Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Rockin the Bookshelf

Into the Black – The Inside Story of Metallica (1991 – 2014) – Paul Brannigan and Ian Winwood (DaCapo Press)

What amounts to part two of Paul Brannigan and Ian Winwood, a pair of Brit metalhead journalist’s biography of legendary, rock ‘n’ roll hall of famers and metal masters, Metallica; Into the Black – The Inside Story of Metallica (1991 – 2014) picks up where the pair’s Birth School Metallica Death: The Inside Story of Metallica (1981 – 1991) left off.

Over the years the duo had striking access to the metal God’s inner workings and they begin this part of the journey on the cusp of the release of the band’s massive, self-titled disc, which is commonly dubbed the Black album. With that records MASSIVE success, the machinations about the band’s road forward really kicked into overdrive. Into the Black provided a great reminder of just how much crap these guys were on the receiving end of simply because they created music that attracted a huge audience.

Imagine that you have worked your entire career with the goal of breaking through to a mass audience only to be slagged as sellouts for reaching that goal. Brannigan and Winwood detail the band’s determination to continue on the path they set forth for themselves almost in spite of those, hell bent on bashing their success. I was also reminded of the laughable fixation on the part of some in their fan base as well as the media over the group shorn locks that accompanied the release of the Black album’s follow up Load.

Because they were afforded the extraordinary access during the timeframe in question, Brannigan and Winwood are able to offer up a real time perspective on the recording, writing, performing, promoting and personalities that are constantly at play within the band. Forget about a historical look back, this one is being detailed as it happens which offer a unique perspective on everything.

Play On – Now, Then, and Fleetwood Mac: the Autobiography – Mick Fleetwood (Little Brown)

Nearly a quarter of a century after his first foray into telling his life story, Fleetwood Mac founder, drummer Mick Fleetwood returns with Play On – Now, Then, and Fleetwood Mac: The Autobiography, a comprehensive look at his nearly five decade long career behind the drum kit of not only the wildly successful ban he founded, but also his start as the propulsion behind some classic blues masters.

Over the course of a multi-decade career with any number of incarnations of Fleetwood Mac along the way there is likely a shelf full of books worth of material, yet there seems to be a cautiousness to certain sections of this book. It’s almost as if Mick is happy with the currently reunited and most famous lineup of the band, that is on a highly successful tour, and he wants to avoid rocking the boat.

Much of the material is a rehashing of some of the earlier book; which interestingly has led to some a handful of new revelations, mixed with a handful of forgotten details. This ends up being a real fans autobiography; those casual or passing fans of Fleetwood Mac probably won’t gain any great, earthshaking insights, but those died in the wool fans will eat it up.

Respect: The Life of Aretha Franklin – David Ritz (Little Brown)   

Ray Charles. Marvin Gaye. Smokey Robinson. B. B. King. Rick James. Etta James. The list of sometimes legendary and sometimes infamous musical performers that best-selling author David Ritz has written about and with is marked with some of the most historically significant and talented artists of all time.

Ritz collaborated with R & B Diva Aretha Franklin on her 1999 bio From These Roots, so at first blush it might seem odd that Ritz would chose to take a second dip into the Franklin story in Respect: The Life of Aretha Franklin. The fact that Franklin didn’t give her permission and has disavowed this outing, bad mouthing the book’s more tabloid entries as “trashy” and “full of lies” could offer some interesting insights based on your perspective.

Naturally artists aren’t always predisposed to serving up “a warts and all” look at their life and times and given some legendary stories about Franklin’s tight fisted grip on controlling her career and those around her, it’s not a stretch to think that Lady Soul probably took a blue editing pencil to some of the stories Ritz uncovered about her childhood and family life, that he brings to these pages.

Trashy? Not so much. Overall Ritz still paints a compelling and positive portrait of his subject. Not sure that there was anything too earth shattering here and Franklin’s protestations may actually lend some credence to these stories.

Rumours of Glory: A Memoir – Bruce Cockburn (Harper One)

Canadian musician Bruce Cockburn is the true definition of a troubadour; a traveling musician, poet and cultural activist. He offers up a chronicle of not only his career, but also his travels, his causes and his musical journey through a life that he has shared many of his most intimate moments of, with his fans.

Rumours of Glory: A Memoir offers up some startlingly personal commentary on his five decade career and his concurrent journeys through far flung places. Clearly his traveling journey and his personal journey to Christianity has played and enormous role in influencing his music and lyrics. While his politics are often diametrically opposite from where I stand, I admire Cockburn and I am a fan of his music based on the simple fact that he never wavers from his convictions; he doesn’t merely take a stand because it’s convenient to the story he is trying to impart.

While most bios of musicians offer up a boatload of hijinks and antics of the room temperature IQ crowd, Rumours of Glory drills down deeply into what Cockburn is truly all about; fan or not, this one is truly worth the price of admission.


Wednesday, December 3, 2014

We Can be Heroes…If Just for One Day

No Hero – The Evolution of a Navy SEAL – Mark Owen (Dutton Adult)

Mark Owen is the pseudonym of former Navy SEAL and member of the U.S. Naval Special Warfare Development Group, better known as Seal Team Six and the bestselling author of No Easy Day, the account of his participation in, among other high profile missions, the killing of Usama Bin Laden.

Owen is back with No Hero – The Evolution of a Navy SEAL the story of his thirteen year career in the SEALs. The story really does detail the evolution that he went through, both mentally and physically as well as the strategic evolution of how the Seals approached the mission at hand.

While certainly not giving away actionable intelligence, Owen does offer up some insight into both the demands of becoming one of the United States elite warriors and the process of the mission. While he may not have set out to offer up a book on leadership, there is an interesting set of business applicable theories.

While Owen and many of his fellow warriors try to shrug off the hero label with the faint statement of “just doing our job” the truth is we as a nation ask an enormous amount from these men, that they willingly deliver with no desire for accolades and that is what truly makes them heroic.

The Trident: The Forging and Reforging of a Navy SEAL Leader – Jason Redman (William Morrow)

Recently there have been a pile of books published by and about members of the special forces/Navy SEAL warriors. Many recount in great detail the physically punishing and demanding; training, testing and missions that they endure along the way. While many in the genre are very good reads, very few offer as intimate and intense a rendering of the life of a Navy SEAL as The Trident: The Forging and Reforging of a Navy SEAL Leader by Jason Redman.

Lt. Redman details the depths of his desire to pursue a career in the military and as a member of the SEALs that dates back to his youth. While many special forces books, both non-fiction and fiction accounts tend to tell seemingly tall tales of super human heroics, Redman paints a much more human story. While early on he struggled to balance the hard road and the bravado with reality, Redman clearly evolves as the story progresses.

It’s rare to find a person with a “normal” job to admit they made a critical error then overcome the difficulties associated with that error, let alone a battle hardened SEAL to overcome that circumstance, but that’s exactly what Redman did in spades. Not only did he overcome, he kicked things up a notch to become a SEAL leader.

For a man trained to be self-reliant, but the member of a team, Redman spells out the strength that he drew from his family to not only overcome the strain of mission deployments, but also his recovery from severe injuries sustained in a 2007 battle in Iraq where he suffered gunshot wounds to the face and arm. The sign he posted on his hospital room door that boldly declared that all who entered should not feel sorry for his injuries became a symbol and rallying point not only for Redman, but for warriors everywhere.

If you read The Trident and don’t come away inspired…then you may want to check for a pulse.  

Navy Seals: Their Untold Story – Dick Couch and William Doyle (William Morrow)

Former Navy SEAL and veteran military author Dick Couch and writer/producer William Doyle have teamed for this comprehensive accounting of the broad and evolutionary history of the Navy SEALS in the form of the book and the PBS documentary Navy Seals: Their Untold Story.

The story traces the step by step process of World War II’s Underwater Demolition Teams (UDTs) through the “frogmen” of the Korean War to the creation of the Sea Air and Land (SEAL) unit of highly skilled commandos who conducted direct action and search a rescue missions to recover POWs during the Viet Nam war. It was during the invasions of Grenada and Panama and later during the first Gulf War That the SEALs transitioned to a highly specialized operators.
Couch’s first hand, “been there, done that” knowledge combined to with incredible access to reams of classified documents and information helps to create a very detailed portrait of the units staggering history. The level of trust that these special operators have in Couch, as one of their own, shines through in the in-person interviews that offer readers an in the room and on the trail point of view to some of the units most legendary operations.

This is a first rate account for those with even a passing interest in the military and will be a must have companion piece to the PBS series for those military history buffs.

War Dogs – Tales of Canine Heroism, History, and Love – Rebecca Frankel (Palgrave MacMillan)

Speaking of evolution…the role of canine warriors or war dogs has undergone an amazing transformation over the course of time. It is that evolution that is the cornerstone of Rebecca Frankel’s War Dogs – Tales of Canine Heroism, History, and Love.

Frankel, a senior editor for Foreign Policy magazine, authors a regular column entitled "Rebecca's War Dog of the Week" which has been featured on The Best Defense since January of 2010, in which she profiled the pooches that are the subject of the book.
Dubbed by some of the forces that they operate with as “hair missiles” these dogs of war have played a crucial role in some of the most notable military actions in our history. That role more recently has included detecting improvised explosive devices, directed protective attacks and the more traditional sniffing out the bad guys.

Frankel literally goes to the heart of the matter as she details not only the work of these amazing animals, but incredible relationships and integral roles they have with not only their handlers, but the teams they work with and often protect.  



Monday, December 1, 2014

His–Story – More Than Just Dates and Dead Guys

Dreamers and Deceivers: True Stories of the Heroes and Villains Who Made America – Glenn Beck (Mercury Ink/Threshold Editions)

Unless you have been blessed to have been taught by one of those rare, magical, teachers who embraced the teaching of history and delivered depth, context and colors of the story of our nation and world; then all too often history was boiled down to the bland recitation of a list of dates and dead guys.

Glenn Beck and his team of writers is out with Dreamers and Deceivers: True Stories of the Heroes and Villains Who Made America, the second in a series of books that offer short historical “fiction” pieces that examine a variety of points in our history and flesh them out by piecing together a variety of sources. Is there a bit of poetic license? Certainly! But by in large these stories hang together and really make history interesting. I look at these short pieces as an invitation to delve a whole lot deeper into the stories that catch your imagination.

The names: Ponzi, Sacco and Vanzetti, and Steve Jobs, among them, are often familiar, but their stories may not be. Dreamers and Deceivers offers up some new perspective on the stories of these men who influenced our history. While Ponzi became infamous for his “scheme” exactly what that ruse was may not be widely known; now you can get a basic sense of his story.

It is often eye opening to learn how the media and history for that matter treated many of the subjects of these stories. It seems amazing, but not surprising that the media still lauded Alger Hiss, a convicted perjurer and Communist upon his passing; Hiss infamously thought more highly of mass-murdering, Soviet leader, Joseph Stalin than he did of his own country. When you place that historical reference side by side with the current Liberal school of thought and how we as a country view terrorism, history becomes absolutely frightening.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Unexplored Theory Doesn’t Equal “An Agenda”

The Book of Matt: The Hidden Truths About the Murder of Matthew Shepard – Stephen Jimenez (Steerforth Press Paperback Edition)

The October 6, 1998 beating and torture of Matthew Shepard that eventually led to his death has become one of the more interesting rallying points in our recent history in the United States. Almost overnight Shepard’s brutal murder was plunged into politics based solely on the fact that he was an HIV positive, gay man; which raised the specter that his murder was due to hated or as popularized at the time, a hate crime.

In, The Book of Matt: The Hidden Truths About the Murder of Matthew Shepard, journalist Stephen Jimenez continued his investigations of the crime and some of the facts that were left unexplored during the eventual trial and conviction of Shepard’s murders. Jimenez had been the producer of an ABC News 20/20 investigation into the case and a couple of months after Shepard’s murder, he went to Laramie, Wyoming to dig a little deeper into things that had come up in the initial digging into the story.

The book is the result of that second, deeper look at the story and some of the facts weren’t a part of the trial or the case against Shepard’s killers. It didn’t take long to track down those killers and the case against them in legal parlance was “air tight” so why would police dig any deeper?

Jimenez uncovered some clear evidence that Shepard, a slight, college student wasn’t perhaps the innocent victim of a hate crime, but perhaps even more likely, he was murdered due to his involvement in dealing methamphetamine. This naturally flew in the face of the activists who were pushing for legislation that eventually came to pass, to somehow supersize the crimes against protected classes as defined in the law.

Jimenez became the subject of attacks that labeled him as somehow “anti-gay” because he pointed out facts that flew counter to the public claims about Shepard. I guess that would make Jimenez a self-hating gay man; since he is in fact gay himself. The orchestrated campaign against Jimenez and the book is ridiculous on its face, since it doesn’t bother to actually address the facts in the book.

But that seems to be the way politics is debated in this day and age; and that is purely what is at play here. The politics of who cares more and who can somehow do more to protect or defend or give more to defined special classes. Think about the ridiculous nature of so-called hate crimes. Are people injured or killed because someone hates them? Certainly the answer is YES! Do we need a special set of laws to enforce criminal sanctions against those deemed to be in protected groups? NO…not really.

Matthew Shepard’s murder’s were convicted of their crimes; in a deal brokered by Shepard’s parents the killers received life sentences without chance of parole. If they had been convicted of a hate crime, would they spend any more time behind bars? The vile murderers of James Byrd, a Texas man who was beaten, chained and dragged to his death; both received death penalty sentences. When Texas eventually gets around to meting out that sentence, would they have been executed twice due to committing a hate crime?

Turning this book into a political debate is ridiculous. It’s clear to me that Jimenez didn’t have an “agenda” in mind when he set out to investigate the story, but it is in fact the left who attack him that have the agenda to somehow protect ridiculous hate crimes laws to somehow be portrayed as more caring and compassionate.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

A Story Two Decades in the Making

Jeter Unfiltered – Derek Jeter and Christopher Anderson (Photographer)

It is a story that is a true rarity in sports in the modern era. A player; not just any player, but one that in a sports world that throws around accolades like penny candy, is truly a superstar, all star and elite player, who spent twenty years as a member of one team. With free agency, salary caps, trade deadlines; that is almost as amazing a feat of accomplishment as hitting .300 for the season.

That is the story of Derek Jeter of the New York Yankees. Jeter Unfilitered is the lovingly crafted remembrance, in pictures and words, of a story that is twenty years in the making. It is a story that almost surprisingly lives up to its title; an unfiltered look at guy who by in large spent his highlight reel career in the sports spotlight and not in the spotlight for his off field antics.

Jeter Unfilitered collects amazing photos not only from the archives of his career but follows alongside him as he winds his way through his final season. Photographer Christopher Anderson truly captures not only the on field exploits, but the off field, seemingly easy going, willing to shake any hand side of Jeter.

This tribute gathers together the experiences of the last twenty years; the rise to the bigs, the interactions and crossing paths with celebrity and average fan, the family, the FIVE World Series Championships, the highs and the lows that are part and parcel of his amazing career. While his life has been a series of accolades, this book gives great insight into not only the past, but what the future may hold for Derek Jeter and it’s a great way to start the next chapter.

They Never Found His Hands

The Forgers – Bradford Morrow – (Mysterious Press)

This one truly had something that appealed to me across the board. The tale the of rare book and manuscript trade appealed to the collector in me. The fact that the main character plied his trade in forging Arthur Conan Doyle and Sherlock-iana played right into me love of all things Holmes. Like a cherry sitting on the top of a ice cream sundae, the writing, setting and characters made Bradford Morrow’s The Forgers an irresistible choice.

Morrow wastes no time in setting the hook with one of the best opening lines in recent memory; “they never found his hands.” From that jumping off point how could you possibly not be intrigued enough to track down the answer to the mystery?

While it is set in the present, the story is so immersed in the mysterious world of book antiquities and collectibles that there is something old world and underground about the collectors, dealers, scouts and forgers that populate the realm.

Morrow uses a masters touch to finely hone the mix between setting and time and collector and scoundrel. There is a certain level of elegance to his writing that just seems to add the proper patina to the story line; this is not a modern fast paced thriller, but an expertly crafted, story steeped in the great traditions of the masters of the form that the collectors in the story seek.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Soap Box Grisham

Gray Mountain – John Grisham (Doubleday Books)

Right from his debut novel, A Time To Kill, John Grisham has been the master of the small town, big action legal thriller. Grisham better than anyone else plying their writing trade in the legal genre has done more to capture the ambiance and desperation of not only the small town setting but the small town lives of the characters that populate his stories.

For his latest outing, Gray Mountain, Grisham tries his hand at a fish out water tale of a Wall Street lawyer, an up and coming associate who like many of her colleagues gets caught in the tidal wave of trouble following the investment banking crash that took out not only financial gurus, but those in business that supported them, like those in Big Law.

The story starts out on the implausible footing of associates being furloughed, but being offered the opportunity to keep their benefits and seniority track, if they agree to volunteer and work pro bono for a non-profit legal group or organization. That is how we find Samantha Kofer dropped into the backwoods outpost of Brady, West Virginia and interning for a free legal aid group.

It’s at this point that Grisham veers off the rails and plants both feet firmly on the soap box and writes of the evils of big coal, even pointing out that the federal court that serves the area is loaded with Republicans and in the process gives credence to the tired old saw that Republicans don’t care about polluting the air and water. Are there issues facing the coal industry? Certainly. However the answers to fixing those issues probably don’t match up well with Mr. Grisham’s approach.

Gray Mountain, like most of Grisham’s collection, is larded down with memorable characters and settings, and enough plot twists and turns to shake a stick at. After wading through to the end, the book’s conclusion is a sudden stop…and I am left with a “is that all there is feeling.  

The All-to-Real World

The Liberators – A Novel of the Coming Global Collapse – John Wesley Rawles (Dutton Books)

If you think that everything is going well, that because the Stock Market is booming and the government tells you that the unemployment rate is below 6%, then this is probably not a book for you. If you think the government can and should take care of your every want and need, this is definitely not a book for you; just go back to your video games and reality TV.

If you believe in self-reliance and that government tinkering with the economy through think quantitative easing and endless printing money and that we can tax our way out of an economic downturn, The Liberators – A Novel of the Coming Global Collapse, by former U.S, Army Intelligence officer and best selling author John Wesley Rawles is right up your alley.

I always thought that thriller writers like Tom Clancy, Vince Flynn and Brad Thor were scary due to the almost predictive qualities of their books; and the proximity to real terror events, but Rawles details things that seem to hit closer to home making his books even more scary. Rawles, is a true survival specialist and he laces the novels in the Patriot series with real world examples of the world on the brink of collapse and chaos.

Working my way through the all-to-real scenario that Rawles draws in The Liberators, had me upping the personal ante on self-protection and preparing, or prepping, for what could be the hard road ahead. At times, Rawles books, even the novels, read like a road map of prepper survival; some may find that off-putting, others will create a shopping list.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Her-story Without the Red Bull

The Woman Who Would Be King: Hatshepsut’s Rise to Power in Ancient Egypt – Kara Cooney

While author Kara Cooney is a professor of Egyptian art and architecture at UCLA and her bona fides include; co-producing the comparative archaeology series Out of Egypt, with her husband Neil Crawford and a stint as curator of Tutankhamun and the Golden Age of the Pharaohs at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, what she delivers for her first book is hardly a scholarly treatise on the life and reign of Hatshepsut.

Cooney’s The Woman Who Would Be King: Hatshepsut’s Rise to Power in Ancient Egypt reads at times like historical fiction. This isn’t to say that Cooney doesn’t deliver the goods; clearly there is a level of research and understanding that she brings to the story, just without the hints of text-booky-ness.

While many professors have a built in know-it-all quality, Cooney does not shy away from questioning what we know about Egyptian history, or in this case her-story, and posit a few “what if” questions.

If you’re looking for an in depth historical document with footnotes and bibliographies, might I suggest looking elsewhere. If what you seek is an entertaining take on history that won’t have you searching out a fresh hit of caffeine or needing to be wired on Red Bull, then grab this one history buffs and interested readers alike.

Friday, November 7, 2014

An Honest to Goodness Legend

Possibilities - Herbie Hancock with Lisa Dickey (Viking Books)

Over the course of time I have read stacks and stacks of musical biographies from a wide range of musical genres that have run the gamut from tell alls to those that covered one segment of an artist’s career including recording, touring and much, much more. Many had a tendency to fall into a familiar formula or pattern of ups and down and they often left me not much more informed about the subject than when I started.

The same cannot be said for Possibilities by legendary jazz, R&B and hip hop artist Herbie Hancock. Possibilities ranks as one of the most open and honest biographies of a musical performer I have ever read. Writing with Lisa Dickey, Hancock delves deeply into his seven decade career that has spanned not only the time but a diverse range of musicals styles.

Hancock has clearly made a career out of defying pigeonholes and labels to bring not only his masterful craftsmanship but his seemingly boundless creativity to bear on every project he undertakes. Hancock delivers great insights into the multitude of collaborators and cohorts that he has crossed musical and life paths with along the way.

The book provides a real sense of the unique combination of talent, desire and inherent genius that is a play in Hancock’s approach to music. One senses an all conquering drive and determination to deliver great music and an almost inner struggle; turmoil may be too strong a word, that is at play with Hancock when it comes to the need for success challenging the resolve for musical/artistic purity.

It’s easy to sense the level of enlightenment that Hancock’s practicing Buddhism has lent to his creativity and his life. Any jazz fan couldn’t help but be intrigued by Hancock’s stories about his time playing with Miles Davis.


The Wonderful World of the Tuna

Parcells: A Football Life – Bill Parcells and Nunyo Demasio (Crown Archetype)

Like him or not, Bill Parcells is easily among the most storied coaches in the history of the NFL. Along the way he has acted as the architect of winning programs and racked up a pair of Super Bowl rings, and been front and center of some memorable battle royals that have amused and outraged fans and the media.

Now in Parcells: A Football Life, an autobiography co-authored with Nunyo Demasio, a sports scribbler for publications ranging from Sports Illustrated and ESPN, The Magazine to the Washington Post and New York Times, Parcells has weighed in with his side of the story; often taking readers inside some of the more intimate, often painful stories that have become legend.

Clearly Parcells is a guy who doesn’t release his firm grip on a grudge very easily. While some in the sport media might like portray a collegial coaching brotherhood; Parcells doesn’t really qualify as a member in good standing. He details the betrayal of Bill Belichick as he transitioned from coaching New England to taking the helm of the New York Jets football operations. While Belichick stiffed Parcells, his mentor, on the head coaching job of the Jets, the book details offensive guru Charlie Weis, backstabbing Parcells in an NFL grievance hearing, in what might have been a transparent angling for the Jets head coaching gig. It backfired and Parcells reportedly told Weis,    “Charlie, you need to get your s— and leave the building.”

Despite being a long-suffering Buffalo Bills fan; I found Parcells: A Football Life entertaining, insightful and a solid read. Perfect for football fans, right in the middle of football season.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Business Motivation on Steroids

ME, Inc. – Build and Army of One, Unleash Your Inner Rock God, Win in Life and Business – Gene Simmons – (Dey Street Books)

Like most kids who came of age in the 1970s, I was became a fan of the band Kiss…granted not a Kiss Army level fan, but did wear out a vinyl copy of Kiss Alive. Later a became a fan of the band’s bassist, Gene Simmons; he of the un-naturally long tongue and fire breathing fame. It wasn’t Simmons musical ability that drew me to him, but line from and interview where he spoke about all the musicians that came along when he did wanting to be “like the Beatles” while he wanted to be like McDonalds…billions served.

As far as business side of things here was a guy who clearly got it. So I was surprised to see Simmons finally after decades of success land in the business section of the book store. In ME, Inc. – Build and Army of One, Unleash Your Inner Rock God, Win in Life and Business, Simmons espouse his thoughts on business and entrepreneurialism in a wide range of ventures.

I had to remind myself that the book is broken down into two distinct sections; the ME Section in which Simmons piles on the tales of his life, his successes and his multitude of business ventures. Clearly no one could accuse this guy of not having a high opinion of himself; some might say he’s cocky, but as he points out later in the book, self-confidence can go along way when you’re starting a business venture.

It is in the second half of the book, the YOU section that this book really hits its stride. While Simmons certainly doesn’t offer up any earth shattering, new secrets to business success; what he does do is offer a clear headed approach to both life and business with a palpable sense of urgency.

It’s easy to see why Simmons has become a favorite with the cable business and conservative news networks. Don’t expect a Harvard Business Review white paper; this is common sense based, pretty straight forward and at times hard hitting advice on business and success.

Simmons isn’t shy about stirring the pot when offers up his take on success and the impact of marriage and children. He dovetails a chapter on honing the ability to tell your own story and the impact that can have on your business success with a chapter on the importance of speaking English. I doubt Simmons would sit still very long a phone menu that includes; “Press one for English.” The case he makes is absolutely on target; English is the language of success.

While the ME section can wear a little thin as it runs on; I found the YOU section to be a real shot in the arm, its business and life motivation on steroids.   

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Drive Liberals Crazy…Oh Wait They Already Are!

Hands Off My Gun – Defeating the Plot to Disarm America – Dana Loesch (Center Street)

Conservative Radio/TV Host and author Dana Loesch has to just drive Liberals crazy. She is a true triple threat; brainy, bold and beautiful. Loesch’s first book, Hands Off My Gun – Defeating the Plot to Disarm America is like much of her career to this point as she fearlessly and systematically dismantles Liberal rhetoric on guns and the Second Amendment piece by piece.

Loesch points out the almost delusional self-importance that whacko Libs like former New York City Mayor, Michael Bloomberg, California Senator Dianne Feinstein and Community Organizer in Chief, Barack Obama bring to the gun debate. They firmly believe that they can simply put a stop to both the high profile incidences of murder involving guns, like Newtown, Columbine and the shooting of Congresswomen Gabby Giffords, as well as the average gun crime, by passing yet another gun law.

Currently there are in excess of 20,000 gun laws on the books in the United States, many that go unenforced or contradict each other; so what would make these Liberal clowns think that they have the proverbial magic bullet to stop gun crime?

I love the fact that Loesch used a quote from Seinfeld character George Costanza, “It’s not a lie if you believe it” to start the chapter entitled The Fourteen Biggest Anti-Gun Lies, Debunked. That quote could be the clearest indicator of the Liberal mindset when it comes to guns. Time and time again Loesch points out the inherent lies and utter lack of knowledge that liberals seem hell bent on parading out for all to see when it comes to guns. Clearly they have NO knowledge of what an automatic weapon is, what the difference is between a clip and a magazine is, or what in God’s name an “assault weapon” is.

In the process of researching and writing this book, Loesch has delivered one of the most passionate and clear thinking defenses of the Second Amendment and gun ownership since scholar John Lott served up the classic More Guns, Less Crime back in 1998.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

In The Zones…Green and Red

The Bremmer Detail – Protecting the Most Threatened Man in the World – Frank Gallagher with John Del Vecchio (Open Road Media)

May 2003, Paul Bremmer, a former associate of Henry Kissinger, is named a presidential envoy to Iraq, by President George W. Bush; he will essentially run the country until a new Iraqi government can be stood up to replace the regime of the deposed Saddam Hussein. Naturally Bremmer will have to make decisions that will be unpopular among Iraq’s opposition parties so he immediately becomes a target for extremists.

Frank Gallagher, a former Marine and private security veteran gets tapped by the fledgling security firm Blackwater to head to Iraq and help secure Bremmer. In The Bremmer Detail – Protecting the Most Threatened Man in the World, Gallagher and co-author John Del Vecchio detail the fly by the seat of their pants approach during those early days in which Blackwater, Gallagher and his team were writing the protective playbook with game afoot.

Gallagher captures in entertaining detail the almost constant evolution of of the job he and his team were tasked with performing in the face of not only untold danger, but also the almost non-stop schedule that Bremmer kept. When you consider the limited manpower, the tactical limitations and the total unknowns; like the force arrayed against them, the uncertain nature of terrorist-types and improvised weapons, it is amazing that they were able to complete the task at hand and keep Bremmer unscathed.

The Bremmer Detail takes on a “bunch of guys telling stories” quality and ladles out healthy doses of insider stories that offer real insight into the process and transition that Iraq was going through. There is a level of irony given the current state of the country and ISIS terrorists.  

Scribblings of Genius

The Beatles Lyrics – The Stories Behind The Music, Including Handwritten Drafts of More Than 100 Classic Beatles Songs – Hunter Davies (Little Brown and Company)

78 year old Hunter Davies, a British journalist and Beatles confidant, in fact the only author in a shelf full of Beatles bios, to ever pen an authorized biography of the entire band is out with a brand new effort, The Beatles Lyrics – The Stories Behind The Music, Including Handwritten Drafts of More Than 100 Classic Beatles Songs.

While there have been numerous books that have examined the Beatles lyrical output eight ways to Sunday, or perhaps better put, “eight days a week,” it is the second half of this book’s title that that generates the most interest. Included in the pages are reproductions of the scraps, shards and fragments of the original scrawls of those lyrics. It seems that whenever the muse struck, whatever was handy sufficed for jotting down the words that would inspire generations.

While those words and the songs that they would become have been a rallying point for multitudes of fans; listened to, sung, quoted, and cherished over and over again, the striking thing that this book illustrates is simple they often really are. Songs that been elevated to oft-quoted, almost Herculean status; able to move mountains, take on a much more stripped down, simple continence.

It seems at times that the members of the Beatles were always wanting for a pad of paper. These historical scraps have ended up flung far and wide, ending up at universities, museums and in personal collections and the hands of friends and acquaintances of the band. Davies has tackled the challenging task of gathering these images under one cover.

His personal access to the band and those around the band offers unique clarity and insight into what the what the band was thinking, what their state of mind was and the things the influenced the writing of these songs. The handwritten versions of the songs often show the evolution that the songs went through on their way to final renditions. I would put this book on par with Mark Lewisohn’s The Beatles: Recording Sessions, which offered an inside view at the recording of the music; a great addition to any fans bookshelf.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Fall Quick Takes

The War of the Roses – The Fall of the Plantagnets and the Rise of the Tudors– Dan Jones (Viking Books)

Old-school storytelling that posits a terrible blood feud, great heroes, sadistic villains, mixed with a heavy dose of bloody carnage and single battles that leave astounding body counts; the latest from Game of Thrones author George R R Martin? No…it’s history! At least as history is penned by British historian and I would certainly declare, STORYTELLER, Dan Jones.

If the mere thought of reading history sends chills up your spine, and I don’t mean the good kind, then might I recommend The War of the Roses – The Fall of the Plantagnets and the Rise of the Tudors. Jones uses a masterful touch and really makes history sing with not only a great tale, but a real flair for keeping a page-turning pace, something not regularly associated with the form.

Dr. Mutter’s Marvels – A True Tale of Intrigue and Innovation at the Dawn of Modern Medicine– Cristin O’Keefe Aptowicz (Gotham Books)

It seems almost amazing that there was a point at which medical practitioners didn’t believe in hand washing, sterilizing surgical instruments and performed surgical procedures without the benefit of anesthesia! It is against that backdrop that author Cristin O’Keefe Aptowicz pens the story of Dr. Thomas Dent Mutter, a talented, innovative surgeon who was literally on the cutting edge of the evolution of modern medicine.

In Dr. Mutter’s Marvels – A True Tale of Intrigue and Innovation at the Dawn of Modern Medicine, Aptowicz details not only the interesting dynamics that were at play, as Mutter tried to spur change in the medical field and the often virulent backlash that he faced from his fellow practitioners. interestingly Aptowicz, a poet by trade, delves into a bit of poetic license to set the scenes in which Mutter brings innovation to the front lines of medicine in the form of direct patient care.

You Can’t Make This Stuff Up – Life-Changing Lessons From Heaven - Theresa Caputo (Atria Books)

Theresa Caputo, the so-called Long Island Medium, from the TLC cable TV show of the same name, is out with her second book where she collects some of her “experiences” communicating with the spirit world and what she labels “lessons” that she has learned and tries to impart to the family members she “helps.” While I don’t necessarily buy what Caputo is selling in You Can’t Make This Stuff Up – Life-Changing Lessons From Heaven, there clearly is a group of folks who buy into it hook, line and sinker; my attitude is whatever floats your boat.
Unlike many other who work this vein, Caputo does two things that are different; one- she shows a clear sense of humor that make her seem more human and not full of herself and her “special gift” and two she does seem to display a clear sense of spirituality. While some may dub her a charlatan or a fraud, I think that if people gain a sense of peace from there interactions with her, more power to them.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Worship at the Alter of Robert Plant

Robert Plant – A Life – Paul Rees (Dey St./Harper Collins Books)

To be clear upfront…I approach Led Zeppelin from a different direction then most; having spent over a decade working as a disc jockey at a variety of rock radio stations I reached the let me up I’ve had enough point when it came to Zeppelin. The thought of playing or even hearing those magical opening chords of Stairway to Heaven can set my gag reflex to shuddering.

That being said I was curious what longtime Brit music journalist Paul Rees might have uncovered and had to say about the band’s front man in Robert Plant – A Life. Rees has plied his trade as a writer and journalist for over twenty years for publications ranging from rock mags like Q and Kerang! And newspapers like the Evening Standard, the Telegraph and the Independent, so I was interested to read a firmly British perspective on the singer/band who are beloved by fans and bemused by critics.

Unfortunately, Plant continues to be an elusive figure when it comes to granting fresh interviews to writers and apparently was a non-participant in the process of the writing this book. That left Rees, who had interviewed Plant on prior occasions to recycle much of the material that went into this tome. While that is clearly a disappointment for fans of the band hungry for new insights, Rees does have a flair for imaginative prose and he writes of Plant with distinctive style. He also captures the not only the tales of the evolution of the singer/band, he sets up well against the backdrop of what was taking place in the world and in music in the era that the band rose to the heights of their success.

I am always amazed at the level of infighting that takes place when bands reach new levels of fame and fortune. Some of the things that deliver them to the success that they fought so hard to achieve end up becoming a proverbial albatross around their necks. There is a certain level of satisfaction that I take away from Plant’s apparent distain for the all consuming success of Stairway to Heaven.  

Saturday, October 25, 2014

The Story of the Man

I’m the Man – The Story of That Guy From Anthrax – Scott Ian (DaCapo Press)

Scott Ian…typical New York guy; hard working, Yankees fan, and average Joe, who just happens to be a rock star. Other than the shaved head and interesting choice of facial hair you might not give this guy a second look. Ian was a founding member of the thrash metal band Anthrax; one of the genre’s so-called Big-Four along with Metalica, Slayer and Megadeth.

It is his average Joe-ness that makes his story of struggle, determination and persistence, told in the new bio, I’m the Man – The Story of That Guy From Anthrax, so interesting. While admittedly I’m not an Anthrax fan, Ian’s story is at once a familiar rock star tale is engaging because he worked so hard to overcome so many obstacles that you can’t help but root for the guy. The fact that he didn’t go out of his way to screw things up like so many rockers do also tends to make the story unique.

You got to give this guy credit, he’s built a 30 plus year career that has seen a virtual revolving door of record labels, band members, managers, industry changes and has managed to avoid becoming a drug addled moron, a victim or a total douche bag. In a sense the book’s title says it all; he is the man, all the while remaining just that guy from Anthrax.

His stories about a dream come true playing Yankee Stadium, the birth of his first child and the description of the love of his life, rocker Pearl Aday, daughter of legendary rocker Meatloaf may not score him any cred with thrash fans, but it truly says something about The Man. I think being among the Big Four probably has him covered on the thrash cred front. This one is a great read whether you’re a fan or not.

The Stones – Start Me Up

Brian Jones: The Making of the Rolling Stones – Paul Trynka (Viking Books)

For the casual Rolling Stones fan the band will forever be known by the dynamic duo of Mick Jagger and Keith Richards. The so-called Glimmer Twins have been synonymous with success of the Rolling Stones, dubbed by many as the World’s Greatest Rock ’n’ Roll band; but the truth is the band got its start when blues fan, guitarist Brian Jones began to cobble together a group of like minded musicians that would evolve into the Stones.

In Brian Jones – The Making of the Rolling Stones, author Paul Trynka draws a sharp dividing line between the two camps; those that support the status of Brian Jones as the founding force and those who fall into the Jagger/Richards camp as the spark of the band’s ultimate greatness.

Trynka truly highlights, but doesn’t necessarily clear up the mystery that shrouds much of the mystery that surrounds the band; the strained relationships, the seemingly endless parade of women (who often added fuel to the fiery relationships) the drugs, the mis-management and the super-sized personalities and egos that are part and parcel of the band.

Trynka focuses a lot of attention on Jones’ troubled early life and the impact that it had on his personality, his apparent obsessions and his ultimate demise. While there has been much speculation surrounding the death of Brian Jones, Trynka doesn’t really wade into the conspiracy debate; instead choosing to touch on many of the theories that have been espoused and investigated by both the police and the media.

What is made clear in the pages of Brain Jones is that despite 50 years of music and media including countless articles and books there remains a staggering amount that is unknown or unclear about the band’s history. That may stem from the passage of time, the clearly divided camps and conflicting allegiances, the deep dives into drug abuse and the desire to keep things all a part of the mythology of the Stones.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Good Read…Just Not Parker Good

Robert B. Parker’s Blind Spot – Reed Farrell Coleman (Putnam Books)

Robert B. Parker’s Blind Spot penned by veteran author Reed Farrell Coleman is a really good read…it is however, not a Robert B. Parker, Jesse Stone book. Parker’s one time major league prospect shortstop turned Paradise Massachusetts police chief, Jesse Stone gets an invite to a reunion of his former Triple-A team; pulled together by a teammate who made it to the Show. Thus starts a tale of twisted and intersecting pasts and paths.

The late Robert B. Parker who created the Stone character along with the likes of his stalwart P I, Spenser, was a master of dialog; the interactions of his memorable characters and their comfortable as an old shoe banter was what made the stories he wove truly shine. Based on this outing, I can’t say the same holds true for Mr. Coleman.

Blind Spot is a much more story driven approach to things with the familiar characters coming of as much more stilted and forced and not near as they were originally drawn. Stone’s battle with the bottle comes off like it came straight from a How to Identify an Alcoholic Handbook; does Stone have a problem? Probably, but Coleman gives Stones taste for and pursuit of Johnnie Walker Black Label come off a bit like a caricature of a lush.

While it may not measure up for Parker fans, I did find Coleman’s story to be a good one; more than a few former Major Leaguers having checkered post retirement careers in the financial services industry and ending up in the gray bar hotel. This outing intrigued me enough to have me track down a few of 20 books Coleman has authored.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Abortion Barbie: The Story of the Empty Pink Suit

Forgetting To Be Afraid - Wendy Davis (Blue Rider Books)

For someone thrust headlong into the national spotlight based solely on her hours long pro-abortion filibuster in the Texas legislature, the Lone Star State Democrat gubernatorial candid seems almost blisteringly not self-aware of the contradictions she presents to the public.

For someone so famously pro-abortion; who admits she partook in the Liberal sacrament twice herself in Forgetting To Be Afraid and her campaign team clumsily Tweeted; “As governor, I’ll always make investing in our Texas children my first priority #TeamWendy.”  Seems hard to believe that someone who is lauded for being so self-aware that she has been hailed as the new face of the Democrat party; she comes off as strikingly unaware of the impact of the words she uses.

Forgetting To Be Afraid reads like a pretty typical campaign tome; plenty of overcoming of difficult situations, larded with a healthy dose of self-aggrandizing and a dollop of “wow isn’t she something!” The fact that Davis choose to not address things like the fact that she famously divorced her second husband, who footed the bill for her final years at Texas Christian and Harvard Law, shortly after he made the final payments on the loans. Guess it makes for a much more admirable story to fabricate a tale of a single Mom overcoming.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Ponder This...

The Betrayers –A Novel – David Bezmozgis (Little Brown Books)

As a general rule of thumb; I don’t read novels to be motivated to think. There are plenty of non-fiction books that have motivated me to ponder a wide range of things; in The Betrayers, author David Bezmozgis delivers an elegantly written, thought provoking effort that will leave you contemplating a wide range of moral and social consequences.

Bezmozgis wraps his well crafted storyline, some say loosely based on the real life events surrounding famed Soviet/Jewish dissident Anatoly (Natan) Sharansky, around a set of creatively drawn, but clearly flawed characters. Along the way he attempts to tackle questions of morality, right vs. wrong, and character.

This would likely have been a much more difficult book to read if it weren’t for Bezmozgis’s tremendous ability to craft winning prose and vivid characters that you can almost literally wrap your arms around. He delivers a stunningly good book that will no doubt find its way on to many best of 2014 lists.