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When Life Strikes

Book Review of: When Life Strikes

Weathering Financial Storms

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Review of When Life Strikes, by Cal Brown (Hardcover, 2011)

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


This is an excellent book. Not everyone has the same interests, so not all books "work" for all people. This book, however, really is for everyone. While reading it, I composed a mental list of people for whom I should buy a copy. Thank you, Cal Brown, for an excellent contribution to the personal finance literature.

This book stands above most others in its genre. The professionalism and honest desire to help the reader just emanate from page after page. Specifically:

  • Brown sticks to what he knows.
  • What Brown does know, he knows very, very well.
  • Brown writes in the kind of tone I associate with a mentor. He's never condescending.
  • If Brown made any errors in grammar, composition, or spelling, I don't remember them.
  • Everything is crystal clear!
  • He's not advocating any political agenda, nor is the book a shill for his business.

My father died, with no will, about 9 months before I read this book. He left a huge mess (financial, legal, etc.), which my sister cleaned up with only a little help from me. She's not a complainer, but I know what she went through was awful. Unfortunately, this kind of outcome is normal rather than the exception. All of that could have been prevented, had all concerned parties read this particular book and put the advice into practice. While Brown does give solid advice on estate planning (for parents to follow and for children to follow), that's only part of what he covers.

Think about some major life events you've endured. For example, layoff, illness, or investment setback. Those experiences aren't pleasant, but they don't have to be as rough as they typically are. The purpose of this book is to show you how to plan for, and respond to, these kinds of events.

This book is limited in scope, which is the proper way to frame a book. Too often, advice-type books come out and are full of factual errors because the author considers a component topic important but lacks the expertise to correctly address it. It's good to see that Brown felt no need to try to impress anyone with what he does not know.

Rather than try to address a laundry list of scenarios, Brown stuck to what he knows (as I mentioned earlier). This means you won't get bad advice on what to do if some event for which he's not qualified to give advice happens. On that score, however, he does mention where to look for resources. For example, he briefly touches on some legal aspects. But being a financial expert, he doesn't pretend to be a legal expert. Given his background, I'm fairly certain he's had a Business Law class or two but he realizes that doesn't make him an expert. In fact, he points out that even a licensed attorney may not be an expert in the area of law in which you have a problem.

Brown draws on a quarter century of experience, plus formal credentials, to provide answers to some very tough financial questions. He explains the essentials of wealth preservation, money management, financial crisis prevention, financial blow recovery, estate planning, eldercare planning, tax planning, and some other important financial issues. He offers real solutions you can implement without hiring a team of lawyers and accountants.

While we can't totally prevent nasty surprises and can't escape dying, we can plan for both. Just some small changes made ahead of time can make the a huge difference. Brown explains what options you have to reduce the sting from the zingers life might hit you with, and how to prevent some from hitting you in the first place.

This book doesn't just make a nice addition to your collection of "how to survive life" books. It's a book that a family should make time to discuss. That means adult children discussing with their elderly parents what to do as their twilight approaches. It means a married couple looking at issues of what to do if one spouse dies. It means any family considering the ramifications of several specific types of financial emergencies.

This book consists of fourteen chapters divided into eight parts. Obviously, some parts have only one chapter. The body of the book runs 216 pages. Following the main text is a very useful appendix, which is 42 pages long. Its title is Financial Toolbox. The book also includes the requisite "About the Author" information, which tells us about Brown's qualifications. While I appreciate having this info to read, it became abundantly clear to me only partway into the book that Mr. Brown was eminently qualified to write it.




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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