The First 90 Days: Proven Strategies for Getting Up to Speed Faster and Smarter, Updated and Expanded (Michael D. Watkins, Harvard Business Review Press, 2013, 304 pages)

I have read or consulted this book countless times.  It is an invaluable resource--thoughtful and, unlike most leadership books, practical and easy to follow.  Any professional who is dealing with transition or anticipating one--a new job, a new boss, a promotion, etc.--can profit from this guide. 

  


The Great Book of American Idioms: A Dictionary of American Idioms, Sayings, Expressions & Phrases (Lingo Mastery, Amazon Publishing, 2019, 240 pages)

Good stuff.  I was surprised by how many I know (and use) but still learned a few new ones.  An idiom is a group of words established by usage as having a meaning not deducible from those of the individual words (e.g., rain cats and dogssee the light ).  The English language, like many other languages, is littered with them.  How many do you know?    

 


Book Report: What Did You Read in 2019?

My Book Report for 2019:

  • 63 books
  • 31,524 pages
  • average book length = 500 pages
  • average days per book = 5.79 days

Five Best Reads in 2019:

Five Worst Reads in 2019:


Archangel: A Novel (Robert Harris, Random House, 1999, 373 pages)

Good vacation, beach novel and even better film adaptation, starring Daniel Craig.

Outside Moscow in 1953, Stalin suffers a fatal stroke, and the notorious Beria, head of Stalin's secret police, orders a young guard to swipe a key from the dictator's body, to stand watch as Beria uses it to steal a notebook from Stalin's safe and then to help bury the notebook deep in the ground. These events unfold not in flashback proper but as told to American Sovietologist C.R.A. "Fluke" Kelso by the guard, now an old drunk.  Following a lead from the old man's story as well as other clues, Kelso, soon accompanied by an American satellite-TV journalist, goes in pursuit of the notebook and, later, the explosive secret it contains; others, including those who cherish the days of Stalin's might, are on the chase as well.  

 


The Election of Pope Francis: An Inside Account of the Conclave That Changed History (Gerard O'Connell, Orbis Books, 2019, 331 pages)

Fascinating behind-the-scenes account of the election in 2013 of Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, the first Latin American pope, the first Jesuit pope, and the first pope to choose the name Francis.


Season of Saturdays: A History of College Football in 14 Games (Michael Weinreb, Scribner, 2014, 272 pages)

Michael Weinreb’s Season of Saturdays examines the evolution of college football, from the moral and ethical quandaries that informed its past to the fascinating changes that may affect its future. Since its nascent days on elite Ivy League campuses, college football has inspired both school spirit and controversy. Weinreb explores the game’s inherent violence, its early seeds of big-business greed, and its impact on institutions of higher learning. Filtered through the stories of such iconic coaches as Woody Hayes and Joe Paterno and Steve Spurrier, Season of Saturdays also celebrates some of the greatest games of all time while exploring their larger significance. Part popular history, part memoir—and always uniquely American—Season of Saturdays is both a look back at how the sport became so fraught with problems, and a look ahead at how the sport might survive another century.

Weinreb has written about college football for The New York Times, GQ, Sports on Earth, ESPN, and Grantland. He has been featured on NPR’s This American Life and ESPN’s 30 for 30, and has appeared on CNN, ESPN, and ESPN Radio. His book Game of Kings won the Quill Award for Best Sports Books of 2007.

 


Absolute Monarchs: A History of the Papacy (John Julius Norwich, Random House, 2011, 518 pages)

With the papacy embattled in recent years, it is essential to have the perspective of one of the world’s most accomplished historians. In Absolute Monarchs, John Julius Norwich captures nearly two thousand years of inspiration and devotion, intrigue and scandal. The men (and maybe one woman) who have held this position of infallible power over millions have ranged from heroes to rogues, admirably wise to utterly decadent. Norwich, who knew two popes and had private audiences with two others, recounts in riveting detail the histories of the most significant popes and what they meant politically, culturally, and socially to Rome and to the world. 


The Decision Maker's Playbook: 12 Mental Tactics for Thinking More Clearly, Navigating Uncertainty, and Making Smarter Choices (Simon Mueller and Julia Dhar, FT Press, 2019, 240 pages)

Contains some pearls of wisdom, but, overall, needlessly complex. 

Key takeaways:

• One: Use “mental models” to make smart decisions in an increasingly complex world that is drowning in data.
• Two: Frame the problem before you try to solve it.
• Three: Embrace varied viewpoints and independent thinking.
• Four: Solving problems requires an open, unbiased mind.
• Five: Discover and defuse your blind spots.
• Six: Create an “objective evidence base” by diversifying your information sources.
• Seven: Connect all the dots.
• Eight: Apply systems thinking.
• Nine: Plan your problem-solving approach.
• Ten: Methodically implement your problem-solving initiative.
• Eleven: Have multiple mental models at your disposal.
• Twelve: Take action. 

 


A Short Life of Jonathan Edwards (George M. Marsden, Eerdmans Publishing, 2008, 176 pages)

Short and sweet.

In pre-Revolutionary War America, religion and Jonathan Edwards was a big deal.  His legacy continues.  A scion of ministers, Edwards was upper crust, yet he became the chief apologist of the Great Awakening, which challenged local pastors and encouraged democracy among church members. Astonishingly busy and productive, he had 11 children, wrote voluminously, directed missions to the Indians, and faithfully attended church conventicles. A rigorous Calvinist and a keen student of nature, he believed in a personal God whose love required reciprocal love from the believer, not least because of the glorious gift of Creation.

Known best for his famous sermon “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,” Edwards is often viewed as a proponent of fire, brimstone, and the wrath of God. As Marsden shows, however, the focus of Edwards's preaching was not God's wrath but rather his overwhelming and all-encompassing love. Marsden also rescues Edwards from the high realms of intellectual history, revealing him more comprehensively through the lens of his everyday life and interactions. Further, Marsden shows how Edwards provides a window on the fascinating and often dangerous world of the American colonies in the decades before the American Revolution.

Marsden here gives us an Edwards who illumines both American history and Christian theology, an Edwards that will appeal to readers with little or no training in either field.


Fire to Win: The Life and Times of Woody Hayes (John Lombardo, Thomas Books, 2005, 288 pages)

My sister is a rabid Ohio State fan.  I am partial to Michigan.  Greatest rivalry in all of college football.  I read this hoping that it might help me understand my sister's misguided enthusiasm.  Mission partially accomplished. 

Legendary Ohio State football coach Woody Hayes died in 1987, but his legacy lives on. Lombardo presents Hayes' youth in rural Ohio as the cornerstone of the values that would guide him all his life. Education was critical to Hayes' family, and it was the call to teaching that eventually led to coaching. Lombardo follows Hayes' career from his first high-school job--from which he was dismissed for being abusive to his players--to small Denison University to Miami of Ohio and finally to Ohio State. Hayes' volatile, on-field personality--in his last collegiate game, he punched an opposing player, leading to his almost immediate dismissal--stood in sharp contrast to the scholarly, empathetic, and generous man who was revered by players and associates. Lombardo explores these contradictions without delivering any conclusions, but even Hayes seemed unable to control his demons, let alone understand them. Typical of sports biographies, there's a bit too much then-they-played narrative, but on balance, this is a sympathetic yet evenhanded examination of a modern coaching giant.


The Text of the New Testament: Its Transmission, Corruption, and Restoration (Bruce M. Metzger, Bart D. Ehrman, Oxford University Press, 2005, 366 pages)

Metzger's and Ehrman's reputations as textual critics of the New Testament speak for themselves.  This comprehensive work on the text of the New Testament provides information about ancient and newly discovered manuscripts, and offers various interpretations of the significance of manuscript evidence.  It contains references to more than one hundred and fifty additional books and articles dealing with Greek manuscripts, early versions and critical studies of witnesses to the text of the New Testament.  Designed for the student and academics.

 


The Age of Gold: The California Gold Rush and the New American Dream (H.W. Brands, Doubleday, 2002, 547 pages)

Superb.

Texas A&M University professor H.W. Brands enhanced his reputation as one of America's great popular historians with The Age of Gold, which tells the story of the California gold rush through rollicking narrative and intelligent analysis. "James Marshall's discovery of gold at Coloma [in 1848] turned out to be a seminal event in history, one of those rare moments that divide human existence into before and after," he writes. It launched "the most astonishing mass movement of people since the Crusades" and "helped initiate the modern era of American economic development." Brands describes how thousands of people from all over the world hazarded the journey, faced the scientific challenge of extracting precious metal from the earth, and finally struggled "to sink roots" where so many came merely "to strip the land." This book was something of a departure for Brands, who had previously written biographies of Benjamin Franklin and Theodore Roosevelt (both of them excellent). Yet he tackles this new topic with confidence, telling dozens of stories about John Fremont, Leland Stanford, and less famous forty-niners. He concludes by describing why these tales have a national and even global importance.

 


Book of Mormon Made Easier: Deluxe Edition Set (Volumes 1 & 2) (David J. Ridges, Cedar Fort, Inc., 2011, 834 pages)

Terrific companion to your study of  The Book of Mormon.  Ridges succeeds for one rather obvious reason where others have failed: he includes the full text of the scripture followed or preceded by his astute commentary and thus dispensing with the need to go back and forth from scripture to study guide.  Not sure why no one else ever thought of this.

  


The Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ (Translated By Joseph Smith Jr., The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, 1981, 779 pages)

I read dozens of books and tens of thousands of pages each year.  No other book--besides perhaps the Holy Bible--fills me with the same spirit of peace or motivates me to be a better man than does The Book Of Mormon.  I and millions others the world over esteem it as sacred scripture, the Word of God.  It is another testament that Jesus Christ lives, that he is our savior and redeemer. 

    


The Jesuits: A History from Ignatius to the Present (John W. O'Malley SJ, Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2014, 168 pages)

Anyone who has attended an institution of higher education owes a debt of gratitude to the Jesuits. 

The book tells the story of the Jesuits’ great successes as missionaries, educators, scientists, cartographers, polemicists, theologians, poets, patrons of the arts, and confessors to kings. It tells the story of their failures and of the calamity that struck them in 1773 when Pope Clement XIV suppressed them worldwide. It tells how a subsequent pope restored them to life and how they have fared to this day in virtually every country in the world. Along the way it introduces readers to key figures in Jesuit history, such as Matteo Ricci and Pedro Arrupe, and important Jesuit writings, such as the Spiritual Exercises.

 


The King of Content: Sumner Redstone's Battle for Viacom, CBS, and Everlasting Control of His Media Empire (Keach Hagey, HarperBusiness, 2018, 384 pages)

Sumner Murray Redstone, who lived by the credo “content is king,” leveraged his father’s chain of drive-in movie theaters into one of the world’s greatest media empires through a series of audacious takeovers designed to ensure his permanent control. Over the course of this meteoric rise, he made his share of enemies and feuded with nearly every member of his family.

In The King of Content, Keach Hagey deconstructs Redstone’s rise from Boston’s West End through Harvard Law School to the highest echelons of American business. Today the ninety-five-year-old mogul’s life has become a tabloid soap opera, the center of acrimonious legal battles throughout his vast holdings, which include Paramount Pictures and two of the largest public media companies, Viacom and CBS. At the heart of these lawsuits is Redstone’s tumultuous love life and complicated relationship with his children. Redstone’s daughter, Shari, has emerged as his de facto successor, but only after she ousted his closest confidant in a fierce power struggle.

Yet Redstone’s assets face an existential threat that goes beyond his family, disgruntled ex-girlfriends, or even the management of his companies: the changing nature of media consumption. As more and more people cut their cable cords, CBS, with its focus on sports and broadcast TV, has held steady, while Viacom, with its once-great cable channels like MTV and Nickelodeon, has suffered a precipitous fall. As their rivals merge, the question is whether Shari’s push to undo her father’s last big strategic maneuver and recombine CBS and Viacom will be enough to shore up their future. 

 


George Marshall: Defender of the Republic (David L. Roll, Dutton Caliber, 2019, 704 pages)

Superb.  Just might be the best book I have read in 2019.  Excellent biography and loaded with lessons on leadership.  Marshall was the public servant ideal.

Winston Churchill called him World War II's "organizer of victory." Harry Truman said he was "the greatest military man that this country ever produced." Today, in our era of failed leadership, few lives are more worthy of renewed examination than Marshall and his fifty years of loyal service to the defense of his nation and its values. 

Even as a young officer he was heralded as a genius, a reputation that grew when in WWI he planned and executed a nighttime movement of more than a half million troops from one battlefield to another that led to the armistice. Between the wars he helped modernize combat training, and re-staffed the U.S. Army's officer corps with the men who would lead in the next decades. But as WWII loomed, it was the role of army chief of staff in which Marshall's intellect and backbone were put to the test, when his blind commitment to duty would run up against the realities of Washington politics. Long seen as a stoic, almost statuesque figure, he emerges in these pages as a man both remarkable and deeply human, thanks to newly discovered sources.

Set against the backdrop of five major conflicts—two world wars, Palestine, Korea, and the Cold War—Marshall's education in military, diplomatic, and political power, replete with their nuances and ambiguities, runs parallel with America's emergence as a global superpower.

 


River of Fire: My Spiritual Journey (Helen Prejean, Random House, 2019, 320 pages)

Marvelous retrospective on a life well lived. 

Sister Helen Prejean, CSJ, is a member of the Congregation of St. Joseph, and is known worldwide for starting a dialogue on the death penalty. After witnessing the electrocution of a condemned man in a Louisiana prison in 1984, Prejean wrote the bestselling Dead Man Walking and set out, through storytelling, to bring citizens close to the hard realities of government killings.  

In River of Fire, Sister Helen writes about the relationships with friends, fellow nuns, and mentors who have shaped her over the years.  The final page of River of Fire ends with the opening page of Dead Man Walking.

 


Medieval Myths & Mysteries (Dorsey Armstrong, Audible Original, 2019, 5 hours)

Well done!    The last lecture is a MUST for fans of Game of Thrones.  

Was King Arthur a real person? What about Robin Hood? Is the Holy Grail a cup, or something else, altogether? Did Europeans really burn millions of people at the stake for witchcraft, in the past? These are just a few of the questions medieval scholar Dorsey Armstrong explores as she reveals the truth about the stories we continue to tell about the medieval period.  Some contain nuggets of truth, others are wholly fabricated, but all of them can tell us something about the past.

From films like Braveheart and Excalibur to literature such as Ivanhoe and Morte d'Arthur, the years between 500 and 1500 have generated amazing stories of knights and damsels, superstitions and magic; some of these stories even made it into our grade school history curriculum. But what were those years really like? Known, somewhat inaccurately, as the "Middle Ages," this period was not merely a transition from Roman antiquity to the Renaissance, but a vibrant time full of people just as curious, innovative, malicious, joyful, confused, ambitious, complex - in other words, just as human - as in any other period of history.

The 10 enlightening (and often humorous) lectures of Medieval Myths and Mysteries will show you how far from the "dark" times of legend these centuries were. Uncover the facts about the Knights Templar. Reveal the truth behind the tales of legendary creatures like the Questing Beast and the unicorn. Trace the events of the Black Death and the ways it altered the world in its wake, and much more. 

 


A People's History of the Supreme Court (Peter Irons, Viking Adult; First Edition, 1999, 512 pages)

Should have been titled Some People's History of the Supreme Court.  Not entirely without bias.  

Traces the history of the Supreme Court from 1787 to the present day, profiling every justice from John Jay to Stephen Breyer, and examines the cases that have transformed American history and the court's controversial rulings on such issues as racial segregation, abortion, gay rights, and free speech.

 


Oliver Wendell Holmes: A Life in War, Law, and Ideas (Stephen Budiansky, W. W. Norton & Company, 2019, 592 pages)

Splendid biography. 

Oliver Wendell Holmes twice escaped death as a young Union officer in the Civil War when musket balls missed his heart and spinal cord by a fraction of an inch at the Battles of Ball’s Bluff and Antietam. He lived ever after with unwavering moral courage, unremitting scorn for dogma, and an insatiable intellectual curiosity.

Named to the Supreme Court by Theodore Roosevelt at age sixty-one, he served for nearly three decades, writing a series of famous, eloquent, and often dissenting opinions that would prove prophetic in securing freedom of speech, protecting the rights of criminal defendants, and ending the Court’s reactionary resistance to social and economic reforms.

As a pioneering legal scholar, Holmes revolutionized the understanding of common law by showing how the law always evolved to meet the changing needs of society. As an enthusiastic friend and indefatigable correspondent, he wrote thousands of personal letters brimming with humorous philosophical insights, trenchant comments on the current scene, and an abiding joy in fighting the good fight.

Drawing on many previously unpublished letters and records, Stephen Budiansky’s biography offers the fullest portrait yet of this pivotal American figure, whose zest for life, wit, and intellect left a profound legacy in law and Constitutional rights, and who was an inspiring example of how to lead a meaningful life in a world of uncertainty and upheaval.

 


Doing Justice: A Prosecutor's Thoughts on Crime, Punishment, and the Rule of Law (Preet Bharara, Knopf, 2019, 368 pages)

Terrific read.  Thoughtful, insightful, and interesting.  

Preet Bharara served as U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York from 2009 to 2017.  There he oversaw the investigation and litigation of all criminal and civil cases and supervised an office of more than two hundred Assistant U.S. Attorneys, who handled cases involving terrorism, narcotics and arms trafficking, financial and healthcare fraud, cybercrime, public corruption, gang violence, organized crime, and civil rights violations. 

Doing Justice is divided into four sections: Inquiry, Accusation, Judgment and Punishment.  Bharara shows why each is crucial to the legal system, but he also shows how we all need to think about each stage of the process to achieve truth and justice in our daily lives.  He uses anecdotes and case histories from his legal career--the successes as well as the failures--to illustrate the realities of the legal system, and the consequences of taking action (and in some cases, not taking action, which can be just as essential when trying to achieve a just result).

 


In the Full Light of the Sun (Clare Clark, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2019, 432 pages)

Interesting, but a little too slow for my taste.   

Based on a true story, Clark chronicles the fortunes of three Berliners caught up in an art scandal—involving newly discovered van Goghs—that rocks Germany amidst the Nazis’ rise to power. 

 


The Fifties (David Halberstam, Villard, 1993, 800 pages)

Second time around for me.  One of my favorites.   

The Fifties is a sweeping social, political, economic, and cultural history of the ten years that Halberstam regards as seminal in determining what our nation is today.  Halberstam offers portraits of not only the titans of the age: Eisenhower Dulles, Oppenheimer, MacArthur, Hoover, and Nixon, but also of Harley Earl, who put fins on cars; Dick and Mac McDonald and Ray Kroc, who mass-produced the American hamburger; Kemmons Wilson, who placed his Holiday Inns along the nation's roadsides; U-2 pilot Gary Francis Powers; Grace Metalious, who wrote Peyton Place; and "Goody" Pincus, who led the team that invented the Pill.


Stop the Slaughter of Our Children With These Weapons of War (Adm. Michael G. Mullen, The Atlantic, August 2019)

One of the highlights of my professional career has been to have worked with Admiral Mullen.  His recent essay in The Atlantic is well worth reading. 


The Civil War (Bruce Catton, American Heritage Books, 2004 ed., 400 pages)

Bruce Catton was the master of  historical narrative and one of the most respected scholars of the American Civil War.  The Civil War is a single volume abridgment of his earlier three volume general history of the war.  A must read for any student of the war. 

      


The Passage of Power: The Years of Lyndon Johnson, Vol. IV (Robert A. Caro, Vintage; Reprint Ed., 2013, 768 pages)

Just as good as the first three volumes.  I am ready for the fifth and final volume if Mr. Caro ever finishes it.   

The Passage of Power follows Lyndon Johnson through both the most frustrating and the most triumphant periods of his career—1958 to 1964. It is a time that would see him trade the extraordinary power he had created for himself as Senate Majority Leader for what became the wretched powerlessness of a Vice President in an administration that disdained and distrusted him. Yet it was, as well, the time in which the presidency, the goal he had always pursued, would be thrust upon him in the moment it took an assassin’s bullet to reach its mark.

By 1958, as Johnson began to maneuver for the presidency, he was known as one of the most brilliant politicians of his time, the greatest Senate Leader in our history. But the 1960 nomination would go to the young senator from Massachusetts, John F. Kennedy.  Caro gives account of the machinations behind both the nomination and Kennedy’s decision to offer Johnson the vice presidency, revealing the extent of Robert Kennedy’s efforts to force Johnson off the ticket.  Caro exposes the savage animosity between Johnson and Kennedy’s younger brother, portraying one of America’s great political feuds. Yet Robert Kennedy’s overt contempt for Johnson was only part of the burden of humiliation and isolation he bore as Vice President.  Caro describes what it was like for this mighty politician to find himself altogether powerless in a world in which power is the crucial commodity. 

For the first time, in Caro’s breathtakingly narrative, we see the Kennedy assassination through Lyndon Johnson’s eyes. We watch Johnson step into the presidency, inheriting a staff fiercely loyal to his slain predecessor; a Congress determined to retain its power over the executive branch; and a nation in shock and mourning. We see how within weeks—grasping the reins of the presidency with supreme mastery—he propels through Congress essential legislation that at the time of Kennedy’s death seemed hopelessly logjammed and seizes on a dormant Kennedy program to create the revolutionary War on Poverty. Caro makes clear how the political genius with which Johnson had ruled the Senate now enabled him to make Kennedy's domestic legislative agenda a reality and the presidency wholly his own. 

 


The Civil War: Volumes I - III (Shelby Foote, Modern Library, 2011 ed., 2,984 pages)

Worthwhile reading, but proceed with caution.

I have made my way through all three volumes of Shelby Foote's The Civil War twice now.  The first time, as an undergraduate student, and the second time over the past several weeks.  I was prompted to have a second go at it after recently re-watching Ken Burn's landmark documentary of the same name, which first aired in 1990 on PBS and which I have watched more times that I should admit publicly.  Foote, more specifically interview clips of Foote, feature prominently in Burns' documentary.  

The Civil War deservedly belongs among the best narrative histories of that great conflict.  "Best narrative histories," is a polite way of saying that, yes, it is good and well worth reading, but it is not technically a work of scholarship, and it has its flaws.  Foote's prose and narrative style are brilliant--would that I could write like him--and he has the unique and gifted ability to make the reader feel an intimate part of the story, of "being there," as it were.  His profiles of people are stunning and life-like.  But, Foote's history and context are limited.  It is largely a military history and Foote romanticizes the martial nature of the conflict, sometimes to an uncomfortable and tone-deaf degree.  Little space is devoted to the political issues of the time, most notably slavery.  Indeed, one gets the sense in reading The Civil War that slavery was hardly a contributing factor in secession and the war.  Oddly, Frederick Douglass is never mentioned by Foote; but one indication that something is lacking. And Foote's sympathies for the South and some of the well-worn tropes of  the Lost Cause are clearly evident as the narrative progresses.       


The Age of Eisenhower: America and the World in the 1950s (William I. Hitchcock, Simon & Schuster, 2018, 672 pages)

Well done.

Eisenhower's estimation as a President has steadily improved over the years.  Now, most reputable rankings by historians, political scientists, etc. rank him in the Top 5 Presidents, or pretty close.  Hitchcock's biography certainly proves the point.  In my view, Eisenhower's strength's were foreign policy and international relations--his military career and legendary performance in World War II no doubt prepared him well--and his tenure as President included some significant challenges.  He showed little interest in domestic concerns though, most of all on civil rights.  He was unwilling and just as soon not have had to deal with race relations during his two terms.  For this, I am not sure I'd include him in my own ranking of Top Presidents. 

 


To Kill a Mockingbird (Harper Lee, 50th Anniversary Ed., Harper, 2015, 336 pages)

I was prompted to re-read this after seeing Jeff Daniels play Atticus Finch in Aaron Sorkin's recent Broadway adaptation of Harper Lee's one-hit wonder.  Sorkin's adaptation was wonderful and Daniels was outstanding.  The only other time I had read Mockingbird was in junior high school, when I did so under protest--I (arrogantly) never took kindly to stuffy English teachers telling me what to read because some school board somewhere decided it was a classic.  I did not then give Lee her proper due.  Only now, after re-reading, do I understand why Mockingbird is universally acclaimed as the most important and beloved work of American fiction in the twentieth century.  It deserves to be called a classic, and it is just as relevant today as it was when first published. 

      


Suddenly In Charge: Managing Up, Managing Down, Succeeding All Around (Roberta Chinsky Matuson, Nicholas Brealey Publishing, 2017, 224 pages)

Good read, and full of simple, direct, and immediately actionable advice. 

Success as a new or even seasoned manager depends on being able to effectively manage your relationships with your boss and with those that report to you: managing up and managing down.  Sadly, in most schools and workplaces, managing up is rarely, if ever taught, and managing down doesn't get much more attention.  Managers are often left to their own devices--self education and learning by observing and doing.  It needn't be that way--there is plenty to be learned from folks that have been there and done that. 

Suddenly in Charge is actually two books in one--and creatively designed that way too: start at the front of the book with the Managing Up cover and content, or flip the book and start at the back of the book with the Managing Down cover and content.  For managing down, Matuson explores the importance of building trust, first impressions, bosses who aren't afraid to get into the trenches, respecting subordinates, flexibility, listening more and talking less, and helping others shine.  For managing up, Matuson emphasizes learning about your boss, understanding their management style and adapting to that style, and, importantly, respecting the organizational chart (i.e., making your boss look good and respecting their role in the organization, even if you might not like them personally). 

Matuson includes some worthwhile advice as to navigating office politics, an unavoidable part of every organization.  Power in the office takes two forms: hierarchical, which depends on position, and personal, which depends on influence.  To survive, you must learn where power (express and implied) resides in your organization and behave accordingly: (i) know the players, (ii) think before acting, (iii) learn from your mistakes, and (iv) play quietly. 

 


Master of the Senate: The Years of Lyndon Johnson III (Robert A. Caro, Knopf, 2002, 1200 pages)

Volume III of Caro's masterful biography of Lyndon Johnson.     

Caro carries Johnson’s story through one of its most remarkable periods: his twelve years, from 1949 to 1960, in the United States Senate. At the heart of the book is its unprecedented revelation of how legislative power works in America, how the Senate works, and how Johnson, in his ascent to the presidency, mastered the Senate as no political leader before him had ever done.
 
It was during these years that all Johnson’s experience—from his Texas Hill Country boyhood to his passionate representation in Congress of his hardscrabble constituents to his tireless construction of a political machine—came to fruition. Caro introduces the story with a dramatic account of the Senate itself: how Daniel Webster, Henry Clay, and John C. Calhoun had made it the center of governmental energy, the forum in which the great issues of the country were thrashed out. And how, by the time Johnson arrived, it had dwindled into a body that merely responded to executive initiatives, all but impervious to the forces of change. Caro anatomizes the genius for political strategy and tactics by which, in an institution that had made the seniority system all-powerful for a century and more, Johnson became Majority Leader after only a single term-the youngest and greatest Senate Leader in our history; how he manipulated the Senate’s hallowed rules and customs and the weaknesses and strengths of his colleagues to change the “unchangeable” Senate from a loose confederation of sovereign senators to a whirring legislative machine under his own iron-fisted control.
 
Caro demonstrates how Johnson’s political genius enabled him to reconcile the unreconcilable: to retain the support of the southerners who controlled the Senate while earning the trust—or at least the cooperation—of the liberals, led by Paul Douglas and Hubert Humphrey, without whom he could not achieve his goal of winning the presidency. He shows the dark side of Johnson’s ambition: how he proved his loyalty to the great oil barons who had financed his rise to power by ruthlessly destroying the career of the New Dealer who was in charge of regulating them, Federal Power Commission Chairman Leland Olds. And we watch him achieve the impossible: convincing southerners that although he was firmly in their camp as the anointed successor to their leader, Richard Russell, it was essential that they allow him to make some progress toward civil rights.  Caro details Johnson’s amazing triumph in maneuvering to passage the first civil rights legislation since 1875.

The gold standard in biography.

 


Nigger - The Strange Career of a Troublesome Word (Randall Kennedy, Pantheon, 2002, 240 pages)

It fills me with anxiety even to blog about THAT word.  But Randall Kennedy's Nigger should be required reading for every high school student in America. 

It’s “the nuclear bomb of racial epithets,” a word that whites have employed to wound and degrade African Americans for three centuries. Paradoxically, among many black people it has become a term of affection and even empowerment. Kennedy traces the origins of the word, its multifarious connotations, and explores the controversies that rage around it.

Should blacks be able to use the word in ways forbidden to others? Should the law treat it as a provocation that reduces the culpability of those who respond to it violently? Should it cost a person his job, or a book like Huckleberry Finn its place on library shelves? With a range of reference that extends from the Jim Crow south to Chris Rock routines and the O. J. Simpson trial, Kennedy takes on not just a word, but our laws, attitudes, and culture with bracing courage and intelligence. 

  


The Culture Code: The Secrets of Highly Successful Groups (Daniel Coyle, Bantam Publishing, 2018, 280 pages)

For many people, a thriving work culture is like art--"I'll know it when I see it."  Its usually pretty easy to spot a strong group culture.  But what makes for a strong group culture?  How does it start?  How does it thrive?  Those are the questions Daniel Coyle tackles in The Culture Code, and his answers are thought provoking and chock full of practical ideas.  Coyle believes that forming the bedrock of a strong team culture requires having the specific skills to “build safety,” “share vulnerability” and “establish purpose.”  He devoted four years to cracking the conundrum of what makes a culture great by taking a deep dive inside some of the world’s most successful groups: Pixar, the San Antonio Spurs, and the U.S. Navy Seals. 

Great read.  Well worth the time.

 


slide:ology: The Art and Science of Creating Great Presentations (Nancy Duarte, O'Reilly Media, 2008, 296 pages)

More required reading for abusers of PowerPoint. 

Presentation software is one of the few tools that requires professionals to think visually on an almost daily basis. But unlike verbal skills, effective visual expression is not easy, natural, or actively taught in schools or business training programs. slide:ology fills that void.

Written by Nancy Duarte, President and CEO of Duarte Design, the firm that created the presentation for Al Gore's Oscar-winning film, An Inconvenient Truth, this book is full of practical approaches to visual story development that can be applied by anyone.  The book combines conceptual thinking and inspirational design, with insightful case studies from the world's leading brands.  With slide:ology you'll learn to:

  • Connect with specific audiences
  • Turn ideas into informative graphics
  • Use sketching and diagramming techniques effectively
  • Create graphics that enable audiences to process information easily
  • Develop truly influential presentations
  • Utilize presentation technology to your advantage

Millions of presentations and billions of slides have been produced -- and most of them miss the mark. slide:ology will challenge your traditional approach to creating slides by teaching you how to be a visual thinker.

 


Means of Ascent: The Years of Lyndon Johnson (Robert A. Caro, Knopf, 2011, 560 pages)

Its by Robert Caro, so of course its worth reading!  Brilliant. 

Means of Ascent is the second volume in Caro's landmark, multi-volume biography of Lyndon Johnson, and it covers Johnson's "wilderness years," from his bitter defeat in his first run for the U.S. Senate in 1941 to his (stolen) redemption on his second try for the office in 1948. 

Two things struck me as I read this.  First, Caro could have just as easily titled this volume Means of Descent because Caro ably shows that there was virtually no low to which Johnson would not stoop to enrich and empower himself.  There are no shortage of epithets to waste on Johnson.  He had no fixed principles, went whichever direction the wind blew, and was, in his personal and political relationships, a true scoundrel.  Second, Americans have short political memories.  Much ado is made these days of President Trump and his past and present behavior, but Johnson was just as bad, if not worse. 

     


To Save the Catholic Church, Dismantle the Priesthood (James Carroll, The Atlantic, June 2019, 11 pages)

Thought provoking essay by James Carroll in this month's edition of The Atlantic.

Carroll is the author of 20 books, including his memoir, An American Requiem, which won the National Book Award, Constantine's Sword: A History of Christian Anti-Semitism, and, most recently, the novel The Cloister.

I. 

“The Murder of a Soul”

To feel relief at my mother’s being dead was once unthinkable, but then the news came from Ireland. It would have crushed her. An immigrant’s daughter, my mother lived with an eye cast back to the old country, the land against which she measured every virtue. Ireland was heaven to her, and the Catholic Church was heaven’s choir. Then came the Ryan Report.

Not long before The Boston Globe began publishing its series on predator priests, in 2002—the “Spotlight” series that became a movie of the same name—the government of Ireland established a commission, ultimately chaired by Judge Sean Ryan, to investigate accounts and rumors of child abuse in Ireland’s residential institutions for children, nearly all of which were run.   

The Ryan Commission published its 2,600-page report in 2009. Despite government inspections and supervision, Catholic clergy had, across decades, violently tormented thousands of children. The report found that children held in orphanages and reformatory schools were treated no better than slaves—in some cases, sex slaves. Rape and molestation of boys were “endemic.” Other reports were issued about other institutions, including parish churches and schools, and homes for unwed mothers—the notorious “Magdalene Laundries,” where girls and women were condemned to lives of coercive servitude. The ignominy of these institutions was laid out in plays and documentary films, and in Philomena, the movie starring Judi Dench, which was based on a true story. The homes-for-women scandal climaxed in 2017, when a government report revealed that from 1925 to 1961, at the Bon Secours Mother and Baby Home, in Tuam, County Galway, babies who died—nearly 800 of them—were routinely disposed of in mass graves or sewage pits. Not only priests had behaved despicably. So had nuns.

In August 2018, Pope Francis made a much publicized visit to Ireland. His timing could not have been worse. Just then, a second wave of the Catholic sex-abuse scandal was breaking. In Germany, a leaked bishops’ investigation revealed that from 1946 to 2014, 1,670 clergy had assaulted 3,677 children. Civil authorities in other nations were launching investigations, moving aggressively to preempt the Church. In the United States, also in 2018, a Pennsylvania grand jury alleged that over the course of 70 years, more than 1,000 children had been abused by more than 300 priests across the state. Church authorities had successfully silenced the victims, deflected law enforcement, and shielded the predators. The Pennsylvania report was widely taken to be a conclusive adjudication, but grand-jury findings are not verdicts. Still, this record of testimony and investigation was staggering. The charges told of a ring of pedophile priests who gave many of their young targets the gift of a gold cross to wear, so that the other predator priests could recognize an initiated child who would not resist an overture. “This is the murder of a soul,” said one victim who testified before the grand jury.

Attorneys general in at least 15 other states announced the opening of investigations into Church crimes, and the U.S. Department of Justice followed suit. Soon, in several states, teams of law-enforcement agents armed with search warrants burst into diocesan offices and secured records. The Texas Rangers raided the offices of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston, which was presided over by Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. DiNardo had been presented by the Church as the new face of accountability and transparency when he came to Galveston-Houston in 2004. The rangers seized an archive of abuse—boxes of sex-allegation files along with computers, including DiNardo’s. The cardinal was accused of protecting a particularly egregious predator priest.

Before, during, and after his trip to Ireland, Francis had expressed, as he put it, “shame and sorrow.” But he showed no sign of understanding the need for the Church to significantly reform itself or to undertake acts of true penance.

One of the astonishments of Pope Francis’s Irish pilgrimage was his claim, made to reporters during his return trip to Rome, that until then he had known nothing of the Magdalene Laundries or their scandals: “I had never heard of these mothers—they call it the laundromat of women, where an unwed woman is pregnant and goes into these hospitals.” Never heard of these mothers? When I read that, I said to myself: A lie. Pope Francis is lying. He may not have been lying—he may merely have been ignorant. But to be uninformed about the long-simmering Magdalene scandal was just as bad. As I read the pope’s words, a taut wire in me snapped.

The wire had begun to stretch a quarter of a century ago, when I was starting out as a Boston Globe columnist. Twenty years earlier, I had been a Catholic priest, preoccupied with war, social justice, and religious reform—questions that defined my work for the Globe. One of my first columns, published in September 1992, was a reflection on the child-sex-abuse crimes of a Massachusetts priest named James Porter. I argued that Porter’s predation had been enabled by the Church’s broader culture of priest-protecting silence. Responding to earlier Globe stories about Porter, an infuriated Cardinal Bernard Law, the archbishop of Boston, had hurled an anathema that seemed to come from the Middle Ages: “We call down God’s power on the media, particularly the Globe.” It took a decade, but God’s power eventually came down on Law himself.

In tandem with the “Spotlight” series and afterward, more than a dozen of my columns on priestly sex abuse ran on the op-ed page, with titles such as “Priests’ Victims Victimized Twice” and “Meltdown in the Catholic Church.” I became a broken record on the subject.

I bring all of this up to make the point that, by the summer of 2018, as a still-practicing Catholic, I harbored no illusions about the Church’s grotesque betrayal. So it took some doing to bring me to a breaking point, and Pope Francis—whom in many ways I admire, and in whom I had placed an almost desperate hope—is the unlikely person who brought me there.

For the first time in my life, and without making a conscious decision, I simply stopped going to Mass. I embarked on an unwilled version of the Catholic tradition of “fast and abstinence”—in this case, fasting from the Eucharist and abstaining from the overt practice of my faith. I am not deluding myself that this response of mine has significance for anyone else—Who cares? It’s about time!—but for me the moment is a life marker. I have not been to Mass in months. I carry an ocean of grief in my heart.

++++++++++

You can read the rest of Carroll's essay on www.theatlantic.com.   


The Years of Lyndon Johnson: The Path to Power (Robert A. Caro, Knopf, 1982, 882 pages)

An oldie but a goodie.  Second time around for me; one of my favorite political biographies.  

Volume one of Caro's landmark (and soon to be five volume) biography of Lyndon Johnson.  In the Path to Power Caro reveals in extraordinary detail the genesis of the almost superhuman drive, energy, and urge to power that set LBJ apart.  Caro chronicles the emergence of Johnson’s political genius, it follows him from his Texas boyhood through the years of the Depression in the Texas hill Country to the triumph of his congressional debut in New Deal Washington, to his heartbreaking defeat in his first race for the Senate, and his attainment, nonetheless, of the national power for which he hungered.
 
Path to Power won the 1982 National Book Critics Circle Award.  Volume three, Master of the Senate, won Caro a Pulitzer Prize 2003.  

 


The Pioneers: The Heroic Story of the Settlers Who Brought the American Ideal West (David McCullough, Simon & Schuster, 2019, 352 pages)

Another home run by McCullough!

Pulitzer Prize–winning historian David McCullough rediscovers an important chapter in the American story—the settling of the Northwest Territory by pioneers who overcame incredible hardships to build a community based on ideals that would come to define our country.

As part of the Treaty of Paris, in which Great Britain recognized the new United States of America, Britain ceded the land that comprised the immense Northwest Territory, a wilderness northwest of the Ohio River containing the future states of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, and Wisconsin. A Massachusetts minister named Manasseh Cutler was instrumental in opening this vast territory to veterans of the Revolutionary War and their families for settlement. Included in the Northwest Ordinance were three remarkable conditions: freedom of religion, free universal education, and most importantly, the prohibition of slavery. In 1788 the first band of pioneers set out from New England for the Northwest Territory under the leadership of Revolutionary War veteran General Rufus Putnam. They settled in what is now Marietta on the banks of the Ohio River.

McCullough tells the story through five major characters: Cutler and Putnam; Cutler’s son Ephraim; and two other men, one a carpenter turned architect, and the other a physician who became a prominent pioneer in American science. They and their families created a town in a primeval wilderness, while coping with such frontier realities as floods, fires, wolves and bears, no roads or bridges, no guarantees of any sort, all the while negotiating a contentious and sometimes hostile relationship with the native people.  Like so many of McCullough’s subjects, they let no obstacle deter or defeat them.


The Crisis Years: Kennedy and Khrushchev, 1960-1963 (Michael R. Beschloss, HarperCollins, 1991, 816 pages)

One of my favorite Beschloss books.  

During the years 1960-1963, the world came closer than at any time before or since to nuclear war. It was during this period too that the United States and the Soviet Union launched the greatest arms race in history. Beschloss here examines the tense, dynamic and very dangerous relationship between the superpower leaders, John Kennedy and Nikita Khrushchev, focusing largely on the 1961 summit conference regarding Berlin and the Cuban missile crisis of the following year. Drawing on newly declassified U.S. government sources and oral and written reminiscences by Soviet figures recently made available to Western scholars, Beschloss ( Mayday ) explores Soviet decision-making with material about Kremlin discussions during the Cuban crisis, behind-the-scenes maneuvers of Leonid Brezhnev, the Soviet reaction to the Kennedy assassination and Khrushchev's fall from power in '64.

 


The Playboy Interviews: Killers, Assassins and Revolutionaries (various authors, Kindle Edition, 2017, 342 pages)

Five Stars! 

In mid-1962, Playboy founder Hugh Hefner was given a partial transcript of an interview with Miles Davis. It covered jazz, of course, but it also included Davis’s ruminations on race, politics and culture. Fascinated, Hef sent the writer—future Pulitzer Prize–winning author Alex Haley, an unknown at the time—back to glean even more opinion and insight from Davis. The resulting exchange, published in the September 1962 issue, became the first official Playboy Interview and kicked off a remarkable run of public inquisition that continues today—and that has featured just about every cultural titan of the past half century.

To celebrate the interview’s 50th anniversary, the editors of Playboy have assembled 13 compilations of the magazine’s most (in)famous interviews—from big mouths and wild men to sports gods and literary mavericks. Here is our collection of 10 interviews with the most notorious renegades: Albert Speer, Saul Alinsky, Abbie Hoffman, James Earl Ray, Fidel Castro, and Yasir Arafat. 

 


Our Search to Know the Lord (George W. Pace, Deseret Book Company, 1988, 229 pages)

Well worth reading.

George Pace was a professor of religious education at Brigham Young University, my alma mater.  I took two classes from him during my undergraduate studies.  His classes were always packed; he was one of the most popular professors in the Religious Department, and for good reason.  He taught with power, conviction, concern, and a wonderful sense of humor. 

I did not know it at the time, but when I first met him Professor Pace labored under a bit of cloud.  This book--Our Search to Know the Lord--first published in the early 1980's had been publicly (and to some minds unfairly) criticized by one of the most influential voices in Mormonism at the time--Bruce R. McConkie, a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints' Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.  McConkie took issue with, among other things, Pace's assertion that "because the Savior is our mediator, we always pray to the Father in the name of Christ, and the Father answers our prayers through his Son" (page 30)--an assertion for which, ironically, Pace pointed to some of McConkie's own writings for support.  McConkie called this "plain sectarian nonsense," saying, "Our prayers are addressed to the Father, and to him only. They do not go through Christ, or the Blessed Virgin, or St. Genevieve or along the beads of a rosary. We are entitled to “come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.” (Hebrews 4:16) 

The effect of McConkie's comments on Pace's career were unfortunate.  The publisher cancelled additional printings of Pace's book and it sank into obscurity for a time.  Thankfully, Pace persevered.  He kept teaching, and did so with distinction.  In 1998, the same publisher who pulled Our Search to Know the Lord republished the book and it has since enjoyed a renewed following.

Though I agree with McConkie's particular criticisms of Pace's book (though not the way he aired his criticisms), those matters ought not to overshadow the book in the main.  Pace answers convincingly many timeless questions for Christians everywhere: Why is it important to know the Father and the Son? Why was the Savior's atonement necessary?  How can we make the Atonement a powerful force in our lives?  How can we live by the Spirit?   

 


Working (Robert A. Caro, Knopf, 2019, 240 pages)

Delicious.  Might be one of my Top 5 reads thus far in 2019.  I recommend listening to the audiobook, which is done by Caro and also includes an interview with Caro at the end.   

For the first time in book form, Caro gives us a glimpse into his own life and work in these evocatively written, personal pieces.  He describes what it was like to interview the mighty Robert Moses; what it felt like to begin discovering the extent of the political power Moses wielded; the combination of discouragement and exhilaration he felt confronting the vast holdings of the Lyndon B. Johnson Library in Austin, Texas; his encounters with witnesses, including longtime residents wrenchingly displaced by the construction of Moses' Cross-Bronx Expressway and Lady Bird Johnson acknowledging the beauty and influence of one of LBJ's mistresses. He gratefully remembers how, after years of working in solitude, he found a writers' community at the New York Public Library, and details the ways he goes about planning and composing his books. 

Caro recalls the moments at which he came to understand that he wanted to write not just about the men who wielded power but about the people and the politics that were shaped by that power. And he talks about the importance to him of the writing itself, of how he tries to infuse it with a sense of place and mood to bring characters and situations to life on the page. Taken together, these reminiscences--some previously published, some written expressly for this book--bring into focus the passion, the wry self-deprecation, and the integrity with which this brilliant historian has always approached his work.

 


The Cognitive Style of PowerPoint: Pitching Out Corrupts Within, Second Edition (Edward R. Tufte, Graphics Press LLC, 2006, 32 pages)

I hate, no, I LOATHE PowerPoint.  The business, commercial, academic, and government worlds are awash in PowerPoint presentations, most incredibly dull, a crutch for the speaker rather than an aid to the audience, and the lazy person's preferred method of communication, even in written form.  The evidence indicates that PowerPoint, compared to other common presentation tools, reduces the analytical quality of serious presentations of evidence and actually obscures rather than clarifies critical thought and analysis.

This is why I love Edward Tufte's work on information design and data visualization.  Tufte, a Professor emeritus at Yale University, is a pioneer in the fileds of information design and data visualization.  His critique of the ubiquity and misapplication (indeed, abuse) of PowerPoint is spot on. 

Next slide, please. 

 


Stalin: Waiting for Hitler, 1929-1941 (Stephen Kotkin, Penguin Books, 2017, 1173 pages)

A terrific piece of work.  Marvelously researched and written. 

In 1929, Joseph Stalin, having already achieved dictatorial power over the vast Soviet Empire, formally ordered the systematic conversion of the world’s largest peasant economy into “socialist modernity,” otherwise known as collectivization, regardless of the cost.
 
What it cost, and what Stalin ruthlessly enacted, transformed the country and its ruler in profound and enduring ways. Building and running a dictatorship, with life and death power over hundreds of millions, made Stalin into the uncanny figure he became. Stephen Kotkin’s Stalin: Waiting for Hitler, 1929–1941 is the story of how a political system forged an unparalleled personality and vice versa.
 
The wholesale collectivization of some 120 million peasants necessitated levels of coercion that were extreme even for Russia, and the resulting mass starvation elicited criticism inside the party even from those Communists committed to the eradication of capitalism.  But Stalin did not flinch.  By 1934, when the Soviet Union had stabilized and socialism had been implanted in the countryside, praise for his stunning anti-capitalist success came from all quarters.  Stalin, however, never forgave and never forgot, with shocking consequences as he strove to consolidate the state with a brand new elite of young strivers like himself.  Stalin’s obsessions drove him to execute nearly a million people, including the military leadership, diplomatic and intelligence officials, and innumerable leading lights in culture.
 
While Stalin revived a great power, building a formidable industrialized military, the Soviet Union was effectively alone and surrounded by perceived enemies.  The quest for security would bring Soviet Communism to a shocking and improbable pact with Nazi Germany.  But that bargain would not unfold as envisioned. The lives of Stalin and Hitler, and the fates of their respective dictatorships, drew ever closer to collision, as the world hung in the balance.
 
Stalin: Waiting for Hitler, 1929–1941 is a history of the world during the build-up to its most fateful hour, from the vantage point of Stalin’s seat of power. It is a landmark achievement in the annals of historical scholarship, and in the art of biography.