Cook On Concord: Turn off the TV and read a good book

A number of especially good books that have passed through our house recently are worth noting for their content and quality. Two current and especially important books were recommended to me by Thomas Sedoric of Portsmouth. Based on these recommendations, if Tom says read the book, you should read it. The first, “The World is Flat” by Thomas L. Friedman, has received a lot of notice in the press. Friedman, a New York Times columnist, subtitles this book, “A Brief History of the 21st Century.” His thesis is that the world has been flattened by the advent of the Internet, other technology, and such unlikely sources as Wal-Mart and UPS.

Because most of the world has access to the same tools, a lot of things have happened. First, outsourcing to foreign lands enables those up-and-coming educated people in places like India and China to serve as the “back room” of American companies without leaving home. One of the interesting ramifications of this is that a new middle class is arising, unheard of wealth is being created (by local standards) and stability is coming into the foreign policy of the countries, which cannot afford to have distractions from their new economies like confrontations with neighbors and development of nuclear weapons.

Interesting sidelights include the chapter on UPS, the staid and traditional “brown” company that is revolutionizing world customs procedures, since everyone has to adapt to its computerized labels. Further, that company is serving to make large companies small by allowing giants like Hewlett-Packard to provide individualized service, and small companies to compete with large, since they have access to the same transportation technology as giant corporations do.

Frightening to some, Friedman’s thesis is that what is going on now is the equivalent of the Industrial Revolution, and the United States had better get used to it. He is an optimist about that. Others might not be. Whichever is the truth, everyone should read this book for its insights into what is going on in the world.

The next Sedoric recommendation is a small book by Lee Eisenberg called “The Number.” Its theme is that many Americans are searching for the correct number that they have to save in order to retire. He explores when this search should start, what it should seek, and, more importantly, delves into the psychological and sociological phenomena of what happens in retirement. Retirements are longer than ever before and he provides economic insights into how to calculate “the number.”

Everyone should read this book and then give it to their children to get a head start on this process.

Among the books cited by Eisenberg as “the scariest books I have ever read,” is “Running on Empty” by Peter G. Peterson, former commerce secretary and head of the Blackstone Group.

This book was recommended to me several years ago by another Thomas, Tom Lewry of Manchester. A founder of the Concord Coalition, Peterson faults the economic policies of both major political parties, and especially the spending practices of the Bush administration headed by a president who says that the deficit is “just numbers on paper.”

Peterson’s thesis is that Republicans and Democrats alike have mortgaged the future of America and he sets forth a prescription for solving it, if politicians have the guts to do it. Published in 2004, this book is especially important now as the rumblings of the next presidential election are starting and deficits are at a record high with costs of war in footnotes.

On a slightly lighter note, Doris Kearns Goodwin’s “Team of Rivals,” about Abraham Lincoln and his cabinet, is a major historical work. It chronicles the 1860 election between William H. Seward, Salmon P. Chase, Edward Bates and Abraham Lincoln, who vied for the Republican nomination for president.

Obviously, Lincoln won the nomination and subsequently the election. But his inclusion of his rivals in the cabinet, their contribution to the war effort and their close relationship is a testament to the statesman who led the United States through its darkest hour and greatest crisis. Long and detailed, it has great insights into the personalities of these great men and the history of this period.

Finally, in the realm of fiction, Scott Turow’s “Ordinary Heroes” is a good story about the Second World War. It is about a man who learns his father’s contribution as a judge advocate general lawyer attached to General Patton’s army and his activities in combat. It will be especially interesting to World War II veterans and their children. A gripping story in its own right, this is a good book to start early in the weekend, especially if you have nothing to do for the rest of it.

Brad Cook is a partner in the Manchester law firm of Sheehan Phinney Bass + Green and heads its government relations and estate planning groups.

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