Reviews of the books I've read

A list of all the books I've read this year. For these reviews, this is my book review scale:

burn Burn any copy you find of this book, it is horrific.
mock This book is awful. Don't read this book and mock anyone you see reading this book.
don't Don't read this book.
desert If you're on a desert island and are bored out of your mind, this book is okay to read.
fan If you're a fan of this author / genre, this book is worth reading.
worth This book is interesting, fun, entertaining, and thus worth reading. I would hand this book to a friend who asked for a _____ type book.
strongly I strongly recommend this book
amazing OMG, this book is amazing and/or life-changing, let me buy you a copy.

Post date:

The Art of Thinking Clearly

Book Notes

I loved this book. If I could, I'd have this be a textbook that every high school kid had to read, to understand biases and how they are being externally manipulated. Can you imagine how much better everyone would be if we were all aware of our biases and the cultural and commercial manipulations happening? WOW!

Anyway, ahem, this book.

This book lists a whole slew of cognitive biases, logic fallacies, and faulty thinkings that, once you know about them, you can see everywhere.

I suspect that, sadly, even if a lot of people know about them, they won't care enough to do anything positive about them, but for people who do care, for people who want to improve, knowing about them is incredibly powerful.

I loved this book. I found it amazing and will buy you a copy if you promise to read it fully.

To fight against the confirmation bias, try writing down your beliefs—whether in terms of worldview, investments, marriage, health care, diet, career strategies—and set out to find disconfirming evidence.
Page 24

Since this behavior was discovered, nearly every airline has instituted crew resource management (CRM), which coaches pilots and their crews to discuss any reservations they have openly and quickly. In other words: They carefully deprogram the authority bias. CRM has contributed more to flight safety in the past twenty years than have any technical advances.
Page 26

Whenever you are about to make a decision, think about which authority figures might be exerting an influence on your reasoning. And when you encounter one in the flesh, do your best to challenge him or her.
Page 27

If something is repeated often enough, it gets stored at the forefront of our minds. It doesn’t even have to be true. How often did the Nazi leaders have to repeat the term “the Jewish question” before the masses began to believe that it was a serious problem?
Page 32

We prefer wrong information to no information.
Page 33

availability bias. Fend it off by spending time with people who think differently than you do—people whose experiences and expertise are different from yours. We require others’ input to overcome the availability bias.
Page 33

Life is a muddle, as intricate as a Gordian knot.
Page 37

We want our lives to form a pattern that can be easily followed. Many call this guiding principle “meaning.” If our story advances evenly over the years, we refer to it as “identity.”
Page 37

“We try on stories as we try on clothes,” said Max Frisch, a famous Swiss novelist.
Page 37

Stories are dubious entities. They simplify and distort reality and filter things that don’t fit. But apparently we cannot do without them. Why remains unclear.
Page 38

Whenever you hear a story, ask yourself: Who is the sender, what are his intentions, and what did he hide under the rug? The omitted elements might not be of relevance. But, then again, they might be even more relevant than the elements featured in the story,
Page 39

The real issue with stories: They give us a false sense of understanding, which inevitably leads us to take bigger risks and urges us to take a stroll on thin ice.
Page 39

The hindsight bias is one of the most prevailing fallacies of all. We can aptly describe it as the “I told you so” phenomenon: In retrospect, everything seems clear and inevitable.
Page 41

So why is the hindsight bias so perilous? Well, it makes us believe we are better predictors than we actually are, causing us to be arrogant about our knowledge and consequently to take too much risk.
Page 41

Overcoming the hindsight bias is not easy. Studies have shown that people who are aware of it fall for it just as much as everyone else.
Page 41

Keep a journal. Write down your predictions—for political changes, your career, your weight, the stock market, and so on. Then, from time to time, compare your notes with actual developments. You will be amazed at what a poor forecaster you are.
Page 42

but the diaries, oral histories, and historical documents from the period. If you can’t live without news, read newspapers from five, ten, or twenty years ago.
Page 42

The more we like someone, the more inclined we are to buy from or help that person.
Page 64

According to research, we see people as pleasant, if (a) they are outwardly attractive, (b) they are similar to us in terms of origin, personality, or interests, and (c) they like us.
Page 64

Of course your vote counts, but only by the tiniest of fractions, bordering on the irrelevant.
Page 66

So, if you are a salesperson, make buyers think you like them, even if this means outright flattery. And if you are a consumer, always judge a product independently of who is selling it. Banish the salespeople from your mind or, rather, pretend you don’t like them.
Page 66

If someone says “never,” I usually register this as a minuscule probability greater than zero since “never” cannot be compensated by a negative probability.
Page 72

In sum: Let’s not get too excited. Improbable coincidences are precisely that: rare but very possible events. It’s not surprising when they finally happen. What would be more surprising is if they never came to be.
Page 72

Have you ever bitten your tongue in a meeting? Surely. You sit there, say nothing, and nod along to proposals. After all, you don’t want to be the (eternal) naysayer. Moreover, you might not be 100 percent sure why you disagree, whereas the others are unanimous—and far from stupid. So you keep your mouth shut for another day. When everyone thinks and acts like this, groupthink is at work: This is where a group of smart people makes reckless decisions because everyone aligns their opinions with the supposed consensus.
Page 73

Induction seduces us and leads us to conclusions such as: “Mankind has always survived, so we will be able to tackle any future challenges, too.” Sounds good in theory, but what we fail to realize is that such a statement can only come from a species that has lasted until now.
Page 94

if you want to convince someone about something, don’t focus on the advantages; instead highlight how it helps them dodge the disadvantages.
Page 96

The fear of losing something motivates people more than the prospect of gaining something of equal value.
Page 96

We can’t fight it: Evil is more powerful and more plentiful than good. We are more sensitive to negative than to positive things.
Page 97

In the West, teams function better if and only if they are small and consist of diverse, specialized people. This makes sense, because within such groups, individual performances can be traced back to each specialist.
Page 99

We hide behind team decisions. The technical term for this is “diffusion of responsibility.”
Page 100

People behave differently in groups than when alone (otherwise there would be no groups). The disadvantages of groups can be mitigated by making individual performances as visible as possible.
Page 100

When it comes to growth rates, do not trust your intuition. You don’t have any. Accept it. What really helps is a calculator or, with low growth rates, the magic number of 70.
Page 103

Second, avoid ad-contaminated sources like the plague. How fortunate we are that books are (still) ad-free!
Page 211

try to remember the source of every argument you encounter. Whose opinions are these? And why do they think that way? Probe the issue like an investigator would: Cui bono? Who benefits? Admittedly, this is a lot of work and will slow down your decision making. But it will also refine it.
Page 211

Let’s call it alternative blindness: We systematically forget to compare an existing offer with the next-best alternative.
Page 213

Warren Buffett does things: “Each deal we measure against the second-best deal that is available at any given time—even if it means doing more of what we are already doing.”
Page 213

Forget about the rock and the hard place, and open your eyes to the other, superior alternatives.
Page 214

social comparison bias had kicked in—that is, the tendency to withhold assistance to people who might outdo you, even if you look like a fool in the long run.
Page 215

Kawasaki says: “A-players hire people even better than themselves. It’s clear, though, that B-players hire C-players so they can feel superior to them, and C-players hire D-players. If you start hiring B-players, expect what Steve [Jobs] called ‘the bozo explosion’ to happen in your organization.”
Page 216

Hire people who are better than you, otherwise you soon preside over a pack of underdogs.
Page 216

Suppose you sit on the board of a company. A point of discussion is raised—a topic on which you have not yet passed judgment. The first opinion you hear will be crucial to your overall assessment. The same applies to the other participants, a fact that you can exploit: If you have an opinion, don’t hesitate airing it first. This way, you will influence your colleagues more and draw them over to your side. If, however, you are chairing the committee, always ask members’ opinions in random order so that no one has an unfair advantage.
Page 219

On a societal level, NIH syndrome has serious consequences. We overlook shrewd ideas simply because they come from other cultures.
Page 223

We are drunk on our own ideas. To sober up, take a step back every now and then and examine their quality in hindsight.
Page 223

U.S. secretary of defense Donald Rumsfeld, but at a press conference in 2002, he expressed a philosophical thought with exceptional clarity when he offered this observation: There are things we know (“ known facts”), there are things we do not know (“ known unknowns”), and there are things we do not know that we do not know (“ unknown unknowns”).
Page 225

Put yourself in situations where you can catch a ride on a positive Black Swan (as unlikely as that is). Become an artist, inventor, or entrepreneur with a scalable product. If you sell your time (e.g., as an employee, dentist, or journalist), you are waiting in vain for such a break. But even
Page 226

Free Will

Book Notes

I picked up this book because I had read Lying, also by Sam Harris, and found it to be life changing. Who knows, this one could be life changing, too.

Yep. It was. It totally fucked me up. And not in a good way.

I used to talk with Ken Klein about free will. He argued that all of our actions are the result of chemical reaction in our brain. I disagreed, but really, how much philosophical sophistication is a 12 year old going to have? Answer: not much.

Fast forward to this year, couple the year with a looming birthday likely to kill me, and a book that asks, "Those thoughts you have, where do they come from?" and shit, I don't know.

Hence, fucked up as my brain went into an infinite loop on the question.

The book is worth reading if you're of a mind to pay attention and ponder the question of free will, it could change your life. If you're not in the mood for the thinking part, not worth the time to read.

Whatever their conscious motives, these men cannot know why they are as they are. Nor can we account for why we are not like them.
Page 4

Even if you believe that every human being harbors an immortal soul, the problem of responsibility remains: I cannot take credit for the fact that I do not have the soul of a psychopath.
Page 4

How can we make sense of our lives, and hold people accountable for their choices, given the unconscious origins of our conscious minds?
Page 5

Willpower is itself a biological phenomenon. You can change your life, and yourself, through effort and discipline—but you have whatever capacity for effort and discipline you have in this moment, and not a scintilla more (or less). You are either lucky in this department or you aren’t—and you cannot make your own luck.
Page 38

Many people believe that human freedom consists in our ability to do what, upon reflection, we believe we should do—which often means overcoming our short-term desires and following our long-term goals or better judgment.
Page 38

You have not built your mind. And in moments in which you seem to build it—when you make an effort to change yourself, to acquire knowledge, or to perfect a skill—the only tools at your disposal are those that you have inherited from moments past.
Page 39

My choices matter—and there are paths toward making wiser ones—but I cannot choose what I choose.
Page 39

Rory Miller’s excellent book Meditations on Violence.
Page 43

You will do whatever it is you do, and it is meaningless to assert that you could have done otherwise.
Page 44

Our interests in life are not always served by viewing people and things as collections of atoms—but this doesn’t negate the truth or utility of physics.
Page 46

Why is the conscious decision to do another person harm particularly blameworthy? Because what we do subsequent to conscious planning tends to most fully reflect the global properties of our minds—our beliefs, desires, goals, prejudices, etc.
Page 52

No human being is responsible for his genes or his upbringing, yet we have every reason to believe that these factors determine his character.
Page 54

it seems immoral not to recognize just how much luck is involved in morality itself.
Page 54

Clearly, vengeance answers to a powerful psychological need in many of us.
Page 57

We are deeply disposed to perceive people as the authors of their actions, to hold them responsible for the wrongs they do us, and to feel that these transgressions must be punished.
Page 57

it seems clear that a desire for retribution, arising from the idea that each person is the free author of his thoughts and actions, rests on a cognitive and emotional illusion—and perpetuates a moral one.
Page 58

Why did I order beer instead of wine? Because I prefer beer. Why do I prefer it? I don’t know, but I generally have no need to ask. Knowing that I like beer more than wine is all I need to know to function in a restaurant. Whatever the reason, I prefer one taste to the other. Is there freedom in this? None whatsoever. Would I magically reclaim my freedom if I decided to spite my preference and order wine instead? No, because the roots of this intention would be as obscure as the preference itself.
Page 60

Liberals tend to understand that a person can be lucky or unlucky in all matters relevant to his success. Conservatives, however, often make a religious fetish of individualism. Many seem to have absolutely no awareness of how fortunate one must be to succeed at anything in life, no matter how hard one works.
Page 61

Consider the biography of any “self-made” man, and you will find that his success was entirely dependent on background conditions that he did not make and of which he was merely the beneficiary.
Page 61

Even if you have struggled to make the most of what nature gave you, you must still admit that your ability and inclination to struggle is part of your inheritance. How much credit does a person deserve for not being lazy? None at all. Laziness, like diligence, is a neurological condition.
Page 62

And it is wise to hold people responsible for their actions when doing so influences their behavior and brings benefit to society.
Page 62

Our sense of our own freedom results from our not paying close attention to what it is like to be us. The moment we pay attention, it is possible to see that free will is nowhere to be found, and our experience is perfectly compatible with this truth. Thoughts and intentions simply arise in the mind.
Page 64

The Murder of Roger Ackroyd

Book Notes

To my recollection, I have not read an Agatha Christie mystery before this one. Given she was a prolific writer, knowing which of her books to read, which are better than the rest, is a worthwhile endeavor. Fortunately, others have read all of Christie's books, and I can use their wisdom to curate my reading list.

This book tops many of Christie's must-read books lists. It is the highest rated Poirot books, and the highest rated Christie mystery book, so, rather than skipping to the end, I started at the top.

And read this one.

I had the advantage of not having read this book before and not having seen the movie. I loved the ending. Well, not the ending ending, but the big reveal. Wow, just wow. I suspect if I had read the other Poirot books, I would have recognized him when he was introduced. I didn't, so even that small reveal was fun for me.

Basic plot: small(-ish) town doctor receives a call in the middle of the night that a friend / patient / big name in town is dead, and rushes to find, yes, indeed, he is not only dead, but also obviously murdered. He then works with the local police and, when invited, Poirot to discover who the murderer. It could be any number of persons in the dead man's household, based on given testimonies, and wow, everyone has something to hide. Society and shame has a way of doing that to us.

The glimpses into a past society was fun, too.

While normally I'd say, "I strongly recommend one read an Agatha Christie mystery," regardless of which one, I agree with all those who have read many if not all of her books, this one is great. Strongly recommended.

“Do not disquiet yourself. It is not with me a habit. But you can figure to yourself, monsieur, that a man may work towards a certain object, may labour and toil to attain a certain kind of leisure and occupation, and then find that, after all, he yearns for the old busy days, and the old occupations that he thought himself so glad to leave?”

“Yes,” I said slowly. “I fancy that that is a common enough occurrence. I myself am perhaps an instance. A year ago I came into a legacy—enough to enable me to realize a dream. I have always wanted to travel, to see the world. Well, that was a year ago, as I said, and—I am still here.”

My little neighbour nodded. “The chains of habit. We work to attain an object, and the object gained, we find that what we miss is the daily toil."
Page: 17

“And anyway,” continued Miss Flora, “all this making a fuss about things because someone wore or used them seems to me all nonsense. They’re not wearing or using them now. That pen that George Eliot wrote The Mill on the Floss with—that sort of thing—well, it’s only just a pen after all. If you’re really keen on George Eliot, why not get The Mill on the Floss in a cheap edition and read it.”
Page: 27

Youth is very buoyant. Even the brutal murder of his friend and employer could not dim Geoffrey Raymond’s spirits for long.

Perhaps that is as it should be. I do not know. I have lost the quality of resilience long since myself.
Page: 59

She knows the value of being direct on certain occasions. Any hints would certainly have been wasted on Caroline.

“You see,” she explained, following directness with tact,
Page: 62

“Everyone has something to hide,” I quoted, smiling.

“Exactly.”

“You still believe that?”

“More than ever, my friend."
Page: 85

“Curiosity is not my besetting sin,” I remarked coldly. “I can exist comfortably without knowing exactly what my neighbours are doing and thinking.”
Page: 142

I should not like Caroline to know. She is fond of me, and then, too, she is proud…My death will be a grief to her, but grief passes….
Page: 241

Fight Club

Book Notes

Okay, everyone knows the movie.

Not everyone knows the movie was a book. The afterword in the book confirms this.

I had read recently about how Palahniuk's financial advisors had pretty much swindled him out of his earnings from this book ($6000 advance, according to the afterword!), and that, well, he had taken a startling Classical Stoic view on the whole thing. Maybe my purchasing of the book (twice, actually, to my surprise) will help in some small way.

So, this book.

The Narrator is living a typical American life, everything is normal, and he feels empty. He starts going to support groups to feel alive.

I loved the support groups so much, if people thought you were dying, they gave you their full attention. If this might be the last time they saw you, they really saw you. Everything else about their checkbook balance and radio songs and messy hair went out the window. You had their full attention. People listened instead of just waiting for their turn to speak. And when they spoke, they weren’t telling you a story. When the two of you talked, you were building something, and afterward you were both different than before.
Page: 107

Eventually he meets up with Tyler Durden, who is pretty much the asshole every guy wants permission to be. The narrator's life begins to unravel. Said narrator doesn't care much, because Tyler is there to carry him along.

I had seen the movie, I know how the story goes. I had the eight rules of fight club (all lowercase in the book, unlike the uppercase the media uses) memorized at one time. Having now read the book, I am impressed with how closely the movie is to the book. The more subtle details such as the single porn movie frame being spliced into a family movie translated into the movie really well, I can appreciate those details.

Pretty much anyone who is a fan of the movie should read the book. I can't say I'm a huge fan of Palahniuk's writing style, or even a minor one, so I'm unlikely to read another book of his any time soon, but this one was worth reading if you are a fan.

I just don’t want to die without a few scars, I say. It’s nothing anymore to have a beautiful stock body. You see those cars that are completely stock cherry, right out of a dealer’s showroom in 1955, I always think, what a waste.
Page: 48

It used to be enough that when I came home angry and knowing that my life wasn’t toeing my five-year plan, I could clean my condominium or detail my car. Someday I’d be dead without a scar and there would be a really nice condo and car. Really, really nice, until the dust settled or the next owner. Nothing is static.
Page: 49

Ever since college, I make friends. They get married. I lose friends. Fine.
Page: 62

"You know, the condom is the glass slipper of our generation. You slip it on when you meet a stranger. You dance all night, then you throw it away. The condom, I mean. Not the stranger.”
Page: 66

Marla tells me how in the wild you don’t see old animals because as soon as they age, animals die. If they get sick or slow down, something stronger kills them. Animals aren’t meant to get old. Marla lies down on her bed and undoes the tie on her bathrobe, and says our culture has made death something wrong. Old animals should be an unnatural exception. Freaks.
Page: 103

Cancer will be like that, I tell Marla. There will be mistakes, and maybe the point is not to forget the rest of yourself if one little part might go bad.
Page: 105

There are a lot of things we don’t want to know about the people we love.
Page: 106

By this time next week, each guy on the Assault Committee has to pick a fight where he won’t come out a hero. And not in fight club. This is harder than it sounds. A man on the street will do anything not to fight.
Page: 119

The goal was to teach each man in the project that he had the power to control history. We, each of us, can take control of the world.
Page: 122

"You have a class of young strong men and women, and they want to give their lives to something. Advertising has these people chasing cars and clothes they don’t need. Generations have been working in jobs they hate, just so they can buy what they don’t really need.
Page: 149

On a long enough time line, everyone’s survival rate drops to zero.
Page: 176

The Thirst

Book Notes

Book 8 11 in the Harry Hole series, which I read out of order, and have come to really like. I didn't like the initial Harry Hole book I read, which is a shame, because I now look forward to them.

So, the end of book 7 10 felt like a good conclusion for the Harry Hole series. He gets to live happily-ever-after, the fairy tale ending we all want (well, most of us, I guess). Thing is, said endings are rarely The End, and the shine can often wear off in the mundane. Except for when it doesn't. When you don't trust it. When you realize it can all come crashing down in a moment, because life is like that, it keeps going, it keeps changing, it keeps moving, and loss in the in the cards for everyone playing the game of life.

Also, Nesbo had a few more loose ends to wrap up, like, oh, IDK, the one who got away maybe?

Who comes back.

The story starts with a couple gruesome murders, and Harry saying, "Nope, I'm not on the force any more, I'm sober, I'm with the most amazing woman for me, I got this, go away." Except when you have a calling, you can fight it until you die, or give in and follow it.

So back in Harry goes.

When a storyline wraps up and you have another 20% of the book left, you will often realize that you're reading either George R.R. Martin or some Harry Hole book, and that what looks like a nicely wrapped gift ... isn't.

I enjoyed the book, it's worth reading. If you're a fan of Nesbo's Harry Hole books, keep reading. If you aren't yet a fan, start at book one and see if you like it before reading this one (and include the six between).

Unrelated, this was book 50 that I've read this year so far, and another square on my 2019 Goals Bingo! card. Yay!

"That was the experience they were buying when they employed her. For instance, you shouldn’t betray your ideals. Or those closest to you. Or your responsibilities and obligations. And, if you get it wrong, you apologise and try to get it right next time. It’s OK to make mistakes. But betrayal isn’t OK."
Location 673

The second sort was waking up alone. That was characterised by an awareness that he was alone in bed, alone in life, alone in the world, and it could sometimes fill him with a sweet sensation of freedom, and at other times with a melancholy that could perhaps be called loneliness, but which was perhaps just a glimpse of what anyone’s life really is: a journey from the attachment of the umbilical cord to a death where we are finally separated from everything and everyone.
Location 1170

Happiness was like moving on thin ice, it was better to crack the ice and swim in cold water and freeze and struggle to get out than simply to wait until you plunged into it.
Location 1200

“Harry?” He could tell from the tone of her voice that she wasn’t going to give up.

“Don’t start with my name, please, you know it makes me nervous.”
Location 1269

Kinda like starting a sentence with "So....."

“OK. I suspect you of suggesting a dead woman because you assume I’ll think you’d find it less of a threat if it’s a woman I can’t spend the night with, in purely practical terms..."

“In that case, why don’t you just do it? Why not have a fling?”

“To start with, I don’t even know if my dream woman would say yes, and I’m no good at dealing with rejection. And secondly, because the bit about ‘no consequences’ doesn’t apply.”

“Really?”

Harry focused on the newspaper again. “You might leave me. Even if you don’t, you won’t look at me the same way anymore.”

“You could keep it secret.”

“I wouldn’t have the energy.”

“When you say you wouldn’t have the energy to keep an affair secret, do you mean ‘couldn’t keep up the pretence’?” Rakel asked.

“I mean ‘couldn’t be bothered.’ Keeping secrets is exhausting. And I’d feel guilty.” He turned the page. No more pages. “Having a guilty conscience is exhausting.”
Location 1303

“I feel that I’m trying to answer your questions as honestly as I can. But in order to do that, I need to think about them, and be realistic. If I were to follow my initial emotional instinct, I’d have said what I thought you wanted to hear. So here’s a warning. I’m not honest, I’m a slippery sod. My honesty now is merely a long-term investment in my own plausibility. Because there may come a day when I really need to lie, and then it might be handy if you think I’m honest.”
Location 1316

“Heredity. It’s like going to a fortune-teller and regretting it. As human beings, we tend not to like things we can’t avoid. Death, for instance.”
Location 1350

The most peculiar thing wasn’t that he’d become a teacher, but that he liked it. That he, like most people usually regarded as taciturn and introverted, felt less inhibited in front of a gathering of demanding students than when the guy at the only open checkout in the 7-Eleven put a packet of Camel Lights down on the counter and Harry thought about repeating his request for “Camels,” before noticing the restlessness of the queue behind him.
Location 1363

Wow, okay, this.

“Mm. Just because there are only a few of them doesn’t mean that they’re not right.”
Location 1459

“You yourself have said that if you can think of any form of deviancy, there’ll be someone out there who’s got it.”

“Oh yes, it’s all out there. Or will be. Our sexuality is all about what we’re capable of thinking and feeling. And that’s pretty much unlimited."
Location 1464

Harry remembered something he had once thought. That when he fell, when he pulled the cork from the bottle and took the first swig, it wasn’t the way he imagined, because that wasn’t the decisive moment. The decision had already been taken long before. And from that moment on, the only question was what the trigger would be. It was bound to come. At some point the bottle would be standing there in front of him. And it would have been waiting for him. And he for it. The rest was just opposite charges, magnetism, the inevitability of the laws of physics. Shit.

Shit.
Location 1499

“Are you still dry, Harry?”

“As a Norwegian oil well, boss.”

“Hm. You do know that Norwegian oil wells aren’t dry, don’t you? They’ve just been shut down until the price of oil rises again.”

“That was the image I was trying to convey, yes.”

Hagen shook his head. “And there was me thinking that you’d get more mature with age.”

“Disappointing, isn’t it? We don’t get wiser, just older."
Location 1522

“Some detectives might regard it as—what’s the word I’m looking for?—challenging, to have such a big name from the past looking over their shoulder.”

“Not a problem—I always play with my cards on the table, sir.” Katrine gave a brief smile.
Location 1658

He turned and looked at her with one eyebrow raised. “Why do you ask that?” And she felt it now as she had back then, the way that look could hit her like an electric shock, the way he—a man who could be so reserved, so distant—could bulldoze everything else aside just by looking at you for a second, and demand—and get—all of your attention. In that one second there was only one man in the whole world.
Location 1829

Harry was running. Harry didn’t like running. Some people ran because they liked it. Haruki Murakami liked it. Harry liked Murakami’s books, apart from the one about running—he had given up on that one. Harry ran because he liked stopping. He liked having to run. He liked weight training: a more concrete pain that was limited by the performance of his muscles, rather than a desire to have more pain. That probably said something about the weakness of his character, his inclination to flee, to look for an end to the pain even before it had started.
Location 2018

“What’s your point?”

“That people are more scared than the likelihood of meeting a vampirist ought to make them. Because it’s all over the front pages of the newspapers, and because they’ve read that he drinks blood. But at the same time they light cigarettes that are pretty much certain to kill them.”
Location 2298

And then you had people—like Isabelle and he himself—who wanted absolutely everything: power, but without any suffocating obligations. Admiration and respect, but enough anonymity to be able to move freely. Family, to provide a stable framework and help their genes survive, but also free access to sex outside the four walls of the home. The apartment and the car. And solid shit.
Location 2964

Possibly because she was exhausted and nervous, possibly because the brain takes refuge in silly things when it ought to be concentrating on things that are overwhelming and terrifying.
Location: 3162

“And you sound like you’re thinking about employing a thief.”

“I’ve never had anything against thieves with acceptable motives.”
Location: 3603

She laughed. “In the end is somewhere between what’s dragging you down today, and the day when nothing can drag us down any more, Harry.”

...

Harry closed his eyes. Of course there was something to hope for, something to look forward to: the time that comes after what’s dragging you down today. The day when nothing can drag you down any more.
Location: 4144

He sat down, took a sip of coffee. Gave her the time she needed, didn’t fill the silence with words that demanded answers.
Location: 4,465

The sender was violentcrime@oslopol.no. No text, just an image. Presumably taken with a light-sensitive camera, seeing as she hadn’t noticed a flash. And probably a telephoto lens. In the foreground was the dog pissing on the cage, and there she was, in the middle of the cage, standing stiffly and staring like a wild animal. She’d been tricked. It wasn’t the vampirist who had called her.
Location: 4,635

“They often get angry and full of moral indignation at that age,” Steffens said. “They shift the blame for anything that goes wrong onto their father, and the man they once wanted to become suddenly represents everything they don’t want to become.”

“Are you speaking from experience?”

“Of course, we do that all the time.”
Location: 4,706

“Does it end up positive?”

“Sorry?”

“The joy of saving lives minus the despair at losing people you could have saved.”
Location: 4,711

“Yes, I saw the crucifix in your office. You believe in callings.”

“I think you do too, Hole. I’ve seen you. Maybe not a calling from God, but you still feel it all the same.”

Harry looked down at his cup. Steffens was right about the coffee being intriguingly bad. “Does that mean you don’t like your job?”

“I hate my job,” the senior consultant smiled. “If it had been up to me, I’d have chosen to be a concert pianist.”

“You’re a good pianist?”

“That’s the curse, isn’t it? When you’re not good at what you love, and good at something you hate.”

Harry nodded. “That’s the curse. We do jobs where we can be useful.”

“And the lie is that there’s a reward for someone who follows a calling.”

“Perhaps sometimes the work in itself is reward enough.”

“Only for the concert pianist who loves music, or the executioner who loves blood.”
Location: 4716

“Maybe he didn’t hate it as much as he claimed.”

“How do you mean?”

Harry shrugged. “An alcoholic hates and curses drink because it ruins his life. But at the same time it is his life.”
Location: 4735

“There are various answers to that,” Steffens said. “And one that’s true.”

“And that is?”

“That we don’t know.”

“Like you don’t know what’s wrong with her.”

“Yes.”

“Hm. What do you know, really?”

“If you’re asking in general terms, we know quite a lot. But if people knew how much we don’t know, they’d be scared, Harry. Needlessly scared. So we try to keep quiet about that.”

“Really?”

“We say we’re in the repair business, but we’re actually in the consolation business.”

“So why are you telling me this, Steffens? Why aren’t you consoling me?”

“Because I’m pretty sure you know that consolation is an illusion."
Location: 5274

"... detective you’re also selling something more than you say you are. You give people a feeling of comforting justice, of order and security. But there’s no perfect, objective truth, and no true justice."
Location: 5275

“Do you know what made crime rates go down in the U.S.A. in the nineties?

...

Because crime rates didn’t just fall in New York, but right across the U.S.A. The answer is actually the more liberal abortion laws that were introduced in the 1970s.” Steffens leaned back in his chair and paused, as if to let Harry think it through for himself. “Single, dissolute women having sex with men who vanish the next morning, or at least as soon as they realise she’s pregnant. Pregnancies like that have been a conveyor belt producing criminal offspring for centuries. Children without fathers, without boundaries, without a mother with the money to give them an education or moral backbone or to teach them the ways of the Lord. These women would happily have taken their embryonic children’s lives if they hadn’t risked being punished for it. And then, in the 1970s, they got what they wanted. The U.S.A. harvested the fruits of the holocaust that was the result of liberal abortion laws fifteen, twenty years later.”
Location: 5,292

“I suppose that’s just the way it is,” Katrine said. “We start off having everything, and then lose it, piece by piece. Strength. Youth. Future. People we like…”
Location 6243

And just as he felt tears welling up, they were suppressed by rage. Of course we lose them, everyone we try to hold on to, the fates disdain us, make us small, pathetic. When we cry for people we’ve lost, it’s not out of sympathy, because of course we know that they’re free from pain at last. But still we cry. We cry because we’re alone again. We cry out of self-pity.
Location 6245

“And then it comes back. Doesn’t it?” She laughed again. “Nothing’s forever, life is by definition temporary and always changing. It’s horrible, but that’s also what makes it bearable.”

“This too shall pass.”

“Let’s hope so."
Location 6260

“I don’t know. I just know that when I’m walking on the wafer-thin ice of happiness, I’m terrified, so terrified that I wish it was over, that I was already in the water.”
Location 6265

"Admitting that we have doubts is taken as an admission of our own inadequacy, not an indication of the complexity of the mystery or the limitations of our profession."
Location 6758

“I remember some advice I was given when I first started working on cases, Harry. That if you want to survive, you have to learn when to let go.”

“I’m sure that’s good advice,” Harry said, lifting his coffee cup to his lips and looking up at Hagen. “If you think survival’s so bloody important.”
Location 7205

“You should never underestimate the first thing you think,” Harry said. “That’s usually based on more information than you’re actually aware of. And the simplest solution is often the right one.”
Location 7546

“Harry doesn’t like people, you see.”

“I do like people,” Harry said. “I just don’t like being with them. Particularly not when there’s a lot of them at the same time.”
Location 7595

And this.

It no longer irritated Steffens that people thought that cold was a thing, and didn’t understand that it was merely the absence of heat. Cold was the natural, dominant state. Heat the exception. The way murder and cruelty were natural, logical, and mercy an anomaly, a result of the human herd’s intricate way of promoting the survival of the species.
Location 7911

We feel first and reason afterwards. We see a man who doesn’t intervene to rescue his wife, and we feel contempt. Then along comes what we think is cold, objective reflection, but is actually us trying to find new information to justify what we felt initially.
Location 8602

He had let go so many times before. Had given in to pain, fear, a death wish. But he had also given in to a primitive, egocentric survival instinct that had shouted down any longing for a painless nothingness, sleep, darkness. And that was why he was here. Still here. And this time he wasn’t letting go.
Location 8629

The Cleaner

Book Notes

I did not like this book.

I have previously like Cleave's writing, perhaps less than Mom does, but enjoyed it none-the-less. The first one I read of his, Trust No One, I really enjoyed. The second one less so. This one I actively dislike.

Why?

Because the main character is a sadistic murderer, and we hare supposed to feel sympathy for him because he got his ball crushed in a vise (yes, literally, I'm giving you a spoiler there) and he's being framed for a murder he didn't actually do. That is, one he didn't do. We're told to ignore the six murders and rapes he did do.

No. No no no. There is a lot of misery and pain surrounding those deaths (well, in the fictitious world there is, but there's enough around in the real world to be able to make the connection), and those are pretty hard to ignore with the basic premise of the whole plot.

Now, the social commentary part is a bit more interesting. Cleave weaves a tale of first impressions, how our prejudices blind us to reality, and how being able to see past our assumptions is crucial to surviving, even thriving, in this world.

That particular commentary, however, doesn't negate the horrid thought that we are to sympathize with an active and deliberate murderer.

Read Cleave's other books. Skip this one.

It was hanging over her heart when she drove her parents to the funeral home, sat down with the funeral director, and, over tea and coffee that nobody touched, shopped through coffin brochures, turning the glossy pages and trying to pick out something her dead brother would look good in. They had to do the same for the suit. Even death was fashion conscious.
Page 4

The cemetery is an expanse of lush lawn broken up with cement markers and, at the moment, mostly deserted, except for a handful of people standing in front of gravestones, all of them with tragedies of their own.
Page 4

How can it make sense that he should die at fifteen, almost sixteen? The other people planted in this location average sixty-two years old.
Page 5

Back at the bathroom door I call out to her. “Come out or I’ll break your cat’s neck.” “Please, please don’t hurt her.”
Page 9

It seems the only thing Mom has to live for is talking. And complaining. Luckily the two go hand in hand for her.
Page 18

The fantasy wasn’t as good as the reality, and the reality was much messier, but it was an experience, and they say practice makes perfect.
Page 39

Henry then went on to point out that if man was made in God’s image and man was doing nothing to help him, then God would be doing nothing too. If God came down to walk about the earth, Henry said, and saw him sitting there outside the parking building, begging for change and food, then God would look right through him and just walk on by. The same way everybody else did.
Page 59

Strangely, it was Martin who suffered the least, because he didn’t understand he was dying. Even at the end he thought he was going to be getting better. Didn’t they all think that? Yes. Life was always going to get better.
Page 71

I’m not actually sure where ideas come from, whether they’re just floating around out there in some dimension close to but not quite of this world, where our minds can reach out and pluck them, whether a series of firing synapses in our mind weigh up cold data into cold possibilities, or whether it comes down to a simple train of thought riding through Lucksville. Ideas come at any time, often when you’re not expecting them.
Page 73

Sometimes it’s all I need. Other times it’s not enough. Can’t complain. Who’d listen?
Page 81

The interesting thing about insanity is that Insanity is strictly a legal term, not a medical one. Patients like me are not insane—we just plead it if we’re caught. The reality is if we really were insane, we wouldn’t be trying to evade conviction—we’d be caught at the scene smeared in blood and peanut butter and singing Barry Manilow tunes.
Page 125

“So why are you talking to me?” I ask. “I’ve got bills to pay.” Sure, that and the fact that money will always win out over fear, loyalty, truth, or whatever other bullshit shoves its way into a prostitute’s life.
Page 227

“She threatens him, she even goes to the police, but at the end of the day her fear of him and her love for him prevent her from acting. This woman is a loser. You can’t understand how she could even have married a guy like that, let alone have his children. But you forget he’d been charming when she met him, the same way you were charming when you met your wife.”
Page 326

I also know that domestic abuse isn’t about a man who is in love with his wife too much; it’s about a man who is in love with the ability to control her.
Page 330

Do you know what it’s like, Joe, to know you’re absolutely right about something—I mean, beyond any doubt—but you can’t get somebody else to agree with you? It’s not that they don’t understand, or that they don’t want to. They’ve become so used to doing the wrong thing that there couldn’t possibly be another way.”
Page 332

Her parents reminded her time and time again, but the problem when people remind you so often is that you start to ignore it. The words go in, but they don’t settle anywhere.
Page 339

Binti: Home

Book Notes

Book 2 in the Binti series, this book picks up right where the previous one left off, with Binti at school, trying to adjust, and deciding that home is where she needs to go.

While I understand the bone-deep need to go home, home of our memories and melancholy don't exist. Okorafor conveys this in Binti: Home incredibly well, as Binti returns home and it just... isn't. Her family it torn between the joy of seeing her, and the rage at her ignoring the path they set out for her.

Which is pretty much the lesson one can take from the series so far: that we need to follow our own path, even as it is filled with stress and guilt and pain and disappointment.

Really liking the series so far, recommended, but be sure to have all three books before you start reading. The first two are fast reads, and you'll want to jump right into the third after finishing this one.

Plus, I didn’t want to turn back. Why don’t I ever want to do what I’m supposed to do?
Page: 132

I can relate to this.

I’d come all this way to go on my pilgrimage because I’d thought my body was trying to tell me something was wrong with it. I hadn’t wanted to admit it to myself, but I’d thought I’d broken myself because of the choices I’d made, because of my actions, because I’d left my home to go to Oomza Uni. Because of guilt.
Page: 144

Suddenly, I felt cold. Very very cold. With dismay. Deep down, I knew. From the moment my grandmother told me about the Zinariya, I’d known, really. Change was constant. Change was my destiny. Growth.
Page: 146

“Oh, they know, someone in those clans knows enough to build toxic ideas against us right into their cultures. That’s really why we are so outcast, untouchable to them."
Page: 147

Why did the Seven allow this to happen? Yet, drowning in the waters of death gave me new life. Not drowning in it, carried by it.
Page: 148

“You did not succeed your father. No man will marry you. Selfish girl. Failed girl.” I was supposed to be these things in order to be. I had not taken my place within the collective. This had left me feeling exposed and foundationless, even as I pursued my dreams.
Page: 149

I looked at my hands, wanting to bring them to my face and inhale the scent of the otjize covering them. I wanted to go home. I wanted to chase crabs near the lake until the sun set and then turn around to look at the Root and admire the glow of the bioluminescent plants that grew near the roof. I wanted to argue with my sisters in the living room. I wanted to walk into the village square with my best friend Dele to
Page: 150

I wanted to sit in my father’s shop and construct an astrolabe so sophisticated, my father would clap arthritis-free hands with delight. I wanted to play math games with my mother where sometimes she’d win and sometimes I’d win. I wanted to go home.
Page: 150

I wanted to go home, but I wanted to solve the edan more. Everything comes with a sacrifice.
Page: 152

Binti

Book Notes

I have had this book, and its two sequels, on my to-read list for a long while now. I recall seeing it on Martha and Chookie's door bench and commenting that I wanted to read it. Martha was enthusiastic about it, as was Sonja, resulting in my increased anticipation for reading it.

In Binti, we have the introduction of a girl / teen / young woman making a choice between what her society and family wants and expects her to be, and who she wants to become. She made a choice (decided to go to university), decided to start down the path to a life she chose, only to be sideswiped by circumstances so far outside of her control and history and experience that even her survival would be legend.

That the story takes place in outer space, that we have many many races as a stand-in for the human race in its prejudices and biases and faults and triumphs, makes the lessons slightly easier to digest for a younger person. That the story takes place in outer space makes it more delightful for an older reader.

The book is a fast read, maybe an hour. The shortness doesn't make it any less worthwhile. The book is definitely worth reading.

The shuttle began to move and I stared until I couldn’t see it anymore. “What am I doing?” I whispered.
Page 12

My father didn’t believe in war. He said war was evil, but if it came he would revel in it like sand in a storm. Then he’d say a little prayer to the Seven to keep war away and then another prayer to seal his words.
Page 16

Those women talked about me, the men probably did too. But none of them knew what I had, where I was going, who I was. Let them gossip and judge. Thankfully, they knew not to touch my hair again. I don’t like war either.
Page 17

So me being the only one on the ship was not that surprising. However, just because something isn’t surprising doesn’t mean it’s easy to deal with.
Page 21

Imagine what it meant to go there as one of that 5 percent; to be with others obsessed with knowledge, creation, and discovery.
Page 28

But deep down inside me, I wanted . . . I needed it. I couldn’t help but act on it. The urge was so strong that it was mathematical.
Page 29

I’d read that Meduse could not move through walls, but even I knew that just because information was in a book didn’t make it true.
Page 34

I wanted to ask, “Why did you let this happen?” but that was blasphemy. You never ask why. It was not a question for you to ask.
Page 35

They say that when faced with a fight you cannot win, you can never predict what you will do next. But I’d always known I’d fight until I was killed. It was an abomination to commit suicide or to give up your life. I was sure that I was ready.
Page 37

The chefs on the ship fed these fish well and allowed them to grow strong and mate copiously. Then they lulled the fish into a sleep that the fish never woke from and slow cooked their flesh long enough for flavor and short enough to maintain texture.
Page 51

I paused. “Like my mother always says, ‘we all wish for many things,’” I said,
Page 53

The first thing I noticed was the smell and weight of the air when I walked off the ship. It smelled jungly, green, heavy with leaves. The air was full of water.
Page 73

Hawaii
Page 73

Several of the human professors looked at each other and chuckled. One of the large insectile people clicked its mandibles. I frowned, flaring my nostrils. It was the first time I’d received treatment similar to the way my people were treated on Earth by the Khoush. In a way, this set me at ease. People were people, everywhere. These professors were just like anyone else.
Page 75

Mem

Book Notes

I really need to keep a list of where I find books and add them to my to-read pile. I have no idea where this one's recommendation originated, but it was on my list, on hold at the library, and dropped. So, I read it. As one does.

The book takes some reading to understand the world of the book. In this world, memories can be extracted into living, breathing, existing beings. Said extraction removes the memory from the person whose memory it is, the Source. The extracted memories survive as long as a memory would, except the one whose tale this book tells.

How glorious and wonderful would this process be? That one could remove a memory and never feel the pain or sorrow or loss associated with that pain. Extract the memory of the lost love and it can share its joy with those around her.

Except, we are who we are because of the memories. Trials and troubles and difficulties are f'ing hell when we go through them. They can break us. They can make us stronger. They shape who we become.

And that's rather the point of the book, I would say. A commentary or illustration about how removing a memory adversely affects the person, how so much of our lives are intertwined that every memory has an echo in other parts of us, and how this process would be actually be a very awful thing indeed.

Mem is a fast read. If you're a fan of Morrow's, or like subtly sorrowful books, this one is worth reading. Otherwise, try One Hundred Years of Solitude for the sorrowful reading.

The Professor’s answer was always the same: he was pleased that the technology was bringing relief and sometimes even amusement to the affluent classes, but he regretted the way his work remained financially inaccessible to others. The science of extraction had been developed to help people heal from painful memories, he reminded them, and the poor had as many as the wealthy.
Location: 325

The overwhelming majority of extractions continued to be exercises in purging, and few Sources retained their extracted memories as keepsakes. In truth, few Mems were of the happy sort, and their shelf life was expected to be relatively brief (or so the Bankers’ observations had seemed to prove).
Location: 329

And while she enjoyed a good memory presentation as much as anyone, she felt entirely convinced that her Mems could be different. They could be like me. Certainly the Professor impressed upon her the fact that he could make no such guarantee and that he was entirely unsure why Dolores Extract No. 1 showed no signs of expiration, but life had taught the woman that all things were possible, as long as you made clear your reasonable desire.
Location: 385

It was the first time I’d been lied to by a man, that I knew of, and I felt it must mean something.
Location: 424

What surprised me most was that while he was the one being dishonest, I somehow was the one made to feel small and uncertain.
Location: 424

I thought of my own parents and the secrets they’d agreed to keep from Dolores the moment they rushed her to the clinic, the things they vowed never to discuss after her extractions, though she’d never remember them now. It seemed a sacrifice any number of families would make, and I couldn’t imagine they would lament escaping the memory themselves. The grand charade was never just for the Source.
Location: 737

It wasn’t love or death and it was rarely betrayal that sent them there. While women came desiring any number of memories extracted and for a variety of reasons, it seemed that men had an almost singular experience with which they couldn’t make peace.
Location: 780

“Perhaps if the law were written more clearly, they wouldn’t be fractured in the first place.” “But even better if the procedure could be perfected.” I’d never felt such a rush of violent disagreement. It rolled up the length of my torso and burned my chest, as if more than a mere opinion. It was strong enough in fact that suppressing it took effort. “If people are imperfect enough to destroy their minds, perhaps they cannot perfect the procedure that allows them to do so.”
Location: 851

Ettie and I had agreed that when it was just she and I we needn’t coddle each other’s feelings the way men often did.
Location: 924

But more than that, the experience. What’s it like to know there’s something you’ll never remember?” She scoffed at her own question. “Silly!”
Location: 927

“In that case, it’s just cruel. Trapping one moment or feeling inside someone and then leaving them to expire when the feeling runs its course.”
Location: 935

This moment is the first of its kind in Montreal, and so is the dead man. On all sides of the accident, pedestrians, streetcar patrons, and motorists alike vacillate between hysteria and calm. There is no way to know which will become the standard response when automobile accidents become commonplace. But there is something else. An understanding that this is possible. It is possible to be killed by the most prized of possessions, to be destroyed by the greatest invention of our time. It is possible to die in the street no matter how you began the day. This is the first universal truth I have ever come by on my own and it multiplies like fire. Because if this is possible—if sudden death is no respecter of persons—so must every horrid thing be.
Location: 993

“It’s heartbreak food. Real girls eat dessert first thing in the morning when someone’s made us sore.” She sat down beside me. “I do, anyway.”
Location: 1,468

“Real people assume it must be lovely,” I explained between tiny bites. “That she must have written me lovely things.”

“But it’s not true of every mother and child, Mem or not. Scores of families are hideous, Elsie, they are.”

“But they aren’t. Dolores’s parents aren’t hideous. They’re just hers.”
Location: 1,478

“Why is memory this way? Why isn’t it content to hurt you once? Why must it remind you of all the times you’ve been hurt before?”
Location: 1,482

The Professor tossed his own head to the side as though casting off regard. “Oh, but how many of them care for anything but the welfare of the stockholders, and how many of them worry about anything but a return on their investments?!”
Location: 1,526

Standing between them, I felt a weakness threatening my knees and a hot pounding in my chest, unsure which one would overwhelm me first.
Location: 1,729

There’s a chance that I was angry, that I had been all along. Even when I thought that I was tired of fighting, perhaps I was exhausted by having to.
Location: 1,730

Fives and Twenty-fives

Book Notes

This book was recommended to me by Kris. He had read it, and recommended it as a war tale for our generation. He nailed it with his recommendation.

The book follows several lives of the soldiers during and after a tour in Iraq. Following along the different story paths is difficult at first, as the plot moves from present day to the past, from one character to the next. Once we learn who the characters, and begin to understand how they know each other and how their stories merge and separate, the pace picks up. We learn the social dynamics among the soldiers. We learn the defining events that shaped their opinions of each other, both among the soldiers and between the soldiers and their leadership. We eventually learn of the secrets known and not discussed.

How accurate is the story to real life? How can a story express the boredom of between explosions, the underlying non-stop anxiety, the oppressive heat, or the immediate terror of an attack? I don't know that it can fully do so. This book, however, gives hints of those lives in a visceral way.

There is always loss in war. The strength of an author comes from how much you feel that loss in a tale of war. This one has that gut punch.

Worth reading, and recommended.

“Leaders must have a strong sense of the great responsibility of their office,” I continue. “Because the resources they will expend in war are human lives.”
Page 40

If the secret police do come, what better place to hide than in the crowd?
Page 62

Lieutenant Donovan and Sergeant Gomez pretty much got it handled over at the platoon. Not much need of me.” All that explanation, all those excuses, and we had only just met.
Page 79

The whole company, all those Americans, were tucked right up against the edge of the plateau. I wondered if they knew that everyone down by the river could see them, clearly, moving around up there.
Page 79

“The dangers out there are sort of like the ocean.” He chuckled. “You’d never swim if you knew how many sharks there really were.”
Page 87

Marceau had a genuinely charming emotional blind spot. Perception didn’t much matter to him. He cared only for reality. As long as he knew he was doing his job, and keeping his friends safe, he was immune to peer pressure. Free to be a Marine without having to act like one. Free to make light of our national follies and remind us all that in the scope of wars that had come before, our war was silly. Worth a laugh or two.
Page 90

“My father and brother hated my rock music, and my friends,” he told me, “they always threatened to inform the state morality police of our performances.”
Page 109

I find an empty corner in the back of the bar and wedge myself into it, almost without thinking. I can see the whole club from this spot. No one can sneak up behind me.
Page 110

It may not be the usual thing, what they’re doing up there, but the metalheads start moving around a little bit. Like bubbles stuck to the bottom of a pot just before the water boils.
Page 111

Marceau said, looking down from his turret. “Really?” I asked. “Yeah. The gray water around here, the kind they pull from the river and have us shower in? It’s alkaline. Put water from the shower tanks on that grass and it’ll shrivel up.”
Page 154

Still, I do not blame this pretty girl for her disgust in me. I have disappointed many others before you, I think to myself.
Page 162

My father wanted me to study English, yes. But only so I could go abroad for secondary school. My father still hoped, even after the first war, so I still learned.
Page 165

It’s why I drink alone, mostly. I don’t have the discipline to drink around people and answer their simple questions without saying something awful.
Page 173

“We lack good people. And without good people, we won’t have a good country.”
Page 216

“Because when you have friends, you have people.” “Sure. But that’s a good thing, right?” Dodge shook his head. “You misunderstand. People have enemies. Other people. People with a reason to cut off your head. All it takes is the one friend. Like you. If I am your friend, then all Americans are my people, and everyone else is my enemy. If I have friendship with a Kurd, then the Kurds are my people and I must fight the Sunni and the Shia.” He waved the back of his hand at the river. “You cannot have friends, here. You cannot have people.” Then he added with a sigh, “Only family.”
Page 237

Professor Al-Rawi laughed. “In the end, Huck must learn two very important lessons. First, that civilization is an illusion. Second, that the only authority is one’s conscience.”
Page 253

I remembered all the times my father took me to see the canal as a boy, and how he watched the construction work with such satisfaction. Honest work, unlike politics.
Page 259

But outside the knuckleheads have already started in with their fireworks. The noise of it boils up from everywhere. Cracks and whistles in flurries all across the neighborhood. Black Cats and bottle rockets cooking off in bursts.
Page 291

Her eyes get round and she waves me over to the window to see. Her smile. It’s different than normal. She can’t control it.
Page 292

Before the first protest, they wanted only an excuse to party. But when the police showed them death, they did not run and quit as I had expected. They grew committed.
Page 299

“No. No, you see, the thing to do is stay. Let these things happen as God wills and try to survive the bullets when they come. Let some Americans die if they must, let them kill your brother and his people if they can, and we live until tomorrow, Kateb.”
Page 301

My flatmates labor under the misconception that fighting together necessarily makes men friends.
Page 330

“I am weak. And that is all. But I am not without a home. To be weak? To be scared and frail? This is to have a home. These people behind me are all very weak and all very scared. We are so easy to kill. President Ben Ali has made certain that we are all reminded of this. But to die here? Outside where it is cold? This would be to die at home. And few people are so lucky as to die at home.”
Page 374

Past Tense

Book Notes

So, this book is a Reacher that isn't really a Reacher book. Yes, Reacher is in it, but he's half the story, not the full story.

We meet Reacher at the beginning of the book deciding to look into his family's history. He finds out where his dad grew up, and heads to said town. Turns out, a Canadian couple, desperate for money and with something in their trunk, are also in said town. They run out of gas and end up in a hotel that is pretty much a fly trap for unsuspecting travellers. Cue tense music, something suspicious is happening at this hotel.

Turns out, the proprietor of said hotel is some distant cousin of Reacher's. Except, we don't really learn about that easily. Instead, weird thing happen with a cat and mouse adventure happening with Reacher, while the two Canadians are puzzling out WTF is going on in the hotel that they can't leave (no gas, locked in, is very strange). The book is mostly about the Canadian couple, with a puzzled Reacher feeling around the edges.

Which is fine, this is actually one of the better Reacher books. Too many times people know JUST KNOW what's going on, when reality is usually full of denial (this book is), confusion (this book is), and strong biases to believe that This Can't Be Happening (this book is). Which makes the female cynic delightful to recognize.

I enjoyed the book. I still can't figure out what happened to the sixth hunter in the climactic battle at the end (there's always a climactic battle at the end of a Reacher book). Also, Reacher doesn't screw Yet Another Woman. Maybe this isn't a real Reacher book.

I still liked it. Worth reading if you're a Reacher fan. If you're not yet a Reacher fan, start with book one.

“He said he couldn’t remember because birthdays weren’t important to him. He didn’t see why he should be congratulated for getting another year closer to death.” “That’s bleak.” “He was a Marine.”
Location: 842

Her accent was from the south. A drawl, but no longer honeyed. It was roughed up by exposure.
Location: 903

She looked in the mirror and blew her nose. She balled up the tissue and lobbed it toward the trash can. She missed. She bent down to correct her error. She was Canadian.
Location: 1,050

But out loud he said, “You were committing a crime on public land. I would be failing in my duty as a citizen if I didn’t point it out. That’s how civilization works.”
Location: 2,274

Reacher believed in staying flexible, but also having a plan, and in his experience it was about fifty-fifty which got used in the end. On this occasion the plan was to never slow down, to arrive at full speed, and to head-butt the wrestler mid stride. Which would check all the boxes. Surprise, overwhelming force, general shock and awe.
Location: 3,553

“What do they need, to make a bad thing happen?” “Theologically?” “In practical terms.” “There could be many things.” “They need a victim. Can’t do a bad thing without one.
Page 300

“One is the irreducible number.”
Page 301

Which meant Reacher was currently behind him. Always a good place to be. He looked
Page 316

The guy was tall and substantial, and his head was up, and his shoulders were square. But he wasn’t comfortable. Reacher had seen his type before. Not just in the army. No doubt the guy was a big-deal alpha male at whatever it was he was good at. But right then he was out of his depth. He was twitching with confusion. Or resentment.
Page 343

Up ahead and two acres away the motel was a low pile of glowing embers.
Page 362

You get a bigger picture with the naked eye. You don’t get distracted by the close up beauty.”
Page 373

“Did he have a happy life?” “He was a Marine. Happy was not in the field manual. Sometimes he was satisfied. That was about as good as it got.
Page 376

Lies Sleeping

Book Notes

This is book 7 of the Peter Grant series. Pretty sure I have that order correct.

Whoo! Another Peter Grant book! Yasssssss!

This wasn't one that I was able to switch from written to spoken words easily, I often will switch to audio when I can't be reading a book, then back to the written word as soon as I am able. This one, eh, easily, but that's a good thing, as the story was dense enough to want to read in one go (okay, two go's).

The Faceless Man is back, and Lesley is needed to help out Peter, except she can't, but she can. There are enough twists and references to previous books' scenes that, well, if you haven't started the series, okay now you can start the series, and read all the way to this book (you'll likely catch more subtleties in the details as a result, too).

I'm still enjoying the series. There are graphic novels with the series, too, but I haven't read them, so no comment on them.

Recommended if you're a fan (and waaaaaaay recommended if you are), otherwise, don't start at this book, bad idea. Go back to book 1 and start there.

Whoo!

You use Protection Command people for this kind of job because unlike SCO19 they’re trained to do guard duty. You want a certain kind of personality who can stand around in the rain for eight hours and still be awake enough to shoot someone in the central body mass at a moment’s notice.
Location: 207

As a police detective—which, by the way, I had officially become just that month—I get to spend a lot of time in people’s houses, often without their consent. Homes are like witnesses. They pretty much lie all the time. But, as Stephanopoulos says, the longer someone lives in a house the more intrinsically interesting the lies become. When you’re police, an interesting lie can be as useful as the truth. Sometimes more so.
Location: 240

When you arrive unexpectedly at someone’s house you go in through the front door, often after making sure you’ve got a couple of mates waiting round the back. For a business, especially the kind that involves big trucks and heavy metal, it’s always better to go in through the back. The customer-facing part of any modern business is purposely designed to be as politely unhelpful as possible. If you go in from the rear, the customer-facing staff are all facing the wrong way and everybody starts their conversation on the back foot.
Location: 551

I suggested the British Museum, not least because it’s possible to lose just about anything in their storage area. They’re still looking for a mummy that went missing in 1933—staff believe it was stolen but Nightingale said he’d always had a sneaking suspicion that it got bored one day and walked away.
Location: 1,119

People are often willing to tell you all sorts of secrets when they’re trying to hide something from you. You should always make a mental note—it may not be your case today but you never know, it might come round later. I asked what else was going on.
Location: 1,996

Have you ever had that sensation, just as you’re going to sleep, that a bomb has gone off inside your head? It’s a real medical phenomena called, I kid you not, exploding head syndrome. It’s what’s known as a parasomnia, which is Greek for “we don’t know either.”
Location: 2,156

“Londinium is next. But Suetonius, the governor, doesn’t fancy his chances so he buggers off with what troops he has and leaves the city to its fate.” I’ve read my Tacitus—I knew what was coming next. “The gentry always buggers off when London’s in danger. Have you noticed that?” he said. “One whiff of the plague, some social unrest, a bit of light bombing and the Establishment’s nowhere to be found.”
Location: 2,229

“So up he sprang. A thing full of hatred and mad laughter, capering through the ashes of the city. Because order did not save his children. Law did not save his wife. And, for all his faith in the gods, they did nothing.”
Location: 2,246

I’ve found that if you voluntarily take on a chore somebody else doesn’t want to do, they don’t check the results too closely—in case they have to do it again themselves.
Location: 3,437

He once told me that the problem was not that criminals were evil but that most of them were pathetic—in the proper sense of the word. Arousing pity, especially through vulnerability or sadness. Recently I’d learned the Greek root: pathetos—liable to suffer. “You’ve got to feel sorry for them,” he said. And you didn’t have to be in the job long to see what he meant. The addicts, the runaways, the men who were fine unless they had a couple of drinks. The ex-squaddies who’d seen too much. The sad fuckers who just didn’t have a clue how to make the world work for them, or had started so beaten down they barely learned to walk upright. The people who shoplifted toilet paper or food or treats for their kids. “This is a trap,” he’d said. “You’re not a social worker or a doctor. If people really wanted these problems solved there’d be more social workers and doctors.” I’d asked what we were supposed to do. “You can’t fix their problems, Peter,” he’d said. “Most of the time you can’t even steer them in the right direction. But you can do the job without making things worse.”
Location: 3,611

Which is just as well, as I ran straight into Chorley coming the other way. I was half blind and he was looking over his shoulder—it was one of them meeting engagements that military theorists suggest you should never ever do if you can help it. He didn’t spot me until we were less than three meters apart.
Location: 3,979

“A romantic,” said Nightingale. “The most dangerous people on earth.”
Location: 4,089

So in I went clutching my Domestos and my spray bottle of generic own-brand surface cleaner and got on with it. Pausing a couple of times to throw up while I did.
Location: 4,147

Sometimes you’ve got to go hard to get the job done. Although not always in the way that people are expecting.
Location: 4,149

The whole of my left side from shoulder to knee went numb, in that worrying numb-now pain-later way of a major injury, and the air was literally knocked out of my body. I was trying to breathe in but it felt as if my lungs were paralyzed. Then I coughed. It hurt, then I breathed in—it was wonderful.
Location: 4,387

Holy Ghost

Book Notes

This is book 11 in the Virgil Flowers series.

I really want to have some clever plot synopsis for this book, the town is dying, to put it on the map some of the residents decide to deceive a whole bunch of people with an image of the Virgin Mary. Along comes a lot of people, all trying to get a piece of the Mary, which means you have good people trying to debunk the visions, bad people trying to make money off the process, religious people trying to prove or disprove the miracle, and suspicious people wondering why they recognize said Mary.

And people start dying.

Enter Flowers, to figure out who is killing said dying people. Because that's what he does.

Unlike previous books, where Flowers knows the answer immediately, we have more than a few it's this guy, no wait, it's that guy, no wait, this other guy. Which is far more likely to be reality. Unlike reality, Flowers actually keeps an open mind when the facts don't fit instead of making the data fit the hypothesis. Yay fiction!

Again, if you're a Flowers fan, the book is worth reading, I'll read the next one. Starting at first book is strongly recommended, both to see the Flowers humour which is stronger in the earlier books and to know the characters.

When he was in college, years earlier, during the usual late-night weed-fired discussions of sex, politics, and religion, he’d decided that religions and political parties were quite alike, except that religions dealt with morality, primarily, while political parties dealt with economics. In other words, they were both dealing with people’s deepest feelings about how the world should work. Differences could escalate to physical clashes, as they might have even in the late-night weed-fired college discussions, except, of course, for the weed: “You’re so full of shit, dude. Pass the joint.” Now, lying in bed all these years later, he still wondered why religions, since they dealt with morality, shouldn’t shun any form of violence to others? Then again, he thought, maybe they did. Maybe the connection between religion and violence was Fake News.
Location: 1,057

Virgil didn’t expect to find anything meaningful, and they didn’t. The first floor was what you’d expect if somebody had just walked out, locked
Location: 1,740

the door, and then died. An unwashed coffee cup on a kitchen table, a slender glass vase with three bluebells next to the cup.
Location: 1,741

A tear trickled down Osborne’s cheek. “I can’t, either . . . Somehow, you think your mom is going to last forever, even if you know she won’t.
Location: 3,600

Tiamat's Wrath

Book Notes

This is Book 8 The Expanse series. And yes, I thoroughly enjoyed this book, except the shit at the end. I swear the authors have decided to take a page from George R. R. Martin's playbook. That doesn't reduce the enjoyments of the book, but does add a bit of bittersweetness to the end.

This book continues where the previous book left off, with Holden a prisoner, and the Resistance against Duarte gaining steam.

The book has a couple "wait, no, that didn't just happen, did it, wait, what's going on" moments, which are explained in the Expanse novellas. I liked how a couple of the this-doesn't-make-any-sense plots of a couple of them fold in upon this storyline, and, yes, make sense (even with an "of course").

I really need to be better about writing down the plots as I read the book, so that these reviews can be complete and utter spoilers for everyone else and good reminders for me. Today is not that day, so I'm stunningly vague here.

If you're reading the series, keep reading. If you're not reading it yet, but enjoy the SyFy series, worth reading. If you're a science fiction fan, totally strongly recommended.

She taught us to use everything shameful in our lives as a weapon to humiliate people who would diminish us. That’s the secret, you know.” “What’s the secret?” Kajri smiled. “The people who have power over you are weak too. They shit and bleed and worry that their children don’t love them anymore. They’re embarrassed by the stupid things they did when they were young that everyone else has forgotten. And so they’re vulnerable. We all define ourselves by the people around us, because that’s the kind of monkey we are. We can’t transcend it. So when they watch you, they hand you the power to change what they are too.”
Page 4

I’m too old to be good at taking orders.” “I agree,” Fayez said. “But here we are.”
Page 16

When the king says, Come work for me, there aren’t many paths to No.
Page 18

“She was a fighter, but she wasn’t a warrior. She was always leading the struggle, but she did it by finding other ways to get the work done. Alliances, political pressure, trade, logistics. Her strategy was always that violence came last.”
Page 30

“No one’s arguing against leverage. No one’s saying that we shouldn’t be looking for political angles too. But pacifism only works when your enemy has a conscience.
Page 31

The Occam’s razor argument to nearly all conspiracy theories was that people were really shitty at keeping secrets, and large groups of people were exponentially worse.
Page 37

“She’s lost a lot,” Alex said. “She’s afraid of losing it all.” Bobbie grabbed Alex’s upper arm and gave it an affectionate squeeze. “And that’s the point I keep trying to make with her, my friend. In a fight like this, unless you’re willing to lose everything to win, you lose it all by losing.”
Page 41

Teresa nodded, but slowly. Her head was thick, the way it got when she was thinking about something without quite being conscious of what it was. Usually something interesting came up shortly afterward. She liked the feeling.
Page 46

“Everything’s important. All of it,” her father said. “And so every part of it needs to be able to fail without destroying the whole project.
Page 50

It took a few seconds to really understand what he was saying. The huge moments in life seemed like they should have more ceremony and effects. The important words—the life-changing ones—should echo a little. But they didn’t. They sounded just like everything else.
Page 51

People always claimed that waiting for the fight was the hardest part of fighting. Bobbie had said it herself, as a younger woman. When the fight is coming, when it’s inevitable, let’s just fucking get to it. Once the battle starts, things happen too fast to worry about. The fear is all instinctual, not intellectual. Somehow, that used to feel better. Age had changed that. Bobbie had learned to see the quiet moment before the fight as a blessing. A gift. Very few people who were headed toward death even knew it was happening, much less had time to sit and reflect on their life. What they’d done that mattered. Whether it would be a good death.
Page 72

“This far, and no farther,” she whispered. Her litany to the tyrants and bullies and despots.
Page 73

The other warrior’s litany. There are people I love. There are people who have loved me. I fought for what I believed, protected those I could, and stood my ground against the encroaching darkness. Good enough.
Page 74

She slept to schedule too, dimming the lights for eight hours, no more and no less, never sleeping in. Never taking naps. Routine was what kept the darkness at bay, when anything did.
Page 84

A few decades flying the same ship together had built little versions of her family in her head. Made some part of them a part of her, even when she didn’t particularly want them to be. Even when the little mirrors of them only told her that their conversation wasn’t finished.
Page 86

That’s the thing about autocracy. It looks pretty decent while it still looks pretty decent. Survivable, anyway. And it keeps looking like that right up until it doesn’t. That’s how you find out it’s too late.
Page 87

Growing older was a falling away of everything that didn’t matter. And a deepening appreciation of all the parts that were important enough to stay.
Page 87

That’s the point of a dancing bear. It’s the least dangerous thing at the court, because everyone’s aware of it. The ones you trust are always the most dangerous. A lot more kings and princesses got poisoned by their friends than eaten by bears.”
Page 98

Nothing died without becoming the foundation for what came after.
Page 113

Maybe it was something that happened with every generation, this sense of displacement. It might be an artifact of the way human minds seemed to peg “normal” to whatever they’d experienced first and then bristled at everything afterward that failed to match it closely enough.
Page 116

Age looked good on her. It looked right.
Page 119

“I’m hearing you ask whether authoritarianism is necessarily bad,” she said. “Did I get that right? Because yeah, it is.”
Page 119

“There’s no way,” Bobbie said. “There’s just pushing back with everything we’ve got and hoping we can outlast the bastards.”
Page 120

Duarte and his people were smart. They kept things from getting bad too quickly. They made the right speeches about respect and autonomy. They let people believe that government by a king would never go wrong. And by the time it did, and things got bad enough to inspire a younger resistance, she and Alex and the old-school OPA would be off the board. Then who would be left to fight? Why would they think there was any hope in it?
Page 124

“Humans arose inside nature. We’re natural. Everything we do is natural. The whole idea that we are different in category is either sentimental or religious. Irrelevant from a scientific perspective.”
Page 148

“The only limits on us are what we can do. It’s perfectly natural to seek personal benefit. It’s perfectly natural to give advantages to your own offspring and withhold them from others. It’s perfectly natural to kill your enemies. That’s not even outlier behavior. That’s all in the middle of the bell curve all the time.”
Page 148

Getting what you want fucks you up. Naomi pushed the thought aside as she had a dozen times before.
Page 150

“I don’t know. I don’t like things that can only happen once. You can’t make sense of something when there’s no pattern. One data point is the same as none.”
Page 162

“Worrying feels like you’re at least doing something,” Caspar said. “I get it. When I started flying for the union, I worried about my mom so that I wouldn’t feel guilty for leaving her behind.”
Page 174

Anger roughened her voice. He wanted to pull back from her. Retreat, but he’d known her long enough to see it was the wrong way with her. Whatever she was thinking through, she needed someone to slam it up against. Placating her wasn’t going to make either of them happy. Or safe.
Page 176

“Easy to make rules,” Emma said. “Easy to make systems with a perfect logic and rigor. All you need to do is leave out the mercy, yeah? Then when you put people into it and they get chewed to nothing, it’s the person’s fault. Not the rules. Everything we do that’s worth shit, we’ve done with people. Flawed, stupid, lying, rules-breaking people. Laconians making the same mistake as ever. Our rules are good, and they’d work perfectly if it were only a different species.” “You sound like someone I know,” Naomi said. “I’ll die for that,” Emma said. “I’ll die so that people can be fuckups and still find mercy. Not why you’re here?”
Page 184

“Anyway, I spent too much time already with people telling me they’d shoot me if I didn’t do what they said. That tank’s empty for this lifetime.”
Page 184

The fluid made it hard to laugh. Her husband might not have been a good match for anyone but her. But for her, he was perfect.
Page 192

A voice in her memory said the words as clearly and distinctly as if they had been spoken: Distributed responsibility is the problem. One person gives the order, another carries it out. One can say they didn’t pull the trigger, the other that they were just doing what they were told, and everyone lets themselves off the hook. She let her breath out slowly from between her teeth.
Page 215

Moments like these were opportunities. They could bring new alliances, new empathy, a new and broader sense of being together in a single human tribe. Or they could be the poison that ran through human minds for decades to come and welcomed ancient wars onto new and bloody battlefields.
Page 261

“How can I help?” Elvi asked. It sounded better than What the fuck do you want me to do about this?
Page 275

“I think I must have lived my life wrong somehow,” she said. “I know the feeling,” he said. “But then I see you, and I think something must have gone right. Even if everything else treats me like my previous incarnation killed a priest.”
Page 279

“This may not help,” he said, “but part of what you’re feeling right now is normal. There’s a moment that everyone eventually experiences when they see that their parents are just people. That these mythic figures in their lives are also struggling and guessing. Doing their best without knowing for certain what their best is.”
Page 282

“Are you trying to make me feel better?” “No,” Chava said. “We’re too old for that. I’m trying to make you feel like you aren’t alone in it. That’s all I’ve got.”
Page 298

Governments exist on confidence. Not on liberty. Not on righteousness. Not on force. They exist because people believe that they do. Because they don’t ask questions. And
Page 357

Nature was beautiful, wherever she found it. And it was cruel. She didn’t know why she kept expecting humanity to be different.
Page 359

Red in tooth and claw, and at every level. In the Bible, even angels murdered humanity’s babies when God asked them to.
Page 359

For all Naomi’s life, the problem had been knowing which information to believe. A few billion people with access to networks and as many newsfeeds as there were transmitters made it easy to find someone loudly declaiming every possible opinion in every corner and niche of the solar system.
Page 361

She liked Chava, and it was a pleasant space to be in, but it wasn’t home. What she missed was the idea of a home of her own. People she knew for more than a few weeks at a time. It was worse, because she’d had a place once. And a family with it. She would never stop missing that.
Page 365

There were so many last times that passed unrecognized. Knowing in the moment what was ending and wouldn’t come again was precious.
Page 365

Wars never ended because one side was defeated. They ended because the enemies were reconciled. Anything else was just a postponement of the next round of violence.
Page 367

All the families he’d had, and all the ways he’d lost them. It felt like too much to bear, but he bore it. And after a few minutes the worst would pass, and he could get back to work.
Page 383

She felt herself falling into a rhythm she hadn’t known existed, and recognized perfectly. Normalcy. This was how life just was, and everything else she’d done, however comfortable she’d been with it, had been the aberration.
Page 392

And about the goal at the end. That was the trick of grand strategy. Knowing where the journey was ending even when you were making up all the individual steps to get there.
Page 394

want this war over with, and a real peace established. The kind where people can be angry with each other and hate each other and no one has to die over it.
Page 398

It was, according to them, like knowing things without having to learn them first.
Page 400

There would be a point when it was all too much.
Page 402

When she’d break. It hadn’t come yet, though, so she didn’t have to deal with it. She was very aware that she was working on what Fayez called fuck-it-if-it’s-not-happening-right-now protocol.
Page 402

That was the thing about hubris. It only became clear in retrospect.
Page 432

If he could feel the effort of motion, maybe it would do something for his anxiety.
Page 432

He felt his anxiety starting to shift, but he wasn’t sure yet what it was becoming. Maybe excitement. Maybe fear.
Page 434

Every place had the dream of what it could become. Dreams were fragile things to build with. Titanium and ceramic lasted longer.
Page 489

“No,” Holden said, “leave it be. We still have friends there. Elvi, for one.” “Oh,” Alex said. “Should we go get her?” “No,” Holden said. “She’s where she needs to be.”
Page 500

Give the people enough information, and they’d be able to make the right decisions on their own.
Page 510

She stroked her fingertips across his forehead and down his cheek. He turned his head, pressing into her hand like a cat that wanted petting.
Page 513

He used to say that when you went too far too fast, your soul took some time catching up to you.”
Page 526

The Consuming Fire

Book Notes

When the world is breaking down, scientists might be the scapegoats.
Location: 2,691

Hooboy, and tragically yes.

Book two of Scalzi's Interdependency series, this book continues Cardenia Wu-Patrick's reign as Emperox, along with the scheming Houses and the deteriorating Flow. We have political intrigues, sure. We have stunningly intelligent and rational characters, sure. We have a complicated sociopolitical galactic infrastructure collapsing as the edges are cut off from the center, and the network disintegrates. And we have a love story of sorts.

Whoo.

I didn't like this book as much as I liked the first book. I love Scalzi's writing, and will continue to read near everything he publishes. I'll read the next (last?) book in the series. Strongly recommended if you're a Scalzi fan, worth reading if you're a sci-fi fan.

The early bishops were well aware that charismatic religions have a tendency to breed schisms and divisions, which is against the fundamental concept of interdependency.”
Location: 224

Lenson read all he could stand and found his interest draining away, slowly at first and more rapidly as time went on.
Location: 254

Lenson was also aware that the cynical could afford the luxury of their cynicism because of the stability of the system they mocked.
Location: 281

Nor were observers of the time blind to the machinations of the Wu family as it made its play for imperial power. It was the focus of many handwringing editorials, news shows and occasionally attempted legislative action. What the Wu family had over them was organization, and money, and allies in the form of the other now-noble families.
Location: 359

When a lie has negative consequences, people dislike it. But otherwise? They move on, and eventually the lie as a lie is forgotten,
Location: 391

Assan’s current outburst was, alas, standard operating procedure for him. He was one of those people who believed social graces were for the weak.
Location: 439

“And you’ve seen this in your visions,” Assan said, pushing. Grayland smiled at this. “One does not need visions when one has data. In both cases, however, one does need to be willing to see.
Location: 563

“You do understand that ‘no doctrinal way to argue’ does not mean ‘no argument,’” Attavio VI said. “A church is an institution separate from the religion it serves. It’s filled with people. And you know how people are.”
Location: 597

Right, but the problem with that was, for a rich person, Kiva was spectacularly unmotivated by money. She liked money, and she liked that she had money, and she was aware that a life lived without money would well and truly suck. But having had enough money all her life for literally anything she ever wanted to do—being the daughter of the head of a noble merchant family had its perks—she never thought about money, and her own material needs were fulfilled with a small percentage of the money she had available to her.
Location: 993

You should know we intend to ask for your removal anyway.” “Good luck with that.” “We don’t need luck, Lady Kiva. We have your incompetence.”
Location: 1,052

There were more than a few scientists who knew one little thing, and then thought that knowledge was universally applicable to every other problem, to the point of excluding or discounting information from people whose specialty was that other problem.
Location: 1,108

“I haven’t given it any thought,” Korbijn said. “I haven’t given it any thought because this is literally the first I’ve heard of such a thing. I’m not inclined to give snap judgments on hypotheticals.
Location: 1,352

But this latest bit makes me concerned that there is something else going on.” “It’s conspiracy mongering.” “I agree. But not all conspiracies crop up because someone forgot to adjust their tinfoil hat, ma’am. Sometimes they’re part of a disinformation campaign.
Location: 2,319

"I don’t know what else can be said about it.”

“That’s the point of rumors. They’re not based on anything, so nothing is very effective against them. Truth is no defense, and the people fielding these rumors know it.”
Location: 2,332

The one advantage we had, which is a thing I brought to the enterprise, was the understanding that the plan was not the goal. The goal was the goal, and we were going to get to it however we could. And if it meant changing our plans, sometimes in the middle of executing them, then we would.”
Location: 4,008

“That loose alliance of systems had fallen apart centuries earlier.” “And why was that?” “For the same reason many alliances fall apart—competing interests, lack of economic enthusiasm, stupid or venal rulers, and simple neglect, or some combination of each.”
Location: 4,352

The Messy Middle

Book Notes

I did not like this book.

This book is a series of 2-3 page essays on, "Oh, you should do this in your company, it'll totally make you better and successful!" without actually providing how to do the things, or where to go get more information, or why said thing would be better.

"Stop and think, you'll need to understand this fully." "Run with the decision you need to move fast!" Argh, fuck off. This book is FULL of hindsight bias and survivor bias, blech.

This book was a slog to get through, taking me three months to actually finish it (and I've been concentrating on non-fiction books!) I put it down a half dozen times, and kept picking it back up because both I hoped something could would come of it and it was recommended by Marty of a sense, and I thought it would be worth reading.

It isn't.

You'll do better reading just about any Brené Brown book on leadership than reading this book. I strongly recommend Dare to Lead if you're looking for a business book to read.

Skip this one, save your money. Blech.

Dare To Lead

Book Notes

When a new CEO is brought into a company, and announces he's reading The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, you pick it up and read it. When you realize that said CEO's leadership style grates on you uncomfortably, you wonder what he can be doing better to be a better leader. Which is why, say, you'd pick up this book and read it.

Which is nominally what happened with me, but really, with a slight twist of also wanting to see what leading well looks like. I've had a number of good managers (four of them to be exact), people I want to work with and for. I was curious if their style of leading matched what Brené Brown suggested. I absolutely loved Daring Greatly and hoped this book would continue the lessons I started there.

I was not disappointed.

I wish I could have handed copies of this book to all the upper management where I was working. Alas, the opportunity did not present itself. However, this book is amazing. If its lessons are learned and practice, this book is life-changing. Let me buy you a copy.

I define a leader as anyone who takes responsibility for finding the potential in people and processes, and who has the courage to develop that potential.
Page 4

Here are the ten behaviors and cultural issues that leaders identified as getting in our way in organizations across the world: We avoid tough conversations, including giving honest, productive feedback. Some leaders attributed this to a lack of courage, others to a lack of skills, and, shockingly, more than half talked about a cultural norm of “nice and polite” that’s leveraged as an excuse to avoid tough conversations. Whatever the reason, there was saturation across the data that the consequence is a lack of clarity, diminishing trust and engagement, and an increase in problematic behavior, including passive-aggressive behavior, talking behind people’s backs, pervasive back-channel communication (or “the meeting after the meeting”), gossip, and the “dirty yes” (when I say yes to your face and then no behind your back). Rather than spending a reasonable amount of time proactively acknowledging and addressing the fears and feelings that show up during change and upheaval, we spend an unreasonable amount of time managing problematic behaviors. Diminishing trust caused by a lack of connection and empathy. Not enough people are taking smart risks or creating and sharing bold ideas to meet changing demands and the insatiable need for innovation. When people are afraid of being put down or ridiculed for trying something and failing, or even for putting forward a radical new idea, the best you can expect is status quo and groupthink. We get stuck and defined by setbacks, disappointments, and failures, so instead of spending resources on clean-up to ensure that consumers, stakeholders, or internal processes are made whole, we are spending too much time and energy reassuring team members who are questioning their contribution and value. Too much shame and blame, not enough accountability and learning. People are opting out of vital conversations about diversity and inclusivity because they fear looking wrong, saying something wrong, or being wrong. Choosing our own comfort over hard conversations is the epitome of privilege, and it corrodes trust and moves us away from meaningful and lasting change. When something goes wrong, individuals and teams are rushing into ineffective or unsustainable solutions rather than staying with problem identification and solving. When we fix the wrong thing for the wrong reason, the same problems continue to surface. It’s costly and demoralizing. Organizational values are gauzy and assessed in terms of aspirations rather than actual behaviors that can be taught, measured, and evaluated. Perfectionism and fear are keeping people from learning and growing.
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The Heart of Daring Leadership 1. You can’t get to courage without rumbling with vulnerability. Embrace the suck.
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Courage and fear are not mutually exclusive. Most of us feel brave and afraid at the exact same time. We feel vulnerable. Sometimes all day long.
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A rumble is a discussion, conversation, or meeting defined by a commitment to lean into vulnerability, to stay curious and generous, to stick with the messy middle of problem identification and solving, to take a break and circle back when necessary, to be fearless in owning our parts, and, as psychologist Harriet Lerner teaches, to listen with the same passion with which we want to be heard.
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If we are brave enough often enough, we will fall. Daring is not saying “I’m willing to risk failure.” Daring is saying “I know I will eventually fail, and I’m still all in.” I’ve never met a brave person who hasn’t known disappointment, failure, even heartbreak.
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Vulnerability is not winning or losing. It’s having the courage to show up when you can’t control the outcome.
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If you are not in the arena getting your ass kicked on occasion, I’m not interested in or open to your feedback. There are a million cheap seats in the world today filled with people who will never be brave with their lives but who will spend every ounce of energy they have hurling advice and judgment at those who dare greatly. Their only contributions are criticism, cynicism, and fearmongering. If you’re criticizing from a place where you’re not also putting yourself on the line, I’m not interested in what you have to say.
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To love is to be vulnerable.
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Get a one-inch by one-inch piece of paper and write down the names of the people whose opinions of you matter. It needs to be small because it forces you to edit. Fold it and put it in your wallet.
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The people on your list should be the people who love you not despite your vulnerability and imperfections, but because of them.
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They should be people who respect you enough to rumble with the vulnerability of saying “I think you were out of your integrity in that situation, and you need to clean it up and apologize. I’ll be here to support you through that.” Or “Yes, that was a huge setback, but you were brave and I’ll dust you off and cheer you on when you go back into the arena.”
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I looked at these brave soldiers and said, “Vulnerability is the emotion that we experience during times of uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure. Can you give me a single example of courage that you’ve witnessed in another soldier or experienced in your own life that did not require experiencing vulnerability?” Complete silence. Crickets. Finally, a young man spoke up. He said, “No, ma’am. Three tours. I can’t think of a single act of courage that doesn’t require managing massive vulnerability.”
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Pretending that we don’t do vulnerability means letting fear drive our thinking and behavior without our input or even awareness, which almost always leads to acting out or shutting down.
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In the absence of authentic connection, we suffer. And by authentic I mean the kind of connection that doesn’t require hustling for acceptance and changing who we are to fit in.
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“There’s probably not a single act at work that requires more vulnerability than holding people responsible for ethics and values, especially when you’re alone in it or there’s a lot of money, power, or influence at stake. People will put you down, question your intentions, hate you, and sometimes try to discredit you in the process of protecting themselves.
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We need to trust to be vulnerable, and we need to be vulnerable in order to build trust.
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It turns out that trust is in fact earned in the smallest of moments. It is earned not through heroic deeds, or even highly visible actions, but through paying attention, listening, and gestures of genuine care and connection.
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Trust is the stacking and layering of small moments and reciprocal vulnerability over time. Trust and vulnerability grow together, and to betray one is to destroy both.
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In her book Teaming, she writes, Simply put, psychological safety makes it possible to give tough feedback and have difficult conversations without the need to tiptoe around the truth. In psychologically safe environments, people believe that if they make a mistake others will not penalize or think less of them for it. They also believe that others will not resent or humiliate them when they ask for help or information. This belief comes about when people both trust and respect each other, and it produces a sense of confidence that the group won’t embarrass, reject, or punish someone for speaking up. Thus psychological safety is a taken-for-granted belief about how others will respond when you ask a question, seek feedback, admit a mistake, or propose a possibly wacky idea.
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Items that frequently show up as things that get in the way of psychological safety in teams and groups include judgment, unsolicited advice giving, interrupting, and sharing outside the team meeting. The behaviors that people need from their team or group almost always include listening, staying curious, being honest, and keeping confidence.
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one of my favorite rumble tools: “What does support from me look like?” Not only does it offer the opportunity for clarity and set up the team for success, asking people for specific examples of what supportive behaviors look like—and what they do not look like—it also holds them accountable for asking for what they need.
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We’re much more accustomed to not asking for exactly what we need and then being resentful or disappointed that we didn’t get it. Also, most of us can tell you what support does not look like more easily than we can come up with what it does look like.
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Not only is fake vulnerability ineffective—but it breeds distrust. There’s no faster way to piss off people than to try to manipulate them with vulnerability.
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The stealth intention is a self-protection need that lurks beneath the surface and often drives behavior outside our values. Closely related is the stealth expectation—a desire or expectation that exists outside our awareness and typically includes a dangerous combination of fear and magical thinking.
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if you come across an explanation of vulnerability that doesn’t include setting boundaries or being clear on intentions, proceed with caution.
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there is nothing more uncertain than the creative process, and there is absolutely no innovation without failure.
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As the neuroscientist Antonio Damasio reminds us, “We are not necessarily thinking machines. We are feeling machines that think.”
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Clear is kind. Unclear is unkind.
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most of us avoid clarity because we tell ourselves that we’re being kind, when what we’re actually doing is being unkind and unfair.
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I took a deep breath and leaned into the mother of all rumble tools—curiosity. “Tell me more about how this plays out for y’all. I want to understand.”
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In my research and in my life, I’ve found absolutely no benefit to pushing through a hard conversation unless there’s an urgent, time-sensitive issue at hand.
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People think it’s a long walk from “I’m not enough” to “I’m better than them,” but it’s actually just standing still. In the exact same place.
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Stockdale told Collins, “This is a very important lesson. You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end—which you can never afford to lose—with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.”
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As leaders I certainly believe we all want to do the right thing, but we don’t always have the bandwidth or experience to take care of someone the way they need to be taken care of.
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In a sense I’m telling them: Let’s go there together. I am strong enough to hold this for the both of us.”
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Leaders must either invest a reasonable amount of time attending to fears and feelings, or squander an unreasonable amount of time trying to manage ineffective and unproductive behavior.
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Stop talking. Even if it’s awkward—which it will be the first fifteen times. And when they start talking (which they normally will), listen. Really listen. Don’t formulate your response while they’re talking. If you have a great insight—hold it. Don’t do that thing where the listener starts nodding faster and faster, not because they’re actively listening but because they’re trying to unconsciously signal the talker to wrap up so they can talk. Keep a lot of space in the conversation.
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It means cultivating the courage, compassion, and connection to wake up in the morning and think, No matter what gets done and how much is left undone, I am enough. It’s going to bed at night thinking, Yes, I am imperfect and vulnerable and sometimes afraid, but that doesn’t change the truth that I am brave, and worthy of love and belonging.”
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The problem is that when we imprison the heart, we kill courage.
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joy is the most vulnerable emotion we feel. And that’s saying something, given that I study fear and shame.
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When we feel joy, it is a place of incredible vulnerability—it’s beauty and fragility and deep gratitude and impermanence all wrapped up in one experience.
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Like most hurtful comments and passive-aggressiveness, cynicism and sarcasm are bad in person and even worse when they travel through email or text. And, in global teams, culture and language differences make them toxic.
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Cynicism and sarcasm often mask anger, fear, feelings of inadequacy, and even despair. They’re a safe way for us to send out an emotional trial balloon, and if it doesn’t go over well, we make it a joke and make you feel stupid for thinking it was ever something different.
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a cynic might argue that someone who clings to hope is a sucker, or ridiculously earnest,
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As the theologian Rob Bell explains, “Despair is the belief that tomorrow will be just like today.”
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People use history to criticize different thinking.
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We can also use the invisible army: “We don’t want to change course,” or “We don’t like the direction you’re taking the project.” I hate the invisible army, and if you use it with me I will drill you down on exactly who makes up your we.
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Voicing and owning our concern is brave. Pretending that we represent a lot of folks when we don’t is cheap-seat behavior.
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At the end of the day, at the end of the week, at the end of my life, I want to say I contributed more than I criticized.
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in Memphis, Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., defined power as the ability to achieve purpose and effect change.
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The phrase power over is typically enough to send chills down spines: When someone holds power over us, the human spirit’s instinct is to rise, resist, and rebel. As a construct it feels wrong; in the wider geopolitical context it can mean death and despotism.
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sometimes we overlook our own strengths because we take them for granted and forget that they’re special.
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The less people understand how their hard work adds value to bigger goals, the less engaged they are. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy of failure and frustration.
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When we operate from compliance and control, we also have a tendency to hold on to power and authority, and push only responsibility down. This leads to huge alignment issues for people. They’ve been asked to do something that they don’t actually have the authority to accomplish. They’re not set up for success, so they fail. This just reinforces our power and resentment loop: I knew I should have done it myself. I’ll be responsible for this, you just do these small tasks that you can handle versus Let’s dig into how we could have set you up for success. I know I have a part.
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TASC approach: the Accountability and Success Checklist: T—Who owns the task? A—Do they have the authority to be held accountable? S—Do we agree that they are set up for success (time, resources, clarity)? C—Do we have a checklist of what needs to happen to accomplish the task?
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Leaders who work from compliance constantly feel disappointed and resentful, and their teams feel scrutinized. Compliance leadership also kills trust, and, ironically, it can increase people’s tendency to test what they can get away with.
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In the midst of uncertainty and fear, leaders have an ethical responsibility to hold their people in discomfort—to acknowledge the tumult but not fan it, to share information and not inflate or fake it.
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People desperately want to be part of something, and they want to experience profound connection with others, but they don’t want to sacrifice their authenticity, freedom, or power to do it.
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That means having the courage to acknowledge our own privilege, and staying open to learning about our biases and blind spots.
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We also have to watch for favoritism—the development of cliques or in/ out groups.
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Bill Gentry talks about the need to “flip the script” when we find ourselves in a new role as a leader. His book Be the Boss Everyone Wants to Work For: A Guide for New Leaders
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We all know that it saves a tremendous amount of time and mental capacity to just turn around and face whatever is at our heels head-on. The other advantage of stepping into the discomfort? It’s actually much less scary and intimidating to appraise the situation from a face-first position, rather than looking back over our shoulder while running.
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To put it in simple terms, we work our shit out on other people, and we can never get enough of what it is we’re after, because we’re not addressing the real problem.
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Shame can only rise to a certain level before people have to armor up and sometimes disengage to stay safe.
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SHAME 101 I always start with the Shame 1-2-3’ s: We all have it. Shame is universal and one of the most primitive human emotions that we experience. The only people who don’t experience shame are those who lack the capacity for empathy and human connection. Here’s your choice: ’Fess up to experiencing shame or admit that you’re a sociopath. Quick note: This is the only time that shame seems like a good option. We’re all afraid to talk about shame. Just the word is uncomfortable. The less we talk about shame, the more control it has over our lives.
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First, shame is the fear of disconnection.
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Shame is the fear of disconnection—it’s the fear that something we’ve done or failed to do, an ideal that we’ve not lived up to, or a goal that we’ve not accomplished makes us unworthy of connection.
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Shame is not a compass for moral behavior.
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where shame exists, empathy is almost always absent. That’s what makes shame dangerous.
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We feel guilty when we hold up something we’ve done or failed to do against our values and find they don’t match up.
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The discomfort of cognitive dissonance is what drives meaningful change. Shame, however, corrodes the very part of us that believes we can change and do better.
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When you’re delivering the news, be kind. Be clear. Be respectful. Be generous. Can you let the person resign rather than be fired? Can you provide severance pay? Ask the person how they want to let colleagues know about their departure and follow their lead on that if possible.
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In those bad moments, it’s not our job to make things better. It’s just not. Our job is to connect. It’s to take the perspective of someone else.
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Empathy is a choice. And it’s a vulnerable choice, because if I were to choose to connect with you through empathy, I would have to connect with something in myself that knows that feeling.
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But empathy isn’t about fixing, it’s the brave choice to be with someone in their darkness—not to race to turn on the light so we feel better.
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Empathy Skill #1: To see the world as others see it, or perspective taking
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Empathy Skill #2: To be nonjudgmental
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We judge in areas where we’re most susceptible to shame, and we judge people who are doing worse than we are in those areas. So if you find yourself feeling incredibly judgmental about appearance, and you can’t figure out why, that’s a clue that it’s a hard issue for you.
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Staying out of judgment means being aware of where we are the most vulnerable to our own shame, our own struggle.
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Empathy Skill #3: To understand another person’s feelings
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Empathy Skill #4: To communicate your understanding of that person’s feelings
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The vast majority of us find it easier to be mad than hurt.
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To review, empathy is first: I take the perspective of another person, meaning I become the listener and the student, not the knower. Second: I stay out of judgment. And third and fourth: I try to understand what emotion they’re articulating and communicate my understanding of that emotion.
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Ruminating and getting stuck is as unhelpful as not noticing at all.
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this also works if you’re practicing empathy with someone you don’t know that well. Engage, stay curious, stay connected. Let go of the fear of saying the wrong thing, the need to fix it, and the desire to offer the perfect response that cures everything (that’s not going to happen). You don’t have to do it perfectly. Just do it.
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Dr. Kristin Neff of the University of Texas at Austin, mentioned earlier in this section, runs the Self-Compassion Research Lab and is the author of Self-Compassion: Stop Beating Yourself Up and Leave Insecurity Behind.
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Do not take responsibility and ownership for the words of other people—just own your part. So in practice, change “She was so irritated with me” to simply “She was so irritated.” Don’t fixate, don’t ruminate, don’t get stuck.
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Now, don’t get me wrong—I’m a cusser from a long matriarchal line of cussers. I’m super comfortable with that; I just try to limit it in my writing. I think it has to do with my belief that in conversation, a well-placed cuss word or three seems really good, but in writing, it seems more intentional and less organic.
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Self-kindness is self-empathy.
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Common humanity recognizes, she writes, “that suffering and personal inadequacy is part of the shared human experience—something that we all go through rather than being something that happens to ‘me’ alone.”
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strategies of disconnection: Moving away: Withdrawing, hiding, silencing ourselves, and keeping secrets. Moving toward: Seeking to appease and please. Moving against: Trying to gain power over others by being aggressive, and by using shame to fight shame.
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Curiosity is an act of vulnerability and courage. Researchers are finding evidence that curiosity is correlated with creativity, intelligence, improved learning and memory, and problem solving.
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Curious: The Desire to Know and Why Your Future Depends on It, Ian Leslie writes,
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Here are some specific rumble starters and questions that we use: The story I make up…( This is by far one of the most powerful rumble tools in the free world. It’s changed every facet of my life. We’ll walk through it in the part “Learning to Rise.”) I’m curious about… Tell me more. That’s not my experience (instead of “You’re wrong about her, him, them, it, this…”). I’m wondering… Help me understand… Walk me through… We’re both dug in. Tell me about your passion around this. Tell me why this doesn’t fit/ work for you. I’m working from these assumptions—what about you? What problem are we trying to solve? Sometimes we’ll be an hour into a difficult rumble when someone will bravely say, “Wait. I’m confused. What problem are we trying to solve?”
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“Walk me through all of the assumptions you are working off.
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“Help me understand what you see as the benefit of this approach.”
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1994 article “The Psychology of Curiosity,” George Loewenstein
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We aren’t curious about something we are unaware of or know nothing about.
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What was once an entrepreneurial, fast-moving, and empowering culture had over the course of several years of struggling performance become hierarchal, siloed, political, and filled with fear.
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We would stop the shaming and blaming and the judging of outcomes as good or bad, and instead continuously ask ourselves, “What did we set out to do, what happened, what did we learn, and how fast can we improve on it?”
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Sometimes my prayer is simply If I miss the boat, it wasn’t my boat.
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In those hard moments, we know that we are going to pick what’s right, right now, over what is easy.
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One of my courage behaviors is Don’t choose silence over what is right. It’s not my job to make others more comfortable or to be liked by everyone.
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Show up for people in pain and don’t look away.
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Value #1 ___________________________________ What are three behaviors that support your value? What are three slippery behaviors that are outside your value? What’s an example of a time when you were fully living into this value?
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To opt out of conversations about privilege and oppression because they make you uncomfortable is the epitome of privilege.
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Who is someone who knows your values and supports your efforts to live into them? What does support from this person look like? What can you do as an act of self-compassion to support yourself in the hard work of living into your values? What are the early warning indicators or signs that you’re living outside your values? What does it feel like when you’re living into your values? How does living into your two key values shape the way you give and receive feedback?
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Often, in the midst of a feedback session, we forget that we’re supposed to be facilitating and fact finding from a place of curiosity, not lecturing.
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If you are in such a state of anger that you cannot come up with a single positive quality that this person possesses, then you are not in the right headspace to give good feedback until you can be less emotionally reactive.
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allow people to have feelings without taking responsibility for those feelings. If I’m sharing something that’s difficult, I need to make space for people to feel the way they feel—in contrast to either punishing them for having those feelings because I’m uncomfortable, or trying to caretake and rescue them from their feelings, because that’s not courageous, and that’s not my job.
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When receiving feedback, we can identify a value-supporting behavior or a piece of self-talk to help in the moment.
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“I’m brave enough to listen. I don’t have to take it all in or add it to my load, but I’m brave enough to listen.”
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“There’s something valuable here, there’s something valuable here. Take what works and leave the rest.”
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“This is the path to mastery, this is the path to mastery,”
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“I always stay curious about what I’m hearing, because I know I can take this feedback and turn it into a learning, or use the knowledge I already have to improve or better understand.”
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The ultimate goal in receiving feedback: a skillful blend of listening, integrating feedback, and reflecting it back with accountability. Being able to fully acknowledge and hold the discomfort gives us power in both the giving and receiving of feedback.
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it’s okay to say: “You know what, I’m overloaded right now. If we can pick one of these and dig into it, and then make time to come back and talk through the other issues, I’m willing to do that, but I can only hear so much right now.” That is productive and respectful and brave.
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What boundaries need to be in place for me to be in my integrity and generous with my assumptions about the intentions, words, and actions of others?
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“Crap,” one man said. “If he’s really doing the best he can, I’m a total jerk, and I need to stop harassing him and start helping him.”
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Assuming positive intent does not mean that we stop helping people set goals or that we stop expecting people to grow and change. It’s a commitment to stop respecting and evaluating people based solely on what we think they should accomplish, and start respecting them for who they are and holding them accountable for what they’re actually doing.
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In The Thin Book of Trust, Feltman defines trust as “choosing to risk making something you value vulnerable to another person’s actions.” He describes distrust as deciding that “what is important to me is not safe with this person in this situation (or any situation).”
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First, when we’re struggling with trust and don’t have the tools or skills to talk about it directly with the person involved, it leads us to talk about people instead of to them.
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Second, trust is the glue that holds teams and organizations together. We ignore trust issues at the expense of our own performance, and the expense of our team’s and organization’s success.
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The only way I know to get knowledge into our bones is to practice it, screw it up, learn more, repeat.
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Boundaries: You respect my boundaries, and when you’re not clear about what’s okay and not okay, you ask. You’re willing to say no. Reliability: You do what you say you’ll do. At work, this means staying aware of your competencies and limitations so you don’t overpromise and are able to deliver on commitments and balance competing priorities. Accountability: You own your mistakes, apologize, and make amends. Vault: You don’t share information or experiences that are not yours to share. I need to know that my confidences are kept, and that you’re not sharing with me any information about other people that should be confidential. Integrity: You choose courage over comfort. You choose what is right over what is fun, fast, or easy. And you choose to practice your values rather than simply professing them. Nonjudgment: I can ask for what I need, and you can ask for what you need. We can talk about how we feel without judgment. We can ask each other for help without judgment. Generosity: You extend the most generous interpretation possible to the intentions, words, and actions of others.
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There are two variables that predict when we judge and whom we judge. Typically, we pick someone doing worse than we’re doing in an area where we’re the most susceptible to shame:
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we’re afraid of being judged for a lack of knowledge or lack of understanding. We hate asking for help.
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We asked a thousand leaders to list marble-earning behaviors—what do your team members do that earns your trust? The most common answer: asking for help. When it comes to people who do not habitually ask for help, the leaders we polled explained that they would not delegate important work to them because the leaders did not trust that they would raise their hands and ask for help.
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Asking for help is a power move. It’s a sign of strength to ask and a sign of strength to fight off judgment when other people raise their hands. It reflects a self-awareness that is an essential element in braving trust.
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recontextualize the elements for self-trust. Boundaries: Did I respect my own boundaries in the situation? Was I clear with myself and then others about what’s okay and what’s not okay? Reliability: Could I count on myself?
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Accountability: Did I hold myself accountable or did I blame others? And did I hold others accountable when I should have? Vault: Did I honor the vault, and did I share, or not share, appropriately? Did I stop other people who were sharing inappropriately? Integrity: Did I choose courage over comfort? Did I practice my values? Did I do what I thought was right, or did I opt for fast and easy? Nonjudgment: Did I ask for help when I needed it? Was I judgmental about needing help? Did I practice nonjudgment with myself? Generosity: Was I generous toward myself? Did I have self-compassion? Did I talk to myself with kindness and respect and like someone I love? When I screwed up, did I turn to myself and say “You gave it the best shot you could. You did what you could do with the data you had at that time. Let’s clean it up, it’s going to be okay,” or did I skip the self-love and go straight into berating myself?
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line: If we don’t have the skills to get back up, we may not risk falling. And if we’re brave enough often enough, we are definitely going to fall.
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Learning to Rise. It has three parts: the reckoning, the rumble, and the revolution.
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You make yourself the center of something that has nothing to do with you out of your own fear or scarcity, only to be reminded that you’re not the axis on which the world turns.
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When we have the courage to walk into our story and own it, we get to write the ending.
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the skill that the most resilient among us share: Slow down, take a deep breath, and get curious about what’s happening.
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Pain is hard, and it’s easier to be angry or pissed off than to acknowledge hurt, so our ego intervenes and does the dirty work. The ego doesn’t own stories or want to write new endings; it denies emotion and hates curiosity.
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It’s much easier to say “I don’t give a damn” than it is to say “I’m hurt.”
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tactical breathing this way: Inhale deeply through your nose, expanding your stomach, for a count of four. Hold in that breath for a count of four. Slowly exhale all the air through your mouth, contracting your stomach, for a count of four. Hold the empty breath for a count of four.
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The bad news is that anxiety is one of the most contagious emotions that we experience.
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The good news? Calm is equally contagious.
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They talked about taking deep breaths before responding to questions or asking them; slowing down the pace of a frantic conversation by modeling slow speech, breathing, and fact finding; and even intentionally taking a few breaths before asking themselves a version of these two questions: Do I have enough information to freak out about this situation? If I do have enough data, will freaking out help?
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The rumble starts with this universal truth: In the absence of data, we will always make up stories. It’s how we are wired. Meaning making is in our biology, and when we’re in struggle, our default is often to come up with a story that makes sense of what’s happening and gives our brain information on how best to selfprotect.
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Burton writes, “Because we are compelled to make stories, we are often compelled to take incomplete stories and run with them.”
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The first story we make up is what we call the “shitty first draft,” or the SFD.
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Anne Lamott’s exceptional book on writing, Bird by Bird.
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She writes: The only way I can get anything written at all is to write really, really shitty first drafts. The first draft is the child’s draft, where you let it all pour out and then let it romp all over the place, knowing that no one is going to see it and that you can shape it later.
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In our SFDs, fear fills in the data gaps. What makes that scary is that stories based on limited real data and plentiful imagined data, blended into a coherent, emotionally satisfying version of reality, are called conspiracy theories.
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Keep in mind: You can spend a reasonable amount of time attending to feelings and fears (and conspiracy theories), or you can squander an unreasonable time managing unproductive behaviors.
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Confabulation has a really great and subtle definition: A confabulation is a lie told honestly. To confabulate is to replace missing information with something false that we believe to be true.
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The Storytelling Animal, Jonathan Gottschall explains that there’s growing
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write it out when I have the opportunity simply because 70 percent of the risers we interviewed write down their SFDs. Nothing elaborate, just some variation of: The story I’m making up: My emotions: My body: My thinking: My beliefs: My actions:
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Writing down your SFD doesn’t give it power—it gives us power. It gives us the opportunity to say, “Does this even make sense? Does this look right?” Writing slows the winds and calms the seas.
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these are the questions that risers need to rumble with: 1. What more do I need to learn and understand about the situation? What do I know objectively? What assumptions am I making? 2. What more do I need to learn and understand about the other people in the story? What additional information do I need? What questions or clarifications might help?
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3. What more do I need to learn and understand about myself? What’s underneath my response? What am I really feeling? What part did I play?
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Gottschall writes, “Conspiracy is not limited to the stupid, the ignorant, or the crazy. It is a reflex of the storytelling mind’s compulsive need for meaningful experience.”
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love this line from Gottschall: “To the conspiratorial mind, shit never just happens.”
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Because it’s human nature to turn on some level of self-protection when dealing with setbacks and receiving feedback, it’s important to circle back with employees to ensure that the intention of the message matched what was actually heard,
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The reality check around our lovability: Just because someone isn’t willing or able to love us, it doesn’t mean that we are unlovable.
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The reality check around our divinity: No person is ordained to judge our divinity or to write the story of our spiritual worthiness.
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The reality check around our creativity: Just because we didn’t measure up to some standard of achievement doesn’t mean that we don’t possess gifts and talents that only we can bring to the world. And just because someone failed to see the value in what we can create or achieve doesn’t change its worth or ours.
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When we own a story and the emotion that fuels it, we get to simultaneously acknowledge that something was hard while taking control of how that hard thing is going to end. We change the narrative. When we deny a story and when we pretend we don’t make up stories, the story owns us. It drives our behavior, and it drives our cognition, and then it drives even more emotions until it completely owns us.
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Let’s set the intention for the rumble and make sure we are clear about why we’re rumbling. What does everyone need to engage in this process with an open heart and mind? Container-building is important, even if there’s established trust in the group. What will get in the way of you showing up? Here’s how we commit to showing up: from #2 and #3. Let’s each share one permission slip. More container-and trust-building. What emotions are people experiencing? Let’s put it out there, and let’s name emotions. What do we need to get curious about? Building more trust and grounded confidence by staying curious. What are your SFDs? The Turn & Learn is very helpful here. These are vulnerable rumbles, and having someone with more influence go first, versus having everyone write their thoughts down and put them up on the wall at the same time, can change the outcome for the worse. What do our SFDs tell us about our relationships? About our communication? About leadership? About the culture? About what’s working and what’s not working? Stay curious, learn to resist needing to know. Where do we need to rumble? What lines of inquiry do we need to open to better understand what’s really happening and to reality-check our conspiracy theories and confabulations? What’s the delta between those first SFDs and the new information we’re gathering in the rumble? What are the key learnings? How do we act on the key learnings? How do we integrate these key learnings into the culture and leverage them as we work on new strategies? What is one thing each of us will take responsibility for embedding? When is the circle-back? Let’s regroup so we can check back in and hold ourselves and one another accountable for learning and embedding.
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Own the story and you get to write the ending. Deny the story and it owns you.
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We fail the minute we let someone else define success for us.
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How to Work a Room

Book Notes

As someone who is not 100% awkward in social situations, but is probably 95% awkward internally, only 30% awkward externally, I find reading books that teach about reducing that awkwardness to be very helpful. This book was, unsurprisingly, very helpful. Many of the lessons and techniques presented have, also unsurprisingly, worked for me since I started applying them.

Take, for instance, the realization that if you're at a meetup or conference, you already have something in common with everyone at the meetup and conference. Hello, smalltalk and ways to introduce yourself to everyone else. How wonderful is that realization? Answer: way wonderful!

The format of the book has summary of each chapter at the end of it, which I greatly appreciated.

This book is worth reading, even if you're not in sales. Having the confidence to approach people, and being able not to worry about what to do when you're in small and big groups, is great.

In my research for How to Create Your Own Luck, I learned that those who turn serendipity into success say yes when they want to say no. Because they do that, they are able to parlay possibilities and coincidence into opportunities they otherwise would not have had.
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Tom Hanks turned to Ed Burns and said, “Please tell me that I was nice to you.” Burns replied, “Yes, you were very nice.” Tom Hanks looked relieved and said he was glad. Here is a man with great acclaim, celebrity, career success and wealth and his first concern was that he was nice to this young man who had brought him coffee.
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We show our character not by how we treat people in a position to help us but in how we treat people who can’t—or so we think. Being nice in any room pays off.
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If you are sitting in a meeting; attending a convention, a board retreat or a yearly conference; or are involved in a keynote presentation, you are already in a group with whom you have something in common. You just need some strategies; tips; opening and exit lines; and mostly, the permission to talk to those still unknown colleagues, cronies, contacts, clients, customers and potential friends.
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At a presentation for a professional services firm, one of the partners wondered how he could possibly introduce a person he found boring to a client. His colleague provided the perfect response, “What’s boring for you may be fascinating for someone else who shares their interests.”
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Good social skills positively impact one’s well-being and life expectancy.   
Those who can mingle and make contacts and conversation will shine in any room.   
Conversation is the cornerstone of team building and collaboration.   
Face-to-face contact with bosses, colleagues and clients requires a personal touch.   
When you’re in the same room, you already have something in common.   
No one is boring when you discover their area of passion.
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Life is too short, and time too precious, to spend an hour or two squandering opportunities and, in the process, having a bad time.
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But at most events we can’t count on being introduced to anyone, let alone the people we most want to meet. We are on our own when it comes to circulating. We have to walk up to people and introduce ourselves, if we don’t want to be left standing in the middle of the room, staring at the ceiling or the floor.
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There is an old adage, “Good things come to those who wait.” Au contraire. Gray hair comes to those who wait and sometimes even varicose veins, if the waiting is done standing up!
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If you don’t have any skin in the game, you never win.
If you don’t take the risk and reach out to people, you never make new friends or new contacts.
Most of us are strong enough to withstand a temporarily chipped ego.
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The person who appears to be disinterested may not be judging or rejecting us, but may be distracted with another worry.
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But when we allow negative self-talk to prevail, we can become overwhelmed by the roadblocks and talk ourselves out of taking a risk. If we don’t seize the moment, it will be gone, along with the opportunity.
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[A]lways pay tribute to that great old overused line, “Don’t I know you from someplace?”
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One way to muster up the courage to take a risk and talk to strangers is to ask yourself, “What’s the worst that can happen?” Surprisingly enough, your worst fear is usually not a matter of life and death. And the odds are that disaster will not occur—and that even if it does, you will survive.
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Taking the risk is almost always worth the discomfort. It’s a cliché, but “nothing ventured, nothing gained” makes sense. With technology moving the world at warp speed, embracing real-time opportunities for face-to-face connections makes sense.
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- Be aware of negative self-talk and change it into positive self-talk.
- Extending yourself to people feels risky, but the benefits are well worth the discomfort.
- Remember, what you think is the worst thing that could happen most often won’t.
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The Five Dysfunctions of a Team

Book Notes

So what do you do when a newly incoming CEO recommends a book to the team? Well, duh, you read it.

What happens when the book he recommends has to do with dysfunctional teams? Well, duh, you read it.

What else happens? You are stunningly shocked (SHOCKED) at how relevant the book is, sadly unsurprised that you were unaware of all the problems with the team, and cautiously hopeful that things can be better. In other words, mine in fact, "Hoooboy, lots of it is relevant."

Okay, those five dysfunctions are:

1. Absence of trust
2. Fear of conflict
3. Lack of commitment
4. Avoidance of accountability
5. Inattention to results

Seems like not good things.

The book is told as a tale, of a new CEO coming in and working with the leadership of a company. Most tales that have morals are stunningly contrived. This one, however, has this reader nodding a lot with, "Yep... yes... uh huh, yeah."

I strongly recommend this book, but also recommend more strongly Brené Brown's books: Dare to Lead and Daring Greatly.

“Trust is the foundation of real teamwork. And so the first dysfunction is a failure on the part of team members to understand and open up to one another. And if that sounds touchy-feely, let me explain, because there is nothing soft about it. It is an absolutely critical part of building a team. In fact, it's probably the most critical.”
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“Great teams do not hold back with one another,” she said. “They are unafraid to air their dirty laundry. They admit their mistakes, their weaknesses, and their concerns without fear of reprisal.”
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The first dysfunction is an absence of trust among team members. Essentially, this stems from their unwillingness to be vulnerable within the group.
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the second dysfunction: fear of conflict. Teams that lack trust are incapable of engaging in unfiltered and passionate debate of ideas.
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the third dysfunction of a team: lack of commitment. Without having aired their opinions in the course of passionate and open debate, team members rarely, if ever, buy in and commit to decisions, though they may feign agreement during meetings.
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avoidance of accountability, the fourth dysfunction. Without committing to a clear plan of action, even the most focused and driven people often hesitate to call their peers on actions and behaviors that seem counterproductive to the good of the team.
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the fifth dysfunction can thrive. Inattention to results occurs when team members put their individual needs (such as ego, career development, or recognition) or even the needs of their divisions above the collective goals of the team.
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They trust one another. They engage in unfiltered conflict around ideas. They commit to decisions and plans of action. They hold one another accountable for delivering against those plans. They focus on the achievement of collective results.
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Members of Trusting Teams . . . Admit weaknesses and mistakes Ask for help Accept questions and input about their areas of responsibility Give one another the benefit of the doubt before arriving at a negative conclusion Take risks in offering feedback and assistance Appreciate and tap into one another's skills and experiences Focus time and energy on important issues, not politics Offer and accept apologies without hesitation Look forward to meetings and other opportunities to work as a group
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This low-risk exercise requires nothing more than going around the table during a meeting and having team members answer a short list of questions about themselves. Questions need not be overly sensitive in nature and might include the following: number of siblings, hometown, unique challenges of childhood, favorite hobbies, first job, and worst job. Simply by describing these relatively innocuous attributes or experiences, team members begin to relate to one another on a more personal basis, and see one another as human beings with life stories and interesting backgrounds.
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Team Effectiveness Exercise
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It requires team members to identify the single most important contribution that each of their peers makes to the team, as well as the one area that they must either improve upon or eliminate for the good of the team. All members then report their responses, focusing on one person at a time, usually beginning with the team leader.
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team leaders must create an environment that does not punish vulnerability. Even well-intentioned teams can subtly discourage trust by chastising one another for admissions of weakness or failure.
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All great relationships, the ones that last over time, require productive conflict in order to grow. This is true in marriage, parenthood, friendship, and certainly business.
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Ideological conflict is limited to concepts and ideas, and avoids personality-focused, mean-spirited attacks.
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teams that engage in productive conflict know that the only purpose is to produce the best possible solution in the shortest period of time. They discuss and resolve issues more quickly and completely than others, and they emerge from heated debates with no residual feelings or collateral damage, but with an eagerness and readiness to take on the next important issue.
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When team members do not openly debate and disagree about important ideas, they often turn to back-channel personal attacks, which are far nastier and more harmful than any heated argument over issues.
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Mining Members of teams that tend to avoid conflict must occasionally assume the role of a “miner of conflict”—someone who extracts buried disagreements within the team and sheds the light of day on them. They must have the courage and confidence to call out sensitive issues and force team members to work through them. This requires a degree of objectivity during meetings and a commitment to staying with the conflict until it is resolved. Some teams may want to assign a member of the team to take on this responsibility during a given meeting or discussion.
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Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument, commonly referred to as the TKI.
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One of the most difficult challenges that a leader faces in promoting healthy conflict is the desire to protect members from harm.
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In the context of a team, commitment is a function of two things: clarity and buy-in. Great teams make clear and timely decisions and move forward with complete buy-in from every member of the team, even those who voted against the decision.
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The two greatest causes of the lack of commitment are the desire for consensus and the need for certainty: Consensus. Great teams understand the danger of seeking consensus, and find ways to achieve buy-in even when complete agreement is impossible. They understand that reasonable human beings do not need to get their way in order to support a decision, but only need to know that their opinions have been heard and considered.
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Certainty. Great teams also pride themselves on being able to unite behind decisions and commit to clear courses of action even when there is little assurance about whether the decision is correct.
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they understand the old military axiom that a decision is better than no decision.
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They also realize that it is better to make a decision boldly and be wrong—and then change direction with equal boldness—than it is to waffle.
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It is important to remember that conflict underlies the willingness to commit without perfect information. In many cases, teams have all the information they need, but it resides within the hearts and minds of the team itself and must be extracted through unfiltered debate.
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In order for teammates to call each other on their behaviors and actions, they must have a clear sense of what is expected. Even the most ardent believers in accountability usually balk at having to hold someone accountable for something that was never bought in to or made clear in the first place.
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this dysfunction is the unwillingness of team members to tolerate the interpersonal discomfort that accompanies calling a peer on his or her behavior and the more general tendency to avoid difficult conversations.
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team members who are particularly close to one another sometimes hesitate to hold one another accountable precisely because they fear jeopardizing a valuable personal relationship.
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the most effective and efficient means of maintaining high standards of performance on a team is peer pressure.
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A Team that Holds One Another Accountable . . . Ensures that poor performers feel pressure to improve Identifies potential problems quickly by questioning one another's approaches without hesitation Establishes respect among team members who are held to the same high standards Avoids excessive bureaucracy around performance management and corrective action
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The enemy of accountability is ambiguity, and even when a team has initially committed to a plan or a set of behavioral standards, it is important to keep those agreements in the open so that no one can easily ignore them.
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The ultimate dysfunction of a team is the tendency of members to care about something other than the collective goals of the group. An unrelenting focus on specific objectives and clearly defined outcomes is a requirement for any team that judges itself on performance.
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A Team that Focuses on Collective Results . . . Retains achievement-oriented employees Minimizes individualistic behavior Enjoys success and suffers failure acutely Benefits from individuals who subjugate their own goals/ interests for the good of the team Avoids distractions
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Ironically, teams succeed because they are exceedingly human.
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Mortality

Book Notes

Okay, so, lots of books on death or death-adjacent this year. Probably both really good for my health, and not so good for my health. Upside, not obsessed, merely realistically recognizing my own mortality.

This book of seven essays by Christopher Hitchens were written while he had esophageal cancer, diagnosed a bit over a year before his death. Hitchens had written before on death and his own mortality, reminding all of us that all of us die, and rejecting the idea that religion is a comfort at the end.

I took lots of notes about the book, then didn't keep them. I did, however, buy the book in hardback, as I do with all good books I read from the library and want to keep. I recommend this book, even if thinking about dying is a scary, frightening thing for you. Better to face it eyes open head up, than be caught by surprise.

 

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