Entrepreneurial Leadership and Management . . . and Other Stuff

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03
Oct

The Science of Superheroes by Lois Gresh and Robert Weinberg

I’ve never read a comic book in my life.  But, like every guy on the planet with Luke Skywalker-esque delusions of saving the world (universe?), I’m fascinated by the prospect that superheroes might exist.  OK, maybe my fascination is with the idea that I might secretly be one.  So, the idea of mapping real science to the powers of comic superheroes drove me to pick up this book in a second.  After all, if I did have super powers I needed to know how to unleash them.

I have just two words to describe my disappointment in the book: “don’t bother.”  The book goes into long, boring descriptions of why the powers of superheroes are impossible (duh!).  This, of course, destroyed forever my dreams of being or becoming one.  OK, so the super gravity of Krypton wouldn’t be enough to enable Superman to fly on Earth.  Who cares?  Just go ahead and burst my bubble.  Jeez!  No new information here.  I guess I was just ignorantly hoping that at least one superhero had powers supported by physics.  Batman comes close, but who wants to wear that costume.

In any case, my non-x-ray vision did help me finish the book.  I did enjoy the brief descriptions of the origin of the comic books and the characters a lot. This was all new to me.  The brief discussions about the authors and artists was also quite interesting.  These sections were relatively short and few and far between.  Not enough to redeem the book.

Once again I was suckered in by a book’s cover.  Isn’t there some warning about that?  Like I said, don’t bother.

 

 October 3rd, 2006  
 Will  
 Books  
   
 2 Comments
03
Oct

Overthrow: America’s Century of Regime Change from Hawaii to Iraq by Stephen Kinzer

Overthrow documents the US’s effort at regime change over the last 125 years.  The author, Stephen Kinzer, goes to great lengths to discuss not only the actions themselves, but the reasons behind them.  While having a slightly liberal view of what went on and why, Overthrow is an interesting read for those less initiated (like me) in all the US did to support corporations, expand its military presence and prevent the adoption of communism outside of it’s own borders.

The book often spends too much time pounding home the idea that the US screwed up most of these actions in retrospect and not enough time trying to detail the situation at the time that drove the decision.  Also, Kinzer often assumes that without America’s interference, the best-case scenario would have existed in the country affected – true democracy would have prevailed, wealth would have been better distributed, dictatorships would have been quashed.  Unlikely, of course.  It is reasonable to assume, though, that in several of the cases in which the US supported dictators, that the country might have been far better off without any US involvement.

Most of the governmental overthrow actions by the US were clearly driven by America’s efforts to support its large corporations overseas – manufacturing and exporting bananas, oil, sugar, etc.  Taft’s “dollar diplomacy” drove most of America’s international policy for many years.  I was surprised though at how much the fear of the spread of communism did to drive many of the country’s actions.  Note that it was not usually communism itself, but the fear of communism.  It was clear that during several administrations, communistic myopia was the driving force behind the initiation of many otherwise pointless coups or coup attempts.

If you’re interested a bit of the dark side of American history and can stand a little too much detail in exactly how each action took place as well as slight left slant to the story, then this book is worth a read.  Not a terrific book, in my opinion, but informative and mostly enjoyable.

 

 October 3rd, 2006  
 Will  
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15
Aug

The Cold Moon by Jeffery Deaver

 
  • Narrator: Joe Mantegna – One of My Favorites
  • Genre: Murder, Detective
  • Writing: Excellent
  • Story: Very Good
  • Time: 15 hours 6 minutes

I’m not a huge fan of murder mysteries, but having read and enjoyed one of Deaver’s other books about his master, limb-challenged (quadriplegic) detective, Lincoln Rhyme, The Empty Chair, I thought I’d give another one a shot.

This book was thoroughly enjoyable and kept me guessing all the way.  Matching wits with the ace ex-NYC detective Rhyme, is a serial killer they call The Watchmaker.  A virtual equal to Rhyme in terms of skills, although converted to the dark side of course, The Watchmaker seems to always stay one step ahead of Rhyme and his team.

I found Deaver’s ability to intertwine two cases far better than the usual coalescing of stories that you find in this type of novel.  At points in the story, it’s not even clear that the plot lines will ever converge.  When they do, though, it’s subtle and meaningful to the story.

The only downside to Deaver’s style is his desire to review all of the forensic evidence to date many times throughout the story.  This results in the reciting of long lists of information already obvious from the telling of the story.  The technique creates breaks in the suspense that are unneeded and distracting.

That said, the book is a no-brainer if you enjoy murder mysteries.  It is well put together, reasonably fast-paced and loaded with surprises.  Highly recommended

With this book/audiobook review, I’m going to start to add a couple of additional categories; relative amount of sex that takes place, approximate numbers of deaths that occur and the overall description of gore.  A reader of this blog suggested that she could not possibly find my reviews useful unless I included these facts and I suppose I agree.

Without being as eloquent, I’m going to try to mimic Joe Bob Briggs’ great drive-in movie reviews in which he always included at least the breast count, pints of blood spilled, number of kung-fu fights and so forth.

The Cold Moon included no sex; less death than you’d expect from a murder mystery, although detailed descriptions of planned methods of murder; and gruesome details about the few deaths that do occur.

 August 15th, 2006  
 Will  
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27
Jul

Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal by Christopher Moore

After reading Moore’s latest book, A Dirty Job, one of the funniest books I’ve ever read with a truly inventive story line, my good friend, Brad Feld strongly recommended I read this book.  I think Brad said something about it being the greatest book ever written . . . Since he reads about 10,000 books a year, I consider that a sound endorsement.

This book is incredible.  Not the same deep belly-laughs that A Dirty Job brought on for me, but extremely funny – challenging ALL of the stereotypes created in the Bible as well as the folklore that surrounds it while still respecting the the fundamental teachings of the Book and not being offensively sacrilegious (in my view – right-thinking Christians take notice, you may be ended).  Extraordinarily done.

The story is told from the point of view of Christ’s best friend, Biff.  Biff, recounts what happened in the 30 un-chronicled years of Christ’s life – between birth and death, basically.  During this time, Christ (Moore refers to him as Joshua) and Biff travel throughout the world so that Joshua can learn how to be the Messiah.  On the way, they learn kung fu, how to raise the dead, what it is to be a Jew and enjoy bacon and a lot about sex – Joshua learns voyeuristically through Biff, of course.

The secret to much of Moore’s humor is his ability to hit the nail on the head in a comedic way.  When Joshua and Biff are learning how to focus on the moment in a Buddhist Monastery, Biff ponders:

“It’s hard for me, a Jew, to stay in the moment. Without the past, where is the guilt? And without the future, where is the dread? And, without guilt and dread, who am I?

Perfect.

This book is an absolute must read.  Those who are non-religious will find it a blast as a story.  Those who are mildly religious will find it funny and maybe even enlightening – a fresh view that doesn’t change the message of the beginning or end of the life of mankind’s Savior.  Those who are strongly religious should remember – it’s only a novel and isn’t meant to be a re-write of the Bible.

 July 27th, 2006  
 Will  
 Books  
   
 4 Comments
27
Jul

Executive Power by Vince Flynn

 
  • Narrator: Armand Schultz – Just OK
  • Genre: Espionage, Thriller
  • Writing: Good
  • Story: Good
  • Time: 4 hours 40 minutes

First, I should say that my view of this audio book is severely tainted because it’s abridged.  I couldn’t find an unabridged edition.  I suppose publishers think that long audio books are too long for the attention span of an average American.  Perhaps they’re right, but I hate abridged books.  I don’t care if it takes me a month to finish a good audio book – just tell me the whole story.  From what little I heard of the story, I think that the unabridged version would be quite good.

This is my second Vince Flynn book and the second time I’ve read about Mitch Rapp, Vince Flynn’s CIA superhero.  My first Vince Flynn book was Consent To Kill, which was very enjoyable.  Rapp isn’t one of those heros that has super-human skills, other than the fact he narrowly escapes from being killed frequently.  His power comes from having saved the President of the United States several times and having kept Americans relatively holocaust free during his many years of service.  For that, he gets to pretty much boss the President around and do what he feels is the right thing for his country.  Yeah, silly, but it works.  We all want to be like Luke Skywalker, but we all want guys like Vince Flynn covering our backs.

I like the story – Israeli, Palestinian, Middle-Eastern destruction and terrorism have taken over for the cold war.  The abridged book skips all the detail and, therefore, the intricacies of the story and its real flavor, though.

I wouldn’t hesitate to read or listen to an unabridged version of this book.  Just don’t bother with the Reader’s Digest edition.

 July 27th, 2006  
 Will  
 Books  
   
 2 Comments
21
Jul

By Order of the President by W.E.B. Griffin

 
  • Narrator: Dennis Bouksikaris – Excellent
  • Genre: Thriller, Espionage, Assassins and Terrorists
  • Writing: Good for this Genre
  • Story: A bit hokey
  • Time: 7 hours 6 minutes
While the whole idea that Somalian terrorists stealing a 727 to fly it into the Liberty Bell might seem preposterous, I liked this book.  It’s far from a thinking persons novel, but Griffin, like Tom Clancy, invokes loads of military and technical detail that gives the story a more realistic nature – a technique I almost always find a story enhancer.
 
Our hero, Carlos Guillermo Castillo, an army major on loan to the secretary of Homeland Security (he’s also a Secret Service agent, Special Forces vet, Airborne Commando and Casanova, among other things – you know the type) is assigned by the President to bypass the useless bureaucracies of the vast intelligence agencies in Washington in order to find the plane in question and do what needs to be done . . .  Known as Charley, even by the President, he is the son of a highly decorated Army helicopter pilot and a wealthy German newspaper heiress.  Just like everyone else I know.
 
This book is a good introduction to the series of books with Castillo saving the US.  All I can tell you is that I’m glad he’s on our side.
 
If you can deal with the hokey pretext of the story, I found it really enjoyable and highly recommend it.

 July 21st, 2006  
 Will  
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13
Jul

3 Nights in August by Buzz Bissinger

  • Author: Buzz Bissinger
  • Genre: Sports, Baseball, Non-Fiction
  • Narrator: Jeffrey Nordling – Excellent
  • Writing: Good
  • Story: Poor
  • Time: 9 Hours 51 Minutes

I love baseball and, for the most part, love baseball books. To me, all baseball books have to hold their own against Michael Lewis’ Moneyball, the best baseball book of all time, in my opinion. In fact, I think it’s one of the best business books of all time, too. Three nights in August, doesn’t hold a candle to Moneyball. In fact, it’s just boring.

Tony La Russa is clearly one of the greatest baseball managers of all time and there are a few tidbits buried deep in the story that are interesting, but they’re wrapped in an overly detailed story of a three game series between the St. Louis Cardinals and Chicago Cubs that took place in 2003. Aside from the virtual pitch-by-pitch description of the game, this certainly could be an interesting backdrop for a cool baseball story, but the author’s use of parenthetical flashbacks within musings during daydreams that La Russa has while eating dinner alone gets to be a bit much. The interesting parts of this story could have been placed in a much more succinct and enjoyable wrapper.

The narrator does his best to make the recursive story enjoyable, but in the end, the writing fails the subject matter.  Buy the Cliff notes and pick the next baseball book on the shelf instead. 

 July 13th, 2006  
 Will  
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24
Jun

Dispatches From The Edge by Anderson Cooper

  • Narrator: Anderson Cooper – Very Good
  • Genre: Memoirs
  • Writing: Excellent
  • Story: Excellent
  • Time: 5 hours 6 minutes

I picked this up on a whim and ended up totally enjoying it.  Cooper is currently the host of CNN’s Anderson Cooper 360.  His specialty is jumping into the thick of the worst disasters and events going on anywhere in the world and reporting on them.  His claim to fame is his reporting on Katrina, but he details his experiences in Somalia, Indonesia and Sarajevo.  This book weaves the story of Cooper’s tragic personal life with his reporting of global disasters.  My first impression was that he was pompous and self-involved.  After I adjusted to the style, though, I thought his juxtaposition of the events in his life and the ones he was reporting on was wonderfully done and truly meaningful.

Cooper was born with a silver ladle in his mouth.  He is the son of Gloria Vanderbilt and grew up on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, hob-nobbing with the rich and famous.  Growing up he faced more tragedy than most – his father died when he was a child and his brother committed suicide when he was in college.  After graduating from Yale and deciding that news reporting was his thing, he couldn’t get anyone to give him a job.  With a borrowed video camera in hand, he got on a plane and started filming news stories in some of the worst places on the planet – hoping to sell them to any news outlet.  Ultimately, his quality reporting caught on and he was picked up by the biggest news stations in the US.

In Dispatches From The Edge, Cooper relates the emotions he feels about what he witnesses with how he has felt about his personal life experiences.  I think he does a wonderful job at it.  His writing makes the tragedies he witnesses  more real to the reader – the relation to the story of his life somehow makes each of his stories easier to understand and internalise.

The book also takes a no-holds-barred approach to the incredible sequence of screw-ups that resulted in so many injuries and deaths during the Katrina hurricane – many of which could have been avoided.  A refreshingly honest and open view.

Highly recommended.  A short and fast read (or listen).

 June 24th, 2006  
 Will  
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15
Jun

Killing Rain by Barry Eisler


 

  • Narrator: Michael McConnohie – Excellent
  • Genre: Thriller, Espionage, Assassins and Terrorists (oh my!)
  • Writing: Good for this Genre
  • Story: Inventive
  • Time: 9 hours 55 minutes

So many people have recommended Eisler’s books I can’t remember who to thank.  This is the first one of the “Rain” series that I listened to or read and I had a blast.  John Rain, a Japanese-American good-guy assassin definitely makes my top-ten list of fictional super-hero saviors of life as we know it (the American way).  Neither the hero nor the story are too complex in any way – the geo-political back-story is interesting, but the setup is not Nelson DeMille or Tom Clancy-esque.  Rain is also no Jack Ryan (Clancy), his lone talent seems to be in killing bad people (mostly with his bare hands) and then fretting about it.

Eisler is a thesaurus of adjectives – almost comical at first, but I got used to it quickly as I wanted to know Rain even better.  The last few chapters of the book are soft and are a complete setup for subsequent books.  While this would normally bother me, Eisler makes the story flow nicely and quickly even as he sets up the mundane baseline for the next novel in the series.

Certainly no mental challenge here, but totally enjoyable reading/listening.  I found every excuse for listening as often as possible and finished the audio book very quickly.  Highly recommended.

 June 15th, 2006  
 Will  
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11
Jun

Book Review – Andy Pruitt’s Complete Medical Guide for Cyclists

This is a follow-up to Pruitt’s terrific book, Andy Pruitt’s Medical Guide for Cyclists.  It’s actually a superset of the original, so there’s no need to read both.  Pruitt is the Director of the Boulder Center for Sports Medicine and is recognized by most of the world’s cycling community as the go-to guy for cycling injuries and bike fitting (often very closely related topics).

Pruitt’s earlier book saved a summer of riding for me two years ago as boomeritis began to show it’s ugly head with an iliotibial band (IT Band – that really tight sheath of tissue that extends from the hip to slightly below the knee on the outside of the thigh) injury that was mis-diagnosed by two orthopedic surgeons.  The book outlined how to do the appropriate stretches to work through it and explained to me what to expect with the injury.  As a result, I missed very little riding time.

The current book is arranged much better and spends more time on bike fit, nutrition and the mental aspects of training.  As cyclists know, bike fit may be the single most important factor in riding fast and pain free.  Even with its recognized importance, it is often ignored or done poorly.  Pruitt’s guide outlines a process that makes checking on one’s bike fit a fairly simple process and, at the very least, shows how to get close to the optimum settings.

If you want the perfect one-stop reference for training, pain relief, fit and nutrition, this is your book.  Highly recommended for any relatively serious cyclist.

 June 11th, 2006  
 Will  
 Books, Cycling  
   
 3 Comments