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.



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.


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.


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.


Friday, August 27, 2021

The Lies That Bind (Emily Giffin)

I've read and enjoyed quite a few books by Emily Giffin and even reviewed First Comes Love on this blog way back in 2016. I don't know what happened with The Lies That Bind though -- there was a lot I didn't enjoy about this one.

In a bar late one night, Cecily Gardner is trying to stop herself from calling her ex-boyfriend, Matthew. She hears someone implore her not to do it -- that person turns out to be Grant, a guy she forms an instant connection with and quickly falls in love with. The problem is that Grant is about to move overseas.

If the book stopped there, it might have been OK. But then 9/11 in New York City is brought into the mix in a ridiculous, borderline offensive way. Cecily spots Grant's face on a "missing" poster, meaning that someone else is looking for him. She soon discovers that Grant is not the person she thought he was. 

The one question I had as I was reading this was "Why?". I'm not sure what the point of this book was, and I kept asking myself why I was reading it. The characters were not very interesting and some of them were hideous human beings. Hopefully Giffin's next book will be better than this.

MY RATING - 1.5 

Tuesday, August 24, 2021

Checkmate in Berlin: The Cold War Showdown That Shaped the Modern World (Giles Milton)

The years after the end of World War II were marked by the development of the Cold War between the Soviet Union and the collaboration of Western Europe and America.  The unfolding of the Iron Curtain across Europe was most pronounced with events in Berlin. The city’s gradual split into West and East zones, free and communist, is told in Giles Milton’s Checkmate in Berlin: The Cold War Showdown That Shaped the Modern World.

Berlin’s postwar years were governed by American, British, French, and Russian military leaders, each with differing objectives for how the city would be governed but under an initial agreement that the city would be jointly run. Berlin resided within Germany’s Soviet zone of occupation, over 50 miles from British and American controlled zones in the future West Germany. The Russians, having reached the city first, tried in vain to establish communist control throughout the city but were only successful within the sector that they controlled. As the city and its governing committees gradually split into two camps, the Soviets and West were increasingly at odds with each other, leading to espionage and heightened military action that occasionally spilled into fighting.

Eventually, development of a Soviet blockade prevented supplies from British and American controlled German zones from reaching Berlin. American and British aircraft teamed up to respond to a city that was cut off by road and rail. The Berlin Airlift, as it is known, was a tremendous feat of logistical planning and execution. The last third of the book dives into the names and execution of one of the greatest relief operations ever.

Checkmate in Berlin is a fast-paced, entertaining read that for history fans will provide a great dive into the 1940’s and the developing Cold War as seen from those in Berlin.


Thursday, August 19, 2021

Fears of a Setting Sun: The Disillusionment of America's Founders (Dennis C. Rasmussen)

Our nation’s Founders were revered (if not worshipped) for generations until we learned more and reckoned more with their flaws as humans. However, the documents they generated, especially the Declaration of Independence and Constitution, are still held in incredible regard by many as important parts of America’s institutions. Author Dennis Rasmussen’s Fears of a Setting Sun talks about how several of the nation’s Founding Fathers deemed the American constitutional experiment a failure that was unlikely to last.

The author pulls the pessimism from a variety of individuals and for a variety of reasons: Washington hated increasing American partisanship; Hamilton did not think America’s federal government was strong enough; Adams believed Americans lacked civic virtue; and Jefferson expressed concerns about the rise of sectionalism and factionalism. Not all Founders shared such doubts about America’s future; James Madison was quite optimistic about the future of the country and offered a much more level-headed analysis of his fellow citizens.

The sun that is referenced in the book title alludes to a story that came out of the end of the Constitutional Convention in 1787. Ben Franklin alluded to a half-sun that was carved in the back of George Washington’s chair, remarking “I have often looked at that picture (carving) behind the President without being able to tell whether it was rising or setting. I have the happiness to know that it is a rising and not a setting sun.” Rasmussen’s analysis that many Founders, as they aged, would have felt differently may come as a surprise. However, given America’s trajectory over the past 230 years, the sun arguably has risen, despite our imperfections and major warts, and Rasmussen astutely notes that many of their fears never came to pass.