, as is inevitable these days, the volume ends up getting swamped by essays concerned with gender and ethnic issues. I don't think it takes much to choose the essays for one of these collections. Basically you've just got to say, Have we got a gay issues essay? Check. A feminism essay? Check. Minority issues? Check. And so on.

THE FOUL REIGN OF SELF-RELIANCE, by Benjamin Anastas. The author asserts that Emerson's philosophy of self-reliance is naïve and unhelpful. He doesn't really make a case; the "essay" is really just an undeveloped statement. Probably the worst essay of the bunch.

THE CRAZY STATE OF PSYCHIATRY, by Marcia Angell. Author discusses how crazy it is that everybody these days seems to be diagnosed with some sort of mental disorder, and how psychiatric treatments have nearly all become chemical-based.

YOU OWE ME, by Miah Arnold. One of the most painful essays in this collection: the thoughts of a woman who teaches creative writing to children with cancer.

EDWARD HOPPER AND THE GEOMETRY OF DESPAIR, by Geoffrey Bent. An appreciation of the compositional acumen of Edward Hopper, an American painter. The essay therefore seems focused but ultimately has nothing deeper to say than that he uses light and empty space well.

A BEAUTY, by Robert Boyers. A rumination on beauty being skin-deep. The author had a startlingly handsome friend who was something of a cad, etc.

THE GOOD SHORT LIFE, by Dudley Clendinen. Famous essay from a senior citizen who is willing to call it a life and simply die than prolong his life using all sorts of medicines and procedures.

VANISHING ACT, by Paul Collins. Tells the story surrounding the disappearance of a child prodigy, Barbara Follett, and what likely precipitated it.

INSATIABLE, by Mark Doty. Rumination on how Stoker's Dracula was supposedly based on Walt Whitman. The author has no hesitation in shoehorning his own homosexuality into these ruminations, including his experience with fisting (p. 81)! The most laughably inept essay of this bunch: if the author hadn't obtruded his sexual orientation into the mix, it's hard to see how this would have been given a second look.

WHO ARE YOU AND WHAT ARE YOU DOING HERE? by Mark Edmundson. My favorite essay in this collection. Basically a Robert Hutchins-style argument that success in college is not the same thing as successfully getting an education. The only essay in this collection that I'll be re-reading.

DUH, BOR-ING, by Joseph Epstein. A rumination on the varieties and value of boredom.

FARTHER AWAY, by Jonathan Franzen. To my thinking, the most technically competent essay of the bunch, although not very memorable. Franzen seamlessly interweaves his mediations on the suicide of a friend with the story of how he took a bird-watching trip to Alexander Selkirk island.

CREATION MYTH, by Malcolm Gladwell. Not a remarkable essay. After assuring us that the story we commonly hear about Steve Jobs lifting the idea for a GUI from Xerox's PARC is not as simple as all that, Gladwell proceeds to look at the circumstances surrounding this famous "theft." Unfortunately, after reading the essay, you are left to conclude that, basically, it really was as simple as all that.

DR. DON, by Peter Hessler. A portrait of a pharmacist and town leader in a remote area on the Colorado-Utah border.

OBJECTS OF AFFECTION, by Ewa Hryniewicz-Yarbrough. A descendant of Poles whose belongings were stripped away during WWII reflects on the origin and value of the impulse to keep nostalgic items around the house.

GETTING SCHOOLED, by Garret Keizer. A public school teacher returns to the classroom after a hiatus of 15 years and reflects on how things have changed.

MY FATHER/MY HUSBAND, by David J. Lawless. A shockingly painful essay to read about Alzheimer's disease. Probably the most unforgettable of the bunch. Just searing.

THE ACCIDENTAL UNIVERSE, by Alan Lightman. A rumination on matters cosmological, such as dark matter and the possibility that our universe is only one of a virtually infinite number of universes.

THE BITCH IS BACK, by Sandra Tsing Loh. A rambling, annoyingly-voiced rumination on menopause. The author has no meaningful contributions to make on this topic, it seems to me, and seems to be writing merely to hear her own voice, which I found shrill, grating, and nearly incoherent.

HOW DOCTORS DIE, by Ken Murray. Points out how doctors themselves, at the end of their lives, typically forgo medical treatments that stress quantity of life over quality of life, and how the author hopes that he'll do the same. Not really an essay; just an observation.

OTHER WOMEN, by Francine Prose. The author's mature reflections on her involvement with a feminist consciousness-raising group in the early 70s, and what feminism means to her now.

HUMANISM, by Richard Sennett. Stuffy: a look a what humanism has meant through various ages. Flat and academic: doesn't really seem like it belongs in this collection.

KILLING MY BODY TO SAVE MY MIND, by Lauren Slater. The author recounts how her depression was lifted by a drug that causes her to gain a lot of weight.

OUTLAW, by Jose Antonio Vargas. A powerfully affecting essay about a productive, model American who doesn't have legal permission to reside in the U.S.

PAPER TIGERS, by Wesley Yang. Probably the most insightful essay of this bunch -- and the longest. An analysis of why Asians don't dominate American culture and business even though they have long dominated our classrooms.
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28 of 28 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great brain food as always, but not quite the best of the recent vintages, November 4, 2012
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This review is from: The Best American Essays 2012 (Paperback)
Every year I look forward to diving into the Best American Essays volume. It is usually the most intelligent and educational book that I read all year, which is why I call this series "brain food". This year is no exception, although I wouldn't quite rate this year's volume as highly as others. I still strongly urge readers to give it a try because if you actually make it all the way through it, your brain will feel as though it had a good workout.

Guest Editor David Brooks appears to have utilized a fairly broad definition of "essay" for this volume. Some of the selected works are what I would call "traditional essays": first-person narratives in which the experiences, emotions and thoughts of the author dominate, such as Wesley Yang's "Paper Tigers", in which he confesses to being an illegal immigrant and explains exactly how he has gone about concealing his nationality. Others selections are dispassionate fact-based articles about a topic, such as Alan Lightman's "The Accidental Universe", which discusses some of the latest scientific thinking about dark energy and the laws of physics. Because of this spectrum of essay types, and because the selections are organized by the author's last name, you don't know what you are going to read next as you traverse this volume. One way to view this book is that you are reading a selection of some of the best non-fiction magazine articles published in the U.S. in the past year.

That said, the best essay by far in this volume falls into the highly personalized essay category: Jonathan Franzen's "Farther Away", his account of a life-threatening solo journey to the frontier of civilization that he undertook to help understand and deal with the suicide of his friend (and the Guest Editor for the 2007 volume of this series), David Foster Wallace. Franzen reveals much about both Wallace and himself in this essay, some through what he says and some through what he does. Wallace was a brilliant writer and much lauded by some, and while I still need to make my way through his voluminous masterpiece "Infinite Jest", Franzen's essay certainly helps readers understand this complex individual and what his writings and actions say about himself and our society.

Other top-notch essays, in my opinion:

-- Marcia Angell's "The Crazy State of Psychiatry", which falls on the fact-based article end of the spectrum and which provides a skeptical assessment of the current state of the psychiatric profession and its (over)reliance on psychoactive drugs. Later in the volume Lauren Slater's "Killing My Body to Save My Mind" provides a first-person view of a patient undergoing an intense drug therapy to deal with mental illness that, perhaps, illustrates some of Angell's points. Interestingly, Slater was the 2006 Guest Editor for this series - one can only imagine what fate awaits this year's editor, David Brooks. Perhaps guest editing this series is an even worse fate than the Sports Illustrated cover jinx.

-- Miah Arnold's "You Owe Me", which attempts to explain how a teacher of terminally ill children deals with that tragic scenario, and does so in a very humanistic way.

-- Joseph Epstein's "Duh, Boring", which provides some interesting historical background and current-day views on what may be solely a First World affliction.

-- Sandra Tsing Loh's "The Bitch is Back", which may unveil more than you need or want to know about women's late middle-age "change of life", but does so in an intense, compelling way.

The one major dud, in my opinion, was Richard Sennett's "Humanism". After lecturing against academic essays in his introduction, I was surprised to see that Brooks' included this one, which is too abstract and academic for the average reader to know whether the author is stating truths or is merely scoring semantic points.

I almost always get more out of The Best American Essays than I do from The Best American Short Stories, yet the short stories volume outsells the essays volume by quite a bit. That is unfortunate. If you are not frightened off by the word "essay", which often induces dreadful school-age memories among readers, by all means get this volume and feed your brain.
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11 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The lost art of the essay: read, think, write, October 13, 2012
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Amazon Customer (Paso Robles, CA United States) - See all my reviews
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The real truth behind non-fiction, is that you can't make it up--the emotions, the stories, the thoughts--the best fiction can do, at its very best, is approximate. Read these essays, and you will be touched, outraged, amused and above all jolted into thought. Read, think, and rebut if you don't agree or argue in support if you do--reading non-fiction may not make you smarter, but it will make your brain work--so readers; read, think and write--an essay really is thinking on paper.

All but the most mindless readers will find one story here that will speak to them in a way even the best fiction can't--try it and enjoy a new kind of read.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Too much political correctness on it, February 22, 2013
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I was disappointed about the bend of the editor choosing the worldview of his predilection and that appears to be taken for granted by young college graduates of our present day who seem to follow academicians in every way possible rather than thinking for themselves.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great Stuff, February 1, 2013
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An interesting array of essays, similar mainly in that they are all briliant and thought-provoking. I strongly suggest this book.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars My favorite of these to date - thoroughly satisfying, January 14, 2013
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Every year, I create a little anticipation by reading the two forwards (both good this year) and then start at the beginning. I know it's essentially orderless, but anyway, I just do it that way. Most years, I end up jumping around and skipping articles, but this time, I was engrossed from beginning to end. What an incredible, thought-provoking collection. These essays truly make you see things differently or in a new light; they reveal facts and facets of people; they connect to each other and ring true even as they describe completely foreign ideas and life experiences. Themes arise, are revisited, and are reflected from various angles. The writing is across the board excellent.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Stimulating and thought provoking..., May 18, 2014
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Diane Keyes (Seattle, WA USA) - See all my reviews
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Every morning as I get on a treadmill, I opened this book and read an essay. Funny, thought provoking, and enlightening, would describe those essays that still have me discussing them throughout the day and beyond. I bought this book because I am a fan of David Brooks and trusted it would be interesting. How wonderful to report that it far exceeded my expectations.
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2.0 out of 5 stars I wouldn't read it for funsies., February 26, 2014
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I needed it for school, or so I thought. My professor never ended up using it. Pretty sure it's still in my closet.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Very awesome readings, February 16, 2014
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book is great. stories are exiting to and very interesting to read. One of the better books i have read.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Very-very informative and has a lot of interesting articles, December 24, 2013
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This review is from: The Best American Essays 2012 (Paperback)
Of course, as in any collection - some essays strike you more , some - less. Few were very informative for me, especially about drugs use, pharmaceutical industry and how the approval process being done by the government: basically big companies almost fake (actually they misrepresent the data) the data and get approvals. Very hard to believe that it's actually happening.
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The Best American Essays 2012
The Best American Essays 2012 by Miah Arnold (Paperback - October 2, 2012)
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