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Olivier
Olivier
by Philip Ziegler
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $27.61
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5.0 out of 5 stars A comprehensive biography of a magnificent performer who was large, who contained multitudes, August 20, 2014
This review is from: Olivier (Hardcover)
Prior to reading Philip Ziegler's biography, what I knew about Laurence Olivier (1907-1989) was limited almost entirely to seeing several of the films in which he appeared, many of them for the first time on the AMC channel. They include Wuthering Heights (1939), Rebecca and Pride and Prejudice (both in 1940), The Chronicle History of King Henry the Fifth (1944), Richard III (1955), The Devil's Disciple (1959), The Merchant of Venice, The Entertainer and Spartacus (both in 1960), and Marathon Man (1976). I never saw him appear on stage but, of course, over the years read about his great triumphs, mostly on stages in Great Britain. I knew almost nothing about his personal life, other than the fact that he was married to Vivian Leigh (1940-1960) and later to Joan Plowright (from 1961 until his death of renal failure in 1989).

These are the questions I had in mind when beginning to read Ziegler's biography:

o By what process did he develop his extraordinary skills as an actor
o His favorite plays among those in which he appeared
o His favorite films among those in which he appeared
o Other prominent actors whom he admired most...and why
o What he was like to work with as a fellow actor
o What he was like to work with as a director
o Others with whom he most enjoyed working
o Others with whom he least enjoyed working
Note: John Gielgud and Ralph Richardson (and perhaps Kirk Douglas) would probably be on both lists for reasons that reveal more about Olivier than they do about them.

I am deeply grateful to Ziegler for all that I learned about Olivier's life and work insofar as these subjects are concerned. I am also grateful to him for what I learned about other dimensions of his life and work:

o His indifference to parenthood and neglect of his four children
o Why he was dismissed by the Old Vic theatre company
o His up-and-down, down-and-up relationship with the National Theatre
o Why two of his marriages failed but the third succeeded
o His inability to delegate authority
o According to those who knew him best, what his defining characteristics were as an actor
o And as a person
o His stage fright and other anxieties and insecurities
o The personal relationships he cherished most
o His struggles with Leigh's bi-polar temperament and behavior
o Olivier's sexuality
o His extravagant praise and scathing criticism, often during the same conversation
o In later years, his health issues and how he dealt with them

The title of this review is explained by the fact that, as I re-read this book prior to setting to work on this review of it, I was again reminded of Walt Whitman's declaration in "Song of Myself": "Do I contradict myself? Very well, then, I contradict myself. I am large. I contain multitudes." The same can be said of Laurence Olivier both on and off the stage as well as on and off the screen.

I agree with John Simon's concluding comments in his review in The New York Times: "The biography is full of marvelous anecdotes; traces sovereignly the rivalries with Richardson, Gielgud, and Olivier's successor at the National, Peter Hall; and avoids the salacious. It is altogether a thorough and intelligent book." Presumably most of those who read it will agree with Simon. My only regret is that I never had the opportunity to see Olivier perform on stage but at least several of his best films remain. I shall revisit a few soon, probably Henry V first.


Essays in Biography
Essays in Biography
by Joseph Epstein
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $15.18
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5.0 out of 5 stars The more we learn about others, it seems, the better we understand ourselves...at least sometimes, August 20, 2014
This review is from: Essays in Biography (Hardcover)
I have read most of Joseph Epstein's 13 collections of essays dating back to Divorced in America: Marriage in an Age of Possibility (1974) but this is the first I have reviewed and soon A Literary Education and Other Essays will be the second. With regard to his background, here is a brief bio provided by Amazon: "Joseph Epstein is the author of the best-selling Snobbery and of Friendship, as well as the short story collections, The Goldin Boys and Fabulous Small Jews, among other books, and was formerly editor of the American Scholar. His work has appeared in The New Yorker, Harper's Magazine, the Atlantic Monthly, and other magazines."

The word "essay" is literally an attempt, in Epstein's case an attempt to explore, reveal, and explain whatever nourishes his curiosity about the given subject. I think he comes about as close as anyone can to resembling Michel de Montaigne and, more recently, E.B. White, my other favorite essayists. In the Introduction to his latest collection of essays, A Literary Education, Epstein observes, "An essayist is an amateur in two primary senses of the word. He is, first, distinctly not an expert; and he is, second, a lover. Unlike the critic, or even the novelist or poet, there is nothing professional about the essayist. He comes to the world dazzled by it. The riches it offers him are inexhaustible. Subjects on which he may scribble away are everywhere. The essayist need not be an optimist, but a depressed essayist -- and I can provide names of some now at work on request -- is badly miscast."

What we have in Essays in Biography are mini-profiles of 39 men and one woman whose diversity of personality and achievement give at least some indication of the nature and extent of Epstein's interests. They include (in order of appearance) George Washington, Ralph Ellison, Susan Sontag, Isiah Berlin, Alfred Kinsey, W.C. Fields, George Gershwin, Joe DiMaggio, Michael Jordan, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, and Xenophon.

Essayists are by nature explorers and can be found roaming throughout all manner of fields of interest. The reader is their companion who tags along eavesdropping on whatever attracts the essayist's and comments in response to whatever interests them. "One somehow wanders or stumbles into becoming an essayist. But given the most reputation of the essay and the way it has tended to be taught in schools, it is quite amazing that anyone should ever again wish to read essays let alone write them."

Here in Dallas near the downtown area, there is a Farmer's Market at which several vendors offer slices of fresh fruit as samples of their wares. In that spirit, I now offer a few brief excerpts that are representative of the thrust and flavor of Epstein's art:

o On George Washington: "Less talented than other generals, less intelligent than other politicians, not as well educated to begin with, parochial in both his background and interests, a man with a strong sense of [begin italics] amour-propre [end italics] but no complex vision, either political, religious, or economic, here was this man, George Washington, without whom, everyone who has thought about it agrees, the experiment known as the United States would, like as not, almost certainly have failed...Washington was not a great military mind; he was a good enough though not a saintly man; he was no master politician. In the end, his genius was perhaps the rarest kind of all: a genius for discerning right action so strong that he was utterly incapable of knowingly doing anything wrong. Her was our founding father, and our politics has yet to turn up a better man." (Pages 7 and 26)

o On A.J. Liebling: "I prefer the assessment of the New Yorker's cover artist, Saul Steinberg: 'He was out of the 18th-centuiry world of elegance based on artificiality, and he had prepared a sort of personality for himself.' In its day, that personality not only charmed but suggested inner depths that, sadly, were not really there. In that sense, Just Enough Liebling, the title of this newest collection, is peculiarly apt. Rather than enticing us to read on, it suggests satiety; we've had just enough. About a writer I once admired, even adored, I derive no pleasure in saying this." (277)

o On W.C. Fields: "Of greater interest is the world view that underlies and provokes the laughter. The chief subject in Fields's best movies is false respectability. His is a world where dysfunctionality and viciousness rule -- where everyone tries to do in everyone else, and meanness and stinginess abound. Many of Fields's movies also provide an implicit critique of small-town America in the 1920s and 1930s, especially of its narrowness and puritan hypocrisy; they are, in effect, Sinclair Lewis with laughter added." (432)

o On Malcolm Gladwell: "So much Gladwell writes that is true seems not new, and so much that he writes that is new seems untrue. Preponderantly, what he reports feels more like half- and quarter-truths, because they do not pass the final truth test about human nature: they rarely, that is, honor the complexity of life...In prose, he never lingers over complication, he explains that life is fairly simple; no great mystery about it. Nothing cannot be explained, nothing not changed, nothing not improved. Knowledge is ever on the march. Life need no longer be unfair. Utopia is at hand, ours, with the aid of social science, to seize. If you believe all this, do let me know, because I would like to sell you, at a very reasonable price, three only moderately marked-up books by the most popular out-of-the-box thinker of our day." (500-501)

I highly recommend all of Joseph Epstein's books and presume to suggest to those who have not as yet read any of his work, that they begin with this collection or with the aforementioned A Literary Education and Other Essays, both published by Axios Press.


Nature's God: The Heretical Origins of the American Republic
Nature's God: The Heretical Origins of the American Republic
by Matthew Stewart
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $17.65
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5.0 out of 5 stars A brilliant analysis of "the power and impact of America's original philosophical radicalism", August 20, 2014
This was an especially challenging read because the issues that Matthew Stewart addresses are very complicated. For example, what does it mean when suggesting that the origins of the American Republic were "heretical"? How to explain the explicit separation of church and state in the Constitution? To what extent were Benedict de Espinoza, John Locke, and Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz "Founding Grandfathers" of the new nation? Why has Thomas Young become a "Forgotten Founding Father"? What in fact is true of Young and Allen's significance prior to and then during the American Revolution?

Stewart addresses these and other issues, at times telling me much more than I really want to know about the thinkers and their ideas that had the greatest influence on events prior to, during, and then following the War for Independence. However, that seems a small price to pay for a much better understanding how and why "the radical philosophy of America's founders remains the best way to explain the persistence, power, and the prosperity of the modern liberal order around the world to this day."

Stewart goes on to say, "Ever since Plato conceived of his republic, people have speculated about what might happen if philosophers should rule the world. We no longer need to wonder. `The present is an age of philosophy; and America, the empire of reason,' said American revolutionary Joel Barlow. I aim to show that he was mostly right about that."

Thomas P. Slaughter takes a similar approach in Independence: The Tangled Roots of the American Revolution. He cites a question posed by John Adams in a letter to Thomas Jefferson in 1815: "What do we mean by revolution?" Adams then suggests, "The Revolution was in the minds of the people, and this was effected from 1760 to 1775, in the course of fifteen years before a drop of blood was drawn at Lexington." As Thomas Slaughter suggests, its roots were indeed "tangled." And in fact, as Stewart suggests, the tangled roots extended back in time to the early seventeenth century, if not to ancient Greece.

These are among the other subjects of greatest interest to me, listed in no particular order:

o The significance of Ethan Allen's book, Oracles of Reason
o Forerunners of the Declaration of Independence
o Allen's vision of a free nation, a vision shared with Young
o Why Timothy Dwight referred to Allen as "The great Clodhopping oracle of man"
o Why Nathan Perkins called him "An awful infidel, one of ye wickedest men yet ever walked this guilty globe"
o Nature and extent of deism's influence and impact
o Various "pathologies of freedom" that attracted interest and support throughout the colonies
o Slaughter's take on Thomas Paine, Samuel Adams, Benedict Arnold, and Jonathan Edwards
o Historical impact of Epicureanism
o The character and personality of Benjamin Franklin
o Whether or not there ever was a "religion of America"

It is (no pun intended) noteworthy that Stewart provides 94 pages of Notes (Pages 439-534) that include extensive bibliographic annotations. This is indeed a research-driven book but also one throughout whose narrative Stewart's voice is clearly heard and his assumptions soundly supported.

Here are his concluding remarks: "The theological policemen who hounded Allen after his death have now faded into the forgotten precincts of history, while the philosopher of the Green Mountains seems ready at last for his second coming. If we could see just a little further into the future, where the reputations of the prophets are always made, maybe we would catch a glimpse of what Ethan Allen and his friend Thomas Young thought they saw in the first place: a nation that will have liberated itself from all forms of tyranny over the human mind. Call it the land of the free."

Congratulations to Matthew Stewart on a brilliant achievement. Bravo!


What Stays in Vegas: The World of Personal Data—Lifeblood of Big Business—and the End of Privacy as We Know It
What Stays in Vegas: The World of Personal Data—Lifeblood of Big Business—and the End of Privacy as We Know It
by Adam Tanner
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $20.51

5.0 out of 5 stars What stays in Las Vegas? An abundance of personal data used to achieve business objectives for casinos, August 19, 2014
Whenever I see a commercial promoting Las Vegas, I am again reminded that money won by gambling in the casinos usually stays there. I doubt if that fact can support a book but another fact can...and has: The gambling casinos there and elsewhere use advanced technologies and advanced analytics to obtain, process, evaluate, and then act upon consumer data. This process creates for them a competitive advantage. The subtitle of Adam Tanner's book reveals his primary focus: "The World of Personal Data -- Lifeblood of Big Business -- and the End of Privacy as We Know It." Indeed, in the new, rapidly expanding global marketplace, data are the new currency and some of the most valuable data are provided by consumers, whether or not they realize it.

All of the major research studies with which I am familiar indicate that, when identifying what is most important to them, employees and customers rank "feeling appreciated" among the top three and frequently #1. The more a company knows about a customer, the better prepared it is to do -- and not do -- whatever it must to gain and then sustain that customer's trust and respect. This reality drives the process by which to create what Ben McConnell and Jackie Huba characterize as "customer evangelists."

Companies such as Amazon, Facebook, and Google have refined a process introduced by César Ritz in 1898 when Hôtel Ritz in the Place Vendôme opened its doors. He was a passionate advocate of perfection in hospitality, insisting that it always be invisible. With regard to what became the institutional motto, "Ladies and Gentlemen Serving Ladies and Gentlemen." Rules? He stated them clearly: "See all without looking; hear all without listening; be attentive without being servile; anticipate without being presumptuous. If a diner complains about a dish or the wine, immediately remove it and replace it, no questions asked." According to Joseph Michelli, Ritz Carlton set "the new gold standard" for service. The foundation of its superior service consists of personal data about its guests.

Back to Las Vegas. Some of the most interesting and most valuable information in Tanner's book focuses on Caesars Entertainment (later purchased by Harrah's) and, more specifically, on Joshua Kanter and his the contributions to the emerging science of consumer data processing. Over time, Caesar's and then constantly fine-tuned a Total Rewards loyalty program for those who, annually, represent about 80% of a growth category: Those "far from lucrative on any one day, but in a year they might spend $1,500 to $5,000." Kanter was a McKinsey alumnus. A consultant at Booz Allen Hamilton, Rich Mirman, was hired to focus on marketing to "new customers with bigger long-term (collective) potential." David Norton was another strategic hire who also "thought a lot about the people traditionally ignored by casino management. He saw great value in the retired grandmother quietly feeding a steady stream of coins (and later paper) into the slot machines in the corner of the room."

These and other examples illustrate a very important point: Until obtaining and then evaluating the data they needed, casino owners and their top executives were not cultivating the loyalty of those who could produce the greatest long-term ROI. Tanner devotes an entire chapter, Chapter 4, to explaining (a) what the casinos know about their customers, (b) how they obtained that information, and (c) how the casinos catch "whales" (i.e. BIG spenders).

Obviously, no brief commentary such as mine can do full justice to the scope and depth of coverage of material provided in this volume. However, I hope that I have at least indicated why I think so highly of it. Adam Tanner remains hopeful that companies will become more transparent about what they know about their customers and how they obtained that in formation but that seems highly unlikely. So long as consumers are willing to provide so much personal information to companies such as Amazon, Facebook, and Google, the value of that "currency" to these companies will continue to increase. What to do? There are some suggestions in the Appendix, "Take Control of Your Data." Perhaps some will do that but few who bet against the house break even, much less win more than they lose.


Why We Make Things and Why It Matters: The Education of a Craftsman
Why We Make Things and Why It Matters: The Education of a Craftsman
by Peter Korn
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $20.57
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5.0 out of 5 stars How and why the creative effort "is a process of challenging embedded narratives in order to....", August 18, 2014
Peter Korn poses an intriguing question: "Why do we choose the spiritually, emotionally, and physically demanding work of brining new objects into the world with creativity and skill?" This book is his extended response to that question. After completing his academic assignments for the University of Pennsylvania, he embarked on what became a journey of discovery during which two epiphanies occurred. (More about them later.) "My intuition from the first day I picked up a hammer was that making things with a commitment to quality would lead to a good life." In this book, he retraces the steps of his journey "with reference to larger frameworks - historical, sociological, psychological, and biological - to discover how and why that intuition turned out to be valid."

His readers tag along with him from Nantucket Island to Frederick (Maryland) to New York City and then Philadelphia before relocating (again) to the Anderson Ranch Arts Center in Snowmass Village (Colorado) for which he served for the six years as Program Director before finally founding (in 1992) the Center for Furniture Craftsmanship in Rockport (Maine). Along the way, he published Woodworking Basics: Mastering the Essentials of Craftsmanship (Taunton Press, 2003) and The Woodworker's Guide to Hand Tools (Taunton Press, 1998). Why We Make Things and Why it Matters is his third book. And along the way, he was stricken by cancer and struggled with personal losses best described by him,

With regard to the aforementioned epiphanies, the first occurred in November (1984) when he had been hard at work on a cradle: "After three days of intense focus, cold, and solitude, the cradle is complete -- a miraculous birth in its own right. I have somehow transform benign intent into a beautiful functional object. This is my moment on the road to Demascus. I am overtaken by the most unexpected passion." (Page 28).

The second epiphany occurred in 1991 during his sixth year at Anderson Ranch. By way of background, he explains that he had previously composed an artist's statement, one that included a sentence that brought his emerging ideas into focus. It read: My own values became clear when I eventually realized that the words I used to describe my aesthetic goals as a furniture maker -- integrity, simplicity, and grace -- also described the person I sought to grow into through the practice of craftsmanship." (Page 102) That sentence was his second epiphany.

While re-reading the book in preparation to compose this brief commentary, I was again reminded of similar experiences that James Joyce describes in several of his letters and short stories as well as in Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. Of course, I have no idea whether or not Korn had Joyce and his work in mind when sharing this especially significant moment during his own development. Be that as it may, his transition from carpenter to craftsman is near complete, with details best revealed within the narrative, in context.

What's my take? Of greatest interest and value to me is what Peter Korn has to say about how he "found his way in the world" by committing himself to (as Richard Sennett expressed it) "doing something well, for its own sake." Consider this brief excerpt from Creativity in which Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi observes: "To achieve the kind of world we consider human, some people had to dare to break the thrall of tradition, Next, they had to find ways of recording those new ideas or procedures that improved on what went on before. Finally, they had to find ways of transmitting the new knowledge to generations to come. Those who were involved in this process we call creative. What we call culture, or those parts of ourselves that we internalized from the social environment, is their creation."

For Korn, these "essential" observations by Sennett and Csikszentmihalyi ring true: "There is great satisfaction to be found in work that engages one as an end in itself." His experiences can be described in many different ways. He found his calling, he found himself, he found his True North...all quite correct.

For me, the key to understanding the experiences that Peter Korn discusses, many of which that resemble our own, is to view a good life as one during which if, if we so choose, to proceed as he did: "And so it is. As a maker you put one foot in front of the other and you own the journey. Finding creative passion that governs your life may be a curse as well as a blessing, but I would not trade it for anything else I know."


The Myth of Mirror Neurons: The Real Neuroscience of Communication and Cognition
The Myth of Mirror Neurons: The Real Neuroscience of Communication and Cognition
by Gayle Hickok
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $18.87
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars How the latest research in neuroscience can help almost anyone think and communicate much more effectively, August 18, 2014
I begin with an unconventional suggestion: Read Appendix A, "A Primer on Brain Organization," first; then proceed through Gregory Hickok's lively and eloquent as well as insightful narrative. I wish I had when I first read this book.

* * *

In the Preface, Hickok quotes this passage from V.S. Razmachandran's conversation (in 2000) with John Brockman, featured by Edge.org: "I predict that mirror neurons will do for psychology what DNA did for biology: they will provide the unifying framework and help explain a host of mental abilities that have hitherto remained mysterious and inaccessible to experiments." Fourteen years later, in this book Hickok share revelations from recent research in neuroscience that can help almost anyone think and communicate much more effectively. Several of these breakthroughs occurred during research on pigtail macaque monkeys. Hickok suggests that the behavior of mirror neurons is modest, at least in the context of the human abilities they are claimed to enable...Mirror neurons are no longer the rock stars of neuroscience and psychology that they once were and, in my view, a more complex and interesting story is gaining favor regarding the neuroscience of communication and cognition"

In other words, the real neuroscience of communication and cognition repudiates and invalidates the myth of mirror neurons.

I very much admire the energy of his analysis and circumspection of his perspective. These are among the subjects of greatest interest to me that Hickok discusses with rigor and, when appropriate, restraint:

o Assuming that humans have mirror neurons, what are their primary functions and limitations? What differentiates them from mirror neurons of a macaque monkey?

o For example, to what extent do they "unlock the secrets of language, mind reading, empathy, and autism"?

o What is the Parma Theory and why is it significant?

o What are the most significant anomalies in the search for mirror neurons in humans?

o What does each of these anomalies suggest? So what?

o What are the defining characteristics and primary functions of a "talking brain"?

o What is an embodied brain"? What is its relevance to "the real neuroscience of communication and cognition"?

o What are the core principles of a neural base of action understanding?

o Why and how is imitation "at the core, the very foundation of what it means to be human both culturally and socially"?

o Why do humans "ape better than apes ape"?

o To what extent (if any) is there a causal link between autism? Between autism and sociopathic behavior?

o In a robotic arm situation, what is the significance of the fact that that the brain "models or predicts the current and future state of the limb internally using motor commands themselves rather than sensory feedback alone"?

o To what extent will mirror neurons have a role to play in our models of the neural basis of communication and cognition"?

Although to the extent possible, Hickok presents the material in language that non-scientists such as I can understand, this was by no means an "easy read" and I plan to re-read it again in a few weeks, first re-reading the two appendices: "A Primer on Brain Organization" and "Cognitive Neuroscience Toolbox." (I wish I had done so the first time around.) Brilliantly, they frame the issues and ambiguities that are discussed with consummate skill.

I agree with Gregory Hickok: "Placed in the context of a more balanced and complex structure, mirror neurons will no doubt have a role to play in our models of the neural basis of communication and cognition." So much more research in neuroscience remains to be conducted and evaluated. I am grateful to anyone who increases my understanding of "mental abilities that have hitherto remained mysterious and inaccessible to experiments." In other words, I am grateful for whatever helps me to gain a better understanding of myself.


Business adventures
Business adventures
by John Brooks
Edition: Hardcover
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Millions will rush to purchase a copy but how many will actually read it and then apply what they learn?, August 13, 2014
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This review is from: Business adventures (Hardcover)
Here is a new edition of a book first published in 1969 and, until recently, out-of-print. It consists of 12 "stories" written by John Brooks (1920-1993) that first appeared in The New Yorker. It is one of Warren Buffett's two favorite books, the other being Benjamin Graham's The Intelligent Investor. About 20 years ago, Buffett gave his copy of it to Bill Gates who mentioned that in a Wall Street Journal (July 11, 2014). Now another lemming stampede is underway.

Contrary to what many people apparently believe, however, the significance of this book has much less to do with either Buffett or Gates than it does with the value of Brooks' insights and how well he presents them. In my opinion, why Buffett and Gates think so highly of this book is of far greater importance than the fact they do so. I had read each of the essays as they appeared in the magazine and then re-read them recently after obtaining a copy of the new paperbound edition.

As I did so, I was again reminded of an incident that occurred years ago when one of Albert Einstein's colleagues at Princeton playfully chided him for asking the same questions every year on his final examinations. "Quite true. Each year, the answers are different."

Most of the historical material in Business Adventures is dated. How could it not be after 45 years? However, like Einstein's questions, the issues that Brooks discusses remain - if anything - more relevant today than they were in 1969. It is worth noting that the average length of the essays is about 37 pages. Brooks probes with surgical skill as he focuses on major crises in "the world of Wall Street" and what valuable lessons can be learned from each situation. Apparently Buffett and Gates took those lessons to heart.

These are among the subjects of greatest interest to me:

o Why the causes of the financial crisis in 1962 remain "unfathomable" but what the significance of that crisis seems to be, nonetheless

o The extent to which the failure of the Edsel suggests "a certain grandeur that success never knows"

o What an "ideal tax code" as conceived in 1969 shares in common with the 1913 income tax

o Why the decision handed down on August, 1968, by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit was "a famous victory for the S.E.C." and resulted in "an interesting experiment"

o The struggles at Xerox to cope with the challenges of "good citizenship" in the late-1960s during it rapid and substantial corporate growth

o One of the "most trying -- and in some ways most serious -- crises in the Stock Market's long history" and how it was resolved

o Lessons to be learned about ineffective corporate communications with the Justice Department, notably the initiatives of G.E. and its then chairman, Ralph Cordiner

o Business lessons to be learned from the stock fluctuations of Piggly Wiggly Stores, Inc. and from its founder/CEO, Clarence Saunders

0 David Eli Lilienthal and his relevance to the New Deal during the Roosevelt administrations and his subsequent impact on Wall Street

o What Brooks learned about corporate leadership and management while attending annual meetings of various corporations

Note: Berkshire Hathaway's annual meetings offer compelling evidence of what Buffett learned from the tenth chapter, "Stockholder Season: Annual Meetings and Corporate Power" (Pages 315-337).

o Donald W. Wohlgemuth's historical -- and symbolic - significance after "almost six months in the toils of the law"

o The special significance of Charles Coombs and Alfred Hayes, especially with regard to "saving" the pound from devaluation

John Brooks was a superb journalist, one who possessed several of the skills of a world's class anthropologist, skills that are evident in these and other articles for The New Yorker as well as in his books, notably The Go-Go Years: The Drama and Crashing Finale of Wall Street's Bullish 60s (1999) and Once in Golconda: A True Drama of Wall Street 1920-1938 (also 1999). He was also a master raconteur, a teller of tales about the major characters on Wall Street, the motives that drove them, the challenges they faced, the conflicts they created or endured, and finally, their significance within a realm that includes but extends far beyond lower Manhattan.

With regard to Business Adventures, it is possible to determine the number of copies that are sold of the new paperbound and digital versions but not how many of those who purchase one or both will read all, most, or only some (if any) of the material. Meanwhile, FYI, Amazon offers three used copies of the hardbound edition for $1,400, $2,450, and $2,500. Buffett once observed, "Price is what you charge. Value is what others think it's worth." Whatever the cost of the container, the value of this material is incalculable.


Seeking the North Star: Selected Speeches
Seeking the North Star: Selected Speeches
by John R. Silber
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $26.96
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "Discontent combined with youthful idealism and energy for action ensures a brighter future." John Silber, August 11, 2014
This volume consists of 30 of John Silber's speeches that he selected from more than 200, dating from 1971 until 2012. (Declining health prevented him from presenting the last, "The Choices Are Ours," to the Algonquin Club and Boston Consular Corps.) Who was he and why is he significant?

Briefly, Silber was born in San Antonio (August 15, 1926), the second son of Paul George Silber, an immigrant architect from Germany, and Jewell Silber, a Texas-born elementary school teacher. Both of his parents were Presbyterians. As an adult, he learned that his father's side of the family was Jewish and that his aunt had been killed at Auschwitz. His father had never said anything about it. After teaching at Yale, Silber returned to Texas, where he joined the department of philosophy at the University of Texas at Austin. After serving as chairman of his department he became Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. He was the first chairman of the Texas Society to Abolish Capital Punishment and a leader in the integration of the University of Texas. Silber was a leading spokesman for the maintenance of high academic standards and gained national attention for his advocacy of a rational, comprehensive system for financing higher education. He was also instrumental in founding Operation Head Start.

In January 1971 Silber became the seventh president of Boston University, and in 1996 he became Chancellor. In January 1996, Governor William Weld chose him to head the Massachusetts Board of Education, the state's policy-making board for public education below the collegiate level. Silber wrote widely on philosophy (especially on Immanuel Kant), education, and social and foreign policy. He died on September 27, 2012.

However, in my opinion, the best instruction to his special significance is provided by a careful reading of the material provided in this volume. His was a singular voice, as these brief excerpts clearly indicate. My selections are from hundreds of candidates among the passages of greatest interest and value to me. Of course, obviously, each is best appreciated in context.

o "If we re-order time to celebrate youth and age and the gradual metamorphosis from one to the other, if we regain our sense of time and value our present differences in the recognition that each of us plays all the parts in sequence, we shall see that there is no salvation for the young or the old at the expense of the either. Our fulfillment depends on collaboration in a time that is well ordered." From "The Pollution of Time" (May 1971) when Silber presented his inaugural address to Boston University.

o "The present age in America and in most of the West is perhaps best described as an age if bewilderment: it is marked by a pervasive sense of loss, alienation, and indirection. In every age and in every society, men and women have know personal tragedy; many generations have witnessed the destruction of family, social class, or nation...In the span of our lives, change has been even more rapid and pervasive. Consequently, although we have not yet experienced general destruction and ruin -- despite our Syracusan misadventure in Vietnam -- we have suffered nevertheless a serious loss of meaning and direction." From "The Tremble Factor" (1974) when Silber spoke at the Colorado College during its centennial celebration.

Note: This is a theme that Silber explores time and again, one he quoted from several of William Butler Yeats's poems such as "The Second Coming" and "The Great Day."

o "Authority and civil order depend in significant measure on the consent of the governed. The more civilized and enlightened the country, the greater its dependence on the voluntary respect for standards that cannot be enforced by law...We face a crisis of spirit. Its resolution far transcends the power of the state; it is too important, too far-reaching, to be resolved by mere governmental action. Rather, it lies within the grasp of each of us. When we deter mine to govern ourselves -- when each is obedient to the unenforceable -- we shall have regained control over ourselves and thus regained as a nation our capacity for self-government...The crisis that will confront graduating classes for years to come lies not in the state or in the stars, but in ourselves. The future of our country, our future happiness and that of our children depends decisively on whether we as individuals and as a people practice obedience to the unenforceable." From "Obedience to the Unenforceable" (1995), Silber's commencement address at Boston University.

o "The reform of education does not turn on money but rather on how it is spent. We should recruit excellent teachers by doubling their salaries...Do we care more about the welfare of our children than for the educational establishment, the privileges of teachers' unions and the schools of education? If so, our highest priority will be to provide our children with better teachers. Common sense makes obvious what needs to be done. The question is, do we have the will to do it? By our passivity we, the parents and taxpayers, are in the final analysis the most important obstacle to educational reform. We could improve our schools if we tried." From "Roadblocks to Education Reform" (1999), a summary of his observations (and frustrations) while serving as chairman of the Massachusetts Board of Education.

o "One of the great surprises in life is the discovery of one's true self -- the fulfilled person he or she can one day become...Why not tale a shot at the best that is in you? None of us can be greater than what we believe ourselves to be. With the gift of life, we have been given a share in the greatness of our species. No matter how modest our abilities may be, each of us can add to the richness of life and to the joy and fulfillment of the lives of others by partaking in the surprises that inevitably attend us when we strive." From "Life Is a Series of Surprises" (2004) when Silber "felt honored to address" the "dedicated and hardworking" graduates Lackawanna College, "individuals who had earned their degrees despite disadvantages that would have deterred many others."

In his review of Seeking the North Star for The Wall Street Journal, Roger Kimball observes, "Silber's understanding of the importance of the humanities as a leaven for what is noblest in our aspirations sets him apart from the usual technocratic university president, who is more of a fund-raising apparatchik than an intellectual leader. He understood that the index of civilization was a society's commitment to what the early 20th-century British jurist John Fletcher Moulton called 'obedience to the unenforceable.' Civilized life takes place mostly in a realm between the coercive law and complete freedom--a realm governed by such flexible imperatives as taste, manners and custom. More and more, the extent of that gracious dominion has been diminished. It's an odd situation we face."

The last two excerpts from the book that I wish to share now are from "The Choices Are Ours." As mentioned previously, this was a speech that Silber was unable to deliver because of rapidly declining health.

I have selected them to serve as a conclusion to my brief comments about the book because, in my opinion, they express the essence of John Silber's humanity as well as his exceptional intellect and social awareness. Here they are:

"Greed has now infected all parts of our government; a growing relativism erodes our moral sense, which has gradually been replaced by unreflective partisanship and ideological rigidity. But we are not at the end of our greatness."

And then:

"If we were ever to lose discontent with the present and the idealistic demand for a better future, we would lose hope and forfeit all chance for a better life. Our existence and our fulfillment depend upon a knowledge of our history, on what has made us great, on the knowledge which nourishes our capacity not only to hope for a better world but also to believe it possible and to make the sacrifices necessary for its realization."

* * *

I have a somewhat unorthodox suggestion to make: After reading this review and others, and when you begin to read this book, read all or most of the 30 speeches first before you read the superb Foreword by Tom Wolfe and equally superb Introduction by Edwin Delattre. I wish I had. Why? Because, in fairness to John Silber, I think his thoughts and feelings about various subjects should be shared as he expressed them, at full strength, without filters.


Classics for Pleasure
Classics for Pleasure
by Michael Dirda
Edition: Hardcover
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5.0 out of 5 stars "Michael Dirda is the best-read person in America. But he doesn't rub it in." Michael Kinsley, August 7, 2014
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This review is from: Classics for Pleasure (Hardcover)
I agree with Kinsley, presuming to suggest that the same can be said of Joseph Epstein and John Sutherland. All three possess exceptional erudition and have much of great value to say about the "classics" those who created them throughout literary history. What a delight it would be to join them for an evening that begins with beverages of choices, continues through a delicious seven-course dinner, followed by several hours of lively conversation in a study with floor-to-ceiling shelves filled with books and a substantial but sedate fire in an immense stone fireplace.

Since childhood, I have cherished books as "magic carpets" by which to visit human experiences that would not have otherwise been accessible to me. The ten-year siege of Troy, for example, and then Odysseus' ten-year return voyage to Ithaca as well as the Italian Renaissance (and Dante), the Age of Elizabeth (and Shakespeare), and more recently, Hawthorne's New England, Dickens' London, Twain's Mississippi, and Faulkner's Yoknapatawpha County.

More often than not, I am reading and/or re-reading three or four books at any one time and that was the situation recently when accompanying Dirda, Epstein, and Sutherlnd, during their explorations of great literature in the several books they have written thus far.

* * *

In this volume, Dirda organizes his material within eleven thematic chapters when sharing his thoughts about the work of about 90 authors. Here are the themes and subject(s) of greatest interest to me:

Playful Imaginations (including Jaroslav Hasek and S.J. Perelman)
Heroes of Their Time (Christopher Marlowe)
Love's Mysteries (Anna Akhmatova)
Words from the Wise (Lao-tse)
Everyday Magic (The Classic Fairy Tales)
Lives of Consequence (Frederick Douglass and W.H. Auden)
The Dark Side (Mary Shelley)
Traveler's Tales (Thomas More and Isak Dinesen)
The Way We Live Now (Petronius and Anton Chekhov)
Realms of Adventure (Arthur Conan Doyle and Dashiell Hammett)
Encyclopedic Visions (Edward Gibbon and André Malraux)

Please allow a personal digression. I am among those who previously knew nothing about several of the authors and works discussed. This, I think, is a value-added benefit for book lovers because Dirda has identified possible candidates for future consideration. I once took a graduate-level course in 17th century English literature at the University of Chicago and was assigned to read portions of a major work written by Sir Thomas Browne (1605-1682), Pseudodoxia Epidemica (Enquiries into Very Many Received Tenets, and Commonly Presumed Truths) whose title refers to the prevalence of false beliefs and "vulgar errors." Browne was someone whose relentless curiosity took him off the proverbial "beaten path" of status quo, the road frequently taken, received wisdom, to explore new ideas - and new ideas about ideas -- that comprised what was then characterized by Francis Bacon as "the new learning."

I thought of Browne as I worked my way through Dirda's material. Those who read Dirda's books may not learn anything that is new but much (most?) of what they learn will be new to them because - like Browne - he explored, he observed, and he then shared. He enables others to read classics for greater pleasure. I can't think of a higher compliment to pay to him.

The passport provided by Dirda enabled me to reconnect with some old friends but I was also able to make several new ones. (I read the book cover-to-cover, then hopped around a bit.) It remains for other readers to select their own "journeys" from among the choices offered. I do presume to offer one piece of advice: Do not pass on those who are unfamiliar or at least are assumed to be of little (if any) interest. I experienced a number of pleasant surprises that added even more the value of this book to me. Bon voyage!

* * *

Michael Dirda is a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for The Washington Post Book World and the author of the memoir An Open Book and of four collections of essays: Readings, Bound to Please, Book by Book and Classics for Pleasure. He was born in Lorain, Ohio, graduated with highest honors in English from Oberlin College, and received a Ph.D. in comparative literature (medieval studies and European romanticism) from Cornell University. Also, it should be noted that, since 2002, he has been an invested member of the Baker Street Irregulars. I urge you to check out his Amazon page.


Never Be Closing: How to Sell Better Without Screwing Your Clients, Your Colleagues, or Yourself
Never Be Closing: How to Sell Better Without Screwing Your Clients, Your Colleagues, or Yourself
by Tim Hurson
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $20.48
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars How and why "Productive Thinking" can accelerate personal growth and professional development, August 7, 2014
In the film version of his play, Glengarry Glen Ross, David Mamet adds a new character, Blake (played by Alec Baldwin), who visits the Chicago office of a real estate company and challenges the under-performing sales force: ""A-B-C. A-Always, B-Be, C-Closing. Always be closing. ALWAYS BE CLOSING. A-I-D-A. Attention, Interest, Decision, Action. Attention - Do I have you attention? Interest - Are you interested? I know you are, because it's f**k or walk. You close or you hit the bricks." The ABC approach is to say and do whatever is necessary - even if it's illegal and/or unethical - to make the sale.

I thought of that opening scene as I began to read Never Be Closing by Tim Hurson and Tim Dunne. They suggest another approach: NBC. (Steven Yastrow recommends a similar approach in Ditch the Pitch: The Art of Improvised Persuasion. He's convinced - and I agree - that the most effective communications are those that do not seem like a "pitch." Rather, they seem natural, unrehearsed, straightforward, improvised, etc.) According to Hurson and Dunne, their approach -- Productive Selling -- "isn't just a catalog of techniques to wrestle money out of a client's pocket. It' a comprehensive strategy that starts with a well-researched process for identifying and solving problems...At its essence, Productive Selling is about helping people solve problems. It focuses the power of a deliberate problem-solving process to help people. It shows you how to access your creativity to establish and maintain relationships that will be truly useful for both you and your clients over time."

Hurson introduced the Productive Thinking Model (PTM) in his previously published book, Think Better: An Innovator's Guide to Productive Thinking. In this final chapter, he asserts that -- as practiced in much of corporate America -- training "is an astonishing waste of resources" when there is no follow-through on front-end training to embed and then strengthen even more the skills taught. In fact, the word "training" has lost its meaning because it is now more commonly used to refer to information transfer rather than skill development. "Hurson prefers the word "entraining." Why? "In chemistry, to entrain means to trap suspended particles in a solution and carry them along. This concept is an apt metaphor for skill development...Entraining results in a new and different workflow. Keeping those new skill particles suspended in your workflow requires the forging of new synaptic connections, new neural pathways."

Hence the importance, the urgent importance, of mastering the Productive Thinking Model by completing a six-step process:

1. "What's Going On?": Complete a rigorous and comprehensive situation analysis.
2. "What's Success?": Determine the metrics by which impact will be measured while pursuing the given objective.
3. "What's the Question?": Peter Drucker is dead-on: "There is surely nothing quite so useless as doing with great efficiency what should not be done at all." Make certain that the right question or the right problem has been identified. Drill down beyond symptoms,
4. Generate Answers: Assemble diverse points of view and brainstorm, guided and informed by the five underlying principles listed later
5. Forge the Solution: "Refine the most promising answers into robust solutions." Re-read Drucker quote.
6. Align Resources: Formulate an action plan and timeframe, then obtain resources and allocate accordingly.

The Productive Thinking framework is based on a set of underlying principles that are ways of thinking that pervade the creative problem-solving process. Here are five, accompanied by comments of mine:

1. "Be Aware of Patterned Thinking." Albert Einstein once suggested that the way of thinking that created the problems is not the way of thinking needed to solve them. Viewed another way, James O'Toole cautions against becoming hostage of what he characterizes as "the ideology of comfort and the tyranny of custom."

2. "Separate Your Thinking." That is, separate creative thinking from analytical thinking. Both can be immensely valuable but not simultaneously. The most productive brainstorming sessions generate lots of ideas. Each must then be evaluated. These are two mental processes that must be separated or neither will succeed.

3. "Reach for the Third Third." That is, during an ideation session, the first third tends to generate ideas that are average, mediocre, etc. The second third is when participants begin to reach, stretch, ask "What if?" and "Why Not?" challenge assumptions and premises, and begin to generate a few promising options. Only during the third portion of the session do breakthrough ideas begin to occur. The first two portions are essential to reaching the third.

4. "Look for Unexpected Connections." With all due respect to the importance of "connecting the dots," only on rare occasion when beginning the process are all the dots apparent. Here's how I explain this: Everyone can see all the dots in the box; the challenge is to locate others outside the given box (or inside other boxes) that must also be considered. Probably at least some of which should also be connected. More often than not, all of the chains in a box are incomplete. That's a major cause of problems to be solved.

5. "The Power of the Debrief." Hurson and Dunne provide specific tools that can be of great assistance during this critically important process of review, evaluation, confirmation or revision, and then (hopefully) commitment to appropriate action(s). Prior to major initiatives, a rigorous briefing can help to ensure its success. Similarly, an even more rigorous debriefing later will help to ensure that lessons learned will then of substantial value in months and years to come.

Throughout Never Be Closing, they provide a wealth of information, insights, and counsel that can help leaders in any organization -- whatever its size and nature may be -- to establish and then continuously improve Productive Thinking sales initiatives "without screwing" their clients, their colleagues, or themselves."

The title of this commentary correctly suggests that "Productive Thinking" can accelerate personal growth and professional development. What about organizations? I am also convinced that Productive Thinking at all levels and in all areas of the given enterprise will enable it to achieve and then sustain outstanding performance in a global marketplace in which competition is more ferocious each day.

There is an observation by Yogi Berra quoted in Think Better that is one of two with which I conclude this brief commentary: "In theory there's no difference between theory and practice. In practice there is." Here's the other, from Thomas Edison: "Vision without execution is hallucination." My sincere hope is that everyone who reads this book will become well-prepared to do much less "selling" and much more "achieving."


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