Friday, December 30, 2011

Ten Most Inspirational Books I've Read in My Life

While most books one reads generally fall away from memory after you are done with them, I have listed 10 books that I found particularly inspiring, transformative or thought provoking. For my religious friends, this is exclusively a secular list though several of these books speak about faith.

10. Hardy Boys by Franklin W. Dixon, Chip Hilton by Claire Bee, Rick Brant by John Blaine, Tom Swift by Victor Appleton.
My # 10 is a series of books that helped a shy, skinny kid who had lost his father to a heart attack and needed some direction. Plus these books started me on my passion for reading. I got my homework done early so I could read these books.

A few decades ago and about 50 lbs. lighter, I used to jog and occasionally raced 5 and 10K races. Fixx was the running guru in the 70s. Geez, I remember a day where I jogged about 10 miles and was not tired.

8. Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience by Mihaly Csikszentmshayli
I remember this wasn't an easy book to read. However flow became a mantra. Flow was described as a state where people experienced deep enjoyment, creativity and clarity. Within this state of flow, you lose all track of time. I experienced flow playing basketball or working on a project that interested me. Not enough activities generating flow now.

7. The Wisdom of Insecurity by Alan Watts
Watts provides insights on “finding security and peace of mind in a world whose very nature is insecurity, impermanence and unceasing change.” This book was written in the 1950s but it’s wiser that any self-help book you can read today. I've underlined quite a bit of this book.

I admire people who are accomplished with many talents and various types of achievements. Those types of people are usually called Renaissance Men or Women. Gelb offers a guide to Renaissance living and pursuits.

Old men start wars and young men fight them. I found it very inspiring and gratifying to read about the education of a man who was a West Point graduate, Rhodes Scholar, a Ranger and an Officer who led men into battle in Afghanistan. I felt better about the prospects for America in the future. Hopefully future generations will do better than what the leaders of the Baby Boomer generation have accomplished.

4. The Way of the Ronin by Beverly Potter
A Ronin was a masterless samurai and warrior who depended entirely upon themselves and their own skills to survive in Japan’s feudal society. In most circles, they were considered outlaws. As anyone who has had the fortune (or misfortune) to “manage me” has learned I’m not the conventional employee type. I read this book in the early 1990’s and it changed my thinking about work, career and life balance.

This book is on my list not necessarily for any information or advice it offers. I found the questions very compelling, particularly those related as to what is living a good life. We have to decide what's best for ourselves. A great book for baby boomers reevaluating their lives and what to do next.

Diagnosed with ALS and given less than five years to live, Simmons accurately describes life as a “terminal condition.” His book opened me to new meanings of life. This book and the Barton book described below offer the insights of brave men facing death and how they have accepted their fates.

1. Not Fade Away: A Short Life Well Lived by Lawrence Shames and Peter Barton
Peter Barton, while facing a cancer that would end his life, wrote a book on how to die but more importantly how to live. Barton offered a piece of advice that I wish I could accomplish in my life… “I promised myself that I would not have a bad day for the rest of my life. I f someone was wasting my time, I’d excuse myself and walk away. If a situation bothered me or refused to get resolved, I’d shrug and move on. I’d squander no energy on petty annoyances, poison no minutes with useless regret.”

Friday, December 16, 2011

Top 10 Non-Fiction Best Books of 2011

I've read a number of very good books this year. I have put together a list of books that are suitable for different tastes and interests for mostly men but for the well read woman too. I have not listed the books in terms of preference or ranking.

The trials and adventures of an American diplomat and his family in pre-war Nazi Germany.

Inside look at what's wrong with college sports and the NCAA.

Inside look at how to play high school football with Midwestern values and spirit.

The title describes the story within the book.

Excellently researched and written book about the events and people contributing to the economic meltdown.

What goes up must come down. Careers and fortunes spiral out of control. Great anecdotes about John Travolta, John McCain, Peter Max and other celebrities.

Sound analysis and ideas about our economic and political crises---not the junk you hear out of Washington or at the political debates.

A sobering reality check for baby boomers and older.

Fans of Conan O'Brien will like their man and how he handled his departure at NBC. Lots of dirt.

Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine and the Murder of a President by Candice Millard.
Fascinating history and interesting details around the assassination of President James Garfield. Garfield had the potential to be one of our greatest Presidents.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

The 10 Sexiest Women of All Time.

Men's Health published their list of the 100 Sexiest Women In History. My top 10 differs from their list.

Men’s Health                                        My Humble Opinion

10.       Angelina Jolie                                       Diana Rigg

9.         Jane Fonda                                           Jennifer Lopez

8.         Pamela Anderson                                 Angie Dickinson

7.         Bettie Page                                            Sophia Loren

6.         Ursula Andress                                      Pam Grier

5.         Madonna                                                Chris Evert

4.         Britney Spears                                      Heather Locklear

3.         Marilyn Monroe                                     Jennifer Aniston

2.         Raquel Welch                                       Christie Brinkley

1.         Jennifer Aniston                                    Raquel Welch

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Smartest Thing I've Read About Politics in a Long, Long Time

"We want a virgin to do a hooker's job."
— AZ state Sen. Lori Klein, on politics

Saturday, November 19, 2011

The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes

Good book. Good story but slow in parts for me. What I enjoyed most were Barnes's observations on getting older. Excerpts below...

"What did I know of life? I who had lived so carefully. Who had neither won, nor lost, but just let life happen to him? Who had the usual ambitions and settled all too quickly for them not being realized? Who avoided being hurt and called it a capacity for survival? Who paid his bills, stayed on good terms with everyone as far as possible, for whom ecstasy and despair became just words once read in novels? One whose self rebukes never really inflicted pain?"

"The time deniers say: forty's nothing, at fifty, you're in your prime and sixty's the new forty, and so on. I know this much: that there is objective time, but also subjective time, the kind you wear on the inside of your wrist, next to where the pulse lies. And this personal time, which is the true time, is measured in your relationship to memory."

"Average, that's what I'd been, ever since I left school. Average at university and work; average in friendship, loyalty, love: average, no doubt, at sex."

"But time grounds us and then confounds us. We thought we were being mature when we were only being safe. We imagined we were being responsible but were only being cowardly. What we called realism turned out to be a way of avoiding things, rather than facing them. Time...give us enough time and our best supported decisions will seem wobbly, our certainties whimsical."

Friday, November 18, 2011

Best Sports Book of 2011

I enjoyed reading Three and Out: Rich Rodriguez and the Michigan Wolverines in the Crucible of College Football by John Bacon. Bacon had a behind the scenes look at the Michigan football program when Rich Rodriquez took over the program. The Michigan program struggled during the Rodriquez regime and a lot of the problems were not his fault. I remember reading and seeing a number of very negative items from the press and sports media about Rodriquez so this book provided me a different slant on how things went wrong.

This is an excellent book for coaches and would be coaches on what you can expect as a head football coach.... a lot of grief and hassles-from players, alumni and the press. I see and read similar stories even at the high school level. Coaches are paid to win-NOW! 

Bacon is very sympathetic to Rodriquez and his coaches. Compared to what's happening at Penn State, another Big 10 school, the issues captured are small potatoes. If you want to know what big time college football is all about, this is an excellent book to read.

Five star *****

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

All 125th NBA Team

The Sporting News has just published their 125th Commemorative Issue.

Sporting News                                                         My Picks

Magic Johnson                                                        Magic Johnson

Michael Jordan                                                        Michael Jordan

Larry Bird                                                                   Larry Bird

Bob Pettit                                                                   Tim Duncan

Bill Russell                                                               Wilt Chamberlain

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Doc by Mary Doria Russell ****

I usually don't read fiction written by female authors or stories about the "Wild West." Give what I just said, I enjoyed reading Doc, a book that is part biography and part novel about John Henry "Doc" Holliday. If you have seen either the Wyatt Earp (Kevin Costner, Dennis Quaid) or Tombstone movie (Kurt Russell, Val Kilmer), then you will have a flavor of this book.

There is not a lot of gunplay in this book as Holliday's reputation as a gunslinger and man of violence was exaggerated. Russell does highlight the relationship and respect between Earp and Holliday. Holliday was an interested character. He was a dentist, an excellent gambler and very articulate with his view on life. Doc's greatest challenge was not the villains of the West but his battle with tuberculosis. 

Smartest Thing I Read Today

From Ross Douthat's column in the New York Times...

What you see in today’s Republican primary campaign is a reaction to exactly these kinds of follies — a revolt against the ruling class that our meritocracy has forged, and a search for outsiders with thinner résumés but better instincts.
But from Michele Bachmann to Herman Cain, the outsiders haven’t risen to the challenge. It will do America no good to replace the arrogant with the ignorant, the overconfident with the incompetent.
In place of reckless meritocrats, we don’t need feckless know-nothings. We need intelligent leaders with a sense of their own limits, experienced people whose lives have taught them caution. We still need the best and brightest, but we need them to have somehow learned humility along the way.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Ammunition for the Occupy Wall Street Crowd

While I read Reckless Endangerment  How Outsized Ambition, Greed and Corruption Led to Economic Armageddon by Gretchen Morgensen and Joshua Rosner, I got angrier with every new page. My home is worth about 25% less than what is was in 2007. I know people who cannot sell their homes even after dropping the price 40% or more. Foreclosures are a common occurrence throughout the country. The mortgage markets have tightened up that young people have a very hard time qualifying for a loan.

Morgensen writes a very readable and compelling narrative on how our Presidents (Republican and Democratic), Congress, regulatory agencies, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, banks, investment companies etc. got caught up with avarice and stupidity. There are more villains in this book than the entire James Bond movie series. None of these villains have been indicted. Many are still involved in key decisioning roles in government and business.

This "Economic Armageddon" could have been mitigated, maybe even prevented. Morgensen describes how a few analysts had seen and warned about this tsunami but were ridiculed and attacked for their positions.

Excellent book. Five stars.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Smartest Things I've Read Today.

The United States needs a reality check and ideas on how to resolve the economic mess we face, particularly as it concerns our massive unemployment and underemployment.

If you want to read about solutions, check out Seth Godin's blog entry on The Forever Recession (and The Coming Revolution.)

For a much more detailed analysis and study of our economic peril and prospects, check out That Used To Be Us: How America Fell Behind in the World It Invented and How We Can Come Back by Tom Friedman and Michael Mandelbaum. Hopefully the sad sack of candidates running for President may read and incorporate the ideas of these authors.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

My Review of The Rogue: Searching for the Real Sarah Palin

I should preface this review by pointing out I am not a Sarah Palin fan. I do not believe she is qualified for any national office. I think she is a celebrity just like Snooki, the wives of Beverly Hill and now, her daughter.
I think Joe McGinniss sums up his feelings about her at the end of his book. " Sarah Palin practices politics as lap dance and we're the suckers who pay the price. Members of our jaded national press corps eagerly stuff one hundred dollar bills into her G-string, even as they wink at one another to show that they don't take her seriously."
He doesn't have much good to say about her as a wife, mother, friend or politician. If you dislike Sarah, you'll love this book. If you're a fan, you will be outraged and should skip it.
I got the book from my local library. If you have been paying attention to the various news stories about this book, then you know the tone and venom in it.
Read Tom Friedman's That Used To Be Us instead.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

I Can Resist Everything Except Temptation-- Oscar Wilde

Since I exhibit so little lately, I read Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength by Roy Baumeister  and John Tierney. I learned a few things to help improve my willpower such as:

  • Decision making depletes your willpower. If your work requires you to make hard decisions all day long, you will reach a point where you will be depleted.
  • Willpower is finite.
  • Since stress decreases willpower, focus on one project at a time.
  • To lose weight, set realistic goals, monitor your progress by a log, weigh yourself every day and brush your teeth early in the evening to discourage late night snacking.

This book provides tips to improve your willpower that are backed by science and research. It's not just another self help tome. Easy to read. The authors use some great examples to get their points across.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

New & Upcoming Books I'm Looking Forward to Reading.

1. That Used to Be Us by Thomas Friedman

2. Steven Jobs by Walter Isaacson

3. Tension City by Jim Lehrer (book about Presidential debates)

4. Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman

5. The Detachment by Barry Eisler (return of John Rain!)

6. Arguably by Christopher Hitchens (essays)

7. Other People's Money by Justin Cartwright

I may skim through Joe McGinnis's book about Sarah Palin but I've heard enough from TV plus I read Doonesbury who published excerpts of it. Pat Buchanan has a book coming out as well as "new rules" from Bill Maher.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

SAT reading scores drop to lowest point in decades

Why? I would guess there are too many distractions. You can't say it's a money issue. Library books are free.

1. Video games

2. Television

3. Twitter

4. Poor attention span

5. Text messaging

6. Parents don't read either.

7. Netflix (why read the book?)

8. Youtube

Monday, September 5, 2011

My End of the Summer Reading List (Business, Religion and Fiction)

Beach reading was not on my agenda for the summer. I did some minor mental lifting instead..

To improve my business writing, I read Microstyle: The Art of Writing Little by Christopher Johnson. If you are trying to improve your communication skills, branding and career prospects, you'll find this book very helpful with practical writing tips. It's an excellent resource for web and social media communications.

Since I chair some business meetings, I was curious to review Read This Before Our Next Meeting by Al Pittampalli. He offers some valid business advice on when to call a meeting, how to develop an agenda and who to invite. His advice not to invite someone to the next meeting who comes to a meeting but does not participate seems a bit politically risky to me. However he was preaching to the choir to this reader who finds 80% of meetings a waste of time.

Based on a New York Times book review article, I skimmed through Janet Reitman's Inside Scientology, The Story of America's Most Secretive Religion and Render Unto Rome, The Secret Life of Money in the Catholic Church by Jason Berry. Both books appear to be very well researched and I found both books to be well written and interesting. The Berry book, in particular, will raise your eyes if you are a Catholic. There is obviously a need for much better financial management, use and control of money donated by the faithful.

I felt like I came into the middle of a bigger story as I began Cold Vengeance by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child. Since I had not read any of the preceding books in the Agent Pendergast series, I was at a disadvantage. Pendergast searches for his wife who was believed dead. I enjoyed the action sequences though some seemed very implausible, particularly Pendergast's escape after being shot in a swamp. I did not like the ending either.

I could not get into All Things Shining: Reading the Western Canon to Find Meaning in a Secular World by Hubert L. Dreyfus and Sean Dorrance Kelly.  Dreyfus and Kelly are philosophers and attempted to write this book for a general audience. However this book was too much mental lifting for me at this time.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Troublemaker (only for the Republican Party)

Generally I am very skeptical of books written by politicians. I'm skeptical first that a politician actually wrote it. (I have heard that John F. Kennedy did not write his Pulitzer winning Profiles in Courage.) Second I'm not sure what value they have in terms of original ideas and insights.

This leads me to consider why in the world anyone would be interested in publishing, much less read "Troublemaker" by Christine O'Donnell. Anyone who has ever seen her on TV (even before she appeared on CNN'S Piers Morgan show) has witnessed someone who is not comfortable with ideas or spontaneous thinking. She seems like a nice person but one who is terribly overmatched in the arts of persuasion and debate. She draws derision but sympathy too. Her debate with Democrat Chris Coons turned out to be a mental "squash match" to borrow a term from pro wrestling in being very one sided.

I wish there were more serious books with ideas and original thinking particularly about the economic mess we are in. I doubt if it will be written by a politician or politico celebrity.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Best Book of 2011 (So Far)

Do you like intrigue?

Do you like romance?

Do you enjoy scandal?

Do you enjoy history?

Do you enjoy heroism in the face of evil?

Then you would enjoy the widely praised In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror and an American Family in Hitler's Berlin by Erik Larson. This book is based on actual events but it is written like a novel.

The American Family belongs to William E. Dodd who was appointed as Ambassador to Germany in 1933 just as Adolph Hitler is rising to power. Dodd struggles not only with the new Nazi regime but with his own State Department. The family gets to see and experience the terror of the Gestapo and Storm Troopers as Hitler consolidates his power.

The book also focuses on Dodd's precocious daughter, Martha who meets and beds a number of diplomats and players in Berlin. The reader gets to see Germany through her eyes.

I was also fascinated by the reaction of the German people during this pre-World War II period. This book answered my question as to how a person like Hitler could take power.

This book deserves every kudo it has received.

This book is 365 pages of history and is well written. An excellent choice for a student of history or a reader looking for an interesting story.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Blame for Everyone Offered in Griftopia by Matt Taibbi

I've read so many books about the financial meltdown that I was a bit reluctant to take on Griftopia: Bubble Machines, Vampire Squids and the Long Con That Is Breaking America by Matt Taibbi. However this was a well written, well researched and well reasoned book.

I wish I could encourage most Americans to read it. It's ideological but it criticizes all parties and political leanings as it should. Government, politicians and financial institutions have made a mess of our economy. We may never recover for decades, if then.

Given the current stalemate in the debt ceiling and budget talks, there is no sign that Washington is the answer to our deepening problems.

I've added some notes from the book below...

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Smartest Thing I Read Today

From a NY Magazine column by Frank Rich...

"What haunts the Obama administration is what still haunts the country: the stunning lack of accountability for the greed and misdeeds that brought America to its gravest financial crisis since the Great Depression. There has been no legal, moral, or financial reckoning for the most powerful wrongdoers. Nor have there been meaningful reforms that might prevent a repeat catastrophe. Time may heal most wounds, but not these. Chronic unemployment remains a constant, painful reminder of the havoc inflicted on the bust’s innocent victims. As the ghost of Hamlet’s father might have it, America will be stalked by its foul and unresolved crimes until they “are burnt and purged away.”

Words of Wisdom

From my quotes of note box...

"When we're young, we want to change the world, when we're old, we want to change the young."
Bill Lyon

"The best way to deal with change is to be involved with it."
Claude Lewis

" There is not a man in the country that can't make a living for himself and his family. But he can't make a living for them and his government, too, not the way this government is living. What the government has to do is live as cheap as the people."

Will Rogers December 20, 1932

Monday, July 4, 2011

Four Beach Book Recommendations for Guys

I have four recommendations, two non-fiction books and two fiction Novels.


Carte Blanche by Jeffrey Deaver.  ★★★
Deaver picks up the mantle of the James Bond 007 series and his first effort is a good one. He does describe a different Bond, younger, more sensitive and without the scars and edge of the earlier 007 characters portrayed in the Ian Fleming and Raymond Benson novels. Deaver is providing his version of Bond. Nice swerve in the story at the end.

Sixkill by Robert Parker. ★★★
This was Parker’s last Spenser novel. The usual cast of characters is here except Hawk. This book has a bit more action and gunplay than the other Spenser books. This is a very good read for the beach or sitting at home on your easy chair. The Spenser series of books rarely disappoint.


Those Guys Have All The Fun: Inside the World of ESPN by Tom Shales and James Andrew Wilson ★★★★
This is a very long book that is over 400 pages. I skimmed it for the gossip and inside stories about the ESPN executives and broadcasters. There are a lot of stories. If you are interested, there are details on how ESPN started and how the business model grew over the years. From the book, it sounds like it was not easy being a female and working for ESPN, especially in the 80’s and 90’s. This book appears to be well researched with plenty of quotes and observations from people involved in the broadcast and management.

If you enjoy boxing, you may enjoy this book. Sugar Ray writes about his bouts with Roberto Duran, Tommy Hearns and Marvin Hagler among others. He also discusses his battles with alcoholism, infidelity and abuse he experienced as a young boy.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The Thank You Economy by Gary Vaynerchuk

Good business book. Some good advice. I collected some ideas from my Kindle that I would have underlined in a hard cover book.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Reader Related Riffs

1. Kindle prices.  Prices between a Kindle book and a new hard cover are about the same in many cases. Hey Amazon, the primary reason that I bought a Kindle was so I could buy a new book for $9.99! If the price margins don't favor the Kindle reader, some will reconsider going to the local bookstore and that may not be a bad thing.

2. Reality world stars writing books. Are you kidding me? These people can write??

3. Books authored by Palin family members. See comment #2

4. Newspaper content. I bought a Sunday Philadelphia Inquirer that was full of ads but short on content and articles. There is no difference between a daily edition ($.75) and Sunday edition ($1.75) in terms of content.

5. Cartoons. With the exception of Dilbert and Doonesbury (and one or two others) they are not funny or worth reading.

6. Historical Revisionism in textbooks. I am all in favor of updating history based on new facts. I am not in favor of revising or teaching an interpretation of history based on the delusions of a political group, author or political candidate.

7. Textbooks on creationism vs evolution. See comment #6. Our education system does not provide an adequate training on math and science. The Scopes trial was decided over 80 years ago. Let's move forward for the sake of our kids and our country.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Covering the Un-Civil Wars in Tennis

High Strung: Bjorn Borg, John McEnroe and the Untold Story of Tennis's Fiercest Rivalry by Stephen Tignor ★★★

I think that tennis had more compelling rivalries and personalities in the late 1970s and 1980s than it does today. Jimmy Connors, Bjorn Borg, John McEnroe, Ilie Nastase and Ivan Lendl were some of the more notable players and personalities. Nastase, Connors and McEnroe were the bad boys of tennis. Their gamesmanship was as potent as the strokes and talents they brought to a match.
 They drove umpires, line judges and fans crazy with their on court antics.

 Tignor covers the madness and  also focuses on the more civil rivalry between Bjorn Borg and John McEnroe. and does a very good of fleshing out their personalities, demons and what drives them.

Good but not great tennis book. I read this book on my Kindle. $12.99 is a high price even if it was a new book. Should have been priced at $9.99.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

A Wake-Up Call to Aging Babyboomers

If you don't remember Rowan and Martin's Laugh In, Get Smart or Gunsmoke, this book may not be for you...unless you are concerned about a parent or loved one past 60. Susan Jacoby throws cold water on baby boomers expecting an idyllic journey into and through old age. It turns out that the new 60 may be very like the old 60.

Baby boomers face a myriad of health, financial and emotional challenges. The scariest scenario was the high number of elderly who suffer from Alzheimer's. Jacoby points out that there is no cure and there is no immediate prospects for a cure.

I originally did not want to read this book as I heard it was depressing and it is. But the book is well written and makes its case persuasively.

I'm glad I read it.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Looking for a Good Biography?

I'm catching up on my recent reads and skims. I highly recommend the Morris book below.

1. Colonel Roosevelt  by Edmund Morris (4 stars of 5)
Maybe not our best President of the 20th century but certainly one of our most interesting. Theodore Roosevelt was a Renaissance man. Very well researched and written but very long. However there were very few slow periods in Roosevelt's life so the reader does not get bored. Book covers the period he left office until his death. He did not go quietly to his death.

I was fascinated by the story where he was shot but still insisted on giving a speech while running for President in 1912.

2. End Game: Bobby Fischer's Remarkable Rise and Fall-From America's Brightest Prodigy to the Edge of Madness by Frank Brady (3 stars of 5)

Bobby Fisher was a genius at chess. But he was also a very strange man. Brady captures the quirkiness and brilliant mind of possibly America's greatest chess player. He was a hero in the 1970's by defeating Soviet chess grandmasters.

3. Mr. Nastase The Autobiography by Ille Nastase (2.5 stars of 5)
I liked watching Ille Nastase, a good but uneven tennis player, in the 1970's. You never knew what he would do. Very temperamental. But when he was on, he had great touch. If you found him a boor and bully, you may feel a twinge of sympathy for Nastase after reading his book. This book (as well as the player) is not in the same league as recent tennis tomes about Andre Agassi, Pete Sampras and Patrick McEnroe.