Tag: Business Books

The Best Nonfiction Audiobooks I’ve Listened to Lately

May 9, 2019 Annual "Best Books" Lists 11

Nonfiction Audiobooks

 

Nonfiction is my go-to for audiobooks…particularly lighter nonfiction (none of those dense history tomes for me!). I also listen to lots of backlist on audio, which is very different from my print reading habits. And, I’m sharing the best nonfiction audiobooks I’ve listened to lately (meaning in the first half of 2019) with you today.

One book missing from this list is I Miss You When I Blinkby Mary Laura Philpott because my listen was a “re-read” after reading the print version first. I reviewed the print version here, but I have to tell you the audio hit me even harder. I even changed my rating from 4 to 5 stars after listening to the audio. If you haven’t read this one yet, I highly recommend the audio (read by Philpott herself).

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The Best Audiobooks I Listened to in 2018 (Second Half)

December 27, 2018 Annual "Best Books" Lists 8

Best Audiobooks I listened to in the second half of 2018

 

My audiobook listening really picked up in the second half of this year…mostly because I balanced it better with my podcast listening. I tend to do this when I’m listening to audiobooks that are catching my interest more.

Here are my best audiobooks I listened to in 2018…the second half (check out my post on the best audiobooks I listened to in the first half of 2018 here)…

This post contains affiliate links (plus: here’s your Amazon Smile-specific affiliate link), through which I make a small commission when you make a purchase (at no cost to you!).

The Best Audiobooks I Listened to in 2018 (Second Half)

A Beautiful, Terrible Thing by Jen Waite (Memoir, Released July 11, 2017)
Waite’s memoir of her marriage to a psychopath / sociopath (Marco) is every wife’s nightmare come to life. There’s cheating and then there’s cheating as part of a pattern of psychotic or sociopathic behavior. Jen’s husband does the latter. She discovers Marco is cheating on her soon after having their first child. Then, she discovers a whole web of lies and starts to realize he’s not the man he seemed. I was absolutely riveted to this audio…I ignored new podcasts to listen, something I don’t normally do. Jen chronicles her slow process of realization and recovery, which definitely made me wonder if some people I know are also sociopaths.
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

American Radical: Inside the World of an Undercover Muslim FBI Agent by Tamer Elnoury (Memoir, Released October 23, 2017)
Written under a pseudonym for the author’s safety, this is his story of working undercover for an elite counterterrorism unit following 9/11. Elnoury made a career change from going undercover in the drug world to undercover in the terrorism world. And, his story is absolutely chilling. It illuminates terrorism plots that were thankfully thwarted and characters who are the worst of the worst. But, the most interesting part about it for me was the exploration of Elnoury’s version of Islam and how he feels about those that practice the radicalized version of his religion. And, I wondered if the terrorists in this book read it and recognized themselves…and what that means for Elnoury’s safety. Great pick fans of cloak and dagger.
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

Bad Blood by John Carreyrou (Business, Released May 21, 2018)
Bad Blood is the true story of the meteoric rise and spectacular fall of the Silicon Valley biotech startup, Theranos. My favorite types of business books are the explosive, behind-the-scenes tell-all kinds and Bad Blood fits the bill. Though I did get lost in some of the science and engineering details, I was fascinated / horrified at the arrogance of Elizabeth Holmes, Theranos’s young CEO who viewed herself as the next Steve Jobs, and the lengths Theranos went to to create a “unicorn” whether or not they actually had a viable product.

Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

From the Corner of the Ovalby Beck Dorey-Stein (Memoir, July 10, 2018)
This quarter life crisis memoir set in the world of politics is my favorite audiobook of the year! It’s like listening to your fun friend who happens to have a White House job (stenographer) with extensive access to the President give you all the very best anecdotes (plus, a good dose of her love life) over a glass of wine! It’s fun, snarky, and heart-felt and Beck is the rare “DC creature” who doesn’t take herself too seriously. Many Goodreads reviewers complained about the focus on her love life (and bad decisions), but I think it made her more endearing and relatable…and let’s get real, many of us (including me) have been there at some point in our lives! This is a great pick if you loved Who Thought This Was a Good Idea? by Alyssa Mastronmonaco or The Hopefuls by Jennifer Close (my review) and would make a great graduation gift.

Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

How to Be Married by Jo Piazza (Memoir, Released August 18, 2017)
Piazza chronicles her own difficult first year of marriage as she travels to five continents learning about views on marriage in different cultures. This memoir is really part memoir and part travelogue. I’ve been drawn to books about marriage over the last few years (both fiction and nonfiction)…especially those that keep it real. And, Piazza definitely keeps it real, focusing on both the good parts and tough parts of a year of huge adjustment that often gets papered over with “newlywed bliss” expectations. She also explores the cultural rationale for certain types of marriage structures that Americans view as demeaning to women (i.e. polygamy). I can’t say I agree, but I do now have a better understanding of why women in some cultures participate in these types of traditions. Piazza comes across as independent, yet relatable and I loved her narration! Great choice for fans of Kelly Corrigan.

Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

I’ll Be There for You: The One About Friends by Kelsey Miller (Television, Released October 23, 2018)
Yep, you guessed it…a behind-the-scenes history of Friends. This book is one big ball of 90’s nostalgia and, upon finishing it, I immediately started binge-watching Friends on Netflix. Not only do you get all the cute anecdotes you’d expect from a book like this, but there’s some interesting discussion about some ways the show is problematic when viewed through today’s cultural lens. An easy listen and a great gift for fans of Friends!

Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

Small Fry by Lisa Brennan-Jobs (Memoir, Released September 4, 2018)
This memoir from Steve Jobs’ first daughter that he alternately claimed and refused to claim for many years is first and foremost a coming of age story…it doesn’t read like a celebrity tell-all. It does highlight the incredible juxtaposition of Lisa’s and Steve’s daily lives…Lisa’s mom is a hippy artist and they live a very modest lifestyle. Jobs sporadically helps them out financially, but they can’t rely on any consistency. Jobs comes off as a weird, overly particular, arrogant, prick. He’s incredibly hot and cold with his daughter…almost toying with her. However, Lisa isn’t super likable either…giving the book an overall cold feeling. This inside look is fascinating, but I do think it could’ve been a hundred pages shorter. And, I would’ve liked more focus on the end of Jobs’ life…when Apple truly took off with the iPad, etc. and he was battling cancer, but maybe that’s to be found in a different book.

Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

The Residence: Inside the Private World of the White House by Kate Andersen Brower (Politics, Released August 7, 2015)
This portrait of life in the White House for the first families is told from the perspective of the residence service staff. I love a good “behind-the-scenes of anything Presidential” book, especially one that doesn’t really get into politics…and I’ve read a lot of them. The household service staff brings a unique viewpoint, since they see the first families at their most unguarded. Perfect if you’re interested in the inner workings of the White House (especially if you liked Ronald Kessler’s books, In the President’s Secret Service and The First Family Detail)!

Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

What are the best audiobooks you listened to in the second half of 2018?

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Nonfiction Mini Reviews (Nonfiction November 2018) and New Additions to my TBR

November 29, 2018 Blogger Events 11

Nonfiction November 2018

 

Another Nonfiction November (hosted by Katie at Doing Dewey, Rennie at What’s Nonfiction?, Julie at Julz Reads, Kim at Sophisticated Dorkiness, and me) is in the books! And, it was an awesome one. I read/listened to eight books and only one was a stinker. And, my favorite book of Nonfiction November was Dopesick by Beth Macy!

I usually use Nonfiction November to create my Nonfiction TBR for the coming year and I found some great books to get that started!

This post contains affiliate links (plus: here’s your Amazon Smile-specific affiliate link), through which I make a small commission when you make a purchase (at no cost to you!).

Nonfiction mini reviews

2018 Nonfiction November Mini Reviews

Big Game: The NFL in Dangerous Times by Mark Leibovich
Nonfiction – Sports (Released September 4, 2018)
400 Pages
Bottom Line: Read it

Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Library (Publisher: Penguin Press)

Plot Summary: Political writer Leibovich switches gears to go deep inside the NFL…with extensive access to Tom Brady and the Patriots.

My Thoughts: Mark Leibovich is the Chief National Correspondent for The New York Times Magazine focusing on politics and the author of This Town (my review), a look at the cultural landscape in Washington, D.C. I didn’t love This Town…but, I did love Leibovich’s dry, sarcastic writing style and his propensity to make fun of self-important big-shots. And, he does all that in Big Game…but, the targets are now self-important NFL owners (and there are some seriously eccentric personalities in this bunch) and Commissioner Roger Goodell. Leibovich covers concussions, Deflategate, owner/player/Commissioner dynamics, and more. It’s full of funny anecdotes about all the looney-tune personalities and hoopla surrounding the game…and doesn’t dig into the actual X’s and O’s of football too much, which I appreciated. There’s a big focus on the Patriots and my favorite person in the book is Tom Brady’s Dad…who seems like a down-to-earth guy who is flummoxed by his son’s somewhat woo-woo lifestyle. If you liked Jeanne Marie Laskas’ Concussion (my review), you’ll like this one!

“You guys are cattle and we’re the ranchers,” the late Dallas Cowboys president Tex Schramm once told Hall of Fame offensive lineman Gene Upshaw during a collective bargaining negotiation. It is an oft-quoted line that encapsulates the whole setup. Players get prodded, milked for all they’re worth, sold off, put out to pasture, and slaughtered. Implicit also here is that the cattle’s time is fleeting, like Not for Long football careers. “And ranchers can always get more cattle” is how Schramm’s quote concludes.

Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott
Nonfiction – Memoir (Released January 1, 1994)
237 Pages
Bottom Line: Read it

Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Library (Publisher: Anchor)

Plot Summary: Lamott’s guide to writing well and living the writing life…based on writing workshops she taught.

My Thoughts: This was my maiden voyage with Anne Lamott and I had some pre-conceived notions about her because she often writes about faith. I thought she’d be wise and heartfelt…and serious. But, she totally surprised me with that last one! She’s relatable and funny…even irreverently funny, which I loved. I don’t have any grand writing ambitions, but I suspect this book would be invaluable to anyone who does. And, in her writing advice, I see many of the things I love to see in the books I read. Her overall message is: listen to your characters, they’ll show you the way. Sometimes she does get overly philosophical about “art,” but I loved it overall and would love to read more by her.

Your work as a writer, when you are giving everything you have to your characters and to your readers, will periodically make you feel like the single parent of a three-year-old, who is, by turns, wonderful, willful, terrible, crazed, and adoring. Toddlers can make you feel as if you have violated some archaic law in their personal Koran and you should die, infidel. Other times they’ll reach out and touch you like adoring grandparents on their deathbeds, trying to memorize your face with their fingers.

Dopesick by Beth Macy
Nonfiction – Investigative Journalism (Released August 7, 2018)
384 Pages
Bottom Line: Read it.

Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Library (Publisher: Little, Brown)

Plot Summary: Beth Macy investigates America’s decades long opioid crisis, which is rampant in both rural and suburban areas in Central Appalachia.

My Thoughts: This book scared me sh*tless…there’s really no other way to say it. I knew America had an opioid crisis on its hands, but I had no idea how pervasive it was and that many people originally got addicted via doctor-prescribed painkillers. This book opened my eyes…and, as a parent, got me hoping that this trend will die a hard death by the time my children are old enough to encounter this stuff. Macy chronicles the many levels of failure in dealing with the opioid crisis…from drug companies, to law enforcement, to public policy makers, to doctors. It’s like the cigarette atrocity of this generation. Dopesick is a must read for parents…along with What Made Maddy Run, Girls & Sex, and Missoula…and is a good companion read for Hillbilly Elegy.

He remembered a dislocated coal miner from Grundy, Virginia, confessing that OxyContin had become more important to him than his family, his church, and his children. “It became my god,” the man said.

Driven by Julie Heldman
Nonfiction – Sports Memoir (Released August 22, 2018)
446 Pages
Bottom Line: Skip it.

Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Author (Self-Published)

Plot Summary: The memoir of Julie Heldman, a top-ranked pro tennis player in the 1960’s – 70’s and the daughter of Gladys Heldman, a legendary figure behind-the-scenes of the tennis world (she founded World Tennis magazine and was partially responsible for the formation of the Virginia Slims women’s tour, the precursor to today’s WTA).

My Thoughts: I’m a huge tennis fan, which is why I gave this self-published memoir a shot. There was a ton of fascinating tennis history in this book…the battle for equal treatment of women on the pro tour, the personalities of legendary players from that time (ex: Arthur Ashe, Billie Jean King, Chris Evert), and the politics surrounding pros and amateurs. Driven also focuses on Julie’s relationship with her mother (Gladys) and Julie’s eventual battle with mental illness. Famous and beloved in the tennis world, Gladys was a bit of a Mommie Dearest behind closed doors. While somewhat interesting, Heldman beats a dead horse for close to 500 pages (an outrageous length for this book). Driven is desperately in need of an editor…to cut repetitions, to craft story arcs, and to improve the writing (some sections felt like she’d copied directly from her childhood diaries). The tennis history is what kept me reading, so unless you’re an avid tennis fan, there’s probably not much in here to make it worth wading through the muck.

I grew up in a family where the youngest and most demanding child was the world’s largest tennis magazine.

The Fifth Risk by Michael Lewis
Nonfiction (Released October 2, 2018)
219 Pages
Bottom Line: Read it.

Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Library (Publisher: W.W. Norton)

Plot Summary: Lewis dives deep into the inner workings of murky government agencies (i.e. Department of Commerce, Department of Agriculture, etc) to explore the obscure risks the government grapples with every day.

My Thoughts: Michael Lewis is a master at making boring, tedious information sound fascinating and he did it again with The Fifth Risk. He shines a light on obscure people with important and interesting, but relatively unknown jobs within the federal government. He exposes risks that regular citizens probably never consider, but that the federal government works to mitigate every day (i.e. the electrical grid). And, he investigates the Trump transition (or lack thereof). There is an incredible amount of information packed into just over 200 pages…so much that the book felt like a brain dump at times. Despite being fascinated by almost everything he shared, I’m still unclear what his overall purpose is: is he trying to educate U.S. citizens about all the things government does for them / saves them from? Trying to expose Trump’s non-existent / unorganized transition? Figure out the biggest risks in government? Publicly recognize unsung government heroes? He seemed to have all these purposes at various times. Mostly, I took from it that I had no idea what certain parts of the government do…and now I know a little more. Also, it’s clear what side of the political aisle Michael Lewis identifies with…and he writes from that perspective.

Another way of putting this is: the risk we should most fear is not the risk we easily imagine. It is the risk that we don’t. Which brought us to the fifth risk. […] The fifth risk did not put him at risk of revealing classified information. “Project management,” was all he said.

Audiobooks

American Radical: Inside the World of an Undercover Muslim FBI Agent by Tamer Elnoury
Nonfiction – War (Released October 23, 2017)
9 Hours, 42 Minutes
Bottom Line: Read it
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Purchased (Publisher: Dutton)

Plot Summary: Written under a pseudonym for the author’s safety, this is his story of working undercover for an elite counterterrorism unit following 9/11.

My Thoughts: Elnoury made a career change from going undercover in the drug world to undercover in the terrorism world. And, his story is absolutely chilling. It illuminates terrorism plots that were thankfully thwarted and characters who are the worst of the worst. But, the most interesting part about it for me was the exploration of Elnoury’s version of Islam and how he feels about those that practice the radicalized version of his religion. And, I wondered if the terrorists in this book read it and recognized themselves in it…and what that means for Elnoury’s safety.

Bad Blood by John Carreyrou
Nonfiction – Business / Investigative Journalism (Released May 21, 2018)
11 Hours, 37 Minutes
Bottom Line: Read it

Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Library (Publisher: Knopf)

Plot Summary: The true story of the meteoric rise and spectacular fall of the Silicon Valley biotech startup, Theranos.

My Thoughts: My favorite types of business books are the explosive, behind-the-scenes tell-all kinds (DisneyWar by James B. Stewart, Those Guys Have All the Fun by James Andrew Miller, and House of Cards by William Cohen) and Bad Blood fits the bill. Though I did get lost in some of the science and engineering details, I was fascinated / horrified at the arrogance of Elizabeth Holmes, Theranos’s young CEO who viewed herself as the next Steve Jobs, and the lengths Theranos went to to create a “unicorn” despite the absence of a viable product. This one will make a great “Dad” gift for the holidays!

New Nonfiction to My TBR

Silence in the Age of Noise by Erling Kagge (November 21, 2017)
Recommended by Reading with Jade (it was her favorite nonfiction read so far this year)…this one caught my eye because I loved Quiet by Susan Cain (my thoughts) and I’ve become more and more interested in introversion as I’ve gotten older. 

A transformative account of an experience that is essential for our sanity and our happiness.

Whoever Fights Monsters by Robert Ressler and Tom Schachtman (May 1, 1992)
Recommended by Kazan at Always Doing…I love true crime and this by two guys that track serial killers.

The man who coined the term “serial killer”, Ressler is a modern-day Sherlock Holmes who combines observation and a knowledge of psychopathic personalities to draw profiles of unknown perpetrators that are astonishingly accurate descriptions based on various aspects of the crime itself.

Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson (October 21, 2014)
Recommended by Tina at TBR, etc…I’ve obviously been hearing about this book for ages from many people, but Tina’s Instagram post was what really made me want to read it.

A powerful true story about the potential for mercy to redeem us, and a clarion call to fix our broken system of justice—from one of the most brilliant and influential lawyers of our time.

Operating Instructions by Anne Lamott (May 1, 1993)
Recommended by Sarah K, one of my blog readers (via my comments section)…I love honest accounts of motherhood and loved my first Anne Lamott this month (Bird by Bird).

The most honest, wildly enjoyable book written about motherhood is surely Anne Lamott’s account of her son Sam’s first year.

Dead Girls by Alice Bolin (June 26, 2018)
Recommended by Kelly at Stacked…she paired this one with Sadie by Courtney Summers, which I liked, in her Fiction / Nonfiction pairings post. More for my true crime TBR list, which is getting longer every minute.

A collection of poignant, perceptive essays that expertly blends the personal and political in an exploration of American culture through the lens of our obsession with dead women.

This Will Only Hurt a Little by Busy Phillips (October 16, 2018)
Recommended by Susie at Novel Visits…I’m all for a juicy celebrity memoir, especially one that’s great on audio!

A memoir by the beloved comedic actress known for her roles on Freaks and Geeks, Dawson’s Creek, and Cougar Town who has become “the breakout star on Instagram stories…imagine I Love Lucy mixed with a modern lifestyle guru.”

The Good Nurse by Charles Graeber (April 15, 2013)
Recommended by Tina at TBR, etc.…more for my true crime TBR!

After his December 2003 arrest, registered nurse Charlie Cullen was quickly dubbed “The Angel of Death” by the media. But Cullen was no mercy killer, nor was he a simple monster. He was a favorite son, husband, beloved father, best friend, and celebrated caregiver. Implicated in the deaths of as many as 300 patients, he was also perhaps the most prolific serial killer in American history.

What was your favorite read and top TBR add of Nonfiction November?

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Mini Reviews: Generation Chef by Karen Stabiner and Before the Wind by Jim Lynch

December 8, 2016 Mini Book Reviews 15

Can a mini review include not one, not two, but three quotes, thus making it look more like a full length review?! Yes, I’m going with it. There’s no other choice when the writing is as glorious as Jim Lynch’s in Before the Wind.

Generation Chef, Karen StabinerGeneration Chef by Karen Stabiner
Nonfiction – Cooking / Food (Released September 13, 2016)
288 Pages
Bottom Line: Read it.
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Publisher (Avery Books)

Plot Summary: Journalist Karen Stabiner follows young chef Jonah Miller as he opens his first New York City restaurant, the East Village Spanish spot, Huertas.

My Thoughts: Generation Chef‘s look into a new restaurant’s first year of life is equal parts food and business book. I particularly loved getting a behind the scenes look at the ups and downs of an entrepreneurial restaurant venture. Running a new restaurant clearly takes courage and a steady hand and I was frighteningly nervous for Miller and his team as they approached each new milestone (applying for a liquor license, awaiting a New York Times review, etc). I realized how much I respect people who run small businesses and I’m fairly certain I couldn’t pull it off without an emotional breakdown.

Specific to the restaurant business, Generation Chef highlighted how hard a new restaurant has to work to get noticed amidst the NYC clutter. Stabiner provides illuminating color about the frenzied restaurant environment of the early 2000’s and the impact of social media. She also compares Miller and Huertas’ story with that of other famous chefs including David Chang, Stephanie Izard, April Bloomfield, and Gavin Kaysen. Generation Chef reminded me of Stephanie Danler’s Sweetbitter, minus all the drugs and sexual angst, and is a great choice for people interested in the business side of opening a new restaurant. Plus, it made an appearance on my 2016 Books That Make Perfect Holiday Gifts List!

Before the Wind, Jim LynchBefore the Wind by Jim Lynch
Fiction (Released April 19, 2016)
306 Pages
Bottom Line: Read it.
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Purchased (Publisher: Knopf)

Plot Summary: Josh Johannssen and his somewhat estranged family, a sailing dynasty, reunite in an attempt to win the Pacific Northwest’s prestigious Swiftsure race.

My Thoughts: Behind the Wind is 100% up my alley and I have no idea why I’d never heard of it until Catherine at Gilmore Guide shoved it into my hands recently. It plops the dysfunctional family element of Ann Patchett’s Commonwealth into a sailing environment with brilliant results.

For years, sailing bound us. We were racers, builders and cruisers. It was our family business, our sport, our drug of choice. Yet eventually, sailing blew us apart, too.

Within the first five pages, Lynch delves into the psyche of sailors and boaters in general and his writing about sailing is filled with “yes, that’s exactly how it is” moments. 

Sailboats attract the loons and geniuses among us, the romantics whose boats represent some outlaw image of themselves. We fall for these things, but what we’re slow to grasp is that it’s not the boats but rather those inexplicable moments on the water when time slows.

His sense of humor sparkles when making fun of sailing (i.e. a hilarious rant about the ridiculous sailing lingo) and when describing his family’s quirks (of which there are many), but a genuine love for both shines through it all.

Nobody forgets meeting my father. Loud, tall and meaty, he invades your space and claims the right-of-way. There is nothing moderate about him. A leader and a lout, a gentleman and an ass, he never concedes a weakness, admits a sickness or says he loves anybody. Yet the flip side is that when you please him, your body temperature climbs a degree or two.

As with many books I love, the suspense lies in what ends up happening to these characters. The questions of what made Josh’s sailing prodigy sister (Ruby) abandon the sport, what shady antics are most of the family members up to now, and what incident figuratively blew up the family decades ago drove the novel’s suspense. Lynch does go on sailing tangents fairly often, but I found them interesting because he adopts the tone of the rare tour guide that uses dry humor to make something you’re not that interested in come alive. Before the Wind is an underrated gem that you should read immediately if you’re a fan of dysfunctional family stories…and, I can’t wait to read more of Lynch’s work.

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3 Great Books About Eccentric Entrepreneurs

April 16, 2015 Business, Nonfiction 6

One of my favorite nonfiction topics is eccentric people…and they are especially prevalent in the world of entrepreneurship. Specifically, the “billionaire entrepreneurs” category seems to have an abnormally large concentration of eccentric personalities. Mark Zuckerberg apparently “only eats meat from pigs, goats, and chickens that he kills himself”. Howard Hughes apparently required his servants to “wrap his spoon handles in tissue paper and cellophane”. And, H.L. Hunt (one of the “Big Four” Texas oil tycoons) apparently got his start in the oil business by “trading poker winnings for oil rights”.

Why is this? Is it because they have money to figuratively light on fire (i.e. spend on weird things)? Does their success enable them not to fear being judged? Or, are naturally eccentric people the ones coming up with the breakthrough ideas that go on to become billion dollar businesses?

Here are three great books featuring eccentric (and billionaire) entrepreneurs…

The Great Beanie Baby Bubble by Zac BissonnetteThe Great Beanie Baby Bubble, Zac Bissonnette
Nonfiction – Business (Released March 3, 2015)
274 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Purchased

Plot Summary:
An in depth look at Ty Warner and the story of the mid-1990’s speculative bubble surrounding his Beanie Babies…and its subsequent crash.

My Thoughts:
I was in college during the height of the Beanie Baby craze (1996-1998), so I was fairly unaware of exactly what “craze” meant in relation to these cuddly little creatures. I obviously knew they were popular, but did I know that adult collectors were “investing” in $5 stuffed animals as if they were stocks? Absolutely not…because that would be really weird, improbable, and somewhat creepy! The Great Beanie Baby Bubble analyzes the how and why…and the who behind it all (Ty Founder and CEO, Ty Warner). It’s a lesson in the concept of scarcity and irrational exuberance, human behavior (particularly the herd mentality), and speculative bubbles and their inevitable implosions. The book delivered on two characteristics that I think make for the most interesting nonfiction: bizarre trivia (one couple “allegedly bought Beanie Babies with forged checks, then sold them and used the proceeds to buy heroin”) and eccentric personalities (at one point, Ty Warner drove a Rolls-Royce, wore a fur coat and top hat, and carried a cane…a bit Willy Wonka-ish, no?). If you’re interested in off-the-wall cocktail party trivia, eccentric entrepreneurs, or one of the more bizarre examples of the classic economic principle of irrational exuberance, then The Great Beanie Baby Bubble is for you!

 

The Big Rich, Bryan Burrough, Texas oilThe Big Rich by Bryan Burrough
Nonfiction – Business (Released January, 2009)
508 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Purchased

Plot Summary:
The story of the rise and fall of the “big four” Texas oil fortunes: H.L. Hunt, Clint Murchison, Roy Cullen, and Sid Richardson (Sid Bass’ uncle).

My Thoughts:
The first 50 pages or so are heavy on the history of the oil industry – but, once you get past that, The Big Rich becomes juicy! These families are scandalous (H.L. Hunt was a bigamist juggling three families for much of his life) and eccentric, which make for great anecdotes. They also became heavily involved in politics and attempted to transfer the central White House influence from the Northeast to Texas – with humorous result.

 

The New New Thing by Michael LewisNew New Thing, Michael Lewis
Nonfiction – Business (Released December, 1999)
273 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Purchased

Plot Summary:
The story of the Internet age, as illustrated by Jim Clark, the eccentric entrepreneur behind Netscape, Silicon Graphics, and eventually, Healtheon.

My Thoughts:
Lewis’ trademark ability to make the business world entertaining is on display in his depiction of the most breakthrough period in the history of Silicon Valley. But, what really made this book for me was Jim Clark. This guy is a totally bizarre egomaniac…in the most entertaining way! For example, he sank a gargantuan fortune into a computerized yacht (i.e. it can sail itself) and he spent ungodly amounts of time tinkering with it. 

The Devil’s Casino by Vicky Ward: Mini Book Review

May 16, 2014 Books to Read, Business, Nonfiction 0

The Devil's Casino, Vicky Ward, Lehman Brothers collapse, 2008 financial crisisNonfiction – Business
Released March, 2010
297 Pages
Bottom Line: Read it.
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

Plot Summary of The Devil’s Casino

The story of the fall 2008 collapse of Lehman Brothers, focusing on the firm’s culture and characters that contributed to its demise.

My Thoughts on The Devil’s Casino

While The Devil’s Casino does cover the financial details of how Lehman failed, it’s Ward’s portrayal of Lehman’s culture of infighting and backstabbing that makes it a fun read. The central characters’ personalities and relationships with each other feel like an episode of “Days of Our Lives” – with a bit of financial education.

The Devil’s Casino is on my Books for Guys and Business Books lists.

The Big Rich by Bryan Burrough: Mini Book Review

May 15, 2014 Books to Read, Business, Nonfiction 0

The Big Rich, Bryan Burrough, Texas oilNonfiction – Biogossip
Released January, 2009
508 Pages
Bottom Line: Read it.
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

Source: Purchased

Plot Summary

The story of the rise and fall of the “big four” Texas oil fortunes: H.L. Hunt, Clint Murchison, Roy Cullen, and Sid Richardson (Sid Bass’ uncle).

My Thoughts

The first 50 pages or so are heavy on the history of the oil industry – but, once you get past that, The Big Rich is juicy! These families are scandalous (H.L. Hunt was a bigamist his whole life) and eccentric, which makes for great anecdotes. 

They also become heavily involved in politics and attempt to transfer the central White House influence from the Northeast to Texas – with humorous result.

The Big Rich is on my Books for Guys and Business Books lists.


Testosterone, Inc by Christopher Byron: Mini Book Review

May 9, 2014 Books to Read, Business, Nonfiction 1

Testosterone, Inc, tales of CEOs gone wild, christopher byron, jack welchNonfiction – Business
Released April, 2004
402 Pages
Bottom Line: Read it.
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

Plot Summary of Testosterone, Inc

A behind the scenes look at four top 1990′s CEOs’ personal (and occasionally professional) lives: Jack Welch (GE), Ron Perelman (Revlon), “Chainsaw” Al Dunlap (Sunbeam), and Dennis Kozlowski (Tyco).

My Thoughts on Testosterone, Inc

Byron was a columnist for the NY Post and most of this book feels like it could have appeared on Page Six – which obviously makes it awesome! And, the fact that the star CEOs had their heydays 15 years ago does not make this any less enjoyable. 

Testosterone, Inc. also covers the rise of the “celebrity” CEO; old news now, but a relatively new phenomenon when this was written.

Testosterone, Inc is on my Books for Guys, Biogossip, and Business Books lists.

Flash Boys by Michael Lewis: Book Review

April 30, 2014 Books to Read, Business, Nonfiction 2

Flash Boys, Michael Lewis, high frequency trading, wall street, stock marketNonfiction – Business, High-Frequency Trading
Released March, 2014
289 Pages
Bottom Line: Read it…if you’re interested in the markets.
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

Plot Summary of Flash Boys:

The story of a group of people, led by Brad Katsuyama (a Royal Bank of Canada trader), who uncovered the recent rigging* of the U.S. stock market by high-frequency traders.

*Lewis and the media have used the word “rigged” to describe the current situation in the equity markets. I have a bit of an issue with this because it makes a more sensational headline for the book than the actual situation warrants. “Rigged” conjures sinister images of some Great Power of Oz intentionally structuring the stock market so that certain parties can always win. Based on Flash Boys, the situation seemed to me to be more of an unintended consequence caused by a government regulation (Reg NMS) that created unfair, but legal loopholes.

My Thoughts on Flash Boys:

I should say up front that I absolutely love Michael Lewis’ writing and am a huge fan of his previous books, particularly The Big Short. He’s a master at simplifying complex financial topics and spinning these potentially boring concepts into entertaining stories. He stays true to form with Flash BoysI was hooked by the first paragraph of the introduction, which reads more like a thriller than a book about telecommunications cables and time periods that are out of reach for humans (i.e. microseconds).

I am a casual follower of the stock market. I understand the basics, keep up with general news, and am moderately interested in what goes on in this space. I am by no means an aficionado and don’t follow all the nitty, gritty market details. I do think you need to be, at a minimum, a casual follower of the markets to enjoy Flash Boys, but you do not need to be an expert!

Let’s see if I can succinctly summarize Lewis’ central premise (a tall order!): high-frequency traders (HFT) have discovered that speed (and Lewis means microseconds, not seconds or minutes) is the key to the markets. By gaining a few microsecond advantage on regular investors (i.e. pension funds, mutual funds, etc), HFT can see the their intentions to buy or sell stock on one exchange, race them to the other exchanges (there are more than 10!), and beat them to completing the rest of their order at the “market” price. By the time the regular investors catch up, the price of the target stock has moved against them and they are shut out of the rest of their order. HFT can make a penny or two per share using this strategy, but it adds up to billions per year (Lewis quotes an estimate of $20 billion/year in collective profits available) when you consider how often this happens. This is called “front-running”. 

As in his previous books, Lewis’s strategy to make this arcane stuff entertaining is to focus on the personalities involved. Brad Katsuyama sees the irregularities in the market and teams up with some other characters to figure out the problem, eventually piecing together the front-running bombshell. Some of the most entertaining moments in the book are the Canadian Katsuyama’s impressions of Wall Street and NYC:

“Everything was to excess. I met more offensive people in a year than I had met in my entire life. People lived way beyond their means, and the way they did it was by going into debt.”

In the few weeks since its release, Flash Boys has generated a firestorm of controversy in the financial and regulatory communities. Some of the criticism I’ve read is that Lewis:
A) didn’t present all sides to the story
B) is treating this “front-running” concept like breaking news when the story has been out there for a few years (there was a 2012 book called Dark Pools by Scott Patterson)
C) is spinning the story so that individual investors seem to be getting screwed when it’s really rich people screwing other rich people (see Charlie Gasparino’s NY Post opinion piece on this).

Regardless of the criticism, Flash Boys tells a compelling story in a mostly entertaining way (I did glaze over at some of the more arcane trading examples, but Lewis keeps this to a minimum). And, most of the information was new to me, but may not be to those closer to the world of trading. 

Finally, I don’t know enough about the world of trading to say whether Lewis was accurate in his account of the situation…I’m merely coming at this from the perspective that it was an entertaining read that certainly opened my eyes to the underworld of the U.S. stock market.

Flash Boys is a great choice for those interested in the financial markets and is going on my Business and Books for Guys lists.

You May Also Like: 
Boomerang by Michael Lewis
The Big Short by Michael Lewis
Too Big to Fail by Aaron Ross Sorkin


Too Big to Fail by Aaron Ross Sorkin: Mini Book Review

April 17, 2014 Books to Read, Business, Nonfiction 0

Too Big to Fail, Aaron Ross Sorkin, 2008 financial crisis, Lehman Brothers collapseNonfiction – Business, 2008 Financial Crisis
Released October, 2009
626 Pages
Bottom Line: Read it.
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

 

Plot Summary of Too Big to Fail

The definitive book about the overall 2008 financial crisis, focusing on JP Morgan’s takeover of Bear Sterns and the collapse of Lehman Brothers.

My Thoughts on Too Big to Fail

There have been many books written about the financial crisis, but I thought this was the one that best covered the overall scenario during the most critical months in the fall of 2008. Like Michael Lewis, Sorkin excels at explaining confusing financial concepts more clearly than most financial journalists.

Sorkin includes every Wall Street domino that fell (and those that managed to stay standing), AIG, and critical government players (Geithner, Paulson, Chris Cox, and Sheila Bair). He does a fantastic job of taking the reader inside that boardroom at the New York Fed where the secret meeting between all the big bank heads took place and conveying the lightening speed at which deals were getting made and falling through.

Sorkin does not get into the detailed “why” of the financial crisis – The Big Short by Michael Lewis is the book to read on that question – but, he manages to make everything that happened once the dominoes started teetering thrilling reading.

Too Big to Fail is on my Business Books List.