More Book Reviews 13



ISBN: 0393068137
Pacific Crucible

I needed a break from land-based war books so I checked out this one about Americas fight with Japan starting with the bombing of Pearl Harbor and ending with the Battle of Midway. I’m used to history books with heavy analysis so I was initially taken aback with all the eyewitness testimony, story telling, and smooth prose. While it lacked tight specifics on the drive to war, it turned out to be a page turner that I couldn’t put down. The action was superb and peeking ahead at the battle results on Wikipedia didn’t at all dampen my enjoyment.

Japan attacked America because we got in the way of their imperialistic ambitions in Asia by choking off their supply of key resources like oil and steel via our Asian bases primarily centered around the Philippines. Japan believed it was their godly destiny to control Asia at the same time we worked with the British to control or at least influence big chunks of it to further our economy. I would never take the viewpoint that the Japanese were just in their Pearl Harbor attack, but we did partake in Asian land and sea grabs for our own benefit. Judging by what the Japanese did to their subjects, it actually turned out we were a kinder ruler.

I didn’t know how badly America was getting spanked by the Japanese. For the first few months of the war they had near total reign over the Pacific. If you isolated that early period, it wouldn’t have been a stretch for you to conclude that we were doomed to lose. Since of course we did win, thanks mostly to our superior intelligence network and code-breaking ability, this book is actually a great comeback story in disguise that got me feeling a little proud about being born in the USA. With our recent use of a Hollywood-style “sky crane” to successfully land a rover on Mars, it seems like there’s nothing the American can-do spirit can’t overcome.

“America was like a gigantic furnace. Grey had said: ‘Once the fire is lighted under it there is no limit to the power it can generate.’ […] Between 1940 and 1943, Britain tripled its war production; Germany and Russia doubled theirs; and Japan increased its war production fourfold. In that three-year period, the United States multiplied its war production by twenty-five times. […] By 1945, the U.S. Navy would be larger (as measured either by number of ships or tonnage) than the combined fleets of every other navy in the world.”

In my previous review post I wrote how underestimating the enemy seems to be the most common path to defeat in war. That fact reared its head in this story, with Americans initially underestimating the Japanese and then, after Pearl Harbor, the Japanese underestimating American soldiers, who they thought were soft and lazy.

“The [Japanese] subhumans of 1941 had mutated into the superhumans of 1942. Many Allied soldiers apparently believed that the Japanese possessed preternatural senses and abilities. Like bats, they could see in the darkness. Like panthers, they could move soundlessly through the underbrush. Like ants, they could communicate with their own kind by some unspoken brainwave. Unlike men, they had no fear of death.”

How far the Japanese man has fallen! From alpha warriors to beta huggers of life size dolls—I don’t think we’ve ever seen a collapse of human males in such a short amount of time. By comparison, the transformation of the Vikings to the effete Scandinavian men of today took hundreds of years.

“A trail of foam marked the track of each torpedo as it closed the range toward the ship. Some were ‘porpoising’–alternately breaking the surface and then diving. Johnston watched the submerged missiles with dismay, and realized that the Lexington was not going to dodge them all. ‘Their wicked noses look to me like death incarnate. I have the illusion they are alive, and breaking water to peek at us, only to dive again after having made sure of their courses.'”

A surprising strength of this book was its maps: they were easy to understand and had helpful arrows detailing the battle action. Most history books seem to have maps that can only be read by cartographers, so I felt the visual guides greatly enhanced the fighting scenes.

Pacific Crucible is ultimately one of the best history books I’ve ever read. I hoped it wouldn’t end. It’s an amazing story of victory in the face of initial defeat that makes you feel nostalgic for what America used to stand for, values that sometimes show up every so often today. Highly recommended.

ISBN: 0671797484

From the very first page, Arnold Schwarzenegger’s autobiography makes you want to hit the gym. Reading the amount of work this man put into being the world’s best bodybuilder will make you want to prove your own worth by lifting some heavy-ass weight. I was on a little break from the gym because I was vacationing on an island (a sound excuse, I figured), but within a couple days of cracking open the book I found a hotel with a dinky gym where I could lift. It’s one of the most motivating fitness books I’ve read.

The first half of the book is a first-hand account of what it really takes to be at top of your field, with all the roadblocks, vultures, and haters that come along with it. Within these pages lies the best feature of the book: Arnold’s belief system. You find out the thoughts that have led to his incredible success in body building, acting, and politics. Even if your current goal isn’t related to those, they will bitch slap you upside the head and get you moving. Arnold’s inspiring attitude makes him more American than Austrian, so it’s no surprise that he loved the United States.

“I could tell if a girl was repelled by my size. And when I’d catch her looking at me in disbelief I would casually raise my arm, flex my bicep, and watch her cringe. It was always good for a laugh.”

You probably already know that Arnold was a ladies man. He viewed them as distractions to his goals, primarily serving as objects for his sexual pleasure. He relaxed that stance in his later years but a look into how he fathered his maid’s child while married to Maria Shriver shows that he wasn’t entirely domesticated. Players will wink and nod at a few passages of the book that concern how he approached women and sex.

“Normal people can be happy with a regular life. I was different. I felt there was more to life than just plodding through an average existence.”

The second half of the book gives basic nutrition and body building advice that was of course less interesting and more technical. It did cause me to make a couple tweaks to my lifting program that seem to have a positive benefit, such as taking shorter rests between sets (45 seconds instead of 120 seconds).

Ultimately this short book was a captivating story of how the fruits of a man’s labor, combined with the right beliefs, can help you achieve what you set out to do. I highly recommend it.

“Bodybuilding changed me entirely. I think I would be a different person now if I’d never trained, if I’d just worked somewhere. It gave me confidence and pride and an unlimited positive attitude. I can apply my success to everything.”

ISBN: 0307386120
Don’t Sleep, There Are Snakes

“Science is not just about research teams in lab coats working under the direction of an eminent scientist. It can be pursued by lone individuals slogging it out in hard times and hard places—feeling lost and over their heads, yet challenged to bring new knowledge out of their difficulties.”

This is a memoir of American linguist Daniel Everett who spent over a decade studying the Piraha Amazonian tribe and their language. I got pulled in quickly because of the extraordinary experience this man had while trying to map out one of the world’s least understood languages, one that has thwarted many linguists before him.

Linguaphiles will like this book most. You get to see how Everett learned a language from absolutely nothing, with no grammar book, no Pimsleur audio course, and no dictionary. Many times you can feel his frustration while struggling to figure things out, followed by the exhilaration when he finally got it. The book has an interesting twist in that the author is actually a missionary whose main goal was to learn enough of the tribal language to create a Bible translation. But after a short while you wonder who is converting who.

“I thought again of the challenge of the missionary: to convince a happy satisfied people that they are lost and need Jesus as their personal savior.”

I identified with the author because we’re both doing similar things. He’s trying to decode spoken language while I try to decode sexual language. The ups and downs he felt in the book is not unlike what I’ve felt and recorded in my South American memoir. The only advantage in his methodology over mine is that he has focused on only one area to study, going deeper than many before him, while I hop around every couple of months. I can’t imagine staying in a country for over ten years like he has.

One unexpected surprise is that you learn a lot about Brazil, its interior inhabitants, and how they balance their Amazonian heritage with Brazil’s rapid modernization. An inadvertently funny part of the book is how a Brazilian boat crew ferrying his deathly ill wife put on soccer jerseys, anchored the boat, and went for a two hour futebol match on land.

The book takes a nerdy turn towards the end when Everett challenges Noam Chomsky’s linguistic theories based on what he learned from the Piraha’s language. Chomsky, while a genius, pulled a lot of his theories out of his ass without any fieldwork. Everett has found an exception to his “universal” grammar and recursion theories, but Chomsky’s fanboys have attacked back and tried to discredit Everett. The book also touches on some philosophy, particularly on existence, truth, and the present moment. It’s a potent memoir that was educational, funny, and thoroughly entertaining. Recommended.

“There is no ‘real world’ that we can actually perceive without the filter of language telling us what we are seeing and what it means. […] We perceive the world, both as theoreticians and as citizens of the universe according to our experiences and expectations not always, perhaps even never, according to how the world actually is.”

ISBN: 0307739473

This is the fictional story of a 40-something British expat lawyer working in Moscow. He meets a Russian girl on the metro and ends up pursuing her, but things are not as they seem as she gets him involved in a shady business deal that makes him question his deepening affections for the girl. The journey of intrigue and deceit he gets thrust into was interesting but also predictable. You can easily see the hammer coming down on him from a hundred pages away.

I definitely recognized the interaction between the British protagonist and the Russian girl, making it clear to me that the author had experience dating in Russia. His descriptions on the culture—the face control, the overweight oligarchs, and of course the women—were accurate. He also nailed the concept of Russian friendships and how it’s expected to ask and receive a neverending stream of favors. I quickly noticed that my “friends” in Ukraine saw me as a resource that can be extracted like a mineral in the ground. As a man who is stubbornly reluctant to ask for help, I found those friendships to be rather one-sided and unfulfilling.

“In my experience, you could roughly gauge the level of depravity in a Slavic city by the time it took, after you arrived, for someone to offer you women.”

Snowdrops was a quick read that held my interest. I enjoyed the crisp writing, the tightly woven analogies, and the fast-paced—albeit predictable—story. The ending was a bit stale, but if you’re interested in checking out Russia or Ukraine, I recommend this book. It will show you firsthand what this part of the world can do to a Western man, but for a more potent picture, you need to read The Exile.

How To Get Away With Murder

Evan Wright, author of Generation Kill, looked into the life of Enrique Prado, a man who worked for Miami drug lords before making it into the upper reaches of the CIA. Wright focuses on a murder that Prado may have committed while working for a drug cartel and how the CIA later protected him from prosecution.

This book reinforces the concept of how justice is a malleable concept in America. Laws are selectively applied, especially in the face of the CIA (you can see more evidence of that in the books Into The Buzzsaw and Dark Alliance). Out of all the organizations that make me ashamed to be an American, the CIA is at the top. It’s a government within a government that does absolutely whatever it wants with no possibility of punishment, and there’s nothing that will change that.

“Running operations through Blackwater gave the CIA the power to have people abducted, or killed, with no one in the government being exactly responsible. The deniability that protects the government also shields the bureaucrats who run it. In such a system, it’s nearly impossible to detect mistakes, incompetence, or corruption.”

What I love about this book is that it fucks over a lot of people who I’m sure wanted to keep certain events quiet. Sorry Enrique, no peaceful retirement for you. The problem is that there isn’t much heart coming out of the pages—it’s mostly fact driven narrative that overloads you with meetings and dates, making it read more like a news reel than a compelling story. Nonetheless, at only 124 pages long it was a fast-paced read. If you hate the CIA then you’ll enjoy it.

ISBN: 055338497X

“Learning the skills of salesmanship takes time and effort. You have to practice them over and over again until they become second nature. Not all young people today understand that. They look at a successful businessman and they don’t stop to think about all the mistakes he might have made when he was younger.”

This is the entertaining autobiography of Lee Iacocca, a famous American businessman who made his mark in Ford by developing the Ford Mustang. He later went on to work at Chrysler to turn the company around when it was on its death throes. This book mostly focuses on his business experience, his takedown of “King” Henry Ford II, and his political views, written in a straight-shooter, conversational style.

The book contains a lot of great business and leadership wisdom, with just the right amount of arrogance that seems to breed great men who know how to get shit done. However, I didn’t buy his argument that the reason Chrysler needed a loan guarantee from the government was because of oppressive regulation. In America we see a lot of examples of rabid capitalists who are the first to line up for loans and bailouts. They preach government deregulation when profits come in, handouts when they don’t.

My biggest complaint of the book is that the tone got a little too defensive and negative in the second half where he tried to answer all his critics. He went from providing value to trying to settle scores. It also was written during a time when Japan was crushing the US, so his warnings about their booming strength was greatly overblown. Nonetheless, if you like the business side of things or are an entrepreneur at heart, you’ll enjoy this quick read.

“In a disposable society like ours, there are no real heroes. Nobody lasts very long.”

ISBN: 0061438294

What Every Body Is Saying

This book, written by a former FBI agent, starts off by claiming that there are three ways that humans react to danger: freeze, flight, or fight. This doesn’t mean danger in the form of a saber tooth tiger, but an uncomfortable question, situation, or revelation. In response to those, a person will give off “pacifying behaviors” that displays the discomfort, like touching one’s body. The reason that pacifying behaviors is universal to humans is because self-touching releases endorphins and soothes the brain.

Let’s imagine for a second that a woman is touching her hair while you talk to her. That actually is not a direct sign that she’s attracted to you—it means she’s nervous. Ironically, you want a girl to initially display pacifying behaviors that show she’s under stress because it implies she’s intimidated by you and sees you as higher value than herself. It’s when a girl is too comfortable and putting out high-confidence displays (something the book discusses) that she may not be attracted to you.

When I roll solo to a club I regularly touch my neck, chin, and stroke my beard. According to the book, I do these things to comfort myself. Once you consider that I’m alone in a crowded, dark place where my senses are being bombarded by loud music, heavy crowds, and flashing neon lights, this makes sense. I touch myself less when I’m with a friend because he is giving me comfort that I don’t get when I’m alone.

Some things you’ll learn in this book:

  • Blocking the eyes with your hand, even in a subtle way, is a powerful display of disbelief and disagreement.
  • Any touching of the face, head, neck, shoulder, or extremities is meant to self-pacify.
  • The direction of a person’s feet is where they actually want to go.
  • Hands on knees while seated means the person wants to leave.
  • Leg crossing while standing is a high comfort display.
  • Interlaced hands behind the head is a display of comfort and dominance. So is placing hands on a table while standing.
  • Interlacing of fingers is a low-confidence gesture, except when thumbs are extended straight up.
  • Head tilting is a powerful way to say “I am very comfortable.”
  • We squint when we are angry or when we hear something we don’t like.
  • Lip compression is a sign of negative sentiment.
  • Nose pointed up is a high confidence display.

The biggest problem with the book was that it was boring to read. I felt like the author was adding in fluff to hit a page count, but I got a lot of value from learning about low confidence displays, such a sticking your thumbs in your pocket while leaving your hands out. I did this from time to time but not anymore (a more confident alternative is to put your hand in your pocket while leave your thumbs sticking out). In the “fake it till you make it” school of thought, you can force yourself to do all the behaviors the book describes as high confidence until they automatically happen.

Another reason to check this out is to know how to successfully lie to the authorities. The book says that liars often freeze and think maintaining laser eye contact is a way to appear honest, something I have thought is actually the best way to lie. Instead I should gesticulate and be animated, as if I’m being forceful with the truth, and to refrain from pacifying behaviors.

Body language in general is not something that I worry too much about when it comes to talking to girls. You can tell much more strongly where you stand by her verbal response and the ratio of her talking—if it increases or decreases as time goes on. I’ve always thought that body language analysis is not worth the effort. If you can run tight game while also examining her body parts to see what they’re doing, then power to you, but just keeping the conversation flowing keeps my brain occupied enough. This book will actually better serve you in correcting your own body language, but not so much for reading others.

ISBN: 0743273567
The Great Gatsby

I became interested in this book after finding out that Hollywood was making a new Gatsby movie. While reading it I ignored the well-accepted fact that it is one of the greatest pieces of American literature ever written and tried to see if it would hold its own for a year 2012 reader.

The story centers around the mysterious Jay Gatsby and the popular parties he throws, though no one seems to know who he is or what he does for a living. We soon find out that he’s throwing those parties to get back a girl he lost during a time he was in poverty.

The book felt a bit like Fellini’s La Dolce Vita, dominated with dialogue of bored rich people who are obsessed with status. The conversations were nuanced enough that I wondered if I was missing something that I would have picked up had I read the book closer to when it was originally released 90 years ago, but a lot of modern concepts of seduction can still be found, such as social proof, building interest through scarcity, and displaying dominance in seemingly banal conversations to establish alpha cred.

I wasn’t too impressed when starting the story, but my eyes soon felt like they were gliding across the pages, hinting to me how much work the author put into editing the prose. Not many old books can keep me engaged like this one did.

I don’t mean to insult the story by praising the writing. It’s interesting with a bittersweet ending, where we find out what happened to the most popular man in New York. Analyses of this book point to the decadence of the 20s as the driving force of the book’s story, but I think a modern day reader who dabbles in game can find new meaning to the book by simply asking, “What happens when a man goes beta to get an old girlfriend back?”

Do you want to read more book reviews? Click here for the previous set.

Related Posts For You