Saturday, December 1, 2007

Henry Hastings Sibley by Rhoda Gilman

As I probably mentioned in an early post, I have developed a strong desire to collect and to read as many biographies on Minnesota Governors as I possibly can. Mr. Sibley, my third Governor of the year, was the first Governor of the state of Minnesota...but not of the Territory.

Sibley was born in Detroit and gradually moved west to pursue the ever popular career of a fur trader. At a young age, Sibley began to establish himself as an expert on managing the beaver at Mackinaw Island. After creating a name for himself, Sibley departed Mackinaw (not realizing that it would eventually develop into a tourist trap with fudge shops, tandem bikes, shitty knickknacks, and absolutely no beaver pelts) and eventually made his way to the land around Fort Snelling where he became a prolific manager of fur trade along the Mississippi and Minnesota rivers. Now most of the fur trading was done with the natives in the area and Sibley developed strong ties to the natives, learning their tounges and even fathering a child from a Native American. These ties proved incredibly advantageous in his future while creating treaties and armies which more or less destroyed the native population. After serving in the territorial legislature, Sibley was elected the state's first governor. His term was short, but he continued to shape the future of the young state through numerous treaties, his Generalship during he Dakota War of 1862, his chairmanship of the Minnesota Historical Society, and his service as a Regent for the U of MN.

Completed November 2007

Sunday, November 18, 2007

On Target by Rowley

As you may know, I work for Target Corporation and feel an obligation to understand the history of this company. For this and other reasons, I picked up this highly recommended book (recommended by people at Target), hoping to gain a stronger sense of the history of Target. Unfortunately, I was highly let down by this book. While delivering a decent history of the company, the book primarily served as a big advertisement for the company while primarily focusing on the company's relatively recent attempts to bring in renowned designers. However, being that I know of no other book dedicated to Target's history, my investigation into this company may be a bit more difficult than I had originally anticipated. Fortunately, this other did provide a few citations, and I have begun to collect some of her primary sources, hoping to find more insight into this company's rich history. Expect to see me talking about more books somehow connected to Target's history.

Completed mid November

The Looming Tower by Lawrence Wright

Named one of the 10 best non-fiction books of 2006 by the New York Times (those hippy bastards), the Looming Tower paints a fairly thorough history of Al Qaeda up to September 11, 2001. Going into this book, all I knew was that Al Qaeda was evil and wanted to kill all my future babies. Upon completion, I now consider myself far more versed on Al Qaeda than anyone in the Bush administration (I probably was beforehand as well). This book traces Al Qaeda and Islamic fundamentalism back to Egyptian Sayyid Qutb who, after living for some time in a quiet suburban town in Colorado during the 1950s, called for jihad (I'm surprised Michael Moore didn't mention this in Bowling for Columbine because it supports his hypothesis that suburban Colorado creates fucked up people). It then talks about living in caves and a contractor named Bin Laden who ultimately make a very expected attack on the United States in 2001. The book claims Bin Laden and Al Qaeda attacked the United States because of the US presence in the mid-East. However, we all know the real reason, as Rudy Guiliani best puts it: "They attacked us for our freedom." A very good book if you are willing to tolerate the discrepancies between Wright and the Christian Right.

Completed sometime in October

Sunday, October 28, 2007

The Language Instinct by Steven Pinker

Steven Pinker is a cunning linguist who also has a couple lectures posted on my favorite website, (link to Steven Pinker videos). Anyways, in his book the Language Instinct, Pinker argues that all humans have an innate ability to comprehend language and that there is some form of universal grammar seen throughout all languages. Now much of this book I found dry as he thoroughly described many sentence diagrams and trees. However, every once in awhile, I would find myself extremely fascinated and curious to learn more about languages. This book also had connections to my new found love of evolutionary biology; oh, how I love how everything is connected.

This book also creates some good value in one of the last chapters when he bad mouths all those strict adherers to grammar. This chapter would have been very excellent in creating arguments against all my past grammar teachers. It also refutes Ms. Bandamere's favorite quote that "Love is transitory but grammar is forever."

I recommend this book.

Completed sometime in October

Monday, October 15, 2007

The Know-It-All A.J. Jacobs

A.J. Jacobs read the entire Encylcopaedia Britanica. This book follows his journey through the pages of Britanica and his journey of impregnating his wife. Eventually, he was successful in both endeavors. Way to go AJ.

The book was quite random and very witty. There may be little redeeming social value in reading this book, but it is definitely entertaining. I laughed out loud multiple times and was relieved to have some easy reading.

It looks like Jacobs just released another book similar to the Know It All. In his new book, he undertakes another Herculean task, living for one year, literally interpreting the bible. It looks quite humorous. This guy must have a very understanding wife.

Completed mid-October

Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer

I originally read this book as a sophomore in college and was deeply touched by this book. Honestly, I feel few books have made such impressions on me as Into the Wild. The story of Chris (Supertramp) McCandless, abandoning a secure lifestyle for a life of simplicity and adventure intrigued me. This book served as a catalyst for some of my recent adventures and partly is the cause of my desire for independence (but not a desire for celibacy like Chris).

When my team at work suggested we read this together, I was uncertain what I would get out of a second reading of the story. Like my original reading, I quickly inhaled the book in 2 days, but I admit that my perceptions of Chris changed the second time around. Originally I admired his willingness to not get attached to people, but this time around I was bothered by the disrespect he exhibited towards his parents. Additionally, his stories of adventure (which are incredibly mind boggling and bold) lost some of there mystifying qualities. Perhaps because I have since wandered the globe and met others like Chris, I wasn't quite as moved. Despite these comments, I'm still amazed by Chris and admire how he truly experienced his life. This is a phenomenal story.

If you are too lazy to read a quick book, the movie has just been released. But if you fall in that category, you probably shouldn't waste your time reading the book because you wouldn't appreciate it.

Completed October

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins.

After my first reading of Richard Dawkins in August, I was inspired to read some of his work that originally made him famous. Dawkins, the famed evolutionary biologist, first published The Selfish Gene 30 years ago. Despite being around for multiple decades and selling millions of copies, I had never heard of this book until recently. It appears that I did a real good job of ignoring everything related to the field of biology. I have always been fascinated by physical science but have related biological sciences to the memorization of the steps of the Krebs cycle from 10th grade. I wish Mr. Lipke would have been able to spend more time inspiring me on the wonders of biology because this book truly blew my mind.

Even though I know next to nothing about biology (I’ve read some elementary readings on evolution), I was able to comprehend Dawkins from page 1 to 250. Dawkins suggests that evolution shouldn’t be looked at from the level of species. It isn’t necessarily best to describe how humans evolved. Instead, it would be more accurate to describe how genes evolved. Our bodies (or the body of any species for that matter) simply serve as the machine genes use to replicate itself. Genes are just like King Henry the VIII: they want as many heirs as possible. Genes that are good at replicating outlast those that don’t…hence survival of the fittest.

My little blurb does not serve this book justice. This book seriously changed how I look at our world around us, and I’m excited to read some more of Dawkins’ books. The theory of evolution is truly beautiful and sheds such lucidity on how things came to be…at least much more than Genesis (and not the Phil Collins’ band) does so.

Completed early October

Collapse by Jared Diamond

When I lived with Adam Welle, he always harassed me that I needed to read Jared Diamond's (no relation to Dustin Diamond) Guns, Germs, and Steel. Unfortunately, I still haven't read GGS, but while browsing at Lien's books last week, I did stumble upon another great book of Diamond's. In Collapse, Diamond examines a number of civilizations (Maya, Anasazi, Norse in Greenland, Easter Island...) and hypothesizes why these great civilizations eventually failed. At the beginning of this book, Diamond identifies a number of potential environmental, political, and social drivers and then walks through the plausibility of each driver contributing to the civilization's collapse. This is a very fascinating read that really helped me learn what a civilization needs to survive. I already find myself relating learnings from this book to my everyday life. Yes, I understand that sounds pathetic, but I'm just a pathetic guy who likes to think about soil quality and loss of trade partners.

Completed: End of September

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

El Jugador by Fiódor Dostoyevski

Yes, I (attempted to) read a Spanish translation of a Russian author who I have difficulty reading in English. I'm sure I missed a lot, but I just love Dostoyevsky. Even when struggling through this in Spanish, I still developed a very personal relationship with the protagonists and felt like I was gambling away life savings at the roulette wheel. I also developed a new lack of appreciation to roulette. I hope to never play that game.

Completed: Mid September

The Rough Guide to Argentina by many many authors

Though not a quick read or something anyone should read unless traveling to Argentina, I figured that I put in so many countless hours (much like with my GMAT books) going back and forth through every page of this book that I might as well give my thoughts on it. While traveling in or to Argentina, I spent over 40 hours on airplanes or in airports and 70 hours in buses or bus terminals. I did all my reading of this book while waiting.

I think this is one of the better travel guides you are going to find on the market, exclusively on Argentina. Compared to the Lonely Planet Guide--the king of travel guide companies--this book is much larger and thus has much more information to offer. Additionally, I feel this book is aimed more at people looking for an adventure. While the Lonely Planet Guide may recommend only flying to a certain destination because busing would be long and unsafe, the Rough Guide would suggest hitchhiking as a realistic alternative. I like the books that don't treat me like a helpless 13 year old girl from suburbia (I don't blame the Lonely Planet for focusing on this demographic because many travelers could fall in the same category as our 13 year old friend).

If you are going to Argentina and looking for adventure and lots of info, I'd recommend this book. However, I couldn't find a real new edition of this book, so my 2005 edition was already out of date when it came to prices and other ever changing information (museum hours, penguin migratory patterns). Additionally, this book doesn't cover all places and all cities, but what then would be the purpose of travel?

Completed: Early September

Fervor de Buenos Aires by Jorge Luis Borges

After Márquez, I switched gears to Jorge Luis Borges. Though a citizen of the world, Borges claimed to be 100% porteno (from Buenos Aires), and his adoration towards the city is clearly evident in this book of poems. Written at the age of just 24 (I'm 24. I should write Fervor de Minneapolis), Borges wrote these poems about the city after moving away and realizing his true love for the city.

I read this book on a bus riding through the Patagonia, roughly 3 days after leaving Buenos Aires. Before reading this book, I really liked Buenos Aires. After going through these poems, I feel like Buenos Aires is one of the greatest cities in the world. This book made me so infatuated with the city, I shorten my time in Patagonia, giving myself time to return to Buenos Aires to spend another day there, wandering the streets and understanding the stanzas of Borges.

I typically do not read much poetry, but this book of poems took control of me. I read each poem multiple times, and some I must have read a dozen times. He so well captures the essence of the city, I feel as if I'm standing with him in the street, inhaling the dusty air. I cannot wait to go through these poems again, but with a Spanish-English dictionary. If I could enjoy them so much without understanding all the words, I'm optimistic I'll find even more excitement towards the city with a stronger comprehension of the words.

Completed: Early September

El Coronel no Tiene quien le Escriba by Gabriel García Márquez

While on a trip to Argentina, I gained an intense fascination towards Latin American culture and literature. As a denizen of the United States, I admit that I sometimes fall victim to forgetting that 100s of millions of people live south of our border, people who don't need the inspiration of the United States to create a unique, beautiful culture. Inspired to expand my breadth of knowledge on this culture that I was experiencing first hand and eager to improve my Spanish vocabulary, I decided to purchase some Latin American classics that weren't readily available in an English version.

To fulfill these objectives, I purchased an early work from the famous Colombian author Gabriel Márquez. El Coronel is a short novel of Márquez which tells the story of an old, retired Colonel, broke and living in poverty while supporting a desperate wife, waiting to receive his pension. The pension never comes, and the Colonel realizes he lived a miserable life.

I admit that at times I had difficulty following this book, my language abilities just aren't strong enough to easily read a Spanish language novel without a dictionary. Márquez definitely writes with a larger vocabulary than just about any Spanish language magazine (this should be a given). I ultimately read this book twice to fully comprehend it.

As for a recommendation, I enjoyed it (when I fully comprehended what I was reading). Unless you are a good Spanish speaker, I'd recommend finding a translated copy.

Completed: End of August

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Born on a Blue Day by Daniel Tammet

Daniel Tammet is an autistic savant who has an emotional response to numbers. Daniel has mathematical and language abilities similar to those as Rainman. Unlike most other savants, Daniel has the rare ability to discuss his abilities and how he performs them. This book, written by Daniel, tells his life story (it is pretty short because Daniel is only in his 20s).

I originally heard about this book from Ryan Peterson and got further interested after seeing a BBC documentary on him. (Watch the documentary here). The documentary blew my mind. This young man can do math without having to think! After watching the documentary, I instantly went out and bought his book. After reading his book, I'm going to do something rather unusual: I recommend seeing the movie over the book.

The book focuses more on his personal life and his struggles while the documentary is more focused on his rare abilities. Though a good story which really raised my awareness to autism. However, I was looking more for some jaw dropping stories on amazing feats of the mind. Still a good book but not what I was looking for.

Completed: End of August

Thursday, August 16, 2007

The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins

Dawkins is a renowned evolutionary biologist who is also widely known as a militant atheist. As a militant atheist, Dawkins not only does not believe in the supernatural, but he also believes that religion is bad and that we should militantly oppose religion. To prove his point, Dawkins takes a very logical and scientific approach and deeply references his biological knowledge. I am familiar with many arguments for and against the existence of a god, but Dawkins examples related to evolutionary biology were fresh (to me) and thought provoking. He also discussed topics which I 100% agree with but was able to link them to evolution and biology (we do not get our morals from the bible, children are not religious...). I have always loved science, but have never had much interest in Biology. Despite this, by the end of his book not only did I have an intense desire to read some of Dawkins' evolutionary biology books (such as the Selfish Gene), but I had also formulated a list of moral questions which will require some serious thought.

Completed mid-August

Running with Scissors by Augusten Burroughs

Augusten Burroughs had a pretty typical childhood. He hated school, he loved McDonalds, he dreamed of being a hairdresser, he lived with his mom's shrink, and he fucked men 3 times his age. If that is all it takes to write a best-selling memoir, sign me up. I had a really tough childhood: my mother outlawed sex and running by the grandfather clock. Fortunately I'm out of the house and now spend all day running by clocks.

This is a very quick read and quite entertaining. If you don't have the four hours to read the book, I hear it is now out on DVD and Blueray.

Completed: August

King Leopold's Ghost by Adam Hochschild

We've all heard of many of the large genocides that have occurred in human history, but I must admit that I was ignorant of the mass killings that occurred in Belgian Congo in the late 19th and early 20th century. As many as 6 million Africans fell dead due to the actions of Belgium's King Leopold. This book tells the real life story of Heart of Darkness (earlier in the year I read Heart of Darkness but I need to reread it after this).

It seems like all European countries were enamored with imperialism 100 years ago, but I never knew that small little Belgium could cause so much harm. Before reading this book, the name Belgium conjured up images of waffles; now, unfortunately, I'll just think of lies and slavery. Apparently, King Leopold was rather pissed off that he was the king of such a small country. To compensate for his size, he decided to take over a huge chunk of Africa, many times larger than his home country. He then used the local population to exploit the land for all it had, including the lives of the people. This slavery and murder went on for a number of years, but the rest of the world didn't swat an eye because the King did a brilliant job as marketing his exploitation as a humanitarian mission where Belgium wasn't even benefiting. Belgium did benefit, but most of the money went directly to Leopold where he squandered it on teenage hookers. Towards the end of his life he started getting some harsh criticism, but largely because of his little girl fetish, not the killing spree going on in his name.

I'd recommend this book to anyone, especially those fascinated by the horrors of imperialism and the heroism of the few individuals who were willing to take on a King.

Completed: Sometime in August

Trading Up by Silverstein and Fiske

This was another free book from the Target corporate library. It has been sitting on my shelf for the past year, and I only read it because I wanted to be able to say I've read all the books in my library. Despite my hesitancy to read it, I found it a quick, enjoyable read; however, I don't know if I'd choose to read it unless I had some motivation such as reading everything in my library.

The book was published in 2003 by some guys from the Boston Consulting Group. It talks about how people will pay a premium for certain higher priced products. The book comes to its point through a number of case studies. It gives the history of such companies as Panera, Chipotle, Samuel Adams, BMW, Callaway, and Victoria's Secrets and discusses how these companies were able to be successful selling in mass higher priced items. If anything, it was fascinating to read about the histories of these companies. I especially am excited to have more knowledge on Victoria's Secret. I never thought the business of women's underwear could be so fascinating. I even now have a desire to go to one of their stores to get a better understanding, but I don't want to be labeled as a pervert.

Completed: Sometime in July
(If you haven't noticed, instead of publishing an entry the day I finish the book, I'm now waiting many weeks and not only am having trouble remembering the high points of some of these books but I'm not sure if I'm even remembering all the books I have read)

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Portage into the Past by Arnold Bolz

Yes, I couldn't go long without reading another Minnesota History book, and when I saw this at Lien's books, I couldn't pass. I already a good book on the natural history of the BWCA, but I still needed to find a good book about the human history. This book--for at least now--fills that gap in my library. This book tells the story of the original voyageurs to Northern MN, years before it became a state. The story is told through Arnold who with his wife and buddy travel part of the old, standard voyageur route from Grand Portage to Rainy Lake. As they travel the route, they stop and read the journals of the original voyageurs, writing about the same lakes they are traversing. This book would be great just with the many old voyageur tales; however, I could have done without hearing about Arnold's trip. With him and his wife spending all this time camping, I thought there would be some pretty intense sex. Instead, they would read each other stories about centuries' old trade routes and then go to bed....not the normal couple in my mind. I, honestly, get so excited by hearing the old Indian tales, I don't know how I could be calm enough to just go to bed. Apparently that is what happens when you get old. Other then the weak side story of Arnold and his wife, it was very informative.

Completed July 2007

Stumbling on Happiness by Daniel Gilbert

I need to thank Abdi for this one; I enjoyed it. I admit that at first I was a bit skeptical. Based on the title, I was worried that I was going to be reading some self-help book, telling me to stay positive. This book is nothing like that. It does talk about being happy, but not with the purpose of changing your life. Instead, Gilbert talks about how our brain (mis)interprets our past, present, and especially future, causing us to have skewed pictures of our happiness...among other things. I really didn't take much away besides that my brain only sees and remembers what I want it to matter how accurately that portrays reality and that I might as well not imagine my future--and I think that is all Gilbert expects you to get from the book. That may not sound like much, but it is fun a book full of interesting studies that show how bad we imagine the future.

Completed July 2007

Monday, July 2, 2007

GMAT Books

If you noticed, my reading output greatly diminished in the month of May and June. This is because I spent those months studying hard for the GMAT, the standardized test required for business school. During that time, I went through 3 major GMAT books. I wasn't going to write about them, but because they are very large books that I spent significant time on, I thought I better give my feedback:

Kaplan GMAT Premium Edition 2007: Worst book ever. I would never recommend this book. I paid $40+ this book, expecting it to teach me the ins and outs of the GMAT. Unfortunately, the book was filled with typos and foolish editing mistakes. It is hard to trust a book for teaching you grammar when it isn't properly edited. Additionally, the book repeated questions. If you pay $40+, you should get recycled questions one chapter from the next. Lastly, the practice tests that came with the book did not produce any scores close to my actual GMAT scores. The other materials I used did mimic my scores. Don't waste your time with this book.

Kaplan 800: Even though the first Kaplan book sucked, I bought a second one which was focused just on the hardest questions. I only bought this because the other companies didn't have equivalent books that just focused on difficult questions. This was a decent book. Obviously, a different bunch of people edited the book.

Princeton Review Cracking the GMAT: I didn't buy this book but borrowed it from a friend. This was the Princeton Review's equivalent of the Kaplan book that sucked. Fortunately, this book was much better. Not only did I trust the material, but the book gave better explanations on the answers. DISCLAIMER: I was previously employed by the Princeton Review.

Completed June 28, 2007

The 3M Story by Virginia Huck

I was in Omaha for a wedding and naturally found myself at used book store. The store was going out of business and for some reason the owners had greatly reduced all MN themed books. I couldn't pass on the opportunity to expand my MN history library, so I purchased this book on the history of 3M. The book was written in 1955 causing it to be a bit out of date. Despite that, it gave a good background on the beginnings of the company. 3M started out as a sandpaper manufacturer. The initial investors thought they could make great sandpaper from some corrundum in Two Harbors, MN. Being quite intelligent, these founders never thought of testing to see if the rocks would work for making sandpaper. Instead, they built a very expensive plant and got greatly in debt. When they finally started producing sandpaper, they realized all their rock was useless. For the first decade or two of its existence, 3M was one of the worst managed companies of all kind. It didn't go into bankruptcy because the initial investors were too embarassed to admit their stupidity. They would lie to other investors and sell just about the worst quality products to its customers. 3M finally made it when they learned to make sandpaper waterproof. Since that day, they've done a pretty good job at being innovative. Because I'm addicted to MN history, I obviously liked this book. It does get a little dry at times when the author talks about different sandpapers or rocks used to make shingles, but if you are a geologist, give it a shot.

Completed June 2007

Soy un Escritor Frustrado by Jose Angel Manas

I recently purchased a ticket to Buenos Aires, Argentina. I will be going for two weeks at the end of the summer and am obviously very excited. To get prepared for the trip, I figured I better brush up on my Spanish skills. I haven't had a need to speak Spanish in over two years and am now realizing the importance of staying fresh with a language. My first major effort to reinvigorate my Spanish language skills was reading this book. Hands down, this was the most fucked up book I've ever read. I found myself checking a Spanish dictionary just to verify that what I thought I was reading was true. Here is the synopsis: A struggling author who works as a English professor has extreme writer's block; it is destroying his life. Then one day one of his students asks him to proofread a novel she just wrote. He loves the novel and decides to publish it under his own name. To prevent her from exposing his fraud, he kidnaps her and burns down her house. The book does end happily though because even though she is dead and mutilated from all the sex he had with her dead body, his writer block lifts and he can write again. Those Spanish authors, they write good ones.

Completed: May 2007

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

James J. Hill by Michael Malone

James J Hill was filthy rich. His foundation is still filthy rich. I could be obesely rich too if I was allowed to create huge monopolies...damn Sherman Antitrust Act. Additionally, it'd be nice to be able to profit from the great natural resources of the northern reaches of our country, i.e. the minerals and the lumber. Once again...damn conservationalist/hippies and Teddy Roosevelet.

This book gives a pretty good look at the life of James J. Hill, the Empire Builder of the Northwest. If you aren't fascinated with the history of the Great Northern railroad and the exploiting of a nation's resources, this probably isn't the book for you. Instead, just be aware that James Hill was filthy rich, incredibly influential, and the owner of the huge mansion atop the hill on Summit Avenue in St. Paul.

Complete May 16, 2007

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Moneyball by Michael Lewis

I have to thank Alex and his roommate John for recommending this book. I will have to disagree with John and say that this isn't the greatest book, ever; however, that still doesn't mean it isn't entertaining and that it isn't a great book. In Moneyball, Michael Lewis follows a baseball season from the Oakland A's GM's perspective. Oakland A's GM, Billy Beane, was a pioneer in using statistics to run his organization. This book makes Billy Beane look like a genius and makes the rest of MLB look like a bunch of imbeciles. It also makes any nerd with a background in statistics think he could do a better job managing a baseball team than most pros. So watch out Terry Ryan, I work on spreadsheets for a living. This book did lose some points when it claimed that the A's loss to an inferior Twins in the playoffs...that's blasphemous. Obviously, that is a clear example where the author lied with statistics.

Completed May 7, 2007

Wikinomics by Don Tapscott and Tony Williams

About a year to two ago, people started going Beatlemania crazy for Thomas Friedman's The World is Flat. The book supposedly introduced the world to this new, unheard phenomenon called globalization. I admit...I enjoyed reading the book (I love anything written by a good MN boy), but the book wasn't anything revolutionary. Anyone who had read any articles on politcal economy in the past decade would have read Friedman's best seller thinking, "No shit." I mention The World is Flat because I believe Wikinomics deserves the credit that Friedman received. This book argues that open source technology will change how we work and live. If you aren't on board with some collaboration, you might as well go back to the Dark Ages because you will be left behind. I find great merit in Tapscott and Williams' hypothesis. Maybe I'm just naive likes those who still drop their jaw in awe when they "realize" the world is flat (whatever that means). However, if you don't know much about open sourcing, give this book a shot.

Completed May 3, 2007

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Made to Stick - Chip & Dan Heath

Malcolm Gladwell is a best-selling author whose books are filled with random anecdotes which he tries to link together to create a mind-boggling theory. For example, Ken Lay, the Nintendo Wii, Jimmy Carter, and puppies can all bring peace to Palestine. Whenever I read anything by Gladwell, I am always fascinated by his vignettes, but I never see how they relate to his hypothesis. I should have expected the same with this book. Right in the introduction, the authors express their allegiance to Gladwell and vow to write a continuation of his books. If that was truly their goal, they should feel satisfied that they at least moderately achieved it. I feel that this book did a better job trying to tie everything together than any of Gladwell's writings; however, their anecdotes just weren't as captivating. And, as I mentioned earlier, I only like Gladwell for his anecdotes...these guys just did not succeed in that department. Even though I wasn't impressed with the authors' thoughts on "ideas that stick," their marketing ideas must be somewhat successful because I spent $20 on their book.

Completed: April 26, 2007

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

What is the What - Dave Eggers

What is the What tells the story of Achak Deng, one of the Lost Boys of Sudan. Achak was born in southern Sudan but was forced to leave his small village when his village was burned to the ground during the second Sudanese Civil War. Not knowing if his parents survived the massacre in his village, Achak roamed through war-torn Sudan along with other young boys who escaped similar massacres in their vilages. No place is safe for Achak, and he encounters death by all means imaginable: war, hunger, lions... Eventually, after walking through Sudan and Ethiopia Achak finds safety at a UN refugee camp in Kenya where he lives for many years before being sent to Atlanta in 2001. Eggers does a remarkable job telling Achak's story by intermingling his hardships in Africa with his problems of acclimating to life in Atlanta. I do not remember when I was last so moved by a book. While reading this book, I was constantly reminded that there is always much more we can do to help others. I'd highly recommend this book.

Completed: April 21, 2007

Pancho Villa - William Lanford

When in Barcelona two years ago, Grant Peterson and I befriended a trio of young Mexican artists. These were brilliant guys whose keen perceptions awed both Grant and I. Surprisingly, they enjoyed our company and called us the "coolest Americans they had ever met." We spent a few days with these guys and on the last night we saw them, they gave us posters that they had made of Pancho Villa for a Monterrey film festival. They were infatuated by Villa and proudly explained, "He was the only mother fucker with enough balls to attack the United States before Osama Bin Laden." I took this poster as my greatest souvenior of the trip (which was quite remarkable considering I had also received a Compestella from the Catholic Church, eliminating my time in purgatory). For the past two years, Pancho Villa has hung on my bedroom wall, but I have never taken the time to learn much about him. When I saw this book at a used book sale, I couldn't resist. This book is supposed to be an unbias non-fiction work about Pancho, but is written as a narrative which constantly praises him. I admit that this book was fun and made me really admire Pancho (a 20th century Robin Hood); however, it had a larger slant than that horrible Kerrie Miller on public radio.

Complete April 13, 2007

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

The Discovers - Daniel Borstein

The Discovers is the first book of Daniel Borstein's Knowledge Trilogy. In this book, Borstein traces the history of man's desire to learn and to understand the world around him. Initially, I was attracted to this book because it reminded me of the goal of my blog. What better way to develop a solid background of learning than to read about the history of learning? In other words I set lofty expectations for this book which ultimately couldn't be met. World history is too massive to fit into a 700 page book. I did enjoy reading some of Borstein's anecdotes; however, whenever I would get excited by a topic, the section would be over and I would be on to a new topic. Despite these shortcomings, I'd still recommend this book. I never was bored by this book, which is quite rare for such a large work. I enjoyed his style and will probably read the remainder of the books in his trilogy, The Creators and The Seekers.

Completed April 9, 2007

The Conquest of Paradise - Kirkpatrick Sale

Recently I've been playing a lot of Age of Empires III; in the game I'm a Spanish conquistador who comes to the New World and tries to colonize it while exploiting my native friends and killing all those other Europeans who try to do the same. In the game, I have named my character Hernan Cortes and am sadly really enjoying my conquest of Mexico. Thanks to my recent video game exploits, I was encouraged to read a little bit about the man whose voyage launched the colonization of America, Cristobal Colon (aka Christopher Columbus among others). This book took an interesting stance on Colon's life. Sale makes Colon out to be an imbecile. Sale spent seven years researching this book and meticulously cites his conclusions. By the end, I was quite convinced of Sale's hypothesis. More or less, Colon has been extremely glorified over the years and myths have been created about him for a number of motives. Sale questions everything from Colon's nationality and religion to his motives and assumptions. This book is intended to be an examination of Colon's life and his legacy. Unfortunately, Sale focuses a good chunk of the book on Colon's legacy; he cites practically all known monuments made to Colon, a bit too much detail for me. However, this is a good book to read if you ever want to talk back to your 3rd grade teacher who taught you that Colon was the bravest, smartest, boldest, most heroic and noble man to have ever lived. I live that opportunity in my head every day.

Completed: March 28, 2007

All I Really Need to Know from Business I Learned from Microsoft - Julie Bick

This was a free book I picked up at the MAGIC library at Target HQ. Would you believe it, they were going to through this book away? I do not know who wouldn't want to read what some product manager learned while working at Microsoft. This was a very short book filled with short lessons. I'd estimate the author described 100 lessons in 120 pages. As you can imagine, none were that well developed. I obviously did filter out some of the lessons which I agree with most. For example, everyone should take a decent lunch hour each day; it allows the mind to refresh and is a good opportunity to socialize. To come to think of it, Julie may just be a modern day Poor Richard...she just needs to invent a stove, fly a kite, and form a revolutionary government.

Completed March 19, 2007

Anna Karenina - Leo Tolstoy

According to Dostoyevsky, this is the greatest book, ever. By my standards, I'd have to disagree. I do love Russian literature. Something about novels being set in Russia creates cold, depressing imagery in my brain. I didn't quite get the feeling from this book. Unlike a lot of Russian literature of the 19th century (at least those books which I have read), this novel focuses on the elite classes, not the "peasantry." This tale didn't give me much respect of the upper echelons of Russian society. All they ever do is dance at balls, attend the opera, hunt, oppress the peasants, and talk about how much they kick ass. Because the life seems like such a cake walk, I had less sympathy for the tragic love stories that occured in this novel. On an unrelated note, I di feel a strong connection to Levin, one of the main protagonists. If you want to understand my current thoughts on life, read this book from the perspective of Levin.

Completed March 18, 2007

Sunday, March 4, 2007

The University of Minnesota, 1945-2000 by Lelmberg and Pflaum

Keeping with my Minnesota history kick, I decided to do a little reading on my favorite institution in Minnesota, the U. A number of histories of the U exist, but this is the most recently published book on the U's history--to my knowledge. The book was published in 2001 by the University of Minnesota Press and obviously has a slight bias. You could open the book, read any five pages, and think the U of M is the greatest University, ever. Fortunately, I have a similar bias (not quite as extreme) towards the U, preventing me from hating the book. The book is laid out chronologically and more or less lists the names of 1000s of people who shaped the U's history. Every once in awhile I'd encounter a familiar name because the person has since had a building named after him/her. It was fun to read some anecdotes about different Presidents and Regents, but this book probably shouldn't be read cover to cover. As I mentioned earlier, the book cites 1000s of people, one time. This served as a good way to make those 100o people and their families to buy this book.

Completed: March 3, 2007

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Mesabi Pioneer - Edmund Longyear

For those diehard Rangers, yes, the lake in Chisholm was named after this author. Apparently Edmund came to the range in about 1890 and possessed the first drill in northern Minnesota. This made him a hot commodity as all the prospectors paid him the big bucks to drill exploratory holes in search of iron ore. Longyear was a pivotal player in the early history of the Mesabi Range. He helped found many of the cities and was one of the original school board members in the hamlet of Hibbing. For anyone not from the range, this would be a pretty boring book. Actually, most people from the range wouldn't find his tales of rock geology to fascinating either. However, I am a nerd and was enthralled by it all. I actually found this book at a used book store. I bought a copy of the first (and probably only) edition. With my purchase came a letter from the author's son thanking me for the purchase and giving a nice memorial to his father.

Completed February 21, 2007

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Citadel in the Wilderness - Evan Jones

After reading Elmer Andersen, I had an intense desire to go to a used book store and buy some books on Minnesota history. This is the result of that urge, an early history of Fort Snelling written in the 1960s and recently republished by the MN Historical Society. To me, this book was both good and bad. I loved the short stories about the dead white men which all the streets in Minneapolis are named after. Additionally, I got a much great understanding of why we are here (why Minneapolis exists, not why we as a species are here, but I am more than happy to discuss my views on that topic with anyone), which adds value to every life situation. However, to extrapolate these great learnings, I had to trudge through pages and pages of rather redundant stories; yes, history repeats itself, at least in the early days of Fort Snelling. About once a year some fur trader would trade some whiskey to an indian for all of his belongings. The indian would then get so drunk that he would either die or would go crazy, kill some settlers, and then get killed in retaliation. Then the government would use this as an excuse to kill more indians, take their lands, and trade whiskey to them. Repeat.

Completed February 20, 2007

Secrets - Nuruddin Farah

My first Kerri Miller author and my first Abdi book of the year: two milestones in one book. Many argue this to be great literature--some of the best contemporary literature out there--but I admit that I did not pay close enough attention to the details of the novel. This book takes place in Mogadishu and has incessant references to Somali and tribal culture. With little background in these topics, I imagine that I missed a lot of what was going on...but at least I could tell when I was missing something. Additionally, with a title like Secrets, you can tell there is some deep symbolism. However, this is part of a triology of books, and I imagine I'd have a much better grasp on the whole picture if I had read any of his other books. Aside from missing a lot of what was going on, I did enjoy the book. It is an interesting story once I got over the shock of all the prepubescent sex, which there is a lot.

Completed February 15, 2007

Sunday, February 11, 2007

A Man's Reach - Elmer L. Andersen

I love Minnesota. I love Minnesota History. I love Minnesota Politics. I love the University of Minnesota. I love National Parks. I love books. I love this book. Until a week ago, I knew nothing of Elmer Andersen besides that he was a Republican governor and that he has a library named after him at the U. I did not realize that Andersen pretty much did everything. Yes, he was Governor, but he also chaired about every single cool organization in this state, including the Board of Regents and the Minnesota Historical Society. In his free time, he was a dairy farmer who would hang out in Virginia, MN with Charles Lindberg while saving Lake Superior. Not only was I in awe by all the accomplishments of Andersen, but I was also inspired. I can’t begin to talk about everything I like about this book. I would highly recommend this to anyone who loves any of the things I do (as mentioned above).

Complete February 9, 2007

Saturday, February 3, 2007

Even Cowgirls Get the Blues by Tom Robbins

I must thank Jill Johnson for mentioning this book. Before reading page one, I feared I would have to trudge through 400 pages of sappy tales of a cowgirl. I hadn’t realized that instead I would be reading about the world record hitchhiker who loves having sex with older Japanese men and teenage cowgirls while being financed by a designer of feminine hygiene products. As quoted by the great Wikipedia: “The novel is a transgressive romp, covering topics from homosexuality and free love to drug use and political rebellion to animal rights and body odor and religions.” Truly there is something for everyone in this book. In some ways, its randomness reminded me of an episode of Family Guy. So if you are a hippie, anarchist, or lover of Family Guy, you may find this amusing. If you do not fit in one of those categories, you better start working to ban this book from your local school district.

Completed February 2, 2007

Monday, January 29, 2007

A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking

After a fiction streak, I desperately needed to move onto something nonfiction. For this, I picked perhaps one of the most renowned nonfiction works of our time. Now, I have read parts of this book before and—based on the select passages I read—was eager to read the book in its entirety. However, after completely reading Hawking’s brief history, I admit I was a little let down. Even though he is the smartest man alive (it is rare that I can say that without any sarcasm), I think there are a number of astronomy and physics textbooks that do a better job explaining the universe. Then again, the book is titled a “brief” history, making it difficult to fully develop some core principals of physics. This book does offer the unique perspective in that it was written by Stephen Hawking. Any other book on these topics may mention that Stephen proved item A. However, in this book Hawking actually can say, “So I was going to the bathroom when I realized item A.” The personal stories add so much. Actually, his personal stories would be the only reason I’d recommend this book, especially his story about betting some Penthouse magazines over the existence of black holes. I don’t know about you, but I can’t help but laugh when I think of Stephen Hawking going to a convenience store (or smut shop) to buy some porn.

Date Completed: January 27, 2007

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce

I once had an English teacher who said that he loved James Joyce but never finished reading one of Joyce’s novels. Ever since hearing that, I’ve been curious to experience one of his works. For this reason, about five years ago I purchased this book at a used book sale. Since a few days ago, it hadn’t moved from my closet; it just intimidated me each morning when picking out clothes to wear. Because of this project, I finally decided to give the book a shot. It was nothing to be afraid of. The story more or less follows the development of a young Irish artist, hence the title of the book. I greatly enjoyed the first half of the book when he was a younger man (grade school years). During this first part, Joyce takes advantage of his signature stream of conscious style. Unfortunately, as the “Young Man” develops, Joyce uses less and less stream of conscious. By the time Stephen reaches his college years, he talks incessantly about philosophy, and I found myself losing track of the story—partly because I was bored and partly because I didn’t understand everything he was talking about. In other words, I enjoyed the first part of the story when Stephen is six or seven, but by the time he is 20-something, I couldn’t handle his intelligence. That proves my maturity level.

Completed: January 22, 2007

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad

I had no clue what this book was about before starting it. Knowing it to be a classic, I had taken it from my brother’s bookshelf a few years ago. It then sat on my bookshelf and moved with me from apartment to apartment until I finally decided to read it now, largely because I have read just about all of my books. My first impression was that the book was a lot shorter than I expected. I read it in almost one reading and when I finished, I didn’t even realize I was at the end. During this reading, I was also slightly drunk. This hurt my ability to fully appreciate this literary work. Despite my intoxication, I enjoyed reading about Marlow’s adventures into the unexplored world, the Congo. Conrad paints a rather vivid picture of imperialism in the Congo. Despite the egregious scenes he describes, I found the landscape to be surprisingly romantic. I mean, who wouldn’t want to take a river boat into the heart of the “unknown”?

Completed: January 18, 2007

Mirror Mirror by Gregory Maguire

I would classify this book as a historical fiction fantasy fairytale. I read this book off the recommendation of my roommate Pete. This is a different version of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves with the characters being based off of actual medieval figures, controversial historical figures. This book was a lot of fun to read, making it very quick and easy. Pete claims this to be his favorite book. I don’t know if I’d go that far, but I’d still recommend it if you are interested in learning a little history while reading a popular fairytale.

Completed: January 16, 2007

Looking for Alaska by Peter Jenkins

After A History of God, I needed something light and fun. This proved to be the perfect book; a Christmas present from my family in Atlanta. This is more or less the personal journal of a man who decides to try something different and move his family to Alaska for year. His family moves to Seward, Alaska, and he spends his year going on adventures to all the corners of Alaska. His adventures are both awe-inspiring and borderline crazy. I especially liked this book because it reminded me of the stories my brother Andrew, who has lived in Alaska for the past few years, tells me. I recommend this book to anyone excited by outdoor adventure.

Completed: January 13, 2007

A History of God by Karen Armstrong

I admit…I wasn’t ready for this book. I have been spending a lot of time lately studying different religions and trying to understand my religious views. I read this book hoping to get a better understanding of the relationship between the three major monotheistic religions. To my surprise, this book was considerably more detailed than I expected. If you want to read about different philosophical debates between Islamic rulers in the 9th century, this is the book for you. There was so much information and much of it I have already lost. If anything, it did further add to my belief that man created God, not the other way around.

Completed: January 6, 2007

The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky

From the first chapter of this book, I developed a personal relationship with the characters. I got so caught up in their lives and misfortunes that I couldn’t get to sleep at night; I would lie awake and worry about Alexi until I finally would turn on my lights and start reading again. Never have I had such a personal relationship with characters in any novel. Besides the deep connection I developed with these characters, I was also deeply touched by the numerous philosophical/religious debates commingled with the story. Oftentimes I would read a chapter and then find myself searching wikipedia for a further analysis on discourse I just read. This is probably one of the greatest works I have ever read; a good start to the year.

Save as Draft
Date completed: January 2, 2007 (Started on December 24, 2006)