Monday, December 28, 2009

The Informant by Kurt Eichenwald ***

Writers constantly remind themselves that real life is rarely good fiction. The Informant: A True Story aptly demonstrates this truth presenting the reader with a day-by-day journal of Mark Whitacre, a brilliantly crazy embezzler. Some sections, I particularly remember the FBI raid on ADM, are page turners, while others, the lengthy period of taping illegal price-fixing meetings for example, are tedious and repetitive.

However, if you've seen the movie or heard the This American Life podcast - they are both representative and faithful to the book and thus the actual events - and want to know more: this is the book for you. The Informant: A True Story is the unexpurgated, unabridged source for the life and crimes of Mark Whitacre.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Brass Verdict by Michael Connelly *****

The Brass Verdict opens with "Everyone lies." Michael Haller, attorney and alcoholic, leads with this caveat emptor as he returns to work as a defense attorney with a high-profile case: the head of a movie studio accused of murdering his wife and her lover just weeks after her prenup vested and she had a right to half his substantial assets. Michael Connelly delivers up a fast moving mystery with plenty of twists and turns, a few more murders, and everything neatly resolved at the end, but not the way you might have suspected. This is all done the lazy deus ex machina employed by many lesser writers.

The only slow part was in the middle where too much time was spent on trial and legal mechanics which will certainly be tedious and cliched to any regular reader of legal thrillers, and something that's been done so well by John Grisham that all other writers should be cautioned before they attempt it.

In the end, with everything resolved, we see: "Everybody lies."

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Worst Written, Best Book of the 60s *****

New Think, published in 1967, is an example of an idea succeeding in spite of terrible writing. In New Think, Edward de Bono introduces Lateral Thinking, a concept so prevalent today that few people can imagine a world without it. But here it is. This is the book that lead the way to thinking outside the box, brain storming, and a multitude of popular approaches to creativity and problem solving.

The book is over written and wordy, and occasionally embarrassingly simplistic. Even trying to recall when I read it for the first time in the 60s, I can't decide whether the book reflects the difficulty of presenting ideas that are common today, or whether the book is just terrible.

Regardless, if you can locate a copy, I'd highly recommend it to anyone involved in art or research or life. Skim it just to remember the importance of finding another way to look at daily and cosmic problems.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Judge by Karen Traviss ***

Judge by Karen Traviss is the sixth and final book in the Wess'har Wars series. The story and the series centers around two huge philosophical issues: the ethics of ecology and immortality. The ethic of ecology is explored by comparing human to the Wess'har and Eqbas who believe that all animals are equal and motivation is irrelevant - only results matter.
Shan wondered whether humans on Earth had yet grasped the full implications of highly militarized vegans.
Immortality is explored by giving characters the choice of individual immortality or immortality through children.

As with the best science fiction, Judge raises important questions and suggests novel solutions. As with the worst science fiction too many words are expended on back story, exposition, and philosophical discussions. As an example, one to the biggest actions in this novel is the forced reduction of human population to sustainable levels (i.e. the removal of billions of people). This happens entirely outside of the story and is merely reported.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Contagion by Robin Cook ****

Contagion by Robin Cook is one of the best in his long series of medical thrillers. This 1995 novel introduces Jack Stapleton and Laurie Montgomery - two Medical Examiners in New York City who appear in many later novels. While some of his books tend to be long on pedantic lectures and short on character development, Contagion combines characterization and action to provide a very enjoyable thriller about nosocomial infections - a perennial Robin Cook favorite.

One warning however: Do no invest any thought in discovering the ending because the resolution is only tenuously related the the story that precedes it. While reading just keep repeating the mindless, escapist reader's mantra: It's the journey, not the destination.