After the first twenty pages of Conversations with Friends, I began to think to myself that Frances, the protagonist in this novel, is very much like After the first twenty pages of Conversations with Friends, I began to think to myself that Frances, the protagonist in this novel, is very much like another imaginary Frances, Frances Ha, of Greta Gerwig's film by the same name. (Indeed, late in the book, there's a scene where Bobbi and Frances are watching an unnamed Greta Gerwig film.) Rooney's Frances is like young mumblecore personified: seemingly without many strong beliefs except those that strike her as convenient in the moment. Frances either excessively gives or excessively withholds information, or the expression of her own feelings, without much thought to consequence, leading to great misunderstandings or needing to clean up her messes later. Because of the temporal nature of her relationships, every phrase of every conversation is endlessly dissected by both Frances and her friends as having more import than it necessarily does. There are no throwaway lines in this youthful existence: things that people say that might, with other groups, be ignored or treated with irreverence carry enormous weight in the Rooney universe, to the point where one imagines it would be like walking on eggshells to encounter these characters in real life. (Not to mention the overanalysis of facial expressions, physical acts, clothing, etc.)
In short: Nothing worse than extremely intelligent and precocious youth either under- or overreacting to keep things "fun".
This isn't to say that the book isn't well-written: it is. It's just that the characters can be exasperating and difficult to like: mostly selfish, annoyingly intellectual and intellectually privileged, and all kind of a mess. Chances are that if you like the mumblecore film genre, you'll like this book, if not the characters themselves....more
An exceptionally fast read (I devoured it in the course of a 4-hour flight from Dallas/Fort Worth to Portland), The Startup Wife is a relatively straiAn exceptionally fast read (I devoured it in the course of a 4-hour flight from Dallas/Fort Worth to Portland), The Startup Wife is a relatively straightforward novel that explores what happens when a newlywed couple (who elope after just a few months!) then move onto create a company, one that becomes massively successful. It breaks no new ground (other than that the wife/co-founder is Bangladeshi) and doesn't surprise anyone who already works in tech that the stereotypical Silicon Valley VC ecosystem is highly dysfunctional, sexist, and in many cases, simply crazy. You can tell from page nine or so that either the startup or the marriage is doomed in the end, and maybe the only mystery is whether both of them will be. The book's conclusion is also a little too neat and tidy and rushed; a single, tragic incident happens on the platform, and Asha and Cyrus make some major changes to not only it but the corporate structure as a result? Seems implausible.
The only other issue I saw with the book is that Tahmima Anam leaves a bunch of plot jumping-off-points unaddressed, kind of like an interstate highway that's been built with stub ramps. For instance, you can see that Anam had intentions of leveraging the wacky mission and secrecy of the Utopia incubator more, but she doesn't explain to the reader why the incubator is so secret and exclusive, why it's constructed to be a disaster prepper space, what dirty money is behind the lavish interiors or Li Ann's ability to essentially not have a real job and yet develop B2C products of dubious utility, and so on. There are several other connection points like this that I wish had been excised if Anam wasn't going to build upon them.
An entertaining read overall but not a must-consume....more
Another brilliant collection of weird and dystopian short stories from George Saunders, the master of this genre. Although I found his novel Lincoln iAnother brilliant collection of weird and dystopian short stories from George Saunders, the master of this genre. Although I found his novel Lincoln in the Bardo moderately compelling, Saunders is truly at his best when he doesn't have the massive, expansive canvas of an entire book to work with. The constraints of the short story genre force him to really hone his craft to a fine point, of which we are the beneficiaries -- and particularly with the kind of wacky imaginative environments that Saunders creates, it's really hard to sustain that tempo for much longer than a 15-20 page story and still be effective.
Obviously, in a collection like this, there are a few stories that don't really go anywhere, but they are mercifully short (and rare). Also, Saunders has a fixation with the setting of murderous theme parks; this was a setting of Civilwarland in Bad Decline, one of his previous anthologies, and the backdrop appears in two different stories in this volume. Although it is his home base, it does tend to wear on the reader after a while and one wishes he could have branched out a bit.
Other than that, Saunders is, as usual, at the top of his game, using his imaginary worlds to poke fun humanity's many flaws and his characters' significant (but not unusual) defects. Highly recommended....more
At first, I found Heisey's debut novel to be extremely hilarious. Maggie came across as a loud, witty, opinionated, but still somewhat likeable millenAt first, I found Heisey's debut novel to be extremely hilarious. Maggie came across as a loud, witty, opinionated, but still somewhat likeable millennial, who despite being in the process of divorcing her husband and falling apart, still had a close support network of friends and colleagues with whom she could share anything. Unfortunately, halfway through the book, she descends further into a pit of self-loathing, narcissism, and obsessive behavior that is just painful to plow through. I get that Heisey did this deliberately in order to generate a "recovery" for her, but I think she crossed a line because you realize at the end of the book just how much of a nihilist Maggie actually is. She is completely unmoored from any core beliefs or moral/ethical code; every choice she makes is for the here-and-now. None of this is changed by her eventual "recovery" because that is seemingly what she wants. In the end, she just comes across as yet another chaotic, entitled millennial with absolutely no sense of propriety (any shame is just temporary and an obstacle to be overcome rather than an indicator that maybe she shouldn't behave in certain ways anymore).
Really Good, Actually is a light read: nothing too terrible happens overall to any of the characters in the end. (Heisey mercifully skips over the actual consequences of, say, someone getting really drunk, then doing a line of coke, then also smoking pot.) But having finished the book in nearly one sitting, I can't help feel like I just ate an entire bag of potato chips in one go: vaguely nauseous and still not very satiated....more
This is a fabulously no-nonsense book about the power of language to form "in groups" that can, at the extreme end of it, turn into coercive and abusiThis is a fabulously no-nonsense book about the power of language to form "in groups" that can, at the extreme end of it, turn into coercive and abusive relationships. Montell starts with the most famous and harmful examples (Heaven's Gate, People's Temple), moves onto "religions" that haven't quite devolved into mass suicide (Scientology), and winds up in a slightly happier place -- CrossFit, SoulCycle, tech startups, and so on. Along the way she analyzes not only how and why these groups carefully invent and curate their own language, but also touches on the power of ritual: how humans crave connection with one another, and how that connection is often facilitated by shared, conformant experiences. What happens when you can't leave ritual time behind, however, is where these communities tip into abuse and control.
Cultish is probably one of the better non-fiction books I've read this year, in part because there's not a spare word out of place or a bunch of superfluous prose. Montell cuts right to the chase with her smartly-written, compact chapters, which is much appreciated when we're awash in non-fiction books that could have been blog posts. Highly recommended....more
Chuck Klosterman's The Nineties was a fun romp through the decade of my youth. It is definitely hard to remember a time before everyone and everythingChuck Klosterman's The Nineties was a fun romp through the decade of my youth. It is definitely hard to remember a time before everyone and everything was connected to the Internet at all times, and Klosterman accurately describes how the Mandela effect (not knowing something for certain, such as the year in which Nelson Mandela died), though inconceivable today, was not necessarily a bad thing. Despite all of the technology that we now have access to and the so-called "social networks" that were supposed to bring us all closer together, I have never felt more disconnected from my fellow citizens than at this point in history. More technology and technological progress (hello, AI) is not necessarily the answer to everything. This isn't just some misguided nostalgia for the pre-World Wide Web era -- there is something serious underpinning Klosterman's reflections upon key events during the 90's and how they were perceived and analyzed by the citizens of that era.
Sadly, quite a bit of Klosterman's impact is lost via his extremely nihilistic worldview as espoused in the book. What's the point of revisiting major world events of the 90's if the conclusion is that nothing really matters and none of these events had an impact upon the world? Clearly untrue. Now, I don't expect Klosterman meant to come across this way, because he's too bright of a journalist to realize that it's really true. But you exit the book feeling a not-insubstantial disquiet at his implicit conclusion that, not only did the Web of the 90's give rise to an alternate digital reality, in 2023 we now inhabit it fully: a Matrix-like simulacrum of the world instead of the real world where there are actual consequences to our (and anyone's) actions. It's a rather terrifying swallowing of the blue pill and Klosterman makes few defenses of truth and facts, preferring to portray all this technological advancement as inevitable and the destruction of reality as a similarly inevitable conclusion. While this may be a cute thing to do for a Gen-X cultural critic, Klosterman just legitimizes complacency in a time of massive societal change, seeing those battles as having been fought and lost two to three decades ago rather than a battle that should be fought now.
In short, I found the book both excellent and a disappointment. Disappointed that Klosterman didn't use his bully pulpit to conduct more of a rigorous analysis and take a point of view that certain things still matter rather than to shrug his shoulders and be like, "meh, the 90's were the last time anyone really cared about anything and that's that"....more
From the very beginning of the book, Ozeki leaves some pretty obvious hints that there are going to be some supernatural (or, as it turns out, quantumFrom the very beginning of the book, Ozeki leaves some pretty obvious hints that there are going to be some supernatural (or, as it turns out, quantum physics) elements to the book, given how one of the protagonists, Nao, refers to herself as a "time being". Fair enough as a warning, but it takes Ozeki almost 70% of the way through the book before something actually happens to introduce a plot twist in this manner. Up until then, it's just a regular old sad book about a depressed and lonely Japanese teenager being bullied by her classmates, and her dad, who is also depressed and suicidal. In other words, I felt like I had to wait a really long time to get to the good stuff. Hence 3/5 stars....more
An exceptionally well-researched and fast-paced journey through the life of Jimmy Carter, one of America's most unlikely politicians in recent memory.An exceptionally well-researched and fast-paced journey through the life of Jimmy Carter, one of America's most unlikely politicians in recent memory. Carter was admired for the first two years of his presidency, reviled for the last two, and exited office with some of the lowest approval ratings of any president, even worse than Richard Nixon. But in time, Carter's reputation has been rehabilitated, because even if he was a hapless manager, especially in times of crisis (such as the very unlucky last two years of his term), he never did any serious damage to the United States and many of his policies and legislation have become extremely successful in the fullness of time. It also helps that Carter has had a very active post-presidency; for better or worse, he can't keep his mouth shut when he sees injustice, to hell with what's expected of former presidents (not to undermine current presidents) or diplomatic protocol.
I see a lot of myself in Carter, which is perhaps why I like him so much, but also recognize that Carter's stubbornness, stilted and awkward communication style, and refusal to largely play the political game (trading favors for votes -- though his underlings certainly did) are what doomed his presidency. Voters claim they don't want politicians because of the horse trading necessary to get things done, yet they by the same token want to hold elected officials accountable to outcomes! It's somewhat disheartening but yet real that you can either like a person for who they are, or you can like them for what they get done, but it's rare that you like them for both....more
Concise and to the point. Does a great job of demystifying the process of putting together a will and showing that you don't need a lawyer to help youConcise and to the point. Does a great job of demystifying the process of putting together a will and showing that you don't need a lawyer to help you with simple situations. I think the biggest takeaway I had was that the hardest part about drafting a will isn't actually making the document - it's deciding what you want to give away and to whom, as well as who the backup (or residual) beneficiaries of those assets should be....more
Maggie Haberman is a total pro. Long after most of us were exhausted by Donald Trump's antics, she has continued to cover him, even in his post-presidMaggie Haberman is a total pro. Long after most of us were exhausted by Donald Trump's antics, she has continued to cover him, even in his post-presidential period, and one suspects, so long as he continues to make news (or news is made about him, in the form of litigation surrounding the 2020 election). It's amazing that she has remained sane through her many years of covering him as her sole beat, and yet one wonders if she's able to tolerate Trump by seeing him as a human being rather than a celebrity, something that comes across quite clearly in this book. There's nothing particularly revelatory about his character that we don't already know -- he's a deeply flawed, narcissistic, impulsive individual -- who is not a simpleton but deliberately chooses to engage with the world at a very simplistic level, lest he be forced to truly reckon with himself by introducing nuance into any given situation. And, as president, he was sort of an accidental fascist, someone who was a fascist but without really knowing why or having any strong beliefs about the aims of being a fascist, other than that it's a value system that aligns closely with his own personal beliefs that a good existence in the world is purely about resource acquisition and maximization of one's wealth, reputation, celebrity, etc.
Having lived through all four years of Trump's presidency and followed it closely through The New York Times's reporting, there wasn't much more about it that I didn't already know, other than to have Haberman confirm that the insanity and Apprentice-like atmosphere of the Trump White House was just as bad from the inside as it appeared on the outside. However, it was enlightening to read about Trump's origin story and how he ended up being the way he is. Construction and property development in New York City has strong ties to the mob, so it's not surprising that Trump ran both his company and the presidency like a [rather slapdash] Mafia family, because that's kind of all that he knows. At the same time, unlike the actual mob, he sometimes treats his own family worse than other individuals that he has to deal with. Again it points to the fact that Trump has no real center, no real beliefs, no principles (however odious they might be, like the Koch brothers) to animate his actions, other than self-enrichment/self-aggrandizement and optimization for pure short-term gains.
It's hard to see where the Republican Party goes from here, because if anything, electing Trump president definitely highlighted the number of sycophantic, authoritarian grifters like Lindsay Graham and Ted Cruz that dominate the GOP and that will outlast Trump. It's definitely become the party of full-throated autocracy, and I guess the next question is: will they be returned to power on that basis in 2024, whether Trump is the candidate or not?...more
Cool coffee table book on a very niche subject. I am a little peeved at the low effort that was put into the book, though: it’s not hard to surf ShuttCool coffee table book on a very niche subject. I am a little peeved at the low effort that was put into the book, though: it’s not hard to surf Shutterstock, Getty Images, etc., find a bunch of pictures that match a criteria, and turn that into a book with little added value. (Which, if you look at the credits page, is essentially what the “author” has done here.) I found it hard not to feel a little ripped off that this is how the book was assembled. But at the same time the images are excellent....more
Gina Sheridan is a librarian based in St. Louis, MO and runs a Tumblr, iworkatapubliclibrary.com. The book is a selection of her most hilarious anecdoGina Sheridan is a librarian based in St. Louis, MO and runs a Tumblr, iworkatapubliclibrary.com. The book is a selection of her most hilarious anecdotes collected from years of working at the library. A quick read, hysterical yet also touching as she dives into several stories of how she has been able to help various patrons with their lives....more
In 2018, my wife and I visited the Toyota museum in Nagoya, Japan, which traces the history of Toyota from a humble textile weaver all the way throughIn 2018, my wife and I visited the Toyota museum in Nagoya, Japan, which traces the history of Toyota from a humble textile weaver all the way through to its present day footprint being a leading automobile manufacturer. The nicest thing I can say about the museum is that it is extremely comprehensive. If you want to know all the information about how the sausage is made, including admiring individual metal stamping machines dating back decades, plus extensive exhibits on every single aspect of automobile manufacturing, this museum is for you. But for the rest of us that just want the highlights, such meticulous detail -- and bless their hearts for collecting it all -- is overwhelming.
And so it goes for America's Bank: The Epic Struggle to Create the Federal Reserve. Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately, if you are an economics wonk), Lowenstein's extremely well-researched book is all the detail you could ever want to know about the creation of a key federal institution over a century ago. And frankly, that is too much detail for most of us. I had picked up the book hoping that at least the characters who were involved in the creation of the Fed might be somewhat interesting, but I ought to have foreseen that I was going to be sorely mistaken. Obviously, a bunch of white guys who spent years nerding out about banking policy weren't going to be the most fun to read about, and so many of the details about the epic fights over this or that fine point of governance are perhaps best left to be forgotten in the sands of time, unless you currently work in the field of monetary policy or at the US Treasury.
The TL;DR of the book for the mass market, in three points:
* No, the Fed was not created out of a secretive conspiracy or cabal. * Its unique form of a federation of regional reserve banks hearkens back to Americans' wariness of centralized control of anything. * Nothing would have gotten passed had it not been for Woodrow Wilson badgering, pleading, and cajoling the various interests both within and without Congress to finally pass a bill chartering the Federal Reserve System.
One opinion on the last point. Without prejudice to the fact that Wilson might have been a racist (and honestly, if you measure the Democratic Party in those days against the standards of today, which representative or senator wasn't?), it's unfortunate that, in the name of social justice, we're running around removing Wilson's name from schools, buildings, and the like. Wilson accomplished a lot for America, creating the Fed included, and it's sad he doesn't get the recognition he deserves. It's possible for someone to be racist *and* to have done other good works in his life, and I think we cancel someone like Wilson at our peril....more
I vividly recall the murder of Reena Virk from my teenage years. Though she was several years younger than me, and had many different reasons for beinI vividly recall the murder of Reena Virk from my teenage years. Though she was several years younger than me, and had many different reasons for being bullied (different from the reasons that I was bullied), I was still shocked by the level of sadism that she suffered at the hands of her attackers, even in the weeks and months leading up to her killing. Like most of Canada, I was captivated by these teenagers who strutted around like they were hardened, violent criminals but in fact were, for the most part, very naive, scared kids, who talked a big talk but didn't walk the walk. Not until they severely beat and killed someone, that is.
I would not otherwise have picked up this book had I not been reminded of Virk’s murder by encountering Rebecca Godfrey's obituary (she died last year). Although I felt that the teenagers' motives for so brutally assaulting Virk had never been adequately explained, I had long forgotten this fact, overshadowed as it was by the fact that Kelly Ellard, one of the actual murderers (who ultimately finished off Virk after she had been seriously but not fatally beaten) went through three murder trials before finally being found guilty. Godfrey's obituary mentioned how she had gradually won the trust of many of the main characters and finally was able to put the pieces together in a way that sensational, daily news journalists (mostly white men, by the way) weren't.
So major props to Godfrey for her exhaustive and persistent reporting. That is a core strength of the book and a remarkable achievement, to get these girls (primarily girls, with the exception of Warren Glowatski) to speak with her extensively. The book, however, is weakened by two main issues. One is that Godfrey writes like a simpleton, as if the book is intended for YA readers, using very short sentences and annoyingly basic vocabulary. The story just reads like See Dick and Jane Murder Their 14-Year Old Classmate. At the same time, her prose can flip from overly simplistic language to unnecessarily mawkish and overdramatic analogies and analyses, as if she is trying to paint an artistic picture of each and every situation when none is warranted. She deliberately repeats information in an awkward attempt at mellifluousness not befitting the situation. (I think this is a function of Godfrey primarily being a novelist rather than an investigative reporter.) The result is not only laughable and cringe-worthy in many places, but makes the reader question Godfrey's own agenda behind these stylistic choices. Is she trying to elicit the reader's sympathy for the killers by subtly positioning them as simple folks, just caught up in a lot of empty, big talk until it one day, "mysteriously" crossed the line into more than that? Is she making some kind of ham-fisted attempt to put the reader in the minds of a 14-year old juvenile delinquent? It's hard to tell and of course now, we'll never know the answer.
In all, I wish Godfrey hadn't undermined her own reporting by deciding to write the book in such a florid, artistic manner, as the stylistic liberties just detract from the facts at hand. If she'd written the book using a more straightforward, factual approach, it would have been easier for the reader to understand what happened and the killers' motivations. Unfortunately, having finished the book, it just feels like I've watched a bad, low-budget "made for television" documentary airing on CBC. Now I know the facts, but I don't feel anything concrete about them and certainly don't really know what I should make of these characters....more
A well-researched book that explains the origins of semiconductor design and manufacturing, from its humble beginnings in the Silicon Valley of the 19A well-researched book that explains the origins of semiconductor design and manufacturing, from its humble beginnings in the Silicon Valley of the 1950s and 1960s, the rise of global chip giants like Intel and AMD, and ultimately, how the world came to rely on a globally-distributed ecosystems of fabs (chiefly based in Asia), lithography tools (largely controlled by the Dutch), and software design tools (mostly still dominated by America). Miller holds, as what I think is the intended central thesis of his book, that military applications for semiconductors have never been far away, much as the media and most of their readers/viewers fixate on consumer use cases.
I say that I think this is his central thesis, because Miller does tend to meander all over the place. The book is part history lesson, part analysis of "what went wrong with Intel over the last decade and the American domestic semiconductor industry generally", and part an argument that control of semiconductor technology for building increasingly advanced weapons is what interests governments in this field. I kind of wish he had stuck to the area that he knows best as an international relations academic and largely left both the history lesson and business analyses to others. Now obviously, there is a certain amount of both that you need in order to get to the geopolitical dynamics, but I think a cleaner edit could have shaved about 10% of the book and made it a lot more obvious that Miller's why for writing the book is to explain both American and Chinese fixation on this technology and the battles over TSMC and Taiwan specifically. The rest of it (whether there are enough chips to go in automobiles, for example) doesn't really matter. 55 chapters were a bit of a slog to get through, short as they are.
Overall still a good read if you want to understand the role of this critical technology in Sino-American geopolitics....more
The 1619 Project is a comprehensive and convincing look at how the shape of so many elements of American society today -- from the health care system,The 1619 Project is a comprehensive and convincing look at how the shape of so many elements of American society today -- from the health care system, to policing, to work -- are inextricably tied to the legacy of slavery. No wonder this body of work has enraged so many conservatives, as it calls into question not only the commonly-accepted understanding of America, but the righteousness of so much of what we hold dear. Their only hope is to attempt to suppress these facts by banning the teaching of critical race theory or even using this very book as instructional material.
While I have no quibbles with the impeccable research in these dozen or so essays, the book is ultimately rather cynical and nihilistic. If all elements of American society are tainted with their association to slavery, it becomes extremely difficult to extricate oneself sufficiently from that taint without getting dragged into a war of intellectual purity (q.v. the "woke left" and well-intentioned but ultimately futile movements like "defund the police"). In other words, the framing makes it nearly impossible to say anything positive about America, which is ironic, because Hannah-Jones opens the book by reflecting upon how her late father lionized the theory of what America was founded on and only wished it to be applied to everyone. But how can both be true, if everything America is founded upon is inextricably connected to slavery?
The essays ultimately create a breadcrumb trail towards Hannah-Jones' capstone where she forcefully makes the case for reparations. Yet that seems too neat of a solution. Whatever one might think of them, they create a monetary salve for past transgressions, not policy reforms for the future. If the shape of American capitalism with all its built-in inequalities is a function of the slave economy, don't reparations merely perpetrate the same structural issues in the system by distributing more entrance tickets to the main event of "trickle-down economics"?
I am interested to read From Here to Equality: Reparations for Black Americans in the Twenty-First Century, the book that Hannah-Jones mentions on this topic, but I have many questions about reparations beyond whether they are the just and right thing to do in theory (which they are). Beyond my concerns about merely accelerating the development of what is already an individual and not collective economic system (strengthening individual wealth rather than systems that lift all boats, which is fundamentally an engine of inequality), I also wonder if reparations are absolutely the highest priority in a time when, for example, democracy is literally under attack from the right, or climate change may leave much of our planet unlivable. Given the limited resources of individuals and government, is correcting for these admittedly terrible historical wrongs the most important area of focus? I'd like to see an argument for why reparations are a Priority One item as compared to everything else that society could be working on....more
There is no great way to review Bill McKibben's book without a bunch of spoilers, but I imagine this is less of a concern for a non-fiction book as thThere is no great way to review Bill McKibben's book without a bunch of spoilers, but I imagine this is less of a concern for a non-fiction book as there's not really a plot (and the facts presented are discoverable by anyone) so I won't check the "Hide entire review because of spoilers" box. The Flag, the Cross, and the Station Wagon is a meandering, part memoir, part treatise on the massive changes in America since the 1960's, but can generally be summed up according to the following:
* The fact that America even came about to be a separate country involved a massive compromise between abolitionists and slave owners, without which America wouldn't exist. The original sin of inequality has subsequently compounded itself over centuries as it's been codified into, for example, government policies (like the mortgage interest tax deduction) that preference the ownership of real estate over renting it. Although mathematically speaking, reparations would be the right technocratic answer, it's unclear how many Americans -- even those on the left -- would support them. This is tied to point number two, which is: * America has grown substantially more hyper-individualistic in the last 40 or 50 years, accelerated in no small part by Reaganism. McKibben also bemoans the path(s) not taken by liberals, cut short by the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy, which resulted in Nixon's election and a 5-4 stacked Supreme Court ruling (Martinez et. al.) that codified inequity in the education system (school funding based on local taxable revenue rather than allocation from a statewide or country-wide pool). (Sidebar: I'm not sure what to take away from McKibben's comments here except maybe assassinations do work as a conservative policy tool?) * Although boomers get shit on a lot for enjoying the fruits of this inequality and failing to do anything about political polarization, the breakdown of a civil society, the destruction of the environment, etc. -- and McKibben doesn't shirk away from noting that these things did happen on the boomers' watch -- he inveighs them to become activists now at the end of their lives, to correct some of their wrongs now that they have less to lose. This is a novel proposition but also not one that I think will be heeded, for why should boomers who have lived in relative [suburban] comfort by way of ignoring most of these issues for decades now rise to the challenge? * McKibben has spent his entire adult life being a climate activist and journalist but by his own admission, the effects have been negligible (he states that he would love to win a battle sometime, which is not an unfair observation).
That's about it for the material covered in the book -- there, I saved you a few hundred pages. Although McKibben makes some valuable arguments in it, it's marred by the fact that McKibben has written it as a memoir, peppered as it is with various anecdotes mostly from his childhood and seen through the lens of Lexington, MA, the upper-middle-class suburb where he grew up. The book as a whole feels rather directionless and much of his arguments are covered elsewhere (see The 1619 Project for example), so overall it's a bit of a disappointing read, made more so by McKibben's own admission that much of his activism over the last half-century has really come to naught, because frankly, most people find activism around climate change to be boring and irrelevant to their daily lives, something that climate activists still haven't cracked.
So while I learned more than a few things from McKibben's book, I would really hesitate to recommend it to anyone, since I'm not sure what a general audience is meant to actually get out of it....more
Predictably bad pulp fiction from a Little Free Library, with just about the expected level of sexism and racism of the era (1974). It attempts to be Predictably bad pulp fiction from a Little Free Library, with just about the expected level of sexism and racism of the era (1974). It attempts to be a James Bond knockoff but the plot doesn’t even make a whole lot of sense and contains a bunch of irrelevancies, so even as a trashy read for a weekend at the beach, this fails....more
Starkly illustrated in black-and-white, this book is a paean to the many beautiful buildings in Canada that have been destroyed in the name of progresStarkly illustrated in black-and-white, this book is a paean to the many beautiful buildings in Canada that have been destroyed in the name of progress....more
I was only a fan of Tegan and Sara for a few years in the early 2000's, but I was intrigued enough by the title and premise of their memoir to pick itI was only a fan of Tegan and Sara for a few years in the early 2000's, but I was intrigued enough by the title and premise of their memoir to pick it up. At the very least I figured that it would be a fun trip down memory lane, a vehicle through which to reminisce about what it was like to be a teenager in the 1990's (they're two years younger than me). I was significantly more straight-laced than Tegan and Sara were, though. I couldn't help but feeling like I missed out on doing a whole bunch of drugs, getting drunk, and going to raves. As much as they pushed back on their parents, many of us would have loved to have had a mom and stepdad that were as permissive as the Quin's.
The most interesting observation I had about Tegan and Sara's upbringing, though, is how much emotional freedom they had -- to express their feelings about one another, their friends, their girlfriends, and their parents. Now mind you, this was not always done in the most diplomatic or constructive way: Tegan and Sara fought constantly, both with each other and sometimes with their parents, but they were lucky in that they didn't grow up in an environment where feeling or expressing one's emotions was discouraged. Obviously, this emotional openness turned out to be critical for their careers as singer/songwriters, but I'm not sure that even they understand how fortunate they were to grow up in an environment where this was encouraged.
I was also reminded about how, not so long ago, being gay was substantially more shameful than it is today. I remember back in high school, someone in my class tried to kill themselves because they were gay and being bullied so much. I'd forgotten about the level of vitriol directed towards non-heterosexual students until I read about it again. We've come a long way in a quarter century.
Overall, a solid memoir, even for someone who hasn't listened to Tegan & Sara in probably over twenty years. Although I'll now be putting on Under Feet Like Ours just for old times......more
I wanted to like this book -- it is written well -- but I just could not get over how narcissistic the protagonist is. It's like a cautionary tale forI wanted to like this book -- it is written well -- but I just could not get over how narcissistic the protagonist is. It's like a cautionary tale for millennials turning 45. And everyone around her indulges her selfishness! Despite the title, Andrea has never actually grown up. She never invests in anything (relationships) for long enough or at any level of depth (career) to truly figure out if she likes it or not, just moving onto the next thing (usually her lovers) in an attempt to... do what exactly? Feel less lonely? Andrea never once describes herself as lonely or depressed, but she also self-medicates (drinking, drugs) so that she doesn't need to become too analytical about her feelings. (She doesn't have a problem feeling her feelings, but she definitely avoids spending too much time with them, as evidenced by her level of triumph at pushing away her therapist.
I've known several Andreas in my life, and some of them are my friends. They can be fun to be around, sometimes, but other times I'm like, can't you get it together already and point your life in a direction? They're unhappy about the directionlessness of their lives but also unwilling to pick a path, which is terribly infuriating for the bystander. Perhaps since I know so many of these folks, I didn't also feel like I needed to read more about someone like this....more
Team Topologies is one of the clearest, most accessible and practical books I've read on how to effectively organize software teams in the modern era.Team Topologies is one of the clearest, most accessible and practical books I've read on how to effectively organize software teams in the modern era. Although many of its principles are echoed elsewhere in product management literature, there has not yet been a solid book aimed at engineering management on how and why to structure their teams to account for the realities of Conway's law, cognitive overload, massively distributed systems, and other features of today's engineering organizations. I've drawn on many of the principles articulated here (essentially domain-driven design for organizing people) such as the "reverse Conway maneuver" without knowing them or having vocabulary to explain to others. I've also frequently struggled with how to articulate to management -- both my peers, and superiors -- why organizational design is so critical in creating high-performing departments. I now have a book I can refer to again and again (and send them) on these topics.
There are a few downsides. As others mention in their comments, there is some repetition here, but it's not too bad in my opinion. One also sometimes tires of Skelton's invented management jargon and his over-reliance on Conway's "law" as an eternal truth rather than an observation that governs most interactions. And one also should be mindful that the Spotify organizational model has been somewhat discredited in the years since Skelton wrote this book. Like most such management books, one should not dogmatically adopt the models that the the author describes without adaptation to one's organizational culture and maturity, and Skelton even calls this out in his examples of failed digital transformation.
Overall, though, Skelton's book is one of the most accessible and practical resources on this topic, and I would strongly recommend it for product, engineering, and design leaders....more
Jason Calacanis is a loudmouth and sometimes a blowhard, and I don’t agree with all of his biases — especially his very Silicon Valley-centric bias. PJason Calacanis is a loudmouth and sometimes a blowhard, and I don’t agree with all of his biases — especially his very Silicon Valley-centric bias. Plus, his stated motivations for angel investing, which are to make a fuckton of money riding the wave of growth startups, are (obviously) aggressively robber-baron-capitalistic and going to be a turn-off for many folks who don’t share those values.
It doesn’t meant Calacanis’ book is worthless, far from it. Even if you don’t share his motivations or his values, you might still have good reasons to do angel investing. I even suspect that Calacanis himself has other reasons to do so besides completely unbridled greed, something he reveals as the book progresses. He doesn’t become any less candid, but he does become more genuine and human.
One problem with Calacanis’ advice — which, on the whole, is valuable — is that it’s often framed with a high level of certainty. He doesn’t come out and ever say it but the underlying message is often, “do it this way or you’re a fuckup.” But at the same time, Calacanis’ admits that his strong opinions have often been wildly wrong in the past. As such, the reader should ask themselves, which of his strong statements *today* has the potential of being outlandishly wrong? Govern yourself accordingly.
I enjoyed the book and found it incredibly helpful as I get into angel investing, but I suspect that it will turn off a lot of people because they can’t separate the core of what Calacanis is saying from the person he is and his delivery style. If you can, the book is of great value....more
A relatively complete look at what constitutes modern product marketing. Although I don't do this role anymore, I do appreciate seeing more and more lA relatively complete look at what constitutes modern product marketing. Although I don't do this role anymore, I do appreciate seeing more and more literature as of late covering the role of the product marketing manager (PMM) in bringing products to market. With an inexhaustible stream of new products coming out every day, proper positioning & messaging within the overall umbrella of brand and corporate marketing are increasingly critical to product success and getting them noticed by the users and buyers that matter most.
That said, I wouldn't say that Lauchengco's book is the best of all the product marketing books that I've read. It is a little dry, and does not quite animate the role of PMM as the key driver for both product and business success in a really passionate way. I don't think this is entirely Lauchengco's fault. Today, PMM still takes a back seat role in many organizations. If you want to know who controls the levers of power in a product-led organization, it is obviously product management, and unfortunately, PMM is under-invested in. Accordingly, it means they are reactive to market conditions rather being than proactive and focus only on tactical responsibilities that must be done (like launches) and less on strategic tasks (competitive & market intelligence; providing an outside-in view of PM's strategy and roadmap). It also means that there is an enormous amount of unevenness in PMM skillset and execution so it's hard for other functions -- PM and marketing both -- to know what to expect from PMM.
I also wish that Lauchengco had been less insular in her book, relying on her own background pre-Costanoa Ventures at Microsoft, Netscape and LoudCloud. As formative as these experiences were, they are a little bit dated. In writing the book, she had the opportunity to interview many other PMMs and bring their experiences and successes to light, and she could have done more of that. I also would have appreciated Lauchengco not just providing examples of PMM when it works well, but challenges that a PMM needs to overcome, grounded in real-life examples. It's too easy for PMMs or other marketing leaders to read such a book and think that a successful go-to-market plan is a walk in the park (as Lauchengco provides a "framework", of course), when in fact, most of what a PMM does on a day-to-day basis regardless of company size is troubleshooting and firefighting GTM problems.
One last nitpick, particularly around the term "go-to-market" (GTM). Put bluntly, it is hella confusing, and I did PMM for four years of my career! Lauchengco doesn't help here, even though she says she will in a section called "Key Terms" where she promises to distinguish "GTM engine", "GTM strategy", "product GTM", "GTM model", etc. by choosing terms that don't all contain the term "go-to-market". (Example: "distribution strategy" instead of "GTM strategy" or "GTM model".) But unfortunately, she completely ignores her own definitions throughout the rest of the book, instead littering imprecise use of the term "go-to-market" or GTM everywhere. For someone who advocates concision and precision as a core competency of being an effective PMM, this is a let-down, because frankly, there are lots of people inside a company who are willing to just throw around "go-to-market" as a term to make themselves sound smarter, and it seems like Lauchengco herself falls into this trap.
The book does contain useful information about the practice of PMM, and it will undoubtedly get a lot of airtime because of the author's connection to Silicon Valley Product Group (SVPG). This is essentially the third book in the SVPG series, following Inspired and Empowered (both of which are excellent). But overall, it felt like it was rushed to market just to fill that obvious gap in SVPG's teaching materials, and really could have used tons more research and examples beyond Lauchengco's own, and also another serious editing pass to ensure that the material is as crisp as it could be....more
In The Man Who Broke Capitalism, David Gelles makes a strong case that Jack Welch, channeling Milton Friedman and supported by Reaganomics, changed thIn The Man Who Broke Capitalism, David Gelles makes a strong case that Jack Welch, channeling Milton Friedman and supported by Reaganomics, changed the nature of the corporation from a benevolent entity that took care of workers to one where shareholder primacy is the watchword of the day. While I have some quibbles with Gelles's painting the picture in such stark terms (and, in fact, portraying pre-Chicago School corporations as homely, non-exploitative firms is an enormous distortion of reality), he does bring a great deal of evidence to the table that ruthless cutbacks, dealmaking (a/k/a inorganic corporate development) and financialization have led to the destruction of many once-great American corporations. While some CEOs seem to have learned their lessons, many still have not; as I write this, Elon Musk is in the process of applying the Jack Welch playbook to Twitter, and in six months to a year, I believe that firm will become a husk of itself -- to the extent that it still exists and is solvent.
That the Republican Party has subsequently convinced a large proportion of the electorate that, rather than being to blame for all of this, they are the saviors of the working class is not only a brilliant triumph of marketing and public relations (a/k/a lying to people) but also an illustration of just how stupid voters are (a/k/a failing to think critically, check facts, or even admit that there are things that are true and things that are not true, even if those truths are painful to hear). It's along the lines of the welfare mom caught on videotape voting for Mike Harris Conservatives in the 1990's even after he promised to cut her benefits. Accordingly, you can't expect voters to cotton on to the fact that they are being conned by the billionaire class, even in 2022, so I predict that a lot of what's described in this book is going to continue.
The quibble I had with the book -- and it is admittedly minor, but relevant -- is that Gelles occasionally doesn't stick to the facts that he has so carefully researched, and veers into polemicist mode. Accordingly, he comes across as having an enormous predetermined bias. While I don't blame him, and in fact I largely agree with his point of view, it undermines his credibility in a couple of places. Chief amongst these sins is his almost absolutist belief that layoffs are universally bad. For instance, he throws Lou Gerstner's tenure at IBM into the same bucket as GE under Welch, and I'm not sure those leaders are comparable. IBM was floundering when Gerstner took over, and it was a place where complacency and mediocrity was widespread. Those facts didn't come from Gerstner insulting IBM employees: many employees themselves believed that. (Talk about "quiet quitting" several decades before that term was in vogue.) Gerstner made some logical moves, like killing OS/2, that should have been made by previous leadership. Unlike Welch, he also invested in R&D and tried to make IBM more organically innovative -- for example, recognizing early on the potential of e-commerce. Did Gerstner lay off about 100,000 workers during his tenure? Yes, he did, but it wasn't entirely for the same reasons that Welch did (to goose the stock price). And even several decades later, it's hard to argue that IBM was left in better shape than when Gerstner took over.
In short, Gelles' apparent advocating for a return to the patrician corporation of the 1960's, when these corporations truly did start to lose their edge against competitors like the Japanese, is a poor remedy, even if I strongly disagree with the tactics used by the Jack Welches of the world in the subsequent decades. We can't just "make America great again" simply by rolling back the clock, which is coincidentally what the Republican Party seems to want to do these days....more
**spoiler alert** It took me reading the authors' notes section of this book to understand why it didn't work. Any book that is literally the result o**spoiler alert** It took me reading the authors' notes section of this book to understand why it didn't work. Any book that is literally the result of a tweet and a dream -- in this case, Jennifer Finney Boylan tweeting "I dreamed I was co-authoring a book with Jodi Picoult!" and with the characters fully formed -- "There were three characters in the dream: a trans girl who had died; her boyfriend, who had been accused of her murder; and the boy's mother..." -- is going to be rather problematic because any author is going to have to cook up all kinds of plot machinations, improbable situations, and hamfisted metaphors in order to hew to such a story line. This is made doubly challenging if you literally attempt to co-write a novel with another author, because how do you make all of that hang together in content and style? Boylan and Picoult pull this off with the expected cheap trick of interspersing chapters, having one author write in the voice of one character, and the other author write in the other, but even before I knew this was their methodology, I was already intensely bothered by the amount of attention given to Lily. She's a typically precocious and annoying teenager but she gets Really Important Billing because she's the one who dies. I guess the reader is supposed to be thankful for Lily's interludes from the important business of a murder mystery and trial, but I just found these digressions unnecessarily maudlin and blatant obstructions to forward plot motion. The format also makes the supporting cast of characters really wooden and flat: Asher is reduced to being a sensitive jock, Ava Campanello the bitter mother, Braden the stereotypical abusive husband (and of course an overachieving white cardiac surgeon named Braden is going to turn out that way, duh), etc.
Here are a bunch of other things that don't work in the book:
* The bolting on of the honeybee / beekeeping metaphors. Near as I can tell, this only serves a single purpose: it's a vector by which Picoult/Boylan can challenge the reader's assumptions about gender identity, because Aristotle (and other men) assumed the largest bee and the leader of the colony was a male and therefore the "king". Haha, he was wrong, it's actually a queen! How convenient a metaphor for the transgender character we have in the book! Now we can launch into a digression about other animals who change sex (sequential hermaphroditism) -- clown fish, limpets, spotted hyenas, etc. Maybe this is a safe way to introduce the concept of transgenderism to the conservative Karens of middle America, but having it be a diversionary device throughout the book is too much. * The convenient making of Olivia into a battered spouse. Again, this has an annoying, singular purpose: it causes Olivia (late in the trial) to have doubts over whether her own son is innocent. Up until the point that she talks to Elizabeth, another trans woman in town, Olivia is convinced of her son's innocence. But then she suddenly reflects on her marriage to Braden: "On the day I married Braden, if someone had told me that my prince would become a monster, I never would have believed it. [gag reflex over the mawkish prose, but moving on...] I would have said no, that is not the direction in which the fairy tale goes. But there is a vast canyon between who we want people to be, and who they truly are." So Olivia almost needs to be a battered spouse to create a chink in her armor, where she doesn't fully stand by her own son. * The flimsy premise under which Asher is even arrested for Lily's death. You'd think that the fact that neither Lily nor Asher have physical signs of having been in a fight would be enough to exonerate Asher; you'd think that the police wouldn't have put so much weight on the fact that Asher's fingerprints were in Lily's bedroom (I mean, duh, they'd been dating for months -- even if Asher wasn't sneaking into her house to have sex with her and they'd just been *friends*, chances are he would have been in her bedroom over that period of time); you'd think that if they put so much weight on his fingerprints that they would have dusted the room for other fingerprints and maybe found out that Maya's fingerprints were also there, and pursued that lead... etc. etc. * The fact that the arresting/investigating officer (Mike) ends up falling in love with Olivia by end of the book. This was a serious what-the-fuck for me. Not only is it a cheap, unnecessary plot point, but if you're going to pull this cheap of a trick, why not make him fall in love with Ava Campanello, who's clearly the one who is hurting more? Olivia doesn't lose her son, but Ava's daughter is dead, and she slinks off by the end of the book to presumably live the rest of her life in misery or something. Then you read the authors' notes and realize Picoult and Boylan were literally scheming to figure out who to set the officer up with. Yet another reason to not co-write a novel.
And on and on. Look, it's entirely possible that mass-market authors like Picoult and Boylan are not for me, because these ridiculous plot devices and holes are just a feature of this genre and they have little to do with the collaboration here. But I've read one or two other books by Jodi Picoult and while I had other qualms -- largely that she is a Wally Lamb imitator who also makes all of her characters suffer indescribable traumas, etc. -- they weren't these ones.
I'm sure there will be lots of folks out there lionizing the book for Starting An Important Conversation About Trans People (tm), but I just can't join that parade. Obviously not because I don't believe in trans rights, but because such an overwrought book is not the vehicle by which such conversations are effectively had....more
I think this is one of those books I would have enjoyed more as a nerdy teenager. I can best describe Douglas Adams' humor as that of a 15-year-old boI think this is one of those books I would have enjoyed more as a nerdy teenager. I can best describe Douglas Adams' humor as that of a 15-year-old boy trapped in a 35-year-old man's body. Props to him for imagination and inventiveness, but the absurd quirkiness of the characters and the underlying plot wore thin for me very quickly....more
A short, easily-digestible book that effectively explains modern product marketing. Unfortunately -- and this isn't a criticism of King & Pearce at alA short, easily-digestible book that effectively explains modern product marketing. Unfortunately -- and this isn't a criticism of King & Pearce at all, it's just where product marketing as a profession is today -- the role of PMM is poorly understood by the rest of the business. The book, therefore, reads more as a pep talk to aspiring or current PMMs about how to position their role as critical to company success. Hopefully it will eventually become true that PMM will become the future of marketing, but this isn't where marketing is today. As such, the aspirational comments about future CMOs coming from PMM rather than demand generation are a bit of a pipe dream.
I did find the philosophy of trying to segment internal stakeholders like you would a customer base and marketing product marketing itself to those stakeholders with different messages to be unique; I've never had anyone explain it like that before....more