Category Archives: Non-Fiction

A Man of Two Faces: A Memoir, A History, A Memorial

A Man of Two Faces: A Memoir, A History, A Memorial, a memoir by Viet Thanh Nguyen, is one of the top books I have read in 2023. It will remain with me for many years.

It is profound, powerful, thought provoking and it holds up a mirror to how America treats immigrants and refugees.

Nguyen won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 2016 for The Sympathizer even though fourteen publishers passed on the opportunity to publish his book. In A Man of Two Faces: A Memoir, A History, A Memorial, Nguyen shares how writers of color must read and be very familiar with White authors’ works. White ignorance of the works of writers of color is a privilege—and there is often a lack of interest in expanding knowledge and reading books by people of color.

Nguyen’s memoir is formatted like poetry and the storytelling is masterful. The topics include colonization, nationalism, genocide, war, refugees, immigrants, racism, and voicelessness and how that impacts the American Dream.

There are many visceral, memorable passages including:

* Refugees are seen as zombies of the world

* Fear and terror shape refugees

* B+ average is an Asian F

* As a model minority, sometimes you rock the boat but most of the time you row, diligently

* Stories are there to shake you, unnerve you, and make you see a new version of yourself

* Under colonization, none of us can breathe. When we recognize that, we can all struggle for breath together.

* Thanksgiving is both a reunion and a story of genocide

* Refugees often feel betrayed because they are taken to the country that was the aggressor in their home country and then they are expected to be grateful

* White nationalism is the US identity

* White nationalism requires demonizing racial others and subordinating women

* Anti-Asian violence increased once Trump called the pandemic the Chinese virus and Kung Flu

* What does it mean to be illegal when the law is unjust?

* MLK: Riots are the language of the unheard

* Being racist is easier than blaming capitalism

* Countries gush refugees because the country is broken or they are breaking their people

* An aerosol of racism permeates America

* There is no such thing as voicelessness. Voices are deliberately silenced or preferably unheard.

* Writing can be an act of justice

* Writer’s ultimate task: find what shouldn’t be written and write it

Thanks, NetGalley, for a free ARC of this book in exchange for my fair and unbiased opinion. Expected publication date is October 3, 2023.

Highly, highly recommend!


A Most Tolerant Little Town: A Forgotten Story of Desegregation in America

Rachel Martin does a phenomenal job researching and sharing the story about Clinton, TN, a small rural Appalachian town that had the first school in the former Confederacy to undergo court-mandated desegregation. Martin began exploring the oral history of Clinton High School’s desegregation efforts when she was a graduate student in 2005. She continued to be immersed in Clinton, TN’s history for the next eighteen years. She spoke extensively with over sixty residents as well as the twelve courageous African-American high school students who entered Clinton High School on August 27, 1956.

A Most Tolerant Little Town: A Forgotten Story of Desegregation in America is a gripping, page-turning, non-fiction thriller based on the the events that occurred in Clinton, TN between 1956 – 1958. Some of the horrendous, racist actions included bombs, death threats, beatings, picket lines, KKK parades and burning crosses, gunshots, and rocks thrown through windows. The National Guard was called out. Evangelist Billy Graham spoke to thousands from the school gymnasium encouraging residents to love and take care of each other.

Yet Clinton, TN is an unknown story. Many people are familiar with the significant desegregation challenges at Central High School in Little Rock, AR in 1957 as well as other cities’ desegregation efforts (Birmingham, Nashville, Los Angeles, etc.). Martin shares that memories are not time machines. We choose what we want to remember and what we want to forget. Edward Murrow, a pioneering documentarian, created two award winning films about Clinton, TN, but the town is not mentioned in any official civil rights history.

Martin places the reader right in the center of riveting, action-packed drama. You feel as if you are walking the hallways of the high school.

Martin’s biggest lesson is that history is the story of human beings responding to events that are seldom under their control. She indicates that part of the story involves hamartia. I wasn’t familiar with that word and had to look up the definition: a fatal flaw which leads to the downfall of a tragic hero or heroine.

Highly, highly recommend!

Thanks, NetGalley, for a free ARC of this book in exchange for my fair and unbiased opinion.


When McKinsey Comes to Town

OMG!! Fascinating and terrifying at the same time. Highly recommend! Most intriguing business book I have read in 2023.

Walt Bogdanich does an amazing job peering under the hood at the inner workings of McKinsey in his book, When McKinsey Comes to Town: The Hidden Influence of the World’s Most Powerful Consulting Firm which is a huge nod to his phenomenal investigative journalism skills since McKinsey and their employees and ex-employees typically keep company and client information confidential.

Bogdanich shares many stories of McKinsey’s work and influence on various companies, countries, industries, and government agencies. Many McKinsey alums are/were in senior leadership positions in government (Senator Tom Cotton, Senator Trent Lott, Lael Brainard: Vice Chair of Federal Reserve, Pete Buttigieg: US Secretary of Transportation), banking (Tidjane Thiam: CEO of Credit Suisse, Ian Narev: CEO Commonwealth Bank Group, Philip Purcell: CEO Morgan Stanley, Peter Wuffli: CEO UBS Asset, Peter Orszag: CEO Lazard), and business (Sundar Pichai: CEO Google, James McNerney: CEO Boeing, Sheryl Sandberg: COO Facebook, Jonathan Schwartz: CEO Sun Microsystems, Jeff Skilling: CEO Enron, Tad Smith: CEO Sotheby’s, Helmut Panke: CEO BMW, Fred Malek: President Marriott Hotels, Hubert Joly: CEO Best Buy).

Bogdanich shares stories where McKinsey advised Disney to reduce costs related to ride maintenance and safety and suggested that all ride maintenance employees be moved to a night shift. Founder Walt Disney focused on ride safety and maintenance. Once Michael Eisner was the CEO, McKinsey was brought in to evaluate how to reduce costs and increase profits. Unfortunately, a roller coaster that was making unusual noises killed and injured park guests when wheel axles broke.

In the 1950’s, McKinsey was asked to conduct an executive compensation study. Their study indicated that hourly worker’s wages were increasing faster than executive wages. At the time, executives earned approximately 20x what front-line employees earned. Now that ratio is 350x. Many firms hire McKinsey to research executive compensation packages to ensure they are competitive. According to the book, it has been a race to the top to ensure executives continue to receive large compensation packages.

McKinsey created “matrix management” where employees reported to a myriad of bosses and accountability and responsibility levels were pushed lower in the organization. Banks, in particular, began allowing junior employees to issue and approve large loans. McKinsey also introduced the securitization of loans which allowed loans to be kept off balance sheets. This enabled banks to issue more loans and to use special purpose vehicles. We all know what happened to shaky mortgage loans.

Business author, Tom Peters, describes McKinsey’s matrix management model as similar to playing tennis, soccer, and basketball on the same court at the same time with the same players. Bogdanich indicated that savvier companies stayed away from McKinsey fads.

Allstate hired McKinsey to help them reduce costs and increase profits. A college student was rear-ended in a car accident and McKinsey refused to pay his claim. The student ended up hiring a lawyer and the case dragged on for over seven years. The court ordered Allstate to provide the McKinsey powerpoint and Allstate refused. The fine was $25,000 per day. Allstate’s fine rose to over $7 million dollars because they refused to provide the McKinsey powerpoint slides. Eventually a state prosecutor threatened to pull Allstate’s Florida license so that they couldn’t do any business in Florida. Allstate eventually provided the slides which showed the details on how claim agents were to slow-walk, deny, or lowball claims. In the meantime, State Farm and many other insurance companies had already hired McKinsey to help their companies reduce costs with the same model Allstate had implemented.

Bogdanich describes this as reverse Robinhood. The cost savings and increased profits put money in the executives’ coffers as well as McKinsey’s coffers…..all at the expense of policyholders. It was like declaring war on insurance policyholders. Bogdanich suggested to readers the book, From Good Hands to Boxing Gloves: The Dark Side of Insurance, for additional information about Allstate.

Additional stories are told about McKinsey’s involvement with country governments, like Russia, China, Malaysia, and Saudi Arabia. Other business stories include US Steel, Enron, and other well known companies. After the movie, Moneyball, McKinsey got involved in sports analytics and was advising the Houston Astros during the season they were cheating.

McKinsey develops systemized processes and then sells those processes to many companies within the same industry, regardless of conflict of interest. These systemized processes then metastasize within an industry. The end result is often a larger chasm between the haves and the have-nots. McKinsey is typically not held liable because they provide advice, they don’t implement the processes.

Insightful and scary look at the level of influence McKinsey has played in the US, other countries, and many companies.


Before reading Spare, I watched the six episode Harry & Meghan on Netflix. I give both the book and the Netflix documentary five stars! I also read and highly recommend Finding Freedom: Harry and Meghan and the Making of a Modern Royal Family.

Memoir is my favorite genre and I naturally gravitate to books where the obstacles seem unsurmountable, yet the author is able to create their own path forward despite fighting against real or perceived barriers, prison-like bars that trap them, familial expectations, cultural norms, or other challenges such as war, poverty, violence, disasters, disabilities, etc.

I have no idea what living in a gilded cage would feel like with country, press, and family restraints. Add into that bubble-like existence not being or feeling valued or respected because the monarchy hierarchy doesn’t view you as important. If I had to live that way, I would be one rebelliou

s hell-raiser trying desperately to find my way out of that life and into the life I dreamed and imagined for myself.

I also have no idea what life would be like if my mother, an incredible beacon of light, passed away early and I was left to fend for myself within a family that doesn’t show emotion or compassion.

From watching the Netflix documentary, I firmly believe that Harry and Meghan love each other very deeply. How the press and bloggers treat Meghan, particularly from a race perspective, is horrendous. If I was Harry, I would continually worry that relentless paparazzi could potentially cause harm or death to Meghan, which would be an unfortunate repeat of history.

I admire Harry’s authenticity, self-awareness (yes, he has made mistakes and he has learned from them—he has a terrific continual learner mindset), grit, determination, and fierce devotion to ensuring the health and safety of Meghan and their children.

Against all odds, he is defining his identity and his future. He is the captain of his soul and his life. In his book, he states that freedom comes after struggle. He has struggled through many things and I am rooting for Harry and Meghan and their family to have many, many years of happiness and freedom.

The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America’s Shining Women

The Radium Girls book(Harrowing Historical Nonfiction Bestseller About a Courageous Fight for Justice)

Wow! 5+++ stars! Highly recommend!

This is a harrowing true story about young women, many of them immigrants, who worked in plants in Newark/Orange, NJ and Ottawa, Canada painting watch and clock dials with radium so that the numbers would be luminous. The story takes place in the 1920s.

At the time, radium was said to be very safe. The young women were instructed to insert the paint brushes into their mouths so that the paint brush line would be very thin. “Lip, dip, and paint” was the process they were taught as they dipped their paint brushes into radium paint.

The health issues and excruciating deaths that occurred with many of the women are told in horrific detail. Unfortunately, the majority of dentists, doctors, and supervisors that they went to for advice and evaluation dismissed them.

The existing workers compensation laws during that time were narrowly constrained; radium poisoning claims did not meet the criteria and the statue of limitations was too short.

Yet many of these women continued to fight for their lives and for social and economic justice. Fortunately, there were some doctors, dentists, and attorneys who championed their cause.

This is a riveting story of young women with workplace injuries championing to have their employer provide medical and financial assistance and to prevent other employees from radium poisoning.

Highly recommend!


We Are Not Here to Be Bystanders: A Memoir of Love and Resistance

We Are Not Here to Be Bystanders book10+++ stars. A must read for those who believe in inclusion, hope and a better world.

Sarsour, one of the co-organizers of the Women’s March, is a warrior for justice. She believes our highest responsibility is to care for one another by showing up and speaking out for the voiceless among us.

The book starts with a powerful foreward by Harry Belafonte. Belafonte marched alongside Dr. Martin Luther King, JR and John Lewis during the civil rights movement. Belafonte was present and provided the inspiration for the social justice voltron, a powerful trifecta of Sarsour, Tamika Mallory, and Carmen Perez, when they created the MARCH2JUSTICE.

The march was a 250 mile, nine-day event, from New York to Washington, DC. On the seventh day of the march, Freddie Gray died. He was killed in Baltimore, so the marchers changed their route in order to march on the western side of Baltimore to join other protestors.

Sarsour describes her memoir as a social justice manifesto. She warns that silence immobilizes us. She believes in using our voices as megaphones and states that we must never negotiate away or compromise our principles and values. She advocates for us to join together to become this nation’s unshakable moral compass.

Her memoir is packed with poignant, heart wrenching stories, including the NYPD policing policies and practices against Muslims after 9/11. Through her efforts and the efforts of many others, NY Police Commissioner, William Bratton, in 2014 shuttered the Muslim surveillance program and indicated that the program had not generated any leads to terrorist enterprises. It was at this same point in time that Donald Trump was considering a presidential campaign run.

Part One of Sarsour’s book begins with this quote by Valerie Kaur, founder of the Revolutionary Love Project:

“The passion to change the world flickers in you like a flame, and if you let that light go out, you will be robbing the world of your greatest gift. Your task today is not to know what the future holds; your task is to vow to protect that flame.”

Highly, highly recommend! This is the best book I have read in 2023 and will most likely be the best book I read this entire year.


That Will Never Work: The Birth of Netflix and the Amazing Life of an Idea

That Will Never Work bookBuckle up for the ride!! Marc Randolph, founder of Netflix, takes readers on the wild roller coaster ride of startups. It took Netflix only four years from initial launch to going public. I recently worked at a tech startup that went public within four years and it is a crazy, heart thumping, tightrope-walking journey. This book reads like a corporate thriller with heart stopping twists and challenges.

When Netflix initially launched in April 1998, after twelve months of incredibly hard work, their servers kept crashing as customers were going to their site. Cloud server companies didn’t exist at the time. Netflix employees kept running to Fry’s, an electronics store, to continually buy new desktops with only 64 megs of RAM each.

In 1998, very few DVD players existed so Netflix partnered with Sony and Toshiba to include promotional information about Netflix in each DVD player package. Initially Netflix offered the purchase and rental of DVDs. 90% of their revenue was coming from the purchase of DVDs rather than renting DVDs. Netflix tried many promotional gimmicks to try to interest customers in renting DVDs, but customer acquisition costs exceeded revenue. The breakthrough came with a subscription service.

A large part of the book is about creating company culture with a startup and Netflix’s company culture is legendary. Randolph credits Patty McCord, the first HR leader at Netflix, with being instrumental in creating their company culture as well as redefining the entire field of Human Resources. After the bubble burst, Netflix had to lay off 40% of their workforce to remain a viable company. The layoffs were handled humanely, in-person, and with compassion. Below is a link to the Netflix culture.

Netflix Culture:

Other hairpin turns throughout the book include conversations with Amazon and Blockbuster about whether they were interested in acquiring Netflix during the early years. Both companies were not interested at all. At the time of the conversation with Blockbuster, Netflix was doing $5 million in revenue and Blockbuster was close to $6 billion. We all know how that story unfolded.

Randolph credits his optimism and persistence throughout his life on not taking “No” as the final answer. There are many examples of this in his book but the best example is when he was turned down for a job very early in his career and he asked everyone in the interview process for feedback on how he could improve. He ended up getting the job.

There are many, many leadership and life lessons throughout this fabulous book, including the Randolph Rules that his father created and Marc kept near his mirror and read every morning. He has passed these down to his three children.

Highly, highly recommend That Will Never Work, particularly for those working or interested in startups, as well as those who love reading books that combine business, leadership lessons, and memoir.


Spare Parts: Four Undocumented Teenagers, One Ugly Robot, and the Battle for the American Dream

Spare Parts bookAn amazing book! Five stars!

A huge thank you to Goodreads friend, Michael Burnam-Fink, for recommending I read Spare Parts. He has also recommended several other books that are on my TBR list.

Joshua Davis has woven a historical and inspirational thriller about four undocumented Latino high school students in Phoenix who enter a NASA contest to build an underwater robot that is evaluated on accomplishing several incredibly challenging tasks. The team from MIT historically won the NASA contest or was in the top three finalists.

The book was made into a movie of the same name, but the movie ends after the winning team is named at the NASA contest.

Life and reality are much different than movies. Davis’ book follows the four students for many years and shows their career and education paths compared to the MIT students’ career paths after the NASA contest.

Sheriff Joe Arpaio, infamous for being “America’s Toughest Sheriff” during his reign for 24 years in Phoenix between 1993 – 2017 as well as citizen’s support and approval of Proposition 300 impacts these students’ lives. Parts of the book made me very angry because we are allowing talent to be wasted when it can be used to improve our nation.

Highly recommend!


Read Dangerously: The Subversive Power of Literature in Troubled Times

Read Dangerously book5+++stars. A MUST READ.

Azar Nafisi has written an incredible book that is composed of five chapters about critical authors. These chapters are written as letters to her deceased father who was jailed in Iran for standing up for his beliefs. Nafisi and her father shared a love of literature and freedom of expression and art.

The first chapter is about authors Rushdie, Plato and Bradbury. Last night on August 13, 2022 after I had completed the first chapter, the news was announced that Salman Rushdie was stabbed and attacked onstage during a panel interview. He is currently in the hospital and may lose one eye and an arm and his liver have been damaged.

In 1989, Ayatollah Khomeini issued a fatwa ordering Rushdie’s execution because he felt Rushdie’s book, The Satanic Verses, was blasphemous.

In addition to the evening news about Rushdie, there was conflicting news about whether Donald Trump would have turned over highly classified information that he took to his Mar-Lago residence if he had “just been asked” or if he was asked and received a subpoena several days in advance.

The newscasters also indicated that there is concern/talk about whether the US is headed to a civil war in the future. There was discussion about the “election deniers” who are making progress in current election campaigns in several states. Election deniers are those who feel Trump won the election but it was stolen from him.

Yesterday, Ricky Walter Shiffer, an armed man, tried to enter the Cincinnati FBI office and was killed after a standoff with police.

Book banning at schools, libraries and bookstores has exploded across the country… reading Nafisi’s book was incredibly timely and thought provoking.

Read Dangerously shares parallels between the Islamic Republic of Iran and the United States. Nafisi has lived in both countries and transparently shares historical and current context of both countries, particularly on topics of exclusion (race, gender, religion, politics, etc).

The quotes at the beginning and the end of the book highlight the role and intersectionality that writers and readers play in changing the world.

“Create dangerously, for people who read dangerously. This is what I’ve always thought it meant to be a writer. Writing, knowing in part that no matter how trivial your words may seem, someday, somewhere, someone may risk his or her life to read them.” Edwidge Danticat

“Readers are born free and they ought to remain free.” Vladimir Nabokov

The authors that are highlighted and discussed in each letter (chapter) to her father are:

  1. Rushdie, Plato, Bradbury
  2. Hurston, Morrison
  3. Grossman, Ackerman, Khoury
  4. Atwood
  5. Baldwin, Coates

Nafisi shares that the world knows a lot about America but America doesn’t know much about the world. Americans wear our ignorance of the world casually and good naturedly. Author James Baldwin stated that indifference makes one blind.

America pays little attention to writers and we avoid reading dangerously. Reading fosters a mindset that questions and doubts. Fiction arouses our curiosity and our imaginations.

Reading dangerously teaches us how to deal with those viewed as enemies. Democracy depends on engagement with our adversaries.

Censorship is dangerous to the well-being of societies. When we stop reading, we pave the way for book banning. Different opinions and perspectives are critical for understanding and empathy.

I highly, highly recommend Reading Dangerously. It links writers and readers to the universality of the human experience.