Hayao Miyazaki - Starting Point 1979-1996

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The first of two anthologies of interviews, speeches, and writings by the world’s greatest animated filmmaker, Miyazaki. This isn’t an easy read - well over 400 pages of granular insight into everything from Miyazaki’s changing views on Marxism to the difference between 5-cell and 6-cell animations of humans running. It’s the kind of treasure trove of information that appeals to ardent fans.

Miyazaki on animation

The general theme of currently popular shows seems to be that the protagonist jumps in a giant machine he couldn’t possibly have created on his own, battles the enemy in it, and then boasts about winning. I frankly hate these kinds of shows. I don’t care what types of robots are featured. For me, in a  truly successful mecha show the protagonist should struggle to build his own machine, he should fix it when it breaks down, and he should have to operate it himself. (1979)
Certainly, it takes great effort to create significant work given the current flood of animation. It is like pouring clear water drop by drop into the muddy flood waters. (1982)
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Miyazaki on life and work

As we grow from childhood into youth … anxiety grows exponentially, and we worry about how on earth we should live our lives. Our anxiety forces us to look for an antidote that will rid us of this feeling as quickly as possible. We want to find something that will help us grab our own chair in this world and sit in it. (1982)
What is needed when involved in collaborative work is the flexibility to use without hesitation a better plan than one’s own (even if it comes from a rookie hired the day before) and the determination to convince others through discussion to adopt the ideas one believes in. (1989)
When you criticize another person’s work at the workplace, you need to have an alternative plan and the ability to persuade other that your option is better. The workplace has no use for a critic. (1989)
Many people in Japan today are of the opinion that working all the time is a problem, but I happen to worry that in the near future so few people will work that it will become a problem. I think this is hinted at by the fact that so many people today just do the work they are told to do and are incapable of figuring out what they need to do beyond that. At the very minimum, I never want to lose the excitement I experience when I’m working. When I do, I think it’ll be all over for me. (1992)
What I’m trying to say is that if we’re mainly confining ourselves to big-picture, general statements about things, there’s simply too much beyond our control. One reason we humans have so many problems, I’m convinced, is precisely because there is this huge disjunction between the world of generalized statements and the wold of specifics, or details. But humans can be perfectly satisfied by working with the details. It’s an idea that I recently find very appealing. If you only think of problems from the big-picture level - as if looking down from a mountain or an airplane - they may seem to be truly unsolvable. But if you get closer to the ground, you may see a path to solve them that proceeds fifty meters or so. it may look like an appealing road, and if the weather’s good and the sun’s out you may feel energized and able to make it down the road. The point that intrigues me here is that by merely changing your perspective your thoughts on an issue may change as well. (1994)
Leaving decisions up to the collective wisdom of the masses just results in collective foolishness. (1994)
As humans, we probably can’t go on living unless we believe that within the finite environment in which we exist we can enjoy a variety of experiences, feel happy, and be emotionally moved. (1995)
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Miyazaki on environment

You can understand a lot about the world from looking at a single river. (1994)
The question then becomes, what is hope? And the conclusion I’d have to venture is that hope involves working and struggling along with people who are important to you. In fact, I’ve gotten to the point where I think this is what it means to be alive. We don’t know what’ll happen when we plant grass or clean rivers. Is it something that even connects us to the future? No, not at all. But nothing will happen unless we do it. (1994)
I think my neighbourhood river is better if it’s clean rather than dirty and foul smelling. If we do these sorts of things in our own limited way, thinking ho wonderful it would be if we could go fishing here, in just an hour of crawling around in the riverbed we can understand what it would take a renowned scholar to tell us in a two-hour lecture. (1994)
Opening an art museum is certainly a cultural act, but isn’t it also engaging in culture to consolidate electrical power lines, decrease the number of traffic signs, and make the city look less unsightly? (1995)

Peter Pomerantsev - Nothing Is True and Everything Is Possible: The Surreal Heart of the New Russia

I picked up this book thinking that it would be like a male-narrated, Russian version of Unreal. I wasn’t even sure if it was nonfiction until I looked it up about 1/3 into the book. (It is.) 

Turns out, it wasn’t like Unreal at all. That’s not a bad thing. It was actually a shocking look inside Russian culture (not in a “my culture is so much better than yours” kind of way, but definitely voyeuristic). 

A favourite part of the book was the focus on the individual stories of Russian people - pulling from the author’s documentary days. Those personal stories and experiences were really interesting (and often tragic) and would have been so had they happened to people from any country or background. I feel like narrating an individual’s story in long-form is a bit of a dying art, and I really appreciated the way Pomerantsev found characters with interesting stories and brought them into focus. I feel like I have a better sense of Moscow after this than I had after all the lengthier, more detailed historical fiction I read last winter.

I had no idea, for example, about the suicide epidemic that challenges former Soviet societies:

Six of the seven countries with the highest suicide rates among young females are former Soviet republics … Emile Durkheim once argued that suicide viruses occur at civilizational breaks, when the parents have no traditions, no value systems to pass on to their children.

Some quotes that reveal the basic premise of the book:

Many in the Russian public, cynical after living among Soviet lies so long, often assume the Kremlin’s reality is scripted. There were indeed some grounds for skepticism: the Russian security services had been caught planting a bomb in an apartment block (they claimed it was a training accident); the speaker of the Duma had publicly announced one of the explosions before it had taken place.

and,

The great drama of Russia is not the “transition” between communism and capitalism, between one fervently held set of beliefs and another, but that during the final decades of the USSR no one believed in communism and yet carried on living as if they did, and now they can only create a society of simulations.

So the book wasn’t funny and it wasn’t a satire and it was true, not fiction, but it was a fascinating read and absolutely something students of Western (esp. US) politics and media today should scan. 

Adrian Goldsworth - Caesar: Life of a Colossus

Two weeks ago, I was thinking, “Funny, there are parallels between Caesar and certain presidents.” I had just got to the part in Caesar’s life when he wanted to come back to Rome and be a political leader again, but he couldn’t, and so the only path to getting what he wanted was to overthrow the government and seize control of it for himself. Once in power, there are some historians who say he had no plan and didn’t know what to do with that power, policy-wise, and basically “this is a lot harder than my old job.” 

But then there was that whole kerfuffle with the play and Caesar reference and the costume and the sponsors pulling out and suddenly the parallels seemed less amusing and I was reminded why I prefer historical biographies to the morning newspaper/ Twitterfeed.

The book was basically  “Caesar did this and then Caesar did that” enumeration of his activities. He was an astonishingly prolific letter-writer, so there seems to be a good record. Fun side note: daughters were considered so irrelevant that they didn’t bother to give them their own names. Another fun side note: Caesar would sleep with the wives of his political rivals just to mess with their heads, which is bold. Very bold.

Terry O'Reilly - This I Know

Terry’s a friend and I don’t normally write about friends books, but it’s absolutely fair to say that this book delivers exactly what it promises, plus a little bit extra. It’s smart, a great read, and definitely the first book someone in business who wants to think about advertising and marketing should read. I plowed through it with my morning coffee. In hard copy. So that’s saying something.

Norman Van Aken - No Experience Necessary

There are some spectacular chef memoirs out there, including a few of my favourite all-time biographies. That puts the bar really (and unfairly high) for Van Aken. Is it the greatest chef memoir ever written? No. But it also feels unfair to hold it against a chef/ author just because his life doesn’t include any astonishing tragedies or melodramas that make fact read like fiction. It’s a solid memoir. 

Probably the most interesting aspect of the book was the insight it offered into the growth of New American cuisine and some of the influencers who shaped a style of cooking, a business, and ultimately much of North American culture. 

I liked that Van Aken didn’t write as if he knew what he was doing would be noteworthy many years later. He doesn’t recall details or events as if he’d been keeping notes all along, planning his personal brand or whatever kids these days are doing. 

Side benefit: interesting insight into the growth of Florida cities/ culture in the 1980s. I didn’t know much about Key West (or “Key” Lime pie for that matter) until I read the book .

More than any other chef book I’d read, Van Aken exposes the business side of the restaurant world. It’s not all about the beautiful produce arriving at the kitchen door. It’s also about managing inventory, controlling spending, sketchy partners, and the lessons you learn when you move from staff to management to owner. 

Mary Roach - Packing for Mars

I didn’t know that there was a limit to my interest in sewage, but Roach found it. Actually, astronaut porn was my limit. Sewage was just the icing on the cake. 

The premise - and first half - of this book was super enjoyable. I sprinkled “did you knows” about going to space, the moon, and Mars liberally throughout numerous conversations. It’s a book worth reading if you’re even remotely interested in space travel and you want to know about the real scientific and engineering challenges NASA et al face, not just the fancy and glamorous ones.

It wasn’t even really the sewage that got me, the floating faeces and horrid stench that apparently characterizes visits to space. It was the skin. The floating skin. An entire chapter with great detail dedicated to what happens to dead skin cells in zero-gravity. This is the kind of book that doesn’t lend itself as well to an audiobook, because you can’t control the pacing. Sometimes you want to just skim through the space skin bits. 

What is Water? - Jamie Linton

"The state of water always reflects, in one way or another, the state of society.” - Linton, 2010

I don't like reviewing books written by friends, acquaintances, or in my own field publicly. So I don't want to post much here.

I'll just say that my takeaway from this book is that people, especially people under 30, interested in working in water should read this book. 

Alexandra Heminsley - Running Like a Girl

There is more vaseline in this book than I was expecting. More talk of peeing, too. It’s the kind of book that will attract and repel in equal measure - written in a breathless, frank, girlish way reminiscent of English chick-lit. People will find it, and the author, hilarious. Or they’ll find her annoying, shallow, and self-centred. (This, the Goodreads reviews lead me to believe).

I listened to the audiobook, so I’m not sure if the print copy of the book is officially in two parts. The story and style definitely changes part-way through the book. (And I’ll confess, I fast forwarded through a lot of it as the end drew nearer.)

Part one was, for me, the better part. It’s the memoir of a woman learning to run - an overweight, out of shape woman. She’s miserable in the beginning, and writes frankly and hilariously about her early days as a runner. It’s a good “anyone can learn to run” story, and could have ended there, a lengthy essay. 

But, determined to write a book, the author plows on. After she completes her first marathon, she becomes “a runner”. More marathons ensue. More anecdotes about trading off between drinks with friends and early morning training runs. More self-deprecating humorous stories about flaking out on training and losing sight of her running goals. Interesting, but less universal. The point of the book “anyone can run” meanders into “the trials and tribulations of someone who wants to run 4 marathons a year”. 

Then the book transitions into the second part. Now the author is a running expert. She’s going to share her knowledge and wisdom with me, the fledgling runner. Except I’m totally not interested. First of all, I just want to go for a run through the park. I don’t want to run marathons. And if I *did* want to run a marathon, I’d get a trainer. Her advice is based on experience, and she’s not totally without knowledge, but the information here is random. I just wanted to laugh at her funny story and go about my day. 

I can see how it happens - “I’m going to write a book!” she thought, with really only a long essay in her. So then there’s a need to flesh it out, to make more. But sometimes more isn’t better, isn’t needed. As it is, it’s 60 pages (nearly 30%) longer than Murakami’s What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, which is a genius-level exploration of the same topic (minus the vaseline). The first part of the book is raw and funny and honest - it’s the best part. 

Donald Clarke - Wishing on the Moon 

My breath caught the first time I listened to the lyrics of “Strange Fruit”. 

Black bodies swinging in the southern breeze
Strange fruit hanging from the polar trees

Scent of magnolias, sweet and fresh
Then the sudden smell of burning flesh

There’s something about the quietness of the music, the way that Billie Holiday purrs out the lyrics, and the starkness of the scenes that make it one of the most powerful songs ever recorded.

I didn’t think much about Holiday’s personal life until I read Chasing the Scream. The way Hari describes her drug use and the US government’s pursuit made me want to put down his book and pick up hers. Except that her autobiography is, apparently, mostly fiction. She didn’t write it. She claimed she’d never read it. So I opted for Wishing on the Moon by Donald Clarke instead. 

There are at least three types of biographies:

  1. life-altering biographies or memoirs that blow your mind, usually because they are written by a genius about a genius, capturing both a specific moment in history and a unique personality
  2. biographies written with painstaking detail intended for scholarly researchers, written by scholarly researchers, or part of some other academic pursuit, usually important but sometimes boring as all get-out
  3. trashy corporate-commissioned biographies that hype a currently-popular star, usually sold in checkout aisles and always poorly written (I never read those)

The reviews of Wishing on the Moon were so hot and Hari’s brief portrait so vivid that I was hoping for #1, the life-altering biography with a blend of music and personal life. Not quite. 

Biographers have to choose what to focus on, what tone to take, and how much to impose a narrative on someone’s life. Clarke opted for a dispassionate approach, rarely imposing any narrative at all, rarely suggesting what Billie could be thinking or feeling, and for most of the book allowing interview subjects to speak for themselves. It amounts to a very detailed, interesting, but incredibly lengthy account of what she did, when, and with whom from the time she was born until the time she died. 

Because so much of Billie's story is told in people’s own words, it’s way longer than it needs to be. There’s almost no filter on what was included, so information about a back-up guitar player who played on one tour is related with as much detail as her drug conviction or death. And because different people have different perspectives, there are varied and sometimes contradictory stories about what happened. By the end of the book, it’s not clear what to think about Billie and her life, what was pivotal and what merely happened. A little summarization can be a beautiful thing.

And yet …. While the very thing that made Hari’s portrait so engaging - passion and a clear narrative - is missing from Clarke’s book, I’m not totally convinced now that Hari’s story is actually accurate. The way he condenses Billie’s life suggests that she got into drugs, got busted by cops determined to entrap her to fulfil a drug-war agenda at all costs, then couldn’t perform ever again thus robbing history of a great talent. Clarke’s detailed chronology shows this wasn’t the case at all. Which says something interesting, I think, about the difference between good writing and good biography. 

Rosemary Sullivan - Stalin's Daughter: The Extraordinary and Tumultuous Life of Svetlana Alliluyeva

Sullivan writes a lengthy biography of the daughter of the Soviet dictator, Joseph Stalin. “Lana” defected to the United States in 1967. The book chronicles her childhood, her defection, the suspicion and accusations people in the West had about her, her numerous (and mostly disastrous) relationships. It ends with her death, just after the rise of power of Putin.

After moving to the West, Lana has to learn about things that seem basic here - bank accounts, bills, finding a job, etc. The most fascinating and surprising parts of the book involve her time at Talieson, Frank Lloyd Wright’s peculiar collectivist architecture community and the various Soviet propaganda campaigns.

This book is a long one and it becomes a bit of a trial towards the end. Individual moments in her life are worthy of a book in and of themselves, leading to a strange combination of wanting both more and less detail. 

What’s Next? 

Second book I finished this weekend and I think my Russian/ Communism history journey is complete for a while. 

John Livingston - The Fallacy of Wildlife Conservation (V)

Funny how you can go two decades in a field thinking you’ve read most of the leading thinkers/ writers and heard of the rest, then someone mentions a new name in conversation … that’s where Livingston came from. It’s a little eerie to think that I’d never heard of him, when there are very obvious parallels between his thinking and my (24x7) day job. But truly, I’d never heard of him before. 

He was the first producer of The Nature of Things. He was the voice of Hinterland Who’s Who. He was born and raised in Toronto. He taught at York University. He won the Governor General’s Award for non-fiction. How is it possible that I’d never heard of him? (Here’s a great obituary, by the way.

The Fallacy deconstructs the usual arguments in favour or wildlife conservation: use, self-interest, future generations, religion. It explains why none of them is up to the task of actually ensuring wildlife preservation. And then it argues that an individual's emotional, irrational physical connection to nature is the most powerful reason for preserving wildlife of all. 

It’s a powerful book that articulates a perspective rarely heard in conservation and environmental work. If there’s a weakness, it’s that Livingston never attempts to put his reason/ argument into a policy context. Why would a policymaker listen to the argument, however persuasive? I read the introduction and the interview with him at the beginning of the Reader and it offers more insight: Livingston believed that our (western) culture was broken. That wildlife conservation was likely impossible in the modern cultural climate. He accepted the possibility that no argument would actually work, that wildlife would not/ could not be preserved. Hence, he never promised that his “best” argument would actually win the day. Only that it was the most honest. 

Johann Hari - Chasing the Scream (24)

The subtitle is “The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs”. It’s an eye-opening book. I hadn’t seen the TED talk or heard of the author’s past issues with journalistic integrity but am relieved to see that the original interviews that seed the book are all online and that critics focus more on his conclusions and analysis than the basic facts. Because it was the scenarios and real-world examples that interested me most.

First, the opening section about the history of the drug war in the USA were fascinating. The story about Billie Holiday was so tragic and infuriating that I stopped the book to buy one about her for later reading. 

If you are interested in institutional racism and the characters who buried it in the foundations of  some USA institutions, this is an important read. Ditto for addiction, drugs, crime and the justice system, and anyone studying how policy ideas spread from one country to the world. 

What’s Next? 

Back to fiction. I can’t stop thinking about One Night in Winter, so something in that vein. 
 

John McPhee - The Control of Nature (S)

Here’s the setup: visit three places in the world where people have tried to hold nature at bay through engineering. In the first part, you visit the mouth of the Mississippi, where the river desperately wants to shift its position before it empties into the ocean. With locks and diversions, people have told the Mississippi where to go - and the river often, but not always, listens.

In the second part, you visit Iceland, where people used big hoses sucking seawater to hold lava from an erupting volcano at bay in order to save a fishing harbour.

In the third part, you visit Los Angeles, where debris slides from the mountains have the power to wipe out whole neighbourhoods - unless they can be contained by very large ditches. 

Elements of the book made me think immediately of the Baichwal, Burtynsky, de Pencier filmmaking trio. What would these places look like in pictures? How would locals’ stories sound if I could hear them in their own words? Unfortunately, I liked their imaginary movie version of the book better than the essays themselves. 

McPhee, who is an astoundingly successful writer on the topic closest to my heart, didn’t live up to what I wanted him to be. Are these places symbols of the Anthropocene? Are they metaphors or representative of a larger message? Why should I know this? 

In the end, it’s not clear if these locations were picked because they have  global significance, or if they were just the first three places McPhee thought to write about. I’m not sure what the lesson in the book might be - and not in the thought-provoking, non-didactic way that Baichwal loves. More in a “does this guy have an editor?” kind of way.

The book took a really long time to get through, mostly because the information - especially on the Mississippi - was so repetitive. By the time I was part-way through each essay, I started to get a bit resentful about the wordiness. Resentful because I genuinely care about the topic and wanted to know it better - just without all those words in the way.

What's Next?

Time for a change of pace ...

William Finnegan - Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life (Q)

This is one of the most highly rated memoirs of the last year, and I’ve been looking forward to reading it. Unfortunately, the audiobook is poorly made (an example of why most authors shouldn’t read their own audiobooks). I almost didn’t read it, but the reviews kept pulling me back. 

Depending on how much you love surfing, the book wanders from good to fantastic. Thirty years of waves around the world are described in great detail, and if the topic of surfing is interesting to you then the book will be an incredible read. This is not one of those books where the memoir is a vehicle for a larger point about life - there is no universal theme that will draw in readers who don’t care about surfing. It’s not a metaphor. It’s a well-written chronicle of the adventures of a surfer. 

What you take from it is that surfing isn’t like other sports and hobbies. You’re at the mercy of waves and weather. When they call, you go. And if you don’t heed the call, you’re not a real surfer. Towards the end of the book, there are descriptions of how waves change - hurricanes, dredging, construction. When that happens, the use of the shore changes. The people who use it change. The local economy shifts. (Granted, I read a lot into a short chapter.) Only surfers would see this. Because only surfers are there, on the water, looking back to shore. 

What’s Next?

More water. But this time, back in Canada.

Laura Young - Solo but never alone (L)

A book about every person who has swam across Lake Ontario (and other Great Lakes). How could you go wrong?

Each person's story has the same core - they swam (or tried to swim) Lake Ontario. But every person's story is also different: their reasons for doing it, the lake that met them, the challenges they had. 

The title of the book captures the recurring theme: a swim across the lake is a "solo" swim, but the athletes can't do it on their own. From the swim masters to the coaches to the support boat operators, it takes a team to complete one of the toughest marathon swims in the world. 

What’s Next?

Vacation book!
 

McNish and Silcoff - Losing the Signal (20)

The story of the rise and fall of Blackberry/ Research in Motion. It came out in 2015, but mostly ends a few years before that. It centres on the launch of the Blackberry, the company’s global success, and then sheds light on how and why the company failed in the wake of iPhone and Android competitors. 

People interested in corporate case studies will find it fascinating how the company was simultaneously peaking and collapsing at the same time - the signals of success were screaming loudly at the exact moment that strategic decisions (and indecisions) were being made that doomed the company. The fact that those two things could be happening at the same time is an important lesson. 

It’s a good read, but it lacks the main thesis or moral that makes some corporate histories and biographies spectacular. At under 300 pages, there isn’t space to truly get inside the heads of the players involved in the story. As a result, it has the feel of a very long magazine feature, more than a book.

But it’s a fast read and an interesting counterpoint to the usual “yay Silcon valley rah rah” stories.
At the end of the day, many people walked away with a lot of money. You could spin it as a success story, and an American may have done just that. But because the company is now a shell of its former self, it failed to survive. Which makes it an inherently Canadian story. A nice post-script to Margaret Atwood’s analysis of the quintessential “Canadian” story of survival. 

What’s Next?

Fiction again. Something with a wonderful narrator, a voice that will lull me after weeks and weeks of long hours and travel. 

Ashlee Vance - Elon Musk: Inventing the Future (18)

Where to begin with this. Okay, so first, it’s a decent read about a man at the head of two companies that are incredibly influential in shaping North American technology and markets right now. The book is worth reading for that reason alone. But it isn’t the 5-star change your life marvel that most reviews would lead you to believe. 

Whether or not Musk is a crazy person, a jerk, or some kind of demigod isn’s super relevant to me. If you want to like Musk, there’s enough in the book to make you think he’s a genius. If you want to hate Musk, there’s plenty here to make you think he’s a jerk. Moving on.

SpaceX and Tesla are young enough companies that the book can describe their early years and recent successes, but their true impact won’t be known for another decade. 

I disliked the author’s style, and there’s no way this is perfect book. Vance inserts himself into the narrative for no reason whatsoever - mostly just the lazy use of first person narration to stitch together information. This habit, combined with too much fanboyism for Silicon Valley in general, creates this feeling like the author wants desperately to be part of Musk’s world. It’s annoying.

One premise about Musk’s childhood confuses me. Vance makes a lot out of the idea that Musk had a “difficult” childhood. He hints at, but offers no details about issues with Musk’s father. He references bullying, but the examples he gives - Musk being called names, a friend being beaten up - sound more like any rough and tumble childhood before the bubble-wrapped 21st Century. I feel like anyone my age could tell similar stories. Better examples needed to be given in order to justify the amount of time Vance spends on this point or he needed to dispatch with it quickly, like say that he has good reason to believe something or things very serious happened but no one would go on the record. Instead, he labours the point and then offers weak examples. 

The most interesting parts were the stories about challenges Musk and his company faced. The general gist of it is that people basically always wanted Musk’s companies to fail - competitors, investors want to make power plays, rivals within the company, vested interests from old industry, people who dislike him personally, etc. 

To me, these stories were the best way to illustrate how Musk’s clarity of vision and singular, simple focus (go to Mars, make the best electric car) are the defining characteristics of both Musk and his companies.

Julia Scheeres - A Thousand Lives (17)

"No one joins a cult" is one of my favourite lines in the book. 

"No one joins a cult" is one of my favourite lines in the book. 

"A Thousand Lives: The Untold Story of Hope, Deception, and Survival at Jonestown” is about the rise and fall of Jim Jones and his People’s Temple. Jones, an American, takes a group of followers to settle “Jonestown” near the Guyana - Venezuela border. Their journey ends with nearly 1,000 people dead.  

The book is based, in part, on reports from survivors. This is both a strength and a weakness. The survivors tended to be people who were jaded Jones followers, so they are unable to answer the most important question of all: why on earth would anyone follow this guy? Jones seemed like a strung-out, inconsistent egomaniac without any real religious conviction or idealism to capture people’s imaginations. The book tells the “what” but not the “why”, and the why seems like the more interesting part. 

Scheeres seems to make a case against the idea that Jonestown was a “mass suicide”. She argues that residents at Jonestown were starving, living in terrible conditions, and had guns pointed at them when they drank the poison.

The phrase “drank the Kool-Aid” should probably mean “chose the lesser of two horrid options”, rather than "going along with something out of obedience or peer pressure". One doesn’t normally have a gun pointed at them in those cases. This again brings me back to the main question: how did all of those people actually end up at Jonestown in the first place?

What’s Next?

Stepping onto an airplane, so going with something that was already in my audiobook library. Elon Musk it is (and nope, no connection between the two books intended). 
 

Margaret MacMillan - The Uses and Abuses of History (16)

In The Uses and Abuses of History, historian Margaret MacMillan gives examples of ways that political and military leaders have manipulated interpretations of history to further their agenda, often with catastrophic impact on lives and freedom. It flowed naturally from The United States of Japan, but it also called up a lot of the same themes as Lessing’s Prisons and Atwood’s Survival. 

The audiobook was lovely to listen to, but I’ll confess that it’s a pretty heavy topic that I whipped through casually. Her writing on the aboriginal land claims in the Canadian context deserves a re-read of the print version, because I’m not sure if I heard what she was saying correctly. It seemed as though she was dismissing truth and reconciliation on the basis that “if every group of people that has been wronged asks for restitution, society will never get anywhere.” I can’t believe that’s what she was actually saying, given the tone of the rest of the book. 

There’s really one, overarching point: history lessons are manipulated, so people should look for facts to support their beliefs. The strongest arguments in the book deal with mistakes and injustices that political leaders make when they choose to ignore (or be ignorant of) history.

That’s where the book most strongly echoes Lessing and where MacMillian’s anecdotes are most compelling.

What’s Next?

Another telling of history …
 

Simon Sinek - Start with why (14)

I listen to audiobooks when I’m riding my bike to work. Sometimes, on the long stretch of bike path near the railway path, I get going really fast. Every now and then, the wind gusts by and makes it a bit hard to hear. When I love a book, I crank the volume up so I can hear it over the wind, even though it’s too loud the rest of the time. Usually, I just miss a sentence here or there and keep riding. 

Sinek’s book is fine. It’s mostly geared towards marketing, branding, or business people thinking about how they differentiate their offering from their competitors’. There’s value in being reminded to get back to the true heart of why you do what you do.

It’s 7 years old, so it’s not Sinek’s fault that I’m reading it at a time when TED-inspired lessons about how you, too, can be a genius or be just like Steve Jobs are getting stale. But there was definitely that element. 

I liked it enough that I’d look forward to listening to it, but not enough that I’d crank the volume to drown out wind and trains. 

What’s Next?

Started an audiobook on a recent road trip - United States of Japan. Back to fiction.