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review 2017-03-27 22:20
Hidden Figures
Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race - Margot Lee Shetterly

I am so glad that I read this after seeing the movie. I loved the movie, but it's a drop in the bucket compared to the lifetime of achievement of the women featured in the movie plus there are more women mentioned in the book whose accomplishments aren't evident in the film. It's an amazing story and Shetterly relays it beautifully.

I loved every minute of reading this book and it needs to be in all school libraries. I get that schools don't have the time to devote to each historical topic, but having something like this (there is a Young Readers version available here) for them to read would be great. I wish I had spent more time in the non-fiction section back when I was in school but I'm trying to make up for it now. I love the stories of women throughout history, seeing that we've been contributing to the world in more than 2 ways, and promoting those stories when I see them. Fortunately, this one doesn't exactly need my help. It's been great to see all the notoriety this story has gotten, it's well deserved.

Shetterly goes a long way to giving the reader an understanding of not only the important nature of these women's work, but the sacrifices they made to do the work and the pressures they were under from several sources. The difference in the way they were treated at work and at home, by coworkers and by passersby on the sidewalk, is well delineated and it paints a good picture of what it must have meant to be there, to be breaking down barriers and to be given credit for their incredible intelligence. I appreciate that they all say they were just doing their jobs, which I'm sure is true, but there's always more to it than that. I've known people who "just" do their jobs and there's a difference between them and people who love the work. It's this difference that breaks down the barriers that these women took on, purposefully or not.

I appreciated Shetterly's inclusion of the timeline with the Civil Rights movement. I am familiar with the events from school and other reading, but it helped me out to have it overlaid on the timeline of the events at NACA and NASA, to understand the shifting sands the women found themselves on. She did a great job too of delineating the cultural and workplaces differences with being African American, a woman, or an African American and a woman. The African American men got to come in as engineers and the women had to fight for that too. White women were also given advantages over African American women, which caused the women featured here to deal with twice the problems the others had.

This is a book that everyone should read, but especially if you watched the movie, which really only covers half. The book carries the story of the three central women all the way to the moon landing, while the movie stops at John Glenn's orbit. Shetterly's writing style is impeccable and the story itself is astounding.

 

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review 2017-03-25 22:06
The Woman Who Changed Her Brain
The Woman Who Changed Her Brain: And Other Inspiring Stories of Pioneering Brain Transformation - Barbara Arrowsmith-Young,Norman Doidge

A truly interesting story and program that I had never heard of. It makes me wish this kind of testing and solutions were more prolific.

This is the kind of title that really catches my attention, especially in non-fiction. I'm a huge fan of non-fiction. The whole concept of the Arrowsmith school amazes me. This book not only does a great job of recounting the life of Barbara Arrowsmith-Young, in her own words, but also many of the categories of deficits that people can have and that hinder their potential. I found myself thinking about some bright underachievers I know and wondering if the program would suit them.

The idea that you can simply train your brain past learning disorders by finding a way to trigger that part of the brain into action is exciting. The possibilities then seem endless for everyone. I know that there are implementation issues, especially since it doesn't seem feasible that this can be done online for now and because not many schools have this program yet, but I'm hopeful, given the growth the program has had and the countless success stories. Maybe we'll look back one day at all the research and programs done by the Arrowsmith team and see an entirely different world for children and their potential than we do now.

While her own story and the formation of the school were interesting, I was particularly drawn to the stories of the students and the cognitive exercises created to help them past their learning disorders. I was surprised that it sometimes took years after starting a set of exercises to really see progress in normal life, but that students persisted through them. I know far too many people that would have given up in a few weeks if they weren't seeing improvement. I was also impressed with the parents who sent their children to be evaluated and who enrolled them into the school later. I looked up the school and just the evaluation is $2000. But in the words of one person, "You pay it now or you pay it later."

I can't remember if that was a student or a parent, but it remains a good point. The people who benefit from this program are people who are intelligent but have learning disorders that hinder their ability to get a rounded education and then later hinder their ability to get or keep a good job. Many of the adult students had been labeled "bright but lazy" or as underachievers because a deficit, as the book actually calls it, kept them from learning a skill that they needed.

I really did appreciated using "deficit" instead of "disorder". It was a great substitution because deficit implies that a person doesn't have something rather the way disorder makes it seem like something is wrong with that person.  Maybe it's just semantics but I feel like picking up a skill that's hard to get is a lot better of a way to frame it than trying to "fix" someone.

This was a fascinating read, well listen. I listened to the audiobook while I was cleaning the house I was moving out of and then while doing some prep work on the one that I moved into. I would just let it run, set up on a chair, and my husband wandered in after a while to comment on how interesting he was finding it too. It amused me because normally he couldn't care less about whatever book I'm playing. It caught his attention too because of the way it takes great care to describe each deficit, tie it to a personal experience of some student, give a way to relate to it or experience a small part of the decifit and then elaborate on what was done to attain the skill that it blocked. It also went into the coping or compensation methods that the students had prior to being treated, which were fascinating to listen to. We all compensate for things we aren't so good at with things we are good at, but the level of compensations necessary were astounding.

My husband also recently had a concussion and his resulting troubles added a new level of interest for me to the work that had originally drawn Young to her work, Alexander Luria's work with brain trauma. That was an interesting story that I'd like to read one day too.

I did find it a little disappointing that the book didn't go into deeper detail on the exercises that were created to address some of the deficits, but I get the risk that could be imposed in doing so. I wouldn't want any sort of medical book to be detailed enough for someone with half an inclination to try to fix themselves or those around them. It should be left to professionals.

Personally, I think it would be great if everyone who works with children had read the book and if there were many more programs in schools. I am not proposing the system subscribe to this one method but I feel like it could be a good augment to many existing programs that address learning disorders. Schools could potentially do an assessment on students at the beginning of giving them compensations so that they could both get by with what they can do now, but also attain the missing skill when possible. It seems like that would be a win for everyone. But I'm no professional and wouldn't know the reasons for not incorporating something like this in a school system other than cost. I do get how costs of things can be prohibitive in public school systems and, as stated above, the assessment is quite expensive.

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review 2017-01-15 15:46
The Right Kind of Crazy
The Right Kind of Crazy: A True Story of Teamwork, Leadership, and High-Stakes Innovation - Adam Steltzner,William Patrick

Mr. Steltzner has an interesting job: he led the team of engineers and scientist that designed the Entry, Decent and Landing systems for the Mars Science Laboratory (aka the Curiosity Rover).  He has written a memoir with the help of co-writer William Patrick titled The Right Kind of Crazy: A True Story of Teamwork, Leadership, and High-Stakes Innovation

 

 

The book jacket proclaims that the book will provide a first person account of innovation that will describe

 

  • How his team learned to switch from fear-based to curiosity based decision making
  • How to escape the “Dark Room” the creative block caused by fear, uncertainty and the lack of a clear path forward
  • How to tell when we are too in love with our own ideas to be objective about them – and conversely, when to fight for them
  • How to foster mutual respect within teams while still bashing bad ideas.

 

I started The Right Kind of Crazy in November as part of the Twelve Tasks of the Festive Season.  I can’t quite articulate why, but didn’t quite live up to the hype of the book jacket and couldn’t hold my interest.  The parts where Mr. Stelzner was philosophizing on management theory and saying his mia culpas were a particularly slow slog.  The Right Kind of Crazy has spent a lot of the last two months sitting on my (physical) library shelf with me looking at it and asking “am I going to DNF? Nah, I’ll get back to it later.”  The factual story regarding the development of the rover landing system (and the projects that trained Mr. Steltzner for that role) was compelling enough that I did eventually decide to power through and finish before the book ran out of renewals.

 

Counting towards 2016 and not counting for the 2017 Library Love Challenge since the majority of the reading happened in 2016.

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review 2016-11-24 03:38
When Breath Becomes Air
When Breath Becomes Air - Paul Kalanithi,Abraham Verghese

Part autobiography, part exposition of personal philosophy on life and mortality, When Breath Becomes Air is the dying legacy of Paul Kalanithi, who was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer near the end of his neurosurgical residency.   While Paul deservedly is given the main billing, credit also needs to be given to his widow, Dr. Lucy Kalanithi and a team of editors who refined a partially finished manuscript and brought it to publication.

 

I’d read enough about When Breath Becomes Air to know to bring a big box of tissues, and I used plenty in the evening I spent devouring the slim volume (and again when finally trying to put my thoughts down). In many ways When Breath Becomes Air is just another cancer memoir, but like the best of them there are moments of insight from the liminal space that just sing.  The most simultaneously heartbreaking and heartwarming part for me was when Paul talked about the decision that he and Lucy made to have a child, and his thanksgiving for the joy that daughter Cady brought to his dying months and days. 

 

You can see a trailer for When Breath Becomes Air, including video by Dr. Paul Kalanithi himself at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aetY_zS7Q6M

 

 

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review 2016-10-21 21:28
Until We Are Free
Until We Are Free: My Fight for Human Rights in Iran - Shirin Ebadi

This is the first book of my new challenge to read all the women Nobel laureates! It was a great start. While Ebadi does cover her level of involvement in setting up the Nobel Women's IniativeOne Million Signatures, and later the establishment of the Center of the Defenders of Human Rights, this is mostly a memoir of her life during these times. She talks more about big life changes, her fears and her outrages, and the overall state of women in Iran. It's not the book I thought it was, but that's not a bad thing.

This book is mainly about what happened after she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2003. As eluded to above, the government Iran was not pleased with her award and her work and the way it all made them look. She became a target and so did everyone around her, not that it stopped everyone from doing the work that needed to be done. This was a great book about her personal struggles and the rationale behind many of Ebadi's decisions. It also provides an interesting insight into the events that were dubbed the "Arab Spring".

I listened to the audiobook, read by Shohreh Aghdashloo. I didn't recognize her name but Aghdashloo has been in several movies and tv shows. Her voice had been somewhat familiar but I recognized her face right away. The link will take you to her IMDB. She does a great job narrating the book. As always, I appreciate getting to listen to names in other cultures that I would not only butcher but not get a chance to hear how gorgeous they can be.

I would have liked to hear more about Ebadi's work and details on some speaking engagements, but the lack of that information didn't deter from being able to appreciate the book and what she does tell us. She continues to work for Iran through the center mentioned above, visit their site for updates on her work and statements.

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