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David And Goliath”  (2013©)  —  book review
Today’s book review is for non-fiction “popularized science” / sociology genre book” “David And Goliath“, written by Malcolm Gladwell.  Now, in the interest of full disclosure, Gladwell, Steven Levy and James Gleick are my favorite three “modern” “pop”-science writers, so I have a natural inclination to review this book favorably.  (Of course, my “All-time” favorite for this genre is Isaac Asimov, who could explain almost anything to the common reader – and with over 500 books to his name, he certainly tried.)
Anyway, as stated, I was (am) predisposed to a favorable review.  And, I’m giving it that…
It’s not a “great” book and it didn’t make me feel like I just hit myself on the side of the head (“Wow!!).  But, with Gladwell, you pretty much know what you’re getting when you hand over your dosh.  One, two or three observations about human behavior, a bit of socio- / psychological support (a few facts to support the point and not much to contradict the point) to bolster the observations, and then a bit of storytelling to make Gladwell’s conclusion seem more palatable.  Generally, if you “want” to agree with Gladwell’s observations you won’t look too closely at the support, because, heck, you already agree.  Right?  And if you are not predisposed to agree, Gladwell offers almost twenty pages of “Notes” for further research.  But, if you’re going to all that trouble, you probably have some subject matter expertise and don’t need to read a “popularized science” book on this topic.   Do you?
Per his normal format, Gladwell breaks the book into three main sections:
1) The advantages of disadvantages (and the disadvantages of advantages);
2) The theory of desirable difficulty; and,
3) The limits of power.
Amplifying the observations:
1)  Underdogs win more that we (the average reader) would expect – in some specific categories as much as 30%.  Why?  Because we see our disadvantages as their disadvantages, when they (the underdogs) don’t.  And, if they don’t see themselves as underdogs, they have no incentive to quit before they even try to succeed.
2)  Sometimes disadvantages turn out to be advantages and vice versa.  Great schools and small class sizes don’t necessarily produce the best employees or academics.  Gladwell introduces the idea of a inverted U shaped graph to explain this phenomena.
3)  People with challenges (dyslexia, early family tragedy, ADHD) can still become very successful.  Sometimes / somehow the “challenges” early in life prepare them better than their peers for challenges later in life, so they are “ready” when the real life test happens.  And,
4)  You can never “really” know how people will react when they are placed under pressure.  You generally, expect them to fold (because we believe we would, too), but sometimes they exceed your expectations.
My reaction to all of this?  Yes, it may all be true, but how do you build a society around the observation / hypothesis?  With no controls, you have observations, but you cannot test hypothesis.  And, if you could create similar situations, is it ethical to do so?  …For a hundred people, just so five or ten or thirty percent can overcome them?  What does society say to the others who don’t overcome and become super-achievers?  We’re sorry we ruined your life, but we wanted to see if you were “destined” to be elite.
Final recommendation: moderate to strong.  The book presents some interesting ideas and promotes thought by the reader.  (It certainly made me think!)  It successfully brings academic observations to the masses by means of popular writing.  However, in the end, I was left feeling neither individuals nor the government have the ability (or wisdom) to use power effectively in attempting to control the actions of others.  But for me, making me think is enough to prompt me to recommend the book.
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On This Day In:
2018 Still More Prejudice
A Well Trod Path Of Hopes, Expectations And Surprise
2017 …And With It Civilization
2016 Just Like My Mother
2015 All Omissions Are Mine
2014 Precise Order
2013 Uh, No. Not Really…
Deep Regions
2012 A Pre-Valentine’s Day Message
2011 Easy Like Sunday Morning
May I Have A Little More, Please…
2010 Valleys and Peaks

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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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Will Rogers Says…”  —  book review
Will Rogers Says…” (1993©) is a book of quotations edited by Dr. Reba Collins who was the Director Emeritus of the Will Rogers Memorial and Research Center.  The book is small and short (barely 86 pages with photos), and it is also (obviously) both as very fast read and a very funny / amusing read.
Final recommendation: Highly Recommended!!  If you like social and political commentary, you will love this book.  I will, of course, be posting many of the quotes contained in this handy reference to plain spoken American humor.  LOL.
Two samples:
1)  Being serious, or being a good fellow, has got nothing to do with running this country, if the breaks are with you, you could be a laughing hyena and still have a great administration.
2)  Washington, D.C. papers say:  “Congress is deadlocked and can’t act.”  I think that is the greatest blessing that could befall this country.
[And thus Rogers presages the Trump Administration’s “booming” Stock Market and the Republican majority “Civil War” in Congress despite complete control of all three branches of the Federal Government.  Just saying…  —  KMAB]
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On This Day In:
2016 She Is Still Singing
2015 Don’t Complain
2014 Nothing Is The Same
Orange October (XII) – Giants Win Game 7 (3 To 2) And World Series (4 To 3)
2013 Hours, Days, And Years
2012 In Kev Are In Hil
2011 No Game, Didn’t Really Happen
A Good Post

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Book Review: “Running Blind
Today’s book review is “Running Blind” (2000©) written by Lee Child.  This is the fourth in the Jack Reacher action / mystery series.  In this episode, Reacher is co-opted by the FBI to help them solve a serial murder case.  The case seems to be related to the military, hence the need to involve a former officer in the Military Police.
By “related” I mean the murders involve females who were sexually harassed while in the military.  The initial “perp” profile indicates it “might” be someone like Reacher because blah, blah, blah and he handled a bunch of these cases while he was in the service.   If fact, he is detained by the FBI because he seems to be a likely suspect.  He worked on the cases of a couple of the victims, so he seems to be a common thread.
The story follows what is becoming the standard story for this series: Reacher is dragged into something, he goes from being an unwilling participant to being a willing participant to being the brilliant “Sherlock Holmes” and solving the mystery at the end.  The problem with the series remains: there are already twenty plus books in the series and this is only number four, so there can be no personal tension, no matter how much the author tries to create a build-up.  We know he is going to live to be in the next book.
Having said this, the book is a good, fast read even though it felt longer than the earlier books in the series.  It weighs in at 519 pages in my paperback version.  If there is one difference in this episode, it is that we have a continuation of the story arc from the last book.  That arc is his love interest and the house he inherits from the father of the love interest.  Let’s just say, Reacher is a rolling stone, and leave it at that.  It is interesting because it is the first hint the books are not 100% stand-alone stories.  Does it “matter” in the grand scheme of things?  Not particularly.  Just interesting.
Final recommendation:  moderate to strong.  It is a good story, but I knew who the real perp was before the big resolution at the end of the book.  I didn’t know the how or the why, but I had pretty good ideas.  As an aside, I was expecting a super-twist at the end.  It didn’t happen.  Perhaps that’s why I was a little disappointed.  Anyway, I’m still looking forward to reading more books in the series.
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On This Day In:
2016 There Is A Difference Between Dangerous And Frightening
2015 Always A Goal
2014 Standing Strong
2013 Shaken And Stirred
The Bird With The Broken Wing
2012 Friends In High Places
2011 Objective Independence

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Casca #6: The Persian – book review
This volume is number six in the “Casca: The Eternal Mercenary” book series.  “Casca #6: The Persian” (1982©) was written by Barry Sadler.  For those of you who haven’t read my other reviews, Casca is Casca Rufio Longinus, the Roman soldier who pierced the side of Jesus of Nazareth while he was being crucified.  Just before dying, Jesus tells Casca that he is happy in his role and that he will remain the same until they meet again.  Each volume tells some of Casca’s life over the last two thousand years as he awaits the second coming of Jesus.
Because Casca doesn’t age, every 20 or 30 years he must travel to avoid questions about why he doesn’t seem to get older.  In a prior volume (number 3), Casca was in China.  In this, he is returning to the West and pauses to deliver a message from the emperor of China to the King of the Persians warning of impending attacks from the Huns.  Casca falls into service for the King (Shapur II) and this covers the few years of that service.
This episode has two interesting sub-stories (for me).  The first involves a re-enactment of a battle tactic Casca first saw in China.  As the enemy advances, you have a line of “volunteers” step forward and cut their throats in front of the enemy.  This is said to surprise and then terrify the Hun warriors.  They turn to flee and are then defeated in detail as they try to retreat / run away.  Casca relates this tactic to Shapur who decides he wants to try it and see if it works.  He sends Casca out with an under-manned force, but with several times the number of “volunteers” as the Chinese used.  The tactic works again and Casca is able to defeat the Huns even though out-numbered by several times his own force.
The second sub-story is about Casca’s “curse”.  Because he cannot be killed, each volume has a point where the miracle / curse must be demonstrated.  In prior stories, Casca has been drowned, buried alive, poisoned, fed to crabs and had his heart cut out and one hand completely cut off.  In this episode, the king judges Casca to have become too popular with the army so he decides to trump up some charges of treason and then have Casca burned alive.  Of course Casca survives, but the execution and recovery are explained in graphic detail.  As a reader, you almost feel you are sharing Casca’s pain.
There is a third story-line which also ties back to the earlier Chinese episode, but I’ve already given too much of the story away.  Final recommendation: another strong recommendation.
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On This Day In:
2014 Hey, I Resemble That Remark… (4!)
2013 Sit, Put, Until…
2012 Lessons For My Son
2011 Reaching The Right Audience
2010 Christmas Trees and Profession of Faith

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West Of Honor – book review
Today’s review is for “West Of Honor” (1978©), written by Jerry Pournelle.  Pournelle is a famous Science Fiction writer who not only wrote great individual novels, he also wrote story lines which spanned several books – much like Robert Heinlein’s “Lazarus Long” story / timeline.  In Pournelle’s case, the premise is that the United States and the Soviet Union come together to form a “CoDominium” to 1) control the Earth and the exploration of space; and, 2) maintain their relative positions in the “new” age of space exploration.  The “future” is strangely both dystopian and optimistic.  Dystopian in that surplus population is forced into space (as cheap labor) and optimistic as some of the planets manage to build workable civilizations.  The faster than light Alderson stardrives used in the book / series “was” invented in 2004 and first used to go beyond the solar system in 2008.  LOL!!  So far, not even close…
The main character in the time-line is a “Napoleonic” figure named John Christian Falkenberg.  This book is the story of Falkenberg’s pacification of a planet.  The story is told as a first person narrative by one of Falkenberg’s junior officers – Hal Slater.  This really is a “good, old-fashioned” modern war story which just happens to take place on another planet.  You read about planetary politics, military (and medical) technology and all that, but in the end war comes down to men bleeding and dying.  To the extent Pournelle is able to convince you to believe the technology, you buy the SciFi.  To the extent he convinces you to believe in the battles and the drama, you buy the war story.  I “bought into” both and enjoyed the book tremendously.  Interestingly, victory does not necessarily lead to a “happy” ending.
Full disclosure: I first read this book back in the early 1980’s.  I also read a number of other books in the series, but I no longer have those.  I’m not sure how or when I lost them, but I suppose it was when we moved to Liverpool (or back).  In any case, I’m probably going to end up re-buying them and re-reading them.  Final recommendation: highly recommended!!  Particularly if you like SciFi Military Lit.
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On This Day In:
2014 Sources
2013 Three Essentials
2012 Just Looking
2011 Religious Lessons
2010 View From Under The Bus… (A mid-term report card on the Obama Administration. Long, but still worth reading for historical perspective.)

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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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