Thursday, November 29, 2018


THEM: Adventures With Extremists, by Jon Ronson

I've been on a bit of a Ronson spree, I guess, even though I didn't know anything about him until I'd already started.  I knew Ronson as the author of So You've Been Publicly Shamed, a book I liked.  I got this one off the donation table, and then another, and only when I was almost done with them did I find out that he also wrote The Men Who Stare at Goats and is apparently quite well known -- just not to me.  Wikipedia calls him a gonzo journalist who assumes a "faux-naif" persona in his writing.

This is Ronson's second book, written over some time and published in 2001, "a snapshot of life in the Western world on September 10, 2001," when he thought all these people he was interviewing were getting very dramatic over nothing much and nothing would really happen.  By the time he wrote the foreword of my 2002 edition, things looked different.  And now, in 2018, they look different again.

Each chapter covers a different eccentric paranoiac sort of person, but there's also a common thread linking them and Ronson sometimes circles back to people.  

He starts with Omar Bakri Mohammed, one of the UK's loudest and most extreme Islamicists, and portrays him as a very strange guy -- exactly as you'd expect in public, but weirdly friendly and enthusiastic in private.   Then he visits people in connection with the Ruby Ridge disaster (an incident that shows the US government's talent in growing its own enemies).

After that, we're ready to jump into the deep waters of theories held by several different extremist groups -- such as the Bilderberg Group.  Is it a group of high-powered people who like to get together and discuss business and democracy (on the assumption that tyranny gets in the way of business), or it is a secret cabal of world rulers who direct every war, every disaster, everything that happens?  And all this is tangled up with anti-Semitism.  As Tom Lehrer said, "...and everybody hates the Jews!"*

In fact, a lot of this stuff is so intertwined with anti-Semitism that it can be hard to pin down just what the deal is.  Are these folks using code words, or are some of them not?  Ronson is himself Jewish, and winds up in some interesting situations.  (Jihad camps, KKK meetings...) He meets up with the Anti-Defamation League, many of which think David Icke doesn't really believe in lizard aliens, he just means Jews -- though a meeting with Icke's people starts to convince them that Icke really does believe in lizard aliens.

So, yep, we also meet David Icke.  And a couple of KKK leaders, one of whom wants to revamp the KKK image in a friendlier, non-hatey fashion.  And Ian Paisley on a preaching tour in Africa (I had no idea).   And Alex Jones, who is still going strong today.  It was interesting to me to read about a sort of early version of Jones; I never heard of the guy till about 2010, when I went to my high-school reunion and discovered that my prom date had become a 9/11 Truther, anti-vaxxer, and Jones fan (he has since left Jones behind as far as I know, and is now a flat-earther).  So that was a surprise.

The final climax is a wowzer.  Ronson gets together with a couple of people -- and then Alex Jones wants to go along -- to 'infiltrate' an annual gathering in Bohemian Grove in Northern California, where the elite mingle and, er, sacrifice to a giant stone owl?  Well, where Alex Jones sees devil-worship, Ronson describes -- or at least it sounds to me like -- a Victorian's idea of a Shakepearean revel, in which the actors banish Care.  It sounds more like old-fashioned fraternal order stuff than anything else.  Jones' video is found here at this Washington Post article, you can watch the whole thing if you want.

A very interesting read, with lots to think about.  Feels both outdated and completely relevant.


*From Tom Lehrer's song "National Brotherhood Week" -- give it a listen if you're not familiar with it.

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

The Spin number is here

The Spin number was given out this morning, and it's....

This number has the appropriate feel, I think
Oh, waily waily! as the Nac Mac Feegle would say.  My title -- for a very jolly Christmas read -- is Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment, the newish Oliver Ready translation, which I've actually been quite excited about, but I'm not too sure about reading it over Christmas.  It's not exactly cozy.

I feel like the bosun in Tim's Last Voyage.  I don't know if you're familiar with the Little Tim books by Ardizzone (if you're not, you should be!), but in this one, a terrible storm engulfs the ship where Tim is signed on as a cabin boy.  The bosun takes to his room in a cowardly manner and unhelpfully howls "Doom" at everybody.

The funny thing is that I'm always putting a book I'm scared of into the #1 spot, on the obviously untenable and mathematically illiterate grounds that it's somehow less likely than the others.  Brona informs me that this is the THIRD time the Spin has landed on #1, and last time it got me Faulkner's Light in August, which I hated.  I do at least like Dostoevsky!  Next time, I'll put something ridiculously easy in that #1 spot.

Sunday, November 25, 2018

An Autumn Riffle of Reviews

I now have seven books sitting in front of me to review, and some of them were read well before the fire.  Now I can barely remember them.  So, I'm going to do quickie reviews of all of them, and consider that a fresh start to the winter season.

The Infernal Library: On Dictators, the Books They Wrote, and Other Catastrophes of Literacy, by Daniel Kalder:   Oh boy, this was not to be missed!  How do you pass up that title?  Kalder gives us a tour of the terrible, awful literary productions of 20th century dictators, from Lenin on down.  The material is no fun, but he helps the reader survive with a large dose of wit.  The big names go first, with Mao taking up quite a lot of space, but there's room for a whole lot of less-famous dictators, such as Salazar of Portugal and Hoxha of Armenia.  Everybody felt the need to write books that would dictate how the world should work: Gaddafi wrote the Green Book, Saddam Hussein wrote allegorical romance novels (!), and we finish off with the surreal contribution of the Ruhmana in Turkmenistan.

There is so much that is quotable, so much to fascinate, but it's been too long and I'm not up to writing the post this book deserves.  I will only quote the early Bolshevik Tkachev, who "told his sister that everyone over the age of twenty-five should be killed, as they were incapable of self-sacrifice." 


The City & The City, by China Miéville:  Guess what -- China Miéville is a dude, who knew?  This was my first Miéville novel, and I read it because Chris at Calmgrove thought it was great and it sounded interesting.  It's a hard-boiled urban detective novel, with Inspector Borlú after a murderer....except that Borlú lives in Besźel, and the victim was from Ul Qoma, Besźel's sister and rival city.  The two cities occupy the same space, perhaps in two dimensions?  But for one to acknowledge the other is Breach, the worst crime of all.

It's a fascinating concept and leaves the reader with Questions that I suppose should not be answered.  (The longer I read, the less sure I was that there were two cities.)  I really, really enjoyed the semi-Eastern/Southern European setting, maybe between Romania and Bulgaria?  A gripping story and setting; I wanted more.

It turns out that the BBC made a TV series of this novel just earlier this year; has anybody seen it?  

The Aleph, and Other Stories, by Jorge Luis Borges:  I really like Borges' short stories (as who does not?), at least, I liked Labyrinths, and now I've enjoyed these too.  They are very much in the same vein, which is all to the good, and I'm not sure what else to say about them now.  I particularly enjoyed "The Zahir," "The Immortal," two consecutive stories about labyrinths, and "The Aleph."  There is also a collection of short pieces that are not stories, just...bits and bobs.  Very good stuff.

Greenmantle, by John Buchan:  I was looking to finish off my Back to the Classics Challenge, which requires a classic crime novel.  My problem is that I read Sayers, Marsh, Christie, and the other classic Golden Age mystery authors a lot.  It was hard to find one I haven't already read several times over -- I'm good at forgetting who the murderer is.  But I also had the four Richard Hannay adventures -- The Thirty-Nine Steps is the famous one, which I've read twice, so I figured on reading Greenmantle, the next adventure.  Being set in WWI, it seemed appropriate for the 100th anniversary of Armistice Day, and also it was something I could focus on while the fire was going on and I was sick.

It's 1915, and Hannay is called from the front to go on a spy mission with two companions.  The Germans are going to raise the Middle East with some secret weapon they have, but there are only a couple of clues.  What could it be?  If the Germans succeed, the war will be lost.  Each companion sets out across Europe to see what he can find out.  They'll meet at Constantinople to share their discoveries.

It's a fun adventure novel, as long as you can take the constant theme of the down-to-earth, honest Englishman up against a host of national stereotypes.  It's like living in Captain Hastings' head.  In fact, I'd bet money that Christie was poking fun at the Hannay type with Hastings!  It hasn't aged all that well.  But it was kind of fun to read one of the prototype spy novels.

The Glass Bead Game, by Hermann Hesse: At last, I have finished it!  I started in October, in response to the Classics Club's dare to read a scary book -- one that scared me.  I've been wanting to read this for a couple of years, but I was also pretty intimidated.

In the 23rd century, society has split its scholars off into their own province of Castalia.  At the price of living like monks without religion, these men (they're all men for some reason) can live lives of pure research and learning.  The crown of their world is the Glass Bead Game, in which they use symbols to express ideas, making beautiful patterns and paradoxes.  (The glass beads were replaced by symbols long ago.)  This book purports to be a collection of documents gathered by Castalians even further in the future, describing the life and works of Joseph Knecht, a brilliant scholar who rises to become the Magister Ludi, the Master of the Game.  And then...he quits.

It's very long, and interesting to read, but strange.  I'm not sure it's exactly a novel.  I liked it, though, and better than Siddhartha or Steppenwolf.

True Grit, by Charles Portis:  I've never read a western!  I had no idea that the protagonist would be a 14-year-old girl who heads out to avenger her father's murder.  Mattie is awesome.  Portis gives her this great voice; she's narrating as an old lady telling what she did as a girl, and she is both a prim  Victorian and a tough frontier girl with a head for business.  Mattie hires a marshal to hunt her father's murderer into Indian Territory, but to his horror, she insists on going along to see that things are done properly.  This is a great story that deserves its place as a modern classic.  Now I think I'd quite like to see the movie from a couple years ago.

The Chronicles of Pantouflia, by Andrew Lang:  This was a fun read.  Andrew Lang was the fellow who collected and edited the Color Fairy Books -- you know, the Blue Fairy Book and so on.  (Why yes, I do own them all.)  He also did pretty good collections of King Arthur and Robin Hood -- a little more difficult in language than Roger Lancelyn Green's excellent books, but not as annoyingly full of varlets and forsooths as Howard Pyle's.

Well, Lang also wrote some comic fairy tales: first, the story of Prince Prigio, who was given the gift of knowing too much for everybody else's tastes.  Prigio is the most annoying know-it-all kid you ever met, and doesn't believe in magic despite living in a fairy-tale kingdom.  Then, the story of Prigio's son Riccardo, a boy of action and daring who depends too much on the magical tools inherited from his father.  They're quite funny, and remind me very much of E. Nesbit's fairy tales as found in the Book of Dragons or the Magic World.  I think I got this free on Kindle, or for practically nothing.

Phew!  If you've stuck around this long, thank you for your patience.  We shall now continue with the regular booky posts as we head into December.  Time to wrap up the 2018 challenges and get ready for 2019 reading! 

Monday, November 19, 2018

Classics Club Spin #19!

Oh, how I love a Spin, and boy I could sure use one right now.  So let's do it!  The newly-renovated Classics Club is hosting a special chunkster edition of its Spin:

On Tuesday 27th November, we’ll post a number from 1 through 20. The challenge is to read whatever book falls under that number on your Spin List, by 31st January, 2019

Yes, you read that date correctly: the 31st January 2019!

This is an extra special, super-dooper CHUNKSTER edition of the Classics Club Spin. We challenge you to fill this spin list with 20 of those HUGE books you’ve been putting off reading because you didn’t have enough time. With this spin we are giving you the time  – nearly 10 weeks in fact – to tackle one of those imposing tomes on your classics shelf.

This is an excellent plan.  I usually put very few chunksters on my Spin lists because the time is short (but I always put a few, because Danger is my middle name!).  So here is my Terrifying Chunkster Spin List:
  1. Crime and Punishment, by Dostoyevsky
  2. Dred, by Harriet Beecher Stowe
  3. The Adventures of Roderick Random, by Tobias Smollett 
  4. Tales of the Narts (Ossetian myths) 
  5. The Female Quixote, by Charlotte Lennox 
  6. Light of Truth, by Ida B. Wells
  7. Grapes of Wrath, by John Steinbeck
  8. Les Miserables, by Victor Hugo
  9. The Journal of a Tour Through the Hebrides, by Boswell
  10. Demons, by Dostoyevsky
  11. Lorna Doone, by R. D. Blackmore
  12. Tales of the Marvellous and News of the Strange (Medieval Arabic stories)
  13. Our Mutual Friend, by Charles Dickens 
  14. Stories by Walter de la Mare (v. 1)
  15. Sky Loom (a collection of Native American myths)
  16. The Claverings, by Anthony Trollope  
  17. And Quiet Flows the Don, by Sholokov
  18. The Golden Bough, by James Frazer
  19. Russian Folktales collected by Afanas'ev (v. 1)
  20. The Bride of Lammermoor, by Sir Walter Scott 
I can see that I've been neglecting Victorian novelists, Russian, and folktale collections!  Long live the Spin!

Another update

Hi folks, I guess I ought to start getting back to books, but before that I want to talk a little bit more about the news around here.  The fire is still not fully contained, but they've been gaining about 5% a day, which is amazing to me.  As far as I can tell, tremendous efforts by both firefighters and townsfolk have saved Stirling City (though I don't think the danger is entirely over there).  We're supposed to get heavy rain starting tomorrow, which is both a blessing and a problem; it will help tremendously and lessen further fire danger, but it will also produce a lot of toxic sludge, which will enter streams, and without healthy plants to hold the soil down, there may be mudslides.  There doesn't seem to be any way to stop those things from happening.

They're starting to let people in a little teeny bit, but mostly they're still looking for the dead and surveying the damage.  There are still lots of people who don't know whether their homes are there or not.  And still hundreds of people in shelters.  The Walmart camping town was supposed to be dismantled yesterday; with the impending rain, it's not safe, and there are more real shelters now, so they're trying to get everyone into a real place with a roof and a bed and a proper bathroom.

The smoke has been terrible.  The other day, we had the worst air quality in the world, with AQIs of over 500.  Yesterday we saw blue sky in the morning, and today it looks much better.  I took a walk!  Outside!  Still with a mask on, but, outside!  It's still really important to wear a mask; there is so much weird gunk in the air, not just woodsmoke.  When it starts raining tomorrow, it will be nice to have it washed out of the air...but they're already issuing warnings about how filthy the rain will be.

The other reason I was so thrilled to be outside this morning is that I went down the other day with the tummy bug that's been going around.  Luckily it's short-lived, so I was utterly miserable for one day, wobbly for another, and then pretty human again.  I was still technically contagious on that third day, though, so I only re-entered the world yesterday.  Mostly I feel lucky that I've got a house to be miserable in, instead of a tent.

I'm off work for another week -- my college is determined to open on Monday, despite some damage on campus, tons of ash, and hundreds of displaced students and faculty/staff.  They've been working hard to help students with massive needs and make sure they'll get credit for their courses.  The K-12 schools have a little more leeway and have decided to stay closed for an extra week after that.  Figuring out how to squish 5000 displaced children into new schools is a tricky prospect, and there is an effort to attract outside funding for 100 portable classrooms.  You can donate to the school fire fund here.

One funny thing has happened; our county sheriff has now been through so much (the near-failure of the dam, a different fire, the Trivia Bee, this awful thing) that people have started making Chuck Norris memes about him.  So that's my illustration for today's post:

Monday, November 12, 2018

Fire update

Hey folks, I thought I'd post a little update in case you're interested.  The fire is still spreading, and it's jumped the river at a spot I think everybody was hoping would stay contained, so that's not good.  It's also heading towards more small communities.  But it has, at least, slowed for the moment.

Regular citizens are not yet allowed up to Paradise -- there are downed trees and power lines all over the place -- but we are getting some news about what has and has not been preserved.  We were happy to hear today that the public library up there is still intact, which is good news as it can serve people in many ways during whatever rebuilding will happen.  Otherwise, the news is mostly bad -- you can see videos all over Facebook, and they're devastating.  I know a lot of people who have confirmed that their houses have gone, and one who knows it's still there.  Others just don't know yet.  And we have over 40 confirmed dead; that number will continue to rise.

Housing is going to be a serious problem.  They're saying that 15% of the housing in our county is gone.  Even with squishing, and some people simply not coming back, we can't house everybody.  I hear they're bringing in temporary housing.  Right now a lot of people are still at large shelters, some are camping in parks (or the Walmart parking lot, which now has an RV town), or staying with host families.  You have to understand, Paradise was a pretty low-income town and had a large number of elderly residents as well.  A lot of people won't be able to afford rentals in Chico, or to rebuild.  And of course many of them have lost their jobs too.

Here's a photo of me and the kids today as we went out and ran some errands.  Wearing a properly-rated face mask is super-important; the air is full of gunk.

A buddy is calling this #CaliStyle
I've mentioned before that I work at a community college, and it so happens that the campus was placed in the middle of nowhere, pretty well equidistant from all three of the main towns in the county.  It's currently being used as a staging area for the firefighters, and it nearly burned too.  So the power is off, there's damage to the water and sewer lines, there's ash everywhere...they're going to aim at two weeks to get everything up and running again, but it's hard to say.  Worse, well over 100 faculty and staff are now homeless, and goodness knows how many students.  So they're still figuring out how to make things work -- as are all the schools, even if the campuses weren't in physical danger.

 There is plenty to do related to the fire, but nothing else.  Tomorrow, our high school is hosting a get-together for teens -- there will be 'shopping,' gift cards, and the band is hoping to have Paradise band kids come to a party.  I'll also be sorting books for shelters instead of for the book sale, especially kids' books.  My quilt guild has scheduled some marathon sewing sessions and has probably made a goal to give everybody a quilt.  My church is acting as a one-stop everything shop, offering help with paperwork, professional counseling, free food and clothes, and coordinating host families.  Every organization in town is doing anything anybody can think of.

If by any chance you'd like to help, it's money that is needed.  BUT you have to be careful; GoFundMes are proliferating, but they aren't all legitimate.  Scammers have been using real victims' names to start fundraisers.  So, it's important to verify the authenticity of any fundraiser, and I'd advise using the large, official ones if you don't actually know the people involved.  For example, this Camp Fire Fund between a local bank and the TV stations.  Or this fund for the many students at my college who are now homeless, started by the college president.

Well, that is a long and depressing post, but it seems like some folks might be interested.

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Life intervenes

I was all ready to post about some great books I've been reading, especially this one non-fiction title, but right now blogging about books is the last thing on my mind, so I thought I'd post something to let you all know what's going on.  We are just fine, but nobody else around here is...

Thursday morning a small wildfire sparked up on the ridge -- I live in a valley, but tucked up near the start of the mountains -- and it spread so fast.  This fire just exploded, and it turned out to be the Big One we all worried would come some day.  The winter rains haven't started yet, and everything is extremely dry.  Our lovely little neighbor town of Paradise was pretty well destroyed, while people escaped as fast as they could.  By evening, the fire was reaching the edges of our town too, but it's much easier to fight a fire on the valley floor, so although many people were evacuated, nearly all of them were able to go home the next day. 

Thursday morning
This fire is still raging -- it's up to 100,000 acres now, which means it has slowed considerably, but it's still only 20% contained at the moment.  They think it will take all month to get it completely controlled.  We have something like 40 or 50 thousand people displaced, many of whom have lost everything.  Many just don't know if their homes are still standing -- chances are slim, but on the other hand, structures we thought were lost have turned out to have survived.  The high school and the hospital are both surprisingly still standing, though it's a question whether Paradise can even be rebuilt. 

So many of our friends have lost their homes. Lots of folks are leaving town to stay with relatives -- if not because they're actually homeless, in order to escape the smoke.  The rest work at evacuation shelters.  School is cancelled for at least the next two weeks.  Suddenly there is nothing to do but watch the news and work at shelters or host people...find things to donate, that sort of thing.  Everybody is much too jittery to do much else.

So although I have plenty of free time now that I can't work and there's no school, I'm not sure I'll be able to blog either.  I guess I could put the 15yo on a Great Books reading program for a couple of weeks -- I'm a homeschooler again!

Man, California living is much more exciting than it ought to be.

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Nonfiction November: Week 2

This is the week where we pair up books!  The theme is fiction/non-fiction book pairings, and it's hosted at Sarah's Book Shelves:
It can be a “If you loved this book, read this!” or just two titles that you think would go well together. Maybe it’s a historical novel and you’d like to get the real history by reading a nonfiction version of the story.

Lots of people love this question, but I have a really hard time with it.  It may be that I'm not very imaginative.  I was looking at my shelves, and it seems to me that a lot of the time, my tastes in fiction vs. non-fiction really don't overlap very much.  I don't really care for historical fiction, though I love to read history.   But Brona saved me, by pairing up books from her TBR shelf, and so I went and looked at my shelf and came up with a couple of things...

When the World Spoke French, by Marc Fumaroli, and Les Miserables, by Victor Hugo.  I'm scared of French literature, but I do want to read both of these!

In the French vein, I did read two great books a while back: The Black Count, by Tom Reiss, and The Man in the Iron Mask, by Alexandre Dumas.  Even better would be The Count of Monte Cristo, since it was inspired by Dumas' father's life.

Thames: the Biography, by Peter Ackroyd, and Our Mutual Friend, by Charles Dickens.  Peter Ackroyd is just as long-winded and discursive as Dickens, and what's a Dickens novel without the Thames as a major character?  From what I hear, Our Mutual Friend is a very Thamesy novel.

And it finally did occur to me that I read a nice pair just earlier this year.  I've already wittered about Danubia, by Simon Winder, but it also inspired me to read a Polish epic poem, Pan Tadeusz, by Adam Mickiewicz.  That was an excellent pair.

Thursday, November 1, 2018

Nonfiction November: Week 1

Guess what, it's Nonfiction November!  This one snuck up on me.  Nonfiction November is a month-long event that talks about everything non-fiction.  There's a different prompt and host every week.  This week's host is Kim at Sophisticated Dorkiness, and she asks:
Week 1: (Oct. 29 to Nov. 2) – Your Year in Nonfiction (Kim @ Sophisticated Dorkiness): Take a look back at your year of nonfiction and reflect on the following questions – What was your favorite nonfiction read of the year? Do you have a particular topic you’ve been attracted to more this year? What nonfiction book have you recommended the most? What are you hoping to get out of participating in Nonfiction November?

Favorite non-fiction read of the year: Boy, that's a tough one.  Looking back on what I've read, I see that I have read more non-fiction than I thought I did, and a lot of it was great.  I can't pick just one, so here is a top five:

5.  The Coddling of the American Mind, by Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt
4.  Craeft, by Alexander Langlands
3. Jim Henson, the biography by Brian Jay Jones
2. Danubia, by Simon Winder
1. Meetings With Remarkable Manuscripts, by Christopher de Hamel

And for worst non-fiction read of the year, I'd like to nominate Justinian's Flea.

Plus, I've still got one to write about that was pretty fantastic!  Watch this space!

Any particular topics of focus:  I didn't read as much history as I would like to.  I really jumped around all over the place and can't find a focus; there's a good deal of history, some practical information, and some just plain fun (check out Never Use Futura!).  Mostly I wished I had time for more: more medieval history, more recent history, more weird nooks and crannies of the world.

Nonfiction book I've recommended the most:  Funny, I think it must be Danubia.  I enjoyed Winder's writing so much, and I really do think the book contains lessons for us in our current political climate (such as: the fabric of civil society is not as strong as we think, and tribalism can be fun but also very dangerous indeed).

What I'm hoping to get out of participating in Nonfiction November:  Some good recommendations for more books to read!  And I always like to meet more fellow non-fiction readers. 

The Coddling of the American Mind

The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas are Setting Up a Generation for Failure, by Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt

First off, don't think this is a "kids today, get off my lawn" kind of book.  It's not.  Plus, they hated the title and wanted it to be called Disempowered.  Check out the video below (which was a bit of tongue-in-cheek Halloween fun) for some explanation!

I've been a Lukianoff fan for some years now -- as the president of FIRE, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, he's been working on First Amendment rights at colleges for years, and that's how I got to hear of him.  (Back in 2014, I took a kid to see him speak on a panel at the 50th anniversary of the Free Speech Movement at Berkeley.  The event was extremely Berkeley;  I laughed all the way up Bancroft Ave. afterwards, but I'm pretty sure poor Lukianoff wanted to scream.  On the strength of that, I cadged a Facebook acquaintance.)

I know a bit less about psychologist Jonathan Haidt, but I've been following him too since he started Heterodox Academy, an association of university professors hoping to influence academia in the direction of more ideological diversity.  When everybody thinks the same, knowledge suffers.  Haidt has also written a couple of interesting books.

A few years ago, Lukianoff and Haidt got together and wrote an article for the Atlantic that made something of a splash.  You see, Lukianoff felt that his life had been greatly improved by Cognitive Behavioral Therapy strategies that teach people to analyze their own thinking and change cognitive habits to better reflect reality (he gets searingly honest about his own mental health struggles).  And as he studied trends on campus, he wondered if students weren't being taught to do the opposite -- to embrace cognitive habits that would actually harm them.  The article was the result of their collaboration, and then as further evidence became available, it turned into a book.

If you're a parent of teens/new young adults, you may have noticed the epidemic levels of depression and anxiety that seem to be prevalent.  (A couple of years ago, I told my oldest, "I don't know what we did, but I'm sorry!" -- not as a personal apology, but as a generational one.)  We're all trying to figure out what's going on and why things are so difficult for our kids.  I think this book may have identified some of what's going on.  Haidt and Lukianoff pick out six strands of modern life and break them down in their effort to identify what's causing problems and how we can make it better.

It's well worth reading, has lots to think about, and if you're a parent of young kids, it will inspire you to resist damaging trends in modern parenting.  Plus, you can photocopy the handy list of cognitive distortions, stick it on the fridge, and work on your mental habits!