Resources: BOOKS

The Art of Choosing, by Sheena Iyengar
(Twelve, 2010)

How much control do you have in your life? Have you ever refrained from doing something that you wanted to do because you didn’t have a choice? Do you spend more time than desired in the cereal aisle at the grocery store trying to decide?

In The Art of Choosing, Columbia University professor Sheena Iyengar thoroughly analyzes the concept of choice, something that she has been pondering since a very young age. As a Sikh immigrant from India, she was conscious of the different views toward choice while growing up in America. While her family and religion told her what to eat and whom to marry, her American friends lived lives abundant with choices, in comparison. Choice is associated with freedom, but only after understanding the “art” of choosing can one avoid manipulation from advertising, recognize cultural traps, and master coping with the choices that one must make or has made.

Iyengar presents stories and experiments showing that your own survival can depend on choice. Steven Callahan, captain of the Napoleon Solo, was lost at sea for 76 days. In his case, survival was a choice he made every day, instead of accepting any idea of “fate.” Being presented with more choices can actually delay the decision-making process, as shown in Iyengar’s jam experiment, where shoppers purchased more jams when the number of choices was reduced from 24 varieties to six.

Iyengar will leave the reader pondering how they view choice and open a door of reflection to how much control one has over destiny. “It’s when we tell the story of our lives in terms of choice, that it gives meaning to the things we do every day,” Iyengar writes.

The Genius in All of Us: Why Everything You’ve Been Told about Genetics, Talent and IQ Is Wrong, by David Shenk
(Doubleday, 2010)

Have you ever stopped yourself from doing something because you believed you were out of your league intellectually or physically? We’ve come a long way since Mendelian genetics and the notion that our genes directly determine our traits, that our environment has little, if any, influence on them. In The Genius in All of Us, David Shenk argues that the paradigm of innate talent is dead, and that genes are not the blueprints determining one’s fate. Instead, it is nature and nurture — what he calls “Genes x Environment” (GxE) — that determines a person’s future. Genes are actually influenced by one’s environment.

Our reliance on genes, natural talent and IQ as deciding factors of our abilities is very damaging to the individual and to society as a whole — adults rarely reach their full potential when in fact there could be an abundance of “genius” in our world, Shenk says. The key to genius is not in our genes, but in understanding our ability to influence and change our future. From learning an instrument to increasing your memory, you can change who you are and what you do, he says.

Wisdom: From Philosophy to Neuroscience, by Stephen S. Hall
(Knopf, 2010)

What factors (age, experience, aptitude, character) influence wisdom, and what role does our brain play? Author Stephen S. Hall bundles together the history of wisdom and ideas from philosophy and psychology formed over thousands of years up to recent discoveries made in neuroscience.

How does wisdom direct us in leading a meaningful life and knowing what to do in uncertain situations? According to Hall, “Wisdom as a process can serve as a guide to helping us make the best-possible decisions at junctures of great importance in our lives.” He presents erudite perspectives on the subject, from Socrates to Gandhi, and introduces eight pillars of wisdom.

Hall begins with his own experience on the morning of 9/11, questioning how wisely he initially handled this urgent situation. The need for wisdom seems to come at times of crisis in our lives, “before we think we need it.”

Wisdom is not just for the old, gray-haired man sitting in the secluded mountains; Hall reflects on its meaning in today’s world. The key to your personal development and accumulation of wisdom can be examined by the company you keep and your interactions with those around you. bw

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