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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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: 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”

Review: The Alliance

This NY Times bestselling book about managing employees in the modern workplace offers one big idea. It’s not hard to understand and the book is filled with examples that are helpful and illuminating in varying degrees. Like most popular business and management books I’ve read, the “big idea” is driven home again and again, the content is a bit repetitive, the language is very easy to skim, and the book itself could have been one really great Harvard Business Review or Atlantic article, but was stretched to create a book instead. Fine, it is what it is. It’s still worth your time.

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Review: The Goldfinch

A young boy named Theo with a troubled family life survives a horrifying terrorist act in New York City that kills his beloved mother and changes the course of his entire life. So much happens in the lives of Theo, his family and friends over the course of nearly 800 pages that I won’t try to summarize the plot – besides, the twists and turns are best discovered in their own time, and whether or not you predict them, they are delightful.

At its heart, this is a novel about memory and loss, and about art, and the value of things. What could possibly be more important that the concept of value? Love, family, antique objects, singular works of art, the minutes of our lives – what is any of it worth, and how can we know?

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