With the new year I’ve been thinking about how to better document my learnings from the books I’ve read. Writing doesn’t come easy to me, so each book review I wrote usually took quite some time for me to complete. Instead of no longer writing book reviews, I’ve decided to try out writing shorter reviews instead. I’ll try to limit myself to no more than 300 words to focus more on my takeaways and less on describing the plot.
The Splendid and the Vile by Erik Larson shows how Winston Churchill led UK during the Second World War. It gives accounts of how Churchill and his extended family was impacted by the war.
With Germany’s superior military strength, UK alone wasn’t going to be able to withstand Germany’s attacks long term. Churchill at the very outset understood the importance of getting US to become UK’s ally in order to tilt the war in UK’s favor. He communicated often with Franklin Roosevelt, US president at the time, on the the importance of US support to not only UK but to US as well.
Churchill’s leadership was instrumental as he rallied the British people to be fearless and to never surrender. He was resolute in his vision and made tough decisions to maximize the strengths of his team. This led to UK drastically increasing its arms productions which allowed UK to fortify its defense until US involvement in the war.
I enjoyed the story telling nature of the book where historical facts are presented to produce a compelling story. One aspect which I lost interest in is when the story centered too much on the lives of Churchill’s extended family. I find it taking away from the main plot while also not adding much insights. All in all this is a book I do enjoy reading for the most part, although since it’s not as focused as I would like it to be it’s not on my recommended list.
The president of the United States is one of the most powerful positions held in the world. With so much power to influence both domestic and global policies, it comes with great responsibility, pressure, and scrutiny. Being someone who doesn’t follow politics closely, I still question the reasoning behind certain policies. However with so many things that happen behind the scenes and the well-coined term of playing politics, I wonder what considerations are made when drafting a bill.
A Promised Land is the first part of a two-volume memoir on Barack Obama. It goes over how Obama got into politics, how he raised through the ranks to become POTUS, and what goes into the operation that killed Osama Bin Laden.
My biggest takeaway is the amount of work and coordination that goes into passing a bill. Politicians belong to different parties and everyone has their self interests no matter if it’s supporting their own party interest or to poll well in their next local election. This means that oftentimes the best crafted out bills have to be watered down from giving out concessions to convince senators, especially from opposing parties, to support the bill. It speaks not only to the US political system, as it’s just a microcosm of society, where people can prioritize their self-interest over public interest.
The filibuster is a powerful legislative device in the United States Senate. Senate rules permit a senator or senators to speak for as long as they wish and on any topic they choose, unless “three-fifths of the Senators duly chosen and sworn” bring debate to a close by invoking cloture under Senate Rule XXII.
I couldn’t believe it when I read about filibuster. A method where you never end your side of the debate to delay or entirely prevent a decision from being made. Talking endlessly in order to prevent an unfavourable outcome sounds immature especially in politics when the stakes are so high. Obama went in depth on how his team needed to give out concessions to senators in order to gain their support. This shows the difficulty in crafting a bill and that securing votes is just as important especially when filibuster is taken into account.
Obama talked extensively about the sacrifice his family had to make to support his political career. In a marriage, responsibilities are often divided where one person works and the other takes care of the family. It’s important to know that both roles are vital to a family and that staying at home shouldn’t be valued any less than the role of providing for the family. In fact, the person staying at home is usually the one making the bigger sacrifice and should be valued and appreciated. When your partner or parent is the president of the United States, you instantly lost the normalcy you are accustomed to, you have to relocate and travel to support political campaigns, and you might need to give up your career goals.
I throughly enjoyed A Promised Land by Barack Obama. Books like this which gives me a unique perspective and experience always rank high on my list. Obama provides a lot of details which can at times appear dragged out but it also helps paint a clearer picture of the lifestyle of the first family of the United States. I’m looking forward to the second volume of the memoir and will also be picking up Becoming by Michelle Obama.
Whenever I go shopping, Nike is the one store that I always visit. I love Nike’s simplistic logo along with its casual and sporty look. However, when it comes to Nike’s history, all I do know is it’s the largest supplier of athletic shoes and apparel and it sponsors many of the NBA players I follow.
Shoe Dog by Phil Knight is a memoir on how Phil founded Nike and grew it to the empire we know today. As one of the most successful entrepreneurs, Phil didn’t emphasize his contributions. On the contrary, he simply tells the story of Nike and might even give you the impression that he was just lucky to be surrounded by geniuses who propelled him. That couldn’t be further from the truth.
Luck plays a big role. Yes, I’d like to publicly acknowledge the power of luck. Athletes get lucky, poets get lucky, businesses get lucky. Hard work is critical, a good team is essential, brains and determination are invaluable, but luck may decide the outcome. Some people might not call it luck. They might call it Tao, or Logos, or Jñāna, or Dharma. Or Spirit. Or God. Put it this way. The harder you work, the better your Tao.
Phil Knight was lucky. When Phil asked to be the US distributor for Onitsuka, a Japanese shoe company, they agreed to it based on Phil’s lie that he represented Blue Ribbons, a company he made up on the spot. His track and field coach at Oregon, Bill Bowerman, was a mad genius at experimenting with shoe designs who was also the Olympic track and field US head coach. His reputation and charisma alone garnered respect in the shoe industry and his constant pursuant of a more performant shoe was a competitive advantage which set Nike apart from its competitors. Phil didn’t approach Bowerman to be his partner. Bowerman was the one who asked to be in on the partnership after Phil sent Bowerman shoe samples from Onitsuka.
Phil’s first full time employee, Jeff Johnson, happened to be another mad genius who worked tirelessly and took care of sales, advertising, customer retention, store opening, you name it with minimum leadership and oversight from Phil. These are just a few examples of how lucky Phil was.
However, if you read closely, you will see the brilliance of Phil Knight. Phil was a kid who loved running whose final year entrepreneurship project claimed that Japanese running shoes can make deep cuts into the shoe market similar to how Japanese cameras did. Unlike the majority of us, his crazy idea didn’t end with the course. He did his research, understood the shoe market, and identified Onitsuka Tiger as the shoes he wanted to distribute. Then he flew to Japan alone.
Bill Bowerman saw Phil as someone he wanted to partner with and asked for Phil to have controlling stakes of the company. His number one full time employee, Jeff Johnson, had nonstop ideas on how to improve the business. Phil unlike many managers we see today, did not micromanage and instead allowed Jeff the autonomy to maximize his impact. Phil greatly appreciates and values those around him and you can clearly tell from how he described each of those he worked with.
For all the great qualities that Phil possess, one of the most important is his persistence to accomplish his dream. There were the times when Onitsuka did not deliver the initial Tiger shoe samples for more than a year, when Kitami, Onisuka’s export manager, went behind their agreed contract and planned to replace Nike with a different US distributor, and when Onitsuka was looking for a distributor who had a store on the east coast which Nike didn’t have. These were all valid excuses that nearly all of us would have used to give up. But Phil didn’t, he pushed forward, got a group of people to work together and resolved one challenge at a time.
Shoe Dog is by far my favorite memoir. Phil Knight is an excellent writer and was able to reflect on his past with such truthfulness. I learned a lot about the type of challenges that come along with starting a company. Shoe Dog is one of my top book recommendations and I hope you will enjoy it.
My parents escaped Việt Nam on a boat so their children could grow up in freedom.
Our parent-child relationship is one that we seldom reflect upon. In the illustrated memoir, The Best We Could Do, Thi Bui examines her relationship with her parents and how their history of having to live through the Indochina wars have impacted who they are today.
Thi Bui is a novelist born in Vietnam, three months before the end of the Vietnam war. In an effort to become closer to her parents, Thi began to inquire about her family’s background and their journey of escaping to the United States as refugees in 1978.
The Best We Could Do started with Thi in labor and concluded with Thi and her son, however the plot is mainly revolved around Thi’s parents, Bố and Má (father and mother in Vietnamese). The lives they led before they met each other were very different. Má’s father was the chief of public works for the government so she grew up living in a big house in Cambodia with servants, cooks, and gardeners. Má was always the top student in class and won many awards. On the other hand, Bố’s family had to survive by whatever means they had during the Second World War. One night Bố watched his father beat his mother and threw her out. As a result, Bố was never able to develop a close relationship with his parents.
Afraid of my father, craving safety and comfort. I had no idea that the terror I felt was only the long shadow of his own.
There were trouble in Cambodia where Vietnamese people were being killed, which forced Má’s family back to Vietnam. Bố looking to avoid joining the army, applied and passed the exams to join a teacher’s college, where he met Má. Even though Má’s family was not fond of Bố, they still ended up married. During the Vietnam war, bombings happened regularly and they had to survive skyrocketing inflation with fixed teachers’ salaries. Friends, neighbours, and students were killed and people including children were incentivized and taught to spy on each other including their parents.
There is no single story of that day, April 30, 1975. In Việt Nam today, among the victors, it is called Liberation Day. Overseas, among expats like my parents, it is remembered as the day we lost our country.
After South Vietnam lost the Vietnam war, living conditions were still poor. People in the south were name called and distrusted. Families were constantly monitored and could at any moment be separated. With the changed currency and inflation once again, there was a daily survival for food. Bố and Má then decided to flee Vietnam and was able to escape via boat and reached Malaysia in 1978.
The Best We Could Do is the first illustrated novel I’ve ever read. It’s an easy read and the graphics helped visualize the living conditions during the wars. The plot is well told and I’m impressed at how truthful Thi was at examining her vulnerabilities and her relationship with her parents. I enjoyed reading this book and I’ve learned a lot about Vietnam and got a glimpse of life during the Vietnam war.
My reading list was comprised of books recommended by friends, coworkers, and well-known CEOs online. I began to find that the books I read oftentimes end up having similar themes, so this time I decided to try something new. I went on Twitter and provided my book recommendations while at the same time requested people to provide me with theirs as well.
Here’s a list of books suggested to me via Twitter (thanks to Crystal):
Moonwalking with Einstein by Joshua Foer The Bullet Journal Method by Ryder Carroll Sometimes the Magic Works by Terry Brooks On Writing by Stephen King
Not only did I never hear about any of these books before, but I also have never thought about reading some of these topics. This is exactly what I wanted. Even though I write blog posts occasionally but it never occurred to me to read books on writing. Having read On Writing by Stephen King I plan to put more focus on my writing.
Stephen King, a well-known author most known for his work in horror fiction, has more than 350 million copies of his books sold. Many films, which include The Green Mile which I have frequently watched in the past, were based on his books.
On Writing by Stephen King details how Stephen became the writer he is today followed by a few of his writing tips. Stephen has a way of writing that transitions story in an engaging yet concise manner. I would be reading about how Stephen is dealing with numerous publisher rejections to how Stephen found success with his first published novel, Carrie, in the span of my 30 minutes commute.
In regards to his writing tips, it is nothing new that you won’t find in a writing/grammar book. However, as someone who’s not a prolific writer, I do find some of it useful. There’s one advice in particular which I have already started applying in my previous blog post:
In expository pose, paragraphs can (and should) be neat and utilitarian. The ideal expository graf contains a topic sentence followed by others which explain or amplify the first.
Topic-sentence-followed-by-support-and-description insists that the writer organize his/her thoughts, and it also provides good insurance against wandering away from topic.
I’m still working on it but I find this simple advice very useful. Previously when I write, I break out to a new paragraph with no clear structure. Sometimes it can seem like I’m just spitting out words as it comes to my mind. But since reading On Writing, I spend more time thinking about how I should structure my paragraphs which helps me organize my thoughts.
Upon reading his advice, I immediately flipped back and started to see if Stephen practices what he preaches which he does. Each paragraph has a main point it’s trying to convey through its topic sentence supported by the remaining sentences. If a point only has two sentences then so be it. There’s no need to unnecessarily expand a paragraph longer than it’s needed to convey your message across.
Stephen King also provides a few more writing tips such as “the adverb is not your friend” and “one of the cardinal rules of good fiction is to never tell us a thing if you can show us” that you can learn more about in his book.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book and got some insights on the career path of a writer and some of the challenges that come with it. If you are someone interested in a writing career or someone who wants to learn more about writing, then I’ll recommend this book to you.
Have you read this book? And is there any book you would recommend? I’ll love to hear your thoughts. 🙂
I’m currently reading Bad Blood by John Carreyrou.
Tara Westover was raised in a Mormon survivalist home in rural Idaho. Her dad Gene doesn’t believe in government institutions and prepares the family to brace for the end of the world. As a result, until she was 17, Tara usually found herself working in her father’s junkyard while other kids were in school.
With limited interactions with people who share different beliefs, Tara’s knowledge and values are greatly influenced by her dad. It was until she decided to study for the ACT and eventually gained admission to the Brigham Young University that she got exposed to different cultures and beliefs.
Because of her lack of proper homeschooling, Tara struggled at first in school but eventually caught up and earned a Ph.D. at Cambridge. Of the 7 siblings, Tara and 2 of her siblings left home and have all earned Ph.D.s. This difference in education gradually causes a divide within the family.
Tara’s self-discovery is beautifully narrated in her memoir, Educated, where she displays her self-doubts, vulnerability, and toughness. It is fascinating to see how Tara and her other 2 brothers who left home were able to excel in school and earned Ph.D.s despite not being prepared through the traditional education system at an early age. This not only reflects their desire to learn but also is a testament to the value of hard work that is instilled in them from their parents.
One of the thought-provoking themes that were explored was the divide between those who have degrees and those who don’t. This played out in Tara’s childhood where her family barely visited any relatives in town. As Tara and some of her siblings left home and earned degrees, the divide started to grow within the family to the point where Tara is currently estranged from her parents.
Here’s a great conversation between Bill Gates and Tara Westover:
Educated is an amazing story which I recommend everyone to pick up.
Have you read this book? And is there any book you would recommend? I’ll love to hear your thoughts.
I’m currently reading Creativity, Inc. by Edwin Catmull.