Saturday, February 04, 2017

The Undoing Project by Michael Lewis

The Undoing Project by Michael Lewis was the latest book from the bestselling author who I've now read eight book by, with the others: Flash Boys, The Big Short, Boomerang, The New New Thing, The Blind Side, Moneyball, and Home Game. 

The Undoing Project has the subtitle A Friendship that Changed Our Minds and is about Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky, Israeli psychologists credited as the forefathers or at least popularizers of the fields of Decision Sciences and Behavioral Economics. Lewis details in the book how the two men greatly influenced people including economists and writers Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein, NBA General Manager Daryl Morey, and Lewis himself, with Moneyball being in many ways about the need to mistrust intuition, and the work of Kahneman and Tversky about where the bias behind that intuition comes from. Much of the contribution from Kahneman and Tversky was about how people make decisions, and how their choices get framed by circumstances. People develop beliefs and make decisions not in a vacuum, but out of the context around them that leads to those beliefs and decisions.

Along with The Undoing Project being on the work of Kahnman and Tversky, Lewis also very much wrote a biography of the two men, starting from childhood, then with each in the Israeli military, later close collaborators, and with their relationship strained prior to Tversky's death. It's noted in the book that Israelis were interested in people and what made them tick, and both men brave soldiers, with each brilliant, and yet having wildly diverging personalities. Kahneman at times felt like he wasn't developing fully his ideas, whereas Tversky's views commanded attention from early in his career and he certainly seemed both aware of that and to bask in it. Additionally, Tversky was combative about his ideas and decisive regarding his time and attention, with Lewis writing that "his likes and dislikes could be inferred directly and accurately and at all times from his actions." Part of the book by Lewis was very much about the difference between the men and how they drifted apart.

From later in Tversky's career I found compelling mention of how he was brought in by the Training Department of Delta Airlines to help improve pilot decision making, and the result of that was an encouragement of co-pilots to more readily question pilots and their actions, basically to work on the circumstances around which decisions are made to improve the odds of the correct ones resulting.

Lewis noted at the end of the book how after Tversky died, Kahneman continued producing well-received work and is the author of the best seller Thinking, Fast and Slow and The Undoing Project presents a really thorough look at the men, their work, and how they influenced those to follow.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Tools of Titans by Tim Ferriss

Tools of Titans by Tim Ferriss was a really good book with the subtitle The Tactics, Routines, and Habits of Billionaires, Icons, and World-Class Performers.

The book is split into into Healthy, Wealthy, and Wise sections and along with the wisdom and recommendations from well over a hundred people, Ferriss includes his own thoughts and highlights where ideas from one person intersect with another. This is the type of book that could be revisited many times over and the concepts and recommendations I found particularly of note, and then resources mentioned, are the following...

Within the Healthy section is the import of exercising, however briefly, first thing when you wake and mentioned a few times is the health benefit of both cold and heat exposure, like via a sauna, and the remarkable sounding exercise of AcroYoga.

Ferriss notes that more than 80% of the people featured in Tools of Titans have some form of daily mindfulness or meditation practice and noted multiple times in the book are Transcendental and Vipassana Meditation. Additionally on the subject of mental heath was the notion of if you can't make yourself happy, try to make others happy, or even just wish for specific people to be happy, and see the impact it has on you. Also mentioned was the idea of going first, being willing to make the opening friendly interaction with strangers, and if depressed, to express gratitude, and remember that you're not alone and are better than you think.

One thing I found particularly interesting from the book is the notion of writing morning pages, and the related idea of doing regular work before you worry about doing good work. Additional ideas around this are if stuck on something, to be willing to produce just one word at first if that's all that can be done, or if stuck at the beginning with something to start it in the middle. Also interesting was the story about how IBM developed their sales force by intentionally setting quotas low so people wouldn't be intimidated.

A recurring idea from the book was about spending your time doing the things you choose to do, rather than what people want you to do, in a way it's the difference between spending your time on offense or on defense. A notion from the book is we're only here a short time on earth, like monkeys on a spinning rock. Related to the idea of how to spend your time is you should either be saying Hell Yes or No to things, with the result of that you shouldn't be lamenting how busy you are as you're doing things you want to do. I also liked the concept that you shouldn't wait for inspiration and then act, just act and then inspiration has a chance of coming.

Also interesting was the concept of nerds at night, what people do outside of work and 1,000 true fans, getting a dedicated following. In terms of what one should be doing, an interesting idea from Tools of Titans was think small, be great at something thin. Related to this is the idea of picking what you're spending time on and are after, is it hunting mice or chasing antelope?

If things don't go well, it's noted that you shouldn't get upset about things, rather think about whether it happened for a reason and what can you learn from it. When something happens that's bad, it's ok to say "good" and move on, and when stuck on something, go around, try a different way. There are three options in life with any situation, change it, accept it, or leave it. Also, one should be willing to live poor, it's not that hard if you don't have people to support and your well being doesn't really require money.

About things to do at the of the day was the idea of writing at the end, noting what you're thankful for and happy about and taking notes before bed on what happened to you. Additionally, a couple of very tangible things from the book related to sleep are usage of the ChiliPad for cooling at bedtime and Sleep With Me podcast to fall asleep to.

Books of interest noted - haven't read

Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu
Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse
Dropping Ashes on the Buddha by Seung Sahn
Anything You Want: 40 Lessons for a New Kind of Entrepreneur by Derek Sivers
Stumbling on Happiness by Dan Gilbert
How Proust Can Change Your Life by Alain de Botton

The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles by Steven Pressfield
10% Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, and Found Self-Help That Actually Works--A True Story by Dan Harris
Joy on Demand: The Art of Discovering the Happiness Within by Chade-Meng Tan
Zen in the Art of Archery by Eugen Herrigel
The Power of Myth by Joseph Campbell

The Artist's Way Morning Pages Journal: A Companion Volume to the Artist's Way by Julie Cameron
Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari
Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert Cialdini
Levels of the Game by John McPhee
I Seem to be a Verb by Buckminster Fuller
Deep Survival: Who Lives, Who Dies, and Why by Laurence Gonzales
Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action by Simon Sinek

Books of interest noted - have read

Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand
Show Your Work by Auston Kleon
Born Standing Up by Steve Martin
Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott
Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feyman by Richard Feynman

Daily Rituals by Mason Currey
Not Fade Away by Peter Barton and Laurence Shames
How to Get Rich in Rising Asia by Mohsin Hamid
The Checklist Manifesto by Atul Gawande

Other resources of interest

1,000 True Fans and Cool Tools by Kevin Kelly
Inviting Mara to Tea poem by Rumi
The Shortness of Life by Seneca on the site Brain Pickings
Don Wildman profile for Esquire

The Tim Ferriss Show podcast
Derek Sivers podcast with Ferriss
Hardcore history with Dan Carlin podcast
Neil Gaiman University of the Arts commencement speech

Monday, January 23, 2017

Shoe Dog by Phil Knight

Shoe Dog by Phil Knight was an excellent memoir from the Nike creator, who served as CEO from 1964-2004, Board Chairman through 2016, and then Chairman Emeritus of the company. In addition to being a compelling story of business success, the book was really well written and in the acknowledgements, Knight thanked author J.R. Moehringer and noted relying on his storytelling gifts through drafts of the book. Learning of Moehringer’s involvement felt to make complete sense for me as I saw throughout how good the writing was, and Moehringer wrote along with tennis great Andre Agassi perhaps my favorite sports biography, Open.

Part One of Shoe Dog began after Knight’s graduation at twenty-four from Stanford Business School, with him embarking on what wound up being a solo backpacking trip through Asia, Europe, and Africa. Additionally, he went to Japan to try to start a business importing running shoes, based off a research paper written in an MBA entrepreneurship class. Knight visited the Japanese company Onitsuka, maker of Tiger shoes, convinced them he had an importing company called Blue Ribbon Sports, and placed an order for $50 in shoes. Knight then continued on with his journey around the world, from which he seemed to gain a great deal, and wrote in Shoe Dog of how he early on knew he wanted his work to be play, something where he could hopefully feel what athletes feel while competing.

After returning to Oregon from his trip, Knight was counseled by a friend of his father to get his CPA so that he'd have "a floor under his earnings," enrolled in three classes at Portland State and nine credit hours later took a job at an accounting firm. Knight noted that while later staffing his own company, he tended to hire a number of accountants and lawyers, both for the thinking skills they had acquired and that they showed they could pass a difficult test.

The shoes from Onitsuka arrived in December 1964 and Knight sent a couple of pairs to the track coach from his Oregon undergrad days, Bill Bowerman, who went in with him on the business, 49% to Knight's 51%. Knight placed a large order with Onitsuka and then quit his job at the accounting firm to sell shoes out of his car and hired Jeff Johnson as his first sales rep for Blue Ribbon. While the company was growing fast, cash on hand was always a problem and Knight took a job with another accounting firm, Price Waterhouse, with this one requiring less hours so he could continue growing Blue Ribbon at the same time. Additionally, he in this role met Del Hayes, who would work for Knight for years, and got experience learning what caused some companies to succeed, and others to fail. It was also interesting to read of how Knight spent so much time in a traditional job, while still growing his company outside of that. Blue Ribbon continued expanding and to free up more time, Knight left the firm for a job at Portland State, teaching accounting and it's maxim of assets equals liabilities plus equity, a principle Knight was often up against.

One quote about business that stuck with Knight was "don't tell people how to do things, tell them what to do and let them surprise you with their results," and also of note from Shoe Dog was how many different times the company could have gone under, and still made it through. There were various inflection points and Knight battled in business like it was a race, one taking every ounce from him.

As Blue Ribbon continued to grow, it made a deal with a Japanese trading company, Nissho Iwai, and while Onitsuka was considering dropping Blue Ribbon as it's U.S. distributor, Knight made a football shoe in a factory in Mexico, and under the name Nike. A legal battle later ensued with Onitsuka and while it was settled in 1974, Nike battled supply and demand issues with the new waffle trainer shoe a huge hit. Then in 1975 the company had a cash crunch and lost it's local banking partner, with the relationship with the trading company saving the day and keeping them in business as Nissho paid the Oregon bank in full. Then after getting past this hurdle, Nike received a letter from the U.S. Customs Service saying they owed $25M in retroactive import duties, as the result of orchestration by competitors. A lengthy back and back with the government ensued and after a settlement of $9M was reached, Nike was able to continue forward, with going public at least in part to finally get past it's constant cash flow issues.

The ending of Shoe Dog is heavily about Knight's sons, including his first born Matthew, who as an adult died in a scuba diving accident, and the final chapter beautifully written and really brought everything together as a poignant and compelling read.

Friday, December 30, 2016

Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance

Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance was a really compelling memoir by someone born into difficult circumstances who with key help provided along the way, made it to his current state of being a 31-year-old Yale Law graduate working as a principal at a Silicon Valley investment firm.

Vance grew up in the Rust Belt city of Middletown, Ohio, with his grandparents from the Appalachian town of Jackson, Kentucky, and he notes that places like Middletown have over the years become practically feeder towns for those leaving Appalachia. Many of the problems of unstable home lives, alcoholism, and at least flirting with poverty have fed into the new communities and Vance writes how the problems of Middletown in many ways mirror those in the inner cities of metropolitan areas.

There's such a sense of upheaval and uncertainty for kids growing up in that region and Vance writes of how he doesn't view himself as a genius preordained to make it out, but rather someone shepherded during the times he most needed stability. When his mom would either be on a bender or otherwise busy switching from one failed male relationship to another, Vance was able to go his grandmother or even rely on his older sister. There was certainly entertaining reading in the book about hillbilly justice administered by his extended family, but the biggest thing that gave Vance a chance was this stability that wasn't coming from a more traditional mother and father present for him home life. Vance lived full-time with his grandmother the last few years of high school and then spent four years in the Army prior to attending Ohio State University and Yale Law School.

The book is a very fast read and interesting in that it tells the story of Vance’s upbringing, but also the themes related to his success. There's both the need for kids to have stability growing up and notion that even in areas where jobs are scarce, the larger problem can be a scarcity of a culture of hard work and idea that, especially with some help along the way, someone can overcome obstacles and have control over their life, effectively breaking out of a cycle.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

The Legends Club by John Feinstein

The Legends Club by John Feinstein has the subtitle Dean Smith, Mike Krzyzewski, Jim Valvano, and an Epic College Basketball Rivalry and covers well the three men, and particularly the relationships between them.

Feinstein notes in the beginning how Smith was hired by North Carolina in 1961 and in a nine-day period in 1980, Duke and NC State hired Valvano and Krzyzewski. The three men were very different from one another, with Smith the cover all bases in the pursuit of winning obsessive, Valvano the comet across the sky force of personality, and Krzyzewski the grinder, who adapted himself to succeed and improved in areas he needed to.

A commonality between the men seems to in their character, with one example Smith decades ago telling Feinstein that "you should never be proud of doing the right thing. You should just do the right thing" and another Valvano's speech at the 1993 ESPY Awards just prior to his death from cancer. The interactions written of between Krzyzewski and Valvano prior to him dying and then later between Krzyzewski and Smith prior to the former North Carolina coach dying were the most compelling parts of the book, first with Valvano undergoing cancer treatments at Duke and Krzyzewski often at his bedside and then Krzyzewski spending time with Coach Smith as he suffered from Dementia prior to his death in 2015.

There was definitely some poignant scenes written of the book and Feinstein seemed to do a very good job writing about the men, their competition with one another, and their coming together.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Playing Through the Whistle by S.L. Price

Playing Through the Whistle: Steel, Football and an American Town by S.L. Price was a really good book from the Sports Illustrated writer who has penned three other books I've enjoyed, Pitching Around Fidel: A Journey Into the Heart of Cuban Sports and especially Far Afield: A Sports Writer's Odyssey and Heart of the Game: Life, Death and Mercy in Minor League America.

Playing Through the Whistle expands greatly on a feature for SI several year ago and the book is a look at the dying town of Aliquippa, PA and high level football from a high school that's produced NFL stars Mike Ditka, Ty Law, Sean Gilbert, and Darrelle Revis. Additionally from Aliquippa were Henry Mancini, composer of Moon River, the father of basketball star Pete Maravich, and former Surgeon General Jesse Steinfeld.

Price wrote of how early Aliquippa was the story of immigrants, people who came with nothing but the desire to work hard and who formed a life, for many of them through their labors on behalf of the Jones & Laughlin Steel Corporation (or J&L Aliquippa Works) in town. Towards the beginning of the book, the struggle between the employer and unions coming in is chronicled and then later on, racial tension in town (and America as a whole) detailed. In 1962, some black players walking off the football team to protest the lack of any black cheerleaders on the squad, and then Price provides remarkable reading about the fights in town between blacks and whites in the 1970's. In many ways, the book is a history of class and race in America, told through the prism of the town, football in it, and a struggle between sports as a positive force and societal and economic problems off the field.

Another major local sports star that Price wrote about was former Cowboys star Tony Dorsett, who played for nearby Hopewell Senior High in the early 1970's as Aliquippa High was in the quagmire of racial tension and constant fights. Dorsett not going to Aliquippa High School echoed what many families who could were doing, moving their kids out of Aliquippa public schools, either by sending them to private schools or just moving away to areas like that covered by Hopewell High. From an economic perspective, Aliquippa Works in 1979 employed 10,000 people, then in 1981 the bleed of jobs began and by 1985 there were only 700 remaining. As jobs were leaving town, crack cocaine came to Aliquippa in the mid 1980's and the drug trade, and accompanying violence, hit the town hard. Aliquippa High School was often a dangerous place and for many there, it was a choice between football or the streets, with each pulling on them.

The book closes out with modern day Aliquippa and paints a picture of a hard town and a hard life for those who live there, with things seemingly going the wrong direction. Some people succeed and get out, but it's a tough go for the place when the primary goal for those looking to achieve something positive includes them leaving.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Originals by Adam Grant

Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World by Adam Grant was an interesting read that brought to mind books such as those by Stephen Dubner and Steven Levitt and by Malcolm Gladwell.

Grant is an acclaimed 35 year-old professor at the Wharton School of Business and in Originals, he puts forth a number of compelling ideas, some he covered in his February 2016 TED Talk, "The surprising habits of original thinkers." Those included the benefits of procrastination, with the example of how Martin Luther King Jr. delayed in writing his "I Have a Dream" speech and his ideas germinated, and the power of those who have doubts about their ideas and proceed cautiously, with the example of Grant's students who started the business Warby Parker.

Some of the ideas from Originals that weren't in Grant's TED Talk included how people who use Firefox or Chrome as their PC browser in aggregate tend to be more successful than those who use an already installed web browser because they took the initiative to go and get something different, and how if you want to do original and impactful work, the big thing is to do a lot of work, much of it unremarkable.

Also tremendously interesting from Originals was the chapter on leaders in the women's rights movement who in the 1800's should have been allies, but became bitter enemies, delaying success for the movement. The idea that Grant put forth was that if people agree on some things, their disagreement on others can be much more profound than disagreements between people who don't agree on anything, and never expected to. Very much related to this idea is how methods and tactics can be more important than values, as they're more easily agreed upon, and can avoid the bitter fights over value differences. From Grant in his chapter on first and later born kids was the concept of praising and speaking to character rather than actions, with the example "don't be a cheater," rather than "don't cheat," having more impact. It's an interesting idea which actually runs counter to notions I've seen elsewhere about praising the actions and activities of kids rather than making character based statements out of their actions.

The final concept out of Originals to note here was the the idea of fighting a battle in different ways depending on how strong the support for your fight. Grant told the story of the non-violent resistance group Otpor! that helped lead the charge to overthrow Slobodan Milošević in Yugoslavia. When Otpor! was gathering support for the cause, they focused having people feel part of a larger group opposing Milošević and engaging in smaller-scale resistance tactics they could get behind and not feel exposed them to much retribution and danger. Along these lines, a story was told how in Chile in the 1980's, people drove slowly in town to protest the Pinochet government and in Poland, people pushed their televisions in wheelbarrows through town to protest government lies in the news. The idea of all this was that when commitment toward a goal is wavering or thin, it's best to consider progress already made, or focus on humor, then when commitment solid, it's then best to look at bad things to overcome or avoid or work still to be done. If that "negative motivation" brought up too soon, it can jeopardize the movement before it gains it's footing.

Saturday, October 08, 2016

Powerhouse by James Andrew Miller

Powerhouse by James Andrew Miller was an interesting oral history on Creative Artists Agency, the firm that, along with other businesses it's in such as corporate consulting and marketing services, represents many Hollywood and professional sports stars.

The agency was started in 1975 by five agents who left William Morris and Miller particularly covers Michael Ovitz, one of the five and the man who became CAA president. There was great detail in the book about how Ovitz to further his career both prepared and hustled, with anecdotes about him as a junior staffer at William Morris noticing that the company president always came back in after dinner, so Ovitz would make sure he was also there, ready and willing to help with anything needed, and out of this became the assistant to the president at twenty-two years old. In terms of Ovitz's preparation and ferreting out of information, Miller devotes quite a bit of space in the book to how CAA got into corporate advising when they figured out a Japanese corporation interested in buying a studio and set up the deal, collecting $46M in fees in the process.

Also interesting in Powerhouse was material around how Ovitz and Ron Meyer, one of the other co-founders, had styles and strengths that very much complimented one another and then around how Ovitz seemed to become corrupted by the power he held and just how messy his leaving CAA was. He had negotiated a deal to leave CAA and take over Universal, but made things so difficult the deal eventually fell apart and Ron Meyer was offered and took the job. Ovitz then left to work under Michael Eisner at Disney, with that relationship fairly immediately running into trouble and Ovitz out within about a year.

The book's later part covers what CAA has become since Ovitz, with it a powerful corporation in huge competition with the agencies UTA and the much larger WWE/IMG.

I found Miller's book on ESPN, These Guys Have All the Fun, to be more interesting due to the subject matter, but Powerhouse was a solid read for anyone interested in the machinations of power and the entertainment world.

The Inner Game of Tennis by Timothy Gallwey

The Inner Game of Tennis by Timothy Gallwey was an interesting read that I heard of from an article by Chris Ballard for Sports Illustrated titled "The little-known book that shaped the minds of Steve Kerr and Pete Carroll."

Gallwey's book is subtitled The Classic Guide to the Mental Side of Peak Performance and in it, he writes of how "every game is composed of two parts, an outer game and inner game, that which takes place in the mind of the player, and is played against such obstacles as lapses in concentration, nervousness, self-doubt, and self-condemnation."

This inner game is written of by Gallwey as being one that can easily hurt us, with our "telling self" judging results, and distracting from our "doing self" completing activities. In terms of simply doing, Gallwey writes of how if we focus on having a clear picture of what we want to accomplish and then just act, we'll likely be happier when all said and done. This clear picture can be formed by observation, of both others and ourselves, with a non-judgmental awareness of our movements.

It's a short book from Gallwey and one with some compelling ideas.

The Hike by Drew Magary

The Hike by Drew Magary was the third book, and second novel, I've read from the author who also has written extensively for GQ and Deadspin.

The Postmortal from Magary imagines a society made completely different than it is today and The Hike starts with an average guy getting lost in the woods, and then departing from the world we know into a dystopian alternate universe.

I found my interest in the book waning a bit at times, but it did wind up with a really interesting and unexpected ending and including magazine and website pieces from Magary I've read and posted on, I find him to be an entertaining writer.

Razor Girl by Carl Hiaasen

Razor Girl by Carl Hiaasen is the latest installment of fiction by the Florida-based writer on characters in his wacky state and just like the prior books below I've read from Hiaasen, quite the entertaining read.

- Skink: No Surrender
- Bad Monkey
- Star Island
- Nature Girl
- Skinny Dip
- Basket Case
- Sick Puppy
- Lucky You
- Native Tongue
- Stormy Weather

Additionally interesting to me about Hiaasen is that his writing can also be found in the Miami Herald in the form of a recurring column.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Patient H.M. by Luke Dittrich

Patient H.M. by Luke Dittrich is a book that dealt not only with an interesting topic, but one in which the author personally invested.

Dittrich's grandfather was Dr. William Scoville, one of the foremost medical proponents of lobotomies as a treatment method and Patient H.M. tells the story of Henry Molaison, perhaps the most famous patient in medical history, someone with his memory inexorably altered as the result of an operation conducted by the prolific Dr. Scoville.

Many of the lobotomies Scoville conducted during his career were done at asylums, on patients likely in no condition to agree to the procedure, but the 1953 surgery on Molaison an elective one to relieve the severe epilepsy and seizures he suffered from. The outcome was Molaison rendered unable to form any new long-term memories, and because he not mentally ill, also able to give interviews for decades about his experiences and memories, providing medical science much of what's known about memory today.

I liked the ending of the book jacket description of it as a one "that reveals the wondrous and devastating things that can happen when hubris, ambition, and human imperfection collide" and Dittrich tells an interesting story of medicine, surgical practices bordering on barbarism, and family secrets, with him learning that his grandfather likely performed brain surgery on Dittrich's grandmother who was in and out of institutions.

Astoria by Peter Stark

Astoria by Peter Stark tells the story of millionaire John Jacob Astor's attempt to establish a global trade network with a foothold in the Northwest. The effort, blessed by then President Thomas Jefferson and starting shortly after Lewis and Clark's voyage concluded in 1806, included sea otter pelts from the region and trade with both the East Coast of the U.S. and for goods across the Pacific.

The attempt to create a settlement in modern-day Oregon included an overland party led by Wilson Price Hunt and one via the ship Tonquin and Captain Jonathan Horn sailing from New York around the bottom of South America in the Tonquin. The story of Horn felt the more fascinating of the two, with him being the first to arrive, reaching the Columbia River Bar on March 22, 1811. He faced incredibly dangerous water conditions exiting the Pacific Ocean and eight of the roughly sixty men aboard the Tonquin perished in the water. Thorn later journeyed with a group of around thirty to trade with Pacific Northwest Coast Indians off what is now Vancouver Island, with disastrous results.

Hunt's party travelling overland also experienced an extremely hard path and interesting from Stark was mention of people from both parties suffering from what centuries later would be known as post traumatic stress disorder, brought of by the constant exposure to potential calamity. The two leaders were interesting case studies, with Hunt a consensus seeker, good in some respects, not good in others, and Thorn well equipped for battle as a sea Captain, but without the diplomacy required to interact well with Indian populations.

War between America and Britain with the War of 1812 brought about the end of Astoria, with Astor's plan to fortify and defend the settlement ultimately unsuccessful as a ship he dispatched became disabled off Hawaii and Hunt was away from Astoria at a time leadership desperately needed. While Hunt was gone, those who remained decided to abandon Astoria and sold the remaining furs and goods to the British North West Company for around $.30 on the dollar. The success or failure of the venture is up for debate, with roughly sixty of the hundred and forty men Astor sent losing their lives, but the trip also helped pave the way for a later move westward, with the overland path an important precursor to exploration in large part due in part to them finding the what would become known as the Oregon Trail. Really a compelling story well told in the book.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Hellhound On His Trail by Hampton Sides

Hellhound On His Trail by Hampton Sides was a great book about the manhunt for James Earl Ray, the killer of Martin Luther King Jr. The book starts with the escape of a prisoner in April, 1967, one year before the assassination of King, and there's fascinating detail in it about Ray, his actions and the times.

Sides covers well King and his Poor People's Campaign to occur Washington D.C., the enmity towards King by J. Edgar Hoover, longtime director of the FBI, and former Alabama governor George Wallace running for President on an isolationist and segregationist platform. Much of the book is a coming together of people and events and King was shot maybe 40% of the way through it. After this, Sides covers Ray fleeing Memphis, and the incredibly thorough and old fashioned pounding the pavement detective work that went into identifying and searching King's killer.

Details about the 65 day manhunt included Ray going to Atlanta, his car being discovered there, then clothes of his being traced to a Los Angeles area dry cleaner, which led to the FBI discovering a fingerprint match that established his identity. After this, police found that he had spent time in Canada under an assumed name. Then Canadian authorities poured over passport applications, found that Ray went Europe and alerted authorities there. Even with that alert going out, Ray was only apprehended trying to leave London as the result of authorities noticing he had a second passport, cancelled due to misspelling in the name, and someone then connecting that he was a fugitive. Incredibly, after Ray was returned to America and sent to state prison for the murder of King, he escaped and was caught in the mountains after 54 hours on the run.

It's a remarkable story told with great detail by Sides and I enjoyed it at least as much as I did two other excellent reads from Sides, Ghost Soldiers, and In the Kingdom of Ice.

The Golden Spruce by John Vaillant

The Golden Spruce by John Vaillant was an interesting book from 2005 about the illegal felling of a giant tree off the Northwest coast of Canada.

I previously enjoyed quite a bit Vaillant's later book, The Tiger, and in The Golden Spruce, he does the same excellent job of blending together stories about a fascinating region and things that occurred within it.

It was a fast read and a much longer than this one review of the book was done for the Seattle PI by John Marshall.

The Lost Carving by David Esterly

The Lost Carving by David Esterly was a solid book about a year Esterly spent restoring wood carvings damaged in a 1986 fire at Hampton Court Palace in England. The limewood carvings were done in the late 1600s by Grinling Gibbons and depicted Gibbons' primary subject area of flowers, fruits and foliage.

Esterly at the time of the fire was one of the few professional carvers working in limewood and as a young man was an academic at Cambridge, then left for America and took various teamsters jobs. He became interested in carving after seeing a Gibbons exhibition and the book describes the craft as a sort of duality between mind and body. I found interesting the description from Esterly of carving involving the two hands working against each other to accomplish a goal and in many ways, The Lost Carving is a meditative book about creation and creativity that comes through the form on working with your hands.

Two things I loved at the end of the book were a quote from Benjamin Franklin that "well done is better than well said" and Esterly writing that it's better at bedtime to be physically tired than mentally exhausted. Also about the craft of carving, Esterly wrote on spending time carving areas in the back of a piece of work, places that people won't see. The term Esterly uses for this type of endeavor is conscientiousness and there's quite a bit in the book about his quest to do right by the work. Along with the effort put into the carvings, Esterly covered the political decisions he had to navigate through, with an example being whether to have the carvings remain light as Gibbons did them or have a varnish to make the carvings look more like they did at the time of the fire.

It's really a cool book for anyone interested in creativity and making things.