Book Reviews

Van Gogh: The Life by Steven Naifeh, Gregory White Smith

Van Gogh- The Life by Steven Naifeh,  Gregory White Smith.jpgRating: 🍁🍁🍁🍁🍁

The title of this book is a bit misleading. More than just “The Life”, this book is more like “Literally Every Single Day in the Life of Vincent Van Gogh”. 

I am floored by how much information exists on this man, and it’s no wonder this endeavor took a whole decade for the authors to complete. 

One fact is clear though, if you are thinking about reading this to learn more about his artwork, STOP. RIGHT. THERE. The many members of the Van Gogh family were used to sending letters to each other on a regular basis, sometimes multiple times a week, and in Vincent’s case, even multiple times a day. Because of these letters, this book is often able to tell you exactly what happened on every single day of any given week in December 1882.

It is dense and tedious, but if you would like to know every minuscule biographical detail that shaped Van Gogh’s life, this is the book you want to read. But if you specifically want to learn more about his artworks from an aesthetic and technical standpoint, I would not recommend this.

However, this book does tell you <i>exactly</i> where he was and what was going through his head when creating certain artworks. It goes into great detail about The Potato Eaters, for example. Other artworks are glossed over or simply mentioned as being created during a particular time. So if you are doing some research for school, or would like to know about his headspace when creating a certain artwork, I would recommend skimming through until you find the relevant bit. 

These authors were also the first to introduce the theory that Van Gogh did not die by suicide, and the last chapter explains their deductive reasoning thoroughly and convincingly. I, for one, fully agree with them. 

It took me a year to read this and I couldn’t have done it without daily reading goals and mammoth motivation.

Would recommend to: highly motivated readers, researchers and students who just need to browse through it to write or present a biography for school. 

Would not recommend to: people wanting to learn more about Van Gogh’s art specifically. While there is some background information you can glean from here and maybe some hypotheses you could build through this information, this is about Vincent Van Gogh the man, and not just the artwork. 

Book Reviews

What If?: Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions by Randall Munroe

What If?- Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions by Randall Munroe

Rating: 🍁🍁🍁🍁

You’ve probably seen tons of xkcd comics online throughout the years. This book was written by the same guy! And it’s just as funny, curious and entertaining as those comics, but super fleshed out. 

All of the questions were submitted through Randall Munroe’s website, and he of course includes his characteristic stick figures for more laughs. 

The questions aren’t ordered by any theme or anything, so you can just flip through and pick whatever catches your attention.

As a layperson, I can’t say I 100% understood every equation or calculation he uses, but he includes helpful comparisons to further clarify the answer in your mind. 

After every so many pages, there’s a single page of “Weird and Worrying Questions” that he doesn’t answer, but responds a funny reaction comic instead. 

My only qualm with this book is he sometimes veered away from answering the exact question. He made up for it by asking the question in a different way, or adding other, often more catastrophic variables. (This reminded me a lot of Adam from Myth Busters!) 

I would recommend this to: fans of xkcd, curious children who love asking questions in science class, and the adults who used to be those children. 

Book Reviews

Inside the Business of Illustration by Steven Heller, Marshall Arisman

Inside the Business of Illustration by Steven Heller, Marshall ArismanRating: 🍁🍁🍁🍁🍁

As someone who majored in Illustration, I picked this book as a complement to my education and because Marshall Arisman has often been remarked upon as a living legend full of wisdom. If I can’t attend his school, reading his book was the least I could do.

The writing feels like you’re having a very sincere and approachable conversation with him, where he speaks in clear terms and not in the cryptic, grandiloquent and unhelpful advice that is so common in art schools. I had the opportunity to meet him once and the writing comes off as genuine as if he were standing right there talking to you.

The advice is very broad and, as the title states, is very much about the business of illustration, rather than about the art side of things.

It includes tons of advice and I would highly recommend it to any budding illustrator who feels a little lost.

The last part of the book includes tons of interviews of illustrators, agents, and art directors.

Book Reviews

I Can’t Believe It’s Not Buddha!: What Fake Buddha Quotes Can Teach Us About Buddhism by Bodhipaksa


Rating: 🍁🍁🍁🍁🍁

I received an advance copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

This is a fun book to pick up because we’ve all known people who share inspirational quotes with pretty backgrounds that look great on social media. I myself have fallen for a widely-shared quote that is misattributed to Dr. Seuss.

The author is a great teacher who keeps a lighthearted and often humorous tone throughout the book. He explains why this search for truth is important, and candidly relates it to the spread of fake information on social media over the past two years.

The book includes 50 fake quotes which aren’t categorized in any way, they are just listed one after the other, with some information about each one.

He tracks down the true origin of the quote, sometimes mentions other famous people who have mistakenly perpetuated it, and always explains how it may or may not relate to the Buddha’s teachings, and why people will fall for it so easily. By the end of the book, you’ll have picked up on many red flags to help you detect fake quotes in the future.

At the end there’s 25 real quotes, but these are just listed without any commentary.

It’s a fun little book to flip through at leisure, the kind of thing you can leave on a bedside or coffee table, or read in short bursts during your commute.

Also, don’t feel dissuaded from reading this if you’re Buddhist or not, this book is accessible to anyone, and hell, it might even spark an interest in Buddhism if you’re receptive to it.

I would recommend this to curious people, and people who just want a quick little fun read that is also educational without being stuffy.

Comes out on November 6th!

Book Reviews

Stoned: Jewelry, Obsession, and How Desire Shapes the World by Aja Raden

stoned.jpgRating: 🍁🍁🍁🍁🍁

This is one of the bestest books I’ve read this year!!! And I can think of tons of people who would love it!

Stoned isn’t really about the history of jewelry, as I first assumed. It really hinges on that “How Desire Shapes the World” and delves into this odd and embarrassing psychology of what makes something desirable, what we’ll do to obtain it, and how what we want says quite a lot about us as humans.

Some memorable examples: Queen Elizabeth I’s desire for a famed pearl (and what it represented) motivated her to move entire armies against Spain. A necklace that didn’t even have anything to do with Marie Antoinette was more fuel for the fire that eventually became the French Revolution. And lastly, before World War I, men would have “rather worn skirts” than wristwatches (which were seen as strictly feminine). After experiencing how useful they were for synchronized attacks during the war, they became the most desirable way to advertise one’s masculinity. (So dumb.)

There’s so so many interesting bits of world history in here that I never knew were so intertwined with gems, jewelry and ornamentation. It’s like the little hidden histories behind the summarized version you received in school.

Also, non-ficiton books with a sense of humor are just so much more engaging than those without. Aja Raden is hilarious and often makes ironic and cheeky connections that often made me chuckle. She also uses colloquial language to state universal truths, such as “Spain was up to its intolerant eyeballs in debt (…)” or when Louis XVI became king and said “Protect us, Lord, for we are too young to reign.” Aja says “No shit.” HAAAAAA!!! (Another funny non-fiction author is Mary Roach. If you’ve read and enjoyed her books, you’ll probably love this too, and vice versa.)

I’d recommend this book to ANYONE because it is very enlightening, quite fun, and it’s about world history (mostly western if I’m being honest, it includes: Spain, England, France, the Americas, Japan, Russia, The Netherlands, and South Africa). It’s also very straightforward about the ugly historical truths that were sugarcoated for us in school, like with Columbus.

Book Reviews

Wicked Plants: The Weed That Killed Lincoln’s Mother and Other Botanical Atrocities by Amy Stewart, Briony Morrow-Cribbs (Etchings), Jonathon Rosen (Drawings)

Wicked Plants- The Weed That Killed Lincoln's Mother and Other Botanical Atrocities by Amy Stewart, Briony Morrow-Cribbs (Etchings), Jonathon Rosen (Drawings)

Rating: 🍁🍁🍁🍁🍁

The weed that killed Lincoln’s mom is the second to last in the book. You’re welcome.

Wicked Plants is the kind of fun little book you can read in small bursts just to find out fun facts.

Each plant has its own illustration, plus at least three pages detailing how it is wicked (some of the categories are: deadly, illegal, destructive, etc), and this also includes the history of the plant’s evil deeds.

Sometimes it’ll be followed by a section of related plants with little paragraphs dedicated to each one, but there’s no illustrations for these.

It’s definitely NOT a field guide though. I would never recommend anyone use this as a guide out in the open because the information is super general and there’s no pictures in color.

Overall, it was fun, I’d recommend it if you’re curious.