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Favorite authors Fiction Non-Fiction

  Reading is one of my favorite passtimes, and I usually read during my daily commuter boat trips to and from Boston, which amounts to an hour a day. I enjoy a variety of styles, my current passion being crime, mystery, and legal thrillers.

I now primarily read eBooks on my Samsung smartphone. I love this method of reading because if I am on the ferry, or at the airport, or in any type of waiting room (doctor, dentist, etc.) my cellphone is always with me so I always have a book to read. I keep multiple books on the phone so when I finish a book my next book is ready and I do not have to carry a "spare" book to prevent being caught with nothing to read. My primary reading app is FBReader, but I also have Moon+ Reader, Aldiko, and the Kindle and Nook reader apps.

My eBooks – these are the books I have acquired for my smartphone

Favorite authors


FictionNon-Fiction below
 
   The AppealJohn Grisham
This novel starts out at the end of a trial in Mississippi where a widow has been awarded $41 million in a judgement against a New York City-based chemical company that has for decades polluted the ground water in the county where their plant is located by dumping waste. The woman's husband and son, as well as dozens of other residents, have died of cancer caused by drinking the water for years. The company will appeal the verdict, and to insure that the decision will be overturned, has targetted a justice of the state supreme court (an elected body) to be defeated in the next election by their chosen candidate. A high-priced, very powerful, political firm is hired to run the campaign and it uses all kinds of dirty tricks. Two of the main characters in this book are Mary Grace and Wes Payton, a lovely married couple who were the lawyers that represented the plaintiff in the original trial, and they are very different from Grisham's delightful description of trial lawyers in general.

   Down to the WireDavid Rosenfelt
A serial killer is on the loose. He phones newspaper reporter Chris Turley to taunt him and give clues. Chris is writing about the murders because he has inside information and is the sole connection to the killer. Because the victims seem to be pretty random there appears to be no way for the local police and FBI to anticipate and prevent the next killing. There is one scene where the killer is monitoring cars on a screen with GPS and he will choose one to blow up. He was watching a particular car and decided if the driver took an exit off the highway before he crossed a bridge he would spare him. He likened this to playing the ultimate video game and rooted for the driver to exit and spare himself (which happened and pleased the killer). The story builds to a climax on New Year's Eve in Times Square.

Rosenfelt is one of my favorite authors, and an extra bonus in his novels (for dog lovers like myself) is that because dogs are a big part of his life Rosenfelt frequently features dogs as characters in his stories (and one of the main characters in "New Tricks").

   The PatientMichael Palmer
An international assassin has a brain tumor, and with a small band of cohorts he impersonates someone else to make arrangements for his needed surgery, ultimately taking over the surgical wing of a hospital in Boston. The protagonist in this thriller is the neurosurgeon who must perform the operation, and she must use her wits to comply with this maniac and also care for her other patients. Along the way she becomes romantically involved with the CIA operative who has been hunting the terrorist for five years. As you would expect, there is much tension in the story resulting from terrorists' actions, and Palmer's description of the step-by-step process of the brain surgery using a robot device is also very exciting. Palmer is one of my favorite authors and I've read and really enjoyed all of his books.

   Critical ConditionPeter Clement
The central character in this thriller suffers a brain hemorrhage which leaves her paralyzed and just barely alive. She is awake but unresponsive, in a state known as locked-in syndrome. As she lies in the hospital she cannot move a single muscle except her eyelids, and she is aware of everything that goes on around her, including some secret and illegal activities that may ultimately harm her. She and her male companion, a doctor, contrive a communication system using blinks of her eyes, and she tries to tell him about what she has witnessed. This exciting story involves conspiracies and murders.

   The Bone CollectorJeffery Deaver
This book introduces the crime-solving team of Lincoln Rhyme and Amelia Sachs, who appear in several subsequent Deaver novels. An interesting character twist is that Rhyme, the former head of NYPD forensics, is a quadraplegic from an accident who is confined to a bed, and Sachs communicates with him over a headset when she is investigating a crime scene. In this story they are trying to stop a New York City serial killer who leaves clues pointing to his next victim. It is fascinating how Deaver's criminalists examine trace evidence from the crime scene to determine a serial killer's next move.

   Dead EvenBrad Meltzer
A married couple opposes each other in court, she as the prosecuting attorney and he as the defense attorney for the client. This may be a conflict of interest but neither can drop the case because each has secretly been threatened. They must not only stay on the case but win it, or the other's life will be in jeopardy. This concealment creates a lot of stress in the couple's relationship, and to compound this, both already feel insecure in their professional lives. Like all good thrillers, this story leads up to an exciting conclusion.

   The Karp & Ciampi Legal ThrillersRobert K. Tanenbaum
There are over a dozen books in this series featuring New York Assistant District Attorney Butch Karp and his pistol-packing lawyer wife Marlene Ciampi. The first book begins when they are both A.D.A.'s and their courtship has not even started, and the series continues chronologically as their relationship evolves and their family grows. Marlene becomes independently wealthy from Internet stocks and her career path changes several times throughout the books including running a security agency that provides protection for abused and stalked women and starting a guard dog business. An integral character in many of the stories is their brilliant, complex, spiritual, teenage daughter Lucy, a prodigy who speaks dozens of languages fluently. If I were to single out one book that provided many memorable thrills it would be Act of Revenge, in which Lucy witnesses a murder and is kidnapped. Each book stands alone as a complete story, but since the main characters repeat and develop throughout all the books, the entire series is like one epic novel. Tanenbaum is an attorney who at one time served as a New York A.D.A. himself, and he gives great descriptions of life in New York City.

   Presumed InnocentScott Turow
I loved the fascinating characters in this courtroom drama, presented through the eyes of the defendant, a deputy prosecuting attorney being tried for the murder of a colleague. Turow, a lawyer himself, obviously knows the details of how a case is brought to trial, from the police investigations to the meetings with the lawyers, and how personalities can influence the outcome. Like all good mysteries, this one has plot twists and red herrings.

   AbductionRobin Cook
This is not the typical Robin Cook thriller, where the story is usually centered around a realistic sounding medical issue. Abduction is more social in it's plot and it's actually a science fiction novel. The action takes off when a minisub and some divers encounter what appears to be an active underwater volcano and from that point on they find themselves in way over their heads so to speak. Be prepared for some startling and profound concepts when you read this book. I've read and enjoyed all Cook's novels.
 
   The Day After TomorrowAllan Folsom
This action-packed thriller spans decades and continents, following an American surgeon as he tries to solve the murder of his father that occurred when he was a child. Besides murder, global intrigue, and terror, the story contains science twists and love interests. Read some reviews.

   A Man in FullTom Wolfe   (I also review Wolfe under Non-Fiction)
Wolfe's charm and humor make this book hard to put down. Every page seems to contain at least one gem of his wit that you want to write down and quote. I've read almost all of Wolfe's books, beginning with his first, The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby. For years he was known primarily as a writer of non-fiction, including regular essays in The New Yorker. This book, and his great novel about culture clashes in New York, The Bonfire of the Vanities, show that he is also a master of fiction.

   Beach MusicPat Conroy
The story of a contemporary man my age and his young daughter trying to deal with life after the suicide of his wife. It explores the rich family dynamics of his and his childhood friends' families. The setting is primarily Rome and South Carolina, and through dark, anguished narratives goes back to the incredible horrors of the Holocaust. The account of the Vietnam War protests brought back memories of my experiences in that era that shaped my life. Conroy is one of the best.
 
   HarvestTess Gerritsen
Set in Boston, this medical thriller explores the ethical edges of organ transplants. Gerritsen is a former MD so she knows her subject well. I love all her novels (Gravity, what a thriller!), and as I mentioned above, I'm also a fan of Robin Cook, another doctor who became an author.
 
   The Third TwinKen Follett
The story begins when a man discovers that he has an identical twin brother from a different(?) mother who is an evil murderer, and he worries that he has the same genes. I love the way Follett gets into to the minds of his characters, including one in the moments before his death. (Read Ken's view.)

   Rising SunMichael Crichton
High Tech fiction—my favorite kind. I like most of Crichton's books, which are usually based on believable sounding science. I found his book about nanoparticles gone wild, Prey, hard to put down. I also enjoyed Travels, an autobiographical book of episodes in Crichton's life.
 
   Stranger in a Strange LandRobert Heinlein
I read a lot of Science Fiction in the early 1970s. Although Heinlein was not my favorite Sci-Fi author (sometimes I found him a little old-fashioned and sexist) this story of an extra-terrestrial earthling who becomes a cult leader on Earth is quite profound. Can you grok it?

   Catch-22Joseph Heller
This is one of the funniest books I have ever read. It is the irreverent, cynical, and contradictory story of a WWII American bombardier stationed in Italy who keeps trying to reach the required number of flight missions so he can be sent home, only to have the colonel raise them whenever he gets close. Heller describes the egos and insecurities of the various officers and the schemes they go through to protect or elevate their status, and the commercial endeavors of entrepreneur Milo Minderbender (which benefit his syndicate, of which everybody owns a share) which include being paid by the Americans and  the Germans to orchestrate bombing runs against each other. I first read this hilarious book in the 60s, and read it again 40 years later. Both times I found something on almost every page that makes me want to laugh out loud.

 
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Non-Fiction Fiction above
 
   Brain on Fire: My Month of MadnessSusannah Cahalan
In 2009 Cahalan was inflicted with anti-NMDA receptor encephalitis, an autoimmune disease which causes memory loss, violent episodes, and delusions. She has no memory of the time she spent in the hospital, and now that she has recovered she wrote this book from doctor's notes, the logs of her parents, videos of her in the hospital, and interviews with those who helped and witnessed her life in this period. She tells the story in the first-person singular like she was remembering it. This New York Times bestselling autobiography is fascinating reading!

   Confessions of a New York Taxi DriverEugene Salomon   ( not a bio but a great 3-page interview)
What's it like to drive a cab in New York City? Salomon, who has been a cabbie in NYC since 1977, has lots of really interesting experiences to tell about (he says taxi passengers come in the following categories: people who look strange but act normal, people who look strange and act strange, and people who look normal but act strange) and he is very witty and articulate in his stories about them. The book has a lot about New York's streets and neighborhoods, and is structured in chapters that make it easy to read in spurts.

Salomon has a couple of blogs...
  Cabs Are For Kissing
  Pictures From A Taxi

   Against All EnemiesRichard A. Clarke
Clarke began working in the federal government in 1973 and was the U.S. counter-terrorism "czar" from 1992-2003. He was appointed to chair the Counter-terrorism Security Group (CSG) and he was an expert on al Qaeda and began sounding the alarm about Osama bin Laden and his terrorist training camps in Afghanistan long before 9/11. Bill Clinton was very open to input from Clarke but his warnings seemed to fall on deaf ears after Bush was elected (Condoleezza Rice, Bush's National Security Advisor, didn't even seem to know who al Qaeda was). Here is how he expressed his view of the Bush reaction to 9/11:

"As he stood with an arm around a New York fireman promising to get those who had destroyed the World Trade Center, he was every American's President. His polls soared. He had a unique opportunity to unite America, to bring the United States together with allies around the world to fight terrorism and hate, to eliminate al Qaeda, to eliminate our vulnerabilities, to strengthen important nations threatened by radicalism. He did none of those things. He invaded Iraq."

Clarke resigned from the Bush administration in 2003 and wrote this terrific book in 2004.

   The Looming TowerLawrence Wright
The Looming Tower includes a lot of biography of Osama bin Laden, and it describes the histories and activities of the Arab terrorist organizations al-Qaeda and al-Jihad leading up to 1998 United States embassy bombings in Africa, the USS Cole bombing in 2000, and the 9/11 attacks. I was amazed to learn of the jealous rivalry between the CIA, the FBI, and the NSA and their failures to share vital information with each other, and it was shocking to learn how much the CIA knew of the hijackers' activities before 9/11 but did nothing to stop them, including that known al-Qaeda operatives were allowed to board the planes that they hijacked. If I may quote from the Wikipedia article linked above, the author "describes in detail some of the Americans involved, in particular Richard A. Clarke, chief counter-terrorism adviser on the U.S. National Security Council, and John P. O'Neill, an Assistant Deputy Director of Investigation for the FBI who served as America's top bin Laden hunter until his retirement from the FBI in August 2001, after which he got a job as head of security at the World Trade Center, where he died in the 9/11 attacks."

The title of the book is from the Qur'an, " Wherever you are, death will find you, even in the looming tower."

   Charles Kuralt's AmericaCharles Kuralt
This is a fascinating book by a charming man. Kuralt wrote this book about his travels after he retired. It has chapters on many interesting places including New Orleans; Key West; Charleston, South Carolina; Grandfather Mountain, North Carolina; Ketchikan, Alaska; Ely, Minnesota; Boothbay Harbor, Maine; Twin Bridges, Montana; Woodstock, Vermont; Rio Grande Valley, New Mexico; and New York City. There are many great stories of the local people and cultures in these locations and I found this book hard to put down.

   Steve JobsWalter Isaacson1

"The saga of Steve Jobs is the Silicon Valley creation myth writ large: launching a startup in his parents' garage and building it into the world's most valuable company.  He didn't invent many things outright, but he was a master at putting together ideas, art, and technology in ways that invented the future." – Walter Isaacson

"He [had] an uncanny ability to cook up gadgets that we didn't know we needed, but then suddenly can't live without." – Daniel Lyons, Forbes

This is a biography of one of technology's greatest innovators. In addition to details about Jobs' life Isaacson describes the founding of Apple by Jobs and Steve Wozniak, and provides great background information on the development of Apple's products, including the Macintosh, iMac, iPod, iPhone, and iPad, and things that go with them like iTunes and the iStore. The book also describes other Jobs' endeavors like being the CEO and majority stockholder of Pixar when they created movies like Toy Story. Jobs does not come across very likable, but I love the things he did in his life. Jobs describes his (and Apple's) philosophy of fully integrated (closed) hardware/software as,

"We do these things not because we are control freaks. We do them because we want to make great products, because we care about the user, and because we like to take responsibility for the entire experience rather than turn out the crap that other people make."

The "other people" is a reference to Microsoft Windows and Google Android, two open operating systems that allow 3rd parties to develop for them on PCs and smartphones. Isaacson hints that Apple, the company that started out as rebels (view the 1984 Macintosh commercial), appears to be turning into Big Brother.

   Hardcourt ConfidentialPatrick McEnroe1, with Peter Bodo1
McEnroe (John's brother) toured as a pro in the 80s and 90s, served as Davis Cup captain for 10 years, and is now involved in player development with the USTA and is an ESPN commentator. The book is full of details about the personalities and playing styles of the players, the dynamics of coaching, has many tournament settings, and much Davis Cup intrigue. Being a player himself gives McEnroe special insite into analyzing the techniques of the game. Reading his descriptions of the skills and charm of Roger Federer and Andy Roddick made me really like and respect these two immensely talented players, and being a tennis player myself I loved this book.

   Radical Chic & Mau-Mauing the Flak CatchersTom Wolfe   (I also review Wolfe under Fiction)
I first read this book in the 70s but I couldn't resist reading one of my favorite author's books again. This book is two articles Wolfe wrote for New York magazine in 1970. In the late 60s Leonard and Felicia Bernstein and other wealthy New Yorker's held fund-raising parties at their homes for the Black Panthers (see Radical Chic: That Party at Lenny's for the original article including photos). Wolfe describes the events and the culture clashes in his usual clever wit. Here are a couple of paragraphs from the book:

    Leon Quat [a lawyer involved in raising funds for the Panthers] rose up smiling: "We are very grateful to Mrs. Bernstein"—only he pronounced it "steen."   STEIN!"—a great smoke-cured voice booming out from the rear of the room! It's Lenny! Leon Quat and the Black Panthers will have a chance to hear from Lenny. That much is sure. He is on the case. Leon Quat must be the only man in the room who does not know about Lenny and and the Mental Jotto at 3 a.m. . . . For years, 20 at the least, Lenny has insisted on -stein, not -steen, as if to say, I am not one of those 1921 Jews who try to tone town their Jewishness by watering their names down with a bad soft English pronunciation. Lenny has made such a point of -stein not -steen, in fact, that some people in this room think at once of the story of how someone approached Larry Rivers, the artist, and said, "What's this I hear about you and Leonard Bernstein"&mdashsteen, he pronounced it&mdash"not speaking to each other anymore?"—to which Rivers said, "STEIN!"

    By 1965—as in 1935, as in 1926, as in 1883, as in 1866, as in 1820—New York had two Societies, "Old New York" and "New Society." In every era, "Old New York" has taken a horrified look at "New Society" and expressed the devout conviction that a genuine aristocracy, good blood—good bone—themselves—was being defiled by a horde of rank climbers. This has been an all-time favorite number. In the 1960's this quaint belief was magnified by the fact that many members of "New Society," for the first time, were not Protestant. The names and addresses of "Old New York" were to be found in the Social Register, which even ten years ago was still confidently spoken of as the Stud Book and the Good Book. It was, and still is, almost excusively a roster of Protestant families. Today, however, the Social Register's annual shuffle, in which errant socialites, e.g., John Jacob Astor, are dropped from the Good Book, hardly even rates a yawn. The fact is that "Old New York"—except for those members who also figure in "New Society," e.g., Nelson Rockefeller, John Hay Whitney, Mrs. Wyatt Cooper—is no longer good copy, and without publicity it has never been easy to rank as a fashionable person in New York City.

I enjoy Wolfe so much I think I am going to re-read all his books.

   The UnDutchablesColin White & Laurie Boucke
I read this hilarious book before a trip to Amsterdam. The authors (White is British and Boucke is American) have both lived for extended periods in Holland and witnessed the culture, and they tell you what to expect when going there. The book is primarly offering advice for those that might live in Holland, exploring things like waste recycling that don't matter to a visitor, but it is full of so many gems that it is a really enjoyable read. Here are some of the things they said that cracked me up!

  In the chapter on shopping . . .
"For smokers, before entering a shop, find a waste bin containing dry, combustible material in which to throw your burning cigarette."
  In the chapter on driving . . .
"If you are the first car to stop at a red light, do not expect to be able to see the traffic lights. Thanks to brilliant Dutch engineering, your car will be sitting directly under the lights. Just relax and rely on a honk or two from the car(s) behind you. Horns are guaranteed to sound if you do not react instantly to the green light."
(This advice works in my hometown Boston, also.)
  In the chapter on sex . . .
"Sex can be mentioned coldly but candidly with dinner guests:
'The children had fun at the beach yesterday. We had good sex last night. I must go to the dentist soon.' "

   The Diving Bell and the ButterflyJean-Dominique Bauby
This is a fascinating biographical narrative by a victim of locked-in syndrome. Baudy was an author and the editor of ELLE, the French fashion magazine, until he had a massive stroke in 1995 that left him entirely paralized except for his left eyelid, with which he would learn to express himself. His speech therapist would show him or recite an alphabet, and Bauby would blink to signal the letter he wanted. This is their devised arrangement of that alphabet followed by his witty, personified description.

    E S A R I N T U L O M D P C F B V H G J Q Z Y X K W    

"The jumbled appearance of my chorus line stems not from chance but from cunning calculation. More than an alphabet, it is a hit parade in which each letter is placed according to the frequency of its use in the French language. That is why E dances proudly out front, while W labors to hold on to last place. B resents being pushed back next to V, and haughty J—which begins so many sentences in French—is amazed to find itself so near the rear of the pack. Roly-poly G is annoyed to have to trade places with H, while T and U, the tender components of tu, rejoice that they have not been separated. All this reshuffling has a purpose: to make it easier for those who wish to communicate with me."

Bauby worked with ghostwriter Claude Mendibil to write this book, and in spite of the tedious process of dictating the words one letter at a time he is quite verbose and articulates many memories and fantasies, and the methods of living with his condition. His words are so expressive it is easy to forget that they come from someone whose mind is trapped in a stationary body, and it's amazing that someone so distressed can be so charming.

   Outliers: The Story of SuccessMalcolm Gladwell
In this fascinating book Gladwell theorizes how the success of many people we know, including Bill Gates, the Beatles, and J. Robert Oppenheimer is a result of more than genius and talent. Gladwell defines "outliers" as people who do not fit into our normal understanding of achievement.
"They are invariably the beneficiaries of hidden advantages and extraordinary opportunities and cultural legacies that allow them to learn and work hard and make sense of the world in ways others cannot."
Through the circumstance of their birth they were fortunate to pursue their fields at a time and place that was to their advantage, literally being in the right place at the right time. And then there is his 10,000 Hour Rule, where the "greatest athletes, entrepreneurs, musicians and scientists emerge only after spending at least three hours a day for a decade mastering their chosen field."

Blink — In this book Gladwell talks about "thin-slicing," making snap-judgements about things using unconscious tools with little conscious analysis. I particulary enjoyed reading about "priming," i.e. influencing people's behavior by having them read something to affect their thoughts before acting.
 
   Chronicles, Volume OneBob Dylan
This is Bob Dylan's autobiography and he really opens up. I learned so much about his life from his days in Minnesota to his early days in Greenwich village. There are anecdotes of hanging out with friends, and what went through his mind during recording sessions. He describes his relationships with Albert Grossman, his manager—Daniel Lanois, his record producer on several albums—and John Hammond, his producer at Columbia Records, who really got his professional career going. I found his feelings about different people and events quite revealing. For instance, of all the covers of his songs by other artists he thought Johnny Rivers' recording of Positively 4th Street really captured where he was coming from when he wrote the song. Dylan never accepted being the "voice of his generation," which was thrust upon him.
 
   A Freewheelin' Time, A Memoir of Greenwich Village in the SixtiesSuze Rotolo
Suze Rotolo is an artist who's original claim to fame was that she was Bob Dylan's girlfriend as he was a rising star and appeared on the cover of his album The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan, so this book has a lot of biographical info on Dylan. Suze was a "red-diaper baby" (her parents were Communists) so she has a different perspective on a lot of things. A very interesting episode is when she and a group of students travelled to Cuba in 1964 in defiance of the U.S. State Department's ban on Americans going there. They could not fly directly to Cuba so they had go there via London, Paris, and Prague, and there were some pretty tense moments in the various airports' customs as the U.S. tried to stop the trip. She was actually pretty liberated before there was a feminist movement and she expresses some interesting feelings about her relationship with Dylan as his fame took off:

"As time went by, those of us who were close to Bob were subjected to trickle-down fame."
"I couldn't handle being 'one step closer to God.' I was being pecked at because of my proximity to the end of the rainbow."
"I knew I was not suited for his life. I could never be the woman behind the great man: I didn't have the discipline for that kind of sacrifice."
Suze is very bright, articulate, and charming, and I found this book hard to put down.
 
   Positively 4th StreetDavid Hajdu
Subtitled The Lives and Times of Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, Mimi Baez Fariña and Richard Fariña this book tells you a lot about the lives of these great performers. If you lived through the folk revival of the early 60s (as I did) you will remember many of the people and events in the book. Richard Fariña was a very driven man who recorded several great albums with his wife Mimi (Joan Baez's sister) and wrote a great book, Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up To Me, before he was killed in a motorcycle accident in 1966. Dylan sounds like a very difficult man to like, but his life is fascinating and his music is great. I have many of his songs on my smartphone, both by him and by others, and several of his videos on my website.
 
   The NineJeffrey Toobin1
This is CNN legal analyst Toobin's description of the workings of the U.S. Supreme Court. He says there are two kinds of cases that come before the Court, abortion cases—and all others. The position of the justices on this issue is quite profound, both in their actions and also in their being nominated by the President to serve on the Court in the first place. There is a fairly complete account of the 2000 Bush v. Gore case that gave the presidency to George W. Bush, which Toobin says,
"... amounted to a catalog of [the Court's] worst flaws as judges."
I strongly agree. He quotes justice Steven's opinion in which Stevens says,
"Although we may never know with complete certainty the identity of the winner of this year's Presidential election, the identity of the loser is pellucidly clear. It is the Nation's confidence in the judge as an impartial guardian of the rule of law."
In this case the majority of the justices were determined to overturn any ruling of the Florida Supreme Court that was favorable to Vice President Gore. Justice Souter was so upset by the political nature of the decision that he nearly resigned in protest. (From this opinion I completely lost my trust in the U.S. Supreme court to render an impartial, non-partisan decision.) One funny situation that Toobin describes is that it is a running joke at the Court that Souter is frequently mistaken for fellow Justice Stephen Breyer, even though the two bear little resemblance to each other.
One day when Souter was making his usual solo drive from Washington to New Hampshire (where he has a home) he stopped for lunch in Massachusetts.
A stranger and his wife came up to him and asked, "Aren't you on the Supreme Court?"
Souter said he was.
"You're Justice Breyer, right?" said the man.
Rather than embarrass the fellow, Souter simply nodded and exchanged pleasantries, until he was asked an unexpected question.
"Justice Breyer, what's the best thing about being on the Supreme Court?"
The justice thought for a while, then said, "Well, I'd have to say it's the privilege of serving with David Souter."
This book is a great read.
 
   A Long Way Gone - Memoirs of a Boy SoldierIshmael Beah   (good interview videos on this link)
This first person account of a boy's adventures in Sierra Leone's civil war in the 1990s is very gripping. When he was 12 years old Ishmael's village was raided by rebels and he fled with other children, enduring "months of traveling, sleeping in the bush, and having to eat and drink what the forest provided." Eventually these children were recruited into the army where they fought many battles and participated in the war's atrocities. After several years he was entered into a rehabilitation program, ultimately coming to the U.S. and finishing high school in Manhattan and getting a B.A. in political science at Oberlin College in Ohio. Now he speaks at the United Nations, UNICEF, and other places to raise awareness of the continual and rampant recruitment of children in wars around the world. I highly recommend this book. I saw Ishmael speak and he autographed my book!
 
   The R.Crumb HandbookR.Crumb and Peter Poplaski
In the sixties I was a big fan of cartoonist Robert Crumb's Zap Comix and his characters Mr. Natural, Flakey Foont, Fritz the Cat, Devil Girl and the Keep on Truckin' guy, so I was really thrilled when I received this autobiography of Crumb as a present from my wife. In The R.Crumb Handbook Crumb tells about creating homemade FOO comics as a child with his brother Charles. There are a lot of photographs and his illustrations in the book. In one chapter he says something that I think sums up his philosophy quite well. Crumb says, "As a person I was weak and helpless in the real world. It's a jungle out there! But, since I'd rather be dead than mediocre, my motto is: Every Drawing a Masterpiece!"
 
   State of WarJames Risen1
This book gives a behind the scenes look at the Bush administration's handling of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Some of the points Risen makes are:

  • The Bush administration ignores or suppresses intelligence information that does not support its views
  • There was no pre-war or post-war plan for the Iraq war.
    - The CIA had no presence in Iraq before war began
    - The Pentagon is against post-war nation-building
  • The heroin trade was allowed to grow to outrageous levels in Afghanistan because the US was afraid of inciting anti-American violence if they attacked the drug lords
  • Rumsfeld, not Bush, has the last word in foreign policy

In November 2003, after the initial US invasion that had toppled Sadam's regime had quieted down, as the Iraqi insurgents were starting to become more active an army officer said to the CIA station chief in Baghdad, "The war is about to begin." The violence has continued and Risen says it has begun to look like "we are in danger of losing a war we thought we had already won."
 
   Eats, Shoots & LeavesLynne Truss
This book is a punctuation lover's (or stickler's) delight. One of the most prominently misunderstood and misused characters in the English language is the apostrophe, and the book has many examples of its questionable use (eg, should that be its or it's?), a common misuse being writing "CD's" and "1990's" instead of "CDs" and "1990s". Truss points out that text messaging has really caused punctuation rules to be ignored, and it will be interesting to see what influence this freewheeling style will have on regular writing. Some may find these rules too rigid, but if you think of punctuation in the way Truss describes it, as "a courtesy designed to help readers to understand a story without stumbling," you can appreciate its power and usefulness. Truss is charming and witty, and I caught myself laughing out loud many times as I read this book.
 
   SeabiscuitLaura Hillenbrand
This is the story of one of the greatest thoroughbred racehorses in history. With smallish stature, knobby knees, and slightly crooked forelegs, Seabiscuit was the most unlikely of champions, but the team of owner Charles Howard, trainer Tom Smith, and jockeys Red Pollard & George Woolf brought out his natural competitive instincts and winning ways. I was fascinated to read about the intrigue of the racetracks, the tough and dangerous lives of the jockeys, and especially the play-by-play action of specific races, like the match race between Seabiscuit and Triple-Crown winner War Admiral. Hillenbrand details a world I knew very little about before reading this book. I learned of the importance of the relationship between the jockey and the horse, and that a horse race involves strategies that start way before the actual race and continue to develop right up until the horses cross the finish line, and that a race horse might need stablemates who provide a calming influence, in Seabiscuit's case an old horse named Pumpkin, a dog, and a spiker-monkey. The book was made into a movie in 2003.
 
   Catch Me If You CanFrank W. Abagnale1, with Stan Redding
This is the thrilling autobiography of one of the most incredible con men in modern history. Frank Abagnale details his notorious escapades which he carried out for five years in the 1960s in all 50 states and 26 countries until he was finally caught and imprisoned. I remember hearing about several of his capers (putting his account number on the deposit slips in the bank lobby, and the "OUT  OF ORDER" sign on the night depository) but I didn't realize they were the work of the same individual. His primary scam was cashing fraudulent checks ("paperhanging") by which he acquired $2.5 million. He was also very successful at his impersonations of an airline pilot (for years he rode for free in the cockpit of airliners as an off-duty copilot), a doctor (he administrated the pediatric unit of an Atlanta hospital for a year), a lawyer (this high school dropout actually passed the Louisiana bar exam to work as a prosecutor in the state Attorney General's office), and a college professor (he taught a summer course in sociology at BYU). This fascinating book was made into a movie in 2002. Ironically (or perhaps logically) Frank now heads up a firm, Abagnale & Associates, that specializes in fraud prevention.
 
   Divided We StandEric Darton
This erudite biography of the World Trade Center in New York includes a history of the Port Authority, who built the WTC. It is a fascinating account of the battles between the development side (the Port Authority, David and Nelson Rockefeller) and the existing merchants who would be displaced. Darton is a native New Yorker who witnessed this entire decades-long episode in the history of the development of Lower Manhattan. Ironically, though this book came out in 1999, the title and battleground theme of the cover makes it look like a story about the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
 
   Miles: The Autobiography - Miles Davis with Quincy Troupe1
Miles always marched to his own beat in contemporary music, and he was always inspired by new and younger musicians. His music continuously evolved, so his response to people asking him to play something he had recorded years before was "I tell them to go buy the record. I'm not there in that place any longer and I have to live for what is best for me and not what's best for them." He reveals a lot of fascinating details about the recording sessions and tours he did over the years, and the musicians he played with. Miles had a public persona, so it is interesting to hear about his private life from his perspective. Miles' language is a little rough at times, but out of respect Troupe chooses to leave his words uncensored, like his music.
 
   Ball FourJim Bouton
When this hilarious baseball tell-all came out in 1970 it was ripped apart by the baseball establishment with cries that it was all lies. Bouton, who pitched for the Yankees and several other teams in his career from 1962-1978, writes about life in the locker rooms, dugouts, and bullpens that is not seen by the fans. His wit is very sharp and I laughed continuously while reading it. Bouton's honesty helps take some of the players off their pedestals and shows us that they are just human beings, with the same insecurities as the rest of us, and engaged in some of the same crazy activities. Besides his sense of humor, I admire Bouton for his beliefs. For more about the book and Bouton, check out "Ball Four by Jim Bouton".
 
   Into Thin AirJon Krakauer
In May, 1996, more than a dozen expeditions climbed to the summit of Mt. Everest where 12 climbers were killed in a blinding blizzard. Krakauer was one of the survivors and he tells the story in sobering detail. I found this book very difficult to put down. Another best-seller by the author is Into the Wild.
 
   Prozac NationElizabeth Wurtzel
In spite of her severe clinical depression (and with the help of psychopharmacology), Wurtzel is articulate and witty, and I find her book strangely charming. She was criticized by some reviewers for being overly self-indulgent, but this is her autobiography and I think it should be told that way. Of the external influences on her life she says, "I was like an already overspiced stew, and all the chefs adding all their condiments were only making it more foggy and muddled and bad." With one Catholic parent and one Jewish parent, Wurtzel says, ". . . the difference between Catholic guilt and Jewish guilt is that the former emanates from the knowledge that we are all born already fallen, that there is nothing we can ever do to overcome the original sin; the latter springs from a sense that everyone of us was created from God's image and has the potential for perfection. So Catholic guilt is about impossibility and Jewish guilt is about an abundance of possibility." The theme of this book is reminiscent of I'm Dancing as Fast as I Can by Barbara Gordon.
 
   OutrageVincent Bugliosi1
Subtitled "The Five Reasons Why O.J.Simpson Got Away With Murder". Bugliosi is disgusted with the way the L.A. prosecutors handled the Simpson case. If he hadn't used Outrage as the title of this book it would have been a good title for None Dare Call  It Treason, his scathing article in The Nation about the U.S. Supreme Court decision that gave George W. Bush the 2000 presidential election. He used The Nation article as the basis for a book, The Betrayal of America. Bugliosi was the prosecutor of Charles Manson, and his book about that case, Helter Skelter, was a best-seller.
 
   Liar's PokerMichael Lewis
The first in a series of books I read several years ago about incidents in the financial world. While I'm not a big follower of the stock market, there have been some very interesting Wall Street stories.

Other books I enjoyed include:

    The Predators' Ball  -  Connie Bruck
    Barbarians at the Gate  -  Bryan Burrough & John Helyar
    Inside Job  -  Stephen Pizzo, Mary Fricker, & Paul Muolo
    Sudden Death  -  Mark Stevens

   Be True to Your SchoolBob Greene1  (I still like his writing in spite of his troubles)
Bob Greene grew up in Ohio and became a writer and journalist (Chicago Tribune). This is the first book of several I've read by him and it really grabbed me because it was a biography of his life during his high school years in the 60s (my era). One of his more recent books is Hang Time, about Michael Jordan.
 
   Second WindBill Russell1
I love sports biographies, especially autobiographies. Bill Russell's memoirs are thoroughly enjoyable. It's remarkable to hear him describe how he developed his defensive style by replaying in his head the game he had just played. Being left-handed, Russell mentally practiced mirroring the moves of a right-handed player and learned to block shots.
 
   The ReckoningDavid Halberstam
This book traces the histories of Ford and Toyota, the number 2 auto makers in the USA and Japan at the time he wrote it (1986). Halberstam is one of my favorite authors and he won a Pulitzer Prize for his coverage of the Vietnam War for The New York Times.

   Insanely GreatSteven Levy
This is the story of the Macintosh computer. I found it particularly amusing when I read how Steve Jobs and others from Apple were inspired by a visit to the Xerox PARC (Palo Alto Research Center) labs in 1979. PARC is the place where many of the things we take for granted in the computer world were developed, like the mouse, pop-up windows, many word-processing features (including Copy, Cut, Paste, Undo), and using bit-mapping for screen graphics. Levy is a regular contributor of technical articles to Newsweek and has written several other non-fiction books.
 
   Where Wizards Stay Up LateKatie Hafner / Matthew Lyon
This book follows the development of the ARPANET, the predecessor to the Internet. The book is filled with stories of incredibly intelligent people. You will learn how the @ symbol was put in the email address, hear some interesting early flaming stories, how the Ethernet came about, and read about the early debates over Net privacy and censorship in the message groups.
 
   The Cuckoo's EggCliff Stoll1
Stoll's first person account of monitoring a hacker as he attempts to break into US military computers is as thrilling as fiction. This occurs in the late 1980s when trust was all that was used for computer security, and Stoll is mighty frustrated when he tries to enlist the help of the FBI, CIA, NSA, and Air Force OSI but they don't seem to want to get involved unless he can show a substantial amount of money or classified information was stolen. Ironically, after writing such a great Internet-espionage thriller, Stoll has become disgruntled with cyberspace and the way computers have infiltrated America's schools.

Other books about hackers I've read include:

    Takedown  (1996)  -  Tsutomu Shimomura (with John Markoff)
    The Fugitive Game  (1997)  -  Jonathan Littman
    Cyberpunk  (1995)  -  Katie Hafner and John Markoff
    The Cyberthief and
         the Samurai
 (1996)  -  Jeff Goodell
    The Hacker Crackdown  (1994)  -  Bruce Sterling
    Masters of Deception  (1999)  -  Michelle Slatalla and Joshua Quittner
    Hackers  (1994)  -  Steven Levy

   The Electric Kool-Aid Acid TestTom Wolfe   (I also review Wolfe under Fiction)
A definitive documentation of the hedonism of the hippie generation, Wolfe's 1968 book follows the psychedelic exploits of Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters and their cross-country journey in a wildly painted school bus. I read this book when it came out and it had a tremendous influence on my lifestyle in the late 60s.

 

1 I am linking to Wikipedia because it was the best web information on the author.