Zucked (Roger McNamee)

This is an important book. It talks about the danger posed by our current online environments. The primary target is Facebook but the threat is also from Google and others. These companies have hit upon a successful way to make huge amounts of money and mindshare but along the way those platforms pose existential threats to democracy, health, innovation, and other aspects of society. Their rise was rapid and their creators didn’t think of how they would be used by bad actors.

The author was in the right places at the right times to see what most people didn’t. He was an early proponent but the election of 2016 awakened him to the harm they could be used to create. at that point he made it his mission to try and combat the damage. This book chronicles that journey. There have been some successes but there remains more to do.

A personal note: my recent undertaking of the digital declutter (see my previous review of Digital Minimalism) relates to this book in two ways: 1) the digital detox has opened more time for, among other things, reading. I was able to finish this book in two days! (much faster than my normal book completion time) and 2) The content of this book made me feel even better about giving up Facebook and other social media and restricting my time in front of screens.

I highly recommend this book.

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Digital Minimalism (Cal Newport)

After a year off of Facebook this book seemed relevant to me. I’ve very glad I picked it up. It has inspired me to also give up Twitter and Instagram. I liked the book so much that I’m implementing the program the book recommends. I recommend it.

The book starts off by talking about the cost of always being connected to the digital world and the toll it takes on those of us who are trying to do stuff. The program recommended by the book consists of three phases: 1) deciding how you will implement step 2 in the form of rules. Newport is pragmatic and makes allowances for when you can’t give up all of your digital life. He urges making rules that capture you intentions so that you don’t fall prey to habits that have been built up over time. 2) take 30 days and do a digital detox. 3) gradually introduce digital aspects of your life intentionally and only if they provide great value.

The last part of the book proposes practices for engaging with the digital world in an intentional way and also practices away from the digital world that can enrich life in a deeper way.

As I write this, I am on day 1 of step 2 and man, I’m now aware of the autopilot habits I have around my phone, tablet and computer after only one day. Eye opening…

Miles – The Autobiography (Miles Davis with Quincy Troupe)

It’s been a while since I posted on this blog. I haven’t stopped reading, though, and some of the books I’ve read in the past few months may get entries here in the future. One book I’ve read recently is the Miles Davis autobiography.

This book must hold the record for number of times the word “motherfucker” appears in print. But for Miles, the epithet is not negative – he reserves its use for things deserving high praise. Maybe not politically correct (and there’s a lot more in this book that might not be seen today as politically correct) but that’s Miles. What are you going to do about it? He’s always been his own person and gone his own way.

There’s no doubt that he is a towering figure in music. I bought the book after investigating the four albums he recorded for Prestige in the late 1950’s. Up until then I didn’t know he had written an autobiography. When I found out about it I wanted to read it.

There’s a lot in this autobiography. It  covers just about all of his life story (it was originally published a couple of years before he passed). And what a life he had. He really led the directions that jazz music took for decades and he talks about all of it in this book. I really enjoyed reading his recounting of his life journey and I learned a lot that I didn’t know about him and his music. Highly recommended, especially for jazz aficionados.

Fear (Bob Woodward)

Another political book pre-order. I’m getting burned out on these so no more of this kind of book. At least for a while.

Nothing in this book surprised me. I guess the only interesting thing about this book is that it was written by Bob Woodward. He brings a certain amount of credibility due to his history. And he has said that he has tapes from the interviews that led to this book. But by now, nothing in this book is surprising to me.

The book starts off with some scenes from the election but most of the book consists of vignettes from Trump in the White House. Take-aways? Trump’s incompetent, hot-headed, impervious to logic, stubborn, pissed off, incapable of focus, and only about him and his ego. Like I said, nothing surprising

I really don’t recommend this book. I didn’t learn much from reading this book and I read to learn.

On to something else…

Everything Trump Touches Dies (Rick Wilson)

I pre-ordered this book a while ago in a weak moment. There’s another book on the topic that showed up today. But after that, no more political books for a while. That said, I really enjoyed this book, not least because Wilson is a great writer. He has a real way with words and phrases (and a vocabulary larger than mine).

Wilson has many years experience as a political strategist and consultant. He cops to the fact that some of the ads he worked on in the past were negative but after Trump he discovered his conscience and is now a “Never Trumper.” His experience informs his writing. Aside from being entertained by his wordsmithy, I learned some stuff.

He starts out denigrating what he calls “Vichy Republicans,” those who sold their conservative souls to ride the Trump wave and the aftermath. In the second section he expounds on the victims of the Trump curse. Republicans, the media, The Trump Base, the grownups in the oval office who would ostensibly steer trump away from his more rash actions. Part three takes apart the villains who are a part of the Trump movement – members of his administration, the Trump family, crony capitalists, right-wing media, his advisors and lawyers, white supremacists.

Finally, he wraps up with his take on what should be done to bring the Republican party back to what he thinks it really should be and imagining his party and our country after Trump. Here he takes his imagination off the leash (“The Mad Max Outcome”).

The book takes down a lot of people, including democrats, but most of the vitriol is aimed at those who aided and abetted Trump. I found the book educational and entertaining and recommend it to people on all sides of the political landscape.

Bruce Lee (Matthew Polly)

One of my favorite books of all time is American Shaolin. It’s the recounting of the author’s experience dropping out of college and moving to China to become a Shaolin monk. Highly recommended.

The author of that book is Matthew Polly. When I was on vacation this summer and browsing in a local bookshop I came upon Polly’s latest book Bruce Lee. I knew from reading his first book that he had a special place in his heart for martial arts and he also walked that walk. I figured he would bring his love and enthusiasm to a biography of Bruce Lee.

The book is well researched and goes in depth on Lee’s entire life. It starts from his early life in America and China including his career as a child actor. It explores the conflict of being Chinese not born in China and the choice between being a martial artist versus a movie star. And it goes into detail about his rise to fame and his untimely death, including speculation on its most likely cause.

I found this book compelling and enjoyed reading it. I recommend it as highly as highly as Polly’s first book.

12 Rules For Life (Jordan Peterson)

I admit I was curious. While looking for information on the carnivore diet I came across a video from Jordan Peterson. He’s now one of the poster boys for that way of eating but he seemed erudite in his discussion. So I decided to read his book. Before reading it I also found out he’s somewhat of a darling of right wing folks. I also saw a lot of hate from the left wing folks. I figured the book would be interesting.

I found his rules to be quite traditional. They are informed by religious texts (primarily the Old Testament of the Christian Bible), 19th century writers (Nietzsche, Dostoevsky, and others), and his own clinical experience as a clinical psychologist. His rules are simple but the explanation of each one (a chapter per rule) is quite long and cover more than just the surface of each rule.

In my opinion, his rules can be quite helpful for people who are in trouble and looking for a way to set their life right. And the arguments are compelling in that light. I didn’t, however, find much that spoke to me. Still, it was interesting to read how he develops his points. I think that if all you know of Peterson is from YouTube videos (both those for and against him), this book will be helpful in understanding his ideas in more depth.