15.7.19

Review: Al Capone's Beer Wars: A Complete History of Organized Crime in Chicago During Prohibition

Al Capone's Beer Wars: A Complete History of Organized Crime in Chicago During Prohibition Al Capone's Beer Wars: A Complete History of Organized Crime in Chicago During Prohibition by John J. Binder
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The sheer volume of research that went into this book is amazing. The author constantly pulls in new people – criminals, kingpins, government officials, law enforcement -- often giving a paragraph or two description of the person and their connection to the story, and often followed by the details of their killing. It is numbing in volume. And buildings – you get cross streets addresses for many of the scenes of action, be it a gangland killing, a warehouse for illegal beer, a distillery, a brothel, or a hideout. And there are statistics, with ratios showing the ebb and flow of crime in the city and near suburbs. There was truly too much content here to make this a wholly readable and enjoyable book, but the author attempted to organize these facts into a roughly chronological narrative. I found the narrative did bounce back and forth in time too often to keep track, but I appreciated the attempt.

The author also included many, many interesting facts, thrown in to counter-balance the statistics that would otherwise overwhelm the narrative, sometimes with some personality. Talking about hoodlums visiting their Northern suburbs headquarters with their new machine guns: “They practice shooting targets there with a machine gun – and accidentally hit the occasional farmer.” I appreciated the depth of reporting, including organized crime before the beer wars of the twenties. There is also in-depth coverage of historic brothels throughout the city, as well as city politicians. Having lived in Chicagoland for 30 years, I found the details of the addresses interesting, not realizing the historic uses of some of the real estate that I have passed by every day. I listened to this on audio, and I could almost hear the voice of John “Bulldog” Drummond, local reporter who specialized in organized crime stories for decades. The narrator had a bit of his cadence.

Overall, likely a very good reference work, and a good narrative of Chicago organized crime from Capone’s 1920s and before.


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12.7.19

Review: Got 'Em, Got 'Em, Need 'Em: A Fan's Guide to Collecting the Top 100 Sports Cards of All Time

Got 'Em, Got 'Em, Need 'Em: A Fan's Guide to Collecting the Top 100 Sports Cards of All Time Got 'Em, Got 'Em, Need 'Em: A Fan's Guide to Collecting the Top 100 Sports Cards of All Time by Stephen Laroche
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

One of my favorite books is the “Great American Baseball Card Flipping, Trading and Bubble Gum Book”. It is a snarky walk down memory lane by the author, ruminating on things like whether Sal Maglee always had 5 o’clock shadow, and what makes a real baseball name. It illustrated these discussions with pictures of vintage baseball cards that so you could easily understand what they were talking about. It was very humorous. I was hoping that “Got Em Got Em Need Em” was more of the same, but it didn’t quite match the aplomb of the earlier book. “Got Em” etc. was a different story. It was to show the top 100 sports cards and to describe why they were on the list. It seemed to me on finishing the book that the authors really named the top 100 athletes that had been featured on sports cards, so it was a kind of subjective popularity ranking. This covered all sports that had trading cards, so baseball players accounted for half or so. As this was a Canadian book, hockey was represented (and I my American mind over-represented), but the authors provided a number of explanations behind their choices. It was quite a personal book for the authors. The bulk of the book is the listing of the 100 cards, with writeups on each and a photo. The writeups covered the athlete’s story as well as any unique story about the card. You learn a lot about the trading card industry and its history reading this. The authors included a few interludes describing some card bloopers as well as each author’s favorite cards. I learned a lot and was entertained. While I have collected some sports cards in my day, my collection is small and mostly from the seventies and early eighties. I was disappointed that the only card I had that made this list was Dr. J’s rookie card. And while I have OJ Simpson’s rookie card, that particular OJ card didn’t make the list, but another one did… I enjoyed this quite a bit. You will absolutely receive an education on hockey while reading this, but if you like to know more about trading cards in this kind of format, it works.

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Review: Overclocked: More Stories of the Future Present

Overclocked: More Stories of the Future Present Overclocked: More Stories of the Future Present by Cory Doctorow
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I’ve read a couple of Doctorow’s novels and liked them, so thought I would also be enlightened by his short story collection. As with most such collections, some stories were hits and some were misses. I judge these by the story, and since we’re talking sci fi, by the worlds conjectured. Some of the stories seemed too weird to represent a future state, but were written to make a statement. I’m specifically thinking about “I, Row-Boat”. Not my favorite. I did enjoy “After the Siege” for its gritty take on future techno-enabled city siege warfare. I enjoyed “Anda’s Game” for the cute “turning on the head” of online work, which I suspect is pretty close to reality. And I got a bit of a thrill about “When Sysadmins Ruled the Earth” because I recognize the personality-type and can not imagine a whole bunch in the same place (it's kinda scary). I also appreciated “The Man Who Sold the Moon” as being one of those examples of how an organization can change the future, and how that organization can be driven by a few people with a vision. Kind of a Horatio Alger story, but instead of “rags to riches” we get “interesting idea to world-changing enterprise”. I’ll be reading more. I listened to the audio version with different narrators for each story. I found this a little uneven, needing to slow the playback on one story to maintain my understanding. YMMV.

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9.7.19

Review: Regulatory Hacking: A Playbook for Startups

Regulatory Hacking: A Playbook for Startups Regulatory Hacking: A Playbook for Startups by Evan Burfield
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I was expecting a slightly targeted version of a “how to start a business” book, but this exceeded my expectations. The author provides plenty of background into the unique issues with starting a business that deals with government regulations. He begins by providing a kind of roadmap to identifying audience and influencers, and he refers to this initial research throughout the rest of the book. The business examples he includes range from those selling directly to government to those selling to other businesses in a highly regulated industry, including international examples. I found the focus on the role of influence in many aspects of selling in a regulated environment or to government to be valuable. By the way, the advice offered in this book is not just for startups – it looks especially useful for existing companies selling a product into a new, “regulated” market, as the example of Kidde carbon monoxide detectors in the book shows. Well done.

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5.7.19

Review: Sidehustle: How to Start a Business for Less Than $1,000

Sidehustle: How to Start a Business for Less Than $1,000 Sidehustle: How to Start a Business for Less Than $1,000 by Tyler Basu
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

A strange book. This is really a compilation of three books by different authors. The books are all about entrepreneurship. These books approach “how to start a business” differently, so you do get some variety when you read this. One book is all about examples of businesses people have started, while the other books are more about the process , one kind of a how to book (with lots of detail that may not be pertinent -- mostly about internet based business using web-based presentations, content marketing, SEO, and the like) and one a business parable covering starting a business. If you have read any books about starting a business, this will all feel familiar. They are each reasonably good places to start. I’d consider each book to be similar to many others out there. Combining these books was somewhat questionable in value to the reader. I am not sure the reader needs to read these together, and I assume this was done to make money by repackaging existing books, giving them a new life. I was very surprised that there was little to no content related specifically to the title of this collection, “Side Hustle”. I don't know if it was even mentioned. Obviously this was named to take advantage of current interest in side hustles, driven by Chris Guillebeau and others. Yet the content is all about starting businesses, with nothing about starting businesses while working on a full time job. You’d expect discussion of integrating an existing job with the side hustle, and coming up with interesting ideas to make money, but this collection doesn’t really cover it. Bait and switch. Under a different and truthful name, this would be worthy of more stars. Entrepreneurs should understand the value of setting and meeting expectations.

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Review: How to Be Everything: A Guide for Those Who (Still) Don't Know What They Want to Be When They Grow Up

How to Be Everything: A Guide for Those Who (Still) Don't Know What They Want to Be When They Grow Up How to Be Everything: A Guide for Those Who (Still) Don't Know What They Want to Be When They Grow Up by Emilie Wapnick
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The writer uses a low key style to talk about people that don’t focus long term on one career. I liked the way the author wrote, and I liked her organization around the different ways people approach variety – all at once, major and minor focuses, sequential, etc. Beyond that organization, and the repeated acknowledgement that there are many people that fall into these categories, I didn’t get much out of the book. I can see that some readers craving that acknowledgement that “they are not alone” will benefit with a read of this kind of book. It is relatively short for a career book.

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3.7.19

Review: Norwood

Norwood Norwood by Charles Portis
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Norwood is the kind of fellow I knew growing up. You’d run across them at a minor league baseball game, or working at a carnival, or you’d see them walking 10 miles home because the car broke down and that’s what you do. They have stories, and they have --- not so much opinions as thoughts that they like to share. This story became a bit too annoying by introducing one eccentric character after another, ending with a midget, a chicken, and an army buddy that gladly pays Norwood back. All unlikely characters. I found this fun, but requiring of much effort to suspend disbelief.

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Review: Al Capone's Beer Wars: A Complete History of Organized Crime in Chicago During Prohibition

Al Capone's Beer Wars: A Complete History of Organized Crime in Chicago During Prohibition by John J. Binder My ra...