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Reading Diary for 2013
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  and earlier

"Norman Granz: The Man Who Used Jazz for Justice"
by Tad Hershorn
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  • Hardcover
  • E-book (Kindle)
  • Norman Granz: The Man Who Used Jazz for JusticeA lovely biography of jazz impresario Norman Granz – one of the great figures in jazz history. Granz was one of the most influential players in the jazz business in the 1940s and '50s, signing top talent like Ella Fitzgerald, Duke Ellington and Count Basie, and discovering young new talent like Oscar Peterson. He staged the legendary Jazz at the Philharmonic concert tours, and brought Ella into the studio for her stunning set of "Songbooks" arranged around the compositions of Gershwin, Ellington, Porter and more. Equally impressive were his "Jam Sessions" sets, where he would bring in young lions and older legends for a mix-and-match head session on vinyl. And yet, none of those represent his most important accomplishment: Granz used the financial prowess of the JATP tours to bring racial integration to the nation's music halls. His contracts were drawn up so that there would be no segregated seating for the concert, and that all the performers would dine and be housed together. When local jurisdictions balked, Granz walked – taking the tens of thousands of dollars for a single night's performance with him. As Hershorn points out in the book, it didn't take long for local chambers of commerce to start leaning on the mayor and police chief to accommodate the terms of Granz's contracts. In Hershorn's telling (which echoes interviews with and memoirs of musicians and promoters who worked with him) Granz's passion for racial equality was equalled only by his personal gruffness. He was by all accounts a difficult man to get along with, quick to anger, slow to let friends in close. He was, in short, complex. But given his imoprtant role in the develoment of post-war jazz, and his even larger role in promoting racial integration, this is a welcome look at an underknown figure of American popular culture. That it is one of the best-written biographies you'll ever read is icing.

    "The Pilot: Learning Leadership"
    by Bill Hensley & Colleen Hensley
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  • Hardcover
  • E-book (Kindle)
  • The Pilot: Learning LeadershipA sort of Air Force perspective of It's Your Ship," this self-help leadership book organizes its principles through the structure of flight school. It seems standard-fare stuff – good leaders must first learn to be active followers, be prepared, regularly measure your results, etc., but the situations drawn from the co-authors' experience in the Air Force drive the lessons home in a way a boardroom-based book couldn't.

    "Lord Tyger"
    by Philip José Farmer
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  • Softcover
  • E-book (Kindle)
  • Lord TygerA truly epic re-imagining of Tarzan, from the perspective of a Tarzan fan who kidnaps a baby to try to see if he can create his own Tarzan. Well, yes and no – there is a wild, untamed man by the end of the experiment, but it's not anything like his creator – or the readers – expect. One of Farmer's most ambitious, and gloriously realized, tales – and that's a pretty high bar.

    "The Other Log of Phileas Fogg"
    by Philip José Farmer
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  • Softcover
  • E-book (Kindle)
  • The Other Log of Phileas FoggAn "alternate history" of Verne's classic "Around the World in 80 Days," Farmer recounts the story with additional "details" that reveal a supposedly hidden back story of alien races engaged in a cold war over Earth. Part of a larger "Wold Newton" arc, Farmer's imagination manages to tie disparate threads into a believable new fantasy sitting comfortably atop the first.

    "Time's Last Gift"
    by Philip José Farmer
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  • Softcover
  • E-book (Kindle)
  • Time's Last GiftAnother entry in the "Wold Newton" arc, this novel is a play on Bradbury's classic "A Sound of Thunder": Future time travellers go back to 12,000 BC to study early human society, but is their leader none other than Lord Greystoke himself?

    "From Eternity to Here"
    by Sean Carroll
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  • Hardcover
  • Softcover
  • E-book (Kindle)
  • Lord TygerThe subtitle accurately describes the scope of the book: "The Quest for the Ultimate Theory of Time." But it's the quest by the world's best physicists to describe time both mathematically (fairly easily) and in a way that mirrors our own experience and observations (not so much) that Carroll summarizes. A CalTech physicist himself, Carroll largely avoids a reliance on jargon and explains complex concepts in terms understandable to a lay reader. Well worth reading.

    "A State of Independence"
    by Caryl Phillips
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  • Hardcover
  • Softcover
  • A State of IndependenceA compact, self-contained novella firmly in the literature of the post-colonial era. Full of alienation and self-doubt, the story traces a Caribbean native who, after many years living in England, returns to his home island – only to find all his unresolved family and personal issues still waiting for him decades later. Feels a bit dated, but remains a worthwhile read both for the stark confrontation with life's failures as well as the delight in reading Phillips' skilled writing.