I’m trying to get back into reading books because there’s just so many on my Amazon.com wishlist that I need to start knocking them out.
Recently I read China, Inc. by Ted Fishman. I think it’s crucial to get up to speed on China as quickly as possible. They are a massive force to be reckoned with. The book covers all facets of China’s current boom. That the Chinese are setting up massive factories in the rural areas that produce anything so fast that it craters the prices of goods worldwide is staggering. That these profits go mainly to the wealthy who live in the many blossoming cities that dwarf ours in size is even more mind-blowing. The Chinese are intent on improving their technology rapidly and they have the ability to catch up in no time, no matter what industry you’re talking about. The book also covers corporate America’s response to the limitless, cheap Chinese labor force.
China is restrained by its government, yes, but in a lot of ways, it’s more of a free market than the U.S.’s is. Sometimes I wonder if they will be seen as a better example of a capitalist country than we are, in a decade or two.
After that, I read Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World by Jack Weatherford, to continue my study of Asia. What struck me was how little I knew about the Mongols. It never occurred to me that they had united such a vast swath of land and then done something great with it: building a standardized network of roads, formalizing currencies and language, being culturally neutral in respects not related to stimulating trade. The Mongols succeeded when they didn’t push themselves on the conquered, and when they didn’t enforce their own culture upon them. It was the same with the Romans. Not until later, when less disciplined and worthy khans took over, did the Mongols begin to persecute outsiders.
The Mongol way relied a lot on strong leadership of a khan. Under Genghis, it found its identity. Under Kublai, it became more sedentary but became more organized. Later rulers abandoned Genghis’s ideology.
What I took from this book was mainly the benefit of facilitating commerce, which improves other areas such as science, philosophy, nutrition, tolerance, literary experimentation, etc.
I think I want to add Genghis Khan to my back tattoo. Perhaps on my neck when I get out of the Army.
Now I am reading A History of the World in 6 Glasses, by Tom Standage. It’s extremely informative to me, since I only vaguely knew the histories behind beer, wine, spirits, coffee, tea, and cola. But what’s most intriguing about the book is how it clearly (yet not boorishly) links the evolution of the drinks to the advancement of mankind.
I think there’s something very important in the contention that all of these drinks provided alternatives in the way of purified forms of drink, helping to lower the ravages of disease and infection that plagued early mankind. I don’t really believe in social tinkering — I believe the best effects should be sought in big, blunt instruments of basic science. And reading that a drink like tea, being brewed (removing harmful organisms) and having its own medicinal properties, could reduce the impact of dysentery and other diseases and therefore coincide with the increasing population densities from factories (with living quarters nearby) is neat. Also, while the earlier drinks had negative effects on the mind, coffee came along and was marketed as a way to stay up longer and eventually became the symbol of intellectualism as coffee-houses became centers of discourse and debate.
I haven’t finished the book yet and tonight I started getting too antsy to read as I sat next to two unopened Amazon.com boxes. So I dog-eared my book and tore the boxes open.
The books I got:
Jawbreaker, by Gary Berntsen, that badass CIA operator interviewed in PBS Frontline’s Dark Side episode. Apparently Berntsen was a CIA field commander who was among the first Americans to hit the ground in Afghanistan. He had several opportunities to take out bin Laden but was reportedly not allowed to by higher. When the right wing complains that the Dems don’t have the spine to fight terrorism, I wonder why Berntsen and his co-workers were not heeded in their advice: US forces must press aggressively and quickly and must spearhead the attack. What ended up happening was the attack was handed off to feuding warlords, and bin Laden got away.
I also got Herman Hesse’s Siddhartha, which will be a quick read but also a necessary one at this point in my development.
Next up: Yvon Chouinard’s Let My People Go Surfing. Publishers Weekly blurb:
“Chouinard, founder and owner of Patagonia Inc., presents his philosophy for a “new style of responsible business” along with a chronicle of his personal and company history in this sincere if self-congratulatory creed. A Californian of French-Canadian descent, Chouinard started forging climbing hardware and selling it out of his car in 1957 and published his first catalogue, a one-page mimeographed sheet, in 1964. Today, his sporting goods company has annual revenues of $230 million, but he nonetheless identifies himself as more of “a climber, a surfer, a kayaker, a skier and a blacksmith” than a CEO. In this vein, he lays out his alternative vision of business, detailing eco- and people-conscious philosophies on aspects of the supply chain from product design and production to human resources and management. Chouinard has backed up his rhetoric with action: Patagonia pursues sustainability, gives 1% of annual net sales to environmental groups and has set benchmarks with its employee-friendly policies. Patagoniacs and socially conscious businesspeople may appreciate this account despite its wooden writing, especially as an antidote to headlines of corporate fraud.”
And finally, I got George Lakoff’s Whose Freedom?. Another Publishers Weekly blurb:
“Lakoff revisits the theme of his 2004 bestseller (Don’t Think of an Elephant!), exploring the role of rhetorical metaphors in shaping political discourse. Specifically, he explores how the conservative and progressive definitions of “freedom” differ from one another, in order to demonstrate how liberals uphold a dominant American political tradition while “radical conservatives” seek to overturn that legacy for their own selfish ends. The historical evidence for this claim is never detailed to a persuasive degree, however, leaving a simplistic psychological model in which conservatives adhere to “strict father” thinking while progressives embrace a “nurturant parent” model. Though Lakoff’s proposed solution calls upon progressives to reject the conservative framework with new language, it’s highly questionable whether talking about “freedom judges” instead of “judicial activists” could really catch on. The author undermines his own warnings that the conservative movement is a threat to free will by suggesting that conservatives are trying to brainwash Americans to render them less capable of adopting progressive attitudes. Lakoff has been heralded for offering Democrats a new strategic vision, but the plan he articulates entails creating a populist movement that demonizes the right wing as a “dangerous elite”â€”hardly a new frame for political discourse.”
So yeah, I done good. I got a bunch of books I’m excited to read here. Yeehaw!