This year is a good time to reread Silent Spring

Written in 1962, Rachel Carson’s book, Silent Spring, was and still is nothing short of revolutionary in its importance. The first piece of writing that clearly collected and synthesized the existing work of environmental scientists and ecologists on the harmful effects of pesticides and insecticides in the environment, Silent Spring was a profound wake up call, an alarm bell, a highly effective call to arms for a new environmental conservation movement. Today, it is an essential document of the beginning of that movement and an education in basic ecology for the student looking to better understand our planet.

Should you ever feel in need of proof that one dedicated person can seriously change the world, this book may be it. Rachel Carson, an American marine biologist who began her career at the U.S. Bureau of Fisheries writing humble educational radio scripts, used a combination of poetic prose and relentlessly damning evidence from the study of the natural world to do two things in Silent Spring: First, to illustrate the beauty, preciousness and incomprehensible wonders of nature. And second, to condemn and tear apart, beyond any shadow of doubt, the cavalier use of toxic chemicals for “control” of insects, pests and unwanted plants on farms, in gardens, along roadsides and elsewhere.

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Review: Timothy Snyder Examines the Holocaust in Black Earth

Black Earth, by Timothy SnyderWe all learn about the Holocaust when we’re children. I learned about it when I was quite young, in grade school. Childhood lessons on the Holocaust and the persecution of Jews in Germany often center on the most gruesome atrocities, the concentration camps and the ovens and the torture of people.

It is understandable why that is so. These things are so terrible to imagine, they seem to bear repeating to make sure that future generations know they happened.

But they are not the entirety of the horrors of the Holocaust. And there is a danger to the way these atrocities are so often taught to school children. They’re taught in such as way as to isolate them from our current reality, and that is dangerous because when we hear about them, we might believe that we live in a different time, where such things are the product of a madman’s racism, and being so singular, would never happen again.

We’d be wrong.

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Considering Tyranny on Independence Day

The founding fathers did something special when they designed the United States of America, with its branches of government designed to keep one another in check and protect the personal freedoms of individual citizens. For many Americans, though, the Constitution is something of a magical document, and the ideals of freedom and justice amount to some mighty magical thinking. For many Americans, oppression, corruption, human rights atrocities and war are things faced by other people in other countries — here in the USA, we’re protected by that magical document. We’re exceptional. We’re safe.

Timothy Snyder, Professor of History at Yale University, would like you to consider that this magical notion of safety is nonsense, which you may entertain at your extreme peril. On November 15, 2016, Snyder wrote on Facebook, “Americans are no wiser than the Europeans who saw democracy yield to fascism, Nazism, or communism.”

He’s right.

The European history of the twentieth century shows us that societies can break, democracies can fall, ethics can collapse, and ordinary men can find themselves standing over death pits with guns in their hands. It would serve us well today to understand why.

In his book, On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century, Snyder presents the expanded and fleshed-out versions of the 20-point list (from that much-circulated Facebook post) of ways free citizens can protect their liberty and each other in politically unstable and frightening times. This slim volume is packed with ample reasons why we should care about doing so, and chilling, cautionary illustrations from 20th century history.

This 4th of July, as we take a day off to meditate on what makes our country special, let’s also consider how we can keep it. On Tyranny offers grim warning alongside essential hope.

One of Jasper Johns “Flag” paintings, 1960-66.

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Review: Conscious Business: How to Build Value through Values

A highly meditative take on how to conduct oneself in life and in business with others, Kofman’s book, Conscious Business, contains much to discuss and learn. I picked it up in response to reading an article by Matt MacInnis, the CEO of San Francisco tech firm Inkling, where the book is required reading for all employees.

Having just wrapped up my first experience taking an early stage startup from 1 to 20 employees, and wishing to understand more about how leaders may intentionally create business culture where employees can not only create business value but thrive personally and emotionally as well, Conscious Business felt highly relevant.

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Review: The limits of “Grit”

Grit is considered a “must-read” by many in my professional circle. For good reason – it’s an engaging, thought-provoking book. It’s useful and satisfying for its clear explanation of the core concept of grit (which is essentially: passionate perseverance) and its many inspirational stories. It’s also frustrating as hell for the nuance it lacks.

On the surface, this book is about the power of effort, and how deeply, mistakenly, undervalued the power of personal will is in our society. Modern people tend to romanticize and over-value “natural talent” and under-value sustained effort – to the great disadvantage of many.

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Review: Ring in 2017 with The Plot Against America

The Plot Against America by Philip RothOut of some dark, masochistic impulse, I chose to prepare myself for the upcoming coronation of the least qualified president in the history of these fine United States by reading this classic novel by famous pessimist Philip Roth.

Told in long, nostalgic descriptive sentences that unfurl around the reader like swamp- monster tentacles, this novel imagines a chilling alternative history of the 1940s in the USA as experienced by Roth as a little boy.

Famous aviator Charles Lindbergh, a celebrity and media creation, is elected president after positioning himself as a champion of the “regular people” and advocating an isolationist stance toward World War II for the good of America. Lindbergh openly criticizes “Jewish interests” for trying to drag America into “Europe’s war” and signs a treaty with Nazi Germany, promising that the USA will stay out of the war and do nothing to prevent Nazi expansion. Emboldened by Lindbergh’s victory, racists rejoice and a brutal wave of anti-Semitism flourishes in America.

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Review: Political Fictions

political fictions book coverI experienced a large range of low emotions in the wake of the 2016 presidential election: disbelief, shock, anger, indignation, confusion, revulsion, despair, depression, anxiety.

This book was a necessary choice for this moment at the end of this particular year, in part, because I wanted to settle back in to Didion’s exacting language after enjoying two of her books so much, and because I was seeking some political and historical perspective.

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Review: Essentialism – The Disciplined Pursuit of Less

While a bit repetitive and about 100 pages too long, “Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less” holds definite value for people searching for ways to be more effective and at peace with their choices.

“Essentialism” as advocated by McKeown is a personal philosophy of making deliberate decisions about where to spend one’s limited and precious time. It’s a mission statement aimed at reducing psychic clutter, regrettable personal commitments and extra “stuff” that ultimately does not matter in the greater scheme of one’s life.

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Review: Disrupted

Dan Lyons, ego bruised and career sidelined by an unexpected layoff from his job as a technology journalist for Newsweek, makes a pivot that seems like a sensible idea at the time: he joins the startup world and becomes a marketer for hot young marketing automation firm, HubSpot. Disrupted is a memoir of that startup adventure. It stirred a ton of thoughts and conflicting reactions for me, began many conversations and taught me a bit of new stuff about startups and venture capital. It also made me cringe and grin with schadenfreude. Issues aside, though, it’s a worthwhile read with a lot to say.

Brisk, cynical and often bitingly funny – just as you might expect from the author behind FakeSteveJobs – the book starts as a bitterly comic fish out of water story about a fifty-something man trying to fit in at a company he doesn’t understand: He seems constantly gobsmacked by the wacky energy of his Millennial coworkers, the lack of organization and structure to his days, the insistence of young people on using technology like smartphones and Google calendars to schedule even a five-minute chat, and of course things like beer at work, arts and crafts breaks on “Fearless Friday,” the nap room and the foosball tables. Continue reading “Review: Disrupted”