Monthly Archives: August 2011


Ron’s #34: Born to Run by Christopher McDougall

Born to Run by Christopher McDougall is one of the best books I’ve read this year, and I’m not even a real runner. My friend recommended this book to me two years ago, and told me that it was a story of a tribe of excellent runners in Mexico. I thought it sounded interesting, but never rushed to read it. When I was in the States this summer, Born to Run came up again and again in airports, bookstores, and my conversations. I thought it was time to read it, and I’m so glad I did.

My friend was right that there is a tribe of super-runners in the book, but that is far from the whole story. The frame story of the book is the author’s experience with runner. The book begins with his visits to several doctors to find treatment for his many running injuries. He is told many times that running is bad for us, and that we all are injured. His only solution, he was told, is to quit running or get a few cortisone shots to relieve the pain. McDougall was not ready to give up on his sport, so he began a search to run better.

Throughout the book we meet the Tarahumara runners from Mexico, a cast of characters involved in ultra-running (any race more than a regular 26.2-mile run, usually 50 to 100 miles), and the strange, elusive Caballo Blanco, a white man from Colorado who lives among the Tarahumara. Much of the story is the background on the runners: Barefoot Ted is a character too wildly obnoxious to be a real man; Billy and Jen the surfer/runners, and Scott Carrier, the vegetarian super-runner from Seattle. Caballo attempts to bring all of these superathletes together for a 50-mile race in Tarahumara country.

Born to Run is even more than a fascinating story of an impossible race with superheroes. As McDougall continues to find out how to run better, he offers a history of running, running shoes, and the Nike marketing machine. Along the way, he preaches on the benefits of barefoot running, and how modern running shoes actually cause us injury. You’ve no doubtedly have seen those silly Vibram Five Finger shoes. Those skyrocketed in popularity in response of this book. Around where I live, people wear them seemingly as a fashion statement (a poor one at that!). However, this book made an excellent case for barefoot running, and I’ve been looking online for a pair.

McDougall offers us a book that defies to be labeled as one type of book. It’s part biography, auto-biography, magazine reporting, science journal, sport history, and man-vs-nature story. He does all of these well.

Do yourself a favor and read this book, regardless if you like running or not. Just try to leave your Five Fingers in the closet unless you are running.


Mark’s #39 – The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make A Big Difference by Malcolm Gladwell

Earlier this year I discovered and read Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers, which I really enjoyed.  I have since purchased two more books by Gladwell, including this one.  As a writer, he has a way of looking at the world, digging deep into the ordinary, and drawing out some extraordinary conclusions and applications.  Like Outliers, Gladwell challenges traditional notions of how the world works, and in a compelling fashion, re-interprets the world as we know it.

In short, in this book, Gladwell attempts to explain how certain things “tip” to become social epidemics. For example, how is it that Paul Revere was so effective in spreading the word about the oncoming British, whereas other riders with the exact same message were unable to do so? Answer: Revere was what Gladwell calls both a connector (someone who knew a lot of people) and a maven (someone with expert knowledge – in this case, knowledge about the British).  Or how is it that fashion trends take off? How do books become best sellers?  Why has there been a rise in school shootings?  Why is Sesame Street so effective, and why is Blues Clues even more effective? Why did crime substantially drop on New York City Subways in the early 90′s? What’s the link between suicides in the South Pacific and teenage cigarette smoking?

Gladwell argues, and encourages others to think about, that there are often very small catalysts that cause various epidemics to ‘tip’.  For example, the dramatic rise in school shootings ‘tipped’ after the Columbine shootings in my home town of Littleton, Colorado, as other teens connected to the event, almost like they caught a a virus.

Or take the drop in crime on the NYC metro. The ‘tipping point for this decline was when new management of the system made it a top priority to crack down on and eliminate graffiti on the cars… to see why, you’ll need to read the book.

At times this book did feel a bit disjointed, though Gladwell throws in enough interesting illustrations to keep the reader engaged.  Also, though there was some, I would have liked to see a bit more application for thinking about creating epidemics ourselves, rather than reading example after example of how these things happened in the past. Because of this, I did not find this book quite as engaging as I did  Outliers.

As I reflect on the book, I wonder what changes I could make to create positive change in my world.  What small changes could you make in your life, career, community, or church that might serve as a ‘Tipping Point’ for an avalanche of change?


Ron’s #33: Demonic by Ann Coulter

I know I’m going to catch flack for this one, but I am happy to say that I enjoy a dose of Ann Coulter once in awhile. She’s an intelligent woman who is a good writer, and she is often pretty funny. I think her jokes/insults go further than I would go at times, but it is difficult to disagree with her conclusions. Lots of folks say terrible mean things about her, but it is not about her major points in politics. In fact, when I told a friend that I was reading this, his first comment was, “She is so hateful.” I disagree with him, but it does show a persuasive opinion about her and other outspoken conservatives.

I’ll be brief on this book. I really enjoyed it. Coulter’s premise is that unruly mobs control and guide liberal politics in the world, whether through violent protests, ad hominem attacks, or fear tactics to force people in “politically correct” line. She offers an excellent overview of both the American Revolution and the French Revolution. The first was led by ideas, the second was led by knives and axes. Even the most anti-Coulter folks would enjoy these summaries. She continues in showing how violent mob protests are from liberals, almost never conservatives. When conservatives are violent, conservatives condemn them. Not so with liberals. Smashing windows, booing speakers, forcing people to leave for their safety are all praised as “power to the people” movements.

If you enjoy political discussions, this is a good addition. In fact, I would read your favorite liberal treaty if you read this one. Stop just blasting Ann Coulter without knowing anything about her work.

I’ll end this review with a few quotations that I highlighted because they were insightful or funny or both.

Liberals were more sympathetic to Islamic terrorists than they were toward President Bush.

Dissent is patriotic only when a Republican is president, and we must have “respect for the office” only when a Democrat is president.

Jimmy Carter was unable to comment because he was in Pyongyang with Habitat for Humanity building Kim Il Sung a new missile silo.

This country’s founders were strongly against the mob—as are today’s Tea Party patriots. Noticeably, modern Tea Partiers haven’t engaged in one iota of property destruction, in contradistinction to nearly any gathering of liberals.

Liberals hate the idea of a revolution by gentlemen, which is why they celebrate hairy, foul-smelling revolutionaries like Che Guevara, Fidel Castro, and Susan Sarandon.

The mob demands total chaos in sexual traditions, morals, and decorum—but fascistic uniformity when it comes to opinions.

Liberals loathe conservative women beyond reason, perceiving them as the natural keepers of religious faith and morality.


David’s #1 The Unlikely Disciple: A Sinner’s Semester at America’s Holiest University By Kevin Roose

While his classmates are studying abroad, far left leaning Brown University student Kevin Roose also decides to immerse himself in a new world.  He spends a semester undercover at Liberty University, studying the mysterious evangelical Christians culture.
 I expected a much harsher, judgmental perspective.  Despite his background, he goes into the journey with an open mind, and he does a pretty good job of maintaining it.  He does not hold back on his criticisms but also admittedly experiences far less hate and bigotry than he expected and much more love and compassion.  He examines and comments on all aspects of the university and the people around him, from the quality of professors and education and the school’s uber-strict rule book,  to his personal relationships and interactions, both good and bad, that he experiences.  He even spends spring break on a mission trip at Daytona beach.
It was interesting to watch as his reflections on his new surroundings spur on introspection.  While his experience did not result in a world view makeover, his mind was definitely opened for the better.  At a minimum his witty writing keeps the book entertaining.  A fun, interesting read regardless of your views.

JRF’s #27 – Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by R.K. Rowling

I’m not a Harry Potter evangelist.  If your conscience won’t allow you to read or watch Harry Potter, I have nothing against you.   But if it means anything, I can honestly say that at no point in reading the books or watching the movies was I actually tempted to try to ride a broom, free any house elves, wield a wand or change my appearance using polyjuice potion.  Instead, I was uplifted by a great and gripping story, the center of which lifts up sacrificial love.

If you’ve read the books you know they are good and why they are (unless you are Ron, who is weird).  If you haven’t read the books due to your convictions, I understand and appreciate your stance.  That’s all I’ll say about that.

What I really want to use this post for is to propogate my foolproof method of enjoying books that have been made into movies.  The secret?  ALWAYS watch the movie FIRST.  It is a well known fact that however great a movie is, the book will always surpass it.  The Harry Potter movies are great movies and have been impressively and adequately adapted from the books.  But there is simply no way that 800+ page books can be translated into a 2 hour movie.  More importantly, the details of relationships, thoughts, emotions…etc that make a book so enrapturing cannot ever be as effectively communicated on screen.  I always left the HP movies with a smile but a slightly confused smile.  I enjoyed getting from Point A to Point B to Point C, but often was confused on how I got there.  Many times there seemed to be holes in the plot or logic of the film.  However, once I read the books, Rowling made the journey from Point A to Point C (with a few side jaunts to points i and ii) entirely logical and smooth.

Bottom line: if you read the book then watch the movie (and i am talking about any book to movie, not just HP) 9 times out of 10 you will be disappointed with the movie.  If you watch the movie then read the book, you will be able to appreciate the movie and the appreciation of the story can only grow as you then read the book.

The world of literature and film is better because of J.K. Rowling’s imaginative story and it has been a fun journey watching and reading it.

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