Reviews of Recently Read Books
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our Country: Leftist Thought in Twentieth Century America
Reviewed December 22, by Jon. I bought this book because, in the aftermath of Trump's election, it was purported to explain where the left had gone wrong by straying from its roots. The advice I got was wrong. This was an overly academic treatise that was mostly based on literary references. It did not do much to enlighten. The book did talk about classic leftist thought in helping the working class through labor unions and redistribution of income. Neither idea seems to have much relevance today. Labor unions are dying institutions - somewhat self-inflicted by corruption and overreach. Redistribution per se is probably not a good way to deal with income inequality. I don't recommend this book.
They Do With Your Money: How The Financial System Fails Us and How to Fix It
Reviewed December 23, by Jon. This is yet another book about how the financial system captures our money and -- rather than acting as a service to society -- is self-dealing for its own profit. The central thesis of the book is that the financial system has a few key roles in society - managing a payments system, matching savers with those who need funds, risk management, and holding safe custody of our funds. That is its value to society. Unfortunately the system is run for the benefit of financial organizations - skimming funds off and doing things which have no or questionable benefit to society. The authors assert that financial services have not had any increase in productivity - unlike other sectors of the economy. The book goes into the ins and outs of the financial system and has some very straightforward prescriptions to fix the financial system - among them making sure that those who manage our money and dispense financial advice have a fiduciary duty to their clients. The book is well thought out and thorough - albeit a bit tedious to read at times. It does have specific prescriptions as to what should be done. I fear, though, that there is so much profit at stake for financial services and so little political will to address - that the prescriptions, although good, will be tough to implement.
You For Being Late: An Optimist's Guide to Thriving in an Age of
Reviewed December 18, by Jon. Tom Friedman is a clarifier. He soaks up a bunch of information about the state of the worlds and then helps the reader look at the world through a lens that makes sense of the chaos. Thank You For Being Late is about three exponential trends - technology (becoming more powerful because of Moore's law), markets (becoming more integrated because of globalization), and environment (becoming hotter, more polluted, and more populous). These trends are accelerating exponentially and interacting with each other. They have outstripped human ability to deal/cope with them. Friedman says we need to adapt with good governance and good education. Ironically this is just at a time when the political environment is getting more instransigent and more reactionary - exactly the opposite response to the trends. Friedman looks to nature for adaptive strategies and takes us back to St. Louis Park, Minnesota for the values of community forged in the 50s and 60s. In addition to reading the book, I met with Tom and got a preview when he visited Autodesk and I had the honor of hosting him for a lecture and book signing at the Autodesk Gallery. I liked the book and found it useful to frame the world. The only dissatisfying thing is that the prescriptions for addressing the challenges seem too weak - particularly in the face of reactionary politics, but perhaps we do just need to adapt.
Wrong Side of Goodbye: A Bosch Novel
Reviewed November 24, by Jon. This is an average Bosch novel. Bosch is a part-time detective for the small San Fernando police department and is contacted by a billionaire in Pasadena about finding his heir. He is simultaneously solving a rape case in San Fernando and his private case. The two stories are mostly independent - I kept expecting a connection. Bosch hires Michael Haller for the heir case. The stories are OK but not really outstanding. This is pretty much candy entertainment, but not very satisfying candy. An entertaining read but Connelly has done better.
Reconnection Agenda: Reuniting Growth and Prosperity
Reviewed November 19, by Jon. I mostly read this book before the election and finished it afterwards. It is a fairly conventional liberal economics text about creating growth and reducing inequality. I have to say that it was dispiriting to read after Trump got elected - although some of the ideas, such as fiscal stimulus may be enacted. Bernstein was Joe Biden's economic advisor and, thus, has a pretty straight line Democratic viewpoint. I found the book Ok but no real new insights.
Everything Became War and the Military Became Everything: Tales from the
Reviewed October 31, by Jon. Brooks is a military lawyer who writes about the blurring of the lines between the military and civil society. She covers two primary topics, first, the blurring of the line between war and not-war. She describes drone strikes and military operations that are not in a declared war zone. She covers Guantanamo and makes the case that the historically clear boundaries between war and not are eroding. That was interesting but what got my attention more was the rise of the professional military and the crowding out of other institutions by the military. This is not necessary the military’s choice. Brooks asserts that the military is one of the few trusted public institutions. Congress is more than willing to fund the military while it is cutting other spending – particularly other public agencies such as the State Department. These other agencies thus get weaker and weaker but leave a void that the military has to fill – not necessarily by choice because it makes the military more complex and diverts from its primary war-fighting mission. Brooks points out this phenomenon – the military works and does more and more – but is that its best use. Do we want the military to be the savior of last resort. I’d suggest yes, in some circumstances such as a humanitarian disaster. The military has the resources and ability to mobilze quickly and such missions make use of and amplify many of the military’s war fighting capabilities. The more troubling aspect is the weakening of other institutions that should be sharing the burden and acting in partnership with the military.
Reviewed October 19, by Jon. I am reviewing this just after watching the third presidential debate and feel that the cartoonish cover of the book says it all. This is a collection of Dowd's columns over the years - but mostly focusing on the recent elections. She skewers everybody - the Bushes, the Clintons, Obama, and Donald Trump. Much of the criticism she directs at these characters is deserved and reading it did leave me with a bit of despair that we have such flawed politicians. I've read many of these columns previously. Putting them together concentrates their impact and creates a very cynical view (not necessarily undeserved) of our politicians.
in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right
Reviewed October 9, by Jon. Hothschild is a UC Berkeley sociologist who is interesting in understanding why the right, specifically the Tea Party, votes against their own interests. In the genre of What's The Matter With Kansas, she goes to Louisiana and meets with a number of Tea Partiers to try to understand what they are thinking. She genuinely is interested in trying to develop empathy and understand their thinking. She finds that a number are upset about the environmental degradation brought on by oil and chemical companies and blame the federal government for not regulating enough. Duh! Some are upset about socially conservative issues like abortion. Interestingly, the politicians, like Bobby Jindal, make the case that they want to attract oil and chemical companies for jobs. They give them big tax breaks but the temporary construction jobs go to Philippino workers in Dubai-style "man camps" and the operating jobs - just a few hundred - go to chemical engineers who are highly educated - but not in Louisiana. ALthough the citizens of Louisiana complain about the federal government - and blame it for their woes - over 40% of the state's revenues are from the federal government. Hothschild does find one reason the Tea Party are angry. They feel they have worked hard and are working their way up the ladder - standing in line -- and that others - often minorities through affirmative action - have "cut in line". Strangers in Their Own Land is is yet another brick in the puzzle of why our political system is so broken and people are not aligning with their own interests. It does not have "the answer" but contributes more insight to the reason the right is so confused. It is a good complement to Hillbilly Elegy, read earlier this year.
Humans are Underrated:
What High Achievers Know that Machines Never Will
Reviewed September 11, by Jon. Geoff Colvin, of Fortune magazine wrote this book to lend some sobriety to the breathless trope that “robots will take all of our jobs”. He readily admits that automation is moving at a breathtaking pace and machine intelligence is enabling robots and computers to do things that we previously thought unimaginable. However, he has two important counters – one, that we are in charge and humans get to choose what robots do. That is an important message – machines should act in our service and we should not allow them to become sentient beings that are our masters. Second, Colvin makes the case for empathy – understanding of people. The core argument is that machines will increasingly be able to do the “systematization” tasks that are at the heart of 20th century analytical thought and practice. The value humans have is something different – the things that make us human are the abilities to understand other humans. This is interesting in light of many things. For example, the focus on STEM education is exactly targeted at the skills Colvin asserts can be automated. Is this focus misplaced in that it advocates educating for 20th century skills at the expense of 21st century skills. This has some pretty profound implications for 21st century society – but our political, societal, and business dialog often misses the point.
American Heiress: The Wild Saga
of the Kidnapping, Crimes, and Trial of Patty Hearst
Reviewed September 2, by Jon. I was in my senior year in high school in Ohio when Patty Hearst was kidnapped and in college while she was a fugitive and stood trial. She was just a couple of years older than me and I heard a random stream of news stories out of the San Francisco Bay area and Los Angeles about her kidnapping, various crimes, life as a fugitive, and ultimately her capture and trial. American Heiress is about those times. Now that I live in the San Francisco area many of the people and places are real to me. The book was fascinating on two levels – I know many of the place and people where all of this took place. Maybe more interesting is the politics. The Symbianese Liberation Army was a farce, yet they took themselves very seriously. It hearkened back to a more innocent (I know, a weird word for this) time of revolutionary fervor. An easy book to read and it created a context for many disconnected memories of those days and events.
A Crossbow Novel
Reviewed September 2, by Jon. Yet another in the Hector Cross/Bannick Oil saga. This is a continuation of the story of Hector Cross, head of security and heir to the Bannick Oil fortune. The guy who killed his wife escapes from prison and flees to Africa. There is sabotage of an oil rig, seduction of a young Russian, and ultimately Cross prevails, but at a heavy loss. Entertaining, but candy and formulaic. OK for summer reading.
Crisis Leadership: Planning
for the Unthinkable
Reviewed August 21, by Jon. This book is about just what the title says it is – leadership in a crisis. Mitroff is a man after my own heart when he starts the preface saying
“Despite the fact that we live in a world where everything increasingly interacts with everything else, we persist in designing an managing organizations as if they were machines.”
Crisis Leadership is a small book with some powerful ideas. Mitroff talks about anticipating and dealing with crises as systems problems. He ties critical and system thinking with Meyers-Briggs styles and leadership styles. It is a provocative book. I will see how it works in my new role as leader of Autodesk’s Crisis Management Team.
Combat: The Psychology and Physiology of Deadly Conflict in War and
Reviewed August 21, by Jon. This is a follow-on to On Killing <link> and describes exactly what it says it does – how people react to combat. It interweaves military and policing – and creates kind of a warrior culture in both. He describes the operant conditioning that has made the military and police more effective since WWII. I wonder, though, if such conditioning has contributed to the militarization of our police. The book is big and sprawling – and seems to have been written in patches. Grossman continues his theme of worrying about video and computer games doing the same kind of operant conditioning that we use to train police and military. Some good stuff in the book but parts are disturbing as well in that they glorify warrior mindsets that might be taken out of context by those without the professionalism to use them wisely,
Heavy Peace: A Hippie Dream
Reviewed August 2, by Jon. This is a big, sprawling autobiography by Neil Young, one of rock’s most prolific and long-playing musicians. The book bounces around in time and place from his early days in LA to his ranch in the mountains above San Mateo. Young’s philosophy comes out – although the book is kind of random. It reveals things in bits and pieces. It is fun to read and great to get the back story on one of my favorite musicians. Young seems to have maintained a youthful (in several senses of the word) perspective. He talks about music, people (lots of his friends lost to drugs), women (wives and groupies), fellow musicians, travel on the road. His son Ben Young, who is a paraplegic, features prominently. A long and winding read but recommended if you want to get a sense of what makes Young tick.
is the Matter with Kansas? How Conservatives Won the Heart of America
Reviewed July 19, by Jon. Frank is from Kansas and tries to explain the paradox of the working people of Kansas consistently voting against their better interests by voting conservative (Republican). His diagnosis is that, while the core of the Republican philosophy is economic (lower taxes for the wealthy, focus on corporate profits, support of Wall Street), they take a cultural message – Abortion, religion, guns – to the masses. Frank describes a working class Kansas – farmers and factory workers – and that Kansas used to be very liberal place – focusing on the needs of farmers and labor. In some sense he plants the seeds of his later work (Listen Liberal) by saying that the liberal and conservative elites have lost touch with the working class. Frank’s explanation is plausible – that conservatives mask their economic agenda with one of culture war. The challenge is that Frank does not have any good ideas what to do about it. Interestingly, this book was written a few years ago – when Sam Brownback was a senator. He is now Governor and things have gotten even worse, but the populace does not seem to recognize it.
The End of Alchemy:
Money, Banking, and The Future of the Global Economy
Reviewed July 18, by Jon. King was head of the British Central Bank and approaches economic crashes from a Central Banker perspective. By alchemy, he means making gold from nothing. By the end of alchemy, he means making short term liquid money from long-term illiquid deposits. The book is OK, if a bit tedious to read. His basic point is pretty clear but the book move along kind of slowly. OK, but not great.
The Gods Drink Whiskey:
Stumbling Toward Enlightenment in the Land of the Tattered Buddha
Reviewed July 3, by Jon. Asma is a 30-something American professor of Buddhism who takes on a temporary teaching assignment at the Buddhist Institute in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. The book is a bit about life in Southeast Asia and mostly about Buddhism. Asma is very critical of pop-Buddhism, particularly as practiced in the U.S. He says that most Americans see Buddhism as Tibeten Buddhism – which comprises only a small percentage of Buddhists and is actually kind of a fringe element. He describes the differences between Theravada Buddhism, which is practiced in Sri Lanka, Burma, Thailand, Laos, and Cambodia -- and Mahayana Buddhism, which is practices in China, Korea, Japan, Vietnam, and Tibet. More interesting, he describes the difference between mystical Buddhism – in which lots of supernatural stories are made up and intellectual Buddhism – the teachings of Buddha. He compares this with Christianity – contrasting the supernatural stories with the teachings of Jesus. He paints Buddhism as more a way of life that tries to get rid of suffering by getting rid of want. The book is a nice weaving together of lessons from Southeast Asia and Buddhism.
and Takers: The Rise of Finance and the Fall of American Business
Reviewed July 3, by Jon. This book is about the financialization of the American economy and how finance is taking a bigger and bigger share of the economic pie and thus crowding out making – the real business of making things and creating value. Foroohar inverts the conservative makers and takers meme to characterize financiers as the real takers who siphon resources, rewards, talent, and profit from the makers in the real economy. She postulates two economies – one of making real things and value and one of siphoning off value through finance. She laments that finance has ballooned way beyond its societal role of facilitating business to becoming and end in itself. The book is sprawling – from the focus on Shareholder Value to private equity, to retirement plans to the revolving door between government and Wall street. The book will undoubtedly make a lot of finance types unhappy but I think it does call into questions the societal value of finance and whether financialization has corrupted our politics and ultimately undermines wealth and prosperity. I very much by her argument that financiers are the takers who do so at the expense of the rest of us wo make things.
Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis.
Reviewed July 3, by Jon. J.D. Vance is an ex-Marine and Yale Law School Graduate who grew up in Middletown, OH in a family from the hills of Eastern Kentucky. He grew up with his mother, who had a string of husbands and boyfriends as well as an addiction problem, and is sister. The guiding force in his life was his maternal grandmother “MawMaw” who was a hard-bitten hillbilly woman who made him work and achieve success. The book is really about “hillbilly” culture – Vance uses that term deliberately and his transition to the privileged culture he found at Yale Law. He describes a lot of family dysfunction but also a culture of despair and dependency. He describes people who “never worked a day in their life” complaining that the government was ruining their lives. Vance does do some conclusory discussions of what the book means – but the impact is really in the story. I grew up in that area of Ohio – with ties to Kentucky. My family did not have all of the dysfunctions of Vance’s extended family but I was close enough to it that I knew people like that. Hillbilly Elegy does a good job of explaining white middle-class Appalachian culture. I don’t know what to do with the book but expect I will be processing its lessons for a while.
13 Hours: The Inside Account of
What Really Happened at Benghazi
Reviewed June 20, by Jon. This is an apolitical book about the firefight that security forces stationed in the CIA-run Annex – less than a mile from the US Special Mission Compound where Ambassador Chris Stevens was. At the Annex were 6 ex special operators who were charged with securing the US Special Mission Compound. The Special Mission Compound had a few security personnel – notably some State Department Security Agents. The book is mostly about the firefight once the Special Mission Compound and later the Annex were attacked. The story is very reminiscent of Black Hawk Down. Most of it is about the fighting – and the enemy is a bit elusive and hard to discern. Several of the operators died in the action and, of course the Ambassador and one computer technician also died. The book is mostly a military operations story – pretty well written – although sometime hard to follow – just like the fighting probably was. It was amazing that such minimal security existed in such a hostile place – but the assumption – ultimately flawed – was that the host country would also provide security. I expect State Department security will be strengthened as a result of this event and the actions described in the book
An Abrupt Journey Through Sex, Money, Guilt, and Incomprehension
Reviewed June 4, by Jon. This is a story about two middle aged guys (a Brit and a Kiwi) who go on a sex tour throughout Southeast Asia. A bit baffling, they start in Tahiti and, even though the title of the book is Vientiane (the captial of Laos), they just fly through Vientiane. They basically do a circuit of Southeast Asia - Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia - hooking up with prostitutes and doing lots of drugs. Their observations on Southeast Asia and the various cities they go to are interesting. They are like big overgrown teenagers running around. Sort of a weird kind of travel book. It started out slow then got a little interesting. Not a stellar recommendation but good candy reading during a trip to Southeast Asia.
Reviewed May 30, by Jon. Part of the Southeast Asia Noir series. Written by a former medical examiner - these are all purported to be true short stories. They cover gambling, sex, murder, and a variety of other crimes. Depressing but they do have a good Hong Kong flavor. Easy to read, less filling.
Reviewed May 30, by Jon. Part of the Southeast Asia Noir series. These are 15 short stories about Bangkok. Like the rest of the Southeast Asia "noir" series, the stories are kind of dark - about sex, drugs, death. Light entertaining reading that does get at the texture of Thailand.
Failure: America and the World in the Post Cold War Era
Reviewed May 14, by Jon.The thesis of this book is that U.S. Foreign policy shifted after the Cold War to focus less on threats to the U.S. And more on trying to remake nations in the image of the United States. Mandelbaum cites Somalia, Bosnia, Haiti, and of course Afghanistan and Iraq as examples. I almost put Vietnam in that category. He shows that each time we tried to remake a nation in our own image, we failed because our society is based on culture and shared institutions that many nations do not have. Interestingly, he cites the initial was in Afghansitan as a legitimate war because it was retaliation for 9/11. We “won” against the Taliban but did not see it though because of distraction in Iraq and the Taliban came back. Mission Failure cites time and again our ability to use the U.S. Military to force a nation to capitulate but we don’t have the political will to spend the needed resources to build nations. The point of the book is that nation building is futile in any case so we should not even try. This is a good book and it covers a grand arc of modern foreign policy with a distinct point of view
Green Berets. The Amazing story of the U.S. Army’s Elite Special Forces
Reviewed May 11th, by Jon. I have read this classic many times and decided to re-read it while traveling in Vietnam. The book is a series of short stories taking place around 1965 in Vietnam when U.S Special Forces were advisors to the South Vietnamese army (ARVN). Each story covers and operation throughout Vietnam (and Laos and Cambodia). The stories hold up remarkably well and, now having experience in Southeast Asia, they resonate particularly well. The book celebrates US Special Forces and makes them seem larger than life. Probably reasonable although I get the sense that it is a bit one-sided. The South Vietnamese arm is depicted by and large as corrupt and incompetent. There are good Vietnamese soldiers in the book but the they are the exception rather than the rule. They are depicted as not fully supporting their government or what they are fighting for. What struck me about this is that I expect there are probably strong parallels to today in places like the Middle East – where we get embroiled in conflicts that are not ours to fight. Our soldiers are undoubtedly quite professional and accomplished but are fighting for and with people who are only half-hearted. This is a cautionary tale about when and how we should get involved in military conflicts.
Reviewed May 8, by Jon. Phnom Penh Noir is a collection of short stories and poems about life in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Like Cambodia Noir, it explores the dark side of Southeast Asia – sex, murder, and all around shady stories. The stories are by a number of authors and give a good view of the texture and flavor of Cambodia. Good, entertaining reading.
Vietnam War: A Concise International History
Reviewed May 5, by Jon. This book is just what its title says – it provides a good, condensed view of the Vietnam war. It tells not only what happened during the war but provides context before and after the war – including international and domestic politics. I read while I was traveling in Vietnam and it provided good context, texture and color for what we are seeing in Vietnam. A quick read, but very informative.
Amnesia: How the War on Government Led us To Forget what Made
Reviewed May 4, by Jon. American Amnesia, like Concrete Economics <link> makes the case that the road to prosperity is though a mixed economy in which government and the private sector co-exist – each doing what it does best. The authors assert that the “Randians” (as in Ayn) both hard and soft, have denied this and caused the dominant view to be that the best solution is as little government as possible. The authors chronicle what government does well – defense, welfare, education, health, consumer protection, infrastructure, and consumer protection. They describe the need to band together to accomplish some of these things and debunk the idea that a pure market economy can achieve prosperity. The make a good argument. One of their most compelling arguments is that all of the prosperous economies in the world operate as mixed economies. I am writing this review from a communist country, Vietnam, and having visited lots of communist countries, I’d argue that the authors are correct. While communism clearly failed, societies without strong governance also fail. I have yet to see a pure capitalist economy In Southeast Asia there seems to be rampant corruption – which might be a cautionary tale for unfettered capitalism.
Reviewed May 4, by Jon. This is a mystery/adventure novel about Will Keller – a reprobate expat reporter in Cambodia, embroiled in a mystery of a young Japanese/American woman who disappeared under questionable circumstances. In the Hunter Thompson spirit, this book depicts a Cambodian version of gonzo journalism with lots of drugs and sex. Will is hired by the missing woman’s sister and embarks on a journey to find her and gets deeper and deeper into mysterious circumstances. I read this book just before traveling to Cambodia It provides good color and texture of the Cambodian experience. Although we did not experience the seedier side of Cambodia depicted in the book, we saw enough to make the book credible.
The Desire to Know and Why Your Future Depends on It
Reviewed April 22 by Jon. Curiosity is about, well, curiosity. The author talks about three kinds of curiosity – diverse – which is what babies have – they get attracted to all kinds of things, epistemic – which is directed curiosity, and empathic – which is being curious about why other people think and act the way they do. Leslie makes the case that education blots out curiosity yet it is curiosity that drives society forward. He has a prescription to cultivate curiosity – not unlike lots of other works. He does described the power of questions. One new insight was that works of fiction (also poetry, drama, movies, etc.) help us develop and satisfy empathic curiosity. I read this book because I was curious about curiosity. It was pretty predicable and did not really provide any profound insights but it did reinforce the need for and ways to cultivate curiosity so that is valuable.
The Epic Struggle of the Internet of Things
Reviewed April 21, by Jon. This is a short, snarky, tongue-inn-cheek piece about the Internet of Things. Bruce Sterling basically sees it as the next stage of evolution of Internet business models. He describes the “big five” players – Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Microsoft, and Google – with a snarky view of their desire to create and control information ecosystems. He describes the nature of competition between them – in a different mode than we think. They are all about collecting information on us and selling it to someone. Sterling also describes the responses of players like Intel, Cisco, GE, and the telecom companies. The book is snarky, funny, insightful, informative, and probably correct.
Collapse of Western Civilization: A View From the Future
Reviewed April 21, by Jon. This is a short work of future science fiction written looking backward at 1988-2093. It has a very strong position about why we missed addressing climate change and the consequences. The authors talk about the limits of politics and science – in particular reductionism that kept us from looking at problems holistically. I liked the book but it comes across as very ideological. Which will dimininsh its value for some. It is a short, entertaining read.
Ascendant: A Revolutionary Nation’s Path to Addressing its Deepest
Problems and Leading the 21st Century.
Reviewed April 21, by Jon. Greenberg is an author and pollster. He is liberal and was a pollster for Bill Clinton and Al Gore, among many others. In contrast to the right’s assertion that the U.S is in decline, Greenberg paints that opposite picture – the U.S. Is ascendant. He uses a very data-driven approach to show that wealth, quality of life, quality of environment, and general well-being are on the rise. This is an optimistic book. Although Greenberg acknowledges issues like Climate Change and inequality, he refreshingly feels that the U.S. Is on the right track. As a pollster, he has lots of data about what Americans (on both the left and right) really think. He offers both quantitative data and qualitative descriptions of American values and attitudes. He explains the demographic forces driving a progressive agenda and the fear of those forces driving a conservative agenda. He moves to specific policy recommendations. I liked the book because it aligned with my views and had a very factual basis. I expect others might just see it as propaganda. The book is worth reading but could use a good editor. There is a lot of repetition and restatement. It would have been more effective at half the length,
Hungry?: Conquer Cravings, Retrain Your Fat Cells, and Lose Weight
Reviewed April 21 by Jon. Ludwig is an expert on nutrition. He disputes the “calories balance” theory of weight loss – the predominant – yet marginally successful approach to weight loss in which you match calories in with calories out (burned). Ludwig thinks this is much too simplistic and feels that a more nuanced and balanced approach is necessary. He argues that low fat diets cause fat cells to hang onto their energy and a certain amount of fat in the diet is necessary for fat cells to release their energy and thus, shrink. He asserts that refined starches are a culprit in driving weight because they convert to sugar and get stored as fat. The book is a combination of scientific discussion of weight and nutrition and self-help weight loss book As such it is kind of an in-between book He offers a whole program with specific menus and choices, He is not about deprivation but balance. The book is full of testimonials from people who have used his weight loss program. The testimonials are impressive but, in some ways, they diminish the seriousness of his message.
Lion: A Novel of Heros in a Time of War
Reviewed April 21st, by Jon. This is a typical Wilbur Smith novel about a manly man – Hal Courtney, a young ship captain on the east coast of Africa and his comely bride, General Judith Nazat of Ethiopia. It is a typical chase with pirates and a disfigured man called “The Buzzard”. They chase Dutch, English, and other pirates around Africa with the he requisite capture of Judith and freeing by Hal Courtney and his band of Africans. The book is tangled up with the slave trade and one of the characters – sort of a hero/villain, is a Dutch captain named Tromp. Pretty much a candy read. I started then put it down – it felt kind of choppy but reading continuously did make it more fulfilling
A Crude Look at the
Whole: The Science of Complex Systems in Business, Life, and Society
Reviewed April 18, by Jon. The premise of this book is one that really resonates with me – that our way of understanding is to break things into pieces and understand them - but we don’t have good ways of understanding the whole. Thus, I looked forward to reading it. I was disappointed. The books spends a lot of time admiring the problem but does not provide any real answers or insight. He does go over emergent behavior, genetic algorithms, and rules for defining and coordinating behavior. These were useful, but I still felt a big gap in understanding wholes. I really agree with Miller’s premise, but did not find the answers and insight I was seeking. This may be because there are not yet such answers. This indicates fertile ground for exploration.
Only Game In Town: Central Banks, Instability, and Avoiding the Next
Reviewed April 9, by Jon. El-Erain is a distinguished financier. This book is about the role central banks (the Fed, ECB, Japan, ..) played in addressing the 2008 financial crisis. His fundamental point is that the central banks were forced to act because other institutions – notably government – was paralyzed by dysfunction. They resorted to unusual measures (e.g quantitative easing) that worked but are reaching the end of their useful. Such measures may become increasingly ineffective and unstable.This is a well written and detailed analysis of how the financial system works. El-Erain sees that we are reaching a “T” junction where the present course is unlikely to continue and we will have to go in one direction or the other. One direction is of economic stagnation and the other is of economic dynamism. He urges us to be prepared for either eventuality. Creating dynamism requires structural reforms to create inclusive economic growth, matching need and ability to spend, reducing debt overhang, and getting the economic architecture right (increased integration of economic governance). Obviously the economic dynamism is the preferred route but will we have the political will to pursue it?
Liberal: Or, Whatever Happened to the Party of the People?
Reviewed April 7, by Jon. Thomas Frank is a political commentator who wrote What’s The Matter with Kansas Asking why conservative voters vote against their own self interests. In Listen Liberal, he how turns his attentions to liberals – specifically the Democratic Party. Frank maintains that the Democratic Party used to be the party of the people (the workers) but has been co-opted by the liberal elite- Silicon Valley, policy makers, technocrats, wonks of various variety – who all believe in meritocracy and the value of education (because they are all educated). Frank maintains that the Bill Clinton administration was the embodiment of this trend but it has persisted and is now fundamentally embedded in the Obama administration. Being one of those people, I cannot say that I disagree with Frank. The issue I have with his book is that he offers no prescription. He is kind of like David Brooks in his book on Bobos in Paradise – reporting on a phenomenon – rather than showing a credible path forward. He seems to want to harken back to the glory Democratic days of the 60s with plentiful manufacturing jobs and powerful unions. Problem is that those manufacturing jobs are not so plentiful anymore – partially because of globalization but largely because of automation. Unions have overreached and have lost a lot of popularity with the public – just look at the sneer you get when putting on an event in a union controlled venue and you find you you have to pay someone $100 (and wait for the them to show up) because an “electrician” is required to plug in a slide projector. It was good to see Frank skewering the liberal side (since he is one) and I agreed with his description – but felt he was admiring the problem. His prescription - albeit weakly described – seemed to be to go back to a world which no longer exists.
Economics: The Hamilton Approach to Economic Growth and Policy
Reviewed April 4, by Jon. Cohen and Delong argue that, for most of US history, economic policy has been very concrete and pragmatic. Starting with Alexander Hamilton, government shaped the economy through investment and trade policy. Starting in 1970s, though, economic policy was guided by ideology – with deregulation and privatization. They contend that this has made the economy less stable and has made government less of a factor and less effective in driving economic growth.They cover a long arc of history from colonial times, thought the development of the American West, WWII, the Eisenhower years, and the technological developments funded by ARPA and the U.S. military. They demonstrate that government policy – in contrast to laizze fairer economics – has played a pivotal role in both the trajectory and the pace of growth of the U.S. economy. They tie the financialization of the U.S.economy to the ideological capture of economic policy. They talk about the decline of manufacturing and the substation of financial trading, mortgage lending, and healh care claims processing for tangible value-adding economic activity. They claim their work is non-political – although it very much has a political viewpoint – largely one with which I agree. Their parting plea is to get rid of ideology in economic policy and substitute concrete approaches. Makes sense to me.
Conservative Heart: How to Build a Fairer, Happier, and More Prosperous
Reviewed April 1, by Jon. I saw Brooks speak at TED, was intrigued by his point of view, and decided I would delve a bit more deeply into his perspective. Brooks is CEO of the American Enterprise Institute – a conservative think thank. Brooks’s primary thesis is that free enterprise and entrepreneurship has lifted more people out of poverty than welfare programs. He views work as both an economic vehicle and a key to human dignity. So far, so good. I liked Brook’s message and his advice to his fellow conservatives that they should focus on the positives that free enterprise can do for people rather than focusing on negatives or on abstract ideological arguments. He says that conservatives should stop talking so much about economics and start focusing on people. Further he says that conservatives (e.g. Tea Party) should act like the majority – with a plan to rule – not just a minority defining itself by what it is against. Sound advice. So I liked Brooks core argument and I am sure he believes it but I just cannot take the conservative viewpoint seriously because it has larded on stuff like racism, imposition of religious belief, restriction of women's reproductive rights, unfettered gun ownership, and a bunch of other stuff that erodes his core believe. I also see conservatives supporting huge vested interests in the past – particularly energy technologies and defense. So while I like Brooks core argument, I find this party and affiliated groups totally unwilling and unable to execute it and in fact often in contradiction to it. Nice try Brooks, but I just see too much dissonance between your core argument and how conservatives define their agenda and actually practice.
Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society
Reviewed March 19, by Jon. Grossman asserts that humans have a natural aversion to killing. That is why, in World War II, only a small fraction of soldiers who had the opportunity actually shot at the enemy. However, by the Vietnam war, the military had developed conditioning techniques that made it far easier for young soldiers to kill. Video games and violent movies mimic the same kinds of conditioning and are, thus, making civilians less averse to killing. Interesting and frightening reading.
Deep State: The Fall of the Constitution and the Rise of a Shadow
Reviewed March 19, by Jon. This was a good book to read right after E.J. Dionne's book below. Lofgren basically tells the story of a government that runs its course without direction from politicians and either political party. If follows from Dionne's book because Dionne says that the conservatives basically promise to shrink government but cannot keep those promises. This is no right-wing screed. Lofgren is pretty liberal. He depicts a defense and intelligence establishment run amok and describes the deeply corrosive influence of money on the political process. He is pro-government but believes that the government should follow the will of the people, not money and entrenched vested interests.
the Right Went Wrong: Conservatism from Goldwater to the Tea Party and
Reviewed February 29, by Jon. I really like E.J. Dionne as a radio commentator and opinion writer. This is his chronicle of the Republican party. He was born into a Republican family and covers the GOP from Goldwater to the present. HIs basic thesis is that, beginning with Goldwater, the radical right made promises to the electorate that it just could not keep. The rhetoric of the right did not match up to the reality of governing. He wrote about Reagan being much more moderate than he is held up to be by conservatives and even George W. Bush as a big government conservative. He goes linearly through history. The book is interesting but sometimes got a little tedious. He did, however paint a very compelling picture of the fundamental issue with the right. The book ends literally with the rise of Donald Trump. It will be fascinating to see where history takes us and what E.J. Dionne has to say about it.
The World in 50 Years: My Adventure to Every Country On Earth
Reviewed February 29, by Jon. Podell was a writer for Playboy who set out to visit every county in the world. That was somewhat difficult feat since the countries changed over the time he had to do this but he tried - eventually making it to 203 countries. He chronicles his adventures. The book was interesting but the coverage was patchy. He spent too much time on Africa and sometimes too much time on tiny uninteresting countries - like Nauru, in the Pacific. He briefly skimmed over countries that might have had fascinating stories - like North Korea or Bhutan (for very different reasons). All in all this was an OK book, but not great. His getting to all the countries, though, was quite a feat.
Reviewed February 7, by Jon. I have been reading this book for several years and finally got through it – although I cannot say I read every word. I skimmed large parts of it. I did so not because of the quality of the writing but because of the sheer quantity. This is Bill Moggridge’s magnum opus – a chronicle of the arc of user interaction design from the early days of Xerox PARC until 2007, when the book was published. It covers the development of a huge number of ideas and the personalities behind them in the development of technology and the relationship of humans and technology. It provides a fascinating glimpse of the development of ideas – many tried in multiple iterations before success. Interestingly, the book ends in 2007, which is when the iPhone was introduced. I wonder what the arc would look like extrapolated forward from 2007 to the present. Unfortunately, Bill Moogridge died so I could not do a sequel – but I’m sure it would be fascinating.
The Seal Operative’s Guide to Eluding Pursuers, Evading Capture, and
Surviving any Dangerous Situation
Reviewed February 6, by Jon. This book is just what the title says it is, a set of skills to deal with dangerous situations. Some, like making a bomb, are not terribly useful to me but others, such as hotel security and awareness, are useful. Since I travel a lot internationally, these are valuable skills. What is more valuable is the attitude embodied in the book – a survival and improvisational mindset
To Survive Anything
Reviewed February 3, by Jon. This is a humourously written and illustrated book on surviving all kinds of things - from the serious - avalanche, earthquake, auto accident, to the unlikely - asteroid strike, zombie apocalypes. It is very accessible, well formatted, and has a lot of great survival tips. Many common sense but some surprising. A fun read and good reference.
Strike: The Secret History of Joint Special Operations Command
Reviewed January 24, by Jon. Relentless Strike is a thorough (although sometimes a bit long and tedious) history of the US Military's Joint Special Operations Command. It starts with JSOCs' formation after the botched Desert 1 Iranian hostage rescue through the present day. It provides a lot of color and texture of what JSOC actually does and covers Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, Yeman, Pakistan, and a few other places. It provides a real view into what the actual operations are. I liked the book but in places it got almost too detailed and dragged a bit. The author also jumped around chronologically for no apparent reason, making it hard to follow. Nevertheless it is a very readable book that sheds some light on how modern warfare is conducted.
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