Sunday, October 14, 2007

From Lance to Landis: Inside the American Doping Controversy at the Tour de France, by David Walsh

From Lance to Landis: Inside the American Doping Controversy at the Tour de France, by David Walsh

Bleah. This is a one-sided whack job on Lance Armstrong, all circumstantial evidence and hearsay. I'm not a cycling fan and there has been plenty of proof that the sport is riddled with performance enhancing drugs, but the fact remains that no allegations against Lance have yet been proven. Do I think Lance is a clean rider? The circumstances seems against him, but with cycling officials, opposing teams, and the world at large watching him like a hawk, it seems very odd that no one can catch him in the act. We are supposed to believe the author is a non-partisan journalist simply presenting interviews and background information, allowing the reader to decide who to believe. Unfortunately, it is all very one-sided with no realistic opposing viewpoint. Considering that Walsh is also the author of L.A. Confidentiel, a French anti-Armstrong book, the idea of journalistic integrity is completely shattered.

First Sentence:
It was one of the tougher moments in Greg Strock's unfulfilled career in cycling: the moment when he had to accept it was over.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Back Story, by Robert B. Parker

Back Story, by Robert K. Parker

I’ve mentioned Spenser before; he is one of my favorite gumshoes. It has been a long time since I’d read one so when I spotted this at the library I nabbed it. All of the Spenser books are fun, and this one is no exception. The formula is intact (start with a simple case, mix in the mob as things get more complicated, several attempts on our heroes life, and finally a happy ending) and while predictable it is still a great read.

Besides Spenser, Parker also writes novels starring a sheriff named Jesse Stone (played by Tom Selleck in the made-for-tv movies). In Back Story, Spenser and Jesse meet and even work together a bit. Again, predictable but fun! I always have the images of Robert Urich and Avery Brooks (Spenser and Hawk respectively, from Spenser For Hire) when reading Spenser; adding Selleck to the vistas in my head was only natural. I’d forgotten how much I liked these characters; I won’t wait this long before visiting again.

First Sentence:
It was a late May morning in Boston.

Servant Leadership, by Robert K. Greenleaf

Servant Leadership: A Journey into the Nature of Legitimate Power and Greatness, by Robert K. Greenleaf

This book was written thirty years ago, but is still very relevant today. Not just in its message that true leadership is an inner quality as much as an exercise in power, but in the world that prompted the author to put pen to paper. “We are prone to adventurous and illegal wars. Confidence in the integrity of elected officials is at a low point. The total tax structure is a perversion. The treatment of prisoners is barbaric. The cost of it all is staggering.” Sound familiar?

Servant leadership embraces the idea that leaders should serve others by removing obstacles and staying focused on the organization’s values and integrity rather than any overt decisions. I find this idea appealing as it fits in well with agile software development techniques. An agile leader is responsible for having the big picture and for removing any roadblocks the team encounters, but not responsible for doing any of the work itself. This is very much the focus of the book.

While the themes were both interesting and valuable, the style was off-putting. I got the strong impression that the author was a bit of a hippie; not a hipster, but a tie-dyed hippie. I’m all for the zen aspects, but the anti-establishment ideas were often just silly. The nuttiest was the thought that we should reform our educational system by only teaching those that actually want to be taught. While it is a lovely idea that children will attend school without coercion and once there pursue a course of well-rounded instruction, anyone that believes this will lead to a scholarship intensive society is smoking something. Of course, hippies and smoking aren’t exactly enemies... :)

First Sentence:
Servant and leader—can these two roles be fused in one real person, in all levels of status or calling?

The Case for Christ, by Lee Strobel

The Case for Christ: A Journalist’s Personal Investigation of the Evidence for Jesus, by Lee Strobel

This is supposedly the tale of a skeptic investigating the historical evidence of the existence of Christ. While Strobel may have been a skeptic at one point in his life, he clearly isn’t now. The story is that of a non-believer using investigative journalism to prove or disprove the story of Christ (although the outcome is never in doubt). The author used to be a reporter covering courtrooms and the style is very reminiscent of your favorite courtroom drama. Or to be more accurate, the prosecution side of a courtroom drama—there is no rebuttal so the presentation is entirely one sided. Like any good lawyer, several opposing factors are discussed (such as gospels excluded from the Bible containing contradictory evidence) but never in any serious detail. The reader is supposed to walk away convinced that an objective truth stating that Jesus Christ is the son of God has been established beyond any doubt, but the lack of any believable counterarguments make it impossible to accept this.

I found that while clearly biased the book effectively supports the argument that a man named Jesus existed and was the leader of a revolutionary faith. The author does a good job of examining historical and archaeological contexts and making the case that Jesus was not a myth. The problem comes when the subject of faith arises; because much of the New Testament can be shown to be historically accurate, we are expected to believe that it all is. While an interesting read, I still wasn’t convinced to make this leap.

I finished this a few weeks ago, but have been fairly busy and just now getting around to discussing it. When I read a book, I try and keep a set of Post-It® Flags at hand to mark passages I might discuss in this forum. Interestingly, I found that of the dozen or so flags I used while reading, virtually none of the marked passages still held much interest to me. Some excerpts I’d marked were flat out unbelievable (such as an argument that canon had no relationship to church politics) while others were simply silly (the implication that this book doesn’t have a theological agenda). The only section that still had any impact was the conclusion. The reader is told that a person can’t think of Jesus as simply a great moral teacher, but must believe that either he is the Son of God or a lunatic. I find this an extremely odd assertion for a text that is supposedly trying to present a balanced message; I think this could have been much more effective as a tool for modifying beliefs if the “evidence” had been simply presented, with the conclusions left to the reader. If I’m forced to choose between only dogma and dementia, this book did nothing to sway my beliefs towards the former.

First Sentence:
When I first met shy and soft-spoken Leo Carter, he was a seventeen-year-old veteran of Chicago’s grittiest neighborhood.

Search This Blog