Posts Tagged ‘book review’

The Seventies: The Great Shift In American Culture, Society, And PoliticsThe Seventies: The Great Shift In American Culture, Society, And Politics by Bruce J. Schulman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A very good and insightful overview and analysis of the Seventies and the “wasted generation” (for those of us who were kids in the 1970’s, this moniker is the one applied to us). (more…)

The Master Switch: The Rise and Fall of Information EmpiresThe Master Switch: The Rise and Fall of Information Empires by Tim Wu
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This was a fascinating book. Tim Wu is a big-picture guy and he writes from that perspective as he details the history of the information empires that have risen and fall in the last 120 years in America. (more…)

Clementine: The Life of Mrs. Winston ChurchillClementine: The Life of Mrs. Winston Churchill by Sonia Purnell
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Fascinating book. As the author pointed out in her introduction to the book, Winston Churchill has gotten all the press and all the attention both during his life and since his death among the historians and biographers, while Clementine, his wife, was either invisible or contained to a single-sentence mention in passing. (more…)

The Artist, the Philosopher, and the Warrior: The Intersecting Lives of Da Vinci, Machiavelli, and Borgia and the World They ShapedThe Artist, the Philosopher, and the Warrior: The Intersecting Lives of Da Vinci, Machiavelli, and Borgia and the World They Shaped by Paul Strathern
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book was very interesting for several reasons. It caught my attention because the idea of Da Vinci, Machiavelli, and Borgia’s lives being intertwined with each other seemed far-fetched because of the vast differences in these three people as individuals.

And yet, for several months in 1502 and 1503, the artist (serving as military engineer), the philosopher (officially representing Florence, imperiled economically and militarily, yet paralyzingly indecisive over political allegiances), and the warrior indeed were together as Borgia made his eventually-doomed move, with his corrupt and debauched father, Pope Alexander VI, pulling the political strings in the background from the Vatican, to begin the quest to rule a united Italy. (more…)

Stalin's Daughter: The Extraordinary and Tumultuous Life of Svetlana AlliluyevaStalin’s Daughter: The Extraordinary and Tumultuous Life of Svetlana Alliluyeva by Rosemary Sullivan
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is one of the most heartbreaking stories I’ve read in a long time. There are times reading about Svetlana Alliluyeva’s life when you just want to reach out – although she’s been dead for several years now – and hold her in comfort and fix all that is emotionally broken in her to give her peace and stability. And yet that is beyond me – indeed, it is beyond any human capability.

Even though she was the daughter of Joseph Stalin, Svetlana was also just another one of his victims. Stalin’s effect on his family, his associates, and indeed on the citizens of Russia shows what tyrants, despots, narcissists, and power-hungry people in positions of leadership leave in their wake. The damage outlives them and it is, in the end, their only lasting legacy.

Joseph Stalin was a cruel, heartless, and loveless man. Whether he began life that way isn’t clear, but in his effort to gain power and control over Russia after Lenin’s death, he lost any humanity that he may have had before he embarked on that quest.

He treated Svetlana’s mother, his second wife, with a cruelty that perhaps drove her away from her home and her children from the time they were born. (In many ways, Svetlana never had a mother, although she did have a nanny who loved her and whom she loved, but it was not the same as having a mother.) What is certain is that Stalin’s last act of cruelty to Svetlana’s mother was the catalyst for her subsequent suicide when Svetlana was 6 1/2 years old.

Stalin was in the midst of consolidating his power and his purges and gulags were already in motion when Svetlana’s mother died. Until then, both sides of the family were around and a part of Svetlana’s life. Because many of her mother’s relatives knew Stalin when he began as a Georgian Bolshevik, they also knew his secrets as a young man.

Suddenly, they began disappearing from Svetlana’s life into exile or the death camps that took care of Stalin’s problems and rivals. Death, secret police, and the constant threat of harm were things that Svetlana became aware of early on. Neither she nor her brothers were exempted from that threat or the sudden eruptions and violence that accompanied her father’s wrath.

Stalin and Svetlana had a push-pull relationship that was never secure for Svetlana. When she matured enough to realize how terrible her father was and the extent of his cruelty and disregard for human life, she began what would be a complicated love-hate view of Stalin the rest of her life.

All of this led to an emptiness, a restlessness, a searching in Svetlana that never got filled, not got eased, and never got found in her lifetime. The hole of emptiness was bottomless. The persistent restlessness never found a quiet, peaceful place to alight and anchor to. The endless searching was chasing ghosts and illusions of things that never existed to begin with.

Yet despite all the psychological damage that Svetlana suffered, she was generally sane, very cogent, extremely intelligent and insightful, and, most amazingly, enduringly resilient. Although she had trouble forming and maintaining stable and healthy relationships (she suffered from anxious-preoccupied attachment and made terrible decisions and choices because of it), she took whatever came her way – and it was a rollercoaster from the beginning to the end of her life – and, for the most part, dealt with it with a stoicism that is quite remarkable.

The leadership – or lack of it – lessons abound in this book. And Svetlana’s life – as well as the detailed descriptions of Russian life in general and Russian lives specifically in Stalin’s family and associates – puts the results (which lasts beyond the grave) of unquintessential leadership under the microscope.

It’s an education we can’t afford to miss.

View all my reviews

The Glass Cage: How Our Computers Are Changing UsThe Glass Cage: How Our Computers Are Changing Us by Nicholas Carr
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

As with The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains, Nicholas Carr has brought the role of technology in our lives into focus with another aspect that I doubt many of us really understand in its pervasiveness in our everyday lives and what it is costing us, not just in obvious ways, but in ways that are fundamental to being human and be uniquely skilled to productively and expertly interact in and with the world of opportunity and possibilities we’ve been given.

The subtitle of this book is “Automation and Us,” and how automation has infiltrated every aspect of our lives and what we’re losing in the process is Carr’s subject in this book.

Automation, of and by itself, is not bad. It is the things we’ve automated and our relationship to automation (serving it instead of letting it serve us) that turns what could be a good thing into something that is destined to destroy us – our unique human abilities, skills, and talents – unless we take control and do something different.

One of the points that Carr makes in this book is that we have offloaded critical thinking skills, technical acumen, analysis, and creativity to technology. By doing this, we gradually lose the ability to operate successfully manually (without the technology) and use judgement, intuition, experience, and knowledge to navigate our lives and our professions.

Carr looks at the impact of automatic in the airline industry (specifically looking at how autopilot has degraded the skills of pilots to successfully deal with emergencies and crises when flying), in business (stock market, accounting, business decisions, human resources, hiring, etc., which have all been relegated to software to handle, with no human factors involved, resulting in the global financials messes we now deal with and with a loss of talent because there’s no human contact or intervention to recognize the talent), in medicine (with the advent of electronic medical records in most medical facilities, software is now making the decisions that doctors used to make and because the software adds procedures and tests, the costs, which were supposed to go lower, have actually increased exponentially) and in manufacturing.

He also looks at us and how we’ve turned over our brains to automation. We depend on social media to decide who and what we like (or don’t) and who we’re friends with (and who we’re not – anyone who chooses to limit this exposure disappears and becomes invisible because they simply don’t exist outside the virtual world) and we have chosen willing to live in this virtual world more than we actually interact with the real word.

We’ve given control of our lives to our electronic devices: to do lists, calendars, phone numbers, etc. We let our software do things we should be doing ourselves: spell-checking, grammar-checking, basic math functions, etc. We have fallen for the myth that automation gives us more power, when instead it erodes our power and our humanness.

People are much more extreme in their polarization of love and hate (nothing in between) in an automated world. It often seems that empathy, compassion, care, concern and love – all unique human abilities – is absent in the presence of a world that is automated. We lose our ability to relate to each other in any kind of real way and, as a result, we lose our humanness, and we become programmed to polarized points of view that we simply pick up and accept by what and who we choose to listen to, follow, and expouse in the landscape of technology (cable, streaming, internet, etc.).

We are losing our life blood – our hearts, our souls, and our minds, because we serve the god of automation that lacks emotional richness, deep understanding, and caring concern. I hope we reverse this trend, but I also am realistic enough to realize that we probably won’t and it will probably get much worse before it gets better.

View all my reviews