Main site homepage
Showing 5 of 5 Results

The Book Blog

profile-icon Michael Ramey

To branch out of my comfort zone, I read Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers: The Story of Success. A journalist who has written for the Washington Post and The New Yorker, Gladwell provides an analysis on how certain people and groups achieve success – whether financial, popular, or creative success. While the book is well written and engaging, it suffers from oversimplification and generalizations about psychological processes.

Outliers is split into two sections: opportunity and legacy. In the first half of the book, opportunity, Gladwell analyzes The Beatles, Microsoft’s Bill Gates, and theoretical physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer among others and argues that they had opportunities to hone their skills that most people do not have. For example, Gladwell mentions that The Beatles became a great band because that had the opportunity to fine tune their skills while performing in Hamburg, Germany for two years. Gladwell estimates that The Beatles performed in Hamburg an estimated twelve hundred times – satisfying the “10,000 Hour Rule,” which is the metric he identifies with attaining mastery over any skill (Gladwell 50).

The second half of the book is focused on legacy and how it influences whether people are successful or not. Gladwell talks about the honor code inherent in people living in Harlan, Kentucky, the reluctance of certain ethnic groups to call attention to risks while flying aircraft due to culture deference, and how the Chinese succeed in mathematics due to rice paddy cultivation among other case studies. This part of the book is the weakest section because Gladwell relies on oversimplification and generalizations to make his points. In one instance, in the section on cultivating rice paddies, Gladwell compares Eastern and Western agricultural practices and concludes that since Western agriculture relies on mechanical equipment, “the people who grow rice have always worked harder than most any other kind of farmer” (232-233). Aside from the fact that it is nearly impossible to measure how hard someone works, this is a weak argument because the correlation between rice paddy cultivation and success in mathematics is not convincingly established. Furthermore, rice cultivation is not unique to Eastern agriculture as rice is grown around the world. This is truly an example of correlation not equaling causation.

That said, Outliers has value as a readable introduction to basic psychology and it provides an interesting perspective on what makes people successful. Also, Gladwell is a talented writer who can paint a clear picture with a light journalistic style. It is unfortunate that most of his arguments are surface level that do not engage with data and other evidence to prove his points.

Gladwell, Malcolm. Outliers: The Story of Success. Back Bay Books, 2011.

Outliers : the story of successOutliers : the story of success by Malcolm Gladwell
ISBN: 9780316017930
Publication Date: 2011-06-07
No Subjects
profile-icon Dr. Brittnee Fisher

Imagine a world suffering from an unleashed Arctic Plague. Imagine watching how, throughout generations, this plague reshapes life on earth. Imagine what the world will be like as climate changes the landscape of the world we know and how we’ll react as a human species. Imagine how technology will continue to change and evolve. You’ll get to do all this and more while reading How High We Go in the Dark by Sequoia Nagamatsu.

One of the things that I like best about this book is that it’s more like a collection of intertwined short stories than a proper novel. Each chapter has a new perspective and a new story. The chapters are weaved together to illustrate the connection between characters in their shared experience with these larger-than-life topics, like plague and climate change. It takes a few chapters before the links start to show themselves, but it was neat to watch them develop throughout the book.

Some of the chapters felt relatable in the aftermath of COVID-19. Nagamatsu’s imaginative stories of a new plague made me realize how fortunate we were in the wake of an unknown sickness. Many of these stories put into perspective how much worse the impact could have genuinely been. One of the heaviest chapters focuses on how different a plague would look if children, rather than the elderly or infirm, were the susceptible group.

This is a unique book. You’ll get everything from mourning rituals to space travel. The stories kept me entertained, and since there was no singular storyline, I didn’t find myself guessing what might happen next. I was just able to enjoy the ride. I will be watching for future works from this author- he’s found a fan in me.


How High We Go in the DarkHow High We Go in the Dark by Sequoia Nagamatsu
ISBN: 9780063072640
Publication Date: 2022-01-18



No Subjects
profile-icon Michael Ramey

The last time I hung out with my friends, one of them got me to try out Dungeons and Dragons (DND), a role-playing game which involves imaginative storytelling and probability to determine how events happen. While I have always been interested in fantasy settings, I had never gotten around to trying out DND. Frankly, the idea had always intimidated me; there are many moving parts and it looked like a lot of work for a game. One of my best friends has been into it for years and has tried to rope me and another friend into a session for some time now. During a recent trip with them, we finally humored the DND fan and gave the game a try.

Actions within a game session are governed with several dice. For example, if my character tried to deceive someone, I would have to do a “deception roll,” which means I must roll the dice to determine if the deception attempt worked or not. The number range needed to succeed in a dice check like this can vary depending on my character’s strengths and weaknesses. This randomization can change the outlook of the entire story itself which keeps players and the Dungeon Master constantly on their toes. The amount of choice and creativity in how to approach a situation keeps the game fresh and interesting.

What surprised me about DND is the amount of work the Dungeon Master, the creator and impartial moderator of a session, puts into a game: they write the story, establish scenarios, and improvise when the players do something unexpected. My friend, who served as the Dungeon Master, spent about four hours writing the story and setting up each scenario. When he was finished drafting, he helped the two of us create characters within the game’s parameters and then set us loose in the fantasy world.

That said, as new players, we ended up having too much fun (my character is currently in jail), derailing the story without understanding that DND is a collaborative effort between the Dungeon Master and the other players to go through a story. The Dungeon Master sets the stage, but the players give the story life. Without the players buying into the story, everything falls apart.

The experience got me thinking about how that type of world building is no different than any other type of creative venture reliant on teamwork. Ultimately, DND is about roleplaying and collaborative storytelling. It is about generating ideas and working together on those ideas. I can see this type of collaborative storytelling serving as a potential writing and teamwork exercise for the classroom.

I want to try out DND again. After all, I need to figure out how to get my character out of jail somehow.

No Subjects
profile-icon Dr. Brittnee Fisher

Since 2020, I've been very interested in wellness reads. Specifically, books that will help me stay afloat during these seemingly never-ending trying times. Some of the books I've read have been well-meaning but unhelpful, and some have been truly inspirational. This one falls somewhere in between.

I was attracted to this book because it is about women's stress. Now, I'm not saying that men's stress isn't an important issue. I am saying that I have the impression that women and men may experience stress differently. I want to know how I can help me. The Nagoski sisters, a researcher and a musician, tackle complex notions of women's stress by informing readers about the stress cycle and how it is fed by the "Bikini Industrial Complex." The BIC and other patriarchal systems in place in our society make self-love and compassion more difficult for women and heighten our stress.

Having read Jane Eyre for the first time very recently, I was entertained by their reference to the "madwoman in the attic." This is their illustration of all women's internal stress monitor. The authors recommend that each woman personalize her own stress monitor and work together to manage stress instead of working against it. So, when you've become stressed, don't think, "I'm out of control for feeling this way," think instead, "why am I reacting this way?" Getting to the root of the problem is crucial in rethinking and resolving stress.

I appreciated that the authors provided practical tips for "closing the stress cycle." Most of these ideas are not new or groundbreaking, but I need to read them repeatedly to remember to do them. I have incorporated some of their more out-of-the-box tactics, and dare I say, I'm having a bit of fun with them. Who knew I could easily fit "smashing the patriarchy" into my daily schedule?


Burnout : the secret to unlocking the stress cycleBurnout : the secret to unlocking the stress cycle by Emily Nagoski; Amelia Nagoski
ISBN: 9781984818324
Publication Date: 2020-01-07
No Subjects
profile-icon Michael Ramey

The Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan is a massive fantasy series about a group of ordinary people getting swept up in a larger world. The Wheel of Time itself is a belief system that represents creation and reality, whereas the Dark One – a Satan-like figure – represents chaos and disorder. Threads of the Wheel represent peoples’ fate or destiny. In this universe, time is cyclical, meaning that people are eventually reborn, and events tend to repeat themselves in later ages.

The story kicks off when Moiraine, an Aes Sedai, arrives at Two Rivers with her Warder al’Lan Mandragoran on the eve of the village’s harvest festival Bel Tine. Aes Sedai are an all-female group of channelers of the One Power, essentially magic in this world, while Warders are prolific warriors that protect Aes Sedai. Moiraine is seeking the Dragon Reborn, a male channeler who is prophesized to be reincarnated from the Wheel of Time to encounter and defeat the Dark One. However, men who try to channel the One Power eventually grow insane because their half of the One Power was corrupted by the Dark One in a previous age. This tension between finding the potential savior of the world and managing his growing madness from the One Power drives the main conflict of the story.

Moiraine has narrowed her search for the Dragon Reborn to three farm boys from the Two Rivers – Rand al’Thor, Matrim Cauthon, and Perrin Aybara – who are ta’veren, individuals that greatly influence the threads of the Wheel itself. This means others tend to gravitate toward the ta’veren. Even those not ta’veren have a great impact on the world. For example, Egwene al’Vere and Nynaeve al’Meara, childhood friends who come with the farm boys, discover they can channel the One Power and get swept up into the politics and machinations of the wider world.

This brief description does not do The Wheel of Time justice. The strengths of the series are the characters’ interactions with each other and the in-depth world building. By the end of the series, the characters from the Two Rivers become major players in the world as the conflict between the Dragon Reborn and the Dark One looms over everyone. For those hesitant about starting a large book series, Amazon adapted the first book, The Eye of the World, into a television show which does a good job capturing the feel of the book while taking some liberties with the source material. Either way, I recommend giving this series a try.

No Subjects