Books Read in 2006
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Emperor of Ocean Park
The Emperor of Ocean Park is a great reading book. The story is OK, but what really makes this book shine is Carter's writing style. The story is about a law professor at a New England University (much like Yale), who is the son of a murdered supreme court justice candidate. Ostensibly this is a murder mystery but it is really a character study of Talcott Garland, his father, his wife, his family, his colleagues, and an assortment of other characters. It was difficut to put The Emperor of Ocean Park down - not because of the engaging story, but because Carter is so easy to read. His prose is clear and engaging an his character studies are wonderful. I was sorry when I completed the book because I looked forward to reading it every night.
Wildfire is another in the Demille series starring John Cory, former NYPD detective now working for the counter-terrorism task force. The book is a pretty lame story about a secret kabal of high ranking government officials and business people who are plotting a pre-emptive strike. It feeds a lot of conspiracy theory. Aside from the lame story, the book is mostly a character study of Cory - DeMille gets way too involved with Cory - to the exclusion of other characters. Cory's character continues to develop as a throwback kind of character. It looks like DeMille is following the unfortunate path of Patricia Cornwall in over developing a character too much like himself and ignoring good storytelling.
There are two compelling reasons to read Natural Capitalism. First, the authors try to use the standard tools of capitalism and free-market economics to address environmental issues. They describe the idea of natural capital and how to account for it. Essentially they argue for removing what economists call “externalities” and using the economic system to pay the true costs of using natural capital. They describe in practical terms how to use these principles to address environmental issues. Although a few ideas are a bit far-fetched, in general Natural Capitalism does a good job of integrating economics and environmental issues. The second compelling reason to read Natural Capitalism is that the authors make a very strong case for integrated design as the way to address many environmental issues in accordance with natural capitalism. They describe how better forethought and design that optimized the whole rather than optimizing the parts yields more sustainable results. The authors discuss this in manufacturing, building, infrastructure and other areas. Their prescription calls for multi-disciplinary thinking, integrative approaches, and whole-systems design. I highly recommend Natural Capitalism. The only flaw is that it is a bit dated. The book was written in 1999 so there are some rather quaint references to things like Enron (pre scandal) and the impending Y2K disaster. These flaws are easy to overlook. The key messages of Natural Capitalism are critically important.
The Afghan is a spy novel about an Al Qaeda plot and the western intelligence search to stop it. The action ranges from London to Dubai, to Pakistan, Indonesia, and Washington. The books is suspenseful and very readable. A bit of a candy novel but very entertaining with some education about the world of Al Qaeda, the middle east, and Indonesia. Very suspenseful.
Rise of the Creative Class
In The Rise of the Creative Class, Florida postulates that creative capital is what drives economies and innovation. He says that places which support a creative lifestyle – with diversity, recreation (outdoor), and a variety of things to do for young creative types – will ultimately be the beneficiaries of economic growth. The Rise of the Creative Class is a provocative book which draws upon urban studies and sociology – particularly Jane Jacobs. Florida makes a compelling case for creating environments which appeal to young creative people.
Little Drummer Girl
I've found previous LeCarre books to be somewhat tedious. The Little Drummer Girl was not. Little Drummer Girl is a post-cold war LeCarre book. He very carefully develops the lead character - Charlie and here controller Joseph. The story is a psychological thriller about the development of a double agent and the clandestine war between Israel and Palestine. I found it very enjoyable and riveting. Little Drummer Girl very palpably describes the moral ambiguity of terrorism and attempts to address it as well as the relationship between Israel and the arab world.
Year of Magical Thinking
The Year of Magical Thinking is about the death of Joan Didion's husband of 40 years, John Gregory Dunne. It is about her grieving process and her thoughts as she learned to live without him. The book was interesting and moving - although it felt a bit contrived.
Crime Beat is a collection of stories Michael Connelly wrote while he was a police reporter - in both LA and Florida. He is a better novelist than a police reporter - although Crime Beat does provide some insight into Connelly's background. It is easy to see why he writes such good crime novels.
This is a book written by a couple of strategy professors to describe how to clinically diagnose strategic situations. It is intended as a guide for practitioners that assumes a background in strategy prior to reading. It is a good, pragmatic book that simplifies strategy. The authors are correct in that it is a good supplement to a strategic education, not a substitute.
Mintzberg is a management professor, not a humorist. The Flying Circus is an OK attempt at humor and Mintzberg tries to add a light touch of management theory. It is a credible first attempt at humor. The topic is one which everyone who travels understands. A very lightweight read - but has some redeeming value.
and the American Experience in China
Barbara Tuchman says that this book is about the American relationship with China before, during, and after WWII. She uses a biography of Stilwell as a vehicle to discuss the relationship. This book does a good job of explaining that relationship and the CBI (China, Burma, India) front in WWII that I had never thought much about. In contrast to The Flying Tiger, Stilwell is the hero here and Chennault is painted as a loose cannon. Stilwell is the consummate Army officer who stands up to Chang Kai Shek. Stilwell is readable (although a bit long) and a very good history of the US/China relationship.
The Flying Tiger is a biography of General Claire Chennault, who ran the 14th Chinese Airforce during WWII. Chennault was a favorite of Chiang Kai-sheck and Madame Chaing and was the nemesis of the U.S. Theater commander – Robert Stillwell. The book is about Chennault’s command of American volunteer pilots and Chinese pilots defending the western edge of China. It discusses the war in Burma and supply flights over the hump in the Himalayas. The book is very slanted toward Chennault. It will be interesting to read the story from the other side – the Stilwell perspective. Chennault did some amazing things and this was a good window on both early aviation and WWII from a perspective I seldom see.
Reviewed August 7 by Jon. The Next Architect is about the future of the profession. The ground it covers will be familiar to those who read the Greenway group’s publication Design Intelligent. The book is short and easy to read and a good summary of where the architecture profession can and should go. It posits an optimistic view of the profession and provides a simple guide for practitioners to think about moving their firms toward a more sustainable type of practice.
Reviewed August 7 by Jon. Strategy Bites Back is a nice little volume on Strategy. The authors wanted to make a book that would help us take strategy less seriously. The authors achieved their purpose.They composed a wonderful collection of small essays and writings – some directly about strategy and some only indirectly. Strategy Bites Back follows Minzberg’s philosophy that strategy is really about learning that is rooted deep within the business and not about formalized planning as described in The Rise and Fall of Strategic Planning
Rise and Fall of Strategic Planning
Reviewed August 6 by Jon. Minzberg is one of the most coherent commentators on business strategy that I have read. The Rise and Fall of Strategic Planning debunks traditional corporate strategic planning. Minzberg decomposes strategic planning, exposes the implicit assumptions behind it and challenges its veracity with evidence (or rather lack of evidence of its success). He then declares that making strategy is about synthesis and is best done by operating managers who are close to the action. Finally, he reconceptualizes the role of strategic planners as strategic programmers who support the planning process. Minzberg’s work is always very lucid and chock full of references. The Rise and Fall of Strategic Planning is a good companion to his survey of strategy – Strategy Safari.
Reviewed July 30, by Jon. Kunstler is a social commentator who believes we are running out of oil. The end of oil will dramatically alter our economy and way of life. Kunstler believes we will revert to a small town agrarian existence with very local production of food and goods. The Long Emergency is a rambling book covering energy, middle-east politics, suburbanization (Kunstler’s special evil), and even race relations and religion. The description of oil reserves and all of the alternative energy sources is sobering. It does look very possible that we will run short of energy in my lifetime. Kunstler’s description of what might happen is plausible. The only thing that marred the book was Kustler’s almost fanatical dislike of sububanization and concomitant idealization of small town life. He sometimes comes across as a Luddite. I hope Kunstler is wrong – but fear that there may be truth to what he describes.
Reviewed July 24 2006 by Jon. Blindness is a very weird book. It is a story about a community where almost everybody goes blind - sort of a strange white blindness. The government incarcerates the blind in an old asylum where they devolve into a savage society. In the meantime the outer society also devolves. It is often unclear what is really going on. Blindness was disturbing to read on a variety of levels.
Reviewed July 24, 2006 by Jon. Like Redefining Airmanship, Flight Discipline is about being a professional pilot. Kern, an Air Force instructor who focuses on the mental aspects of flying. He defines discipline and goes through a great many case studies - some military, some airline, and some general aviation - to illustrate his points. This is a great book for pilots to read because it provokes thought about performance and changing from a casual flyer to a pro.
Reviewed July 8 2006 by Jon. My expectations for Flyboys were low. I expected a book of war stories about young fighter pilots in WWII. Flyboys certainly delivered on that, but it offered much more. Bradley gives a very thorough description of US air power in the WWII Pacific Theater and illustrates how decisive air power was in winning against Japan. He also covers a lot of history of Japan that explains some of their motivation to go to war and describes the atrocities – including beheading and cannibalism – that the Japanese inflict on captured U.S. airmen. Bradley is very balanced, however, and makes that case that atrocities such as he described are a part of war, not an exception, and the U.S. did equally barbarous things in our efforts to defeat Japan. I recommend Flyboys as an informative explanation of the US air war in the Pacific.
Reviewed July 8, 2006 by Jon. An Inconvenient Truth is the book version of Al Gore’s movie and slide show on Global Warming. It is beautifully illustrated and quotes the movie verbatim. The movie was an impressive and compelling story about the serious nature of global warming. The book complements the movie wonderfully. It provides a way to go back and find the information that Gore presents in the movie. If Al Gore had been as convincing in the 2000 presidential race as he is in the book and the movie, he might be president today.
Reviewed June 27, 2006 by Jon. Robert Ludlum died in 2001, but this book was published in 2005, obviously by a ghost writer trying to emulate Ludlum. The Ambler Warning is entertaining - with a well worn Ludlum formula. A State Department Consular Operations agent awakens in a max security psychiatric facility with no recollection of who he is - he escapes and pieces together his past while avoiding being killed by former colleagues and foes. Very like a Ludlum classic - with a great surprise ending. The Ambler Warning is a little off, though. The ghost writer got some of it right, but nothing beats the master himself.
The Talk: The Business Case for Sustainable Development
Reviewed June 27, 2006 by Jon. Walking the Talk is a very detailed book by three global business executives. It covers topics like capturing the costs of environmental inputs, the socially responsible aspects of business, and creating markets for pollution credits. There are lots of case studies - mostly from the same group of companies. The book may be a handy reference but is a bit dry. It does, however, lay out some of the key issues in business case building - albeit in a somewhat traditional fashion.
Reviewed June 25, 2006 by Jon. Greed to Green is David Gottfried's autobiography about his transformation from real estate developer to founder of the Green Building Council. It is an interesting story although quite self-indulgent. It is about a rich yuppie discovering green building. Interesting background on the green building movement, but kind of weak as a story.
How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed
Reviewed June 23, 2006 by Jon. Whereas Guns, Germs, and Steel is about the factors that allow societies to succeed, Collapse is about those factors that cause societies to fail. Diamond first examines a number of past societies - Easter Island, Anasazi, Mayas, Iceland, Greenland, etc. He then examines a number of modern societies - Rwanda, Dominican Republic, Haiti, China, Australia. Diamond posits the following causes of societal collapse based on his studies of both ancient and modern societies:
He finishes by describing the most serious environmental problems today:
Collapse is informative and scary - it is well worth reading.
of the Ayatollah
Reviewed June 17, 2006 by Jon. In the tradition of Blackhawk Down, Mark Bowden's book is a thorough and compelling story of the 1979 Iranian Hostage crisis. He covers the story from both the hostage and military rescue attempt. He also covers the Carter administration's attempts to negotiate with Iran. It is amazing to see how naive the students who took the hostages were and the distorted view of American propagated by the students and the Iranian government. Although a bit tedious when going through all of the lives of the hostages (probably because their lives as hostages were tedious), Guests of the Ayatollah is great reading.
Reviewed June 4, 2006 by Jon. I’ve been a Toffler fan for many years and have read many of their books – starting with Future Shock when I was in high school. The Tofflers seem to have a prescient viewpoint which looks beyond today’s realities into the future. Much of what the have written in the past was remarkably accurate. Revolutionary Wealth is about the ways in which wealth will be created in the future. The book is about the transition from an industrial economy to a knowledge economy. Nothing particularly new here, but they do seem to be able to bring many of the issues into sharp focus. I liked their characterization of the speed of various institutions and the notion that they are not synchronized with each other and with reality. Bottom line, the Tofflers break little new ground in Revolutionary Wealth. Many of the ideas are predictable extensions of their previous work and or have been chronicled by other contemporary writers. Revolutionary Wealth is a compelling read, though and it brings many aspects of the knowledge economy together into a coherent package.
Reviewed June 4, 2006 by Jon. Predator is a real stinker. The story is incoherent and Cornwell seems to spend more time gossiping about her cast of now well-known characters rather that constructing a story line. This book seemed worse than formulaic – it really seemed like Cornwell cut and pasted snippets from previous work. Although Cornwell produces a lot of candy-writing, I expected more.
Reviewed April 25, 2006 by Jon. Saturday is about one man - Henry Perowne, and his family in London after 9/11 and before the Iraq war. The entire book takes place over the course of a Saturday. It is an interesting character study but plods along. There are a number of threads that never seem to get resolved. Tedious.
Reviewed April 25, 2006 by Jon. Competition Demystified takes business strategy – as defined by Michael Porter – and simplifies it. It does this by focusing on what the authors claim is the fundamental aspect of strategy – barriers to entry. The authors make a reasonable case for their argument that barriers to entry are more important than other factors. In many cases, this is true. I felt, however, that Competition Demystified is fairly one-dimensional and ignores many aspects of strategy. The book felt like it was more applicable to traditional industries, and did not adequately address a more dynamic environment of technology companies. Nevertheless, the book has value in that it explains strategic concepts clearly and backs them up with detailed case studies. I think Competition Demystified is a useful contribution to the strategic literature. I’d hope, however, that readers would gather enough information about strategy to see the book in context.
Reviewed April 25, 2006 by Jon.
Berntsen was a the CIA leader on the ground in Afghanistan immediately after 9/11 – codenamed Jawbreaker. He describes his relationship with the special forces and the Northern Alliance. It is truly amazing what a small group of people accomplished in Afghanistan. Jawbreaker like Robin Moore before him is very critical of the military establishment and politicians for failure of will. He felt that committing more American troops to Afghanistan would have prevented Osama Bin Ladin from escaping to Pakistan. It is hard to argue with him. Jawbreaker compliments Anaconda and is, in many ways a more readable and accessible book. It is less military and more intrigue. One interesting feature is that it was heavily censored by the CIA. The authors have left the censorship marks in to show where the book was censored.
Reviewed April 25, 2006 by Jon. This is the next installment in Moore’s series of books. Dealing with Darwin describes several models – lifecycle innovation, volume operations vs. complex systems, and core vs. context – that Moore and Philip Lay have been working on for a while. I am familiar with the concepts. The book did a good job of building the models into a unified framework and showing how they relate to each other. As in his other work, Moore makes business strategy simple and accessible. It will take me a while to digest what is said here, but I feel the book is an important contribution to thinking about technology marketing and strategy.
Reviewed April 25, 2006 by Jon. I was recently in Vietnam and decided to re-read this ‘60s classic. Having just been there, I have to say that it was easy to imagine the scenes in the book. The Green Berets is a series of vignettes describing special forces operations in Vietnam. Perhaps this is endemic to all military books but Moore clearly feels that the generals and politicians did not give the special forces what was needed to win the war. Further he paints a pretty dismal picture of the ARVN forces. In retrospect, he was correct I’ve read enough about special forces to believe that Moore accurately portrays special operations and have read enough about the Vietnam war to believe his book is pretty accurate. Definitely a vintage piced.
for the Real World
Reviewed April 25, 2006 by Jon. The edition I read is the original copy I bought in the early 70s. In contrast to the Green Imperative, Design for The Real World is incredible. I realized when I read it how much Papanek influenced my early design education. Design for the Real World is subtitled Human Ecology and Social Change. Papanek is extremely critical of industrial design at the mid-20th century for it’s form-based approach and pandering to corporate interests and conspicuous comsumption. Design for the Real World is about responsible design – from an ecological and social. Standpoint. Some of Papaneck’s views seem vaguely ‘60s but much is still relevant today. Papanek believes designers should employ their talents to help make the world a better place and takes an expansive view of design that is consistant with my own.
Soros on Globalization
Reviewed April 25, 2006 by Jon. Part of this book was fairly technical regarding foreign aid and the IMF/World Bank. Soros lays out his view that market fundamentalism, while sufficient to allocate financial capital, does not replace the role of governments. Governments are not about efficiency but fairness. He proposes some interesting ideas to make the financial aid allocation system more efficient and move it away from a tools of the superpowers. He is very critical of US hegemony and plants the seeds of the argument that he later addresses more fully in The Bubble of American Supremacy.
Ten Faces of Innovation
Reviewed April 12, 2006 by Jon. The Ten Faces of Innovation is the next book from IDEO, following The Art of Innovation. Kelley describes 10 roles that play into innovation. The books is well written and worth reading but it is in many ways a commercial for IDEO and their clients. Nothing startlingly new here but a good treatise on thinking about innovation.
of a Geisha
Reviewed April 3, 2006 by Jon. I saw the movie before I read the book so I knew the story. Even so, I really liked the book. It was very much like the movie and having seen the beautiful imagery of the film, it was easy to visualize the scenes in the book. This is a great love story and a fascinating look behind the scenes at Geisha culture.
Reviewed April 1, 2006 by Jon. The Green Imperative is subtitled Ecology and Ethics in Design and Architecture. I was looking forward to the book because the topic of sustainability is very timely and I had read Papanek early in my design career and saw him as very forward thinking. I was disappointed on two fronts. The Green Imperative is a loose connection of essays about design that seemed rambling with little cohesion – the book could have been better designed. The book was written in 1995 and Papanek comes across in his writing as somewhat of a Luddite and seems to be very out of tune with modern technology. Even for 1995, his views were dated, giving the impression of a writer and critic past his prime. I was disappointed in this book because I had high expectations. The topic deserves clearly articulated treatment. Unfortunately the Green Imperative does not provide it.
Why Liberals will Win the Battle for America
Reviewed March 28 by Jon. This is a great handbook for liberals which clearly explains the rationale and methods of the radical conservatives (or Radcons as Reich calls them) who have taken over American politics. Reich claims that the Radcons are chasing the ghost of the 60’s left. Reich draws the distinction between private morality (sex and religion) and public morality (ethics and equality). He claims that the Radcons are focusing on private morality at the expense of public morality. Reich is an unabashed liberal and Reason is a liberal manifesto. It is very clear and lucid and is a welcome counterweight to the conservative media. The only thing I did not like about the book was that it gets, at times, a big to strident about radical conservatives. However, overall Reason is well reasoned and makes clear and cogent arguments for the liberal agenda. Now if only the Democratic party would read his book and get its act together behind Reich’s agenda.
Bubble of American Supremacy
Reviewed March 26 by Jon. The Bubble of American Supremacy is George Soros diatribe against the Bush Administration’s approach to foreign policy. He shows how the administration’s ideological roots led to the unilateral decision to invade Iraq. Soros also condemns an unfettered faith in capitalism and provides a model for global relations. There are some interesting points in the book – particularly coming from someone as successful as Soros. Although the tone is strident, it seems more and more to be an accurate reflection of the administration’s foreign policy agenda. Soros makes an interesting parallel between stock market bubbles and the imperialist drive in the white house. He claims that our imperialist approach will collapse and cause a retrenchment in our foreign policy. This book is interesting but seems a bit hastily written.
Future of Success: Working and Living in the New Economy
Reviewed March 25 by Jon. The Future of Success was written at the end of the dot-com days and has a bit of “new economy” feel to it. It is worth reading, however. Reich lays out the landscape of work caused by technology and productivity. He clearly articulates the message that displacement of manufacturing and blue-collar work is caused by technology and globalization – but both forces are good for society and there is no turning back. He chronicles the situation quite well. As an economist he describes the causes of the growing divide between high and low income workers, explains why high income workers work so hard, and shows the benefits of a globally integrated economy. He also states that work is more transitory and contingent than it was in the middle of the 20th century. Reich is great at explanation but does not posit solutions to the many problems he points out. Nevertheless his book provides a good economic framework for understanding the changes in the nature of work.
Though History: America in the Regan Years
Reviewed March 25 by Jon. Like his chronicle of the Clinton years – The Best of Times – this is a chronicle of the Regan years. Sleepwalking Thorough History has some of the same messages as The Best of Times - i.e. the media’s role in simplifying political reality. Johnson paints Regan as a detached façade of a leader. His positive contribution was that of a “feel good” optimist who projected an aura of positive thinking while driving the nation into debt, rewarding wealthy friends and benefactors, dismantling government and social program, and turning a blind eye to ethical lapses in his administration. Johnson very lucidly writes about Regan’s disinvestment in the country and economy and its consequences in the years that followed Regan’s time in office. The political climate that he describes from the Regan years seems eerily like the Bush years in the 2000s.
Reviewed March 24, 2006 by Jon. Cheating Death: Combat Air Rescues in Vietnam and Laos is the memoir of George J. Merrett, who flew a Douglas A-1 Skyraider based out of Thailand to provide air cover and support to Jolly Green HH-3 helicopters rescuing downed American pilots over Vietnam and Laos. Good explanations of air rescue - but the book is a bit tedious.
Reviewed March 4, 2006 by Jon. The Kite Runner is very similar to A Fine Balance. It takes place in Afghanistan rather than India and is the story of a man’s life. Born into privilege, he has a good friend who the son of his father’s servant. Later in life he discovers the true story behind his friend. The book is a very colorful depiction of Afghan life and gives a flavor of life under the Taliban and what it is like to be a refugee in the U.S. from a country like Afghanistan.
on Design Principles
Reviewed Feb 28, 2006 by Jon. This is a very short little book on the design principles behind Outward Bound’s expeditionary learning methods. It seems that Reflections was written for K-12 teachers. It has good advice about how people learn and how to construct situations where they learn effectively. It is also an interesting view of the philosophy behind such expeditionary learning organizations as Outward Bound and NOLS.
Politics, and Turf Wars: A Leadership Fable
Reviewed Feb 28, 2006 by Jon. This is a short readable book about how to overcome silos in organizations. The advice is incredibly simple. What is really nice about the book is that it is written as a story. It only takes about two hours to read the whole story but I found it insightful. Lencioni gets the point across in an entertaining and concise way.
Rape of Nanking
Reviewed Feb 28, 2006 by Jon. This a disturbing book. Chang chronicles, in great detail, the rape murder, and torture of as many as 300,000 Chinese during the Japanese takeover of Nanking. In 1937 by the Japanese. Chang describes in graphic detail the atrocities that rival those of Nazi Germany but are not nearly as well known. She describes the events of the Rape of Nanking and the relative silence of the west and of Japan. Having traveled and worked extensively in China, I know Chinese have animosity toward the Japanese, often under a very thin veneer of civility. This book explains why. Chang makes a good case that Japan has yet to account and atone for its barbarous acts during World War II. Sadly, Chang committed suicide a couple of years ago. I have to wonder if carrying the burden of her research for this book drove her to take her own life – as many of the victims of Japanese atrocities in Nanking did.
Reviewed by Jon. February 26, 2006. In May of 2005, the author, Gene O'Kelly, 53 year old chairman and CEO of the accounting firm KPMG, found out that he had an inoperable brain tumor. He was told he had only a few months to live. O'Kelly decided he wanted to make his remaining time the best he possibly could. He planned his death and methodically said goodbye to friends and family. The book chronicles his life and his attitude toward death. I wish I could say there were some profound insights that he imparted, but I cannot. He did, however create a context to think about my own mortality. The book is concise and well written - it was finished by his wife, since O'Kelly died on September 10, 2005. Chasing Daylight is worth reading for the provocation of making me think about what do do with the remainder of my life. Amazon paired it with The Number - about financial planning. In some sense and odd pairing, but really not, since The Number is about values and how money supports values and Chasing Daylight is about clarifying your values when faced with a very short horizon.
Reviewed by Jon. February 23, 2006. In the tradition of John Nance, Category Five is an aviation thriller. It is about a Category Five hurricane that a government scientist and the protaganist, a pilot and owner of Eco-Watch, are trying to stop. Despite some far-fetched rescue scenes at the end, it is good entertainment.
Reviewed by Jon. February 16, 2006. The Tipping Point is written by the author of Blink. The Tipping Point is Gladwell's first book about how how small things can propagate very quickly. Gladwell describes an eclectic set of phenomenon to talk about the notion of a point where change suddenly accelerates dramatically. He describes the nature of diffusion in terms of connectors, mavens, and salesmen. The book is interesting, although in many ways a bit glib. I liked it but felt that it was full of empty calories.
The Untold Story
Reviewed by Jon. January 27, 2006. Mao is written by the author of Wild Swans, a book that gave a lot of insight into China. Mao is a biography of the Chairman that traverses his entire life. Chang defiantly has an axe to grind and a strong negative point of view of Mao. Her views sometimes get in the way of the story. The book is well written and a good book to read for those who are interested in China. Mao is a fascinating character - depicted as both megalomaniacal and juvenile. It contains very interesting descriptions of Mao's relationship with Stalin and other Russian leaders. Reading Mao gave me a sense of why the little red book seems so juvenile. Mao left me wondering how the Chinese people could have let such a person lead them.
Return to the World Of Lost Horizon
Reviewed by Jon. January 27, 2006. Rarely do I give a "thumbs down" review. This is one time it is justified. Shangri-La is a sequel to Lost Horizon. It starts out OK. It is the story of a young Chinese woman who's father is a Chinese general sent to find and destroy Shangri-La. From the outset, it is clear that the authors are the kind of Tibet-worshippers that Orville Schell talks about in Virtual Tibet. They have a very romanticized view of Tibet that really shows. The end of the book is very disappointing. It devolves into mystical hocus-pocus that is just not very interesting or believable. It'd skip it and read the original.
Reviewed by Jon. January 27, 2006. The subtitle is "a completely different way to think about the rest of your life". That is a stretch. The Number is a very lightweight overview of financial planning for retirement. Eisenberg covers the basics of financial planning and touches on life planning - figuring out what you want out of life - as a basis for retirement planning. The title of the book focuses on the amount one will need to live life as one wishes. This is a good survey for those who don't know much about financial or life planning. Eisenberg does his best to scare people into thinking about their number. Judging from some of the statistics he quotes, this is probably a good thing. This is worth reading for those who want an introduction. For others, expect candy.
Reviewed by Jon. January 14, 2006. Matthiessen accompanies zoologist George Schaller on an autumn expedition through western Nepal to the Tibetan Plateau. The Snow Leopard chronicles the journey. It does a good job of describing the people, culture, and terrain. Matthiessen also interjects a lot of discussion Buddhism. For those who have been to the Himalayas or are interested in that area/Buddhism, it is worth reading. Otherwise, I'd skip it.
Reviewed by Jon. January 14, 2006. Kotkin claims that three factors maintain the overall health of cities - sacred places, security, and commerce. The City is a global history of cities. Kotkin describes the rise and fall of urban civilization through time. He applies his thesis to the middle east, the far east, Europe, and the Americas. Finally, he talks about present day cities and the future of urbanity. The City is a very concise, readable book that covers a lot of ground. It is an interesting parallel and a good supplement to Guns, Germs, and Steel in that it describes the historical factors that drive urban life. For those interested in urban places, The City is worth reading.
Overflight: A Memoir of the U-2 Incident
Reviewed January 9, by Jon. Operation Overflight was written by Francis Gary Powers, the U2 pilot who was shot down over Russia on May 1, 1960. It is a fairly typical memoir of a pilot. Powers chronicles his training, the actual shoot down, his trial, imprisonment, and subsequent release. I was too young to remember at the time, but what was interesting was Powers vilification by the U.S. media. There seemed to be a lot of popular sentiment that he was unpatriotic or secretly working for the Russians. The book, of course, tries to dispel that notion. Powers comes across as being almost too defensive. The book portrays him as a squeaky clean patriotic American. He protests enough, though for me to wonder if there was something to the allegations. In any case, the book is moderately interesting. I would not go out of my way to read it again, but it is a good aviation story – particularly seeing how high and far the U2s flew – and provides some insight into the cold war.
See 2005 Books
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