Friday, November 15, 2002



Team of Rivals by Gail Kearns Goodwin – absolutely fantastic book about Lincoln and the 3 men he ran against for the republican nomination in 1860. He was an extremely unlikely candidate and was disdained and looked down upon by all 3 who were strong, nationally known figures. Yet he won the nomination and convinced all 3 of them to join his cabinet, and over time, earned their respect and admiration. Lincoln’s leadership and political genius were astounding. I had a week of extremely abbreviated sleep as I couldn’t put this book down.

Mind Wide Open by Steven Johnson - a personal account of neurobiology that’s very engaging and extremely easy to read. Johnson tries several of the latest techniques in neurobiological testing, and discusses the geography and chemistry of the brain – and the implications for our behavior and emotions. Fascinating read.

Man’s Search for Meaning by Vicktor Frankl – This is an amazing book. The first part of the book is about the 3 years Frankl spent in Auschwitz, Dachau and other concentration camps. The second part of the book describes “logotherapy”, his psychological theory based on man’s “will to meaning”.

April 1865 by Jay Winik – This month included the fall of Richmond, Lee’s distinguished surrender to Grant, handled (amazingly) graciously by Grant, Lincoln’s assasination and more. Like the founding era, this book illustrates again that the US is astoundingly lucky to have men of such remarkable character in key positions at critical times. Winik’s writing is overly dramatic, but the content is well worth ignoring his irritating writing style.

A Theory of Everything by Ken Wilber – subtitled “An Integral Vision for Business, Politics, Science and Spirituality”, Wilber integrates … well, everything. His vision includes “matter, body, mind, soul and spirit as they appear in self, culture and nature… [and] embraces science, art and morals.” Much of the book is a fascinating overview of developmental psychology applied to individuals and cultures/societies, and then he describes some applications of his theory (which are illustrative, though somewhat superficial.) Interesting stuff.

Nabokov’s Butterfly by Rick Gekoski – A rare book dealer, Gekoski tells the stories of 20 major books that he’s handled in his career. Very fun reading.

Honeymoon with my Brother by Franz Wisner – After being dumped by his fiance right before the wedding and being demoted at work, the author takes his brother on his already paid-for honeymoon to Costa Rica, where the brothers are inspired to go home, sell their assets, and travel around the world for a couple of years. Entertaining read.

The Know-It-All by A.J. Jacobs – About the year that the author spent reading the entire Encyclopedia Britannica – and then hilariously trying to figure out how to use his new-found knowledge. Quirky, sometimes laugh-out-loud funny, and (obviously) packed with information about random (though alphabetically organized) stuff you never knew you knew nothing about.

Sixpence House by Paul Collins – Collins moves from San Francisco to Hay-on-Wye, Wales, a village known for having a population of 1,500 and 40 bookstores. Very amusing.

Blink by Malcolm Gladwell. Another great read from Gladwell (see Tipping Point below). This one’s about the “power of thinking without thinking” ie, instantaneous decision-making. And he continues to post his often-fascinating New Yorker articles on his web site (

John Adams by David McCullough - You’ve heard the rave reviews of this recent McCullough tome, so suffice it to say that this is an excellent book about a fascinating man. And no matter how busy and productive you think you are, John Adams will make you feel like a slacker.

Ex Libris by Anne Fadiman – a well-written and witty collection of 18 essays about books and language. The first essay is about how, after 5 years of marriage and a child, she and her husband decide they’re “ready for the more profound intimacy of library consolidation.” Then came the issue of how the co-mingled books should be organized. Other essays are about shopping at a secondhand bookstore (from which she buys 19lbs of books), her family and the word games they play (eg, competing to find typos on menus), and the pleasure of reading a book in the location that it describes. A fun and entertaining read.

Vernon Can Read by Vernon Jordan – Interesting memoir of Vernon Jordan, who played major roles in the civil rights movement and was an advisor to several presidents.

46 Pages by Scott Liell – About the remarkable impact that Thomas Paine’s Common Sense pamphlet (which was only 46 pages long) had on changing the mood of the colonies in early 1776 - leading up to the Declaration of Independence in July.

Absolutely American by David Lipsky – Lipsky was given unprecedented access to follow a class through West Point. Interesting book about kids who chose a very different college experience. The class he followed graduated in 2002, so Sept 11 had different implications for them than for that class at most other colleges.

Eats, Shoots & Leaves by Lynne Truss. If you notice when people use “it’s” instead of “its”, you’ll enjoy this book. A witty, gentle rant on the use and misuse of punctuation. Who’da thunk a book about punctuation would ever be a best-seller!?

Moneyball by Michael Lewis – I’m not a baseball fan and I don’t read books about baseball. But this book was fantastic – about a baseball GM who uses takes a different perspective on player statistics and builds powerhouse teams on extremely small budgets. Way more interesting than either of Lewis’ previous books: Liar’s Poker (which was amusing for 5 mins) and The New, New Thing (about Jim Clark & Silicon Valley.)

Finding Flow by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi – Interesting book about being more engaged in everyday life, rather than passively floating along. (“Finding flow” is like being in “the zone”.)

The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson – True story of the the architect who designed and oversaw construction for the World’s Fair in Chicago in 1893 and a serial killer who was murdering women in that neighborhood at the same time. The serial murderer part is bizarre, but the story of the fair is interesting. Reads like fiction.

The Book on the Bookshelf by Henry Petroski – About the evolution of books and bookshelves, with emphasis on bookshelves. Slow in places where he delves into gory detail on how the certain shelves were constructed, etc., (the author’s an engineer) but I’d never thought about how books and bookshelves have changed over time.


Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury – I picked up the 50th anniversary edition of this book, which I hadn’t read since high school, and I loved it. Great story, insightful and foresightful (is that a word?) And his coda in this edition – telling the politically correct types to keep their hands off his writing – is passionately written, very funny and absolutely right on target.

Brothers K by David James Duncan – About a family in the 1950’s and 60’s. The youngest son, who narrates, describes it as “the story of an eight-way tangle of human beings.” The very different characters go in very different directions, but at the core, they’re tangled together as a family. It’s well written and Duncan’s phraseology is often very creative (eg, describing a family road trip as “pre posthumous purgatory”.) I also really enjoyed his first book, The River Why, and his more recent collection of short fiction and nonfiction, River Teeth.

Pride & Prejudice by Jane Austen – Prompted by the impending release of the movie, I re-read this recently and again enjoyed Austen’s sharp wit and social commentary. (And the movie captures that very well, BTW.)

Jayber Crow by Wendell Berry – This is the first book I’ve ready by Berry and it made me a fan of his writing. About a small town and the people who make up the community, described through stories, anecdotes, observations and memoirs of Jayber Crow, the town barber (and grave digger and church janitor on the side). Insightful and beautifully written.

The Gold Bug Variations by Richard Powers – The first time I started this book, I couldn’t get into it. Second time, I got into it and had a hard time putting it down. The book bounces between 2 timelines – 1950’s and the early study of DNA, and 1980s when a couple is trying to figure out why a very promising young geneticist dropped off the map (in the ‘50’s) and ended up (in the ‘80’s) doing grunt work at a data processing facility. This book is pretty dense and includes (sometimes very detailed) references to everything from music to genetics to art. (The title refers to Bach’s Goldberg Variations and Poe’s short story, The Gold Bug.) Not a lot actually happens in the book, but it’s incredibly clever and well-written. I’ve bought several of his other books to see if I like them as much. 7/06 update: Just read Plowing the Dark– and it’s not nearly as good as Gold Bug. Two different stories going on again but they don’t tie together well, and the writing seemed pretentious.

Spectator Bird by Wallace Stegner – Through reading his journal from the trip, an elderly couple remember a trip they took 20 years previously. Switching back and forth from the trip to the present, the book is about life, getting old, marriage, commitment, choices. It’s by Stegner – so (as always) it’s beautifully written.

Recapitulation by Wallace Stegner – A successful diplomat returns to his home town to organize his aunt’s funeral and reflects on the people who impacted him while he was growing up, and influenced who he has become.

A Debt to Pleasure by John Lanchester – At a loss for how to describe this book, I turned to Amazon’s editorial reviews, and they said it better than I could: “A gorgeous, dark, and sensuous book that is part cookbook, part novel, part eccentric philosophical treatise … Join Tarquin Winot as he embarks on a journey of the senses, regaling us with his wickedly funny, poisonously opinionated meditations on everything from the erotics of dislike to the psychology of a menu, from the perverse history of the peach to the brutalization of the palate, from cheese as "the corpse of milk" to the binding action of blood.” Keep a dictionary handy; Lanchester’s vocabulary is fantastic. Also read Fragrant Harbor, but it was extremely disappointing; I struggled to even finish it.

Huckleberry Finn & Tom Sawyer by Twain – re-read these classics recently, and was reminded of Twain’s genius.
A Meeting by the River by Christopher Isherwood. Two very different brothers – one a successful publisher with wife and kids in London and a gay lover in LA, the other preparing to take his vows as a Hindu monk - spend some time together after years of distance. The book flips back and forth from the perspective of one brother to that of the other. I enjoyed it and like the way Isherwood writes.

Rule of Four by Ian Caldwell and Dustin Thomason – Of the same genre as The Da Vinci code, this story revolves around a 15th century coded document. Better written than Da Vinci code.

Airplane/beach reading

John Dunning novels – The main character is a cop who becomes rare book dealer. The stories are mysteries related to rare books. Fun reading – and the book collecting aspect intrigued me.

Daniel Silva novels – I read several of these and enjoyed them. Main character is a Mossad agent who’s also an art restorer. Very entertaining.

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