mccormick


bookshelf 

"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: 

2019  //  2018  //   2017

2016  //   2015  //   2014  //   2013

currently reading:

2020 reviews
(for earlier reviews please click on the title, author, or category link above)


2020: 14

review date:
5/6/2020
The Fifth Risk by Michael Lewis

Wow. Simply put. Wow.

Michael Lewis is just one of the best storytellers out there right now. He can take such mundane, ordinary concepts and make them relevant and fascinating. Though he writes non-fiction, he forms characters, builds tensions, and conveys meanings so effortlessly. It is impossible to put his book down, I am consistently captivated.

I think there are a few ways to describe The Fifth Risk. Depending on your political leanings, you can simply see this book as an admonishment of the Trump Administration or you can see it as the inherent failure of a bureaucratic government system. However, I think this book shows the incredible significance of the federal government in our everyday lives.

Competition and the private sector are very valuable and powerful resources in a capitalistic society. Competition can lead to innovations and lower prices which benefit the consumer and producer. But what happens when innovation does not generate a profit (at least in the immediate)? More effective ways to forecast tornadoes or more successful search and rescue missions do not lead to more profits.

It is American to be wary of your government. Distrust of government is the bedrock of our nation. In contrast, it is very American to trust Americans. We believe in the hard work and tenacity of the American spirit which is embedded in her citizens. So we reach a paradox: we don’t trust bureaucrats but we trust Americans. What happens when we realize that bureaucrats are Americans? What happens we put a face to the impersonal non-elected federal government?

Michael Lewis made a book about the federal government interesting. He is a great storyteller or a sorcerer.

2020: 13

review date:
4/28/2020
Building a Bridge by James Martin

Father James Martin is one of my favorite authors and speakers. I first learned about him watching the Colbert Report back in the day. Martin is able to provide a sound, smart, and loving response to any situation. He doesn’t just talk in theological abstract, instead, he provides genuine advice for action.

To say it bluntly, the Catholic Church (and all organized Christian religion) in America has a lot of problems lately. With blatant cover-ups, extreme hypocrisy, and brazen callousness, organized Christianity is not very popular at the moment.

Nowhere is this most obvious than in the relationship between the institutional church and the LGBT communities. There is not a lot of affection between these two.

In this book, Martin wants to build a bridge between these two communities. He readily admits that the institutional church burned the first bridge. From the Vatican to the layperson, the LGBT community was casted aside. Martin implores respect, compassion, and sensitivity towards the LGBT community. The church ought to be a place where everyone feels accepted even if we have differences.

Martin does mention the need for both sides to practice respect, compassion, and sensitivity even though the church is the major culprit. Bridges go both directions. Forgiveness goes both directions.

This is a short but interesting read. It felt like a long blog post than a book. If you are looking into a theological dive into the church and LGBT issues, this is not the book. If you are looking for a faith that loves everyone, as God does, this is the book for you.

2020: 12

review date:
4/23/2020
My 30 Years in Dodger Blue by Fred Claire

I have been a Dodger fan since I came out of the womb. I bleed Dodger blue, and growing up I had only one dream: to be the starting catcher for the Los Angeles Dodgers. Naturally, as a kid, my favorite Dodger was Mike Piazza.

Piazza was larger than life. He was a decent catcher with a powerful bat. My first and only Dodger uniform was a crisp, blue #31 Piazza jersey. When I wore that jersey, I could faintly hear Vin Scully calling my name over the radio.

So you can imagine my confusion when the Dodgers traded the Piazza and his glorious mullet to the teal-toting Florida Marlins. Back then I didn’t understand contract negotiations, free agency, salary obligations, and so forth. All I knew was that the best hitting catcher in baseball was now in Florida and not a Dodger. (I later fell in love with Pal LoDuca).

Fred Claire was the Dodger general manager from 1987 to 1998, but fortunately, he was not responsible for the ill-conceived Piazza/Zeile to Florida trade. That honor goes to the executives at the Fox Entertainment Group. And from 1998 to 2012 (the end of the McCourt era) it wasn’t a fun time to be a Dodger fan.

If you’re an avid Dodger fan, none of these stories will be new or shocking, however, it is fun to hear it straight from the general manager’s mouth.

2020: 11

review date:
4/20/2020
Everybody Lies by Seth Stephens-Davidowitz

Whenever I visit a new doctor, I am always handed a questionnaire while I sit in the reception area. This form inevitably asks two questions: how often do I exercise each week and how many servings of vegetables do I eat each week? And to be honest, my answers are probably a little untrue.

This form is for my doctor and no one else. It helps them provide me with the best care possible. Then why do I fib on this private form?

Because we love to lie to ourselves. We all think we are better people than we actually are. We all think we are better drivers, better looking, and smarter than our average peer.

Everybody Lies is about finding us in the real data. So where are we the most truthful? Apparently, the internet and especially on Google.

There is a lot of interesting information here. Can internet searches really predict a presidential election? Can they predict divorces? Can the words in a loan application determine who will most likely pay it back? Possibly.

The book is very interesting, however, it completely collapses on itself in the last section. The author shows us that with a large amount of data it is easy to find a misleading correlation. If you flip a thousand coins every day for 2 years, one coin will show a strong correlation with the economy. Obviously, there is no causation between the two, but you can see how easy it is to be misled.

So in the end, this book is a great introduction to the power of big data. We should definitely use it but with great caution. This was a quick read with funny bits and interesting information.

And yes, I finished the book.

2020: 10

review date
4/9/2020
The Black Swan by Nassim Nicholas Taleb

Nassim Nicholas Taleb is considered one of the most influential people in the past fifty years. His works have totally disrupted how we view history, the future, and everyday life. Daniel Kahneman even stated that Taleb’s works have changed how the world works.

Apparently.

A few years back I read Taleb’s Fooled by Randomness. Though I understood the core message, I was frequently confused. I had a difficult time following his ideas or arguments. I am smart enough to know that Taleb is a well-respected, intelligent, and somewhat contentious figure which means I am probably just a few brain cells short.

After reading The Black Swan, I feel no different. I think it all boils down to Taleb’s style of writing. He fills a long book with many little sections which make the work feel clunky. Additionally, I feel like his attempts at humor fall flat. This is most likely a cultural difference, or I need to expand my humor. Probably the latter.

The message of the book is simple: large, rare, unpredictable events have a larger impact than we admit. We all spend our lives trying to make sense of everything. We look through history attempting to understand why Rome was destroyed, why the Allies won the war, or why the stock market crashed, but in the end, we do not know. We downplay world-changing blips as simple anomalies that only happen every hundred years. However, these blips have a bigger impact than anything that came before it.

This is obviously an impactful book, I just didn’t understand it.

2020: 9

review date:
3/25/2020
They Bled Blue by Jason Turbow

The World Series has been around since 1903. It has seen its fair share of excellence, weakness, and bizarreness. The 1981 Major League Baseball season was bizarre. The players’ strike squandered a month and half of the season. To compensate for the loss of games, everyone agreed to let the first-half division winners face the second-half winners which created the first division series in the MLB playoffs.

The 1981 season also saw the explosion known as Fernandomania. Fernando Valenzuela burst onto the scene with eight straight wins that included five complete game shutouts and a microscopic earned run average.

The 1981 season also saw the return of a great baseball rivalry: the Dodgers and the Yankees. Prior to 1981, the Dodgers had faced the Yankees in the World Series ten times, losing to them eight times. The last two losses occurring in 1977 and 1978.

They Bled Blue is the story and the stories within the story of the 1981 Dodgers. The main character is the incomparable Tommy Lasorda, manager of the Dodgers since 1976. The book is well researched and full of interesting and funny anecdotes. The author relies heavily on footnotes to share his more striking yet narrative adjacent tales. Though interesting, these sheer amount of footnotes became irritating. Almost every page requires you to stop reading, look down on the footnotes, and then look back up and figure out where you left off. This definitely made the book feel clunky and longer.

This is a good book. It is not filled with all the Dodgers stories and clichés a fan has heard over and over again. I also read this book during the COVID 19 outbreak that saw the postponement of the 2020 MLB season, so it will be very interesting how the MLB responds to another shortened season.

2020: 8

review date: 
3/12/2020
The End of Average by Todd Rose

“Oh people can come up with statistics to prove anything, Kent. Forfty percent of all people know that.” This is a classic quote from one of my favorite philosophers, Homer J. Simpson. This quote perfectly highlights how statistics can be utterly meaningless. In the wrong hands (either knowingly or unknowingly), any number can be massaged to fit a desired narrative. It is one of the reasons why using statistics in a debate is useless.

The concept of average is very misleading. Mathematically, it is simply the sum of the numbers divided by the amount of numbers. It is a simple tool that can help paint a quick image, however, the image can be quite distorted. It would be very misleading for me to say that my child and I average of 20 hours of work per week. I work 40 hours, she works zero (she is only 5 years old).

This book attempts to dismantle the acceptance of average. Every day we compare ourselves to the average. Am I making an average salary? Are my kids learning above average? Do I eat more than others?

As much as I enjoyed this book, in the end, it felt like a great magazine article stretched into a 200-page book. The first story perfectly identifies the problem with average. The United States Air Forces attempted to create airplane cockpits that were acceptable for most pilots. They measured all their pilots from height to weight to arm span to waist sizes to a myriad of other factors and created a so-called average pilot. However, they soon noticed that the vast majority of their pilots did not fit into the parameters of their fabricated average pilot. Instead, they needed to create a cockpit and a system that was adjustable to most pilots. They needed to build the system around the pilots, not pilots for the system.

The rest of the book sort of drills home this same point to a lesser degree. The overarching theme is individuality. The author doesn’t suggest that we throw out all objective systems, however, he does propose wholesale changes too many systems.

One proposed change that stuck out to me was higher education. His suggestions emphasize credential only education and are adversarial to the liberal arts college idea. I agree both should be part of the higher education landscape, however, I side more with liberal arts. I believe credential only education is less innovative and more reactionary. A few years ago, petroleum engineering was one of the most needed and profitable degrees out there. However, within a couple of years that can change dramatically due to changes in politics, technology advances, or global supply.

Now, you may be thinking I didn’t like the book. I did like it, but after the first chapter, I just didn’t feel like I was learning too much. The subtitle and quotes on the front cover of the paperback version led me to feel like the book was going to be something else.

2020: 7

review date:
3/9/2020
Campuses of Consent by Theresa Kulbaga & Leland Spencer

On the surface, consent appears to be a simple concept. If you want something, you say yes. If you don’t want something, you say no. But if you spend a few seconds digging deeper, you realize consent is complicated.

When I get home today, I will give my wife a hug and a kiss hello. I will not ask her for a kiss. I will not ask her for a hug. Did I fail to get consent? Did she fail to give me consent? Though we are married, she is not contractually obligated to hug or kiss me, and I am not obligated to receive any. In our marriage, we have created a culture of understanding. We have built norms of consent that have been constructed on years of conversations. I’m sure if I came home covered in feces, my wife would not consent to a hug or kiss until I was thoroughly soaped, scrubbed, and cleaned.

I share this example to highlight the communal aspect of consent. Consent requires more than one person. As I talk to college students about consent, I regularly fall into the trap of victim-centered consent, where consent relies solely on one person (typically presented as a cisgender white female).

A lot of things have changed in just the past few years. When you take a step back and look at it, it’s kind of amazing. I look at television shows that aired only a few seasons ago, and I am taken aback by the predatory sexual norms presented.

Campuses of Consent is a great book because it challenges me. I am a cisgender white male, so there is no comfort for me in this book. There are definitely moments when my instinct was to push back, but I had to remind myself to let go of egocentric conceptions.

I would recommend this book to anyone who wants to make a change on college campuses. It is a short book but it packs a punch.

2020: 6

review date:
3/2/2020
At Home by Bill Bryson

It is alarming how little I know. I consider myself a well-educated man but I am regularly flabbergasted by normal day items. I am not talking about modern technology like television, phones, or computers; I am referring to mattresses, carpet, clothes, cement, grass, stairs, etc.

Why is my home the way it is? Why do we still call it the Master Bedroom? Why do we call it a garage? Why are fireplaces so loved yet nearly useless?

Of course, I turned to Bill Bryson to answer these questions for me. A while back I read the amazing A Short History of Nearly Everything and I quickly put his other books on my list.

I finally got around to another robust work, At Home. Each chapter takes you through a room in his home, an old rectory in Norfolk, England. Each room launches Bryson into an interesting history lesson with exciting characters and forgotten episodes. Though I learned a lot, I was hoping for more history related to the house or houses in particular. Instead, the home tour is just a conduit for the information. There were several chapters I forgot what room we were in completely (luckily the header on top of each page kept me informed continuously). The chapter focused on the Drawing Room actually focused on architects and manufacturing. Though interesting, Bryson did little to breakdown the history of the Drawing Room, its development over the years and perhaps why the term has fallen out of favor recently.

If you are an enthusiast for random trivia, this is a book for you. If you are looking for something particular on homes, houses, or living areas this book will leave you wanting more.

2020: 5

review date:
2/18/2020
An Astronaut's Guide to Life on Earth by Chris Hadfield

Some days I feel accomplished. I have two degrees, a fulfilling job, and a beautiful family. I am humble yet proud of my hard work.

And then I read a book about an astronaut and it all seems to come crashing down.

There are not a lot of heroes left; men and women with exceptional abilities who are universally honored. Astronauts, I believe, are our last hope. To be an astronaut, you need to be an exceptional person, a near expert in numerous fields.

Chris Hadfield is an exceptional person. However, as he states in his book, there is nothing innately exceptional about him. He simply stuck to his dream and he worked extremely hard. At times we was definitely lucky, but he never settled on luck, he always took those fortunate opportunities to grow.

This book is part autobiography, part advice, and part storytelling but it is completely fascinating. On his way to becoming a celebrated astronaut, Hadfield learned a lot things, but the things he learned made him a better person. These small nuggets of wisdom can help anyone become something greater.

This book is a wonderful read. Anyone who is slightly interested in space will love this book.

2020: 4

review date:
2/7/2020
Supernormal by Meg Jay

When you are a kid, it’s hard to understand what is normal. One moment I thought everything my family did was normal and everyone else was different. Then I became a teenager and I began to think everything my family did was weird and everyone else was normal. Later, in college, I began to understand that ‘normal’ is totally subjective and families are unique.

However, I soon learned that I grew up privileged. My family did not have a nice house and we had never had new cars, but I did have safety, stability, and love. I never worried where my next meal was. I never feared that my dad or mom wouldn’t show up. And despite my teenage angst, I always knew they were there for me.

Safety, stability, and love are not certainties in life. Many children grow up drenched in fear. They fear a sibling will assault them. They don’t know if a parent is coming home sober, drunk, or not at all. They worry if there will be enough money for food tomorrow. I have never had these fears, and I am very grateful.

My biggest fear now is not being the best husband and father I can be. If you read this book, you will be distraught. If you are like me, you will shake your head in disgust wondering how anyone could survive such a horrible childhood, let one thrive into adulthood.

I picked up this book because I enjoyed Jay’s previous. I appreciate her mix of intellect and emotions. She is very smart and very personable. I don’t know who I would recommend this book to, I guess anyone interested in child development.

All in all, this a great read.

2020: 3

review date:
1/28/2020
Fifty Things that Made the Modern Economy

Economics has been one of my more recent subjects of interest. The only formal education I received about economics was one semester in high school, which for the most part was personal budgets and making sure your fake baby doesn’t get broken.

Economies are very complicated yet somehow super fragile. It only takes minor speedbump to cause panic. It, also, only takes a small innovation to revolutionize society. This book is a quick read concerning those innovations. Some innovations are simple and logical; other innovations are complex and abstract.

This book is just a simple overview. It barely touches a subject before it moves on to the next. Justifiably, each innovation could probably receive its own book. Honestly, the first two chapters and the last chapter (the plough, gramophone, and lightbulb) are the best chapters. In these chapters, Harford perfectly explains how these innovations transformed society into something completely different. They didn’t simply make things easier or better, they changed the entire game.

This book is a fun read but it is not as good a book by Steven Johnson who has written books very similar to this.

2020: 2

review date:
1/21/2020
The Years that Matter Most by Paul Tough

“Choose the most selective that will admit you.”

According to higher education critics, here are only four colleges available to you:

Ivy Elite University: This is the stuffy, centuries-old campus that produces the future leaders of government and business. The school’s endowment is larger than the GDP of a small country. The students lack diversity in almost every category except for a few token examples. They are the sons and daughters of the current leaders of government and business. Despite all of this, every student – and I mean every student - wants to go here.

Big Party University: Ok, so you were not the brightest bulb in high school, but you were not the dullest knife either. You learned not to mix your metaphors but you also knew how to have fun. College is the next, natural step.

Community College: This is the fallback plan. School maybe isn’t your thing and despite studying hard, you never achieved great grades. Fortunately, there is a college in town that can jumpstart you in the right direction. You will feel discouraged and perhaps shame, but don’t worry, society doesn’t expect much from you. It doesn’t even expect you to finish your associate’s degree.

For Profit University: Congratulations, you have been scammed. If you are lucky, you have received a worthless degree and a lot of debt. Good luck.

These four colleges do not accurately define American higher education. It’s easy to generalize and oversimplify. It’s easy to find errors and bemoan the whole system. Higher education is very complex. Education, as a whole, is extremely complicated. I have not found a system of higher education, in any country, that is perfect or categorically better. A system to educate a whole society is relatively new. As the author mentions in this book, at the start of the 20th century, most adults did not have a high school education. In just one short century, education has revolutionized and by the time the 21st century is over, it will be completely transformed again.

So here’s my take…

Ivy Elite University has its place. I think we overvalue degrees from specific schools. I don’t think a Harvard degree should be considered better than a degree from a public university, but I can’t control that. Brand names are extremely powerful. Why does a leather purse from one store cost thousands of dollars but only a few bucks at another?

Big Party University: Look, any school can be a party school. Almost every college in America that serves traditional undergraduate students will have parties. Some students go to these schools, get an education and never attend one party. You are not legally bound to party.

Community College: The stigma around community colleges is frustrating. Community colleges are great resources and I wish they had more resources. A million-dollar donation to a community college would serve thousands of students, a million-dollar donation to an Ivy Elite University would serve half a student, maybe.

For Profit University: Um, I don’t have anything here. I am not a fan of for profit schools.

I had a great college experience. The college I attended does not fit neatly into the aforementioned categories. Most colleges don’t fit these categories. College made me a better person. I am a proud of my degrees.

I thought this book was decent. The author is definitely critical of the system but rightly so. There is a lot of information about inequity in the system from misguided standardized tests and the lack of support for first-generation students. However, when I finished this book, I did not feel enlightened. I didn’t find anything new.

I felt like the book had a lot of filler; lots of biographical information on his subjects and descriptions of the rooms he is sitting in.

I don’t think I would recommend this to anyone who knew a lot about higher education already.

2020: 1

review date:
1/9/2020
Option B by Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant

I can’t imagine...

We’ve all said these words to someone experiencing loss. And it’s true. It is difficult for us to imagine such grief and pain. These words don’t help and we know that, but it is so difficult to find the right words in these moments.

Sheryl Sandberg’s husband died unexpectedly while they were on vacation. Life as she knew it changed forever. She had to go back home and break the news to her kids. She had to learn to do life, work, and errands all over again while the pain burned her from the inside.

If you haven’t experienced a moment like this in your life, you will. These moments are difficult, excruciating yet temporary. For the most part, we are fairly resilient beings and this book is a testament to Sandberg’s resilience.

This book is a great read with great information. I didn’t walk away with any nuggets of wisdom, however, I am (fortunately) not experience any loss at the moment. This would be a perfect offering for someone you know going through a difficult loss of a loved one.