INLS385-002 Spring 2021

SESSION 30
FINAL EXAM


There will be a final exam

TASK
You will submit a report on the book you have been reading during the semester

Review your options below and then register your choice on the Book List Wiki in Sakai.

Plan to give a five minute presentation about the book you read and how it applied to this class during the final exam period on Tuesday, 11 May 2021 at 0800-1100. Show in it your understanding of some or all of these topics we discussed in class, by citing the discussion or reading for a particular class session, and citing examples of the topic from your book.

  • knowledge sharing
  • knowledge management
  • organizational culture
  • organizational memory
  • pros and cons of organizational cultures
  • leadership and organizational decision making
  • technology and information
  • organizational ethics

At a minimum, choose four of the eight topics for your presentation.

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Condition

Remember, you each chose a book to read for the semester and now you will use it to report to your classmates what you learned from it, and to discuss whether or not they would find value in reading it themselves.

Author Title Short review
Sherman Alexie The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian Some books are like living organisms. They seem to breathe, laugh, weep, joke, confront, meet you eye to eye. Maybe it's the combination of drawings, pithy turns of phrase, candour, tragedy, despair and hope that makes this more than an entertaining read, more than an engaging story about a North American Indian kid who makes it out of a poor, dead-end background without losing his connection with who he is and where he's from. The writing occasionally relies too heavily on the cartoonesque quip, but mostly it is muscular and snappy with a knack for capturing the detail and overview with wrenching spareness. One chapter is a gem of love and heartbreak. "And a Partridge in a Pear Tree" covers barely two pages and yet it evokes so much as it describes Junior's dad's return from a drunken binge over the holiday period, then the offer to his son of a five-dollar bill scrunched in his boot: "Man that thing smelled like booze and fear and failure." Opening this book is like meeting a friend you'd never make in your actual life and being given a piece of his world, inner and outer. It's humane, authentic and, most of all, it speaks. [The Guardian]

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Author Title Short review
Henri Barbusse Under Fire Based on his own experience of the Great War, Henri Barbusse’s novel is a powerful account of one of the greatest horrors mankind has inflicted on itself. For the group of ordinary men in the French Sixth Battalion, thrown together from all over France and longing for home, war is simply a matter of survival, lightened only by the arrival of their rations or a glimpse of a pretty girl or a brief reprieve in the hospital. Reminiscent of classics like Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms and Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front, Under Fire (originally published in French as La Feu) vividly evokes life in the trenches: the mud, stench, and monotony of waiting while constantly fearing for one’s life in an infernal and seemingly eternal battlefield. [Penguin Books]
Michael Beschloss Presidents of War: The Epic Story, from 1807 to Modern Times ... a sweeping overview of presidents leading the United States through almost two centuries of conflict. ... Along the way, we see presidents plotting strategy, maneuvering with Congress (which plays a large role in this book) and conferring with confidants, while their families weigh in on critical decisions. We see presidents leading great public debates — or failing to. And we see presidents exhibiting a myriad of emotions, depressed or elated, pugnacious or regretful, wise or foolish. ... echoing the sentiments of the founders, he posits that the nation should go to war only when there is an “absolute necessity” and only with overwhelming support from Congress and the public. [New York Times]
Kurt Beyer Grace Hopper and the Invention of the Information Age Grace Hopper, who became a "coder" (or programmer) in the 1940s, was one of the great pioneers of the computer age. In 1934 she had been the first woman in Yale's 233-year history to graduate with a doctorate in maths. After Pearl Harbor, she worked on "a new type of secret weapon that could change the outcome of the war". The Automatic Sequence Controlled Calculator was 8ft high, 51ft long and had 530 miles of wiring. As well as calculating rocket trajectories, this "electronic brain" was used by the Manhattan Project scientists to build the atomic bomb. But it was in the 50s that Hopper invented the key software technologies that paved the way for today's computer languages. It was her genius for programming and her formidable powers of persuasion that prompted government agencies and corporations to agree on a common business programming language: Cobol. Beyer's meticulously researched biography shows how Hopper was one of the first to realise that software was the key to unlocking the power of the computer. [The Guardian]
Kai Bird The Good Spy: The Life and Death of Robert Ames Ames was the CIA’s leading Arabist. After his spy work in places such as Lebanon and Yemen, he rose to become the agency’s national intelligence officer for the Near East and South Asia, overseeing all its analytic work for these regions. He helped the Carter administration prepare for the Camp David negotiations, gave President Ronald Reagan briefings on the Middle East and became a close adviser to Secretary of State George Shultz. He spoke Arabic. While he dealt regularly with the Mossad, Israel’s intelligence service, he did not embrace the Israelis’ views. ... The portrait of daily life at the CIA is one of the strengths of the book. ... in “The Good Spy,” we get to see what it was like to be down in the ranks. ... Ames, however, was not your typical spook. He was too cerebral, and he didn’t like to drink. He did not conform to the standard protocols of the CIA’s clandestine service — especially in recruiting agents. The CIA old-timers insisted on a very formal process: You targeted an individual, got him to take money, had him sign receipts for it and persuaded him to agree to become an informant. Ames cultivated much looser relationships. [The Washington Post]
Marc Bloch Strange Defeat: A Statement of Evidence, written in 1940 Marc Bloch wrote Strange Defeat during the three months following the fall of France, after he returned home from military service. In the midst of his anguish, he nevertheless "brought to his study of the crisis all the critical faculty and all the penetrating analysis of a first-rate historian". Bloch takes a close look at the military failures he witnessed, examining why France was unable to respond to attack quickly and effectively. He gives a personal account of the battle of France, followed by a biting analysis of the generation between the wars. His harsh conclusion is that the immediate cause of the disaster was the utter incompetence of the High Command, but his analysis ranges broadly, appraising all the factors, social as well as military, which since 1870 had undermined French national solidarity. "Much has been, and will be, written in explanation of the defeat of France in 1940, but it seems unlikely that the truth of the matter will ever be more accurately and more vividly presented than in this statement of evidence." [Penguin Books]
Peter Bregman 18 Minutes: Find Your Focus, Master Distraction, and Get the Right Things Done In 18 Minutes: Find Your Focus, Master Distraction, and Get the Right Things Done, Peter Bregman doesn’t offer a slew of strategies to accomplish all your activities per day. What he does offer is an approach to consider thoughtfully your priorities and ideas for truly accomplishing your top goals. His book helps readers build a more meaningful and satisfying life filled with focusing—as the title reveals—on the right things ... In addition to the book’s smart advice, another strength lies in its simplicity. You won’t find any convoluted organizational systems or tools here. It doesn’t overwhelm you with tons of tips and to-dos. Rather, Bregman’s book helps readers ask themselves the important questions, learn helpful tidbits on productivity and really see their life more clearly. It’s written in a straightforward, conversational style and shares relatable anecdotes ... [Psych Central Reviews]
Brené Brown Braving the Wilderness : the quest for true belonging and the courage to stand alone Brown, well known as a social scientist and for her research on belonging, takes the reader on a different journey into the possibilities of belonging without compromising integrity, beliefs, and uniqueness. An interesting aspect of the book comes from the fact that as you are reading each chapter, you feel yourself taking the journey alongside the author. She discovers that while being accepted is important to humans as social beings, true belonging requires the courage to stand alone with your character and convictions, even when they go against the group to which you want to belong. She calls this difficult action braving the wilderness ... The book contains many practical stories, lessons, and tools designed to develop (in the reader) the courage to stand alone. Most importantly, she defines four principles to practice her concepts of braving the wilderness. [The New Social Worker]
Dare to Lead: Brave Work. Tough Conversations. Whole Hearts What does brave leadership look like? Lately it’s been elusive, even — maybe especially — at our highest government levels. That’s something both sides of the aisle probably agree on. But researcher Brené Brown ... has been hard at work trying to answer that question, and the result is ... a “practical playbook” based on research with 150 global C-suite executives. She started by asking what people should do differently to lead during our modern times, when “we’re faced with seemingly intractable challenges and an insatiable demand for innovation.” ... Some of her takeaways seem entirely at odds with our present moment. Truly daring leaders, she explains, are prepared to be vulnerable and listen without interrupting. They have empathy, connecting to emotions that underpin an experience, not just to the experience itself. They have self-awareness and self-love, because who we are is how we lead. It’s easy to see how Brown’s research easily translates to parenthood. And marriages. And government hearings. Imagine what the past month of news would have looked like if leaders had acted from that place. A governing body filled with empathic listeners who are embraced for recognizing when they “can’t fully serve the people [they] lead” would be revolutionary. [The Washington Post]
Rising Strong ... dare to do great things. Inevitably, however, there are moments when we try and fail. Here, the author gives readers the necessary tools to get up and try again. Brown outlines a three-step process—the reckoning, the rumble, and the revolution—that unfolds much like the three major acts in a book or play. In the reckoning stage, we identify the emotions inherent in an experience and begin to think about how the emotions interact with thoughts and behavior. In rumble, we connect with the stories we create around an event and cross-examine them to determine the truths and half-truths that might lie below the surface. ... In the book’s longest section, Brown identifies 15 “rumble” topics, and she breaks down each one. She analyzes how we often invent stories that aren’t necessarily true, since they may be based on experiences from the past, childhood memories, and perceived notions of another person’s thoughts and desires, which can be entirely off-base. ... In the revolution phase, the truth that’s been exposed in rumble gives us energy to stand back up as a changed person. [Kirkus Reviews]
The gifts of imperfection : let go of who you think you're supposed to be and embrace who you are ... urges us to expose and expel our insecurities in order to have the most fulfilling life possible. ... a guidebook for pilgrims on the journey to wholehearted living, which she defines as containing courage, compassion, deliberate boundaries, and connection. She has defined 10 guideposts for personal introspection, which involve cultivating some positive quality ... Each guidepost is the focus of a chapter that contains illustrative stories, ... definitions ... quotes ... and brief suggestions of activities that she pursues with the assumption that they might help her audience. [Publishers Weekly]
Bill Bryson A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail Bryson is a talented portraitist of place. He did his natural-history homework, which is to say he knows a jack-o-lantern mushroom from a hellbender salamander from a purple wartyback mussel, and can also write seriously about the devastation of chestnut blight. He laces his narrative with gobbets of trail history and local trivia, and he makes real the “strange and palpable menace” of the dark deep woods in which he sojourns, the rough-hewn trailscape “mostly high up on the hills, over lonely ridges and forgotten hollows that no one has ever used or coveted,” celebrating as well the “low-level ecstasy” of finding a book left thoughtfully at a trail shelter, or a broom with which to sweep out the shelter’s dross. Yet humor is where the book finds its cues ... bright sarcasm, flashing with drollery and intelligence, even when it’s a far yodel from political sensitivity. Then Bryson will take your breath away with a trenchant critique of the irredeemably vulgar vernacular strip that characterizes many American downtowns, or of other signs of decay he encounters off the trail (though the trail itself he comes to love). “Walking is what we did,” Bryson states: 800-plus out of the 2,100-plus miles, and that good sliver is sheer comic travel entertainment. [Kirkus Reviews]
Bill Buford Among the Thugs ... There's very little football here as Buford follows the "supporters" on their Saturday jaunts from 1982-90. During these years, British football fans and their loosely organized "firms" - with their bizarre ties to white-power groups, skinheads, and the National Front - were involved in scores of deaths, countless riots and skirmishes with police and rival supporters, and untold damage to property in England and across the continent ... It is that "precise moment in its complete sensual intensity" when the crowd goes over the edge and erupts into heedless violence that captures Buford's attention as he attempts to understand such ferocious behavior. He witnesses—and gets swept up in—crowd scenes so ugly and alien that the individuals he comes to know ... seem utterly beside the point ... He finds that "violence is their antisocial kick, their mind-altering experience," ... a despairing Buford concludes that, in a society that offers little to look forward to or to believe in except "a bloated code of maleness, an exaggerated, embarrassing patriotism, a violent nationalism, an array of bankrupt social habits," youth, out of boredom, frustration, and anger, will use violence "to wake itself up." An extraordinary and powerful cautionary cry. [Kirkus Reviews]

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Author Title Short review
Susan Cain Quiet: the power of introverts in a world that can’t stop talking Cain divides the book into four main sections: 1) The Extrovert Ideal 2) Your Biology, Your Self? 3) Do All Cultures Have an Extrovert Ideal? and 4) How to Love, How to Work. Each section has chapters on various topics including, the myth of charismatic leadership, the issues arising from Groupthink and the negatives of collaboration, nature versus nurture, free will, the differences in the ways that introverts and extroverts process things, how things are different in Asia, when people should act more extroverted than they are, talking with the opposite type, and tips for dealing with introverted children ... The chapters that touched on cultural differences and the differing notions of teamwork are interesting because teamwork is central to so many jobs today. Although teamwork is an integral part of our work culture, and not an entirely negative thing, Cain does point out that a lot of great artists in the past were able to be creative because they worked alone ... This book is useful in helping understand co-workers. While the stereotype of librarians as shy, introverted bookworms persists in the mind of the public, librarians themselves know this is not an accurate representation of our profession. Both introverts and extroverts exist in every workplace and being able to understand the other is important. The real takeaway message from the book is that even though we live in an extroverted world, there is nothing wrong with being an introvert. It is not bad, it is not wrong and there is no need to correct it. [American Library Association New Members Roundable]
Rajiv Chandrasekaran Imperial Life in the Emerald City: Inside Iraq's Green Zone This book tells the bureaucratic story of Iraq’s Year 1, the year after the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, when the United States was the legal occupying power and responsible for the country’s administration. The primary mechanism for that work was the Coalition Provisional Authority, headquartered in the Green Zone, a blast-barrier-encased compound created around Hussein’s Baghdad palace, on the west bank of the Tigris. Chandrasekaran, The Washington Post’s Baghdad bureau chief during this period, catalogs a lethal combination of official arrogance and ineptitude behind those walls that doomed Iraq to its bloody present every bit as much as insufficient military manpower did. [New York Times]
Daniel Coleman Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ New York Times science writer Goleman argues that our emotions play a much greater role in thought, decision making and individual success than is commonly acknowledged. He defines "emotional intelligence"--a trait not measured by IQ tests--as a set of skills, including control of one's impulses, self-motivation, empathy and social competence in interpersonal relationships. Although his highly accessible survey of research into cognitive and emotional development may not convince readers that this grab bag of faculties comprise a clearly recognizable, well-defined aptitude, his report is nevertheless an intriguing and practical guide to emotional mastery. In marriage, emotional intelligence means listening well and being able to calm down. In the workplace, it manifests when bosses give subordinates constructive feedback regarding their performance. Goleman also looks at pilot programs in schools from New York City to Oakland, Calif., where kids are taught conflict resolution, impulse control and social skills. [Publishers Weekly]

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Author Title Short review
Joan DeJean How Paris Became Paris: The Invention of the Modern City Although 19th-century Baron Haussmann often receives credit for Paris’s iconic features, this witty and engaging work shows that it was the 17th-century Bourbon monarchs who first transformed Paris into the prototype of the modern city that would inspire the world. Penn professor DeJean (The Essence of Style) notes that Henri IV (1553–1610) was the first to consider the practical value of public works and how they could improve people’s lives. Besides centralizing France’s administrative functions, Henri IV built the first bridge to cross the Seine in a single span (the Pont Neuf) and the first urban public square (the Place Royale, now the Place des Vosges). Louis XIV took his grandfather’s plans even further by tearing down the city’s fortifications, replacing them with tree-lined boulevards around the city’s perimeter, and instituting a “grand design” that would influence Haussmann 250 years later. A charismatic and knowledgeable narrator, DeJean shows how an open city where men and women from all stations could congregate fueled the rise of the self-made man, the financier, the real estate developer, the artisan, the merchant, the Parisienne, and the coquette. With panache and examples from primary sources, guidebooks, maps, and paintings, she illustrates how Paris changed people’s conception of a city’s potential. [Publishers Weekly]
Jared Diamond Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed In Jared Diamond’s follow-up to the Pulitzer-Prize winning Guns, Germs and Steel, the author explores how climate change, the population explosion and political discord create the conditions for the collapse of civilization ... Environmental damage, climate change, globalization, rapid population growth, and unwise political choices were all factors in the demise of societies around the world, but some found solutions and persisted. As in Guns, Germs and Steel, Diamond traces the fundamental pattern of catastrophe, and weaves an all-encompassing global thesis through a series of fascinating historical-cultural narratives. Collapse moves from the Polynesian cultures on Easter Island to the flourishing American civilizations of the Anasazi and the Maya and finally to the doomed Viking colony on Greenland. Similar problems face us today and have already brought disaster to Rwanda and Haiti, even as China and Australia are trying to cope in innovative ways. Despite our own society’s apparently inexhaustible wealth and unrivaled political power, ominous warning signs have begun to emerge even in ecologically robust areas like Montana ... Collapse is destined to take its place as one of the essential books of our time, raising the urgent question: How can our world best avoid committing ecological suicide? [Penguin Random House]
George Dyson Turing's Cathedral: The Origins of the Digital Universe ... The digital age can be traced to a machine built circa 1951 in Princeton, N.J. ... For the first time, numbers could mean numbers or instructions. Data could be a noun or a verb. That turned out to be incredibly important ... Though the English mathematician Alan Turing gets title billing, Dyson’s true protagonist is the Hungarian-­American John von Neumann, presented here as the Steve Jobs of early computers — a man who invented almost nothing, yet whose vision changed the world. Von Neumann was no stereotypical mathematician. He was urbane, witty, wealthy and (literally) entitled ... Already one of the century’s great mathematicians, von Neumann pursued a career in academia before turning to consult on the building of bombs (and computers) during World War II. At the time, the Army had begun work on a “digital electronic computer” known as the Eniac that was programmed, via switches and cables, by hand. After Nagasaki, von Neumann sold the United States military on a more powerful “stored program” computer, one that could read coded sequences from high-speed memory and thus more rapidly, and automatically, run numerical simulations essential to the design of nuclear weapons. Von Neumann also sold his employer, the Institute for Advanced Study, on building the Faustian device in Princeton. ... The basic ideas of stored-program computers were therefore in place before von Neumann got to work. Yet it was he who had the prestige and the connections to turn the Turing machine into reality ... Von Neumann and two colleagues codified their machine’s architecture in a report issued in 1946. They could be called the fathers of the open-source movement, as they ultimately declined to seek any patents. Within a few years of the plans’ being shared, over a dozen siblings to the Princeton machine existed across the globe. Indeed, the processors in every cellphone, tablet and laptop still hew closely to von Neumann’s architecture ... [New York Times]

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Author Title Short review
Jennifer Eberhardt Biased: Uncovering the Hidden Prejudice That Shapes What We See, Think, and Do From one of the world’s leading experts on unconscious racial bias come stories, science, and strategies to address one of the central controversies of our time. How do we talk about bias? How do we address racial disparities and inequities? What role do our institutions play in creating, maintaining, and magnifying those inequities? What role do we play? With a perspective that is at once scientific, investigative, and informed by personal experience, Dr. Jennifer Eberhardt offers us the language and courage we need to face one of the biggest and most troubling issues of our time. She exposes racial bias at all levels of society—in our neighborhoods, schools, workplaces, and criminal justice system. Yet she also offers us tools to address it. Eberhardt shows us how we can be vulnerable to bias but not doomed to live under its grip. Racial bias is a problem that we all have a role to play in solving. [Penguin Random House]
Clyde Edgerton Killer Diller A modest and amiable satire of Southern Baptist culture, this tale of wholesome rebelliousness brings back the good-hearted orphan boy of Walking Across Egypt (1985), Wesley Benfield, now a young man in his 20s trying awfully hard to be a good Christian. Saved by the kind intervention of Mrs. Mattie Rigsbea in the earlier novel, Wesley nevertheless, at the outset here, finds himself in a halfway house for stealing a car. There, he has caught the eye of officials at Ballard University (its motto: "witnessing by example"), who enlist him in their "Project Promise," a program bringing together repentant miscreants and the educationally handicapped, the latter to learn useful trades from the former. Wesley sets out to teach masonry to Jules Vernon Johnson, a motherless boy who drives an imaginary car, looks like a possum, and can play the piano like an angel. Which comes in handy, since Wesley's real love is his own music-making--something that has found expression in the halfway house's band, The Noble Defenders of the Word, an interracial gospel band who secretly prefer the blues. But this group of talented misfits must hide their truly joyful noise from the vain and ambitious Sears brothers-- the president and provost of the University who together advance Ballard's mission of "making the world more American, more Christian, more union-free in the best sense of those words." Also complicating Wesley's status as a model born-again former car-thief is his new-found passion for Phoebe Trent, an obese beauty who has come to Ballard's "Christian diet center." Wesley has a hard time reconciling his wet dreams with his Bible-reading, but he decides upon further perusal that the Good Book has strange wonders to be told, including lots of steamy parts they never read in church. Wesley's spiritual journey builds to a heady crescendo, with Wesley just outside the law but well on the path to true goodness. Love and loyalty triumph over righteousness in this affectionate, gently uplifting comedy ... [Kirkus Reviews]
Peter Englund The Beauty and the Sorrow: An Intimate History of the First World War ... an extraordinary new history of the first world war, we follow the lives of 20 people caught up in the conflict. Among them are an American ambulance driver, an English nurse in the Russian army, a South American adventurer fighting for the Turks, a 12-year-old German girl and several other civilians. In the course of 227 short chapters (some of them no more than a page long), they take turns to tell us what they saw or felt on a given day. Interspersed with authorial commentary, their testimonies make up a haunting chronicle, and a convocation of ghosts. This is by no means a conventional history ... a sort of collective diary in which the unknown (or now largely forgotten) lives intertwine minutely and often poignantly. Throughout, effective use is made of diary accounts, letters, memoirs and other first-hand material ... Inevitably, The Beauty and the Sorrow is a chronicle of human loss, atrocity and famine. What happened at the Marne, in the Ottoman province of Armenia, on the Gallipoli peninsula, at Ypres, in the Piave and on the Asiago plateau was tragic, inhuman. ("I have seen and done things I want to forget", PJ Harvey sings on her dark, Somme-haunted album Let England Shake.) Yet the horror is recorded here in plain, everyday speech. Amid the symbolic poppies and wreath-laying, Peter Englund's book stands out as a work of magnificent, elegiac seriousness. [The Guardian]

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Author Title Short review
Bernard Fall Street Without Joy: The French Debacle in Indochina First published in 1961 by Stackpole Books, Street without Joy remains a classic of military history. Journalist and scholar Bernard Fall vividly captured the sights, sounds, and smells of the brutal - and politically complicated - conflict between the French and the Communist-led Vietnamese nationalists in Indochina. The French fought to the bitter end, but even with the lethal advantages of a modern military, they could not stave off the Viet Minh (later part of the core of the Viet Cong), who countered with a model insurgency of hit-and-run tactics, ambushes, booby traps, and nighttime raids. The final French defeat came at Dien Bien Phu in 1954, setting the stage for American involvement and a far bloodier chapter in Vietnam's history. Fall combines graphic reporting with deep scholarly knowledge of Vietnam and its colonial history to create a book memorable in its descriptions of jungle fighting and insightful in its argument that the French never understood or adapted to the complex realities of the war in Indochina. [booktopia]
Jonathan Fenby The General: Charles De Gaulle And The France He Saved A keen biography conveying the French general’s driving sense of destiny. Considered by the French to be the greatest French figure since Napoleon ... Charles de Gaulle (1890–1970) certainly fashioned the idea of modern republican France, in spite of his own conflicted, fickle citoyens. Fenby ... provides a welcome entry point for American readers. De Gaulle first appeared on the world stage during the fraught days of June 1940. The relatively unknown, newly appointed French general and deputy defense minister forged with Churchill an extraordinary last-ditch effort at saving the country from the Nazi onslaught through a Franco-British union ... A devoted husband and father, economical and disciplined, ... de Gaulle was a decorated World War I hero whose large stature portended his symbolic role as France’s savior. Supercilious but never elitist and a staunch defender of France’s national interests, de Gaulle had to wait another 12 years after his 1946 resignation for his next galvanizing moment amid the Algerian war crisis that was tearing the country apart ... an excellent job portraying the general as a truly larger-than-life, uncompromising and incomparable character who acted as his country’s conscience and rudder ... this work is astute and psychologically probing. [Kirkus Reviews]
Jonathan Fields Uncertainty: turning fear and doubt into fuel for brilliance Mr. Fields opens his book by detailing why uncertainty matters and what it does to us as we find our way through any endeavor. Then he delves into processes the reader can do to better deal with those moments of uncertainty—both external, ... Along the way, the author provides insightful observations such as pointing out that uncertainty and fear of judgment go hand-in-hand whereas judgment is “almost always served up as a three-layer cake ... there are enough case studies and personal anecdotes to leave the reader engaged and entertained ... Uncertainty seems to be in our collective horizon for the immediate and foreseeable future, so one hopes that Jonathan Field’s subtitle to his book—Turning Fear and Doubt into Fuel for Brilliance—is something we can learn to do. Uncertainty provides a different look from a unique perspective at a universal issue—and thus deserves perusal. [New York Journal of Books]
C.S. Forester The General A 21st century reader who takes up The General will discover no cause to love Curzon’s kind. But C.S. Forester recognized that his fumbling half-hero was as much a tragic figure as the men whom he led, often to their deaths. The author ends his tale as he began it, with a drollery: ‘And now Lieutenant-General Sir Herbert Curzon and his wife, Lady Emily, are frequently to be seen on the promenade at Bournemouth, he in his bathchair with a plaid rug, she in tweeds striding behind. He smiles his old-maidish smile and his friends are pleased with that distinction, although he plays such bad bridge and is a little inclined to irascibility when the east wind blows.’ A modern reader who wishes to understand something about the nature of the men who directed Britain’s Great War will learn more from the pages of Forester than from those of many modern pundits and novelists, marching doggedly through the centenary of 1914 bearing knapsacks still laden with myths and clichés. [Foreign Policy]
Ernest Freeberg The Age of Edison: Electric Light and the Invention of Modern America ... Freeberg, a professor of humanities at the University of Tennessee, examines the social, technological, and political context surrounding the development of the electric light bulb and its transformative effects on American society. Though numerous early thinkers and innovators drove the technology to fruition, Freeberg ... demonstrates that it was Thomas Edison who, by founding the Edison Electric Light Company, established a modern industrial approach that synthesized scientific collaboration, entrepreneurship, and salesmanship in the development of a “complete lighting system” that could power an “incandescent bulb of superior design.” In effect, he democratized light. The excitement spread quickly, but Americans were torn: some celebrated while others reviled the undeniable ways in which their work and leisure life would be dramatically changed. Though most saw this innovation as a sign of human advancement and enlightenment, electric lighting was criticized by gas companies (for obvious reasons), labor groups, and cultural figures that saw in the ubiquity of illumination a frightful, unnatural way of life. Even though he would live to see his own innovations and patents made exponentially more productive and efficient, the “Wizard of Menlo Park” came to embody “a vanishing heroic age of invention” that “laid the foundation of modern America.” [Publishers Weekly]
Paul Fussell The Boy Scout Handbook and Other Observations It's one of the peculiar misfortunes of the late 20th century that those who seek to instruct us too often write in prose as impenetrable and resistant to our approaches as a can of anchovies. Paul Fussell is a writer whose works offer no such discouragement. He writes with a clarity and a sense of humor that effortlessly illumine the serious and moral concerns of his books. This latest book continues the fine record he has established as a cultural and literary critic. As a collection of essays it ranges far ... It is in the title essay that Fussell, writing always with a light touch, suggests what is absent from so much contemporary life. Fussell acknowledges, of course, that such a handbook contains much practical advice: on how to start a fire, etc. But the overwhelming impulse, beyond such estimable common sense, is goodness, and the happiness which is associated with virtue ... There is no mistaking the serious intent in his conclusion: "Actually there is hardly a better gauge for measuring the gross official misbehaviour of the seventies than the ethics enshrined in this handbook. From its explicit ethics you can infer such propositions as 'A scout does not tap his acquaintances' telephones,' or 'A scout does not bomb and invade a neutral country, and then lie about it.' " I t's a dazzling piece of social commentary and prescription, precisely because the source seems so unlikely, so beneath conventional intellectual contempt, let alone consideration ... Perhaps the aspiration we all have to rise in the system is indeed more a tribute, if unperceived, to independence, freedom, and grace; more a question of ethics and aesthetics than some arbitrary list of do's and don'ts. It is this introduction of a profound and far-reaching concern into a discussion sometimes superficially frivolous that distinguishes Fussell as a writer. He sees and makes the connections that reveal the wider implications of subjects ... There are few contemporaries who can equal his engaging manner, his readiness with the appropriate quote, and his clear thinking. [Christian Science Monitor]

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Author Title Short review
Jon Gertner The Idea Factory: Bell Labs and the Great Age of American Innovation ... "The imperative to develop new technologies and implement them on a heroic scale," Stephenson writes, "no longer seems like the childish preoccupation of a few nerds with slide rules. It’s the only way for the human race to escape from its current predicaments. Too bad we’ve forgotten how to do it." That imperative drove the scientists, engineers, and administrators profiled in Jon Gertner's The Idea Factory: Bell Labs and The Great Age of American Innovation. For more than half the twentieth century, Bell Labs was arguably the most innovative research institution in the country. Its scientists developed and refined radar during World War II. They developed the transistor and the first silicon solar cells. They perfected the laser and made fiber-optic communication feasible; they pioneered satellite communication and cellular telephony. They invented the charge-coupled device (CCD) that forms the basis of digital photography, and they gave the world Unix and the C programming language. And one day, almost incidentally, two of them were among the first to prove the viability of nuclear reactors ... "This was a company that literally dumped technology on our country. I don't think we'll see an organization with that kind of record ever again." The book could equally well be subtitled The Invention of the Modern World ... [The Verge]
Adam Gopnik Paris to the Moon Gopnik, who lived with his family in Paris for a few years, gets a grip on the grandeur and travails of the capital’s shopping, cuisine, haute couture, and architecture, as well as French procedures for faxes, exercise, reckoning with war criminals, enjoying civilized general strikes, and arguing over “the best restaurant in the world.” Quotidian activities and objects are rendered wonderful simply by the locale, as our correspondent revels in the mutual misunderstandings, the bureaucratic pigheadedness, the lofty attitudes, and the journalists’ turtleneck jerseys. He interprets, as well as any interloper can, the Parisian (or, if you like, the French) mind. To Gopnik, big buildings in the capital stand for official culture, while French civilization is represented by the small shops: opting for civilization, he takes us through the happy little shops of his arrondissement and embraces a culture invisible to the camera-laden tourist. How that culture greets the birth of his daughter—a French child, he maintains—is recounted nicely. Conversely, in an effort to guide his soccer-wise Gallic son, Luke, into the boy’s American heritage, he concocts a charming bedtime story about baseball. Explaining life in Paris is, of course, a monumental task; it is, perforce, politico-emotional, socio-literary, formidable, and philosophical. But it is Gopnik’s métier and he’s quite good at it. With a text marked by facile wit, he draws lessons from a variety of things. [Kirkus Reviews]
Michael Gordon & Bernard Trainor Cobra II: The Inside Story of the Invasion and Occupation of Iraq The 2003 Iraq war has diminished every individual and institution it has touched, including the U.S. armed forces. The war's proponents provided a master class in getting your way in government while not preparing for actual events. It was undertaken on the basis of assumptions of the worst that would happen if it was not fought and the best that would happen if it was. The consequences, particularly from the perspective of the U.S. Army and Marine Corps, are described in (this) thoroughly researched and depressing (book) ... The research is meticulous and properly sourced, the narrative authoritative, the human aspects of conflict never forgotten. Cobra II focuses on the rushed and haphazard preparations for war and the appalling relations between the major players -- with Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld contemptuous of military views and the compliant Generals Richard Myers, of the Joint Chiefs, and Tommy Franks, of Central Command, showing scant interest in exactly where they were leading their forces. As they faced a sullen population and Saddam Hussein's Fedayeen, it soon became apparent that the optimistic assumptions on which Iraq had been entered were fallacious ... there were insufficient coalition troops to maintain civil order, even if there had been plans to do so. The occupying forces soon came to be seen as a menace to the local people rather than as their liberators. This set the scene for growing chaos. [Foreign Affairs]
Adam Grant Originals: how non-conformists move the world ... addresses the challenge of improving the world, but now from the perspective of becoming original: choosing to champion novel ideas and values that go against the grain, battle conformity, and buck outdated traditions. How can we originate new ideas, policies, and practices without risking it all? Using surprising studies and stories spanning business, politics, sports, and entertainment, Grant explores how to recognize a good idea, speak up without getting silenced, build a coalition of allies, choose the right time to act, and manage fear and doubt; how parents and teachers can nurture originality in children; and how leaders can build cultures that welcome dissent. Learn from an entrepreneur who pitches his start-ups by highlighting the reasons not to invest, a woman at Apple who challenged Steve Jobs from three levels below, an analyst who overturned the rule of secrecy at the CIA, a billionaire financial wizard who fires employees for failing to criticize him, and a TV executive who didn’t even work in comedy but saved Seinfeld from the cutting-room floor. The payoff is a set of groundbreaking insights about rejecting conformity and improving the status quo. [Penguin Random House]
Graham Greene Our Man in Havana MI6’s man in Havana is Wormold, a former vacuum-cleaner salesman turned reluctant secret agent out of economic necessity. To keep his job, he files bogus reports based on Charles Lamb’s Tales from Shakespeare and dreams up military installations from vacuum-cleaner designs. Then his stories start coming disturbingly true ... First published in 1959 against the backdrop of the Cold War, Our Man in Havana remains one of Graham Greene’s most widely read novels. It is an espionage thriller, a penetrating character study, and a political satire of government intelligence that still resonates today. [Penguin Random House]

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Author Title Short review
Thomas Hager The Alchemy of Air: A Jewish Genius, a Doomed Tycoon, and the Scientific Discovery That Fed the World but Fueled the Rise of Hitler A sweeping history of tragic genius, cutting-edge science, and the Haber-Bosch discovery that changed billions of lives—including your own. At the dawn of the twentieth century, humanity was facing global disaster: Mass starvation was about to become a reality. A call went out to the world’s scientists to find a solution. This is the story of the two men who found it: brilliant, self-important Fritz Haber and reclusive, alcoholic Carl Bosch. Together they discovered a way to make bread out of air, built city-sized factories, and saved millions of lives. But their epochal triumph came at a price we are still paying. The Haber-Bosch process was also used to make the gunpowder and explosives that killed millions during the two world wars. Both men were vilified during their lives; both, disillusioned and disgraced, died tragically ... the extraordinary, previously untold story of a discovery that changed the way we grow food and the way we make war–and that promises to continue shaping our lives in fundamental and dramatic ways. [Penguin Random House]
Neil Hanson Unknown Soldiers: The Story of the Missing of the First World War The war to end all wars turned out to be a beginning, not an end. It imposed horrible new norms for military conflict that endured throughout the murderous 20th century and beyond. And although the war itself has all but passed from living memory, it still reverberates in the 21st century, quite literally ... Millions of the war dead lie under those fields ... Hanson unearths three of them - one American, one English and one German - and drawing on their long, detailed letters to family, creates an unforgettable picture of life in the hottest sectors of the Western Front ... Hanson's three soldiers died, at different times and under very different circumstances, quite near one another, along the Somme River. Where, precisely, no one knows. All three, in their late teens or early 20s, entered the war enthusiastically. Alec Reader, a London postal clerk, was just shy of 18 in August 1915 when he joined the Civil Service Rifles, a unit made up initially of civil servants, but, as the demand for fresh manpower grew, young bank clerks and office workers as well. Paul Hub, a 23-year-old from southern Germany, joined at the very beginning of the war, like his two brothers, and he was seriously wounded at the second battle of Ypres. George Seibold, also 23, left his job at a Chicago real estate company in July 1917, one day after his wedding, to join the Aviation Section of the Signal Corps as a pilot. Hanson chose his subjects well. All three men in their many letters describe life at the front in gripping detail, which the author amplifies with supporting testimony from other wartime diaries and memoirs ... [New York Times]
Thomas Harding The House by the Lake: A Story of Germany The inhabitants of a summer house reveal Germany’s political, economic, and social history. In 2013, journalist and biographer Harding ... traveled to the lakeside vacation home outside Berlin where his grandmother had spent a bucolic childhood. He was shocked by its condition: abandoned, in disrepair, its roof cracked, its chimneys crumbling, the once-beloved refuge was in possession of the city of Potsdam, scheduled for demolition. The only way to save it, he learned, was to “prove that it was culturally and historically significant.” Harding’s efforts to amass that proof have resulted in a well-researched, intermittently interesting overview of 20th-century German history, focused on five families who lived in the house ... The house was saved ... A personal and imaginative yet overlong perspective on German history. [Kirkus Reviews]
Jaroslav Hašek The Good Soldier Švejk Every harassed negotiator, every beleaguered political wife and anyone given to ever-increasing moments of melancholy at the way things are should keep a copy of Hasek's classic "don't let the bastards get you down" novel to hand. It's anti-war, anti-establishment, anti-religion and - praise indeed - even funnier than Catch-22. Joseph Heller based his hero Yossarian on Svejk. Hasek, born in Bohemia in 1883, based the irrepressible Svejk's career in the first world war on his own rackety life ... dotty major-generals, hard-drinking priests, lecherous officers and, of course, the good soldier himself, beginning every exchange with "Beg to report, sir . . ." - that he joined the enemy by mistake, missed his train, lost his way, issued the officers with the wrong cipher book ... and so on. Give it five minutes, you'll be hooked. [The Guardian]
Joseph Heller Catch-22 The Catch-22 itself is a bureaucratic idiocy so sublime it leaves you staring out the window with wonder ... during the second world war, where an American bombing group is stationed. Desperate to impress his superiors, Colonel Cathcart keeps raising the number of missions his men have to fly. Our hero, Yossarian, has flown 50. Driven half-mad by his will to live, he wants out. But he's thwarted by Catch-22, a clause which states that pilots don't have to fly if they are certified as insane, but that being driven mad by fear is fundamentally rational. As it's described in the novel: "Orr would be crazy to fly more missions and sane if he didn't, but if he was sane he had to fly them. If he flew them he was crazy and didn't have to; but if he didn't want to he was sane and had to." The result, put simply, is that no one can get off the ride. It's hard to describe briefly just how gloriously, envelopingly hilarious this logic becomes as the novel unfolds ... Its core paradox – that insanity is sanity – burrows inside everything. For Heller, delineating the foolishness of war – and perhaps of bureaucracies more generally – becomes an ecstatic project. Madness runs through every exchange; absurdity informs every character. He creates a whole universe of folly ... a merciless, absurdist comedy which hints at the awful emptiness at the heart of things ... [The Guardian]
James Herriot All Creatures Great and Small ... we meet the young Herriot as he takes up his calling and discovers that the realities of veterinary practice in rural Yorkshire are very different from the sterile setting of veterinary school. Some visits are heart-wrenchingly difficult, such as one to an old man in the village whose very ill dog is his only friend and companion, some are lighthearted and fun, such as Herriot's periodic visits to the overfed and pampered Pekinese Tricki Woo who throws parties and has his own stationery, and yet others are inspirational and enlightening, such as Herriot's recollections of poor farmers who will scrape their meager earnings together to be able to get proper care for their working animals. From seeing to his patients in the depths of winter on the remotest homesteads to dealing with uncooperative owners and critically ill animals, Herriot discovers the wondrous variety and never-ending challenges of veterinary practice as his humor, compassion, and love of the animal world shine forth. [MacMillan Publishers]
All Things Bright and Beautiful ... This sequel carries Herriot's saga of calipers and syringe from his partnership with crusty vet Siegfried, and his marriage, to his call-up for WWII -- and it has the same sunny appeal. Again Herriot remembers case after case -- lambing ewes or calving cows, equine patients galloping off in the distance, pet dogs and cats and even a budgie. Nearly all the sweaty dramas have a happy ending. Wretched or expiring animals in barns or surgery, wisecracking farmers and tearful owners await the moment when Herriot has that lucky break, that happy hunch, or gives a just right twist with soapy arms -- and the animal struggles to its feet while Herriot shares its pleasure and relief. There are affectionate human portraits, too, including that of a gourmandizing small animal surgeon who immobilizes Herriot with food and drink after a successful operation. And there's that Yorkshire countryside where farmers take long steps and are apt to make nowt out of summat. [Kirkus Reviews]
All Things Wise and Wonderful During the war years, Herriot exchanged his wellingtons and breeches for goggles and a baggy flying suit but his Yorkshire ties remained intact. In training, the "cosseted young husband" with double chin and spare tire was transformed into "a lithe, tireless greyhound," but he never saw action: just as he was to cross the Channel, he required surgery, which disqualified him for combat and left him in a Heaton Park laundry room for the duration. But Herriot in any surroundings is far superior to his many imitators, and these episodic rememberings show the same gracious fidelity and flawless timing as his earlier books. RAF fellows and his own flight plans do figure briefly here and there; more often a chance encounter--a loud voice, a glass of beer--triggers memories of Darrowby and his veterinary practice: pedunculated tumors and antiphlogistine poultices, a crepitating boxer and a highly sociable cat, unflappable Yorkshire farmers and addled pet owners. Wife Helen delivers their first child whom Herriot, always dazzled by newborn calves, finds "a funny-looking little thing"; the puckish Tristan engages in automotive exploits--accelerating from a crouch so their car appears to arrive with no driver; and partner Siegfried continues to disagree amicably, confer frequently, and offer his sober advice: "There is more to be learned up a cow's arse than in many an encyclopedia." [Kirkus Reviews]
The Lord God Made Them All Last seen in a wartime laundry room, James Herriot returns to the Yorkshire farms in this fourth tour of duty, which is as sunny and unerringly pitched as his previous three. This time he focuses on developments of the postwar years which changed the practice of veterinary medicine--"all t'needle," as one farmer put it. Often accompanied by son Jimmy or, later, daughter Rosie, he tested the new procedures, occasionally with insufficient preparation: at his first insemination attempt, he found himself facing a raging bull, armed only with an artificial vagina. Old buddies Siegfried and Tristan appear now and then--Tristan, always a luckier chap, handles the bull with ease--but the chief contrast comes from another source: Herriot alternates postwar experiences with diary entries from a 1961 voyage to Russia and a flight, via "elderly" airplane, to Istanbul. This device, an effective reaffirmation of Herriot's literary talents, allows him to add tension, vary the pace, and introduce unfamiliar surroundings while showing himself capable of the same near-misses and last-minute reprieves thousands of miles from home. As always, Herriot writes generously of his Darrowby regulars, even when they interrupt his Sunday pudding, and he pauses to reflect on the passing scene. [Kirkus Reviews]
Laura Hillenbrand Seabiscuit: An American Legend ... the riveting story of an unlikely racehorse that became an American obsession during the Depression. Like all heroes of an epic, Seabiscuit had to endure setbacks, dispel doubts about his abilities, and contend with formidable rivals. Hillenbrand deftly mixes arcane horse lore with a narrative as compelling as any adventure yarn as she introduces first the men who would make Seabiscuit great and then the horse himself. Racing was a popular, often unregulated sport in the 1930s, and wealthy men ... fielded strings of horses all over the country. Howard, a sucker for lost causes, took on as his trainer Tom Smith, a taciturn westerner down on his luck who studied horses for days until he took their measure. Both men were well suited to invest emotionally and financially in Seabiscuit, as were the two jockeys who would be associated with him, Red Pollard and George Woolf. Howard first saw Seabiscuit racing in 1936. The colt was a descendant of the famous Man o’ War, but his body was stunted, his legs stubby, and he walked with an odd gait. Smith believed he had potential, however, so Howard bought him and took him back to California. There Smith patiently worked on Seabiscuit’s strengths, corrected his weaknesses, and encouraged his ability to run faster than any other horse. When Smith thought he was ready, Howard began racing the colt. Seabiscuit broke numerous track records, despite accidents, injuries, and even foul play. His fame was secured with a 1938 race against his rival, War Admiral; their contest divided the country into two camps and garnered more media coverage than President Roosevelt, who himself was so riveted by the race that he kept advisers waiting while he listened to the broadcast. A great ride. [Kirkus Reviews]
Ryan Holiday The Obstacle is the Way: the timeless art of turning trials into triumph If Stoicism is becoming trendy, you can credit, or blame, Mr. Holiday. Through his popular books, lectures and viral articles, he translates Stoicism, which had counted emperors and statesmen among its adherents during antiquity, into pithy catchphrases and digestible anecdotes for ambitious, 21st-century life hackers. He boils down the philosophy’s central tenets to inspirational tales from successful people’s lives ... (this book) draws on the teachings of the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius and other Stoics ... It has drawn high-profile acolytes, including professional athletes, federal judges, Hollywood celebrities and venture capitalists ... [New York Times]
Zora Neale Hurston Their Eyes Were Watching God One of the most important works of twentieth-century American literature, Zora Neale Hurston's beloved 1937 classic ... is an enduring Southern love story sparkling with wit, beauty, and heartfelt wisdom. Told in the captivating voice of a woman who refuses to live in sorrow, bitterness, fear, or foolish romantic dreams, it is the story of fair-skinned, fiercely independent Janie Crawford, and her evolving selfhood through three marriages and a life marked by poverty, trials, and purpose. A true literary wonder, Hurston's masterwork remains as relevant and affecting today as when it was first published - perhaps the most widely read and highly regarded novel in the entire canon of African American literature. [from the back cover]

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Author Title Short review
Walter Isaacson The Innovators: How a Group of Hackers, Geniuses and Geeks Created the Digital Revolution ... Three intersecting patterns of collaborative creativity emerge from the book’s collection of digital lives. First, from World War II until the end of the Cold War, coordinated government funding in the military-industrial-academic complex fostered the electronic computer and the Internet. Second, the profit motive gave rise to corporate research centers, venture capital firms and patent lawyers, which in turn led to “breathtaking innovation in transistors, chips, computers, phones, devices, and Web services.” Finally, loosely coordinated networks driven by non-monetary rewards blossomed during the late 1960s and the early days of the open Internet, generating open-source, self-managing products such as GNU/Linux and Wikipedia. An ideal innovation policy, Isaacson suggests, fosters all three modes despite their sometimes conflicting value systems, and it rewards the impresarios that transgress each. A motif of “The Innovators” is the challenge of establishing priority for complex innovations. Who, for example, “invented” the electronic computer? Was it John Atanasoff, the lone tinkerer working in an Iowa basement; John Mauchly and J. Presper Eckert, the ENIAC’s patent-seeking academics; the “all-hands-on-deck” naval crew of Howard Aiken and Grace Hopper; or the polymath John von Neumann? Isaacson favors those who convert ideas into realities and influence the most people. “When people take insights from multiple sources and put them together,” he concludes, “it’s natural for them to think that the resulting ideas are their own — as in truth they are.” [Washington Post]

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Author Title Short review
Bernadette Jiwa Story Driven: you don’t need to compete when you know who you are The story-driven framework can be summarized in 5 words: Strategy, Vision, Purpose, Values and Backstory. The backstory is our journey to now (past), the purpose and values define our reason to exist and our guiding beliefs (present), and the vision and strategy are our ambition for the future and the plan to get there (future) .. the author explains us how to build our own framework ... A short but great read, especially if your goal is to articulate your story in a very simple, authentic and efficient way. [ItsYourTurnBlog]
Jonas Jonasson The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared Allan Karlsson has just turned 100, and the Old Folks’ Home is about to give him a birthday party that he absolutely doesn’t want. So he leaves out his window and high-tails it to a bus station, with no particular destination in mind. On a whim, he steals a suitcase and boards a bus. The suitcase’s owner, a criminal, will do anything to get it back. This is the basis for a story that is loaded with absurdities from beginning to end—the old coot has plenty of energy for his age and an abiding love of vodka. The story goes back and forth between the current chase and his long, storied life. From childhood, he has shown talent with explosives. This knack catches the attention of many world leaders of the 20th century: Franco, Truman, Stalin, Mao and Kim Il Sung, to name a few of the people he meets. Want to blow up bridges? Allan’s your man. Want much bigger explosions? Just pour him a drink. He’s neither immoral nor amoral, but he is certainly detached, and he is absolutely apolitical. In the past, he insults Stalin (luckily, the translator faints), learns Russian in a gulag and walks back to Sweden from China, barely surviving execution in Iran along the way. In the present, he meets a strange and delightful collection of friends and enemies. Coincidence and absurdity are at the core of this silly and wonderful novel. Looking back, it seems there are no hilarious, roll-on-the-floor-laughing scenes. They will just keep readers amused almost nonstop, and that’s a feat few writers achieve. [Kirkus Reviews]
Sebastian Junger War ... The best way to describe Junger’s book is to say what it is not. War does not attempt to explain the strategy behind the American war in Afghanistan, or the politics of Afghanistan, or even the people of the Korangal Valley. As the action unfolds, Junger makes no attempt to connect it to anything else happening inside the country. Instead, he uses the platoon (the second of Battle Company, part of the 173rd Airborne Brigade) as a kind of laboratory to examine the human condition as it evolved under the extraordinary circumstances in which these soldiers fought and lived. And what a laboratory it is. The men of Second Platoon are young, heavily armed and crammed together inside a tiny mountain outpost supplied by helicopter and surrounded by enemies determined to get inside. Indeed, there aren’t many places on earth where such intense and bizarre circumstances could be duplicated ... But perhaps the most poignant moment for the men of Battle Company occurred after War went to press. In April, the United States Army closed its bases in the Korangal Valley and sent the soldiers to other places. After five years of fighting and dying, American commanders decided the valley wasn’t worth the fight. War indeed. [New York Times]

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Author Title Short review
MacKinlay Kantor Glory for Me With the problem of the returning veteran fast upon us, any book dealing with the subject carries -- for the moment -- its weight of challenge and interest. Beyond that moment, the value of the book, be it fiction or non-fiction, lies in the perceptiveness, the rightness of the book itself. On those two counts, Glory for Me rates high. The format -- at first approach -- seems a hurdle; it is that difficult anomaly, a novel in verse. Perhaps it gains a certain sharpness of outline, a certain emotional impact. It isn't particularly significant as poetry. But somehow the three men, fellowtownsmen first met when homeward bound, "honorably discharged", catch ones interest and imagination and hold it. Where Priestley and Henriquos have told similar stories -- stories revealing the closeness of the link that the war has forged, the disillusionment and shock of readjustment, Kantor, in writing of American boys and an American town, comes closer to our own awareness. And, writing out of his own intimate knowledge of the men in the line, of experience shared, he makes his characters very convincing ... A book that has little to offer by way of an answer -- but that should make civilians more aware, more understanding, of problems ahead. Not a great book, but a very human one, and Kantor's reputation will get it started. [Kirkus Reviews]
John Keegan The Face of Battle: A Study of Agincourt, Waterloo and the Somme Master military historian John Keegan’s groundbreaking analysis of combat and warfare ... The Face of Battle is military history from the battlefield: a look at the direct experience of individuals at the “point of maximum danger.” Without the myth-making elements of rhetoric and xenophobia, and breaking away from the stylized format of battle descriptions, John Keegan has written what is probably the definitive model for military historians. And in his scrupulous reassessment of three battles representative of three different time periods, he manages to convey what the experience of combat meant for the participants, whether they were facing the arrow cloud at the battle of Agincourt, the musket balls at Waterloo, or the steel rain of the Somme. [Penguin Random House]
The Mask of Command: Alexander the Great, Wellington, Ulysses S. Grant, Hitler, and the Nature of Leadership ... a book about what it means to be a general that starts off from the premise that it can mean many different things. Over the centuries kings and demagogues have doubled as generals, and generals have doubled as diplomats and priests; a commanding officer, like the army that serves under him, is always the product of a particular society, and the qualities that his position calls for vary from age to age and place to place. Instead of trying to establish an ideal model of generalship, John Keegan has therefore decided to construct his book around a series of case studies. His technique is much the same as it was in The Face of Battle, his classic account of the changing role of the ordinary soldier, and the results it yields are every bit as fascinating and enlightening as they were in the earlier work. [New York Times]
Karen Kimsey-House Co-Active Coaching: changing business, transforming lives With the first edition, the authors of CO-ACTIVE COACHING earned their place at the forefront of the coaching profession. Now, this fully revised third edition of their classic work extends the use of their pioneering Co-Active model - which emphasizes a partnership between client and coach - into leadership management throughout an organization. This new edition has been updates to include fresh coaching examples, the latest in coaching terminology and an expanded, web-based 'Coach's Toolkit'. Used as the definitive resource in dozens of professional development programs, CO-ACTIVE COACHING teaches the transformative communication process that allows individuals from all levels of an organization - from students to teachers, and direct reports to managers - to build strong, collaborative relationships. [Nielsen Book Data]
Ross King The Judgment of Paris: The Revolutionary Decade That Gave the World Impressionism ... a marvelous biography (you'll also meet Monet, Baudelaire and Zola), an art and military history and a study in the evolution of man's cultural ideals. It underscores a rueful irony: man struggles for freedom of expression in the present, which is mined, always, from the past. Though Meissonier's sought-after paintings of a bygone age, speaking a language of gentle nostalgia, were eventually deemed irrelevant, Manet's shocking works, relevant depictions of modern life, now resonate with nostalgic vernacular. Says King, The painters of modern life created, in the end, the same consoling visions of the past. [Book Page]
James Kunstler The Geography of Nowhere: The Rise and Decline of America's Man-Made Landscape ... Just how the American landscape got to be this way and what can be done about it are the subjects that Mr. Kunstler tackles with considerable energy and wit ... the main culprit responsible for the deterioration of the American landscape is the country's ethos of individualism, a belief he says degrades "the idea of the public realm and hence of the landscape tissue that ties together the thousands of pieces of private property that make up a town, a suburb, a state." The American dream of owning a house (and an automobile too) has led, he argues, to a nation of isolated and alienated individuals, who spend more and more time commuting to work and much of their remaining time at home alone with their televisions ... Human beings, Mr. Kunstler says, need a sense of their connectedness to others, a sense of shared purpose, and in his view, this vital need has been poorly served by American architects and city planners ... a pithy if familiar analysis of the automobile's impact on American life; some amusing reflections on the collective fantasies promoted by places like Disney World and Atlantic City, and a series of highly subjective observations on changing fashions in architectural style. Indeed, if one approaches The Geography of Nowhere not as an objective assessment of our national landscape but as a kind of impassioned jeremiad, it makes for provocative and entertaining reading. [New York Times]

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Author Title Short review
Eric Larson In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler's Berlin ... has the clarity of purpose to see the Germany of 1933 through the eyes of this uniquely well-positioned American family. There are hindsight-laden books that see the rise of Hitler as a parade of telltale signs. There are individual accounts that personalize the atmosphere of mounting oppression and terror. But there has been nothing quite like Mr. Larson’s story of the four Dodds, characters straight out of a 1930s family drama, transporting their shortcomings to a new world full of nasty surprises ... The Dodds’ story is rich with incident, populated by fascinating secondary characters, tinged with rising peril and pityingly persuasive about the futility of Dodd’s mission. In his time, he was taunted, undercut and called “Ambassador Dud.” Hitler would refer to him in retrospect as “an imbecile.” Yet Dodd spent four years, from 1933 to 1937, in what was arguably the worst job of that era. And he ultimately recognized enough reality, and clung to enough dignity, to make Mr. Larson’s powerful, poignant historical narrative a transportingly true story. [New York Times]
Robert Linhart The Assembly Line ... a gripping narrative of his nine months as a laborer at the Citroen auto works at Choisy. With controlled rage, he conveys the pervasive sense of mindlessness attendant upon work in The Assembly Line. The strike he eventually comes to lead is short-lived, but his description of working conditions--descrimination against a variety of ethnic groups, the minutes 'stolen' or unpaid by management, the fear instilled by overweening bosses, the nausea, heat and hazardous chemicals-- reads like something out of Dickens or Friedrich Engels. . . . This book is unmatched on this side of the Atlantic as an account of the tyranny of mass production and its effects in terms of human submission. [University of Massachusetts Press]
James Loewen Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong In 1995, a book titled Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong was published and became a bestseller. Since then, nearly 2 million copies have been sold — and now the book, by James W. Loewen, is being rereleased in the Trump era of “alternative facts.” With a new introduction, ... the book’s contents not only hold up but also may be more relevant than ever ... Loewen writes that American history books “unapologetically present Native Americans through white eyes,” and while these books have improved in their depictions, they still need to be more accurate in depicting Native American culture and reality. And though written 23 years ago, the chapter titled “Choosing Not to Look at the War in Vietnam” remains as relevant as ever; many college students can’t explain what the conflict was all about. Ask any student who Helen Keller was, and you will most likely hear that she was a blind and deaf girl who learned from her teacher, Anne Sullivan, how to read and write and even speak. They won’t tell you she was a radical socialist, which Loewen says is important to understanding her history ... Decades ago, in Mississippi, I learned that history can be a weapon. It had been used against my students, to keep them in 'their place.' ... When I moved to Vermont, I came to see that false history was a national problem, not just a southern one. Mississippi exemplified the problem in more extreme form, but the problem was national." [The Washington Post]
Fredrik Logewall Choosing War: The Lost Chance for Peace and the Escalation of War in Vietnam The finest history to date of America's decisions to escalate war in Vietnam. Looking back at the decisions up to 1965 that ultimately committed hundreds of thousands of American troops to defend South Vietnam, Logevall argues that most of the Cold War establishment was against escalation, as were practically all of America's allies. Although the dissents of George Ball and William Fulbright are better known, the opposition of Johnson's own mentor, the conservative Senator Richard Russell, is more interesting. The puzzle deepens as Logevall shows how well the top leadership understood their problem. Using extraordinary research in American, British, French, and Canadian archives and sensitively reconstructing the mindset of the times, Logevall tries to find just when opportunities to avoid escalation were genuinely present. His search narrows down to the few months after President Johnson's election in November 1964. Rusk's diplomacy was conscientious but unimaginative, while Logevall regretfully concludes that Johnson, Bundy, and Robert McNamara blurred concern for their own personal credibility with their concern for the credibility of their country. More than just a Vietnam book, Choosing War offers a rare and beautifully crafted example of how to study a turning point in history. [Foreign Affairs]
Embers of War: The Fall of an Empire and the Making of America's Vietnam ... The work is magisterial. It focuses on the American response to the steady deterioration in France's position leading up to its calamitous defeat at the hands of the Vietminh at Dien Bien Phu in 1954 and the awkward compromises produced by the Geneva Conference later that year. Logevall ponders the dilemmas faced by U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower, who was reluctant to be seen as giving an inch to the Communists yet anxious to avoid committing ground troops to yet another East Asian conflict so soon after achieving a cease-fire in Korea. If there was to be any direct U.S. intervention on behalf of France, Eisenhower insisted that it have British support. But the United Kingdom, in the twilight of its own tenure as an Asian power, intended to steer clear of any Vietnamese (or Laotian) entanglements. The poor relationship between U.S. Secretary of State John Foster Dulles and his British counterpart, Anthony Eden, aggravated a basic disagreement between their two countries over how hard a line they ought to take, with the British more ready to make deals with the Communists. Logevall draws on a vast range of sources, cleverly analyzing the writer Graham Greene's journalism and his novel The Quiet American, and the controversies they generated, to illuminate the tension between British cynicism and American idealism. [Foreign Affairs]

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Author Title Short review
Lyn MacDonald Somme 'There was hardly a household in the land', writes Lyn Macdonald, 'there was no trade, occupation, profession or community, which was not represented in the thousands of innocent enthusiasts who made up the ranks of Kitchener's Army before the Battle of the Somme...' The year 1916 was one of the great turning-points in British history: as the youthful hopes of a generation were crushed in a desperate struggle to survive, and traditional attitudes to authority were destroyed for ever. On paper, few battles have ever been so meticulously planned. Yet while there were good political reasons to launch a joint offensive with a French Army demoralized by huge casualties at Verdun, the raw troops on the ground knew nothing of that. A hundred and fifty thousand were killed in the punishing shellfire, the endless ordeal of attack and counter-attack; twice that number were left maimed or wounded. Here, almost for the first time, Lyn Macdonald lets the men who were there give their own testimony. Their stories are vivid, harrowing, sometimes terrifying - yet shot through with humour, immense courage and an astonishing spirit of resilience. [Penguin Books]
Margaret MacMillan Paris 1919: Six Months that Changed the World ... MacMillan, who teaches at the University of Toronto and is a great-granddaughter of David Lloyd George, writes extremely well in often evocative prose. She has a sharp eye for enlivening tidbits, often relevant, and relishes rumors, usually undifferentiated. She makes the most of confrontations, which were numerous in Paris, and her thumbnail sketches of participants are always incisive and frequently judicious. The book is accessible, colorful, often charming, and fun to read. Though she offers almost no opinions or non-territorial discussion on the other treaties, MacMillan punctures a number of long-standing myths about the Versailles treaty with Germany. She declares firmly that a real defeat was not brought home to the German people, that the power of the peacemakers was limited, that they were not responsible for the fragmentation of Europe which predated their labors, and that the blockade did not starve Germany. More importantly, neither the Versailles treaty nor France was vindictive, reparations were not crushing, the treaty was not enforced with any consistency, and it did not seriously restrict German power, for Germany (where East Prussia had been separated from other portions for most of its history) had an improved strategic position under it. Most especially, while acknowledging that the peacemakers made mistakes, particularly outside Europe, she rightly asserts that the Versailles treaty was not primarily responsible for either the next twenty years or for World War II. These views have been discussed for a generation in the scholarly literature. Yet the old propaganda-driven myths persist in popular literature, the press, and the minds of educated non-experts. In her determined effort to slay these dragons, MacMillan has done a great service ... [Humanities and Social Sciences Online]
Greg McKeown Essentialism: the disciplined pursuit of less ... Almost everything is noise, says Greg McKeown, and only “a very few things are exceptionally valuable”. ... not a time management book – instead it’s about doing less, better. It’s not, he says, a way to do one more thing but a different way of doing everything. Instead of the undisciplined pursuit of more, McKeown urges us towards the “disciplined pursuit of less”. And he means discipline. He calls it a mindset and a set of three actions – exploring, eliminating and executing – which need to be followed ruthlessly ... Ultimately, someone who simplifies their life will instead feel in control, get the right things done and avoid “thankless busywork” ... Warren Buffett, he points out, owes 90 per cent of his wealth to just 10 investments, making big bets on the essential few and saying no to the rest. Because it’s not about how to get more things done, it’s about how to get the right things done. [The National]
Alan Moorehead The White Nile Based on contemporary records, as well as Alan Moorehead's solid sense of history and subtler character insights, this is an exciting record of the fifty years of African exploration and the attempt to reach the sources of the Nile. Across these pages we meet a mixed group of reckless to resolute figures -- soldiers, sportsmen, scholars and reformers who through whatever motivation made these journeys to the interior and endured ordeals of hardship. Burton, the romantic, and his associate Speke, later his opponent, the practical and sensible Baker, Livingstone on his last expedition which ended with the famous confrontation and partnership with Stanley, George Gordon, the first in the long lineage of military mystics, all these and others were fascinated and challenged by the Nile. Provides rich historical and geographical background. [Kirkus Reviews]
The Blue Nile ... completes a study of the history of the river and the blood-and-thunder events along its boundaries during the 19th century. ivid in detail, vital in scholarship, Alan Moorehead waxes enthusiastic over the whole boom period of colonial warfare and dynastic breakups, from the desert Arabs and the highland Ethiopians to the European conquests and explorations; an elaborate panorama spawning slave trades and treasure hunts, pagan rites and barbaric pillages. It also encompasses as incongruous an assortment of adventurers as one could find ... finally, Abyssinia's Theodore, a black reincarnation of Ivan the Terrible, affornting the British and losing all in the fiery Easter Sunday Battle of Magdala. Eminently readable, elegantly phrased ... [Kirkus Reviews]
Brian P. Moran The 12 Week Year The 12 Week Year is a system that should help you achieve your goals by helping you execute more effectively. It will help you speed up your execution cycle, cut out the slack in your annual plan and encourage you to measure and face up to reality. But it will only work if you really engage and commit to it ... Break down major tasks into more manageable chunks ... [Life Club Books]
Amy Morin 13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do: take back your power, embrace change, face your fears, and train your brain for happiness and success ... building mental muscle requires hard work, dedication and exercise. In addition to adopting healthy habits, avoiding detrimental habits—like negative thoughts, unproductive behavior, and self-destructive emotions—is also essential ... building mental strength will help you reach your goals. Learn to identify the common pitfalls that you're prone to and practice exercises that will help you become your best self ... Don’t waste time feeling sorry for yourself ... Don’t give away your power ... Don’t shy away from change ... Don’t focus on things you can’t control ... Don’t worry about pleasing everyone ... Don’t fear taking calculated risks ... Don’t dwell on the past ... Don’t make the same mistakes over and over ... Don’t resent other people’s success ... Don’t give up after the first failure ... Don’t fear alone time ... Don’t feel the world owes you anything ... Don’t expect immediate results ... [Psychology Today]
Siddhartha Mukherjee The Gene: An Intimate History In skillful prose, Mukherjee, an oncologist ...relates the grand tale of how scientists have come to understand the role genes play in human development, behavior, and physiology. He deftly relates the basic scientific facts about the way genes are believed to function, while making clear the aspects of genetics that remain unknown. Mukherjee offers insight into both the scientific process and the sociology of science, exploring the crucial experiments that have shed light on the biochemical complexities inherent in the genome. He also examines many of the philosophical and moral quandaries that have long swirled around the study of genetics, addressing such important topics as eugenics, stem cell research, and what it means to use the composition of a person's genotype to make predictions about his or her health or behavior. Looking to the future, Mukherjee addresses prospects for medical advances in the treatment of diseases and in selecting—or actively crafting—the genetic composition of offspring, regularly pointing out the pressing ethical considerations. Throughout, he repeatedly poses the question, "What is ‘natural'?" declining to offer a single answer, in recognition that both context and change are essential. By relating familial information, Mukherjee grounds the abstract in the personal to add power and poignancy to his excellent narrative. [Publishers Weekly]
The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer ... Mukherjee has undertaken one of the most extraordinary stories in medicine: a history of cancer, which will kill about 600,000 Americans by the end of this year, and more than seven million people around the planet. He frames it as a biography, “an attempt to enter the mind of this immortal illness, to understand its personality, to demystify its behavior.” It is an epic story that he seems compelled to tell ... a history of eureka moments and decades of despair ... As a clinician, Mukherjee is only guardedly optimistic. One of the constants in oncology, as he says, is “the queasy pivoting between defeatism and hope.” Cancer is and may always be part of the burden we carry with us — the Greek word onkos means “mass” or “burden.” As Mukherjee writes, “Cancer is indeed the load built into our genome, the leaden counterweight to our aspirations for immortality.” But onkos comes from the ancient Indo-European nek, meaning to carry the burden: the spirit “so inextricably human, to outwit, to outlive and survive.” ... [New York Times]

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Author Title Short review
Franz Nicolay The Humorless Ladies of Border Control: Touring the Punk Underground from Belgrade to Ulaanbaatar In 2009, musician Franz Nicolay left his job in the Hold Steady, aka “the world’s greatest bar band.” Over the next five years, he crossed the world with a guitar in one hand, a banjo in the other, and an accordion on his back, playing the anarcho-leftist squats and DIY spaces of the punk rock diaspora. He meets Polish artists nostalgic for their revolutionary days, Mongolian neo-Nazis in full SS regalia, and a gay expat in Ulaanbaatar who needs an armed escort between his home and his job. The Russian punk scene is thrust onto the international stage with the furor surrounding the arrest of the group Pussy Riot, and Ukrainians find themselves in the midst of a revolution and then a full-blown war. While engaging with the works of literary predecessors from Rebecca West to Chekhov and the nineteenth-century French aristocrat the Marquis de Custine, Nicolay explores the past and future of punk rock culture in the postcommunist world in the kind of book a punk rock Paul Theroux might have written, with a humor reminiscent of Gary Shteyngart. An audacious debut from a vivid new voice ... an unforgettable, funny, and sharply drawn depiction of surprisingly robust hidden spaces tucked within faraway lands. [The New Press]
Richard Nisbett The Geography of Thought: How Asians and Westerners Think Differently... and Why This book may mark the beginning of a new front in the science wars. Nisbett ... reports on some of his latest work in cultural psychology. He contends that "[h]uman cognition is not everywhere the same"—that those brought up in Western and East Asian cultures think differently from one another in scientifically measurable ways. Such a contention pits his work squarely against evolutionary psychology (as articulated by Steven Pinker and others) and cognitive science, which assume all appreciable human characteristics are "hard wired." ... Writing dispassionately yet with engagement, Nisbett explains the differences as "an inevitable consequence of using different tools to understand the world." [Publishers Weekly]

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Author Title Short review
Susan Orlean The Library Book ... two books. The first is about the fire itself — which Orlean eventually reveals was likely the result not of arson but of accident ... the 1986 fire inside the Central Library, and the subsequent, inconclusive investigation of it, turn out to be a MacGuffin, a trick for luring the reader into a subject into which the reader never imagined he’d be lured: the history and present life of the Los Angeles Central Library. Much of the book consists of its author wandering around a library building, watching and listening to the people inside it ... how even in the age of the internet, the public library remains the place people come to for answers to their most pressing questions. The search has not been entirely replaced by the search engine ... (it) is indeed an entire book about a library. The surprise is that the library, though insistently undramatic, has been, pretty much since its inception, so insistently attractive to interesting characters. [New York Times]
Delia Owens Where the Crawdads Sing ... an absorbing, atmospheric tale about a lonely girl’s coming-of-age in the marshes of North Carolina ... For a book about a girl who is isolated in the wilderness and wrestling with loneliness, Crawdads has had an oddly unifying effect in a time of rapid technological advances and constant social media connectivity ... Though the story is invented, Ms. Owens said she drew on her experience living in the wilderness, cut off from society. “It’s about trying to make it in a wild place,” she said. [New York Times]

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Author Title Short review
George Packer The Assassins' Gate: America in Iraq Sometimes, those who were right all along about an act of folly are best advised to listen in humility to the disillusion of those who thought it a good idea at the time. The invasion of Iraq was both a mistake and a crime, but there were good reasons to support it - just not enough. George Packer's book about the Americans in Iraq is a fine one, because it is an elegy for lost illusions. Packer was one of those who thought the Saddam regime so intolerable that he was prepared to flout international law to see it deposed. He was never a neocon, but thought they were reasonable men who might be on the side of the angels. He was a close friend of exiled Iraqis such as Kanan Makiya and, like them, thought the fall of Saddam would be one of those dawns in which it was blessed to be alive. He writes well about that idealism and those misconceptions. He comments that the race to war coincided with a new film of Greene's The Quiet American, and he did not see the prophetic irony ... [The Independent]
The Unwinding: An Inner History of the New America ... the right title for George Packer's epic, sad and unsettling history of the last four decades in the US. His topic is the coming apart of something in the national fabric: the unravelling of unspoken agreements about the limits to Wall Street's greed; about what a congressman would or wouldn't do for the right price; about what a company owes its workers, or what the wealthy should contribute in tax. The result of all this unwinding is more personal freedom than ever before: "Freedom to change your story, get your facts, get hired, get fired, get high, marry, divorce, go broke, begin again, start a business, have it both ways, take it to the limit, walk away from the ruins, succeed beyond your dreams." But it is the loneliest sort of freedom. What Packer's disparate characters share – as his narrative moves up and down the spectrum of inequality, from inner-city Ohio to Silicon Valley, to the exurban McMansions of Florida, to Washington's corridors of power – is that each is fundamentally on his or her own ... it is a testament to Packer's talents that The Unwinding is powerful, rather than off-puttingly earnest or just depressing, and that it lingers so long after reading. The sense of loneliness – of isolated souls, failed by their institutions, pummelled by the forces of big money – seems to seep under your skin, and to stay there ... [The Guardian]
Nell Irvin Painter The History of White People A provocative look at the white race—or, more accurately, the white races—by noted African-American scholar Painter ... The notion of race is illusory and elusive, yet it has been a topic on the minds of many people since…well, mostly not that long ago, though the author traces the encounters of African, Greek, Scythian and Celt far into the past ... makes the useful point that constructions of race and whiteness, though drawing on distant roots and ancient tropes of enslaver and enslaved, are relatively recent developments. Also, she notes that, during the last few centuries, there have been visible notions of degrees of whiteness—with Irish immigrants, for example, excluded from membership in white America—as well as a concept of expanding whiteness—those Irish were eventually admitted to the ranks once the Eastern Europeans came along. There are even different types of whiteness. Ralph Waldo Emerson, writes the author, pondered regional differences with respect to his fellow Northerners, “a smarter but weaker ‘race’ than southerners.” ... makes a significant point. Though we have mapped the human genome and discovered how closely related all the peoples of Earth are, “the fundamental black white binary endures, even though the category of whiteness—or might we say more precisely, a category of nonblackness—effectively expands.” [Kirkus Reviews]
Kathy Peiss Information Hunters: When Librarians, Soldiers, and Spies Banded Together in World War II Europe ... examines the unprecedented American effort to acquire foreign publications and information in World War II Europe. An unlikely band of librarians, scholars, soldiers, and spies went to Europe to collect books and documents to aid the Allies’ cause. They traveled to neutral cities to find enemy publications for intelligence analysis and followed advancing armies to capture records in a massive program of confiscation. After the war, they seized Nazi works from bookstores and schools and gathered countless looted Jewish books. Improvising library techniques in wartime conditions, they contributed to Allied intelligence, preserved endangered books, engaged in restitution, and participated in the denazification of book collections. Information Hunters explores what collecting meant to the men and women who embarked on these missions and how the challenges of a total war led to an intense focus on books and documents. It uncovers the worlds of collecting, in spy-ridden Stockholm and Lisbon, in liberated Paris and devastated Berlin, and in German caves and mineshafts. The wartime collecting missions had lasting effects. They intensified the relationship between libraries and academic institutions, on the one hand, and the government and military, on the other. Book and document acquisition became part of the apparatus of national security, military planning, and postwar reconstruction. These efforts also spurred the development of information science and boosted research libraries’ ambitions to be great national repositories for research and the dissemination of knowledge that would support American global leadership, politically and intellectually. [Oxford Scholarship]
Thomas Powers Heisenberg's War: The Secret History of the German Bomb In this important study, Powers addresses one of the lingering mysteries of WW II: why Germany, with its able scientists, material resources and the support of high military officials, failed to build an atom bomb. Throughout the war Allied authorities, fearing that the Germans would "get there first," took steps to thwart their apparent efforts toward that end: the commando raid that destroyed the heavy-water plant in Norway, for instance, and the scheme to assassinate preeminent physicist Werner Heisenberg. Powers also describes how the Allies learned that the Germans never even came close to producing the Bomb, and he examines the popular theory that German scientists concocted a postwar story of moral compunction to excuse their failure. Sifting through the evidence, Powers concludes that Heisenberg did not exercise passive resistance but actually "killed" the Bomb program by convincing the authorities that it was unfeasible. But the question remains: why did Heisenberg not take credit for his heroic action? [Publishers Weekly]

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Author Title Short review
Bob Rosner The Boss's Survival Guide, 2E: Workplace 911 for the Toughest Problems Today's Managers Face ... contains new techniques to help leaders be effective in both turbulent and stable economic times. Using examples, exercises, and checklists, the book covers every hot-button management issue: hiring and retaining talent, time management, dealing with stress, getting more out of less, social networking, and even how bosses can maintain their marketability and manage their career ... [Asia Books]
Gretchen Rubin The Four Tendencies: the indispensable personality profiles that reveal how to make your life better (and other people’s lives better, too) ... sorts personalities into four “tendencies”—upholders, questioners, obligers, and rebels—according to people’s motivations for undertaking actions in this breezy but unconvincing work of pop psychology. Each tendency gets two separate chapters devoted to understanding and dealing with people with a specific trait. There’s even a Venn diagram and brief, if arbitrary, quiz. The simplicity of the profiles is comforting, but the science is questionable. The author commissioned a survey and uses anecdotal evidence to bolster the framework’s worth, but her attempts to find proof smack of confirmation bias. The author diagnoses her friends and social-media followers using her framework, sometimes sounding wise, at other times smug. Supposedly there’s no hierarchy to the tendencies, but the author, an upholder, can’t quite hide her preference for her own tendency, with her husband’s questioner tendency running a near second. Even the author admits that personality frameworks can’t “capture human nature in all of its depth and variety,” but nevertheless argues for utilizing her ideas to improve one’s life. In its best moments, the book reminds readers that not everyone approaches the world from the same perspective. [Publishers Weekly]
The Happiness Project: Or Why I Spent a Year Trying to Sing in the Morning, Clean My Closets, Fight Right, Read Aristotle, and Generally Have More Fun In a brief introduction, Rubin explains that she was inspired to work on the book when she one day realized that her life was so busy and fast-paced she was rushing through it and not appreciating it or truly experiencing it. This led her to question whether she was truly happy—even though her life was objectively "good" in a material sense ... had she consciously chosen all of these aspects of her life, did she truly enjoy them or merely accept them? Rubin reviews some historical investigations into and attitudes about happiness, then lays out twelve rules for herself to follow ... She intends these lists to help keep her on the right track as she studies her own happiness. Rubin concludes that she intends to find happiness not by abandoning her life and traveling or starting over, as some others have done, but by finding what she loves about her own life and enhancing it, and what she dislikes about her life and minimizing it ... [SuperSummary]

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Author Title Short review
James Salter The Hunters ... based closely on his own experience as a pilot flying combat missions in Korea. The war in the air proceeds in tandem with a near civil war on the ground as the pilots vie with each other to achieve the coveted five kills that will make them aces. The conflicting demands between ensuring the safety of comrades (the “sacred” duty of the wingman) and the individual daring—recklessness even—needed to shoot down MiGs threaten to destroy the central character, Cleve Connell ... Everything in the novel is rendered from within the worldview and idiom of the fighter pilots ... It is, without question, one of the greatest flying novels ever written. However meticulously and faithfully rendered, though, flying is important not simply as an end in itself but also as a test of character, of how one reacts in the face of destiny ... You do everything you can to control what happens, but at some point—to return to Burning the Days—you are left “facing the unalterable.” Cocooned in his cockpit, as alone “and isolated as a deep-sea diver,” the pilot achieves—or fails to—a state of grace in and through his isolation. This is at the heart of Salter’s ethic of solitary splendor. It is part of the sheer definition of self ... [Paris Review]
Eric Schlosser Command and Control: Nuclear Weapons, the Damascus Accident, and the Illusion of Safety ... Schlosser’s disquieting but riveting book looks at every aspect of nuclear risk, examining problems with the command and control systems that in theory were supposed to provide presidents with the information they would need to make the decision on whether the United States should retaliate against a Soviet strike. Constructing the complex systems needed for this task — linking radar sites and monitor stations around the world into a single network for analysis and control — was well beyond the technological capacity of American engineers for much of the cold war, but they did the best they could. The system they created, which led among other things to the technology that gave us the Internet, was not only subject to glitches and crashes, it was also too brittle to survive any serious Soviet attack, too inflexible to give presidents good choices at what would have been the most critical moments in world history and too subject to error to be relied on ... And gripping though the Damascus narrative is on its own terms, readers may have trouble picking up the broken threads of this highly complex multi­character tale after so many involved and absorbing excursions — for example, Schlosser’s detailed treatment of the bitter interservice rivalries that affected the development of America’s nuclear systems and doctrine. For many readers, the most dismaying revelations will not be the ones about accidents and near accidents. Nuclear bomb scares are fun to read about ... Substantially more troubling is the story Schlosser tells of the poor strategic thinking at the heart of the nuclear enterprise. For much of the cold war, the plans for using America’s nuclear weapons were rigid and inflexible. Compared with them, the mobilization timetables that locked the general staffs of Europe into an inexorable march toward disaster in 1914 were models of flexibility and restraint. [New York Times]
Neil Sheehan A Bright Shining Lie: John Paul Vann and America in Vietnam Killed in a helicopter crash in Vietnam in 1972, controversial Lt. Col. John Paul Vann was perhaps the most outspoken army field adviser to criticize the way the war was being waged. Appalled by the South Vietnamese troops' unwillingness to fight and their random slaughter of civilians, he flouted his supervisors and leaked his sharply pessimistic (and, as it turned out, accurate) assessments to the U.S. press corps in Saigon. Among them was Sheehan, a reporter for UPI and later the New York Times (for whom he obtained the Pentagon Papers). Sixteen years in the making, writing and research, this compelling 768-page biography is an extraordinary feat of reportage: an eloquent, disturbing portrait of a man who in many ways personified the U.S. war effort. Blunt, idealistic, patronizing to the Vietnamese, Vann firmly believed the U.S. could win; as Sheehan limns him, he was ultimately caught up in his own illusions. The author weaves into one unified chronicle an account of the Korean War (in which Vann also fought), the story of U.S. support for French colonialism, descriptions of military battles, a critique of our foreign policy and a history of this all-American boy's secret personal lie ... that led him to recklessly gamble away his career. [Publishers Weekly]
Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö Roseanna (Martin Beck Police Mystery #1) On a July afternoon, a young woman’s body is dredged from Sweden’s beautiful Lake Vattern. With no clues Beck begins an investigation not only to uncover a murderer but also to discover who the victim was. Three months later, all Beck knows is that her name was Roseanna and that she could have been strangled by any one of eighty-five people on a cruise. As the melancholic Beck narrows the list of suspects, he is drawn increasingly to the enigma of the victim, a free-spirited traveler with a penchant for casual sex, and to the psychopathology of a murderer with a distinctive–indeed, terrifying–sense of propriety. [Penguin Random House]
The Man Who Went Up in Smoke (Martin Beck Police Mystery #2) Inspector Martin Beck of the Stockholm Homicide Squad has his summer vacation abruptly terminated when the top brass at the foreign office pack him off to Budapest to search for Alf Matsson, a well-known Swedish journalist who has vanished. Beck investigates viperous Eastern European underworld figures and–at the risk of his life–stumbles upon the international racket in which Matsson was involved. With the coolly efficient local police on his side and a predatory nymphet on his tail, Beck pursues a case whose international implications grow with each new clue. [Penguin Random House]
The Man on the Balcony (Martin Beck Police Mystery #3) In the once peaceful parks of Stockholm, a killer is stalking young girls and disposing their bodies. The city is on edge, and an undercurrent of fear has gripped its residents. Martin Beck, now a superintendent, has two possible witnesses: a silent, stone-cold mugger and a mute three year old boy. With the likelihood of another murder growing as each day passes, the police force work night and day. But their efforts have offered little insight into the methodology of the killer. Then a distant memory resurfaces in Beck’s mind, and he may just have the break he needs. [Penguin Random House]
The Laughing Policeman (Martin Beck Police Mystery #4) On a cold and rainy Stockholm night, nine bus riders are gunned down by a mysterious assassin. The press portrays it as a freak attack and dubs the killer a madman. But Superintendent Martin Beck thinks otherwise—one of his most ambitious young detectives was among those killed—and he suspects it was more than coincidence. Working on a hunch, Beck seeks out the girlfriend of the murdered detective, and with her help Beck reconstructs the steps that led to his murder. The police comb the country for the killer, only to find that this attack may be connected to a case that has been unsolved for years. [Penguin Random House]
The Fire Engine That Disappeared (Martin Beck Police Mystery #5) ... Beck investigating one of the strangest, most violent, and unforgettable crimes of his career. The incendiary device that blew the roof off a Stockholm apartment not only interrupted the small, peaceful orgy underway inside, it nearly took the lives of the building’s eleven occupants. And if one of Martin Beck’s colleagues hadn’t been on the scene, the explosion would have led to a major catastrophe because somehow a regulation fire-truck has vanished. Was it terrorism, suicide, or simply a gas leak? And what if, anything, did the explosion have to do with the peculiar death earlier that day of a 46-year-old bachelor whose cryptic suicide note consisted of only two words: "Martin Beck"? [Penguin Random House]
Murder at the Savoy (Martin Beck Police Mystery #6) When Viktor Palmgren, a powerful Swedish industrialist is shot during his after-dinner speech in the luxurious Hotel Savoy, it sends a shiver down the spine of the international money markets and terrifies the tiny town of Malmo. No one in the restaurant can identify the gunman, and local police are sheepishly baffled. That’s when Beck takes over the scene and quickly picks through Palmgren’s background. What he finds is a web of vice so despicable that it’s hard for him to imagine who wouldn’t want Palmgren dead, but that doesn’t stop him and his team of dedicated detectives from tackling one of their most intriguing cases yet. [Penguin Random House]
The Abominable Man (Martin Beck Police Mystery #7) The gruesome murder of a police captain in his hospital room reveals the unsavory history of a man who spent forty years practicing a horrible blend of strong-arm police work and shear brutality. Martin Beck and his colleagues feverishly comb Stockholm for the murderer, a demented and deadly rifleman, who has plans for even more chaos. As the tension builds and a feeling of imminent danger grips Beck, his investigation unearths evidence of police corruption. That’s when an even stronger sense of responsibility and something like shame urge him into taking a series of drastic steps, which lead to a shocking disaster. [Penguin Random House]
The Locked Room (Martin Beck Police Mystery #8) A young blonde in sunglasses robs a bank and kills a hapless citizen. Across town, a corpse with a bullet shot through its heart is found in a locked room–with no gun at the scene. The crimes seem disparate, but to Martin Beck they are two pieces of the same puzzle, and solving it becomes the one way he can escape the pains of his failed marriage and the lingering effects of a near-fatal bullet wound. Exploring the ramifications of egotism and intellect, luck and accident, this tour de force of detection bears the unmistakable substance and gravity of real life. [Penguin Random House]
Cop Killer (Martin Beck Police Mystery #9) In a country town, a woman is brutally murdered and left buried in a swamp. There are two main suspects: her closest neighbor and her ex-husband. Meanwhile, on a quiet suburban street a midnight shootout takes place between three cops and two teenage boys. Dead, one cop and one kid. Wounded, two cops. Escaped, one kid. Martin Beck and his partner Lenart Kollberg are called in to investigate. As Beck digs deeper into the murky waters of the young girl’s murder, Kollberg scours the town for the teenager, and together they are forced to examine the changing face of crime. [Penguin Random House]
The Terrorists (Martin Beck Police Mystery #10) An American senator is visiting Stockholm and Martin Beck must lead a team to protect him from an international gang of terrorists. However, in the midst of the fervor created by the diplomatic visit, a young, peace-loving woman is accused of robbing a bank. Beck is determined to prove her innocence, but gets trapped in the maze of police bureaucracy. To complicate matters a millionaire pornographer has been bludgeoned to death in his own bathtub. Filled with the twists and turns and the pulse pounding excitement that are the hallmarks of the Martin Beck novels, The Terrorists is the stunning conclusion to the incredible series that changed crime fiction forever. [Penguin Random House]
Pamela Slim Body of Work: finding the thread that ties your story together Slim says that a career is a “cumulative and connected body of work.” A body of work is based in your values, your experiences, and the skills that connect all the aspects of your life. A body of work addresses a big theme—a big cause, a big problem, or a big question—that has engaged you. She says, “Your body of work is everything you create, contribute, affect, and impact. . . Individuals who structure their careers around autonomy, mastery, and purpose will have a powerful body of work.” ... packed with helpful case studies and practical exercises to help the reader identify her own body of work ... To identify your body of work and begin to articulate it to others, Slim says you must start by identifying your root—the ideas that drive you or the problems you want to solve. From there, you need to name your ingredients: the skills, experiences, and knowledge that you bring to the table. It's also important to choose your work mode ... [Hey Day Coaching]
Robin Sloan Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore All the best secrets are hidden in plain sight. The trick is to notice the secret in front of you. Sloan’s debut novel takes the reader on a dazzling and flat-out fun adventure, winding through the interstices between the literary and the digital realms. Art school graduate and former NewBagel web designer Clay needs a job. One day, he stumbles into Mr. Penumbra’s store and, seemingly on the basis of his love for The Dragon-Song Chronicles, lands himself a job as the night clerk. Narrow and tall, the bookstore is an odd place, with its severely limited selection of books to sell. Yet, just behind the commercial section, the shelves reach high toward the shadowy ceiling, crammed with a staggeringly large collection of books: a lending library for a small, peculiar group of people. Clay is forbidden to open the books yet required to describe the borrowers in great detail. Late-night boredom catalyzes curiosity, and soon Clay discovers that the books are part of a vast code, a code the book borrowers have been trying to crack for centuries. Could computers solve the paper puzzle? To assist him on his heroic quest, Clay collects a motley band of assistants. Among the crew is Kat, a Google employee and digital wizard, commanding code as well as a legion of distant computers. Neel, former sixth-grade Dungeon Master, is the financial warrior with his empire balanced on digital boob simulation. Book borrowers, cryptographers and digital pirates all lend a hand, but the gray-suited Corvina opposes them with all the power of a secret society ... [Kirkus Reviews]
Sourdough or, Lois and her adventures in the underground market A listless coder discovers inspiration—and some unusual corners of the Bay Area—via a batch of sourdough starter. Lois, the narrator of Sloan’s second novel ... works at a San Francisco robotics firm, where long hours move her to regularly order in from a sandwich shop. The place is peculiar—it’s delivery-only, and the two brothers who own it are vague about their background (“Mazg,” they say)—but the food is amazing, especially the sourdough bread. When the brothers leave town, they eagerly bestow their sourdough starter on their “number one eater,” and though Lois is hapless in the kitchen, she soon masters baking so well her loaves catch the attention of her employer’s in-house chef and, eventually, an elite invite-only farmers market in Alameda. Early on, the novel reads like a lighthearted redemption-through-baking tale with a few quirks: the starter seems to have moods of its own and the loaves’ crusts crack into facelike visages. But in time the story picks up—and becomes somewhat burdened by—a strenuously oddball supporting cast and various allegorical commentaries about human virtues amid the rush to process and automate everything, including food ... Among the characters are a collector of vintage restaurant menus, members of a club for women named Lois, the Mazg brothers’ forefathers, and a fellow baker who plays Grateful Dead bootlegs to encourage his own starter. Sloan’s comic but smart tone never flags, and Lois is an easy hero to root for, inquisitive and sensitive as she is ... [Kirkus Reviews]
Richard Slotkin Lost Battalions: The Great War and the Crisis of American Nationality ... The soldiers of the Harlem Hellfighters and the so-called Lost Battalion were never really found in the first place; they worked at the edges of the nation’s consciousnes. Doubtless, Slotkin suggests, the nation would have preferred to fight the Kaiser with an army of white native-born sons, but one in eight Americans in 1917 was either foreign-born or of African descent. A detachment of New York blacks, many recent arrivals from the Jim Crow South, were formed into a command attached to the French Army, while Jews and Slavs and Italians newly arrived through Ellis Island were formed into a unit informally called the “Melting Pot Division.” Each would fight valiantly, the 369th Battalion on one flank of the Argonne Front, the 77th Division only some 20 miles away; each would be badly bloodied, such that of the latter, “nearly three-quarters…were either killed, wounded, or captured,” whereas the black soldiers—who, Slotkin notes in passing, introduced jazz to France along the way—were so badly mauled by German attackers that “the French withdrew them from the line and awarded the entire regiment the Croix de Guerre.” (One of their white officers, Hamilton Fish Jr., would become a leading isolationist politician.) So why don’t all American schoolchildren know of the exploits of these soldiers? Because they were embarrassments to the status quo; as Slotkin observes, the soldiers would barely be remembered except in the abstract, with the reshaping of their stories in films such as Bataan, whose makers “persisted in placing African-Americans in their war stories even when the premise for inclusion was rather thin” and allowed immigrants a voice ... [Kirkus Reviews]
Dava Sobel The Glass Universe: How the Ladies of the Harvard Observatory Took the Measure of the Stars In the mid-nineteenth century, the Harvard College Observatory began employing women as calculators, or “human computers,” to interpret the observations their male counterparts made via telescope each night. At the outset this group included the wives, sisters, and daughters of the resident astronomers, but soon the female corps included graduates of the new women’s colleges—Vassar, Wellesley, and Smith. As photography transformed the practice of astronomy, the ladies turned from computation to studying the stars captured nightly on glass photographic plates. The “glass universe” of half a million plates that Harvard amassed over the ensuing decades—through the generous support of Mrs. Anna Palmer Draper, the widow of a pioneer in stellar photography—enabled the women to make extraordinary discoveries that attracted worldwide acclaim. They helped discern what stars were made of, divided the stars into meaningful categories for further research, and found a way to measure distances across space by starlight ... Elegantly written and enriched by excerpts from letters, diaries, and memoirs, The Glass Universe is the hidden history of the women whose contributions to the burgeoning field of astronomy forever changed our understanding of the stars and our place in the universe. [Penguin Random House]
Alexander Stahlberg Bounden Duty: The Memoirs of a German Officer, 1932-45 The story of a young German officer, plots against Hitler, and conflicts of loyalty. Here is Stahlberg's personal account of the Hitler years, and his experiences in war, both as a soldier and as Adjutant to Field Marshal von Manstein. [Goodreads]
Michael Bungay Stanier The Coaching Habit: say less, ask more and change the way you lead forever Coaching is an essential leadership skill in business and learning how to do it well is a matter of habit ... full of eye-catching graphics and pithy phrases in large text, guides readers through seven questions that Bungay Stanier asserts will lead them to great coaching. His suggestions for would-be coaches are focused on helping them understand the needs of the coachee and addressing these needs clearly and directly. Since many or most leaders have tried to coach and failed, according to a study Bungay Stanier cites, these questions are aimed at making coaching simpler and more effective, and building it into a habit. The advice is backed up with references to other studies and includes worksheets ... [Publishers Weekly]
John Steinbeck Travels with Charley: In Search of America ... John Steinbeck set out to discover "the speech" of America and to see for himself all of the changes in the United States that he had previously heard about "only from books and newspapers" ... like much of Steinbeck's work ... (it) garnered a mixed reaction from reviewers and the general public. While the Boston Herald wrote ... is "[o]ne of the best books John Steinbeck has ever written. Perceptive, revealing, and completely delightful" and the San Francisco Examiner deemed it "[p]rofound, sympathetic, often angry [. . .] an honest and moving book by one of our great writers," the academic community was less receptive of Steinbeck's highly personal work ... while one of Steinbeck's less celebrated works, is arguably one of his crowning achievements. It is rare for a talented and respected author to live during a period of enormous change and have the ability to chronicle those changes with both subjective and objective viewpoints. And while there has been a notable shunning of Steinbeck's viewpoint in the academic community ... "[perhaps over time] academia will finally recognize Steinbeck... as a major literary figure" ... certainly provides enlightening insight into the changes America endured nearly forty years ago and how those changes are still resounding in the United States today. [San José State University]

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Author Title Short review
J.R.R. Tolkien The Lord of the Rings ... initially published in three parts as The Fellowship of the Ring (1954), The Two Towers (1955), and The Return of the King (1955). The novel, set in the Third Age of Middle Earth, formed a sequel to Tolkien’s The Hobbit (1937) and was succeeded by his posthumous The Silmarillion (1977). The Lord of the Rings is the saga of a group of sometimes reluctant heroes who set forth to save their world from consummate evil. Its many worlds and creatures were drawn from Tolkien’s extensive knowledge of philology and folklore. [Encyclopaedia Britannica]
Amor Towles A Gentleman In Moscow "The mind is its own place, and in itself / Can make a heav'n of hell, a hell of heav'n," Milton's charismatic Satan tells us — although the finest hotel in Moscow, with its restaurants and barber and elegant clientele, is a bit of a stretch for the fiery pits of damnation (or the snowdrifts of Siberia, for that matter). Anyways, thus confined, Rostov passes the decades making a whole world out of a hotel and the people in it — a precocious 9-year-old, a moody chef, the French maître d', and so on. He is not the king of infinite space, exactly, but he does live a full and rich life according to the principle that, "If one did not master one's circumstances, one was bound to be mastered by them." [NPR]

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Author Title Short review
Martin van Crevald Command in War Many books have been written about strategy, tactics, and great commanders. This is the first book to deal exclusively with the nature of command itself, and to trace its development over two thousand years from ancient Greece to Vietnam. It treats historically the whole variety of problems involved in commanding armies, including staff organization and administration, communications methods and technologies, weaponry, and logistics. And it analyzes the relationship between these problems and military strategy. In vivid descriptions of key battles and campaigns ... van Creveld focuses on the means of command and shows how those means worked in practice. He finds that technological advances such as the railroad, breech-loading rifles, the telegraph and later the radio, tanks, and helicopters all brought commanders not only new tactical possibilities but also new limitations. Although vast changes have occurred in military thinking and technology, the one constant has been an endless search for certainty—certainty about the state and intentions of the enemy’s forces; certainty about the manifold factors that together constitute the environment in which war is fought, from the weather and terrain to radioactivity and the presence of chemical warfare agents; and certainty about the state, intentions, and activities of one’s own forces. The book concludes that progress in command has usually been achieved less by employing more advanced technologies than by finding ways to transcend the limitations of existing ones. [Harvard University Press]
Frido von Senger u. Etterlin Neither Fear Nor Hope: The Wartime Memoirs Of The German Defender Of Cassino General von Senger sheds new light on the history of World War II. Here is an authoritative analysis of the campaigns in the European and Mediterranean theaters where the General fought, as well as a poignant expression of the antithesis between his duty as a professional soldier and his personal aversion to Hitler. [Google Books]

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Author Title Short review
Jeannette Walls The Glass Castle An account of growing up nomadic, starry-eyed, and dirt poor in the ’60s and ’70s, ... From her first memory, of catching fire while boiling hotdogs by herself in the trailer park her family was passing through, to her last glimpse of her mother, picking through a New York City Dumpster, Walls’s detached, direct, and unflinching account of her rags-to-riches life proves a troubling ride. Her parents, Rex Walls, from the poor mining town of Welch, West Virginia, and Rose Mary, a well-educated artist from Phoenix, love a good adventure and usually don’t take into account the care of the children who keep arriving—Lori, Jeannette, Brian, and Maureen—leaving them largely to fend for themselves. For entrepreneur and drinker Rex, “Doing the skedaddle” means getting out of town fast, pursued by creditors. Rex is a dreamer, and someday his gold-digging tool (the Prospector), or, better, his ingenious ideas for energy-efficiency, will fund the building of his desert dream house, the Glass Castle. But moving from Las Vegas to San Francisco to Nevada and back to rock-bottom Welch provides a precarious existence for the kids—on-and-off schooling, living with exposed wiring and no heat or plumbing, having little or nothing to eat. Protesting their paranoia toward authority and their insistence on “true values” for their children ... these parents have some dubious nurturing practices, such as teaching the children to con and shoplift. The deprivations do sharpen the wits of the children—leading to the family’s collective escape to New York City, where they all make good, even the parents, who are content to live homeless. The author’s tell-it-like-it-was memoir is moving because it’s unsentimental; she neither demonizes nor idealizes her parents, and there remains an admirable libertarian quality about them, though it justifiably elicits the children’s exasperation and disgust. Walls’s journalistic bare-bones style makes for a chilling, wrenching, incredible testimony of childhood neglect. A pull-yourself-up-by-the-bootstraps, thoroughly American story. [Kirkus Reviews]
Jesmyn Ward Salvage the Bones ... the 2011 National Book Award winner for fiction, is a taut, wily novel, smartly plotted and voluptuously written. It feels fresh and urgent, but it’s an ancient, archetypal tale. Think of Noah or Gilgamesh or any soggy group of humans and dogs huddled together, waiting out an apocalyptic act of God or weather. It’s an old story — of family honor, revenge, disaster — and it’s a good one. As Arnold Schoenberg said, “There is still much good music that can be written in C major.” And Jesmyn Ward makes beautiful music, plays deftly with her reader’s expectations: where we expect violence, she gives us sweetness. When we brace for beauty, she gives us blood. Best of all, she gives us a singular heroine who breaks the mold of the typical teenage female protagonist ... For all its fantastical underpinnings, Salvage the Bones is never wrong when it comes to suffering. Sorrow and pain aren’t presented as especially ennobling. They exist to be endured — until the next Katrina arrives to “cut us to the bone.” And like every good myth, at its heart, the book is salvific; it wants to teach you how to wait out the storm and swim to safety. [New York Times]
Tara Westover Educated: A memoir It’s difficult to imagine a young woman who, in her teens, hadn’t heard of the World Trade Center, the Holocaust, and virtually everything having to do with arts and popular culture. But so it was, as Westover chronicles here in fairly chronological fashion. In some ways, the author’s father was a classic anti-government paranoiac—when Y2K failed to bring the end of the world, as he’d predicted, he was briefly humbled. Her mother, though supportive at times, remained true to her beliefs about the subordinate roles of women. One brother was horrendously abusive to the author and a sister, but the parents didn’t do much about it. Westover didn’t go to public school and never received professional medical care or vaccinations. She worked in a junkyard with her father, whose fortunes rose and fell and rose again when his wife struck it rich selling homeopathic remedies. She remained profoundly ignorant about most things, but she liked to read. A brother went to Brigham Young University, and the author eventually did, too. Then, with the encouragement of professors, she ended up at Cambridge and Harvard, where she excelled—though she includes a stark account of her near breakdown while working on her doctoral dissertation ... And—with some justification—she is quick to praise herself and to quote the praise of others. An astonishing account of deprivation, confusion, survival, and success. [Kirkus Reviews]
Isabel Wilkerson The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration From 1915 to 1970, this exodus of almost six million people changed the face of America. Wilkerson compares this epic migration to the migrations of other peoples in history. She interviewed more than a thousand people, and gained access to new data and official records, to write this definitive and vividly dramatic account of how these American journeys unfolded, altering our cities, our country, and ourselves. With stunning historical detail, Wilkerson tells this story through the lives of three unique individuals ... Wilkerson brilliantly captures their first treacherous and exhausting cross-country trips by car and train and their new lives in colonies that grew into ghettos, as well as how they changed these cities with southern food, faith, and culture and improved them with discipline, drive, and hard work. Both a riveting microcosm and a major assessment, ... a bold, remarkable, and riveting work, a superb account of an “unrecognized immigration” within our own land. Through the breadth of its narrative, the beauty of the writing, the depth of its research, and the fullness of the people and lives portrayed herein, this book is destined to become a classic. [Penguin Random House]
Guy Winch Emotional First Aid: practical strategies for treating failure, rejection, guilt, failure and other everyday psychological injuries ... offers valuable advice for bouncing back from life’s disappointments—both big and small—in this outstanding work. While diligently emphasizing the importance of seeking professional advice when necessary, the author also gives readers tools to help themselves overcome everything from excessive and unproductive guilt, to being rejected by a romantic partner. After offering an insightful overview of common psychological issues, such as loneliness and unhealthy rumination, the author lays out potential strategies to cope with each one. Readers learn how to identify self-defeating behaviors, how to appreciate others’ points of view, and, perhaps most importantly of all, how to stop the destructive voice in one’s head from proclaiming inadequacy and failure. But Winch’s approach isn’t simply to avoid all negativity—he points out that even failure, great teacher that it is, can be an important step along one’s journey. [Publishers Weekly]
Herman Wouk The Caine Mutiny ... one of the greatest novels ever written about a dysfunctional workplace. Ever had a petty and vindictive boss, competent only at deflecting blame for his own shortcomings? Or a colleague who grumbles about office shortcomings, only to go cringingly silent when superiors are listening? Have you ever damaged your own career by doing your job too well, annoying and embarrassing the people around you? If so, you'll feel immediately at home aboard the USS Caine. Of course, the work environment described in The Caine Mutiny is no ordinary one. It's the US Navy in World War II, and the Navy ("a machine invented by geniuses, to be run by idiots") is the book's true hero. Wouk is a modern writer in his style and methods, but in his outlook on war, he has more in common with John Greenleaf Whittier and Alfred Lord Tennyson than with the writers of his own era. ... Wouk knows intimately the defects of naval superiors, and he vividly displays them: the admiral who spends the war enjoying the comforts of life in Pearl Harbor (splendidly described); the martinet commander of one of the Caine's companion vessels who bullies and terrorizes his subordinates; capable but slovenly captain of the Caine itself; and of course the epic character of Captain Queeg himself. But Wouk wants it understood. Modern wars are not won by the unaided efforts of heroes and geniuses. They are won by systems, and in that system everybody plays his part, including, yes, even the Queegs. [Daily Beast]
Andrea Wulf The Invention of Nature: Alexander von Humboldt's New World Alexander von Humboldt was the pre-eminent scientist of his time. Contemporaries spoke of him as second in fame only to Napoleon. All over the Americas and the English-speaking world, towns and rivers are still named after him, along with mountain ranges, bays, waterfalls, 300 plants and more than 100 animals. There is a Humboldt glacier, a Humboldt asteroid, a Humboldt hog-nosed skunk. Off the coast of Peru and Chile, the giant Humboldt squid swims in the Humboldt Current, and even on the moon there is an area called Mare Humboldtianum. Darwin called him the “greatest scientific traveler who ever lived.” Yet today, outside Latin America and Humboldt’s native Germany, his name has receded into near oblivion. His insights have become so ingested by modern science that they may no longer seem astonishing. ... But Humboldt’s achievement lay less in geographic discovery than in the insights that the journey sparked. Wulf ... is anxious above all to establish Humboldt’s relevance today, and her fluency in German facilitates the sifting of his massive oeuvre for impressive data. He had barely started across Venezuela before he was alerted by the falling water level in the idyllic lake of Valencia. This, he came to realize, was caused not only by the siphoning of streams for irrigation but also by the felling of the surrounding forests. Humboldt, Wulf writes, “was the first to explain the fundamental functions of the forest for the ecosystem and climate: the trees’ ability to store water and to enrich the atmosphere with moisture, their protection of the soil, and their cooling effect. He also talked about the impact of trees on the climate through their release of oxygen. The effects of the human species’ intervention were already ‘incalculable,’ Humboldt insisted, and could become catastrophic if they continued to disturb the world so ‘brutally.’” ... [New York Times]

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Author Title Short review
Shoshana Zuboff The Age of Surveillance Capitalism: The Fight for a Human Future at the New Frontier of Power Zuboff writes ... that her conversations with Skinner “left me with an indelible sense of fascination with a way of construing human life that was—and is—fundamentally different from my own.” Skinner believed that humans could be conditioned like any other animal, and that behavioral psychology could and should be used to build a technological utopia where citizens were trained from birth to be altruistic and community-oriented ... It would risk grave understatement to say that Zuboff does not share Skinner’s enthusiasm for the mass engineering of behavior. Zuboff, a professor at Harvard Business School since 1981, has made a career of criticizing the lofty ambitions of technoprophets ... er intimate understanding of Skinner gives her an advantage that other technoskeptics lack. For as she posits ... we seem to have wandered into a dystopian version of Skinner’s future, thanks mainly to Google, Facebook, and their peers in the attention economy. Silicon Valley has invented, if not yet perfected, the technology that completes Skinner’s vision, and so, she believes, the behavioral engineering of humanity is now within reach. In case you’ve been living in blissful ignorance, it works like this. As you go through life, phone in hand, Google, Facebook, and other apps on your device are constantly collecting as much information as possible about you, so as to build a profile of who you are and what you like. Google, for its part, keeps a record of all your searches; it reads your e-mail (if you use Gmail) and follows where you go with Maps and Android. Facebook has an unparalleled network of trackers installed around the Web that are constantly figuring out what you are looking at online. Nor is this the end of it: any appliance labeled “smart” would more truthfully be labeled “surveillance-enhanced,” ... An alien might someday ask how the entire population was bugged.… [New York Review of Books]
In The Age Of The Smart Machine: The Future Of Work And Power A seminal work on the social, economic, and emotional consequences of computer technology. In-depth interviews with workers and managers in a variety of economic settings evoke the wrenching sense of disorientation that follows in the wake of the "smart machine". [Google Books]

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standard

The presentations will be given during the final exam time, Tuesday, 11 May 2021, from 0800-1100.

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