Anonymous New York waiter gives the reader an inside look at the service business from his experiences in front-of-house perspective. The book could a...moreAnonymous New York waiter gives the reader an inside look at the service business from his experiences in front-of-house perspective. The book could almost be called a memoir as it takes you through the journey that brought him to waiting and is focused almost entirely on first hand experiences in two restaurants. He does a good job balancing of his perspective while keeping his ego in check throughout. The book also provides some reasonable and thought out sociological views on the people who choose to wait tables and what drives them. What was missing was more waiter war stores and anecdotes that the title and cover blurbs seemed to imply. The word count might be 40% or less dedicated to waiting tables and the rest about management and the author's self analysis.
If it was possible to give 3.5 stars, I would. The "crop-dusting" insight was definitely worth the education.
Book is worth picking up if you've waited tables or have an affinity for the hospitality industry.(less)
Cyptonomion by Neal Stephenson (p. 1138) A surprisingly fast read from a consistently great author. Cyptonomicon is a genre-busting novel blending cur...moreCyptonomion by Neal Stephenson (p. 1138) A surprisingly fast read from a consistently great author. Cyptonomicon is a genre-busting novel blending current day and WII in what might be considered a thriller but is so much more. Major themes of advanced mathematics, family politics, military strategy, corporate espionage, historical figures, computer technology, structural engineering, and dysfunctional relationships are woven through out to make for a fun ride.
As with other Stephenson novels, in some areas you do feel a little dizzy jumping between plot lines. That confusion is mimized by the impressive manner in which he layers so many locations, characters, and themes into something that actually makes sense.(less)
Washington Schlepped Here by Christopher Buckley (p. 152) What I thought was another snarky title by the sarcastic political humor novelist turned out...moreWashington Schlepped Here by Christopher Buckley (p. 152) What I thought was another snarky title by the sarcastic political humor novelist turned out to be a great travel guide. Written like both a love letter and a walking tour, an actual Washington insider takes you through some of the best known and lesser streets of DC. Each location is peppered with details, factoids, and anecdotes, you just won't find in Frommer's. The tone is conversational, humorous and interesting, just what you'd hope to get from someone take you on a tour of their city. All travelogues should be written like this. I wish I had discovered this when I was traveling back and forth to D.C. to appreciate it in person.
Side Note: Kinky Friedman wrote one on Austin for the same series.(less)
Utterly fascinating. Gambling, mobsters, mathematicians, economists, hedge funds, greed, and how it’s...moreFortune’s Formula by William Poundstone (pp. 400)
Utterly fascinating. Gambling, mobsters, mathematicians, economists, hedge funds, greed, and how it’s linked together by some early genius and freak timing. Part history lesson, part text book, part novel, all true, it flows beautifully. For anyone who is interested in math, the financial markets, or Las Vegas, this book is a fun read.
Poundstone tells the story of how one formula changed the way casinos look at card counters, how a mathematical concept influenced the height of junk bond trading and ultimately took it down, how current electronic trading was made possible, and how a couple of academics jumped from publishing obscure papers to making millions in the financial markets.
A lot of the elements of this book have been told in depth as their own subjects, but the joy of reading Poundstone’s account is seeing how they are all related. Ivan Boesky, the early Las Vegas mobsters, Rudolph Giuliani, Warren Buffet and the original card counting book, Beat the Dealer are not something you’d expect to be rolled into a book about based on a formula created at the height of the Bell Labs heyday, but here it is.
This book is what all science pop culture books should strive to be and is even more relevant today given the daily news of our financial markets.(less)
Cotton Malone has been sucked into another historical adventure by the ghost of his father and a family of ex-Nazi sympathizers. This time the Holy Ro...moreCotton Malone has been sucked into another historical adventure by the ghost of his father and a family of ex-Nazi sympathizers. This time the Holy Roman Empire, artic exploration, WWII, the origins of intelligence on the planet and secret technology peppers the way of his familiar story telling style. But unlike Malone’s previous joy rides through Europe, this effort slogged.
Steve Barry's books normally deliver solid characters, tight plots, and reasonable conspiracy/treasure hunter/historical set dressing despite the conventions of the genre. The fun was largely missing from this effort, which was even more disappointing considering the fertile ground he had going into the first 50 pages. Too many characters. Too much melancholy. Too many conversations on the highway. Too much bouncing between slow moving plots. Too little in the way of periodic payoffs and mini revelations. A good 100 pages in the middle of this novel could have been edited out. And like many story-driven TV shows, this novel ends with the feeling that the last 502 pages of effort was nothing but a set up episode for his next novel. (less)
Aravind Adiga gives us seven nights of musings to the leader of China by a self-made, self-discovered Indian boy...moreWhite Tiger by Aravind Adiga (pp. 276)
Aravind Adiga gives us seven nights of musings to the leader of China by a self-made, self-discovered Indian boy who commits murder to cast off the chains of poverty of his culture and caste. Agida gives a textured voice to Munna, the lead character. He is filled with complex emotions, a range of conflicting motivations, and an innocence that can only be found in those who are set on their own without guidance. For those who have seen Slumdog Millionaire, Munna’s emergence from the Darkness will have additional color and understanding. And, if you’re tired of standard story telling styles, this book is worth the read regardless of the subject matter. Agida has a voice worth listening. Man Booker Award Winner (less)
What would happen if the Chicago Fire wasn't started by Mrs. O'Leary's Cow but the cities founding fathers? Who would benefit, who did it and what len...moreWhat would happen if the Chicago Fire wasn't started by Mrs. O'Leary's Cow but the cities founding fathers? Who would benefit, who did it and what lengths would they go to cover it up. Michael Harvey's second Chicago-based pulp crime novel uses his central character from his first novel, Michael Kelly and takes the reader on a similar ride to his first effort.
Part of the fun of Michael Harvey's novels are their references to actual locations in Chicago such as the Billy Goat and the Hidden Shamrock. In this novel, he takes the sampling a bit too far with his character development. The mayor has some similarities but mostly differences from Hizzoner, but the challenging candidate might as well be an uninteresting and deriviate version of Obama.
The read is fast and entertaining mostly based on the Chicago Fire tidbits. If anything, Harvey succeds in getting the reader thrown back into the conspiracies of early Chicago history. The Fifth Floor was a too light taste of Chicago-based fiction that left you wishing that Erik Larson would tackle the central premise in the same way he did Devil in the White City.
A good read for the beach, plane ride or for when your TiVo runs out of procedural crime dramas.(less)
Max Barry takes us on the entertaining journey through the goofiness and sadness of corporate America through the fresh eyes of a newly hired college...moreMax Barry takes us on the entertaining journey through the goofiness and sadness of corporate America through the fresh eyes of a newly hired college graduate. The premise is familiar to most of us (corporate office, hero, wacky co-workers), but his approach succeeds where other writers have failed. Barry’s satirical prose is tight putting just the right amount of description into a scene creating both beauty and humor. You can see and feel yourself in the room with his characters. Barry has imbued each with the gift of depth while still allowing them to playing their supporting roles. No character is left without their moment of public embarrassment as Barry skillfully uses each to comment on the awkwardness of the corporate-social life and attachment to company think. Thankfully, his telling lacks the self-referential in jokes and “funny-ha-ha I’m so cleaver” moments that often accompany the genre. Barry’s work is a triumph in corporate satire: a balanced, well-told story without being too cute, too depressing, or too preachy.
The White House Mess by Christopher Buckley (pp. 224) One of Buckley’s earliest novels is a clear miss. While microscopic bits of the satirical style t...moreThe White House Mess by Christopher Buckley (pp. 224) One of Buckley’s earliest novels is a clear miss. While microscopic bits of the satirical style that makes his later novels such fun are evidenced in this work, they are few and far between. This may be because the material is just too close to his personal experience as a White House aide. The main character, Herb Wadlough, is a long time friend and now advisor to the President. The White House Mess is supposed to be a personal memoir of his experience behind the scenes.
In attempting to provide both humor and color into the crazy details of the behind the scene goings on in the White House, Buckley starts his anecdotes long winded, rarely gives a payoff, and doesn’t tell us anything in the process. We’re often confused as to whether the material is supposed to be funny. We don’t know what characters to like or dislike. And when we think we may know, the story roughly jumps to another topic. The chapters themselves often involve topics so mundane you are left to wonder whether the topic was a sanitized inside joke that lost any possible meat in Buckley’s translation from real life to the absurd.
The concept has potential and room to soar, but like the title, this book is just a mess.
The novel’s redeeming value is showing us the early glimpses of a great satirist and encouraging all would-be writers that even the greats started off on rough footing. Though watching that lesson in action is more painful than fun. (less)
Using the same snarky political farce plot and character structures that he has with his other novels (Thank You For Smoking, No Way to Treat a First...moreUsing the same snarky political farce plot and character structures that he has with his other novels (Thank You For Smoking, No Way to Treat a First Lady) Christopher Buckley tackles feminism and the Middle East. Where his other novels get off to a fast start and speed through until the end, this one takes a bit more to get moving. Once it does get moving, it's entertaining but not quite as cleaver as his other efforts.
Buckley should be praised for tackling such an unfunny set of subjects with his style of humor and managing not to offend. This might probably be the most upbeat political comedy about the Middle East you ever read. (less)
What happens when a covert group of government operatives attempting to increase industrial military...moreLittle Green Men by Christopher Buckley (pp. 272)
What happens when a covert group of government operatives attempting to increase industrial military complex funding by staging fake UFO abductions of ordinary citizens stray from the program and abduct a Washington insider with a very popular Sunday morning news program? Christopher Buckley weaves levels of paranoia and conspiracy with a host of wack job personalities through the eyes of John O Banion to explore different sides of the UFO argument while bringing the funny.
His main character, Banion is not the most likeable. But thankfully, we get to enjoy Buckley slowly skewing, roasting, and setting fire to Banion’s life of pomp and influence as he becomes the head of the UFO movement that may or may not be real all while he tries to maintain his relevance in his inner circles of Washingtonian society circles.
Peppered with interesting characters and Buckley’s keen knowledge of the layers and often ludicrous inner workings of DC, his novel works both as light comedy and in presenting a surprisingly well-rounded view of the alien question. Buckley takes his man through an accelerated arc of success, joy, despair, defeat, power, retribution, renewal, lust, betrayal and half a dozen other defining moments in a life. Typically this sort of character development is missing in the satire genre and Buckley does a nice job bouncing between all kinds of emotions and tones without feeling forced or overwrought.
But yet again, Buckley goes adrift in hitting his punch lines and moving his story along at the brisk pace that make his most successful novels such joys to read. As a pre-Thank You for Smoking work, the reader will find an enjoyable, breezy read that stumbles here and there. (less)
The Drunkard’s Walk: How Randomness Rules Our Lives by Leonard Mlodinow (pp. 217)
In subtitling this book “How Randomness Rules Our Lives”, the publish...moreThe Drunkard’s Walk: How Randomness Rules Our Lives by Leonard Mlodinow (pp. 217)
In subtitling this book “How Randomness Rules Our Lives”, the publishers have mis-marketed this work by confusing a subtle point Mlodinow is trying to make with the bulk of the content that has more to do with general mathematics and interesting anecdotes related to probability. Despite the erroneous labeling, it’s still a highly interesting read. The book is part history of mathematics, part philosophy, part statistics, and part pop culture. Mlodiow makes mathematics highly accessible and easy to understand. Some of your old high school and college math classes may all of a sudden make sense.
In trying to help the reader understand complex ideas, he shows how the discovery was made. Instead of the dry footnote of person, place and time, he gives us backstory filled with details that make the men behind the math both real and interesting.
Mlodinow gets to the subject of randomness by covering topics like Bell curves and Bayesian theory. In discussing randomness, what Mlodinow really gives is an excellent overview of statistics and probability so that he can explain, illuminate or debunk common perceptions of randomness.
On occasion, the history lesson- mathematic example-criticism/randomness tie-in pattern he uses can be too wordy, but overall he succeeds in keeping things interesting and thought provoking.. The ultimate joy of this book is how he gets you alter your view of the world without being preachy or pedantic.. Long after you put the book down, Mlodinow’s words stay with you. (less)