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Reviews Written by
STEPHEN PLETKO "Uncle Stevie" (London, Ontario, Canada)
(TOP 100 REVIEWER)   

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The Healing Cell: How the Greatest Revolution in Medical History is Changing Your Life
The Healing Cell: How the Greatest Revolution in Medical History is Changing Your Life
by Robin L. Smith
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 26.58
25 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

4.0 out of 5 stars A major medical revolution that may change the world--FOREVER!!, Feb. 10 2015
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"This is a book about the real struggles of real people. But it's also a book about their strength, courage...and, in many cases, their improvements or even cures because of adult stem cell treatments.

This book is also about the...science behind these successes and the hope this science presents for the people you'll meet in the...pages [of this book], the ones waiting desperately for cures--and who've lost precious time during their wait.

And so this is not an easy book, emotionally or intellectually. Be prepared for hard stories. But also be prepared for exciting science and finally, for a clear-eyed view of medicine many decades in the making that is now paying off with treatments [for the entire human body].

These treatments aren't a science fiction author's far-fetched vision of the future. These are today's therapies, either currently used in hospitals or pushing their way through promising clinical trials."

The above comes from the introduction of this informative and inspirational book by (1) Robin Smith, MD, MBA (2) Max Gomez, PhD (neuroscience), and (3) Monsignor Tomasz Trafny. Smith is the President and serves on the Board of Directors of the Stem for Life Foundation. She is also the CEO and Chairman of the Board of Neostem Company. Gomez is an award-winning medical journalist who also serves on the Board of the Stem for Life Foundation. Trafny serves as official at the Vatican's Pontifical Council for Culture, head of Science and Faith Department.

The conditions covered in this book that can be treated using adult stem cells include heart and vascular disease, burns, brain trauma and stroke, psychiatric disorders, spinal cord injuries, neurodegenerative diseases (like Alzheimer's and Parkinson's), bone and connective tissue (tendons and ligaments) problems, ALS (or Lou Gehrig's Disease), MS, arthritis, autoimmune conditions (like Lupus), cancer, sensory impairments, and HIV/AIDS.

There are also chapters on organ regeneration and cosmetics. The final chapter is entitled "How to find safe stem cell therapies."

The entire book is easy-to-read. The science is made easy-to-understand. The real-life stories of people suffering from a disease but helped by adult stem cells are touching and inspirational.

Finally, I had a few problems with this book. I want to stress that these problems do not affect its readability:

(1) There is a printed address at the very beginning of this book by "His Holiness Benedict XVI." Immediately after this address is the book's Forword by the "President of the Pontifical Council for Culture." I had some serious concerns with these as they seem to be disjointed from the rest of the book. (I actually anticipated that I would have concerns with these essays so I read them after I had read the book proper. I'm glad I did. I strongly recommend that other potential readers do the same.)

(2) I winced when I read the qualifications of the lead author, Dr. Smith. She has an MBA, is a CEO and Chairman. This gives the impression that stem cells are going to be big business and thus be too expensive for those people (like myself) that can benefit from their healing power.

(3) I can see how two of the authors, Dr. Smith and Dr. Gomez, contributed to this book but I can't see how Msgr. Trafny contributed to it. Perhaps, he helped with the address and Forword.

(4) The late actor Christopher Reeve (who had a spinal cord injury) as well as actor Michael J. Fox (who has young-onset Parkinson's) and theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking (who has ALS) were/are highly visible proponents of stem cells. Yet, they're not mentioned in this book. Why?

(5) I had difficulties with the last chapter entitled (as mentioned above) "How to find safe stem cell therapies." I suspect the authors had a tough time writing it. The authors don't mention it but it seems to me that if you want to get safe stem cell therapies in North America you have to depend on luck. Why don't the authors just say this?

(I was especially interested in this chapter because I have a neurodegenerative condition called "cerebellar degeneration" or "cerebellar atrophy" and would like to participate in stem cell clinical trials for it. My profile on this site has more information.)

In conclusion, stem cells could potentially be the "greatest revolution in medical history" giving hope where only there was despair!!!

(First published 2013; address; forword; introduction; 18 chapters; main narrative 210 pages; acknowledgements; list of registered trademarks)

<<Stephen PLETKO, London, Ontario, Canada>>

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5.0 out of 5 stars The best writings of "Canada's nature authority" and "one of the continent's most remarkable men", Feb. 2 2015
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"The very foundations of our lives--air, water, photosynthesis, soil, and food--are made possible by the web of life that evolved on a once-sterile planet. Living organisms on land and in oceans--including us--create, cleanse, and regenerate those vital elements.

Who needs nature? We do.

Without nature, we would not be here.

HOW DO WE PUT AN ECONOMIC VALUE ON THAT?"

The above comes from one of the essays in this book by David Suzuki. He is a scientist, environmentalist, author, and broadcaster as well as a Companion of the Order of Canada. Suzuki is a recipient of UNESCO's prize for the Popularization of Science as well as a recipient of many other awards and honorary degrees.

This is a revised and expanded edition of Suzuki's writings (essays and articles) that have been written over a period of twenty-five years. In fact, this might be regarded as a definitive selection of his most thought-provoking scientific and insightful philosophical writings.

In these writings, there is an increased emphasis on the solutions to the many environmental problems that we face, Suzuki's inspiring vision for the future, and the legacy he hopes to leave behind. There is also more emphasis on the personal.

What I like about Suzuki's writing is that they are clear, concise, and he gets to the point quickly and efficiently. And you can be sure that any science presented is accurate and up-to-date.

This book is made up of eight sections. Each section has a cover essay that introduces the ideas of the "bite size" essays that follow in a particular section. Below I will state the name of a section, the number of essays in that section [in square brackets], and my favourite essay or essays (whose title(s) will be in quotation marks) in a particular section:

(1) Interconnections [22]: "Global Warming" and "IPCC report shows that climate change is critical"
(2) Economics and Politics [17]: "The hubris of global economics," "Endless growth--an impossible dream," "What is the value of something we can't live without?" and "True wealth"

(3) Science, Technology, and Information [11]: "The prostitution of academia," and "Why a warmer world won't be a better world"
(4) Science and Ethics [6]: "Political decisions require scientific literacy"

(5) A Bio-Centric View [13]: "The system and the ecosystem" and "Anti-environmentalists are stuck in the past"
(6) Leaders, Role models, and Success Stories [17]: "A woman in science," "Young people," and "A new kind of political leader"

(7) Life and Family [5]: "Lessons my father taught me are worth sharing"
(8) A Lifetime of Activism [6]: "Starting the David Suzuki Foundation" and "The declaration of INTERDEPENDENCE"

If I was to choose one favorite essay from this collection, I would choose "The Declaration of Interdependence." As of 2014, this essay has been translated into more than twenty languages.

Don't feel compelled to start with the first essay and then read each in sequential order. What I did was that I jumped around, choosing the essays that interested me, both within a particular section and between sections.

Finally, the only problem I had with this book is that the date a particular essay was published is not mentioned on the essay itself. As well, we are told that there are "new essays never published in a book" that are included in this book. These new essays are not indicated.

In conclusion, this is a definitive selection of David Suzuki's most thought-provoking scientific and philosophical writings. I leave you with five steps (of ten) developed by the David Suzuki Foundation that can be taken by ordinary citizens to reduce environmental impact:

(1) Choose an energy-efficient home and appliances.
(2) Eat meat-free meals once a week.
(3) Use transit, carpool, walk, or bike one day a week.
(4) If you buy a car, make sure it's low polluting and fuel efficient.
(5) Learn more about conserving nature and tell others what you have learned.

(Copyright 2003 and 2014; foreword; preface; 8 sections or 105 essays; epilogue; references; index; credits; The David Suzuki Foundation)

<<Stephen PLETKO, London, Ontario, Canada>>

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The Lost Boys (2-Disc Special Edition)
The Lost Boys (2-Disc Special Edition)
DVD ~ Jason Patric
Offered by Far Out Flicks - Kitchener Canada
Price: CDN$ 24.00
23 used & new from CDN$ 0.02

5.0 out of 5 stars All boys need a mother, Jan. 20 2015
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"We've been aware of serious vampire activity in this town for a long time. Santa Carla has become a haven for the undead. As a matter of fact, we're almost certain that ghouls and werewolves occupy high positions at City Hall."

The above is said by Edgar, one of the Frog brothers (Corey Feldman), in this absorbing horror/comedy movie. (The other brother's name is Allan. The Frog brothers were named after Gothic author, Edgar Allan Poe.)

Briefly, it's about two Arizona brothers, Michael (Jason Patric) and Sam (the late Corey Haim), who move to California and end up fighting a gang of teenage vampires headed by David (Keifer Sutherland).

This is not only a horror movie with vampires but is also a hilarious comedy. The ones that bring a comedic element to this movie are Sam (mentioned above), Grandpa (the late Bernard Hughes), Edgar (mentioned above), Lucy (Dianne Wiest), and Max (the late Edward Herrmann).

The special effects and background music are quite good.

The title of this movie is a reference to "Lost Boys," in the stories about Peter Pan and Neverland who, like the vampires, never grow up.

This film was followed by two direct-to-video sequels: "Lost Boys: The Tribe" and "Lost Boys: The Thirst."

Finally, this DVD set (released in 2004) has 11 extras. I found all of them to be good.

In conclusion, this is quite an entertaining movie that blends humour with comedy. One thing I learned from this movie is to:

Beware of those with bad breath.

(1987; 1 hr, 35 min excluding end credits; wide screen 2 discs; 32 scenes; rated `R')

<<Stephen PLETKO, London, Ontario, Canada>>

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The Secret Life of Sleep
The Secret Life of Sleep
Offered by Simon & Schuster Canada, Inc.
Price: CDN$ 19.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Everything you wanted to know about "death's counterfeit", Jan. 11 2015
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"Sleep that knits up the ravell'd sleeve of care,
The death of each day's life, sore labour's bath,
Balm of hurt minds, great nature's second course,
Chief nourisher in life's feast."

The above is what Shakespeare tells us about sleep (through his play "Macbeth").

Kat Duff updates what Shakespeare has to say about sleep through her well-researched and well-written book. Duff is an award-winning author and a "professional therapist." (We're not told what kind of therapist.)

This is a multifaceted book. This means the author drew upon many sources in writing this book:

Personal experience, scientific research, literary descriptions, autobiographies, myths, sleep and waking routines across cultures and eras, and spiritual traditions from around the globe.

Topics covered in this book include:

Falling asleep, sleep stages, insomnia, drugs that help you sleep, dreaming, waking up, phasing out sleep, and the future of sleep.

Finally, I only had two problems with this book:

(1) I felt there were too many personal anecdotes.
(2) There is no index. A wealth of important information is presented but there is no easy access to it.

In conclusion, I feel that this is a good book on an important subject. I'll leave you with two important quotes from this book:

(1) "Sleep is an occurrence that is so common, so habitual, so ubiquitous, we barely notice [it until...] its quality is deteriorating."

(2) "Our waking and sleeping lives require and inform each other, whether we like it or not."

(First published 2014; prologue; 17 chapters; main narrative 205 pages; acknowledgements; notes; recommended reading)

<<Stephen PLETKO, London, Ontario, Canada>>

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Criterion Collection: Scanners [Import]
Criterion Collection: Scanners [Import]
DVD ~ CRITERION COLLECTION: SCANNERS
Price: CDN$ 38.67
15 used & new from CDN$ 18.26

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "You are about to experience the outer reaches of future shock", Jan. 4 2015
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"I must remind you that the scanning experience is usually a painful one...sometimes resulting in nosebleeds, earaches, stomach cramps, nausea. Sometimes other symptoms of a similar nature."

The above comes from this absorbing sci-fi horror movie written and directed by David Cronenberg.

What is a scanner? "A freak of nature, born with a certain form of ESP. A derangement of the synapses which we call telepathy."

Cause: Unknown (but eventually revealed in this movie).

Number of Scanners on our planet according to this film: 237

This is a futuristic thriller, involving industrial espionage and intrigue, car chases, conspiracies, and shoot outs (including a grotesque scanner duel scene at the end). It has good special effects.

This movie displays Cronenberg's trademark combination of the visceral and the cerebral. As well, it is considered his breakout hit in the U.S.

I must warn you that the plot can be complex so it's imperative to watch closely. Very generally, the plot involves Darryl Revok (Michael Ironside), a renegade and tyrannical scanner, who is being hunted by another scanner, Cameron Vale (Stephen Lack).

This movie spawned sequels and spin-offs. Cronenberg had no involvement with these possibly because they move away from philosophical angles explored by this film.

This movie's budget was three and a half million dollars and its box office earnings, so far, has been over fourteen million.

Finally, the DVD set itself (released in 2014) has 8 extras. All of them are worthy of consideration.

In conclusion, I can't promise that this movie will blow you away but it might just cause your head to explode!!

(1981; 1 hr, 40 min excluding end credits; 2 discs, 12 scenes, wide screen, Criterion Collection, rated `R')

<<Stephen PLETKO, London, Ontario, Canada>>

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The Copernicus Complex: Caleb A. Scharf
The Copernicus Complex: Caleb A. Scharf
by Caleb A. Scharf
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 22.39
28 used & new from CDN$ 1.92

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Earth to Copernicus: "How DARE you call me mediocre!!", Dec 28 2014
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"The quest to find our cosmic significance, to resolve the conflict between our Copernican mediocrity and our specialness, will take us from the deepest history of the Earth to its farthest future, to planetary systems across our Galaxy, and from the great universe of astronomy to the microscopic universe of biology.

It's also going to take us to the cutting edge of scientific inquiry into our cosmic origins--an exploration being carried out through mathematical wizardry and cunning observations of nature. And it will lead us to an unwavering examination of the specific circumstances we find ourselves in, our place in the cosmos."

The above comes from the prologue of this book by Caleb Scharf. He is the director of the Columbia Astrobiology Center. Caleb is also a writer for various science publication such as "New Scientist" and "Scientific American."

For those that don't know, it was Nicolaus Copernicus (1473 to 1543) who proposed that the Earth revolves around the Sun and is not the center of the universe. Having demoted Earth to mediocrity, he set in motion a scientific revolution.

In this book, Scharf wants to show (as the book's subtitle tells us) "our cosmic significance in a universe of planets and probabilities." Actually, after reading this book, I found the word "significance" in the subtitle to be somewhat misleading. I feel the subtitle should have been "Our cosmic place in a universe of planets and probabilities."

The author covers the entire gamut in his discussion, from microbes within the Earth to life beyond the Earth, to extrasolar planets or exoplanets, probability theory, and beyond. His writing, I found, was engaging and perhaps most important, accessible.

As well, Scharf uses the latest scientific findings to help us reconsider where we stand in the balance between cosmic unusualness and cosmic mediocrity.

Finally, the author eventually gives us his final conclusion with respect to our place in the universe. He actually continues his discussion briefly after he makes his conclusion. I found the material after his conclusion to be quite interesting.

In conclusion, this book tests the limits of the Copernican Principle by asking the following question:

"Is the Earth's (and thus humankind's) position in the universe beyond just ordinary?"

(first published 2014; prologue; 8 chapters; main narrative 230 pages; notes; acknowledgements; index; a note about the author)

<<Stephen PLETKO, London, Ontario, Canada>>

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The Secret Life of the Brain
The Secret Life of the Brain
DVD ~ SECRET LIFE OF BRAIN
Price: CDN$ 62.99
21 used & new from CDN$ 24.94

5.0 out of 5 stars You don't have to be a "brain" to understand the brain!!, Dec 21 2014
This review is from: The Secret Life of the Brain (DVD)
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What is the brain? It's that part of the central nervous system encased within the skull.

This series explores the new map of nature's most complicated organ that has emerged from modern neuroscience.

There are five parts to this documentary:

(1) The baby's brain (49 min, 30 sec)
(2) The child's brain (51 min)
(3) The teenage brain (51 min, 30 sec)
(4) The adult brain (51 min)
(5) The aging brain (52 min)

The way this program proceeds (and the way medicine proceed generally) is to investigate what goes wrong with the brain at each of these stages of human life. Thus, the viewer learns about such things as premature babies, dyslexia, schizophrenia, addiction, post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, paralysis, Parkinson's disease, and Alzheimer's disease.

This five-episode documentary gets its information across through a mixture of personal histories, expert commentary, and excellent animation.

As you can imagination, a documentary on the brain can be quite complicated. What this documentary does is to give the most important information while concentrating on personal histories. The result? The viewer never feels bogged down with technical jargon and gets to focus on the personal histories (which I found to be quite interesting and absorbing).

Note that there are no subtitles but there is closed-captioning.

Finally the DVD set (released in 2002) has one extra: an interview with the director.

In conclusion, this documentary proves that you don't have to be a "brain" to understand the brain!!!

(2001; 4 hours, 15 min excluding end material and end credits; 5 episodes; 7 chapters per episode; 3 discs; wide screen, PBS)

<<Stephen PLETKO, London, Ontario, Canada>>

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A Rough Ride To the Future
A Rough Ride To the Future
by James Lovelock
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 26.10
6 used & new from CDN$ 13.71

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "We are not yet sufficiently intelligent to control or regulate ourselves or the Earth", Dec 14 2014
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"This is not a book about climate change and what we should be doing to [decrease] our carbon footprints - climate change comes into it, and the recent storms and inundations here in the United Kingdom and the cold breath of the polar vortex in North America remind us of that.

What I am excited about, and write about in this book is the extraordinary event that happened around 300 years ago, which put the world into flight to a destination where everything we now know about ourselves, the Earth, and the universe will be different."

The above comes from the introduction of this book by James Lovelock. He is an inventor, author, researcher, environmentalist, and futurist. Lovelock has been the recipient of many scientific awards and other honours. He is 95 years old and lives in southwest England.

Lovelock is best known for the Gaia hypothesis where the biosphere is a self-regulating entity with the capacity to keep our planet healthy by controlling the interconnections of the chemical and physical environment. (Gaia is named after the goddess of Earth in Greek mythology.)

This book is a departure for Lovelock since it does not deal exclusively with climate change.

It's difficult to pick out a central theme to this book despite what the quote above says and even though it begins with a chapter entitled "What this book is about" & ends with a chapter called "So what was it all about" to try and clarify.

Still, the general idea seems to be this:

Evolution has proceeded along at its slow and steady pace, until humanity came along. Equipped with a large brain and agile hands, we became inventors, and the process of evolution suddenly had a new dynamic. Beginning in 1712, an extraordinary invention came along and the rate of change to the planet increased exponentially resulting in the Earth never being the same again. "The emergence of this crucial period [3 centuries ago] may change the Earth and its future as much as did the origin of life more than 3 billion years ago."

Lovelock calls this "evolutionary inflation" and this has ushered in the "Anthropocene epoch." This name refers to "the recent period of the Earth's history when mankind began to exert a noticeable effect on the living environment."

The problem with this book is that while many of Lovelock's ideas are fascinating, the book as a whole fails to match their clarity. There are disconnected chapters. There are even auto biographical tidbits throughout making it clear that Lovelock has had a fascinating life.

I found these discontinuities, although interesting, somewhat distracting. Some people may even find this book a frustrating read.

Finally, two things rescue this book from irrelevance:

(1) It's free of dogma.
(2) It's original. That is, it is packed with ideas that nobody else is saying.

Thus, this book manages to be worth reading despite that it is somewhat rambling and at times, conflicted.

In conclusion, despite some problems, this book provides the reader with some interesting ideas on human beings' contributions to our planet.

(first published 2014; list of illustrations; acknowledgements; introduction; 10 chapters; main narrative 170 pages; appendix; further reading; index)

<<Stephen PLETKO; London, Ontario, Canada>>

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RoboCop (Bilingual)
RoboCop (Bilingual)
DVD ~ Joel Kinnaman
Price: CDN$ 5.00
16 used & new from CDN$ 1.00

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars They waited over 25 years to make this??, Dec 7 2014
This review is from: RoboCop (Bilingual) (DVD)
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This is a sci-fi action movie that is a remake (some say it's not a remake) of the classic 1987 film of the same name.

It is about a police officer named Alex Murphy (Joel Kinnaman) who becomes a cyborg police officer.

This movie has plenty of action and special effects as well as some big-name actors: Gary Oldman, Michael Keaton, and Samuel L. Jackson.

Unfortunately, this movie fails to make any significant improvements over the 1987 original. There is lack of violence, lack of biting social satire, and lack of character development. It just does not have the playfulness and wit of the original with its many underlying themes.

Some may see it as odd that I mention lack of violence. However, a movie of this type has to be violent especially at the beginning. Why? Because you have to be convinced that a man (in this case, Murphy) has to become a cyborg. In this movie, I was NOT convinced. As a result, the Robocop character seemed to be just a man in a fancy suit. (In the original movie, I was definitely CONVINCED that Murphy should become a cyborg.)

Another reason violence is needed is that you need to feel that Robocop is in danger. If he's not in danger, then the movie becomes boring. This is what happened with me. The movie became boring and as a result I lost interest in it quite fast. (I NEVER lost interest in the original.)

This movie chooses to focus on Murphy's relationship with his family after he becomes Robocop. I felt doing this made the movie drag. (In the original film, Robocop has only flashbacks of this family.)

It takes a skilled actor to show his humanity while in the Robocop costume. I did not feel that humanity coming through with Kinnaman playing Robocop. (In the original movie, the actor who played Robocop, Peter Weller, was able to superbly show his humanity while in the Robocop costume.)

There is no real main theme music in this movie. With the original, the theme music is unforgettable.

Finally, the DVD itself (the one released in 2014) has three extras.

In conclusion, this is a good action movie with equally good special effects and some big-name actors. However, it fails to make any significant improvements over the original 1987 classic.

(2014; 1 hr, 50 min excluding end credits; wide screen; 32 scenes)

<<Stephen PLETKO, London, Ontario, Canada>>

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The Tell: The Little Clues That Reveal Big Truths about Who We Are
The Tell: The Little Clues That Reveal Big Truths about Who We Are
by Matthew Hertenstein
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 19.31
33 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

5.0 out of 5 stars Explaining the power of people prediction!! OR How to become a big hit at your next party!!!, Nov. 30 2014
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"At the outset, I stated that [this book] isn't a self-help book that aims to assist you in making accurate predictions in your life...my main goal is to aid you in becoming a more sophisticated observer of others' non-verbal signals and appearance, as well as to show you the predictive capacities of the mind...

We've learned, for example, what TELLS in early life predict autism, how photographs betray others' personalities and aggressive inclinations, how smiling predicts marital stability, how micro-expressions signal deception, and how facial structure predicts companies' profits and even who wins political elections. I hope you're...impressed...by the number of domains in which TELLS can reveal something about past and future events."

The above comes from the concluding chapter of this interesting book by Matthew Hertenstein Ph.D. (psychology). He is now on the faculty of DePauw University (in Indiana).

So, what is a tell? It is "prediction based on observations of brief samples of others' behavior." (Yes, poker players rely on tells--mannerisms that can yield clues about an opponent's cards.) In other words, tells give us the ability to "read" people.

Tells are important because of their capacity for prediction and can help you answer such questions as:

(1) Who should I vote for to lead my city, state, and country?
(2) Is the person I want to ask out on a date interested in men or women?
(3) Is the person I see in a dark alley likely to assault me or help me if I trip and fall?
(4) Did my spouse actually work late last night, or am I being deceived?
(5) Is my infant going to develop autism?

Important to me was that Hertenstein drew on rigorous psychological research and even brain science to get his points across. Books like this can be stuffy and academic sounding but the author writes in such a way that I did not sense this, thus making for an enjoyable read. (To make his book even more enjoyable, Hertenstein has what he calls "Party-Worthy Findings" at the end of each chapter. Here's an example of one: "Most of us are virtually no better than chance at detecting the lies of others.")

Finally, the author reminds us to practice "predictive humility." Reading people via tells is not an exact science. Thus, our predictions may well turn out to be wrong.

In conclusion, this book explains the little clues that can reveal BIG truths about the people around us!! (As well, you may be a big hit at your next party after reading this book!!!)

(first published 2013; introduction; 4 parts or 10 chapters; conclusion; main narrative 180 pages; acknowledgements; notes; references--over 30 pages; credits; index)

<<Stephen PLETKO, London, Ontario, Canada>>

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