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February 2019

Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup (John Carreyrou, Knopf, 2018, 320 pages)

John Carreyrou's reportage for the Wall Street Journal blew the doors open on the fraud that was Theranos and Elizabeth Holmes.  Bad Blood is his full length telling of the story.  Wonderful book; terrifically done.

In 2014, Theranos founder and CEO Elizabeth Holmes was widely seen as the female Steve Jobs: a brilliant Stanford dropout whose startup "unicorn" promised to revolutionize the medical industry with a machine that would make blood testing significantly faster and easier. Backed by investors such as Larry Ellison and Tim Draper, Theranos sold shares in a fundraising round that valued the company at more than $9 billion, putting Holmes's worth at an estimated $4.7 billion. There was just one problem: The technology didn't work. 

 

 


Dynasties: Fortunes and Misfortunes of the World's Great Family Businesses (David S. Landes, Viking Adult, 2006, 384 pages)

Good stuff.  A lively survey of the families at the head of major companies from the past two centuries focuses on three areas, including banking, automobiles, and raw materials, in a historical account that includes coverage of the Ford, Guggenheim, and Rockefeller dynasties. 

 


Savrola: A Tale of the Revolution in Laurania (Winston S. Churchill, Forgotten Books, 2018, 382 pages)

As a lover of all things Churchill, I am embarrassed to admit that I had never read Savrola.  It is one of my new favorites. 

The story describes events in the capital of Laurania, a fictional European state, as unrest against the dictatorial government of president Antonio Molara turns to violent revolution. 

Churchill began writing the novel on his voyage from Britain to India to take part in the Malakand campaign in August 1897.  Churchill was on leave from his posting with the army in India when he had news of fighting in Malakand, and immediately arranged to return.  The book was started before, and completed after, writing The Story of the Malakand Field Force about his experiences there.  He wrote to his brother in May 1898 that the book had been completed. The working title for the book was Affairs of State. It was initially published as a serialisation in Macmillan's Magazine between May and December 1898, and was then published as a book in February 1900.

The politics and institutions of Laurania reflect the values of England as Churchill experienced them, and, indeed, what I enjoyed most about the book were the echoes of Churchill's own life up to the point of publication. 

 


The Tattooist of Auschwitz (Heather Morris, Harper, 2018, 288 pages)

Terrific story, but best described as a memoir rather than true non-fiction.  Morris's work unfortunately suffers from a lack of fact checking.  

In April 1942, Lale Sokolov, a Slovakian Jew, is forcibly transported to the concentration camps at Auschwitz-Birkenau. When his captors discover that he speaks several languages, he is put to work as a Tätowierer (the German word for tattooist), tasked with permanently marking his fellow prisoners.

Imprisoned for more than two and a half years, Lale witnesses horrific atrocities and barbarism—but also incredible acts of bravery and compassion. Risking his own life, he uses his privileged position to exchange jewels and money from murdered Jews for food to keep his fellow prisoners alive.

One day in July 1942, Lale, prisoner 32407, comforts a trembling young woman waiting in line to have the number 34902 tattooed onto her arm. Her name is Gita, and in that first encounter, Lale vows to somehow survive the camp and marry her, and marry they did. 

Tattooist is a vivid, harrowing, and ultimately hopeful re-creation--to put it charitably--of Lale Sokolov’s experiences.  Unfortunately, its power is undermined by an apparent lack of fact checking by Morris and her editor.  What tipped me off that something might be amiss was Morris's retelling of Sokolov's surreptitious acquisition of penicillin from a Polish day laborer in the camp in 1943.  Though penicillin was invented in 1928, it was a closely guarded wonder drug by the British and Americans during the war and did not, in fact, become widely available until after the end of the war and, even then, was limited largely to the United States.  The idea that Sokolov obtained penicillin from a Polish peasant within the confines of Auschwitz is highly improbable, if not fantastic.  Other problems have been pointed out by other reviewers, more sophisticated than me.  The Auschwitz Memorial Research Centre has pointed out several inaccuracies in the book, including, incredibly, Morris's getting Sokolov's own tattoo number wrong. 


Ruth Bader Ginsburg: A Life (Jane Sherron de Hart, Knopf, 2018, 752 pages)

Fine piece of writing.  Sherron de Hart captures the inspiring essence of one of the most important public servants of our time.  Doubtless my own and many others' jurisprudence differs from Justice Ginsburg's, but her life story and career deserve unqualified admiration.  As a father of a daughter just now making her way in the professional world I am indebted to Justice Ginsburg's remarkable body of work on behalf of girls and women and their right to be treated just the same as me and my sons.

There is one aspect of this book that I particulalry enjoyed: Sherron de Hart's able portrayal of the plainly tender love affair between Ginsburg and her husband of over fifty years, Marty.  In a day when marriages of such length are rare, it was delightful and touching to follow their deep affection for each other and sustaining, abiding love. 

                                                                                                                                                                               


Exploring the First Vision (Samuel A. Dodge and Steven Harper, ed., Brigham Young University, 2012, 338 pages)

This volume reproduces some of the seminal articles written by the giants who have studied and written--critically-of Joseph Smith's First Vision and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.  Scholarly debate and criticism are important elements of the historical discipline because the contest of ideas leads to deeper research and more thorough analysis.  Certain historians setting out to discredit Joseph Smith's claims proved an important foundation to and impetus for subsequent First Vision scholarship because their work raised the questions that shaped the historical inquiry and debate.  This volume includes articles by James B. Allen, Richard Lloyd Anderson, Milton Backman Jr., Steven C. Harper, Dean C. Jesse, Larry C. Porter, and John W. Welch, all first rate scholars and writers.  The work of some of these scholars is little known to many in the "rising generation" of Church members.  This book is intended to introduce a new generation of Church members to these scholars and their important work.