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Category: Books

The Callahan Chronicals by Spider Robinson

The audiobook is made up of the novels Callahan’s Crosstime Saloon, Time Travelers Strictly Cash, and Callahan’s Secret. These three books contain the stories of Mike Callahan and the visitors to his bar somewhere in the Northeast. It is the type of place with the type of people that all of us would like to find. Where no one is a stranger for long and people are willing to lend a helping hand.

I first read paperback versions of these books years ago and could not get enough of Spider Robinson’s writing after that. His sense of humor fits perfectly into what I find funny and the audiobook does a great job of conveying it.

Warning: if you do not like dry humor and puns, this series is not for you.

I give this book, as an audiobook are as a printed book a 9 out of 10 and recommend to those who enjoy a dry sense of humor, science fiction from the late 60’s, and short stories.


Storming Las Vegas: How a Cuban-Born, Soviet-Trained Commando Took Down the Strip

Written by John Huddy and narrated by Stefan Rudnicki, “Storming Las Vegas” is about Jose Vigoa and the robberies that he an his crew committed in Las Vegas.

I really enjoyed this book and even went on extra walks just to have more time to listen to it. It is a true-crime drama with all of the elements of a Hollywood action flick.

The author spends a great deal of time taking us through the preparations of each robbery, the lives of the victims, and the aftermath.

From the publisher:

Immediately gripping and thoroughly harrowing, Storming Las Vegas tells the story of a remarkable true-life crime spree – a story that was previously squashed so as not to disturb tourism, in the ultimate proof of “what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas”.

On September 20, 1998, a Cuban-born former Red Army lieutenant named Jose Vigoa launched a series of raids on the Las Vegas Strip. During a 16-month spree, Vigoa robbed five world-class hotels, three armored cars, and one department store. The casinos hit were the MGM; the Desert Inn; the New York, New York; the Mandalay Bay; and the Bellagio.

Lieutenant John Alamshaw, a 23-year-old veteran in charge of robbery detectives, was ordered to stop the robberies at all costs. He knew he was up against a mastermind. What he didn’t know was that he was running out of time.

I bought this book from Audible.

On a scale of 1 to 10 I give this book an 8 and think that anyone who enjoys true-crime and actions books will like it.


Around the World in 80 Days by Michael Palin

Michael Palin of Monty Python fame has done a number of shows for the BBC and this book is based on one of those series.

From the publisher:
“In the autumn of 1988, Michael Palin set out from the Reform Club with an ambitious plan: to circumnavigate the world, following the route taken by Jules Verne’s fictional hero Phileas Fogg 115 years earlier.

The rules were simple. He had to make the journey in 80 days using only forms of transport that would have been available to Fogg. And so, complete with visas, running shoes, an inflatable globe, and sound advice from Alan Whicker, Michael Palin began his incredible journey.

Crossing 17 borders and meeting innumerable challenges, he saw Venice from the back of a rubbish barge, rode around the Pyramids on a camel called Michael, and was attacked by a cockatoo in Hong Kong, amongst many other adventures.”

Around the World in 80 Days is one of my favorite Jules Verne stories, so when I saw this on Audible I jumped on it. Michael Palin is a funny guy and a great story teller. The only let down in this book is how fast he travels through some areas, I really wanted to hear more about many of the places he visited.

I did not appreciate many of his views on America and found almost his entire time in America to be tedious and un-enjoyable, but overall I liked the book.

On a scale of 1 to 10 I give this book a 7 and recommend it to those who like travel stories and/or Michael Palin.


A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson

What an amazing book. Bill Bryson manages to cover enough of the world’s history to make it really feel like you have learned a little something about everything.

From the publisher:
“Bill Bryson has been an enormously popular author both for his travel books and for his books on the English language. Now, this beloved comic genius turns his attention to science. Although he doesn’t know anything about the subject (at first), he is eager to learn, and takes information that he gets from the world’s leading experts and explains it to us in a way that makes it exciting and relevant. Even the most pointy-headed, obscure scientist succumbs to the affable Bryson’s good nature, and reveals how he or she figures things out. Showing us how scientists get from observations to ideas and theories is Bryson’s aim, and he succeeds brilliantly. It is an adventure of the mind, as exciting as any of Bryson’s terrestrial journeys.”

I really enjoyed this book; it may be responsible for my acceptance of the idea of listening to books as opposed to reading written words. The narrator Richard Matthews brought this book to life for me; I don’t think I would have enjoyed this book if I had read the printed book.

The best thing I learned was that early scientists were laymen with very little if any formal training. Many of them were minor royalty who could have lived a life of leisure without contributing anything to mankind; instead they chose to pursue science and to share what they learned freely.

And the part about interns in Yosemite taking baths in hot springs that are off limits is kind of gross, but also fascinating.

I give this book an 8 out of 10 and recommend it to anyone with an interest in science and history. I bought this book on Audible.


How the Mighty Fall: And Why Some Companies Never Give In by Jim Collins

I really liked this book. The author Jim Collins and his team research findings uncovered 5 steps that many companies follow on their path of decline. Full of examples, the book does a great job disseminating their findings in an easy to understand way.

A fun note, if you listen to this audio book at 2x speed the author sounds a lot like a young William Shatner, which also helped to hold my attention.

From the authors web site:
“How the Mighty Fall presents the well-founded hope that leaders can learn how to stave off decline and, if they find themselves falling, reverse their course – in part by understanding the five step-wise stages of decline uncovered in the four year research project behind the book.”

I give this book an 8 out of 10 rating. It is an interesting exploration of how companies fail.


97 Things Every Programmer Should Know

This book is a part of O'Reilly's 97 Things series where individuals contribute short entries to a wiki, which are then edited, from which 97 items are selected for a book.

I found this book on the shelf at Fry's and after paging through it a bit decided buying it and having a hard copy to let others borrow was worth the cover price as opposed to reading it online. The series is different from most books as the entire contents are available to read for free at

I feel like I got a lot out of this book, maybe the most valuable was that I need to read the book "The Pragmatic Programmer" ASAP.

Here are links to entries that I found the most interesting, they are really short so give a couple of them a look and let me know what you think:

Comment Only What the Code Cannot Say

"…comments should be treated as if they were code. Each comment should add some value for the reader, otherwise it is waste that should be removed or rewritten."

Continuous Learning

"Follow the advice of The Pragmatic Programmers and learn a new language every year."

Do Lots of Deliberate Practice

"Deliberate practice does not mean doing what you are good at; it means challenging yourself, doing what you are not good at. So it's not necessarily fun."

"Deliberate practice is about learning. About learning that changes you; learning that changes your behavior."

Don't Be Cute with Your Test Data

"…when writing any text in your code — whether comments, logging, dialogs, or test data — always ask yourself how it will look if it becomes public."

The Professional Programmer

"Professionals are responsible. They take responsibility for their own careers. They take responsibility for making sure their code works properly. They take responsibility for the quality of their workmanship. They do not abandon their principles when deadlines loom. Indeed, when the pressure mounts, professionals hold ever tighter to the disciplines they know are right."

Read Code

"…don't read another book. Read code."

Simplicity Comes from Reduction

"The code should be simple. There should be a minimal number of variables, functions, declarations, and other syntactic language necessities. Extra lines, extra variables… extra anything, really, should be purged. Removed immediately. What's there, what's left, should only be just enough to get the job done, completing the algorithm or performing the calculations. Anything and everything else is just extra unwanted noise, introduced accidentally and obscuring the flow. Hiding the important stuff."

Two Heads Are Often Better than One

"When pairing, we each bring our collective programming experiences — domain as well as technical — to the problem at hand and can bring unique insight and experience into writing software effectively and efficiently."

Ubuntu Coding for Your Friends

"I get better because you make me better through your good actions."

I hope to put what I have learned into practice immediately and look forward to reading more of the entries that did not make it into the book.

I rate this book a 8 out of 10 and believe that anyone who programs will get something out of it. Remember that the entire book and more are available for free via a Creative Commons License at


No More Mondays: Fire Yourself — And Other Revolutionary Ways to Discover Your True Calling at Work by Dan Miller

Wow, what a long title. This is a book that I have heard Dave Ramsey recommend time and time again to listeners of his radio show when they have job issues.

From the publisher:
“For everyone who dreads going to work on Monday mornings, inspiring advice on how to find fulfilling work in an uncertain age. Do you hate Mondays? If so, what’s keeping you at your current job? If you said a steady paycheck and the promise of a secure retirement, then you’re in for a big disappointment. In today’s volatile economy, there is nothing safe about punching the clock for a job you hate.”

I really enjoyed this book; I found it to be very motivating even though I am not looking for a new job or career. Looking at my job as a part of my calling and not just a grind that I do to make ends meet has become really important to me.

Realizing that the only job security you have is your ability to find your next one is very important in the world we now live in. It is now very rare for anyone to have the same job or even vocation for 20 years or more much less retiring from a company with a meaningful pension, so it is up to us to fund our own retirement and provide financial security for our families. Working at something you love will make that a lot easier and increase your chance of success and happiness. This book may give you some ideas of how to accomplish that goal.

I rate this book as a 8 out of 10 and recommend it to anyone that is unhappy in their current job. I purchased this book at Audible.

Dan Miller has also written a book name “48 Days to the Work You Love” which may be more appropriate for people trying to find a job they can be passionate about.


Linchpin: Are You Indispensable? by Seth Godin

I have been listening to and reading some business books this year, and have heard a lot of good things about Seth Godin. When I looked at the books available on Audible by Mr. Godin most of them were focused on marketing which I do not have a lot of interest in. But “Linchpin” sounded really interesting.

From the publisher:
“Linchpins are the essential building blocks of great organizations. Like the small piece of hardware that keeps a wheel from falling off its axle, they may not be famous but they’re indispensable. And in today’s world, they get the best jobs and the most freedom. Have you ever found a shortcut that others missed? Seen a new way to resolve a conflict? Made a connection with someone others couldn’t reach? Even once? Then you have what it takes to become indispensable, by overcoming the resistance that holds people back.”

Doesn’t that sound good? I want to be a Linchpin, who wouldn’t want to be a Linchpin as described above?

But I don’t think I got a whole lot out of the book. I remember thinking more about how much was left to listen too than about what was being said. I agree with a lot of what is said in the book, but the way it is being said left me bored and inattentive.

On a scale of 1 to 10 I give this book a 4, I think that low score has more to do with the style of writing or the voice of the book than the quality of the content. I bought this book on Audible.


The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson

I bought this book on Audible.

This is the story of the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago and the murderous Dr. Henry H. Holmes.

From the publisher’s summary:
“The White City (as it became known) was a magical creation constructed upon Chicago’s swampy Jackson Park by Daniel H. Burnham, the famed architect who coordinated the talents of Frederick Olmsted, Louis Sullivan, and others to build it. Dr. Henry H. Holmes combined the fair’s appeal with his own fatal charms to lure scores of women to their deaths. Whereas the fair marked the birth of a new epoch in American history, Holmes marked the emergence of a new American archetype, the serial killer, who thrived on the very forces then transforming the country.”

This story grabbed me and would not let me go. I took a lot of walks and sat in the car in the driveway a lot so that I could listen to it. Learning about the work that went into creating the White City, the personalities involved, and the problems that they faced along with the horrible crimes of a 19th century serial killer held my attention to the very end.

I rate this book a 9 out of 10 and a great non-fiction read.


Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus: The Classic Guide to Understanding the Opposite Sex by John Gray

I bought this book from Audible, it is narrated by the Author.

It turns out that there are differences between men and women, who knew. After listening this book the differences are much clearer and now I have some ideas how those differences can be approached in a positive way. I expect what I have learned to make a real difference in my relationships with both men and women.

My wife has told me that she read this book years ago, and now that I have also read it I really appreciate the things my wife does for me that may have been learned from the book. Her understanding that I need to spend time alone in my man cave to recharge has really made our relationship strong. Now I need to giver her more time to talk and express herself without being interrupted or given “solutions.”

I rate this book a 9 out of 10 and a must read.


Creative Black & White by Harold Davis

Harold Davis’ new book on taking digital color photos and transforming them into creative black and white pictures is an inspiring read with a lot of examples and many ways to achieve your vision.

A focus of the book is to help you learn how to pre-visualize what the world of color that surrounds us in blank & white. To se the contrasts of light and shadow that are left when the color is removed from an image and I think the book does a good job of describing how to do that.

I really like the different ways that are covered in the book to transform your color images into blank & white, Photoshop, Lightroom, Silver Efex Pro, and Photomatix are all covered. Creating images with high-hey, low-key, split toning, HDR, hand coloring, and noise are all explored with examples and tips.

I found the HDR example especially interesting, using HDR methods to create a photo with a extraordinary range of shadows is really appealing to me and I plan on giving it a try soon.

I highly recommend this book to anyone with an interest in making amazing black & white photos.

I want to thank the author for the chance to review this book before its release.


Boundaries by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend

I bought this book on Audible and it is narrated by Dick Fredricks.

I have not read a lot of self-help books, but hearing Dave Ramsey describe this book and on his recommendation I decided to give it a try. Let me tell you, it is an amazing book full of ideas.

I think the biggest thing I learned from the book is how my childhood experiences shaped the way I expect to be treated by others and how that affects my reactions and attitude. It really has given me a lot to think about and work on every day.

I look forward to litening to this book again and again. I give it a 10 out of 10 and recommend it to everyone!


Ender’s Game: Special 20th Anniversary Edition by Orson Scott Card

I bought this book from Audible to listen to during a road trip to Florida for William and Lucky’s wedding.

I am a huge fan of Ender’s Game and all of the related books. Ender’s Shadow is probably my favorite of the books, but Ender’s Game should be read first.

This is a very special recording of the story with Stefan Rudnicki, Harlan Ellison, Orson Scott Card and others. I really enjoyed the high quality of voice acting and production. The postscript by the author is fantastic and in it he expresses the opinion that this recording is the way the story should be experienced, that it is a preferable experience to reading a printed version of the book and I agree.

I rate this recording as a 9 out of 10, the only thing I could imagine being better would be hearing the book as a radio-play.


The Accidental Billionaires: The Founding of Facebook by Ben Mezrich

From the writer of “Bringing Down the House” comes the story of the founding of Facebook. I listened to the unabridged version of this book purchased on Audible.

Like “Bringing Down the House” this book is a very conversational accounting of historical events. I find it similar to Hunter S. Thompson’s style of gonzo journalism without the drugs or bombastic language. I like the writing style and believe it makes the story interesting and listenable.

I found it an interesting listen even though it doesn’t really contain any insights that could be used to create a successful web business, but I guess that ties into the title “The Accidental Billionaires.” I believe that Mark Zuckerberg’s personality is fundamental to the things I like most and like least about Facebook.

I now believe that Facebook’s initial success was mainly due to Mark’s ability to quickly build a web site that copied the best of what other social networking sites were already doing using a simpler interface. Other people have had similar ideas, but Mark was able to execute and get the idea into the hands of the public when others failed.

The Accidental Billionaires: The Founding of Facebook is a good read but I don’t consider it a business book, I’ll give it a 6 out of 10. If you haven’t read “Bringing Down the House” I highly recommend it as an 8 out of 10.


Maximum Ride: Books 1, 2, and 3 by James Patterson

The “Maximum Ride” series from James Patterson is a “Young Adult” series that is intended for grades 7 through 9.

From the James Patterson web site about the first book:
“Max, Fang, Iggy, Nudge, the Gasman, and Angel. Six kids who are pretty normal in most ways—except that they’re 98 percent human, 2 percent bird. They grew up in a lab, living like rats in cages, but now they’re free. Aside, of course, from the fact that they’re prime prey for Erasers – wicked wolflike creatures with a taste for flying humans.”

The defacto leader and namesake of the series is 14-year-old Max. She is the narrator for much of the story and spends a lot of time addressing the reader directly, I find this tedious and it may be what I dislike most about the series.

I struggled through the first book, The Angel Experiment. The writing is far from inspiring and a little condescending, but I found many of the ideas in the story interesting and felt that it could really go somewhere.

In the second book, School’s Out, the writing is a bit better and the flock’s desire for family is touching.

In the third book, Saving the World, the story is getting repetitive. It feels like there are multiple voices writing the book and they have diverging ideas. I like the action but I am growing a bored with the series. But I would like to continue reading and learn the fate of the flock.

I have been buying these books from Fictionwise, the eBook seller now owned by Barnes & Noble and all of the Maximum Ride books have been pulled from their catalog. In a response to an email they have said, “Due to industry changes, our content suppliers are currently unable to offer certain titles from several large publishers. We are working with our content partners to resolve this.” So no more James Patterson for me. I guess I will never know what becomes of the Flock. To the credit of Fictionwise, the James Patterson books I have previously purchased are still available in my library.

To all you book publishers out there, get over yourselves and remember that some money is better than no money.

To the authors out there, I am sorry you feel the need to use publishers that force terrible contracts on you that give away your rights to get your material into the hands of those who want to buy it.