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Book Review: A Dog’s Purpose By W. Bruce Cameron August 31, 2011

Posted by shwaldman in Family, Society.
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I admit, I do not read a lot of physical books. I listen to tons of podcasts and books in audio format. I have not read or listened to Cameron’s other books: “8 Simple Rules for Marrying My Daughter”, “How to Remodel a Man, “8 Simple Rules for Dating My Teenage Daugther” (which resulted in the ABC hit TV show with John Ritter). My wife bought this book for me a couple of months ago when she had heard it was a good read. Knowing that it might take me months to get through, she even said she wanted to read it after me. (it will likely take her 1/4 the time it took me.)

I need say only one thing about this book… I finished it in under 2 1/2 weeks. For me, that says A LOT! The book was moving and suspenseful. For anyone that knows and loves dogs, this is a must read. The author took possession of this dog’s soul and was able to bring forward the story of several lives through reincarnation. There is no religious backing to this story, just the recounting of life through the eyes of a dog. Cameron does an amazing job of taking away all the preconceptions that human eyes would see and demonstrate the filter of the mutt, the Lab, German Shepard or whatever form this animal had through his travels.

Throughout this book, I felt for this dog and felt the anticipation of each next scene, the next event that would shape his/her life. I did not want to put the book down – always ready to see where the story would go next. As dog lover, it was funny to hear the sarcasm and superiority that this dog felt in his journey – mostly with respect to the other animals in the environment.

I am curious about certain takes that Cameron took on the dog’s life, memory and interactions. I would love to hear what other reads have to say about 1) how he/she interacted with other animals 2) how she was able to remember certain facts and 3) what was the time span of the story?

In any case, I am sure you will thoroughly enjoy this book.

(Audio)book review: The Long Run by Matt Long March 14, 2011

Posted by shwaldman in Fitness, Society.
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People run for many reasons. It is a very personal sport or hobby for those who participate. I consider myself a runner, even though I often go a few weeks (or rarely) months without running. So, I have taken to listening to various books about running lately. But I have to say this book wasn’t as much about running as it was about life. It was about what a person can do when faced with adversity. In this case, the word “adversity” does not even begin to describe what Matt Long went through. On the morning of December 22, 2005, this New York City firefighter was cycling to work (due to the illegal transit strike) when he was struck by and sucked under a charter bus making an illegal turn (chartered by a large well-known financial institution).

Long goes into excruciating detail about the injuries he suffered, the heroic efforts that doctors performed and his painful recovery. Long received amazing support from his fellow firefighters, New Yorkers and of course his whole family and friends. It was a moving story of pain and obstacles overcome. It is one of those stories that I say I hope I would be able to be that strong if I was ever faced with such a horrific accident. Long had a goal of completing an Ironman triathlon (2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike, 26.2 mile run) which is a difficult challenge for even the healthiest of people. That goal was the driving force of his recovery.

With all that is going on in this world today, I was moved even more by this story for a very different reason. Long was a fit runner (having completed the New York City Marathon) two months before the accident in an impressive (and Boston qualifying) 3 hours 13 minutes. He was also preparing to complete his first Ironman triathlon. Even with this, when Long arrived at the hospital, the doctors initially gave him a 5% chance of surviving. While his training may have caused the accident, his fitness gave his body the extra chance to survive, it was the drive that he held to compete athletically that gave him the power to more than just survive.

But (and I am sure this could be misintrepted, so keep reading…) I think the thing that gave Long the greatest advantage was his position as a public service employee. We have recently had incredible public debate about healthcare reform in this country. And many states are debating the “merits” of the cost vs benefits of tax payer funded public employee benefits. I have a couple of points here, so please bear with me. When the rescue team arrived at the scene, there was a need to save a person trapped under a bus. When that person became a firefighter, one of their own, everything changed. I am not a doctor and I was certainly not there, but it seemed in listening to this story, that the doctors went beyond what they normally would have done for an average person. But that isn’t even the point. In listening to this story, I do not recall more than once that Long described money as an object. He went through 40 surgeries and spend months of time in the hospital and rehabilitation. Long is a business owner and a fireman. He is a working class man. Financial strains of medical problems much less than this one have destroyed people of much more wealth. Of course, I do not know if there was any sort of financial settlement was made by the city, bus company or any other party. My main point is this… Every person in America should have the opportunities that Matt Long had. It is clear though, the Long’s determination is unmatched.

This book is inspiring – plain and simple. Matt’s goal was about running and competing, but the point is more that set one and made a decision to achieve it. It was a magnificent story listening to him work to that end. I highly recommend.

Movie Review: Freakonomics March 2, 2011

Posted by shwaldman in Politics, Society.
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Netflix Synopsis: Several documentary directors each film a segment representing one chapter of Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner’s best-seller Freakonomics, which explains different elements of popular culture through economic theory and statistics. Issues include everything from cheating sumo wrestlers to whether Roe v. Wade produced a drop in crime. Filmmakers include Morgan Spurlock, Alex Gibney, Seth Gordon, Eugene Jarecki, Rachel Grady and Heidi Ewing.

I reviewed this book nearly a year and half ago. A year later, they made the book into a movie. As they point out in the book, it is hard to describe what this book is about. It is about nothing and everything at the same time. It is like a real-world Seinfeld episode.

They use economic principles to explain everyday things. Economics is a social science concerned chiefly with description and analysis of the production, distribution, and consumption of goods and services (merriam-webster.com). In their case, they evaluate the motivations and incentives that move people to make the decisions they make in consuming certain goods and services. They turn data and numbers into information.

The most popular, controversial, and explainable example of this is their take on the relationship between crime rate decreases and abortions. They pour through the numbers in countries around the world and recognized that reductions in the birth of unwanted children often (if not always) correlated to decreases in the crime rate in those same countries precisely 16 to 20 years later. The book discusses this and many other topics. The movie only covers five topics like this, include cheating in Sumo wrestling, correlation between people’s names and success, others from the book.

If you have ever read the book, you will appreciate this movie’s content, presented in a visual form. Each topic is directed by a different filmmaker and has a distinct feel. Some bring the same information forward from the book, but the Sumo wrestling topic covered additional information and details like additional interviews and related stories. But for me, I am glad I did not see this in the theater. The value of this movie was in the DVD. In the Special Features, the authors sat down for an additional 45 minutes and help explain their methods and theories.

I have heard the often repeated, but ever wrong expression that “the numbers don’t lie.” But these authors really dig into the difference between correlation and causation. This is an important documentary to help people understand and keep their minds open. If you are open to this, you should see it.

(Audio)Book review: Once a Runner By John L. Parker March 2, 2010

Posted by shwaldman in Fitness, Society.
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A few years ago, I heard that “Once a Runner” was the best running novel ever written. I am not much of a reader of great novels, nor, I suppose am I really much of a great runner – just look at my race results. But being interested in different stories, I looked around for it – it was first printed in 1978 and no second reprint was produced until 2009. At one point, I was actually able to find the book online in PDF form (someone had scanned all 250 pages), but found that was nearly impossible to read on the computer screen and did not want to print it out.

After reading “Born to Run” (see my review), my interest was renewed and found that it had actually been released in audio format, too, last April. Again, I am not much of a fiction reader. Once I started to listen to this novel, I was trying to place myself into the story. Since I consider myself a runner, I thought this was going to be easy. However, I must not be a “real” runner because I have never been on a track or cross country team. I would say that the first quarter to half the book was very tied to that culture and seemed to really rely on a personal history with college teams – which I have none.

That being said, the story was engrossing and pulling in the names of well known runner to gave it an air of accuracy. I enjoyed hearing about the training and camaraderie that developed with the runners and coach. This story really extends the passage of time as there are no real technological basis by which running is tied. Running shoes have changed for the general public, but if you look at what the elite runners wear, they are still simple racing flats – a Keds-like shoe with a thin piece of runner on the bottom. And if you read Born to Run or do other research, you will see why this is. To run fast and long, runners do not land on their heals as demonstrated by all the technological “advances” in shoes.

But I digress… my suggestion on this book is to definitely read it if you were a track/cross country runner in high school or college. The same applies, if you are a recreational runner and enjoy fiction. But I say to all runners, you should definitely read “Born To Run” – and read my review here if you want to know why.

(Audio)Book Review: Born to Run By Christopher McDougall February 9, 2010

Posted by shwaldman in Fitness, Society, Technology.
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The following is based on my review at Audible.com: I decided I had to write this review because I saw a review (at Audible) that an “avid runner” gave it 2-stars after listening for only 20 minutes. I know the exact point at which she stopped listening – it was talking about why running is supposed to be bad for humans.

If she would have kept listening she would have been treated to an enthralling tale about the greatest distance runners of all time. This book weaves what feels like a fictional story that details the fascinating progress of science and growth of running in America (and Mexico). The amazing part of the book is that it is about real people and real events.

I have to say this is a must listen to for anyone interested in running at any level. It covers the history of running shoes. It covers the transition the human body has made for running. Of course, it covers the best ultra distance runners of our time. It is such a good read!

And for anyone who has the question… the answer is: yes, running is actually very good for the human body, if you do it right. As simple as it is, there is still a right way and a wrong way to run. If you have any question or doubt, you have to read/listen to this book.

I have many books in my WishList at Audible and when a “one book” sale came up, I had to make the decision based on the best rated books in my list. Obviously, this one won, and there is good reason. I gave it five stars in my review and it is defintely the best book I have downloaded from the site so far.

Book Review: Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything by Stephen Levitt and Stephen Dubner November 13, 2009

Posted by shwaldman in Family, Politics, Society.
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freakonomics_cover
As the author points out at the beginning of the book, there is no unifying theme to this point. That is true, however, it does not take away from the value of the book. If you like statistics and hearing anecdotal stories about how data can be used to explain real life events, this is a definite read.

The author goes into a wide variety of topics such as investigating teachers cheating, what has caused crime rates to drop since the 1980s, how parents affect the success of their children, and how their names play into that success (or not). Mr. Levitt has an interesting take on how the world works. He uses to mountains of data to explain social and human actions, which is very intriguing for me.

I listened to this book from Audible and despite all the facts and numbers, it was very easy to digest. At the very end he covered a bunch of lists, but the reader (his co-auther) was able to present it in way that was mostly understandable without having to listen to it again. However, that was the only time it was hard to listen to. The audible book was almost seven and half hours and I did not want to put it down.

I look forward to listening to the authors’ next book, Super Freakonomics: Global Cooling, Patriotic Prostitutes, and Why Suicide Bombers Should Buy Life Insurance. If it was half as interesting as this one, it will be still a good read.