THE FINDING OF THE “MAYFLOWER” | Rendel Harris, Read & Co. (1920), 58p
"The Discovery of the Mayflower" by Rendel Harris is a captivating account of how the remains of the famous ship that transported the Pilgrims to America were discovered in a quiet corner of England. As a historian and lecturer, Harris weaves a fascinating tale of detection, intrigue, and revelation that keeps readers engaged until the end.
The book’s preface lifts an infamous essay from G.K. Chesterton titled “They Myth of the Mayflower,” where he notes that the Puritan Pilgrims were religiously intolerant and fled to American shores to establish a more rigid commune of intolerance. Within short order, it clashed violently with the Quakers.
In 1920, Harris stumbled upon an old barn in Jordans, Buckinghamshire, which locals claimed contained timbers from the Mayflower. Intrigued, Harris began investigating the claim, using his extensive knowledge of maritime history and the Pilgrims' journey. His research led him to believe that parts of the barn were constructed using wood from the Mayflower.
HUNTER GATHER’S GUIDE TO THE 21st CENTURY | Heather Heying & Bret Weinstein, Swift Press, (2022), 301p.
Heather Heying and Bret Weinstein's "Hunter Gatherer's Guide to the 21st Century" offers a refreshing and insightful perspective on how humans can thrive in today's rapidly changing world. As evolutionary biologists, the authors bring a unique lens to the table, drawing upon our species' history to provide practical advice for navigating the complexities of modern life.
The book is divided into four parts, tackling a distinct aspect of human existence. Part One, "Understanding Ourselves," delves into the evolutionary roots of human behavior, shedding light on why we act the way we do. From the role of dopamine in motivation to the importance of community, the authors provide a compelling explanation of our innate drives and desires.
Part Two, "Navigating the World," applies the same evolutionary framework to explore how our surroundings shape our actions and decisions. Topics range from the impact of urbanization on mental health to the influence of social media on our relationships. Throughout this section, Heying and Weinstein challenge readers to question their assumptions about the world around them.
In Part Three, "Building Resilience," the authors focus on strategies for cultivating individual resilience in adversity. They advocate for physical exercise, mindfulness, and creativity, all of which help us adapt to an ever-changing environment. This section also includes valuable discussions on managing stress, building meaningful relationships, and finding purpose in life.
Finally, Part Four, "Rethinking Society," takes a step back to examine the larger structures that govern our society. Here, the authors critique contemporary institutions such as education, healthcare, and government while offering proposals for positive change. Their arguments are well-supported and thought-provoking, encouraging readers to rethink their assumptions about the systems that shape our lives.
SIZE: How it Explains the World | Vaclav Smil, William Morrow Publishing (2023), 304p.
In "Size: How It Explains the World," author Vaclav Smil embarks on an intriguing journey to explore the significance of scale in various aspects of our lives. From the nanoscale to the global level, this book delves into the impact of size on biology, technology, society, and the environment. As an energy and environmental science expert, Smil brings his unique perspective to reveal the profound effects of scaling on our world.
The book begins with an introduction to the concept of scale and its importance in understanding various phenomena. Smil effectively illustrates how size influences everything from materials’ strength to transportation systems’ efficiency. He presents fascinating examples, such as the fact that spider silk’s strength-to-weight ratio is more significant than steel’s, highlighting the remarkable properties of natural materials.
BOOKS | THE FOURTH TURNING IS HERE | Neil Howe, Simon & Schuster, (2023) 587p.
If you read only one book this year, make it this one.
Neil Howe’s theory interprets history as a series of repeating cycles, commonly referred to as the “Saeculum” view. This perspective suggests that history operates in cycles, each spanning approximately a long human life (80 to 100 years).
At any moment, about four generations coexist, each influencing and shaping events.
In Howe's model, a Saeculum comprises four distinct turnings, or generational eras, each lasting approximately 20-22 years (roughly the time it takes for a new generation to come of age). These turnings are:
However, these Crisis periods (Glorious Revolution, American Revolution, Civil War, WWII) are not easy. During a Crisis period:
These turnings are not just chronological periods but are also associated with generational archetypes that play specific roles:
Nevertheless, history is not predetermined. We make choices. Howe's work, particularly when looking at the attributes of generations or historical events, has - by necessity- some amount of cherry-picking involved. Additionally, given the vagaries of technology and human interactions, straight-line trends seldom self-execute without unpredictable swerves and curves.
Grab a copy of this tome, consume, reflect and prepare.
A study outline can be found here. saeculum_matrix.pdf
THE GREAT DEBATE: Edmund Burke, Thomas Paine and the Birth of the Right and Left | Yuval Levin, Basic Books, (2014), 304p.
Levin makes the case that the emergence, in the West, of a Left and Right diverged with the variance between Edmund Burke and Thomas Paine. Levin makes a compelling case for them as early proxies and clear archetypes but fails rigorous historical proofs. Nevertheless, for moderns, this juxtaposition serves its purpose.
Paine was a proponent of rigid principles based upon absolutes. Burke is the defender of tradition and custom. Paine pushed for what was believed to be correct, regardless if it had been proven or tried. Burke advocated sticking with what worked and reforming what did not.
Regarding Burke, Levin follows the trail blazed by Michiganian Russell Kirk, who well-established the Burkinan tradition as the intellectual bedrock of modern conservatism over 50 years ago.
The challenge for both is that they require context. Left unabated, Paine leads to the murderous tyranny of democracy, and Burke, without pivots, remains friendly to monarchial nonsense.
Nevertheless, Levin provides a service in refreshing this debate and renewing the vital nature of policy founded upon principle and reflection for modern thinkers versus a parade of current events and mere exchanges of power. The Great Debate is written clearly, providing a good launching pad for contemplating eternal truths.
WILL | Will Smith, Penguin Press (2021), 432p.
Undeniably one of Hollywood’s most lucrative actors, Will Smith is such a recognizable international brand that his self-titled autobiography is simply “Will.”
He vividly shares his childhood experiences in a fairly broken home with an alcoholic parent yet a loving family equipped with the means to travel most summers domestically. While growing up on the south side of Philadelphia, Smith had exposure to a tremendous set of experiences that empowered him with confidence and a larger horizon.
When Smith reflects on obstacles or challenges throughout the book, he repeatedly invokes language, indicating he’s fairly steeped in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) tools. Ironically, however, he almost always has an excuse or defense where his mistake was not his fault. He also makes nearly everything about him - not his loved ones, family, or children - lending credibility to the stereotypical egomaniac superstar.
He goes through the motions of vulnerability, but the final product is paragraphs of bragging and faux moralizing.
One of the book’s highlights is Smith's personal interactions with Muhammad Ali and Nelson Mandela during filming on respective projects. These encounters provide a unique insight into the lives of two of the most influential figures of the 20th century.
For those who grew up with Smith’s rap, acting, and general stardom, his autobiography will reveal tidbits and details of the entertainment world you likely missed and provide a tour-de-force of ’90s nostalgia.
THE BRAIN-FRIENDLY WORKPLACE: Why Talented People Quit and How to Get Them to Stay | Friederike Fabritius, Roman, Littlefield Publishers, (2022), 248p.
In "The Brain-Friendly Workplace: Why Talented People Quit and How to Get Them to Stay," Friederike Fabritius, a neuroscientist, explores the factors that drive talented employees to leave their organizations and presents practical solutions to create work environments that foster talent retention and employee satisfaction.
Her findings are grouped into Safety and Trust, Reward and Motivation, Emotional Intelligence, Social Connectivity, and Focus and Attention.
Underlying the commonsense recommendations, Fabritius emphasizes the understanding that the unique individual neuro signature will help managers. Every branch of science, including neuroscience, reinforces that everyone is inherently diverse and represents uniqueness. A company’s enhanced ability to adapt and accommodate those differences can fuel greater productivity and outcomes, argues the author.
As management or science goes, this book is not rocket science. It’s written for a general audience and reinforces the common sense practices in circulation today.
ONE DAY IN THE LIFE OF IVAN DENISOVICH | Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Signet, (1962), 176p.
This novella by Soviet dissent Alexander Solzhenitsyn transports the reader into the grueling daily life of a Communist hard labor prison. When published in 1962, during Khrushchev’s anti-Stalin phase - an act itself later responsible for the Premier’s disposition - it was an immediate sensation. The Russian public was unaware of the realities of its government’s gulag. Solzhenitsyn, a decorated WWII officer, wrote from first-hand experience after eleven years of brutal imprisonment for minor thought crimes. Later, he was imprisoned again for writing a detailed nonfiction account of Communist prisons.
Solzhenitsyn won a Nobel Prize for his work.
The Day in the Life is terse in prose, partially due to translation issues but primarily by design, crafting the tone and roughness of prison existence. The main character is practical, not philosophical. He focuses on survival, which means being a productive squad member, watching the backs of those closest to him, and staying out of the guard’s sight. Fed only ounces at each meal, the inmates obsess about keeping warm amidst an endless Siberian winter.
Like Epictetus - the famed Stoic, once enslaved but never imprisoned - Solzhenitsyn’s character retains agency. The choice of inner enslavement is forgone even when survival requires external submission.
Readers of One Day are forced to search their minds for what they find dear and how they would respond to such unspeakable physical torture. While the Soviet Union is formally gone, the spirit of tyranny still roams the face of our planet, seeking to criminalize ill-favored thoughts and expressions with increasing fervor. In this vein, Solzhenitsyn’s work seems less like a witness or t
GEORGE MARSHALL: Defender of the Republic | David Roll, Dutton Caliber, (2019), 704p.
In reading a tome on Pershing, the vignette of Marshall in World War I, stepping up to the General and correcting him respectfully but forcefully intrigued me to learn more about this pivotal military leader. This episode was replayed in many ways throughout his career. Marshall always spoke the preverbal “Truth to power.” yet was quiet and excessively calm in nearly all instances.
Most of us know George Marshall as the architect of the “Marshall Plan,” the infusion of US taxpayer treasury into Europe to rebuild and prevent further lapses into totalitarian impulses. He fought hard with Congress as Sec of State and allied with Michigan Republican U.S. Senator Arthur Vanderburg.
A VMI graduate, he spent his career in the military, rising to a 5-star Army General as Chief-of-Staff of the War Department during WWII.
The author, Roll spends extreme detail on marque events in his career, like the U.S. military failure to prevent the attack at Pearl Harbor. In the biographer’s judgment, it was a series of incompetence underlined by US hubris in underestimating Japan’s capability. Additionally, he provides a detailed account of Marshall’s brief but failed service as Special Envoy to China in attempting to prevent the Communists from taking over.
Marshall never commanded troops in combat. He demonstrated substantial talents in strategic planning and masterminded the first major U.S. offensive in WWI and thereafter was tasked with the planning and administration of the military. Meanwhile, his contemporaries like MacArthur and Patton were winning battlefield glory. It was with extreme humility that he backed the appointment of Eisenhower as Supreme Allied Commander at a time when Truman would have approved Marshall had he chosen to push himself.
While he had great victories, he also suffered big losses. However, throughout all of it, his unyielding commitment to his country and servant leadership is an example of real patriotism akin to the character of a Washington or Jefferson now lost in the modern milieu of self-aggrandizement and pompous parading.
KING OF THE WORLD: The Life of Cyrus the Great | Matt Walters, Oxford University Press (2022), 272p.
This biography of Cyrus the Great, founder of the Achaemenid Empire in 500 BCE, is a heavily researched and engaging account of one of history's most prominent figures. Written by an accomplished author, Waters, the book provides a detailed and vivid portrayal of Cyrus' life and accomplishments, taking the reader through his early years, rise to power, and many conquests, including his famous victory over the Babylonian Empire.
One of the book's most significant strengths is Waters' ability to contextualize Cyrus' life and achievements within the larger historical timeline. The author masterfully weaves the many political, social, and cultural influences that shaped Cyrus' world, providing a rich and nuanced portrait of the era.
Cyrus is renowned for creating an empire that was striking in its geographic breadth and scope. In addition to his military prowess, he was also deeply invested in his kingdom's infrastructure, spearheading projects such as the famed "Persian Pony Express" and advanced irrigation systems. While he may not have been a lawgiver in the same vein as Solon, Cyrus deserves credit for tolerating the religions of the people he conquered. For which the Talmud gives him credit.
Waters' writing style is accessible and engaging, making the book compelling for academics and general readers. His attention to detail and use of primary sources, including ancient texts and inscriptions, lend the book high credibility. Waters carefully distinguishes between known facts, suspected truths, and areas of uncertainty, a refreshing and commendable approach. The downside is a thinning of the narrative of Cyrus' story.
In sum, this biography of Cyrus the Great is a superb introduction to this era and part of the world. Waters' masterful storytelling and attention to detail make for a rich and nuanced portrait of one of history's most fascinating figures, a leader whose impact is still felt today and highly recommended for anyone interested in ancient history.