Psychopath Whisperer, by Kent A Kiehl

The Psychopath Whisperer: The Science of Those without Conscience
by Kent A Kiehl, narrated by  Kevin Pariseau

In this fascinating scientific exploration into the biological differences between psychopaths and non-psychopathic people, Kiehl discusses his own dealings with psycopaths in prisons. Kiehl is known as the first person to use an MRI in a prison to study the differences between psychopaths and non-psychopathic prisoners. 


Kiehl would determine psycopathy by interviewing prisoners and then rating them 1-3 on a list of 20 attributes. A score of 30 indicates a psychopath. Approximately 20% of inmates were psychopaths. A balanced number of people who rate high and low on the psychopathy scale would be chosen for the experiments. 

Once the study subjects were put in the MRI, they would be shown pictures of three types: a morally neutral photo (perhaps an ice cream cone), a morally ambiguous photo (perhaps a wrestling match), and a immoral act (perhaps someone placing a bomb in a car). The prisoners would then rate one a 1-5 scale how immoral the picture was. When a person who scores low on the psychopathy scale sees an immoral picture, his limbic system lights up; but a psychopath’s limbic system remains eerily dark. 

In his book, Kiehl also discusses findings other people have made about psychopaths – like the fact that they have no startle reflex. This mixture of scientific, psychological, and personal narrative make for a fantastic book. 

I enjoyed this book quite a bit – especially the ethical implications of whether a psychopath deserves an insanity plea because their brains function differently than “normal” people and they are unable to physiologically respond the “right” way to the thought of immoral activity. Kiehl himself longs for a day when psychopathy will be caught earlier in childhood, so that they can receive treatment rather than incarceration. But the issue is quite an ethical dilemma. Where do you draw the line on the insanity plea? 

I have previously discussed another ethical dilemma of the insanity plea: whether, in a patient with dissociative identity disorder, it is ethical to punish one personality for what another personality has done. Again, where’s the line? And then I wonder about what the neurodiversity movement would say about the whole thing? Things that make you go hmmmm. 


The Sixth Extinction, by Elizabeth Kolbert

The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History
by Elizabeth Kolbert
Narrated by Anne Twomey
I read this book a couple of months ago with Doing Dewey‘s nonfiction book club, but luckily I took notes. 

This book documents the mass extinction that Kolbert (along with quite a few scientists) believes is due to humans. It’s not only about hunting animals out of existence. It’s about carrying invasive species (including animals, plants and fungus) into new environments. These species are destructive to foreign ecological systems because each system did not develop in parallel with the new species – thus the system did not develop immunity and protection against the invasive species. For instance, our travels around the world transport fungus that have caused plague among bats world-wide, and frogs in the Southern Americas. This book is mainly a scientific endeavor written by a journalist, but we also get to follow Kolbert as she shadows scientists around the world in their quests to study and prevent extinction. 


At first, this book made me feel guilty for the extinctions that humans have caused. But then I realized that we are a kind of invasive species too. Is it really our fault that we developed minds and then tools capable of carrying us around the world? Had we any idea of the destruction that we would cause? No. We were just doing what any species does – procreate, expand, and diversify. I also feel that Kolbert was catastrophizing a bit in her book. Although humans have certainly caused a lot of damage to our planet, I don’t think we are capable of destroying a world that has survived so many other massively destructive events. We are just another blip in the planet’s development. 




The Question that Never Goes Away, by Philip Yancy


The Question that Never Goes Away, by Philip Yancy

Genre: Christian Living

Reason for Reading: A galley copy of this book was provided by Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. I wanted to read this book because I’m interested in theodicy, and I’ve been pretty impressed with the bits of Yancy’s writing that I’ve seen.

Synopsis: After over a decade of traveling the world giving lectures on Where is God When it Hurts, Philip Yancy has decided to revisit this subject in his most recent book The Question That Never Goes Away. I have not read his earlier book, so I can’t compare the messages of each, but I assume the newer book has a similar message to the older, with recent examples and insights that he has gathered since writing the first book. 

He starts by describing two different types of disaster: the devastating 2011 tsunami in Japan and the horrifying 4-year seige of Sarajevo in 1992. The first example is a natural disaster, but the second is man-made. Such disasters beg the question “Why?” Why would a God who loves us allow such destruction?

Yancy points out that atheists have a field day with such calamity – using it as evidence that God doesn’t exist. For, clearly, a loving God wouldn’t allow such things to happen; therefore it is erroneous to believe in God. But Yancy counters: if, indeed, this is an impersonal universe of random indifference, why are the atheists so shocked and upset about someone else’s tragedy? Clearly, their morals are shaped by the philosophical framework of Christianity. 

My thoughts: I don’t really think this is an adequate counter to the claim that God doesn’t exist. First of all, Christianity is not the only religion which is founded on the power of love. Second, there is no evidence that God created our revulsion to other peoples’ tragedy. Such revulsion can be explained by evolution of social behavior. Humans might simply have an instinct to protect our neighbors because we are better able to survive in a group than alone. On the other hand, I don’t think asking the age-old question “Why?” proves God doesn’t exist, either. To think so is a bit naive.

Yancy continues by explaining that there’s nothing wrong with asking the question “Why?” In fact, it is a question asked over and over again in the Bible. God expects such questions, and he understands our grief and frustration at getting no answer. BUT, He still doesn’t provide an answer. Not in the Bible. And not in the world. 

Ours is not to reason why. Ours is but to do and die. 

Yancy suggests that we shift our focus from cause to response. When disaster strikes, we should appreciate the outpouring of humanitarian aide that comes from individuals, communities, and countries. Yes – some of this humanitarian aide can be poorly planned, but notice what lies at the heart: love. We, as human beings, want to reach out and help those who are suffering. So where is God when it hurts? He is in those friends, neighbors, and complete strangers who reach out to help the suffering. God hates our suffering as much as we do – but he loves us so much that he sent his own son to suffer among us. Because we can relate to a suffering God. 

Finally, Yancy criticizes the claim that God sends suffering in order to build character. He points out that Jesus healed the afflicted. He never once said to them “But think of how character-building this experience is!” Yancy points out that God has promised to redeem our suffering. This does not mean that God sends suffering, but that when tragedy occurs, He inspires and directs good to result from the evil. Thus, we do gain character from suffering. 

My thoughts: Well, I know for a fact that good often comes out of bad situations in my life. I don’t know if that is only because I like to be optimistic and think of how I’ve learned from an experience, or become stronger, or had a good experience that otherwise never would have happened. I could just as easily dwell on the tragedy and what good that might have happened if tragedy hadn’t occurred. If I did so, I would certainly live a more miserable life. But would I be any more right or wrong? Regardless, it makes me happy to think that God redeems my suffering. I’d rather not be miserable, thanks.

My thoughts: This is a very difficult book to read because Yancy dwells on quite a few tragic events in detail. However, the book has a strong message and is written with a very humble and personal air. Yancy impresses me with his intelligent observations and powerful examples. I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in the question of why God allows suffering. I am eager to read more of Yancy’s work.

Resume Magic, by Susan Britton Whitcomb


Resume Magic, by Susan Britton Whitcomb

Genre: Self-Improvement – Job Hunt


Reason for Reading: Trying to buff up my resume so that I feel more presentable.


Synopsis: This book contains a lot of information about content and format of resumes. It starts by encouraging the reader to find his or her own personal brand, so that it can shine through on the resume. Then, Whitcomb discusses the differences between a chronological resume and a functional resume and provides suggestions about when each type of resume would be helpful. She helps the reader create an outline of the resume, later fleshing it out with helpful tips about content. She emphasizes the importance of listing accomplishments. Finally, she dwells on proof-reading. She provides a guide of the basic grammar and punctuation mistakes people make while writing resumes. The final few chapters outline her thought on job search through social media and on cover letters. These sections, of course, aren’t as thorough as the chapters about resumes, but I think she’s trying to whet our appetites for her other books..which I hear are just as thorough.


My thoughts: First. DON’T get the ebook! Get a hard-copy, because the figures and tables are really tiny in ebook format. Second, this book did not really have a lot of information that was relevant to writing a CV, for those of us who have a PhD. Although Whitcomb provided examples of resumes for a large variety of job types, she focused primarily on business, sales, and marketing. Sometimes I wondered if her tips applied to me or not. However, the book DID provide enough information for me to make my resume more presentable. Third, the title. Ouch. I almost didn’t buy this book because the title was too pretentious. Fourth, Whitcomb was a bit heavy-handed with her self-marketing: Resume Magic often read like an advertisement for Whitcomb’s webpage and other books. 


And now I see that my thoughts are rather top-heavy in criticism. I hadn’t intended my review to be negative. Resume Magic is loaded with information and tips, and I’m much happier with my CV now than I was before reading this book. Resumes and job hunting have changed dramatically in the last few years, and books like these are very helpful for catching up on what employers are expecting. Because, let’s face it, first impressions are a LOT about presentation. And don’t we all want to make a good first impression?


I haven’t read any other resume books, and I don’t have the time to do so right now, so I can’t very easily compare this to other books on the market. I have been reading Joyce Lain Kennedy’s Job Interviews for Dummies and Job Search Letters for Dummies, though, so I can make a guess at what her Resumes for Dummies is like. My guess is that Whitcomb’s book is more heavy in specific tips, and Kennedy’s books tend to be more general. They both provide a lot of good examples, and they both explain what makes those examples stand out. But Whitcomb’s style is more self-aggrandizing and opinionated. Kennedy recommends books by authors other than herself (including Whitcomb!), which makes her advice seem more sincere and approachable. So I guess if you’re trying to choose between the two – pick Whitcomb if you want a book heavy in information, and Kennedy if you want more general advice from someone who’s willing to reference opinions other than her own (even when they do not exactly coincide with her own).  


Tips that most helped me in my resume redesign:

Content


  • I am applying to several different types of jobs, mostly branching out from my degree in science. Each job type requires a different set of basic skills, so I prepared a few basic resume types, each arranged in a way that accentuated the traits requested by each job type.
  • In order to determine the what skills to emphasize in each resume type, I searched the internet for job listings and company mission statements to determine what is required for a good candidate in each job type.
  • Each time I apply for a job, I change my “qualifications” section, so that it directly reflects the skills requested by the job listing as well as the mission statement of the employer.
  • I emphasized numbers-based accomplishments for each job that I listed.
  • I did not include affiliations or bio, since this information made my resume way too long. So I’ve decided to include a link to my blog bio (which I am currently re-writing). Thus, my potential employers can get a sense of my “personal brand.” 
Formating
  • I put my strongest attributes / qualifications in the visual center of the first page (just below the name and contact information), drawing further attention by setting this section off with lines.
  • I included a keyword section for electronically submitted resumes.
  • I created two versions of the resume – one for printing off, and one for submitting on the internet. The one for submitting on the internet must have very common fonts, and minimal fancy formatting (avoid tables, for instance).
Looking ahead
  • Although I certainly hope that whatever job I find will be long-term, I am going to start a file of all accomplishments, evaluations, letters / memos of approval, etc. This information might come in handy in the future. I’d never thought of collecting it before!
Clearly, this is not an exhaustive list of the tips provided in Resume Magic, but these include the major changes I made to my resume. 

The most vital changes that were made to my resume after reading this book were that I made it more accomplishment-oriented, I learned how to direct the qualifications/special skills section towards a specific job, and (for most basic versions) I moved my retail and TA experience into a separate section from my research experience. Thus, I had a chronological “Research” section and a second chronological “Mentorship”section. This really tightened up the resume.


The Ghost Map, by Steven Johnson

The Ghost Map

Written by Steven Johnson, Narrated by Alan Sklar

Reason for Reading: Science, Religion, and History group read

Genre: Non-fiction – Medicine and History


Review
The Ghost Map follows Dr. John Snow on his quest to discover the cause of a terrible cholera outbreak in Victorian England. Johnson makes investigative epidemiology so interesting that I could almost see it dramatized (and fictionalized) into a TV show – people DO love their investigative TV! 🙂 But that’s beside the point, I guess. At the time of this outbreak in 1854, the popular theory for the spread of cholera was miasma – deathly air that carried disease. After a LOT of investigative footwork, Snow drew a map of the cholera outbreak, demonstrating that the pattern followed streets that led to a particular well (the Broad Street pump) rather than following a circular pattern you’d expect with the spread of bad air. This map, and the investigation leading up to its creation, revolutionized epidemiology. In fact, many consider Snow the “first epidemiologist.” 

I really enjoyed this book. The writing was engaging (it had a few boring parts in the end when Johnson was describing the map in great detail – I think that may be a problem with listening to the audio book rather than actually reading it, though). The subject was fascinating. Sklar did a good job of narrating the book, and except for the very end with the description of the map, I was quite pleased with the book’s audio version. If you have any interest in epidemiology, or the history of medicine, I highly recommend this book.

How the Catholic Church Built Western Civilization, by Thomas E. Woods

How the Catholic Church Built Western Civilization

Written by Thomas E. Woods, Narrated by Barrett Whitener

Reason for Reading: I have an interest in Church history and history of religion. 

Review
How the Catholic Church Built Western Civilization is an apologetics treatise about how the Catholic Church contributed to the development of science, philosophy, art, and culture. For someone who has not read a lot of books on the subject – who wishes to be disabused of the belief that the Catholic Church shunned science and tried to halt the progression of culture – this book is an excellent introduction. It covers a wide variety of topics in a superficial survey of how the Church changed and promoted civilization. On the other hand, if you’re like myself and are well-read on the subject, this book lacks depth. Although there was a wide variety of information discussed, there was very little that it discussed in greater detail than I already knew. Therefore, I would highly recommend this text to someone who’d like an introduction to the topic – it’s well-written, well-researched, and interesting. But if you’re looking for depth and detail, this may be worth just a quick read. 

This audiobook was well-narrated by Barrett Whitener. No complaints there! 🙂

Song of the Vikings, by Nancy Marie Brown

Song of the Vikings: Snorri and the Making of Norse Myths

Written by Nancy Marie Brown

Reason for Reading: This book was provided by the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program in exchange for an honest review. 

Review
This engaging biography describes the life of Snorri Sturluson, a powerful 12th-century Icelandic chieftain and the author of the poetic Edda – one of the oldest surviving documents of Norse mythology. As a novice of Viking history, I found this book fascinating and informative – though I suspect that there is much speculation and Brown isn’t always clear when she is speculating and when she has hard evidence for her claims. As such, I think this biography would be enjoyed by people who are interested in learning a bit about the Vikings, but not experts on the subject. 

Brown started each chapter out with a legend out of Snorri’s Edda. Often, she told how this legend differs from other known versions and/or how it has affected modern culture. The rest of the book describes Snorri’s life – his youth in the household of “the uncrowned King of Iceland,” his marriage, his rise to political power, and his downfall. She seemed to get most of her hard evidence from a few primary documents and an outwardly biased biography written by Snorri’s nephew, so often she had to fill in the gaps by saying “it’s possible it happened more like this, since his nephew’s story doesn’t really jive with Snorri’s personality.” Of course, that makes me wonder if she had just as much positive bias towards Snorri as his nephew had negative bias. 🙂 Overall, though, I’d say this biography was a success. When there is so little information available, and when the book is intended for a popular crowd rather than an academic one, such speculation is necessary – it makes the book more fun.