Talking to Strangers by Malcolm Gladwell, a Book Review

Why did Bernard Madoff fool so many people and organizations? This was a big Ponzi scheme. Although few of us have heard of Europeans enveloped in the financial disaster, Gladwell points out that there were plenty. That is why this was a scheme of great magnitude.

The author suggests the reason for the widespread failure to recognize the fraud was people’s tendency to “…default to truth.” If we didn’t when we had a modicum of suspicion life generally could be much more trying. In fact a whistle blower to the fraud had general problems with trusting others. He was armed to the teeth in fear. Perhaps the old saw about moderation may pertain here to beat the demon. Perhaps there is a happy medium to get that right but Gladwell never went so far as to suggest that.

The author also addresses some western leaders’ problem assessing the prospects for peace with Hitler in the 30s. Why was Chamberlain so taken in by Hitler as was a VIP in the Canadian government? “Default to truth.”

Gladwell beautifully weaves various past events that involve critically talking to strangers in addition to these two classic, historical examples. Those stories like the entire book are clearly and beautifully written.

To those who love superior, creative non- fiction, this man’s writing is where you will find it in abundance. Do not miss this engaging book.

H. Robert Rubin, best-selling Amazon memoirist and author of Look Backward Angel and How Did I Get Through This? available on Amazon

Kris Kristofferson, Episode 6, Ken Burns’ Country Music

On Monday night, 9/23/19, those on the PBS airwaves and streaming were treated to a glimpse of a musical giant. He stands at almost six feet, speaks in a commanding baritone and has loved poetry since his childhood. This was Part 6 of Ken Burns’ documentary. I believe the best part to date.

Kris Kristofferson was the Texas-born son of a general, an honor graduate, a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford who focused on English literature and arguably the greatest songwriter of my lifetime. At one point in his life he was an officer in Vietnam, followed by the recipient of an offer to teach at West Point. The two most beautiful college campuses I have ever seen are at Princeton and West Point.

Despite the grandeur of the West Point offer following a remarkable career, he started at the bottom as a janitor at Columbia Records in Nashville. Per Ken Burns’ beautiful documentary we learned he offered his written songs to various artists whenever he could. His mother’s response was a letter disowning him.

We discovered in the film that Fred Foster, the founder of Monument Records in Nashville, (who incidentally died in February of 2019), offered Kris a starting point on his first hit. He told him he should write a song about a secretary Fred knew named Bobbie McKee. Kris thought he had said McGee. Me and Bobby McGee produced its widest audience posthumously for Janis Joplin and financial success for Kris.

In Ken Burns’ work, we heard about Kris’ ups and downs, no better expressed than in two of his songs, Sunday Morning Coming Down and Why Me Lord? The former described the worst Kris, perhaps, ever felt and the latter the best.

Kris was on one of his rare visits to a church. The Nashville pastor was a man named Jimmy Snow that Sunday. The composer was overcome by a sense of Jesus’ loving presence. In this film, he called it a mystery. Kristofferson went home that evening and wrote Why Me Lord? about his Lord and mine.

As a Jew accepting Christ as my savior, my experience was a mystery as well. Kris, now 83, said he ends his public performances with that song.

Lord, hallowed be Thy name.

H. Robert Rubin, best-selling Amazon memoirist and author of Look Backward Angel, How Did I Get Through This? and Please Save the Third Dance For Me, available on Amazon.

The Golan Heights

Golan Heights. Do the two words mean much to you? Perhaps you have caught them on a news bulletin now and then.

Kristine and I learned about this part of Israel first hand. It was the first two weeks of April, 2019. She and I were on tour in Israel.

Our leader, who I will call Tom for the sake of this piece, was an author and a Sephardic, Messianic Jew. Messianic Jews believe Christ is our savior. Sephardim are essentially Middle-Eastern, non-Ashkenazi Jews. Ashkenazi Jews are, in essence, European Jews. They have moved in great numbers to Israel.

Tom led our Israel Bible Tours group of about 30 through the Golan Heights. Not long before our visit the Golan Heights was impassable for tourists due to explosive violence.

In the Golan Heights we saw beautiful rolling green hills. We viewed the Biblically-addressed Mount Hermon. The grand mountain was crowned with snow.

 In contrast, further on, we saw a stark, Israeli, military outpost. What we were able to see consisted of off-white buildings and little greenery.

Our tour leader was a former member of the Israeli Defense Forces. Soon, as the group sat in an outdoor amphitheater, Tom spoke to us about this striking place. As we cast our eyes on miles of scenic, green hills, he said that at the end of the northern horizon were the Syrian and Lebanese borders. He added that at those borders were electrified fences unapparent to our naked eyes.  We also saw two, preserved, non-Israeli tanks to our left about 100 yards away. Yes, there were contrasts.

“Peter R. Mansoor (born February 28, 1960) is a former United States Army officer and a military historian. He is known primarily as the executive officer to General David Petraeus during the Iraq War…” (

Per Colonel Mansoor as to the Six Day War in June of 1967:

Jordan and Syria entered the conflict only to suffer territorial losses for their troubles when Israeli forces decisively defeated their militaries. Israeli forces seized the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, as well as the Golan Heights—strategically located high ground along the Israeli-Syrian border. Arab forces suffered 20,000 killed as opposed to only 800 Israeli dead.


Praying at the Western Wall and visiting the Golan Heights were the high points of our trip. I won’t again hear those two words, Golan Heights, without remembering this picturesque and dangerous portion of God’s green earth.

Country Music, I and II, by Ken Burns

The black and white still images were extraordinary in the first two portions of Ken Burns’ documentary, Country Music. Frequently the images showed mothers or kids of about ten who were feeling the effects of the Great Depression. Then to ease their pain then and our pain as viewers, the meaningful country songs were played.

We saw that tragedy also enveloped the wealthy, “successful” artists. A.P. Carter lost Sarah Carter to divorce and remarriage. Jimmy Rogers died a young man from a sickness for which we had no meds, TB.

Burns weaved the storytelling as a rule without professional historians but with largely older country artists. It was very effective.

This was in essence, a beautiful piece of Americana for all of us. These early portions of the work were also a meaningful way of observing the encompassing American history of this period.

I recommend the continuing series to anyone who wants a study of this history for several senses as opposed to a good read. Fill your evenings with some joy, some sadness and a lot of good music.

H. Robert Rubin, best-selling Amazon memoirist and author of Look Backward Angel and How Did I Get Through This? available on Amazon

Age is Just a Number?

Age is just a number. In my opinion those who believe this are doomed to pay a price. Medicare began 55 years ago because our systems age. Any glance at 85 year old skin will confirm that. It is the largest organ in the human body.

Yes exercise and diet are important but they are cushions not cures. Nonetheless I am a firm believer in both. It’s all we really have against the onslaught of the clock on our brains, hearts, kidneys, etc., etc.

May you be the beneficiary of a high quality of life in your anecdotage.

H. Robert Rubin, a best-selling, Amazon memoirist, a novelist with a draft novelette in progress, and author of Look Backward Angel, How Did I Get Through This? and Please Save the Third Dance for Me, all available on Amazon

Casablanca, the Movie

It was today, the 13th of September, that I presented this re-edited, updated piece to our writers’ group. On the 13th of November, it will be 77 years since the premier of the film Casablanca in New York City. 

It is arguably, the finest movie I have ever seen. It mixes two strong human passions, the need for justice and the sparks of young love. The key characters are Ilsa Lund, played by Ingrid Bergman, Victor Lazlo, her husband, played by Paul Henreid, and Rick, Ilsa’s “first love”, played by Humphrey Bogart.

 The justice is expressed in the strong anti-Nazi feelings in Rick’s Cafe. All but the Nazis in the café sing the French national anthem despite the hated Nazi presence. Ironically many of those who play Nazis in this film from the early 40s are Jews, who, had escaped the Holocaust

Equally engaging is the love between Rick and Ilsa. It is a love that has never died despite Ilsa’s marriage to Victor, a hero of the resistance. Rick tells Ilsa in the final, airport scene, that, their love is of little consequence in a war-torn world, where her brave husband must escape Casablanca with her. But, Rick reminds Ilsa, “We will always have Paris.”

The film speaks to our first love, the illusory one with few conflicts and no children, mortgages or financial shortfalls. It is that part of our lives to which “You Can’t…,” in Thomas Wolfe’s words,”… Go Home Again.” We were but puppies.

Rick and Ilsa’s love gives the film an incandescent quality enriched by their song, As Time Goes By. It shines even more fully in the distinctive black and white images of the film.

The Academy Award for Best Picture was no accident. This is a film which is unforgettable in its portrayal of heartbreak mingled ever so delicately with justice.  It is a sweet, haunting melody that lingers on. It is a picture that took a piece of my heart.

H. Robert Rubin, best selling Amazon memoirist and author of Look Backward Angel and How Did I Get Through This? available on Amazon

A New Face

Yesterday Daniil Medvedev showed why, at only 23, he is number four in the ATP (Association of Tennis Professionals) rankings and has earned just short of eight million dollars in his short tennis career. The third set of the U.S Open Men’s Final looked like it would end soon with a straight set victory for Rafa Nadal, ten years older but a legend in the sport.

Daniil showed us all the definition of grit. He fought successfully through numerous key points winning sets three and four. In the end a thin margin separated him from a fifth set tiebreaker to decide the match. Rafa did what millions had seen him do several times. Running on fumes he had slightly more heart on this given day than his brilliant opposition.

In a sense, it’s a shame someone had to lose the match. As one announcer suggested, Rafa likely preferred a match that challenged his great skills than a straight set, easy win. He got all he could handle and more from the ATP’s new face.

H. Robert Rubin, MD, Amazon best selling memoirist and author of Look Backward Angel and How Did I Get Through This? available on Amazon.

Dimitrov Passes the Acid Test After Seven Federer Matches Winless

Grigor Dimitrov until tonight had tumbled from three in the world in the ATP to 78th. It was a long, painful drop.

Then Ande Agassi joined his team as well as Radek Stepanek. Andre knows what it is like to “fall from grace.” Radek knows how to play clever tennis.

The two of them must have done some things right given the result at Ashe Stadium tonight. It is center court at the US Open, the show court. Dimitrov showed how well he had listened and how rigorously he had trained.

Down two sets to one to arguably the best male tennis player whoever lived, Roger Federer, he fought back until he convincingly won the deciding 5th set.

As the ESPN announcers noted, “It’s trite, but it couldn’t happen to a nicer guy.

Anne Lamott’s Take on Reading and Writing

“Writing and reading decrease our sense of isolation. They deepen and widen and expand our sense of life: they feed the soul. When writers make us shake our heads with the exactness of their prose and their truths, and even make us laugh about ourselves or life, our buoyancy is restored. We are given a shot at dancing with, or at least clapping along with, the absurdity of life, instead of being squashed by it over and over again. It’s like singing on a boat during a terrible storm at sea. You can’t stop the raging storm, but singing can change the hearts and spirits of the people who are together on that ship.” Anne Lamott

A Special Match

As you may recall, the maturity you gained between 15 and 21, particularly if you are a woman, was considerable. Now compound that with any game to which you may have given tremendous attention. The gains were substantive. Weren’t they?

Naomi Osaka at 15 was not nearly the player she is at 21. Her titles to date are  two, hard surface majors and one hard surface masters.

She went into the ongoing U.S. Open as the defending champion. Naomi began her third round match against Cori (Coco) Gauff last night just after 4 pm EDT.

The first several games of the first set despite Ms. Osaka’a mature game were very close. Coco Gauff faced the best tennis player she had ever faced at the largest tennis venue on earth.

After Ms. Osaka took the first set she could swing even more freely. She did 6-0.

Coco was crushed as her eyes filled with tears. Then something far more important than the match occurred. Naomi convinced Coco she should join her in the post-match interview. Coco barely held back the tears and spoke. Finally when alone to speak to the crowd, Ms. Osaka nearly broke down in tears.

This is how you spell SPORTSMANSHIP. May God bless you both.