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By Jonathan Lowe

August 2011

by Jonathan Lowe

Rebecca Lowman reads RULES OF CIVILITY, a debut novel by Amor Towles, who is an investment banker with an MA in English from Stanford. His main character is Katey Kontent, a poor Wall Street secretary whose ambitions soon eye higher floors in late 1930s New York society. Suitors with money pursue her, while the compromises needed to ascend the marble staircases vex her, and at each step her unfolding life is a canvas for life-altering choices. Lowman is always believable as Katey, a character who will resonate with today's ambitious young women as well as anyone on American Idol. The new rage in music is jazz, though, and in tone there are only nods of the top hat to Dominick Dunne and Nicholas Sparks.

"Think Different" is the motto of Apple computer and its founder, Steve Jobs. He's an innovator obsessively focused on creating products that people don't even know that they'll need yet. Sometimes tyrannical like his early competitor Bill Gates, Jobs' company finally surpassed Microsoft in 2010 to head the largest technology company in the world. Two audiobooks that will help you understand Jobs the man, and how he thinks, are, first THE STEVE JOBS WAY by Jay Elliot, former VP at Apple, read by Christopher Hurt, and THE INNOVATION SECRETS OF STEVE JOBS by Carmine Gallo, read by Sean Morgan. Now if only Steve would run for President!

Could you torture a man? Under what circumstances might it be right? What is right? These are questions CIA officers are forced to confront from day one on the job. Now, for the first time, a former CIA operative named Glenn Carle tells the story of his involvement in the interrogation of a high profile Al-Queda captive at a secret black site overseas. As told by Malcolm Hillgartner, THE INTERROGATOR is a chilling but true tale, and the listener is ably carried along to witness events firsthand. THE TRIPLE AGENT by Pulitzer Prize winner Joby Warrick is the true story of a once trusted informer with access to al-Qaeda who suddenly detonates a bomb he's wearing to kill seven CIA operatives. Read by Sunil Malhotra, the book possesses a driving narrative, full of surprises, and is certainly one of the best books ever about American espionage against terrorists, although the narrator is not as good as is Hillgartner, except in pronunciation of Arab names.
Is formal "fundamentalist"religion on the way out? Yes, says Dr. Harvey Cox in THE FUTURE OF FAITH, read by Don Hagen, an ear-opening treatise on orthodoxy that proposes we are leaving the Age of Belief for the Age of the Spirit, much like leaving the letter of the law for the spirit of it. Science plays a role in this, says Cox, exposing fallacies of belief such as the 6000 year age of the Earth. As such, the audiobook is a must-hear by anyone whose "orthodoxy" (unwillingness to listen or dialogue) prevents them from seeing the separate-and-subjugate intentions of religious institutions, which are run like multinational corporations.

Finally, Anne Flosnik reads an ear-opening look at the follies of American finance, and the decline of the West in the face of a record breaking debt. Can America forestall catastrophe, or is it already too late? In HOW THE WEST WAS LOST Dambisa Moyo outlines the breathtaking ignorance of politicians and regulators in allowing industrial bases to erode while housing bubbles inflated and Americans moved from using cash to using credit cards to sustain their illusions. With pension funds facing collapse, is the dollar itself next? One thing is certain: America has been falling for over a decade in its rankings in science and engineering education compared to the rest of the world. While our culture encourages competition in sports and non-productive pursuits such as song and dance, and while we discourage any identification or progression of the best performing academic students, emerging countries like China do the exact opposite. There, students are in intense competition, spending more time in school, and with science and engineering related careers and education a more realistic goal than the far less likely chance of winning game show fame. So the future now favors emerging markets, while a relative lowering of living standards is inevitable for the Western world.


2011 Past Columns