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Elon Musk: Inventing The Future
Elon Musk: Inventing The Future
by Ashlee Vance
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 20.00
15 used & new from CDN$ 20.00

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Most Exciting and Visionary Entrepreneur Alive Today, May 19 2015
Elon Musk is arguably the most exciting and visionary entrepreneur alive today. He has often been described as the inspiration behind Iron Man or the next Steve Jobs, and an article in Business Insider observed that “A Lot Of People Think Elon Musk Is Already Greater Than Steve Jobs Ever Was” (Business Insider, August 2013). TED curator Chris Anderson wrote a great portrait of him when Musk was named Fortune magazine’s 2013 Business Person of the Year (“The Shared Genius of Elon Musk and Steve Jobs”, Fortune magazine, December 2013).

In this biography, Ashlee Vance describes Musk’s incredibly impressive evolution from an unhappy childhood in South Africa, to university life as a student here in Canada, and finally to his current position as a Silicon Valley multi-billionaire at the head of no less than 3 revolutionary companies: Tesla, SpaceX and SolarCity.

It is no accident that Musk has focused his efforts on technologies that protect the environment and slow catastrophic climate change. “What Musk has developed that so many of the entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley lack is a meaningful worldview. Where Mark Zuckerberg wants to help you share baby photos, Musk wants to save the human race from self-imposed or accidental annihilation.” Encouragingly, “Musk has visited the White House several times, and has the ear of President Obama.”

“One of Musk’s most ardent admirers is also one of his best friends, Larry Page, the co-founder and CEO of Google. Page comments that: ‘I find Elon to be an inspiring example. He said ‘Well, what should I really do in this world? Solve cars, global warming, and make humans multiplanetary. I mean those are pretty compelling goals, and now he has businesses to do that.’ Page holds Musk up as a model he wishes others would emulate – a figure that should be replicated during a time in which the businessmen and politicians have fixated on short-term, inconsequential goals.’” If Charles and David Koch are the iconic representatives of what the World Values Survey calls non-ecological materialist values, Elon Musk, along with Tom Steyer, Li Hejun and Naomi Klein, are brilliant representatives of ecological postmaterialist values.

“As a child Elon would take himself to the bookstore when school ended at 2 p.m., and stay there till about 6 p.m., when his parents returned home from work. ‘Sometimes they kicked me out of the store, but usually not,’ Elon said. He listed The Lord of the Rings, Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series, and Robert Heinlein’s The Moon is a Harsh Mistress as some of his favorites, alongside The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. `At one point, I ran out of books to read at the school library and the neighborhood library,’ Musk said. ‘This is maybe the third or fourth grade. I tried to convince the librarian to order books for me. So then, I started to read the Encyclopedia Britannica. That was so helpful. You don’t know what you don’t know. You realize there are all these things out there.”

Whereas Naomi Klein is a champion of non-capitalist solutions to impending climate chaos, Musk is a champion of market-based solutions. And where they both agree is on the central role that solar energy can play in freeing us from our dependence on fossil fuels:

“Musk’s longtime interest in solar power and in finding new ways to harness energy expanded at the University of Pennsylvania. In December 1994, he had to come up with a business plan for one of his classes and ended up writing a paper titled ‘The Importance of Being Solar’. The paper predicted a rise in solar power technology based on materials improvements and the construction of large-scale solar plants. Musk delved deeply into how solar cells work and the various compounds that can make them more efficient. He received a 98 on what his professor deemed a ‘very interesting and well written paper.’”

“With SolarCity, Musk has funded the largest installer and financer of solar panels for consumers and businesses. Musk helped come up with the idea for SolarCity and serves as its chairman, while his cousins Lyndon and Peter Rive run the company. During a time in which clean-tech businesses have gone bankrupt with alarming regularity, Musk has built two of the most successful clean-tech companies in the world.”

“SolarCity is a key part of what can be thought of as the unified field theory of Musk. Each one of his businesses is interconnected in the short term and the long term. Tesla makes battery packs that SolarCity can then sell to end customers. SolarCity supplies Tesla’s charging stations with solar panels, helping Tesla to provide free recharging to its drivers. Newly minted Model S owners regularly opt to begin living the Musk Lifestyle and outfit their homes with solar panels. Tesla and SpaceX help each other as well. They exchange knowledge around materials, manufacturing techniques, and the intricacies of operating factories that build so much stuff from the ground up.”

“The first people to notice what Tesla had accomplished were the technophiles in Silicon Valley. The early adopters proved willing not only to spend $100,000 on a product that might not work but also to trust their well-being to a start-up. Tesla needed this early boost of confidence and got it on a scale few expected. In the first couple of months after the Model S went on sale, you might see one or two per day on the streets of San Francisco and the surrounding cities. Then you started to see five to ten per day. Soon enough, the Model S seemed to feel like the most common car in Palo Alto and Mountain View, the two cities at the heart of Silicon Valley. The Model S emerged as the ultimate status symbol for wealthy technophiles, allowing them to show off, get a new gadget, and claim to be helping the environment at the same time. From Silicon Valley, the Model S phenomenon spread to Los Angeles, then all along the West Coast and then to Washington D.C. and New York. Consumer Reports gave the model S its highest car rating in history -99 out of 100- while proclaiming that it was likely the best car ever built.”

“Tesla’s recharging stations now run alongside many of the major highways in the United States, Europe and Asia, and can add hundreds of miles of oomph back to a car in about 20 minutes. These so-called supercharging stations are solar-powered, and Tesla owners pay nothing to refuel. While much of America’s infrastructure decays, Musk is building a futuristic end-to-end transportation system that would allow the United States to leapfrog the rest of the world.”

And last but not least, “SpaceX has become the free radical trying to upend everything about the space industry. It doesn’t want to handle a few launches per year or to rely on government contracts for survival. Musk’s goal is to use manufacturing breakthroughs and launchpad advances to create a drastic drop in the cost of getting things to space. Most significant, he’s been testing rockets that can push their payload to space and then return to Earth and land with supreme accuracy on a pad floating at sea or even their original launchpad. Imagine one airline that flies the same plane over and over again, competing against others that dispose of their planes after every flight. Through its cost advantages, SpaceX hopes to take over the majority of the world’s commercial launches, and there’s evidence that the company is on its way toward doing just that.”

So Elon’s story is really spectacular. That having been said, the book itself is rather poorly written, and, even more surprisingly, in numerous snide remarks, Vance makes it clear that he is not a big fan of Musk. Why bother to write a book about someone you really don’t like?

For those who are turned off by Vance’s plodding text and irritating side comments, I recommend the article “Meet tech billionaire and real life Iron Man Elon Musk” that delivers a great summary of Elon’s life trajectory, available for free online (The Telegraph, January 2014). For those who don’t mind shelling out $20 to better understand one of the greatest figures of our era, this biography is a mediocre though readable three-star rendition of a remarkable five-star genius. So four stars overall!

Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 29.66
23 used & new from CDN$ 26.48

16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Michel Houellebecq est l’auteur contemporain de langue française le plus ..., Jan. 20 2015
Ce commentaire est de: SOUMISSION (Paperback)
Michel Houellebecq est l’auteur contemporain de langue française le plus traduit dans le monde. Avec La Carte et le Territoire, il reçoit le prix Goncourt en 2010. L’œuvre de Houellebecq est traversée par une critique du libéralisme des Lumières, et ses portraits des mœurs de notre temps visent à dévoiler la misère de l’individu «libéré » des repères traditionnels.

Toujours original, le style de Houellebecq est froid et clinique, avec un sens aigu du réel, et des longs dialogues intelligents et perspicaces, avec un humour décapant.

Soumission est la traduction du mot « Islam ». Le roman traite de la soumission de la femme à l’homme, et la soumission de l’homme à Dieu tel que l’envisage l’Islam et aussi les autres monothéismes : « Je veux cependant que vous sachiez que Christ est le chef de tout homme, que l'homme est le chef de la femme, et que Dieu est le chef de Christ. » (1ère épître aux Corinthiens / 11:3).

En entrevue avec la Paris Review, Houellebecq affirme qu’il est « hostile à la philosophie issue des Lumières. Aujourd’hui l’athéisme est mort, la laïcité est morte. Au niveau des valeurs, il y a plus d’opposition foncière entre un musulman et un athée laïc qu’entre un musulman et un catholique… J’ai essayé de me mettre à la place d’un musulman, et je me suis rendu compte qu’ils étaient en réalité dans une situation totalement schizophrénique. De toute évidence, ils sont très éloignés de la gauche et plus encore des écologistes sur tous ces sujets, il suffit de songer au mariage homosexuel pour comprendre mais c’est pour tout pareil. Et on ne voit vraiment pas pourquoi ils voteraient pour la droite et encore moins pour l’extrême-droite qui les rejette de toute ses forces. Donc à mon avis un parti musulman est une idée qui s’impose… » D’où le roman Soumission.

Le personnage central du roman, François, est un professeur d’université spécialiste de Huysmans, (écrivain naturaliste converti au catholicisme à la fin du 19ième siècle) qui est mal dans sa peau.

Aux élections présidentielles de 2022, les socialistes et l’UMP sont totalement discrédités, ainsi que « ce système électif qui n’est guère plus que le partage du pouvoir entre deux gangs rivaux. » Seul le Front National émerge largement et semble devoir l’emporter suite à un deuxième mandat désastreux de François Hollande.

Et tel que prévu, le FN de Marine Le Pen arrive en tête au premier tour.

Mais « tout sauf le FN » est le mot d’ordre du PS et de l’UMP, donc le Front National finit battu par le candidat d’un nouveau parti, La Fraternité musulmane. Le programme du parti, négocié en secret avec Manuel Valls, prévoit que chaque enfant français doit avoir la possibilité d’un enseignement islamique.

Mohamed Ben Abbes devient le nouveau président de la France, islamiste modéré « comme un bon vieil épicier tunisien », et l’homme d’état le plus habile en France depuis des décennies. Sa vision: rien de moins que la reconstruction de l’empire romain, version islamique !

L’inégalité hommes-femmes est institutionnalisée. Fortement encouragées par des allocutions familiales boostées, les femmes quittent massivement le marché du travail, qui réduit le taux de chômage. Dans les quartiers sensibles, la délinquance disparaît.

Le corps enseignant est obligé d’embrasser la foi musulmane. Robert Rediger, converti à l’Islam, est président de la nouvelle Sorbonne islamique. Grâce à l’Arabie Saoudite, les salaires des universitaires sont triplés par rapport à l’université laïque.
Le héros du roman, François, est séduit par la polygamie et une chaire universitaire, et se convertit à l’Islam. « J’ai plutôt l’impression qu’on peut s’arranger. » Une phrase qui fait écho aux sentiments des collaborateurs pendant l'occupation nazie de la deuxième guerre mondiale.

Le philosophe Michel Foucault estimait qu'« Un jour, peut-être, le siècle sera deleuzien. » Mais ici une autre possibilité plus sombre s’exprime, que le siècle sera houellebecquien.

Il est difficile d’être en désaccord avec Houellebecq concernant sa critique de la philosophie des Lumières, fondée sur un malentendu de la nature et de la clarté de l’esprit humain. Les recherches les plus récentes en psychologie sociale ont montré que toutes les décisions de l’esprit conscient (5% de l’esprit, que Daniel Kahneman appelle « système 2 »), même celles qui paraissent les plus éclairées et raisonnées, sont en grande partie fondées sur l’inconscient (95% de l’esprit, « système 1 »). Donc l’individu autonome et libre est largement illusoire.

Ceci dit, selon Ronald Inglehart et la World Values Survey, la sécularisation, la libération des femmes et des gais, et le tournant écologique sont tous des phénomènes réels. Dans chaque société, que ce soit l’Arabie Saoudite à un extrême des valeurs traditionnelles, ou de la Suède à l'extrême du post-matérialisme, il y a un mélange des traditionalistes, des matérialistes modernes, et des post-matérialistes laïques tels que Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Djemila Benhabib et Naomi Klein.

Même si Houellebecq et de grandes proportions de traditionalistes et de matérialistes modernes se sont résignés à un retour à la théocratie, il y aura certainement une résistance forte à cette tendance de la part des post-matérialistes, comme l'a démontré avec courage Charlie Hebdo.

Common Ground
Common Ground
by Justin Trudeau
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 20.38
11 used & new from CDN$ 0.74

32 of 54 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A genuinely nice guy, and a champion of everyday people, Oct. 20 2014
Ce commentaire est de: Common Ground (Hardcover)
According to the website Threehundredeight, the Liberals have been ahead in the polls every single month since Justin Trudeau was elected leader in April 2013. The Harper Conservatives have been 2nd in every single poll, and the NDP has been 3rd in every single poll. So in the upcoming election Canadians will have a choice between the Trudeau Liberals and the Harper Conservatives.

But who exactly is Justin Trudeau? Most Canadians are aware that he is the eldest son of Pierre Trudeau, judged by Canadians as the best prime minister since 1968, according to a September 2012 poll by Angus Reid (according to the same poll, Canadians judge Stephen Harper to be the worst prime minister since 1968).

But to what extent does Justin follow in his illustrious father’s footsteps? Common Ground gives us a better understanding of how he continues his father’s legacy, and how he is different.

The Harper Conservatives would have Canadians believe that Justin Trudeau is weak and effeminate (despite the fact that he is a boxer and former snowboard instructor); that he is an intellectual lightweight (despite the fact that he has two university degrees); that he does not understand the concerns of ordinary Canadians (despite the fact that he is a married father of three, who worked as a teacher); and perhaps most damning of all, that he is a Quebecer (despite the fact that he also lived for many years in both Ontario and British Columbia).

So Common Ground successfully puts all of these myths to rest. Though this is not a book about specific policies, the reader does get a good idea of Mr. Trudeau’s background, principles, and overall worldview. What emerges is a portrait of a genuinely nice guy, and a champion of everyday people, sort of halfway between his father and, perhaps surprisingly, Jean Chretien.

“For diversity to work, people have to be free. The Charter of Rights and Freedoms was my father’s way of ensuring that it would be impossible for any group of Canadians to use the government to unduly restrict basic freedoms for any other group of Canadians. His core value was classically liberal in this sense. It is a value I share, and believe in equally deeply.

The Charter of Rights and Freedoms became the vehicle for an unprecedented expansion of individual freedom in Canada. It has been used to strike down arbitrary laws that restricted Canadians’ choices in the most private and intimate aspects of our lives. Thanks to the Charter, Canadians are no longer discriminated against in their workplaces because of their sexual orientation, nor are they prevented from marrying the person they love just because they each happen to be of the same sex. Because of the Charter, women have gained the right to control their reproductive health.”

“The most valuable part of my childhood trips with my father was the chance to watch how he made decisions. He was always asking questions and challenging the people around him about their opinions. He would rarely discuss his own views until everyone else had had their say, which was in contrast with his public image as an almost autocratic decision maker. Any decision made by my father was the result of a process that involved many voices, and which sometimes had taken weeks or months. This decision-making model has come to inform my own leadership style.”

“I spent my childhood in Ottawa but I grew up in Montreal. Throughout my life I had spoken English and French interchangeably with my family. I was at ease with the fluidity of my French and English dual identity in Ottawa. With this grounding, I began my studies at College Jean de Brebeuf. It had been my father’s school, known for high academic achievement, and I landed there in the midst of French-English political turmoil. Taken together, the abrupt new demands on my academic abilities and the strong linguistic and cultural undercurrents among students and faculty gave me a sudden new perspective on things.”

“What is the meaning of life? How do we build a better society? What is standing in the way of social justice? During my undergraduate years I was as curious about these questions as any other student, but I was always suspicious of cultish, reductionist movements. Whenever a classmate or friend tried to convince me that the answer to life’s big questions or major political issues could be derived from the Communist Manifesto or Atlas Shrugged or some other single-minded philosophy, I grew wary. One of the lessons of life I learned from my father was that the world is too complicated to be stuffed into a single overarching ideology.”

On the question of a potential merger between the Liberals and the NDP, “there were good arguments on both sides, but in the end I concluded that my disagreement with the NDP over some critically important substantive matters was simply too profound for a merger ever to work, at least for me. There were fundamental economic policy areas (trade, foreign investment, resource development) about which I thought the NDP was deeply wrong. In fact, I think that the NDP’s predisposition is to be suspicious of growth and economic success. Liberals understand that economic growth is the foundation for all that we want to achieve in areas of social policy.”

“I made it clear in my campaign that the Liberal Party needs to be a liberal party. By that I meant that the core values of liberalism – equality of economic opportunity and diversity of thought and belief, which I see as the building blocks of individual freedom, fairness and social justice – ought to be the cornerstones of the Liberal Party and its policies. I said that we needed to be a party that stood up for people’s right to have a real and fair chance at success, regardless whether they were born rich or poor, where they come from, or what, if any, faith they professed.”

If I have one minor criticism of Common Ground, it is in Justin Trudeau’s confidence that common ground can in fact be found on all issues. On the issue of resource development, for example, the problem is not that there has been resource development, but rather that the Harper Conservatives have put ALL of Canada’s eggs in one basket, namely the tar sands of Alberta. This short-sighted perspective has privileged the 10% of Canadians who live in Alberta, at the expense of the 90% of Canadians who live in the other provinces, as well as all future generations who will be living with the consequences of a polluted natural environment and catastrophic climate change. So Justin should read Naomi Klein’s new book to get up to speed on this.

Other than on this point, having read Common Ground it is clear to me that Justin Trudeau will be vastly superior to Stephen Harper as prime minister, and I can hardly wait to vote!

This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate
This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate
by Naomi Klein
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 23.16
5 used & new from CDN$ 23.16

33 of 43 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A sobering, enlightening and hopeful read, Sept. 16 2014
Naomi Klein is arguably Canada's best-known public intellectual. In 2001, following the release of her global bestseller No Logo, the Times of London suggested that she was the most influential person in the world under the age of 35. Since then she has released a second #1 New York Times bestseller, The Shock Doctrine.

Her third major work, This Changes Everything, is arguably even deeper and more insightful than her two previous books, and deals with the most pressing challenge of our era: worldwide climate chaos.

There are of course no quick fixes, but despite the gravity of the situation, she presents numerous interesting facts and promising avenues:

"One of the people I met on this journey is Henry Red Cloud, a Lakota educator who trains young Native people to become solar engineers. He tells his students that there are times when we must accept small steps forward - and there are other times when you need to 'run like a buffalo.' Now is one of those times when we must run."

"After the 2008 collapse of Wall Street and in the midst of layers of ecological crises, free market fundamentalists should be exiled to irrelevant status. They are saved from this ignominious fate by the likes of billionaires Charles and David Koch, owners of the diversified dirty energy giant Koch Industries. Their climate-change counter-movements are collectively pulling in more than $900 million per year for work on a variety of right-wing causes."

"Not only do fossil fuel companies receive $775 billion to $1 trillion in annual global subsidies, but they pay nothing for the privilege of treating our shared atmosphere as a free waste dump. In order to cope with these distortions (which the WTO has made no attempt to correct), governments need to take a range of aggressive steps - from price guarantees to straight subsidies - so that green energy has a fair shot at competing. We know from experience that this works: Denmark has among the most successful renewable energy programs in the world, with 40 percent of its electricity coming from renewables."

"This does not mean that the private sector should be excluded from a transition to renewables: solar and wind companies are already bringing clean energy to many millions of consumers around the world, including through innovative models that allow customers to avoid the upfront costs of purchasing their own rooftop panels" (e.g. SolarCity).

"From a technical perspective, it is entirely possible to rapidly switch our energy systems to 100 percent renewables. In 2009, Mark J. Jacobson, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Stanford University, and Mark A. Delucci, a research scientist, authored a groundbreaking, detailed roadmap for how 100 percent of the world's energy, for all purposes, could be supplied by wind, water and solar resources, by as early as 2030" (Scientific American, November 2009).

"If industrial policy were brought into line with climate science, the supply of energy through wind, solar and other forms of renewable energy would generate huge numbers of jobs in every country - in manufacturing, construction, installation, maintenance and operation."

"The rapid rise of renewables in Germany has occurred within the context of a sweeping, national feed-in tariff program that includes a mix of incentives designed to ensure that anyone who wants to get into renewable power generation can do so in a way that is simple, stable, and profitable. This has decentralized not just electrical power, but also political power and wealth. Over all, there are now 1.4 million photovoltaic installations in Germany."

This Changes Everything is a sobering, enlightening and hopeful read. If I have one minor criticism of the book, it is with the chapter "No Messiahs: The Green Billionaires Won't Save Us." Naomi makes the point compellingly that the world's billionaires, as listed by Forbes magazine and Bloomberg Billionaires, are often more part of the problem than part of the solution, most obvious in the cases of Charles and David Koch, and Paul Singer. However, there are other billionaires who in my opinion are clearly part of the solution, such as Tom Steyer and perhaps most brilliantly Elon Musk. If the climate crisis is going to be resolved, it will certainly require some powerful allies, and Barack Obama, Julian Castro and Elon Musk are among them.

Naomi Klein was kind enough to send me a complimentary copy of No Logo just before it was released. I was more than happy to pay for this superb and thought-provoking book. Five stars!

Contagious: Why Things Catch On
Contagious: Why Things Catch On
by Jonah Berger
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 18.80
45 used & new from CDN$ 4.77

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great advice to help any product or idea become Contagious, March 31 2013
Jonah Berger is a professor of marketing at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. Daniel Gilbert, professor at Harvard, has said that Dr. Berger knows more about what makes information go viral than anyone else in the world.

Dr. Berger observes that “word of mouth is not just frequent, it’s also important. The things others tell us, e-mail us, and text us have a significant impact on what we think, read, buy and do. We try websites our neighbors recommend, read books our relatives praise, and vote for candidates our friends endorse. Word of mouth is the primary factor behind 20 to 50 percent of all purchasing decisions.

“Word of mouth is more effective than traditional advertising for two key reasons. First, it’s more persuasive. Our friends tend to tell it to us straight. Their objectivity, coupled with their candidness, make us much more likely to trust, listen to, and believe our friends.

Second, word of mouth is more targeted. It is naturally directed to an interested audience. No wonder customers referred by their friends spend more, shop faster and are more profitable overall.

What percent of word of mouth do you think happens online? In other words, what percent of chatter happens over social media, blogs, e-mail, and chat rooms? If you’re like most people, you probably guessed something around 50 or 60 percent.

The actual number is 7 percent. Research by the Keller Fay Group finds that only 7 percent of word of mouth happens online.

Most people are extremely surprised when they hear that number. People do spend a good bit of time online. But we forget that people also spend a lot of time offline. And that creates a lot more time for offline conversations.

We also tend to overestimate online word of mouth because it’s easier to see. Social media sites provide a handy record of all the clips, comments and other content we share online. But we don’t think as much about all the offline conversations we had over that same time period because we can’t easily see them.

So the first issue with all the hype around social media is that people tend to ignore the importance of offline word of mouth, even though offline discussions are more prevalent, and potentially even more impactful, than online ones.

The second issue is that Facebook and Twitter are technologies, not strategies. Word-of-mouth marketing is effective only if people actually talk. Public health officials can tweet daily bulletins about safe sex, but if no one passes them along, the campaign will fail. Just putting up a Facebook page or tweeting doesn’t mean anyone will notice or spread the word. Fifty percent of YouTube videos have fewer than 500 views. Only one-third of 1 percent get more than 1 million.“

“After analyzing hundreds of contagious messages, products and ideas, Dr. Berger noticed the same six ingredients or principles were often at work.

Principle 1: Social Currency

How does it make people LOOK to talk about a product or idea? Just like the clothes we wear and the cars we drive, what we talk about influences how others see us. It’s social currency. So to get people talking we need to craft messages (and content) that help people achieve these desired impressions (i.e provide them with OUTER-DIRECTED EMOTIONAL BENEFITS).

Give people a way to look good while promoting your product or ideas along the way.

There are 3 ways to do this:

a) Find inner remarkability

Snapple discovered unused real estate under the caps of their bottles (“owned” media). The marketing team at Snapple came up with a list of amazing real facts and put them under the caps (e.g. a ball of glass will bounce higher than a ball of rubber). These facts naturally generated discussion, made people look smart or interesting to their friends, and made them talk about where they found out this amazing information. Under a bottle cap. But not just any bottle cap – a Snapple bottle cap.

Many of the most successful videos shared on YouTube fall into this “amazing” category, for example Evian Roller Babies or Dove’s Evolution.

b) Leverage game mechanics

Frequent flier programs and other loyalty programs are examples of leveraging game mechanics. For example, when you are informed that you need only a certain number of additional points to get a reward. This kind of message often adds incremental consumption.

One way game mechanics motivate is internally. We all enjoy ACHIEVING things. Tangible evidence of our progress makes us feel good. Whether it is more points in a game or a better title in the workplace. Being a 3-star general is more emotionally gratifying than being a 2-star general, both internally and externally. A pope is better than a cardinal, which is better than an archbishop. A prime minister is better than a minister.

So game mechanics are not only gratifying internally, they are also gratifying externally. They encourage interpersonal comparison. Someone feels like a winner – and is recognized as a winner – because they have a BMW rather than a Volkswagen.

People don’t just care about how they are doing, they care about how they are doing RELATIVE TO OTHERS. This is especially true of extroverted people with outer-directed values.

Just like many other animals, people care about hierarchy. People love to brag about their golf handicap, their kids’ accomplishments (which are by proxy their own), and their Aeroplan elite status.

Leveraging game mechanics means quantifying performance. Some domains like golf handicaps have built-in metrics. People can easily see how they are doing and compare themselves with others. The status metrics should be visible for maximum effect.

For example different colored tickets for season ticket holders.

Foursquare is a master of leveraging game mechanics. Check into five different airports and get a Jetsetter badge. Not only are these badges posted on users’ Foursquare accounts, but they are also displayed prominently on users’ Facebook accounts.

For anyone who thinks they’ve evolved beyond Boy Scouts, think again!

Foursquare has made it a status symbol to be a fixture at the local bar. And not only do these badges promote the users, they promote the Foursquare brand.

Online leaderboards make it a status symbol to spend your life playing videogames.

Burberry created a website called “Art of the Trench”, which is a montage of people around the world wearing Burberry. Some are famous people shot by top photographers, but individuals can also submit their own photos which may be accepted, thus becoming part of this elite group, and promoting Burberry at the same time. And you can be sure that people whose photos make the cut will forward them to all of their friends…

c) Make people feel like insiders

Use perceived scarcity and exclusivity to make people feel like insiders.

Scarcity is about how much of something is offered. Scarce things are less available because of high demand, LTOs (limited time offers), etc. Think Cadbury Easter Eggs, or McRibs at McDonald's.

As Dr. Robert Cialdini demonstrates in his seminal book Influence, limited availability makes us feel like we have to act now.

Exclusivity is also about availability, but in a different way. Exclusive things are available only to people who meet particular criteria. It can be about knowing certain people, or being connected with people who do. It is often “by invitation only.”

If something is difficult to obtain, many people assume that it must be worth the effort. If something is sold out, the assumption is that it is POPULAR, that many other people like it, and so it must have QUALITY. People evaluate cookbooks more favourably when they are in limited supply, and find cookies tastier when they are scarce. Cool brands are often cooler when they can only be found in one place (e.g. originally Desigual jeans could only be found in Barcelona).

If people get something not everyone else has, or get it FIRST, it makes them feel special, unique, and grants them STATUS.

Think of the people who get the newest iPhone model, and spend the next few months ostentatiously displaying it at meetings and telling everyone they know that they have it.

The moral? People don’t need to be paid to be motivated. Managers often default to monetary incentives when trying to motivate employees. But that’s the wrong way to think about it. Lots of people will refer a friend if you pay them $100 to do so. But people are HAPPY to talk about companies and products they like. Billions of people do it for free every day.

Principle 2: Triggers

How do we REMIND people to talk about (and share) our products and ideas? Triggers are STIMULI that prompt people to think about related things. Peanut butter reminds us of jelly, and the word “dog” reminds us of “cat”. People often talk about whatever most easily comes to mind, so the more often people think about a product or idea, the more often it will be talked about. We need to design products and ideas that are frequently triggered by the environment in which the target audience frequently finds itself. TOP OF MIND LEADS TO TIP OF TONGUE.

Why does it matter if particular thoughts or ideas are top of mind? Because ACCESSIBLE thoughts and ideas lead to ACTION.
Back in mid-1997, the candy company Mars noticed an unexpected sales uptick in sales of its Mars bar. The company was surprised because it hadn’t changed its marketing in any way. What had happened?

NASA had happened. Specifically, NASA’s pathfinder mission to MARS. This had made the idea of “Mars” top of mind and on the tip of everyone’s tongue, triggering the sales of Mars bars. Far from an obvious link!

So being top-of-mind means being accessible to not only the conscious mind, but even more importantly, the unconscious mind.

Dr. Berger cites an example also mentioned by Dr. Leonard Mlodinow in his insightful book Subliminal:

"In a study on wine sales, four French and four German wines, matched for price and dryness, were placed on the shelves of a supermarket in England. French and German music were played on alternate days, from the top shelf of the display. On days when the French music played, 77 percent of the wine purchased was French, while on the days the German music played, 73 percent of the wine purchased was German." The vast majority of customers stated that the music had not triggered their choice, though it clearly had."

Dr. Berger describes one of his own experiments to identify the most effective triggers:

“One group of students saw the slogan ‘live the healthy way, eat five fruits and veggies a day’. Another group saw ‘Each and every dining-hall tray needs five fruits and veggies a day’. The students lived on campus, and ate in dining halls that used trays.

Our students didn’t care for the tray slogan. They called it corny and rated it as less than half as attractive as the more generic ‘live healthy’ slogan.

But when it came to actual behavior, the results were striking. Students who had been shown the generic ‘live healthy’ slogan didn’t change their eating habits. But students who had seen the ‘tray’ slogan ate 25 percent more fruits and vegetables as a result. The trigger worked.”

Dr. Berger goes on to show that people who vote at polls located in churches tend to vote more negatively against abortion or gay marriage; people who vote in a school tend to vote more favorably for educational initiatives. Different places where people vote unconsciously trigger different unconscious frames and voting behaviors.

So rather than just going for a catchy message, consider the context. Think about whether the message will be triggered by the everyday environments of the target audience. A strong trigger can be much more effective than a catchy slogan.

The Budweiser ‘Wassup’ campaign is a brilliant example of using the context. ‘Wassup’ was an everyday expression among the target audience of young men. And anytime they heard it, they were unconsciously reminded of Budweiser.

People experience different triggers based on the daypart or time of the year. One study showed that people were much more likely to think about products associated with the color orange just before Halloween, because of all the Halloween decorations in the environment. But as soon as this holiday is over, these triggers disappear.

Dr. Berger points out that if a stimulus can trigger many different actions, it is less effective. For example, the color red is a trigger for thoughts of Coca-Cola, but also for many other thoughts. Nonetheless, as Martin Lindstrom points out in his book Buyology, Coca-Cola makes excellent use of its brand colour and other triggers such as the shape of the bottle. He gives the example of American Idol:

"When asked by a fellow judge if he liked a contestant's song... Simon commented, `How much I love Coca-Cola!' and then took a sip... The three judges all keep cups of America's most iconic soft drink in front of them, and both the judges and the contestants sit on chairs or couches with rounded contours specifically designed to look like a bottle of Coca-Cola. Before and after their auditions, contestants enter a room whose walls are painted a chirpy, unmistakable Coca-Cola red. Whether through semi-subtle imagery or traditional advertising spots, Coca-Cola is present approximately 60 percent of the time on American Idol."

Triggers and cues lead people to talk, choose and use. Social currency gets people talking, but Triggers keep them talking.
Top of mind means tip of tongue.

Principle 3: Emotion

Blending an iPhone is surprising. A potential tax hike is infuriating. Emotional things get shared. So rather than harping on function, we need to focus on feelings.

A study Dr. Berger conducted on the most shared articles from the New York Times found that more interesting articles were 25 percent more likely to be shared, and more useful articles were 30 percent more likely to be shared. But it turned out that science articles were also more likely to be shared, and after further investigation, Dr. Berger found it was because they inspired the emotion of AWE.

According to psychologists Dacher Keltner and Jonathan Haidt, awe is the sense of wonder and amazement that occurs when someone is inspired by great knowledge, beauty, sublimity, or might. Think of the first time you saw Google Earth in action. Or the first time you heard about quantum mechanics.

So would any type of emotional content be more likely to be shared? No. In fact, sadness had the opposite effect.

Articles that are highly physiologically arousing – those that inspire awe, excitement, or amusement, but also those that inspire anger or anxiety – are more likely to be shared. Articles with a low emotional charge, whether positive (contentment) or negative (sadness), are less likely to be shared.

Marketing messages tend to focus on information. But many times information is not enough, because it does not have an emotional charge. Rather than harping on features or facts, we need to focus on feelings; the underlying emotions that motivate people to action.

Dr. Daniel Kahneman emphasizes the centrality of emotions in his important book Thinking Fast and Slow:

"The dominance of conclusions over `arguments' is most pronounced where emotions are involved. The psychologist Paul Slovic has proposed an `affect heuristic' in which people let their likes and dislikes determine their beliefs about the world. In the context of attitudes, System 2 is more of an apologist for the emotions of System 1 than a critic of those emotions - an endorser rather than an enforcer. Its search for information and arguments is mostly constrained to information that is consistent with existing beliefs, not with an intention to examine them." (cf. Dr. Daniel Dennett's Breaking the Spell).

When trying to use emotions to drive sharing, remember to pick ones that kindle the fire: select high-arousal emotions that drive people to action.

On the positive side, excite people or inspire them by showing how they can make a difference. On the negative side, make people mad, not sad. Make sure the drowning polar bear story gets them fired up.

Simply adding more arousal to a story or ad can have a big impact on people’s willingness to share it. More anger or more humor both lead to more sharing.

BMW effectively kindled fear and anxiety in a 2001 campaign. It created a series of short Internet films entitled The Hire.

The movies were riddled with kidnappings, FBI raids, and near-death experiences. The clips so highly aroused viewers that the series racked up more than 11 million views within four months. Over the same period, BMW sales increased 12 percent.

One way to generate word of mouth is to find people when they are already fired up. Exciting game shows or anxiety-inducing crime dramas like CSI are more likely to get people aroused than documentaries about historical figures. So there are media buying implications.

The same idea holds for online content. Certain websites, news articles or YouTube videos evoke more arousal than others.

Ad timing also matters. A specific scene in a show may be more activating than others. In crime shows, for example, the anxiety often peaks somewhere in the middle. In game shows excitement is often highest when people are about to find out how much they’ve won. We may end up talking more about ads that are placed close to these exciting moments.

Emotions drive people to action. They make us laugh, shout and cry, and they make us talk, share and buy.

Principle 4: Public

Can people see when others are using our product or engaging in our desired behavior? The famous phrase “Monkey See, Monkey Do” captures more than just the human tendency to imitate. It also tells us that it’s hard to copy something you can’t see.

Making things more observable makes them easier to imitate, which makes them more likely to be perceived as Popular (which is one of the 5 key components of brand equity). It contributes to their perceived Presence, thus building their top-of-mind Availability.

In his great book Buyology, Martin Lindstrom explains how the discovery of mirror neurons in the 1990s has revolutionized psychology. He quotes a professor at the University of California: "What DNA is for biology, the Mirror Neuron is for psychology."

Mirror neurons are neurons that empathetically "mirror" the feelings that other people around us are having - when we see someone eating a slice of pizza in person or even on TV, the same areas of our brains light up as if WE were eating the pizza. Similarly, our mirror neurons are responsible for us unconsciously mimicking the actions of people around us - yawning, running our hands through our hair, you name it. As Dr. Benjamin K. Bergen explains in his book Louder than Words, when we see someone doing something, part of our understanding involves spontanenously simulating in our unconscious minds what doing it must feel like.

"When other people whisper, we tend to lower our own voices. When we're around an older person, we're prone to walking more slowly." The discovery of mirror neurons has proved that "Monkey see, monkey do" is true in an extremely strong sense.

If you’re like most people, you probably follow a time-tested rule of thumb: look for a restaurant full of people. If lots of people are eating there, it’s probably good. The default position for most people most of the time, is to do what others are seen to be doing (cf. Mark Earls’ book Herd). And this often means what you and most other people have been doing in the past (cf. Neale Martin’s book Habit).

People imitate, in part, because others’ choices provide information. And to resolve any uncertainty we may have, we often look to what other people are doing and follow that. Psychologists call this idea “social proof”. Dr. Robert Cialdini has an excellent chapter on it in his book “Influence.”

We need to design products that advertise themselves. We need to create behavioral residue that sticks around even after people have used our products. We need to make the private public. If something is built to show, it’s built to grow.

Principle 5: Practical Value

How can we craft content that is useful? People like to help others, so if our products or ideas will save time, improve health or save money, they’ll spread the word. We need to make our message stand out. We need to highlight the incredible value of what we offer. And we need to package our knowledge and expertise so that people can easily pass it on.

Useful things are important. People don’t just value useful information, they share it. Word of mouth from our friends and family members helps us sift through the 3000 marketing messages to which we are exposed each day, to identify what is really useful. And just look at Wikipedia, or TripAdvisor, or at the how-to videos on YouTube.

If Social Currency is about information senders and how sharing makes them look, Practical Value is mostly about the information receiver. It’s about saving people time or money, or helping them have good experiences. It even reflects positively on the sharer, providing a bit of Social Currency. But at its core, sharing practical value is about helping others. The Emotions principle noted that when we care, we share. But the reverse is also true: Sharing is Caring.

Vanguard, the firm that manages my retirement plan, sent me an e-mail asking if I’d like to receive its monthly newsletter, MoneyWhys. Like most people, I try to avoid signing up for new mailing lists, but this one actually seemed useful. Last-minute tax tips, responses to common questions about investing, etc.

I don’t read every e-mail Vanguard sends, but I end up forwarding many of the ones I do read to people who I think will find them useful. Vanguard nicely packages its expertise into a short, tight bundle of useful information, and the practical value makes me pass it along. And along the way, I’m spreading the word about Vanguard and its investment expertise.

A cosmetic manufacturer makes a helpful iPhone application for business travelers. In addition to providing local weather information, it also provides expert skin care advice that is tailored to those local weather conditions. This practical, valuable information is not only useful, it also demonstrates the company’s expertise in this domain.

You might think that content that has a broader audience is more likely to be shared. In fact, narrower content may actually be more likely to be shared, because it reminds people of a specific family member or friend – it is RELEVANT to that person, it is “for people like them.”

Principle 6: Stories

What broader narrative can we wrap our idea in? People don’t just share information, they tell stories. Just like the Trojan Horse, stories are vessels that carry morals, lessons and other messages. So we need to build our own Trojan Horses, embedding our products and ideas in stories that people want to tell (e.g. Oreos tweeting that they could be dunked in the dark during the first minutes of the Super Bowl blackout). It’s often about being OPPORTUNIST and SURFING ON THE STORIES IN THE CULTURE, on what’s happening RIGHT NOW (the Harlem Shake, goats bleating like singers, etc.). Ideally we want to make our message so integral to the narrative that people can’t tell the story without it.

In his excellent book Tell to Win, Peter Guber makes the same point with Machiavellian glee: "Like the Trojan Horse, purposeful stories are a delivery system in disguise. They cleverly contain information, ideas, emotional prompts and value propositions that the teller wants to sneak inside the listener's heart and mind. Thanks to their magical construction and appeal, stories emotionally transport the audience so they don't even realize they're receiving a hidden message. They only know after the story is told that they've heard it and felt the teller's call to action."

People don’t like to seem like walking advertisements. The Subway sandwich chain offers seven subs with less than six grams of fat. But no one is going to walk up to a friend and just tell that information.

Contrast that with the Jared story. Jared Fogel lost 245 pounds eating Subway sandwiches. After Jared ballooned to 425 pounds in college, he decided to take action. He started a “Subway diet”: almost every day he ate a footlong veggie sub for lunch and a six-inch turkey sub for dinner. After 3 months of this self-imposed regimen, he had lost almost 100 pounds.

But he didn’t stop there. Soon his pants size had dropped from an enormous 60 inches to a normal 34-inch waist. He lost all that weight and had Subway to thank.

The Jared story is so entertaining that people bring it up even when they’re not talking about weight loss. The amount of weight he lost is impressive, but even more astonishing is the fact that he lost it eating Subway sandwiches. A guy loses 245 pounds eating fast food? The summary alone is enough to draw people in.

The story gets shared for many reasons. It’s remarkable (Social Currency), evokes surprise and Amazement (Emotion), and provides useful information about healthy fast food (Practical Value).

People don’t talk about Jared because they want to help Subway, but Subway still benefits because it is part of the narrative. Listeners learn about Jared, but they also learn about Subway. They learn that 1) while Subway may seem like fast food, it actually offers a number of healthy options; 2) So healthy that someone could lose weight while eating them; 3) A lot of weight. 4) Someone could eat mostly Subway sandwiches for 3 months and still come back for more. So the food must be pretty tasty. Listeners could learn all this about Subway, even though people tell the story because of Jared.

And that is the magic of stories. Information travels under the guise of what seems like idle chatter.

So, Dr. Berger summarizes, build a Social Currency-laden, Triggered, Emotional, Public, Practically Valuable Trojan Horse, but don’t forget to hide your message inside. Make sure your desired information is so embedded into the plot that people can’t tell the story without it.

This book is full of great examples and useful advice to make your brand story Contagious.

Along with Ed Keller and Brad Fay’s excellent Face-to-Facebook, it is one of the best books on Word-of-Mouth Marketing. Highly recommended!

The Purchase
The Purchase
by Linda Spalding
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 18.80
26 used & new from CDN$ 0.04

10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An enthralling story, with impeccable writing, Oct. 5 2012
Ce commentaire est de: The Purchase (Hardcover)
Linda Spalding is a writer based in Toronto. The Purchase is the story of a Quaker family that settles in Virginia in 1798.

Though the Quakers were abolitionist - opposed to slavery - through an inadvertent, almost delirious purchase, Daniel Dickinson finds himself the owner of a young slave boy, Onesimus.

This is an exceptionally well-crafted novel, and the writing style is very evocative of the period and authentic in its details: historical fiction at its very best.

It is often hard for us to understand today the theme of "man against nature", and how unforgiving the American wilderness was before it was settled. Throughout this great novel, there is a constant sense of how difficult the circumstances of day-to-day life were during this period.

There is also a very finely drawn portrait of the ubiquity of Christian belief at the time. Though Daniel owns a copy of the Aeneid, a biblical interpretation of the world is omnipresent. There may be differences between denominations in their interpretation of the bible, but there is universal acknowledgement that biblical quotes explain everything of consequence in the world, including an unbreakable natural law.

The reality of slavery is conveyed without exaggeration, but with brutal, heart-breaking honesty.

Early in the novel there is a gripping scene in which Onesimus breaks his leg, and Mary, the elder daughter of the family runs desperately to seek assistance at the nearest farm. She has taken the lot of this slave boy to heart, and we sense her desperation as she worries about him, and her strong sense of relief when she is able to help him. She genuinely regards him as a human being, whereas for others he is essentially an animal to be worked, like an ox or a horse.

Linda Spalding has done an absolutely brilliant job of creating an enthralling story, with impeccable writing, page after page.

A truly great novel, 5 stars!

Siege 13
Siege 13
by Tamas Dobozy
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 16.57
17 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A brilliant and fascinating treatment of dark subject matter, Oct. 2 2012
Ce commentaire est de: Siege 13 (Paperback)
Tamas Dobozy is a writer based in Kitchener, Ontario. Siege 13 is a collection of stories that revolve around the direct and indirect impact of the siege of Budapest in 1944, one of the bloodiest and most drawn-out battles of World War II, during which approximately 80 percent of the city was destroyed, and hundreds of thousands of people were killed, taken prisoner, starved, raped or tortured.

Dobozy is a superb writer, and while some critics have compared him to Nobokov, personally I found his style a mix of understated Hemingway with a hint of darkly absurd Kafka.

In one story Dobozy describes life at the Budapest Zoo during the siege:

"Unlike many of the other attendants, Sandor and Jozsef did not have families, and so they saw no reason to go home from the zoo except to risk dying in the streets, or being bombed out of their tiny apartments, or starving to death in the cellars that had been converted into bomb shelters. When the zebras were found slaughtered in their pens, large strips of meat carved hastily from their shoulders and flanks and bellies no doubt by starving citizens, the two men fed what was left to the lion and moved into the vacated stalls, Sandor ranting about how the zebras should still be alive and it was the looters who should have been fed to the lion."

From the mundane to the extreme, despite their dark subject matter every story is fascinating to read, offering a portrayal of the futility of people trying to cope under horrifying conditions.


The Sweet Girl
The Sweet Girl
by Annabel Lyon
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 18.77
16 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A great read about the ambivalent heritage of ancient Greece, Sept. 23 2012
Ce commentaire est de: The Sweet Girl (Hardcover)
Annabel Lyon is a writer based in Vancouver. The Sweet Girl is in many ways a complement of her earlier novel, The Golden Mean, which was a finalist for the Commonwealth Writers' Prize.

Both novels feature the great philosopher Aristotle, who has had a lasting impact on the way we conceive of philosophy, politics and science.

Whereas in the Golden Mean the focus was on Aristotle in his role as mentor to Alexander the Great, in the Sweet Girl the focus is on Aristotle in his role as father to his daughter Pythias.

In his glowing review of the Sweet Girl in the National Post, Jeet Heer observed that:

"As against more flamboyantly poetic and debonair sages such as Plato or Nietzsche, Aristotle was a stolid and unsexy proto-scientist, a collector of facts, a dissector of data, a taxonomist happy to subdivide the world into neat categories."

And while Aristotle's categorization has been foundational to modern science, there has been a dark side of this categorization, which is still present in our collective unconscious and social codes: either you were a free man (more rational, in the public world, civilized, Greek), or you were "Other" (more emotional, in the household, a woman, a slave, a foreigner).

What is enriching about Lyon's treatment, is that she is sensitive to this ambivalent heritage of ancient Greece and its most towering figures. Pythias, arguably as intelligent as Aristotle himself, is limited not by actual biology - the reality of being female - but rather of her biological classification as female, as "Other".

Brilliant as she is, rather than considering herself a victim, her eventful life is a shining challenge to her father's outdated biology.

A great read!

Our Daily Bread
Our Daily Bread
by Lauren B Davis
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 12.99
11 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A searing novel not to be missed, Sept. 14 2012
Ce commentaire est de: Our Daily Bread (Paperback)
Lauren Davis is a writer born in Montreal, now living in Princeton, New Jersey. Our Daily Bread is a gripping novel inspired by the true story of the Goler clan of Nova Scotia.

It is a shocking and appalling story of torture, incest and abuse, all the more disturbing when you realize that these events actually took place, over many years and even generations, in supposedly civilized Canada (cf. On South Mountain: The Dark Secrets of the Goler Clan by David Cruise & Alison Griffiths).

Lauren Davis' fictionalized account presents the sordid situation, and asks the unavoidable question - how could this happen?

The answers are complex. As the brilliant social psychologist Henri Tajfel demonstrated, categorizing someone as "Other" has a profound impact on how they are perceived, how you interact with them, and ultimately how they perceive themselves and their opportunities - or lack thereof - in life.

The stage is set when the self-righteous people of Gideon ostracize the Erskine Clan, as ignorant, mountain-dwelling hillbillies.

Occasionally someone from the mountain dreams of escaping this isolation for a better life, but in cult-like fashion they have been indoctrinated by their elders that "Erskines don't talk, and Erskines don't leave." Despite the absence of physical bars, the mountain is a virtually unbreachable psychological prison.

Davis' writing is compelling, and the situation is dire. But perhaps most importantly, Our Daily Bread recounts some deep and disturbing truths about the human condition. As she quotes from Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn, "Hain't we got all the fools in town on our side? And hain't that a big enough majority in any town?"

Our Daily Bread is a searing novel not to be missed.

The Imposter Bride: A Novel
The Imposter Bride: A Novel
by Nancy Richler
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 18.80
19 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A compelling and touching story, Sept. 13 2012
Nancy Richler is a writer based in Montreal, and The Imposter Bride is the story of a young woman, Lily Azerov, who flees to Montreal from a devastated postwar Europe. Canada is not yet accepting Jewish refugees, so Lily immigrates on the pretext that she is engaged to be married to a Canadian. Sol has agreed to marry her, sight unseen, for a fee. However:

"When he saw the bride, he recoiled. Damaged goods. That's what he saw. A broken life, a frightened woman, a marriage that would bind him - however briefly - to grief. Let someone else marry her, he decided on the spot. He would never deny the widows and the orphans of the world. But neither, it turned out, did he want to have to marry them."

Lily is not what he had expected, so he leaves her high and dry. Fortunately his brother Nathan Kramer decides to marry her on the spot. But, it turns out that:

"Lily Azerov Kramer. She was not who she said she was.

No one really is, I suppose, but Lily's deception was more literal than most. Her name before... she'd left it there, in that beaten village where the first Lily had died, freeing, among other things, an identity card to replace the one she'd discarded, an identity that could propel a future if someone would just step into it.

Someone would, of course. The village was in Poland, 1944. Nothing went unused."

Lily has a child with Nathan, but with no explanation, suddenly disappears.

As she ages, Ruth, their daughter, is driven to understand the truth about her mother, about where she went, and where she came from.

A compelling and touching story.

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