Monday, October 11, 2021

A Brief History of Motion: From the Wheel, to the Car, to What Comes Next (Tom Standage)

Motion and movement have propelled us from a hunting and gathering populace to one that lives in major cities, can travel around the world in a matter of days, or have goods shipped to us through the power of our phones. From the first wheels several thousand years ago to the advent of travel by chariot, carriage and car, motion and movement have helped humanity develop, prosper, and arguably wreak havoc on others and on our environment.

Tom Standage’s A Brief History of Motion: From the Wheel, to the Car, to What Comes Next, explores the evolution of transportation and how it has impacted us over the millenia and offers a projection of what Standage sees in its future. A chunk of focus is on the automobile and how much upheaval it unfurled on society. Automobiles were not popular with all initially, and the rules enforcing automotive travel took decades to standardize with the noted variance of driving on the left versus the right side of the road. However, cars changed how the world was administered and how cities were laid out. 


While many urbanites feel that the current modes of transportation are not sustainable for the long haul, there are questions on how those modes change going forward. Standage closes out his book by talking about those likely changes - autonomous vehicles, ride sharing, electric bike and scooter sharing, and other methods. While the car may not fully go away, and Standage does not argue that the car will become obsolete, he does argue that how we commute and where we commute will very likely do so. Some of that is due to the impacts of COVID and realizing that work from home in part or in full is a viable option, and much of it is due to the impacts of technology on transportation.


MY RATING - 4


Thursday, September 30, 2021

About Time: A History of Civilization in Twelve Clocks (David Rooney)

Everything in our lives revolves around time -- our work schedules, our meals, our exercise classes, and so much more. For thousands of years, people have measured time in varying ways and through varying devices. David Rooney’s About Time: A History of Civilization in Twelve Clocks chronicles the evolution of time and timekeeping. 

Civilizations throughout history have used some method to keep track of time. From sundials in Rome to water clocks in imperial China, from observatories in India to modern day GPS satellites, clocks have helped us travel, build, modernize, and more. Those in power have used time to wield power, make money, and govern. Some have also struggled with time and have fought those in power over it. About Time shares many several moments throughout history to show how time has been used. 


About Time was a fun read, albeit a brief one. I would have loved to see more backstory on some of the earlier technology and to see the last chapter expounded out a bit more. That said, this book is a casual, enjoyable use of your free time and is well-suited for any history buff.


MY RATING - 3.5

Tuesday, September 28, 2021

Wish You Were Here (Jodi Picoult)

The first book I ever read by Jodi Picoult was The Pact. I made the mistake of reading that on vacation -- the mistake was that all I wanted to do was read. It was that engrossing. I read everything she's ever written up to 2020's The Book of Two Ways, which brought my streak to a screeching halt. It was so heavy and filled with ancient Egyptian history that I couldn't get through it. While I liked Wish You Were Here a little more, I didn't like it as much as other Jodi books.

The main character, Diana O'Toole, is positive that her boyfriend, Finn, will propose on their upcoming trip to the Galapagos. But as a surgical resident, Finn must cancel the trip because of "all hands on deck" at the hospital. At this point, no one knew exactly how bad Covid would get. Implausibly, he tells Diana she should still go, and she does. But, of course, she gets stranded and only has limited contact with Finn, who tells her that things are not going well. Since her hotel has closed, a local family puts her up, and she grows close with them. 

A warning that the majority of Wish You Were Here is about the pandemic, so if you're not ready to read about that yet, you might want to steer clear. I think what I found most frustrating is that Diana in the Galapagos really seems like a completely different book than what Finn is going through in the States. The mesh wasn't seamless. All in all, I would put this toward the bottom of the list of Picoult books, but that's because she has so many other ones I liked better.

MY RATING - 3

Available Nov. 30, 2021


Thursday, September 16, 2021

The Deadline Effect: How to Work Like It's the Last Minute -- Before the Last Minute (Christopher Cox)

Christopher Cox’s The Deadline Effect: How to Work Like It’s the Last Minute -- Before the Last Minute discusses how to manage the schedule in advance of a deadline to ensure better outcomes. The author, a writer and editor by trade, is accustomed to deadlines in his work and wanted to find out what the secret of managing them was. In this book, he shares how people in several different industries live with deadlines in their work.


Cox observes industries as different as flower bulb harvesters, a restaurant, a ski resort operator, an assembly line of an airplane, a pitch competition in front of venture capitalists, and big box retail. In each, Cox finds that planning, time management, and execution to strategy all matter to varying degrees. The author also finds that in some instances, fear and anxiety even continue for seasoned veterans who have opened several restaurants, been through several Black Fridays in retail, or have been a part of multiple pitch competitions. 


In The Deadline Effect, Cox shares that deadlines do help us perform better and respond more often (particularly to surveys or items that require one to sign up). Deadlines certainly might not help us avoid procrastinating but they will limit the length of one’s procrastination. With better planning and time management, we just may be able to better live with a deadline in the future.


MY RATING - 3.5

 

Friday, September 10, 2021

Republic of Detours: How the New Deal Paid Broke Writers to Rediscover America (Scott Borchert)

The Federal Writers Project (FWP) was part of the FDR-era Works Progress Administration (WPA), established in 1935 to employ jobless writers during the Great Depression. Former best-selling novelists and acclaimed poets, along with individuals with lesser qualifications, took up the ranks of writers whose goal was to rediscover America through words. The FWP set out to create guides to each of the 48 states, plus a number of regional and local guides, filled with stories of local folklore, formerly enslaved people, recipes, and other traditions.

Republic of Detours, written by Scott Borchert, shares the story of this ambitious and at times noisy undertaking. In tracing the FWP from its idealistic early days to its gradual demise at the hands of Congressional committees and subsequent reduction in funding, the author brings to the forefront names you have heard of, such as Zora Neale Hurston, along with others that may be less well-known, such as Vardis Fisher. The FWP, while hosting writers of various capabilities and reputation, also was the breeding ground for future literary talent such as Studs Terkel and John Cheever. Speaking of breeding ground, the gradual demise of the FWP was due to the thoughts of some in Congress that it harbored a large number of Communists (somewhat true) and that they were using their writings to promote communism (not so true).

The FWP, and its sister agency the Federal Theatre Project, were two New Deal-era agencies that were not as well known as the WPA. However, Borchert’s argument that the FWP’s impact in helping revive the publishing industry and increase interest in domestic travel were essential to the recovery from the Depression. Additionally, the writers’ intent to create books that were broad, diverse, and inclusive helped nudge the needle on civil rights and unite a country in the midst of economic turmoil.

MY RATING - 4.5


Saturday, September 4, 2021

Seven Deadly Economic Sins: Obstacles to Prosperity and Happiness Every Citizen Should Know (James R. Otteson)

The seven deadly sins that many of us know include greed, pride, wrath, and others. These sins are human flaws that can impact our happiness and the well-being of others. James R. Otteson, a professor and economist at Notre Dame, believes there are economic sins as well that wreak havoc on our lives and on society. Those economic sins are outlined in his new book Seven Deadly Economic Sins: Obstacles to Prosperity and Happiness Every Citizen Should Know.

Otteson’s seven economic sins are misconceptions held by many (including a good number of economists) about wealth, progress, equality, and the markets (not just the stock variety). Otteson mixes his arguments with economic theory and moral philosophy, drawing on Adam Smith as one of his primary inspirations. He also ropes in Greek, Roman, and other early Western thinkers to help shape his arguments. Not all of his arguments will be agreeable to economists, and some will resonate more strongly than others. His strongest argument, in my opinion, rests with “Progress is not inevitable.” See the Dark Ages and China’s lost century as evidence for moments where civilizations can take significant steps back. 


Seven Deadly Economic Sins is geared towards those with an interest in business, economics, philosophy, and even history. While I did not agree with all of the author’s arguments, his research and reasoning are well-founded and solid throughout the book. One intriguing part of the so-called “dismal science” known as economics is that there is often plenty of room for debate and discussion on issues. Otteson’s seven deadly economic sins certainly warrant closer examination, more study, and debate. Whether his views are the ones that take hold or another theory comes forth is yet to be determined.


MY RATING - 4


Monday, August 30, 2021

Dopamine Nation: Finding Balance in the Age of Indulgence (Dr. Anna Lembke)


Dopamine is a chemical messenger (also known as a neurotransmitter) that creates a reaction in the human body to various pleasure stimuli. Watching a cute dog video on YouTube, getting a slew of likes on Facebook, winning a bet in an online casino, running, drugs, alcohol, sex are all things that create that dopamine stimulus - and all are activities that can become addictive. Dr. Anna Lembke wrote Dopamine Nation particularly to address our abundance of stimuli and the increasing numbers of people who are struggling to manage it.


Lembke, a psychiatrist, spends much of the book talking about the addictive nature of technology and how it has fueled overconsumption - that despite tremendous wealth and access to resources, we are increasingly unhappy as a result. She notes that this unhappiness - or pain - is the body’s response to constantly seeking out and getting its dopamine fix from technology and destructive behaviors. Borrowing on the lived experiences of her patients, Lembke illustrates how these individuals battled through their addictions and how they worked to address them. She also shares their successes and setbacks in showing that consumption and addiction are fierce struggles.


Lembke’s illustrations of modern addiction and the issues it is unloading on the West are dynamic and powerful. She weaves in steps to take to address these issues throughout the book. While Lembke doesn’t quite take the smartphone out of your hand, she does advocate for some thoughtful steps she utilizes around her own home - no smartphones at the dinner table, for example. Many of us, however, could arguably use stronger nudges and encouragement to tweet less and smell the roses more.


MY RATING - 4.5