Sunday, March 27, 2011

Dealings: A Political and Financial Life

Succinct. I found myself thinking often while reading Felix Rohatyn’s memoir, Dealings, that there’s more to the story than he’s saying. Readers have to wait for a biography to learn more because Rohatyn seems uncomfortable at times talking too much about himself, or tooting his own horn. That’s refreshing in a memoir: he conveys a key point and moves on. From his long time Wall Street perch at Lazard Freres, Rohatyn was at the center of many of the most memorable deals in the last half of the 20th century. New York might have gone bankrupt without him. All this is covered in the book in an unassuming way by a towering figure.

Rating: Three-star (Recommended)
Click here to purchase Dealings from

Against All Odds: My Life of Hardship, Fast Breaks, and Second Chances

Model. I didn’t expect to read all of Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown’s memoir, Against All Odds. I thought it would be another shallow ghost-written campaign piece for a future run at political office by the guy with the truck who surprised a nation when he won an election. Instead, politics were absent for the first two-thirds of the book, in which Brown lays out a troubled childhood and difficult start to life. He became a competitor through practice and perseverance at basketball, and then at everything else he decided to do. This is some guy, and he has taken advantage of every break he’s gotten in life, including modeling, to make the most of it. He hustled for work (in a good way), and remained focused and dedicated to every task and objective he set for himself. Readers who like bootstrap stories will find this book enjoyable, and the subject affable and engaging.

Rating: Three-star (Recommended)
Click here to purchase Against All Odds from

Life, on the Line: A Chef's Story of Chasing Greatness, Facing Death, and Redefining the Way We Eat

Passion. If you think Alinea chef Grant Achatz’ cooking is quirky, interesting and enjoyable, you’re likely to feel the same about his memoir, Life, on the Line. Not only does he tell his own story, but his business partner, Nick Kononas, injects a second voice to enhance the story of the life of chef Achatz so far. This memoir is a captivating story of the relentless pursuit of becoming the best at the work for which one has passion. In the case of Achatz, it has been cooking for his whole life. From the family restaurant in Michigan, to culinary school, to Thomas Keller and the French Laundry, and onto his award-winning Alinea, Achatz tells the story of working hard at what he loves to do. He became ill with life-threatening stage 4 cancer, and the standard protocols for treatment would have removed his tongue, rendering him useless as a chef. An alternative treatment worked, and while he lost all taste for months, he is now back in the kitchen and opening a new venture. Even those readers who have no interest in cooking will find this book to be an inspirational story of persistence, hard work, and the relentless pursuit of a dream.

Rating: Three-star (Recommended)
Click here to purchase Life on the Line from

When the Thrill Is Gone

Fathers. The third Walter Mosley novel to feature private detective Leonid McGill is titled, When the Thrill Is Gone. McGill is a study in power and restraint as he continues a struggle to live a better life. A new client leads him on a complicated case that requires his compassion and caring for doing what he determines is the right choice. He is aware that his wife, Katrina, is having an affair. When his son, Twill, becomes involved in a scam, McGill responds with firm love. His longtime friend Gordon Tallman is now living in McGill’s apartment because he is seriously ill with cancer. Throughout the novel, McGill recalls what his father might say or do in particular situations. Mosley’s prose is always the right blend of dialogue and poetic description. Readers who like mysteries, fine prose, and complex characters will love this novel.

Rating: Three-star (Recommended)
Click here to purchase When the Thrill Is Gone from

Minding Frankie

Glue. Maeve Binchy’s latest novel, Minding Frankie, invites readers to spend time with a large cast of characters bound together in a closely knit community in Dublin. She reprised some characters from earlier novels and introduced and developed new ones to satisfy both new readers and longtime fans. The ties that bind us together are often those of family, and sometimes they come from the kindness and caring of neighbors and strangers. The many imperfect lives Binchy presents in this novel find love where it happens to be, and build on these ties in ways that will satisfy most readers who enjoy character-based fiction.

Rating: Three-star (Recommended)
Click here to purchase Minding Frankie from

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Faster Cheaper Better: The 9 Levers for Transforming How Work Gets Done

Process. When Mike Hammer died in 2008, he had completed the first draft of a new book. Lisa Hershman, CEO of Hammer and Company, has completed the book titled, Faster Cheaper Better: The 9 Levers for Transforming How Work Gets Done. This is required reading for any manager involved in process redesign. This work sounds simple but can be extremely challenging to implement. The clear examples and positive and negative case studies are useful, as are the dos and don’ts at the end of each chapter. Managers who hate process can find this book a way to understand what this topic is all about.

Rating: Three-star (Recommended)
Click here to purchase Faster Cheaper Better from

The Jungle

Quantum. The latest installment in the Oregon Files brand of Clive Cussler novels is titled, The Jungle. Juan Cabrillo and the crew of the Oregon zip around the globe as they take on assignments to rescue missing or kidnapped children. The title refers to the Burmese rainforest where they are following the trail of a billionaire’s daughter who has gone missing. They become entangled in multiple deceptions and a plot to destroy Western civilization through the use of a quantum computer. This escapist novel may entertain readers looking for a quick and entertaining read, but both heroes and villains are so weakly developed that the result can be less than satisfying.

Rating: Two-star (Mildly Recommended)
Click here to purchase The Jungle from

Never Say Die: The Myth and Marketing of the New Old Age

Mortality. How willing are you to face the fact of death? Do you expect a long and carefree old age? For a reality check no matter how resigned you are to mortality, read Susan Jacoby’s new book, Never Say Die: The Myth and Marketing of the New Old Age. Jacoby holds a mirror of realism up to the illusions about aging that seem to dominate many perceptions. While she presents a variety of viewpoints, her own opinions and experience can become distracting at times. Despite this shortcoming, the book can encourage readers to think about aging and mortality in ways that are realistic.

Rating: Four-star (Highly Recommended)
Click here to purchase Never Day Die from

Doors Open

Deception. Ian Rankin’s crime novel, Doors Open, presents an entertaining tale of deception about a highly improbable art theft and a cast of characters who have personal motivations that involve multiple levels of deception. A shadow over this novel is the missing character from earlier Rankin novels: Inspector Rebus. For those readers who can overlook this, and consider this novel on its own, the story becomes entertaining and interesting.

Rating: Three-star (Recommended)
Click here to purchase Doors Open from

When the Killing's Done

Intervention. In all our communities, we and our neighbors usually share views that are polar opposites. In T.C. Boyle’s new novel, When the Killing’s Done, he presents the extremes of environmentalism: scientists working to restore ecosystems by killing invasive species versus the animal rights activists who want no animals killed. Boyle builds complexity and empathy into each character, and the conflict in the novel matches the high-decibel rhetoric that dominates our community life. Both sides of this conflict intervene in the ecology of California’s Channel Islands. This may be the first Boyle novel that did not have me stop to run to my dictionary every few dozen pages. He maintains his fine style of writing without the distraction of using a vocabulary that strains a reader’s patience. As with other fine novels, this is also a story about family and relationships, and each relationship contains complexity and nuance that will keep readers engaged and entertained. Boyle is one of our finest writers, and this novel respects the intelligence of readers and leaves it to us to consider the issues he raises.

Rating: Four-star (Highly Recommended)
Click here to purchase When the Killing’s Done from

Saturday, March 5, 2011

The Social Animal

Mind. David Brooks’ latest book is titled The Social Animal. As with his earlier works, he explores what researchers have learned in a field and what that may mean for how we live with one another in society. The area of attention in this book is the mind, and the extent to which emotions, perceptions, intuitions and our unconscious direct our actions. Brooks concludes that we are social animals, and why we do what we do is the result of what’s happening in our brains on a level underneath the rational. He supports his premise with a potpourri of illustrations. The device he uses to explore the topic is the creation of two characters, Harold and Erica, and through their lives, he riffs on how reason takes second place in how they follow life’s pathways. Brooks’ writing is always entertaining and often witty. Whether one agrees with his premise or not does not distract from the pleasure of reading even this book whose structure seems less logical and rational than his others, perhaps another illustration of his premise.

Rating: Three-star (Recommended)
Click here to purchase The Social Animal from

Full Dark, No Stars

Ordinary. Prepare yourself before you start to read Stephen King’s new book, Full Dark No Stars. This writing demands an emotional reaction in listeners, and those readers who are ready to spend time with evil are likely to be prepared for the emotions that will follow. Each of the four long stories in this collection explores how an ordinary individual adjusts and reacts to evil. Readers are set up to react emotionally to the action alongside the characters, and it is only afterwards that one can reflect on whether the choices made by the characters reflect ones that match what ordinary people are likely to do. King is a master storyteller and these four stories will trigger emotional responses and reflection in those readers who open these pages.

Rating: Three-star (Recommended)
Click here to purchase Full Dark No Stars from

The Politician: An Insider's Account of John Edwards's Pursuit of the Presidency and the Scandal That Brought Him Down

Parasitic. You couldn’t make this up. Andrew Young’s account of his life and work with John Edwards is titled The Politician: An Insider's Account of John Edwards's Pursuit of the Presidency and the Scandal That Brought Him Down. What began as a symbiotic working relationship turned into a damaged and parasitic state of affairs and scandal that has been covered comprehensively in the press in recent years. Young’s version of what happened may represent just one part of the story, but this part is believable and has yet to be rebutted. Any reader interested in politics will be engaged by this story. Any employee who has accepted a boss’s request to do something extraordinary will understand why Young did what he did.

Rating: Three-star (Recommended)
Click here to purchase The Politician from

40: A Doonesbury Retrospective

Hernia. Gary Trudeau’s new book, 40: A Doonesbuty Retrospective, presents 13% of the 14,000 published strips from the past four decades of this comic strip. I hoisted this ten-pound coffee table book onto my lap expecting to sample a few pages, and ended up reading the whole thing. As a long-time reader, I don’t know which surprised me more: how many of the specific strips I remembered, or how many seemed fresh and new. A bonus in this book involves a comprehensive character map showing all the connections among the characters. Any fan will find great entertainment from this hefty book.

Rating: Three-star (Recommended)
Click here to purchase 40 A Doonesbury Retrospective from

Medium Raw: A Bloody Valentine to the World of Food and the People Who Cook

Taste. There must be a large enough audience for all food topics to prompt publishers to feed readers with books like Anthony Bourdain’s Medium Raw: A Bloody Valentine to the World of Food and the People Who Cook. I found Bourdain’s writing to be blunt, unwavering in judgment and often witty and lively. After I finished this collection of essays I realized that for my taste, I would have preferred eating to reading.

Rating: Two-star (Mildly Recommended)
Click here to purchase Medium Raw from