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Book Review: The Yankee Years

Posted by silentarchimedes on April 29, 2009

The Yankee Years

Authors: Joe Torre and Tom Verducci

yankeeyearThere was a lot of pre-release chatter for this book. The snippets that were released led people to believe that Joe Torre, the Yankees manager during their 1996-2007 dynasty, was bitter about being let go by the Yankees and the book was his way of getting back at the team. There was also chatter of Torre breaking the unwritten code of leaving what happens in the locker room behind the scenes instead of revealing them to the public. The release of the book seemed untimely considering that Torre is still managing and most of the players he discussed in the book are still playing. Torre, in his defense, said he isn’t the only author of the book, and the book is actually written in third person. He also mentions that there’s really nothing new mentioned in the book that’s not already out there, especially about Alex Rodriguez.

As a big time Yankees fan, all the above reasons, in addition to wanting some insider analysis of the dynasty years, were enough to check this book out of the local library and give it a read.

THE REVIEW

This book is loooong. Considering that Torre says it doesn’t reveal anything new, at 477 pages, there is a lot of regurgitation of obvious in-game details. Maybe it’s because I came in wanting to read about things fans don’t get to read about in the papers, especially about what happens in the locker room and what does not. I was not interested in reading, “Chuck Knoblauch hit the first pitch of the game for a home run. Jeter doubled. O’Neill doubled. After a brief pause on a strikeout by Williams, Martinez singled. Darryl Strawberry hit a home run. After Tim Raines grounded out, Jorge Posada hit a home run.” (pp.46-7). I watched the game, I read about it in the newspapers and internet when it happened. I sure don’t need to read it again in a book. This type of detail was plentiful throughout the book. After awhile I started scanning those sections.

So what else is in the book, besides in game details? Let’s just say, the book makes Torre look like the most righteous guy in the world. His encounters with players always resulted in his favor. And there are plenty of little stories that demonstrated how adept Torre was at handling The Boss Steinbrenner. Now it’s very possible that all those stories are true, but it’s hard to fathom that there weren’t other stories that resulted in Torre being wrong. None were talked about in the book. Most bothersome was that all the stories do support the notion that Torre does have an inner circle of players he has an affinity to and everyone not really in this inner circle has issues. He definitely throws people under the bus. He talks about players (by name) crying. (I’m sure Roger Clemens was happy that this book revealed how he “cried uncontrollably” aftter the Mike Piazza bat throwing incident in the playoffs in 2000.) And this is where I think is over the line and breaking the unwritten rules. He analyzes players’ personalities as if he is an expert. It’s fine to talk about Kevin Brown punching a wall after a rough outing because it did happen and it’s a fact. But to really talk about how he was weak as a person, to me was unnecessary. He talks about how this player had these issues, or how this player is mentally weak. There are definitely some pretty mean things he says in there about players that couldn’t hack it in New York. And it always seemed like it was their fault and not Torre’s. Then he talks ever so glowingly about the dynasty years. The players that were in his inner circle. Of course, Derek Jeter. And Paul O’Neill and Bernie Williams and David Cone. Finally, I’m surprised how often Torre curses, especially the F-bomb, in the book.

The problem with reading a book that has two contrasting authors is that it is hard to separate what parts of the book are Verducci’s and what parts are Torre’s. Since most of the book features Torre as the prominent character, it’s hard not to associate all comments and analysis to Torre. That might be unfair but there’s no other way.

Joe Torre

Joe Torre

After Torre talks about the 2000 World Series, the book becomes a slow explanation of the demise of the Yankees dynasty, from the management, the scouting, the players and the rise of the Red Sox and other statistics conscious money-managing teams. It’s not that fun to read as a Yankees fan, but it is worth reading once to really realize that the Yankees have become a very misdirected team for the past eight seasons or so. Once you get past the game details, the already public ribbing (especially about A-Rod, Clemens and Knoblauch) and the throwing of some players and people to the wolves, there are some interesting new information about this book. There are details about Clemens and Randy Johnson that the fans didn’t really know about. It was also nice to see the players and people that contributed quotes and information to the book. David Cone is frequently quoted in the chapters surrounding the dynasty years. Even Theo Epstein offers insight of the rivalry and the rise of the Sox.

Overall, I was a bit disappointed about the book. I wished that Torre was not an author of book because there seems to be a lot of self-serving stories in there. The writing of the book is also not as smooth as I’d expect from Verducci. A lot of quotes seem blunt, too direct and fake. I’m not sure if they are really a word for word quote of what happened. And Torre is right, there really aren’t that many new interesting mind-blowing things in there that aren’t already known. The whole chapter on steroids really seems like a collection of information from the Mitchell Report, Clemens-McNamee Congression hearing and other media stories.

However, as disappointing as the book is, it’s hard to argue that Torre was not a great manager. His personality and ability to handle Steinbrenner and troubled players were perfect for a baseball dynasty. That plus the combination of completely team-oriented win at all cost players like O’Neill, Jeter, Bernie, Brosius, Tino, Rivera, Cone, Pettitte, Posada and other bit players resulted in a 6 year span of baseball success that would be hard to duplicate in the coming years.

The Yanke Years: 6 stars

The Yankee Years: 6 stars

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Book Review: The Walmart Effect

Posted by silentarchimedes on March 20, 2009

The Walmart Effect

How the World’s Most Powerful Company Really Works – and How It’s Transforming the American Economy

Author: Charles Fishman

walmart-effectWHY I READ THIS BOOK

I do not like Walmart, yet I shop there. It is messy and dreary, yet I plan a trip to Walmart every few weeks. It is expansive, yet crowded and claustrophobic. I feel like I’ve spent just as much time there looking for either a product or an employee to assist me as I have actually shopping. I try to minimize my time there but the trip always ends up over an hour and I’m beat by the time I leave. Why do I keep going back there? To make things worse, all these stories about Walmart’s secrecy and unethical business practices keep popping up. Yet that has not stopped me from shopping there. The fact that Walmart has become ubiquitous with middle-class (and poorer) shopping has led most people to subconsciously accept it. So what is going on with Walmart?

THE AUTHOR: CHARLES FISHMAN

It must take someone with guts to take on the Walmart behemoth; especially after you read the book and realize that for most of its  history, Walmart has considered any type of publicity and media a threat to its business model. But Fishman has been known as an investigative reporter that attempts to bring to light the workings of institutions or groups that have been relatively unknown. According to the book’s website, Fishman has spent the past 20 years investigating organizations such as NASA and Walmart. He was also the first reporter to be allowed inside a Tupperware factory, and first in 30 years inside the nation’s only bomb factory.

SHORT SUMMARY

walmart_lowpricesIn an attempt to understand the inner workings of Walmart Inc. and its effects on job creation, global economy, work environments, suppliers, competitors, communities and other issues, Fishman talks with everyone that might be affected by Walmart but Walmart itself. Due to the secrecy of Walmart and the lack of transparency in its statistics, Fishman is forced to rely specifically on his investigative acumen. What he finds out is that Walmart is the ultimate definition of a dichotomy, a contradiction that baffles all levels of society; from the individual to the community to the country to the global economy. On one hand, Walmart is unpretentious, is no frills, provides hundreds of thousands of jobs, provides the cheapest prices for consumers and has always stuck to its core values. However, on the other hand, it has a dictatorial grip on its suppliers and competitors, kills almost as many jobs as it creates, indirectly destroys local natural ecosystems, promotes cheap labor and unfair labor practices, has no transparency or guilt and chips away at the core values of the free market system. It pushes the limits of good and bad capitalism and is the poster child of globalization.

REVIEW

This book really does a good job of trying to understand the Walmart effect. However, although Fishman tries to stay neutral on the positives and negatives of the issue, it is more common that his investigations lead to a negative perception of the company. It’s hard not to have a more negative view after reading the book. There is only one major positive about Walmart, it provides the lowest prices for many of the things families need. However, this is a huge positive and is shown even more during this recession. Walmart’s growth in same store sales have been increasing for the past 22 months while Target’s have fallen the past eight months (Source: Walmart vs. Target: No Contest in the Recession, Time Online). It’s not even a contest and shows that this positive is all that consumers need to turn a blind eye on all the other issues. And for sure, there are a lot of other issues, which Fishman does a great job of detailing and bringing out.

The book flows really well, from the beginning to the end… although the last chapter is the required “so after all this investigative work, what should we do or care about Walmart to make this world a better place?” The first chapter is pretty much a summary of Walmart’s influence on society. The rest of the book goes into detail about each issue by discussing academic studies on the company dating back to the mid-1980s, successful and failed interviews with former supplier executives from big and small companies, the impact of Walmart on things we take for granted now (like deodorants that sell without the useless boxes they used to come in) and talking to opponents of Walmart, from environmental groups to factory workers of their suppliers.

The most damaging against Walmart has to be that a lot of the investigation leads to the same conclusion, Walmart is a big cheapskate. Which was fine when it was a small company, but now that it is the biggest in the world, this sense of being cheap at all costs seems somewhat unfair. Unfair to other companies and unfair to the ecosystems and poor countries’ lax labor laws it depends on to produce such massive quantities of products. Fishman tries hard to not take a position, but the writing is in the book. There are no positives about Walmart that can be concluded from the Chilean Atlantic salmon farms, or the countless companies mentioned in the book that went belly-up after becoming a supplier of Walmart. There’s just too many examples to list. And it’s quite obvious that even the large companies that work with Walmart are under the control of Walmart.

There are some interesting stories in the book. The one I like best is about the company that decided supplying to Walmart was detrimental to its future existence, so it decided to end the relationship. However, Fishman argues that companies that don’t supply to Walmart are highly affected by them anyways because of the devastatingly low prices. Another interesting tidbit was that Fishman believes Walmart may hit a ceiling at some point and there could be, what he calls, Walmart saturation and exhaustion.

VERDICT

This is a very insightful book. Although there are only a few unbiased and encompassing studies on the Walmart effect, Fishman does a good job of investigating and doing his own research. This book sums up my initial motivation for reading  about the world’s largets non-oil company. Walmart is such a dichotomy it’s really difficult to come to a conclusion on whether it is good for society or bad. It has changed so much of everything that it is beyond anyone’s control. Many of the numerous statistics in the book are downright unbelievable. The book is a quick read, very interesting to read and will make you think twice about globalization and also your personal moral responsibilities to it.

The book was written in 2006 and only talks about the perceptions and actions of Walmart in the context of 2005. The major views of Walmart has not changed since then. However, the signs of Walmart exhaustion have gone out the window now that we are in a recession and most people have turned even more to Walmart for cheap prices. Walmart also has done more to improve the negative perception against it. Just a few days ago Walmart announced that they would be awarding $2 billion dollars to their employees. If Walmart decides to also target the higher end products, like Target, this might create a whole slew of new problems.

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Rating: 9 out of 10 Walmart smileys


Posted in Books, Economics, Ethics, Reviews | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

Book Review: 50 Secrets of the World’s Longest Living People

Posted by silentarchimedes on January 3, 2009

50 Secrets of the World’s Longest Living People

Author: Sally Beare

By Sally Beare

By Sally Beare (2006)

WHY I READ THIS BOOK

Catchy title. Bargain book at the local Barnes & Noble. This book was an easy choice to pick up. Who wouldn’t want a list of tips from the lifestyles of the world’s longest living people? I”m at the point in my life where youthfulness doesn’t protect me anymore from the stupid lifestyle decisions I make every now and then. The occasional chocolate cream puff or the yummy CPK garlic chicken pizza are not one-night stays in a hotel but treat my body like a three-month summer home. The staying up until 4am late nights affect more of the next day than back in college. And for all the years of fighting for independence from the parents, well, planning healthy daily diets and exercise now has become chores rather than reflex. A nice book to motivate and light a fire under an young adult passing 30 was necessary. So how did this book do?

THE AUTHOR: SALLY BEARE

I could not find an official webpage of Sally Beare’s or any Wikipedia or other page devoted to her. The short biography on B&N shows that her background is not in nutrition but in English, Psychology and Russian literature. After taking on several diverse jobs, she became a nutritionist only after she noticed dramatic improvements in her health after changing her diet. She has since written three books on the matter (GoodReads). She was born in England and now resides in Islamabad, Pakistan with her family.

SYNOPSIS

In glancing at the title, you might quickly think that the book is simply a list of 50 secrets that were gleamed from people who lived a really long time. Although the list is obviously part of the book, it is actually only half the book. Beare has done her homework and talks in great detail about the five long-living communities that she researched for this book. Part One of the book describes the lifestyles of the Okinawans, Symians and three others, and offers insights into their similarities and reasons for long life. Part two is a listing of the 50 secrets, but each secret is accompanied by how the communities put the secret to action. The final section puts it all together and suggests recipes that would help in living these secrets.

THE REVIEW

To many people that pick up this book, the 50 secrets sticks out more than reading about the world’s longest living people. There is this assumption that people that live a long time live simple, stress-free lives. Although we know this, we don’t adhere to it because we don’t really think that is possible in America, the age of work, work, work and money, money, money. However, taking the time to read a book like this would help nonetheless because it would put your crazy busy life in perspective. The fact that the high quality of life in America does not lead to longer lives (as compared to simpler communities around the world) has to be disconcerting.

The majority of the 50 life secrets in the book are very insightful. I have heard many of them before, but to read about them with strong evidence that a certain long-living community adheres to them sinks in more. We are inundated with contradicting health suggestions on the news and Internet  that we become confused with what to follow and tune them out. We also become jaded by the confusion surrounding health advice that used to be taken as a given. For example, the efficacy of multi-vitamins has been thrown into question lately. This book does not seem like it has ulterior motives. It is simply a relay of observations by an author that did her research. I like the book for that.

I really enjoyed the first part of the book, where Beare talks about each community in detail. Most people have heard of long-living people from Okinawa, Japan, but how many have heard of the Symians in Greece, or the Hunzakuts in Pakistan? The third part of the book was also nice. Putting everything together, offering suggestions on how to put the advice to use in busy livelihoods and giving good healthy recipes.

So, how was the major part of the book? The 50 secrets? Unsurprisingly, 37 of them are diet-related. The other thirteen are lifestyle-related, such as the importance of exercise and  living a more simple and emotionally-balanced life. Most of the secrets are useful and can be done with only a little bit of consciousness when going grocery shopping. The problem I have with this section is its length. It takes 174 pages for the 50 secrets in my edition. That’s roughly 3.5 pages per secret. Now that may not seem like much, but do you really need to spend six pages on Finding Good Fats in Fish (secret 11) or seven pages on how to Choose Buckwheat, Brown Rice, and Other Whole Grains (secret 3)? The problem is actually not in the secret description, its the stories that come from the longest-living people about that particular secret. At first, this was fun reading and actually helped the validity of the list, but then it started becoming repetitive and it seemed like the author was straining to fill pages on certain secrets. For example, many secrets are closely tied to each other and stories from the communities are obviously going to be similar regarding the secrets. For example, the whole grains secret mentioned above and Have a Handful of Nuts and Seeds Daily are pretty self-explanatory. In the end, most of the diet stories have the same examples, the people use them in their meals. No need to go on and on about each one. Most of these stories should just have been left in Part One and leave Part Two solely on the secrets and the scientific evidence  behind them.

THE VERDICT

This is a good book. Although the length could have been much shorter, I respect the author for doing thorough research. Of the 37 diet secrets, I would say two-thirds of them are definitely doable right away. Some like Use Hemp and Sprout Your Own Superfoods, are unrealistic, especially for a young adult male like myself. The 13 non-diet secrets are very good because it really puts our busy lives into perspective. We realize how we have neglected the value of sleep, exercise, laughing and breathing all for what? Money? Instant gratification?

The value of the secrets and Part One of the book makes this book worthy of  8 stars.

8 out of 10 stars

Rating: 8 out of 10 stars

Posted in Books, Health and Fitness, List, Reviews | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

Book Review: Coraline (Graphic Novel version)

Posted by silentarchimedes on September 19, 2008

Coraline

Coraline

I like graphic novels a lot. Ever since I was a kid, I used to like to read the Disney graphic novels. I’m not referring to Marvel and DC comic books. I don’t like that style of drawing. It’s too serious. I like the cutesy and friendly characters and environment. It’s hard to find these types of novels when you are an adult. The best ones I’ve read are the ones in the Bone series, by Jeff Smith. If you get a chance, you should definitely read the compendium, Bone: One Volume Edition.

Anyways, the local library had few choices left after Bone to read. They fall into three categories, superhero comic-style, anime or modern weird artsy comics. Based on a whim, I decided to head to the juvenile section. Low and behold, there was a nice stack of cutesy graphic novels, including the Disney ones I like. One of the ones I took out is the subject of this review, Coraline, the graphic novel adaptation of the magical national bestseller. It is by Neil Gaiman, and apparently he is a pretty prolific children’s author.

When I decided to write this review, I was wondering if I should write it in the context of  an adult reading a children’s novel, or more in how I thought children would like it. I still don’t know, but I’ll just write my opinions regardless. I guess it doesn’t really matter, because the book is a fun read. I can definitely see why 339 reviewers gave it a 4.5 out of 5 on Amazon. For a kid reading it, it’s dark and suspenseful with lots of interesting characters.

REVIEW

Graphic Style of P. Craig Russell

Graphic Style of P. Craig Russell

The story is about a girl, Coraline, whose family moves into this huge house in the middle of nowhere. The mansion, which used to be a single house, has been divided into four flats. One is occupied by her family. Another is occupied by two old ladies. A third is occupied by an eccentric old man. The fourth one is empty, and the door that used to connect to Coraline’s flat has since been blocked by a wall of bricks. The adventure begins when one night Coraline discovers the wall is gone and when she walks through, many surprises await her. It is not an empty flat but a new world with many interesting characters and twists and turns. My first reaction, as with most people’s, is that this sounds eerily similar to the beginning of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, and even Alice in Wonderland. Gaiman must have taken some inspiration from those tales since the C.S. Lewis book was written in 1950 and the Lewis Carroll book was written in 1865, and Coraline was written in 2002. However, as with these alternate world adventures, it’s not so much how they got to the other world, but what is in the other world, what it represents, and what is the journey. The one Coraline explores is definitely unique in its nature. It is dark and suspenseful. Gaiman does a very good job at portraying this through the use of interesting characters with unemotional yet unexpected ways of speaking. The purpose of Coraline in the alternate world is easy to understand, and motivating for the audience to want to root for her and join her.

However, what is lacking in this book, is the development of Coraline. Although she calls herself an explorer, and at times in the journey she reminds herself to be brave, there is not enough expected emotions out of her. She is too even-keeled, too brave, and shows no outwardly signs of fright or surprise throughout the book. It’s fine for other characters to demonstrate this emotionless behavior, but the reader wants to associate with Coraline and the fear of her journey. Although this might be Gaiman’s way of not scaring children readers too much, or maybe to make the story even more dark, but I found it a bit distancing. I didn’t feel the fear I should because I didn’t think Coraline was scared enough. I don’t remember being that brave when I was a kid. Then again, Alice and the Pevensie kids also were not scared. However, they went into alternate worlds that were very fantastically friendly to children. Why be scared of a cute Cheshire cat, or a talking faun. There was also a lack of explanation for some of the other characters in the alternate world, which lessens the motivation for Coraline’s journey. The ending is also somewhat anti-climactic as it doesn’t fully tie all loose ends together.

These points might just be an adult going too deep in analysis of a children’s book. It is very likely that young readers do not need such deep character development and sensible stories. Even with these flaws, the book was a fun read. The graphic style of P. Craig Russell is very enjoyable. The colors are vibrant, the good characters normal and calm, while the bad characters are mysterious and dark. I will give two ratings for this book, one for children and one for adults.

8 out of 10 Black Cats

Children's Rating: 8 out of 10 Black Cats

6 out of 10 Dead Rats

Adult Rating: 6 out of 10 Dead Rats

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I hate “Before you Die” books!

Posted by silentarchimedes on September 2, 2008

The first time I saw one of these books in the bookstore ( I think it was “1,000 Places to See Before You Die“), I thought it was kind of cool. I’m a sucker for lists, so if a book has a number in the title it will catch my eye. As you can see on the left bar, I even have a subcategory for Lists. Well, now I am really sick of them. The reason probably isn’t one you would think would cause someone to hate something. It’s not because there are so many of these type of books. A search of “Before You Die” in the Books category in Amazon returns 1,774 books! The problem is that these books are supposed to make you want to enjoy the category in which it is promoting. For example, the one I mentioned above would list the top 1,000 places in the world they think are really cool to visit. However, the instant they add the “before you die” to the title, the good-natured enthusiasm turns into something of a morose contest. If you do not see all the places they suggest BEFORE YOU DIE, then you have something to regret when you do die. Once you start going through the list one by one, you have sold your soul to the devil. No pun intended. You will feel pressured to continue the list. Die is such a negative word, why would you ever want it in a title of a book, unless it was about tragedy or medicine.

As I browse the 1,774 books, some of them are just completely off the wall. They are such advertising gimmicks. Every time I see someone with one of these books, I just want to punch them in the face. Seriously, the titles of all the books would be much better by just removing the “Before you Die”. 1,000 Places to See is a perfectly good title.

Here are some of the most off the wall titles with “Before You Die” in it:

To take things further, some of these books are now including “Must” in the titles. Now these really really rankle me. How can you tell someone that they MUST do these certain things BEFORE THEY DIE???

So going through the 1,774 books, I realize not all of them have the “Before You Die” in its title. There’s still a lot of them though.

Anyways, that’s my rant for today. I still haven’t read one of these books. Don’t plan to either. How about a book called “1000 Before You Die Books You Must Throw in the Trash Before You Die”.

🙂

UPDATE 09/02/08 – So apparently this post has a rather bad timing to it. Dave Freeman, the author of 100 Things to Do Before You Die, died a couple of days ago. I’m not sure how many of the 100 things he actually did by then. But ribbing aside, he sparked a publishing phenomenon, and from a personal standpoint he was more successful than any of us can imagine. Here is BBC New’s article on him. The readers’ comments are rather funny.

He was 47. RIP, Dave…

Posted in Books, List, Opinion | Tagged: , , , , , | 4 Comments »

Book Review: Why Men Die First, How to Lengthen Your Lifespan

Posted by silentarchimedes on August 30, 2008

Author: Marianne J. Legato, M.D., F.A.C.P.

WHY I READ THIS BOOK

Why Men Die First

Why Men Die First

Dr. Marriane Legato

Dr. Marianne Legato

So after reading three books on the current economic downturn in America, it was time for a change of topic. I started going to the gym consistently again the past couple of months and a book on health seemed appropriate. It was actually by chance I came across this book on display at the campus library. Why Men Die First had just been released and was on display in the new book section. If you’re a  health conscious guy and you accidentally come across this book, chances are you do a double take and at least read the back cover; especially when it appends the title with How to Lengthen Your Lifespan. So I checked it out and it took two tries to get it done. You’ll see why in my review below.

THE AUTHOR: MARIANNE J. LEGATO

Dr. Legato is an internationally known women’s health specialist. Which makes it interesting that she wrote a book about men. However, she is also well known as the founder and director of the Partnership for Gender-Specific Medicine at Columbia University. The partnership is interested in research that produces a better understanding of the differences between men and women. It is also apparent that her observations of her dad throughout her life tremendously influenced this book. Her residency was in cardiology and branched out more into gender-specific medicine a few years later. She is also the author of Why Men Never Remember and Women Never Forget.

THE REVIEW

Prostate Exam

Prostate Exam

The chapters are organized in the stages of male life and describes the challenges and vulnerabilities of each stage. For example, the second chapter, Beginnings: Surviving the Womb and the First Weeks of Life describe how the female fetus has a much better chance of surviving until birth than the male fetus. Not just surviving, but being more developed and self-reliant at birth. Some of these chapters are already well-known, such as Men and Cancer, Sports: The Price Men Pay, and The Male Libido: Men and Sex. The chapter on cancer is pretty much what one would expect. Legato goes through the dangers of the cancers that men are most vulnerable to, prostate (image right, courtesy of Abbot Diagnostics), lung (mostly due to smoking), colon and testicular. She mixes stories of her experience as a doctor to show that men are afraid to get preventive exams. The stories are a nice addition to the typical scientific relay of information. However, the fact that the people she talks about are nameless, there’s not as much oomph to the stories. Also, there are so many stories because she has seen so many patients, that it also makes it a little detached. Her writing is easy to read and understand.  Each chapter is sectioned off into smaller topics and nicely labeled. However, in books like this, it’s hard to avoid using medical terms, such prostate specific antigen (PSA), adenomatosis polyposis coli (APC), and carcinoembryonic antigen (CEA).

Man and Sex

Men and Sex

There’s not much persuasion to get men to be a proactive and responsible person. The only methods are equating it to women going through gynecological exams, or the usual “catch it early and you’ll have a better chance to survive” saying. Another chapter is The Male Libido: Men and Sex. Pretty straightforward here as well. Men love sex. Men always think about sex. Men by nature are not meant to be monogamous. A lot of men have erectile dysfunction. Testosterone is both good and bad. The suggestions are also well-known. Use condoms. Be as monogamous as possible. Have regular exams if you are promiscuous.

Male Depression

Male Depression

I was more interested in the chapters that most men do not know about. The ones that don’t define the stereotypes of manhood. The silent killers. The two chapters that stick out with this in mind are Educating Boys: How Well are we Doing? and Male Depression: It’s Causes, Expression, and Treatment. Legato brings some interesting ideas from the field that most of us are not aware of. One suggestion is having gender specific education for children. In other words, all-boys classes and all-girls classes. Because boys mentally mature slower than girls, it might be a good idea to taylor teach each gender. The idea of depression and man is tough to understand. It is under-diagnosed due to the stigma that males should just work through it. However, more and more people are understanding that females deal with stress and challenges much better than males. Males are pretty unidirectional and goal-oriented that all other aspects of their lives are neglected. This was the most interesting chapter, that I wished it was longer. Maybe it shows how little male depression is known. However, the number of statistics used to convince the reader that males have issues with depression is probably a little overboard.

Since the second part of the title, How to Lengthen your Lifespan, is one of the reasons I picked up this book, I expected a long final chapter on what a man can do to, well, lengthen his lifespan. Maybe something of a checklist through life or a lifelong way of living that would help in having a more healthy and longer life. There was no such chapter. It seems that what the author had in mind for this part of the title was the little suggestions in the chapters and the small little boxes at the end of some of the chapters that ask you to keep some things in mind. Were the numerous statistics used throughout the book supposed to scare the reader into change? I must admit, as a guy reading this book, I skipped some of the statistics. That’s when I put the book down the first time. The statistics and some of the obvious stuff started boring me. The second time I picked up I finished it, but skimmed half the time.

THE VERDICT

Male Cardio Work

Male Cardio Work

This book is a nice start because it’s a book in a new genre about male vulnerabilities and gender-specific medicine, which I find very important to the survival of the male gender post-feminism. Legato mentions that what men need is something equivalent to the feminist movement. Men need to start realizing their own vulnerabilities and taking action before it’s too late. However, not enough suggestions are made. She mentions having a healthy diet and exercising, but she doesn’t go into detail about what to eat and how to exercise to increase lifespan. For example, she might have mentioned that doing cardio work is healthier than the more popular weighlifting. She mentions reducing stress and talking about personal problems to reduce the potential of depression. However, these are obvious suggestions and doesn’t offer any new insight into male longevity. The title of this book should simply be Why Men Die First. This is a why book and not a how book. Even as a why book, I found myself skipping several sections that either didn’t pertain to me or interest me, like Syphilis: The “Great Imitator” or Firemen (we know why firemen have dangerous jobs).

Overall, this book is a fun read for the most part. Too much in society has focused on women being the weaker gender. “Be a man!” “You throw like a girl!” “Stop being a pussy” “Men don’t cry!” “Being in touch with your feminine side” It’s time the scientific community see men as being vulnerable. In my experiences watching and talking to men and women, I must say, although women are more outwardly emotional, men seem to have a tough time being open-minded, patient, mentally strong and responsible. It’s time to openly discuss this. Or soon, as many people have alluded to, women will not need men! 🙂

6 out of 10 Male Mars Symbols

Rating: 6 out of 10 Male Symbols

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Book Review: Crash Proof

Posted by silentarchimedes on July 10, 2008

Book Review: Crash Proof

How to Profit from the Coming Economic Collapse

Author: Peter Schiff with John Downes

After seeing the striking similarities between Stephen Leeb’s The Coming Economic Collapse: How you can thrive when oil costs $200 a barrel and Jim Rogers’ Hot Commodities: How anyone can invest in the world’s best market, I decided to read one more book on this topic to verify the similarities. The first two books, in simple terms, describes the American economy as teetering on a precarious cliff due to horrible economic policies that have stripped it of its purchasing power and flexibility from a mountain of debt. With the growth of China and the East, prices of raw materials such as oil and metals are skyrocketing. This will only hurt the American economy as our current standard of living requires huge amounts of oil and imports. However, we are required to use our future earnings to continue this consumptive economy.

In all likelihood, this book will basically say the same things as the other two books. However, it will be interesting to see how it is presented and if a more convincing argument is used.

THE AUTHOR: PETER D. SCHIFF

Peter Schiff doesn’t have as much clout as a Jim Rogers, but nonetheless is well-known in the business world. He has the nickname “Dr. Doom” because of his extremely bearish views on the U.S. economy and the U.S. dollar. He is currently the president of Euro Pacific Capital Inc., a brokerage firm that specializes in international investments. Schiff became the economic advisor to Ron Paul in his presidential campaign because of Paul’s commitment to constitutional values to stimulate savings and production.

THE REVIEW

As expected, the book’s general cause and effect of why we are in this economic state are the same as other recent books on economic gloom. That is not to say this book is unoriginal, as some people have mentioned in the Amazon reviews. Since this is the third book on the topic I’ve read recently, I might be inclined to label it unoriginal, but that’s being unfair. I could easily have read this book first. Additionally, I am not reading these books for originality. As mentioned, having three experts (and I’m sure lots more because of the books out there) write books on the same dour predictions due to the same causes, should make one take action. I am also interested in reading about the suggestions of each of them; whether they are the same or different.

That being said, this book definitely has its own unique style of conveying its arguments. The first three chapters are very fun to read. This historical perspective on how our country went from producers to consumers, how the government massages economic data to its own benefit, and how the dollar has declined is written with simplicity, logic and a wry humor. Schiff is the master of analogies and simple stories to demonstrate how stupid some of the economic actions are in this country. If you are not an expert at economics these chapters will clear up some confusion you have about debt, economic indicators, and the state we are in. The stories using Farmer Chin and Farmer Smith to explain how China is buying our wealth makes it easy to understand.

On our consumptive behavior, he equates it “to a philandering playboy who inherits a huge fortune and then proceeds to squander it. during the dissipation period, he lives a good life, and by all appearances he seems prosperous. but his prosperity is a function of the hard work of his ancestors rather than his own. once the fortune is gone, so too will be the gracious lifestyle that it helped support.”

In the second chapter, sections are divided by “comforting distortions” and “disturbing realities” to differentiate what the government wants the public to perceive about the well-being of the economy and what the actual reality is.

I’m not sure why, but Schiff goes away from his fun use of analogies and stories. It becomes a little more technical and dry in the chapters where he explains inflation, stock market chaos, real estate, and debt. It’s unfortunate, because the first three chapters rank as one of the best I’ve read. Experts will probably reverse my views with these two sections, but as a pseudo-beginning contrarian, the first three chapters cleared many things up for me.

His last three chapters are reserved for what you should do to protect yourself against the upcoming crisis. Nothing too crazy here, although Schiff is more on the conservative side than a Rogers or Leeb. Investing in gold is still the common theme in all three of them. The other two are less commonly suggested but still make sense. His advice is general and not so in depth.

This book is pretty much in line with other books I have read about the upcoming economic crisis. They help confirm the dire situation we are in. However, there are some negatives about this book that leave it open for criticism. Although this book has lots of charts and graphs, the source of them are all from the same website, prudentbear.com. By using only one source, and that source being well known as always being bearish (their phrase is “The One Stop Shop for the Bear Case”), it leaves an atmosphere of bias. He should have used more sources, especially those coming from the government and neutral sources. Additionally, every few pages in the book, he reminds the reader that he will later give advice on how to protect yourself from the crisis. We know that! Almost everyone reading this book reads it for the advice given. You don’t have to keep reminding us. Finally, during his last three chapters, there is a constant stream of subtle to not-so-subtle pressure to sign up with his investment group, Euro Pacific Capital, Inc. Talking about it once is enough. If we believe in what the book is preaching, we will naturally consider the author’s company when we do invest.

VERDICT

This book is not for experts or those that are already truly in the know about the economic situation of this country. Just from the title, it’s apparent he is trying to capture readers unaware of the situation. If you are still trying to understand the problems, this book is easy and fun to read. The first three chapters definitely stand out; not just in this book but in other books I’ve read. In terms of advice, the Roger’s book Hot Commodities ranks first (although all of them are in commodities). In terms of specific advice, Leeb’s book The Coming Economic Collapse gives more only because he is allowed to legally. Since Schiff is an investment advisor for a specific company he cannot give specific stock advice. Without the first three chapters, I would rate this book lower, but with it, it’s a good book to read overall.

Rating: 8 out of 10 bears

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Book Review: Hot Commodities

Posted by silentarchimedes on June 17, 2008

Book Review: Hot Commodities

How Anyone Can Invest Profitably in the World’s Best Market

Author: Jim Rogers

WHY I READ THIS BOOK

This is my second book review on the precarious economic situation in global economics, specifically in America. The first one was The Coming Economic Collapse: How You Can Thrive When Oil Costs $200 a Barrel, by Stephen Leeb. Now, under the assumption that America is on the cusp of a long recession or some sort of economic crisis, I decided to read a book about a neglected investment area that already is in the midst of a long bull market, commodities. Commodities are the raw materials, natural resources and hard assets that prop up everything in our quality of life, from food such as corn, sugar, and pork, to infrastructure such as copper and rubber, to energy such as oil and natural gas. Without commodities, and a speculative market for it, we would be seeing drastic regional and daily price differences of everything, ranging from televisions to groceries to jewelry.

One funny thing I noticed with these books about economic crises is the required two stage title, the what and then the how. The Coming Economic Collapse: How you can thrive when oil costs $200 a barrel. Hot Commodities: How anyone can invest profitably in the world’s best market. Crash Proof: How to profit from the economic collapse. Mobs, Messiahs, and Markets: Surviving the public spectacle in finance and politics. All the titles could’ve done without the second title. It makes it a little juvenile and commercial, but I won’t judge a book by it’s cover.

THE AUTHOR: JIM ROGERS

I had heard of Jim Rogers before, but not much about his past. He came to fame in the 1970s where George Soros and him created the Quantum Fund that far outperformed the S&P in the high-inflation oil-crisis 1970s. The Quantum Fund returned over 4200% in that first ten years while S&P returned only 47%. After retiring in 1980, he went on to travel the world many times over… literally. He set the Guinness Book of World Record in 1992 by motorcycling over 100,000 miles across six continents (he details in his earlier book Investment Biker). He has traveled across China multiple times. Then in 2002 he set another world record by driving through 116 countries and 245,000 kilometers with his wife in a custom-made Mercedes. His current claim to fame is creating the 1998 Rogers International Commodity Index and predicting the current commodities bull market in 1999. This was during the height of the dot com when commodities were at multi-year lows and in a major bear market. He has also been a guest professor of finance at Columbia University, a moderator of finance shows on CBS and FNN. Like Soros, Rogers has also moved his entire family to Singapore because of the belief that Asia is the next financial epicenter and America is due for a major economic crisis.

REVIEW

“Commodities get no respect.” The first line in the book. I’d have to say I agree with him. I’ve been investing for less than 10 years and no one talks about commodities the way they talk about stocks and mutual funds. I guess most people only talk about automobiles like Corvette and Accord (stocks) or General Motors and Honda (mutual Funds). Unless you are a true car enthusiast, you leave the details about engines, suspension and chassis to the experts. However, we know that the materials that make up a car or a company’s products are what makes them run and exist. In short, Rogers pretty much expresses in simple terms that the supply and demand fundamentals of most commodities are way out of whack (his words). Supply is on the short side and demand is increasing.

The flow of this book is very good. He first builds his credentials. Then he talks about the history cycles of commodities, specifically the fundamentals of supply and demand. A step back with a primer on commodities and the exchanges that exist is next. Finally, it’s chapter by chapter of specific commodities that stand to gain in this bull market.

As with all these books, there is always an overt or covert “I told you so” in the writing. It is understandable because the authors are usually taking a contrarian viewpoint and in order to build credibility they have to show that their previous contrarian positions have panned out. Rogers is no exception when he describes the track record of his futures picks. Having the Quantum Fund with Soros as part of your credentials sure doesn’t hurt. What is interesting is that Rogers is at an age where he really doesn’t have to prove anything to anyone. His writing style clearly shows this. It is very relaxed and simplistic. He talks about his past and trips around the world in a casual sense as if everyone can do it. He also refers to his mistakes and weaknesses as humourous because they turned out for the better. His attention to detail and research is remarkable.

The primer on commodities is very useful for those that are beginners in the area. Although some might find it too simplistic, “commodities are equivalent to futures“, I found it a necessary part of the book. Since this book was written in 2004, it was unfortunate that current commodities-related exchange-traded funds (right) are not mentioned. I would have been interested to hear his opinions on the Energy Select Sector SPDR (XLE), the Goldman Sach’s iShares GSCI Commodity-Indexed Trust (GSG) and Market Vectors Gold Miners ETF (GDX), amongst others. He does mention that the GSCI (GS Commodity Index) is weighted incorrectly, and thus the creation of his own commodity index.

In short, the commodities he talks about in detail are mostly nothing new. Everyone knows that China is tilting the balance of supply and demand in many key economic areas, such as oil and steel. However, Rogers has been preaching this since 1999 when oil was $10 a barrel and Asia had just overcome the 1997 financial crisis. The last thing anybody was thinking about was a commodity bull market. One viewpoint that was interesting was his lackluster enthusiasm of gold as a commodity. Although he maintains a small stake in it, he views it as something that doesn’t always follow the fundamentals of supply and demand, and that it’s historical cycles are harder to predict. He’s still bullish on it, but not as bullish as more obvious ones, such as oil and certain other metals. His other interesting viewpoint is on India. His first-hand experience in the country leads him to a different viewpoint than the public majority.

Each chapter about a commodity is interesting to read. He describes the importance of it in everyday life and markets and the historical cycles of it. The set up is to show why he thinks it is time again for that particular commodity to be a high-flyer.

Although this book was published in 2004, it is well-known that Rogers has been predicting the current commodity bull market since 1999. Let’s look at the performance of some of his suggested commodities since 1999 and 2004.

Light Crude Oil

Approximate price/barrel and return since 1999

1999 price: $15

2004 price: $35…..133%

2008 price: $130…..767%

Although there are signs of a bubble since 2007, high oil prices are clearly here to stay.

.

.

Gold

Approximate price/oz and return since 1999

1999 price: $270

2004 price: $400…..48%

2008 price: $900…..233%

Rogers is not as enthusiastic about gold. Although it has strong returns, it’s not as strong as the other commodities.

.

Platinum

Approximate price/oz and return since 1999

1999 price: $380

2004 price: $800…..111%

2008 price: $2000…..426%

Low supplies with increasing demand makes this commodity a high-flyer.

.

To be fair to him, I will leave the rest of his suggestions to readers. However, in looking at the monthly returns of most commodities, it is quite apparent that Jim Rogers is on the spot. Check out other phenomenal returns here.

VERDICT

The writing style of this book is so laid back it borders on conversational. However, it works for Jim Rogers because he appears to truly enjoy life like a kid. His wild-child trips around the world are not just rich-man-spending-money trips, but a big part of his research. His first-hand experience in living different cultures surely helps his perspectives. He is known for impeccable research, with simple logical explanations. If you believe the commodities bull market is far from over, as Rogers does, I suggest picking up this book.

Rating: 9 out of 10 corn ears

POLL: Have you invested in commodities (not stocks) since 1999?
1) yes
2) yes, but only gold
3) no, but I want to
4) no
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Book Review: The Coming Economic Collapse

Posted by silentarchimedes on May 25, 2008

How You Can Thrive When Oil Costs $200 a Barrel

Author: Stephen Leeb, PhD with Glen Strathy

Wow, so where to begin…

When I first saw this book at Barnes and Noble for $5.98 (Bargain Priced) I was very skeptical of its title. Even the three-toned cover art seemed amateur. A quick glance at the Table of Contents and words such as disaster, collapse, collision, blind, madness, dangerous, crisis, havoc, and armageddon are interspersed in the titles! Although I had become an avid follower of the bull markets in gold and commodities, and understood the problems facing America, my first thought was, “This book must be an extreme contrarian’s attempt at scaring the public and consequently helping him profit on the sales.” However, as I was reading this book, with the understanding that the information in there was 2+ years old, I could not help but realize how so many of his predictions have or show strong signs of coming true.

WHY I READ THIS BOOK

As someone who is in his early 30s, I still remember the days of $.80/gallon of gas and the dot com indulgence in the late 1990s when I was in college. Things seemed so perfect. It was my first taste of real life, and boy, was it good. Since then I have seen America slide into a quick descent towards decadence. I won’t say who is to blame, as I think many groups are, but nonetheless, I have seen myself becoming more of a contrarian, more disenamored with our future. I wanted to see how this came to be… I started reading James Turk and his gold escapades, Warren Buffet and his beliefs, and the whole Federal Reserve role in society. I realized I had to start looking out for myself, because I didn’t know how much the government would. That’s when I accidentally came upon this book in Barnes and Noble.

THE AUTHOR: STEPHEN LEEB

I had never heard of Stephen Leeb before I picked up this book, but he did publish an earlier book in 2004, The Oil Factor, that predicted the rise of oil prices due to increasing demand and vague supply. In 2004, crude oil was ~$30/bbl, which in an of itself was not that out of the ordinary. He was obviously not alone in that prediction, but was nonetheless in the minority. Leeb has a PhD in Psychology and that definitely plays a role in his analyses.

SHORT SUMMARY

Leeb claims in his book that once global peak oil (when daily global production of oil begins to decrease) occurs, the price of oil will skyrocket and economies around the world, especially the highly oil-dependent United States, will have a very difficult time coping with it. In his worst case scenario, he sees large-scale violence and civil wars that could lead to the collapse of society and the return to self-subsisting 19th century lifestyles. In his best case scenario, governments and industries tackle this massive problem of dwindling energy and dependence on oil by gracefully transitioning society to alternative energies, such as wind, coal, and others. He doesn’t really expound the most likely scenario, but he alludes many times to how it might already be too late, or how dire the situation is. It is apparent that he believes we are closer to the worst case scenario, and it is best for individuals to take actions before it rapidly deteriorates.

REVIEW

The biggest positives about this book is that a lot of what he preaches are coming true. I can’t say how much I would have believed his book if I had read it when it was first published in 2006, although it would have still been an interesting read. As a background, in 2006, crude oil was about $60/bbl, unleaded gas was about $2.00 to $3.00 per gallon. In his 2004 book, he predicted oil would rise from the then $30/bbl to $100/bbl in the next few years. In this book, he predicts $100 oil is now conservative and $200 is likely by the end of the decade! Today, May 25, 2008, light crude oil on NYMEX is over $131/bbl and my local town’s gas just hit $4.00 for unleaded.


Price of light crude oil – [2000-early 2008]

In the first part of the book, he uses his psychology and economics background to show that past civilizations have failed due to exactly the same problem we currently face, decreasing resources coupled with lack of leadership by the government and lack of open-minded thinking by the masses. He uses the word groupthink many times throughout the book. Although this part of the book is hard to disagree with, it is not all that groundbreaking. It is shown many times that the actions of the mass are quite different than the actions of an individual, albeit the difficulty in being a non-conformist. It is also not new to realize that the government and corporation do not act in the best interests of its people and its survival. One can argue that a benevolent leader does not exist.

The second part of the book, lays the oil problem entirely on the table. The high price of oil is here to stay. World supply will reach peak production soon, and demand continues to increase. A lot of good analogies are used to describe the illogical actions of many in society. He compares the U.S. government’s propensity to give Big Oil lots of subsidies as akin to a person stranded in the Arctic in wintertime with only two weeks’ worth of firewood, deciding to burn it all the first night. Then he talks about the repercussions and likely scenarios for a post-oil world. By comparing the current situation with the 1970s oil crisis and the Great Depression, he hopes that we have learned from the past.

In the final part of the book, he offers suggestions on how individuals can capitalize on this increasingly dire situation. This is the part that really seals it in. Although his predictions on oil prices have rung true, the investment ideas he offers greatly supports his hypothesis. For example, he suggests the buying of gold. At the time of his writing, gold was $460/oz. Today, as of May 25, 2008, it is over $925/oz. and breached a high of $1020/oz a few months ago. Then he suggest buying oil service companies, such as Schlumberger (SLB). In 2006, SLB was ~$60/shr. Today it is over $100/shr. There are numerous other investment suggestions he offers, and a quick finance check shows many have rung true. I leave it up to you to read. The only major suggestion that fell hollow was his belief that real estate would remain a viable investment. As we know, the bubble has burst, and real estate has been one of the worst investments the past few years. However, what is interesting is he didn’t think the bubble would burst because he believed the government would chose higher inflation over the more dangerous real estate crisis.

VERDICT

This is a very easy to read book. It offers a lot of historical comparisons, psychological explanations (groupthink, I tell ya!), and blunt analogies to support his hypothesis. It can sometimes feel like he is repeating the same things, and I’m not sure if he is reaching for things to write or if he adamantly wants you to understand the urgency. However, no one can really argue with the facts. The oil crisis is indeed an immense problem facing the world, especially the United States. This book does a good job at laying it all on the table. I recommend picking up this book to read. At best, you become really wealthy…

Rating: 8 out of 10 oil barrels

POLL: How severe do you think the upcoming economic collapse will be?
1) Hah! There won’t be one!
2) Ehh, stop freaking out. It’ll be small.
3) It’ll be a regular recession. Like the early 1990s.
4) This is a long recession, but we’ll be back.
5) Lower quality of life is here to stay.
6) End of society…

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