Book Review: Think Again

Think Again: The Power of Knowing What You Don’t Know by Adam M. Grant

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


‘Learning requires the humility to realize one has something to learn.’ So saith Adam Grant, author of Think Again, one of the more insightful and (literally) thought-provoking books I’ve read in a long time. A possible alternate subtitle might be ‘Tearing down our siloes.’ The author offers nothing less than a way out of our current rigid thinking, reinforced by social media, and enhanced by the echo chamber of confirmation bias.


One of the first challenges any of us encounters interacting with others is the tribal urge, the powerful need to obtain the approval of others, and to not receive argument in return. Grant says the tradition of arguing should be returned to respectability, since, as he writes, ‘arguing with somebody is not a sign of disrespect; it’s a sign of respect. It means I value (that person’s) view enough to argue about it. If I didn’t consider it worthwhile, I wouldn’t bother.’


He continues, addressing most of the common fallacies we hold about confrontation, and argument, and the value of letting go of long-cherished opinions. One method of letting them go, or at least starting a civil conversation with someone we disagree with is to ask: ‘How do you know?’ The key is, we need to ask ourselves that question as well.


A few lasting lessons from Think Again are these: Don’t confuse confidence with competence; meaning is healthier than happiness; the greatest discoveries have come not from ‘Eureka’ moments, but from ‘That’s funny’ moments; and just because it’s the HIPPO—the HIghest Paid Person’s Opinion—doesn’t make it right.Think Again: The Power of Knowing What You Don’t Know



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Book Review: The Fig Factor

The Fig Factor: A Memoir about Growth, Inspiration, and Second Chances by Jacqueline Camacho-Ruiz

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


I was drawn to this little memoir partly because of its title, partly because I have a passing acquaintance with the author, and partly because it took me back to other cherished friends in the Spanish-speaking world, amigos that I dearly miss.


That disclaimer aside, let me say that even if I didn’t know Jackie Ruiz, I’d happily give The Fig Factor five stars, only because I can’t give it eight. Seldom have I read a memoir that tugs at the heartstrings like this one does, and seldom have the rewards for persistence, faith, and resilience been so clearly rewarded and conveyed. It has the added feature of being very well written.


No spoilers here, but the vector Ms Camacho-Ruiz has taken was nothing short of amazing, and considering where she has landed, and how she’s thriving is a remarkable thing to see. As for the mysterious title, suffice to say that figs played an important part in the author’s first entrepreneurial effort, and ‘Fig Factors’ still guide her efforts to this day. The book gave me a new appreciation for strong women, the value of family, the role of universal beneficence in our lives, and the goodness available to all, if we seek it out.


Political cant aside, her story also affirms for me the shallow thinking, and the ill-considered efforts of certain people to block entry to immigrants to this country. From Mexico City, to a tiny pueblo called Malpaso, to the U.S. and Chicago, to success, despite several challenges, speed-bumps, health concerns, and family crises, Ms Ruiz triumphs, and then some.


If you enjoy a good, satisfying, and inspirational memoir, read this little book, and you’ll give it eight stars, too.The Fig Factor: A Memoir about Growth, Inspiration, and Second Chances




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Book Review: The Souls of Black Folk

Life in the veil. This is the encapsulation of WEB Dubois’ seminal work, The Souls of Black Folk, on what it’s like to live as a Black person in these United States. Sadly, though the book was published in 1903, it is relevant these hundred and eighteen years later as Black Americans continue struggling to be, in Dubois’ own words, ‘a negro and an American.’ Here’s my disclaimer: As a white man in America, I understood very little of this book, except that my race bears a considerable blame for its contents & conclusions.

Dubois begins the book with a simple, yet profound question: How does it feel to ‘be a problem.’ As a white person in America, this was an unusual query for me, simply because, unless we’re in trouble for some reason, or unable to accomplish a task, or lag behind our peers, we whites are never subjected to this feeling; we’re never assumed to ‘be’ a problem. Our Black friends and neighbors feel it their entire lives, simply because of the color of their skin.

Dubois writes of another sense that separates his race from whites, what he refers to as ‘second sight,’ that is, Black peoples’ constant sense that they must see themselves not for themselves, but as white people see them. They must always look at themselves through our eyes. And the message Black people often find in that sight is—don’t forget this was written 118 years ago—’the other world which does not know, and does not wish to know our power.’

He continues, unashamed and unapologetic, in calling America to task for its serial disappointments regarding Black citizens: The Atlanta compromise; the Freedmen’s Bureau and its lost promise; the on-going violence against Blacks across America, despite the 14th amendment, and on, and on….

Dubois is not shy about calling his contemporaries to task: He writes of the controversy surrounding Booker T. Washington, and his degradation of Blacks, in Dubois’ opinion, and the former’s efforts to build Tuskegee Institute. He writes also of the on-going antipathy among Blacks for Jewish people, accusing them of assisting the white race in keeping Black people subservient.

In another section reminiscent of today’s headlines, particularly those emanating from Georgia, Dubois writes about voting, and those who would make the act of voting more difficult. Since emancipation, Black churches have served in many ways to benefit their members. One of those services has been as a gathering place, a sort of circling the wagons kind of place prior to heading out for the polls. This is why, 118 years after this book came out, it is no surprise that a new legislative initiative in the south proposes an end to so called ‘souls to the polls,’ efforts. History is indeed circular.

He writes further about chain gangs in the south, and prison labor as nothing more than enslavement by another means in order to create work crews for menial tasks that the state would prefer not to have to pay for.

But mostly he writes about his title: The souls of Black folk. And the theme he returns to, time after time, is how resilient and hopeful his people are, in spite of everything they’ve undergone in America since 1619. In the author’s words, ‘there has always been the temptation to despair, when all we wanted was to be a negro…and an American.’

Highly recommended.