Damion Searls: The Inkblots: Hermann Rorschach, His Iconic Test, and the Power of Seeing

The captivating, untold story of Hermann Rorschach and his famous inkblot test, which has shaped our view of human personality and become a fixture in popular culture

In 1917, working alone in a remote Swiss asylum, psychiatrist Hermann Rorschach devised an experiment to probe the human mind. For years he had grappled with the theories of Freud and Jung while also absorbing the aesthetic of a new generation of modern artists. He had come to believe that who we are is less a matter of what we say, as Freud thought, than what we see.

Rorschach himself was a visual artist, and his test, a set of ten carefully designed inkblots, quickly made its way to America, where it took on a life of its own. Co-opted by the military after Pearl Harbor, it was a fixture at the Nuremberg trials and in the jungles of Vietnam. It became an advertising staple, a cliché in Hollywood and journalism, and an inspiration to everyone from Andy Warhol to Jay-Z. The test was also given to millions of defendants, job applicants, parents in custody battles, workers applying for jobs, and people suffering from mental illness—or simply trying to understand themselves better. And it is still used today.

Damion Searls draws on unpublished letters and diaries, and a cache of previously unknown interviews with Rorschach’s family, friends, and colleagues, to tell the unlikely story of the test’s creation, its controversial reinvention, and its remarkable endurance—and what it all reveals about the power of perception. Elegant and original, The Inkblots shines a light on the twentieth century’s most visionary synthesis of art and science.

So often when we think about study psychology, we talk about different methods–but we rarely think about the people who dedicated their lives to figuring out the science behind those methods. Aside from Freud and Jung, how many psychologists can you name? Not many! We see inkblots everywhere in our culture, and not even just as the tests themselves anymore. They are mimicked in art and on album covers, on tshirts and in the media. But I never knew who Hermann Rorschach was–when he lived, how he died, where the inkblots came from.

It’s all pretty fascinating, actually. Rorschach had a troubled childhood, but he was a good person, and genuinely wanted to help people. Medicine wasn’t enough, he wanted to see them for who they were. He worked his whole life with schizophrenics in asylums, trying to determine whether it was a life sentence or not, how he could get inside their heads and bring them back. He didn’t create the first Inkblot Test, but he perfected the cards used today.

The Inkblots is a very dense book. It is not only a biography of Rorschach himself, but also a biography of the Inkblot test. Hermann died young, and so the Searls shifts halfway through to the modern history of his test (WWII-current). The discussion of the Nuremberg trials and how the Rorschach test was used there stopped me in my tracks. Some of the results were so surprising…and poignant to today. I’ve certainly put more reading on my TBR surrounding that subject!

This isn’t a book to be missed for anyone interested in the history of psychology. As I mentioned before, it is dense–definitely not a fast read or something you’re going to fall in love with on vacation–but certainly fascinating. Also, Hermann Rorschach was HOT, and that’s all I have to say about that.

Blogging for Books and Crown Publishing provided a copy of this book for unbiased review. This post contains affiliate links.

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Derek Palacio: The Mortifications

Derek Palacio’s stunning, mythic novel marks the arrival of a fresh voice and a new chapter in the history of 21st century Cuban-American literature.

In 1980, a rural Cuban family is torn apart during the Mariel Boatlift. Uxbal Encarnación—father, husband, political insurgent—refuses to leave behind the revolutionary ideals and lush tomato farms of his sun-soaked homeland. His wife Soledad takes young Isabel and Ulises hostage and flees with them to America, leaving behind Uxbal for the promise of a better life. But instead of settling with fellow Cuban immigrants in Miami’s familiar heat, Soledad pushes further north into the stark, wintry landscape of Hartford, Connecticut. There, in the long shadow of their estranged patriarch, now just a distant memory, the exiled mother and her children begin a process of growth and transformation.

Each struggles and flourishes in their own way: Isabel, spiritually hungry and desperate for higher purpose, finds herself tethered to death and the dying in uncanny ways. Ulises is bookish and awkwardly tall, like his father, whose memory haunts and shapes the boy’s thoughts and desires. Presiding over them both is Soledad. Once consumed by her love for her husband, she begins a tempestuous new relationship with a Dutch tobacco farmer. But just as the Encarnacións begin to cultivate their strange new way of life, Cuba calls them back. Uxbal is alive, and waiting.

Breathtaking, soulful, and profound, The Mortifications is an intoxicating family saga and a timely, urgent expression of longing for one’s true homeland.

I can’t believe it is only January 5th (when I’m writing this), and I am already sick of reading books by men.

I really wanted to like this. I don’t think I’ve read anything by a Cuban author previously, and there was some intriguing chatter about Palacio. It began well too, I finished the first quarter pretty quickly. Unfortunately, it didn’t stay this way, and I lost interest by the midway mark. I tried to keep going for a bit, but it just got progressively worse and I had to put it down. My grimace just got bigger and bigger and it just wasn’t worth continuing.

Soledad and Isabel were both solid, interesting characters. The mother, escaping Cuba during the boatlift, builds a successful life in New England for her children. Isabel, her daughter, is maybe the most complex character in the book, becomes The Death Torch–a novice nun who “helps” dying patients find peace on their way into the afterlife. I found the two main men in the story to be sort of flat and dull.

Unfortunately, this is a man’s literary fiction–and so that is the perspective we mostly get. The Mortifications is more about bland sexual relations than actual human relationships. And wow is there a LOT of sex in this book. Maybe I shouldn’t call it bland–just unrealistic. The kind of sex that if I read one of the scenes to you without telling you who wrote it, you would still know it was written by a man. I found it to be quite Oedipal and stomach churning. It wasn’t sexy at all, just wrong.

I stopped a little after the halfway point, but I have a feeling the second half of the book was going to turn even nastier. The letter leading up to it was a gaslighting mess, hinting at a direction I did not want to go.

I hate that this is such a big no, since it is a POC author and has diverse characters. But I just can’t recommend this. I am still very much interested in reading books by Cuban and/or Cuban-American authors, so if anyone has recommendations, I’d love to read them. I’m going to search for some myself, too. There are great ones out there–let’s go find them.

Blogging for Books and Tim Duggan Books provided a copy for an unbiased review. This post contains affiliate links.

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Ted Koppel: Lights Out

In this tour de force of investigative reporting, Ted Koppel reveals that a major cyberattack on America’s power grid is not only possible but likely, that it would be devastating, and that the United States is shockingly unprepared.
 
Imagine a blackout lasting not days, but weeks or months. Tens of millions of people over several states are affected. For those without access to a generator, there is no running water, no sewage, no refrigeration or light. Food and medical supplies are dwindling. Devices we rely on have gone dark. Banks no longer function, looting is widespread, and law and order are being tested as never before. 

It isn’t just a scenario. A well-designed attack on just one of the nation’s three electric power grids could cripple much of our infrastructure—and in the age of cyberwarfare, a laptop has become the only necessary weapon. Several nations hostile to the United States could launch such an assault at any time. In fact, as a former chief scientist of the NSA reveals, China and Russia have already penetrated the grid. And a cybersecurity advisor to President Obama believes that independent actors—from “hacktivists” to terrorists—have the capability as well. “It’s not a question of if,” says Centcom Commander General Lloyd Austin, “it’s a question of when.” 

And yet, as Koppel makes clear, the federal government, while well prepared for natural disasters, has no plan for the aftermath of an attack on the power grid.  The current Secretary of Homeland Security suggests keeping a battery-powered radio.

In the absence of a government plan, some individuals and communities have taken matters into their own hands. Among the nation’s estimated three million “preppers,” we meet one whose doomsday retreat includes a newly excavated three-acre lake, stocked with fish, and a Wyoming homesteader so self-sufficient that he crafted the thousands of adobe bricks in his house by hand. We also see the unrivaled disaster preparedness of the Mormon church, with its enormous storehouses, high-tech dairies, orchards, and proprietary trucking company – the fruits of a long tradition of anticipating the worst. But how, Koppel asks, will ordinary civilians survive?

With urgency and authority, one of our most renowned journalists examines a threat unique to our time and evaluates potential ways to prepare for a catastrophe that is all but inevitable.

Every book sounds good on late night talk shows. It’s the host’s job to provide enough witty banter to make the book sound exciting and accessible to everyone. There’s a reason it’s called “The Colbert Bump.”

However, I quickly learned that Lights Out was not written for me. It’s probably extremely well-researched, informative–even interesting. I just couldn’t get into it. It just went over my head from the very beginning. You really need to have a solid foundation in military structures and acronyms to get more than 20 pages in. After that you start to lose the thread quickly. I had zero idea of what he was talking about.

I’ll put this on my shelf, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see my husband pick it up eventually. He’s way more into military nonfiction than I am, and I know he was interested in Koppel’s Colbert interview too. I’m disappointed that I couldn’t get further into this, it sounded like an interesting (albeit terrifying) theory.

This book was provided by Blogging for Books and Crown Publishing for an unbiased review. This post does contain affiliate links.

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Jeff Wilser: Alexander Hamilton’s Guide to Life

Two centuries after his death, Alexander Hamilton is shining once more under the world s spotlight and we need him now more than ever.
Hamilton was a self-starter. Scrappy. Orphaned as a child, he came to America with nothing but a code of honor and a hunger to work. He then went on to help win the Revolutionary War and ratify the Constitution, create the country s financial system, charm New York s most eligible ladies, and land his face on our $10 bill.The ultimate underdog, he combined a fearless, independent spirit with a much-needed dose of American optimism.
Hamilton died before he could teach us the lessons he learned, but Alexander Hamilton s Guide to Life unlocks his core principles intended for anyone interested in success, romance, money, or dueling. They include:
Speak with Authority Even If You Have None (Career)
Seduce with Your Strengths (Romance)
Find Time for the Quills and the Bills (Money)
Put the Father in Founding Father (Friends & Family)
Being Right Trumps Being Popular (Leadership)
For history buffs and pop-culture addicts alike, this mix of biography, humor, and advice offers a fresh take on a nearly forgotten Founding Father, and will spark a revolution in your own life.”

Ah, Alexander Hamilton. He has gone from historical obscurity to being our most famous founding father–as he rightly should be. It’s amazing, once you take a close look at him, how much A. Ham really contributed to every single piece of our government…for better or worse.

Hamilton really did write like he was running out of time, and he had so much to tell us. Jeff Wilser broke down some of his more prolific statements into a sort of Founding Father self-help book. It’s full of witticisms and insightful commentary, modernized of course.

It’s supposed to be the type of book Hamilton would have written if he would have had time to write such a thing. Of course, if he had…it would have been four volumes and probably would have included some kind of impossibly boring personal finance plan along with the life advice. I’m glad Wilser left that chapter out. As it is, the Guide is a funny way to take in much of the history we already know from Chernow’s massive biography, while singing along to LMM’s cast album. There’s no mistaking who the author is targeting here. Luckily…who ISN’T a fan of the musical at this point?

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Blogging for Books and Three Rivers Press provided a copy of this book for an unbiased review. This post contains affiliate links.

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Frances Mayes: Under the Tuscan Sun

Frances Mayes—widely published poet, gourmet cook, and travel writer—opens the door to a wondrous new world when she buys and restores an abandoned villa in the spectacular Tuscan countryside. In evocative language, she brings the reader along as she discovers the beauty and simplicity of life in Italy. Mayes also creates dozens of delicious seasonal recipes from her traditional kitchen and simple garden, all of which she includes in the book. Doing for Tuscany what M.F.K. Fisher and Peter Mayle did for Provence, Mayes writes about the tastes and pleasures of a foreign country with gusto and passion.

This was the first book I read when I decided to go on hiatus. Blogging for Books had sent me the 20th Anniversary Edition, and since I’d already read it and was in the middle of a couple of challenges, I set it aside. But when I got stuck and needed to recalibrate my brain, there was no better book than Under the Tuscan SunFood, wine, and a big old house? It was just what I needed. Plus, there’s nothing like a reread to get out of a slump.

I’ll hazard a guess that many of you have seen the movie with Diane Lane. It’s one of my favorite feel good chick flicks. I sure wish I could look that good in a white dress, I’ll tell you that much.

Frances Mayes’ real story is nothing like the movie. There’s a big old broken down house called Bramasole. And you’ll recognize tiny bits, like the old man with the flowers and the creepy old pine trees, the Polish wallworkers and the grapes that even smell purple. But this is much more of a travel memoir than rom-com.

It’s every bit as beautiful though. You will want to dive straight into the pages and eat your fill of gnocchi. The produce is so fresh and the wine is overflowing. I NEED to go to Italy right this second.

Alas, I cannot. So I will just have to replace it with reading Frances Mayes’ incredible description of Cortona over and over again. And maybe try and find a white dress.

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Blogging for Books and Broadway Books provided a copy of this book for an unbiased review. This post does contain affiliate links.

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Hans Christian Andersen: The Snow Queen

Hans Christian Andersen’s magical tale of friendship and adventure is retold through the beautiful and intricate illustrations of Finnish illustrator Sanna Annukka. Cloth-bound in deep blue, with silver foil embellishments, The Snow Queen is elevated from a children’s book to a unique work of art. It is an ideal gift for people of all ages.

It’s interesting how fairy tales used to be so harsh and murderous. The world was so simple. Death was a part of life–people felt, they got angry, there were consequences and murder. Fairy tales were not for children.

Now, these stories have been so watered down. This isn’t a fairy tale I’ve read before, and maybe that’s because it would be pretty hard to Disney-fy it. That said, I wonder if this influenced CS Lewis when he wrote The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe. There is a lot of resemblances to Edward’s story line.

The book itself is stunningly beautiful with its blue paper cut out illustrations, done by Sanna Annukka. That is what drew me to it on Blogging for Books.  It is cloth bound hardcover, and would make a gorgeous gift for any collector.

A copy of this book was provided by Blogging for Books and Ten Speed Press. This post does contain affiliate links.

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Review: Women in Science

It’s a scientific fact: Women rock!
 
A charmingly illustrated and educational book, Women in Science highlights the contributions of fifty notable women to the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) from the ancient to the modern world. Full of striking, singular art, this fascinating collection also contains infographics about relevant topics such as lab equipment, rates of women currently working in STEM fields, and an illustrated scientific glossary. The trailblazing women profiled include well-known figures like primatologist Jane Goodall, as well as lesser-known pioneers such as Katherine Johnson, the African-American physicist and mathematician who calculated the trajectory of the 1969 Apollo 11 mission to the moon.
 
Women in Science celebrates the achievements of the intrepid women who have paved the way for the next generation of female engineers, biologists, mathematicians, doctors, astronauts, physicists, and more!

I requested this book because I wanted to read it. And once a book is in my collection, it is very hard for me to part with it. I don’t lend very many books out, and almost NEVER do I give one away. I’m selfish like that.

But Women in Science will not be staying on my shelf. It will be one of the rare exceptions that is so good that I MUST give it up. It is not for me. I am seeing my niece this weekend and she needs it more than I do. For this book is meant for the encouragement of our next generation. And my niece is pretty badass, just like the women in this book.

Women in Science is fully-colored, with fun, cartoonish illustrations. Each biography fills one page, and is hardly boring. The women are diverse, and many fields are represented–microbiology, psychology, zoology, and many others. Inspiration can be drawn from every path that these women had to follow to achieve their dreams.

This is one of those books that should be on every library display and classroom shelf. Parents of daughters especially, but sons too, should put this in their child’s hands. Kids need to know about these women along with the men we study in school. I didn’t know about any of them, but maybe 2 or 3, and even then it was mostly just their name and field of study.

Watch out though, this will inspire your kids. Be prepared for them to do something amazing!

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Blogging for Books and Ten Speed Press provided a copy of this book for unbiased review. This post contains affiliate links.

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Party of One

Dave Holmes has spent his life on the periphery, nose pressed hopefully against the glass, wanting just one thing: to get inside. Growing up, he was the artsy son in the sporty family. At his all-boys high school and Catholic college, he was the closeted gay kid surrounded by crush-worthy straight guys. And in his twenties, in the middle of a disastrous career in advertising, he accidentally became an MTV VJ overnight when he finished second, naturally, in the Wanna Be a VJ contest, opening the door to fame, fortune, and celebrity—you know,almost. 

In Party of One, Holmes tells the hilariously painful and painfully hilarious tales—in the vein of Rob Sheffield, Andy Cohen, and Paul Feig—of an outsider desperate to get in, of a misfit constantly changing shape, of a music geek who finally learns to accept himself. Structured around a mix of hits and deep cuts from the last four decades—from Bruce Springsteen’s “Hungry Heart” and En Vogue’s “Free Your Mind” to LCD Soundsystem’s “Losing My Edge” and Bleachers’ “I Wanna Get Better”—and punctuated with interludes like “So You’ve Had Your Heart Broken in the 1990s: A Playlist” and “Notes on (Jesse) Camp,” this book is for anyone who’s ever felt like a square peg, especially those who have found their place in the world around a band, an album, or a song. It’s a laugh-out-loud funny, deeply nostalgic story about never fitting in, never giving up, and letting good music guide the way.

I grew up in the MTV generation, but I didn’t actually watch all that much MTV. We lived far enough out in the country to not have the town cable–we had the Farmer Five. I only got to see TRL when hanging out with my friends after school, making glitter shirts for the basketball games, or fake AIM profiles to catfish our crushes. (I mean…no we didn’t ever do that. Of course not.)

I didn’t have a clue who Dave Holmes was, so I had originally passed on Party of One on BFB. But Nicole raved about it, and I knew I would know the music, that was my JAM. So I figured I’d give it a shot.

And sorry, Dave. I still don’t really know who you are. But I loved your book anyway. It’s so goddamn nostalgic that I can almost feel my 8th grade awkwardness seeping through my pores. OMG make it stop. I want to go back through and build a playlist from every single song he mentioned. I might just do that tonight.

I’ve been in a bit of a book slump, so it took me three days to read this–but I think normally it would have been a quick read. The chapters are witty and the stories are just vulgar enough to amuse my raunchy sense of humor. I don’t know if Holmes plans on writing more humoristic memoir, but I hope so!

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Blogging for Books provided a copy of this book for an unbiased review. All links are affiliate links.

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Dark Matter

“Are you happy with your life?” Those are the last words Jason Dessen hears before the masked abductor knocks him unconscious. Before he awakens to find himself strapped to a gurney, surrounded by strangers in hazmat suits. Before a man Jason’s never met smiles down at him and says, “Welcome back, my friend.”

In this world he’s woken up to, Jason’s life is not the one he knows. His wife is not his wife. His son was never born. And Jason is not an ordinary college physics professor but a celebrated genius who has achieved something remarkable–something impossible.

Is it this world or the other that’s the dream? And even if the home he remembers is real, how can Jason possibly make it back to the family he loves? The answers lie in a journey more wondrous and horrifying than anything he could’ve imagined—one that will force him to confront the darkest parts of himself even as he battles a terrifying, seemingly unbeatable foe.

You’ve probably seen this book posted everywhere–it’s been on Goodreads, NetGalley, Blogging for Books. I haven’t seen it in the Tumblrspace yet, but it’s coming, I promise. One of the Goodreads ads has a quote from Lee Childs:  ” I think Blake Crouch just invented something new.” He’s not wrong. I keep trying to come up with something to compare it to, and I really can’t. When I told Nicole at Pure Geekery to pick this up, all I could tell her was it was sciencey, and kind of a thriller about a physicist? How else do I describe it?!

Really the only thing I can think to tell you is that it’s like a choose your own adventure in real life. Only Jason didn’t really get to pick his adventures.They just happened. And they certainly weren’t super cool and awesome–mostly just terrifying, like every anxiety-ridden stress dream I’ve ever had.

I can’t go into any further detail than that without spoiling the book for you. And I really don’t want to do that because it’s awesome. Remember back when I said I didn’t like Sci-Fi? Who was that person? I think I just wasn’t reading the right Sci-Fi. Clearly.

Fans of Peter Clines and Ernest Cline are going to love this. (Which, by the way, are they related? Probably not, but same name, similar genre…something fishy there.) Anyone who loves TRUE sci-fi, like the kind where you actually take a deep dive into scientific principles, like physics–you are going to love this. If you love mind twisters–you’re going to love this. Can I stress any more that YOU ARE GOING TO LOVE THIS?! It comes out today. Click any of the links in this post and go buy it immediately.

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NetGalley and Crown Publishing provided this ARC for an unbiased review. Releases July 26. All links are affiliate links.

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The Wolf Road

In the remote wilds of a ravaged land, Elka has been raised by a man who isn’t her father. Since finding her wandering in the woods when she was seven, he has taught her how to hunt, shoot, set snares and start fires–everything she needs to survive. All she knows of the world outside is gleaned from whispers of a cataclysmic event that turned the clock back on civilization by a hundred and fifty years and reduced governments and technology to shambles, leaving men at the mercy of the elements–and each other. 

Everything changes when Elka learns that the man she has been calling father is harboring a terrible secret. Armed with nothing but her knife and her wiles, she decides to escape his clutches and sets out on a long journey to the frozen north in the hope of finding her long-lost parents. 

But as the trail of blood and bodies grows in her path, Elka realizes that daddy won’t be letting his little girl go without a fight. If she’s going to survive, she’ll have to turn and confront not just him, but the truth about what he’s turned her into.

Cold Mountain and Silence of the Lambs are two of my very favorite books…but I never thought I’d see them combined. Then throw in a little Mindy McGinnis post-apocalyptic and you have such a weird combination of civil war era Appalachia meets psychological thriller meets modern ruin. What the heck even is this book?

Brilliant. That’s what this book is. First of all, the voice written into the narrative is unmistakably Appalachia hill country. How she captures that so clearly, I don’t even know. Accents can be super hard to read sometimes but not Elka. I fell into it as naturally as if I were really there.

Secondly, I just reeeeeeeeeeeeeeally loved this story. I don’t even know what else to say about it besides that. You have two very different female leads–think Ruby and Ada from Cold Mountain–fighting across country, saving each other along the way. And guys….THIS IS NOT A LOVE STORY. Like, MEN DO NOT SAVE THEM THEY SAVE THEMSELVES. ROMANCE DOES NOT FACTOR IN TO THESE WOMEN AND THEIR STORY. (Until the very end but it’s only a very minor drop in the hat and only as a building block to something else.)

I seriously didn’t even realize that until I wrote that sentence. I’m so used to there being a love story or a hero swooping in to save the day that I didn’t notice. THIS IS A REALLY GOOD BOOK AND YOU SHOULD READ IT.

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Blogging for Books and Crown Publishing provided a copy for an unbiased review.

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