The blog of Chicago-based freelance writer David Johnsen.
Tuesday, March 31, 2009
Economic Hit Men, Hard Gainers, and Dead Celebrities
The Secret History of the American Empire by John Perkins -- I thought Perkins' Confessions of an Economic Hit Man was a pretty interesting book, so I looked forward to reading this one. It promised to provide more specifics, and it delivers. Perkins moves from continent to continent describing how the American corporatocracy has enslaved and manipulated so-called Third World countries since World War II. Actually, A Secret History would be a more appropriate title because the book is far from thorough. It is based on Perkins' own experiences (lapsing occasionally into memoir) and those of other economic hit men and jackals (his word) that he has met over the years. The examples he gives are just the tip of the iceberg, but this book could really shock a less jaded reader. Perkins ends on a hopeful note with a rousing call to action, comparing our times to the days of the American Revolution with corporate tyranny in place of King George III. As always, I remain pessimistic.

Beyond Brawn by Stuart McRobert -- This is one of the most thorough books about weight training that I have ever seen. Beyond Brawn is aimed at "hard gainers." At first, this was a turn-off to me because I don't consider myself to be one -- I've always been able to build muscle reasonably quickly when I bothered to lift regularly. But McRobert's broader definition of hard gainer includes the 85% of us who aren't genetically gifted or chemically enhanced. The book describes in painstaking detail how most people should train. Throw away the muscle magazines with their "12 sets per isolated body part" workouts that will only exhaust and frustrate most people. McRobert advocates "abbreviated training," which means fewer sets of fewer exercises with less frequency, focusing on multi-joint exercises that stimulate muscle growth throughout the body. He likes squats, bench press, overhead press, etc., and he loves deadlifts. Unlike many books in the genre, Beyond Brawn doesn't prescribe specific workouts. McRobert instead gives readers the tools (and freedom) to create their own routines. The book also excludes instructions regarding exercise form; for that, get McRobert's forthcoming Insider's Tell-All Handbook on Weight-Training Technique. The author is intent on imparting information rather than providing entertainment for the reader. My wife doesn't like his serious, somewhat dry, often repetitive style, which I also find tedious at times. She prefers the lighter (but still informative) tone of The New Rules of Lifting, which similarly concentrates on multi-joint exercises. Note: I read the Revised Edition from 2001, not the 2007 Second Edition available from below.

The Last Days of Dead Celebrities by Mitchell Fink -- I wasn't going to buy this, but after reading the chapter about Warren Zevon in the store, I decided to give it a shot. Covering 15 celebrities who have died since 1980, Fink sets the scene and then describes their final months or days. It's a thoughtful survey of death in general: sometimes it comes suddenly, other times naturally or mercifully. The tragic tales of the Johns (Lennon, Belushi, Denver, Ritter) are the most painful to read, even after many years have passed. Perhaps the saddest passage in the book comes from Dan Aykroyd. After his efforts to save Belushi from himself, he recounts having "the talk" with River Phoenix, Chris Farley, and James Taylor's brother Alex-- yet all three died of drug overdoses. Several of the deaths in the book are surrounded by controversy, such as Margaux Hemingway, who did not seem suicidal; Ted Williams, who allegedly did not want to be frozen; and Tupac Shakur, whose Las Vegas murder remains unsolved. I was surprised how much I enjoyed this book, even the chapters about people who never interested me before.

Just when I felt confident that I was getting ahead in the game, I answered the siren song of a Half Price Books e-mail full of coupons and bought seven books. Now I'm behind by one book for the year. I'm still struggling to keep this New Year's resolution.

Current tally: 24 books finished, 25 books acquired

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