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:

Loonshots

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

1. SEPARATE THE PHASES:

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

2. DYNAMIC EQUILIBRIUM

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

Caffeine

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

"And?"

"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.

"Why?"

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

Note:Franklin

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

Yuuuuuuuup.

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

Yuuuuuup.

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

Yuuuuuup.

How to be an Antiracist

Book Notes

I strongly recommend this book. It might not be life-changing, but I will buy you a copy for you to read, I recommend it that much. The experience of reading the book is significantly different than listening to the audiobook, which is read by the author, and veers into some church-preaching styles. I am not a fan of that particular style of speaking to start. I also tend to avoid author-narrations in general, as most are meh given most authors are not voice professionals. In general, I VERY MUCH prefer reading over audiobooks, so sticking with the book didn't bother me. YMWV.

The book!

The book is Kendi's personal journey through racism and his own work in overcoming his own biases. Along the way, we learn about his lessons, along with a commentary about what being an antiracist means. There are a number of maxims about being antiracist in the book, all of which can be applied to pretty much everyone. I appreciate how the lessons are taught as part of Kendi's story (and good lord what a story, why does this family have so much cancer in it, and all at such young ages, argh!), making the stories more relatable.

The one lesson I would ask anyone who read this book to come away with is this:

Making individuals responsible for the perceived behavior of racial groups and making whole racial groups responsible for the behavior of individuals are the two ways that behavioral racism infects our perception of the world. In other words, when we believe that a racial group’s seeming success or failure redounds to each of its individual members, we’ve accepted a racist idea. Likewise, when we believe that an individual’s seeming success or failure redounds to an entire group, we’ve accepted a racist idea.
Location: 1,465

Each person must be judged on their own merits. One person is not the representative for their gender, age-group, race, species. If this were the case, all white men are terrorist serial killer rapists. We have many examples of this not being the case. One bad meal does not make all restaurants awful, why would one bad day make all women bitchy, or all black men thugs (answer: it doesn't, they aren't). If we can keep this in mind, we have a chance.

Let me buy you a copy.

Definitions anchor us in principles. This is not a light point: If we don’t do the basic work of defining the kind of people we want to be in language that is stable and consistent, we can’t work toward stable, consistent goals.
Location: 262

My parents followed Norton’s directive: They fed me the mantra that education and hard work would uplift me, just as it had uplifted them, and would, in the end, uplift all Black people. My parents—even from within their racial consciousness—were susceptible to the racist idea that it was laziness that kept Black people down, so they paid more attention to chastising Black people than to Reagan’s policies, which were chopping the ladder they climbed up and then punishing people for falling.
Location: 413

Americans have long been trained to see the deficiencies of people rather than policy. It’s a pretty easy mistake to make: People are in our faces. Policies are distant. We are particularly poor at seeing the policies lurking behind the struggles of people.
Location: 425

Black self-reliance was a double-edged sword. One side was an abhorrence of White supremacy and White paternalism, White rulers and White saviors. On the other, a love of Black rulers and Black saviors, of Black paternalism. On one side was the antiracist belief that Black people were entirely capable of ruling themselves, of relying on themselves. On the other, the assimilationist idea that Black people should focus on pulling themselves up by their baggy jeans and tight halter tops, getting off crack, street corners, and government “handouts,” as if those were the things partially holding their incomes down.
Location: 469

Antiracist ideas are based in the truth that racial groups are equals in all the ways they are different, assimilationist ideas are rooted in the notion that certain racial groups are culturally or behaviorally inferior, and segregationist ideas spring from a belief in genetic racial distinction and fixed hierarchy.
Location: 486

David Hume declared that all races are created unequal, but Thomas Jefferson seemed to disagree in 1776 when he declared “all men are created equal.” But Thomas Jefferson never made the antiracist declaration: All racial groups are equals.
Location: 492

We are what we see ourselves as, whether what we see exists or not. We are what people see us as, whether what they see exists or not. What people see in themselves and others has meaning and manifests itself in ideas and actions and policies, even if what they are seeing is an illusion. Race is a mirage but one that we do well to see, while never forgetting it is a mirage, never forgetting that it’s the powerful light of racist power that makes the mirage.
Location: 562

Assimilationists believe in the post-racial myth that talking about race constitutes racism, or that if we stop identifying by race, then racism will miraculously go away. They fail to realize that if we stop using racial categories, then we will not be able to identify racial inequity. If we cannot identify racial inequity, then we will not be able to identify racist policies. If we cannot identify racist policies, then we cannot challenge racist policies. If we cannot challenge racist policies, then racist power’s final solution will be achieved: a world of inequity none of us can see, let alone resist. Terminating racial categories is potentially the last, not the first, step in the antiracist struggle.
Location: 832

In fact, immigrants and migrants of all races tend to be more resilient and resourceful when compared with the natives of their own countries and the natives of their new countries. Sociologists call this the “migrant advantage.” As sociologist Suzanne Model explained in her book on West Indian immigrants, “West Indians are not a black success story but an immigrant success story.”
Location: 1,044

With ethnic racism, no one wins, except the racist power at the top. As with all racism, that is the entire point.
Location: 1,049

It makes racist sense to talk about personal irresponsibility as it applies to an entire racial group. Racial-group behavior is a figment of the racist’s imagination. Individual behaviors can shape the success of individuals. But policies determine the success of groups. And it is racist power that creates the policies that cause racial inequities.
Location: 1,463

Racist ideas often lead to this silly psychological inversion, where we blame the victimized race for their own victimization.
Location: 1,954

To be antiracist is to never conflate racist people with White people, knowing there are antiracist Whites and racist non-Whites.
Location: 2,017

We must discern the difference between racist power (racist policymakers) and White people.
Location: 2,021

Of course, ordinary White people benefit from racist policies, though not nearly as much as racist power and not nearly as much as they could from an equitable society, one where the average White voter could have as much power as superrich White men to decide elections and shape policy.
Location: 2,025

Racist power, hoarding wealth and resources, has the most to lose in the building of an equitable society.
Location: 2,029

How we frame the problem—and who we frame as the problem—shapes the answers we find.
Location: 2,086

The saying “Black people can’t be racist” reproduces the false duality of racist and not-racist promoted by White racists to deny their racism.
Location: 2,252

To say Black people can’t be racist is to say all Black people are being antiracist at all times. My own story tells me that is not true. History agrees.
Location: 2,261

It is best to challenge ourselves by dragging ourselves before people who intimidate us with their brilliance and constructive criticism. I didn’t think about that. I wanted to run away. They did not let me run away, and I am grateful now because of it.
Location: 3,121

The Night Fire

Book Notes

This is book three of the Renée Ballard/Harry Bosch crossover, continuing the world of Bosch's Los Angeles.

Okay, at the funeral of Bosch's mentor, he is handed a murder book by the mentor's widow. Bosch is confused why, after illegally removing the unsolved murder murder book, his mentor didn't actually do anything with the case. Puzzling indeed, until plot twist at the end, when we realize the mentor didn't want anyone to investigate the murder. So there we go.

Given the events at the end of the previous Bosch/Ballard book, Bosch isn't a cop any more. The need for justice is strong in this one, however, so he keeps at the investigations as an investigator for his half brother (yeaaaaaaah, I'm not a big fan of the Lincoln Lawyer, Mickey Haller, and tend to avoid those books as a general rule). A simple confession isn't, and, hey, what do you know solving the one murder with the bogus confession leads to solving the "accidental" death that Ballard was investigating. Talk about a win-win!

I like Bosch books. He is, however, a 69 year old retired cop without a badge. There are only so many more books in the old guy. Ballard may be the way of the future, but I'm reading for the Bosch references.

If you're a Bosch completionist or fan, keep reading. If not, eh, they are reasonably good to read.

Domestic disputes were tricky. Calming anger, settling nerves, and then simply backing away might seem to be the most judicious path, but if an hour or a week or a year later the same relationship ends in a killing, the neighbors talk to the news cameras and say the police came out before and did nothing. Better safe now than sorry later. That was the rule and that was why the patrol officers wanted no part of the decision.
Page 170

"We’re not calling ICE. If you have a problem with that, Shuman, you can get back in your car and go back out on patrol. I’ll handle it from here.”

Shuman averted his eyes and shook his head.

“We call ICE, they get sent back and then they do it again,” Ballard said. “They go through all the rape and horrors they went through getting here the first time.”

“That’s not our concern,” Shuman said.

“Maybe it should be,” Ballard said.
Page 221

Blue Moon

Book Notes

This is book 24 in the Jack Reacher series.

Book starts out with Reacher on a bus. In his usual way, he notices things. In particular, he notices both an old guy with a wad of cash in his pocket, and a younger guy who also notices the old guy with a wad of cash in his pocket. Reacher follows the young guy, who follows the old guy, off the bus, and thwarts the young guy's mugging of the old guy. Reacher then helps the old guy walk to his destination, which, unsurprisingly, is to pay off a loan shark.

Except, the payoff doesn't exactly happen as expected. Reacher, with nothing particularly planned, stays to help the old guy and his wife (and, inadvertently, their stricken daughter). Along the way, Reacher returns to form. There's the girl (nearly always the girl he bops then leaves). There's the violence with many deaths. There's the repetition of some theme (several in this book, something about 10000 generations and another one I didn't note except when reading). There's the impossible situations that Reacher survives. And there's suspension of disbelief required to keep reading about non-trained individuals being able to handle situations that are difficult for even the most highly trained individuals. You know, Classic Reacher™.

I enjoyed the book. This one is non-stop action, with some strategy in the middle. Fun read. If you're a Reacher fan, read this one. If you're not, you'll miss much of the history and nuances of the story, possibly some of the humour by repetition, but will likely still enjoy the book if you enjoy absurd action novels.

“It’s something they teach you in the army. The only thing under your direct control is how hard you work. In other words, if you really, really buckle down today, and you get the intelligence, the planning, and the execution each a hundred percent exactly correct, then you are bound to prevail.”

“Sounds empowering.”

“It’s the army. What they really mean is, if you fail today, it’s completely your own fault.”
Location: 4857

The Light Brigade

Book Notes

Okay, so, Starship Troopers, The Forever War, Old Man's War. Classics in the citizenship / military commentary through science fiction genre. There are others in this genre, but these are the ones that come to mind. There is a strong likelihood that in upcoming years, The Light Brigade will be in that short list of classics in the genre.

Similar to The Three, this book follows a newly enlisted grunt, Dietz in this case, through basic training and the first hit of war, all while describing the world, the history, the conflict. Of course, we learn more of the motivations and history and dystopian nature of the world as the book progresses. Despite the grim beginning, the book has a "happy" ending (as well as a book about war can be "happy"), which I understand, even if most of my recent readings have far less ... uh, happy endings. Natch.

What we do have in this book is the commentary on the military, citizenship, human nature, war, corporations, capitalism, power, and, sure, socialism. Even Frank Herbert and Ayn Rand make entrances.

Several things make Hurley's world building so compelling in this book: the complete and total mis-visualization of who Dietz is (brilliantly done), the mind-f--- that the plot twists and turns through, and the way the story telling weaves with the commentary so subtly that you forget the philosophical commentary parts of the book (yes, yes, except for the three pages of in-your-face philosophy dump that pales in comparison with Galt's 50 page radio speech (which can be totally skipped if you ever do read that book)).

Enjoyed the book. Will gladly read more of Hurley's books, looking forward to them also. Recommended.

It happens sometimes; they can’t all agree on reality. Listening to the Big Six—when you’re allowed to get media outside your corp at all—is like listening to a bunch of nattering old people at a dinner party trying to remember some esoteric event from when they were kids. Everybody has a different memory. When they get frustrated, they start talking real loud, like that will make their memory more true.
Page: 9

There’s a fascinating course of study on the rise of fascist states that posits that they become more popular the more people fear death. And really, most corporate states are fascist, though they would have you believe they’re oligarchies, ruled by tables full of rich old people with humanity’s best interests at heart. The more fearful and out of control we feel, the more we look to some big man on a horse or a tank or a beam of light to save us. The survival of truly egalitarian societies requires—if not an absence of fear—then a harnessing of it.
Page: 67

There’s something that happens to you when you’ve been through the most grueling ordeal of your life with somebody. It’s like you’re closer than blood, after. Closer than family. There’s nothing else like it.
Page: 73

I kept my mouth shut and listened. Another good tip from my mom. People are always looking for reasons to imprison or kill ghouls. Stay quiet. Keep your head down. Be polite. They may still kill you anyway, but maybe they’ll kill the other guy first.
Page: 89

Darkness. It’s more comforting than you think, to be alone in the dark.
Page: 106

Kid I knew once called it the agony box. The Bene Gesserit. He was a funny kid, quoted a lot of Herbert. You know Frank Herbert? The litany against fear? I always found the litany more helpful than any meditation.
Page: 115

Yes, in the virtual box you know the torture will end at some point. Easier when you know it’s constructed. Easier to fight a constructed thing, especially if you’ve been taught how to survive real torture. No matter how real it all feels, you know that you will wake up from that nightmare and be whole again. You may have terrors, the shakes, after, sure. You might have to go through aversion therapy so you can function again in the real world. But you come out alive and intact. That’s how you can endure it. You know it ends. There’s a huge mental release in knowing there is an end to pain. A human being with hope can continue on far longer than one without. Did you know those who are mildly depressed see the world more accurately? Yet they don’t live as long as optimists. Aren’t as successful. It turns out that being able to perceive actual reality has very little long-term benefit. It’s those who believe in something larger than themselves who thrive. We all seem to need a little bit of delusion to function in the world. That belief can be about anything, too.
Page: 115

It’s important that we tell ourselves stories, Private Dietz. There’s a theory that consciousness itself begins with story. Stories are how we make sense of the world. All of us have an internal story that we have told ourselves from the time we were very young. We constantly revise this story as we get older, honing and sharpening it to a fine point. Sometimes, when we encounter something in our lives, or do something that does not match up with that story, we may experience a great sense of dissonance. It can feel as if you’ve lost a piece of yourself. It can feel like an attack on who you are, when the real world doesn’t match your story.
Page: 122

He reminded me of my brother, too handsome for his own good, bighearted, constantly trying to be a better human. There was no malice in how he spoke, just honest interest.
Page: 125

Everyone is owned by someone else. The resistance here wants to unshackle you, but that’s too frightening for most people. So what does that leave us? Free people who believe they are already free? They think they have chosen their servitude, and that makes them individuals, powerful. Freedom to work? Ha! Freedom to die on the factory floor, behind a desk, pissing in place because they don’t get bathroom breaks. Freedom to be fired at the whim of a boss bleeding you dry on stagnant wages you can only spend at the company store. But the choice of the whip or the chain is a false choice. Sometimes you have to leave people behind. They’re part of the old world. They aren’t capable of building something new. To build something new is to admit that the lives they lead aren’t what they believed. And to lose that belief . . . threatens their sense of themselves. The annihilation of beliefs is the annihilation of the self.
Page: 146

“You all right?” I asked Omalas, which was a dumb question. None of us were all right, but the silence frightened me. The silence invited me to think.
Page: 166

say? I have been fighting this war a long time. Once you begin to drop, time becomes a luxury, an outdated thing, like the idea of voting or equality or freedom that meant anything but freedom for the rich from the burdens they force the poor to carry for them.” It was the most I’d ever heard her speak. “Is that a quote from something?” She smiled without showing her teeth; a sad smile that never reached her flat black eyes. “No. Only a statement of truth.”
Page: 166

it. It’s funny, how sometimes you run so hard away from something that you find yourself exactly where you started.
Page: 175

What makes people believe this shit? I thought as I lay there listening. But it was easy, wasn’t it, when people were isolated. When information was scarce or siloed. People would believe whatever you put in front of them, if it fit their understanding of the world.
Page: 187

“Yeah. You sign up to fight a war. You keep fighting the war for the people next to you.
Page: 194

Corporations had been chipping away at the authority of governments for a century before the Seed Wars. They experimented with company towns, and then outrageous benefits for employees. As health care became more expensive, one didn’t even have to offer private transport and free meals. Simply helping pay the cost to cure grandma’s cancer was enough to ensure blind obedience. That’s how you keep them loyal. Foster distrust in the democratic governments that are actually accountable to them. Show them that only the corporations can save them from themselves.
Page: 209

“That’s the shit thing about systems. They get so ingrained . . . they can putter on awhile longer, even when you chop the head off. You don’t know you’re dead until six more steps down the road.”
Page: 210

Are you as old as your physical body, or as old as your memories?
Page: 220

When you are under the thumb of a corp, they own you. They say you have freedoms, choices. When your choice is to work or to die, that is not a choice. But São Paulo was no choice, either. It was a bad death, when this world was more than rich enough to ensure we could all eat, that no one needed to die of the flu or gangrene or cancer. The corps were rich enough to provide for everyone. They chose not to, because the existence of places like the labor camps outside São Paulo ensured there was a life worse than the one they offered. If you gave people mashed protein cakes when their only other option was to eat horseshit, they would call you a hero and happily eat your tasteless mash. They would throw down their lives for you. Give up their souls.
Page: 244

They made sure we had no good choices.
Page: 245

Why does anyone defect? Some defect for financial or personal freedom, certainly. For enough wealth, people will do anything. Others defect, simply, because they discover the world they believed they lived in proved to be false.
Page: 260

It was a small enough country that it was easy to restrict everything, to a far greater extent than any of the corps do now, even with our advanced surveillance and tracking systems. They were raised to believe their tiny spit of land ruled over by some doddering dictator was the center of the world. And you know what? It worked, mostly. For a long time. The war there was entirely a war of propaganda. The rest of the world worked to let the north know that there was another life beyond the one they knew. But there are always people who are more comfortable with what is certain and known than what is just . . . a promise. A what-if. The tipping point comes when you have nothing to lose. When you can’t stand it anymore. If your life is in danger, or your future is grim, then shit, why not defect? There’s nothing to lose. That’s the trouble with regimes that get too cruel. People need to feel like they have free will. They want to believe that nobody else is as free or happy as they are. If they aren’t citizens yet, well, shit, that’s their fault. They aren’t working hard enough. People disappear in the night, and you think, of course they must have done something wrong. Good people are rewarded. Bad people are punished. Many fought hard to get messages into the north, to share their own propaganda, and people defected, certainly. But only the very daring or the very desperate. The rest did not want to believe. This is something we don’t talk about . . . what happens when you are presented with a truth that contradicts everything you believe in? The widespread proliferation of information in the early days of the open knu, back when it was the wild net, should have made truth easier to find. But it turns out most of us don’t want truth. We want stories that back up our existing beliefs. Flood the world enough with information, and I will pick out only those bits that uphold the virtue and rightness of whatever corp I’ve been taught to love.
Page: 260

Sometimes, to save the world, you have to let it break. You let it break because even as it breaks, there will still be those who believe its demise impossible, even as they watch it disintegrate. Monsters do not die quietly, not the corporations, not the corrupt democracies and kleptocracies before them, and certainly not the monarchies, the feudal lords, the god-emperors, and the oligarchies. Most…
Page: 262

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Don’t tell me every revolution is peaceful. Revolutions rely on the tireless work of faceless masses whose lives mean so little individually that their names weren’t known to their movements even when alive. There is no bloodless revolution, only necessary revolution, when a system becomes so deeply broken you can’t affect change from the inside. When the system itself has become calcified so permanently that change is not possible . . . that is when the knives come out. I used to believe, as others did, that we could work within the existing system, that moderate change was possible. But when you take away the ability of the people to effect change within the rules of the system, those people become desperate. And it is desperate people who overthrow their governments. The corps tell us each individual should reap the profits of “their” hard work. But the reality is the corps made their fortunes on the backs of laborers and soldiers paid just enough to keep them alive. The…
Page: 262

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Any human power can be changed by human beings. That is a truth, a constant. Humans can’t build power structures that cannot be…
Page: 263

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They did not simply wait around for their governments to give them rights and freedoms. They demanded them. People should not be afraid of the corporations.…
Page: 263

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You’re a communist then. S: Let’s say I’m old enough not to be…
Page: 263

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Truth is a point of view. S: So says every…
Page: 263

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I pulled Prakash into my arms. Her eyes were already distant, the far-off look of someone retreating into death.
Page: 267

I backed out of the room. When I got into the hall, I realized my hands were shaking. When was the last time I tried to change anything in my life instead of just reacting to it?
Page: 287

Ordinary people would do anything for authority figures, as long as they could be insulated from the blame. But they would do anything for the people they loved, too. Even if it meant disobeying orders. Why didn’t anyone do an experiment like that?
Page: 289

could be insulated from the blame. But they would do anything for the people they loved, too. Even if it meant disobeying orders. Why didn’t anyone do an experiment like that?
Page: 289

Maybe I’d wanted to believe it. I wanted to believe the Martians destroyed the whole city, from here to the sea, because it made it easier to sign up. Made it easier to follow orders. Believing lies just makes everything . . . easier, when those lies prop up your worldview.
Page: 298

There’s a tremendous moment of dissonance, like leaving your body, when you discover that one of the core defining moments of your life is mostly a lie.
Page: 298

“It means we clear the area around the crater,” Andria said, “by any means necessary.” I had my rifle over my knees. I had just finished cleaning it and putting it back together. “Sir, does that mean lethal force? On our own people?” “They aren’t our people,” Andria said, but her heart wasn’t in it. “Most are paid protestors. We’re doing a job, just like they are. They were told to disperse or face force. They know what’s coming.” “They aren’t even armed,” Omalas said. “Some may be,” Andria said. “That’s why we have to clear them.
Page: 300

She’d put it on Captain V. Captain V would blame the lieutenant colonel of the battalion, who would blame the colonel of the regiment, who would blame the major general of the brigade, and up and up, until what happened tonight rested on the peacefully sleeping head of some CEO who would never get her hands dirty. Never see the blood pumping from a mortally wounded friend. Never watch the life leave the face of some poor dumb kid who believed the world could be a better place.
Page: 300

But the protestors had decent defensive tactics. They were not complete fools. They came equipped with homemade power-nullifying vests, pepper-spray triage kits, and they had painted their faces to evade the face recognition software in our heads-up displays. Drones surged through the sky, ours and theirs. I admired the janky little craft they employed against us.
Page: 301

They had made a beautiful world from the over-heated toxic desert we’d created, and we hated them for it, because they were free to create a better world. No one owned them.
Page: 319

They had made the land grow things again, but that was all they were supposed to do. They weren’t supposed to be free because no one is free, and they weren’t supposed to be able to defend themselves because no one can, not from the corps. The corps won’t allow it. The corps take care of you, as long as you give them everything.
Page: 319

“Do you think a lot about mortality?” she said. I had no idea where that had come from. “Now? Sure.” “What are your thoughts on it?” “I never thought much about dying when I first signed up,” I said carefully. It was a relief, I realized, to sit here with someone who believed me, even if I was just some test subject to her. But I wasn’t a thing. I was alive. “Nobody really does,” I continued, “even when you see your friends stuck inside walls, or watch their torsos bust open, or hold their guts in your hands. It takes a while to really get that it could
Page: 324

happen to you. You’re the hero of your own story. The hero doesn’t die, can’t die, because then the story ends.
Page: 324

“Even if you take an oath of vengeance. But you’re committing to fight the greater evil. It doesn’t mean you won’t sometimes do some evil yourself. It doesn’t mean that you aren’t sometimes fighting for the empire. It just means that in the end, you do the right thing.”
Page: 325

“All the claims you make follow a logical path,” I said. “It’s ‘I won’t, I can’t,’ but you have to make it to ‘I will. I will. I do.’ It’s powerful. That’s the power of volition. That’s the power we can tap into when we jump. When we become the light. What directs us, always, is volition.”
Page: 332

“Life is a grind,” she said. “Your best bet is to find people who will endure it with you.” I fist-bumped her. “Here’s to endurance.”
Page: 332

She was going to die. I was going to die. Tanaka was going to die. But until then—we’d live.
Page: 332

What is it with people’s memories? It has to be in their face constantly before they get it. Before they realize they can’t just look away and expect it to all be fine.
Page: 333

We forget that people are power. It’s why they work so hard to control us.
Page: 341

Your socialist democracy can’t survive on Mars. They never do. People succumb to fear, no matter the government. The everyday person doesn’t want war, but it’s remarkably easy to convince them. It’s the government that determines political priorities, and it’s easy to drag people along with you by tapping into that fear.
Page: 342

People can always be convinced to turn on one another. All you have to do is convince them that their way of life is being attacked. Denounce all the pacifist liberal bleeding hearts and feel-good
Page: 342

heretics, the social outcasts, the educated. Call them elites and snobs. Say they’re out of touch with real patriots. Call these rabble-rousers terrorists. Say their very existence weakens the state. In the end, the government need not do anything to silence dissent. Their neighbors will do it for them.
Page: 343

Ours. I suppose it’s an old story, isn’t it? The oldest story. It’s the dark against the light. The dark is always the easier path. Power. Domination. Blind obedience. Fear always works to build order, in the short term. But it can’t last. Fear doesn’t inspire anything like love does.
Page: 343

That’s what it is, with bullies. The things they do to you shape your life profoundly. But they often don’t even recall your face, let alone your name.
Page: 345

“Whatever’s busted in your life—you can use its pieces to make the life you want.” —Warren Ellis
Page: 353

I still believe in the military. I believe there’s sometimes a greater evil that must be vanquished. But more often than we’d like to admit, there is no greater evil, just an exchange of one set of oppressive horrors with another. Wars are for old people. For rich people. For people protected by the perpetuation of horrors on others.
Page: 353

The heroes were always the ordinary people who pursued extraordinary change. The power of the corrupt governments and entrenched corporations feels inevitable. No doubt so did the rule of the kings and landowners before them.
Page: 354

How To Think

Book Notes

Yes, I reread this book this year. My actual review for this book. Yes, I'm counting this as two books for the year, I read it twice and all.

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