5/23/07

Books worth reading

As some of you may know, I was a fairly active reviewer on amazon.com until last October. I've grown increasingly uninspired by amazon reviewing. Truth be told, the whole endeavor started seriously when I lied to my best friend. I told him one drunken night at dinner (in front of others we wanted to impress) that I was a top-reviewer on amazon. Well, he really liked that idea, bragged about me, and sadly, it wasn't true. How even the white lies can getcha 'eh? Long story short, I needed to quickly go from rank: 2,000,000th, to within 999. I worked like a maniac for a year to make my fib true, did it, then confessed.

And I also reevaluated my interest in reviewing.

So, for those of you interested in viewing my reviews, visit:

http://www.amazon.com/gp/cdp/member-reviews/A3BOUPGDLG7QPP/104-5230705-5210305

Here are my favorite books of the past couple years, and their corresponding reviews by me:

Confessions of a Street Addict by James J. Cramer
Like Cramer, this book is high powered, interesting, and fun, January 5, 2004

Much like the first time I watched Cramer on his CNBC nightly program Kudlow & Cramer, his book had me hooked instantly.

A quasi-biography, quasi self-help piece (peppered with the occasional egocentric yarn) this simple and often intriguing read offers intimate insight into one of media's most interesting mouthpieces. Cramer is a hard-driving, hyper-opinionated, "kill or be killed" Wall Street shark. Or at least that's what I thought before I read this book. What changed? Well, I was intrigued to learn about the humble beginnings that so shaped and conditioned him, the people who helped him when he otherwise would have imploded, and the trials and tribulations that almost destroyed the now-hero. Much like he treats the guests on his show, Cramer puts his own life out to the reader for fearless examination.

Often funny, always interesting, I recommend this book highly.

The Prize : The Epic Quest for Oil, Money & Power, by Daniel Yergin

Masterful, important, exquisitely informative, and loooong., January 5, 2004

You should get a PhD in Hydrocarbononics (not a real word) upon finishing this book. Everything you could possibly want to know about oil; its physical origins, the technologies that helped catalyze our insatiable demand for it, the minority it made rich, and its heavy influence on global politics (which range from "important" to "imperative").

Very well written, D. Yergin takes the time to tell a story with each important chronological step. Many of the stories are quite interesting, and certainly highly detailed.

I would warn people with ADD, or little time, to be careful of this book. It's quite an investment of time, but in my opinion, well worth it.


Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap... and Others Don't by Jim Collins
The most influential book of its kind., February 12, 2004

It's been some time since I read this (about 2 years ago), but I was at the order page (getting a couple of copies for employees) and curiously scrolled down expecting to see nothing but glowing reviews for what has been the most influential "biz book" I've ever read.

I was surprised at the widely varying opinions of this gem. I guess I shouldn't be, corporate strategies (in similar verticals) are as varied as political ideology. I'm convinced that just like there will unlikely be any book that unites Republicans and Democrats in one happy envelope of agreement, there will never be one book about business designed to focus companies on "The Right Way", that everyone will agree is totally valid.

I can only offer my personal testimony to how important this book has been. Since my first read, my business' annual sales have doubled, profit is up ten fold, and we're more organized and focused than ever.

The most significant takeways for me were:

Figure out what your company is best at doing, then focus myopically on developing it.

Get the right people on the bus BEFORE you drive it where you want to go.

Each sound so rudimentary, in fact, I went into the book with a cursory understanding of its lessons and believed "I'm observing all the central tenets...duh..) only in reading the book and "unpacking" the supporting basis for each lesson did I realize just how out of alignment my business was.
Exquisitely researched, intelligently organized, and well written. I recommend this book highly to anyone who has a business, or desires to run one.

Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation by Joseph J. Ellis
Intimate, important, and intriguing American history..., February 16, 2004

I'm a history junkie, but have always taken a particular fascination to American Revolutionary History. J. Ellis' book "Founding Fathers" is one of the highest quality of its kind.

Ellis doesn't settle in simply recounting the period in some chronological order or with a particular emphasis on an individual; rather, he looks at the entire period holistically. "Founding Brothers" examines the extremely precarious, fragile, and doubt ridden formation of this nation.

We sometimes forget (as powerful as the USA has become) that this nation wasn't an inevitability, that freedom, liberty, and the pursuit of individual happiness wasn't exactly on the ruling class' minds back in 1700's. Many millenia had gone by ignorant to the value of these principals before a handful of noble, determined, oppressed, and brilliant men organized and changed history forever.

"Founding Brothers" is an aptly titled play on the popular label for those men (Founding Fathers); it reveals the seldom mentioned intimacy between them, and how personalities, and the interplay between them determined so much about how and when this country would organize and face the myriad difficult choices about what it stands for, and (as in the case of slavery), what it couldn't afford to stand for.

This is a wonderful read for all levels; from history buffs to those passively interested in how America became what it is.

Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies by Jared Diamond
A fascinating & important addition to anyones understanding., February 16, 2004

This is very important book about the powerful role that geography plays, and has played, in determining the relative success or failure of the societies it originates and gives shelter to.

I've had some fun in reading through the various and extremely varied reviews on the merit of J. Diamonds thesis. Many "educated" minds have weighed in on the validity of "this or that" aspect of his basis. Now, I'm not exactly at the forefront of modern biological, political, or social science, but I know enough to firmly believe that "geographic determinism" is a major influence on societal development. When I look at it through the lens of Chaos Theory (where big outcomes are sensitively influenced products of tiny variables) it seems clear to me that where societies originated on this map could very well be the biggest factor in determining their success.

This is a fascinating read. Very well researched, peppered with interesting historical stories and insight. I'm sure there are holes in Jareds position, as is the case with even well developed science, but this is an important addition to anyones understanding about history, societies, and their frequent inequity.


Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All-American Meal by Eric Schlosser
An eye opening, mouth closing, commercial thriller!, February 16, 2004

John Grisham, take notice, the fast food industry is a fertile field for your genre of writing.

As a self-made CEO of a large corporation, you might not expect to find me on the frontline of any anti-globalization rally, or lining up early to vote for Nader (and you'd be right), however, there are verticals within the USA's commercial juggernaut that need closer scrutiny and regulation. E. Schlosser makes a very good case that the fast food industry should be one of them.

I think this book will be an interesting and worthwhile read for pretty much everyone (w/ exception of die-hard fast food burger fans). Whether you are personally offended by the violence in slaughter houses or concerned about the implications of a "cheaper, faster, cheaper" corporate production philosophy on the already low paid, high risk workforce; you'll no doubt be intrigued by the clear picture the author gives of the dilemna facing everyone (that includes those in the industry with a conscience).

I still go to Taco Bell, and love it, but I don't think I'll ever order anything with meat at a fast food joint again...

The Spike : How Our Lives Are Being Transformed By Rapidly Advancing Technologies by Damien Broderick

Science non-fiction that's stranger than fiction., March 8, 2004

I picked this book up because I'm an futurist info-junkie. My expectations were modest, the reviews for this were good, but not stellar. However, after just a handful of pages I was completely hooked (I read this book in a night, a very long, very late night).

Damien Brodericks' book "The Spike" screams for our immediate attention to an impending convergence of a handful of rapidly developing technologies (principally nanotechnology, biotechnology, networking, and Artificial Intelligence), each revolutionary on their own, but combined, transcendental; Broderick calls that convergence "the spike".

The concept alone is worth the read. Seldom do most people consider just where humanity now stands in relation to technology and its utility. Where, for example, transportation technology for all but a few thousand years of almost 3 million was our feet and crude "shoes" that permitted 3 mile per hour travel, then animals, chariots, etc. up until about two hundred years ago where a train could propel people at 20 miles per hour, then, "within living memory of the elderly", cars enabled ever faster travel, then planes, jets, rockets, now technologies allow for video conferencing at light speed. Broderick points out that if you put that progress on a chart, and drew out just the last 300,000 years of mankinds progress in transport speed increases, you'd see a flat line until you get to the furthest edge of the graph, then a near vertical spike.

Cool stuff.

And much cooler when you consider that (in his well reasoned belief) if you were to draw out a graph starting 100 years ago, and ending one hundred years from now, we'd find ourselves right at the very beginnings of an incline into a technological spike that will (barring some catostrophic event) fundamentally re-landscape humans (and what it means to be human) in such a material way, you could argue that we wouldn't really remain human at all...

This is very approachable science, Broderick, unlike many other writers attempting to translate the almost imponderable and ever increasing torrent of science from the frontier, does allot of digesting for us in this book. So, while a Matt Ridley (author of "Genome" and "Nature Via Nurture" among others) might be more inclined to try and fill in more factual basis to cement understanding of a particular science, Broderick casts a justifiably wide net over a whole constellation of different scientific disciplines; and, as a consequence, doesn't go into great detail in giving a full "3D" view of each very interesting technology. This will no-doubt leave some more scientific-minded readers wanting for more in the "basis department". For that class, I'd suggest Ridley, but also writers like Hans Moravec (writer of "Robot"), or Ray Kurzweil, author of "The Age of Spiritual Machines".

"The Spike" offers optimistic and intensly interesting scenarios for the prospect of a better life in the future as well as realistic concerns that we should start to seriously think about. At a time where it seems we are constantly bombarded by nay-saying "gloom and doom" forecasts for the future, this book is a refreshing (but not overly optimistic) glimpse into a future so potentially wild, so potentially different, it seems more like Science Fiction.

The Diamond Age : Or, a Young Lady's Illustrated Primer (Bantam Spectra Book) by Neal Stephenson
I read this book 7 years ago and it still affects me..., April 20, 2004

...few books do that. Admittedly at the time of read I would have given the book 3.5 to 4 stars. Lacking in my opinion was a coherent storyline; the book was convoluted, you never knew what the point really was.

However, this novel has left a lasting impression on me. Of the numerous "takeaways", the most enduring are these:

1. Nanotechnology will change everything (not so apparent to the public now, much less back in 97).

2. Technology of this magnitude could offer the key to "leveling the playing field" with respect to economic inequity.

3. I devised a business term as a consequence of reading this book that has helped me immeasurably in my career: "attention units". In the future Stephenson posits that marketing will be so efficient that virtually every piece of visual real estate will be covered with what he calls "mediaglyphs"; billboards with audio and video (even on chopsticks). Not saying that I think that's a future I'd like to help build, but it does give you greater appreciation for any venue that could garner consumer attention.

And finally, my greatest lesson of all was what the Primer (the supercomputer/teacher designed by the futures equivelant to a Bill Gates for his grandaughter in an effort to stave off the near inevitable corruption of his heirs owing to great fortune); the Primer's number one lesson in all of it's teaching was appreciation and capability in one principal skill; subversion. It taught her how to go "around, under, over" any obstacle with unorthodox, even risky thinking.

Cool stuff.

Anyway, didn't give anything away of great substance there, but did want to give you a few more reasons from my perspective to read this very special book.

Embracing Defeat: Japan in the Wake of World War II by John W. Dower
This book came out 4 years too early..., April 27, 2004

...were it to be modified to contrast the policies and efforts of the US in its occupation and democratization of Japan between 1945 and '52 against the present attempts to do the same in Iraq...forget about the colossal increase in sales, such a book would serve as an awesome instrument of guidance, and perhaps even temper some unreasonable criticism being leveled against the occupation as "unprecedented".

And while there are clear and material differences between the basic environments and nature of the occupations, there are some striking lessons learned in the 7 year slog led by McCarthur, and promoted by "radical-idealogues" in the US gov't who maintained a belief Japan could sever its centuries old embrace of Imperialism in favor of Capitalism and Democracy(despite material dissent among many in the War Department and Congress who scoffed at the notion that the Allies, as conquerors, could democratize such a ravaged nation of Imperialist subservients).

The most interesting takeaway for me was the ingenious use of Hirohito as a proxy to the "hearts and minds" of the Japanese people. The US wisely leveraged the extraordinary (cult-like) capital in servitude that the Emperor had built up in the war ravaged empire. Using what was dubbed the "Wedge Strategy" the US seperated the Emperor from the rest of the Japanese Imperial Government, attributing blame for all the evils of the empire that caused devastation and failure to "the Government that betrayed the Emperor, and the people of Japan". The US then proceeded to use the Emperor as a proxy to the public; asserting his preserved authority to conform the Japanese to the basic charter of the Potsdam Declaration and, more significantly, to McCarther (as "Supreme Commander"; jeez, that was actually his title, imagine if Bremer was assigned such a title, times have certainly changed).

From a detailed accounting of the extraordinary devastation to Japan (their economy, their population, their identities), through the mechanics of the occupation, the writing of a constitution (both literally and philosophically) and through the final stages of engineering, this book (at over 500 pages) is chock full of fascinating understandings of one of the greatest undertakings in history; the reconstitution and habilitation of a defeated nation by the nation that defeated it.

This is a fascinating read that is well organized. That it's well organized is worth noting, for as long a read as it is, the casual reader can (from the Table of Contents) skip around the book, read certain chapters of interest, and never feel lost.

Broken Angels by Richard K. Morgan
My favorite Sci-Fi book since Snowcrash. Maybe ever..., April 29, 2004

...It would be difficult for me to overstate my appreciation and respect for Broken Angels; the second in what will be a series of novels about Takeshi Kovacs, the semi-immortal antihero who is as animated and complex as the mind-numbingly interesting times he operates in.

Not since (Neal Stephenson's) Snowcrash has my thirsty sci-fi craving mind been deluged with so many fantastically interesting technology spawned drama. From "cortical stacks" (devices that sit at the base of the brain stem and record the exact neural map of their host serving as a de-facto redundant brain) to "re-sleeving" (the process of transferring the stack to a new body); from "hypercasting" (speed of light transmission of consciousness from on point to another for re-sleeving) to the "virtuals" (AI governed simulations that serve every purpose, from entertainment to torture and interrogation - all at a subjective speed of their choice...5 minutes could equal 1 year, 100 years could equal 5 minutes...not fun when someone who wants the truth out of you decides to use fire and pliers at 1,000,000X slower than real-time).

At this day in age it's difficult for an author to spawn un-heard-of concepts, however, Richard K. Morgan gives life to theoretical possibility and stitches it into thrilling drama as good as any author today. Consider this is his second (after Altered Carbon) published book; we have reason to celebrate the arrival of a major force in the Sci-Fi scene. There is no doubt in my mind that this (still relatively obscure) author will be popularly regarded as one of the best in the genre in coming years.

So, with that glowing preface, a bit about the book. I guess there are two principle ways I could consider its value...first, in contrast to his first work, Altered Carbon; second, to other contemporary Sci-Fi.

To the first, in contrast with Altered Carbon, a book I regarded at reading as the best since Snowcrash, I consider Broken Angels a better work. In my opinion, Morgan's creative capacity for description has matured (from extraordinary to brilliant). As an amatuer writer, voracious reader, and semi-experienced reviewer, it's none to common to find an author in this genre that can combine high-minded scientific concepts with delicious prose.

Altered Carbon had Takeshi Kovacs serving as a mercenary detective working for a "victim" of a suicide that (when revived) couldn't buy the explanation of the police as to the motive of his suicide. A brilliant and fantastic work. Broken Angels centers Takeshi in a much broader and complex environment. Acting as a warrior-for-hire in a massive struggle to put down a planetary revolt, Takeshi is pulled into even higher drama when he is coerced into a close-knit consipiracy to lay claim to an ancient (Martian) spacecraft; the archeological find of several lifetimes.

In terms of how this novel matches up to others, as indicated at the start of this review, not since Stephenson has an author been able to "put so many conceptual balls in the air" and still maintain a cohesive, entertaining, and rich reading experience.

Without giving much away, the sophistication and abundance of Takeshi's adversaries; from hyper-evolving nanotech weapons, nuke-lobbing Rebel forces, Interplanetary governments, and even his own crew; keep you turning the pages like you've been poisoned and the next page has the antidote...However, it's not just carnage, quite the opposite, Broken Angels is rich in social commentary and philosophical perspective. From the effects of semi-immortality on individual perspective to this novels exploration of "Martian culture" and the mysterious evidence of alien civilization left behind, ideas and fascinating considerations abound...

So much FUN!

If you haven't read Altered Carbon, I'd recommend reading that first. I don't consider that necessary, but I do believe reading AC and being exposed to allot of the jargon and technical terms of the series will permit a richer experience in Broken Angels.

Enjoy.

I Love You, Ronnie: The Letters of Ronald Reagan to Nancy Reagan by Nancy Reagan
Heartwarming insight as rich in poetry as it is in history., June 9, 2004

I, like so many others, was saddened by the death of Ronald Reagan just a handful of days ago. Innundated by coverage as we have been lately, one strip of video had a particularly strong affect on me: it was the video of Nancy Reagan stroking the flag that lay over her late husbands coffin. Her hands moved back and forth over it almost as if she were trying to pat out wrinkles from a perfectly pressed flag; and she was speaking to her husband, moving her mouth uttering words unaudible to the public.

My eyes welled instantaneously.

I immediately remembered why that scene affected me as it did. I remembered reading the letters written by Ronald, saved by Nancy, organized and published in this wonderfully interesting and telling book. I remembered how deeply in love the two were with each other, and how utterly devastating it must be for her to lose such a great husband...such a great friend.

If my memory serves me correctly, Reagan held some high position in the acting biz (perhaps it was the Screen Actors Guild), and was introduced to Nancy by a mutual friend (she wanted to be an actress, and I think had done some work...it was some time ago that I read this, so please forgive any inaccuracies), anyway, they hit it off immediately, as is so often the case in relationships of great quality. Almost immediately (like a modern day relationship might start trading e-mails) they began to trade letters. She saved them all, and published them chronologically in this book.

He soon after took a job with GE as a corporate spokesperson and was shuttled around the country to speak on the company's behalf (despite his great fear of flying). It was during his time on the road that he really grew comfortable trusting Nancy with his innermost thoughts. And private they are! She was a friend, a lover, a mother (of both him and their children), priest, and parishioner.

I was struck by the eloquence in Reagan's writing. His often labeled "The Great Communicator", well, that holds true not just in his ability to give great speaches, he's an equally adept writer. Some of his letters are so tender, passionate, and well composed that it reads more like poetry than a simple letter.

I recommend this book to any who would like a deeper, more intimate understanding of who R. Reagan was when the lights were off, and cameras were stowed.

Of Paradise and Power: America and Europe in the New World Order by Robert Kagan
Profound thinking explained in simple terms and compact form, July 6, 2004

In the spirit of Kagan I'll keep this review short and to the point: This essay, delivered in a thin hardcover, has all the punch and insight (if not more) than most books 4 times its size, and is delivered in "plainspeak".

I saw a graph the other day on CNN that showed a whole host of books of this type on a large 2D screen. It made connections between books that people polled read in common. Liberals were in blue, Conservatives in red. It looked like 2 spider webs. Liberals read one set of books (Bushwacked, etc.) and Conservatives (Deliver us from Evil, etc.). A sad paradigm considering the need for national and international unity.

I found no clear bias in this book. Kagan doesn't set up Europeans as useless gun-dropping appeasement junkies, or Americans as dangerous gun-loving cowboys; rather, he uses history and philosophical conditioning (Hobbesian vs. Kantian) to assist the reader in - if not empathising with both sides - at least understanding the unique circumstances of each side, and the consequential positions they've taken on important world events of late (mostly related to security).

This essay taught me more than most books do, and I didn't feel like I had to keep my "partisan bull**** filter" running on high (makes reading much more enjoyable).

I recommend this highly.

The Age of Spiritual Machines: When Computers Exceed Human Intelligence by Ray Kurzweil

A mindblowing "radar update" of what's to come., July 13, 2004

This book is an exhilarating glimpse into the future of technology, with an emphasis on when and how it could ultimately affect us: "us" as vulnerable injury prone biology, us as students, us as workers, us as socialites, and perhaps most interestingly, us as mortals.

Hard science in plain terms, Kurzweil stitches in humor and optimism to keep the reading fun, but never sacrifices the basic ambition of this book; I believe that ambition is to share his well-founded exitement about the likilihood that "just around the corner" (owing to the laws of accelerating return) things are going to get real interesting, and really strange.

While I note that plenty of reviews take issue with the pace of change Kurzweil predicts, few dispute the likilihood technologies outlined in the book (Nanotechnological production, AI, man-made/machine-made alternatives to biology such as prosthetics that work as well or better than nature designed) will ever come about, or take issue with the myriad ways in which they will have a profound effect on our individual lives, society, and the world at large.

Kurzweil is an optimist, but not a blind one. He was the principal developer of the first omni-font optical character recognition, the first print-to-speech reading machine for the blind, the first CCD flat-bed scanner, the first text-to-speech synthesizer, the first music synthesizer capable of recreating the grand piano and other orchestral instruments, and the first commercially marketed large-vocabulary speech recognition. Many of his tech-prophecies have come true, and he has well earned respect in the scientific community.

Even if he's somewhat "off" on timing, or the exact embodiment these technologies will take, just throwing one of your neural legs over the sweeping impact these technologies could usher in makes this book more than a worthwhile read.

Christian Hunter

Santa Barbara, California

The Golden Age (The Golden Age, Book 1) by John C. Wright
Life changing..., July 20, 2004

Ok, so there are a few things I'd like to get straight with you right off the bat...

1: I just got back from a semi-romantic dinner with my 24 year old ex...stunningly beautiful, tall, Mexican...an absolute angel. Anyway, all to say I needed a few drinks to help reconcile why she's my ex, so, technically, I'm drunk.

2: I've been agonizing over how to write a review about a trilogy so important to me, so life changing, that in all my determined creative ability, I've failed to find proper words for.

Allright then, now that I've set the contextual table for my mindset in writing this review...

Hmmm...three 400 something paged books, that's quite an investment for even the most voracious reader. Me, I almost abandoned this series in Shanghai China (where I brought it to serve as a semi-cerebral distraction from the dark melee that is Shanghai to a well-to-do 30 year old). Anyway, about 50 pages into this first book I almost dropped it. Although fascinated by the bigness of its scope (10,000 years into the future, insanely well-thought-through...it just wasn't hooking me right). I put it down for a couple of months, but found myself talking to friends about what I had read. For instance, I would share how (that far into the future) characters took the potential for miscommunication so seriously that it would take a page or so to issue a simple salutory greeting (of course! strange, but that's just right!) So, while it didn't grip me from the start, its unique style, complexity, and substance stayed with me. I decided to give it another chance.

I'm so thankful I did.

At around 80-100 pages I was consumed in this strange but believable world of the future, set so far ahead of any reasonable predictatory event horizon most mere mortal authors would attempt. John Wright pulls it off in a way that is sure to earn him a place at the table of some of the best sci-fi writers of all time. Delicious prose gives life to a story so well detailed, characters so solid and dynamic, it wouldn't surprise me if there exists whole books he wrote just to make sure there weren't inconsistencies.

Damnit, I'm getting off the subject. Here is the essence of what I'd like to communicate. Having waited until finishing this trilogy before writing this review I can say this:

The first book (The Golden Age) is fascinating, well-written, and rife with mind-numbing concepts detailing the wildly fantastic potential of humanity that far off in the future.

But that's not why you should read The Golden Age.

You see (and this is where I'm really going out on an assumptive limb) I believe the author constructed the entire series to make one life changing point; a point made in one paragraph of the second to last page of the trilogy...the most important advice I've ever read or heard in my life.

I've told this to friends, and in each instance tendered this warning (because I could see what they planned to do): "It won't make sense to you unless you read the books".

And I mean it.

Unfortunately, as rational beings we need basis to believe anything; important understandings require substantial basis. That's what this trilogy is about. Other than being enormously entertaining, it builds 1500 pages worth of basis in making a simple, elegant, and enormously important statement.
It's now 2 in the morning, I'm exhausted (but newly sober). I hope that this review stimulates sufficient interest to compel you to pick up this first book, read 80 pages, and see if you yourself aren't seduced. However, unlike most pleasures, this series will leave you more fulfilled, more inspired, more uplifted after finish than during.


The Phoenix Exultant : The Golden Age, Volume 2 (The Golden Age) by John C. Wright
Extraordinary bridge for an extraordinary trilogy., August 9, 2004

I abstained from writing reviews on any volumes of this trilogy until and unless I finished them all. I just recently completed the final volume of The Golden Age Trilogy, and am happy to report that each book is a wonderful read in its own right.

For me, the first was a mind-bending introduction into a world so strange, so fascinating, it took an entire volume to get me comfortable with the basic attributes of the environment. This book, the second volume in the trilogy was a real treat to read. I was already comfortable with the "user interface" of GA, and the plot unfolded with less strain. The third book, Golden Transcendence is the most remarkable of them all.

But back to Phoenix Exultant. I won't spoil any of the developments this book offers (warning: some reviews below do), and it's difficult (having read all 3) to parse out what is now a blended understanding, but some general impressions:

This was a much more exciting read than the first book. Phaethons transition from immortal to mortal, his struggle for survival, and the effects such turmoil had on his basic belief system was at times mindblowing. The effects environment has in changing or reinforcing a mans basic virtue is always interesting, but when that man is thousands of years old, well, infinitely more so.

It was also intriguing to explore the basic history, tendencies, and roles each major character (and neuroform) play in this colorful and highly detailed future. In particular, the relationship between Daphne (Phaethons wife), their present, and VERY interesting past.

If you're like me, you'll sail through this book and enjoy every minute of it. Trust that as good as the first two volumes are, John Wright saved the best for last.

Enjoy

A Wild Sheep Chase : A Novel (Vintage International) by Haruki Murakami
A fun, fresh, and sexy romp through the mind of a freak..., August 9, 2004

...and I use the term freak in the most reverent of ways. I also use it to describe the author; because while the main character is a freak in his own right, he's one of an entirely different caliber.

A Wild Sheep Chase takes us to Tokyo Japan 'round 1980 and dumps us into the sharp but entirely unexercised, and increasingly apathetic mind of our 30 year old (male) main character. Funny, I just checked the book because I couldn't remember his name. I couldn't find it. I may be wrong, but I don't know if the author gives him one.

Anyway...

Newly divorced, incessantly smoking, and always musing in very interesting ways about largely uninteresting things, I found myself pulled into this novel immediately. "We" soon find ourselves embroiled in an epic and supernatural mystery with only a half-tank of gas. When tasked by an uber-powerful businessman to find a certain certain one-of-a-kind sheep or face financial ruin (if not death), our adventurer shruggingly agrees, and half-heartedly pursues.

The slurring pace of this book, filled with philosophical musings, "David Lynch like" weirdos, and a spattering of phenomenon, was a rare treat for me.

Murakami is a wonderfully gifted creative writer. His prose (even though translated) is at once elegantly crafted and playful. I recommend this book highly.

Christian Hunter
Santa Barbara, California

Michael Moore Is A Big Fat Stupid White Man by David T. Hardy
Reveals Moore as a filmmaker, not a documentarian., January 11, 2005

David T. Hardy and Jason Clarke have helped set in motion what I predict will be the ultimate downfall of M. Moore.

Half of those reading this will cheer, the other half are certainly jeering..."Red Blue difference right"? Let's hope not. It's to the latter group (and those on the fence) I'll address this review.

This book, while certainly biased against Moore, appeals to human reason and our natural allergy to hypocrisy, deceit, and slander in opening up vectors to attack Moore. The basic assumptions it attacks are summarized in this widely-held belief: "Michael Moore is a documentarian activist, he exposes corruption, greed, thievery, and power-systems that have gone awry (be they business or government) on film".

This book proves in inarguable and exhaustive detail how untrue that basic assumption about the man is. In fact, this expose brings to light the irony in that assumption by proving in fact that: Michael Moore is an ultra-capitalist filmmaker who would (and has) go to any length to create successful movies.

That's more than mere hyperbole, consider the following:

Moore was born and raised in the white "bedroom town" of Davison, MI, NOT the poor and disenfranchised Flint, MI. where unemployment (at 4.6%) is 1/3rd that of it's urban neighbor, and, incedentally, less than one half of one percent of Davison is African American. He's hardly the "boy from the hood" as he so often purports to be.

In Bowling for Columbine Moore villified Charlton Heston, insinuating that immediately after the Columbine massacre, the NRA held a rally in nearby Denver. Absolutely false. In fact, it was an annual meeting, and according to the bylaws of the organization, was too late to cancel. However, what he does neglect to mention, is that the entire meeting was gutted of all festivities. Only the necessary business of the NRA was tended to.

In addition, the speech Charleton Heston delivered in B. for C. was grafted from a speech delivered pre-Columbine! When viewing B. for C., it's impossible not to be outraged at the audacity of Heston when he energetically starts in with "...from my cold, dead, hands" - well, in fact, this speech was delivered after being presented an award at an NRA function in North Carolina!

Ugh, I'm sitting here with the book, and just now realizing it would take me an entire night to cover at least the basics of what makes Moore such a repugnant character. The deception of "Roger and Me", the criminal innacuracies and downright lies contained in "Stupid White Men" and "Dude, Where's my Country", the slander and "special effects" in "Bowling for Columbine"...Suffice it to say, you should read this book if:

You think Moore is a great American, and can't understand how anyone can see different. Or,

You despise Moore, and crave Tractor-Truck-sized amounts of ammunition to prove what a complete and utter liar, hypocrite, and vile man he truly is.

Christian Hunter

Santa Barbara, California

Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion

by Robert B. Cialdini

A WMD in the battle to gain permission., January 17, 2005

This study of compliance (a study of the factors that cause one person to say yes to another person) was among the most fascinating, useful, and, quite frankly, "scary" books I've ever read. I've always known that asking for permission has allot to do with "how" you ask, I just didn't know how much. This author shows us scientifically "how much", and it's a disturbing amount.

Clearly, the workings of the mind are a mysterious and universally interesting science; from how it operates the way it does, to why, it's when science can tell us how to operate the mind "remotely" that things get very, very interesting. Robert Cialdini, in this extensive study, shows us how various practitioners of compliance (from salespeople, to fund-raisers and advertisers) deliberately use what tools they have (for good or evil) to increase their chances of getting us to comply with their will.

The author breaks down the basic means by which to obtain compliance into 6 different categories: reciprocity, commitment/consistency, social proof, liking, authority, and scarcity. In each section you'll find a wealth of well researched, sometimes funny, always interesting, facts and experiments that show how our basic instincts, societal conditioning, and even our physiology, respond to basic permission requests. I was repeatedly shocked to learn just how automatic many of those responses were.

From a study that shows how many people associate "expensive" with value. In the first chapter of the book the author give an example of a jeweler who accidentally doubled instead of halved the price of some jewelry they had that was not selling well. After a leaving the shop for a short time, to the jewelers surprise, the accidentally marked up items had all been sold.

Or how about a study that demonstrates that people are more likely to agree to a request if a reason is given. One proof had a group simply ask if they could cut in line, another group asked to cut in line and then gave a ridiculous reason. The latter group enjoyed something like a 3X success rate. Simply adding a "becuase" enhanced the chances of success geometrically.

The "contrast principal" gives an example from the retail world where Salespeople are often instructed to sell the most expensive items first. Having paid a lot for a suit, for example, most people will pay more for shirts and ties than if they started with those relatively inexpensive items first. Car salesmen will sell the car first, then load you up on the optional extras.

There are dozens and dozens of additional examples; details on the efficacy of "walking someone down in price", to why giving dirt cheap gifts make airport Krisha's so successful in their pitches. I'd love to include more, but can't for lack of time.

Suffice it to say, this book will give you a very interesting and valuable education on the art of gaining permission, as well as some useful tools in defending yourself from others battling to gain yours.

The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid: Eradicating Poverty Through Profits by C. K. Prahalad
"Give a man a fish, he'll eat for a day..., January 31, 2005

...Teach a man to fish, and he'll eat for a lifetime". A famous Biblical quote, one that resonated with me strongly, and profoundly influenced my thinking on international aid, but more broadly, the problem of poverty, and the reticence of Capitalism in addressing it.

I'm a strong believer in capitalism, this wonderful book reinforced my belief in that system. It did so by showing how world poverty and consistently non-functional economies aren't because of capitalism, but for lack of capitalist attention.

Times have changed, technology and it's rapidly increasing efficacy in efficient delivery of products and services, necessitates that we change our attitude about heretofore neglected markets, and the nearly 5 billion people in them. "Inclusive Capitalism" as the author calls it.

Rich with important concepts like "Installment Sales" (which address the needs and constraints of low-income consumers), this book is a virtual blueprint for companies, as well as entreprenuers, who are interested in serving low-income consumers around the world.

The hardcover book also contains a CD. I usually skip viewing those, but I'm glad I didn't in this instance. Prahalad gives the introduction, then roughly a dozen case studies follow. From Appliance sales companies in Brazil, to a Cement company in Mexico; seeing the passion on the faces of their customers, how the companies have changed their lives, it is incredibly touching. You aren't watching customers, you're watching "evangalists" that would make your most devout American iPod fan seem like an unsatisfied customer.

Fantastic Voyage : Live Long Enough to Live Forever by Ray Kurzweil

Nothing short of revolutionary!, January 31, 2005

I read books about health, nutrition, and diet all the time. In the nearly 150 reviews I've done here, I've never found a single book in any of those genres significant enough to comment on or recommend in a review...until this one.

Described as a "modern day Benjamin Franklin", Ray Kurzweil teamed up with one of the worlds most accomplished authorities in anti-aging. I use the term accomplished, because while there may be more accredited theorists on anti-aging, few, if any enjoy the success in hands-on application of anti-aging in the consumer space.

This book, while extremely detailed, is written simply, and is highly interesting throughout. Readers will be treated to one of the (if not "the") most up-to-date and comprehensive 3D views of health maintenence available. From diet and exercise, to aggressive supplementation, the authors explain in detail how to determine your current state of health, then how to gradually (or radically) modify it to an optimum state.

While many diet fads promote the "power of X, Y, or Z", this book recognizes that there is no one Silver Bullet that'll make you thin/give you energy/make you look younger, etc. Instead, the prescriptions in this book are balanced and integrated, often showing the important relationships between food, exersize, supplements, and lifestyle. For example, if you don't get enough nourishment from food (as many diets require), you'll have an energy deficit, and often that'll steal from your ability to maintain a good exersize regime. Countless other examples exist of those interdependencies, suffice it to say, most all are addressed in this book, and accompanied by guidance for optimization.

Always the health enthusiast, at 31, I'm 5'10, 160, haven't been sick in 2 years (ok, fine! I got a mild cold that lasted 3 days, but that's it!), have more energy, and look and feel better than I ever have. I attribute my health to a near fanatic approach to diet, exercise, and supplementation. This book validated a number of my approaches, but opened my eyes to some truly significant new understandings. Since adding some of the recommended diet and supplementation regimes from the book, I look and feel noticably healthier.

More a service than a book, Ray and Terry maintain a support site, along with updated information, referrals to various products they recommend, they even have their own meal replacement shake (sweetened with Stevia, an herbal sweetner) that is hands-down the best in its class. You can visit the site at rayandterry .com.

Here I've gone on and on about the immediate benefits of this book, and neglected to even mention its special charter, and what I view as perhaps the most important aspect of its value: the science behind radical life extension.

Kurzweil became interested in Life Extension and wrote "The Age of Spiritual Machines". Where he predicted that with certain technologies in the future, man could live indefinitely. I'm no authority in that space, but after reading that book, he convinced me that it is indeed possible.

This book represents a "bridge" of sorts to a time where such technologies exist. A "50 something" baby-boomer, Kurzweil, despite being diagnosed with diabetes (and treating himself off medicine), looks every bit the youthful enthusiast this book will very likely make you into.

Christian Hunter
BTW: The best product for Vitamin C and some B's is Emergen-C. I get the Tangerine, and take twice a day. Also, whenever I start to feel like I could be getting a cold, I get Zicam. It's a liquid Zinc compound that you put in your nose. It binds to the same cellular receptors that the Rhinovirus (Rhino, meaning "nose" in Latin...i think) does. I'm a psycho evangalist for both products. Hopefully they'll benefit you as they have me.

Longitudes and Attitudes : The World in the Age of Terrorism by Thomas L. Friedman
Extraordinary scope, simple reading, invaluable knowledge., February 14, 2005

Pulitzer Prize winning author Thomas L Friedman knows the Middle East. Not just because he's been stationed there as a New York Times Affairs Desk columnist for over a decade, but more because he's one of the most intelligent, thoughtful, and progressive political thinkers of our time.

Longitudes and Attitudes is a collection of columns divided up into 3 parts: Part One consists of pre-9/11 columns, Part 2, post-9/11 columns, and Part 3 his diary of the tumultous times immediately after 9/11.

Each column is about 750 words. Each make a clear and important point (whether you agree with him or not). And together, they'll give the average reader a massive boost in understanding as it relates to:

1. The Palestinian Isreali confict

2. The moral, social, and philisophical topography of the Middle East, and,

3. Ideas on how to intervene (both nationally and internationally) with the "Middle East problem"; that is, terrorism, fanaticism, and economic plight.

Unorthodox, intelligent, daring, and always interesting, T. Friedman has been an important voice out of the Middle East for some time now. Longitudes and Attitudes is a well organized opportunity for the average reader to benefit from it.

Christian Hunter
Santa Barbara, California


Persepolis, Marjane Satrapi

Heartwarming insight. As rich in art as it is in history., March 8, 2005

I read Persepolis tonight.

I mean the whole thing. I started it after dinner, and just finished it at the 153rd page. For those of you who've read, or should I say "experienced" this work, that won't come as a surprise. For those of you who haven't, consider it a high-endorsement. I had other plans for my night...

..I also had my doubts about this work. Despite the rave reviews, I've never even read a comic book. That, coupled with the fact that at first glance, it seemed very...well, childish?

Oh the shame! Marjane Satrapi has created an apologetic convert out of me.

Persepolis is the story of one girls experience during the fall of the Shah of Iran, the ensuing Islamic Revolution (which included Stalin like "purges"), and war with Iraq. Only it's not told in plain text, but rather is a pictured in a comic book style.

A history buff myself, I have an above-average awareness of the historical goings on of that period. However, told in this unorthodox style, with pictures, through the creative and emotional eyes of a child, the "facts" gained a vibrance and color for me like never before. The human side of history had so much more meaning, and seemed to imprint a deeper and easier understanding in my mind than most accounts.

When I was thinking about what was so compelling about this book, I thought of Edward Tufte. He's a famous professor and scientist in the field of displaying information graphically. I went to a seminar by him once. He passionately explained the concept of neural bandwidth, and how most text and plain graphs don't take advantage of the massive processing power of our minds. The pictures in Persepolis, coupled with Marjane's rich historical account seemed to take advantage of that latent neural ability. For me, they compounded and achieved something of an emotional critical mass of understanding that few books have.

So, like I said, I'm a convert. I just ordered her second work "The Story of a Return". Only this time, I'll have a nice bottle of wine, and no plans for the night.

The following are books I've read over the past 5 months, but have yet to review. If anyone has an interest in them, and would like my opinion, let me know:

How Mumbo Jumbo Conquered the world

Samson Blinded

Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy

Diary of a Manhattan Call Girl

The Golden Transcendence (part of Golden Age trilogy)

After the Quake

Jim Cramer's Real Money

Disinformation, by Miniter

The Google Story

The Underdog, by Joshua Davis

The Koran

Mind Boosters, (definitely not worth reading, about supplements that are supposed to increase intelligence)

Spin State, by Chris Moriarty

The Lost Continent, by Bill Bryson

Socrates Cafe, by Christopher Phillips

New Ideas from Dead Economists, updated edition, and

Woken Furies, by Richard K. Morgan