Audio Books · Book & Product Reviews

Atomic Habits by James Clear – book review

Atomic Habits is a book written by James Clear and as you might guess it is about ways to create habits. I happened to opt for the Audible version of this book, which by the way is narrated by the author. It’s not a terribly long read or even listening to it on Audible is less than 6 hours. The paperback version is 205 pages long and is $6 more expensive than the hardcover version on Amazon, which just doesn’t seem right.

What I liked about this book:

The premise behind the book is that the small (atomic) habits you adopt in your life have a major impact on your happiness and success in life. The author explores the psychology that underlies the adoption of a new habit and provides a number of proven approaches to adopting them. The author claims that it is not how long you have been working on a new habit, but instead the number of repetitions. An example would be say I want to take up playing guitar and once a week I practice playing guitar, so over the course of a month I would have put in 4 repetitions. Contrast this to practicing every day and over the course of two weeks I have practiced 14 times. Another interesting tip was to start very small or as the author says make it easy. With this method you would perform a new habit as little as 2 minutes. Now anyone can do a new habit for 2 minutes, but the psychology here is that it makes it easier to stick with it starting out with these small intervals. Anyone can run, practice guitar, workout with weights, keep a journal, or meditate for 2 minutes. What happens over time is you begin to extend that time period as you have already established a habit. Let’s say I go to the gym and start out doing 2 minutes of exercise, pretty soon you say well I took the time to get dressed and drive to the gym, maybe I can do more. The idea here is that I didn’t try to take a monumental leap from not working out to working out for an hour, and I will be less likely to quit before my workouts become a full fledged habit. There are many more techniques explored in this book that I won’t go into that will help you establish and stick with any new habits that you would like to adopt in your life.

What I didn’t like about this book:

While I was very interested in how to build new habits, I was also interested on how to get rid of some of my bad habits. While the author has a chapter on eliminating bad habits, much of that chapter is focused on creating good habits, so I didn’t get a lot of insights on how I might eliminate a bad habit. About all that was said is understand the negative ramifications of a bad habit and focus on the benefits of getting rid of it. Been there, done that!

Recommendation:

Overall I would give this book a thumbs up! There are so many good techniques for building a habit in this book that you are bound take something away from it that you can use yourself to create new habits. The author also goes into great detail on not only how to create a habit, but how to make it stick. One of the assertions the author makes is that it is much more important to learn to love the process or system that you are pursuing than just setting goals. While goals are great, they are not doing. It is more important to take action and fall in love with the idea of gaining some form of mastery than whatever the goal might be. The book did inspire me to pursue some new habits for myself which include:

About the Author James Clear:

Hi there, I’m James Clear. I’m an American author, entrepreneur, and photographer. I’m also the guy behind JamesClear.com (naturally).

This website is the home of my life’s work. I write about habits and human potential. The central question I’m trying to answer through my work is, “How can we live better?”

In order to answer that question, I uncover the latest scientific research and explain it in a way that you can easily understand and actually use. As I share these science-based ideas for living a better life, I like to showcase the habits and rituals of athletes, artists, and entrepreneurs. By analyzing the stories of top performers from many different fields and understanding proven scientific principles, we can start to tease out the common characteristics that make these people the best at what they do.

My specific focus is on self-improvement tips based on proven scientific research.

I believe the best way to change the world is in concentric circles: start with yourself and work your way out from there. If you get yourself sorted out, then that is one less person for the world to worry about. You’ll be in a position to contribute rather than consume. You will add order rather than disorder.

I write about the art and science of how to live better. Science because I am concerned with the root causes of our behavior and the data behind high performance. Art because I want to figure out how to apply these ideas and put them into daily practice.

But I don’t merely write about things. Along the way, I like to try out the concepts for myself as I experiment with building better habits as an entrepreneur, writer, and weightlifter. In the end, my work ends up being one-part storytelling, one-part academic research, one-part personal experiment. It’s a colorful blend of inspirational stories, academic science, hard-earned wisdom.

Source: https://jamesclear.com/about

 

Audio Books · Book & Product Reviews

Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut Jr. – book review

Review

After reading this book it took me several days before writing this review, primarily because I struggled with what I would write about. The whole experience of reading this book was so weird and the plot so bizarre I wasn’t sure how I might explain it.

Cat’s Cradle was written in 1963 by Kurt Vonnegut (see Wikipedia excerpt below) and this was his 4th novel. I listened to this book on Audible.com and it was narrated by Tony Roberts. The book is made up of many small chapters often only a paragraph in length, which is a bit weird but from Kurt Vonnegut it is not totally unexpected. I won’t give away the whole plot but it is essentially about a writer who is interviewing friends and children of one of the people involved in the bombing of Hiroshima during World War II.

There are a number of very bizarre characters in this book and much of it takes place on the island of San Larenzo where the inhabitants follow a religion called Bokononism created by its founder Bokonon. As I listened to this book I was starting to think this is really bizarre and makes no sense, but about half way through the book it started to grow on me and I started really enjoying it.

I think you can best describe this book if you look at the synonyms for bizarre:

strange, peculiar, odd, funny, curious, offbeat, outlandish, eccentric, unconventional, unorthodox, queer, unexpected, unfamiliar, abnormal, atypical, unusual, out of the ordinary, out of the way, extraordinary

Recommendation:

The audio version at Audible was a little over 7 hours in length and the paperback version at Amazon is 286 pages. If you are an Audible fan you will like the Tony Roberts narration, he does an excellent job even with the voices of women. I recommend this book if you have already read a couple of Kurt Vonnegut’s books as it makes it a bit easier to understand where he is going, the characters are great,  and it has an interesting ending. I would not recommend it as your first foray into a Vonnegut novel. My reasoning is that it is a bit disjointed given the way it was written as very small chapters, with some seemingly unrelated. Like I mentioned earlier it all starts to make some sense about half way through the book, but still it is a crazy journey from start to end.

 

Excerpt from Wikipedia about the Author

Kurt Vonnegut Jr. (November 11, 1922 – April 11, 2007) was an American writer. In a career spanning over 50 years, Vonnegut published 14 novels, three short story collections, five plays, and five works of non-fiction, with further collections being published after his death. He is most famous for his darkly satirical, best-selling novel Slaughterhouse-Five (1969).

Born and raised in Indianapolis, Indiana, Vonnegut attended Cornell University but dropped out in January 1943 and enlisted in the United States Army. As part of his training, he studied mechanical engineering at Carnegie Institute of Technology (now Carnegie Mellon University) and the University of Tennessee. He was then deployed to Europe to fight in World War II and was captured by the Germans during the Battle of the Bulge. He was interned in Dresden and survived the Allied bombing of the city by taking refuge in a meat locker of the slaughterhouse where he was imprisoned. After the war, Vonnegut married Jane Marie Cox, with whom he had three children. He later adopted his sister’s three sons, after she died of cancer and her husband was killed in a train accident.

Vonnegut published his first novel, Player Piano, in 1952. The novel was reviewed positively but was not commercially successful. In the nearly 20 years that followed, Vonnegut published several novels that were only marginally successful, such as Cat’s Cradle (1963) and God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater (1964). Vonnegut’s breakthrough was his commercially and critically successful sixth novel, Slaughterhouse-Five. The book’s anti-war sentiment resonated with its readers amidst the ongoing Vietnam War and its reviews were generally positive. After its release, Slaughterhouse-Five went to the top of The New York Times Best Seller list, thrusting Vonnegut into fame. He was invited to give speeches, lectures and commencement addresses around the country and received many awards and honors.

Later in his career, Vonnegut published several autobiographical essays and short-story collections, including Fates Worse Than Death (1991), and A Man Without a Country (2005). After his death, he was hailed as a morbidly comical commentator on the society in which he lived and as one of the most important contemporary writers. Vonnegut’s son Mark published a compilation of his father’s unpublished compositions, titled Armageddon in Retrospect. In 2017, Seven Stories Press published Complete Stories, a collection of Vonnegut’s short fiction including 5 previously unpublished stories. Complete Stories was collected and introduced by Vonnegut friends and scholars Jerome Klinkowitz and Dan Wakefield. Numerous scholarly works have examined Vonnegut’s writing and humor.

References:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kurt_Vonnegut

 

Audio Books · Book & Product Reviews

Player Piano Kurt Vonnegut – book review

As you may be able to tell by now, I am quite a Kurt Vonnegut fan. I believe this is my third book review from Kurt Vonnegut. This was Kurt’s first novel published in 1952 and didn’t get much notice, which is a bit odd considering it is an excellent read or in my case listen on Audible. The narration is performed by Christian Rummel and it is incredible considering all the different characters that are included in this book. If you have read my book reviews before you know that I try not to spoil it for you focusing more on the themes and my own opinion of the work. If you want to know more about Kurt Vonnegut see the excerpt from Wikipedia below.

I swear Kurt Vonnegut could see into the future as the themes from this book have many parallels to what is happening today in terms of technology replacing many jobs that were formerly done by humans. The primary character is Dr. Paul Proteus the head of Engineering at the Ilium, New York plant. The premise of this novel shows the divide between the rich and the poor as machines take over the work formerly done by those they have displaced. There is also a lot of emphasis on blind corporate loyalty and competition for jobs by the elite who are paid 10 to 100’s times the salary of the common man, who by the way lives across the river over the bridge. I won’t go into how it all unfolds, but it all becomes very interesting. Some themes for me included:

  • Man vs. Machine
  • Rich vs. Poor
  • Educated vs. not Educated
  • Collective vs. Individualism
  • Blind Faith in Technology vs. Individual Expression
  • Planned Society vs. Capitalism / Free Enterprise
  • Relative comfort vs. Struggle

Recommendation

I flat out loved this book, the parallels with today are uncanny and the characters are incredibly complex in some ways and at the same time simply symbols of the themes mentioned above. You become emotionally attached to some of the characters such as Dr. Paul Proteus and appalled by others such as his wife Anita. While the battles expressed by the themes provide the opportunity for the author to provide a decisive conclusion to the questions posed in this book, the ending leaves the door open to debate, much like is the case today. If you like Kurt Vonnegut’s writing you will love this book, and if you haven’t had the chance to read or listen to his work, this is a great opportunity to begin where it all started.

A picture of a middle age Kurt Vonnegut

Wikipedia Excerpt

Kurt Vonnegut Jr. November 11, 1922 – April 11, 2007) was an American writer. In a career spanning over 50 years, Vonnegut published 14 novels, three short story collections, five plays, and five works of non-fiction, with further collections being published after his death. He is most famous for his darkly satirical, best-selling novel Slaughterhouse-Five (1969).

Born and raised in Indianapolis, Indiana, Vonnegut attended Cornell University but dropped out in January 1943 and enlisted in the United States Army. As part of his training, he studied mechanical engineering at Carnegie Institute of Technology (now Carnegie Mellon University) and the University of Tennessee. He was then deployed to Europe to fight in World War II and was captured by the Germans during the Battle of the Bulge. He was interned in Dresden and survived the Allied bombing of the city by taking refuge in a meat locker of the slaughterhouse where he was imprisoned. After the war, Vonnegut married Jane Marie Cox, with whom he had three children. He later adopted his sister’s three sons, after she died of cancer and her husband was killed in a train accident.

Vonnegut published his first novel, Player Piano, in 1952. The novel was reviewed positively but was not commercially successful. In the nearly 20 years that followed, Vonnegut published several novels that were only marginally successful, such as Cat’s Cradle (1963) and God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater (1964). Vonnegut’s breakthrough was his commercially and critically successful sixth novel, Slaughterhouse-Five. The book’s anti-war sentiment resonated with its readers amidst the ongoing Vietnam War and its reviews were generally positive. After its release, Slaughterhouse-Five went to the top of The New York Times Best Seller list, thrusting Vonnegut into fame. He was invited to give speeches, lectures and commencement addresses around the country and received many awards and honors.

Later in his career, Vonnegut published several autobiographical essays and short-story collections, including Fates Worse Than Death(1991), and A Man Without a Country (2005). After his death, he was hailed as a morbidly comical commentator on the society in which he lived and as one of the most important contemporary writers. Vonnegut’s son Mark published a compilation of his father’s unpublished compositions, titled Armageddon in Retrospect. In 2017, Seven Stories Press published Complete Stories, a collection of Vonnegut’s short fiction including 5 previously unpublished stories. Complete Stories was collected and introduced by Vonnegut friends and scholars Jerome Klinkowitz and Dan Wakefield. Numerous scholarly works have examined Vonnegut’s writing and humor.