Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Review: Reptiles on Caffeine by Brooke S. Musterman



Brooke Musterman and I both become friends through the wonderful world of social networking. Both us had written for the conservative website Parcbench, and had developed senses of humor that were ably evident even through cyberspace. When I found out that she had written a book, and one that evidently had to do with caffeine (an addiction to which is not something that I am unaware of), I jumped at the opportunity to read it and review it.

The book centers around the concept a "reptilian brain" that is allegedly present among all humans. This mindset (not to be confused with a literal reptilian brain) is reactive and only interested in self-preservation. While essential to preservation when humans were still little more than upright wild animals, it perpetuates anxiety, fear and conflict in the contemporary world. (This concept is very similar to what Robert Greene elaborates on in his book The 50th Law.)

Musterman uses her personal experience as a barista to show textbook examples of the reptilian brain in action. In the cafe setting, customers are reactive, creating false stories in order to swindle the cafe out of money or to cover up their own mistakes. The staff are in full reptilian brain mode, yelling at each other and in constant conflict. The efforts to socialize between the baristas result in even more reptilian butting of heads, as Musterman relays in a story in which a fellow staffer at her cafe praises Kanye West for his comments about President George W. Bush.

The book is full of hilarious anecdotal stories, the most hilarious being one in which an elderly man, who usually orders his coffee quietly and without exception, leans over to Brooke while she is cleaning to say "Look at all these damn yuppies. I just hate them."

From the book's many stories, a notion develops that the cafe may be a mecca for reactive reptilianism. People who like arguing must also like caffeine, as it provides more of the energy that is a critical ingredient in making the lives of other people miserable.

The book falters with several spelling mistakes, disorganization and a loose concept. The reptilian brain isn't actually defined until page 17, which is not the first time it is mentioned. This lead me to wonder if I had missed something until the definition actually popped up. The worst error above all is paragraphs and concepts repeating throughout the book. At a short 100 pages, it is not Atlas Shrugged or War and Peace, but instead an amusing, witty and original look at the high-strung and chaotic environment of a modern cafe, which, ironically, would probably be the best place to read Reptiles on Caffeine.

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