“The Boiling River: Adventure and Discovery in the Amazon” by Andres Ruzo (TED Books, 2016)


There is a Peruvian legend that Andres Ruzo once heard his father tell him, of a mysterious river deep within the Amazon jungle that consists of rushing boiling water so hot that anything living that falls into it is immediately boiled alive. It seems like little more than an entertaining folk tale that can’t possibly be true, but now a geoscientist, Andres Ruzo intends to find out whether there is any truth to this “boiling river” story.

Ruzo starts with the research, uncovering what stories he can about this unique river and reading what evidence there is. Through special grants and research trips each summer he travels to his native Peru in search of this river. He eventually is able to track the location within a sacred spaced watched over by local shamans and must gain permission before he can take his team there. When he finally sees the boiling river, through a cloud of steam, he cannot believe it. As he continues his research, he must consider what it means to preserve this sacred site from misuse and neglect.

The Boiling River is a fascinating story about one man’s discovery of this phenomenon that blends science with the Peruvian culture, as Ruzo provides plenty of photographic evidence to back up what he is documenting.

Originally written on March 3, 2016 ©Alex C. Telander.

To purchase a copy of The Boiling River from Amazon, and help support BookBanter, click HERE.

“Inflection Point: War and Sacrifice in Corporate America” by Traci Medford-Rosow (Pegasus Books, 2015)


Inflection Point: How the Convergence of Cloud, Mobility, Apps, and Data Will Shape the Future of Business examines how businesses can leverage the trends occurring, and changing, every day in the information technology (IT) field. It examines the success and failures of businesses impacted by inflection points. Written in terms the average layman can understand, Inflection Point is a fascinating look at the birth and transformation of IT trends in the business world.

I couldn’t help but compare Inflection Point to Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point, which examines trends and why they become popular in society and popular culture. In much the same way, Scott uses former Intel CEO Andy Grove’s definition of an inflection point: “an event or a series of interrelated events that result in a significant change in the progress of a company, an industry, a sector, an economy, or even a nation,” which is very similar to Gladwell’s definition of a tipping point: “that magic moment when an idea, trend, or social behavior crosses a threshold, tips, and spreads like wildfire.” While Gladwell examines this phenomena from a sociological perspective, Stawski examines it from an IT and business perspective.

Scott breaks down how companies can anticipate inflection points within their respective industries and how they can stay ahead of the trend wave. Additionally, he provides real-world examples of businesses that have succeeded or failed, based on their ability to recognize and adapt to inflection points. He highlights steps taken by companies whose CEOs or COOs have embraced changes in technology and taken their companies to the next level while their competition floundered and failed.

He provides a detailed explanation and description of cloud computing and encourages companies not to worry about ‘how’ it works, but, instead, focus on the fact it works and what the expected outcome should be. This is good advice for the average person as well as the CEOs and COOs of the business world. You don’t have to understand combustible engines to get in your car and drive.

Scott also does a very good job of addressing the issue of security with regard to cloud computing. In the age of compromised data, when everyone is affected by the IT breaches of Target and the government’s Office of Personnel Management, security should be at the forefront of everyone’s mind. He highlights that the majority of data breaches have occurred against businesses employing the traditional IT model. By breaking down the different cloud computing models, he explains how security can be leveraged at each level of useage.

Although written from a business perspective, Inflection Point is an extremely useful analysis of changing IT trends for the average person. Scott uses simple, easy-to-understand language to explain the current trends within the IT enterprise – cloud computing, Software as a Service, and Big Data. He incorporates real-life experiences from his personal life as a hobby sailor, as well as his professional life as a consultant, to draw analogies between how we use IT in our personal life and how businesses can use IT to further their interests.

First published in the San Francisco Book Review.

Originally written on April 20, 2016 ©Alex C. Telander.

To purchase a copy of Inflection Point from Amazon, and help support BookBanter, click HERE.

“James Herriot’s Animal Stories” by James Herriot (St. Martin’s Press, 2015)


If you’ve never read any James Herriot (as I hadn’t until I read this delightful book), James Herriot’s Animal Stories is a perfect little volume to begin with, as it’s not too long but offers a very entertaining selection of Herriot’s best and most popular stories.

From the very beginning, the reader is entranced and wrapped up in Herriot’s easy conversational tone about the beautiful Yorkshire dales. He describes the scenery with such life that the reader is automatically transported to northern England in their imagination. While the first few stories involve Herriot sticking his hand up a cow, pig and sheep, he imbues the stories with such enjoyment in what he does, as well as appreciating the reward in helping a suffering animal.

The stories cover the whole farm with pigs, lambs, horses, cows, and even features a moving story about an old dog with eye problems who Herriot performs a simple operation on and the animal is able to spend the rest of his days seeing clearly. The stories are moving and heartfelt, making it easier to understand why Herriot’s writing and stories continue to be so popular.

Originally written on July 29, 2015 ©Alex C. Telander.

To purchase a copy of James Herriot’s Animal Stories from Amazon, and help support BookBanter, click HERE.

“The Collapse and Recovery of Europe, AD 476-1648” by Jack L. Schwartzwald (McFarland Books, 2015)


The complete collapse of the Roman Empire changed the western world forever. It was a tabula rasa of sorts, as the societies of the former Roman Empire had the opportunity to start anew and redefine the way their society existed. And this is essentially what happened for the next 1200 years through trial and error, with numerous new rulers, and many deaths along the way. The end result was the more stable nation state during the thriving Renaissance.

In The Collapse and Recovery of Europe, Jack L. Schwartzwald, author of The Ancient Near East, Greece and Rome, moves into the next arena of history, tackling this important period in history that was pivotal in creating and defining Europe as a union of individual and eventual nation states. You’ll notice there is no mention anywhere of the poorly and incorrectly named “dark ages,” implying that the beginning of these twelve centuries was a time of stagnation and a return to “primitive” times, when in reality important foundation blocks were being laid, paving the way for the rebirth of science, art and culture of the renaissance.

The book is divided into three parts and periods, the first covering the glorious time of Byzantium in “City of the World’s Desire,” encompassing a millennium of a minor empire that still considered itself continuing the glory that was Rome, when in reality it was a melting pot of various cultures, including Greeks, the growing Christian faith and flock, as well as Asiatic influences from the East. But as Byzantium was basking in the shadow of its paternal Rome, it too eventually succumbed to foreign invasion and overthrow.

In the second part, “City of God,” Schwartzwald covers the birth and explosion of the church and Catholic faith in Western Europe, as it sought to convert the people to God and create a heaven on Earth in the same thriving glory that was Rome, but as those high up in the faith — the popes and cardinals to name a few – fought for ideals they believed to be true to the faith, derision and schism grew, leading to fracturing and fighting and wars. The Middle Ages ended with the ultimate of struggles in the Hundred Years’ War.

The final part, “City of Man,” leads off with the end of the Hundred Years’ War and concludes with the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648. Here Schwartzwald focuses on the development and birth of the nation state which was deemed the final healthy successor to the idea that was Rome. As with the previous parts, the author focuses on the political and militaristic history of the period, but in a way that keeps the reader fully engrossed. Provided at the end of each section are “Societal Achievements,” highlighting the great strides that were made.

The Collapse and Recovery of Europe, as with Schwartzwald’s previous book, is a very approachable and readable volume, be the reader a student or merely someone interested in the period. Since the author is covering a vast amount of time, some 1200 years, he cannot be comprehensive with the history telling, but he is thorough with many sections covering the political and militaristic events and occasions in a succinct way that doesn’t bog the reader down with too many details; coupled with numerous pictures – many in color – it makes for a very pleasant reading experience. These sectional divisions also help to break up the overwhelming amount of history into digestible chunks so that the reader can read the book one section at a time, or engorge on a larger amount of history that is still well and clearly divided to make it more comprehensible. The result is an impressive history book covering a large amount of time that is made very accessible and readable for any fan or person interested in the period.

Originally written on June 1, 2015 ©Alex C. Telander.

First published in the San Francisco Book Review.

To purchase a copy of The Collapse and Recovery of Europe from Amazon, and help support BookBanter, click HERE.

“The Best Team Money Can Buy: The Los Angeles Dodgers’ Wild Struggle to Build a Baseball Powerhouse” by Molly Knight (Simon & Schuster, 2015)

The Best Team Money Can Buy
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As a long-time, die-hard San Francisco Giants fan — the Los Angeles Dodgers’ biggest rival — wanting to read a book about the nemesis team would seem unlikely and somewhat disingenuous, since I may be planning to “pretend” to read it and then seek to lambaste it, being a book about those evil LA Dodgers. But no, my thinking was, the Giants and Dodgers face each other many times over the course of the 162-game season and this book seemed like a great way to get know this team I watch a significant amount of the time from April to September each year.

The Best Team Money Can Buy is a fascinating book about the Los Angeles Dodgers, not just as a sports team, but as a franchise and business. Molly Knight tells the fraught story of the Dodgers last few seasons, beginning with 2012 when owner Frank McCourt through an ongoing series of cost-cutting measures, gutted the team and brought the franchise to bankruptcy so he could line his pockets and make sure he and his wife had the best mansions to live in. Enter the Guggenheim group featuring iconic Magic Johnson and a few billionaires who snatched up the franchise before anyone else could as the highest bidder and then set out to win the team a World Series ring.

The book opens with a fascinating interview between Molly Knight and multiple Cy Young Award winner and star starting pitcher, Clayton Kershaw. Just as they began the interview in his native Texas, Kershaw learned he had just gotten a new contract with the Dodgers for a record seven-year $215 million deal. But he still did the interview, even though his phone was vibrating nonstop. Knight then takes readers through the next two years, how the franchise acquired the many expensive players such as Matt Kemp, Adrian Gonzalez, Zack Greinke and one Yasiel Puig to name a few.

The book is a captivating read as Knight isn’t setting out to show the Dodgers as this perfectly polished team where everyone gets along and all they do is play great baseball. She gives each player their back story, talking about where they grew up, how they came to be on the Dodgers, and how they then worked out for the team. It’s common sense that when you put a bunch of competitive millionaires together, some in the same position, tensions will flair. Knight doesn’t hold back in discussing this, but also the many good things the owners have done since the bankruptcy days to make the Los Angeles Dodgers the high achieving, highly-respected baseball team it has been known to be since it left New York. They want to be known as the Yankees of the West.

But readers also see how the Dodgers got only so far in the postseasons of 2013 and 2014 before they were eliminated. Kershaw both times wasn’t able to be the ace he has come to be known for the team, and blames himself for letting the team down, and then how he picks himself up and tries again next year. It is a story of trying to get players who are paid millions of dollars whether they win or lose to want to work as a team and win. Kershaw has won a lot of awards in his short time as a major league pitcher, but it is the elusive World Series ring that he truly cares about adding to his trophy collection.

Originally written on August 3rd, 2015 ©Alex C. Telander.

To purchase a copy of The Best Team Money Can Buy from Amazon, and help support BookBanter, click HERE.

“The Wright Brothers” by David McCullough (Simon & Schuster, 2015)

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When you think of the Wright Brothers you think of the guys who flew the first plane and were the key pioneers in the development of flight. You may also get an image in your mind of that particular biplane depicted on the cover of David McCullough’s new book, The Wright Brothers.

It was on a winter’s day in North Carolina that the two brothers, Orville and Wilbur, successfully completed the first manned flight and created history. But what were the events that led up to this historic moment? David McCullough is a skilled historian when it comes to covering renowned people, and in this relatively short 336-page book — for McCullough — he does an excellent job of covering the Wrights’ story from birth to death.

He begins with the family moving to Dayton and how the brothers, in addition to spending most of their time together, were workaholics who worked Monday to Saturday, and then after church on Sunday, spent their time working around the house. When they were together, no problem could go unsolved with them putting their minds together. One of their early businesses was a bicycle company, with the growing popularity of this mode of transportation, which became extremely successful and profitable with the sale of bikes, as well as repairing.

As their obsession with flight grew and developed, they would spend summers in Kittyhawk, working on their planes, subsidized by the profits from their bicycle business, which they would run during the rest of the year. Their sister, Katharine, soon joined the team and became an inseparable member until the later years of their lives, traveling with them around the world and helping with the administrative side of the business.

McCullough does a fantastic job of pulling from multiple primary sources to shape the story of this unique family, with diary entries, letters, articles and numerous photos. He doesn’t just tell the story of flight, but shows the full lives of the Wrights; how they interacted with each other and lived their daily lives. McCullough makes the Wrights feel like real people, making their achievements all the more incredible. The key point the author makes repeatedly is that the Wright brothers were the ultimate American entrepreneurs, with no training or experience, but simply taught themselves, using a process of trial and error, until they made a contraption that could lift off from the ground and fly through the air for an extended amount of time, making the crucial foundation for flight that has led to the magnificent jet engines crossing the skies today.

Originally written on July 10, 2015 ©Alex C. Telander.

To purchase a copy of The Wright Brothers from Amazon, and help support BookBanter, click HERE.

“Waterloo: The History of Four Days, Three Armies, and Three Battles” by Bernard Cornwell (HarperCollins, 2015)

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The Battle of Waterloo is one of the most documented events in history; it’s also one of those times in history that’s very close to Bernard Cornwell’s heart. The bestselling author is known for his medieval historical fiction and is definitely a master of the genre, but now, for the first time, Cornwell has created a work of nonfiction in Waterloo.

The subtitle encapsulates the book: the history of four days, three armies, and three battles. The book is divided into relatively short but riveting chapters, each ending with a selection of photos and artwork – in color where available – making Waterloo a wonderfully illustrated edition for any history buff. Cornwell spends little time with the first two battles, Ligny and Quatre-Bras, providing a detailed step-by-step report of the battles in Cornwell’s talented way, and using detailed formation maps to make things clear for the reader.

The last third of the book is dedicated to the battle of Waterloo and perhaps what makes the book so fascinating is how much Cornwell uses from letters and diaries and other primary sources that give the book life, taking the reader back to the historic time.

Originally written on June 4, 2015 ©Alex C. Telander.

To purchase a copy of Waterloo from Amazon, and help support BookBanter, click HERE.