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50 Book Challenge - Page 7

post #91 of 112
Thread Starter 
#16 Cold: Adventures in the World's Frozen Places by Bill Streever

The title is a little misleading as Streever spends not-insignificant amounts of the book in some decidedly non-frozen places, such as the Philippines to give the most obvious example. But the book isn't about travel to frozen places. It is part memoir, part scientific dialogue, part anthropological survey, part sociology study and sometimes a travel book. With such a broad reach, Streever should be commended for being able to tie all the disparate elements together seamlessly and concisely. At times Cold could drag on, but Streever always had a keen eye for a story and a lighthearted sense of humor that warmed up many stories. ****

#17 Street Fighters: The Last 72 Hours of Bear Stearns, the Toughest Firm on Wall Street by Kate Kelly.

Her reporting is exceptional and the story truly benefits from the ultra longform journalism a book allows. Kelly manages to capture the complete incompetence of Bear's officers and judiciously conveys the human toll the bank's collapse caused. ****1/2

#18 Tokyo Vice: An American Reporter on the Police Beat in Japan by Jake Adelstein

Excellent. I was going to say more but I've forgotten largely what I was going to say (really bad considering I finished it about 30 minutes ago). Adelstein-san has an excellent sense of humor which was great fun to read. His stories are improbable and you know if he wasn't a ganjin they never would have happened. Also really fascinating to have a little peak at a huge and bizarre world in Japan. What I wish Adelstein had spent more time doing is creating suspense around his run-in with the yakuza rather than putting the whole episode right at the start. It is the real reason he wrote the story and the structure just made that part feel a little like an after thought and completely devoid of any excitement. Sill an excellent book. *****
post #92 of 112
Originally Posted by edinatlanta View Post

#18 Tokyo Vice: An American Reporter on the Police Beat in Japan by Jake Adelstein

Excellent. I was going to say more but I've forgotten largely what I was going to say (really bad considering I finished it about 30 minutes ago). Adelstein-san has an excellent sense of humor which was great fun to read. His stories are improbable and you know if he wasn't a ganjin they never would have happened. Also really fascinating to have a little peak at a huge and bizarre world in Japan. What I wish Adelstein had spent more time doing is creating suspense around his run-in with the yakuza rather than putting the whole episode right at the start. It is the real reason he wrote the story and the structure just made that part feel a little like an after thought and completely devoid of any excitement. Sill an excellent book. *****

I read this last year and agree - well worth the time.
post #93 of 112
27. Scarface by Paul Monette.

Good book with a predictable ending. Especially if you have seen the movie, which you probably have, but I have not.

28. Liar's Poker by Michael Lewis.

I have read this several times and still find it enjoyable. This time I read it with Too Big to Fail by Andrew Sorkin in mind. As I thought, the excesses of the past few years is very similar to what Lewis described in the 1980s. I think each generation relearns the mistakes of the past. Predictably, whenever I read of wall street shenanigans I feel compelled to re-read Bonfire of the Vanities - it is now on my pending list.
post #94 of 112
Thread Starter 
19 -- Perfect Rigor by Masha Gessen. Really good. Glad to get back on the finishing a book wagon. Story of the man was much more interesting than the puzzle itself, also very interesting. Will likely add to this when it isn't 1AM/I just returned home from a trip.
post #95 of 112
Thread Starter 
20 -- The Big Short by Michael Lewis.

Pretty sure I'm the only one still doing this. Oh well, I set out to read the 50 books and somehow I'll do it! And yeah this is pretty much all filler to make my review look longer than it is because I'm pretty damn sick of them.

Anyway I've been reading this book off and on so a lot of the impressions I've forgotten or what have you. I guess the main thing that sticks out is once again, how absurd our financial system was for so long. Lewis is able to cut through the jargon and in a clear manner accurately and richly describe the financial crisis and how these individuals managed to bet against it. Almost more compelling is the stories of the individuals themselves.

While Lewis typically is a funny writer most of the humor in the book fell flat to me. What was most funny was when he just very simply explained some of the BS in the market.

Certainly deserving of its spot in the best sellers lists that's for sure.
post #96 of 112
Thread Starter 
I don't know what is worse that I am the only one still doing this or that I am at book #21

#21 My Times: Race and Power at The New York Times by Gerald Boyd

I was immediately drawn to the book because journalists' favorite thing to talk and read about are journalists and journalism. This book covered both bases very well.

Boyd ultimately climbed the management ladder at the Times to become the Managing Editor, second in command for the newsroom. While the subtitle might lead one to think the book focuses purely on race. It doesn't. What Boyd managed to do, and I doubt this could have been done as well if he was not an excellent journalist is he lays out his life story, carefully highlighting the moments where race may have played a factor. Boyd, being the skeptic that he is, brings these instances to light very judiciously. He rarely says racism had to motivate such an action, saying, in effect, what else could it have been. He realized at every step of his career that he was the first African American to do everything he had done. Being such a trailblazer and coming of age in racially charged era, he realized what that meant and was proud of his accomplishments, and rightly so.

But this isn't just a book about race in the newsroom. It is his biography. Published after his death, the story of his childhood and his interactions with family growing up are rarely anything short of touching. The love his grandmother imparted on him and how he came to reconcile his father's leaving the family are incredibly tender moments. When he realized as an adult all the love of his family everywhere as he was dying of cancer is a segment that brought tears to my eyes.

While his ultimate fall from grace came during the Jayson Blair scandal, Boyd goes to great lengths to have the last word against the paper who mercilessly (and arguably wrongly) kicked him out the door for the scandal. Top brass and media reports said Boyd and Blair shared a special relationship. Why? Because both are black. Boyd stressed that he never had any significant conversations with Blair, other than two times to tell him the quality of his work needed to improve. The evidence seems to side with Boyd, at least in this telling of the story. There is little reason to doubt Boyd's version however. The Times at the time was a backstabbing workplace where reporters squealed to other reporter friends about the latest happenings within the newsroom, despite demands for no leaks.

Ultimately Boyd focuses much of his energy on the Blair saga. And because of that he had a radical departure in style from the rest of the book. Whereas up to that point, he quickly and thoroughly described the progress of his life, he gets into much more minutiae with Blair's story. Understandably though. It was the peak of and valley of his career. However at times reading the affair was a bit of slog when compared to the rest of the book. Boyd's wife, Robin D. Stone, editor of Essence magazine got the book published after husband's death. She relied on others, mainly Boyd's colleagues to round out what Boyd had already largely written. At times it shows with some paragraphs clearly taken from a draft with lots of rough phrasing and formalities that don't fit in with other parts.

Overall though, Boyd vividly recreates the highs and lows of working in a newsroom. His handling of perceived racial tensions are interesting to read.
post #97 of 112
6. Secrecy: The American Experience by Daniel Patrick Moynihan The title of Archie Brown’s new history of the USSR, The Rise and Fall of Communism, is emblematic of the recent paradigm shift in the understanding of the Soviet experience. Modern Soviet scholarship is conducted largely under the purview of history. Twenty five years ago, study of the USSR was focused firmly on what was happening and more importantly what would come; few contemplated the possibility of a world without the Soviets. Particularly not during the 20th century. Some foresaw the fall of the USSR years, even decades, in advance. Vide Daniel Patrick Moynihan. Michael Barone lauded him as “the nation's best thinker among politicians since Lincoln and its best politician among thinkers since Jefferson.” That designation is not so prestigious in the modern United States Congress (Moynihan probably wrote more books, 21, than most politicians have read), but it does not take away from Moynihan’s dexterous mind. During a career that took him from the New York governor’s mansion to the White House to a legendary quarter-century in the Senate, Moynihan cultivated a reputation as a pragmatic and professorial leader on a host of issues. Many of his most impassioned pleas for reform stemmed from his close involvement with oversight of the government’s intelligence community. During the bulk of Moynihan’s tenure in the Senate, the CIA and its companion agencies focused intensely on the Soviet Union. Their (secret) budgets allocated a tremendous amount of resources to the gathering and interpreting of Soviet intelligence, so much so that the CIA was occasionally accused of forgetting about the parts of the globe not hidden by the Iron Curtain. The clandestine methods of the federal government began to raise questions in the latter half of the Cold War. The rationale for stamping trillions of documents “Top Secret” was not altogether clear. In Secrecy: The American Experience, Moynihan chronicles the surge in government secrecy that emerged after the Second World War and grew exponentially during the Cold War era. It was during the Cold War that government secrecy policy approached absurdity. A precedent-setting event occurred during the gathering of the Venona intercepts, cryptically coded cables sent by Moscow in 1943 to Communist figures in the United States. After several years of laborious code-cracking, the National Security Agency realized that a Soviet spy network had been established in America (as Moynihan notes, almost all of those spies and sympathizers lived in urban centers—McCarthy’s theory of a widespread menace was erroneous). But this information was never made available to, of all people, the president. Harry Truman was excluded from the inner circle at the behest of General Omar Bradley, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who labeled the Venona intercepts as Army property. Bradley’s sworn duty to assist the president in matters of national security was overwhelmed by his desire to hoard bureaucratic secrets; as a result, Truman’s knowledge of Soviet espionage never advanced beyond what the likes of McCarthy and J. Edgar Hoover wanted him to know. The government became further consumed by Cold War-era secrecy, to the point at which “policy planners…did not entirely recognize when they had changed directions.” Moynihan notes that National Security Council report 68 (NSC-68), which offered detailed analyses of Soviet infrastructure, military, and politics, became for decades the premiere policy guide for federal officials. It was entirely based on classified information gathered by the intelligence community…and was almost entirely wrong. Its estimates of Soviet economic and military strength were wildly out of touch with reality. Moynihan’s frustration is evident when he remarks that the NSC could have drawn much more accurate information from the pages of the leading social sciences journals of the day. His assertion that secret information is not inherently more accurate than public information leads Moynihan to disparage the CIA. This reflects Moynihan’s very public crusade against the CIA, an agency that he called outdated and archaic. He points out that the CIA budget was, by 1990, five times as large as the State Department’s. There is something undemocratic about such a vast sum being spent in almost total secrecy with little or no accountability, and this makes it hard not to empathize with Moynihan’s sturm und drang. Efforts to reform government secrecy have been underfoot for decades. Moynihan gives vivid descriptions of the findings of the various Congressional commissions charged with streamlining the process but notes that all failed to reform intelligence gathering. Wearily, he makes a hopeful case for the dawn of a new era, one of openness. The internet has, Moynihan claims, opened the eyes of the world and seriously compromised a bureaucracy’s ability to hoard secrets. With open sources, we have the vast majority of information needed to make informed decisions. This, he says, will wear away at the notion that “clandestine collection…equals greater intelligence.” He quotes George F. Kennan, who legitimized containment theory, as an authority who asserts that “upwards of 95% of what we need to know about foreign countries could be very well obtained by the careful and competent study of perfectly legitimate sources of information open and available to us in the rich library and archival holdings of this country.” Would it were that American policy could function off of this directive. It could have saved untold sums and lives during the decades of posturing that ended in 1991. But was secrecy singularly responsible? It seems more plausible that the ideology of the Cold War (edified by government secrecy) played a bigger role in holding the West hostage; it was us vs. them without any room for disagreement. Indeed, Moynihan’s own belief in the eventual self-implosion of the USSR was ignored for well over a decade. When the collapse came, the intelligentsia sat stunned. Had we won? Well, yes. But the bureaucracies and their secrets did not carry the day. 7. Every Man Dies Alone by Hans Fallada Will write a review later but this was a great book.
post #98 of 112
8. Miles to Go: A Personal History of Social Policy by Daniel Patrick Moynihan Moynihan wrote this in 1996 and intended it to be a broad review of his thoughts, writings, and lectures on social policy. As can be expected, the perennial Moynihanism of the breakdown of the American family colors most of the chapters. Moynihan fervently believed that the increase in single-parent households and illegitimate births strongly correlated with a host of social problems. The empirical evidence tends to support his position and he makes a pretty convincing case. The book is ultimately a plea for heightened consideration of the social sciences in policymaking. The problems we now face, he contends, are not the problems of industrial society; rather, they are unique to the Western world's post-industrial society (rise of service economy, etc.). And to solve them, we must pay attention to social science. But he's careful to note that blind faith in social sciences (uses economics cases studies) can lead to poor decisions and poor policy. It's really an interesting read, but the book is poorly edited. Speeches, lectures, and article excerpts from Moynihan's past are inserted at random and the reader is often left wondering what the hell is going on. But it's still worth looking at.
post #99 of 112
1. Liar's Poker by Michael Lewis - I love 1980s Wall Streety-stuff so this was immediately interesting to me. It even references Bonfire of the Vanities a few times which is one of my all-time favourites. Hard to follow at some points if your not a finance guy, which I'm not, but I got the large part of it. (1 week) 2. The Big Short by Michael Lewis - A nice book end to his earlier work on the same theme. Even more difficult to get into the financey stuff since it's not my bag (CDS, CDOs, etc.), this is more advanced then just knowing how the stock market works and bearing able to read ticker tape and knowing where the Dow landed last night. The last chapter was great becasue it tied back into Liar's Poker. (5 days) Next read, "Game Change". Moving away from Wall Street to Washington.
post #100 of 112
I heard really mixed reviews on Game Change. Let us know how it is.
post #101 of 112
80 pages in and I'm enjoying it. I'll take it for granted as a I'm reading it that all of these events did in-fact happen. I go investigating afterwards to find out about the critiques of whatever I've just read. I like to know all sides.
post #102 of 112
Thread Starter 
22 -- The Rite: The Making of a Modern Exorcist by Matt Baglio Very good. Baglio was not sensationalist or overly skeptical.
post #103 of 112
Thread Starter 
23 -- Against Joie de Vivre by Philip Lopate

Well I guess I will continue this challenge even if no one else does...

A collection of Lopate's essays over several years covering a huge range of topics. He starts off with his story of putting on Uncle Vanya in an experimental elementary school (I believe the school was. It was certainly non-traditional). While you could easily predict the challenges that would arise, what makes it entertaining to read is Lopate's observation and insight to the process. He was clearly limited with what he could do artistically with the children, but marshaling them to turn the class project into a "legitimate" production (that technically was produced on Broadway) turned out to be a very entertaining read.

In between a series of short essays allows us to glimpse into Lopate's world, dealing with many quotidian affairs that would be boring to read, if Lopate's keen eye and wit weren't used. He offers his insight into friendship, a topic which he wonders if there is any new ground to be covered; the personal essay; subletting apartments; living above your landlords; and an essay on Houston's development. Had he changed a few street names or one of the major industries, I could have sworn he was describing Atlanta. The similarities were very eery.

For his final essay, he tackles a very tricky subject--the suicide of one of the teachers at the school where he worked. The teacher took his life during the school year which made the situation even trickier for the school and teachers involved. The teacher involved was brusque and often un-liked by his coworkers. Living close to Lopate meant to the other teachers that he and Lopate had a relationship. This, Lopate tells us, is not true. And in fact the lack of relationships may have had something to do with the suicide. Lopate ended up writing an incredibly touching essay dealing less with the suicide itself, and more of a consideration of how we impact others' lives, and an existential question of our purpose. If it sounds grand it is. However, the restraint Lopate showed kept the essay from spiraling out of control and becoming grandiose. It seemed at the end that it was a very personal reflection about life and death. Truth be told, while reading it on the plane I was forced to make a run for the bathroom to get a tissue. It was a powerful and intimate way to finish a superb collection of essays.
post #104 of 112
Thread Starter 
24 -- War at the Wall Street Journal: Inside the Struggle To Control an American Business Empire by Sarah Ellison

This was good. I read it over a month, starting the stopping so I forget much of my impression about it. It was fascinating to see how the Bancroft family was so incredibly dysfunctional. What impressed me most about Ellison's writing style is that the purchase of DowJones by Murdoch was so anti-climactic, which was good, considering it takes place about halfway through. It should be noted that while NewsCorp bought DJ, all Murdoch cared (and cares) about is the WSJ. Instead we had two separate dramas unfold--how the Bancroft family and WSJ execs attempted to fight off Murdoch's purchase, then how Murdoch would actually run the Journal.

I would have preferred to see a little more of how the newsroom reacted and treated the the purchase but Ellison doesn't deal very much with that. This may be because she was engrossed covering the purchase itself for the WSJ, and spent more time tracking down leads from the execs she writes about here.

What remains to be seen is if Murdoch &co. can turn the WSJ profitable again. He had to write off $2.8 billion of recently, a little more than half of what he bought the paper for, so we'll see. His approach to resuscitating newspapers also seems just slightly out of touch with the American marketplace. At a meeting of bureau chiefs, Murdoch said he wants the paper to be the first one purchased by Americans everywhere at the newsstand. A Detroit bureau chief then quipped: "we don't have newsstands in Detroit".

Ellison, who wrote for the WSJ for 10 years, was able to expertly craft two narratives into one seamless story. For a blow-by-blow account of how a great newspaper dynasty finally crumbled--and let's be honest, made out like bandits considering that Murdoch purchased the stock for much more than it was worth, and a glimpse into what could be the future of American media, this is fantastic.
post #105 of 112
Thread Starter 
# 25 In the Sanctuary of Outcasts: A Memoir by Neil White

Hooray halfway there!

White was sentenced to 18 months of prison after kiting checks. By his own admission, he was a stupid criminal, he had nothing to show for his crime except keeping the lights on in the office of hte publishing company he ran. His prison was located on the grounds of the United States' last leprosarium. He originally was gong to write a great expose of the facilities and win an award for his journalism (he was a journalist before being locked up), but in the end passed realizing he was friends with the patients and other inmates.

ISO has the standard wistfulness in a typical memoir but it never gets overly sentimental which is good. There are many truly sad moments in the book and they would just be sappy if White hadn't gone to great lengths to be non-judgmental about his prison time.

some of the moments are predictable (his wife leaves him, he misses his kids, his elderly friend dies) but it doesn't matter. you're still moved when it happens. If White hadn't been a journalist the book would have been overwrought and a bit of a pity party. but his ability to tell a story kept the book moving and actually a fun read.
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