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Other Essays
  Investments for Everyone
  Macs vs. PC's
  The Matrix, & Fight Club

All Essays

Recent Books
Descriptions and excerpts from my favorite books

Scott Teresi






Date Read

1985 A Little History of the World E.H. Gombrich 284 September 2014

Translated from German, this book is sort of an endless story of every king/emperor/divine leader who rose to power of his corner of the globe, built an army from taxes, and attacked swaths of Europe, the Middle East, and Asia, only to be overtaken by the next king/emperor of some other country. Eventually I was forced to either finish the book or admit defeat, since it was several weeks overdue!
      One quote I liked near the end:
      "I know a wise old Buddhist monk who, in a speech to his fellow countrymen, once said he'd love to know why someone who boasts that he is the cleverest, the strongest, the bravest or the most gifted man on earth is thought ridiculous or embarrassing, whereas if, instead of 'I', he says 'we are the most intelligent, the strongest, the bravest and the most gifted people on earth,' his fellow countrymen applaud enthusiastically and call him a patriot. For there is nothing patriotic about it. One can be attached to one's own country without needing to insist that the rest of the world's inhabitants are worth less."


1945 Cannery Row John Steinbeck 181 November 2013

One of my favorite books in recent years is Cannery Row by John Steinbeck. It's set in the 1930's, before the era where everyone has a good job, modest house, indoor plumbing, etc. Steinbeck wrote it looking back at his experiences in Monterey, California, before he was famous.
     It's written plainly and openly, with characters observed nonjudgmentally with flaws and present condition/tendencies in life. I imagine it as if I had been on a Kerouac-type extended road trip and ran into the people myself. It's during the Depression where there's sort of a blurred line between having something or not (people borrowing each other's cars or car parts or getting things working just enough to get to the next thing), and even the line between having a place to live and living outside. In fact one side character I think lives in a boiler tank that he fixed up as nice as he could, but never could quite do it well enough to impress his wife who lived with him.
     There's Doc, a biologist, who would collect sea creatures from the nearby beach and send them off over mail order. He apparently made a good living off of it but was always there to help others in the neighborhood. He kept his apartment unlocked, full of books and aquariums and a huge record collection. He was alone, possibly lonely.
     The other main characters alternated between having life on track or screwing up somehow and almost living on the street again. They borrowed a car and went on an adventure to collect 200 frogs as a favor for Doc. After a long day of traveling, with no money, this involved taking a break for dinner and catching a chicken and cooking it in a pot by a river, just as part of normal life. Did they find 200 frogs? I won't tell, but what happened was surprising!
     I don't remember the book having a resolution, but it was a memorable snapshot into people's relations with each other and the rewards of friendship. It also made me wish I had the freedom to travel anywhere on extended trips with my family and run into colorful people.

     The book's jacket gives a nice picture:
      "Unburdened by the material necessities of the more fortunate, the denizens of Cannery Row discover rewards unknown in more traditional society.
      "Henry the painter sorts through junk lots for pieces of wood to incorporate into the boat he is building, while the girls from Dora Flood's bordello venture out now and then to enjoy a bit of sunshine. Lee Chong stocks his grocery with almost anything a man could want, and Doc, a young marine biologist who ministers to sick puppies and unhappy souls, unexpectedly finds true love.
      "Cannery Row is just a few blocks long, but the story it harbors is suffused with warmth, understanding, and a great fund of human values.
      "From Wikipedia: "John Steinbeck spent some of the happiest years of his life in a house in Pacific Grove near 'Cannery Row' and the laboratory of his friend, Ed Ricketts. This began in 1930 and lasted to 1941 when Steinbeck's marriage broke up and he fled eastward to marry again (eventually). After a traumatic time documenting the war in the Mediterranean campaign in 1943, Steinbeck returned home to find that his second marriage was also in difficulties. Cannery Row was written in 1944 in an attempt to recover a Depression-era world in Monterey which was, by then, already inaccessible to Steinbeck. Major influences for this change included the war's effect on both Steinbeck and Monterey, the breakup of Steinbeck's first marriage, and the insulation caused by Steinbeck's new wealth arising from his increasing fame and success as a writer. Steinbeck was already beginning to suspect that he would never again be able to go back to living in this, his favorite part of California. Indeed, after a failed attempt to live in California in the late 1940s, he left to spend the rest of his life in New York."


2008 Coming Clean: Breaking America's Addiction to Oil and Coal Michael Brune 196 January 2009

I was interested in this book because it's by Michael Brune. He's the (former) executive director of the Rainforest Action Network (RAN), which has been able to get giant companies to enact green policies using very savvy methods. For instance, RAN was able to pressure Home Depot into not buying any products made from wood from endangered forests. After that victory, a simple letter sent to Lowe's was able to convince them to do that same. And similarly, Kinko's pledged a strong policy to also do the same, and to use recycled paper.
      The book makes the case that sustainable energy is completely possible and would actually stimulate the economy. It wouldn't require any additional government money, if we phased out the subsidies we're already sending to dirty energy such as coal and oil industries. For instance, transitioning our electrical generation to 70% solar energy and building new long-distance power lines might only cost $10 billion in subsidies per year from 2011 through 2050. Compare that to the $50 billion in subsidies we currently give the oil and gas industry. (See page 165 and this Scientific American article.)
      My favorite part of the book, though, was the great story about how RAN got Citibank to restrict its lending practices to dirty and anti-environmental industries. The strategy involved a combination of lots of tools and thousands of people: ads (attacking the company’s branding), Citibank employees (informing employees at the headquarters building), customer recruitment points (educating customers wherever Citibank set up tables to attract students to their credit cards—Citibank was my first credit card, in college), public dialogue and prodding and eventual humiliation of the CEO, Sandy Weill (at a talk at Cornell University), and all of this snowballing to involve hundreds of other activist organizations across the country.


1994 The Ecology of Commerce Paul Hawken 219 March 2008

The book is mostly about how to solve the environmental catastrophes we have been causing, from a business standpoint. It all seems to come down to this: we need to stop taxing the good things (e.g. income tax) as much and shift taxes to bad things (pollution and CO2). "The purpose of a green tax is to give people and companies positive incentives to avoid them."
      The purpose of green taxes aren't to give the government more money. The taxes would be shifted, not increased. The purpose would be to provide the right incentives to the marketplace. A green tax would take account for the costs that businesses don't pay—the costs which are externalized onto society and our future. When these externalized costs are properly accounted for, this would create, "perhaps for the first time since the Industrial Age began, the closest thing approximating a truly free market, with many costs now externalized fully accounted for."
      "All too often, we have seen taxes destroy or distort; it is difficult to imagine a tax that actually _improves_ our lives. The tax system has been such a blunt instrument of power that its subtleties and potentially constructive attributes are largely unexplored. It was Will Rogers who pointed out that the income tax has made more liars of Americans than fishing."
      Policies like this will design a marketplace and create a consumer who values the right things for a sustainable future. "It is time that we stop pretending that industries which degrade and poison are economic or useful."
      The book was published in 1994. As of 2008, two 8-year administrations came and went with little progress on these issues. A green tax should be phased in slowly, over the course of 20 years or so. Why are we waiting?


2002 Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America Barbara Ehrenreich 240 Feb. 2008

From Amazon: "With some 12 million women being pushed into the labor market by welfare reform, Barbara Ehrenreich decided to do some good old-fashioned journalism and find out just how they were going to survive on the wages of the unskilled--at $6 to $7 an hour, only half of what is considered a living wage. So she did what millions of Americans do, she looked for a job and a place to live, worked that job, and tried to make ends meet."
      I think one conclusion you can't help but draw is that it's impossible to make a living on the typical wage of many low-income jobs. People should work their way up, but many will still find themselves stuck there for extended periods, for a variety of reasons. Affordable housing would go a long way to helping. In many cities it's in short supply or low quality. We have a lot of methods to help the poor, but they're underfunded. High quality public transportation is a no-brainer. It not only helps low-income people (and anyone else!) live full lives without depending on a car (money pit with wheels), but also encourages many others to live within an environmentally sustainable distance of each other, which provides all sorts of benefits to society and helps stimulate urban growth.
      The middle class (defined as people who have a degree of economic independence, but not a great deal of social influence or power) is basically a creation of our ultra-modern post-sweatshop society. It didn't exist during most of human history. In non-tribal societies, the upper classes used the lower classes for their expendable labor. In the early part of this century the developed world finally made social advances like child labor laws, the 40-hour work week, workplace health standards, collective bargaining and unions, low-cost education (e.g. the G.I. Bill), etc., even Social Security, which helps keep the elderly from becoming too destitute. As a result, today many people who aren't destined to become millionaires or own businesses can still make a comfortable living and provide for their families. But still many tens of millions of Americans are in poverty, way more than it would seem should be from just being "lazy." Some responsibility lies in learned behavior and ingrained social "rules" and values and some lies in the game being fixed against them. And we seem to be moving backward, compared with the size of the middle class in the 50's and 60's.
      Hopefully progress will continue in carefully and selectively funding and designing the type of programs that will best shrink the lower class and expand the middle class. I'm interested in all solutions, from government policy, down to cooperation within communities to work on these problems on their own. The way to build momentum is to just increase awareness and understanding of the problem.
      "When someone works for less pay than she can live on--when, for example, she goes hungry so that you can eat more cheaply and conveniently--then she has made a great sacrifice for you, she has made you a gift of some part of her abilities, her health, and her life. The 'working poor,' as they are approvingly termed, are in fact the major philanthropists of our society. They neglect their own children so that the children of others will be cared for; they live in substandard housing so that other homes will be shiny and perfect; they endure privation so that inflation will be low and stock prices high. To be a member of the working poor is to be an anonymous donor, a namelss benefactor, to everyone else." (page 221)


2006 The China Study T. Colin Campbell 417 Dec. 2007

I've read a bit about Weston Price, a dentist who did research into primitive societies to see what foods humans may have evolved to eat best. He seems to have found that even those who ate lots of meat were very healthy and strong and free of disease (though I think he didn't/couldn't measure if their life spans were longer). The China Study, however, did a study across the entire country of China and found that those people who ate more meat had higher rates of cancer and heart disease (diseases of affluence), even adjusted for life expectancy.
      I have an idea which could start to explain both the results of Weston Price and the China Study. Animal-based foods, high in complete protein, result in healthy populations in poor areas of the world, where diseases of poverty are prevalent (low sanitation, sometimes scarcity of food, lack of health care and disease control, etc.). My guess is the protein stimulates growth and strength and resiliency against big attacks on your immune system. This can explain the results of Weston Price. However, these populations could possibly be less healthy over a full life span than if their living conditions were more stable, and they ate a more plant-based diet. A plant-based diet (whole grains, fresh vegetables, fruits, beans, nuts, nothing refined, etc.--even though these are high-carb foods--complex carbohydrates) apparently leads to greater resiliency against diseases of affluence (cancer, heart disease). At least this is what T. Colin Campbell tries to say.
      The China Study book (and possibly Weston Price too) may generalize beyond what their data tell them. Campbell found that casein (the protein in milk) "turns on" your body's susceptibility to cancer. He then generalizes this (along with other studies) to say that eating more animal protein allows cancer to form. In one specific group of studies, subjects were fed highly cancer-causing chemicals. Rats who ate a diet of 5% protein did not develop ANY cancer, and those fed 20% protein all died of cancer (from the chemicals). It was a pretty stark contrast. In these studies, only casein was used for the protein, which we already know we should moderate. However, he says that similar results with regard to nutrition in general (and lower animal protein intake in particular) are found in many other studies. These studies show "nutrition to be far more important in controlling cancer promotion than the dose of the initiating carcinogen [or your genetics]." [page 66] (He uses nitrite preservatives to illustrate the point... they're known to be slight but definite carcinogens in very high doses, but if you eat healthy they won't affect you.)
      The claim of the actual China study (which is only a few chapters in the book) is that as Chinese eat more meat, they get more diseases of affluence and have higher cholesterol. However, so far I can't find any attempt by the author to control for whether this is actually caused by the meat or is caused by doing things like eating more refined foods and less fiber and the wrong kind of meat (which more affluent people tend to do, as they enter the corporate farming and mass-produced food marketplace). Maybe there wasn't an easy enough way to test this. He basically comes out and says that those who suffer diseases of affluence (cancer, heart disease) eat unhealthy diets, with less fiber, for instance. Animal protein is part of those diets, so he keeps jumping to the conclusion that meat must be unhealthy.
      It does seem that a nearly vegetarian diet reduces all sorts of diseases. It may be harder to engineer a healthy diet based on meat. For instance, as far as weight loss, he argues that eating diets high in animal protein/fat "transfers calories away from their conversion into body heat and to their storage form--as body fat." [page 101] The Chinese can and do consume more calories than Americans because they are more physically active and because they eat low-fat, low-protein diets, and with lots of fiber. He says animals fed this type of diet consumed more calories, gained less weight, disposed of the extra calories as body heat (high metabolism), and voluntarily exercised more, while still having far less cancer than animals on standard diets.
      Campbell shows a correlation between decreased disease, and decreased meat consumption, all the way down to diets with 0% meat (though the benefits are smaller by that point) [page 242]. He comes out and says that "there is a widely held perception that cancer is caused by toxic chemicals that make their way into our bodies in a sinister way. For example, people often cite health concerns to justify their opposition to pumping antibiotics and hormones into farm animals. The assumption is that the meat would be safe to eat if it didn't have those unnatural chemicals in it. The real danger of the meat, however, is the nutrient imbalances, regardless of the presence or absence of those nasty chemicals. Long before modern chemicals were introduced into our food, people still began to experience more cancer and more heart disease when they started to eat more animal-based foods." [page 235] He still doesn't provide much details on that intriguing generalization!
      He has eight principles to eating well, and you'll probably agree with most of them: nutrition involves more than the sum of its parts (more than vitamin supplements), nutrition can affect whether genes or noxious chemicals produce disease, nutrition that is truly beneficial for one chronic disease will support health across the board, etc. Principle #3 might tread a fine line for some people, though: "there are virtually no nutrients in animal-based foods that are not better provided by plants." That's definitely a statement by a vegetarian. If you're forgiving, it may only be a short step to say that a mostly-vegetarian diet is good, with some additional meat (mostly seafood, or non-farmed meat) because primitive cultures used to eat it. (This is probably one reason conventional diets like Weight Watchers are beneficial, even though they don't come out and make those stipulations.)
      Anyway, all of this still seems to point toward eating a natural diet that we evolved to eat. The hard science may be catching up to this, slowly. What makes this hard nowadays is that food isn't available. Nowadays it might be easier to copy the plant-related parts of primordial diets than the animal parts. Campbell's dietary advice can be summarized as "eat a whole foods, plant-based diet, while minimizing the consumption of refined foods, added salt and added fats." [page 242]
      (For more info on eating in nutritionally and environmentally beneficial ways, check out Frank Lesko's blog, especially his sustainable living ideas.)
      Read the whole China Study online here!


1999 Punished by Rewards: The Trouble with Gold Stars, Incentive Plans, A's, Praise, and Other Bribes Alfie Kohn 284 June-Nov. 2007

Alfie Kohn cites a large body of research which refutes "pop behaviorism" and shows how rewards like candy, money, gratuitious praise, competitive activities, etc. are often manipulative and don't work well in motivating people to get things done, such as in school, in a job setting, in social interactions, or when raising kids. Kohn's, patient, rational tone makes the somewhat revolutionary idea easy to handle.
      If you want to change someone's behavior (you believe in one thing, and the other person doesn't), the best way to approach it is through an elaborate, empathetic process of bringing the other person around to your point of view, so they begin to believe in the same causes as you. Hopefully the cause becomes important enough so that they would actually be motivated of their own desires (whatever they may be) to carry things out for the cause. For instance, good teachers are able to make a subject so interesting that you begin to believe that you really want to learn it.
     External incentives, like rewards and punishments, undermine what psychologists call your "intrinsic motivation"—your natural interest in the problem. This is one of the most thoroughly replicated findings of social psychology—over 70 studies have found that rewards undermine interest in the task. (From this article by Alfie Kohn, via Aaron Swartz).
      The cost of rewards has to do with their effect on interest in the work itself. Incentives can help in the short term, and for getting people to do something faster, but they have a negative effect on the quality of the work and future motivation for doing it. "Subjects offered an incentive for doing a task (or, in some of the studies, for doing it well) actually did lower quality work than subjects offered no reward at all." While money matters up to a point, "when people are asked what is most important to them about work, money ranks well behind such factors as interesting work or good people to work with." "Extrinsic rewards reduce intrinsic motivation." [71]
      The first question people often ask is "if rewards are bad, what's the alternative?" In Part Three, Kohn digs into what the research really means for the workplace, classroom, and raising kids. "If what you want is to get a child, a student, or a worker to do what you say, then the answer... is that there probably is no alternative.... To induce short-term compliance, behavioral manipulation is the best we've got. If, however, your goal is to tap your employees' intrinsic interest in doing quality work, or to encourage your students to become lifelong, self-directed learners, or to help your child grow into a caring, responsible, decent person, then it makes no sense to ask 'What's the alternative to rewards?" because rewards never moved us one millimeter toward those objectives." [180]
      "A manager committed to making sure that people are able and willing to do their best needs to attend to three fundamental factors. These can be abbreviated as the "three C's" of motivation—to wit, the collaboration that defines the context of work, the content of the tasks, and the extent to which people have some choice about what they do and how they do it.... [This] same model is also a useful way of thinking about what happens at school and at home." [187]
      For tasks that are unlikely to be intrinsically motivating, Kohn provides some guidance. "The rule of thumb for getting people to internalize a commitment to working at them is to minimize the use of controlling strategies. He cites a three-pronged approach: First, imagine the way things look to the person doing the work and acknowledge candidly that it may not seem especially interesting. Second, offer a meaningful rationale for doing it anyway, pointing, perhaps, to the long-term benefits it offers or the way it contributes to some larger goal. Third, give the individual as much control as possible over how the work gets done." [90]
      From "Kohn derides rewards as bribes and offers instead the proposition that collaboration (teamwork), content (meaningfulness), and choice (autonomy) will serve to motivate both students and workers." A frequent ZMag contributor has a great summary and further perspective. Alfie Kohn's web site has more information. Read more about these topics in many articles Kohn has written. Aaron Swartz has a quick overview of Kohn's ideas. This PDF probably contains the most extensive information I could find about this book in digital form. This blog entry from Presentation Zen summarizes similar ideas probably more clearly than the links above, or this TED Talk by Dan Pink does it will with video. He says employees need "autonomy, mastery, and control" and businesses should use a Results-Oriented Work Environment.


2004 The Seven-Day Weekend Ricardo Semler 256 May 2007

The book's title refers to cultivating a balance between work and life so that they're defined by you, rather than the company. Companies are structured in a way which discourages workers' problems from getting solved, unless you happen to work high enough up. But what if companies were run in a more democratic fashion? With fewer rules dictated from above? What would such a company look like and could it actually function?
      As someone wondering if there's a more enlightened societal model than our current incarnation of capitalism, this question has nagged me for a while. Is this actually possible in the real world?? Answer: Yes!
      This book is about an anarchist Brazilian company called Semco. I call it anarchist because there are very few company-wide rules and regulations, and no one is fully in charge. However that doesn't mean that groups of people in the company don't develop their own rules between each other and interact with one another in an enlightened manner. (See the reviews at or this Wikipedia article for more information.)
      If there are any doubts that a company run democratically can function, Semco provides real world evidence. The company is a large conglomerate with thousands of employees, and is still growing. People don't vote themselves to have inflated salaries or waste the company's money or otherwise take advantage of their freedom because everyone is in it together, and they work in manageable groups of six to twelve people.
      People operating in small groups tend to self-organize, participate in the decisions that matter to them, and contribute what each person feels is needed as far as their own internal passion, their current interests, their time available, and their ongoing responsibilities to their peers. It's good to see these ideas reinforced and applied on a very large scale at an actual company.
      Compare democracy in the U.S. vs. totalitarianism in the Soviet Union. When people were given liberal doses of freedom constrained only by a few universal laws of humanity, rather than barbed wire fences and checkpoints, they flourished best.


2007 The Secret History of the American Empire: Economic Hit Men, Jackals, and the Truth about Global Corruption John Perkins 384 July 2007

This sequel to Confessions of an Economic Hitman (see below) kind of dragged on and wasn’t as exciting as the original. The author promised more detail in this one, but we didn’t really receive it. He never talked about the details of an actual project he worked on, from start to finish, including how political leaders were incentivized into paying for it, and how the country suffered as a direct result.
      The last section presents some unique angles on why the author still remains optimistic for the future, given what companies like his have done. For instance, the Rainforest Action Network has been able to publicly pressure major companies to capitulate and pay attention and refrain from some injustices and environmental destruction (including Kinko’s, Staples, Boise Cascade, Citigroup, Bank of America, JP Morgan Chase, McDonald’s, Goldman Sachs, and Home Depot). Apparently many CEO’s would love to steer their companies in the same direction but don’t have the guts to stand up to the company’s board of directors and shareholders.
      The book lists a few factors common among good organizations (page 311): “Equity, transparency, trust, cooperation, and prosperity for everyone involved. In essence, the basic ingredients for democracy.” These sound like similar values used in Semco, the worker-run company in the Seven-Day Weekend (see above).
      I can tell that people write books these days in small chunks and don’t have a cohesive outline that progresses from one component of their thesis to the next. The author either throws a bunch of random notes together, or they lack the ability to plan out a book that builds on itself and presents a topic in an organized fashion. This drives me absolutely nuts. After I read a book like this, I feel like I learned a lot, but I can’t put my finger on any of it. I can’t review it, and I can’t communicate it to others. I wish people would write better structured prose.


2005 Confessions of an Economic Hitman John Perkins 300 April 2007

This book was a serious page-turner for me. It gives an overview of the effects of multinational corporations better than anything I've ever read before. This is another economics book with no economics in it (see below). It's written by someone who rose up in the ranks of a company exactly like Bechtel or Halliburton and was directly responsible for the company's largest projects in the third world. These projects had systemic destructive effects in those countries. The author eventually had a change of heart and quit the company, and then he overcame enormous pressure against publishing his experiences.
      Here's the quick version of the story. (The actual story is very personal, but here's the wider perspective.)
      Massive multinational capitalist enterprises and power-hungry U.S. foreign policy play equal rolls. For instance, take Bechtel and Haliburton. These companies try their best to stay out of the bleaching effect of the global media. They operate far outside U.S. borders and beyond the reach of almost all Congressional debates and bills and even outside U.S. laws. They start by wrapping a development aid project in rosy forecasts, to justify the highest price tag possible. They get the World Bank to give a tiny government an enormous loan, a government literally with the GDP of South Dakota or something (like Panama). Years later, the country is chained massive debt, severely restricted in the money they have left to spend on their poverty-stricken constituents. To get favorable treatment for this debt, the government will continue to roll over to demands of the multinationals and western governments, and the money will flow to those in power.
      Going further, the nearly 100% of the profits from projects like this flow out of the poor country and into Bechtel's bank accounts, or maybe Exxon's or Shell's in the case of oil drilling. This is basically predatory lending on the scale of civilizations, facilitated by (but not carried out by) the highest levels of our own government. (In Iraq, Bechtel doesn't even employ the local labor force.) On top of this, the development project often comes out over budget, or destroys massive parts of the country's land (think dams, mining or oil drilling projects, refineries, clearcut farming projects, Dow chemical plants, etc.) and displaces people who then rebel and are labelled terrorists or drug traffickers, or leaves the country with massive infrastructure and maintenance costs they can't afford so it falls into ruins, or only benefits the few richest families to begin with. Mix in some creative coercing or assassinations by CIA-trained operatives, etc. Is there any doubt that the highest echelons of capitalism can be such a racket? At least it makes for a very engaging book.
      It's almost impossible for me to clearly imagine any of this. Most of the massive development in the U.S. has already taken place. I can't think of an analogy to something we're familiar with.
      From the book's despairing descriptions of power-brokers taking advantage of weak governments in developing countries comes one ray of hope: that it all can be affected by us, as U.S. voters.
      We can't control corruption in Africa, or civil wars, or selfish dictators. But we can control our regulations on capitalism. The World Bank, the World Trade Organization, the IMF... these may be far removed from the public eye but they're based in Washington, D.C. and New York City. Bechtel, Halliburton, Exxon, Shell, Dow Chemical, etc. are U.S. based companies. We, as the people of a democracy, and as consumers, ultimately share some of the responsibility, and we can influence the solution.



The Undercover Economist: Exposing Why the Rich Are Rich, the Poor Are Poor—and Why You Can Never Buy a Decent Used Car!

Tim Harford 288 March 2007

The book explores disparate topics, similar to Freakonomics but with a little more focus and a little more economic background. It shows how a store as simple as McDonald's or a coffee shop is able to price items in such a way that there will be products at exactly the prices each customer is willing to pay. For instance, a small coffee might suit someone on a low budget, or a fancy cappucino or something "grande" sized will suit someone with more disposable income.
      While slightly narrow-minded and dogmatic about globalization in the last few chapters, the book brings up excellent perspectives on the harm that tariffs and subsidies cause the third world, and the contributing factors of government corruption and lawlessness in those countries. (See this essay about Cameroon by the same author.) Controversially, the author considers sweatshops as a natural but regrettable part of a process where third world countries experience growth and prosperity and eventually cultivate much better working conditions.


2005 Freakonomics Steven D. Levitt 242 March 2007

Freakonomics isn't any kind of "fun" survey of economics. It's just some random studies the author's done, with some conclusions that might not be what people expect. One interesting chapter explores the structures of a street gang and the rationalities and incentives for being in one. Most gang members make less than minimum wage and probably live with their moms. The information was based on a study of one gang who took meticulous records for four years. The treasurer, realizing that he would probably be killed soon, passed the records off to a grad student doing the study and living with the gang.


2003 Undaunted Courage (about Lewis and Clark) Stephen E. Ambrose 592 Feb. 2007

This turned out to be very fascinating and got me wondering about how daily life might've been for regular people in the early 1800's. At the beginning of the Lewis and Clark expedition, two thirds of the team had ulcers and/or boils, and several of them had dysentery. The book attributes the diseases to drinking the river water (which the explorers also figured was a cause) and subsisting only on corn meal, flour, and pork with bacteria in it, and a complete lack of fruits and vegetables for long periods. They were also frequently covered with mosquitos, in their ears, eyes, nose, and throat. Given this, they still felt they were witnessing a paradise of beauty and abundance, and knew they were among the first white men to see it (we call it Nebraska and Iowa). I'm also fascinated by John Colter, the guy who, at the end of the expedition, turned around and headed back into the wilderness, rather than continue the last few miles to civilization. He went on to discover Yellowstone.


2006 Founding Myths: Stories That Hide Our Patriotic Past Ray Raphael 368 April 2006

This book tells the story of mass revolts and the populist movement of our country's early formation, rather than placing the responsibility with mythical personalities like Paul Revere.


2000 The Intelligent Asset Allocator William Bernstein 206 April 2006

The book gets into the meat of developing a self-managed portfolio of mutual funds. It has good advice on how to judge a fund's volatility, and the effect of adding some bonds to a portfolio. Along with this newsletter, and a variety of online resources (listed here), this helped me build a solid retirement portfolio in my IRA.


1975 The Monkey Wrench Gang Edward Abbey 421 April 2006


1998- The Harry Potter Series J.K. Rowling 4100 Aug-Sep 2006
The Harry Potter series is well constructed, extremely intricate, and well written though a bit plain and direct. I think the characters sometimes get caught up in erratic emotion, but that can be explained because they're teenagers. Otherwise they behave very maturely and take lots of initiative. One thing that hooked me was the idea of someone being an underdog but discovering he has magical powers, and you get to watch as he learns what he's able to do and matures. Harry almost doesn't have the skills to face the evil power that develops over the course of the books, and his growth as he (and you) learn about the wizarding world is exciting to watch. You're left wondering until the very end how he will cope with his shortcomings, even after he's grown from a kid into a very capable adult over that time (though still a teenager). More analysis here.


1991- Media Control: The Spectacular Achievements of Propaganda
Noam Chomsky 100 Apr. 4, 2005
The mainstream media is subject to a sort of self-policing censorship by the way it's structured, and it ends up supporting those in power, more or less. Amazon's review: "Propaganda," says Noam Chomsky, "is to a democracy what the bludgeon is to a totalitarian state"--in other words, the means by which leaders keep the masses in line. In this slim pamphlet, he looks at American propaganda efforts, from the warmongering of Woodrow Wilson to the creation of popular support for the 1991 military intervention in Kuwait, and reveals how falsification of history, suppression of information, and the promotion of vapid, empty concepts have become standard operating procedure for the leaders of the United States--both Democrats and Republicans--in their efforts to prevent citizens from raising awkward questions about U.S. policy.
       » Some essential information for Chomsky fans.



Beating the Food Giants

Paul A. Stitt


Mar. 16, 2003

An excellent book with a lot of anecdotes from the author’s life. An interesting contrast was mentioned about how Quaker Oats and other companies are required to test dog food thoroughly to make sure the food is good for them, yet human food undergoes no such testing, on humans or animals! It’s just governed by customer demand, and customers buy food that tastes good and makes them want to eat more, while in the process they don’t get the nutrients from their bodies actually need.
       The author started a company that makes whole wheat bread with natural ingredients, and the basis of his message was that people should only buy food with ingredients that are good for them, not ones whose effects are unknown or that might actually be harmful because they’re heavily refined and processed or even totally artificial. He cited an anecdotal study where Quaker Puffed Wheat shortened rats’ lives substantially, in comparison to whole wheat, due to an unfortunate byproduct of the violent puffing process. My friend Wes recommended the book to me back when he went to school at Virginia Tech, and it makes sense that we should be eating things that our body is evolved to eat, and foods that provide complex mixtures of nutrients rather than refined and processed foods.
       [This review refers to the 1983 version, entitled Fighting the Food Giants.]



Animal Minds: Beyond Cognition to Consciousness

Donald R. Griffin


March 2, 2003

An excerpt:
        "Now that there are strong grounds to dispute Descartes' contention that animals lack the ability to think, we have to ask just how animals do think." [From Terrace.] Because so many cognitive processes are now believed to occur in animal brains, it is more and more difficult to cling to the conviction that this cognition is never accompanied by conscious thoughts.        
Another excerpt, "Evidence Suggesting Animal Consciousness":
        Animals encounter so many unpredictable challenges under natural conditions that it would be very difficult if not impossible for any combination of genetic instructions and individual experience to specify in advance the entire set of actions that are appropriate. But thinking about alternative actions and selecting one believed to be best is an efficient way to cope with unexpected dangers and opportunities. In theory such versatility might result from nonconscious information processing in the brain. But conscious thinking may well be the most efficient way for a central nervous system to weigh different possibilities and evaluate their relative advantages.
       A second major category of promising evidence about animal thoughts and feelings is their communicative behavior.... And a third type of evidence [based on neuropsychology] does not suggest that there is anything uniquely human about the basic neural structures and functions that give rise to human consciousness.
(Excerpts provided by University of Chicago Press.)



The Alchemist

Paulo Coelho


Aug. 2, 2002

        Paulo Coelho's enchanting novel has inspired a devoted following around the world.... This story, dazzling in its powerful simplicity and inspiring wisdom, is about an Andalusian shepherd boy named Santiago who travels from his homeland in Spain to the Egyptian desert in search of a treasure buried in the Pyramids. ... [W]hat starts out as a journey to find worldly goods turns into a discovery of the treasures found within. ... [T]he story of Santiago is an eternal testament to the transforming power of our dreams and the importance of listening to our hearts.        



Desert Solitaire

Edward Abbey


July 21, 2002

A must-read for anyone who might get excited wandering alone along the rocky cliffs or dusty trails of the Grand Canyon, for instance. Filled with brilliant imagery and a resonating philosophy of nature. I've collected my favorite quotes here for the spare-time-challenged.



The Worst-Case Scenario Survival Handbook

Joshua Piven and David Borgenicht


June 7, 2001


        How to Wrestle Free from an Alligator: 4. If its jaws are closed on something you want to remove (for example, a limb), tap or punch it on the snout.

Though it's being marketed as a humorous title—after all, it's unlikely you'll be called upon to land a plane, jump from a motorcycle to a moving car, or win a swordfight—the information contained in The Worst-Case Scenario Survival Handbook is all quite sound. [The] authors ... consulted numerous experts in their fields ... to discover how to survive various awful events.



A People’s History of the U.S.

Howard Zinn


Mar. 8, 2001

I can't stress the importance of this book enough. It could change the way you view a government “of the people, by the people, for the people.” has this to say about the 1999 edition: “Since its original landmark publication in 1980, A People’s History of the United States has been chronicling American history from the bottom up, throwing out the official version of history taught in schools—with its emphasis on great men in high places—to focus on the street, the home, and the workplace.
      “Known for its lively, clear prose as well as its scholarly research, A People’s History is the only volume to tell America’s story from the point of view of—and in the words of—America’s women, factory workers, African-Americans, Native Americans, the working poor, and immigrant laborers. As historian Howard Zinn shows, many of our country’s greatest battles—the fights for a fair wage, an eight-hour workday, child-labor laws, health and safety standards, universal suffrage, women’s rights, racial equality—were carried out at the grassroots level, against bloody resistance. Covering Christopher Columbus’s arrival through President Clinton’s first term [and second term in the 1999 edition], A People’s History of the United States, which was nominated for the American Book Award in 1981, features insightful analysis of the most important events in our history.”




Edwin Abbott Abbott


July 16, 2000


The Post Office

Charles Bukowski


Jan. 18, 2000


The Haunting of Hill House

Shirley Jackson


Jan. 5, 2000


The Road Less Traveled

M. Scott Peck


Oct. 28, 1999


Nineteen Eighty Four

George Orwell


Aug. 1, 1999


The Great Gatsby

F. Scott Fitzgerald


July 30, 1999


Into Thin Air

Jon Krakauer


Mar. 31, 1999



Graham Swift


Sept. 27, 1998



Sheri S. Tepper


Sept. 12, 1998


The Dharma Bums

Jack Kerouac


Aug. 26, 1998



Raymond Carver


July 12, 1998


Black Boy

Richard Wright


July 12, 1998


The Jungle

Upton Sinclair


July 1, 1998


The Egoscue Method of Health through Motion

Pete Egoscue


Jan. 1, 1998


On the Road

Jack Kerouac


June 23, 1997



William S. Burroughs


June 19, 1997


The Observing Self: Myst. & Psych.

Arthur J. Deikman


Apr. 29, 1997


Flowers for Algernon

Daniel Keyes


Feb. 27, 1997


The Magus—a revised version

John Fowles


Jan. 6, 1997


Breakfast of Champions

Kurt Vonnegut


Dec. 23, 1996


Einstein's Dreams

Alan Lightman


Dec. 7, 1996


The Collector

John Fowles


Dec. 2, 1996


The Tao of Pooh

Benjamin Hoff


Nov. 22, 1996


A Separate Peace

John Knowles


Nov. 4, 1996


Catcher in the Rye

J. D. Salinger


Oct. 18, 1996


Cat's Cradle

Kurt Vonnegut


Aug. 10, 1996



Michael Crichton


Aug. 3, 1995


Fahrenheit 451

Ray Bradbury


July 6, 1995


The Cuckoo's Egg

Clifford Stoll


July 3, 1995


The Martian Chronicles

Ray Bradbury


June 30, 1995


Great Escapes of World War II

George Sullivan


June 29, 1995


The Illustrated Man--A Collection

Ray Bradbury


June 24, 1995


The Firm

John Grisham


June 24, 1995


Brave New World

Aldous Huxley


June 22, 1995


Restaurant at the Edge/Universe

Douglas Adams


June 21, 1995


Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

Douglas Adams


June 21, 1995


Player Piano

Kurt Vonnegut


Aug. 15, 1994


The Andromeda Strain

Michael Crichton


July 30, 1994


A Wrinkle in Time

Madeleine L'Engle


July 27, 1994


Jurrassic Park

Michael Crichton


May 23, 1993


The Great Gatsby

F. Scott Fitzgerald


May 18, 1992


To Kill a Mockingbird

Harper Lee


Apr. 22, 1992


The Scarlet Letter

Nathaniel Hawthorne


Nov. 5, 1991


Uncle Tom's Cabin

Harriet Beecher Stowe


Aug. 30, 1991


Animal Farm

George Orwell


Nov. 4, 1990


Nineteen Eighty Four

George Orwell



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