Book Reviews V

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Been a while since I’ve done one of these. But every once in a while I review some books I’ve read recently as well as old favorites of mine. You can read previous book reviews here, here, here, and here.

Total Recall by Arnold Schwarzneggar
The best bodybuilder of all-time, one of the highest paid Hollywood actors of all-time, successful entrepreneur and investor (something I didn’t know), two-time California governor, adulterer and tabloid fodder, Arnold is the walking American Dream if there ever was one. Born in a two-room cabin with no electricity in rural post-War Austria, Arnold knew even as a child what he wanted to do: be a bodybuilder and then leverage it to move to America and become a movie star. This was an absolutely insane idea for the time, or any time really. But he did it.

It’s interesting. You can see some of the factors of Arnold’s success within the writing of the book itself. He’s a bit delusional about himself. Everything that happens is described as “amazing” or “fantastic” all the time, even when it’s pretty normal or mundane. His failures are glossed over, if not completely ignored at times. And although it’s obvious that this totally narcissistic level of confidence is what made him the iconic individual he eventually became, it doesn’t make for a clean biographical experience.

To my surprise, I enjoyed the bodybuilding and political portions of the book far more than the Hollywood section. In fact, the Hollywood section was boring and felt, ironically, the least authentic as it was told. This may be because he’s since returned to Hollywood and didn’t want to burn any bridges there, but it came off as pretty vanilla and emotionless compared to his other experiences.

What blew me away — and sealed this book as an awesome biography — was that he dedicated a chapter to his adultery and the scandal he had a few years ago when it became public that he had an illegitimate child with his housekeeper. You can tell this chapter was excruciating for him to write, but he did it anyway. It came out heartfelt and was the most honest and self-reflective of the entire book. I loved it when Arnold admitted, “people look at me as a role model, but what they don’t realize is that some of the personality traits that made me so successful also make me do some stupid things, things they always don’t see or hear about.” I’m such a sucker for honesty and vulnerability.

I hate this term, but Arnold is a true winner at everything he does. For anyone who wants a look into the mindset of an insanely successful person, then this is an excellent book. Arnold’s the real deal. Just reading the book inspired me to start doing more reps in the gym and working longer hours on my sites.

Getting the Love You Want by Harville Hendrix
The best book on the psychology of relationships that I’ve ever come across (trust me, there’s a lot of crap out there). A fair amount of this post was actually inspired by reading this book.

Harville and his wife are certified psychiatrists and marriage counselors. They’ve worked with couples young and old for decades. In Getting the Love You Want Harville breaks down how our emotional needs are created and how they drive us to choose the partners we do. He explains that these deep, unconscious, psychological needs manifest themselves consciously as deep attraction. What most of us refer to as “chemistry” or that “spark” between two people is really them each meeting the person who fills the archetype their unconscious constructed to fulfill their unsatisfied needs.

A bit heady for a single guy looking for dating advice. But for anyone who’s either in a long-term relationship, or has been in one that ended spectacularly, this is a must-read. I’m a nerd about this stuff and have read a LOT of relationship books over the years, and this one is probably my all-time favorite.

The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie
The novel that inspired a death sentence from a head of state and pushed the author into hiding for over a decade. The Satanic Verses is infamous for causing an international political crisis as well as being allegedly completely unreadable.

Well, it isn’t easy to read, at least not to the average Anglo-Saxon reader. Rushdie is an Anglo-Indian and this book, among his others, is heavily influenced by Indian, Pakistani and Muslim culture. Having at least some knowledge about these things is beneficial, but not necessary if you have some patience.

That aside, the prose is beautiful, and the story brilliant. Two characters, one an Indian immigrant to England, and the other a Bollywood movie star, find themselves in the middle of a mid-air terrorist attack together. As the lone survivors, their fate takes a magic-realism twist and the two doppelgängers swerve in and out of reality as their personal lives disintegrate. Breaking up the narrative are “visions” of the Prophet Mohammed and the history surrounding the beginnings of Islam. Rushdie decided to interpret Islam’s founding by including the story of the controversial “satanic verses”, original verses from the Qur’an, which were actually pagan and then later ordered removed by Mohammed. Rushdie, in a sort of historical-fiction manner, writes of how Mohammed uses these verses for political gains and then later excises them from his holy book to consolidate his following. Through this, Mohammed is portrayed as self-serving and kind of a prick. Hence the assassination attempts on Rushdie.

While the book’s story itself is fascinating and lovely, the story of Mohammed and the actual satanic verses steal the show. No matter how ludicrous the circumstances get for the present-day heros, I found myself unable to wait for the next interlude about the prophet. I guess that makes me an infidel. Oh well. Not the easiest beach-reading material, but I loved it.

Healing the Shame that Binds You by John Bradshaw
I always try to end these reviews with a book I wasn’t too crazy about. Healing the Shame that Binds You was a smash success back in the 1980′s, kind of like that decade’s Power of Now. Bradshaw is where the term “inner child” originates and he’s famous for bringing emotional issues within family relationships into the mainstream public consciousness back then.

Bradshaw is a former priest, former academic, recovered alcoholic, now self help guru. His most popular work is on family, and I’m actually curious to read his other books about family dynamics, but this one left me a little hot/cold. There were some parts that I thought were great and others that were cheesy or I just skipped over. I’ll start by stating basically what the point of the book is and then level my complaints against him in a separate paragraph at the end.

In Healing the Shame that Binds You, Bradshaw argues that the root of all compulsive and neurotic behaviors — codependence, addiction, anxiety, depression — is what he calls “toxic shame”. He states that there are two types of shame: a healthy shame that acts to keep us in line with social norms — i.e., don’t steal, don’t kick the dog, don’t cheat on your taxes — and toxic shame, a shame that creates irrational beliefs or emotional needs that lead to unhealthy behaviors. When we’re growing up, our parents are supposed to teach us to conform to strong values by shaming us into them. But if our parents are screwed up, then they will shame us for the wrong things or in the wrong ways, often passing their own toxic shame down to us, which then leads to us developing the same unhealthy characteristics in our adulthood.

I like Bradshaw’s model. I actually like the basic model a lot. But then he tries to get into the inner child stuff and prayer and in my opinion that’s where the wheels come off. I do believe that some spiritual practices can have psychological benefits, but he prescribes straight-up Christian theology to fix deep-seated issues, and my experience tells me that that is a dangerous combination.

When it comes to the inner child stuff, it’s more of the same pedantic self help woo woo nonsense. Visualize yourself as a child. Now hug yourself as a child. Tell yourself how much you love you. Now write down everything you’re feeling. Crap like this has been shown to be completely ineffective and a waste of time. It just pumps one’s emotional state. It’s thinly-veiled narcissism.

So are there good things to glean for this book? I think so. There were some sections I highlighted furiously. But for every page I loved, there were probably 3-5 I loathed or just skipped over. If you’re super Christian and live a pretty conventional lifestyle, this may be a great self help book for you. But my guess is if you’re like that, then you’re probably not reading this site on a regular basis.

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22 Comments

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  • Reply

    T_AKA_Ricky

    2 months ago

    Can you explain how and where the “woo woo” stuff was debunked. I’ve long been undecided about all that stuff, so any evidence that would help me come down on one side or the other about the “inner child” stuff would be greatly appreciated.

    • Reply

      postmasculine

      2 months ago

      @T_AKA_Ricky Less debunked than just devoid of any supporting evidence whatsoever. I’m actually in the middle of like a month-long process of aggregating all of the books and studies I’m aware of into a database, so I don’t have it off the top of my head. But check out the book “59 Seconds”, there it talks about all of the self help practices that have no scientific validity and which ones do. 
      “Inner child” itself hasn’t been debunked either, but the exercises Bradshaw recommends are similar to the modalities and sub-modalities in NLP (visualize your perfect self, now step into your perfect self, visualize walking as your perfect self, now walk as your perfect self, etc.), this along with a lot of NLP practices has been shown to be no better than a placebo. Visualizations and affirmations in general give very dubious results… visualizations are only useful when used in conjunction with a specific skill I believe. Affirmations are only useful in very specific contexts, and assuming a person is of high self esteem. 
       
      Afraid that’s the best I can give you at the moment. I’m really excited to get this database put together because I’m really sick of having to tell people, “Look in that book,” or “I read it a couple years ago in an article, I forget the study.” It’s going to be a while, but I’ll finally be able to reference everything more or less immediately for people with questions like this.

      • Reply

        manwithstrat

        2 months ago

        @postmasculine  @T_AKA_Ricky 
        Both of you have had a tremendous impact on my life, so thanks.
         
        Off topic, but I would really like to see Mark write about the codependent/narcissist relationship dynamic that Ricky has written extensively about, and perhaps have Ricky comment on Mark’s post about vulnerability and manipulative women.  Mark, I still think your response is overly simplistic because so many men are unable to recognize narcissistic behavior until farther down the road when they have a lot invested in the relationship… they missed their opportunity to just walk out of the first date.  For men without strong identities, the vulnerability you write about often opens them up to being manipulated by a NPD woman, and results in them taking on some of the overcompensating behavior you wrote about in models, or even narcissistic behavior – that’s not moving in the right direction since they’re more hesitant to show their true selves in the future. 
         
        Again, thanks to you both for doing what you do.

        • Reply

          postmasculine

          2 months ago

          @manwithstrat  @T_AKA_Ricky Some people mentioned in the comments of that thread and it relates here: there’s a post on boundaries that I need to write that is long overdue.
           
          T’s stuff is awesome. I’d love to experiment with getting him on Skype sometime and doing a podcast or something.

        • Reply

          fractalsonfire

          2 months ago

          @postmasculine  @manwithstrat  @T_AKA_Ricky  Want want want! Collaboration or a cross post by my two favourite bloggers would be awesome.

        • Reply

          Treylesnorth

          2 months ago

          @fractalsonfire @postmasculine @manwithstrat @T_AKA_Ricky
          As a fan of PM and Rawness I would also agree it could be a fun collaboration. This is actually the first I’ve seen you two cross paths.

        • Reply

          T_AKA_Ricky

          2 months ago

          @postmasculine  @manwithstrat Yeah, I’d be open to that.

  • Reply

    GetIntoEnglish

    2 months ago

    I enjoyed this review more than some of the others as you wrote in a more conversational way. 
    Disappointed that you call Arnold a winner – I was hoping you’d call him a loser. What kind of man has an affair like that and betrays his wife in front of not just the family, but the whole world..?
    Apart from that, I have a new Kindle and would love to see what other page-turners you’ve read lately.
    My latest read is by Chis Guillebeau, who I think you had a podcast with. It’s ‘The $100 start up.’ I’m still only halfway, but so far I can say: the first part is just him name-dropping his mates in blogging; the second part I’m reading is very interesting and worthwhile.
    My impression btw with some American self-development authors is that they spend the first third of the book arguing why I need to read their book. But I’ve already got it mate and would prefer to get to the nitty-gritty, to cut to the chase. 
    That’s why your book was very good :)

  • Reply

    Shutcherass

    2 months ago

    Badass reviews Mark, I really love this series.
     
    Would you be able to weigh in on “Healing the Shame That Binds You” vs. “No More Mr. Nice Guy” as far as healing toxic shame, eliminating neurotic behaviors, etc?  Are they essentially saying the same thing?
     
    Ty

    • Reply

      postmasculine

      2 months ago

      @Shutcherass I prefer No More Mr Nice Guy by a mile. Healing the Shame that Binds you was interesting in a purely theoretical perspective… I got little to nothing practical out of it.

  • Reply

    Jon 111

    2 months ago

    Mark, I think a more relatable Rushdie novel for westerners would be The Ground Beneath Her Feet, about an Indian rock band that achieves international success.  I enjoyed the Satanic Verses as well, but if an Anglo-American reader is looking for a novel with more references and allusions that he is familiar with, that one is definitely more accessible.

  • Reply

    TheNotoriousPhd

    2 months ago

    Hey Mark,
     
    In the Hendrix book, are examples of specific emotional needs (and how they were formed) given? As in, does it say something along the lines of: some people are attracted to X types of people. This shows that their emotional needs are Y. These needs were created as a result of Z experience.

    • Reply

      Treylesnorth

      2 months ago

      @TheNotoriousPhd
      Haven’t read it, but I read the follow up “keeping the love you find” a few years back. It says your romantic template is based in the parent you most identified/bonded/conflicted with. Every time your needs weren’t met as a child it hurt your ego and created your core wounds. Love happens when you meet someone who closely matches your template (someone who has the potential to both love and hurt you in the same way as your caregiver) and you meet theirs. You boy want repeat your individual processes that hurt you in childhood, but do it differently this time. Heal it (or repeat it the damage to feel alive). You’ll each semiconsciously act out your roles as the aggressor and the roles you once took on the receiving end. If I remember right. Look up Imago Theory.

  • Reply

    Treylesnorth

    2 months ago

    Unrelated to your post, haven’t checked out the whole thing yet. I wanted to stop by and show you this
    http://www.therulesrevisited.com/2011/09/feminine-beauty-is-highly-controllable.html?m=1
    It includes a pie chart on the things in the Looks Department that women can focus on or control and their relative importance.
    Wondered if you knew of anything similar for men?

  • Reply

    TheRealJohnNeil

    2 months ago

    Hey Mark,
     
    Loved “The Education of a Bodybuilder” and that can only mean one thing:   I’ll be buying “Total Recall” as quickly as possible.   But for now I can only comment on his first book I read, and I’ll do that here:
     
    The thing that struck me about Schwarzenegger’s first book “Education…” was his honesty — though I didn’t realize it at the time I was reading.   He was honest even when it was ugly in his book.   He speaks about a phase in his life where he started fights and beat people up just for no reason.   It’s interesting though – he claims that the urge he had to cause mayhem completely stopped at a point and he never did it again.   
     
    He’s also honest about his motivation for bodybuilding — because he was sick of ‘relying’ on his team in soccer and wanted everything to be up to him.

  • Reply

    Satan wears Daytons

    2 months ago

    The ‘inventor’ of loss aversion theory, Daniel Kahneman, has a newer book  called Thinking, Fast and Slow which is a necessary read for anyone attempting to understand the irrationality of the human decision making matrix while Daring Greatly by Brenee Brown is a frank and extremely readable book on the power of vulnerability and shame in creating deeper human experiences. If you’ve read either of these books please let me know your thoughts and, if not, please take time to read them.

  • Reply

    flashawesomo

    2 months ago

    I’m in the process of reading “total recall”. Great read. I’ve read your material since last july about attracting women, I read your book models. I started doing approaches (all failed, however I am light years better than I used to be) , but it’s taken me this long to realize that if I find something I am passionate about (I connected the dots from “total recall”), the girls and everything else just come naturally. Oh and your writing is insightful and I can tell it’s borne of experience. Keep up the good work Mark.

  • Reply

    Jeremy B

    2 months ago

    Mark, what book would you recommend if you’re dealing with a lot of shame and limiting beliefs?

  • Reply

    Anton Volney

    2 months ago

    Hey, I was going to skip Total Recall, but since you recommended it so highly, I’ll check it out!

  • Reply

    Jeremy

    2 months ago

    Btw, Thanks for the tip Mark.

  • Reply

    Silvy

    24 weeks ago

    Thanks for the book reviews, Mark. I actually found “Healing the Shame that Binds You” very helpful. I agree though that the Christian slant wasn’t so useful for me as I’m an atheist but I don’t automatically turn away religious stuff. Still, the first half of the book was much more helpful than the second half. I didn’t really do any of the exercises he suggests but I did apply the principles. I was dealing with a lot of shame and that book made me realize how it was rooted back in childhood. I know books can be very personal experiences but sometimes I think I work well with just combining the pieces myself instead of having pratical exercises laid out for me. I would still highly recomment the book and I will definitely check out the “Daring Greatly” book.

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