Monday, October 20, 2014

What I've Been Reading

Die Trying
  by Lee Child. I read Killing Floor  over the summer and enjoyed it enough to come back for some more Jack Reacher. In another edition of unbelievable coincidences, Reacher finds himself caught up in a kidnapping attempt that has nationwide implications. The multi-talented Reacher gets to use his sniper skills on several occasions, including a far-fetched competition with a criminal mastermind. If you can get past the premise of the whole story, it's an intriguing confluence of events. These are the cheap page-turners that are a reprieve from reading the daily newspaper, websites, or books like . . .

Columbine  by Dave Cullen. Like much of the country, I didn't learn a ton about the Columbine shootings after the national media moved on to other topics. What I took away from the story at the time was that a couple of bullied students took it upon themselves to avenge their unjust treatment, so they hunted down the jocks and preps that held them down in school. That's a bit of an oversimplification, but that was the general story line passed down at the time. From reading Cullen's account, that story is not only oversimplified, but totally inaccurate. The book talks about the erratic behavior of both Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold; the climate of the school before and after the event; the attack itself; and the community's response. Throughout the reading, I had an irrational hope that somebody would catch on to Harris and Klebold's plan and turn them in ahead of time. It's impossible to make sense of violence like this.

Outliers  by Malcolm Gladwell. This is the book that popularized the "10,000 Hour Rule," which suggests that people become great at something if they spend roughly 10,000 hours honing their skill. The most interesting chapter, to me, was "The Ethnic Theory of Plane Crashes," which reveals that the language used in airline cockpits can severely hamper the abilities of a flight crew. Korean co-pilots deferred to their superiors so much that when they noticed things going poorly, they would merely hint at something going wrong, rather than directly saying, "We need to take action now!" People were dying because Korean co-pilots were too polite. This was a great read.

The Tipping Point  by Malcolm Gladwell. This was another fascinating read from which all kinds of people with leadership positions might benefit. It talks about how small changes can cause sweeping improvements, supported by the story of how a cleanup operation of New York City's subway system helped deter crime citywide. I also enjoyed "The Stickiness Factor: Sesame Street, Blue's Clues, and the Educational Virus," which talks about how children can learn from educational television programs. Personally, I have never watched an episode of Blue's Clues, but it's interesting how much research goes into such a show.

What the Dog Saw  by Malcolm Gladwell. I really liked the other two Gladwell books, but I probably connected best with What the Dog Saw, a collection of articles. The book title stems from an article written about Cesar Millan, the "dog whisperer," and talks about how small movements and postures can be interpreted by dogs. I think this applies to humans, too, and a good first impression goes a long way. That first impression idea is also addressed in "Most Likely to Succeed." I am in the process of reading Blink  and I have yet to read David and Goliath, but Gladwell has quickly become one of my favorite authors. I held off on reading his stuff for a long time, but now I'm hooked.

You can check out some other reading suggestions in past installments of What I've Been Reading (LINK).


  1. I do love the Jack Reacher series. Not learning much, but it is entertaining and better for you than staring at a TV.

    Additionally, I kinda feel like Thunder would look like my mind's rendition of Reacher.

  2. I have thoroughly enjoyed raising and hanging out with my kids, but I have to tell you that the Barney, Blues Clues and Thomas the Tank Engine period was mind numbing.

    I might not be all the way back yet.

  3. Still working my way through "The Last Lion_ Volume 1_ Winston Churchill_ Visions of Glory, 1874 - 1932" ... I'm up to about 1911 now. Churchill was an ambitious, cocky and often arrogant young man. And upper-class Victorian women were a racy lot, if this book is to be believed.

  4. Columbine was a terrifying book. Every thing about it was haunting from the picture on the front of the book with the school this tiny defenseless object in the distance underneath a detached and dismissive sky. The accounts in the book rendered the entire incident one of nearly complete chance, without a real "cause" in the common understanding of the term and certain without a message of any kind. A completely "In Cold Blood" kind of incident with the students in that school as nothing more than the Clutters, wrong place-wrong time. Exceptional book, one I kind of wish I hadn't read. It was very good but those two weeks spent reading it were not the happiest of times.

    1. I hear where you are coming from, but it was a great book that I'm glad was written. As Thunder pointed out, the narrative that is still somewhat precedent about those two killers (abused by jocks & popular kids; killed them to get them back) is so wrong, it had to be documented and corrected.

      There still are people who--well, not justify, but *understand* why (what they think) it happened, when it was just one psycho and another follower, who decided just to do an awful, awful thing. They weren't enacting some sort of twisted justice or vengeance.

    2. I agree that the book needed to be written and that it is one that people should read. It may that, somewhat contrary to my initial post above, there is a lesson to be deciphered somewhere in what happened on Littleton on that day, it is just not the one that the media projected in its aftermath and not even the one that Michael Moore looked at years later. There may be something that is more inherent in the experience of American youth that does contribute to events like these but it is more something that just "is" as opposed to something that anybody is "doing" (and possibly even more alarming when taken out of the typical packaging in such fashion). I think the most important peice on school related violence to date is the film "Elephant" that, like "Columbine," repackages the question and strips it of the common steretypes tha are always the focus after events such as Columbine. Whatever the case, it is a book that is certainly worth the read and does alter the reader's persective.

  5. Unfortunately, David and Goliath is nowhere NEAR as good as the rest of the Gladwell books. It is informative, but for some reason it isn't as well written. And it feels like it is missing an ending. It feels as if the editor cut out the last chapter of this book. That was my impression of it. I would still read it, if I were you. I am just giving you my impression. I have read all of Gladwell"s books. I think I might re-read them.

  6. ON a sidenote: the Reacher books are pretty suspenseful and fun, fast-paced page-turners. I recommend you read them in order. The guy is a machine! (though i don't see how he can be both a tough guy, a marksman, and quote ancient history all in one - it just doesn't happen in real life).