Friday, December 18, 2009

Guardian of Lies, by Steve Martini

This audio book was obtained from Overdrive Audio through the Alachua County Public Library. It was 14 hours and 13 minutes long and was narrated by George Guidall.

This is 10th in a series of novels about Criminal Defense attorney Paul Madriani and his partner, Harry Hinds. The early novels were really good, but they fell off a bit in quality for awhile. So it was an act of hope that I downloaded this one and I am very glad I did.

This begins as a murder case and ends up as international espionage as Paul Madriani's client turns out to have ties to an old Russian nuke that is being recommissioned by Jihadists for a terrorist attack on America. This is only plausible in a world in which we are all connected by networks, but we do live in a world where we are all connected by networks. It's well-told, and the characters are believable and we have been set up for a sequel. I will get it. I give this one 4 stars.

The Defector, by Daniel Silva

This audio book was obtained from Overdrive Audio through the Alachua County Public Library. It was 10 hours and 58 minutes long and was narrated by Phil Gigante.

The most recent of the Gabriel Allon series. Gabriel is an Israeli secret agent and assassin who restores old master paintings as part of his cover. He is in the middle of a piece commissioned by the Vatican when his pleasant life is interrupted by the call to duty because a Russian defector has been kidnapped in America. This defector is believed to be a re-defector, and that he has been acting as a double agent, and is just going back home. Gabriel knows better, because the man is a friend who saved his life in the last book.

Although Daniel Silva's stories are well-written, Gabriel is the weak point. He just isn't a very engaging character. Some of his co-stars are more interesting and human, but Gabriel never becomes more than a really competent covert agent that no one wants to cross. Over all, it was a 3 star book.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

The Accidental Billionaires, by Ben Mezrich

This audio book was obtained from Overdrive Audio through the Alachua County Public Library. It was 7 hours and 19 minutes long and was read by Mike Chamberlain.

Think of it as the long-awaited "Facebook Story". Ben Mezrich, the author of the fabulous "Bringing Down the House," has done an exhaustive job of researching Facebook's genesis, and has created a work that is enough of a dramatization to make it almost a novel. To be sure, Mark Zuckerberg, the youthful founder of Facebook, did NOT sign off on this. And I cannot say I am surprised.

The story begins with Zuckerberg, and his friend, Eduardo Saverin, trying to meet girls at Harvard, where they are both undergrads. Mark gets an idea to create a website that archives photos of all the girls at Harvard and pairs random pictures for users of the site to choose which is hotter. While the site is in it's experimental phase, some of his computer science friends pass the site around and it goes viral in a short time and nearly gets him kicked out of school for hacking school databases and stealing the picture files that he used. His notoriety alerts some other students who were working on a social networking site of their own, and they approach him to help with it. He agrees, but then leaves them high and dry to create his own site, which goes on to become Facebook.

This is morality tale about friendship and how money changes everything. You will find yourself taking sides in this book, and perhaps even changing sides by the end of it. The Facebook relationship status "It's Complicated" is a fitting description of what happened between Mark and Eduardo. I think Mark was a lousy friend, and Eduardo was a lousy business partner. It's your call to decide which you think is worse.

The reader sounded so much like my favorite, Scott Brick, that it bumped this fun, interesting story into 4 star territory.

Superfreakonomics, by Levitt and Dubner

This audiobook was obtained (as usual) from Overdrive Audio through the Alachua County Library. It was read by one of the authors, Stephen J. Dubner, and was 7 hours and 28 minutes long.

Economist Steven D. Levitt and journalist Stephen J. Dubner have struck again with another provocative look at incentives in the human marketplace. People either love or hate these books, or maybe just parts of them. Either way, Superfreakonomics is thought provoking and informative, even if you have problems with some of the information.

Perhaps the most controversial part, and a timely controversy it is, is the last chapter. It is about alternative solutions to Global Warming. The ideas presented are intriguing and liable to cause some heated arguments, but I consider that a good thing.

As a bonus, I would like to make this mp3 download available. Click here. It's an interview with Stephen Dubner, conducted by Michael Medved.

This is a fun read, and will fly by as it is quite entertaining. I give it 4 stars.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Cheap, by Ellen Ruppell Shell

This audiobook was obtained form Overdrive Audio through the Alachua County Public Library. It was 11 hours and 33 minutes long, and was narrated by Lorna Raver.

It is very fashionable to beat up on capitalism at this time. This book makes sure that LOW prices also get their day in the stocks. The best part of this book is the history of discounting that is therein. The worst are the central planning solutions alluded to by the author.

As a self-employed person who has had his own business for almost 30 years, I found Ms. Shell's ivory tower cluelessness grating. Her bleeding heart sorrow for the plight of low wage workers could have been mitigated by the revelation that local governments have raised the barrier of entry to small business startups through zoning regulations that would have prevented New York's garment trade from ever getting off the ground. Only the rich can go into many businesses precisely because of top down planning. Save your time. One star for its overbearing politics.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

A colossal Failure of Common Sense, by Lawrence G. McDonald

This audio book was obtained from Overdrive Audio through the Alachua County Public Library. It is subtitled, "The Inside Story of the Collapse of Lehman Brothers". It was 16 hours and 38 minutes long, and was narrated by Erik Davies.

If you want to be better informed about last year's economic collapse, this is a good place to start. Lawrence MacDonald tells his story of how he became a Wall Street trader, about his successes at Lehman Brothers, and about the people who worked there.

If you just want to know who to blame, there is plenty of it to go around. During the Clinton Administration the seeds of this collapse were sown by ideologues on the left who pushed the mortgage industry to give loans to poor people, and free marketeers on the right, who repealed the Glass-Steagal Act that allowed these bad mortgages to tie up money throughout the economy.

As a story, this is suspenseful and well-told. There are heroes, villains, and bystanders with feet of clay. And I have to admit that I think the author is one of the latter. I know that traders are not supposed to create panics because it is a form of market manipulation. But their inside knowledge of the disaster to come should have been at least leaked to the press, especially the sale of sub-prime loans to people who were encouraged to lie about their incomes.

This was a 4 star page turner.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

The Spire, by Richard North Patterson

This audiobook was obtained from Overdrive Audio, through the Alachua County Public Library web site. It was 11 hours and 3 minutes long, and was narrated by Holter Graham.

Mark Darrow was a star quarterback at his high school, but going nowhere, when he is offered a scholarship by the Provost at a local college that probably plays at division 3. It's a great opportunity for this orphan who lives with the family of his best friend, Steve Tillman. Mark accepts on the grounds that a place can be found for his Steve, and the Provost, ex-military Lionel Farr.

At the end of Mark's time at Caldwell College, he stumbles across the body of a young black woman, a student he knew fairly well, who was strangled at left at the foot of The Spire, a major landmark at the college. He is quickly cleared, but his friend, Steve, was the last person seen with her. He is arrested, tried and convicted.

Sixteen years later, Mark is a very successful attorney, and very recently widowed. The Provost calls him to come back and be the college President after the past President was investigated for embezzlement. Mark agrees, but he quickly finds himself at odds with a board that has its mind made up about how to pursue the investigation. And he just cannot let go of the unlikely conviction of Steve Tillman for murder.

Although it's hard to get past a 38 year old college President, the character is superbly written. And although figuring out the villain was not overly challenging, it was still a good story apart from that. I give it 3 stars.