WHAT WE ARE READING

Click here to see Time Magazine's list of the 100 best novels of all time.

(3 of the books are reviewed here)

 

TITLE

AUTHOR

COMMENTS

The Quest

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Daniel Yergin

This book covers everything that happened in the energy sector since I retired.   Make no mistake - reading this book from cover to cover is daunting as it contains more than 800 pages.  However, if you are interested in the topic, it moves rapidly as the writing is clear and concise.  Every alternative to oil is given an impartial appraisal and put in a realistic perspective.  The unanswered question which remains is not whether mankind will have enough conventional energy to survive, but if driving battery-powered vehicles will be the norm, with hydrocarbons used to generate the electricity needed  to charge the batteries.  We will have to stay tuned. (11/11) 

A Fine Balance

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Rohinton Mistry

A well-crafted novel, A Fine Balance chronicles life in India with a focus on the reign of Indira Gandhi.  Spanning several generations, the book chronicles the lives of two tailors, untouchable caste uncle and nephew, a widow from a wealthy family seeking independence from her dominating brother, and a student who boards with the widow.  The lives of the four become intertwined and they support each other as things spin out of control.  The book offers up insight to the political and social systems in India, but be prepared to be depressed. (10/11)

State of Wonder

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Ann Patchett

The author of Bel Canto finds another interesting venue for her story, this time in the Amazon rain forest of Brazil.  In this tale, a scientist is doing research on a fertility drug, spending the money of a large pharma company in Minnesota.  The company has been hyping the drug and it's share price will collapse if there isn't much progress.  The problem is that the company is receiving no info from the scientist.  They decide to send a young biochemist to Brazil to find out what is going  on.  A very good story ensues.  First rate writing. (09/11)

Moonwalking with Einstein

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Joshua Foer

Starting with its intriguing title, this book is fascinating.  It is about human memory, although it is not designed to help you remember things.  Who knew there was such a thing as World Memory Championships?  Foer started out writing about people who seem to have prodigious skills and ended up competing himself when he found out that there were a few tricks that helped.  The second half of the book chronicles Foer's attempt to win the U.S. national memory championship.  This is reminiscent of Stephan Fatsis' challenging the champs at Scrabble.  A good read. (08/11)

Those Guys Have All the Fun

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Tom Shales

For hard core sports fans only.  Those with only a passing interest in the games people play would not make it through this tome's  745 pages.  Most of the book comprises monologues by athletes, ESPN execs, , and the "talent", i.e. the on-screen hosts and commentators.  Periodically the authors will interject italicized comments  providing context for the monologues.  The book is a treasure trove of inside stuff which is informative and entertaining.  The story of the managing organizational growth of an enterprise of  two guys and an idea, to the current corporate monolith with thousands of employees, is fascinating.  (07/11)

The King of Oil

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Daniel Ammann

Marc Rich was a fugitive from the US Justice system for many years.  He was accused of, among other things, of tax evasion, trading with the enemy (Iran) and ignoring boycotts (South Africa).  When Bill Clinton pardoned Rich on his final day in the White House there were howls of anguish.  Were they justified?  Hard to say, but this book gives one lots to think about.  With the luxury of hindsight, what Rich was accused of doing looks pretty tame in light of what happened on Wall Street subsequent of Rich's alleged crimes.  The author did a good job of interviewing the accusers and the accused, and allowing the reader to draw his own conclusion.  This book would be of interest to anyone who worked in the oil business. (06/11)

The Guernsey Literary  and Potato Peel Pie Society

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Mary Ann Shaffer

Kind of a women's book but still OK for men.  A story about the Nazi occupation of the Channel Islands during WW2 as told by the letters written ad received of a middle-aged author who becomes something of a celebrity on the island of Guernsey.  The characters are all interesting as are the descriptions of the place itself.  We are planning to spend a day on Guernsey in a few months and are looking forward to seeing sites mentioned in the book. (05/11)

Unfamiliar Fishes

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Sarah Vowell

Vowell is a whimsical historian who likes to spot absurdities.  SHe succeeded in Assassination Vacation, but didn't do as well here.  Her slice of history in this book is from the arrival of the first missionaries in Hawaii until the overthrow of the monarchy.  Perhaps there were very few absurdities to be found in her research.  She basically reinforces the idea that the missionaries came to do godd, and would up doing well. (05/11)

The Liar's Club

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Mary Karr

Written in 1995, this memoir from Port Arthur writer Karr is remarkable.  Its hard to believe that anyone could recall their preteen years in such vivid detail but nobody could make this stuff up.  On a family vacation to Colorado, Karr's  mother decides that life as an east Texas refinery worker's wife is not fulfilling, so she stays in Colorado with  Karr and her older sister, while she dispatches her husband to Texas.  Life in both Port Arthur (thinly disguised as Leechfield) and rural Colorado are equally traumatic for Karr who somehow survived.  Very well written. (04/11)

A Visit From the Goon Squad

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Jennifer Egan

This book was critically acclaimed, winning a host of awards, so I looked forward to reading it with great anticipation.  I was disappointed.  The story revolves around a former rock musician who becomes a manager of a record label.  High marks to the author for creativity, such as having one chapter as a Power Point slide show, and presenting many chapters as first person narratives that takes some doing to ascertain who the speaker is, but in the end I just couldn't connect with any of the characters.  The problem may be that the target audience was at least a generation younger than me.   (03/11)

Unbroken

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Laura Hillebrand

Embraced by both the critics and the general public, this book is a compelling story of a WW II airmen who survives a crash in the Pacific and years of torture by the Japanese while he was a POW.  The author has a gift for story-telling that she demonstrated in her first book - Sea Biscuit.  The first quarter of the book deals with Louie Zamparelli's growing up in Torrance California, the middle half, with the war, and the final quarter the war's aftermath.  Part 1 is very good, Part 2 is excellent, but Part 3 left me cold.  My recommendation is to read as far as the end of the war, then move on to your next book. (03/11)

Stalin's Ghost

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Martin Cruz Smith

Moscow and the small Russian town of Tver are the background for the further adventures of Smith's hero, Inspector Arkady Renko.  This one kicks off with the sighting of Josef Stalin in a Moscow subway terminal.  This seems pretty ho-hum but the action picks up quickly as a rash of strange murders are disclosed.  It takes a while to connect the dots but it is well worth the effort.  Reading Three Stations first was helpful as some of the same characters appear in both.  (02/11)

Room

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Emma Donohue

A very unusual novel, this story of terror is told through the eyes of a five year old named Jack.  Jack and his mother have been held in a one room shack by a man known to us as Old Nick.  Jack was born in the room and has never been outside. His mother was kidnapped when she was nineteen and is now in her late twenties.  She has not left the room since her capture.  Old Nick visits every few days with food and other supplies, and has his way with Jack's mom.  Any more plot details would require a spoiler alert.  Some of the dialog is a little far-fetched but give the author high marks for imagination and creativity. (01/11)

The End Of Wall Street

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Roger Lowenstein

There has been a great number of books written about the Crash of 2009.  This one gives the clearest explanation for what went wrong.  Culpability for the Great Recession is spread widely from bankers who got us into the mess and the government officials who watched it happen and did nothing.  The Federal Reserve Bank under Alan Greenspan, and for a while Ben Bernanke, had blind faith that efficient markets would self-regulate and prevent bankers from doing anything overly risky.  Wrong!  Two female government officials, Brooksley Born and Sheila Bair, seem to have been the only senior public servants who recognized what was happening and tried to no avail to stop it.  Hats off to them. (01/11)

 

 

Books read in 2010

Books read in 2009

Books read in 2008

Books read in 2007

Books read in 2006

Books read in 2005 

Books read in 2004

Books read in 2003

Books read in 2002

Books read in 2001