Well, I did it again. When I consulted my reading list to pick a new book to read after finishing Meditations With Cows, instead of picking a new or well-known or at least commonly approachable book that people actually would search for and by extension perhaps find my site, I picked another ancient text that only a few people have heard of and fewer decide to read. Let it never be said that I am a slave to the search engine algorithms. That being said, it does continue my tour of historic pieces of world literature (we recently reviewed The Bhagavad Gita, and The Story of Burnt Njal, checking off (roughly) India and Iceland, plus the Middle East with the Babur-Nama), and I have legitimately been interested in reading this for awhile, it being one of the few historical autobiographies from that region of the world. In truth, doing a sort of world-tour of ancient literature is proving a very fascinating exercise, and one that I would wholly recommend (as long as you have some patience).
If I had to describe this book in a single sentence, it would be this: it's A Little House on the Prairie, if Laura Ingalls Wilder had been a 21st century hippie. That might sound like an odd combination, and...it was. In fact, I'm fairly certain that the main reason this book exists is because the author got started in the early days of blogging with a semi-unique story and pictures of cute baby cows and coyotes, gathered a lot of followers, and then wrote a book based on that following.
In my mind, one of the most significant drawbacks of the modern education system is its tendency to silo or stovepipe ideas and topics. Yet as I learned in The Substance of Civilization, it was partially the work of Flemish artists that led to the invention of the movable type printing press...
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.