Monday, April 30, 2018
In the Shadow of Zion: Promised Lands Before Israel Hardcover – December 12, 2014 by Adam L. Rovner (NYU Press)
Equipped with verve and an eye for the absurd detail, Adam Rovner set out across continents and into archives to recover the story of a time when desperation, imagination, and a sheer unwillingness to surrender to reality led some Jews to consider alternate Zions in unlikely corners of the globe. The result is a colorful and offbeat contribution to our understanding of modern Jewish history and of the fevered milieu out of which the state of Israel was born."
"Travel down some of the lesser-known roads to Jerusalem with an expert guide. Few books that claim the power to radically change the reader's worldview deliver on that promise. This informed investigation of several unexplored avenues of Jewish history actually does it. By examining six seldom-discussed attempts to settle a Jewish state outside of Israel, Rovner (English and Jewish Literature/Univ. of Denver) shows how the world might have looked had any of these plans come to fruition. Had the Jewish homeland developed in Angola, Suriname or Grand Island, New York—all considered candidates at one time—how might Jewish history, and world history, have turned out differently? The author meticulously follows in the footsteps of the visionary authors, rabbis and politicians who led hopeful expeditions to far-flung corners of the globe on just such a quest. Rovner writes clearly and precisely, providing a solid historical and geographical context, which he intersperses with personal narratives from his own travels that offer more intimate looks at the landscape and cultures of these countries."-From the late nineteenth century through the post-Holocaust era, the world was divided between countries that tried to expel their Jewish populations and those that refused to let them in. The plight of these traumatized refugees inspired numerous proposals for Jewish states. Jews and Christians, authors and adventurers, politicians and playwrights, and rabbis and revolutionaries all worked to carve out autonomous Jewish territories in remote and often hostile locations across the globe. The would-be founding fathers of these imaginary Zions dispatched scientific expeditions to far-flung regions and filed reports on the dream states they planned to create. But only Israel emerged from dream to reality. Israel’s successful foundation has long obscured the fact that eminent Jewish figures, including Zionism’s prophet, Theodor Herzl, seriously considered establishing enclaves beyond the Middle East.
In the Shadow of Zion brings to life the amazing true stories of six exotic visions of a Jewish national home outside of the biblical land of Israel. It is the only book to detail the connections between these schemes, which in turn explain the trajectory of modern Zionism. A gripping narrative drawn from archives the world over, In the Shadow of Zion recovers the mostly forgotten history of the Jewish territorialist movement, and the stories of the fascinating but now obscure figures who championed it.
Provocative, thoroughly researched, and written to appeal to a broad audience, In the Shadow of Zion offers a timely perspective on Jewish power and powerlessness.
Going South: Jewish Women in the Civil Rights Movement by Debra L. Schultz (Author), Blanche Wiesen Cook (Foreword) (NYU Press)
Going South: Jewish Women in the Civil Rights Movement provides the reader with an in-depth look at Jewish Women activists who participated on the ground in the striges for Civil Right in the American South. It examines the motivations, the experiences, and the impact of the Jewish Women who contributed to the movement that helped to move America forward. This is an extremely important history and one that should be a source of pride and admiration.
When Barbara Jacobs, a Brandeis student, returned to campus after working with black civil rights groups in the South in 1960, she found a limerick in her university mailbox that expressed a common prejudice faced by Jewish women activists, which read in part, "She said, I'm not a whore/ I just do it for CORE/ and color's the same without lights." Blending together 15 oral histories and archival research, Schultz shows how Northern Jewish women's commitment to social justice informed in part by living in the shadow of the Holocaust played out in a time of enormous political, social and personal upheaval. There are many, sometimes painful, ironies here: often Northern women discovered that their Southern Jewish relatives, already feeling vulnerable as outsiders, wanted nothing to do with them or the movement; some faced anti-Semitism (both passive and virulent) in Southern black church groups. But Schultz never resorts to easy answers, always trying to find a historical truth that's balanced between fact and empathy. Sharply observant of her informants' lives, Schultz opens a new window not only into the civil rights movement but also into the sociology of mid-century Jewish-American culture. Her analysis is most impressive at the book's end, when she perceptively describes the protean nature of Jewish identities in the U.S. Such insightful cultural readings and criticism make this a fine contribution to both the literature of the civil rights movement and the field of Jewish studies
The theological problems facing those trying to respond to the Holocaust remain monumental. Both Jewish and Christian post-Auschwitz religious thought must grapple with profound questions, from how God allowed it to happen to the nature of evil.
The Impact of the Holocaust on Jewish Theology brings together a distinguished international array of senior scholars—many of whose work is available here in English for the first time—to consider key topics from the meaning of divine providence to questions of redemption to the link between the Holocaust and the creation of the State of Israel. Together, they push our thinking further about how our belief in God has changed in the wake of the Holocaust.
Contributors: Yosef Achituv, Yehoyada Amir, Ester Farbstein, Gershon Greenberg, Warren Zev Harvey, Tova Ilan, Shmuel Jakobovits, Dan Michman, David Novak, Shalom Ratzabi, Michael Rosenak, Shalom Rosenberg, Eliezer Schweid, and Joseph A. Turner.
One of the best books out there on American girlhood history. The book is about Jewish Girls, specifically, but as Klapper demonstrates, Jewish Girls were learning how to be American Girls along with the rest. Beautifully written and exhaustively researched
Drawing on diaries and magazines, historian Klapper recreates the world of Jewish girls in late 19th- and early 20th-century America. These were years of massive immigration, expansion of the secondary school system and an increased sense of "the... importance of youth in modern society." Jewish girls were committed to maintaining Jewish identity and religious practice, but also wanted to read Black Beauty, go on dates (only very rarely with gentile boys) and attend dances. Readers watch as 18-year-old Emily Frankenstein and her boyfriend "spoon... on the porch swing," listen to Minnie Goldstein lead her high school debate team to victory and hum along as Lottie Strogoff practices the piano. One of this monograph's major themes is education: Jewish girls attended high school and often college, where they studied American history, and mixed and mingled with non-Jewish classmates. But parents also wanted their girls to be steeped in Yiddishkeit (all things Jewish) so many girls attended Sunday school (or Sabbath school) devoted to Jewish studies. This book's charm lies in its innovative and engaging focus on girlhood. Klapper doesn't overhaul historians' traditional understanding of Jewish-American history; rather she offers grace notes to a familiar narrative about the tensions between assimilation and tradition. The primary audience is academic, but the book will be accessible to other readers
The Encyclopedia of Jewish Life Before and During the Holocaust: 3 volume set by Shmuel Spector (Editor), Geoffrey Wigoder (Editor), Elie Wiesel (Introduction) (NYU Press)
This is a 3-volume condensation (in English) of a 30-volume Hebrew study. This is obvious if compared with some of the entries in the 1970s Encyclopedia Judaica.It is information not to be found anywhere else, particularly its entries of even the smallest European towns.I found one major fault, and several minor ones.The major fault, and one that I cannot understand, is the complete omission of any cities and towns of Bulgaria, even Sofia!One observation that is debatable, is how many volumes should have been published (and therefore made available to English-speaking readers) and, thus, if made into another volume or two, the obvious space/time limitation would not have been so obvious.Minor criticisms: Rumania, instead of Romania. Many inconsequential and trivial photos; the space could have been used for more detail in places where gross omissions occurred.It is obvious that there is no book like it. The Encyclopedia Judaica is superior for the towns/cities it mentions; but, since EJ covers much else, this set's coverage of so many more towns/cities, makes it unique and essential to anyone who desires this information. Another minor point: Why is Jewabne not mentioned?
These three volumes are a translation and abridgment of the 30-volume Encyclopedia of Jewish Communities published in Hebrew by Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Remembrance Authority of Israel. Over 6000 communities are profiled by an international set of scholars in these glossy, double-column pages, which are deftly illustrated and have an easy-to-read typeface. Each community is listed alphabetically in bold face by historical name, with current name, district, country at the time, and current location (e.g., Poland, today Belarus) also given as appropriate. A historical survey follows, dating from the first recorded appearance of a Jewish community to its ultimate destruction during the Holocaust. Entries on major communities (for example, Berlin) may run over ten pages; many smaller communities are given, at the very least, a long, detailed paragraph noting major industries and examining cultural and political life. Scholars, of course, will welcome these volumes, but informed lay readers, including Jewish genealogists, will find them useful and informative as well. Patrons will want to use these volumes in combination with the Encyclopaedia Judaica (1972) for their initial research on Jewish communities. Libraries should also be sure to have one of the new single-volume Holocaust encyclopedias and guides, The Holocaust Encyclopedia (LJ 5/1/01), The Encyclopedia of the Holocaust (Facts on File, 2000), or The Columbia Guide to the Holocaust (LJ 3/15/01). Highly recommended for libraries with strong Jewish studies or Holocaust holdings
Jewish Mysticism and Kabbalah: New Insights and Scholarship (Jewish Studies in the Twenty-First Century) Hardcover – November 1, 2011 by Frederick E. Greenspahn (NYU Press )
Jewish Radicals: A Documentary Reader (Goldstein-Goren Series in American Jewish History) Paperback – July 9, 2012 by Tony Michels (NYU Press)
"From America's leading historian of Yiddish-speaking radicalism comes this rich anthology of contemporary Jewish-American voices from the 1880s through the 1940s. Among the diverse experiences and points of view reflected here, Michels convincingly identifies three dominant threadssocialist awakening as a rite-of-passage, the agony and ecstasy of political struggle, and Yiddish-based education as a labor-centered project with an uncertain agenda for national emancipation
Jewish Radicals explores the intertwined histories of Jews and the American Left through a rich variety of primary documents. Written in English and Yiddish, these documents reflect the entire spectrum of radical opinion, from anarchism to social democracy, Communism to socialist-Zionism. Rank-and-file activists, organizational leaders, intellectuals, and commentators, from within the Jewish community and beyond, all have their say. Their stories crisscross the Atlantic, spanning from the United States to Europe and British-ruled Palestine.
The documents illuminate in fascinating detail the efforts of large numbers of Jews to refashion themselves as they confronted major problems of the twentieth century: poverty, anti-semitism, the meaning of American national identity, war, and totalitarianism. In this comprehensive sourcebook, the story of Jewish radicals over seven decades is told for the first time in their own words.
The Rag Race: How Jews Sewed Their Way to Success in America and the British Empire (Goldstein-Goren Series in American Jewish History) Hardcover by Adam D. Mendelsohn (NYU Press)
This is a superb work of economic and ethnic history. There is abundant information about the relationship of Jews to the clothing industry following the waves of immigration 1880 into the 20th century, but here we see how the stage was set in the previous century. Many Jewish immigrants began as rag pickers, became peddlers of used clothing in remote but accessible areas, then established fixed stores. One of the most interesting points in this fascinating book was the importance of trade with plantation owners in the South, slaves (an enormous market for "shoddy" roughly made clothing), and tenant farmers after Reconstruction. In both cases, barter was often the means of exchange and commodities and land served as collateral. When buyers couldn’t pay, the merchants seized the land. In fact, in that fashion (excuse the pun--Mendelsohn has an eye-roll inducing penchant for them), one entrepreneurial Jew came to own 24,000 acres in Natchez, MS, which must have fanned some anti-Semitic flames. The clothing trade thus served as the way into banking and commodity trading.
While the book purports to deal with the USA and the British Empire, the latter is really there to serve as a kind of foil that reveals how different circumstances affected Jewish entry into the clothing trade specifically and the economy in general. While Jews in the US had a later and less auspicious start than those in the British Empire, (and by that Mendelsohn mostly means England, Australia and a few references to the West Indies), the "elaborate and geographically dispersed distribution chain" in the US laid a very effective foundation.
Through the clothing trade, Jews received schooling in essential skills essential for rapid advancement in a modern economy: "practice in petty entrepreneurship" and "sensitivity to the whims and wants of the market," but most importantly, "self-employment rather than wage labor" to facilitate a quick rise from the working class. The key to the success of Jews in the US was entrepreneurship in a field that required minimal investment of capital to start. Genius.
Mendelsohn showed clearly how specific economic behaviors and historical events informed each other. In places, there were points of momentous import that that needed greater emphasis, but that's to be forgiven. He admirably resisted the temptation to explore other areas of Jewish history that were outside of his thesis (we can research Judah Benjamin on our own, e.g.). This is a great read and with the emphasis on interdisciplinarity and teaching entrepreneurship in schools, this would make an excellent addition to summer reading lists.
Are Racists Crazy?: How Prejudice, Racism, and Antisemitism Became Markers of Insanity (Biopolitics) Hardcover – December 20, 2016 by Sander L. Gilman (Author), James M. Thomas (Author) (NYU Press)
The connection and science behind race, racism, and mental illnessIn 2012, an interdisciplinary team of scientists at the University of Oxford reported that - based on their clinical experiment - the beta-blocker drug, Propranolol, could reduce implicit racial bias among its users. Shortly after the experiment, an article in Time Magazine cited the study, posing the question: Is racism becoming a mental illness? In Are Racists Crazy? Sander Gilman and James Thomas trace the idea of race and racism as psychopathological categories., from mid-19th century Europe, to contemporary America, up to the aforementioned clinical experiment at the University of Oxford, and ask a slightly different question than that posed by Time: How did racism become a mental illness? Using historical, archival, and content analysis, the authors provide a rich account of how the 19th century ‘Sciences of Man’ - including anthropology, medicine, and biology - used race as a means of defining psychopathology and how assertions about race and madness became embedded within disciplines that deal with mental health and illness.
An illuminating and riveting history of the discourse on racism, antisemitism, and psychopathology, Are Racists Crazy? connects past and present claims about race and racism, showing the dangerous implications of this specious line of thought for today.
Freedom Is a Constant Struggle: Ferguson, Palestine, and the Foundations of a Movement Paperback – February 9, 2016 by Angela Y. Davis (Author), Frank Barat (Editor), Cornel West (Preface) (Haymarket Books)
Brilliant. A life, a BIG life, well lived. We can, particularly at this time,of highly visible (blatant) and deeply historically embedded systems and institutions of grave violence, all heed powerful lessons of organizing, speaking and acting, with an unyielding commitment to the increasingly dire necessity of truth to power. I mean REALLY, if not now, when? If not us, who? Angela digs deep into the depths of the greatest ills that plague us and calls us forward through her immense capacity to articulate the needs of our times through the power of words, stories, examples of the lives of others and her own. Do not read unless you are willing to get uncomfortable and engage in the hard work of attempting to make this a better world.
In these newly collected essays, interviews, and speeches, world-renowned activist and scholar Angela Y. Davis illuminates the connections between struggles against state violence and oppression throughout history and around the world.
Reflecting on the importance of black feminism, intersectionality, and prison abolitionism for today's struggles, Davis discusses the legacies of previous liberation struggles, from the Black Freedom Movement to the South African anti-Apartheid movement. She highlights connections and analyzes today's struggles against state terror, from Ferguson to Palestine.
Facing a world of outrageous injustice, Davis challenges us to imagine and build the movement for human liberation. And in doing so, she reminds us that "Freedom is a constant struggle."
Angela Y. Davis is a political activist, scholar, author, and speaker. She is an outspoken advocate for the oppressed and exploited, writing on Black liberation, prison abolition, the intersections of race, gender, and class, and international solidarity with Palestine. She is the author of several books, including Women, Race, and Class and Are Prisons Obsolete? She is the subject of the acclaimed documentary Free Angela and All Political Prisoners and is Distinguished Professor Emerita at the University of California, Santa Cruz.
One of America's most provocative public intellectuals, Dr. Cornel West has been a champion for racial justice since childhood. His writing, speaking, and teaching weave together the traditions of the black Baptist Church, progressive politics, and jazz. The New York Times has praised his "ferocious moral vision." His many books include Race Matters, Democracy Matters, and his autobiography, Brother West: Living and Loving Out Loud.
Frank Barat is a human rights activist and author. He was the coordinator of the Russell Tribunal on Palestine and is now the president of the Palestine Legal Action Network. His books include Gaza in Crisis and Corporate Complicity in Israel's Occupation.
The Orchard Hapardes Shel Akiva in English Authors: Yochi Brandes Daniel Libenson (translator from Hebrew) Publisher: Gefen Publishing House Format: Paperback ISBN 10: 9652299308 ISBN 13: 9789652299307 Catalog Number: 930-7 Number of Pages: 392 Year Published: 2017
This book - told from the perspective of Rabbi Alina’s wife— covers the period from about 85 ce to 135 ce. The author weaves together midrash, Josephus , the Haggadah, and Jewish secular scholarship to bring together the multiple themes and complex personalities of the period that provides insight into the formulation of rabbinic Judaism. The significance of the struggle between the House of Shammai and the House of Hillel is explored and explained more effectively than any academic explanation I’ve ever encountered.She also provides an explanation for why Akiba is not condemned by the sages after the failed Bar Kochba Revolt.
Brandes's approach to Judaism isn't what I call "mainstream," aka Orthodox. Her degree is from Machon Schechter, which is the Israeli academic institute of Conservative Judaism in Jerusalem. Her teaching of Bible and Judaism has been in Conservative and Reform schools and institutes. It's also important to note that the book is marketed as fiction, not history nor theology. That's why I decided to read The Orchard. It provides a "maybe this is what happened."
I'm not at all an expert in that period of time, the Sanhedrin and Rabbi Akiva. But since I've annoyed my neighbors over the years, when we learn about Lag B'Omer, the Period of Sefira and the Plague which killed thousands of Rabbi Akiva's students, because of my unconventional opinions, I hoped that Brandes's book would cast light. Ironically, that very famous story about Rabbi Akiva doesn't make it into Brandes's novel. Nor does the story of Rachel's coming to visit her husband and then turning back after seeing how joyfully he learned and taught.
Instead we see the very human side of the sages of the time and the political and personal intrigues. How much is true or fantasy? We will never know. I've been studying Bible for years, and I'm used to the idea that Judaism and the Jewish People were founded by humans with frailties. I don't feel threatened by the possibility, not at all.
The Orchard is written in first person as if Akiva's wife Rachel is speaking. This makes sense, since even the most conventional and fawning stories of Rabbi Akiva show her as the main character, the power behind the scene. Before I go any further, I must say that the translation by Daniel Libenson is fantastic. I have no idea how the book flows in Hebrew, but I was very impressed by Libenson's writing.
I definitely enjoyed reading The Orchard and recommend it. It's a fictionalized account of the times of Rabbi Akiva and Bar Kochba after Jerusalem was conquered by the Romans. My guess is that it's probably more realistic than the saccharine fairytale stories many other publishers offer. That's my opinion. You may agree or disagree. I suggest reading The Orchard before voicing yours.
I was told about this book years ago but was finally happy to see it in a language I enjoy reading. The translation was really well done. I was surprised that I liked it so much. Who would think a bunch of rabbis thousands of years ago would be so interesting. This is one of the most crucial periods in Jewish history. This period was the end of Israelite cult practices and the birth of Judaism as we know it today. It was this small period of time that the Jews gained a practicing religion but lost their homeland. This book is not at all just for Jews. It dives deeply into the bare beginning of the Jesus movement and clarifies the first perception of Christianity to the Jews of Judea. It also shows how G-d's commandments and the written text because accessible to all.
The pace of the book is very good (in other words, the way I like it) and she highlights clearly the most important parts of the history at that time. What we know today she was sure to keep to the facts but what we do not know, Brandes was very generous with the fiction. It would help to understand a little about the period or in parallel look online (Wikipedia) to read if certain subjects are not clear or what is based on fact or what was made into creative fiction.
This spellbinding historical novel by celebrated Israeli author Yochi Brandes tells the story of the venerated yet enigmatic Rabbi Akiva, placing him in the context of his contemporaries, the Sages of Jewish tradition and of early Christianity. Rabbi Eliezer, Rabbi Ishmael, Rabban Gamaliel, Paul of Tarsus, and many others become flesh and blood in this stunning interweaving of biblical and Talmudic lore into a page-turning read.
At the heart of the novel is Rabbi Akiva and his complicated relationship with his wife Rachel, who meets him as a forty-year-old illiterate shepherd, marries him against her father's wishes, and compels him to study until he becomes the nation of Israel's greatest sage. Rabbi Akiva's innovative method of interpreting Scripture provides his people with a life-giving elixir after Rome's destruction of the Second Temple, but also fuels the lethal Bar Kokhba Revolt, with disastrous consequences. The Orchard offers a brilliant narrative solution to the fascinating story of four sages who entered a metaphysical orchard: one died, one lost his mind, one became a hater of God, and one - Rabbi Akiva - made it out unscathed. Or did he?
Shark Drunk: The Art of Catching a Large Shark from a Tiny Rubber Dinghy in a Big Ocean Hardcover – June 27, 2017 by Morten Stroksnes (Knopf)
Shark Drunk: The Art of Catching a Large Shark from a Tiny Rubber Dinghy in a Big Ocean was quite the pleasant surprise. I thought 8+ hours of audiobook was a bit long to listen about someone catching a shark but this endeavor is only the background music to what ended up being a plethora of perspective and education about the sea and all the life that inhabits it.
I've stated on other reviews that the ocean is my favorite place to be in the entire world and it is worth saying it again. I loved all of the information Morten A. Strøksnes generously provided in this book. But because this book appears to be marketed and sold as a shark fishing adventure so to speak, I did still want some resolution. Ongoing attempts at scouting out the elusive Greenland shark were scattered throughout this book, but it wasn't until the final five minutes via audio that any progress was made. No, I didn't want to read 8+ hours of shark fishing stories but I also was a bit surprised that the climax was left until the very, very end. No matter, Shark Drunk: The Art of Catching a Large Shark from a Tiny Rubber Dinghy in a Big Ocean was a captivating book of science, history, ecology, mythology, culture, and friendship, and I'm glad I read it. A pleasant surprise indeed. Check it out!
My favorite quote:
"When the waves slam against the rocks, they shatter and turn to spray. Water molecules dance around on the world's oceans, dissolving, evaporating, cooling, and combining in new ways. The drops that strike my face have been in the Gulf of Mexico, in the Bay of Biscay, through the Bering Strait, and around the Cape of Good Hope many times. Maybe over the eons they've actually been in all the oceans, both big and small. In the form of rain they have washed over dry land; there they have been lapped up thousands of times by animals, people, and plants, only to evaporate, transpire, or run back out to sea, again and again. Over billions of years the water molecules have been everywhere on earth."
Empire of Guns: The Violent Making of the Industrial Revolution Hardcover – April 10, 2018 by Priya Satia (Penguin Press)
By Priya Satia, PhD, a Stanford History teacher, the details documented in this book are mind numbing. It is, as a documentary of historical fact, an outstanding, detailed piece of history. Aside from the fact where she starts with one of her own ancestors shooting (and regretfully) and killing a relative, she states her ancestor was changed (corrupted?) by the (hand) gun.
The tactics employed by the English Crown to ensure a steady supply of arms for their wars (the violence), was to fragment the (government) contracting. Something being done to this day in all "civilized" countries - USA included.
Aside from her discourse on her ancestor being changed by the gun, that is about the end of it in regards to politics. It IS an excellent discourse of the history of British gun making, population control and how gun making grew up concurrently with the industrial revolution, sometimes driving it, sometimes benefitting from it. She gives excellent examples of warfare but seems somewhat puzzled at how the firearm was used (not used) during that period of history she writes about. She does write and hints at the cultural differences between colonists and the Native Americans, concept of property rights and the defense of same even noting hardly justifiable uses of firearms and the complete assumption of power in their use and applications, not always in a just and prudent manner. Kind of like today.
Empire and Revolution: The Political Life of Edmund Burke Paperback – May 2, 2017 by Richard Bourke (Princeton University Press)
Richard Bourke began developing this history of Edmund Burke’s political thought in 1991. Published in 2015, "Empire & Revolution" uses Burke as a window into the eighteenth century articulations of British imperial power, exploring the way that Burke approached relations between Britain, Ireland, America, India, and France. It's Bourke on Burke in the best way possible.
The book begins with Burke’s boyhood in Ireland, which fascinated me. I hadn't realized that Burke was Irish (never having studied him in any great detail before this). Because of my longstanding interest in Irish history, this helped to put Burke's life in a familiar and interesting frame, and his various experiences of growing up in a family newly converted to Protestantism, then with his Catholic relatives, then at a Quaker school, and, finally, finishing his schooling at a Protestant university helped me to make sense both of Burke's enduring interest in the goals and mechanisms of power, and in his attempts to remain evenhanded and resist tyrannies of all kinds throughout his life. Though the book isn't an "intimate" look at Burke's personal life, it does attend to his general situation, his actions, his professional and public relationships, and his various alliances in detail, situating the development of his thought in his daily affairs, and taking up his main publications in a chronological order to trace the trajectory of Burke's attention and the maturing of his thought over the course of his lifetime. The book closes with the challenge of grappling with Burke’s ongoing legacy.
Through all this, the book is beautifully written. Professor Bourke’s long study, attention to detail, and gift for trenchant observation make this a lot of fun to read.
After I read the book, I had the pleasure of interviewing Richard Bourke for the New Books Network. Our conversation ranged over subjects as familiar today as they were in the 1700s, including Burke’s understanding of representative politics as a means of resolving conflicts present in the public at large, struggles between state and corporate power, and the warrant for popular revolution. One thing that he said really struck me, “A career doesn't have the coherence we impose upon it belatedly, but there exist preoccupations that recur and drive our action.” Of course he's right, and it's just these kinds of careful, nuanced observations that make his book such a good one. He is careful to note his own judgements of Burke's life and thought, and at the same time careful to hold fast to the difference between the subjects of our study and the meaning we make from them.
For all of these reasons, and many more, it's a fantastic book. Highly recommended.
South Africa's Brave New World: The Beloved Country Since the End of Apartheid 1st Edition by R. W. Johnson (The Overlook Press)
After decades of cultural and political turmoil, Nelson Mandela's inauguration as president of South Africa in 1994 seemed to usher in an age of peaceful, rational change.But, as R. W. Johnson recounts in his sweeping history, this was not to be. The profound damage of apartheid and the country's ill-prepared new leaders -- in exile or prison for much of their adult lives -- were a disastrous combination that poisoned everything from big business to education and AIDS policy to international relations.
In South Africa's Brave New World, Johnson shows how Mandela's successors brought South Africa close to "failed state" status and explores the implications for its future. At the heart of the story lies the figure of Thabo Mbeki, whose presidency led to catastrophic failure on almost every front. With a new afterword that assesses the new administration of Jacob Zuma, this controversial book stands as the definitive history of the new South Africa.
How to Bake Pi: An Edible Exploration of the Mathematics of Mathematics Paperback – May 10, 2016 by Eugenia Cheng (Basic Books)
This is both an entertaining and interesting book on math. It's mostly well-written in the first person by the author, who uses cooking and recipes as a metaphor for math. The metaphor mostly works, although to get it, you probably need to know the basics of cooking. She also uses some other metaphors even more effectively. It explores math concepts one chapter at time, but the author can't help but introduce some later concepts in her earlier chapters. Her discussion of abstract thinking early in the book is outstanding. I have one quibble, which is that it's not very well edited. There are a couple of grammatical errors and some editing errors that are surprising for a book on math, which generally has a certain precision to it. (But not always, as the author points out.)
"Whimsical...rigorous and insightful." -- New York Times Book Review
What is math? How exactly does it work? And what do three siblings trying to share a cake have to do with it? In How to Bake Pi, math professor Eugenia Cheng provides an accessible introduction to the logic and beauty of mathematics, powered, unexpectedly, by insights from the kitchen. We learn how the béchamel in a lasagna can be a lot like the number five, and why making a good custard proves that math is easy but life is hard. At the heart of it all is Cheng's work on category theory, a cutting-edge "mathematics of mathematics," that is about figuring out how math works.
Combined with her infectious enthusiasm for cooking and true zest for life, Cheng's perspective on math is a funny journey through a vast territory no popular book on math has explored before. So, what is math? Let's look for the answer in the kitchen.
The Magic of Math: Solving for x and Figuring Out Why Paperback – September 6, 2016 by Arthur Benjamin (Basic Books)
The Magic of Math is a fantastic book, as one would expect from Arthur Benjamin. Benjamin's enthusiasm shines throughout the book, mathematical ideas are beautifully explained, and each chapter is surprisingly hard to put down! Moreover, the book is appropriate for many different audiences, including:
-- Anyone who wants a better understanding of what it means to do mathematics, or wants to see the beauty and creativity inherent in mathematics
-- Middle and High School students who want to see some of the mathematics ``behind the scenes'' of what they're learning in school
-- Burgeoning mathematicians who want to see mathematics beyond the scope of the grade school curriculum
-- Tutors and teachers who want an easy source of fun material to engage their students
-- Anyone who wants to really understand *why* the math they learned in grade school is true.
People familiar with this genre of mathematics outreach books (e.g., Here's Looking at Euclid, The Joy of X, Love and Math, etc.) often find that many of the books are very similar, and that their contents tend to overlap greatly. While readers will certainly find common topics like the Pythagorean Theorem or the Fibonacci Numbers in Benjamin's book, I think they'll also encounter quite a substantial amount of new material in this book. In particular, Benjamin goes into more mathematical depth with much of the material he discusses. Further, a quick skim of the contents reveals a lot of beautiful mathematics that is not commonly in outreach books, including an especially thorough discussion of exciting topics in a field of mathematics known as combinatorics. If you're interested in understanding the kind of thinking a mathematician does, then you'll find these chapters especially novel!
At the same time, Benjamin's book is very readable. He clearly motivates the mathematical ideas he shares, and then proceeds to explain them in concrete and understandable ways. Of course, as with any good book, this book will make you think! However, you'll have Arthur Benjamin supporting you along the way, and you'll find yourself learning quite a bit of mathematics with that support. Benjamin is also sure to include a few optional and sometimes particularly robust mathematical ideas, but he clearly marks these as ``asides,'' explicitly indicating to readers that grappling with these ideas is not necessary for understanding the material. Instead, these aside sections serve to make the book more interesting to people who might reread sections of the book, or who already have an especially strong background in mathematics.
The Bottom Line: This is a great book that can (and should!) be read by people from a huge variety of backgrounds. Beautiful mathematical ideas lie waiting to be discovered, and readers will encounter both engaging prose and crystal-clear mathematical exposition.
The Triumph of Seeds: How Grains, Nuts, Kernels, Pulses, and Pips Conquered the Plant Kingdom and Shaped Human History Paperback – March 8, 2016 by Thor Hanson (Basic Books)
A good read. Evolution always has some surprises that are counter intuitive. Teasing out those facts in some seeds makes for very interesting reading and provides impetus for viewing life around you with a wider vision to understand why, how and where plants live.
But the section on coffee making kind of stunned me and made me shake my head. Really? Brewing to a half degree and to seconds? Considering that amount of sun, rain, nutrients and other variables in the process of getting those coffee beans to your cup of java, I had a good laugh. Even a scientist is not above falling for hyperbole and marketing.
We live in a world of seeds. From our morning toast to the cotton in our clothes, they are quite literally the stuff and staff of life: supporting diets, economies, and civilizations around the globe. Just as the search for nutmeg and pepper drove the Age of Discovery, coffee beans fueled the Enlightenment and cottonseed sparked the Industrial Revolution. Seeds are fundamental objects of beauty, evolutionary wonders, and simple fascinations. Yet, despite their importance, seeds are often seen as commonplace, their extraordinary natural and human histories overlooked. Thanks to this stunning new book, they can be overlooked no more. This is a book of knowledge, adventure, and wonder, spun by an award-winning writer with both the charm of a fireside story-teller and the hard-won expertise of a field biologist. A fascinating scientific adventure, it is essential reading for anyone who loves to see a plant grow.
The Grand Chessboard: American Primacy and Its Geostrategic Imperatives 2nd Edition by Zbigniew Brzezinski (Basic Books), a review by Stephen Darori ( #Stephendarori, #Stephendrus,@stephendarori), Bard of Bat Yam (#BardOfBatYam), Poet Laureate Of Zion (#PoetLaureateOfZion)
Here is the second edition of a well-known text on how the United States should interact in diplomacy with the nations of the Eurasian continent. The 1997 edition is reprinted unchanged, with a four-page epilogue chastising the US for engaging in unilateral wars, for "failure to prevent the emergence of a significant power rival" and for not "preventing global anarchy". "A framework of cooperation and pressure is needed in order to promote long-term collaboration between all three sides: China, the problem of the future; Russia, the disrupter of the present; and the United States, the aging superpower caught in the vice of history." I would add that the dominant power must be willing and able to act alone at times.
In the first edition, the author described the US as the hegemonic (dominant) nation and added, "America's global primacy is directly dependent on how long and how effectively its preponderance on the Eurasian continent is sustained." The author never mentions the military power underlying the primacy, but the factors which sustain power such as economic strength and prestige. From this vantage point, US hegemony has decreased since 1997, but we cannot be sure how much. Some of the decrease resulted from budget sequesters, some from lowered American morale (and lowered foreign esteem) due to the problematical war in Iraq and the financial crisis of 2007. (The author's 'Strategic Vision' spells this out in detail). Clearly power in this overall sense is difficult to evaluate. But the US remains dominant and this is as it should be. "A world without U.S. primacy will be a world with more violence and disorder and less democracy and economic growth than a world where the United States continues to have more influence than any other country in shaping global affairs." In a burst of plain speaking the author says the imperatives are "to prevent collusion and maintain security dependence among the vassals, to keep tributaries pliant and protected, and to keep the barbarians from coming together." (p.40)
The first task in understanding the strategic game is to identify the resources and dispositions of the players. The game is played on an oblong chessboard called Eurasia with the US on one side and China on the other. The author identifies five countries that are "major and active players" (France, Germany, Russia, China, and India) and other countries (Great Britain, Japan, and Indonesia) of lesser importance, which although important, do not qualify as major players. The distinction is in their political and diplomatic dynamism. The two major players on the Western side are France and Germany. Both are motivated by a vision of a united Europe, though they differ on how much and in what fashion such a Europe should remain linked to America. Five additional countries are "pivots": Turkey, Iran, Azerbaijan, and Ukraine. Their importance is in being adjacent to two or more important areas such as the Caspian Sea or another country's mineral deposits, frequently near to adjacent countries that are major players. Turkey is one example, adjacent to the Mediterranean and the Black Sea. South Korea, between China and Japan, is a Far Eastern pivot.
The author is concerned that the US-European alliance should be a true unity. So Washington must treat Europe (NATO and the European Union) as equal to it in all respects, even in view of the larger financial contributions of the US to NATO. To make Europe more united and more independent, America must "throw its weight behind those European forces that are genuinely committed to Europe's political and economic integration. [I don't know why Europe should need American help with this.] Such a strategy will also mean junking the last vestiges of the once-hallowed U.S.-U.K. special relationship." (p. 50) The demarcation between the European part of Eurasia and the Asian part is related to a system of human rights issues and an all-embracing domestic social and economic benefits. (This is explicitly stated in his book 'Strategic Vision".) The presence or lack of the system is part of "the international democratic and cooperative order." that is to be projected by an enlarging Europe into Eurasia. He considers Ukraine and the Baltic States to be European, while Turkey is on the way to becoming European (perhaps because it is a NATO member) and Russia is not so far along. Russia is considered rather savage and needs taming by Europe. I do not know the exact basis for his evaluations, but I cannot agree with him that Russia, a country that has produced Nobel prizewinning scientists and writers, should be rated below Turkey. My reason is that within common sense a country should be allowed to have its own values.
China and Japan are simpler to deal with than Europe because the situation is simpler and there are fewer alternatives. The author feels that America should be a natural ally of China because it has no designs on the Asian mainland and has historically opposed both Japanese and Russian encroachments on China. All the same, many Chinese see the US as constraining their country's influence merely by being so large and so powerful. Even if China grows at its rate of ten percent for 25 years it will still be be a very poor country. (Fact check: as of 2013, China's GDP per capita was $6807, higher than other Southeastern Asian countries while much lower than Japan's $38633.) There are contentious issues between China and other Asian countries but to me they appear small. Concerning the Taiwan issue, he suggests "one China, several systems", a natural addition to Hong Kong. But China is making this natural step difficult.
In the Epilogue, the author comments "The majority of Americans are largely skeptical of US involvement in world affairs." Being one of them, I understand their skepticism; the demands on the US seem excessive and contradictory.
One Nation Under God: How Corporate America Invented Christian America Paperback – May 3, 2016 by Kevin M. Kruse (Basic Books)
Awesome book on the History of people, themes and big money, corporate used in an attempt to make one religion the National Religion while neutering the First Amendment. It is true to it's title in detailing how Corporations and Religion came together to fight the New Deal of FDR. These two self serving entities fought for control of the people but did almost nothing to avert wide spread hunger and homelessness in the depression. The fortunes of corporations and insistence of religions on controlling the minds of people to produce jobs in their own occupations outweighed the immediate needs of the jobless and homeless. The opulent lifestyles of the big religions and their organizers came first over the health and welfare of the country, just like it had in Medieval Europe, where the Aristocrats and the Christian Churches ran the Continent. These two institutions were responsible for keeping Democracy out of Europe and ultimately creating the Soviet Revolutions in Russia that attempted to spread to the rest of the World. What is clear, from many books on this subject, that "Under God" means being subservient to God, the word of which comes from God's messengers. Subservience Under God means that when the opinions of the People differ from those of God as told through the Messenger, then God wins and the People Shut Up. Those that don't face stiff penalties. Fabulous History that everyone should know if they want to perpetuate a Democracy. The Roman Empire was "One Nation Under God", because the Christian Religion was the only legal Religion and it had only One God - no others were allowed and this was enforced with the sword. Rome will return to America if we are not careful.
Freud and Beyond: A History of Modern Psychoanalytic ThoughtMay 10, 2016 by Stephen A. Mitchell and Margaret J. Black Paperback (Basic Books)
MItchell and Black have written a very readable and comprehensive book on Freud's theories and those of many of his acolytes. However, they overlook David Rapaport's important, but little known article on "Activity & Passivity of the Ego With Regards to Reality." In this work, Rapaport explores what Freud really meant by Hypercathexis, which is a release of energy through, for instance, simple self-expression. However, as Rapaport suggests, Hypercathexis can be released not only actively, but also passively, such as in the act of learning. What I did in my book Where Does Mind End? is explore in depth, Freud's psychoanalytic theory taking this information into account. This allowed me to expand greatly on Freud's psychoanalytic model to explain the precise mechanics of defense mechanisms, symbolic behavior, the role of dreams and the route libido takes if wrongly expressed, while also constructing a model of mind that explains the potential cause of psychosomatic illness and also a way to extend one's life by fully understanding the concept of hypercathexis, and in Freud's term, sublimation.
The book also explores a psychoanalytic model for the cause of autism (when it is caused that way!) and it's cure, as well as discuss why Freud split with Wilhelm Reich and why he also split with Carl Jung. And the book ends with an in-depth discussion of the teachings of Gurdjieff, whose work really can be seen as an extension or expansion of Freud's psychoanalytic model. The point I am making is that if one wants to truly go beyond Freud, then it is important to integrate Rapaport's insightful work as well as the work of Gurdjieff, who, like Freud, sees man as basically an unconscious being, but unlike Freud, proposes very practical solutions to waking up. A complete model of mind should lead one to higher states of consciousness. Freud's work provides a first step, but to go "Beyond" it is now time for Gurdjieff to gain his proper place in mainstream psychology.
Overall, I highly recommend Mitchell and Black's book, but I am also suggesting if the reader truly wants to go "beyond" Freud, then consider [...].
Church of Spies: The Pope's Secret War Against Hitler Paperback – November 8, 2016 by Mark Riebling (Basic Books) , a review by Stephen Darori (#stephendarori,@stephendarori,#stephendrus) , The Bard Of Bat Yam (#BardOfBatYam), Poet Laureate of Zion (#PoetLaureateOfZion)
This is a captivating book. It represents a kind of “paradigm-shift” from the many recent books that have attempted to portray Pope Pius XII as a Hitler-supporting, Anti-Semitic, crypto-Nazi. The paradigm shift is long in coming, and represents nothing more than a return to the original sources of history, where the idea of Pius as being in any way a supporter of Hitler would have been considered the height of insanity.
I have been reading up on the contemporary sources for a few years now. That exercise has marked me with the realization that history is a communal enterprise, subject to fads and, of course, laziness. Starting with “The Deputy,” it seems that there has been a thread of historians that have competed with each other in their anti-Pius depictions. What has happened is that each successive writer, selects more of the anti-Pius material to incorporate into their narrative and chooses to leave out the data that might distract from their thesis. The net result after a dozen iterations is a history that looks nothing like the history that people actually experienced.
The thread I am describing is obviously the leftist, secularist, anti-Catholic thread, together with a leftist Catholic thread that has the papacies of John Paul II and Benedict XVI in their sights. We might chalk up the ratcheting of a falsified history to nothing more than human laziness and the eagerness to tell a story that fits the narrative except for the facts that, (a) as Justus George Lawler has established in Were the Popes Against the Jews?: Tracking the Myths, Confronting the Ideologues, a lot of the anti-Pius narrative is actually fabricated and (b) when you read histories from outside this thread, the actual fact that the Catholic Church opposed Hitler and National Socialism are accepted as trivial truths.
This book begins with the little-known fact that Pius permitted the Vatican to be used as a conduit for anti-Hitler conspiracies. This fact has been acknowledged by even John Cornwell in “Hitler’s Pope.” In a revision of his book, Cornwell was forced to acknowledge that he didn’t really mean that Pius was a Hitler supporter – something impossible to propose in the face of the fact that Pius had inconiently participated in conspiracies to overthrow or kill Hitler – but that he meant something far vaguer and less likely to sell books.
Riebling’s book takes this fact and investigates the backstory, and what a backstory it is. We are introduced to Joseph Muller, a Bavarian Catholic lawyer who acted as a linchpin between the Canaris group, which was trying to overthrow Hitler from within the German military, and the Catholic resistance, which brought in Dietrich Bonhoeffer to win over Protestants, and the Vatican, which had to intervene with the Allies in order to broker a peace once Hitler was overthrown. Riebling’s story shows the white-knuckled bravery of the resistance: we see Canaris’s last days and we learn how close Mueller was to being executed like all the rest of the resistance, but for some last minute turns of good fortune.
Riebling’s story is extremely well-researched in the original German sources. I’ve done a lot of reading on this period and I haven’t heard these stories, but they fit what I do know. For example, one of Riebling’s claims is that Pius’s purported silence arose from the request of the German Resistance that he be silent so as not to draw attention to Catholics in Germany. This is the mirror image of a story validated by the American adjutant to the Ambassador to the Holy See, Harold Tittman, Jr., who wrote the following. Here is the passage from Tittman's memoirs (which is actually a postscript from Tittman's son):
//My fathers memoirs ended with his move out of the Vatican in July 1944, but it is appropriate to conclude the story of his Vatican assignment by reproducing a memorandum he wrote to Myron Taylor on June 4, 1945, reporting on a conversation with Dr. Josef Mueller, a Bavarian Catholic lawyer who had been a leading figure in the anti-Nazi German underground movement and had acted as the liaison between that movement and the Holy See. My father met Mueller following a speech by the Pope to the College of Cardinals on June 2, 1945, during which the Pope had severely castigated National Socialism and had referred to the deaths of 2000 Catholic priests at Dachau.
FOR THE AMBASSADOR June 4, 1945
Dr. Mueller told me last night that contrary to what I had heard, he had no part in drafting any part of the Pope’s speech, but that he had furnished the Holy Father with the information on which certain passages were based.
Dr. Mueller said that during the war his anti-Nazi organization in Germany had always been very insistent that the Pope should refrain from making any public statement singling out the Nazis and specifically condemning them and had recommended that the Pope’s remarks should be confined to generalities only. Dr. Mueller said that he was obliged to give this advice, since, if the Pope had been specific, Germans would have accused him of yielding to the promptings of foreign powers and this would have made the German Catholics even more suspected than they were and would have greatly restricted their freedom of action in their work of resistance to the Nazis. Dr. Mueller said that the policy of the Catholic resistance in Germany was that the Pope should stand aside while the German hierarchy carried out the struggle against the Nazis inside Germany, without outside influence being brought to bear. Dr. Mueller said that the Pope had followed this advice throughout the war.
I then said to Dr. Mueller that I had heard rather widespread criticism of the Pope in connection with his latest speech, because he had waited until Germany had been defeated before attacking the Nazis in public. Dr. Mueller said that he had already explained why the Pope had maintained silence during the war. He imagined that the Pope had decided to come out in the open now against the Nazis because the implications in the denunciations were so very important at the present time and seemed to the Pope to override other considerations.//
(See Inside the Vatican of Pius XII: The Memoir of an American Diplomat During World War II.)
I had a moment of chill when I got the end of Riebling’s book and I realized that the Dr. Mueller I had been reading about in Reibling had a cameo in Tittman’s book. In the Tittman memoir, “Dr. Mueller” comes on stage and delivers his lines and leaves. To get the backstory and to understand why Dr. Mueller knew what he knew was mind-blowing.
I was surprised by the extent of information that Riebling had on Canaris. I’ve read other books about Canaris and they didn’t hint at the amount of information known about his death or the extent of his involvement with the Papacy (although, I believe that Cornwell alludes to the Canaris connection.)
Another interesting detail is Riebling’s explanation for why there was no Protestant resistance comparable to the Catholic resistance. I was surprised to find that Bonhoeffer was part of the Catholic resistance, although I knew that Stauffenberg was Catholic. Riebling’s explanation was that Catholicism had a doctrine of just resistance to tyranny, which, while difficult to trigger, did provide an intellectual escape hatch for Catholics that did not exist for Protestants. I also suspect that there was also a history of German Catholic “resistance” to integration in the German culture, which expressed itself in a distaste with hyper-nationalism, or, because of the tendency of people to react against the mainstream, in the hypernationalism of apostate Catholics like Goebbels, Streicher and Hitler. Catholics, unlike Protestants, were confronted with the choice between nationalism or faith, and the choosing led to a variety of options from resistance to apostatic hypernationalism.
Obviously, real history is far more interesting than the Monday-morning quarterbacking moralizing of modern historians who have been blessedly spared from the duty of making difficult choices.
This is an interesting book. It is an adventure story. It deserves to be a movie. The men who gave their lives in resisting Hitler deserve to be remembered and not tossed down the memory hole so that modern writers can score points against their modern enemies.
Rest: Why You Get More Done When You Work Less Hardcover – December 6, 2016 by Alex Soojung-Kim Pang (Basic Books)
If living excitedly and hurriedly would only enable us to do more, then there would be some compensation, some excuse, for doing so. But the exact reverse is the case. That was the opinion of William James, the philosopher, psychologist and physician in 1899. I wonder what he would say of our 24/7, always-on world, where the concept of turning off is an anachronism?
Many business people today treat stress and overwork as a badge of honour, and will brag about how little they sleep and how few vacation days they take. However, as Dr Soojung-Kim Pang shows it is a mistake to think of rest as nothing more than the absence of work. Rest is work’s partner that, when correctly understood, improves output exponentially, and the quality of our lives commensurately.
We have made astounding discoveries in sleep research, psychology, neuroscience, organizational behaviour, sports medicine, sociology, and other fields over the last couple of decades. These discoveries have shown the critical role that rest plays in strengthening the brain, enhancing learning, enabling inspiration, and making innovation sustainable.
The book reviews the achievements of world-class musicians, Olympic athletes, writers, designers, and other accomplished and creative people. It shows how they alternate daily periods of intense work and concentration with long restful breaks of the right kind.
Rest is a skill like singing or running that everyone basically knows how to do. However, with a deeper understanding, you can learn to do it a lot better, and enjoy more profound rest and be more refreshed and restored.
It’s often when you’re not obviously working, or trying to work, that you can have some of your best ideas. According to a 2014 survey, one in five start-up founders got the idea for their company during vacations.
The author doesn’t propose a single ‘correct’ system because he doesn’t believe that there’s a single way we all should work. The principle of ‘deliberate rest’ needs to be adapted to your work, whatever that is.
The book has many suggestions of how to enhance the quality of your work through deliberate rest.
Start with this insight: “If some of history’s greatest figures didn’t put in immensely long hours, maybe the key to unlocking the secret of their creativity lies in understanding not just how they laboured but how they rested, and how the two relate.”
Illinois Institute of Technology professors Van Zelst and Kerr surveyed their colleagues’ work habits and schedules. If you expected a correlation between the hours scientists worked, and the number of articles they published, you would be mistaken. The curve rose steeply at first and peaked at between 10-20 hours per week. Then it turned downward so that scientists who spent twenty-five hours in the workplace were no more productive than those who spent five.
Researchers of world-class performers tend to focus only on measurable forms of work, and then try to make those more effective and more productive. What is overlooked is whether there are other ways to improve performance.
There is a popularised belief that world-class performance comes after 10,000 hours of practice. In fact, world-class performance only comes after 10,000 hours of deliberate practice; 12,500 hours of deliberate rest; and 30,000 hours of sleep.
For many thinkers and doers, a walk is an essential part of their daily routine, a source of exercise and solitude. Uber CEO Travis Kalanick walks forty miles a week on the indoor track at the company’s headquarters and walking meetings have become popular, especially among Silicon Valley entrepreneurs and CEOs. Steve Jobs was famous for his walking meetings around the leafy streets of Palo Alto. LinkedIn, Google, Facebook and others have walking paths around their headquarters.
The Heisenberg uncertainty principle came to Heisenberg during a late-night walk in Copenhagen in 1927. He had been working on the uncertainty problem for almost two years.
Walking doesn’t look like an intellectual activity, and there are plenty of times when it’s purely utilitarian or recreational, but we can learn to use it to help us think better. Many creative people are diligent about carrying notebooks when they walk.
An underestimated form of rest is the nap, and the preferred time for a nap is the hour after lunch. Winston Churchill had the daily routine of a nap in the afternoon during WW11, as did Douglas Mac-Arthur and Dwight Eisenhower. Kennedy would normally take a 45-minute nap after lunch, and Lyndon Johnson, broke up his long day with a nap and shower in the afternoon. It was not that these men had comfortable corporate job: they were saving or running the world, with all its problems.
Hitler, in contrast, kept erratic hours. As the Allies closed in on Germany, he tried to stay up for days at a time, powered by a mix of amphetamines, cocaine, and other drugs.
A twenty-minute power nap is enough to give you a mental recharge without leaving you groggy. Power naps boost your ability to concentrate by giving your body a chance to restore depleted energy and increased alertness. But there are other benefits such as improving memory and consolidating things you’ve just learned. A power nap improves emotional regulation and self-control, reduces impulsiveness, and improves frustration tolerance. All are critical leadership skills.
Sleep deprivation has immediate effects on your ability to focus, make good judgments, perform under pressure, and be creative. Long-term sleep deprivation can affect your mental health and physical condition.
If you were raised (as I was,) on the heroics of “pulling all-nighters”, know that advanced science shows that to be as intelligent as driving cars at break-neck speed in urban areas.
Humans need to sleep about seven hours a night on average, and paradoxically, it’s restful because our brains aren’t really shutting down. Instead while we sleep, our bodies shift into maintenance mode and devote themselves to storing energy, fixing or replacing damaged cells, and growing while our brains clean out toxins. The day’s experiences and problems that have been occupying us, are processed.
Our emotional resources are as important for workers as physical energy is for athletes. German sociologist Sabine Sonnentag, has studied how opportunities for recharging the physical and emotional batteries affects workers’ health and well-being, job satisfaction, productivity, and resilience. Across professions the findings have been consistent: people who take opportunities to get away, mentally switch off, and devote their energies elsewhere, are more productive. They also have better attitudes, get along better with their colleagues, and are better able to deal with challenges at work.
Four major factors contribute to recovery: relaxation, control, mastery-experiences, and mental detachment from work. “Breaks that are high in all four are the equivalent of nutritious meals; those that don’t, are like empty calories,” notes the author.
Relaxation is an activity that’s pleasant and undemanding. Control is choosing what you will do on vacation, being crew not a passenger. Mastery-experiences are engaging, interesting and require effort. They are often challenging, mentally absorbing and so are more rewarding when you do them well. In Bletchley Park during World War II, for example, chess was a popular pastime among code-breakers.
Mental detachment from all work issues is necessary to promote recovery. People who carry work smartphones during non-work hours, or who have to keep in touch with the office while they’re on vacation, have higher levels of stress and work-family conflict.
Work and rest and two sides of the same coin. Taking shorter but more frequent vacations every few months provides greater levels of recovery because it is integrated into the work routine, rather than the quite separate annual vacation. Recovery is active, not passive, and we must design it to get greater benefit.
Physical stamina is also as important for creative work as for manual labour. President Barack Obama maintained a strict fitness routine throughout his political career, with daily workouts seen as a key to surviving long campaigns and the rigors of governing.
The impact of sports on the careers of businesswomen may be even stronger. In 2014, four hundred female executives were surveyed about their athletic experiences. 97% of the executives who had “chief” in their titles, had played sports at some point in their lives, 52% had played sports in college, and 53% still played some sport.
We shouldn’t be surprised that people manage to be physically active and do world-class work. We should recognize though that they do world-class work because they are physically active.
“In this book, I’ve argued that we should treat work and rest as equals; that we should treat rest as a skill; that the best, most restorative kinds of rest are active; and that when practiced well, rest can make us more creative and productive.”
Taking rest seriously requires recognizing its importance, and boldly making space for rest in our daily lives.
I cannot recommend this book highly enough! It could be life-changing.
Readability Light ---+- Serious
Insights High +---- Low
Practical High -+--- Low
The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education Paperback – June 28, 2016 by Diane Ravitch (Basic Books)
Everyone has an opinion about K-12 education. Maybe that's because everyone has been a student, a parent, or both; has sat in a classroom, has studied with a teacher--a good one or a bad one. But it is in the nature of education that it will be as imperfect as the humans who teach and learn, as the parents who raise the students. It will never accomplish everything, be all things to all citizens. Over time there have been a million utopian projects to reform education, to make it fit the politics, the economic and technological plans of as many different "stakeholders" as there have been generations of students. The one thing that all these plans share is their overweening comprehensiveness, the arrogance of their belief that those with the political power or the money know better than the professionals--their sheer contempt for what the American public school system has accomplished in spite of its warts and blemishes.
Near the end of this powerful book, Diane Ravitch, one of the premier educational historians of our time, makes this somewhat understated observation -- "American education has a long history of infatuation with fads and ill-considered ideas" -- and asks the question "Who will stand up to the tycoons and politicians and tell them so?" Ravitch may mean this as a rhetorical question, but the answer is obvious: Diane Ravitch will stand up to them. And that is what she does in this magnificent book.
Because our country has not had the stomach to thrash out WHAT should be taught in our schools -- to work our way through to a basic curriculum -- the focus of reform has been on the HOW: on high-stakes testing of limited basic skills, on accountability and results without understanding of what those results signify, on school size, vouchers, school choice, on "blueprints" for improvement informed by fads like "balanced literacy" or "whole language." Such focus on form over content leads to cynicism and gaming the system to achieve mandated results, however unrealistic, to teaching to the test, and to the micro-management of education professionals by outsiders qualified only by political office or wealth. Chapter by chapter Ravitch tells the story of one after another such fiasco. Not only do these grand plans turn into pitiful, predictable flops but, in the most tragic cases, they destroy viable community schools, both public and private (see the evisceration of a Catholic private school system that was an avenue to the middle class for generations of urban children). Both right and left are guilty, and no political party nor entrenched interest escapes Ravitch's wilting exposure.
My favorite chapter is "What Would Mrs. Ratliff Do?" We all remember the extraordinary teacher, the one whose passion turned on whole classrooms--the teachers who became the voices in our heads that set standards of logic, grammar, accuracy, integrity for all our lives. For Ravitch, one of these was her English teacher "Mrs. Ratliff." I remember Miss Jans and Miss Schultz. My children were ignited by the purple pen of the amazing Mrs. Goddard. Like Ravitch, and in the name of Mrs. Ratliff, we must all square off against educational reforms that make it harder for the wonderful idiosyncratic brilliance of the master teacher to flourish in the neighborhood school. Those schools can take only so much abuse from the arrogant do-gooders, the reformers who think they know more than the parents, the uninformed hard-liners. The virtue of this book is that it is not a "blueprint." But it should give courage to all of us who truly love our children and our schools: the courage to resist and to speak "common sense" to power.
Wealth, Poverty and Politics 2nd Edition by Thomas Sowell ( Basic Books) , a review by Stephen Darori (#stephendarori,@stephendarori , #stephendrus), The Bard of Bat Yam (#BardOfBatYam), Poet Laureate of Zion (#PoetLaureateOf Zion)
Thomas Sowell’s latest book is the usual tour-de-force. It’s not so much that there’s anything startlingly new (although there are some interesting new statistics and several new lines of thought), but that Sowell has a unique ability to clearly and concisely bring together an analysis. In this case, that analysis is of “why are outcomes different for different people?” Sowell writes in opposition to the current vogue for equating differential outcomes with differential justice resulting from “malign actions by others,” with negative nods to Thomas Piketty, John Rawls and a wide range of similar social justice warriors.
Sowell is a truth seeker. His main objection is not to those who think it’s “unfair” that some people have more than others, although he thinks that’s demonstrably false, and demonstrates it. His main philosophical objection is to people who won’t think, because they’re afraid of the truth. And his main accomplishment in the book is ruthlessly reasoning to a conclusion, peeling back extraneous layers and illogical reasoning to bring out a clear, defensible, and essentially irrefutable conclusion. This is a skill all but lost in these days of third-rate arguments, especially on platforms like Facebook, where most people have no idea what a syllogism is, and believe that depth of feeling has any relevance to reasoning.
Sowell’s book works on two levels. His basic arguments are fairly well-trodden ground (including being trodden by him), but pithy and exquisitely expressed, and therefore ideal for “beginners.” At the same time, he expands those arguments in ways that aren’t always obvious, and the clarity of his language and thought makes his arguments seem simple and inevitable. So, for example, Sowell discusses that some ethnic groups place heavy emphasis on education, and therefore their children have better educational outcomes. This is not controversial to anyone but true ideologues. But Sowell points out something fairly obvious that I had never considered, nor seen anyone else consider—that it’s not just the quantity, but the quality. The same groups that educate more quantitatively also educate qualitatively differently, with the goal of providing real value to the student (and therefore to society). They choose hard, real subjects—engineering rather than social work; medicine rather than Latino Studies; computer science rather than Gender & Sexuality. The result is they gain more, both absolutely and relatively (and they contribute more to society).
Sowell is, of course, an economist by profession, and this book’s basic point is an economic one—namely, as Sowell quotes Henry Hazlitt: “The real problem of poverty is not a problem of ‘distribution’ but of production. The poor are poor not because something is withheld from them but because, for whatever reason, they are not producing enough.” This seems entirely obvious—that if you produce inadequate amounts of output valuable to others, you may be happy, but you will be poor, and you will deserve to be poor. Yet this truth is everywhere denied or ignored. Sowell drags it back to center focus.
Ultimately, productivity is the only possible concrete measure of human achievement and progress, and it explains why there are “haves” and “have-nots.” This does not imply a perfect linear relationship—as Sowell frequently notes, sometimes people get more because they steal, not because they produce, and this can result in inequality. But that cannot explain more than a fraction of unequal outcomes, and cannot explain outcomes far removed in time from the theft (as Sowell notes, the Spanish stole an awful lot from people in South America, yet quickly reverted to being towards the bottom in prosperity). So the key question for Sowell is, why are some more people more productive than others?
Sowell begins with observing what we all know—that there is a huge range of human achievement, both for societies and for individuals. Sowell evaluates possible drivers for these differences in achievement, dividing them into geographical, cultural, social and political. As far as geography, the simplest analysis, Sowell points out that geography is not egalitarian, but it is not deterministic, either. His basic belief, for which he argues cogently, is that isolation from other human communities is the most deleterious effect of “bad” geography—it’s from interaction with others that people “gain the knowledge to turn natural resources into wealth.” Other problems, from poor soil to poor transport, to (less obviously) lack of seasons resulting in a lack of urgency about time, also contribute. None of this is startlingly new (see Jared Diamond) but it’s valuable to reiterate the objective, largely unalterable character of this source of inequality. Sowell emphasizes, however, that geography is merely the starting point—many societies and individuals have managed to be highly productive even beginning from a bad geographic position.
Sowell then addresses culture. He points out the success of some frequently transplanted cultures (Germans, Chinese, Lebanese) and the ability of some cultures to successfully change to adapt new ideas (Japan), and the fact that some cultures have failed by rejecting change and regressing (Japan again, but earlier; China in the 1400s). He is unfailingly polite, though he points out that, for example, Arab culture today “lacks cultural receptivity,” as shown by that every year Spain translates more books into Spanish than the entire Arab world has translated into Arabic in the past thousand years. And since cultural receptivity and flexibility is, for Sowell, the touchstone of the ability to flourish in productivity (it is the opposite of cultural isolation), that spells bad things for the Arabs. Other cultures, such as the old American South, come in for similar criticism, and are knocked for laziness and lack of productivity.
Related to the benefit of cultural flexibility is one manifestation of the reverse: the frequent hostility of majorities to productive minorities, which Sowell points out is (rationally) encouraged by majority political leaders for their own benefit. This is where Sowell again addresses education, pointing out that while some cultures value education, and this can be valuable, not all education increases human capital—“some education develops little or no human capital when it produces few, if any, marketable skills—and some education even produces negative human capital, in the form of attitudes, expectations and aversions that negatively impact the economy.” Sowell hammers this point repeatedly: “People who have acquired academic degrees, without acquiring many economically meaningful skills, not only face personal disappointment and disaffection with society, but also have often become negative factors in the economy and even sources of danger, especially when they lash out at economically successful minorities and ethnically polarize the whole society they live in. . . . . In many places and times, soft-subject students and intellectuals have inflamed hostility, and sometimes violence, against many other successful groups.”
Sowell’s next topic is social factors. By this he means characteristics of a group as a whole, as opposed to individual behaviors that create culture. Here is where social (and geographic) mobility becomes important, and Piketty comes into play. Sowell in this section particularly shows his knack for digging deeper than most writers. For example, crucially, he points out that even when mobility is possible, movement may or may not occur. Therefore, measuring mobility by actual movement is inadequate, since cultural or other barriers may result in people choosing not to move up the social scale. And here Sowell again drives home a point that he has hammered many times before—measuring income inequality by pretending there are two groups, “the rich” and “the poor,” by percentiles, is stupid, because the composition of those groups changes continuously, and many actual people who are “poor” at one point in their lives are “rich” later. Where actual movement occurs, this is even more true, and therefore a key indicator of social factor success is both theoretical mobility and actual movement, where a high percentage of the population spends part of its lifetime in the upper brackets of income. (Sowell also here rejects the idea that overpopulation causes poverty, reasoning along the same lines as Angus Deaton did, at greater length and with more moral outrage, in “The Great Escape.”)
This section is where Sowell addresses a topic about which he frequently speaks—the argument that black people’s modern collective (but not individual) inability to compete on standardized test scores and educational attainment shows lower IQ. He does not reject that possibility (as I say, he is all about thinking, not rejecting arguments for ideological reasons), but he points out that prior to the modern post-1960s deterioration of black culture, black students scored much higher test and IQ scores than today (and other students from deficient cultures, like whites from Appalachia, scored lower IQ scores than black students). One prime example is Stuyvesant High School in New York, where entry is purely meritocratic—in 1979, black students were 12.9%; now they are 1.2%. Sowell points out “None of the usual explanations of racial disparities—genetics, racism, poverty or a ‘legacy of slavery’—can explain this retrogression over time.” He attributes it to “ghetto culture, essentially an offshoot of the dysfunctional redneck culture of the South.” (He also explicitly rejects slavery and later discrimination as an explanation for black failures; it’d be interesting to see Sowell feed Ta-Nehisi Coates into his intellectual meat grinder.) This ghetto culture is not confined to black people, of course—there are white subcultures (e.g., Appalachia) with similar bad culture and bad scores, and not just here in the US—Sowell discusses the similar vices and failings of the modern British white lower classes as well.
As part of this, Sowell rejects the currently fashionable attempt to ascribe success to (poorly-defined) “privilege.” Sowell believes in personal responsibility, which may be made harder or easier by the culture one comes from, but that does not excuse failure or prevent achievement. “Slippery use of the word ‘privilege’ is part of a vogue of calling achievements ‘privileges’—a vogue which extends far beyond educational issues, spreading a total confusion in many other aspects of life.” So much for “white privilege,” surely one of the stupidest neologisms of the decade, the use of which merely serves to show the ignorance and mendacity of anyone who uses the phrase without laughing hysterically.
Sowell then addresses political factors. Here, he essentially distinguishes between good and bad political choices, though he repeats his point that political choices that are good for individual politicians are often bad for the societies they lead. For example, he correctly trashes diversity as an inherent good: “Few words have been repeated so often or so insistently as ‘diversity,” without a speck of evidence being offered or asked for to substantiate its claims of economic or social benefits. And the evidence to the contrary is huge.” He points out that if diversity is so great, India should be a paradise and Japan a hell, when the reverse is true. But Sowell’s (related) main point is that political polarization is a huge barrier to national success, as he shows with examples ranging from the Ottoman Empire to modern Malaysia.
Sowell attacks the “welfare state vision,” the idea that people who lack success are merely victims of bad luck and will thrive if given handouts or legal changes in their favor such as increased minimum wages, as an example of unreasoned political polarization. He points out the stupidity of attributing lack of morality to those opposed to the welfare state vision, and that American poor are nearly all not poor by any historical standards (e.g., “Americans living below the official poverty level today have more housing space per person than the average European—not poor Europeans, but the average European.” Of course, “This is not to say that Americans living in official poverty have no problems. They have serious and often catastrophic social problems, but these are seldom the result of material deprivation—and are far more often the result of social degeneration, much of it representing social retrogressions during the era of the rising welfare state and the pervasive, non-judgmental welfare state ideology.” And Sowell repeatedly points out that identity group politics don’t correlate with improvements for that group, but rather for benefits for grievance leaders. So, in the US, Latinos agitate and stagnate; Vietnamese work and get ahead.
Sowell’s book is in part an analysis of the Great Divergence (why some human societies have reached escape velocity from the poverty that has universally characterized human society until the Industrial Revolution—and others haven’t). Unlike recent authors like Greg Clark and Nicholas Wade, who basically think that the humans in more successful societies have genetically evolved superior traits, Sowell is skeptical of the evolution explanation. It’s not that he rejects it out of hand—he’s open to the possibility that evidence could show, for example, that one group of humans consistently has a higher IQ, though as mentioned above he largely rejects it for black people in America. And, in fact, although he only mentions it in passing, Sowell actually in part rejects the concept of the Great Divergence, noting that “Economic inequalities among nations did not begin with the industrial revolution, and the international inequalities of ancient times were by no means necessarily less than the inequalities of today.” Greg Clark might disagree, and exploring this point might actually be a fascinating follow-up book by Sowell.
While discussing cultural differences, Sowell makes a point that I had made to myself, but had not seen before in print. A few years ago, the book “Why Nations Fail,” by Acemoglu and Robinson, received wide attention. It’s about the Great Divergence, and among other things attributes modern differentials among nations to their political systems, finding “extractive” ones inferior in results. But I, at least, quit reading the book a few chapters in, when the authors addressed cultural differences among nations, and wholly rejected that cultural differences could explain any differences among national results, with their WHOLE AND ONLY argument being that “Canada and the United States were English colonies, but so were Sierra Leone and Nigeria. The variation in prosperity within former English colonies is as great as that in the entire world. The English legacy is not the reason for the success of North America.” Sowell punctures this PC-based approach with the obvious point that regardless of colonial status, the actual culture of Sierra Leone and Nigeria was in no way made English, and in fact their cultures are almost certainly the main driver of their differences today. He also notes that Barbados, with a mostly sub-Saharan ancestry but an absorbed British culture, is much richer than Argentina, which once was rich but threw it all away with a degenerating culture.
Sowell finally addresses “Implications and Prospects.” Here, speaking of income inequality, he has pithy rebuttals of Thomas Piketty: “To say, as Piketty does . . . that ‘the upper decile is truly a world unto itself’ is to fly in the face of the fact that most American households—56 percent—are in the top decile at some point in their lives, usually in their older years. . . . This is not even “class warfare,” but confusion between social classes and age cohorts. . . . . Even the vaunted ‘top one percent,’ so often discussed in the media, is a level reached by 12 percent of Americans at some point in their lives.” And even then the statistics mis-state the level of inequality, for the differences are calculated pre-tax and without including “massive transfers of in-king benefits.” Finally, of course, true persistent income differences are not necessarily bad—they typically result from the higher productivity of those paid more, who also benefit others (which is why they’re paid more). Sowell also eviscerates the bell-bottom-flavored philosopher John Rawls in four pages: “To say, as Rawls does, that morally nothing should be done to benefit the rest of society if it does not also help those at the bottom can amount to enshrining a veto on progress, on behalf of those with a counterproductive lifestyle.” And, of course, “By pushing the production process off into the background, redistributionists [such as Rawls] avoid confronting the question whether income inequalities might be matched by corresponding inequalities in economic productivity.”
The book does contain the usual Sowell tics, which some readers may find distracting. Nearly every cited authority is called “distinguished,” which is Sowell’s way of complimenting them. But it seems odd after a while, and a reader who’s not overly familiar with Sowell might think it was being used defensively. And Sowell does tend to seem repetitive in places. He’s not, actually—in almost all cases, he’s drawing a somewhat different conclusion but pointing to the same base material, hammering the point home. But again, to a casual reader this can seem repetitive. Neither of these are a big deal, of course, but if I had any criticism of the book, this would be it.