Sunday, May 31, 2009

As I See It, by J. Paul Getty

I'm not a big fan of biographies, nor do I lust after pearls of wisdom from the world's billionaires. So I approached this book with trepidation. Still, it was a gift, and I needed a book for a flight, so I took it with me. The flight time passed effortlessly (although I didn't finish it until today); this is an excellent autobiography!

Mr. Getty clearly worked very hard for his success. His views on the impact of government tax and spend initiatives on the public good, written here in the early 1970s, appear, unfortunately, to be quite accurate.

Mr. Getty opened and closed his autobiography with a (mis-)quote from Abe Lincoln. My brief research fails to find an adequate citation for attribution to Lincoln; it seems that President Reagan may have first originated this to Lincoln. Possibly the actual author was William J. H. Boetcker, a minister who published this in 1942. My only complaint: certainly Getty of all people could afford a research librarian for his book!

Still though, the quote is wonderful and bears repeating here:

You cannot bring about prosperity by discouraging thrift.
You cannot help the wage-earner by pulling down the wage-payer.
You cannot further the Brotherhood of Man by encouraging class hatred.
You cannot help the poor by destroying the rich.
You cannot keep out of trouble by spending more than you earn.
You cannot build character and courage by taking away a man's initiative.
You cannot help men permanently by doing for them what they could and should do for themselves.

Forgive the political note: don't all of these, whether written in 1942 or in the 1800s, describe what the current Administration and Congress (like others before them) are most energetically attempting to do?

Monday, May 25, 2009

It's not what you sell, it's what you stand for, by Roy Spence

Mr. Spence's essential point is that a successful company needs to have a reason for business beyond just making money - that it needs to identify and delivery clear value to its clients, and to make that the purpose of the operation. The thesis is that the money will naturally follow.

This makes complete sense to me; I focus on my clients' success and believe that profitable revenue is inevitable as a result.

Mr. Spence runs the GSD&M advertising firm and illustrates his book with many examples from his own client roster. This is a light weight book but just because it is simple doesn't mean the message isn't important.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Promises in Death, by J. D. Robb

This is an okay mystery, say for a long flight. But I was not pleasantly surprised by it because I expected a standard police mystery procedural. I was not expecting (a) it to be set in the future with tinges of science fiction, nor (b) it to have intermittent intrusions of romance novel writing.

Either I got worn down or things got much worse in the last third of the book, where my interest flagged and it became a slog to get to the so-so ending.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, by Stieg Larsson

This is simply outstanding; one of the best books I've read this year.

A journalist is discredited. Why? He is hired to address a 40 year old mystery. He solves it, and resolves his journalistic credibility too. Every character is interesting, the plot moves forward without ever stumbling.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Supreme Courtship, by Christopher Buckley

Unlike the previous book I read, this one really is a comedy, and a fine one - like all Buckley's novels. I complain that the ending felt rushed; twenty more pages would have been appropriate.

The Year of Living Biblically, by A. J. Jacobs

The sub-title is, "One Man's Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible." This is a fabulous book. It is listed in the comedy genre but the only explanation I can see for that is the publisher imagining better sales there than in the theology section of the book store. I found nothing comedic and many things thought provoking.

The best part of the book is the clarity about the dangers of selective literal interpretation of the Bible. Even the most devout fundamentalist Christians and fundamentalist Hasidic Jews just can't do it - even they have to decide that some lines are metaphor.

For the more moderate who choose to pick and choose lines from the bible to defend their hostility towards homosexuality or to defend their desire to over-rule a woman's right to choose how to handle her own body, there is ample evidence that this is a fool hardy approach.

There are more examples than I can count (read the book and you'll just set yourself up for a time-wasting scavenger hunt through a Bible concordance to find yet more examples of your own). (Oh, maybe that's just me.) Here are a couple from Jacobs' book:

"...kick women out of church for saying hello ('the women should keep silence in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak...' -- 1 Corinthians 14:34) and boot out men for talking about the 'Tennessee Titans' [football] ('make no mention of th enames of other gods...' -- Exodus 23:13).