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The Real Lincoln: A New Look at Abraham Lincoln, His Agenda, and an Unnecessary War
The Real Lincoln: A New Look at Abraham Lincoln, His Agenda, and an Unnecessary War
by Thomas J. DiLorenzo
Edition: Paperback
Price: $11.50
85 used & new from $7.83

13 of 20 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars I agree with the thesis and conclusion, but the argument still falls short., November 7, 2007
When you trot out a theory that's guaranteed to face a massive headwind of disbelief and anger, it's a good idea to get your evidence put together into a form that's nearly unassailable. Thomas DiLorenzo faced exactly that challenge when he took up the cause of convincing Americans (and the world to some extent) that their favorite American President, "Honest" Abe Lincoln, did more to damage the free country founded in 1776 than any other who filled that office before or since.

DiLorenzo wasn't up to the challenge. And I say that as someone who agrees with his conclusion. I believe that Abe Lincoln put the United States founded by Jefferson, Madison and the other founders firmly in the past and replaced it with something far inferior and less free. However, believing something doesn't make every argument supporting your belief a good one. DiLorenzo's isn't.

Two examples:

1. DiLorenzo states that Lincoln didn't care about slavery and quotes Lincoln's speeches with anti-black rhetoric as support for his argument. Fine, but Lincoln had to get elected in an incredibly bigoted society before he could take any action to help the slaves. More radical politicians never got the power to make a difference. A possibility? Sure, but not a convincing argument when you consider the political climate of 1860 instead of 2007.

2. DiLorenzo talks about how Lincoln didn't abide by the wartime rules of the Geneva Convention even though it was codified in 1863. To be sure, that sounds bad to modern ears to which the words "Geneva Convention" are a household phrase, but the Civil War started in 1861 and a set of new rules codified once viscous fighting was underway probably didn't carry much weight at the time.

To be sure, DiLorenzo scores many points for the anti-Lincoln argument as well, but the books flaws make it feel like a college paper that keeps over-reaching its evidence in order to have "enough" for the professor. A little less would have been far more in this case. DiLorenzo sees too much of what he wants to see, just like he accuses the Lincoln Lovers of doing on the other side of the argument. As a result, he weakens an argument that needed to be rock-solid in the face of inevitable legions of critics.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jan 4, 2008 11:57 PM PST


Microtrends: The Small Forces Behind Tomorrow's Big Changes
Microtrends: The Small Forces Behind Tomorrow's Big Changes
by E. Kinney Zalesne
Edition: Hardcover
283 used & new from $0.01

5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting, impractical and unnecessarily partisan - in that order., November 1, 2007
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Well, what Mark Penn has written here is a book that is - first and foremost - an interesting read. Penn is a statistician that focuses on finding trends in society so that businesses or politicians can take advantage of the trends by serving them better. In this book, Penn lays out a whole range of trends that he sees in American society today and explains a little bit about where he thinks each one might come from and where it might go. It's fun and fascinating to have trends you may have noticed yourself validated by an expert and put into numbers. It's also quite interesting to hear about some trends that you've never heard of before. My main takeaway from this book is that it was engaging from cover to cover and I was always curious to see what Penn would talk about next.

That all sounds good, so why only three stars? Two reasons: First off, this type of information is usually gathered on a targeted basis by consultants who have the needs of a specific product or political campaign in mind as they do their work. As a result, the conclusions they reach are relevant to the target audience. In the case of the book, however, Penn necessarily takes a shotgun approach and while it is fun to read, there isn't much that you could actually act on or use without hiring someone like Penn to do a lot more work for you - that might be a good thing for everyone, but it takes away from the experience of reading the book.

Second, Penn has worked for Bill Clinton in the past and clearly has liberal leanings. His political ideology is what it is, but for a guy who claims to be, and is attempting to be an unbiased reader of the statistical tea leaves, he throws a lot of his personal bias into his interpretation of the data. Anyone who has taken an entry-level course in statistics knows that you have to let the numbers do the talking and not go fishing for the results you hope to find. Also, a correlation between data doesn't imply causality either, Penn assumes causality on a regular basis in his interpretations. If he has more data to back up his points, he doesn't mention it. Curiously, all his interpretations lean in the same direction which really detracts from a book that should emphasize the unbiased power of math.

This is an interesting book to read, but you won't be missing any earth-shaking insights if you skip it and you won't be missing the analysis of an incisive, unbiased mind either.


The Third Policeman
The Third Policeman
by Flann O'Brien
Edition: Paperback
Price: $11.38
99 used & new from $3.42

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars If a really good high school writer watched Alice, read Kafka, then wrote., October 24, 2007
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This review is from: The Third Policeman (Paperback)
Unique little book here.

It's not perfect, or even great, but it does have a certain something to it that keeps you highly engaged. It feels like a young author possessing a great ability with words but only a budding sense of symbolism sat down to watch Alice in Wonderland and then read Franz Kafka and then started writing.

O'Brien's word choice and construction truly stands out from the crowd and makes this book enjoyable to read for the language alone. Lagging a couple steps behind, but still solid, is his ability to set a mysterious tone. (This is where the Kafka feel starts to come in.) Slightly more problematic is that the book is absolutely filled with symbols that don't seem to have any meaning behind them - or if they do, it's far too abstract. It really does feel like an ultra-talented, but young, writer tackled a high-school writing assignment to work with symbols and just got carried away without thinking enough about meaning.

This is by no means a bad book; on the contrary, I had trouble putting it down because I loved the language and was curious to find out what was around the next corner. That said, it just falls short in terms of cashing all of the symbolism checks that it writes. Still worth reading, but it should have been even more.


A Dirty Job: A Novel
A Dirty Job: A Novel
by Christopher Moore
Edition: Paperback
Price: $8.45
206 used & new from $0.01

10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A wonderful, irreverant ride - a sheer delight., October 22, 2007
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This review is from: A Dirty Job: A Novel (Paperback)
It's been a long time since I've had this much trouble putting a book down. Christopher Moore creates a fun and dark vibe in this book that you just want to continue to be part of.

Moore's hero, Charlie Asher, has spent his whole life trying to play it safe and live under the radar and now he's been recruited as death. Watching Charlie come to terms with his new assignment and all that comes with it is as much fun as I've had reading a book in years. Moore even goes after some relatively weighty topics, but the characters, the author and the book never lose their sense of humor about the story, themselves, or the issues they tackle. That's what keeps the book feeling so fresh from one page to the next.

Gotta go now, I'm going to read something else by Christopher Moore. I recommend that you start that process here.


The New New Thing: A Silicon Valley Story
The New New Thing: A Silicon Valley Story
by Michael Lewis
Edition: Paperback
Price: $12.72
260 used & new from $0.01

8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars What would you do if you researched a book and didn't find anything?, October 18, 2007
I'm a big fan of Michael Lewis. He usually brings characters and situations to life and provides a perspective on a situation that introduces me to a new way of looking at things. That's not the case here.

I get the feeling when Michael Lewis got permission to follow Jim Clark around for several months to write about him he thought he'd hit the mother load of great book material. Here was a guy who had traipsed through the daunting world of technology with a seeming Midas touch. Heck, the man had started Silicon Graphics and Netscape.

As I read the book, however, something strange happened, I started wondering, "When did Michael Lewis realize he was following the most improbably boring man in the world?" Jim Clark should be fascinating; he starts huge companies and turns venture capitalists on their ears, he flies helicopters, rides motorcycles and builds ludicrously complex, large and expensive sailboats. Jim Clark is a man who is never satisfied and always striving for the "New, New Thing." Yet somehow, Jim Clark is also apparently stone cold dull.

In the course of the whole book, not one Jim Clark quote is interesting, entertaining, or insightful. It doesn't seem like Clark won't open up to Lewis, it's more like he's a one-dimensional guy. Lewis writes the book in a way that indicates that he's an author that knows he's got nothing but has invested far too much time in research to try to turn back. The book becomes focused on the attempt to get Clark's newest technology-laden boat ready for an Atlantic crossing; hardly what I'm guessing Lewis set out to write.

The crossing itself turns out to be a non-event and unfortunately the book does to. Don't despair though, read Moneyball or Liar's Poker or Blindside and you'll find that Michael Lewis can, and usually does, deliver the goods in spades.


The War for All the Oceans: From Nelson at the Nile to Napoleon at Waterloo
The War for All the Oceans: From Nelson at the Nile to Napoleon at Waterloo
by Roy Adkins
Edition: Hardcover
88 used & new from $0.01

12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Gives you the feel of what it was like to be a sailor 200 years ago., October 18, 2007
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To me, history can be done well in a couple of ways. The first provides a clear point-by-point time line and narrative of how a series of events unfolded. While this book has a little of that, it isn't where it excels. This book succeeds tremendously on the second front; giving its reader a tangible sense of what the lives of British and French naval sailors and officers were like around 1800.

Adkins obviously spent a lot of time looking for first-hand accounts of each of the events in the book. He quotes from the journals and manuscripts of the people who were actually present in the battles, prisons and treaty signings to put you right into the action. You really get a feel for what it was like to be firing a cannon on a British ship as the French fired back. You understand the hesitation and the commitment of officers as they make decisions in the heat of battles.

The book really doesn't do as good a job of conveying the ebb and flow of the Napoleonic Wars, but I don't think that is its goal. Interestingly, Adkins seems to switch into that mode when he moves over from the war in Europe to the War of 1812 versus the United States. He does it quite well.

This book would need to be great on both fronts to get five stars, but I recommend it highly as a very solid four star book that will put you on board a naval vessel in 1800.


Screamfree Parenting: The Revolutionary Approach to Raising Your Kids by Keeping Your Cool
Screamfree Parenting: The Revolutionary Approach to Raising Your Kids by Keeping Your Cool
by Hal Edward Runkel
Edition: Hardcover
144 used & new from $0.01

9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A truly helpful parenting book that reflects the realities of the job as I know it., October 9, 2007
I've read a number of books on parenting and even though they presented some interesting ideas, they just didn't seem to address the same job of parenting that I seemed to face every day. Runkel's book was the first one I've read that presented the job as I know it and consequently has been far more helpful to me than any parenting book I've read before.

I could relate to Runkel's stories about his personal frustrations as a parent and the stories of some of the parents he's worked with. Runkel really provided me with a different way of thinking about my parenting and my goals as a parent - truly a different way of relating to my children. I don't like it when people say, "The transformation has been magical!" but I've got to admit, it has been quite notable. My kids seem to pick up on the difference in my demeanor and approach and react to it positively.

I've only been using Runkel's ideas for a couple of weeks now, but I'm cautiously optimistic that if I'm careful to stay on the right path as a parent, there's a far better chance of my kids ending up on a good path as well. I think that's a big deal and it's a been a great feeling so far.

Highly recommended for frustrated parents or any parent who thinks a different perspective or approach to the job might just be a good thing.


Freedomnomics: Why the Free Market Works and Other Half-Baked Theories Don't
Freedomnomics: Why the Free Market Works and Other Half-Baked Theories Don't
by John R. Lott
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $24.18
146 used & new from $0.01

12 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great book. The author's response to Freakonomics surprised me., October 2, 2007
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I'm a fairly dyed-in-the-wool free market advocate. That said, I read Freakonomics and came away without thinking even once that it was a slap in the face to free market philosophy. Apparently John Lott had a different experience as he read Levitt's book. Lott apparently found a bunch of affronts to his free market beliefs; enough in fact, that he decided he needed to write his own book as a rebuttal to the offenses he found in Freakonomics. This book is the result of Lott's angst.

Whatever the impetus for this book, it's a good one. Lott does a very nice job of explaining in layman's terms why the free market is a powerful and important force for good in the world. And despite my introduction and Lott's own statement that he was bothered by some of Freakonomic's implications, he doesn't get obsessed with discrediting that book or go off on tangents and rants. I've seen that happen before and it usually doesn't lead to a good book.

Instead of chasing after a white whale, Lott stays on task, making a positive case for the free market system and only occasionally referring back to Freakonomics to counter a point or for context. I applaud his point and his discipline in staying on course when it would have been easy to get lured away.

I don't think liking this book precludes you from liking Freakonomics or vis-versa. For my part, I really liked them both and found them both possessing penetrating insights. (Although I thought Freakonomics should have been called Freakatistics, but that's a topic for another time.)

Highly recommended for fans of economics or for anyone who wants to understand how well a social/economic system can work.


Thunderstruck
Thunderstruck
by Erik Larson
Edition: Paperback
Price: $10.37
288 used & new from $0.35

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Quite good, but I hope Larson doesn't get too formulaic., September 30, 2007
This review is from: Thunderstruck (Paperback)
No doubt about it, Thunderstruck is a good book. Erik Larson introduces you to Marconi, the Italian tinkerer/entrepreneur who took the budding technology of wireless and turned it into a commercially viable endeavor. It's a good story; Marconi has bitter and active rivals in the scientific and business communities, he has his own white whale (sending a signal all the way across the Atlantic Ocean) and he has trouble with normal human relations which makes for some engaging misadventures on the personal front. Not only is the story interesting and fun to read, it's also well-researched and well-written and you learn some history along the way with absolutely no pain. So far, so good.

Then, Larson introduces you to a kindly American doctor who marries a woman who is an unkind, duplicitous user of people. He takes you on a journey through their troubled relationship which eventually carries them to London where both seem to have inappropriate extra-marital relationships while trying to keep up appearances in public of a solid marriage. Things continue along until one night the wife pushes the timid doctor just a little too far and... you'll have to read the book.

Not a bad story either, and the two stories eventually come together as they always do in Larson's books, which brings me to a concern: I hope Larson doesn't limit himself to a single formula where a crime story and a more traditional historic tale come together in the end. It's not that it's a bad idea, it's just starting to feel forced in this book, especially after Devil in the White City. Larson is a very strong researcher and a great writer and story-teller. He could easily do a more traditional history book and make it come alive without the help of a crime tale.

Still highly recommended, just hoping Larson's next book doesn't feel compelled to be just like its two fore bearers.


The Age of Turbulence: Adventures in a New World
The Age of Turbulence: Adventures in a New World
by Alan Greenspan
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $22.36
890 used & new from $0.01

15 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Finally learn what was on his first-rate mind all those times it was his job not to tell us., September 28, 2007
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This one was worth the wait. For two decades, Alan Greenspan couldn't directly express his thoughts; his role as the Chairman of the Federal Reserve Board made it impossible. Now that Ben Bernanke has taken the reigns of the world's most powerful central bank, it's freed Greenspan to let us in on what he's been thinking for the past 20 years. The result is a surprisingly readable and truly penetrating insider's look at the worlds of finance and politics and how they've changed from the Ford administration until now.

What is most impressive about Greenspan's thinking and writing is how balanced and subtle his analysis is. He offers careful praise and insightful criticism of every president with whom he worked. He never accepts or rejects any of them wholesale. Every idea is reviewed on its own merits, regardless of its source. If this book offered nothing but Greenspan's measured analysis of the people he's known, it would be weel worth reading, but that's just the start.

Greenspan gives you a peak behind the scenes of the Fed and into his own head for the 20 years he served as our chief central banker, even getting playful from time to time (letting us in on his thoughts on CNBC's briefcase indicator that judged the thickness of his briefcase as a sign of interest rate moves.) Further, he offers his insights on the shift towards globalization, technology's power to enhance productivity and changes in the economic systems of countries around the world. He also looks at today's popular economic worries and gives you his thoughts on why we should or should not be concerned.

The writing is so good that you flow through it, learning all the way. I came away floored with the clarity of this man's thoughts. Highly recommended for anyone who enjoys economics or history or who just wants to get a little insight into how a truly powerful mind functions.


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