Sunday, July 10, 2016

Not Fade Away by Laurence Shames and Peter Barton

Not Fade Away by Laurence Shames and Peter Barton was an excellent book from Barton, former CEO of Liberty Media, co-written with writer and journalist Shames about Barton's life and his death from stomach cancer in 2002 at the age of 51.

The subtitle to the book is "a short life well lived" and Shames in it noted how Barton in response to a question of why spend time on it while dying said that he wanted his kids to know more about who he was and what he valued and I found compelling Barton's thoughts on both his life and career.

When writing about his childhood, Barton noted that he became a good student when he realized that school is basically a game, and as with any game, it's more fun if you win. Barton also very much did what he felt he should, even if it seemed less than traditional, and left his masters program in International Relations at Columbia just shy of graduating as he realized it was leading him to work he didn't want to do.

After then working in the Public Sector, including a stint with the Governor of New York, Barton went to Business School and coming out of that, wanted his next job to be one that was (A) in an up and coming industry, (B) working directly for the head of a company, and (C) working for someone he thought wildly smart. Barton sent letters to 231 CEOs in Boston, San Francisco and Denver offering to work for free for 90 days, had 123 respond, and wound up with the cable company TCI, led by John Malone. The company became Liberty Media under Malone and Barton and in the book, Barton wrote of work as being something that should not being in the spirit of trading time for money, but with the joyful ambition of creating something. Barton also noted that while his approach to business could seem reckless at times, he was prepared, knew where he wanted to wind up, and worked towards that.

After Barton retired from Liberty at 45, and a year before he got diagnosed with cancer in 1998, he would take his kids and their friends on what he called Real World Outings to see how people made their livings. Each excursion had a theme, including one on luggage, where they went and saw people who made it, sold it, and those who handled it at the airport.

Barton wrote in the book how he realized while in a particularly difficult time with his cancer that finding a point to continue fighting became the point and just prior to the epilogue, wrote of his life, "I really tried. I did my best."

An excellent book, highly recommended.

H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald

H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald was about the author training a goshawk after the recent death of her father and a creative and almost lyrically written book.

It's close to equal parts a meditation on grief and appreciation of the natural and wild world as the process of training her hawk, Mabel, closely intertwines with the loss she experienced. Macdonald became somewhat of a recluse during the training period and when about halfway through the book she wrote of Mabel that "she's forgotten how not to be scared of people," the author could have been writing of herself as well.

While I don't know I would call it a particularly enjoyable read, it was an impressive effort and felt to sum up well in the acknowledgments with Macdonald writing "I would like to thank my father who taught me how to love the moving world, and to thank my beautiful hawk who taught me how to fly in it after he was gone."

Sunday, July 03, 2016

Tribe by Sebastian Junger

Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging by Sebastian Junger was a solid book about the important topic of how divided as a society we can be.

Junger writes of how these divisions typically fall away during times of great stress such as war or natural disaster as people are in it together, as a "community of sufferers." He additionally notes how the mental health of individuals also can improve during these times, with the bombing of London during WWII and more recently in Sarajevo cited as cases where people living in war zones generally weren't depressed, just resolute and living their lives. There was a collective cause, even if that cause was simply surviving.

Also covered in the book is how there's such a disconnect between modern society and combat veterans returning to it. For people who haven't served in wartime, the large majority of those here in the US, it's difficult to understand what vets went through, and veterans often don't have outlets where they can speak about their experiences, both educating others and unburdening themselves.

It's a short book, with Junger describing it an a Time Magazine interview as a screed, and interesting reading about this concept of Tribe and how many in modern society simply don't feel part of one.

The Oregon Trail by Rinker Buck

The Oregon Trail by Rinker Buck was an entertaining and in many cases heart-warming road trip book about Buck and his brother Nick traveling the Oregon Trail, from St. Joseph, Missouri to Baker City Oregon, via covered wagon.

A trip such as this almost certainly hadn't been done in the past hundred years and Buck at the end of chapter one wrote of how "it was crazyass passion that would deliver me to the trail" and the 50 to 60-some year-olds were led by three mules, Beck, Jake, and Bute, roughly 2,000 miles over four months.

The book was part travelogue, history lesson, and remembrance on family, with Buck writing about his late father. During the trip, Buck and his brother had a sign on the back of the wagon apologizing to other travelers for the delay because they wanted to "see America slowly," an almost identical sign to what his family had during an East Coast covered wagon trip in 1958.

The stories of the travel to Oregon were compelling reading, with the two, along with Nick's dog Olive Oyl, meeting strangers, fixing problems, and sleeping outside, Rinker on a mattress in the back of the wagon and Nick in whatever barn or enclosed space he could find. Related to this, Buck notes towards the end of the book how many times in the west they would overnight in public spaces, with the mules in public corrals, areas like national parks designed to provide for the citizens.

The anecdotes of the people they met were great, with so many enchanted by the idea of the trip and helping immeasurably, and the brothers definitely had some hairy moments on the trail, but soldiered through them. Tying back to their father, I liked the mention of him decades prior telling a young Rinker how he was accomplishing something by simply not quitting.

I found myself at times skimming through some of what Buck wrote about the history of the Trail and people who rode it, but felt it an excellent book that struck me as at least somewhat romantic and quixotic in the telling of a quest tale.