Monday, August 30, 2010

Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin

I'm reading Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin as sort of a lesson on the great leadership of Lincoln, and how he led a group of very disapparate people who didn't particularly like or trust one another very well, and eventually won the civil war. Here's some Lincoln on Leadership pointers so far:

He never burned any bridges or held any grudges. Unlike his wife. Whenever he was defeated, he accepted it with good grace - any made sure he stayed in the good graces of those who defeated him.

"Having risen to power with fewer privileges than any of his rivals, Lincoln was more accustomed to rely upon himself to shape events."

"Native caution..."

"Precision with language - he rarely said more than he was sure about, rarely pander to his various audiences..."

Over the years, had "developed a keen sense of what people felt, thought, needed, and wanted...."

"Profound and elevated sense of ambition... notably free of pettiness, malice, and overindulgence..."

"Though Lincoln desired success as fiercely as any of his rivals, he did not allow his quest for office to consume the kindness and openheartedness with which he treated supporters and rivals alike..."

"All his life, he had taken care not to send letters in anger..."

When Great Britain threatened to recognize the Confederacy "He had analyzed a complex situation and sought the least provocative way to neutralize a potential enemy while mkaing crystal-clear his... position."

After Battle of Bull run... "brooded in private... told humorous stories to provide relief."

(page 615) "The president was delighted by the... embrace of Grant. He will willingly ceded to the unassuming general his own customary place of honor, full aware that the path to victory was wide enough... for the two of them to 'walk it abreast.'

(page 635) "extraordinary want of vindictiveness."

Thursday, August 26, 2010

The Star of Kazan by Eva Ibbotson (Dutton, 2004)

I read the delightful The Star of Kazan by Eva Ibbotson (Dutton, 2004), so unlike any of the other books I've read by her. A postcard to Vienna (a long lost Vienna), Ibbotson takes as much loving care describing the food and music and people as she does weaving and constructing a slow, rich plot.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin

Reading Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin, and the run up to the 1860 presidential election is almost like reading Game Change. Sure things, missed or squandered opportunities, hubris, lazy mistakes, sticking to the center, bouncing around willy nilly - replace Lincoln Seward Bates and Chase with Clinton Obama Edwards and Co. (or for that matter McCain, Huckabee, Thompson and Co.) and you have 2008 all over again. I was encouraged to read this by our city manager, who taught a recent leadership workshop I attended on strategic planning, and to be honest I thought I had read it before. I guess not - it all seems really new. Lincoln certainly new how to keep his friends and enemies close, and he never, ever burnt a bridge or held a grudge (he left that to his wife) which I think is (mostly) good policy - I'm curious to see if he gets burned by this eventually (his trust of generals was notorious, I think, but we'll see).

Monday, August 23, 2010

Monarch: The Life and Reign of Elizabeth II by Robert Lacey

I read Monarch: The Life and Reign of Elizabeth II by Robert Lacey (The Free Press, 2002), and as much of a sucker as I am for royal biographies, I was pretty damn disappointed by the end of this one. I hate when a book starts with such promise too - tempts you into thinking that it's going to be all that, when it's not all that at all, dammit! This started out as this pleasant little biography slash history of the monarchy, with little gossipy gems here and there, but quite a bit of meat as well - some political history, some constitutional history, the changing monarchy over the ages... but about half way through, it really petered out. Once the book hit the Diana vs. Charles stage, it just a re-hash of everything that had been written before. A few juicy hints about Diana's funeral - but really nothing The Queen and Helen Mirren didn't already show us. More of the Queen and less of the Queen of People's hearts would have been far more interesting.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

If Stones Could Speak: Unlocking the Secrets of Stonehenge by Marc Aronson

I finished If Stones Could Speak: Unlocking the Secrets of Stonehenge by Marc Aronson. Try as I might, I just don't like Marc Aronson's style of writing. It always seems to have something missing from it; there isn't a spark. Stonehenge felt like an article that had been expanded upon. The unlocked secrets were interesting, but there seemed to be something missing. Perhaps that something missing was my interest in the end -- Aronson couldn't grab it (yet again). I will say that his point about history and archaelogy being a living breathing science was evident throughout the book, but at the expense of the narrative and/or tale -- even history and archaelogy needs an interesting tale. Still, the quote about knowledge being a wave was brilliantly beautiful. It goes to show that you can occasionally find gems even in a pigpen.

If Stones Could Speak: Unlocking the Secrets of Stonehenge by Marc Aronson (National Geographic, 2010)

I am reading If Stones Could Speak: Unlocking the Secrets of Stonehenge by Marc Aronson (National Geographic, 2010).

"Knowledge is more like a wave than a switch. Only very rarely do we go from being totally wrong to totally wright -- as a light turns off and on. Instead, what we learned before allows us to move on to what we can see next. We can surf ahead, but there will always be another challenge, another crest, another next step. We must always keep thinking and asking new questions."

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

1941: Our Lives in the World on the Edge by William K. Klingaman (Harper and Row, 1988)

I finished 1941 by William K. Klingaman. Although the last few chapters felt a little bit cobbed together and rushed, overall this was a pretty enjoyable piece of history. I certainly think in a time when Americans wonder why the hell we're internationally involved in the affairs of nearly every county on earth, it's interesting to compare and contrast now and then. Klingaman wrote: "After this war, there could be no American retreat into isolation, for the world was a very different place in September 1945 than it had been in January 1941" and "Our lives would never be the same."

Could a historian write an in depth and interesting book about every year, or do some years just have more stuff of excitement interest and world changing events packed into them? Are their boring years?

Saturday, August 7, 2010

1941: Our Lives in the World on the Edge by William K. Klingaman (Harper and Row, 1988)

I am reading 1941: Our Lives in the World on the Edge by William K. Klingaman (Harper and Row, 1988). My romanticizing of the World War II years makes this one perfect for me - it's full of bits of information about politics, the war, music, the movies, historical figures, and what was happening in one year. My favorite story so far is that of Berthold Brecht, escaping the Nazis to Moscow with his wife, son, AND mistress. Stuck in Moscow, gets a visa to flee to the United States just a few weeks before the Germans invade Russia. If he'd waited a bit longer, he would have been shot by the Russians for being a German.

This book was one of the serendipitous finds - I needed something to read, and went searching the shelves on the library. Finding a GOOD book this way is always one of my favorite things to have happen!

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