Wednesday, November 30, 2011

A Hendrix Christmas; in books

With Thanksgiving behind us, it is time to focus on the next potlatch ... wait ... excuse me ... holiday on the Calendar.

Christian or not, Christmas is a big holiday. A bit too commercial for my taste, and as a result I remain firm in my belief that the best gift you can give is one that makes a better person - and one of the best ways to do that is through books.

Once again this season, Captain Henry J. Hendrix, Jr., USN has sent along his recommendations. If you are stumped on what to give someone this season; this should fit the bill.

Jerry; over to you!

It is difficult to understate how important books are to my basic mental health. For years I read in an attempt to gain an understanding of how other people thought about the challenges facing our Navy and our Nation. I read biographies, mostly, dealing with military and political leaders to gain their views on our "national interests." More recently, however, I have been challenged to "Think Different" (more on this) by my bosses and co-workers. The idea that our nation has reached a strategic inflection point, that all that we have done to get us to this point as a nation, will not take us to the next level, has been raised with me repeatedly and I have actively sought out books that give insight into innovation, economics, security, and culture. Here are five that I think are particularly useful.

Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson. National best seller by a great author about a highly controversial liberal techno-tycoon who advised the current president to scrap the American education system and deregulate the business community if he wanted to get the economy going again. A business realist who eschewed commonplace solutions to create a highly successful vertically integrated personal communications model that has been adopted by a growing portion of the techno-population. What intrigues me most about Jobs is how he was able to "institutionalize innovation" in the businesses he ran (Pixar and Apple). While highly successful, it is questionable how long his system will survive his passing and termination of his personal involvement.

The Quest by Daniel Yergin. Think that we are running out of energy or that the Middle East holds a monopoly on energy reserves? Think again. Yergin, one of the world's foremost experts on energy and winner of the Pulitzer Prize for his previous seminal work, The Prize, on the oil industry lays open the facts of how the world's energy reserves have continuously expanded even as its consumption has gone up. His brilliant descriptions regarding shale gas "fraking" (which I thought only occurred on Battlestar Gallactica) and the falsehoods behind wind and solar "alternatives" are worth the price of this book. Find out how much energy truly exists within the United States and be astonished about what our government has to say about it.

The New Navy Fighting Machine by Captain Wayne Hughes. Its not really a published book, but it is downloadable from the Naval Postgraduate School. Captain Hughes, the dean of American naval strategists, and a fellow native of the great state of Indiana (we actually grew up 15 miles and fifty years from each other), Hughes fundamentally challenges the way we think about naval force structure and the way it is applied strategically. This study came out about two years ago, and its implications have caused me to circle back to it time and time again. Closely aligned with some of my own thinking regarding Fords vs. Ferraris and naval presence as being analogous to baseball's on base percentage, Hughes' New Navy Fighting Machine provides us with an elegant force structure alternative in a fiscally constrained environment.

Giants in the Earth by O.E. Rolvaag. This is an old novel a much beloved high school English teach assigned to me in my senior year that I just picked up and read again. The story of Norwegian immigrants moving into the vastness of the Dakota plains encapsulates the true pioneer spirit of America, the do-it-yourself attitude and pride in self-reliance and success that seems so distant from our Occupy Wall Street entitlement debate today. What is amazing is the story of the children of these immigrants who are so intent on shedding their Norwegian exterior (while retaining their strong core) to learn the English and find success as Americans farming on the harsh Dakota plains. Read this and juxtapose Rolvaag's (a Norwegian immigrant himself) ideas against current trends that seek to preserve cultural diversity and reject older melting pot approaches.

The Aubrey-Maturin Series by Patrick O'Brian. OK, I came to this series late in life (my misplaced thought that somehow I was being disloyal to CS Forester and my beloved Horatio Hornblower if I read O'Brien books) but man, what a rush! This is not pure brain candy. You have to pay attention to what O'Brian is telling you (the description of the type of trees that are needed to refit a frigate after crossing the Indian Ocean in monsoon season was wonderful) and readers will soon be as intrigued by the surgeon-spy Stephen Marturin as they will enjoy the traditional sailor-hero Jack Aubrey. Aubrey is based upon the real hero-innovator Thomas Cochrane, and the events closely parallel events surrounding the Napoleonic wars. My girls got me the first five books for Father's Day, and I am now on book 13. You won't want to put them down.

25 comments:

UltimaRatioRegis said...

Oh...... JERRY Hendrix. 

I was thinking we were going to get a long and squeaky electric guitar riff.  ;)

andrewdb said...

The O'Brian books are addictive.  The publisher used to give away the paperback version of the first one (they still might) - they knew you would buy the next 20 in the series.  I had to ration myself to one a month, or I wouldn't make it into the office.

Therapist1 said...

I came to the Forrester novels after they made some of them into a BBC program.  WEll done on both accounts, but I will have to read the Aubrey series.

SCOTTtheBADGER said...

Giants in the Earth is without a doubt the most depressing book I have ever read.  I am an Olson, so the Norskies diying, or going mad hit pretty close to home.

AW1 Tim said...

If we're on the subject of books, and I think we are, I'd offer up a series that I am reading.

  Ruth Downie has a series about a Roman Doctor stationed with the army in Britain. Although it's historical fiction, Ms Downie has done a tremendous job of research to get the background correct.  That seems to be a halmark of the Brits, that whether it's a dram or a comedy, if it's historical they tend to spend a great amount on getting costumes, sets, etc correct.

   Her first book is titled "Medicus", followed by "Terra Incognito", "Persona Non Grata", and then "Caveat Emptor".  There's a 5th in the series about to go to the printers, as I gather.

   Anyway, they are mysteries, but very well written and researched and I've thoroughly enjoyed them. I dithered about posting them, but since the main character is an army doctor with the XXth Legion in Britain, and she does some good work with the military part, I felt it worth the trouble to post.

  Her blog is here, for any interested:

 http://rsdownie.co.uk/

habap said...

Concur on the absolute brilliance of the O'Brian books. If you haven't read them, you should.

Mahanwasright said...

The Wayne Hughes recommendation deserves some context.  Captain Hughes has update the conceptual approach of the reformer and innovator Bradley Fiske, who wrote the original book,  _The Navy as a Fighting Machine_.  The idea of treating the Navy as war fighting system, or system of systems, has a considerable amount of tradition behind it.  However, in Fiske's day, he and his contemporaries felt confident that there was a proper balance wheel or speed governor to control and distribute the energy of the machine efficiently and to best purpose--the General Board.  It will be interesting to see if Captain Hughes has an analog in this work recommended to us by Captain Hendrix...time to read!
John T. Kuehn, CDR,  USN (retired)

Barret Bonden said...

crack cocaine addictive.  nothing better than jack aubrey cutting out. 

Old Farter said...

All you old SWOs out there should check out David Poyer's fictional series that follows the career of Dan Lenson. Very accurate depictions of life as a JO in the 80s got me hooked. 

Anonymous said...

Medicus is well worth a listen to if you are into audible books as I am.

Kristen said...

Tim, thanks for the tip.  I like historical mysteries.  Is it better to start from the beginning, or all they all completely stand alone books?

Kristen said...

Scott, I'm Scandinavian ancestry myself.  In my case, they came over very early and stayed in the New York upstate farming area.  Life out on the plains in the 19th century was not for the faint of heart.

AW1 Tim said...

They are in sequence, but you can easily read them out of order with no problem.  Each is a stand alone book, but there is a chronological storyline that helps to develop some of the characters that runs through them.

I quite like them, myself.  :)

SCOTTtheBADGER said...

I may have to give them a read, they sound as if they have potential.

SCOTTtheBADGER said...

75% of my ancestors, the Olsons, the Linds, and the Petersons, all came to MN in 1900, my Dad's Mom's family, have been here since Colonial times. Since I am a Norskie on my Dad's side, and Svensk on Mom's, I technicaly should not exist, the Norsk/Svensk hybrid being as likely as a CatDog.

SCOTTtheBADGER said...

The Olsons were lawyers in the old country, and became bankers in the new, while the Linds and the Petersons were farmers.  The Linds saw the replacement of the horse with the Case.  Very loyal to Case, which makes my owning a Deere hard to explain.

Byron said...

Especially the one about his first sea tour...

Byron said...

Scott, already being half Norse/Half Svensk, the Deere should seem "normal" for you :)

Kristen said...

Tim, thanks.  I'll try to pick up an inexpensive copy on Amazon.

Kristen said...

Scott, I love hearing about people's backgrounds.  Thanks for sharing.

AW1 Tim said...

I've found them for as low as $1.99 on ebay.  Just sayin'.....  :)

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