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Field Notes on the Compassionate Life: A Search for the Soul of Kindness

Field Notes on the Compassionate Life: A Search for the Soul of Kindness is a worthwhile read that may well change your life. You should buy this book.

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Review of Field Notes on the Compassionate Life: A Search for the Soul of Kindness, by Marc Ian Barasch.

Reviewer: Mark Lamendola

This book is a "must read." On the downside, the author is a bit wordy at times. But at other times, his writing simply sparkles. This book provides useful information, compelling case histories, and thought-inspiring statements.

What's most valuable about this book is its message. Just prior to writing this review, I exchanged e-mails with a business-person who provided several accounts of customers and suppliers who are petty, rude, and selfish. Such behavior seems to be "normal," these days. We need look only to accounts of road rage and powerful government bureaucrats to support the contention that people are, well, contentious.

But, is this the way humans are headed? Or is there something else developing for us? And what about you, personally? How can you create greater levels of kindness in the world around you? Barasch provides solid insights into this, backed by extensive information that includes clinical research.

This isn't another of those "follow this simple formula" books written just to provide additional income for a motivational speaker. Far from it (Barasch isn't a motivational speaker, for one thing). Though highly credentialed to write a book that leads you to contemplate your world view, Barasch doesn't claim to have the magic answers. Instead, he takes various aspects of compassion (devoting a chapter to each) and supplies some amazing case histories that provide lessons for all of us.

A particularly moving case history involves the father of a murdered 43-year old woman--and her killer. You might expect a parent to completely hate the murderer of his child. And, that was this father's first reaction. But hatred is a hot coal that burns those who hold it. This father, instead, extended love to the murderer. The results of that serve as a living legacy to the murdered daughter. She had devoted her life to helping others, and now--through the man who murdered her--this woman's father is working minor miracles in the lives of many prisoners.

Another example is a camp for teenagers. But, not just any teenagers--this is a camp that brings Israeli and Palestinian teens together. You can imagine the difficulties there--kids from two cultures that each demonize and hate the other to the point where people strap bombs on their bodies to blow up "the enemy." Yet, the people who run the camp program were able to make some surprising breakthroughs. This story alone justifies the book, but there's more.

A constant theme throughout the book is we have the power to choose to love--or to hate. We aren't trapped into one or the other, unless we let ourselves be trapped. But many of us are trapped, and we're trapped in a room constructed of something negative, such as pettiness or hatred. We're trapped because we simply cannot find the door. Fortunately, Barasch has some great ideas to help us not only see that door, but to throw it wide open.



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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