Siddhartha’s Brain: Unlocking the Ancient Science of Enlightenment

siddharthas_brianfour-stars /5

Siddhartha’s Brain aims to show not only how science and spirituality interact, but also how they are dependent upon each other—and it very clearly accomplishes this goal. Author James Kingsland skirts narrative history, personal experiences, scientific discoveries, and spiritual practices of Buddhism and demonstrates how they interact and can work to the benefit of each other. Without stumbling into the pitfall of alienating scientific language, Kingsland is able to convey complicated ideas in a way that the average reader will feel comfortable tackling. Aside from explaining how these interactions work, Kingsland invites the reader to try for themselves with five guided meditation exercises that correspond with the information discussed in the proceeding chapter.

Aside from one college course on Transcendentalism that wrapped back around Herman Hesse’s Siddhartha and touched briefly on some of the superficial teachings of Buddhism and my own occasional dabbling in cruise ship yoga classes, I had little exposure to the teachings of Buddhism and I certainly had no exposure to how meditation might affect the human brain before this book. And while I haven’t been convinced to drop everything and devote my life to become a monk, I was nonetheless intrigued by the approach Kingsland took when discussing how meditation affects the human brain and what influence it may have on mental illnesses.


Originally published on San Francisco Book Review.

Japaneseness: A Guide to Values and Virtues

japanesenessthree-stars /5

By taking a close look at 76 core values of Japanese culture, author Yoji Yamakuse both offers an informative window into Japanese culture and raises the questions of what constitutes “Japaneseness” and how this fits with the modern era. In the end, all the cultural values in traditional Japanese society come back to harmony and the seamless cooperation of values within this system leads to an overall tranquil culture. This interaction of values eventually leads to a development of virtue and an appreciation of beauty. Among the ideas examined are thoughtfulness, moderation, temperance, and devotion.

Japaneseness presents an interesting perspective on Japanese culture. It is written in very short sections, which makes it the perfect bedside book–read a little and then mull it over as you’re waiting for sleep to quell your mind. I can see the practicality of many of the values discussed in this book, but somehow I doubt they could be applied to my on life with much success. It very much felt like I was reading about another culture, rather than reading how to adapt the values of another culture to my own. Still, it was eye-opening and resolved a lot of misconceptions I held without even realizing it.


Originally published on San Francisco Book Review.

The Nazi Hunters

nazi_huntersfour-and-a-half-stars /5

Contrary to popular belief, Hitler wasn’t the only Nazi during WWII. The Nazi Hunters is a historical account of the years that followed World War II. It moves swiftly through the trial that immediately followed the Allied victory – where several of the top Nazi officials were executed. However, where most other accounts of the tumultuous post-war period follow the political attention of the time to focus on the rising threat of the Cold War,The Nazi Hunters instead takes the reader along the road less traveled, one traversed by only a few men and women hell-bent on seeing justice prevail: the Nazi hunters.

This is not a topic that I would usually have delved into for pleasure reading, but my younger brother recently was accepted into the Air Force Academy, so there’s been a lot of military talk around the house lately and it caught my attention. Whether my picking it up was a fluke or my brother’s enthusiasm rubbing off on me, I’m glad I followed through. This book was both intriguing and well written – both a plus – but what made it really stand out to me is that it so perfectly captured a time in history that so few people know about. It completely changed my understanding of WWII and helped me feel a connection to a time and events that really aren’t all that long gone – and yet already feel so forgotten.


Originally published on San Francisco Book Review.

Very Good Lives: The Fringe Benefits of Failure and the Importance of Imagination

very_good_livesstars /5

It is unlikely that someone would find themselves unable to identify J. K. Rowling’s accomplishments in the wide genre of fiction, but Very Good Lives dips into Rowling’s own life—failures and successes—as she helps see off Harvard University’s 2008 graduating class. Rowling’s speech is perforated with stunningly heartfelt advice and words of wisdom. Vividly honest about her own experiences, Rowling speaks to fears of failure and grounds you in reality. She addresses two themes throughout the speech: the benefits of failure and the importance of imagination.

Perhaps it’s my love of Harry Potter or my idolization of J. K. Rowling—maybe it’s just the fact that I have aspirations much like her pre-Harry Potter success—but in any case, Rowling’s commencement address is an incredible 70 pages of hope and encouragement. I quickly gave up on highlighting passages, because I realized that the entirety of the text would have been yellow. Because it so clearly and concisely addresses common doubts of young adults—and likely every other age of adults that find uncertainty creeping through the shadows and into their lives—this book is sure to find its way into the hands of every stressing college senior and I know I will find comfort in its pages time after time.


Originally published on San Francisco Book Review.

Classical Literature: An Epic Journey from Homer to Virgil and Beyond

classical_literaturefour-stars /5

Classical Literature: An Epic Journey from Homer to Virgil and Beyond is the perfect introduction for someone dabbling in the subject or who has just become interested in ii as it offers an overview of the most important moments in the development of classical literature and how the tradition changed over the centuries. For someone already familiar with the figures and methods of classical literature, some of the information will be redundant, but even these sections (such as those on Homer and Virgil) are clearly written and make for a great refresher or might serve to clarify certain points.

Aside from being clearly articulated and thoroughly researched,Classic Literature is true to its title and discusses everything from the poets mentioned in the title to the development of the fictional novel form. Author Richard Jenkyns’ commitment to this line of study is clear and his well-articulated ideas made for a very pleasant read. This is a great book for anyone interested in ancient Greek and Roman history or the originals of literature.


Originally published on San Francisco Book Review.

Into the Nest: Intimate Views of the Courting, Parenting, and Family Lives of Familiar Birds

stars /5

INTO_NEST062515We watch birds fly past our windows with twigs or bits of fluff. We see their nests in trees. Sometimes, we even build them houses. Yet, few people know much more about birds than that. Into the Nest gives readers a peek into the nesting and baby bird rearing of common, backyard birds. Broken up into short sections such as “Pairing up,” “Nesting,” and “Parenting,” this book looks at over twenty species of birds and the unique behaviors that characterize their family lives. While managing not to be too wordy or academic, Into the Nest provides interesting facts about some of the most beautiful common birds.

Growing up on a few acres in the Sacramento area, one of my favorite childhood memories is of a mallard duckling my parents rescued from a coyote before it had hatched. The rest of the nest was destroyed, so we bought an incubator and turned the egg every few hours until suddenly, I was peeking in at a fluff ball, instead of a white egg. This book tugged at those memories and others of finding hummingbird nests and halves of eggshells. It was a great insight to be able to read about many of the birds I was already familiar with, and the pictures just reminded me how adorable baby birds are—once you give them a few days to sprout some feathers, that is.


Originally published on Manhattan Book Review.