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Essays from the Nick of Time: Reflections and Refutations
Essays from the Nick of Time: Reflections and Refutations
by Mark Slouka
Edition: Paperback
Price: $14.82
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Tapping a darkly ruminative vein, September 7, 2011
Slouka taps a darkly ruminative and tempered vein that speaks of a conscientious engagement with the way we live, in its artifacts, and in public polity. While he writes predominantly of the American experience, his essays probe the nature and effects of our internal conversations, public rhetoric and reflexive relations with others in a way that seems universal. Erudite and closely considered, he writes with a sensibility that refuses - and calls on us to refuse - superficial sentimentalization or pat generalizations. Rather, he seems to champion a kind of intransigence and clarity of stance on issues e.g. the nature of democracy or the value of the humanities that is does not always sit easy but which stirs a sense of compunction. I chanced on this volume and am delighted at my discovery - can't wait to read the rest of his works.


Nocturne: A Journey in Search of Moonlight
Nocturne: A Journey in Search of Moonlight
by James Attlee
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $26.00
58 used & new from $0.01

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Leaden Moon Fails to Beguile, August 17, 2011
Something about this volume of moon-themed essays made it seem plodding, by which I mean that it called (in me at least) for a level of engagement and sustained attention that felt far more like work than I was expecting i.e. not quite the thing to read on the beach or summer vacation. To qualify myself a bit though, that might say more about my attention span than the book per se even though I read quite a fair bit, but the seemingly sluggish sense of progression did not help. There's a certain academic staidness to the author's cadence, along with a kind of acuity of attention to minutiae that reminded me of Annie Dillard in Pilgrim at Tinker Creek or Nicholson Baker in The Size of Thoughts. That's not to say that it didn't have merits - the author's breadth of knowledge and references spanning various cultures, realms of knowledge and historical periods had the effect of making one feel that much more informed when one's done reading. The theme though might lead one to expect a bit more levity, a less mulishly introspective and more engaging, lyrically aesthetic or poetic take and approach. I get that the author might have intended to convey a sense of reverence, awe or even devotion but for me at least, his prose seemed to have breached a thin line tilting towards pedantry even though he makes up (somewhat) for this with the range of his nuanced and erudite musings on how different cultures have regarded and appreciated the moon e.g. Japanese cultural tropes and practices, poetry through the ages, paintings of moonlit subjects and landscapes etc. Overall, despite the incipient impatience roused in me at times, the essays provided a larger sense of moon appreciation beyond our individual ken and fancies.


Just Do Something: A Liberating Approach to Finding God's Will, or, How to Make a Decision Without Dreams, Visions, Fleeces, Impressions, Open Doors, Random Bible Verses, Casting Lots, Liver Shivers, Writing in the Sky by Kevin DeYoung
Just Do Something: A Liberating Approach to Finding God's Will, or, How to Make a Decision Without Dreams, Visions, Fleeces, Impressions, Open Doors, Random Bible Verses, Casting Lots, Liver Shivers, Writing in the Sky by Kevin DeYoung
by Kevin DeYoung
Edition: Unknown Binding
24 used & new from $17.01

5.0 out of 5 stars Panacea for those hamstrung and agonized over decisions, August 17, 2011
Pragmatic advice in a spiritual vein given with a light touch, this short volume offers perspectives on common misperceptions about divining God's will and provides Scriptural bases for decision making. Essentially the message is that there is no shortcut, and that wisdom and seeking the Kingdom of God should precede worldly concerns and worries/anxieties that lie at the root of decision-paralysis. Interspersed with light humor, this volume is a very welcome and encouraging read for those afflicted with doubts about life, one's 'calling' and attitudes on how to deal with moral questions. The author also offers a critique of the numerous ways in which we tend to engage in magical thinking e.g. picking or interpreting random Bible verses, abnegating responsibility for our own decisions by claiming something to be God's will, or pseudo-sanctifying decisions just because they were prayed over. The advice to gain wisdom and guidance through study of Scripture, seeking good advice from people around you and prayer are simple but deserve resounding reminders such as this - a highly recommended read.


A Year of Living Generously: Dispatches from the Frontlines of Philanthropy
A Year of Living Generously: Dispatches from the Frontlines of Philanthropy
by Lawrence Scanlan
Edition: Paperback
Price: $15.32
42 used & new from $0.01

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Examining the Complicated Nexus Between Individual Doing-Good versus Wider Devolution of Responsibility, July 26, 2011
In recounting his month-long experiences on attachment at 12 different social sector non-profits within Canada and various other countries, the author provided an intimate examination of the nexus between those served and the agencies purporting to serve them. The non-profits included a hospice, a prisoner rehab agency, the Habitat for Humanity, a homeless shelter, a waterways environment watchdog agency and a First Nations aboriginal educational institution in Canada amongst others. Scanlan's direct encounters and interviews with agency staff, volunteers and those served not only presented humane and compassionate profiles of those who are often dismissed or written-off from public consciousness; their views and testimonials from the ground as-it-were were also instructive first-hand perspectives that question and critique city council and government policies as to what constitutes adequate provision. Scanlan sought in his year-long exercise to examine our relation (as supporters, donors, volunteers and community members) to agencies and wider communities in addressing social issues in the world. Through his extended observations, sensitive probing and nuanced take, Scanlan raised complicated questions and implications as to how individual doing-good may salve and glancingly absolve moral guilt but which, in the bigger scheme of things, may also result in furthering the gradual devolution of governmental and wider social responsibility. High-profile philanthropists like Bill Gates et al further add to the illusion that social justice and aspects of the social contract could be outsourced to private foundations and charities at no cost to governments. His overall message is however clear - that greater advocacy and wider engagement of the public with causes, underlying issues and the under-served is increasingly crucial in the face of a trend towards decreased official support, funding and devolution of responsibility to the private and religious sectors.


Better Under Pressure: How Great Leaders Bring Out the Best in Themselves and Others
Better Under Pressure: How Great Leaders Bring Out the Best in Themselves and Others
by Justin Menkes
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $21.95
83 used & new from $0.01

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Nuanced Insights and Guidance for Thriving Under Pressure, July 14, 2011
An insightful book although given that the author is a psychologist, the nuanced and subtle portrayals and understanding of human and leadership characteristics would be expected. Menkes discussed three key catalysts that would engender successful functioning under duress within modern enterprises i.e. Realistic Optimism, Subservience to Purpose and Finding Order in Chaos. These catalysts were discussed at length with extensive anecdotes and examples drawn from interviews and encounters with CEOs. Menkes took a notably meta perspective when dissecting his subjects' responses, examining not only the content of what was said but the manner they said it, their demeanor, subtle physical cues and intonations. In themselves, Menkes' observational cues and perceptual expertise were interesting and provide useful subtle lessons, making this a highly recommended read with conceptual tools for reflection, guidance and self-development in leadership. Of particular interest (at least to this reader) was how Menkes touched on leaders' role in 'signaling' through their actions and demeanor (although he did not use this term), or how leaders and subordinates are linked through their interactive exchange i.e. the former's conduct and example sets the tone and context for organizational potential, common purpose and talent to emerge.

While the focus is on the traits of key executives and leaders of organizations, the portrayed and espoused strengths of certain featured leaders do not seem to be necessarily reflected in their organizations' practices at all levels. Case in point is McDonalds, whose CEO was portrayed in the book as a strong promoter of a talent development ethos; numerous anecdotes elsewhere suggest that internal staff development practices are far more disparate and uneven than suggested or implied. As such, the salutary traits of some featured leaders and the practices they claim to promote might be taken with a pinch of salt as they may not necessarily extend to at all levels within their organizations in reality.

The organizations and CEOs from whom Menkes drew his insights and conclusions in this book were almost exclusively North American. While this is largely the norm in business and management books, one might wonder how universal these catalysts are and if there might be any differences in different contexts and cultures in other parts of the world e.g. where governments, historical operating environments or bureaucracies have a heavier hand.
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Atlas of Remote Islands
Atlas of Remote Islands
by Judith Schalansky
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $20.40
105 used & new from $7.17

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Vicarious island-hopping at its best, July 8, 2011
This slim volume represents (for me) vicarious travel at its best. Each double-facing page features an island complete with topographical map, location relative to other land masses and assorted skeletal historical facts. Best of all in my opinion however are the short 1-page accompanying texts featuring aspects of each island's geographical features and highlighting a particular episode or event in the island's past. It is this that brings each island to life - uniquely and indelibly. A perfect enticement to day-dreaming of faraway time-out-of-time lands, and perhaps also a more pictorial and succinct companion volume to Simon Winchester's Outposts although the latter takes on more of a travelogue narrative.


Handing One Another Along: Literature and Social Reflection
Handing One Another Along: Literature and Social Reflection
by Robert Coles
Edition: Hardcover
98 used & new from $0.01

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Literature as a window to others & a reflection of ourselves, June 2, 2011
Other reviewers have already touched on the background to these essays so I won't repeat them here; my main takeaway from this volume is the way Coles advocates for literature's role as a vehicle for reflection that enables the reviving and inculcating of tempered and compassionate engagement with social others through empathy i.e. taking on the lived experiences and personae of characters encountered and coming to know their hearts' reasons that the reason may not know. Approaching literature in this way also serves to hold up a mirror to ourselves and our frailties as we live among others. Drawing on his experiences as a psychologist/psychiatrist as well as social commentator/writer, he highlighted encounters that did not always show himself in the best light but which served to illustrate even at our most self-aware and liberal-minded positions in life, roles and assumptions can blind us to seeing reality despite our best intentions. A worthwhile read and well-cadenced to boot, with well-teased-out references to literary exemplars for the kinds of notations and instances of human sensitivity that would help attune us to 'being with others'.


The Age of the Unthinkable: Why the New World Disorder Constantly Surprises Us And What We Can Do About It
The Age of the Unthinkable: Why the New World Disorder Constantly Surprises Us And What We Can Do About It
by Joshua Cooper Ramo
Edition: Paperback
Price: $12.45
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Another Paean to Self-Efficacy, Proactivity and Adaptation, March 16, 2011
The book presents ideas and perspectives on how to effect rather than merely react to impending changes through deeper connections between people and interests groups, and by understanding how slower acting variables have greater and more lasting impacts. The author critiques the old geopolitical techniques of brute-force gamesmanship and suggests that more oblique powers of indirect influence would be more effective. Ultimately he posits that inevitable and uncontrollable societal changes to come should be better managed and responded to by empowered individuals. The language tends toward hyperbolism and bombast; at times Cooper sounds so enthralled by his take on things that he seems to gloss over them but overall the ideas were worth considering.


Bread of Three Rivers: The Story of a French Loaf
Bread of Three Rivers: The Story of a French Loaf
by Sara Mansfield Taber
Edition: Paperback
Price: $19.00
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars For Love of a Loaf of Bread, March 16, 2011
An engaging socio-artifactual account tracing the origins of the ingredients comprising the author's favorite loaf of French bread, Taber is clearly a Francophile who writes with clear relish and in a manner befitting a travelogue albeit a rather erudite one. The interweaving of social commentary, local history and scientific background made for a very enjoyable read, although certain Frenchisms (if there is such a word) creep in occasionally in terms of her turns of phrases that verge on preciousness. Nonetheless, the book would probably leave you feeling more discerning about your next loaf of bread and for that alone, it would be worth your time.


The Finkler Question
The Finkler Question
by Howard Jacobson
Edition: Paperback
Price: $14.49
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0 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars An Eloquent Pastiche a la Woody Allen, March 16, 2011
This review is from: The Finkler Question (Paperback)
Archly funny in a self-ironic and solipsistic way, Jacobson manages to poke irreverent fun at Jewishness as only a Jew himself could, enunciating things that would be construed racist by anyone else. While I cannot claim to know much about stereotypes of Jewishness, I thought he captured some elements that seemed familiar i.e. the argumentativeness, fussy self-examination, intensity and verbosity, self-castigation and self-consciousness over their being Jews etc. Woody Allen comes to mind, which may be a good thing if one's taste runs in that direction. To my mind, Jacobson paints an obsessive and unflattering portrait in his characters but they serve his purpose in eloquent pastiche.


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