Fur, Fortune and Empire: The Epic History of the Fur Trade in America by Eric Jay Dolin. I’m not sure that I would characterize this tale as “epic” though it was intriguing. In line with many books I’ve read in the past year, this book told stories I had some sense of (I grew up in Oregon and knew of the trade in furs reaching to Astoria), and yet, it pointed to so many characters, issues of trade and even the market shifts of different furs. In an era (or at least in my own life) when I have no ability whatsoever to fathom the desire to wear a Beaver skin, it was intriguing to read how this trade - and the trade in many other furs, from persons from Europe coming to the America’s, was shaped. The trade in American furs shaped persons lives - and built businesses that shaped entire economies. And it resulted in the intersection of so many lives and cultures- for good and ill. Fascinating.
Empire of Blue Water: Captain Morgan's Great Pirate Army, the battle for the Americas, and the catastrophe that ended the Outlaw's Bloody Reign by Stephan Talty. I’m not sure it would be appropriate to say I have an interest in Pirates, though I do enjoy the annual TLAP Talk Like A Pirate day that comes in September. This book, along with so many that I read, helped me recognize how little I knew of a particular group/portion of history. I can’t even come close to chronicling here what I learned about pirates, sailing, the legality and illegality of it - so I won’t try. I will say that one thing that stood out to me is the fact that Buccaneers were a kind of hybridization of pirates, where male partners chose bedmates among their male partners for “life” on the sea. Who knew? There was much to consider in exploitation, slavery, debauchery, prostitution and theft in this intriguing historical account.
QBQ: The Question Behind the Question Practicing Personal Accountability at Work and In Life by John G. Miller. A simple book that aptly helps persons “get to the point” of some key issues in communication. As one Amazon reviewer correctly summarizes: "The book starts by stressing the need for more personal accountability and then presents a simple process for asking ourselves questions which will hopefully lead to making better choices as we work through our day. The questions take the form, “How (or what) can I do to complete some goal?” For example, “How can I better serve the customer, work with the team, manage my projects, etc.?” By asking these questions, we make ourselves personally accountable. By answering these questions, we supposedly become able to make changes for the better within ourselves."
Amish Peace: Simple Peace for a Complicated world by Suzanne Woods Fisher. I enjoyed this book so much that I’m certain I’ll read it again - perhaps a few times. There was nothing remarkable about it, per se. The author captures a few “wisdom sayings” or “proverbs” from the Amish and then narrates stories from their lived experience that frame and explain their particular way of “wholesome” living - within community and with an integrity to their entire lives being shaped by their traditional experience. One curious take-away I found is that Amish people own no “Amish Furniture Stores” as only other Gentiles use their name to profit. Amish make furniture, of course, but they do not use their religion as the basis for making a profit! Wholesome, great, moral stories of depth.
I’ll Be Gone In the Dark: One Woman's Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer by Michelle McNamara. I did not like reading this book, detailing the rapes and murders of the so-called Golden State Killer (the alleged rapist and murderer only recently arrested and not yet tried!). I skipped portions of it as I do not like the gore/fear brought on by stories like this. Still, the narrative was intriguing and I found the means by which the author (and those who posthumously finished her work) provided a compelling “forensic file” on tracking down the monster behind these crimes. As I “liked” the book, I also “hated” it and can’t recommend it without a major “caution” to the kinds of “bad” things described that I find to be horrific and deeply, deeply troubling.
This is Water: Some Thoughts Delivered on a Significant Occassion, about Living a Compassionate Life by David Foster Wallace. I’ve read and listened to this “famous” graduation speech by Wallace a few times - and I’ll come back to it again, I’m sure. It is a simple, short “read” or listen - and it is remarkably profoundly significant.
Guided Meditations: Six Essential Practices to cultivate love, awareness and wisdom by Jack Kornfield. I engaged several. Enjoyable. Nothing remarkable or “better” than what can be accessed free online from youtube to computer apps. I think the thing that most surprises me, still, i show Jack Kornfield made millions by collecting other persons stories - for his profit. How can I figure out a way to do such a thing?
Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling by Richard Lyman Bushman. I’ve done a fair amount of study on Joseph Smith and the history of Mormons recently. I have some good, good, good friends who follow the teachings of Joseph Smith and the “prophets” who have emerged from his religious creation. I do believe many (most) mormons are truly “good persons” though I have to admit that I think Joseph Smith was and is an intentionally misguided moral person who, intentionally acted the part of a charlatan and con-artist, and used his ploys, which he knew to be false, to earn renown, wives and a following. A good book, written by a follower of Joseph Smith, who “believes,” and yet written with access to primary sources in an important historically-critical perspective.
The Nature Fix: Why Nature Makes Us Happier, Healthier, and More Creative by Florence Williams. As an Oregonian who finds myself depleted in the bland and boring topography and geography of Oklahoma (some portions of Oklahoma are pretty, yes - and I am sure it was quite a land to behold when the Tall Grass held the soil in place in the days of the Bison herds!), I found it easy to resonate with the premise of this book. I am certain Creation heals my humanness in some key ways.
The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those who Survived the Dust Bowl by Timothy Egan. I’ve been living as an exile in Oklahoma for more than 20 years. This story revealed so much of what I did not know about the “dust bowl” era in this region, that I did not know. I’ve been telling people recently that many of the books I’ve read in the past year have helped me realize how little I knew about so many things. I’ve shared, “I didn’t know how much I didn’t know until I read X book.” That would be true about my sense of the dust bowl years. I had a sense of the story from the Grapes of Wrath, of course, but this historical account gave me pictures of the dust, the grains, the withering cattle, the experience of it and even the electrical currents generated by it - that revealed much to me. This book is almost worth a second read for discerning the nuance and textures of the complexities of life these people experienced. Intriguing indeed! Dragging chains behind vehicles to keep the electrical charge of the vehicle grounded - and black-out-darkness from dust. Amazing. And, how the cattleman/farmer ruined the natural grass prairie (which wasn’t too much narrated in the book, though was part of the story, in some way).
Titan: The Life of John D. Rockefeller, Sr. by Ron Chernow. This man, it seems almost true, though not a fact, created rapacious capitalism that “the monopoly.” Though he ended his life generous - he controlled markets in ways that allowed him to undersell competitors until he could take out their entire business - so they would sell out to him. He hired chemists to help him discern new ways to refine oil and it’s various by products. He figured out how to take hold of the most productive cash capital elements of the trade, while NOT being in the oil exploration business which could “bust” at anytime. He lived a curious childhood with a wayward charlatan of a dad. An intriguing story in every way.
Principles: Life & Work by Ray Dalio. I had heard Mr. Dalio discussed on a recent podcast . . . so I thought I might enjoy this book. Nope. I’d describe it as hundreds of pages, narrating way too many details, all boiling down to “old” already realized proverbial maxims from life. NOW! having said that, I was intrigued by the brute honesty by which he and those in his company critique people.