Review: non-fiction e-books by Janice Kaplan, Barton Swaim and Paul Downs

PUBLISHED : Friday, 11 September, 2015, 4:55pm
UPDATED : Friday, 11 September, 2015, 4:55pm

The Gratitude Diaries 

by Janice Kaplan

Yellow Kite (e-book)

Cynics may discount this book before giving it a chance, but they’d be foolish to do so: The Gratitude Diaries isn’t just an account of how being appreciative and behaving in a cooperative, reciprocal way can make you a better person. It also shows how being happy about what you have can  keep you healthy. Janice Kaplan, who finds one reason to be thankful every day for a year, provides ample evidence from fascinating research that reveals the benefits of living gratefully. It’s something  Roman emperor (and Stoic philosopher) Marcus Aurelius appreciated. Epicurus was of a similar mind,  advising: do not spoil what you have by desiring what you have not. Kaplan writes that people who are grateful are less likely to want useless stuff.  Interestingly, the idea that the less you own the more you can appreciate is starting to catch on, with minimalism increasingly the goal. This is borne out by numbers showing, in the US at least, that buying of clothes peaked in 2005.  Few people will argue against Kaplan’s appreciative stance. 


The Speechwriter by Barton Swaim

Simon & Schuster (e-book)

Dumbing down does not begin to describe what Barton Swaim had to do when he worked as a speechwriter for South Carolina governor Mark Sanford for three years from 2007. During that time, as some might remember, his boss went missing for a few days, during which he was not, as he had said, hiking on the Appalachian Trail. Rather, Sanford was with his mistress in Buenos Aires. That episode is among many that make Swaim's stint as Sanford's voice a grimly humorous experience. Not only was he part of a dysfunctional office but also under the thumb of an unpredictable taskmaster, for whom "expressing constant dissatisfaction was perhaps his way of maintaining control". Perfectly well-crafted sentences - in speeches, op-eds and letters - were peppered with empty verbiage and turned into drivel at the behest of Sanford, who only wanted people who could write the way he would if he had the time. With politicians delivering ever more speeches today, this is an interesting examination of the meaning of words.


Boss Life by Paul Downs

Recorded Books (audiobook)

Anyone thinking of starting a business should read Paul Downs' account of running a small company and surviving, despite at times having so little money in the bank he faced closure within days. But somehow, he says, he has survived close to 30 years, largely by juggling incoming and outgoing payments. An American cabinetmaker specialising in custom conference tables, Downs begins each chapter showing his bank balance for the month, net cash and new-contract value. He describes his problems with workers; one who caused grief was highly skilled and hardworking, but lived in the past and was not interested in interacting, let alone innovating. "Employees complain without understanding why bosses act the way they do," Downs says, through narrator Jonathan Hogan. He explains the stresses involved not only when sales are down, but also when clients aren't happy, or when he has to sack workers or cut their pay. Lest he give the impression that he worries about money all the time, he says "it's probably only several hundred times a day".