Author Topic: Book Review: "Mission of Transformation," by Robert Steven  (Read 16962 times)


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Book Review: "Mission of Transformation," by Robert Steven
« on: January 12, 2010, 03:56 PM »

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.

Compared to the binding of Vision of My Soul (first collector’s edition), Mission of Transformation is far less ambitious. Gone are the pretensions of “a book about art that is art." This one feels more like a textbook. While I like the cover art, I found the binding itself to be less than it should have been. 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.

The binding wasn’t my only disappointment with this book, however. Content is far more important, and this was a real disappointment throughout. 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 suppose my final criticisms about the layout and construction of the book are quite minor, but detract from the book nonetheless. I found the font used for the Latin names of the trees presented to be another distraction. Its spacing is odd, not allowing for the different widths of various letters, so that the words almost look spaced as sentences. And finally, the text describing the photos is laid out almost as if it were poetry, which it is not.

As to the text of the book, I found more disappointment there. This book is almost superfluous in its repetition of Mr. Steven’s first book, or even other books about artistic bonsai design. I find very little unique or even fresh about the content here, and wish it had been included in condensed form (the critique section) with quality photos in his first book.

One challenge for an editor of a book or article by an author for whom English is a second language, is to clarify the sentence structure and grammar so that the thought is preserved while the personality and charm of the original is preserved. This is a fine line to walk and the ideal is usually easier to identify than to achieve. As I read this book, I found that most of the text was very clear and easy to follow. But 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.

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.

Chris Johnston


paul burke

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Re: Book Review: "Mission of Transformation," by Robert Steven
« Reply #1 on: January 15, 2010, 08:03 AM »


Thanks for posting your review of Robert Stevens books.  Both are on my 'wishlist' of bonsai books, but I think I'll reconsider after reading your review.

Robert emailed me to ask permission to use one of my photos for the book, which I granted, but I dont know whether it made it into the book or not. The tree was a smallish privet with some nice deadwood features (my photo had been drastically reduced to enable me to upload it to the forum and was pretty poor quality !)  I hope to post it here as a progression as it's turned out to be a nice little tree.

It seems a shame that his books sound so disapointing, he certainly provides some good advice on another forum and has a talent for styling large tropicals.



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Re: Book Review: "Mission of Transformation," by Robert Steven
« Reply #2 on: January 18, 2010, 06:34 PM »
I couldn't agree more.  It is a very disappointing book on all levels.  The observations of nature left me with a "NO DUH" feeling.  It was incredibly presumptious to call on the spirit of Leonardo when the substance lacks so much.

Owen Reich

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Re: Book Review: "Mission of Transformation," by Robert Steven
« Reply #3 on: September 08, 2012, 07:56 AM »
I know this thread is old and some negative statements about the book have been made; I agree with the negative statements about layout, photo quality, and pour grammer / translations (my pet peeve  >:().

My personal feeling after just reading it this week is that it is a good book if you take it as a text to teach a beginner about artistic principles.  If more bonsai practitioners had a handle on the concepts presented in the Principles of Good Bonsai section, it would be a big step.

The other positive aspect of this book is the Transformation section.  Thinking outside the box on how to use material (namely yamadori) creatively is a skill set I value and continue to work on.  

Much of the rest of the book is repeats of the first book and some paragraphs are repeated or the text between two photos is switched.  All in all, the book feels rushed and poorly edited.

But, I feel the message presented in the two mentioned sections is good.  I find his designs to be a bit "pointy" at times, but I do not live in Indonesia  ;D.  

Glad to see someone laid out design principles with photos to show the concept.

And yes, invoking Da Vinci for this book was lame as were the staged Asian art pics.  I do that stuff on YouTube (fight scenes and such) partially because of crap like that and my least favorite book Zen Bonsai or Bonsai Zen.  I forget the title, but they used that title to sell copies.  Not helpful to the art at all.
« Last Edit: September 08, 2012, 07:59 AM by Owen Reich »

John Kirby

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Re: Book Review: "Mission of Transformation," by Robert Steven
« Reply #4 on: September 08, 2012, 12:53 PM »
Owen, I find the book particularly effective for taking the wobble out of my kitchen table.