You won't find reviews of Hike Your Own Hike or The Hidden Europe here (that's a lie: there's one review for The Hidden Europe). Instead, this section is for my review other books, although I may occasionally review a movie or even a gadget.

I've put my best reviews here, but if it's not enough, then you'll find hundreds of reviews on Amazon.
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Trump reviewing Trump

The day after our Jackass-In-Chief won the election I cried like a pussy and then wrote, “3 Great Things About Donald Trump’s Victory.”

It was good therapy for me and I hope it calmed down my liberal friends who had become stupidly hysterical.

Now that the Trumpster has been in office for 100 days, it’s the traditional time to judge his performance so far.

In my post-election article, I mentioned three silver linings in the Trump cloud:

  1. Democracy won.
  2. Russian-American relations may win.
  3. Mars may win.

Now that the first 100 days has passed, let’s review each one and consider a few other important points. I'll end with a shocking prediction.

1. Democracy definitely won and Russian involvement is overblown

Even the day after the election, there were mumblings about Russia’s meddling in the election. I dismissed them in my post-election article. I focused on the more important point: democracy won. The underdog won against the Powers That Be.

Regardless, people are shocked that Russia meddled in our election and some even suggest that Russia handed the election to Trump on a silver platter.

First of all, the United States meddles in elections all over the world, including Russian elections. We are the kings of election manipulation. We’ve installed tyrants all over the planet. This doesn’t justify Russia’s actions, but it does make us hypocrites.

Second, most major powers try to influence elections. China tries to sway African elections, Germany tries to move French elections, and Mexico tries to nudge American elections. People are free to donate to political action committees, even if they are foreigners. This is nothing new or shocking. It would be weird if nobody tried to influence foreign elections.

Yes, Russia did it by hacking computers and spreading fake news. That’s a bit more devious than an Albanian writing a check for $1000 to help Hillary Clinton.

However, the hacking and fake news did not swing the election. We are giving Russia way too much credit. Russia’s efforts were just one of the myriad of efforts out there to sway the election one way or another. To argue that their efforts were the main reason for Trump’s victory is absurd.

Remember: Trump won the Electoral College by a healthy margin. It was not a narrow victory, like the 2000 election was, which took weeks and endless recounts to resolve.

Yes, Trump lost the popular vote, but The Donald won decisively on what matters: the stupidly outdated Electoral College.

Had the election hinged on Michigan (or Florida or a couple of electoral points), then people could argue that the Russian involvement and fake news tipped the razor-thin difference in Trump’s favor. But it wasn’t a razor-thin Electoral victory, so let’s stop blaming the commies.

Here’s the hard, real news that many Democrats struggle to accept: Fake news didn't make Hillary lose; Hillary lost because she was a terrible candidate. Period.

Hillary should have automatically gotten 50% of the vote for two reasons:

  1. She was a woman (female solidarity should have kicked in just like black solidarity propelled Obama).
  2. She was running against a sexist pig.

If Hillary had been a man, she should have still gotten 70% of the female vote simply because Donald is such a misogynist. Add Hillary’s gender to the equation and she should have snagged up to 90% of the female vote.

With the female vote in the bag, she only needed to get a little bit of the male vote and she would have won easily. I predicted and hoped for a landslide. I was so wrong.

She only got 56% of the female vote.

That’s worse than Obama, a man who wasn’t competing against Mr. Pussy-Grabber.

So why did Hillary get so little female support?

Because she sucks.

Most Americans think that Hillary is so bad and so unappealing on so many levels that she lost to the easiest opponent she could have had. Donald Trump’s victory doesn't show that the Russian involvement was critical but instead shows that she was a horrible candidate.

The 2016 election reminds me of the 2004 election. George W. Bush got reelected in 2004 not because he was so fabulous, but because John Kerry was so utterly boring and uninspiring. Even in 2004, few Americans loved W. It’s just that John Kerry sucked more.

The election was hers to win. She had it in the bag. She fucked up because she’s even less charismatic than Trump, which is saying a lot because Trump must be the least charismatic president we’ve had since Nixon.

Most US Presidents, especially ones who get reelected, smile easily and joke often. Think Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama. All these two-term Presidents cracked jokes and smiled often. They were all likable, even if you don’t like their policies.

Have you noticed that Trump never smiles or laughs?

There’s only one photo that I’ve seen of him smiling: that’s when white trailer trash visited him in the Oval Office.

 Trump smiling

It's so weird and almost disturbing to see Trump smile. It's shocking, really.

Trump’s tough look is probably why Putin likes him. Russians hate fake smiles. And they perceive most smiles as fake.

To sum up, democracy won despite Russian influence, which didn’t dramatically alter the election results. Hillary lost because she sucked.

Lastly, if it’s unclear, I’ve always preferred Hillary over Donald the Disaster.

2. Russian-American Relations

I hedged my prediction from the beginning. I said that the Russian-American relationship may improve, and that if it did, that would be a good thing. However, I also warned that Trump’s erratic, childish temperament could easily toss the bromance between him and Putin out the window.

It seems that Trump’s bombing of Syria was the first salvo in destroying the budding Russian-American relations.

It was fun while it lasted.

Still, I haven’t given up yet. It’s possible that Trump will kiss and make up with Putin. I just hope the American people warm up to Russia. Russia is a million times better than many of our staunch allies (e.g., Saudi Arabia).

3. Mars

My Mars prediction was accurate. NASA was one of the only science programs that Trump did not cut. Trump allocated NASA nearly $20 billion in his budget.

He mentioned space in his inaugural address. Trump is also pushing to go to Europa and back to the moon.

As I predicted, his ego is pushing for space. He wants to buy some real estate on other planet. Of course, he’s frustrated that humans won’t get to Mars by 2024 (which would be the end of his second term), but at least he will be able to make yet another ridiculous claim, like, “I got us there.”

Will Trump get re-elected?

I go back and forth on this one. As I said before, I will never underestimate Trump again. Anything is possible with him.

Therefore, it wouldn’t surprise me at all if he were re-elected. Remember, he’s a ratings whore. He would look at The Apprentice ratings more than he would look up the skirts of the Ms. Universe contestants.

If his TV ratings dropped, he made adjustments to boost them up again.

Now that his presidential approval ratings have dropped, he will scramble to lift them up again. The good news is that all he really cares about is his ratings. He has no ideological compass. He just wants to be popular and loved. And he’ll do whatever it takes to achieve that, even if it means doing a 180-degree turn on various issues.

Why is flip-flopping automatically a bad thing?

I hate that the press (and others) blast politicians for flip-flopping.

Scientists flip-flop all the time when presented with new evidence that contradicts prior knowledge. The CEO of Coca-Cola flip-flopped when consumers rejected the New Coke formula. I hope that you flip-flop whenever compelling evidence destroys your prior beliefs.

Maybe Trump will flip-flop on climate change. Maybe he’ll declare that it isn’t a Chinese hoax. Wouldn’t that be a good thing?

Or would you prefer a President who continues to stubbornly believe something no matter how much evidence is stacked against that belief?

“Well, at least he’s not a spineless flip-flopper!”

I expect Trump to reverse many of his positions in order to increase his popularity. Ratings is all he really cares about. He’s incompetent in so many things (including running a business; he’s gone bankrupt four times).

The one thing he’s good at is being popular. That skill might be all he needs to get reelected.

Will Trump get impeached?

How could Donald Trump be impeached?

Just like I can easily see Trump getting reelected, I can also easily see his administration unraveling so quickly that Congress impeaches his ass.

The Democrats hate him, of course. Only 9% of Democrats approve of his first quarter performance. That's by far the poorest performance in US presidential history.

Trump has never gotten deep Republican support. So it wouldn’t take much—a thrilling scandal—to get enough Republicans to support the Democrats who will lead the impeachment brigade.

Still, it’s sometimes hard to imagine what kind of scandal could take down Teflon Trump. Nothing sticks to that guy. Pussygate would have destroyed most politicians. Think of Congressman Wiener.

Look at the once-mighty Bill O’Reilly. He got canned because in the last 20 years O’Reilly sexually harassed as many women as The Donald harassed last week.

Therefore, I’m really torn. Part of me is sure that he will get impeached. Maybe his lack of paying taxes will bring him down. Maybe a Russian scandal will torch him. Maybe Melania is really a man.

Meanwhile, another part of me is sure that he will get reelected. He’s so laser-focused on getting high ratings that he’ll do whatever it takes to win. That means following the polls like no other President has ever followed them. He rewards loyalty, so he can be slow to fire people, but he’ll do if that’s what it takes to be loved.

Campaign promises mean little

It’s annoying to see pundits decry that Trump ignored his campaign promises.

On the contrary, I was surprised by how closely Trump stuck to his campaign promises. A perfect example is Trump's executive order diarrhea.

But hasn’t he broken lots of campaign promises too?

Of course! Has there ever been a politician who hasn’t?

Are we all so naïve to believe that he was going to do everything that he said he would do?

Do we forget that the two other branches of government can block his efforts?

It's too early to judge, but so far, compared to most politicians, Trump is better than average. Compare Trump's promise record to Obama's. Obama broke about 25% of his promises. Trump's trajectory looks like he'll do better.

Still, as I mentioned above, he's addicted to ratings. So keeping promises is less important to him than keep his ratings high. And that's a good thing. The main reason I'm still open-minded to Trump is that he's approval ratings driven.

Frankly, I hope that Trump breaks some of his promises. I hope he doesn't build a Mexican wall or stop TPP, for example.

Let’s stop talking whether Trump has kept his campaign promises or not. It would be interesting if he kept all of them or none of them. Otherwise, it’s a boring topic.

Predicting the next four years

It’s impossible to correctly predict all the wacky things that will happen under Trump. The only thing that is certain is that it will be a surreal ride.

Stop whining about the election and the Russian tampering. Let’s admit that even though Hillary would have been a better President than Trump, she simply sucked—and that’s the main reason why she lost.

Also, there’s nothing inherently bad with flip-flopping. In some cases, it’s bad if you don’t flip-flop.

I’ll end with a bold prediction: I predict that Trump will be impeached in 2019.

If I'm wrong, then my next prediction is that he won't be reelected because he doesn't smile as much as other 2-term presidents.

What do you think?

Reelected? Impeached? Neither? He’ll just lose the 2020 election?

Or maybe you think he’ll die of a heart attack because of all that cocaine he’s snorting. Or maybe he’ll get assassinated by a KKK guy who dislikes that he flip-flopped on the Mexican Wall. Or maybe a Muslim suicide bomber will take him down.

If he dies, we’ll have dull President Pence. Yawn.

Make your predictions now so you can gloat in 2020!

Cover of Winter in the Wilderness A Field Guide to Primitive Survival Skills by Dave Hall, Jon Ulrich

I reviewed Dave Hall's excellent book, Winter in the Wilderness. I got a chance to have an exclusive interview with the author and ask him 8 questions. His answers are extremely useful for anyone who is interested in winter survival.

1. What's been the most uncomfortable/life-threatening situation you've ever survived in the winter? How did you do it?

Two events come to mind. In both instances, I didn’t feel that my life or the lives of anyone in our group were in imminent danger, but circumstances could have changed and easily become life-threatening.

The first happened when I was in college and leading a group into the High Peaks of the Adirondacks. We stayed in the Adirondack Loj campground under what I would call severe conditions, with temperatures hovering at 30 degrees below zero. Our plan was to summit Algonquin Peak the next day. With the wind chill, temperatures dropped to about 50 below during our hike.

We decided to tackle Wright Peak instead, with only four or five of us summiting while the rest of our party stayed below treeline. Our gear served us well, but it was evident that this was a potentially disastrous situation. On the way down, on the lee of a boulder, I removed my mittens to make an adjustment and the ache and pain in my hands was instantaneous.

The second situation occurred when my colleague, Tim Drake, and I led a group of students from the College of Environmental Science and Forestry on a winter overnight into the Labrador Hollow Unique Area. During this particular expedition, we faced a situation that until that point I had often thought about but never experienced. Conditions at the outset of our journey were ideal but soon took a harrowing turn. It began to rain, then sleet, then snow. This presented one of the most deadly winter survival situations into which I had ever been cast. Everything—and I mean everything—was wet. By nightfall, most of the students had finished their shelters, but it was

It began to rain, then sleet, then snow. This presented one of the most deadly winter survival situations into which I had ever been cast. Everything—and I mean everything—was wet. By nightfall, most of the students had finished their shelters, but it was fire that saved our asses. This is a skill that must be mastered, and it is situations like these that speak to its importance.

2. What's been your biggest winter survival error? What did you learn from it?

In truth, I have encountered few, if any, errors. I have certainly been uncomfortable at points throughout the years, but I have never exceeded my limitations—and it’s important to know what those limitations are. I try to stay dry and push myself to improve and expand on my skill set. I have always gone into winter situations prepared and with deliberate intentions. Even when I embark on a short cross-country skiing trip into the woods near my home, I bring along a knife and a lighter.

3. What's the biggest myth that people have about winter survival? (That it's freezing in a snow cave?)

Phone unlocking review

In late 2016, I bought a Samsung Galaxy S7 phone on eBay from Nathan Gundlach, who claimed that it was unlocked. After buying it, he begged me to give him positive feedback on eBay before I got the phone. He claimed it's because PayPal won't release the money I sent him until either I give feedback or 3 days have passed. He wanted to buy more phones with the cash I sent him.  He added, "Even if you don't like the phone, you can still bring up a case against me if you need to."

I trusted that the phone would be good and that he would work with me to fix it if it wasn't.

When my American friend brought the phone to Madagascar, I put my working SIM card (I know it was working since my Samsung Galaxy S6 was using it) into the S7. Result?

A Troublesome Inheritance book cover by Nicholas Wade

It's expected that a book about genetics and race will elicit extreme reactions. Just look at all the passionate 1-star reviews on A Troublesome Inheritance. I enjoyed reading them because they make good points. Nicolas Wade's book has flaws, which I'll tackle first.

Race may be a troublesome inheritance, but better to explore and understand its bearing on human nature and history than to pretend for reasons of political convenience that it has no evolutionary basis.

7 Problems with A Troublesome Inheritance

1. I was unconvinced by his arguments that genes played much of a role in helping the UK lead the Industrial Revolution. Had the Industrial Revolution and general global leadership happened in China, I suspect he would have written, "It was obvious that the Industrial Revolution would occur in China because East Asians evolved to have the highest IQ among all the races. It's Chinese genes, which favor high IQ, that ultimately resulted in their race/culture being the winning/dominant one on the planet."

2. I would have preferred he spend less time talking about Francis Fukuyama's analysis of the rise and fall of empires and spend more time on the latest genetic research on racial differences.

3. In the conclusion, he wimps out and gives in to the politically correct orthodoxy which he claims to defy.

For example, after spending much of the book explaining how the West (and to some extent China) have produced superior/stronger civilizations than other races/societies, then he backtracks. He says, "There is no assertion of superiority." (Loc 3761 on Kindle). And later, "All human races are variations on a common theme. There is no basis from an evolutionary perspective for declaring any one variation superior to any other."

4. Despite being written in 2014, he never uses the word "epigenetics" in the book. This fast-moving field is critical to understanding how quickly evolution can move. It would vastly support his argument (or at least give it another dimension). However, it fails to enter his radar.

5. He becomes annoying by how often he repeats this phrase: "New analyses of the human genome establish that human evolution has been recent, copious and regional." He bangs that drum at least four times.

6. East Asian are intellectual superstars, but then why was South Korea and Taiwan equal to Ghana 60 years ago?

Why are some countries rich and others persistently poor? Capital and information flow fairly freely, so what is it that prevents poor countries from taking out a loan, copying every Scandinavian institution, and becoming as rich and peaceful as Denmark? Africa has absorbed billions of dollars in aid over the past half century and yet, until a recent spurt of growth, its standard of living has stagnated for decades. South Korea and Taiwan, on the other hand, almost as poor at the start of the period, have enjoyed an economic resurgence.

Wade will say that genes are a factor, but then why were East Asians so far behind back in 1960?

7. Wrong fact. He writes: "The homicide rate in the United States, Europe, China and Japan is less than 2 per 100,000 people, whereas in most African countries south of the Sahara, it exceeds 10 per 100,000, a difference that does not prove but surely allows room for a genetic contribution to greater violence in the less developed world." 

First, the US homicide rate is twice as high as he claims, according to the UN. 
Second, he's focusing on Africa, whereas he ought to be focused on Latin America, which has the highest homicide rate.
Third, the way to prove that genes play a role isn't to do a simple analysis like he's doing. What they need to do is to take South Americans (and Africans) out of their countries and place them in rich, peaceful countries (like Northern European ones). If, after a couple of generations, the desendents of those non-Europeans are still more violent than the mean, then you have an argument that genes play a role. 

Cover of Are Racists Crazy?

Everyone loves books with provocative questions as their titles. Are Racists Crazy? strikes that nerve. Now that's even better than the title of another book that I read recently: What if There Were No Whites in South Africa?

Unfortunately, Are Racists Crazy? How Prejudice, Racism, and Antisemitism Became Markers of Insanity reminds me of What if there were no whites in South Africa? It doesn't leave you with a definitive answer.

Perhaps that's my fault. I come in with expectations of having a simple YES/NO conclusion, when clearly the question is nuanced and complex, which explains why you need a book to answer it.

I, like Levison Wood, love to walk. I’ve hiked 25,000 kilometers the last 20 years. My longest trek was when I walked 9,000 km (5,600 miles) from Mexico to Canada and back on the rocky, mountainous, and snowy Continental Divide Trail

In comparison, Lev Wood planned to follow the Nile downstream for its complete length of 6,800 km (4,250 miles), which is 25% shorter than the route I took and having far less elevation gain than walking the spine of America’s Rocky Mountains. 

He would take 9 months, while I hiked my round-trip in 7 months.

I make this comparison not to argue that my trip was “harder” or that my wood is longer that Wood's wood. My trip was simply different than Wood’s. 

The reason I make this comparison is so that you can understand my perspective when I read Walking The Nile—I’m not your average armchair travelogue reader—I have a good idea what it takes to do what he did. And it’s precisely for that reason that I both admire Lev Wood and criticize him. There are six positive traits about Walking The Nile and seven negative ones.

Climate Change book cover

I've written some unorthodox views about climate change before, including my debate with a T-Rex and my suggestions on how to solve climate change. This sparked some climate change debate on my forum.

Given my interest in climate change, Oxford University Press sent me an advanced copy of Climate Change and the Health of Nations: Famines, Fevers, and the Fate of Populations by the late Anthony McMichael. In 2014, McMichael, an Australian public health researcher, died at the age of 72. His two co-authors helped complete his work, which will be published in 2017.

What's the point of the book?

The point of Climate Change and the Health of Nations is to follow the advice of historian Geoffrey Parker, who encouraged us to take the road less traveled: "We have two ways to anticipate the impact of a future catastrophic climate change . . . Either we 'fast-forward' the tape of history and predict what might happen on the basis of current trends; or we 'rewind the tape' and learn from what happened during global catastrophes in the past. Although many experts have tried the former, few have systematically attempted the latter." 

In short, McMichael does what mutual fund managers always tells us not to do: to use past performance to predict future results.

Here are some of the questions that he answers (among many):

  • Did climate change 23,000 years ago hasten the demise of the Neanderthals?
  • How did the prolonged drying of the Sahara 5,500 years ago affect food yields?
  • Did humans in southern Mesopotamia 4,000 years ago suffer due to climate change?

As you would expect, there's plenty of doom and gloom in this book. McMichael reports that "the rate of heating would be about 30 times faster than when Earth emerged from the most recent ice age, between 17,000 and 12,000 years ago." However, there are snippets of refreshing observations. 

The climate has changed rapidly even when SUVs didn't exist

One of the biggest myths about our present-day climate change is that it's the first time in the history of the planet that the climate has changed as fast as it's changing now. The American Institute of Physics proves that's false.

Even McMichael recognizes this when he admits: "While the drying of the Sahara from around 6,000 years ago occurred in unhurried fashion over several centuries, regional changes in climate in the Dead Sea region in the early millennia of the Holocene led to desertification within decades."

It's moments like this that we know that McMichael doesn't have a one-sided argument. Still, he reports, "The last time the planet's temperature rose by 4 degrees was 56 million years ago, but that change occurred over thousands of years, not over a single century."

He's relatively balanced. At times, he's simply brilliant.

Chibok Girls book cover by HabilaIn 2016, Nigeria's Chibok girls have continued to dominate the news from Nigeria. In October 2016, Boko Haram released 21 girls. The NY Times reported that another 83 girls may get released soon. The NYC newspaper also says that 100 girls (of the original 270 who were abducted) may never want to return home because either they are brainwashed or ashamed to face their communities now that they are "damaged goods."

On December 5, 2016, Chibok Girls: The Boko Haram Kidnappings and Islamist Militancy in Nigeria by Helon Habila will be released. The publisher sent me an advanced copy to review.

The book is dated even before it hits the stands, since it does not capture the latest news of the release of 21 girls nor the possible 83 who may also return home. Still, it's a good 130-page overview of the situation so far. 

Habila gambles by going into the lion's den. He travels to Chibok and the surrounding area to pick up first-hand knowledge of the state of affairs. For that reason, I recommend the book. 

What is disappointing is the book's length. At 130 pages, it's doesn't go that much deeper than what you can gleen from reading internet articles for a couple of hours. I've been following the situation and I didn't learn much. But for someone who knows little, this is an excellent summary. Moreover, because it's a personal account, it can be riviting at times. Its anecdotes are telling. Like this one:

In Northeast Nigeria, there are signs telling drivers that it is illegal to give bribes at checkpoints, with a phone number to call if a soldier solicited for bribe. This was the face of the new government in 2015, elected with promise to wipe out corruption and Boko Haram. Abbas told me he had tried the numbers and they didn't work.

It's such a classic African story. I have several of mine own like that.

Habila is reasonable most of the time, but I strongly disagree with Habila when he writes:

"I used to wonder why the facilities at our airports and in almost all public buildings in Nigeria or always broken and sub-standard, until I realized it was not accidental. It is a way of controlling the masses. The masses must never be allowed to think they deserve standard service."

This is a terrible and silly argument. It's unproductive victimhood. The reason airports and public buildings are a disaster in most of Africa is that its leaders are incompentent and Africans just don't care that much about it. 

Imagine you're the head of some African state and that you want to control the masses. What would be more effective: 

a) Have pathetic buildings, screwed up roads, and crumbling airports?

b) Have infrastructure like Switzerland?

Cover of The New Black Middle Class in South AfricaBooks about South Africa are sometimes racially biased. The New Black Middle Class in South Africa is not. The author, Professor Roger Southall, writes a level-headed, dispassionate analysis of the emergent middle class in South Africa.

After spending half a year all over South Africa and having picked up over 100 hitchhikers (98% were black), I learned a lot about the racial tensions in South Africa. I saw strong parallels with the USA. Although I was born in 1970, I imagine that South Africa is where the USA was in the first 10 years after aparteid (1965-1975). 

Today, even though blacks hold the political power in democratic South Africa (because just 8% of the voters are white), many still blame much of their misfortunes on whites. For instance, their dismal literacy rates of 100 years ago are often faulted on the colonial period. 

Southall traces the rise of the black middle class and the force of literacy. In 1911, South Africa's first census concluded that 6.8 percent of its blacks were literate. Before we're quick to blame the white colonists for this low figure, let's remember that prior to the arrivals of the whites, no sub-Saharan society (except Ethiopia) had ever invented writing.

Throughout the 20th century, schools became more common throughout Africa. Today, 94% of South Africans are literate. This has helped fuel the rise of the middle class.

South Africa's literacy rate is much higher than other sub-Saharan countries that had far less intense colonization than South Africa. The average youth literacy rate in the sub-Sahara is just 71%. For young women in sub-Saharan Africa, the rate remains dismally low at 65%.

According to the 2016 UIS estimates, the literacy rate for young men and women is a mere 16% in Niger and below 30% in Afghanistan, Guinea, Mali, and South Sudan (only Afganistan is not in the sub-Sahara). If colonialism is to blame, then why is South Africa (having been far more colonized than those other countries) doing so much better on the education front? 

In 1970, 2.7 million black children were in [South African] schools. By 1988, it was 7 million; a third of university students were black.

Today, blacks are the majority of students and the majority of the university administrators. They run the show. Still, given the ongoing 2016 university protests, the students are more dissatisfied than ever.

It's getting harder for South African students to blame the whites for their frustration, but some still do. For example, one student placed a piece of shit on the head of the statue of Cecil Rhodes. Eventually, after much protests, they removed the statue. Now everything is so much better. 

Esoteric Empathy book

Esoteric Empathy bookI've tried mushrooms twice in my life. Once was in Amsterdam. It produced a 4-hour laughing attack. It was great fun! Everything was hilarious!

The second time was at Burning Man. I expected a repeat of my Amsterdam experience, but instead was treated to a 4-hour trip of extreme empathy. It was bizarre and deeply revealing.

We all like to think of ourselves as pretty good people. I certainly always pretended to give a shit about my fellow human. However, it wasn't until I took those mushrooms at Burning Man that I realized just how much more empathic I can be. I realized that I am far more disconnected that I was willing to admit to myself.

That's why when I was offered an advanced copy of Esoteric Empathy: A Magickal & Metaphysical Guide to Emotional Sensitivity by Raven Digitalis, I was interested in digging deeper in this important subject.

The book will be released to the public on December 8, 2016, which happens to be the 36-year anniversary of the death of an extremely emphatic man: John Lennon. The book's release probably is also meant to encourage people to gift a book about empathy to someone for the holidays. So should you buy it for yourself or someone else this Christmas?

What turned me off may turn you on

Raven Digitalis is a new age author. Just listen to some of his previous book titles: Shadow Magick Compendium, Planetary Spells & Rituals, and Goth Craft. Yeah, you can see where he's coming from.

More evidence: Digitalis is a Neopagan Priest and cofounder of an “Eastern Hellenistic” nonprofit multicultural Temple called Opus Aima Obscuræ. Yikes! On his website, he claims that he is "trained in Eastern philosophies and Georgian Witchcraft, Raven has been an earth-based practitioner since 1999, a Priest since 2003, a Freemason since 2012, and an empath all of his life. He holds a degree in anthropology from the University of Montana and is also a professional Tarot reader, DJ, small-scale farmer and animal rights advocate." 

As a humanist, I am unimpressed with these credentials, but you might find Raven's background attractive. If so, then you may get turned on by this excerpt (while I was turned off):

Make your own magickal gemstone elixir spray by purchasing a small glass spray bottle. On a full moon, put a small piece of black tourmaline in the bottle and add a splash of Witch hazel to entirely submerge the stone. Allow this to sit outside overnight where it will be sure to soak up moonlight and sunlight. Next, add a few drops of your favorite calming essential oil, such as lavender to ease the mind, sage to purify the space, ylang-ylang to calm anxiety, or patchouli for grounding (and for our inner hippies).

Such passages make my eyes roll. However, you may find it extremely useful (especially if you are unfamiliar with the placebo effect).

Esoteric Empathy sometimes goes off onto tangents that are unrelated (or very loosely related) to empathy. For example, it explains about how you should recycle or about many gods and deities that you can believe in.

What I liked

Esoteric Empathy has a section that discusses how mind-altering drugs can have a positive impact. Given my experience, I found this section interesting.

Moreover, Esoteric Empathy offers various exercises for you to improve your empathy. Some were a bit too mystical for my tastes, but a few are worth trying. 

Finally, there are a few good quotations, like this one:

A friend is someone who gives you total freedom to be yourself--and especially to feel, or not feel. Whatever you happen to be feeling at any moment is fine with them. That's what real love amounts to: letting a person be what he really is. - Jim Morisson, lead singer of The Doors

Who should buy Esoteric Empathy?

I found all the spiritual hocus-pocus to be too distracting. I'm clearly the wrong audience. If such new age concepts appeal to you, then you ought to sample the book on Amazon before you buy it.

Digitalis generously and selflessly endorses many other books in Esoteric Empathy. Although you shouldn't judge a book by its title, I did when he recommended The Art of Empathy: A Complete Guide to Life's Most Essential SkillThat book seems more what I was hoping for: a practical guide on how to increase your empathy.

Verdict: Esoteric Empathy gets 5 out 10 stars.




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