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Economix

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Michael Goodwin and Dan Burr’s Economix (2012) is a graphic nonfiction book that explains economic principles in an accessible way. The book uses the narrative of a guy trying to learn more about economics to engage the reader. Organized chronologically, Economix begins just at the 17th century, though the author notes that economics pre-dates that era, but people didn’t know how to analyze it.

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The book was most helpful to me when it explained new concepts or elucidated ideas like “supply and demand” which have more complexity under certain situations. I liked learning about economists I hadn’t heard of such as David Ricardo.

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N.B. Neither Economix authors agree with Malthus

I appreciated learning that world and national economies are often so multifaceted that it’s (practically) impossible to predict or understand them. That assertion seems honest and I hadn’t heard that before that I can recall.

Towards current era, the authors state that the book will be more aligned with the Democrats and appreciated that admission. It’s unmistakable, but their statement made me trust their final chapters more. I do think the book would be better if it wasn’t so connected to American history and used more examples from all over the world, however, I guess they authors didn’t think their audience was very cosmopolitan.

All in all, Economix is a good introduction to economics, dark science that I’m trying to learn more about.

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Posted by on April 10, 2018 in book review, non-fiction, postaweek

 

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Germinal

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Part of Émile Zola’s Rougon-Marquart series, Germinal is set in a mining town in 19th century France. The title comes from the new Republic’s calendar, it’s the name of month in spring when things start sprouting. Whatever you might imagine the life of a miner to be like, it was far worse in France. At times I had to put the book down, because it was just too heart-breaking to read about the suffering people endured.

The hero is Étienne Lantier who arrives in town seeking work. Trained as a mechanic, Étienne accepts the only work available, working in the mines. Pay’s low so he moves in with a mining family and shares a room with Catherine, their teenage daughter to whom he’s attracted. But love is not in the offing. Catherine’s jus 14 and her poor diet has stunted her maturation, but she’s involved with Chaval, a boy, who also works in the mine. Brutish and abusive, Chaval is a product of the mines, not the sort of boyfriend who can respect a girl. Respect though is a luxury item, just like a good meal. Like all their peers, Chaval and Catherine work all day in a back-breaking environment and spend their nights having sex in a kind of quarry. The young and old’s spirits have been crushed and there’s no hope, romance or joy. Life offers few choices so if you’re pregnant and your boyfriend beats you, you put up with it. Life’s about survival.

The work and environment is described in acute detail. Work was arduous in the sweltering mines. Pay was so low that children had to work. Encouraged by Étienne and a couple others who’ve read up on socialism and labor rights, the miners go on strike. Then the oppression reaches new lows. They’re tough and dedicated, but are soon starving as their pooled savings run out. As you’d expect the workers’ pay gets reduced and their expected output increased. The owners are far off in Paris. The mine’s run by managers who’re well paid, but have no power. Miners and their families start to die. Some return to work and violence ensues. Just as things appear to improve more disaster, disaster based on a true event, strikes.

Each day I looked forward to reading more of this gripping story, but then would have to put it down as the hardship was unbearable, worse than other stories of coal mingling like King Coal by Upton Sinclair. I appreciated Zola’s descriptions and how he portrayed his era with such clarity. (Though when people were moving through the mines it was hard to grasp how extensive they were.)

To his credit, Zola doesn’t glorify the miner’s and vilify the managers and elite. There’s plenty of realism and fairness to go round. I appreciated Zola’s prose and his complex characters.  I read that Zola researched Germinal painstakingly and even went into the mines to see the conditions.

 
 

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12 Rules for Life

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I can’t say I’ve finished Jordan Peterson’s 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos because as I read it I soon realized it’s a book I’ll read again and again. It’s a book that I’ll return to as a source of wisdom and a touchstone to see how I’m going.

Peterson’s style is straightforward and clear, but it contains complexity. His rules may be simple, such as Tell the Truth — or at Least Don’t Lie, but are tough to put into practice once you realize that telling the truth means living the truth. He points out that Adler, the psychologist, noted that “life-lies” are a kind of dishonesty. So whenever you deviate from the truth by saying whatever will help you socially, will give you status though its and exaggeration, or by staying quiet so that you protect your job or curry the favor of someone you deem significant and let lies continue unchecked because you’d rather reap a reward of whatever sort or you figure someone else will speak up or should, then you’re living a lie. So how authentic am I? I won’t be finished with this book till I am completely authentic and transparent with myself and others. Seems like there’s a long road ahead.

Peterson uses literature, myth, well researched psychological insights, and personal stories to illuminate each rule. I came away with a sturdier foundation for courageously getting through and flourishing when life gets tough as it’s bound to.

He looks rather angry in the photo above, but if you’ve seen his videos or television appearances, you’ll see that he’s quite personable. The video’s just over a minute and it outlines the book’s objective.

The rules seem simple, e.g. Stand Up Straight with Your Shoulders Back or Make Friends with People Who Want the Best for You. If you just read the rule and don’t read the chapter you may think these ideas are old school and just optional. However, after reading chapter one about standing up straight, I’ve learned that posture for people or animals deeply relates to status and confidence. Yes, this echoes Amy Cuddy’s Ted Talk on body language. The two prove the same idea using different evidence.

I was surprised to learn things like the fact that people treat their pets better than they treat themselves. When a pet is sick, most people will administer their medicine as directed, while when they’re sick they slack off. Curious, eh? I think we can all do with an injunction to take proper care of ourselves.

I really appreciated how Peterson integrates the wisdom from earlier thinkers and family or personal experiences intelligently. His analysis of the Bible, myth, literature and research convinced me of his points. He also helped me view the wisdom of Genesis, the Old Testament and other scripture anew. I’m not surprised this book is flying off the shelves (virtual and real).

If you’ve read 12 Rules for Life, what did you think?

 

 
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Posted by on March 31, 2018 in book review, fiction, non-fiction, postaweek

 

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Jane Austen: An Illustrated Biography

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Zena Alkayat and Nina Cosford collaborated on a cute illustrated biography of Jane Austen. The text consists of the basic information on Jane’s life, but there’s nothing that you probably couldn’t get from Wikipedia.

The water color illustrations are charming and fit with Jane Austen’s tone and era.

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It’s a quick, enjoyable read, but Austen fans won’t learn much that’s new. I realize that not that much is known about Austen, but this book doesn’t do much than offer some highlights. For more details, I suggest Carol Shield’s Jane Austen: A Life. 

I think Alkayat and Cosford’s Jane Austen: An Illustrated Biography is a good book to check out from your library rather than something you need to purchase.

 
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Posted by on March 28, 2018 in book review, British literature

 

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The Code of the Woosters

th-8I’m loving the audio books of P.G. Wodehouse’s Jeeves series. This week I listened to The Code of the Woosters where Bertie’s aunt Dahlia forces him to track down an ugly cow creamer that his uncle is obsessed with. This leads to an amazingly comic odyssey in the British countryside.

Here are a few of the thousands of great quotations:

“I could see that, if not actually disgruntled, he was far from being gruntled.”

“It was a silver cow. But when I say ‘cow’, don’t go running away with the idea of some decent, self-respecting cudster such as you may observe loading grass into itself in the nearest meadow. This was a sinister, leering, Underworld sort of animal, the kind that would spit out of the side of its mouth for twopence.”

“I mean, imagine how some unfortunate Master Criminal would feel, on coming down to do a murder at the old Grange, if he found that not only was Sherlock Holmes putting in the weekend there, but Hercule Poirot, as well.”

“I suppose even Dictators have their chummy moments, when they put their feet up and relax with the boys, but it was plain from the outset that if Roderick Spode had a sunnier side, he had not come with any idea of exhibiting it now. His manner was curt. One sensed the absence of the bonhomous note.”

“I couldn’t have made a better shot, if I had been one of those detectives who see a chap walking along the street and deduce that he is a retired manufacturer of poppet valves named Robinson with rheumatism in one arm, living at Clapham.

The book’s delightful from start to finish. How does Wodehouse do it?

He’s a comic genius if ever there was one.

 
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Posted by on March 19, 2018 in British Lit, British literature, fiction, humor, postaweek

 

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How to Fail at Everything and Still Win Big

Screen Shot 2018-03-18 at 3.09.01 PMScott Adams’ book How to Fail at Everything and Still Win Big: Kind of the Story of My Life feels like a friendly mentor sharing tips for success and life experiences. The tone is conversational and the content wise and helpful.

Adams describes how he formed habits that aided his success. He didn’t grow up with parents who had stellar professional careers. In fact, no one in his hometown did. He didn’t have a checklist of goals for year 5, 10, 15. Actually, Adams asserts that “goals are for losers.” Instead, he advocates systems. When you have a goal, most of the time you’re dissatisfied as you’re not there yet. For a short time you glory in achieving a goal or are bummed about failing. Then you’ll probably find a new goal and will return to feeling insufficient. Most of the time, you sure aren’t riding high.

With systems, like being active or learning as much as one can, most of the time you’re in the zone you want to be in. Eventually, this sort of broader challenge will result in the success a goal promises, but along the way, it’s easier to stay positive.

Adams did not have an easy way to the top. No nepotism was available and he wasn’t stellar at any of his corporate jobs. In fact, he admits, he isn’t an excellent artist or masterful writer, but he is good enough. He advises acquiring as many skills as you can because the more skills you have that put you in the competent range, the better. (You need to be able to do these things in a job, but you don’t have to be among the 1% of those in your field.)

I found Adams’ suggestions made sense and are something I’ll apply. Also, I thought the chapters where he chronicles how he had a rare voice condition that made conversation impossible and thereby hurt his speech-giving career, authentic and helpful as far as coping and searching for a solution to a problem that experts say has none was illustrative and heroic.

The book addresses diet and fitness as well as career success. If you’ve got no energy or are sick are you really that successful? Adams is clear that he’s not a doctor or dietician and that his approach to systems rather than goals worked for him. He doesn’t tell you what you should eat or what activities you need to do. Instead he offers new ways of thinking about your daily diet and fitness routines.

Whether you’re starting out or midway through your career, Scott Adam’s How to Fail at Everything and Still Win Big: Kind of the Story of My Life is worth a read.

 
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Posted by on March 18, 2018 in book review, contemporary, memoir, non-fiction, postaweek

 

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Growing Up with a City

51NX1TX317L._SY291_BO1,204,203,200_QL40_It’s fitting that I publish my review of Louise de Koven Bowen’s Growing up with a City on International Women’s Day. Bowen was a natural leader and shaped civic life in the late 19th and early 20th century in Chicago. In fact she after women got the vote in the 20’s Republicans wanted Bowen to run for mayor, but she declined. (Remember that our parties’ philosophies have shifted through the decades.) I was blown away that back then having a woman run for a major office was even considered.

Bowen’s memoir begins with her family history. Her grandparents were some of Chicago’s first white settlers. Her courageous, wise grandmother frequently acted as a negotiator or peacekeeper with the native Americans near Fort Dearborn.

As a girl Bowen frequently had delusions of grandeur or desires for high social status. She competed with a visiting cousin from New York, whose lifestyle seemed more aristocratic.and fashionable. To make her family, which was plenty stylish and “couth” look better off, she used her own money to buy a smart uniform for her coachman and insisted on calling him Bernard rather than Barney, which he went by. Barney complied with most of the girl’s requests for finery but drew the line when 12 year old Louise suggested he call her Louise rather than her nick name Lulu.

Bowen was educated at a seminary in town, but upon completion felt her education incomplete. Thus the girl made a decision to read the encyclopedia to round out her knowledge base. She was wise enough to know that while that gave her a broad understanding, it didn’t offer much depth.

As an adult, Bowen was tapped to preside over hospital boards and civic organizations. Her book describes her successes and challenges in hospital management and affecting policy in the juvenile justice system and other causes. Bowen worked at Hull House with Jane Addams and offers insight into Addams’ leadership and beliefs.

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With children attending her camp

Bowen saw the need for poor children to have an experience in the country and opened a summer camp for them. She pioneered social work and public policy. She spoke to massive crowds and compelled powerful men to do the right thing. She’s one of many civic leaders who’s gone unsung.

Reading Growing Up with a City, I learned a lot about philanthropy and life in the Gilded Age. I was impressed by how much more connected a philanthropist would be back then compared to now. Bowen would regularly walk through the impoverished neighborhoods to get a real feel for the hardships. When a woman , who’s husband had deserted her, came to a relief organization for help, immediate aid was given for the most pressing needs and then a search for the husband would take place. If at all possible the man was brought back to the family to make him take responsibility. I realize that’s not a cure-all, but we don’t even try such action. (We do try to find “deadbeat dads” and make them pay up, but that’s it.)

As is usually the case, reading a memoir written during an era rid me of silly notions our society projects on to the past. For example, I thought that surely after decades of fighting for the vote at least 50% if not a big majority of women would vote. That wasn’t the case at all. 

Growing Up with a City was a fascinating read that deepened my understanding not just of Chicago history but of the Gilded Age as a whole. I was amazed at all one woman could accomplish.

 
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Posted by on March 8, 2018 in 19th Century, book review, history, memoir

 

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