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Jonathan Groner RSS Feed (Washington, DC)

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Summer of '49 (Harper Perennial Modern Classics)
Summer of '49 (Harper Perennial Modern Classics)
by David Halberstam
Edition: Paperback
Price: $10.42
163 used & new from $0.01

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Personality above all, July 25, 2008
I have read better accounts of dramatic innings, games, and seasons than are found here. However, Halberstam's reporting brings to life many players who were just names to me. Jerry Coleman, Tommy Henrich, Bobby Doerr, Mel Parnell, and others played before my time, and it's clear that Halberstam spent many hours with them and grew to understand them as human beings, and not just as ballplayers.

This is not the right book for a statistics buff, I agree -- but it does bring back a very different era to a baseball fan of the 21st century.

The Thumpin': How Rahm Emanuel and the Democrats Learned to Be Ruthless and Ended the Republican Revolution
The Thumpin': How Rahm Emanuel and the Democrats Learned to Be Ruthless and Ended the Republican Revolution
by Naftali Bendavid
Edition: Hardcover
49 used & new from $0.01

4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Keeps up the suspense, even when we know the outcome, July 23, 2008
As a former colleague of Naftali Bendavid, I read his work with interest and pleasure. Even though many or most readers know the result of the 2006 congressional elections, Bendavid manages to keep the suspense alive. His unfettered access to Rahm Emanuel gives the book a distinct perspective. It's not just the tale of how the Democrats won, but the tale of how a complex, fascinating, and imperfect man helped to pull it off.

Bendavid resists the temptation to give Emanuel all the credit for the Democrats' win. He credits the unpopularity of the Iraq war, a long string of GOP scandals, and the Republicans' coziness in the majority. It's not just the "strong man" version of history.

Bendavid writes thoughtfully and compellingly. This is a fine work of political reporting.

High Performance with High Integrity (Memo to the CEO)
High Performance with High Integrity (Memo to the CEO)
by Benjamin W. Heineman
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $18.99
107 used & new from $0.01

4.0 out of 5 stars It's both winning and how you play the game, July 9, 2008
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Ben Heineman Jr., the former longtime general counsel of General Electric, summarizes his point nicely in this brief and thoughtful book: It's both whether you win or lose AND how you play the game that matter.

In this handbook for the CEO's of the twenty-first century, Heineman rejects both the facile notion that corporations exist only to maximize profit and the similarly superficial idea that corporations should worry less about the bottom line and more about their impact on society. To Heineman, high performance and high integrity are equally important and are indeed inseparable.

What sets this book apart from other business how-to books is the specificity of Heineman's writing and of his examples. In his twenty years at GE, employees who demonstrated lack of integrity were routinely disciplined and fired, and Heineman explains why and for what. GE didn't just talk the talk. Values and integrity mattered, and the company was the better for it.

This would have been a five-star review were it not for the fact that Heineman repeats himself too much. This short book would have been better had it been even briefer.

Golda: Golda Meir, The Romantic Years
Golda: Golda Meir, The Romantic Years
2 used & new from $9.68

5.0 out of 5 stars Golda Meir, warts and all, June 30, 2008
Martin has done tremendous research and has brought to life a truly unique figure. It is still hard to believe that a shtetl-born, Milwaukee-raised young woman was so instrumental in building the Jewish state and later became its prime minister. We will probably never know the real Golda, as her inner feelings were a closed book even to her intimate friends. But Martin has done as well as a biographer can.

Golda's love affairs (while she was still married to her first and only husband) are carefully detailed here, as is her rather laissez-faire attitude toward mothering her two children. Martin clearly admires Golda, but like the excellent journalist that he is, he tells her story straightforwardly and without bias.

The Senator's Wife
The Senator's Wife
by Sue Miller
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $24.95
261 used & new from $0.01

2 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Characters are complex, not evil, June 17, 2008
This review is from: The Senator's Wife (Hardcover)
Unlike many readers, I found the ending merely sad, not shocking or a sign of Meri's moral bankruptcy. Meri is far from perfect, and what she does at the end is clearly not noble or ethical. But she has lacked love all her life -- her husband seems too self-absorbed to love her -- and she honestly believes that she did it for love. It is sad that such a gesture can cause such harm, but it did, and Meri will have to live with the consequences.

Sue Miller knows how to delineate characters and how to write dialogue. But she has a very annoying, constant writer's habit -- what I would call the fading-away comma phrase. Just in the online excerpt, we see: "this is a coup, an achievement," "the profiles, the three-quarter angles," "a great change, a beginning," "they can find a way to keep talking about all this, a way of shaping their marriage to suit them both." Those last phrases trail away and make the sentences seem precious and affected. On occasion, it's fine, but Miller does it constantly. What about, for example, "the profiles and the three-quarter angles." Or what does "an achievement" add that was not already present in "a coup"?

Uncle Tungsten: Memories of a Chemical Boyhood
Uncle Tungsten: Memories of a Chemical Boyhood
by Oliver Sacks
Edition: Paperback
Price: $8.41
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Memorable in many ways, June 12, 2008
This book has many wonderful aspects. One of them is Sacks' somewhat nonchalant description of what was a truly traumatic boarding-school experience. It is remarkable that he emerged as well as he did from the routine sadism of those four years in the countryside. It was only his fascination with chemistry and his capacity for detachment and introspection that permitted him to survive.

Another memorable quality of the book is his immediate and personal understanding of the key question of science: Why? I never gave it much thought, but it wasn't until well into the twentieth century that scientists understood why the sun is so hot and will remain so hot more-or-less permanently. Until nuclear reactions were understood, this was a mystery. Sacks, paralleling centuries of investigators before him, is always asking why. This was great training for his ultimate and successful career as a neurologist.

Finally, the portrayal of upper-middle-class London before and after World War II was very memorable. From a European viewpoint, America was pretty much untouched by the war; it had not been annexed or bombed by Hitler. England, on the other hand, was forever changed by the experience.

Water for Elephants: A Novel
Water for Elephants: A Novel
by Sara Gruen
Edition: Paperback
Price: $8.89
1921 used & new from $0.01

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Delightful narrative of circus life, June 10, 2008
The strength of the book is its narrative flow. I particularly liked the little catch-words that usually connected the "assisted living" chapters with the circus chapters. Gruen generally wrote in such connections, and I found them both ingeniously crafted and useful in uniting the narrative.

In addition to telling a great story, Gruen gives a remarkably detailed picture of the circus world of the 1930s. I had definitely never heard of a "cooch tent" before reading this book, for example, and Gruen's depiction of its solo practitioner is thoughtful, humane, and free of cliches. The ideas of circuses getting booted out of town, of people getting booted off the circus trains, and of entrepreneurs cannibalizing the remnants of failed circuses were also quite fascinating.

To the extent that Gruen wanted to make an analogy to the biblical Jacob story by obscurely dropped hints and anagrammed names, I think, however, that she pushed too far. This novel stands nicely on its own without this type of symbolism or metaphor.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jul 31, 2009 8:04 AM PDT

Tending the Vineyard
Tending the Vineyard
by Rabbi Berel Wein
Edition: Hardcover
13 used & new from $18.00

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Anecdotes are telling and memorable, May 31, 2008
This review is from: Tending the Vineyard (Hardcover)
Here, Rabbi Berel Wein, who served congregations in Miami Beach and in Monsey, N.Y., and now lives in Jerusalem, provides his perspective on 45 years in the rabbinate. Most of the advice he gives will translate very effectively to the life of a non-Orthodox rabbi or even a Christian clergyman in the United States. His stories about congregants and what they expect from their spiritual leader are poignant, funny, sad, and perplexing, but they always ring true. I highly recommend this book for anyone entering the clergy or even thinking about it.

For an outstanding orator and writer, however, Wein often writes very clunky sentences. He could at the very least have used a better proofreader. In addition, he sometimes uses Jewish religious terms that will be quite opaque to the general reader. It is not that difficult to provide brief explanations in the text or to add a glossary of terms.

Stop the Presses: The Crisis and Litigation PR Desk Reference
Stop the Presses: The Crisis and Litigation PR Desk Reference
by Richard S. Levick
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $29.95
81 used & new from $0.01

4.0 out of 5 stars Clearly written, fun to read, and indispensable, May 29, 2008
Richard S. Levick and Larry Smith have delivered the definitive book, at least for now, on crisis communications and litigation PR. (Brief disclosure: I have met and chatted with both of them, but this review is, I hope, unaffected by any personal contacts.)

Levick and Smith don't hold back in describing some disastrous public relations gaffes by major companies, and they also give credit to corporations that understood how important the "court of public opinion" can be. These authors also know how to write: the book is free from marketing and PR jargon, and is easy and even fun to read. As a media relations professional and former reporter and editor, I have put this book on my desk next to my computer.

The authors also recognize the importance of blogs - both as tools that a company or law firm's opponents can use and as tools that are well suited to defense as well.

The recommended use of "message points," though hardly original with Levick and Smith, reaches a high plateau here. Their recommendations for pharmaceutical companies, antitrust defendants, even asbestos makers, are not merely plausible but convincing.

Sometimes a firm needs to stand tough and fight the battle in the media. Sometimes it needs to stand down. Levick and Smith help explain the difference.

This would be a five-star review except that the authors' constant use of brief stories -- in a different and jarring typeface -- as sidebars in the text is off-putting and even a bit amateurish. Sometimes, it's even hard to follow. The fact that they must put "continued" lines into their book ("See page 147") should have been a tip-off that the typography here is not ideal.

Still, this is a terrific book.

If You Awaken Love
If You Awaken Love
by Emunah Elon
Edition: Paperback
51 used & new from $0.01

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The whole story of Israel today is here, May 11, 2008
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
This review is from: If You Awaken Love (Paperback)
This is a beautifully crafted novel; it's hard to believe that it is Elon's first. She captures the whole story of Israel in all its complexity, from the Six-Day War through the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin, almost three decades. We see the old "yishuv," (those who lived in Israel long before statehood), the modernism of Tel Aviv, the right, the left, the religious, the secular, the young and idealistic, the middle-aged who are just making their life work. We find Jews who are murdered by Arab gunmen and Jews who genuinely want to share their land with the Palestinians.

Elon is able to show empathy both for the liberal, secularist Israelis and for the traditional, religious group. This is not a political tract but a story of love that somehow went wrong.

The reader's knowledge of the growing political storm engulfing the country after the Oslo accords only makes the book's ending more powerful.

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