Archive for Books

Templar Legacy

Recently finished reading the Templar Legacy by Steve Berry. This was an interesting book, and a decent read/listen. Part of what added to the extra interest in the book was the timing. Right as I was part way through reading the book, the “Jesus Tomb” special was on the Discovery channel, and had some interesting ties to the book. Also, just before the Jesus Tomb special on DSC, there was a special on Free Masonry, which I also watched and was quite interesting (and related to topics in the book).

Overall, the book kinda dragged. Sometimes it’s maybe not such a good idea to read the unabridged versions.

But, at the end of it it was an ok book… another in roughly the style of the DaVinci code.

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Preparing for Renters

In our quest to better understand the landlord/renter experience, Jodi and I have both been doing some investigations on the process.

For my part, I recently (and fairly quickly) ran through two books that had caught my eye and which I reserved from the library: Every Landlord’s Guide to Finding Great Tenants and (I suppose it’s the opposing viewpoint) Renter’s Rights: The Basics.

I won’t spend much time on them because they’re really intended as condensed reference books on both sides of the landlord/renter equation. I did find it a bit amusing how the two books addressed the same exact topics from a different perspective, however. Example: both books talked about landlords doing screening for tenants… the landlord book talked about how important it was to do it right, and gave tips on how to cut through the smokescreen some tenants would try to put up. However, the renter book pointed out all of the things landlords can’t legally check (wink wink).

Very informative, both books. I expect I’ll work my way through some others in this series as we go on learning.

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River of Doubt

Recently finished Audible’s unabridged take on River of Doubt:Theodore Roosevelt’s Darkest Journey by Candice Millard. I just took a peek back at the overall ratings currently posted at Audible (where it sits at 4.5 stars out of 5) and I have to agree with the high rating. This was a great book.

The story is of Roosevelt (and various others) taking a trip down a previously unexplored 1,000 mile long tributary of the Amazon in 1914 after his frustrating defeat running for president on the progressive ticket. The story eloquently exposes the personalities of these men, as they spend difficult months braving one of the last uncharted parts of the world at that time. Hopefully it’s not a spoiler that they (mostly) survived.

I found two things of particular interest while reading the book:

1) The side stories about (Roosevelt’s son) Kermit
2) The view of Roosevelt himself was very different than I had expect it to be

The first part: Kermit. I found Kermit throughout the book to be portrayed as a strong yet sensitive young man… one with a bright future ahead of him, etc. I even got impatient part way through the book and looked him up at Wikipedia to see if he became a senator eventually, or “merely” a representative in his later successful life. Well, if you follow that link you’ll find that he became neither. Instead, he became an alcoholic, moved to Alaska in desperation/depression, and eventually committed suicide in 1943. Ouch! Not at all what I had expected, and it made me sad!

The second part: TR. I guess because he’s described as having run on the progressive party and he’s often described as a “progressive”, I’ve always sort of pictured him as a turn of the century Thom Hartmann. That would be wrong, I think.

It turns out that, as much good as he did for middle-class, unions, etc… at heart he was possibly a lot more like George W Bush than I’d ever considered. He was a “operating by his gut” sort of leader in many things. He was a big fan of guns, and a bigger fan of war.

Of course, to be fair, he was also highly intellectual and very curious about “how the world works”. So I guess there are some differences to consider.

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Four Trials

Recently I also finished reading John Edwards “tell all” book Four Trials. This one was from the Seattle Public Library rather than Audible.

This was a book published back in 2004 (as he was running for Vice-President), so of course the style and tone were conducive to making him look Vice-presidential. But that’s not why I was interested in reading it. I was interested in reading it because it promised to give me some insight into his trial-lawyer — and more importantly, medical-malpractice trial lawyer — days.

Yes, that’s right. He was previously a medical malpractice trial lawyer… a point that has not escaped Jodi’s notice at various times. In fact, around the doctor-folk, it seems like this is the key piece of relevant information about this candidate. And that it inherantly renders him disqualified for the office.

So, I set out to read (admittedly in his own, likely biased perspective) about what he did as a medical malpractice trial lawyer.

Short version: He sees himself as a protector of the helpless/underprivileged. He considers what he’s doing as good work. He chose to use only examples of his trial work that make him (and his clients) look good.

Now, that last one should not be a shocker. Even if his client was badness-incarnate, I doubt he would have written it that way. He needs to show himself defending the little guy. That’s his schtick, even as a candidate.

But let’s take a step back and consider for a moment… maybe he really *IS* that guy. Maybe he really *DOES* seek out clients who are helpless/underprivileged. Maybe his clients really *DO* deserve multi-million $$ settlements. From the way the stories are laid out in the book, these are all true points.

Of the 4 trials, two were medical malpractice related. (observation: he didn’t do *ONLY* medical malpractice litigation). In both trials he describes, it seems like pretty clear-cut malpractice: one patient strongly overmedicated with a dangerous drug until he went into a coma, the other patient delivered naturally (vs C-section) well after indications proved it was unsafe.

So, I guess I really don’t have a solid conclusion. I didn’t really expect to find out that he’s a filthy bastard from the book he wrote about himself. But I also didn’t expect to find out that he never even was a malpractice attorney (and it was all just a nasty rumor). What I found out was somewhere in the middle: He did sue doctors, but maybe some of them deserved it. Ugh. I hate saying that, but it’s probably true. Nobody’s perfect.

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False Impression

Recently finished “reading” False Impression, by Jeffrey Archer. It’s been so long since I added it to my Audible queue, I can’t remember why I did it. Probably because it got good ratings and was recommended by Audible in one of their “buy more books” emails.

Oh well, in any case it was an ok book. But barely. It was one of the typical formulaic thrillers that always seem to sell well in these last few years (think anything by Dan Brown…).

Short summary: Some baddies do some bad stuff. Some records they need are in the World Trade Center. On September 11th. All of the main players make it out alive (duh), but now there’s sudden intrigue about whether the heroine can “save the day” based on the lost records and some other ingenuity. Occasionally they refer to “Safety Deposit Boxes” (ugh, now there’s a pet peeve).

It held my attention, but mostly just to see if the “twists and turns” would really be as predictable as it seemed. They were. And they all lived happily ever after.

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Sweet! According to MSN news, Harry Potter 7 (the final book) will be out in July.

“Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows,” the last of seven installments of the boy wizard’s adventures, will be published July 21, author J.K. Rowling said Thursday.

Interesting timing. I hope I have time to read it!

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Ending my year in books

You might have noticed that I haven’t posted my final book-details from 2006. Well, this is because I decided to finish out the several books I was in the process of reading at the end of the year, and then post a roll-up review to close out the year.

So, first, the year’s summary. Including these last couple, this past year I “read” (either in paper form or from  34 books. Not too shabby. No idea how many pages it was, if for no more significant reason than many of them were audio books, so I couldn’t figure it out without looking them all up online. Yuck.

Without further delay, the books I finished out 2006 with:

158 Pound Marriage by John Irving – this is an older book by my longtime favorite author, and one I had not previously read. If you know anything about Irving you can probably guess, at least roughly, the main themes. You’d be right. The book includes wrestling, Vienna, and some strange sexuality. Predictable, sure… but it was still quite an interesting book. The main character/narrator of the book is positioned, loosely, as a strong character — at least the equal of the other participants in the sexual intrigue. But as the book progresses, you find that this character is weak and pathetic. At least that’s what I got from it. I was saddened to reach the ending and realize that this character has ended up losing just about everything, and while the other participants were all also miserable, they at least had some control over their situation. It was clear from the beginning that it wouldn’t end well (when does it ever in an Irving novel!) but I didn’t foresee quite the ending that arrived.

Lolita by Vladimir Nabakov – here’s a book I probably should have read in high school or college, but never did. I had seen the movie remake from a few years ago with Jeremy Irons, so the basic story was not unfamiliar. What really hit me in reading the book was two unexpected things: 1) the story was not particularly titillating; at least not nearly as much as you’d expect given the controversial subject matter and 2) once again, the main character/narrator was a sad and pathetic individual. HH portrays himself in his writing as a super intelligent and capable individual, but it’s clear (and develops into more and more clarity throughout the novel) that he has limited self-control and his weakness for “Lo” overwhelms his civility to the point where he is incapable of interaction with the real world or allowing himself to acknowledge the inappropriateness of his action. I was also surprised (I forget, maybe this was in the movie too although it didn’t stick with me if so) that he was in prison for murder rather than for the sexual crimes. I sort of expected throughout the book that he would eventually go too far somehow and get caught, and it was a little disappointing that given how many people knew what was happening, nothing came of it until he killed someone.

Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi – I actually read Lolita in preparation for reading this book, so it was a little disappointing to me that the book had so very little to do with Lolita. In fact, it probably should have been called “Reading Gatsby in Tehran” or maybe even “Reading a bunch of Henry James books in Tehran” since so much more time was spent on these books than on Lolita. But I suppose it’s a more interesting sounding title, so I can’t really blame the author. In any case, it was primarily a recounting of the time in the late 70s and throughout the 80s when it became oppressive to teach any of the great literature — any ideas considered western or subversive — in Iran. Iran is an interesting country, and it’s (here comes the ethnocentricity) sad that they’ve made some of the decisions that they have over the last 30 years. What was once a progressive country with a great future has been reduced to a religious totalitarianism marked by an inability to openly approach learning or question authority. There’s such a great history in that country to be proud of, and each day that goes by with a situation like this book describes is a tragedy.

The Everything Father to Be book by Kevin Nelson – Hmm. Why would I be reading a book about becoming a father? Don’t be so dense. Of course it’s because we’re expecting. And realistically, if you’re reading this blog… you probably already know that. But if you don’t and you’re one of my friends or family, then I apologize for not telling you directly. And Surprise! 🙂

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Books Books Books

Two more books to write about. Both of them historical non-fiction.

First, Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin. Like just about everyone, I find Abraham Lincoln to be a fascinating American president. As the stories go, he came from practically nothing to be one of the greatest US presidents in our history. After reading this book, I have a renewed respect for the man… clearly the greatest president in our history.

He was a gifted dealmaker, with the ability to unruffle even the most ruffled feathers on his arrogant peers. His methods for keeping the “team” (his cabinet) together and working effectively through such a perilous time in our history were quite intriguing and interesting. As expected, very good book.

Second, American Prometheus:The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer by Kai Bird and Martin J. Sherwin. This one wasn’t available on Audible, so I waited 6+ months on the Seattle Public Library reserve list to get it. This biography was thorougly engaging. I must admit, I knew almost nothing about Oppenheimer before reading this book. I also knew almost nothing about the nuclear weapons development work and underlying theoretical physics work done through the 30s and 40s. Worse still, I knew almost nothing about the horrors of the anti-communism campaigns of the 50s.

This book exposed me to all three of these topics, and I found it to be a very engaging read (since it was from the library I was pretty time-rushed to get through all 700+ pages before it had to be returned, but I did it… much because it was such an interesting book!)

I realize the book was just recently written, so it’s no surprise there are some transparent allusions to the misdeeds of the current administration. But reading about some of the horrible things Truman and his administration did brings it home.

I spent a little time reading up on Truman and his administration (yet another area where I was lacking any knowledge prior to this book). History looks favorably on him, it seems.. United Nations, Marshall Plan, Israel, Berlin Airlift, desegregation of the military. All good. Now here comes my revisionist historical interpretation: But he dropped two bombs on Japan to “end” the war (cough, to send a message to Russia) and he was complicit in the anti-communist hype (loyalty boards). I came away from the book thinking Truman was just an awful president. Perhaps he’s considered a great president because he was able to temper his awful decisions with some good ones that have equally long-lasting impact (a bit like LBJ — Vietnam War vs Great Society/Civil Rights advances).

In any case, I’d recently read some commentary about how GWB considers himself a present-day Harry Truman. Maybe so. Depends on your opinion of Truman, maybe. And only history will really tell how this comparison is borne out.

Interesting fact: both Harry Truman and Gerald Ford died on December 26th.

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Whoops, missed a book

I’d meant to include this as a second book topic in my post yesterday and it totally slipped my mind. I also recently finished another audible book to which I’m going to give a luke-warm review.

I listened to “Life of Pi” by Yann Martel over the course of about 3 weeks. As always, since it was available, I listened to the unabridged version of the book and this was one of the first that I was kind of wishing had been abridged-only from Audible.

Now don’t get me wrong. It was ok. But it really dragged for the first 2/5, really really dragged for the next 2/5, and had an overly tidy but interesting wrap-up at the end.

The story, in short, is that a young man who is uncomfortable with his name is living in India and his family runs a zoo (the first 2/5). Then his family decides to move to Canada, selling and/or keeping the various animals – they are traveling in a ship which goes down in the middle of the ocean, and he (Pi – the young man) ends up in a lifeboat with a couple of the animals. Then at the end of the book — the most interesting part in my opinion – he tells some executives from the shipping company both the story that you, the reader, have already been told. The execs don’t believe it, so he constructs a “more plausible” version of the story for them, casting significant doubt on the credibility of the narration you’ve just read.

So that unreliable narrator bit was pretty good, but the rest of the book was a bit boring to me. Between this one and the last one, I’ve really fallen behind in my reading schedule (I now have 5 books queued up at Audible that I have not yet started!). Need to get back on track or I’ll never catch up!

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Another book review

This one for a book (an Audible book) I finished probably at least a month ago: “Christ, the Lord: Out of Egypt” by Anne Rice.

I had enjoyed both the book and the movie Interview with the Vampire many years ago (and, admittedly, had an effect since it was the primary reason I was so spooked the first time I went to New Orleans!). That said, I had read some tepid reviews of this book before deciding to give it a chance and wasn’t sure quite what to expect.

I was a little disappointed, but perhaps not as much as the reviews had told me to be. It was a bit dragging, and although she does a good job of conveying the first-person narrative of young Jesus, it struck me as hollow at several points where his magical, miracle ability was presented and immediately hushed over. Ah yes, the miracle-child cover-up… so believable.

In any case, it was not the worst thing I’ve ever read and if you get into Anne Rice books perhaps you’ll find this one a suitable twist on her previous tales. Hard to say.

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