## ODonnellWeb – Books - 2020

Books - 2020

I used to use a database backed program to track the books I read. In 2019 I decided to go all flat file with this website. I've been reviewing some books as blog posts, but I don't necessarily want to review every book I write in detail. So I'll just add them to this page, with either a short review or a link to the longer review if I wrote one.

Smart Baseball - Smart Baseball: The Story Behind the Old Stats That Are Ruining the Game, the New Ones That Are Running It, and the Right Way to Think About Baseball by Keith Law

Really interesting if you are a baseball fan. I'm a baseball fan. I already understood why RBI, batting average, wins and saves were dubious measures of anything useful. The explanation of why the new stats are better was really interesting to me.

The Oregon Trail: A New American Journey by Rinker Buck

So two guys decide to build a reproduction covered wagon, buy a mule team, and try to cross the Oregon Trail, just like the Pioneers did. Best anybody can tell, it's been about 100 years since somebody attempted this. It's part very entertaining travelogue, and part history lesson. It turns out I didn't know much about the Oregon Trail. So, descriptions of miles long backups at river crossings, and the need to physically lift the wagons up or down particularity steep sections was fascinating to me. And yes, you might die of dysentery.

The Body by Bill Bryson

Reviewed on the blog

Small Fry, A Memoir by Lisa Brennan-Jobs

Around the time Steve Jobs died I read his biography by Walter Isaacson. My primary takeaway from that book was that Steve Jobs was a shitty parent and major asshole. This book, by the daughter he tried to avoid even acknowledging publicly, didn't do anything to change my opinion. While he was living in a multi-million dollar mansion that he couldn't even be bothered to buy furniture for, Lisa and her mom were living paycheck to paycheck in shitty run down rentals. When Lisa lived with him as a teen, the heat didn't work downstairs where her bedroom was and he wouldn't fix it. He refused to pay her college tuition her senior year at Harvard over some perceived slight, forcing her to get a neighbor from Silicon Valley to help her out so she could finish college. I feel pretty good about my status as somebody who has purchased only 1 Apple product in my entire life - the laptop my daughter took to college. I never even bought an iPod.

Uncanny Valley by Anna Wiener

Reviewed on the blog

Fated Sky - A Lady Astronaut Novel by Mary Robinette Kowel

The 2nd book in the Lady Astronaut series, an alternative history in which a meteor wipes out the east coast in the 50s, bringing on dramatic climate change and forcing humanity to dramatically speed up the space program as they will need a new planet to live on. This time the trip is to Mars, and like last time, the story is more about the interpersonal issues inherent in an early 60s space program with better technology, but the same misogyny and racism, than it is a hard sci-fi book. Except this time, they are all stuck living together on the way to Mars.

Sync by K.P. Kyle

Boston area Veterinarian K.P. Kyle has a talent for mind-bending science fiction. In her debut novel a divorced, bored, middle aged women does the good Samaritan thing and picks up a hitchhiker, feeds him, and gives him a couch to crash on. No good deed goes unpunished so her life goes to hell that night when somebody breaks into her apartment, apparently after the hitchhiker. It turns out the hitchhiker is wanted for escaping from a secret government project where he learned to jump to the infinite number of parallel universes that exist as the result of every decision we make in life.

Then it gets weird.

I read this book in 3 days - which you can absolutely take as a sign that if you are a sci-fi person you'll probably enjoy this book too.

Talking to Strangers by Malcom Gladwell

Gladwell's thesis here is that we all suck at talking to strangers, and he "proves" it by reviewing some very high profile criminal cases that in his mind were just failures to communicate. Specifically, he believes we have evolved to defaulting to a belief that people are not lying to us. Otherwise, society couldn't really function if we all were paranoid 24 X 7. Fair enough, I'll buy that. His 2nd point is that we all think we can read body language and faces to know if somebody is lying to us, when in fact mountains of empirical evidence prove that we all actually suck at reading people too. Again, I agree with this.

However, he then spends many pages trying to convince us that Amanda Knox spent 4 years in an Italian prison because she didn't act innocent enough. No consideration of corruption in the Italian police, no consideration of sexism or bigotry against an American, just a failure to communicate. He also tries to turn the Brock Turner rape case into an example of how people, especially teens, are bad at understanding each other's intentions, and they are really bad at it when blackout drunk. That may be a true point, but I'm not sure what it has to do with a rape case. He also spends a lot of pages defending people in the Jerry Sandusky case.

Overall, it felt like Gladwell had a germ of an idea of a long form magazine article and tried to turn it into a book.

A Song for a New Day by Sarah Pinkser

Reviewed on the blog

Solo by Kwame Alexander

Reviewed on the blog

The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg

The reason it's so hard to change a bad habit, or start a good one, is that we focus on the habit. That is the wrong approach. Every habit starts with a cue, and delivers a reward. Change won't stick if you don't deal with the cue and reward.

Willpower isn't just a skill. It's a muscle and like any muscle, it wears out. Turning desire or willpower into a habit improves outcomes, because habits are on auto-pilot, they don't take the energy forcing change through willpower does.

"Cravings are what drive habits. And figuring out how to spark a craving makes creating a new habit easier."

Businesses have understood this for years, and use for good (Starbucks in training employees) and bad (Target's success and deducing that women are pregnant before they've told anybody).

Swing by Kwame Alexander

I read two Kwame Alexander books in a week. Swing precedes Solo. It lives in the same general higher schooler coming of age territory as Solo, but this time the story centers on a pair of more middle class kids instead of the kid of a millionaire rock star. The story arc takes some dramatically different turns too as Kwame manages to mix in issues such as institutional racism and Black Lives Matter. Instead of rock and roll, jazz is the music woven throughout the story, and much like a good jazz tune, the story has layers of complexity for the reader that is paying attention.

The Wax Pack: On the Open Road in Search of Baseball’s Afterlife by Brad Balukjian

A mention of this book found its way to my Twitter feed and after reading the premise I ordered it immediately. An adult baseball fan starts wondering what happened to the heroes of his youth. Not the stars so much, but the career utility players or guys that bounced between AAA and The Show for 10 years. So he orders a random sealed back of 1986 Topps cards (the first year he collected) and makes a book out of the epic road trip to hunt down the 14 players in the wax pack (He got one checklist card). The pack is a mix of stars (Carlton Fisk and Dwight Gooden) with guys you've never heard of. He doesn't actually meet Gooden or Fisk (Gooden stood him up an Fisk wouldn't talk to him), but the Fisk chapters may be the most entertaining in the book.

What results is part classic road trip story, part interview series, and part journey of self-reflection. Most of the guys are pretty open with him. He went bowling with Randy Ready, and watched Kung Fu movies with Garry Templeton. He played catch with Don Carmen, had dinner with Lee Mazzilli, and hung out with Rick Sutcliffe. Overall, a lightweight and fun read for any baseball fan from the 80s that knows at at least some of the names I listed above.

The Rescue Nurse by J Phillip Horne

Reviewed on the blog

Zed: A Novel by Joanna Kavenna

A dystopian novel about an all-powerful corporation that controls the world's currency and whose algorithms predict crimes before they happen sounds like a book that is right in my sweet spot. I gave up after 100 pages. I just couldn't get into it.