biss boutiques-francophones Learn more snsflyour Furniture All-New Kindle Paperwhite Own the 2016 GRAMMY Nominee Album featuring the Biggest Hits from Music's Biggest Night Exercice Tools ca_ty_gno
Profile for sean s. > Reviews

Personal Profile

Content by sean s.
Top Reviewer Ranking: 108
Helpful Votes: 500

Guidelines: Learn more about the ins and outs of Amazon Communities.

Reviews Written by
sean s. (montreal)
(TOP 500 REVIEWER)   

Page: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6
pixel
Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World
Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World
Offered by Penguin Group USA
Price: CDN$ 18.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A paean to counter-cultural thinking, Feb. 2 2016
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
Dr. Adam Grant is a professor at the Wharton School, and an up-and-coming public intellectual. Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World features endorsements from no less than 3 billionaires on the book’s cover (Sheryl Sandberg of Facebook, Richard Branson of Virgin Group, and Peter Thiel of Palantir Technologies).

Indeed, this book received an extraordinary level of buzz, including a long excerpt in the New York Times. So is there anything to it?

Happily, there is. In a series of fascinating chapters, Grant debunks common myths about the nature of originality – that it is only the young who are creative; that people’s first spontaneous ideas are the most original; that there is an early adopter profile that is common to creative thinkers; that originals follow their gut instincts, etc.

He illustrates that being a non-conformist is a lot harder than it may seem. As Dr. Ronald Inglehart and the World Values Survey demonstrate, the drive to be a conformist, to re-present past habits and traditions, and to re-present what we have learned from others is deeply ingrained. From an evolutionary point of view, it increases our chances of survival to learn from past successes and mistakes, as they have been communicated to us by our parents, our ancestors and other members of our local community. So if we are told by our elders that a number of people who ate pork died, and that we should abstain from pork, the prudent reaction is to avoid pork. And if we are told that a member of our tribe was killed by a member of a different tribe, then it makes sense to avoid strangers and to marry within one’s own tribe. Moreover, as Nietzsche observes:

“An important species of pleasure, and thus an important source of custom, originates in habit. One does what is habitual better and more easily and thus prefers to do it, one derives a sense of pleasure from it and knows from experience that the habitual has proved itself and is thus useful; a custom one can live with is demonstrated as salutary, beneficial, in contrast to all novel experimentations that have not yet proved themselves. Custom is consequently the union of the pleasant and the useful, and in addition it demands no cogitation. As soon as man is in a position to exercise compulsion he exercises it to introduce and impose his customs, for to him they are demonstrated practical wisdom. A community of individuals likewise compels each separate individual to observe the same custom. Here there is the false conclusion: because one feels happy with a custom, or at least can preserve one’s existence by means of it, this custom is necessary, for it counts as the sole condition under which one can feel happy; a happy life seems to derive from this custom alone. This conception of the customary as a condition of existence is conveyed into the minutest particulars of custom… one sees to it with superstitious fear that everything continues on in the way it has always gone; even when custom is hard, rigorous, burdensome it is preserved on account of its apparent supreme utility. One does not know that the same degree of wellbeing can also exist under other customs or that even higher degrees are attainable. But one does not perceive that all customs, even the harshest, grow milder and more pleasant in course of time, and that even the strictest mode of life can become habitual and thus a source of pleasure.”

Therefore it is only with the recent advent of postmaterialist, creative economies that having new ideas has been widely celebrated and rewarded. Now instead of merely re-presenting the Old and the Same, we value presenting the New and the Different.

In his overview, Grant provides both psychological and sociological observations on the nature of originals. Though historically creativity was often conceived as an individual psychological phenomenon "inside" the brains of exceptional geniuses, recent theories have shifted the emphasis from the individual to the sociological conditions of possibility of originality. Richard Florida talks about the "3 T's" of creative cities - Talent, Technology and Tolerance; Frans Johansson talks about growing creativity happening at the "Intersection" of ideas, concepts and cultures as the result of the movement of people; the convergence of scientific disciplines; and the leap in computational power (both computers and the Internet). Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi talks about the relationships among Domains, Fields and Persons that result in originality.

And in perhaps the most advanced theory to date, Dr. Richard Ogle talks about creativity as being a result of the “Smart World” in which we live. He suggests that it makes little sense to think about originality as the result of individual genius, because in fact the mind is not merely about neurons in the head, but has rather been `extended' into the artefacts and tools we have created for ourselves (e.g. libraries, Google).

The chapters in Originals read like a collection of loosely-related (though interesting) magazine articles, and it can be challenging to digest all of the observations and insights Grant offers. Fortunately at the end of the book he summarizes several of his key points:

Question the default: Instead of taking the status quo for granted, ask why it exists in the first place. Conformity to “common sense” is the enemy of original thinking.

Triple the number of ideas you generate: The best way to boost your originality is to produce more ideas.

Immerse yourself in a new domain: Originality increases when you broaden your frame of reference.

Don’t try to calm down. It’s easier to turn anxiety into intense positive emotions like interest and enthusiasm.

Realize you’re not alone. Even having a single ally is enough to dramatically increase your will to act.

Remember that if you don’t take the initiative, the status quo will persist.

Hire not on cultural fit, but on cultural contribution. Originality comes not from people who match the culture, but rather from a non-conformist counter-culture.

Submission
Submission
by Michel Houellebecq
Edition: Paperback
16 used & new from CDN$ 15.56

6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A provocative and insightful reflection on our era, Oct. 19 2015
This review is from: Submission (Paperback)
Michel Houellebecq is the most widely translated French author in the world. He won the Prix Goncourt, the most prestigious literary award in France, with his previous novel The Map and the Territory. His work is characterized by a critique of Enlightenment liberalism, and his portrayals of the values of our era expose the misery of individuals who have been “freed” of the traditions of the past that gave life meaning.

Always original, Houellebecq's style is cold and clinical, with an acute sense of reality, long intelligent and insightful dialogues, and dark humour.

Submission is the translation of the word "Islam." The novel is about the submission of women to men, and of men to God, as dictated by Islam and also by the other monotheisms: "But I would have you know, that the head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man; and the head of Christ is God" (1 Corinthians, 11:3).

In an interview with the Paris Review, Houellebecq says that he is "hostile to Enlightenment philosophy. Today atheism is dead, secularism is dead. In terms of values, there is a deeper opposition between a Muslim and an atheist than between a Muslim and a Catholic... I tried to place myself in the shoes of a Muslim, and I realized that they are in a totally schizophrenic situation. Obviously they are extremely distant from the Left and even further from environmentalists, for example on gay marriage, but they are distant on everything. And it is not clear why they would vote for the Right or even less for the Extreme Right which rejects them utterly. So in my opinion an Islamic political party is an obvious option for them." This is the starting point for Submission.

The central character in the novel, Francois, is a university professor who specializes in Huysmans (a naturalist writer who converted to Catholicism at the end of the 19th century) who is ill at ease in today’s world.

In the French presidential election of 2022, the Socialists and the UMP/Republicans are both totally discredited, as well as an electoral system that has become nothing more than the sharing of power between two rival gangs. Only the National Front (Front National) is left, and is expected to win following a disastrous second term of Francois Hollande.

And, as predicted, the Front National of Marine Le Pen wins the first round of the presidential election.

However, the other parties are so opposed to allowing the FN to win, that in the final round the party is beaten by a candidate from a new party, the Muslim Brotherhood. The party’s program, negotiated secretly with Manuel Valls, ensures that each French child should have the opportunity for an Islamic education.

Mohamed Ben Abbes becomes the new president of France, a moderate Muslim who comes across like a friendly Tunisian grocer, but who is in fact the most savvy statesman in France in decades. His vision: nothing less than rebuilding an Islamic version of the Roman Empire.

The inequality of men and women is institutionalized. This, combined with boosted family allowances, results in women leaving the workforce, consequently reducing the unemployment rate. In troubled neighbourhoods, the crime rates decline.

Teachers and professors are compelled to convert to Islam. Robert Rediger, a newly-converted Muslim, is the president of the new Islamic Sorbonne. Thanks to Saudi Arabia, professors’ salaries are tripled compared to what secular universities paid.

The hero of the novel, Francois, is attracted by the new law permitting polygamy for men, as well as by the offer of a lucrative university chair, so he goes with the flow and converts to Islam. He believes that he can accommodate himself comfortably to the new situation – a sentiment reminiscent of the collaborators with the Nazis in World War II.

The philosopher Michel Foucault predicted that “One day, perhaps, the century will be Deleuzian.” But here a different, darker possibility is expressed, that perhaps the century will be Houellebecquian.

It’s difficult to disagree with Houellebecq’s criticism of Enlightenment philosophy, which is based on a misunderstanding of the nature and the clarity of the human mind. The most recent research in social psychology shows that all of the decisions of the conscious mind (5 percent of the mind, which Daniel Kahneman calls “system 2”), even those that appear clear and reasonable, are in large part based on the unconscious (95 percent of the mind, which Daniel Kahneman calls “system 1”). Therefore the idea of the autonomous and free individual is largely illusory.

That having been said, according to Ronald Inglehart and the World Values Survey, secularisation, the liberation of women and gays, and the environmental movement are all very real phenomena. In each society, whether it is Saudi Arabia at the extreme of traditional values, or Sweden at the leading edge of postmaterialist values, there is a mix of traditionalists, of modern materialists, and of secular postmaterialists such as Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Michel Onfray, Djemila Benhabib and Naomi Klein.

Even if Houellebecq and large numbers of traditionalists and modern materialists are complacently resigned to a return to theocracy, there will certainly be a strong resistance on the part of postmaterialists, as Charlie Hebdo demonstrated with courage.

Overall Submission is a provocative and insightful reflection on some of the most fundamental questions of our era.

How You Were Born
How You Were Born
by Kate Cayley
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 20.81
14 used & new from CDN$ 13.52

5.0 out of 5 stars An impressive understanding of the nuances of human psychology, Oct. 7 2015
This review is from: How You Were Born (Paperback)
Kate Cayley leaped onto the radar of many people when this collection of short stories beat the favourite Margaret Atwood for the Trillium Prize for the best fiction in Ontario this year. As amazing as it may seem, this was no fluke.

These brilliant stories demonstrate an incredible range in voice, sensibility and subject matter. What unifies them is an impressive understanding of the fine nuances of human psychology - for better and for worse. Recommended!

Fifteen Dogs
Fifteen Dogs
by Andre Alexis
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 10.77
30 used & new from CDN$ 10.77

7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Thought-provoking and entertaining - a great combination!, Sept. 29 2015
This review is from: Fifteen Dogs (Paperback)
Fifteen Dogs is an extremely entertaining but also deeply philosophical story. It is strong from the first page to the last.

It opens with the gods Apollo and Hermes making a bet over a beer in a bar in Toronto. "Humans, said Apollo, have no special merit, though they think themselves superior. Hermes took the opposing view, arguing that, for one thing, the human way of creating and using symbols, is more interesting than, say, the complex dancing done by bees."

"I'll wager a year's servitude, said Apollo, that animals - any animal you choose - would be even more unhappy than humans are, if they had human intelligence."

Hermes accepts the wager, which sets in motion the story of Fifteen Dogs.

Alexis is not the first to meditate on the double-edged sword of human consciousness. Most recently, Daniel Kahneman has done so in his magistral Thinking Fast and Slow, and Nietzsche observed a century ago that "Consciousness is the last and latest development of the organic and hence also what is most unfinished and weak. Consciousness gives rise to countless errors that lead an animal or man to perish sooner than necessary, 'exceeding destiny,' as Homer puts it. If the conserving association of the instincts were not so very much more powerful, and if it did not serve on the whole as a regulator, humanity would have to perish of its misjudgements and its fantasies with open eyes, of its lack of thoroughness and its credulity - in short of its consciousness; rather, without the former, humanity would long have disappeared.

Before a function is fully developed and mature it constitutes a danger for the organism, and it is good if during the interval it is subjected to some tyranny. Thus consciousness is tyrannized - not least by our pride in it. One thinks that it constitutes the kernel of man; what is abiding, eternal, ultimate, and most original in him. One takes consciousness for a determinate magnitude. One denies its growth and its intermittences. One takes it for the 'unity of the organism.'

This ridiculous over-estimation and misunderstanding of consciousness has the very useful consequence that it prevents an all-too-fast development of consciousness. Believing that they possess consciousness, men have not exerted themselves very much to acquire it; and things haven't changed much in this respect. To this day the task of incorporating knowledge and making it instinctive is only beginning to dawn on the human eye..."

"Man, like every living being, thinks continually without knowing it; the thinking that rises to consciousness is only the smallest part of all this - the most superficial and worst part - for only this conscious thinking takes the form of words."

The Fifteen Dogs of Andre Alexis react to their newfound consciousness in different ways that we also see among human beings - savouring it, pretending that it's not there, using it to increase coordination among the group, and of course using it to dominate others.

A thought-provoking and entertaining novel - a great combination!

If I Fall, If I Die
If I Fall, If I Die
by Michael Christie
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 22.45
7 used & new from CDN$ 3.83

5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating scenario that dramatizes unconscious motivations, Sept. 26 2015
This review is from: If I Fall, If I Die (Hardcover)
If I Fall, if I Die is a novel with a fascinating point of departure. Will Cardiel is the only child of a single mother in Thunder Bay – a very isolated situation. But it gets worse: his mother is pathologically depressed and agoraphobic, so Will has been trapped inside the house with his mother for the first 11 years of his life.

Will has been taught that the Outside is dangerous, so his entire world has been displaced into the confines of their home: the bathroom is Venice, the master bedroom is San Francisco, the studio is New York, the kitchen is Paris (of course), and the basement is Toronto (lol).

Gerald Zaltman, George Lakoff and other experts in embodied cognition have shown that the idea of “container” is one of the most fundamental deep metaphors that structure our unconscious thought processes, what Daniel Kahneman calls “system 1”. It favours stability, re-presentation of the old, the instinct for survival, and a sedentary inertia (contained Inside). But there is another deep metaphor, “connection”, that dissolves this stability, in favour of the presentation of the New, the affirmation of life, and nomadic discovery (connected to the Outside).

If I Fall, If I Die is a stimulating and inspiring novel that dramatizes the transition from fearfully remaining Inside, to courageously connecting Outside. Recommended!

Outline: A Novel
Outline: A Novel
by Rachel Cusk
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 11.99
4 used & new from CDN$ 2.97

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Drifting passively with an observant eye, Sept. 25 2015
This review is from: Outline: A Novel (Paperback)
Rachel Cook is an extremely talented writer, and Outline is an intriguing book that is perhaps better described as experimental fiction than as a novel, an expression of passive nihilism. The narrator recounts a series of events, but what is missing in this series is precisely… a narrative.

The philosopher Nietzsche, often accused of nihilism himself, made a nuanced diagnosis of four types of nihilism: the negative nihilism of belief in a God and an afterlife where things are better, thus denigrating this life, our one and only life; the reactive nihilism of humanism or socialism, which place an unattainable ideal of “Humanity” in the place formerly attributed to “God”, but still denigrating life in comparison with the unattainable ideal; the active nihilism of Nietzsche himself (as well as Foucault and Deleuze), which iconoclastically destroys these ideals/ idols; and the passive nihilism that realizes that ideals are unattainable, and consequently lacks any motivation for doing anything more than drifting. Outline falls in this last category.

This fine book is an exercise in style, in tone, and a semi-autobiographical account which has the reader witnessing the emptiness of someone who has basically given up on agency in her life, going with the flow, believing “more and more in the virtues of passivity, and of living a life as unmarked by self-will as possible.” In additional to being an accomplished writer, Cusk has a perspicacious, almost clinical perspective on human behaviour and social relations. Impressive!

Undermajordomo Minor
Undermajordomo Minor
by Patrick deWitt
Edition: Paperback
18 used & new from CDN$ 12.01

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A dark but joyful fairy tale, Sept. 22 2015
This review is from: Undermajordomo Minor (Paperback)
Undermajordomo Minor is not only the story of Lucien (Lucy) Minor, but also of the bizarre and fascinating characters who inhabit his world. At the age of 17 he goes to work in the castle of a mysterious baron, as an “undermajordomo”. The oneiric adventures that ensue remind one of both Kafka and of Beckett.

Indeed, Patrick DeWitt falls into the category of what philosopher Gilles Deleuze calls “minor literature”, subverting a major language (in this case English) to the point at which it reveals itself as a strange wonder, not re-presentative of anything, but evocative of unconscious affects and conscious emotions. Exhilarating!

Close to Hugh
Close to Hugh
by Marina Endicott
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 26.27
6 used & new from CDN$ 4.14

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Importance of Being Close to Hugh, Sept. 20 2015
This review is from: Close to Hugh (Hardcover)
The psychologist Brian P. Meier demonstrates that on an unconscious level, verticality is a pervasive metaphor that structures how we think about morality, power and social relations – what the philosopher Gilles Deleuze calls the arborescent model, as opposed to the horizontal rhizomatic model. In Marina Endicott’s Close to Hugh these images of verticality are everywhere: flights of stairs and ladders which people are literally climbing or descending, or in a pivotal moment, from which they are falling.

Hugh Argylle is an art gallery owner in his 50s in a fictionalized Peterborough, Ontario. The people around him are also figuratively climbing or descending, with his aging mother Mimi in the latter category. Though the themes are serious, there is also a lot of humour in the book, which alludes to Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest and his appreciation of puns.

All True Not a Lie in It
All True Not a Lie in It
by Alix Hawley
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 22.45
4 used & new from CDN$ 7.14

5.0 out of 5 stars Daniel Boone, demythologized, Sept. 19 2015
All True Not a Lie in It is a fictional account of Daniel Boone’s life. It differs from other accounts in that the reader enters into the mind of Daniel Boone, and this treatment goes a long way to de-mythologize a quintessential American hero.

Several themes interweave in this story, including how charismatic leadership (in this case Boone’s), can be at the same time both inspiring and dangerously misleading. The hardship of life in America in the 1700’s is rendered faithfully, as is the reality that America (Kentucky in this case) was not virgin land waiting for settlers, but rather already populated by various native tribes that weren’t eager to just hand over Boone’s “Paradise”. Thought-provoking!

Martin John
Martin John
by Anakana Schofield
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 11.97
14 used & new from CDN$ 9.30

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A fascinating look inside the mind of a troubled individual, Sept. 18 2015
This review is from: Martin John (Paperback)
Martin John is the disjointed but exhilarating tale of Martin John Gaffney, a mentally-unhinged serial molester exiled from Ireland to London by his mother in a vain effort to protect him from himself.

Anakana Schofield’s masterful writing, redolent of Beckett, has the reader inside the head of this troubled individual on a long spiral downward. Despite the dark theme, there are several moments of laugh out loud humour in the novel, adding levity to an otherwise bleak reality. Fascinating!

Page: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6