Monday, October 14, 2019

"The Middle Sister" by Jesse Miles - An entertaining Jack Salvo Hollywood Detective Novel - Where is Lille Manning?


Author Jesse Miles has penned a classic cinematic film noir tale of detective Jack Salvo's misadventures with three wealthy sisters living among Hollywood's glitterati and demi-monde worlds.  Rich widow Greta Manning hires Salvo to track down her missing middle daughter, Lillie. Older daughter, Zara, and younger daughter, Arden, separately provide the gumshoe with clues into Lillie's life that lead him into a fascinating set of encounters with the highest and lowest orders of Hollywood parasites.

The action often feels like the reader has been taken backstage in a Kardashian reality TV series. The cast of characters are memorable, including the likes of Cinnamon Strauss, former minor TV celebrity for her exercise show. Lillie's ne'er-do-well Ken Doll boyfriend, Rod Damian, is a likely suspect in her disappearance who must be tracked down and ruled out. The author gives us the requisite drug rehab connections, along with private and exclusive drug orgy parties high in the Hollywood hills. What Hollywood tawdry tale would be complete without a suspicious cosmetic surgeon to the stars as a key player? The story has more twist and turns than Mulholland Drive, and is a satisfying page turner read.

Enjoy.

Al

Thursday, October 03, 2019

"Inheritance" by Evelyn Toynton - An American Anglophile Learns Painful Truths about the British Upper Class


Author Evelyn Toynton has penned a novel that chronicles the difficult journey of an American Anglophile who learns that all is not formal gardens and primroses among the British upper class. After the death of her husband, protagonist Annie Devereaux moves to London without a plan except to come to know the England she has always fantasized about. She meets and moves in with Julian, whose mother is a renowned geneticist. Annie is soon drawn into the spider's web that is this spectacularly dysfunctional English family. As she visit the family estate in the West Country of England, she becomes involved with Julian's sisters, Sasha and Isabel.

As Annie ends her relationship with the abusive Julian, she draws closer to Isabel, who guides her through progressively deeper and darker layers of family history and tragedy. The irony is that Helena Denby, the mater familias of the clan, has dabbled in fascist eugenics theories, yet has produced a spectacularly troubled brood of her own offspring.

The author explores the question of what happens when fantasies and ideals are shattered by harsh realities? The book is well researched and well written, and captivates the reader.

Enjoy!

Al

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

"Bucky F*cking Dent" by David Duchovny - A Brilliant Use of Baseball as a Metaphor for Life and Overcoming Disappointment


The novel, "Bucky F*cking Dent,"  is not what I expected it to be; it is much more. Author David Duchovny - yes, that David Dochovny - is a gifted writer and an erudite student of history, philosophy, and culture. The name "Bucky Dent" sends a frisson up and down the spine of any Red Sox fan who has been paying attention since the watershed 1978 season.

You may recall that after a volatile regular season that saw the Red Sox sprint to a huge early lead in the American League East Division, they fell on hard times in July and the dog days of August and fell behind the Yankees. It took winning the last eight games of the season to draw even with the Bronx Bombers, setting the stage for a one game playoff. A coin flip determined that the pivotal game would be hosted by the Red Sox at Fenway Park, their "lyric little bandbox."

Bucky Dent was a light hitting shortstop penciled into the ninth position in the batting order. The Red Sox led the game 2-0 going into the seventh inning behind the shutout pitching of former Yankee hurler Mike Torrez. Early in the at bat, Dent broke his bat, and borrowed one from the on deck batter, center fielder Mickey Rivers. Dent had fouled off the first two pitches, and then took a cut at Torrez's next offering. The ball gently sailed toward the iconic Green Monster. Leftfielder, future Hall of Famer Yaz, camped under the high fly ball, ready to record the out. But a breeze blowing out toward the Wall turned what would have been an easy out in any other major league ballpark into a 3-run homerun.  At that was it. The Red Sox tried desperately to claw their way back into the lead, but the final score was Yankees 5 - Red Sox 4. The cancer that had been eating away at the soul of Red Sox Nation since 1918 - the Curse of the Bambino - rolled on like a juggernaut from the gates of Hell.

It is this historic baseball nugget that Duchovny uses as the seed around which he concocts a moving mythology about an estranged father and son duo - Marty and Ted. As the action of the novel begins, the two had not spoken in several years - Marty living n Brooklyn and Ted subsisting in a fourth floor walk-up apartment in Queens. Ted learns that Marty is dying of lung cancer, and decides to pay him a visit. He also learns from the old neighborhood gang that Marty's physical condition from day to day tends to wax and wane in sympathy with the results of the most recent win or loss by his beloved Boston Red Sox. Ted , despite his Columbia University degree, works as a peanut vendor at Yankee Stadium. He comes up with a plan to fool Marty into thinking that the Red Sox were continuing their winning ways, enlisting the support of the denizens of the neighborhood news stand, characters who had known Marty and Ted for decades. His goal was to maximize the number of good days that Marty would experience as the cancer ate away at what was left of Marty's body. Two significant women play important roles in the saga. Mariana is a "mortality coach," basically functioning as a hospice counselor who visits Marty on a regular basis. She and Ted develop a complex and tortuous  relationship. Maria is a former lover of Marty who comes back into his life during his final days.

Ted manages to score two tickets to the playoff game in Boston, and he and Marty embark on a road trip from Brooklyn to Boston. The description of the trip provides author Duchovny with an opportunity to use the trip as a metaphor for Marty and Ted and their lives:

"They drove farther north like that.In perfect loving antagonism. It occurred to Ted that maybe Marty was like all the red and gold leaves he saw burning on the trees. In nature, it seems, things reached their most vibrant and beautiful right at the point of death, flaming out with all they had - why not natural man? His father was red, green, yellow, and gold, like a beautiful bird falling from the sky." (p, 253)

The novel is deeply moving, and a fitting read for Red Sox fans, Yankees fans, and fans of great writing.

Enjoy!

Al

Monday, September 23, 2019

"Leading Change from the Middle" by Jackson Nickerson - A Practical Guide To Building Extraordinary Capabilities - Leading at The Crossroads of Change


There is a large body of works that address the challenges of leading organizational transformation and change. Most of these fine works address themselves to the person leading the organization in need of change. Author Jackson Nickerson has filled an important gap by examining the unique challenges faced by those in the middle of an organization - one or more levels down from the CEO - who face a mandate to lead change. "Leading Change From The Middle" is a very practical handbook for the would be change agent working from the middle of an organizational chart.

The gist of Nickerson's argument is that the change agent must identify potential stake holders involved in any planned change in each of four sectors. The sectors are:

  • Superordinates
  • Subordinates
  • Customers
  • Complementors/Blockers

For each of the categories, the author prescribes specific actions that must be taken to ensure maximum cooperation from stakeholders in the changes about to be made. The author suggests the acronym "ABBA" to help the reader to remember: Agree-In, Bee-In, Buy-In, and Allow-In. 

"Each approach provides communication, strategies, tactics, and sequencing of actions for leading change among stakeholders - activities collectively referred to as CoSTS." (p. 44) Throughout the book, Nickerson offers two contrasting case studies drawn from real world experience to highlight how the CoSTS principles can be applied in two very different situations.. Kurt is charged with reducing the time it takes within the Department of Defense to implement a new software program for soldier recruitment. Stephen is hired by a major metropolitan mayor to lead an initiative to create an urban agriculture program so the city will be regarded as the "Greenest" in America.

One strength of this model is that it takes into consideration the human element in leading change - the emotions that often get in the way of rational decision making. Nickerson offers the acronym "DEAF' to identify four key negative emotions that might cause stakeholders to block progress and change:  Disrespect, Envy, Anger, and Fear.

Among the components of the model I found most helpful were suggested questions that a change agent might ask a stakeholder who is their boss to ensure that Agree-In has been reached.

  • Which stakeholders, if any, will your supervisor want to personally engage and help manage
  • Will your boss manage and communicate with superordinates up the chain of command, or should you have similar conversations with them?
  • At what point will your boss intervene to help you overcome the resistance of a blocker, or to encourage a customer to participate?

These questions are emblematic of the practical nature of the information that the author provides in this book. Nickerson serves as Frahm Family Professor of Organization and Strategy at Olin Business School at Washington University in St. Louis. He teaches a course in "Leading from the Middle" for the Brookings Institution.

The book is a welcome addition to evolving field of Change Leadership.

Enjoy!

Thursday, September 19, 2019

"To The Elephant Graveyard" by Tarquin Hall - A Compelling Look At The Mind of A Rogue Elephant and Those Who Hunt Him


I had several reasons for wanting to read "To The Elephant Graveyard." I love elephants, and drink in anything I can learn about them -   especially how they live in their natural habitats. Second, the action of this book - a true story that reads like an adventure novel - takes place in the Northeast India state of Assam. My father spent part of WWII serving the U.S. Army Air Corps in Assam, so that part of the world has always held a certain level of intrigue for me.

I was initially concerned when I learned that journalist Tarquin Hall had written a book telling the story of a legendary elephant hunter. I have a particular disdain for those who hunt endangered species, especially elephants, so I was not sure how I would feel about the hunter who is on center stage of this narrative. I quickly learned that Dinesh Choudhury, the most acclaimed of all of India's elephant hunters, loves and reveres elephants. He only agrees to hunt those who have proven to be a significant danger to villagers. Such was the case of a rogue elephant who had murdered several villagers in remote locations. Author Hall persuaded Mr. Choudhury to take him along on the perilous trek to find and kill the rampaging rogue bull elephant.

The resulting account of their travels and adventures is told in cinematic prose, offering clear descriptions of actions and the motivations that undergirded them. It is a tale of government officials, hunters, mahouts, terrified villagers, and journalists who pit themselves against an elephant who had been driven mad by abuse at the hands of a prior owner. The story includes incidents of near misses, treks through lush forests and jungles, encounters with villagers and farmers, and an introduction into the small world of mahouts - those who train and handle elephants as a life's calling.

The result is a very readable book that has all the earmarks of a classic. Reading it has deepened my appreciation for elephants and those who strive to provide a balance between protecting their shrinking habitats while also protecting those they sometime endanger.

Enjoy.

Al

"Meditations of an Army Ranger" by Lt. Col. (Ret.) J.C. Glick and Dr. Alice Atalanta - A Well Written Warrior Philosophy for Everyone


Army Lt. Colonel J.C. Glick (Retired) has teamed up with Dr. Alice Atalanta to offer a pithy handbook that enables those of us who did not serve as special forces soldiers to adopt a Warrior Philosophy. The book is written in a clear and concise voice. Both authors make it clear that a deep understanding of classical philosophy - particularly Stoicism - lays the foundation for the Warrior ethos they describe in this book.

The book is divided into sections, each of which has a Latin title, cementing the feel that the authors are standing on the shoulders of classical thinkers and doers.

Exsuscito (Awaken) explains why philosophy undergirds everything that is to follow inths book.

Cogitare Aliter (Thinking Differently) offers sixteen different ways of thinking and acting to differentiate oneself from the typical herd mentality that is so easy to fall into. These include Motivation vs. Inspiration, Integrity s. Honesty, Discipline vs. Obedience, etc.

Habere et Esse (To Have and To Be)  explores the phenomena of Trust, Resilience, Initiative, and Courage.

Ducatus (Leadership) is a key section that offers practical examples of how the best leaders think, inspire, and motivate those whom they lead.

Electissimi (Elite) explores the nature of Greatness.

Finally, Vade (Go Forth) examines what it means to live a life of Purpose. The concept of Purpose is showing up in almost every book I have read in the past year that purports to address issues of leadership and growth. It is clear to many gifted authors that identifying Purpose and using that Purpose to drive decisions is a paramount ingredient in living a productive and satisfying life. This book is a welcome addition to the growing corpus of literature that addresses this crucial area of living.

Enjoy.

Al

"Smoke and Water" by Tai Le Grice - A Moving Coming of Age Story about Overcoming Personal Tragedy and Homophobia


Author Tai Le Grice has penned a  moving novel that tells the story of Eike Nylund. A star athlete, he was at swim practice when a fire swept through the family home and killed his parents and siblings, He arrived at home as it was being engulfed in flames. He foolishly and heroically rushed into the inferno, hoping to save family members. He ended up being severely burned, and spent weeks in a hospital burn unit recovering physically. The scars on his back were visible, but less visible were the emotional scars of survivor guilt. He was taken in by his loving and supportive grandparents, but abandoned swimming - until he met Damon King, Captain of the college swim team.

Damon not only became his support for re-engaging with the world of swimming, but became a close and cherished friend. Their friendship began to develop into something more intimate, but Damon's powerful father made sure that a message was sent that his son was not to be seen as a homosexual. Men were sent to beat up Damon, who ended up back in the hospital. And Damon disappeared, living under virtual house arrest to keep him from Eike.

The narrative explores the levels of courage that both Eike and Damon needed to discover in order to persevere in their lives and in their love. The story is filled with clearly drawn characters of several generations. It is a moving and well-written Coming of Age saga that speaks to its intended Youth Adult audience and beyond. The circumstances described in "Smoke and Water" are drawn from fictionalized interpretations of the stories of real individuals the author has known. It is an inspiring tale of courage against tough odds, with characters surviving despite being thrown into the proverbial deep end of the pool.

Enjoy.

Monday, September 16, 2019

"Arrows of Fire " by Marlen Suyapa Bodden - The Aztec Empire and Montezuma Meet Cortes


The author of  "Arrows of Fire," Marlen Suyapa Bodden, has meticulously researched interactions between Hernan Cortes and Aztec Emperor Montezuma. This fact is clear from the extensive list of bibliographic resources listed at the end of the book, and by the vivid details in which she recounts battles and movements of troops within Mesoamerica. It did not surprise me to learn that the author is a New York City-based attorney with a reputation as an anti-war and anti-slavery activist. For much of the narrative of this compelling novel recounts the callousness with which human life was regarded by both sides - Spanish explorers and Aztec rulers. Human sacrifice was an important component of the Aztec religious belief system, and slavery, rape, and wholesale murder of the indigenous population with the trademark of Cortes and his ilk.

Another salient feature of this novel is the key role played by female Aztec warriors. We follow the story of Flower, a 12 year-old girl taken from her remote village by minions of Montezuma and carefully prepared to be the human sacrifice in the annual ritual to recreate the death of the goddess Coyolxauhqui. Flower was brought to the Aztec capital island city of Tenochtitlan where she was trained to be the pure avatar of the slain goddess. Part of her training involved being instructed in the fine points of archery by the warrior, Teputzitoloc. Against all odds and defying strict regulations meant to isolate Flower, the two fell in love. The warrior warned Flower of her true fate, and arranged to help her escape to join a growing band of rebel warriors who would fight both Montezuma and the Spaniards. Flower was taken under the wing of a seasoned female warrior, and eventually played a key role in an attempted assassination of Montezuma.

This book is a satisfying read, filling in blanks in my knowledge of the Spanish conquest of the Aztec empire. It is also a disturbing read because it throws a harsh spotlight on the racist assumptions that allowed European explorers to justify their wholesale destruction of the indigenous populations of the lands they stole and then claimed for the various crowns that had underwritten the cost of the expeditions. The author is a gifted story teller, combining vivid detail with historic accuracy She also has a knack for creating characters that I came to care about, which is always a mark of good writing.

This book is available on pre-order from Amazon, and will be released on October 14, 2019.

Enjoy!

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

"Victoria's Voice" by David and Jackie Siegel - Turning Tragedy Into A Warning About Teen Drug Abuse


Victoria "Rikki" Siegel's life lasted only 18 troubled years. She died of an accidental overdose of a cocktail of drugs, including methadone. According to her father, co-author David Siegel, her descent into drug abuse began when a psychiatrist who saw her for depression and anorexia prescribed Xanax in ever increasing dosages.

After Rikki's tragic death, David and his wife, Jackie, vowed to devote themselves to warning other parents of teenagers about the dangers of drugs. A friend of Rikki had alerted the parents to the existence of a diary that Rikki had kept. Her dying wish had been that her parents would publish her diary as a cautionary tale to help others understand the troubled mind of a struggling teen girl.

The bulk of the book is comprised of reproductions of pages of the diary in Rikki's often scrawled handwriting. It can be difficult to read - because the writing is often barely legible, but also because her pain is palpable. Following the last entry in the diary, the book contains several appendices, including words spoken by family members at the funeral, and a compendium of information about drugs - prescription and illegal.

The family's affluent lifestyle plays a role in Rikki's journey. David founded the largest Time Share empire, Westgate Resorts. Jackie is the former Mrs. Florida. Both David and Jackie are deeply involved in the beauty pageant world. They also aspired to use their substantial wealth to build the largest private home in the U.S - an American Versailles - to house themselves, their eight children, and a menagerie of pets. A team of documentary filmmakers took up residence with the family for two years to chronicle the building of the mansion and the life of the family that hoped to someday occupy it. It is clear from Rikki's diary that the whole Versaille phenomenon caused her much embarrassment and resulted in bullying and ostracism at school.

One of the most helpful parts of the book is the thorough list of How To Spot Drug Use In Kids, as well as a comprehensive list of resources available to parents and teenagers. The book serves as a tribute to a life too soon cut short, and offers a set of signposts to warn others of the dangers of allowing gateway drugs - prescribed or bought on the street - to lead to tragic ends.

Al

Thursday, August 29, 2019

"Trillion Dollar Coach" - Pure Gold for Coaches and CEOs - The Wisdom of Bill Campbell


Before reading "Trillion Dollar Coach," I had not been aware of the legendary career of Bill Campbell, for many years Silicon Valley's uber coach to leading executives. Despite his success as a leading executive and coach, during his lifetime Campbell opted to stay out of the public eye - often refusing to step into the limelight. After Campbell's death in 2016, Eric Schmidt, Jonathan Rosenberg, and Alan Eagle got together and decided that an appropriate way to honor Campbell's life and legacy would be to distill his wisdom into a book, sort of a posthumous festschrift. The result of their distillation efforts is this book that is worth its weight in gold.

In his lifetime, Campbell coached football at Columbia University, moved to the business world when Kodak hired him, and then carved out a remarkable third career in Silicon Valley. He founded several successful companies, and began to serve on Boards and to invest in companies and to coach their leaders. The likes of Steve Jobs,  Al Gore, Steve Ballmer, Jeff Bezos, and Sheryl Sandberg. The total valuation of the leaders he coached is well north of one trillion dollars, hence the book's title. Among those companies are Google, Apple, Facebook, YouTube, Intuit, Claris, and Adobe. Campbell served on the Board of Apple, and was instrumental in bringing Steve Jobs back to the helm of the company.

As effective as Bill was in coaching and befriending individual leaders, his real secret sauce was his emphasis on coaching teams of leaders. He was convinced that even in a cutthroat place like Silicon Valley, webs of relationships of trust were essential to success. As a former football coach, he was not averse to dispensing some tough love, telling those he coached the hard truths they needed to hear. But because he had established a strong foundation of trust, and they knew that he was on their side, they were able to hear and accept what would have been painful coming from any other source.

The book is filled with nuggets of gold drawn from Bill  Campbell's relationships with those who were eager to share vignettes of their encounters with Coach Bill. The consistent thread that ties these recollections together is Bill's consistent message that addressing the strength and health of the team was usually the straightest path to solving complex problems. In his life, he would go to extreme lengths to be the catalyst who  would pull together effective teams - within companies and across corporate boundaries. His annual trips to the Super Bowl became events that numerous individuals looked forward to. The game was secondary; the opportun enjoy the relationships within the traveling group was the primary point of these outings. There were also weekly gatherings at a sports bar in Palo Alto in which Bill was invested to build a sense of community among the participants.

Like any effective executive coach, Bill would abstain from offering his own solutions. He would listen carefully, ask probing questions, challenge assumptions, and over time help the leader he was coaching to arrive at wise decisions on her own. Now, thanks to the work done by this trio of authors, his wisdom and spirit can live on in perpetuity, allowing those of us who did not meet him in his lifetime to encounter him through the reflections of those he invested in.

I recommend this book to anyone who finds himself or herself in the role of coach, as well as those who are leading companies and teams. Campbell was emphatic that any leader worth his salt should also be intentionally coaching those he was leading.

Enjoy!

Al

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

"The Pioneers" by David McCullough - An Excellent Saga of the Settling of the Northwest Territory across the Ohio River


I have come to appreciate David McCullough's unique gift at making various periods of American history come to life. In his latest work,  "The Pioneers," the historian focuses his attention on the little town of Marietta, Ohio as the first settlement in the territory opened up by Congress passing the Northwest Ordinance in 1787. Part of my enjoyment of this book can be attributed to the fact that I found a number of points of personal connection. The settling of Marietta by a group of New Englanders was engineered by the team of Manasseh Cutler and General Rufus Putnam. Cutler was a minister living in Ipswich, Massachusetts, just down the road from where I grew up in Newburyport. Putnam had served under George Washington in the Revolutionary War. His headquarters were situated on Inman Street in Cambridgeport, across the street from where I lived for several years.

The New England residents who saw an opportunity to establish a new and prosperous life on the bank of the Ohio displayed remarkable courage and perseverance, clawing a lasting settlement out of the heavily forested wilderness across the Ohio River from Virginia. Marietta was established at the confluence of the Ohio and Muskingum Rivers, downstream from Pittsburgh.

The reader sees the settling of the Northwest Territory through the lens of the lives of several key families: the Cutlers, the Putnams, the Bakers, the Hildreths. We also experience developments in the life of the young nation as seen through the eyes of the denizens of Marietta. Among these larger issues were the wars with the Indians, the War of 1812, the British Embargo, the fight to keep slavery from encroaching on the new states, the Underground Railroad, the fight for free public education, and the impact of steamboats to open up the inland rivers to commerce and navigation. We also get to experience visits to Marietta from several notable figures in American history: Aaron Burr, General Lafayette, John Quincy Adams among them.

This aspect of the history of the westward expansion of our nation was something I had not been very familiar with. McCullough's account of the establishment of Marietta and the towns and cities that followed gave me a deeper appreciation of the the vision and tenacity of those who left New England to establish a new City On a Hill to replicate what had been created in Boston.

Enjoy!

Al

Sunday, August 18, 2019

"Elevate" by Robert Glazer - Push Beyond Your Limits and Unlock Success in Yourself and Others


Two years ago, Robert Glazer published "Performance Partnerships," a book that drew on his broad experience as a thought leader in the Affiliate Marketing world.

See the White Rhino Report review below:

White Rhino Report Review of "Performance Partnerships

With his latest book, "Elevate," Bob widens the aperture of his lens to look at four ways in which any person can increase their capacity to live - and to lead - in an integrated way. The four realms are spiritual, intellectual, physical, and emotional. Many of the ideas that the author shares are not new to anyone who has been paying attention to the evolving worlds of commerce and wellness. But he presents these familiar ideas in a simple template that is refreshing and accessible, offering concrete Action Steps to take in applying the principles of each chapter. He shares personal experiences, and the stories of others who have struggled to elevate their capacity to perform in each of these areas. He shares ideas from other authors whom he has come to respect, especially Carol Dwek's "Mindset," and Anglea Duckworth's "Grit."

He generously thanks many who have contributed to his own journey toward integration of these four kinds of capacity. I was humbled and pleasantly surprised when I turned the page to find his recollection of a lunch that he and I had shared a few years ago. Bob was wrestling with a sense of satisfaction with his current role and current company.

"Later that year, I went to lunch with my friend, Al Chase. During lunch I shared with him my situation and why I felt that the responsible choice was to stay for a few years to gain operating experience and prove I was not a job hopper.

Al listened and then looked me square in the eye and said, 'My friend, I give you permission to leave.' Seeing the confused look on my face, he explained his advice. 'You have got to do what's right for you.'

This was a pivotal moment for me and a great example of how to inspire someone by pushing them outside their comfort zone ... Al's advice turned a lightbulb on in my head: I had accepted the middle lane and put what I wanted most on hold. I wasn't learning and I wasn't getting better. My capacity had plateaued." (page 40)

I share this passage for several reasons. First, it reveals Bob's generosity of spirit in acknowledging the many individuals who have contributed to his growth and success over the ears. I also share it because it reveals what Seth Godin would call a "Free Prize Inside," Hidden beneath the surface of Glazer's sharing is the heuristic that when we reach out to help others, we are also helping ourselves. The teacher learners as he teaches.The mentor gains wisdom as she shares two way dialogue with her mentee. I recall that lunch conversation as vividly as does Bob, and I recall being inspired by Bob's intellectual curiosity and his courage to consider moving out of his comfort zone. we both walkedaway from the encounter having been filled by more than the luncheon fare.

In keeping with this principle of mutual benefit, allow me to suggest that this book could be used as a Swiss Army Knife with several blades. Buy a copy for yourself and work through the Actions Steps at the end of each chapter. Then, buy in bulk and begin to share this treasure with those whose development you are willing to invest in - your staff, your clients, your families. The holidays are fast approaching, and this book would make a terrific gift. (The official release date is October 1. You can pre-order now on Amazon.com).

As you Elevate yourself, I invite you to also Elevate those you care about.

Enjoy!

Al

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

"The Book of African Proverbs" by Gerd de Ley - A Treasury of Folk Wisdom


Drawing from a wide variety of primary sources, author Gerd de Ley has compiled a fascinating collection of proverbs and sayings from across the African continent. Many different nations, tribes, and cultures are represented in the hundreds of pithy sayings that populate this book. I have spent time living in the Republic of Haiti. This nation boasts many traditions that hark back to the African roots of former slaves. I was struck by how similar many of the African proverbs are to ones I had come to know in Haiti.

The proverbs are organized in nine chapters, with headings such as Life and Death, The Value of Hard Work, Animal Wisdom, and Words to the Wise. I was impressed with how much universal wisdom is shared across the globe. This Zulu proverb, "The Horse That Arrives Early Gets Good Drinking Water," is very similar in spirit to our familiar trope,"The Early Bird Catches The Worm."

This is the kind of book that can be read and enjoyed a few pages at a time - in a professional waiting room, in the bathroom, during a commute. It is a delightful addition to our appreciation of the universality of folk wisdom,

Enjoy!

Al

Neal Stephenson Waxes Philosophical In His Latest Novel "Fall"


Over the years, I have derived enormous pleasure and intellectual stimulation from Neal Stephenson's novels. In the case of his latest tome, "Fall," I had a different experience.The narrative revolves around two worlds: Meatspace and Bitworld. Meatspace is the plane of existence that we live in the flesh here on earth. Bitworld is a digital realm that consist of entities that are pure neural connections. In the foreseeable future, neural science will have allowed machines to scan human brains and digitize each neural connection. These composite connections and memories are captured before the moment of death, and sent into the ether as digital reincarnations of the disembodied person who life in Meatspace is about to end.

As the narrative develops, as Bitworld becomes populated with more and more digital entities, is recapitulating the history of mankind in many respects, including elements of Creation stories and mythologies from a variety of cultures and religions, a Fall from Grace, an Adam and Eve, a Garden and an Exile from the Garden. And finally, an Armageddon.

Stephenson explores several levels of philosophical inquiry as he develops the interactions between Bitworld and Meatspace. Metaphysics  predominates, as he examines the nature of reality. Certainly Epistemology is much on his mind - how do we know the things that we know. Ethical questions abound as rules of living in a digital world evolve.

The problem with all of this intellectual wrangling is that for the first time in my experience of reading a Stephenson work, I found that he failed to create real characters that I care about. I found myself plodding through the nearly thousand pages. I am accustomed to experiencing a Neal Stephenson novel like a fine steak that is delicious, nutritious, and requires just the right amount of chewing. In the case of "Fall,"I felt like I was forcing myself to finish a heaping plate of rutabagas. Not terrible - but not something I would Yelp about.  I simply did not care about the fate of any of the characters.

Al

Thursday, June 27, 2019

"The Secret Life of the American Musical" by Jack Viertel - How Broadway Shows Are Built


Author Jack Viertel made a wise choice when he cast himself as the person to write this book on "How Broadway Shows Are Built."  He has served as a Broadway producer, an executive with the Jujamcyn Theaters in NYC, and has taught at the Tisch School of the Arts at NYU. The format for this book, "The Secret Life of the American Musical" comes from the curriculum he developed for one of the courses he taught at Tisch.

Appropriately enough, the author has ordered the chapters of the book to mirror the way in which a Broadway musical is built, from Overture to Curtain Call. Within each chapter, he discusses the choices that the creative team must make at each stage of the show in engaging the audience and telling the story. In each case, he cites the American  musicals he feels have done the best job of writing songs or dialogue that address the issue at hand.

Curtain Up discusses opening numbers. Here is an excellent example of the format the author uses with great effect throughout the book:

"Opening numbers can make or break a show. They have turned flops into hits (A Funny Thing Happened on The Way to the Forum), and their conception can be a cause for completely rethinking and reworking everything that comes after them (Fiddler on the Roof). They can be fabulously elaborate (A Chorus Line, Ragtime) or breathtakingly simple (Oklahoma), but whatever they are, they launch the enterprise. If they do what they're supposed to do, they hand . . .  any capable director the tools to do the job." (p. 19)

Along the way, Mr. Viertel offers anecdotes from an insider's perspective that add fascinating texture to this behind the scenes look at the artistic process. Among those stories is the recounting of the night when veteran Broadway actor, John Raitt, star of "Oklahoma," walked on stage before a performance of "The Who's Tommy." He was well known to  the Broadway patrons of a certain age, but not to most of the members of this young audience. "This promised a dangerous disconnect. 'Hello, everybody. . . I'm Bonnie Raitt's dad!'" (p. 150) What a wonderful example of the passing of the Broadway torch from generation to generation.

The author discusses his personal definition of the Golden Age of Broadway: "The architecture of musicals dates back to Broadway's Golden Age., the dates of which can be agreed upon by no one. My opinion is that it begins on the opening night of "Oklahoma"(March 31, 1943) and ends on the opening night of "A Chorus Line" (July 25, 1975. During those decades, musicals found a form that was so rock solid and so satisfying to audiences that the components of that form served as a road map for creators who revised and refined but never abandoned it.." (p. 4)

In virtually every chapter, these questions are addressed: "At this point in the show, what does the audience need in order to understand what is happening, in order to care about the characters, and in order to have the energy and the desire to keep paying attention?"

I am more than just a casual fan of Broadway. Like many others, my love for musicals began with listening to cheap cast albums that my parents had bought as premiums for shopping at the First National supermarket in our home town. This book not only reminded me of things I had seen and heard and loved over the decades, but offered insights into processes and dynamics I had only been vaguely familiar with. The book is a generous gift to lovers of musical theater.

Enjoy!

Al

Wednesday, June 05, 2019

"Warlight" by Michael Ondaatje- The Master of Metaphor Is at The Height of His Powers


Like many readers, I first became aware of the incredible genius of Michael Ondaatje when I saw the film "The English Patient," and immediately ordered the novel upon which the film had been based. I was struck by the author's ability to make history seem relevant and current. His gift of using detailed place descriptions transported me as the reader to the site of the action of the narrative. Finally, his rich application of metaphor frequently dove beneath the surface of the action to address larger philosophical and psychological issues. These same gifts are ones he brings in spades to "Warlight."

Nataniel and Rachel are two young siblings, living in post-WWII England. Their parents announce that work requires the adults to move temporarily to Singapore, leaving the children in the dubious care of a character the kids dub "The Moth." During the ensuing months, The Moth is joined by a parade of peculiar individuals who visit and sometimes inhabit the family domicile. Are they all involved in a life of crime, do they all know the parents, when will Mom and Dad return? This uncertainty plays out as Nathaniel and Rachel build relationships with this strange cast of characters.

The mystery deepens when the children discover that the steamer trunk that their mother had dramatically packed over several days of preparation for her trip to Singapore was hidden in a remote corner of the basement. When the mother finally does return, she comes without the father, and brings no explanation of why she was gone.

I mentioned that Ondaatje is a master of metaphor. The meticulous packing of the steamer trunk and its subsequent discovery and unpacking is a fine metaphor for how he reveals the truth about the lives of Nathaniel, Rachel, their mother, the Moth, et al. It is only later in life when the adult Nathaniel has an opportunity to review dusty government documents from WWII that he is able to "unpack" some of the mystery surrounding his mother and what she did during the war and in the opening salvos of the Cold War.

The narrative is richly peppered with metaphors giving meaning at many levels. Nathaniel and his short-term girlfriend Agnes spend time on the Thames with the Darter, who works at illegally importing racing greyhounds from France. In the course of their plying the many sections of the Thames, they often explore canals, cuts, and small streams that are unknown to most Londoners. We learn later in the narrative that these forgotten tributaries have purposes that are not immediately apparent. The same can be true of some of the detours and excursions that the author offers as the story unfolds. We meet characters who seem to be making only a cameo appearance, but whose significance grows are the threads of the narrative are woven together.

Another metaphorical theme is that of maps and charts. They play a significant role in the lives of Nathaniel, his mother Rose, the Darter, Mr. and Mrs. Malakite. There is special mention made of contour lines, and the author is a genius at painting characters whose contour lines provide the reader with a trek up and down literary escarpments and defilades that often astonish. Nathaniel's exploration of the contours of Rose's life and career expose him to an awareness of the danger that she and her family and coterie faced during the war years and in the tumultuous era that followed.

Another wonderful metaphor is that of a fishing lure. A young crippled boy is a master at crafting fishing flies. He teaches the art to Rachel, showing her how to construct the lure and how to use it in subtle ways to gather in the fish. And then he disappears for quite a while from the narrative. He reappear as a man who has morphed into an intelligence recruiter of some renown, who is known as "The Gatherer."

The resulting work of art is a satisfying and fascinating historical and psychological profile of a handful of indelibly limned individuals, all seen in the dim and fog shrouded light of war and its aftermath. If you have an appreciation for literary storytelling at the highest level, then you will not want to miss reading this book.

Enjoy!

Sunday, June 02, 2019

"King Edward VIII - An American Life" by Ted Powell - A Contrarian View of The Erstwhile Prince of Wales


Author Ted Powell offers a contrarian view of the Duke of Windsor in his new biography, "King Edward VIII - An American Life." Powell makes a strong case for his premise that it was far more than simply his love for Wallis Simpson that caused Edward to abdicate the British throne in 1936.

Powell posits the there were in reality two Princes of Wales inhabiting the same body. There was the official "Edward," dutifully and begrudgingly carrying out the formal ceremonial duties of the office. Then there was "David," the free spirit who longed to mix with and to understand the commoners who were Edward's subjects. The American dream was a breeding ground for David's imagination and experimentation with freedoms - risk taking, horseback riding, flying airplanes, investing in a ranch in Canada, and bedding independent minded American women.

The book takes the reader through the tortuous journey that the Prince took - psychologically and geographically. As Prince, he traveled the world, visiting much of what remained of the crumbling British Empire. As David, he was frequently drawn back to America, the wild western provinces of Canada, and the American enclave that inhabited the Paris of the 1920s and '30s. His view of a more democratic monarchy removed fro the pedestal and mixing with the commoners was sharply at odds with the more conservative views of his Father, George V, and his court.

Wallis Simpson was simply the last of the lovers that Edward/David would take. His decision to defy the rest of the royal household and marry the twice divorced American was the final straw in a prolonged struggle for the heart and soul of the Prince of Wales. His decision to marry Mrs. Simpson, and the shocking decision to abdicate the throne, created a permanent break with the royal household. He spent the rest of his life trying to get Wallis Simpson officially recognized as his Duchess of Windsor.

The book is filled with colorful anecdotes of Edward's relationships with Churchill, Roosevelt, Will Rogers, Charles Lindbergh, Henry Ford, Paul Whitman, Hitler, Mussolini, and an endless conga line of lovely "dance partners." His years after abdicating the throne were filled with frustrating attempts to be useful. During the war years, the British establishment worked hard to silence him because of his statements that implied Nazi sympathies.

Throughout the book, the author contrasts the vastly different approaches to the Prince of Wales/Duke of Windsor taken by the press on both sides of the Atlantic. Whereas the British press, Fleet Street, were deferential to the royal family, keeping personal issues out of the papers, American journalist knew no such hesitation. Edward became an American celebrity on par with Clark Gable. His every move and every dance partner was fodder for reporting, gossiping, and speculation on whether she could be a perspective bride. He was not prepared for such relentless scrutiny, and it took its toll on him.

This book as a fascinating addition to the already rich trove of books written about Edward and Wallis.

Enjoy!

Al

Brave The Wave" by Johnny Cavazos, M.D. - An Intimate Spiritual Memoir of a Journey Toward Christian Faith


In offering "Brave The Wave," author Johnny Cavazos, M.D., is presenting a memoir of his own spiritual journey. It is his stated purpose to encourage each reader to "Discover and fully realize your authentic self."  (p.28)

Dr. Cavazos has a unique perspective. He credits two sources for his decision to embrace a personal Christian faith. He credits Rick Warren's landmark book, "The Purpose Driven Life," with getting hims started on the road toward embracing Christianity. He also has done extensive research into Near Death Experiences (NDE). His journey of faith has concluded that traditional biblical teaching and the narrative from Near Death Experiences highlight the same two keystone principals: Love and Light.

Seen through another lens, "Brave The Wave" is an extended Gospel tract. The author is passionate about his discoveries of spiritual truths, and he is eager for readers to embark on a similar journey. He peppers each chapter with many Bible verses. He places these verses in context of how they have impacted him and the lives of others he is familiar with.

If you are open to reading an honest and heart-flt testimony of a medical doctor who has embraced Christ and the Christian faith, you will find this book inspiring and challenging. His bottom line conclusion about each person's purpose in life is this: "The reality is we're on this planet to learn to love others." (p. 26)

Enjoy!

Al

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

"The Economics of Emotion" by Kyle M.K. - A brilliant practical look at behavioral economics



Author Kyle M. K. of Austin, Texas has worked for blue chip companies like Disney, Apple, Starbucks, and Ritz-Carlton. He has observed that the main trait that sets these organizations apart from those that are less successful is that they pay close attention to the emotions that they evoke among costumers and employees. In "The Economics of Emotion," he outlines how they accomplish this feat.

The book kicks off with a basic review of the primary human emotions: Joy, Anger, Fear, Disgust, and Sadness.  Strategically and operationally, intelligent companies have figured out how to utilize an understanding of the interplay among these emotions to create an ecosystem that encourages contentment among employees and loyalty among customers. He also aligns himself with the growing movement to identify Purpose as a key indicator of success.

"Purpose underlies everything. When organizations find their purposes, they develop the foundation for all future business decisions." (p. 85)

The author does an excellent job of demonstrating the contrast between companies that understand emotional commitment and those that ignore it. A classic quotation from Dale Carnegie sets the stage for a discussion of corporate cultures: "When dealing with people, remember you are not dealing with creatures of logic, but creatures of emotion." (p. 139) In onboarding new employees, Apple stores are assiduous about making them feel welcome and included from their first hours on the job. Disney tries to ensure that during training, new employees, whom they assume are already Disney fans, experience some fun while learning the Disney systems and the Disney way of doing things.

Final chapters delve into the important topics of creating user experience (UX) and customer experience (CX) that produce positive emotions among those who utilize a company's products and services. An example of a stark difference in UX and CX for online clothing customers is highlighted by describing Stitch Fix and Trunk Club. If a customer is not happy with a piece of apparel that they have received from Stitch Fix, there is a very impersonal process for returning the item. In contradistinction, a Trunk Club customer has the opportunity to speak directly to their personal stylist to explain exactly where the mismatch occurred between product and desired outcome. "One company focuses more on the clothes, while the other focuses on the person wearing the clothes." (p, 225).

At the end of the day, it is clear from the examples that the author shares that successful companies are intentional and passionate about building relationships with their customers. When relationships are in play, emotions drive the customer experience.

The reader who is in a position to influence their company's culture and the UX and CX the company offers to their customers can use the examples in this book as templates to design a successful approach to managing the emotions of those with whom they hope to engage in positive and loyal relationships.

Enjoy!

Al

"Bar Harbor Babylon" by Dan and Leslie Landrigan - A Fascinating Look At Scandals From the Glory Days of Mt. Desert Island and Bar Harbor


Dan and Leslie Landrigan are to be commended for making gossip - sometimes over 100 years old - read like today's latest installment on E! "Bar Harbor Babylon" takes us back in time to the golden age when The Season in Bar Harbor each summer rivaled that of Newport as a playground for old money, robber barons, politicians, and rum runners.

My love for the coast of Maine hearkens back to my childhood when our family would head "Down East" to visit Bar Harbor and Acadia National Park, and to climb Cadillac Mountain. When I learned that a "tell all" book about the golden era of the summer resort, I could not wait to read "Bar Harbor Babylon."

One of the reasons that this book is a satisfying read is that the authors have included names and events that ring with familiarity. The curse of the Hope Diamond takes center stage in one chapter. The Rockefellers, Joseph Pulitzer, the Astors, the Duke of Windsor, the KKK,  J. P. Morgan, and the Vanderbilts all play a role in the saga that was life at Bar Harbor from the late 19th century until the world changed and once luxurious mansions were torn down or converted to nursing homes.

The Landrigans write in a style that kept me interested as I plowed through each chapter, eager to learn inside information about heretofore vaguely familiar personages. The result is that I am already planning my next return trip to the coast of Maine to visit the sites of the long ago murders, rum running, and granite quarries that built the U.S. Treasury Build and the glorious NYC main Post Office.

Enjoy!

Al

"Truthteller" by Stephen Davis - A Manifesto To Encourage Us To Stand Up To The War Against Truth


Stephen Davis is an investigative reporter who is uniquely qualified to comment on his observations from traveling the globe to track down truth in a variety of stories. His career has spanned TV, newspaper, and documentary film making. "Truthteller" is the result of meticulous research into the rapidly escalating proliferation of techniques and tools used to mount a war against truth.

Over the course of eleven riveting chapters, Davis lays out a case for an entire tool box of obfuscation tools being deployed by government officials, politicians, business leaders, and law enforcement. The epidemic goes far beyond the outrages against truth committed each day by the current POTUS. Davis offers examples from stories he has covered that range from Estonia, New Zealand, the UK, the US, and Antarctica. Chapter by chapter, he uses case studies to reveal  the tools of avoiding truth: character assassination, shooting the messenger, conspiracy theories, delay, hiding behind the cloak of government secrecy, fake news,

Davis makes it clear that because of the fast pace of the news cycle, and the diminution of budgets by newspapers and other news outlets, it is seldom possible to dive deeply into developing stories. As a result, those who wish to hide the truth find it much easier to avoid the spotlight of scrutiny,knowing that the news cycle will quickly shift to the next "if it bleeds, it leads" headline or sound bite.

The resulting book is a virtual manifesto and call to action - encouraging each consumer of the news to use discernment and wisdom in evaluating sources of information. He asks questions that beg to be answered:

  • Why did multiple governments seek to prevent a thorough examination of the sinking of an Estonian ferry? 
  • Why was there a cover-up of multiple burns and injuries in Antarctica that may have involved a nuclear accident? 
  • Why are lawful enforcers of Brazilian environmental regulations routinely turned away from strip mines in the Amazon operated by a subsidiary of BP? 
  • Why was the confession to a murder in Sydney, Australia ignored?

The book is a must read for anyone who shares the concern of responsible citizens at the obvious erosion of truth and truth telling.

Enjoy!

Al

"The Purpose Path" by Nicholas Pearce - A Guide to Pursuing Your Authentic Life's Work


There is a very healthy trend building that encourages and empowers individuals and businesses to closely examine their purpose. Simon Sinek's bestseller "Start With Why" comes at the topic of Purpose by addressing the most important question that individuals and organizations should ask themselves. Nick Craig contributed mightily with last year's "Leading From Purpose."

White Rhino Report Review of "Leading from Purpose

Pastor Rick Warren was impactful in addressing the issue from a Christian perspective in his landmark book, "The Purpose Driven Life." Nicholas Pearce continues in the same spiritual vein with his new book, "The Purpose Path - A Guide to Pursuing Your Authentic Life's Work.."

Pearce has managed to braid together three vocational strands. He is a professor at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University, a pastor, and life coach. He looks at the topic of his book through all three of these lenses. The core tenet of this helpful book can be found here: "According to a study conducted by the Happiness Research Institute in Copenhagen, Denmark, the number one source of professional contentment is having a sense of purpose." (pp,138-9). Through nine chapters, Pearce leads the reader through an examination of how to achieve and to exercise what he calls "Vocational Courage" - the willingness to make career choices based on values and a sense of God's calling.

He offers many helpful examples of individuals who have walked that path, many of whom were students of Pearce whose courage inspired him. Among those singled out as examples of Vocational Courage was Max De Pree, former Chairman of the Board of the Herman Miler company. Through his leadership, teaching, writing, and speaking, De Pree was a paragon of the kind of Servant Leadership that flows when one is leading through Purpose and Calling. I had the privilege of sitting under De Pree's teaching when I was a graduate student, so I can attest to how inspiring is the brand of leadership that Pearce espouses and De Pree incarnated.

Near the end of the book, the author shares the pilgrimage of the founders of Ben & Jerry's as they struggled to find their calling in Burlington, Vermont. After several failed attempts, they settled on making ice cream as an affordable idea for a start-up, and found ways to weave their values into the fabric of the company. Pearce strongly suggests that one way for a company to accomplish a similar result in creating a Purpose driven organization is to incorporate Purpose oriented questions during the interview and screening processes for potential employees.

Professor Pearce's thoughts, as shared in this book, are a welcome addition to the growing conversation about the vital role that Purpose should play in the life of a healthy and happy individual and organization.

Enjoy!

Thursday, May 16, 2019

"General Meade" - A Novel of the Civil War by Robert Kofman - An Excellent Read


Author Robert Kofman has written a carefully researched novel that highlights the journey that General George Meade took as he assumed command of the troubled Army of the Potomac. Kofman makes judicious use of letters that Meade wrote to his wife, Margaret, throughout the course of the Civil War. In addition, he spices the narrative with telegrams that were exchanged between Meade and Washington, outlining updates on troop movements, tactics, and strategies being deployed to pin down Robert E. Lee's intrepid troops. To fill in the gap, the author imagines conversations among the principal actors in the unfolding drama.

What becomes clear as the narrative develops is that the war could have ended much earlier had not Lincoln and Secretary of War Stanton insisted that a large portion of the Union troops be positioned to thwart any possible invasion of Washington. As a result, there were insufficient numbers available to pressure Lee at Richmond and following the Battle of Gettysburg, when the rebel forces were most vulnerable.

It also becomes very clear that the delicate dance between military strategy and political strategy made things difficult for Meade. Lincoln appointed a number of politically influential men to be generals who has no real military experience, but were able to help ensure his reelection in 1864. These generals proved to often be an impediment during the implementation of battle plans. Despite  chronic interference from Washington in the execution of the plan to defeat the rebel forces, Meade developed a strong and loyal appreciation for Lincoln's leadership. He also had great respect for General Grant, even though Grant often overshadowed Meade in the latter stages of the war.

Mr. Kofman's writing style in describing battles is almost cinematic. Having spent time on several occasions at Gettysburg, I was able to read the author's account of that pivotal battle and feel as if I were there to hear the roar of the cannons and the rebel yell that accompanied Pickett's charge.

This novel serves as an excellent addition to the already rich corpus of works that shed light on the national tragedy that was The War Between the States.

Enjoy!

Al

Monday, April 29, 2019

"How Customers Buy . . . & Why They Don't," by Martyn R. Lewis - A Revolutionary Approach To Sales By Decoding The Buying Journey


In writing "How Customers Buy . . . & Why They Don't," author Martyn R. Lewis brings several decades of experience to the table. His broad experience ranges from running sales and marketing teams to consulting with companies to teach their sales and marketing teams a better approach to revenue generation. This is simply the best book I have read in several years on sales, precisely because it turns the concept of "sales" on its head, and approaches the topic through the mind of the buyer.

Writing for an audience of sales and marketing professionals, Lewis makes it clear that the major fallacy that limits the effectiveness of many sales teams is the mistaken belief that "if you clearly demonstrate the value proposition and ROI of a product or service, the reasonable person will make a purchasing decision." Nothing could be further from the truth. Chapter by chapter, the author decodes what he calls the DNA of the Buying Journey. He spends the first half of the book building a case for understanding what is happening on the buying side of a purchasing journey. He strongly advises his readers to resist the temptation to jump ahead and think about how to apply the emerging principals until a full understanding of the Buying Journey has been reached. He then spends the second half of the book describing what he calls Outside-In Marketing and Outside-In Selling.

The main segments in a typical buying journey involve Triggers, Sequential Steps, Key Players, Buying Style, Value Drivers, and Buying Concerns. Using effective case studies and clear logic, he demonstrates that most sales efforts are directed at the early stages of the Buying Journey. And at a point when the potential customer really needs help in overcoming internal push-back and addressing Buying Concerns, the typical sales team is absent.

Mr. Lewis has constructed a very helpful and simple 4Q model of four distinct Buying Styles based on the dual dynamics of Choice vs. Value and Solution vs. Product. The four styles are:

  • Search & Choose
  • Trusted Advisor
  • Sort & Select
  • Starbucks. 

He makes it clear that each Buying Style dictates a different approach to engaging with the customer's Buying Journey.

This book is so effective that I am sending copies to clients whom I feel will benefit from these insights. You may wish to buy several copies to distribute to members of your Sales and Marketing teams.

Enjoy!

Sunday, April 28, 2019

"Stop Talking, Start Influencing" by Dr. Jared Cooney Horvath - A MUST READ for Leaders, Learners, Teachers and Coaches


What does is take for a book to be considered a MUST READ? I can think of several criteria:

  • The book presents new ideas in ways that are intriguing and engaging
  • The book presents familiar ideas in novel ways that cause the reader to see things in a new light
  • The author creates a context for the content that makes the ideas comprehensible, accessible, and practicable
  • The writer weaves the concepts into memorable stories
  • The writer employs a literary style that is pleasing and frictionless

All of these things can be said of "Stop Talking, Start Influencing" by Dr. Jared Cooney Horvath. The author is an Educational Neuroscientist from the University of Melbourne and Harvard. He employs up to the minute research on neuroscience to address issues of how we learn, remember, and uses these insights to suggest impactful ways to influence those we teach, coach, and do business with.

Over the course of twelve chapters, Dr. Horvath introduces a dozen concepts that shed light on how to make a message stick. Each of the chapters is filled with insights gleaned from neuroscience discoveries, many of which were enabled by breakthrough fMRI technology. Horvath has a knack for presenting complex ideas in ways that are accessible to readers who are not scientists without devolving into simplistic summaries.

Key concepts include:


  • Explaining how the brain processes images and speech
  • Demonstrating that the brain tags memories using three dimensional space as an important tool
  • Explodes the myth that multitasking is possible
  • Introduces the concept of "interleaving" that impacts how a coach should set up practicing specific skills
  • The important role that story plays in recall and retrieval
  • The vastly different effects of moderate stress and extreme stress
  • Using distributed sequencing to enhance long term recall of important information

I am already making plans to send copies of this watershed book to friends and clients. It is that good and that impactful. I have also begun to watch and listen to several of Dr. Horvath's sessions that are available on YouTube.

If you are in a position to influence others - in your role as teacher, coach, business owner, then order this book now and put the insights to work immediately.

Enjoy!

Saturday, April 27, 2019

"Lone Soldier," by author Leo Rozmaryn - An Epic Coming of Age Tale of Israel and Israelis


In writing "Lone Soldier," author Leo Rozmaryn has penned an epic tale of Israel that would make Leon Uris proud. The nonstop action centers on Arik and Dahlia, who meet as high school students at a summer camp in Pennsylvania that serves the purpose of instilling a passion for Zionism in American Jewish students. This coming of age tale follows a grueling arc as they fall in love, fall out of love, and come back together again against all odds. Along the way, each character is tested in a variety of ways that are literally life or death.

Dahlia begins her journey as a "hothouse plant" - the spoiled daughter of Israel's Ambassador to the U.S. She learns to withstand withering challenges, and blossoms into a mature and productive woman. Arik is the son of an impoverished and embittered veteran of Israel's War of Independence. Ze'ev was a hero who saved lives, losing a leg in the process. But through an error of mistaken identity, he is labelled a terrorist and flees to America to live off the the table scraps of his brother's charity. Arik grows up in poverty in a rough neighborhood of LA. He excels athletically, and his strong moral fiber shows up early in life as he risks his safety and reputation to rescue an African American boy who is being bullied. He is arrested, but is crowned a hero in the African American community. He is convinced that his father has been woefully mistreated by the state of Israel, yet he makes the tough choice to turn down a basketball scholarship to play for national champion UCLA in order to go to Israel and fight for the IDF. His motive is to find a way to rehabilitate his father's reputation - and to spend a life in Israel with Dahlia.

The mismatch of Arik and Dahlia's social and economic positions prompts Dahlia's father to use his weight as Ambassador to sabotage the relationship. In rebounding from the loss of Arik, the naive Dahlia is lured into the snare of rich sociopath Za'ev Ehrenreich, son of one of the wealthiest American patrons of Israel. He leads her down a primrose path of sexual depravity and drug abuse that almost extinguishes her candle. Over time, she rebounds, due to therapy, the harsh realities of service in the Israeli Army, and responding to emergencies that wold have crushed a more delicate flower.

As the heroic story unfolds of Arik, and the redemption of Dahlia and of Arik's father, the author weaves the action around real historic events: The War of Independence, Six Day War, the Yom Kippur War, the Munich Olympic Massacre, the raid at Entebbe. The action ricochets from the slums of LA to the mansions of Washington, D.C. and Herzliya, from the desert of Las Vegas to the Negev, from the fortress of Masada to the summits of Mount Hermon.

The author provides a balanced view of the many faces of Zionism, from the Orthodox and observant to the secular and liberal who want to find a way to coexist with the Palestinians. The result is a stirring work of art that creates an indelible hero in Arik. I cannot help but wonder who will play Arik in the film that should inevitably follow.

Enjoy this well crafted saga.

Al

Tuesday, April 02, 2019

The Flea Theater Presents "Southern Promises" by Thomas Bradshaw - Through April 14th


The Flea Theater, and its resident troupe of young actors known as The Bats, have a reputation for taking bold risks in telling important stories. In their current staging of "Southern Promises" by Thomas Bradshaw, they take that boldness to a chilling extreme in dramatizing the worst rapacious excesses of American slavery. Bradshaw assaults the audience with graphic imagery that limns twin evils. The first evil is the constellation of dehumanizing violence perpetrated by slave owners over their chattel. The second evil is the fig leaf of religious hypocrisy behind which the slave owners hid to justify their inhumanity to men, women,and children of color.

This play is not for the faint of heart. The portrayal of violence and hypocrisy is literally and figuratively naked. Acts of simulated rape are portrayed in agonizing brutality and clarity. In a preamble to the play, each cast member introduces himself/herself and points out that the cast is composed entirely of persons of color. The point being made by the Playwright and Director is that the evils being depicted are not rooted in color, but in the human heart. Under the deft Direction of Niegel Smith, the Flea's Artistic Director, the cast members are uniformly effective. Especially impressive is Shakur Tolliver as Benjamin, the slave whose promised freedom was taken away by his late master's treasonous widow. The master on his deathbed had made his wife promise to flee all of the slaves, but she claimed that he was not in his right mind when he made that demand, and she refused to free them. She, her brother, and her new husband all claimed that they were doing God's will in brutalizing their slaves, misquoting Scripture by claiming that by punishing them, they were saving them from a worse punishment in Hell.

The writing and direction of this raw play are most arresting in the moments of violence, and in the moments when the unctuous misapplication of Scripture screams hypocrisy. Like those who caution that the horrors of the Holocaust must never be forgotten, so too this play reminds us that we must not be allowed to cover over the ugly wounds that still fester from the abuses of slavery and its lingering aftermath.

For those who have the courage to confront the ugly realities of the past, this production os worthy of your consideration.

Shakur Tolliver, Marcus Jones, Jahsiah Rivera, Brittany Zaken, and Yvonne Jessica Pruitt
Southern Promises by Thomas Bradshaw
The Flea Theater
Through April 14th
Photo by Joan Marcus
(Southern Promises plays at The Flea Theater, 20 Thomas Street, through April 14, 2019. The running time is 85 minutes with no intermission. Performances are Mondays at 7, Thursdays through Saturdays at 7, and Sundays at 3. Tickets are $15 - $50 and are available at theflea.org.)

Southern Promises is by Thomas Bradshaw. Directed by Niegel Smith. Set Design by Jason Sherwood. Costume Design by Claudia Brown. Lighting Design by Jorge Arroyo. Sound Design by Fabian Obispo. Hair and Makeup Design by Nikiya Mathis. Violence/Intimacy Choreographer is Rocio Mendez. Stage Manager is Anna Kovacs.
The cast is Adam Coy, Darby Davis, Marcus Jones, Timothy Park, Yvonne Jessica Pruitt, Jahsiah Rivera, Shakur Tolliver, Adrain Washington, and Brittany Zaken.
Content Warning: Please be advised there is physical and sexual violence, full nudity, racial slurs, and a gunshot in Southern Promises.
Enjoy!
Al

The Barrow Group Presents the World Premiere of "PERP" by Lyle Kessler - Through April 11th


Tony-nominated playwright, Lyle Kessler, has written an enigmatic new play. "PERP" is a bit of a morality play, set as if it were a "Law and Order" style TV cop drama. Jack (Tricia Alexandro) and Harvey (Paul Ben-Victor) portray a parody of the Good Cop - Bad Cop routine as they interrogate a murder suspect. Douglass (Ali Arkane) is a naif - a collector of bugs who may be on the spectrum. In his innocence- think of Lenny in "Of Mice and Men"- he falls for the cops' ploys and pleads guilty to a crime he did not commit. He is led to believe that by doing so he may be able to help the police apprehend the real murderer.

There are some plot twists that strain credulity. Douglass ends up sharing a prison cell with kind-hearted Myron (Craig Mums Grant). Over checkers games, Myron helps Douglass plan an escape so that he can go back to the woods to find the real murderer. In a Dickensian chain of coincidences, Douglass does indeed encounter Harry (Javier Molina). The final scenes play out the subtle confrontation between Harry and Douglass.

Mr. Kessler's theme in this play seems to be that good and evil can be found in unlikely places, and that innocence can prevail over malice. In the Barrow Group's cozy performance space on 36th Street, the metallic Set Design by Edward T. Morris, complemented by the Lighting Design by Marika Kent, enhance the storytelling. Costumes are by Kristin Isola, and Sound Design by Matt Otto. The excellent cast of five actors is ably directed by Lee Brock.

The play, even with its flaws, is worth watching. The actors create credible characters, even those that are written as caricatures.



Perp runs through April 11 at The Barrow Group (312 West 36th St.). Performances are at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday–Monday. Tickets may be purchased by calling (866) 811-4111 or visiting barrowgroup.com.

Enjoy!

Al

Monday, March 18, 2019

"The Last Jews of Kalisz"- Keeping Alive The Rich Legacy of the Jews of Poland



Kudos to author Irv Kempner for his commitment to keep alive the memory of his father, David Kempner, who survived the Holocaust to live a full life in America. This very personal book, "The Last Jews of Kalisz," is also a loving tribute to the countless Jews from David's home town of Kalisz, Poland, who perished under the thumb of the Third Reich and their Polish collaborators.

The early chapters of this book set the scene and tell the history of Jews in Kalisz in Western Poland, perilously close to the German border. Jewish history of Kalisz began in the 12th century with settlers who were fleeing Crusaders. Over the years, the Jewish population of the city grew to close to 35%, and stayed that way until the purges began.

As I read the story of Mr. Kempner and his family and fellow citizens, I was reminded of the notorious quotation often attributed to Joseph Stalin: "A single death is a tragedy; a million deaths is a statistic." By highlighting his father's tale of survival in contradistinction to the death of many of his family members, author Kempner moves the reader beyond mere statistics to make the tragedy of the Holocaust very personal. Writing this book is only one part of Kempner;s commitment to uphold the memory of the Jews of Kalisz. He is involved in a movement called March of the Living that brings visitors to Poland and Germany to learn details about the history of the Holocaust.

After being liberated from a death camp in May of 1945, David Kempner made good on a promise he had made to a young woman he had met before his imprisonment. He tracked Marilla Freidenreich down in Germany. Not long afterward they were married. Thanks to the kindness of a boyhood friend from Kalisz who had emigrated to America, the newlyweds were sponsored to resettle in the U.S. by Manny Duell. David started as a low-wage worker in the garment industry, and eventually founded his own successful company.

My reason for giving this fine book 4 stars rather than 5 is the author's propensity for needless repetition. He often repeats the same information several times within the same page or paragraph. For the second edition, some judicious editing will make this important book  even more compelling reading.

Enjoy.

"If Pretty Hurts Ugly Must Be A Muhfucka" by Tori Sampson - at Playwrights Horizons


Tori Sampson is a new voice that should be - and can be - heard when you travel to Playwrights Horizons to see her play "If Pretty Hurts Ugly Must Be A Muhfucka," She adapts a Nigerian folk tale, and uses Beyonce lyrics to address the issue of beauty and body image among teenage girls. She stands on the shoulders of Middle Ages Morality plays, and claims August Wilson's "Fences" as a strong creative inspiration for her writing. There is a bow to "Mean Girls" in the interactions among the village girls.

Massassi (Antoinette Crowe-Legacy) is the prettiest girl in her village, coddled and sheltered by her parents. Maechi Aharanwa and Jason Bowen. Her fellow 17 year-olds resent her for her beauty and perfection, and plot to remove her as a threat by drowning her in a nearby river. Her rivals are Akim (Nike Uche Kadri), Adama (Mirirai Sithole),and Kaya (Prumzile Sitole). The role of Kasim, the young man who catches the eye of Massassi, is played by Leland Fowler.

Antoinette Crowe-Legacy
Nike Uche Kari, Mirirai Sithole, Phumzile Sitole
"If Pretty Hurts. . ."
by Tori Sampson
at Playwrights Horizons
Through April 5

The tale is narrated by Rotimi Agbabiaka, as Chorus. He throws a good bit of campy Billy Porter into his vibrant portrayal of the voice of the village oral tradition.

The plot to drown Massassi is complicated by the fact that the river is inhabited by river spirits. In the most visually and aurally stunning scene in the play, we see Massassi being welcomed by the spirits, accompanied by a soaring Gospel rendition by Carla R. Stewart as The Voice of the River.

The Drowning Scene
"If Pretty Hurts. . ."
by Tori Sampson
at Playwrights Horizons
Through April 5
There is a scene that closes the play that shows one of the girls sitting at a makeup table applying beauty products while gazing in a mirror. Ms. Sampson is offering this play as a mirror to prompt us to take a look at ourselves and at our culture's preoccupation with surface beauty while ignoring deeper values. While this play is not perfect and could use some judicious cutting, it is a compelling examination of a contemporary issue that rightly has caught the eye of a number of  playwrights.

The cast is well directed by Leah C. Gardiner. The shimmering Scenic Design is by Louisa Thompson, Costumes by Dede Ayite, Lighting by Matt Frey. Original Music and Sound Design are by Ian Scot.

The play run at Playwrights Horizons through April 5th, and is worthy of your patronage and consideration.

Enjoy!

Al