I just finished Harlan Coben‘s newest novel, The Stranger (Dutton, 2015).
I wish I were more enthusiastic. Always a master mystery storyteller, I have always greatly anticipated the release of each of his books. As always, this book hit the fiction best-seller lists, but quickly dropped out. Today, it stands as the 75th best-selling overall book on the Amazon.com list.
If you don’t know anything about him, I found this biographical sketch on Goodreads.com: “With over 60 million books in print worldwide, Harlan Coben’s last seven consecutive novels, MISSING YOU, SIX YEARS, STAY CLOSE, LIVE WIRE, CAUGHT, LONG LOST and HOLD TIGHT all debuted at #1 on the New York Times bestseller list and lists around the world. His books are published in 43 languages around the globe. Coben is the winner of the Edgar Award, Shamus Award and Anthony Award – the first author to win all three – and he has received an eclectic variety of honors from all over the world. His novel TELL NO ONE has been turned into a hit French film of the same name. His essays and columns have appeared in many top publications. Harlan was born in Newark, New Jersey. He still lives in New Jersey with his wife, Anne Armstrong-Coben MD, a pediatrician, and their four children.”
The story is set in the internet-based world of anonymity, involving a central character (“the stranger”) whom you may not be able to decide is doing right or doing wrong. Of course, when two murders are involved, your decision may not be that hard to make. The story is highly domestic, with lots of teenage sports, microwaved dinners, and dull family dialogue that slows the book down throughout. And, the ending of the book is not only predictable, but very disappointing. Even I am not so sour to spoil it for you. But, write me if you were surprised.
Perhaps authors such as Coben are just writing too fast in order to satisfy publishing demands to get into the marketplace. This one is simply not well-crafted, well-written, or even very suspenseful. I don’t think I would label this even as a mystery. Actually, I’m not sure what it is.
Just to be certain that I was not out of line, I checked out consumer reviews on Amazon.com. I read a few highlights from true Coben fans, who would love his book no matter what it did. And, I read many more who felt the same way that I did. In fact, some had the same complaints that I had.
I won’t give up on him. I will buy his next book. But, I hope it is awhile until it hits the stores. Next time, I hope he takes his time, lets the story cool, and gets back to greatness.
A new book about gender has created controversy, but perhaps for all the wrong reasons. How would you like to know that women are the superior gender, and that we actually don’t need men at all?
I don’t think that’s what Sheryl Sandberg had in mind when she wrote Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead (Knopf, 2013). That’s a best-seller by the Facebook COO that I am familiar with, having read and presented a synopsis of that book at a Creative Communication Network (CCN) client site. Note: I can no longer do that under contractual agreement with Randy Mayeux, who presented it at the First Friday Book Synopsis and other CCN sites. and who has exclusive presentation privileges for the book. Regardless, there’s no way that Sandberg wanted women to eliminate men – but rather, to figure out how to co-exist with them, and how to get their “fair share.”
That’s not what Women After All: Sex, Evolution, and the End of Male Supremacy (Norton, 2015) by Dr. Melvin Konner says. His book provides evidence that men are more likely to commit crimes, die in accidents, and incite violence. To your great surprise, he also points out that men cannot reproduce without women. But, did you know that there is evidence that females can reproduce without males? You’ll have to get the book to learn how. (Hint: it’s not by humans.)
And the critics on Amazon.com are not happy. One consumer review, after giving it one star out of a possible five, remarks: “Konner practically salivates when considering a future without men.” That is in spite of a glowing quoted editorial review which says, “Women After All describes what future historians will surely recognize as one of the momentous transformations in the human saga: the decline of men’s political dominance, and with it many deplorable practices and belief systems. Engagingly written and persuasively argued, it shows how an acknowledgment of human nature combined with a long view of history can advance the human condition.” (Steven Pinker, Johnstone Professor of Psychology, Harvard University, & author of The Better Angels of Our Nature.)”
Dr. Konner is a professor of anthropology at Emory University. He is actually one of the rare “Doctor-Doctor’s,” holding both an M.D. and Ph.D. from Harvard. He has written many books, perhaps the most famous of which was published in 2011, entitled The Evolution of Childhood: Relationships, Emotion, Mind (Belknap Press). You can see a list of the titles and publication dates by clicking here.
From his own website, he describes why and what he does: “I apply science to human nature and experience, exploring the links between biology and behavior, medicine and society, nature and culture. Why do we do what we do, think what we think, feel what we feel? I find answers in anthropology, biology, medicine, evolution, the brain, childhood, history, and culture. I’ve often commented on medical ethics, health care reform, child care, and other issues, and I do that here too.” You can read some of his blogs on the site by clicking here.
This book contains great outrage at the historical indignities suffered by women. Sandberg may appreciate his call that treating women better will help men as well. But, it appears that there is not a great place at the table for men. And, the thesis that society will be better off without them may be difficult to swallow.
By the way, this is no best-seller. It is nowhere close to that on Amazon.com, and it does not appear on any list that I can find.
You can’t say the book is biased. It’s full of scientific data, trends analyses, and logical interpretations. It’s just that a book which exposes problems without giving much in terms of solutions is not going to appeal to very many readers.
You can expect to see more about this author and book very soon. It is an obvious choice for the “Good Morning America“s of the world, the Huffington Post, radio talk shows, and even some of the tabloids. If nothing else, Konner will make a lot of money and get famous.
I am sure you join me in great anticipation of David McCullough‘s next book, The Wright Brothers (Simon & Schuster, 2015), scheduled for release on May 15.
He is certainly one of the great writers of our time. Truman (Simon & Schuster, 1992) is a terrific and comprehensive biography of America’s favorite autocratic president. The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris (Simon & Schuster, 2011) makes you want to book a flight and get in a time machine to travel backwards.
There have been plenty of books about the Wright Brothers, and their escapades with the flying machine. But, something tells me that in McCullough’s book, we will experience that familiar story in a way that no one else has provided it.
McCullough is a two-time Pulitzer prize winner. He also wrote books about John Adams and Albert Einstein. He weaves details in a storybook fashion that few writers can copy. I found this positive quote about him on the web site for the National Endowment for the Humanities, of which he was a 2003 Jefferson lecturer: “David McCullough throws himself into the research of his subjects, tracing the roads they traveled, reading the books they read, and seeing the homes they lived in. His diligence pays off in detailed and engaging narratives.”
We are just under two months away from its release, and his new book is already # 1 on the Amazon.com best-selling list in scientists, aerospace, and history. Overall, it is # 303 in book sales – two months away!
And, just for credibility, my order for the book is in the queue.
We may see this book at the First Friday Book Synopsis. That all depends upon how “businessy” the book turns out to be.
In the meantime, May 15 cannot come soon enough.
Maybe you never thought violence had a future. It’s been drilled into us since we were very young that violence was awful, even immoral or unethical. We saw role modeling of famous non-violent demonstrations from the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., and throughout history, many passive rather than aggressive reactions to perceived unfavorable change.
However, this new best-seller says differently. The Future of Violence: Robots and Germs, Hackers and Drones – Confronting a New Age of Threat (Basic Books, 2015) paints a grim picture of a future filled with fear, and suggesting that the role of government in protecting us must change.
The authors, Benjamin Wittes and Gabriella Blum, are highly qualified to expand upon their thesis.
From the Brookings Institution web site, Wittes is listed as “a senior fellow in Governance Studies at The Brookings Institution. He co-founded and is the editor-in-chief of the Lawfare blog, which is devoted to sober and serious discussion of “Hard National Security Choices,” and is a member of the Hoover Institution’s Task Force on National Security and Law. He is the author of Detention and Denial: The Case for Candor After Guantanamo, published in November 2011, co-editor of Constitution 3.0: Freedom and Technological Change, published in December 2011, and editor of Campaign 2012: Twelve Independent Ideas for Improving American Public Policy (Brookings Institution Press, May 2012). He is also writing a book on data and technology proliferation and their implications for security. He is the author of Law and the Long War: The Future of Justice in the Age of Terror, published in June 2008 by The Penguin Press, and the editor of the 2009 Brookings book, Legislating the War on Terror: An Agenda for Reform.”
From the Harvard University Law School website, Blum is labeled as “the Rita E. Hauser Professor of Human Rights and Humanitarian Law at Harvard Law School, specializing in public international law, international negotiations, the law of armed conflict, and counterterrorism. She is also the Co-Director of the HLS-Brookings Project on Law and Security and a member of the Program on Negotiation Executive Board. Prior to joining the Harvard faculty in the fall of 2005, Blum served for seven years as a Senior Legal Advisor in the International Law Department of the Military Advocate General’s Corps in the Israel Defense Forces, and for another year, as a Strategy Advisor to the Israeli National Security Council….Blum is the author of Islands of Agreement: Managing Enduring Armed Rivalries, (Harvard University Press, 2007), and of Laws, Outlaws, and Terrorists (MIT Press, 2010) (co-authored with Philip Heymann and recipient of the Roy C. Palmer Civil Liberties Prize), as well as of journal articles in the fields of public international law and the law and morality of war.”
The book has hit the Amazon.com best-selling list with a furor. It is #1 in Intelligence and Espionage, and #2 in both Terrorism and Globalization. It will have to do more on some other best-seller lists in order for us to present this at the First Friday Book Synopsis, but since it was only released on March 10, 2015, we need to give it time. The book certainly has a chance for us to feature it one month at our program.
What is this book about? I found this interesting summary on KirkusReviews.com, stating that “the authors begin by articulating the many ways in which our fundamental connectedness, along with related advances in computing, biotechnology, 3-D printing, gene synthesis and other awe-inspiring technologies, could easily go awry or be turned to evil ends by lone sociopaths or wannabe jihadi: “Technologies that put destructive power traditionally confined to states in the hands of small groups and individuals have proliferated remarkably far,” write the authors. They initially focus on the destructive possibilities of technologies that have quickly become familiar, hypothesizing, for example, that ordinary people will soon be able to harass their rivals with tiny drones. In our transformative moment, “distance does not protect you…you are at once a figure of great power and great vulnerability.” Yet much of the authors’ discussion focuses on the changing nature of the state itself, weighing Hobbes’ concept of the “Leviathan” in the face of new and diverse threats. They first focus on how technology has “distributed” both vulnerability and the capacity to cause harm widely: “[W]e live in a fishbowl even as we exploit the fact that others live in a fishbowl too,” a principle embodied by recent “sextortion” cases. This inevitably forces a reconsideration of privacy and liberty on many levels, as revealed by events ranging from the Boston Marathon bombing investigation to hacker attacks on Israel and Iran. The authors raise fascinating questions but discuss them utilizing a formal legalistic framework. Ironically, they illuminate the coming age of “many-to-many” threats via a language few laypeople will find comprehensible.”
Wow! That is eye-opening. Did you notice the spider on the cover? In Matt Welch‘s review of the book, he notes “Imagine a future in which a competitor assassinates you via a robotic spider. That’s one way to see new technology’s potential.” Read his full review by clicking here.
I wonder how many readers will remain open-minded to the grim possibility of a future like this. Regardless, I don’t think we can ignore it.
We’re less than a month away from the release of Jack and Suzy Welch‘s newest work, The Real Life MBA: Your No-BS Guide to Winning the Game, Building a Team, and Growing Your Career (Harper Business, 2015). It is a certain best-seller, and pre-orders for the book are rocking the online outlets. Considering their personal backgrounds, perhaps you join me in being perplexed that even before its release, the book ranks #11 in the Amazon.com best-selling list in Business Ethics.
“Say what?” If you don’t know the story, here is a brief account. Suffice it to say that much more detail is available to you through the Internet. Jack’s second wife, Jane Beasley, found out about an affair between Suzy Wetlaufer and Welch. At the time, Suzy was editor-in-chief of the Harvard Business Review. Beasley delivered this information to the publication, and Wetlaufer was forced to resign in early 2002 after admitting to having been involved in an affair with Welch while preparing an interview with him for HBR. Personal and professional ethics? This did not turn out too badly for Beasley. While Welch had crafted a prenupital agreement, she had insisted on a ten-year time limit for its enforceability, and therefore, left the marriage with around $180 million of Welch’s money. That interview was never published. Suzy and Jack married in 2004.
This is not their first co-authored book. Randy Mayeux presented their first one, Winning (Harper Business, 2005) at the First Friday Book Synopsis. It reached # 1 on the New York Times and Wall Street Journal business best-selling lists. We did not present their next co-authored work, Winning: The Answers: Confronting 74 of the Toughest Questions in Business Today (Harper Business, 2006).
They both have another single-authored book. Randy presented a synopsis of Jack: Straight from the Gut (Business Plus, 2003). In 2010, Suzy wrote 10-10-10: A Fast and Powerful Way to Get Unstuck in Love, at Work, and with Your Family (Scribner). Randy gave that synopsis to several of our Creative Communication Network clients. I remember that audiences we delivered that synopsis to were not exactly thrilled at the quality of information transferred. In fact, at the Fort Worth Club, our event planner remarked that she wished she would have selected another book. Maybe her reputation backfired on that one. Of course, she didn’t write that one way to get unstuck is to have an affair with a famous married man. It certainly worked for her.
Note that both of these authors are very competent and successful. History will likely write Jack as the most successful CEO in American history. His style and substance led General Electric to a fast and furious climb to the top of elite and powerful businesses. All the labels, such as “Neutron Jack,” are applicable. His decisions were profound and effective. And, he believed in lifelong learning and professional development, even teaching courses on-site at the GE Learning Center. Many CEO’s don’t even know their company has a learning center, let alone take the time to go teach in it. Suzy’s role at one of the most prestigious business publications gave her strong credibility, as did her work experience at Bain.
Considering their reputation, most likely, this one will also fly to the top. It is not out of the question that you might hear a synopsis of this at our event. In fact, many of our regular attendees may push us very hard to present it. It will be exciting to see what the sub-topics will be from the Table of Contents. Only time will tell whether this one is heavier on style than substance. The title alone is appealing.
But, ethics? Is this really the best resource?
I was fascinated when I received word of a book by Jan Jarboe Russell entitled The Train to Crystal City: FDR’s Secret Prisoner Exchange Program and America’s Only Family Internment Camp During World War II (Scribner, 2015).
Were you aware of what happened? Have you ever heard of Crystal City, Texas? See the map below.
I found this review from Amazon.com:
The dramatic and never-before-told story of a secret FDR-approved American internment camp in Texas during World War II, where thousands of families—many US citizens—were incarcerated. From 1942 to 1948, trains delivered thousands of civilians from the United States and Latin America to Crystal City, Texas, a small desert town at the southern tip of Texas. The trains carried Japanese, German, Italian immigrants and their American-born children. The only family internment camp during World War II, Crystal City was the center of a government prisoner exchange program called “quiet passage.” During the course of the war, hundreds of prisoners in Crystal City, including their American-born children, were exchanged for other more important Americans—diplomats, businessmen, soldiers, physicians, and missionaries—behind enemy lines in Japan and Germany.
Focusing her story on two American-born teenage girls who were interned, author Jan Jarboe Russell uncovers the details of their years spent in the camp; the struggles of their fathers; their families’ subsequent journeys to war-devastated Germany and Japan; and their years-long attempt to survive and return to the United States, transformed from incarcerated enemies to American loyalists. Their stories of day-to-day life at the camp, from the ten-foot high security fence to the armed guards, daily roll call, and censored mail, have never been told. Combining big-picture World War II history with a little-known event in American history that has long been kept quiet, The Train to Crystal City reveals the war-time hysteria against the Japanese and Germans in America, the secrets of FDR’s tactics to rescue high-profile POWs in Germany and Japan, and how the definition of American citizenship changed under the pressure of war.
Who is Jan Jarboe Russell, and why did she write this book? She is a Texan, through and through. Her home town is the same as Randy Mayeux, who contributes to this blog. This is her third book, and she is a frequent contributor to Texas Monthly magazine. You can read about her on her web site by clicking here. Here is an excerpt:
Jan Jarboe Russell was born in Beaumont, Texas and grew up in small towns in the Piney Woods of East Texas. Her father was a minister of music in numerous Southern Baptist churches and later had a second career as a social worker. Her mother was an elementary school teacher. Books and music were constants in her household. At sixteen-years-old she landed a part-time job at the weekly newspaper, The Cleveland Advocate, in her hometown and settled on a career as a journalist and author.
She graduated from the University of Texas at Austin in 1972 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. After graduation, she worked briefly as a reporter for the Savannah Morning News, and in 1973 became a political reporter at The San Antonio Light. In 1976, she joined the Hearst Bureau in Washington, D.C. where she focused on Texas politics.
Although this book did make the New York Times best-seller list, it does not fit our content requirements for the First Friday Book Synopsis in Dallas, so you won’t see us present it there. But, if you love books, and if you may have overlooked this part of Texas history, it seems like a must-read.
I will never forget Bowling Alone (Simon & Schuster, 2001). It remains the most depressing book we have presented at the First Friday Book Synopsis in Dallas.
It contained chart after chart, page after page, of the demise of civic, social, religious, and fraternal groups in America. All of it was true. If you were a fan of those groups, you hated seeing reality in your face.
That book was written by Robert Putnam. He receives high praise from his employer, the Department of Government at Harvard University: “Robert D. Putnam is the Peter and Isabel Malkin Professor of Public Policy at Harvard, where he teaches both undergraduate and graduate courses, and is the 2013-14 Distinguished Visiting Professor at Aarhus University (Denmark). Professor Putnam is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, a Fellow of the British Academy, and past president of the American Political Science Association. In 2006, Putnam received the Skytte Prize, the world’s highest accolade for a political scientist, and in 2012, he received the National Humanities Medal, the nation’s highest honor for contributions to the humanities. Raised in a small town in the Midwest and educated at Swarthmore, Oxford, and Yale, he has served as Dean of the Kennedy School of Government. The London Sunday Times has called him “the most influential academic in the world today.”
Since that one, he has authored two other books that did not enjoy the same imprint:
Better Together: Restoring the American Community – co-authored with Lewis Feldstein (Simon & Schuster, 2004)
American Grace: How Religion Unites and Divides Us – co-authored with David Campbell (Simon & Schuster, 2012)
On March 10, he released his newest, Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis (Simon & Schuster, 2015). As of this writing, it has flown to the top of the best seller lists. On Amazon.com, it ranks:
What is this one about? Classes in America do exist. And, they have an impact in many areas of our lives. Members of lower classes have great difficulty competing with members of classes above them. This book does not simply give that idea – it develops and documents it.
You can read a full review of the book by Jason DeParle published in the New York Times on March 4, 2015 by clicking here. A key phrase from that review gives a clue: “…the state of upward mobility. Widening income gaps, he argues, have brought profound but underappreciated changes to family life, neighborhoods and schools in ways that give big advantages to children at the top and make it ever harder for those below to work their way up.”
As with his previous best-seller, reality may not be pretty. It is not fun to recognize what is actually true.
I don’t know what month we will present this one, or who will deliver it. But, we have waited for a blockbuster by Putnam for quite some time.
Here it is. Look for an announcement about it in our advertising in the months to come.
It is difficult to determine the intent behind the message in Dan DiMicco‘s book, American Made: Why Making Things Will Return Us to Greatness (Palgrave, 2015).
The book is a call for a return to an emphasis in manufacturing in America. He believes that putting people to work making things instead of serving things is the way back to prosperity.
It is not that the government did not try. In 2009, a federal stimulus program provided $787 billion, but the book cites evidence that only $60 billion actually went to programs that created jobs.
But is this a book that actually pats himself on the back? He is certainly credible, and his track record is extremely strong. DiMicco led Nucor, a steel company, from 2000 through 2013. His record was impressive. Under his leadership, Nucor tripled its revenue, provided investors more than 700% return on their investment, and increased profits more than 600%. Beyond that, the company also held its own. Nucor has been in the steel business for more than 42 years, and has never laid off an employee, and has always paid a dividend to shareholders.
This is DiMicco’s second book. In 2006, he wrote Steeling America’s Future (Vox Populi). You can still buy that book in paperback through many Internet sources.
I found this biography of DiMicco on Bloomberg.com:
“Mr. Daniel R. DiMicco, also known as Dan, has been Director of Duke Energy Carolinas, LLC since 2007. Mr. DiMicco has been an Independent Director of Duke Energy Corporation or its predecessor companies since October 2007. Mr. DiMicco served as General Manager of Nucor-Yamato Steel Company. Mr. DiMicco served as the Chief Executive Officer of Nucor Corporation from September 2000 to December 31, 2012 and served as its Chairman from May 2006 to December 31, 2012. He served
This is a summary of the book that was published by Amazon.com:
“American manufacturing is on life support–at least, that’s what most people think. The exodus of jobs to China and other foreign markets is irreversible, and anything that is built here requires specialized skills the average worker couldn’t hope to gain. Not so, says Dan DiMicco, chairman and former CEO of Nucor, America’s largest steel company. He not only revived a major US manufacturing firm during a recession, but helped galvanize the flagging domestic steel industry when many of his competitors were in bankruptcy or headed overseas. In American Made, he takes to task the politicians, academics, and political pundits who, he contends, are exacerbating fears and avoiding simple solutions for the sake of nothing more than their own careers, and contrasts them with the postwar leaders who rebuilt Europe and Japan, put a man on the moon, and kept communism at bay. We need leaders of such resolve today, he argues, who can tackle a broken job-creation engine by restoring manufacturing to its central role in the U.S. economy–and cease creating fictitious “service businesses” where jobs evaporate after a year or two, as in a Ponzi scheme. With his trademark bluntness, DiMicco tackles the false promise of green jobs and the hidden costs of outsourcing. Along the way, he shares the lessons he’s learned about good leadership, crisis management, and the true meaning of innovation, and maps the road back to robust economic growth, middle-class prosperity, and American competitiveness.”
Not surprisingly, DiMicco is not a supporter of American companies which could have developed their own technologies and resources, but instead, partnered with Chinese firms in order to gain revenue and profits.
The Amazon.com customer reviews are extremely supportive. As always, we really don’t know where they came from, and how they got there. But, it appears that this book provides a wake-up call for Americans who have forgotten their roots. Indeed, in a review published in the Wall Street Journal, Charles R. Morris, a fellow at the Century Foundation, says: “Few of Mr. DiMicco’s recommendations are original and few people will agree with everything he says. But, the book is a cri de coeur [an impassioned outcry] from one of our best executives from one of our most successful companies. Attention should be paid.” (March 4, 2015, p. A11).
Whether we will present this book at the First Friday Book Synopsis in Dallas simply depends upon how it fares on the major best-selling business book lists. At the time that I write this, the Amazon.com statistics are impressive:
Yet, it does not appear on lists from Business Week, the New York Times, or the Wall Street Journal. Continue to monitor our advertising to see if we eventually present it there. Our policy is not to present synopses of books that are not legitimate business best-sellers. We need to give this one some time. It was only released on March 3, 2015.
In the meantime, remember “big boys like big toys,” and nothing fascinates us more than how things are made. That, of course, depends upon whether we actually are making things, and that is what the book calls America to do.