For me, minimalism has always been a complicated topic. On the one hand, I'm drawn to the flexibility inherent to such a lifestyle, and especially to its efficiency. It's probably the engineer in my talking, but I hate to see things go to waste, whether that's food, money, time, or "stuff." Minimalism would, it seem, logically result in a highly efficient lifestyle. On the other hand, that same desire not to see things go to waste means that I am often disinclined to throw things away.
I feel a little bad knocking this book down to three stars, because it's not entirely this book's fault. I set out a few weeks ago to teach myself to program in Python. I have some loose programming experience, but it often comes up as something I feel would make my job significantly easier, and simply as a valuable tool to add to my toolkit. Since I have long taught myself different subjects by finding books about them (see: theoretical astrophysics in seventh grade), my first stop was to see what relatively inexpensive Kindle books were out there that I could download and read to learn how to code in Python.
Most of the time, when I read biographies, they're thick, heavy pieces that cover in great detail every year of a person's life, from the time their born to the time they die. Although some eras of that life are inevitably covered in more detail than others, since there is simply more information and more to discuss, the level of detail is generally fairly consistent. This is certainly the case with most of Chernow's biographies, of which I am very fond. With The Accidental President, however, we are presented with an incredibly zoomed-in view of, as the subtitle suggests, the first four months of Truman's presidency.
This book, with its focus on Schriever and how he became known as the father of the high-technology Air Force, is more directly relevant to my professional life than most of what I read, what with the current efforts to stand up an independent Space Force. However, it is more than simply a chronicle of Schriever's efforts to build an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM). In fact, for all that this book uses Schriever as a common thread, Schriever seemed to exist in this narrative to assist in bringing all of the other pieces and players to the stage at the right times
There was more than just discussion of Apollo in Rocket Men. Kurson sought to place the mission in its historical and geopolitical context. Although 1969 and Apollo 11 is what most people remember today, Apollo 8 and the events of 1968 were perhaps the true "moon shot" part of the entire program. Considering the events of this year, the inclusion of that context made for a more meaningful story. In 1968, America was torn by riots, deep political divisions, repeated tragedy, and a flu epidemic. Sound familiar? We do not today live in unprecedented times. History may not repeat itself, but as Mark Twain said, it does rhyme.
That being said, this book does have its place. The synthesis it provides is thorough and insightful, and it provides a robust terminology with which to simplify the approach to what is really an incredibly complex concept - the concept, in fact, that Adam Smith attempted to communicate in Wealth of Nations and never quite managed to clarify. The concept of the infinite game is really a question of taking a long view or a short view. Finite games are about short views, infinite games are about long views.
Unlike many other history books, which look at grand, sweeping ideas and focus on facts, dates, statistics, and artifacts, Brook presents major portions of Chinese history through the lens of narratives, sort of like miniature biographies. Each chapter focuses on a different individual of whom we have a record and who can be used to explain and demonstrate the evolution of China in that time period. This format helps keep the book from falling into the trap of many other nonfiction works I have read recently, where the first 1/3rd to 1/2 of the book is interesting, and the remainder is repetitive.
Sometimes it's interesting to read a biography of a lesser-known historical figure, like President James Monroe. He was the last of the American Founding Fathers to serve as president, yet almost nothing has survived into the common body of modern knowledge about him. Perhaps this McGrath biography will change that.
With this review, I guess I'm writing about writing about writing. At least, I think that's the right number of layers. You know, I've never really had much in the way of formal writing education. I took a grand total of one creative writing course in high school, and I only took one English course of any kind in college. In my defense, my studies of astronautical engineering were somewhat time consuming. However, I've never done a lot of reading about writing, either, especially considering my penchant for teaching myself things by reading books on them.
Or, as I wanted to title this post: A Splendid Review. Unfortunately, I wouldn't go so far as to call this a splendid book. You might be starting to think that I'm just biased against nonfiction, considering that I think the majority of the nonfiction books I've reviewed on the site have all been described as something along the lines of "mediocre," but I promise there are some that I would call excellent. Chernow's biographies of Washington and Hamilton, for instance, or another splendid biography on Lincoln, or several books on theoretical astrophysics...unfortunately, I read those before I started doing book reviews on the site, and it just so happens that the nonfiction books that I've read since I started have been somewhat disappointing.