Book Reviews (2021) by Joseph M. Sherlock
Book Review: 'Lincoln Design Heritage: Zephyr to LS (1936-2000)' by Jim & Cheryl Farrell
This large-format (approx. 10" x 13") heavy (over six pounds) hardbound book offers coffee table appeal along with a plethora of photographs, artwork and images (1,600 photos total), over 230 bios of designers and clay modelers and a comprehensive history of Lincoln's most important decades. It is a 475-page story plus bibliography and index - over 200,000 words. This limited-edition book is a labor of love by the Farrells, who traveled to Detroit/Dearborn on numerous occasions to scour the Ford Archives, the Henry Ford Museum historical records, as well those at the National Automotive History Collection at the Detroit Library. They also did research at the Art Center College in California, the Collier Automotive Museum collection in Florida as well as other resource sites. The Farrells interviewed hundreds of former Ford employees in order to factually document events chronicled in their book.
In 1999, Jim & Cheryl Farrell wrote and published the highly-acclaimed 'Ford Design Department Concept & Show Cars 1932-1961' (399 pages, over 900 photos, published in 1999) now fetches $2-300 on the used book market. In that book, every chapter was about a different car; therefore, each chapter stood alone and the book could be read out of order without losing continuity.
'Lincoln Design Heritage' flows chronologically, beginning with the pre-Zephyr John Tjaarda experimental ... (more >>>)
'False Alarm: How Climate Change Panic Costs Us Trillions, Hurts The Poor, And Fails To Fix The Planet' by Bjorn Lomborg
Bjorn Lomborg believes in climate change but also believes that the consequences of slowly rising temperatures are relatively minor and can easily be handled. He wrote, "I remain a skeptic of climate change not because of the evidence for or against it but because so many of its adherents are eagerly using it to impose their preconceived prescriptions for how people should live."
He sites evidence that panic over climate change is causing more harm than good. He also noted that the notion of declining polar bear populations - a favorite claim of environmental wackos - is a falsehood and presents data showing that the population is actually growing.
Hurricanes, wildfires, glacier collapse and other apocalyptic threats are debunked in this book. The author advocates a range of cost-benefit tested policies to address both climate change. Lomborg points out that we can manage global warming through innovation and adaptation. He catalogs the many falsehoods of with climate alarmism and examines the futility and ineffectiveness of many of our current climate policies.
Verdict: Recommended. Very informative … worth a read. But, be warned, more than 20% of the book's pages consist of acknowledgements, notes, bibliography and index. (posted 9/15/21, permalink)
'Facing Reality: Two Truths about Race in America' by Charles Murray
Charles Murray's much-maligned 1994 book 'The Bell Curve: Intelligence and Class Structure in American Life' posited that intelligence is the most dominant factor in the trajectory of each person's life, and it serves to predict such things as socioeconomic status and tendencies towards criminal behavior. It turned out that Charles was right. I reviewed his book, 'Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010', and recommended it.
In this book, Murray provides updated data to support his thesis that there are indeed IQ differences between whites, Asians and blacks. He also presents statistical differences in cognitive ability and crime between the races: black, white, Latin and Asian. His analysis is excellent but the few "solutions" he offers are impractical and unworkable. While Murray has the facts to dispute America's many race hustlers, the race-baiters have the microphones and the attention of media and so-called intellectuals.
Verdict: A good analytical book, full of facts and statistics but, sadly, it offers neither workable solutions nor hope. (posted 9/9/21, permalink)
'Sinatra And Me - In The Wee Small Hours' by Tony Oppedisano
The author first met Sinatra in the early 1970s and was more than four decades younger than ol' Frank. But he soon became Sinatra's road manager and confidante. This is not a biography, rather it is an as-told-to' remembrance, with Frank reminiscing about his career and personal past. While the book has a few interesting and new anecdotes, portions of it seem more like a hagiography written by a sycophant.
There are much better books about Frank Sinatra out there, including 'Sinatra: The Chairman' by James Kaplan' which I reviewed in 2016. Nevertheless, 'Sinatra And Me' is a fairly-easy, entertaining summer read. And I did learn a few things, especially about Jilly Rizzo.
Verdict: Recommended - a good take-to-the-beach book. (posted 9/1/21, permalink)
'Billion Dollar Loser: The Epic Rise and Spectacular Fall of Adam Neumann and WeWork' by Reeves Wiedman
In 1983, my good friend Jack and his wife traveled across the country to spend the weekend in order to pick my brain about starting a small business. In preparation, I randomly wrote down my thoughts over a three week period. Then just before he arrived, I edited and collated them. One of the many subjects covered was all the crazies, phonies and con men who prey on small business owners. I titled the section: 'People You Don't Want To Do Business With' and listed five red warning flags:
1. People who don't look like business people - who dress bizarrely and unprofessionally
2. Individuals who don't act like business people - have odd conditions and demands, such as meeting at off-business hours, in strange places, etc.
3. People who don't have business cards, notepads and the usual business accoutrements
4. Self-proclaimed inventors/geniuses/paradigm-changers - real inventors don't refer to themselves as 'inventors' to prospective vendors.
5. Prospective customers who spend most of their visit selling you on them and/or their company - if you're a prospect, it's me who should be selling you.
Maybe a guy who raises one warning flag is just a little quirky. But if someone raises more than one red flag, I say throw them out. Adam Neumann, the CEO of WeWork and the subject of this book, is a world-class bullshit artist and oddball. I would have been tossed him out at our first encounter. (If all of Adam's vendors and investors had used my red flag system, they would have been spared a lot of heartache and saved a lot of money.) An alleged billionaire immigrant, Neumann wore shoulder-length hair, walked around in tee-shirts, took his shoes off in the middle of presentations, drank tequila during meetings and walked the streets of New York barefoot, raising multiple red flags. He also had a game-changing Vision and a lofty Mission Statement - a sixth warning flag. I wrote about my skepticism about Mission Statements here. WeWork's goal was "elevating the world's consciousness" - a nonsensical objective in the hum-drum world of office subletting.
WeWork is basically an office leasing or coworking business - a highly competitive industry with mostly small players. Leasing small offices or cubes has been around for at least 100 years. Often such rentals come with perks such as conference room availability, coffee, as well as telephone answering and/or secretarial services. People can make a decent living operating such a business but it's a relatively low-margin operation. It is cyclical in nature and vacancy rates vary greatly, depending on the economy. If your occupancy rate drops below 80%, you're almost certain to lose money.
WeWork decided to target the burgeoning freelance class resulting from the 2008 Great Recession and corporate downsizing that followed. WeWork offered extra amenities, such as fruit water, networking events and weekly happy hours to differentiate itself from competitors.
Over the course of ten years, WeWork attracted billions of dollars from some of the most sought-after - but apparently gullible - investors in the world, while spending it to build a global real estate empire and requiring continuous infusions of cash to cover the cash-flow needs of this low-margin business and its frantic and chaotic expansion into everything from apartment buildings (WeLive) to private elementary schools (WeLearn, because wife Rebekah Neumann didn't think any of New York's existing private schools were good enough for her kids). The Wall Street Journal reported that Neumann had aspirations "to live forever, become the world's first trillionaire, expand WeWork to the planet Mars, become Israel's prime minister, and become 'president of the world'." That reminded me of comedian Steven Wright's humorous one-liner: "I plan to live forever. So far so good."
WeWork lost $20 billion in 2018 - a good year for the rest of real estate market. But that didn't stop Adam from being driven around New York City in his chauffeured white Maybach limousine. Or flying off to somewhere distant in the company's private Gulfstream G650 - its operating cost alone is in the $1.5-2.5 million per year range. Softbank fell for the pitch; Elon Musk wisely blew Neumann off. In 2019, everything fell apart when the filings for an IPO exposed the true condition of the business boondoggle known as WeWork. Adam and his impulsive, free-spending wife were fired. WeWork exists today as a shadow of its former self. The company announced a $2 billion-plus first quarter loss in 2021, so its long-term survival remains questionable.
The author spins a interesting, readable tale, although the book's jacket blurb noted that this is "the first book to indelibly capture the highly leveraged, all-blue-sky world of American business in President Trump's first term, and also offers a sober reckoning with its fallout as a new era begins." Sounds like something written by a liberal and a very misleading statement at that. Adam Neumann never met Donald Trump and the Trump Organization occupies a different and more-profitable segment of the real estate galaxy. And the investing world of 2021 is much more leveraged than it was during the four years of the Trump administration.
Verdict: Recommended - a very interesting story about business excess, managerial hubris and employee abuse. The WeWork founder is a real PieceOfWork. (posted 8/26/21, permalink)
'King Richard: Nixon and Watergate - An American Tragedy' by Michael Dobbs
It is difficult to comprehend how Richard M. Nixon ever gained any elective office, much less the presidency. Throughout his adult life, Nixon felt, looked and acted like an underdog. When Nixon was Ike's VP, Eisenhower's many slights including demeaning jibes, made Nixon insecure and ever-afraid that someone was out to get him. Ike dumped on VP Nixon, seemingly at every opportunity for eight years.
This book claims to be a "riveting account of the crucial days, hours, and moments when the Watergate conspiracy consumed, and ultimately toppled, a president." The problem is that the book stops too soon - abruptly ending in mid-July 1973 just as the existence of the White House taping system is disclosed. It is an odd place to stop. Yet to come were VP Agnew's resignation, the Saturday Night Massacre (10/73), the "I am not a crook" speech (11/73), the indictment against seven former presidential aides (3/74), the subpoena for the White House tapes (4/74) and many other events, culminating in President Nixon's resignation on August 9, 1974.
The narrative - such as it is - flows well. Reading it is a bit is like watching a train wreck in slo-mo - you know how it's gonna end but you can't look away - the story remains that compelling. The characters are the way I remember them. Gordon Liddy is a lunatic, Martha Mitchell is crazy, E. Howard Hunt is a very odd duck. I struggled with the way John Dean was presented; I always felt that he was self-serving and knew exactly what he was getting into. Many of the players in this tragedy were self-serving and self-sealing.
This book managed to dredge up a lot of old memories and impressions from my aging brain. In the end, Nixon fell. I was surprised that he just didn't destroy the tapes and play hardball. No matter. Tricky Dicky was a flawed, morally-compromised individual but history now judges him with less rancor than his liberal predecessor, Lyndon Johnson. That said, it should be remembered that Federal regulations grew 19% under Lyndon B. Johnson but grew a whopping 121% under Richard M. Nixon. Watergate aside, he wasn't that great of a president.
Verdict: For obvious reasons, I'm giving this book a 'Incomplete' grade. (posted 8/18/21, permalink)
'Maverick - A Biography of Thomas Sowell' by Jason L. Riley
Thomas Sowell is a well-known, oft-quoted economist and social theorist. He covers history, economics and political science in his writings. He is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution think tank and is one of the few black conservative thinkers in the U.S.
Born in the south, orphaned at an early age and taken in by relatives, the family relocated to Harlem when he was nine. Due to financial issues and deteriorating home conditions, he dropped out of Stuyvesant High School, lived for a while at the YMCA (sleeping with a knife for his own protection) and then served in the Marine Corps during the Korean War. Upon his discharge, Sowell worked at a government job in D.C. and attended night classes at Howard University. He later enrolled at Harvard University, graduating magna cum laude in 1958. He received a master's degree from Columbia University in 1959 and earned his doctorate in economics from the University of Chicago in 1968. Famed economist Milton Friedman was his mentor and professor.
Sowell taught at several colleges and has written more than thirty books, and his work has been widely anthologized. He believes the empirical approach to economic and social policy. Christopher DeMuth, former head of the American Enterprise Institute, admires Sowell's "seemingly effortless ability to make mincemeat of sloppy thinking."
I have read and favorably reviewed Sowell's 2009 book, 'Applied Economics: Thinking Beyond Stage One', his 2018 book, 'Discrimination And Disparities' and have quoted him over 100 times on my blog pages.
In this book, Jason Riley offers a sorta biography of Sowell. He doesn't consider it a complete biography because Sowell wrote his autobiography some years ago. There is, therefore, not a lot of original content in the book. Much of it is a patchwork of passages from Sowell's publications, mixed with opinions of those who know him. Parts of the book concentrated on how Sowell's beliefs changed with time and exposure to factual data - in his college years, Sowell was an avowed Marxist. But Sowell's life experience eventually gave him a conservative outlook. If you haven't read all of Sowell's thirty-plus books, Riley's book offers a good summary of the man and his intellect.
Verdict: Recommended. 'Maverick' showcases Sowell's most significant writings and follows the life events that shaped and changed his ideas, making him one of America's most influential conservative thinkers. (posted 8/12/21, permalink)
'Nissan Z - 50 Years of Exhilarating Performance' by Pete Evanow
I reviewed an earlier edition of this book in June 2020. It has now been reworked and updated to include the next generation Z-car, the 2023 Nissan Z. Shown in the book are numerous photographs of the Z Proto, a thinly disguised teaser of the next generation Z-car. The new Z incorporates features and design cues from previous Zs, including a hint of the 240Z's scooped headlight buckets and the 300ZX-inspired rear facia. Overall it is a striking, distinctive and handsome car.
According to Car and Driver, the 2023 Nissan Z will start at $45,000 and will be powered by the 300-hp 3.0-liter V6 from the Infiniti Q60. "Nissan has promised a six-speed manual transmission as standard, but we expect that a seven-speed automatic will also be offered as an option." The new Z will have a 400 horsepower twin-turbo engine as an option.
It is remarkable and a wonderful surprise that Nissan is continuing the Z. The outgoing 370Z sold only about 2,500 units in 2020. In the mid-80s, as many as 72,000 Zs found buyers - 80% were sold in the U.S. The new Z is expected to be available for sale sometime in 2022.
I have a real soft spot for Z-cars, having owned a 1992 300ZX Twin-Turbo:
Nissan has struggled as a brand in recent years. The 2018 arrest of former CEO and Chairman Carlos Ghosn on allegations of fiscal irregularities didn't help. In 2020, Nissan Group announced total calendar year 2020 U.S. sales of 899,217 units, a decrease of 33.2% compared to the prior year. Nissan got hammered because the rental car market fell precipitously due to the virus.
After losing billions in 2020, Nissan made a profit in the first quarter of 2021 helped by a weaker yen and favorable demand in the United States and China. Nissan's first-quarter worldwide sales were up 63% from a year ago. Furthermore, Nissan Motor Co. delivered an unexpectedly upbeat second-quarter report, not only announcing a profit for the April-June quarter but also upping its earnings outlook for the entire year. "We have delivered a strong performance in the first three months of our new fiscal year," said Nissan Chief Executive Makoto Uchida. The company, he told reporters, is "regaining its shine." For the quarter ending June 30, Nissan reported an operating profit of $688.6 billion - very good news, indeed.
Pete Evanow's book is a celebration of all things Z and covers everything from the beginning of Datsun's sports car roots through the forthcoming 2023 model. Beyond the history of the model, this handsomely-illustrated book also covers the Z's significant racing successes. It also has chapters on Z Car Clubs, Z enthusiasts as well as modified and tastefully customized Zs, especially 240Zs. It is a large format hardcover book, approximately 9 x 11, 176 pages in length and has over 200 photographs, most of them in color.
Verdict: Highly recommended. Just like the 2020 edition, this book is a well-written and comprehensive story of a great sports car with a remarkable history. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it and learned much from the book. (Review copy supplied by Motorbooks, an imprint of Quarto.) (posted 8/4/21, permalink)
'Pizza Czar: Recipes and Know-How from a World-Traveling Pizza Chef' by Anthony Falco
Many ancient cultures, especially in the Mediterranean region, produced basic flatbreads with a variety of toppings. A precursor of pizza was probably the focaccia, a flat bread known to the Romans as panis focacius, to which toppings were then added. The word pizza was first documented in A.D. 997 in Gaeta and successively in different parts of Central and Southern Italy.
Modern pizza evolved from similar flatbread dishes in Naples in the 18th or early 19th century. Pizza was mainly eaten in Italy and by emigrants from there. This changed after World War II, when Allied troops stationed in Italy came to enjoy pizza along with other Italian foods. In postwar America, it became a popular staple as pizza - or tomato pie - restaurants sprung up everywhere. In 1953, pizza was acknowledged as a nationally-recognized product in the song 'That's Amore', in which Dean Martin warbled, "When the moon hits your eye like a bigga pizza pie, that's amore!"
Many of the pizza joints were mom-and-pop operations owned and run by Italian families (mostly in the Northeast and West Coast plus Chicago), ranging from plain-Jane store fronts with linoleum-topped tables to fancier establishments with indirect lighting and wall murals showing Venetian gondolas and Tuscan hill towns. All offered wonderful pizza (and often other Italian dishes, too). But the owners got old and wanted to retire.
Unfortunately, their children - having gone to college and now working in high-paying, dress-up desk jobs - had no interest in slaving over a hot kitchen stove. Great pie palaces such as Villa Napoli in Philadelphia and Tony's Junior Villa in Newton Center, MA closed their doors. That's when invaders from the Midwest - Pizza Hut (a Kansas operation founded in 1958), Domino's (a Michigan firm started in 1960), Godfather's (Nebraska-based, opened in 1973) and other franchisors - moved in. Their offerings were blanderized in an effort to offend no one in Iowa or North Dakota.
There are exceptions: Tony's in Ivyland, PA still offers the best genuine tomato pies, tasting just like the pies from their NE Philly location did when I ate there in 1959 - and Tony's original Frankford Avenue location is still in business. Patsy D'Amore's, located in the LA Farmers Market, serves up the closest thing to old-time New Jersey Boardwalk pizza, properly flavorful and greasy. In the '40s, Sinatra bankrolled Patsy D'Amore because Frank couldn't find any decent Italian food in Los Angeles.
Today, there has been a renaissance in good pizza with single locations or small chains offering authentic 1950s pies. Anthony Falco's book is about what it takes to make great pizza. He got his start at Roberta's - once a Brooklyn hangout spot for working artists - then Falco branched out to pizza consulting worldwide. Many of his creations begin with New York-style pizza - thin, foldable crust with rich, flavorful sauce and cheese. Others call this Boardwalk-style (from take-away places on the boardwalks of the Jersey shore). In Philadelphia, there was once a chain called King of Pizza that offered thin-crust, by-the-slice takeaway, so many people from Philly talked about King of Pizza-style pizza.
Falco also discusses Neapolitan Pizza which has a thicker crust and is often made in rectangular pans. One of the best Neapolitan pies I've ever had was from a small family place on Mission Street in San Francisco. Up till the late 1980s - when the neighborhood went to Hell, you could find great Italian food or Mexican food in the Italian or Mexican neighborhoods in the Mission District.
Pizza is now a world food and the book covers pizza as presented in Toronto - where a 'slice' in Toronto is called a 'super point', Brazil - San Paulo and Rio have different approaches to pies, Tokyo (precise and artful, arrangement is important), Thailand (New York-style and 'original' Pizza Hut recipes) as well as Portland, Oregon where dough is very important. Actually, so-called Portland pizza extends from Eugene, OR north to the Canadian border. Dough options often include whole-wheat and sourdough. Mazzi's (Eugene - formerly had restaurants in Corvallis, Portland and Anchorage, AK) and Woodstock's (Corvallis, OR) are dough-centric. Izzy's - a former Shakey's franchise - offers better-than-Shakey's quality (faint praise) and can be found throughout Oregon and Washington.
The author posits that Pizza Hut once made really great pizza but they have cheapened their product over time. On trips to the Midwest during the early 1970s, I was often stuck with nothing but a Pizza Hut to get my pie fix and I never thought very highly of their offerings. In those days, most of the Midwest was a pizza desert (a drought of Italian pie-makers) - that's how all these catsup-sauce franchised interlopers got a leg-lock on the region.
Falco is about recipes, ingredients, sources of ingredients, equipment and kitchen layout and that's what he covers in his book. He also covers some oddball pizza toppings such as mashed potatoes.
|In 1999, I sampled a meatball and potato pizza at the Italian Bistro in Pennsauken, NJ. It was surprisingly tasty.
He doesn't discuss marketing or business strategy. I believe that, while it takes real effort to make great pizza, it is hard to make really bad pizza, although I think Pizza Hut, Godfather's and Little Caesar's try hard to do so.
These days, most pizza joints go out of business not because of lousy pizza but because - in the very competitive world of pizza - the owners don't understand business and marketing basics. In the 1990s, I consulted with a small pizza chain that offered pretty good pizza but had bad employees, terrible ambience and lousy promotion. They stubbornly refused to change their business strategy, market positioning/branding and perceived image, even though their existing modus operandi wasn't working at all - the chain had consistently lost money for the prior six years and was losing more each year. The last store closed in 2013. I'm surprised that the firm held on for that long.
During my business consulting career, I helped numerous restaurants and published and article, 'How To Succeed In The Restaurant Business', here.
Falco's book is full of recipes, great stories and lots of colorful photos. It's a fun read.
Verdict: Highly recommended. If you like pizza, you'll find this book mouth-watering. (posted 7/28/21, permalink)
'A Man & His Car: Iconic Cars and Stories from the Men Who Love Them' by Matt Hranek
This is a hardcover book in a slipcase, first published in October 2020. The book's apparent objective is to explore the connection between car owners and their rides. It is primarily a photo book, with each vehicle photographed against a black background and a brief explanation about why the auto is important to its owner.
The collection and stories are uneven - some stories (Jay Leno) are well-told; others (Snoop Dogg) are just dumb. Sometimes the owner is not around to make his/her case: Seven cars are from the Peterson (including Steve McQueen's green 1957 Jaguar XK-SS roadster), seven from the Alfa Archive and nine are from the Henry Ford Museum. Some of the cars are beaters, others are concours condition.
Verdict: Meh. A contender, spoiled by inappropriate selections. (posted 7/22/21, permalink)
'Volkswagen Type 4: 411 and 412: The Final Rear-Engined VW Cars' by Marc Cranswick
The Volkswagen Type 4 (411 and 412 models) was VW's attempt to capture the luxury-compact market segment and offer VW's first four-door model, while adhering to VW's traditional air-cooled, rear-engine design. Following the worldwide success of the Beetle, CEO Heinz Nordhoff was looking to expand VW's reach to better, more-profitable markets. But he dithered for more than a decade, commissioning numerous new prototypes and then never greenlighting any of them. One biting industry-insider quip was that the 411, finally introduced in 1968, stood for "four doors, eleven years too late."
In a rapidly-changing automotive landscape (new competition from Japan, an abundance of new American compact car models, rising labor costs in Germany, rampant worldwide inflation, new government pollution and safety regulations), the bland, overpriced Type 4 was an underwhelming offering - a car in search of meaningful context and a market. The haut monde had no use for a "luxury car" with a VW badge affixed. It flopped in the marketplace. (Volkswagen apparently didn't learn its lesson - thirty-some years later, it offered The W12 engined Volkswagen Phaeton as a Mercedes-beater. It bombed as well - only 25,000 found buyers worldwide in its first four years of production.)
People loved the VW Beetle because it was a well-made, simple car. And its low price caused owners to forgive its shortcomings. The Type 4 model was more complex, thirstier and much pricier - over $3,000 in an era when a new regular Beetle could be had for around $2,000. Because of the higher price, buyers had higher expectations and were disappointed by the lack of luxury features - for example, the automatic floorshift lever had no illumination, something which was a nuisance at night. The 180-inch long, 68-horsepower Type 4 was considered underpowered, especially for the U.S. market. And, when you start hanging air conditioning compressors and other accessories on an air-cooled engine, things get complicated and troubles mount. (In an article about Franklins of the 1930s, Michael Lamm discussed in detail the problems and limitations of air-cooled engines.) The Type 4 was the last new air-cooled, rear-engined Volkswagen model introduced. The Passats, Rabbits/Golfs and Sciroccos of the mid-70s were all water-cooled and had reliability-issues of their own.
In the U.S., some of the troubles and customer complaints arose because Volkswagen of America began tightening the screws on warranty work - starting in the early 1970s - and tried to weasel out of warranty claims. Disgruntled, formerly-loyal customers grumbled and took their new car business elsewhere. In Europe, as pointed out in the book, the Type 4 had a host of new compact competitors - Ford, Fiat, Opel, Peugeot, Renault - offering better features, options and more attractive pricing.
In the United States, VW sold 117,110 Type 4s from 1971 to July 1974. Worldwide, fewer than 368,000 411 and 412s were sold during its eight years in the marketplace - a woeful track record. The ones I remember seeing were sitting in dealer showrooms rather than on the road. Back in the day, I knew lots of folks who owned Bugs, buses and Type 3s, but I never met anyone who purchased a Type 4. Most felt that the Type 3 wagon was perfectly fine and didn't need the more-expensive Type 4 station wagon. Volkswagen's overall U.S. sales peaked in 1970 and it struggled to recover from its mistakes of the 1970s and '80s, the 411/412 being just one of them.
These days, the German firm is healthy again, with Volkswagen AG and Toyota slugging it out for top position in the worldwide auto market. But the Volkswagen brand never fully recovered in the USA. I remember that, in the early 1990s, Lincoln outsold VW in the state of Oregon. In 2020, Volkswagen sold 323,634 vehicles in the U.S., far less than Toyota's 2,112,941 vehicles. Honda sold 1,199,805 vehicles, while its upscale Acura cousin moved 146,982 vehicles. Nissan sold 899,217 vehicles, while Hyundai, Kia, Subaru and even Mercedes-Benz outsold VW in the States in 2020.
I had enjoyed the author's earlier book about Porsche, 'Cranswick On Porsche: A Modern Interpretation of the Porsche Story'. I remember it as direct and on message. I had expected this book to follow such a pattern. Alas, I was disappointed.
This book begins with a history of Volkswagen (1938-68, covering 12 pages). I think most people interested in the Type 4 are very familiar with the history of the marque, which could have been summarized in fewer pages. Rather than using appropriate historical photos for the history segment, the author chose to post photos of hopped-up VWs, toys, automobilia and kitsch. There was a certain flippancy in his tone and, if I read the descriptor "ye olde" one more time, I was prepared to scream.
Throughout the book there are amateur photos, some slightly out of focus as well as inexplicable photos of Japanese actress Hidemi Aoki posing beside various non-Volkswagen vehicles (Mercedes, Excalibur, etc.), photos of a VW coffee mug, a Beetle-shaped chocolate posed beside a cat, and various cartoon caricatures by the author. Out of 194 pages, fewer than 65% specifically cover the 411/412 cars. Nevertheless, the sections covering the Type 411 and its restyled 412 successor were covered in depth.
Following the Type 4 section, there is a chapter titled 'Volkswagen - A Company In Transition'. It is well-written and covers the transition to water-cooled engines, the demise of the air-cooled Beetle and the rise of Volkswagen AG as a contender in the world auto market.
Chapters titled 'Sporting VWs' and 'VW Off-Road' were mostly about Beetles, Things and Buses, had no relevance to the purported subject of the book and came across as otiose page-filler.
Verdict: Recommended for VW enthusiasts and/or folks interested in the 411/412 saga. There is a dearth of books on this subject and the author covers the Type 4 in a yeoman-like manner. My complaints involved the unnecessary padding that added nothing to the VW 411/412 story. (Review copy supplied by Veloce Publishing.) (posted 7/8/21, permalink)
'The IROC Porsches: The International Race of Champions, Porsche's 911 RSR and The Men Who Raced Them' by Matt Stone
It seemed like a great idea at the time. Bring together twelve of the world's champion race car drivers, put them in virtually-identical cars - differing only in color - and have them race, taping and broadcasting the race so that fans could see it without being in the stands.
The International Race of Champions (IROC) was created by Les Richter, Roger Penske and Mike Phelps and was promoted as an equivalent of an American motorsports All-Star Game. Racing fans were pumped because drivers from several different disciplines could be seen competing on a level playing field. For the 1974 IROC Championship (which started in December 1973), 1973 Porsche Carrera RSR models were fitted with a 3-liter, naturally-aspirated engine and a big flat whale tail replacing the Carrera's smaller ducktail spoiler. The Porsches were fitted with wide tires and flared fenders. Each car was painted a different color with a minimum of sponsor decals and was therefor easily identified by spectators.
The original idea was to use different venues/styles of race tracks. In the end, the first season consisted of three races at Riverside - a sports car track with lots of twists and turns and a fourth race at Daytona which has some twisties as well as a long straight and large oval. Nevertheless, the first season was quite exciting, attracted a variety of drivers, received favorable press coverage and was a big success for ABC's 'Wide World Of Sports', who had no trouble attracting advertisers.
The following year, Chevrolet Camaros replaced the Porsches. It saved money and, since more and more of the drivers were from NASCAR, the front engine, rear-wheel drive configuration was more familiar and comfortable. New venues were added but they were NASCAR-friendly oval race tracks. As time went on, IROC cars got more decals and IROC eventually morphed into just another NASCAR event. The last IROC race was in 2006.
This large format (10" x 12") book focuses on the first IROC season - only about 10% of it is devoted to post-Porsche IROC. It profiles the cars, drivers, the races, the media coverage and the aftermath, including the fates of the much sought-after Carrera RSRs. For those of a certain age, the names bring back memories of that racing era: Emerson Fittipaldi, AJ Foyt, Richard Petty, Al Unser and championship winner Mark Donohue. And I chuckled when I saw photos of Jackie Stewart with his giant 1973-vintage sideburns.
The book is well-designed with lots of high-quality photographs (a mix of color and black & white) combined with Matt Stone's well-researched and engaging writing. The book itself has a lot of clever elements. Remove the jacket and you'll find a cover with thirteen vertical stripes. Each color represents one of the Porches raced in the first IROC season. The cover is embossed with the profile of a Porsche Carrera RSR. Clever.
Verdict: Highly recommended. (Review copy supplied by Motorbooks, a Quarto Imprint.) (posted 6/23/21, permalink)
'Beneath A Scarlet Sky' by Mark Sullivan
This is a true story which has been novelized for dramatic purposes. It follows the actions and interactions of Pino Lella, a Milanese teenager caught in World War II and squeezed by Nazis, Fascists and friends in the resistance. The book interested me because little has been written about the Italian resistance during the war.
Early in the tale, Pino joins an underground railroad helping Jews escape over the Alps. He later joins the German army as a spy. By war's end, he is a hardened and saddened 18 year-old.
Pino is a hero - committing acts of bravery over and over. In many ways, the book reminded me of 'Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption'. This page-turner is very well-written and gives us an inside look at Italy as experienced by those who endured the war years.
Verdict: Highly Recommended. (posted 6/17/21, permalink)
'Fish Out of Water: A Search for the Meaning of Life' by Eric Metaxas
I was looking forward to this book because I've read the author's other works ('Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy', 'Martin Luther: The Man Who Rediscovered God and Changed the World' and 'Seven More Men: And the Secret of Their Greatness'). I have also seen Eric on television and he is well-spoken.
This book is part-memoir, part-autobiography - it ends with his 'conversion' to born-again Christian thirty-some years ago. I wanted to like this book but his writing tends to be ponderous and - perhaps because he is part German - this one sits heavier than a big serving of Rahmschnitzel with a large side of Dampfnudeln.
Unfortunately, Eric's bio meanders along aimlessly, with pointless stories about his many relatives as he struggles to fit into a world in which he's always the outsider. He eventually graduates from Yale and, for reasons never explained, is unable to secure a good-paying job in the Morning in America year of 1984. His vision/conversion is apparently very meaningful to him but seemed rather banal to me. But, as an evangelical friend used to say, "Whatever floats your boat." That seems relevant because his conversion involved a fish.
Verdict: Skip it. This dull, rambling and tortuously-slow tome is not worth your time. (posted 6/9/21, permalink)
'The Tyranny Of Big Tech' by Josh Hawley
This book has an interesting back story. Senator Hawley's book was cancelled by publishing giant Simon & Schuster, after Hawley refused to blame President Trump for the January 6th "riots" and condemn the participants. I know what a riot looks like, I see television coverage of Portland's daily burning and destruction on my local news programs. I am also aware of the falsehood that D.C. protesters "killed" policemen. The only person killed was unarmed military veteran Ashli Babbitt - fatally shot by an as-yet-unidentified Capitol policeman.
Hawley had correctly questioned the results of the 2020 presidential election, which thousands of people protested at the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021. And the police invited them inside. Unlike what is seen in Minneapolis, Detroit, Seattle, Portland and elsewhere, there were no fires, no looting and minimal damage during this protest.
In any case, conservative publisher Regnery Publishing picked up Hawley's book and it is now a best-seller ranking number six in Publishers Weekly's latest list of hardcover nonfiction titles. Winning is the best revenge, they say.
This well-written book documents the abuses of Big Tech - Facebook, Google, Apple, Amazon, Twitter et al - and their assault on American's first amendment rights. These companies have become a techno-oligarchy, amassing overwhelming economic and political power.
As I read the book, I recalled that Henry Ford sold lots of product, got rich and had a large share of his market (in 1921, Ford's Model T commanded 60% of the world's new car market), so he went into the newspaper business, buying the 'Dearborn Independent', and using it to promote his anti-Semitic and biased views.
Fast-forward to now: Jeff Bezos sells lots of product, is rich and has a large share of the online market (at least 55% of all e-commerce sales come from Amazon), so he went into the newspaper business, buying the 'Washington Post' to espouse his liberal and biased views. Amazon Web Services de-platformed the conservative social media platform Parler earlier this year. Rachael Bovard wrote, "The reality of Amazon, and with all of Big Tech, is that its collective market power seamlessly translates into cultural power as well. These companies are changing our values as much as they are transforming our markets." Indeed.
Verdict: Highly recommended. I learned much from reading this book, although Hawley's suggestions about what we can do to dismantle Big Tech (limit your time on devices, don't patronize Amazon, don't use Google, etc.) are pretty basic and won't be effective unless everyone does it. I think a legal or legislative solution is more appropriate such as repealing Section 230, the hotly debated legal shield that protects tech platforms from liability. (posted 6/3/21, permalink)
'Beyond Order: 12 More Rules for Life' by Jordan B. Peterson
Jordan Peterson is a Canadian clinical psychologist, cultural critic, and professor of psychology at the University of Toronto. He has become a YouTube sensation based on videos of his self-help lectures. I reviewed his previous book, '12 Rules for Life', here.
Peterson's latest work proclaims that we now need twelve additional rules. What? Why more rules? Aren't twelve enough? People like order and a few rules but 24 is too many. And you know that his next book will bring the total to 36. God gave Moses 12 Commandments. In Jesus' time, the Jews whined that there were too many rules, so Jesus simplified it down to two: Love God. Love your neighbor.
The book begins with a recap of the Peterson family's considerable recent health challenges, including Jordan's addiction to pharmaceuticals. It's a little unsettling to have a psychologist/addict doling out life advice. I found this book less enjoyable than Peterson's earlier work. The book seemed full of filler and historical tales which were lengthy and - to me - irrelevant. Some of his patient stories were interesting; others were unrelatable. One hundred pages in, I found myself skipping through boring parts … often.
Verdict: Don't bother. Instead, go get a copy of M. Scott Peck's classic self-help book from 1978, 'The Road Less Traveled'. It gets straight to the point with far fewer rules. (posted 5/26/21, permalink)
'Ford Model T, An Enthusiast's Guide - 1908 to 1927 (all models and variants)' by Chas Parker (with Chris Barker, Neil Tuckett and others)
Before the Ford Model T, cars were mere playthings for the rich. Henry's T didn't just put America on wheels, it put the world on wheels. The Model T was the first truly affordable car for the working man. Initially priced at $850 in 1908, the price dropped to $390 by 1914 due to production efficiencies. By 1927 a new Model T could be had for as little as $260. At its peak popularity, 1.25 million Model Ts were sold each year. By 1918, Ford's American market share was an astonishing 49%, while 40% of the cars on British roads were Ts. By 1921, the Model T commanded 60% of the new car market around the world. Over 15 million Model T Fords were eventually produced.
Auto scribe/engineer/philosopher L. J. K. Setright wrote, "So profound was the effect of the Model T Ford on America, so much did it change the nature of the nation … its art, its music, its social structure …, that Henry Ford, who was responsible for it all, must be seen as the most effective revolutionary." The Model T tops my list of '10 Cars That Changed Everything'.
Unfortunately, the Ford Model Ts time came and went. Henry Ford failed to realize this and had to play catch-up with the Model A successor. By the 1920s, the 20 horsepower Model T was underpowered and its simple planetary transmission and lack of adequate braking system rendered it unsuitable for modern roads. In the late 1980s, I belonged to a local historic auto club. When we did tours, members with stock Model Ts couldn't bring their flivvers along, because they couldn't keep up with traffic, even on a 50 mph road. While stock Ford Model Ts can reach 45 mph, they are uncomfortable at such a pace. Cruising speed for a Model T is in the 30-35 mph range.
This 160 page, (8.5 inch x 11 inch) hardcover book is full of photos. The historic ones are black and white, while the remainder are color. It covers the Model T quite thoroughly providing an insight into the design and construction of the car in its many body styles and variants. The book details changes over time, owner experiences and adventures, restoration, and Model T racers. It also covers the engineering of various components and technical aspects of this iconic car. I learned much from reading this book and found it quite interesting.
I had minor misgivings about the book's content. Because of different contributors for different chapters, there was some repetition. And the Henry Ford biography chapter (written by Diane Murphy), minimized Mr. Ford's shortcomings to such a degree that it was more of a hagiography. In the discussion of hot rodding, I question whether Norm Grabowski's Kookie's Kart was the first Model T hot rod.
Verdict: Highly recommended for anyone interested in the Ford Model T. It is a very comprehensive book which is not only entertaining but will serve as a great reference source. (Review copy supplied by Porter Press) (posted 5/20/21, permalink)
'After: A Doctor Explores What Near-Death Experiences Reveal about Life and Beyond' by Bruce Greyson, MD
In 1975, Dr. Raymond Moody wrote 'Life After Life', a book describing experiences of patients who had near-death experiences. It was an interesting book on a subject which was not well-covered. Lots of people have written books about the afterlife/near-afterlife since then.
Forty-five years later, Dr. Bruce Greyson published his version of a book about the NDE phenomenon. I expected some new groundbreaking information. Nope. This book is a mix of anecdotal stories from patients along with stories the author's professional prowess and credential-building. And it's much more boring than Moody's book.
Verdict: Don't bother. Save money by picking up a paperback copy of Moody's book at a used book outlet. (posted 5/14/21, permalink)
'1970 Maximum Muscle: The Pinnacle of Muscle Car Power' by Mark Fletcher and Rich Truesdell
When I first saw the title of this book, I wanted to punch somebody. 1970? Are you kidding? But then I began to read the book and calmed down. I would have thought that 1967-68 was the muscle car pinnacle. Certainly, there had been Shelby Mustangs since 1965, the Chevy Camaro debuted in the 1967 model year as did the Z/28 performance version. The Pontiac GTO was introduced in 1964 and got more powerful every year. As did the Olds 442. The Buick Skylark Gran Sport appeared as a performance package in the 1965 model year. The AMC Javelin debuted in late '67, the AMX appeared a few months later. On the other hand, the Pontiac GTO 'The Judge' wasn't introduced until 1969 and the Dodge Challenger didn't appear until the 1970 model year. And, although the cars of 1970 were bigger, fatter and more federally-regulated than cars of 1967, they had far more powerful engine options and there were more of them. So, I'd say that the authors made a compelling case for their pinnacle pick.
Certainly by the mid-70s, muscle cars - and cars in general - were a joke. Horsepower was curtailed and performance was lame. Starting with the 1973 models, 5-mph bumpers were mandated. For the first couple of years, most cars looked atrocious, sporting big black rubber bumper guards or oversized chrome bumpers that stuck waaaay out from the body of the car and added weight. Ever-tightening engine emission regulations robbed power and hampered driveability. The primitive pollution controls made them run horribly, especially when started cold. Starting in 1973 or so, I spent many a chilly morning, sitting in a rented Dodge or Mercury with ice-cold vinyl seats, waiting for the engine to warm up enough that I could make a left exit from a Ramada Inn without stalling and getting killed by an oncoming delivery truck. Or an overweight Plymouth Fury police car.
|The second-generation 1970 Chevrolet Camaro was an all-new car with its basic mechanical layout familiar and engineered much like its predecessor with a unibody structure utilizing a front subframe. Even with the not-very-fast base straight-six-cylinder engine, it was still a looker. The 360 horsepower LT-1 engine in the 1970 Z-28 came from straight out of the Corvette. The 1970-72 Chevy Camaros - before the big bumper era - were arguably the most beautiful Camaros ever produced.
Indeed, there were lots of powerful cars to choose from in 1970, including the outrageous-looking 1970 Plymouth Road Runner Superbird. I learned from the book that, even though the '69 Dodge Charger Daytona and the '70 Superbird looked like twins at first glance - with their sloped noses and huge basket-handle ear wings, none of their body components were interchangeable. The plethora of muscle cars from that era was formidable: AMC's Hurst SC/R Rambler, Dodge Super Bee, Mercury Cougar Eliminator, the Boss 302 Mustang, the rare Ford Talladega, the ugly-nosed Mercury Cyclone Spoiler 429, Plymouth's Big-Block Cuda and many many more. All are covered very well in this comprehensive 9.5" x 11" hardcover 70-page book which is chock-full of color photos. I learned several things from it and found it easy to read.
Authors Fletcher and Truesdell began the book with a quick summary of the life and death of the muscle car. In 1970, I was in my late 20s and was gainfully employed. I agree with much of what the authors wrote. I would add that people had gotten used to gasoline being a stable commodity and its availability was not in question. Following the OPEC gas shortage of 1973, people became nervous - about the price and availability of fuel, the rising inflation rate and a general uncertainty about the economy ... and their jobs. The recession of 1974-75 confirmed their worst fears. This was no time to buy a gas-guzzling muscle car and sales dropped like a stone. The gasoline uncertainty/nervousness of the 1970s was not too dissimilar from the toilet paper uncertainty/nervousness of 2020.
I had one minor gripe. The authors casually mentioned Jim Wangers, with no further explanation about the man. (Odd, because they did so well elaborating on details of other, somewhat obscure people, cars and equipment.) Jim was the legendary advertising and promotional guru for Pontiac. He helped create the legend of the Pontiac GTO and other Pontiac muscle machines. His 1998 memoir, 'Glory Days: When Horsepower and Passion Ruled Detroit' is definitely worth a read, if you can find a copy.
Verdict: Very highly recommended, especially for muscle car fans. Please don't punch the authors; they did a superb job overing a multi-segmented subject. While this book is chock full of details, it is not at all boring and makes for a fun read. The photography is professional grade and evoked many memories for me. (Review copy supplied by Motorbooks, an imprint of Quarto Publishing) (posted 5/6/21, permalink)
'Ticking Clock: Behind the Scenes at 60 Minutes' by Ira Rosen
Former '60 Minutes' producer Ira Rosen reveals lots of behind-the-scenes stories about the people and the show. The book is gossipy and interesting and provides plenty of proof about everything that you suspected is wrong with the liberal U.S. media.
In a recent interview, Tucker Carlson revealed how things have changed in the news business. He said, "When I was a kid, my dad worked in print in the newspaper and then in television. He had a sound guy, a cameraman, a producer. They'd come over to our house a lot. And I remember thinking, "These are truly open-minded, courageous guys." They took no bullshit from anybody. They were also skeptical. They were hilarious. They acted like they lived in a free country. They acted like they had the right to demand answers from above. They were fearless in the best way, not the kind of fake, posing way but in a sincere way.
Now, we just have those who are small-minded, status-obsessed, insecure, not that bright, just not impressive who are pretending to ask questions. It just makes me sick. I really hate them. … The media is basically Praetorian Guard for the ruling class, the bodyguards for Jeff Bezos. That's the opposite of what we should have."
Tucker remarked, "'60 Minutes', that was once a great show. It's partisan garbage now. Sunday, they told me the greatest threat to America is white supremacist groups. Really? Even as Minneapolis and other cities burn? I'm not listening to you anymore. You are lying to me."
Back to the book. As you read it, you'll learn that Mike Wallace was a repulsive, demanding and brutal prick, while Steve Kroft comes off as a self-centered, perverted jerk and a drunk. Katie Couric is a lightweight prima donna, as you might have guessed. There was a lot of back-stabbing between the staff, crew and talent at the iconic show. Over the years, the author worked closely with Don Hewitt, Mike Wallace, Harry Reasoner, Morley Safer, Lesley Stahl, Ed Bradley, Steve Kroft, Diane Sawyer, Chris Wallace, and other famous correspondents.
The author's liberal bias shows through and he sometimes seems insecure, regularly visiting Mike Wallace - who abused him for years - up to the week before Wallace's death. Rosen also revealed his anti-Trump bias, even though he was badly treated by Hillary Clinton's staff, while Trump's staff was far more welcoming. Nevertheless, the author writes well and the book is easy to read.
Verdict: Highly recommended, especially for those - like me - who watched the show from its beginning in 1968. '60 Minutes' was once a ground-breaking show; it won many awards in its early years. But the show lost much of its credibility over 'Rathergate' in 2004 and I haven't watched it much since then. (posted 4/28/21, permalink)
'I'm Your Emotional Support Animal: Navigating Our All Woke, No Joke Culture' by Adam Carolla
Mr. Carolla was once the cohost of the politically-incorrect 'The Man Show'. It was a very funny and politically-incorrect show. After the show ended, Adam began doing podcasts, collecting race cars and writing books.
I enjoyed his first book, 'In Fifty Years, We'll All Be Chicks'. His second book, 'Not Taco Bell Material', was not as good. His third book, 'President Me: The America That's In My Head', was enjoyable but more profane. His next tome, 'Daddy Stop Talking!: And Other Things My Kids Want But Won't Be Getting', was a real stinker. I wrote, "Bookwise, Adam Carolla has jumped the shark. There's nothing insightful here and laughs are infrequent. … Don't waste your time."
I was hopeful that his latest book, I'm Your Emotional Support Animal', would be a return to greatness. It isn't.
When I worked at the Plastics Engineering Lab, we used to give customer seminars and were expected to entertain them at night. We often took them to the Latin Casino nightclub for a dinner show. It was fun because I got to see a lot of famous acts: Bobby Darin, Gladys Knight and the Pips, the Fifth Dimension, Don Rickles, etc. These acts offered a variety of material - not just music from their library hits or jokes from television appearances but new material as well.
In the late 1960s, Flip Wilson was one of the hottest comedians on television. He had a fairly stock line of jokes and skits. When he appeared at the Latin Casino, he offered exactly the same jokes as he did in his TV act, except he added lots of profanity. It was a big disappointment.
Adam Carolla has appeared as a guest on numerous cable shows. I've seen him on Tucker Carlson and he's insightful and funny. Unfortunately, this book is little more than a profanity-laced rehash of his TV shtick. It is neither particularly insightful nor funny. Adam explains how our declining culture is now falling off a cliff, something that most of us can agree on. Unfortunately, the book is 194 pages of disorganized hodgepodge about safe spaces, phony commercials, Hollywood nutcases and professional victims. I found some repetition from his last few books and a lot of whining.
Adam made sure readers knew that he doesn't like Donald Trump and is an atheist. I found both positions ironic because many of the things Carolla bitches about were the very same things that President Trump tried to change and many of today's warped values bemoaned by Adam are because people have given up on religion and made political correctness, lefty causes and Twitter their new gods.
Verdict: Nothing to see - or read - here. Move along. Don't waste your time. (posted 4/22/21, permalink)
'Elvis In Vegas: How the King Reinvented the Las Vegas Show' by Richard Zoglin
The blurb for this book proclaims: "The story of how Las Vegas saved Elvis and Elvis saved Las Vegas in the greatest musical comeback of all time." Don't believe it. Elvis' 'comeback' was his 1968 television special, which led to his renewed interest in touring - in Las Vegas and elsewhere. And Las Vegas was "saved" by increasing year-round convention business, as the mob departed and corporations took over. Anyone who watched the 1995 movie 'Casino' already knows that.
This book has relatively little to do with Elvis Presley and much more to do with the history of Las Vegas, starting with its 1930s cowboy-style gambling saloons and its postwar evolution into a mecca of East Coast mob-influenced nightclubs with casinos, and the development of more sophisticated and spectacular entertainment.
In 304 pages, the author provides a condensed history of Sin City, including the some of the lounge acts, a selection of popular comedians, the Rat Pack and eventually, some pop/rock superstars, including Elvis. If you want to know about Vegas, it's an OK read, although far from complete. If you're an Elvis fan, you'll be disappointed - there's little new information here and not much of it.
Verdict: Meh. Decent book, duplicitous title. (posted 4/14/21, permalink)
'Dodge Viper: The Full Story of the World's first V10 Sports Car' by David Zatz
The Dodge Viper is a specialty sports car manufactured by Chrysler Corp. and its successor companies from 1992 through 2017, having taken a brief hiatus in 2007 and from 2010 to 2012. Over its lifetime, about 31,500 Vipers were produced. By comparison, Chevrolet often produces that many Corvettes in a single year.
The Viper was publicly unveiled in concept form at the January 1989 Detroit Auto Show. It was intended to be a basic no-bones roadster - a modern interpretation of the 1960s-era Shelby Cobra - and was powered by a large aluminum-block V10 engine. Public reaction was so strong that a business case was quickly developed to put the car into production. Using 'skunkworks' tactics, the production version was developed for a relatively low cost of $85 million. Customer deliveries began in early 1992.
The first generation Viper was crude by modern standards. It lacked creature comforts such as air conditioning, automatic transmission, ABS, cruise control, side windows or exterior door handles. It was wickedly fast with its 400 horsepower engine delivering 0-60-0 times of 14.5 seconds and a top speed of 165 mph. Priced at around $50,000, not including the gas guzzler tax of $1,700 (because of its poor mileage - 13 mpg city rating), the Viper found many buyers. In fact, some Dodge dealers were demanding double the sticker price.
Testers at various car buff magazines complained that the first-gen Viper was raucous and crude with kit-car-like quality. One said that the V10 engine "sounded like a UPS truck." In subsequent model years, many shortcomings were addressed and creature comforts were added. Eventually, a coupe model was added to the Viper line.
The Viper gained quite a fan base. Jeff Dunham, well-known U.S. comedian and ventriloquist, saw one in a showroom and bought it, remarking, "Finally, someone my age who had Hot Wheels as a kid is turning them into real cars. ... It was so cool and I had a blast driving it." (Dunham related this tale in the book, 'A Man & His Car' by Matt Hranek.)
This medium-format (9" x 10"), hardcover book is 136 pages long with 123 pictures, mostly color. The author is well-known to Mopar aficionados and provides a very thorough history of this uniquely American sports car. He tells the Viper story with enthusiasm and accuracy. He profiles the engineers and managers who championed the Viper - Bob Lutz was a strong promoter and eventually got Lee Iacocca to green-light the project with gusto once the business case was made. Author Zatz discusses the difficult times during the many changes of ownership and celebrates he Viper's racing victories - a class win at LeMans on a shoestring budget, record Nürbürgring lap times in 2017 and more. The book contained many interesting tidbits. I learned much, including the fact that the Viper hood emblem looks like Daffy Duck when viewed upside-down!
Verdict: Highly recommended for anyone interested in the iconic Viper. This is a single-source tome for all things Viper-related. Thorough, yet very readable. (Review copy provided by Veloce Publishing) (posted 4/8/21, permalink)
'Virgil Exner - Visioneer, The Official Biography of Virgil M. Exner, Designer Extraordinaire' by Peter Grist
Virgil Exner was a talented designer and stylist, whose work is best known in the automotive field. Working for General Motors in the 1930s, he developed the Silver Streak brightwork first seen adorning the 1936 Pontiac hood. The Silver Streak remained a Pontiac signature style element for over 20 years. He worked at Studebaker during the 1940s - first as an employee of Raymond Loewy - who held the Studebaker design contract - and later as a direct Studebaker employee.
While Loewy always claimed credit for his employee's work, it is generally acknowledged that Exner deserves much of the credit for the radical 'Which Way Is It Going?' 1947 Studebaker design - a three box, mostly slab-sided style with pontoon rear fender which was quickly copied by other automakers. After working for Loewy for several years, Exner came to despise him for his slave-driving attitude and usurping credit for the work of others.
Virgil Exner began working for Chrysler, where he was noted for the beautifully-designed, Italian built concept cars the Firearrow series. He developed the Forward Look of the 1955-56 Chrysler Corporation line, but is best-known for the 1957 low-profile, big-finned cars, including the Chrysler 300C and the 'Suddenly It's 1960' 1957 Plymouth.
Today, these designs look dated but their effect on the industry was profound. I've written before that when General Motors found out about Virgil Exner's '57 Chrysler Corp. line-up, the styling department almost soiled its corporate trousers. Suddenly, The General realized that Harley Earl's age of high 'power dome' hoods and chrome applied by the bucketful with a trowel was over. It was too late to do anything about the '58 models (the '58 Buicks and Oldsmobiles are case studies in high hoods and excess brightwork), but a crash program was initiated to make GM's 1959 models as wild as Chrysler's. The result was the soaring-finned '59 Caddy and the bat-winged '59 Chevy. Earl was retired in 1958.
Learning about the forthcoming Exner-inspired 1959 Chevrolet, panic ensued at Ford Motor Company. The result was the Quicksilver project - a crash program to replace the square and stolid 1959 Ford with a 1960 model which could stand up stylistically to Chrysler and GM's long, low and wide offerings.
Exner also designed the 1960 Valiant small car. He fell out of favor and was unfairly blamed for the awkward, shortened and narrowed 1962 Plymouth and Dodge models and lost his styling vice presidency at Chrysler. Part of this move resulted from tumultuous internal politics at the company. Exner formed his own consultancy firm and was associated with many projects, including the 1965 Mercer-Cobra concept car , the ill-fated Duesenberg revival, and the limited-production, Pontiac-based Stutz Bearcat. He also did some consulting for boat builders and other industrial projects. Exner was well-liked by most of his contemporaries but appeared to be an easy mark for some of his later projects - putting in a lot of spec work and not getting paid. The first rule of consulting is: get a retainer upfront and then it's pay as you go.
This 8x10 softcover book is 176 pages long and contains over 330 photos - some color, mostly black & white. It is well-written - the author seems to be quite knowledgeable and obtained a lot of information from Virgil Exner, Jr. who was also a designer of some note. Exner Sr. died in 1973 after decades of heart troubles. My only complaint about the book was that the photos were captioned with small light blue text which was difficult to read without a magnifying glass.
Verdict: Highly-recommended - an important reference for those interested in car styling history from the 1930s through '70s as well as a fascinating insight into a most-influential automotive designer. (Review copy supplied by Veloce Publishing) (posted 3/22/21, permalink)
'The Amazon Jungle: The Truth About Amazon, The Seller's Survival Guide for Thriving on the World's Most Perilous E-Commerce Marketplace' by Jason R. Boyce and Rick Cesari
Over the past 50+ years, I've probably read almost a thousand business books. I used to spend several days each month on the road; I often spent my evenings reading books about business. Many books are written by people who are business writers and consultants. When you buy one of their books, you're buying a few hours of their time for a modest price. If you paid for personal, one-on-one meetings with these people, you might spend thousands of dollars. If you attended one of their speeches or seminars, you still might pay hundreds of dollars and only get to hear them for an hour or so. That's why, in my opinion, their books are bargains.
These authors have put their hearts and souls into their books and filled them with valuable information. They provide recommendations and ideas which are based on their experience and expertise. Oh sure, I've read a few books which were not so hot, but I never read a business book that didn't have at least one idea I could use. If the book was a real stinker, I'd tear out and keep the page with the one good idea and throw the rest of the book away. And I'd put that idea to use.
That said, do not throw any parts of this book away. This short book - 212 pages - offers a ton of powerful and practical suggestions about how to be a successful Third Party Seller on Amazon. It is chock full of excellent ideas, many of which are useful, even if you never sell anything through Amazon.
First, you must remember that Amazon is a monster - in more ways than one. They are the 800-pound gorilla of retailing - a powerhouse that becomes a seller's major - or only - customer. And - the other way it's a monster - the Amazon gorilla throws its weight around, demanding special treatment, more favorable terms and price concessions. And the big gorilla will kick you off the team if its demands are not met promptly. Coauthor Jason R. Boyce, noted, "Amazon is not an easy place to get rich, if you're a Third Party Seller."
Amazon accounts for 83% of books sold in the United States. And, according to the book, at least 55% of all e-commerce sales come from Amazon. Amazon has over 150,000,000 Prime subscribers. The online retailer lists over a half-billion products on its site and has millions of Third Party Sellers. But only 200,000 Amazon TPS sell more than $100,000 worth of merchandise annually and only 50,000 sellers break the $500,000/year sales barrier.
Amazon pushes Sponsored Ads which appear at the top of its search listing. Such listings used to cost vendors mere pennies per click. Now, they command prices of $17 per click - that's 'per click, not 'per sale' - for popular keywords searched. Amazon search is important, too: 46% of all shopping searches begin on Amazon versus only 38% originating on Google.
The authors show how to work the Amazon system. They don't speak in generalities. They provide specific examples - before and after case studies showing results. Boyce has nearly 20 years of experience as an Amazon Top Seller. Cesari's selling strategies created more sales while building brand awareness for products like GoPro, Sonicare, OxiClean, and the George Foreman Grill. One tidbit I learned from the book is that over 120 million George Foreman grills have been sold to date - via TV ads, brick-and-mortar retailers and online retailers.
There is a large section on general marketing, which applies to selling on any medium. Rick Cesari spends many pages discussing the advantage of stating benefits rather than features in all communications and ads. This was first promoted over 50 years ago in what was then the Xerox Sales Training Program - a multi-day business workshop created by the copier giant.
In one of my business books, first published in the late 1990s, I wrote, "Sell the benefits of your product or service (Here's how our autotacko device will help you ...) rather than features (Our gizmo has a 25 megagig autotacko with 12 terraherz flanz). If you have twelve benefits to offer, state no more than four." Too many benefits will simply confuse the reader and may lower your credibility. "Hey," they'll think, "Nobody can be that good!" And: "Have a little story for each piece you show. Make sure the story relates to a customer problem you solved by using your head. State benefits, not features. Don't say things like, "Yep, we got a new Brookerson 440 that's CAD-driven and it can do 75 square furlongs an hour." Benefit-staters say, "We have a fully equipped modern shop. That's a benefit to you because we can hold those Level 6 tolerances you need on every one of our machines. That's why we can offer such remarkably flexible delivery schedules which you've said are so important." That's benefit-selling."
The book paints a clear and honest picture of what it's like to sell on Amazon and reveals many of Amazon's hidden agendas. It also provides a plethora of valuable nuggets showing how to succeed as an Amazon seller.
Verdict: Highly recommended. This is a must-read for anyone selling or planning to sell on Amazon. For others, it offers an eye-opening glimpse of Amazon's internal workings. (posted 3/15/21, permalink)
Corvette Stingray - The Mid-Engine Revolution
This just-published book lists Chevrolet as the author; it is a company-sponsored publication, with a foreword by General Motors president Mark Reuss. Don't let that scare you off - it is an honest book which reveals many of the trials and tribulations of trying to get a high-performance, mid-engined, reasonably-priced sports car to market.
It took 50-plus painful years to achieve and the book documents many of the pitfalls - the battles between Zora Arkus-Duntov and various Chevrolet managers and GM executives over the years, as well as the sidetracking caused by Ed Cole's fascination with the ill-fated Wankel rotary engine. (In the early '70s, I saw my first and only NSU Ro 80, the Wankel-engined, technologically-advanced German sedan parked in front of the General Motors Technical Center in Warren, MI.) Arkus-Duntov retired in 1975 at age 65 but he continued to consult for General Motors, after a brief fling with the ill-fated DeLorean automobile.
To keep the costs down, Chevy didn't use a supercar-like carbon fiber tub for the mid-engined Vette. Everything is made of aluminum (much of it high-pressure die cast), except for two carbon pieces for the rear bumper beam and an underbody panel running along the bottom of the center tunnel. The production car weighs 3,366 pounds dry. The engine is an overhead-valve 6.2-liter LT2 naturally aspirated V8 engine that makes 495 horsepower and 470 pound-feet of torque with the optional exhaust. Without the sport exhaust it makes 490 horsepower and 465 pound-feet of torque. It surprised me that, after all these years, Corvette hasn't switched to an overhead-cam motor.
This book has a few shortcomings. Surprisingly, no pages of technical, dimensional and performance specifications are to be found. There is no index at the end. There is some repetition of stories, in particular, the 1960 CERV I single-seat, mid-engined concept car, which was - it seemed to me - a developmental dead end.
It is a large format (9.625 in. x 10.75 in.), 208 page hardcover book and is full of professionally-shot photos, mostly in color. This book was supposed to be released in early 2020 (to coincide with initial sales of the new Corvette) but was delayed - as were many other titles - by the pandemic. Nevertheless, it was worth the wait. I enjoyed the many photos and learned much about the new Corvette's development and the people behind it.
Verdict: Highly Recommended. This is the official story of the mid-engined Corvette and will excite every Corvette enthusiast. (Review copy provided by Motorbooks, a Quarto imprint) (posted 3/11/21, permalink)
'Is This Anything?' by Jerry Seinfeld
It's hard to believe that Jerry is almost 67 years old and that he started his career working stand-up gigs in 1975. His television show ran from 1988 to '98. So long ago.
This is a very funny book. At times, I was laughing out loud as I read it. There are some old bits here but I'd guess that 80% is new material - to me. It's not a traditional joke book; it's Jerry's familiar observational humor - his reflections on the absurdities of life.
Here are some tidbits:
• Jerry invents names for conditions of familiar inanimate objects. A worn-our, disintegrating kitchen sponge is said to have 'sponge leprosy'.
• Men like suits so much that pajamas are styled "to look like a tiny suit. Three buttons down the front. The little lapels. Breast pocket. What's that for? You put a pencil in there. Roll over in the middle of the night. You kill yourself." Jerry focuses a lot on death, pointing out that he bought a waterproof watch when he went scuba diving: "Well, I'm completely out of oxygen and look at the time. Now I'm dead and I'm late." He thinks people accumulate too much stuff: "And when I hear about someone that died and wanted some important personal possessions put in with them when they're buried, I am all for that. Take your crap with you. They say you can't take it with you. I say, Let's try."
• Zip lines at jungle resorts mystify him. People are "willing to risk decapitation to find out what it feels like to be dry cleaning."
• Jerry posits that Swanson's TV Dinners are a "little taste of prison in your own home." He considers it the most depressing meal in the world. "I don't want to live like this anymore. Swanson … why don't they call it Swan Song?"
• He doesn't think much of those family stickers on the back windows of minivans: "There's two lesbians, a Rottweiler and a Korean kid. … We don't need to know more. You're in a minivan. Doesn't that tell us enough?"
• Jerry wants to ask Darth Vader: "So, are you able to go anywhere without the music? If you get up in the middle of the night to pee, does it come blasting on waking everybody up? If you stop, does the music stop?"
• He witnessed the birth of his children. "The doctor picks the baby up. Her head just pops up from behind the sheet. It's like a 'Kukla, Fran and Ollie' show. … This is the greatest puppet show I've ever seen."
• Jerry doesn't like waiters asking, "Would you like to hear the Specials?" "No. If they're so Special, put them on the menu. I'm not interested in food that's auditioning to get on the team." He noted that the check always shows up in that "special book like it's 'The Story of the Bill'. Yeah, here's the story: Once upon a time, you got ripped."
• As a kid, he liked getting ice cream from the Good Humor truck, with the "little menu of the different ice creams you could buy. It was placed right over the exhaust pipe of the truck … You had a Dixie Cup, it was the equivalent of smoking a pack of Camels."
There is even a chapter devoted to Flex Seal. The last chapter. I guess because it seals the deal.
Verdict: Highly recommended. Lotsa laughs. (posted 1/14/21, permalink)
More book reviews are posted here.
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