Books read April 2013

The-Worst-Hard-Time coverThe Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl by Timothy Egan. The Dust Bowl has come back into awareness thanks to a Ken Burns documentary. This book was one of the sources of the documentary. It’s the story of families hoping for a new start, folks hoping to catch a dream before it was too late and folks who always lived there.

We know now that the over cultivation of the area and the denial of the natural characteristics of that terrain led to the disaster. What’s most interesting is that the conditions may be returning again.


Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain. Had higher hopes on this book, but it would help parents and some bosses with tips on dealing with more introverted, but very capable people. It reminded me of Thinking, Fast and Slow  by Daniel Kahnema.

Bernard-Cornwell-The-Last-KingdomThe Last Kingdom: The Saxon Stories #1 by Bernard Cornwell — I enjoy Cornwell’s stories about the middle ages. This one is the story of a Saxon who is adopted by the Danes and then returns. It’s a great way to appreciate just what life was like 1,000 years ago. This can be the value of historically accurate fiction.

Books read March 2013

Georg F. Kennan: An American Life by John Lewis Gaddis

I chose thiGeorge F. Kennan: An American Life | [John Lewis Gaddis]s book because it was a Pulitzer Prize winner. I almost stopped reading this book, but gave it the “50 pages test and decided to keep going. After the first 100 pages, I knew I wanted to finish the book. George F. Kennan was a key drafter of the containment policy again the Soviet Union in the years after World War II. He was often ahead of his time in his recommendations.

It was a fascinating historical discussion, but I found several connections with his life, which made the biography even more interesting. The book made me want to read Chekov and more history. In the end, I hated for the book to end. The book took us deeper into the story of U.S. foreign policy and the different ways people arrived at their policy suggestions.

The book reminded me of the inside story of the Lincoln cabinet in “Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln” by Doris Kearns Goodwin, which I read several years ago. Kearns was also closely worked with Robert Oppenheimer, whose biography was written in “American Prometheus”


Homeland by Cory Doctorow

coverCory Doctorow’s latest book was written for a Young Adult audience, but anyone with a tech interest could enjoy this book. It’s very timely, and helped boost my awareness of technical issues — I learned as much as I enjoyed.

The challenge with such a story is that wanting to learn more becomes the jump into the deep end of the pool. There’s not always a good intermediate step. He does provide some “next step” places to go, which I appreciate. I was always glad when Michael Crichton did that in his novels — I wish more authors would do that.

The distribution of this book is different, but it seems to work. Doctorow is giving away copies of the book through his Craphound web site. He asks that if you like the book you give a copy to a library that has requested it. That’s how my local library got a copy of the book.

Books read in February 2013

The Signal and the Noise The Signal and the Noise by Nate Silver. I had high hopes for this book hoping for some of that jaw-dropping insight from earlier books such as Freakonomics and Moneyball, but it didn’t meet my expectations. I still recommend the book, especially if you haven’t read these earlier books. Goods books that give us greater insight into how we let our selves be fooled, helps us separate the signal from the noise, and increase our skepticism is worth picking up. Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman is another alternative, but it is a denser book than the other three titles.

The Sins of the Fathers by Lawrence Block. I’ve ready many of Block’s books. They’re enjoyable and meet “the job I hired them to do” (borrowing from a concept in Christen’s book How will you mearsure you life. I can read the book when I have a few minutes spread over long periods of time and can quickly pick back up the thread of the story. They’re also interesting to imagine how a person like Matthew Scudder can spend so much of his life drinking booze, coffee and sometimes both.

Books read in January 2013

How Will You Measure Your LifeHow Will You Measure Your Life? by Clay Christesen, James Allworth and Karen Dillon. Even as I read this book I was more temped by an earlier book by Chrestesen The Innovator’s Dilemma, which I now also want to read. How Will Your Measure Your Life is from Christensen’s lectures at Harvard and tries to explain why many high-income achievers often find themselves in a path the did not imagine or intend. It was a quick read, and easily re-readable.

The most interesting concept I found in the book was the idea of hiring a product to do a job. The example of why people bought milkshakes in the morning (to stem hunger and improve the quality of a commute compared) with the afternoon, should cause anyone selling a product to wonder the various reasons why their product is hired. It’s hired for a purpose.

Books read in December 2012

cover of The Immortal Life of Henrietta LacksThe Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot.

This was a intriguing story of both the Lacks family and the contribution the HeLa cells in medical research that came from those cells. The story also raises the question of is there ownership of our cells or should there be. It’s not a clear area, even now. But we have also benefited from the open nature of science. That idealism has changed in recent decades as science has begun to patent cells and other biotechnologies. But that isn’t the book’s primary focus — the story of the Lacks and HeLa is enough as it is.


How Will You Measure Your Life? by Clayton M. Christensen , James Allworth. This was a book recommended by many, but it’s not a book to speed read. Take the time to read and absorb the details. This is a book I want to re-read.



Books read in November 2012

Basic Economics cover

Basic Economics by Thomas Sowell. It’s been awhile since I’ve gone through a basic econ text.  Re-read to pick up other details. Good stuff, but it will be a thick read for non-economists.



Sua Sponte: The Forging of a Modern American Ranger  by Dick Couch. Re-read to pick up other details. I recommended it to my son.



Books read in October 2012

Start-up Nation: The Story of Israel’s Economic Miracle by Dan Senor, Saul Singer. This is an interesting look at how the culture of Israel includes the economic drive and entrepreneurship of the country. Much of the book focuses on the impact of the country’s military and it’s creation of a network that help foster economic growth. The book raises and interesting question for the United States of whether mandatory national service would give more young people the discipline to help them in their careers after college.

Cahokia: Ancient America’s Great City on the Mississippi  by Timothy R. Pauketat. The impact of Cahokia on American Indian culture around 1000 is the subject of the book. It was a book I picked up on a whim, but it’s made me interested in going to Cahokia mounds the next time I’m in St. Louis. The author shows how Cahokia was a cultural  American history, doesn’t spend much time around the pre-Columbus area and this book helped me appreciate that long history before then.


Books read in September 2012

Dave Berry Cover "I'll Mature When I'm Dead"


I’ll Mature When I’m Dead: Dave Barry’s Amazing Tales of Adulthood by Dave Barry. Dave Barry can make me laugh out loud, which I think is a great skill. He has the pacing and word choice as if he were telling you rather than writing it for you.

The Bag Lady Papers: The Priceless Experience of Losing It All by Alexandra Penney. A book chosen on a whim. I wasn’t sure what to expect from it. It had it’s moments. The person lost a lot in the Bernie Madoff scandal and this was how she adjusted to life after that. It does help remind us that even if  what we fear the most happens, we can overcome it. It can help one realize what is more important than money.

Books read in August 2012







Sua Sponte: The Forging of a Modern American Ranger  by Dick Couch. Still reading about the elite Army units. This book is new and focuses on the selection and training. It helps an outsider like myself understand more about how the U.S. Army is more complex than might initially appear.

Chosen Soldier: The Making of a Special Forces Warrior by Dick Couch. Very similar to Sua Sponte. I preferred Sua Sponte because it is more recent. This book about the Special Forces helps one understand the difference between two elite Army units. They may choose soldiers from the same pool, but their goals are quite different. I think many people do not understand the role special forces have and this book, along with The Only Thing Worth Dying For: How Eleven Green Berets Fought for a New Afghanistan (P.S.) give a clearer picture.

Extra Virginity: The Sublime and Scandalous World of Olive Oil by Tom Mueller — I learned so much about the olive oil industry from this book. It was a delight to read and led me down to a new olive oil store just to better understand and to sample what is considered good quality olive oil.

Books read in July 2012

cover of In The Garden of Beasts by Erik Larson

In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin by Erik Larson, the period before Word War II is a period of fascination for me. It’s the hindsight realization that they could not see the impact of their answers, but we can. It’s the story of William E. Dodd, who was appointed ambassador to Germany at the beginning of the administration of Franklin Roosevelt, and the struggles Dodd’s family had while watching the every-growing grip on Hitler’s Nazi party on Germany. I liked this book by Larson better than The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America, which I read in November 2011.

My August list, will look because I’m more than half way through two Dick Couch books Chosen Soldier: The Making of a Special Forces Warrior and Sua Sponte: The Forging of a Modern American Ranger.