Holiday Book Shopping II

I admit it — I am a book junkie. I own many more books than I could ever possibly read in a given lifetime, and/or leave lying casually strewn about upon coffee tables and other horizontal surfaces.

However, I cannot help myself — when an interesting and/or Intriguing book comes along, I simply must have it. Whenever I come across someone who can develop an original idea and communicate  it in a compelling way, I find myself delighted.

Hence, the fascination with books that intrigue the mind and imagination. If you missed it, our last venture out turned up some interesting book ideas. The same approach here: These are interesting if unrelated titles that most book lovers you know would be delighted to receive as a gift . . .


Born Standing Up: A Comic’s Life by Steve Martin:

Born_standing_up__2 "Obsession is a substitute for talent." So said Steve Martin, for a certain generation is the epitome of the Stand Up. I am particularly interested in how he lucked into a job writing for The Smothers Brothers Show,
and how he figured out
what worked on stage.

SF Chron: "Martin paints a portrait of a
man with a mission. He learned timing from playing 25 short shows a
week at the Bird Cage Theatre at Knott’s Berry Farm through his college
years. Studying philosophy at Long Beach State College yielded a
lifetime’s worth of inane material. He kept notes on his performances,
constantly tightening and revising his act, aiming for surreal,
strange, physical, "unbridled nonsense."

His 20s were spent on the road playing bars and coffeehouses in the
days before comedy clubs. It was grueling and lonely. He opened for
Ann-Margret in Las Vegas, where Elvis told him he had "an ob-leek sense
of humor."

My favorite line — typical of
the goofy, existential, absurdist nature of his comedy, its gotta to be his closer: "Well, we’ve
had a good time tonight, considering we’re all going to die someday."


Musicphilia Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain by Oliver Sachs

I loved reading "Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat."

If the oddities of the workings of the human brain intrigue, then you will find Sach’s  narratives both touching and fascinating.

Publishers Weekly: "Sacks is an unparalleled chronicler of modern medicine, and fans of his
work will find much to enjoy when he turns his prodigious talent for
observation to music and its relationship to the brain."

"This book leaves one a little more attuned
to the remarkable complexity of human beings, and a bit more conscious
of the role of music in our lives." 

Several interesting videos by the author can be found here; NYT Review here


Alfred_hitchcock_2 Casting a Shadow: Creating the Alfred Hitchcock Film

Was Hitchcock an auteur? An exhibit at the Block Museum of Art at Northwestern University suggests he was more of a colloborator, presenting more than seventy-five sketches, designs, watercolors, paintings, and storyboards that, together, examine Hitchcock’s very collaborative film-making process.

I saw this over the Thanksgiving weekend, and found it fascinating. Hitchcock fans in the area should definitely attend it, and for those not within a short drive of the Evanston campus just outside of Chicago, this book will provide much of the flavor. Fans will find it fascinating.


Military_power Military Power: Explaining Victory and Defeat in Modern Battle

I have been a fan of Military history and Strategic Warfare, and became intrigued by this book, mostly due to the spectacular reviews:

"Stephen Biddle has written perhaps the best volume on the causes of battlefield victory and defeat in a generation."

"A major achievement. . . . combines a sophisticated formal model with analysis of critical case studies of actual battles."

"Simultaneously makes major contributions in political science, military history, social science methodology, and contemporary policy debates."

"A worthy book on the never-ending debate over why land wars are won and lost . . . well worth reading, owning, and remembering."


Schulz and Peanuts: A Biography   

I loved the strip most of my life. Who knew that Charles Schulz was such a tortured artist and profoundly unhappy man? Apparently, he hated the name Peanuts, which was foisted on
the strip by his syndicate.

For all the joy Charlie Brown and the gang gave readers over half a
century, its creator was overwhelmed by depression, and generally an uncomfortable

Nearly 250 Peanuts strips are woven into the biography, demonstrating
just how much of his life story Schulz poured into the cartoon. In one
sequence, Snoopy’s crush on a girl dog is revealed as a barely
disguised retelling of the artist’s extramarital affair.

WSJ book review here; Book excerpt here;  Author’s podcast here; Video here.


The Secret History of the American Empire: Economic Hit Men, Jackals, and the Truth about Global Corruption 

Better known for Confessions of an Economic Hit Man, Perkins offers an entertainingly disturbing view of how the
American government has wreaked havoc around the world in support of
American business.

The US tendency to distribute foreign aid to corrupt
Third World leaders only hurts our long term interestes, as we have seen in Iraq, Iran, South America, etc. When leaders object, the CIA steps in, to destabilize their government or assassinate him if necessary.

Sure, the book has lots of unconfirmed anonymous sources and a taste for conspiracy theories. Yet few people will argue that the 3rd world loans (and the "expert" advice that comes with it) are as often as not is harmful.

It looks like an interesting follow up to Confessions of an Economic Hit Man.


The Curious Art of Jim Flora

Jim_flora_mischievousThe first retrospective of one of the defining visual stylists of the 1950s: Ray Olson writes:

Old-LP collectors, in particular, are in for a shock of recognition
when they open this almost-LP-jacket-sized album: "Hey, this is the

Jim Flora (1914-98) is the guy who made
those astonishingly energetic early LP cartoon-art covers, on which,
for instance, jazzmen were playing so hot that their bodies flew apart
like unstrung marionettes or, at the other extreme, melted together. Cubism, Miro, Klee, the great muralists Orozco,
Rivera, and Siqueiros, all influenced Flora.

Flora’s work always
provokes a smile . . . 

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What's been said:

Discussions found on the web:
  1. dblwyo commented on Nov 27

    Biddle is very good and always worth reading but if you’ve either an interest or a concern the worthy modern heir of Liddell-Hart and JFC Fuller is Martin van Creveld. Anything is worth reading but his study of the IDF presciently analyzed the weaknesses that were show-cased last summer. But the one everyone interested in the Long War, pro or con, ought to read is his ’91 book “The Transformation of War” which analyzed and predicted the growth of what we’re now living thru fifteen years ahead of time; including the impact of the Internet on worldwide terrorism. Highly recommended.

  2. remembertoduck commented on Nov 27

    “Blank Slate” by Steven Pinker

    It should give you a good idea why there are so few contrarian investors in the world. 5,000 years ago if you stood around and walked the opposite way of the stampede you got killed by the lions.

  3. Charlie Barker commented on Nov 28

    Hey…if you’re really into album art from your parent’s album collection you might like this one too. They had a little Alex Steinweiss exhibit at some little place in the village a couple years ago…it was great.

    For the Record: The Life and Work of Alex Steinweiss (Paperback)

    Also, FYI you probably know this being the reader you are, but the Schultz family ain’t too happy with that book. They think he went a long way to find some drama in Chuck’s life.

  4. curmudgeonly troll commented on Nov 28

    Your 57 page wish list has gotta be some kind of record! I can just see Jeff Bezos deciding to fulfill it for a gag, and an Amazon semi pulling up…

  5. a guy called john commented on Nov 28

    Confessions of an Economic Hitman was one of the worst books I have ever read. Whoever titled that book is a marketing genius. A more descriptive name would have been “My Time as an Overpaid Consultant: Purging the Guilt”.

  6. Steve commented on Nov 29

    The Hitchcock exhibit is indeed excellent. Huge thrill for me to see samples of his correspondence with Evan Hunter (Ed McBain), who scripted The Birds and had a lot of fun referencing the film in one of his final 87th Precinct novels. Must get Casting a Shadow for the wife!

Read this next.

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