Monthly Archives: April 2014

BOOK REVIEW: ‘Ruin Falls’: Thriller Explores Gaps in a Woman’s Knowledge of Her Husband

REVIEWED BY DAVID M. KINCHEN
How much does a wife know about her husband? Really, really know? In Liz Daniels’ case, the lack of knowledge about her college professor husband Paul Daniels in Jenny Milchman’s “Ruin Falls” Ruin Falls jacket(Ballantine Books, 352 pages, $26.00) leads inexorably to almost unendurable terror.

Everything starts out fine, with Liz, Paul and their children, six-year-old daughter Ally and eight-year-old son Reid on a rare road trip from their home in New York state’s Adirondack mountains to Paul’s parents in the farming country of western New York state.

The trip should have triggered alarm wires in Liz’s mind, because visits to Matthew and Mary Daniels have been few and far between and Paul’s relationship with his father, in particular, is strained.

Paul is a well regarded professor at an agricultural college, adored by his students as an important figure in organic and ecologically sensitive farming. Liz and Jill, her best friend have a two-acre boutique organic farm, really a big garden, growing produce for the upscale farmers’ markets where customers pay more for local food. The business, Roots, is operated out of Liz and Paul’s house because they live in the valley, while Jill lives in town.

On the way to the farm, Paul suggests that they stay at a hotel, rather than try to make the trip uninterrupted. The next morning Liz goes to check her sleeping children and find that Ally and Reed are nowhere to be found. Blind panic slides into ice-cold terror as the hours tick by without anyone finding a trace of the kids. Paul and Liz are being interviewed by police, an Amber Alert is issued, and detectives are called in.

As the story of the search unfolds, Milchman weaves in seemingly unrelated narratives of families divided by custody disputes. Liz uncovers a website and with the help of a high school friend, Tim Lurcquer, now her hometown’s police chief, she comes across a startling chat room that promises to its members a society where ecology is in balance and mindless consumerism is a thing of the past: two key elements of Paul Daniels’ philosophy at Eastern Ag.

Terror in seemingly ordinary activities is a hallmark of “Ruin Falls,” the followup novel to Milchman’s debut novel “Cover of Snow,” published by Ballantine in January 2013. I haven’t read that novel, but I’m going to try to get a copy!

In an email conversation with the author, I suggested that Joyce Carol Oates and Ira Levin came to mind as influences. Milchman said both authors were influences, and was surprised that I had named Levin (1929-2007) author of the best-selling horror novels “Rosemary’s Baby,” “The Stepford Wives,” “The Boys from Brazil” and “A Kiss Before Dying.” All were made into feature films, as well as his novel “Sliver.” Milchman said I was the only reviewer who mentioned Ira Levin.

“A Kiss Before Dying,” one of my favorite Levin novels, according to the Nov. 14, 2007 New York Times obituary, “ won the 1954 Edgar Award for best first novel from the Mystery Writers of America. It was filmed twice, in 1956 with Robert Wagner; and in 1991 with Matt Dillon. I prefer the 1956 film.

Levin and Oates were obvious — to me, at least — influences, but I want to emphasize that Jenny Milchman has her own literary voice and it’s a good one. I look forward to future novels from this talented writer.
About the author

jenny milchmanJenny Milchman is a suspense writer from the Hudson River Valley of New York state. Her debut novel, “Cover of Snow”, was published by Ballantine/Random House in January 2013 and her follow up novel, “Ruin Falls” was published in April 2014. Her short story ‘The Closet’ was published in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine in 2012, and another short story, ‘The Very Old Man’, will be published in EQMM this year. The short work ‘Black Sun on Tupper Lake’ appears in the anthology ADIRONDACK MYSTERIES II.

Jenny is the Chair of International Thriller Writers’ Debut Authors Program. She is also the founder of Take Your Child to a Bookstore Day, which was celebrated in all 50 states and four foreign countries by over 700 bookstores in 2013. Jenny hosts the Made It Moments forum on her blog, which has featured more than 250 international bestsellers, Edgar winners, and independent authors. Jenny co-hosts the literary series Writing Matters, which attracts guests coast-to-coast and has received national media attention. She also teaches writing and publishing for New York Writers Workshop and Arts By The People.

Jenny Milchman’s website: http://www.jennymilchman.com/

 

BOOK REVIEW: ‘Monday, Monday’: Three Survivors of Mass Campus Shooting and Their Lives Unfolding Over Four Decades

REVIEWED BY DAVID M. KINCHEN

Gunnery Sgt. Hartman, referring to Lee Harvey Oswald and mass murderer Charles Whitman:

Gunnery Sergeant Hartman: Do any of you people know where these individuals learned how to shoot?… Private Joker.

Private Joker: Sir. In the Marines, Sir.

Gunnery Sergeant Hartman: In the Marines. Outstanding. Those individuals showed what one motivated Marine and his rifle can do. And before you ladies leave my Island, you will all be able to do the same thing. — From Stanley Kubrick’s 1987 film “Full Metal Jacket” (Hartman was played by a real Marine, actor R. Lee Ermey)

 

Monday, Monday jacketHistorical novels don’t have to be set in the distant past, but it’s a bit unsettling to this aging reviewer that the events of Elizabeth Crook’s “Monday, Monday” (Sarah Crichton Books, an imprint of Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 352 pages, $26.00) began on Monday, August 1, 1966 when engineering student Charles Whitman lugged an arsenal of weapons to the observation deck of the tower of the main administration building at the University of Texas and began shooting his M1 carbine at people on the plaza below.

Unsettling because at the time of Whitman’s action, I was already on my second newspaper gig, on the pioneering staff of a start-up daily newspaper in Bloomington, Indiana.

Before he was done, shot dead, Whitman killed 16 people and wounded 32. It was the first mass shooting of civilians in the nation and the prototype for later college shootings at Virginia Tech and even my alma mater, Northern Illinois University. The Texas Tower shootings would remain the deadliest campus shooting on a U.S college campus until the Virginia Tech massacre in 2007, when 32 people were killed and 17 were wounded.

Acclaimed historical novelist Elizabeth Crook — who’s written novels about Sam Houston and early Texas — takes three fictional people who were there that hot day in Austin and creates a picture of the era and relationships that will enthrall even the most jaded observer of the 1960s.

And it’s easy to get jaded, with CNN’s multi-part documentary on the 1960s — which opened last fall with a look at the JFK assassination in Dallas on Friday, Nov. 22, 1963. The series, produced by Tom Hanks’s Playtone production company andMark Herzog of Herzog & Company (HCO). resumes in May, so we’ll get our fill of a decade that many of us who lived through it would like to forget.

Crook creates three characters — students Shelly Maddox, Wyatt Calvert and his cousin Jack Stone — who are caught up in the massacre: Shelly, who leaves her math class and walks directly into the path of the bullets, and two cousins, Wyatt and Jack, who rush from their classrooms to help the victims.

The characters may be fictional, but that doesn’t prevent the reader from caring about them, wanting them to have a happy outcome in the wake of a searing tragedy, cheering them on. I experienced all these emotions about Shelly, Wyatt and Jack as I followed their lives over four decades. Shelly and Jack are physically wounded by Whitman’s bullets, but Wyatt is wounded emotionally.

If ever there was a novel in which I didn’t want to give away the details of the plot, “Monday, Monday” is that novel. This is a book where you don’t want some idiot reviewer to tell all!

So stay away from online summaries of “Monday, Monday” and expect the unexpected in this novel and you won’t be surprised how the love affair between Shelly and Wyatt turns out. And how it affects Wyatt’s wife Elaine and his son Nate. And how it affects Jack Stone and his wife Delia. There! I’ve already said too much.

Native Texan Crook (born in Houston, raised in San Marcos) also paints a vivid picture of Texas, a state far more complex than the simplistic view of it shown by the mainstream media.

I’ve lived here going on six years and I’ve come to love the state and its diversity. Crook’s characters live in Austin and San Marcos — where the Aquarena water park plays a role in the novel — and Alpine in west Texas and travel to Port A (Port Aransas) for the Gulf of Mexico beaches. During her pregnancy, Shelly lives with her aunt Aileen in Beeville, not far from Corpus Christi in south Texas. And, perhaps scariest of all, the Devil’s Sinkhole near Rocksprings, where a rescue leads to deadly consequences for a man Shelly loves.

Reading “Monday, Monday” will give you a look at a state that is so often misunderstood — as well as a wonderful portrayal of three people and their friends and families. And, speaking of mini-series, “Monday, Monday” is a prime candidate for one on, say, Sundance TV or Lifetime, in my opinion.
crook-elizabeth_0About the author

Elizabeth Crook is the author of three previous novels, “The Raven’s Bride,” “Promised Lands”, and “The Night Journal” which won a Spur Award from Western Writers of America and a WILLA Literary Award from Women Writing the West. She has written for magazines and periodicals, including Texas Monthly and the Southwestern Historical Quarterly. She lives in Austin with her family. Elizabeth Crook’s website: http://www.elizabethcrookbooks.com/index.htm

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For the lyrics to “Monday, Monday” by The Mamas and The Papas (1966): http://www.stlyrics.com/lyrics/thebigchill/mondaymonday.htm

 

OP-ED: Global Warming Needs Urgent Response Now

BY THOMAS O. MILLS

Scientists are using the shifting of Earth’s poles to measure climate change: http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn24755-earths-poles-are-shifting-be…

The breaking news, in my mind, should be “CLIMATE CHANGE HAS CAUSED THE EARTHS POLES TO SHIFT”.

earth-from-space-westernThe NewScientist article, from Dec. 13, 2013, notes that in one year Greenland has lost 250 gigatonnes of ice, mountain glaciers have lost 194 gigatonnes of ice, and Antarctica has lost 180 gigatonnes of ice.

A gigatonne equals 1,000,000,000 tons.

We can debate what causes global warming and climate change, whoʼs at fault, how many jobs will be lost, how much money it will take to fix the problem, and point fingers at each other all day long.

The truth is our small planet has lost at least 624 gigatonnes of ice in the last year alone. The loss of this weight has caused the location of Earth’s poles to move. Not the magnetic poles — but the actual location of the poles. If we lose another 624 gigatonnes of ice this year, how far will the poles move? How many gigatonnes of ice are there? How many more gigatonnes can we afford to lose before the earths rotation and delicate balance is in real trouble?

The movement of the poles has changed the flow of the jet stream. The change in the jet stream has caused storm, rain, snow, and wind patterns to change. This change causes floods in some areas and droughts in others, temperature swings, seasons to change. All of these changes affect our food supply, plant cycles, our drinking water, our civilization.

All this ice turning into water causes sea levels to rise, islands to sink, cloud patterns to change. With warmer ocean temperatures we can expect stronger hurricanes, tsunamis, higher tides, and fish populations dying or moving to cooler water located at the poles. These changes will effect millions of people now, and many more in the future, worldwide.

The only debate we should be having at this time; is where and how soon the meeting, between the most powerful and creative minds, from all countries, all people, all around the planet, will come together to find a solution and correct the problem. Money, power, wars, might not matter, in the end.

* * *

Thomas O. Mills lives in Paso Robles, California and is the author of “The Book of Truth, A New Perspective To The Hopi Creation Story” and “Stonehenge, If This Was East”. For David M. Kinchen’s review of “The Book of Truth” click: http://www.huntingtonnews.net/9165 HNN book critic Kinchen commissioned him to review a book by a Native American writer, Michael “Hawk” Spisak; for the review, click: http://www.huntingtonnews.net/39967

 

BOOK REVIEW: ‘Exposure: A Virals Novel’: Kathy Reichs Teams Up With Her Son Brendan in Fourth Entry in ‘Virals’ Y.A. Series

REVIEWED BY DAVID M. KINCHEN

Exposure jacketAnything that motivates young people to read books — real books, not texts on their smart phones — is by me OK. Great, even and Kathy Reichs and her son Brendan Reichs have produced a great young adult series in Virals. The fourth entry in the series, “Exposure” (G.P. Putnam’s Sons, an imprint of Penguin Group USA , $17.99, 432 pages) features the crime-solving efforts of Victoria “Tory” Brennan and her friends with special abilities and old-fashioned smarts. Tory, living on an island near Charleston, S.C., is the grand-niece of “Bones” protagonist Temperance Brennan.

Many teen readers will identify with the family life of Tory, with her widowed father Christopher “Kit’ Howard enthralled with a woman Tory calls “my father’s ditzy gal-pal”: Whitney Blanche DuBois. Whitney is working to get Tory into the very social Magnolia League of Charleston, but Tory is resisting, to say the least. She’d rather hang out with her wolf-dog Cooper — “Coop” for short, and her Virals pals Shelton and Hiram. For those not familiar with the wonderful city of Charleston and its environs, Cooper is the name of one of two rivers — Ashley is the other — that empty into the Atlantic Ocean. Or, as the old saying goes, Charleston is at the point “where the Ashley and Cooper Rivers meet to form the Atlantic Ocean.”

When twin classmates Lucy and Peter Gable are abducted from Bolton Prep, the school they also attend, Tory and the Virals decide there’s no one better equipped than them to investigate. But the gang has other problems to face. Their powers are growing wilder, and becoming harder to control. Tory’s nemesis Chance Claybourne is investigating the disastrous medical experiment that twisted their DNA. The bonds that unite them are weakening, threatening the future of the pack itself.

The Virals must decipher the clues and track down a ruthless criminal before he strikes again, all while protecting their secret from prying eyes. And everyone seems to be watching. To say anything more would be a spoiler, and I hate spoiler’s almost as much as Tory hates the idea of the Magnolia League.

Although it’s aimed at young adult (Y.A.) readers, I think adult readers will enjoy this latest “Virals” book. They may even get insights into how their teen-aged offspring think. If that’s at all possible!

About the Authors

Kathy Reichs (www.kathyreichs.com), like her iconic character Dr. Temperance Brennan, is a board-certified forensic anthropologist, and creator of the Fox television hit Bones, now in its ninth season. Reichs, born in Chicago in 1948, has written fourteen books in the Temperance Brennan series, all New York Times bestsellers, including #1. Exposure is her fourth novel for young readers.

 

Brendan Reichs (www.brendanreichs.com) was born and raised in Charlotte, North Carolina. He graduated from Wake Forest University in 2000 and The George Washington University School of Law in 2006. After three long years working as a litigation attorney, he abandoned the trade to co-write the “Virals” series. He lives in Charlotte with his wife, Emily, daughter, Alice, and son, Henry. He plans to keep writing novels until they drag him from his desk.

Visit http://www.viralstheseries.com.

BOOK REVIEW: ‘How to Write Anything: When Laura Brown Says ‘Anything’, She Means ‘Anything’

REVIEWED BY DAVID M. KINCHEN

How to Write Anything jacketLaura Brown’s “How to Write Anything: A Complete Guide’ (W.W. Norton, 608 pages, index, $35.00) is the most comprehensive guide to writing I’ve seen. I wish the book had been available when I was in college more than 50 years ago.

As it happened, I was blessed with wonderful English teachers in both high school and college — teachers who inspired me to major in English, which led me to take up journalism as a profession.

Brown shows the reader how to write everything: from letters of complaint, thank you notes, invitations of all kinds, speeches, cover letters for resumes, letters of recommendations, college essays, even book reviews.

I liked the way she included examples of poor writing — “Don’t do this” — along with much better examples: “Do this.”

She also includes writing by contributors, including college students. Yes, the book would be an ideal gift to any student.

I’ve written about the need for classic style books, like Strunk and White’s “The Elements of Style” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Elements_of_Style), but that classic, published in 1959, needs to be supplemented by a book for the age of the Internet. Brown’s book is the best I’ve seen for today’s writer.

“How to Write Anything” has more than two hundred how-to entries and easy-to-use models organized into three comprehensive sections on work, school, and personal life.

It’s a book that’s written in a style that’s friendly and supportive. I’ve given a few speeches in my time and I agree with her statement that this activity is one of life’s scariest experiences! In the speechwriting section (pages 408-412), she gives great advice on how to write the speech that’s tailored to your audience, how to practice it before you get up on that platform (am I scaring you enough?) and how to have a friend critique it. In fact, having somebody you respect critique your writing is a great idea.

Let’s say you’re applying for college. Brown shows how to write application essays that will stand out. Somebody is hogging the parking in your neighborhood, blocking your driveway. Brown shows how to write a note for the offender’s windshield that won’t end up with your tires slashed. A neighbor persists in putting out his garbage containers days before the scheduled pickup. Brown shows how to write the proper note.

PowerPoint presentations are one of the most common tools in business, and Brown has spot-on suggestions on how to write effective PowerPoint slide copy. On point she mentions deserves singling out: Just because your Mac or PC has dozens of type fonts, don’t make the mistake of using too many in a slide.

“How to Write Anything” is at once a how-to guide and a reference book. No matter how long you’ve been writing, you can always improve you work and Laura Brown has just the book for you.

About the Author

Laura Brown, Ph.D., has taught writing to just about everyone—from corporate executives to high school students. Her expertise encompasses instructor-led training, individual coaching, classroom teaching, and e-learning development. She has more than twenty-five years’ experience providing training and coaching in business writing, and she has also taught composition and literature at Columbia University. She lives in New York. Her website: http://www.howtowriteanything.com/

 

PARALLEL UNIVERSE: Happy Birthday, Will Shakespeare; Words and Phrases You Created Will Live Forever

BY DAVID M. KINCHEN
shakespeareBrush up your Shakespeare / Start quoting him now / Brush up your Shakespeare / And the women you will wow –– Cole Porter, from his song “Brush Up Your Shakespeare” from “Kiss Me Kate”
On this 450th anniversary of the birth of William Shakespeare (born April 23, 1564) I want to wish the Bard a happy birthday. It’s only logical from an English major!

NPR has a very good feature in its website reminding us that if ever there was a “word-nerd,” the boy from Stratford-Upon-Avon, England was one of the best: http://www.npr.org/2014/04/23/305951480/household-words-shakespeares-end…

If you say “what the dickens!” instead of “what the devil,” you’re following the Bard’s example.

The article, by Eleanor Kagan and Anabel Bacon, points out that Shakespeare was among the first, if not the first, to use the phrases “hot-blooded” (In Merry Wives of Windsor, V.v.2) and “cold-blooded” (King John, III.i.49-50).

“Fashionable,” as in “For time is like a fashionable host,/That slightly shakes his parting guest by th’hand” (“Troilus and Cressida, III.iii.159-60) was a coinage from the pen of Shakespeare.

“Salad days” doesn’t refer to a Cobb salad, the story points, out, quoting Michael Macrone, author of the book “Brush Up Your Shakespeare!”

So was “My salad days, / When I was green in judgment, cold in blood, / To say as I said then!” (Antony and Cleopatra, I.v.73-75)

Macrone says:

By “salad days” Cleopatra refers to a time not when she had to eat salad, but when she was like salad. From the fifteenth century on, “salad” could mean any raw vegetable; metaphorically, the young Cleopatra was as “green” (inexperienced) and “cold” (passionless) as a piece of lettuce. At least, this is how she now explains her youthful affair with Julius Caesar…she portrays her “salad days” as a time of unreflective indulgence.

The NPR feature is a wonderful brief introduction to the Bard’s inventive use of the English language, perhaps our greatest inheritance from the mother country. I was surprised a few years ago to find that many English majors today aren’t required to take a semester-long course in the greatest dramatist and poet in our language, as I did as an English major at Northern Illinois University from 1957-1961.

Macrone used the title of a song from Cole Porter’s Broadway musical “Kiss Me Kate” for his book title. The musical was adapted from Shakespeare’s “The Taming of the Shrew”, involves a cast and director creating a musical version of the play, and is one of my favorite musicals. Think of the marvelous songs Porter wrote (words and music) for this 1948 musical: “Another Op’nin’, Another Show”, “So in Love,” “Too Darn Hot”, “Kiss Me, Kate,” “From This Moment On,” and, of course, “Brush Up Your Shakespeare.”

 

BOOK REVIEW: Rejoice! Rejoice! Phlange Welder Is Back….or to be Exact: He’s Back in Print

REVIEWED BY DAVID M. KINCHEN

Twenty years ago, in 1994, Los Angeles Times staff writer Evelyn De Wolfe compiled in a paperback volume the goings and comings, the to and fro, the hither and yon of one Phlange Welder, the equivalent in many ways at the Los Angeles Times of The New Yorker’s signature character Eustace Tilley.

41DzumkJGkL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Her book has long been out of print, so it’s only logical that Evie would go to her computer and expand and update the book and publish it as “The Life and Times of Phlange Welder” (Ashlin Press, CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform; 2nd edition, 76 pages, large format trade paperback, available from Amazon.com, $8.85).

The late 1950s and early 1960s were a far different era than the grim newsrooms of today, where everybody seems to be waiting for the pink slip to drop.

Newspapers were prosperous and many; Evie notes that five daily newspapers covered greater Los Angeles and the world: the Los Angeles Times, the Los Angeles Examiner, the Los Angeles Mirror, the Herald Express, and the Hollywood Citizen. In the ‘burbs there were dailies, too, in Glendale, Pasadena and the San Fernando and San Gabriel Valleys. Long Beach — never a suburb, but a proud city by the sea, had its daily paper.

Reporters from the five L.A. papers competed for scoops and everybody in that Mad Men era wore a hat, the ladies of the press included.

The name Phlange Welder came from the unlikely source of a job advertisement in a government handout that landed on the desk of cityside reporter Ted Sell. Seems the government was seeking someone who could expertly weld flanges, described by Wise Geek as ” internal or external ribs or rims … may be used as a strengthening member, a guide, or indexing element or as a method of joining system parts such as pipes, tanks, valves, and blanking plates.”

As Evie describes in the book, Sell tubed the handout — in those vacuum tubes you see in old time newspaper movies — with the Flange Welder ad circled, to copy editor Carl “Pony” Swenson with the question: “Is this guy in the Blue Book?” Swenson replied that he was and he preferred to spell his first name “Phlange”. Thus a legend was born: Phlange Welder, man about the world and denizen of the L.A. Times Test Kitchen and the employee cafeteria.

“The Life and Times of Phlange Welder” at first might seem like too much inside baseball for non-newspaper people, but I think general readers will enjoy a look at an era that has sadly past, brilliantly chronicled by Evie De Wolfe. When Evie told me about the reprinting of Phlange’s saga, she said to not get too personal. I agreed, but I have to say I’ve reviewed her books on this site. And I worked with her on the Real Estate Section of the L.A. Times during my almost 15 years at the paper.

 About the Author

A native of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Evelyn De Wolfe earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Brazil at age twenty and worked with the U.S. Embassy as a translator and consultant and later as a researcher for Walt Disney and still later as a journalist for a newspaper in the Los Angeles suburb of Alhambra CA and later the Los Angeles Times for 40 years in various reporting capacities. She lives in the Hollywood Hills.

BOOK REVIEW: ‘Leadership Blindspots’: Management Consultant Shows How Executives Can Identify, Overcome Weaknesses That Matter

REVIEWED BY DAVID M. KINCHEN
“Any business today that embraces the status quo as an operating principle is going to be on a death march.” — Howard Schultz, CEO of Starbucks, quoted on Page 164 of “Leadership Blindspots”

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Reports that say … that something hasn’t happened are always interesting to me, because as we know, there are known knowns; there are things that we know that we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns, the ones we don’t know we don’t know. —Donald Rumsfeld, United States Secretary of Defense in the George W. Bush administration

* * *

Rumsfeld’s famous — or infamous — formulation, came to mind when I saw the “Blindspot Matrix” in Robert B. Shaw’s intriguing and readable book “Leadership Blindspots: How Successful Leaders Identify and Overcome the Weaknesses That Matter” (Jossey-Bass, an imprint of John Wiley & Sons, 240 pages, appendixes, notes, index, $35.00).

According to Wikipedia, Rumsfeld was derided for his statement, but also defended by Canadian columnist and author Mark Steyn — whose books I’ve reviewed — linguist Geoffrey Pullum and 9781118646298.pdfAustralian economist and blogger John Quiggin.
Steyn called it “in fact a brilliant distillation of quite a complex matter”; Pullum said the quotation was “completely straightforward” and “impeccable, syntactically, semantically, logically, and rhetorically”.

John Quiggin wrote: “Although the language may be tortured, the basic point is both valid and important.”

* * *

In “Leadership Blindspots” Shaw presents (on Page 18) a Blindspot Matrix with Leader Capabilities: “Known Weaknesses; Known Strengths; Blindspots, and Unknown Strengths. He goes on to say Known Strengths represent “you know what you know.” Known Weaknesses represent “You know what you don’t know.” And Unknown Strengths include “You don’t know what you know.”

This doesn’t sound all that different from Rumsfeld’s formulation, which gave filmmaker Errol Morris a title for his 2013 biographical documentary about Rumsfeld “The Unknown Known.”

The blindspot risk is that leaders fail to respond to weaknesses or threats due to a variety of factors including the complexity of their organizations, over-confidence in their own capabilities, and being surrounded by deferential subordinates.

Shaw’s brilliant book provides a useful model for understanding how blindspots operate and why they persist, but at the same time suggests real, actionable steps to improvement. The book details a range of techniques that make blindspots stand out in sharp relief, so action can be taken before severe damage occurs –- to a leader or his or her company.

The one characteristic great leaders share is the constant desire for self-improvement. Good can always be better. These weaknesses and threats are called blindspots because they are invisible to the individual but have the potential to wreak havoc on one’s reputation and long-term success. Identifying and fixing crucial problems is the leader’s job, and sometimes the most debilitating problems are with the leaders themselves.

In “Leadership Blindspots” Shaw cites many executives by name whose blindspots prevented their companies from achieving their potential goals. One in particular is Steve Ballmer, who retired as CEO of Microsoft on Feb. 4, 2014, replaced by Satva Nadella. Shaw uses the Howard Schultz quote at the beginning of my review to point out the flaws of Ballmer “who failed to keep pace with more successful rivals in areas such as internet search, smart phones, and tablets,” he writes. Microsoft’s stock bumped up on Ballmer’s departure.

Shaw suggested that Microsoft’s chairman and co-founder Bill Gates should give the new CEO a photograph of Henry Ford “as a reminder of what needs to be done.” Gates has a photograph of Henry Ford on his desk.

Ford, writes Shaw, is a case study of a leader who “surrounded himself with sycophants who told the great man what he wanted to hear.” Ford’s failure to keep pace with automotive developments by continuing to build obsolete Model Ts led the company to the verge of bankruptcy as it lost its massive lead in automotive production to innovators like General Motors and Chrysler.

On page 97, Shaw writes that executives could benefit from a suggestion made by the great Peter Drucker years ago: “He thought that leaders could learn a great deal by writing down the reasons behind their key decisions, including their expectations of what would occur. Then, after a period of time, they should review the accuracy of their expectations and the lessons learned.”

I’m not a big fan of most motivational business books, but I have nothing but praise for “Leadership Blindspots,” where insights are found on virtually every page. If I were a business executive or entrepreneur, I would buy the book by the box full and distribute copies to my employees — including the grunts who do the actual work!

About the author

Robert Bruce Shaw is a management consultant specializing in organization and leadership performance. He has worked closely with leaders and their teams in a wide range of industries and is the author of several books, including “Trust in the Balance: Building Successful Organizations on Results, Integrity, and Concern”.

 

BOOK REVIEW: ‘The Risk Advantage’: Sports and Auto Racing Examples Can Help Entrepreneurs Succeed

REVIEWED BY DAVID M. KINCHEN

“If your game plan doesn’t seem to be working, then go back to the fundamentals.” — Mauro Panaggio, veteran basketball player and coach

* * *

In his new book “The Risk Advantage: Embracing the Entrepreneur’s Unexpected Edge” (River Grove Books, Austin TX, 218 pages, $14.95 trade paperback, available from Amazon.com and other online booksellers) Tom Panaggio draws upon knowledge he learned from his dad, Mauro, quoted above; from other sports figures like Joe Namath and Vince Lombardi, and from his experience as an amateur sports car racer at Daytona Beach and Sebring.

The Risk AdvantageOne thing the book lacks is an index, and in this case, it might be intentional. Tom Panaggio wants entrepreneurs and others to read the book in its entirety, not cherry-pick topics from an index. When I finished the book, I realized that Panaggio had laid out a complete plan for entrepreneurial success; leaving out the index, whether intentional or not, turned out to be a good idea.
I have to admit that I was at first reluctant to read and review this book; there are many books that offer the easy way to success, but this isn’t one of them.

Panaggio stresses that there is no silver bullet to success. Well, maybe there is one: “Fail fast.” You’re going to have failures; even the best baseball players have several times more strikeouts than hits or homers, he says, so you must get used to failure. Only do it fast and get on to the next idea.

Panaggio says that the unexpected edge for entrepreneurial success starts with identifying a worthy risk, then having the courage to take it.

Right from the start, Panaggio tells us that it’s only human to be risk-averse, to be cautious. To succeed as an entrepreneur, he says, we must get beyond “only human”, to be super human.

It’s easy to see where Panaggio got his wisdom from sports examples: His dad was for more than fifty years a basketball player and legendary coach. The race car driver examples that Panaggio prints as sidebars throughout the book came after he moved from his home in upstate New York to Daytona Beach, FL to start Direct Mail Express.

Daytona and adjacent Ormond Beach have been auto racing venues for more than a century (Ormond Beach was where race car drivers drove on the sand, including the Stanley brothers of Stanley Steamer fame), so it wasn’t surprising that Panaggio caught the auto racing bug there. His accounts of his successes — and failures — in the racing game are hilarious; but they’re also instructive to entrepreneurs and aspiring ones.

Panaggio tells how he and his business partners built two thriving companies: Direct Mail Express (which now employs over 400 people and is a leading direct marketing company) and Response Mail Express (which was eventually sold to an equity fund, Huron Capital Partners). In “The Risk Advantage” he provides real-life examples to help entrepreneurs face the many situations, predicaments, and crises they’ll encounter during their life, and to help formulate their leadership style and business strategy.

When the right opportunities presented themselves, writes Panaggio, he and his business partners were willing to embrace the risk because they knew that it was the only way to get themselves in a position to win. And once in the lead they focused not on what was behind them, but what lay ahead.

“The Risk Advantage” is a story about an entrepreneurial journey that explores the relationship between opportunity and risk, two important forces that are necessary for success. If you have the courage to embark on your own entrepreneurial journey, you will need a unique advantage to succeed in such a competitive and unforgiving environment. You must have an edge.

The unexpected edge for entrepreneurial success starts with identifying a worthy risk, and then having the courage to take it. In his book, Panaggio identifies those risks based on the experiences of his own journey.

Opportunities are always there for you to grab. If you want to realize a dream, accomplish a daunting goal, or simply start your own business, you must be willing to embrace risk. Learning the lessons of “The Risk Advantage” is an important first step on that journey.

I don’t know how active Panaggio was in the Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) — which issued his racing license — but my experiences with the small Indiana Northwest Region (INR) of SCCA in the mid 1960s turned out to be vital in my later career as a journalist.

INR is one of the smallest regions (chapters) in the SCCA, encompassing several counties in northwest Indiana, adjacent to the gigantic and influential Chicago SCCA region that controlled Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin. At INR, I was program chairman and later edited the newsletter. Back in those days, Studebaker dealers sold Mercedes-Benz cars, so I was familiar with the Studebaker media office in South Bend, where I borrowed films of M-B racing cars in action for showing at our meetings. (No DVDs or video tapes in those days, we had 16 mm movie projectors!) Enough about me, other than to demonstrate that you never know what experiences you have and how they affect your career. Embrace the experiences and embrace, not shun or avoid, risk.

About the Author

Tom Panaggio has enjoyed a thirty-year entrepreneurial career as co-founder of two successful direct marketing companies: Direct Mail Express (which now employs over 400 people and is a leading direct marketing company) and Response Mail Express (which was eventually sold to an equity fund, Huron Capital Partners). As a result, he can give a true perspective on starting and running a small business. His practical approach to business concepts and leadership is grounded in the belief that success is the result of a commitment to embracing risk as a way to ensure opportunity.

Today Tom lives in Tampa, FL with his wife, Shemi. When he’s not speaking or advising entrepreneurs and small businesses, he’s spending time with his family — his three daughters, Ashley, Christine, and Elizabeth, are all pursuing their college degrees — or he’s out on a racetrack.

For more about the racing history of Ormond Beach: http://www.ormondbeach.org/DocumentCenter/Home/View/204

Census Bureau Profile America Facts for Features: Mother’s Day: May 11, 2014

By David M. Kinchen, with information from a Census Bureau Press Release
M-O-T-H-E-R
“M” is for the million things she gave me,
“O” means only that she’s growing old,
“T” is for the tears she shed to save me,
“H” is for her heart of purest gold;
“E” is for her eyes, with love-light shining,
“R” means right, and right she’ll always be,
Put them all together, they spell “MOTHER,”
A word that means the world to me. — Howard Johnson

* * *

The driving force behind Mother’s Day was Anna Jarvis, who organized observances in Grafton, W.Va., and Philadelphia on May 10, 1908. As the annual celebration became popular around the country, Jarvis asked members of Congress to set aside a day to honor mothers. She was successful in 1914, when Congress designated the second Sunday in May as Mother’s Day.
How Many Mothers

4.1 million

Number of women between the ages of 15 and 50 who gave birth in the past 12 months.

Source: U.S. Census Bureau, 2012 American Community Survey, Table B13002

<http://factfinder2.census.gov/bkmk/table/1.0/en/ACS/12_1YR/B13002&gt;

35.7%

Percentage of births in 2011 that were to unmarried women age 15 to 50. The metro areas with birth rates to unmarried mothers that were among the highest in the country included Flagstaff, Ariz. (74.6 percent), Greenville, N.C. (69.4 percent), Lima, Ohio (67.5 percent), Myrtle Beach-North Myrtle Beach-Conway, S.C. (67.4 percent) and Danville, Va. (67.3 percent).

Source: Social and Economic Characteristics of Currently Unmarried Women With a Recent Birth: 2011, Table 1

<http://www.census.gov/prod/2013pubs/acs-21.pdf&gt;

How Many Children

2,373.5

Decline in total fertility rate or estimated number of total births per 1,000 women in Utah in 2012 (based on current birth rates by age), which led the nation. At the other end of the spectrum is Rhode Island, with a total fertility rate of 1,592.5 births per 1,000 women.

Source: National Center for Health Statistics, National Vital Statistics Reports,

Page 66, Table 12 <http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/nvsr/nvsr62/nvsr62_09.pdf&gt;

20%

Percentage of all women age 15 to 44 who have had two children. About 47 percent had no children, 17 percent had one, 10 percent had three and about 5 percent had four or more.

Source: Fertility of American Women: 2010, Detailed Tables, Table 1

<http://www.census.gov/hhes/fertility/data/cps/2010.html&gt;

Recent Births

3.953 million

Decline in the number of births registered in the United States in 2012. Of this number, 305,388 were to teens 15 to 19 and 7,157 to women age 45 to 49.

Source: National Center for Health Statistics, National Vital Statistics Reports <http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/nvsr/nvsr62/nvsr62_09.pdf&gt;

25.8

Average age of women in 2012 when they gave birth for the first time, up from 25.6 years in 2011. The increase in the mean age in 2012 reflects, in part, the relatively large decline in births to women in their teen years and their 20s.

Source: National Center for Health Statistics, National Vital Statistics Reports, Page 7 <http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/nvsr/nvsr62/nvsr62_09.pdf&gt;

62.1%

Percentage of women age 16 to 50 who had a birth in the past 12 months who were in the labor force.

Source: 2012 American Community Survey, American FactFinder, Table S1301

<http://factfinder2.census.gov/bkmk/table/1.0/en/ACS/12_1YR/S1301&gt;

29.5%

The percentage of mothers who had given birth in the past 12 months who had a bachelor’s degree or higher.

Source: 2012 American Community Survey, American FactFinder, Table S1301

<http://factfinder2.census.gov/bkmk/table/1.0/en/ACS/12_1YR/S1301&gt;

84.6%

Percentage of women age 15 to 50 who gave birth in the past year and who have at least a high school diploma.

Source: 2012 American Community Survey, American FactFinder, Table S1301

<http://factfinder2.census.gov/bkmk/table/1.0/en/ACS/12_1YR/S1301&gt;

Jacob and Sophia

The most popular baby names for boys and girls, respectively, in 2012.

Source: Social Security Administration <http://www.ssa.gov/OACT/babynames/&gt;

66

Number of births in the past year per 1,000 women age 15 to 50 with a graduate or professional degree. The number was 56 per 1,000 for women whose highest level of education was a bachelor’s degree.

Source: 2012 American Community Survey, American FactFinder, Table S1301

<http://factfinder2.census.gov/bkmk/table/1.0/en/ACS/12_1YR/S1301&gt;

Mothers Remembered

15,307

Number of florists nationwide in 2011. The 66,165 employees in floral shops across our nation will be especially busy preparing, selling and delivering floral arrangements for Mother’s Day.

Source: County Business Patterns: 2011 (NAICS 45311)

<http://censtats.census.gov/cgi-bin/cbpnaic/cbpdetl.pl&gt;

12,403

Number of employees of greeting-card publishers in 2011.

Source: County Business Patterns: 2011 (NAICS 511191) <http://www.census.gov/econ/cbp/&gt;

15,097

The number of cosmetics, beauty supplies and perfume stores nationwide in 2011. Perfume is a popular gift given on Mother’s Day.

Source: County Business Patterns: 2011 (NAICS 44612) <http://www.census.gov/econ/cbp/&gt;

23,394

Number of jewelry stores in the United States in 2011 — the place to purchase necklaces, earrings and other timeless pieces for mom.

Source: County Business Patterns: 2011 (NAICS 44831) <http://www.census.gov/econ/cbp/&gt;

Stay-at-Home Moms

5 million

Number of stay-at-home moms in married-couple family groups in 2013 — statistically unchanged from 2012 and 2011. In 2013, 24 percent of married-couple family groups with children under 15 had a stay-at-home mother, up from 21 percent in 2000. In 2007, before the recession, stay-at-home mothers were found in 24 percent of married-couple family groups with children under 15, not statistically different from the percentage in 2012. Source: America’s Families and Living Arrangements, Table SHP-1

<http://www.census.gov/prod/2013pubs/p20-570.pdf&gt;

Compared with other moms, stay-at-home moms in 2007 were more likely:

· Younger (44 percent were under age 35 compared with 38 percent of mothers in the labor force).

· Hispanic (27 percent compared with 16 percent of mothers in the labor force).

· Foreign-born (34 percent compared with 19 percent of mothers in the labor force).

· Living with a child under age 5 (57 percent compared with 43 percent of mothers in the labor force).

· Without a high school diploma (19 percent versus 8 percent of mothers in the labor force).

Source: America’s Families and Living Arrangements: 2007 <http://www.census.gov/population/www/socdemo/hh-fam/p20-561.pdf&gt;

Taking Care of the Kids

863,126

Number of child day care services employees across the country in 2011. They were employed by one of the 75,059 child day care services. In addition, there were 747,436 child day care services without paid employees. Many mothers turn to these centers to help juggle motherhood and careers.

Source: County Business Patterns: 2011 NAICS 6244 <http://www.census.gov/econ/cbp/&gt; and

Nonemployer Statistics: 201l <http://www.census.gov/econ/nonemployer/&gt;

94%

The percentage of the 37.8 million mothers living with children younger than 18 in 2004 who lived with their biological children only. In addition, 3 percent lived with stepchildren, 2 percent with adopted children and 0.5 percent with foster children. Source: Living Arrangements of Children: 2004

<http://www.census.gov/prod/2008pubs/p70-114.pdf&gt;

Single Moms

10 million

The number of single mothers living with children younger than 18 in 2013, up from 3.4 million in 1970.

Source: America’s Families and Living Arrangements <http://www.census.gov/hhes/families/files/shp1.xls&gt; Table SHP-1

5.6 million

Number of custodial mothers who were due child support in 2011. Source: Custodial Mothers and Fathers and Their Child Support: 2011, Table 1

<http://www.census.gov/prod/2013pubs/p60-246.pdf&gt;

415,475

Number of mothers who had a birth in the past 12 months and were living with a cohabiting partner.

Source: 2012 American Community Survey, American FactFinder, Table B13004

<http://factfinder2.census.gov/bkmk/table/1.0/en/ACS/12_1YR/B13004&gt;

* * *

Editor’s note: For more about the strange history of Anna Jarvis — who never was a mother herself– and Mother’s Day: http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2012/05/110511-mothers-day-dark-history-jarvis-nation-gifts-facts/