Summer reading recommendations for pleasure and profit

A study by Miner and Company found that summer “streaming” lists are starting to replace summer reading lists. 85% have some sort of ‘Summer Streaming List’ with the shows/series they want to watch on vacation this summer compared to 76% who have a ‘Summer Reading List’.

By all means, feel free to indulge in the pleasures of House of Cards or Orange is the New Black, but don’t forget the unique benefits provided by reading; namely an increase in both intellectual IQ and emotional IQ, stronger memory, and a fatter paycheck once you implement newly discovered ideas into your organization.

So give Netflix a brief break while you consider the following five books recommended for your summer reading.


Pinball by Jerzy Kosinski











Kosinski has been a lifelong favorite of mine. His great work The Painted Bird was a loosely biographical account of him as a young orphan surviving on his own throughout warn-torn Europe. Despite his ignominious death in 1991, Kosinski lead a fascinating life, much of which served as material for his dozen novels. His life was anything but dull. Were it not for a delay due to lost luggage, he would have been with Sharon Tate along with his pal Roman Polanski the night of the Manson murders at Tate’s Los Angeles home.

Pinball is the story of Goddard, the biggest recording star in the country. Despite selling millions of albums all over the world, no one knows who Goddard is – not his agent, his girl friends nor his parents.

The shooting of John Lennon convinced a young Goddard that fame and success often come with a heavy price, so he set up an elaborate system through which all business dealings were done under the cloak of disguise (a common Kosinski theme both in real life and within his stories) and long distance negotiations. At one point, Jimmy Osten – Goddard’s true identity, boasts that he can make himself invisible. Goddard/Osten lives and produces his music within the secluded confines of his luxurious hideout called “The New Atlantis”.

Goddard’s well-guarded privacy is about to be challenged by a voluptuous enchantress named Andrea Gwynplaine who enlists a once famous classical composer named Patrick Domostroy to help her entrap Goddard and expose his true identity. On stolen White House stationary, Patrick ghost writes for Andrea a series of  increasingly compelling “fan” letters to Goddard addressed to his publisher . The letters are written and paced to make responding irresistible to Goddard. It doesn’t hurt that each letter contains a series of sexually explicit photographs with a dab of perfume reflecting the scent of the beautiful Gwyneplaine.

Pinball is a faced-paced ride of sex, violence and disguise that entertains from beginning to end.


A Beautiful Constraint by Adam Morgan and Mark Barden








In both our personal and professional lives, we all have constrains. We are limited in some fashion by money (budget), strength, intelligence, where we live (company location), who we know and many other factors. A Beautiful Constraint is a compelling guide for making the most of those limitations, and in fact, it illustrates how to turn your constraints into advantages; to make them beautiful.

One of the many examples Morgan and Barden provide is Google’s founder Larry Page. In the very beginning of Google, Larry’s limited coding skills and budget constrained what he could put on Google’s home page. The result was a stark white page with a single search field. Larry’s limitation ended up becoming Google’s strength – a uniquely clean page with crystal clarity of its sole purpose. Larry’s limited coding skills produced what many considered to be web design genius!

The 275 page book is built for efficiency in learning. Each color coded chapter begins with key points of focus and ends with a bullet point chapter summary. A table of contents and an 11 page index provide easy searching for a particular topic.

Chapter three, named “Ask Propelling Questions”, stresses the critical importance of framing questions properly in order to find new paths so as to transform your constraints. A propelling question in this context is defined as “A question that has both a bold ambition and a significant constraint linked together.”

It is called a propelling question due to it having both a bold ambition and a significant constraint linked together. One example is the question framed by the Chief Engineer at Audi who was trying to build a better race car. The obvious question would have been, how can we build a faster race car?”. Instead, he asked, “How could we win Le Mans if our car could go no faster than any one else?”. This propelling question led them to put diesel technology into their race cars for the very first time. The R10 TDI placed first at Le Mans for the next three years.

Chapter 10 provides a grid for stimulating thought on both the constrain and the solution, providing a range of potential ways in which constraints can open up new perspectives and possibilities. These are business examples from companies such as Unilever, Nike, Virgin America and many others.

In the end, A Beautiful Constraint helps us see constraints in a different way. Asking the question, “How can I make this constraint beautiful?” or “Where is the beauty in this constrain?” starts to move us from a victim mindset to looking for the opportunity.


Cockpit Confidential by Patrick Smith










If you are a frequent flier who browses airport bookstores, you’ve probably seen this book. Maybe you haven’t yet picked it up for fear of knowing how the sausage is really made 30,000 miles up! Not to worry because Smith’s enthusiasm for flying is infectious and he makes the mechanics and jargon of flying accessible to any layman.

Smith is a pilot and author of He’s compiled a collection of his knowledge and observations written as answers to the hundreds of questions he’s been asked over his nearly 25 years of flying.  One quick glance at the table of contents will tell you exactly what subjects comprise this fascinating 300 page book including: “How huge airplanes stay aloft”, “Which planes will get me there faster?”, “When it’s too hot to fly”, “Turbulence: everything you need to know”, “What’s that trail of mist coming from the wing?”, “Can we glide to a landing?” (Yes, by the way!), “Lightening: facts and fallacies”, “Why do some pilots land more smoothly than others?”, “The nuts and bolts of weather delays”, “Pilot salaries: truth and fiction”, “Regional pilots – are they safe?”, “The truth about cockpit automation”, “Do pilots tinker with oxygen levels?”, “Opening an exit during flight”, “Dogs and cats below” and “The trials and tribulations of boarding, and how to make it better”.

The above is just a small sampling of the book’s topics. Now if you dare to read a bit on the dark side of flying, you might venture to chapter six which is called “…Must come down: Disasters, Mishaps, and Fatuous Flights of Fancy”. A sampling of this chapter includes: “The myth of the Immaculate Quantas”, “Exploding tires and other nightmares”, “The ten worst disasters of all time”, “The folly of a barricaded cockpit” and “Shoulder-fired missiles”. Regarding this last happy thought, Smith explains that in the very unlikely event that one could actually accurately hit a plane, it would likely survive as did the DHL Airbus struck over Bagdad in 2003 , and a DC-10 that survived a shot in 1984.

Smith also shares his observations and opinions on Captain “Sully” Sullenberger and his famous landing in the Hudson River. While Smith is very respectful of Sully, he has a different interpretation of Sully’s revered flying skills.

The final chapter is a glossary entitled “How to Speak Airline”. You’ll now know the difference between ramp, alley, apron and tarmac. The book is a fun quick read that will certainly occupy you throughout even the most dreaded transcontinental flight!


The Omnivore’s Delemma by Michael Pollan










This is a book about food. It’s not about preparing it, but rather where food originates and its history.

The dilemma for an omnivore (human beings) is “what do I eat today?” After all, we are not driven by instinct to graze or to migrate to our one food source. As human beings we have a great many options. Should we eat meat? What kind? Where should we source it? Organic? Grass fed? McDonalds Cheeseburger or a Smith and Wollensky steak? Should I exclusively eat vegetables? Vegan or Paleo? Italian or French?

While this comprehensive book doesn’t preach a particular diet, Pollan does go into excruciating detail surrounding the various food sources–the good, bad and ugly.

Before reading The Omnivore’s Dilemma, I had only a passing knowledge of corn. I’ve bought lots of it, shucked it, boiled it or grilled it and enjoyed eating it. Pollan dedicates a substantial portion of the book to the history, farming and uses of this incredibly ubiquitous plant. For example, did you know that the corn you’ve always enjoyed never originated like it now looks on the cob? It originated in central Mexico from a wild grass called teosinte. Hundreds of years of genetic man-made manipulation have lead to the cylinder of evenly placed kernels we now enjoy at backyard barbecues. In fact, if you buried a cob right off the stalk as if it were a seed, nothing would grow from it.

Pollan took a very hands on approach to his book’s research. He visited dozens of farms–local organic grass farms to large industrial cattle yards. He tells of writing the owner of a northeast grass farm asking if he would FedEx him a steak to sample for his book. The owner wrote back saying that he would not since his product is purposely distributed only within a very limited radius from the farm, so if you want to eat some, you’ll have to come here. Pollan traveled to the farm and wrote of his adventure partaking in various activities on the farm including the exacting practice of correctly cutting the head off chickens in preparation for their processing.

Some aspects of the book are not for the squeamish. If you’re like me, you leave the slaughtering of your meat and fish to some anonymous stranger! Pollard goes into some detail about the food processing of the large commercial factories and the unpleasant descriptions of what cattle are fed. Relating back to the discussion on corn, did you know that cows aren’t built to eat corn. “Corn fed beef” sounds good, but nature never built their digestion to process corn. You are free to read what happens when they do.

The book provides a positive and balanced perspective of a large variety of food sources that I find helpful when selecting “what to eat today”. For example, do you really know what stipulations are put on the designation “organic”? You might be surprised, and maybe a bit disappointed that it isn’t necessarily synonymous with pure and humane.


The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand











I just returned from a 10 day vacation and read this great book for the fourth time.  This reading, like each of the others, deepened my perspective of the philosophic premise, the intricacies of the characters, and connections between subplots. It is a book packed with drama, plot twists, a huge variety of complex characters, and an underlying philosophy that has the potential to forever shape your thought and actions.

The theme is the individual versus the collective. The book’s hero is an architect named Howard Roark. The book begins as he’s just been expelled from architectural college and is now setting out on his own to design buildings. Throughout his schooling, Howard has been boarding in the home of a fellow student named Peter Keating. The book basically takes the reader through ten years of their lives, allowing us to witness the juxtaposition between Peter, who gains everything in life from manipulating people, and Howard, who interacts with people not by what he can gain by manipulating them, but from his recognition of and reaction to their character.

A criticism of the book I often hear is that the characters are not realistic. That is true in a sense. Rand was a romantic writer. That doesn’t mean she wrote romance novels, but that she wrote about ideals. Her favorite writer was fellow Russian Victor Hugo. Like Hugo, Rand wrote about larger than life heroes and villains. She frequently lamented modern writing that she classified as naturalist, meaning the characters were the people next door. Just average folks.

In all her novels, Rand celebrated the potential and greatness in Man. She truly worshiped Man. In the Fountainhead, speaking through her character Howard Roark, she wrote that instead of feeling tiny and insignificant standing at the foot of a skyscraper, people become larger than life due to the fact that men and women designed and built these gigantic structures. These people are equal in stature to the things they built and should be revered as such.

Rather than describe the book further, I’ll leave you with some dialog from the beginning of the book between Howard Roark and the dean of the architectural school from which Howard was recently expelled. Keep in mind that Howard wasn’t expelled for being a poor architect. Far from it, the dean admits that he was the most talented at engineering and structural design. Howard was expelled because he wouldn’t abide by the school’s insistence that he design buildings as did the ancient Greeks. “After all, we can’t improve on the Parthenon. Who do we think we are?”

From page 26:

“Look here, Roark,” said the Dean gently. “You have worked hard for your education. You had only one year left to go. There is something important to consider, particularly for a boy in your position. There’s the practical side of an architect’s career to think about. An architect is not an end in himself. He is only a small part of a great social whole. Co-operation is the key word to our modern world and to the profession of architecture in particular. Have you thought of your potential clients?”

“Yes,” said Roark.

The Client,” said the Dean. “The Client. Think of that above all. He’s the one to live in the house you build. Your only purpose is to serve him. You must aspire to give the proper artistic expression to his wishes. Isn’t that all one can say on the subject?”

“Well, I could say that I must aspire to build for my client the most comfortable, the most logical, the most beautiful house that I can build. I could say that I must try to sell him the best I have and also teach him to know the best. I could say it, but I won’t. Because I don’t intent to build in order to serve or help anyone. I don’t intend to build in order to have clients. I intend to have clients in order to build.”




About Mike Lake

Mike is the Senior Vice President of Marketing for Evergreen Trading. When not playing jazz trombone he is probably obsessing about writing content that will capture the attention and interest of business people and fellow learning junkies everywhere.

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