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takingadayoff "takingadayoff" RSS Feed (Las Vegas, Nevada)

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Jet Set: The People, the Planes, the Glamour, and the Romance in Aviation's Glory Years
Jet Set: The People, the Planes, the Glamour, and the Romance in Aviation's Glory Years
by William Stadiem
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $17.71

3.0 out of 5 stars Champagne-Fueled Jet Engines, April 19, 2014
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Jet Set is a very ambitious look at the age of the Boeing 707, from its first flight in 1957 to the end of its production in 1979. The 707 was the first passenger jet that was commercially successful and it was the symbol of the Jet Age and the Jet Set. Author William Stadiem writes about the development of the aircraft as well as the major role that Pan Am played in creating, or at least catering to, the Jet Set.

The book is about much more than the airplane itself or the airline -- Stadiem tried to capture the atmosphere of the time by imitating the style of the most popular gossip columnists of the time, so the tone is often breezy and irreverent. You might suspect that the author was sipping champagne as he wrote.

While the gossip column style is fun for the length of a column, it begins to wear thin for a book-length narrative. Still, Stadiem has crammed a lot of information into the book. I was interested to read about the 707 and Pan Am, as well as the advertising campaigns. He writes about hotel mogul Conrad Hilton, about airline deregulation and the rise and fall of Freddy Laker, the Profumo Affair, French movie star Alain Delon, and much more. I was less captivated by the glamorous personalities of the time such as Frank Sinatra and Oleg Cassini and his brother, gossip columnist Igor. There are many of these characters and much about their hijinks, but old gossip is old gossip and it has limited interest.

I liked reading about travel guide writer Temple Fielding, who wrote for upper middle class James Bond wanna-be's, those who wanted to know the best restaurants and how to find "entertainment" for gentlemen. Then there was Arthur Frommer, who appealed to an entirely different demographic, the budget traveler.

As you can see, Jet Set covers a lot of ground, but doesn't go too deep. So if you don't care about celebrity scandals of the past, you can skip past and learn a little about the rise of hijacking in the 70s or the relative costs of airline travel today compared with fifty years ago. Three stars.

Home Sweet Anywhere: How We Sold Our House, Created a New Life, and Saw the World
Home Sweet Anywhere: How We Sold Our House, Created a New Life, and Saw the World
by Lynne Martin
Edition: Paperback
Price: $9.48
53 used & new from $8.49

13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Taking the Plunge, April 15, 2014
Home Sweet Anywhere doesn't fit neatly into any category. It isn't a memoir, it isn't a how-to guide, it isn't quite a travel narrative. And yet, it works. At least it did for me, and I suspect that whether you like it will have a lot to do with what you expect or want from the book. I was looking for a book about the experiences of a couple who gave up their house and started traveling the world without a fixed address. It's the sort of thing that will work so differently for everyone who does it that you can't lay down a set of steps to follow. But it's helpful to know what worked and what didn't work for one couple.

As a travel memoir, it's a little slow since most of what passes for adventure in the Martins' life is shopping for groceries, taking walks, going to movies, eating out. It's the sort of thing you'd do on a relaxing vacation, or in your own neighborhood.

Lynne Martin addresses many of the concerns that she and her husband had when they first considered giving up their home to become nomads. What if they got sick? How would they keep in contact with their children and grandchildren? Would they be able to afford this way of living? Talking to others made them aware of other concerns -- visa restrictions, packing light, expatriate communities for when they became homesick.

I especially liked how Martin included the mistakes they made and what went wrong and how they dealt with it. Sometimes they quarreled (but not often) and sometimes they just got tired. They found out that they didn't hate cruises the way they were afraid they would (repositioning cruises across the Atlantic were their primary way of saving money on the long legs). And Lynne Martin even began a new career in her sixties, as a travel blogger, author, and expert on living without a fixed home.

Sundays at Eight: 25 Years of Stories from C-SPAN’S Q&A and Booknotes
Sundays at Eight: 25 Years of Stories from C-SPAN’S Q&A and Booknotes
by Brian Lamb
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $18.97
35 used & new from $6.92

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Bonanza of Non Fiction, April 13, 2014
Book Notes and its successor, Q & A, have been on C-Span every week since 1989. They're interview shows which feature authors of current non-fiction books. All told there have been over 1,300 interviews in those twenty-five years, and Sundays at Eight collects the best 40 or so of them. In addition to choosing the most interesting interviews, they've adapted the transcripts to remove the question and answer format and turned the interviews into essay-like chapters. It works very well.

Since I have never actually tuned in to the shows, I didn't have much in the way of expectations, but I love the idea of a book highlighting excellent non-fiction. For those of us who prefer history, biography, current events, popular science, journalism, and human interest, this book is a treasure trove. I started reading the first essay and was immediately hooked. Same with the next essay and the next. It was one fascinating discussion after another. I had to start making a list of all the books from Sundays at Eight that I want to read.

Many of the books are several years or even decades old now, but still worth reading. Blaine Harden's Escape From Camp 14, about a North Korean prisoner who escaped to freedom in the West; Isabelle Wilkerson's The Warmth of Other Suns, a history of 20th century African American migration from South to North; Robert Curson's Crashing Through, about a man blind from age three who had an operation to regain his sight at age 46, with unexpected results. Michael Lewis, Malcolm Gladwell, David McCullough, Christopher Hitchens all make appearances here.

I enjoyed nearly every one of these interviews. This would make a good nightstand book, or a reference for non-fiction book club ideas.

A Philosophy of Walking
A Philosophy of Walking
by Frédéric Gros
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $15.78
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Too Deep For Me, April 12, 2014
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As a longtime fan of books about walking, such as Peter Jenkins' A Walk Across America, Ffyona Campbell's Feet of Clay (which turned out to be less of a walk than advertised), Bold Spirit: Helga Estby's Forgotten Walk Across Victorian America, I started A Philosophy of Walking thinking it might go a bit deeper into walking.

It certainly did that. I was up to my eyeballs in philosophy and had to bail out. Philosopher Frederic Gros looks at the writings of several walking philosophers such as Rousseau, Rimbaud, Thoreau (even the Americans sound like French philosophers) to find what they've written about the act of walking, how it frees up our minds or slows the pace of daily life to a manageable speed. Walking does seem to jog loose thoughts in a way that sitting or driving or running doesn't. But I couldn't seem to get into the ultra deep cogitations of Nietzsche and others and wanted nothing more than to toss the book aside and take a walk. So I did.

A Journey to the Dark Heart of Nameless Unspeakable Evil: Charities, Hollywood, Joseph Kony, and Other Abominations
A Journey to the Dark Heart of Nameless Unspeakable Evil: Charities, Hollywood, Joseph Kony, and Other Abominations
by Jane Bussmann
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $16.41
21 used & new from $16.41

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Bridget Jones Meets Apocalypse Now, April 10, 2014
Normally, every book I read reminds me of a couple of others I've read or heard about. This was not the case with A Journey to the Dark Heart of Nameless Unspeakable Evil. It's hard to describe this book, and I can't imagine which section you would find it in a bookstore. Fortunately, author Jane Bussmann tackles that problem towards the end of the book when she tells of trying to pitch the story as a Hollywood movie. It's "Romancing the Stone meets Bridget Jones's Diary meets Private Benjamin..." With a dash of Out of Africa. And The Constant Gardener. And The Devil Wears Prada. And Apocalypse Now.

The book opens with Bussmann interviewing Ashton Kutcher. As a Hollywood journalist, she interviewed celebrities and wrote gossipy articles about them. Increasingly dissatisfied with the Hollywood scene and her pointless career, she saw an article about a "conflict resolution expert" named John Prendergast. He negotiates with warlords, twists arms in Washington, and does all he can to end war in places like Uganda. Bussmann found this admirable, and also noticed that he was extremely good looking.

She wangled an assignment to interview him and thus began her transformation from celebrity hack to important foreign correspondent. The transformation is a bit rocky though, and she often found herself using her celebrity interviewing techniques on warlords, diplomats, and government officials. The result is a combination of reporting on the horrific tragedy that is the war in Uganda interspersed with Bussmann's foul-mouthed and hilarious experiences negotiating war-torn Uganda and trying to sell her story to someone who cares.

It seems like a strange way to tell a story, but I have to hand it to her, it works. There's little chance I would have read a long article about Ugandan atrocities, let alone read a whole book about it. But by the time I realized that's what I was reading, I was hooked. She wrote the book in 2009 under the U.K. title The Worst Date Ever, and is now releasing it in the States under a new title. But nothing has changed in Uganda. I looked at the U.S. State Department's page on Uganda and it's as bad as ever.

The Madwoman in the Volvo: My Year of Raging Hormones
The Madwoman in the Volvo: My Year of Raging Hormones
by Sandra Tsing Loh
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $19.23
52 used & new from $14.97

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Menopalooza!, April 9, 2014
If you or someone you live with is due for the menopause soon, you may want to hold off on reading this book. Sandra Tsing Loh has not written a book to ease your mind. She is focused on telling the most entertaining story possible of her experiences, and exaggeration is a key element. At least I hope it is, because if not, well, just imagine the Looney Tunes Tasmanian Devil on a bad day and you'll have an inkling of what she experienced in the years as she approached fifty.

The Madwoman in the Volvo is not just about Loh's looming menopause -- it also touches on raising two girls approaching their teens, on Loh's failing marriage and aftermath, on caring for aging parents, on losing a parent, and on upper middle class suburban life in Southern California.

It's been a few years since I last checked in with Loh. I remembered her as a funny and sarcastic writer. As a writer and entertainer, she's fearless -- she doesn't mind being the one in the crowd who's talking a little bit too loud or swearing in front of the kids. If she were in your social circle, she'd be the one who embarrasses the rest of you in a restaurant, but it's worth it because she's so funny and honest.

In The Madwoman in the Volvo, she ratchets it up a few notches, at the risk of losing a few fans, possibly. It helps that she mentions in her acknowledgments that some of the characters she writes about are composites and although she does have a sister who is important in her life, the sister she writes about is a partially fictional one. I hope (and suspect) that the Sandra Tsing Loh she writes about is also partially fictional.

The Madwoman in the Volvo is certainly no how-to guide, more of a how-not-to guide. It's not just for laughs, either. You may find yourself commiserating with Loh's experiences, even as you feel grateful that she doesn't live in your neighborhood.

(Thanks to Edelweiss and the publisher for a review copy.)

Auto Biography: A Classic Car, an Outlaw Motorhead, and 57 Years of the American Dream
Auto Biography: A Classic Car, an Outlaw Motorhead, and 57 Years of the American Dream
by Earl Swift
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $19.68

4.0 out of 5 stars Classic Car Takes Back Seat to Human Car Wreck, April 8, 2014
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Auto Biography is about a classic 1957 Chevrolet station wagon that is being rebuilt by the owner of a used car lot (don't dare call it a junkyard), one Tommy Arney, a violent, foul-mouthed, operator who deals in various businesses such as go-go bars and real estate. Author Earl Swift has managed to trace the ownership of the car in question all the way back to its original owner. He tells the story of the car through the people who have owned the car. It's a crazy idea, and you hope that a half a century of history as told through such a quirky lens will be revealing in some way, that it will be a slice of America.

But throughout, it's really the story of Tommy Arney, now in his late fifties, slightly less violent than he used to be, but still as menacing. The first story Swift tells about Arney is Arney's recollection of a long ago sailor bar melee in which he was approached by a cop with a K-9 growling and ready to rumble. Arney warned the cop not to set the dog on him or he would "[m]uck the dog up." The dog attacked, Arney grabbed the dog by the neck, choked it until it passed out, then beat the cop with his own German shepherd.

How can a car compete with a character like that? And yet, in Swift's telling, Arney is something of a charmer as well as a Tasmanian devil. Well, I'll have to take Swift's word for that. Arney's business dealings were so corrupt that during the course of the Chevy restoration, the FBI was preparing to indict Arney for bank fraud. Meanwhile, Arney, while not as crazy violent as he once was, still abused his friends, was cheating on his wife throughout their thirty year marriage, neglected his kids when they were children, and when they were adults, got them to co-sign fraudulent bank loans.

Really, I couldn't look away from this car wreck of a man. If you're a fan of classic cars, you'll also enjoy the details of how the '57 Chevy was restored. I especially liked the chapter in which Swift describes how he went about tracking down the previous owners of the car -- a real feat of detection and journalism.

The Secret World of Oil
The Secret World of Oil
by Ken Silverstein
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $16.41

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Career Change for James Bond, April 3, 2014
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It's been a long time since spies were considered potentially glamorous, dashing heroes who could negotiate a high class casino with ease and panache, then conduct a dangerous international operation in the same day. James Bond isn't dead, but he's no longer a spy -- he's an oil fixer.

Journalist Ken Silverstein tells of the hidden world of oil fixing, in which agents of oil companies and of governments grease the way to the dictators and strongmen who run the countries who control much of the world's oil supply. One agent Silverstein describes does discreet deals at an exclusive Paris restaurant. But he's just as likely to do the deals in Kazakhstan or Equatorial Guinea. Huge sums of cash change hands, as well as cars, jewels, shopping sprees for wives, and study visas for children.

It's a pretty interesting story, but by its nature, there's not a lot of confirmation or ability for the reader to check sources. We just have to take Silverstein's word for much of it, and the claims, while believable, are extreme. I found myself skimming the complicated ins and outs of the oil trade in Africa and Central Asia. I was more interested in the outrageous behavior of Tony Blair since he resigned as Prime Minister. He seems to be prone to making flattering speeches about oil dictators in exchange for hundreds of thousands of dollars in speaking fees. And Neil Bush, George W.'s brother is the most hapless oil fixer ever. Even with his close connections to two presidents and to oil companies, he seems unable to fix a single successful deal.

The Humor Code: A Global Search for What Makes Things Funny
The Humor Code: A Global Search for What Makes Things Funny
by Peter McGraw
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $19.26
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3 of 9 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars An Inconclusive Search for the Source of Laughter, April 1, 2014
Joel Warner is a journalist and Peter McGraw is a psychology professor. Their goal is to find out what makes things funny, what makes us laugh. The professor theorizes that there are some universal laugh triggers and he has a few other ideas he wanted to test in the field. So they traveled to five continents to study humor. They didn't specify who paid the tab.

They hit the comedy circuit in Los Angeles and in Montreal. They traveled to Osaka to see how a culture very different from ours looks at humor. To see how humor arises in the most extreme conditions, they visited Palestine, then went to one of the most poverty stricken cities in the world, in the Amazon. They visit the offices of The New Yorker to see how the cartoons are chosen.

Sometimes they seemed to lose the picture, or maybe they had extra travel funds to spend. Their trip to Tanzania to investigate the cause of a laughing sickness that occurred some forty years ago seemed to have nothing to do with humor. Schoolchildren suddenly started laughing in class and couldn't stop. They weren't amused, they were stressed and it was obvious at the time that they were not enjoying their laughter. The trip to Denmark to investigate the cartoons of Mohammed that caused a violent reaction, also seemed to have little to do with humor or comedy. The cartoons weren't meant to elicit laughter or amusement, they were mostly meant to provoke. Even people who agreed with the cartoons' viewpoints didn't find them hilarious.

Still, there are some interesting insights into humor. For instance, McGraw did an experiment to see how young men viewed different public service ads to promote safe sex. The men liked the funny ads better but the serious ads were more likely to make them go get more information. The funny ads seemed to make the subject just a big joke and so they tended not to take it as seriously as the straight ads.

And that's how I feel about this book. It was entertaining, but if I want more information about humor, I think I'll have to keep searching.

(Thanks to NetGalley for a review copy.)

Flash Boys: A Wall Street Revolt
Flash Boys: A Wall Street Revolt
Price: $13.64

3 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Shining a Light on the Insects in the Corner, March 31, 2014
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Is the stock market rigged? Do little investors have a chance? These aren't exactly new questions -- they've been around since there was a stock market. But the High Frequency investing that has taken over most of the trading in recent years has caught a lot of people's imaginations. Robert Harris wrote about it in his thriller The Fear Index, in which the trading computer takes on a life of its own. At times, in Michael Lewis's book, it seems like that has happened. But there are good guys in this tale, which is not only a great story, it's great journalism.

The heroes of Flash Boys are a group of traders who see what's happening as inherently unfair, and set out to remedy that. Lewis describes the discovery of how the high frequency traders are doing what they do, the search for a solution to the problem they cause, and its implementation. It's pretty exciting, although once in a while it gets too technical and complicated to easily follow. Most of the time, Lewis explains everything for us so that it makes sense, but I think there are some things that not even most Wall Streeters are clear on. The characters are a colorful and quirky bunch, and you find yourself pulling for them to win. Plenty of people want them to win, but there are others who very much want them to fail. The book ends on an optimistic note, but the story is not over, so stay tuned.

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