All posts filed under: Practical Skills

The Soul of an Entrepreneur: Work and Life Beyond the Startup Myth (David Sax)

The “why” of entrepreneurship varies by entrepreneur. My core “why” is money. I want, and have always wanted, money, for what money can do. Whether that is avarice, or wisdom, or both, we can discuss another day. No surprise, in the 1980s song by The Nails, “88 Lines About 44 Women,” one of the couplets has always resonated with me: “Kathleen’s point of view was this / Take whatever you can grab.” Along similar lines, when asked what the mission statement of my company is, I like to respond, entirely accurately and completely, “To put sweet cash in the pocket of Charles.” I am consistent, at least.

Why We Drive: Toward a Philosophy of the Open Road (Matthew B. Crawford)

Philosopher Matthew Crawford’s third book is ostensibly a book about driving, but as with all Crawford’s works, that is merely the jumping-off point. Crawford expands our minds by exploring a range of related ideas, usually through concretizing abstractions, tying them to work done by real people in the real world. Why We Drive uses this structure, as did his first two books, Shop Class as Soulcraft and The World Beyond Your Head. Such writing is not for everyone; the payoff can take some time to arrive. But it’s worth the modest effort required, and offers insights into critical modern problems, most of all the pernicious vice of safetyism.

SAM: One Robot, a Dozen Engineers, and the Race to Revolutionize the Way We Build (Jonathan Waldman)

The classic American path to technological success has been for driven tinkerers to obsessively work to solve a problem, from Eli Whitney to Thomas Edison to Steve Jobs. Such men strove to enrich themselves while benefiting others. SAM, the tale of one Scott Peters and his ten-year attempt to create a bricklaying robot, narrates such a story. True, his attempt was mostly unsuccessful, but then, most such attempts are. And in modern America, when excellence and achievement have been traded in wholesale for less-than-worthless “diversity and inclusion,” his is an inspiring tale.

The Beekeeper’s Lament: How One Man and Half a Billion Honey Bees Help Feed America (Hannah Nordhaus)

As befits one who seeks to be a man of wealth and taste (if I have to choose between them, the former), I aspire to live on a vast estate, leading the life of a gentleman farmer. That doesn’t seem to be the immediate future, but we do have enough land to keep some chickens and grow some apples. This year, we are planning to add some honeybees, so I figured I should educate myself before taking the first concrete steps. The Beekeeper’s Lament, a 2010 book by Hannah Nordhaus, which combines talk of bees and beekeeping with modest philosophy about both, seemed like a good place to start. I was not disappointed—I learned a lot, and I also found food for thought about modern agricultural and eating practices.

The World Beyond Your Head: On Becoming an Individual in an Age of Distraction (Matthew B. Crawford)

Attacks on digital technology for destroying our capacity for attention are a dime a dozen. Despite its title, Matthew Crawford’s The World Beyond Your Head is not such an attack. It is far more ambitious. Somewhat to my surprise, it is a direct assault on the Enlightenment for ruining the habits of mind and practice that lead to human flourishing. Crawford says modern man is subject to delusions, birthed by the Enlightenment, that diffuse our perception of the world in a fog of unreality. He therefore sets himself up in as the paladin of reality, a champion badly needed by our times, offering a return to the solidity of the real, through excellence as developed in skilled practices.

Cræft: An Inquiry Into the Origins and True Meaning of Traditional Crafts (Alexander Langlands)

Man’s search for meaning is, in these days of alienation and anomie, always a topic that can generate interest. Meaning at its most concrete is tied to the things of Earth, to the nature of man and the world of nature. Thus, if man becomes wholly dissociated from Earth, bad things result. This, in a nutshell, is the message of not a few modern prophets, and among them is Alexander Langlands, offering a specifically British variation on the theme.

Win Bigly: Persuasion in a World Where Facts Don’t Matter (Scott Adams)

Would you like to read a book about Scott Adams?  Then this is your book, especially if you want to hear Scott Adams talk about how awesome he is.  Would you like to read a book about persuasion techniques?  This book may shed a little light, maybe two pages’ worth.  Would you like to read a book about how Donald Trump got elected, which is what this book is supposed to be?  You are mostly out of luck—unless you want to be told that Donald Trump got elected primarily because of Scott Adams, in which case you are again at the right place.

Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry into the Value of Work (Matthew B. Crawford)

This is not a book about how you can make more money as a plumber than by going to law school.  It is, rather, a book of philosophy, revolving around thoughts on alienation, self-reliance, and what we owe to others.  I found it to be both a bit rambling and unexpectedly deep—it manages to connect the thoughts of Marx with those of Aristotle, and it combines practical thoughts on how one should earn one’s bread with advice for living a whole life.  The net effect is worthwhile, though not earthshattering.

12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos (Jordan B. Peterson)

A friend of mine has been pushing me to look into Jordan Peterson for the past six months.  I thought, since my friend is conservative, that Peterson offered right-wing politics, and it is true that he has recently been in the news for his thoughts on certain charged topics.  However, Peterson does not, in fact, offer politics, which is refreshing in these days of rage.  Rather, 12 Rules For Life is a self-help book constructed like a Russian matryoshka doll, a nested construct.  It talks, and works, on multiple levels, some of which may have political implications, but if so, they are incidental to what the book offers to each human person, both the broken and the whole.

Cake: A Slice of History (Alysa Levene)

I’ve always liked food history—maybe because as a small child I spent quite a lot of time reading The Cooking of Vienna’s Empire, a Time-Life cookbook my mother had, and from it learned quite a bit of history.  Many, if not most, modern cookbooks contain large sections of history, and many food history books contain a lot of recipes, such as Anne Mendelson’s Milk.  So there is significant overlap between the two genres.  This book, Cake, by Alysa Levene, falls more into the history category and less into the cookbook category.  It offers a largely successful blend of well-written data dump and mild social commentary—satisfying, like a cake!