Monday, May 1, 2017

Kruse's Keys 2017 Reading List

You can see our lists from 2009201020112013201420152016, and 2018.  You can also see my Reading the African Continent List here.

The Last Will and Testament of Senor da Silva Araujo (Cape Verde)

Read It Because:
This translated piece of Cape Verdean fiction is beautiful, sad, and meandering as it examines the life of a poor peasant boy made good as a successful business owner.  Senor da Silva's life unfolds in a non-linear, often-dreamlike fashion at times as we follow his life through the reading of his last will and testament.  The strength of this novel lies in its examination of  themes both broad and mundane. The author offers the reader a glimpse into the way in which the independence struggle affected the lives of the ordinary businessmen and local politicians as da Silva struggles to position himself to prosper however the struggle might end up.  Far more interesting, though, is the investigation by da Silva's illegitimate daughter (suprise!) into a mysterious (and perhaps fantastical) love obsession named Adelia.  As the details surrounding Adelia are slowly revealed, a melancholy shadow falls over the life of da Silva as he grapples with love, rejection and loss.   The reader is left to wonder: was Adelia actually real or was she a mad creation by a man unable to find his place in Cape Verdean society and life in general?

*One of my Reading Around the Continent books--the full list is here.
My full post is here.

Sleepwalking Land (Mozambique)

Loved It Because: Mia Couto has crafted a surreal, engrossing tragic tale of the hopelessness of life during the fifteen year long civil war that consumed post-independence Mozambique.  I went into this novel knowing little about Mozambique's history apart from a broad knowledge regarding the brutality with which Portugal ceded independence to its colonies.  

Reading this novel won't give the reader even a brief overview of the country's civil war, instead Couto focuses on pulling the reader into the pysche of those affected most by war--the ones not doing the killing--the women and the children.  Early on, Kindzu the narrator relates one of the most bizaree stories that I've ever read--his younger brother is forced to live in the family's henhouse bu their insane father, and then forced to act like a chicken--for so long that he eventually becomes one and disappears.  This type of magical kafkaesque storyline is repeated throughout Sleepwalking Land, as the oprhaned narrators (yes, plural) struggle to exist in a country that is dying under their feet.  The very idea of life turns Kindzu into a fatalist as he remarks at one point: "the best things in life are those that don't lie ahead"--meaning that pleasure and meaning can only be found in distant memories or in the most immediate present. 

*One of my Reading Around the Continent books--the full list is here.
My full post is here.

The Warmth of Other Suns

Read it Because: You can't afford not to.  Before the publication of Warmth some seven years ago, there had never been a definitive and comprehensive analysis (at least in the ethnographic sense) of these waves of migration that began following the reconstruction era as Jim Crow set in.  Wilkerson's book is significant because of the short historical space between 2017 and the enslavement (through legal means or socio-economic means) of a race of people.  Let the following statement sink in:

Just 77 years ago, in 1/3 of the US, killing blacks was not a crime.

Most of us have relatives at least who were young kids 77 years ago!  It's often far too easy to dismiss a movement today--#blacklivesmatter comes to mind.  Now while I may not agree with every single tenet of that movement, reading this book opened my eyes to the historical headspace from which its leaders and followers are coming.  While the idea of the de facto legalized murder of a race seems a preposterously distant one to me today, it probably doesn't to many of the African-Americans in this country.  Because they have family members STILL ALIVE who endured it.  They know the history. 
Much of the conflict in today's society would at least be softened if both sides took the time to know one another's history--their backstory.  Wilkerson has presented a gift to Americans--she has captured a fundamental piece of our history that before only existed buried in the margins of dusty newspapers and crumbling, fading memories of aging octogenarians.  By weaving the personal with the historic she has brought to life the brave flight of millions who sought a better life only to find roadblocks, but who fought on--hoping to give their children and grandchildren a better life or at the very least the chance to bloom

My full post is here.

Vakio Milamina (Madagascar)

Loved It Because: it gives you the inside scoop on the culture and politics of Madagascar. Soamiely is the rare Malagasy author who writes in (great) English about these things.  I lived in Madagascar for three years and often read Soamiely's posts on Medium but it was only once I was back stateside that I realized that he'd written two books (his other: Ambony-Ambany (Upside Down) is available to purchase on  

Vakio Milamina (i.e., A Quiet or Smooth Read) lays out the authors thoughts on life in Madagascar through a series of very loosely related essays.  In particular, I loved "It's All Part of Growing Up" which is basically a 6 page rundown on the political history of Madagascar.  Other essays like "Fiadanana and Moramora" made me laugh--moramora IS the quintessential essence of being Malagasy (from a vazaha aka foreigner perspective).  It captures the incrementalism of progress (or de-evolution) and a peace with slowness that one notices even after only a few days in the country.  Perhaps most useful for any visitor/tourist is his essay "Our Unambiguously Ambiguous Art of Conversation" in which the author lays out why a Malagasy will seldom ever say 'no'.  If I had realized this early on I would have saved myself a lot of stress and frustration. But there's no reason to read just one essay--Vakio is the wonderful book that can be read in a single sitting or on a short plane ride.  You'd also be well served to follow him on twitter at @soamiely 

*One of my Reading Around the Continent books--the full list is here.
My full post is here.

The Hard Thing About Hard Things  
This book is on just about every entrepreneurs' reading list and I heard it mentioned as mandatory reading in countless articles and interviews--particularly on the excellent Beyond the Uniform podcasts.  While much of this discussion is tech-focused, it would serve most military leaders well to read this book because Horowitz devotes much of his time to addressing how best to cope with the loneliness of leadership and "command."

Unfortunately, I listened to this one on Audible during my daily commute.  Don't get me wrong, Audible is great but it's NOT great when you are listening to a book that if you were reading would be full of highlights and notes.  Audible has a bookmark/clip function but it's not particularly easy to use or annotate (or very safe) while you are driving.  So I've resigned myself to stick mainly to fiction for my future Audible listens.   I should have written this review as soon as I finished it since I would have remembered more.

That said, the most useful section of this book for me came in chapter five: "Take Care of the People, The Products, and the Profits–In That Order."  In particular he addresses the importance of companies training their workers--with both functional training and management training.  These are two simple items that many companies and organizations (especially within the military) overlook.  

For any military leader that plans to transition to the civilian workforce, this book should feature prominently on his/her reading list prior to retirement for the myriad insights into life at a civilian company.  


Prodigal God

This is on my yearly re-reading list and it gets better every year.  The Bible's tale of the prodigal son is best understood by looking at the two ends of the spectrum for the definition of the word "prodigal."  On one end it describes someone who spends recklessly (i.e., the son) and on the other end it describes someone who gives recklessly (i.e., the sons' father).  So in this story what you really have is a parable about two lost sons and a reckless (with his love) father. Keller's reorientation of the story from its traditional focus on the wayward son gives one more accurate insight into just who this tale was for.  In context, Jesus' main audience was the "older brothers" listening to him.  These were the self-righteous pharisees who sought to control their own salvation through rigorous adherence to the law (and putting down others) instead of pursuing salvation through a relationship with Jesus. 

At different times in my own life, I've been both sons and in both cases found myself rutted by an inward focus on me, me, me, me.  One of best parts of Prodigal God is that it turns the reader outward showing that recognition of the God's costly grace should spur his followers to serve the poor, to love the orphans and widows in society today.  This is the lavish and extravagant call of the Father to sons and daughters of all types--to join him in the banquet--in the community of believers--in order to love and draw in even more to the celebration. My full post is here.

Deep Work

This was one of the most useful books that I have ever read.  Deep Work will make you better and if you focus--it will make you the best.  I especially enjoy books that lead to other books and this one is packed with nearly 20 of them! Were I running a company, business, platoon, or squadron I would buy a copy of this essential read for every worker under me.

My full post is here.  I also wrote a post on deep work for the Christian life here.

Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less
Essentialism is a book for anyone who feels overwhelmed at any level of their life.  The author’s contention is that we all have too much going on in our lives--at work, at play, in our relationships and in our things.  This book gives the reader the tools and philosophical background in order to pare away the excess.  Ultimately, McKeown espouses the expansion of German designer and academic Dieter Ram’s mantra “less but better” (weniger aber besser) into one’s life at every level.  Whether or not one has the courage to actually apply it holistically is another question but I’d argue that we’d all do well to take stock of our lives and see where doing less but better might liberate us.   My full post is here.

Chaos Monkeys

Chaos Monkeys is a book bulging with so much saucy insider details that you feel a little guilty reading it.  I always enjoy pairing recommendations when it comes to books and I'd recommend pairing this one with Horowitz's The Hard Thing About Hard Things which I wrote about here.  The combination of the two books serve as a great introduction to anyone interested in the tech industry and entrepreneurship.  I point this out in particular for any transitioning vets looking in that direction.

Notably, readers will find Chaos Monkeys of particular value if they are looking to get into the weeds of starting their own company, launching an idea, or courting investors--this book is literally chocked full with essential information. 

Beyond that, however, there was much lacking in Martinez' life choices (in my personal opinion).  He doesn't delve to far into it, but he made very deliberate choices over being present as a father to his daughter early on in the book and rationalizes his absences as better for her.  All that to say, don't expect to finish the book feeling great about the story--which is more an indictment of the rather sordid way things are done in Silicon Valley than of the author himself.  My full post is here.


In 2009, I married my beautiful bride on Poipu Beach in Kauai.  Since that visit, the Hawaiian islands have held a special place in my heart.  During idle moments, I confess to plugging the location of Kauai into job search sites and crossing my fingers for a non-engineering job to pop up.  Since 2009 we’ve returned to Kauai several times and prior to our most recent trip this past summer I decided to finally dive into Michener’s 1000 page tale Hawaii.  

First published in 1959 (the year of Hawaiian statehood), Hawaii definitely comes across a little dated in its style but Michener nonetheless proves that he can craft an engrossing tale as he spans the physical birth of the Hawaiian islands eons ago up to it fight for statehood.  Hawaii begins its narrative with the first impossible ocean-spanning voyages of men and women from Tahiti.
From there we witness the tribal fight to consolidate power throughout the islands and then see the natives first interaction with New England missionaries.  From there Michener deftly juxtaposes the lives of consecutives generations of earnest but severe missionaries with those of lusty and wayward whalers and traders.  The narrative carries on as we see the immigration of Chinese and Japanese settlers and their eventual integration into the social, economic and political life of Hawaii over the span of two World Wars and an eventual quest for statehood.  

One assumes (with even cursory research) that Michener took a multitude of historical liberties in the writing of this tome but upon finishing it I was okay with that.  Hawaii is an engrossing novel that encourages the reader to learn more about it actual history (I’ve included some links to do just that in the full review).   My full post is here.

Transit  (Djibouti)

As you can probably guess there’s not exactly a ton of Djibouti fiction out there, especially en anglais.  But when it comes to Djibouti fiction, the author Waberi reigns supreme.  He’s written a lot to the extent where most of his novels have been translated from French to English.  

The translators, Dave and Nicole Ball, in particular, did a splendid job putting into English the patois of one of the narrators, an uneducated ex-soldier named Bashir.  The challenge to take french urban african slang and put it into English without making it sound like American urban slang is considerable but the Balls nailed it. 

Transit interweaves Bashir’s story with that of Harbi (a member of the opposition intellectual elite) and his family.  While waiting at the Paris airport, the two men reveal their life stories as the narrative arc builds toward their intersection.  The novel’s plot is pretty well done so I won’t reveal much beyond what I mentioned thus far.

The staying power of this story comes from Waberi’s deft touch as he tackles the complexity of his country’s history and current political situation through the alternating monologues. This allows him to playfully jab at the idea of Djibouti’s democracy on one hand, calling it “that hot air of politicians who take bread from whoever giving it”, while also laud the Djiboutian people’s strength on the other with his admonition: “LET'S NOT FORGET that we never accepted the domination of the colonizers. Even when faced with a fait accompli and the law of the strongest, we resisted silently, secretly. Luckily, we had enough space to fall back on, unlike countries with greater population density like Burundi or Rwanda, where the Catholic church recorded its highest evangelization scores in the world. We could retreat into the brush, unseen and unheard. And above all, no official papers. Thus, what seemed to be the most generous acts of the administration, like the vaccination campaigns, were ignored if not massively rejected. Villages, schools, or cities—we rejected them. We preferred our rustic life.” 

My full review is here.
*One of my Reading Around the Continent books--the full list is here

Moving the Palace  (Africa, Lebanon, Middle East)
Maidalani's Moving the Palace is one of those books that leaves you melancholy and blue's over.  It's over and your relationship with the protagonist is severed--forever buried forever in the pages of the novel.

In Moving the Palace's case, we learn the story of Samuel (through the recollection of his grandson)--an erudite Christian adventurer who leaves his homeland of Lebanon amidst the country's wave of great migration during the onset of the 20th century.  Whereas many of his countrymen left for Europe, the Middle East and the United States, Samuel ventures down to the Sudan.  During a stay in Tripoli, he encounters a small Arabian palace by the city citadel.   Upon closer inspection, a plan hatches in Samuel's mind, a plan of what origin his grandson laments: "I do not know--nor will anyone, ever--what planted the seed of that incredible idea in his mind."
My full post is here.

The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley
Let me just get it out of the way and say that Chapter 15 will break your heart.  I listened to the final minutes of that chapter while parked in traffic on the 295 and found myself muttering under my breath: “no no no no no no no no.”   I pushed stop on the Audible app when the chapter was over and didn’t pick the book back up until the next day.  That’s the kind of book Twelve Lives is.  It pulls you into the lives, minds and hearts of the characters in unexpected ways and with an unanticipated depth.

he Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley is a modern day adaptation of Peisander’s play “The 12 Labors of Hercules.”  In that ancient Greek tale, after murdering his wife and children in a goddess-induced fit of insanity, Hercules sets out to atone for his sins by completing 12 fantastic, near-impossible quests over a 12 year period.  It’s in this redemptive quest, that he becomes a hero of legendary and mythic proportions.

The genius of author Hannah Tinti’s story is that she layers several tragic love stories onto this epic framework. These cover the gambit: from man and woman, to father and daughter, to platonic between two friends,and to daughter and mother.  The tragic nature of the stories comes from the common thread of absence that is woven into each of them.

Mechanically, Twelve Lives overlays the history of the 12 bullets that struck Samuel Hawley during his life with the his daughter Lou’s own coming of age, as she slowly uncovers her father’s sordid criminal past.  It’s in the convergence of these two stories that the climax approaches.

Ultimately, Twelve Lives benefits from the strength of using an age old tale for its framework--because of this--and because of Tinti’s strong and striking prose (not to mention a keen ear for dialogue) this is a story that you won’t soon forget.

My full review is here.

The Leader's Bookshelf

Jim Staviridis’ gift to bookavores everywhere, The Leader’s Bookshelf is a difficult one on which to provide notes because it is so packed with great and essential material.  What Stavridis and former Navy PAO R. Ancell have done is put together a Top 50 reading list for military leaders--they accomplished this feat by surveying hundreds of senior military leaders.  The final list, though, only took into account the inputs of the more than 200 4-star officers surveyed.  The authors then compiled the most frequently cited titles and ranked them by frequency of citation.

I’ve only read about 12 of the 50 which lean a little too heavily toward the Civil War (5 of the 50, not including three on Lincoln).  Each of the 50 books includes a prelude on its importance written by one of the surveyed 4 star officers.

He also devotes a chapter to an unofficial survey of junior officers and provides a short summaries of the titles that are most often listed. One of the strengths of this book is that it provides a framework to analyze future books.  The author’s systematic approach to reading provides a useful framework for anyone desiring to better digest and use what they read.  In particular, Stavridis notes the Marine Corps methodology in setting the standard in creating tiered reading lists.

As a FAO, I enjoyed Staviridis’ analyses that repeatedly noted the need for regional expertise (across the spectrum of history and literature) to better inform national strategic decision-making.

My full review is here.

American Rust
I first encountered Meyer’s writing back in 2015 by way of S.C. Gwynne’s incredible Empire of the Summer Moon. His story of Quanah Parker, the offspring of a kidnapped white woman and a Comanche, who went on to become one to become one of the greatest native American warriors of all time led me to Meyer’s The Son (now an AMC mini-series).  Meyer’s well-researched piece of Texas history (well, historical fiction) has a central character that is kidnapped by Indians as a child.

All that to say, The Son was so well written that I was eager to read anything else written by Meyer.  That led me to Meyer’s first novel, American Rust,  which reads like a sorrowful swan song to the American rust belt.  The story brings to light the consequences of the steel industry’s death as the reader is drawn into the lives of several families and their struggle to love, survive, and escape.  The narrative centers in on the plight of Billy Poe, a driftless, could-have-been, washed up former high school football star, and Isaac, an unmoored genius who struggles to escape the gravity of his impoverished circumstances.  Throw in a little murder and a love triangle and you have a story you won’t soon forget.  My only critique is that I wished Meyer had wrapped up the story a little more neatly but we can leave that for the eventual movie version.

My full review is here.

I read author Andy Weir’s blockbuster debut novel The Martian back in 2015 (before the movie) and loved it (I also loved the movie).  So when Artemis came out I added it to my Audible queue.

Artemis is the name of the colony/city/development located on the moon at some point in the future.  The story focuses on a young smuggler/dreamer named Jazz.  As the daughter of an immigrant from Saudi Arabia, she was pretty much raised on the moon and has developed a pirat-ish code of conduct aimed at eventually moving her up in the stratified social order of life on Artemis.

Early on, Jazz is offered a deal that’s too good to be true (of course) and hijinks ensue.  The narrative moves quickly with dialogue and action but Jazz irked me--she comes across as a little bit too enamored with just how cute and clever and irreverent she is (or rather, thinks she is).  This lack of humility and maturity grated me as the story progressed--in fact it ended up distracting from the novel itself at times.

One gets the sense that Weir wrote this novel to become an eventual movie--rather than to exist on its own.  The voice that reads the Audible version, for instance, is the actress Rosario Dawson.  This likely drives the reader to envision what one hears in the realm of a movie on the big screen.  But you know what, I’d probably be doing the same thing if I possessed his drive and talent so good on him.

So Jazz’ personality aside, Weir has done what talented authors do: create a previously unknown world and open its door to readers everywhere.  Buckle up.
My full review is here.

Hidden Christmas

Tim Keller stepped down as the senior pastor at the renowned Redeemer Church in NYC in early 2017--the church he built into 5000 strong members in one of the most unchurched areas of the United States.  Along the way, he’s published an array of books (one of them, Prodigal God, is on my yearly re-reading list) and Hidden Christmas falls in among them.

Hidden Christmas is the product of a lifetime of Keller’s Christmas sermons.  This amalgamation covers the breadth of the Christmas story beginning with its roots in the Old Testament, as the Israelites yearned for the freeing savior King promised to them.  Whether a believer (in Jesus) or not, a reader will find much of interest in this short read.  And I think that’s really the strength of this book: Keller covers so much that there’s bound to be something in it that will give you pause to consider what Jesus’ birth in a manager means.

Personally, I finished Hidden Christmas with a newfound understanding for just how significant it was that God became man (i.e., the incarnation).  The Old Testament contains volumes on the just how carefully the people of Israel had to approach even the presence of God in their temple.  There are literally pages and pages, in fact, that detail the cloth, the spacing, the colors, the time of day, the season, the sacrifices, the materials, all the prerequisites just for the Israelite priests to commune with God and atone for their people’s sins.

Then God (i.e., Jesus) becomes a baby in a manager.  Now all that has to happen for the people of Israel to approach God is to merely COME.  Come and adore a manager, as a defenseless baby.  That’s changes--that changed everything.  We take the ability to talk to, to pray to, to approach God ourselves for granted today and the Christmas story should remind us of how incredible this is.  My full review is here.

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