Favorite Books of 2017

Recreational reading took a back seat to building my company and enjoying time with my family this year. So, I am limiting this year’s selection to my favorite six books. Continue reading “Favorite Books of 2017”

The Death of Graduate School?

The Republican tax plan is an odious hand-out to large corporations and a big 🖕 to most citizens and small businesses. Until I read this summary of the House Bill, I generally thought people who called Republicans corporatist bootlickers were being unfair. But here we are.

Anyway, two of the House Bill’s provisions are raising concerns about the future of postgraduate education: Continue reading “The Death of Graduate School?”

The Discontinuities between the Generations in History

With free time scarce, I find that shorter books make for better books. And lecture series can make for the best books of all. 

Discontinuities
Superb nap-time reading.

At 32 (small) pages, Sir Herbert Butterfield’s The Discontinuities between the Generations in History: Their Effect on the Transmission of Political Experience—delivered in 1971 as part of the Rede Lecture series—is a superb way to spend half an hour. Continue reading “The Discontinuities between the Generations in History”

The Lies of Vietnam

Source: National Archives and Records Administration.
President Lyndon B. Johnson in Vietnam: With General William Westmoreland, Lieutenant General Nguyen Van Thieu, Prime Minister Nguyen Cao Ky (South Vietnam). Source: National Archives and Records Administration.

Rarely have accomplishments turned out so totally at variance with intended objectives. The war did not save South Vietnam, it did not deter future aggression, it did not enhance the credibility of United States commitments elsewhere in the world, it did not prevent recriminations at home …

The American defeat there grew out of assumptions derived quite logically from th[e] strategy [of “flexible response”]: that the defense of Southeast Asia was crucial to the maintenance of world order; that force could be applied in Vietnam with precision and discrimination; that the means existed to evaluate performance accurately; and that success would enhance American power, prestige, and credibility in the world. These assumptions in turn reflected a curiously myopic preoccupation with process—a disproportionate fascination with means at the expense of ends—so that a strategy designed to produce a precise correspondence between intentions and accomplishments in fact produced just the opposite.1

But there is an even profounder understanding of history … [that] recognizes that injustice flows from the same source from which justice comes … This indictment may be regarded not only as a shrewd expression of the moral ambiguity of all government, as both an instrument of, and a peril to justice; it is, more profoundly considered, a recognition of the basic paradox of history. It recognizes that the creative and destructive possibilities of human history are inextricably intermingled. The very power which organizes human society and establishes justice, also generates injustice by its preponderance of power.2

Ken Burns and Lynn Novick’s The Vietnam War is extraordinary.

The immersive, 18-hour documentary captures the complexities, consequences, and emotions of the war, while placing today’s societal divisions in historical context. It mercilessly lays bare the unconscionable lies of U.S. statesmen and generals, and their betrayal of the country’s citizens, values, and decency.

You should watch it. Continue reading “The Lies of Vietnam”

Favorite Books of 2016

I didn’t read as much this year as I usually do. Apart from my son’s board books, I made it through 25 volumes, maybe, while several lie scattered around in varying states of incompletion. Alas, the demands of parenthood and launching a company necessitated that my energy be spent elsewhere.

In any event, given the slimmer pickings, I am limiting this year’s list to the top five. Continue reading “Favorite Books of 2016”

How Will You Spend Your Energy?

Faith is taking the first step, even when you don’t see the whole staircase.

— Martin Luther King, Jr.

One of the things I’ve learned since becoming a father is that energy is a precious and exhaustible resource. In BCE (“Before Child Era”), recovering from a long day at work, intercontinental flights, or other enervating activities was fairly straightforward: grab a cerveza and read a book. Restoration achieved.

In CE, particularly upon entering the bipedal (i.e., toddler) period, carving out 30 minutes of reading time has proven to be a high hurdle. I’ve read 465 pages in the last four months.1

Rejuvenating weekends have gone the way of the dodo, as has the memory of routinely getting more than six hours of sleep. With a wife working grueling hours as a physician in residency, there simply has been very little time to recharge. I don’t know how single parents do it.

I don’t remember exactly when the epiphany hit me, but it was preceded by burnout and a rut; a hectic stretch of business travel; coming home to a couple weeks of watching the kid solo; and learning that one of our family members had been diagnosed with terminal cancer at an unjustly young age; that I realized I could no longer put off answering one question: how will you spend your energy? Continue reading “How Will You Spend Your Energy?”

Father Joseph’s Folly

Father Joseph, a barefooted Capuchin monk, served as an advisor to Cardinal Richelieu. This pious man—who spent hours a day in orison contemplating Calvary, and who wrote poems about the Crusades betraying a deep sense of bloodlust—pushed for policies that led to the Thirty Years’ War and created the conditions for the World Wars in the twentieth century. Or so believes Aldous Huxley in his moral study of the mystic, Grey Eminence (1941). Not for everyone, but a thoughtful book for those who find the passages below of interest (quotes from the Carrol & Graf: 1985 edition). Continue reading “Father Joseph’s Folly”

Confessions

How unhappy I was, and how conscious you made me of my misery, on that day when I was preparing to deliver a panegyric on the emperor!  In the course of it I would tell numerous lies and for my mendacity would win the good opinion of people who knew it to be untrue.  The anxiety of the occasion was making my heart palpitate and perspire with the destructive fever of the worry, when I passed through a Milan street and noticed a destitute beggar.

Already drunk, I think, he was joking and laughing.  I groaned and spoke with the friends accompanying me about the many sufferings that result from our follies.  In all our strivings such as those efforts that were then worrying me, the goads of ambition impelled me to drag the burden of my unhappiness with me, and in dragging it to make it even worse; yet we had no goal other than to reach a carefree cheerfulness.  That beggar was already there before us, and perhaps we would never achieve it.  For what he had gained with a few coins, obtained by begging, that is the cheerfulness of temporal felicity, I was going about to reach by painfully twisted and roundabout ways.

IMG_3136.JPG – Version 2
Chora Church, Istanbul, Turkey (2008).

True joy he had not.  But my quest to fulfill my ambitions was much falser.  There was no question that he was happy and I racked with anxiety.  He had no worries; I was frenetic, and if anyone had asked me if I would prefer to be merry or to be racked with fear, I would have answered ‘to be merry’.  Yet if he asked whether I would prefer to be a beggar like that man or the kind of person I then was, I would have chosen to be myself, a bundle of anxieties and fears.  What an absurd choice!  Surely it could not be the right one.  For I ought not to have put myself above him on the ground of being better educated, a matter from which I was deriving no pleasure.  My education enabled me to seek to please men, not to impart to them any instruction, but merely to purvey pleasure …That night the beggar was going to sleep off his intoxication.  I slept and rose with mine, and was to sleep and get up again with it for many days.  Of course there is a difference in the source of a person’s pleasure.  I know it.  And the joy of a believing hope is incomparably greater than vanity.  But at that time there was also this gulf between us: he was far happier, not merely because he was soaked in cheerfulness while I was eviscerated with anxieties, but also because he had acquired wine by wishing good luck to passers-by, whereas I sought an arrogant success by telling lies.1

# # #

Note:

1 Saint Augustine, Confessions (Oxford World’s Classics: 2008), pgs. 97-8.

Favorite Books of 2015

The holiday season is upon us, so I thought I’d take to the blog once more to share some of the best books I read during the year.  Following fortuitous retweets from Marc Andreessen and Conor Sen last year, these annual posts have become the most frequently visited pages on the blog, with the 2014 and 2013 iterations attracting nearly one in five views.  So thanks!  I hope you find one or more of the books listed below to be an enriching read. Continue reading “Favorite Books of 2015”