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Tangent Time!: Nonfiction #1

So despite the name of this blog, I do very much like to read books that don’t have stories, ie most non-fiction. I also sometimes want to talk about random things, which has led to my decision to add Tangent Time! as a when-I-feel-like-it feature of the blog. If you are only interested in reviews for Sci-Fi and Fantasy, then feel free to ignore these posts :-).

In any case, as any of you who follow my WWW’s know, I’ve been reading a fair amount of nonfiction lately, so I’m going to glomp together two of the nonfiction that I’ve read in the last year that I feel like telling people about briefly. In this nonfiction post I will include The Happiness Advantage by Shawn Achor and Guns, Germs and Steel by Jared Diamond (though I listened to only the abridged version). In the next one I will write about Pricing Life by  Peter A. Ubel, MD and I’m Feeling Lucky by Douglas Edwards. 

 Title: The Happiness Advantage
Author: Shawn Achor
Pages: 210 hardcover
Summary: The idea of this book is that a lot of psychology research over the past few decades has shown that people are much more productive, creative and ultimately successful in all aspects of life if they are happy. This covers happiness in terms of deep satisfaction with the direction of your life and shallower happiness of feeling appreciated and cared about by the people around you, etc. The book presents the evidence throughout with actual studies that have shown these results and talks about studies that have shown how people can increase their happiness in their life with deliberate steps, such as purposefully noticing the nice things that happen during the day and purposefully giving other people compliments. It tends towards advice to managers about how to increase their employees productivity, but as someone who isn’t a manager currently, it was still helpful.

I’m generally a happy person and have found evidence in my own life that I am much more productive when I maintain that happiness, but it was nice to get reassurance that I’m not crazy and advice that I will keep in the back of my mind for when times are tough (ie in grad school) of how to continue to maintain a happier mindset.

This book is definitely pop science and some of his explanations of scientific studies gave this science major the heeby jeebies, but for the most part it looks like good science and good advice for people who really want to reach that upper crust of performance in their lives but don’t know what they are doing wrong.

 Title: Guns, Germs, and Steel
Author: Jared Diamond
 Hours (audiobook): ~5 abridged copy
 Summary: For anyone who has ever wondered why the heck the European and Asian civilizations were able to make ships and conquer other civilizations, this book tries to figure that out. A lot of the problems of today’s world comes from the inequities of the civilizations of the past, and at first blush it can be confusing to students of history why the Spanish made ships and guns before the people of South America. Diamond explains that a lot of the development of history’s civilizations depended on the domestic-able plants and animals in the area and the fact that Europe and Asia have a major axis that goes East to West where as Africa and the Americas are oriented North to South. This actually makes a big difference in terms of how easily crops can be adapted from neighbors. The major geographic barriers also play a role in how easily ideas and inventions can get spread between cultures. All of this paints a fairly convincing story of why people in one area progressed so much faster than others, giving us the world we currently have.

As stated above, I only listened to the abridged audiobook of this book because that is what I had available, but I found the audiobook still very enlightening, unlike most abridged books that I’ve encountered. The full paper book is quite long, and so if you want an idea of the argument but not all the gory details, I do recommend the abridged version. In any case, I think this book makes a very important argument because it presents evidence that it wasn’t something special about the genes of the people who became the conquerors, it was simply the luck of the land that they happened to inherit.

Well, that was a longer post than expected, but I hope any of you non-fiction buffs out there have enjoyed! Anyone have any good nonfiction recommendations for me?

-A

Footnotes: Happy Easter to those who celebrate :) Happy Sunday to those who don’t :)

© 2012, Anya. All rights reserved.

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  1. […] Guns, Germs and Steel by Jared Diamond – Look, a non-fiction! The inequalities in today’s world are obviously caused by various major events in human history, including European colonization of large parts of the world. The question then is how did Europe get so advanced in technology (guns, germs and steel) before the other parts of the world. It’s not because of some innate superiority, I promise, it’s because of a combination of how the continents are laid out on the globe, the wild plants and animals that live in the various parts of the world and how those factors combined. If you just want the info fast, feel free to go for the abridged version, but I honestly think everyone should read/listen to what this book has to say. […]

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