Book Review: Keep Sharp

Build a Better Brain At Any Age by Sanjay Gupta, MD.

Let me make this short and sweet.

This is a decent book if you’re new to reading or trying to understand about Alzheimer’s disease.

The 12-week programme steps are useful if you are a new to beginning an Alzheimer’s prevention programme, or if you’ve ignored every other bit of advice in the media this would be a useful series of exercises. You can read the reviews here on Amazon.

This is a so-so book with little new in it if you’ve been following the research or reading other books such as Bredeson’s The End of Alzheimer’s.

Table of Contents

Part 1: The Brain: Meet Your Inner Black Box

Introduction to Alzheimer’s and defining cognitive decline. The author lists 12 myths and offers advice on how to move past these common beliefs. (my note: pretty much available everywhere online)

Part 2: The Brain Trust: How Not to Lose Your Mind

If you’ve been reading about Alzheimer’s, there’s not much new here – eat right, exercise right, sleep right pretty much sums it up.

Part 3: The Diagnosis: What To Do and How To Thrive

I haven’t seen this kind of 12-step programme before so if you’re new to the field or seriously concerned, this would be a good starting point. (This would be the only reason I’d recommend this book – it’s a solid “thing” you can do if you’re concerned.)

Bottom line:

There’s not much new in the way of information but the 12-step programme would be useful if you’re just beginning your prevention programme. Check it out here.

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Book Reviews: ‘Steal Like An Artist’ and ‘Show Your Work’

“Steal Like An Artist” and “Show Your Work” are changing creator’s lives

Here are two book reviews you’re going to want to read if you’re in the creative adventure. I’ve known about Austin Kleon for what seems like a very long time. But, like a lot of things on the Net, his work slipped off my feeds on a technology change and I lost touch with what he was doing.

In cleaning up some other projects, I ran across his name again so I hunted down his website and RSS feed for my news reading system.  

I had read one of his earlier books “Steal Like An Artist” and even had the journal for this.  My search and rummaging through all my bookshelves for the book was in vain until something tickled my memory and I remembered I’d read it through the library.

I purchased the ebook version and reread it.  I found myself understanding it better and I liked it again and (a few years later) it spoke even clearer to me about how we grow from those we follow and those who have gone ahead of us.

The next book ‘Show Your Work’ was written in the same short, pithy, combination of text and graphics. (Note: neither of these books is heavy, long-term reading and you’ll only spend an hour and a bit on your first read-through.)

But if you spend some time thinking about what he’s saying, you may find – as I did – that you need to reread them and then rethink some of your own work.

The Message From ‘Steal Like An Artist’

The message from Steal Like An Artist is that it’s OK to take the basic ideas from another writer because there are no really new ideas left. It’s OK to take those ideas but create them in your own style and delivery system.

To illustrate the above, if the basic idea is “it’s good to have friends and to have friends you need to be a friend,” then how you create that message has to be uniquely yours. 

The underlying message is something we all understand and it’s been written/televised/cartooned/filmed before.

Now, in your turn, you’re creating that idea in your own media and your own words/images/story/medium etc.

And The Message From ‘Show Your Work’

And once done that, you’re ready to read “Show Your Work” because if the message of Steal Like An Artist is to borrow the basic idea, “Show Your Work” states you must then show “the how, the process, behind your creation.”

An example of this might be as I was writing my next book, I’d also write about the methods and processes that I used in researching, writing and promoting my book. It’s a call for transparency to readers/viewers that shows the work and humanity/struggle of the creator.

In Kleon’s framework, the audience truly wants to know the background thinking and work that goes into a creative act. 

Take people behind the scenes of your thinking, planning and work is the basic message. “Think process, not product.”

My Challenge With Book Reviews Of This Kind Of Book

I confess I’m intrigued with the thought of sharing some of the process of creating. The challenge for me is to decide how much and what to share on my various projects.

I’ll have to get back to you about this. Note you can read other posts about books right here

If you have a few moments, please share whether you think this kind of sharing is interesting in the comments below

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7 Books That Made Me A Full Time Writer

My passion for collecting and reading books knows no bounds

My passion for collecting and reading books almost knows no bounds and my wife and I haunt used bookstores and antique stores looking to fill in gaps in my collections. I have entire bookcases of history and science fiction books, and I’m only missing one or two titles in both the Hardy boys and Tom Swift Junior series to complete both.

As a full-time garden writer, my collection of old and valuable gardening books allowed me to write an award winning book about older garden books and their advice. I note I started collecting when prices were more reasonable than they are today.

But as a full-time writer for the last 25 years, I only have 15 books on writing.

The 7 books below are the most read, reread and marked up.

“On Writing: A Memoir Of The Craft”

Stephen King

This appears to be everybody’s favorite book for writers and prospective writers. I own a copy I’ve read it and yes, it’s motivating. It may not be one of my favorites and I can’t say my writing is better because I read it. But I’m drawn to it again and again and that may be its greatest benefit — an ongoing reminder of what it is like to be a writer.

Favourite Quote

“This is a short book because most books about writing are filled with bullshit. Fiction writers, present company included, little understand very much about what they do — not why it works when it’s good, nor why it doesn’t when it’s bad. I figured the shorter the book, the less the bullshit.”

I admire anybody who’d start a book off like that.

“Zen in the Art of Writing”

Ray Bradbury

This is an excellent book aimed at motivating writers and “how-to-be a better writer”. Bradbury’s use of the exercise of collecting words and making lists of them alone and in combination have driven some of his best writing. He describes taking several of these word lists as he combined words and produced classic stories. I note if you don’t want to collect the words yourself and do the exercise of associating them, you can download the app “Brainstormer” (to Apple App Store)

Bradbury is the writer I’d like to be ‘when I grow up’. He’s written everything from pulp magazines and books to movies and theatre and is likely best known for Fahrenheit 451.

Favorite Quote

“Thomas Wolfe ate the world and vomited lava. Dickens dined at a different table every hour of his life. Molière, tasting society, turned to pick up his scalpel, as did Pope and shop. Everywhere you look in the literary cosmos, the great ones are busy loving and hating. Have you given up this primary business as obsolete in your own writing? What fun you are missing them.”

“Creating Short Fiction”

Damon Knight

If you’re at all interested in writing short stories, this would be my most highly recommended book. Knight leads you through story building, situations, characters, and if you’ll come away from this 197 page book with a far better understanding of how to craft a short story.

Favorite Quote

“The most valuable thing you can learn is how to use your own experiences that help you project yourself in imagination into the lives of other people. Write what you know, by all means, when you can, but fill in the spaces by finding out what you need to know.”

“The Anatomy of Story: 22 Steps to Becoming a Master Storyteller”

John Truby

This is perhaps my most marked up book with a significant number of Post-it notes and do-not-lose-this page notes. The one thing that he does is give you a 22 step story structure and while this is essentially a movie structure it is easily adaptable for novels. I note other how-to-write authors are adapting what he’s written to their own how-to books.

Favorite Quote

“Remember the simple rule of thumb: to have a moral need, the character must be hurting at least one other person at the beginning of the story.”

Writing Tools: 55 Essential Strategies for Every Writer

Roy Peter Clark

Again I’ve heavily marked up and made notes in my copy of this book. I consider it one book you should seriously add to your library.

Favorite Quote

“Active verbs move the action and reveal the actors.
Passive verbs emphasize the receiver, the victim.
The verb “to be” links words and ideas.”

That pretty much sums up that issue.

Self-Editing for Fiction Writers: How to Edit Yourself Into Print.

Rennie Brown and David King

This was one of the first how-to books on writing that a friend recommended I read. The highlights in this book are the numerous checklists and exercises. 
Before you get to your third and final draft, it’s an excellent idea to review this book and apply its lessons.

Favorite Quote

“So when you come across an explanation of a characters emotion, simply cut the explanation. If the emotion is still shown, then the explanation wasn’t needed. If the emotion isn’t shown, rewrite the passage so that it is.”

Techniques Of The Selling Writer

Dwight V. Swain.

From the back cover: “This book provides solid instruction for persons who want to write and sell fiction, not just to talk and study about it.”

This is an excellent book for structuring your stories and for understanding what makes a story and how you go about creating it.

Favorite Quote

“Actually, the happy ending is infinitely less important than the satisfying ending. Given reader fulfillment, you don’t necessarily have to close with a clinch, the Marines landing, or the villain snarling, “foiled again!”
Forget the phony, therefore. Distortion of reality will get you nowhere. What your reader seeks is less nirvana than the feeling, “this is as it should be.”

Again, while I have other books about writing on my shelves including Robert Mckee’s “Story”, “The Chicago Manual of Style”, and an old copy of Strunk and White, the seven books above have formed the foundation for my writing career.

I hope they help you as well.

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Book Review: The End of Alzheimer’s

“The first program to prevent and reverse cognitive decline”

I won’t bore you with the statistics about Alzheimer’s disease, suffice to say the numbers are growing and as the baby boomer generation approaches the age when Alzheimer’s begins to emerge, the numbers will be horrifyingly large.

From a personal point of view, I am within that baby boomer generation and to make matters worse, Alzheimer’s runs on one side of my family. As you might imagine, this has sharpened my focus on the disease and the prevention of it. So when I saw this book pop up on Amazon, there was no question that I was going to buy it. And, I am delighted that I did.

A very quick summary would be that Dr. Bredesen, in his lab at UCLA, has identified 36 molecular variables that can, when combined, create Alzheimer’s in any individual. Those of us with a genetic predisposition will be more likely to have some of these variables go active.

The important thing about this book is that it is scientifically, testable, and all 36 variables can be measured.

And once measured, solutions to all of these can be found.

Table Of Contents

Part One: The Alzheimer’s Solution

1: Disrupting dementia
2: Patient zero
3: How does it feel to come back from dementia?
4: How to give your self Alzheimer’s: a primer

Part Two: Deconstructing Alzheimer’s

5: Wit’s End: from bedside to bench and back
6: The God Gene: three types of Alzheimer’s disease.

Part Three: Evaluation and Personalized Therapeutics

7: The Cognoscopy: where do you stand?
8: ReCode: reversing cognitive decline
9: Success and the social network: to people’s daily routines.

Part Four: Maximizing Success

10: Putting it all together: you can do it
11: This is not easy — workarounds and crutches
12: Resistance to change

And not to put too fine a point on it, there are a great many other things that Radisson agrees with traditional medicine when he says that controlling variables such as stress, and a regular exercise program are critical in pushing back against Alzheimer’s.

Personal Note re Alzheimer’s:

Having all of the tests done is expensive. ($C 4K in 2018) But, given my family history, I took the money and on a recent trip to the US, I worked with a functional medicine physician and had the tests done. Note while I went “all in” my physician indicated there were some that “might’ be avoided because of the cost.

I am not able to describe the feeling of relief when the tests came back with few problem areas.

To be sure, there were some things that needed improvement but I was under the number of variables that indicated the disease was well established. And, by adding three supplements to my daily list, I could drive the test results to almost zero.

But what this means is that I have to maintain my fitness regime, my meditating, and have this testing done every few years to ensure I’m still on track to avoid mental degradation.

You can read the reviews and find the book here on Amazon

I note that fitness and meditation are recommended for a wide variety of anti-aging medical conditions.

From my point of view, the $4K was money well spent. And I know my mom would approve. (at 91, she’s had Alzheimer’s of increasing severity for over 16 years now and is in a nursing home) I do not want to go down that road and if you’ve ever had one of your loved ones take this journey, you too will recognize what level of commitment you’d make to avoid it for yourself.

The bottom line is that I would recommend this book highly to both potential patients and their families.

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The End Of A Great Power: Two Books

If you’re interested in entering the discussion about why the American empire is in danger of collapsing, these two books will serve as a beginning primer.

The End Is Always Near

Apocalyptic Moments, From the Bronze Age Collapse to Nuclear Near Misses
Dan Carlin (Pub 2019)
Carlin is the host of the immensely popular podcast, Hardcore History,  and this book is an extension of some of his podcasts.

His central thesis in all of this is:

  • The more states increase their power, the more of their resources they devote to maintaining it
  • The capacity to engage in war/conflict with another power depends on the level of resources needed to win and/or maintain the existing empire.
  • States/empires begin to fail when they have to borrow money to maintain their empire and the conflicts.
  • When they run out of borrowing power, they fail.
    He writes in an engaging manner and the fact he’s using his podcast transcripts may account for some of this professionally relaxed voice in his writing.

He illustrates his thesis with specific moments both from ancient history and the near nuclear misses of the modern era.

The book is well worth the quick read of 246 pages (Amazon).

He also gives a reasonable number of “further resources” to read in the index for every chapter.

If you’re looking for a fast read and an enjoyable one to understand this subject, I’d highly recommend this book.

But Having Said That

This book was preceded by:

The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers

Paul Kennedy (Pub 1986)

This book is far more complete in explaining the same thesis but it shifts time frame away from the (mostly) ancient world of Carlin’s book to the years 1500 to 2000.

The New York Times reviewer had this to say:

“He expands his thesis in the introduction and epilogue. It can be easily summarized: The more states increase their power, the larger the proportion of their resources they devote to maintaining it. If too large a proportion of national resources is diverted to military purposes, this in the long run leads to a weakening of power. The capacity to sustain a conflict with a comparable state or coalition of states ultimately depends on economic strength; but states apparently at the zenith of their political power are usually already in a condition of comparative economic decline, and the United States is no exception to this rule.

Power can be maintained only by a prudent balance between the creation of wealth and military expenditure, and great powers in decline almost always hasten their demise by shifting expenditure from the former to the latter. Spain, the Netherlands, France and Britain did exactly that. Now it is the turn of the Soviet Union and the United States.”
Archives of the New York Times

In other words, pretty much what Carlin says. This book is far more dense — as befits a book written by an academic — 540 pages with an extensive index of further reading. Check it out here at Amazon

The Significant Difference Between The Two Books

Kennedy took quite a bit of flack for the last 30 pages or so where his publisher asked him to comment on the decline of the American empire (remember written in 1986 only 10 years after Vietnam) and he did so with the same set of criteria of military engagement and financial management. This drew significant argument from some economists and politicians.

Carlin does not deal with the American situation.

The Bottom Line

If you want to read an engaging book on the subject, read Carlin’s book. I’d recommend this if you’re at all interested in history and understanding how and why some of these amazing civilizations fell.

Kennedy’s book is far more complete — focussed on a more modern era — and is a bit of a slog to get through it unless you’re a serious student of history.

A Personal Note:

A quick review of online comments shows many commentators (particularly those in the U.S.) do not agree with either Carlin or Kennedy when the books would suggest the the American empire is in danger of failing. There are those who suggest the characteristics of ancient empire failures do not apply to a modern world and its economic models.

I have no deep background to comment on the intricacies of modern economics.

What I do have is my Scottish grandmother’s saying, “The piper must be paid.” 

(Every Scot knows the piper is always paid for playing — in coin or drink.)