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.