Sunday, July 25, 2010

Mini-Review: "Deep Black: Conspiracy" by Stephen Coonts and Jim DeFelice

I am a big fan of Stephen Coonts' writing. So, when I learned of the Deep Black series, co-written with Jim DeFelice, I picked up "Deep Black: Conspiracy." I was not disappointed. Based on Coonts' thorough background knowledge and research into current espionage technologies, the action ricocheted from Vietnam - past and present - to rural Connecticut, D.C., LA and several stops in between.

In the midst of this action genre page-turner, Coonts offers some deep insights into the mindset of many Vietnam veterans:

"Meeting his Vietnamese enemy reminded Dean not of the war but of how much he had changed in the intervening years. As a sniper, he's seen Vietnam, the world, as black-and-white. Now he saw only colors, infinite colors. He knew his job and his duty, and would perform both. But e no longer had the luxury the teenager had of looking at targets through a crosshaired scope. What he saw was weighted with the time he's come through, the miles he's walked. The ghosts he'd shared space with, haunted by and, in turn, haunting." (Page 255)

I plan to read the rest of the series.


Saturday, July 24, 2010

A Brilliant Book and a Clever Title: "The Judgment of Paris" by Ross King

Ross King is a brilliant historian and a mesmerizing writer. I first became aware of his work when I read "Brunelleschi's Dome." His account of the building of the Duomo in Florence brought me back to my visit there, and the day I climbed to the top. "Michelangelo and the Pope's Ceiling" chronicles the intrigues that led to the painting of the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Once again, King's book reminded me of my visit to Rome and took me behind the scenes of how that iconic work of art came into being.

Blog Review of "The Pope's Ceiling"

I learned of "The Judgement of Paris" from my friend, Brenda Steinberg. She recently took an art history class at Harvard and this book was one of the resources. The subtitle of the book sets the scene for the book's focus: "The Revolutionary Decade That Gave the World Impressionism."

I must pause and say a word about the title of the book - "The Judgment of Paris." An engraving entitled "The Judgment of Paris," was executed in 1518 by Marcantonio Raimondi based on a sketch that had been done by Raphael. The engraving shows the young man Paris choosing which of three goddesses was the most beautiful- Juno, Minerva or Venus. The choice of Venus set in motion the events that led to the Trojan War. So, in this regard, the phrase, "The Judgment of Paris," refers to the man, Paris, making a subjective judgment about beauty. Used in another way, "The Judgment of Paris," refers, as well, to the topic of the book - to the city of Paris and its artistic community making subjective choices about which was more beautiful - the traditional painting style of the Salon or the new approach of the Impressionists. King connects these two topics by revealing that Edouard Manet was inspired to paint "Le Bain" when he was browsing in the Louvre's print room and found Raimondi's engraving!

King tells the story of the tumultuous decade - mid-1860's to mid-1870's - through the careers of two painters who came to represent the opposing poles of the Paris art world - Ernest Meissonier and Edouard Manet. Set against the backdrop of the Franco-Prussian War, the U.S. Civil War and the Paris Commune, the author paints a story of an art world in tumult and rapid evolution.

I have always been drawn to the Impressionists. Every visit I make to an art museum - the MFA, the Metropolitan, the Uffizi, the Prado, the National Gallery, the Louvre - finds me lingering in the Impressionist wing. So, I was not a neophyte when it comes to understanding the development of the Impressionist school. But King - by his thorough research and his vivid writing - added unexpected brush strokes to my understanding of the events that eventually gave the world the Impressionist masterpieces many of us have come to cherish.

If you love history, art or just plain expanding your mind, this is a book you will enjoy.


Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Talent Alert in Fairfield County and NYC - Communications Infrastructure Designer and Project Manager

A NYC-based client company is looking for an experienced Communications Infrastructure Designer and Project Manager.

Here are some of key requirements:

The ideal candidate will have 3 - 5 years of experience working in information technology within the financial services environment, preferably including data center and trading floor design and implementation experience. Candidate will be required to travel to midtown Manhattan as well as within Fairfield County, CT, so ideally will reside in one of these counties or on the east side of Manhattan, or if in NJ, have easy to the Tappan Zee Bridge . He/she will join the team and make an immediate impact supporting Design Engineers and Project Managers in the following project related tasks.

Please pass this information along to anyone you know who may be qualified and interested. Send MS-Word resumes and requests for additional information to me at:



Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Support Our Troops - Wounded Warrior Project Soldier Ride on September 4

My friend, Dougan Sherwood, along with Cambridge City Councilor Craig Kelley, are organizing a charity bike ride in the Boston area to benefit the Wounded Warrior Project (WWP), a non-profit organization that provides support to severely wounded servicemen and women.

WWP has a national program called Soldier Ride that was originally created as a form of therapy for wounded veterans. It has grown into a nation-wide effort that not only gets these heroes out on bikes and united them with other wounded veterans, but also helps organize the communities – both civilian and military – around them. These communities in turn show their support and appreciation either by riding with the vets, or cheering them along on the sidelines – all the while raising money and awareness for the Wounded Warrior Project.

I asked Dougan to explain how he got involved and how veterans and other concerned citizens can become involved with the Soldier Ride.

"I'm organizing this charity bike ride in the Boston area to benefit the Wounded Warrior Project (WWP), a non-profit organization that provides support to severely wounded servicemen and women.

I got involved because I'm one civilian who's benefited from the deep sacrifices many of these soldiers and their families have made. Along with several other civilian and former-military friends, we're hosting the first ever Boston Soldier Ride on Labor Day weekend: 10AM on Saturday, September 4th, 2010. The ride will begin and end at Minuteman Historical National Park in Concord, MA, and there will be ride distances for all ages and abilities.

The most important thing you can do is to join us as a rider and ask your friends, family, co-workers for contributions. If you're unable to ride, I'd be grateful for any contributions you can make to my ride. Beyond all that, we'd love to see you out there on September 4th, supporting our troops."

To learn more or register for the ride, please visit our Boston Soldier Ride website:

Hope to see you there!

Dougan Sherwood

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The first ever Boston Soldier Ride will be held on Labor Day weekend: 10AM on Saturday, September 4th, 2010. The ride will begin and end at Minuteman Historical National Park in Concord, MA, and there will be ride distances for all ages and abilities.

Anyone interested in getting involved can either contact Dougan at or visit the Boston Soldier Ride website.

A Timely Tool for CEOs and Boards of Directors - "How To Manage Your Board While Your Board Manages You" by Martin M. Coyne II

I was recently introduced to Marty Coyne by a mutual friend. When I learned of the work that he does with CEOs and Boards of Directors, I knew that I needed to read his new book. This slim volume is worth its weight in gold for CEOs and for the men and women who sit in governance on corporate boards. Coyne, speaking from his own deep well of experience as a member of several corporate boards, offers very practical and sensible advice to CEOs about how to forge positive relationships with their boards, committees and individual board members. The book's subtitle says it all: "A Practical Guide to Working Effectively With a Board For Both New and Experienced CEOs."

The first part of the book lays out the proper role of a corporate board and the committees that comprise the board in terms of governance and responsibility to shareholders. The last section offers a blueprint for the CEO in terms of how she can develop a successful plan for working with the board. There are several appendices that encourage the CEO to personalize the 5 fundamental principles that Coyne has presented.

Those principles are:

1) Understand your board's focus and expectations.

2) Provide timely, accurate, and relevant information to your directors.

3) Establish effective two-way communication with your board and individual directors.

4) Develop a robust, continual personal assessment and feedback process.

5) Use continual change as an opportunity to enhance your board relationship.

I found chapter 10 to be particularly valuable. Drawing from his own observations of working boards, Coyne outlines the key issues that most often lead to tensions between a CEO and his board. That chapter alone would make this book a valuable tool for any CEO - newly-minted or battle-scarred. The book is also useful for board members in helping them to see the board of directors' role through the eyes of the CEO.



Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Updike Redux - "The Widows of Eastwick"

I last wrote about John Updike shortly after he died. He was one of the first well known authors I had a chance to meet personally. Here is what I wrote last year:

"Updike has always been a mythical figure to me. I read his novels and short stories in prep school and college. I also knew him a bit. His first wife, Mary, sang in the Newburyport Choral Society. I was one of two high school age students admitted to this group, and I would often encounter Updike at our rehearsals, waiting to pick up Mary. The Updikes lived in the neighboring town of Ipswich. While I was still a member of the Choral Society, Updike created a sensation amongst the literati with his novel, "Couples." It was a thinly-disguised roman a clef, chronicling in fictionalized form the secret lives and hidden liaisons of several couples in the mythical town of Tarbox, Massachusetts. Everyone knew it was really Ipswich. It was a bit titillating as a teenager to know that I recognized in the fictitious characters some of the denizens of Ipswich whom I knew in real life."

It had been a while since I had picked up an Updike novel, so I recently took the time to read his last published novel, "The Widows of Eastwick." In this work, he revisits the trio of women he created in his acclaimed "The Witches of Eastwick." The Updike I rediscovered in this novel from the end of his career is the same wordsmith and arch commentator on American suburban life that I recall from his earlier works. Here is a wonderful sampling of his delicious prose. The setting is that two of the protagonists, Jane and Alexandra, are traveling together in Egypt as part of a tour group, and are forced to share a room.

"Safe in their own room, Jane and Alexandra agreed they were on their own and would ignore everybody else. Jane swiftly undressed and inserted herself in the bed away from the room's one window, and five minutes later Alexandra discovered something she had never known about her old friends, for all the hours, at parties and committee meetings and sabbats, over coffee and tea and cocktails, they had spent together in Eastwick: Jane snored. In Alexandra's experience, Ozzie Spofford, a seasonal hay-fever sufferer, had sniffled in his sleep, and Jim Farlander, especially when loaded for slumber with whiskey and beer, could descend into a snort so loud it would wake him before she resorted to an exasperated poke that would produce, within his cocoon of dreams, a muting change of position. Husbands you could poke; lovers left you before falling asleep. Jane, out of reach in her own twin bed, deep-breathed with an audible friction of inner membranes that knew no let-up. Each long intake arrived at a place of reverberation, a dip into nasal resonance at the exact same insistent pitch, it seemed to Alexandra, as her daytime conversation. Awake or asleep, Jane insisted, with a relentless and unforgiving will, on being heard; there had always been something unstoppable about her, whether she was playing the cello or making a pun or casting an evil spell. As Jane slept, she sucked the oxygen from the air in the inflexible rhythm of a mechanical pump, monotonous and insatiable, each breath attaining a kind of abrasive wall where it scraped and dipped before turning back in the shape of a hook, tugging Alexandra's brain another notch wider awake; she tried pitting herself to sleep by counting these breaths, and then by focusing on the ceiling floating above her as it received, ever fewer, the flickering, wheeling traces of taxi lights on the streets below. But nothing distracted her enough from the sibilant insult of each emphatic snore as Jane's body steadily rowed its way through the night, storing up energy for the coming day's strenuous, once-in-a-lifetime sights." (Pages 53-54)

If, in the long history of English literature, there exists a more evocative description of the phenomenon of snoring, I have yet to discover it. Far from causing me to snore, this novel kept me wide awake and alert to Updike's description of the denouement of the intertwined lives of these three fascinating women who haunted the denizens of Rhode Island's fictional seaside town of Eastwick.

I will be going back and filling in the missing pieces of Updike novels I have yet to read, and will be revisiting old friends I first read many years ago. I am confident they will speak to me now in ways that they could not when I read through a younger man's eyes and with the perspective of a more limited world view.