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Book Notes

July 17, 2014

'Moneyball' author tackles Wall Street with 'Flash Boys'

Have you ever read a book that feels like it’s in a foreign language? It covers a subject you know is important and you figure at some point it will all make sense. What do you do when that doesn’t happen? Obviously, the easiest solution is to toss the book aside. But what if the underlying message is something you “get” and don’t want to give up on? I faced that dilemma recently.

We all know there is something shady about Wall Street. The people who work there seem to live in another world and follow a different set of rules. The big banks helped foment the Great Recession in 2008 and basically went unpunished. The phrase “to big to fail” became part of their lexicon. The U.S. taxpayers bailed them out and they went back to business as usual. It’s hard to understand how our financial institutions could put the entire world on the brink of an economic meltdown and pay no consequences.

A new book looks at that phenomenon with an unusual twist. “Flash Boys,” written by Michael Lewis, presents the story of a select few people on Wall Street that actually have a conscience. It is the story of their efforts to clean up Wall Street by offering investors a clean alternative to the usual shenanigans that infest big-time finance.

Lewis brings some solid credentials to the subject. He has written about Wall Street before in “The Big Short” but is probably best known for “Moneyball,” his tome on the Oakland A’s and their ability to compete as a small market team against the free-spending ways of big market teams like the New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox, and Los Angeles Angels. It became a best-seller and was made into a successful film starring Brad Pitt.

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  • New rowing book is best read of year One of the fortunate things about being a librarian is that you get unsolicited opinions on books you wouldn't ordinarily read. One of our patrons told me about a book that would have flown under my radar if she hadn't mentioned it (in fact, she bought it for the library). It turned out to be the best book I've read this year.

    August 21, 2014

  • Despite good reviews some movies disappoint Sometimes a popular movie can be difficult to evaluate. It may be a hit at the box office, receive great reviews, and earn multiple Oscar nominations. But what if it didn't really do it for you? How do you rip a film that clearly appeals to the masses? I faced that dilemma with one of the top grossing releases of 2013. I guess I learned that everyone has different tastes.

    August 14, 2014

  • Comparing HOF, Coop, now and then The Baseball Hall of Fame is celebrating its 75th anniversary this year and it's amazing how much the Hall has grown since it first opened in 1939. An estimated 48,000 fans journeyed to Cooperstown to watch the induction ceremonies two weeks ago. The annual Hall of Fame weekend has become a major tourist attraction as floods of Hall of Famers and ex-big leaguers descend on the village to celebrate, reminisce, and sign autographs (for a fee). It's all quite a change from its humble beginnings in 1939.

    August 7, 2014

  • Biography of Neil Armstrong shines light on space program We just celebrated the 45th anniversary of the first lunar landing. We all remember Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the moon, uttering those famous words, “One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.â€� It was an exciting time for our country and the world. There was talk of a mission to Mars by 1980. Instead, we haven’t been to the moon since 1972 and manned space exploration has become an afterthought. What happened?

    July 31, 2014

  • Early 'blahs' sometimes hide a gem There are often films that sound rather "blah" when you first notice them and have no interest in seeing. It's usually due to the preview either being really stupid or the producers wanting to avoid giving away too much of the plot. If it's the latter category you must be careful. Sometimes there's a gem of a movie hidden behind the facade.

    July 24, 2014

  • 'Moneyball' author tackles Wall Street with 'Flash Boys' Have you ever read a book that feels like it's in a foreign language? It covers a subject you know is important and figure at some point it will all make sense. What do you do when that doesn't happen? Obviously, the easiest solution is to toss the book aside. But what if the underlying message is something you "get" and don't want to give up on? I faced that dilemma recently.

    July 17, 2014

  • MacNeil reading highlights novels Several weeks ago I had the good fortune to attend a talk by Robert MacNeil at the Guilderland Public Library. MacNeil is best known as the former co-host of the MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour on PBS. He retired in 1995 but has continued to write both fiction and non-fiction. His talk at Guilderland focused on two of his novels, "Burden of Desire" written in 1992, and its sequel, "Portrait of Julia," which was published last year.

    July 10, 2014

  • 'The Monuments Men' shows important history World War II continues to hold a special place in the hearts of readers and movie goers. The reasons are many but much of it can be traced to the endless number of storylines from that conflict. There is literally a treasure trove of material that keeps emerging. The latest example is the movie, “The Monuments Men.â€�

    July 3, 2014

  • Authors not afraid to think like freaks Conventional wisdom is something we automatically take for granted. It can be something as simple as assuming there is no cure for the common cold or political polls being a good indicator of who will win an election. Common assumptions of course can be wrong but we usually just accept them as fact. However, in many cases it would be much better to think "outside the box" and consider an alternative way of looking at the world.

    June 26, 2014

  • Book goes further into Armstrong's lies There hasn't been a shortage of elite athletes that have fallen from grace in recent years. Most of them have been baseball players who have been caught using performance enhancing drugs (PEDs) and then lying about it. Golfer Tiger Woods fell from his pedestal because of extra-marital affairs. He has yet to regain his previous aura and perhaps never will. But the loudest crash of all came from cyclist Lance Armstrong who was not only a liar and a cheat but ruined other people's lives in the process.

    June 19, 2014