Masterfully ties everything together. I had to go back to almost all five previous books to understand everything. It is very thorough in tying everytMasterfully ties everything together. I had to go back to almost all five previous books to understand everything. It is very thorough in tying everything together....more
Clarifies many threads started in the previous volume. The overall plot is jumping back and forth in time, but we experience everything from the perspClarifies many threads started in the previous volume. The overall plot is jumping back and forth in time, but we experience everything from the perspective of Cyann, so it can be difficult to follow what's going on. And since the books come out a few years apart, it's hard to keep in all in head. ...more
Hitchens told his editor he would write about anything except sports. So when he was diagnosed with cancer, he wrote about it. And as he approached hiHitchens told his editor he would write about anything except sports. So when he was diagnosed with cancer, he wrote about it. And as he approached his own end, he kept on writing. He takes us on an intimate ride along as he explores his attitude towards death.
Early on, when death is but a shadow on the distant horizon, Hitchens is more outward-facing. He deals with religion and people wishing him well (and sometimes not). As the book and his cancer progress, he sheds externalities and slowly gets more personal.
Breakdown by chapter:
1. Diagnosis, dealing with the news, side effects of therapy.
2. People express their religious sentiments. He'll have none of it.
3. The medical establishment tries everything to fight the disease. More false hopes.
4. People's euphemisms to avoid talking about death.
5. Losing his voice strikes really close to home. Voice and expression are at the core of existence.
6. How people choose to die. How what almost kills him is not making him stronger. Starts to yearn for the end.
7. Personal observations on pain and fear, in the face of torture ... or medical procedures.
8. Unfinished thoughts. Fitting that at the end, even his mind comes apart.
Hitchens mentions journalist John Diamond who also wrote a regular column about his experience with cancer, up to his death. He mentions how his story "lacked compactness toward the end..." He didn't fall into the same trap. The book is concise and to the point, a quick read that goes straight to the point. ...more
Governments, especially 18th Century European governments, need an enemy to focus public discontent away from themselves. Simonini, the main characterGovernments, especially 18th Century European governments, need an enemy to focus public discontent away from themselves. Simonini, the main character, provides forged documents to assist one faction or the other in their quest to hold on to power, as he lives through the Italian unification and later the numerous troubles of Paris in that century. A product of his age, he is a misanthrope, a misogynist, an anti-semite, sometimes an anarchist, sometimes pretending to be a freemason. The novel wants to be a historical novel, where the background and much of the action is grounded in actual history. Simonini is a thread that anchors the story through those tumultuous times and gives us a unique point of view of all these secret services, secret societies, and charlatans. This allows Eco to weave Garibaldi, the Franco-Prussian War, the Paris Commune, and even the Dreyfus Affair into the story, setting the stage for 20th Century events to come.
It took me a whole year to get through this novel, not because of it is particularly dense (it is actually quite light for an Eco novel), but simply because the main character is so antipathetic. Eco went to great lengths to make him as unlikeable as possible. There is not one shred of humanity in him that the reader can associate with, not even the gourmet eating, which is lavishly described throughout.
Diaries And Narrators
There are all kinds of characters involved in manipulating history from the shadows. Eco needs different narrators to help convey the principal archetypes. Simonini is a forger, in it for the money. Abbé Dalla Piccola is a manipulating priest, led by a grand plan, a more noble ambition. To help transition between the two, there is an omniscient Narrator who can fill as needed in the other to separate the other two narration, or humanize them by letting them succumb to human frailties, such as confusion, or willful forgetfulness, or fatigue.
Unsatisfying, Gratuitous Sex Scene
As in The Name of the Rose, we get a brief sex scene between an inexperienced male and a lusting female. We share the point of view of the male, who is so overwhelmed that he gets utterly confused. It is awkward and totally misses on the sensuality of the moment. I could have done without.
Eco uses an open ended narrative device to reinforce the role of the reader in constructing the story for themselves.
* * * Spoiler Alert * * *
Did the bomb explode? Did Simonini die in the explosion? Did Gaviali set him up to extract revenge? Was it Rachkovsky cleaning up loose ends and getting rid of a potential witness, just as Simonini had done numerous times? Or maybe Simonini survived, somehow, and realizing the danger he is in, has gone into hiding? It is up to the reader to finish the story for themselves.
Somewhere between pages 331-378:
Nothing is more original than something that's already been published.
What he means is that when trying to convince people that a fake document is genuine, it helps if the target audience is already familiar with the material. Previously published material will strike a resonance in the reader's mind and prime them to treat the new material as authentic. Especially if the material was published some time ago and the audience's recollection is a little fuzzy. It will feel right since it matches prior recollections. Most people won't go through the trouble of double checking.
On page 421:
Most of those who join secret societies are opportunists who seek to make their own way and have no worthy purposes.
This is said in the context of jews-infiltrating-secret-societies-in-their-plan-to-take-over-the-world. What it means is that members look for a sense of purpose, which the leaders can provide and then use to manipulate the group and get them to support the leaders' agenda, sometimes against their own best interest. Eco's character makes that statement about secret society membership, but I think it can easily be applied to most organizations. ...more
Things are not going well in AfPak. Since American troops will leave Afghanistan by 2014, everybody is pretty much waiting for them to have left before they make their move. The Afghan government is feeling isolated and abandoned. Pakistan wants to play a major role in shaping the future of Afghanistan, which it sees as a strategic component of its strategy regarding India, but it also has to deal with its home brand of islamist fundamentalists. All the other neighbors are taking a wait-and-see attitude. America is doing its best to make a dignified exit.
The last pages of the book mention the accidental killing of 26 Pakistani soldiers in a NATO air strike on 2011-11-26. This prompted Pakistan to close to supply routes into Afghanistan. On 2012-05-21, the news mentioned a NATO summit where they were talking about these closed supply routes. Six months after the incident, the issue is still not resolved.
From the reviews, this books sounds a bit controversial and rubbing against the accepted wisdom. To be read with a dose of critical judgement. I likeFrom the reviews, this books sounds a bit controversial and rubbing against the accepted wisdom. To be read with a dose of critical judgement. I like to challenge my assumptions and consider alternatives, but that doesn't automatically make them right.
The book's premise is that humans are not naturally monogamous. Monogamy was introduced when we discovered agriculture. Prior to that, our hunter-forager ancestors had no notion of property and shared everything.
In The Naked Ape, Desmond Morris specifically ignored primitive societies. In order to study humans, he focuses on their dominant representation. In his view, primitive societies must have had some defect or other that limited their expansion. Not knowing what these defect might be, he abstains from including them so he does not taint his data.
The authors of Sex at Dawn take a different approach. To them, these primitive hunter-foragers can give us a glimpse of what our ancestors might have been like. They complement their approach by looking at our closest relatives in the animal kingdom: chimps but even more so bonobos. The picture that emerges is quite different from the mainstream vision we inherited from Hobbes in 1651, where human life is solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short, and Malthus in 1798 where overpopulation and famine are unavoidable. Instead, they point at hunter-forager societies that live in equilibrium with their environment, share resources, and have a mostly peaceful existence.
By combining data on bonobos from biologists, on primitive societies from anthropologists, and on modern sexual behavior from psychologists, they raise the possibility that homo sapiens spent most of their evolutionary history in small tightly knit groups where both men and women had multiple sexual partners and no hard-fixed patterns. They shared everything, even of themselves, and child rearing too. When we discovered agriculture and property became important, this is when we tried to force ourselves in monogamous relationships and the nuclear family model. The tension between the demands of monogamy and our looser evolutionary attitude towards sex would be at the root of all our contemporary problems.
They don't go as far as recommending that we all go and start sleeping around. But understanding what drives our nature, refined through hundreds of thousands of years of evolution, can help us be honest about ourselves and learn to live without the guilt.
All the material in the book made a lot of sense and much of it deserves further looking into. While they suspect bias in many other authors, it is not clear that they didn't have their own bias too. Some reactionary backlash is to be expected. I didn't care much for their writing style. All the snide sarcastic remarks and juvenile retorts made it look like is was written by a pair of teenagers. As if!
I liked The No Asshole Rule, so I thought I'd give this one a try too. Sutton bills the book as a follow-up to The No Asshole Rule, but with more of aI liked The No Asshole Rule, so I thought I'd give this one a try too. Sutton bills the book as a follow-up to The No Asshole Rule, but with more of a focus on good management practices and less on the bad.
The key takeaway is that the job of a boss seems engineered to breed assholes. Bosses suffer from a double bias: they overestimate their own abilities and they cannot see how they are perceived by others. This leads people in boss positions to make poor decisions that everyone will notice but themselves. A good boss is more self-aware to note when these missteps and is more graceful about accepting and acting on their failings. They surround themselves with people who will keep them grounded.
It's a nice coincidence that I'm reading this book just as Steven Spielberg's movie Lincoln is in theaters. This books discusses how Lincoln appointed some of his rivals to his cabinet because their honesty would result in better decision-making. This is all documented in the book Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns, on which the movie is based.
The rest of the book has a number of tips and tricks to help bosses deal with this double bias trap.
* Use repetitive and concrete advice (and keep repeating it). This is the basis for the KISS principle. Focus on executing the steps and the results will take care of themselves. This reminds me of kyudo (Japanese archery) where the focus on form rather than results, to the point where hitting the target is not really important.
* David Kelly of IDEO talks about the balance between what the business needs (performance) and what the subordinates need (humanity).
* More David Kelly: confidence breeds more confidence. Act confident and it will come to you. This reminded me of a part of the book Starship Troopers where the main protagonist is told in officer training that officers must always look like they have all the answers, even when they do not.
* Stand-up meetings to use people's time efficiently and respectfully. He references a paper by Allen C. Bluedorn on "The Effects of Stand-Up and Sit-Down Meeting Formats on Meeting Outcomes." He does not mention agile software development.
* Asshole Tax: charging more when having to deal with assholes. Assholes are costly in churn and lost productivity / innovation.
* Embarrassment and pride can be great motivators. Image your child were following you around.
* One manager took subordinates to a hospice to put evaluations into perspective.
* Acid tests for good boss: 1) Would people work with the boss again? 2) Do they know what it's like working for them?
* Favor small teams. Complexity increases exponentially with team size.
The book has a large number of anecdotes, taken from an extensive bibliography. You cannot deny that it draws from serious scholarship and lots of excellent research. But I was still left feeling like there wasn't a comprehensive theory of management behind it. Just my somewhat uninformed opinion, here.
Sutton teaches at Stanford and lives in the San Francisco Bay Area. It is only normal that there would be some references to some things American.
* Alice Waters and her restaurant Chez Panisse.
* Management firm Bain, brought to general attention by presidential candidate Mitt Romney.
* Tommy Lasorda once said managing was like holding a bird: too tight and you kill it, too light and it flies away. I first heard it from my kendo teacher in Montréal. I don't know if he got it from Lasorda or if they both pick it from some other, common source.
* Sutton brings up the performance evaluations and feedback at Google. He advocates rewarding collective behavior over individual performance. From my memories of Google, their process does not reward collective action enough.
* The rescued Chilean miners in 2010-10.
* Steve Jobs: too brilliant to be imitated.
* The Hillsborough home invasion on 2008-11-25 where mother Loan Kim Nguyen was able to save her two young children but died herself.
Bosses need to promote performance AND humanity. Some bosses may owe their success to circumstances more than their skills (I'm thinking of the likes of Larry Page and Sergei Brin, who are brilliant but also owe a large part of their success to very lucky timing). Others owe their success to their constant dedication to work and team (Mitchell Baker of Mozilla, Ed Catmull of Pixar)....more
The movie was pleasant enough and a friend recommended it, saying it was in line with other books I've read. The movie missed the boat, though, on itsThe movie was pleasant enough and a friend recommended it, saying it was in line with other books I've read. The movie missed the boat, though, on its depiction of running a reality show. The book was written in 2008 and the movie was made in 2011, when we have clear patterns of how these shows engage and entertain the audience to drive advertisers, from Survivor to American Idol. There are stages, constants recaps, and many engage the entire viewing audience using various voting schemes. All that was missing and instead we got a very simplistic show driven by a small elite of Sponsors, with most of the viewing audience left out. I understand that the powers-that-be don't care about the people in the districts, but they should at least get to everyone in the Capitol.
I was happy to find that the novel does a much better job of portraying the entertainment aspect of the Hunger Games that the movie did. While the book is told entirely from Katniss' point of view, we get glimpses of when she used to watch the Games and how she imagines things are playing out as she participates in them. Here, the entire audience of Panem gets to participate, though it is clear that residents of the various districts are limited by their economic situation.
I found the beginning annoying. Katniss, the main character, goes to great length to over dramatize what should be mundane experiences, such as eating a blackberry on a lazy morning. If there had been more context to make the moment special and to justify being over-sensitive, it might have worked. But that moment is a quiet moment but otherwise ordinary moment and did not deserve that level of intimate details.
As the situation gets worse for the main characters, things start to improve from a literary perspective. Just a little further, a passage really stands out for me, on page 40, as Katniss is coming to grips with having to fight others to the death (emphasis is mine):
"Katniss, it's just hunting. You're the best hunter I know," says Gale.
"It's not just hunting. They're armed. They think," I say.
"So do you. And you've had more practice. Real practice," he says. "You know how to kill."
"Not people," I say.
"How different can it be, really?" says Gale grimly.
The awful thing is that if I can forget they're people, it will be no different at all.
This passage talks to how people can do truly horrible things to other people if they just dehumanize them first. As soon as we don't perceive the other as a fellow human being, we can excuse anything we do to them. This passage is clear and concise, without any superfluous sappy over-sensitivity.
And there is another passage on page 65:
What must it be like, I wonder, to live in a world where food appear at the press of a button? How would I spend the hours I now commit to combing the woods for sustenance if it were so easy to come by?.
The trick here is that while Katniss can hardly imagine a world of plenty, the author and her contemporary middle class audience do live in such a world. It is difficult to be any clearer: the reader is not a sympathetic resident of District 12, but a citizen of the Capitol.
Unfortunately, these small glimpses don't get developed much further. Katniss is much too busy trying to stay alive to ponder these questions at great length.
The action parts are well done. I am not a hunter, so I cannot speak to the veracity of her experiences in the arena. But I wonder if the author has done any hunting herself, or else how she researched those aspects of the book.
By the time the crisis is resolved, Katniss has become overly sappy again. Her character has grown a bit, but there was a lot more potential there. Maybe the sequels will give her time to internalize her experiences....more