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Posts Tagged ‘2018 Book Review’

The Road To Sparta” (2016©) — book review
Today’s book review is for “The Road To Sparta” written by Dean Karnazes.  Karnazes may not be the “Dean” of ultramarathon runners, but he is certainly one of the sports most famous names and faces.  Karnazes lives in the San Francisco Bay Area (where I also was raised and currently live), and, from his writing, appears to have totally adopted the ethos of being from Northern California.  Clean air, physical fitness, sometimes single minded pursuit of one’s goals, etc.
The book is another semi-autobiographical book about Karnazes.  His other book (which is reviewed here) is titled: “Ultramarathon Man“, and deals more with his various runs – particularly the Western States One-Hundred.  This book is about his being descended from Greek immigrants and him getting back in touch with his roots in his native country via participation in an ultra-run called “The Spartathlon.”  This run recreates the run which Pheidippides made from Athens to Sparta to ask the Spartans to help the Athenians resist the Persian invasion of Greece at the beach of Marathon.  Not to spoil the story (as it is ancient history), Pheidippides ran about 150 miles to carry the message (request).  He then ran a similar distance to carry the reply (“Yeah, we’ll come, but not for a few days”).  And then, … wait for it… he ran from the battlefield (Marathon) to Athens (about 26 miles) to carry news of the victory.  And then he died.
The race isn’t so spectacular.  Karnazes “only” has to run the initial portion (Athens to Sparta).  Oh, yeah.  You have to run the race in a “similar” time span to that of Pheidippides – 36 hours.
If you are a serious distance runner, much of the book will seem self-affirming as you will probably relate to the action and feelings of a ultra-distance runner.  If you are not a “serious” runner (or athlete), you may still relate, but you’ll probably also find Karnazes’ descriptions of the Greek countryside a bit flowery.  Make that extremely flowery.  Almost (but not quite) off-puttingly so.  Almost…  On the other hand, if you are just an average reader, you may really like all the verbiage.  I was kind of in the middle.  Parts of the book made we want to strap on some shoes and go out for a jog.  Others left me feeling like he had been assigned a set number of words to get the book published and he was going to reach that number with the same determination it takes to run an ultra.
Final recommendation: strong.  I enjoyed the history.  I enjoyed most of the descriptions, particularly when he was talking about the people out in the Greek countryside.  And I enjoyed the re-telling of the actual Spartathlon he ran in.  Ultimately, a good running book should make you want to lace up and hit the pavement.  As mentioned above, this book did that for me.  I picked the book up at Half-Price Books off the $3 rack.  A steal at that price.  I’ve already used a couple of quotes on my blog and I’ve got about another dozen or so hi-lighted for use in the future.
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On This Day In:
2017 Today Is Not Lost
Day 8
2016 Paying Attention
2015 An Awful Ordeal
2014 What Are You Doing?
2013 Lives > 1
2012 Strange To All The World
2011 Unnecessary Stagefright

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The Art of a Beautiful Game: The Thinking Fan’s Tour of the NBA”  –  book review
On Wednesday (11 May 2018), I finished reading “The Art of a Beautiful Game: The Thinking Fan’s Tour of the NBA”  (2009©)  – written by: Chris Ballard.  The game in question is basketball and not soccer – which is what I assumed the book would be about until I opened it.  My copy did not come with the dust cover and the sub-title is not on the binding.  Oh, well…
This book is a blend of various types of sports authorship: part biography, part techniques and skills, part biology, part X’s and O’s and part psycho-babble.  Interestingly, the blend worked and the book ends up an entertaining and interesting (if not particularly useful) read.  Sometimes a hard childhood makes a superstar, sometimes it doesn’t.  Sometimes “just” being superb at individual skills and techniques will elevate you to superstar status, most times it doesn’t.  Most times being a biological freak will get you into the league – even if it is not enough to make you a superstar.  And, it appears, sometimes superstars are cerebral.  Unfortunately, the book doesn’t confirm (or prove) ALL superstars are cerebral or that average and not-quite-superstar players are not equally cerebral (thoughtful about their game / skills).  And, because correlation does not prove causation, we can’t know if being cerebral makes a player a superstar.  Causation appears unlikely, though.
The book breaks down the “art” of the game into twelve particular skill sets / attributes the author wants to describe, including: “killer instinct”, pure shooting, free throws, defense, rebounding, blocking shots and being big.  There are five other specifics, but these (listed) are representative of the book.  Each chapter uses interviews with one or two active players – active as of the time of writing or the decade immediately prior – (2009 or the 1990’s) to relate the star to the author’s proposed “art“.  Through first person interviews and interviews with teammates and coaches, we get a feel for what makes the “superstars” truly super.  It turns out: great genes, desire, practice, coaching and attention to detail, and luck are all it takes to be great.  (Sarcasm: “WHO would have guessed?”)
So, is the book any good and was it worth my time reading it?  Yes, and yes.  The author played basketball at a much lower level and what clearly comes across is his love for the game and his feelings (not so subtle) that, “If only…”  This is a feeling which almost everyone who has seriously participated in any sport can relate to – particularly if you too “loved” your sport.
Final recommendation: strong recommendation.  I tend to read books (history, sports, biographies and science books) to scratch a particular itch.  While I can’t say I learned anything generally about sport or basketball, or anything specifically about skills and techniques in this book, I did thoroughly enjoy reading about the players and their views on their skills and sport.  Sometimes, just reading about passion for a subject is enough to make a subject more interesting than the book about the subject itself really ought to be.  It’s the difference between “love for the game” and diagrams of X’s and O’s.  This book scratches the first itch, even if it pretty much ignores the second.  I got the book at Half-Priced Books for $2.  Well, worth the cost and the time – particularly if you like hoops.  (Unashamedly, I do!)
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On This Day In:
2017 The Voice Of Experience
2016 Who And When
2015 Change Process
2014 What Is Still Possible
2013 Strength Is There
2012 Beyond Reasonable Doubt
2011 Celebrating Values
2010 Is it just me, or is it suddenly dark around here?
Dance!

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Chasing Perfection: The Principles Behind Winning Football the De La Salle Way”  (2015©)  —  book review
Today’s book review is for “Chasing Perfection” written by Bob Ladouceur with Neil Hayes.  The book is about coaching American Football at the high school level.  Ladouceur was the head coach of the varsity football team at De La Salle High School here in Concord, California.  His teams are the owners of the all-time longest winning streak in high school history (151 wins between 1992 and 2004).  To put that into some perspective, the next longest streak is 109 games!
There are lots of different types of sports books.  There are coach and player biographies.  There are league and team histories.  There are greatest games, greatest championships and greatest dynasties.  My favorites are those which discuss – in depth – schemes and techniques (in any sport).  I enjoy them because you get a chance to learn the why’s and how’s of the game which then allows you to see and understand why something is working as it is happening on the field (or court).  As such a book, this is perhaps the best book I have ever read about football – specifically, football techniques.
This is not really an “X’s” and “O’s” play diagram type of book.  It IS a “we want the tackle to have his inside foot here, his outside foot there, four to six inches back and heel no more than one inch off the ground, with this much weight on one hand” book.  That, literally, is the detail provided in the explanations in this book.  And, I love it!!
I haven’t been this excited about reading a football book — WHILE reading the football book — since I was in high school and just learning how to play.  Back then, I read a book on defensive football written by Dick Butkus and another book with chapters on various players and I was completely enthralled by Raymond Berry at wide receiver.  Berry is NFL Films #36 greatest players of all time and Butkus is, well, Butkus.  I learned more from that book and that chapter than I have from a host of other books I’ve read about the sport of football – at every level.  And this book is as good as if not better than both of those.
Every part of organizing and building a team is covered: offense, defense, special teams, nutrition, weight training, scouting opponents, game planning.  You name it.  It’s here.  Now, realistically, is it encyclopedic?  No.  But, then it’s less than 300 pages.  If you want a book with “X’s” and “O’s”, this isn’t the book.  But you can find dozens of those which still won’t add up to what you’ll learn from the reading (and re-reading) of this book.
Final recommendation: VERY highly recommended.  Not only did this book explain things I didn’t know about, it also explained the reasons why some things I used to do instinctively actually worked.  This book is so good, I would recommend it to anyone who wants to coach any sport at any level.  It is that good…
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On This Day In:
2017 We Can Figure This Out
2016 Just Enough
2015 Bourne Bond
Springs Eternal
2014 Brains First
2013 Not Listening Anymore
2012 At Your Marks!
2011 We Are Not Alone
Underlying Rationality
2010 Is the Obama Administration Failing?
In Other Words…
Quite Please!
In A Hostage Situation…
Are We Done Yet?
In Order…
Flip-flopping…
Proof of Choice…
On “Leading” A Democracy To War…
Actually, It’s All About Me…

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Nothing But Net: Just Give Me The Ball And Get Out Of The Way” (1994©)  —  book review
Today’s book review is for “Nothing But Net“, written by Bill Walton with Gene Wojciechowski.  It is a quasi-autobiographical book stringing together a long list of anecdotes and opinions about life, music (Walton is a major fan of The Grateful Dead band) and basketball.  By “quasi-” I mean, the authors leave out large blocks of personal information about Walton’s life.  As such, it’s “curious” to exclude, but I guess that’s why “personal” information is also called “private” information.  Some of the topics are hinted at, but no real information is provided.
Examples are:
1) he thanks his parents for how they raised him, but doesn’t say anything about “how” they raised him.
2) he mentions his four sons and his wife, but doesn’t say his “wife” is his “current” wife and not the mother of his children.  Actually, he says nothing about wife one, how they met or why they divorced.
3) he says he is constantly questioned about Patty Hearst and drug use, but doesn’t explain why he is asked about them. And, (to me, most significantly)
4) on a less personal note, he talks about basketball skills like footwork and angles, but doesn’t offer the slightest hints on any of his insights.  I guess he is saving that information for another book.
Having said all of the above, before I continue this review I need to offer a “full disclosure”: I grew up watching Bill Walton and UCLA.  I then missed most of his professional career while I was in the Army, attending college, and subsequently lost interest in professional sports.  At this point, I was only following the Forty Niners and / or only watching championship series (World Series, NBA Finals, Final Four, etc).  One of my most vivid teenage memories of sports was watching UCLA destroy Memphis State in the Final Four – where Walton scored on 21 of 22 shots from the field and had 44 points by himself.  Another was watching Walton face a four on one fast break where he blocked three shots (my recollection is by three different players, but I could be wrong about that), then got the rebound after the third block.  That game was against one of the Oregon teams (as I recall), but the opponent was kind of irrelevant.  The point was he stopped the fast break all by himself by blocking THREE shots!  Needless to say, I thought he was a “heroic” figure.  I can’t honestly say he was “my” hero, only that it was the kind of thing you see VERY rarely in your lifetime.  A bit like Secretariat winning the Belmont by 31 lengths (pulling away) or Bob Beamon crushing the world record in the long jump at the 1968 Olympics by over 21 inches.  Anyway, my wife and I were shopping in a charity shop we support (ARF Thrift Store – ARF = Animal Rescue Foundation) and I found this book for $.50.  So, I snapped it up and dove right in and began reading it that night.
In other words, I am biased about the author and was already predisposed to “like” this book if it was at all interesting or well written.  It is — mostly — both.
The tone is very conversational, which I like.  The topic is sports (basketball), which I like.  And, the analysis which is offered (other players from that era – up to 1993) is interesting.  It’s interesting because Walton identifies some of the players he feels are truly “great” and explains why.  It also lists some with potential greatness and lists some of the things they need(ed) to do to become great.  Finally, the book lists some players who Walton feels are good but not great and (mostly) covers why they are not “really” great – in his opinion.  As some of the players from all three groups have ultimately ended up in the Basketball Hall of Fame (HOF), we have a chance to look back and analyze Walton’s opinions for their accuracy / validity.  The three I found the most interesting were Michael Jordon – criticized for his early retirement after three consecutive championships (MJ went off to try professional baseball and then returned for three more NBA championships); Patrick Ewing, who is criticized for not having a mid-range shot / game.  Ewing developed a mid-range shot and is now in the HOF.  And, the third player I found interesting was Charles Barkley, who Walton more or less calls a cry-baby who always tries to shift the blame for losses onto other teammates.  Barkley is also in the HOF.
On the self-reflection side, Walton is also hard on himself.  He pretty much admits to being a pain in the ass as a teammate, which he attributes to wanting so badly to win EVERY time he went on the court.  He also spends a lot of time (repeatedly) saying how much he loves / loved the game of basketball and how it was his refuge for all of his teen and most of his early adult years.  As an aside, I’ve mostly known Walton as a loquacious basketball color-man / announcer, who tended to have an opinion about most everything and was happy to share it with everyone.  As it turns out, Walton suffered from “severe” stuttering until after he retired, which he feels he is now trying to make up for by over-talking.  He acknowledges his diarrhea of the mouth and handles it with a bit of self-deprecation, which I found surprisingly and refreshingly honest.  In the end, what really comes across is Walton’s joy in both playing the game and for living life to the fullest.
Final recommendation: strong recommendation.  You won’t really learn much about basketball skills from this book, which is kind of what I was hoping for (a little).  You will get a snapshot of the sport of basketball – college circa 1970 to 1993 – and professional (NBA) from mid-1970’s to 1993, with an emphasis on players and personalities.  If you are a Walton fan (I still am), watched college or NBA basketball during this time frame, or you’re just interested in some NBA history, I think you’ll really enjoy reading this book.  I know I did.
If just reading the book isn’t enough for you, you can find loads of videos about Bill Walton on YouTube.  You can also find loads of his analysis and commentaries.
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On This Day In:
2017 Just Because
2016 As Close As They Can Get
2015 And So I Blog
2014 Take Flight
2013 Contributing Joy
2012 More Than A Race
2011 Institutionalized Leadership

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On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft” (2000©)  —  book review
Who hasn’t day-dreamed of writing the “great American novel” and becoming wealthy and celebrated?  Okay, maybe not me in over 40 years, but still…
Today’s book review is for “On Writing“, by Stephen King.  Yes, that Stephen King.  The horror novelist / writer.  Well, actually, he does write in other genres, too, but that’s the one I know him for.  This book came recommended to me by various sources – some “best of” lists and also a couple of blogs / sites I follow.  I found it on sale for $3 at my local Half-Price Books store, so I snatched it up.
The book is basically a three-part tome: King’s life leading up to writing, how to write well, and finally, advice on life and how to get started getting your writing published.  Part one is extremely interesting and amusing.  I got several belly laughs out of it.  Part two is mundane, yet (probably) useful.  I have already begun applying some of King’s suggestions in my own writing here on this blog.  Part three will probably be useful if I ever (again) imagine myself sitting down to write the great American novel or autobiography.  One of King’s recommendations is to write about what you know.  I’m afraid the only thing I know the most about is me.  (Sad, but true.)
So, final recommendation: very highly recommended!  Is this the finest book I’ve ever read on being a writer.  Yes!  With the qualification it is also the only book I’ve ever read on being a writer.  Having said that, it is a fast read at less than 300 pages and I found it enjoyable and informative.  And, of course, multiple quotes will appear on this blog in the future…
One last mention: King recommends all wanna-be writers start off by reading Strunk & White’s “The Elements of Style“.  (According to part 1 in the book, King is a former high school English teacher.  Go, figure.)  Fortunately, for cheapskates like me, the book (“Elements“) is out of copyright and you can find it in pdf format at multiple locations on the web.  At fewer than 30 pages, it should also be a quick read.  The book cover on Amazon looks very familiar, so maybe King’s book is the second book I’ve read on writing.  LOL…  I probably read “Elements” in high school and blotted the contents out of my memory.
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On This Day In:
2017 Summer Pale
2016 Ain’t It Funny
2015 At Both Ends
2014 Whiner(s)
2013 Just Passing Through
2012 Dog-gone Heaven
2011 Occasional, Sad Results

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The Power of Myth”  1988©
Today’s review is for “The Power of Myth“, which is a book based on interviews of Joseph Campbell by Bill Moyers that were the basis for the PBS television series of the same name and the same year.  The book was timed for concurrent release and follows the interview format with editing provided by Betty Sue Flowers.  In fact, the book chapters follow the episode breakdown of the series.
The interviews deal with the universality and evolution of myths in human history and how myths fit (or don’t fit) in the modern day social structure.  Campbell mixes personal experience with stories from many epochs, cultures and civilizations to offer up a thesis that modern society is moving from old mythologies and traditions unique to their times and locations to a new global (and possibly unified) mythology.
Campbell believes myths are the stories / legends / fables which make up their culture.  Campbell believes there are universal “truths” which mankind tries to describe using these myths and this explains why the myths are common around the globe.  To him a “myth” is a way of defining the rituals and oral histories we pass from parents to child.
Because the “myths” of any prior generation were limited by location and technologies of communication, Campbell believes we are in a transition period which is trying to integrate all of the “great” traditions (religions, beliefs and myths) of the past with the rapidly changing technologies of a modern life supported by increasing amounts of technology without concurrent social and moral reinforcement.
Basically, modern culture specifically lacks a social structure to transition males from childhood to adulthood – the traditional “rites of passage”.  Campbell feels this problem is significantly less for females because their rite of passage to adulthood is observationally physical.  On this point, I disagree with Campbell as I don’t believe the completion of puberty is the actual rite of passage from childhood to adulthood except in the most biologically literal sense for males or females.
I found the book fascinating but difficult to read. I find it curious that myths (creation, death, heaven, hell, reincarnation, resurrection and ascension) are common across epochs and continents. I am less convinced that all individuals seek to be “heroes” and to find their “bliss”.  It is my observation that the vast majority of folks (male and female) just want to get on with life and enjoy it (life) and their families with as little hassle as possible.
Final recommendation: highly recommended.  I feel the book is very deep and full of insight – both in word and ideas.  I will be including quotes from it periodically.  My own copy is now high-lighted through large passages of the book. (LOL)
One final note: this book took me almost two years to read, even though, at barely 230 pages, it’s not very long.  This is because it is (was) intellectually challenging (to me) and I felt the need to pause periodically.  The result was start, stop, weeks pass, start, stop, etc.  In the end, I moved on to other books and then (after 90+ pages), when I finally got back to it, I felt I’d lost the train of discussion and started over from the intro.  So, reader be warned…  Well worth your time, but you’ll need to be better disciplined than I am.
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On This Day In:
2017 Happy Meeting Day 33 (And Counting)
2016 Picture Perfect
2015 Life Showed Compassion
2014 And Then I Met Her
2013 Defining Maleness
The Run Continues
2012 All Set
2011 Not Always

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Book Review: “Pride And Prejudice”  (1813©)
Today’s book is a classic “romance” novel written by Jane Austen.  The edition / version I have is the “Annotated Edition” edited by Patricia Meyer Spacks which came out in 2010 and was a Christmas present to me from my wife (Hilary).  It was actually a present a couple of Christmas’ ago and I’m just getting around to reading it (and reviewing it).
The story is probably familiar to most: Prince Charming meets girl, they offend each other, they fall in love, lots of secondary story lines build the plot, they fall in love, Charming saves the day, they marry and live happily ever after.  Did I mention they fall in love?  Charming is a stuffy, rich aristocrat (hence “Prince”).  Girl is a vivacious, but prim and proper young woman who is from landed gentry, but not rich (only relative to Prince).  And, despite their both being “stuck up”, they fall in love…
I came to this book via the movie (2005), BBC mini-series (1995), movie (Indian version 2004), movie (1940) and a secondary source – “The Jane Austen Book Club” – movie (2007).  I have  reviewed the 2005 movie (here), and the Indian version (actually titled “Bride And Prejudice“, here), and the BBC and 1940’s version (here).  I recently viewed the “Book Club” movie, but I haven’t gotten around to reviewing it.  It did, however, prompt me to bump the book version up to my “read next” list from my “get around to” list.
So, if I’ve clearly enjoyed the movies so much, what did I think of the original story and – more specifically – this version?  This “book” started off a VERY hard read.  I have not read very many “annotated” versions of anything before and I found it quite a labor.  For one thing, the book starts off with a 20-plus page restatement of the book and why the editor feels it needs to be annotated.  If I had not read the original book or seen any of the movies, I would have been completely put off by the editor completely giving away the story.  If I wanted a summary at the start, I’d have simply purchased Cliff Notes to read before the book.
Next, the annotations “probably” doubled the length of the print in this version.  The original was about 350 pages, but was a small book.  This version is almost 450 pages, but half of each page is allotted as space for the notations and images.  Indeed, some of the notations, spill over either onto the next page (which makes for a confusing read) or take an entire page (which disrupts the flow of the reader).  Also, some of the notations highlighted the same information repeatedly or were used as citations of evidence to support arguments and interpretations made in the introduction / summary.  I would estimate it took me fully 80 to 100 pages before I got used to the notes.  Having said this, they were occasionally interesting additions which added to my understanding of the story.  I guess I’m saying that, in the end, I found the notes  a useful addition to the story.
Separate from the annotations, did I enjoy the book?  Yes!  Tremendously.  And, I highly recommend it!  Not being a student of English history, I cannot vouch for the historical accuracy of the book, but really, is that why anyone EVER reads a romance novel.  I certainly don’t…  What I would say is that as a fan of the various cinematic versions, I am very happy to have finally read the original novel.
Of course, now I’m sure to be tempted to read her other five books and see their movie versions.  At the very least, I’m going to go back and re-watch the BBC and 2005 versions.  Just ’cause that’s the way I roll…
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On This Day In:
2017 Being Nice
2016 Zero To Some = Most
2015 Born More Obligated
2014 Rage And Fury
2013 Successful Children
2012 For God So Loved The World
2011 Go Cheeseheads!!
Structured Mentality

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