Books I've Been Reading Lately - Part One - Caleb Jones

Every once and a while I’ll make a “Books I’ve Been Reading Lately” post where I will have a quick review on some of the books I’ve read in the last few months. It won’t be ALL the books I’ve been reading. I read a hell of a lot of books and that would take too much time, but it will be some of the more notable ones.

As I’ve talked about before, I am always reading two books at a time, one fiction book and one nonfiction. The fiction books are almost always historical fiction or fantasy novels, usually with a heavy Alpha male focus and tone. The nonfiction books are always books on business, success, philosophy, history, or economics. I love reading books and my reading has indeed been responsible for a lot of the success I’ve experienced in life, including the fiction books.

To reflect this diversity and keep it interesting, I’ll do my best to split the book reviews 50/50 between the fiction and nonfiction books. This should give you a good overview. (And yes, I do make about 40 cents or something if you click a book and buy it. If that enrages you, I invite you to go read a different blog.)

I’ll give each book a one-to-four star rating system as follows:

  • One Star:  Shitty, it sucked (at least for me)
  • Two Stars: Okay, recommended but not fantastic
  • Three Stars: Very good, recommended to all
  • Four Stars: Awesome beyond belief, an absolute must-read

Here then are some of the books I’ve read in the last few months, listed in no particular order:

The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson – 2.5 Stars

I have a love/hate relationship with fantasy writer Brandon Sanderson.

On the plus side, he creates worlds better than anyone else in the genre. I’m serious. His worlds, magic systems, and settings are more creative than just about anything else you could possibly find out there. He also writes action scenes extremely well. Reading a battle in one of Sanderson’s books is so well described, it’s like watching it in a movie in your head. Lastly, his plots are extremely well thought out. Every intricate thread is woven and (usually) resolved nicely.

On the minus side, his characters are dreadful. They’re all depressed, despondent, and remorseful. When I mean “all”, I really mean all of them. All the major characters at least. Way of Kings is a good book, but it’s 1200 pages of depressed, conflicted characters. It’s like that’s the only type of character Sanderson knows how to write, and it’s really lame.

To make matters worse, Sanderson suffers from the “George R.R. Martin disease” (otherwise known as the “Robert Jordan disease”) where he starts out great, but then keeps writing forever and ever and never gets to the fucking point. Don’t get me started about the Wheel of Time or Game of Thrones series. I mean, you read these guys, they’re fantastic, but several thousands of pages in you’re eventually screaming “It’s been thousands of pages! Get to the GOD DAMN POINT!”

(Hey, Game of Thrones is great. But after 5000 pages Daenerys Targaryen STILL hasn’t crossed the fucking ocean? Dude. If you’ve read past the second or third book in that series, Martin is fucking with you and you’re just wasting your time. )

Way of Kings could easily have been about half the size and the plot would not have suffered at all. Like Martin and Jordan before him, Sanderson eventually starts to write in order to just write forever instead of writing to tell a good story. One with a beginning, middle, and endGood stories don’t meander forever. THEY END!

One of my very low priority, just-for-fun projects is writing a fantasy novel. I don’t get to work on it as often as I like as you might imagine. Regardless, I’m about 250 pages in. My wild guess is it will be about 800 – 900 pages when I’m done, but I’m not writing it to fill pages, I’m writing it to write the kind of story with the kind of characters I like and wish there were more of. I wish more fantasy authors did that. Oh well. Maybe once the Alpha male book is published I can self-publish my fantasy novel (since getting fiction published in the traditional manner is almost impossible) so I can smile at the four people who would buy it.

So Way of Kings, I love it and I hate it. My advice is if you’ve read Sanderson’s other stuff, you’ll probably like Way of Kings enough to make it worth your while. If you have never read Brandon Sanderson, then my advice is forget about Way of Kings and instead read Mistborn: The Final Empire. It’s a better book and a better series, but suffers from the same problems I mentioned. If you like the Mistborn books, then go for Way of Kings after you read those.

No B.S. Business Success in The New Economy by Dan Kennedy – 3 Stars

If you own a business or plan to soon, and you don’t know who Dan Kennedy is, you need to. He is the second greatest living marketing mind in the world. (The first greatest is Jay Abraham. The all time greatest is Gary Halbert, but he’s dead. I need to write a blog post about that guy someday…he was a real character.)

I have used Dan Kennedy’s marketing concepts and techniques to make plenty of money, namely when I started my first full-time business in my twenties. When he announced he was making a new business book based on the “new economy”, I was there.

The problem when I read general-market business books like this is that I usually already know at least 50% of the content. I’ve been a businessman full-time for almost 20 years, longer than that if you count part-time, so this is understandable. However all I need is a few key concepts that I haven’t thought of yet, or new ways of applying old techniques. This book had plenty of both. I also agree with Kennedy’s overall assessment of the “new economy”. Essentially he says it’s “never going away” and that people waiting around for it “to get back to the way was” are “fools”. Pretty much, yep.

A key quote from the book:

Even when I was at the helm of an ill-advisedly acquired, deeply troubled, money-hemorrhaging, chaos and crisis riddled corporation, I pulled myself out of the alligator-fighting for at least one hour a day every day, to re-focus on the objectives, to get something done that was positive and productive and goal directed.

Amen. If a man learns to apply that not only to business, but to his life, he’ll be amazed at what he accomplishes, regardless of his shortcomings or obstacles. I’m living proof of that.

The only criticism I have with the book is that Kennedy, ever the marketer, often hits you over the head throughout this book to buy his other stuff. Hey, I do a little of that myself. I said a little. I normally don’t mind this kind of thing as long as the rest of the content is very good, but he goes a little crazy with it. No big deal. (Unless you’re one of those capitalism-haters…ooooh shit you’d hate Dan Kennedy with a white-hot passion. If you owned your own small business this would be a huge mistake).

I recommend this book if you own your own business, especially if you have a brick-and-mortar business with employees and double especially if you’ve been in business for quite a while. Good stuff.

The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas – 4 Stars

Another 1200 page book! Yay! The ultimate rags-to-riches story, a guy going from dark dungeons to ultra-wealthy Count, bent on goodwill towards his friends and dark vengeance for his enemies. He’s on the short list of true literary Alpha males. Strong, intelligent, crafty, well-read, cool and calm with zero drama, business savvy, resourceful, goal-oriented, world-traveler, passionate, motivated, masculine. Oh, did I mention his girlfriend is 18 while he’s in his forties? And that he tells her she’s welcome to date other men because he has better things to do than to babysit her ass? Not since Corwin of Amber have I related to and appreciated so much a fictional character. I was completely engrossed with every page he was on.

I read the unabridged version of this book, but I like reading. There’s an abridged version that’s about 40% shorter I think. The unabridged version is fantastic but to be fair the book bogs down during certain parts in the middle. It requires dedication to get through. If that doesn’t sound very fun but you still want to read about rich Alpha male characters, read the abridged version. If you really want an experience, read the full version.

What was really fun for me is that this book and Walden (which I review below) and one of my all-time favorite books, Tai-Pan (starring another marvelous Alpha male character, Dirk Struan) all take place in the exact same time period, the mid-nineteenth century. Monte Cristo is in Europe, Walden is in America, and Tai-Pan is in Asia, all at the same time. Very cool to see the cross comparisons.

Strongly, strongly recommend. Read this book.

How to Avoid “Getting Screwed” When Getting Laid by R.K. Hendrick – 2.5 Stars

Sometimes I like reading books that represent dissenting opinions (I’ve read books by people like Pat Buchanan and Michael Moore), but other times I like it when I read a book written by someone with the same opinions and methods I recommend. Hendrick is actually an attorney and former judge, so he writes about men’s issues from that standpoint, with a legal background I lack. It was from Hendrick that I first learned about a “cohabitation agreement”, sort of a pre-nup for living together with a woman. Very cool. Hendrick is truly a kindred spirit.

The best part of the book are his case studies! The story about the trophy wife with an open marriage who tricks her boyfriends-on-the-side to violate court orders is my favorite, but there are many of them. Man, these will just blow you away. Very entertaining. If you want to see how evil some women can be, and how dumb and beta some men can be, you’ve got to read this book.

Star Wars: Darth Plagueis by James Luceno – 2.5 Stars

“WTF? Did he actually read a Star Wars novel?” Yes, I read a Star Wars novel. As you can tell, I read a lot of deep complicated stuff so I’m allowed my literary candy occasionally. So F U.

The main reason I bothered to read this book is A) it’s all about the Emperor, my favorite character in Star Wars and B) it’s written by James Luceno, one of my favorite authors from my childhood. For you guys who are about my age, he’s the guy who wrote all the Robotech novels under the name “Jack McKinney” so many years ago. So when I saw a book about the Emperor(!) written by James Luceno(!) the kid in me couldn’t resist.

The first half of this book is fun. I love when stories spotlight evil characters. So few books do this. R.A. Salvatore’s novels about the assassin Artemis Enterri are similarly fun.

The second half of the book slows way down and gets into political minutia which is not as compelling as the dark evil stuff from the first half of the book.  So I recommend this book, but lightly.

Guerrilla Marketing in 30 Days by Jay Conrad Levinson – 2 Stars

Occasionally I will read books like this to refocus me, and to “round me out” to ensure that while I’m focused on my business methods I’m not overlooking or forgetting other methods that I should be pursuing. This book was perfect for that. Like with Dan Kennedy’s book, a lot of it I already knew, but there were keys parts where I said “Oh shit! Of course!”  Then I made a written note, kept reading, and collated my notes later for integration into my business action plan (which is what I always do when I read non-fiction).

I recommend this book especially if you’re new to marketing. Jay Conrad Levinson is a stalwart in the marketing profession and this book is a great primer. Even if you’re very marketing experienced, this is one of those “mile-wide foot-deep” books that will really force you to capture all the different areas you should be focusing your time in. Levinson’s “marketing calendar” methods are worth the price of the book alone.

Assassin’s Apprentice by Robin Hobb – 1 Star

I still have chest pains from this god damn book. What a waste of time.

All over the internet, guys are praising this book, calling it a masterpiece. Well, it’s a piece all right. A piece of shit.

Okay, okay. The writing is good. That’s not the problem. The problem is it’s boring. With a title like that I expect some cool badassery. Instead I got a book written from the POV of an introspective teenage beta. Eh…no. This is not what I want to read in a book. Sorry. It’s written by a woman so maybe I should have expected all the emotional stuff. I don’t know.

I slogged through this whole thing waiting for something cool to happen…and nothing happened. That’s right. Nothing happens in this book. I am simply astounded at all the positive reviews this book gets. At least I understand why people love Game of Thrones. Game of Thrones is amazing up to a point. Assassin’s Apprentice isn’t. What a letdown.

In Fifty Years We’ll All Be Chicks by Adam Carolla – 4 Stars

This is the second funniest book I have ever read in my entire life. (The honor of funniest book goes to The Restaurant at the End of the Universe.) In almost every chapter there were parts that made me literally bust out laughing in real life. A few times I was laughing so hard I had tears in my eyes. Here’s his premise (see if it sounds familiar):

For far too long I’ve stood idly by and watched a problem in this country get worse an worse. I’m talking about the pussification of America. We’ve become self-entitled, thin-skinned, hypoallergic, gender-neutral, View-viewing little girls. What we used to settle with common sense or a fist we now settle with hand sanitizer and lawyers. Masculinity by any definition is disappearing. My fear is that in fifty years we’ll all be chicks.

Adam Carolla is my new hero. I don’t listen to the radio much but every time I’ve seen him he makes me laugh, and this book made me really laugh. It’s beautiful. Here’s another quote:

Dung Beetles. This is a bad draw in the animal kingdom. This is your whole life – you roll around in a pile of shit until a hawk eats you, which is sweet relief.

Awesome. Carolla is libertarian, Alpha, and funny as hell. Can’t get any better than that. Next time you get 15 minutes, watch this video. It’s the funniest political interview you’ve ever seen in your life.

Get Carolla’s book and read it.

Managing the Dragon by Jack Perkowski – 3.5 Stars

I read half this book last year, then got caught on something else and forgot about it. When I went back to my special shelf in my office for un-read books, I slapped myself when I saw it sitting there, grabbed it, and devoured it fast.

Holy crap this is a fantastic book, but only for a specific type of guy. It’s no secret I’ll be living in Asia in a few years, so I make sure I read plenty of books about how western guys find business success over there. This book is written by Jack Perkowski, a guy who risked it all in the early nineties to move to China and start an auto parts business there. His “little business” now has 52 offices all over the world. His story is one that’s very exciting, at least for a business nerd like me who plans on moving to Asia someday.

Granted, there are some very China-business-specific items in here that a lot of guys, even business guys, won’t really relate to. You might not want to read about how China’s VAT tax affects profitability in Guangdong province or business strategies on how to combat China’s IPR problem, but hey, this stuff is like porn to me. I took extensive notes on this book, and I’m definitely going to make money from them. So I recommend this book very highly but if you have no interest in ever doing business in China it probably won’t be of great use to you unless you’re just curious.

Walden by Henry David Thoreau – 3.5 Stars

This is another one of the classics I had never taken the time to get around to. I’m glad I finally did.

In this book is some of the finest writing you will ever read in your life, no matter what else you’ve read, and that includes things like Shakespeare. The level of thought and writing, particularly in the first half of the book, is simply astounding. It’s very deep, highly advanced stuff, so if you’re not focusing hard on it the material it will lose you or bore you, but holy crap is it good. It’s so good I’m going to go back and re-read the good parts to make sure it all sinks in.

If you don’t already know, Thoreau was an American philosopher living during the 1800’s who decided to chuck it all, be a hermit, and live out in the middle of nowhere by himself in a small cabin he built himself from scratch. He fed himself from scratch, did everything from scratch. He’s a minimalist, espousing simple living. Yet despite all this he’s hugely intelligent and vastly well-read to degrees I almost couldn’t believe.  Looking into this man’s mind was a sheer pleasure. They just don’t make men like this any more.

The only reason I didn’t give it four stars is there are parts of the book were he goes into way too much detail for the modern-day reader. For example at one point he goes into minute detail about how he plants his beans. Um…yeah. Those are the parts I wont be re-reading. However the first chapter outlining his general philosophy is simply mind-blowing in its elegance, even the parts I disagreed with. What a shame I had to wait until I was 40 years old to experience this book. Don’t make the same mistake I did.

2 Comments on “Books I’ve Been Reading Lately – Part One

  1. Several great series by Larry Correia.
    Monster hunter international
    Grimnoir chronicles
    Dead six
    Son of the back sword

  2. Caleb I’ve got to be honest with you..

    The Darth Plaugus book is great, but yea it did slow down a lot in 2nd half.

    You’ve got to check out the Darth Bane Trilogy though

    1ST Goes in depth into Sith lore, Sith Academy, etc. purging the academy and reform

    2Nd Grooming and training a new apprentice, plotting against the Jedi and Republic

    3RD new appprentice drama and planning against Jedi and Republic

    Its not overly cerebral either, but still detailed enough to be interesting. The audiobooks are loaded with music, sound effects, voices. I loved them especially the 1st one.

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