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Books Read in 2007

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Thomas E. Ricks

Reviewed December 28 by Jon. Ricks is the Pentagon correspondent for the Washington Post and is very familiar with how the military works. Fiasco is subtitled "the American Military Adventure in Iraq". Ricks chronicles the Iraq war from inception to the present. His intimate knowledge of the military makes Fiasco a fascinating book to read. The key thing I got out of Fiasco is that, much like in Vietnam, we used conventional warfare techniques to fight an insurgency. It seems that just now is the US military beginning to adapt counterinsurgency tactics to the situation in Iraq. Fiasco is well worth reading.

FiascoClick here to order Fiasco from Amazon.com

RecommendedA Town Like Alice
Nevil Shute


Reviewed December 16 by Jon. A Town like Alice is about a young British woman and an Australian outback man who meet during the war in Malaysia. It is a love story and a parable of economic development. I liked the book but most of the action takes place in the last 100 pages. The beginning of the book is all character development and laying the groundwork. For those who have been to Australia, depiction of the outback is very good. Worth reading for the Australian color.

A Town Like AliceClick here to order A Town Like Alice from Amazon.com

CandyBook of the Dead
Patricia Cornwall

Reviewed December 10, by Jon. Yet another formulaic book by Cornwall. Book of the Dead showed some promise of a coherent plot but degenerated into a very patchy story that was difficult to follow. Cornwall's books are becoming more about Cornwall than they are about the story.

Book of the DeadClick here to order Book of the Dead from Amazon.com


James Clavell

Reviewed November 23, by Jon. This is the second time I have read Whirlwind – Jame’s Clavell’s epic about a Scottish Helicopter company during the Iranian revolution in 1979. It is particularly interesting to re-read this book given all of the politics surrounding Iran and the Islamic fundamentalism. In typical Clavell style, there is a huge cast of characters and a lot of cultural color. I found less aviation material than I expected but more around Iranian politics. Although I don’t personally know how accurate the depiction of the politics is, it certainly seems believable and probably something that has not changed over the past 30 years.

WhirlwindClick here to order Whirlwind from Amazon.com


Ok. but not greatHow Doctors Think
Jerome Groopman, M.D.

Reviewed November 18, by Jon. How Doctors think is about the thought processes that physicians go through in identifying medical conditions - from pattern recognition to Bayesian reasoning. It also covers the typical kinds of errors that doctors make. The issues can be generalized to many other areas. This is an interesting read but not particularly profound.

How Doctors ThinkClick here to order How Doctors Think from Amazon.com

Robert Reich

Reviewed November 18, by Jon. Reich makes the case that we often confuse capitalism with democracy.  Capitalism is about creating the best deal for consumers and investors while democracy is about creating the best society for all of us. Reich maintains that capitalism has been enormously successful (thus the term supercapitalism) in creating the best deal for consumer and investors – he supports the notion that the primary goal of a business is to create shareholder value (as a result of creating customer value).  He feels that we expect too much of a corporation when we want it to act as a good corporate citizen. He makes the case that good citizenship is the realm of democracy and real individuals – as opposed to corporations – which are really legal fictions masquerading as individuals. Much regulation is generated by corporations and their lobbyists competing for competitive advantage. Net-Net is that Reich advocates maintaining a strict separation between capitalism and democracy. We should expect corporations to be profit-seeking entities and restrict them from the political process. Individuals should drive the political process and enact regulations that shape the corporate environment to create for social needs. I found Reich’s argument well thought out and compelling. It was a bit depressing to see his clear logic in contrast to the hairball that is politics today. If we could find a way to implement Reich’s ideas, both capitalism and democracy would be better off.

SupercapitalismClick here to order Supercapitalism from Amazon.com

RecommendedImperial Life in the Emerald City
Rajiv Chandrasekaran

Reviewed November 8, by Jon. The Emerald City is the Green Zone in Baghdad and Imperial Life is about the Coalition Provisional Government - the occupation government - under Paul Bremer. Chandrasekaran paints a pretty grim picture of CPA that is filled with patronage jobs - based upon loyalty to the Bush administration rather than competence. It paints a vivid picture of Iraq during the occupation. Depressing.

Imperial Life in the Emerald CityClick here to order Imperial Life in the Emerald City from Amazon.com


Chris Zook

Reviewed November 8, by Jon. This is the third in Zook's series on growth from the core. This volume is about renewing the core to fuel profitable growth. It has an Autodesk case study. A good addition to Zook's previous work and this one ties in traditional strategic theory a bit better than his previous works.

UnstoppableClick here to order Unstoppable from Amazon.com


RecommendedHog Pilots, Blue Water Grunts
Robert D. Kaplan

Reviewed October 20, by Jon. Kaplan's book is about what it is like to serve in the military in a variety of roles and locations. He travels across the globe - special forces in North Africa, a destroyer in the Indian Ocean, a submarine in the Pacific, A10 Wart Hogs in Thailand, Predators in Iraq/Las Vegas. Kaplan provides a view of those roles. He does not, as claimed, spend a lot of time discussing the people but rather discusses the ambience or frame of mind of the places and roles in which they serve. I liked the book - it gives a clear picture of the diversity of missions and people. Throughout Kaplan permeates with his views on military policy. He has the experience and insight. This is a book worth reading.

Hog Pilots, Blue Water GruntsClick here to order Hog Pilots, Blue Water Grunts from Amazon.com


RecommendedThe Age of Turbulance
Alan Greenspan

Reviewed September 30, by Jon. The first half of The Age of Turbulence is a biography of Alan Greenspan. He had an amazing career that spanned the Nixon administration through the second Bush administration. He was a participant in a very active swath of history. Including 9/11, Watergate, the Dot-com bubble and collapse, and – the most important from his perspective – the collapse of communism. The autobiographical first half was interesting but I found the second half of the book even better. In the second half Greenspan describes his economic philosophy and comments on a variety of topics including energy, global warming, income inequality, innovation, education, and regulation. Greenspan is an unabashed free-market economist and libertarian. The second half of his book explains the thinking and logic behind his positions and is very enlightening and compelling.

The Age Of TurbulenceClick here to order The Age of Turbulance from Amazon.com


Stumbling on Happiness
Daniel Gilbert

Reviewed September 30, by Jon. Stumbling on Happiness is a psychologist’s view of what makes us tick. Unfortunately, the book was a bit tedious and rambling and had little coherence. While there were some interesting aspects, it did not make me happy.

Stumbling on HappinessClick here to order Stumbling on Happiness from Amazon.com

Ok. but not greatMore Than You Know
Michael J. Mauboussin

Reviewed September 30, by Jon. The More You Know follows Mauboussin’s book Expectations Investing. Mauboussin’s thesis is that insight – in investing and other realms – is achieved with an interdisciplinary approach. He call this “consilience”. The book is a series of brief vignettes from a variety of disciplines – complexity theory, gambling, biology, business strategy, neuroscience, etc. that shed some light on investing. The idea is good and the vignettes easy to read. However, the book seemed a bit light and in need of substance. It is worth a perusal as an introduction to a variety of topics. Like many books that are collected articles, it lacks coherence.

More Than You KnowClick here to order More Than You Know from Amazon.com

Ok. but not greatThe World Without Us
Alan Weisman

Reviewed September 15, by Jon. Imagine what would happen to the world without the actions of people working against nature's entropy. The World Without Us examines this scenario and talks about how nature would - sometimes suddenly, and sometimes gradually - take back the world. There is a lot of scientific detail that is interesting but sometimes detracts from the key message. The book is worth reading but is sometimes rambling. It almost seems as if a shorter book that really gets to the point of entropy with a longer book devoted to deeper scientific explanations is in order.

The World Without UsClick here to order The World Without Us from Amazon.com

RecommendedThe Bottom Billion
Paul Collier

Reviewed September 3, by Jon. Collier is a development economist who explores why some countries never successfully grow. He maintains that there is a bottom billion that is chronically impoverished and discusses the causes and potential prescriptions. Collier is a free-market economist who looks at data to describe these countries. There are a lot of interesting insights and Collier weaves together ideas from The Pentagon's New Map and Jeffrey Sachs The End of Poverty, although Collier is a critic of Sachs. It is refreshing to read a very pragmatic book about poverty and how to address it. I'm not sure Collier's prescriptions were pointed enough, but his book is a great start on explaining the causes and solutions for poverty on a geopolitical basis.

The Bottom BillionClick here to order The Bottom Billion from Amazon.com


Ok. but not greatFast Forward MBA in Business Planning for Growth
Philip Walcoff

Reviewed September 3, by Jon. This is part of the Fast Forward MBA series - quick guides to various business topics. This guide is mostly intended for small businesses needing to write a business plan. It has a number of practical ideas and checklists - probably useful for beginners at business planning, but not much value for large, complex, corporate strategic planning.

Business Planning for GrowthClick here to order Fast Forward MBA in Business Planning for Growth from Amazon.com


Ok. but not greatBlackwater
Jeremy Scahill

Reviewed August 23, by Jon. Subtitled "The rise of the world's most powerful mercenary army", Blackwater is about the military corporation by the same name. Scahill chronicles the genesis of Blackwater in the religious right and neoconservative political movement and its rise to prominence in the Iraq war. He describes some interesting dilemmas relative to the legal issues surrounding private contractors conducting war. The book concludes with a discussion of Blackwater's role in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. Blackwater is well-written although it drags at times. Scahill clearly has an anti-Blackwater and anti-administration view. I agree with most of his views but the bias inherent in the writing detracts from the message.

BlackwaterClick here to order Blackwater from Amazon.com

RecommendedThe Elephant and the Dragon
Robyn Meredith

Reviewed August 14, by Jon. Robyn Meredith is a Hong Kong based correspondent for Forbes. The Elephant and the Dragon is about both China and India. The interesting thing about the book is that it covers both countries and discusses the parallels and differences. It is a little lightweight but is a great way to read about the similarities and differences. Recommended reading for those interested in emerging markets.

Fantastic VoyageClick here to order The Elephant and the Dragon from Amazon.com

Ok. but not greatFantastic Voyage
Ray Kurzweil and Terry Grossman, M.D.

Reviewed July 15, by Jon. I’ve known of Ray Kurzweill for a long time. He is well known for his work in speech recognition and I have seen him speak at MIT. Ray is a technology gadfly and I’ve been meaning to read some of his work. Ray has gotten very interested in health and life extension. Fantastic Voyage is his work on health. It is a combination of a self-help book on health, a detailed explanation of the various biological mechanisms that affect health, and speculation about how future technology would affect health. Fantastic Voyage was interesting but ambitious attempt to cover all three areas makes the book a bit complex. Nevertheless I think much of his advice is sound and the discussions of future health are provocative. This book piqued my interest to seek out and read other book by Ray.

Fantastic VoyageClick here to order Fantastic Voyage from Amazon.com

RecommendedBangkok Haunts
John Burdett

Reviewed June 25 by Jon. This is the third Burdett novel about Thai detective Sonchai Jitpleecheep, following on from Bangkok Tattoo and Bangkok 8. It is about a prostitute and former lover of Sonchai who is murdered in a snuff film. The book carries on many characters and themes from the two previous books delving into the Thai prostitution and underworld. The book is a little lightweight but, as usual, very entertaining.

Bangkok HauntsClick here to order Bangkok Haunts from Amazon.com

RecommendedFive Minds for the Future
Howard Gardener

Reviewed June 8, by Jon.  Gardener, an education professor at Harvard says that there are five different types of mind that we need to develop:

  • The disciplined mind – deep mastery of a body of knowledge or school of thought
  • The synthesizing mind – ability to integrate ideas from different disciplines
  • The creating mind – ability to uncover new ideas
  • The respectful mind – awareness and appreciation for differences between people
  • The ethical mind –fulfillment of ones responsibilities as a worker and citizen.

Five Minds for the Future was fascinating Gardner’s articulation of the different types of mind. Even more interesting was his perspective as an educator on what is needed to develop each type of mine. He put a framework around education that I had not previously considered and I liked his taxonomy of the five minds. The only disappointment was that I felt his description of the ethical mind was the weakest of all five and it seems to be the most important. Perhaps it is because ethics is a difficult subject to define, but the description of the ethical mind left me unsatisfied

Five Minds for the FutureClick here to order Five Minds for the Future from Amazon.com

Ok. but not greatThis Moment on Earth
John Kerry and Theresa Heinz Kerry

Reviewed June 8 by Jon. This is a treatise on the environment by the former presidential candidate and his wife. The book is a bit lightweight but has good stories and a fairly high level coverage of environmental issues. The Kerry’s offer some specific solutions and policy suggestions. The biggest flaw in the book is that it does some Bush bashing. Not that the comments are unjustified, but they mar the book by appearing to be a bit too partisan. It might have been possible to get the same message across by taking the high road and letting the reader draw their own conclusions about the environmental track record of the current administration.

This Moment on EarthClick here to order This Moment on Earth from Amazon.com

RecommendedState of Denial
Bob Woodward

Reviewed May 15 by Jon. State of Denial is Woodward's third in Bush at War trilogy - following on from Plan of Attack and Bush at War. State of Denial is the inside story of Bush's cabinet and other senior government officials as the Iraq War unfolds. It is amazing the kind of access Woodward has to insider Washington. He paints a picture of ineptitude in prosecuting the war and infighting amongst the Bush White house. Highly readable and depressing thinking about the picture it paints of our national leadership.

State of DenialClick here to order State of Denial from Amazon.com


Michael Connelly

Reviewed May 10 by Jon. Robert Mason was a Huey pilot in Vietnam. He flew “slicks” – Huey utility helicopters responsible for transporting troops into and out of hot landing zones. Chickenhawk starts predictably enough with helicopter flight school but Mason quickly gets through the preliminaries and moves to Vietnam. Chickenhawk is a very vivid depiction of life as an Army helicopter pilot. Since Mason flew ground troops, there is also a lot of color on the infantry in Vietnam. I found Chickenhawk better than Snake Pilot and later found that it is considered a Vietnam classic. Like Snake Pilot, Mason talks about his re-entry to society after returning from Vietnam. Unlike Randy Zahn in Snake Pilot, Mason had considerable difficulty adjusting to civilian life. I highly recommend Chickenhawk for its perspective on Vietnam, life during the war, and a surprising amount of good descriptions of helicopter flying.

ChickenhawkClick here to order Chickenhawk from Amazon.com

RecommendedSoft Power
Joseph F. Nye, Jr.

Reviewed May 10 by Jon. Joseph Nye is the Dean of the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard. I saw him as a guest speaker at a Harvard Business School course on global strategy and was fascinated by what he had to say. Soft Power is about foreign affairs and foreign policy. Nye contrasts hard power – the ability to compel via military and economic force – with soft power – the ability to attract through cultural and political capital. He has a great grasp of history and geopolitics and his writing is easy to follow and makes a lot of sense. Soft Power was as good as Nye was as a speaker. Highly recommended.

Soft PowerClick here to order Soft Power from Amazon.com

Ok. but not greatHeart of the Storm
Colonel Edward Fleming

Reviewed May 10 by Jon. Heart of the Storm (subtitled My Adventures as a Helicopter Rescue Pilot and Commander) is the memoir of Col. Fleming, who was the commander of the 106th air operations group. He had a varied career – from search and rescue in the Philippines and Korea, to supporting combat search and rescue in Iraq and Kuwait, to rescue in the North Atlantic, and culminating with the rescue of Dr. Jerri Nielson, from Antarctica. While the book was very comprehensive, it somehow seemed unsatisfying. I wish Col. Fleming had gone into more depth and described his missions and rescue flying in more detail. It seems like he skimmed over a lot of potentially great stories. Perhaps this is because I read Heart of the Storm soon after Chickenhawk. This is a good book but it left me unsatisfied.

Heart of the StormClick here to order Heart of the Storm from Amazon.com

RecommendedEcho Park
Michael Connelly

Reviewed April 30 by Jon. Echo Park is yet another in Connelly's enduring Harry Bosch series. In Echo Park, Bosch has returned from retirement and is obsessed about an unsolved case he worked 14 years ago. New clues arise that Bosch follows - this leads into an investigation of corruption in the LAPD. Several favorite Bosch characters resurface in Echo Park. Bosch is getting somewhat formulaic but still never fails to entertain.

Stall Spin AwarenessClick here to order Echo Park from Amazon.com

RecommendedStall/Spin Awareness
Rich Stowell

Reviewed April 21 by Jon. Stall/Spin awareness is Rich Stowell’s collected wisdom on stalls and spins. It supplements Emergency Maneuver Training book. I took Rich’s EMT course so I know his approach. This book is a very thorough discussion of spins and stalls. Rich tries to illustrate the value of spin training. His conclusion is that voluntary spin training that takes one beyond canned intentional spins into recovering from unintentional spins is worthwhile. As an alumnus of his course, I could not agree more. The book made me want to go back for a refresher course. There is a lot of statistical stuff on accidents, so it can be a bit to plow through, but interesting nevertheless..

Stall Spin AwarenessClick here to order Stall/Spin Awareness



RecommendedThe J Curve
Ian Bremmer

Reviewed April 21 by Jon. The J Curve provides a model and perspective on how countries develop openness and stability. Bremmer postulates a curve with stability on the y axis and openness on the x axis in the shape of a J. On the left side of the J are countries that are stable but closed and the right side are stable but open. Bremmer maintains that closed countries can be quite stable but it is difficult to move from closed stability to open stability without moving through a period of instability. There is time required to build the institutions needed for an open society to survive shocks to stability. The J Curve is an interesting book that provides a lens thorough which to view the development of nations. The J curve piqued my appetite to learn more about foreign policy

The J CurveClick here to order The J Curve from Amazon.com



RecommendedLean Solutions
James P. Womack and Daniel T. Jones

Reviewed April 4 by Jon. Womack and Jones are authors of The Machine that Changed the World - in the 1980s. This was a study in how Toyota's lean production system revolutionized manufacturing by removing wasteful inventory and unnecessary process steps. They have refined their thinking and applied it to other areas. Lean Solutions is about applying lean thinking to our everyday lives. They discuss processes such as auto repair, doctor's visits, air travel, computer repair, home maintenance, etc. The assert that most of these processes are organized for the benefit of the producer, not the consumer. Because of this, the consumer has to invest their own unpaid time to complete the solution that the producer did not. They map a number of processes and show that the waste the consumer experiences is also waste for the producer. They have a number of suggestions about changing processes to reduce this waste. Perhaps the most useful aspect of the book is in taking a consumer rather than producer perspective in looking at business processes. Lean Solutions is very provocative and well worth reading.

Lean SolutionsClick here to order Lean Solutions from Amazon.com



Ok. but not greatA Mild Form of Insanity
Mike Tuson

Reviewed March 31 by Jon. This book is a memoir of a British navy anti-submarine helicopter pilot who later flew for the Omani and Qatar governments. A Mild Form of Insanity is mostly about Tuson's life. It claims to talk about helicopter flying, but that is minimal. The book is only mildly interesting.

A Mild Form of InsanityClick here to order A Mild Form of Insanity from Amazon.com


RecommendedSnake Pilot
Randy R. Zahn

Reviewed March 17 by Jon. Randy Zahn was a 19-year old Army Warrent officer who flew Cobra attack helicopters in Vietnam. Snake Pilot is a pretty typical aviation novel - starts with his flying school, etc. It transitions to his year in Vietnam as a Cobra pilot. There is some flying lore in the book but it is mostly about how he feels about Vietnam. Snake Pilot gives a good overall feeling for what it must have been like as a pilot. Zahn flew a lot of missions. Snake pilot describes the nature of those missions, the tedium of life in Vietnam, and the constant stress of knowing your buddies (or you) might be killed at any time.

Snake PilotClick here to order Snake Pilot from Amazon.com


RecommendedThe Box
Marc Levinson

Reviewed March 17 by Jon. The Box is subtitled "how the shipping container maid the world smaller and the world economy bigger". That pretty much sums it up. Levinson describes the history of the shipping container in great detail. The overall thesis of the book is covered in the first chapter. The remaining chapters are supporting material. Levinson makes the case that the shipping container drove shipping costs down and is partially responsible for globalization. Since the cost to ship is so low, supply chains can now stretch across the globe. The body of the book talks about the challenges to container shipping - often from labor unions (who were worried about loss of longshoreman jobs), cities (who were trying to protect their old ports), and shipping companies (who had vested interests in the old ways of shipping). The Box is actually an interesting story of technology diffusion and the forces that cause it to diffuse and resist diffusion. Admittedly the shipping container is pretty low tech. Levinson makes a pretty compelling case that it has influenced our lives and the economy far more than we normally think about it.

The Boxclick here to order The Box from Amazon.com




RecommendedThe Constant Gardener
John Le Carre

Reviewed February 2 by Jon. We saw the movie then read the book. The movie and book are quite similar. I found the story of Justin Quaid, trying to figure out the murder of his wife, Tessa, very good. The story is good in the beginning and in the end. The middle drags a bit – like a LeCarre spy novel. The Africa/Nairobi setting brings back some memories of our trip there and many elements of the story seemed intertwined with Caputo's Acts of Faith. It almost seems as if they two books has been written about the same time and place from a slightly different angle.

Blackclick here to order The Constant Gardener from Amazon.com



RecommendedMindful Politics
Melvin McLead

Mindful Politics is a series of essays that apply Buddhist thinking to politics. The book is interesting because using the context of political action, it elucidates Buddhist belief. I learned more about Buddhism from Mindful Politics than I have from reading several books specifically about Buddhism. I am not sure the book will change political discourse but the application of Buddhist principles was clearer than other sources on Buddhism.  Mindful Politics is worth reading to get a Buddhist perspective on dealing with the big issues in modern-day life.


Blackclick here to order Mindful Politics from Amazon.com



The Wealth of Nations
P.J. O'Rourke

Reviewed January 28, by Jon. P.J. O’Rourke on the Wealth of Nations is part of a series on “books that changed the world”. I found this book mildly useful but it did not live up to my expectations. It seemed caught in the middle between a serious discussion of Adam Smith’s classic work and a P.J. O’Rourke humor piece. I did learn a little more about The Wealth of Nations but found the schizophrenia between explanation and humor distracting.

Blackclick here to order The Wealth of Nations from Amazon.com



The Places In Between
Rory Stewart

The Places in Between is about the author's walk through Afghanistan in 2002. It has a lot of interesting local color around the Afghan outback. Unfortunately it is not well written. The book is as tedious as the walk must have been.

Blackclick here to order The Places in Between from Amazon.com



Ok. but not greatBlack
Christopher Whitcomb

Black was a disappointment. Black did not live up to Christopher Whitcomb's previous book Cold Zero. Black is a modern-day high-tech, middle east story. Whitcomb uses his FBI HRT experience with the Jeremy Waller character. The book is promising at the start with multiple threads - Jeremy Waller joining the FBI HRT team, Siard Malnaeux the beautiful spy/executive, Jordan Mitchell the high tech exec, and Elizabeth Beechum the senator. Whitcomb starts multiple threads with each character. The threads are intriguing but somehow Whitcomb never brings them together. The end is disappointing in that the threads don't come together and, in fact, there are some downright errors and unresolved issues. The book had a lot of promise, but left me unsatisfied. It is a shame that Whitcomb did not finish it.

Blackclick here to order Black from Amazon.com


RecommendedThe Laws of Simplicity
John Maeda

Maeda is an MIT Media Lab graphic designer and his book lays out some simple principles to design simply. There is nothing too profound about this book, but it is a nicely designed and well thought-out treatise on how to think and do minimally. Recommended reading for designers.

The Laws of Simplicityclick here to order The Laws of Simplicity from Amazon.com


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