Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Reflections: How to Win Friends and Influence People

Adam C. Zern provides offers a few thoughts on Dale Carnegie's How to Win Friends and Influence People:

“If others’ experience is anything like mine, whenever I heard the title of Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People was when someone made a sarcastic comment about someone else’s poor handling of human relations.  Very, very rarely was the book referenced in a serious and practical manner.  Having said that, How to Win Friends and Influence People has had such sticking power (my edition of the book from the 1980s boasted that there were 15,000,000 copies in print) because people are responding to something Mr. Carnegie has to say and are persuaded that the principles he advocates are effectual tools in human relations.

Since Mr. Carnegie’s book was written and published so long ago, and according to the author it was the first of its kind, it seems to have taken a unique place in the genre of Self-Help/Business.  The principles of influencing people that Mr. Carnegie discusses are perfectly reasonable; in fact, some of them are elementary (e.g., smile or remember people’s names).  At certain points while reading the book I wondered why anyone, including myself, would need to be told to do such things since they seemed so self-evident.  However, it’s easy to get complacent and How to Win Friends and Influence People is a good reminder of what one should inculcate into their interactions with others to be truly influential.

The premise of the book is simple enough: present a principle and follow-up with several anecdotes including some from history.  I enjoyed the anecdotes from history being as interested as I am with historical personalities.  By the end of the book, however, many of the stories became tiresome, hardly distinguishable from the dozens of others the author presented, and they end up having little lasting impact.  The format of the book makes it easy to reference and review if one ever felt so prompted.

How to Win Friends and Influence People is a type of book that I don't usually read.  After reading it I haven't changed my opinion much on the genre it belongs to.  The book certainly has useful things to say but only if they're applied in real human relationships; otherwise, the book and its well-known title will remain a punch-line and nothing more."

Sunday, May 29, 2011

250 Books: Looking Back at Being 'Literate'

Reading for me is one part entertaining and one part enlightening.  Some books provide more of one thing than the other, but I sincerely try to read books that can provide at least a little bit of both.  To paraphrase Ezra Taft Benson, one sign of wisdom is not only knowing what to read but also what not to read.  There are literally millions of books in print and hundreds of thousands more are printed in the United States each year.  Clearly, even a meaningful goal, such as 1,000 books in a lifetime, can feel somewhat minimal or lacking in scope.  Therefore, I don’t want to feel like I have wasted my time once I’ve finished a book. 

I recently reached the first tier of my 1,000 books goal—250 books (my wife beat me to that tier by finishing her 250th book while I was finishing up my 249th).  Looking over my current list of 250 books, I wanted to cull several books that for one reason or another have stuck with me in an exceptional way after I read them.  Not all of the books will appeal to everyone, but I think anyone could get a sufficient amount of entertainment and/or enlightenment from each.  (As with all lists that attempt to tally the ‘best’ of anything, I will naturally and unfortunately leave out books that should probably be included).

Fiction/Historical Fiction/Narrative
Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card
Ender’s Shadow by Orson Scott Card
Exodus by Leon Uris
The Haj by Leon Uris
Armageddon by Leon Uris
Watership Down by Richard Adams
The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis
Cold Sassy Tree by Olive Ann Burns
The Caine Mutiny by Herman Wouk
Anthem by Ayn Rand
Alas, Babylon by Pat Frank
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Freddy’s Book by John Gardner
Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexander Dumas
True Grit by Charles Portis
Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe
The Giver by Lois Lowry

The Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels
The Hero with a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell
Jesus the Christ by James E. Talmage
Eat the Rich by P.J. O’Rourke
Man . . . His Origin and Destiny by Joseph Fielding Smith
The Federalist Papers by James Madison, James Madison, John Jay
The American Tradition by Clarence B. Carson
The True Believer by Eric Hoffer
Black Hawk Down by Mark Bowden

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Reflections: Alice's Adventures in Wonderland

Adam C. Zern opines on Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland:

“The introduction to Lewis Carroll’s (I read the Collins Classic edition) Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland calls it ‘literary nonsense.’  I’ve never been one for abstract art—in any form—so whether or not I subjectively made more out of Carroll’s short tale than was really there is up for debate.  It seems that there is more to Alice than some suggest and calling it ‘nonsense’ might be a little simplistic.

Don’t get me wrong, the book is bizarre.  The characters—some of them well-known now thanks to several films—have a short presence in the story and most of them come back around at the trial before the King and Queen of Hearts.  All of the characters are memorable, even if it is for their oddities.  The thing I enjoyed most about them, however, was the dialogue that is exchanged between many of the characters and Alice.  There are many quotes that can be easily plucked from the pages and applied in interesting ways to everyday life, business, family, etc.

I enjoyed Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.  It certainly is bizarre and it might be a little bit of nonsense.  Yet, one can easily use a subjective and attentive eye to cull various meanings and applications that make the story worth the time.  And even if you don’t, traveling into the wackiness of Wonderland is a good deal of fun.”

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Reflections: An Enemy Hath Done This

Adam C. Zern offers his thoughts on Elder Ezra Taft Benson's An Enemy Hath Done This:

“I have mentioned before that Ezra Taft Benson is one of my most admired statesmen.  Elder Benson is an especially unique political figure because he held such prominent office in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as an Apostle and eventually as President of the Church.  The LDS Church has long endorsed a policy of neutrality toward politics; therefore, to read An Enemy Hath Done This can be somewhat of a jarring experience for members of the LDS Church who confuse politics with principles.  Elder Benson is forthright, blunt, and surprisingly specific—going so far as to endorse and criticize specific actions of government.

An Enemy Hath Done This is a compilation of many of Elder Benson’s speeches and comments circa 1960s.  The compilation was done by Jerreld L. Newlquist, who also worked on the compilation of Prophets, Principles, and National Survival, which Elder Benson recommends members of the LDS Church to read on several occasions.  The fact that the book is a compilation was my least favorite part of the book simply because it lends itself to redundancy between the chapters.

Elder Benson was a serious man who had serious concerns for the welfare and perpetuation of the United States of America.  His powerful denouncements of socialism and communism and the principles that support them can, in my opinion, not be misunderstood.  I’m certain that many members of the LDS Church will be surprised by how clearly Elder Benson lays out the proper principles of governance (the chapter on the proper role of government was my favorite).  I think Elder Benson was ignored by many members of the LDS Church during his day and is especially ignored by many during our current day.  I’m sure it’s easy for many to disregard much of what Elder Benson said regarding government and ideology simply because he didn’t say it in General Conference (although he did say a lot in General Conference that is still ignored) or didn’t say 'Thus saith the lord' or ignore it for some other reason.  However, I think that Jerreld L. Newquist’s comment in the introduction to Prophets, Principles, and National Survival is an appropriate springboard from which to jump into the reading of An Enemy Hath Done This:

‘We should remember that whether speaking by inspiration or expressing personal viewpoints the Prophets are often learned and experienced men of sound judgment who carefully choose their words, especially if speaking to a public gathering.’

An Enemy Hath Done This is a must read for every Latter-day Saint.”

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Reflections: Around the World in 80 Days

Adam C. Zern shares some thoughts on Jules Verne's classic Around the World in 80 Days:

“As I’ve said before, I really enjoy reading the ‘classics’ simply to see what all the fuss is about.  There has to be some reason for a book to endure decades and sometimes centuries of publishing while so many other books simply fade away into obscurity.  Jules Verne’s Around the World in 80 Days is a book that is usually read by a younger crowd (middle school aged usually), but I enjoyed it all the same.

Having not read the book, I was a little surprised to realize that the impetus for the 80-day journey was simply a bet made by associates of Phileas Fogg—the book’s protagonist.  It seems like a pretty basic excuse to send a character on a journey, but Mr. Verne does it all the same.  The book is heavy on geography and fairly light on character.  Fogg’s somewhat hapless assistant—the appropriately named Passepartout—provides much of the humor and color for the book.  Phileas Fogg is strangely likable even though he is almost totally emotionless through almost the entire book.

I especially enjoyed the surprisingly lengthy commentary on Mormons that Verne gives us as his characters pass through Salt Lake City.  It shows many of the misconceptions that have been somewhat corrected in the public mind but still seem to linger on in many ways.  Verne’s commentary on America and Americans is also very humorous (complete with an Indian ambush of an eastward bound locomotive).  It really was moments like those aforementioned that made the book more than a travelogue; otherwise, it would have been a chore to finish.

Why is Around the World in 80 Days a classic?  I couldn’t point to any one particular fact or reason.  It’s a quick and enjoyable read.  I’m sure it broke some new ground or captured enough imaginations to cement its place in the literary world to be as well known as it is today.  It’s worth the short amount of time it takes to read it.”