Friday, 30 December 2016

REVIEW: "Understanding the Enneagram: The Practical Guide to Personality Types" by Don Richard Riso, Russ Hudson

Book Review by Sapphire Ng

Understanding the Enneagram: The Practical Guide to Personality Types
by Don Richard Riso, Russ Hudson
Mariner Books
Copyright January 2000
Paperback, 416 Pages

Fundamentally empowering, this book excellently surveys the masterpiece of the Enneagram. The rudiments of the Enneagram is presented in a methodical, systematic and highly accessible manner, promising to deliver a fulfilling and pleasurable reading experience. Insightful explorations of the complex and comprehensive system of the Enneagram situate the reader on a cherished journey of self-understanding and self-discovery, along with an increased appreciation and comprehension of the behaviors and personalities of others in one’s life. Beyond the psychological realm, the book also encompasses meaningful spiritual lessons in itself. A must read for all members of the human race; the knowledge acquired from perusing this book will prove invaluable in the very precious act of living.

The book terrifically covers the basic principles of the Enneagram—the personality triads consisting of the Thinking Center, the Feeling Center and the Instinctive Center; the significance of the Directions of Integration and Disintegration; the functionality of the nine Levels of Development incorporating the stages of Healthy, Average to Unhealthy, and more. 

The dynamic nature of the Enneagram and the interconnectivity between all 9 personality types is deeply profound. Analogous to this is the formula the authors consider germane to “a full analysis of any individual”—the need for examining a total of 4 personality types, namely the basic type, the auxiliary type or the wing, and the types in the respective Directions of Integration and Disintegration. 

Of the more fascinating material covered in the book includes the relating of the Enneagram to various personality disorders. For example, the association of types 2 and 7 with histrionic personality disorder, type 4 with avoidant personality disorder, and type 8 with antisocial personality disorder. Also notably outstanding involves the concise positioning of bite-sized and memorable pieces of information in Enneagram form that allows easy comparison between the 9 types, for example the Enneagrams of Basic Fears, Basic Desires, and Characteristic Temptations, or in another chapter, the Enneagrams of Psychological Capacity, Social Value, and Overcompensation. These clear visual references could certainly help in information retention. 

As one would expect, the book contains a type-identification questionnaire. More unusual perhaps, but surely helpful is a following chapter that prudently addresses “misidentifications.” The venturing into greater subtleties and further clarifications make the overall Enneagram learning experience all the more compelling, for instance by ascertaining the different styles of perfectionism or differing degrees of linearity in thinking, the contrasting expressions of similar ideals or dissimilar feeling-tones, and even the divergence in the nature of the sense of justice—embodied as “an extremely important value” versus being otherwise “more of a visceral response.”

In direct and explicit service to readers, the book also includes a handful of type-specific content focused on self-improvement. The succinct presentation of certain pieces of information, on the other hand, also eases the process of self-help, for example the unambiguous identifications of the Cognitive Errors and Characteristic Temptations of the respective types. 

Appropriate elaboration could have been included to illuminate and to promote greater understanding of the relevance of a particular concept in the book, namely the notion of internal symmetries residing in each personality type. For type 2 for example, it was said that “Generosity (at Level 3) parallels self-sacrifice (at Level 6) and the feeling of victimization (at Level 9)” without further explication. To cite yet another example, for type 3 it was said that “Internal symmetries include those between inner-directedness (at Level 1), performance (at Level 4), and deceptiveness (at Level 7).” Sans any meaningful elucidation, the reader is mostly left in the dark on the actual significance, implications and applications of such a concept. 

Disclaimer: I am not affiliated to the publisher nor the author of the book. This book review is the result of my personal reading and honest opinion.

Saturday, 10 December 2016

REVIEW: "One Breath: Freediving, Death, and the Quest to Shatter Human Limits" by Adam Skolnick

Book Review by Sapphire Ng

One Breath: Freediving, Death, and the Quest to Shatter Human Limits
by Adam Skolnick
Crown Archetype
Copyright January 2016
Hardcover, 336 Pages

A riveting narrative on the esoteric and extreme sport of freediving, and the poignant and fateful death of America’s best freediver, Nicholas Mevoli. This is a compellingly fascinating book which demystifies competitive freediving, uncovers the science of the sport, and reveals the psyche of its risk-embracing practitioners. 

This book magnanimously offers a very meaningful and critical lesson for both aspiring and professional athletes. A sustainable athletic career goes beyond merely possessing rare and extraordinary talent. A misleading sense of invincibility and disproportionately overpowering competitive drive could be an athlete’s nemesis. Coupled with impatience, obstinacy, emotionality, blunt detachment from one’s physical body, and flippant attitude toward the intrinsic risks of the sport, the athlete could be well on his path to self-destruction. 

Serving as both a cautionary tale and a reality check, this book ought to trigger an earnest self-reflection should an aspiring or professional athlete with specific unhealthy traits mirrored in Mevoli chance upon this book. Those contemplating a career in professional freediving might appreciate this book, with its stark and no-nonsense portrayal of the immense physical and mental challenges, along with the potential dangers, associated with this sport. 

Non-freedivers on the other hand, could find the range of content covered in the book remarkably fascinating, for example the medical conditions and injuries commonly associated with freediving. Conveyed through riveting anecdotes, the reader will learn about the dangers of decompression sickness, the pain of perforated eardrums, the peril of deep-water blackouts, the symptoms of hypoxia, and the unfortunate prevalence and occurrences of lung squeezes.

The book engagingly elucidates scientific concepts as pertaining to freediving, namely the function and effect of the mammalian dive reflex, the notion of barometric pressure at depth and its impact on the human body, the antithetical concepts of negative versus positive buoyancy and implications on a diver’s technique, and the fascinating notion of thermocline or the affliction of nitrogen narcosis. 

The book excellently weaved in delectable and concise biographies of notable freediving personalities who have accomplished superhuman feats, most memorably the elite Russian Natalia Molchanova—“the Martina Navratilova of freediving,” “an ageless wonder” affectionately referred to as “the Queen,” and an astoundingly uplifting inspiration for older athletes—and the world record holders William Trubridge and Alexey Molchanov, Natalia’s son. 

It is entertaining to be let in on the excitement and action, dynamics and mechanics of the various international freediving competitions—depth and pool, team and individual—as chronicled in the book. The book demystifies for example, the 3 disciplines of freediving depth competitions, namely Constant Weight, Free Immersion, and Constant No Fins. And of potentially great interest even for general readers would include techniques and training of the sport, the former including the likes of equalization and development of lactic acid and carbon dioxide tolerance. 

The book is overwhelmingly non-chronological; the narrative flitted so frequently between the time after Mevoli’s death and when he was still alive that it is confusing at times for the reader. Worse still, the persistent time traveling between the countless chapters conveys a sense of disruption, discontinuity and choppiness in narrative, and is even mildly irritating. 

The book gives the impression of being somewhat of a tribute to Mevoli, and furnishes an extensive narrative of his life from childhood to adulthood. The excessive details about his acting engagements and dreams, multiple romantic interests and escapades, and social life and activities hugely divorced from the freediving world, community, or sport however might be more suited for inclusion in an actual biographical work dedicated solely to Mevoli. 

Considering the title of this book and its eclectic coverage predominantly focused upon unlocking the mysteries of the sport of freediving, the reader, and particularly non-Mevoli superfans, drawn to the book for the freediving narrative could be highly tempted to skip superfluous details about Mevoli that distinctly go beyond what one would consider compact and compelling. 

Disclaimer: I am not affiliated to the publisher nor the author of the book. This book review is the result of my personal reading and honest opinion.

Saturday, 3 December 2016

REVIEW: "The Other Brain: From Dementia to Schizophrenia, How New Discoveries about the Brain Are Revolutionizing Medicine and Science" by R. Douglas Fields

Book Review by Sapphire Ng

The Other Brain: From Dementia to Schizophrenia, How New Discoveries about the Brain Are Revolutionizing Medicine and Science
by R. Douglas Fields
Simon & Schuster
Copyright December 2009
Hardcover, 384 Pages 

An unbelievably engrossing book on brain science, The Other Brain presents a scientific discourse predominantly focused on the glia, and aptly examined alongside the neuronal brain. The book is comprised of a delectable survey of scientifically intriguing information as related to the human brain and is perfectly accessible to the general reader. Effectively incorporating anecdotes and metaphors, the positioning of the material in the book is beyond engaging. 

Granted the intimate and indispensable role our brains play in our lives, this book is a must read for any perspicacious member of the human race. Be warned though that one might require more than just scant interest in brain science or minimal desire for self-discovery to make it through the book. 

Personally, am most astounded and fascinated by the examinations into the eclectic range of diseases related to the brain. It is surely jaw-dropping for example, to learn of mechanisms in a person’s central nervous system that could implicate life paralysis in the event of a spinal cord injury, of which it is also and surely no less captivating to learn of the existence of the phenomenon of cellular suicide as triggered by the injury.

The book includes riveting explorations of neurodegenerative disorders including Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and ALS—where “only motor neurons are assassinated”—; demyelinating disorders such as multiple sclerosis that induce the loss of myelin; glia-implicating psychiatric illnesses encompassing schizophrenia and depression; and even a rather poignant case of Alexander disease as afflicting a young child who suffered from symptoms such as hydrocephalus, which is aptly elucidated in the book as “enlargement of the head due to fluid pressure buildup in the brain.”

The peculiar case of kuru is yet another disease presented in an incredibly gripping manner, with its enigmatic link with cannibalism and afflictions of “spongiform encephalopathy” where victims’ brains turned to “sponge.” Whilst again somewhat poignant to read about cases involving the condition of CIPA—congenital insensitivity to pain with anhidrosis—which is marked by the death of pain neurons, or ominous brain cancers such as glioblastomas, the content remains perfectly positioned to educate the reader on the scientific specificities of the different diseases. 

The reader can expect detailed examinations of glia alongside its “cellular sibling,” neurons, and should seize the opportunity to learn their fundamentals. For example, the four basic types of glial cells are astrocytes, Schwann cells, oligodendrocytes, and microglia; the 3 different forms of Schwann cells distinguished as nonmyelinating, terminal, or myelinating; the function of microglia as the brain’s “military,” and “exclusive guard;” or the differentiation between pre- and postsynaptic neurons, and the functioning and significance of neurons. 

The book ventures further into discussions of for example, the blood-brain barrier, the extracellular brain space, the interrelationship between memory, learning and the brain, surgical procedures such as the prefrontal lobotomy—as a treatment for schizophrenia—, and impressively profound scientific tools including gene chips aiding in the process of monitoring “the activity of thousands of genes at once,” the diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) brain scan—a brain imaging technique that correlated IQ with white matter development—, calcium imaging, and miniaturization.

Beautifully interpolated into the text are inspiring and incredible scientific adventures and expert contributions of great scientists, electrophysiologists, neurobiologists, biophysicists, pain researchers and more. It is surely a pleasure to peruse the variety of ingenious scientific experiments as designed and conducted by these pundits doggedly dedicated to the continuous pursuit and attainment of scientific knowledge.

As for the effective use of metaphors in aiding the elucidation of concepts, an example include the illustrative comparison of “a pathological loss of myelinating glial cells” in forebrain tracts and the potentially resulting “psychiatric disorders such as schizophrenia and other mental impairments,” to the breakage of “insulation on critical communication cables” but with the heightened dire impact of a severed cable on the disruption of “communication” within the brain. 

Disclaimer: I am not affiliated to the publisher nor the author of the book. This book review is the result of my personal reading and honest opinion.

Thursday, 24 November 2016

BLOG TOUR: "Hound of the Sea: Wild Man. Wild Waves. Wild Wisdom" by Garrett McNamara, Karen Karbo

Book Review by Sapphire Ng

Hound of the Sea: Wild Man. Wild Waves. Wild Wisdom. 
by Garrett McNamara, Karen Karbo
Harper Wave
ISBN: 978-0062343598
Copyright November 2016
Hardcover, 304 Pages 

An invigorating autobiography penned by surfing legend Garrett McNamara. In line with the author’s daredevil disposition, the reader can expect a fast-paced narrative choked full of exciting adventures to the most bizarre and ridiculously hilarious escapades. 

This book is heartwarmingly inspirational; its human connection and meaningful depth elevates the book to near perfection. Whilst McNamara fans can expect to be smitten, serious surfers, earnest athletes and big dreamers on the other hand are well advised not to miss this gem of a book. 

McNamara’s magnificent achievement of making the Guinness Book of World Records for riding a 78 feet history-making wave at Nazare, Portugal is characterized, as a tremendous inspiration to all, as a “universal” manifestation of “how anything in life is possible.”

Even with personal recounts of winning the Jaws Tow-In World Cup—a big-wave contest—, receiving the coveted invitation to compete in the Eddie tournament, or successfully making the covers of countless prominent surfing magazines, a predominant focus remains spotlighted on universal themes relatable and galvanizing to people from all walks of life—McNamara’s resolute ambition and desire to succeed, his display of mental strength and fortitude, his awe-inspiring perseverance and tenacity, and his unbelievable positivity and fertile attitude toward life. 

It was beyond fascinating to devour firsthand recounts of McNamara’s electrifying surfing adventures—one such heart-stopping and perilous adventure of tow-in surfing amidst calving glaciers at Childs Glacier, Alaska, that left the author “glacierized;” his reflexive and candid assessment of Mavericks as a break “that had intent, and that intent was to kill you;” or his designation of Banzai Pipeline as “the most deadly break in the world” with reefs consisting of “a disorganized series of jagged flats.” 

McNamara of course, also dedicates considerable attention to his home breaks—Velzyland, one of his Six Feet and Under spot; Hale-’iwa, which he had religiously “memorized where the submerged rocks were;” and Wai-mea, the birthplace of big-wave surfing. 

The athletic reader, particularly one with professional athletic aspirations, who is or had been afflicted with varying severity of injuries, would potentially find tremendous comfort in this book. Especially in learning about McNamara’s personal history of injuries, and particularly one rather debilitating and immobilizing injury—involving a pair of severely herniated discs—that did not preclude him from eventually successfully ascending to the very zenith of his sport and attaining iconic status. 

A possible critique to this book would be the author’s utilization of a range of surfing terminology without accompanying explanations. The general interest reader might not have readily understood terms used such as barreling, but of course one could easily and quickly resolve the issue by conducting an internet search. And considering the book’s target audience to be possibly and primarily McNamara fans and surfing or sports enthusiasts, in addition to its autobiographical genre, one ought not to expect too exhaustive an approach and coverage by the book. 

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this book from HarperCollins and TLC Book Tours for this review.

Saturday, 19 November 2016

BLOG TOUR: "Brave New Weed: Adventures into the Uncharted World of Cannabis" by Joe Dolce

Book Review by Sapphire Ng

Brave New Weed: Adventures into the Uncharted World of Cannabis
by Joe Dolce
Harper Wave
ISBN: 978-0062499912
Copyright October 2016
Hardcover, 288 Pages 

An absolutely entertaining and captivating book that keeps one glued to the pages from beginning to end. This book is a purposeful and solid blend of amazing storytelling, intriguing science, illuminating history, and dynamic personal recount, rendered in an articulately impassioned authorial voice and expressive writing. 

This book is perfect for the reader generally unacquainted with the world of cannabis; he or she will have much to discover and to be astounded by, as he or she follows the author along on his experiential, exciting, and progressive learning journey. 

Dolce’s enthusiasm for cannabis is unmistakable, and his advocacy for both the legalization and “normalization” of cannabis is contagious. Drug legalization proponents along with those harboring neutral stances would likely enjoy the book, but the same might not apply for those possessing strong sentiments against cannabis legalization, and it might be a somewhat uncomfortable reading experience for them. 

This however certainly does not preclude the possibility of cannabis opponents with an open mind devouring the book and thereafter coming away with a greater empathy for the antithetical viewpoint, or to feel somewhat persuaded by, or concede to, certain points or arguments made by the author. This category of readers at the very least could grow and mature intellectually from assimilating the alternative perspective. 

The author covers certain cannabis basics, with details mind-bogglingly profound. The reader will be introduced to the constituents of cannabis, for example THC, CBD, and terpenes—smell molecules such as myrcene, pinene and caryophyllene—, and their respective roles and mutual interplay; the notion of dabs— “a dab is a mind-stinging 70 to 90 precent THC”—and significance of dose control and microdosing; and even the baffling numerical estimate of compounds contained in the cannabis plant. 

Scientific material covered in the book are particularly enjoyable and distinctly intellectually-satisfying for me. Discussion of the endocannabinoid system—the “supercomputer,” or “largest signaling system” in the human body—is one such example of fascinating coverage. Scientific evidence furnished that elucidate the ways cannabinoids protect the brain from injury in the instances of for example, sports and war, is another utterly engrossing angle offered in the book, and of course, no less riveting are further medical discussions of cannabinoids, endocannabinoids, and anandamide in relation to cannabis. Even rather brief considerations of the failure of the drug rimonabant is astoundingly eye-opening. 

The compelling coverage of relevant historical details are another key strength of the book. Information provided on the American War on Drugs, the tireless generation of anticannabis propaganda and fearmongering in the country, the enactment of the Marijuana Tax Act and the passage of anti-marijuana prohibitions in specific US states, and the presidential disavowal of “the most comprehensive government study of cannabis in American history” are but a sampling of particulars meaningful and compelling to the curious and educated citizen. 

The book also notably includes discussion of the very country ascribed as “the nucleus of cannabis research”—Israel—along with the Israeli scientist credited for discovering THC; the history of, and implications thereafter of—for example in terms of access to the plant, and ease, or lack thereof, for research—, cannabis’s classification, alongside substances such as heroin, LSD, and Ecstasy, as a schedule I narcotic; certain intriguing details about indoor cannabis grows, such as lighting strength and brightness; and astonishing stories presented by the author as testament to the “miraculous” cannabis—its extraordinary healing effects, and its seemingly expansive scope of cure. 

It is no accident that the book incorporates humor at certain junctures; it appears to be an innate trait of the author. A particular stand-out was when Dolce followed a paragraph indicating the harsh reality of cannabis businesses being potentially responsible for paying a federal income tax upwards of 70 percent with the one-liner, “It’s a good thing they sell a product that quells anxiety.” 

As for the author’s admirably evocative writing, his exquisite use of metaphor in the following sentence speaks for itself, “the other common effect of cannabis is time slowdown, that pleasantly languorous experience of the hands of the clock pushing through honey.”

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this book from HarperCollins and TLC Book Tours for this review.

Thursday, 3 November 2016

REVIEW: "Sociology of Education: A Critical Reader" by Ryan W. Coughlan, Alan R. Sadovnik

Book Review by Sapphire Ng

Sociology of Education: A Critical Reader
by Ryan W. Coughlan, Alan R. Sadovnik
Copyright March 2007
Paperback, 552 Pages

The book contains an excellent sequential compilation of articles featuring critical sociological research and studies. The book’s strength lies in the assemblage of the great diversity of pundit voices and inputs, bestowing indeed an elite learning experience for the reader.

The consistently amazing and eye-opening research in the book, along with mind-blowing syntheses and profound evaluations, makes the book an imperative read for sociology students, education practitioners, and aspiring educators. Noting the prominent fixture of the institution of education in our society, and its intimate intertwining with and tremendous impact on our lives, this book certainly merits a read by students of other disciplines.

The exceptional elucidation of research approaches, methodologies and related details in the book would prove exceptionally valuable for the aspiring student researcher and academic. Of course, the superior academic writing styles, the sophisticated use of language, and exquisite rendering of complex concepts and ideas qualify the book as a great reference and inspiration for the aspirant academic writer. Any other demographic striving to hone critical thinking skills will also benefit substantially from studying the arguments in the book. 

Themes of stratification and inequality in the educational context are among the most profoundly and fascinatingly examined in the book. Inserted into the multi-angled discussion are issues such as the school choice provisions in No Child Left Behind; practices such as the encouragement of the “college-for-all” norm—that implicate drastically varying outcomes for students of different socioeconomic backgrounds—; and the implementation of tracking that potentially compounds the problem of inequality due to disparities in quality and quantity of instruction, variance in the degree to which lessons and teaching materials are engaging, and difference in teacher expectations and standards for student performance. Other no less interesting angles to which inequality is addressed include the examination of marketization, the inequity of students’ family and socioeconomic backgrounds, and the notion of self-fulfilling prophecies. 

The book brims with intriguing assessments and explorations of a range of other multitudinous issues. In expounding the oppositional modalities of pedagogic practices, there was a distinctly mind-boggling, transformative, and unique use of metaphor; a pedagogic practice paralleled as a “cultural relay” along with associated lexicon of “transmitters” and “acquirers” as players in the pedagogic relation, and who are engaged in the “reproduction” of culture.

On the other hand, the distinguishing between and explication of visible versus invisible pedagogies is also strikingly illuminating. The clear elucidation of characteristics of the individual pedagogic practices—for example, the comparatively “relaxed rhythm” and “less specialized acquisitions” of invisible pedagogy, and the divergent autonomous, or knowledge, and market-oriented, or dependent, forms of visible pedagogies—gets exciting especially when the reader have the prized opportunity to insert oneself into the discourse, by associating the information furnished to prior personal classroom learning experiences. 

A further sampling of intellectually-stimulating concepts explored include the opposing notions of neoliberalism versus neoconservatism—the neoconservatism ideological position for example, supports “mandatory national and statewide curricula, national and statewide testing, a ‘return’ to higher standards, a revivification of the ‘Western tradition,’ patriotism, and conservative variants of character education”—; theoretical perspectives of functionalism, conflict theory, and more in the sociology of education; and abstractions such as Basil Bernstein’s code theory. 

Educational reformation is another salient matter covered in the text. Especially profound is the discussion of the significance and implications of poverty—“the unexamined 600-pound gorilla that most affects American education today”—on the effectuality of the institution of reform. Yet again, when it came to evaluation of America’s mathematics and science curricula reform, the data furnished in the book comparing the breadth and depth of various countries’ mathematics curricula is indeed eye opening and compelling. 

Linked to the idea of the educational reform as a national strategy meant to counter challenges to national power, the book further plunges into elucidating more fascinating realms, namely the genealogy of the state system of mass schooling from its European roots, the associated social movement—rise of individualism—, political motivations and more that aided the rise of the institution. 

Other fundamental educational issues the reader would have the opportunity to discover within the pages of the book comprise for example research evidence authoritatively distinguishing the relative effectiveness of single-sex schools versus coeducational schools in alleviating the achievement gap; the significance of the loose-coupling model and the nested layers approach in exploring the role of schools on student learning; the supposed phenomenon of teacher shortage in America through examination of factors such as teacher turnover rates; and labeling theory and the poignant particularities that define the secondary deviant. 

The prospective reader ought to anticipate select articles in the book to be considerably more challenging to acquire and assimilate; one however should not be deterred by the heightened intellectual challenge and instead will have much to benefit from by persevering through the readings. Also and especially with the rather extensive references embedded in the book to established and existing literature in the discipline, the reader will be sure to receive a rather holistic exposure to the range of ideas and pertinent literature in the field. 

Certain articles in the book however could have been more comprehensive, particularly when pertaining to the introduction of more specialized concepts. Offering the author of chapter 7 “Social Class and Pedagogic Practice” the benefit of the doubt, it could have been assumed that the reader is equipped with a decent background knowledge, understanding, or even an inkling of “behaviorist or neobehaviorist theories of instruction.” Such an assumption though in a critical reader of the sociology of education seems unwarranted, and the reader is left feeling rather perplexed especially in encountering such an abstraction embedded amongst already demanding ideas. 

On the other hand, it appeared to be carelessness when certain acronyms were not explicitly elucidated, especially when the same entity was spelled out in the final chapter of the book but was not in a much earlier chapter. In chapter 14 “Nation versus Nation,” PISA was cited without much explanatory elucidation but in chapter 26, PISA was actually explicitly mentioned for what it stands for—the Program for International Student Assessment. 

When it came to the acronym TIMSS in chapter 14 as well, the reader seemed to be expected to possess prior knowledge. Whilst the paragraph attributes the TIMSS and PISA as being “international tests,” the thoroughness of the book could have been improved should TIMSS be explicitly noted as being the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study, and further accompanied with certain fundamental details relevant to aiding assimilation of the subsequent discussion. 

Disclaimer: I am not affiliated to the publisher nor the author of the book. This book review is the result of my personal reading and honest opinion.

Sunday, 30 October 2016

BLOG TOUR: "Earning It: Hard-Won Lessons from Trailblazing Women at the Top of the Business World" by Joann S. Lublin

Book Review by Sapphire Ng

Earning It: Hard-Won Lessons from Trailblazing Women at the Top of the Business World
by Joann S. Lublin
ISBN: 978-0062407474
Copyright October 2016
Hardcover, 304 Pages 

Earning It makes for a rather light, quick and enjoyable read. This book features countless inspirational and candid anecdotes of powerful and intelligent women contending in the male-dominated executive world. Delivered in an exceedingly positive and hopeful tone, this motivational book fittingly speaks to females from all walks of life, and certainly for aspiring female executives. The incredibly inspirational nature of the book of course does not preclude it from being a greatly invigorating read for men, including those keen to gain a deeper understanding of women’s struggles in the executive world. 

Narratives of formidable female “trailblazers”—those who successfully ascended to “the pinnacle of management”—are forefronted in the book. Corporate leaders such as Cathie Black, who was the president of Hearst Magazines, and called “the First Lady of American Magazines;” Meg Whitman, chief executive of Hewlett Packard Enterprise; Irene Rosenfeld, chief executive of the global snacks manufacturer Mondelez International; Anne Mulcahy, former CEO of Xerox Corporation, and more. 

Interweaved into these anecdotes of female chief executives are critical matters such as the imperative need to challenge board bias and sexism in the context of pursuing corporate directorship; of actively engaging oneself in the strategic advocacy for other women aspiring to ascend the corporate hierarchy; and the pivotal role of sponsors and mentors in career advancement. 

Inseverable from the discussion include notions of gender discrimination and gender stereotypes, manifested in forms such as the inequitable standards required of women versus men in the corporate workplace. With the prevalence of the gender pay gap, the book also shares stories and related advice and morsels of wisdom pertaining to compensation bargaining. There was a rather interesting discussion of strategies employable by women executives particularly in terms of the management of men, especially men inimical to female leadership.

One cited statistic in the book was particularly memorable; the evidence of the appalling disparity in opinion between female and male directors on the importance of board gender diversity. The book covers a range of other intriguing matters, examples include the rather curious notion of women’s self-fabricated glass ceiling; the reassuring implementation of corporate training programs targeting unconscious bias; the concept of diversity dividend; and even brief discussions of the female turnover rate in skilled professions. 

The uncorrected proof copy of the book inevitably contains errors expected to be resolved by the time of publication. It is undeniable however that the mistakes littering the pages of the book diminishes the reviewer’s overall enjoyment of the book. It was unpleasant to come across almost every instance of “company” in the book being spelled as “concern”—example sentences include “the first sisters to command Fortune 500 concerns,” “about 54 percent of the sixty-seven concerns in the Standard & Poor’s 1500 Index,” or “big cosmetics concern hired her.” 

Whilst the anecdotes in the book are qualifyingly engaging, the introduction however does not do the book justice. The rather cliched approach and ideas adopted alongside bland and ordinary rendering of the subject matter in the introduction fails to distinguish the book from the competitive sea of nonfiction works dealing with a similar subject. 

The rather lackluster introduction of the book very unfortunately could potentially translate into lost sales and readership. Particularly in the case of failing to convince or to provide a compelling reason for readers to further engage with the book by virtue of merit of the introduction, or in the instance of those who base their purchase decisions on impressions left by browsing the beginning of the book. 

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this book from HarperCollins and TLC Book Tours for this review. 

Thursday, 27 October 2016

REVIEW: "Critical Readings: Media and Gender (Issues in Cultural and Media Studies)" by Cynthia Carter, Linda Steiner

Book Review by Sapphire Ng

Critical Readings: Media and Gender (Issues in Cultural and Media Studies)
by Cynthia Carter, Linda Steiner
Open University Press
Copyright December 2003
Paperback, 384 Pages

This is a definitive piece of literature on media and gender studies. The text’s fascinating research and incredible educationality makes it an essential tool in the pedagogy arsenal; the in-depth investigations and intellectually-stimulating examinations if strategically and effectively studied will help promote intellectual maturation in students. 

The earnest study of the notion of femininity as manifested in the media comprise a critical realm of exploration. It is certainly profound to learn of the multiple associatory, and supposedly more inferior, denominations to which femininity is ascribed to—the feminine as linked to the visual instead of the verbal, and to the physical instead of the cerebral; the feminine being typecast to that which is devalued and trivial, of a low public status and associated with mass culture; and with feminine discourse dishearteningly occupying a marginalized space in society. 

The exhaustive investigation of the cult of femininity as applicable to women’s magazines is one such example of amazing coverage in the text. The profound syntheses and evaluations churned out are rather mind-blowing. Of equating the presentations of anything but femininity—femininity is the standard bearer for females—to being mere “theatrical display[s]” or tools with ulterior purposes, for example the performance of toughness and the cosmetic featuring of “tough” women in the pages of the magazines. The scope of coverage made compelling especially so with the explicit statement that women’s magazines indeed play consequential roles in “formulat[ing] gender in our culture.”

The text will amaze the reader with the rich critical, theoretical and intellectual possibilities and depths to which the concept of femininity is examined to intersect with the various forms of media. Television talk shows for example, are designated to be a feminized media genre; the shows argued to be a product of the feminist movement as a challenge to patriarchy. Prefacing the introduction of the idea that women therapists of daytime talk shows typically come out of bourgeois feminism, the chapter furnished very interesting supplementary information on the “four broad types of feminism,” of which includes as well Marxist feminism, radical feminism, and poststructural feminism. As a further testament to the academically-vigorous approach undertaken by the text, the analytic discourse on television talk shows encompass such angles including the discussion of the significance of rational emotive therapy (RET), the Freudian theory, or comments on the power hierarchical structure inherent in the shows. 

Page Three in Rupert Murdoch’s The Sun was cited for exemplifying the wave of sexualization of media platforms, whilst five interesting case studies of recent prime-time American television shows were elucidated as a springboard for a poignant exploration of the portrayal of lesbian women on American television. The latter was achieved through the analysis of for example, narrative closures and its implications on the patriarchal order or socially acceptability of being a lesbian. At the same time, the text again goes beyond the agenda of merely explicating issues of concern interlinking media and gender; the functionality of the technique of utilizing textual ambiguity for films, for example, was covered. 

The interlocking relationship between the feminine gender and media are also expounded through media genres such as soap opera texts, computer game play, consumer discourses, American films, and as contextualized in British rock music journalism. Embedded in these examinations are further discussions of the subordination of women, of the systemic exclusion of women from historical or current discourses, of unsubstantiated gendered assumptions, negative stereotyping of Aframericans and Latinas, and more. Discussions of masculinity, for example its commercialization in the form of laddism, or the “new lad,” and more, are also found within the text.  

Disclaimer: I am not affiliated to the publisher nor the author of the book. This book review is the result of my personal reading and honest opinion.

Sunday, 23 October 2016

REVIEW: "The Fix: How Nations Survive and Thrive in a World in Decline" by Jonathan Tepperman

Book Review by Sapphire Ng

The Fix: How Nations Survive and Thrive in a World in Decline
by Jonathan Tepperman
Tim Duggan Books
Copyright September 2016
Hardcover, 320 Pages

The Fix is immensely informative, tremendously engaging, and remarkably researched. The book makes for a synchronously enjoyable and educational read; the awe-inspiring narratives of nations successfully overcoming seemingly insurmountable trials are deeply inspiring. The book is commendably well-written, and contains a plenitude of salient statistics, intriguing details, and thoughtful evaluations, and is highly recommended for ardent students of government, politics and policy, and for passionate and shrewd global citizens. 

Extraordinarily profound matters are covered in the book. The author for example, documented the way Botswana has miraculously defeated the Resource Curse that has mercilessly and staunchly afflicted many resource rich nations in Africa or otherwise; the country “bucked history, development theory, and the law of averages” to becoming the “the envy of Africa.” Rwanda on the other hand, was highlighted for its president Paul Kagame’s strategic post-genocide recovery plan, particularly the creation of the fittingly revolutionary gacaca courts embodying a blend of justice and reconciliation that has rather effectively helped rebuild the nation. 

The Indonesian government was spotlighted in the book for having waged a successful war against Islamic extremism, radicalism and terrorism, and for thereafter elevating the country to becoming “one of the more successful democracies in the world,” and especially to becoming an oddity—“a safe and stable beacon of open, decent, and tolerant rule”—in the Muslim world. When it comes to Brazil, the author lauded the dramatic success of the Bolsa Familia antipoverty program launched by former president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva—a voice of “financially principled populism”—in tackling poverty and inequality.

Discussion of Canada’s immigration revolution was distinctly fascinating. It was certainly profound to learn that Canada has avoided having “a single anti-immigrant riot in half a century” despite such forms of turmoil having plagued “virtually every other” advanced industrialized democracies. Or to learn of uniquely American circumstances that led to the country’s shale revolution—a complex interplay of factors including the US landowners law—landowners are granted rights “not just to their turf but to everything that lies beneath it as well”—; support and investment by the US government in the industry; and even individuals such as the oilman and celebrated visionary George Mitchell for initiating the technique of “slick-water fracking.” 

The eclectic range of issues are discussed in the book through singularly interesting perspectives and details. Examples include the notions of multiculturalism, pluralism, and mandatory bilingualism as advocated by Canada’s former prime minister and shrewd pragmatist Pierre Elliott Trudeau; the Rwandan government’s role in adopting drastic maneuvers such as banning “sectarianism” and “divisionism” in order to turn the country into a race-blind nation; or even the seemingly ludicrous but apposite parsimony—government officials and ministers were banned from engaging in supposedly lavish expenditures such as using chauffeurs or flying first class—displayed by Botswana’s first president Seretse Khama, as the leader of the country which has ranked as the world’s number one diamond producer by value. 

In discussions of South Korea, the country was highlighted for its pace and continuity of growth surpassing that of “any other state,” and its transition from a destitute to a wealthy nation. The author traced the country’s fascinating progress from developmental dictatorship to democratization, and thereafter to liberalization under the stewardship of leaders such as the authoritarian Park Chung-hee, or the dissident Kim Dae-jung. 

A particularly astounding detail the author furnished regarding Brazil’s rather successful implementation of Bolsa Familia pertains to its inspirational role to numerous foreign countries; the US has since notably launched Bolsa Familia-inspired programs such as Family Rewards 2.0 and Opportunity NYC. On the other hand, it is beyond intriguing to learn of the Indonesian former president Yudhoyono’s strategy against Islamist extremists which involved appropriating the Islamists’ main campaign themes. 

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Blogging for Books for this review.