Archives for category: Books

A son cannot judge his father, – least of all such a father who, like you, has never dampened my liberty in anything.

For those who want a respite from the ‘getting and spending’ this Father’s Day and wouldn’t mind a take on fatherhood – particularly the relationship between father and son – that goes a little deeper than the celebratory, Hallmark variety, I’d recommend reading at least a few chapters of this Ivan Turgenev classic: a modern, realistic meditation on Wordsworth’s freighted truism: ‘The child is father of the man.’

Ortiz: Thomas Anderson/Newscom; Bonner: Danny Bollinger/Getty Images; Parros: Jeff Gross/Getty Images; Valdes: Adrian Dennis/AFP/Getty Images; Janikowski: Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Roger Lowenstein’s review of Charley Rosen’s Bullpen Diaries: Mariano Rivera, Bronx Dreams, Pinstripe Legends, and the Future of the New York Yankees in Bloomberg Businessweek, provides some great insight, by way of an idiosyncratic look at baseball, into our culture’s illogical addiction to specialization and the general human tendency to become guided by misperceptions simply because they’re measurable:

The aphorism “You manage what you measure” can explain a great deal of the world’s foolish behavior. The corporate chief executive who tries to kowtow to Wall Street rather than attend to business is, after all, simply enhancing his company’s stock price—which is what we measure.

The most savory part of the piece, however, is Lowenstein’s unorthodox claim that the closing pitcher may be much less important than we think. Indeed, that the very notion of preserving a great pitcher until the closing innings of the game is almost tantamount to the Lakers saving Kobe for the second half.

To fully understand the illogic of designating the closer exclusively for ninth-inning work – and other so-called specialists for the seventh and eighth innings – one must remember that runs are equally valuable no matter the inning in which they are scored. This extreme specialization is motivated less by strategy than by managerial insecurity. A game lost in the eighth inning provokes the question of who was pitching and why the manager didn’t yank him. A game lost in the fourth is simply a loss.

So, by extension, the more than $130 million Mariano Rivera’s earned during his, albeit exceptional, career as a closer is illogical as well (Rivera’s role is so specialized he’s only called out of the bullpen in the ninth inning and only if the game’s close – a fact that jacked the nominal value of each out he pitched last year up to $83,000). One has to ask, taking Lowenstein’s cue, ‘Is an out that comes in the ninth inning worth that much more than one that comes in the first?’ Of course, not everything involving dollar signs is amenable to reason. But Rivera’s outrageous salary does serve  to demonstrate at least one truth -nowadays, contrary to the conventional wisdom, it obviously pays to be boxed-in.

At nine years old, Nathan Myhrvold thought he’d try to do something he hadn’t done before. So he went to the library, carried home as many cookbooks as his little arms could tote and made Thanksgiving dinner for the whole family. By fourteen, he’d graduated high school. By 23, he’d earned two masters degrees and a Ph.D. from Princeton – in theoretical and mathematical physics. He’s studied under Stephen Hawking and, up until 1999, worked for Bill Gates at Microsoft as the company’s chief technology officer. He’s a multimillionaire and part-time paleontologist (who just so happened to systematically, methodically stumble upon 9 previously undiscovered T. Rex specimens) and wildlife photographer and car racer and skydiver and volcanologist and all-around world-changer (check out his ideas for handling global warming and preventing malaria) .

Oh, he’s also a chef who’s even published a cookbook.  By now, you probably expect me to say something like, ‘But not just any chef – Myhrvold has a World Barbecue Championship under his belt; and not just any chef with a cookbook – Myhrvold’s recently released work has just been inducted into the cookbook Hall of Fame.’ Which would be right.

I can’t afford to buy the book, so this isn’t a review. But something tells me that a cookbook on the ins and outs of what some call ‘molecular gastronomy’ to the chagrin of the ‘molecular gastronomists’ (who, I hear, would prefer their field to be called something else, like Modernist Cuisine, which Myhrvold, of course, understands), is sure to be as high-charged and prodigious as its author (overseer would perhaps be more appropriate, since not even Nathan Myhrvold can compile a six-volume, 2,400 page, $625 tome all by himself).

And if the hype is any indication, Modernist Cuisine: The Art and Science of Cooking, might be as era-defining as Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking. But I think I know of an even better indication of how effective this volume will both channel and shape the present culinary culture.

If you’re fortunate and curious enough to purchase a cookbook for about the same amount of money that you’d spend on a 40 inch flat panel plasma television, when you’re done browsing (what I think will be its) glossy, super cool, kick-ass pages, tell me whether or not you actually cooked something from them. Any answer would be revealing.

“Never say you know the last word about any human heart.”

         – Henry James

The late Manning Marable’s recently released biography, Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention, stands in the company of Joseph Lelyveld’s Great Soul: Mahatma Gandhi and His Struggle With India as another pretty loud shot at the public hagiography of an iconic activist.   As expected, the book has drawn its share of controversy and criticism from some X partisans – not a bad indicator of the quality of content that might be inside.  I’m looking forward to delving into this one as soon as a) the price comes down, b) the library gets it, and/or c) I find someone else’s stray copy lying around.