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76 of 86 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars enjoyable read, some interesting concepts applied to families from other disciplines
I enjoyed reading this book a lot. The author has an engaging way of writing about his family and others. Each chapter, on different topics, tells the stories of one or more families as well as talking to experts and scientists on the topic. The topics range from allowances to sex (for parents! not kids!) to fighting. It's a positive book, that will make you feel...
Published 17 months ago by Shannon B Davis

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490 of 542 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The "secrets" are not secret - nothing particularly new here
The title promises to reveal "the secrets of happy families." In the Introduction, Feiler promises to tell us about "myth-shattering research from neuroscience to genetics" which has "completely reshaped our understanding of how parents should discipline their children" (p. 5). These promises are not fulfilled. The secrets are not secrets, and Feiler bases his...
Published 17 months ago by LouV S


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490 of 542 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The "secrets" are not secret - nothing particularly new here, February 21, 2013
This review is from: The Secrets of Happy Families: Improve Your Mornings, Rethink Family Dinner, Fight Smarter, Go Out and Play, and Much More (Hardcover)
The title promises to reveal "the secrets of happy families." In the Introduction, Feiler promises to tell us about "myth-shattering research from neuroscience to genetics" which has "completely reshaped our understanding of how parents should discipline their children" (p. 5). These promises are not fulfilled. The secrets are not secrets, and Feiler bases his recommendations not primarily on new research but on popular books from the 1980s and 1990s about business (Steven Covey) and about marriage (Gary Chapman).

Early on, Feiler informs us that he has no interest in speaking with actual therapists or indeed with any professional who actually works with families and children. Instead, he decides in advance that he will consult only with experts in "technology, business, sports, and the military" (p. 6). He is confident that he doesn't need to talk with people who are experts on parenting or families; "we can speak to anyone who's expert in making groups run more smoothly" and then apply their advice to the family (p. 29). OK, but that assumption overlooks a significant difference between a group of businesspeople at work and a family: namely that a family contains CHILDREN. Children are not adults. Strategies which work well with adults may not work so well with 5-year-olds. Feiler never considers this possibility.

Feiler is determined not to learn anything from people who actually know something about child and adolescent development, and it shows. For example, Feiler asserts that teenage sexual behavior is "largely unchanged over the last sixty years" (p. 131). If he had bothered to consult with any of the actual experts, he would have learned how false that statement is. For example, in 1950 only about 13% of American teenage girls had experienced intercourse; by 1999 the figure was about 50% (see for example Wells & Twenge "Changes in Young People's Sexual Behavior 1943 - 1999", Review of General Psychology, 2005, a widely-cited paper well known to the actual experts whom Feiler disparages). This change has had enormous consequences for the ways in which American girls construct their self-concept and their ideas about sexual intimacy, both for good and ill, but Feiler is blissfully ignorant of all this research, because he will speak only with experts in "technology, business, sports, and the military".

In view of Feiler's deliberate ignorance of most of the published research, it's not surprising that many of his recommendations are strange. For example, Feiler describes how a father approved his son's decision to buy a first-person-shooter video game, but the father vetoed the boy's desire to play paintball or other actual games that don't involve screen time (p. 100). Feiler describes himself as "impressed" by the father's decisions (p. 101). I was not so impressed. I was puzzled why Feiler would endorse the decision to encourage a boy to play a violent video game rather than engaging in an actual outdoor game of paintball. Feiler provides no explanation.

Ignorance has its consequences. In chapter 12, on youth sports, he describes a 10-year-old girl, Zoe, who was playing in a soccer game when she was struck in the head by a soccer ball "and fell to the ground." It must have been a pretty serious hit, because her father "suddenly went limp" when he saw the injury (p. 213). But after a moment, Zoe "took a sip of water, had a short walk, and decided to stay in the game." Everybody applauded her "resilience." Feiler shows no awareness of the scholarly literature on concussion - no awareness that Zoe may have suffered a concussion, no awareness that the decision whether or not to return to the field after a head injury should not be made by the 10-year-old who has just suffered the head injury. Other parents who read Feiler's enthusiasm for a 10-year-old girl who demonstrates "resilience" by returning to a soccer game after a head injury may mistakenly think that such behavior is appropriate or that Feiler is using the term "resilience" appropriately, which he is not. This is an example where Feiler's determination not to speak with actual experts may conceivably have harmful consequences.

But most of Feiler's recommendations are merely trivial, the reflections of a novice who is not familiar with the published research. He advises that you paint your child's bedroom in bright colors (p. 181). He tells us that "lighter, more saturated colors are associated with positive emotions, while darker colors trigger negative emotions" (p. 181). He seems unaware of the research suggesting that this association may be true for girls but not for boys. His recommendations are seldom informed by research; contrary to his promise in the opening chapter that he is going to tell us about "myth-shattering research from neuroscience to genetics" most of his suggestions are merely banal.

Chapter 1, "The Agile Family Manifesto: a twenty-first-century plan to reduce chaos and increase happiness" can be reduced to two sentences: Schedule regular family meetings. And, create checklists for your children to complete. These are reasonable recommendations, but there is nothing which is particularly "21st-century" about either recommendation.

Chapter 2, "The right way to have family dinner" can be summarized in one sentence: Don't worry about dinner, a 10-minute dessert time together will suffice.

Chapter 8, "What's Love Got to Do With It: the simple test that saved millions of families" boils down to one sentence: read Gary Chapman's book The Five Love Languages, published in 1992 (that's Feiler's advice, not mine). He refers to Chapman's book as "Love Potion Number 5" (p. 150) and devotes almost the entire chapter to a worshipful biography of Chapman and a summary of his books. More generally, Feiler demonstrates an obsequious deference to almost any best-selling author. He shows similar reverence for Steven Covey's book "The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People" (1989) and is grateful for an audience wih Covey's son Sean Covey, whom he similarly regards as a guru (pp. 63-64).

And so forth. I found little here which was new and almost nothing which was based in actual research on children or teenagers. The family vacation checklist (p. 201) is useful, but hardly novel; I've seen similar checklists on various travel sites. The lack of an index makes it difficult to find anything in the book.

The range of families is quite narrow. All appear to be upper-income Americans whom Feiler insists on describing as exceptionally good-looking. Bill is "a tall, sandy-haired man with an all-American build" (p. 91); Byron Trott "looks like a Hollywood leading actor from the 1950s" (p. 102). We hear nothing about families of color and nothing about low-income households.

Summary: a few useful tips, but very little here that is new, and quite a bit that is simply inaccurate.
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76 of 86 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars enjoyable read, some interesting concepts applied to families from other disciplines, February 2, 2013
By 
Shannon B Davis "Nepenthe" (Arlington, MA United States) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Secrets of Happy Families: Improve Your Mornings, Rethink Family Dinner, Fight Smarter, Go Out and Play, and Much More (Hardcover)
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I enjoyed reading this book a lot. The author has an engaging way of writing about his family and others. Each chapter, on different topics, tells the stories of one or more families as well as talking to experts and scientists on the topic. The topics range from allowances to sex (for parents! not kids!) to fighting. It's a positive book, that will make you feel good. No preaching or dictating.

One of my favorite chapters was "Agile Family Management". As a software project manager, I'm familiar with agile software development, so it made me laugh and I shared it with my co-workers. However, it's got a point - if it works for small software teams, why not families? The concepts include self-directed work (children choosing their chores from a list) and weekly checkpoints about what worked and what didn't. Overall, it's about engaging your children in the household by letting them take responsibility themselves, rather than dictating what they should do. In this way, they often end up taking on more, because they have a sense of ownership.

There was another chapter I enjoyed on family vacations, as my spouse and I love to travel, and have found it more challenging with a new person with his own tastes joining our family. I also enjoyed the chapter on grandmothers and their importance - I'll be sure to share that one with my mom! Fighting smart and having difficult conversations will prove useful in both family and business life (as some of the lessons here are drawn from business writers). One of the quirkiest chapters was actually on home decorating and how it can affect family happiness. This book was full of surprises - I really never knew where the next chapter was taking me.

Part of the reason that the families in the book felt so familiar to me is that the author focuses on families like mine, people dwelling in east coast cities. The author himself lives in Brooklyn and he also writes about his family in Newton Massachusetts. I would argue that this is probably not a book for all families. It really speaks to the upper-middle-class/middle-class more than anything else. If you are in business, you'll probably be familiar with some of the concepts he's quoting, like "How to get to Yes" author William Ury, Stephen Covey's 7 Habits, and Agile development. I guess that doesn't mean it won't appeal to other types of families, but it definitely has a familiarity to a certain part of the world and type of lifestyle or career that I imagine might be quite different for, say, a family of farmers in Kansas. Then again, some concepts are universal - family dinner, spending time together.
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43 of 47 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars So Far, Best Parenting Book of 2013 That I've Read, February 21, 2013
This review is from: The Secrets of Happy Families: Improve Your Mornings, Rethink Family Dinner, Fight Smarter, Go Out and Play, and Much More (Hardcover)
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With four kids, I've read (and will no doubt read) a bunch of parenting books in my time. This book really is chock-full of great ideas. Each chapter is stand-alone, so you can focus on one area that concerns your family right now. While not all of the ideas were new themselves, the way they were presented were. For example:

1) Family Meeting. First read about this in Steven Covey's book... and then in a bunch of different books by Linda and Richard Eyre. I've never heard of agility or an information radiator before, though. We had already instituted check lists for our kids in the morning and they had worked very well. I didn't know that having them check off the box would be more effective. I also, with regards to our family meeting, had never though about asking:

What went well in the family this past week?
What could we do better?
What things will we commit to working on in the coming week?

Those three questions have really changed the effectiveness of our meetings and family.

2) Family Meals. I loved the story about Chef John Besh, and how when they couldn't manage a traditional family dinner, changed to family breakfasts... and family post-sports desserts.

3) Letting your kids help pick the consequences. Right now, we're going through a period of backtalk among my three eldest kids. I finally asked them what they thought the punishment should be for back talking? We talked about how it was rude, disrespectful, and could even hurt my feelings. Their idea was that the person had to do one extra chore for me (or their Dad) plus say five nice things (because of potential hurt feelings). I've never been told how beautiful, smart, and fabulous I am so many times. LOL

Lots more in this book... just great ideas. Honestly, my feeling with parenting books is that if I pick up one good idea, it's worth it. My guess you'll pick up at least a handful of great ideas to help your family. Highly highly recommended!
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Want A Happier Family?, May 24, 2013
This review is from: The Secrets of Happy Families: Improve Your Mornings, Rethink Family Dinner, Fight Smarter, Go Out and Play, and Much More (Hardcover)
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Do your children bicker? Is it chaotic getting out of the house in the morning? Do chores go undone? Is giving an allowance good or bad?

These are just some of the issues this book deals with in a frank, funny and informative style. If you have a family, are in a family, or have extended family, you may want to read this book. It's comprehensive, content-rich, research-based and accessible. It tells you how to have a happier family in today's modern world.

Times have changed from authoritarian-based, top-down, command-central institutions to more democratic, equal participation and happier institutions in the world of work. Power has become decentralized and best practices are based on timeless principles. The author explores the principles of negotiation and conflict-resolution, leadership, teams, finance and play - among other topics - and shows how to apply these proven principles to families. He has colorful anecdotes of families who use the principles so you can see them in practice, and how they might work with your family.

The author talks to some of the best and the brightest about principles they teach and how to apply them to activities with families: Jim Collins author of GOOD TO GREAT, Bill Ury of the Harvard Negotiation Project who co-authored GETTING TO YES, Warren Buffet's banker on teaching kids about $$$, and staff at Zynga company - the number one online games company which created Farmville etc. - regarding game design about designing fun activities for family using basic game principles.

The author also read over 200 books on parenting and families - his research shows in this original and conversational-in-tone book. He tells you what happened when he applied the principles in this book to his family. The major issues which parents deal with are covered in this book in plain talk and with humor. This doesn't read like a psychology book. One of the strengths of the book is the diversity of issues it covers. It's not just about how to talk about money to your children. Or how to work with in-laws and grandparents in the family structure. He tells us what some of the most relevant research indicates on these issues.

As a former headmistress, K-8 teacher, nursery school director, SAT instructor, high-need school reading consultant, two-room schoolhouse teacher and parent of two sons, I have worked with thousands of children and families from all walks of life. I agree with many of the principles in this book - they match my experience. They fit the times as they show respect for children, and are principle-based. I believe in teaching children the principles that lead to great character, happiness and success, and try to model and practice them instead of a do-it-because-I-said-so authoritarian approach. The authoritarian approach is out-dated and based on fear. And, as children get older, you want them to rely on principles of virtue and success which you've learned and practiced together as a family, rather than rely on another authority figure. As we know, not all authority figures are good. In business, employees are increasingly not working in an authoritarian structure and, instead, work as a team, often initiating their own projects. The global access to information, along with other dynamics, has made authoritarianism obsolete. Principle-based actions, based on timeless principles of integrity and virtue, will always be current. Learning to be governed by principles early on is indispensable to success.

Three ideas from my experience in working with children I might add to the over 200 ideas in this book. In talking with children, suggest you don't use the work "punishment". You can substitute "consequences" and "privileges" so if a child does something like not get some important work done, the "consequence" is they lose a bit of play time. And you try to create together a consequence that logically suits the action, as in real life. As an adult, if you drink and drive, you lose your license and ability to drive. There's a book on positive discipline which discusses this in more detail. In this book, the author does the same, showing how you agree on consequences together. He's right when he says children are usually stricter than you might be if they have the choice to create their own consequences. You may have to tone down some of their consequences they suggest.

Another effective technique which worked for us is when your kids bicker over something that is usually garden-variety bickering, say that they need a break from each other and you'd like them to play in their rooms, or separate rooms, until they feel they can play happily together again. They go to their rooms for a bit, realize the key to freedom is getting along, and then in a minute or so claim they feel they can play with one another again. They determine how long they stay in there - the key to getting out, and staying out, is not fighting. You ask if they're sure? Yes, they commit. Now they're invested in trying to get along to have freedom. It's great - you don't have to yell, lecture, do lengthy time-outs etc. And you are teaching them that teamwork in getting along leads to happier results. I found they could play for 4 hours, fight, go to their room for a minute or two, and come out and play together for another four hours. Rinse repeat. They are now, at 28 and 26, best friends.

Thirdly, as children get older, found reflective listening works great. You listen to them, and then feed back their thoughts until they feel totally heard and understood. And then, because you have shown respect for their feelings, they usually ask what you think about the situation. Now they are ready to listen, and want your advice. When my eldest wanted to drop out of NYU business school, instead of lecturing what a mistake it would be etc., I just fed back to him what he said in sentences like: sounds like you're frustrated at college, sounds like you want a change... what came out was that he preferred learning by doing and internships more than sitting in class and studying. So, we discussed taking a break and working, or getting an internship. After he considered these options, he decided no, he'd rather finish up and then go to work. Instead of prefacing remarks with I think you should do this, found that after they have felt totally heard and understood through reflecting back their words to them, saying things like "something you might want to consider is" or "one way of thinking about it is..." and then you can tell them some principles you believe applies to their situation. They now really want to hear what you have to say. Most of the time they end up doing what I would have suggested in the first place, but now they are fully invested in their decision and committed to making it work. They have considered all the of the other options with you, and chose this one. They will do their best to make it succeed because it was their choice, not someone else's.

This book takes that principle-based, participatory approach that is extremely effective with children and teens, and makes home a happier place. It also create a life-long foundation for a close, loving relationship with your children which is one of the greatest treasures and pleasures of life. Our sons are our best friends, call us often, and we can discuss anything. We love spending time together.

Loved the idea of family meetings in this book. I wanted to try the ideas in this book, and am looking forward to when grandchildren come along to do so. I just wish this book had been around when my sons were at home, as I would have read it and applied the multitude of fun ideas in it. If you only read one book on parenting, you may want to consider this book as it suggests practical activities to do to enrich your family life and create a happier home.
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23 of 30 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Good ideas presented in an easy-to-digest format, February 23, 2013
By 
Alice from Berkeley (Salinas, CA United States) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Secrets of Happy Families: Improve Your Mornings, Rethink Family Dinner, Fight Smarter, Go Out and Play, and Much More (Hardcover)
As a rule, I HATE touchy-feely, feel good, self-help, inspirational books. I'm too contrary for most management books as I think they are manipulative, and by definition, focus on management, rather than the value of the workers. In other words, this book would normally have not graced my cart but for having heard Mr Feiler being interviewed on NPR. I was so impressed that I immediately ordered the book.

When I received the book, and read Mr Feiler's bio and the list of other books he's written, I almost put down the book again. I am not a Christian, and I find books that seek to solve problems with faith are simplistic at best. Yet, I powered on. I was rewarded with an author who writes engagingly and very well.

I am not a scientist, a researcher, nor a management maven, nor am I working in a large business or corporate setting, so I was unaware of some of these practices. Further, I've been the first one to pooh-pooh mission statements as being top down generated crap. Yesterday, using Mr Feiler's family meeting suggestions, I asked my staff what well in our office this week? I was surprised by some of the answers. What went wrong in our office this week? This answer was not a surprise to me, but was good to discuss. What will we be working on next week? We came up with a new schedule for training that my staff felt was important.

OMG! What a great management tool! My staff was happy to be engaged in a casual discussion that really illuminated some issues! Next week, we're going to work on our mission statement. What defines our beliefs as an office family? I now realize this is so important because it tells my staff what I think is important and gives them a compass when I'm not there. Then, a client came in talking about how his son doesn't understand what's important to him. I immediately gave him my book.

The Secrets may not be so secret. The Secrets may be simplistic. The Secrets may not be using the latest scientific knowledge. However, there's enough good stuff here that I will be ordering five more copies immediately!
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38 of 51 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fight Smarter., February 8, 2013
This review is from: The Secrets of Happy Families: Improve Your Mornings, Rethink Family Dinner, Fight Smarter, Go Out and Play, and Much More (Hardcover)
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This is a very good book for anyone with children, because it gives a host of practical tips. My wife and I tried two of the suggestions right off the bat, and they really worked. The suggestions on family dinner, date night, and fighting smarter are priceless. The most useful part for me was the discussion of things that Gen X wanted from their parents and are giving to their children, but their children really don't want it. For example, today's parents think kids want a lot of attention, but most current parents tend to smother their kids with activities, events, lessons, etc. What today's kids really want--for their parents to be less tired and stressed--would naturally occur if parents relaxed and did the little things that both parents and kids really need. Less hoopla, more solid parenting. Feiler explains how. Excellent book.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great advice, lots of food for thought here, March 3, 2013
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I read parenting books occasionally - mostly when the kids are making me nuts for an extended period of time or I'm feeling like a bit of a failure as a mom. Usually what I read frustrates me because I am reminded that I shouldn't yell - in fact, shouldn't ever lose my cool, or has a complex process that I'm not going to implement long term. I read the sample of this book and decided to buy it. I actually stayed up late reading it and finished it this morning. Normally, only fiction has that affect on me. I've already recommended it to a friend and am thinking of buying it for a few people. I liked the way the information was presented, I like the no-nonsense lack of navel gazing, and the tips provided (not all, but a lot of them) make sense to me. Most of this is specific, checklist task type of items all designed to improve communication and increase happiness and satisfaction within the family. Who doesn't love that?

My family is having our first weekly meeting tonight. This idea appeals to me a lot, because as I read this book, it occurred to me that I'm the one who keeps the calendar/logistics in my head for our family, which stresses me out somewhat, and my kids and sometimes my husband are the ones who can get caught off guard when we're suddenly trying to do three things while heading into as many different directions. We're going to use our meeting to talk about what went well, what we can improve on, have the kids pick their punishments, review the schedule for the week and set a positive tone for the coming days. I love the idea of getting together at breakfast - some days, this makes MUCH more sense than trying to pull off a dinner together given different schedules. I love the suggestions to start empowering the kids.

I'll update in a few weeks after we've been implementing some of these practices. I'm feeling pretty positive at this point.
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19 of 25 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Good, but not great, February 27, 2013
By 
Matthew Aron (Hilton Head, S.C.) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Secrets of Happy Families: Improve Your Mornings, Rethink Family Dinner, Fight Smarter, Go Out and Play, and Much More (Hardcover)
I had been looking forward to reading this book since I read about it on Parade Magazine. Becuase, A) I have a family (who doesn't) and B) I wanted to compare to Scott Haltzman's book of the same name: The Secrets of Happy Families: Eight Keys to Building a Lifetime of Connection and Contentment
Bottom line, Dr. Haltzman's book is better. It's more systematic, organic, and from the perspecdtive of a mental health professional, not a reporter. Bruce Feiler's book is good, and I might have given it 4 stars because it's easy to read and pleasant, but compared to better product out there, I downgraded it.
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33 of 45 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Bruce Feiler knows "The Secret", January 23, 2013
This review is from: The Secrets of Happy Families: Improve Your Mornings, Rethink Family Dinner, Fight Smarter, Go Out and Play, and Much More (Hardcover)
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I've enjoyed Bruce Feiler's writing since reading his book Walking The Bible. He always has something fresh and meaningful to say. Perhaps his mid-life battle with cancer, which prompted him to write The Council of Dads, served as the impetus for turning his focus inward to the family again.

Mr. Feiler's book is like no parenting book, or marriage book, or self-improvement book you've ever read. It's a combination of the three, and more. He examines what makes families functional and happy through the lens of business precepts. That might sound dull to you -- and the first few chapters can be a slog if you don't especially appreciate the best practices approach -- but hang in there, because Mr. Feiler draws some really interesting and practical advice from his inquiries.

For example: Get rid of tired old concepts like the family dinner or husband/wife date nights. Forget all you've ever heard about how to fight fair. Create a mission statement and a unique brand for your family. Employ checklist theories used in emergency rooms to improve your vacations. Look to the Green Berets to plan better family reunions. He even gets into some pretty squishy touchy-feely territory with tips on how to rearrange your furniture to better serve your family's emotional needs, how to relate to grandparents, and how to behave on the sidelines of your child's sporting event.

I really appreciate that Mr. Feiler doesn't just spew dry facts from research papers and social experiments. He seeks out the experts whose ideas he wants to crib for the family and meets with them one-on-one. He interviews Warren Buffet's banker on how to give kids allowances; he talks with Gary Chapman about his bestselling marriage book The Five Love Languages; he sits down with David Starr, who first brought the so-called "agile practices" of business into the family sphere. I also appreciate that he acknowledges that many families want to incorporate spirituality and morality into their infrastructure. "Family values" aren't something to scoff at or snicker about in this book.

When you think of the current state of your family -- haphazard? chaotic? a battle zone? -- it could be dispiriting to read this book all in one sitting. The book is chock full of practical ways to build and maintain a happy family. But, as Mr. Feiler advises many times in the book, you don't need to apply it all at once. But you do need to be willing to -- as he says in the very last sentence -- "Try."
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great book about families!, March 6, 2013
This review is from: The Secrets of Happy Families: Improve Your Mornings, Rethink Family Dinner, Fight Smarter, Go Out and Play, and Much More (Hardcover)
I thought this was a great book about family dynamics and it is easy and enjoyable to read. We have already done a couple of the tips and they have worked great for our family. In particular, I love the idea of a family mission statement. I work for a non-profit and would have never thought that the mission statement concept applied to families. We had a lot of fun putting our mission statement together and I was suprised how everyone in the family really got involved and excited. I look forward to trying some of the other tips as well.
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