Monday, April 11, 2011

March Books

Retirementology: Rethinking the American Dream in a New Economy by Gregory B. Salsbury was an excellent idea that, to me, is poorly executed. Salsbury attempts to apply behavioral finance to retirement planning during an economic downturn. He identifies classic mistakes in earning, spending, saving, investing, and borrowing. His chart identifying common financially unhealthy traits such as procrastination and overconfidence along with the consequences of such traits is relatively helpful. It is good basic stuff, but there are no new insights.

Hell’s Corner is David Baldacci's “implausible fifth Camel Club novel (and) disappoints with cartoonish plotting and characterization.” After the president persuades former assassin Oliver Stone to tackle the growing threat of Russian drug gangs, Stone finds himself in Lafayette Park when gunfire breaks out and a bomb explodes. Taken off his original mission, Stone tries to identify the forces behind the attack with assistance from the “Camel Club”. “Those who prefer intelligence in their political thrillers will have to look elsewhere.”

*Examined Lives by James Miller combines short biographies and synopses of 12 philosophers’ ideas of wisdom. The book is aimed at people like me who are intrigued by the history of philosophy but not prepared to take on the texts. Miller introduces Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Diogenes, Seneca, Augustine, Montaigne, Descartes, Rousseau, Kant, Emerson, and Nietzsche, then describes how their mental abstractions were buffeted by demands of material or political realities that sometimes led contemporaries and posterity to bridle at inconsistencies between their words and deeds.

Left Neglected by Lisa Genova is narrated by Sarah Nickerson is a 37-year-old, overachieving multi-tasker with a demanding job at a Boston consulting firm. Her husband, Bob, works at a struggling start-up and shares the stresses and pressures of rearing their three young children in an affluent suburb. A car accident and traumatic brain injury leave Sarah with “left neglect,” a lack of awareness of anything to her left, including the left side of her own body. Sarah’s mother, Helen, can help, but their relationship has been rocky. Seven-year-old son, Charlie is diagnosed with ADHD, Bob’s job is in jeopardy, but there is “healing of body, mind, and mother-daughter relationship and acceptance that ‘normal is overrated’.” A good book, but not up to Genova’s Still Alice.

The Interpretation of Murder by Jed Rubenfield includes Sigmund Freud, Carl Jung and several important American politicians and millionaires in a gripping historical novel. Freud is an all-too-human man of obvious charm and originality; Jung is cold, calculating and obviously envious; and fictional narrator Dr. Stratham Younger is an admiring early Freudian who helps ease readers through some of Rubenfeld's longer monologues about life and architecture in New York in 1909. A better plot than Rubenfeld’s sequel, but this book could have benefited from the improved writing (or editing) of Death Instinct.

Strategic Moves by Stuart Woods is a relatively “weak entry in the long-running Stone Barrington series.” Super lawyer Stone grapples with both financial and international intrigue, beds a couple of gorgeous women, eats wonderful meals at Elaine's, drinks lots of Knob Creek, negotiates incredible agreements with and for his clients (who include an international arms dealer and the CIA), while staying a step ahead of the Mossad. Woods is an entertaining, productive writer probably won't win the Nobel prize this year.

*Sarah’s Key by Tatiana de Rosnay captures “the insane world of the Holocaust and the efforts of the few good people who stood up against it.” Focusing on the 1942 Paris roundups and deportations, in which thousands of Jewish families were arrested, held at the Vélodrome d'Hiver, then transported to Auschwitz, the novel captures the terror and courage of Sarah who lives through the ordeal and the lasting impact on France. Told from the prospective of forty-five-year-old Julia Jarmond as she, her arrogant, unfaithful husband and their 11 year-old daughter cope with personal and family issues.

**Death Instinct by Jed Rubenfeld (Yale law professor who is married to the “Tiger Mom”) uses the 1920 bombing of Wall Street as the backdrop for a superbly written novel and well-crafted historical mystery. The ambitious plot provides a believable solution to the never-solved search for the person/s responsible for the death and injury of more than 400 people. Rubenfeld weaves such historical figures as Marie Curie and Sigmund Freud through the shifting landscape with a historian's factual touch and a storyteller's eye for the dramatic. I was enthralled as Dr. Stratham Younger, his beautiful fiancée, scientist Colette Rousseau, and Det. James Littlemore succeed in providing a reasonable solution to an important ‘cold case.’ “This fat book is heir to Caleb Carr’s The Alienist.”

House Rules by Jody Picoult is a NYT’s best seller about an eighteen-year old with Asperger's syndrome, and his devoted single mother who has sacrificed her career, marriage and other son to help Jacob function. When he is accused of murder, his symptomatic behavior makes him look guilty. Picoult's deals intelligently with questions about autism and Asperger's, “the whodunit is stretched sitcom-thin and handled poorly, with characters withholding information from the reader throughout.” The book is engaging, but has too many voices with none asking the important, obvious questions.

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