Book Review: The Happiness Manifesto by Nic Marks

One of the depressing things about watching TV is that producers (and in particular Hollywood-based producers) seem to have a very skewed concept of what happiness comes from.

Here's a bit hint: it's not from wealth or fame.

I've made enough trips around the Sun to know that anyone who believes what that TV is telling them, is being conned, big time.

Now I'm not saying that being poor is fun either. It's not. In particular, anyone who's deeply in debt would understand that they have very little control of their own lives.

I've known quite a lot of seriously wealthy people, and I can tell you that so often, they are some of the saddest, messed up people that I've ever met. If you've ever looked into a family many years after a big lottery win, things aren't special like the lottery ads would have you believe.

Things aren't helped by politicians who seem to assume that endless growth in GDP for a nation is the best indicator of doing well. It's not. In his book The Happiness Manifesto, Nic Marks wishes we had a measure of happiness of the people of a country, rather than a measure of GDP. In the big scheme of things, it would be far more useful if the policies being pursued by governments were about enhancing the quality of lives, and overall happiness of the citizens.

So it's interesting to get into the real roots of happiness.

I have not the slightest doubt that happiness in life comes more from accumulating experiences and friendships than it does from accumulating wealth and power.

Marks founded the Centre for Well-Being in London, as an independent think tank. He's spent a lot of time looking into happiness and what leads to it, and in this book, he suggests a lot of approaches that could be taken to have governments head in a much better direction, and how these approaches might be applied to a variety of disciplines. He'd rather see us measuring an HPI (happy planet index) rather than GDP (gross domestic product).

Bottom line?

I really enjoyed this book. I particularly liked the way that Marks didn't just tell us vague concepts, but drilled into how they could be applied in practice.

Greg's rating: 8 out of 10

Book Review: You are not so smart by David McRaney

About a year ago, I attended a conference called DevOps Days in Newcastle, Australia. I wish I'd liked the conference more. But one of the memorable things from the conference was a keynote by David McRaney.

All the people around me seemed to find David's keynote interesting. Ironically though, I also heard many of them wondering what on earth it had to do with the conference topics. David provided example after example of how we all suffer from confirmation bias. I enjoyed his keynote.

So when I saw he had a book entitled You are not so smart (and subtitled Why You Have Too Many Friends on Facebook, Why Your Memory Is Mostly Fiction, and 46 Other Ways You're Deluding Yourself), I was intrigued to read it.

Like I was with the conference, I ended up with mixed feelings about this book. I saw a comment that said it was "a populist introduction to psychological delusions such as cognitive bias", and I think that's pretty accurate.

A big problem for me is that I listened to it as an audio book, and I wish they'd used a different narrator. In fact, I wish David had narrated the book himself. He has a wonderful sarcastic sense of humor, and that didn't come across with the narrator reading the book.

The book provides example after example of how we delude ourselves, and very importantly, how our memories are so very poor, no matter how much we trust them.

I really was hoping for more in-depth discussions on findings, etc. but I suppose the book is targeted at the community at large.

Mind you, after going through the book, it's quite clear how mass ignorance continues to be such an ongoing problem. In one reader's comments, I read that David Sirota (the author of Back to Our Future: How the 1980s Explain the World We Live In Now) had said that "Anybody still self-aware enough to wonder why society now worships wilful stupidity should read this book". That's probably a fair call.

Bottom line?

I enjoyed some of the stories in this book, but not all. It does offer a good introduction to cognitive biases, particularly confirmation bias in an easy to consume format.

Greg's rating: 5 out of 10

Book Review: The Rosie Result by Graeme Simsion

I've mentioned previously that I've come across Graeme Simsion previously in his role as a well-known data modeller, based in Melbourne here in Australia. I've recorded a podcast with him many years ago, on my SDU Podcast series. So perhaps I have a slight bias towards him as an author.

I was so excited to see the endless well-deserved congratulations he's received for his initial Rosie Project book. I thoroughly enjoyed that book.

I also enjoyed The Rosie Effect but not quite as much. Sequels are tough to write, I'm sure. I've had a few people tell me that they loved the first one, but didn't really like the second one.

So I didn't know how I'd react to the third in the series about Don Tillman: The Rosie Result.

I shouldn't have worried. It's still not quite at the level of the first book but I enjoyed it more than the second book. At this point, following the travels and travails of Don Tillman feels like looking back in on an old friend, to see how he's going. I've always loved how Graeme has made Don both quirky and detached, yet also so very human.

In this third book in the series, his son Hudson is at school and dealing with lots of issues, and his parents are wondering about getting him an autism assessment. As the book starts, Don is in trouble at work, and Rosie seems to be battling her job too.

I loved the continuing sideline story about the cocktail bar.

And so many of the discussions about areas in Melbourne are really familiar to me.

I heard a rumour that movie rights might be on the cards. I hope so.

Bottom line?

I thoroughly enjoyed this third book in the series. It continues Don's story seamlessly, and I'm looking forward to his next adventures. (I presume there will be another). Nicely done Graeme !

Greg's rating: 9 out of 10

Book Review: The Secret Garden (Mandarin Companion)

I've mentioned lately that I've read a few Mandarin Companion books. I've just finished another one of these graded readers written in simplified Chinese. It was The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett (Author), Renjun Yang (Editor), Cui Yu (Editor), John Pasden (Editor), Jared Turner (Introduction).

It's an adaptation of a classic tale. In this version, a young girl who isn't happy with her life (her parents don't seem to care for her), gets up one day to find they and their friends who had been visiting are all dead from a mystery illness.

She's sent to live with her uncle who has a grand house but seems pretty cold. We learn that's because he's sad that his wife died. And his son is a very sickly boy. His wife had a garden that she loved but he'd closed it up and kept everyone out.

But the young girl (Li Ye) finds the garden with the help of a small bird and a friend, takes the sickly son there and he progressively gets better.

It's a great story, and I was even more excited to find they've released this series of books as audio books as well, so I've started listening to the same book.

Bottom line?

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It's another book that's written using only basic (almost childlike) language but still has an interesting story.

Greg's rating: 9 out of 10

Note: as an Amazon Associate I earn (a pittance) from qualifying purchases but whether or not I recommend a book is unrelated to this. One day it might just help cover some of my site costs. (But given the rate, that's not really likely anyway).

Book Review: The Monkey's Paw (Mandarin Companion)

In a previous post, I mentioned how much I liked the "Mandarin Companion" series of books. They are written in graded levels of Chinese. I've recently read another book in this series: The Monkey's Paw.

This is a classic tale that's based around the concept of "be careful of what you wish for".

It's the tale of a family (mother and father and their adult son). The son is a factory worker. A mysterious old friend of the father visits them one day. He tells them about a monkey's paw that has the power to grant three wishes to whoever holds it. While warning them that a great toll can be felt by those that take the wishes, he still ends up giving it to them.

And as you can imagine, they later end up wishing they'd never heard of it.

Bottom line?

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book. Although the language is again a bit repetitive and simplistic in places, once again I'd say that the level was perfect for me. It's so much more interesting to read these books with more teen or adult themes where the writing is still at a child level.

Greg's rating: 9 out of 10

Book Review: Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Curly Haired Company (Mandarin Companion)

I’ve often heard that the best way to learn any language is to spend a lot of time reading the language, particularly books. I really think that’s true. So, given my interest in learning Mandarin (Chinese), I wanted to spend more time reading the language.

Now the challenge is always that until you know enough language, it’s hard to read books at all, and if you have to keep looking up all the words, that gets painful pretty quickly too. I’ve heard that ideally, you want to already know about 90% of the words. You want to already know almost all of the common words and need to look up the words that are harder for you.

Now the problem with that is that most books that I could read like that were designed for children, and it’s hard to keep your interest going when you’re just reading children’s books.

So, I was really excited to come across a series of graded readers for Mandarin. The first book I read was Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Curly Haired Company: Mandarin Companion Graded Readers Level 1 (Chinese Edition) by Renjun Yang (Adapter), Arthur Conan Doyle (Author), John Pasden (Editor).

Mandarin Companion Graded Readers

I was already familiar with John through his previous work on I gather he’s been the driving force in these readers. The description of the concept is as follows:

Mandarin Companion is a series of easy-to-read novels in Chinese that are fun to read and proven to accelerate language learning. Every book in the Mandarin Companion series is carefully written to use characters, words, and grammar that a learner is likely to know.

Level 1 is intended for Chinese learners at an upper-elementary level. Most learners will be able to approach this book after one to two years of formal study, depending on the learner and program. This series is designed to combine simplicity of characters with an easy-to-understand storyline which helps learners to expand their vocabularies and language comprehension abilities. The more they read, the better they will become at reading and grasping the Chinese language.

For those who can read some Chinese, this typical page should give you an idea of the level that the book uses:

This book is an adaptation of a Sherlock Holmes story. In the book, Holmes is called “Gao Ming” (or Tall & Clever). I was surprised how much fun the book was, and how they managed to keep the twists and turns in the plot.

Bottom line?

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book. Although I found it a bit repetitive and simplistic in places, I'd say that the level was perfect for me. I just had a few words here and there that I needed to look up, and, very conveniently, in the Kindle version, they’ve highlighted words they suspect you might not know, and you just click them to go to a definition, and you can return directly to where you were reading. I'll be reading more of these.

Greg's rating: 9 out of 10

Book Review: The Science of Likability

A while back I purchased a number of Audible titles, thinking I'd listen to them as I traveled around. I grabbed a number of ones related to presentation and I thought I'd also check out some general self-improvement titles.

What I didn't realize, is although they had different titles, I'd basically bought a number of copies of essentially the same book, but with different titles. This was one of them.

The Science of Likability: 27 Studies to Master Charisma, Attract Friends, Captivate People, and Take Advantage of Human Psychology is a book by Partick King. This book is a 2017 update of a 2015 book that titled The Science of Likability: Charm, Wit, Humor, and the 16 Studies That Show You How to Master Them. 

However, it's not just this series of books. I was amazed how many other books by Patrick King I had inadvertently purchased. After listening to most of them, even though they all have different titles, so many basically deliver the same message.

And what is sad though, is that I didn't really find the message all that compelling in the first place. Many of the techniques that Patrick discussed seemed pretty cheesy to me. However, I'm sure there is an audience for this type of book. You only have to read the comments on Amazon to find how many people this sort of content helps.

I also have many introverted friends who I think would find many ideas in these books useful. If you are hesitant to join a group of people, or to enter a discussion, or to meet new people, or just to break the ice with someone you don't know, this could well be the book for you. While I find meeting and talking to new people quite invigorating, I do not underestimate how intimidated many people are about doing these things.

Bottom line?

I think I'm the wrong audience for Patrick's books. If however, you struggle with introversion and shudder when you think about talking to new people, etc. this book could well be for you.

Greg's rating: 5 out of 10

Book Review: The Little Book of Luck

One of the things that I love about digital books and audio books is how quickly I can go from a friend talking about one, to actually having it. This book is one of those. I can't actually remember who recommended this one but I recall looking it up immediately and purchasing it. It's The Little Book of Luck by Richard Wiseman.

Wiseman is a professor for public understanding of psychology in the UK. He states his interests as "unusual areas including deception, luck, humour, and the paranormal".

I don't share his interest in the paranormal. While it can mean things that are just quite out of the ordinary, the common usage of paranormal now tends to be things that aren't able to easily explained (at least right now), and that seem to break things like the laws of nature. I don't see any concrete evidence for any of those.

However, this book tackled "luck".

I've spent quite a bit of time in Asian communities over the last decade and "luck" is something that all these communities seem to have a profound belief in, and seek out. Try selling a house number 24 to a Chinese person compared to selling them a house number 8. Lots of "luck" with that.

Clearly, I don't believe that "luck" is a thing. And while Wiseman doesn't come out and say that directly, he does give plenty of hints that what appears to be luck is often just a positive view of something that's happened.

I like the way that the book talks about ways to view the world, and basically, building an optimistic outlook all the time.

It's only a short book and while you could read the whole thing in half an hour if you rushed through it, it's worth spending some time contemplating his ideas.

Bottom line?

I didn't expect to but I did enjoy reading this small book,  and it's a pretty easy read. I was really expecting more but it might be just the thing to brighten your day.

Greg's rating: 6 out of 10

Book Review: Pro Power BI Architecture

One of my Kiwi buddies who specializes in Power BI is Reza Rad. I was pleased to see he had a set of eBooks now on Power BI but was especially happy to see he had a book called Pro Power BI Architecture.

There are lots of books around to discuss how to use Power BI but there's been a real lack of books on architecting solutions using Power BI. So if you want to learn to develop dashboards or reports, this isn't the book for you. Reza has other books for that.

I enjoyed reading the book and I liked the degree of coverage it gave to these topics.

If you are looking for ways to integrate Power BI into your solutions architecture, this book is a pretty good starting point.

What I was really hoping for though, was more info on administration. Mind you, the book doesn't claim to provide that. I keep getting asked about materials around administration issues. Perhaps that's another edition for Reza to consider. But the architects who need high level overviews of all the key topics should be pretty happy.

Bottom line?

I enjoyed reading this book, and it's a pretty easy read. Great for architects considering Power BI.

Greg's rating: 7 out of 10

Book Review: The Happy Mind

Over the years, I've been really interested in what makes people happy in life. I'm always fascinated by people who think that wealth, products, properties, the latest handbag or car, new partner, etc. will make them happy. I'm sure the media has tried to tell them that, but it's never been true.

I've had friends all colleagues all across the wealth spectrum, and I can say without any doubt in my mind, that some of the richest people I know are also some of the most unhappy. Worse, I've seen money destroy families so many times.

Now I'm not trying to say that poverty makes you happy either. It can lead to serious consequences. Debt can be worse. I've always advised family and friends against debt wherever possible.

If you are in debt, you have no control over your life.

Apart from money, what else?

I know though that money isn't the only issue around happiness. I've often spent a lot of time thinking about this issue, and why people keep chasing things that won't make them happy anyway, be it new material possessions, a new partner, or whatever. They spend their lives thinking that if they just get that next thing, life will be better. Here's a hint: it probably won't be.

I have always admired my friends that live simple happy lives.

I was intrigued to see a new book called The Happy Mind: A Simple Guide to Living a Happier Life Starting Today by Kevin Horsley and Louis Fourie. It's published by Tck Publishing.

Kevin Horsley (@KevinHorsley on Twitter) is an interesting guy. He writes quite a bit on brain techniques and memory. I'm not as interested in his topics on how to remember long lists of things (like the list of US presidents), although I'm sure some people would love that. But I was fascinated to see a book dedicated to thoughts on just how to be happy.

Louis seems to write on a wide variety of topics, from this to paleo to economics in South Africa.

The book is easy to read. It has a discussion on happiness right up front and defines what that looks like. Then for comparison, it dives into what unhappiness really looks like in practice. There are many, many good lessons in those sections.

I don't share his religious views (although they were only lightly mentioned) but I particularly liked the discussion on how pleasure isn't happiness, yet it's often mistaken for it.

And then the book breaks into a significant number of short discussions on a whole range of happiness-related topics.

Bottom line?

I enjoyed reading this book, and many times, it made me stop, pause, and think. That's all I can ask for in a book like this. I enjoyed it and I think it contains many great life lessons.

Greg's rating: 8 out of 10