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Self-Help / Relationships

  • Ask: How to Relate to Anyone

    by Daniel R. Solin

    Rating: 8.25

    Idea: Solin pens a clear, prescriptive nonfiction book focused on how asking the right questions and listening to the answers can lead to better problem solving. 

    Prose: The writing is abundantly clear and filled with warmth. 

    Originality:  The author's suggestion that success and happiness have much to do with how we listen to, communicate with, and validate others, is at once intuitive and entirely novel. Solin's approach to self-improvement is wise, compassionate, and necessary, while many of the suggestions made (sometimes high self-confidence can be a detriment), are enlightening.

    Character/Execution: Through its unique approach and welcoming tone, Solin will readily connect with readers--effectively practicing what he preaches. While the work presents an intriguing framing concept and actionable tools for readers, it may benefit from updated references and sources in order to make it more contemporary and immediate.

    Blurb: This engaging book is an encouraging, enthusiastic guide to gaining admiration, business--and happiness--by not just asking questions, but asking the right questions. 

  • How My Brain Works

    by Barbara Koltuska-Haskin

    Rating: 8.00

    Idea: How My Brain Works offers a clear, detailed introduction to the field of neuropsychology and how neuropsychological evaluation can benefit individuals seeking to assess their overall cognitive functioning. The case studies the author presents will be of particular benefit to individuals studying neuropsychology themselves, while material related to "brain games," mindfulness, spiritual connectedness, and emotional wellness will appeal to general readers.

    Prose/Style: Koltuska-Haskin is a very competent writer, crafting well-organized and clear chapters. While the work doesn't provide in-depth analysis of specific conditions, it addresses how neuropsychology can provide a roadmap for better understanding and treatment of substance use disorders, depression, ADHD, and a broad range of other emotional and cognitive problems.

    Originality: There are many books that touch on the topics of meditation, mindfulness, eating well, etc., many of which the author recommends for brain health. These sections of the text are not particularly novel, but the focus on neuropsychology is certainly unique. 

    Character Development/Execution: This is a solidly informative introduction to neuropsychology for students as well as readers who are curious about their brain health and wish to maximize their cognitive potential.

  • The Cluttered Mind

    by Deborah McKenna

    Rating: 8.00

    Plot: The Cluttered Mind breaks down concepts to be accessible to the reader, simplifies without being overly pedantic, and brings new ideas about recovery and change over time into the discussion.

    Prose/Style: The book showcases stellar writing, creating a book that is quite well-crafted and a pleasure to read.

    Originality: The framework is original, and coming from a clear expert, it is a breath of fresh air.

    Character Development/Execution: McKenna's metaphor of clutter is an apt one, and she carries it through the text in a manner that will deeply resonate with readers seeking to find clarity, order, and calm.

  • Plot: Burton's The Secret to Everything: How to Live More and Suffer Less quite promisingly pairs up disciplined philosophical inquiry with practical self-help advice, drawing "7 Tips for Being More in the Moment" and "5 Ways to Explore Your Darker Side" from the work of Kant, Hume, Sartre,  Cicero, and Camus rather than from inspiration mainstays like Norman Vincent Peale. The title's promise that the book will divulge one singular secret that will improve readers' lives makes for a strong hook, and the author, a philosopher himself, memorably teases that idea in the introduction. He asks readers to work out for themselves, as they read, what the "secret" tying all his chapters together actually is, and only in the book's conclusion, "The Secret to Everything," does he lay it out himself. While it's clever to demand and reward reader engagement that way, the risk is that this leaves readers to identify why the individual chapters cover the subjects that they choose or how a chapter focused on Dionysian orgies connects to the next, which covers self-deception.

    Prose/Style: Burton's prose is polished, stylish, inviting, and clear, even as he examines fallacies, phenomenology, or existential anxiety. He boils complex ideas down to their essences, and he's adept at guiding readers to challenging conclusions. He shrewdly balances philosophical inquiry and how-to-live advice. He's so committed to concision that at times his chapters could benefit from more prefatory material, especially connecting the ideas of one chapter to another.

    Originality: No other work of inspirational or self-help literature contains the sentence "Let me paint you a picture of a Dionysian orgy." If another somehow did, it's difficult to imagine its author justifying its inclusion so adeptly, or then challenging readers to acknowledge and embrace what Carl Jung called our "shadow". Burton's advice and conclusions are original even when drawn from the best-known writing of the world's most famous thinkers; he advocates for idleness, phenomenology, and not being bound by the ego with persuasive power.

    Character Development/Execution: Much of Burton's thinking and advice here is memorably presented, convincingly argued, and legitimately challenging. That said, the choice to task the readers with identifying the book's throughline themselves diminishes the book's effectiveness. Rather than witness the rollout of a coherent philosophy from chapter to chapter, readers must labor to determine why individual subjects get covered and why others don't. Even after reaching the book's conclusion, and its unveiling of Burton's overarching secret, readers may well wonder why the chapter titled "How to Win" deals exclusively with the phenomenon of feeling insulted, or why so little of the book touches on interpersonal relationships, conceptions of monetary or workplace success, or other key elements of books with similar titles.

  • Plot: Impassioned and provocative, Alex Neumann's Harness the Power of the Invincible Mind at first resembles many other self-improvement books, especially those in the robust subgenre dedicated to achieving success. Neumann includes many inspiring thumbnail biographies of high-achieving individuals who faced rejection in their lives, and he asks readers questions like "Are You a Marathoner or a Sprinter?" in chapters with titles like "Stop Whining. Start Thriving" and "Obstacles into Opportunities." But rather than promise, as other authors do, to guide readers to the achievement of material success, Neumann daringly questions what success means in the first place. Fascinatingly, he challenges readers to see through the "fallacy" of money-minded success and free themselves from society's mind-traps while he still offers the kind of inspiring shorthand life stories of figures like Oprah Winfrey, Susan Boyle, and J.K. Rowling common to more conventional books in his genre.

    Prose/Style: Neumann's prose, for the most part, is direct and encouraging. He shrewdly builds and arranges paragraphs to develop questions and challenge reader assumptions, and he understands the value of offering examples and re-stating his most essential ideas in multiple ways. Neumann's meanings are mostly clear throughout the book, even as the prose at times is awkward or imprecise.

    Originality: It's an inspired and original idea to marshal all the techniques of the business self-improvement book in order to argue that the idea of "market success" is dangerous and limiting.

    Character Development: Neumann's bold book is at its strongest when the author balances the traditional techniques of business self-help with his own challenging ideas and inventions. But the book could be more user-friendly – the long chapters aren't always clearly organized or differentiated, and the table of contents offers little guide to where specific material might be categorized. Neumann is adept at linking parables and mini-biographies to his arguments, but one technique he has not borrowed from self-improvement literature is the adoption of the bearing of a salesman. He presents the material, but he doesn't always sell it -- or make it easy to find.

  • Idea: In Your Best Health by Friday, the author takes a sensitive and medically charged subject and presents it in an easy-to-read manner. The author uses ample definitions and examples, a smart use of exercises designed to engage readers, and speaks candidly about her own serious mental health experiences to drive her techniques home. 

    Prose: The book is written in a clear, compassionate prose style as she discusses the childhood traumas and stresses that can have far-reaching impact on mental health.

    Originality: There are a great many books focused on mental wellness. Though this one doesn’t stand apart as exceptional, its many insights and nuanced discussion of the topic make it a useful and versatile resource.

    Character/Execution: Although some readers may be overwhelmed by the medical content, this is ultimately a thoughtful, well-executed book for those who suffer from stress, anxiety, and depression, and wish to understand what it takes to heal.

  • Feeling Left Behind: Permission to Grieve

    by Kim Murdock

    Rating: 7.25

    Idea: Murdock’s book movingly explores feelings of loss and grief. Murdock overtly gives her readers permission to grieve for as long as needed, ultimately rejecting notions that “moving on” or “healing” is the end goal for those in mourning.

    Prose/Style: The prose is readable and clear. Readers experiencing grief will welcome the author’s candor.

    Originality: This is an original and personal story that takes a unique—and perhaps unexpected—approach to the experience of grieving following a loved one’s death.

    Character Development/Execution: Murdock discusses her rage and grief at her husband dying at a young age. The author’s unvarnished emotions are what provide the book its power. While Murdock doesn’t lay out concrete tools for coping with loss, by example, she gives readers the encouragement  they may need to grieve on their own terms.

  • The Little Book Of Greatness

    by Ari Gunzburg

    Rating: 7.00

    Idea: The title of the book encompasses its main goal: to guide readers towards achieving personal success via five keys. The author's parable-based approach to storytelling allows the work to surprise and engage readers.  

    Prose/Style: The book's organization and development are on point, though the work would greatly benefit from additional editing for clarity and flow. Unnecessary verbiage has a tendency to clutter the reading experience.

    Originality: The author does a commendable job telling a story of a man at the brink and seeking greater truths that he feels have been denied to him. The narrative ultimately leads to the "keys" promised to readers who may be similarly seeking. 

    Character Development/Execution: The author delivers an inspirational self-help book with many strengths. Though unnecessary dialogue and descriptions impact the reading experience, readers will still gladly take this journey along with David.

  • How Love Wins

    by Doug Carnine

    Rating: 7.00

    Idea: A book about nurturing kindness and positive habits in oneself is a welcome change. The text is focused on how to heal within and without, and how to prioritize developing healthy, rich relationships with others.

    Prose/Style: The writing is clear and concise, without too many flourishes but not sparse either. The book is generally pleasant to read, the text flows well, and ideas are organized and easily comprehensible.

    Originality: Many books in this genre are focused on concrete changes one can make in their material life, or measurable achievements. This one is about introspection and working on one’s life from the inside out, thereby making it feel more original.

    Character Development/Execution: Short passages tell the stories of individuals touched by the principles in the book, and each is characterized well and fleshed out even in short appearances.

    Blurb: While creating enduring relationships and seeking happiness and fulfillment can seem daunting, this book breaks down the ways one can nurture positive relationships in life and prioritize kindness and mindful action. 

  • SPARKS!

    by Sofia Santiago, PhD; Margarita Sarmiento; Chrystina Katz; Charlotte Canion

    Rating: 6.75

    Idea: The authors provide an engaging collection of stories and strategies designed to motivate and inspire readers to embrace life and achieve success on their own terms.

    Prose: The prose is of uniformly good quality, engaging and interesting throughout.

    Originality: Motivational texts are common. While not overly original in its approach, this is a well-executed collaboration, with the quality prose allowing the text to rise above the sometimes rote subject matter.

    Character/Execution: The contributors have distinctive voices, offer actionable advice, and provide relatable personal stories.

  • Idea: The personal journey this author embarks upon is relatable and inspiring, while the concept of regarding middle age as a time of rebirth, should prove uplifting to readers.

    Prose/Style: The writing is clear, lively, and personable. The author is candid about his personal faults, desires, regrets, and ambitions.

    Originality: The author’s suggestion that middle age need not mean the cessation of new discoveries and personal growth, is a familiar one. Frigault brings a degree of novelty to the topic through the book’s autobiographical content.

    Character Development/Execution: Frigault provides solid advice for readers to harness their lives and live middle age with intention and joy, but the material is somewhat cluttered in its presentation.

  • Idea: Adamo takes a unique approach to self-help through a narrative that focuses on an individual's struggles following the demise of a dysfunctional and abusive relationship.

    Prose: Reading more like a novel than a work of nonfiction, From Love Trauma to Fearless Love is genuine in tone and at times lyrical. An over-reliance on exposition and a somewhat heavy-handed tone can be at odds with the work's more organic storytelling approach.

    Originality: While the topic of escaping abuse, breaking destructive patterns, and tapping into personal resilience is often explored in the realm of self-help, the author's choice to present this work as a story is a unique one--albeit, one that may make its categorization a challenge.

    Character/Execution: Elena's vulnerability is vividly conveyed, though much of her development serves as a response to her circumstances and those individuals who have harmed her. Though the strength she finds through dancing tango is impactful, the true essence of the character is left under-examined.

  • A TREATISE OF MORALITY

    by AMIR JOY

    Rating: 5.75

    Plot: Amir Joy's A Treatise of Morality surveys philosophical discussions and understandings of morality, from ancient civilizations to Hobbes, Spinoza, and Locke, to contemporaries like Sam Harris. Joy also investigates essential theories of morality, such as The Theory of Value Contents and Structure and the evolving-toward-morality argument laid out in Michael Shermer's book The Moral Arc as well as various biological and neurological findings. Bookending this opinionated examination of the field, Joy considers, in the opening and closing chapters, morality through the lens of current issues, such as COVID-19, the internment of Muslims by the Chinese government, and civil unrest over systemic racism in the United States. From this consideration of present-day issues and the history of the philosophy of morality, Joy draws his own conclusion, calling for greater understanding of each other and less judgment.

    Prose/Style: Joy's erratic word choice, uncertain punctuation, and tendency toward scathing snark make his treatise a difficult read. These qualities reduce not just the book's persuasive power but its line-to-line clarity. When discussing contemporary issues, Joy routinely derides those who think differently than him as "foolish" and "arrogant", assertions he makes before attempting to persuade readers with reason that he's right. His points of argument in these cases often are unclear due to his erratic word choice. It's difficult to evaluate the merits of the author's arguments when the text itself is so often unclear. The prose improves somewhat when Joy turns to discussing the history of morality, but there, too, the prose often lets down the ideas as unclear or uncertain word choices make many long sentences impossible to parse.

    Originality: Joy's conclusions are unique and interesting, and his tour through the great thinkers' thoughts on morality is highly original and full of surprises.

    Character Development/Execution: While Joy's ideas and arguments might be fascinating, the uncertain prose and difficult-to-follow arguments greatly diminish the book's effectiveness.

  • Explore yourself with 100+ Keys

    by Veera Surampudi

    Rating: 5.50

    Plot: Explore yourself with 100+ Keys collects dozens of the author's original precepts, arrived at over a lifetime. Each is printed as a pithy quote, presented over an image of a mountaintop. Brief, memorable, incisive quotations have long been a cornerstone of inspirational literature, and the author has fresh insights to share.

    Prose/Style: The precepts printed here have not been thoroughly edited for clarity and grammar, and many are difficult to comprehend. This is also typical for many of "Explore Yourself"’s sayings -- the text on the page too often stands as a barrier to the wisdom the author has in mind. It's unclear what lesson a reader should take from these statements. These precepts often have missing word errors, verb agreement errors and other required proofreading fixes.

    Originality: The author's precepts are original, and the ones that communicate clearly offer helpful, uncommon, sometimes challenging advice.

    Character Development/Execution: At its best, Explore Yourself offers wisdom that demands and rewards contemplation. Much of the book, though, is too garbled and uncertain in its phrasing to communicate.

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