From Books

Cover for Out of the Wreckage

Review: Out of the Wreckage

There is something deeply weird about humanity. … This phrase does not refer to our skills with language or our use of tools or ability to change our environment, remarkable though these are. It refers to our astonishing degree of altruism: our kindness towards other members of our species. We possess an unparalleled sensitivity to the needs of others, a unique level of concern about their welfare, and a peerless ability to create moral norms that generalise and enforce these tendencies.

— George Monbiot. Out of the Wreckage: A New Politics for an Age of Crisis

Democracy is under siege. Authoritarianism is on the rise. This is true, not only in America, but in the UK and other parts of Europe as well. Bills in the US Congress that are highly unpopular are passed by politicians who are equally so. The elected officials at the local and federal levels work for their donors, not for the people who elected them. How can this be happening? In the developed world? In the 21st century?

Cover - Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right

Review: Dark Money

Dark Money is the inside story of how 400 of the richest people in America are putting their money to work to bend academia, the media, churches, and the courts to their self-interest. If you want to understand what is happening at the political — and to some degree, cultural — level in America today, you must read this book.

Jane Mayer’s deep research and lucid writing is the perfect companion to Nancy MacLean’s brilliant work, Democracy in ChainsWhile Democracy in Chains is about the philosophy and ideology that underlies the thinking of those on the far right, Dark Money is about the players, their money, and how they are propagating their narcissistic values and beliefs to change the face of America.

Review: Democracy in Chains

As it subtitle states, Democracy in Chains is a deep history of the radical right’s stealth plan for America. It is the utterly chilling story of the ideological origins of the single most powerful and least understood threat to democracy today: the attempt by the billionaire-backed radical right to undo democratic governance. … [they are on] a stealth bid to reverse-engineer all of America, at both the state and the national levels, back to the political economy and oligarchic governance of midcentury Virginia, minus the segregation.

Read this book if you want to understand what is happening in America today.

Review: The Warmth of Other Suns

I just finished The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration. Wow. It’s easy to see why it won the Pulitzer Prize.

I was born in Canada, and have lived in Arizona, the Midwest, Colorado, New Mexico, Northern California, the UK, the Northeast, and now the South. It is the South that has been the most perplexing. This book has helped me understand not only the South, but the rest of the country as well. I can’t recommend it highly enough.

Born Standing Up

I did stand-up comedy for eighteen years. Ten of those years were spent learning, four years were spent refining, and four were spent in wild success. My most persistent memory of stand-up is of my mouth being in the present and my mind being in the future: the mouth speaking the line, the body delivering the gesture, while the mind looks back, observing, analyzing, judging, worrying, and then deciding when and what to say next. Enjoyment while performing was rare—enjoyment would have been an indulgent loss of focus that comedy cannot afford. After the shows, however, I experienced long hours of elation or misery depending on how the show went, because doing comedy alone onstage is the ego’s last stand.

— Steve Martin, Born Standing Up: A Comic’s Biography

 

Although I read Steve Martin’s excellent biography a few years ago I was reminded recently of these great thoughts in the opening paragraph. I would like to believe that I am charting a similar life course. It feels like I am in the refining years right now.

The 14 Books That Shaped Me In 2011

Here are the books that nourished my soul, satisfied my curiosity, and shaped my thinking in 2011.

Of the fourteen books in the stack,

  • Twelve were non-fiction, two were fiction.
  • Two were paperback
  • Twelve were on the Kindle
  • Two were audiobooks from Audible
  • One was both Audible and Kindle
  • One was both paperback and Kindle

What I Read in 2010

2010 was a good year for reading. I read 14 great books (well actually, 13 great books and one that wasn’t so great). The year was filled with a wide variety of insights on coaching, executive development, and building strong organizations.

(A note: I don’t actually “read” non-fiction books. I devour them. I engage with a book as if it’s the backbone of a graduate-level independent-study course and I am preparing for an oral defense. I create a note in Evernote for each chapter. I highlight. I transcribe my highlights into Evernote. I make notes. I memorize. I capture the outline and the best ideas and I interweave them with my own ideas and reactions. I don’t just “read” books. I make them my own and integrate the models and the ideas into the services that I provide for clients. Books are good stuff.)

And now, for the 2010 book list . . . in the order of completion

Books Are Back, Baby

While there were always plenty of books in the house growing up, I was never a voracious reader. Then, somewhere after college, I got the reading bug. I devoured books — fiction, non-fiction, classics, contemporary — I read them all. I had so much lost ground to make up for. There was one year in my late twenties in which I read fifty books! While I have yet to exceed that high water mark of almost a book a week I continued to read extensively for years.

That is, until Internet came along. My pace of reading dropped to a trickle in the last few years. Between 2004 and 2008 I read less than three books per year, and one year I read only one book. Ouch!

I am proud to report that in 2009 I got my reading mojo back. I read a dozen books this year. I don’t think it is a coincidence that 2009 was also the year that I got a Kindle (even though only half of the books I read were available in Kindle format). In the age of gadgets and electronics, the Kindle has made reading fun again. After almost a decade of wandering aimlessly in the Internet wasteland of too many RSS subscriptions I have rediscovered the depth and quality of well-written books.

Here are the books I read in 2009: