Memoirs!

Books George Galdorisi

Over the past fifty years, different kinds of books have gone in and out of vogue. What was popular as little as ten years ago is now completely passé.

But one kind of book has remained popular – often wildly so – over the past half-century. That genre is the memoir. There are many reasons why.

But there are so many choices. Where to you start? Wouldn’t it be great if someone compiled a list of the best memoirs?

Someone has. The New York Times’s book critics select the most outstanding memoirs published since 1969.

There is something here for everyone.

Check out this link to find a memoir to read in the waning weeks of summer

More Nukes? Really?

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The world in 2019 is a volatile place, and the news is full of reports of conflicts around the globe.

Little of that reporting involves nuclear weapons – and there hasn’t been a nuclear weapon fired in anger since 1945. That is a very good thing.

But just because the issue of nuclear arsenals is out of the news, we shouldn’t ignore it. That’s why I think that Bret Stephens recent op-ed is important for all Americans to read. Here’s how he begins:

“In the capitals of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, there is a clear lack of confidence in the United States’ reliability as a military ally.”

Sound familiar? It’s from a report in The Times dated October 7, 1979. Donald Trump isn’t the first American president about whom U.S. allies took a decidedly skeptical view.

Back then, the question was whether, and how, Jimmy Carter would respond to the Soviet Union’s deployment of the SS-20, a medium-range nuclear missile that threatened military installations in Western Europe and against which the Atlantic alliance had no equivalent. Later that year, Carter agreed that the U.S. would deploy hundreds of intermediate-range Pershing II and cruise missiles to Europe in response, a policy the Reagan administration completed in the early 1980s.

The history is worth remembering now that the U.S. has formally exited the 1987 Intermediate Nuclear Forces (I.N.F.) treaty, following many years of cheating by Russia and failed diplomatic efforts to bring it into compliance. Moscow has secretly fielded an estimated 100 ground-launched cruise missiles “designed to target critical European military and economic infrastructure, and thereby be in position to coerce NATO allies,” according to Dan Coats, the former director of national intelligence. Russia is also believed to be violating the 1996 Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty.

You can read the full article here

Decide!

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Whether it’s procrastination – or something deeper – many of us have challenges deciding.

Our ancestors didn’t have this issue – just surviving was an issue.

Today, with our embarrassment of riches, we have SO many choices.

I don’t know if you have trouble deciding, but I do.

That’s why I found Susan Shain’s recent piece, “Making a Decision Doesn’t Have to Be So Hard,” so refreshing, and helpful. Here’s how she begins:

Should you order tacos or tikka masala? Stay at the hotel with the free breakfast or the one with all the succulents? Melt into the couch or drag yourself to happy hour?

If you’re like me, even the simplest decisions can make your pulse race. And when it comes to big, life-altering choices, the need to get it right (because life is short!), combined with ever-looming F.O.B.O. (fear of better options), can cause a state of near paralysis.

While this abundance of choice is a result of incredible privilege — not everyone has the freedom to select where they work or live, or how to spend their time or money — it can still be overwhelming. As Barry Schwartz, the author of “The Paradox of Choice,” said, “I’m reasonably confident we’re operating with far, far more options in most parts of our life than we need and that serve us.”

Here are five strategies for spending less time agonizing over decisions and more time appreciating the results….

Want more? You can read them here

 

Our Phones – Ourselves

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Are you reading this on your phone? It’s likely that you are and that your smart phone is such a constant companion that it is on your person 24/7.

Was this the plan when Steve Jobs first introduced this magical device? Not at all suggests Cal Newport. Here is how he began his insightful piece:

Smartphones are our constant companions. For many of us, their glowing screens are a ubiquitous presence, drawing us in with endless diversions, like the warm ping of social approval delivered in the forms of likes and retweets, and the algorithmically amplified outrage of the latest “breaking” news or controversy. They’re in our hands, as soon as we wake, and command our attention until the final moments before we fall asleep.

Steve Jobs would not approve.

In 2007, Mr. Jobs took the stage at the Moscone Convention Center in San Francisco and introduced the world to the iPhone. If you watch the full speech, you’ll be surprised by how he imagined our relationship with this iconic invention, because this vision is so different from the way most of us use these devices now.

In the remarks, after discussing the phone’s interface and hardware, he spends an extended amount of time demonstrating how the device leverages the touch screen before detailing the many ways Apple engineers improved the age-old process of making phone calls. “It’s the best iPod we’ve ever made,” Mr. Jobs exclaims at one point. “The killer app is making calls,” he later adds. Both lines spark thunderous applause. He doesn’t dedicate any significant time to discussing the phone’s internet connectivity features until more than 30 minutes into the address.

The presentation confirms that Mr. Jobs envisioned a simpler and more constrained iPhone experience than the one we actually have over a decade later. For example, he doesn’t focus much on apps. When the iPhone was first introduced there was no App Store, and this was by design. As Andy Grignon, an original member of the iPhone team, told me when I was researching this topic, Mr. Jobs didn’t trust third-party developers to offer the same level of aesthetically pleasing and stable experiences that Apple programmers could produce. He was convinced that the phone’s carefully designed native features were enough. It was “an iPod that made phone calls,” Mr. Grignon said to me.

Mr. Jobs seemed to understand the iPhone as something that would help us with a small number of activities — listening to music, placing calls, generating directions. He didn’t seek to radically change the rhythm of users’ daily lives. He simply wanted to take experiences we already found important and make them better.

The minimalist vision for the iPhone he offered in 2007 is unrecognizable today — and that’s a shame.

Under what I call the “constant companion model,” we now see our smartphones as always-on portals to information. Instead of improving activities that we found important before this technology existed, this model changes what we pay attention to in the first place — often in ways designed to benefit the stock price of attention-economy conglomerates, not our satisfaction and well-being.

Want more? You can read the full article here

Tiananmen Square Remembered

Last month, we marked the 30th anniversary of China’s crackdown on student protestors in Tiananmen Square.

Much ink has been spilled about this event, but less has been written about how that day shaped China today. Orville Schell’s excellent article begins by noting:

“In the spring of 1989, a democratic future for China seemed possible. Then came Tiananmen. The U.S.-China relationship still hasn’t recovered.” He goes on to say:

China was indeed experiencing a springtime. At last, its halting tradition of democratic activism and cosmopolitan aspiration seemed on the verge of triumphing over the rival traditions of imperial rule and Leninism. Here was definitive proof that ideas of freedom were not just a foreign import or imposition. For the first time since 1949, one could suddenly imagine a China that was both more democratic and more fully integrated into the outside world.

But the moment didn’t last, as we know in marking this week’s melancholy 30th anniversary. Whatever the power of China’s long-suppressed democratic hopes, they could not withstand the ideological determination and brutal might of the Chinese Communist Party. The crushing of the Tiananmen protest movement was a shock not just to all those intoxicated, idealistic Chinese demonstrators but also to Westerners like myself who believed that, with our help, China was starting to find its way to being a more modern and open society.

The tragedy of that possibly misplaced faith weighs especially heavily today. Under President Xi Jinping, a newly assertive authoritarian China now strikes many in the U.S. not just as a disappointment but as a threat. In retrospect, through the ups and downs of decades of diplomatic engagement and growing economic connection, the Tiananmen crackdown of 1989 now appears to be the moment when the regime most fully revealed the fundamental principles that now guide Mr. Xi and a rising China.

Want more? You can read the full article here

Three Cheers for Generalists

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I follow sports intently, and have read a great deal about the radically different paths followed by Tiger Woods and Roger Federer.

But when I read a recent article by David Epstein entitled, “You Don’t Want a Child Prodigy,” a great deal crystalized for me. Here’s how he began:

One Thursday in January, I hit “send” on the last round of edits for a new book about how society undervalues generalists — people who cultivate broad interests, zigzag in their careers and delay picking an area of expertise. Later that night, my wife started having intermittent contractions. By Sunday, I was wheeling my son’s bassinet down a hospital hallway toward a volunteer harpist, fantasizing about a music career launched in the maternity ward.

A friend had been teasing me for months about whether, as a parent, I would be able to listen to my own advice, or whether I would be a “do as I write, not as I do” dad, telling everyone else to slow down while I hustle to mold a baby genius. That’s right, I told him, sharing all of this research is part of my plan to sabotage the competition while secretly raising the Tiger Woods of blockchain (or perhaps the harp).

I do find the Tiger Woods story incredibly compelling; there is a reason it may be the most famous tale of development ever. Even if you don’t know the details, you’ve probably absorbed the gist.

Woods was 7 months old when his father gave him a putter, which he dragged around in his circular baby-walker. At 2, he showed off his drive on national television. By 21, he was the best golfer in the world. There were, to be sure, personal and professional bumps along the way, but in April he became the second-oldest player ever to win the Masters. Woods’s tale spawned an early-specialization industry.

And yet, I knew that his path was not the only way to the top.

Consider Roger Federer. Just a year before Woods won this most recent Masters, Federer, at 36, became the oldest tennis player ever to be ranked No. 1 in the world. But as a child, Federer was not solely focused on tennis. He dabbled in skiing, wrestling, swimming, skateboarding and squash. He played basketball, handball, tennis, table tennis and soccer (and badminton over his neighbor’s fence). Federer later credited the variety of sports with developing his athleticism and coordination.

While Tiger’s story is much better known, when sports scientists study top athletes, they find that the Roger pattern is the standard. Athletes who go on to become elite usually have a “sampling period.” They try a variety of sports, gain a breadth of general skills, learn about their own abilities and proclivities, and delay specializing until later than their peers who plateau at lower levels. The way to develop the best 20-year-old athlete, it turns out, is not the same as the way to make the best 10-year-old athlete.

MAYBE LATE BLOOMERS DO BEST!

Want more? You can read the full article here

Hold the Obits!

Opinion The Comeback of the Century The New York Times

Over the past decade, countless obituaries have been written for books. Many were convinced the printed book would soon suffer the same fate as the dinosaurs.

Hold the obits!

The printed book is making a huge comeback. I had been aware of this in bits and pieces, but am grateful to Timothy for helping with some perspective. Here’s how he began a recent op-ed:

Not long ago I found myself inside the hushed and high-vaulted interior of a nursing home for geriatric books, in the forgotten city of St.-Omer, France. Running my white-gloved hands over the pages of a thousand-year-old manuscript, I was amazed at the still-bright colors applied long ago in a chilly medieval scriptorium. Would anything written today still be around to touch in another millennium?

In the digital age, the printed book has experienced more than its share of obituaries. Among the most dismissive was one from Steve Jobs, who said in 2008, “It doesn’t matter how good or bad the product is, the fact is that people don’t read anymore.”

True, nearly one in four adults in this country has not read a book in the last year. But the book — with a spine, a unique scent, crisp pages and a typeface that may date to Shakespeare’s day — is back. Defying all death notices, sales of printed books continue to rise to new highs, as do the number of independent stores stocked with these voices between covers, even as sales of electronic versions are declining.

Nearly three times as many Americans read a book of history in 2017 as watched the first episode of the final season of “Game of Thrones.” The share of young adults who read poetry in that year more than doubled from five years earlier. A typical rage tweet by President Trump, misspelled and grammatically sad, may get him 100,000 “likes.” Compare that with the 28 million Americans who read a book of verse in the first year of Trump’s presidency, the highest share of the population in 15 years.

So, even with a president who is ahistoric, borderline literate and would fail a sixth-grade reading comprehension test, something wonderful and unexpected is happening in the language arts. When the dominant culture goes low, the saviors of our senses go high.

Want more? You can read it here

Artificial Intelligence

Galdorisi May 19 pdf

Artificial intelligence (AI) may be the most beneficial technological development of the 21st century.  However, it is undoubtedly the most hyped technological development of the past two decades.  This hype has raised expectations for results and, unfortunately, has clouded public understanding of the true nature of AI and its limitations as well as potential.

The highest level U.S. security documents demonstrate a recognition of the power of AI to support U.S. national objectives.

The National Security Strategy notes: “New advances in computing, autonomy, and manufacturing are already transforming the way we fight…From self-driving cars to autonomous weapons, the field of [AI], in particular, is progressing rapidly.”

The National Defense Strategy puts it this way: “The security environment is also affected by rapid technological advancements and the changing character of war…New technologies include artificial intelligence [and] autonomy.”

The U.S. Navy knows it needs AI, but would be well-served if it articulates these needs better so it can harness this critical technology.

I addressed this subject in my recent U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings article, The Navy Needs AI, It Just Isn’t Certain Why.”  Want more? You can read the full article here

Sports and Life

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Much has been written about how sports are a metaphor for life. While not everyone will agree with that statement, it is, from my perspective, largely true.

It’s no surprise then, that in the midst of the NBA finals, an article on the cover of Sunday’s New York Times Business Section talked about John McLean.

McLean is featured in this prominent article as premier wealth manager of the N.B.A. elite. A bevy of NBA superstars have hired him to manage their money – and their lives.

What I found most compelling in this article in the illustration featured here. I don’t know about you, but I find it a helpful reminder for everyday life.

Want more? You can read it here

Hooking Your Reader

Writing Techniques

People lead such frenetic lives in 2019 that writers are especially challenged to hook their readers, often in minutes or even seconds.

That can happen in a bookstore, or more commonly, on Amazon with a “Look Inside” the book offer.

I reflected on one opening sentence that I keep coming back to as a “best-practices” example. Here it is, from James Jones From Here to Eternity:

“When he finished packing, he walked out onto the third-floor porch of the barracks brushing the dust from his hands, a very neat and deceptively slim young man in the summer khakis that were still early morning fresh.”

And here’s how Ed McBain breaks it down in Killer’s Payoff:

“Jones packs a hell of a lot into that first line. He tells you it’s summer, he tells you it’s morning, he tells you you’re on an Army post with a soldier who’s obviously leaving for someplace, and he gives you a thumbnail description of his hero. That’s a good opening line.”

Keep writing…and go find that killer-good opening sentence….