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Posts Tagged ‘Highly Recommended Reading’

Travels With Charley – In Search Of America – book review
Today’s review is for one of John Steinbeck’s later works, “Travels With Charley” (1962©).  The book is a “supposedly” non-fiction relating of a road trip Steinbeck made around the continental United States (about 10,000 miles).  Roughly, the trip is from his home in New York, up to Maine, across the northern states to Seattle, down through California, back east to New Orleans (via Texas), then up the Eastern seaboard back to his home.  Steinbeck says the trip is to allow him to get back in touch with the common American whom Steinbeck feels he based much of his writing on.  Having lost “touch” with his roots, Steinbeck seeks to rediscover America by seeing it again with his own eyes.  Steinbeck makes the trip in a truck with a custom built camper shell.  The truck is named “Rocinante” –  for the horse ridden by Don Quixote.
Although quite a number of books touch me (as a reader), there are relatively few which seem to strike an internal chord.  I am not a musician, so forgive me if I am misusing the term “chord”, but it is more than a single note.   It is a combination of notes which creates their own harmony.  This book is one of those few for me.  It is hard for me to adequately put into words the effect this book had except to say I consistently felt Steinbeck was writing it just to let me know I am not alone in how I feel about certain things.  From his description of his perpetual wanderlust, to his affection for his pet dog (Charley), to his observations about America – its history and its people – its cities and our civilization – I just felt a powerful bond of kinship with Steinbeck.
In the martial arts, it is frequently said that when the student is ready, the teacher will find him.  I think it ironic for me to “discover” this work as I turn sixty (“ish”) and that I feel its call to me to continue chasing my own windmills.  “On, Rocinante!!”  I cannot promise you this book will touch you as powerfully as it did me, but my final recommendation is Highly Recommended Book / Reading.
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On This Day In:
2014 Changing Frequently
2013 Trifles
2012 Simple, Ordinary And Wonderous
2011 Humane Writers

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Today’s book review is for “Casca: The War Lord” (1980©) written by Barry Sadler.   This is book three in the “Casca – The Eternal Mercenary” series.  This is a re-read for me.  My first reading would have been sometime in the early to mid-1980’s.
Casca is Casca Rufio Longinus, the legendary Roman soldier who slayed Christ with a spear.  Just prior to dying, the Messiah tells Casca: “You are satisfied with what you are and so you shall remain until we meet again.”  Thus began the (series and) adventures of Casca across two-thousand years (and counting).
In this volume, Casca decides to make his first visit to China.  As is the case with most of series, Casca has various adventures along the way, the most memorable being the temporary loss of his left hand in the discovery of the “Brotherhood of the Lamb”.  Of course, because he can never die and must remain as he is (was), his hand painfully reattaches.  The “Brotherhood” is a league of “crazy” religious fanatics who seek to follow and keep track of Casca, so they can honor Jesus and hasten the 2nd coming.  Of course, they hate Casca and seek to cause him as much physical pain as they can while waiting for Jesus.
Anyway, after multiple adventures, Casca ends up meeting and serving the Emperor, for which he is granted the title.
The book is a fast read as is typical of this series and many of the “male adventure-series” from that time period.  If you are “into” this genre (and I am), you will thoroughly enjoy this book (and I did).  I particularly like the historical fiction aspect of the series.  Highly recommended.
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On This Day In:
2014 Orange October (II) – Giants Win NLDS Game 2 In 18 Innings (2 to 1)!!
Acknowledging Doubt
2013 Fulfilled Acceptance
2012 Error Is Tolerated Here (So Far)
2011 In Defense Of Pain

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Thursday I completed the novel “Ender’s Game” (1985©), written by Orson Scott Card.  The novel is an expanded version of a short story Card wrote back in 1977 for a SciFi magazine.  The book is fairly well know in SciFi circles and won both the Nebula and Hugo awards for best novel.  Both awards are for best SciF novel with the Nebula being the American award and the Hugo being the international version of same.  In addition to the “normal” SciFi crowd, the book is popular in the military community and is “expected” reading in at least one branch (U.S. Marine Corps).
Basically, the book is a coming of age story for a young (pre-teen) Caesar / Napoleonic / Alexander character who, through an undiscussed eugenics process, has been bred to lead the combined Earth forces in an interplanetary war against a race of giant ants called the “Formics”.  They are more “affectionately” called “bugs” or “buggers”.  The story traces his (Andrew “Ender” Wiggin) life from just before he leaves his family, through his “growing-up” at a military academy to the end of the war.  To say much more is to give away a substantial amount of the ending.
Despite the implausibility of a story about an 11 year old being granted the authority to lead an interplanetary armada and the short span of time between “know-nothing” to force commander, the story is a pretty good one.  The story is very much “Lord of the Flies” -In-Space, but I still found the book and the twist at the end enjoyable.  In fairness to the reader coming at the book for the first time, I must admit, I saw the movie version first and enjoyed it too.  The movie (same name) was released in late 2013, and having seen the previews, it piqued my interest.  In the end, I never saw it at the theater because I thought it was going to be a “young Harry Potter saves the world from aliens” kid’s movie.  Anyway, I remembered the movie preview and when I got a chance to catch it on the tube, I took advantage of the opportunity.  I was pleasantly surprised to have enjoyed it as much as I did.  This in turn led me to be on the look-out for the book(s) – there is a whole series – which I have finally gotten into.
The movie tracks the book pretty accurately, so the book’s ending wasn’t the surprise it might have been, but I felt (as usual) the book had the time and space to explain what was happening a lot better than the movie did.  This isn’t a criticism of the movie as much as it is an acknowledgement that action movies don’t lend themselves to narration accept at the beginning and ending.  In between, it’s the action which is supposed to tell the story (normally).
I found the military tactics, personal combat, team building, working on one’s craft, and the personal/internal conflict about the morality of inflicting pain and death on an enemy to all be accurate within my (very) limited experience of each.  Fortunately, I was never placed in a position to shoot / kill someone, but I still have distinct memories of basic training and realizing there was a reason the “targets” were silhouettes of the enemy instead of simple concentric rings.  We were being trained to shoot at other humans, not at bull’s-eyes’.
I found the movie interesting and enjoyable, but also troubling.  Because the book explains more, it is more troubling.  So my final recommendation for the movie is recommended, and, for the book, highly recommended.  If it’s good enough for the Marine Corps “Recommended Reading List”, it’s good enough for me!
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On This Day In:
2014 Two Thoughts
2013 RIP – Dear Abby
Half-Life Problems
2012 To The Soul…
2011 Reverted!!

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Book Review:
Last week I finished reading “Skin Game” (2014©), written by Jim Butcher.  This is the fifteenth book in the Dresden Files fantasy / horror / detective / adventure series.  The series traces the life of Harry Dresden, who is a practicing wizard, working in Chicago as a private detective / investigator.  In this volume, Harry joins up with a band of bad guys to try to steal some holy relics from a safe in Hades.
If you are not familiar with the series, it is quite formulaic: good guy (Harry) is placed in an awkward position and must overcome a series of bad guys in order to resolve the novel’s main story, while devoting about 10% of the book to furthering the main arc of the series – Harry’s continuing process of discovering the hero in himself while fighting to overcome evil.  Like all volumes in the series, it mostly stands on its own, but will be a lot more enjoyable if you’ve read all the preceding volumes.
Obviously, as I’ve now read fifteen of them, I’m a fan of the series and the author.  Are these “great” novels?  No.  Are they (is it) well written and enjoyable reads?  Yes!  So, highly recommended…  Again, as stated in reviews of the prior volumes, while the series is intended for the “young adult” reader, it (the series and this volume) contain graphically described violence and are probably not appropriate for most young teens and definitely not pre-teens.  This series is NOT Harry Potter for slightly older children.
As an additional mention, two things I learned from reading this book are: Hades is the name for the Greek god who rules “the underworld” and it has also come to be the name used for the “underworld” and precedes the Christian term “Hell”.  (I guess I already knew these things, but they never really settled into my conscious mind.)  The second thing I learned is that the Greek god Hades is not the equivalent of the Christian devil (“Satan”).  Hades is, in fact, more closer to a final judge of souls than a promoter of “evil” on Earth.
Movie Review:
Today I had my initial viewing of the movie (on DVD) “Ip Man: The Legend Is Born“.   Dennis To stars in the title role.  The movie came out in 2010 and is the third in the series of four, although it is fourth in my viewing order simply because that’s the order I was able to purchase them.  “Series” is a bit misleading, as the movies are not really chronological or meant to be viewed in any particular order.  They’ve simply been very popular and therefore additional portions of Mr. Ip’s life have been dramatized.  The movie comes with English language translation, so you don’t have to read sub-titles.
If the movies were an actual series, this movie would be the prequel to the first movie as this covers his life from childhood through early manhood, roughly up to the Sino-Japanese War.
So, is it any good and how does it rank vis-à-vis the others in the series?  I think it is number two, after only the original (Ip Man).  The fights are energetic, well choreographed and well filmed without too much wire-work, which is popular in China, but detracts from a movie’s realism (IMHO).
All in all, I rate this movie as highly recommended both as a movie and as a pure martial arts film.
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On This Day In:
2013 Real Honor
Catching Up
2012 Thoughts And Communications
2011 But How Does Peter Feel?
2010 Name That Regret

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Today I am home ill with what seems to be an ear infection.  Every few years, I get this swollen sensation on the right side of my head.  It feels like my head has a weighted balloon attached to the right side.  When I turn my head, stand or look quickly in any direction, I get a light-headedness and it feels like my vision/brain is continuing to move after my head (or eyeballs) have stopped.  Several years ago I had to go to the ER to get seen by a doctor about this condition.  Then, I also had an associated fever, which I fortunately don’t have this time.  In any case, I take some decongestants and my vertigo pill and I kind of spend the day in a half-stupor of fatigue and dizziness.
This morning I completed a book I’ve been reading off and on for several years now.  Our local library system has an annual shelf clearing book give-away each August and they have about 800 to 1,000 boxes of books which are set out for anyone to take what they want – as much as you can carry, and come back tomorrow.  Today’s book was one of these and I picked it up about three years ago.  It has mostly sat in my car waiting to be read.  I would grab it whenever I had a doctor / dentist visit to have something to read in the waiting room.  Unfortunately, if you don’t wait much, you don’t read much, so this has taken quite a while to get through.
The book is titled: “The Modern Samurai Society: Duty and Dependence in Contemporary Japan“, (1982©) and was written by Mitsuyuki Masatsugu.  The book attempts to explain contemporary (circa 1982) corporate Japan in terms of the historical legacy of the Samurai (“samurai” means “one who serves”) society which held sway in Japan for several centuries.  The samurai tradition fell out of favor with the coming of the industrial revolution in the last half of the 19th century.  (As an aside, part of this transition was portrayed in the Tom Cruise movie: “The Last Samurai“.)  In essence, it attempts to explain Japanese business management techniques to non-Japanese.
To Masatsugu, successful Japanese management stems from eight factors which incorporate two features from Japanese culture.  The eight factors (guiding principles) to success are:
1) Paternalism;
2) Guaranteed lifetime employment;
3) Seniority-based promotion;
4) In-company unions;
5) Periodic transfers;
6) Overtime work as a safety valve;
7) Enriched welfare program; and,
8) A selective retirement system.
The two features which Masatsugu believes to be uniquely emphasized in Japanese society are:
1) Diligence – the duty each individual has towards their country in general and towards their company in particular.  And,
2) Dependence – a recognition that even though the employees are individuals, they must work together to surpass non-Japanese companies.
Like any “valid” theoretical explanation, management theories must meet a minimum of two criteria: does it accurately describe what is currently happening, and two, does it have predictive value either for when external conditions change or when internal structures are abandoned (or both).  In this book’s case, we now have the benefit of thirty-two years history to see that Masatsugu’s proposal was pretty spot on.
Since the book’s release Japan has suffered both a housing boom collapse and an economic drought now approaching the middle of its third decade.  The housing collapse happened in the 1980’s and the start of Japan’s economic drought (I hesitate to call it a collapse as Japan has only recently been surpassed by China as THE economic power in Asia) occurred in the 1990’s.  In fact, the 1990’s is sometimes referred to in Japan as “the lost decade” because there was so little economic growth.
Specifically, Masatsugu suggests the structure of Japan’s economic strength is based on these principles and if any one (or combination) fails, the entire structure will waver and ultimately collapse.  Masatsugu predicts the gradual incorporation of western management will bring about an economic failure.  He leans towards the abandonment of guaranteed lifetime employment and seniority-based promotion when “times get hard”.  Masatsugu says that in past times, management held to principle and the economy eventually turned around.  He cautions that future management might not have the fortitude to withstand to pressure to abandon principle in an effort to meet “western style” quarterly objectives.  We now know Japanese management has moved away from guaranteed lifetime employment, seniority-based promotion and selective retirement.  All of these actions have had a detrimental effect on business (and societal) productivity in the U.S. over the last 40 years.  It will be interesting to see if the same happens in Japan and how long it will take to happen (if it does).
I doubt very much that this book could be written in today’s “politically correct” world as it has several racist and sexist comments which, in context, seem common sense, but are actually inculcated cultural biases.  For example, women are generally considered unequal to men in the business world, because…  Wait for it…  Because they are!  (Well, except when they aren’t.)  In the author’s view, a woman can be one of the main reasons a man succeeds in business.  But, a female can never succeed in Japanese business on her own.  In all, though, these are trivial reasons to be critical of a book which I believe is overwhelmingly a valuable (if dated) insight into Japanese business culture.  Highly recommended!
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On This Day In:
2013 Doin’
2012 A Lover
2011 What Have We Found Here
Words

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Book Review:
Last night I completed the book: “Genius – The Life and Science of Richard Feynman“, (1992©) written by James Gleick.  As I had already read four of Dr. Feynman’s anecdotal books, most of the main content was already known to me.  What was “new” and interesting was the placing of Dr. Feynman’s work in context with the rest of the world (in general) and physics (in particular).  This is not a particularly “scientific” book.  There are no formulas and what nuclear physics which is discussed is not explained in any great detail.  Lots of things – quarks, spin, muans, top, tensor, scalar, photons, etc – are named, but very little is “explained”.  Probably because to do so would require math skills which so much of the general reading public lacks (myself included).  Or it could just be that the words naming things don’t translate into other words which explain them clearly.  I feel the latter is just as likely as the former.
Essentially, Feynman made his name by working on the creation of the “bomb” (the Manhattan Project), while he was in his early twenties.  He received his Nobel Prize (for physics) in 1965 and then achieved “popular” fame when he was on the commission to review the Challenger Shuttle disaster in the 1980’s.  There, he famously demonstrated how / why the “O-rings” failed by taking a piece of a ring and placing it in ice water during one of the televised sessions.  He then pressed on the chilled rubber and when it failed to return to “normal” shape, he explained this was the cause for the subsequent catastrophic failure (“explosion”) of the shuttle.
The good Dr. is “humanized” by repeatedly reporting on his sexual escapades and his other personal peccadilloes.  One is left with the impression that although brilliant, he was not necessarily a good / nice person.  Having said that, my experience is that focused and driven individuals rarely are – good or nice.  They rarely have the time or feel the need to make the effort to be “normal” in everyday society.
Anyone interested in seeing Dr. Feynman can look him up on YouTube and his world famous “red book” series are still widely available as references for Physics.  I’m told (actually I’ve read) you can practically hear the joy of science in Dr. Feynman’s lecture notes.  You can also find the books on-line for free, if you care to download them.
Final Recommendation:  Gleick is a very good writer and this is a fascinating (if deep) book.  If you are looking to try to understand the role of Physics in the 20th century, this is an excellent primer.  It is also an interesting biography of a true scientific iconoclast.  As mentioned, it is not for the faint of heart, but I’d say anyone with a deep (loving) curiosity of the world would get something out of this book.  Highly recommended.  And, of course, a good number of quotes will follow in the coming days…
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On This Day In:
2013 Serve The World
2012 Acquaintance, n.
2011 On Why His Father Was A Great Teacher
A Baker’s Dozen

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Over the weekend I discovered a new (to me) used book store.  The store is named: Berkshire Books.  It turns out it’s been there just over ten years, but I don’t often get on that road and when I do, I tend to be looking the other way, so I just never saw it before.  Soooo, I popped in to see what’s up.  The store is pretty poorly lit and has that old book musty smell.  Now, to my taste, that’s bad and great.  There’s no place to sit because there are books everywhere – and I do mean everywhere.  To be honest, except for the lighting, I kinda felt like I’d died and when to heaven.  Anyway, the prices aren’t great, but they’re not too bad either.  I will definitely be going back, but not to buy stacks at a time like I can from the two dollar racks at my local Half-Price Books store.
My selection was an oldie, but a goodie: “The Power“, written by Frank M. Robinson.  The original version is copywrited in 1956, while the revised version is 1999©.  I don’t think the book was intended to be a children’s book, but I first read it back in the mid-1960’s when I was around 11 or 12.  It is considered to be a “classic” of SciFi literature.  The book was adapted into a movie (released in 1968) which starred George Hamilton as the principal character and Michael Rennie (“Klaatu, Barada Nikto”) as the bad guy.  This was the first time I remember ever reading a book before seeing the movie and then being sharply disappointed that the movie didn’t live up to my imagination.
Anyhow, the book is about a team of scientists who discover there are “super” men among us who can control us physically (via telekinesis) and who can also implant thoughts and remove memories.  They also possess superior strength and reflexes themselves.  The main character must try to discover which team member is the super-man while living long enough to kill him.  Of course, all the while, the super-man is killing off the rest of the team.
When I found the book, I thought, “Wow! This was from my childhood!“.  It wasn’t until later that I discovered it wasn’t the “same” book at all.  This was the “revised” version, basically the same, but updated with comments about Vietnam and the first Gulf War.  Did it make a difference?  Ultimately, I think it did.  As I read the book, I began to doubt my memories.  Some of the books passages prompted vivid memories – like when you eat or smell something and you’re instantly transported back to another place and time.  Other times, it was: “Huh?
I do believe the book is a legitimate classic in the SciFi genre, but I would say it is more of a young adult book than a mature adult book.  It is about 220 pages and a very fast read.  Highly recommended!
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On This Day In:
2013 Legal (Almost)
2012 Great Scots!
2011 The GI Bill – A Simple History Lesson
Breaking Even

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