2000 - 2007 Non Fiction

Difficult Conversations by Stone, Patton and Heen

Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most[ DIFFICULT CONVERSATIONS: HOW TO DISCUSS WHAT MATTERS MOST ] By Stone, Douglas ( Author )Nov-02-2010 Paperback

Five words from the blurb: negotiate, manage, feelings, blame, listen

Last month I had a short Twitter conversation with @ninabellbooks about books we buy for other people. She mentioned Difficult Conversations as one she finds so useful she frequently talks about, and then buys, for other people. I was intrigued and so ordered a copy from my local library. I now know why she loves it so much and have already recommended it to several people.

Difficult Conversations is written by the leaders of the Harvard Negotiation Project and it explains how to approach a wide range of potentially volatile situations. In step-by-step guides it teaches the reader how to avoid arguments and negotiate a solution that is acceptable to all parties. It explains everything from how to deliver bad news, to dealing with difficult colleagues. It even explains how to ask for a pay rise! Whilst most is common sense there were several aspects that were new to me and incorporating some of these ideas into my conversations has changed my life for the better.

One of the main points this book makes is that there are very few bad people in the world. Most don’t set out to hurt others and if they do it is either unintentional or the indirect result of trying to help someone else. It advises giving people the benefit of the doubt, explaining how their actions hurt you and trying to understand their point of view. It cleverly includes examples where you read through the conversation, immediately come up with your own ideas about who is right or wrong, but when you read the additional information your take on the situation changes completely. I wish more novel writers read this book as it would help them to create some fantastic twists!

The book explains how everyone has their own quirks and it is only through compassion and patience that we can try to understand the other person’s point of view and have meaningful conversations. 

Sometimes, you’ll find yourself wishing you didn’t have to be explicit. You wish the other person already knew that there was a problem and would do something about it. This is a common and understandable fantasy – our ideal mate or perfect colleague should be able to read our mind and meet our needs without having to ask. Unfortunately, such people don’t exist. Over time, we may come to know better how we each think and feel, but we will never be perfect. Being disappointed that someone isn’t reading our mind is one of our contributions to the problem.

Overall this is a very important book. It will help people to live happier lives and prevent many arguments. Highly recommended.


2013 Non Fiction Uncategorized

The Antidote by Oliver Burkeman

The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can't Stand Positive Thinking

Five words from the blurb: solution, happiness, embracing, negative, thinking

I don’t normally read self-help books, but something about this one caught my attention. I loved the way it went against the grain of popular opinion by promoting the power of negative thinking and so I requested a review copy.

The book concentrates on the idea that our society’s habit of seeking happiness is actually making us miserable. It suggests embracing failure, pessimism and uncertainty in order to find happiness in a more realistic way. The book looks at a varied group of people who take this different view of life and shows how it has worked for them.

The great thing about The Antidote is how entertaining the reading experience is. Several sections are very funny and the examples are perfect for sharing with family and friends. I found myself repeating anecdotes from this book on numerous occasions and think I’ll continue to do so for a long time.

The book looks at a range of topics including Buddhist meditation, Stoics, and socities that embrace death, but I particularly liked the chapter on products that had failed:

I laughed when I encountered Goff’s Low Ash Cat Food, with its proud boast, ‘contains only one point five percent ash!’ (As the journalist Neil Steinberg has noted, this is like marketing a line of hot dogs called ‘Few Mouse Hairs’.) Yet several people presumably invested months of their lives in creating that cat food.

Although many examples were light-hearted there was a serious message under the surface. The chapter showing how becoming too focused on goals can be dangerous was unnerving. It gave the example of climbers who die trying to reach the summit of Everest – showing that people can sometimes become so focused on the result that they don’t realise what they risk when trying to achieve it.

I don’t think this book is life changing, but it raises some thought provoking ideas. Recommended to anyone interested in the power of negative thinking!





Hector and the Search for Happiness – Francois Lelord

 Translated from the French by Lorenza Garcia

Hector and the Search for Happiness is a short, quirky book about one man’s search for happiness.

Hector is a young psychiatrist who decides to travel around the world finding out what makes people in other countries happy. As he learns about their feelings he makes notes, developing a set of rules which he uses to find happiness within himself.

The writing was very simple, almost child-like and the entire book can be read very quickly. 

I think my main problem with this book was that it wasn’t really a novel. It had much more in common with a self-help guide, a type of book that I avoid. Perhaps I’m just lucky enough to already know that the secret of happiness relies on strong relationships and not material wealth, but I felt I gained nothing from reading this book.

I found the lessons to be patronising and there were several points when I wanted to throw this book across the room.

Lesson no. 12: It is harder to be happy in a country run by bad people.

and possibly even more annoying:

Lesson no. 22: Women care more than men about making others happy. 

I think this book will appeal to fans of Mitch Albom and self-help guides, but I found it to be overly sentimental.

It seems as though I’m the only one that didn’t enjoy it….

It was very sweet and I think it had a number of good lessons in it. Medieval Bookworm

 ….has a genuine edge to it, with on-the-button observations about human beings and the way they think and behave. Vulpes Libris

…. it is warm and insightful, and it cleverly avoids the pitfalls of silliness and sentimentality. Fleur Fisher Reads

Did you enjoy Hector and the Search for Happiness?