Showing posts with label book reviews. Show all posts
Showing posts with label book reviews. Show all posts

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Review: Blackballed: The Black and White Politics of Race on America's Campuses

Blackballed: The Black and White Politics of Race on America's Campuses Blackballed: The Black and White Politics of Race on America's Campuses by Lawrence C. Ross
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Ross delves deep into the racial politics on campus at a time when many different campuses are coming up against a generation of students who are calling out institutional racism with the resources to capture them and generate national conversations. Ross captures some of the complicated histories that many institutions and college campuses must grapple with and negotiate as more diverse populations arrive on campuses and refuse to be ignored or devalued. One of his most interesting discussions is around campus fraternities and the ways in which they directly and indirectly instill silence and isolation for African American students. It's a timely book that can help campus leaders consider how to improve their campuses and become more welcoming to populations that have historically been outright denied or exiled on campus.

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Thursday, February 16, 2017

Review: The Fireman

The Fireman The Fireman by Joe Hill
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Hill's new novel is a fun joyride into a post-apocalyptic world in which a new fungus has spread across the world. Once infect, the person develops a golden rash, known as dragon scale, which eventually leads them to burst into flames. Unsure about what to do with them, the government begins to quarantine and eventually kill them as they cause increasing hazards, setting entire areas of the country on fire. Enter Harper, a smart, caring, and pregnant nurse who gets the dragon-scale and is unsure what to do. Her husband believes he knows what best, let them both take a bullet to the head, but she wants to live for the child inside her. Along the way to her decisions, she meets the Fireman, a man that seems to get along with his infection and a whole camp of people who also manage to survive despite being infected. Overall, it's a fun novel and while I don't mean this in a diminutive or derivative way, this novel makes clear that Joe Hill is the offspring of Stephen King. Abusive and dominant partner, New England setting (with a fixation on Maine), unforeseen (but foreseeable) betrayal, batshit-crazy preacher, eclectic folks throughout, and several other King hallmarks make their appearance in this book. But Hill does well with it and takes up King's mantle in a way that shows he has the same skills as his father. Additionally, I listened to the audiobook which was narrated by Kate Mulgrew, who was largely enjoyable with the plot and characters, but occasionally bungled local pronunciations.

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Thursday, February 9, 2017

Review: The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness

The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Alexander delivers a brutal and systematic accounting of the ways in which US culture has continued to disenfranchise, alienate, and marginalize African Americans in the 20th and 21st century. Though she starts with the exploration of slave and post-slave society, she traces a variety of policies, practices, and laws within criminal justice on the local, state, and federal level coupled with explorations of public policy, economic policy, business and employment practices, sociological findings, and many other disciplinary research to paint a vivid tapestry of the legal language of colorblindness in many perpetuates drastic proportional inequalities between whites and African Americans in particular but other minorities as well. It's an eye-opening and excruciating look that can be hard to fully accept, especially for those that have never considered such things. She provides some ideas about how to fix it but just being able to name it so fully is the needed start. For anyone trying to understand the modern cultural landscape, racial politics, and what it means to try to succeed as an African-American in the US, this book is a must-read.

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Thursday, February 2, 2017

Review: Shortcut: How Analogies Reveal Connections, Spark Innovation, and Sell Our Greatest Ideas

Shortcut: How Analogies Reveal Connections, Spark Innovation, and Sell Our Greatest Ideas Shortcut: How Analogies Reveal Connections, Spark Innovation, and Sell Our Greatest Ideas by John Pollack
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Pollack explores the power of and importance of analogies in our personal and professional communication. It's a solid book to help one think about the ways we fall into traps around analogies and how we can construct substantial analogies to get our point across. I appreciated Pollack's ability to provide many examples that help show both the power and problem with analogies as well as the factors that go into making strong analogies. If you plan to do any work wherein you need to convince other people or provide guidance to others to understand an approach actions or ideas in particular ways, this book will provide you with a strong toolset to get it done.

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Thursday, January 26, 2017

Review: Reframing Academic Leadership

Reframing Academic Leadership Reframing Academic Leadership by Lee G. Bolman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Bolman's work does a good job of highlighting the many different challenges to leading in higher education with accessible prose and good examples or anecdotes to illustrate his points. He succeeds that problematizing the role of leadership in higher education and the many different ways there are to fail. What is provided is not a fool-proof guide, but a general map that shows readers where they are likely to fail and how best to recover. Additionally, a strong value that Bolman addresses that many other texts leave out is how to lead upward. Many texts focus solely on leadership from the top of the hierarchy but he spends a reasonable amount of time, guiding people moving upward.

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Thursday, January 19, 2017

Review: Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom

Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom by bell hooks
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It's a cliche to say that everyone should read a book. But I do feel like I'm coming to the game late in reading this book as an educator. I've always heard of hooks and her work with teaching and intersectionality but did not take the time to read her work. I'm quite glad that has changed and Teaching to Transgress is a great book that makes me think so much about my presence, my position, and my interaction in the classroom. Essentially, hooks gets the reader thinking about the nuance of student/faculty relations especially as it is constructed through social constructs such as race and gender. Some of the essays in this collection on face value seem removed from thinking about teaching, but in hindsight, it all fits together as hooks brings together her work as a writer, scholar, and educator along with her experiences as a student, an African-American, and a woman.


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Thursday, January 12, 2017

Review: Geeks Bearing Gifts: Imagining New Futures for News

Geeks Bearing Gifts: Imagining New Futures for News Geeks Bearing Gifts: Imagining New Futures for News by Jeff Jarvis
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I'm an admitted fanboy of Jeff Jarvis. His previous book, Public Parts, changed my understand about social media in profound ways and has helped me think differently about the Internet as a whole. Geeks Bearing Gifts follows as the ideological extension of Public Parts in that Jarvis lays out the challenges and the struggles of news media and how they should pivot towards newer strategies for considering what news is, how to deliver it, and how to maintain its legitimacy. He certainly offers many nuggets of wisdom on how news can and should improve while also providing some provocative thoughts on how news media fails and will continue to do so unless we reinvent what it means. People are likely to resist his message but in the face of a failed media landscape, they don't seem to offer other viable options.

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Thursday, January 5, 2017

Review: The News: A User's Manual

The News: A User's Manual The News: A User's Manual by Alain de Botton
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

de Botton's work offers up an interesting take on the news. It is both critical and prescriptive about the full potential of news. He identifies many of the shortcomings of news that can be seen across the world. He starts each chapter with a clip from some news source and proceeds to explore just the story is representative or invokes the issues that he is discussing in that chapter. He then moves into explaining how there are certain retrievable elements within the story and solid reasons why the "news" covers certain topics (such as celebrities) but teases out exactly how news should address such subjects for the purpose of serving the public good.

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Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Review: The Dark Forest

The Dark Forest The Dark Forest by Liu Cixin
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is the second book in a trilogy and I absolutely loved the first book and this second one is equally as compelling. It took me some time to get into it (I listened to the audiobook) because keeping track of the names was a bit tricky (it's translated from Chinese and names are not as familiar to me). The premise of the novel is that Earth has been made aware of an alien species that is set to come to Earth and destroy human life so that the alien life can prosper. It sounds pretty simple but Cixin crafts so many different layers about what this means, how this could happen, and why interplanetary dialogue is likely to be a very very tricky and problematic venture. The novel reads like an amazing and fascinating chess match among the main characters and the alien entities that I find myself for the first time in a long while impatient to read the final book in the trilogy. While I really enjoyed the first book in the series, this book proved even better.


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Thursday, December 29, 2016

Review: The 13 Best Horror Stories of All Time

The 13 Best Horror Stories of All Time The 13 Best Horror Stories of All Time by Leslie Pockell
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Overall, this is a solid representation of some great and classic horror authors. They have Lovecraft, Machen, Stevenson, Stoker, Poe, Le Fanu, Blackwood, and others. Classics like The Call of Cthulhu, The Great God Pan, and The Willows are perfectly chosen for this collection but then they throw away opportunities for great stories from other authors by offered in up The Bottle Imp by Stevenson which seems much less interesting in terms of horror than The Body Snatcher among others. Green Tea by Le Fanu was also much less enthralling than Camilla. However, if you want a solid introduction to some of the great horror writers in the 19th and early 20th century, this is a great place to start.

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Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Review: Understanding College and University Organization, Volume I: Theories for Effective Policy and Practice: The State of the System

Understanding College and University Organization, Volume I: Theories for Effective Policy and Practice: The State of the System Understanding College and University Organization, Volume I: Theories for Effective Policy and Practice: The State of the System by James L. Bess
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Ok, this is definitely not a sexy book by any means judging by the title, right? It was assigned by my instructor in my PhD program (and also, the author, Dee). However, it is actually a really solid breakdown of understanding higher education organizations (or disorganizations, no?). As textbooks go, it is accessible with its language, provides useful tools and resources for further consideration, and provides clear connections as it moves through each topic. One is never lost or feeling like the discussion is off the mark. It provides great examples and guiding questions that help readers better apply what they are learning. I highly recommend it to anyone trying to wrap their head around higher education and how it works (or doesn't).

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Thursday, December 22, 2016

Review: Social Media 101: Tactics and Tips to Develop Your Business Online

Social Media 101: Tactics and Tips to Develop Your Business Online Social Media 101: Tactics and Tips to Develop Your Business Online by Chris Brogan
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Brogan's look at social media is a rather useful book for those first coming to social media as well as those who are intermediate users to pick up some tips. He provides a lot of different ideas on how to grow your social media once you have determined what use(s) you have of social media. The book itself is adapted from numerous blog posts from his blog. Therefore, you can get various bits of his advice for free. He claims to clean it up for the book, but his interpretation of cleaning it up is pretty loose as he repeats many different concepts, sources, anecdotes and sites throughout the book. In fact, a conscious reduction of these repeated points could have shrunken the book by 1/3. That being said, there is handy content in the book worth reading.

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Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Review: The Graphic Syllabus and the Outcomes Map: Communicating Your Course

The Graphic Syllabus and the Outcomes Map: Communicating Your Course The Graphic Syllabus and the Outcomes Map: Communicating Your Course by Linda B. Nilson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Within the first chapter of this book, I already had a clearer picture of just what I should be aiming to do with a graphic syllabus that I was missing before. Nilson’s premise is clear and easy to understand (albeit, challenging to fully execute). Given that many people absorb much information visually and contextually, it doesn’t make entire sense to have a syllabus that is segmented into its different silos of: objectives, goals, assignments/assessments/readings. Her goal is to help the reader consider the ways in which one can depict how all these parts of the course fit together in the syllabus.

This is useful for two reasons. The first is that it helps the faculty member have a clearer sense of what he/she is assigning in terms of work and make sure it explicitly connects to objective and goals. This grants a clearer vision of what the instructor is doing. The other reason is that it gives students a stronger context of how it all fits together. Beyond just the “why do I have to take this course” questions, a graphic syllabus can instantly connect the student with context that clarifies questions of why as well as better understanding how information fits together for their growth within the course.

Nilson delves into a variety of issues and concerns about how to go about it and illustrates that there is good variation about how to do it. She provides readers with thoughts about how and why one might do it, but shows there are many ways to go about it. In particular, she provides dozens of graphic syllabi from previous courses (her own and others) in various disciplines to help stimulate ideas across departments. To help readers better envision their own syllabus in a new light, she regularly compares what a text syllabus looks like in contrast to the (same) graphically-enhanced syllabus.

Within the first two chapters, she already had me hooked and thinking differently about my own courses. I’m imagining a comic-book syllabus for my comic book course that would be “teaching” as one progresses through the different elements of the syllabus. But immediately, it helped me to reconsider that American Literature course I had created my first visual syllabus for. I’ve found that I like doing American Literature 1 by addressing different types of writing and moving through the significant pieces in chronological order. This works in many ways but is limiting because students will lack context (or forget) of how the different types of writings fit with one another. By thinking about Nilson’s ideas, it allowed me to craft something more meaningful for the students as you can see from the impromptu outline below.

And that’s probably the other element that I like about Nilson. She emphasizes that one does not need to be an artist to creating a graphic syllabus—nor does one need numerous programs and equipment. I did the image below in Excel. Both MS Word and Powerpoint have outline/mapping tools that you can utilize and master very quickly. You can go high-end (and she shows examples of such), but you can still be graphically rich and simplistic in the types of visual you use (Good thing too—I can’t draw a straight line with a ruler!).

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Thursday, December 15, 2016

Review: Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism

Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism by Benedict Anderson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Anderson's Imagined Communities is one of those books many people refer to for lots of reasons. It's an important book for consideration for history, cultural studies, sociology, anthropology, and even technology that facilitates social relationships. I've known the premise of it for a while but it was interesting to actually read it and see if chockful of various populations and historical moments that I hadn't even thought of being included in the concept of imagined communities. Equally interesting was Arnold's discussing of the publishing history of the book and how different publications in different cultures and languages rendered different meanings and relevance to those cultures. I can understand why so many find it a useful text to draw upon, particularly in the age of digital media wherein we identify with and act as parts of imagined digital communities and find numerous ways of connecting with people we both know and don't "know" because of it.

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Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Review: Specifications Grading: Restoring Rigor, Motivating Students, and Saving Faculty Time

Specifications Grading: Restoring Rigor, Motivating Students, and Saving Faculty Time Specifications Grading: Restoring Rigor, Motivating Students, and Saving Faculty Time by Linda Nilson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Nilson lays out a different approach to grading than what I have been doing most of my teaching career. She explains to readers the benefits and methods of developing specifications grading. Instead of grading along a continuum that doesn't necessarily capture or clarify what the student is able to do at the end of the course, she shows different ways in which you can create assessments that are clearly specified and graded on a complete/did not complete basis. It is--as most things--more difficult than it sounds and it will take time to create the specifications upon which to grade as they need to be clear and easy to follow, but I know what I will be doing for my next course. I generally provide strong guidelines for my assignments, but Nilson highlights the ways I can articulate through given assignments or assignment bundles, the means of accomplishing what it is that I'm looking for. Even if one doesn't switch to specs grading, Nilson gives a lot of food for thought about how you do assignments in general.

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Thursday, December 8, 2016

Review: Suspicion Nation: The Inside Story of the Trayvon Martin Injustice and Why We Continue to Repeat It

Suspicion Nation: The Inside Story of the Trayvon Martin Injustice and Why We Continue to Repeat It Suspicion Nation: The Inside Story of the Trayvon Martin Injustice and Why We Continue to Repeat It by Lisa Bloom
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Bloom provides a very strong analysis and discussion of the Trayvon Martin Case that would be essential reading for anyone looking to make sense of the various legal and cultural issues surrounding the case. She goes further to highlight how Martin's case is representative of the experiences of minorities--particularly African Americans--in our culture due to historical and cultural dynamics that perpetuate institutional racism. She notes that while there has been clear progress, there are also places where we have stagnated or neglected the complexities of race relations. Lisa Bloom's approach is sometimes a little over the top (such as when she creates courtroom dialogue to show how it should have gone), but overall, her argument is spot on.

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Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Review: Perchance to Dream: Selected Stories

Perchance to Dream: Selected Stories Perchance to Dream: Selected Stories by Charles Beaumont
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Beaumont is a fantastic teller of tales and many may already be familiar with him. A good chunk of his short stories eventually ended up as episodes on The Twilight Zone. This collection is filled with a great mixture of stories, many of which invoke the strange and quirkiness of the show. It's a well-chosen collection with something for everyone and many stories carrying a level of timelessness that makes them perfect. His focus is to entertain, not to be literary, yet an occasional tale achieves both. In many ways, this collection feels reminiscent of a contemporary of his, Richard Matheson. If you want a solid anthology to provoke your imagination, you can't go wrong with this one. Also, if you have the chance, opt for the audiobook; it's a rock-solid production.

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Thursday, December 1, 2016

Review: Furious Cool: Richard Pryor and the World That Made Him

Furious Cool: Richard Pryor and the World That Made Him Furious Cool: Richard Pryor and the World That Made Him by David Henry
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Furious Cool was a fascinating look into the life of Richard Pryor. I was somewhat familiar with his comedy and more familiar with him as an actor in a handful of movies I watched when growing up (e.g. See No Evil, Hear No Evil). However, the Henry brothers provide a rich history around Richard Pryor that marks him as one the best comics along with George Carlin. What I found most fascinating is how they are able to contextualize Pryor's work within the broader range of African American entertainment of the 1960s and 1970s and also mainstream culture while also being able to speak to the effects of his personal life around love and drugs that also filtered into his performances. The book is powerful enough that it is leading me to go back and watch some of the older Richard Pryor performances to see exactly what they were referring. What made the book equally chilling and fascinating was that I listened to it. It was narrated by Dion Graham who did some great impersonations of Pryor while also (as always) provided a strong narrative voice to keep me engaged.

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Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Review: Where You Go Is Not Who You'll Be: An Antidote to the College Admissions Mania

Where You Go Is Not Who You'll Be: An Antidote to the College Admissions Mania Where You Go Is Not Who You'll Be: An Antidote to the College Admissions Mania by Frank Bruni
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The most important statement I can say about this book is that every student should read this book in their freshmen or sophomore year of high school--yes, high school. Bruni's exploration into 3-Card Monte structure that is higher education when it comes to seducing students should be understood by all students as it has many long-term implications for them. Throughout the book, Bruni systematically breaks down the traditional mindset to aspire to elite colleges, noting how success in getting into them and success as a result of attending them is drastically overrated and over-played. He highlights a range of approaches and strategies that students should use to determine what form of higher education is best for them.

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Thursday, November 24, 2016

Review: With Amusement for All: A History of American Popular Culture Since 1830

With Amusement for All: A History of American Popular Culture Since 1830 With Amusement for All: A History of American Popular Culture Since 1830 by LeRoy Ashby
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Ashby's mammoth text (700 pages long; 33+ hours of listening on audiobook) was a fascinating and excellent discussing of popular culture that was great in terms of timing as I listening to it just as I was revising my online Popular Culture in the US course (You can see the course preview here or the course playlist here). Ashby covers a whole lot of content, arenas of popular culture, and events within popular culture. But equally important, he ties it together well as he drifts in each chapter from sports to reading to radio to television to other arenas. In reading it, you get a much fuller sense of mesh of intersections within popular culture while also a framework for understanding how it connects to the culture at large and history. Now, I just need to find a way to integrate the book within my own course.

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By Any Other Nerd Blog by Lance Eaton is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.