Tag Archives: Books

The Nature and History of Presidential Leadership: A book of olden times.

The timing of Doris Kearns Goodwin’s latest book is perfect.

She is an excellent historian and writer, and you probably know of her as the author of several of the best, or at least very nearly the best, volumes on a range of key subjects in American History. She wrote Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln about Lincoln, Lyndon Johnson and the American Dream: The Most Revealing Portrait of a President and Presidential Power Ever Written about Johnson, No Ordinary Time: Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt: The Home Front in World War II about FDR, and The Bully Pulpit: Theodore Roosevelt and the Golden Age of Journalism about TR.

And now, we have Leadership: In Turbulent Times by Doris Kearns Goodwin.

Are leaders born or made? Where does ambition come from? How does adversity affect the growth of leadership? Does the leader make the times or do the times make the leader?

In Leadership, Goodwin draws upon the four presidents she has studied most closely—Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Lyndon B. Johnson (in civil rights)—to show how they recognized leadership qualities within themselves and were recognized as leaders by others. By looking back to their first entries into public life, we encounter them at a time when their paths were filled with confusion, fear, and hope.

Leadership tells the story of how they all collided with dramatic reversals that disrupted their lives and threatened to shatter forever their ambitions. Nonetheless, they all emerged fitted to confront the contours and dilemmas of their times.

No common pattern describes the trajectory of leadership. Although set apart in background, abilities, and temperament, these men shared a fierce ambition and a deep-seated resilience that enabled them to surmount uncommon hardships. At their best, all four were guided by a sense of moral purpose. At moments of great challenge, they were able to summon their talents to enlarge the opportunities and lives of others.

This seminal work provides an accessible and essential road map for aspiring and established leaders in every field. In today’s polarized world, these stories of authentic leadership in times of apprehension and fracture take on a singular urgency.

John Le Carre’s Smiley Books

This started out as one of those posts I put up pointing to a cheap book on the Kindle. And it still is a post pointing to a cheap book, but then, I have a pitch for you to read John le Carré’s Smiley series (and one other book).

If you have never red John le Carré’s Smiley series, you should. Well, you may or may not like Le Carré’s writing style. He requires work on the part of the reader and can be dense and intense. The stories can be grueling in their detail. But that all makes it very realistic. If you have been keeping up with all the newspaper accounts and findings regarding the Trump-Russian scandal, and if you have been doing so over the last two years, then you are experiencing something much like reading all of Le Carré’s novels in sequence, except a) Le Carré is a better writer than reality and b) reality is much scarier.

The Smiley series happens in the context of the Cold War (as to all of le Carré’s books up until the cold war ends, more or less). You pretty much need to read them in sequence, then, when you are done, watch the various movies and TV series based on them.

I bring this all up now because the seventh book in the series, Smiley’s People: A George Smiley Novel (George Smiley Novels Book 7), is now in Kindle form for cheap.

And, for general reference, John le Carré’s Smiley books in order:

Pre-Karla Trilogy, from the author’s page-turner period:

Call for the Dead: A George Smiley Novel (which is also JlC’s first novel.)

A Murder of Quality: A George Smiley Novel

The Spy Who Came in From the Cold

The Looking Glass War: A George Smiley Novel

Karla Trilogy:

At this point the novels shift in several ways. The dynamic at the British intelligence agency is set up around factions that involve class and ethnic differences (in this case, “ethnic” means one kind of British white guy vs. a different kind of British white guy), and Karla (East German) emerges as the main bad guy. The next three books are a trilogy. You can read them without having read the above, but this is the point where JlC’s writing style changes from something you might really like/not like to something you might really like/not like, so I’d not skip the titles listed above. (I think what happened is, le Carre made it big enough that he was able to tell his editors what to do, instead of the other way round. Sort of like JK Rowling after Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.)

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy: A George Smiley Novel

The Honourable Schoolboy

Smiley’s People: A George Smiley Novel

Latter day Smiley novels

The Secret Pilgrim: A Novel

A Legacy of Spies: A Novel

Le Carré wrote several other novels (and continues to do so) but they vary a lot in how much I like them. I won’t discuss them here. But, there is one book I want to mention.

If the Smiley series (above) is one of the greatest stories ever told set in the world of spies and espionage of the 20th century, then it is possible that A Perfect Spy: A Novel, by Johyn le Carré, is one of the single best books in this genre (and beyond). It is shocking, wrenching, fascinating, and, while you read it, you should know that it is autobiographical to a certain extent. It is likely that John Le Carré, who was (with a different name) an officer in the British intelligence agency MI6, would be dead or in prison for life had he committed all the acts of his counterpart in this book. But otherwise it is pretty autobiographical, including the character that is the “perfect spy’s” over the top father. I recommend reading the Smiley series first, then, if you like Le Carré’s writing, read and enjoy A Perfect Spy.

President Obama’s Factfulness and the Death of Expertise

I hear President Obama is reading Factfulness: Ten Reasons We’re Wrong About the World–and Why Things Are Better Than You Think by Hans Rosling.

When asked simple questions about global trends?what percentage of the world’s population live in poverty; why the world’s population is increasing; how many girls finish school?we systematically get the answers wrong. So wrong that a chimpanzee choosing answers at random will consistently outguess teachers, journalists, Nobel laureates, and investment bankers.

In Factfulness, Professor of International Health and global TED phenomenon Hans Rosling, together with his two long-time collaborators, Anna and Ola, offers a radical new explanation of why this happens. They reveal the ten instincts that distort our perspective?from our tendency to divide the world into two camps (usually some version of us and them) to the way we consume media (where fear rules) to how we perceive progress (believing that most things are getting worse).

Our problem is that we don’t know what we don’t know, and even our guesses are informed by unconscious and predictable biases.

It turns out that the world, for all its imperfections, is in a much better state than we might think. That doesn’t mean there aren’t real concerns. But when we worry about everything all the time instead of embracing a worldview based on facts, we can lose our ability to focus on the things that threaten us most.

Meanwhile, Mike Haubrich and I just recorded the next Ikonokast Podcast and our guest recommended The Death of Expertise: The Campaign against Established Knowledge and Why it Matters by Tom Nichols.

Technology and increasing levels of education have exposed people to more information than ever before. These societal gains, however, have also helped fuel a surge in narcissistic and misguided intellectual egalitarianism that has crippled informed debates on any number of issues. Today, everyone knows everything: with only a quick trip through WebMD or Wikipedia, average citizens believe themselves to be on an equal intellectual footing with doctors and diplomats. All voices, even the most ridiculous, demand to be taken with equal seriousness, and any claim to the contrary is dismissed as undemocratic elitism.

Tom Nichols’ The Death of Expertise shows how this rejection of experts has occurred: the openness of the internet, the emergence of a customer satisfaction model in higher education, and the transformation of the news industry into a 24-hour entertainment machine, among other reasons. Paradoxically, the increasingly democratic dissemination of information, rather than producing an educated public, has instead created an army of ill-informed and angry citizens who denounce intellectual achievement. When ordinary citizens believe that no one knows more than anyone else, democratic institutions themselves are in danger of falling either to populism or to technocracy or, in the worst case, a combination of both. An update to the 2017breakout hit, the paperback edition of The Death of Expertise provides a new foreword to cover the alarming exacerbation of these trends in the aftermath of Donald Trump’s election. Judging from events on the ground since it first published, The Death of Expertise issues a warning about the stability and survival of modern democracy in the Information Age that is even more important today.

Carl Hiaasen

I was reminded two days ago of Carl Hiaasen, when I was going trough a pile of books someone was getting rid of, and came across one of his. I always grab whatever Hiaasen books come along free, because I know that at some point, this will happen:

“Huh. That reminds me of something in a Carl Hiaasen book. Have you read any of those?”

“Uh. No. Never heard of him.”

“Well, you should. He writes pretty fun novels, like the one where the Native American guy and the ex-reporter hired a helicopter to drop Guccis and Macy’s gift bags full of poisonous snakes onto the deck of a luxury cruise linger off the Florida coast.”

“Huh.”

“Oh, and there’s one about bass fishing. Double Whammy. It’s the name of a lure. Get it?”

“Uh.”

“Oh never mind, it can’t really be explained, you can’t really describe these books so anyone. Just read it.”

And by this time I’ve dug out one of those Hiaasen novels I’ve been saving to give away, and I shove it into the person’s hands. “Just read this.”

And they do, then they read all the other ones too.

Carl Hiaasen’s first novel that got widely read is Tourist Season. It has been some time since I read it, but roughly, it is about a group of renegades who are living in the everglades (as in IN the everglades) and intent on stopping tourism in Florida, in order to see development roll back. They use interesting techniques.

The rest of Hiaasen’s novels, at least for several in a row, follow a similar approach. The main character is an ex-something. Ex journalist, ex cop, whatever. This individual finds himself embroiled in some sort of scheme or plot, typically involving grungy good guys pitted against truly evil villainous villains. Somewhere in there is a female love interest of the ex-dude.

While most of the characters change from story to story, two stay the same. One is the former governor of Florida, and the other his the Governor’s former body guard named Jim.

So the next two are in line are Double Whammy (the bass fishing one) and Native Tongue which is, obviously, about the blue nose vole.

Hiaasen also wrote several books for kids, with the same style but OK for eight to 12 year olds or so. Both my kids like them. See: Hiaasen 4-Book Trade Paperback Box Set (Chomp, Flush, Hoot, Scat).

The actual order of Carl Hiaasen non kid, fiction, books is as follows:

Not including the Governor of Florida:

Powder Burn, 1981
Trap Line, 1982
A Death in China, 1984

Including the governor of Florida, mostly, though I’ve not read the last three:

Tourist Season, 1986
Double Whammy, 1987
Skin Tight, 1989
Native Tongue, 1991
Strip Tease, 1993
Stormy Weather, 1995
Lucky You, 1997
Sick Puppy, 2000
Basket Case, 2002
Skinny Dip, 2004
Nature Girl, 2006
Star Island, 2010
Bad Monkey, 2013
Skink-No Surrender (2014)
Razor Girl (2016)

Hiaasen is a journalist and commentator long with the Miami Herald. He’s written several non fiction books that include his columns.

Today, of course, I’m reminded of Carl Hiaasen again, for a sad reason: His brother, Rob, was one of those killed in today’s tragic shooting in Maryland.

Garden Insects of North America: Ultimate Guide to Backyard Bugs, New Edition

BOOK NOTE: I interrupt this book review to note that Genius: The Life and Science of Richard Feynman is currently available, again, as a Kindle book, for two bucks. And now returning to our regularly scheduled review.

Garden Insects of North America: The Ultimate Guide to Backyard Bugs is not a pocket field guide. How could it be? There are over a million species of insects and probably a lot more (huge numbers certainly remain to be discovered) and of them, some 100,000 exist in North America. I’m actually not sure how many are represented in this book, but several thousand distributed among some 3,000 illustrations, mostly color photographs. Continue reading Garden Insects of North America: Ultimate Guide to Backyard Bugs, New Edition

How to defeat your own clone, and other book deals

I interrupt this blog post to bring you the following important announcement.

I just noticed that the Fire 7 Tablet with Alexa, 7″ Display, 8 GB, (with Special Offers) is currently available for the price of four cups of coffee at Starbucks, or, just shy of $30. A functional eReader wth benefits of a tablet. I also use them when I need a tablet for high risk use, like as a remote control device for a robot or something. I have no idea how long this will last.

The “special offer” part is the standard Kindle thing where you get an ad, almost always for a book or something, as the sleep screen on the device. Harmless, saves a few bucks, and who doesn’t like seeing an ad for a book?

And now we return to our regularly scheduled post about cheap books: Continue reading How to defeat your own clone, and other book deals

Give The Gift of Nostalgia and Angst

For a holiday gift this year, consider giving a book about politics, since politics this year is so very special.

There are two kinds of books out this year of special interest. There is a plethora of books that expose the evil underpinnings of the white supremacist meritocratic oligarchic patriarchy. And, there is a growing collection of books about the last time America was going under for the third time, and the people of those times. Here is a selection for you to ponder. Continue reading Give The Gift of Nostalgia and Angst

Vonegut, Salmon, Genetics, Magic: Cheap Books

For just a day or two, you should be able to get each of these books in Kindle for for two or three books:

The Sirens of Titan by Kurt Vonegut.

The Color of Magic: A Novel of Discworld by Terry Prachett

A Crack in Creation: Gene Editing and the Unthinkable Power to Control Evolution by Jennifer Doudna and Sam Sternberg.

Upstream: Searching for Wild Salmon, from River to Table by Langdon Cook.