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Book Reviews (by Kim Gentes)

In the past, I would post only book reviews pertinent to worship, music in the local church, or general Christian leadership and discipleship. Recently, I've been studying many more general topics as well, such as history, economics and scientific thought, some of which end up as reviews here as well.

Entries in psychology (2)

Daring Greatly - BrenĂ© Brown (2012)

"Daring Greatly" is a brilliant and well-founded book that explores the relationship between vulnerability (and its antithesis- shame) and the human ability to thrive in various aspects of life. Researcher, professor and speaker Brené Brown presents a comprehensive treatise on the strength of weakness as encapsulated in the concept of vulnerability. Basing the book on almost a decade of grounded theory research, Brown pours out a narrative of our society: grounded in a culture of scarcity, steeped in shame, disengaged and dehumanized, we've become ineffectual and immobilized by our vices while remaining skeptical of a solution from the weak-kneed concept of vulnerability. Into that realm, she categorically refutes the myths of vulnerability and builds a bulwark of understanding, combating and refuting shame. By juxtaposing these two concepts- vulnerability and shame- the author gives practical tools for people to begin to reframe their approach to everything from work, to mission, to relationships and even to parenting.

What endears this book to the reader is its terse and pithy style in which Brown's "Texas-attitude-meets-Ivy-league-education" approach draws both research and reality into sharp focus. Brené Brown may be as brilliant a writer as she is a researcher, and one can only hope that she is as resilient with this kind of writing as her formula for combating shame-based systems. Her examples, her categorizing and her structure of the book brought me along effortlessly. Every time it seemed that she was about to run ashore with data, psychobabble and information overload, she would pull out another human story of what she was talking about. OK, I'll admit it. I welled up with tears a few times reading this book. Especially the parts that were about things I have dealt with, such as parenting, shame, work (success and failure) and more. Rather than make up hypothetical cases, Brown peppers this book with real life. The kind of real life that hits you in the heart like a sucker punch in the solar plexus.

The only "fault" I could find with this book was its later-half renditioning of iterated concepts into named "manifestos" and "checklists", which feels to this reader like a liturgical social contract that perhaps adds its own very tiny hint of shame to those who already feel burdened down by the expectations and shame this book otherwise so powerfully addresses. I say this not to berate the author's work, but merely to point out that it is the nomenclature of "manifesto" and "checklist" that perhaps places them on another long "To-do" list that our shame-laden society is already struggling to stand up under. I will take the great advice given in them as helpful, but may not want to call it a "manifesto"- a term which has so much charge and grandiosity as to make ignoring it something of a shame.

That point aside, the book explodes the heart with joy from every corner. The topics covered will be of interest to literally every person in western society. Who is not driven by the pressures of shame, afraid of the weakness of vulnerability, and out-gunned by the societal pressures of being the perfect parent? I absolutely LOVED what  Brené Brown says about parenting. I finally saw some actual explanation behind the occasional times of glistening success I've felt as a parent, and some solid solutions for parenting issues I am still struggling with. The chapter on parenting, alone, is worth the entire price of the book, although, frankly it makes little sense until you've read the rest of the book (as it appears, fittingly at the end of the volume). It is excellent and penetrating in its clarity of the essential aspects of relational connection and leadership with our children. To cite just one example (from which are many) is this obvious and brilliant axiom that emerges in her writing:

What do parents experience as the most vulnerable and bravest thing that they do... the answer was obvious: letting their children struggle and experience adversity.1

This is just a sample of Brown's common sense reality that mixes well with her deep research background to create a brilliant collage of wisdom in this chapter.

Now, finally, to my absolute most loved part of the book- the appendix. Call me a geek, and you'd be throwing a big stone into my glass house for sure. In the appendix Brown explains her particular approach to research theory and process. Her work has been taken seriously because she took it seriously. This was not a book written out of convenience or conjecture. Brown is driven by research. This is what I LOVE about this book, and from it comes an appreciation that has me reading it through a second time.

I've got to admit something. I don't like reading pop-psychology books. I especially don't like when they become phenoms that garner tabloid level press and afternoon talk show appearances. My disinclination to this kind of writing made me wince when I had found out that (after I had downloaded the book to my Kindle), it was widely celebrated in just these kinds of arenas.  But Brown's research, excellent writing and incredibly practicable solutions (that she details therein) dispel all of my concerns of being one of the "mob" running after the "hot fad" in pop-psych.

This book is excellent, timely, deep (but not technical), caring and enjoyable. An astounding feat in just 250 pages of text that fly by in a couple days.  If you have time to read just one book this year, make it this one. You won't regret it.

Amazon Link:

Review by Kim Gentes


1. Brown, Brene (2012-09-11). Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead (p. 238). Penguin Group US. Kindle Edition. 

Man's Search For Meaning - Viktor Frankl (1959)

Victor Frankl is the author of one of the most concise personal narratives of the holocaust of the Nazi concentration camps. Frankl, who survived no less than four camps personally, uses his profound analytic mind to explore the behavior and nature of human beings. Rejecting the Freudian premise of existentialism, Frankl develops a new way of viewing humanity in the psychoanalytic discipline. As both a psychologist and neurologist, Frankl's physiological and psychological findings are synthesized into his new psychoanalytic technique called "logotherapy".

In contrast to the existentialist foundations of Freud, Frankl establishes the belief that there is meaning in the universe, especially for mankind. Man’s Search for Meaning articulates that it is this search for meaning that becomes the primary question for all:

The greatest task for any person is to find meaning in his or her life. Frankl saw three possible sources for meaning: in work (doing something significant), in love (caring for another person), and in courage during difficult times. [1]

While staying away from religious archetypes to present his theory, the core of logotherapeutic beliefs are constructed with such care that they can sit squarely on top of the foundation of either Jewish or Christian orthodoxy (or perhaps any religious context in which God is viewed as good).

Man's Search For Meaning is one of the most profound modern works I have read. Perhaps Frankl's most significant concept presented therein is his thorough and profound treatment of human suffering. Frankl does not dismiss suffering as meaningless (unlike existentialism), but places it within a triad of human experience that he says brings meaning: doing significant work, caring for others, and enduring suffering.  He contends that without human thought and activity based one one or more of those three, a person will lose meaning in life and destruction (either external or internal) is sure to follow.

According to logotherapy, we can discover this meaning in life in three different ways: (1) by creating a work or doing a deed; (2) by experiencing something or encountering someone; and (3) by the attitude we take toward unavoidable suffering. [2]


In some way, suffering ceases to be suffering at the moment it finds a meaning, such as the meaning of a sacrifice [3]

The key for Frankl's thesis is the rooting of human expectation in the future, not the present. Meaning comes, he contends, by placing hopes in spiritual or earthly goals. Failing to do so will cause discouragement and loss meaning, spiralling people into trying to scratch out meaning in temporal pleasure of the day, which will eventually lead to abandonment of hope and self-destruction.

Logotherapy focuses rather on the future, that is to say, on the meanings to be fulfilled by the patient in his future. (Logotherapy, indeed, is a meaning-centered psychotherapy.)[4]

This book starts off being our hosted view into the unfathomable world of concentration camps in Nazi Germany, and the psycho-analytical understandings that Frankl comes to.  But the more you read, the more you are drawn into Frankl's so thoroughly rendered understanding of suffering that the book becomes a way for us to enter into the story by Frankl's genius. Very few books come close to the profundity of human experience and, therefor, understanding that is present in this book.  I can't imagine that it isn't one of the greatest writings in the last century.

Life changing!

Book Link on Amazon: Man's Search for Meaning


Review by

Kim Gentes


[1]“Man’s Search For Meaning”, (Boston, MA: Beacon Press 1959), Pg. X

[2]Ibid, Pg 111

[3]Ibid, Pg 113

[4]Ibid, Pg 98