Category: Book Reviews

  • “The Book of Awakening” by Mark Nepo

    Recently, I was walking by Thunderbolt Books, one of my favorite bookstores, and made the mistake of walking in. Why a mistake? Because I usually buy a new book when I’m there, and lord knows that I don’t need any more new books before I finish the 140 that are already in the queue, yeesh.

    However, this one I could justify (totally!) because it’s a daybook — one short chapter per day. Piece o’ cake! Also, three different sources had recommended it to me, so I had to find out what the fuss was all about. I flipped through it and recognized instantly: it’s a keeper.

    The entry I read today was particularly powerful, so I’d like to share with you some of the jewel-like lucidity of The Book of Awakening: Having the Life You Want by Being Present to the Life You Have by Mark Nepo:

    January 20: Being Easily Pleased

    One key to knowing joy is being easily pleased.

    So many of us have been trained to think that being particular about what we want is indicative of good taste, and that not being satisfied unless our preferences are met is a sign of worldliness and sophistication. I remember being at a party where a woman wouldn’t accept her drink unless is was made with a certain brand of vermouth. She was, in fact, indignant about it. Or going to dinner with a colleague who had to have his steak prepared in a complex and special way, as if this particular need to be different was his special public signature. Or watching very intelligent men and women inscibe their circle of loneliness with criteria for compansionship that no one could meet. I used to maintain such a standard of excellence around the sort of art I found acceptable.

    Often, this kind of discernment is seen as having high standards, when in actuality it is only a means of isolating ourselves from being touched by life, while rationalizing that we are more special than those who can’t meet our very demanding standards.

    The devastating truth is that excellence can’t hold you in the night, and, as I learned when ill, being demanding or sophisticated won’t help you survive…

    I’m going to buy me a stack of these and give them away to friends. So either become my friend, or go get thee thine own copy. I’ve been reading some great books recently, so more of these to come.


    Dr Ali B

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  • ‘God’s Hotel’ by Victoria Sweet: A profoundly human book

    A book that can delight you through its entertainments or instruct you with useful knowledge is a good book; one that does both is a great book. Rarely, a book comes along that not only instructs and delights but also deepens your humanity, carving out extra space inside us to carry even more compassion. God’s Hotel by Victoria Sweet is such a book. [A hat-tip to Jesse Kornbluth of Head Butler for introducing me to it.]

    There were many reasons I enjoyed this book, which is really many books at once:

    1) The author, Dr Victoria Sweet, who has a PhD in medieval history as well as an MD, shares the ancient Latin and Greek etymologies of many terms used in patient care today. Hospitality, community, charity – what do they really mean? Through her stories about her time taking care of patients, Dr Sweet shows how those formed the three foundational principles of Laguna Honda Hospital.

    Hospital comes from hospitality, the root of which is hospes, which means both ‘guest’ or ‘host’. This is how Sweet explains this:

    The essence of hospitality — hospes — is that guest and host are identical, if not in this moment, then at some moment. Whatever our current role, it was temporary. With time and the seasons, a host goes traveling and becomes a guest; a guest returns home and becomes a host. That is what the word hospitality encodes. And in a hospital, the meaning of that interchangeability is even more profound, because in the hospital, every host will for sure become a guest; every doctor, a patient.

    Community has two derivations: one from Latin munio meaning wall, so it means “to build a wall around”. It also comes from munis, gift, so it also means “those who share a gift in common”:

    That was true of the hospital’s community, too, though it was not as obvious as the wall. At the Teals’ wedding, when I saw almost all of Laguna Honda pouring into that church, sitting rapt during their vows, and, yes, even crying, I understood that it wasn’t only me who was interested in the Teals, who made time, who was touched by them. Almost everyone was there; the wedding was a gift we shared in common, and that sharing made us a community.

    As for charity:

    Charity came into the West when Saint Jerome translated the Greek word agape by the Latin caritas, which became the English charity. Today agape is usually translated as love, but agape was more nuanced; in ancient Greek it meant “to treat with affectionate regard.” Caritas, charity, is closer because the root of caritas is cara — “dear” — as in expensive and cherished. So caritas has the sense of “dearness” — of a love that is precious and sweet.

    2) Dr Sweet interweaves the account of her doctoral research on Hildegard von Bingen and premodern medicine in the story. This is delighteful stuff, because it’s not taught in medical schools at all, even though it was the basis of Western medicine for two thousand years.

    Von Bingen was the original 11th century superwoman: head cleric, builder, farmer, physician, author and composer at a time when women weren’t allowed much power at all. Hildegard believed in viriditas — the greenness of living things and their ability to grow. Get the blocks out of the way, and a patient’s own viriditas would take over and he’d heal. Dr Sweet applies some of the premodern principles from von Bingen’s healing framework to her patients, most memorably one with the worst bedsore she had ever seen that went all the way to the patient’s spine. The results are well-nigh miraculous.

    3) Dr Sweet describes in great detail and without spite the encroachment of modern medicine with its “efficiencies” into the cozy, personable and strangely effective ways of Laguna Honda, even though there is much to provoke the reader’s dismay. The personal, health and financial consequences of cost-cutting, both on patients and staff, turn out to be much higher than the dollars that those measures purport to save. It’s a cautionary tale about what medicine can be vs. what it has become, and should be required reading for every medical student.

    4) And most of all, the stories of the patients. Laguna Honda being a hospital for the care of the indigent – the last almshouse in the US – its patients are people that the good life left behind. The poor, the mentally ill, the unlucky, those with nowhere else to go: these are the patients that Laguna Honda treats equally and without prejudice. Sometimes the patient goes to the brink of death, the ‘anima’ already halfway in ascent, and turns back. Other times, the patients make miraculous recoveries only to succumb to alcohol or neglect once discharged. These case histories are at once invigorating, enlightening, infuriating and heartbreaking. They are the human heart of the book.

    This may also be a book the likes of which will never get written again. Why? Because nobody has the luxury of observing a patient over weeks, months and years as that patient’s debilitating bedsore, cirrhosis or dementia heals millimeter by millimeter. There are few structures in the US that support that kind of patient care. This is a book about slow medicine, which is rapidly going out of fashion these days.

    One of the side effects of reading any book is to become partially imbued with the spirit of its author. Reading God’s Hotel, you get a sense that Dr Victoria Sweet is a deeply thoughtful and compassionate person, and one of the very best kind of caregivers one could hope to have. As a result, this book will not only delight and instruct you, but is also likely to leave you a better human being.

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    Categories: Book Reviews
  • How to be more charismatic: Interview with Olivia Fox Cabane, 26 March 2012

    Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls: I have a special treat for you. My friend and colleague Olivia Fox Cabane, speaker and trainer to corporations (eg Google), universities (eg MIT and Harvard) and governments worldwide, is coming out on March 28 with her long-awaited new book, The Charisma Myth: How Anyone Can Master the Art and Science of Personal Magnetism. It’s a manual on how to be even more charismatic (since all of you are already such charming devils, obviously).

    how to be more charismatic

    As a personal favor, I have wrangled her into giving us an interview on the key principles in her book. I’ll be doing the interview this Monday, 26 March 2012. Here’s the information:

    • Date: Monday, 26 March 2012, 6pm PDT/9pm EDT/2am London/6am Dubai/12 noon Sydney
    • Call-in number: +1 218 862 1300
    • Access code: 667202
    • Duration: 40min interview, 15min Q&A

    Why do you want to attend this call live? Because I’ve seen Olivia speak many times, and I can attest firsthand to the power of her teachings. Charisma can be learned, and quickly — and there aren’t a lot of people better at teaching it than Olivia. Now that she’s not jetting off to train some South American head of state and we have her all to ourselves, you definitely want to be on the call live so you can ask her your burning questions about how to present yourself even more effectively. Ideally, you would read the book beforehand so you can ask the deep questions that usually only the El Presidentes paying her megabucks get to ask.

    Some of what we’ll be covering:

    • Is charisma innate, learned or a little bit of both?
    • The three components of charisma and how to dial each one up or down to be like Colin Powell, Bill Gates or the Dalai Lama
    • Which type of charisma to use for a given situation
    • Three ways to increase your charisma pretty much instantly
    • Side effects and dangers (?) of charisma

    Here’s a little sampler from one of her talks on a related topic:

    There’s no charge for any of this, so feel free to spread the word and tell your friends about it — they’ll thank you for it.

    See you there and then

    Dr Ali B

    PS: It is now the day after the interview, which means it already happened – and now we have a recording. I was unexpectedly on the road away from my studio equipment, so the quality of my voice is so-so. But Olivia comes through great, and that’s who you wanted to listen to anyway, so here ya go:

    Interview with Olivia Fox Cabane on her new book ‘The Charisma Myth’

    Right-click to download full interview with Olivia Fox Cabane on The Charisma Myth (20mb, 55min)

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  • The Prospective Spouse Checklist: Interview with Isabelle Fox, PhD

    As I understand it, many of you have been married or have considered marriage or come pretty darn close to it.

    Now, with the divorce rate above 50%, it seems like marriage in this country has, at best, a coin flip’s chance at success. That’s just not right in my book.

    And with the very public blowup of celebrity marriages, sometimes you have to think: what the hell were they thinking when they got married? Surely they should’ve known better.  (Read: Katy Perry, Sandra Bullock, the poor sap who married that Kardashian woman, and the procession of simpletons who keep marrying Charlie Sheen).

    In fact, a little secret: I wrote the Tao of Dating books because I saw my friends in crappy relationships (married or not), and I thought they deserved better.

    Now I’m your guy when it comes to dating.  For long-term relationships, on the other hand, I send you to the experts like Dr John Gottman — and Dr Isabelle Fox.

    My friend and colleague Isabelle has been a practicing clinical psychologist for over 30 years. She just published a book entitled (more…)

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  • The secret to joy and fulfillment, Kabbalah-style

    As I was organizing my books today, I came across a slim volume by Kabbalah teacher Michael Berg entitled The Secret (no, not that one — a different one).  Small format, large print and few pages meant I could re-read this puppy in a matter of minutes — and I’m glad I did.  As far as boiling it all down to one principle, this Secret is a pretty good one:

    The only way to achieve true joy and fulfillment is by becoming a being of sharing.

    Profound, eh.  I also like the “three-part progression at the heart of Kabbalistic wisdom” that arrives at this formulation, and I quote:

    “1. The only way for us to achieve fulfillment is by achieving oneness with the Creator [or Source, or Nature, or whatever you want to call it] the source of all joy and fulfillment

    2. Oneness with the Creator is achieved by becoming like the Creator in our essence, for spiritual oneness is accomplished through similarity of spiritual form.

    3. The Creator’s essence is one of sharing.  Therefore, to become like the Creator, we need to transform our essence and nature from that of receiving to that of sharing.”

    Some of you out there have a hell of a time with the receiving bit, so instead of toning that down I’d say work on sharing even more.

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    Categories: Book Reviews spirit
  • How to succeed in spite of the recession: Marianne Williamson and Deepak Chopra on ‘The Soul of Success’

    When the going gets tough, the tough get meditating.

    A few weekends ago I had the privilege of attending The Soul of Success seminar with Marianne Williamson and Deepak Chopra in Los Angeles.

    In these times of economic uncertainty, Marianne and Deepak had decided to transmit a message of spiritual and economic empowerment to their audience.

    As a vivid demonstration of their commitment to helping their students, they offered scholarships to those who requested it. Several attendees had taken up the offer from places as far-flung as Florida and Tennessee.

    Marianne has always believed in accommodating those seeking her teachings regardless of their finances, and she certainly practiced what she preached in this workshop.

    I only had a vague idea of what the workshop would entail, but having had both Deepak and Marianne as teachers for many years, I implicitly trusted their message and method.

    Marianne began with a powerful prayer and a 90min lecture exhorting us to (more…)

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  • Book review: the recession-busting “Traveler’s Gift” by Andy Andrews

    One of the great reasons to attend seminars is that you just don’t know whom you’ll encounter there.

    Last month I had the good fortune to attend Mark Victor Hansen’s Mega Book Marketing Seminar.  As I was getting my network on in the lobby, someone asked me, “Aren’t you going to go see Andy Andrews speak?”

    ‘Um, who?,’  I thought to my jaded self, and clearly my interlocutor read my mind from the look on my face.  “Oh, he’s terrific – you should definitely go check him out.”

    Well, awright, fine.  If Mark and this here guy think Andy’s cool enough to be on the podium, I’ll go see what he has to say – for a few minutes.  Then I’ll slink right back to the lobby and continue schmoozing.

    Needless to say, I did not return to the lobby before I had heard every last word Andy Andrews had to say.  Not only were his words uplifting and inspirational, but Andy is one riotously funny dude (more…)

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    Categories: Book Reviews spirit
  • Book Review: “The Love Response” by Eva Selhub

    I had the pleasure of meeting Dr Eva at a conference here in LA last month where she was speaking.  As is my habit with all readings, I purchased her book and had her sign it (gotta support your friendly neighborhood fellow author, y’know).

    At the time, my reading queue was over 30 deep, and I didn’t think I would get around to Dr Eva’s book, The Love Response, for a while.  But the premise was so compelling and close to my heart – subtitle: “Neutralize the physical effects of stress; turn off anger fear and anxiety; restore balance and well-being” – that I found myself cracking it open.  I’m all about bringing together the holistic and the scientific, the spirit and the body, so this was right up my alley.  In two days, I had read it cover to cover.

    Let me tell you that this is a magnificent and supremely timely book.  First off, Dr Eva has sterling credentials: medical director of the Mind/Body Medical Institute at the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, clinical instructor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, and founder of Alight Center for Healing in Newton, MA.

    What I love about this book is how Dr Eva has seamlessly blended together (more…)

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