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Books To Read
Books I Am Reading
Books That I Have Read

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Steve Greenberg has assembled this web page to keep track of books that he has read to keep himself entertained during retirement in Sturbridge, Massachusetts. The list of books is approximately in the reverse order in which they were read.

Here is a source of ebooks you might want to investigate.

Go To Project Gutenberg

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Books To Read

A People's History Of The United States by Howard Zinn
This great book should really be read by everyone. It is difficult to describe why it so great because it both teaches and inspires. You really just have to read it. We think it is so good that it demands to be as accessible as possible. Once you've finished it, we're sure you'll agree. In fact, years ago, we would offer people twenty dollars if they read the book and didn't think it was completely worth their time. Of all the people who took us up on it, no one collected./dd>

The Snowball: Warren Buffett and the Business of Life by Alice Schroeder
There are at least two versions of this book, a rough cut version published in September 2008, and perhaps a more final cut published perhaps later in 2008. Read the review by Michael Lewis

The Photographer's Eye: Composition and Design for Better Digital Photos by Michael Freeman
The beginning of one reader's (T. Campbell) review, "This is the best single volume on visual design and composition in years. Painters need a book this good. Freeman's earlier book from the 1980s, "Image," had long held the status, IMHO, of being the best single volume. His new book surpasses the older one by a significant margin."

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Books I Am Reading

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Books That I Have Read

The Grace of Silence: A Memoir by Michele Norris
By uncovering the background of the lives of her parents, she provides a wonderful insight into what it was like to grow up in the World War II years as a black American. Just by telling the straight story, she reminds us how the factor of race in the United States impacts the lives of real human beings.

She writes an engaging mystery as she searches to uncover the hidden past. The ties to events that are well known parts of history and some that are not so well known to white America clears up further mysteries for the reader. It explains some things you didn't even know that you didn't know.

Don't Make Me Think: A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability, 2nd Edition by Steve Krug
A brief, well-written, even humorous look at how to make web sites more usable. This focuses on principles rather than the technology to make it happen. So, even though this edition was written in 2005, it is by no means outdated.

You can download the user testing chapters from the first edition that were condensed for the second edition.

Video of a talk from Joel Spolsky's Business of Software conference, The Least You Can Do™ about Usability. Viewing this video gives you a relatively quick view of some important ideas in the book.

The Bridge: The Life and Rise of Barack Obama by David Remnick
This book gives you insights into Barack Obama that Obama cannot give you in his own books. That is not a knock against Obama's books. Obama only claimed to be giving you his own point of view. Sometimes a third party has access to information that a first party does not have.

The Best Way to Rob a Bank Is to Own One: How Corporate Executives and Politicians Looted the S&L Industry by William K. Black
See my comments on my political blog The Best Way To Rob A Bank Is To Own A Politician and The Best Way To Rob A Bank Is To Own One

The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine by Michael Lewis
It is quite possible that if you read this book, you will have an understanding of the financial melt down at the end of the decade of the 2000's that the people who caused it still do not have. It is as engrossingly written as if it were a novel.

13 Bankers: The Wall Street Takeover and the Next Financial Meltdown by Simon Johnson and James Kwak

Googled: The End of the World As We Know It by Ken Auletta

Though the title was almost enough to make me bypass this book, I am glad that I didn't judge the book by its cover.

Reading the book gave me a lot more insight into what makes Google tick. I certainly knew that they got the bulk of their revenue from advertising, but I did not fully appreciate all that means until I read this book. (I never knew what Google Analytics did other than slow down web browsing.)

It gives me more idea of how I could participate if I wanted to. A lot of the book also deals with the issues between the old media and the new (the end of the world as we know it). He presents arguments that cast doubt on whether a completely advertising supported news outlet is a good idea.

He doesn't pretend to tell you how it is all going to work out. He does give you plenty to think about, though.

Yes, I did cringe at this item in the book about CEO Eric Schmidt.

He worked summers at Bell Labs, where he was skilled enough to write a software program called Lex, a code that facilitated the writing of text.

Just to make sure that I wasn't thinking about a different Lex, I looked up Eric Schmidt's biography (using Google of course)

Just as I expected:

He was joint author of lex (a lexical analyzer and an important tool for compiler construction).

It is a far stretch to say that a lexical analyzer's purpose is to facilitate the writing of text.

Other than a few minor gaffes like this, the book was pretty accurate on the technology issues that I was familiar with.

The Economic Naturalist's Field Guide: Common Sense Principles for Troubled Times by Robert H. Frank

Quoting from the first page of the Introduction:

In an essay written in 1879, Francis Amasa Walker tried to explain why economists tend to be in bad odor amongst real people. Walker, who went on to become the first president of the American Economic Association, argued that it was partly because economists disregard the customs and beliefs that tie individuals to their occupations and locations and lead them to act in ways contrary to the predictions of economic theory.

Frank, who was an early proponent of the new field of Behavioral Economics, uses the insights gained from this field to correct the simplifying and misleading assumptions of traditional economists.

Unlike some of the other books I have read that talk about Behavioral Economics, this one ties the insights directly to explanations of actual results of implementing some macro-economic policies.

With his insights he can be even more scathing about what the effects have been from policies of the previous 8 years. These are even stronger criticisms than I have been able to make up to this point with my limited economic knowledge.

The video of his talk to the Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (RSA) in London, Finding New Opportunities Amid the Economic Wreckage, gives you a good idea of one of the major thrusts of his book.

The author has a website from which I got the above link.

You might also enjoy this story, Economics lessons in the airport, that he mentions in the book.

How We Decide by Jonah Lehrer

From the fly leaf, we have this description of the book: scientists break open the mind's black box with the latest tools of neuroscience, they are discovering that philosophers' description of the decision-making process is not how the mind works. Our best decisons are finely tuned blend of both feeling and reason ...

I learned a lot from reading this book that has practical value despite the cheap shot that I took below after reading only a bit of it. Although the cheap shot is a way to remind the credulous side of me to take the interpretation of some of the experiments with a grain of salt.

As I read the book and was enlightened by descriptions of neuroscience experiments, I began to see the point of Taleb's complaint in the Black Swan book about straying too far into narrative interpretation of empirical results.

Lehrer spends 12 pages describing an incident where an airplane lost all of its hydraulics while in fight. He desrcibes how the prefontal cortex of the pilots' brains allowed them to invent a way to control the plane using differential thrust to the two engines. Amazingly enough, the pilot controlled some oscillations by going against what seemed like the obvious aerodynamics of the situation by giving the engines less power as the plane rose and giving it more power as the plane dove.

This is the false historical narrative in action as described in the book, "The Black Swan". I have a much simpler and less spectacular explanation of how the pilot figured out what to do. I had an experienced sailor teach me how to sail my brand new 26 foot sailboat. His motto was "if you push the tiller one way and the boat doesn't go where you want it to go, then push the tiller the other way." The pilot of the plane experienced simple feedback. When the plane didn't respond the way he wanted when he did one thing, he just had to do the oppposite thing.

This response is so automatic, if you can overcome the freeze of inaction due to the panic, that he probably didn't even remember it. Lehrer had described earlier in the book how the brain's dopamine system automatically figures this stuff out. He was trying to use the airplane incident to explain how the more rational parts of the brain can take control when needed. In fact, I think he just proved the opposite thesis. Perhaps the part that the prefrontal cortex played was just in overcoming the panic so that the dopamine system could take over.

The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable by Nassim Nicholas Taleb

Until I get to the end of this book I am going to be arguing with myself if this is mostly bull or very important stuff. By page 59, I am starting to tend toward the latter view.

I want to record and remember a footnote on page 59.

The confirmation problem pervades our modern life, since most conflicts have at their root the following mental bias: when Arabs and Israelis watch news reports they see different stories in the same succession of events. Likewise, Democrats and Republicans look at different parts of the same data and never converge to the same opinions. Once our mind is inhabited with a certain view of the world, you will tend to only consider instances proving you to be right. Paradoxically, the more information you have, the more justified you will feel in your views.

I like to think that in my comments on the Henry Louis Gates, Jr. incident I am trying to point out this confirmation problem. Most people, at least in Worcester County area of Massachusetts, are assuming that the police are right and Gates is wrong. I am not staking out the opposite point of view. I am just trying to get people to see that they do not have enough information to decide which story is closer to the truth. I have pointed out that if most people had decided that Gates was right, I would have been arguing against them, too.

I had not reached the promised part of the book where Taleb explains how to succeed in a world where there are very important events that could happen even though they have not occurred in all the history we have available to us. When I got there, I found it to be extremely short and unhelpful. Well, what did I really expect? If he had the answer, then we'd all be rich.

The Gamble: General David Petraeus and the American Military Adventure in Iraq, 2006-2008 by Thomas E. Ricks

He starts off with the incident in Haditha, Iraq in the fall of 2005. By the time I got to page 8, I came to realize how wrong the Cheney philosophy is about how to fight and win a war of this sort.

Here is something from page 6.

The American tradition also tends to neglect the lesson, learned repeatedly in dozens of twentieth-century wars, that the way to defeat an insurgency campaign is not to attack the enemy but instead to protect and win over the people. "The more you focus on the enemy, the harder it is to actually get anything done with the population," noted Australian counterinsurgency theorist David Kilcullen who would play a prominent role in fixing the way the American military fought in Iraq. The best insurgent is not a dead one, who might leave behind a relative seeking vengeance, but one who is ignored by the population and perhaps is contemplating changing sides, bringing with him invaluable information.

I wonder if some of this knowledge is slipping away from us in Iraq, and more so in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Most of the people in those countries seem to think so very little of the Taliban, that you would think it would be difficult for us to alienate them from our side. Nevertheless, we seem to be successful at doing just that even with Obama in the White House.

If the people of this country understood what Ricks is saying, they would boo Cheney off the public stage as soon as he opened his mouth.

By the end of the book, the author had come to the conclusion that gamble on the surge had paid off in restoring enough order into the situation that the American soldiers were looked on more favorably by the Shias and the Sunni than was the government troops.

Unfortunately, the success in restoring some semblance of order, gave breathing room for the government to avoid the reconciliation between the Shias, Sunnis, and Kurds that would be needed for lasting peace.

We may keep sufficient troops in Iraq to keep the place from exploding into civil war. We may do this for 10 years, 50 years, or 100 years, but civil war could break out shortly after we leave. Of course according to the above book The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable we can never be certain a civil war wouldn't break out in any country no matter what we do.

A stable democracy as foreseen by George Bush may still elude us into and beyond the foreseeable future.

Another vaguely related thought has occurred to me. We probably all seem to agree, no matter our political persuasion, that Saddam Hussein was a bad character and it is good that we deposed him. Here is an interesting question though, "Had we not deposed him and Iraq and Iran kept on fighting, would we be worried about Iran's nuclear capability now? Would Iran have been able to support Hezbollah in Lebanon?"

The Protest Singer: An Intimate Portrait of Pete Seeger by Alec Wilkinson
An intentionally slim volume about Pete Seeger that can be read in one or two sittings.

Seeger sure did choose to live life the hard way.

Chaos: Making a New Science by James Gleick
From Publishers Weekly
Gleick here adventurously attempts to describe the revolutionary science of "chaos," a challengingly abstract new look at nature in terms of nonlinear dynamics. "A ground-breaking book about what seems to be the future of physics,"

The book opened my eyes to a whole different way of looking at science. Rather than breaking things down into finer and finer detail as I have learned to do over my training and my career, I learned that there is a whole world of abstraction that I have never considered. (Well, I can think of times when I considered it and rejected it.)

There are insights to be gained in the realms of physics, mathematics, economics, social sciences, medicine, psychiatry, and more that are opened up by the study of chaos as described in this book.

I never could make much of the theory of chaos while I was a working engineer. It seemed too hazy for me to put in any time studying it. James Gleick puts it in a form that finally makes it accessible to me. And to think that I stumbled upon this book almost at random in our local library.

Red and Me: My Coach, My Lifelong Friend by Bill Russell and Alan Steinberg
Fascinating account of the friendship between Bill Russell and Red Auerbach. I enjoyed watching Bill Russell's short-lived television talk show. I am finding the book just as enjoyable as the talk show.

The Day We Found the Universe by Marcia Bartusiak Review
Book Description
From one of our most acclaimed science writers: a dramatic narrative of the discovery of the true nature and startling size of the universe, delving back past the moment of revelation to trace the decades of work--by a select group of scientists--that made it possible.
Not as deep into the physics as Einstein's Telescope. Nevertheless, a good read and an interesting story.

Welcome To The Urban Revolution: How Cities are Changing the World by Jeb Brugmann
This is an excellent look at the global state of cities and how they are revolutionizing the world. There is no inconsistentcy with, but is an extension of, what I read from Jane Jacobs during the 1960s. In fact Jane Jacobs is mentioned in the acknowledgments chapter.

From the discussion of Chicago, I deduced why Barack Obama was the right candidate for President in 2008.

The author has a website At the web site you can get an easy glance at what you would learn by reading the book. The web site even enhances your experience of reading the book.

Through a Glass Darkly by Karleen Koen
Perhaps I was intrigued by the title. I was more in the mood for some light reading, so I don't know why I picked a 700 page book. This is almost as bad as Tess Of The D'Urbervilles as far as the outcomes for the protagonists and how they get themselves into the messes that they do.

Einstein's Telescope: The Hunt for Dark Matter and Dark Energy in the Universe by Evalyn Gates
The author guaranteed that you did not need to have a background in physics to appreciate this book. I was tempted to put it down right there as too simplified to be interesting. I am glad that I did not.

As one who only got through special relativity in college, I have never had a satisfying grasp of the theory of general relativity. This book goes a long way to fill in the parts that are most important to getting me started to a better qualitative understanding.

I have read in the popular press about astronomers' recent discoveries such as planets outside our solar system. Until reading this book, I had no idea of what was involved in making these discoveries.

In reading this book and the book The Age of Entanglement I have had the thought that what is going on in actual science is more amazing than some of what you may read in science fiction.

Richard H pointed me to the article Physicists see the cosmos in a coffee cup which touches on some of the same matters discussed in the book.

The Age of Entanglement: When Quantum Physics Was Reborn by Louisa Gilder

From Publishers Weekly

The story of quantum mechanics and its lively cast of supporters, heretics and agnostics has always fascinated science historians and popular science readers. Gilder's version differs from the familiar tale in two important ways. First, by focusing on the problem of entanglement -- the supposed telepathic connection between particles that a skeptical Einstein called spooky action-at-a-distance -- Gilder includes more recent developments leading to quantum computing and quantum cryptography. Second, Gilder exercises -- not wholly successfully -- a daring creative license, drawing excerpts from papers, journals and letters to construct dialogues among the scientists. Science is rooted in conversations, Werner Heisenberg once wrote, and Gilder's created conversations reveal personalities as well as thought processes: Do you really believe the moon is not there if no one looks? asks Einstein. Less comfortable aspects of the era are also part of Gilder's story, the uncertainty and fear as one scientist after another fled Nazi Germany, the paranoia of the Manhattan Project and the McCarthy era. Gilder's history is rife with curious characters and dramatizes how difficult it was for even these brilliant scientists to grasp the paradigm-changing concepts of quantum science. 20 illus., 15 by the author. (Nov. 12)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

I have to partially disagree with this review. I think her daring creative license worked very well. This book read like a novel or a work of science fiction, but it is a story of real people and real science history.

Reading these interviews with the author gives you some hint at how great this book is.

The review in Nature by Don Howard, professor of philosophy at the University of Notre Dame, Indiana clarifies some of the issues that were not clear to me when I read the book.

The Ayatollah Begs to Differ: The Paradox of Modern Iran by Hooman Majd
I have been told by Richard H. that this book provides a different perspective on the key political players in Iran. I have always suspected that once an "authority" in the U.S. media decides what the line is on any subject, the rest of the media just blindly follow along without bothering to do their own research. Eventually some book gets published that tells us how badly we have been misled. Perhaps this is that book.

I found the book to be good, but somehow unsatisfying. Perhaps my final conclusion is that the book provides me with a lot of raw data for thought, but it needs digesting and perhaps corroboration from other readings that I will eventually do.

Tess Of The D'Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy
Although the link above points to a different version, I actually read A Modern Library Book edition.

I think the point of this book is that if you strictly adhere to principle you can easily deny yourself and others the joy that you and they deserve. Let that be a lesson to me and some people I know.

I don't know which came first, this book or Murphy's Law. Everything that could go wrong with the protagonists did in fact go wrong.

I don't understand the moral outrage that is said to have greeted this book in its time. Surely, some of the same ground had been covered by Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter.

Despite my seemingly dismissive remarks above, the book was well worth reading.

Nudge : Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness by Richard H. Thaler and Cass R. Sunstein
This book was suggested reading by the book Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions. Nudge is behavioral economics as applied to improving our decisions related to health, wealth, and happiness. I learned a lot from reading this book. I did get a little tired of the emphasis on libertarian paternalism. I think this perspective has blinded the authors to some realities although I would be hard pressed to name specific examples. It did seem that they give George Bush too much credit for his Medicare prescription coverage plan while at the same time addressing its most egregious flaws.

Obama’s Challenge: America’s Economic Crisis and the Power of a Transformative Presidency by Robert Kuttner
You must read this book. This book and author were the subjects of the interview mentioned in my blog post, Obama’s Challenge: A Transformative Opportunity.

Since Lyndon Johnson's administration got mired in the war in Viet Nam in the late 1960s, a fog has descended over politics in the United States. In this fog we have forgotten what a positive force government can be. Not since Robert Kennedy quoted George Bernard Shaw, "You see things as they are and ask, 'Why?' I dream things as they never were and ask, 'Why not?'" have I been lifted from this fog the way this book does. This book reminds me why I want to be a Progressive Democrat.

This book starts off by putting into words all the reasons why I have been an Obama supporter from nearly the beginning of his presidential candidacy. It explains what qualities I saw in Obama that made me think he could be the transformative president of the book's title. There was no other candidate who came any where near having these qualities to the degree that Obama did.

The book goes on to explain why even the Clinton administration did a disservice to the ideals of progressive politics. If I were tempted to think that Clinton's tenure might have represented the best that could be, this book lifts my sights higher. Kuttner further explains how Obama's differences from Clinton could lead to a much better outcome.

Kuttner devotes a large portion of the book to describing a set of steps that Obama should take to lift the country out of the predicament in which it finds itself.

Read the interview of Doris Kearns Goodwin by Robert Kuttner that furthered the inspiration to write this book.

See also my review of The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream by Barack Obama

Rock, Paper, Scissors: Game Theory in Everyday Life by Len Fisher
Fisher does an excellent job of describing a number of situations studied by game theorists. However, he is not out to make us experts in game theory. His reason for focusing on this theoretical area is to find ways to help us form a more cooperative society. This focus is the greatest reason for reading the book.

Liberty: A Lake Wobegon Novel by Garrison Keillor

From Publishers Weekly
Clint Bunsen of Keillor's Lake Wobegon is planning his sixth Fourth of July celebration, but by the time it rolls around he's been booted from the planning committee; his wife, Irene, is chillier than ever; and his 60-something hormones have him lusting after the much-younger Angelica Pflame, whose commando performance as the Statue of Liberty in last year's parade is still a hot topic in the sleepy burg. In other words, everything's as you'd expect in a Keillor novel. There are quite a few subplots bubbling along quietly until everything erupts in a madcap denouement that combines elements of the Keystone Kops, I Love Lucy and Monty Python. Keillor's pacing and command of smalltown plot is impeccable; just at the moment when Clint's obsession with a genealogical discovery has become unbearable, the rug gets pulled out from under him. It's a Keillor novel that does what Keillor novels do: entertain and color nicely within the lines. (Sept.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

The Last Theorem by Arthur C. Clarke and Frederik Pohl

From the Bookmarks Magazine, "The Last Theorem may help readers learn something new about Clarke, if not the strength of his talents." Copyright 2008 Bookmarks Publishing LLC

Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions by Dan Ariely

From the front flap:

When it comes to making decisions in our lives, we think we're in control. We think we're making smart, rational choices. But are we?

In a series of illuminating, often surprising experiments, MIT behavioral economst Dan Ariely refutes the common assumption that we behave in fundamentally rational ways.

First let me say that the sex scenes were not all that well written.

At the end of Chapter 2: The Fallacy of Supply and Demand he asks the question, "If we can't rely on the market forces of supply and demand to set optimal market prices, and we can't count on free-market mechanisms to help us maximize our utility, then we may need to look elsewhere."

I would look at the evidence he presented in this chapter in a slightly different way. He has shown the failure of the supply and demand theory in the short run, but may have shown that it does eventually come to a rational equilibrium if given the chance. So I would reword his statement to, "If we can't rely on the market forces of supply and demand to set optimal market prices in the short run, and we can only count on free-market mechanisms to help us maximize our utility in the long run, we might have to look for mechanisms to ease the pain of short run mistakes until we naturally get to the long run rational equilibrium." I think we might look for wholly different solutions if we pose the problem the way I have.

I think I see that this type of research has influenced what George Soros had said in his book. George also came to the same slightly erroneous conclusions, in my humble opinion (IMHO).

Chapter 6: The Problem of Procrastination and Self-Control was excellent. Half way through it I was starting to think of ways to use his ideas for managing my own procrastination, but I put it off till later. Actually, here I am typing at the computer after having just finished the chapter.

I wanted to quote one idea that he discussed to control one's own credit card abuse. This isn't even the best idea he mentions, but I thought it was kind of cute. He said that he had heard the idea a few years ago. He called it the "ice glass" method for reducing credit card spending.

You put your credit card into a glass of water and put the glass in the freezer. Then, when you impulsively decide to make a purchase, you must first wait for the ice to thaw before extracting the card. By then, your compulsion to purchase has subsided. (You can't just put the card in the microwave, of course, because then you'd destroy the magnetic strip.)

I don't buy every experiment that he did as proving what he thinks it did, but on the whole there is a lot of good stuff in the book. His thoughts on placebos correspond to things that I have said myself. His thoughts on lying and honesty and the relation to having people think about it was very revealing. It changed my mind about the value of honor codes, loyalty oaths, and written ethics pledges.

In the chapter of short biographies of his collaborators he mentioned discussions:

...including the central question of life: "If a bat and a ball cost $1.10 in total, and the bat costs a dollar more than the ball, how much does the ball cost?"

I have seen two different and good ways to come to the unique answer to this question. I and probably most of my technically oriented friends would solve it one way. Sharon had a different way to solve it that had not occurred to me.

The Dante Game by Jane Langton
This is a Homer Kelly mystery. I enjoyed reading this mystery suggested by Sharon. It was set mostly in Florence, Italy. Homer Kelly and some other characters have a connection to the Massachusetts area. Anything more I would be tempted to say could be spoilers, so I will refrain.

Reconciliation: Islam, Democracy, and the West by Benazir Bhutto
From the back cover of the book:
"This is one of the most gripping and important books of our era. It’s a brilliant manifesto for challenging radical Islam. Benazir Bhutto was an intense but charming woman driven by a crucial mission. Her death makes this beautiful book all the more poignant, and also more necessary." - Walter Isaacson

This book offers tremendous insights into history, religion, and politics. It shows how thoughtful people can get together and bring peace and reconciliation to the world.

I can't help think how much better Obama and Biden will be for this process than McCain and any vice presidential choice that he could make. Joe Lieberman would be a particularly bad choice for world peace.

Just How Stupid Are We?: Facing the Truth About The American Voter by Rick Shenkman
From Publishers Weekly
Shenkman (Presidential Ambition) makes the provocative argument that as American voters have gained political power in the last 50 years, they have become increasingly ignorant of politics and world affairs - and dangerously susceptible to manipulation. ...

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

The book makes a really good case for representative democracy rather than direct democracy. Although our original system of representative democracy has huge flaws also.

The last chapter of the book, called "Coda: Hope", is where the author tries to explain why there is still hope for this country. His first few paragraphs of that chapter summarize the grim details of the rest of the book in a way which pretty much discounts any reason for hope.

If you want proof of the thesis of the book, just read the letters to the editor of the Worcester Telegram & Gazette. Not only does it say something about some of the newspaper's readers, but it also says something about the editors who choose to publish letters full of misinformation (and even label them as letters of the week).

The Painter From Shanghai by Jennifer Cody Epstein
From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. Epstein's sweeping debut novel, set in early 20th-century China, fictionalizes the life of Chinese painter Pan Yuliang. ...

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Perl & LWP by Sean M. Burke
This book explains how to write your own web browsing applications using LWP and Perl. I had already figured out how to write the application that got me interested in this subject before the book came to me from Amazon. However, it will be easier for me to do more and do it better after having read the book.

Common Wealth: Economics for a Crowded Planet by Jeffrey D. Sachs
This book was an excellent reminder about what a hopeful path the world was following until the time that Reagan and his followers put an end to it all. This book reminds us of the good work that others are still doing. The situations in the most destitute places on earth are not hopeless if we can return to thinking peoples' policies.

The New Paradigm for Financial Markets: The Credit Crash of 2008 and What It Means by George Soros
So far, I have read about the new paradigm for social science. This includes politics. It is extremely enlightening. By the end, I had found the book to be quite educational. I was not expecting and did not get advice on how to become a billionaire.

Girls in Trucks by Katie Crouch

A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini
A novel about several people in Afghanistan from before the the Soviet invasion to after the fall of the Taliban. The novel gives the reader a perspective on people that one could probably not obtain through a non-fiction account. I'll let you follow the link for a fuller description of what the story is all about.

Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong by James W. Loewen
This book goes through some examples of how high school history text books mangle American history as compared to how that history is understood by university scholars. By page 24 I learned how Woodrow Wilson contributed to the racial prejudice and instigated governmental and military segregation in this country. I also learned about Wilson's imperialistic foreign policy. I learned that you might even say that the seeds of the Viet Nam War of the 1960s and 1970s were sown by Wilson.

As I read on, the book just kept getting better and better.

From the back cover of the book, "James W. Loewen is a regular contributor to the History Channel's History magazine and professor emeritus of sociology at the University of Vermont."

If ever there was a book that proved Mark Twain's observation, "It ain't what you don't know that gets you into trouble. It's what you know for sure that just ain't so.", then this is it.

A Force Of Nature: The Frontier Genius of Ernest Rutherford by Richard Reeves
As one reviewer put it:
"Overall, this is a highly readable biography of one of the 20th century's greatest scientists, and is a good starting point for those interested in learning more about Rutherford."

Sweetheart Deal by Claire Matturro
From the front flap:
"Lilly Cleary returns to solve her most complex and personal case yet in this funny and poignant suspense novel ..."

Supercapitalism: The Transformation of Business, Democracy, and Everyday Life by Robert B. Reich
From Publishers Weekly
In this compelling and important analysis of the triumph of capitalism and the decline of democracy, former labor secretary Reich urges us to rebalance the roles of business and government. ...

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

He does a great job of identifying the problem. The book is worth reading just for that part. I was disappointed by his suggested solutions.

Abolishing the corporate income tax and having each shareholder pay taxes on his or her share of the corporate income would be totally impractical. His faith in computers being able to sort out how much each shareholder would pay at the shareholder's tax rate is misplaced. Imagine figuring out the tax on a daytrader who could be in and out of a company's shares several times in one day.

His next idea is to stop considering corporations as being a legal person. All civil and criminal complaints having to be brought against individuals within the company is equally impractical.

Since supercapitalism is a global issue, I would think it requires some international solutions.

There is a step that we could take that might help turn the tide. It has its dangers, so it needs a lot of discussion. I have been advocating for a long time that The Social Security Trust Fund ought to be allowed to invest in stocks. I am talking about a plan such as put forth by Franco Modigliani and Arun Muralidhar. This is not a plan for individual accounts. This is a plan to run the investment portfolio of Social Security along the same principles as any other well run retirement plan.

The managers of the Social Security Trust fund have a fiduciary responsibility to maximize the returns for the beneficiaries of the fund. Even while this fiduciary responsibilty must always remain primary, we should consider what might be possible when the American people own a substantial share of corporations through Social Security. Together with sovereign wealth funds from other countries, this might be the global solution to which I alluded above.

I have contributed some of these ideas to Robert Reich's blog. Look for the comment by ssg13565.

"They Take Our Jobs!" and 20 other myths about immigration by Aviva Chomsky
I am learning why the the current immigration situation benefits the corporate interests in our country. They want a secondary labor market where they can pay sub-standard wages, can avoid laws that require decent working conditions, and have workers that are willing to accept these conditions, and are even afraid to insist on enforcement of the few labor laws that should protect them. Undocumented workers fit this description rather nicely.

Republican claims that they want to end illegal immigration are a cynical ploy to attract working class voters despite the fact that the powers in the Republican party actually want to keep the secondary labor market just the way it is.

You might say that this labor policy is a continuation of the U.S. tradition that started with slavery. See the book that I read before this one.

American Creation: Triumphs and Tragedies at the Founding of the Republic by Joseph J. Ellis
From the blurb on the inside of the front of the dust jacket, "From the first shots fired at Lexington to the signing of the Declaration of Independence to the negotiations for the Louisiana Purchase, Ellis guides us through the decisive issues of the nation's founding, and illuminates the emerging philosophies, shifting alliances, and personal and political foibles of our now iconic leaders - Washington, Jefferson, Madison, Hamilton, and Adams."

By the time I got to the spring campaign out of Valley Forge in the early part if the book. I had learned how Washington stumbled upon the plan that allowed an outnumbered army of the resident population to win against a larger and better trained occupying force. As you might suspect, there are many parallels to our experiences in Viet Nam and Iran, where we did play and are now playing the role of occupiers.

The rest of the book just kept getting better and better. I learned that from the very beginning the heated argument between the Republicans and the Federalists was over how much power to rest with the Federal government and how much with the states. There were "founding fathers" very strongly on both sides of the issue. The current idea of keeping the government in the form that our founders wanted is meaningless in light of this disagreement among the founders.

Madison flip-flopped repeatedly on this issue. In the Louisiana purchase, Jefferson knowingly exercised strong Federal executive power that the Constitution did not give him despite being a founding Republican against a strong Federal government.

Jefferson thought Washington to be bordering on treason for Washington's favoring a strong Federal government. Jefferson and Madison were so paranoid about what the Federalists might do to defeat the Republicans that they used coded messages to each other to keep their plans secret.

The strong backing of states' rights by Jefferson and Madison stemmed from their desire to prevent the abolition of slavery. They knew slavery was wrong, but they feared that the country could not survive without it.

Apparently Jefferson thought he had a strong understanding of what was needed to run a plantation system in southern states like Virginia. He thought that this system was the strength and the future of the United States, not the industrial system that was growing in the northern states.

The Assault On Reason by Al Gore
From the above link to, "In an account that balances theoretical discussion of the foundations of democracy with a lacerating critique of the Bush administration, Gore argues that the marketplace of reasoned debate our country was founded on is being endangered by a variety of allied forces: the use of fear and the misuse of faith, the distractions of our entertainment culture, and the concentrations of power in the national media and the executive branch."

Having people understand this book is actually more important than having them understand his book An Inconvenient Truth. Taking to heart the admonitions of The Assault On Reason will help facilitate the ability to overcome fear and to accept other books that are based on reason.

I loved the unintentional irony of including in the book's Introduction the words of Thomas Jefferson who said, "I have sworn upon the altar of God eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man."

This book covers a number of topics related to the title. The topics range from general history, to psychology, to our constitution, to how the internet can save our democracy from the current assault upon it.

See Al Gore's

Also see

The Big Con: The True Story of How Washington Got Hoodwinked and Hijacked by Crackpot Economics by Jonathan Chait
From Publisher's Weekly
The author, a senior editor at the New Republic, is best known for declaring I hate President George W. Bush in 2003. This book traces the roots of his dislike back 30 years, when supply-side economics took over the Republican Party and made cutting taxes the GOP answer to all political and economic questions. American politics has been hijacked by a tiny coterie of right-wing economic extremists, Chait declares, some of them ideological zealots, others merely greedy, a few of them possibly insane. To which he adds, the Republicans' success at defeating the democratic process explains why it has been able to enact its agenda despite a lack of popular support. The rhetoric is inflammatory, but the case is laid out with clarity. Chait claims that traditional Republicans, religious people and social, fiscal and foreign policy conservatives have been cheated as much as liberals, and that unparalleled corruption and ruthless cynicism in Washington and the timidity of nonpartisan media allow the minority to rule. His analysis should appeal to anyone interested in politics, though many may find the style too irritating to endure. (Sept. 12)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry
Nobody is happy with what they have. They always yearn for something that will make them uphappy or something they cannot have. Life is pointless, almost everyone dies, and you end up where you started. Moreover, it only takes 843 pages to get there. I can hardly wait to rent the mini-series on DVD, not.

I actually liked the book, but it is rather depressing.

The Eighteen-Carat Kid and Other Stories by P. G. Wodehouse
Humor so dry that I had to drink a glass of water at every reading.

Exodus by Leon Uris
I read this partially as a balance to Peace Be Upon You. It does not contradict the historical possibilities for peace in the middle east as discussed in Peace Be Upon You. However, Exodus does emphasize the recent and current roadblocks to peace.

In my opinion, when an occupier is at war with a native population, the occupier can always go home if the situation gets too rough. The natives have no place else to go. The advantage of the natives is that they are willing to risk much more than the occupiers. The toughest situations occur when both sides feel that they have no place else to go.

Never Have Your Dog Stuffed by Alan Alda
Interesting autobiography of Alan Alda. In some odd way, this book seems to be centered around the main subject even more than the usual autobiography. As a fan of Alan Alda, I did enjoy learning about his growth and education in how to be a real human being.

The Sensualist by Ben Hecht
What can I say? The book was free from the Traveler Restaurant in Union, CT.

The Long March: The True History of Communist China's Founding Myth by Sun Shuyun
From Publishers Weekly, "The Long March - the 8,000-mile trek by 200,000 Communist soldiers in 1934 while fleeing the Nationalists - is still legendary in Chinese Communist Party lore, but there are a lot of myths surrounding it, as the Chinese-born author discovers when she retraces the march's steps."

Peace Be Upon You, The Story of Muslim, Christian, and Jewish Coexistence by Zachary Karabell
From the flyleaf, "...throughout the ages Muslims, Christians, and Jews have shared more than enmity and war: there is also a rich and textured history of coexistence that has all but disappeared from our collective memory.

I am only up to page 233 of the 291 pages. I just learned why Bush couldn't have chosen a more inflammatory premise than bringing Western Style Democracy to Iraq.

I'll try to summarize my understanding of what I have read so far. A debate has been raging in the Muslim world of the middle east and vicinity since about the late 1800s. One side of the debate wants to mix western style democracy with Islam to reverse the rise of Europe and the west over the previously dominant Middle Eastern world. The other side of the debate wants to stick with what they have come to believe is fundamentalist Islamic principles. The lessons that the anti-modernization forces have taken away from the dominance of the West over the East in the last century is that straying from fundamental Islamic principles is the cause of their downfall.

Is it any wonder that they would fight tooth and nail to prevent the coming of Western style democracy, Thomas Freidman not withstanding?

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
I had heard so much over the years about Maya Angelou and this book that I decided it was time to read it. I find that I had known only a small part of Angelou's artistic career. From her few appearances on television that I have seen, I would never have guessed her turbulent beginning.

Digital Photo Design by Paul Comon
I found it to be particularly instructive for me. It showed me some ways to think about photography that have been missing from the photographs that I take and the photographs that I look at. I am encouraged to read more about this topic. The more I read, the more I will be able to incorporate some new thinking into my approach to photography.

Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner
Interesting if unconvincing demonstration of the use of statistics to discover counter-intuitive "facts". On 08/18/2007 on CSPAN, I heard a lecture by John R. Lott Jr. author of Freedomnomics: Why the Free Market Works and Other Half-Baked Theories Don't. One of the topics that Lott discussed was the effect of the legalization of abortion on the social problem of single parent child raising. He leads you to believe that this could lead to higher crime rates. This is exactly contrary to Levitt's argument that the drop in crime rates of the last 20 or 30 years is due to the legalization of abortion. Putting these two points of view together shows just how tenuous it is to try to figure out the causes of complicated behavior based solely on statistical analysis.

Of course, John Lott is the person mentioned in Freakonomics. A court ruling affirmed that Levitt's claim that "other scholars have tried to 'replicate' his research and results, but come to different conclusions than Lott" is not defamatory.

Perhaps Levitt's peer reviewed papers backup his conclusions better than is done in the Freakonomics book. If so, he has done a disservice to his ideas by writing this book.

Perfect Spy: - The Incredible Double Life of Pham Xuan An, Time Magazine Reporter and Vietnamese Communist Agent by Larry Berman
The book has its own web site.

It is very clear from the outset of the book why we didn't have a chance of winning America's War in Viet Nam. The leaders in North Viet Nam were preparing to fight us even before we knew we were going to get into that war.

If there is any where near as much nationalistic or religious fervor in Iraq as there was nationalistic fervor in Viet Nam, we won't stand much of a chance in Iraq either.

Imagine our situation in Iraq with this level of spying going on from our opposition. I have no idea if there is such spying, but just imagining the possibilities is eye opening.

Another thing that I learned from this book. When you see a local government figure carrying out policies that are clearly antithetical to the cause, maybe you don't understand what cause the person is working for.

On page 148, "... Thao operated as one of the most trusted aides to Diem and was generally hailed as one of the South's most successful anti-Communist crusaders. ..."

On page 149, "Thao became one of the strongest advocates for agrovilles, self-contained modern villages aimed at separating insurgents from the rural population by moving peasants into large, well-defended villages that would allow the government to protect them. Thao knew the program would alienate peasants, and that is why he became its strongest proponent. The peasants hated agrovilles for many reasons, beginning with the fact that they were required to help build them and then move from their homes. The program produced protests and alienation toward Diem. When it was disbanded, Thao focused on strategic hamlets, convincing Diem to move quickly rather than slowly, which would elevate hostility and alienate the peasants. ..."

How could Thao do that, you ask? Here is the part that I left out. On page 148, "Perhaps the most intriguing case of espionage involved Colonel Pham Ngoc Thao, whose mission was to destabilize the anti-Communist government of South Vietnam. ..."

The Infinite Plan: A Novel by Isabel Allende

The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream by Barack Obama
I found that, as I read more and more, Barack Obama is one politician that really gets it. He does tend to vote the way I would prefer on most issues. More importantly, he has thought about and understands the important issues that drive the way the world works. These range from economics to technology to education to government to human nature. He is not merely the novice that one would think a first term Senator might be.

Digital Fortress by Dan Brown
An interesting thriller that predates The DaVinci Code. Some of the smart people in this story are not as smart as they were made out to be. On page 133 I figured out the seemingly strange message. It wasn't until page 216 that the character in the book figured it out.

On page 355 I figured out the equation to be solved. On page 358 the book supplied the values of the variables so that I could solve the simple equation. The character in the book figured it out on page 366.

I guess he was getting smarter. It only took him either 8 or 11 pages extra to figure out the last item. The first one took him 83 extra pages.

The Greatest Generation by Tom Brokaw

The Looming Tower : Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11 by Lawrence Wright
From the Dallas Morning News:
"If any one book can explain what to some extent is inexplicable...the smart money is on The Looming Tower by Lawrence Wright. Dozens of intricately reported books about the causes of 9/11 are already available in English... None of the previous books is as well-crafted, in terms of overall organization and narrative writing style." - Steve Weinberg

The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby by Charles Dickens
This is a facsimile of the first edition courtesy of the Joshua Hyde Library in Sturbridge. Now that I have read it, I can hardly wait to see the movie.

The Trouble With Physics: The Rise of String Theory, the Fall of a Science, and What Comes Next by Lee Smolin
From Publishers Weekly
"String theory -- the hot topic in physics for the past 20 years -- is a dead-end, says Smolin, one of the founders of Canada's Perimeter Institute of Theoretical Physics and himself a lapsed string theorist. In fact, he (and others) argue convincingly, string theory isn't even a fully formed theory -- it's just a "conjecture." As Smolin reminds his readers, string theorists haven't been able to prove any of their exotic ideas, and he says there isn't much chance that they will in the foreseeable future. The discovery of "dark energy," which seems to be pushing the universe apart faster and faster, isn't explained by string theory and is proving troublesome for that theory's advocates. Smolin (The Life of the Cosmos) believes that physicists are making the mistake of searching for a theory that is "beautiful" and "elegant" instead of one that's actually backed up by experiments. He encourages physicists to investigate new alternatives and highlights several young physicists whose work he finds promising. This isn't easy reading, but it will appeal to dedicated science buffs interested in where physics may be headed in the next decade. 30 b&w illus. (Sept. 19)"

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

While the first three parts of the book is a mind boggler, the last part is more easily understood. It deals with what type of scientist finds the easiest path to rewards and recognition. I find echoes of this behavior in the engineering world that I inhabited for forty years. It might be a valuable read for anyone in a similar situation right now. Anyone who knows someone in this situation might want to recommend the book to that person.

All Governments Lie: The Life and Times of Rebel Journalist I. F. Stone by Myra MacPherson
Before starting this book, I only knew that I. F. Stone was an iconoclastic journalist. If I had read this book before he died, I would have been a subscriber to his newsletter. Besides learning about I. F. Stone, this book gives you some feeling for what it was like to live through the various trying political times of the 20th century. At least I now know that the recent sullying of the reputation of the New York Times is only in comparison to its aura from the 1960s. Before then, its reputation was probably as bad or worse than it is now.

The Winter of Our Discontent by John Steinbeck
The Sturbridge library had this on display as a classic worth reading. I thought I would catch up on a title that I had heard of, but had not read. I found the book to be somewhat entertaining. The period in the book is in the 1960s, but I am surprised at how dated it sounds now.

Why Darwin Matters: The Case Against Intelligent Design by Michael Shermer
Adds more to the literature of why the theory of evolution stands up so well to its attackers. His logical explanation for why we don't find transitional forms in the fossil record is something that I had not heard before. Having a sister who does not believe in evolution has caused me to learn more about evolution than I realized that I wanted to know.

The Last of the Mohicans by James Fennimore Cooper
My son-in-law gave me a Palm PDA as a gift. It came with a few ebooks. I decided to take the opportunity to read this classic that I had heard much about but had never read before. It is a fascinating and exciting story, of course. The book was first published in 1826. It was a bit strange reading it with my 21st century sensibility. Now that I am back to living near the area where much of the action took place, I have found it that much more relevant.

Lessons in Becoming Myself by Ellen Burstyn
I found it quite interesting to learn about the workings of one artistic mind. I disagree with most of her conclusions about faith and science. Yet, I found it enlightening to get some insight into how she thinks about these issues. Of course, the life she has lived is quite remarkable if not always admirable.

Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books by Azar Nafisi
A great insight into the human side of living in a state like Iran after the fall of the Shah. I also enjoy learning about the mind of a liberal arts person. From my perspective of a technically oriented person, I like to learn about the parts of culture to which I am not so naturally attuned.

Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq by Thomas E. Ricks
Thomas Ricks has many years of experience as a reporter covering military topics. He seems to have developed excellent sources within the U.S. military. Not only does he cover what went wrong in Iraq, but he also discusses some successes. Moreover, he gives you an idea of what resources would have been necessary to make these successes more widespread. This book more than corroborates what Greg Palast covers in part of his book. Although, I think you get a much deeper analysis here. Maybe this feeling comes from the absence of sarcastic humor that Palast used to lighten the mood.

Armed Madhouse: Who's Afraid of Osama Wolf?, China Floats, Bush Sinks, The Scheme to Steal '08,No Child's Behind Left, and Other Dispatches from the Front Lines of the Class War by Greg Palast
A very interesting book by a hard working, investigative journalist. He tells stories, the details of which you are unlikely to have heard in the so-called main-stream-media. (Unless, that is, you regularly watch Palast's reports on the BBC). Palast's sarcastic humor allows you to laugh amid the tears. I wonder if the humor detracts from understanding the seriousness of the information.

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