Man’s Search for Meaning

Dr. Viktor E. Frankl is a world famous psychiatrist and is credited with developing the approach to psychotherapy known as logotherapy. Many of his teachings and insights into logotherapy were developed and refined during his five-year stay in Nazi concentration camps. This book is split roughly in two. The first half is a rather detached narrative of his stay in the death camps. The second half builds on the observations of the first half and provides a description of logotherapy and directions on how to apply it for psychotherapy.

For a short description of logotherapy, see Frankl’s words below. I have tried to get the punctuation correct based on audio only, so forgive me if I have made any errors:

Logos is a Greek word which denotes meaning…Striving to find a meaning in one’s life is the primary motivational force in man. That is why I speak of a will to meaning, in contrast to the pleasure principal, or as we could also term it, the will to pleasure, on which Freudian psychoanalysis is centered. As well is in contrast to the will to power, on which Adlerian psychology, using the term striving for superiority, is focused.

Frankl has a lot of backup for supporting his theories. For instance, he cites a Johns Hopkins study that asked 7,948 students at 48 colleges “what they considered very important to them now.” Well, 16% answered “making a lot of money” and 78% said “finding a purpose of meaning to my life.” It is not hard to convince me of the “beneficial impact of meaning orientation” but this book is filled with many, many more examples of how he and others have used logotherapy to make sense of our world and assist people in resolving any number of maladies like depression, grief, and despair.

Frankl describes and clarifies the search for meaning. I am paraphrasing a little, but he says:

The meaning of life changes, but never ceases to be…discover it in three different ways, (1) by creating a work or doing a deed, (2) by experiencing something or encountering someone, or (3) by the attitude we take towards unavoidable suffering.

The second one really got my mind swirling. How many times have you read a particularly moving piece of literature, seen a movie that made you see something in a different light, or caught somebody transcending human nature and giving themselves over to an act of selflessness? Doesn’t that just clarify things in your mind about how the world actually works, how the world should work, and how you can fit into the world? Those moments of clarity need to be grasped, examined, and used to find your meaning in life. This made sense to me and I think I can apply it.

There is a lot more stuff. This does not feel like a self-help book and I don’t even know where I would put it in the bookstore – maybe in the medical or philosophy sections. I need to get it in print because there are quotes, examples, and sub theories that I would like to examine more closely, but it’s difficult to do that with an audio book. Great stuff and it has the potential to change your life.


L is for Lawless

Recently my print selections have been pretty heavy and each took awhile to get through. The last book I read was some complicated sci-fi that I never understood; before that it was a depressing work of fiction by Philip Roth. Maybe that’s why I have been reading so little lately…coupled with the fact that my reading trails off a lot during the summer because I just spend a lot of time outside.

That brings us to Sue Grafton and the twelfth Kinsey Millhone mystery (I’ve read the first eleven in order). As I’ve stated, I’m a big fan of the mystery/thriller genre and Sue Grafton does not disappoint. If I am up for some mindless fiction, I just grab one. In fact, I bought seven of them (in paperback) on eBay about a year ago and I still have two or three left. Just a lotta good fun.

The main character is this surly, 30 something female private detective that lives in the fictional town of Santa Theresa, CA. The town, I think, is really Santa Barbara and Kinsey Millhone is Grafton’s fantasy life had she not gotten married and had kids. There’s all sorts of picking locks, eating fast food, catching bad guys, and other sorts of hooey. Did I just use the word hooey? What the $%*^ is going on?

Rack it up as another good one. You can’t go wrong with Grafton.



This is a one-sitting book, or should I say, a one-workout audio book. Michael Lewis, the author of Liar’s Poker and Moneyball, went to a private high school in New Orleans called Newman. It is, in fact, the same high school that Peyton Manning and Rusty Staub went to. The baseball coach at Newman is a tough guy named Coach Fitz and he has been around forever; this is a story about him.

Lewis played baseball at Newman and has crafted a story that is part memoir and part life-lesson. It worked for me. He tells of his experience with Coach Fitz and how deep and profound Coach Fitz’s influence on his life was. Lewis got the itch to tell this story when he heard about a movement to raise money for a new gym at Newman dedicated to Coach Fitz. This was especially interesting because at the same time, there was a movement to get Coach Fitz removed by many parents of the kids on his baseball team because he was just “to tough on them.”

As you can guess, there is plenty of commentary about how kids these days are lazy and too privileged to ever succeed at anything. “Oh, the kids are so soft these days…what’s gonna happen to our society?” I think that’s a load of bull and it gets old fast, but you have to get past it, because you will be rewarded with some keen insights into how sports, especially high school sports, can positively shape your life.

I’m a sports fan and have always been an avid participant in many sports, fitness, and gaming pursuits. They are a big part of my life and besides satisfying a need for physical exertion and regular competition, they serve as the basis for most of my social outlets. Despite this, I have never really had a coach or sports figure that affected me like Coach Fitz. In fact, I haven’t had any mentors, personally or professionally, that I can pinpoint as affecting a life change or a special, self-confidence boost. What I have had is a wife, two parents, three siblings, and a pack of other family that have a cared about all aspects of my life since 8/23/66, when Dr. Cosiano slapped my ass and handed me to my mother.

What Michael Lewis got from his coach, I was (and am) able to get by waking up and taking a seat at the kitchen table. Lewis’ story reaffirmed this, and I thank him.



I went through a small period back in the mid-1990’s where I read a bunch of sci-fi and fantasy. I read the Dune trilogy, Isaac Asimov’s Foundation trilogy, and the Lord of Rings trilogy. That pretty much gave me my fix and I have not really touched it since. That is, until this week, when I grabbed Neuromancer off the shelf.

When you see lists of sci-fi/fantasy classics, all of the books mentioned in the preceding paragraph are usually included. Neuromancer is different from the others though because it was written in the early 1980s, so it is barely 20 years old. Young by comparison to the others, but advanced based on the year it was written. It envisions a world of interconnected computers, spread across the globe, referred to as the matrix. Those who have the power to master access and information on the matrix can steal, kill, and wreak all sorts of general havoc.

That’s where Case comes in. He spent his younger days jacking in to the matrix and having his way with other people’s information, and money. He made the mistake though of putting a little cash aside for retirement and his boss somehow destroyed his ability to jack in ever again, but kept him very much alive. Now he basically roams the streets of some Japanese city, doing drugs and engaging in contract jobs that may involve killing people. However, he gets a second chance to use his electronic expertise when some shady characters promise to perform an operation to restore his former abilities in return for assisting them in a certain matter.

That’s where this book loses me. It just got very complicated, very fast and I got lost. He introduced characters that I forgot about and started using terms that were never defined. I spent huge chunks of the middle of the book basically without any clue about what was going on. I had the gist of it, the pacing felt like adventurous sci-fi, and I could pick out the main characters, but it was just very confusing. My perspective did come around however, and the last quarter of the book was manageable.

If you are into sci-fi, go for it. I feel like you have to be in practice to read hardcore sci-fi like this and I was just not ready for it. I could pick out many of the ingredients. There is a huge, international conglomerate that is trying to control things with artificial intelligence. There is a leather clad, female assassin with genetically modified, retractable steel claws. And in the end, there is a frantic pursuit to find answers and save the good guys. I don’t know, I guess I’m just not smart enough for this type of book.


American Pastoral

I remember the day I purchased this book. I told the clerk at Borders, “I don’t need a bag,” and I just let the receipt hang out of the top so the security guard at the North Avenue store didn’t suspect me of thievery. I mean, when you have the “Winner of the Pulitzer Prize” badge on the front of a book you own, you want people to be able to see it. What’s the point of hiding it in a plastic bag that’s going to sit in a landfill for decades?

Well, it took about two years to actually get up the nerve to read it because I figured it was going to take energy, and I was correct. This is the story of Swede Levov. He was a superstar high school athlete in New Jersey and went on to successfully run the family business. He achieved tremendous wealth, had a beautiful wife, and was an upstanding citizen in the community. He appeared to have it all, but the dude had big problems.

In the retelling of this man’s fictional life, Roth explores issues of race, religion, class, gender, politics, aging, and infidelity…among others. He explores these issues by observing the Swede’s tragic life from various perspectives and through the conversations that the Swede and his friends and family have. The timeframe is roughly from the Swede’s high school graduation in 1945 to the 1990’s. I didn’t find much happiness or humor, but I was certainly moved.

The book revolves around a moment in 1968 when the Swede’s daughter blows up the local post office. The what and why this happened underpin much of the book, but the moment is not retold directly nor is it the climax. Roth employs many vehicles to flush things out and splits the book into three distinct parts. In Part I, titled “Paradise Remembered,” you see things from the first-person perspective of Nathan Zuckerman, a family friend and writer who grew up with the Levov’s. In Part II, titled “The Fall,” it leaves Zuckerman and switches to a third-person narrative with much reflection by the Swede. And finally, Roth brings things to a raging climax in Part III, titled “Paradise Lost.” It mostly centers on a marathon dinner party at the Levov’s that is reminiscent of “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” in its length, acidity, and pure domestic evil.

I wouldn’t really call it entertainment, and it was a little heavier than I wanted after a break from reading for about three months while my wife and I moved. But it makes you think and wonder and ruminate, and may change your perspective on some controversial subjects.



The US Open at Bethpage Black, back in 2002, was lost on me while it was happening. It was not until after that I realized how special it was to host an Open at a muni (municipal course).

I mean, I’m a public course guy, so I am not sure why I didn’t embrace it during the build-up. I can venture a few guesses. First of all, the Masters is my number one sporting event on the face of the earth, so everything kind of pales in comparison. I love to watch dudes rack up birdies on the back nine on Sunday…that does not happen at a US Open. That course set-up that the USGA seems married to is just plain old stupid.

Second, I view the USGA as a bunch of east-coast, country club types who think golf stops at about central Pennsylvania and does not start up again until the Pacific coast.

And finally, I can’t sit and watch golf on a weekend in the middle of June. Summer weekends are treated like gold here in the Chicago area and I won’t be inside for one.

Now, I can’t really defend any of these reasons. They probably show how childish and irrational I can be when it comes to certain things that I am passionate about. In fact, I’m just dead wrong on a few counts and this book really opened my eyes to a lot of things about the USGA and the Open that have changed my view of this fine championship.

Feinstein walks you through the whole process of how the Open at Bethpage Black came to be. He starts with David Fay’s (executive director of the USGA at the time) dream of an Open at the Black and ends with Fay exiting the clubhouse, rather discreetly, after Tiger’s victory. In between, he fills the book with tons of insight on golf, sports broadcasting, New York state, and the people and places that make up each.

All of the major players in this story get a decent sized bio. You will learn plenty about where everyone grew up, how they developed a love for the game, and what kind of person Feinstein thinks they are. It certainly changed my view of the makeup of the USGA, in a positive way. There is also a very interesting section about how NBC got the TV contract for the Open. It made me a bigger Johnny Miller fan than I already am. The book also takes you through the highlights of all of the Open qualifiers, which includes a lot of touching stories and some great golf history.

The meat of the book is Feinstein going into great detail on the course reconstruction, the course setup, and the preparation and playing of the Open. I’m a golf junkie, but I learned a lot from this book and had a good time reading it. It’s a lot of fun to read non-fiction about a subject that you are familiar with. I didn’t feel like I had to be as alert and engrossed. I just sat back during a relaxing vacation and consumed it over the course of a week, stopping in the middle of chapters more than ever. I may grab some more Feinstein non-fiction for my next vacation.


Blue Ocean Strategy

Kim and Mauborgne are strategy and management professors at INSEAD. They have a very compelling take on strategy. They use the examples of red oceans and blue oceans to make their point. Red oceans are markets where “industry boundaries are defined and accepted, and the competitive rules of the game are known.” Companies fight for share in these markets by taking blood from the competition, creating a red ocean. Blue oceans, in contrast, are unknown, “untapped market space,” where “competition is irrelevant because the rules of the game are waiting to be set.” Companies like Cirque du Soleil have found blue oceans and the profits and growth are voluminous. That’s good stuff, I like the visual.

So they set out to explain how to create a blue ocean strategy. In explaining their methodology, they debunk some of the assertions in some famous business books, like In Search of Excellence and Built to Last, both of which focused on “America’s best run” or “visionary companies.” Those books, they say, have highlighted companies where the profits and growth have not been as successful as portrayed. For instance, Kim and Mauborgne bring up HP, which was fawned over in Built to Last (I have not read it, I am trusting them). Kim and Mauborgne agree that HP outperformed the market during the period that Built to Last studied it. However, they say, the whole computer industry outperformed the market, so what’s the big deal. In fact, HP did not even outperform the competition in their same industry. Therefore, instead of focusing on the company or the industry, Kim and Mauborgne explain how to create blue oceans by focusing on the “strategic move.”

Here is a picture that I’ve drawn to give you a big picture view of concepts and content…they want to take you from red oceans to blue oceans – from the bottom to the top.

Blue Ocean

They describe a systematic method to discover blue ocean opportunities and bring them to fruition. They introduce a host of graphs, matrices, charts, and tools to help you frame your quest for blue oceans. I like their take and I like they way the book is organized. The meat of this book is Part Two, the four chapters on formulating the strategy. They back everything up with solid, real-world examples and really make it feel like you can put together a blue ocean strategy in your industry, with the team you have in place, without a lot of extra resources.

However, I think the two chapters on executing blue ocean strategy in Part Three are weak. Their whole take on execution does not seem to fit and feels like a retread of current management practice. For example, they bring up the decrease in crime during the 90’s in NYC to illustrate how to execute. They use it as an example of “overcoming organizational hurdles” and refer to it as an example of “tipping point leadership.” (Don’t worry, they give Malcolm Gladwell, writer of The Tipping Point, credit.) Ever since reading Freakonomics though, I can’t read another recounting of that example of great police work without smiling. Their take on execution (management) just does not feel as groundbreaking or innovative as their take on formulation (marketing and strategy). So think of this as a marketing and strategy book, and you will not be disappointed.


Washington Square

I’ve had this book sitting in a stack of stuff to read for years now. I think I purchased it about three years ago, probably after seeing one of those Merchant/Ivory movies or something. I’ve never read anything by Henry James but I always see his novels in the racks of classic lit at the bookstores. So this week, I figured I needed a little classic lit after soiling myself with that trash fiction a few weeks ago. Kinda keeps my world in balance, if you know what I mean.

So there’s this woman, Catherine Sloper, who is described by her father, the wealthy Dr. Sloper, as particularly ugly and stupid. He makes these proclamations about his daughter aloud, in the presence of others, and barely sugar coats it even if he is speaking with his daughter directly.

One evening, Catherine meets a young whipper-snapper named Morris Townsend and is immediately smitten. He too appears interested in furthering the relationship, despite Catherine’s plain looks and lack of cleverness. Could it be that one facet of her attractiveness is that she is in line to inherit a huge chunk of change because of her father’s riches? Yes, it very well could be. But you still hold out hope that Townsend is an honorable man.

Well, her dad is livid and will have nothing to do with this Morris fellow. He does everything in his power to discourage his daughter from wedding young Morris. However, there is an opposing force to her father’s negativity in the form of his sister, Mrs. Penniman. Mrs. Penniman is Catherine’s live-in, widowed aunt, who defies her brother and works the action from the other side by playing matchmaker between these two young lovers.

What follows is a sordid family matter that turns out to be a social commentary by one of our classic writers. I really enjoyed this short read but felt a little empty at the end. I developed a seething hatred for her aunt and her father, but they both seem to escape unscathed. It did appear that Catherine went on to lead a rich and fulfilling life in her spinster-hood, so maybe that was her victory.

Great stuff. I’ve tried to read a few Jane Austen novels and just can’t seem to get through them. James, however, really kept me interested. I was pulling for Catherine throughout.


Guns, Germs, and Steel

At one point in his life, Jared Diamond was a biologist in New Guinea studying birds. This was about the early 70’s, I think. (With audio books it’s difficult to verify the details because you can’t just leaf through the pages or refer to the index, so I apologize if I get the details wrong.) Okay, it was the early 70’s and he was having a conversation with this local politician in New Guinea, named Yali. Yali asked a question of Diamond that went something like this, why do you people (white, Euro-types) have all of this advanced technology and we don’t? What is the cause of this disparity? Well, Diamond sets out to explain the answer.

Diamond begins by walking you through the evolution of people, beginning at about 7 million BC. He gets you to about 11,000 BC before he really starts making comparisons between different peoples and continents. He concentrates first on the rise of food producing societies and their subsequent displacement of people engaged solely in hunting and gathering. This domestication of plants and animals for food allows a society to progress much faster because members can spend less time looking for food and more time reading, writing, studying, and creating complex, hierarchical political systems.

Once he establishes the import of domesticating plants and animals, he explains how the east-west orientation of Eurasia was much more amenable to rapid adoption of farming across the continent than the north-south orientation of Africa and the Americas. He illustrates this by pointing out, for example, that it took much longer for corn to find its way from Mexico to the United States than it did for certain cereals from the Fertile Crescent to spread much longer distances across Eurasia.

He concludes:

That faster spread of Eurasian agriculture, compared with that of Native American and sub-Saharan African agriculture, played a roll, as the next part of this book will show, in the more rapid diffusion of Eurasian writing, metallurgy, technology, and empires. To bring up all those differences isn’t to claim that widely distributed crops are admirable or that they testify to the superior ingenuity of early Eurasian farmers. They reflect instead the orientation of Eurasia’s axis compared with that of the Americas or Africa; around those axes turned the fortunes of history.

With only about two hours left, I expected the pace to pick up a bit if he was going to bring me back around to answering Yali’s question. And it does.

His next topic is germs, which also helped domesticated, well-organized, Eurasian societies to displace others. Germs, you see, thrive in domesticated animals like cattle and sheep. Eurasian societies lived near, and sometimes with, these animals for years. After numerous plagues, they developed resistance to many of the diseases in these animals. So, when Spanish conquistadors landed on the shores of Mexico and effectively destroyed a society of millions of Aztecs, it was less so the fierceness and intelligence with which the Spanish fought and more so the fact that the Aztecs were not resistant to the smallpox that the Spanish brought with them.

He goes through the details of three more topics and explains how they affected the rise and fall of different societies. They are, in order of presentation:

  1. The advent and cultivation of writing
  2. The rise of technology
  3. The development of complex political systems

It was really some fascinating audio. He made a complicated, controversial, and potentially boring topic very captivating. I turned it off feeling that I know more about the world. The last chapter in the audio book is 8 minutes and 35 seconds worth of summary that really ties it all together.

Here is how he sums it up:

The striking differences between the long-term histories of peoples of the different continents have been due not to innate differences in the people themselves, but to differences in their environments.

The most important differences in the environments, per Diamond, are as follows:

  1. The differences in starting material for domestication of plants and animals.
  2. The differences in rates of diffusion of certain developments across societies within continents.
  3. Inter-hemispheric diffusion of certain developments.
  4. Continental differences in area and population size.

Great stuff. Read it or listen to it and you will get more detail than you can consume on how each of the four differences resulted in widely disparate societies.



This is pure, unadulterated, escapist fiction. The plot is implausible with huge gaps. The women are all beautiful and the bad guys are all huge and ugly. The main character is virtually indestructible, smarter than all of his foes, and quick with the quip. But I do not apologize…because I’m traveling.

That’s right, I’m spending a long weekend out of town. When I travel, I bring along trash fiction in paperback form because it’s easy to carry. When I’m done, I just leave it wherever. In fact, I keep a backlog of paperbacks for travel and just grab one or two on the way out the door. I definitely don’t want to haul around a hardcover and I don’t like reading anything too intense on a trip. If it’s a business trip, I usually work longer hours and I’m not going back to the hotel and reading something that takes concentration. If it’s pleasure, heck, the beach and trash fiction were made for each other.

This is Child’s seventh book and I’ve read them all, in order. The main character in each book is a guy named Jack Reacher. Reacher was an MP in the army for 10-15 years before he got laid-off in the armed forces reduction-in-force that took place in the 1990’s. He doesn’t have any family left and, since he grew up as a military kid, he doesn’t even have a hometown. He took his severance package and his life savings and socked them away in a bank account and now he just sort of knocks around the mainland. He carries no credit cards, has no car, and has no permanent mailing address. If he needs money, he has his bank wire some cash to Western Union or something. Hey, I told you it was implausible.

Let me make this proclamation though: Jack Reacher is the toughest dude in the history of fiction. I’m talking books, film, or TV, excluding sci-fi and fantasy of course. Let me show you my latest ranking of the toughest dudes not endowed with any sort of super powers:

  1. Jack Reacher
  2. Walker, Texas Ranger
  3. Jason Bourne
  4. John Rambo
  5. Dirk Pitt

If you want to debate it, just throw some other candidates at me and I will shoot them down. Once I start regaling you with Jack Reacher stories you will understand.

In this edition, Reacher gets yanked into helping a DEA agent who is trying to bust some bad guys. The DEA agent is a woman, and of course, she’s beautiful. She finds Reacher because he had an old army contact run the plate of a car that Reacher saw a former nemesis enter. This plate popped up on some DEA watch list or something because it’s owned by a bad man. So, coincidentally, the DEA contacts Reacher to help them bust this very same guy. Reacher cannot resist. He, of course, puts himself into dangerous situations despite pleas from his colleagues to get out. Along the way he kills a bunch of dudes and makes the women swoon.

Not much else I can say. I had a good time while I was reading it.