Friday, August 22, 2014

Sermon of the Week (8/17-8/23, 2014) From Worry to Worship, Dale Anderson

Dale Anderson is formerly a pastor of Grace Evangelical Free church in Louisville but filled the pulpit at Ironworks Pike Community Church in Georgetown on 8/3 and preached a great sermon overview of Habakkuk 1-3 (mp3).

Habakkuk focuses on God's wrath on Israel. The word "wrath" has become unpopular in churches, as this recent story about the Getty's hymn In Christ Alone makes clear. Habakkuk's response to God's promise of wrath on Israel and surrounding nations is to trust God, worship, and find joy.

Habakkuk 3:16-19

"I hear, and my body trembles;
    my lips quiver at the sound;
rottenness enters into my bones;
    my legs tremble beneath me.
Yet I will quietly wait for the day of trouble
    to come upon people who invade us

Though the fig tree should not blossom,
    nor fruit be on the vines,
the produce of the olive fail
    and the fields yield no food,
the flock be cut off from the fold
    and there be no herd in the stalls,
18 yet I will rejoice in the Lord;
    I will take joy in the God of my salvation.
19 God, the Lord, is my strength;
    he makes my feet like the deer's;
    he makes me tread on my high places.



Thursday, August 21, 2014

Nine years of marriage

Yesterday Joni and I celebrated our ninth anniversary. "Four of the best years of our lives," as the old joke goes. We ate lunch (on my parents, thanks) at Sage Garden Cafe in Frankfort, which is one of the best restaurants in all of Central KY. That was a good time.

I'm thankful for Joni for many reasons, but most recently for how supportive she has been of my endeavors. When I come home from yard sales or Big Lots with exciting finds, she indulges me. When I wanted to convert half the garage into my workout area, she obliged and even helped me complete a major physically-taxing project there last weekend. Every week she makes homemade protein fiber bars that get me through morning workouts and late afternoons at work. She sets up the coffee maker the night before so I am motivated to get up and at it. She listens to my concerns and generally hears me out. I have posted several books on this blog which have been helpful to us in communicating, we try go go through a couple together every year, although we are imperfect at executing all we intend. She agreed to come along when I wanted to teach preschoolers at church. She handles the financial record-keeping and I'm able to trust her in finding the best deals on things.

A lot I could say. I'm thankful for my bride of nine years. Here's to you, babe!

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Book Review (#78 of 2014) The Generals by Thomas E. Ricks

The Generals: American Military Command from World War II to Today
How important to the health of an organization is it to have the freedom and wherewithal to fire people who are not living up to the organization's standards? It is vitally important, and this book is an excellent case study.

Ricks' Fiasco, on the 2003 Iraq war, basically defined that war for me when I read it in 2005. This book, in turn, has changed my view of several other wars. You cannot read Ricks' books and not be skeptical of the plaudits for the U.S. military's competence and professionalism. We go to war with the army we have, and that is why we end up in protracted conflicts.

Part I of the book looks at World War II, particularly at George Marshall's role in shaping the military. The "Marshall Rule" is held up as the gold standard. Marshall wanted vigorous young generals who could be team players internationally, who erred on the side of aggression, and did not hesitate to relieve commanders at lower levels who were not up to the job. Marshall also stood up to FDR on occasion--he pushed back.

Marshall got along well with Eisenhower, who held many of his views. It was not unusual for division commanders to relieve incompetent or ineffective battalion commanders in WWII, but Ricks tells many stories where failures to do so resulted in unnecessary losses. As Ricks writes elsewhere,
"Forget about Saving Private Ryan, with its fantasy of a handful of American soldiers blocking superior German forces in improvised street fighting. The real deal was that the Army General Eisenhower threw into Normandy, for better or worse, was undertrained and all too often horribly led. Almost all the pre-invasion preparation was about getting to the beach, with little taught about what to do after crossing it. Many officers knew more about how to transport troops in trucks than about how to lead them in combat. Gole notes that even data from the previous two years of fighting Germans in North Africa and Italy was largely ignored. "

After WWII, firings in the Armed Forces went from an action crucial to the health of the organization to a little-used politically-tainted decision often left to civilians to make.

Part II looks in depth at battles and strategy in Korea. MacArthur, of course, is the poster child of a bad commander. The wonder is how MacArthur could have been so lauded, when he was so narcissistic and unethical-- accepting medals he didn't earn as well as cash from foreign governments, and trying to command a war from a country away. In Korea, one sees a disparity between the Marines and the Army in terms of relieving commanders and general tactics that still exists today.

Lt. Col. Don Faith, Jr., whose regiment lost 90 percent of its force in the disaster at the Chosin Resevoir is one that is singled out as both an example of command failure and a victim of it-- his own commanders were inept. The draftee army of the 1950s suffered from micromanagement as officers could not tell who was competent with only a couple years of time to get to know soldiers. Ricks mentions the 1950s management bestseller The Organization Man which stated that companies should focus on conformity and groupthink in making decisions--this was the Army.

The Korean conflict improved only after Matthew Ridgeway, a Marshall protege, was given a command and began to relieve officers and make changes that lifted morale and improved outcomes. However, Ridgeway gets a letter from his superiors warning him that relieving too many officers would lead to a Congressional investigation. The legacy of Korea was that it was up to civilians to make changes in the military.

Part III is Vietnam. I have read a few books on both Korea and Vietnam and this one cast both conflicts into a new light. American involvement in Vietnam began in 1955 and originally included CIA and Special Forces training self-governing villages on self-defense, which Ricks writes was highly effective. Former General Maxwell Taylor, who Ricks criticizes (among other things) for his role in getting America embroiled in Vietnam in the first place, convinces the CIA to give the program to the Defense Department, and it quickly comes apart. The Marines again adopt a forward-thinking strategy of holding ground around bases and villages, and slowly expanding outward to bring more civilians under their perimeter. This is criticized and changed until post-Tet 1968 when it essentially becomes official policy and works to bring 95% of the population under protection and actually start winning the war. By that time, however, morale and discipline had so broken down that you had crimes like the My Lai Massacre, for which top commanders got barely a reprimand. In the entire war, only one top general was relieved by commanding officers.

Ricks examines the experience of Gen. William E DePuy, a WWII veteran and believer in the Marshall Rule of accountability and relieving incompetent subordinates. DePuy's firings of incapable battalion commanders came under fire from his superior, for which he expected to be relieved himself. Despite this strength of character, DePuy opposed "pacification" policies-- paying the Viet Cong to stop fighting-- that Ricks writes had worked well in Vietnam and would later become official counterinsurgency doctrine in Iraq and Afghanistan. DePuy would later reform the post-Vietnam Army that fought the 1991 Gulf War.


General Westmoreland fares only slightly better than MacArthur in Ricks' analysis. He is described as being basically illiterate, never known to have read any books, and repeatedly falling back on what he knew as a less senior commander rather than as a generalist, as he was supposed to be. The only consolation is that he was better than his predecessor, Gen. Paul Harkins, who was scarily incompetent. Eventually Gen. Abrams replaces Westmoreland, who was relieved by LBJ. Abrams adopts tactics similar to previous Marine strategies and sees success, but politically it is too late and the Army is essentially broken.

DePuy worked to reform the Army after Vietnam with an emphasis on smaller units, more commanders, and special forces. He built the Army that liberated Kuwait in 1991. But, as Ricks writes "his relentless focus on tactics and training has unfortunately proved to be a poor way to prepare the Army for Iraq in the 2000s."

If there is a weakness of the book it is that the 1980s and late 1990s are hardly mentioned, so generalship in Grenada, Somalia, and the Balkans go unexamined.

Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf is given mixed reviews in the book. Definitely politically inept, Schwarzkopf even negotiated a cease fire with Iraq with little civilian input or advice from his senior advisers. He gave explicit permission for Iraqi's to fly armed helicopters, which allowed them to put down Shia and Kurdish uprisings that threatened to topple Saddam Hussein, something those groups did not forgive the U.S. for allowing. The 1991 Gulf War was "a tactical success but a strategic draw."

Gen. Tommy Franks is painted as MacArthuresque in his incompetency both in Iraq and Afghanistan. From allowing Bin Laden to escape Tora Bora to writing a memoir that paints a rosy and short-sighted picture of the 2003 campaign, Ricks piles the criticism on hard. Sanchez and others also are roundly criticized. I find it hard to believe that G.W. Bush read "dozens" of books on military occupations and wars (as he claims in his memoir) yet did not see the importance of relieving commanders and his own Defense Secretary. Only one general was relieved in 2003, by the Marines, essentially for cowardice. But a battalion commander who conspired with subordinates to cover up murder received only a reprimand from Gen. Odierno. Ricks does not mention Rumsfeld's repeated attempts to resign but that failure of the Bush Administration speaks for itself.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates is praised for making changes and for his focus on accountability. This jives with Gates' memoir where he discusses the generals he fired from the battlefield to the V.A. hospital system. David Petraeus is also held up as an "outlier" of exceptional performance.The Army still has yet to conduct an in-depth review of its 2003-2012 conduct in Iraq, even after all the helpful changes Petraeus implemented.

Ricks' epilogue proposes potential changes, such as teaching officers critical thinking and encouraging officers to work toward advance degrees. Some of it is pie-in-the-sky dreaming, such as probationary periods for lower-ranking officers and requiring officer candidates to first do a peaceful term in a cross-cultural situation, such as the Peace Corps.

Ricks has an admiration for the sacrifice of the military, but a journalistic intent to get to the bottom of the story-- the truth. While there is no completely definitive work on Vietnam yet written, Ricks cites several books, such as Dereliction of Duty, as important reading. If you follow his blog and articles, you know he's still following up on research of the characters he documents. I give this book 4.5 stars out of 5.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Book Review (#77 of 2014) Attitude 101 by John C. Maxwell

ATTITUDE 101
The bestselling author now has a 101 series dealing with small aspects. This book reads like a cut-and-paste from other books and is filled with feel-good soundbytes. This book could be called "The Power of Positive Thinking" and at times Maxwell sounds just like Joel Osteen. The difference between the two is that evangelicals roundly praise and promote Maxwell's books while criticizing Osteen's sermons for saying the identical thing. "Eliminate the following from your vocabulary: 'I can't,'; 'doubt'; (etc.)" You can be whatever you want to be if you just persist with the right attitude. With plenty of biblical tidbits and anecdotes to illustrate.

A definition: "Success is knowing your purpose in life, growing to reach your maximum potential and sowing seeds that benefit others."

Failure and adversity are key to success. Fail forward. The best literary works were produced by people in prison/exile. Obstacles are opportunities in disguise.

It is not that I disagree with much of what Maxwell says, but this is just another rah-rah book that lacks scholarship related to psychology that you can find in other works today. Hence, it's a "101" book but I can't rate it highly. I would disagree with Maxwell that focusing on a single goal is effective as opposed to focusing on the habits that get you there. Read some Tim Ferriss or James Clear.

Want to change your attitude? Then:
1. Evaluate your present attitude
2. Realize that faith is greater than fear
3. Write a statement of purpose
Write specifically what you want to accomplish each day.
Verbalize to an encouraging friend what you want to accomplish each day.
Take action on your goal each day.
4. Have the desire to change
5. Live one day at a time.
6. Change your thought patterns
7. Develop good habits
8. Continually choose to have the right attitude

If the above seem like common sense, then don't spend time/money on the book.  2.5 stars out of 5.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Book Review (#76 of 2014) Work by Ben Witherington III

Work: A Kingdom Perspective on Labor
This book should be a part of the library of anyone who is interested in the theology of work, work as worship, or business as missions movements. Witherington wrote this book out of his perceived dearth of material on the theology of work, and that is one weakness of the book-- he examines a few sources in depth but somehow has missed so many others. If you read Hugh Wenchel's How Now Shall We Work or Tim Keller's Every Good Endeavor you can find a host of sources over the centuries on this topic that Witherington somehow missed.
Andy Crouch, Mirslov Volf, H. Richard Niebuhr are three he extensively cites that are also cited by the aforementioned works. As such, there is much agreement between all of these books. But Witherington offers his insights which are different than the Reformed writers above. He offers this critique of other attempts to look at a theology of work: "they work forward through the Bible, rather than backward, and...never get to an eschatological or Kingdom perspective on work, that is, work in light of the in-breaking Kingdom," which is Witherington's contribution (p. xvi.)

Witherington offers his own definition of work: "any necessary and meaningful task that God calls and gifts a person to do and which can be undertaken to the glory of God and for the edification and aid of human beings, being inspired by the Spirit and foreshadowing the realities of the new creation" (p. xii). 

Human beings were intended to work, and not just to do any kind of work, but to do good works, and do them in accord with the way we have been fashioned, the abilities we have been given, and therefore the vocations for which we are best suited (p. 7). Expanding on his definition of work, Witherington writes

"Before we engage in any sort of work, we have to as whether it will glorify God and edify other persons, whether it can be an epression of love of God and love of neighbor...Work is not a secular activity; it is a sacred one originally ordained by God, and so it must be undertaken in holy ways...Whatever we do, we are to strive for excellence...'Good enough' is not good enough whe the standard of excellence is the example of Christ the worker" (p.15). 

Christians can inhabit many spheres of vocation, but activities like prostitution do not fit the definition of "work." Witherington likewise contends that Christians cannot be soldiers, since Jesus commands us to love our enemies and to bless them, not kill them. All work can be God-glorifying, even if it is not our specific vocation:
"The truth is that even when work seems like drudgery, if it is done to God's glory it is good in character, and if it is done for the edification of others it is at the very least divine drudgery, not mere toil, not mere activity. It has meaning, purpose, direction. It is Kingdom-bringing." (p. 21)


Witherington looks at Veith's God at Work, which I am not familiar with, particularly to analyze Martin Luther's views on work. Luther held the probelmatic sacred vs. secular view of work, which Witherington (like Keller et al) rightly critiques:
"But the Bible says nothing about God having two kingdoms, one spiritual and one physical, one sacred and one secular. The only Kingdom in the Bible that has the name God appended to it is the one Jesus claimed to be bringing in through his preaching, teaching, healing, dying, and rising" (p. 28).

Witherington later approvingly quotes Andy Crouch that "If the ships of Tarshish and the camels of Midian can find a place in the New Jersualem, our work, no matter how 'secular,' can too." (p. 123).

"the sacred-versus-secular dichotomy doesn't work when it comes to defining Christian work. Any work that is good and godly, any work worth doing, can be done to the glory of God and for the help of humankind. And while we are at it, any such work is full-time ministry" (p. 126).

The Lutheran view focused on serving one's neighbor in his work, not God Himself. Witherington rightly points out that this does not conform with Paul's epistles and personal example.

Witherington contends that when Jesus says "my yoke is easy and my burden is light," (Matthew 11) He means that Christ shares our yoke-- we are co-laborers with God (1 Cor. 3:9) in His work in the world. "(W)hen we are doing Christ's work he is sharing our yoke...this is what makes the burdens light...The Christian...(must) recognize that the whole yoke does not fall on our shoulders" (p. 64).   This also plays into Witherington's thoughts on the important of taking a Sabbath from all activities, which he develops in the latter parts of the book. He encourages Christians to take a day of rest, say, Saturday as separate from their day of worship (Sunday).We must consider how we should best Sabbath.

Vocation is something that was defined pretty well in Hugh Whelchel's book-- and Witherington works to hash out a definition as well. Your vocation is basically what God has called and equipped you to do. Many Christians may work in a profession that is not their vocation, even though they are working in that profession in a Christian manner. The author then looks at the parable of talents from Matthew 25:14-30. God does not give everyone the same amount of faith (Romans 12:3-6), but we are called to step out and work with what we have. Our work ethic ("zeal") and quality matter to the Master who is going to return one day (see 1 Corinthians 3:5-15) (p.71-76).

"Everything is to be done coram Deo, before the face of God, not merely bearing in mind that God is watching, but bearing in mind that God is now working, and also will one day do the quality control test on one's work" (p. 89).

"(A)ll persons in Christ are called to both ministry and discipleship of various sorts. Labor is part of this calling...Work is part of what we offer to God on a daily basis as we respond to God's call to do various things that matter in life, even do things that change life for the better, or even save lives" (p.81)

Witherington is clear, work doesn't save us or endear us to God, but it is an expression of our holiness and desire to do the will of God. He critique's David Jenson's statement that "Human work can never detract from or add to the work God has already accomplished," as being unbiblical and something that "undevalues our work" (p. 130). Witherington elaborates:


"God could have chosen to redeem the world and bring in his Kingdom without us, but he has not chosen to do that. He has chosen to use us as his instruments to do His work. Our work, then, if it is good and godly, can never be seen as merely a response to the work of God, though it is often that as well. The work of God can be hindered or helped, added to or destroyed by what we do" (see Romans 14:20, 1 Cor. 3:9, and Ephesians 2:10) (p. 130).  

Witherington echoes Andy Crouch's call for Christians to "make culture."
"Christians must work hard to produce the best art, the best movies, the best neighborhoods, the best restaurants, the best athletics possible, not merely by copying, but by coming up with something fresh, new, interesting, life-changing" (p. 111). 

In all, I give this book 3.5 stars out of 5. Witherington is mainly critiquing a few other works and adding his own contributions. But it lacks supporting evidence and anecdotes from those who work in professions other than theology, like himself, and is therefore weaker than Keller or Crouch's work. It is a necessary read, and I would like to explore more Wesleyan/Methodist views on work as worship.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Sermon of the Week (8/10 - 8/16): Andy Stanley on Accountability and Small Groups

Stanley is encouraging his congregation, particularly the men, to be involved in a small group. Autonomy and independence is a myth, and not what is intended for Christians according to the New Testament. Stanley actually uses an Old Testament example of David & Bathsheba to show consequences of trying to isolate ourselves from our community and accountability, as David did by not going to war with his men. "We need the forced, sometimes uncomfortable, structured relationships that groups provide."

Stanley remarks that North Point spends more money on small groups than any other ministry in the church. I find that interesting, and wonder how that could be true. I also wonder what percentage of their membership actively participate in small groups. You can see their method for plugging people into a Community Group on their website. My church just adopted a strategy to create intentional small groups, and I thought this was a good motivational message towards that end.

Sermon is available on iTunes.

Book Review (#75 of 2014) The Economics of Medicaid (Mercatus Center)

The Economics of Medicaid: Assessing the Costs and Consequences
You have to be a Medicaid wonk to like these books. This book is a compilation of papers produced by the Mercatus Center, a free market voice out of George Mason University (free PDF download). Contributors include Charles Blahous, a public trustee for Medicare and Social Security, and James Capretta who worked in OMB during G.W. Bush's term. This was good to read after having read Medicaid and Devolution by the left-leaning Brookings Institute in the 1990s. Economics of Medicaid rehashes and addresses some of the arguments for and against state block funding for Medicaid, a Medicaid reform proposal preferred by conservatives, that Devolution highlighted.

The latest data from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid services tell us that 59.1 million Americans were enrolled in Medicaid in 2013 (up 0.7% from 2012), roughly 20% of the population. About 40 percent of all U.S. births are funded by Medicaid. Enrollment in 2022 is projected to be 80.9 million, a rate of 3.3% growth over this period as states expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act.

Medicaid and the Affordable Care Act are problematic primarily because they are expensive: "Some 72 million people will have received Medicaid benefits at some point during the year 2013. Over the next decade, Medicaid will spend $7.5 trillion, with federal payments accounting for $4.3 trillion." They are expensive for all Americans because Medicaid, while run by states, is subsidized with federal tax dollars. State budgets pay about 43 cents of every Medicaid dollar. In 2010, Medicaid payments per beneficiary were $2,129 for children and $3,102 for the adult category but $15,339 for the elderly and $15,752 for the disabled; the average payment per elderly Medicaid recipient for nursing home care was about $35,000. 64 percent of total Medicaid spending is on the 24 percent of enrollees who are elderly or disabled. CMS projects that expenditure growth per enrollee will average 4% from 2013-2022, with newly-eligibles being less costly than the rest of the population.


As health care costs and Medicaid burdens began to rise in the 1990s, most states shifted to managed care to manage costs; Medicaid is about 24% of state budgets. In 2009, 71 percent of Medicaid recipients were enrolled in managed care. However, several studies show that managed care has not succeeded in reducing costs, at least in the short-run. Managed care itself is not a panacea and its cost benefits come over a longer period of time as overall health of the population improves (and needs less late-in-life expensive care).

Most disturbing, especially with the ACA and Medicaid expansion, is the number of physicians who do not accept new Medicaid patients. "In a study conducted by MIT economists Jonathan Gruber and David Rodriguez, nearly 60 percent of the 3,860 physicians surveyed reported higher fees from the uninsured than from Medicaid. Low fees coupled with excessive paperwork and late payments make it difficult for physicians to accept Medicaid patients...The 2008 Health Tracking Physician Survey found that only about half of all physicians will accept new Medicaid patients." One chapter is written by a physician who explains the dilemma of accepting Medicaid patients. If you're an OB/GYN with a Medicaid patient who comes in with symptoms that could perhaps be related to a pregnancy but need to be diagnosed by a different practitioner, but that service is not covered under Medicaid, then Medicaid has failed you.



Several authors point to studies which show a negative correlation between Medicaid and good health outcomes. There is an endogeneity problem here that is rarely admitted (and nowhere in the book)-- part of the reason Medicaid patients suffer poorer outcomes than private insurance patients receiving similar care is because there are a host of other health problems already associated with low-income people, like smoking, obesity, and diabetes. Correlation does not mean causality. There is also a lack of understanding that the recent swelling of Medicaid rolls was a phenomenon of the last recession. Looking at Kentucky data, the numbers of people who would have been eligible prior to the ACA is trending downward as the economy improves. These facts are neglected by the authors, which is a weakness of the book.

A few solutions are proposed, but none quite as detailed as Avik Roy's recent prescriptions. Besides block grants to states, a per-capita grant of federal funds is proposed. This proposal includes higher rates for individuals who are in special/waiver programs like long-term care. Indiana's waiver experiment with health savings accounts is also applauded, but the authors do not mention Indiana's tight restrictions on who can receive Medicaid. In all states that use managed care, there are still many waiver and fee-for-service programs that are difficult to budget for and it is difficult to find simple solutions. This level of complexity and diversity among the states is not highlighted very well in the work.

In all, the up-to-date information in this book and studies cited were very helpful. Some of the numbers are cherry-picked; rates of cost growth, for example, depend on your starting and ending points. 3.5 stars out of 5.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Book Review (#74 of 2014) Michael Jordan: The Life by Roland Lazenby

Michael Jordan: The Life
Lazenby was apparently able to roll together chapters from previous books about Michael and the Bulls together with new information into this comprehensive 700 page biography of the Greatest of All Time. It spans from Jordan's ancestry all the way to his caustic Hall of Fame acceptance speech and failures as Charlotte owner.

I grew up in the Jordan Era, had The Dunk on my wall, wore Nike everything, and watched Bulls games on NBC and WGN religiously. This book includes every anecdote and story I ever heard about MJ's early career-- pretty much anything that was ever put in print or on the air. Lazenby has exhaustively gone through public record for much of this; a weakness of the book is that he seems to lack personal access to Jordan over his 30 years of covering him. That is probably just as well, plenty of other journalists were close to Jordan and protected his secrets. But the depth of Jordan's relationships with others aren't explored, it is not an expose like The Jordan Rules was. But critics wrongly assail Lazenby on this point as Jordan does not open himself up to just anyone, and neither do those who know him well-- Jordan never forgets a slight and does not care to make amends.

The strength of this book is looking at Jordan's family tree beginning with his great grandfather, who came of age in the post-Civil War South. Speaking of him still brings tears to Jordan's eyes, the man was tough and relentless and Lazenby has the reader believe that his resolve runs through Jordan's DNA. Jordan's ancestors faced discrimination and hardship that helped mold his family into a unit and created opportunities for Jordan. They could never have imagined a black man from the South being an icon for billions of people worldwide.

Every man has a wound, usually from his father. James Jordan wounded Michael early in life when Michael was trying to help him work on cars. "You don't know what the hell you're doing. Go back inside with the women," would drive Jordan to push to win his father's affection over that of his brothers. I did not know what a douche James Jordan was, a pedophile, thief, and serial philanderer. It's very sad that Michael seems to idolize him, even though Michael learned he could not be trusted in business. Michael's mother, on the other hand, comes across as "solid," and "professional," and Nike preferred working with her than with James.

Despite an unbelievably competitive nature on the court, Jordan is his mother's "laziest child," paying others to do his chores and holding a paying job for only one week. His competitive light came on only in sports. The legend of Michael being left off his high school varsity team is explored, that is somewhat of a complicated story but the logic made sense at the time.

The Jordan era didn't have AAU, where all the best kids travel and play three games a day and can't take the time to care about winning all that much-- it's rather about showcasing their individual talent. Lazenby floats others' hypotheses that Jordan would not have the competitive fire if he had grown up in the modern era like LeBron James.

Jordan didn't really have another coach/person motivate him by intentional wounding until Bobby Knight did it on the '84 US Olympic team. (Knight comes across as a real douche in the book as well.) His time at UNC served him well, and Dean Smith comes across as an honest person who cares about his players but has the same ego and competitive drive as any major college coach.  Jordan resented the Carolina Way, how fast break dunks that showed up the other team were punished and seniors were given the limelight. "The System" limited his individual ability, but helped him play in Tex Winter's triangle offense and be somewhat of a teammate.


I was interested in the back story on the Bulls' seasons, Phil Jackson's mind games, and Jordan's mind games with himself. People comment over and over how Jordan, often privately, goes out of his way to make time for the common person and autograph seeker. This wears on him, he's a prisoner in his hotel room for much of the book. But despite the inner rage that makes appearances mostly on the court, Jordan is shown as having a sense of humor. His friends are journalists, drivers, equipment men, etc. But you get the sense he's not really close with anyone. Even Phil Jackson betrays him (and gets away with it) by being a key source about Jordan's caustic personality in The Jordan Rules. That I found interesting.

I was a teenager and a bit less interested in the '96-98 era and was disgusted by the Wizards run. I enjoyed Lazenby's insights into the back story of '96-98, how Jordan and the team embraced Phil Jackson's meditation and other unusual methods, how an inebriated Jordan would disrespectfully  harass GM Jerry Krause on the team bus after games. The inner demons, invented and real, that drove Jordan on the court. Jordan could never be taught to not call his teammates "my supporting cast," and that's what they knew they were.

The depth of the book becomes pretty shallow in Jordan's later years, however. His divorce is mentioned almost as an afterthought. One never gets the full sense of Jordan's philandering, but there are stories of games of pool in topless bars, all-day golf excursions, and plenty of fine cigars and booze to fill the time. Lazenby makes MJ's playing for the Wizards seem like a benevolent deed, not something Jordan did because he couldn't succeed at anything else and his ego just wouldn't let his position within the game go. The book is fairly critical of his time as "The Loser" as owner of the team with the worst single-season record in league history. In some cases, perhaps Jordan is reaping bad karma from having been so critical of Krause and Reinsdorf and holding grudges when they traded his friends or made other necessary business decisions.

Jordan's demons are on display in this book, compiled from public statements by and about Jordan as well as information from other books. The older he gets, the worse it gets. He both acknowledges the uniqueness and blessing of being the only truly worldwide global icon, but also seems to blame the world for it and feels begrudged like everyone owes him something. If you want to know as much as can be known about the man's career, then check this book out. 4 stars out of 5.