Archive for the 'History' Category

The Woman Who Smashed Codes. The true story of love, spies, and the unlikely heroine who outwitted america’s enemies. Jason Fagone.


Shakespeare (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Woman Who Smashed Codes. The true story of love, spies, and the unlikely heroine who outwitted america’s enemies. Jason Fagone. 2017. ISBN 9780062430489. This is the story of Elizebeth Smith and William Friedman who married and together built the American tools and teams for  cryptography (code breaking)  prior to WW2 , which eventually became the NSA. There are many smaller stories  in the larger one. A wife who always let her husband shine ( yet history shows that she was the absolutely brilliant one) . How society (and the military)  ruthlessly and cavalierly ignored her true value in position and salary.  They worked on unscrambling puzzles from crooks, spies,  informants, and the enemy military.  They wrote the definitive earliest books on code breaking.  Their work was routinely used and seized by the always publicity seeking Hoover who always ignored their contributions. Toward the end, the US governments paranoia about secrecy ended up in the seizure of much of the Friedman’s personal papers and rare books collection.   They got their start through an eccentric millionaire,  George Fabyan ( who wanted to prove that Francis Bacon wrote all of Shakespeare’s work) on his estate called Riverbank.  It is highly readable, almost improbable (until you remember the context), and the authors text flows well along.  This would make an exceptional movie.

The Sky Below. A true story of summits, space, and speed. Scott Parazynski cw Susan Flory

English: STS-120 mission specialist Scott Para...

The Sky Below. Scott Parazynski cw Susan Flory.  2017.   The author is a medical doctor, mountaineer, astronaut and free diver.  He grew up living around the world and became very adaptable. His life story is thrilling, historic, and encouraging.  Its also an easy read. There are similarities to books written by other mountaineers, who are also driven black and white people.   A good four hour flight book.

Kitchen Confidential. Adventures in the culinary underbelly. Antony Bourdain

Anthony Bourdain being interviewed in the WNYC...

Kitchen Confidential. Adventures in the culinary underbelly. Antony Bourdain. 2008.  Hilarious, cutting, pithy and all too true sounding this a book that rips the covers off kitchens and those who work there. The author makes no bones about his generations of obnoxious, dissolute, atrocious behavior. It seems to be all there.   You will come away with a new insight into the industry.

The Next Factory of the World. How Chinese Investment is Reshaping Africa. Irene Yuan Sun

The Next Factory of the World. How Chinese Investment is Reshaping Africa. Irene Yuan Sun. 2017.  ISBN 9781633692817.  A thoughtful analysis of the similarities of Africa and China in how Africa could replicate China’s jump from an agrarian to a manufacturing country in a very short order.  The author makes some very good , logical points as to how this could be achieved. IN many ways Africa is exactly like China was just one generation ago.  The same Chinese businessmen who made this jump in China are now doing the same in Africa.  And Africa does have the poverty level farmers who would see a low wage industrial job as a step up. Plus by working for these Chinese businesses the Africans can learn how to do run a factory and eventually have factories of their own. The Chinese have recent experience with corruption at home so they know how to deal with African corruption.  I was interested to read that the bulk of investment is from private Chinese firms, not the famous Chinese zombie state enterprises.   From a Western perspective we may be losing sight of how simple this could be as we are too far along the technology path. A delightful and useful read.

Prisoners of Geography. Ten maps that explain everything about the world. Tim Marshall

Greater Middle East

Prisoners of Geography. Ten maps that explain everything about the world. Tim Marshall.  2015.  I spotted this book on the shelf at Gatwick.  A quick perusal told me I should buy it.  The author does a terrific job in explaining the simplicity and complexity in understanding Russia, China, the US, Western Europe, Africa, The Middle East, Indian * Pakistan, Korea & Japan, Latin America, and the Arctic.  He starts with the geopolitics of each area, the gifts and lacks due to geography. Then you get a quick history of how meddling nations have drawn up political maps in contradiction to history  and geography.  Further explanation shows the present difficulties on helping/hindering these areas as well as their particular hot buttons . Every US president should read this book before saying anything about these areas.  Those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it.

The Taste of Conquest. The rise and fall of the three great cities of spice. Michael Krondl.

Cover of "The Taste of Conquest: The Rise...

Cover via Amazon

The Taste of Conquest. The rise and fall of the three great cities of spice. Michael Krondl. 2007 ISBN 9780345509826.  While travelling in Portugal I read this book. Fascinating,  as it delves in the roles of Venice, Lisbon and then Amsterdam and their successive monopolies in the spice trade .  Each city had a different approach in gaining their monopolies and how they “ruled” their Indian/Indonesian sources/possessions.  So much of the gold and ornate buildings in these cities was based on spice trading ( Pepper, salt, chili, cinnamon, then coffee and sugar) . The source countries and people did not fare well under the dominion of these successive traders.  The pursuit of spice is what drove the Portuguese to sail around Africa and into the Indies.  The author does a good job of illustrating  their particular drives and business approaches. Clearly written

Homo Deus. A brief history of tomorrow. Yuval Noah Harari.

Homo Deus. A brief history of tomorrow. Yuval Noah Harari. 2017. ISBN 9780062464316.  The author wrote Sapiens,  which detailed how mankind ( Homo Sapiens) become the dominant creature on the planet. In this well thought out book, he extrapolates where mankind may take philosophy, religions and the planet if following past processes, the present interest in AI,  IoT, CRISPR leads to a logical conclusion. He hints at the potential in the exploration of consciousness ( as practiced in eastern mystics).  The conclusion of the book extends a thought that if we do not want the “logical” end, that we may want to change things.  The initial parts that extend the thoughts of Sapiens is thought provoking. The middle where he delves into more philosophies could be unsettling to many, but provocative. The ending is not necessarily dystopian , but one could go away thinking it.   A worthwhile book to cause you to think and ponder

Sapiens. A brief history of mankind. Yuval Noah Harari

Sapiens. A brief history of mankind. Yuval Noah Harari. 2014. ISBN 978077103850.   If you ever wanted to know why humans behave the way they do. this is the book for you.  It does a very good job of drilling back into our early development ( as  lucky survivor – who ended up at the top of a food chain) and how we still end up repeating our destructive and social ways today. We have been responsible for the destruction of entire species all over the world from very early on and have much to learn from our history.  I was taken with the parallel with our early predilection with gossip and how we still are.  The growth of communities to cities and eventually empires is so fascinating.  I tend to agree that perhaps the foraging communities were “better” fed then the eventual civilized peasants trapped in filthy, disease prone villages with a limited diet.  The extension into what we could become makes for very interesting reading as well.

A Truck Full Of Money. Tracey Kidder.

Soul of a New Machine

A Truck Full Of Money.  One man’s quest to recover from great success. Tracey Kidder. 2016.  ISBN 9780399589553.  I read Kidders seminal book , The Soul of a New Machine when I was first selling computer hardware.  It was a book that changed and then reinforced my outlook to these wonderful machines.  This  book takes a look at the career of Paul English – who co created Kayak and then struck big time money.  With his easy to read, cogent style, Kidder makes this into a novel that pulls you along English’s career track.  You will come away, knowing much more about the challengers and pull of programming/software engineering and the mindset of these very creative often difficult folks.  I recommend this book to anyone in the software industry today as well as those contemplating a career in it.

Flashpoints. The emerging crisis in Europe. George Friedman.


Flashpoints. The emerging crisis in Europe. George Friedman.2015, ISBN 9780385536332. A clearly written analysis of  today’s Europe that uses history,  present day reports and what seems common sense to project believable scenarios.   Combined with Studwell’s How Asia Works, this book dovetails nicely.  As a bit player in the economic world, Canada should have some people who look at the world like Friedman.  In a recent article, Freidman’s projections show an economic basis for Japan and Islamic Turkey in future to knock heads with the US, with the first blows happening in space.  Its not such a long shot, when you take in all the arguments.

I especially appreciated his comment that Europe matters less to the US than it matters to Russia.  Russia wants buffer states like before and needs to keep the oil flowing to Europe.  Germany’s recent bullying of Greece ties to his analysis that Germany has to keep the exports up in order to keep prosperous, and internally there is little support to helping Greece if Germany has to take any hits.   Muslim immigration, the rise of right wing parties , combined with high unemployment mean some major impacts on European nations.

Written like a journalist , so it flows along quite nicely. I suggest you read it, you may not agree but it is good  food for thought.