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Synopsis of Books Read

Checking things out of the library is an easy and inexpensive way to read books you may not want taking up additional space around our shrinking households. The only problem is we may want to reference these books in the future for some key observations or ideas.

Writing up a synopsis or an outline of a book takes time, but it also solidifies the book's content in your mind, while providing a future reference place to access your recollections. Since things often get more lost in our house files than in our mind, what better place to store this information than on-line.

The Sum of Us
by Heather McGhee
Systemic racism in America. Is there a more devisive issue? I think not. This book has plenty of stories to help illustrate what the author is trying to say, but the synopsis is an outline of the points she makes - somewhat extensive. We have been dealing with this subject for 400 years and it needs to get out of our craw. It is odd that it is the U.S. that has this history, because our founding principles would seem to iindicate we tried to solve it - we did not - but we are, uniquely, a country based on immigrants from throughout the world and if these issues can be solved anywhere, I believe it will be us who will accomplish this.
Systemic racism is a white problem and it will be white people who will determine whether or not the problem is solved. Currently white men still hold the levers of power, even if the pressue to change will be driven by others. The author has illustrated just how insideous and extensive the hierarchy of race has been woven into the very fabric of our lives.
The subject is devisive because this is a rock we really do not want to turn over; have resisted turning over since we made the original decision to import black people into our country to serve as slaves. We have resisted every opportunity to directly face this part of our history; and there have been many opportunities. Now we are becoming ever more quickly more diverse and will soon be a miinority white country. That is most of the reason there is so much denial and conflict at this time. We have 'kicked the can down the road' as far as we can and it is time to face up to what we are and how we can fix it.
The author is actually fairly optimistic - there are examples of how we are successfully going forward - but this book is a real history lesson that we need to read, just one more time. Do it now, don't wait.
The Code Breaker - Gene Editing and the Future of the Human Race
by Walter Isaacson
A synopsis is the wrong way to summarize this book (I have not written one) because it is more a historical detective novel and less a presentation of discoveries and events. The author writes about history such that the book reads quickly and we want to continue to find out what happens next.
The main thread of the book follows our evolving understanding of RNA molecules and their use as worker bees in modifying our DNA to fight viruses and effect changes. Jennifer Doudna's career has paralleled these advances and she has continually been near the center of most of the knowledge advances we have made over the last 35 years. There are, however, a number of key characters and supporting players that have advanced our knowledge - from observing DNA to gene editing and virus killing. These people and some of their backgrounds are woven into the story.
What the reader comes away with - besides great story telling - is an appreciation for how science moves forward, driven by heroic individuals, able to assemble and manage great teams, while competing with each other and sharing their discoveries to further our understanding. All the while, human foibles and personalities continually connect, clash, and separate - just like any fictional drama.
The final section covers how the study of RNA allowed scientists to rapidly develop a vaccine for not only COVID19, but - likely - future viruses as well. For anyone interested in how scientists were able to create a vaccine in weeks and test it for less that a year, before producing it for the public, this is the book for you.
Caste - The Origins of Our Discontents
by Isabel Wilkerson
The point of the book is rather simple; our European ancestors broke away from a class society and wanted to set up something different here. What they ultimately chose was a caste system based on a new term created in America to delineate each cast - race (the division of humans based on their appearance). There are no "black" people in Africa; that term was exported to the world by America.
This is a scholarly read, but the author has chosen to present it as a series of documented stories about individual people, rather than a presentation of statistics. As such, it is very easily read and full of relatable human situations. However, reading it is not for the faint-hearted - there is simply no running away from the stories the author portrays, about herself and many others.
This book does discuss race and racism, but the concept of caste is far more inclusive and accurate when describing what we are experiencing today and why politics seems so 'out of kilter'.
White Fragility
by Robin DiAngelo
The goal of this book is to examine white fragility and how it holds racism in place - what it is, how we develop it, how it protects racial inequality, and what we might do about it.
All politics in North America flows from white understanding and white assumptions. As a result, white people are insulated from racial stress and feel entitled to what we have. This has resulted in a lack of stamina when dealing with racial stress and discomfort, i.e. we are very defensive and uncomfortable when confronted. This is what the author defines as white fragility.
This is a book written for white people, particularly those concerned with what is going on in our society. There are valid criticisms of the approach this book takes, but it is worth a read for your education.
The Plant Paradox
by Steven Gundry
This is a very different, and controversial, way of approaching eating. I think there are some really good ideas here that each person should analyze and try - we are all trying to find the best way to extend our life in the most vibrant way possible. The chemistry in each of our bodies is slightly different, but we all share most of the advantages and disadvantages of being human.
The four key rules espoused are very interesting...
  • What you stop eating has far more impact on your health than what you start eating.
  • Pay attention to the care and feeding of your 'gut' bugs.
  • Fruit might as well be candy.
  • You are what the things you eat have eaten.
  • The main takeaways would be a reduction on your reliance on animal products to supply protein, the need for far less protein than most Americans now consume, and being very careful about the nuts and legumes we eat.
    I have intentionally left out the last part of the book, because it relates to suppliments and receipes that we really need to review in detail in the book, if we have any interest.
    White Rage
    by Carol Anderson, Ph.D.
    Slavery and the plight of blacks is America's original sin. Each time African Americans have made a major step forward the white power structure has reacted by trying to take away their rights.
    This book covers five specific periods where blacks made large advances and the white backlash that followed each occurrence.
    Civil War
    Great Migration
    Brown v Board of Education
    Civil Rights
    Barak Obama
    A Colony In A Nation
    by Chris Hayes
    While very disturbing, this is a short, but must read book for those trying to understand why we have continued to have increasing racial problems, even after the civil rights movement and having elected a black president.
    This book makes a simple argument; that American criminal justice isn’t one system with massive racial disparities, but two distinct regimes. One (the Nation) is the kind of policing regime you expect in a democracy; the other (the Colony) is the kind you expect in an occupied land. In the Nation there is law; in the Colony there is only concern with order. In the Nation you have rights; in the Colony you have commands.
    Additionally, while new, this is an extension of the ongoing race question in the U.S.; not a unique development that just occurred on its own.
    Why the Right Went Wrong
    by E.J. Dionne Jr.
    The Tea Party and Republican obstructionism did not just appear in 2010. The history of contemporary American conservatism is a story of disappointment and betrayal. For half a century conservative politicians have made promises to their supporters that they could not keep.
    This book is a completely readable story covering the period from the rise of Barry Goldwater through the present. It details all the personalities and decisions that led to the current presidential race, where Republicans find themselves seemingly at war with their own party. How this happened and where things might have changed along the way is a story well worth telling - and E.J. Dionne does it beautifully.
    Stories of Your Life
    by Ted Chiang
    Science Fiction short stories where people and culture make up the variant, not some scientific development. One of the most unusual Science Fiction volumes I have ever read.
    David and Goliath
    by Malcolm Gladwell
    What happens when ordinary people confront powerful opponents of all kinds? Much of what we consider valuable in our world arises out of these kinds of lopsided conflicts, yet we constantly get these conflicts wrong. What appears to be great strength can have a built in weakness, while being an underdog can change people in ways that we often fail to appreciate. This book is about why the 'weak' succeed and often bring great insight and change when they do.
    Murdoch's World
    by David Folkenflik
    This is a look at the history of the media empire built by Rupert Murdoch, with an emphasis on what has gone on since 1996. If you have followed what has gone on in the world you won't find anything radically new here, but it does give a good back-story as to how and why some of the excesses occurred over the last 10 years. Rupert Murdoch has imprinted his values into his empire and that has affected all the rest of us - some to our delight and some to our horror. This book names names and gives reasons why his media empire is constructed the way it is and how the recent exposures in England have forced changes.
    Capitalism Hits the Fan
    by Richard D. Wolff
    Professor Wolff is the leading socialist economist in the country. This reviewer may not agree with his specific solution to the problems our system creates, but one cannot disregard his analysis of our system of capitalism. While criticism of people and intuitions is rampant today, no one really calls to task our way of conducting business, even while business cycles ruin many lives and the middle class in America is threatened almost into irrelevancy.
    The chaos created by the inherent conflict between regulations and a business environment determined to evade or destroy those same regulations should result in any thoughtful observer being pretty critical of the moral equivalent of a war with no real rules or guidelines. Societies are formed around a need for all parties to be able to work together with some sense of common customs or rules. Without these rules the society cannot function over the long term. The winner-take-all attitude of capitalistic purists puts at risk all the glue that holds our society together, yet we are loath to discuss this situation.
    Only someone outside the system, like professor Wolff, can point out the flaws that we find it hard to see or accept. If only for this reason, this book should be examined. It is a series of short articles written between 2005-2009. This makes for some choppiness and repetition, but this synopsis has attempted to consolidate that presentation into bullet points that are grouped and summarized to make the presentation shorter and smoother.
    Finding Your Element
    by Ken Robinson, Ph.D.
    A major criticism of 'the Element' was that it didn't focus enough on how people could determine what their Element is and this book was written to address that criticism. It is constructed on several thematic threads: Ideas and principles, stories, exercises, and questions.
    This paper is really an outline of the ideas and principles and therefore is organized by chapter. A couple of chapters have no new principles and are therefore left out. The stories, exercises, and questions are so important to the process of this book that it is advised the reader use this synopsis as an overview only, and not in any way a replacement for what the author puts forth.
    the Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything
    by Ken Robinson, Ph.D.
    You will find your highest level of achievement and personal satisfaction when you discover what you naturally do well and that which ignites your passions. You will have discovered your Element where the things you love to do and the things you are good at come together.
    Much of this book is built around stories of various well known people who have followed different paths to understanding their Element. This synopsis does not cover any of the stories, but concentrates on the observations and methods surrounding the stories. The book is a quick and interesting read when concentrating on the stories themselves.
    Dirty Wars
    by Jeremy Scahill
    This book is a roughly chronological description of American covert actions involving assassinations since 1979 and it posits that the last two presidents have firmly entrenched the idea that the president has it within their power to authorize these missions without substantial oversight from the legislature.
    The book itself is apolitical and serves more as a potential reference for future historians, rather than a distinct narrative. The overriding theme is that we are entering very dangerous territory when we allow the somewhat indiscriminate killing of those the president views as 'enemies', including American citizens, without really considering a capture and trial possibility. Another takeaway from the book is that a good number of our covert efforts have backfired on us and resulted in worse situations in countries where we have intervened. Finally, the author clearly feels that our country being on a continual war footing and having this conflict include the entire world is tremendously corrosive to the values our country was built upon.
    The book is a fact-based narrative and only a story to those who have not followed our actions over the years. For this reason a synopsis would not be a very valuable document. However, if you are interested in, or writing about, covert action over the last 30+ years then this book is a must-read source of material and could alter your viewpoint about how our country acts in the world.
    It's Even Worse Than It Looks
    by Thomas E. Mann & Norman J. Ornstein
    If you have been paying attention to our political system, nothing in this book will surprise you. Both the problems and the solutions described are well known and the title of the book pretty much sums up our short term future. The problems are dire and the solutions depend on actions that weren’t taken earlier, thus leaving us in our current situation – a pessimistic outlook at best.
    What is included is more an outline than a synopsis.
    Kill Anything That Moves
    by Nick Turse
    Meticulously documented and researched, this is a story of the Vietnam war that no American wants to hear. As a matter-of-fact we all have been trying to un-hear this story, with the U.S. military and U.S. government helping us as best they can. Only us soldiers who were in Vietnam, along with the reporters who were there cannot get this story out of their minds.
    On the battlefield and among the commanding officers we are not so different from the Nazis, we just like to think we are. The concept of war requires our government and ourselves to think of the enemy as something less than human. We deal in body counts instead of people. In war this results in treating other people as less than human. If this reminds anyone of how slaves were treated, well it should - except we extinguished life without any thought of economic gain, nor really, regardless of whether they were friend or enemy.
    I am not going to try to summarize the book - really it is more a documentation of many, many atrocities and the military and political efforts to suppress them. I actually had to skip over some pages because I was getting physically sick (I was there and I came home and opposed the war). However, this is a book all of us should at least attempt to read. It is a lesson in why we should never assume we are the ones with higher motives and those 'others' are the terrorists who are less than human.
    The Gardens of Democracy
    by Eric Liu & Nick Hanauer
    One thing that has made America exceptional thus far has been its ability to adapt and evolve. Today the failure of American politics to address and solve the great challenges of our time – climate change, debt and deficits, worsening schools, rising health care costs, the shriveling of the middle class – is equally a failure of will/nerve and of ideas/understanding.
    This book posits that we have been looking at the world with a 19th century viewpoint and modern science has allowed us to understand how our society is much more like a garden than it is like a machine. We need less mechanical control and more tending to the garden.
    Plutocrats: The Rise of the New Global Super-Rich and the Fall of Everyone Else
    by Chrystia Freeland
    As the Occupy Wall Street movement illustrated, there is a vast and growing inequality of wealth in America - even larger than that during the Gilded Age of the late 19th century. It is not the 1%, however, but the .1% who are the new super-rich and they are a global community.
    How and why this came about and the probable outcome for our way of life is the subject of this book. There are no real solutions given, perhaps because anything done would require collective action by the rest of us. The only possible solution given is the fact that the remaining portion of the 1% still has a good deal of power and can more easily act against the super-rich.
    This concentration of wealth is not a new phenomenon in history and it generally ends badly for the society in question -in this case the world.
    Who Stole the American Dream
    by Hedrick Smith
    America is facing a challenge from within – the separation between power, money, and ideology is pushing us toward “a house divided against itself…” We are becoming a class society - the rich and the poor. How this happened is the detail of this book. This synopsis covers the main points of the book. The rest is a naming of names, both the powerful and the middle class people who got run over. If you are writing a thesis or are trying to form an opinion for yourself this book is a good read. If you already know a lot about the subject and would like to put your thoughts in perspective, then I suggest you read the synopsis and reference the book for additional detail.
    The Mobile Wave
    by Michael Saylor
    The mobile phone has become a mobile computer and apps are the way these devices interact with people. This is a seismic shift away from brick-and-mortar, paper, credit cards, and the keyboard-mouse. The mobile computer will be the way people will receive services from businesses and governments, as well as the way they will interact with each other.
    This is where we are going, and quickly. These changes make 'Future Shock' look tame. It is exciting and sometimes a bit scary, but the future is overwhelming us very rapidly. This book helps outline the framework of what is happening to us. It is for others to point out all the problems and potholes we have to look out for - the author simply helps us understand the forces driving current mobile change and some of the advantages that may be available to us.
    As Texas Goes...
    by Gail Collins
    The historic division in America is between people who live in crowded places and people who live in empty spaces. Proportionally, more and more people are living in crowded places and most of the physical country is open spaces. Texas is an urban state with 6 of the top 20 cities, by population, but it has an open state mentality.
    This book examines, with an easy to read discussion, why Texans act the way they do and how this has come to impact the rest of the country. It is not a very flattering picture, but a warning for most of the rest of the population in America. 
    by Neil Barofsky
    This book is a first hand account of the experiences of the Special Inspector General in Charge of Oversight of TARP. It is an easily read book that names names, dates and details the conflict between the author's department and the U.S. Treasury. The primary point of the author is that Treasury was concerned with keeping the large financial corporations afloat and had little to no concern for the average citizen in the country. While imposing delaying tactics and safeguards against fraud for citizens trying to get out from under mortgages, the Treasury essentially put no restrictions and no oversight on monies going to large Wall Street firms. If you have been following the financial crisis closely, this book has no really new information. If you haven't been paying attention, this book will really frustrate you, but should probably be required reading.
    What It is Like to Go to War
    by Karl Marlantes
    There is no point in writing a synopsis for this book, because it is an experience, and the book doesn't have a literary arc. The author is a highly decorated veteran of the Vietnam War and he discusses what he felt, how it affected him up to 40 years later, and what we should be doing for our veterans returning from combat situations. It is something every person should read, but particularly all veterans who have experienced combat. This book not only describes combat, but informs those who have experienced its adrenaline rush and its horrors that they are not alone. Most veterans suffer some form of PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) and aren't even aware of the symptoms. It is not a long book, but it is an important - if unpleasant - look at war and at ourselves.
    Why Nations Fail
    by Daron Acemoglu & James A. Robinson
    The central thesis of this book is that economic growth and prosperity are associated with inclusive economic and political institutions, while extractive institutions typically lead to stagnation and poverty.
    The majority of the book examines most of the different societies over the last 600 years – and some more ancient ones – to determine whether this hypothesis is valid. The information is interesting and extensive, but this synopsis will only cover the basic hypothesis and corollaries that result from it.
    Imagine - How Creativity Works
    by Jonah Lehrer
    We are in an age when we can study the brain and how it works in all kinds of different situations. We can see how it functions in creative situations and we getting a better understanding of what creativity is and is not. It is a talent we all have and a talent we should all strive to improve within ourselves. This book is easily read - with a number of interesting stories - and helps us understand what we can do by ourselves and what we can do together. The last chapter addresses how we need to improve our own social approach to optimize our, and our children's, chances to take advantage of our creativity.
    The Social Conquest of Earth
    by Edward O. Wilson
    Where do we come from? What are we? Two basic question man has been asking for as long as he has been on this earth. There are actually some scientific answers in this book. While relatively easy to read and not a long tome, there is a treasure trove of information simply packed throughout. This is an academic work, so there are graphs and statistics, but they don't slow down the reader, as so many other academic presentations do. The book is less than 300 pages, but the synopsis is ten pages long - there is too much information presented to make a summary any shorter. This is recommended reading for anyone interested in the human condition.
    The Angels of Our Better Nature - Why Violence Has Declined
    by Steven Pinker
    Our natural inclination today is to observe how terribly violent we have become. This book argues that the opposite is the real truth. Civilization has become much less violent over time and this trend has been steadily increasing. This is an academic presentation and the discussion is broken down in great detail, with statistics and graphs used to support each statement. In that sense, this is a reference work and a casual reader would be advised to read the Preface and last chapter, before deciding to dive into the remainder of the book. For most of us this book should be required reading, if only to counter the current prejudices regarding our violent nature. In that sense, this book is very optimistic about the human animal.
    Debt: The First 5,000 Years
    by David Graeber
    A history of debt, from an anthropological point of view. A powerful critique of our ideas on capitalism based on the history of human civilization. A complex and well documented book that deserves the attention of anyone interested in today's economic situation.
    Powering the Future
    by Robert B. Laughlin
    A detailed examination of how we are likely to get our energy in 200 years from a Nobel Prize winner in Physics. This is an examination of the technical solutions, not our political posturing, with regards to how we get energy and fuel when fossil sources run dry.
    The Social Animal
    by David Brooks
    How our unconscious works with our conscious mind and controls much of our decision making.
    It's Always Personal
    by Anne Kreamer
    Emotions in the new workplace and how men and women are different
    The Singularity is Near
    by Ray Kurzweil
    A look at evolution in a logarithmic progression and how man-machine intelligence will soon be upon us
    The Next Decade
    by George Friedman
    Forecasting the next 10 years and how we should prepare for it
    The Master Switch
    by Tim Wu
    History of information technologies from disruptive innovations to monopolies and where we go from here
    Books dealing with the 2008 economic crisis

    Boomerang: Travels in the New Third World
    by Michael Lewis
    What comes after the 2008 debacle: Stories of governments defaults and The Biggest Short of all
    by Robert Reich
    The loss of the middle class in America and where we should go from here
    Crisis Economics
    by Nouriel Roubini & Stephen Mihm
    A study of how and why markets fail and how to recover from 2008
    by Joseph Stiglitz
    The 2008 crisis, our flawed response, and where we have to go from here
    Animal Spirits
    by George Akerlof and Robert J. Shiller
    Why animal spirits frustrate people who propose ideologies and what we need to do going forward

    The Next Hundred Million
    by Joel Kotkin
    The American future as it grows to 400 million people
    Making Our Democracy Work
    by Justice Stephen Breyer
    An analysis of how the Supreme Court works and how it should work
    How the Mighty Fall
    by Jim Collins
    Why large companies fail and the Good to Great framework
    Getting Things Done
    by David Allen
    Managing your time, life, and work
    How to Make People Like You in 90 Seconds or Less
    by Nicholas Boothman
    Quickly establishing rapport and synchronizing your attitude and body movements with open-ended questions
    by Dr. Maxwell Maltz
    Keys to changing habits and behavior