Friday, December 23, 2022

The Rise of the Rest: How Entrepreneurs in Surprising Places are Building the New American Dream (Steve Case)

Steve Case made his mark as one of the cofounders of AOL in the 1990’s, eventually becoming a venture capitalist and investor. Over the past decade, Case has spearheaded bus tours of a number of mid-sized cities throughout America to help promote innovation and venture capital for startup companies in parts of the country that typically are not known for technological innovation. He chronicles his journeys over the past decade in The Rise of the Rest: How Entrepreneurs In Surprising Places Are Building the New American Dream.

Case breaks his book down into small stories and case studies into areas of America where innovation is taking place outside of the “known” hubs of Silicon Valley, New York, and Boston. In each of these examples, Case offers insight into how these communities have supported and cultivated innovation, providing the incubation for startups to grow to scale. Case highlights several examples of companies his group invested in through his bus tours and pitch competitions, highlighting what factors guided the decisions to award them money.

The book spends very little time highlighting the “secret sauce” that cities should strive for in becoming hubs for regional innovation. That sauce, if you’re wondering, is a combination of corporate, government, and community support and money. While Case spends much of the book talking about some of the nation’s successful innovation cities, I think more attention could have been paid to discuss how more national investment to the local level would be useful, along with how larger companies and the federal government could help level up the Pittsburghs and Salt Lake Citys of the world. 


Sunday, December 18, 2022

The Crossroads of Civilization: A History of Vienna (Angus Robertson)

Vienna has held unique importance in European and international affairs for centuries. From rising to prominence with the Habsburg Dynasty, to hosting an international peace conference in the wake of Napoleon’s defeat in 1814-1815, to its present as a home to promote diplomacy and international relations, Vienna is the crossroads of not only Europe but also the world. Angus Robertson, a Scottish politician whose prior media career included a stint reporting on news from Vienna, documents the rich history of Vienna in Crossroads of Civilization: A History of Vienna.

Many of us know that great works of art and music were created in Vienna and many great historical events occurred within the Austrian capital. Robertson’s book documents much of the Habsburg dynasty and its contribution to Europe and prominence in European affairs during the 17th, 18th, and 19th Centuries. He also devotes much of the book to the chaos after the end of Habsburg rule in 1918, the fascism that soon took over, and Nazi occupation during World War II. After the war, Vienna took on its current role as a more neutral international city, hosting several global agencies and acting as a major scene of espionage between Western Europe and the Communist Bloc during the Cold War.

Despite no longer being an imperial capital, Vienna’s adaptability as a cosmopolitan city has served it well in becoming the modern crossroads of political and scientific diplomacy. Crossroads of Civilization effectively captures the important role Vienna played and will continue to play in culture and politics throughout Europe and beyond.


Monday, December 12, 2022

The War of Nerves: Inside the Cold War Mind (Martin Sixsmith)

The Cold War between the United States and its allies, and the Soviet Union and its allies, was a long-standing conflict of psychology and tension. While some proxy wars were fought in places like Korea, Vietnam and Afghanistan, the bulk of the Cold War was fought through propaganda and diplomatic channels. In his book, Martin Sixsmith, a journalist with an extensive amount of experience covering Russia and the Soviet Union, talks about The War of Nerves that dominated much of the Cold War.

Between Nixon, Brezhnev, Khruschev, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Reagan, Gorbachev, and Stalin, the US and Soviet leadership during the Cold War fought each other over the airwaves, through trying to out-muscle and out-science each other, and through the use of propaganda or outright control (in the case of the Warsaw Pact countries) of their citizenry. With the looming threat of atomic warfare hanging over the world, American schoolkids were taught to duck under desks, and Soviets were taught how to evacuate or find a nearby bomb shelter should war break out. Sixsmith points out stories of individuals that still vividly recall the stress and tension of the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962 and even to this day have nightmares or fears of “the bomb” being unleashed.

I found The War of Nerves an intriguing take on how both the Soviets and Americans viewed each other during this timeframe. Sixsmith plays an arguably neutral role in this book, pointing out flaws in American foreign policy towards the Soviet Union and subsequently Russia, as well as the flaws of the Soviets and Eastern Europe throughout the Cold War. While some Americans may not find Sixsmith’s detailing befitting the view that America “won” the Cold War, his understanding of Russian history and Russian thinking is well worth paying attention to. Sixsmith tellingly points out that today’s decision-makers are no better at understanding psychology than their predecessors, that we still have nuclear missiles pointed at numbers of cities throughout both countries, and that our collective outcomes as nations depend on the personalities and decision-making of those who lead us.