Tag Archives: Books

Seven Important Books

Over the past nine months or so I stepped back from writing and threw myself into reading. I took a trip into the classics, reading Wealth of Nations, Crime and Punishment, Brothers Karamozov, 1984, Brave New World, The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin, some light fiction and fun non fiction, but what I’ve really been interested in lately is the intersection between technology, our economy and how it’s changing our culture, both for the better and for worse.

I’ve started to formulate a thesis. And I don’t really like the conclusions that I’ve been reaching. Over the next few weeks, I’m going to be writing about what I think might be going on, why its happening and how it may affect our present and our future. These are the key books that I’ve read that have shaped my thinking.

World

Antifragile – Nassim Nicholas Taleb

Taleb’s follow up to best selling and paradigm breaking The Black Swan, Antifragile, is probably the most important book in the past decade, if not longer. I found myself smiling and nodding in agreement throughout the book. And I’ve found that if someone’s read this book and enjoyed it, I’ll likely be their friend and share a similar world view.

Taleb creates a new word: antifragile – things that grow stronger from stressors. Humans get stronger from mild stressors. A glass vase does not. The restaurant industry does. Wall Street does not. Taleb shows that lack of skin in the game, the agency problem, micromanaging and a lack of understanding of real risk is causing our world to be more fragile when we should be orientating toward antifragile approaches.

Shorter: My Rules for Life in The Guardian.

You Are Not a Gadget – Jaron Lanier

Lanier invented the term Virtual Reality and has been involved in Silicon Valley since the very beginning. And he thinks technologist have gotten it all wrong. We’ve built technology that serves technology, not technology that serves humans. Our iPhones control us, not the other way around. And it’s wrecking our culture and economic future.

If you can’t read the book, read his oped in the Wall Street Journal, World Wide Mush.

Who Owns The Future – Jaron Lanier

In Lanier’s follow up, he talks about how technology is accruing massive returns for those who have the biggest, most powerful servers, not those who have the best ideas or give humans the most benefit. This techification eliminates the middle class and pushes economic returns up to a small group and gives the rest candy. Facebook without any users is worth $0. So why do so few people as a percentage earn money using Facebook?

If you can’t read the book, read his NY Times piece Fixing the Digital Economy.

Coming Apart – Charles Murry

Murry shows how the US has developed extreme income inequality that’s led to a small, super rich upper class that’s both physically and culturally separate from the rest of the population, similar to Latin American and other oligarchical countries. His description of how the US looks today is spot on and some of the consequences of income inequality, but I don’t buy his social root causes. I believe a similar pattern is taking place globally.

If you can’t read the book, read his Wall Street Journal piece The New American Divide and then Ross Douthat’s What Charles Murry Gets Right from the NY Times.

US Specific

Rise of the Warrior Cop – Radley Balko

Balko traces the militarization of US police forces from the US’s birth to present day and shows how the drug war and now terrorism fears have turned a police from traditional beat cops who knew everyone in their neighborhoods into body armored, automatic weapon toting, tank driving para military forces that have eviscerated the 1st and 4th amendments, wreaked havoc on families, killed innocents and brought terror the american households, all without even doing anything to lower crime.

Shorter: Why Did You Shoot Me? I was just reading a book! from Salon.

Three Felonies a Day – Harvey Silvergate & Alan Dershowitz

The US federal law system is now so vague that we all commit at least three felonies per day and the only reason we don’t get prosecuted is that we haven’t run afoul of a politician, a bureaucrat, or a prosecutor or even just gotten unlucky. Rise of the Warrior Cop interplays very well with this book. While I don’t recommend reading this book for pleasure reading, as its clearly intended for technical attorneys, the thesis is spot on.

These two books together paint the picture of why I’m very worried about NSA spying. Between a militarized police force, a government that collects all of our data and a criminal justice system that can indict you with lifetime jail time for living a normal life, we’re well on our way toward a police state.

Shorter: You Commit Three Felonies A Day from The Wall Street Journal.

Fiction

Super Sad True Love Story – Gary Shteyngart

A dystopian, but extremely readable look at what the future might look like where everyone’s always connected to the internet, we’re constantly alone together, the government monitors everything, the US is a banana republic and everyone is rated on everything via metadata. Read it.

March Books

I got a bunch of reading done this month, mostly because I found myself on an airplane fairly often.  Of the four, The Last Lecture was the best.

Rework – Rework is the newest book by 37 Signals founders Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson.  They are well known for creating simple, easy to use online products that help business get things done.  Rework is the follow up to their first book, Getting Real, and attempts to show people how to work more efficiently and effectively.

I first became interested in 37 Signals when I heard Jason Fried speak at an entrepreneurship conference in Milwaukee where I was also speaking. Fried stressed simplicity, focus and building something you would use because if you are building something you’d use, you are already an expert.

My favorite chapters were Go, Progress, Promotion and Productivity.  They explain how to get started, make progress and then promote your business.  They also have a ton of great tips about how to be more productive.  My biggest take away is that companies should be teaching instead of promoting.  Most companies do not teach, they promote.  Companies that teach lessons to their customers have bigger followings, which leads to free promotion.

The book is a little repetitive at times, but is worth reading.  I’m fairly familiar with 37 Signals because I read their blog regularly, so most of the ideas weren’t groundbreaking, but it was nice to hear everything in a single place.  If you don’t read their blog or haven’t heard about 37 Signals, this book is a must read.  If you are familiar, you can save the money and just read their blog again.

Mark Cuban recently said “if I had to choose to invest in someone who’s read Rework or has an MBA, I’m choosing rework every time.”  While I wouldn’t go that far, I’ll want any new Entrustet hires to read the book as part of their initial training.

The Checklist Manifesto – I heard about Checklist by Atul Gawande while reading Switch last month.  It sounded interesting and I planned on picking it up.  Luckily, my Aunt came to visit and happened to have the book.  I read the book on the plane to SXSW and really enjoyed it.  Gawande is a brilliant surgeon who wanted to know how he could improve medical care.  He got interested in checklists after marveling about airline safety.  In the book, he investigates how checklists can be used to prevent mistakes in any industry. He first helped implement a clean IV lines program that help Michigan hospitals reduce infections almost entirely, which saved lives and millions of dollars.  He later helped the WHO implement a standard checklist for surgeries that has saved countless lives and money.

The book is a quick read because it is written more like fiction than non fiction and provides tips to increase productivity and help you get things done, while avoiding mistakes.  Highly recommended.

Leadership and Self-Deception – Someone gave me this book right before I got on a plane when I was complaining that I didn’t have anything to read.  It’s a self help book, styled as dialogues between an employee of a company and his bosses.  Written in 2002, the main idea is that it is not what you do, but why you do it that matters.  The central advice is that whenever you want to do something to help another person, you should do it, otherwise you make excuses for yourself and it starts a downward spiral.  I don’t agree with everything from the book, but I believe that the world would be a better place if people were motivated to help others more often.

The Last Lecture- I had seen Randy Pausch’s last lecture on youtube before, but had not read the book.  For those who don’t know, Randy Pausch was diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer and was given 6 months to live.  He spent that time trying to make life better for his wife and his three young children.  Pausch was a professor at Carnegie Mellon and was given the opportunity to give a “last lecture.”  It was recorded and Pausch used the time to talk about how to live life, pursue your own dreams and enable the dreams of others.  It is a sad and uplifting book at the same time.  It is well written and funny, informative and wise.  I especially liked the section about enabling the dreams of others.  The Last Lecture is one of the best books I’ve ever read and should be required reading in high school classes.

February Books

It’s been a busy last two months, so I haven’t been able to read as much as I’d like to.  I only had a chance to read two books this month, but both were really good.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society – Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows.  This was one of the most unique books I’ve read in a long time.  The book is set in post WWII London and later Guernsey, one of the channel islands between England and France.  It is historical fiction about what life was like on Guernsey during and after WWII. I had never heard about this aspect of WWII and it was really interesting to read about what life was like on the island.  For example, I didn’t realize that Germany took over Guernsey fairly early in the war, expecting to only be there for a brief stopover before attacking the UK and that there was a small concentration camp on the island.

Aside from the history, the book is interesting because it is written all as letters between the characters.  There are no chapters, making it easy to continue reading.  At first, I thought I would have trouble keeping all of the characters straight because of the format, but I quickly started to enjoy the new format.

Another unique aspect of the book is the authors themselves.  Shaffer had never written a book before this, but had stopped over on Guernsey and was stuck in the airport with nothing to eat except candy from the vending machine and nothing to read except travel books about the island.  Fast forward 30 years and she started to write this book after being harassed by her book club.  After completing the first draft, her health began to deteriorate and she realized she would not be able to do the necessary edits and rewrites.  She drafted her niece, Annie Barrows, who is also a writer, to complete the book.

The overall plot isn’t incredibly complex and fairly formulaic, but the book is a winner because of the interesting historical context, great descriptive writing and unique format.  I highly recommend reading it.

Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard – Chip and Dan Heath.   In their follow up from their must read book Made to Stick, the Heath brothers have done it again.  Switch details a simple strategy to help create change in all different scenarios, from eating behavior, politics, business and health care.

They believe that the human mind is broken down into two parts, which they call “the rider” and the “elephant.”  If you imagine that the rider is attempting to ride the elephant, The rider is the analytical part of our brain that likes to think things through, while the elephant is our emotions and motivation.  They show that in order to create change, you need to get both the rider and the elephant moving in the same direction along a well defined path. They offer some inspiring stories to go along with some great strategies that help make campaigns work better.

They show examples of people with small amounts of power who created huge changes in behavior using simple, innovative strategies.  They show how a tiny group highlighted the bright spots of villagers’ behavior in Vietnam to help end childhood malnutrition in the country and how providing a roadmap to child abusers can reduce abuse by 3x.  I can’t really do this book justice with a short blog post, but if you are interested in change and how it works, read this book.

Thomas Friedman’s Advice to President Obama is Spot On

From time to time, Thomas Friedman writes something that has the power to change lives.  So far, Friedman’s The World Is Flat has had the greatest impact on me, as it inspired my business partner, Jesse Davis, to start work on our startup, Entruset.  The ideas in his book are still reverberating through our company today, as we got our first mention in the press in today’s Washington Post and continue to work to solve the problem he identified in the book.  You can read the entire story over on our company blog in a post called How Thomas Friedman and The World Is Flat Helped Spawn Entrustet.

I think his latest piece titled More (Steve) Jobs, Jobs, Jobs, Jobs has the potential to impact the lives of even more people.  Friedman says:

The most striking feature of Barack Obama’s campaign for the presidency was the amazing, young, Internet-enabled, grass-roots movement he mobilized to get elected. The most striking feature of Obama’s presidency a year later is how thoroughly that movement has disappeared.

I remember getting inundated by posts from my friends on Facebook in the weeks leading up to the election urging me to support Obama, attend rallies or make sure to go out and vote.  The movement continued for the next few weeks, but has completely lost steam.  Even the most ardent Obama supporters among my friends aren’t engaged via social media anymore.  This in itself is pretty amazing, but not Friedman’s main point. He wants President Obama to re-engage America’s youth and doesn’t believe that going after Wall Street or other negative methods will work.  He continues:

Obama should launch his own moon shot. What the country needs most now is not more government stimulus, but more stimulation. We need to get millions of American kids, not just the geniuses, excited about innovation and entrepreneurship again. We need to make 2010 what Obama should have made 2009: the year of innovation, the year of making our pie bigger, the year of “Start-Up America.”

Obama should make the centerpiece of his presidency mobilizing a million new start-up companies that won’t just give us temporary highway jobs, but lasting good jobs that keep America on the cutting edge. The best way to counter the Tea Party movement, which is all about stopping things, is with an Innovation Movement, which is all about starting things. Without inventing more new products and services that make people more productive, healthier or entertained — that we can sell around the world — we’ll never be able to afford the health care our people need, let alone pay off our debts.

I am 100% behind this idea.  It makes perfect sense and would appeal to both sides of the aisle at at time when partisanship is at a seemingly all time high because of the fight over health care.  It would harken back to the Obama that many young people voted for, rather than the less than inspirational version of the President who we have gotten to know since his election.

I believe that entrepreneurship is our best hope for saving the US from its mammoth debt obligations.  We need to find ways to “grow the pie” rather than trying to raise taxes on a stagnant (or shrinking) pie.  I believe that all kinds of entrepreneurship are going to be necessary to solve our problems.  We are going to need traditional entrepreneurs like Steve Jobs and Bill Gates, but we will also need social entrepreneurs like Muhammad Yunus and the social entrepreneurs featured in Business Week.

I think that if President Obama were to make entrepreneurship a central portion of his presidency, he will find a huge groundswell of willing entrepreneurs who will be willing to help.  Friedman mentions National Lab Day and the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship as examples of organization that are helping young people get interested in innovation.  Both programs would not be able to survive without older, successful mentors.  I think that entrepreneurs are willing to help out as mentors and young people are waiting to be entrepreneurs, but some are just waiting to be pushed.  Inc. Magazine contributor and author of Upstarts!, Donna Fenn says:

Over 75% of the entrepreneurs I interviewed for my book, Upstarts! said that they were very or highly likely to start another company; most had already founded two or more.”  She continues, “70% said their companies had a social mission. But make no mistake: they’re laser-focused on the bottom line as well and they understand why growing a profitable, sustainable company that creates jobs is a social good in and of itself. It’s pretty clear to me: this is a generation worth investing in.

Fenn‘s point is important because many startups are not only creating jobs and coming up with new solutions to problems, but they are also trying to make the world a better place.  If we can get more people to think with this mindset, the US and the world will be a better place.  So President Obama, please follow Friedman’s advice.  This is a no lose issue for you and the country.  You should be able to get support from both sides of the aisle.  You should be able to reconnect with an electorate that wants to support you, but has not because you have abandoned what got you into office.  Go back to the politics of hope, propose real solutions that everyone can get behind and see what happens.  I bet it will change lives.

A Look Back at 2009 and A Look Ahead to 2010

I know it’s a little late for a year end review, but I thought I finally have time to finish this post.  I wanted to take a look at some of my favorite things from 2009 and take a look ahead to some interesting thing for 2010.

2009 was a fun year.  I graduated with a degree in Political Science from the University of Wisconsin, made great progress on Entrustet, made some good friends and traveled to Europe with one of my best friends to visit another.  I was in another great friend’s wedding, got my consulting company off the ground, saw some amazing sporting events and got more involved in Madison.  I even stuck with my blog.

My Best Posts (in no order)

The Business School Way of Life

Is the Dollar America’s Achilles Heel?

America Doesn’t Plan for the Future

The Entrepreneurial Push

Every Startup Needs a Mentor Team

My Decade in Review

My Favorite Books (read, not written in 2009)

Infidel

Three Cups of Tea

Outliers

Always Running

The White Tiger

I’m looking forward to going to South Africa for the World Cup this summer, attending South By Southwest and continuing to work on Entrustet.  I think 2010 will be another fun and interesting year for me.  I hope your 2010 is too!

Predictions for 2010s

I know it’s just about impossible to look forward a few months, much less a year or even a decade, but here’s some guesses as to where we are headed.

2010

  1. Gold will continue its rise in response to more US government debt creation
  2. Developing countries continue to grow more quickly than developed countries.
  3. Unemployment will become the biggest political problem next year, but entrepreneurs will be somewhat sheltered

Longer Term

  1. The Reserve Status of US dollar will be called into question.  Look for China and the rest of the world to continue to diversify away from US government debt.  I don’t know when this will happen, but I can’t see any other solution to the US’s massive debt and unfunded liabilities.
  2. At some point, bubbles in China, US debt and others may pop.  This could lead to lower stock values and a resumption of the bear market.
  3. China will move from manufacturer to the world toward one of the leading innovators.  China will continue to assert itself on the political and economic stages. Look for their dominance in rare earth metals.
  4. Entrepreneurs around the world will be successful, as large companies do not want to invest in new technologies and talent is cheap.
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December Books

I read three interesting books in December.  All three of these books actually made me think, which doesn’t always happen.  The first two books were an amazing contrast and I think I wouldn’t have enjoyed them as much if I had not read them back to back.  Here’s my thoughts on my December books, Infidel, Three Cups of Tea and Soccernomics.

InfidelAyaan Hirsi Ali.  Infidel is one of the most powerful books I have ever read.  It is about Ali’s path from Somalia to the United States, with time spent living in Kenya, Saudi Arabia, Ethiopia, Germany and the Netherlands in between.  Without giving away too much of the book, Ali was born into the Somali clan system and was raised as a devout, conservative Muslim.  She faced incredible hardship during her life including living multiple war zones, abusive parents, female circumcision, forced marriage, an internal struggle with her religious beliefs, death threats and so much more.  Her story is so incredible that if it were written for Hollywood, you would think it was fake.

A little background.  When the Dutch filmmaker Theo Van Gogh was butchered by an Islamic extremist in broad daylight in the Netherlands, the terrorist stabbed a 5 page note to Van Gogh’s chest.  The note was addressed to Ali and included a fatwa, or holy order, calling on Muslims to kill her.  The books tells Ali’s life story that lead to this horrific conclusion.

While reading the book, I found myself questioning how anyone could believe in cultural relativism, especially if they read Ali’s story.  I see cultural relativism as a continuum.  On one end is the people who say “our values are right, other values are wrong.” The other end is people who say “all cultures are equal, we must respect their practices, as their values are as good as ours.” I’ve gone back and forth along the cultural relativism continuum for a long time now, but after reading Ali’s book, I am falling much farther toward the first end of the spectrum.  I think that my reading of cultural relativism is now something like this: I can understand why people have the values that they do in different countries, but I believe that there are universal human rights and truths that everyone should adhere to.  For example, I can understand how someone born in the rural, tribal hinterlands of Somalia could believe that female circumcision is the right thing to do, but I don’t believe it’s wrong to try to stop the practice.

I’m probably not doing a good job of explaining myself here, but I believe that Infidel is one of the most interesting books of the 21st century and potentially one of the most important.  I highly recommend Infidel.

Three Cups of Tea – Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin.  After reading Infidel, I dove right into Three Cups of Tea.  I had never heard this story, but after reading the book, came away inspired.  Three Cups of Tea is about Greg Mortenson’s quest to build schools and improve the quality of life for children, especially girls, in rural Pakistan and Afghanistan.

In 1993, Mortenson, an American, failed at summiting K2, arguably the world’s most difficult mountain to climb.  Mortenson got lost climbing back down to civilization and wandered into Korphe, a tiny mountain village in Northern Pakistan.  He was sick, tired and lost, yet the impoverished Muslim villagers nursed him back to health and gave him amazing hospitality.  After living with the villagers for about seven weeks, Mortenson was able to go back home ot the United States.  But before he left, he agreed to return and build the villagers a school to educate their kids, especially their girls.

Fast forward to 2009, Mortenson has built over 130 schools and countless clean water projects, women’s centers and self improvement facilities in rural Pakistan and Afghanistan.  His schools have educated over 55,000 children in an area where America is not all that well liked.  Mortenson has succeeded in helping these children by sheer personal grit, determination and amazing perseverance.  He has spent years in Pakistan and Afghanistan, braving some of the most dangerous places in the world, in order to help children get an education.  He believes that books, not bombs, will make the world a safer place in the future.

Mortenson is now one of my personal heroes because he has done so much good, without any official mandate.  Mortenson is a charity entrepreneur.  He has gone into an area that had a huge need and filled it as best as he could.  I truly believe that Mortenson deserves a Nobel Peace Prize and believe he will get one within my lifetime.  If you want to be inspired and read about one of the most amazing people on this Earth, read Three Cups of Tea.  I can’t recommend a book any more highly.

SPOILERS: After reading Infidel and Three Cups of Tea back to back, I really wanted to hear what Ali and Mortenson would think about each other.  By the end of Infidel, Ali believes that Islam needs to have a reformation because many of the core tenants of Islam advocate violence, oppression of women and a “backward” outlook toward the word.  She does not seem to believe that there are moderate Muslims, only religious Muslims and secularized Muslims.  The does not seem to believe in the concept of the “silent majority.” These ideas are completely understandable if you lived in her shoes and lived the life that she did.  They may even be completely correct, but I am not so sure.

Mortenson’s story seems to prove otherwise and provides signs of hope.  Although he is kidnapped by the Taliban and threatened by some religious Mullahs, the vast majority of people he meets are devout Muslims that are good people.  They are clearly not secular and are very religious, but do not have any problem with an infidel like Mortenson.  In fact, many of them are willing to put their life on the line to protect him.  Additionally, these rural Pakistani and Afghani Muslims are willing to educate their girls and the girls are willing to learn.  Mortenson’s example of how education can help people break free of poverty is incredibly powerful and I think Ali would agree that what he is doing is amazingly important.  I would love to be a fly on the wall if the two of them would ever have a candid conversation.

Soccernomics – Simon Kuper and & Stefan Szymanski.  Soccernomics is nowhere near as heavy as the previous two books, but is still very interesting.  Kuper is the author of Soccer Against the World, another book I read this summer, and is back at it again.  Soccernomics is the Moneyball of soccer.  The authors try to bring statistical analysis to the pitch, just like Michael Lewis did in Moneyball.  The authors tackle why England always seems to fail at major tournaments, which countries overachieve and underachieve and who will be successful in the future.

My favorite part of the book is the section about Olympic Lyon, currently one of the most successful clubs in Europe.  Just like Moneyball, the authors show why Lyon can be such a good club with limited resources.  Lyon goes against conventional wisdom and is incredibly active in the transfer market.  They have a stable front office and only buy players who are between 20 and 22 and are among the top 2-3 players in their country or are Brazilian.  Once the players sign with Lyon, the club spares no expense to help the players adjust to living in Lyon and French culture.  I found it amazing that other clubs, even the richest in the world (Chelsea, Man U, Real Madrid etc) don’t do this.  They simply sign the player and hope he is able to adjust.  Third, Lyon sell players as soon as they show any sign of deterioration and never try to sign center forwards, as they are the most over valued players in the transfer market.  If you liked Moneyball or like European soccer, Soccernomics is the book for you.

Note: If you are interested in donating to Greg Mortenson’s charity to build schools in Central Asia, check out the Three Cups of Tea website.

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November Books

Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What It Says About Us) – Tom Vanderbilt.  Traffic is full of interesting stats about how and why Americans drive the way they do.  Vanderbilt tries to figure out why Americans behave the way they do inside their cars: tailgating, road rage, aggressive driving etc.  It is fairly dense and reads more like an academic paper with a little humor thrown in for good measure than books like Freakonomics or Outliers, but is worth checking out.  Among other things, the book looks at why people say “I got stuck in traffic” or “I got hit by a car” rather than “I got stuck in people” or “I got hit by a driver.”

I really enjoyed his thoughts on merging from two lanes to one lane.  An easy example is a construction zone on the highway.  Usually about a mile ahead of the lane closure, drivers will see a sign that says “left lane closed 1 mile, merge right.”  Do you merge right away or do you wait until the end and try to move over then?  Many people move over right away, but Vanderbilt cites a study that shows that it is actually better to merge late because it fully utilizes the available road space up until the last minute.  The study found that there were fewer accidents and quicker communes if people merged late.  As a late merger myself (who has been yelled at by both friends and family for it), it was great to have my ideas confirmed by an actual study.  Check out Traffic if you are interested in reading about America’s traffic problem.

Kitchen Confidential Updated Ed: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly (P.S.)Anthony Bourdain – I’m a huge fan of Anthony Bourdain’s show on the Travel Channel, No Reservations, so I had to pick up Kitchen Confidential.  Bourdain grew up wanting to cook and Kitchen Confidential details his rise from a cocky, inexperienced line cook to a successful head chef at a NYC French restaurant.  Kitchen Confidential is billed as a look behind the scenes of restaurants in New York City during the 80s.  Bourdain battles drugs, the mafia, spiteful and dumb owners and many other problems in his quest to be a good chef.  From seeing his show, I hadn’t realized how deep into drugs he was in his past.

While I enjoyed many of his war stories about crazy owners, chefs and his escapades as a young, drugged out cook, I was really interested in his chapters about cooking, traveling and the restaurant business.  Bourdain spends a chapter explaining how to spruce up home cooked meals so that they taste (and look) more like they were created in restaurants.  There are a few chapters on what makes or breaks restaurants and how to spot a failing restaurant from a well run place.  I was most interested in the chapter about his first trip to Japan.

Bourdain talks about being completely immersed in a foreign culture where he couldn’t communicate.  After the first few days of wandering around, he finally works up the courage to walk into a noodle shop and point to what the guy sitting next to him was eating to order “whatever he was having.”  Bourdain’s story about being worried what others would think, but then deferring to the rest of the people made me think of a time I was in France for the Confederations Cup in 2003.  We were in a restaurant where nobody spoke any English and simply pointed to another table to say “we’ll have that.”  It ended up being a great meal.  Bourdain’s book is a quick read and shows how he launched himself into TV stardom.  It’s well worth the read.

The Help – Kathryn Stockett.  The Help pulls the lid off of a social circle in Jackson, Mississippi during the heart of the civil rights movement, but tells the story from the perspective of the maids who work in white family homes.  The book is very well written and a fun read, even though it deals with some heavy subjects.  Stockett makes you feel like you are listening to the thoughts of each character, using unique metaphors throughout the book.

Some of the chapters are a little slow to get through because Stockett uses the dialect that some maids would have used in the 60s.  It’s a little hard to get used to, but by the 2nd or 3rd chapter, you are up to speed.  It’s completely worth it.  Without spoiling the book, it was interesting to read about some of the double standards that white women had in the 60s.  White women were perfectly happy to allow their maid to touch their child when the maid was cleaning, feeding or clothing their child, but they would not let the maid sit in the same room to eat or use the guest bathroom.  It seems like a convenient suspension of segregation that, looking back, does not make any sense (not that segregation made any sense at all.)  The Help is a really good book and potentially one of my favorites for the year.

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