"The impact on your life will be largely from the people you meet and books you read" -Rick Warren from Thinking. Loving. Doing.

I consider myself a humble man, there is not a lot I like to boast about, however I do take pride in the books I have read. Reading can be such a transformational act. Though it may only take a week to read a particular book, its words will stay with me forever. My mind can wrestle with certain ideas and concepts for eternity.

Though I remain loyal to a certain style of books, I do appreciate different genres, authors, and ideas that challenge my thinking.

Please click on the links below for my humble reviews.
Arranged by 
reviewed year, title, author, or category

Previous Years: 2018  //   2017  //   2016  //   2015  //   2014  //   2013

currently reading:

2019 reviews
(for earlier reviews please click on the title, author, or category link above)

2019: 18

review date:
Comedy Sex God by Pete Holmes

I first became aware of Pete Holmes through Conan. I had seen Holmes perform on the show a few times, and I found him very funny. Later, Holmes had his own show directly following Conan’s on TBS. It was through his talk show that I learned about his podcast You Made It Weird. In many ways, the podcast was perfect for me. At the time I had a grueling commute and listening to Holmes’ interviews were a perfect distraction. I also found Holmes’ take of spiritual issues very interesting.

Holmes grew up in the church and he attended Gordon College, a private Christian college just outside of Boston. I sort of grew up in the church and I attended Azusa Pacific University, a private Christian university just outside of Pasadena. It was very interesting reading Holmes’ experiences in college. It was like I was reading my own biography. It was almost eerie.

However, I don’t want to equate my life to Pete Holmes. He has lived a very different life. He is a comedian who has had two television shows and acclaimed podcast. I am a higher education professional with no television shows.

After Holmes’ divorce, he threw away his faith away and he pretty much started all over again. He had a lot of baggage full of guilt. He needed to deprogram his mind. After my bout with depression, I threw away my faith and started all over again. Holmes identifies as a Christ-leaning spiritualist and I love that. Though I probably lean even more, I am still redefining my spirituality.

I love reading books by comedians, because I love their perspective on life. Holmes has a unique, beautiful perspective. I have never learned so much from a comedian. I would consider Holmes more of a spiritualist than a comedian. Holmes probably does not care about the label.

If you are interested in life, you will love this book. If you are interested in comedy, you will love this book. If you like Pete Holmes, you will love this book. I was afraid this book was simply going to be a rehash of the ideas discussed in his podcast, but it’s not. The ideas may be the same, but Holmes breathes fresh life into them. You get a real, honest Pete Holmes.

I really enjoyed this book and I highly recommend it.

Keep it crispy.

2019: 17

review date:
Unstoppable by Bill Nye

I like Bill Nye. I grew up watching his show. He’s funny and he makes learning very fun. He can take seemingly complex scientific principles and boil them down to their essence. He uses apt analogies that help things stick to your brain. And best of all, he is super passionate about science. His authenticity is contagious.

I read Undeniable a while back and loved that book. In that book, Nye was able to lay the scientific foundation for the Big Bang and evolution. He mapped out what scientists know and what they don’t know. In this work, Unstoppable, Nye does the same thing with climate change; Nye explains what we know, what we don’t know, what we can do now, and what the future holds for us.

Unstoppable is a very interesting book. If you are a climate change denier, just skip this book. If you haven’t been convinced by experts yet, then you probably will never be. However, if you are passionate about science and how science can change our world for the better, then this book is for you. Nye explains the problem, how energy works, how we harness it, how we use, and ways we can manage it starting in our own backyards to across the country.

I think this book is great and you would enjoy it.

2019: 16

review date:
Good Faith by David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons

I think the first question you need to ask before you read this book is this: do I live in a society where society thinks my faith is irrelevant and extreme?

I think it is a valid question but the answer is quite complex. I can definitely think of aspects of Christianity that are not en vogue with modern American culture, however I am not sure I identify with those aspects of the faith. Christianity is a “come as you are” faith, there are no initiations and certifications to earn. This is what make faith in Jesus so wonderful, but it is also its downfall. Literally anyone can claim to be a Christian then pivot and say the vilest, most hateful thing ever. And it is not my place to say they are not a Christian, I can only attest that those words do not reflect my beliefs.

Moving on, though Christianity definitely does not dictate normative thinking and behavior in American culture the way that it used to, it definitely still has the strongest grip on society. Every person that has run for president of the United States in the past three decades (at least) has had to pander to Christian voting bloc. Candidate Obama had to go out of his way to show his Christian faith. Candidate Trump had to be endorsed by the largest Christian university in the country.

Though Christianity may not be the solid majority anymore, it is still the dominant view. In my opinion, you are safer in this country expressing your Christian faith over your Islamic or Jewish faith. This is sad, but true.

Having said all that, I understand Kinnaman and Lyons argument. It is very likely that a “committed” Christian will get some push back for their faith, and Christians need to respond with love and humility while sticking true to their values.

I was disappointed how the authors just swept over the atrocities of Christianity. For example, men used the Bible to endorse slavery. That is a fact. Some men used the Bible to condemn slavery. That is a fact, too. However, the authors totally dismiss the former argument because the latter argument exists. That is a totally insufficient response. That is likely saying you have a great basketball team because one person made an awesome half-court shot though it missed a hundred shots from the free throw line. Christianity was used to promote injustices and today it is still used to promote injustices. The road to hell is paved with good intentions. What we may think is standing up for faith today, may be seen as an injustice tomorrow. I say this from my own experience. I have said some stupid and hateful things in my past while standing on my soap box of faith. When I step off the soap box and listen, things began to change.

I liked the overall theme of this book but I just did not find it helpful.

2019: 15

review date:
God by Reza Aslan

I really enjoyed Aslan’s Zealot. It is an interesting book with an interesting premise. God: A Human History, however, failed to reach the level of interesting. The first six chapters of the book cover the earliest descriptions of a the divine; how the concept of god evolved over time. There is very little context in these chapters. I was constantly flipping to the back of the book to read the endnotes which had a lot of noteworthy information, I wish Aslan incorporated more of this information.

The last three chapters were more interesting as he (quickly) covered the development of god through Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. I still think these chapters were a bit light on context but since I know more about these religions, I think I unconsciously filled in a lot of blanks in my head.

Since the book is touted as a human history of god, I was hoping to not only see how the concept of god changed over time but why did it change. Perhaps there is no way to do that, but it would be particularly fascinating to see how our concept of god changes when the world changes.

This book was not bad, it just failed to capture my imagination.

2019: 14

review date:
Wonderland by Steven Johnson

When I was a kid, I loved going to Disneyland. It is such a magical place. It is full of music, lights, animals, pirates, ghosts and so much more. As an adult I still find Disneyland a magical place. Though I know a lot of the secrets behind the magic, I am amazed at how I can find a magical kingdom smack dab in the middle of Orange County. But when you really take a step back and look at the wonders of Disneyland (and the Disney Company as a whole) you realize how the entire entity is completely unnecessary. To survive, we don’t need Disneyland. From an evolutionary perspective, Disneyland is a complete waste of resources.

Or maybe not.

This is the basis of the book Wonderland. The old bromide states that life’s greatest technological achievements were created from necessity. Times of war or famine have brought us revolutionary advances in atomic energy and agriculture practices. However, in this work, Johnson argues that the greatest achievements in human history were not built around necessity but around play. From fashion, music, taste, magic, games and public spaces, some of the greatest inventions were built from play. It is amazing to trace the evolution of computers to the development of music recorders or how our appetite for trickery led to the visual representations like film and video. The weakest chapter is probably the last one on public spaces, this chapter felt flat and perhaps quite obvious to the reader.

This a very interesting book much in the spirit of his other work How We Got to Now. Though Wonderland does not live up to How We Got to Now, it is still a very interesting book.

2019: 13

review date:
White Fragility by Robin DiAneglo

As I sit to write this review, I’ll be honest, I am a bit anxious. But why? Why am I so hesitant? I really enjoyed this book. The book has a lot of truth. It has a lot authority and weight. It is interesting as I prepared to write this review, I can feel my white fragility. I am nearly paralyzed by fear; fear that I will say the wrong thing, fear that I will accidentally write something insensitive or prejudice without even knowing it. My gut reaction is to be overly vague and pleasant in hopes that my words are unmemorable. This is just a symptom of my fragility.

I am a white male. I have grown up in a culture that benefits white males basically because the culture was created by white males and it has been maintained by white males. Racism (and sexism) is built into the system. It is very difficult to see this from the white male perspective because it is so extensive, it is like recognizing your asleep while still asleep. Furthermore, white males do not see the racism around them because there is little reason to. White males do not benefit from recognizing racism and if they do recognize it, they don’t call it out because there are little to no immediate benefits in doing so.

For a rather short book, there is a lot in here. Even though I have tried to educate myself on diversity over the past dozen years or so, there is still a lot for me to learn. In the book, Robin DiAngelo shares how white people typically respond to conversations on racism, and I am pretty sure I have employed each of these stereotypical white declarations from “everyone is equal, I don’t think about people in color” to “my black friend says…” 

Even as I read this book, my defenses kept popping up suddenly. My gut would react unexpectedly and I would have to stop and let my brain catch up. I definitely had an internal struggle inside me, a struggle I am embarrassed to admit. I have to remind myself, that this internal struggle is a luxury, or at the very least, I am allowed to have this struggle in a comfortable environment. This is not a position many get to experience. 

I think this is a great book. I highly recommend it. 
Here are some valuable nuggets from this book.
“The decisions made at those tables affect the lives of those not at the tables. Exclusion by those at the table doesn’t depend on willful intent; we don’t have to intend to exclude for the results of our actions to be exclusion.”

“We come to understand who we are by understanding who we are not. But because of our society’s emphasis on individuality, many of us are unskilled at reflecting on our group memberships.”

“Setting aside your sense of uniqueness is a critical skill that will allow you to see the big picture of the society in which we live.”

“All humans have prejudice; we cannot avoid it…People who claim not to be prejudice are demonstrating a profound lack of self awareness.”

2019: 12

review date:
Empathetic Leadership by Michael Brisciana

Leadership is hard. That’s why there are countless books on leadership. There is simply no single definition of leadership. What works in one field, would not work in another. This is the nature of leadership. That’s why you can come across books offering 10 insider secrets, 25 steps, or 47 practical tips. This is how we end up with Michael Brisciana’s Empathic Leadership.

Written from the human resource framework – which is highly overlooked perspective – Brisciana gives the reader 47 tried and true tips for leading others. Forty-seven may seem like a lot but the book is rather short and succinct. The tips are direct and useful.

The book is a bit choppy. It does feel more like a series of blog posts than a book but that shouldn’t be too big of a problem. Though Brisciana shares a lot of stories, I wish he could have given more details. For example, he explains that a fellow colleague failed to win over his supervisors, but very few details are shared. The anecdotes don’t land when there is no story arc. I don’t want a novel, I prefer non-fiction but I think there are better ways to sell your points.

All in all, this is a good, informative guide for leaders especially in the HR world.

2019: 11

review date:
The Power of Meaning by Emily Esfahani Smith

I picked up this book after reading some great endorsements from Susan Cain and Adam Grant. I was very intrigued by the subtitle, Finding Fulfillment in a World Obsessed with Happiness. I work in higher education and there seems to be this ever present tension with success especially within the liberal arts. Clearly, we want our graduates to find well-paying jobs and increase their standard of living, but more importantly, we want our graduates to discover meaning and to create a better world.

Emily Esfahani Smith breaks it all down in this book, answering the important questions of meaning: Why is meaning important? What are the elements of meaning? And how do we create meaning together?

I found this book very interesting. I loved the authors breakdown of meaning: belonging, purpose, storytelling, and transcendence. However, I found it difficult to get into the flow of the book. It is like the book was missing that piece of thread that tied everything together. Each chapter felt very detached from the other, but I cannot tell you why this is.

Again, this is a good book. I enjoyed it, the message is fantastic and needed. I would definitely recommend it.

2019: 10

review date:
Leadership is an Art by Max DePree

Upon the recommendation of a respected leader, I picked up two books from Max DePree, Leadership Jazz and Leadership is an Art. I decided to read Jazz first and I really enjoyed that book. It made me excited for Art. However, my expectations may have been a bit too high.

Leadership is an Art is a fine book on leadership. The message is authentic and great, but in the end, the book was rather forgettable. Nothing stood out to me. Perhaps if I read this book first and Jazz second, I would be writing a more positive review.

So, in my opinion, I would tell someone to read Leadership Jazz over this book.

2019: 9

review date: 
How Not to Be Wrong by Jordan Ellenberg

I believe I first heard about this book from Bill Gates, who listed How Not to Be Wrong on his summer 2016 book list. I have always found Gates to be an incredibly interesting and smart man. He has a bunch of very interesting books on his lists, some I have read and many on my to-read list. I chose this book for two reasons: one, I love the subtitle The Power of Mathematical Thinking and two, I have recently started to appreciate the world of mathematics and statistics.

The common misconception is that the math we learn in school is useless and it is taught to teenagers to simply torture them. Math can be difficult but it can be extremely interesting. There are numerous resources today on the internet that display the marriage between reality and math, but this book gives its readers a deep dive into the treasures of mathematics.

This book is incredible. Every chapter is better than the last. From how to keep planes from being shot down to winning democratic elections, this book covers it all. The only area I didn’t find particularly interesting was the pages on the lottery. Obviously, this is an easy way to discuss probability but to sum it all up concisely: you have a very small chance to win the lottery though there are ways to increase your chances from never to almost never.

You do not have to love math or statistics or science to like this book. You would probably enjoy this book more is you hate math. The author is incredibly smart but importantly, he is a great communicator.

2019: 8

review date:
Born a Crime by Trevor Noah

I know very little about apartheid. I know almost nothing about South Africa, and to be honest, I know very little about the continent of Africa.

When you want to learn more about such complex worlds and ideas, it is difficult to pick a starting point. With so much history and nuance and complexities, it can be a bit overwhelming. So instead of trying to find a comprehensive overview of history throughout the past few centuries, sometimes it is good to simply find one person’s story.

Trevor Noah’s story is outrageous. It is a prime example of truth being stranger than fiction. It is so hard to believe the stories you read are true. When he speaks about his mom and his life during apartheid, I felt like I was reading some unrealistic dystopian fantasy novel. And when apartheid formally ends, life gets it odder for the young man with a Swiss German father and a Xhosa mother.

But this is Trevor Noah’s life. This is real.

Noah is a very funny man with a very unique view on life. I love reading biographies of comedians because they have such a distinctive perspective on the world, but Noah’s life is on an entirely different plane. You will laugh a lot reading this book, you will (or should) shake your head in disgrace at the human condition. This is a funny book but a very genuine book.

I don’t think you need to be a fan of Noah’s comedy to enjoy this book. Though funny, this book is about a young boy’s life.

2019: 7

review date:
The New Leadership Literacies by Bob Johansen

Here is a question: what is the difference from predicting the future in ten years or imagining the future ten years out and working back from there? Answer: I don’t really know.

That’s the how I feel about this book. Yes, you can split hairs and talk about how imagining the future and working back is more strategic, but I feel like in the end, you are just saying the same thing but using different words. I didn’t find this book to provide me with any practical insight. For example, there is a chapter that discusses the importance of presence in a world where physical space is less important or the “new literacy of being there when you are not there.” Then you turn the page to a new chapter and it immediately starts out with “When I walk into a room, I radiate positive energy.”

Leadership is messy and it is full of contradictions but this book felt all over the map. I don’t think the author’s words are untrue, but I didn’t find them insightful. Perhaps I am too narrow minded or foolish to understand the author’s insight and wisdom, but in the end I did not learn from this book.

"The most dangerous thing you can do is to pretend that you know something that you actually don't know."

2019: 6

review date:
The Effective Executive by Peter Drucker

“Executives are not paid for doing things they like to do. They are paid for getting the right things done.”

If you have read anything on leadership or management in the past few decades, you are probably already familiar with Peter Drucker. I first heard about Drucker a few years back while reading a book by a college president and over time Drucker’s name kept popping up everywhere.

It was difficult to determine which book to read first. He has written dozens of books, and all of them have been universally praised. I chose The Effective Executive because it seemed to have a simple, straightforward message and it was under 200 pages. However, I was a bit weary because the book was first published in 1967.

First, this book is amazing. It packed with great, applicable information. I actually think this book is more relevant today that it was when it was first written.

Second, the message is amazing. The overall message is simple, “effectiveness can be learned and must be earned.” There may be some individuals better suited for leadership roles, but to be an effective manager you need to develop the skill of effectiveness.

I will definitely be picking up more Drucker books in the future.

Here are some gems:

“Organizations are held together by information rather than by ownership or command.”

“Working on the right things is what makes knowledge work effective.”

“All in all, the effective executive tries to be himself.”

2019: 5

review date:
Salvaged by Roy Goble

“A willingness to step into the contradiction and messiness of leadership.”

I have read my fair share of leadership books, and most of them are rather forgettable. In those books, the authors give you generic inspirational clichés about inspiration and maybe an amusing anecdote or two. These books are forgettable because they seem to lack authenticity or any basis in reality. Leadership traits and values work really well in a vacuum, but the hustle and bustle of everyday life, theoretical leadership has no traction.

Roy Goble is not interested in theoretical leadership. He only wants to talk about tried and true leadership. He wants to talk about leadership that works not only in the boardroom but in the bowels of the junkyard.

This is a fantastic book on leadership. It does not try to candy coat anything. It is real and authentic. Being a leader is rewarding but it is also exhausting and tiring. Leading is not for the faint of heart. Every chapter includes a great lesson on leadership, one Goble has learned from experience. He caps off each chapter with a tie in from Scripture which at times feel like a sudden sharp turn but I definitely appreciate his focus on the true essence of serving within leadership.

Here are a few more gems:

“Sometimes boring isn’t just good – it’s essential.”

“Hire for character because competency can be taught.”

“Don’t be afraid to go your own way, even if everyone thinks you’re crazy.”

2019: 4

review date: 
Leadership Jazz by Max DePree

“Knowing what not to do is fully as important as knowing what to do”

Leadership Jazz may be small book but it is huge on content. The book is littered with nuggets of wisdom and insight. I don’t remember the last time I read a book where I wrote quote after quote down.

Max DePree was a great leader. He was a great leader because he respected his followers and his followers respected him. I don’t think DePree had any supernatural executive powers, but I do believe he had a strong passion for others.

This book is a quick read and a must for any leader.

Here are some more nuggets:

“Good relationships are rooted in gratitude.”

“Leaders need an ability to look through a variety of lenses.”

“Followers really determine how successful a leader will be.”

“If you’re a leader and you’re not sick and tired of communicating, you probably aren’t doing a good enough job.”

“Followers need a chance to do their best; leaders need a lot of help.”

“I still try to remember how much there is that I don’t know.”

“Do you pick up towels because you’re the president of a company, or are you the president because you pick up towels?”

2019: 3

review date:
Baseball Cop by Eddie Dominguez

In late 2007, former United State Senator George Mitchell published Report to the Commissioner of Baseball of an Independent Investigation into the Illegal Use of Steroids and Other Performance Enhancing Substances by Players in Major League Baseball. Commonly it is known as the “Mitchell Report.”

Almost 90 players were named in the report, including big names like Roger Clemens, Andy Pettitte, and Eric Gagne. The fallout was almost immediate. Major League Baseball intensified their drug testing program by increasing testing and penalties. Additionally, MLB created its Department of Investigations in 2008 to protect “the integrity of our sport” as stated by then Commissioner Bud Selig.

Enter Eddie Dominguez.

Dominguez worked for the Boston Police Department, was a member of an FBI task force, and a Resident Security Agent for the Boston Red Sox. He was recruited to join the newly formed Department of Investigations to help clean up baseball. And from the moment Dominguez took the job, he knew something was not right.

Though the Mitchell Report sent shockwaves throughout the nation and the professional sports world, there was still a lot of resistance. From the poor areas of Cuba where young boys dreamed of a life of baseball to the ritzy high rises of MLB headquarters in New York, the DOI faced challenges every step of the way.

Dominguez is a man of honor and integrity. Being told to stand down my MLB Executive Vice President and now Commissioner Rob Manfred, did not sit well Dominguez. Yet, Dominguez kept head down and he worked hard. Under his tenure, he was able to make positive changes in international dealings as well as help take down Anthony Bosch’s PED clinical call Biogenesis which in the end took down Alex Rodriguez among others.

Dominguez took the Mitchell Report and its recommendations as sacred. Dominguez saw the ugly underbelly of steroids and drugs while the rest of the world saw home runs and strikeouts. He saw problems in morality and society. In this book, he is brutal towards Selig and Manfred and I don’t really blame him.

This not the best written book. At times I was simply lost. There are long storylines and multiple characters that is was not easy to follow. However, this book does open your eyes to professional sports. I think we all believe things have gotten better since the relaxed PED days of Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa, but in reality the cheaters have become more cunning and clever.

As the saying goes, “If you’re not cheating, you’re not trying.”

2019: 2

review date:
Souls in Transition by Christian Smith

“According to emerging adults, the absolute authority for every person’s beliefs or actions is his or her own self.”

“For an emerging adult to remain deeply involved in religious life, he or she probably have to feel greater sense of dependence and need…”

“Normally, the best predictor of where people are going is where they have come from.”

Young people - which includes adolescents and emerging adults - are essentially self-absorbed. We can argue if this quality is intrinsic or extrinsic, but the fact remains that young people are narrowly focused on themselves.

I believe the environment creates this egocentric behavior, but I do not blame the environment. As Smith states in this book, “the emerging adult years often entail repeated life disruption, transitions, and distractions.” As a simple defense mechanism, emerging adults simply convert to self-preservation mode. When your emotional, spiritual, and physical energy is spent surviving there is very little opportunity to thrive.

Souls in Transition is a great study on the spiritual lives of emerging adults. It challenges preconceived notions that young people are frankly disinterested in religion and that somehow our collective spirituality is at risk. Even though there is a dip in religious activity during one’s early twenties, there is very little change in the spiritual perspectives between one’s young life and one’s adult life.

Anyone working with college students would enjoy this book.

2019: 1

review date:
The End of College by Kevin Carey

“The difference between watching a lecture live or on film is like the difference between reading Anna Karenina in two different fonts.”

I think this quote perfectly summarizes the entire book. Either you completely disagree with this statement or you wholeheartedly agree with it. I disagree with this. I think attending a lecture live and watching in online offer two completely different experiences, but I understand from an objective perspective it does not make any sense. The best argument I can offer is the difference between listening to a recorded song or going to a live concert. The recorded song will actually give you the best, most precise listening experience, yet going to a concert provides a communal, corporeal experience. The same can be said about watching a football game on television or sitting in the stadium. At home, you get better views, more information, and the ability to pause the game, but when you attend you feel a part of something bigger.

Now the irony, I would rather stream a song than attend a concert, but in most cases, I would rather attend a lecture than watch online. I had a traditional undergraduate experience and I learned a lot. I did a mix of in person and online for graduate school and the online features did not engage me. The online class made everything feel cold. I tried a MOOC in the past but I never finished.

College is way too expensive and (according to some research) is educationally ineffective. The author spends the whole book promoting the concept of the free, accessible college courses. Over and over again he shares stories of startups throwing millions and millions of dollars into resources online that can be available for free to absolutely anyone with an internet connection. He does make a lot of good observations, but I think there is a lot missing. He talks about hundreds of millions of dollars coming from venture capitalists from Silicon Valley or from the endowments of the established elite college of Harvard, MIT, and so forth but the author also complains about how much education costs. Yes, it costs a lot to develop these programs but once they are up and running the maintenance costs are minimal.

I agree a college degree is incredibly expensive, but when you break down the budgets I don’t believe there is a lot of fat. Sure, you can get rid of the football or art history, but then you alienate students and donors who want those programs. College is expensive because of its expensive workforce. Can you streamline things? Sure, but there is always a risk to that. Consumers like inexpensive products but they love quality. This is where the author and I differ. I believe massive open online courses can offer an inferior product. He does not believe so.

I could go on and on about how I think this book misses the point, but I do think his arguments are valid though perhaps one-sided.

And of course, no book that is critical about higher education costs is complete without a reference to a rock climbing wall. You will find that references on page 47 of the paperback version.