Books aren’t just commodities

Books aren’t just commodities; the profit motive is often in conflict with the aims of art. We live in capitalism, its power seems inescapable – but then, so did the divine right of kings. Any human power can be resisted and changed by human beings. Resistance and change often begin in art. Very often in our art, the art of words.

One more thought on TNR

It happens every week in Silicon Valley: a tiny startup working on some interesting technology is “acquired” by one of the bigger fish in the pond, Google or Apple or Facebook. Maybe the owners are hired; maybe it’s just the proprietary tech the big fish wants. If you happen to be a user of the…

Great example of how good fiction can shine a light on real world issues. Also great because the book in question happens to be a favorite of mine.

one more thought on TNR

Great opening line

Last night I had the dream again. Except it’s not a dream. I know because when it comes for me, I’m still awake.

Great opening line from Andrew Pyper’s The Demonologist.

When Authors Connect with Fans

Still Life With Crows


A small Kansas town has turned into a killing ground.Is it a serial killer, a man with the need to destroy? Or is it a darker force, a curse upon the land? Amid golden cornfields, FBI Special Agent Pendergast discovers evil in the blood of America’s heartland.
No one is safe.

My take: This is book number three of the Agent Pendergast series by authors Preston and Child. What I love about these books is the way the authors lead you on with supernatural hints and feints only to leave you with a completely scientific solution to the puzzle at the end. Still Life With Crows is one of my favorites so far. Solid A-.

The Sacred Year a Good Read


Publishers description:

Frustrated and disillusioned with his life as a Christian motivational speaker, Michael Yankoski was determined to stop merely talking about living a life of faith and start experiencing it. The result was a year dedicated to engaging in spiritual practices, both ancient and modern, in a life-altering process that continues to this day. Whether contemplating an apple for an hour before tasting it (attentiveness), eating on $2.00 a day (simplicity) or writing simple letters of thanks (gratitude), Michael discovered a whole new depth through the intentional life.

My Grade: B+ Started off strong and kept its momentum until the last couple chapters which got a bit too preachy.

10 Book Challenge

I have been challenged to list 10 books that have stayed with me in some way. They don’t have to be great works of literature or international best-sellers, just ones that have affected you in some way. But try as I might, I just couldn’t get it to ten, so here is the expanded list with reasons and links. 

So, in no particular order:

1. Leisure the Basis of Culture by Josef Pieper. One of my favorite books of all time. It is short, easy to read, and a great introduction to the life of the mind.

2. Rendezvous with Rama by Arthur C Clarke. This book single-handedly made me love science fiction. The basic theme that an alien culture won’t want to take us over, or enlighten us, but would most likely be apathetic about our existence was a head trip.

3.The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follet. Cathedrals, knights, monks, the black death- what’s not to like. 

4. The Stand by Stephen King. I am an enormous King fan so this stands in (get it? OK maybe that was lame.) for his cannon.

5. The Iliad by Homer. Studying classics in college was one of the best things I ever did. The Iliad just reminds me of that period of my life.

6. The Teaching of the Twelve by Tony Jones. One of the best books about what Christianity should be about. Gave me permission to let go of a lot of theological baggage. 

7. Crunchy Cons by Rod Dreher. I was an avowed, card-carrying, GOP following, Republican. Then I read this book. Still a Con(servative) but it means something else now.

8. The Historical Jesus by John Dominic Crossan. I have read a lot of historical Jesus books. This is the best of the bunch, and while I don’t buy everything he is saying, placing Jesus in his cultural context opens up the Gospel in a fresh way.

9. Watership Down by Richard Adams. It’s The Lord of The Rings & The Odyssey with bunnies. And it’s better than you’re thinking right now.

10. American Gods by Neil Gaiman. Another favorite author that I had to limit to one book. You’ll never look at the Norse gods the same.

11. Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis. The only book more influential than number 4 on what I think and believe.

12. Amusing Ourselves to Death by Neil Postman. Classic explanation of what media has done to our political discourse. A must read if you are politically inclined.

13. Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk. RULE. NUMBER. ONE.

Talk Like Ted: The 9 Public-Speaking Secrets of the World's Top Minds

According to Carmine Gallo, the author of Talk Like TED, ideas and information are the currency of the twenty-first century business world. If you want to succeed you need to be able to persuasively present yourself and your ideas. This, in all probability, is the single greatest skill that will help you accomplish your career goals.

Gallo’s Premise: As Daniel Pink says in To Sell Is Human, “Like it or not, we are all in sales now,” and according to Gallo TED has perfected the art of selling yourself and your ideas in the public presentation.

For the uninitiated TED is a nonprofit devoted to spreading ideas, usually in the form of short, powerful talks. It began as a conference where Technology, Entertainment and Design were covered, hence TED. However, today the topics covered cross a wide array of disciplines.

One of the tenets of TED is that people remember best when presented material in threes. When one goes beyond this they tend to have a hard time synthesizing content. Gallo seems to have taken his own advice as he breaks the TED formula down into three parts, Emotional, Novel and Memorable. Each part is then broken down into three sections.

I wrote a detailed review of this here.

The Explorers: A Story of Fearless Outcasts, Blundering Geniuses, and Impossible Success

Dugard, who you may recognize from his collaborations with Bill O’Reilly on Killing Lincoln et al, uses this new book to tell the account of one of history’s greatest adventures, the search for the source of the Nile, and a study of the seven character traits all great explorers share.

Dugard’s Premise: He claims that all explorers share seven traits: Curiosity, Hope, Passion, Courage, Independence, Self-Discipline, and Perseverance. Additionally he posits that in our own way we are all explorers and that these seven traits can help us fight through challenges, overcome setbacks and succeed in our lives and careers.

He attempts to prove this theory using the story of John Speke and Richard Burton’s search for the source of the Nile River as a jumping off point. In the process of telling his tale he further illustrates his point with examples from many other adventurers as well.

I did a detailed review of this here.

Neanderthal Man: In Search of Lost Genomes


Overall, this book did not completely live up to my expectations. While it was a fairly interesting premise, the author veered off track too often for me.

Author’s Premise: Are we related to Neanderthal Man? If so, how?

Book’s Structure: First 3rd is autobiographical. Second 3rd is heavily technical discussion of mitochondrial & ribosomal DNA- its extraction, viability and study. Final 3rd: interesting discussion of how we share certain genes with Neanderthals and how this possibly could have come to pass.

The good: If you are interested in the inner politics and workings of scientific discovery this books goes into great detail about this. The author proves pretty conclusively that we share DNA with ancient humans and has some plausible reasons why. The last third was the most interesting to me.

The bad: Author got side tracked by his own personal biography too often. The premise of the book did not drive the whole narrative.

The Year Without Pants: and the Future of Work

Interesting book about the future of work.

Berkun’s premise is that we need to flatten the organizational structure of many companies in order to allow creative mores a of free reign to innovate. This is often done through remote working. He backs this up with a detailed account of his year at where he lead a project team completely made up of location independent workers.

Throughout the course of the book he comes up with some solid truisms:

1. Results trump tradition. This is born out by the fact that WordPress goes against just about every organizational tradition there is and build a successful company anyway. The reason is two-fold- people who work their trust each other and they have the same goals. This overcomes any lack of structure.

2.If you hire great people, one of the most important things a leader can do is stay out of the way. The author leads a team for a year and only checks in weekly with many of them, yet the accomplish a great deal.

3. Working remotely has drawbacks. He regularly writes about the lack of social cues when all of your communication is via text and Skype. While he thinks it can work for some companies (like WordPress) he admits that it has limitations. Some things need presence to work best.

Overall an interesting book that has some implications beyond the business world. If more and more firms start using this model, the academic world will need to change to better support it.

The Romanovs: The Final Chapter

In July 1991, nine skeletons were exhumed from a shallow mass grave near Ekaterinburg, Siberia, a few miles from the infamous cellar room where the last tsar and his family had been murdered seventy-three years before. But were these the bones of the Romanovs? And if these were their remains, where were the bones of the two younger Romanovs supposedly murdered with the rest of the family? Was Anna Anderson, celebrated for more than sixty years in newspapers, books, and film, really Grand Duchess Anastasia? The Romanovs provides the answers, describing in suspenseful detail the dramatic efforts to discover the truth.

Pulitzer Prize winner Robert K. Massie presents a colorful panorama of contemporary characters, illuminating the major scientific dispute between Russian experts and a team of Americans, whose findings, along with those of DNA scientists from Russia, America, and Great Britain, all contributed to solving one of the great mysteries of the twentieth century. ~ From Good Reads