A book that takes a good, hard look at genius, thus worth exploring. It delivers some interesting observations but isn't a life-changer.
Warren BennisA book that takes a good, hard look at genius, thus worth exploring. It delivers some interesting observations but isn't a life-changer.
Warren Bennis noted similar patterns in the dynamics of several "great groups." His final chapter, "Take Home Notes," pulls these patterns together but was actually the least engaging chapter of the book. It didn't leave me wanting to go out and build my own great group, or even find one. It just felt like, "Hey, some people worth noting have done this great stuff."
What I did enjoy about this book was reading how the key players (Disney, Jobs, Carville, Oppenheimer, the creators of Lockheed's SR-71 Blackbird, and Black Mountain) mixed with their teams.
Until I'd read this book I'd never even heard of Black Mountain College, though I recognized a name or two of the students who'd attended there and subsequently pushed the edges of their genres. Apparently, this small college produced a disproportionate number of genius students. This was by far my favorite chapter, enough so that I may try to find and read his source material for the school.
I was especially intrigued by one of the professors, Josef Albers. Black Mountain's founder, John Andrew Rice, said as he organized the school, "Don't ask me how or why I know it, but I know it. If I can't get the right man for art, then the [school] won't work." (p. 151) So he recruited Albers from Germany (which Albers was all-too-willing to leave, it being the Nazi era and all, and he being married to a Jew). Albers taught art at the Bauhaus in Germany, which shut itself down in 1933 rather than submit to the Third Reich. Albers said his goal at Black Mountain was "To open eyes." He is said to have succeeded in this "to an extraordinary degree. ... Many of those involved with Black Mountain say that their courses with Albers changed their lives."
Quoting from pages 153-154, "Albers used a hands-on method to teach key ideas. He believed, Duberman writes [in Black Mountain: An Exploration in Community], that the nature of an object is made up of three aspects: its inner qualities, its external appearance, and how it relates to other objects. Duberman describes how Albers would have the students explore the nature of paper, for instance. Students would fold it, pin it, and create three-dimensional objects with it to discover its strength and other properties. Each student would come up with a personal solution to the problem of a sheet of paper. Albers would critique them, sometimes harshly, as would other members of the class. Finally, Albers would have the students unfold the paper, smooth it out, and return it to its original state. ... Perhaps most famous of all were the exercises he called matiere studies. Students had to find the materials, then explore such questions as how one material could be made to look like another and how surfaces differed, corresponded, and could be combined in interesting ways."
For a book that aspires to "redefine the way we view the modern world," the authors are supremely irresponsible. They put on a "freak" show of data (tFor a book that aspires to "redefine the way we view the modern world," the authors are supremely irresponsible. They put on a "freak" show of data (their term choice) to make a sensation and lull the lay economist into thinking they've learned something. I read several reviews of this book and it appears people who know about the subject are appalled by their poor analysis, contrived conclusions, and use of unreliable research to make sensationalized claims.
Maybe I'm stating it a little strongly, but it has been over two years since I read this book and I'm still angry about one of their premises. The authors proposed that crime rates went down due to the increase in abortions some 15 years earlier. Yes, they claim society is better off without the kids whose parents apparently didn't want them ever having a chance to grow up to be the miscreants they'd be destined to become. That may be a correlation but it is a huge stretch to claim it is a cause and effect. (The decreased crime rate is much better explained by Strauss & Howe in Generations , by the way.)
Why I gave this book 2 stars instead of 1 is because it does succeed in drawing interest to economics. ...more
This book takes a look at how society would look if the plan to force everyone to be good had won. It is wrapped up in the technology of the scheme, fThis book takes a look at how society would look if the plan to force everyone to be good had won. It is wrapped up in the technology of the scheme, fighting it by destroying the technology to free people's minds. It showed the potential for corruption even well-intended people can have if given too much power over other people's minds. My son really liked this book. ...more
Ayn Rand creates a literary setting to hammer home an intriguing philosophical point in this book. Although I disagree with her on many counts, thereAyn Rand creates a literary setting to hammer home an intriguing philosophical point in this book. Although I disagree with her on many counts, there is a lot of truth to what she says: witness the last 50 years of economic history. Recently, the popularity of this book has increased significantly due to current economic trends playing out along similar themes.
First, here's what I disagree with: her disparagement of faith, morals and philanthropy. It just goes to show that people judge others based on their own inner-workings. She claims something to the affect that altruism is just self-serving behavior to feed one's ego. All her view says is that she can't comprehend anyone being truly philanthropic without having ulterior motives because that has been her experience. (I know that her opinion on this matter is exists today in the minds of some people who want government to provide for the poor and consider it almost a crime that people give charitable contributions because it allows the system to keep working the way it is without moving to socialism. I side-track here because Rand was definitely NOT a proponent of socialism.) And her concept of morals (or lack thereof) has every bit as devastating consequences to society as the lack of freedom she illustrates so well.
Moving on to what I agree with: the human mind is the most powerful asset any civilization has and that government should not get in the way of people's freedoms. Every time the government tried to "loot" by riding on the coat-tails of a creative genius, it hampered the productivity of said genius. This did not stop the Creative geniuses. Like the caged bird, they continued to sing, but their effectiveness was diminished and one-by-one they pulled out of society and created for their own personal interests. Of course, according to Rand, that's all the reason anyone ever creates anything for anyway, but they pulled out of society to the degree that "looters" were no longer able to ride their coat-tails. Ultimately the consequence of forcing people to give away the good they generate from their honest industry is to convince them to stop playing the game.
This reminds me of how this point was illustrated brilliantly (not in the book but in real life) by a professor who told his students after an exam that the scores of the exams would be averaged and everyone would receive the same grade that the class had earned collectively. Guess how many exams it took for the high achievers to figure out that it didn't pay to study. You got it--once. After that the average score dropped to below passing.
These are just a few random thoughts--not a comprehensive analysis by any means. But this was my take-home message from the book. ...more
Strauss and Howe make a strong argument for studying time cyclically. Not only does a definite pattern of seasons of growth and decay emerge over theStrauss and Howe make a strong argument for studying time cyclically. Not only does a definite pattern of seasons of growth and decay emerge over the centuries, but generations are formed determined by their relation in time to historical events. For example, generations who come of age during a crisis take on a hero role as they march in step to the orders of their elders and save the day. The authors claim, "When history is viewed as seasonal . . . each generation can discover its own path across time, its own meaningful linkage to ancestors and heirs" (page 332).
Consider viewing two perspectives of a race track. The athlete pounding the pavement experiences the race one step at a time, seeing only a few steps ahead on the curves, but a greater distance on the straightaways. Now pull back your perspective and observe the track from the bleachers. The spectator can see the whole track at once, and observes the cyclical pattern of each heat of racers. Similarly, time can be observed from these two perspectives: living in the moment and noting the patterns of history. Those of us currently running the race of time can learn from viewing time as a cycle, with each curve in the track a season. William Strauss and Neil Howe have delineated what can be learned by taking such a perspective of America's past in their book, The Fourth Turning.
As each cycle of history draws to its final season, or Fourth Turning, it approaches a pivotal point, or crisis, analogous to the tight curve on the track. Although the specific crisis cannot be easily foreseen, the cycles teach us when to anticipate its arrival and how to prepare for it. We can learn as much from studying what can go wrong, as what can go right. For this reason, as we approach the next Fourth Turning, it is advantageous to look at events surrounding the Civil War. Strauss and Howe state,
For any other Fourth Turning in American history, a historian would be hard-pressed to imagine a more uplifting finale than that which actually occurred. For the Civil War, a better outcome can easily be imagined. Yes, the Union was preserved, the slaves emancipated, and the Industrial Revolution fully unleashed¨Cbut at enormous cost. . . If learning from their example enables us to avert a catastrophe in the next Fourth Turning, our debt to the generations of Clay, Lincoln, and Grant will be very great indeed. (pages 121-2)
What went wrong with the Civil War? The North and South were polarized over the slavery debate despite the efforts of some, such as Henry Clay, to work out a compromise. The push to expand the U.S. borders westward did not allow the issue to rest. While the generation being groomed to be the hero-soldiers was still in its childhood, the matter came to a head. When Abraham Lincoln was elected president by a narrow margin, both sides knew that the days of compromise were over. The crisis came early, too soon for the would-be heros who were so traumatized by the brutal war in their youth that they never filled the hero's shoes. No hero generation emerged from the Civil War, the only cycle in America's history when this aberration occurred. The generation just senior to the would-be heros (called the Gilded) had not been groomed to be either civic minded or order-takers. They were adventurous and plowed headlong into the war, but were decimated by its end.
The above mentioned generations were, of course, not the only casualties of the Civil War. The south was devastated and racial relations horrific. Strauss and Howe speculate,
What would have happened if tempers had cooled for a few years, postponing the Crisis for another presidential election and slowing it down thereafter? . . . [T]he generational dynamics . . . would have been somewhat different. . . . The apocalyptic passions of the Transcendentals [Lincoln's generation] would have cooled a bit as they aged. And the Gilded [Grant's generation] would have been quicker to see war as danger rather than adventure. (page 262)
We learn from the Civil War that the crisis leading into the Fourth Turning can come too early with devastating results. Strauss and Howe suggest ways we can avoid repeating this mistake. We should prepare for the coming crisis both individually as citizens and collectively as a nation.
First, individuals should be prepared to make personal sacrifices: Strengthen virtues such as honor and integrity; become a team player; build relationships, especially within the family; prepare for limited resources in the future by establishing financial security and good health habits; and diversify everything from languages, to savings accounts, to career paths. Similar measures need to be taken on a national level. (See pp. 313-321.)
Arguably, the first sparks of the coming crisis began to fly on Sept. 11, 2001. Care must be taken that these sparks do not ignite into flame too soon. Time will allow the civic-minded "Hero" generation to mature. The generation just senior to them showed its grit on 9/11 as firefighters sacrificed themselves and travelers responded to Jeffrey Beamer's rallying cry, "Let's roll!" However, we learn from the Civil War that it takes more than grit to achieve an optimal outcome to a major crisis.
Perhaps even more important than the hero "order-takers" coming of age is the need for leaders, or "order givers" to gain greater wisdom. Here again, time is our ally. Life experiences teach wisdom as individuals learn from past mistakes and successes.
How do we bide time when the stage is set for conflict? Strauss and Howe answer: "A society is best served by a quaternity of temperaments, kept in proper balance" (page 328). Each generation must play to its strengths while tempering the weaknesses of its neighboring generations. Checking and balancing each other will help minimize anger and apathy, thus preventing undue harm. Time and perspective will ripen each generation to maturity. Much of that needed perspective can be gained by learning from the cycles of history.
This is a powerfully liberating book on many levels. In a literary sense, Uncle Tom's cabin is a symbol for the sacrifices he made that allowed the neThis is a powerfully liberating book on many levels. In a literary sense, Uncle Tom's cabin is a symbol for the sacrifices he made that allowed the next generation to be free. Personally, I found myself yearning to have Uncle Tom's freedom of soul when I first read it four years ago. For my second reading recently, I realized the power of laying the foundations for freedom.
On an historical level, Abraham Lincoln is quoted as crediting this book for the Civil War. It mobilized the masses to revolt against slavery, in other words. Stowe was truly inspired in creating this work. ...more