Book Review: Modern Romance – Aziz Ansari & Eric Klinenberg

modern-romanceTitle: Modern Roance
Author: Aziz Ansari & Eric Klinenberg
ISBN: 9781594206276
Pages: 288
Release Date: June 16, 2015
Publisher: The Penguin Press
Genre: Nonfiction, Sociology
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Summary:

Instead of writing a traditional memoir, comedian Aziz Ansari chose to look at things from a different point of view: what dating looks like in modern culture. Teaming up with sociologist Eric Klinenberg, Ansari provides a look at what dating and relationships are like today through anecdotal evidence, focus groups, statistics, and more.

Review:

I’m obsessed with statistics and data. I love poking through data, understanding trends, and understanding what our data says about us. I also find today’s dating climate very interesting, so you can bet that, when it came to Modern Romance, I was hooked from the second I heard about the concept of the book.
When I first learned about Aziz Ansari’s book, it sounded a lot like Dataclysm, a book by Christian Rudder that broke down data gleaned from OKCupid’s massive database. Upon reading it, though, these two book are very different. First of all, Dataclysm relies much more on hard statistics. Second, despite the fact that the data source for Dataclysm was an online dating site, the book tackled much broader themes. Modern Romance is narrower and more focused, and that works well for it.
Modern Romance feels very organic in terms of its subject matter. The data sources are numerous, from a subreddit to people whose texts Ansari read out during his comedy shows. It feels more personal, and thus more relatable. The writing is clear and easy to read; it draws you in completely and is an engaging narrative, though the style feels a bit strange. It’s funny, to be sure, but it almost feels like the funny parts are a commentary on the harder data; this might be an issue with the two authors’ work not quite meshing as seamlessly as one would hope.
That being said, Modern Romance is absolutely worth the read. It’s fascinating to see what dating in today’s world is really like, especially with (1) online dating and (2) texting, especially considering it’s been so long since I’ve been in that situation. You’d think this book would leave you dejected at the state of modern romance, but it actually doesn’t. It shows how things have changed, to be sure, but it doesn’t at all make the case that things are worse than they used to be. Dating has evolved, and that’s not just okay, it’s how things are supposed to work.

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Book Review: Smarter than You Think – Clive Thompson

smarter than you think - clive thompsonTitle: Smarter than You Think: How Technology Is Changing Our Minds for the Better
Author: Clive Thompson
ISBN: 9780143125822
Pages: 352
Release Date: August 26, 2014
Publisher: Penguin Books
Genre: Nonfiction, Social/Psychological Studies
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Summary:

Is technology changing the way we think? The answer is most certainly yes, but most people would bemoan that technology is, in fact, making us dumber, more reliant on our smartphones than our own brains. But Clive Thompson argues the opposite: that technology actually makes us smarter, more productive, and more creative.

Review:

It’s easy to fear that technology is, in fact, making us dumber. I know I’m not the only one who can’t really remember what I did before I could just Google something. Relying on my smartphone means I’ve stored less in my brain, I worry. But is that actually what it means? Clive Thompson (thankfully) says no.

Thompson makes some very good points in Smarter than You Think, but there’s one that has stood out to me, that I always tell people when I recommend the book to them (and I’ve been doing a lot of that lately; this is absolutely a book worth reading) is Thompson’s example of the invention of writing. When writing was first invented, and people stopped having to remember so much, the way they thought changed. Writing became a tool they could use, but it didn’t make them less smart. It just changed the way they think. Just like that, technology doesn’t think for us; it’s a tool we use that has changed the way we think.

The examples and anecdotes provided in Smarter than You Think are fascinating. This is a short read, packed to the brim with interesting information. From epic computer–human chess matches (with surprising results) to people who record every second of their lives, Thompson takes the reader through how technology is making us better, smarter, and more productive. It’s well-written, with an engaging narrative that readers will really become invested in. His results are surprising, often delightful, and the conversational tone keeps the story from ever becoming dry. If you enjoy reading about how we think, a subject I’ve been reading about more and more frequently, (or perhaps just worry that technology has made you dumber) this book is a must-read.

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Book Review: Being Mortal – Atul Gawande

being mortal coverTitle: Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End
Author: Atul Gawande
ISBN: 9780805095159
Pages: 304
Release Date: October 7, 2014
Publisher: Metropolitan Books
Genre: Nonfiction, Social/Psychological
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 out of 5

Summary:

In his latest book, surgeon Atul Gawande discusses the most difficult thing of all—dying—and provides graceful insight into how we can better manage our collective and individual decline in health as we age.

Snapshot Review:

Atul Gawande’s Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End is a gorgeously written, thoughtful, and heartbreaking book that should be required reading. Gawande manages to discuss some very difficult and provocative subjects while still maintaining a clear-eyed and gripping narrative.

Full Review:

My summary above may make Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End seem like a dry how-to manual, but don’t allow yourself to be fooled. This is a beautiful, moving, and provocative look at aging and death, at how we treat our elderly, and what we can and should be doing better. Gawande is frank about his difficult subject matter: we don’t want to entertain thoughts of our own demises or that of our parents’ and other loved ones. But by not thinking about it and discussing it, we do ourselves a real disservice.

Gawande approaches the subject in Being Mortal from multiple points of view. The first is that of a doctor; Gawande is well-respected surgeon, but he’s never really pondered the plight of the elderly in our society. He begins doing rounds with geriatric doctors and talking to hospice care nurses. He realizes that most doctors will try to save their patient, at any cost; it’s up to the patient to draw the line in the sand, to be firm about what they want out of a treatment and what they won’t give up, even if it might buy them an extra month or two of life. Our healthcare system in the United States discourages frank discussion between doctor and patient; Gawande provides insight into a doctor’s thinking, but also recognizes that doctors often do their patients a disservice by softening the truth.

The other approach to this issue that Gawande offers in Being Mortal is much more personal: that of his own father, himself a surgeon. Gawande discusses his father’s decline, and how even with being a doctor and understanding the issues, he found his judgment clouded because of the emotions involved. He wanted more time with his father, as we all do with our loved ones, but how could he balance that selfish desire with what his father wanted and needed out of treatment? It’s eye opening to be sure. Gawande allows the reader into the most personal areas of his life here, and readers become emotionally involved in his journey and decisions, turn by heartbreaking turn.

What Being Mortal excels at is really getting under the reader’s skin and making them think. We hate thinking about death; that’s natural. But Gawande persuasively argues that we should. And not just about wills and powers of attorney, but about quality of life and knowing when to let go. It’s hard to think about, and it can be very hard to read about. Luckily, Gawande’s clear prose makes this book a fascinating narrative. His goal in this book is to discover how to make dying as dignified as possible for the elderly, and it’s incredibly poignant and moving. Honestly, I can’t do this book justice with a review except to say that this is not just one of my favorite books of the year. It’s one of the best books I’ve ever read, and you can bet it’ll have a permanent spot on my shelf for years to come, a fascinating exploration for now, and at some point, a companion to my devastation when I’m forced to make some of the decisions that Gawande writes about so eloquently.

Other books by Atul Gawande:

The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right

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Book Review: The Republic of Imagination – Azar Nafisi

The Republic of Imagination coverTitle: The Republic of Imagination: America in Three Books
Author: Azar Nafisi
ISBN: 9780670026067
Pages: 352
Release Date: October 21, 2014
Publisher: Viking
Genre: Nonfiction, Social Studies
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 out of 5

Summary:

In the fashion of Reading Lolita in Tehran, author Azar Nafisi turns her sharp literary eye to her adopted country of America, closely examining three different books: The Adventures of Huckleberry FinnBabbitt, and The Heart is a Lonely Hunter to discuss the culture of the United States.

Snapshot Review:

A gorgeous and moving read about American culture through the prism of three modern classics, The Republic of Imagination: America in Three Novels is a thoughtful work of literary criticism that shows how novels remain relevant long after they have been published.

Full Review:

Azar Nafisi’s latest nonfiction book delves into an investigation of the United States, closely looking at different aspects of American culture through the lens of three different American classics. The book is structured into three sections featuring the three books—The Adventures of Huckleberry FinnBabbitt, and The Heart is a Lonely Hunter. Each section also deals with a different aspect of American culture.

The first, and in my opinion the most effective, is The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. In this section of The Republic of Imagination, Nafisi discusses the sense of American freedom and the spirit that American culture seems to be imbued with, juxtaposing this against the story of Nafisi’s close friend, who spoke out against the Islamic regime in Iran and has recently died. It’s a beautifully written testament to her friend, as well as a thoughtful analysis of Huck’s search for a sense of self over the course of the book. (In retrospect, this might have been the most powerful section of the book for me because it’s the only one of these three American classics I’ve read.)

The second part of The Republic of Imagination deals with Babbitt by Sinclair Lewis, which Nafisi uses to discuss the Common Core Standards in the United States and how they are crippling the American education system. While this section was certainly interesting, it was so focused and topical that it was a little jarring and blended less with Nafisi’s overall exploration than the other two sections of the book. Still, it was certainly interesting, and though I knew most of the criticisms leveled at the programs, it certainly would be eye-opening for anyone not familiar with Common Core.

Finally, in the last section of The Republic of Imagination, Nafisi tackles The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers, a book I know little about. I found this section fascinating, and while I found the Huck Finn discussion the most effective in terms of getting the message across, it was this third part I found the most interesting, simply because I learned a lot. Nafisi discusses in detail how the characters in this American novel are singular in their loneliness and want nothing more than to connect with others, a state that many Americans find themselves in. This discussion made me intensely curious about The Heart is a Lonely Hunter; I’ll definitely be reading it in the near future.

If you enjoy reading works of literary criticism and are curious as to how classic novels can be made relevant to our modern-day lives, then The Republic of Imagination: America in Three Novels is absolutely a great choice. It’s interesting how Nafisi often focuses on the central theme of escapism in American literature, and how so much of the United States’ culture is based on imagining something better, something grander. Nafisi is a beautiful, thoughtful writer, and this is a fascinating read.

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Book Review: How Star Wars Conquered the Universe – Chris Taylor

How Star Wars Conquered the Universe cover

Title: How Star Wars Conquered the Universe: The Past, Present, and Future of a Multibillion Dollar Franchise Author: Chris Taylor ISBN: 9780465089987 Pages: 488 Release Date: September 30, 2014 Publisher: Basic Books Genre: Nonfiction, History, Social/Cultural Source: Publisher Rating: 5 out of 5 Summary: It is hard to argue that Star Wars has become a cultural icon, […]

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Book Review: Dataclysm – Christian Rudder

dataclysm cover

Title: Dataclysm: Who We Are (When We Think No One’s Looking) Author: Christian Rudder ISBN: 9780385347372 Pages: 304 Release Date: September 9, 2014 Publisher: Crown Genre: Nonfiction, Social Science Study Source: Publisher Rating: 4.5 out of 5 Summary: The dating site OKCupid is one of the largest in the United States, and the founders and operators have always […]

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Book Review: Confessions of a Sociopath – M.E. Thomas

confessions of a sociopath - cover

Title: Confessions of a Sociopath: A Life Spent Hiding in Plain Sight Author: M.E. Thomas ISBN: 9780307956651 Pages: 336 Release Date: May 13, 2014 Publisher: Broadway Genre:  Nonfiction, Memoir Source: Publisher Rating: 4 out of 5 Summary: As a clinically diagnosed sociopath, M.E. Thomas knows that she is in a category of people distrusted and misunderstood by the world. […]

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Book Review: Behind the Beautiful Forevers – Katherine Boo

Behind the Beautiful Forevers cover

Title: Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity Author: Katherine Boo ISBN: 9780812979329 Pages: 288 Release Date: April 8, 2014 Publisher: Random House Trade Paperbacks Genre: Nonfiction, Cultural (South Asia) Source: Publisher Rating: 3 out of 5 Summary: In a narrative nonfiction style, Katherine Boo tells the story of multiple families living in […]

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