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Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game
Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game
by Michael Lewis
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $19.84
404 used & new from $0.01

5.0 out of 5 stars A new perspective; for Baseball and more, August 20, 2003
Though the topic of Moneyball centers around Baseball its scope has a much broader reach. In the same manner that Lewis's Next examines how the Internet has toppled several societal barriers, Moneyball takes a look at how statistics and information question our understanding of value. In a nutshell it all boils down to this; don't be fooled by what you see. Over time its the small and undetected things which can make a big difference.
Baseball serves as a perfect proving ground for this expanded perspective. A baseball season is 162 games long. Over that period the difference between a .275 hitter and a .310 is just one hit a week. As a fan you could watch a whole season and, unless you followed a team's statistics, you would find it hard to discern who was the better hitter.
But we already have mechanisms for tracking batting average along a whole host of other hitting statistics. With free agency the best hitters are rewarded accordingly. The question for Baseball becomes - how accurate is our current system of valuation? How much more valuable is a slugger like Sammy Sosa than good on base man like Jason Kendall?
Moneyball tracks the path of the Oakland A's and their maverick GM Billy Beane. Beane and his crew employ all of the latest statistical analysis for evaluating players, much to the chagrin of the old time scouts who know a ball player when they see one. Through their studies, Beane and his staff recognize that on base percentage is highly undervalued in the current market. This flies in the face of conventional wisdom but the results bare them out. Over the 2000-2003 seasons the Oakland A's with a payroll roughly a third the size of the New York Yankees won more games than the Yankees during that period.
While this book is a must read for all baseball fans it also carries with it a much broader value. We make millions of assumptions everyday based on appearances. But it's not always the brightest or the most articulate who gets the job done. Sometimes its the little guy, slugging away, who has a much larger impact. The challenge is to be able look beyond what the eye can see and focus on the bottom line. If you can, then you're playing Moneyball.

The Devil in the White City:  Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America
The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America
by Erik Larson
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $17.09
224 used & new from $0.96

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The best and worst of mankind, March 21, 2003
Though non-fiction, The Devil in the White City serves as a fitting metaphor for late nineteenth century America. We see mankind at its very best, reaching to new heights of material advancement working alongside mankind at its very worst, sinking ever deeper into the muck of depravity.
The heights were reached by the 1893 Columbian Exposition. The host city Chicago was the nation's fastest booming metropolis. In many ways this new city, driven by commerce, offered a window to the nation's future. Here the Industrial Revolution reached fruition and demonstrated the awesome powers of man over nature. Just as Silicon Valley was the considered the economic boom town of the 1990s, Chicago was the place to be in the second half of the nineteenth century.
At the same time, and in the same city, mankind was also reaching new lows. These depths were plumbed by Herman W. Mudgett, aka Dr. Henry H. Holmes the nation's first serial killer.
Chicago lobbied hard for the fair, earning its nickname the "windy city" during the process. The odds were stacked against the city's being able to pull it off. Time was of the essence and the committee for the fair found itself tangled in a morass of conflicting egos and interests. Jackson Park, an undeveloped lakefront area on Chicago's South side chosen for the site, sat raw and undeveloped as it appeared there was no possible way the deadline could be met. Emerging from this chaos was Daniel Burnham. His dedication and vision galvanized a team that eventually managed to do the impossible. The White City which grew out of this combined effort of imagination and determination gave witness to human society at its finest.
In the meantime, a short distance from the fairgrounds, Dr. H. Holmes had recently set up a new Hotel that catered exclusively to young unescorted women many of whom vanished without a trace. The police were slow to catch on. This sort of murder was new to them. Murder was confined to jealous spouses and botched robberies and not something that was done for sport. The trail of lies spread by Dr. Holmes and his ability to dodge creditors as well as the law simply astounds. It wasn't until well after the close of the fair that the dogged determination of a single detective brought Holmes to justice.
Larson's work neatly intersperces these two tales. Both stories heat up as they progress and the book gets increasingly harder to put down. He spins the tale so well that I had to check several times to confirm that it was non-fiction. A recommended read.

Michelangelo and the Pope's Ceiling
Michelangelo and the Pope's Ceiling
by Ross King
Edition: Hardcover
189 used & new from $0.01

6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fine Art and a Fine Tale, February 25, 2003
Rivalry! Intrigue! War! Oh yes . . . and some timeless art too.
Ross King's "Michelangelo & the Pope's Ceiling" is an ambitious work which combines artistic study, the mechanics of fresco painting and the oft-sordid history of early 16th century Europe. The painting of the Sistene Chapel ceiling provides the framework for this story but there is more to be told than what meets the eye. The author successfully spins a narrative which deftly interweaves the creation of the fresco with the events of the time.
Each section of the Sistene Chapel is reviewed in the order in which it was created. The story progresses along with the work on the ceiling. We can see Michelangelo's work gain confidence as he moves through the vault and we see how the interplay of politics and the opinions of the artist interact to yield the final product. The players in this story gather to form a veritable who's who of the Renaissance. Leonardo Da Vinci, Raphael along with the Borgia and Medici clans play a role. There are even guest appearances by Henry VIII, Machiavelli and Martin Luther.
The book also offers a detailed, yet presentable to the layman, look at the process of fresco painting. No, Michelangelo did not lie on his back to paint. Nevertheless the work was complex and these complexities are examined in full. No small detail, from the chemistry of each color to the mechanics of application is overlooked. Yet even with this fine level of detail the book does not lose focus or get bogged down by the minutia. Indeed, these details are woven back into the story in such a manner as to provide the reader with a richer and fuller sense of the accomplishment.
An outstanding historical work in its own right, this book is also a must for anyone with an interest Michelangolo's magnum opus.

Goodbye, Good Men: How Liberals Brought Corruption into the Catholic Church
Goodbye, Good Men: How Liberals Brought Corruption into the Catholic Church
by Michael S. Rose
Edition: Hardcover
133 used & new from $0.01

10 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Gets to the core of the Priest Shortage, December 21, 2002
At the dawn of the 21st century the Catholic Church in America faces many challenges. Most notable among these are the shortage of priests and the revelations of horrendous sex scandals and attempts to cover them up. The Church, it can be said, is in crisis. This crisis calls for a solution.
The popularly held belief is that priestly celibacy and the male-only priesthood form the root of this problem. It makes sense, after all. How better to answer the shortage of priests and the sex scandals but to open the priesthood to a wider range of candidates? Isn't it obvious that an all-male, celibate priesthood no longer works?
No so, argues Michael S. Rose in Goodbye Good Men. To the contrary, he forcefully argues that there exists an abundant supply of "good" men who are both psychologically and emotionally balanced and also willing to accept the rigors of traditional priesthood. The problem, as this book forcefully argues, is that these good men are being rejected by a system that wishes to do away with the traditional priesthood.
Goodbye Good Men relies heavily on interviews with numerous seminarians and priests who relate their experiences during the formation process. Rose weaves their stories into a tale which outlines how a system has been established to discourage and weed out all orthodox thinking.
In a nutshell, the book argues that those in the Church who are charged with fostering vocations are those who are most opposed to them. And whether by design or not, the result of their work has been to decimate the priesthood to the point of becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy. The gatekeepers to the rectory work to weed out those who accept the traditional priesthood and then turn around and claim that the traditional approach is not working.
Rose also goes on to examine places where a more orthodox approach has been taken to the formation process. Here, vocations are not only alive and well, they are thriving.
Undoubtedly, Goodbye Good Men will begin a long (and, I would hazard to guess vocal) discussion about how the Church has been handling priestly vocations over the past 30 years. Whether you agree with the traditional priesthood or not, this book is required reading for any who wish to understand and address this issue.
For Catholics, if you care about the future of your Church, this book is a must read.

Downtown: Its Rise and Fall, 1880-1950
Downtown: Its Rise and Fall, 1880-1950
by Robert M. Fogelson
Edition: Hardcover
51 used & new from $0.42

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An unrefined treasure, November 7, 2002
Fogelson's Downtown is a scholarly, though at times disjoint, review of the forces that shaped the cities of America during the 70 year span from 1880 to 1950.
Downtown offers a thorough treatment of several topics such as the formation of a central business district, transportation issues and the battle over building height limits. This book is not a light and breezy read, however. Each topic is explored in great detail and, though there is some overlap between the topics, the book does not make any attempt to integrate them into some sort of grand narrative.
The author demonstrates a broad knowledge of the major American cities during this era. Rich in detail, the book takes a well balanced look at all of the forces that shaped each issue. Most often these forces included the politics and the economics of the time.
The fact that no grand and unified theory is presented works in this book's favor. In the end, Downtown is free from any sort of bias and instead serves to present, as Sergeant Joe Friday would say, "just the facts."
Downtown is a well-researched and well-written work. It is a worthwhile read for anyone interested in studying the history and dynamics of America's downtowns.

Sharing the Wealth : My Story
Sharing the Wealth : My Story
by Alex Spanos
Edition: Hardcover
147 used & new from $0.01

12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A real life Horatio Alger story, May 26, 2002
After a distinguished business career Alex Spanos shares his rags to riches story in his autobiographical Sharing the Wealth. A real life Horatio Alger story, at times it seems that the tale he tells is too good to be true.
Spanos's story begins in the depression era where he spent his youth working in his father's bakery. After coming home from WWII he went back to work for his father earning a meager but steady paycheck. He could have settled, but this was not enough for Alex Spanos. With little money in his pocket and a child and a pregnant wife he left his steady job in search of a better life. He found this better life in short order.
Starting out with the humble bologna sandwich, Spanos built a successful catering business and, for tax reasons, began to invest in real estate. Soon, this tax benefit became his main line of business. He then grew this business from regional to nationwide and along the way earned himself a fortune. Fame only came after purchasing the San Diego Chargers.
A subtle subtext runs throughout this tale. Spanos is not telling his story to brag nor is he doing so to win a Pulitzer Prize. His goal, as stated in the book's subtitle, is to share the wealth. Throughout the story he emphasizes the assets that he employed to get the job done. Reading between the lines, the message of the book is clear; success in either business or life requires strength in character.
Ultimately, the final 14 pages make this subtext explicit and these pages alone are worth the price of the book. The end result is a book that serves as an inspiration to the next generation of Horatio Algers and hopefully stirs the Horatio Alger inside all of us.

Ugly As Sin: Why They Changed Our Churches from Sacred Places to Meeting Spaces and How We Can Change Them Back Again (Forthright Edition)
Ugly As Sin: Why They Changed Our Churches from Sacred Places to Meeting Spaces and How We Can Change Them Back Again (Forthright Edition)
by Michael S. Rose
Edition: Hardcover
56 used & new from $0.01

23 of 30 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Where we worship does matter, May 9, 2002
In subtle and no-so-subtle ways architecture projects meaning and sets a tone. Buildings are not value neutral. There are good and there are bad. Done properly, a well architected building enhances the experience of its intended occupants. Done poorly, a building can create spaces that disorient and degrade. In Ugly as Sin, Michael S. Rose shares his insights into the history of Catholic church architecture taking the reader through a virtual tour of the good, the bad and the ugly.
Using Paris's Notre Dame Cathedral as an archetype Rose charts the course of a church "pilgrim" as they progress from the profane to the sacred. Aided by ample photographs the description of this journey serves up a feast for both the eyes and the soul. Beginning with the outer façade each step along the pilgrim's path envelopes them further in an environment that reinforces their spiritual journey and ultimately focuses them on the altar of the paschal mystery. Rose presents imagery so thick and rich that you can almost taste it.
Next, the pilgrim's journey takes them to the modern church. Barely able to distinguish it from any surrounding structure the pilgrim arrives disoriented and confused. Searching for a focus, the pilgrim finds none. Instead they find a world no different than the one outside. The modern church serves up an entrée as bland as the fast food of our daily lives. Nothing sacred is offered here.
To this Rose sets out to answer the question, how did we get this way? It wasn't by happenstance or accident that the modern church has been denuded. It was by design. Ennobled by a misinterpretation of Vatican II documents a movement within the church has set about to strip churches of all that sets them apart and in their place create a public meeting hall. This choice has had detrimental consequences. It has resulted in the creation of an environment that takes the member's focus away from the sacred. Literally, these new designs are "ugly as sin".
Rose ends his work on an upbeat note. The tide is beginning to turn. Older churches that were stripped of their majesty are having some of it returned while within several new churches movements have begun to transform them into more meaningful places of worship.
Ugly as Sin makes its case clearly and forcefully. It challenges the church-bound reader to experience more and demand more from their church environment.

The Lost Art of Drawing the Line: How Fairness Went Too Far
The Lost Art of Drawing the Line: How Fairness Went Too Far
by Philip K. Howard
Edition: Hardcover
117 used & new from $0.01

10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Gets to the core of what's wrong with our legal system, May 1, 2002
This book is much more than just a call for tort reform. Anyone can say that our society has become overly litigious but Howard goes a step beyond. The Lost art of Drawing the Line presents the full picture of what is wrong with our legal system, how it got that way and what we can do to fix it.
Howard traces the roots of our current legal problems back to the late 19th Century when the political spoils system was replaced with an impartial legal and bureaucratic approach. By replacing politics with a system of rules it was hoped that governmental dealings would be fairer. As anyone who has ever had to deal, or much worse work, with the stifling bureaucracy that grew out of this movement knows it is clear that somewhere along the way fairness went too far.
Howard uncovers the paradox of how our quest for individual rights has actually resulted in a diminution of our freedom. True, we can still do what ever we want by ourselves but we must walk on eggshells when dealing in groups, afraid to offend lest someone take us to court. Howard bravely goes one step further and examines the detrimental effects that the law has had on race relations. He notes that the ticking bomb of the race card has created a minefield of fear and bitterness in the modern workplace.
Whether intentional or not, The Lost Art of Drawing the Line serves as an excellent companion book to Robert Putnam's Bowling Alone. By getting to the core of why coming together to work for the common good has become such a risky proposition The Lost Art of Drawing the Line answers the question of why one would choose to bowl alone.
The book is not all doom and gloom. We still have a government of the people. And, as Howard proposes, if as a nation we are able to gather the national will to fix our system, no government can get in our way.
Read this book. And then recommend it to your friends.

What Went Wrong?: Western Impact and Middle Eastern Response
What Went Wrong?: Western Impact and Middle Eastern Response
by Bernard Lewis
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $30.66
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14 of 18 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent overview of the intersection of two cultures, April 29, 2002
What went wrong provides a quick and clear bird's eye view of the history of Islamic culture and its interaction with the West.
No culture can live in a vacuum. Especially one sandwiched between East and West. Due to its geography the Middle East has always been in a position to both influence and be influenced by the cultures of those around them. For the great majority of Islamic history, the Middle East found itself being the dominant culture in the world. But, with the rise of the West, Islamic culture has begun to recede from its once lofty place on the world's stage. How did this happen?
The Islamic world received its wake-up call when Napoleon and his armies occupied Egypt. Previously, the West was an interesting side-show but now adjustments would have to be made. However, the West was still treated with contempt. The Islamic approach was to take from the infidel what can help such as military, medicine, engineering, etc. but leave their culture behind.
Lewis notes the stark differences between the Middle East and the Western culture. The most notable differences exist in politics and law. In Islamic culture the Western tradition of the separation between church and state has always been a foreign concept. Law and religion are one in the same. From the Islamic perspective the West's process of argument and debate over law is seen as rather primitive. Law is to be interpreted from the Koran and not subject to human foibles.
What Went Wrong examines other cultural differences with the most obvious being the treatment of women. Furthermore the book offers other interesting comparisons such as the historical evolution of the concepts of time and space.
The Muslim world now finds itself at a crossroads. No longer the citadel of culture that they once were it is time to examine why. There are two roads that they may choose. They can take the easy way out and blame the West for all of their maladies or they can look inside themselves and seek to improve.
This book is by no means an in depth study. But it does serve as an excellent starting point for those with a limited knowledge of the History of Islamic culture and a desire to know more.

When Character Was King: A Story of Ronald Reagan
When Character Was King: A Story of Ronald Reagan
by Peggy Noonan
Edition: Hardcover
299 used & new from $0.01

10 of 15 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An excellent character study, April 12, 2002
Whether or not you sit on the same side of the political aisle as Ronald Reagan one has to admire his strength of character. In this book Peggy Noonan takes into account the whole scope of the 40th president's life in order to present a better understanding of the man.

From his rough depression era childhood through his days in radio, Hollywood and finally politics one thread interweaves through it all - his consistency. Reagan was always a man who stood up for what he believed and never wavered in the face of criticism.

His strength of character shone its brightest when dealing with the Soviets. Always willing to engage them in dialogue he never bowed to the pressure of compromising his principles. This steadfastness, as later attested to by Mikhail Gorbachev, eventually helped to bring down the old Soviet Union.

Though not a political book, politics can't help but enter into the picture. The author, who worked in the Reagan White House for several years, makes no effort to hide her political leanings. The benefit is that she is able to offer an insider's perspective to the Reagan White House. The book does strive for balance by taking a hard look at some of Reagan's warts, such as his strained relationship with his children and the Iran-Contra affair.

Through the passage of time, the Reagan Presidency is beginning to reach a distance that allows it to be viewed from a more historical, rather than current events, perspective. In this light his work continues to shine brightly. A core aspect of the Reagan legacy is that of a man who inspired through his leadership. When Character Was King offers a look behind the scenes and inside the character of this great man.

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