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

2020: 37

review date:
Blindspot by Mahzarin R. Banaji and Anthony G. Grenwald

I first heard about the Implicit Association Test (IAT) from Malcolm Gladwell. In one of his works (I can’t recall which one), Gladwell discusses on bias and how ingrained they can be in our minds. He even took the IAT and it showed that he held a negative bias towards African Americans. As the son of a Jamaican woman, Gladwell was stunned by these results. Apparently, though you may see yourself as an independent entity, you are very much a product of the system you grew up in.

If this is all you know about the IAT, I think you are set. If you want to know more, Blindspot can enlighten you. The IAT was developed authors Banaji and Greenwald.

Everyone has a bias. It is impossible as a human to function without bias. Humans are social creatures. This book dives deep into this idea.

Though interesting, this book was not my favorite. I felt like Gladwell did a better job communicating the power of the IAT and its effects.

If you want to learn more specifically about the IAT, this is the book for you. I think the IAT is interesting, it is descriptive but not prescriptive. I think the IAT can show us a flaw in society, but not in individual biases.

2020: 36

review date:
The Drunkard's Walk by Leonard Mlodinow

I hated math in school. It was not the difficulty that repulse, but its utter lack of relevance to me. Beyond simple algebra and geometry, I did not find working with numbers to be that useful. Things began to change when I took a statistics class in college, numbers not only began to make sense they became practical.

Since college I have gained a whole new appreciation for what math can tell us about what the world is and where the world is going (both literally and figuratively). My latest interest in numbers has been in probability. It is amazing how simple probables can be so confusing yet seemingly complicated probables can be so simple.

The Drunkard’s Walk is a good introduction to the world of probability. For example, I have read and learned about the Monty Hall problem for nearly a decade. I have seen it online and in numerous books, however this is the first book that has helped me understand it fully.

The day I finished this book, I felt like the smartest man alive, like I could go to Las Vegas and sweep the house. However, the next day, I already felt too dumb to understand everything. Probability is simple yet our brains are not naturally wired to act on numbers.

I really enjoyed this book.

2020: 35

review date:
Off Speed by Terry McDermott

This book is really three books in one. Book one is a very quick overview of several pitches: fastball, curveball, spitball, sinker, knuckleball, slider, split, cutter, and change. The second book is a brief summary of Felix Hernandez’s perfect game in August 2012. The last book is about the author growing up in the Midwest surrounded by amateur adult ballplayers including his father.

So I think the title and cover of this book are deceptive. I expected the first book. I wanted to learn more about the history, anatomy, and highlights of different off speed pitches throughout history. The second book is a perfect example of off speed in action; Hernandez threw a perfect game with an impeccable mix of fantastic off speed pitches. The third book – a history of amateur ball in Iowa – could be interesting but I just was not interested. These stories didn’t flow into the rest of the narrative.

This isn’t a bad book, it’s just forgettable.

2020: 34

review date:
Jesus Before the Gospels by Bart Ehrman

When I was in high school I took several Bible classes. One class in particular focused on the legitimacy of the Bible. The gospels were treated as historical documents. I was taught that the oral traditions of the past were incredibly accurate due to the strict adherence to perfection. Thus, as stories of Jesus were passed on the entire community was completely devoted to making sure the stories were communicated perfectly each time.

As a kid, this made sense to me. As an adult, this makes no sense to me.

The basis of this book is pretty simple: humans have horrible memories. Our memories are fairly faulty on their own, but given time and societal input, our memories are downright atrocious. The gospels were not written by eyewitnesses, in fact, they were probably not written by anyone who had come into contact with any eyewitnesses.

The four canonical gospels of Jesus do have significant differences. Why? Because they are written by different communities for different communities. We see this today. Why are churches in the United States different than churches in Kenya? Why are churches in California different from churches in Texas? Even though they accept the same Jesus, they are different communities.

There is no doubt that Jesus existed. What he said or claimed can be up for debate. As a whole, I didn’t love this book because I found it boring but I loved Ehrman’s conclusion. We can debate the historical accuracy of the gospels (and even the Bible as a whole) but we cannot debate the impact the Bible has on modern society. The gospels may not be historically accurate but they are of historical importance. They do provide beautiful, influential literature.

2020: 33

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The Right Stuff by Tom Wolfe

I grew up in Lancaster, CA a few minutes south of Edwards Air Force Base. Sonic booms and low flying jets overhead were a part of my childhood. Aviation history happened in my backyard and I am fascinated by it all. How did we go from the Wright brothers in Kitty Hawk to Yeager and the speed of sound in just fifty years?

The Right Stuff is a classic. Published in 1979, Wolfe chronicles the life of test pilots as they journey to be the first men in space. Any way you look it, this is an amazing piece of American history. If you love science and technology, you can admire the technical aspects. If you love grit and genius, you can admire the determination and bravery of the first astronauts. If you love political history, you can admire the Cold War politics manifesting through manned space flight.

This is the first time I have read celebrated author Tom Wolfe and I am very impressed. It would be very easy to spout historical narratives in a very dry and boring manner. Instead, Wolfe keeps you captivated the whole time, even when I knew the end of the story.

2020: 32

review date:
Subliminal by Leonard Mlodinow

If you have recently read any books on human behavior, you know that the human brain is really two machines in one. There is the “newer” brain; this is our deep-thinking, conscious brain. There is also the “older” brain; this is our animalistic, automatic brain. It is amazing how both of these systems can function simultaneously without too much interference.

We need both systems. The automatic brain keeps the system running while the conscious brains can develop complicated ideas and abstracts, this is what separates us from animals. While the animal kingdom is (for the most part) simply reacting, we are able to be proactive.

Now, it’s far from a perfect system; no system is without its bugs. Our subliminal selves can make very irrational choices, however humans compensate by having their conscious brain rationalize it. This is why we always seem to find the facts that support our beliefs instead of facts to develop our beliefs.

If you want a quick introduction to these concepts, this is the book for you. If you want something more in depth, then look at works by Daniel Kahneman.

I will always be infatuated with the human mind. As a different author once said (paraphrased): the human brain is the most powerful computer ever made, and it is built by unskilled workers.

2020: 31

review date:
Death by Black Hole by Neil deGrasse Tyson

Some things are just really difficult to teach. Black holes. Spectrographic analysis. Astrophysical plasmas. These subjects don’t fly into the mainstream mainly due to their own complexity and unseen indirect connection to our daily lives.

So how does Neil deGrasse Tyson do it? How does he takes these erudite, complex subjects and theories and make them so appealing and accessible?

I think the answer is simple. One, deGrasse Tyson is incredibly smart. Two, and I think more importantly, he is incredibly passionate and extremely enthusiastic.

Think back on your days in school, who was your favorite teacher/professor? It probably wasn’t the one with the highest IQ, it was most likely the one that emoted their excitement.

If you have any interest in the cosmos, this book is for you. If you have ever wondered how we know the temperature of certain stars, or how we know the distance of certain galaxies, then this book is for you. If you seek facts and wonderment, this book is for you.

This book is a great book.

2020: 30

review date: 
It Takes What It Takes by Trevor Moawad

So how do you stretch a 30-minute pep talk from a motivational speaker into a 250-page book? Well, if you read It Takes What It Takes, you’ll find out.

First, let’s look at the positive: I like the message of the book. Neutral thinking is a great message. Negative thinking leads to catastrophizing while positive thinking leads to delusional optimism. Facing circumstances separately, not letting the past impact your actions, is a great approach.

Next, let’s look at the negative: maybe it’s just where I am personally, but there is not enough material here for a whole book. If you take out all his references to Russell Wilson, this book would be cut in half.

Again, the message is not the problem, the book is simply a puffed up TED talk.

2020: 29

review date:
The Gift of Failure by Jessica Lahey

Growing up, I never handled failure very well. This was most evident on the baseball field. Baseball success is built on failure. The best players ever fail 70% of the time. Whenever I struck out or hit a weak ground out, I was furious. I didn’t understand how all my preparation and hard work could result in failure.

It was not until my senior year of high school when I started to manage my understanding of failure and success properly. I am far from perfect but I am a lot more developed than I was back in high school.

Today, I am a father and unfortunately, I see anger issues manifesting in my oldest child. One moment she is gleefully coloring a beautiful drawing with a rainbow of crayons then suddenly I hear a loud wail and she is angrily crumbling up the paper and chucking it across the room.

So it apparently runs in the famil…but how do I break this pattern?

Reading The Gift of Failure is definitely a good step.

Small failures have a huge impact, and these impacts are good. I already catch myself overparenting constantly, but what am I really trying to do? Prevent a scuffed knee or a broken toy? That’s it? Is that worth it?

We all know that we learn best from failures. We don’t need to fail at everything to learn, but failure can point us in the right direction.

As my kids grow up, failure will become harder to parent, but failing to be a good parent is just not an option for me.

This book is filled with what feels like just common sense, but when you are in the midst of parenting, sometimes nothing makes sense, so a resource like this book is great.

2020: 28

review date:
The Shift by Russell Carleton

If I could do college all over again, I would probably study economics and then try to get a job on a Major League Baseball team.

I was fairly certain when I left high school that I did not have the talent to make it professional baseball. I was a decent catcher and a good hitter in a small school in a small league. So my first attempt to stay in baseball was through the medical field. Long story short, I did not do so well in my human anatomy classes and I changed majors. I didn’t see another path to baseball so went another direction.

I have been a fan of sabermetrics since I first read Moneyball. The blend of baseball and statistics is so intriguing. I have read numerous books on baseball and numbers, however, I find fantasy baseball extremely dull.

This book could possibly be the best book I have read on advanced statistics in baseball. Carleton breaks it down very simply; why some numbers work, how they work, and how they don’t work. He doesn’t lose the human element of baseball while explaining Runs Expected and Wins Above Replacement.

This is a great read.

2020: 27

review date:
Where Do We Go From Here? by Martin Luther King, Jr.

“The great majority of Americans are suspended between these opposing attitudes. They are uneasy with injustice but unwilling yet to pay a significant price to eradicate it.”

“While much has been done, it has been accomplished by too few and on a scale too limited for the breadth of the goal.”

“Freedom is not won by a passive acceptance of suffering. Freedom is won by a struggle against suffering.”

“What is needed is a realization that power without love is reckless and abusive and that love without power is sentimental and anemic. Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice. Justice at its best is love correcting everything that stands against love.”

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate only love can do that.”

“A genuine leader is not a searcher for consensus but a molder of consensus.”

“White America must assume the guilt for the black man’s inferior status.”

These words were written in 1967. It is heartbreaking that the words of Martin Luther King Jr. are still needed over fifty years later. While there have been advancements in our society, we are still failing. This book is still relevant today unfortunately. I encourage everyone to pick this book up and read it. It is vital.

2020: 26

review date:
Salt Sugar Fat by Michael Moss

Let me be clear, I am not a healthy eater. I, like most Americans, have failed countless times against the power of processed foods. I know a salad would be best. I know soda is sugary poison. I know vegetables, whole grains, and less red meat are foundational to a healthy life. But again and again, I succumb to the addictive bliss delivered by Doritos, Coca-Cola, and Oreos (maybe not at the same time…maybe).

Food companies have figured it out. We love the taste of salt, sugar, and fat. The key though is to create a balance, you cannot simply just add more. Food companies employ thousands of scientists to create foods and improve the classics while shoring up the bottom line.

When I read about food companies battling for new customers by creating tastier food, I don’t initially object. It makes sense. The top mission of a company is to make money; this is capitalism in a nutshell. Why should I object to this? If a company makes an unhealthy or even downright dangerous product, won’t the consumer notice and change? It doesn’t make good business to kill your customers because that means fewer customers. Furthermore, if I decide to eat two dozen processed cookies along with a gallon of cola, that’s my choice and my problem. The food company didn’t force that on me.

But when I look at the big picture, I can definitely see the problems. My health has an impact on my family and society. Eating poorly for one day has little effect, but eating poorly for a lifetime has a devastating impact. This is a great example of how government regulation can help society. We cannot wait for the food companies to voluntarily make their food safer and healthier, because another company will swoop in a take their consumers. But if the government steps in and creates mandatory safety levels for dangerous items such as salt, sugar, and fat, it can help change society for the better.

Of course, it doesn’t solve all the problems. The government can demand my potato chips be less salty and in turn, I eat two bags instead of one. There is still a choice by me. Similarly, I can drive my car with my seat belt on and properly installed airbags and still hurt myself and others driving 100+ mph off a cliff.

This is an interesting book that challenged me on how to view my food intake and the big business of processed foods. Unfortunately, those Oreos still call me name…

2020: 25

review date: 
Long Shot by Mike Piazza

When I read a biography, I hope to get an in-depth look into someone’s life. I want to learn about their background and upbringing; understanding the events and values that shaped their life. I develop empathy and compassion for them as I understand the lowlights and highlights that define them.

Yeah, I did not get that with Mike Piazza.

When I was a kid, I was a huge Piazza fan. I was the starting catcher for my little league team growing up an hour or so from Los Angeles during Piazza’s Dodger blue tenure. Yes, I was absolutely shocked when the Dodgers traded him away. My heart was broken then but, don’t worry, my heart is fine now.

Should Piazza be in the Hall of Fame? Absolutely, he is the best home run hitting catcher in history. Was he the best catcher? No. Was he the worst? No. I am saddened by the trend that teams move great hitters away from the catching position. Bryce Harper was a catcher during his amateur days, but as soon as he was drafted he was sent to the outfield to save his legs. I would love to see Bryce catching in the big leagues.

Would Piazza be in the Hall of Fame if he wasn’t a catcher? Probably not, but he probably would have had more hits and home runs playing another position, so the question is moot.

Nevertheless, reading Piazza’s autobiography, I started liking him less and less. He comes off very entitled. He is constantly complaining that he deserved better from coaches, GMs, scouts, players, media, almost everybody. It is not endearing at all.

Do you know how every person who runs president writes a book as sort of a manifesto before declaring their candidacy? I think Piazza wrote this book as his argument for the Hall of Fame. He lays out some convincing evidence, his statistics are compelling. But as a whole, the Piazza provides a “woe is me” mentality. I don’t have a lot of sympathy for a guy who made millions and started numerous all-star games yet was never crowned MVP. He appeared frustrated that he never won a World Series, but then again, he constantly mentions that he had to only look out for himself. These two notions conflict.

If you are a Piazza fan, perhaps ignorance is bliss.

2020: 24

review date:
The Gene by Siddhartha Mukherjee

If you look at my wardrobe, you will not find anything green, red, or purple. I loathe those colors. Why? I have a genetic condition called protanopia, more commonly known as color vision deficiency or color blindness. Ok, so calling it a “genetic condition” seems ridiculous. My inability to distinguish some colors does not have a real negative impact on my daily life. Sometimes, I buy a purple shirt when I wanted a blue shirt and at times, I cannot identify the black car from the dark green cart. Apparently, I cannot become a police officer or a certain type of airplane pilot, but those professions were not really on the table for me.

Color vision deficiency is a sex-linked trait carried on the X chromosome. My maternal grandfather was colorblind and my mom passed the recessive gene on the X chromosome to me (and one of my brothers).

I am always amazed at what we know as humans. The fact that we have discovered the real building blocks of life is incredible. And though our knowledge is built on centuries of information, recent discoveries over just the past few generations has revolutionized the way we look at everything.

Genetics is an incredibly interesting subject that is still in its infancy. There are plenty of apprehensions towards the future of genetics but I think we have a long way to go until we have to worry about genetically modified human hybrids enslaving the world.

This book is dense. There is a lot of information. The book flows through history, scientific breakdown, and personal experience. My only complaint about the book is the amount of information. I think it could have been pared down a little; less is sometimes more.

All in all a great book. It is not as “accessible” as I would like; meaning, I felt lost and dumb a few times.

2020: 23

review date:
Stealing Home by Eric Nusbaum

I have visited Dodger Stadium numerous times throughout my life. I have parked in nearly every parking lot and street adjacent to the stadium. It is a beautiful area. You can see Downtown Los Angeles, the San Gabriel Mountains, and the Hollywood sign from the park. Though you are in the middle of it all, you feel far from everything. Chavez Ravine is a little jewel in the center of Southern California.

I guess this is why the original homeowners to the area loved it too.

What we now simply call Chavez Ravine was once home to Palo Verde, La Loma, and Bishop. These were quaint, easily overlooked areas of Los Angeles.

As the United States was rebounding from World War II and Los Angeles became a bustling metropolis, the need for quality housing became paramount. Soon officials eyed the communities of Palo Verde, La Loma, and Bishop as a perfect place for new public housing.

After numerous law, ordinances, court cases, protests, condemnations and such, the area was set for public housing. However, public support for public housing had eroded. So only a few family and their houses were left untouched for nearly a decade.

And then the Dodgers came to town. Fast forward a few years, the holdouts in Chavez Ravine were finally removed and the Los Angeles Dodgers constructed their new home.

This books tells some interesting stories, I just don’t like how they are presented. Almost every chapter is two to three pages long and each chapter is a different story. Most chapters follow the concurrent stories of the Arechiga family and Frank Wilkinson. The stories are almost too detailed. You are given so much information that doesn’t fill the story or add to the character. It just is. It’s nice to humanize these real life characters, but I think the book suffers from these short snippets that bounce everywhere.

There are other stories included but they are so marginal to the main story, it just confused me.

To say that the story of Chavez Ravine is a story of the Dodgers, in my opinion, is very misleading. The majority of the story does not involve the Dodgers. Evictions and pushing people off their property is a chapter is Los Angles history that happened nearly ten years before O’Malley brought the team over.

I preferred City of Dreams by Jerald Podair.

2020: 22

review date:
Nolan Ryan by Rob Goldman

By the time I was born, Nolan Ryan was already the strikeout leader. When I finally became a little leaguer, Nolan Ryan was nearing the sunset of his career, but to me he was this domineering legend. He was gruff, 40+ year Texan that could still throw the high heat. He was easily my favorite (non-Dodger) player.

Nolan Ryan’s career has been very polarizing. You either think he is the greatest of all time or you think he is one of the most overrated pitchers. But the one thing you cannot deny is his numbers: 7 no-hitters, 12 one-hitters, 18 two-hitters, and of course, 5714 career strikeouts. Any way you slice them, those are dominant numbers.

Yes, Ryan came from a different era of baseball. In fact, you can say Ryan pitched in multiple eras seeing that he pitched in four different decades.

But with good comes the bad, he leads with 2795 walks, 277 wild pitches, and he was never honored with the Cy Young Award.

All that said, if you love baseball and love the legend that is Nolan Ryan, you will love this book. The book, like Ryan, is not fancy. It does not try to do anything but share the story of Lynn Nolan Ryan, Jr.

And, he named his son Reid, so that’s a plus in my book.

2020: 21

review date:
The Magic of Reality by Richard Dawkins

Science was one of my favorite subjects in school. Learning science felt like you were learning the secrets of the world, like a magician telling you their secrets. But I was always confused by my scientific education. Typically, I was only given the facts but not the process. Sure, we know dinosaurs lived millions of years ago, but how do we know that? What gave us this incredible knowledge?

The Magic of Reality is an incredible book. It is very well written. Dawkins does not dumb it down nor does he use superfluous scientific jargon. For example, he proposes a basic question like “What are things made of?” then goes about describing carefully what we know about atoms and how we know what we know.

This book inspires me to learn more. It pushes me to think and rethink which is the essence of the scientific process. We should never be stagnant. There is a lot we don’t know, but this doesn’t mean the universe is unknowable instead it should push us to learn more.

2020: 20

review date: 
Make the Most of It by Barry Corey

When people find out I work in higher education, they typically love to share their lengthy opinions. I have heard every theory about why higher education is a scam, charging an arm and leg while preaching a progressive agenda with climbing walls and lazy rivers included, yada, yada.

What I usually don’t get are questions. It is very rare for someone to ask me thoughtful, engaging questions about the state of higher education. But once in a blue moon, I get asked my favorite question: what advice would you give to a new college student?

On the surface, college is a transactional exchange: I pay you (a lot of) money, sit your classes, and in four years you give me a degree. If this is how you look at college, you will be disappointed. College is a great investment of your time and money. Studies have shown over and over again that getting a college degree will set you up for more success in your career.

But is a selfish investment really the foundation of our colleges? I don’t think so.

The biggest investment in my life right now is my kids. They cost a lot of time and money. They have cost me hours of sleepless nights, school and daycare is far from cheap, and they eat all my delicious food. From an investment standpoint, kids do not show much return.

Is that not a crazy way to look at your children? Children are not a selfish investment, they are the center of my life. They bring me joy, hope, and meaning. Things we simply cannot quantify.

And this is how we should look at our education. “College is more than grasping what you are learning. It’s about being grasped by it.”

Make the Most of It is a great book for students starting their college journey. Barry Corey, current president of Biola University in La Mirada, California, has great experiences working in higher education and working alongside of students. I think any young student would benefit from this book. Now will a college student actually read this book and heed its great advice? That’s a good question, but I think there is enough solid wisdom in this book that something will stick and help student on the long, life-giving journey of higher education.

Here are a few more nuggets of wisdom from this book:

“…Develop the internal character for the long game rather than the external image for the short game.”

“Choose inspiration over efficiency, discovery over velocity.”

“Doubting is not a weakness but a strength, as it compels you to seek truth.”

“The mind’s arrogance can suffocate the heart’s humility.”

2020: 19

review date: 
Factfulness by Han Rosling

It is difficult in this very moment to say the world is getting better. As I write this review I have been in quarantine in my home due to COVID-19 for nearly four months. Protests and riots are filling the streets in almost every major city across the country. If I look at my childhood, I recall so many images of death and cruelty: the terrorist attacks of 9/11, wars in the Middle East, and frequent almost constant school shootings.

When I was in college I remember learning these two things: overpopulation is going to destroy everything and the lack of resources in Africa will destroy the continent’s population. At the time, this made sense to me. These “facts” made sense, but now I look at these assumptions and realize they are not only false but contradictory. How can overpopulation be a concern when one whole continent is dying? It is amazing how I can believe two contradictory facts to be true.

So, is the world getting better? Absolutely.

It is hard to see the global picture through your own eyes. It is hard to see the big changes. In fact, it is hard to see the changes on your street.

Factfulness is about how things are getting better. No, everything is far from perfect and there is still a lot to do. Like the author said, we can agree things are getting better while still working towards progress.

I learned a long time ago that using data to support your argument does very little to persuade others. It is human nature to look for confirmation to our bias. So if you disagree with the facts listed in this book, then I don’t know what to say. I really enjoyed this book and it helps shape my view of the world; a world full of uplifting possibilities.

2020: 18

review date: 
The Honest Truth about Dishonesty by Dan Ariely

I am a goody two-shoes. Growing up I rarely rebelled. I just never had that strong, innate desire to break or bend the rules. I never cheated, stole, or hit someone. I never drank or smoked anything illegal. It just wasn’t in my nature. Now, was I a perfect child? No. I definitely told little lies, got angry and hit inanimate objects, and stretched the truth from time to time, but all in all, I was a great kid.

In the last few books I have read, I have noticed an odd theme: lying. I’m not certain what has piqued my interest, but I am fascinated with our brains. It is amazing how little we know about our brains and how much we are fooled by our own brains. Three people could be in a room, experience the same situation yet recall the situation completely different than their peers. And if you add in the torment of time, your recall can completely contradict your prior recollection.

In this book, Ariely addresses dishonesty, or to say it simply: cheating. Why do we cheat? When do we cheat? What motivates to cheat? What motivates to be honest? Does a threat of punishment stop us? Do rationally consider a list of pros and cons before we cheat or don’t cheat?

Ariely runs numerous lab experiments to test different cheating scenarios with many surprising results. My one critique of this very interesting book is the overuse of lab experiments. Measuring cheating in the world in real-time is difficult, and his lab experiments are intelligently performed. However, my brain does not connect with lab experiments to real-world scenarios. The experiments can definitely be windows of truth, but an artificial setting with mostly (poor) college students appear a bit imbalanced to me.

This book is worth the read, but just not my favorite.

2020: 17

review date: 
Elastic by Leonard Mlodinow

What makes your brain better than a computer? Computers can hold an unfathomable amount of data, but a computer is unable to interpret that data unassisted. Our brains are unique because they are able to adapt instantly.

The book Elastic presents many examples; here is my favorite. Our brains can determine the correct definition of a word given the context of a simple sentence. Consider these two sentences: “The cooking teacher said the young children made bad snacks” and “The cannibal said the young children made bad snacks.” The difference between these two sentences is the definition of “made.” A computer could not, on its own, determine the difference. We, as humans trained in the English language, understand that there could be a difference.

Our brain’s ability to adapt, create meaning, and regulate objective and subject thinking are just some of the ways it is extraordinary.

Is there a single thing that makes our brains better than computers? No. Is there a single thing that makes our brains different than an animal brain? No. Our brains are profoundly complex. There is a lot we know and more that we don’t know.

This was an extremely interesting and insightful book.

2020: 16

review date:
The Hidden Brain by Shankar Vedantam

When you sit and think about your brain, life gets existential very quickly. Your brain is thinking about itself. How can it do that? The brain is an extremely complex organ. In the computer and internet age, we constantly hear about the impressive advancements in computing technology, but even the most powerful computer in the world cannot challenge the power of the human brain.

To put in simply, your brain has two systems. One system does the thinking, rationalizing, and the complex refereeing. The other system is much more reactive; almost automatic and animalistic in nature. This system is the hidden brain. It works constantly without drawing attention. It is the system that senses danger before you understand it. It is also the system that causes you to make stupid assumptions despite your knowledge.

I first learned about The Hidden Brain through Shankar Vedantam’s podcast of the same name. I love the unique stories and the science behind it all. After a few years of listening, I finally grabbed the book that started it all.

This is a really interesting book with a couple of faults. One, Vedantam gets a little too focused on the stories and not invested enough in the science. The stories are very fascinating but there was very little scientific discussion at the conclusion of each story. In the same vein, I found other books to be a little more informative and interesting. This may not be a fair assessment since this book was published over ten years ago at the time of this reading, but for what it’s worth find Daniel Kahneman’s work to be more enlightening when it comes to the two systems of the brain.

2020: 15

review date:
America's Original Sin by Jim Wallis

In elementary school I remember learning one specific thing about history: that the United States of America is the greatest country. The continent was founded by a brave explorer. The first colonies were established men fleeing religious persecution and overbearing monarchs. The country was created by a rebellious, fighting spirit. Innovation and courage has made this new nation the industrious leader in the world. The United States has never lost a war and it has never lost its moral compass.

And then I grew up.

Here is what I know now: the United States of America has a very complicated history. The continent was founded by a devious explorer. The first settlers were vicious and murderous toward the native population. The nation’s wealth was built on the backs of African slaves. The founding fathers and the Constitution endorses racism.

The history of the United States is a complicated mess. America’s Original Sin examines this checkered history and troubled present.

I know plenty of people who would respond as such: my ancestors have never mistreated the Native Americans and they have never owned slaves, this does not apply to me.

I understand the appeal of that argument. It makes sense on an individual level, however we don’t live in individualized bubbles. One must rise up and see the entire nation and society as a whole. American society was built on the historical racism against Indigenous people and enslaved Africans. It is embedded in the foundation of this country and it is difficult to repair the foundation of a house once the house is already built; difficult yet possible.

I enjoyed this book as a great overview of the issues. I think this book maybe a great introduction to some challenging topics. Books like White Fragility, The New Jim Crow and A People’s History of the United States gave me a better understanding of these issues.

At times I felt like the author kept patting himself on the back for what he and his organizations had done. Sharing your accomplishments can inspire, but it can quickly become feel self-indulgent.

2020: 14

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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.


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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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.

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