Thursday, October 27, 2016

Out of Our Minds by Ken Robinson

I was really excited to read this book because it's on creativity by Sir Ken Robinson, you know, that guy who gave the TED talk? But it was slightly different from my expectations, even though it was pretty interesting.

Rather than a treatise on how to be creative (like how Peak discussed not only how people develop their talents but gave concrete strategies), this book is a general discussion on creativity in schools, and how the current system of education, which was developed for a different time and purpose, is no longer sufficient or adequate. Towards the end, there are nine principals they recommend, but they aren't really actionable, in my opinion.

On the whole, I generally liked the book, but I noted two things that gave me pause:

One, the focus on the West. Even though the first chapter talks about how his work takes him all over the world, and that governments are all struggling with this problem (which made me think this would be a global discussion), the East barely appears. I see a few examples related to China, but I don't recall a country in Southeast Asia or any other country. The history of education is wholly focused on the West, and so are the people discussed. That was a little disappointing.

Two, a few mistaken anecdotes. I don't remember all of them, but I do remember the ones relating to Chinese culture. One was how steamed fish was still regarded as a "foreign" cuisine - that's not true, at least not in Singapore. Gang-zhen style steamed garoupa/other fish is considered Chinese (specifically: Cantonese). Perhaps the waiter was just explaining the origins? And in the next anecdote, Sir Ken Robinson talks about Zhou Enlai's famous statement on how in 1972, it was too soon to form an opinion about the French revolution 200 years. That's not true - Zhou Enlai was actually thinking of the May 1986 events. This isn't new, and it's a bit annoying to have the story perpetuated again and again.

If you're looking on a treatise about education that focuses on creativity, then this book is for you. It's very readable and full of small jokes. If you're looking for ways to be creative, though, you're out of luck.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Kierkegaard: A Single Life by Stephen Backhouse

Funnily enough, I've never read any of Søren Kierkegaard's works, even though I've heard of his theories before. And before reading this, I wanted to read something, but I couldn't really find it in public domain or in the library. So I decided to just go ahead and read it.

Kierkegaard is aimed at the general reader and is meant to be accessible. Happily, it delivers on the promise.

The book starts when Kierkegaard dies. And then it looks back towards his life, from when he was a student to when he started getting notoriety. Each chapter tends to focus on one aspect or one stage of life, such as his doomed love affair, his period of supposed dormancy, etc. Søren Kierkegaard comes across as a flawed human being - irritating, but with a purpose that came to dominate his life. I thought that this was summed up very well by his two wills:

One was to his ex-fiance, whom he never stopped loving, even though he purposely rejected her and made her give up on him. This is the part of him that the book calls "the champion of individuality"

One included instructions for the following to be put on his headstone:
"In a little while
I shall have won,
Then the entire battle
Will disappear at once.
Then I may rest
In halls of roses
And unceasingly,
And unceasingly
Speak with my Jesus"
The second half of the book is an overview of his works, which is helpful now that I'm looking for one of his works to start with (but when I can actually find it).

The book truly lives up to its promise - it is an accessible introduction to the man and his works.

Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book via Netgalley in exchange for a free and honest review.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Endless Night by Agatha Christie

I really have to start writing down reasons why I want to read certain books. I mean, I occasionally write down the bloggers whose book reviews have fed the TBR list, but on the whole, I tend to jot down only the titles and/or author names. Which is why I had no recollection why I wanted to read this.

After reading the book, though, I think it's because this book is like [SPOILER, SORTA, MAYBE?] The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, and I wanted to read another Christie book like that. Obviously, I enjoyed this one very much, though it's one of the few books where I regret having read the synopsis before reaching the climax.

So here's my attempt at a spoiler-free summary: Michael Rogers (our narrator and protagonist) is a listless young man, going from job to job. One day, he meets the beautiful and rich Ellie and they fall in love instantly. They marry (secretly, of course) and build the home of their dreams. However, one day, Ellie dies while out riding, and then two more deaths follow.

That's all that I dare to say. Too much and I might end up revealing the twist. While I think some readers would feel like the book "cheated" them (especially compared to "fair-play books" like Ellery Queen, another author I read recently - here's another possibly spoiler-ish moment), I think there were quite a few clues in the first half that a reader, familiar with Christie's work, would be able to pick up on. Or at least, there were enough moments where after I knew the twist, I ended up seeing them in a completely different light.

I'm a fan of Agatha Christie, so obviously I'm going to recommend this book. Even if Poirot or Miss Marple isn't in it.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Decades of Doubt by Eric Wilson

Despite the fact that this was written by the defense attorney (unless the author is a different person with the same name), I walked away thinking that Mike/Michael Ferreira (one of the two defendants) was one of the killers of John McCabe. Of course, the case is complicated, and there is no doubt that the defense attorney did his best, but I just had this feeling of guilt throughout the whole book.

Decades of Doubt covers the murder of John McCabe. The fifteen-year-old (FIFTEEN!) was found dead one night and despite the police chasing down every available lead, the case went cold. Forty years later, though, one of the killers finally confessed, bringing some closure to the family (until one of them walked).

I might have been more sympathetic to Michael Ferreira during the trail segment, but halfway through, the defense attorney suddenly got half a chapter (every chapter), where he gave his side of things. I thought that it was unnecessarily disruptive to the flow of the narrative and ended up skipping those sections, which could explain why I think guilty (although this is in terms of "he did it" and not whether he's legally guilty and how much and all that).

Apart from that, there were a few things that struck me as slightly odd. For example, the first half is very much written like a novel, with the thoughts of the detectives and all that. I can't remember if most true-crime books do that, but somehow, it was rather jarring to me.

Overall: the John McCabe murder is a tragic one, and there's no doubt that the trial was complicated and worth writing about. However, the bias was too strong and I ended up leaning in the opposite direction.

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for a free and honest review.