What I’ve Been Reading

Recent reading:

1. The Gift of Fear: And Other Survival Strategies that Protect Us From Violence by Gavin de Becker.

De Becker is a legend in the field of security and violence prevention. Hollywood stars hire him to assess threats. Companies hire him to train employees on when to trust your gut if and when you feel danger. The title of the book refers to de Becker’s claim that “true gift is a fear, unwarranted fear is a curse.” What matters is being able to tell the difference.

This is a book written for women; most of the examples have to do with male predators looking to rob, rape, or otherwise take advantage of a woman who didn’t listen to her “uh-oh” alarm. The lessons, though, are universal and I found this a valuable resource.

Methods criminals use to take advantage of victims:

  • Forced Teaming: They use the word “we” and create a “we’re in the same boat” mentality.
  • Charm and Niceness: The smile is the typical disguise used to mask emotions. Unsolicited niceness.
  • Too Many Details: When people lie they imbue their stories with too many details; lots of specificity where truth sayers would not include any.
  • Typecasting: A slight neg: “You’re probably too snobbish to talk to the likes of me.” Something that’s easily rebutted — but the predator is just looking for a response.
  • The Unsolicited Promise: “I’ll just put this stuff down and go. I promise.” Unsolicited promises are almost always of questionable motive.

Read into dark humor. Dark humor contains a truth that we often don’t want to talk about or feel embarrassed about.

A caller who wants to discharge anger over the telephone by using violent imagery (“You’ll all be blown to bits”) or who is agitated and aggressive, is not behaving like a real bomber.

If someone tries to extort you, say “I don’t understand what you’re getting at” until the extortionist states his demands very clearly. When they have to be explicit they sometimes abandon the bad idea altogether. If someone says, “You’ll be sorry” or “Don’t mess with me” respond, “What do you mean by that?”

2. The Image: A Guide to Pseudo-Events in America by Daniel Boorstin

Some good stuff on the phenomenon of celebrity — “being known for your well-knownness” — but overall I didn’t find much here that engaged me. My favorite paragraph:

The tourist seldom likes the authentic (to him often unintelligible) product of the foreign culture; he prefers his own provincial expectations. The French chanteuse singing English with a French accent seems more charmingly French than one who simply sings in French. The American tourist in Japan looks less for what is Japanese than for what is Japanesey.

A funny dialogue:

Admiring friend: “My, that’s a beautiful baby you have there!”

Mother: “Oh, that’s nothing — you should see his photograph!”

4. The Book of Other People by Zadie Smith

Collection of fictional character portraits by various contributing writers. Only so-so, but I enjoyed this paragraph from one of the sketches:

This is reminiscent of all the dutiful grandchildren and great-grandchildren lingering over deathbeds with digital recorders, or else manically pursuing their ancestors through the online genealogy sites at three in the morning, so very eager to reconstitute the lives and thoughts of dead and soon-to-be-dead men, though they may regularly screen the phone calls of their own mothers. I am of that generation. I will do anything for my family except see them.

And my favorite sentence:

Sleep came like the lightest rain. He felt it on his skin, something like a mist, numbing his legs, his arms.

Here’s my review of Smith’s On Beauty, which I loved.

5. Conversation: A History of a Declining Art by Stephen Miller. Very disappointing. A hodge podge of historical examples which cohere into nothing. My favorite sentences:

Why are mindlessly good-natured persons popular? Because they pose no threat to anyone’s self-esteem. Many people are envious of those whose conversation is superior to their own.

6. A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future by Daniel Pink

I’m a big Dan Pink fan. This is his older book which hails the right brain in the “conceptual age.” I’m sympathetic to his argument and found much value in the various resources and tips he scatters throughout the book. I recommend it particularly to highly analytical people.

“Before giving birth to anything physical, ask yourself if you have created an original idea, an original concept, if there is any real value in what you disseminate.” – Karim Rashid

Never say “I could have done that” because you didn’t. – Karim Rashid

As Alan Kay, a Hewlett-Packard executive and co-founder of Xerox PARC, puts it: “Scratch the surface in a typical boardroom and we’re all just cavemen with briefcases, hungry for a wise person to tell us stories.” Storytelling. Storytelling. Storytelling.

“A large part of self-understanding is the search for appropriate personal metaphors that make sense of our lives.” – George Lakoff

The “Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup Theory of Innovation”: sometimes the most powerful ideas come from simply combining two existing ideas nobody else ever thought to unite.

“Many writers are notorious eavesdroppers,” Epel writes, citing, among others, F. Scott Fitzgerald, who kept a notebook in which he recorded “overheard conversations.”


Here are all my posts on books. Here are my all-time favorite books in an Amazon store.

4 comments on “What I’ve Been Reading
  • I like Theodore Zeldin, Conversation: How talk can change our lives. A Brit, and a smart one. His orientation to conversation is that you start it with a willingness to emerge a slightly different person. Some intriguing comments: winning an argument became a substitue for finding truth, most people like to hate, the ideals of talk remained masculine until women changed the subject, a BBC producer said “the job is narrowing my mind,” the best pleasures and creative joys are largely the privilege of a minority and usually for brief periods, and you can’t converse if you believe the world is ruled by economics.


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