Learning Life: The Path to Academic Success and Personal Happiness. (2016) Adam Burke. San Francisco. Rainor Media. $46.80, ISBN 9780963396198

Review by Anna Traykova, Kennesaw State University

“I don’t know how to do that yet, but I will learn.” This eloquent and simple statement sums up the core of the can-do, optimistic attitude that Dr. Adam Burke has infused into his part-textbook, part-workbook, part-self-help book Learning Life: The Path to Academic Success and Personal Happiness. I didn’t know how to write book reviews, but I was inspired to learn so that I could share this great tool with the academic advising community.

A conversational, friendly tone permeates the 401 pages of success concepts, practices and exercises that could help transform a lost, stressed and puzzled college freshman into an empowered, thriving, educated individual. Dr. Burke, a professor of health education with a background in social and behavioral studies, takes a holistic approach to student success – in my view the only approach that ever works. Learning Life is an embodiment of the clear understanding that the same approaches that make a person a successful professional, a successful parent, or truly a successful individual – one that is self-driven, confident, appreciative, aware of self and others, and committed to continual learning and improvement – will allow a student to make the most of their college years. To that end, Learning Life not only teaches the sound learning strategies and self-organization skills that are essential for the college success typically measured by grades and degrees; it places a great practical focus on self-efficacy, decision-making, emotional literacy, financial literacy, health and well-being, and continual effort towards excellence – all in the context of building a happy and content life for oneself, the people around us and the greater good of humanity. 

Somehow, in all of this, a recipe for the nearly-perfect boiled egg is a natural fit on page 394. A more surprising and contentious to some fit may be seen in the technique of using tarot cards for decision making in chapter 12. I would personally welcome a new edition with a tighter text, avoiding redundancies such as the foray in the life of Gautama Buddha in chapter 4 or the lengthy philosophical musing over the nature of time (p 171-173) as well as veiled cultural references that can soon become dated and unintelligible, such as the taking of the red pill, a reference to the Matrix movie. These are all minor shortcomings that can be addressed through a more robust editing process and they do not take away from the value and practical usefulness of the book.

The textbook/workbook/self-help book amalgamation makes Learning Life a multi-tool. It can serve exceptionally well as the backbone of a first-year seminar class or as the central text for a seminar class for special populations, such as high-achieving students or students on probation. It can be a valuable resource for coaching interactions in the context of academic advising, academic coaching and career advising. Learning Life: The Path to Academic Success and Personal Happiness can and should be recommended reading for students, academic advisors and faculty, and can serve as a manual to any young or mature adult on how to grow, become more resilient and excel in their personal, professional and academic life. Be warned: you may be inspired to meditate and go for a walk in the woods or make concrete plans on how to finish your thesis or start on that long-postponed article.

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