Archive for the ‘Book Reviews’ category

“Citizen 13660” by Miné Okubo

December 1, 2018

Last year, I learned that my maternal great-grandfather was arrested and spent the war at an internment camp in Santa Fe, New Mexico. He returned to Hawaii four years later, before my mother was born.

She didn’t talk about her family’s experience during World War II, and I never thought to ask. Even in school, the Japanese internment seemed distant. We didn’t spend a lot of time learning about it. It wasn’t until I read artist Miné Okubo’s account of her Japanese internment experience that it became real.

“Citizen 13660” (1946) is an autobiographical account of camp life at Tanforan and Topax during World War II. It was originally drawn and written for Okubo’s “many friends who faithfully sent letters and packages to let us know we were not forgotten.” Since cameras and video cameras were not allowed in the camps, her drawings offer a first-hand view of “what happens to people when reduced to one status and condition.”

“My family name was reduced to No. 13660.” After President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, Okubo and her younger brother scrambled to make sure that their property was stored and they were packed for evacuation. “We tagged our baggage with the family number, 13660, and pinned the personal tags on ourselves.”

Art by Miné Okubo

Tanforan. In May 1942, Okubo arrived at Tanforan Assembly Center in San Bruno, California, originally a race track. Her home for four and a half months was Barrack 16, Room 50, a 20’x9’ stall divided into two rooms. “To discourage visitors, I nailed a quarantine sign on my door,” Okubo admits in a flash of humor. “We were close to freedom and yet far from it,” separated from the rest of the world by barbed wire, guard towers, and armed guards. There was no privacy, a curfew, roll call, a post office, churches, and even jobs – Okubo was an art instructor, working 44 hours a week and earning $16 per month. People kept busy, trying to make a home, and creating beauty even in a prison. The most inspirational story is about a group of Japanese landscape architects who transformed a wet spot into a miniature aquatic park with a bridge, promenade, and islands. Ironically, Okubo writes that “Letters from my European friends told me how lucky I was to be free and safe at home.”

Topaz. Okubo spent the rest of her internment near Delta, Utah at the Topaz War Relocation Center. After a long train ride, her new home was Block 7, Barrack 11, Room F. Topaz was dusty, windy, muddy in the spring, hot in the summer, with annoying insects and poor alkaline soil. There were sparse conditions and rationing. “The birth rate in the center was high,” Okubo comments dryly. Though there was still barbed wire and prison guards, there were slightly less restrictions. Okubo worked at a newspaper, Topaz Times for $19 a month. Hawaii connection: 230 Hawaii evacuees were transferred to Topaz. Okubo left Topaz in January 1944, 7 months after her younger brother left, admitting that “fear had chained me to the camp.”

Aftermath. Okubo doesn’t tell us what happened next in her life – it ends with her leaving Topax and looking to the future.

Okubo’s account is matter-of-fact, honest, and factual. She doesn’t feel sorry for herself, angry, or bitter. She lets her words and drawings speak for the injustice of the forced incarceration.

While Okubo was interned at Tanforan and Topaz, Japanese nationals and citizens were also interned at the Honouliuli Internment Camp, now a national monument. The Japanese Cultural Center of Hawaii (JCCH) in Honolulu has a Honouliuli Education Center with photos, artifacts, oral history videos, and virtual tours. Admission to the education center is free and open to the public.


“The Culture Code” by Daniel Coyle

November 3, 2018

Why do certain groups add up to be greater than the sum of their parts, while others add up to be less?

Daniel Coyle invested four years of research attempting to answer this question. He studied eight successful groups and their top-performing cultures, and shares the results of his research in “The Culture Code: The Secrets of Highly Successful Groups” (2018).

Working at a company with multiple locations, where many of my co-workers don’t come to the main office at the same time, I was motivated to find out how we can become a stronger team. I wanted to learn how we can build a successful team and a successful culture.

“The Culture Code” is an engaging, easy to read guide with real-world examples of culture-building.  Coyle begins by defining culture as “a set of living relationships working toward a shared goal. It’s not something you are. It’s something you do.” Then he focuses on individuals (leaders) who built the organization’s culture from the top-down.

The first thing that I found compelling is the attention that successful organizations spend to find the right people. For example, Zappos offers a $2,000 bonus to trainees if they quit, which encourage people who don’t fit with the organization to self-identify and leave, while ensuring that the people who do accept the job are motivated to be there.

The second thing that resonated with me is that having a clear vision of a group’s purpose guides the way that the group responds to situations. Johnson & Johnson’s Credo, written by former chairman Robert Wood Johnson in 1943, helped them respond purposefully to the Tylenol tampering crisis in 1982. The Credo shaped their responses, so they could take action quickly, decisively, and ethically.

Successful groups master three crucial skills:

Skill #1: Build Safety. Are we safe? Are we connected? Do we share a future? Successful groups continually refresh and reinforce “belonging” cues such as energy, individualization, and future orientation. Three things that organizations can do: spotlight fallibility early on, so people know that it’s okay to make mistakes; embrace the messenger who shares bad news or gives tough feedback; and be painstaking in the hiring process.

Skill #2: Share Vulnerability. There is a strong link between vulnerability and cooperation – it creates a feeling of safety and connection. Three things organizations can do: make sure the leader is vulnerable first and often, becoming a role model for everyone else; overcommunicate expectations; and when forming new groups, focus on two critical moments – the first vulnerability and the first disagreement.

Skill #3: Establish Purpose. “Stories guide group behavior.” Successful groups create simple beacons that focus attention and engagement on the shared goal (purpose). They see ways to tell and retell their story. They highlight “Here is where we are” and “Here is where we want to go,” while identifying areas of high-proficiency and high-creativity. Three things organizations can do: name and rank your priorities; be 10 times as clear about your priorities as you think you should be; and figure out where your group aims for proficiency and where it aims for creativity.

Does your group or organization have a culture that makes you feel safe, connected, and engaged? What practices strengthen your group? What do you think are the best companies to work for?

“Searching for Mary Foster” by Patricia Lee Masters

October 6, 2018

Buddhist scholar and teacher Patricia Lee Masters traveled half-way around the world, from Honolulu and Ceylon to India and Chicago, to find Mary Foster, granddaughter of a Native Hawaiian chief and British shipbuilder.

In “Searching for Mary Foster: Nineteenth-Century Native Hawaiian Buddhist, Philanthropist, and Social Activist” (2017), Masters narrates her journey of discovery about the lives of Mary Foster of Honolulu and Anagarika Dharmapala of Sri Lanka.

This slim volume is as much a reflection on spirituality and shared values that connect different people and cultures, as it is a biography about a single individual.

We learn a brief history of Buddhism in India; the impact of Anagarika Dharmapala on restoring the birthplace of Buddha, Bodh Gaya, to Buddhists; and Mary Foster’s influence on Buddhism in Sri Lanka and Hawaii.

Just one chapter is dedicated to Mary Elizabeth Mikahala Robinson Foster (1844-1930), who was the older sister of Victoria Ward, and a childhood friend to both Lydia Paki, who became Queen Lili‘uokalani, and Bernice Pauahi Bishop. We learn that Mary Foster was a strong-willed woman with a “horrible temper,” a fierce intellectual curiosity and a need to know more about spiritual ideas other than Christianity. She wrote, “My hunger for understanding remains unquenched, and I long for some way to better understand the world, God, and myself.”

She had both the passion and wealth to champion the causes she believed in: Buddhism and the Native Hawaiian people. Her dual passions may seem contradictory, one looking inward for meaning and one focused outward on society, but both reflect her generosity of spirit and dedication to helping others.

Mary Foster supported Anagarika Dharmapala’s quest to restore Bodh Gaya (the site of Buddha’s awakening). She also generously supported the Maha Bodhi Society, Foster Seminary for Seinhalese monks and nuns, and Foster Home (an orphanage in Colombo). In fact, a cutting from the Bodhi Tree in Sri Lanka was planted at Foster Estate in Honolulu, Hawaii. She was also critical in supporting Buddhism in Hawaii, donating land and funds to build Honpa Hongwanji Mission of Hawaii in Honolulu.

In Hawaii Mary Foster is perhaps best remembered for her legacy of Foster Botanical Garden. She also founded scholarships for Native Hawaiians to attend Kamehameha Schools and bought hospital beds for the needy at Kapiolani Hospital and Kapiolani Home (later Kapiolani Hospital for Women and Children). She was a determined activist, creating petitions protesting the annexation of Hawaii in 1893 and fighting to protect native trees and water rights in Kahana Valley on Oahu.

With her tremendous impact in Hawaii and Sri Lanka, it is inexplicable that Mary Foster’s life and work have largely been forgotten. It was frustrating to realize that, as Masters admits, “We will never know the real reasons for the family’s dismissal and silencing of the story of her life.”

“The Power of Moments” by Chip Heath and Dan Heath

September 1, 2018

Recently, I attended my first annual conference with other affiliated members. I was tired from traveling, I was nervous about meeting new people, I was distracted about being away from my family, and I was worried about the work that was accumulating at the office. And yet, looking back, it was a wonderful and energizing experience. It was a beginning for me, the first time I felt grounded in my role at work.

Beginnings and endings. The peaks, the pits, and the transitions. These are the defining moments in our lives – “meaningful experiences that stand out in our memory.”

Exactly why brief experiences can be so memorable, and how we create defining moments, is the subject of Chip Heath and Dan Heath’s book, “The Power of Moments: Why Certain Experiences Have Extraordinary Impact” (2017).

Short and engaging, focusing more on personal stories than research, the book examines defining moments and common traits.

The authors identify four common elements of a defining moment, breaking them down into what makes them so remarkable:

  1. Elevation. They rise above the everyday. To create elevation, we should boost sensory appeal, raise the stakes, and break the script. For example, we might create a memorable First Day Experience to welcome new employees with a personal greeting, mentor, welcome gift, small group lunch, and email from CEO.
  2. Insight. They rewire our understanding of ourselves or the world. To create insight, we should dramatize a problem and let people discover the truth for themselves.
  3. Pride. They capture moments of achievement or courage. To create pride, we should identify milestones that motivate us and practice possible responses or actions. For example, we might create academic projects like mock trials and exhibitions, and present them to an audience. “An act of courage can bolster the resolve of others.”
  4. Connection. They are social. To create connection, we should share big moments in person, communicate shared meaning, ask people what matters, and show responsiveness.

Each chapter offers a whirlwind review and clinics that demonstrate how to solve real-world problems.

Of all the moments, Doug Dietz’s defining moment resonated with me. As an industrial designer at General Electric, he designed a new MRI machine and had defining moment in which he saw that MRI machine through the eyes of children. Instead of a technology marvel, he began to see it as something scary and intimidating. So he re-imagined the MRI machine as an adventure, creating jungle, pirate, and cable car experiences that fired their imaginations. Are there experiences in our lives that we can transform with creativity and imagination?

What is one defining moment that you experienced recently? Have you helped create defining moments for new neighbors, new co-workers, or new customers?

“Local Boy” by Fred Hemmings

August 4, 2018

“Local Boy: A Memoir” (2017) by surfer and Hawaii State Senator Fred Hemmings (1946-) is an optimistic and nostalgic memoir about his life. “The years of my life defy my wildest dreams,” Hemmings writes, and humbly admits, “I consider myself a blessed person.” His brief, talk-story reminiscences draw us into his life, punctuated with family photos.

“Life’s treasures in so many ways are not necessarily any great achievement but, rather, the valiant efforts.” The memoir begins with “Small Kid Times” in the 1940s. Hemmings is the son of four generations of canoe steersmen and steerswomen. He lived in Kahala and Kuliouou and Kuapa Pond, surviving polio, and attended Punahou School. He reflects, “The true strength of any nation or culture can be found in the hearts of its people.”

“Enjoying the simple things – like the fellowship of surfing with friends – that are life’s greatest riches.” Hemmings enjoys the a life-long appreciation for the outdoors, as a surfer who grew up in the shadows of Duke Kahanamoku and his friends, a football player, a competitive runner who once ran a marathon on a bet, a canoe paddler who learned that you should always take risks when you are behind, and an accident-prone do-it-yourself yard worker. He even relates an unexpected meeting with heiress Doris Duke.

“Politics is not a dirty word.” Hemmings shares some of his experiences in the Hawaii State Senate (1984-1990), where he stood up against corruption and death threats. I was intrigued by his 2006 proposal to diversity Hawaii’s economy by creating a College of Sports at the University of Hawaii, with three areas of study: 1) sports management, coaching, and sports facility management; 2) sports medicine, science, and technology; and 3) sports marketing, merchandising, communication, and history.

Hemmings reveals a wonderful way to view the world and our purpose in life: “When I arrived where I wanted to be, I stopped my quest and pursued different challenges.” Or to put it in surfing terms, “One great wave is better than many good waves.”

For a preview of the book and videos, visit Hemmings’ website at

“The Productivity Project” by Chris Bailey

July 7, 2018

With so many distractions in life, we could probably be a little more productive.

Author and productivity blogger Chris Bailey embarked on “A Year of Productivity” (AYOP), 12 months of intense research, interviews, and experimentation, so that we can be more productive about being productive. Delegating tasks is Bailey’s productivity hack #14, so we’ve already become a little more efficient just by reading his book, “The Productivity Project: Accomplishing More by Managing Your Time, Attention, and Energy” (2016).

The productivity tactics in this book can “help you accomplish everything you have to do in less time, so you can carve out more time for what’s actually important and meaningful in your life.” Each chapter begins with a takeaway and estimated reading time. There are 25 productivity hacks and productivity challenges so that you can see which ones work best for you.

Bailey redefines productivity as how much you accomplish – not how efficiently you work. That means managing your time, energy, and attention so that finish everything you intended to do. He reminds us that busyness is not productivity, even though you’re working hard!

Bailey’s writing is conversational and humorous (“This is the kind of stuff that goes on in my head all day long. Please send help.”). The chapters are short and bite-sized, so I could read a bit and then go back to work, or stop and do a productivity challenge.

If you want to take small steps to increase your productivity, I recommend these three productivity hacks: First, disconnect from the Internet when working on high-impact tasks. Next, limit attention-hog tasks like checking email and making phone calls. And finally, schedule a “maintenance day” to do all your routine chores and errands, such as laundry, cleaning, and grocery shopping. Make these routine tasks a necessary part of your productivity.

There were three productivity challenges I stopped reading to do. They didn’t take a lot of time, and I felt a sense of control at organizing my tasks.

* The Values Challenge, which asks what you would do if you had two more hours in a day. I immediately thought of three things: reading more, writing more, and doing more art projects.

* The Impact Challenge, which asks you to write down all of your job responsibilities, big and small, and highlight the ones that have the most value.

* The Capture Challenge (the brain dump), which asks you to write down all of the things that you have to do, the things you are waiting for, and the things you are worrying about. This was

The most insightful productivity hack is to treat your “future self” with as much care as yourself today, being careful of your future self’s time and money.

As Bailey reminds us, “People are the reason for productivity.”

How do you keep on-task every day? What are your most effective productivity tips?

“Island of Sweet Pies and Soldiers” by Sara Ackerman

June 2, 2018

A missing husband and father. A deadly secret. A gentle lion. A community under suspicion. A budding romance.

“Island of Sweet Pies and Soldiers” (2018) by Sara Ackerman is a historical fiction novel that blends war, mystery, and romance into an engaging story about the effects of war, the anxiety of keeping secrets and living with uncertainty, standing up for your friends against racial prejudice, accepting that life is unfair, and trusting that things will turn out right.

Set in Honoka‘a on the Big Island in 1944, in the aftermath of the attack on Pearl Harbor, school teacher Violet Iverson is still reeling over the disappearance of her husband and coping with her daughter’s anxiety. Soldiers move in at Honoka‘a School and change their lives, and Violet has second chance at love with Parker, an attentive marine sergeant stationed at the school.

Meanwhile, her 10-year old daughter Ella is anxious because she is hiding a deadly secret, and the only thing that helps her is spending time with animals. A gentle African lion named Roscoe distracts her from her secret and gives her the courage to set aside her fear.

With Parker’s help, Violet begins to accept that “life was far from fair, but if you followed love instead of fear, you would come out ahead. No matter what.” She starts to think about the future and enjoy life again.

I enjoyed seeing the dual perspectives of an adult and child about World War II and the racial tensions between Japanese-Americans and the police. The characters felt as if they were real people, even neighbors that you grew up with, with dynamic character growth. The portrayal of Hawaii feels authentic and personal, including the war-time food and gas rationing.

Interestingly, while Ella has a strong connection with nature and finds healing with animals, Violet is constantly challenged when she ventures into nature – by a sea urchin, a storm, and an underwater cave.

A historical note from the author: “Over 50,000 Marines, and mascot Roscoe the lion, lived at Camp Tarawa on the Big Island before sailing off to Iwo Jima and Saipan, two of the bloodiest battles in the Pacific.”