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).

Bonus Post

June 4th, 2014

This blogger skimmed the ebook, “The Why Axis” by Uri Gneezy and John A. List, published in 2013. The co-authors discuss their experiments in behavioral economics– the decisions and actions people make and take when they must allocate limited resources in their professional and personal lives.

The authors concluded from their research that gender-related competitiveness is learned– taught by society, rather than inherited. They write that many studies have also shown that when men appoint a leader, they choose someone who resembles them.

Read the book to learn about other interesting findings, such as the risk factors for teenagers’ getting shot, the fastest way to: meet fundraising goals; modify behavior in marketing products; and increase factory-worker productivity by using incentives, punishment or a combination of both.

I Stooged to Conquer

June 2nd, 2014

The Book of the Week is “I Stooged to Conquer” by Moe Howard, published in 2013. This is the autobiography of the longest-time member of the comedy-movie troupe “The Three Stooges.”

“When I was a teenager, everyone interested in fairs, circuses, Broadway theater, vaudeville, and the stock companies read Billboard magazine.” In March 1914, the fourteen-year old Moe (full name Moses), living in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn with his family, answered a help-wanted ad for a movie actor in Jackson, Mississippi. He got the job through deception and fast-talking.

With persistence and talent for comedy, Moe broke into vaudeville. He assembled a blackface act with his brother Shemp and others through the years. On one occasion, as a prank, he grew a bushy beard on the right side of his face while shaving the other, and his brother, the left.  They horrified strangers on the street and embarrassed their mother.

In 1917, Moe and Shemp were able to work on vaudeville for both RKO and Loew’s simultaneously by appearing in blackface for the former, and whiteface for the latter. The very first version of the Three Stooges was called “Ted Healy and His Three Southern Gentlemen” and included Moe, Shemp and Larry– unrelated to the Howard brothers. They picked up Curly– another Howard brother– to replace Shemp, when they started making movies in 1930. Healy, the leader, swindled the group for years, receiving more than ten times the salary he paid the group.

Read the book to learn how Moe and his comedy partners also got swindled by Columbia Pictures; of their adventures in movies that continued into the early 1950′s; the sudden deaths of three of them; and what their pay had risen to by the late 1950′s.

The Education of a Coach

May 18th, 2014

The Book of the Week is “The Education of a Coach” by David Halberstam, published in 2005. This ebook describes the career of Bill Belichick, eventual head coach of two different professional American football teams from the 1990′s into the 2000′s. His excellence at analyzing films of players in action was instrumental in assembling winning teams and Super Bowl victories.

Job security is poor for coaching positions in college sports departments and in professional sports. There are many factors out of the control of the personnel, and networking is crucial for obtaining the next job, often in a different city. A newly installed athletic director could fire the head coach, and the assistant coaches would have to leave with him. Players could get injured or the team owner could interfere with the coaching of the team. Egos are big and the system for how players are chosen for professional football teams has changed over the decades.

Read the book to learn how Belichick rose to the top and why he ran into trouble in Cleveland but achieved tremendous success in New England.

Bonus Post

May 14th, 2014

This blogger skimmed the book, “So Far, So Good– The First 94 Years” by Roy Neuberger, published in 1997. This is Neuberger’s autobiography. He was born in July 1903. His father was 52 at the time. He was nine when his mother died and thirteen when his father died. His sister Ruth was twelve years older than he was.

In the winter, he would ice skate on the flooded tennis courts of Columbia University in Manhattan. Neuberger inherited lots of money from his father, who had been a successful businessman. He dropped out of New York University after a year because he felt he wasn’t learning enough to justify staying to join the tennis team when permitted to– in sophomore year.

In October 1929, Neuberger worked to record stock transactions via pencil and paper for a clearinghouse. The market at that time was open for two hours on Saturday. The borrowing power allowed for a margin account in the late 1920′s was 1000% but at the time of release of Neuberger’s book, it was only 100%.

Neuberger & Berman– the investment-managing business started by the author in December 1940– bought a computer in 1967, costing $1.5 million. It needed sixty people to run it, but was worth the cost because in 1970, “… five of the ten largest Wall Street brokerage firms failed, in part because they couldn’t keep up with the volume of trading.” And the market closed at 3pm in those days.

Read the book to learn of how Neuberger, along with his contemporaries amassed tremendous wealth and privilege, and a giant collection of fine art.

Handsome Is

May 12th, 2014

The Book of the Week is “Handsome Is” by Harriet Wasserman, published in 1997. It is a memoir of the intertwined careers of the author and Saul Bellow.

Wasserman was Bellow’s literary agent for twenty-five years. She first worked at Russell & Vokening, a literary agency in New York in the 1960′s. Bellow and Bernard Malamud were clients of her bosses, the managing partners. “They were representative of Male Jewish American Novelists at the time when MJANs were the high point of our culture.” In the early 1970′s, the then-big publisher Doubleday offered Bellow “… a two-book contract for two hundred thousand dollars and promised to get [him] a summer house in Spain.” Such were the times.

Wasserman described another aspect of the book industry in her generation. Malamud’s book “The Closing of the American Mind” became a runaway best-seller immediately because a TV, radio and newspaper blitz made it into a blockbuster. “Ten thousand books had been printed, three thousand were in the warehouse, and seven thousand were in the stores.” In 1987, another famous author, Allan Bloom appeared and promoted his book “More Die of Heartbreak” on the TV shows and networks, “…Evans and Novak, Open Mind, ABC, NBC, CBS, PBS, CNN…” but the one show on which he appeared at his own insistence, was Oprah.

Read the book to learn of what became of Wasserman’s bosses– the reason she struck out on her own, how an auctioning off of the longhand notes and other preliminary materials of a Bellow novel fared, Bellow’s love life and families, Wasserman’s philosophy on representing an author who wants to retain separate agents for: a) his backlist and foreign rights, and b) his current works; and many other nostalgic scenes of a bygone era in publishing.