Book Review: Kurson’s Shadow Divers

Shadow Divers: The True Adventure of Two Americans Who Risked Everything to Solve One of the Last Mysteries of World War II

Robert Kurson

The story of how a group of amateur divers discovered the wreck of a German U-boat off the coast of New Jersey in 1991. Yes, that’s right, 1991. It’s a pretty incredible story. A alcoholic boat captain and some amateur divers take a chance on a rumor of a sunken ship and discover not just a ship, but a sub, and not just a sub, but a U-boat, and not just a U-boat, but one never before recorded. From there, the story follows two divers who become increasingly obsessed with figuring out the story of the sub. Along the way there’s death, deep sea diving history, obsession, broken marriages, WWII history and more.

It’s a compelling read albeit written in the sort of workman like prose of the career journalist. No gorgeous turns of phrase here — just facts and dialogue, with the occasional slightly purple internal monologue.

On a personal note, I read this while riding the train back and forth to visit E in the hospital. It took my mind off the stresses of the time, and that’s about all you can ask of a book like this.

Recommended for the enthusiast.

Review: Eichenwald’s Conspiracy of Fools

Conspiracy of Fools: A True Story

Kurt Eichenwald

Eichenwald is one of the best business writers around. Here, he gives the definitive account of what happened at Enron. The accounting explanations here can get a little hairy (because what was going inside Enron’s accounting was pretty bizarre) but it is still a fascinating read. I don’t know what is more bizarre, that these dudes thought they could get away with what was basically an elaborate shell game, or that they did get away with an elaborate shell game for so long.

If you’re into business books, this is a must read.

Recommended for the enthusiast.

Review: Clark’s Food Guide for Marathoners

Nancy Clark’ s Food Guide for Marathoners: Tips for Everyday Champions
Nancy Clark

For a while at least, this was the definitive book on nutrition for endurance athletes. We’ve come a long way from the days of eat a ton of pasta the night before the race. Here, Clark discusses the timing of carbo-loading, the importance of protein (a much debated subject today) and the effects of periodizing your diet to match your training while focusing on getting enough sleep.  While this book is no longer cutting edge, it certainly gives one a good grounding in the nutrition of endurance events.

Recommended for the enthusiast.

Review: Sach’s The End of Poverty

The End of Poverty: Economic Possibilities for Our Time
Jeffery Sachs
You, being a smart person who is up on contemporary debates in economics and development and/or are a reader of Vanity Fair, probably already know all about Jeffrey Sachs.

Sachs made his name giving “shock therapy” to various third world economies. He recommended they jack up interest rates, and pushed them towards neo-liberal free market structures. His career hit a bit of a bad patch when he was associated with the economic meltdown of the former Soviet Socialist Republic. This book is his recommendations for development in Africa.

Sach’s ideas are, at base, pretty simple – Sub-Saharan Africa needs lots and lots more aid. This aid should be put to use curing easily defeatable diseases and establishing local agrarian and eventually manufacturing economies. Right wing types who say that more aid won’t fix the problem are wrong. That’s about it.

I think Sach’s has this all about half right. More aid is a good idea, but alone, and in the style he suggests, I doubt it will lead to an end to poverty. Paul Collier’s more nuanced book The Bottom Billion, gives a better battle plan for dealing with seriously fucked countries. Sach’s plan is a little too throw-money-at-the-problem for me.

Still, this book is worth a read. If you’re going to think about world poverty now a days, you’re going to have to know this book. He is by far the biggest name in the field. He may not always be right, but he’s a player that you need to know about.

Recommended for the enthusiast.

Review: Le Carre’s Our Game

Our Game
John LeCarre
Perhaps the best of LeCarre’s non-Smiley novels this one centers on the relationship of a fellow traveler socialist turned British Cold War spy and his longtime handler and what happens in their broken lives when the Cold War that framed their identities ends. Like most Le Carre novels, the plot is well constructed, the characters are complex and near perfectly drawns, and the dialogue is top notch.

As we all know, no one does this genre better than LeCarre. No one here is a hero, nor, really, an anti-hero. For all the international intrigue, they’re really just broken men and women muddling through and the spying is really just a way to talk about betrayal, the British class system, dysfunctional relationship. Who can resist?

Recommended for the enthusiast.

Eisler’s Rain Fall, Blood from Blood, and Choke Point, Killing Rain

A Clean Kill in Tokyo (Previously Published as Rain Fall) (A John Rain Novel)

A Lonely Resurrection (Previously Published as Hard Rain and Blood from Blood) (A John Rain Novel)

Winner Take All (Previously published as Rain Storm and Choke Point) (A John Rain Novel)

Redemption Games (Previously published as Killing Rain and One Last Kill) (A John Rain Novel)

Barry Eiseler

It is pretty embarrassing to admit that not only did I read four volumes of Barry Eisler’s series about John Rain, the super assassin with a case of ennui, but I also read them all in the span of a week and really, really enjoyed them. As I have said before, I have no taste.

I will say in my defense is that I was living in Cairo at the time,  a strange city, in which I knew few people. I didn’t speak the language and there’s only so much time you can spend with your colleagues from work.  These novels were a away to get through the sometimes lonely nights. They are pretty expertly executed as thriller novels with cliff hangers at the end of every chapter, characters well developed enough to care about, but not at the expense of action and sex, and multiple mini-dramas playing out while the main plot line develops.  If airplane thrillers are you thing, you can’ go wrong with these books.

Recommended for the enthusiast. 
* note that since I read these books, they’ve all been republished under different names. For some of these books, that the third renaming. Cashing in on harried business buying books at airplane kiosks? Seems kinda sketchy.