Saturday, April 29, 2017

How to Improve Your Memory by James D. Weinland

James D. Weinland’s How to Improve Your Memory is, in my mind, primarily a book on study skills. Weinland’s interest is learning, and memory is an important part of that.

As I read the book, it seemed to me that learning successfully is built on four areas: intention, attention, repetition and organization. Weinland has tips related to all of these.

Intention to learn is easy to come by when you have an interest in a subject. If you’re not interested, you’ll need to find some other motivation. Think about why you’re studying a subject and the benefits you hope to achieve. Even if you’re a student and you “have to” take a class, think of the opportunities that might open up to you if you get a good grade.

Attention is very important to memory and learning. If you forget something, it is very likely you weren’t paying attention to begin with. Remove distractions from your environment and mind (this wasn’t an issue when this book was published in 1957, but put away your cell phone and put it out of your mind). Engage as many senses as you can.

Remember that attention isn’t an infinitely available commodity. Get the rest you need. Don’t burn yourself out by focusing too long on one subject or closely related subjects. Give your mind, especially the executive functions a break, by alternating unrelated subjects, switching back and forth from mental to physical activities and making a little time for rest and recreation.

Repetition is important to memory, but it doesn’t need to be boring. Allowing time between practice sessions can actually improve performance.

Organization can go a long way to making learning easier. Some of the most successful mnemonic techniques involve arranging and associating things we want to remember with things we already remember well, especially locations. For instance, pigeonholing involves creating a spacial arrangement, such as a grid, with things to be remembered in each space. Mind maps do something similar with a more free-form arrangement that also takes advantage of our ability to remember images and colors. Memory castles are sophisticated applications of this strategy. Understanding how things are divided into wholes and parts or groups can help you break down subjects into smaller, easier to remember, parts that are connected so that remembering on item helps you remember the others.

I tend to connect the use of meaningful association to the idea of organization. Meaningful association builds on what you already know. This could be building on or filling in your background on a subject, finding analogies to familiar or using acronyms and rhymes. A related practice is it to come up with an outrageous image that represents what you want to remember. We find it easy to remember images—the more unusual the image the easier it is to recall—so we can take advantage of that by associating what we want remember with a crazy image that reminds of it.

The book is dated, but I think the advice is applicable even if the science of memory has advance. In addition, the book has the advantage of being short.

If you’re interested in this book, you may also be interested in

Weinland, James D. How to Improve Your Memory. New York: Barnes & Noble, 1957.

New & Interesting Stuff April 29, 2017

Suggestible You by Erik Vance

Journalist Erik Vance grew up in a Christian Science home. Though he no longer adheres to the religion, he believed that he experienced and heard many true stories of seemingly miraculous healing. The not miraculous, but still amazing source of these improvements in health may be in the brain. Vance recounts his search for answers in Suggestible You.

Our brains are hard at work predicting what will happen next; we are constantly expecting. What we perceive, and how our brain reacts is powerfully affected by expectation. Our expectations are shaped by suggestion. Though suggestion has many forms, at the heart of each is a story. It doesn’t have to be an actually true story; it just needs to be plausible and resonant.

One area where the power of suggestion is apparent is the placebo effect. Our bodies produce chemicals that can make us feel better, and sometimes it just takes a good suggestion to get it to do so. A placebo is such a suggestion. Placeboes contain no drugs that should be effective and can take many forms such as a pill, a shot, a fake surgery or even the presence of a professional who seems competent and caring. Placeboes work so well that on certain type of diseases that they are better that many treatments.

The effectiveness of placeboes presents a problem for medical researchers. How do you sort out the effect of a treatment from the placebo effect? Modern medical research requires testing to show that a treatment is more effective that a placebo. In the United States, the law requiring such studies was introduced by Senator Estes Kefauver, who readers of this blog may know from his anti-comic book hearings.

There is also a nocebo effect, essentially the brains response to a suggestion that makes us sick. Noceboes are connected to fear, so they are in a sense supercharged in comparison to placeboes.

Vance looks into other ways suggestions can affection or brains, particularly hypnosis and false memories. Science provides some answers for how these things work. Placeboes seem to be tied to chemicals released by the brain, though there seem to be several at work and they may represent only a few of the ways placeboes my work in our incredibly complex brains. Hypnosis is not the same as placebo and its workings remain mysterious.

Suggesting affects us in ways outside of health. Marketers are particularly interested in our suggestibility. Our expectations can influence the way food tastes and our perceptions of value.

Vance finds hope in the still incomplete science of how expectation affects our health. Those who are susceptible to placebo or hypnosis (not necessarily the same people) may have a host of options for coaxing out the healing powers of their own bodies. Better understanding of how these things work may help us make better treatments for those who are less susceptible. He envisions a day when placeboes and hypnotism may be treatments medical professionals apply in much the way the use drugs or surgeries.

If you’re interested in this book, you may also be interested in

Vance, Erik. Suggestible You: The Curious Science of Your Brain’s Ability to Deceive, Transform, and Heal. Washington, DC: National Geographic, 2016.


Zechariah was a contemporary of Haggai and preached during the rebuilding of the temple. His message is one of encouragement. The nations that once oppressed Israel were broken, and though they were still under foreign rule, the king, Darius, was favorably disposed towards the Jewish people and supported the reconstruction of Jerusalem and the temple. Though they had the protection of Darius, God asserted that He was their true protector and He would overcome their enemies.

His visions predicted the coming of Christ. The Branch of David would remove the sins of the people (though Zechariah also warns of judgment for the unrepentant). The governor, and grandson of the Israelite king Jehoiachin who was carried off in the captivity, Zerubabbel was rebuilding the temple, but his descendant would rebuild a more excellent temple (the church). In addition to taking the role of a king, this descendant would become the high priest. Some of his visions of Christ were very specific: he would be killed, his hands would be pierced and he would be betrayed.

If you’re interested in this book, you may also be interested in

Malachi. The Holy Bible. New King James Version. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1982.


Malachi appears last in the Old Testament and is chronologically toward the end of the period, the prophet possibly being a contemporary of Ezra and Nehemiah. By this time, the Jewish people had been back in Israel for some time and they were losing their zeal for God.

Malachi called out the people on many of the ways they neglected God and their calling to be His people. They offered substandard sacrifices. They married foreigners who worshipped false gods. They refused to tithe. They were envious of other nations. Even the priests were complicit in the sins of the people.

He warned of a judgment coming. There was hope for the faithful; their always is for those who trust God.

If you’re interested in this book, you may also be interested in

Malachi. The Holy Bible. New King James Version. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1982.

The Five Secrets You Must Discover Before You Die by John Izzo

Psychologist John Izzo interviewed seniors who had a reputation for wisdom to find out what they knew about happiness. He describes the ideas he gleaned from these interviews in his book The Five Secrets You Must Discover Before You Die (also a five-part television series that aired on PBS).

As the title suggests, Izzo doesn’t shy away from discussing death. He suggests it is important to remember that live is short and our choices define our lives. We all want joy, contentment, connection and purpose. We can learn from the example of people who have achieved such lives and have a more satisfying life as well.

First, follow your heart. You will not be happy if you try to be someone else. You can be more authentically yourself by living intentionally and examining your life to see if you are doing what matters to you.

Live without regrets. You can forgive yourself for the mistakes you make (if you try), but you’ll likely regret the important things you left undone. Encourage yourself to take worthy risks in life. If you love someone, put the work into fixing a broken relationship.

Love is incredibly important to a happy life. Make room for people in your life and practice loving them. Love is more than a feeling toward others; it is kindness and generosity.

Almost everywhere I look, I see books, articles and television segments on mindfulness. Izzo suggest that a kind of mindfulness—living in the moment—is practiced by happy people. Recognize that every day of life is a gift and we should enjoy it while it is here.

Finally, give. Giving is a way to connect to something larger than ourselves. It is a path to purpose, love, and joy.

Izzo isn’t simply concerned with giving advice; he wants to equip people to apply that advice. One of the ways he suggests this can be done is by paying attention to the way we want to live. Each chapter ends with a short list of questions that are collected in one of the later chapters. Izzo suggest reading and answering these questions in a weekly time of reflection. Often all we need to do to make the changes we want is to intend to do it and remind ourselves of that intention.

If you’re interested in this book, you may also be interested in

Izzo, John. The Five Secrets You Must Discover Before You Die. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 2008.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Positive Words, Powerful Results by Hal Urban

Educator Hal Urban reminds his readers of the power of words in Positive Words, Powerful Results. Words create pictures in our minds. They influence our buying decisions and health. One of the most important things about words is that we can chose how to use them, whether to build up or to tear down.

Urban encourages people to use words to build up. Use kind, affirming, complimentary words. Tell people what they are doing right. Express interest in people and ask them about themselves.

In addition to influencing others, words can reveal what is going on inside of us. Our choice of words reveals whether our thoughts and feelings are positive or negative. As Jesus put it, “A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings for that which is good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart brings for that which is evil; for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks” (Luke 6:45).

If we want to produce positive words that help people, we need to be concerned about what goes into that treasure of our hearts. There is a lot of trash out there and if we don’t limit our exposure, we can easily become full of it. There is also plenty of good and we can seek it out. Just as we choose what we say, we can also choose much of what we hear.

Though it is couched in a discussion of the words we use, Urban is engaging a larger issue of how we treat each other. He encourages kindness, gentleness and generosity. These virtues may demand more than words, but they still demand expression in speech; they cannot be advanced by harshness and complaining.

Urban’s background as a teacher comes through both in the examples he draws on and the way he writes. The book is not written for children, but I think it is within the grasp of high school students and possibly younger children, particularly if an adult were going through the book with them.

If you’re interested in this book, you may also be interested in

Urban, Hal. Positive Words, Powerful Results: Simple Ways to Honor, Affirm, and Celebrate Life. New York: Fireside, 2004.

New & Interesting Stuff April 22,2017

Think 4:8 by Tommy Newberry & Lyn Smith

Think 4:8 is a daily devotional for teens written by Tommy Newberry and Lynn Smith. The central premise of the book is that we can control our thoughts, and by choosing to thinking about worthy things you can be closer to God, have better relationships, achieve more and be happier overall. The authors take this key thought from Philippians 4:8.

Each chapter in the book deals with patterns of thought, behavior and habits that can lead to joy or displeasure. Our emotions and actions are sparked by our outlook and thoughts. If we want to be generally happier and do more of what we really want, we need to develop good habits of thought.

This is a Christian book, so the principal thing, the source of joy, is to know God. Believe He has a good plan for you.

I like that the book reiterates the importance of gratitude. I think gratitude is one of the most significant contributors to happiness. Count your blessings.

Another theme that recurs in the book, not always explicitly, is the importance of discipline. The entire book is essentially about disciplining your thoughts. Proper discipline is not a burdensome thing, it is the foundation of good habits and achievement. When applied to your approach to others, it can lead to better relationships. Discipline isn’t something one suffers as a punishment, it is the effort one puts into overcoming obstacles because the results are worth it.

Each chapter in the book is short; it can be read in a few minutes. Each chapter also has exercise, which also can be completed in a few minutes. The authors encourage the reader to engage a trusted friend in many of the activities. I can imagine teens balking at that, but I suspect a teen using the devotional might have involved parents or friends in a church youth group who can smooth that over.

Though the book is written for teenagers, I think the lessons (if not always the details) are applicable to adult life as well. I never hurts to be reminded of the benefits of good mental hygiene, especially with the pressures, distractions and temptations presented by adult life.

Tommy Newberry also wrote The 4:8 Principle.

If you’re interested in this book, you may also be interested in

Newberry, Tommy, & Lyn Smith. Think 4:8: 40 Days to a Joy-filled Life for Teens. Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House, 2013.

Marvel Comics: The Untold Story by Sean Howe

Marvel Comics has a long history in comic books, especially superhero comics. It’s first superheroes, the Human Torch and the Sub-Mariner, debuted in 1939 and the company is currently unrolling popular series of films based on a The Avengers, a superhero team that first appeared in comics in 1963.

The extended, interconnected, iterative melodrama of Marvel’s comics is a complicated fictional world. The real-world company has a complicated history, too. It started as a scion of a pulp magazine publisher seeking diversify and is now a part of media powerhouse Walt Disney Company. Sean Howe provides a detailed history of the company in Marvel Comics: The Untold Story.

Howe divides the history of the Marvel into five major ages. He discusses the early history of the company, but Marvel as we know it today could mark its origins in the resurgence of superhero comics of the early 1960s, after a post-World War II slump that all but the most popular titles.

The succeeding ages roughly correspond to the decades. The 1960s marked the birth of modern Marvel. The 1970s were a time of artistic experimentation when comics, especially Marvel, were embraced on college campus and in the counterculture.

In the 1980s, kids who grew up reading Marvel became adults writing the comics. It was also a time when corporate culture began to consume the company—though the priority of making money, executive interference and possibly shady business was something that went back to the days of the pulps. This decade also marked a change in the way comics were sold, shifting from newsstands and grocery-store spinners to specialty shops, which created opportunities and problems for comics publishers.

The 1990s was a period of excess. Comics creators were finally making money (at least some of them were), but old contentions between publishers—especially Marvel—and writers and artists led to the rise of superstars spinning off to publish works to which they would retain the rights. The growth in comics collecting encouraged marketing practice, especially at Marvel, that eventually led to a bust.

Throughout this time, Marvel’s various owners had been attempting to transition the company from a comics publisher to a media company that leveraged its intellectual property in many ways. In the 2000s, Marvel has done that. A criticism often leveled against Marvel today is that the comics are driven by decisions to make the characters marketable in other media, especially movies and toys.

Comics have come a long way since I started reading them as a kid. For one thing, they cost 10 times as much. Howe wraps up with the opinion that Marvels products are better, and in some ways I agree. However, I think comics often uses the words mature and adult when they are simply prurient, and that the improvement in printing quality is not always accompanied by improvements in story or art. I have mixed feelings about the multi-issues stories designed for collection into graphic novels aimed at book retailers, but I think the event-driven mega-crossovers that have become standard for Marvel and DC don’t move me much—I’d rather read a good short story than an overblown novel.

If you’re interested in this book, you may also be interested in

Howe, S. Marvel Comics: The Untold Story. New York: HarperCollins, 2012.

Six Easy Pieces by Richard Feynman

Richard Feynman is possibly the most famous physicist and popularizer of physics of the 20th Century. He was involved in the Manhattan Project, won a Nobel Prize, served on the Rogers Commission, which investigated the disaster of the space shuttle Challenger, and wrote several popular books on physics in addition to his scientific contributions.

One of those popular books was Six Easy Pieces. It is a collection of lectures prepared by Feynman for freshman and sophomore classes at California Institute of Technology (part of the larger collection Lectures on Physics).

It is also one of Feynman’s most popular books, possibly because of its breadth and simplicity. The book covers a wide range of physics from basic ideas about the structure of matter to physics in relation to other sciences, classical mechanics (Newton’s physics) and quantum mechanics.

It is easy in the sense that Feynman assumes his audience has a background in math and science typical of a high school graduate in 1962. There is very little math. Instead, Feynman takes an approach that focuses on commonly known facts, observation and reasoning. Readers won’t need a semester of calculus to follow this book.

Possibly the best thing about Six Easy Pieces is that it offers a view into the way a physicist thinks that is accessible to many people, even people with minimal scientific education. It is easy to think of science as an overwhelming pile of facts. Feynman’s book illustrates that science is also, and more importantly, a method of applying reason and experimentation to learn about the world we live in. The scientific understanding we have now was built on centuries of consideration, study, experimentation and evaluation that is often iterative, challenging, reconsidering and modifying scientific knowledge that was once widely accepted.

The book holds up well after more than 50 years. I might recommended it to a high schooler who is considering a career in science, especially physics, or anyone who is looking for an introduction or re-introduction to physics from someone who knew the subject well enough to not overcomplicate it.

If you’re interested in this book, you may also be interested in

A fictional version of Feynman appears in The Astounding, the Amazing, and the Unknown by Paul Malmont (235).

Feynman, Richard P. Six Easy Pieces. New York: Basic Books, 1963.

Road to the Sea by Florence Dorsey

James B. Eads was a prominent 19th Century civil engineer who was based in St. Louis most of his long career. The mark of his work can still be found on the Mississippi River more than a century after his death in 1887. Florence Dorsey’s 1947 biography, Road to the Sea, recounts his life and accomplishments.

Eads came to St. Louis with his family in 1833 at the age of 13. They were coming by river from Louisville, Kentucky, to set up shop in greener pastures ahead of his father, Col. Thomas Clark Eads, who moved westward from one failed venture to the next. The ship that carried them caught fire just as they arrived in St. Louis and all their possessions burned up with it.

The family needed the support of the enterprising boy, so he had no opportunity to go to school. He read voraciously, though, borrowing books from an employer, Barret Williams, whose collection included many books on scientific and mechanical subjects.

Eads decided to stay in St. Louis when his family moved upriver to Iowa. He was on his own at age 17, but maturing into a man who would have success as an engineer, businessman and builder.

Eads career began to flourish when, at age 22, he designed and had built a boat with a diving bell. He eventually launched a fleet of bell boats that supported his salvage business. He salvaged wrecks and cargo from the Mississippi and its tributaries. He spent a lot of time in the river and began to know it very well.

By the time the Civil War broke out he had retired from salvaging and enjoying his wealth, but he risked his own fortune to secure the Mississippi River for the Union. He built ironclad gunboats to guard the river and attack Confederate fortifications. America’s military leaders weren’t sure what to make of them at first, but as the war progressed his ships were in great demand.

Eads found it frustrating to deal with Washington politicking and bureaucracy, especially in the U.S. Army. In his post-war endeavors he regularly had opposition from the Army Corps of Engineers and its chief, Andrew A. Humphreys.

These ventures were daring feats of engineering that were aimed at improving the commerce of the Mississippi valley. He built the world’s first steel arch bridge at St. Louis that would connect the city to the east by railroad (and got soaked by his contractor, Andrew Carnegie, while he was at it). He opened a route through the mud at the mouth of the Mississippi River that gave passage from the middle of the country to the ocean and helped make New Orleans a major port. In both these efforts he faced opposition and meddling from the Corp of Engineers.

In his last days he proposed to build a railroad across Mexico’s Tehuantepec isthmus to permit shorter passage from the Atlantic (i.e., the Mississippi) to the Pacific Ocean. His proposal was a serious alternative to Ferdinand de LessepsPanama Canal. Though others took up the cause, Eads’ ship railroad proposal practically died with him. The Panama Canal didn’t fare much better at the time; the United States didn’t take over the project until 1904 and it didn’t open until 1914, de Lesseps’ plan for a tide-level canal with no locks having been abandoned.

As an engineer and Missourian, I’m fascinated by Eads and his extraordinary career.  I would recommend Dorsey’s book to anyone looking for an interesting and little-known bit of history.

If you’re interested in this book, you also be interested in

Dorsey, Florence. Road to the Sea: The Story of James B. Eads and the Mississippi River. New York: Rinehart & Company, 1947.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Shut Up & Write! by Judy Bridges

Shut Up & Write! is a guide for new writers by author and teacher Judy Bridges. It is one of the most straightforward and simple writing guides I’ve seen, which I like. As you go through it and read about the process and techniques described, you may feel she is describing the very process she use to write the book in your hands.

There are several other things to like about this book. I’ll mention a few here in no particular order except the last.

The book is broad; it covers the writing process from idea to publication. It remains a short book, though, and doesn’t get into excessive detail. I think it is enough to have a generally direction. As a beginning writer, you should be writing and making your work as good as you can; you can figure out the details you need as you go.

Bridges doesn’t elevate fiction writing over nonfiction. If someone writes histories, news articles, technical manuals or advertising copy, they are still writing. Many of the same skills and requirements apply to any type of writing.

I like Bridges’ suggestions for organizing or plotting a story. It is very simple and visual. It is also something that could work for a short piece or a long book. Good planning tools should help one write, not spend a lot of effort on planning.

Possibly the best thing about the Bridges’ advices is that she does not sugarcoat how hard it is to write a book—at least a good one. She tells her readers to put at least two years into a book. Admittedly, many of her students and the audience for this book will be aspiring or part-time writers with limited time, but writing a quality book is about more than time. This realistic expectation will help readers who hope to write a book get in the right mindset.

If you’re interested in this book, you may also be interested in

Bridges, Judy. Shut Up & Write! Milwaukee, WI: Redbird Studio Press, 2011.

New & Interesting Stuff Easter 2017

Happy Easter!


Zepheniah was a prophet in Judah during the reign of Josiah. Like many other prophets of this era, he warned of the fall of Judah to foreign empires, and particularly of the expansion of the Babylonian Empire that would overtake Judah, Israel and many other nations. He also spoke of God’s assurance that He would preserve a remnant of people who would be faithful to Him.

If you’re interested in this book, you may also be interested in

Major Prophets

The major prophets are the longest books in the prophecy section of the Old Testament. These are Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations and Ezekiel.

These books were written toward the end of the kingdoms of Israel and Judah and into the period of captivity to foreign empires. The main themes of the major prophets were: the fall of Israel and Judah to foreign powers, the eventual return of the people after a period of captivity, and the coming of the messiah.

The fall of the kingdoms is attributed to the sin of the people and their leaders. They abandoned God, pursued whatever their lusts desired, oppressed weak and poor people, and relied on alliances with foreign powers. They would be enslaved to foreign empires for 70 years.

Some of these prophets were active during the period of captivity. As much as earlier prophecies were warnings, God’s message in this time was focused on comfort and His plan to restore the people to the land from which they were taken.

Isaiah in particularly provides many messages of the messiah who will restore a true, lasting relationship with God. Christians see evidence in these prophecies for the claims of Jesus Christ, and some New Testament writers point to passages from Isaiah as evidence to believe Him.

If you’re interested in the major prophets, you may also be interested it


The Old Testament prophets that come before Haggai lived and focused on the period leading to the fall of Israel and Judah and the captivity of those peoples in foreign empires. Haggai, along with Zechariah and Malachi, preached during the period of rebuilding after the captivity.

A theme that runs through this book is one that runs through much of the Old Testament. The people suffer because they do no follow God. In particular, they neglected the rebuilding of the temple, but they also neglected the righteous life to which God called them. Getting on the temple job was the easy part.

If you’re interested in this book, you may also be interested in

Saturday, February 18, 2017

400 Books Reviewed on Keenan's Book Reviews

I’ve posted reviews of 400 books on this blog. It’s hard to believe.  Here are links to the 50 most recent posts. Further down are links to more reviews.

First Time Reviews

Continuation of list of 400 books reviewed