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June Reviews & July List : Summer Reading Project

Ah, the best laid plans. At the beginning of the month I had every intention of reading all three of the books on June's list... I only made it through two. If this were a school assignment, I’d be starting off very poorly, having a) not completed all three books and b) not gotten my reviews and July book list posted by the first of July… all I can say is (with a shrug), it was Carnival season, and if you’ve ever been here during Carnival, you’ll just shake your head at me with some combination of pity, envy, and amusement, and read on. (If you haven’t been here for Carnival, you should plan a visit for next summer).

Some quick thoughts on the two books I did finish:

I LOVED Astrophysics for People in a Hurry. If you're looking for a quick primer on the origins of the universe, this book is for you. If you think that Neil deGrasse Tyson is the best, this book is for you. If reading lines like "We are stardust brought to life, then empowered by the universe to figure itself out - and we have only just begun" could keep you content forever, this book is for you.

I definitely felt like deGrasse Tyson’s writing style and sense of humor help to make a very heavy topic accessible and captivating. I read most of the book on ferry rides between St John and St Thomas, surrounded by chattering kids and engine noise and all sorts of other distractions, but I could still immerse myself in his writing. Added bonus: at the end I felt like I’d dusted off some facts long forgotten, learned new things, and flexed a few latent corners of my brain. So yeah, I’d recommend this book to everyone who’s interested in our world and would love to learn more… after all, as deGrasse Tyson says, “People who believe they are ignorant of nothing have neither looked for, nor stumbled upon, the boundary between what is known and unknown in the universe”.

The second book I read was Invisible Influences, by Jonah Berger. I’m not as overtly enthusiastic about this one, but that’s largely due to the fact that the science of social influence is inherently less romantic and perspective-shifting than the birth of the known universe. That being said, I did find the book interesting and helpful in a professional sense, as it both reinforced and expanded upon my knowledge of social influence. Ideas like mirroring, the “gravitational attraction” of conversation starters, aspiration groups, and evolving reactions to novelty are common in marketing parlance, but can become so ubiquitous that we become a little blind to them. Invisible Influences allowed me to take a step back and look at social influence through fresh eyes, and consider different approaches to my work.

I’d recommend this book to anyone in a field that deals with influence, although it could be argued (with ease) that the book is useful for anyone who deals with other humans, ever. Learning how our behavior and the behavior of those around us, at both the individual and societal level, affects decision making is an incredibly useful tool in today’s hyper-social media environment.

Last but not least, July’s book picks! Since I didn’t finish The Knowledge Illusion: Why We Never Think Alone by Stephen Sloman and Philip Fernbach in June, I’ll be keeping that on this month’s list… and adding two new books in the hopes that I’m more productive and on task in July (or maybe just that I’ll have more time at the beach).

2. Indentured: The Inside Story of the Rebellion Against the NCAA, by Joe Nocera and Ben Strauss.

This book was recommended to me ages ago (or so it seems) by a dear friend who knows of/tolerates my obsession with sports. I’m really looking forward to reading it for many reasons, not least because the NCAA is an incredibly flawed institution, and many bright minds have been applied to ways it might be fixed, to no avail. Here’s the Amazon description:

“How can the NCAA blithely wreck careers without regard to due process or common fairness? How can it act so ruthlessly to enforce rules that are so petty? Why won’t anybody stand up to these outrageous violations of American values and American justice?”

In the four years since Joe Nocera asked those ques­tions in a controversial New York Times column, the National Collegiate Athletic Association has come under fire. Fans have begun to realize that the athletes involved in the two biggest college sports, men’s bas­ketball and football, are little more than indentured servants. Millions of teenagers accept scholarships to chase their dreams of fame and fortune—at the price of absolute submission to the whims of an organiza­tion that puts their interests dead last.

For about 5 percent of top-division players, college ends with a golden ticket to the NFL or the NBA. But what about the overwhelming majority who never turn pro? They don’t earn a dime from the estimated $13 billion generated annually by college sports—an ocean of cash that enriches schools, conferences, coaches, TV networks, and apparel companies . . . everyone except those who give their blood and sweat to entertain the fans.

Indentured tells the dramatic story of a loose-knit group of rebels who decided to fight the hypocrisy of the NCAA, which blathers endlessly about the purity of its “student-athletes” while exploiting many of them: The ones who get injured and drop out be­cause their scholarships have been revoked. The ones who will neither graduate nor go pro. The ones who live in terror of accidentally violating some obscure rule in the four-hundred-page NCAA rulebook.

Joe Nocera and Ben Strauss take us into the inner circle of the NCAA’s fiercest enemies. You’ll meet, among others . . .

·Sonny Vaccaro, the charismatic sports marketer who convinced Nike to sign Michael Jordan. Dis­gusted by how the NCAA treated athletes, Vaccaro used his intimate knowledge of its secrets to blow the whistle in a major legal case.

·Ed O’Bannon, the former UCLA basketball star who realized, years after leaving college, that the NCAA was profiting from a video game using his image. His lawsuit led to an unprecedented antitrust ruling.

·Ramogi Huma, the founder of the National Col­lege Players Association, who dared to think that college players should have the same collective bargaining rights as other Americans.

·Andy Schwarz, the controversial economist who looked behind the façade of the NCAA and saw it for what it is: a cartel that violates our core values of free enterprise.

Indentured reveals how these and other renegades, working sometimes in concert and sometimes alone, are fighting for justice in the bare-knuckles world of college sports.

3. The Delight of Being Ordinary, by Roland Merullo

I bought this book last month because, you guys, a novel about the Pope and the Dalai Lama taking a surreptitious road trip? With neurotic cousin Paolo? And disguises? Come on, who doesn't want to read this? All kinds of shenanigans could ensue. I figure it’ll be a light read with some subtly imparted life wisdom sprinkled throughout, which is exactly what my life needs this month. Per Amazon:

What happens when the Pope and the Dalai Lama decide they need a secret vacation?

Roland Merullo’s playful, eloquent, and life-affirming novel finds the world’s two holiest men teaming up for an unsanctioned road trip through the Italian countryside--where they rediscover the everyday joys and challenges of ordinary life.

During the Dalai Lama’s highly publicized official visit to the Vatican, the Pope suggests an adventure so unexpected and appealing that neither man can resist: they will shed their robes for several days and live as ordinary men. Before dawn, the two beloved religious leaders make a daring escape from Vatican City, slip into a waiting car, and are soon traveling the Italian roads in disguise. Along for the ride is the Pope’s neurotic cousin and personal assistant, Paolo, who--to his terror-- has been put in charge of arranging the details of their disappearance. Rounding out the group is Paolo’s estranged wife, Rosa, an eccentric entrepreneur with a lust for life, who orchestrates the sublime disguises of each man. Rosa is a woman who cannot resist the call to adventure--or the fun.

Against a landscape of good humor, intrigue, and spiritual fulfillment, The Delight of Being Ordinary showcases the uniquely charming sensibilities of author Roland Merullo. Part whimsical expedition, part love story, part spiritual search, this uplifting novel brings warmth and laughter to the universal concerns of family life, religious inspiration, and personal identity—all of which combine to transcend cultural and political barriers in the name of a once-in-a-lifetime adventure.

So, there you have it. Thoughts on June’s books and the updated list for July. I’d love to hear from anyone who read June’s books (or just one or two of them, like me), and/or suggestions for August!



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