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April 2012 Book Reviews:



The Art of the Sale: Learning from the Masters About the Business of Life

by Philip Delves Broughton

reviewed by Kevin Lauderdale



I have zero interest in “how to” business or sales books, yet I found Broughton's study of some of the world's top salespeople, and writers on sales theory, to be not only accessible, but almost impossible to put down. Broughton's theory is that we can apply the experiences and lessons of people like Ted Turner and Donald Trump to non-business situations. After all, everyone “sells” something every day, whether it's the idea that you should pay attention in school to your kids or yourself to a potential mate. Success in life often depends on “reading” others and applying the appropriate social strategies, just as a salesperson would. Only occasionally does this book specifically touch on the details of that premise, but that's fine. We all enjoy reading about the climb from failure to success, and Broughton's case histories are engaging and enlightening. They range from salesmen and authors Dale Carnegie (How to Win Friends and Influence People) and Og Mandino (The Greatest Salesman in the World) to pioneering beauty product magnate Madam C.J. Walker. There are lessons to be drawn from the world of art dealers (“the fact that art has little or no utility makes the salesperson all the more important”) and the Peter O'Toole film Lawrence of Arabia, where Lawrence works through “a constant back-and-forth of persuasion and resistance” to finally achieve “a miracle.” Even if we don't take part in it, we see buying and selling everywhere. To understand what goes on inside the minds of all those people we see selling is fascinating.





Ticket Masters: The Rise of the Concert Industry and How the Public Got Scalped

by Dean Budnick and Josh Baron

reviewed by A.B. Mead



Readers will have to bring their interest in the rock concert industry, and especially in the promotions aspect, to this book. But those who thrill to the name of Bill Graham and who cheered when Pearl Jam canceled their 1994 tour over a fight with Ticketmaster will enjoy this definitive history of mass ticketing. The authors start in the 1960s, when early computers connected by phone lines promised to eliminate the need to stand in line at an actual venue in order to get tickets. By the 1970s you could buy Led Zeppelin tickets at Sears. The 1980s and 1990s saw all aspects of the rock business restructure around mega bands and mega tours like The Rolling Stones' “Steel Wheels” tour, which earned $90 million from North American dates alone. Now promoters have to “buy a tour” with a pre-set fee to the band. With more money at risk, everyone needs to guarantee their own cut, raising prices. At first the Internet promised to democratize ticket purchasing, but the ease of purchase only increased ticket demand, ironically making tickets harder to get. With more demand, and since they hold a virtual monopoly on distribution, ticket agencies have been able to raise their service fees, secure in the knowledge that some people will pay any price just for access to the tickets, let alone the face value. Meanwhile, the problem that has existed since Charles Dickens first toured America—scalpers—remains insolvable.




Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960 - 2010

by Charles Murray

reviewed by Kevin Lauderdale



Murray, who co-authored the controversial IQ-and-race treatise The Bell Curve, here writes solely about white America. He argues that the biggest threat to America is its division into two classes:  one very smart and very rich, and the other so poor and uneducated that it's unwilling and unable to appreciate and participate in the culture being created by the former. This divide is being caused by the concentration of both intelligence and money. More and more, rich, well-educated people only interact with other rich, well-educated people. This means that they have children with each other, and inherited wealth (along with access to rewarding social and business positions) and intelligent genes (or at least a college education) stay among the One Percent, rather than being spread around multiple levels of society. 

Although the book is filled with charts and graphs to back-up Murray's position, and some readers might agree with the cultural observations he makes, others might not feel that this situation even exists, let alone that it needs solving. Murray's solution is what one might call a “Smart Man's Burden.” NPR-listening, New Yorker-reading families need to move out of their gated communities and live among the lower classes. There they will set an example for the NASCAR-and-beer crowd to follow. Murray says that the elite needs to “preach what they practice”; it's no longer any good just quietly going to college, getting married, and having children, all of whom are “above average” (as Murray notes, if you catch that reference, you're a probably a member of this elite). Murray suggests that the elite need to be seen setting the better example. It's difficult to read this book without thinking that Murray pines for 1920's England, where the country folk strove to imitate the examples of their “betters,” the gentry. Are you a member of this cognitive elite? The book helpfully provides a quiz. Hint: if your reaction to the word “Branson” is “Richard,” not “Missouri,” you might be snob.



The Irish Way: Becoming American in the Multiethnic City

by James R. Barrett

reviewed by A.B. Mead




Studying the Irish influence and experience in mostly pre-Great Depression New York, Chicago, and Boston, Barrett gives readers a much more complex picture than the Irish cop on the beat and the street thug—though there are plenty of those. Actual suffering, both in Ireland and in America, led the recently-immigrated Irish to become self-reliant and tightly-knit to a point that led to exclusionary labor policies and racism—primarily against Italians and blacks. Barrett doesn't shy away from these darker aspects. Irish-American interest in World War I was limited due to traditional antagonism toward England, but the U.S. was able to stimulate enlistment by appealing to clannishness:  “Go to the Front with Your Friends,” read one recruitment poster for the famous 69th, an all-Irish Infantry Division. Where the book hits upon clichés like the Irish’s “special interest in and talent for street fighting,” it explains them in a historical context. But Barrett also writes about nuns who established convents in the heart of the poorest communities in their cities and dedicated themselves to helping those constituencies, making the sisters some of the only white people who lived and worked in black neighborhoods. Particularly revealing of the Irish-American experience is Barrett's study of the stage dramas and comedies of the time. Irish performers perpetuated Irish stereotypes through the characters of Paddy the lazy laborer, and Bridget—“Biddy”—the dim-witted domestic. Still, these stereotypes served as a crude way of helping immigrants “navigate” their way through their new social environments in America. The clichés eventually passed, but not before many young women named Bridget changed their names, so strong was the stereotype. The book contains a good sprinkle of period photos and political cartoons, as well as a couple of very helpful maps.




Tough Sh*t

by Kevin Smith

reviewed by Kevin Lauderdale



If you aren't familiar with filmmaker and podcaster Smith's style, he lets you know what's coming from the very start:  he dedicates this book to his wife and a posterior portion of her anatomy. Smith's films, from 1994's ultra-low-budget Clerks to 2011's self-distributed Red State, as well as his podcast empire, have always been about being “indie”—doing what he wanted to do and convincing others to come along. True, they've also been about superhero references and outrageously crude humor, but that's been backed by intelligence and heart. Here Smith tells the story of his career, how he financed Clerks on a bunch of credit cards, which led to a deal with Miramax Films and nearly 20 years of making films for the company that spun indies like Good Will Hunting into Oscar gold. Smith would eventually be forced to apply the lessons learned from Miramax’s owners Bob and Harvey Weinstein to his own life. Smith is a self-proclaimed “fat, lazy slob,” and this book is meant to inspire. If he can find a way a get paid to do what he loves to do, then presumably thinner, more motivated readers should be able to do so as well. Regular listeners to his Smodcast network of podcasts will have already heard these stories. How he met his wife, a reporter for USA Today; the disappointing experience of directing his hero, Bruce Willis, in Cop Out; his public (and publicity-generating) battle with the Westboro Baptist Church over his film Red State; and the event that really brought him into the public eye:  bring thrown off a Southwest Airlines flight for being “too fat to fly.” The book's ultimate lesson is drawn from Smith's obsession with hockey legend Wayne Gretzky, whose father told him, “Don't go where the puck's been; go where it's gonna be.”






Capitol Murder

by Philip Margolin

reviewed by Jon Land



“May you live in interesting times.” 

That ancient Chinese curse forms the epigraph for the first section of Phillip Margolin’s Capitol Murder, his latest Washington-based entry in the series featuring lawyer Brad Miller and private eye Dana Cutler.  And, given all they’re up against this time out, these are interesting times indeed. 

Not only has Clarence Little, the serial killer they put on death row in Executive Privilege, escaped, there’s a terrorist plot to blow up a football stadium.  Before you can say Black Sunday, the action is off and running as the newly re-teamed Miller and Cutler race to separate the good guys from the bad guys and save potential victims in amounts both large and small. 

Margolin’s style is silky smooth and Capitol Murder hums along like a well-oiled machine. There’s nothing particularly new or special here, but don’t let that fool you.  Nobody makes better use of typically colorful Washington locales, and Capitol Murder is everything you expect and want it to be.  A worthy successor to its predecessors in the series on a grander scale with stakes to match.




The Great Game

by Lavie Tidhar

reviewed by Scott Pearson



The Great Game is the third book in the Bookman Histories. The series is a sprawling, rollicking steampunk cavalcade of literary, historical, and pop culture allusions, taking the conceits of the genre and running with them to great effect. Sentient automatons and alien cyborg monsters are also in the mix, with hints of a coming war of the worlds. 

Retired secret agent Smith—living in “the village,” à la The Prisoner—comes out of retirement to investigate the murder of the head of his Bureau, Mycroft Holmes. Lucy Westenra is also on board, as well as Harry Houdini, all three working independently to get at what’s behind several mysterious deaths, which point to the machinations of unknown parties from . . . parts unknown.

It’s an elaborate conspiracy complicated by the Great Game itself, the game of spying and behind-the-scenes manipulations engaged in by the world powers of the nineteenth century. Agents and double agents, feints and double crosses . . . if the pieces and moves on the board are at times difficult to follow, that’s part of the charm. 

As the three heroes dig deeper, it becomes clear that all is not as it seems, and telling the good guys from the bad guys is a little murky. Still, many threads developed in the previous books are concluded even as some surprising twists leave the reader hoping for more in the series. If you enjoy Victorian literature and steampunk mash-ups like The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, dive in to the Bookman Histories.




The Innocent

by David Baldacci

reviewed by Jon Land



“Will Robie was thirty-nine years old and would turn forty the following day.  He had not come to Scotland to celebrate this personal milestone.  He had come here to work.” 

And work for Will Robie is killing.  He’s a professional assassin extraordinaire who dominates The Innocent, number one bestseller David Baldacci’s spectacular entry into the hardcore action-adventure world.  His latest is also his most cinematic work going all the way back to Absolute Power, a kind of hybrid combination of Taken and the Luc Besson classic The Professional

That’s because Robie’s next assignment takes him to Washington, D.C. where what Hollywood screenwriters like to call Plot Point One (aka the Inciting Incident) comes into play.  Not only does Robie totally break protocol by refusing to complete his mission, he also runs into a runaway fourteen-year-old girl.  Turns out she’s being stalked by the killers who murdered her parents, so what’s a professional killer to do?  Well, in the soulful, reflective world of David Baldacci, he’s going to take Julie under his protection and get to the bottom of a conspiracy that may or may not be connected to the job he just botched. 

Their relationship forms the heart of The Innocent, a wondrous father-daughter metaphor and master-apprentice tale in which the latter roles sometimes seem to flip-flop.  The result is a daring, emotive book that has echoes of warmth and pain seen only in very special thrillers like William Goldman’s Marathon Man, itself turned into a terrific Dustin Hoffman film.  The Innocent, though, stands on its own as a tour de force of storytelling power and grace.  Baldacci at his best, which is as good as it gets.




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