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Posts Tagged ‘2013 Book Review’

A couple of months ago, I was talking to my nephew and he told me he was a Jew.
I asked if he had ever been to a synagogue.  No.  I asked if he had ever read the Torah or the Talmud.  No.  I asked if he had ever read the complete Old Testament from the Bible.  No.  I asked if he had ever spoken to a Rabbi about the Jewish faith.  No.
After chuckling, I asked him why he thought he was Jewish.  He advised me that Jesus was Jewish and he was a follower of Jesus, so he was Jewish, too.  Needless to say (after another chuckle), I advised him that declaring yourself to be of a certain faith does not “make” you a member of that faith if you do nothing else to demonstrate your beliefs.
Later, though, it occurred to me that I know almost nothing about the Jewish faith either.  Yes, I’ve read some of the Old Testament, but I’ve never read any of the Torah and would not be able to tell you the first thing about any differences between it and the Old Testament.  So, when I was visiting my local second hand book shop and I stumbled upon a copy of a book which professed to be an “everymans” guide to orthodox Judaism, I picked it up and added it to the reading list.  As it happens, I rested the book close to my computer and it “called” to me repeatedly – so I bumped it up the list.  I finished it last week and the rest of this posting is my review…
The book is titled: “This Is My God” (1988©), and was written by Herman Wouk.  The book was originally published back in 1959, but this is a republishing with a chapter update about Israel (the nation-state).  Mr. Wouk wrote the book because a friend came up to him and said his son knew next to nothing about Judaism and the friend knew Wouk to be a practicing Jew and could he recommend a good “starter” book for him to give to his son with the hope the son might gain some appreciation for their heritage.
Now Wouk admits to not being a Rabbi (a teacher of the Torah) and could not think of (or find) such a book – even after asking around himself – so he decided to write one.  After about a year or so of intense research, he did.  And this book is the result of Wouk’s effort.
I have not read any of Wouk’s other works, but he is a terrific writer!  The book is obviously a very simplistic introduction to Judaism.  That does not mean it is not worth reading.  It merely recognize’s there are whole libraries devoted to the various aspects of Judaism and anything other than an overview would have taken many, many volumes.  Having said this, I felt reading this book was an insightful introduction to this faith upon which my own was based.  Indeed, it is the faith on which both Christianity and Islam are based.  All three faiths are the “children” of Abraham.
Although I don’t usually attribute such sentiments to books, this book has been a blessing to my own personal faith.  (I am a practicing Roman Catholic.)  Wouk’s words are kind and wise, yet humble and moving.  And most of all, they are educational.  There were several times I said to myself, “Wow! I never knew that!” or “So that’s why…”
Two quick examples are: there is no requirement for a person to be a Jew to enter Heaven.  One only needs to live a good life to be judged worthy of Heaven.  And second, not all the stories in the Bible are about Jews.  Some “holy” men are not Jews at all.  Job for example.  This was a real “Wow!” moment for me as I’d always just assumed Job was Hebrew.  Wouk explains why this is not so, but I still could hardly believe it so I had to do some additional research on the internet.  As near as I can tell, there is no proof he (Job) existed let alone that he was Jewish.  Like I said, the book is full of little “gems” to help you explore your faith (if you are a Christian).
The book is a fast read at only a little over two hundred and eighty pages and is so well written it doesn’t even feel that long.  There is a fifty page “Notes” area which has clarifications and recommendations for further readings and an eight page Glossary at the very end.
So, final recommendation:  Highly recommended!  You will, of course, see several quotes from this book over the next few months as I try to share some of Wouk’s writing with you…
So I called up my nephew to thank him for “prompting” me to learn about Judaism as the basis of my own faith.  His response: “Uncle Kevin, I never meant for you to read a book about it!”  I guess he just doesn’t know me that well…
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On This Day In:
2012 When Young
2011 14 Ways To A Better Judgement

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Today’s posting is about a book I’ve just completed last night and a movie I saw today.
The book is titled: “Disraeli: A Picture of the Victorian Age“, (1936©) reprinted in 1980, and written by André Maurois.  Maurois is actually the nom de plume for Émile Salomon Wilhelm Herzog, but interesting enough, he legally changed his real name to that for which he was famous.  Maurois was in the French military when he wrote his first book and the military was banned from publishing.
This book is the second I’ve read from the Time-Life Reading Program series which I collected back in the 1980’s.  More specifically, this is the book upon which I based my decision to begin purchasing the series.  I originally read this book in my young teenage years.  I don’t recall if I was in the eighth grade of grammar school or a freshman in high school.  At any rate, it was a fantastic look at another time (Victorian Age) and political system (British Parliament) which combined political maneuvers with a true romantic background story and it captivated me.
After his wife (Mary Anne) dies from old age (and cancer), Disraeli begins going through their effects in preparation for moving out of her ancestral home which must be passed on to its inheritor:
“Every fortnight for thirty-three years, Mary Anne had cut her husband’s hair, and every time the harvest had been garnered in a small sealed packet.  He found hundreds of them.”
This struck me, even as a teen, as such a personal and loving act (both the cutting and the saving of the cuttings) that I believe it set a standard for me to judge male/female relationships.  To this day, when I watch the movie “Phenomenon“, starring John Travolta and Kyra Sedgwick (and Forest Whitaker), I am reminded of this book.  If you’ve never seen the movie, there is a tremendously sensual scene in the movie where Sedgwick shaves Travolta and cuts his hair.  By “sensual” I mean it exudes sexuality without having any “sex” in the scene at all.
By way of contrast, I discussed the above quote with my daughter and she felt is was “creepy” and “like a stalker”.  She felt there was no romance/affection in either act, at all.
Another point, which may be of interest to only me – I’ve been “saving” this book for almost 40 years, knowing I was going to re-read it, but in no hurry, because it was going to be like re-meeting an old friend.  I don’t often re-read books because most of my reading tends to be technical in nature.  I do enjoy re-reading some books – novels in particular.  I assume it is because they engage me without trying to teach me.  (That’s just a guess…)  In this case, I was waiting for the above story, but I did not recall it was told after the wife’s passing.  When Mary Anne died from cancer, I briefly convinced myself that I must have read a different book when I was young and I had purchased the series based on a complete mistake!  Not that it would have mattered so much, but it seemed an irony that I was looking forward to meeting my old friend, only to find out I would be meeting a distant relative (a book about the same topic, but by a different author).  So I got a chuckle (to myself) when I found it was the correct book.
No, I haven’t said much about the book – by way of review, anyway.  Suffice it to say, it’s a very well written book, a fast read, a romanticized biography, and a fascinating story of a man who rises to great stature on the strength of his intelligence, ability and determination.  Highly recommended!!  As an aside, on researching Maurois, I found dozens of great quotes which you will no doubt be seeing over the coming months.
Today’s movie was: “Lee Daniel’s The Butler“, which depicts a fictionalized version of true story about a man (Eugene Allen) who served eight U.S. President’s over a 34 year period of working in the White House.  The story is one of quiet dignity and strength contrasted against a turbulent period of time which covers the “Civil Rights” movement during the latter half of the 20th century.  The main character (Cecil Gaines is the name used in the movie) is played by Forest Whitaker who I feel will almost certainly get a Best Actor nomination, if not win the Oscar, for this performance.  He is brilliant!  Oprah Winfrey does a very good job in playing the spouse and there is an all-star cast filling out many of the other roles.
In a manner similar to “Forrest Gump“, the movie intersperses historical TV footage with acting.  To this extent, the film is certainly not original, but it is no less powerful.  If anything, there is almost too much happening in Civil Rights for one to take it all in.  Young viewers may be surprised to see how far the nation has come in just the single life-times of their parents or grand-parents.  Having grown up and lived through the period, I was profoundly moved by the entire film.
Is this a “made for Oscar” movie?  Yes, blatantly so.  It vividly shows the horrors of racism and contrasts that with the dignity of a working man who only seeks a safe life for his family and a better life for his children.  The cast is strong and the story is accurate chronologically (if not entirely factual to Allen’s life).  More importantly, it touched me as a father, a working man and a family man with similar goals.  I saw this movie with my mother, sister and nephew (Kyle) and my mom and sister were tearing up just as much as me.  This is a MUST see movie and I highly recommend it!!
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On This Day In:
2012 Just Like Bubbles
2011 Caring and Driving
Achieve Greatly
2010 Unwise To Trust
Attitude
If The Mind Is Not Tired
Irrationally Crazy
2nd Pair – Shoe Review
Ahnu – Gesundheit!
 2009 As for me…
Health Care Reform Now!!

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Today’s post is kind of a tape delay.  The first book (“The Great Gatsby“) was finished a couple of weeks ago.  No real reason for the delay, except that I’ve been watching a fair amount of baseball and just haven’t made the time.  The second book (“The Prince“) was finished today.  The first movie (“The Caine Mutiny“) was watched on Saturday afternoon last, while the second (“Iron Man 3“) was watched yesterday. 
 
The Great Gatsby was written by F. Scott Fitzgerald (1925©) and is about a young man trying to find himself in New York in the 1920’s.  The man (Nick Carraway) is from the mid-west and goes east to seek his fortune in the big city.  It should be noted that he is already from a well-off family.  His job is in the city, but his residence is in a wealthy suburb where he meets the title character, a wealthy “business” man named Jay Gatsby.  Anyway, blah, blah, blah, life of extravagance / lost love / more blah, blah, / accident / death, end of story.
 

Widely considered a classic and “the great American novel”, the book is mostly read in high school and is now the basis for a soon to be released motion picture.  Actually, this is a remake.  There are four other versions, but one is “lost” (1926) and another is a made for TV (2000), so I’m not sure it really counts.  The most recent is from 1974 and starred Robert Redford as Gatsby.  I’ve never seen that version, so if I’m lucky, it’ll appear on TV soon as a promo for the new release which is due out this coming Friday.  The new version stars Leonardo DiCaprio as Gatsby and Tobey Maguire as Carraway.
 

I originally read this novel back in the Army when I hoped to get better educated in some of the “great” pieces of literature.  I escaped it while I was in high school.
 

Is it great?  No, at least I didn’t think so.  Is it a “classic”?  Yes.  When I first read it, I remember finishing it and thinking “Wow! That was a great book, but I have no idea what it will mean in my life because there was no basis for common experience.”  Okay, maybe a twenty year old sergeant in the Army didn’t think in those exact words, but that was the gist of my reaction.  Thirty plus years later, if you asked me what it was about, I’d have told you, “rich guys in the ’20’s”.  And that’s it…   So, was it worth reading again?  Only to the extent that it prepares me for watching the new movie.  Would I recommend reading it?  Yes, but with qualifications.  If you are interested in one of the great works of fiction by one of the bohemian writers from the early 20th century – definitely.  If you want to see a “crafted” novel (I’m not sure what that means, but I keep seeing the description in reader reviews) – definitely.   If you’re trying to better understand the American rich of the 1920’s – definitely.  If you’re trying to find a novel which will change your life?  Well, it didn’t do it for me back in the ’70’s and even less so with a second go.  Final recommendation – moderate recommend; but I’d wait and just go see the movie.  It will cause you less time from your life.  (I hope to review the movie next week, so you may want to hold off.)
 

 

The Prince” was written by Niccolò Machiavelli (1513).  Any book on politics which survives 400 years is bound to be considered a “classic” and this is (both considered and IS).  There are a multitude of observations about gaining and keeping power in the city/state of the Renaissance Era Italy.  I think, with a bit of careful consideration and some adaptation, many of Machiavelli’s ideas are still valid.  I rather doubt gathering one’s enemies in a room and strangling them, would be considered appropriate in this day and age – even in Italy.  Anyway, I found the book to be extremely interesting and I highly recommend it for its historical value even if not for its application in today’s world.
 

One negative for this version (Wordsworth Reference [1993©]) is the translation seems to be quite literal from Italian and therefore the language is extremely flowery which makes for difficult reading, but otherwise, it’s a fast read and well worth reading and consideration among the other classics in politics.  And, of course, this means you will now see Machiavellian quotes from time to time.
 

 

As mentioned above, I watched “The Caine Mutiny” on Saturday.  I must admit, I’ve seen the movie several times in my lifetime, but I never remember much about it except the roles played by Humphrey Bogart and José Ferrer.  Everyone else is good, too, but these two are great.  If you liked the military courtroom drama of “A Few Good Men” or “The Court-Martial of Billy Mitchell“, then I think you’ll like this movie too.  This is a CLASSIC Bogart role and you can’t honestly say you are a Bogart fan unless you’ve watched this movie.  Of course, Bogart’s testimony at the trial is what makes the movie.  This is a must-see movie!!
 

 

The second movie I’m reviewing is the recently released “Iron Man 3“.  In full disclosure mode, I must admit that I spent many hours of my childhood reading (and collecting) Marvel Comics, so of course I have a natural bias for ALL Marvel Comic movie adaptations.  Having said that, this is a VERY good movie!  It’s entertaining with a plot, comedy (slap-stick and quips), action (fights and explosions), excellent special effects and once again, Robert Downey, Jr. ROCKS as Tony Stark (the man inside the suit), particularly when he’s NOT inside the suit.
 

Was the movie accurate to the comics? No.  Particularly as it relates to the Mandarin (who is Chinese in the comics but British in the movie).  Does it matter?  Nah.  What did (slightly) miff me was that there were no power-rings.  Instead there was a weak terrorist group called “The Ten Rings”.  Really?  Really?  Nah, it didn’t work for me.  Other than that, I thought this was a sound effort, particularly after the “relative” let down (well, I was very let down) of “Iron Man 2“.  Again, is it great cinema: No.  Is it an entertaining movie: heck YEAH!  Final recommendation: Highly recommended!
 

I can’t wait for the DVD so I can have a marathon viewing!
 

Oh yeah, in the Disney “Small World” vein: José Ferrer was in “The Caine Mutiny” and his son (who is a virtual ringer), Miguel José Ferrer, is in “Iron Man 3“.  Daddy was terrific.  Son, less so.

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On This Day In:
2012 God’s Requirements
2011 Greater Purity
   
   

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Today’s book review is for “I Shouldn’t Even Be Doing This!“, written by Bob Newhart (2006©).  The book is his autobiography.  Mr. Newhart is a famous comedian/entertainer who’s been doing stand-up comedy/storytelling for over half a century.
 

Newhart is somewhat famous for never doing any “offensive” language or stories in his humor.  He has a droll, dead-pan humor which is based almost entirely on timing and your (the listening audience’s) imagination.  Most of his best skits are one sided conversations – usually over a radio or telephone – where he says something and then waits some length of time before responding to the person at the other end.  Because you never hear anyone at the other end, Newhart’s next line is the one leading your imagination.  Essentially, he is telling you what you “reasonably” just thought, and you agree, and laugh.  This sets you up for the next response… and so on.
 

The problem is the book is not really funny.  I am a Newhart fan and I enjoyed the book, not because the book is funny, but because I remember hearing the skits / stories as I was growing up.  In a bizarre way, he has written a book which mimics his comedic style.
 

There is another (minor) problem with the book.  It is incredible how much name dropping is done throughout the book.  It’s almost as if Newhart is trying to describe his life by who he hung out with instead of what he actually thought or felt.  To me, this is minor, because he has nothing bad to say about anyone and, as the reader, you are left with the impression that stand-up comedy is a very small clique and everyone really does know everyone else (and you hang out with each other).  Or at least it was back then.
 

If you are not a Newhart fan, or if you are looking for insight into his life (juicy gossip) or what it’s like to be big star, or you want to better understand comedy in general, or his style in specific – forget it.  You won’t find much (anything) here.  In fact, I’d recommend that even if you are a fan, you should go to YouTube or wherever you look at videos and watch / listen to some of his old acts.  You almost have to appreciate the art form, before you will be able to appreciate the autobiography.
 

Incidentally, I noticed that the videos of Newhart are a lot funnier than even the pure audios.  Newhart’s facial dead-pan expressions are really what make him a genius.  It’s still funny hearing his voice, but it’s not AS funny.  Just as reading the skit portions in the book are still funny, but not AS funny as seeing him perform them.  Truly a comedian made for TV and live performances.
 

Would I recommend this book?  Tough call.  If you are a fan; someone who grew up watching the two TV series; or you’ve spent a lot of time watching old reruns of Newhart’s TV-series, yes.  Definitely!  Again, not because the book is insightful or funny, but because it will probably remind you of when you first heard these jokes.  The insight is about you and your memories not Newhart’s.
 

For an explanation of today’s post title, see my prior post: “Certainty“.
 

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For the last two years, about this time, I make my Super Bowl predictions.  I try to pick the winner, predict the score and explain why.  So far, I’m zero(0) for two(2) on my picks.  However, I’m not so easily deterred that I won’t try again.
Now, in the interest of full disclosure I will have to admit that I am a lifetime San Francisco Forty Niners fan.  This means my “normal” sense of objective reasoning will have to be set aside for this posting.
I believe the 49ers will easily win the Super Bowl to the tune of something like 34 to 13.  That’s correct!  We will score four touchdowns and two field goals and they will score one touchdown and two field goals.
The 49ers met the Baltimore Ravens last season on Thanksgiving night and they defeated us 16 to 6.  They scored one touchdown and three field goals to our (only) two field goals.  The difference in the game was nine(9!) sacks of our quarterback (Alex Smith).  This was very much a defensive battle and Ray Lewis, the Ravens middle linebacker did not play due to injury.  This year, neither team has as good a defense as they had last year.  I personally think the age (and related slowness) of the Ravens linebackers will prove to be their downfall.  The Ravens other great linebacker (Suggs) has been slowed by injury this year and is not his pass rushing best any more.  Not to take too much credit from the Ravens that night, the fact is the game was played on a short week (for both teams) but we had to spend a day travelling to Baltimore.  I honestly feel it they had had to come to us OR if the game was on a normal Sunday, we would have prevailed.
On the other side, our new quarterback (Kaepernick) is much more athletic than our quarterback from last year (Smith).  Kaepernick is also a much better deep thrower than Smith.  I believe Kaepernick will open with runs to draw the Raven linebackers close, then throw to Vernon Davis (our tight end) in mid-range, and then go over the top (and center) to Randy Moss.  With the Ravens thinking center and deep, Kaepernick will switch to shorter routes (in and outside) to Michael Crabtree.  With the Ravens dropping back to protect the pass, the 49ers will interweave the ground pounding of Frank Gore.
The Ravens offense is a mirror of the 49ers, but not as good.  Flacco is a good deep thrower, but we have a better pass rush than they’ve seen in a while.  Pitta is a large target as a tight end, but he is not as fast as V. Davis and our linebackers are better pass defenders than the Raven’s are.  Reed is their best pass defender, but he has lost a step.
So, this will be a VERY physical game, but the 49ers should win handily…
The Genius” — Book Review:
About a month ago, I picked up: “The Genius” by David Harris (2008©).  The sub-title is: “How Bill Walsh Reinvented Football and Created an NFL Dynasty“.
To be honest, I was expecting another “puff-piece” about how great and good Bill Walsh was.  (Walsh passed away 30 July 2007.)  The reality is (was) that he was not a particularly nice man – even if he was a great head coach.  Walsh is made to seem almost bi-polar and manically depressive in this book.  I don’t question this impression.  I just wonder that twenty years after the fact, so much of this is “new” to me.  I bought this book expecting to “re-live” some of the good-old days.  The book is a very fast read (which I didn’t expect) and was perfect to squeeze in in-between our winning the NFC Conference Championship and going on to the Super Bowl.
If you are looking for a book to advise you how to build a winning football (or sports) program, this one won’t be of much use.  If you’re looking for an in-depth explanation of the “West Coast Offense”, sorry, still no joy here.  If you’re looking for how to evaluate college players for drafting to create a winning team, nope.  How to create a game plan or manage an actual game, nope and nope again.
So why is this book “good”?  (I highly recommend it!)
Because it reminds of what must be sacrificed in order to reach the top (of any profession) and stay there.  It is a cautionary tale of an intelligent, forward looking and forward thinking man who could not separate sports losses from personal failures and suffered terribly / emotionally for it.
Although I enjoyed every Walsh (49er) victory, I also found his personnel actions disloyal and sometimes despicable.  This was true “back in the day” (when they were happening) and more so as I read this book.  That’s not to say Walsh wasn’t doing these things for the good of the team.  It’s just I found them morally objectionable.
It seems, for the last chapters, that Walsh, after his own retirement, made a concerted effort to try to befriend the players he treated so badly during their careers.  I’m happy he was able to convince them there was nothing personal in his intent while he was coaching.  It is stated that many former players came to have great affection for him, even a sense of love.  I think this a “common” response among people who feel someone tried to get the very best out of them – even more than the person themself felt they had to offer.
It’s a shame that a “truer” genius could not have found a way to be both a great coach and a better person at the same time.
In conclusion – Go Niners!!  Beat the Ravens!!
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