Thursday, September 30, 2021

Why Fish Don't Exist by Lulu Miller

Why Fish Don't Exist by Lulu Miller is an interesting and profound work of nonfiction subtitled A Story of Loss, Love, and the Hidden Order of Life. Miller chronicles the life of David Starr Jordan, the first President of Stanford University, and a renowned taxonomist. 

Jordan embraced classifying fish, with Miller noting that he credited with discovering nearly a fifth of the fish known to humans in his day. It was fascinating reading of how Jordan suffered multiple personal calamities, and after each tended to plunge deeper into his work, in essence trying to bring order to chaos. For instance, after his collections were destroyed by the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, he immediately set out rebuilding. Miller writes of how that Jordan’s ability to carry forward also came with a lack of doubt his beliefs, something that at first seems positive, but can become a grave negative. Jordan (whose name is many places at Stanford) believed strongly in the principle of eugenics, or breeding out imperfections from humanity with atrocities like forced sterilization. Also, Miller writes of how Jordan quite possibly had the namesake of the university, Jane Stanford, killed by strychnine poisoning.

The title of the book came from how in the 1980s, many taxonomists began to say that they didn’t believe there is a simple classification called fish, there’s too much variety in what we might consider fish, and too many of them are like what we wouldn’t consider fish. This changed view is interesting to consider juxtaposed with Jordan's lack of doubt in how he went about his life and work.

The book jacket notes that it part biography, part memoir, and part scientific adventure, and Miller writes of how as she researched Jordan and his efforts to establish order from chaos, she was attempting to do the same in hers. I enjoy books that have this sort of duality in them, with the writer examining someone else’s life while also looking at their own and Miller at the end of the book noted that what she found was a life that matters to her, and that the chaos that she faced, and Jordan spent his life combating, can also bring good things. 

Monday, September 06, 2021

Why We Swim by Bonnie Tsui

Why We Swim by Bonnie Tsui is a contemplative and interesting book that's noted to be an exploration of the world of swimming. The point is made that we must learn to live with water, it’s required for us to survive, and is all around us. Also, swimming can be a way to healing, health, and a community. 

Tsui details stories including someone's survival off the coast of Iceland, spending six hours in 28 degree Fahrenheit water and swimming three and a half miles to safety. Also, swimming in outdoor water is heavily written of, with likely health benefits from cold water swimming, and someone doing it is part of the elements. The Dolphin Club and South End Rowing Club in San Francisco are noted for their swimmers who go into the Bay, including one who swam 30 miles from the Farallon Islands to the Golden Gate Bridge, 17 hours through shark-infested waters.

It's also covered that people enjoy swimming more than many other forms of exercise and that swim lessons are an equalizer between people. No matter how powerful someone is, if they don’t know how to swim, they're the same as others from a lower stature or different culture. Additionally, swim teams can be a great combination of singular determination and being part of a collective. 

A couple of other things that stand out from the book are Japanese swimming martial arts, or Nihon eiho, and samurai swimmers from hundreds of year ago. Also, when you swim, you’re a part of a collective, and swimming in a body of water is a way of forging a connection with it, and with others who have swam there. 

Amazon Unbound by Brad Stone

Amazon Unbound by Brad Stone is subtitled Jeff Bezos and the Invention of a Global Empire and follows up on The Everything Store by Stone from 2013. In Amazon Unbound, it notes that at the end of 2010, Amazon had 33,700 employees and a market capitalization of $80B, with the net worth for Bezos at $15.9B. Amazon as of early Sept 2021 has roughly 1,300,000 employees and a market cap around $1.6T, with Bezos' net worth some $200B. Amazon Unbound details this exponential growth, with below the chapters and primary topics...

Chapter one – on the building of the Echo

Chapter two – on early efforts to create Amazon grocery retail stores

Chapter three – on Amazon in India

Chapter four – on AWS and Amazon stock doubling in 2015 after previously hiding its profitability to keep competitors out

Chapter five – on Bezos and his ownership of the Washington Post, purchased in 2013 for $250M

Chapter six – on efforts in Hollywood and Prime video

Chapter seven – on the Amazon flywheel leading to growth, counterfeit goods, and unhappy merchants

Chapter eight – on efforts in grocery and the 2017 acquisition of Whole Foods

Chapter nine – on logistics and supply chain

Chapter ten – on selling ads in Amazon site search results

Chapter eleven – on Bezos' Blue Origin space startup, founded in 2000

Chapter twelve – on the relationship with and impact of Amazon on Seattle and other cities with its HQ2 bakeoff

Chapter thirteen – on the breakup of Bezos’ marriage, including extortion and potential Saudi hacking 

Chapter fourteen – on government investigation into potential monopolistic and anti-trust behavior by Amazon

Chapter fifteen – on the pandemic, including the Amazon firing of whistleblowers around worker safety