I'm not entirely sure that I can adequately review Thinking Fast and Slow. It's so chock full of fantastic ideas, insights, and information that I'mI'm not entirely sure that I can adequately review Thinking Fast and Slow. It's so chock full of fantastic ideas, insights, and information that I'm afraid even trying to comment on it will make me look like a fool.
Let me just say, then, that Thinking Fast and Slow is absolutely fascinating, a book worth reading and rereading, especially if you're of the self-improvement, self-examining type. Daniel Kahneman, a Nobel Prize winner for his work in Behavioral Economics has a fascinating mind, and I felt like I had a front-row seat to one of the most incredible lectures about decision making, heuristics, and judgment that had ever been given.
And here's where I start to worry about sounding like a fool: this just isn't my field of expertise. Sure, I love learning and I consider myself to be, in many respects, an autodidact. But Thinking Fast and Slow is, if I'm not mistaken, a summary of all of Kahneman's work from the last fifty years (or more?). It's gobstoppingly dense with studies Kahneman and his fellow researchers have devised to examine who people think, and I quell the thought of trying to comment on it.
But I will gladly comment about it. Thinking Fast and Slow has been, over the weeks that I've been reading it, easily the book I've recommended most, and I admit having to suppress some excitement when someone tells me that they've ordered the book from Amazon. Even if you don't like economics, or maybe especially if you don't like economics, Kahneman's research is accessible to anyone with even a modicum of interest in society, decision-making, or how we think and exercise judgment. Rather than describe the world in terms of complex equations and graphs--though there are certainly a lot of graphs--Kahneman seems to be constantly devising thought experiments to understand how and why people act in certain situations. What a life it must be to be Kahneman, self-tasked with identifying the 'how' and 'why' of any particular decision, whether it is discerning who the best candidates are for officer training from among a cadre of soldiers during field exercises, or figuring out how to redesign the food pyramid to be a food pie, there seems to be no end of topics or situations where behavioral economics can be applied with some revelatory success.
One part of especial interest to me was the section, near the end, when Kahneman begins to describe memory, pain, and suffering. If I understand right, Kahneman makes the point that research shows that it isn't the measurement of pleasure, happiness, or well-being over the duration of an event--such as a surgery, marriage, or vacation--that matters so much as how the event ends that we remember. Even if the event was, for the most part, a wonderful or positive experience we still remember the event based on how it ends. Shakespeare might put this as "All's well that ends well." For me, it's a paradigm-shifting insight about the importance not only of getting things right but also ending things right. How we remember things is, essentially, flawed, and what we are left with in memory often conflicts with what the experience was as a whole.
Anyway, Thinking Fast and Slow is a great book. Prospect theory, framing, reference points, loss versus gain, and more are all raised and addressed and explored, and I am sure I will return to it again soon. I think I probably read it far too quickly, too eager to absorb concepts, and I feel there's more here to understand and examine....more
This book is appropriately named, though perhaps another subtitle could be added: "or how to fake it until you make it."
Scott Adams is known best forThis book is appropriately named, though perhaps another subtitle could be added: "or how to fake it until you make it."
Scott Adams is known best for Dilbert, a "satirical office humor about a white-collar, micromanaged office featuring engineer Dilbert as the title character" (to quote Wikipedia). After listening to his story, it's hard not to see in the eponymous character much of Scott Adams. He is savvy, smart, and, in a way that is uniquely American, confident of doing anything he sets his mind to, regardless of whether he is qualified or not.
It's this last quality, this modern entrepreneurial "daring do" attitude, that makes Adams' book so compelling. As he tells his story, it becomes clear that he has overcome significant obstacles to success. That he overcame these obstacles makes the things he did compelling and persuasive. Indeed, there are times when I had to remind myself that even Adams himself had opened by admitting that he was only sharing what had worked for him, was simplifying the information he had learned from others, and that the readers should figure out what works best for them. Adams is so persuasive a story teller that it is difficult not to be inspired. You too can be a rich and famous--something--if you only think it, believe it, and work harder at it than anyone else.
Also, get lucky along the way. There's no doubt that luck plays a part in success, and you can see it in Adams' tale, but it was his ability and tenancy at taking advantage of both the opportunities, as well as capitalizing on the setbacks, that led him down a road to fame and fortune.
I truly admire Scott Adams for his success. I'm not sure I'll apply his methods or suggestions, but just listening to his story had the effect on me to get my creative juices and ambitions going. It's easy to believe success is in reach and that I can make the changes I need to obtain that success as you listen to Adams' tell how he turned one lemon after another into lemonade. Luck favors the prepared and at the heart of Adam's story is his application of his preparation at the opportune moment. It's a lesson we can all learn from....more
Joby Warrick's Black Flags: The Rise of ISIS makes a complicated mess easier to understand. Readable and accessible to anyone with an interest in howJoby Warrick's Black Flags: The Rise of ISIS makes a complicated mess easier to understand. Readable and accessible to anyone with an interest in how we ended up with ISIS, his Pulitzer prize winning narrative of the rise of the terrorist cum state of the Islamic State of Syria and Iraq is a must-read.
If there's anything I know about the politics of the Middle East, it's that it's bloody, and it almost always has been (go check out Simon Sebag Montefiore's Jerusalem: A Biography for a fascinating, if relatively brief, history of that piece of the Middle East). After centuries--nay, millennia--of war between various international interlopers, small-time despots, and religious zealots, recent years have seen the rise of ISIS, something more than just another political movement in the vein of the Palestinian Liberation Organization or a terrorist organization like Al Qaeda.
No, ISIS is something else, something more dangerous, a boogeyman that is every bit as malignant for the chaos it breeds as for the violence it intentionally perpetuates.
That ISIS holds itself out as a state, controls territory, and was born of the mistakes during the early days of the invasion of Iraq only complicates the world's response. More clearly, it complicates the United States' response. On the heels of an invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan, American response is handicapped. But perhaps that is another story.
This story, though, is not about the impact those invasions have had on America's influence on the world. Rather, this is a narrative about the individuals that turned the quagmire of Iraq into the quagmire of ISIS. Primarily, it's the story of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a Jordanian who rose from street thug to a terrorist mastermind who turned the Iraq insurgency against the US into a Shia-Sunni civil war. Although he ostensibly gave his due respects to bin Laden as the senior leader, al-Zarqawi eventually competed with Osama bin Laden for the top place on the US Most Wanted list and became known for his brutality and ability to turn terrorism into propaganda. Even after his kill by US Special Forces in 2006, al-Zarqawi continued to influence others. The chaos in the Syrian civil war gave space to his followers, and as the country digressed into deeper instability gave breathing room to extremists seeking their own Islamic-based state. Al Qaeda in Iraq soon becomes the Islamic State in Iraq, controlling massive assets of oil and the innocent people caught up in the crossfire.
Joby Warrick's narrative is fascinating, carefully told to build a story accessible to the lay reader and more informed alike. Warrick never lets the story lag or falter with the minutia of Middle East politics. He builds his characters with portraits that are descriptive and clear and brings life to a story that is for most Americans no more than fear inducing headlines. It makes for good reading, and it left me feeling like I understood what had happened and where ISIS had come from. I don't know that it makes solutions any more obvious than before, but it does help to explain why solutions for stopping ISIS, or for bringing peace to the Middle East, are not easy. Warrick's writing, however, makes the story seem effortless, and an easy choice for winning a Pulitzer....more
I can't tell if Creativity, Inc: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration belongs more in management, inspiration, self-I can't tell if Creativity, Inc: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration belongs more in management, inspiration, self-help, or fodder for fans. What I can say, though, is that I loved reading it.
Though he was born in West Virginia, Ed Catmull moved to Utah as a child and was raised in neighborhoods near my own. Despite interests in animation, during college at the University of Utah, he became pursued at talent in math and studied physics and computer science. Eventually, this led him to a graduate degree under Ivan Sutherland, the "father of computer graphics," also at the University of Utah. Decades before computer animation was a thing, Catmull began developing the programming to do 2D and 3D programming. During this time, he found himself recruited to work at Lucasfilm, becoming vice president of Industrial Light and Magic's computer graphics division until 1986 when a guy named Steve Jobs bought it up and started Pixar. Catmull became Chief Technical Officer...and the rest is history.
Okay, that's probably a gross summary of Catmull's path to Pixar, but it gets us to the point when things get really interesting. A major part of Creativity, Inc. is Catmull's anecdotes about the process of developing some of the biggest cartoons--or movies--in recent decades. It's a combination of management and creativity, and leveraging good management practices to help people access their most creative solutions and abilities, that made Pixar great. Catmull, who has an engaging and magnetic story telling ability, uses different obstacles the company ran into throughout his career to show how creativity can be unleashed.
Another very interesting aspect of the story is hearing Catmull's perspective on working with Steve Jobs. Never an easy person to work with, Jobs' story has been thoroughly told elsewhere. But Catmull comes with a perspective of someone who needed Jobs, but was also needed by Jobs...and together they succeeded. Even though it is only a small portion of the larger story, it's a fascinating piece.
I'm not a manager, but I ate up what Catmull wrote here. Between the anecdotes, behind the scenes stories, and the lessons he learned to deal with obstacles, organizational change, and difficult partners, Creativity, Inc is an enjoyable read....more
American Exceptionalism: An Experiment in History weighs in at a little under fifty four by six pages. It's pretty light weight, especially as it goesAmerican Exceptionalism: An Experiment in History weighs in at a little under fifty four by six pages. It's pretty light weight, especially as it goes for books on politics or history. And yet, Charles Murray does not disappoint. He packs in a lot of interesting ideas in a short amount of time.
Murray opens by looking at misconceptions about what American exceptionalism means. Rather than using the definition of "exceptional" that means "wonderful," Murray notes that at the founding of the country, and indeed for most of the first century of US history, most of the world saw what was happening in America as exceptional. There are four arguments Murray makes to demonstrate exceptionalism:
1. Observers through out the western world saw America as exceptional, something different from what was going on elsewhere throughout Europe. 2. American exceptionalism doesn't always refer to what was seen by western observers as positive traits. I.e. Americans tended to industrious, egalitarianism, religiosity, and community life, something that Murray ties all together under the category of "civic engagement." 3. Exceptionalism is...or was...a fact that cannot be denied any more than that the Gettysburg address happened. Further, understanding what it means is essential to understanding what it means to be an American. 4. American exceptionalism refers primarily to qualities that were observed during the first century of American history. America's setting (separated from Western Europe by an ocean), form of government (a republic), and the characteristics of the population (Toqueville and others described Americans propensity for industry, egalitarianism, religiosity, and community life) made for a place that was unique among the nations.
Alongside his arguments, Murray takes time to address, or a least highlight, liberal arguments about why America is not, and never has been, exceptional. These primarily deal with slavery, social justice, and feminism. While not necessarily answering them, Murray ends with an assertion that though America has changed, it behooves modern Americans to examine whether the changes have been positive or negatives.
Bite size and a fast read, Murray's examination of exceptionalism is worth the time and the reminder of where America came from. It's easy to find revisionist historians criticizing and rewriting American history through modern lenses, and Murray makes quick and clean work of reminding readers why America was, and is, a different place.
Spoiler alert: The Lusitania sinks at the end and the United States entered World War I on the side of the Allies.
Dead Wake is the first book by ErikSpoiler alert: The Lusitania sinks at the end and the United States entered World War I on the side of the Allies.
Dead Wake is the first book by Erik Larson that I've read, though I know his books by reputation (especially Devil in the White City, which seems like it's been read by almost everyone I know...). They're historical, non-fiction, but written like thrillers. Per Larson's foreword, everything he writes is factual, and quotes are all real, coming from documentation from the event. The result is history colored and enlivened by the flavors, smells, tastes and sounds of real people, and not just the kings, presidents, generals, and wealthy that seem to dominate the pages of history, but of the everyday people who populate the world of the event Larson is examining.
In this case, Dead Wake is the tale of the Lusitania, one of the fastest and largest ships of its day. In the age before airplanes carried passengers across the Atlantic, cruise ships like the Lusitania were the sole means of transit and commerce between Europe and the Americas. From berths in first class on down, the wealthy traveled with the plebs, divided by their accommodations and dining, but also sharing the same vessel. Larson describes the Lusitania as being so large that people could make friends with someone they meet and then never see that person again, if plans aren't otherwise made to meet up again. In addition to luxurious dining rooms (and the menus feature sumptuous options even for those not benefiting from first class tickets), there are pools, baths, day care facilities, dancing, deck chairs for renting, and more. It is a floating city, or at least a small town, moving with speed and class across the Atlantic Ocean.
And yet, a threat hangs over this particular journey from New York to Great Britain. On the day the Lusitania prepares to leave port, Germany warns that it will begin sinking even passenger ships that may be helping the Allies. Submarine warfare is still in its infancy, though. U-boats can only stay submerged for short periods of time and cannot match the speed of large ships, including the Lusitania. Torpedoes do not track their prey, but can be fired in a straight line, and then, they may not even explode. If a ship's look out can catch sight of the tell-tale signs of the U-boats periscope--a feathered wake that can be seen for miles--the captain can turn his ship towards the marauding U-boats and, if the U-boats cannot dive fast enough, ram the submarine with its much larger keel, breaching the U-boats's more delicate shell and sinking it. Alternately, the larger ship can just turn away and, with speed superior to the U-boats, run for it.
What is perhaps most interesting about Larson's style is his ability to interweave the stories of so many, based only on the documentary evidence available to him. From the romantic interludes of the recently widowed President Woodrow Wilson to the travails of a quarantined boy beset by measles, Larson kept me interested until the very last page. Early on, I assumed that the characters Larson would use for his story would be those who survived since they would have lived to give accounts of the trip. And yet, Larson manages to fill in the gaps and bring the last trip of the Lusitania to life. Is it a thriller? Maybe not quite, but it is a thrilling read, one that will keep almost any reader interested. If more history were written with this kind of attention to both detail and story telling, I think more people would read history. I look forward to reading another by Larson soon....more
Oh, Jerusalem. There is no other place on Earth quite as tragic, drenched in both blood and history.
And it makes for reading that cannot be put down.
HOh, Jerusalem. There is no other place on Earth quite as tragic, drenched in both blood and history.
And it makes for reading that cannot be put down.
Here's the short version of why you should read Simon Sebag Montefiore's history of Jerusalem: In just under seven hundred pages, Jerusalem: The Biography is a satisfying, narrative-based history one of the most contested pieces of real estate in world history, if not the most contested. In those relatively few pages, Montefiore manages to give at least the appearance of objective attention to each of the major religions that dominate the city's history, as well as to the many, many conquerors that pass through its gates over its thousands of years of history. With all the sordid intrigue of an Italian opera, Jerusalem: The Biography is painfully tragic, proceeding chronologically with the march of history as it demands to be read from the introduction to the last page. Not a tale of the daily, mundane, or pedestrian, it is a story of kings, rulers, and the powerful. The average Jerusalemite appears only as a pawn of history, to be butchered, starved, driven-out, or resettled.
As a Christian, it's hard to deny the allure of the holy city that was the setting for Jesus Christ's life. Indeed, even Christianity's god bemoaned the city, already ancient when he appeared, for its tragic past while alluding to the blood that would spill in its streets in coming years. And yet, as the reader turns through pages filled by debauchery, sieges, massacre, and horror, it is difficult to turn away from Montefiore's writing. Full of detail, Jerusalem is full of more detail than could possibly be necessary to know the history of the three-thousand-year old city,
"[O]n Page 4, Roman soldiers are crucifying 500 Jews a day in the run-up to the destruction of Jerusalem in the year 70; on Page 75, Alexander Jannaeus, a much-loathed Jewish king of the first century B.C., after slaughtering 50,000 of his own people, celebrates his victory “by cavorting with his concubines at a feast while watching 800 rebels being crucified around the hills.” Crucifixion was so common in the ancient world, Montefiore notes in one of his many fascinating asides, that Jews and gentiles alike had taken to wearing nails from victims as charms, anticipating what became a Christian tradition. And when the population dwindled — as after the First Crusade, which like a neutron bomb eliminated the infidels but preserved the holy places — you could always dash across the Jordan, like Baldwin the crusader king in 1115, and bring back “poverty-stricken Syrian and Armenian Christians, whom he invited to settle in Jerusalem, ancestors of today’s Palestinian Christians.”"
Despite his penchant for detail, Montefiore never seems to lose control of his narrative. Where tedium might threaten, a danger when facing a constant march of dates, names, and places, Montefiore seems to imbue his story with a kind of epicness... It is a city that is larger than history, exerting a magnetism on the peoples and nations that seem unable to avoid its attraction. Like a black hole, it seems to distort the laws of history and the decisions of otherwise rational actors who come too close to its gravitational pull.
And yet, the city is by no means as romantic as each successive re-writer of history would imagine it. From the barbarity of the crusaders at the turn of the first millennium to the dung-heap on the Temple Mount Caliph Omar found when he took the city in the 600s, to the modern-day controversies (including Yassir Arafat's head-scratching claim that Jerusalem had never been the site of the Jewish Temple). Still, Montefiore takes pains to be fair to Jewish, Christian, and Islamic relationships to the city, all while correcting oft-repeated myths and politically charged rewrites of history.
In some senses, it can be hard to read Jerusalem: The Biography and see a god in all of this violence. And yet, it is not any god that has brought the seemingly unending death and war to the Holy Land, but the errant followers of the faiths that call Jerusalem home.
If there's one book that I find myself recommending more than most lately, it's Thomas Ricks' survey and analysis of US generals from World War II toIf there's one book that I find myself recommending more than most lately, it's Thomas Ricks' survey and analysis of US generals from World War II to the present. With an eye to examining why history has been so kind to the men who led the US Army during that war, but less so to those who followed, The Generals: American Military Command from World War II to Today is as much a book about leadership and organizational behavior as it is about the commanders of the US military during war time. Ricks sets out to examine the gap between performance and accountability among the upper echelons of the US Army, and answer the question about why it has grown in the seven decades since World War II.
The Generals is 450 pages long and divided into five sections examining World War II, the Korean War, Vietnam, the Interwar Era, and the recent wars in the Middle East (Gulf I and II and Afghanistan). Within each, Ricks further organizes around the generals of the era, starting with General George Marshall, the unsung father of the modern US Army (and something of the Platonic ideal general, to hear Ricks conception). Marshall is both willing to relieve generals who are flawed, underperform, or just straight-up can't cut it, but is something of a savvy manager of these generals, moving them to other posts out of the way of the action rather than drumming them out of the service.
To demonstrate this, Ricks' runs through a series of the biggest names in US military history, using them to demonstrate his point. Here you find MacArthur, Eisenhower and Patton, as well as less popular names like Mark Clark and Terry de la Mesa Allen. The effect is that The Generals reads a bit like an overview , and with as many events and personalities as Ricks is covering, I suppose that's the most that can expected. At times, his evidence comes off more conclusive than evidentiary, and the level of detail increases the closer Ricks' narrative comes to the present with the Gulf Wars and Afghanistan War. As such, the book is probably better as an examination of leadership, especially for the lay reader, than as an in-depth contribution to the academic examination of history (though Ricks certainly takes time to recognize, mention, and even argue with others in the field that have intersected with his work).
For me, one of those lay readers more in the 'history buff' category than the academic, it's a fun and thought provoking read. It challenges our concepts about what drives change and success, with lessons for organizations beyond the scope of Ricks' subjects. Ricks grasps the nuances of his subject, if not always the depth of knowledge that a master of the field might display, and knows how to highlight points that matter without becoming distracted by minutia or allowing his argument to become weighed down by the mass of history he is examining.
In spite of its 450 pages, The Generals is a fast read, which is a tribute to Ricks' ability to tell the story and it's worth the time to read for anyone interested in the period, the US military, or American history. ...more
If you needed any reason to be cynical about American politics--especially nationally--then Mark Leibovich's This Town: Two Parties and a Funeral -- pIf you needed any reason to be cynical about American politics--especially nationally--then Mark Leibovich's This Town: Two Parties and a Funeral -- plus plenty of valet parking! -- in America's Gilded Capital is the book for you.
I guarantee that you will not put it down with a breath single breath of hope and optimism about the future of our country. Unless, of course, you're one of the few wealthy or connected enough to be one of the elites.
That or a journalist. Because to hear Leibovich tell it in this highly entertaining look at America's capital, journalists have become accomplices to the what happens there. Instead of America's Fourth Estate providing a check on the corruption, they have drunk from the Kool-Aid and drunk deeply.
I didn't pick up This Town because I am disillusioned, though certainly provides plenty of fodder for those who have lost faith in the fair and transparent workings of government. Certainly, the same trends that have led to Donald Trump's rise to the top of national polls can be seen in the descriptions that Leibovich gives. Rather, I read it from the perspective of a political junkie, and Leibovich fills This Town with stories, anecdotes, and miscellany that should interest any political observer. At times I felt like a driver slowly passing a bad accident on the interstate, unable to tear my eyes away. At the same time, it was hard to forget that, as an American, I am a passenger in the wreck.
As a resident of the capitol, and a journalist himself, Liebovich is as much a member of the club as he is a critic, and he frankly admits this fact. That said, he seems to pull no punches in framing the lives of the people whose lives are centered on the parties, accolades, and money that make the city churn. The result is an absolutely fascinating, and occasionally disturbing, read. ...more
Mormon Rivals: The Romneys, the Huntsmans, and the Pursuit of Power is an engrossing political drama, an in-depth look at the lives, families, historyMormon Rivals: The Romneys, the Huntsmans, and the Pursuit of Power is an engrossing political drama, an in-depth look at the lives, families, history of and connections between two of the biggest names in politics to come out of Mormon ranks in a generation. Authors Matt Canham and Thomas Burr are masters of their subject, weaving a fascinating look at how the two families took parallel paths to rise from pioneers on the American frontier to leadership on the national political stage.
For political junkies, Mormon Rivals, published by the Salt Lake Tribune, is like opening a bag of Cheetos: You promise yourself that you're going to just read a page or two and then put the book down, turn off the light and go to bed. Hours later, you're still reading, gripped by a saga that is as dramatic as that of any modern political dynasty. Before you know it, morning light is filtering through the bedroom windows and you realize that you've got orange dust up to your elbows and the Cheetos are gone. Oh, and you know far more about the Romneys and Huntsmans than you ever thought to ask. Canham and Burr carefully document not only the family history of both of the former presidential candidates, but detail the path that each took to political prominence, and the combination is both fascinating and informative.
Here are the “saloon keepers and rabble rousers” in Jon Huntsman’s past on father’s side and the “ministers and proselytizers” on his mother’s. We watch Mitt’s father’s quest for the White House and the poorly conceived comments that ended that campaign for the Republican nomination. And there’s more, with the authors tracing both families’ history into their past as pioneers of the American west. I thought I had done a pretty decent job of following the presidential race in 2012, reading numerous stories about both Mitt and Jon, but I found much that I had missed, or had been unclear, a more thorough and less loaded picture than most accounts provided of the candidates during the heat of a presidential campaign.
It’s also clear that Canham and Burr know their subjects, if not personally, well enough to provide appropriate context, whether the reader is a political debutant or veteran. As if it weren’t clear from the title, a major part of the friction between Huntsman and Romney that the authors are examining is the common religion, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Mitt and Jon come at their religion differently from each other, with Romney seeming, apparently sincerely, the more orthodox of the two, while Huntsman’s dedication to the LDS faith seems at times to be more cultural. The authors are able to use a deft hand to explain the faith to non-believers or the uninitiated, demonstrate how the faith impacted and was demonstrated by both Romney and Huntsman (and their families), but without the mistakes or faux pas that often characterize the writing of journalists from outside of the mountain west. It’s a style that neither flaunts not flogs the faith. Instead, it merely explains Latter-day Saint history and doctrine with sufficient information to provide a framework for the world from which Romney and Huntsman emerged.
In many respects, the Romney and Huntsman families come from different places and have made distinct choices that set them apart. Both have strong good looks, beautiful wives, and large families, but similarities fade from there. Romney may be culturally closer to Utah, but is more a child of Michigan and Massachusetts. Huntsman, a Salt Lake City native, often seems to have more in common with an east coast prep school crowd than with the social and economic conservatives of his home state.
There are other differences, as well. Both owe much to their fathers for help in building their careers, but Huntsman career seemed to rely more on his father’s connections, and large financial donations, to political elites. Whether in his appointment to the USTR or employment with Huntsman Corp, Jon’s biggest benefactor has always been his father Jon Huntsman, Sr. It’s hard to argue that Romney was as reliant on his father for Mitt’s immense success in business or in politics. On the other hand, the influence of George Romney on his son’s choices in life cannot be underestimated. However, it was an influence that is born of Mitt’s admiration for his father, not based on his father’s money.
And, of course, there is the 2012 campaign for the White House. Canham and Burr tell the story that is still fresh in the public’s mind with a thorough look at the ups and downs of the campaign.
As Mormon Rivals draws to a close, Canham and Burr look at the scions of the Romney and Huntsman clans, evaluating how the next generation has participated in their fathers’ political lives and whether a second generation of rivalry might continue the rivalry. Whether Abby Huntsman and Josh (or Tagg) Romney will enter politics, though, remains an open question, and the book closes with an eye on the future. ...more
Yes, Dad Is Fat by Jim Gaffigan gets five stars. Because when you laugh from start to finish, you feel happy, and feeling happy is worth five stars.
ItYes, Dad Is Fat by Jim Gaffigan gets five stars. Because when you laugh from start to finish, you feel happy, and feeling happy is worth five stars.
It's a little unnerving how much Jim Gaffigan seems to get the dad part of me.
It's been a few weeks (okay, a few months. I finished in May) since I read this (okay, I "listened" to it because Jim reads it, and that's a no brainer. It's like listening to his stand-up, but less live...), but with Jim's new show on TV Land, I thought I'd throw up my two-bits about the book.
For a guy who lives in urban New York, Jim's experience is surprisingly not unlike mine in suburban Utah, from how it is to play second fiddle parent to a stellar mom (what dad doesn't know how that feels?) to how different the world becomes the moment kids become a part of it. Being a dad is a sometimes strangely fun, but difficult experience, and Jim both honors and makes fun of it, in almost the same breath. He loves his kids, as do I, and yet he acknowledges that being a parent is no piece of cake.
It's a fun read/listen, and Jim Gaffigan is full of fun stories, lines, and perspective. Go check it out, buy a copy, and put some money in Jim's jar. After all, he's got five kids (six?) and a wife all living in an apartment on the fifth (sixth?) floor of a New York apartment building, sans elevator. The laughs are worth it.
PS: NO, your dog does not equal a child. Stop responding to people talking about their kids by mentioning your dog....more
At some point while reading Ashley's War, I started to read faster, flipping pages, and almost skimming. It must have been shortly after I realized thAt some point while reading Ashley's War, I started to read faster, flipping pages, and almost skimming. It must have been shortly after I realized that Ashley--the title character, but by no means the only female soldier documented in Gayle Tzemach Lemmon's book--was going to go to Afghanistan to serve on the front lines with special forces and wasn't going to tell her parents any more than that she would be an "enabler." They thought she was doing humanitarian work; Ashley was actually participating in raids with U.S. Army Rangers to capture insurgents in the dark of night.
As the father of three daughters, it scared the living daylights out of me. If I wasn't gripped by the book before, I was after this. I couldn’t put the book down, and it was closer to sunrise than it was to sunset when I finally closed Ashley's War on the last page.
Indeed, the entire book is gripping, fascinating reading, and Ashley’s War is a story that should be read by anyone seeking to understand American military policy, as well as the war in Afghanistan. The women Lemmon depicts in the story are admirable, incredible, and inspiring, and they deserve credit for their sacrifices. Ashley's War documents the creation of Cultural Support Teams by the U.S. Army Special Operations Command, a pilot program to put women on the battlefield to "enable" Green Berets and Army Rangers on sensitive missions in Afghanistan.
Simply put, aspects of Afghan culture prevented U.S. Special Forces—comprised entirely of men—from interacting with Afghan women without offending and alienating the population they were sent to protect. Because women in Afghanistan play an important role in the community and were aware of the movement of insurgents, American soldiers missed out on vital intelligence gathering that could have helped their efforts. In contrast, American women are seen as something of a third gender by Afghans, being neither men (and so prohibited from seeing, communicating, or being seen by Afghan women) nor Afghan female. Cultural Support Team members--women--could build relationships with women in ways that men could not. They could go where American men could not.
In great detail, Lemmon tells the stories of the women who heard about and applied to join the teams, the rigorous physical testing required of the applicants, and the bonding and friendships that grew during the experience. Lemmon is thorough and detailed in her reporting, relying on first-hand interviews with both the women and their families. The women are tremendous, every bit as brave, courageous and strong as the men they were joining on the front line. Lemmon’s writing is easy to read and understand, and she provides a level of background that allows anyone with any level of understanding about military affairs (or none at all) to read and enjoy.
In 2016, the United States moves to full integration of women in the Armed Services. When the history of women in the military is written, the Cultural Support Teams and Ashley's War may be seen as a critical moment and test in the policy shift.
That said, it was hard for me to read Ashley's War and not experience some reticence about America's foreign wars in recent years. Do America’s best and brightest need to be spending their best and formative years fighting, bleeding and dying in a faraway land? Has their sacrifice made America more secure? I believe in the men and women that have gone so far and given so much, and I was moved by the realization that far too few of us recognize or acknowledge the enormous burden that those few individuals have carried as a result of the war.
I received a copy of the book for review from the publisher....more
For a guy who literally looks like the Dos Equis man, Mark Kurlansky has managed to find some of the least interesting subject matter I could imagineFor a guy who literally looks like the Dos Equis man, Mark Kurlansky has managed to find some of the least interesting subject matter I could imagine and turn them into full histories. Whether it's salt (this one), cod (1988), oysters (2005), or the Basques (1991)...well, okay. A history of the Basques sounds like it has some potential.
My point is: Kurlansky seems to look around for the driest subjects and then to begin to research the heck out of it. And yes, he really does look like the Dos Equis man. "Stay thirsty, my friend."
And let me tell you, reading Salt: A World History made me thirsty. And hungry. Between examining the long and storied history of salt over the millennia, Kurlansky peppers the text with recipes in which sodium chloride plays a major, if not crucial, ingredient. Here we see pickling, preservation, and flavoring, and yet, we should not think that Salt: A World History is aimed at the culinary inclined. Kurlansky looks at geography, the rise of civilizations, and the placement of forts. His book is fascinating, including all sorts of salt-related trivia, from the beginnings of Tabasco Sauce to a scheme to introduce camels in the American west's deserts to how salt came to be both common and perfectly granulated. From the location of Roman military depots near salt deposits to the role a shortage in salt played in bringing about the end of the American Civil War, Kurlansky is all over the map.
However, if there is a critique to be made, then it is this all-over-the-map-ness that seems to typify Kurlansky's style. Running from ancient to modern times, Kurlansky doesn't seem to follow a single cohesive narrative, with sections starting and stopping without apparent reason or cohesion. It doesn't detract from the value of the information, but Salt: A World Historydoes make for an occasional dry and eclectic read.
If you're a novice, beginner, starting a blog in a new market, this might be the book for you. As it is, though, I've been blogging for half a decade.If you're a novice, beginner, starting a blog in a new market, this might be the book for you. As it is, though, I've been blogging for half a decade. Much of the advice in Born to Blog feels like rehashed advice, stuff I already know.
That said, if someone asks me how to start, I'll hand them this book, recommend they read it, and then suggest we get together to discuss how to apply it to their situation. There's no way to beat experience, but this can help provide a lay of the land for getting started. ...more
After reading American Sniper: The Autobiography of the Most Lethal Sniper in U.S. Military History, there’s no doubt in my mind that former U.S. NavyAfter reading American Sniper: The Autobiography of the Most Lethal Sniper in U.S. Military History, there’s no doubt in my mind that former U.S. Navy SEAL Chris Kyle is patriot. Beyond that, though, my feelings about the former soldier are less clear. To hear Kyle tell it in his memoir, he has all the ingredients of a patriotic American: love for country, God and family—and probably in that order, too. But the more I read Kyle’s story, the more complex he becomes. Reading American Sniper, it’s obvious why Hollywood was able to make the memoir into a blockbuster movie. In addition to being the most effective sniper in US military history, Kyle has a talent for making already exciting stories about his time on the battlefield even more gripping. Kyle fought in some of the deadliest battles of the war in Iraq, from Fallujah to Ramadi. If even half of the stories he tells actually happened, he’s already done more than any big screen action hero can pretend to do. Kyle has a combination of skills, temperament, and character that made him deadly to his enemies, but also left me equivocal about the impact of war on American soldiers. Even as a fabulist, Kyle’s story as a soldier is a fascinating perspective from the front lines of American foreign policy. Further, because so many have seen the movie based on his book, his memoir could have significant impact on how Americans view the war in Iraq, for better or for worse. It’s that impact that has elicited response from across the celebrity spectrum, both in support and opposition to the movie. As another soldier wrote, though, Kyle’s perspective of the war in Iraq is just that: a perspective. It isn’t a definitive analysis of the war, why we went, and whether we should have been there. It’s one man’s experience in war-time. That said, the perspective is valuable and with such a small percentage of Americans signing up to serve in uniform, it’s a perspective that the rest of voting America might consider. Throughout American Sniper, Kyle seems to struggle with polar aspects of his nature. On one hand, he is driven by a need to be heroic, acting on a sense of invincibility and taking a devil-may-care approach to danger. On the other hand, he truly believes that his cause is just, wants to protect his fellow soldiers, and return home to be a considerate father. It was a struggle that his baser instincts seemed all too often to win. Taya, Kyle’s wife, whose commentary is interspersed throughout American Sniper, tells Kyle that if he reenlists, he would be choosing the SEAL lifestyle over her and their family. Kyle acknowledges it. And then chooses the war and his fellow soldiers, anyway, heading back to Iraq to fight in Ramadi. Returning home after his deployments was a trial and a hell for those around him, as well as for Kyle, too. And yet, Kyle says, multiple times, that he liked being a sniper and he liked killing the enemy. He considered them to be savages. Killing a man is not, and should not be, an easy thing, and Kyle’s story demonstrates in high relief the conditioning through which soldiers must pass effective warriors. It changes them and the experience of becoming effective killers, necessary for war, continues to impact them even when they return home. I’ve never served in the armed forces, but if I ever did, I hope the soldier fighting next to me is as effective as Kyle. Not only did he cover fellow soldiers under fire, he carried them out, too, protected them, led them, and brought them to safety. But if the effects of war on the people who must fight it have ever been unclear, American Sniper paints a disturbing picture. The war is hard on Kyle, physically and psychologically, as well as on his family. His body gradually breaks down over four tours of duty. At home between deployments he struggled with road rage and night terrors. After he retired from the service, Kyle sank into depression, alcohol, and pain. Multiply that by every veteran who was in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan. Relatively speaking, Kyle might be considered lucky. Rather than succumb to the death spiral of alcohol and depression, a near-death car accident leaves Kyle shaken and resolved to change. He decides to give back and starts an organization to help vets recover from PTSD. Ironically, it was in this cause that Kyle died, shot to death by a veteran suffering from PTSD. From Seth Rogan to Bill O’Reilly, Michael Moore to Sarah Palin, it seems like everyone has an opinion on Kyle. To some he is a hero; to others, he is a cold-blooded killer. The truth is likely somewhere in the middle. But that’s the nature of war, isn’t it? It’s not always clear-cut, and the demands we make on our men and women to kill or be killed changes them forever. If we’re going to support our troops, adjust our thinking about war, then understanding Kyle’s experience, as well as the experiences of so many others that serve, American Sniper is a helpful perspective....more
Spoiler alert: the trick to writing productivity is writing all the time. And you have a lot more time than you think. I promise.
I picked thSpoiler alert: the trick to writing productivity is writing all the time. And you have a lot more time than you think. I promise.
I picked this gem of a book up at Salt Lake Comic Con after a panel that included the author was asked a question along the lines of how they avoid writer's block. Without missing a beat, one of the panelists (Larry Correia, I think) said there's no such thing as writer's block, and each of the panelists agreed. Now, I've never had a problem with writer's block, per se, but there have been times when I've questioned my own ability to accomplish much writing.
Sure, I can bust out a 140 character long tweet without two brain cells, and I can click 'like' on about 19,000 Facebook posts of LOL Catz and cute little babies without losing a single calorie. But writing something substantive? A blog post? Finishing the fourteenth short story that I've begun this summer? Rounding out the outline of that space opera novel I've been working on since my first child was born (alright, it's not the same novel anymore, but the point remains)?
Then it's a bit more difficult.
Back to Salt Lake Comic Con and the author's panel. The panel was a list of fairly illustrious--if also fairly local--authors, including the not unproductive Brandon Sanderson, Larry Correia, Dave Farland/Wolverton, and the currently being reviewed book's author, Kevin J. Anderson. Somewhere in that discussion about writer's block (which was not the panel topic, by the way), Anderson noted that a lot of times it was a productivity problem, not a lack of material to write about, and if you keep working, you manage to blow through the block. Coming from a guy who has busted out 125 novels--a number of which a bestsellers--and doesn't look like he's been parked on the couch consuming potato chips for the last five years, I was interested.
(Did you see the subtle way he plugged his book there? Yeah, me neither.)
So, naturally, I bought it as soon as the panel was over and I could make my way through the crowds over to Anderson's Wordfyre booth.
I read it that night. The book is short because, let's be honest: you should spend more time writing than reading about how to spend more time writing.
I won't give away the million dollar secrets here, because that's how Anderson's going to make his million dollars, but the $10 I dropped on the book was worth it, even if just to inspire me to change my habits and behavior to write more.
And I have: the last half week has been substantially more productive and useful than in a long while. Productivity is a fantastic thing; it builds on itself and creates more productivity and more success. That's worth way more than $10. ...more
Perhaps we’re doing third world development all wrong.
That was the thought that stuck with me most after I finished reading James Tooley’s The BeautifPerhaps we’re doing third world development all wrong.
That was the thought that stuck with me most after I finished reading James Tooley’s The Beautiful Tree: A Personal Journey into How the World’s Poorest are Educating Themselves, a surprisingly readable book about the role of private schools in education in some of the world's poorest neighborhood. In The Beautiful Tree, Tooley tells his story about discovering private schools in some of the world’s poorest neighborhoods and discovering that in case after case they are doing well, are educating the poor, and are often, if not always competitive with the much better funded government schools that are found nearby.
It’s a proposition that surprised me, and for good reason: the private schools in my neighborhood—which is already among the higher income brackets in the state—are prohibitively expensive. Fortunately, I have a high degree of confidence in the public schools available to my family, but what about in places where public schools are failing or are inadequate? What choices do those who live there have?
Tooley found himself in some of these places while researching private schools in India for the World Bank. One day, he wondered into one of the poorer neighborhoods Hyderabad’s Old City and found it overflowing with small, parent-funded schools. At first, such schools seemed to be the exception rather than the rule, but as Tooley began to look for schools in other countries where his World Bank research took him, he found similar schools and similar stories, often existing in spite of the protests of government officials that private schools could not and did not exist for the poor (Tooley finds them specifically in India, Nigeria, Ghana and China, though this latter case is unique from the others).
Ironically, the book is not a critique of what is going wrong in the world, but rather seems expository of something that is going right and without the interference or help of the state. Parents, dismayed at slovenly, under-motivated and underperforming schools, banded together to form schools that are accountable to them, and the results are astounding, providing education to student who would not otherwise have opportunity.
Did I mention that these private schools are not subsidized, let alone acknowledged, by the government? Rather, parents scrimp and save, putting a premium on the education of their children. No one is going to get rich teaching at private school, thought: Tooley quotes fees at $10 per year in some cases, and generally in the range 4-20% of the minimum wage of the country. Some schools even offer scholarships to help students who still cannot afford the fees.
How do private school students rate against their peers? Tooley tested 24,000 students in India, Nigeria, Ghana and China in math and language proficiency. In India and Africa, children in private schools almost always excelled over those in public schools; in China, private schools were more likely to be limited to remote locations where travel to public schools was not safe. The one place that the government did better than private schools was in providing playgrounds for schools.
Tooley seems to attribute the cause to a general lack of accountability among government teachers, whereas private school teachers were held directly accountable by parents. With no incentive to excel among government teachers, they often delivered high rates of absenteeism, failed to teach altogether, or allowed classes to collapse into chaos. Tooley also notes that government inspectors meant to assure teaching standards were easily paid off and kept away from government classrooms.
If there’s more I would have asked from Tooley, it would have been how to replicate the successes that he saw in India, Ghana, and Nigeria. If there’s a way to bring about serious and long-term change to the third world, it should be replicated.
Tooley tells the story in a series of anecdotes that is appealing and makes the reading easy. not to mention powerful. Even if third world development is not your cup of tea (it’s not mine), the story is fascinating....more