Reviews of the books I've read

A list of all the books I've read this year. For these reviews, this is my book review scale:

burn Burn any copy you find of this book, it is horrific.
mock This book is awful. Don't read this book and mock anyone you see reading this book.
don't Don't read this book.
desert If you're on a desert island and are bored out of your mind, this book is okay to read.
fan If you're a fan of this author / genre, this book is worth reading.
worth This book is interesting, fun, entertaining, and thus worth reading. I would hand this book to a friend who asked for a _____ type book.
strongly I strongly recommend this book
amazing OMG, this book is amazing and/or life-changing, let me buy you a copy.

Post date:

Gates of Fire

Book Notes

This book was recommended in a recent Ryan Holiday's book-reading newsletter. He had read the book 14 years ago, recently reread it, and was impressed with all the nuances of the book. Along with The Road, I picked up the book from the library. Related: I'm pretty sure that I read the Reading List emails faster than most people on the list, as the books Holiday recommends are usually available when I look for them, and have a backlog of holds about a week later. Is amusing to me.

The book is the telling of the Battle of Thermopylae, more commonly known in today's culture as the battle that the 300 Spartans held off thousands of Persian invaders. Now, I am REALLY not a fan of historical fiction, to the point where I might say the movie is better I dislike historical fiction so much, but, well, this causes me to reconsider my stance. The book is written in third person, and not third person omniscient, which means we see the characters' actions, but don't hear their thoughts. I suspect this is why I enjoyed it, it was a story that didn't go too far.

The basic plot of the book is, well, the Battle of Thermopylae. That story has been told many times, in many mediums. I found the surrounding elements of the book engaging. Pressfield gives us many lessons of Stoicism in the book, while wrapping them into the story, without the dryness of a textbook or the boredom of a lecture. He gives us

The parts that I appreciated the most were the elements of reality in the book. The Spartans were well trained, seeming superhuman, but they were still human. They felt despair. They felt misery. They felt heartache and pain. Pressfield gives us these, tells us about them, and shows us how habits and training and acknowledgement and acceptance all work towards becoming the people we want to be. He shows us that being a warrior was a job, and that includes embracing the suck, as Rob told me was a Marine saying. We also read about the camaraderie of the warriors, how adversity binds us, and how there a moments when we become more than just ourselves.

I also appreciated the campfire philosophy sessions, and, well, let's be real, all the shit talk.

As much as Holiday recommended this book, I strongly recommend it, too. Great book. Way worth reading.

She was trying to dispatch the child that might be growing inside her. “She thinks she has given offense to the god Hymen,” Bruxieus explained to me when I broke in upon her one day and she chased me with curses and a hail of stones. “She fears that she may never be a man’s wife now but only a slave or a whore. I have tried to tell her this is foolishness, but she will not hear it, coming from a man.”
Page: 54

This was the first and only time I saw Bruxieus truly, physically angry. He seized me by both shoulders and shook me violently, commanding me to face him. “Listen to me, boy. Only gods and heroes can be brave in isolation. A man may call upon courage only one way, in the ranks with his brothers-in-arms, the line of his tribe and his city. Most piteous of all states under heaven is that of a man alone, bereft of the gods of his home and his polis. A man without a city is not a man. He is a shadow, a shell, a joke and a mockery. That is what you have become now, my poor Xeo. No one may expect valor from one cast out alone, cut off from the gods of his home.”
Page: 69

I curled contorted in Diomache’s arms, with Bruxieus’ bulk enwrapping us both for warmth. I called out again and again to the gods but received no whisper in reply. They had abandoned us, it was clear, now that we no longer possessed ourselves or were possessed by our polis.
Page: 70

The roar multiplied threefold, then five, and ten, as the enemy rear ranks and flankers picked the clamor up and contributed their own bluster and bronze-banging. Soon the entire fifty-four hundred were bellowing the war cry. Their commander thrust his spear forward and the mass surged behind him into the advance. The Spartans had neither moved nor made a sound. They waited patiently in their scarlet-cloaked ranks, neither grim nor rigid, but speaking quietly to each other words of encouragement and cheer, securing the final preparation for actions they had rehearsed hundreds of times in training and performed dozens and scores more in battle.
Page: 154

Once, at home when I was a child, Bruxieus and I had helped our neighbor Pierion relocate three of his stacked wooden beehives. As we jockeyed the stack into place upon its new stand, someone’s foot slipped. The stacked hives dropped. From within those stoppered confines yet clutched in our hands arose such an alarum, neither shriek nor cry, growl nor roar, but a thrum from the netherworld, a vibration of rage and murder that ascended not from brain or heart, but from the cells, the atoms of the massed poleis within the hives.
Page: 159

They did not strip the bodies of the slain, as the soldiers of any other city would eagerly and gloatingly do, nor did they erect trophies of vainglory and conceit from the arms of the vanquished. Their austere thank-offering was a single cock, worth less than an obol, not because they disrespected the gods, but because they held them in awe and deemed it dishonorable to overexpress their mortal joy in this triumph that heaven had granted them.
Page: 168

“Let those we spared this day stand beside us in line of battle on that day when we teach the Persian once and for all what valor free men can bring to bear against slaves, no matter how vast their numbers or how fiercely they are driven on by their child-king’s whip.”
Page: 178

Dekton was the first person I had ever met, man or boy, who had absolutely no fear of the gods. He didn’t hate them as some do, or mock their antics as I had heard the impious freethinkers did in Athens and Corinth. Dekton didn’t grant their existence at all. There were no gods, it was as simple as that. This struck me with a kind of awe. I kept watch, waiting for him to be felled by some hideous blow of heaven.
Page: 187

“I saw Dienekes first from behind. Just his bare shoulders and the back of his head. I knew in an instant that I would love him and only him all my life.”
Page: 289

“At last he turned. He was wrestling another boy. Even then, Xeo, Dienekes was unhandsome. You could hardly believe he was his brother’s brother. But to my eyes he appeared eueidestatos, the soul of beauty. The gods could not have crafted a face more open or touching to my heart.
Page: 289

“The gods make us love whom we will not,” the lady declared, “and disrequite whom we will. They slay those who should live and spare those who deserve to die. They give with one hand and take with the other, answerable only to their own unknowable laws.”
Page: 291

“Men’s pain is lightly borne and swiftly over. Our wounds are of the flesh, which is nothing; women’s is of the heart—sorrow unending, far more bitter to bear.”
Page: 294

Nothing fires the warrior’s heart more with courage than to find himself and his comrades at the point of annihilation, at the brink of being routed and overrun, and then to dredge not
Page: 359

merely from one’s own bowels or guts but from one’s own discipline and training the presence of mind not to panic, not to yield to the possession of despair, but instead to complete those homely acts of order which Dienekes had ever declared the supreme accomplishment of the warrior: to perform the commonplace under far-from-commonplace conditions. Not only to achieve this for oneself alone, as Achilles or the solo champions of yore, but to do it as part of a unit, to feel about oneself one’s brothers-in-arms, in an instance like this of chaos and disorder, comrades whom one doesn’t even know, with whom one has never trained; to feel them filling the spaces alongside him, from spear side and shield side, fore and rear, to behold one’s comrades likewise rallying, not in a frenzy of mad possession-driven abandon, but with order and self-composure, each man knowing his role and rising to it, drawing strength from him as he draws it from them; the warrior in these moments finds himself lifted as if by the hand of a god. He cannot tell where his being leaves off and that of the comrade beside him begins. In that moment the phalanx forms a unity so dense and all-divining that it performs not merely at the level of a machine or engine of war but, surpassing that, to the state of a single organism, a beast of one blood and heart.
Page: 359

His Majesty, cognizant of the catastrophic consequence for the Greeks of this betrayal, may marvel at their response in assembly to the timely and fortuitous warning delivered by the noble Tyrrhastiadas. They didn’t believe him. They thought it was a trick. Such an irrational and self-deluding response may be understood only in the light not alone of the exhaustion and despair which had by that hour overwhelmed the allies’ hearts but by the corresponding exaltation and contempt of death, which are, like the mated faces of a coin, their obverse and concomitant.
Page: 419

There is a secret all warriors share, so private that none dare give it voice, save only to those mates drawn dearer than brothers by the shared ordeal of arms. This is the knowledge of the hundred acts of his own cowardice. The little things that no one sees. The comrade who fell and cried for aid. Did I pass him by? Choose my skin over his? That was my crime, of which I accuse myself in the tribunal of my heart and there condemn myself as guilty. All a man wants is to live. This before all: to cling to breath. To survive. Yet even this most primal of instincts, self-preservation, even this necessity of the blood shared by all beneath heaven, beasts as well as man, even this may be worn down by fatigue and excess of horror. A form of courage enters the heart which is not courage but despair and not despair but exaltation.
Page: 423

“When I first came to Lakedaemon and they called me ‘Suicide,’ I hated it. But in time I came to see its wisdom, unintentional as it was. For what can be more noble than to slay oneself? Not literally. Not with a blade in the guts. But to extinguish the selfish self within, that part which looks only to its own preservation, to save its own skin. That, I saw, was the victory you Spartans had gained over yourselves. That was the glue. It was what you had learned and it made me stay, to learn it too.
Page: 456

The Road

Book Notes

This book was recommended by Ryan Holiday in his June reading list. It sounded interesting, so I borrowed it from the library, read it, and here we are.

The struggle in this book is man against nature in a post-apocalyptic world which seems to be some sort of ecological disaster that blighted the world. Many scenes include ash and melted roads, along with the two main characters, a father and his son, covering their faces with masks so that they can breathe. The disaster is such that it appears there are very few people left, and the ability to grow crops or feed is pretty much gone. The remaining people are struggling to survive, which includes resorting to anything edible, including other people.

The journey of the father and son is to the ocean. They are moving along with a shopping cart, trying to survive. They appear to have been doing this together for six, eight, maybe ten years, since the boy was born, and the ocean is some level of salvation. Except it really isn't. It is more like "something to do that provides some level of meaning."

I can see where the book would be more emotional if, say, a parent is reading the book and is thinking of their child when reading it. I lack that perspective, so some aspects were perhaps lost on me. What wasn't lost on me was the portrayal of flowing empathy and refused kindness. The boy wants to help, the father knows they can't. The boy is angry the father refused to help some people, the father fears losing his son's love as the father chooses their survival. It's a hard choice, too willfully lose your humanity to keep a loved one alive.

The book is worth reading, but I'm not sure it would be one of my first books to recommend.

He pulled the boy closer. Just remember that the things you put into your head are there forever, he said. You might want to think about that. You forget some things, dont you? Yes. You forget what you want to remember and you remember what you want to forget.
Page: 11

He mistrusted all of that. He said the right dreams for a man in peril were dreams of peril and all else was the call of languor and of death.
Page: 17

No lists of things to be done. The day providential to itself. The hour. There is no later. This is later. All things of grace and beauty such that one holds them to one’s heart have a common provenance in pain. Their birth in grief and ashes. So, he whispered to the sleeping boy. I have you.
Page: 56

I cant help you. They say that women dream of danger to those in their care and men of danger to themselves. But I dont dream at all. You say you cant? Then dont do it. That’s all.
Page: 59

A person who had no one would be well advised to cobble together some passable ghost. Breathe it into being and coax it along with words of love. Offer it each phantom crumb and shield it from harm with your body. As for me my only hope is for eternal nothingness and I hope it with all my heart.
Page: 59

Across Five Aprils

Book Notes

Because I wasn't done reading books I should have read, but didn't, in junior high and high school, nor was I done reading historical war fiction, I picked up this book. Well, that, and because it was recommended as a book that illustrates different aspects of the Civil War (Abe's a babe!). The Killer Angels was also recommended, so both entered into my reading list in the fast track.

The five Aprils of the title are the five Aprils that the Civil War spans. The story opens with an introduction to Jethro Creighton, a white Southern Illinois 9 year old boy who farms a plot of land with his father, brother, three brothers (might have been a cousin in there), and sister. There had been several other siblings in the mix, but death came to at least four that I was paying attention to (illness for three, wagon accident for one). His mother, Ellen, couldn't read, but Jenny, his sister, could. The whole family works the farm in some fashion.

While reading the book, I was struck with how much the book smacks of Early American Stoicism: work needs doing, so do it; life sucks, you carry on; tragedies happen, appreciate the bounties. The book was published in 1964, which makes me wonder if this is more "This is how we think people thought back then," more than "people actually thought this way back then." I had the same question when reading The Little House on the Prairie. Was that really the prevailing mentality? Or are we fictionalizing it the same way Gone with the Wind fictionalized "It was about state's rights!"?

I appreciated how the plot mentioned many of the leaders for both sides in the Civil War. If one has no recollection of the battles fought or the duration of the war, this book is a fine introduction to some of the names. I can't say I recognized very many of the leaders for either side. This book and various animated maps of the troop movements of the American Civil War have helped greatly in reading other American Civil War books. One can appreciate how they all come together.

As the "gentle introduction to the American Civil War," this book is great. It presents, in an easily comprehensible way, the various arguments for the Southern Secession, and puts forth a number of the counter arguments, including the one that f'ing trumps them all: slavery is an abomination that should be wiped from the face of the Earth. The initial character conversations need to be read out loud to be comprehensible, with their being written phonetically instead of being spelled correctly. I argue that contributes to the charm.

Strongly recommended, even if you aren't in junior high school any more.

Of note, when I started reading the book, I couldn't figure out if the main character and his family was white or black. Eventually we learn of hair color, and the cover of the book distinctly shows a white boy. Until then, I was uncertain. I'm guessing I didn't recognize the era properly when I started reading the book.

Jethro was depressed by her somber mood, but not by the imminence of war. He had listened to his brother Tom and their cousin Eb, the two younger of the grown boys in the household, and their excitement had found its way into his blood. Dread of war was a womanly weakness, he had discovered, evidenced by his mother’s melancholy and the tears of Jenny and his brother John’s wife, Nancy.
Page: 7

She had a way of closing her eyes briefly when exasperated as if to reject for at least a second the existence of a folly that she was bound to recognize later.
Page: 7

War meant loud brass music and shining horses ridden by men wearing uniforms finer than any suit in the stores at Newton; it meant men riding like kings, looking neither to the right nor the left, while lesser men in perfect lines strode along with guns across their shoulders, their heads held high like horses with short reins. When the battle thundered and exploded on all sides—well, some men were killed, of course, but the stories of war that Jethro remembered were about the men who had managed to live through the thunder and explosion.
Page: 10

The shot that Travis Burdow fired over Rob Nelson’s team that night was a shot fired at a society that had kicked a boy from childhood on because he bore his grandfather’s name.
Page: 12

“He’s like a man standin’ where two roads meet, Jeth,” she said finally, “and one road is as dark and fearsome as the other; there ain’t a choice between the two, and yet a choice has to be made.” She shook her head. “May the Lord help him,” she whispered. “May the Lord guide his hand.”
Page: 13

Then Ellen’s voice was heard, timid and a little tremulous; farm women didn’t enter often into man-talk of politics or national affairs.
Page: 25

Wilse brought his hand down sharply on the table. “What the South wants is the right to live as it sees fit to live without interference. And it kin live! Do
Page: 25

What about the right and wrong of one man ownin’ the body—and sometimes it looks as if the soul, too—of another man?”
Page: 26

“I’ll say this to you, Cousin John,” he said finally. “I own a few slaves, and if I stood before my Maker alongside one of ’em, I’d hev no way to justify the fact that I was master and he was slave. But leavin’ that final reckonin’ fer the time, let me ask you this: ain’t there been slavery from the beginnin’ of history? Didn’t the men that we give honor to, the men that shaped up the Constitution of our country, didn’t they recognize slavery? Did they see it as a festerin’ hurt?”
Page: 26

“Well then, I’ll ask you this: if tomorrow every slave in the South had his freedom and come up North, would yore abolitionists git the crocodile tears sloshed out of their eyes so they could take the black man by the hand? Would they say, ‘We’ll see that you git good-payin’ work fitted to what you’re able to do—we’ll see that you’re well housed and clothed—we want you to come to our churches and yore children to come to our schools—why, we danged near fergit the difference in the colors of our skins because we air so almighty full of brotherly love!’ Would it be like that in yore northern cities, Cousin John?” “It ain’t like that fer the masses of white people in our northern cities—nor in the southern cities either. And yet, there ain’t a white man, lean-bellied and hopeless as so many of them are, that would change lots with a slave belongin’ to the kindest master in the South.”
Page: 26

“Slavery, I hate. But it is with us, and them that should suffer fer the evil they brought to our shores air long dead. What I want us to answer in this year of 1861 is this, John: does the trouble over slavery come because men’s hearts is purer above the Mason-Dixon line? Or does slavery throw a shadder over greed and keep that greed from showin’ up quite so bare and ugly?” Wilse Graham seemed to leap at Bill’s question. “You’re right, Cousin Bill. It’s greed, not slavery, that’s stirrin’ up this trouble. And as fer human goodness—men’s hearts is jest as black today as in the Roman times
Page: 27

Matt Creighton shook his head. “Human nature ain’t any better one side of a political line than on the
Page: 27

We’re from the South, John; would we want men of their kind tellin’ us how we must live?”
Page: 29

“There’s strong feeling throughout the country,” Shadrach continued. “To open fire because provisions are being brought to hungry men...” “Mister, I’d like to git a word in right here.” Wilse Graham’s voice was strident with anger. “This is exactly what Ol’ Abe’s bin waitin’ fer—jest exactly what he wanted. He’s worked it so the Confederates would fire the first round, and he’s fixed it so they fired on hungry men. Well, fine! Now he kin set back and look pious at the states that has been blowin’ hot and cold.”
Page: 32

“I don’t know if anybody ever ‘wins’ a war, Jeth. I think that the beginnin’s of this war has been fanned by hate till it’s a blaze now; and a blaze kin destroy him that makes it and him that the fire was set to hurt.
Page: 39

“But the South started it, didn’t they, Bill?” “The South and the North and the East and the West—we all started it. The old slavers of other days and the fact‘ry owners of today that need high tariffs to help ’em git rich, and the cotton growers that need slave labor to help ‘em git rich and the new territories and the wild talk—”
Page: 40

When one found comfort, he was grateful, but he was never such a fool as to expect a great deal of it.
Page: 54

“I’m not eager for it either, Jeth, not by a long way. I’ve got a lot of plans for the next forty or fifty years of my life, and being a soldier is not a part of any single one of them.”
Page: 56

“I think a lot of Mr. Lincoln,” he stated in quiet self-defense after a while. “I know you do, Jeth.” “Lots of people don’t. I could name you people in this neighborhood that hate him like poison.” “Not only in this neighborhood—not only in the South, either. It seems that people everywhere are criticizing him. The abolitionists hate him as much as the sympathizers of the South do. People blame him for the mistakes of his generals; and they’re just as bitter about his grammar, his appearance, his family.” Shadrach took a poker and stirred it thoughtfully among the red coals. “I’m not wise enough to measure Mr. Lincoln, Jeth; I just don’t know. But I have a feeling of confidence and faith in him that I can’t always justify. Sometimes I’m angered with him as others are; sometimes I can’t understand him. But somehow my faith in him always comes back.”
Page: 61

[H]e wished with all his heart that he had not meddled in the affairs of a country at war, that he had let Eb work out his own problems, that he, Jethro, were still a sheltered young boy who did the tasks his father set for him and shunned the idea that he dare think for himself.
Page: 160

“But they’re bein’ cheered on, Matt. Congress—the whole country—is happy with ‘em; these boys air goin’ to believe that they be heroes for lootin’ and burnin’, fer laughin’ at distress, fer smashin’ the helpless without pity.
Page: 196

“Don’t expect peace to be a perfect pearl, Jeth,” Ross Milton had warned. “This is a land lying in destruction, physical and spiritual. If the twisted railroads and the burned cities and the fields covered with the bones of dead men— if that were all, we could soon rise out of the destruction. But the hate that burns in old scars, and the thirst for revenge that has distorted men until they should be in straitjackets rather than in high office—these are the things that may make peace a sorry thing....”
Page: 198

Deathless Divide

Book Notes

While reading The Killer Angels, I found myself in a fit of "gosh, I want to read fiction right now." I had enjoyed reading Dread Nation, and recalled a sequel was coming out. That thought, along with the so f'ing long overdue recognition of racial inequality in this country, meant reading this book next was a no-brainer.

And it is so very much worth reading, recommended with delight.

Yes, there are zombies in it. Yes, there is heartbreak in it. No, there isn't a happy ending. Yes, there are many, many social commentary digs at both being a woman, and being black. And yes, there were black people in the Wild Wild West, which was a comment that Ireland makes in the author note at the end of the book, though you wouldn't know it from most of the other western fiction books out there.

This book follows immediately after Dread Nation, with Jane, Katherine, and a number of other Summerland residents fleeing the zombie hoard that broke out in town. What we learn in this tale, which alternates between Jane's and Katherine's perspectives (a style I enjoyed very much), is that Gideon Carr, the rich white boy from the previous book, has a significant part to play in this tale, and that one needs friendships (a lot).

As learned in The War for Kindness, fiction is a gateway drug into empathy. I feel this book does a gentle introduction into the crap a woman deals with as second class citizens, and barely starts to introduce the worse crap non-white people have dealt with in this country.

While I recommend this book more than I recommended Dread Nation, the first is needed to understand this one. Read them in order, if you decide to read them.

Adventure is only swell so long as a body is enjoying the trip. After that, it becomes an ordeal.
Location: 85

And even if I do not understand the pain she feels right now, it does not mean I cannot support her through it. That is what friends do.
Location: 377

“You can’t help but get involved in things, even when you know better. How can I depend on a woman who finds it appropriate to run off into the fire instead of away from it? It’s who you are, Jane, and I’ve always loved that about you. But while that may be admirable in a Miss Preston’s girl, it ain’t in a wife. I want someone I know is going to be there, day after day, not off running on some adventure.” “Why is that okay for you and not me? Why is it okay for a man to be out running around and not a woman?” Jackson shakes his head. “I ain’t saying it’s fair, but that’s the kind of woman I want.
Location: 545

He shakes his head, and I can’t help but feel that in all our time together I didn’t know him like I thought I did, not really. He doesn’t want a wife. He wants a doormat.
Location: 552

Hope is deadly,
Location: 782

move.” I force myself deep, deep down into the place in my mind where everything is quiet and cold and my heart ain’t breaking. Luckily it ain’t as hard as a body would think. How does one go on when they’ve lost their heart? By being heartless.
Location: 825

He gives me a polite smile, one that I suppose is meant to be reassuring. Men have been giving me that smile my entire life. I do not return it.
Location: 1,604

I take a deep breath and let it out. There is no use in yelling at a grown woman about her life choices, even if they are poor.
Location: 1,795

As Eve got to the part where the ghost led her through the dark woods and west to something like freedom, Aunt Aggie shook her head. “Sometimes, when the world doesn’t make sense, it’s easier to pretend like there are other forces at work. But there ain’t. That’s just life.”
Location: 1,938

“There ain’t any kind of inoculation against fear and false confidence.”
Location: 2,026

lap. I suppose when lines are drawn it is easier to go with what one knows than to forge new paths.
Location: 2,072

I’ve been living so long for the future that I haven’t been focusing on the now. And I ain’t sure I know how to change that.
Location: 2,294

I was scared, so I stayed.” He shakes his head. “I should have run like my friends, but I didn’t.” I nod, because I understand that feeling. Sometimes it can feel like the unknown is worse than the hardships you’re enduring.
Location: 2,320

“Betsy was a hero,” I say. “Exactly,” Redfern says, nodding. “Heroes die. But survivors live to tell the story. When the dead got to be too much for us to handle, most of those fools wanted to keep fighting, because that’s what we’d been taught. I was one of the first to cut and run. I knew what the score was. The things you’re taught are only useful if they keep you alive.”
Location: 2,344

“It’s the American way,” she would say, watching from the porch as another family took up residence at Rose Hill. “You help as much as you can—but no more. You don’t think those founding fathers wrote all those pretty words about independence just to help the poor, do you? The books are right there in the library, Jane. They did it because they didn’t want to pay taxes, to have some king tell them the price of tea. And for that, they went to war, and hundreds of people died.
Location: 2,353

In a world that is morally gray, I somehow still believe in right and wrong.
Location: 3,079

I laugh, because that is what you do when a man says something ridiculous.
Location: 3,090

An ache blossoms in my chest, and I pick up my untouched glass of whiskey and drain it. The liquid tastes as smoky as my memories and burns all the way down. It feels like penance. That is the real reason I do not drink too often: I am afraid that if I find my way to the bottle I will be lost forever.
Location: 3,101

I smile tightly, but say nothing. He is trying to protect me, in the simple way men are always trying to protect women: by stealing away their freedom.
Location: 3,125

Don’t let San Francisco fool you. It might seem pretty, but it’s been built on the same volatile mixture of greed and exclusion as the rest of this country.
Location: 3,411

But more important, it makes me wonder: How can we make the world a better place if we are always at odds with one another for every single kind of reason under the sun?
Location: 3,436

Unlike so much else in our lives, it felt . . . easy. I guess falling for someone always is. It’s the staying in love that’s hard.
Location: 3,599

I cannot help but remember the way she had never hesitated to call out some random bit of unfairness or chicanery. (As long as it was not her own, of course.) There is something admirable about being willing to stand up against injustice and name the devil true.
Location: 3,756

I consider telling them about the feelings between me and Callie, how close we’d grown over the past year, but I decide not to. Some things just ain’t for the telling, and even though Callie is gone, I want to keep the memory of our time together for myself.
Location: 4,528

face. I know this is a sin, but there are few things I enjoy more than being right.
Location: 5,274

And that is that. Sometimes the people we love fiercest leave the world like a whisper.
Location: 5,957

Nerve Damage

Book Notes

This book was a book-recommendation-week recommendation. Many of the recommended books were "hey look, my god is better than your god" books, which are less than remotely interesting to me, and I would say actively off-putting. This one was recommended by a reader who reads a lot and has thoughtful reviews (unlike my reviews here which more more "how I came upon this book and did I like it"), so I picked it up.

The blurb on the back of the book is pretty accurate. Roy Valois is an accomplished artist, finds out he has maybe four months to live, and seeks a peek at his obituary. Apparently obituaries are pre-written for sufficiently famous people (which lends momentum to the idea that maybe everyone should write their own obituaries, see how that works out), and, according to this (fiction) book, the New York Times is sufficiently easy enough to hack into that you can read them.

What follows is the death of a couple people, followed by the not-so-great investigating of said deaths, followed by twists and turns and a very strange ending (that fits, is just ... odd).

I can't tell if this book is an early book by Abrahams (there are three Peter Abrahams authors at quick count, pick one), but I'm not a fan. I didn't like the writing style. Didn't click. I was mostly annoyed at Roy's actions, like he was a little dumb and emotionally stunted. I don't know, maybe it was something else.

If you're trying to read all of Abrahams' works, sure, read this one. Maaaaybe it is desert island material, but not really. Skip it.

Instead he dragged the shiny cone to the center of the floor, not far from Delia, and just looked at it for a while. Sometimes he got ideas that way. Not now. The blurry image of a delicate, attenuated silence that had been in his mind refused to grow clearer. He pulled up a stool, got out his sketch pad and a soft pencil. Nothing happened at first. Roy was used to that, had learned patience in his work. No hurry: that was what he always told himself.
Page: 53

People died on the highway every day, passing from normal life, through terror, to nothing.
Page: 122

He’d always liked shoveling snow—the full-body rhythm, the squeak the blade sometimes made digging in, the shovel loads holding their shapes for brief moments in the air. Some guys did a sloppy job of it, moving just enough snow to free their cars, but not Roy—he always made sure there was no loose snow, left the ground hardpacked, the banks squared at their bases, all angles right angles.
Page: 125

This reminds me of Jonathan.

"And remember Picasso’s warning.”

“What warning was that?”

“Don’t become your own connoisseur.” Wisdom, the kind that actually shifted the mind around at one stroke, revealed what needed revealing: you didn’t come across it.
Page: 157

"You’re thinking Washington and Lincoln,” he said.

“Pretty clear that those days are long gone. We’re in a late Roman phase, just scratching and clawing to hold on.”

“Hold on to what?” Roy said.

“Why, global power, naturally,” said Truesdale. “And the wealth and influence that comes from it.”
Page: 185

At that moment, Roy stopped being afraid of what might happen next. It took no effort at all, simply happened, a sudden ascent into courage, or at least total fearlessness, probably not the same thing.
Page: 265

Roy closed his eyes. Turned out that death didn’t simplify your life. How many people had been in a position to learn that one?
Page: 312

He turned and nodded.

“Hey,” said Freddy.

“This could work.”

“Why not?” Turk said, his eyes full of moonlight. “It’s a classic.”

“How’s that?” said Freddy.

“From Homer,” Turk said.

Freddy shrugged. “Don’t have time for TV.”

Life could be sweet.
Page: 314

I laughed at this. They were going in Trojan Horse, and the not-so-clued-in one thought Homer meant Simpson.


Book Notes

I've had this book on my reading list for a couple months now, checking it out of the library and returning it unread. Finally read it, and am glad I did. If I were in a position of power and influence at a company that has research and product development departments / organizations, I would insist that everyone in those groups also read it.

Okay, so, according to Bahcall (who, let's admit, has more experience than I, and likely you, do), product (anything you do, whether sell a physical object or provide a service, but mostly sell an object) development falls into two categories: incremental improvements on an existing product or an implementation of a revolutionary new idea. How a product makes it to the end user varies. While a revolutionary product can kickstart an organization, you need the improvements people to sustain it. Artists to create and soldiers to sustain.

I loved how various physics models came into play in the telling of different companies' histories. Hello, phase transitions. Hello, emergence.

The book provides a number of growing company pitfalls, and, delightfully, ways to avoid them. How awesome is that?

The appendices of the book are excellent summaries of the book, which, quite honestly, I'm going to be reviewing frequently. If nothing else, reminding myself of the five laws of loonshots from Bahcall's own site. I strongly recommend this book for anyone working to create something new, and state the book is worth reading for everyone.

So many things have broken down inside a cancer cell by the time it starts proliferating that there’s no easy fix.
Page 5

My resistance to after-the-fact analyses of culture comes from being trained as a physicist.
Page 9

To liberate those buried drugs and other valuable products and technologies, we need to begin by understanding why good teams, with the best intentions and excellent people, kill great ideas.
Page 9

There’s no way to analyze just one molecule of water, or one electron in a metal, and explain any of these collective behaviors. The behaviors are something new: phases of matter.
Page 12

When people organize into a team, a company, or any kind of group with a mission they also create two competing forces—two forms of incentives. We can think of the two competing incentives, loosely, as stake and rank.
Page 12

When groups are small, for example, everyone’s stake in the outcome of the group project is high.
Page 13

The perks of rank—job titles or the increase in salary from being promoted—are small compared to those high stakes.
Page 13

As teams and companies grow larger, the stakes in outcome decrease while the perks of rank increase. When the two cross, the system snaps.
Page 13

In the high-stakes competition between weapons and counterweapons, the weak link was not the supply of new ideas. It was the transfer of those ideas to the field. Transfer requires trust and respect on both sides. But officers “made it utterly clear that scientists or engineers employed in these laboratories were of a lower caste of society,”
Page 21

Bush and a handful of other scientific leaders—including James Conant, a chemist and the president of Harvard University—believed war was coming and the US was dangerously unprepared. Both had witnessed the tendency of generals to fight a war with the weapons and tactics of the preceding war.
Page 21

One molecule can’t transform solid ice into liquid water by yelling at its neighbors to loosen up a little.
Page 22

The ship’s carpenter, 58 years old, decided he had no chance. “He called out to one of the ship’s officers, ‘Goodbye, Sir. It was a good life while it lasted,’ waved and then calmly ‘walked right into the path of a wave pounding across the afterdeck. It was like a minnow being swallowed by a whale.’”
Page 29

Rather than champion any individual loonshot, they create an outstanding structure for nurturing many loonshots.
Page 38


Separate your artists and soldiers .

People responsible for developing high-risk, early-stage ideas (call them “artists”) need to be sheltered from the “soldiers” responsible for the already-successful, steady-growth part of an organization.
Page 38

Tailor the tools to the phase.

Efficiency systems such as Six Sigma or Total Quality Management might help franchise projects, but they will suffocate artists.
Page 39


Love your artists and soldiers equally Maintaining balance so that neither phase overwhelms the other requires something that sounds soft and fuzzy but is very real and often overlooked.
Page 40

A flawed transfer from inventors to the field is not the only danger. Transfer in the other direction is equally important. No product works perfectly the first time. If feedback from the field is ignored by inventors, initial enthusiasm can rapidly fade, and a promising program will be dropped.
Page 42

Key to that dynamic equilibrium—and Bush’s ability to speak freely to generals—was support from the top.
Page 43

In the real world, ideas are ridiculed, experiments fail, budgets are cut, and good people are fired for stupid reasons.
Page 46

Companies fall apart and their best projects remain buried, sometimes forever.
Page 46

Victors don’t just write history; they rewrite history.
Page 56

Later, Folkman would say, “You can tell a leader by counting the number of arrows in his ass.”
Page 59

The negative result in the rat experiment was a False Fail—a result mistakenly attributed to the loonshot but actually a flaw in the test.
Page 59

People may think of Endo and Folkman as great inventors, but arguably their greatest skill was investigating failure. They learned to separate False Fails from true fails.
Page 60

Skill in investigating failure not only separates good scientists from great scientists but also good businessmen from great businessmen.
Page 60

He prodded and poked until the sleeping bear woke.
Page 62

Listening to the Suck with Curiosity (LSC)—overcoming the urge to defend and dismiss when attacked and instead investigating failure with an open mind.*
Page 62

It’s hard to hear that no one likes your baby. It’s even harder to keep asking why.
Page 64

I find it’s when I question the least that I need to worry the most.
Page 64

Let’s call a surprising breakthrough in product—a technology that was widely dismissed before ultimately triumphing—a P-type loonshot.
Page 66

Let’s call a surprising breakthrough in strategy—a new way of doing business, or a new application of an existing product, which involves no new technologies—an S-type loonshot.
Page 66

Years later, Land became known for a saying: “Do not undertake a program unless the goal is manifestly important and its achievement nearly impossible.”
Page 96

The graveyard of unexplained experiments, as Land would soon show, is a great place to find a False Fail.
Page 96

The Austro-Germanic school of fatalism (Spengler, Schumpeter) says that decline is inevitable. Empires will always ossify, a David will always rise to slay Goliath, and so it goes.
Page 119

As eccentric millionaires with one success are inclined to do, Schure concluded he was an expert, a proven filmmaker.
Page 130

After a bad move costs him a game, however, Kasparov analyzes not just why the move was bad, but how he should change the decision process behind the move.
Page 140

Analyzing the decision process behind a move I’ll call level 2 strategy, or system mindset.
Page 141

The weakest teams don’t analyze failures at all. They just keep going. That’s zero strategy.

Teams with an outcome mindset, level 1, analyze why a project or strategy failed.
Page 142

Teams with a system mindset, level 2, probe the decision-making process behind a failure. How did we arrive at that decision? Should a different mix of people be involved, or involved in a different way? Should we change how we analyze opportunities before making similar decisions in the future? How do the incentives we have in place affect our decision-making? Should those be changed?
Page 142

System mindset means carefully examining the quality of decisions, not just the quality of outcomes. A failed outcome, for example, does not necessarily mean the decision or decision process behind it was bad. There are good decisions with bad outcomes. Those are intelligent risks, well taken, that didn’t play out.
Page 142

The stories in part one illustrate the first three Bush-Vail rules:

1. Separate the phases • Separate your artists and soldiers • Tailor the tools to the phase • Watch your blind side: nurture both types of loonshots (product and strategy)

2. Create dynamic equilibrium • Love your artists and soldiers equally • Manage the transfer, not the technology: be a gardener, not a Moses • Appoint, and train, project champions to bridge the divide

3. Spread a system mindset • Keep asking why the organization made the choices that it did • Keep asking how the decision-making process can be improved • Identify teams with outcome mindsets, and help them adopt system mindsets
Page 149

The practice helped Kraft Foods develop melt-resistant chocolate. Parents can thank open innovation for summers free of sticky chocolate goo.
Page 214

Leaders well coached on group dynamics are likely to spend more time with their teams. It’s fun working with high-performing teams who appreciate you. It’s less fun to spend time with dysfunctional teams who hate your guts.
Page 217

Luck and timing always play a role in creativity and invention—the essence of a first-appearance story.
Page 254

The War for Kindness

Book Notes

This book is referenced many times in The Happiness Lab podcast. Lori Santos mentions it also in her class, The Science of Happiness. When a scientist is recommending a book, and refers to it many times, might be time to go to the source and read it yourself.

Which I strongly recommend with this book.

Actually, I recommend this book for anyone with a polarized viewpoint of the world, because the book shows, if you're willing to read and ponder, how alike we are, how divided we are, and how we can walk a path towards not being divided.

Takes effort to build empathy, and, yet, the rewards are amazing. Honestly, I think hate and spite take too much effort.

Anyway, if you'll read, I'll buy you a copy. Strongly recommended.

Online, the first thing we encounter about a person is often the thing we’d like least about them, such as an ideology we despise. They are enemies before they have a chance to be people.
Location: 159

Work from many labs, including my own, suggests that empathy is less like a fixed trait and more like a skill—something we can sharpen over time and adapt to the modern world.
Location: 276

Carol Dweck teaches people that they can grow—become smarter, more open-minded, and more empathic. This causes them to work harder in the moment, persevere in the face of challenges, and notice their own strength. But mindsets, for instance about intelligence, can also produce slow-twitch change by turning into self-fulfilling prophecies. People who believe in themselves do things that give them even more reason to believe. They adopt habits of mind that work over the long term.
Location: 803

Research demonstrates that when people try to convince someone else of something, they often convince themselves in the process.
Location: 818

Fiction is empathy’s gateway drug. It helps us feel for others when real-world caring is too difficult, complicated, or painful.
Location: 1,320

Propagandists create fear and confusion, and then offer community and safety to those willing to toe the line.
Location: 1,332

LIFE AFTER HATE surprised me because it didn’t focus exclusively on overturning members’ prejudice toward outsiders. It started by building their compassion for themselves. Likewise, novels, plays, and fiction can help readers recast their own lives through the characters they meet, especially when they desperately need a new story to tell.
Location: 1,392

As we’ve seen, when people feel like someone else’s pain will overwhelm them, they steer clear.
Location: 1,543

Patients of empathic physicians tend to be more satisfied with their care, are more likely to adhere to medical recommendations, and even recover from illness more quickly than those whose doctors are more detached.
Location: 1,650

In one study, people kept a diary for two weeks—each day, they reflected on the most intense emotional experience they’d gone through. How happy, amused, and joyful did it make them feel? How nervous, angry, or sad?
Location: 1,783

Police officers are safer than they have been in decades, but coming into contact with them is more dangerous.
Location: 2,002

This reflects Rahr’s viewpoint: “In law enforcement,” she explains, “empathy is still viewed as a weakness, or catering to political correctness, but really it’s critical to officer safety. Police officers deal with people in crisis, and having your trauma acknowledged lowers the tension. Listening is a de-escalation strategy.”
Location: 2,057

But what does empathy mean without accountability? When an officer can kill you with legal impunity, having them ask how you feel is cold comfort. Part of the problem is that even police officers who empathize with citizens often empathize more with one another.
Location: 2,118

But in order for police officers to repair their relationships with wary communities, they may need to treat their colleagues with more skepticism, acknowledging wrongdoing even when it involves people they admire.
Location: 2,128

In southern France’s dolmen d’Er Roh, archeologists discovered Neolithic gold beads: tiny, with intricate striping and spiral patterns molded into them about four thousand years ago. Touching one of those beads, we might imagine the person who crafted it a hundred generations ago, and the person who might hold it a hundred generations from now.
Location: 2,714

I had the same feeling walking on Antarctica. This ice has been in this place for millions of years. How amazing is that?

It’s easy to live in a less intentional way. Building a new sort of empathy takes effort and sacrifice, for people who might not repay it. But in the face of escalating cruelty and isolation, we are fighting for our moral lives. Doing what’s easy is seldom worthwhile, and in moments like these, it’s dangerous. We each have a choice, and the sum of our choices will create the future.
Location: 2,733

Science is not a set of facts, but a process of predicting, testing, and rethinking. It is alive.
Location: 2,863

Most strong evidence is alike, but imperfect evidence tends to be imperfect in its own way.
Location: 2,880


Book Notes

I'm fairly certain that Mom asked me to buy this book for her, because I'm not really a caffeine person the way she is. I have to admit after reading this book, however, that maybe I am and didn't realize it? I'm still unsure about that statement.

One of the unfortunate features of this book is that it isn't available in print, it is an audio book only. It listens more like a conversation with Pollan, who is sitting next to you at a little cafe, casually telling you about all these things that he has learned about caffeine, and isn't that just so interesting?

Yes, yes it is.

As such, I'd recommend giving this book a listen.

The book being an audiobook, I grabbed the bookmarks I had in the book and used some Google Docs transcription process. You can see that, well, it rather sucks, despite a fast internet connection and a slower, book-reading speaking pace. I don't understand why either.

What I do understand is that caffeine is out of my daily activities after noon, and I likely have more caffeine in my white tea than I think I do.

According to the researchers I’d interviewed, the process of withdrawal had actually begun overnight while I was sleeping, during the trough in the graph of caffeine’s diurnal effects. The day's first cup of tea or coffee acquires most of its power, its joy, not so much from its euphoric stimulating properties, so much from the fact it is suppressing the emerging symptoms of withdrawal. This is part of the insidiousness of caffeine. Its mode of action, or pharmacodynamics, mesh so perfectly with the rhythms of our body so that the morning cup of coffee arrives just in time to head off the looming mental distress set in motion by yesterday's cup of coffee. Daily caffeine proposes itself is the optimal solution to the problem caffeine creates. How brilliant.

For some reason, we never make coffee at home.

This cracked me up, mostly because Jonathan switched to making coffee only at home after he bought his espresso machine.

Humboldt had a parrot named Jacob who could say only one thing, "More coffee."

Over the course of the next few days I definitely began to feel better. The veil lifted, yet I was still not quite myself and neither, quite, was the world. By the end of the week I had gotten to the point where I didn't think I could fairly blame caffeine withdrawal for my mental state and disappointing output. And yet in this new normal the world seemed duller to me. I seemed duller, too. Mornings were the worst. I came to see how integral caffeine is to the daily work of knitting ourselves back together after fraying of consciousness during sleep, that reconsolidation of self, the daily sharpening of the mental pencil, took much longer than usual and never felt quite complete.
section 1

I love this description of waking up.

Coffee and tea have their own reasons for producing the caffeine molecule and as is often the case for the so-called secondary metabolites produced by plants, this is for defense against predators. At high doses caffeine is lethal to Insects. Its bitter flavor may also discourage them from chewing on the plants. Caffeine also appears to have herbicidal properties, and may inhibit the germination of competing plants that attempt to grow in the zone where seedlings have taken route, or later drop their leaves. Many of the psychoactive molecules plants produce are toxic, but as Paracelsus famously said, "The dose makes the poison."
section 2

What kills at one dose may do something more subtle and interesting at another. The interesting question is why so many of the defense chemicals produced by plants are psychoactive in animals at less than lethal doses. One theory holds that the plant doesn't necessarily want to kill its predator, only disarm it. As the long history of the plant defense chemical vs. insect arms race demonstrates, killing your predator outright isn't necessarily the best move, since it will quickly select for pesticide resistant members of that species, eventually rendering the toxin harmless. Whereas if you succeed in merely discombobulating your enemy, distracting him from his dinner, say, or ruining his appetite, as many psychoactive compounds will do, you might be better off since you will save yourself while preserving the power of your defense toxin. Caffeine does in fact shrink the appetite and discombobulate insect brains.
section 2

A Venetian traveler to Constantinople in 1585 noted that the locals quote, "are in the habit of drinking in public, in shops, and in the streets, a black liquid boiling as they can stand it, which is extracted from the seed they called ka-vay, and is said to have the property of keeping a man awake."

The notion of drinking any beverage piping hot was itself exotic, and in fact this proved to be one of the most important gifts of both coffee and tea to humanity. The fact that you needed to boil water to make them, meant that they were the safest thing a person could drink. Before that, it has been alcohol, which was more sanitary than water but not as safe as tea or coffee. The tannins in all these beverages also have antimicrobial properties. The contribution of coffee and tea to public health might help explain why societies that embraced the new hot drinks tended to thrive, as microbial diseases declined.
section 5

I gave up editing Google's transcriptions here.

Vibrant meeting places for the news of the day political financial and cultural Pizzazz much the drawers the coffee coffee houses became uniquely Democratic Publix in England they were the only such spaces were men of different classes could met anyone who said anywhere but only men at least in England the fact that led one wag to warn that the popularity of coffee quote put the whole race in danger of extinction women were welcome in French coffee houses compared to taverns coffee houses were also notably civil places where if you started an argument you were expected to buy a round for everyone to call the English coffeehouse a new kind of public space doesn't quite do it justice represented a new kind of communications medium one that just happened to be made of brick and mortar rather than electricity and wires these rooms served as the internet of their time londoners went to share and consume news and information as well as rumor and gossip you paid a penny for the coffee but the information in the form of newspapers books magazines in conversation was free coffee houses were often referred to as Penny University's after visiting London coffee houses are French writer wrote that quote you have all manner of news there you have a good firewood you may sit by as long as you please you have a dish of coffee you meet your friends for the transaction of business and all for a penny if you don't care to spend more
section 1

You will have it from St James Coffee House Coffee or the coffee house debated the beverages helpfulness fever tracks and women objected to the amount of time and we're spending and coffee houses in a pamphlet titled the
section 1

Alpha lesson fever tracks and women objected to the amount of time and we're spending and coffee houses in a pamphlet titled the women's petition against coffee the author's suggested that the end stiebeling liquor robbed men of their sexual energies making them quote as unfruitful as those deserts when's that on happyberry is said to be brought the conversation in London's coffee house is frequently turn to politics in vigorous exercise is a free speech that Disturbed the government especially after the monarchy was restored Charles the second worried plots were being hatched in coffee houses
section 1

it's hard to imagine that this sort of political cultural and intellectual ferment that bubbled up in the coffeehouses about France and England if alcohol fuels are Dionysus and tendencies coffee nurtures the apollonian early on people recognize the link between the rising tide of rationalism and the fashionable new beverage Chalet Road bring it to the new kinds of thinking that caffeine help to Foster
section 1

Balzac Wrote one of the all-time best descriptions of how it feels to be over caffeinated estate when she said quot produces a kind of Animation that looks like anger one's voice Rises once gestures suggest unhealthy and patience one wants everything to proceed with the speed of ideas one becomes Brusque ill-tempered about nothing seems that everyone else is equally Lucid a man of spirit must therefore avoid going out in public it is one thing to live in a shared culture of caffeine
section 1

There are some compensatory benefits I'm sleeping like a teenager again and wake feeling actually refreshed there's an explanation for that I will get to I've discovered an odd and unexpected social benefit as well when I turned down offers of coffee and explain my experiment and abstention I find the people are keenly interested and probably sort of impressed it's a storm not some kind of achievement I could never do that a friend will say or I should really try that I know it would help me sleep but I can't imagine getting through the morning naturally these reactions make me feel as though I've actually done something worthy of admiration I suspect on benefiting from The Echoes of puritanism still reverberating in our culture which Awards points for self discipline and overcoming desire addiction even to a relatively harmless and easily procure drug like caffeine is seen as evidence of weakness of character quote I realized my life was being controlled by caffeine a sleep researcher and caffeine abstainer that I interviewed told me traveling I find myself in an unfamiliar City and could not turn in for bed until I had scoped out where I was going to get my fix in the morning I like to feel in control and realized I wasn't caffeine was controlling me
section 1

I recognize drug-seeking behavior when I see it. "Yeah," he agreed that there's "nothing inherently wrong with an addiction if you have a secure supply, no known health risks, and you're not offended by the idea that many of us can't help moralizing addiction." I will confess to indulging in the occasional paying of righteousness through the airport during my months of abstention .
section 1

And the freedom to let the mind off the leash of linear thought how did a psychologist sometimes talk in terms of two distinct types of Consciousness Spotlight consciousness
section 1

The freedom to let the mind off the leash of linear thought cognitive psychologist sometimes talk in terms of two distinct types of Consciousness Spotlight Consciousness which illuminates a single focal point of attention making it very good for reasoning and Lantern Consciousness in which has less focused too many people on psychedelics
section 1

Making it very good for reasoning and Lantern Consciousness in which attention is less focused it illuminates a broader field of attention young children tend to exhibit Lantern Consciousness so do many people on psychedelics this more diffuse form of attention lends itself to mind-wandering free association in the making of Novel connections, all of which can nurture creativity
section 1

Songs for caffeine's mood enhancing qualities the cup of optimism as well as the fact that it is habit-forming
section 1

the direct effect of caffeine on the brain the chemical also has several indirect effects including increases and adrenaline serotonin and dopamine the release of dopamine is typical of drugs of abuse and probably accounts for caffeine's mood enhancing qualities the cup of optimism as well as the fact that it is habit-forming caffeine is also a vasodilator and can be mildly diuretic it temporarily raise his blood pressure and relaxes the body smooth muscles which may account for coffee as laxative effect this could explain much of coffees early popularity constipation was a serious matter in seventeenth and eighteenth-century Europe but what is unique about caffeine is the targeted way in which it interferes with one of the most important of all biological functions sleep everlife of caffeine prove prostate
section 1

at the time of our lunch I hadn't yet begun my abstinence experimenting Walker inquired about my caffeine use a cup of 1/2 Caff first thing green tea through the morning and sometimes if I'm swaggin a cappuccino after lunch Walker explained that for most people, the quarter life of is usually about 12 hours meaning that 25% of the caffeine in a cup of coffee consumed at noon is still circulating in your brain when you go to bed at midnight.
section 1

this is an acquired condition used for an association indeed
section 1

Let's face it we've erected a top does psychoactive molecules are just cultures way of dressing up our desire to change Consciousness in the finery of metaphor and Association indeed what really commends these beverages to us is there a sociation now we would smoke or stone fruit but with the experience of well-being of euphoria they reliably kill us it is this experience known as reinforcement which practically guarantees we will
section 1

Turn to tea or coffee or wine it also has the power to alter our perception of their flavors people are badly deceived when it comes to taste Roland Griffiths the Johns Hopkins drug researcher explain it's like saying I like the taste of scotch no, this is an acquired condition taste preference
section 1

Tea or coffee or wine it also has the power to alter our perception of their flavors people are badly deceived when it comes to taste Roland Griffiths Johns Hopkins drug researcher explain it's like saying I like the taste of scotch, no, this is an
section 1

Acquired condition taste preference when you pair a taste for the reinforcer like alcohol or caffeine you will confer specific preference for that taste caffeine is naturally present in coffee and tea but typically is added two sodas so why would
section 1

The Library at Mount Char

Book Notes

I had zero expectation of liking this book. It came to me recommended by Melissa Urban, of Whole30 fame, on her Instagram account. Not usually one to take a book recommendation from a celebrity, I checked this book out of the library none-the-less. I appreciate Melissa's no-nonsense approach to Whole30 ("drinking your coffee black is. not. hard."), which meant I would give her book recommendations a cautious try. I vaguely recall Melissa recommending another book that I had read and like, so, okay, let's read this one.

This book comes with a giant caveat labelled, "SOME MIGHT FIND THE SCENES IN THIS BOOK DIFFICULT TO READ." Like the ones of people roasting alive (they came back later). Or the various scenes of mental abuse, or the casual killing of a person, or the stealing of a persons mind. Yes, if you have a vivid imagination and active empathy, these are horrific scenes. If you are able to read a book of fiction as a book of fiction, this is a surprising fast, engaging read.

The book follows Carolyn, as we try to figure out what the situation is (her father has disappeared) and how this world operates (not quite like ours, not quite not like ours). Imagine a family outside of time (if they learn the secret to longevity), able to learn the most intricate knowledge (coming back from death, how to communicate with animals, every warfare strategy ever considered or acted upon and which to use when), give them a history that is shrouded in mystery, and a burning hatred for the current situation. Add in someone who can plan for decades, and you'll have this book.

I enjoyed this book, and while I wouldn't "recommend" it (see the caveat above), I can say I was hooked and read this book very quickly. It was puzzling and gross and beautiful and thought-provoking, and really, that's what any reader could want.

“We should do something,” Carolyn said. Her right index finger trembled, just the tiniest bit. “Rachel could find her son. Even if he’s dead, you could—” Jennifer looked at her, surprised. “That’s kind of you, Carolyn.” She shook her head. “It wouldn’t help, though. It never works out the way you would think. The problem with a heart coal is that the memory always diverges from the actual thing. She remembers an idealized version of her son. She’s forgotten that he was selfish, that he enjoyed giving little offenses.
Location: 1,044

Erwin heard gunfire, then screams, then a deep, booming laugh. He felt alive in a way he hadn’t since Afghanistan. His veins were thrumming with energy. He got up and went looking for a gun.
Location: 1,995

“Are you seeing this?” Erwin asked softly. “I think so,” Steve said. “Are you sure about the time?” Ignoring the evidence before his eyes, he was clinging to the notion that maybe this was just a normal sunset.
Location: 4,261

The cogs of her plan were ticking into final alignment. At first she had rejected this approach out of hand. It was too obviously a ploy. Only after deep study had she considered the idea seriously. Father’s texts were adamant about its effectiveness. As illustrated in any number of footnotes, men are almost always 50 to 60 percent dumber in matters involving their crotch. Close proximity enhances the effect. Now, with clinical approval, she saw that something stirred in the depths of David’s tutu.
Location: 4,878

Father’s notes were clear on this topic as well—there were several ways to incapacitate men instantly, but striking them in the crotch was not one of them. It would take a second or two before the real pain hit.
Location: 4,894

“They did experiments,” Erwin said. “Cheney’s guys, trying to figure out what to do with bin Laden. I heard stories. You give somebody a shock like that, it’d be the sum of—well not just every pain you felt, but every pain you possibly could feel. All at once, like.” “Yes.” “And then you froze him? In that moment, exactly?” Steve thought about it for a second, then gave a low whistle. “Why?” Carolyn remembered how the rain ran warm, remembered the salty, coppery taste of Asha’s blood. “Because wazin nyata isn’t enough. Not for him. This, though…I’m pretty sure that it’s the worst thing that ever happened to anyone, anywhere. Ever. I think it’s the worst thing that can happen, the theoretical upper limit of suffering. Despair and agony,” she said. “Absolute. Unending.” “Damn,” Erwin said. “That’s some fucked-up shit.”
Location: 5,077

“That’s the risk in working to be a dangerous person,” she said. “There’s always the chance you’ll run into someone who’s better at it than you.”
Location: 5,284

“Exactly. But here’s the difference. Suffering—normal suffering—is transient. What we perceive as emotion is just a quick connection between three-dimensional space and one of the higher physical planes—rage, joy, pleasure, whatever. The repercussions can echo for years, but the actual link usually only lasts for a fraction of a second.”
Location: 5,645

False Value

Book Notes

This is book 8 of the Peter Grant series, and I'm once again only pretty sure I have that order correct.

I have to say, the opening of this book was REALLY confusing, along with the first couple chapters. After the background started filling in, with conversations and flashbacks, the book began to make more sense, and my general discomfort of being confused dissipated.

Here we start out with Peter, having gotten in a row with the uppers at work, starting off as a security inspector for an interesting computer company working on AI. Not out of the realm of possibility, unusual, but not unreasonable as a character development. Then backstory and flashbacks and, oh, okay.

I really enjoyed how much of the computer stuff was accurate. None of the "hook up a small LED monitor to two wires outside of a bank vault pin-pad, and let them cycle until they have the password" kind of BS one normally sees in computer portrayals. I mean, if I'm already suspending disbelief with the whole magic thing, don't jar me out of reality with bad computer talk. Turns out, Aaronovitch didn't, and I appreciate it.

The storyline had a nice balance between home life, current plot, flashbacks, and history.

I recommend reading the books in order, definitely worth reading if you're committed to the series already. I don't recommend starting with this one. It wouldn't be as delightful as an introduction to Peter Grant.

"Nobody’s going to fall for this," I said.

"Of course they will," said Silver. "They fall for Nigerian princes all the time."

"Stupid people do," I said.

"Wrong," said Silver. "It doesn’t matter if you’re a leading astrophysicist or thicker than a bag full of bricks. Whether the mark falls for a scam depends on experience, knowledge and how much they want it to be true."
Page 90

"I’ve got to ask," said Stacy. "Peter’s a nice enough lad. But, be honest, what is it in him that attracts you?"

Beverley gave me a sly smile. "He’s a world - class shagger," she said. Stacy grinned and Oliver looked at me wide-eyed. "No, I mean it," said Beverley. "Olympic standard shagging. Morning, noon and night. I knew it as soon as I saw him the first time. That man, I thought, will go like a dredger at high tide."

"Is he hung?" asked Keira.

"Like a —"

"Hey," I said quickly.
Page 105

I giggled at this exchange.

As the one whose delicate brown body was in the firing line, I was a little bit more cautious. People are often short-sighted and stupid, right up to the point where they’re fucking perceptive — that point usually being the most inconvenient moment possible. And people don’t like to think they’ve been taken — and they tend to express their displeasure forcibly.
Page 122


"He quoted Vasily Zhukovsky at me," said Beverley.

"Who’s he?" I asked.

"Russian Romantic poet," she said, and admitted that she’d had to look him up afterward. He’d quoted in Russian, too, but Beverley reckoned she’d got the gist. "Something about accepting your destiny."
Page 132

"Do you love me?" she asked, and I felt a sudden unexpected rush of panic at the question.

It took me so by surprise that I practically stuttered the answer. "Yes," I managed.


Because pheromones, because beauty, because laughter and joy when she was near and loss and emptiness when she was gone. Because of shouting at unicorns and braving faeries. The way her brow furrowed when she was reading something tricky in a textbook. The smell and feel of her skin. The warmth of her body, the sunshine of her smile and the thrilling depths of her eyes.
Page 178

Sunday morning by instant tradition was study morning so, after I’d oiled the Bulge — which always made Beverley giggle — I cracked open my Blackstone’s manuals, bought second - hand for economy, while she lay on her back in the living room and read papers off her Kindle. Every so often, one or other of us would sigh and decide it was time for yet another cup of coffee.
Page 182

Yes, a delightful morning.

There were no council CCTV cameras covering the High Street and, quelle surprise, all of the privately owned cameras that might have had the Print Shop in view were inoperable or didn’t keep their image data for more than a week.
Page 204

Quelle surprise!

Having confirmed the presence of the Mary Engine and the Rose Jars, it was time for my sudden but inevitable betrayal.
Page 224

Oh, so giggling at the Firefly reference! Joy!

I paused to make sure she was following my logic. You can be too clever during an interview and a common tactic for interviewees is to zone out and stop listening.
Page 256

Alone on the Wall

Book Notes

The other day, Kris and I were watching Free Solo, a movie that Mom and Eric STRONGLY recommended I watch after I gushed about my first rock climbing class back in January. In the movie, Alex Honnold is signing books in a bookstore. The book he is signing is this one. So, here we are, reading Alone on the Wall.

The book is written in two voices, Alex's and, one presumes, David's, first and third person respectively. The book is Alex's story, how he became interested in climbing, how he became interested in free soloing (an amusing tale, he was shy), and his biography nominally up to 2014.

The book was a delightful read. It tells much of Alex's story that was told in Free Solo. Similar to when I watched the movie, many times my thoughts were, "Nope. Nope nope nope," with some of the things he does. I am grateful for Alex and his adventures, even if I never meet him. I enjoyed the book a lot, worth reading.

Again and again, whenever he speaks in public, Alex is asked the same two questions by everyone from little kids to graybeards. Indeed, they are the fundamental questions about what he’s doing on rock. They are: Aren’t you afraid you’re going to die? Why do you do this?

In a sense, those questions are unanswerable. They lie in the realm of George Leigh Mallory’s throwaway response in 1923 to the umpteenth journalist who asked him why he wanted to climb Everest: "Because it is there." (Though intended as an irritable jab by a man fed up with the question, Mallory’s quip has become the most famous quotation in mountaineering history.)
Page 8

But then I had to shift from stemming to liebacking. Now I grabbed the edge of the crack with both hands, leaned back to the left, and walked my feet up the opposite wall till the soles of my shoes were only two feet below my lower hand. Liebacking feels somewhat unnatural.
Page 19

"Somewhat unnatural" Uh huh.

It’s bad form to brag about a climb before you do it. And I didn’t want my good buddies to get too alarmed — then I might start worrying about them worrying about me ! I guess I was just trying to reassure them: Hey, guys, I think I can handle this. I’ll be safe.
Page 30

A lot of the Stonemasters, though, were into drugs. Some of them even bragged about doing serious climbs in Yosemite while they were tripping their brains out on LSD. Their style was part of the counterculture movement of the day, but I just couldn’t relate to it. I’ve never done drugs, and though I’ve tasted alcohol, I’ve never had a whole drink. I don’t even drink coffee. I had a small cup once — it was like drinking battery acid. I had to poop all morning. I once had a sniff of Scotch. I thought, I should be cleaning my sink with this stuff. It’s not some moral objection — drugs and booze and caffeine just have no appeal to me.
Page 32

Yeaaaaaaaah, I can understand this.

He was asked, "If you don’t believe in God or an after - life, doesn’t that make this life all the more precious?"

Alex responded: "I suppose so, but just because something is precious doesn’t mean you have to baby it. Just like suburbanites who have a shiny new SUV that they are afraid to dent. What’s the point in having an amazing vehicle if you’re afraid to drive it? " I’m trying to take my vehicle to new and interesting places. And I try my very best not to crash, but at least I take it out."
Page 38

I’ve done a lot of thinking about fear. For me, the crucial question is not how to climb without fear — that’s impossible — but how to deal with it when it creeps into your nerve endings.
Page 42

It’s not necessarily suicidal. It’s about a guy suddenly losing the love of his life, caring a little less about danger, and so finally doing something that he’s always kept tucked in the back of his mind.
Page 73

For example, I can’t tell you how many people over the years have pressured me to drink alcohol. We’ll be at a party, and somebody will taunt me, "Alex, just try this beer, it’s not gonna hurt you to take a sip." I’ve never given in. Booze doesn’t interest me.
Page 105

This delights me so much. I am grateful that the pressure for me to drink alcohol disappeared the first time I said no in college. Thus far, when I drink, it has been of my choice. I am lucky.

Climbing in the dark is quieter and lonelier than in the daylight. In some ways, there’s no exposure. You’re inside this little bubble with your headlamp. A fifteen - foot beam of light is the whole universe. There was no danger I’d get off - route, since I knew the sequences so well by now. And yet, you still sense that there’s this void below you, somewhere in the darkness. It’s like swimming in the ocean and realizing there’s a bottomless abyss below you.
Page 128

That abyss is terrifying when it is in the Southern Ocean, btw.

One of my favorite aspects of soloing is the way that pain ceases to exist.
Page 161

I’ve tried to approach environmentalism the same way I do my climbing: by setting small, concrete goals that build on each other.
Page 164

Logan asks, "Do you get an adreneline rush?"

Alex responds, "There is no adreneline rush. If I get an adreneline rush, it means something has gone horribly wrong."

The piece uses John Long as the Yosemite veteran and talking head. Logan asks long what he considers Alex's greatest achievement. Long answers, "That he's still alive."
Chapter 9

How the Post Office Created America

Book Notes

So, there is talk about the Post Office going private. This is a horrible idea, put forth by Cheetoh, who has it out for Bezos and Amazon. The Post Office gives Amazon a sweet deal for delivering the last mile of many Amazon deliveries, so Cheetoh wants to privatize the Post Office to ruin this sweetheart deal. There's a hope the man could not be in power much longer (God, let that happen), but in the meantime, privatizing the United States Postal Service is a terrible idea.

But don't take my word for it. Read this book.

Recommended in the XOXOfest slack by Andy McMillian, who has read this book three times already, How the Post Office Created America is a history of the Postal Service, its origins, its stumbles, its glories, and its part in creating what America is today. We, as United States citizens, take much for granted. The post office is, alas, one very big part of what we take for granted. And this is a very very sad thing.

A large number of people who complain about big government are benefactors of said government, but don't realize or won't recognize it. Would be great if said people actually understand how functioning societies work. Alas.

This is a great history book, a small segment of the times that begat and shaped America. I feel this book would make a fantastic high school history book, take two weeks to read and discuss the book, and maybe everyone in the class would have a better connection to the roots of America.

The Massachusetts General School Law of 1647, wonderfully known as the “Old Deluder Satan Law,” made the case for education on moral grounds: It being one chief project of that old deluder, Satan, to keep men from the knowledge of the Scriptures . . . It is therefore ordered that every township in this jurisdiction, after the Lord hath increased them to fifty households shall forthwith appoint one within their town to teach all such children as shall resort to him to write and read.
Location: 358

As much as he loved London’s social and intellectual tumult, however, he had grown increasingly disenchanted with Britain’s corrupt politics and egregious socioeconomic inequities.
Location: 472


Like France, England intercepted mail and searched it for seditious content; indeed, surveillance had been one of Henry VIII’s motivations for establishing a state-run post in the first place.
Location: 490

Indeed, until the Civil War officially settled the matter, many Americans would say “the United States are” rather than “is.” (For the same reason, many modern historians prefer to speak of the “union” or “republic” rather than the “nation” when referring to the country during the antebellum era, on the grounds that although America was a state, a self-governing political entity, it was not yet a nation, a tightly knit people who embrace a common culture.)
Location: 555

For thousands of years, both knowledge of state affairs and mail networks had been privileges of a chosen few. The infant United States, however, was based on an idea that was anathema to history’s great powers: if a people’s republic were to work, the people had to know what was going on.
Location: 576

If service was deemed warranted, he authorized a new post office, and Congress, responding to the direct will of the local people, determined the route by which the mail would reach it.
Location: 647

Nevertheless, Americans had objective proof of their national government’s responsiveness to their direct input, which not only brought them mail but also turned clusters of cabins in the middle of nowhere into villages with names, and rutted trails through dense forests into roads on a map.
Location: 651

Just seventeen years after Benjamin Franklin became America’s first postmaster general, the Post Office Act utterly transformed his modest mail network. He would have been flabbergasted by the speed at which the post would become the federal government’s biggest, most important department and prime the United States to become the world’s most literate, best-informed country within two generations—surely one of the most significant, least appreciated developments in American history.
Location: 760

Worse, they routinely tweaked the mail coaches’ schedules to please their passengers, who liked to depart in the morning and arrive in the evening—the opposite of the timing preferred by the post’s lucrative business customers. The highly principled, devoutly Presbyterian Hazard was outraged by the crafty proprietors’ unpatriotic duplicity. If the post were to subsidize the stage system, he reasoned, the department had the right to make the rules and set the schedules for mail coaches.
Location: 899

The government, like any buyer, wanted to pay less for more service than the seller had in mind, particularly considering that the transportation in question was underwritten by passengers’ fares. The post also wanted to control the scheduling of mail trains, as it had finally been able to do with mail coaches.
Location: 1,020

In a typical observation, Gustave de Beaumont, Tocqueville’s traveling companion, wrote of their trip from Louisville to Memphis: “Frightful roads. Perpendicular descents. Way not banked; the route is but a passage made through the forest. The trunks of badly cut trees form as it were so many guard-stones against which one is always bumping. Only ten leagues a day.” The Frenchmen were ruefully amused by Americans’ seeming indifference to such conditions. Beaumont recounts one example of the natives’ sangfroid: “‘You have some very bad roads in France, haven’t you?’ an American says to me. ‘Yes, Sir, and you have some really fine ones in America, haven’t you?’ He doesn’t understand me. American conceit.”
Location: 1,046

Speed is the hallmark of good postal service, and McLean was remarkably successful in accelerating the mail. Indeed, he even foresaw that the telegraph, although then only the optical sort employed in France and Sweden, was a logical extension of paper mail: “If it were possible to communicate by telegraph all articles of intelligence to every neighborhood in the Union,” it would be “proper to do so.”
Location: 1,134

For nearly a century and a half, the government would effectively underwrite much of the country’s politics by enabling the camp that won the White House to reward tens of thousands of its supporters with postal jobs (although, as Lincoln would later observe, there were always too many pigs for the tits).
Location: 1,193

An early abolitionist, Benjamin Rush surely would have experienced mixed emotions had he lived to see the information network meant to unite Americans across borders also become the means of publicizing the political divide that would tear the United States apart.
Location: 1,324

Congress’s bias toward smaller newspapers was not just a benign effort to help the little guy. The official explanation was that a robust civic life required the circulation of local as well as national and international news and opinions. That sounds reasonable enough, as does the desire to help small enterprises stay competitive. However, the rural papers were often highly partisan supporters of the local congressmen, who could be counted on to represent in Washington their constituents’ deep suspicion of city slickers and their supposedly radical politics and immoral ways.
Location: 1,507

(That said, precocious fifteen-year-old Carrie Deppen, who worked as a telegrapher, was neither windy nor sentimental. A collection of her correspondence includes flirtatious notes that she mailed to male colleagues down the line and a letter to her supervisor asking for a raise on the grounds that she was paid less than other workers, particularly the men. Her boss responded that Deppen was lucky to have a job at all and that she received a modest salary because she still lived at home.)
Location: 1,592

Middle- and upper-class Victorian women were in most ways far more restricted than their mothers and grandmothers had been in terms of the freedom to choose their own pursuits and move about in the world. Particularly in big cities, architects struggled to find ways for women to appear in public places without impropriety—an effort that among other things popularized the new department stores, which offered ladies’ restrooms and restaurants for dainty luncheons safe from the male gaze.
Location: 1,606

The San Francisco post office took delicacy to the nth degree by installing a separate window for men who were picking up mail addressed to women—an “amenity” that also encouraged keeping them sequestered at home and their correspondence under male supervision.
Location: 1,613

Many were simply mean or sarcastic: Hey, Lover Boy, the place for you Is home upon the shelf ’Cause the only one who’d kiss you Is a jackass like yourself!
Location: 1,657

Country people generally bought only what they couldn’t grow, shoot, catch, or make themselves, so the shelves of the Headsville store would have been stocked with coffee, spices, and tobacco, as well as boots, patent medicines, tools, and sewing notions.
Location: 1,774

Despite the barriers, a few other women managed to become postmasters during the Early Republic. Feisty Sarah Decrow, who was appointed to serve in Hertford, North Carolina, in 1792, was reprimanded for daring to protest her inadequate salary. As Assistant Postmaster General Charles Burrall put it: “I am sensible that the emolument of the office cannot be much inducement to you to keep it [the postmastership], nor to any Gentleman to accept of it, yet I flatter myself some one may be found willing to do the business, rather than the town and its neighbourhood should be deprived of the business of a Post Office.” Decrow’s position was soon filled by such a gentleman.
Location: 1,838

He replied that it “has not been the practice of the Department to appoint females . . . at the larger offices; the duties required of them are many and important and often of a character that ladies could not be expected to perform.” Johnson took pains to point out that his opposition was by no means personal but extended to all women.
Location: 1,852

Some were driven by the exigencies imposed by the great financial Panic of 1837, others by the American tradition of moving on if life in one place fails to meet expectations, and still others by the stirring rhetoric of the imprecise, emotionally charged principle of Manifest Destiny. This theory of American exceptionalism proposed that the United States was a unique, divinely favored country that had a moral duty to spread its enlightened values and government from the Atlantic to the Pacific.
Location: 1,881

The prospect of getting rich quick caused thousands of Americans to mortgage their homes or spend their life savings to try their luck in the Sacramento Valley’s streams.
Location: 1,993

Creswell’s view reflected his larger conviction that certain resources belonged to the people and should not be privatized. In one memorable example, he described electricity as “that most subtle and universal of God’s mysterious agents”; as to using it to generate private profit, he said, “As well might a charter be granted for the exclusive use of air, light, or water.”
Location: 3,028

Thus, the hardheaded merchant whose government office had a direct telegraph line to his business headquarters nevertheless insisted that the post office had a higher purpose than merely making money: “I do not think it essential, and do not know why we should be self-supporting any more than the Interior and other Departments.”
Location: 3,081

They would have insisted that the mandate to bind the nation was as readily adaptable to passwords and PINs as it had been to physical addresses, and that the post must take the lead in connecting Americans with electronic media, just as it had done with the delivery of newspapers, market data, affordable personal correspondence, and consumer goods. They would have marshaled the arguments once made for a postal telegraph on behalf of a postal Internet, maintaining that the obligation to unite the people with information and communications required making the new resource a public service rather than ceding it to private companies for their own profit.
Location: 4,332

A private company would simply close the unprofitable retail facilities—a logical move for any revenue-driven enterprise. Indeed, the USPS management has already shut down half of its major distribution centers, with consequent delays in mail delivery that are particularly noticeable in rural states.
Location: 4,495

Those who dispute the government’s right to monopolize a service that business could provide want to privatize it. They observe that the nation is increasingly bound by commercially supplied electronic communications, and they assert that the post should simply close down and cede any traditional mail operations that can turn a profit to the independent carriers.
Location: 4,543

The national delivery system has evolved over time, and though it might not be the Platonic ideal, it works pretty well. The independent carriers and the post both benefit from their symbiotic relationship, as do consumers, because the post’s lower rates keep the private companies’ prices in check.
Location: 4,570

Let the Northern Lights Erase Your Name

Book Notes

The book came along with The Ghost Map as a recommendation from Dave Pell on The Next Draft, a newsletter I strongly recommend. I've enjoyed all of Dave's recommendations, this is no exception.

The book, from 2007 so I'm quite late to reading it, follows Clarissa Iverton, whose father has just died, on her journey to find her biological father. Said journey started after Clarissa discovers the man who just died, Richard, is not actually her father as she was led to believe her entire life. When she finds out her fiancé knew that Richard wasn't her father, Clarissa table flips her life and does a runner, just as her mother had done fourteen years before.

I enjoyed the realism of Clarissa's actions, I know of few people who haven't wanted to walk away from everything during incredibly stressful times, even as the serendipity of the plot was a bit too neat. The book reads like a verbal montage of the let-me-track-down-my-dad adventure, which is an interesting writing style that works very well.

I enjoyed the book. It's a fast read, even if the subject isn't light.

Recently, everything around me felt familiar yet amiss, like the first time you ride in the back seat of your own car.
Location: 210

The cold on my ears was sudden and burning. I pulled up the hood of my parka. It was, like all hats and hoods, too big for my small head. I had no peripheral vision.
Location: 431

Two young women without coats ran out of a parked car and into a bar. Their arms were crossed over their chests, at nipple line.
Location: 438

Travel is made for liars. Or liars are made by travel. I had
Location: 443

I’m sorry for you,” Eero said. I studied his face. I was unaccustomed to sympathy without judgment, sympathy without condescension.
Location: 1,039

“So what’s your number?” he said.

“My number?”

“Yeah, how many countries have you been to?”

I tried to suppress a laugh. “Counting America, one.” He had asked me the question so I would ask him. He was waiting. “And you?” I said. “What’s your—” I paused—“number?”

“Sixteen,” he said. “But I’ve only been to four continents. So far.”
Location: 1,282

21 and 7.

Whom did Henrik remind me of? No one. He seemed familiar because I wanted to know him.
Location: 1,464

I wanted, I wanted, I wanted. I wanted so much that what I wanted most was not to want.
Location: 1,712

"Okay,” Henrik said. “Why don’t you come to the bar tonight with me and my friends. Everyone in the town will be there.”
Location: 1,758

I read this and thought, "Nooooooooooooo! Cooooovid!" before realizing, wait, no, 2007, it's fine.

Seeing men’s wallets made me sad. They were either too thick or too thin, too old or too new. They always looked wrong.
Location: 1,819

I put everything in my suitcase and sat on it to close it. I wanted it to break. To be angry about it breaking. To be angry about something small and ultimately fixable.
Location: 2,386

The Wish List

Book Notes

After lamenting I wasn't going to be able to achieve my year goal of "read 100 books" if I also go for my goal of "read the entire Wheel of Time" (14 books that are the equivalent of 36+ "normal" books, given the length of each WoT book), Kris said, "Read a bunch of short books!" While, yes, that would work, reading short books for the sake of achieving a "read 100 books this year" goal feels somewhat like cheating. Book length is typically not a factor in my book selection process. I hemmed for a bit, causing Kris to jump up, and grab this book from his shelf. "Here, I think you'll like this one. You can read it in an evening."

Which was mostly accurate, I could have read it in an evening. I had another two (okay, four) books going, so it actually took me two treadmill walks and a curl in my reading chair to finish it, so maybe a 3 hour read? Which is to say, this is a fun, cute, fast read.

The book opens with Meg Finn making a choice, which pretty much sets the theme for the book: choices have consequences. Some choices, while not bad, don't results in a life we want. Some choices made in fear set the tone for a life.

Meg's initial choice cascades into her dying (in the first chapter of the book, so not much of a spoiler). Her soul is exactly neutral between good and evil, so she is sent back to mend the last wrong she committed before she died, which was also helping the last person she harmed before she died. Enter Lowrie.

Lowrie's been lonely for the last few years, after his alcoholic, abusive wife died. In his isolation, he made a Wish List, tasks to do before he died to correct the choices he made that lead to his disappointing life. The rest of the story is about the four items on his Wish List, Meg's helping Lowrie complete the list, and how sometimes the choices we make don't have the consequences we thought they might.

It was a fun, easy, fast read. If you are an Artemis Fowl fan, definitely worth reading.

Meg bristled. "I'm not afraid of anything, Belch Brennan!"

Belch chuckled nastily. "Prove it."

He was manipulating her, and she knew it. But Meg Finn could never resist a dare.
Page 3

This wasn't real. It couldn't be happending to her. Fourteen-year-olds didn't die; they went through a troublesome phase and grew out of it.
Page 15

Lowrie had spent so much time mulling over these particular questions that he had managed to isolate a few key moments in his past. Ones where he had a choice to make, and made the wrong one. A litany of mistakes . A list of would-haves, could-haves, and should-haves. Not that there was any point in thinking about it. It wasn't as if he could change anything now.
Page 42

"No, You're right. What life? What's what I've been trying to tell you." Lowrie's eyes were lost in past memories. "If only..."

He shook himself back to the present. "To late for if onlys. Time to do something about it."
Page 56

"But these? I mean, what's the point? It's crazy."

Lowrie nodded. "To you, maybe. To everyone else on the planet. But these were my greatest failures . Now I have a chance to put them right, even if no one cares but me."

Meg was running out of arguments. "But what will it chance, running around the country like a crazy man?"

"Nothing," Lowrie admitted. "Except my opinion of myself. And that, young Meg, becomes very important to a person as they grow older."
Page 58

Can confirm.

"Lowrie, you should be in a hospital," she said gently, alighting from the fence top.

"No," snapped the old man, a sheen of cold sweat shining on his forehead. "What can I do in a bed? The same as I've done all my life. Nothing! Now are you going to help me or not?"
Page 127

Like all intellectuals, he could nto resist the impulse to explain the procedure.
Page 152

I laughed out loud at that line.

"This is your last chance, too, Myishi. You do know that, don't you?"

Myishi nodded weakly. Funny how a man's smugness deserts him in a face of oblivion.
Page 155

Twelve months a year, the small town was hopping with Americans looking for their roots, Dutch tourists looking for hills, and New Age mystics searching for leprechauns. In this company a man talking to himself seemed the epitome of normality.
Page 175

Except during a worldwide lockdown.

Every breath could be his last. It felt worse now, somehow. Now that he had rediscovered himself. There was more to lose.
Page 233

Everyone deserved an equal shot at redemption. Even the Man Himself agreed with that.
Page 235

Surprise, Vanish, Kill

Book Notes

This book wasn't recommended, per se, by MNS, but it was his current read, and I appreciated his recommendation of Call Sign Chaos, so picked up the book.

The one sentence summary of the book, "It is a history of the CIA," sums up the book perfectly.

Is it an impartial history of the CIA? No idea.

Is it a complete history of the CIA? Not by a long shot.

Is it a good read? Absolutely.

I enjoyed reading the book, cringed at parts of history where the CIA either chose or executed poorly, and appreciated the parts where the CIA did well. Many parts of the book were annoying in the arrogance of the agents, and frustrating in the need for the agency's actions. People. Here we are.

I'd recommend this book for anyone who enjoys history books. This appears to be a good overview of its history (again, it can't be a complete history, just a public one). One can appreciate modern history books, given most high school history education ends sometime around World War Two.

Killing a leader or prominent person at the behest of the president is legal under Title 50 of the U.S. Code.
Location: 122

The CIA did not create the Latin American propensity for assassination. Long before the Central Intelligence Agency existed, targeting killing was a well-established political tool throughout the region. These were the rules of the game for authoritarian regimes that ruled by force and corruption, not laws.
Location: 999

Those pronounced guilty were lined up against the prison wall and executed by firing squad. In the days that followed the revolution, more than one hundred and fifty pro-Batista Cubans were shot dead. When asked by the foreign press about the summary executions, Che fired back, “To send men to the firing squad, judicial proof is unnecessary.” Besides, he said, the concept of justice was a hypocritical creation of Western capitalists. “These procedures are an archaic bourgeois detail,” Che insisted, “this is a revolution.… A revolutionary must become a cold killing machine, motivated by pure hate.”
Location: 1,655

Further news was repressed, not surprising given Che Guevara’s views of the press. “Newspapers are instruments of the oligarchy,” he told the Cuban people. “We must eliminate all newspapers; we cannot make a revolution with free press.”
Location: 1,824

The flight attendants began to serve lunch, Merletti recalls. “They put a meal in front of me and then they said to Mike, ‘We’ll get you a meal in a minute.’” Five or so minutes passed before the flight attendant returned. “She says, ‘We’re really sorry, but we don’t have any meals left. But here’s a little voucher so the next time you fly, you’ll get an upgrade or something like that.’” Mike Kuropas looked at the voucher. “He looks at me,” remembers Merletti, “and he says, ‘You know this is a bad omen,’ and I say, ‘What do you mean?’ He says, ‘I’m not coming back.’ I say, ‘Mike, don’t say that. Don’t say that at all.’ I said, ‘You know, we all have those thoughts, but don’t go there, just don’t do it.’” Mike Kuropas looked squarely at Lew Merletti and said, “No, I know I’m not coming back.
Location: 2,781

“Standing there, I became overwhelmed with emotion,” he recalls. “The reality set in. I thought about Mike and I still think about all the guys who died in Vietnam. Each one of them. They were alive one moment and then they got shot. There’s no anesthesia on the battlefield. You get shot. It’s incredibly painful to get shot. You bleed out before you die,” Merletti says. Standing in front of Mike Kuropas’s name, Merletti made a vow. “I wanted to try to live up to certain expectations of myself, for him. For Mike.” Merletti vowed that moving forward in his life, were he to perceive something in front of himself as difficult, he would stop and think of Mike Kuropas. He would acknowledge that whatever problem he was having, he was having the problem because he was alive. Mike Kuropas would not have the luxury of problems. Mike Kuropas, age just twenty-two, was dead.
Location: 2,862

When, in 1973, Qaddafi learned of a coup being plotted against him, his grip tightened. He created a militia “to protect the revolution” and began a systematic purge of the educated class. Death squads terrorized the population. Political parties were outlawed. Under the draconian Law 75, dissent became illegal. The state took control of the press. There were no legal codes or a legal system; justice was arbitrary.
Location: 3,273

In the early days of the Iran-Iraq war, thousands of these young children were sent to their deaths by the ayatollah as suicide bombers—ordered to clear land mines with their own bodies so as to make way for Iranian infantry troops and advance Iran’s front line into Iraq. Years later, New York Times reporter Terence Smith interviewed survivors of these human-wave assaults, and learned of frightened Iranian children being drugged with an opiate drink called “martyr’s syrup,” bound together in groups of twenty with machine guns at their back, ordered to keep moving forward, to walk to their deaths. Across their child-sized uniforms a message had been stenciled: “I have the special permission of the Imam to enter heaven.
Location: 3,683

With bin Laden were a group of friends and colleagues, Afghan mujahedin. This group had spent the past decade fighting Russian infantry forces following the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan in 1979. It was a classic irregular-warfare scenario. A much smaller rebel force, the mujahedin, had managed to defeat one of the largest armies in the world, the Russians, using guerrilla warfare tactics. Training, weapons, and funding for the mujahedin came from the United States, Saudi Arabia, England, Pakistan, and China. In 1989 the Russians left, defeated. At the CIA, analysts called it Russia’s Vietnam.
Location: 3,824

To Lew Merletti’s eye, presidential protection was contingent on three fundamentals that never changed. The world is a dangerous place; it doesn’t matter who’s to blame, only that you defend against it; the U.S. Secret Service must never appear weak. An attack could come from anywhere, including a lone wolf, a terrorist organization, or a foreign government.
Location: 4,177

The pretense of virtue attached to killing someone from a distance is curious. Perhaps dangerous as well. The current laws of war prohibit treacherous killing, and that includes assassination. It is also considered treacherous to shoot the enemy while he is taking a bath. But covert action occurs in the in-between, governed by Title 50 of the national-security code. It is undertaken at the behest of the president and is to remain hidden from the public eye. Do the laws of war need to be updated for guerrilla warfare, seeing as it is the only kind of war America has engaged in since World War II? Can terrorism be defeated by gentleman’s rules? War is wicked, violent, and treacherous. A horror of chaos, anarchy, and revenge.
Location: 4,676

talented and courageous.” The discrepancy in opinion between the covert-action operators on the ground and the top brass at the CIA is puzzling. According to Faddis, “Washington wanted the Iraqi Jedburgh story.” What they got “was an unmitigated disaster.
Location: 5,256

“Assassination,” said Hayden, is defined as forbidden lethal acts “against political enemies.” Terrorists are not political leaders. They do not run sovereign states. “U. S. targeted killings against Al-Qaeda are against members of an opposing armed enemy force,” Hayden clarified. “This is war. This [targeted killing of Mugniyah] is under the laws of armed conflict.”
Location: 5,466

The Taliban government that boasted piety, incorruptibility, and bravery left behind in its wake one of the most immoral, corrupt, criminal, debauched societies the modern world has ever
Location: 5,606

known. Civil order had been destroyed. “Adults [left] traumatized and brutalized,” writes Pakistani journalist Ahmed Rashid, in Taliban. “Children rootless without identity or reason to live except to fight.” In the words of Lakhdar Brahimi, a former United Nations diplomat, “We are dealing with a failed state which looks like an infected wound. You don’t even know where to begin cleaning it.”
Location: 5,607

Just war theory tells us not to rejoice in the battlefield deaths of others; that there is no place for vengeance or bloodlust. But what is man, if not flawed?
Location: 6,017

Obama succeeded in making Americans comfortable with drone strikes,” says former administration official and drone scholar Micah Zenko, “as they are generally supported by the American public and wildly popular in Congress.” There is subtext here: if Congress can’t fight a battle on political lines, it acts as if it is not a battle worth fighting for. How did we end up here, with assassination—but not called assassination—normalized, mechanized, and industrialized?
Location: 6,021

One day in the summer of 1928, war became outlawed. Representatives of fifteen nations led by the United States and France gathered inside the French Foreign Ministry in Paris and signed a pact declaring war illegal. The General Treaty for Renunciation of War as an Instrument of National Policy, or the Kellogg-Briand Pact, came a decade after World War I, considered the war to end all wars.
Location: 6,025

To wage war was now a crime.
Location: 6,033

The closest the world ever came to nuclear war was during the Cuban missile crisis. It was Che Guevara, more so than Fidel Castro, who advocated for nuclear war. “If the people [of Cuba] should disappear from the face of the earth because an atomic war is unleashed in their names,” Che told the First Latin American Youth Congress in 1960, “they will feel completely happy and fulfilled.” This rhetoric likely contributed to President Johnson’s granting the CIA the authority to oversee Che’s killing.
Location: 6,176

The Ghost Map

Book Notes

This book was recommended by Dave Pell at The Next Draft. I have yet to read a Pell recommendation that wasn't fantastic, including this book, which tells of the London Cholera outbreak of the 1840s and 1850s, along with the scientific investigation by John Snow (who, in this case, does know something), and Henry Whitehead.

I enjoyed this book and, given the current pandemic, strongly recommend it. In it, we learn about the cholera epidemic, about just how grateful we should be for and how amazing is indoor plumbing with modern sewer systems that take human excrement away from us for processing (household cesspools and cellars with foot deep shit in them were the norm back in Victorian England and wow, ugh, no thank you). We learn about how short of a time we have had the germ theory of illness (hello, 1850s), and how our biases adversely affect our thinking when confronted with overwhelming evidence our beliefs are inaccurate (hello incredible denyings, ignorings, and twisting of facts to fit our views). We learn about inadvertent consequences of mundane actions (hello tea as the culturally predominant drink, which incidentally boils water and kills bacteria that cause illnesses, there by reducing infection rates). And we learn about how knowing community means more than power when fixing said communities.

I did so much enjoy this book. It is a quick read. The conclusion and epilogue seemed out of place, like a story continuing after the denouement, but are still interesting - read them as two separate essays included after the cholera tale told.

For the record, the way to survive cholera is lots of clean water, don't over do it, boil the crap out of it first.

WASTE RECYCLING IS USUALLY ASSUMED TO BE AN INVENTION of the environmental movement, as modern as the blue plastic bags we now fill with detergent bottles and soda cans. But it is an ancient art. Composting pits were used by the citizens of Knossos in Crete four thousand years ago. Much of medieval Rome was built out of materials pilfered from the crumbling ruins of the imperial city. (Before it was a tourist landmark, the Colosseum served as a de facto quarry.)
Page: 5

Of course we think we're special. All of this has happened before.

There is something remarkable about the minutiae of all these ordinary lives in a seemingly ordinary week persisting in the human record for almost two centuries.
Page: 31

Sometime on Wednesday, it’s likely that the tailor at 40 Broad, Mr. G, began to feel an odd sense of unease, accompanied by a slightly upset stomach. The initial symptoms themselves would be entirely indistinguishable from a mild case of food poisoning. But layered over those physical symptoms would be a deeper sense of foreboding. Imagine if every time you experienced a slight upset stomach you knew that there was an entirely reasonable chance you’d be dead in forty-eight hours. Remember, too, that the diet and sanitary conditions of the day—no refrigeration; impure water supplies; excessive consumption of beer, spirits, and coffee—created a breeding ground for digestive ailments, even when they didn’t lead to cholera.
Page: 32

Imagine living with that sword of Damocles hovering above your head—every stomach pain or watery stool a potential harbinger of imminent doom.
Page: 33

One of cholera’s distinctive curses is that its sufferers remain mentally alert until the very last stages of the disease, fully conscious both of the pain that the disease has brought them and the sudden, shocking contraction of their life expectancy.
Page: 34

Good lord, horrible.

Dying of dehydration is, in a sense, an abomination against the very origins of life on earth. Our ancestors evolved first in the oceans of the young planet, and while some organisms managed to adapt to life on the land, our bodies retain a genetic memory of their watery origin. Fertilization for all animals takes place in some form of water; embryos float in the womb; human blood has almost the same concentration of salts as seawater.
Page: 38

When Prince Albert first announced his idea for a Great Exhibition, his speech included these utopian lines: “We are living at a period of most wonderful transition, which tends rapidly to accomplish that great era to which, indeed, all history points: the realisation of the unity of mankind.” Mankind was no doubt becoming more unified, but the results were often far from wonderful. The sanitary conditions of Delhi could directly affect the conditions of London and Paris. It wasn’t just mankind that was being unified; it was also mankind’s small intestine.
Page: 42

But not all the locals had succumbed to abject fear. As he made his rounds, Whitehead found himself musing on an old saying that invariably surfaced during plague times: “Whilst pestilence slays its thousands, fear slays its tens of thousands.”

But if cowardice somehow made one more vulnerable to the ravages of the disease, Whitehead had seen no evidence of it. “The brave and the timid [were] indiscriminately dying and indiscriminately surviving,” he would later write. For every terrified soul who fell victim to the cholera, there was another equally frightened survivor.
Page: 84

From our vantage point, more than a century later, it is hard to tell how heavily that fear weighed upon the minds of individual Victorians. As a matter of practical reality, the threat of sudden devastation—your entire extended family wiped out in a matter of days—was far more immediate than the terror threats of today. At the height of a nineteenth-century cholera outbreak, a thousand Londoners would often die of the disease in a matter of weeks—out of a population that was a quarter the size of modern New York. Imagine the terror and panic if a biological attack killed four thousand otherwise healthy New Yorkers over a twenty-day period. Living amid cholera in 1854 was like living in a world where urban tragedies on that scale happened week after week, year after year. A world where it was not at all out of the ordinary for an entire family to die in the space of forty-eight hours, children suffering alone in the arsenic-lit dark next to the corpses of their parents.
Page: 85

The literature—both public and private—of the nineteenth century is filled with many dark emotions: misery, humiliation, drudgery, rage. But terror does not quite play the role that one might expect, given the body count. Far more prevalent was another feeling: that things could not continue at this pace for long. The city was headed toward some kind of climactic breaking point that would likely undo the tremendous growth of the preceding century.
Page: 88

I'm not sure that feeling has ever really disappeared.

Most of us accept without debate the long-term viability of human settlements with populations in the millions, or tens of millions. We know it can be done. We just haven’t figured out how to ensure that it is done well.
Page: 90

There is a lovely symmetry that comes from telling the story this way, because a city and a bacterium are each situated at the very extreme boundaries of the shapes that life takes on earth. Viewed from space, the only recurring evidence of man’s presence on this planet are the cities we build. And in the night view of the planet, cities are the only thing going at all, geologic or biologic. (Think of those pulsing clusters of streetlights, arranged in the chaotic, but still recognizable patterns of real human settlement patterns, and not the clean, imperial geometry of political borders.) With the exception of the earth’s atmosphere, the city is life’s largest footprint. And microbes are its smallest. As you zoom in past the scale of the bacterium and the virus, you travel from the regime of biology to the regime of chemistry: from organisms with a pattern of growth and development, life and death, to mere molecules. It is a great testimony to the connectedness of life on earth that the fates of the largest and the tiniest life should be so closely dependent on each other.
Page: 96

The scientific establishment was equally anchored in the miasma theory. In September 1849, the Times ran a series of articles that surveyed the existing theories about cholera: “How is the cholera generated?—how spread? what is its modus operandi on the human frame? These questions are in every mouth,” the paper observed, before taking a decidedly pessimistic stance on the question of whether they would ever be answered:

These problems are, and will probably ever remain, among the
inscrutable secrets of nature. They belong to a class of questions
radically inaccessible to the human intelligence. What the forces
are which generate phenomena we cannot tell. We know as little
of the vital force itself as of the poison-forces which have the
power to disturb or suppress it.
Page: 122

Uh huh.

So often what is lacking in many of these explanations and prescriptions is some measure of humility, some sense that the theory being put forward is still unproven. It’s not just that the authorities of the day were wrong about miasma; it’s the tenacious, unquestioning way they went about being wrong. An investigator looking for holes in the theory could find them everywhere, even in the writings of the miasmatists themselves. The canary in the miasma coal mine should have been the sewer-hunters, who spent their waking hours exposed to the most noxious—sometimes even explosive—air imaginable. And yet, bizarrely, the canary seemed to be doing just fine, and Mayhew admits as much in one slightly puzzled passage in London Labour and the London Poor.
Page: 125

All of which begs the central question: Why was the miasma theory so persuasive? Why did so many brilliant minds cling to it, despite the mounting evidence that suggested it was false? This kind of question leads one to a kind of mirror-image version of intellectual history: not the history of breakthroughs and eureka moments, but instead the history of canards and false leads, the history of being wrong. Whenever smart people cling to an outlandishly incorrect idea despite substantial evidence to the contrary, something interesting is at work.
Page: 126

Miasma theories were eminently compatible with religious tradition as well. As one might expect from a man of the cloth, Henry Whitehead believed that the Golden Square outbreak was God’s will, but he supplemented his theological explanation with a miasmatic one; he believed that “the atmosphere, all over the world, is at this time favourable to the production of a most formidable plague.” To reconcile this hideous reality with the idea of a beneficent Creator, Whitehead had settled on what might later have been termed an ingeniously Darwinian explanation: that plagues were God’s way of adapting the human body to global changes in the atmosphere, killing off thousands or millions, but in the process creating generations that could thrive in the new environment.
Page: 127

The sense of smell is often described as the most primitive of the senses, provoking powerful feelings of lust or repulsion, triggering mémoires involontaires.
Page: 128

And not having a sense of smell sucks.

Modern brain-imaging technology has revealed the intimate physiological connection between the olfactory system and the brain’s emotional centers.
Page: 128

So went Thomas Sydenham’s internal-constitution theory of the epidemic, an eccentric hybrid of weather forecasting and medieval humorology. Certain atmospheric conditions were likely to spawn epidemic disease, but the nature of the diseases that emerged depended partly on a kind of preexisting condition, a constitutional susceptibility to smallpox, or influenza, or cholera. The distinction was often defined as one between exciting and predisposing causes. The exciting cause was the atmospheric condition that encouraged a certain kind of disease: a specific weather pattern that might lead to yellow fever, or cholera. The predisposing cause lay in the bodies of the sufferers themselves. That constitutional failing was invariably linked to moral or social failing: poverty, alcohol abuse, unsanitary living.
Page: 132

HEY! Blame the victims! A millennial old tradition.

People were more likely to die of cholera at lower elevations, but not for the reasons Farr imagined. And the poor did have higher rates of contagion than the well-to-do, but not because they were morally debauched.
Page: 133

Chadwick and Nightingale and Dickens were hardly bigots where the working classes were concerned. Miasma, for them, was not a public sign of the underclasses’ moral failing; it was a sign of the deplorable conditions in which the underclasses had been forced to live. It seemed only logical that subjecting such an immense number of people to such deplorable living environments would have a detrimental effect on their health, and of course, the liberal miasmatists were entirely right in those basic assumptions. Where they went wrong was in assuming that the primary culprit lay in the air.
Page: 134

Yes, the path of science works within regimes of agreement and convention, and history is littered with past regimes that were overthrown. But some regimes are better than others, and the general tendency in science is for explanatory models to be overthrown in the name of better models. Oftentimes because their success sows the seeds of their destruction.
Page: 135

Jane Jacobs observed many years ago that one of the paradoxical effects of metropolitan life is that huge cities create environments where small niches can flourish. A store sellin nothing but buttons most likely won’t be able to find a market in a town of 50,000 people, but in New York City, there’s an entire button-store district. Subcultures thrive in big cities for this reason as well: if you have idiosyncratic tastes, you’re much more likely to find someone who shares those tastes in a city of 9 million.
Page: 221

Increase the knowledge that the government has of its constituents’ problems, and increase the constituents’ knowledge of the solutions offered for those problems, and you have a recipe for civic health that goes far beyond the superficial appeal of “quality of life” campaigns.
Page: 224

The most profound impact may be closer to home: keeping a neighborhood safe and clean and quiet, connecting city dwellers to the immense array of programs offered by their government, creating a sense that individuals can contribute to their community’s overall health, just by dialing three numbers on a phone.
Page: 224

Indeed, it is the peculiar nature of epidemic disease to create terrible urban carnage and leave almost no trace in the infrastructure of the city. The other great catastrophes that afflict cities—fires, earthquakes, hurricanes, bombs—almost invariably inflict vast architectural damage alongside the human body count. In fact, that’s how they tend to do their killing: by destroying human shelter. Plagues are more insidious. The microbes don’t care about buildings, because the buildings don’t help them reproduce. So the buildings get to continue standing. It’s the bodies that fall.
Page: 227

So why are health officials in London and Washington and Rome worried about poultry workers in Thailand? Why, indeed, are these officials worried about avian flu in the first place? Because microbial life has an uncanny knack for mutation and innovation. All the world needs is for a single strain of H5N1 to somehow mutate into a form that is transmissible between humans, and that virus could unleash a pandemic that could easily rival the 1918 influenza pandemic, which killed as many as 100 million people worldwide.
Page: 244

Right now we’re in an arms race with the microbes, because, effectively, we’re operating on the same scale that they are. The viruses are both our enemy and our arms manufacturer.
Page: 250

The Great Hunt

Book Notes

Right. At this point, I should be on book four or so of this series,, but I am not. This bingo square is guaranteed to thwart my other bingo square of 100 books read this year.

Okay, so, the book starts where The Eye of the World left off, with our merry band of Emmoners near the Blight. Along comes the Amyrlin Seat (the head of the Aes Sedai), who tells Rand, hey, she knows his secret, we're good, we've been looking for you. While this is happening, no one figures out the grumpiness from the cellar prison is from Fain, so along comes a herd of trollocs to break Fain out of prison, taking the Horn of Valere and Mat's dagger with him. Well, there we go, Rand needs to head off with his buds to find the horn and the dagger. Off they go.

Rand disappears from the merry band, traveling via other worlds accidentally in his sleep, fortunately with Loial and Hurin, The two of them find the Horn and the dagger, head to find Lanfear, er, Selene, who has been quite stunningly hitting on Rand, duh, but manage to lose both the Horn and the dagger to Fain again. Nynaeve and Egwene head off to Tar Valon, where Nynaeve goes through the Accepted initiation. They don't stay there long as they are lured away by Liandrin, a two-dimensional Red, but clearly Black. Fortunately, Elayne and Min come, too.

Meanwhile, the Seanchan are invading Toman's Head, which is where everyone ends up, as Liandrin dumps the four girls there, with the intention of handing all four of them over to be damane, or enslaved women channelers. Rand and his group are forced to Toman's Head by Fain, who took the Horn and dagger there. Hilarity ensues, much death, some destruction, all our heroes survive, one bit of "wait, what? no!"

I really like this series, as much as I have read of it. Given the series is going to be another epic saga via some paid television channel, sorta makes sense to read them. I strongly recommend the series if you enjoy sf/fantasy novels.

"Darkfriends multiply, and what we called evil but ten years ago seems almost caprice compared with what now is done every day.”
Page 87

Well, that rather sounds like our last three years of the United States, now doesn't it?

"Whatever else I am, I’m a shepherd and a farmer. That’s all.”

“Well, the sword that could not be broken was shattered in the end, sheepherder, but it fought the Shadow to the last. There is one rule, above all others, for being a man. Whatever comes, face it on your feet. Now, are you ready?"
Page 132

Nynaeve touched her cheek. She could still feel where he had touched her. Mashiara. Beloved of heart and soul, it meant, but a love lost, too. Lost beyond regaining.
Page 146

There were only two things wolves hated. All else they merely endured, but fire and Trollocs they hated, and they would go through fire to kill Trollocs.
Page 228

“That should shield us from it.” He hoped it would. Lan said the time to sound most sure was when you were least certain.
Page 289

Or, I don't know, be realistic and let others know that you're full of it?

“I’m sorry you had to do it, Loial, but it would have killed both of us, or worse.”

“I know. But I cannot like it. Even a Trolloc.”
Page 376

"People see what they expect to see. Beyond that, look them in the eye and speak firmly."
Page 429

She found it hard to think that there had been a time when she had been eager to have an adventure, to do something dangerous and exciting like the people in stories. Now she thought the exciting part was what you remembered when you looked back, and the stories left out a good deal of unpleasantness.
Page 518

Like pooping. What adventure ever talks about pooping?

She sniffed. “If I were being held prisoner, I would not help my captors find other women to enslave. Although, the way these Falmen behave, you would think they were lifelong servants of those who should be their enemies to the death.” She looked around, openly contemptuous, at the people hurrying by; it was possible to follow the path of any Seanchan, even common soldiers and even at a distance, by the ripples of bowing.

“They should resist. They should fight back.”

“How? Against... that.”
Page 553

How easy it is to declare what someone else should do when you haven't had the same experiences, endured the same hardships, seen the same events.

This is madness. There can’t be grolm here. Thinking it did not make the beasts disappear, though.
Page 589

Cracked me up.

“Rand would kill someone who did a thing like that,” Elayne said. She seemed to be steeling herself. “I am sure he would.”

“Perhaps they do,” Nynaeve said, “and perhaps he would. But men often mistake revenge and killing for justice. They seldom have the stomach for justice.”
Page 604

Code Name: Lise

Book Notes

I don't recall where this book was recommended to me, or by whom. It continues my reading of World War Two survivor accounts, however. I do know know if I am reading more about World War Two because there is more to read, or because when you start to read about the horrors, more of the stories surface. I have no idea the source, but I'm reading more, and none of them lessen my horror of that time.

Code Name: Lise tells the story of Odette Sansom, a French woman who married an English man, moved to England, and became part of England's Special Operations Executive during World War Two. Her accent and knowledge of France made her well-suited for the role. She originally came on a courier for messages from the actual spies, but "courier" or "spy" is still the enemy in Nazi Germany during World War Two, and so, when caught, she was treated as if she were the spy.

Odette's story is fascinating and interesting and well worth a read. Loftis' telling isn't as horrific as a number of the other Holocaust books I've read, but that doesn't lessen the horror or tension.

The surprise I had from the book was the references to the German police force that pretty much despised the Gestapo. I considered the Nazis to be all of one mind, but, hello, even a 5 second consideration would have had me reconsidering that thought. There are people involved, so of course there would be those in the system who opposed the Nazis. It wasn't a consideration I previously had. I suspect had I studied the era more, I would have come to this realization much sooner than I had. People.

The book is worth reading, but I'd argue for The Volunteer and The Choice over this one, for better World War Two atrocity understanding.

Lest Odette despair or feel sorry for herself, her grandfather encouraged her not to use blindness or pain as an excuse or handicap, but to be as clever as possible; there were many things she could do, and she should focus on those. Odette heeded the instruction and, as Hemingway put it, became strong in the broken places.
Page: 2

The quaint village was a haven and refuge but had a surprising disadvantage: the countryside and rolling hills—fresh with apple orchards, blackberries, and dahlias—were so enjoyable that Odette began to feel guilty. Countless others, she knew, were sacrificing greatly for the war.
Page: 4

He asked her how she felt about the Germans, and she said, “I hate them. I mean that I hate Nazis. For the Germans, oddly enough, I have pity.” “I thought you might separate Germans and Nazis. It was not the Nazis but the Germans who killed your father.” Odette blinked. Jepson had done his homework. She looked at the captain. “Yes, but they were driven then as they are driven now. I think the Germans are very obedient and very gullible. Their tragedy—and Europe’s—is that they gladly allow themselves to be hoodwinked into believing evil to be good. Last October a German major was shot in Bordeaux. You know that?” Jepson nodded. “The Nazis took one hundred hostages and shot fifty of them. You know that too?” He nodded again. “Well, it’s not only because of that that I hate Nazis. It’s because theirs is a humorless creed and a damned creed, and because they make men despoil other people’s fields and carry misery and fear wherever they go.”
Page: 9

Odette struggled with the decision for months. “If everybody thinks my way,” she asked herself, “what is the future going to be for all of those children everywhere? If I were in France, with children, I could be like some of other people who’ve already been captured, even with their children in concentration camps. No, because I’m here, I have a great excuse for not doing anything more than staying put with my children.”
Page: 11

“In many ways it’s a beastly life,” he told her. “It will be physically hard. More than that, it will be mentally exhausting, for you will be living a gigantic lie, or series of lies, for months on end. And if you slip up and get caught, we can do little to save you.” “To save me from what?” Odette asked. Buckmaster shrugged. “Oh, from the usual sickening sort of thing; prison, the firing squad, the rope, the crematorium; from whatever happens to amuse the Gestapo.” As one agent put it, what Buckmaster offered was quite simple: death. But a useful, heroic death.
Page: 13

Was he a soldier or a policeman? he wondered. He had no qualifications for the duties and enjoyed no aspect of the work. But what else was he to do? It was wartime and he had to obey.
Page: 52

Hugo would be undertaking a new, broader assignment, Reile told him, arresting British spies and Resistance saboteurs throughout the country. “We are fighting against bitter enemies who do us immense damage,” he said. “It is our duty to fight them with every available weapon, but I want our methods to remain clean; for our coat must remain clean, too. No violence in interrogations, no third degree, which does not really produce good results. No threats, please, and above all no promises that cannot be kept.” Hugo was fully aware that the instruction was to operate in a fashion exactly the opposite of the hated Gestapo, filled as it was with thugs and criminals. The Abwehr, as a military organization, expected discipline, civility, and professionalism.
Page: 53

Some returned; some didn’t. Of those who did, some retained a dram of dignity; others came back a shell of their former selves—physically, mentally, emotionally. Everyone has a breaking point and the Gestapo were professionals. The weak could be broken through hunger, hence the Fresnes starvation. Simpletons could be broken psychologically, repetition-to-attrition the favored technique.
Page: 136

Extended torture is a journey through a long, dark tunnel. When the agony reaches its apex—the black hollow—the body’s survival mechanism kicks in and the victim blacks out. The more skilled the torturer, the closer he brings his subject to unconsciousness without triggering the reaction. The Commissar was an expert.
Page: 151

It was by design; the Nazis preferred to torture using locals so that no one could say they were mistreated by a German.
Page: 152

Her warders weren’t especially vile or sordid, she replied; prison simply revealed and accentuated character—the strong became stronger; the weak, weaker. She bid Henri good-bye.
Page: 155

After three weeks Hugo’s local captain called him in, saying that they had negotiated a capitulation to the Canadians and that everyone would go to a prisoner of war camp as one body. Hugo refused. “You are a soldier and must obey,” the captain said. “I can obey no order that obliges me to be taken prisoner.”
Page: 215

Like many Germans, he hated the Nazis and had been involved with the Kreisau Circle in the thirties.
Page: 224

Life Undercover

Book Notes

Okay, here we have a biography of a woman who signed up to be and was an undercover operative for the CIA. As far as nail biters go, this is a good one.

We know the ending, we know the heroine lives, as she lived long enough to write this book (which is great to realize for people who don't like too much tension in their books).

I recommend this book if you enjoy personal reflections and words that ask you to reflect on your own personal choices. I think the book is worth reading.

Terrorism is a psychological game of escalation. It’s not the last attack that scares people. It’s the next one.
page 7

Dad comes with us on outings now and then, but mainly we see him back at home in his flat in the evenings. He moved into the place when he got tired of staying in a hotel, but he hasn’t done much with it except line every wall with books
page 25

The sting begins to fade from my idea of him. Would I stand up to the military in my own country? Or would I go along to survive, once they proved beyond sufficient doubt that resistance meant death or worse for my mother, my sisters, my father, my brother? I realize in the dimness of the compartment that I have no way to answer. We talk with certainty while our lungs are filled with freedom, but it’s harder here, in this suffocating place, to be sure we’d all fight back. At the beginning, maybe, when victory seems possible and it’s only our own skin we risk. But after the claw has closed tight around the throats of those we love? Of that I can’t be sure. And in the staleness, I feel the minder’s despair, choosing between slavery and death.
page 43

When the minder is with us, the threat has a form. Without him, it becomes a nebulous, all-powerful force. Empty doorways and shapes among the shadows.
page 50

Ants flee the stomping boot of power. Until, one day, they don’t.
page 127

I’ve started playing a game with myself to see how long I can go without lying to a target. Withholding information is unavoidable—for their security as well as mine—but I’ve gotten pretty good at avoiding outright falsehoods. In part, it’s just the challenge of it that appeals to me—the wordplay involved. But increasingly, I’ve found that it forces me to search for some shred of shareable truth instead of settling for a convenient story. Truth casts a powerful spell, cements a bond between speaker and recipient that holds us somehow, one to the other, as we wade into deeper water
page 141

Like anyone else, assets want to be a part of something important, want their lives to have meant something, want to build some legacy, secret or not, to keep the terrors of mortality and insignificance at bay. That’s a vulnerability all humans share. And it’s the one I’ve found propels some of the most courageous and significant work any asset—or person—can do.
page 145

And all the people you know back home—the ones who are just holding on—they’re going to get taken to the woodshed. People will be jobless. People will be homeless. People will be desperate And desperate people make violent choices.
page 177

In the midst of the dust and heat and noise, there are the recognizable patterns of everyday existence. The unremarkable passing of a day that makes life everywhere so beautiful.
page 199

And I remember the little sign in my neighbor’s front yard when I was a kid. It said, “Planting a garden is the ultimate act of faith in tomorrow.”
page 211

As operations ramp back up, Dean senses the shift in me, bristles at my quiet mention that a situation might be more complicated than it seems. Drone killings and enhanced interrogation become subjects of dread on the operations we plan in tandem. Each time I opt for a different choice, he takes it personally, a critique of his tradecraft, a rebuttal to his way of life, an abandonment of him. I find that building trust simply works better than exerting force. Detention simply works better than assassination. They are pragmatic decisions, the fastest, cheapest, most reliable way to save lives and prevent attacks.
page 215

People pretend in the real world just as much as in the spy world, she says. They pretend because the stakes are the same—the stakes are not getting hurt. Sure, in my old world the harm was a suitcase nuke in Times Square, but who’s to say the scorn of a lover isn’t as powerful a weapon? Problem is, she points out, the cost of the armor is the same, too
page 220

I think of my old boss and his Mideast negotiations—remember asking him how our allies can give us something we won’t tell them we lack. Turns out, the same goes for friends. And spouses. And moms.
page 221

Where'd You Go, Bernadette?

Book Notes

Jonathan recommended this book to me. He had watched the movie and, since it had an Antarctica connection, and suggested I read it. Well, he might have suggested the movie, but I read the book. Then watched the movie.

You know those annoying people who say, "The book is better!"? Yeah, I'm one of those. The book was better.

Where'd You Go, Bernadette? is the (fictional) tale of Bernadette, a reclusive Seattle mother who, through mishap, miscommunication, and misadventure, ends up traveling to Antarctica without her family. Bernadette's daughter is the one who wanted to go to Antarctica, and one can't blame her for that desire. Both parents are skeptical, but agree. Thus begins the miscommunication part of the story, as Bernadette tries to deal with her social anxieties, her husband misinterprets pretty much everything, the neighbor has to come to terms with her own family's issues.

The whole story is told through various documents, which is what makes the story delightful, and the movie okay. We read emails, transcripts, police reports, newspaper articles, and report cards. The tale is delightfully woven, a fun read.

A guy named the Tuba Man, a beloved institution who’d play his tuba at Mariners games, was brutally murdered by a street gang near the Gates Foundation. The response? Not to crack down on gangs or anything. That wouldn’t be compassionate. Instead, the people in the neighborhood redoubled their efforts to “get to the root of gang violence.” They arranged a “Race for the Root,” to raise money for this dunderheaded effort. Of course, the “Race for the Root” was a triathlon, because God forbid you should ask one of these athletic do-gooders to partake in only one sport per Sunday.
Location: 1,560

I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve been in the middle of a perfunctory conversation, and someone will say, “Tell us what you really think.” Or “Maybe you should switch to decaf.” I blame the proximity to Canada. Let’s leave it at that; otherwise I’ll get onto the subject of Canadians, and that’s something you seriously don’t have time for.
Location: 1,617

This cracked me up.

Pretty soon, I stopped thinking about home, and my friends, because when you’re on a boat in Antarctica and there’s no night, who are you? I guess what I’m saying is, I was a ghost on a ghost ship in a ghost land.
Location: 3,436

“Wait, weren’t you at the recap?” I asked.

“Didn’t you hear—”

“Yes! And this is Nick, who’s studying the penguin colonies. He was telling me he always needs helpers to count penguin chicks.”
Location: 3,447


We were quiet for a while, and then I said, “I think my favorite part of Antarctica is just looking out.”

“You know why?” Dad asked. “When your eyes are softly focused on the horizon for sustained periods, your brain releases endorphins. It’s the same as a runner’s high. These days, we all spend our lives staring at screens twelve inches in front of us. It’s a nice change.”
Location: 3,591

Here’s what surprised me about penguins: their chests aren’t pure white but have patches of peach and green, which is partially digested krill and algae vomit, which splatters on them when they feed their chicks. Another thing is penguins stink! And they’re loud. They coo sometimes, which is very soothing, but mostly they screech. The penguins I watched spent most of their time waddling over and stealing rocks from one another, then having vicious fights where they’d peck each other until they bled.
Location: 3,614


My heart started racing, not the bad kind of heart racing, like, I’m going to die. But the good kind of heart racing, like, Hello, can I help you with something? If not, please step aside because I’m about to kick the shit out of life.
Location: 3,877

I had to go. If for no other reason than to be able to put my hand on the South Pole marker and declare that the world literally revolved around me.
Location: 3,883

I was turned over to Mike, a former state senator from Boston who had wanted so badly to spend time in Antarctica that he had trained to become a diesel mechanic.
Location: 3,918