My Year of Reading Dangerously – May

I expected the advent of nicer weather to impact my book count, which it completely did, but things are still moving along on pace for reaching my 100 book goal. This month’s 6 books means the total is 44 over 5 months, an average of 8.8 per month and exactly where I need to be for meeting my YEAY goal.

This month’s reads were all over the place – a little macroeconomics, a little business/personal development, one really good nonfiction book, some first-person military history, and a couple for fun.

The Complacent Class: The Self-Defeating Quest for the American Dream – Tyler Cowen: I read another of Cowen’s books in March, and this book is the followup to The Great Stagnation, which means The Complacent Class hit my reading list as soon as it was released this spring. Cowen’s premise was that affluence and stability have contributed to “a general sense of satisfaction with the status quo…people in our society accept, welcome or even enforce a resistance to things new, different or challenging.” I do agree with that premise – I see fewer and fewer risk-takers, critical thinkers, and business strategists working on the Next Big Thing. However, the book as a whole was not as strong as Cowen’s previous work. It delved into a lot of prognostication at the end, and despite presenting some compelling evidence, just seemed like an attempt by Cowen to establish himself as an economist oracle in the vein of financial whiz Warren Buffett.

Make Your Mark: The Creative’s Guide to Building a Business with Impact – Editor Jocelyn Glei: The 3rd book in the 99U book series. I loved the first book in this series, and was lukewarm about the second, so I wasn’t too sure what to expect from this one. But I was pleasantly surprised by the shift from a more introspective, self-development-focused narrative to one that was centered on pushing ideas out into the the world. For anyone who’s a maker, business person or entrepreneur, this is a good motivational read.

Mountains Beyond Mountains: The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer, A Man Who Would Cure the World – Tracy Kidder: I enjoyed this book immensely. It’s always fulfilling when a nonfiction book is so well-written and tells a story so compelling that it reads like a novel. If you’re looking for proof that a single motivated person can make an immense impact in the world, this is your book.

Andy Warhol Was a Hoarder: Inside the Minds of History’s Great Personalities – Claudia Kalb: Sometimes the greatest minds are the most disordered, or so postulates Claudia Kalb’s book about some of history’s most unique and, she claims, mentally challenged people. From ADHD to bipolar disorder, hoarding to OCD, various psychological diagnoses are matched to the celebrities or personages that best exhibited their symptoms – Marilyn Monroe, Albert Einstein, Charles Darwin, Howard Hughes. Many of these people lived in times when mental illnesses were rarely diagnosed and even more rarely treated. Yet throughout, there was the constant question – if they HAD been diagnosed and treated, would their lives and works and creations have been as noteworthy? Or would diagnosis and treatment have fundamentally changed their ability to manifest creatively? Fascinating question, and good read.

The Man in the High Castle – Philip K. Dick: Whenever a show based upon a book gets popular on TV, or similarly, a movie based on a book hits the cinemas, I ALWAYS try to read the book first. My idea is this: a show or a movie is similar to a social media post from a company or personality. It’s meant to snag your interest quickly and entertain you above all. However, if you really want to understand what the company is about or who the personality really is, check out longer form resources – biographies, websites, etc. The same thing applies to books – if you really want to understand what the author intended (or DIDN’T intend), start with the source material. This approach is one I’ve used on a million titles – Game of Thrones, Outlander, Cider House Rules, Gone Girl, etc. So when the Amazon-produced TV series, “The Man in the High Castle” kept getting rave reviews, I headed directly to Dick’s book. While dystopian literature is very popular right now (look no further than the “Divergent” series for young adults, or “The Hunger Games”), Dick’s dystopia is a little different. Written in the early 60s, it’s actually classified as “alternate history” (which makes me laugh – because ‘alternate facts’ is such a thing right now as well), because it envisions a world in which the forces of Germany and Japan won WWII, partially due to the assassination of FDR and an electoral loss by Churchill in the UK. Great read, if a little disjointed at times, despite the fact that there’s no real conclusion or resolution at the end.

D Day Through German Eyes: The Hidden Story of June 6th, 1944 – Holger Echertz: Holger Echertz was a journalist in Nazi Germany, tasked with bringing the German public and citizens of the occupied countries tales from the front highlighting the boldness and vigor of the Nazi fighting force. No small feat at any time, and even more of one when the Nazi propaganda machine is pressuring you to heavily edit your reporting with a more favorable slant to the Fatherland. Holger made his state-sponsored foray in early 1944, when Nazi forces were busy building the Atlantic Wall in France, interviewing individual soldiers for features as he went. He revisited these same soldiers (those still alive) in 1954, to mark the 10th anniversary of DDay, and to get their perspective on the events of June 6th. I read this over the Memorial Day weekend, and it was a sobering reminder to me that valor and bravery exist on both sides of the battle, regardless of the victor.