Book Review – Acres of Diamonds (By: Russell H. Conwell)

Sometimes the reasons I pick up a book don’t bode well for the outcome. In the case of Acres of Diamonds, I knew nothing about it, but that it was in my collection for some reason, and that it was fewer than 70 pages (at the time I felt I needed something short for a quick read). So it was only after research, and from context clues, that I found out this book is the transcribed version of an inspirational lecture given by Baptist Minister and founder of Temple University Russell Conwell. Its message can be easily gleaned from the opening story that inspired its title: that of a man who sold his farm, left his family, and eventually died in his quest for diamonds, only to have the man who purchased his farm discover the greatest diamond mine in the world on that land. And if you get the picture there, is it really worth reading on?

Being based on a lecture, the whole thing is rather short (but, to me, who perhaps reads to slowly {carefully}, it seems quite a bit longer than one would actually want to stand up and speak), and, while the language construction is a bit dated and clunky, it is generally a fast read. The message is understandable, if sometimes overly worded: one does not need to start with a large sum of money to become richer; one need not move to the famous large cities of millionaires to make their fortune; and that using your own head and hands to make yourself rich is what God wants you to do. The idea is that you are constantly sitting on “acres of diamonds” within yourself that you simply need to tap into to be successful, and that enriching yourself in this way will not corrupt you. This is essentially the message that all inspirational works rely on, the sort of “American-Dream” ideal.

Of course, there is a big religious aspect owing, I’m sure, a great deal to the author’s ministry. Throughout the text it fights back against the idea that it is God’s will that one be poor (and perhaps stupid), and that to be pious and honorable you need to have no funds. To the modern reader it might sound at first as though it’s going to preach the prosperity gospel (*this work is associated with the prosperity gospel, and by definition, would be included in works of that category, but here I’m specifically referring to the modern “televangelists” and Christ-for-the-rich that is most often associated with those words these days), but within the confines of the text it lacks much of the skeeviness; it is unfair to the poor, but it does not attempt to take advantage of them. Spread copiously throughout are stories of men who started with nothing to gain vast wealth and assertions that “Ninety-eight out of a hundred rich men in America are honest”, otherwise why would anyone trust them with their money/business. To keep this perspective consistent of course the author omits any evidence that would be inconvenient, but that is a sin of every author attempting to persuade.

I personally tend to agree with the idea that many of a person’s problems can be overcome and a moderate amount of personal wealth accrued using one’s own mental and physical facilities, but a lack of acknowledgement for how crippling some forms of poverty can be, or that a great deal more than one percent of the wealthy probably have morality problems is a flaw of the book as far as I’m concerned. Still, the book doesn’t fail to be inspiring, especially if one is susceptible to its message. And as a speech I believe it would become more effective. The whole thing is quintessentially American, with its exotic mix of faith and self-reliance, spoken with that Baptist fervor.

At the book’s end, if you were at all taken by part of the message you are energized, or at least encouraged. And, if you do not find yourself convinced or entertained, the text doesn’t fall into the trap of other inspirational works that take too long to say nothing, being brief enough to not outstay its welcome (too long, for every word is past the “welcome period” for someone who has found they dislike something). It isn’t a perfect text or a perfect argument; indeed, its most useful feature is the many anecdotes it contains (for trivia and conversation purposes) but I’m glad to have read it. It is interesting, and seeing that the author was successful with a seemingly untarnished reputation reinforces its inspirational message.

Games That Teach – Pandemic and Articulation

Some games (even more recently) are cooperative and force players to work together against the game. It’s fairly obvious why this would be helpful. It teaches teamwork and cohesion and all that boring stuff they hammer into your brain at school. But what I want to talk about is how cooperative games, especially Pandemic, affect the way we talk.

pandemic cover

So in Pandemic you and your buddies are a team of researchers, scientists, doctors, and other people out to save the world from various diseases. You have to work together with your various skills to complete your task and ultimately save the world. It’s all a very noble game and is great to play with anyone as no one will object to the theme (I can just imagine someone who doesn’t want to save the world from disease screaming at you about something like a crazy person in a cop show).

To get all of this done requires a lot of communication. Now, I’m sure you have communicated with people before, possibly on a daily basis, but you never realize how vaguely you speak until you have a goal to accomplish with other people. I have made a conscious effort to make my speech more concise since I was at a job parking cars and had no idea what to do because of poor instruction. I would only realize several years later how well cooperative board games help with this.

First you have to make a plan.  This involves critical thinking skills which this game also helps build. Then you have to figure out everyone’s role in the plan and if they could be doing anything more productive. Then you have to communicate this plan to the other players. The plan must be well dictated so as to not confuse the the players and to allow them to also think about what would be the best thing to do. Since all of the moves in the game are fairly similar you have to be clear about which moves to make when. And since you can’t show the other players your hand of cards you must make sure they know exactly how many cards you have of what type. You don’t want to make a mistake and end up with a plan that is unelectable because of some miscommunication.

The skill to speak clearly and be understood is a great one to have. It is not necessarily a skill with any applied purpose but it is just useful. Like being able to walk doesn’t qualify you for a lot of positions, but it helps. Pandemic and other cooperative games will help you improve your coordination, leadership, critical thinking, and articulation skills. On top of all that, it’s fun. After playing several games I definitely feel like I can more clearly explain my plan to someone else or give orders in a workplace. To speak clearly and articulate concisely is a very useful skill and if you want to learn while having fun, there is almost no better way than with Pandemic.