My Mistake

July 21st, 2014

The Book of the Week is “My Mistake” by Daniel Menaker, published in 2013. This is the autobiography of a well-educated Northeastern American male typical for his generation who, born in the 1940′s, entered the publishing profession. However, his mother was exceptional for her generation in that she was an editor at Fortune magazine.

At the then-academically rigorous Swarthmore College, during spring of his senior year, Menaker was “… taking Honors exams– eight three-hour written exams and eight oral exams, all administered by professors from other colleges.” He spent most of his career at The New Yorker, and then switched to Random House about a year after Tina Brown took over the magazine in 1992. He wrote that she halved the quantity of fictional stories appearing in the publication and employees of both the fiction and nonfiction sections competed with each other in kissing up to her to get their pieces published.

Read the book to learn the details of Menaker’s work, of a traumatic event involving his older brother, and his bout with cancer.

Louis Renault, A Biography

July 13th, 2014

The Book of the Week is “Louis Renault, A Biography” by Anthony Rhodes, published in 1969.

Renault, an automobile extrepreneur, was born in February 1877. When he began his career, there were only two classes of any real importance in France– the aristocracy and the bourgeoisie. Renault sold vehicles initially for commercial purposes like taxis, public buses and milk delivery trucks.

By 1905, there were 22 intensely competing European automakers. The year 1908 saw six-cylinder engines made by eight French, ten American, three Belgian and one German manufacturer. In 1909, Renault sold his cars in New York. The goal was to sell 1,200 to 1,500 of them.

In the 1920′s, Citroen, Renault’s chief rival, employed many women in his factories. He condutcted an ongoing direct-marketing campaign, mailing letters to potential first-time and new car buyers who had visited the local showroom and expressed interest in a purchase. He also made toy models of his cars for kids. Renault and Citroen competed in starting bus lines between cities in France. Citroen was taken over by Michelin after going bankrupt in 1935.

Read the book to learn of Renault’s accumulation of wealth, his company’s corporate culture and labor troubles, what transpired among automakers during the World Wars and through the decades, and how history dealt Renault a serious blow toward the end of his life.

Dirty Daddy

June 29th, 2014

The Book of the Week is “Dirty Daddy” by Bob Saget. This is a tell-all autobiography. Some people are shocked to learn of Saget’s stand-up comedy persona–all toilet and sex jokes– because they knew him only as the goody-goody father of three young daughters on the 1980′s American sitcom “Full House.”

Saget writes that the development of his dirty image was influenced by his father, a butcher, who had a lively, shameless sense of humor. He rambles on a little too long about relationships– his own, and in general. Nevertheless, one should read this book to learn about the people and experiences that shaped his life through his gratuitous name-dropping and lighthearted anecdotes, if one can stomach occasionally repulsive scenes.

Bonus Post

June 27th, 2014

This blogger skimmed the ebook, “In the Name of Profit” by multiple co-authors, originally published in 1972. This depressing set of anecdotes on corporate greed simply reminds the reader that there is nothing new under the sun.

One theme is that through the 1950′s and 1960′s, big manufacturers such as Goodrich and General Motors had constructive knowledge that the products they sold were defective. Purchasers had bad experiences, and were seriously injured or were killed by those products. The companies’ attorneys and their employees rationalized that “‘planned obsolescence” meant progress. “But the meaning is clear: ‘Go cheapen the product so we can make more money.” In the case of drug company Richardson-Merrell, the product wasn’t cheapened, but rather, serious side effects were downplayed or hushed up and the results of FDA pre-approval testing were fabricated. Unsurprisingly, the company and its subsidiaries hired top-dollar attorneys skilled at helping businesses weasel out of legal trouble.

Another topic covered was Napalm, whose evolution began at Guadalcanal during WWII. “The Napalm fire bomb was deliberately designed as an indiscriminate terror weapon for mass destruction and death among civilians.” When people in Vietnam were harmed, Dow Chemical’s legal defense was bolstered by the fact that it had received orders by the U.S. Government to make the controversial product.

This ebook also discussed stock manipulation and corporate takeover. SEC laws were shown to be very lax in the 1950′s and 1960′s, as one particular perpetrator did jail time for various securities violations, but after his release, went right back to his old tricks. One Herbert Korholz repeatedly gamed the system with acquisitions. President of the Susquehanna corporation, he was able to bribe directors and officers in taking over another company with a secret tender offer of a share price higher than what was to be offered to the general share-owning public. “Profit-making firms can cut their taxes magnificently by merging with big losers…” One Maurice Schy, an attorney, attempted to make the government aware of Korholz’s unethical, unlawful and disgusting behavior, by filing lawsuits through the years, to no avail. Government officials were mired in conflicts of interest (favorable to Korholz’s interest) and ruled against Schy every time except one; a ruling was pending as this book was being released in 1972. Schy had finally gotten a possible break only because there was another case brought by another party against Korholz’s companies’ illegal activities.

In sum, we human beings are a mixed bag of evolutionary traits; altruism and greed among them. On many occasions, greed wins out, and we never seem to learn from those past occasions.

Put On A Happy Face

June 22nd, 2014

The Book of the Week is “Put On A Happy Face” by Charles Strouse, published in 2008. This is the career memoir of a Broadway composer.

The most famous shows he wrote for were “Bye Bye Birdie” and “Annie.” Strouse claimed credit for “discovering” Sarah Jessica Parker, who played Annie for a year.

Around 1960, “… there were seven major New York City newspapers, and all the critics came to the opening night unlike today when only the New York Times matters and the critics are invited to different preview performances.” This blogger thinks even the Times is fading in importance, due to radical changes in communications technologies– causing society to become more of a meritocracy– a good thing.

Read the book to learn about Strouse’s early-career struggles, his experiences working with various people (such as Sammy Davis, Jr.) and on various shows (such as “It’s a Bird…It’s a Plane… It’s Superman!” the 1966 Broadway musical) into which he put his heart and soul.

Bonus Post

June 18th, 2014

This blogger skimmed the ebook, “The Stray Bullet: William S. Burroughs in Mexico” by Jorge Garcia Robles, translated by Daniel C. Schechter, published in 2006.

The author William S. Burroughs was of the “Beat” generation of the 1950′s. Such people engaged in an unconventional lifestyle, as they were artists and writers. Many took drugs and consumed alcohol in large quantities. In 1949, Burroughs and his wife Joan moved to Mexico, where there was lots of vice and corruption. He was a heroin addict and she was an alcoholic. They had a son and a daughter.

Read the book to learn the minutiae of the family’s lifestyle, and the untoward occurrence that engendered much grief for everyone involved.

Confessions of a Surgeon

June 15th, 2014

The Book of the Week is “Confessions of a Surgeon” by Paul A. Ruggieri, M.D., published in 2012.

These days in the United States, with the landscape changing for the worse in some ways in the medical community, all sorts of factors threaten the progression of the livelihood of a surgeon; namely– bad luck, lawsuits, increasing stress and diminishing financial returns. The author details those factors in the context of patient cases he has seen.

The conventional saying about a surgeon’s career is that the first decade is spent learning how to operate; the next, learning when to operate, and the next, learning when not to operate.

With the rapid advancement in imaging technology of late, more and more patients are accidentally learning that they have certain medical conditions. Such incidental findings generate extra worries and expenses, especially if the conditions are life-threatening. The word “cancer” on a medical report automatically stokes a surgeon’s fear of being accused of medical malpractice. The surgeon feels compelled to order more tests for legal protection and containment of medical malpractice insurance costs (which rise even in cases where the surgeon is exonerated) even when there is only a tiny likelihood of malignancy. Yes, the author writes, there are plenty of greedy surgeons who order more tests (or perform unnecessary surgery) just to make more money.

The author is in private practice at a hospital, so he gets all his business through referrals from other medical professionals or patients. Therefore, he is under pressure to “play well with others” in his community, lest he lose business.

“Surgeons frequently have conversations with body parts or organs they are trying to remove. They also have conversations with themselves. It’s a way to blow off steam while your mind scrambled to deal with the unexpected.”

Read the book to learn more about the trials, tribulations and triumphs of people who perform medical operations for a living.

Chasing Chaos

June 8th, 2014

The Book of the Week is “Chasing Chaos:  My Decade In and Out of Humanitarian Aid” by Jessica Alexander, published in 2013. This is the career memoir of an aid worker who found her calling in helping refugees of war, natural disasters and anti-government uprisings.

She interviewed the victims, wrote reports on their living conditions, pushed paper, attended meetings and held meetings, among other bureaucratic tasks– doing two-month to seven-month stints in The Sudan, Rwanda, Sri Lanka, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Haiti. “The martyr complex permeated my psyche, and although I desperately needed a break, I felt negligent when I left.”

In Darfur, the author learned of the pitiful situation in education by visiting a “school,” which consisted of a tent, a blackboard, benches and prayer mats. Teachers who had been working without a salary for two months told her that the ratios of children to teachers was one hundred and fifty to one; children to notebooks was three to one, and children to lesson books was eight to one.

Alexander recounted a bizarre scene in which airport security left a lot to be desired. “The security men were looking at a blank screen. And the metal detector? It wasn’t plugged in. The airport had no power. But they put on a good show anyway…”

In recent years, Hollywood celebrities’ jumping on the international-charity bandwagon has meant a tremendous boost in the flow of money to various humanitarian causes. People have thus acquired the misguided notion that throwing money at the problems in Third-World countries, or a week-long visit to them during spring break to shovel some dirt in an attempt to rebuild, or donating old clothes to their hapless citizens, is actually what they need or want.

Read the book to learn:

why the author became frustrated and felt powerless when she was stateside again, working at the corporate office of a non-governmental organization (NGO; non-profit humanitarian aid group);

how the media do their part to raise awareness of suffering in the world;

and her course of action when she was forced to choose between her career and her life’s romantic subplot (i.e., settling down in a stable lifestyle as a member of a community).