First chapter of my novel, Red Metal

redmetal_cover_e-book-smallMy novel, Red Metal, is available for purchase here. It’s the story of the battle between the CEO of a copper-mining company and the hedge-fund manager who decides to shake him down or take him down.

The first chapter is below.

Chapter One

Twice a year–once in the spring after the chill vanishes, and again just before it rematerializes in late fall–the CEOs of the world’s major mining companies gird for battle, board their Gulfstreams and head toward Teterboro, their metropolitan New York airport of choice, across the Hudson and just 12 miles northwest of midtown Manhattan. Invariably, they travel with a small entourage–a pilot, a co-pilot, a CFO, an investor relations VP, a PR executive (normally the sole woman in the group), and a junior staff member who keeps track of everything from restaurant reservations to thumb drives. They’re met by a limo or two, depending on the size of the group, and whisked to the St. Regis, the Waldorf Astoria, the Four Seasons or the Peninsula.

The CEOs drop anywhere from $1,000 to $4,300 or more a night for their suites. In return, they enjoy a bed the size of Montana, a room-service menu featuring $8 Cokes and $65 filet mignons, and at some hotels, a personal butler on call 24 hours a day. Mostly, they want a night of peace and luxurious isolation before their next day’s ordeal.

They come for one reason: to run through their PowerPoints at mining-related investor conferences. They get 20 minutes plus a Q&A session to wrestle whiz-kid analysts–often the same age as or younger than their children–into believing the stock of their company is worth buying, and worth buying now. Analyst recommendations have a strong influence on stock price, so winning their favor is an important part of a CEO’s job.

Beginning about two weeks in advance, the CEOs’ lawyers, advisors and handlers help them work through their spiels and practice answers to any and all questions that might surface. Their real job, though, is to try to coat the CEOs with a temporary veneer of civility. In the cocoon of power surrounding them, CEOs don’t often get challenged, and most of them have to be coached to forego the withering looks and tongue lashings they dispense so easily to those summoned to their corner offices.

Some wear their masks better than others. They’re the ones who enjoy the game of matching wits with the best, newly minted MBAs from Harvard, Wharton and Columbia.

Others have all they can handle to keep the veneer from cracking. Not far beneath the surface, they resent having to court little pissants who’ve never had to fight a union, wrangle a price concession from a supplier, or negotiate a decent interest rate from a lender. About a decade ago, one of the pissant haters caught my eye.

I’m David Brown, and I started Galileo Capital Management in the late 1990s. I was 33 at the time. You’d call me a hedge fund manager–and I was–but I’d ask you to believe we’re not all cut from the same cloth. Or at least entertain the idea. I wanted the money, of course, and when I started out, I played games like “short and distort.” I’d sell a stock short; spread a few, well-placed rumors to create a panic; and make several million when the stock price fell and I bought shares back to cover my position.

That kind of thing works–you see it every day–but eventually I stopped. I might have had a pang of conscience or two. Mainly, though, I figured instead of playing games, I could rake in a lot more money by making sport of CEOs who can’t feel the intensifying tremors preparing to shake their world to its foundations. Which is why, in the spring of 2005, I went to the Albright Swanson Mining Investor Conference at the St. Regis to watch Jeff Fowler in action.

Fowler’s company, Red Metal Corporation, mined copper, and a lot of it. Three billion pounds a year, to be exact, whenever copper prices turned for the better and its mines revved up to full production. Do the math. Every penny increase in copper price meant $30 million more in sales for Red Metal, and prices had jumped from 70 cents a pound at the end of 2002 to $1.50 in the spring of 2005.  That multiplied out to about $2.4 billion a year more in revenue–or a billion and a half in pre-tax earnings–with more to come if copper prices continued to climb (and they did). Red Metal’s stock price had more than doubled in two years. Naturally, the company scrambled to turn out every pound of copper it could scrounge from the ground in Arizona, New Mexico, Chile, Peru and Australia.

Fowler’s session took place in the Versailles Room, which, true to its name, is all gilt-and-glass chandeliers, plush carpet and drapes, ceiling rings and medallions, velvet flocked wallpaper, and paneled mirrors. It could have been airlifted from France and dropped whole cloth into the second floor at the St. Regis. When I entered, I had my first real look at the man from Arizona.

You’d spot him immediately as a CEO–tall, balding and brawny, more than big enough to dominate the lectern he’d be using, and dressed according to the code of the time, nearly–white shirt, red tie, but in a gray suit a few shades lighter than the usual charcoal gray. New Yorkers would mock it, but it probably withstood the heat better than standard-issue gray in the convection oven that is Phoenix five months a year. Someone had thought to add a nicely patterned, dark-red pocket square for a touch of style.

Fowler made the trip to New York when he had to, but I’d read, besides mining and his family, his only other pursuit was hunting big game in the West. “If I had my way, I’d be happy if I never had to travel anywhere east of Denver,” he said in the Forbes profile published when he became CEO in 2000.

Other CEOs used the time before presentations to allow the Albright Swanson session moderators to schmooze them. Fowler couldn’t be bothered. He stayed nose down and head down in whatever words or numbers held his attention, warding off any attempts by attendees or moderators to make small talk with him.

He looked up shortly before his time began, perched three feet above us on the podium erected for the event, scanning the room. One moment, he resembled a bald eagle scoping out his prey. The next, he seemed more like a buck making sure he knew whether any predators lurked nearby.

About 80 of us, nearly all men, sat in the rows of padded chairs facing Fowler. I looked fairly fresh because I had popped in just for his session.  The others wore dark suits that had wilted and wrinkled during a morning of nonstop sessions. Some held white Styrofoam cups of stale coffee, others rifled through packets of information accumulated from the day’s presentations. Opaque shades covered the windows, but the ceiling-mounted projector threw off enough light to make us visible from the dais.

Fowler must have known some attendees, but he acknowledged no one. His eyes caught mine, and he took a few seconds to size me up. I felt I had been tagged and filed away in his brain for future reference.

I don’t intimidate easily. I’m a Wharton grad, after all. By comparison, Fowler’s alma mater, the University of Arizona, paled in prestige. But I had to admit, he stacked up as a potentially formidable opponent. The Forbes profile said he held degrees in law, accounting, and mineral economics, whatever that was. He’d beaten out mining executives with seven to 10 years’ more tenure to become the CEO of Red Metal. And, I knew, he had spit out three investor relations executives in five years. Good ones, too, I thought, but apparently none with enough game to please Fowler.

As I said, these presentations had the sole purpose of convincing analysts why they should buy a stock, and why they should buy it now. Like any other CEO, Fowler blew through the obligatory safe harbor pitch (which boils down to “any forward-looking statements may or may not be bullshit; we don’t think we’re lying, and we’re acting in good faith, but are we deluded? Overly optimistic? Judge for yourself.”) Then he cut to the rest of his slides.

He had his material down cold–every number, every phrase, every fact. He had rehearsed so well that, instead of checking his notes, he watched the audience to monitor their reactions. He didn’t rush, and he didn’t dawdle. He never lapsed into “ums” and “uhs.” He stumbled only once, over the word “molybdenum,” a metal sometimes found with copper. He even sparked a little laugh when he said, “You know what? Let’s just call it ‘molly’ from here on out.”

I’d heard him described as introverted, but that didn’t keep him from projecting an authority that conveyed command of his time and space. He might not have enjoyed speaking, but I could tell he demanded perfection of himself. Chances were he demanded it of those around him, which isn’t necessarily a good thing for someone who’s supposed to be focused on creating a vision and a future for his company.

Fowler made a simple pitch. The worldwide increase in demand for copper, especially from China, meant good things for Red Metal. His company knew the business well. It had been mining copper for all of its 130-year history. Its hard-nosed management kept Red Metal from bankruptcy during the last downturn in copper prices, and the company’s conservative management would avoid doing anything reckless with its newfound fortune. The money would be used for four purposes–to invest in existing businesses, improve the quality of its asset base, strengthen the balance sheet, and finally, reward shareholders.

When he finished, one of the whiz kids stepped into the ring with him.

“Jeff, it appears we have a question from our own Mark Hall of Albright Swanson,” the moderator said.

Mark couldn’t have been more than a year removed from his MBA program. He looked the part. Navy blue suit, highly starched white shirt, red tie, horn-rimmed glasses, neither tall nor short, trim, ramrod erect, a full head of curly hair, and a tilt of the head that made him seem just a bit cocky.

“Mr. Fowler, from time to time, Red Metal is rumored to be in the hunt when another copper-mining company is up for sale, but you never pull the trigger. Companies who make the acquisitions have seen them do well, and these days, with copper prices where they are, it seems you’d have little reason not to be aggressive in buying another company. Will you continue to be as conservative as you have been when it comes to pursuing these opportunities?”

After a smirk he made no attempt to hide, Fowler shook his head and replied: “It’s Investor Relations 101 not to comment on any specific opportunities we may or may not be pursuing, as I’m sure you learned in school. I also don’t comment on opportunities we may or may not have pursued. Are we conservative? Sure, and thank God we are, or we would never have made it through the last tanking of copper prices. Being conservative, in fact, has gotten us through 130 years.

“You’re seeing an extraordinary spike in copper prices, and I’m sure you can think of all kinds of ways for us to spend our new money. But I’ve been in this business long enough to know the bottom can drop out overnight, and it’s damned tough to make it through the hard times. For once, I want to go through the next downturn–and there will be one–with a cushion.

“We’ll look at any decent investment, but I’m not going to go on a buying spree just because happy days are here again. Besides, wouldn’t it be smarter to hold onto our money and buy later, when company valuations are down again? We understand the business, and we’ll manage it for the long haul. We’ll share the wealth with our shareholders–we plan to, when it’s appropriate. Maybe you’ll understand if you stick around a while.”

Mark’s shoulders sagged, and his eyes fell to the floor. Fowler might have had the short-term satisfaction of chastening him, but if Mark proved to have a long career as a copper analyst, he could strike back in numerous ways in coming years. Not a smart move on Fowler’s part, I thought.

The Red Metal CEO took a few more questions, answered them with all the grace of a pro wrestler, and said a quick, perfunctory thanks when the session ended. He left the room with his CFO and Todd Williamson, his investor relations VP, doing his blocking and tackling. People tried to stop him, but the VP intervened and told anybody with a question to email him, not Fowler. If he could, he’d respond later.

I followed, watching Fowler stride through the hallway and disappear into the elevator. I took a few minutes in the hallway to listen to people react to Fowler’s remarks.

“Pretty damned sure of himself.”

“Smart guy, for sure. Tactful, no. Smart, yes.”

“He doesn’t tolerate fools lightly. He seems to think we’re mainly fools.”

I’d heard enough, so I took the stairs, left the hotel and walked to my office to come to a decision about whether it would be worth investing time and money to take down Jeff Fowler and his old-line, out-of-step company.

(Click here to buy Red Metal.)

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My book clubs’ selections for 2019

Here are the books my two book clubs read in 2019, month by month. Check them out. You might find a few to be of interest. At the bottom of the article, you’ll find links to the books we read in 2010, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, and 2018. (Yeah, I slacked off for a couple of years.)

January

There There by Tommy Orange. What does it really mean to be an Indian/Native American/American Indian/Native? Orange’s vivid debut novel allows a unique cast—ranging from teenagers to elders—to pull this question apart even as they add a modern layer of complexity: They live in the urban landscape of Oakland, California.

Lake Success by Gary Shteyngart. Barry Cohen has achieved the American Dream. He manages a hedge fund with $2.4 billion in assets. He lives in Tribeca and has a beautiful wife. He even has a case full of extremely expensive watches. He appears, at least on the surface, to be a highly unlikely candidate for a cross-country journey to find himself. But when we first meet Barry, he is stressed out and unhappy, and he is bleeding because his wife recently attacked him. Soon we learn that there is more imperfection in his life: his son is autistic and an SEC investigation is hanging over his head.

February

An Odyssey: A Father, a Son, and an Epic by Daniel Mendelsohn. Daniel Mendelsohn skillfully interweaves a compelling father and son narrative along with commentary on the text of the Odyssey. The prose is superb, the characters engaging and the narrative makes the reader interested enough to continue reading.

If Beale Street Could Talk by James Baldwin. In this honest and stunning novel, James Baldwin has given America a moving story of love in the face of injustice. Told through the eyes of Tish, a nineteen-year-old girl, in love with Fonny, a young sculptor who is the father of her child, Baldwin’s story mixes the sweet and the sad. Tish and Fonny have pledged to get married, but Fonny is falsely accused of a terrible crime and imprisoned.

March

Peace Like a River by Leif Enger. Enger brings us eleven-year-old Reuben Land, an asthmatic boy in the Midwest who has reason to believe in miracles. Along with his sister and father, Reuben finds himself on a cross-country search for his outlaw older brother who has been charged with murder. Their journey unfolds like a revelation, and its conclusion shows how family, love, and faith can stand up to the most terrifying of enemies, and the most tragic of fates.

Noir: A Novel by Christopher Moore. Madcap novelist Christopher Moore offers up this zany noir set on the mean streets of post-World War II San Francisco. It features a diverse cast of characters, including a hapless bartender; his Chinese sidekick; a doll with sharp angles and dangerous curves; a tight-lipped Air Force general; a wisecracking waif; Petey, a black mamba; and many more.

April

Red Notice by Bill Browder. Browder’s business saga meshes well with the story of corruption and murder in Vladimir Putin’s Russia. You’ll learn much more about the Magnitsky Act and why Donald Trump Jr. was talking with Russians about “adoptions.”

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng. Little Fires Everywhere explores the weight of secrets, the nature of art and identity, and the ferocious pull of motherhood—and the danger of believing that following the rules can avert disaster.

May

All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque. Considered by many the greatest war novel of all time, All Quiet on the Western Front is Erich Maria Remarque’s masterpiece of the German experience during World War I.

BONUS Book: This month, we also read The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien. The book is a series of anecdotes about O’Brien’s experiences in Vietnam, written many years after his return to the USA. The writing is elegant and engaging. The stories are written from a close point of view giving a real sense of being with the characters: of sharing their experiences in a vivid and thought provoking way. 

Inheritance: A Memoir of Genealogy, Paternity and Love by Dani Shapiro. When she takes a DNA test, Shapiro learns her orthodox Jewish father is not her biological father. Written with generosity and honesty, Inheritance takes the modern phenomenon of casual DNA testing and builds a deeply personal narrative around it.

June

The Feather Thief by Kirk Wallace Johnson. This book turns a true crime story–about feathers stolen from a British museum–into a thriller. Interesting exploration of the world of people who tie fishing flies for sport or hobby and their desire to get their hands on rare feathers to pursue their passion.

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley.  Brave New World is a searching vision of an unequal, technologically-advanced future where humans are genetically bred, socially indoctrinated, and pharmaceutically anesthetized to passively uphold an authoritarian ruling order–all at the cost of their freedom, their humanity, and perhaps their souls.

July

Eager: The Surprising, Secret Life of Beavers by Ben Goldfarb. If you aren’t already, Ben Goldfarb’s book will make you a fan of these intelligent, inventive, resilient rodents—and might just tail-slap a politician or two into realizing how much we need them to restore our critical wetlands.”

Best. Movie. Year. Ever: How 1999 Blew Up the Big Screen by Brian Raftery. In 1999, Hollywood exploded: Fight Club. The Matrix. Office Space. Election. The Blair Witch Project. The Sixth Sense. Being John Malkovich. Star Wars: The Phantom Menace. American Beauty. The Virgin Suicides. Boys Don’t Cry. The Best Man. Three Kings. Magnolia. Raftery argues it was the best movie year ever. You may disagree, but this book is still an interesting look at an influential year.

August

The Cellist of Sarajevo by Steven Galloway. A novel of great intensity and power, and inspired by a true story, The Cellist of Sarajevo poignantly explores how war can change one’s definition of humanity, the effect of music on our emotional endurance, and how a romance with the rituals of daily life can itself be a form of resistance.

Love and Other Consolation Prizes by Jamie Ford. For twelve-year-old Ernest Young, a charity student at a boarding school, the chance to go to the World’s Fair feels like a gift. But only once he’s there, amid the exotic exhibits, fireworks, and Ferris wheels, does he discover that he is the one who is actually the prize. The half-Chinese orphan is astounded to learn he will be raffled off—a healthy boy “to a good home,” which turns out to be a brothel.

September

The Monkey Wrench Gang by Edward Abbey. Ex-Green Beret George Hayduke has returned from war to find his beloved southwestern desert threatened by industrial development. Joining with Bronx exile and feminist saboteur Bonnie Abzug, wilderness guide and outcast Mormon Seldom Seen Smith, and libertarian billboard torcher Doc Sarvis, M.D., Hayduke is ready to fight the strip miners, the clear-cutters, and the highway, dam, and bridge builders who are threatening the natural habitat. The Monkey Wrench Gang is on the move, and peaceful coexistence be damned!

The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead. In this follow-up to the Pulitzer Prize, and National Book Award-winning The Underground Railroad, Colson Whitehead brilliantly dramatizes another strand of American history through the story of two boys sentenced to a hellish reform school in Jim Crow-era Florida. The novel is based on the real story of a reform school in Florida that operated for one hundred and eleven years and warped the lives of thousands of children.

October

Machines Like Me by Ian McEwan. Machines Like Me takes place in an alternative 1980s London. Charlie, drifting through life and dodging full-time employment, is in love with Miranda, a bright student who lives with a terrible secret. When Charlie comes into money, he buys Adam, one of the first synthetic humans and—with Miranda’s help—he designs Adam’s personality. The near-perfect human that emerges is beautiful, strong, and clever. It isn’t long before a love triangle soon forms, and these three beings confront a profound moral dilemma.

CivilWarLand in Bad Decline by George Saunders. Since its publication in 1996, George Saunders’s debut collection has grown in esteem from a cherished cult classic to a masterpiece of the form, inspiring an entire generation of writers along the way. In six stories and a novella, Saunders hatches an unforgettable cast of characters, each struggling to survive in an increasingly haywire world. 

November

The Professor and the Madman by Simon Winchester. The making of the Oxford English Dictionary was one of the most ambitious projects ever undertaken. As definitions were collected, the overseeing committee, led by Professor James Murray, was stunned to discover that one man, Dr. W. C. Minor, had submitted more than ten thousand. But their surprise would pale in comparison to what they were about to discover when the committee insisted on honoring him. For Dr. Minor, an American Civil War veteran, was also an inmate at an asylum for the criminally insane.

Every Man Dies Alone by Hans Fallada. Otto and Anna Quangel receive a letter informing them that their son, a soldier in the German army, has been killed in the invasion of France. The Quangels later decide to engage in a secret plan to inform Germans about the reality of Nazism—leaving anonymous messages on postcards in places throughout Berlin—a decision that sets off a series of events and an intense manhunt that demonstrates what life was really like in the Third Reich. 

December

In Hoffa’s Shadow by Jack Goldsmith. In Hoffa’s Shadow tells the moving story of how Jack Goldsmith reunited with Chuckie O’Brien, the stepfather he’d disowned, and then set out to unravel one of the twentieth century’s most persistent mysteries and Chuckie’s role in it. Along the way, Goldsmith explores Jimmy Hoffa’s rise and fall and why the golden age of blue-collar America came to an end, while also casting new light on the century-old surveillance state, the architects of Hoffa’s disappearance, and the heartrending complexities of love and loyalty.

Darkside and Arcadia, two plays by Tom Stoppard. Darkside is Stoppard’s one-hour play loosely based on Pink Floyd’s album, The Dark Side of the Moon. The other play, Arcadia, alternates between two centuries and explores the nature of truth and time, the difference between the Classical and the Romantic temperament, and the disruptive influence of sex on our orbits in life. In a large country house in Derbyshire in April 1809 sit Lady Thomasina Coverly, aged thirteen, and her tutor, Septimus Hodge. Through the window may be seen some of the 500 acres inclusive of lake where Capability Brown’s idealized landscape is about to give way to the picturesque Gothic style–“everything but vampires,” as the garden historian Hannah Jarvis remarks to Bernard Nightingale when they stand in the same room 180 years later. Bernard has arrived to uncover the scandal which is said to have taken place when Lord Byron stayed at Sidley Park.

Book club selections in 2018

Book club selections in 2017

Book club selections in 2016

Book club selections in 2015

Book club selections in 2014

Book club selections in 2013

Book club selections in 2010

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My book clubs’ selections for 2018

I joined a second book club in 2018, so I’m sharing the books both clubs read, month by month. Check them out. You might find a few to be of interest. At the bottom of the article, you’ll find links to the books my original book club read in 2010, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2017. (Yeah, I slacked off for a couple of years.)

JanuaryFahrenheit 451Ray Bradbury’s internationally acclaimed novel Fahrenheit 451 is a masterwork of twentieth-century literature set in a bleak, dystopian future. Guy Montag is a fireman. In his world, where television rules and literature is on the brink of extinction, firemen start fires rather than put them out. His job is to destroy the most illegal of commodities, the printed book, along with the houses in which they are hidden.

FebruaryThe Winter of Our Discontent (Penguin Classics). Ethan Allen Hawley, the protagonist of John Steinbeck’s last novel, works as a clerk in a grocery store that his family once owned. With Ethan no longer a member of Long Island’s aristocratic class, his wife is restless, and his teenage children are hungry for the tantalizing material comforts he cannot provide. Then one day, in a moment of moral crisis, Ethan decides to take a holiday from his own scrupulous standards.

MarchCity of Dreams: Dodger Stadium and the Birth of Modern Los Angeles. In a vivid narrative, Jerald Podair tells how Los Angeles was convulsed between 1957 and 1962 over whether, where, and how to build Dodger Stadium. Competing civic visions clashed. Would Los Angeles be a decentralized, low-tax city of neighborhoods, as demanded by middle-class whites on its peripheries? Or would the baseball park be the first contribution to a revitalized downtown that would brand Los Angeles as a national and global city, as advocated by leaders in business, media, and entertainment?

The Locals: A Novel. Jonathan Dee’s book, set in a small town in Massachusetts’s Berkshires region, is a story about the life of local townspeople and an outsider from New York City who settles in the town. He is a rich man, gets elected as the first selectman due to town apathy, and bails the town out of its debts. Some of the locals appreciate his efforts while others oppose him, realizing they are losing their voice in governing and having their say in the local laws.

AprilA Gentleman in Moscow: A Novel. Amor Towles’s novel is set in 1922. Count Alexander Rostov is deemed an unrepentant aristocrat by a Bolshevik tribunal, and is sentenced to house arrest in the Metropol, a grand hotel across the street from the Kremlin. Rostov, an indomitable man of erudition and wit, has never worked a day in his life, and must now live in an attic room while some of the most tumultuous decades in Russian history are unfolding outside the hotel’s doors. Unexpectedly, his reduced circumstances provide him entry into a much larger world of emotional discovery.

A Tale of Love and Darkness. Amos Oz’s book is the story of a boy who grows up in war-torn Jerusalem, in a small apartment crowded with books in twelve languages and relatives speaking nearly as many. As an adolescent, his life is changed forever by his mother’s suicide. As a man, he leaves the constraints of his family and community to join a kibbutz. As a writer, he becomes an active participant in the political life of his nation.

May—The Butchering Art: Joseph Lister’s Quest to Transform the Grisly World of Victorian Medicine. Historian Lindsey Fitzharris reveals the shocking world of nineteenth-century surgery and shows how it was transformed by advances made in germ theory and antiseptics between 1860 and 1875. She conjures up early operating theaters—no place for the squeamish—and surgeons, who, working before anesthesia, were lauded for their speed and brute strength. At a time when surgery couldn’t have been more hazardous, an unlikely figure stepped forward: a young, melancholy Quaker surgeon named Joseph Lister who would change the course of history.

The Philosopher’s Flight: A Novel (The Philosophers Series). Tom Miller invents an early 20th century world where magic (of a sort) works (but is still feared by many). He weaves that element into a sort of suffragette novel, even though the protagonist is a man (and a good character in his own right). Since the “magic” is seen as something exclusively belonging to women, the hero suffers a large amount of prejudice trying to join their ranks, both from the outraged women themselves and from men who can’t understand why he would turn his back on “manly” pursuits.

June—The Reluctant Fundamentalist. Mohsin Hamid’s second novel, The Reluctant Fundamentalist, explores the story of Changez, a young Pakistani. Educated at Princeton, employed by a first-rate valuation firm, Changez was living the American dream, earning more money than he thought possible, caught up in the New York social scene and in love with a beautiful, wealthy, damaged girl. Changez is in Manila on 9/11 and sees the towers come down on TV. He tells the American, “…I smiled. Yes, despicable as it may sound, my initial reaction was to be remarkably pleased… ” When he returns to New York, there is a palpable change in attitudes toward him, starting right at immigration. His name and his face render him suspect. Eventually, his work and the money he earns are overtaken by resentment of the United States and all it stands for.

We Are Legion (We Are Bob) (Bobiverse) (Volume 1). In Dennis E. Taylor’s novel, Bob Johansson has just sold his software company and is looking forward to a life of leisure. So it’s a little unfair when he gets himself killed crossing the street. Bob wakes up a century later to find that corpsicles have been declared to be without rights, and he is now the property of the state. He has been uploaded into computer hardware and is slated to be the controlling AI in an interstellar probe looking for habitable planets. The stakes are high: no less than the first claim to entire worlds. If he declines the honor, he’ll be switched off, and they’ll try again with someone else. If he accepts, he becomes a prime target. There are at least three other countries trying to get their own probes launched first, and they play dirty. The safest place for Bob is in space, heading away from Earth at top speed. Or so he thinks. Because the universe is full of nasties, and trespassers make them mad — very mad.

July—The Kings of Big Spring: God, Oil, and One Family’s Search for the American Dream. Bryan Mealer’s book is a masterwork of memoir and narrative history, an indelible portrait of fortune and ruin as big as Texas itself. In telling the story of four generations of his family, Mealer also tells the story of how America came to be.

The Last Days of Night: A Novel. Graham Moore, the Oscar-winning screenwriter of The Imitation Game and New York Times bestselling author of The Sherlockian, offers a thrilling novel—based on actual events—about the nature of genius, the cost of ambition, and the battle to electrify America. Moore tells the story of the relationships between George Westinghouse; Nikola Tesla; Thomas Edison; Westinghouse’s lawyer, Paul Cravath; J. P. Morgan; and a host of New York socialites, mega-wealthy business men and politicians. (Note: Both book clubs read this book.)

August—Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup. John Carreyrou uncovered the colossal scandal surrounding Theranos, a Silicon Valley startup that lied its way to a valuation of more than $9 billion before crashing to the ground. This is a riveting story of the biggest corporate fraud since Enron, a tale of ambition and hubris set amid the bold promises of Silicon Valley.

There There: A novel. Native American Tommy Orange’s debut novel takes place mainly in Oakland, California, which Gertrude Stein famously described with these words: “There is no there, there.”  Set among the Native American population of Oakland, the book does not shrink from descriptions of addiction, crime, suicide and family desertion. The book is divided into four parts, and some 30 chapters, each chapter named for one of the characters: Tony Loneman, Dene Oxendene, Opal Viola Victoria Bear Shield, Jacquie Red Feather et al. At first the characters seem disconnected, but eventually you realize that they all have some connection to the forthcoming Great Powwow, to be held in the Oakland Coliseum. Some of these characters are part of the planning of the event, one has actually been hired to be the Master of Ceremony, one intends to set up a booth recording personal histories on tape, one plans to fly a drone into the Coliseum, one hopes to win prizes for dancing and drumming, and a gang of them intend to rob the place at gunpoint to pay off a drug debt.

September—Last Days of Night for one book club. The other skipped a month.

October—Leonardo da Vinci. In Leonardo da Vinci, Walter Isaacson describes how Leonardo’s delight at combining diverse passions remains the ultimate recipe for creativity. So, too, does his ease at being a bit of a misfit: illegitimate, gay, vegetarian, left-handed, easily distracted, and at times heretical. His life should remind us of the importance to be imaginative and, like talented rebels in any era, to think differently.

Educated: A Memoir. Born to survivalists in the mountains of Idaho, Tara Westover was seventeen the first time she set foot in a classroom. Her family was so isolated from mainstream society that there was no one to ensure the children received an education, and no one to intervene when one of Tara’s older brothers became violent. When another brother got himself into college, Tara decided to try a new kind of life. Her quest for knowledge transformed her, taking her over oceans and across continents, to Harvard and to Cambridge University. Only then would she wonder if she’d traveled too far, if there was still a way home.

NovemberStrange Case of Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde & Other Stories (Trade) (03) by Stevenson, Robert Louis [Paperback (2004)]. The Halloween season inspired us to read this collection of Stevenson stories. If you’ve seen a movie version of Jekyll and Hyde, prepare yourself for a story more nuanced and complex than what you’ve seen. A delightful read, and Stevenson shows himself in this collection to be a strong writer of short stories.

The New Confessions of an Economic Hit Man. Former economic hit man John Perkins, working to further US interests, shares details about the ways he and others cheated countries around the globe out of trillions of dollars. Then he reveals how the deadly economic hit man cancer he helped create has spread far more widely and deeply than ever in the US and everywhere else—to become the dominant system of business, government, and society today. Finally, he gives an insider view of what we each can do to change it.

December— In a Free State: A Novel. No writer has rendered our post-colonial world more acutely or prophetically than V. S. Naipaul, or given its upheavals such a hauntingly human face. A perfect case in point is this riveting novel, a masterful and stylishly rendered narrative of emigration, dislocation, and dread, accompanied by four supporting narratives.

Lake Success: A Novel. Author Gary Shteyngart introduces us to Barry Cohen, a narcissistic, hilariously self-deluded hedge-fund manager who is divorced from the real world as most of us know it. He oversees $2.4 billion in assets. Deeply stressed by an SEC investigation and by his three-year-old son’s diagnosis of autism, he flees New York on a Greyhound bus in search of a simpler, more romantic life with his old college sweetheart. Meanwhile, his super-smart wife, Seema—a driven first-generation American who craved the picture-perfect life that comes with wealth—has her own demons to face. How these two flawed characters navigate the chaos of their own making is at the heart of this piercing exploration of the 0.1 Percent, a poignant tale of familial longing and an unsentimental ode to what really makes America great.

Book club selections in 2017

Book club selections in 2016

Book club selections in 2015

Book club selections in 2014

Book club selections in 2013

Book club selections in 2010





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My book club’s selections for 2017

Here are the books my book club read in 2017. Check them out. You might find a few to be of interest. At the bottom of the article, you’ll find links to the books we read in 2010, 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2016.

January—Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance – A young, Scots-Irish lawyer who grew up in Tennessee and rural Ohio provides his insights into modern rural culture. He also discusses the factors that helped him push beyond his limited upbringing to the Marines, Yale Law School, and success as a San Francisco lawyer. This book will give you a glimpse into some of the dynamics that led many to vote for Donald Trump in the 2016 election.

February—The Sellout by Paul Beatty. A biting satire about a young man’s isolated upbringing and the race trial that sends him to the Supreme Court, Paul Beatty’s The Sellout showcases a comic genius at the top of his game. It challenges the sacred tenets of the United States Constitution, urban life, the civil rights movement, the father-son relationship, and the holy grail of racial equality—the black Chinese restaurant.

March—The Junction Boys by Jim Dent. The Junction Boys tells the story of Coach Paul “Bear” Bryant’s legendary training camp in the small town of Junction, Texas. In a move that many consider the salvation of the Texas A&M football program, Coach Bryant put 115 players through the most grueling practices ever imagined. Only a handful of players survived the entire 10 days, but they braved the intense heat of the Texas sun and the burning passion of their coach, and turned a floundering team into one of the nation’s best.

April—Midnight in Broad Daylight  by Pamela Rotner Sakamoto. The true story of a Japanese-American family that found itself on opposite sides during World War II—an epic tale of family, separation, divided loyalties, love, reconciliation, loss, and redemption—this is a riveting chronicle of U.S.–Japan relations and the Japanese experience in America.

May—Conclave by Robert Harris. The pope is dead. Behind the locked doors of the Sistine Chapel, one hundred and eighteen cardinals from all over the globe will cast their votes in the world’s most secretive election. They are holy men. But they have ambition. And they have rivals. Over the next seventy-two hours one of them will become the most powerful spiritual figure on Earth.

June—The Island at the Center of the World by Russell Shorto. As the song goes, “Even Old New York was once New Amsterdam.” Unfortunately, for many Americans, that is the limit of their knowledge about the Dutch colony that was seized by the English in 1664. Shorto, author of two previous books and articles published in the New Yorker and the New York Times Magazine, presents an outstanding and revealing chronicle of the Dutch presence on Manhattan Island.

July—The Association of Small Bombs by Karan Mahajan. Just as the author describes a market in Delhi, this novel “begins everywhere at once.” Readers are immediately thrown into urban India, piecing together the important players of this drama. Mahajan begins the novel by describing a singular, almost routine event of 1996: a car bomb in a crowded Delhi marketplace. In the years that follow, the lives of a survivor, the family of two deceased boys, and the bombers themselves become intertwined.

August—The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead. In this Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, Cora is a slave on a cotton plantation in Georgia. Life is hell for all the slaves, but especially bad for Cora; an outcast even among her fellow Africans, she is coming into womanhood—where even greater pain awaits. When Caesar, a recent arrival from Virginia, tells her about the Underground Railroad, they decide to take a terrifying risk and escape. Matters do not go as planned—Cora kills a young white boy who tries to capture her. Though they manage to find a station and head north, they are being hunted.

SeptemberCat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut. In this novel, scientists and G-men and even ordinary folks chase each other around in search of the world’s most important and dangerous substance, a new form of ice that freezes at room temperature. At one time, this novel could probably be found on the bookshelf of every college kid in America; it’s still a fabulous read and a great place to start if you’re young enough to have missed the first Vonnegut craze.

October—The Swerve by Stephen Greenblatt. Nearly six hundred years ago, a short, genial, cannily alert man in his late thirties took a very old manuscript off a library shelf, saw with excitement what he had discovered, and ordered that it be copied. That book was the last surviving manuscript of an ancient Roman philosophical epic, On the Nature of Things, by Lucretius―a beautiful poem of the most dangerous ideas: that the universe functioned without the aid of gods, that religious fear was damaging to human life, and that matter was made up of very small particles in eternal motion, colliding and swerving in new directions.

NovemberThe Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen. With the pace and suspense of a thriller and prose that has been compared to Graham Greene and Saul Bellow, The Sympathizer is a sweeping epic of love and betrayal. The narrator, a communist double agent, is a “man of two minds,” a half-French, half-Vietnamese army captain who arranges to come to America after the Fall of Saigon, and while building a new life with other Vietnamese refugees in Los Angeles is secretly reporting back to his communist superiors in Vietnam.

December—The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt. Theo Decker, a 13-year-old New Yorker, miraculously survives an accident that kills his mother. Abandoned by his father, Theo is taken in by the family of a wealthy friend. Bewildered by his strange new home on Park Avenue, disturbed by schoolmates who don’t know how to talk to him, and tormented above all by his longing for his mother, he clings to the one thing that reminds him of her: a small, mysteriously captivating painting that ultimately draws Theo into the underworld of art.

Book club selections in 2016

Book club selections in 2015

Book club selections in 2014

Book club selections in 2013

Book club selections in 2010





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