Strictly Business: Check out these worthy, vital books

By Aaron Corvin, Columbian port & economy reporter

Published:

 

When I was a kid, you couldn't pry me away from a good book.

One of my first memories from my days in elementary school in Portland is falling in love with "Leo the Late Bloomer," by Robert Kraus.

I checked it out from the school's library umpteen times.

Ms. Murphy, the kind librarian, noticed.

"Aaron," she said softly, "are you a late bloomer?"

I didn't know what to say, but I felt like she understood.

Kraus' book, about a child discovering his or her place in the world, made me feel whole.

Over the years, books have filled in gaps, connected dots, reminded me of my own humanity and that of others.

A browser at heart, I love getting lost inside Powell's. A trip with my family to the Camas Public Library is golden.

And authors have become heroes to me, as people with the courage to tell the truth.

Take, for instance, the incomparable Robert Caro. Some time ago, I read his marvel of a book, "The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York." To this day, it informs my ability to process current events.

Likewise with William Greider's "Secrets of the Temple: How the Federal Reserve Runs the Country." Read it, and you'll truly understand how the political economy works.

But sharing good books is as important to me as absorbing them. So in that spirit I recommend you check out two in particular. Businesspeople may especially enjoy them, as they go to the heart of some of our most pressing economic, political and environmental issues.

Both are nonfiction. One is a relatively quick read, one a wintertime tome. They connect more than a few important dots:

• "The Smartest Kids in the World: And How They Got That Way," by Amanda Ripley

Ripley tracks American exchange students in Finland, Poland and South Korea — so-called education superpowers — and exposes the failures of America's education system.Our problems include: fragmented curricula; low standards for teacher training — especially in math; and the glorification of sports at the expense of mastery of tough subjects, the kind of mastery needed to thrive in the modern economy."All children must learn rigorous higher-order thinking to thrive in the modern world," Ripley writes. "The only way to do that is by creating a serious intellectual culture in schools, one that kids can sense is real and true."

• "Private Empire: ExxonMobil and American Power," by Steve Coll

This, as you may have guessed, is the tome. In a fact-rich, comprehensive and unflinching manner, Coll, a Pulitzer Prize winner, peels away at what is arguably the most powerful corporation in the U.S.

Everything's here, including the intersection of Big Oil and the White House to blowback from ExxonMobil's amoral scramble to book oil reserves in foreign countries.

For years, the company bankrolled efforts to cast doubt about the seriousness of global warming. Later, as Coll shows, it carefully — and awkwardly — attempts to acknowledge the science while trying to save its own hide from lawsuits.

If you crack either or both open (or already have), send me an email and let me know what you think