Monday, January 29, 2024

President Garfield: From Radical to Unifier (C.W. Goodyear)

James Garfield's six month presidency is noted more for the reforms that happened after his assassination than for what had happened in the few months he was alive. The assassination brought about long-needed civil service reform in the federal government, which eliminated much of the patronage and "spoils system" that had marked federal government employment in preceding decades. Garfield's life and political career were more noted for his being a leader in the early Republican party and one that pivoted at times from progressive to pragmatic. C.W. Goodyear's book President Garfield: From Radical to Unifier highlights the life and career of a man whose political moderation helped propel him to the highest office in the United States.

The Republicans in the 1870's were divided into two roughly equal factions. The Stalwarts were a more progressive branch of the party that believed heavily in political patronage and rewarding fellow Stalwarts with plum federal jobs. Half-Breeds were the opposing faction that were more moderate but believed in civil service reform. Garfield, a member of Congress from the Civil War through 1880, drifted from the Radical camp into a more moderate position as he rose in leadership within the Republican party. The battle between Stalwarts and Half-Breeds, which had paused during the Hayes administration, exploded in the 1880 Republican Convention as factions between James Blaine and Ulysses Grant vied for over thirty ballots on becoming the party’s nominee for President. Garfield emerged as a compromise candidate and won on the 36th ballot, eventually winning the Presidency. 

Garfield was generally known for being a pragmatic moderate and a reasoned voice in the Republican party. Goodyear’s book does a great job of capturing the story of a President that many of us know little about and whose administration is known more for what happened after his death than during it.


Tuesday, January 16, 2024

Open Talent: Leveraging the Global Workforce to Solve Your Biggest Challenges (John Winsor and Jin H. Paik)

The Covid-19 pandemic reset much of what was considered conventional wisdom in the workforce. Many workers left their employers and transitioned into gig work or even started their own ventures. Companies, in response to this shift, have had to adapt to find talent both internally and externally. However, many are struggling to adapt successfully. Harvard Business School's John Winsor and Jin H. Paik discuss how companies can better harness talented workers in Open Talent: Leveraging the Global Workforce to Solve Your Biggest Challenges.

The authors argue that internal collaboration and leveraging external resources will help companies improve productivity. From a detailed rundown of "gig work" companies to internal strategies that companies can utilize, this book thoroughly details best practices that companies can experiment with, along with case studies that show successful adaptation, improved internal innovation, and reduced employee turnover in recent years.

As workplaces continue to evolve thanks to the call for flexibility from white collar workers, Paik and Winsor argue that innovation on sourcing talent and breaking down internal silos will help improve company performance. Open Talent advocates for companies opening up to new ideas as critical to success in the coming years.


Monday, January 8, 2024

Spies: The Epic Intelligence War Between East and West (Calder Walton)

Espionage is not solely the stuff of James Bond movies. People like Aldirch Ames, Robert Hanssen, and Harold “Kim” Philby have all served the Soviet Union or Russia with information while working for Western intelligence agencies. There’s a long, dubious, and tumultuous history of espionage between the West and Russia that goes back over 100 years. Calder Walton captures this history in Spies: The Epic Intelligence War Between East and West.

Spies is a detailed, well-researched history of Russia, America, and British intelligence since World War I, with much of its attention paid to the Cold War era through the present day. Russian meddling in Western affairs is nothing recent or new, Walton argues, pointing to various attempts by Russian-influenced groups to run interference on Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher in the 1980’s. Unlike then, however, Russia’s attempts are more brazen and direct, using new methodologies in an attempt to control minds. Walton also dedicates some of his book to discussing China’s increasing use of spies and espionage in Western politics over the past decade and how China is likely going to be the biggest challenge to the West in the coming decade.

Spies is a thorough history of West vs. Russia espionage and how it has evolved over the decades and become more sophisticated and subtle. Walton provides practical arguments and lessons for the coming decades and how trusting and funding the intelligence movement is helpful for promoting democratic ideals and countering those who wish to undermine the West.


Tuesday, January 2, 2024

Amazing Grace: A Cultural History of the Beloved Hymn (James Walvin)

The song Amazing Grace was written in the 18th Century by John Newton, at the time an Anglican minister in a small town. This song has become a staple of American music over the past 200 years, iconic for its message of redemption and forgiveness, sung by audiences of all sorts at various occasions. James Walvin shares its background in Amazing Grace: A Cultural History of the Beloved Hymn.

Walvin’s story is a brisk read - less than 200 pages - all very detailed and powerful. The song is a reflection of Newton's personal experiences. He wasn’t particularly religious as a child and went into the Royal Navy as a young man. After, he captained slave ships and survived a particularly bad storm off the coast of Ireland. He subsequently became religious and eventually ended his seafaring to become a minister. Newton over time became an abolitionist and in his latter years was an advocate for the end of slavery in England, which finally occurred in the year of his death in 1807. The song was written in 1772 and eventually became a staple of American music, particularly in Black and rural churches throughout the South and Midwest, gradually working its way into commercial prominence thanks to several influential musicians. While the hymn didn’t capture the initial and lasting popularity in England that it has in America, recent years have shown a fresh appreciation in the UK.

The author’s research and writing are powerful and compelling. If you’re interested in musical history, religion, and both the human and American experience, Amazing Grace sums up much of our complex, ever-evolving story.