All posts tagged: Recommended Readings

From the Bookshelf

The world’s landscape has shifted. Two books came off my “to be read” pile this month, and both focused on a theme as current as the day’s headlines. The more substantive is a deep analysis of the 2008 financial crisis and how early decisions made in the midst of the Great Recession still affect us today.  The other, a charming novel set in a luxury hotel in Moscow, takes the reader from the upheaval of the Russian Revolution through the mid-1950s.  President Barack Obama and Count Alexander Rostov, main characters in fact and fiction respectively, nonetheless face similar challenges when their world shifts underneath them. A Crisis Wasted:  Beginning in 2008 through at least 2009, the United States faced the most serious economic crisis since the Great Depression.  With the Bush Administration transitioning out of power, President Barack Obama and his administration took on the lion’s share of the work to address this challenge, often while battling opposing forces in both political parties.  That the United States survived without falling into national and worldwide chaos …

Honing Your Craft

Vision. Skill. Time.  All are usually required to produce something of lasting value.  All are at the heart of craftsmanship. Traditionally linked to items made by hand, craftsmanship can be applied to a wider array of undertakings that benefit from an attention to detail through the application of a skill sharpened over time and practice. Take writing, for instance. For several years I’ve considered how best to refine my writing skills. However, other commitments became excuses for never taking serious steps forward to actually hone that craft until a former colleague recently noted that my passion has always been best expressed in my writing. It is where I seek to tell a story or share a memory in hopes of inspiring and making a meaningful connection to colleagues and friends. One of my favorite sayings is “Let’s see how it writes.” This same colleague suggested that I may have been the best first draft writer in the organization. I knew exactly what she meant, and it was that particular comment that led me to pick …

On Becoming Who You Are

You’ve no doubt heard the motivational quote, “Today is the first day of the rest of your life.”  Frankly, it has always struck me as excessively sentimental, or—to use my preferred description—sappy. But on my first day of unemployment since 1977—even though a planned move—I’ve certainly been thinking about who I am and what’s next. To help in that process, I turned to John Kaag’s recent book, Hiking With Nietzsche:  On Becoming Who You Are.  I’ll be honest: I know nothing about philosophy, but was simply taken by the book’s title and jacket blurbs.  We buy books for all different reasons, I suppose, and I’m glad I picked this one up a few weeks ago.  Kaag, a professor of philosophy at the University of Massachusetts Lowell, writes about two journeys he took to Piz Corvatsch, the Swiss mountain so important to the writing and life of the nineteenth-century German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche. The author’s first journey to Corvatsch was when he was a youthful nineteen-year-old.  The more recent one came at age 36, with wife …

Change is the Only Constant

March is one of my favorite times of the year.  The longest month—February—is past. Winter is nearing an end here in DC. Baseball players have reported to spring training camps. Hope springs eternal. Speaking of baseball, I have my own spring training ritual every year. Up first is a viewing of Bull Durham—the best baseball movie ever—followed by reading a new baseball book.  Together the two get me in the mood for the season.  I can report checking off both of those training regimens this year well before Opening Day. I actually read two baseball books recently, although one may not count because it is entitled The Is Not Baseball Book.  You have to love a book which begins with a first chapter of “Sports Is Not a Metaphor.  It’s a Symbol.”  Afterwards it jumps into all matter of things, including pataphysical management systems leading to “self-learning” teams.  That’s for another time. It is the second book, Smart Baseball:  The Story Behind the Old Stats that are Ruining the Game, The New Ones that are …

Humility Is the New Smart

Research shows that “more than 85 percent of a message we communicate to others is conveyed not in the words but in the tone and manner in which they are delivered.”  I saw this first hand in a recent meeting when one of the participants made it very clear—in body language, tone, and language—that she was going to be disagreeable.  Arms crossed, with no attempt to bring others into her point of view other than by sheer force and with every sentence beginning with a negative, she ensured that her point of view was going to be heard.  It was tiring and not very satisfying for others trying to participate in the conversation. This non-approach to communication was highlighted in a book I’ve been reading entitled Humility Is the New Smart:  Rethinking Human Excellence In the Smart Machine Age.  In an era when the best research indicates that 47 percent of U.S. jobs will be replaced by technology within the next ten to twenty years, authors Edward D. Hess and Katherine Ludwig make the case …

History is a Teacher

Why do we care about history? Writer and philosopher George Santayana famously said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”  Mark Twain took a more humorous approach with, “History doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme.”  Over the weekend, I saw a bumper sticker that read “Every time history repeats itself, the price goes up.”  Yale historian Joanne B. Freeman—co-host of the history podcast BackStory and author of The Field of Blood:  Violence in Congress and the Road to Civil War—says simply that “History doesn’t repeat, but it teaches.” My executive assistant (a former Capitol guide) recommended The Field of Blood, and for the past week or more I have been absorbed in the riveting tales of mortal threats, canings, flipped desks, and all-out slugfests…and that’s just on the floor of Congress! During the turbulent and violent three decades leading up to the Civil War, bowie knives and pistols were regularly drawn on members by other members.  Duels happened with alarming frequency, including one that led to the death of one …

The Founding Father We’d Do Well to Find Once Again

Thomas Paine and Roger Williams are the two founding fathers whose work is most often forgotten yet remains among the most consequential today.  My belief was strengthened upon reading Craig Nelson’s excellent 2006 biography, Thomas Paine:  Enlightenment, Revolution, and the Birth of Modern Nations. Paine, born in England and truly a citizen of the Enlightenment world, wrote three of the bestsellers of the eighteenth century, topped only by the Bible.  His Common Sense has long been recognized as a key work in changing the hearts and minds of the people of the United Colonies into citizens of what Paine was the first to characterize as the United States.  Similarly, his Rights of Man helped shape the French Revolution and — although it would take more than a century — inspire constitutional reform in Great Britain and foreshadow Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal. The Age of Reason, a forceful call against organized religion, finds Paine sticking to his Enlightenment and deist values even at the expense of his public reputation. Paine’s mind was clearly a force of …