NEW eBooks About People

Monday, April 13, 2009

The Code of Love by Andro Linklater

Astonishing, amazing, remarkable, and incredible, all apply to Linklater's The Code Of Love. You could add fascinating, riveting, captivating and engrossing.  This is a true story that is a romance, a war story and a mystery all rolled into one. 

Linklater moves seamlessly between the story of Pamela and Donald Hill's romance, Donald's horrific war story as a prisoner of war and the saga of decoding Donald's journal. 

The early part of the book makes you feel as if you are living in England in the early 1940s.  He paints a picture of daily life that is vibrant and clear. 

He is equally clear when describing the world of ciphers and codes.  In easily accessible language he tells the story of Philip Aston's attempts to break the code.  This part of the story is fascinating all by its self.  An added impact comes from the realization of just how brilliant and disciplined Donald had to have been to create and use  such a code. 

In many ways this is a book that broke my heart.  Donald's fight for survival was heroic.  I marveled at his sheer determination and grit.   The courage it took to hold his mind and body together under appalling conditions and dreadful psychological trauma is almost unbelievable. He should have had a happy ending. . .Lord knows, he deserved it.

And yet, it was not to be.  He obviously suffered from a severe case of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder which was unnamed and untreatable. In many ways his struggle to create a normal life, medicate himself with alcohol and bury the trauma are even more courageous than his basic survival.

If his story were not so familiar today I might have been able to shake it off.  But over the last few days I have thought about the veterans of the current war.  It is shameful that with all the information we have about PTSD our veterans are still untreated. They too, must struggle to create a normal life, medicate themselves and bury their trauma.  What a miserable statement about our society!

Reading this book, however, will remind you of what really matter in life: the power of love.  If you don't read another book this year, read this one!

An astonishing true tale of secrets, love, and war.

Pamela Kirrage, beautiful and impulsive, met and fell in love with the dashing RAF pilot Donald Hill just months before Hill was shipped off to the Far East to protect the British colonies against Japanese aggression. They exchanged rings the day before he left, a promise to marry as soon as he returned. Little did they know that five years would pass before they saw each other again.

The Code of Love tells the stirring tale of Donald's experiences in the front lines of the Pacific Theater and Pamela's war efforts back in England in a dramatic, deeply moving portrayal of the World War II era and its aftermath. On the day the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, they also moved into Hong Kong, where Donald had the misfortune to be part of a small group of officers in charge of a meager five planes. He spent the rest of the war in a POW camp, keeping a journal of the indignities he faced in complex, nearly unbreakable code. Meanwhile, Pamela was swept into the frantic swirl of a wartime society eager to live to the fullest. She cooked meals for secret agents and danced the nights away with handsome soldiers. But her love for Donald never altered, and the two married within weeks of Donald's release at the end of the war. The scars Hill bore from his years of emotional encoding would eventually wear away at their relationship, though never their love.

Andro Linklater skillfully weaves the many fascinating parts of this tale together into an unforgettable narrative. From the mesmerizing siege of Hong Kong, to the romantic roller coaster of a truly great love, to the unbelievable efforts of the mathematician who finally cracked the encoded diary, The Code of Love is storytelling at its very finest.

Monday, April 6, 2009

I'm Perfect, You're Doomed: Tales from a Jehovah's Witness Upbringing eBook edition by Kyria Abrahams

                                                                                                  The first half of Kyria Abraham's I'm Perfect You're Doomed is like taking a trip to strange land.  It looks familiar, the people sound the same but the culture is very different.  The inhabitants have peculiar superstitions and curious rituals.

Kyria takes us on a tour and explains.  In this land the Devil is hiding in Smurfs and lurking at yard sales. Only repeating the word "Jehovah" over and over again will drive out evil.  Inhabitants do not dance or smoke but alcohol is permitted.  The people do not celebrate holidays, value education or socialize with foreigners.

Growing up this was her world.  A world in which these beliefs were accepted without question.  And where it was hip to be holy and zealous.  Her (slightly twisted) sense of humor keeps you entertained and amused.

The tone change as she enters her teenage years and battles with OCD, her sexuality and a creeping apostasy. Her solution?  Get married!

From here on the story is like the proverbial train wreck. Disgusting and riveting.  Abrahams carefully chronicles her depression and loneliness as she attempts to replace the void left by her religion.  She is painfully honest about her ventures into adultery, alcohol and suicide. 

This book ends as she finally seizes responsibility for her life and begins to grow up.  I suspect that is a more interesting story in the long run.  Hopefully she will write it someday.

I was deeply affected by this book. I found it by turns disgusting, exhilarating, terrifying and hopeful.  With all those conflicting emotions it is hard to write a simple review.  In the end I was glad I read it and you will be too. 

Here is the publisher's note:

I'm Perfect, You're Doomed is the story of Kyria Abrahams's coming-of-age as a Jehovah's Witness -- a doorbell-ringing "Pioneer of the Lord." Her childhood was haunted by the knowledge that her neighbors and schoolmates were doomed to die in an imminent fiery apocalypse; that Smurfs were evil; that just about anything you could buy at a yard sale was infested by demons; and that Ouija boards -- even if they were manufactured by Parker Brothers -- were portals to hell. Never mind how popular you are when you hand out the Watchtower instead of candy at Halloween.

When Abrahams turned eighteen, things got even stranger. That's when she found herself married to a man she didn't love, with adultery her only way out. "Disfellowshipped" and exiled from the only world she'd ever known, Abrahams realized that the only people who could save her were the very sinners she had prayed would be smitten by God's wrath.

Raucously funny, deeply unsettling, and written with scorching wit and deep compassion, I'm Perfect, You're Doomed explores the ironic absurdity of growing up believing that nothing matters because everything's about to be destroyed.

House of Cards: A Tale of Hubris and Wretched Excess on Wall Street by William Cohan

Any book that has "wretched excess" in the title is sure to grab my attention! Although given the subject matter I would have probably picked up  House of Cards without this particular subtitle.  Books on Wall Street hold some dark fascination and I have read everything from The Predator's Ball by Connie Bruck to Michael Lewis' Liar's Poker

The first section of the book is a detailed a day by day account of the final Bear Stern's meltdown.  There was a lot going on, some of it quite technical.  Cohan struggles to explain a lot of complex and technical transactions and the people at the center of the action. 

There is a lot of technical detail to plow through.  And there are even more people people to keep tract of.  I found myself a little confused by roles, titles and events; never mind the technical parts of the transactions.  In this section, he gets an A for effort and a D for accomplishment.

In part two, he backs up tells the eighty-five year history of Bear Sterns and it's last four CEOs. He draws finely detailed portraits of the men and the corporate culture they fostered.  In part three he details more current history (2001-2008) of the Firm, Wall Street and the US government.  By the time you have read all these pages you really understand how the combination of the men, the government and the corporate cultures on Wall Street worked to bring down the entire firm.  Here he gets an A for effort and a B+ for accomplishment.

I have to say, I was rather disappointed overall.  The book has a thrown together quality about it.  It would have benefited greatly from decent editing.  Much of the material was restated over and over again.  Cohan relies on a lot of quoted statements pulled directly (and indiscriminately) from other sources.  The flow is often confusing and the sequence of the sections didn't work very well. 

Unfortunately, there are some glaring and inexcusable errors as well. The first one is on the very first page where he states that Orlando, Florida is 2,500 miles from New York City.  A simple Google search will tell you it is only 1,081. 

If, however, you are willing to plow through the errors and the extraneous material you will glean a pretty good understanding of what happened at Bear Sterns and why. 

If you do decide to read it, start with part two.

On March 5, 2008, at 10:15 A.M., a hedge fund manager in Florida wrote a post on his investing advice Web site that included a startling statement about Bear Stearns & Co., the nation’s fifth-largest investment bank: “In my book, they are insolvent.”

This seemed a bold and risky statement. Bear Stearns was about to announce profits of $115 million for the first quarter of 2008, had $17.3 billion in cash on hand, and, as the company incessantly boasted, had been a colossally profitable enterprise in the eighty-five years since its founding.

Ten days later, Bear Stearns no longer existed, and the calamitous financial meltdown of 2008 had begun.
How this happened – and why – is the subject of William D. Cohan’s superb and shocking narrative that chronicles the fall of Bear Stearns and the end of the Second Gilded Age on Wall Street. Bear Stearns serves as the Rosetta Stone to explain how a combination of risky bets, corporate political infighting, lax government regulations and truly bad decision-making wrought havoc on the world financial system.

Cohan’s minute-by-minute account of those ten days in March makes for breathless reading, as the bankers at Bear Stearns struggled to contain the cascading series of events that would doom the firm, and as Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, New York Federal Reserve Bank President Tim Geithner, and Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke began to realize the dire consequences for the world economy should the company go bankrupt.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

The Audacity of Hope eBook edition

It is eerily fitting that the author of The Audacity of Hope was written by a man who had the audacity to run for President of the United States of America. One look at the portrait on the cover told you that his chance to be President was roughly equivalent to the proverbial snowball in hell.

And yet somehow we woke up this morning with "a skinny black kid with a funny name" as the next President of the USA. Unbelievable from where I sit!

It wasn't that long ago (70 years) that the Daughters of the American Revolution refused to allow a "colored" woman to give a concert in their hall. As a side note -- I always find this story the ultimate irony! Women who's ancestors fought and died for freedom actually denying Marian Anderson access to a building! But I digress.

I am old enough to remember Selma and Montgomery and the passage of the Voting Rights Act. I am old enough to have heard Martin Luther King voice his dream.

In those dark days it seemed an impossible dream! Just the idea that his "children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character" was unfathomable. And yet this morning those children will wake up to a country where their Dad's dream has come true!

My Dad used to say that "we are saved by hope." As a teenager I thought it was perhaps the corniest thing I had ever hears. And yet this morning I can't help but think that he was on to something.

After all. what keeps us going in the face of incredible odds? It is sometimes simply the belief in a positive outcome; the feeling we can get what we want or that at the very least everything will turn out for the best.

Hope brings out the best in all of us. Hope is the sometimes the only thing that gets us out of bed in the morning. Hope is the bedrock of the American Dream. And at least for this moment in time, hope reigns in America.

If you haven't done so yet, do yourself a favor and read Barak Obama's message of hope:

In July 2004, Barack Obama electrified the Democratic National Convention with an address that spoke to Americans across the political spectrum. One phrase in particular anchored itself in listeners’ minds, a reminder that for all the discord and struggle to be found in our history as a nation, we have always been guided by a dogged optimism in the future, or what Senator Obama called “the audacity of hope.”

Now, in The Audacity of Hope, Senator Obama calls for a different brand of politics–a politics for those weary of bitter partisanship and alienated by the “endless clash of armies” we see in congress and on the campaign trail; a politics rooted in the faith, inclusiveness, and nobility of spirit at the heart of “our improbable experiment in democracy.” He explores those forces–from the fear of losing to the perpetual need to raise money to the power of the media–that can stifle even the best-intentioned politician. He also writes, with surprising intimacy and self-deprecating humor, about settling in as a senator, seeking to balance the demands of public service and family life, and his own deepening religious commitment.

At the heart of this book is Senator Obama’s vision of how we can move beyond our divisions to tackle concrete problems. He examines the growing economic insecurity of American families, the racial and religious tensions within the body politic, and the transnational threats–from terrorism to pandemic–that gather beyond our shores. And he grapples with the role that faith plays in a democracy–where it is vital and where it must never intrude. Underlying his stories about family, friends, members of the Senate, even the president, is a vigorous search for connection: the foundation for a radically hopeful political consensus.

A senator and a lawyer, a professor and a father, a Christian and a skeptic, and above all a student of history and human nature, Senator Obama has written a book of transforming power. Only by returning to the principles that gave birth to our Constitution, he says, can Americans repair a political process that is broken, and restore to working order a government that has fallen dangerously out of touch with millions of ordinary Americans. Those Americans are out there, he writes–“waiting for Republicans and Democrats to catch up with them.” Tags: ebook,e-book,obama,hope,the audacity of hope,ebooks about people,new york times best sellers

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Speaking for Myself by Cherie Blair eBook edition

  Do you ever play the game?  You know, the one where you sit around with a bunch of people and talk about which famous (or almost famous) person you would like to sit down and have dinner with?  We play it often.  And in the last few years I have often said, "Cherie Blair."  I just had a feeling . . .

I mean, here is a woman who is married to the Prime Minister of England, works as an attorney (and in this book I found out she is also a judge), has a family and still manages to show up for official functions. 

You can tell from her accent that she isn't exactly "upper crust" and the British Press have a field day reporting on her.  Most of the reporting less than flattering, but somehow managing to show her as a REAL flesh and blood person with a real inner life.

Often these conjectures about people are hilariously off base.  But in Cherie Blair's case they may not be. 

Speaking for Myself is her accounting of her life.  Her telling of her own history is frank, opinionated, unsentimental and humorous.  It is at times a painfully honest account of who she is (and not always to her benefit).

She is a study in contrasts and contradictions.  A high achieving professional and a devoted wife and mother.  A political operator who has a tin ear when it comes to handling people and personalities. A pugnacious defender of her husband who sees him warts and all.  She has tremendous insecurities about money and this drives her to make some very unwise choices.  She is in fact, very human.  I ended up liking her a lot! 

And even if you don't like her much, her "ringseat to history" make this compelling reading. Her recounting of the events, stories about the people and insights into government make it a fascinating read.

Sure, some of the intricacies of the British legal system and Parliamentary maneuverings are dense and to me as an American a little boring.  But her story and her voice will keep you reading.

Here is the publisher's notes:

Even if she hadn't married Tony Blair, Cherie's story would have been amazing. Abandoned by her actor father, she overcame obstacles to become one of the UK's most successful barristers. But when Labour took power in 1997, she faced new challenges: her husband was the first prime minister in recent history with a young family, and Cherie was the first PM's wife with a serious career. Now, she gives a complete account of her own life--an astonishing journey for a woman whose unconventional childhood was full of drama and who grew up with a fierce sense of justice.

In her autobiography she reveals for the first time what it was like to combine life as a working mother with life married to the prime minister. She writes about her encounters with scores of foreign leaders and her friendships with Presidents Clinton and Bush, as well as with Hillary and Laura. And she offers inside details of her relationships with the royals, including Queen Elizabeth, Prince Charles, and Princess Diana. Tags: ebook,ebooks,ebooks about people,blair,cherie blair,ebook reviews

Monday, July 14, 2008

The Secret History of the American Empire eBook edition

This week Henri give us an analysis of his "light" weekend reading with a review of John Perkins' The Secret History of the American EmpireHe calls it

      John Perkins and Caesar

If you have ever wondered what it was like to live in the time of Christ you may have been interested enough to read a little of the history of the Roman Empire. Imperial might reached its longest lasting pinnacle in recorded human history starting around that time. The might of that empire has long faded but its works still are visible over much of the Continent where it was born. Is this Republic going the way of the Roman Republic which preceded the Empire? Are we becoming a modern version of Rome?

I think it is unlikely after reading several books promoting that point of view. Most of them were thoughtful and insightful but it is a false premise that defines their argument. In the power of the corporations that define our economic empire, if the word even fits this model, there is a whole new thing altering the face of this planet. Whether the corporate model should be used in building a human social and economic system, and whether it is good or evil, remains to be seen. What is clearly true is that it is not built on either the Roman model or even the colonial model of the British Empire. Imperial power is less the issue than raw economic force in this world.

John Perkins, author of Confessions of an Economic Hit Man" and his new book, The Secret History of the American Empire, comes down on the side of the argument that points out the evils in the system. While it would be impossible to argue about the evils of some of the actions he writes about it is also hard to swallow whole the imperial construct he sees operating here.

I give this latest book a good rating because it could wake up a few people who have not traveled extensively in the poorer nations. The argument that we as a nation are the author of much of the misery that is engendered there is even easy to follow. But that argument is erroneous in that it is ascribing the power to the USA to alter that piece of the world very much for the better or worse by manipulating corporations. Those corporations are manipulating every government on earth at this point in history. Ours is no exception. The difference here is that we can take back our power over our government if we are willing to pay the attention to politics that such an act requires.

The issue of Imperial power versus corporate power needs to be addressed in every nation on earth. The power of corporate interests transcends any nation state's power in the world we live in today. We started forming governments to protect us from the tribe down the block as much as any one thing. If there were any litanies being said today they might include the plea to God, "From the power of the corporate raiders oh Lord deliver us." Part of the financial mess in this country is due to the chaos engendered by diverse corporate interests hijacking our government and using it as a tool for increasing their power.

I do recommend this latest book and hope that it doesn't depress you too much. It has that capacity but it also makes some good points and has some honest statements about the perversion of power and the capacity to create wealth when it is not used for the benefit of humanity. Do read it if you have the stomach it requires.

The Publishers' analysis follows:

Riveting expose of international corruption-and what we can do about it, from the author of Confessions of an Economic Hit Man, which spent over a year on the New York Times bestseller list. In his stunning memoir, Confessions of an Economic Hit Man, John Perkins detailed his former role as an "economic hit man" in the international corporate skullduggery of a de facto American Empire. This riveting, behind-the-scenes expose unfolded like a cinematic blockbuster told through the eyes of a man who once helped shape that empire.

Now, in The Secret History of the American Empire, Perkins zeroes in on hot spots around the world and, drawing on interviews with other hit men, jackals, reporters, and activists, examines the current geopolitical crisis. Instability is the norm: It's clear that the world we've created is dangerous and no longer sustainable. How did we get here? Who's responsible? What good have we done and at what cost? And what can we do to change things for the next generations? Addressing these questions and more, Perkins reveals the secret history behind the events that have created the American Empire, including: * The current Latin-American revolution and its lessons for democracy * How the "defeats" in Vietnam and Iraq benefited big business * The role of Israel as "Fortress America" in the Middle East * Tragic repercussions of the IMF's "Asian Economic Collapse" * U.S. blunders in Tibet, Congo, Lebanon, and Venezuela * Jackal (CIA operatives) forays to assassinate democratic presidents.

From the U.S. military in Iraq to infrastructure development in Indonesia, from Peace Corps volunteers in Africa to jackals in Venezuela, Perkins exposes a conspiracy of corruption that has fueled instability and anti-Americanism around the globe. Alarming yet hopeful, this book provides a compassionate plan to reimagine our world.

Monday, July 7, 2008

The Girl I Left Behind eBook Edition

The Girl I Left Behind is a perfect counterpoint to the Wednesday SistersI hadn't planned it this way.  But overnight I moved seamlessly from the fictional 60s to the non-fictional version.

Judith Nies' memoir is the story of her transformation from a naive small town girl to an worldly aware women.  It is part coming of age story, part travelogue and part history lesson.  It is a report from the front lines from someone who lived it.

Neis captures the essence of the other sixties.  Not the "sex, drugs and rock and roll" variety.  She portrays in detail the political transformation of a generation. 

She weaves together the stories of the cold war, the CIA and the FBI into the fabric of civil rights marches, Vietnam war teach-ins and women's sit ins.  She tells of government secrecy and downright lies.  She talks of old boy's clubs and class in America.

Her stories of working on Capitol Hill in the late sixties bring some of the pivotal players of that time into sharp focus.  They are all on display from Congressman Burton of California to Daniel Ellsburg; from Senator Fulbright to Gloria Stienem. She even manages to compare and contrast the political climate of 1964 and 2004.

She graphically reminds of us of why "The Political is Personal".

This is very much the story of women.  Women and their quest for educations and votes.  Women seeking equal access to and opportunity in the workplace.  The fight for viable health care, birth control and child care. It is the story of women in the 20th century with a straight line from the suffragettes to NOW.  Unfortunately,  many of these stories have have been forgotten. It is important that we remember them and that we honor the brave women who tirelessly worked to ensure that women today have a measure of equality.

Most young women of today take it for granted that a women can vote.  They never question the idea that they can choose a career and be taken seriously in the workplace. Most young girls don't even question the "right" to play sports or have equal access to public accommodations.  Thankfully, most young women do not really understand institutionalized sexual harassment. 

And for all of that, women are too often judged by their appearance, and faced with conflicting demands about who and what they should be.

We've come a long way, baby . . . and we still have a long, long way to go!

Here is the publishers synopsis:

At the height of the Vietnam War protests, twenty-eight-year-old Judith Nies and her husband lived a seemingly idyllic life. Both were building their respective careers in Washington—Nies as the speechwriter and chief staffer to a core group of antiwar congressmen, her husband as a Treasury department economist. They lived in the carriage house of the famed Marjorie Merriweather Post estate. But when her husband brought home a list of questions from an FBI file with Judith's name on the front, Nies soon realized that her life was about to take a radical turn. Shocked to find herself the focus of an FBI investigation into her political activities, Nies began to reevaluate her role as grateful employee and dutiful wife. In The Girl I Left Behind, she chronicles the experiences of those women who, like herself, reinvented their lives in the midst of a wildly shifting social and political landscape.

In a fresh, candid look at the 1960s, Nies pairs illuminating descriptions of feminist leaders, women's liberation protests, and other pivotal social developments with the story of her own transformation into a staunch activist and writer. From exposing institutionalized sexism on Capitol Hill in her first published article to orchestrating the removal of a separate "Ladies Gallery" on the House floor to taking leadership of the Women in Fellowships Committee, Nies discusses her own efforts to enlarge women's choices and to change the workplace—and how the repercussions of those efforts in the sixties can still be felt today.

A heartfelt memoir and piercing social commentary, The Girl I Left Behind recounts one woman's courageous journey toward independence and equality. It also evaluates the consequences of the feminist movement on the same women who made it happen—and on the daughters born in their wake.

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