Today’s guest reviewer is Annie K. Johnson – here she talks about Making Life Better by James Vandenburg.
Making Life Better by James Vandenburg is best understood as being a collection of philosophical essays that explore personal choice, thought patterns, and the general state of the mind. This is really what a self-help book should look like without really being a self-help book. It’s definitely more of a collection of related philosophical essays and one that a wide variety of readers could enjoy and appreciate. The only thing that matches the usual genre is the title. The actual content of the book is so far from anything I’ve ever seen in a self-help book and is so plainly honest that you just can’t help but like it.
Making Life Better is really sort of a fundamental philosophy book. I could easily see this being required reading for a Philosophy 101 course because of the simplistic style of writing and the sheer depth of Vandenburg’s arguments about the mind. This book is meant to stimulate thought and it does, whether you’ve come to his same conclusions already or not.
It is laid out in such a way as to connect with the reader and is written in a style that anyone can understand and follow. This is a feat only rarely achieved by authors who write something as intelligent as this is. Vandenburg does not just stop when he says that everything is a personal choice; he goes very deep into his own mind about it. It was very clear in reading this book that the author has spent a great deal of time actually conceptualizing what would be in this book and putting it into words. Still, he manages to piece his piece his arguments together without rambling or losing the central point of them.
What I didn’t like at times was that Vandenburg used specific examples throughout his book while still remaining somewhat vague. He talked about his fifth grade teacher early in the book who was the first to turn his fifth grade belief that “I had no choice” on its ear. At the same time, he doesn’t mention exactly what he was trying to assert having no choice on. The reader has to assume that it has to do with homework, but it would have been nice for the author to be more specific. Still, the point comes across that he learned a valuable lesson about his thought process from interactions with that teacher. With that, he does go into incredible detail on are the actual discussions of that particular thought process.
Similarly, the book starts off at the end of a conversation between the author and an unnamed friend. I think it would have been better if the entire conversation, or at least the stunning realization that had inspired the conversation, had been shared with readers. Instead, it was vague and I didn’t grasp the full point of that conversation. I’ve had the “Well, duh” moments that the author describes, but I’m not sure what kind of “Well, duh” moments he specifically meant. I can’t identify with that story because there aren’t enough details in the author’s description to stimulate a recall of those memories. As that’s the biggest and only flaw I’ve found with the book, it’s not something that makes it any less enjoyable or any less intelligent.
Overall, this is a very intelligent book that a lot of people would enjoy and would benefit from. If you don’t want to reach for a self-help book for whatever rut you’re in, this is the book you should go for.
About the book: Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. once said, “A mind stretched by a new idea can never go back to its original dimensions.” For a control freak like myself, this is no small matter. Making Life Better is an invitation to own our part of our making and embrace our unique opportunities to make our lives better. It’s about making routine and daily choices of action, reaction, thought and feeling more profoundly connected to who we are, what we desire and what’s most important to us. It’s an invitation to turn off our auto-pilot setting and allow our sense of purpose, identity and direction to break into our lives with greater wisdom, clarity and intention. It’s a recognition that a meaningful, fulfilling and happy life is really nothing more, though certainly nothing less, than a very long series of meaningful, fulfilling and happy moments. How we experience each of those moments is always completely within us.
About the author: James Vandenburg is a geek. He’s also a Writer, Composer, Motivational Speaker and quite often, a Philosopher. He holds Bachelor degrees in Music Theory/Composition and in Philosophy/Religion, a Master’s in Music Composition, and continues to be an eternal student of life and culture with a penchant for reading everything he can get his hands on. He’s traveled to some of the most remote places on the planet but for now, is perfectly happy living in sunny San Diego, CA.