Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance by Angela Duckworth

In this engaging book, the author, a psychologist, demonstrates that the secret to success may not be intelligence or natural talent, but grit. Develop a passion, have a goal, and work hard. The author interviewed Jeff Bezos’ mother and the coaches of the Seattle Seahawks football team, estimated which cadets would succeed in their first year at West Point, and found what habits and attitudes help Spelling Bee contestants reach the finals. Learning to work and succeed at something hard, such as music lessons, sports, or ballet may make it more likely that a student will succeed in the future. For parents, she suggests that participating in an extracurricular activity (or two) for at least one year and preferably two may help them succeed in college. There is a quiz to find out how gritty you are, and assurances that you can build grit, as well as intelligence. Many interesting examples make for a good readalike for Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell and The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg.

David and Goliath

david and goliath jacketDavid and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants by Malcolm Gladwell

Malcolm Gladwell believes that underdogs have certain advantages that may help them succeed and become overachievers. In an incredibly wide-ranging variety of anecdotes, he makes his point. The book is quite thought-provoking and interesting to read. I thought some chapters didn’t fit the theme as well or made me skeptical of his conclusions, although the book seems well-researched with numerous footnotes.

Many dyslexics are overachievers, although many are not. Being outnumbered didn’t prevent Lawrence of Arabia from succeeding  in a rebellion against the Ottoman Empire. The British response to the troubles in Northern Ireland was all wrong, and Gladwell shows why. A leukemia researcher with a miserable childhood was strongly motivated to succeed in saving children’s lives. Being a big fish in a small pond is statistically more likely to lead to success in science or law than being a small fish in a big pond, which is why the author states that ivy league schools aren’t always the best choice. On the other hand, small class sizes aren’t optimal for students or teachers; medium-sized classes work best. Londoners who lived through the Battle of Britain found that remote misses were not as frightening as expected. Martin Luther King’s civil rights movement in Birmingham is discussed, and how and why a town in south-central France defied the Vichy regime and provided a haven to Jews fleeing persecution. Along with these serious topics, techniques for successfully coaching basketball are also included.


The World Until Yesterday

world until jacketThe World Until Yesterday by Jared Diamond

How is our modern, high-tech, industrial culture both better and worse than life in a traditional hunter gatherer or subsistence agriculture group? That is the question explored in this book by Diamond, who spent decades in Papua New Guinea first as an ornithologist and later as an anthropologist. Traditional societies on several continents are covered. Some of the chapters I found more interesting or easier to read, but overall this is a thought-provoking read. Who is a friend, a stranger, or an enemy? Sometimes it depends on degrees of relationship, a common language, or the potential as a trading partner. Are large scale wars worse than frequent small battles? Is the lessened risk of dying from an infected insect bite offset by the frequency of diabetes and heart disease as people adopt modern diet and medicine? Chapters explore child rearing, justice, diet, the benefits of multilingualism, religion, warfare, responses to perceived and actual dangers, and how traditional societies cooperate differently when there is drought or an overabundance of food. The author’s experiences in New Guinea would be of interest for readers of Lost in Shangri-La.