Find Your Strongest Life by Marcus Buckingham

Self-help, self-improvement, management and other advice books typically explain how you can fix the things that are wrong with you or improve the things that you are doing badly; few tell you that you’re already doing okay, actually, and not to worry, a message that may not sell a lot of books but that people nevertheless should hear more often.

What I loved about Now, Discover Your Strengths by Marcus Buckingham and Donald O. Clifton was the positive, reassuring message that you should focus more on what you are good at rather than on your shortcomings.

I expected to hear more of that message in Find Your Strongest Life, but somehow it seems the book spent a lot of time describing in detail the problems of women who do not have their priorities straight: they are choosing to lead unfulfilling lives. And maybe you, reader, are one of those women! In fact, if you’re not doing this, that and the other thing, you probably are. If you identify more with this negative anecdote than this positive one, you definitely are, and you need to change.

That’s not a helpful message, actually; just more of the typical self-help snake oil: buy my book, follow my instructions, live a happy life. Don’t buy my book and follow my instructions, and you’ll be miserable.

Perhaps I’m not being totally fair.

The nine life roles Buckingham describes were interesting and useful to read about, and you can take a free Strong Life Test to see which role fits you best. The book also contains a lot of helpful tips on how to be more positive and shift your life towards your strengths.

The book just didn’t strike me as positive overall. Perhaps the underlying message still seems to be, “If you don’t do this, you’ll be unhappy… and you’ll deserve to be.”

What Stood Out

The metaphor that success isn’t like juggling (throwing lots of things away from you), but rather involves choosing which aspects of life to catch and bring closer to you (xviii).

The core insight that happiness often consists of time spent engaged in a challenging task of the specific kind that suits you (8).

The hypothesis that there is no universal karmic justice:

Life is not designed with anyone’s happiness in mind, and it has the disconcerting habit of not rewarding the good as much as we’d expect, of punishing the wicked less vigorously than we’d like, and even, on occasion, of getting the two completely mixed up (24).

The idea that yes, expertise takes practice, but that you’re more likely to practice things you like doing in the first place (164).

When and Why I Read It

Bought it very cheap at an atrium book sale in Singapore because I liked Now, Discover Your Strengths. which has apparently been superseded by Strengthsfinder 2.0.

Genre: non-fiction (self-improvement, business)
Date started / date finished:  20-Mar-16 to 22-Mar-16
Length: 263 pages
ISBN: 9781400202362 (hardcover)
Originally published in: 2009
Amazon link: Find Your Strongest Life

Two Books by Peter Walsh

It’s All Too Much was written before the obnoxiously titled Does This Clutter Make My Butt Look Fat, and seemed a lot more useful.

Both books were written in a tone I found slightly annoying. It was a little too personal and informal. There were many pointed rhetorical questions. I guess I would have preferred a more analytical, objective style.

It’s All Too Much had some useful advice and did inspire me to clean out a few things. The other book convinced me that I should make the effort to buy groceries at the store that’s inconveniently on the other side of a steep flight of stairs and eat at home more often.

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The Mayor of Casterbridge by Thomas Hardy

So, unfortunately, the theme of The Mayor of Casterbridge seems to be that people can’t change. The book is fun to read, though, because there are a lot of secrets revealed dramatically through the interactions of the characters. And because literature uses long sentences with awesome words in them in a way that other stuff I read does not.

See below for quotes from the book, links to other Hardy books, and more on when and why I read this one.

Continue reading The Mayor of Casterbridge by Thomas Hardy

Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse

Siddhartha is a rambling quest for enlightenment with many mistakes and revelations along the way. It’s a classic, but it’s not really my kind of thing.

You can get it free from Gutenberg, but I would recommend buying it so that you get the benefit of a good translation.

When and why I read it

I wanted to download something free from Gutenberg to read on my Kindle while on a trip to Bangkok. This book was recommended to me by a neighbor in New Jersey several years ago.

Genre: fiction (literature & classics); religion and spirituality
Date started / date finished: 05-Mar-16 to 05-Mar-16
Length: 98 pages
Originally published in: 1922 in German
Amazon link: Siddhartha
Gutenberg link: Siddhartha

“Related” books

  • Buddhism Explained by Laurence-Khantipalo Mills
  • I have at least one other book on Buddhism…

Two Works by Oscar Wilde

I enjoyed the Importance of Being Earnest as much because now I don’t feel left out whenever I encounter a cultural reference to it as because it’s funny. It’s a story of deception, mistaken identity and revelation told in the form of a play. Now I really want to see the movie, starring Colin Firth, Reese Witherspoon and Judi Dench!

I did not enjoy The Happy Prince and Other Tales. The stories are morbid and depressing as well as extremely moralistic (spoilers below).

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Telling Lies by Paul Ekman

Paul Ekman’s Telling Lies is a serious, important work in the field of psychology. It’s readable by a lay audience, but it’s not hawking ‘ten simple FBI tricks that anyone can use to detect lies at home and at work’. In fact, the answer Ekman gives as to whether a certain behavior is a clue to lying is always: it depends. There are as many ways to lie as there are people, and as many ways to tell the truth. Furthermore, as you may have guessed from watching spies outwit them in movies, even polygraphs are not reliable lie detectors. Turns out—surprise!—people are complicated.

Continue reading to find out more about Ekman’s approach and findings, what I thought of the book, what I learned about lying, and what else I’ve read on the subject.

Continue reading Telling Lies by Paul Ekman

Six Thinking Hats by Edward de Bono

Do not be turned off by the hard-sell marketing that surrounds every one of Edward de Bono’s books. Just because he over-touts his own work doesn’t mean it’s not valuable.

It may even be that he only repeats variations on the same ideas in all his other books (which he periodically refers to). Having read only one of the many, I can say that there is at least one set of good ideas.

I’d seen the books for sale here and there and read a bit about them online, so I was really looking forward to reading about the thinking hats. I was not disappointed. It’s worth reading the entire short book rather than relying on information about the hats that’s available online.

To find out more about the hat system and why it’s cool, continue reading.

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The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

This work of speculative fiction tells the story of an alternative present-day reality or near future in which the US government has been supplanted by an oppressive religious regime. Fertility rates are down. In the new Republic of Gilead, women have lost their independence. Some are assigned to deserving soldiers as wives, domestic servants or econo-wives while others are forced into prostitution or are made into handmaids—women who will symbolically bear children on behalf of the wives.

The Handmaid’s Tale is a controversial work. It is studied in American high schools, but some parents feel that its sexual scenes are inappropriate for teenagers. Others complain about the negative depiction of Christianity. I would say that it’s a book that, like many others, will not be fully understood by teenagers but is nevertheless well worth reading and pondering.

For more on the plot and themes, continue reading.

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The Praisehaven Salvation Army store has interesting books.

I was intending to try to buy a bench, display shelves and maybe some jeans. Instead I wound up buying 17 books.

I accidentally bought two copies of The Craft of Research. I think I would have noticed if I hadn’t been rushed out of the store at closing time. I think I spent two hours looking at books, and still only had time to look at maybe 75% of what they had.

I was doing so well chewing through the cheap books I bought the last time I got ambushed by a sale. Now I’ve got a whole new batch. Half of them are reference books, but it’s still hundreds of pages added to the stack. An endless stack of which I expect never to see the bottom… I still have but have never read Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Arthur story, The Mists of Avalon, which was given to me as a birthday present when I turned 16.

I suppose there are worse things to be addicted to than used books.

Brilliant by Jane Brox

The topic is interesting, but the book itself is junky. Oops.

Brilliant is not as brilliant as it wants me to think it is. Probably it’s really hard to write a book on such a huge topic, but then isn’t it the author’s and the publisher’s responsibility to focus and communicate the topic appropriately, to create and then meet readers’ expectations?

If you want to know specifically why I didn’t like the book, or what I still managed to learn from it, keep reading.

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