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Manual For Living

Book Review of: Manual For Living

Connection, Book Two

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Review of Manual For Living, by Author (Softcover, 2011)

(You can print this review in landscape mode, if you want a hardcopy)


Mr. Chernoff is writing a series of "Manual For Living" books, with some completed and some yet to be written. This is the only one I have read. It's not a manual, though. In the Introduction, the author calls it a practical guide. It's not that, either.

It's a collection of short works, typically 2 or 3 pages long. Some are "almost essays," while others seem to be random thoughts sprinkled with New Age or pseudo-Confucian clichés. Much of what he has to say is quite good, but much of it should be edited out. Removing about half the material in this book would make it ten times better.

I don't know the proper name for these short works, so will call them lessons. I think the author intended for each to be the lesson of the day. In the Note to the Reader (right after the Introduction), he suggests just opening the book at random and reflecting on what you find.

Given probably and distribution, the reader will open the same few parts of the book 80% of the time and some of it never. Mr. Chernoff may have written that suggestion after realizing this book isn't organized into any kind of useful structure.

His suggestion reminds me of a Sunday School lesson about Bible reading. The preacher wanted a structured course for Bible study. But many in the church insisted that it was much better to "be moved by the spirit" and read whatever page you landed upon by randomly opening the book.

To make his point that random daily readings were a bad idea, the preacher opened his Bible, seemingly at random, and read, "And so Joseph hanged himself." Then he closed it, and "randomly" opened it again. This time, he read, "You go and do likewise."

Back to the structure thing. A useful structure might also help in deciding what should stay and what should go. The book has inconsistencies, both within itself and with well-known physical laws. That is, some of the statements conflict and some are simply wrong.

An example of a conflict is on page 186. There, he says we're complex. But in an earlier lesson, he said we're simple. As these are mutually exclusive states, it seems his philosophy can do a 180 degree turn in a few pages.

An example of something that's simply wrong is on page 161. He starts that lesson by saying, "The world and everything in it is purely energy." I don't think the people at CERN would agree. On page 171, he says all words are stored--based on the mistaken notion that vibrations in the air never fade into oblivion but continue on forever. There are other examples of this kind of "creative physics," and all of them should edited out. They detract immensely from the book not just by undermining the author's credibility but also by insulting the intelligence of the reader.

Despite these shortcomings, this book is loaded with gems. For example, consider this item from page 194:

"When we are upset or in a bad space, closing our mouths and reconnecting with our Spirit is the only solution that avoids harming our connection to those we love." Oh, yes, there are many other solutions. Yell louder than the other person, drag up long-buried grievances, make angry accusations, toss out a negative label or two. But simply shutting up until you can get calm again? I don't think that's the most common response. I do think it's nearly always the best response.

If Mr. Chernoff had built each lesson around a thought like that and simply expanded on it to provide practical tips and suggestions, he'd have produced a work that delivers on the promise of the title. The book he did produce doesn't do that. I recommend improving this book with aggressive editing. As he proceeds through the series, he should think of how to organize the material before writing it. He should also not include things that simply don't belong.

This book contains about 100 of these lessons, in 272 pages. If Mr. Chernoff edited away the "non value added" and objectionable material, he'd have about 140 pages that resonate with the thoughtful reader.




About these reviews

You may be wondering why the reviews here are any different from the hundreds of "reviews" posted online. Notice the quotation marks?

I've been reviewing books for sites like Amazon for many years now, and it dismays me that Amazon found it necessary to post a minimum word count for reviews. It further dismays me that it's only 20 words. If that's all you have to say about a book, why bother?

And why waste everyone else's time with such drivel? As a reader of such reviews, I feel like I am being told that I do not matter. The flippancy of people who write these terse "reviews" is insulting to the authors also, I would suspect.

This sound bite blathering taking the place of any actual communication is increasingly a problem in our mindless, blog-posting Webosphere. Sadly, Google rewards such pointlessness as "content" so we just get more if this inanity.

My reviews, contrary to current (non) standards, actually tell you about the book. I always got an "A" on a book review I did as a kid (that's how I remember it anyhow, and it's my story so I'm sticking to it). A book review contains certain elements and has a logical structure. It informs the reader about the book.

A book review may also tell the reader whether the reviewer liked it, but revealing a reviewer's personal taste is not necessary for an informative book review.

About your reviewer

  • Books are a passion of mine. I read dozens of them each year, plus I listen to audio books.
  • Most of my "reading diet" consists of nonfiction. I think life is too short to use your limited reading time on material that has little or no substance. That leads into my next point...
  • In 1990, I stopped watching television. I have not missed it. At all.
  • I was first published as a preteen. I wrote an essay, and my teacher submitted it to the local paper.
  • For six years, I worked as an editor for a trade publication. I left that job in 2002, and still do freelance editing and authoring for that publication (and for other publications).
  • No book has emerged from my mind onto the best-seller list. So maybe I'm presumptuous in judging the work of others. Then again, I do more describing than judging in my reviews. And I have so many articles now published that I stopped counting them at 6,000. When did I stop? Probably 20,000 articles ago! (It's been a while).
  • I have an engineering degree and an MBA, among other "quant" degrees. That helps explain my methodical approach toward reviews.
  • You probably don't know anybody who has made a perfect or near perfect score on a test of Standard Written English. I have. So, a credential for whatever it's worth.

About reading style

No, I do not "speed read" through these. That said, I do read at a fast rate. But, in contrast to speed reading, I read everything when I read a book for review.

Speed reading is a specialized type of reading that requires skipping text as you go. Using this technique, I've been able to consistently "max out" a speed reading machine at 2080 words per minute with 80% comprehension. This method is great if you are out to show how fast you can read. But I didn't use it in graduate school and I don't use it now. I think it takes the joy out of reading, and that pleasure is a big part of why I read.

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