Monday, June 03, 2002

Books Worth a Look V
These are the books I read in May 2002. Jim Collins tries to read 100 books a year. As of this Media Diet entry, I've read 101 books since Jan. 1. I can stop now.

The Anasazi: Why Did They Leave? Where Did They Go? ed. by Jerold Widdison (1991)
Prepared after a panel discussion at the Anasazi Heritage Center in Colorado in 1990, this edited transcript offers several perspectives on the history and fate of the Anasazi, the precursors to the Pueblo Indians of the Southwest. Panelists touch on their society; the environmental, technological, and social reasons for their migration; and the similarities between them and their modern-day counterparts, including the Hopi and the Zuni. The at-times contentious discussion also tackles the role of anthropologist and historian. Linda Cordell's contributions are particularly insightful.
Days to read: 1. Rating: Good.

A Brief History of Taos by Bob Romero and Neil Poese (1992)
There are places. And then there are places. Taos belongs to the latter category, a combination of the past and the present, the imagined and the real, the constructed and the actual. This 28-page history -- remember, the title says "brief" -- tackles all of Taos' dichotomies. Romero and Poese take on the city's Hispanic heritage, role as a trade center, Mexican affiliation, and absorption by the United States, featuring several insightful photographs and a wide-ranging look at the many faces of the small city. A good introduction.
Days to read: 1. Rating: Fair.

Bygone Bar Harbor: A Postcard Tour by Earl Brechlin (2002)
This pocket-sized collection of vintage postcards from Mount Desert Island and Acadia National Park shares snapshots of a world that was between about 1905 and 1950. Drawing on the archives of the Bar Harbor Historical Society, as well as his personal collection, Brechlin produces an extremely well-produced book -- the color reproduction is wonderful. "Bygone Bar Harbor" includes images of the people, places, and things that made the area a watering hole for the rich and famous during its golden age. Especially telling are the cards portraying the Great Fire of 1947. A stunning visual history.
Days to read: 2. Rating: Excellent.

El Santuario... a Stop on the "High Road to Taos" by Sons of the Holy Family (1994)
Having been raised among the Protestants, I missed out on a religious grounding in the saints and miracles. Plainness abounded. So I'm fascinated by shrines, pilgrimages, and experiences with healing. Located in Chimayo, New Mexico, El Santuario is a place deeply rooted in all three. And this thin booklet does much to detail its miraculous effects, history, and politics. Unfortunately, the pamphlet devotes a full third of its 30-odd pages to descriptions of the elements of its various reredos, or series of sacred paintings. That said, the writers do well to compare the sanctuary to a similar structure in Guatemala, a parallel other historians only graze.
Days to read: 1. Rating: Fair.

El Santuario de Chimayo by Stephen F. de Borhegyi and E. Boyd (1956)
Better than the Sons of the Holy Family pamphlet, this booklet takes a more serious, scholarly look at the sanctuary in Chimayo. De Borhegyi draws stronger parallels to the sanctuary in Esquipulas, Guatemala, outlining the emergenc of the black Christ, the healing power of clay and soil, and how the legend was transported and translated to America. He also details the politics of the local families involved in the construction of the sanctuary -- and how the Santo Nino de Atocha cult developed as a direct competitor.
Days to read: 1. Rating: Excellent.

It's Your Ship: Management Techniques from the Best Damn Ship in the Navy by Captain D. Michael Abrashoff (2002)
Former Navy Commander Mike Abrashoff offers 11 tactics and strategies he developed while leading the crew of the USS Benfold, an award-winning destroyer. Avoiding the gung-ho militarism that inspires so many leadership and management texts that come out of the armed forces, Mike espouses what he terms grassroots leadershp -- empowering the people you work with so innovation doesn't just trickle down the chain of command. It's a good, personal, and practical book.
Days to read: 4. Rating: Good.

Loretto and the Miraculous Staircase by Alice Bullock (1978)
This slim, 16-page booklet about the wooden circular stairway in Santa Fe, New Mexico's Loretto Chapel is an informal history of the engineering marvel. Perhaps constructed by Saint Joseph himself, the staircase has no central support and initially had no side supports. While there have been less breezy accounts of the "miracle" -- Sister M. Florian and Carl Albach's articles come to mind -- Bullock's pamphlet better fleshes out the reason for the chapel's near-completion (a jealous husband and a murder most foul) even if it doesn't try to out the original builder like some later studies.
Days to read: 1. Rating: Fair.

Love Is the Killer App: How to Win Business and Influence Friends by Tim Sanders
A surprising thesis to come from Yahoo!'s Chief Solutions Officer, but a message many executives should pay attention to. At one level, Tim contends that -- gasp -- nice guys finish first, but at a deeper level, this book is a strategic networking handbook. Built on a foundation of knowledge, networks, and compassion, the book offers tactics and tools for strategic reading, productive and constructive introductions, and management that nurtures talent. I'm proud to know Tim and am bold enough to consider myself a lovecat. Meow.
Days to read: 2. Rating: Good.

Next: The Future Just Happened by Michael Lewis (2002)
The followup to "The New New Thing," this book takes another step and reveals how the Net economy changed people's lives, the law, familial relationships, the role of experts, fandom, copyright, and the mass media. Lewis does so by setting his sights on some pretty interesting characters -- a teenage day trader, an unschooled legal advisor, the hair metal band Marillion, the TiVo TV recording service, and the Unabomber. His language is lively, and his conclusions -- contextualized by a new afterword in this edition -- the start of a serious look at how much of the Net economy was hype -- and how much was misapplied gospel.
Days to read: 1. Rating: Excellent.

Old Town Albuquerque by Peter Hertzog (1994)
When we were in Albuquerque on the last day of our trip last month, it was extremely windy and the horizon was all but obscured by a sandstorm of sorts. So I'm surprised that Albuquerque has such a long history -- it strikes me as unhospitable, much like Salt Lake City must have seemed to the settling Mormons. While Albuquerque never experienced a great boom, Hertzog describes how the coming of the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe shifted the city's center away from Old Town. Perhaps if the landowners hadn't priced their plots so high, Old Town wouldn't be the chintzy tourist trap it is today. Not that much to see -- or read about.
Days to read: 1. Rating: Fair.

The Passionists of the Southwest or the Holy Brotherhood: A Revelation of the "Penitentes" by Alex Darley (1893)
Reprinted by the Rio Grande Press in 1968 as part of their Classic series, Darley's narrative is a biased and exploitative representation of this primitive Catholic brotherhood. The "self-ordained itinerant preacher" aligned with the Presbyterians offers a supposed constitution and by-laws for the religious society, riffing off the near-fictitious literature ascribed to the Knights Templar. In so doing, Darley ties the Penitentes to Saint Francis, establishes the order as a formal Catholic organization, and decries their practices and rituals as primitive and abusive. Publisher Robert McCoy sheds more favorable light on the sect in the transcript of a 1965 talk, but the book -- while well-reasoned -- still reads sensationally and shallowly.
Days to read: 2. Rating: Good.

The Penitentes of the Southwest by Marta Weigle (1970)
As the precursor to a "fully documented book" that was in process several decades ago, Weigle's 16-page pamphlet is the strongest history of this archaic Catholic sect that practiced penance through the act of self-flagellation that I've read. Weigle analyzes the brotherhood's emergence, debts to St. Francis of Assisi, co-optation by the Catholic church, formal organization, and role in New Mexico as a mutual aid society. She also considers previous writing about the Penitentes, paying heed to the historical contexts of the portrayals.
Days to read: 1. Rating: Good.

The Power of Positive Thinking by Norman Vincent Peale (1952)
Written in a slightly self-congratulatory tone similar to that of "I'm OK -- You're OK," this classic self-help book was penned by one of the founders of Guideposts magazine. I'm not convinced that personal success can be credited to prayer and faith, much less affirmations, but Peale makes a good case. Of immediate interest and use are Peale's parallels to learned optimism, creative visualization, meditation, and problem solving. There's a lot here, hidden among the daily affirmations and Bible verses Peale thinks readers should memorize.
Days to read: 6. Rating: Good.

Re-Create Your Life: Transforming Yourself and the World with the Decision Maker Process by Morty Lefkoe (1997)
I had dinner with Morty while I was in Sonoma County at the end of last month. His book describes the benefits of and some of the process behind his Decision Maker technology, which is deeply rooted in est training -- and a slight aside to Dianetics. At its base, the DM process is oriented toward helping identify and eliminate beliefs that are holding them back. Morty described the effects of negative self-esteem and beliefs, offers the principles of DM, contends that we create our own egos, and details several case histories -- bulemics, criminals, and AIDS patients who utilized the process. He also outlines applications in parenting, business, and social change. I wish he'd gone into the process a little further, but this is a good introduction to a valuable alternative to psychotherapy.
Days to read: 1. Rating: Good.

The Sacred World of the Penitentes by Alberto Lopez Pulido (2000)
Ostensibly the most-accurate and -balanced volume on the Penitentes given its Smithsonian pedigree, this book is a disappointing analysis. Claiming to be the first book to be built on first-person accounts of Penitente participation, the tome is heavy on establishment and light on actual I-was-there narrative. Nevertheless, Pulido tried. Despite the writer's defense and positioning of "story" as a valuable historical tool, "Sacred World" relies heavily on interviews with a single Penitente leader. While Lupido's analysisof existing literature and suggestion of a third-order theory is appreciated, I expected more from the Smithsonian. Regardless, this look at practical Christianity and popular religious expression shows promise.
Days to read: 2. Rating: Fair.

Taos Walking Tour: A Self-Guided Tour of the Historic District by Char Boie Graebner (1991)
Taos, New Mexico, isn't that large a town, so you can walk most of its area of interest in about as much time as it takes to read this guide published by the Kit Carson Historic Museums. While I found Shirley Thompson's illustrations to be relatively sloppy, I enjoyed the tour guide's insights about the town's oldest wall, the Chinese wall (which dates only to the '80s), the Oakley House's past as a brothel, and the events that transpired at the Governor Bent House. More detail would have been welcome, but the book's breezy style doesn't diminish its usefulness. Get it if you go there.
Days to read: 1. Rating: Good.

Theocratic Ministry School Guidebook by Watch Tower Bible & Tract Society of Pennsylvania (1971)
This little book is a gem. As the tome used to train Jehovah's Witnesses interested in becoming door-to-door ministers, or "publishers," the slim, dense volume is one of the better public speaking and sales books I've ever read. Parallel to Tim Sanders' "Live Is the Killer App," the authors include a lot of tactics for active reading and strategic use of source material. Sections also touch on active listening, developing better questions and answers, and overcoming skepticism and rejection.
Days to read: 4. Rating: Excellent.

Unleashing the Ideavirus by Seth Godin (2001)
According to the cover lines, Seth's book will help business leaders "stop marketing at people and turn your ideas into epidemics by helping your customers do the marketing for you." Almost a combination of Malcolm Gladwell's "The Tipping Point" and Richard Dawkins' writing about memes, this quick read -- written in Seth's characteristically frenetic tone -- outlines how to unleash an ideavirus, as well as a formula that will increase the virility of your ideavirii. The fourth section, "Case Studies and Riffs" is awfully heavy on the riff side. Seth had a lot to say and didn't really know how to stop. Still, a thought-provoking if not totally groundbreaking book.
Days to read: 1. Rating: Good.

When Los Alamos Was a Ranch School by Fermor S. and Peggy Pond Church (1998)
Before Los Alamos, New Mexico, played its role in the development of the United States' nuclear weapons strategy, it was a ranch school devoted to developing young men in a "safe and scientific manner." This reminiscence covers the camp's development, grounding in the Boy Scouts as its primary organizational model, evolution as resources became more or less available, and student body -- which included Gore Vidal. Several of the school's buildings remain today, and it's interesting to see how Los Alamos as a city grew up around this once isolated educational outpost.
Days to read: 1. Rating: Good.

Work and Community in the West ed. by Edward Shorter (1973)
These six essays and excerpts go far to detail the history of work and its effects on people's family and social lives in the West. Given the publication date, it's understandable that Shorter only outlines three phases -- artisanal, industrial, and technological -- but the subsequent selections add valuable pieces to the limited puzzle. Mack Walker paints a productive picture of the role guilds played in early modern Germany. And George Sturt's portrayal of a wheelwright's shop is overly romantic. But Elinor Langer's socialist snapshot of life inside the New York Telephone Co. ably blends strict reportage and class consciousness. This dated collection is good for what it is -- and for the periods it looks at.
Days to read: 5. Rating: Good.

Why do some books get a link while other books do not? If a publishing company or author sends me review copies for consideration -- and if I review the book in Media Diet -- they get a link as well as a review. I don't review every review copy or galley I receive, and I don't always have time to track down author, publisher, and other book-related links in general.

Most of the books I review should be relatively easy to find via the Harvard Book Store and Powell's Books online ordering services. If something's out of print, check the Advanced Book Exchange first.

And if you'd like to send me a book to consider for review, Media Diet's address is P.O. Box 390205, Cambridge, MA 02139. Thank you very much.

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