Mastery by Robert Greene

imgres“This is the real secret: the brain we possess is the work of six million years of development, and more than anything else, this evolution of the brain was designed to lead us to mastery . . .” 

In Mastery, Robert Greene (bestselling author of 48 Laws of Power) tackles an interesting subject: the principles of success and intelligence.

There are many people who believe success is down to good fortune, or nepotism, or it’s accidental — a by-product of dumb luck. They also believe geniuses are born that way, as if their intelligence and ingenuity is hardwired into their DNA. But the truth is, although some people start off in life on a higher rung, with greater opportunities, and others have to struggle through their childhood, we’re all designed to succeed; we can all reach a level of mastery. It doesn’t just take talent — not entirely — but instead, success and mastery requires tenacity and determination; and above all, a thirst for knowledge: a deep-rooted desire to chase your dream and acquire all the skills (and more) in your chosen field.

And Robert Greene, with this in mind, delves deep into this theory, drawing from an exhaustive well of past-and-present high-achievers and geniuses, flitting seamlessly between stories of Mozart to Einstein to Edison and Darwin. Writing with depth and conviction, and fusing his own beliefs with examples of success, along with the occasional neuroscience and psychology facts, Greene not only delivers on his premise, but also paints a wonderful picture of historical (and present day) figures, making this both a self-help manual and an entertaining history book.

The continual insights into mastery, gleaned from hundreds of years of past successes, add weight to the words — and the sense of authenticity bolsters Greene’s opinions, giving them an authority and power that another author might have failed to serve. The book is engaging throughout and manages to teach without boring or preaching. And, ultimately, the stories work to inspire the reader with a deep and inarticulate yearning to succeed, whether it be in everyday life or your chosen career.

If you want to excel in a particular vocation, this book will push you on the right path. And if you don’t want to succeed, read it anyway. It’s worth the journey.


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Columbine by Dave Cullen

imgres“A terrifying affliction had infested America’s small towns and suburbs: the school shooter . . .”

Columbine is the in-depth account of the infamous Columbine High School shooting, committed in April 1999 by Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris. A decade in the making, Dave Cullen spent an inordinate amount of time researching all the available evidence and poring over thousands of pages of witness testimony, police reports, newspaper articles, diary entries, psychiatric opinions and theories, and any other related literature on the subject of Columbine. He also interviewed a slew of people, including many of the survivors and survivors’ families, along with police officers, FBI agents, teachers, and local pastors. He immersed himself in the tragedy.

And although many people are aware of the obvious details (two armed students killed twelve people and injured many more in a horrific school shooting), they’re unlikely to know the full story; the ins and outs of the case. And what they do know has been gleaned from multiple sources of both reliable and unreliable media. Which is where Dave Cullen comes in.

Referencing multiple sources, Cullen works to debunk many of the rumours, myths, lies, and half-truths that circulate around the tragedy. On top of that, he offers every small and relevant detail about the case; sifting through the minutiae of the killers’ lives, dragging us into their reality. He further draws the reader into the action by painting the victims and survivors as if characters in a novel, taking the reader on a journey, making us care about how it all ends. And even though the main bulk of information could be found in an hour-long documentary on YouTube, it doesn’t make Columbine any less gripping.

It’s a testament to Dave Cullen’s skills as a journalist that we join this story at the beginning and follow it through a fractured past-and-present structure, a seamless puzzle between the murders, the pre-murder, and the aftermath, locked in the entire way, wanting to know how it all ends, even though we already do know. And along this path of destruction, we learn every single detail — important and otherwise; the inside, outside, left side, all side of Columbine and what really happened that day.

The painstaking research lends credence and credulity to the book, and the writing and structure gives it the air and feel of a thriller.

Having said that, it is long, and at times laborious or depressing reading, but it’s worth every second of it. If you didn’t want to know about Columbine before, you soon will.


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The First Five Pages By Noah Lukeman

imgres“This, simply, is the focus of this book: to learn how to identify and avoid bad writing.”

The First Five Pages is a little different than the usual writing guides: it’s written by a successful literary agent and is more about what you shouldn’t do, not what you should do. Noah Lukeman points out the potholes to avoid, the common mistakes that authors make, and the principles of BAD WRITING. He covers everything from dialogue, to characters, to pacing and plotting, to the actual presentation of the manuscript once it’s completed. He also explains the reasons your work may be overlooked by jaded, cynical literary agents such as himself.

It’s a comprehensive, fresh twist on the usual, and the writing is strong enough to hold the reader’s interest. However, it’s not without flaws. The hyperbolic examples of bad writing, for instance, detract from some of the points the author was making. It would have been more beneficial if he deconstructed true-life examples of bad writing, rather than concoct his own ostentatious version of something terribly written. The examples might help amateurs to notice poor writing, but were useless for the more competent writers. If Noah Lukeman picked apart a piece of work that was less obviously badly written — something that, on the surface, seems fine — it would have added more value to his advice. 

Aside from that, there’s still enough insight offered for even the mediocre (or great) writer to gain something from.

And it’s especially helpful to see things from a literary agent’s point of view; to see what common problems an agent looks out for as soon as he or she picks up a manuscript. So if you’re a writer trying to break in the door, or smash through the window of the literary world, check this one out.

On top of that, check out Noah Lukeman’s free downloads:

How To Land (And Keep) A Literary Agent 

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How To Write A Great Query Letter 

th-2Ask A Literary Agent (Year One)

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Write Good Or Die by Scott Nicholson

th-1“Each writer only knows one set of truths, and those things are only true for that particular writer . . .”

Write Good Or Die is a collection of writing articles from a selection of published and unknown authors. The advice and subjects vary, as does their relevance. There’s no structure to the book: no unifying themes or thoughts or overarching point. It’s merely a mass of articles — some good, some bad — much like Lawrence Block’s Telling Lies but without the consistency, intelligence and wit of that book.

Much of the advice is obvious or clichéd, and most aspiring authors will have already read or learned it elsewhere. However, a few pieces of gold can be found amongst all the rubble. Plus it’s free and a quick read, so it’s worth checking out. Just don’t expect for it to change your outlook on writing, or unlock a secret key to success.

Download it, skim it, then delete it and move on to something better.


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Writing Tools: 50 Essential Strategies For Every Writer by Roy Peter Clark

imgresThis book invites you to imagine the act of writing less as a special talent and more as a purposeful craft . . .”

I’ve read numerous writing manuals and how-to guides over the years and this is one of the most comprehensive I’ve come across. Many books of this ilk promise to delve into a wide variety of issues but tend to scrimp on information in order to examine a few main areas, such as plot, or characterisation or the mechanics of writing — whereas Writing Tools covers almost everything in equal depth.

Broken up into fifty sections, each chapter focuses on a different aspect of writing: from structure to procrastination to internal cliff-hangers — using, for the most part, examples from previously published works (primarily other journalists, but also novelists and poets) to solidify, explain or elaborate on the initial point. At first it appears as if the book’s aimed solely towards journalistic writing rather than novels or scripts, but there’s a clear overlap of ideas and techniques, which can be beneficial for both authors and journalists alike. And although the chapters are quite short — probably about seven or eight pages each — the book never feels stingy on information, and Roy Peter Clark dives into each subject thoroughly and with an apparent wealth of knowledge and personal experience.

This isn’t merely a quick how-to guide; it’s more like a long, informative, insightful lesson, with an engaging, clear-minded teacher.

Whether you’re a journalist, a short story writer, a novelist, or a screenwriter, I highly recommend this book. It has a little something for everybody.


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250 Things You Should Know About Writing by Chuck Wendig

th-1“The Internet is 55% porn, and 45% writers. You are not alone, and that’s a thing both good and bad . . .” 

Chuck Wendig, author of The Blue Blazes (and other novels that I’ve never heard of), dishes out 250 tips/opinions about writing. Each piece of advice (or rant, or comment) is written in a concise, humorous paragraph or two, and is littered with swear words. The advice, for the most part, is good, but there’s a chance some people will lose it amongst the rubble of Chuck’s twisted (and entertaining) sense of humour.

Also, due to the length of each section, Chuck rarely elaborates on his points, which works for someone who already understands the mechanics of writing but might be annoying or frustrating to amateurs hoping to learn the fundamentals.

In essence, it’s a refresher guide: a quick, funny reminder of all the writing techniques and tips you probably already know. If you’re a beginner, however, it might not be the best teaching tool — but it’s worth a read anyway.

Unless you’re easily offended.

Then — stay away. Stay far, far away.


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Body Language by James Borg

imgres“Every day we constantly have to interpret what another person’s body language is telling us . . .” 

A lot of misinformed people think they know everything about body language. They’ve watched a brief TV segment on mirroring, or they’ve read an article in a magazine about negative posture or defensive gesturing, and suddenly they’re experts and can decipher every action a person makes. But the truth is, most people, especially the faux experts, don’t know nearly as much as they think they do. 

This book tries to bridge that gap — to discredit the fallacies, fill in the holes of knowledge and to explain that not everything can be deduced from a simple arm-cross or shoulder shrug, although they may be significant; if the action doesn’t mean anything specifically by itself, clustered with another piece of body language, it can reveal a lot. 

The book does well at explaining the complexity of pattern observation and clusters. And as well as its breakdown of negative and positive body language, and how we can manipulate our own body language, or that of other people, to suit our needs, it also delves into the area of lying and how we can tell if somebody isn’t being truthful with us. Again, like body language as a whole, it’s not as simple as “he touched his nose, he’s lying” — it’s more complicated than that, and the book conveys this message in a straightforward and simplistic manner without losing credibility.

By no means a comprehensive guide, it still contains enough hints, tips and insight to warrant a purchase. If you want to master your own body language, or that of a friend or lover, then I’d suggest taking a look at this book, and then maybe do some follow-up research.

That’s it.

Now stop crossing your arms — it’s defensive.


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