Friday, February 28, 2014

Book Review - Tip and the Gipper: When Politics Worked by Chris Matthews

Tip and the Gipper: When Politics Worked by Chris Matthews
Hardcover: 448 pages
Publisher: Simon & Schuster (October 1, 2013)

Hardball host Chris Matthews tells the story of how Speaker of the House Tip O'Neill and President Ronald Reagan, two political opponents, were able to work together for the good of America.  Matthews worked for the speaker at the time before he switched to a career in journalism.  Having worked for O'Neill, Matthews is qualified to tell the history of the two leaders.

One can look to the 1980s leadership of O'Neill and Reagan as a model for effective partisanship, something that clearly lacks between Barack Obama and the current Republican leadership.  When it came to moving the government forward, they proved that convictions were a strength and not a burden.

During the 1980s, these two waged a principled war of political ideals.  They debated the big issues of the day but they were also able to compromise with each other, showing that political opposites can get along together.

In serving as speaker, O'Neill was the visible leader of the Democratic Party in the post-Jimmy Carter years.  This also meant he was the respected challenger to Reagan's agenda.  O'Neill had yet to master the medium of public speaking on television but he learned how to fight Reagan on key issues, relied on legislative craftiness, strong rhetoric, and even guerrilla theater.

This is about the kind of heroism that we lack today.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Book Review - Melissa Explains It All: Tales from My Abnormally Normal Life

Melissa Explains It All: Tales from My Abnormally Normal Life by Melissa Joan Hart
Hardcover: 288 pages
Publisher: St. Martin's Press; First Edition edition (October 29, 2013)

Taking the title from the show she starred on while growing up, the former child star is frank and witty in her memoir.

After starring in the Nickelodeon series, Clarissa Explains It All, Melissa Joan Hart went on to star in Sabrina, the Teenage Witch on ABC.  The latter would not have been a hit had it not been for starring in the earlier series.  After taking a few years off to start and raise a family, Hart starred in an ABC Family movie with Joey Lawrence.  This led to the nostalgic sitcom, Melissa and Joey, on ABC Family.

Hart provides behind-the-scenes tales from her past all the way up to her present in her memoir, which is forthright and funny as she is.  It's a candid glimpse at her unique career and the lessons that she has learned along the way.

Surprisingly, Hart was able to live a grounded, "normal" childhood.  Most child stars are not afforded this opportunity.  Growing up, she had to balance homework with auditions and commuting from Long Island to Manhattan.

Hart had auditioned for Blossom and was very far in the process of the NBC series when she landed the role of Clarissa Darling, a role that would take her to Orlando to shoot 65 episodes of Clarissa.  She would have gone on to fame with either show.

To this day, she balances family with life in Hollywood.

If you want a candid look at a celebrity that grew up with a grounded childhood, be sure to check it out.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Book Review - Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War by Robert M. Gates

Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War by Robert M. Gates
Hardcover: 640 pages
Publisher: Knopf; First Edition/First Printing edition (January 14, 2014)

Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates wrote a candid but vivid written account of his experience in serving Presidents Bush and Obama during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Before getting a call in 2006 to serve his country once more, Gates was done with politics.  After serving 6 presidents between the CIA and National Security Council, Gates got a job as the president of Texas A&M University, where he was happy.

The U.S. was at war with fronts in Afghanistan and Iraq and he felt that this was the call of duty.  His unsparing memoir is fair in its assessments and he takes us behind the scenes of his five years as Secretary of Defense.  In the book, he depicts his battles with Congress, the military, the Pentagon bureaucracy, and two presidents to name a few.

In working for Obama, Gates's leadership was guiding but he was often the dissenting voice on issues but Hates was devoted to and had a love for American soldiers---his "heroes"--that he helped to develop on the job.

It is while he relates his personal journey as secretary that Gates draws us to those inner sanctums of government and military power.  This is where he offers unvarnished appraisals of the likes of Dick Cheney, Joe Biden, Hillary Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama.  In doing so, he exposes the behind-closed-doors politicking of the administrations.

There's the controversies that came up during his tenure, too, such as the surges, Iran, Syria, and others.

At its heart, this is a powerful story that takes an unprecedented look at two White House administrations.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Book Review - Wooden: A Coach's Life by Seth Davis

Wooden: A Coach's Life by Seth Davis
Hardcover: 608 pages
Publisher: Times Books (January 14, 2014)

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the first of UCLA coach John Wooden's many NCAA men's college basketball championships.  Seth Davis presents a biography that can only be described as unflinching and definitive.

With prose that is both artful and entertaining, there's no doubting the exhaustive research that Davis underwent in the writing of this book--a quintessentially American story, nevertheless.  Davis writes his account year by year as readers are invited to measure the man that became a legend.

Wooden was a person that was not just a gifted player but a BRILLIANT coach, and a master teacher.  He should be appreciated for what he is.  Davis celebrates the mystique that Wooden built but also digs further.  Wooden dealt with issues during his coaching era--be it race, protests, mercurial athletes, overeager boosters, and the heavy expectations.

Born in Indiana, Wooden never forgot his roots when he played at Purdue or coached for UCLA.

I'm no fan of UCLA but that doesn't take away from the person that John Wooden was.  Back when I was a college freshman, I wrote off for his autograph and asked him to inscribe his best stat (when I should have asked him to inscribe his HOF year!) but he sent back a short note saying his best stat was the number of players who graduated!

Monday, February 03, 2014

Book Review: Rob Delaney: Mother. Wife. Sister. Human. Warrior. Falcon. Yardstick. Turban. Cabbage

Hardcover: 208 pages
Publisher: Spiegel & Grau (November 5, 2013)

From the mind of comedian Rob Delaney comes Rob Delaney: Mother. Wife. Sister. Human. Warrior. Falcon. Yardstick. Turban. Cabbage.

Delaney is the author of many jokes on Twitter but by reading the hilarious and heartbreaking true stories in his book, we learn how Rob became the person that he is today.

His memoir is candid and conversational.  It shows that there is more to him than just what he tweets on Twitter.