Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Alexander Hamilton
(Ron Chernow, unabridged, starting with the 2nd half [#15] of the zillions of cassettes)
Great story-- Chernow clearly admires the "windbag", "word machine", colossus of intellect. There's a fascinating parallel between Jefferson, suspicious of banks, and the modern day (antique?) Left, who believe that capitalists wink, use secret handshakes, and arrange the cosmos through intentional manipulation.

Monday, December 27, 2004

The Jewish world : 365 days : from the collections of the Israel Museum, Jerusalem
(744 pp)
Interesting objects and beautiful pages from prayer books. More than one pair of Yemeni bridal pants.

Sunday, December 26, 2004

Terra Non Firma
James Gere and Haresh Shah (5 cassettes)
I picked this up out of mild interest, as a survival guide to living in an earthquake zone. Even though the book is 20 years old, the information was great. I'd never known how imprecise the measurement of earthquake intensity was, since it varies with the estimated location of the epicenter, and also depends on the radiating medium of the kind of earth it travels through. The single most fascinating detail concerned tsunamis-- Apparently, it is possible to be on a ship and have one pass below, without realizing it, since the wave is flat and so long that the sea doesn't appear to have changed. Sailors a few miles off shore can watch with astonishment as the tsunami breaks against the shore.
(Andy Goldsworthy, 192pp)
A pleasure to page through, and a great complement to the Rivers and Tides DVD. I learned that there is a cairn built by AG in nearby Hollister.

Friday, December 24, 2004

Men Of Tomorrow: Geeks, Gangsters, and the Birth of the Comic Book
(Gerard Jones, 384pp)
Nerdly tribute to the Walter Mitty nebbishes who gave birth to the superheroic age. The book does not fly at the start, but like the original Superman, manages only an effortful flea-sized leap: The two guys behind Supermen were losers, exploited by pushy businessman with sometime-connections to gangsters. A fascinating thread of the origin story ties comic creation into the piecework mentality of the garment trade (and has interesting echoes today with the impossibility of identifying the true creative minds behind most software). This rag trade outlook explains how Joe Shuster and Jerry Siegel obliviously signed away the rights to their mind child. The first part of the book (almost right up until the photo insertions) is painfully focused on these 2 dweebishly shy guys from Cleveland. All of a sudden, the story matures, and the narrative widens to include the guys who grew up reading the comics (Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Bill Gaines), as well as extending to give accounts of Will Eisner and Jack Cole (inventor of my fave, Plastic Man). When the story of Jerry Siegel's fight for his rights concludes, with huge Warner Communications agreeing to give him and Joe Shuster creative credit, along with a lifetime payment of $100K/year, the passage was so moving that I could only describe my response as verklempt.
Damascus Gate
(Robert Stone, unabridged, 14 cassettes)
Amazing synthesis of the insanity that makes Jerusalem so fascinating -- Robert Stone's strength is to weave a story of great psychological complexity using the simplest of ingredients -- drugs, delusions, schemes, and seamy underworld threats. This huge novel centers on the dangerous dalliances of fundamentalist Christians with millenialist Jews who aspire to catalyze the re-building of the Temple (third time's a charm to brew up red heifers, drug dealing terrorists, and other omens of the end). A writer attempts to understand the 'Jerusalem Syndrome' (one year after Stone's novel, in 1999, 50 people succumbed to the sense that they were the Messiah).

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

(Barry Miles, 384 pp)
Big picture book, with lots of inscribed arcana. E.g., where the very early Acid Trips took place (the 2nd next to San Jose State, the 3rd in Mt View). The Mad Magazine perspective on Hippies is increasingly compelling, even though that was drawn through the eyes of middle aged men who knew beatniks well enough to be impatient with their pose.

Monday, December 20, 2004

Literary Modernism: The Struggle for Modern History
(Jeffrey Perl, 4 cassettes)
This was a complete pleasure to listen to: Very concise, astute, informed treatment of Eliot and his gang of moderns. I never knew how smart TSE was as a philosophy grad student; smart enough to write up his dissertation but then decline to even file for his PhD. [Meta-question: Is a lecture a book? Amazon apparently doesn't sell the Teaching Company's Great Courses, so perhaps this doesn't *count*.)

Friday, December 17, 2004

The Joy Diet : 10 Practices for a Happier Life
(Martha Beck, abridged, 5 cassettes)
Surprisingly, this is not insipid-- Do NOTHING? What a challenging activity to add to the iPod'ing, picture book reading, DVD-viewing activity; I'm sure I can multi-task nothing along with the other stuff. Being honest, going for the things that most give joy, and trying to be playful. These are all part of Ms Beck's daily diet recommendations.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Virginia Woolf
(Nigel Nicolson, unabridged, 4 cassettes)
Very revealing, succinct account of her life, written by her "nephew," the son of Vita Sackville-West. (I learned that his mother was VW's lover, and the model for Orlando). Other nuggets: That VW was molested by her half-brother; that she was sufficiently anti-semitic to boast of having the broadness of mind to marry a Jew; that she never flew in a plane or visited America. The author is quite testy about her feminism, and repeatedly claims that her success refuted her claim that women were not allowed to flourish in the 20th cent.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Extreme Beauty: The Body Transformed
(Harold Koda, 168 pp)
Museum pictures of the many ways that people disfigure themselves to become attractive. These photos have nothing on the scarifying that goes on in the Mission these days, but it serves as the polite version of an online zine I recently encountered, the BME.

Sunday, December 12, 2004

A Drinking Life
(Pete Hamill, unabridged, 9 cassettes)
Sort of a Brooklyn in a box -- an account of a guy who grew up loving the comics of the 1940s, in an Irish household, aspiring to be an artist, ending up a writer. His drunken father was peg-legged (due to an amputation after a soccer injury), his mother is pretty much absent except for the brood of siblings she generated, and the foreground is the 50s and 60s machismo that flowed from loving Hemingway, writing for the Post, and drinking before and after hours.

Saturday, December 04, 2004

Gandhi: A Photo Biography
(Peter Ruhe, 312 pp)
Some interesting photos, and it's a continual curiosity to me how to makes sense of such a saint. Is Gandhi's independence movement to blame for the millions of Moslems and Hindus who died in the separation? The most fascinating document in this book is the mahatma's letter to Hitler, in 1939; it begins sweetly, "Dear Friend." Although he was opposed to Nazism, it's telling that he could not formulate a political response to shameless evil

Friday, December 03, 2004

Shadows on the Hudson
(I.B. Singer, unabridged, 15 cassettes [actually, it's 16 tapes, but the last was lost; this compelled me to re-read the whole book on paper)
I read almost all of IB's stories and novels by 1997, and when this translation came out posthumously in 1998, it did not feel compelling to read this big book. As it turns out, this delay was a gift to my 21st century self: I re-experienced all the pleasure of reading IB anew, in this very wicked and fascinating novel.
The themes are familiar: Affairs stacked on top of affairs in nested tangles of infidelity; secular jews tormented by the belief that only the halachically rigorous life is valid; fatalism intertwined with varieties of deviance. The language is endlessly pungent, and the characters are so vivid, so articulate about their rage toward God. (The novel takes place in the late 1940s as Jews struggle to cope with the bitter memories and loss of the Holocaust). Those who have survived the Nazis dally with Stalin; the perverse allure that the Communists held over the smart set is colorfully exposed, since even then it was known publicly that Stalin was addicted to psychopathic binges of anti-semitic purging. Every page of this novel shines with the beautiful complexity of character that is uniquely Singer; who else has the chutzpah to label God a Hitler. Each person in the book is a mystery to him or herself, and they decry their fates even as each pursues his/her uniquely personal undoing.

Sunday, November 28, 2004

Simone Weil
(Francine Du Plessix Gray, 5 cassettes, stopped after 3)
What a transcendent nut case!! Here's the profit derived from being born into a family of well-to-do genius: She masochistically praised the factory worker's suffering, smoked like a Frenchman, was wracked with migraines, and died at 34 from anorexia.

Saturday, November 27, 2004

Living to tell the Tale
(Gabriel Garcia Marquez, paused after 1st chapter)
Imagine the thrill of reading *100 Years of Solitude* for the first time. This book, which covers the life of the family that spun Cien Anos de Soledad, offered a chance for me to read that mythological family story from another angle. The library recalled the book after I'd finished the first chapter, but i was convinced by then that this book is worth owning (esp now that it's remaindered at less than $2).

Friday, November 26, 2004

The Man Who Shocked the World: The Life and Legacy of Stanley Milgram
(Thomas Blass, 320 pp)
Not an amazing biography, and perhaps, Stanley Milgram's gift doesn't convert to a compelling life story. Of course, he was a most brilliant experimental showman. Besides his famous obedience experiment, he also created the lost-letter paradigm, and designed a concrete test of the small world (6 degrees) notion. Alas, he never recovered from being denied tenure at Harvard. As the big fish in CUNY Grad School's small pond, he made weird choices in pursuit of fame (e.g., his small world research was published in the first issue of Psychology Today, rather than in a peer reviewed journal). His last years were mis-spent trying to direct films. He made some documentaries, and got hooked, convinced that film was a better medium than experiments to demonstrate truths. He vainly angled to have the NSF fund his movies, but the reviewers balked. A bad heart cut his life short, and he died in 1984 at age 50.
The Goal: A Process of Ongoing Improvement
(Eliyahu Goldratt, 8 cassettes, 12 hours, narratively enacted by a league of cheeseballs)
This 'novel' was frequently used at Harvard Business School, and I've always been curious what its apparently self-published covers contained. The hero is an engineer in charge of a failing factory; to spice the drama, his marriage is also on the rocks. The core idea offers some value, and it is demonstrated through a couple of clearly visualized vignettes: Essentially, in a work-flow, the slowest process (bottleneck) will set the pace for the entire system. If other parts of an assembly line continue to produce at their own pace, the accumulated inventory is a cost that can easily exceed the "efficiency" of not having down-time. The solutions: Shrink the batch size passed between each process, focus on finding ways to open the bottleneck's throughput, and pay attention at all times to The Goal.

Monday, November 22, 2004

Charlie Wilson's war : the extraordinary story of the largest covert operation in history
(George Crile, 18 CDs, unabridged)
Oh you masters of War! A look into a twisted heart of darkness. And, yes, this too came from Texas. Charlie Wilson (a congressman at the time) exuded charisma and sensitivity -- he famously explained why he hired beautiful women: "You can teach them to type, but you can't teach them to grow tits." Although he had a few problems with hit-and-runs while DUI, Charlie Wilson clearly succeeded in building an alliance within Congress and the CIA to deliver the weapons needed by the Afghan mujahideen to defeat the Soviet Union. Cumulative little errors: defending Pakistan's A-bomb and the unleashing of a nest of airline-downing Stingers that may come to haunt us. Oopie. Worst of all, this book fascinates with its portrayal of the total inside story. It's addictively thrilling to read how Charlie and his Greek CIA accomplice willfully broke laws to run the largest covert operation in history.

Thursday, November 18, 2004

Men and Cartoons: Stories
(Jonathan Lethem, 4 CDs, unabridged)
Very strong opening story, which first appeared in Tin House, about a guy who encounters someone he knew from grade school who had the habit of dressing as a superhero named The Vision. The other stories are variable, with astute observations here and there. The story about people who live in a traffic jam reminded me too much of Julio Cortazar's similar tale, w/o the distinctive joke of labeling all the characters as the cars they drove. A lot of the stories are exercises, pumping sentences to build muscular prose. Lethem's earnest seriousness is noble, but it isn't always enjoyable to watch. Note: The CDs deploy interesting narrators, such as Sandra Bernhard, but the packaging sacrifices some of the intricate replication of comic book back pages that the hard cover includes.

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

My Left Foot
(Christy Brown, unabridged, 4 CDs)
I'd put this in a category with Frederick Douglass's Autobiography of a Slave: Inspiring story of a man who confronts his situation with straightforward honesty and clarity. His brothers kindly named the first wagon he traveled about in his 'chariot', which exemplifies how the language of the Irish can hold such healing power in its blarney. When he outgrew that chariot, he became suddenly conscious of his abnormality, and he writes so movingly of his struggles to overcome his handicap.

Monday, November 15, 2004

Buzz: The Intimate Bond Between Humans and Insects
(Josie Glausiusz & Volker Steger, 144 pp)
Cool electron microscopic photos of our strange bedmates.

Friday, November 12, 2004

Chronicles : Volume One (Chronicles)
(Bob Dylan, abridged to 6 hours, read by Sean Penn)
Sean Penn's the ideal voice for Dylan's autobiographical quick sketches: Prickly, remote, burdened with a heart bursting with sensitivity. Dylan writes plainly about his life (his love for Judy Garland songs, his appreciation of Tony Bennett, his fascination with an old man who believes that the Chinese will take over the world). Even when stepping inside his shoes, all you can say is that you never knew the guy, and you wouldn't even recognize him if you spent your life trying to know him.

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Confessions of a Dangerous Mind : An Unauthorized Autobiography
(Chuck Norris, 8 CDs, abort after 1)
Perhaps you've heard the scuttle-butt, the intrigue surrounding the life story of a gameshow host who claimed to have been a CIA double agent. The first chapters are horribly plausibly trite, with self-obsessed criticisms about how boring his life is. Since there's no mystery or sparkle there, as soon as he mentioned packing a gun with a silencer, I knew that the author had reached for the steroids, trying to flash up his sorry life.

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

The Making of a Philosopher : My Journey Through Twentieth-Century Philosophy
(Colin McGinn, 5 cassettes)
There's very little about philosophy, but that's not such a flaw. (The older I get, the harder it is for me to recall what was so fascinating about the niggling points of reference.) It's more interesting to hear how he went from a family of coal miners to become the first college grad. He reveals his crabby side; after a single rude criticism from Michael Dummett, he decided to never attend the faculty philosophy club at Oxford. Later, Dan Dennett said the wrong thing, and they ceased to be friends. Still, he has some A-grade pals, such as Jerry Fodor and Oliver Sacks.

Monday, November 08, 2004

The Good Terrorist
(Doris Lessing, unabridged, punted after 1 cassette)
This may be about terrorism, but it's basically about that flavor of English culture who need council housing and fret about socialism. I couldn't make myself care.
Age and Guile Beat Youth, Innocence, and a Bad Haircut: Twenty-Five Years of P.J. O'Rourke
(P.J. O'Rourke, unabridged, heard 6 out of 9 cassettes)
I think it makes sense to compare P.J.O to Mark Twain; they both can be incredibly funny, and when their bile backs up, their humor leaks away. The early hippie pages were very amusing; I'd mistakenly thought he was the editor of the National Lampoon during its glory days (before Nixon resigned), but this collection reveals that he didn't take the helm until 1978. This collection documents his veering from libertarian to rancid Republican, at which point I punted.

Sunday, November 07, 2004

Washington Schlepped Here : Walking in the Nation's Capital
(Christopher Buckley, 3 cassettes)
Better than the title. A demi-amusing tour of DC, with little nuggetoids of history. E.g., Lincoln's son saw his father die, then managed to witness the next 2 presidential assassinations over the next 30 years.

Saturday, November 06, 2004

Designs on the Land: Exploring America From the Air
(Alex S. Maclean, 368 pp)
What a cool book! This guy flies around alone in a plane, taking photos of the land, collecting interesting patterns of activities, either human or geological. One of my favorite past times is to listen to an audiobook, staring out the window of a plane flying over the Sierras. Paging through this picture book while conversing with friends can give you that thrill!
Good Things for Organizing
(Martha Stewart, 144 pp)
I've looked at scads of organization books lately, and I've decided to list only the one keeper. Martha's guidance isn't super applicable to tiny NY apts, but in every other kind of space, her velvety dominatrix approach is perfect for putting everything in its proper place.

Friday, November 05, 2004

The Little Drummer Girl
(John Le Carre, unabridged, 12 cassettes)
A very elaborate intellectual confection, exploring the terrorist world of Palestinian fighters in the early 1980s. The amount of intelligence invested in deploying a vast trick makes a good novel, but an implausible account of the threats in the world today. The brain power today pours into developing an alluring account of suicide; once that delusion is deployed, the rest of the game is just to saddle bags of explosives on the deluded. An additional implausibility in this story is that the key player is a woman, who has a claim to a relationship with the dead brother of a terrorist. How, one wonders, would the manly world of Israeli and Palestinian fighters respond to such a woman? Would either side really expect that she would continue to have any place in the game, once her lover has died?

Monday, November 01, 2004

Toxic Sludge Is Good for You!: Lies, Damn Lies and the Public Relations Industry
(John Stauber and Sheldon Rampton, 236pp)
This book documents the amazing extent to which PR has distorted the political process (and this was written in 1995!!). I read this on the flight to New Mexico to work with the Moveon PAC. I am still uncertain to what extent the *right causes* should learn from the right wing's bankrolled subversion tactics. I learned of two insidious PR strategies, astroturfing and grasstops, both of which use money and public relations machinery to create the illusion of grassroots organizations. The astroturfed groups are those ubiquitous industry fronts who whip up letters behind letterheads with pleasing names (Forest Defense League etc). Of course, this doublespeak has now gone Federal with Bush's cynical labeling of his attacks on the environment. Grasstopping is something else again, which puts the friends of congressmen on the boards of these falsely fronted organizations, so that their social influence will drift into the world of the legislators.

Saturday, October 30, 2004

Over the Edge of the World: Magellan's Terrifying Circumnavigation of the Globe
(Laurence Bergreen, unabridged, 14 CDs, punted after 6)
Kind of interesting, but not compelling; lots of colorful anecdotes about significant technicians being caught sodomizing young men while at sea, and the conflict between the Roman Catholic code and the need to stay on course (Catholicism won in the story).

Thursday, October 28, 2004

Searching for Bobby Fischer: The Father of a Prodigy Observes the World of Chess
(Fred Waitzkin, unabridged, 7 CDs)
The chess world is fascinating, and the character portraits drawn here are very amusing. Written in the mid 1980s, when the Soviet Union still existed, there was at least one place where chess playing was a way to make a living. It is intriguing to consider how beautiful and intricate the patterns of a chess game can be, and yet, how impossible it is to transform the activity into a vocation that society will support. Mathematicians get support because there is some chance of mapping their noodle-grams to a real world process. Because chess is intrinsically rewarding, the vast majority of grand masters eek out a living at a $1/game in America. Although Bobby Fischer was not yet an international war criminal, this book revealed his Hitler fascination and paranoiac need to have all his dental fillings removed to avoid being attack with "radio waves".

Tuesday, October 26, 2004

IBM and the Holocaust: The Strategic Alliance between Nazi Germany and America's Most Powerful Corporation
(Edwin Black, abridged, 5 CDs)
A disturbing window on the "final" solutions company. Tom Watson preached trade as the bridge to peace long after Kristallnacht. The Nazis were supreme consumers of punched cards for running internal race counts, and IBM's live-and-let-die philosopher king blandly wrote internal reminders that exhorted the sales staff to focus on its role as a world citizen. Help customers with any project that they have; if our values differ, well, just do the parts that we agree about, and perhaps someone else will take on a different slice. There are quotations from key officers who weirdly recount that attending Nazi government events was felt to be "the most interesting experience in my life." This book, written and read by the son of 2 survivor parents, is rhetorically too passionate to be read as an objective history, although the documentary evidence presents an overwhelming indictment of tradesmen as peacemakers.

Sunday, October 24, 2004

Getting Mother's Body
(Suzan Lori Parks, read and SUNG by the author, unabridged, 7:33)
Amazing novel, set in Texas in 1963, with a narrative line similar to the Secret Life of Bees. Little light can be shed by comparing them, but if you wanted to read just one of the two, this is by far the richer and more rewarding. The language sings with an earthy individuality that is a great delight to hear. The emotional drama of the quest is handled with equal power and verve.

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

The Family : The Real Story of the Bush Dynasty
(Kitty Kelley, unabridged, 20 cassettes)
Once I started listening to this, there was no stopping. The Bushes incarnate a WASP's parody of the Kennedy family. The family lineage provides scores of independent reasons to hate Yale; each rat-bastard great-uncle gave the nod to bring in the next round of hypocrites and greedy skin-flints. This book reveals what shouldn't be a surprise, namely, that the first Bush to become president was a weasel, who ran for Congress in Texas on a racist "states' right" appeal. Though acclaimed as the brainy Bush (who did get a phi beta kappa key in college), his practice of the bureaucratic life turned his brain into a mush long before he was elected president. Each page uncovers another false posture or reveals another way for the family to express its apparently inborn tendency to be cheap and grubbing (e.g., Barbara Bush considers Velveeta cheese on Ritz crackers to be high style). The prose is level-headed & scrupulously attentive to details; since the author had written before about Nancy Reagan and Frank Sinatra, I was not sure how remote this book would land from the tone of a tabloid. Throughout, I never heard a false note.

Saturday, October 16, 2004

Natasha : And Other Stories
(David Bezmozgis, 160 pp)
A fine set of 6 stories, that starts with the angle of a young Latvian boy who has immigrated to Toronto. The set follows his family through the next 20 years, and finishes with the superb *Minyan*. A great way to spend a Saturday afternoon.

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

The Speed of Sound: Hollywood and the Talkie Revolution, 1926-1930
(Scott Eyman, 15 hours, paused after 6)
Interesting stories: I'd never realized that sound films convert audio waves to optical vibrations, that can then be inscribed on the photographic medium at the same time as the image. This is the stuff you'll learn, along with anecdotes about the Warner Bros, Fox, et al. Unfortunately, I didn't hear the one thing I was most interested in: how Chaplin, and other silent stars, fought the transition.

Monday, October 11, 2004

The Best Business Stories of the Year: 2002 Edition
(edited by Andrew Leckey and Ken Auletta; unabridged; 16 hours)
Think of this as magazine articles from 2002 that deserved to make it to DVD. It opens with the jarring reminder that 2002 followed on the heels of 9.11.01, so that it really is a world away from today. The best pieces were portraits: Michael Milken (sneaky), Mary Meeker (just a shade from indictable as an internet touter), Ron Popeil (beautifully portrayed by Malcolm Gladwell). There are also period pieces of "promising new technology" which is already dead in the water (miracle paper that will make printers & faxes obsolete!).

Sunday, October 10, 2004

A History of Europe
(J.M. Roberts, unabridged, 40 hours; 628 dense pages)
The ideal audio-slog. Concise, interesting tales, almost entirely concentrating on dead white men. It proceeds at a logarithmic pace, covering millenia of Neanderthals in a page, and then shifting to several pages per month for WWII.

Saturday, October 02, 2004

Why we buy: The Science of Shopping
(Paco Underhill, unabridged, 8:40)
I resisted reading this for years, because a quick scan made me judge it rather harshly. In fact, it's chock full of interesting observations, in spite of its misleading title. It is not "why we buy", but rather, an account of "how we shop." Even less accurate is the colonic claim that it is "the science of shopping." In the closing chapter, Underhill is pretty honest about the fact that he's learned by observing, and that there's much art to retail. Perhaps he was forced by editors to overhype his story. (I also felt that the first chapter, where he touts his method of using Excel spreadsheets, is the weakest; perhaps this dispensable intro was extracted by editors who felt the "science" needed to be situated like a chrome plated hood ornament.) With those caveats in mind, the book is nevertheless a rewarding read. Underhill's real strength as an empathetic observer, who generates loads of valuable ideas about how to entice shoppers with sensory interaction. E.g., why don't video stores copy bookstores, and create viewing clubs & schedule talks by movie people?

Sunday, September 26, 2004

Charles Chaplin: My Autobiography
(Charles Chaplin, 12 cassettes)
I love Charlot; it's fascinating to hear his account of how he grew into the great actor/director. There are early glimmers of his derailment toward pretentious melodrama when he mentions how delighted he was to discover that he could make people cry. His response to the shift to sound is a parable in the crisis of being the best: He knew he was the supreme master of silents, and he couldn't see how to become just one more movie-maker. Another aspect of his book that's totally dated: His defense of the Soviet Union, especially Stalin, does not seem terrifically enlightened at this later date. Strange, esp. for an artist, that he expressed acceptance of censorship as socially necessary.

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

The Man in my basement
(Walter Mosely, 6 CDs, unabridged)
I didn't really groove to this, although it was well-written. What level of plausibility can be assigned to the notion of a person paying to be imprisoned in another man's basement? This story-line had the surrealist tinge that resembles Paul Auster; it also has the same sort of crafted quality; this combo doesn't always click for me.

Monday, September 20, 2004

The Great Fire
(Shirley Hazzard, unabridged, punted after 1 cassette)
This threads together Australia, China, and other stuff I never got into.

Saturday, September 18, 2004

The bastard on the couch : 27 men try really hard to explain their feelings about love, loss, fatherhood, and freedom
(edited by Daniel Jones, 320 pp)
From the title to the last page, this set of essays is superb. It achieves a high level of quality by talking about things that matter: men's partnerships with women, how these are negotiated in the battle ground of love. One Mr. Mom's essay was nebbishy, but almost the next story was about a husband and wife who alternate weeks as the Man in the House.

Friday, September 17, 2004

Story: Substance, Structure, Style and The Principles of Screenwriting
(Robert McKee, 480 pp)
This book is almost a joke, made funnier because people in Hollywood take this seriously. The movie, Adaptation, shows the seminar built on this book. Absurdly, a middle brow guy lays out how stories "work", as if he could design a journeyman's guide to moneymaking.

Thursday, September 16, 2004

The Boys' Crusade
(Paul Fussell, 4 CDs, unabridged)
Great discussion of how WWII (and "war") were experienced by the boys who fought.

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

Dry: A Memoir
(Augusten Burroughs, unabridged, 7 CDs, quit after one)
Who wants to read about an alcoholic who works in an ad agency, spending his days spewing cynical bitterness, his nights drunk, and his words full of therapizing self-reproach? Well, not me.

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

Inventing Japan
(Ian Buruma, unabridged, 5 cassettes)
Succinct, nuanced, fascinating history of Japan from Perry's invasion through the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. It was such a breeze to listen to, and the scope was carefully focused on a period of great significance. Next stop: Study the emergence of the avant-garde art movements, who reacted to the affluence that Japan chose as a way out after WWII, when their economy grew an average of over 10% per year.

Saturday, September 11, 2004

Junky: The Definitive Text of "Junk"
(William S. Burroughs, 192 pp)
After seeing Robert Wilson's Black Rider, my interest in Burroughs suddenly bumpt up. This particular work is fascinating. Originally published under a pseudonym, it's prose is boiled as hard as Jim Thompson's novels. Burroughs' gives an account of being hooked on H that is frank and direct. Since he entertains rather unusual ideas about how addiction makes a person perennially youthful, it can't be called factual. The book was originally an Ace double, bound with *Narcotics Agent*, and sold over 100,000 copies. This edition comes full with footnotes, introductions to earlier editions by Ginsberg and others, and textual indications of where the Ace editors had been timidly driven to asterisk the "non-factual" aspects. It's unclear whether Burroughs claim that it takes a month, minimum, to get hooked on a needle, is as far off as his ideas about how Orgone boxes might help an addict quit.

Friday, September 10, 2004

Communism: A History (Modern Library Chronicles)
(Richard Pipes, 5 CDs)
This may seem as unnecessary as reviewing refutations of medieval alchemy. Yet, Pipes concisely documents how the Communist Revolution in Russia went wrong from the outset, and records the profound suffering that millions endured for almost the span of the 20th century. Lenin, despite his aura of intellectuality, was seen by his peers to be more ruthless than even Stalin. Today the world continues to be endangered by the enormous nuclear build-up that the Soviets undertook, since the leaders recognized that brute intimidation could substitute for political legitimacy. To explain the intensification of fervor that led to purges and worse, Pipes quotes Santayana's definition of a fanatic, "a person who doubles his speed when he has lost his direction."

Wednesday, September 08, 2004

Goals: How to Get Everything You Want-Faster Than You Ever Thought Possible
(Brian Tracy, abridged, 3 CDs)
While not ground-breaking, listening to this was a helpful exercise to guide my formulating a clearer sense of my long term approach to making God laugh. This book is not dumb. Inspiring quote: "Your success in life is directly proportional to the amount you do, after you fulfill what you're required to do."

Tuesday, September 07, 2004

The Manchurian Candidate
(Richard Condon, unabridged, punt after 1.15 cassettes)
I listened to more of this than I could bear to watch of the re-made movie. The first cassette quaintly describes a world where tiny little menacing Chinese collaborate with cruel Russian brutes in devising a method of ultimate mind control. Hypnosis with a long puppet string.

Monday, September 06, 2004

Positively Fifth Street: Murderers, Cheetahs, and Binion's World Series of Poker
(James McManus, unabridged, 12 cassettes)
The author, sent by Harper's to cover the 2000 Poker World Series, dived in as a "participant observer" who gambled his way into the championship. When his musings bend to 'sociobio-philosophy' the ideas are half-baked. Yet he is superb at describing the scare 'em down psych outs deployed by big stakes players of *No limit texas hold'em poker.* It's surprising to hear how much irrationality even championship players indulge in (E.g., Wild Bill Hickok was shot dead while holding what's now called "the dead man's hand", 2 pairs of aces and eights, and many pro's automatically fold when they get such a hand.)

Thursday, September 02, 2004

God is my broker
(Christopher Buckley, abridged, 4 cassettes)
Droll. Not quite as fun as the Stuart Smalley satire of 12 stepping, but that's because Deepak Chopra is his own best parody.

Wednesday, September 01, 2004

The Age of Spiritual Machines: When Computers Exceed Human Intelligence
Ray Kurzweil (abridged, 2 cassettes)
Just about the right length of time to be exposed to a man mesmerized by the power of computing, who forecasts that raw power alone will boot us into the era of immanent intelligence. Since Kurzweil invented OCR, it would make sense that he would be awed by what computers can (and therefore, will, and MUST) do. The tone of this book is captured in Kurzweil's solution to the Turing Test: in the last half of the 21st century, computers will pass the TT. Predicting the future vindication of his perspective spares him the need to argue it himself. A great counterpoint to this science fabulism is Bruce Sterling's talk to The Long Now

Tuesday, August 31, 2004

The Secret Life of Bees
(Sue Monk Kidd, unabridged, 11 CDs)
Few books get a chance with me to wobble at the outset. But this started a little weak on the bee-allegory, and yet came into focus as a beautiful story of a white girl growing up in the South in 1964. Praise the black Madonna!

Monday, August 23, 2004

Built to Last : Successful Habits of Visionary Companies
(Jim Collins & Jerry I. Porras, unabridged 9 CDs)
Business books are a particular genre of history plus pep talk. This one is not terrible, and it actually has a few sporty nuggets. 1) Many significant companies (Sony, HP) had no "business plan" when they began, simply a plan to find some way to be a business. 2) It can be very motivating to have a big hairy audacious goal. Almost every other generalization draws from their sociological method of picking winners, and matching them against comparably ancient companies that don't make the grade. One serious gap in their recommendations: They glorify HP for promoting from within, and predict dire things for IBM because of the going outside to Gerstner. But look who made the late '90s with flair, and who copied who.
I would not have read this book in entirety had it not come with a recommendation from Jared Spool. This could definitely be improved through abridgement.

Saturday, August 21, 2004

At home with pictures : arranging & displaying photos, artwork & collections
(Paige Gilchrist, 160 pp)
Fresh, useful and interesting suggestions for ways to display pictures.
Pottery Barn Storage & Display
(Martha Fay, 192pp)
Trite prose packed chock full with campy cliches. Some helpful ideas can be gleaned from the photos, but this book lives up to the pedestrian aspirations of its mother Brand. The biggest flaw in this factory-extruded book is its failure to even address home offices.

Friday, August 20, 2004

Things Fall Apart
(Chinua Achebe, 6 CDs; stopped after 1 CD)
Flinty novel about life in Ibo village. I punted because the wife-beating and harsh competitive drive of the main character was not what I am about these days.

Wednesday, August 18, 2004

DNA: The Secret of Life
(James Watson & Andrew Berry, unabridged, 18 hours)
It would be unfair to compare the lean, fast-paced *Double Helix* with this more portly tome, since a lot has happened in the last 50 years. James Watson is THE person to review that span of history; he begins by reprising his co-discovery of DNA with Crick, and then reviews the unfolding that lead to the Human Genome Project. His account of running the HGP makes for the best stories, and he ultimately was forced out because of his objections to the rampant patenting that was blocking productive research. In the last chapters, he vents his opinions on the ethical implications of genetic research, which come as no surprise. I frequently wished it were shorter, more technical, yet just as wide-ranging.

Tuesday, August 17, 2004

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time
(Mark Haddon, 6 CDs, unabridged; quit after 1 CD)
The Hound of the Baskervilles re-cast with an Asperger syndrome kid as Holmes. I can think of much more interesting ways to find out about the experience of those with high functioning autism (Asperger syndrome); read Dawn Prince-Hughes collection of autobiographical essays, *Aquamarine Blue 5: Personal Stories of College Students With Autism*

Sunday, August 15, 2004

The Making of Modern Economics: The Lives and Ideas of the Great Thinkers
(Mark Skousen, unabridged, 21 hours)
Many economists were brilliant, and their life stories are worth a listen. The book seems to have come from the lecture notes of a motivated teacher, who opens each biographical essay with a chosen musical piece (e.g., Adam Smith is coupled to Copland's Fanfare for the Common Man). The notes are occasionally repetitious, and often too list-like in their accounting of the relevant points. Still, on the whole, this is an interesting brief tour of the men (there's only one woman included) and their ideas. There are very colorful anecdotes about Schumpeter, Thorsten Veblen, and Mises and Hayek. In terms of ideas, this historical review is strongest on the 19th century, with an account of Malthus, Marshall, and the marginal men.

Friday, August 13, 2004

Samadhi : Personal Journeys to Spiritual Truth
(Derek Biermann, 150 pages)
A set of photo essays that could be compared to my favorite, *I'm not crazy, I just lost my glasses*. There are brief stories from each Samadhi, although this term is used inclusively, to cover Tibetan Buddhists, Muslim devotees, and even one Christian aspirant.

Thursday, August 12, 2004

The Kalahari Typing School for Men
(Alexander McCall-Smith, unabridged, stopped after 1 CD)
I couldn't get interested in this, although I blame the narrator's voice rather than the prose.

Tuesday, August 10, 2004

Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim
(David Sedaris, unabridged, 6 hours)
More funny vignettes, this time leavened with a greater depth of exposed nerves. While listening to this, I occasionally laughed so loud that bystanders must have known that I was mad. For reasons mysterious, I find the stories about his little brother The Rooster to be unbearably hilarious.

Monday, August 09, 2004

Report of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States
(20 hours and 46 minutes, plus the 1 hour press conference)
Compelling narrative of the terrorist actions that built up to 9.11. I wouldn't have expected the government commission to tell a story, but that is what the first 500 pages do just that. Rarely does the commission say anything at all controversial, and the document presents facts that are not typically new to those who obsessively needed to read the news for the first year after the attacks. Ashcroft is mutedly marked as a liar, since only his testimony is remarked to have been contested. Another witness reported that the defender of Infinite Justice supposedly asked that all mention of terrorist threats be dropped, after hearing too much about it in the first two meetings after he was sworn in. Clarke is recognized to be the voice of reason, who occasionally irritated his peers with his alarm calls. It is heartening to read the Commission's recommendation that society openly debate the balance to strike with respect to the Patriot Act.

Tuesday, August 03, 2004

The Fabric of the Cosmos: Space, Time, and the Texture of Reality (Brian Greene, unabridged, 22 hours)
Not everyone would multitask to the vibrations of theoretical physics, but I've enjoyed having this flow through me. The first 2/3 is a tour of relativity and quantum mechanics, but finally gets string theoretical in the last 7 hours. This book's exalted perspective encompasses those things that are smaller than a Planck distance all the way to those as big as multiple universes. Greene's continual stream of metaphors did not seem strained, although I'd had that impression from skimming his first book. His description of a tight rope finally helped explain how theories of space might have more than 3 dimensions, while making the extra dimensions very small; a tight rope seems one dimensional to the tight rope walker, but a little bug could crawl clockwise around the rope at any point, as well as moving left-right.
Democratic National Convention Days 3 & 4
(3: Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson, John Edwards & 4: Joseph Biden, Wesley Clark, Madeleine Albright, John Kerry)
Clearly NOT a book, but has made it possible to hear, for free, the main speeches without using a TV or exposing myself to the drivel of the wage-earning punditry. I was surprised to hear Democrats lavish such praise on the military accomplishments of Kerry. I could add my own driveling commentary, but the distinctive idea here is that I am in thrall to the possibility of mainlining more direct news sources via my iPod.

Wednesday, July 28, 2004

Dilbert and the Way of the Weasel
(Scott Adams, unabridged, 6 cassettes, narrated by Norman Dietz)
Rancid cynicism. This book is no more fun than getting a back street gall-bladder transplant to mainline Scott Adams' bile. I jumped around and listened to about a 1/3 of this. If my iPod weren't in the Apple shop, I would have punted after 30 minutes.

Monday, July 26, 2004

Minority Report and Other Stories
(Philip K. Dick, 6 CDs)
Interesting, but... Most of the stories have an Escherian reverb that makes it possible to anticipate the twisted endings. Apparently, Dickians claim that the novels are the best place to trip over his mind's unique fears.

Sunday, July 25, 2004

Getting to Yes
(Roger Fisher, William Ury, Bruce Patton; unabridged, 5 CDs)
I was surprised, while listening to this book, to realize that I have not mastered many of the techniques just because I'd already read the book 20 years ago. In fact, throwing tantrums and hissy fits are not even recommended as tactics. Perhaps this omission underscores the ways in which the tone of this book is a little *too* even-handed. E.g., these pie-expanders say something like "many people feel that genocide is wrong." Nevertheless, their exalted perspective articulates an emotional outlook that would be the ideal state to aim for when entering a negotiation.

Saturday, July 24, 2004

Andy Warhol: A Penguin Life
(Wayne Koestenbaum, 224 pp)
Although this author's literary flaired nostrils occasionally get in the way of the story, there are many interesting stories about Andy Paperbag. There's almost nothing about the Velvet Underground, and I skimped over the first 30pp, and jumped in at the point of his late 50s book about pussy (cats). Given how "abstract" sex, people, and most social settings struck Warhol, he ought to be nominated to the Asperger hall of fame.
(Chris Matthews, 240pp)
A quick tour of politics told through a stream of anecdotes. Without being superficial, it's pop-Machiavelli, illustrated almost entirely through funny stories about post-WWII politicians. Since the author worked for Tip O'Neill, he can speak with authority about how the game is played. There's a maxim that goes back to Benjamin Franklin, that's always mystified me: "If you want to make a person your friend, ask him for a favor." This book treats this in more detail, and helps illuminate how to build support for your own cause by making others your patrons.

Wednesday, July 21, 2004

Body and soul
(Frank Conroy, abridged to 3 hours, but I stopped after 90 minutes)
I heard about this book while watching the Stone Reader, a documentary paean to a middlebrow's Pynchon. Enthusiastic readers cannot make a bad book better. I was profoundly grateful that this little dud had been harvested from an originally much fatter thud.

Monday, July 19, 2004

(Daniel Ellsberg, unabridged, read in parts by the author)
Even after one concedes that Iraq is not Arabic for Vietnam, this autobiography is compelling: Ellsberg was a brilliant Harvard Fellow who joined the Defense Dept in the early 1960s and received almost unlimited clearance to secret documents. His first day exposed him to the original cables reporting the Gulf of Tonkin incident. To seek better grounding, he traveled through Vietnam in a Jeep, at a time when most American troops where too scared to go anywhere without helicopter coverage. (A detail that evokes deja vu.) At every stage in his participation in the war, he reports his shock at peeling away the secrecy, to discover that even more confidential reports had pessimistically (and much more accurately) assessed the Vietnam war as un-winnable. Ellsberg speaks clearly about the allure of being in the loop. In contrast to the Wisdom of Crowds, here is the sad story of the idiocy and dangers of being ruled by secretive cabals. His stance, to heroically seek to unmask the emperor, triggered the Nixon plumbers to break into Ellsberg's shrink's office. Thus began the unraveling of the previous dirty trickster.

Sunday, July 18, 2004

Hollywood Animal
(Joe Ezsterhas, unabridged, 28 hours -- started jumping around after 4, read about 7 hours)
Better stories than Bill Clinton's autobio, but also massively more self-indulgent, lacking in structure, and completely haphazard in presentation. This big fat cheeseburger hides inside itself juicy anecdotes, but should only be read in toto by dweebs who hope they can grow screenwriter cojones by imitating the master of macho. The tone is beyond self-parody, and so, is perhaps deliberate. E.g., wouldn't you love to hear some movie type brag that his Malibu house is better than neighbor Bob Dylan's, "because I have my own exposed cliff"? Ezsterhas treats his craft of screenwriting with respect, and although I haven't seen any of his movies, it is admirable to hear him say that he demands to write in solitude, submit his work as completed scripts, and refuse to be sucked into servicing producers and directors by allowing them to decompose his words.

Wednesday, July 14, 2004

Getting Things Done Fast
(David Allen, 12 cassettes)
Drucker recommends learning how to manage your time, consistent with your own personal style. I am not atypical in finding the task of project-managing the 10 claims on my time to be a battle field. Much of this stuff is profoundly obvious (write lists, step back to ask whether you should NOT do a task, create work structures that push things out of mind and onto paper). It's still worth reading, since I am not a 'black-belt' in mastering time. Because these tapes are aimed at "businessmen", it's a little tough to digest: Jazzy upbeat music which must have been OSHA-approved for keeping traveling salesmen awake, peppery anecdotes, down-home-isms that seem too varnished to be sincere. But the tips are worth the travel.

Sunday, July 11, 2004

The Wisdom of Crowds: Why the Many Are Smarter Than the Few and How Collective Wisdom Shapes Business, Economies, Societies and Nations
(James Surowiecki, unabridged, 9 hours)
A pretty straightforward idea described in a compelling way. It overthrows the naive idea of a tipping point, and substitutes the statistical concept that the average notion of a dumb crowd is a smart bet. Hence, this book will not be nearly as popular as Malcolm Gladwell's. There is some re-treading of the New Yorker articles that Surowiecki publishes regularly on economics, but in this venue, they seem better developed and more cogent.
Pure Drivel
(Steve Martin, 2 CDs, unabridged)
Although some of these little notes struck me as funny when they ran in the New Yorker, I found it impossible to listen to them without feeling impatient.

Thursday, July 08, 2004

Plan of Attack
(Bob Woodward, abridged, 6 CDs)
Is he tactful or just a sycophant? Either way, it's obvious that Woodward has the formula for gaining access to power. The book assiduously aims to report facts, without judgment. Every description refrains from drawing what seem to be inescapable conclusions about the Bush team's rush into war. Woodward even documents (or is it just CYA?) that he wrote a story for the Post about the lack of intelligence pointing to WMD. He says something like "maybe I should have pushed for this to be on the front page." The report of hours mingling with 'rock star'-like titans (Rice, Cheney, et al) reveals very little reflective discussion. Wolfowitz, the intriguing personality in the pack, has almost no mentions..

Monday, July 05, 2004

Independence Day
(Richard Ford; unabridged, 18 cassettes)
Not a false note in over 400 pp. (It's double bad luck for the author that his last name can easily be confounded with the other Ford, Harrison, and the title of the book may be misunderstood as a blockbuster screenplay. ) The narrator is edging into his 50s, trying to make sense of his relationship to his adolescent son, his ex-wife, his life in New England during the summer of Dukakis' sad run for the Presidency. The one solidity in his drift toward death may be his job as a real estate salesman. The book has many gems about the way people struggle to cope with the momentous obviousness of the way their home purchase will circumscribe and define their lives. In a tone of wistful sadness, Ford deftly handles the perils that a father and son face in trying to understand one another. I tried to read Chang Rae Lee's *Aloft* several times this year, since it seemed quite promising based upon the topics it floated over; in the end, I was forced to punt because it was just too dreary. Independence Day manages to touch most of the very same themes with a voice that is mesmerizing.

Saturday, July 03, 2004

Harvard Design School guide to shopping
(Rem Koolhaas and GSD students, 800pp)
This is my favorite Koolhaas. Apparently each book he releases re-purposes earlier work, perhaps to instantiate archeological ruins; SMLXL quoted from Delirious New York, and Content reprinted the interview with Venturi that appears in this book, on Relearning from Las Vegas. Like the other Koolhaas' excesses, this contains weirdly visual infographics (fun fact: the retail space on the planet in 2000 equaled the surface area of 33 Manhattan Islands). The articles here are legible, informative, and full of fascinating takes on 'marketing research.' As one instance, there is more about Paco Underhill's research in here than I've been able to glean from looking at Underhill's own books.
Finding Her Voice: The saga of women in country music
(Mary Bufwack and Rober Oermann, 1993, 594 pp)
This is a great resource-- I read about half the pages, and although the first mentions of the Carter family are skimpy, there's just the right amount on Loretta Lynn, Dolly Parton, Tammy Wynette, and tons of 2nd tier singers whose descriptions intrigued me. I wish there were a boxed set follow on to this.

Thursday, July 01, 2004

My Life
(Bill Clinton, abridged to 6 CDs)
The original book is over 900 pp. Only audio readers can get his brothy self-assessment boiled down to a reasonable size. You may still want all the details for the 'climax' that opens on p800 in the unabridged paper version, but this account, read by the man himself, is a great listen. Like Hilary, I fondly recall when he was 'my president'. The stories usually move smoothly, and it is amazing how much happened in those great 8 years. For example, Newt Gingrich was fined $300K for inappropriate use of government money (how quickly I'd forgotten). The book is wrappered with allusions to Alan Lakein's *How to get control of your time and your life*. He opens the book with a story of being right out of law school when he took time to write up his A-list goals. The book closes with a rather platitudinous mention of his desire to keep motoring on.

Sunday, June 27, 2004

W.D. Sebald (298 pp; 6 CDs)
This is the first book I've encountered, unabridged, that should have come with an explicit warning that something crucial was lost in the read-aloud version. Sebald weaves a world around photos that is less arbitrary than Philip Greenspun's method; frequently, the text mentions details, such as the gaze or hairstyle of a person, which must surely have been written with the specific photo as its object. At times, the tangential worlds made me nostalgic for Flaubert's Parrot.

Monday, June 21, 2004

A Million Little Pieces
(James Frey, 8 CDs)
Someone who teaches high school addicts recommended this book to me as the most realistic account of addiction. The narrator opens the book at the point when he found himself on a plane he can't recall boarding, with his four front teeth knocked out from an ugly fall. Americans have a difficult time imagining a fate worse than bad teeth. But who can fathom the pain of root canals and crowns inflicted without pain killer (refused to him while he is in drug recovery)? Vivid language, which at times can sound like the muscular prose that comes from popping steroids. It's mostly focused on the life of rehab, and the arc of one tough guy's path toward full acceptance of responsibility for his decisions. (Note added in Jan 2006: Since Oprah's picked this book up, the documentary evidence for most of the tall tales has evaporated. The publishers have decided that the term "non-fiction" can be extended to cover dream sequences, Hemingway-style bragging, and better-than-life tall tales.)

Sunday, June 20, 2004

The Best American Short Stories of the Century
(Updike edited this; many readers. Abridged to 8 cassettes, so many stories don't survive this 2nd winnowing, although each story read is entire)

Heard the 2nd volume of 4 cassettes first, and then flew over the first half of the century. 'The Things They Carried' read by the author, Tim O'Brien, was the most memorable of the lot. To choose Barthelme's 'A City of Churches' struck me as a bit arbitrary, and it tags the impossibility of a project to select THE BEST. Listening to Raymond Carver tales is more addictive than drinking, and still it's fun to just uncork one, 'Where I'm Calling From'. I still haven't figured out Lorrie Moore, although I mildly enjoyed her 'You're Ugly, Too'.

Saturday, June 19, 2004

(Rem Koolhaas and the gang, 1344 pp)
Beats me what this book is about, but it does touch on the topic of SIZE as a degenerate aspiration for architecture. There's flecks of ideas inside that are of interest. I didn't like it as much as the more recent Content; it felt less dense, more Wired, generally profane.

Wednesday, June 16, 2004

(James Joyce, 30 sound cassettes, 42.75 hours)
I didn't spend Bloomsday reading this, but let me point others toward this phenomenally rewarding reading. Avoid the reading by Frederick Davidson for Blackstone Audiobooks. This is the richest, most accessible, and most amazing trip you can take to Dublin. Make sure that Donal Donelly is the main narrator! Discover the oral pleasures of Joyce's prose!

Tuesday, June 15, 2004

My Experiments with Truth
(Gandhi, 3 CDs, abridged, read by Frederick Davidson)
Mahatma is not my main man-- he is so austere, so priggish. But it was fun to hear him intoned by the ultimate snide reader, my main man Frederick Davidson, who also reads under the pseudo-audio-nyms, David Case, Edward Raleigh, James Nelson, and Ian McKay.

Sunday, June 13, 2004

American Rhapsody
(Joe Esterhaz, 12 cassettes)
A story about Bill Clinton and Monica would not seem to be a sizzler, but Joe Esterhaz crawls right inside the mind of "my President" (er, at least, into the mind of his penis). I only listened to the first 4 cassettes, and then jumped around trying to find good parts afterwards. It's never dull, and if the people who "played" the voices of Monica and Linda Tripp not been so irritating, I might have read more than half the book.

Thursday, June 10, 2004

Fighting Terrorism
(Benjamin Netanyahu, 4 CDs, unabridged)
I listened to this (written in '95, but more relevant in the noughties), hoping to hear what a hard edged realist might say about how to respond to terrorism. Unfortunately, there's not enough here to improve the picture one harbors, where the world is passing through a very trying time, exposed to the threats of terrorists. Netanyahu does not offer more promise in responding to this than Ashcroft.

Wednesday, June 09, 2004

Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game
(Michael Lewis, 8 CDs)
A good story, with a terribly misleading title. I thought this was about the unfairness of baseball salaries, and how it's ruining the game. So, I had little interest, until someone explained that it was about statistics, and how Billy Beane used math to exploit inefficiencies in scouts' estimations of talent. This is not as compelling as Lewis' Liar's Poker, but a lot of the tale's value comes in telling about the triumph of a nerd. Inspite of being about statistics, it has almost no real math in it, just the results of using math.

Saturday, June 05, 2004

McSweeney's Quarterly Concern Issue 13
(edited by Chris Ware, 264 pp)
Great gobs of depressive comics! Chris Ware, assisted by Ivan Brunetti, has collected the whole funhouse. Lynda Barry's piece on 2 questions ("Is it good?" and "Does it suck") was great. Every underground comic writer I've ever followed is in this volume: Adrian Tomine, Ivan B., July Doucette et al. Why are comix so prone to diary entries of self-loathing and despair?

Friday, June 04, 2004

(Saul Bellow; 8 hours on cassette, unabridged)
Delightful memoir of friendship for the first 2/3, and then a pasted on mini-memoir of Bellow's own close brush with death. The life of Alan Bloom, raging humanist and homosexual, is well drawn, though the tale focuses almost entirely on his last years.

Thursday, June 03, 2004

Mr Pine's Purple House
(Leonard P. Kessler, 61pp)
After 30+ years of mis-quotation, I have finally tracked down this locus classicus. It is not the superb little book my memory had written about a man who had to re-paint his house multiple times to overthrow his neighbors' copy-cat impulses.

Wednesday, June 02, 2004

The Secret Garden
(Frances Hodgson Burnett; punted after one cassette)
Positively pissy little girl, surely destined to bloom later, but I couldn't see any point in watching her grow.
Mary Poppins
(P.L. Travers, unabridged, 3 cassettes; stopped half way)
I'd become interested in children's books, after visiting a house displaying an entire library of classics. Mary Poppins is definitely worth sharing with a child, although her starchy touchiness is not quite as snappish as Willy Wonka.

Tuesday, June 01, 2004

(Saul Bellow, 18 hours unabridged; stopped after 10)
A great story of a man with a PhD, who may be the modern Don Quixote, lost in books, crushed by love, attempting to align his messy life by organizing a campaign of letters. This was not the time in my life to read this, so I stopped half way to jump into a fresher Bellow.

Sunday, May 30, 2004

One Planet: See It for Yourself (Armchair Reading)
(Lonely Planet)
Not nearly as valuable in showing you the world as reading the Lonely Planet guides to specific places-- perhaps they should just put together a greatest places collection, where readers can transport themselves with text, rather than images. The photos lean toward tribes in remote areas; I can't definitely recall any of the images, even though I looked through every page yesterday.
(Rem Koolhaas, editor; along with a posse of his associates; 544 pp)
A glossy advertorial of Koolhaas's work since the mid 1990s. The book "contains" provocative info-graphics, esp. concerning urbanization and shopping activity. The articles on each project (e.g., the Seattle Library or the HQ for China's Central TV) are not always readable, but the throw-away idea feel as if you're meeting an interesting madman at a cocktail party. The perspective of a megalomaniac architect leak through, and that has its own fascination: Rather than describe buildings, Koolhaas positions his work as world-changing, and he's willing to tackle the shifting place of the book in a digital age, the amplification of urban slums in the Third World in his Lagos Project, or the consumer impulse in his Prada store in NY. Since his ideas are so eccentric, it doesn't seem plausible that he could build sufficient consensus to really solve these problems, but he does hurl his perspective into the pot. His proposal for Cambridge to take over part of Allston, and shift the Charles River, is a great example of how he's 'mixing it up.'
Slab Rat
(Ted Heller, 10 CDs, punted after 4)
Clever, very arch description of the world of NY magazine sub-sub-editors: envy, polished backgrounds that are fabricated to fit in with the posturing senior editors, and anxiety are well described. I punted before finishing once I lost interest in the high envy, high anxiety, high hatred cubicle world that is depicted with art here.

Saturday, May 29, 2004

The Best of Broadside
(5 CDs with extensive liner notes)
A time capsule of topical protest songs: The first place to publish Bob Dylan, and an outlet from 1962 to 1988 for folk singers as varied as Janis Ian, Pete Seeger, and late in its day, Lucinda Williams. Pete Seeger was virtually blacklisted for taking the 5th in front of the House UnAmerican Activities Committee; the editors, Gordon Friesen & Sis Cunningham, were also dogged for their radical politics. It's difficult, from the liner notes to have a precise sense of what Broadside was like while it was published. They seem to have reprinted clippings from other newspapers, and of course, the lyrics and musical notes made the proto-zine so valuable to Washington Square Folksingers. There are some comments on how Broadside differed from Moe Asch's *Sing Out*, but it will likely require a book to fully document the role each played in feeding the underground folk movement.

Friday, May 28, 2004

The Essential Drucker: The Best of Sixty Years of Peter Drucker's Essential Writings on Management
(Peter Drucker, 10 cassettes)
Since this collection reprises his entire body of writing, it may be best to dip into only the parts that are new. I've been listening to the entire book, and it is never trite. Effective work can be likened to learning the multiplication tables; it requires repetition. A person should work at being effective until the skills of project management and effective work become a habit. Drucker emphasizes that as a knowledge worker, you should learn what you do well, and invest in those areas. On top of that, know what areas are weaknesses, and stop trying to become mediocre.

Saturday, May 22, 2004

Touched with Fire: Manic Depressive Illness and the Artistic Temperament
(Kay Redfield Jamison, jumped around)
Most interesting: the piece on Byron. Want to read more about his life.
An Unquiet Mind : A Memoir of Moods and Madness
(Kay Redfield Jamison, paused after first 95 pp)
Valuable, honest, lucid writing of a clinical psychologist who now teaches in the Psychiatric Dept at Johns Hopkins.
Diego Rivera: A Retrospective
(Linda Downs, 372 pp)
Not the best writing, but a valuable index of the murals. Especially valuable pointers to the murals in SF: The SF Art Institute, the Pacific Exchange, and a mural that was painted in the Atherton residence of the Stern family, and which now hangs in the Stern Hall at Berkeley.

Wednesday, May 19, 2004

The Greatest Minds and Ideas of All Time

(Will Durant, 3 CDs, unabridged)
I've enjoyed Durant's Story of Philosophy. I've no real argument with rating the top 10 "thinkers" in all time. But this book is lame; perhaps this can be explained by the fact that Durant was near death while composing this. I couldn't listen to the 3rd CD, which absurdly attempts to "outline history" by speculating wildly about cumulative progress in our species' biological evolution.

Tuesday, May 18, 2004

Living History
(Hillary Rodham Clinton, abridged on 6 CDs, read by Hillary)
It's difficult for me to skim this on an iPod. I'm trying to find the juicy parts--> Jump to the 5th CD, track 13. Bill told Hillary immediately after waking her up, a little late in the game. It's mind boggling to me that Hillary would be angry at her husband, but still report that she was glad Clinton was "my President." I never really think of anyone as "my President."
Zuckerman Unbound
(Philip Roth, 5 CDs, unabridged)
Great threads, but not a great tapestry.

Friday, May 14, 2004

It's not about the bike
(Lance Armstrong, 4 CDs, abridged)
Largest VO2 Max ever recorded at an athletic camp (mentioned in the first pages). Survivor of testicular cancer. Comeback champion of the Tour de France. Father of a son born with cancer. A Texan.

Wednesday, May 12, 2004

Library: An Unquiet History
(Matthew Battles, 6 CDs, unabridged)
Widener, the library that surged up from the depths of the Titanic, is the star here, but only gets a cameo. Some of the historical info is good, but it's not a great read. One haunting image: That libraries "breathe", exhaling volumes in the fall, and inhaling them again at semester's end.

Monday, May 10, 2004

Against All Enemies
(read by the author, Richard Clarke; 6 CDs, abridged)
The first chapter is a fascinating portrayal of how the day of 9/11 was actually steered by Clarke. Then, the book steps back to cover terrorist assaults back through the 90s, including the Oklahoma bombing, the sarin attack in Tokyo, and the cruise missiles shot at Al Qaeda during the Monica Lewinsky scandal. When the Bush world comes into the late chapters, Clarke makes a cogent claim that Clinton fought against terrorism even when accused of wagging the dog, whereas the Bush attack on Iraq, advanced as an election-winning strategem by Rove, is the true dog-wagger.

Wednesday, May 05, 2004

Franklin and Winston: An Intimate Portrait of an Epic Friendship
(Jon Meacham, unabridged, 11 CDs)
Churchill's my hero, and FDR, although not as great a personality, deserved to be a close friend of the great bulldog who defeated Hitler.
The Rehnquist Choice: The Untold Story of the Nixon Appointment That Redefined the Supreme Court
(John Dean, unabridged, 10 CDs)
Nixon's own henchman comes clean, reveals the rat bastard motives and underhanded tricks that gave Nixon a disproportionate impact on Court, with 4 seats appointed in his first term. Amazingly, Nixon dreamed of revenging himself on the liberals by deliberately putting Byrd on the Court, precisely because he had once been in the KKK. In the end, it's Rehnquist, who did so much dirty work, who got the last laugh and the key appointment. The last chapter is the most amazing, when Dean reveals the lies that Rehnquist chose to make to cover up his advocacy of 'separate but equal' schooling when he clerked for the Court, as well as his denying his role as a vote 'challenger' in the 1960s, when Blacks would try to register for the vote in Arizona.

Monday, May 03, 2004

The Second Coming of Steve Jobs
(Alan Deutschman; unabridged, 8 hours)
The icon of Silivalley, he's a bad boy who deprives himself of food, is such a perfectionist that he couldn't put any furniture in his house because only nothing could live up to his rigorous esthetic aspirations. This book covers the Pixar resurrection, which is presented as a near accident that saved him from his NEXT obsession. I eagerly await the 3rd coming, which will cover the iPod revolt.

Saturday, May 01, 2004

Revolution for the Hell of It
("Free" [Abbie Hoffman], published 1970)
After reading about the yippie antics in 1968, I decided to go to the source. Abbie Hoffman's playful genius is fresh and inspiring, even 3 decades later. Using the pseudonym "Free", he displaced all attention upon his own person by dropping in photos of women, old men, and random strangers, all of which are said to refer to the personality "Free." Hoffman pipes an alluring tune even when message is as naive as the Digger take on the economy.
Never Mind the Pollacks : A Rock and Roll Novel

(Neal Pollack, 272 pp)
Funny (Onion level parody), but only 1/10 as much fun as his amazing first book.
The Noblest Invention : An Illustrated History of the Bicycle
(Editors of Bicycling Magazine, 320pp)
Some nice photos, a few interesting historical anecdotes, but it does not live up to the promised paean to the greatest pair of shoes a person can own.

Friday, April 30, 2004

The Purpose-Driven Life
(Rick Warren; 8 CDs; bailed after 30 min)
It's not implausible that someone could write a valid self-help book from a Christian perspective; Steven Covey's 7 Habits, e.g., isn't useless. But after listening to the first few 'days' of guidance, I could not soldier on with exhortations to see humans as the point of the entire Universe, with my own self as the cherry on top.

Thursday, April 29, 2004

Stuffed: Adventures of a Restaurant Family
(Patricia Volk, 7 CDs; quit after 1 hour)
Not at all interesting. It falsely claims to be focused on restaurant life, when it turns out to be as close to the NY world of foodies as a small dry cleaner stands to high fashion. Before I quit listening, Volk had covered her own adult sibling rivalry, and recycled disorganized anecdotes w/o any point or true pungency.

Wednesday, April 28, 2004

1968: The Year That Rocked the World
(Mark Kurlansky, 17 hours, unabridged)
Rag-tag whirl around the world: the Prague Spring seemed the most revolutionary, but there was also the Chicago demonstrations led by the Yippees, the Mexico City Olympics, Paris, the precursor Berkeley Free Speech Music from 1964. Running around the planet doesn't illuminate what was the spark that made this year a peer of the 1848 Revolutions.

Saturday, April 24, 2004

Fear No Evil
(Natan Sharansky; 464 pp; 1998 edition)
On Friday [April 16], Sharansky visited Berkeley Hillel, and we heard him speak about his experience fighting for human rights. His humor and intelligence were so powerful; I knew I would read his life story. Last Friday [April 23], I stayed up all night reading Fear No Evil.
Sharansky focuses on the 9 years [1977 to 1986] spent in prison and labor camps (over 400 days in solitary confinement, and over 200 days on hunger strikes). The Soviets signed the Helsinki human rights accord in 1975. Sharansky, as a founding member of Helsinki Watch, openly called for them to go beyond lip service. For this, he was accused of treason (a capital crime).
Once arrested, Sharansky formulated precise principles that safeguarded him from falling into negotiating with his interrogators. The KGB diligently worked to maintain all formal appearances of being legal (e.g., investigators claimed they had no influence the prison conditions, since that was under a separate administrator). Yet, at the moments of truth, the KGB resorted to threats, harassed and attempted to humiliate him. Sharansky responded by framing the encounter as a chess game, an absurdist theater performance, but also, fundamentally, as an expression of his own freedom.
The 1998 edition has a brief afterward on Sharansky's life as an Israeli political leader. Because he holds a hardline on negotiating with the Palestinians, few in Berkeley see him as a hero. Yet his refusal to bend to the Soviets marks a moral triumph on a par with Frederick Douglass's Autobiography of a Slave.

Wednesday, April 21, 2004

The Anatomy Lesson
(Philip Roth, 6 cassettes)
Apparently, in 1983, carpal tunnel was not yet well-known enough for Nathan Zuckerman to receive the apt diagnosis. He suffers an inverted menorah, radiating down his neck into his shoulders. An interesting probe on pain. Pain sucks by being so boring.

Tuesday, April 20, 2004

Native Speaker
(Chang-Rae Lee; 8 cassettes, 11 hours)
Very well written, which may explain why it held faint echoes of Motherless Brooklyn. At the beginning, i also thought of the Emperor of Ocean Park, although the tone of the Emperor was off-putting for me. A fascinating account of one man's tae-kwando bout with his own Korean-American identity.

Thursday, April 15, 2004

The Chrysler Building : creating a New York icon, day by day
(David Stravitz)
Most of the photos are interesting, showing the start before the Crash, and its continual progress. The centerfold of the New York sky line is spectacular. For some reason, the NYC skyline looks even more impressive, more Gothic, in the 1930s, than it does today.

Tuesday, April 13, 2004

River Town : Two Years on the Yangtze

(Peter Hessler; 11 cassettes, unabridged)
Fascinating trip to Fuling, seen through the eyes of Peace corps volunteer a few years after Tienamen square. Great term: "Capitalist roader" (i heard it as "rotor", which would be even more of a put-down.)

Saturday, April 10, 2004

Sandy Koufax : A Lefty's Legacy
(read by Jane Leavy (Author) & Robert Pinsky (poet); 4 cassettes, abridged)
Great story, with beautiful descriptions of the way Koufax used his mind to guide his body. His refusal to pitch the opening game of the 1965 world series on Yom Kippur makes him not just a great pitcher, but a legend. Yet his lack of religious observance meant that he just spent the day in his hotel room.

Wednesday, April 07, 2004

About Schmidt (Louis Begley; 7 tapes, unabridged)
Ndugu does NOT inhabit this book, even though he was my favorite character in the film! Schmidt's entire life is haunted by ghosts of his own anti-semitic impulses. It's surprising how easy it was to listen to a novel about an old man w/o humor, locked inside his resentments.

Monday, April 05, 2004

Love Thy Neighbor: A Story of War (Peter Maas, unabridged, 9 tapes)
I had read pieces of this before, but never concentrated long enough to absorb the entire book. This strips away the illusion that Clinton's involvement in Bosnia was anything but a fancy form of appeasement.

Sunday, April 04, 2004

The Meaning of Everything : The Story of the Oxford English Dictionary (Simon Winchester, 7 CDs, ripped for iPod)
This story has just the right scope, with a wide ranging themes, including a major role for the Earth's favorite language. This biography of the OED is far better than the Professor and the Madman, even though the madman makes a walk-on, and both books were written by Winchester. It's surprising how many insane obsessives supported the development of the dictionary. [On my latest trip to the East Coast, I flew solely with my iPod. There were problems (battery ran out w/o my use; static that continues]

Saturday, March 20, 2004

Cosmopolis: A Novel
(Don Delillo; unabridged, 5 CDs)

I listened to this novella at least 5 times. Each time, the shiny sentences had the strange appearance of reprocessed plutonium. Delillo's syntax could have been spun smooth in a centrifuge. Each incidental remark sounds so clever that just understanding them made me feel smart. How could I listen so many times? This tight little book is on beyond poetry.

Monday, March 15, 2004

The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less (Barry Schwartz, 288pp)
A nice enough popularization and review of the field, which I read to prepare for my own talk on 'Strange Tales from the Lab.' I came to understand these popularizations, not to praise them. Tom Gilovich is funnier and sharper, but I will find myself mentioning this title for people who don't have time to read the original psych and economics literature. (It is not a comprehensive review, but more of a starter course).

Sunday, March 14, 2004

America's Queen: A Life of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis (Sarah Bradford; abridged, 8 CDs)
Embarrassing to learn this much about Jackie O, but it's comparable to the store of gossip I harbor about Barbra Streisand or Edie Sedgwick. Hated her sister, Lee Radziwill (who slept with Onassis before he married Jackie O), adored her philandering father, and was resigned to male infidelity, which she coped with in the White House years with JFK by punishing him via massive purchases. She spent over $100K/year on clothes in the early 60s, which would be equivalent to about $1K/day. Once the Kennedy years pass (which includes her close relationship to RFK), the book flags. Very little about her relationship with her kids

Saturday, March 13, 2004

Someone to run with (David Grossman; paused after 85 pp)
The tale's unfolding requires an actual shaggy dog to weave the themes together. Assaf is "a stories-child", mesmerized by tales, lost in day dreams; Tamar has another quest, which is much scarier.

Friday, March 12, 2004

Whales, Dolphins and Porpoises (Weldon Owen, 240pp; 1999)
This is a very lucid, well organized, and fascinating book about whales and other cetaceans. This has been around the house since before we whale-watched in February, and it's been great to dip into. Fun fact: Francis Crick hypothesizes that cetaceans have huge brains because they don't have REM sleep, and so need to hold a lot of garbage that gets flushed nightly by our brains.

Thursday, March 11, 2004

Sister Wendy's 1000 Masterpieces (512pp)
Concise writing with great pictures to page through. The reproductions are vivid. Since the Sister organized the images by artist's last name, there's incongruities, a few family lines (the Brueghels), and a clump of Masters of X, Y, Z.

Sunday, March 07, 2004

Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right (Al Franken; 7 hours, digital file)

Not everyone can be as smart or funny as Al Franken, so it's not fair to say that our opponents often sound dumb. This book exposes the inexcusable extent to which the right's spokespeople (Ann Coulter, Peggy Noonan, O'Reilly, et al) are lazy, deceptive, and stridently hypocritical. Not every conservative is an idiot (read David Brooks, e.g.). I was not keen on rehearsing the injustices suffered since the hijacked election. Franken opens with an evenhanded and objective chapter, "Ann Coulter is a nut-case". Her bald lies, slandering opponents in *Slander*, exemplifies "irony of the unintentional sort." He and Team Franken perform strenuous research to catch the lies (for example, reading a Time Magazine article to catch up Condy Rice's denial that she was briefed on terrorism). The most surprising chapter covered how seriously Clinton took terrorism, and how criminally negligent the Bush-Cheney gang was before 9.11

Thursday, March 04, 2004

Blues City : A Walk in Oakland
(Ishmael Reed; abridged, 3 out 4 tapes heard)
I learned things about my home town, esp. concerning the history of the Black Panther Party. After a while, I felt as if I was reading a local newspaper that didn't like Jerry Brown, and then I stopped. This series, writers on cities, coughed up Chuck Palahniuk's take on Portland, which I tried to read, but couldn't figure out how to cut through the cant. Ishmael Reed does a better job, but still doesn't outdo Lonely Planet for urban info/background.

Wednesday, March 03, 2004

The Case for Israel (Alan M. Dershowitz; 9 hours on cassette)
A very concise and lucid history. Dershowitz's scrappy reputation precedes him; is he trying to defend the "Claus von Bulow" among nations? Dershowitz makes a well-reasoned case that Israel has managed to maintain a nation ruled by law in a climate of terrorism. The evidence shows tragically that the Palestinian people have been victimized by their political leaders, who have bet on the wrong side of virtually every war in the 20th century: they backed the Germans in WWI, their leader was pro-Nazi in WWII, and then Arafat threw in with Saddam Hussein in the first Gulf War. The consequences of such bad bets do not mean that the Palestinians should be dis-enfranchised, but their political leaders should bear the weight of choosing such bad company. Although there is a presumption among academics (taking their cue from Noam Chomsky) that Israel is a bully state, the evidence reviewed in this book powerfully refutes that facile presumption. Israel has a strong Supreme Court, one which outlawed the use of torture over 2 years ago. The US, France, Spain, and certainly every Arab country, cannot claim it has responded with as much clarity of principle.