Friday, December 30, 2011

Liar’s Poker

I have read my fair share of Stern School of Business books to know the good ones from the great ones and this one… wasn’t a great one.  In Liar’s Poker by Michael Lewis, the reader learns of the job search and eventual “getting the job” by the author.  The concept of Liar’s Poker is an important one for any business savvy “wannabe” and Michael Lewis shares his experience interviewing and then landing the big job with Salomon Brothers, a one-time big investment bank in NYC. It was founded in 1910 by 3 brothers and had huge success as a partnership, the CEO in the late 1970s, John Gutfreund, became the managing partner and took the company public, which some would say led to its eventual demise.  Lewis’ journey at Salomon begins with the hiring process, the entry into the new staff training, watching how the other leaders moved their way through the company, exploits of the underbelly of the corp., and the maneuvering for the top spots by people like John Lipsky and Lewis Ranieri, and Michael Miliken, the junk bond king.  The story tells what it is like to be a bond tradesman on the floor of the stock exchange.  How the young males, no women in the late 1980s, were treated horribly until their time came to do so to the next generation.  The reader gets an idea as to the culture, and what really happens in those 100+ hour a week jobs making minimum wage. Lewis paints a pretty interesting picture of his colleagues and the environment.  His nicknames (Big Swinging Dicks – the big bonds men, the Piranha and the Arabs are two others) are graphic and detail the non “pc” world of the turbulent late 80s.  I think what is missing is that the book captures the time right before the Wall Street collapse, so the reader knows the “rest of the story” yet Lewis ends with his departure after getting his big salary and bonus, which does tell the tale of “get your money at any cost” and forget the loyalty!  Greed is the name of the game.  Prefer some of the other “tell-all books.”  Relatively quick read learning more of the Wall Street players.  I’d say skip this one, better ones out there.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011


This was a long read reminiscent of Marquez's 100 Years of Solitude but not really the same.  Segu by Maryse Conde follows an African clan (thank goodness for the chart illustrating the family tree, as this one was confusing!) and captures the challenges of religion, slavery, and family strife through a few generations.  The remote kingdom of Segu is nestled between Barnako, Bani, and Mourdia.  The story
takes place in the 18th through the early 19th century and shows the beginning of the Muslim religion impacting a Christian focused region.  Dousika, the leader of the tribe, has five wives during his lifetime and many offspring.  The book focuses on the male lineage, most notably the sons of his wife #1 Nya (Tiekoro & Naba), wife #3 (an unnamed slave who commits suicide) with an offspring named Siga, and wife #4 Sira (offspring Malobali).  The son’s lives cross throughout the years either in the area of Segu, or when a few leave the territory for religious exploration.  Dousika’s younger brother, future leader of the tribe, Diemogo, also has many offspring, but two, Tiefolo and Kosa, from his second wife, Dousika’s first wife Nya.  Tiefolo is a natural hunter and comes to blows with a few of Dousika’s sons, most notably Tiekoro.  Each of the sons have their own journeys to travel all leading back to Segu and facing the onslaught of the slave trade to the West and religious choice.  The story has many themes, male domination, religious tolerance and acceptance, tribal traditions and holding on to the past, yet feeling the challenge of the day.  Having the family tree on the first page was critical to keeping things straight.  A lot of mixture of this one marrying this one, and this one having this one’s baby.  A good insight into the life of African tribal cultures though it did drone on a bit.  The picture painted was vivid of the day, the author did a great deal of research on the family tree, a real family!  The reader needs to stay focused on the names and issues for each family member.  Women had a diminished role, certainly subservient to the male leadership.  On the fence on this one.  Liked it, but could have been a bit less repetitive.   Certainly a culture influenced book for this RA.  Everything has its reason for happening, just a bit too much to this tale. Not on my top ten list!

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Broca's Brain

Merry Christmas!  I felt some level of déjà vu in reading this book as it seems very similar, at least themes and ideas as Physics book I read just a few short days ago.  In this book, Broca’s Brain by Carl Sagan, faculty member at Cornell University, he reflects on the past, current, and future in the field of science.  There is a much stronger look into the solar system, astronomy, black holes, and space: the final frontier.  Like Michio Kaku, Sagan shares thoughts on how the media, especially the medium of the moving picture (movies) plays a large role in our view on what the future holds.  He draws upon 2001: A Space Odyssey, Star Trek, and Star Wars to name a few.  He draws the title of the book from noted French doctor and scientist Paul Broca, who studied the brain, and was inspired by his work when he was holding the remains of his brain at the Musée de l'Homme.  Sagan wondered how much of his brain remains in there today?  Sagan challenges religion through the concepts of science and shares thoughts and paradoxes on technology, the solar system, whom are our neighbors from other planets, what will the future hold and yes, the “ultimate questions” facing our civilization (from a scientific perspective).  Could there be life on Venus?  Is there really a God? Are there Martians on Mars? And so much more.  Sagan does an outstanding job of sharing the current (well as of the book’s publishing date – 1979) thoughts on where these questions stand using the best literature of science and other fields of studies to examine these age-old questions.  My favorite part of the book focuses on the past and future of astronomy.  Since I was a small child I always looked up to the sky and wondered what is out there in that “sea of stars."  For anyone with curiosity and a desire to explore such questions of “space and whether it is a final frontier,” this is for you.  Trekies, you will love it if you haven’t read it already.  Sagan is a brilliant thought-provoker.  Some of the math sections were a bit much for me, but the inquiry into the future was well worth the read.

Friday, December 23, 2011

The Wind Singer (The Wind On Fire Trilogy, Book 1)

Finished Mo’s favorite book today, The Wind Singer by William Nicholson.  The book reads very much like Lord of the Rings, a fantasy book.  It also is a trilogy, but only read book one.  The Hath family determines to fight the leaders of the city of Aramanth who tests each family (and individual) through a system to gauge intelligence.  Each family is then placed in their respective “divisions” based on their scores, highest get best accommodations, etc.  The Hath family is doing fine until their daughter of two (Pinpin) has her testing date and wets her pants while sitting on the lap of the judge.  All goes downhill from there as her sister Kestrel decides to “fight back” and not respond to the “rules” of the land, especially in school where she defies her teacher’s wishes.  This leads to Kestrel and her brother, Bowman, and the class idiot, Mumpo, to escape the city and go on a journey to find the wind singer, who could restore joy and dreaming to the city where tests and scores rule the day.  Kestrel somehow finds the Emperor, who has been locked up for years and provides her with the old map that will give her the relic that will unlock the Wind Singer.  The journey brings them to forests, “old people,” giants, and others who want to kill them.  Mumpo and Kestrel’s twin brother join in fighting each evil force that they face.  Mumpo actually ends up helping to save the day and Kess becomes his friend in the end.  The book is quite the fantasy of characters for the ages.  Kestrel is a strong lead female character, not always found in these type of books.  Her perseverance helps to save the day and the city can rejoice in the end, well at least for this book one.  The evil Examiner ends up being Mumpo’s father and the orphan is reunited with his father.  A feel good journey where the story keeps one engaged and wanting to turn the page.  I think kids with imagination would really enjoy this book for sure.  Maybe a holiday present?  Add to your list. 

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Colonize This!

Always good to get out of your comfort zone and read voices of people with VERY different experiences than my own.  This is clearly the case in Colonize This! edited by Daisy Hernandez and Bushra Rehman, a young woman of color’s view on feminism.  Each of the 28 chapters presents a different voice on oppression, abuse, scorn, and other remarkably bad things that have happened to each of the authors.  From watching one’s father have sex with another woman, to cat calling, to sexual harassment, being physically abused, and mistreatment in every sense of the word, these women have had very difficult roads to travel.  Understanding  one’s sexuality, dealing with HIV, skin tone racism, female envy, this book has it all.  The stories are short vignettes which appear to me to serve in much a therapeutic manner to address the challenge that life has thrown their way.  The challenges are real and large.  It was hard to read and understand that some of these stories actually happen (more sadness than anything else).  The writing is rich, crass at times, but always genuine.  The emotional scars that are being healed through the writings is evident, though for some more about the “what now” piece.  I’m thinking this would be a great read for men who are ultra conservative and republican, certainly getting them out of their comfort zone I’m sure!  Quick read and will stretch your brain and appreciation for the poor and socially disadvantaged ethnic populations of our country.  A voice can be heard, thanks for sharing your deepest struggles.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Physics of the Impossible

Being out of one’s comfort zone for a book is not always a bad thing, especially if you want to learn and broaden your knowledge base, so was the case with the Physics of the Impossible by Michio Kaku.  Kaku is a renowned physicist whose exploration of all scientific phenomena in this book intrigued me throughout.  Kaku presented a historical perspective on scientific phenomena and then gave a current and futuristic viewpoint, ie what could happen.  Imagine having magnetic highways where energy didn’t need to be expended, just having really strong magnets on the bottom of your car to transport you on the superhighway or how we could be like Harry Potter and be invisible when wearing the special cloak?  Phasers, forcefields, teleportation and time traveling and what the future of each of these scientific innovations could at some point be possible.  Kaku has a special eye on media, references books, and movies that played a significant role in our society over the past 80 years.  He is able to connect scientific stories like Michael J. Fox’s time traveling in Back to the Future, the use of light rays from Star Wars, H.G. Wells drama War of the Worlds in ending of the world, and finally Dan Brown’s Angels and Demons and the future of antimatter.  Kaku did his homework and more.  Rather than writing a fictional novel, Kaku discusses fictitious stories and applies the likelihood of those things happening in our lifetime or beyond.  His work is well researched and gives excellent citations into the backgrounds that create his hypothesis.  The book is segmented into three categories of “impossibilities” building upon the earlier theories.  My favorite section was on time traveling.  He spends a good deal on Stephen Hawkin, a theoretical physicist.  My favorite point from Hawkins is if time travel happened in the future, why haven’t we seen any time travelers in our society today?  Have you been in NYC lately, maybe that’s some of the people I see on the 14th street corner??  Kaku pushes our brains and imagination to think through the possible.  I really enjoyed this National Bestseller.  A different kind of read.  One in which I learned about some topics I don’t normally think about.  Thanks Joe, good book!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

The Gift

I really enjoyed reading The Gift by Pete Hamill.  Without a doubt the reader is brought into the frail psyche of a man in love yet loses her during his absence from the area to serve in the US Navy.  This coming of age tale is an autobiography by Hamill depicting his brief return over the holidays before going to enter the Korean War.  Hamill returns home to be reunited with his high school sweetheart only to learn she has moved on to another guy.  The pain and anguish serves as a side story to the main thrust of the short story, Hamill’s inability to ever connect with his father.  Other issues the story presents include living in poverty as an immigrant family, connection with family, and how the war really tore people apart.  Set in Brooklyn, there are a number of references to places, such as Prospect Park and other iconic locations, that provide a scenic background for this powerful tale.  Hamill, the oldest of seven, never had a strong relationship with his father, who was disabled fighting in Ireland as part of the IRA rebellion.  Hamill’s father stays distant to his oldest child until Hamill returns and their reunion at a local pub seemingly lifts a lifetime of barriers that had been created.  The gift Hamill receives is greater than anything one could possibly purchase.  Hamill has a wonderful ability to share a story that has impact on anyone has a similar relationship with their father.  All one ever wants is acceptance and an ear.  Wonderful holiday story!

Saturday, December 17, 2011


Always fun to read a book that has so few words, but a ton of great pics!  Rihanna is one of today’s hottest musical talents in the business and she is only 23!  This is so unfair for us wannabe singers.  Simon Henwood is the photographer and person who conceptualized this photographic journey of her world tour.  The book chronicles, via pictures, her foray from London and takes the reader through nine months on the road.  The pictures are sexy and capture a very intelligent and driven young woman.  The album being released from the tour is Loud (2010), which is her fifth studio album.  The songs that the album contained include the number-one hits "Only Girl (In the World)," "What's My Name?," and "S&M."  Henwood’s pictures are raw, personal, and in your face.  While I am not a photographer, I have great respect for those who can capture the sexuality and vulnerabilities of the artist.  It certainly is an interesting journey into the life of the top musical talents of the day!  

Friday, December 16, 2011

The Sky Fisherman

It’s nice to read a really solid novel with a good story line and depth of characters.  In The Sky Fisherman by Craig Lesley the reader is taken to the northwest US region of Oregon and discovers the rural regions where Native Americans and “transplants” descended from Europe interact in present-day time.  These mixing of cultures and family issues play a central theme in the book.  The main character, Culver, is moved around as a youngster after the tragic death of his father while fishing, a common life issue in the region.  Culver’s mother remarries Riley, whom becomes an arsonist after Culver’s mom decides to leave him in the middle of the night.  Culver and his mother move back to the place of their earlier life with the help of Uncle Jake, the brother of Culver’s father.  Culver, a high school basketball star, struggles with the constant moves and inability of knowing the mystery of his father’s death.  Culver begins work for his uncle at the bait and tackle shop, which can’t be easy for the youth being around daily reminders of his Dad’s business.  As always, there is more to the story of Culver’s dad’s death, the Native American local lore, the spirits of the raving rivers, and the fact that his stepdad has turned into an arsonist and communicates undercover to Culver.  The author weaves in local legend, coming of age youth story, and the struggle of a mother to face her own guilty past.  The symbolism of the light, water, and stars are in full play with Lesley.  It is never easy for a kid to grow up with so much movement and so little knowledge of his past.  While a few things got lost in the many characters presented, the main story of two people’s guilt forcing them to make decisions that may end their life gave this one a surprise ending.  A pretty good read.

Monday, December 12, 2011

First Comes Love, Then Comes Malaria

From Tolstoy to F. Scott Fitzgerald, from Steinbeck, Hemingway and Joyce to… Eve Brown-Waite? Don’t think so.  Brown-Waite’s book First Comes Love, Then Comes Malaria is in the truest sense a “love story” and all that connotes.  Think about the granola-“ish” young woman wanting to join the Peace Corps and on the way through the process she falls in love with the recruiter.  Hmmm… you get the picture?  If not, delve into this true-life “tell-all” story of the gory details of Eve Brown leaving her high school sweetheart from SUNY Oneonta to trail the guy helping her into her dream of going abroad to help the world.  Brown does in fact “bed down” with John Waite before she actually gets the Peace Corps gig – I guess that’s what happened every time she showed up to his pad and got under his African blanket.  I thought that would be unethical to have sex with a recruiter, I guess love knows no boundaries.  Brown’s dream was to recount her life and getting her man, unfortunately it wasn’t my dream to read it, but alas this is the RA Favorite Book list, so I read it.  Maybe I am being too cynical, sorry.  This is a quaint enough story giving the highs and lows of her life through the application portion of the Peace Corps through her 9 month trip to Mexico and back to the states to get her man.  The story concludes with marriage in Uganda and raising a child in the very dangerous part of the country called Arua.  Eve shares her difficulty with her psychotic break based on reliving the trauma of sexual abuse earlier in her life while away in Mexico helping rape victims, the difficulty of the AIDS epidemic in Africa, and living in unsanitary conditions in Africa.  She does give a picture that life in the Peace Corps and other non-profits trying to help modernize third world countries is not to be romanticized.  The letters to home at the end of the chapter could in fact been placed together and made the book a heck of a lot shorter, and probably more enjoyable.  My fear is this will turn into a weekly Lifetime Channel miniseries.  This is not high brow reading, more like a series of articles you might read in an airplane magazine.  While Ms. Brown-Waite is probably a lovely person, the story was ho-hum.  The Peace Corps piece seemed to take a back seat to the “love story.”  I’d take a pass on this one.  

Sunday, December 11, 2011

My Name is Red

This book has been a really tough one to read, but as one gets through the style of writing, it can be an interesting one to add to your collection.  This also will be written about in more detail as this is the Fall 2011 RA Book Club read.  We have 15 students in the book club, so I have asked each to write a short summary of their thoughts on the book.  The only problem is that we don’t have to finish until the end of January… so here are some of my thoughts on My Name is Red by Orhan Pamuk.  Why was it so hard to read?  It was written from the voices of many characters within the book coupled with the fact that this was not a linear book.  When a book opens with a death it is clear that some mystery is involved.  Enter the Ottoman Empire in 1591 and the life of miniaturists with one being killed.  The reader learns of the devotion to the Quran, the male dominated culture, woman as property, the importance of the miniaturists in the culture, and the role of religion in the Eastern world.   There is humor, darkness, and poetic language throughout.  It is not a linear story and often has narrators such as coins or animals.  The detailed description of rape, sex, and murder are frightening and disgusting at points.  Pamuk’s work captured a time that in many ways seemed to be repeated in stories like The Kite Runner.  The ending brought the story together as the intrigue to the murder got me through this book.  I wouldn’t say it was a love fest reading this one, but got through it.  Hoping some of the RAs will have further commentary on this one… stay tuned!

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Woody Allen’s Complete Prose

What do you get when you mix crazy loony characters, NYC life, and lots of over-sexed or under-sexed people?  Woody Allen’s Complete Prose!  This is a completely wacky set of stories, all very short (3-5 pages in length) capturing a type of humor that you either really like or don’t.  I had a number of real guttural laughs and at times I had some ugh, or even mimicked his own Oy vey (which as Webster defines is “an exclamation of dismay or exasperation meaning 'oh pain'”).   Some of the story endings are silly and non-sensical but I guess that is his point about much of life.  His Abe Lincoln story (The Query) is “kid comedy” and the “Kuglemass Episode” about a faculty member who has an affair with a character in a book (because the local Magician he hired transports him into the book) is pretty ingenious.  Allen’s span of comedy reminds me of the Three Stooges (slap-stick) through the work of Seinfeld (who was clearly influenced by Allen).   When I think of my NYC experience I think, this book is SOOO NYC!  It’s one of those “location jokes,” ie you have to live here to know that the characters really do exist.  Coming from upstate NY, I can only imagine lots of folks not “getting the punch line” as these characters seem so unreal!  Believe me they are living well in NYC.  Allen’s ability to capture a laugh through a story in 3-5 pages demonstrates his brilliance as a writer, whether you like him or not.  As the cover notes, this is an ideal “companion for the bedside”… how about the toilet as well?  Ooops, trying to mimic Allen’s comic moments as well.   A great gift for the pseudo-intellect as well as the person who just needs to take their mind off of the trials and tribulations of life in the big city.  As one says, if you can’t laugh at self, then find someone else to laugh at.  They are all in this book! 

Friday, December 9, 2011

The Eight

A mystery thriller which tries to uncover the secret of Charlemagne’s chess set that was used in a loss to one of his knights is the backdrop for Katherine Neville’s The Eight.  While a considerably long read, the two interweaving stories (present day 1970s during the OPEC gas crisis with 1790s European crisis during the Napoleonic times) capture the reader’s attention.  Neville uses real life historical occurrences and figures we have all read about in history books as part of the story to determine what happened to the lost chess set, which if found could give incredible power to make good or evil for the world.  The 1790s portion of the story describes the incredible lengths the Abbess takes at trying to hide the pieces, board, and cloth from the rulers who are trying to take over the world.  Luckily she puts her trust in two young novices in the nunnery who escape with pieces and the secret of the set.  Mirelle lives while her cousin is killed.  Mirelle’s journey includes murdering the evil ruler, changing her identity, and traversing through the dessert trying to understand the mystery.  Fast forward almost 200 years to Catherine Velis, a computer expert in a big Eight accounting firm, sent to Algiers on a project to learn she is a pawn in a game of chess by being brought in by her friends (or so she thought!).  This is a real game of chess where each character is one of the pieces and played until the death!  Lots of running around in this book, similar to a Da Vinci Code type story.  The two stories are in a parallel so the reader learns the secrets at the same time.  Amazing how intricate the details are and yes they almost all are connected, so pay attention throughout the story!  I enjoyed the book as it never slowed down.  Characters were interesting and the historical references made me feel like I was back in Western Civilization class all over again.  Nice read with a good deal of work on the author’s part to bring the two together.  

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln

Amazing leadership is captured in the biography of Abraham Lincoln as told by in the book Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln by historian Doris Kearns Goodwin.  I never realized how smart Lincoln was in building his cabinet from 1861 to 1865 during his term in the Presidency.  Three of the men working for him ran against him as Republican candidates for President of the US whom he placed in the various positions in his cabinet (listed in parenthesis): Edward Bates (Attorney General), Salmon Chase (Secretary of the Treasury), and William Seward (Secretary of State).  The story begins in 1860 at the convention which took place in Chicago.  With every move that took place leading up and through his Presidency, Lincoln was brilliant in ensuring that the brightest person was in the correct position, utilizing the skills and competencies that each man had within him.  Lincoln knew how to “lay low” and also how to “take a stand” as he did with the difficult task of reconciling difference among his team.  There are many characters in the book, which is no easy task in completing as this is a LONG read, but completely enthralling.  After the election Lincoln and his team grapple with financial challenges, foreign policy, the growth of a nation, and of course the major issue of the day, creating a path to the abolition of slavery and victory in the US Civil War.  Lincoln’s decisions of “pulling the trigger” or disregarding from a particular argument took great skill. This is especially true based on having such a complex and disparate group of individuals surrounding him as the leader of our nation.  Kearns Goodwin captures Lincoln’s rise to popularity through his debates with Steven A. Douglas, one of the most prominent, only down the street at Cooper Union in 1858.  How Lincoln was able to work the field at the convention is an amazing story determining that being everyone’s second best candidate made him the elected candidate after the top three in the field knocked each other out.  Lincoln’s rise to Presidency, thoughtful process of choosing his team, and the daily challenges from the various voices of the players make for real life drama.  Even Lincoln’s wife’s voice is shared in some of the poor decisions she made as First Lady.  The final pages chronicle the sad days leading up to and concluding with Lincoln’s assassination at the hands of John Wilkes Booth.  This is a wonderful story that illustrates being second best, but smarter than everyone else, can have you win.   While there are many books about Lincoln as a great leader, there isn’t a book that captures his gamesmanship in molding a team for the betterment of our nation.  History lovers, this one is for you.  Entrepreneurs, this one is for you!  Add to your list!