JUN 15

Three Cups of Tea ***** Very important book that everybody needs to read. Guy gets lost after climbing K2. Pakistani village nurses him to health. He pledges to build them a school, starting life-long mission to build schools for girls in Pakistan and Afghanistan. By the end of the book, I was convinced that this is the only long-term solution to stopping terrorism.

tags: book-reviews nonfiction
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FEB 20

Sushi Economy ***** : Fascinating tale of Japan, sushi, economics, global trade, and one of the world's most expensive and shortest-shelf-lived commodities, bluefin tuna.

tags: book-reviews nonfiction economics japan fishing
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JAN 20

Better ***** : From one of my favorite New Yorker authors, Atul Gawande. Excellent essays on health care, including malpractice, cystic fibrosis, obstetrics, third world health care, and more.

tags: book-reviews nonfiction medicine
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AUG 16

A Random Walk Down Wall Street ***** : Let's face it, investing books are not exactly page turners and you definitely don't want to read one when you're sleepy. Nevertheless, this is a must-read for anybody interested in maximizing their investments over the long haul (20+ years). Which should be everybody!

The book pretty much fortifies the investing axioms that I have been following for the past several years, but presents a ton of data to back up the claims, which are:

  • The ability to consistently beat the market average is rare.
  • The only way to get higher returns is to take higher risks.
  • Diversification smooths out the volatility inherent in risky investments.
  • The semi-strong efficient market hypothesis is the most credible of all the market theories.
  • Your life stage defines your risk tolerance (with younger people able to handle more risk).

For persons under 40, the book recommends the following portfolio:

  • 5% cash. Or cash equivalent, interest bearing (of course).
  • 20% bonds. Three-quarters comprised of zero coupon treasury or no-load bond funds. The rest inflation-protected (TIPS). Put in tax exempt account if possible, otherwise try and use tax-exempt funds.
  • 65% stocks. Two-thirds comprised of total stock market (Wilshire 5000), the rest international and emerging markets.
  • 10% real estate. No-load REIT fund.

For persons between 40 and 50, it's basically the same as above, but move 10 percent from stocks to bonds.

tags: book-reviews investing nonfiction
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Man Behind the Microchip **** : Known as the "Father of the Silicon Valley", I always knew Robert Noyce commanded respect, but I never knew why. This excellent biography lists the many accomplishments of this amazing man. Required reading for anybody in the high-tech industry.

tags: book-reviews biography nonfiction
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JUL 28

China Study *** by Colin Campbell: Recommended by my friends Bruce and Karen, a thought provoking read that, in the end, fails to hold up to scientific scrutiny. I am giving it a three star rating because, despite its flawed conclusion, it is worth reading, if for no other reason than to fortify your knowledge of disease and nutrition.

The book's central premise is that diets with a large percentage of animal-based protein are conducive to cancer, heart disease, diabetes, multiple sclerosis, and many other diseases. The solution to avoid cancer and disease? Go vegan.

The author reaches this conclusion by using data from the China Study to compare the "affluent" diets of western countries (US and Europe) with those of poorer countries (China), which are primarily plant-based. The China Study was a large research effort conducted over twenty years in which the author was principally involved.

This is all well and good, but unfortunately, the book fails to establish causality between disease and diet. Epidemiology is a complex and difficult discipline, and if preventing disease were as easy as simply not eating animal protein, it stands to reason that medical science would have figured this out by now. Indeed, by his own admission, the author is an outcast from the conventional medical establishment, a fact that should raise alarms in the reader's head. Additionally, at times the book's tone takes on an almost religious fanaticism as the author rails against animal-based protein. By the final pages, it seems that Campbell's faith in the vegan lifestyle has tainted his view of the China Study data.

As some critical web sites detail, the China Study makes no statistically significant correlation whatsoever between diet and disease. (See Blog of Brad from an organic farmer, and Beyond Vegetarianism, a pro-vegetarian web site that disagrees with Campbell).

Clearly the author has found religion, but until his theories are tested through double blind clinical trials, the establishment is wise to remain skeptical of the claims in this book.

tags: book-reviews nonfiction health nutrition
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JUL 16

Marching Powder ****: True life story of an Englishman caught drug trafficking and sent to a Bovilian prison where inmates have to buy their own cells, have cable TV and kitchens, and make cocaine.

tags: book-reviews nonfiction autobiography
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Bringing Down the House **** : MIT students take Vegas for millions. Fast-paced with big money, action, adrenaline--just like Sin City. I read this in a single reading on a flight from Boston to Denver.

tags: book-reviews nonfiction
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Freakonomics **** : A University of Chicago economics professor analyzes statistics to challenge popular beliefs. Co-written by a newspaper/magazine author, and thus a bit light on the math and watered down for mainstream acceptance, but a thought stimulating read.

Some of the interesting topics discussed/proven in this book:

  • How teachers cheat by altering their students' standardized test scores
  • How sumo wrestlers cheat by throwing matches when it doesn't affect their overall ranking and will help their opponent's ranking
  • How a children's radio show and free information flow mortally wounded the Ku Klux Klan
  • Why real estate agents don't have anything to gain by helping you get a better deal
  • How and why people lie about themselves on online dating services
  • How little drug dealers really make and why they still live with their moms
  • The effect that legalized abortion had on crime rates in the 1990s
  • How your child has a greater chance of dying if she plays at a friend's house where there is a swimming pool rather than playing at a friend's house where there is a gun present
  • How parents focus their energy on safer cribs and child car seats and how they are, at best, nominally helpful in preventing child deaths, along with child-resistant packaging, flame-retardant pajamas, car airbags, and safety drawstrings no clothes (the cumulative deaths from all of these causes is significantly less than swimming pool drownings for children).
  • How "good parenting actions" have very little effect on the educational success of children (the following had no correlation with academic success: having a stay-at-home parent; being read to them every day; going on museum trips or being enrolled in Head Start; not watching TV)
  • The socioeconomic effect of a person's name

tags: book-reviews nonfiction economics
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