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This is the only true crime book that John Grisham wrote, which immediately signaled to me that it was probably a crazy story. It did not disappoint and was just as crazy as I hoped it would be.

The book starts in Ada, Oklahoma in the 1980’s. The main crime was the rape and murder of a 20-year-old waitress in a small town. The book does a good job of describing all the insane actions of the police to get convictions on these clearly innocent people. It makes me happy that I don’t live in a small town with idiot cops and detectives.

There are a couple of different stories told about innocent people convicted of murders. Each one has a large list of things that were done incorrectly or illegally by either the detectives, judge, prosecutor or defending attorney. Everything was clearly described in layman’s terms well enough for me (I’m not a lawyer) to fully understand the issues described.

The focus of the book was Ron Williamson, a former high school baseball star who failed to make it to the majors. He started showing signs of mental problems after his baseball career ended. For instance, he would frequently push around a lawn mower with three wheels at 2 or 3 in the morning while he was looking for work.

Overall, I liked this book, but I didn’t love it. It has all of the typical idiots involved in the trial and investigation doing really stupid and illegal things out of ignorance and malice. There really isn’t very much in the book that will surprise you. I think that people interested in law would enjoy this book because it shows how bad things can get if things are not done correctly. I placed this book on level 4.

Click here to see The Innocent Man by John Grisham on Amazon.

The post The Innocent Man by John Grisham appeared first on Weighty Words.

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This book is about the very interesting life of Tara Westover and her family. It is a crazy story even though Mrs Westover wasn’t even the slightest bit famous before this book was released.

I don’t want to say too much about the book and spoil anything, but Tara’s family life is crazy. They grew up on a mountain in Idaho with parents that didn’t believe in education, medicine or science. This leads directly to some fascinating stories of her early life at her parents house. For instance, Tara was not born in a hospital and didn’t receive her birth certificate until she was nine.

She gets influenced by an older brother that goes off to college and decides that she wants to attend college as well. She was able to get a 28 on the ACT to gain admittance to Brigham Young University despite never attending school. As you can imagine, the transition from living in a survivalist home to a college dorm was difficult. She made herself look very, very stupid on several occasions.

Her family life after attending college was not good because her parents felt that she turned her back on her family. One of her family members is particularly dangerous and unstable, which lead to Tara cutting off contact with almost all family members.

This may not sound like the most exciting book, but I was riveted and didn’t want to stop listening. The authors life was crazy with multiple accidents, injuries and incidents serving to make the book exciting. I cannot give this book enough praise and I think that everyone should read this book. I placed this book on level 1.

Click here to see Educated by Tara Westover on Amazon.

The post Educated by Tara Westover appeared first on Weighty Words.

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This book is about the leadership qualities of four different Presidents in difficult times. The subjects of the book are Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin D. Roosevelt and Lyndon B. Johnson. The book was not as good as I was hoping but it was still enjoyable.

The book discusses each President in sections based on similar periods in each future Presidents life, such as childhood, early twenties and middle age before they became Presidents. It was surprising that there were some similarities between each of the men in the periods before they became Presidents. For example, they all had confidence issues and they were unsure of what they wanted to do before they got into politics. About half of the book was devoted to their lives before they became Presidents.

I enjoyed the sections about the life of LBJ the most as far as the actual details about the Presidents and their leadership qualities. I didn’t realize that he had so much to do with the passing of the civil rights bills. I don’t remember many of the details on what he did exactly, but I do remember it was enough for me to become interested in reading a biography about him!

As far as the others go, Abraham Lincoln was a great leader but there are better books about him to read. It was slightly confusing to read about both Roosevelts at the same time. This was mostly my fault because I was not totally focused while I was listening to the books. I kept wondering which Roosevelt the book was talking about.

Overall, I liked this book, but I didn’t love it. I recommend it for anyone that is interested in presidential history or moments that required great leadership. I placed this book on level 3.

Click here to see Leadership by Doris Kearns Goodwin on Amazon.

The post Leadership by Doris Kearns Goodwin appeared first on Weighty Words.

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This book is about a Russian KGB agent that became a spy for the British during the Cold War. The story is exciting with a particularly fun ending. The name of the spy is Oleg Gordievsky.

If you have ever read any other spy books, then you know how this one goes. It describes how he became a spy, why he became a spy and the risks he took. One interesting thing about the spy was that he wasn’t interested in money and it was his conviction that communism was bad or immoral.

One thing that really surprised me was how worried the Soviets were that the USA was preparing for a nuclear first strike. The book describes the scare during the NATO exercise known as Able Archer 83. This exercise was a trial run for a potential nuclear war between the USA and Russia. For whatever reason, the Russians thought that this was actually the preparation for a real first strike nuclear attack.

The last third of the book is where it gets interesting. It goes into detail on the escape plan from Russia, while the spy was under surveillance from the KGB. Let’s just say that the escape doesn’t go as planned and it includes a timely dirty diaper. Thankfully, it was an infant that needed the diaper change, not the spy!

It was surprising to me that the KGB was so incompetent to let a suspected spy even attempt to escape the country. The KGB suspected he was a spy due to an American spy, Aldrich Ames, telling the Russians that the British had a high-level spy in the KGB. The KGB wanted to wait until it had proof that Gordievsky was the spy, as Ames didn’t have any proof yet.

I really liked this book and I cannot stress enough that the last third of the book is very good and exciting. I ended up listening to it pretty much without stopping because I wanted to know how it ended and if it would be a successful extraction. As a result, I placed this book on level 2.

Click here to see The Spy and the Traitor by Ben Macintyre on Amazon.

The post The Spy and the Traitor by Ben Macintyre appeared first on Weighty Words.

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The author of this book is moderately famous for having a father that is both a genius and an asshole. His name is Steve Jobs, as you might have guessed. This book is about his daughters life and her interactions with her dad.

Steve ignored his daughter for most of her childhood. Do not read this book if you want to think of Steve Jobs as a good person. This book got quite a bit of publicity due to the horribleness of some of the stories that the author tells. Steve was genuinely a terrible father to his first-born child.

The book describes a lot of the memorable interactions Lisa had with her father throughout her life. Unfortunately, most of these events made Steve look terrible, such as when he made his daughter stop seeing her mom for six months as a condition for her moving in with him. That might be the worst thing that Steve did to his daughter, but it debatable.

Lisa’s mother was also a character. She was very much a hippy, which directly results in at least one very strange story about going to a pool party where nobody wears a bathing suit. Lisa’s mother was a struggling artist for most of her life and money was frequently an issue. This was surprising to me because her daughter’s father was a multimillionaire.

I decided to read this book because I wanted a change of pace from the type of book I typically read. It was an enjoyable book to read, mostly because her parents are both very strange. I recommend this book to all of the iPhone users that are looking for any reason to change to android. I know you are out there. I placed this book on level 3. Also, I am at the airport waiting for my plane to get here. I am going to NYC for the first time tonight!

Click here to see Small Fry by Lisa Brennan-Jobs on Amazon.

The post Small Fry by Lisa Brennan-Jobs appeared first on Weighty Words.

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The first time I read Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari, I felt it was one of the best books I have ever read. The second time, not so much. Although it is a great book and will probably be on level 1 after this review is all said and done.

This book is moderately famous as a very well-regarded non-fiction book. It is mostly about humans and how they evolved and are still evolving. The author is a history professor at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and he really seems to know what he is talking about.

First of all, I liked the Harry Potter reference and I have hardly ever seen it pointed out. At least one time in the book, the author uses Harry Potter character names as an example of an unrelated point and never gives a hint where the names come from. He simply uses names from the series like “Professor Slughorn gives a flower to Professor Sprout”. That was the extent of the reference. It makes me wonder if there were other pop culture references in the book that I didn’t notice. Point them out in the comments if there are others please!

As I mentioned at the beginning, I have read this book once before years ago. Unfortunately, I liked it better the first time. I don’t know that I can put into words why it was less interesting, maybe because I understood the topics of the book well because I have read it before.

However, I still really liked the parts of the book that were before the written history of Homo Sapiens. His various theories about the domestication of crops and the transition to an agrarian society were particularly exciting. My favorite is that grains (wheat, rice, etc.) domesticated humans rather that the other way around. He is able to provide evidence for this statement which, while funny, does actually make sense. Although, I must say, evidence of something doesn’t make it true.

Overall, I liked this book a lot the second time reading it, just probably not as much as the first time. It has been downgraded from the best non-fiction book I have ever read, to merely top 5. Which is still pretty high praise, as I have read a lot of non-fiction. Given all of this, I placed this book on level 1. If you liked this book, The Better Angels of Our Nature by Steven Pinker is a similarly ambitious book. Click here to read my review of that book.

Click here to see Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari on Amazon.

The post Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari appeared first on Weighty Words.

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This book is about the crazy life of a gentleman gangster known as Johnny Rosselli. His life was a bit like Forrest Gump in that he seemed to always be involved in the most interesting events of the time. You probably wouldn’t believe me if I made a full list of the things he was involved in. So I will just make a partial list and leave some surprises for when you read the book!

One interesting thing about the book was how much Frank Sinatra was mentioned. I had heard before that Frank Sinatra was connected to the mob, but he is seriously mentioned constantly in this book. There weren’t any mentions of him doing anything super crazy or anything, but it really was strange to hear he was good friends with all the mobsters mentioned.

One interesting thing about the book was how much Frank Sinatra was mentioned. I had heard before that Frank Sinatra was connected to the mob, but he is seriously mentioned constantly in this book. There weren’t any mentions of him doing anything super crazy or anything, but it really was strange to hear he was good friends with all the mobsters mentioned.

The book also describes Rosselli’s relationship with Howard Hughes. He was the unofficial broker for Hughes when he was buying Las Vegas casinos. This was during the famous period of his life when he would not leave his hotel room for years at a time. It turns out that Rosselli’s connections with the mob underworld made him the perfect person to help negotiate a purchase price with the owners of the hotel.

He was involved with several other events and people that are famous worldwide that I won’t talk about here. I want there to be some surprises left in the book after you read this review.

Overall, I liked this book a lot, but I thought it was a bit too long. I almost stopped listening to this book at the beginning when it was talking about his childhood, which I found very boring. Otherwise, I enjoyed this book a lot. I placed this book on level 3. If you like this type of book, check out my review of Surely You’re Joking Mr Feynman! By Richard Feynman here. It is a more humorous book about someone who was similarly involved with lot of historically significant events or people.

Click here to see Handsome Johnny by Lee Server on Amazon.

The post Handsome Johnny by Lee Server appeared first on Weighty Words.

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This book is about giving people money (surprise, surprise!) through a proposed governmental social security type program known as a Universal Basic Income (UBI). This is an intriguing concept that is getting a lot of attention from the Silicon Valley type philanthropists recently.

To understand this post, you need a basic understanding of what an UBI is. It is when the government gives each of its citizens money regardless of need on a regular basis, usually monthly. This means that Bill Gates would get the same amount monthly that I get.

This sounds crazy and kinda stupid until you read the book. This program would essentially remove the welfare and food stamp programs completely with a program that needs a much smaller administrative staff for it to run smoothly. It also removes the stigma of receiving governmental assistance, as everybody is receiving the same amount.

The book discusses several attempts to test the effects of an UBI in the real world, such as an ongoing experiment in Kenya. It describes what an extra $1,000 would do for someone in poverty not only in the United States but also a lower income country. It also makes a very convincing argument for why a company like Tom’s shoes would be better served giving money to the needy rather than shoes. The book describes families with a combined income of less than $2 a day and without running water but multiple new shoes. It makes you realize that giving anything other than money serves to boost the ego of the philanthropist rather than benefiting the recipient. If money were given instead of items, the recipient would then be able to decide and buy whatever benefits them the most.

As you can probably imagine, this book definitely leans to the left and doesn’t have a positive view of the current United States government. This is the only real reason not to read this book. It was enjoyable to me and I felt that it was well written. I found out about the book from the FT & McKinsey Business Book of the Year Award. Click here to see the longlist of books that were up for this award. I placed this book on level 2.

Click here to see Give People Money by Annie Lowrey on Amazon.

The post Give People Money by Annie Lowrey appeared first on Weighty Words.

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This is a true crime type book about Ross Ulbricht, the creator of the Silk Road website. The Silk Road was a totally anonymous website where you could buy drugs and get it shipped to your house. It got a lot of international press in the early 2010’s.

The author did tons of research to make this non-fiction story read like a novel with a significant amount of dialogue. This is because all of the communications regarding the website occurred online, thus there was a record of almost all communications. There is a lot of dialogue throughout the book and all of it seems to advance the story without feeling forced.

The guy that started the website made a lot of mistakes with the website because he didn’t have a programming background. The author did a good job of describing what he did wrong and how it affected everything else.

The author also goes into detail on what the United States law enforcement was doing to try to stop the website. As you can probably imagine, there was not a lot of cooperation between the various law enforcement agencies because they all wanted the notoriety of catching the founder of the website. They only caught him when they started working together.

The book also does a great job of telling story of how they captured him. They needed to catch him with his laptop open and logged into the website as an administrator, which made it difficult. The arresting agents basically improvised on how to do this on the spot and they managed to do it flawlessly.

I honestly loved this book and I think that fiction readers would like this book as much as the non-fiction readers. It really does read like it is a novel with significant amounts of dialogue. As a result, I placed this book on level 1. If you like the true crime type books, check out my last review of The Monster of Florence by Douglas Preston here.

Click here to see American Kingpin by Nick Bilton on Amazon.

The post American Kingpin by Nick Bilton appeared first on Weighty Words.

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This is a true crime book about a Jack the Ripper type crime spree in Florence, Italy in the 1970’s and 80’s. This book is a non-fiction but reads like a novel, with some instances of dialogue.

The author of this book moved to Italy in 2000 and learned about the cases due to his proximity to one of the crime scenes. The first third of the book is basically a history of the crimes of the Monster of Florence as told to the author after he moved to Italy. The coauthor of this book, Mario Spezi, was the person Preston met that told him the story of the crimes.

The biggest takeaway from the book was that the Italian police are terrible at their job. They accuse and bring to trial several people who were determined to be innocent of all the crimes, partially because another crime was committed with the same gun and using the same tactics while they were in custody.

The book has a big surprise about halfway when the American author and his Italian coauthor both are accused of being involved in the crimes. From this point on, the authors find themselves part of the story in a way they never imagined. The authors speculate that they were questioned because this book was being released soon, which disparaged the conclusions that the police came up with. The Italian journalist was sent to jail for a short time until the issue was (correctly) reframed as a freedom of the press issue.

All in all, this was a good book that I would suggest to anyone that like true crime TV shows or books. As I mentioned, it has a few twists that you wouldn’t expect in a story about nearly 30-year-old crimes. I do not typically enjoy books like this, but I did like this one. I placed this book on level 3. Click here to see a similar book about the gangster Whitey Bulger called Where The Bodies Were Buried that I reviewed earlier this year.

Click here to see The Monster of Florence by Douglas Preston on Amazon.

The post The Monster of Florence by Douglas Preston appeared first on Weighty Words.

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