Book Review: The Man Who Broke Capitalism: How Jack Welch Gutted the Heartland and Crushed the Soul of Corporate America—and How to Undo His Legacy by David Gelles

The Man Who Broke Capitalism: How Jack Welch Gutted the Heartland and Crushed the Soul of Corporate America—and How to Undo His Legacy by David Gelles

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Best business related book that I have read this year…This book is an indictment of Jack Welch, “welchism” and capitalism in general. Jack Welch is not here to defend himself but the author presents a very compelling narrative supported by numbers that Welch was very overrated as a CEO, role model and strategist.

Welch quelched efforts at innovation, long term planning and corporate responsibility so he can meet or exceed quarterly numbers. Welch’s primary business objectives were to please his stockholders and become very personnaly wealthy.

Very well written book. Interesting stories and business analysis…Good investment of my book purchase…

Notes from the book:

Welch employed three main tools in his crusade: downsizing, dealmaking, and financialization.

Welch developed a new policy, colloquially known as “rank and yank.” Each year, managers rated their employees. Those who were in the bottom 10 percent were let go.

GE stock fell 80 percent in the years after Welch retired, becoming the worst performer in the Dow Jones Industrial Average.

Welchism has at its heart the conviction that companies must prioritize profits for shareholders above all else, that executives are entitled to enormous wealth and minimal accountability, and that everyday employees deserve nothing more than their last paycheck.

From runaway climate change to steep inequality, to hollowed-out communities abandoned by companies seeking cheap labor elsewhere, it can at times seem like corporations do as much harm as they do good.

The chief executive of a major American company now makes in one year what it would take a typical worker in that company 320 years to earn.

Book Review: The Complete Guide to Memory by Richard Restak M.D.

This is a badly needed book for me personally. At 70, I have memory issues, mainly forgetting someone’s name or being unable to remember the correct term or word. I fear dementia as I get older after seeing what my mother experienced before she died. I was looking for exercises and insights into improving my memory and this book provides it. Excellent tips on exercise, diet, and naps to improve your cognitive skills.

My notes from the book:

Pictures are easier to commit to memory than words. This is based on the fact that the brain wasn’t designed for reading words; reading doesn’t come naturally. We have to be taught how to read, while we require no instruction to form mental images of the objects and people around us.

We now know that memory depends on associations rather than single words. Each word has to be put in context and associated with other words or phrases in order to form a memory for later retrieval. So your best chance of remembering is to enlist the brain’s powers of association.

Another highly effective technique for improving your memory is to keep retesting yourself on the material you want to remember. Even after you have learned something, your long-term memory for it will be strengthened if you repeatedly challenge yourself to recall it again and again.

Based on the older adult risk factor, I advise all of my patients to abstain completely from alcohol at age seventy at the latest. By sixty-five years of age or older, people possess fewer neurons than they did only a few years earlier. So it makes sense to eliminate alcohol at a time in life when it’s necessary to conserve as many neurons as possible.

Fiction, on the other hand, requires the reader to proceed from beginning to end while retaining in working memory the various characters and plot developments.

Incidentally, I have noticed over my years as a neurologist and neuropsychiatrist that people with early dementia, as one of the first signs of the encroaching illness, often stop reading fiction.

For some reason, our brain is better at recalling losses and failings rather than positive experiences.

Naps too exert a positive influence on memory. Naps lasting anywhere from thirty minutes to an hour and a half have been shown to increase later recall for information encoded prior to the nap.

The key to successful napping is waking up more empowered than you felt before the nap.

Dark chocolate enhances episodic memory.

This serves as another reminder that anything that gets one up and about and focuses attention, however briefly, will prove beneficial. At the deepest level, physical activity of any sort promotes synaptic and cognitive resilience.

Book Review: The Wisdom of Insecurity by Alan Watts

The Wisdom of Insecurity: A Message for an Age of Anxiety by Alan W. Watts

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book has been on my bookshelf for decades. I have read or skimmed through this book dozens if not hundreds of times. I have yellow highlighted much of the book. I think that everyone should read the first chapter of this book for Watts’s brilliance and insights into reality. Considering that this book was published over 70 years ago, it’s amazing that the insights are certainly relevant for today’s world. For sure, the world has not become more secure since 1951, but significantly much less.

This book tries to address an issue that was relevant in the past and is certainly relevant in our present time. How are we to find security in peace of mine in a world who is very nature is insecurity, impermanence, and unceasing change?

Watts’s book serves as a guide for life – – how to approach it rationally and wisely. This book has had a profound effect on my life. Both uncomfortable and settling, it has provided some perspective to me on my philosophy of living. In a sense, this book became my Bible.

Listed below are some nuggets of wisdom from the book…

By all outward appearances are life is a spark of light between one eternal darkness and another.

If happiness always depends on something expected in the future, we are chasing a will-o’-the-wisp that ever excludes our grasp, until the future, and ourselves, vanish into the abyss of death.

However long postponed, everything composed must decompose.

When belief in the eternal becomes impossible, and there is only the poor substitute of belief in believing, men seek their happiness in the joys of time.

This kind of living in the fantasy of expectation rather than the reality of the present is the special trouble of those businessman who live entirely to make money. They fail to live because they are always preparing to live.

To be happy, we must have what we cannot have. In men, nature has conceived desires which is impossible to satisfy.

¨We fall in love with people and possessions only to be tortured by anxiety for them.

Human desire tends to be insatiable. We are so anxious for pleasure that we can never get enough of it.

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Book Review: With a Mind to Kill (007) by Anthony Horowitz

With a Mind to Kill by Anthony Horowitz

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I purchased this book at Barnes and Noble so I hoped I made a good reading investment. This is a gritty, violent and dark 007 adventure. No tropical island scenarios and his love interest was almost passionless.

The book starts off with the funeral of M reportedly killed by 007. Following the Ian Fleming template, the story starts off somewhat slowly. Bond has to pretend that he is still under the control of the brainwashing he received from the Russians earlier.

007 ’s mission is to find out what the huge plans are to upset East-West relations. This story takes place in 1964 where there is turmoil in the Russian government under Chairman Khrushchev. Bond is aided by a Russian doctor Katya Leonova who was involved in the brainwashing of Bond.

I liked the storyline. Like I mentioned there were parts of the book that moved slowly. I was more interested in what the characters did and said as opposed to the architecture and history of buildings that Bond visited.

This is old time Bond not the Bond played by Daniel Craig or the latest Bond movies. No special gadgets. No technology. A 1964 Cold War thriller…

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Bittersweet Review (Goodreads)

Bittersweet: How Sorrow and Longing Make Us Whole by Susan Cain

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I chose this book because I had read and enjoyed Quiet, a book about introverts, written by the author. With that being said, I skimmed through much of the book. However I did pick up some personal insights, many of which are not surprising to me. For example, based on her Bittersweet quiz, I have a bittersweet state of mind. Or let’s just say, that I can be a very sensitive and empathetic man. As the author points out, when you experience something like a personal tragedy early in your life as I did, you tend to accept sorrow and longing.

The author also suggests that whatever paying you cannot get rid of, make it your creative offering. I do this primarily through my writing.

I can’t say this book will provide you solace or relieve your pain if you are in sorrow or mental distress. But it may explain how you feel or could feel…

Shown below are my notes from the book:

This book is about the melancholic direction, which I call the “bittersweet”: a tendency to states of longing, pregnancy and sorrow; and acute awareness of passing time; and they curiously piercing joy at the beauty of the world. The bitter sweet is also about the recognition that light and dark, birth and death—-bitter and sweet are forever paired.

Most of all, bitter sweetness shows us how to respond to pain: by acknowledging it, and attempting to turn it into art, the way musicians do, or healing, or innervation, or anything else that nourishes the soul. If we don’t transform our sorrows and longings, we can end up inflicting them on others via abuse, domination, neglect but if we realize that all humans know – – or world now – – loss and suffering, we can turn toward each other.This idea of transforming pain into creativity, transcendence and love is the heart of this book.

It’s long been known that the vagus nerve is connected to digestion, sex, and breathing – – to the mechanics of being alive. But in several replicated studies, Keltner discovered another of its purposes: when we witness suffering, our vagus nerves make us care. If you see a photo of a man wincing in pain, or a child weeping for her dying grandmother, your vagus nerve will fire.

Then, the reminder that we have no missing half. “Here’s a little bit of darkness,” he warns. We need to accept that there is no partner who would understand the whole of us, who will share all our of our tastes in large and small areas. Ultimately, it is always a percentage of compatibility we will only ever achieve.

Even in the healthiest relationships, belonging often returns. In these unions, you can raise children, if you want you can share inside jokes, favorite vacation spots, mutual admiration, and a bed; you can search the streets of a brand new city for a heating pad when you’re traveling and your partners back goes out. In the best relationships, you can still, every so often, go to the moon and back. But most likely your relationship will be an asymptote of the thing you long for. As LVL says, “those who search for intimacy with others are reacting to this longing. They think another human will fulfill them. But how many of us have actually ever been totally fulfilled by another person? Maybe for a while, but not forever. We want something more fulfilling more intimate.

Whatever pain you can’t get rid of, make it your creative offering.

Angelou (Maya) story suggests, many people respond to loss by healing in others the wounds they themselves have suffered. Angelou did this through writing, but the process takes many forms. Indeed, the “wounded healer,” a term coined by the psychologist Carl Jung in 1951, is one of humanities oldest archetypes.

What are you longing for?

To find out how bitter sweet you are…¨

Do you tear up easily at touching TV commercials?

Are you especially moved by old photographs? ¨

Do you react intensely to music, art or nature?

Do you feel elevated by sad music? ¨

Do you tend to see the happiness and sadness in things, all at once?

Does the word poignant especially resonate with you? When you have conversations with close friends, are you drawn to talking about their past or current troubles?

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The Psychology of Money: Timeless Lessons on Wealth, Greed and Happiness by Morgan Housel

Takeaways and notes from the book:

Voltaire’s observation: “history never repeats itself; man always does.“ The lowest income households in the United States on average spend $412 a year on lotto tickets, four times the amount of those in the highest income groups. 40% of Americans cannot come up with $400 in an emergency. Which is to say: Those buying $400 in lottery tickets are by and large the same people who say they can’t come up with $400 in an emergency.

Years ago I asked economist Robert Schiller, who won the Nobel prize in economics what do you want to know about investing that we can’t know? “The exact role of luck and successful outcomes,“ he answered.

The difficulty in identifying what is luck, what is skill, and what is risk is one of the biggest problems we face when trying to learn about the best way to manage money.

What Gupta and Madoff did is something different. They already had everything: unimaginable wealth, prestige, power, freedom. And they threw it all away because they wanted more. They had no sense of enough.

Reputation is invaluable. Freedom and independence are invaluable. Family and friends are invaluable. Being loved by those who you want to love you is invaluable. Happiness is invaluable.

Good investing is not necessarily about making good decisions. It’s about consistently not screwing up.

At the Berkshire Hathaway shareholder meeting in 2013 Warren Buffett said he’s owned 400 to 500 stocks during his life and made most of his money on 10 of them. Charlie Munger followed up: “If you remove just a few of Berkshire‘s top investments, its long-term track record is pretty average.“

The highest form of wealth is the ability to wake up every morning and say, “I can do whatever I want today.“

Controlling your time is the highest dividend money pays.

No one is impressed with your possessions as much as you are.

Savings in the bank that earn 0% interest might actually generate an extraordinary return if they give you the flexibility to take a job with a lower salary but more purpose, or wait for investment opportunities that come when those without flexibility turn desperate.

Having more control over your time and options is becoming one of the most valuable currencies in the world.

The most important driver of anything tied to money is the stories people tell themselves and the preferences they have for goods and services. Those things don’t tend to sit still. They change with culture and generation. They’re always changing and always will.

History can be a misleading guide to the future of the economy and stock market because it doesn’t account for structural changes that are relevant to today’s world.

The most important part of every plan is planning on your plan not going according to plan.

German tanks at Stalingrad – – field mice had nested inside the vehicles and eaten away installations covering the electrical systems. (No one had planned for this risk, hence German tanks were inoperative.)

The more you want something to be true, the more likely you are to believe a story that overestimates the odds of it being true.

Manage your money in a way that helps you sleep at night. Use money to gain control over your time.

Effectively all of our net worth is a house, a checking account and some Vanguard index funds. One of my deeply held investing beliefs is that there is little correlation between investment effort and investment results. The reason is because the world is driven by tales – – a few variables account for the majority of returns. (Author describing his financial management.)

Book Review: The Fire is Upon Us: James Baldwin, William F. Buckley Jr. and the Debate over Race in America

What a fascinating and enlightening book! I had seen the Baldwin/Buckley debate at Cambridge on YouTube so I was at least familiar with that event. However, I was not familiar with the backstories regarding the two men and how they influenced the civil rights movement. Buccola’s book provides an excellent historical context around the debate. I am somewhat ashamed to admit that I was not familiar with Mr. Baldwin’s contributions regarding the civil rights movement. Baldwin was certainly a very persuasive and excellent spokesman for civil rights.

I was familiar with Mr. Buckley, particularly through his TV show Firing Line which I watched in my much younger years. Though I did not always agree (or understand) Mr. Buckley’s point of view, I was always impressed by his articulateness, vocabulary and presentation. However after reading this book, I am not so impressed by Mr. Buckley. I had no idea about his views regarding civil rights and blacks as human beings. I know it was a different time and many people shared Mr. Buckley’s opinion that the civil rights movement was proceeding too quickly. But I ascribed more intelligence, judgment and reasoning to Mr. Buckley that he deserved. This book opened my eyes to this part of history that I missed.

According to the author, Mr Baldwin’s opinion of William F. Buckley was much harsher…

“Buckley, Baldwin believed, knew better and had the ability to exert a considerable amount of influence in the world. Indeed, Buckley’s work as a guardian of white supremacy was, from Baldwin’s perspective, more sinister than that of the most hardened racists in American politics. Time and again, Buckley’s ends were the same as the racist demagogues he was always sure to condemn; his primary objection to these men was the means they chose to use on behalf of ‘the cause of white people.’ For these reasons, Baldwin concluded, some of the blood shed as a result of the American racial nightmare was on Buckley’s hands.”

The author points out this warning for American politics today…

“The price of victory, though, has been incredibly high. The American Right seems to be in much the same place today as where it found itself over half a century ago. To achieve overwhelming power, conservatives have had to rely on the political energy provided by racial resentment and status anxiety. Much like Buckley, many conservative elites find reliance on such energy unseemly, but they cling to it because they know it gives life to their agenda. For the American Right, the price of power has been a deal with the devil of white supremacy. This was true in Buckley’s time, and it is true in our own.”

The book is about 400 pages. If you only have limited time, read the transcript of the debate at Cambridge found in the Appendix of the book.

My Favorite Books for 2021

I am a voracious reader. This year I have read 64 books so far and I will probably read another 2-3 books by year end. I tend to be picky as to what I read and I am somewhat reluctant to recommend books  to others given my “eclectic” tastes. Over 80% of what I read is non-fiction though I did recommend two fiction books that I thoroughly enjoyed.

Here are my Top 10 books of 2021 and two extra recommendations..

I have read many of the Trump presidency books. I find that the one written by Bob Woodward and Robert Costa is the best. Peril also covers the candidacy and early administration of Joe Biden and the comparison between the Trump and Biden administration is compelling. I Alone Can Fix It: Donald J. Trump’s Catastrophic Final Year by Carol Leonnig and Philip Rucker is also excellent and the title is self explanatory as to the story within the book. Most of the book details Trump’s failure with managing the Covid pandemic.

1940: FDR, Wilkie, Lindbergh, Hitler—the Election Amid the Storm by Susan Dunn documents the leadership, judgment and foresight of Franklin Delano Roosevelt in the year before we entered World War II. Many Americans wished to remain isolationist and did not want to support Great Britain even as its cities were attacked by German bombers. Wendell Wilkie was the unsuccessful Republican candidate for President in 1940. Wilkie ran an unconventional campaign but unlike many Republicans today accepted the results of the election and supported FDR’s policies about the impending war.

Corruption, bad judgment, mismanagement, suicides, deviant behavior, treachery and Donald Trump, all this and more in Dark Towers: Deutsche Bank, Donald Trump, and an Epic Trail of Destruction. This is a business book that reads like a novel, a huge international bank plagued by scandals.

If you are an Eagles fan, you will thoroughly enjoy Ray Didinger’s Finished Business. Lots of great stories about players, owners and coaches. If you are a basketball fan, Three Ring Circus by Jeff Pearlman about the Los Angeles Lakers team from 1996-2004 is very entertaining and provides some great insights into the rocky relationship between Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal. Amazing how a very dysfunctional team was so successful. For baseball fans, October 1964 by David Halberstam is a bit of a dated book but an excellent read. It covered the 1964 seasons of the New York Yankees (with Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris and Yoga Berra) and the St Louis Cardinals (Bob Gibson, Tim McCarver, Stan Musial). Interesting personal portraits of many of the players were provided. Phillies fans, take note, the Phillies collapse towards the National League pennant is documented!

Dear Committee Members by Julie Schumacher about a crotchety, sarcastic Creative Writing teacher Jason Fitger was very funny. I would keep my wife awake with my laughter as I read the book in bed. Maybe the Fitger character reminded me of someone else who did not suffer fools gladly in his corporate life? I enjoyed the adventurous tales of Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday in Epitaph by Mary Doria Russell. Interesting stories of the Wild West beyond the fight at the OK Corral.

The Bomber Mafia: A Dream, a Temptation, and the Longest Night of the Second World War by Malcolm Gladwell was an uncomfortable story. It detailed the thinking and strategies about how to close the wars against the Germans and the Japanese. There were two lines of thought. One was to bomb military and manufacturing targets primarily. Second, bomb population centers and destroy the morale of citizens. The decision on whether to drop the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki also created moral dilemmas.

The Biggest Bluff: How I Learned to Pay Attention, Master Myself, and Win by Maria Konnikova is primarily a story about a woman learning to play poker and also compete (and win) in big money tournaments. The bigger picture contains the lessons that she learns about psychology, luck, focus, risk and control that are useful as to how we conduct our lives, careers, finances and relationships.

Two extra recommendations:

Mediocre: The Dangerous Legacy of White Male America by Ijeoma Oluo (Title is self explanatory. I did not agree with some of her analysis but this book was very well presented and written.)

Zero Fail: The Rise and Fall of the Secret Service by Carol Leonnig. Eye opening expose about the management and performance of the Secret Service. Interesting anecdotes about some of our Presidents and their interactions with the Secret Service.

Review: Peril by Bob Woodward and Robert Costa

Authors Bob Woodward and Robert Costa closed this book with the following warning based on a conversation with Donald Trump.

“Real power is – – I don’t even want to use the word – – fear,” Trump told us.

“I bring the rage out. I do bring rage out. I always have. I don’t know if that’s an asset or a liability, but whatever it is, I do.”

Could Trump work his will again? Were there any limits to what he and his supporters might do to put him back in power?

Peril remains.

I have read a number of the retrospectives of the Trump presidency particularly as it relates to his last year and last days in office. There is nothing in this book that presents Trump in a positive light. There are plenty of examples of him being a bully, arrogant, insensitive and just plain stupid. Despite entreaties from many in his cabinet, among advisers and even from his daughter Ivanka, Trump continued to believe that he was cheated in the 2020 presidential election. There is very little doubt that he caused the insurrection on January 6, 2021.

Most of the highlights of this book have been reported through various media. Here is my list of observations and analysis from this book:

Mike Pence was a coward. Yes he finally did the right thing by validating the election. But it appears to the reader that he was looking for a way to accommodate Donald Trump’s wishes to overturn the election results. Pence even sought the advice of that well-known constitutional scholar, Dan Quayle, as to what to do. Quayle thankfully told Pence that he had no role in overturning the election. Even after a Trump mob wanted to hang him, Pence returned to the White House and tried to mend a relationship with a man who mocked him and treated him very poorly during their four year administration.

General Mark Milley was a voice of reason during a very precarious period in our nation’s history. He understood the danger that Donald Trump represented and was very concerned that Trump would create either a war or some type of foreign policy crisis so he could stay in office. In particular Milley assured the Chinese that there would be no military actions against them. There were a few countries that were very concerned that Trump would initiate a military attack against them.

The benefit of this book was to see the campaign of Joe Biden and his first few months as President. The contrast in decency between Biden and Trump is very evident throughout the many anecdotes in this book. Unfortunately the Democratic party does not shine. Too much infighting. Lack of party discipline and unity. Too much influence by West Virginia senator Joe Manchin. One gets the sense that Biden is a placeholder and does not possess the necessary influence to put forward a transformative domestic agenda and get it passed in Congress.

Interestingly enough, there is not a lot of coverage about Vice President Kamala Harris. Biden had spoken with South Carolina congressman Jim Clyburn prior to the South Carolina primary and Biden indicated he was favorable to Kamala being on the national ticket. There is little indication how much influence Harris possesses in decision making or policy.

If you are going to read just one book about the end of the Trump presidency in 2021, this book is the best to read. Just don’t be surprised if Woodward has to write another sequel in 2024 about the re-election of Trump.

Book Review: Landslide: The Final Days of the Trump Presidency by Michael Wolff

There are so many tragedies described within this book. First, Donald Trump’s obsession with perceived fraud in the 2020 presidential election. It absolutely consumed him. Despite entreaties from some responsible Republicans, Trump continued to pursue crackpot theories and schemes that the election was stolen. His “legal team” filed hundreds of suits but no court, including the Supreme Court would listen to their case. Second, the complete fall of Mayor Rudy Giuliani. Once the hero of 9/11, he was described in this book as a drunk and a flatulent, senile old man, spinning wild conspiracy theories and urging Trump to just announce that he won the election. The third major tragedy was that approximately 74 million people voted for Donald Trump. And a significant majority of them also believed that Trump was the legitimate winner of the election.

The book describes the bizarre behaviors of Mike Lindell, Peter Navarro, Mike Flynn and Sidney Powell along with other Trump enablers to encourage Trump to protest the election.

Wolff also recounts the events of January 6, 2021 when at the urging of Donald Trump, his supporters invaded The Capitol. What will future generations think of us that such a horrific event could happen?

There are a number of unflattering portraits and descriptions of people within the Trump White House. Very few heroes exist as no one was able to curb the actions and plans of Donald Trump.

If you are not a supporter of President Trump, nothing in this book will surprise you. What may surprise you is how much worse things really were during his administration. Wolff also includes a chapter on his interview with Trump after the election. Unsurprisingly Trump is not apologetic or remorseful in what he put this nation through, especially in the last year of his Presidency.