Monday, December 27, 2010

White House Diary by Jimmy Carter

If you are interested in the Carter Presidency (1977-1981) or about the Presidency, you may enjoy this book.  I skimmed through it primarily to see Carter’s reflections during the Iran Hostage crisis and his observations about people like Ronald Reagan, Edward Kennedy, Tip O’Neill and the Shah of Iran. It was also interesting to read of his wife Rosalynn’s participation and input into his Presidency.
Like Carter himself, this book is straight forward and no nonsense. There are no scintillating stories or earth shaking revelations. (Carter was upset with Ted Kennedy and mistrusted him. Kennedy ran unsuccessfully against Carter for the 1980 Democratic nomination for President.)
I view Jimmy Carter as a good man. He has done an extraordinary amount of work for charitable causes since he left Office. As President, he was at best, Fair. I remember the feelings of helplessness that this country suffered during the hostage crisis.

The Longevity Prescription by Robert N. Butler M.D

Robert N. Butler delivers on the 8 Proven Keys to a Long, Healthy Life.  He lists the eight keys (below) and provides great advice on how to accomplish and use them.

1.     Maintain Mental Vitality
2.     Nurture Your Relationships
3.     Seek Essential Sleep
4.     Set Stress Aside
5.     Connect With Your Community
6.     Lead the Active Life
7.     Eat Your Way to Health
8.     Practice Prevention
This is an excellent resource book for those on the northern side of 50. Very practical book with plenty of good and well documented advice.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

The Bed of Procrustes: Philosophical and Practical Aphorisms by Nassim Nicholas Taleb

Aphorisms are nuggets of insight and wisdom. I enjoyed Taleb’s book. I can’t say I agreed with all his insights but it was thought provoking.

Work destroys your soul by stealthily invading your brain during the hours not officially spent working; be selective about professions.


Using, as an excuse, others’ failure of common sense is in itself a failure of common sense.


Your reputation is harmed the most by what you say to defend it.


Friendship that ends was never one; there was at least one sucker in it.


The three most harmful addictions are heroin, carbohydrates, and a monthly salary.


Avoid calling heroes those who had no other choice.


A mathematician starts with a problem and creates a solution; a consultant starts by offering a “solution” and creates a problem.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Best Unpublicized Business Book of 2010

I devoured Crash of the Titans: Greed, Hubris and the Fall of Merrill Lynch, and the Near Collapse of Bank of America by Greg Farrell. It read like a corporate soap opera with elements of dirty politics, revenge, treachery, greed and backstabbing.

I picked the book up at Borders without reading or seeing any mention or review of it anywhere. This book as well as Too Big To Fail were my favorite business books of 2010.

The book focused on the executive managements at Merrill Lynch with John Thain and Bank of America with Ken Lewis. What struck this reader was how the direct reports of Thain and Lewis were treated. I would not have wanted to work for either guy.

This is a great read---like a novel---and well researched.

Friday, November 26, 2010

My World "Series" of Books

I read Painted Ladies, the last book of the Spenser series, written by Robert B. Parker before his death. I enjoyed the book, the characters and I'll miss the Spenser series. It led me to consider a list of the best series of action-adventure books that I enjoyed. Listed below are series that I enjoyed in the past and today:

  1. The James Bond Series by Ian Fleming, Raymond Benson, Sebastian Faulks and Kingsley Amis
  2. John Rain series by Barry Eisler
  3. Virgil Cole and Everett Hitch westerns by Robert B. Parker
  4. Hardy Boys by Franklin W. Dixon 
  5. Jack Reacher series by Lee Child
  6. Lucas Davenport series by John Sandford

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Spiritual Envy: An Agnostic's Quest by Michael Krasny

When I saw the title of the book, I knew I had to read it. I also experience spiritual envy. Krasny describes the struggle and issues that "seekers" experience. I've excerpted some interesting points in the book:

"Agnosticism is a position that denies the existence of absolutes and hidden spiritual forces behind the natural or material world until they can be empirically proven. Agnosticism welcomes proof, craves it, demands it. It does not say there is no God. It also does not say there is one." (pg. 6)

"Studs Terkel, the famed oral historian, once told me that he was an agnostic and added that his definition of agnostic is a cowardly atheist."(pg. 65)

"Many in the past century addressed or wrote about agnosticism, including Pope Benedict XVI. The then Cardinal Ratzinger claimed that agnosticism was indicative of the desire for comfort. Since when do not knowing and uncertainty provide comfort?" (pg. 98)

Like Krasny, I began to question my religious beliefs in high school. In fact, it was spurred by my conversations (sometimes heated) with a priest who taught my Religion class. I envy my friends and people who have faith in God. One day, I hope to arrive at some type of resolution, but in the meantime, I resume my search for truth.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Couldn't Put This Thriller Down

I really enjoyed The Capitol Game by Brian Haig. I stayed up till 1:00 a.m. on a work night to finish it. I liked the story and the ending tied all the loose threads of this thriller together.

Haig combines the intrigue and treachery of Wall Street with the seamy side of government and politics. Do the good guys (and gals) win?

This book reminded me of the old Mission Impossible series...

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Best Damn Sports Book I Read This Year

Play Their Hearts Out: A Coach, His Star Recruit and the Youth Basketball Machine  by George Dohrmann...

I realized that there are countless scandals in recruiting, both at the high school and the college levels. I did not fully realize that it extends to the AAU and middle school levels. Young kids are identified very early not only as high school or college prospects, but for the pro level as well.

They get used by their coaches, scouts, recruiters, agents and even their parents. This was an eye opening book for me.

Dohrmann tracked the rise and fall of Demetrius Walker, a basketball phenom from the age of 10 to his freshman year in college.

Well written and excellently researched...

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Quick Reviews on Non-Fiction Fare


Toxic Talk: How the Radical Right Has Poisioned America's Airwaves by Bill Press. The title of the book says it all. This book is not recommended for dittoheads, "great Americans" and Tea Party supporters as it is a literary roast of Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity and other conservative talk show hosts.

UFOs: Generals, Pilots and Government Officials Go on the Record by Leslie Kean: If you like reading about UFOs, you'll like this book. Kean described some interesting new UFO sightings that I was not aware. I don't think Kean's book will change the mind of a UFO skeptic but this is good reading for those with an open mind about the existence of UFOs and the need to investigate this phenomena further.

The Faithful Departed: The Collapse of Boston's Catholic Culture by Philip F. Lawler: This is a well written and well researched book about the rise and fall of Catholicism. While it focuses on the Boston diocese, the story has repeated itself all over the United States and now the world. Lawler describes the political and cultural factors outside the pastoral abuse cases that have rocked the church. He  shares some personal experiences working in the Boston Diocese and with Cardinal Law.

Morning Drive: Things I Wish I Knew Before I Started Talking by Michael Smerconish. Smerconish is a radio talk show host in Philadelphia. Readers outside Philadelphia may not have heard of him or are familiar with his political viewpoint. He offered some interesting insights into his political views and into Philadelphia pols, like the late Frank Rizzo. If you listen to Smerconish and like his show, you may like his book.

The GM: Inside Story of a Dream Job and the Nightmares that Go With It by Tom Callahan: Unless you are a New York Giant's fan, you may want to pass on this book. Callahan describes the stewardship of Ernie Acorsi. I struggled to read this book and to finish it.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Summer Book Buffett

So many books, blogs, magazines, newspapers and so little time...

Sadly I have started a number of books that I did not finish or I quickly scarfed through like a hurried and hungry man at a buffet sampling the entire menu...

For example:

Crisis Economics: A Crash Course in the Future of Finance by Nouriel Roubini was a good read for an economics and finance book. Roubini has received a lot of praise for his analysis and predictions prior the financial meltdown...

I skimmed through a novel, Imperial Bedrooms by Brett Ellis, as if I held a fast forward button in turning the pages. I saw the author on Morning Joe and picked up the book from the library. I did skim to the end of the book as I was curious how the story and Clay's obsession with a young actress would end. I bet they make this as a movie sometime soon.

I may go back and spend more time reading the biography Pulitzer: A Life in Politics, Print and Power by James McGrath Morris as it piqued my interest even on a quick peek inside the book.

I re-read Disclosure by Michael Crichton in about two days. I remember reading it over 20 years ago in less than a day. The book is as good or maybe a bit better than the movie. It has plenty of corporate intrigue, dirty corporate political tricks, sex and an evil woman temptress. It's an oldie but a goodie.

I tried to get through Spies of the Balkans by Alan Furst as it was recommended by one of my colleagues at work. I usually like novels based in the World War II period but I could not pick this book up after I put it down. Likewise I could not get into Helmet for My Pillow: From Parris Island to the Pacific by Robert Leckie. Both books have been widely praised so the blame is on me...

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

My Confession

I picked the wrong time to start this blog.

Not because I don't read. I do read. But not very deeply. My reading diet is varied. I probably read business 40 -50 emails daily. I skim the Inquirer daily on my Kindle. I read the delivered local newspapers.  There are about a dozen blogs I religiously read every day. I read, edit and review as many as a dozen or more business documents (policies, procedures etc.) Even as I sit down to watch a sporting event on TV, I read the scroll at the bottom of the screen.

What I don't read well are books. There is just too many distractions for my time and attention. I have picked up a startling number of books that I have not finished or have skimmed through looking for specific information.

What bothers me is that very few books keep my attention. Most times I guess it's my fault but there are so few compelling and original stories, thinking, research and ideas.

I just may be in a slump. Hopefully I can regain my interest in just reading for entertainment and knowledge....

Monday, August 9, 2010

Best Book I Have Read (in the past month)

I enjoyed and got a lot out of The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to our Brains by Nicholas Carr. Since I have a hard time with my concentration when I read or write, Carr's explanations on how the Internet affects our mental discipline and focus was interesting. I don't read books or articles as much as I skim and scroll through them. And I have a very hard time remembering what I have read. I blamed much of this on my advancing years but I can see how the Internet has scrambled the way I think.

Very insightful. A very good read (or skim given my lack of concentration).

Demise of Public Libraries

I'm very concerned about the cutbacks in what I consider are our intellectual meccas, our libraries. In my experience, a library has been more important to my intellectual and self development than college or high school or any teacher or any class I have taken. I'd rather see a recreation area closed than a library. I am particularly concerned about reducing or terminating library services in poor or urban areas where intellectual resources are scarce anyway.

How depressing that we may be depriving people, especially young people, from ideas, information and motivation to improve their lives!

Monday, July 26, 2010

10 Reasons I Bought a Kindle DX

I'm old school. I browse for books at Borders and Barnes and Noble. I still buy hardcovers and a few paperbacks. I borrow books from my library. I purchase newspapers from Wawa.

So why did I decide to buy a Kindle. Let me count the reasons

1. I have no room on my bookshelves or home to store books

2. I can buy newspapers and magazines cheaper

3. I'm looking for a different and better experience in reading

4. The Kindle should make reading easier when I'm lying in bed

5. Price has dropped thanks to Ipad

6. I can highlight sections of the book on screen

7. I can take notes as I read

8. I can quickly find out what a word means with the online dictionary

9. Ability to adjust font for easier reading

10. Everyone who has one loves it

Monday, July 5, 2010

Four Very Good Summer Reads

Looking for some very good reading material for vacation or sitting by the beach? I offer four books of diverse topics and tastes for your reading palate...

The Devil's Casino: Friendship, Betrayal and High Stake Games Played Inside Lehman Brothers by Vicky Ward. If you like to read about internal corporate politics, treachery, ambition and greed, you'll enjoy this book. I read this book on the beach. This book is a corporate version of the Housewives of New Jersey except most of the characters are men.

War by Sebastian Junger. Junger was embedded with American forces in Afghanistan. After reading this very gritty and graphic book, I was struck by two thoughts: First, how brave are our young men fighting in the hell holes of Afghanistan. And second, is all their sacrifice and all the money poured into the fight against the Taliban worth it? I encourage all armed chair generals to read this book and see what they think.

Hardcourt Confidential by Patrick McEnroe. McEnroe shares stories from his time as a player and commentator on the pro tennis tour and as coach of the U.S. Davis Cup team. Patrick is the younger and calmer brother of tennis great John McEnroe. Patrick is very candid about his experiences and offers some revealing insights into many of the top tennis players today including Federer, Nadal, the Williams sisters etc. If you are a tennis fan, you will enjoy reading this book.

Reckless by Andrew Gross. Excellent page turner that had my attention from the first page to the exciting conclusion. Gross cleverly incorporates the background of the recent financial meltdown in banking and financial services in this thriller. His two main characters, Ty Hauck and Naomi Blum team up to save the world from financial disaster. Lots of action, violence and gun play...It quenched my thirst for a James Bond like adventure and story.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

A Review on Mike and Mike's Rules for Sports and Life

If you like the simulcast of their sports talk show, you may like this book. It reads as if it's a transcript of one of their shows. It was an afternoon diversion. Some Amazon reviewers have written and complained that it contains some old materials and skits.

I got the book from my local library. I would not have paid full or even half price for the book but you can't beat free as a price.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Tales of Keeping Your Mind and Protecting Your Money

I skimmed through two books. One book was to help me keep my mind sharp, the second was a lesson in keeping my money, away from greedy bankers, financial advisors and brokers.

As an aging baby boomer I was interested in The Secret Life of the Grown Up Brain by Barbara Strauch. My memory is not what it used to be and my attention to detail, particularly at work, has slipped. Strauch offers an optimistic outlook generally for how well our minds will function as we get older. Her contention is that older people tend to be more content and happier. She offers science and personal stories to support her rosy outlook. She also suggests that we may become more distracted and I can attest to that argument. Amazon readers rate this book very highly. It's not exactly a page turner but as I just said, I get easily distracted.

This may be about the tenth book I have read on the collapse of out financial system. I found parts of The Big Short by Michael Lewis a bit hard to read. Even though I am in banking, I got lost in the details and nuances of some of the transactions and products that Lewis was writing about. This is not a book about the major players who were involved in the financial meltdown of our banks and institutions. However the themes are the same: greed, stupidity and the pillaging of investors who were denied the information and candor to avoid huge personal financial losses.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

My Reading Scorecard: Home Runs, Hits and Misses

The effort involved in reading is much easier than the effort required in writing. This entry is my catch-up for books that I have read in 2010 but have not yet commented.

Home Runs (Books I have enjoyed and would recommend-WOW experience)
Game Change Obama and the Clintons, McCain and Palin, and the Race of a Lifetime by John Heilemann and Mark Halperin. Fascinating behind the scenes look at the candidates in the 2008 Presidential race. Parts of the book read like a soap opera and the National Enquirer. I will add this warning. If you are a fan of Sarah Palin, John McCain, Judy Giuliani or John and Elizabeth Edwards, you will not enjoy this book. This book about Presidential politics is a lot more personal than those written by Teddy White decades ago.

Hits (Entertaining or thought provoking-just not WOW)
The Death of American Virtue: Clinton vs. Starr by Ken Gormley. This book is very good but very long (over 800 pages). This is another book covering political history but filled with soap opera and salacious elements. Susan MacDougal comes off as a sympathetic heroine. Gormley succeeded in gaining the confidence and information from all the main players of this national drama in the late 90's.

On the Brink: Inside the Race to Stop the Collapse of the Global Financial System by Hank Paulson. I've read a number of other books that covered the global meltdown. I never read anything about President George Bush. Paulson describes Bush's participation and efforts during this period. Bush was smart enough to stay out of the way and have Paulson, Bernacke, Geitner and the banking CEOs handle the mess. Paulson also writes unsympathetically about his conversations with John McCain and Sarah Palin during the economic crisis. This was an interesting and easy read covering the behind the scenes and headlines on how the economic crisis was managed and handled.

Split Image (Jesse Stone series) by Robert B. Parker. A good relaxing read for the weekend or on vacation. Great dialogue. No gun play. Interesting character development. I will miss Parker's books.

Hitler's Pope: The Secret History of Pius XII by John Cromwell. I think the title may be misleading. Pius XII certainly acted for his self interest. He seemed to play both sides of the war. I'll leave it to other readers how responsible he and the Catholic Church were in not preventing the extermination of millions of Jews. Cromwell's book sets the stage for the debate.

Personal Foul by Tim Donaghy. I do not like the author and what he did that got him convicted and imprisoned. I saw the book in the library and read it. It appears to be a good behind the scenes look into NBA referees and how they do their jobs (sometimes with prejudice based on what the author offers.)

Misses (Books I did not like or could not connect with)
The Humbling by Philip Ross. I read the entire book. I was hoping that Simon Axler the 65 year old actor would regain his mojo and zest for life. Disappointingly no. Very depressing story.

36 Arguments for the Existence of God: A Work of Fiction by Rebecca Goldstein. I read great reviews and I bought the book. I did not get into the story at all. I stopped halfway into the book.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Best Business Books of 2010 (So Far)

What I look for in a business book are ideas. I look for ideas that make me smarter, more productive and competitive. The three books below offer a number of great ideas, strategies and practical approaches in various business scenarios.

    The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right by Atul Gawande

    Since I act as a technical writer and still get involved in drafting procedures, this book struck home. Gawande showed how a simple one page checklist could reduce infection rates after surgery and save lives. Checklists are used by pilots prior to take off and have served as life savers in perilous flight situations.

    Good checklists are:

    • practical
    • reminders of the most critical steps that are too dangerous to miss
    • precise
    • fit on one page
    • free of clutter and unnecessary colors

      Linchpin: Are You Indispensable by Seth Godin

    • There are no longer any great jobs where somebody tells you precisely what to do
    • The only way to succeed is to be remarkable, to be talked about
    • Depth of Knowledge alone is not enough.
    • If you're remarkable, amazing or just spectacular, you probably shouldn't have a resume at all.
    • Successful people are successful for one simple reason, they think about failure differently.

    Rework by Jason Fried and David Heinmeier Hansson

    The book is organized into very short chapters. Some of the titles are very descriptive and thought provactive.

    • Resumes are ridiculous
    • Hire great writers
    • You don't create a culture
    • Forget about the Wall Street Journal
    • Pass on great people
    • Press releases are spam
    • Meetings are toxic

    Wednesday, February 24, 2010

    The Politician by Andrew Young

    Described as an “insider account,” it reads like a trashy political novel. The author, Andrew Young, served as an aide, confidant and friend of former North Carolina Senator and Vice Presidential candidate, John Edwards. The book focuses on Edwards’s affair with Rielle Hunter, who worked as a videographer on his campaign. Edwards has acknowledged the affair and the paternity of a daughter from his relationship with Hunter.

    What strikes this reader as more bizarre than the relationship of Edwards with Hunter is the relationship between Young and Edwards. Young acted way behind any conventional job description for a political aide. He agreed to protect Edwards and falsely acknowledge that he was the father of Rielle’s baby and accepted the ridicule, scorn and criticism related to it.

    Besides the affair, Young had some interesting things to write about the 2004 Presidential race including the friction between Kerry and Edwards on the strategy and content of the campaign. However this is not a book about politics or statesmanship, its main focus is on scandal and human fraility.

    If you have seen the Youngs making the rounds of all the talk shows, you won't need to buy or read this book.

    Two things we can be grateful for given all the poor judgment mentioned in this book:

    • The Edwards never made it to the White House.
    • Andrew Young never got the high level Washington post he was seeking.

    Sunday, January 24, 2010

    Review of The Kennedy Assassination: 24 Hours Later

    It's been a while since I have read a book about the tragic events of November 22, 1963. I was about 10 when this happened and I remember sitting from Friday November 22 through Monday November 25 watching the three network's coverage of the aftermath and Kennedy funeral on my black and white TV.

    Steven Gillon's well researched book is good history and a flattering portrait of how Lyndon Johnson handled the first 24 hours of his Presidency. Johnson balanced the needs of reassuring the people of a country in shock while being sensitive to the grief of the Kennedy family and their closest supporters.

    This book is an excellent read for any history buff and those not old enough to remember the shocking events of that fateful day.

    Sunday, January 17, 2010

    "TMZ" Style Reading

    I skimmed through two celebrity style books, My Life Outside the Ring by Hulk Hogan and Official Book Club Selection: A Memoir by Kathy Griffin.

    If someone puts a gun to your head and tells you that you have to read one, I'd choose the Griffin book. Griffin is very candid about her career, her fellow celebrities and she is painfully honest about her failed marriage. Griffin is an acquired taste and generates a lot of heat for her outspoken views.

    Hulk's book offers very little about his wrestling career. Much of the book is his side of his failed marriage and son Nick's legal troubles after a car accident that has paralyzed a family friend. It reads like a deposition at times.

    Sunday, January 10, 2010

    Too Big to Fail By Andrew Ross Sorkin

    I've read about 8-10 books on the events around our "economic 9/11." Sorkin's book is the most readable and the best in terms of depth and breadth of coverage.

    If you are a student of one or more of the following disciplines, history, business, management, politics, leadership, banking and economics, you will enjoy this book and learn a lot from it. The fate of our economy was not in the hands of George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Harry Reid or Nancy Pelosi. Instead you will read the real decision makers and leaders in our economic crisis were Hank Paulsen, Tim Geithner, Jamie Dimon and Ben Bernacke.

    This book is truly a behind the scenes look at crisis management. You will read of some CEOs and government people who stepped up at the plate and some who were not up to the challenges and bailed out.

    The book is over 500 pages but moves quickly. It reads like a political novel with a fascinating group of characters and personalities.