Recent book reviews — November 2014


Title: The Extreme Life of the Sea
Author: Stephen R Palumbi and Anthony R Palumbi
Source: LAPL
Interest: 3 stars

This is a fun book about the “coldest”, “hottest”, “smallest”, “deepest”, etc life in the sea. It includes insights into known species (the lobster has the fastest reflexive defense in nature), and introduces less well known species like the icefish and glass sponge. I came away glad I don’t eat fish and shellfish, and with a new rule, “Humans probably shouldn’t eat anything older than themselves.”

A fun read for nature lovers.


Title: Absolute Value — What Really Influences Customers in the Age of (Nearly) Perfect Information
Author: Itamar Simonson and Emanuel Rosen
Source: LAPL
Interest: 1.5 stars

I despise advertising. I use Adblock Edge on the internet. I mute commercials. I ignore billboards. When debating between two brands at the supermarket, I intentionally purchase the one for which I’ve never seen an ad. But while I do my best to resist its influence, I recognize I am not immune to the pervasive pull of marketing, especially as marketers’ techniques become more subtle.

I checked out Absolute Value with the hopes of understanding advertiser’s modern approaches. Unfortunately, I didn’t learn much here. Nor was I inspired by a particularly revolutionary concept of marketing. Ironically, I would have enjoyed the book more if its theories had been better or worse.

The authors’ central concept is that the roles of prior preference (including “brand value”) and marketing are diminishing as customers have access to better information about products. This is a relatively interesting idea, unfortunately beaten to death in 200-odd pages. The book concludes that marketing should focus less on influence and trickery and more on conveying the “absolute value” of its wares. That is the same idea most marketing skeptics already have: “PR over advertising”. Nothing for me changed after reading Absolute Value. I despise advertising.


Title: Real Talk for Real Teachers
Author: Rafe Esquith
Source: LAPL
Interest: 4.5 stars

The best book this month! Perhaps the best book I read this year!

Esquith does it again with an inspiring explanation of his thoughts on teaching. A Los Angeles elementary school teacher, Esquith has built a remarkable multi-disciplinary curriculum for his students, with a massive support network of parents, collaborators, and former students. His classroom is a 501c3 organization!

In his writing, Esquith does a good job of explaining his accomplishments without seeming full of himself. His advice feels genuine and useful and I had numerous ideas for how to apply his ideas to the Los Angeles Taiko Institute. I thoroughly recommend everything by Rafe Esquith!


Title: The Dictionary of Fashion History
Author: Valerie Cumming, C.W. Cunnington and P.E. Cunnington
Source: LAPL
Interest: 1.5 stars

I’m very interested in fashion history at the moment and had hoped this might be one of those homey dictionaries with quirky entries that you can read from A to Z. Unfortunately, this book is more pragmatic and less interesting than that. It might be occasionally useful on the shelf of a dedicated fashion student, but doesn’t offer much in a two-week library check-out.


Title: Moving Through the Universe in Bare Feet — Ten Circle Dances for Everybody
Author: Deborah Hay
Source: LAPL
Interest: 1.5 stars

I love what I have read about Deborah Hay’s concepts of modern dance. She seems extremely open minded and loving, and tries to widen the scope of “dance” and who can participate. She has created a series of circle dances she and others use to lead non-dancers through group movement experiences. It sounds delightful. Unfortunately, her book isn’t enough to get me to try leading one.

The circle dance leader gives directions for simple movements, set to popular music. “Press the front of your face through space. Upwards… Sense the width between your eyelids. High points on cheekbones. The width of your lips…” If I had taken a workshop or participated in a dance previously, or if I were less reserved about the new-agey language Hay employs, perhaps I’d be brave enough to try leading one with friends. Unfortunately, I don’t think I could pull people through the experience.

While it’s certainly not Hay’s fault, for the uninitiated, the book is only a thin step up a high wall.

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