Book Review: "Mission of Transformation," by Robert Steven

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Mission of Transformation, First Edition
By Robert Steven
Edited by Will Heath
Suprindo Offset Printing, Indonesia, 2007 166pp

I received both of Robert Steven’s two books (this one and Vision of My Soul, which I reviewed here) at the same time. I made the early mistake of opening both together and wandering aimlessly through them. It was only after carefully studying them in turn that I really began to see the similarities and differences between them.

As before, I have posted the full review at both Bonsai Study Group and my blog.

Chris
 

mcpesq817

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Thanks very much for the in-depth review. For a book that had such high expectations, it's very unfortunate that there are significant editorial and other issues with the book that are of no fault of the author.

I think I'll spend my money elsewhere.
 
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Since I participate on this forum and not the others Chris posted his review at, I'll take the liberty of quoting his review here, along with some observations of my own, in bold.

[EDIT] I have been asked to remove the full review, since it is a work that was created for another site. I will honor the request while trying to maintain the nature of Will's comments. -BNut [/EDIT]

Within a week of opening this book the binding began to break down. I was disappointed in how cheaply it seemed to be made. As soon as I opened the book, the threads binding the sections together were visible. And by now they are coming apart.

I am also less than happy with the binding of this book, I treat his first book with kid gloves because the first edition is so nicely done, I hate having to treat the second book in the same manner, but because of the binding.

Many of the photographs throughout the book are actually web pics blown up to fit the page. They are invariably of such poor quality that they ruin the value of what they are trying to present. Some are so bad they are actually pixilated! This presents such a poor image that it is completely distracting. I know that much has been made of Robert’s involvement with web forums. But it seems to me that the editor has allowed just anything to be posted on the pages of this book.

I think Robert was very kind to include pictures from people we all know on-line, this brought the Internet community into print, something that is seldom done and I know a lot of people are quite proud to have one of their bonsai in Robert's book. Sure, some of the pictures could have been of higher quality, this is obvious.

For the record Chris, the editor played no role in picture selection and only seen small versions of just some of the pictures that were to be used. That being said, I disagree, I do not think a few poor photos ruin the overall value of the information contained within the book.


...a prominently highlighted quote on page 52 caught me up:

“A transformed tree may no more follow the Leonardo’s theory but in order to create a beautiful bonsai, we still need to train the ramification features that not too far the theory so that the branches do not look like the young rejuvenation which do not depict a post-mature image.”

This almost seems to me to be a Google translation from the original language. It makes almost no sense at all until one carefully parses it out.


Thanks for the kind words, sorry about that single paragraph, I hope you will forgive me.

All in all, I’m afraid I would have to say that this is one of the worst books about bonsai or art I have ever read. I do NOT recommend it in any way.

Fortunately, William Valavanis, Water Pall, and others differ in opinion as to the value of this book. However, given our past Chris, such a recommendation does not come as a surprise.

All in all through, good review covering most points, with the exception of the information actually presented.

Thanks,



Will



Review above quoted from http://www.bonsaistudygroup.com/
 
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Vance Wood

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Will: That was kind of my impression. I think Chris's review was well thought out and his point of view well expressed but I think his personal opinions concerning something not about the content of the books has colored his rhetoric. But like every thing else this is just my opinion and as such is worth squat.

Personally I think both books are good in their own way. The problem with them is that they do not fall into the tried and true "Put part A into part B" mentality where the reader is reveling in new found methods and secrets. Both books deal in part with inspiration, approach, and execution on a level many who still think like beginners might miss. For the most part both books do not deal with technique but the art of bonsai where the artistic process, if not actually dissected is on display to be followed. It is more in line with analyzing a musical composition where a simple four note theme as in Beethoven's Fifth Symphony can be followed through four notes into a complete work of art.

If you are looking for a paint by number bonsai book this is not for you. However; if you are now wondering how to get that artistic spark to set fire to that pile of kindling knowledge you have amassed over the years this just might help you out. Every body cries for a book that does not parrot the same old information that Yuji Yoshimura first published in 1957 that covers all the basic stuff. The complaint is that it seems every one who writes a book on bonsai finds it necessary to re-invent the wheel, for better or worse, and then throw in a couple of unique innovations and points of view that may make their work theirs.
 

Attila Soos

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I love Robert's books and will continue to buy them. He has a lot of valuable things to say about bonsai, and the community is better for it.

Yes, there are a few glitches in the book, but once we look beyond that, there are tons of precious information as well.
Robert helped me to open my eyes to things in bonsai that I've never seen before, in the first book, and he continues to do so in the second.
 

Dustin Mann

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I read both books.Reviews make points.OK move on. I feel like back at dinner table with daughters(lawyering) practicing for next day "motion to strike-exculpatory"This is about a bonsai book and how it effects you later in your work. Dustin Mann:)
 

Vance Wood

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I love Robert's books and will continue to buy them. He has a lot of valuable things to say about bonsai, and the community is better for it.

Yes, there are a few glitches in the book, but once we look beyond that, there are tons of precious information as well.
Robert helped me to open my eyes to things in bonsai that I've never seen before, in the first book, and he continues to do so in the second.

Agreed. It's about time the Why's of bonsai were discussed instead of just the How's. There is an old proverb that states: When the student is ready a teacher will be provided. It is for this reason many will not understand this book or find it relevant. There is kind of an esoteric quality to what is going on here.
 

bretts

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I had heard many comments such as Attila's and I was very eager to get my hands on these books. Although I found the books great and I am sure they planted many seeds for future design and refining. Most of the concept presented was not that big a surprise to me or new. I am only a beginner in Bonsai but I have been thinking about and discussing theses concepts since I read Emil Brannstrom's articles on The rules and their relation to the visual arts.
http://www.bonsaivault.com/The__Rules___Part__1.html
http://www.bonsaivault.com/The__Rules___Part__2.html
There are a few differences. Robert is able to show this in practice with his amazing talent.
Yet he as others seem to have a vendetta against the rules of Bonsai and I have some issues with how he try's to debunk them with windswept designs or trees with one branch and drawings that are meant to follow the rules but to me obviously don't.
I some how related this to Robert's virtual workshop on the tree on page 159-160. Robert explains why branches and foliage are changed and how the new pot relates but leaves any mention that he has totally reshaped the trunk to fit the new design ?
Emil makes the explanation very much simpler and in much less text. Maybe it is just me but I had great trouble trying to work out what Robert's negative space shapes where relating to in comparison to the bonsai pictures.
Also Emil does not try to debunk the rules but he does explain how a bonsai will not work if it breaks the rules of sound artistic principle. This being from his expertise of visual arts. I think that Emil should have helped Robert with the editing :D
Also I got a bit tired of reading how we should bring out the nuance of the tree.
1.A subtle or slight degree of difference, as in meaning, feeling, or tone; a gradation.
2.Expression or appreciation of subtle shades of meaning, feeling, or tone: a rich artistic performance, full of nuance.
As well as a few other descriptive nouns that tended to get repetitive.
Especially since I was only half way through the book when I started to notice people using the same expression online:rolleyes:

I think they are books that I will come back to in the future. I am glad I bought them but I think I will ask Emil for a copy of his articles to stick in the front of the books:)
I am starting to think Roberts new book on the schools of Penjing is going to be the most important book and I am very much looking forward to that.
I hope that he finds the right Editor this time ;) I would think that a good editor would not make excuses but make sure he doesn't have to make excuses!
Sure it is great to merge the Internet with the book but is it so hard to ask the owner of for a picture of better quality instead of using the one that has been reduced in size to fit the constraints of the online forum.
How any editor could let the grammatical mistake that Chris pointed out and the many others in the book though is hard to understand especially on a job that I would have thought Will would have taken great pride in producing :confused:.
 
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Since I participate on this forum and not the others Chris posted his review at, I'll take the liberty of quoting his review here, along with some observations of my own, in bold.

Fortunately, William Valavanis, Water Pall, and others differ in opinion as to the value of this book. However, given our past Chris, such a recommendation does not come as a surprise.

All in all through, good review covering most points, with the exception of the information actually presented.

Thanks,



Will

My review was as dispassionate and objective as I could make it. I thought there was little reason to cover all the content as we have seen it in other form in other books, even Robert's first. Had this been a great piece of work, that is the review you would have seen. The fact is that this book should have had the transformation and critique chapters integrated into the first book. This was pretty thin stuff.

I had to ask myself, "Was there a strong purpose and reason for a second book?" Then I had to ask myself, "Did the author accomplish the stated reason?" I'd say my answer was no both times.
 
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P.S. No, Rick, the font used for the Latin names bears no relation to the "phonetic pronunciation" of those names. Don't be silly.
 

hank mazur

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Agreed. It's about time the Why's of bonsai were discussed instead of just the How's. There is an old proverb that states: When the student is ready a teacher will be provided. It is for this reason many will not understand this book or find it relevant. There is kind of an esoteric quality to what is going on here.

Vance, you are the answer to a "newbee's" prayer. I have NOT read Robert's books, but i have read quite a few others, and the the question " WHY" is ignored. If i was to rank the information provided by most authors, #1 is "What, you must do", #2 is "How, you must do it,and #99999 is "Why you should THIS instead of THAT, because if you do THIS you will end up with THAT, but if you do THAT, you will end up with THIS." It is simply, the understanding of "WHY", that is lacking in most written material, that hinders the development of Bonsai here in the U.S.
Andy Rutlege, is the first author, that in one paragraph, ( Elements Of Meaningful Composition-Caveats - What this book is not, paragraph 3) gives meaning to the understanding of the "RULES".

Vance, you are right to use the polite term " Esoteric " when describing a discussion on "APPLES" VS "Oranges".
 
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Will: That was kind of my impression. I think Chris's review was well thought out and his point of view well expressed but I think his personal opinions concerning something not about the content of the books has colored his rhetoric. But like every thing else this is just my opinion and as such is worth squat.

Personally I think both books are good in their own way. The problem with them is that they do not fall into the tried and true "Put part A into part B" mentality where the reader is reveling in new found methods and secrets. Both books deal in part with inspiration, approach, and execution on a level many who still think like beginners might miss. For the most part both books do not deal with technique but the art of bonsai where the artistic process, if not actually dissected is on display to be followed. It is more in line with analyzing a musical composition where a simple four note theme as in Beethoven's Fifth Symphony can be followed through four notes into a complete work of art.

If you are looking for a paint by number bonsai book this is not for you. However; if you are now wondering how to get that artistic spark to set fire to that pile of kindling knowledge you have amassed over the years this just might help you out. Every body cries for a book that does not parrot the same old information that Yuji Yoshimura first published in 1957 that covers all the basic stuff. The complaint is that it seems every one who writes a book on bonsai finds it necessary to re-invent the wheel, for better or worse, and then throw in a couple of unique innovations and points of view that may make their work theirs.

Vance,
I have to take exception to your characterization of my thought process and resulting work product. As much as I liked the first book (even though others thought it quite derivative), I could not find the same warmth for this one. In Robert's first book, great photos of his unusual trees were coupled with discussions of the "whys" of bonsai. I agree wholly with your last paragraph, and that also applies to books dealing with artistic subjects. This book falls into that category, in my opinion. It simply spins what was in the first book, and as I mentioned before, the critique section and the workshop section could and should have been included in the first book. There's not enough here to support them as a separate work. These subjects have been tackled well and at length in Andy Rutlege's excellent e-book still online. I'd hope to go further or in a different direction in a book by someone at this level in the art.

The biggest problem with the book, however, was not in the information or discussion. It was that the illustrations were so bad, and the rest of the book so poorly constructed, that it was difficult to focus on the text. This is a fail. Had the book waited a few months for higher quality photos to be received, it probably would have been a much better book and I'd have reviewed it as such.

Chris
 

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