Thursday, March 30, 2023

For Profit: A History of Corporations (William Magnuson)

Over time, corporations have grown in size and influence, generating massive amounts of wealth in many cases while “moving fast and breaking things” in others. The history of corporations dates back to before the Roman Empire and have evolved from being private-public partnerships to private entities that generally benefit society at large. In For Profit: A History of Corporations, William Magnuson discusses the history of corporations from their incorporation as a concept in the Roman Republic.

Initially, corporations were established to help the Roman Republic with services and projects by wealthy individuals who teamed up with others to provide capital and resources to Rome as a means to help them in their battles against enemies outside of the Republic’s growing boundaries. Corporations have evolved since then; Magnuson looks at eight examples of different companies and how they impacted both the greater population and the evolution of business. Those impacts changed over time, from the benevolence of the Medici family in Florence to the monies given by Rockerfeller and Carnegie for public libraries and other civic projects. However, Magnuson argues that corporations haven’t always behaved admirably over time.

Magnuson closes the book by arguing for a number of steps that corporations can take to reclaim a spirit of civic virtue, similar to “stakeholder capitalism” that you may hear about in the media. While some of the suggestions are noble if not altruistic, some (such as treating workers right) are common sense approaches that should be adhered to. Magnuson’s book is a concise snapshot of the evolution of corporations over time.


Thursday, March 16, 2023

Brotherhood of the Flying Coffin: The Glider Pilots of World War II (Scott McGaugh)

The Waco CG-4A was a military glider that was used by the Americans in World War II to carry troops and cargo behind enemy lines while also taking out enemy military installations. These planes could fly independently or get towed behind a larger cargo plane and were used to carry out high-risk military operations. They became known as “flying coffins” because of the risk of being shot out of the sky, or simply crashing due to turbulence and weather. Scott McGaugh captures the stories of these brave men who flew in these planes in Brotherhood of the Flying Coffin: The Glider Pilots of World War II. 

McGaugh’s book goes into detail about the use of these military gliders in the European theater of World War II, as well as the stories of those who flew in these risky missions from their debut in Sicily in 1943 to their final use in the late stages of World War II in 1945. Their most critical contributions arguably occurred in the Battle of the Bulge, delivering medical goods and gasoline to troops that were surrounded by Germans.

McGaugh highlights the stories of these battle-tested individuals, bringing to the forefront unsung and often anonymous individuals who contributed to the Allied victory in Europe. His detailed analysis of their contributions, along with transcribed oral histories, brings to life another chapter in the history of World War II.


Tuesday, March 7, 2023

Bookshop by the Sea (Denise Hunter)

When I see the word "bookshop" in a book title, it's usually an automatic read for me. These types of bookd usually involve romance (like one of my favorites - How to Find Love in a Bookshop by Veronica Henry) and the much of the action takes place in, well, a bookshop. Denise Hunter's Bookshop by the Sea adds a third intriguing factor to these books -- the sea. But unlike others, it didn't resonate as well with me.

The book begins at Sophie Lawson's sister's wedding, where Sophie sees the best man (and her ex-boyfriend), Aiden, again. Years ago, Aiden moved away to start his own business, leaving Sophie to take care of her sick mother and two younger siblings. Sophie's dream was always to open a bookshop in a beach town, but she needed to put her dreams aside to take care of her family. Now years later, it's finally time to pursue her dream when Aiden enters the picture again. 

Bookshop by the Sea suffers from too many implausible scenarios. How much bad luck can happen to one person in the span of a few weeks? Plus, I felt the title was misleading. While some of the book is about Sophie opening her bookshop, much of it takes place away from there. All in all, this book was just ok for me.