I read this book a couple of years ago and just didn't like it at all. Re-reading it has caused Walter Isaacson to grow on me, immensely.
Isaacaon off...moreI read this book a couple of years ago and just didn't like it at all. Re-reading it has caused Walter Isaacson to grow on me, immensely.
Isaacaon offers an glimpse into Albert Einstein's life that is both intimate and profound. This biography helps me to appreciate just the power of Einstein's contributions to Physics and moreover his impact on so many of the conveniences and technological advancements modern life offers to the unsuspecting. And yet, his Humanity, his imperfections personal failings help me to realize that we all suffer adversity in some way or another. We are in fact just ordinary people who do extraordinary things. Einstein's talent lay in his ability to navigate complexities in purely the world of the mind. His ability to posit difficult concepts was unhindered by his inability to perform the complex mathematical computations until which time he was forced to recon with his lack of mastery in the discipline. To me, that is probably the most fascinating idea I took away from this biography; if you don't have an answer, you seek solutions by formulating questions and seeking out the answers in a methodical, intelligent way. This is the genius of Einstein. Now, I would like to see someone like Malcolm Gladwell explore the 'how' behind Einstein's metacognitive capacities.
I come away from this with a sense of wonder about Einstein the Human Being. I also come away from this reading with an appreciation for Walter Isaacson, the researcher, writer and perhaps even student of Physics. His capacity to vet out complex theories and concepts is to be commended. This is not an easy read, but it certainly is worth the effort to keep up.(less)
I approached this book with some reservation because I was already aware of President Jackson's history regarding treatment of Native Americans and hi...more I approached this book with some reservation because I was already aware of President Jackson's history regarding treatment of Native Americans and his stand on slavery. I did however come away with a few realizations - from a perspective that I had not previously known.
Jon Meacham detailed the changes that Jackson implemented regarding the Executive branch - his examples include;
1] Jackson's usage of the veto as a political tool coupled with his expansion of executive powers and establishment of the presidency as political force which did not exist prior to Jackson's tenure as President of the United States [POTUS:],
2] being the first to completely replace his presidential cabinet thereby establishing that those members served at the pleasure of the president.
3] his introduction of legislation (Force Act) to affect change and to forecast his preparedness to act in the event someone intended to break up the union. In other words, threatening something extreme in order to get something generally perceived to be less benign.
4] his usage of executive branch to force policy change (Banks)
5] his usage of the media for fomenting his ideas and for advancing his agenda.
6] his reference to the voting populace as a mandate to implement his populist ideas - or perhaps, appealing to the masses in order to implement his agenda.
7] invoking the spoils system he was the first to dismiss federal office holders en masse.
Allowing for tempo-centric considerations regarding his bigotry, his fervent nationalism and passionate voice for the common (white) man, Meacham painted a fairly accurate picture of a man who, judged according to the prevailing sentiments of his times - and by people who shared a common Northern European heritage - he would have been a great man. His willful, obstinate, fiercely loyal nature served him well.
The Roman philosopher Herodotus said, "Soft lands breed soft men." Andrew Jackson is a good example for that axiom; he was, to be certain a tough man and the genteel world of the Washington of his time certainly proved to be a place where he could push his way around without much appreciable resistance. Perhaps the greatest nuance of his time was that he could get his way regardless of the opposition. It appears the opposition soon learned the value of having a medium (the printed press) in order to mount an effective opposition.
If any of this sounds at all familiar, I suspect it is because the author is looking back at the nineteenth century with his feet firmly planted in the 21st. Andrew Jackson's presidency seems to be quite familiar with the administration of President George W. Bush.
In short, it smacks of Rovian politics and, - to me - this is where Meacham fell short; he did not detail how such powerful nuanced re-interpretation of presidential power could have come from such an uneducated man. The constitutional law behind Jackson's vision is powerful and highly academic and yet, it seems he just had a great head for constitutional law. It makes me wonder whether it was in fact Martin VanBuren who was the brains behind the operation. We will never know from this book.
Unfortunately, the aberrant leanings president Jackson held, even during his time, were already proving to be distasteful in nineteenth century America. His deathbed statements regarding Heaven not being exclusively a realm for whites only indicates he was cognizant of the inherent injustice for slaves in the world he was living and preparing to leave shortly. Also, once the crisis of nullification had been averted the first time, President Jackson wrote about the potential role that slavery was certain to play in the future (six days before he would appoint an obscure country lawyer - Abraham Lincoln - to a low Federal Postal position in Illinois.)
Old Hickory predicted that slavery would eventually lead to a civil war. Unfortunately the president's prescient nature was accurate but he did not see himself as the instrument that would bring such an abomination to an end. While the book is an interesting read, I did not find it too cumbersome as others have alluded to. I also have a difficult time dismissing this account of his life as a 'white-wash' as other readers have contended. There are many accounts in the story which address the unfair treatment of Native Americans and his stand on slavery. For anyone to ignore that Andrew Jackson was an example of and a product of his time is to fall into the same tempo-centric trap that he fell into. Consequently, while slavery and Jackson's forbearance of long-standing treaties with the sovereign Indian nations were the order of his day - application of 2009 standards in retrospect are just as unmerited as the sins his modern-day critics are frowning upon.
To me there is a greater lesson to be garnered in looking back upon history; the wrongs can be reflected upon with an eye toward ensuring that such similar errors may be more easily understood and even avoided in the future. And, there are plenty of lessons to be learned. I could not help but notice the similarities of nationalism and invocation of populist themes in order to affect change as evidenced in our past presidential administration. It strikes me that the themes which resonated so strongly during the popular Jackson Administration were recently echoed by the Bush II reign as well. So too were the voices of opposition. This not to imply that bigotry exists towards at the same level today as in 19th century America however, there is no denying that similar shadows persist toward Latin American immigrants and Muslims in the paranoiac, post-9/11 America we live in today. The ultimate question in this or any democracy is whether majority rule trumps minority rights.
For my part, this was decent book and, while I would recommend it, it will not rank among the best books I have read. It is nonetheless, a pointed study about what happens when strong-minded personalities enter the office of president. It also demonstrates how fluid the description of the office can be and moreover, how mercurial personalities can effect the outcome of history - but, owing to contemporary experiences with our own presidencies of late, we already knew that. (less)
This is a compelling story of ambition, intrigue, jealousy and the attendant devastation visited upon J. Robert Oppenheimer ('JRO' aka 'Oppie') - whos...moreThis is a compelling story of ambition, intrigue, jealousy and the attendant devastation visited upon J. Robert Oppenheimer ('JRO' aka 'Oppie') - whose direction and guidance brought about the most destructive weapon available to Humanity. Oppenheimer's contribution earned him the name, 'father of the Atomic Bomb.'
This book traces Oppenheimer's life, documenting a series of personal blunders and mistakes he made along the way. They ultimately proved to be as destructive for his career as the weapon of mass destruction he helped to create. It is a captivating story about the acrimony and alienation he cultivated among his rivals because of the Bomb project.
Oppenheimer was eloquent, quick-witted and brilliant in spotting critical nuance. He had a great capacity for assimilating information and creating a collaborative environment which encouraged others to reach greater intellectual accomplishments as a result. Despite his brilliance, he also had an intolerant streak for intellectual laziness. Recipients of his derisive, caustic responses perceived him as vainglorious and arrogant. While he engendered deep loyalties and profound respect from the majority of people he made contact with, his incisive criticisms created lifetime enemies as well. For at least two; their hatred for JRO became a life's ambition with total commitment to undermining and destroying his character.
"A man that studieth revenge keeps his own wounds green" - Francis Bacon, Poem 'Of Revenge'
I never particularly liked Edward Teller - leader of the Hydrogen bomb development - I dislike him even more after reading this book. I recall hearing him lecture at the University of New Mexico back in the early eighties. By then, he was an old man and had come around to Oppie's thinking regarding Nuclear proliferation. His rhetoric had softened and he spoke more like a pacifist and not the war hawk of his earlier manhood. He was traveling the University circuit as a visiting lecturer so, I felt fortunate to sit in the lecture hall as he delivered his thoughts on the nuclear age.
As a student of history, I was aware of his involvement in Oppenheimer's fall from national grace. But, I was never cognizant of what lengths he went to in order to advance his own cause - developing the H-Bomb. It is evident the slight he felt when Oppie flatly rejected his efforts to develop a bomb 1000 times more powerful than those detonated in Japan never let Teller rest until his ego was assuaged - first with detonation of the H-bomb and finally - in contributing to Oppie's political demise by testifying against him.
Owing to philosophical differences with Teller, Oppenheimer opposed advancement of H-Bomb development - presciently fearing a nuclear arms race with the Russians would ensue. He called for transparency and world regulation of Nuclear Armaments as a means of avoiding wholesale destruction of life due to the indiscriminate destructive capacity of nuclear weaponry. He expressed serious doubts about the destructive power of such a weapon after having come to the realization that the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were essentially strategic decisions made by President Truman who wished to effect an unconditional surrender from Japan before the Russians had an opportunity to become involved and thus assert their influence over Japan and the Pacific corridor's fate. The Japanese were ready to meet the US terms for unconditional surrender. Nonetheless, Truman ordered the bombing anyway.
Unfortunately, Teller's ambitions dovetailed with American businessman and politico, Lewis Strauss who - like Teller was a friend-turned-enemy after tangling with the eminent Scientist. Together, Edward and Lewis made Oppenheimer's character assassination their life's ambition. Though separate and apart from eachother, both acted in collusion with the FBI's Director, J. Edgar Hoover and other ultra Right-Wing war hawks to eventually thwart Oppenheimer's influence over the developing the nascent American Nuclear arms policy by precipitating cancellation of his security clearance.
They did so by questioning his political allegiance to America - a feat accomplished by inciting fear of Communism, using personal smear tactics and manipulating the legal process under the guise of national security.
Neither Teller nor Strauss however, came away unscathed for their acrimonious efforts. History set the record straight - within their lifetimes. Their underlying motives came to light and they suffered the same retribution brought about by their zeal to destroy Oppie. Teller became a pariah in the scientific community and Strauss' national career came to an end when his flagrant disregard for Oppenheimer's right to due process was exposed in relatively short order after the hearings concluded and the decision was made to pull Oppie's security clearance.
Like the bomb which Oppenheimer guided into creation, political antipathy reached a critical mass for destruction of his public persona at the height of the Red Scare. The books title is appropriate as it makes reference to the Greek mythological Titan, Prometheus who stole fire from the Gods and gave to Humanity. The price for his deed was to suffer eternal condemnation of being lashed to huge stone and having his liver completely eaten away by an great eagle. According to the story, Prometheus cycle self replicates daily because his liver regenerates every night.
Symbolically, Oppie's fate was the same. He endured never-ceasing scrutiny. despite his innocence, the Liberal-thinking, socially conscious scientist's name was forever tied to Communism. His efforts to inject rationality into the debate for arms control never came to fruition. This intellectual giant who had unleashed the nuclear power - the explosive core - energy of the sun to mankind was doomed to suffer the same metaphorical fate as the mythological Greek Titan, Prometheus. For J. Robert Oppenheimer, the albatross of communism was forever tied to him - and his personal character was cyclically destroyed and regained for the rest of his life by the Republican war hawks.
This book was a fascinating character study of a man who was brought down by people who, being more politically astute never compared to the man in intellectual prowess.
My mom has a Spanish saying that translates, "Even for the tallest pine, there is an axe." Oppie's story is a sober reminder of this. I suppose there is another important lesson to be learned:
"I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel." - Maya Angelou, poet
'American Prometheus' is a story worth re-visiting in light of the recently past administration of George W. Bush & Company which pushed the limits of executive power and used such tactics from the past to destroy political enemies during the 42nd president's tenure in office.
It is my hope that Oppenheimer's history serves as warning for future generations to recognize ambitions of ideologues who abuse position and power. That we remain vigilant for those who seek to settle vendettas invoking false appearances of patriotism and national security.
It is a lesson for all to our great leaders such as President Obama can learn - the lesson which Oppenheimer was forced to learn the hard way; regardless of how tempting, never deny a person - either by action or word - his dignity or respect.
Oppie himself opined that clearing his name had come, 'too little, too late.' Posterity nonetheless cleared Robert Oppenheimer of the communist smears attached to him during the McCarthy era.
I believe this book's title of 'American Prometheus' is apropos for this brilliant academic who was a liberal, compassionate, forward-thinking and highly controversial Human Being.
'I am become death, the destroyer of worlds.' - J. Robert Oppenheimer; words he is said to have uttered when he witnessed the test atomic bomb detonation in the New Mexico desert at the Trinity nuclear explosion site on 16 July 1945 - this quote originally came from the Bhagavad Gita(less)
When I saw the title of this book, I knew I wanted to read it. It is a line from my favorite poem entitled, "If" - written by the English poet, Rudyar...moreWhen I saw the title of this book, I knew I wanted to read it. It is a line from my favorite poem entitled, "If" - written by the English poet, Rudyard Kipling.
Craig Mullaney offers an insightful, informative account of his years as a Westpoint Cadet, Rhodes Scholar, Infantry/Airborne Ranger and Soldier who served in Afghanistan.
His writing is engaging and has a talent as a story teller. His recounting of the events seems convincing and not at all contrived. I appreciate his humanity and thoughtful approach in his descriptions of what life was like in Afghanistan. Most of all, I appreciate that this book is not presented as some sort of recruitment tool for the US Army as it is not an indictment of the ongoing wars in the Middle East.
This book is not filled with blood and guts and the violence is not gratuitous by any means. It is my sincere desire that the policy makers, military strategists and politicians realize what a wealth of knowledge and wisdom there is to be gained from seeking counsel from citizen soldiers such as Craig Mullaney.
I loved his response when queried by an US Naval Academy cadet who pointedly asked him, "What do you think, sir that you would have done differently?" after hearing Mullaney's recounting the events that led to his first loss of a fellow Army Ranger who was under his command.
Mullaney responded, "The best thing we could have done for Afghanistan was to get out of our Humvees and drink more green chai. We should have focused less on finding the enemy. and more on finding our friends."
I take great comfort in knowing that the Army has dedicated, intelligent and conscientious Americans serving in its ranks. (less)
Reynaldo Arenas is an amazing writer and if you can get past his anger, you can appreciate that he may well have been one of the greats. I did find hi...moreReynaldo Arenas is an amazing writer and if you can get past his anger, you can appreciate that he may well have been one of the greats. I did find his assessment of Gabriel Garcia Marquez humorous and love GGM in spite of it anyway - you'll have to read what he has to say because I ain't telling.
Unfortunately, he lived in a time and place which really damped his attempt to reach out to the universe. That said, Reynaldo Arenas has something to say and the world nevertheless has a chance to see the brilliance of a far that fell from the sky. I say this not because he was recognized as a preeminent writer in his time but rather because he had a voice that could not be silenced by ignorance and hate.
My Invented Country offers an insider's perspective about Chile that is as intimate as it is real. I have read some of the criticisms about Allende's...moreMy Invented Country offers an insider's perspective about Chile that is as intimate as it is real. I have read some of the criticisms about Allende's depiction of her homeland and I find them to be without merit. Her descriptions about the national character are quite touching and do not appear in the slightest to be done with any malevolence.
There were points in the book that brought out a chuckle while others - and there were many - caused me to laugh out loud. She has such a wonderful way of describing human nature without being hateful or malicious. The immediacy of her style conveys a sense of intimacy - it is reflective of the conversational style that is shared among friends. I am surprised her detractors missed that.
Her descriptions of the land, the collective mentality and their influence on her are compelling. She makes me want to visit Chile, partially to observe the nuances she points out and mostly because their culture seems fascinating. For me, there is a sense of familiarity with Chileans. Their perspectives are not so different from my own.
What I like most of all about Allende's writing is that she has a knack for drawing out the humorous. Her writing has an endearing quality that is is respectful and not at all caustic. The real reward comes when she discusses with a candor that is inviting and unguarded about how the country of Chile and its world-view have contributed to her abilities as a writer.
Toward the end of her book she references Milton Friedman and his influence (The Chicago School of thought) on the Totalitarianism of the Pinochet Regime. I must admit I was aware of the connection but it really hit home when I was reading Naomi Klein's book "Shock Doctrine."
While Klein does not delve deeply into the atrocities, she does touch upon the effects of Friedman and company had upon Chile and more importantly, their impact on America post 9/11.
I have always considered it ironic that Chile's 9/11 which marked the overthrow of Salvador Allende's elected government and the rise of Totalitarianism - clamping down on individual liberties in the name of security would also share similarly echoed sentiments during George W. Bush II's presidency and, under guidance of the same same Chicago School ideologue; Milton Friedman. Klein refers to the ideology as "Shock Doctrine" - Allende referred to it as, "savage capitalism."... Spooky.
This is a thoroughly enjoyable book that is easy to read but you have to be attentive because she has so much to say and her delivery is so entertaining that you can miss some real gems regarding her craft. The book may be about Chile but the real treat is how she shares her thoughts on her passion as a professional writer. (less)
Dave Pelzer's The Lost Boy is a difficult story about an abused boy who enters foster care and eventually develops a semblance of normalcy over time....moreDave Pelzer's The Lost Boy is a difficult story about an abused boy who enters foster care and eventually develops a semblance of normalcy over time. It is a compelling albeit tortured story of an abused child that is difficult to take in. Ultimately, however, it is a story about redemption, and serves as an example of what can happen when people believe in a child who hasn't even a clue that his life could be better.
In all, it is a sad story about a kid who was born into a family that had some serious emotional problems. I think what most affected me was how Pelzer described the pattern of abuse and evocation of a dynamic that I would describe as the domestic violence victim persona - where victims make excuses for, and even protect their abusers out of fear. The trade-off for revealing the 'family secret' as Pelzer describes it is that the whistle blower suffers the ultimate punishment; s/he is ostracized and shunned for life. Unfortunately, the price for keeping such family secrets is that the victim is evermore tied to the family s/he loves, but at the price of intense, unending social, and emotional abuse. While the physical abuse may eventually disappear, the threat of impending doom never leaves, and the victim is forever tethered emotionally to the abusive family by nothing more than a sick need to belong.
His story relates how Pelzer even attempted to gain acceptance by using some of the same dysfunctional behaviors that helped him to survive in his family of abuse. Consequently, it serves as a cautionary tale to people who have emerged from such dysfunctional constellations with a burning desire to belong leads to compromises of the self; such tradeoffs are simply not worth the high moral cost borne out of a need to be a part of the relationship.
Pelzer effectively exposes the dynamic of dysfunctional family secrets and the price paid for keeping them. This is where the value of reading a memoir such as, The Lost Boy; knowledge is power. It is the key to breaking such cycles of abuse. To that end, families bound together on the basis of such connections are little more than distorted affiliations that rely on manipulation and abuse to keep them bound to one another.
I picked this book up shortly after Coach Wooden died. I agonized over which book to pick up and settled on this one. It turned out to be not such a g...moreI picked this book up shortly after Coach Wooden died. I agonized over which book to pick up and settled on this one. It turned out to be not such a good idea. While chapter 3 actually is the focus of Coach Wooden's philosophy, it seems to e the only one that really reached me.
I think Neville Johnson fell short in telling Coach Wooden's story. At points - especially in the first couple of chapters, Johnson's hero worship got in the way of his story.
I have used Chapter three as a teaching document for my students and intend to do use it again in the future. However, I can't, in good conscience recommend this book because Johnson seems to be one of the many people who seem to have exploited their relationship with Coach Wooden just to sell a book. Since I don't personally know Johnson, I cannot speak to his motivations. Perhaps he was just too close to offer an objective biography of one of the most loved coaches in American History.
In spite of this book's failings, it is an interesting read. I just wish Johnson hadn't taken the approach to lead his readers around by the nose.(less)
I read recently that i am a 'Digital Immigrant". Not having been born among the generation that has never known a world without computers, smart phone...moreI read recently that i am a 'Digital Immigrant". Not having been born among the generation that has never known a world without computers, smart phones and the universe that is the internet at my finger tips is a concept that I cannot fathom having witnessed its emergence never really touched me until I underwent the experience of reading this book while listening to Kris Kristofferson read the book in audio format.
I found myself reading, pausing, and researching what was being described, or making these little detours to listen to a song mentioned in the book. My experience was so much richer as I ventured down this multimedia path.
And yet, the themes so prevalent throughout The Man Called Cash" were so compelling. Even in the world of the digital native, Johnny Cash's life stands out as a life filled with roads less traveled and paths better left avoided. Nonetheless, Cash's trek is a fascinating character study that makes a valiant effort at connecting the dots of a man so richly complicated, flawed and driven to live his life while making sense of a world the he met on his terms. And yet, he could not escape his past.
Perhaps the most prevalent theme pervasive throughout the book is the notion that there are consequences for all we do. And yet, the measure of a life cannot ever be fully caught - perhaps because of its ethereal nature - or perhaps because of the very Human capacity to dial our focus in and out. And a life viewed at 30,000 feet altitude is much different than say, one explored at the microscopic level. Perhaps the digital native will be able to make bigger connections or maybe assimilate the nuances sheerly because of the availability of information accessible, and limited to what is available not at the finger tips but at the limits bounded by one's imagination. I really don't know.
Take for example, Cash'e medical condition and Steve Truner's interesting ability to describe the sequaele of medical events directly connected to Cash's life decisions, his socio-economic status connected to his beginnings as the son of a share cropper, or his abuse of amphetamines etc. All the clues are there for anyone interested in pursuing a forensic investigation of Cash'e health status. Regardless, a retrospective analysis is entirely possible and yet, is that what really defines a life? Most certainly it is a cause and an effect at the same time. I would argue that in itself is life.
I come away from this book garnering different, and quite specifics about a man whose legendary status has stretched across several generations - not because he was defined by any one of the life events, but because he was a product of his times, a digital immigrant himself whose life and times did so much to reflect and define the world he came from as well.
Get the book. Listen to it as well, and enjoy the power at your finger tips as you listen to his music, and that of his contemporaries and see where the experience takes you. I may not be a digital native, but this experience has given me a glimpse of what the future might look like. I have said it before, and this entire experience has shown me that the future belongs to those who can explore their world from many vantage points at the same time. It seems to me, that person like Johnny Cash, whom Kris Kristofferson described in his song, Pilgrim, is someone whose life must be explored from 30,0000 feet, and then dialed in, Nd dialed back out again.