Saturday, August 27, 2016

Cold Fusion, by Dr. Haggis-on-Whey

Are you interested in cold fusion?  Would you like to everything there is to know about cold fusion?  In that case, you'll want to look somewhere else besides Dr. Doris Haggis-on-Whey's Cold Fusion, volume 4 in Dr. and Mrs. Doris Haggis-on-Whey's World of Unbelievable Brilliance.  But if you couldn't care less about cold fusion, don't know what it is, or just want a few laughs, Cold Fusion is the book for you.

Enlightened readers who are familiar with Dr. Haggis-on-Whey's work will enjoy the nonsensical, random, and beautifully illustrated content.  She reveals the fates of "people who scoffed at cold fusion."  She warns of the "possible side effects of room-temperature nuclear reactions," including frogmen and Kevin Spacey movies set in Nova Scotia.  And, of course, "why birds are bad at building superconductors" and how noble gases became noble.

Cold Fusion contains plenty of laugh-out-loud moments.  But the ratio of laugh-out-loud moments per page seemed noticeably lower than previous H-O-W books.  You'll have to take my word for it.  By the way, some of the funniest parts are the captions and footnotes.  Don't skip the small print.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Everyday Supernatural, by Mike Pilavachi and Andy Croft

We read about the miracles of Jesus and the apostles in the New Testament.  But we wonder if those things could happen today.  In Everyday Supernatural: Living a Spirit-Led Life Without Being Weird, pastors Mike Pilavachi and Andy Croft answer with a resounding YES!  They write, "It's possible for all followers of Jesus to see God's supernatural power at work.  Not once or twice in a lifetime, but everyday."

It's easy for teaching on the supernatural to focus on the supernatural (obviously).  Pilavachi and Croft are careful and passionate about keeping their teaching on the supernatural focused on Jesus.  It's not about tongues, healing, prophecy and words of wisdom, but about Jesus himself.  They write, "Our goal should be relationship with Jesus, not power from Jesus. . . . The key to living a life full of supernatural power is to understand that the power is in the presence.  As we are close to Jesus so we will see him move in us and through us."

As Pilavachi and Croft describe the gifts and their practical application, they provide some general guidelines that apply to all the gifts.  First, practicing the gifts is not about technique, but about relationship.  God uses prophecy and healing to bless those he loves.  Second, while some people may have a particular ministry, the gifts are available to all.  As they say, "Everyone can play!"  "All of us are . . . actively encouraged to hear God speak, pray for the sick and speak in tongues.  We are all able to play, so never rule yourself out of being able to use these gifts."  I'm glad they emphasized this, because it so often seems that the gifts are reserved for "professional" Christians.

Pilavachi and Croft write and minister in the tradition of John Wimber, to whom they refer frequently.  If you know Wimber, you know what to expect from Everyday Supernatural, including the good humor and personal touch that marked Wimber's ministry.  I think their emphasis is exactly where it needs to be: on intimacy with Jesus and the proclamation and demonstration of his kingdom.  "Our priority needs to be sticking close to Jesus.  Before being everyday supernatural is about miracles and healings, it's about intimacy and relationship."

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the complimentary electronic review copy!

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, by Patrick Lencioni

In The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable, business consultant Patrick Lencioni tells the fictional tale of DecisionTech, a two-year-old tech startup, which is floundering.  Kathryn, whose background is not in the technology sector, gets the call to come in as CEO and set the ship aright.  As she points out to her executive team, DecisionTech has "a more experienced and talented executive team than any of our competitors.  We have more cash than they do. . . . We have better core technology.  And we have a more powerful board of directors.  Yet . . . we are behind two of our competitors in terms of both revenue and customer growth."  She pins their lack of performance and market share to one thing: a lack of teamwork at the top.

Lencioni uses the story to illustrate his five dysfunctions of a team: absence of trust, fear of conflict, lack of commitment, avoidance of accountability, and inattention to results.  In the final thirty pages or so, he develops this model, discussing the way these dysfunctions build on each other and offering suggestions for overcoming them.  This portion of the book is the real meat.  The story seemed like a waste of pages, although in retrospect it provides illustrations of the dysfunctions and solutions he discusses at the end.

The Five Dysfunctions of a Team is an OK read, but I think a lot of readers, especially busy executives for whom Lencioni is writing, will be impatient to get through the story part of the book.  To oversimplify, it could be summarized in one short sentence: Work as a team.  There's more to it than that, though.  If your team is having a hard time with that concept and all that it entails (setting ego aside, taking an interest in the tasks of other team members, focusing on results rather than career advancement), then spending some time with The Five Dysfunctions of a Team might help you point them in the right direction.

Monday, August 22, 2016

The Enemy, by Lee Child

The Enemy is Lee Child's eighth Jack Reacher novel, but the first that takes place during his time as an Army M.P. major.  The first seven books gave many hints about his time in the Army.  The Enemy features the same Jack Reacher we have come to know and love, who does what is right, even if he knows there will be consequences.  The Reacher who always seems to bed beautiful women, but never gets attached.  The Reacher who "said nothing."  The Reacher who puts the pieces of the puzzle together against the odds.

The differences are striking, and sometimes amusing.  This Reacher in The Enemy is under command.  He goes where he's told--except for those times when he doesn't go where he's told.  This Reacher will sometimes throw out clothes rather than wear them again, but, since he's serving in active duty and all, he actually carries luggage when he travels!  (Readers of other Reacher books will get that this is a big deal.)

In The Enemy, Reacher investigates the death of a general--until he is told not to.  But he does anyway.  Then a soldier is murdered on base, and he investigates that--until he's told to falsify the investigation.  But he doesn't.  His new superior officer tracks him down to have him arrested for going AWOL, even though he really wasn't.  But Jack, being Jack, manages to escape their clutches.

The Enemy shows Jack as the other books don't, as an official investigator, rather than a lone operator, vigilante type.  I won't be giving anything away when I tell you Jack figures it all out in the end, and is vindicated for his disobeying orders, for the most part.  Jack's conclusions lead him to a great deal of disillusionment with the Army.  Even though he's still in at the end, Child set him up for a break at some point.  I noticed the new Reacher novel, to be released in November, is set before Jack leaves the Army.  I look forward to seeing what else we learn about Reacher in uniform.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Pigskin Rapture, by Mac Engel

It's August in Texas and I'm counting the days until kickoff!  Mac Engel, who covers sports for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, has been in Texas long enough to get it--football rules in Texas!  One weekend last fall, he decided to take in as much Texas football as he could in one weekend.  He didn't get a lot of rest, but he saw some great (and not-so-great) football in a four-day stretch.  The result: Pigskin Rapture: Four Days in the Life of Texas Football.

Engel covers four big games: Houston Texans v. Indianapolis Colts, Midland Lee v. Odessa Permian, Texas v. Oklahoma, and Dallas Cowboys v. New England Patriots.  The game coverage is adequate, giving the flow and outcome of each game.  Of the four, the only real football drama was Texas-OU, where Texas pulled off a big upset.  But Pigskin Rapture is not about the play-by-play.  It's about the people and culture of football.

At each stop, Engel takes in local dining spots, the tailgate and bar scene, and checks out other local football programs and hot spots.  This is what I enjoyed most about the book.  Engel likes the side roads, the little programs, the mainstream fans, the back stories.  He drops by Rice Stadium and Andrew Luck's high school alma mater in the Houston area.  He checks in at The Bar in Odessa, where Permian fans and former players mingle and relive the glory days.  He samples the deep-fried glory of the State Fair of Texas.  He gawks at the fine art around the palace that Jerry built--and wonders at the armed brawl in the parking lot that left a fan dead.

Texas football fans, especially fans of the teams he covers, will love Pigskin Rapture the way they might enjoy a college yearbook.  Texans and non-Texans alike will get a great glimpse into Texas football life and history.  As much as I enjoyed Engel's writing, the real star of the book (no offense, Mac) is Ron Jenkin's photography.  It's worth the price of the book.

Engel observes that "Texas-OU is what gives college football its color, character, tradition, and ultimately, its distinction from the National Football League."  The NFL "can't replicate the inborn tradition of this game, or the disdain that comes from a real rivalry."  I think this applies to college football as a whole.

I've had some real beefs with Engel's recent coverage of Baylor football.  But I'm with him in Pigskin Rapture.  His love of football and love of Texas is contagious and exuberant.  Kickoff can't get here soon enough!

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the complimentary electronic review copy!

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Animals of the Ocean, by Dr. Doris Haggis-on-Whey

Under the sea lie secrets that can only be revealed by "the only scientists ever to explore what is in and under the sea," Dr. and Mr. Doris Hagis-on-Whey.  This is what they do in Animals of the Ocean, in Particular the Giant Squid, volume III in their series, The Haggis-on-Whey World of Unbelievable Brilliance.  And fortunately for me, as the cover states, this volume as been translated into Texan.

As you may know, if you are familiar with the HOW series, very little of what you may find in this book is useful or true.  But it's sometimes laugh-out-loud hilarious.  Some of the information herein is pretty close to reality.  For instance, in the diagram on the eleven layers of the sea, the description of layer five sounds like it's probably absolutely correct: "This is where the animals of the ocean emit feces and then swim among their feces." This reminded me of the lyric from the Surf Punks's timeless classic, "Bird Bathroom," in which they declare, "The ocean's nothing but a fish toilet, watch out!" (In case this cultural reference is too obscure for you, feel free to enlighten yourself by clicking here:

Every page of Animals of the Ocean is worth a luck, and elicits at least a chuckle.  It's truly mind-boggling, the amount of random inanity that can be crammed into one colorful, oversized hard-cover book.  I especially appreciated the guide to which deep-sea research is deducible.  (Neither a plastic ficus nor a bejeweled throne is deductible.  Sombreros and printer cartridges are.)  I was disappointed by one glaring omission: Animals of the Ocean did not feature any information about Madagascar.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Two Hours, by Ed Caesar

Will anyone ever be able to complete a marathon in less than two hours?  That is the question Ed Caesar contemplates in Two Hours: The Quest to Run the Impossible Marathon.  Given the history of the four minute mile, it's hard not to compare it to the two hour marathon.  Until someone actually ran a four minute mile, many experts said it was impossible.  Once that threshold was broken, four minute miles became almost commonplace among top runners. 

But is two hours the right threshold for the marathon?  There are limits to what a human body can do, even an ideal, perfectly trained body.  One researcher, accounting for things like "lactate threshold, running economy, and VO2 max" determined that "Given ideal conditions, and the ideal runner, . . . the best time in which a marathon could be completed was 1 hour, 57 minutes, and 58 seconds."  Over the last few decades, as African runners, particularly Kenyans, have come to dominate the marathon, record times have tumbled.  In 1988, the world record was 2:06:50.  In 2014, Dennis Kimetto of Kenya broke 2:03 for the first time, running 2:02:57 in Berlin.

Caesar covers the history of the marathon, particularly the last few decades.  Much of his narrative follows the career of Geoffrey Mutai, who finished the Boston Marathon in 2:03:02 in 2011, at that time the fastest recorded marathon finish anywhere.  To Mutai's frustration, the Boston course doesn't qualify for world record consideration.  Mutai's career since then has been marked by frustration that the world record has eluded him.  Two Hours ends up being two books in one: a history of the marathon and the pursuit of ever-faster times, and a running biography of Geoffrey Mutai.  Caesar draws the two together nicely, using Mutai as a case study in the quest.  I suspect many of Mutai's peers' stories would have been similarly suitable and interesting.

Whether the two hour mark will ever me reached remains an open question.  Like the four minute mile, the conditions will have to be carefully planned and the course carefully selected.  One thing is for sure: whoever does break two hours will need to have been born and raised in the right conditions, will need generations of the right genetic formation, and will need to carefully train for years.  Caesar made a believer out of me that it's possible.  He writes, "Whatever science or common sense one uses to rebut the possibility of a two-hour marathon, we still cannot resist its lure.  Everest was unclimbable until somebody climbed it.  The four-minute mile was impossible until it wasn't.  However evanescent the prospect, the two-hour marathon will not leave us alone."

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the complimentary electronic review copy!