David McCullough won me over long over ago, so I was stunned to find that his first work was actually my favorite one yet. The Johnstown Flood is an epic story, the bursting of a dam built by millionaires outside a scrappy and quickly growing working class town, built alongside two rivers and that huge reservoir just up the valley. The cast of characters including Clara Barton, Andrew Carnegie, Henry Frick, and a stone bridge built in 1887 that survived the flood after facing extraordinary forces. What an American story.
I guess it was overdue to read Peter Drucker. Written in the 80’s, he deftly laid out a theory of self-disruption as a function of management – namely, the work of innovation. And it is work. Most organizations lose their innovative spirit after founders move along. But as a company, this fantastic modern vehicle, we can systematically pursue the work of finding new ways to serve our most passionate clients. Always be asking – what will the customer really buy?
Cesar Hidalgo takes information as James Gleick did and puts it into a physical embodiment. Being physical, information suddenly has to exist despite the laws of thermodynamics. Suddenly the sweet spot of planet Earth being so temperate elicits a yet greater reverence for the perseverance of life. Life took an embodiment of information in so many ways, but Hidalgo breaks it down into knowledge and know how, explicit knowledge and implicit knowledge. Great read.
Holy shit. That right there pretty much sums up the feeling of reading The Rise of Islamic State: ISIS and the New Sunni Revolution. Iraq and Syria have been let to fall into wild times where the conflicts are numerous and complex. This Middle Eastern version of the 30 years war, as Cockburn calls it, comes after a period of underestimation by the US and NATO regarding both the fate of Assad and the relevance of the Daesh which have implemented tactics different from their Al Qaeda predecessors. The Obama administration comes out of the affair looking to be without good options, the situation in the region has clearly deteriorated but there’s just not a ton of effectual options within the realm of possibility – boots on the ground being the last thing the administration wants to do.
Great book, highly recommend picking it up if you’d like to understand why ISIS matters.
When my Philadelphia Media Network colleague tweeted that his The Chocolate Trust had been released, I picked it up immediately. Growing up in Lebanon, PA, just miles down the road from Hershey, the sprawling campus straddling 322 was obviously impressive, but I never knew much about the educational practices. As a boarding school alum myself, I knew MHS wasn’t really part of that world, but also that there must be some complex enterprise keeping the chocolate-funded institution in motion.
Fernandez’s portrait is of an intertwined charitable-corporate complex that was influenced moreso by political and economic considerations than by the mission of educating at-risk youth. A story that runs parallel to that of the corrupt city capitol Harrisburg, PA during the last century, the Chocolate Trust’s rise to enormous wealth and unprecedented power in the Lebanon Valley, a stature that I believe is under-appreciate by most (myself included until finishing the book). Even otherwise innocuous seeming community fixtures, like the Highlands Grill, a restaurant I’d go to when visiting my dad, turning out to be a spectacularly ill-conceived acquisition by MHS.
There is obviously a whole different story to be told about MHS as well – that of the educators and the alumni and those who were positively affected by the institution– but the thesis here is not that MHS bore no good this past century, but that it could be bearing good so much more effectively than it has. A worthy cause indeed and some great journalism behind it.
The book offers a framework for handling “crucial conversations” – those moments when people feel fight or flight instincts – and more importantly keeping them from getting crucial altogether.
The strategy: Starting with heart and focusing on trust in a dialogue leads to the flow of meaning into a “shared pool of meaning”, which amounts to a flow state for interpersonal communication. In the shared pool of meaning, we strive towards a common goal, from which we can plot all further action. We remember that stories are vital, and that we must always keep in mind our own tendency to err and incorrectly suppose.
I was on a sci-fi kick after finishing The Martian, so Ready Player One seemed like a great followup. A dystopian, software-as-life, 80’s-guided hero is followed through his journey from the slums to the CEO chair by way of an immersive, all-encompassing MMORPG. The art of a master author, Ready Player One puts the reader into a made-up world rich with parody and speculation, up there with Idiocracy or Wall-E.
The Kennedy Brothers was my first in-depth exposure to the history of Bobby and Jack Kennedy, even though I had been “aware” of them in a basic way. The book was a startling and compelling dual-portrait, a study of two men so connected, yet so different – and both destined for doom. What this book offers is a holistic survey of two great American lives, a map of the moments where they exerted their greatest influence, and a chronicle of those times they sowed the seeds for their own downfall. I now understand how Camelot became an epic of our time.
As with many Hollywood adaptations, reading The Martian before viewing the Matt Damon version allows a different relationship with astronaut Mark Watney than you obtain otherwise. Written in a voice almost bloggy (his medium being a space log), Watney’s updates can roll from near-death to near-monotonous but they always maintain a voice, an urge to communicate and not just report. The best part is when Watney drills into a knotty material engineering problem – he would be great on StackOverflow.