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50 Book Challenge

Discussion in 'Entertainment, Culture, and Sports' started by edinatlanta, Dec 2, 2009.

  1. Mr T

    Mr T Senior member

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    19. Iran Awakening: A Memoir of Revolution and Hope by Shirin Ebadi.

    I almost passed this book up because I have read several other books about Iran the past few years. What convinced me to read this book is that it was written by a Nobel prize winner, fierce advocate for the rights of women and children, and someone who has lived in Iran her entire life rather than an expat Iranian who occasionally returns to visit (although I am not sure if she is currently in Iran). I was not disappointed. This book portrays both good and bad of modern Iran - I highly recommend it.


    20. The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right by Atul Gawande

    The author spends most of the book showing how using checklists can be beneficial to the aviation and medical fields. What I expected, and did not find, was how checklists can benefit the rest of us. I suppose the concept is simple enough that I can figure it out on my own...if only I had a checklist to do so. If you have read this review you have all the information you would have at the end of the book so save your money.
     
  2. UFN

    UFN Senior member

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    Slightly related question: How fast do you guys read? (in sort of an "average pages/hour" unit of measure, i.e. if you look at a book, how do you determine how long it will take you to read it?)

    /U.
     
  3. indesertum

    indesertum Senior member

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    depends on the book. i read flower for algernon in 2, 3 hours. -_- goddamn ulysses took me five hours total for the 1st chapter. it took me maybe an hour for just straight up reading with no annotation reading and reading and thinking until the sentences made sense in my head
     
  4. edinatlanta

    edinatlanta Senior member

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    Slightly related question: How fast do you guys read? (in sort of an "average pages/hour" unit of measure, i.e. if you look at a book, how do you determine how long it will take you to read it?)

    /U.


    It depends...

    The next two reviews are:

    Ordinary Injustice by Amy Bach -- an interesting premise, would have been much better if she hadn't undermined everyone of her points.

    Supreme Conflict by Jan Crawford Greenburg. Good book. Interesting to see how little things have huge impacts on Justices.

    There were some others I've read but I forget them ATM. As you can see my impression of OI and SC have faded. Doing these reviews is a PITA.
     
  5. Mr T

    Mr T Senior member

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    21. Shop Girl by Steve Martin. I feel a bit guilty including this as it is really a novella - just 120 pages. I will edit this later to add another novella by Martin that is on my list and count them together.

    This story (a re-read for me) is surprisingly well written. Martin's style is slightly reminiscent of Milan Kundera in that he explains why the characters act and feel as they do. This device, which I cannot adequately describe (I have the writing talent of neither Kundera or Martin), makes it seem as if the reader is in the same room as the writer. As if Martin were telling this story rather than writing it. That is probably the best way to approach this novella - as a story about loneliness, love, and change - told over a few drinks between friends.

    22. Enough: True Measures of Money, Business, and Life by John C. Bogle.

    If you are familiar with John Bogle (as I am) this book is a good reminder of his outlook on investing and life. If you are young or have never heard of Bogle this is as good a place as any to learn about investing in inexpensive, passive, index mutual funds - something Bogle has championed for all of his long life.
     
  6. Connemara

    Connemara Senior member

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    4. Hardball: How Politics is Played, Told by One who Knows the Game by Chris Matthews I don't know that there were any revelatory strategies outlined in this book but Matthews provides great supporting evidence for several maxims of politics. Stuff like "don't talk unless it increases the silence," loyalty, how to handle the press. A lot of the stories are great...I love all the old political lore. 5. The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark by Carl Sagan As usual, superb writing from Sagan. He outlines a lot of modern pseudoscientific movements and deconstructs them with logic, philosophy and real science. Written in 1996 but a lot of it remains true: some more nefarious brands of pseudoscience are still on the march. Great book.
     
  7. Mr T

    Mr T Senior member

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    23. The Power and the Glory by Graham Greene.

    The protagonist is an outlawed priest in Mexico running from the law. Torn between his desire to live and his desire to fulfill his calling as a priest he ends up doing neither very well. This book is typical Graham Greene with heavy emphasis on dialogue - a great read.


    24. Book of Longing by Leonard Cohen.

    I love Leonard Cohen. Nothing else needs to be said.
     
  8. edinatlanta

    edinatlanta Senior member

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    14 The Prince of Providence -- Very good at explaining how Buddy Cianci let his vices consume his life, very even handed discussion of the court case and charges against him. Really a fascinating story.

    15 -- Dead Aid by Dambisa Moyo

    Before I get to the review I'll say I don't really get most of the criticisms of this book. Almost all of them rest on "Moyo doesn't really differentiate between the different types of aid" which is patently absurd. She very clearly says in the book what she is against is multi-million dollar inter-governmental loans to African governments. Aditionally I've heard three or four speeches from her about the book and in each one of those she clearly says "emergency relief is necessary, many donations of goods are OK, but huge loans are bad."

    I'm willing to accept most of her arguments about the problems aid leads to just from the simple stats. We've spent billions in Africa and in almost no way has the continent improved its lot in life. What I don't think she adequately addresses is the impact of AIDs on Africa, she just kind of says in an offhand way "AIDS did this, moving on". She also doesn't address the impact of Europeans leaving Africa just pointing out that poverty increased and life expectancy etc all decreased at the start of decolonization.

    What she does very well is show how aid (billion dollar loans) creates huge dependence on the West and offers no incentive for Africa to change. This part of her book is difficult to refute.

    One thing that might improve her argument is if she says how Western policy makers could in fact actually put her suggestions to work. I don't think she realizes the PR hit any country would take if they say "in five years the aid taps are turned off" which she suggests. Don't forget, celebrities are used to promote Africa for a reason, they have a huge following and having a huge group of them criticizing you for what people would likely completely misunderstand is a huge barrier to implementing her prescriptions.

    At times some of her suggestions make her sound like something of a shill for micro loans but that could just be a misinterpretation of her conviction that these programs work. However, the look at what has worked in Asia and Latin America pitch that she gives rings hollow when considering both areas still have rampant poverty and merely mimicking what worked there might not work in Africa.

    While it is a little depressing to think that 50 years and a trillion dollars has been wasted there is hope for the continent and it likely does involve at the very least, HUGE reform in the way we distribute aid. As the proverb she ends Dead Aid with says "the best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago. The second best time is now".
     
  9. Mr T

    Mr T Senior member

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    25. While Europe Slept: How Radical Islam is Destroying the West from Within by Bruce Bawer.

    Relaxed immigration policies of many European countries and the inability or unwillingness of Muslim immigrants to integrate leads to cultural conflict in those countries. This thesis is not really new - not sure why Bawer thought to add his two cents other than he lives in Europe now and has witnessed many of the things he writes about. Still, the book is well written and is worth a look if this topic interests you.
     
  10. Mr T

    Mr T Senior member

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    26. The Guts to Try: The Untold Story of the Iran Hostage Rescue Mission by the on-Scene Desert Commander by James H. Kyle.

    Extensive write-up detailing the planning and attempted execution of this mission. I enjoyed this book but if you don't appreciate the intricacies that goes into military planning this book may not appeal to you. Also, this is focused on the air element of the mission since Col Kyle was in charge of that aspect. All in all a good book on a mission that deserves to be remembered.
     
  11. edinatlanta

    edinatlanta Senior member

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    #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. *****
     
  12. Mr T

    Mr T Senior member

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    #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.
     
  13. Mr T

    Mr T Senior member

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    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.
     
  14. edinatlanta

    edinatlanta Senior member

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    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.
     
  15. edinatlanta

    edinatlanta Senior member

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    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.
     
  16. edinatlanta

    edinatlanta Senior member

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    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.
     
  17. Connemara

    Connemara Senior member

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    6. Secrecy: The American Experience by Daniel Patrick Moynihan [​IMG] 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 [​IMG] Will write a review later but this was a great book.
     
  18. Connemara

    Connemara Senior member

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    8. Miles to Go: A Personal History of Social Policy by Daniel Patrick Moynihan [​IMG] 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.
     
  19. Recoil

    Recoil Senior member

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    [​IMG] 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) [​IMG] 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.
     
  20. Connemara

    Connemara Senior member

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    I heard really mixed reviews on Game Change. Let us know how it is.
     

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