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America’s False History ICH By Paul Craig Roberts, September 14, 2018|
David Ray Griffin writes books faster than I can read them. Therefore, I am going to borrow Edward Curtin’s review of Griffin’s history of the United States: The American Trajectory: Divine or Demonic? which Curtin suggests should have been titled: A Diabolic False Flag Empire.
Griffin’s book is a humdinger and will certainly upset brainwashed American super-patriots, but it throughly documents how Washington’s aggression toward other lands is covered up by politicians, media, and court historians with moral verbiage. In my view the hubris, arrogance, and ignorance of “American exceptionism” has the world locked on a trajectory to its extinction in nuclear Armageddon.
Curtin points out that Griffin makes an extraordinary mistake, unusual for a scholar as careful as Griffin, in his assessment of President John F. Kennedy. President Kennedy was the president who tried to move America’s trajectory off of its demonic path and was murdered by his own government for his attempt. But as I have said, none of us knows everything. We often have to rely on others, and others, also, make mistakes.
Washington’s aggression and war crimes against the Confederacy. The Union’s aggression included warring against civilians and the intentional destruction of their livelihoods. It was the same for its time as the US and British firebombing of German cities and Washington’s destruction of Nagasaki and Hiroshima with atomic bombs.
Washington has never let morality stand in the way of its empire.
Washington has never permitted treaties and domestic laws to stand in its way either. For example:
–The Cheney/Bush regime violated the Non-Detention Act passed by Congress in 1971 and signed by President Nixon.
–The Cheney/Bush regime violated The Convention Against Torture, ratified by the Senate in 1994 and bolstered by a US law that prohibits US officials anywhere in the world from torturing anyone.
–The Cheney/Bush regime unilaterally withdrew from the Anti-ABM Treaty.
–The Trump regime unilaterally withdrew from the Iran Nuclear Agreement.
–The Obama regime dismissed the due process protection in the US Constitution and arbitrarily assassinated US citizens without indictment, trial, and conviction.
The above examples merely scratch the surface. Just think of all of the treaties with the various American Indian tribes that Washington dishonored.
As Washington’s word means nothing, it is a puzzle that Iran and Russia make worthless agreements with Washington. The answer must be that hope prevails over experience.
A Diabolic False Flag Empire
By Edward Curtin
September 08, 2018 "Lew Rockwell" - The past is not dead; it is people who are sleeping. The current night and daymares that we are having arise out of murders lodged deep in our past that have continued into the present. No amount of feigned amnesia will erase the bloody truth of American history, the cheap grace we bestow upon ourselves.
We have, as Harold Pinter said in his Nobel address, been feeding on “a vast tapestry of lies” that surrounds us, lies uttered by nihilistic leaders and their media mouthpieces for a very long time. We have, or should have, bad consciences for not acknowledging being active or silent accomplices in the suppression of truth and the vicious murdering of millions at home and abroad.
But, as Pinter said, “I believe that despite the enormous odds which exist, unflinching, unswerving, fierce intellectual determination, as citizens, to define the real truth of our lives and our societies is a crucial obligation which devolves upon us all. It is in fact mandatory.”
No one is more emblematic of this noble effort than David Ray Griffin, who, in book after book since the attacks of 11 September 2001, has meticulously exposed the underside of the American empire and its evil masters. His persistence in trying to reach people and to warn them of the horrors that have resulted is extraordinary. Excluding his philosophical and theological works, this is his fifteenth book since 2004 on these grave issues of life and death and the future of the world.
In this masterful book, he provides a powerful historical argument that right from the start with the arrival of the first European settlers, this country, despite all the rhetoric about it having been divinely founded and guided, has been “more malign that benign, more demonic than divine.” He chronologically presents this history, supported by meticulous documentation, to prove his thesis. In his previous book, Bush and Cheney: How They Ruined America and the World, Griffin cataloged the evil actions that flowed from the inside job/false flag attacks of September 11th, while in this one – a prequel – he offers a lesson in American history going back centuries, and he shows that one would be correct in calling the United States a “false flag empire.
The attacks of 11 September 2001 are the false flag fulcrum upon which his two books pivot. Their importance cannot be overestimated, not just for their inherent cruelty that resulted in thousands of innocent American deaths, but since they became the justification for the United States’ ongoing murderous campaigns termed “the war on terror” that have brought death to millions of people around the world. An international array of expendable people. Terrifying as they were, and were meant to be, they have many precedents, although much of this history is hidden in the shadows.
Griffin shines a bright light on them, with most of his analysis focused on the years 1850-2018.
As a theological and philosophical scholar, he is well aware of the great importance of society’s need for religious legitimation for its secular authority, a way to offer its people a shield against terror and life’s myriad fears through a protective myth that has been used successfully by the United States to terrorize others. He shows how the terms by which the U.S. has been legitimated as God’s “chosen nation” and Americans as God’s “chosen people” have changed over the years as secularization and pluralism have made inroads. The names have changed, but the meaning has not. God is on our side, and when that is so, the other side is cursed and can be killed by God’s people, who are always battling el diabalo.
He exemplifies this by opening with a quote from George Washington’s first Inaugural Address where Washington speaks of “the Invisible Hand” and “Providential agency” guiding the country, and by ending with Obama saying “I believe in American exceptionalism with every fiber of my being.” In between we hear Andrew Jackson say that “Providence has showered on this favored land blessings without number” and Henry Cabot Lodge in 1900 characterize America’s divine mission as “manifest destiny.” The American religion today is American Exceptionalism, an updated euphemism for the old-fashioned “God’s New Israel” or the “Redeemer Nation.”
At the core of this verbiage lies the delusion that the United States, as a blessed and good country, has a divine mission to spread “democracy” and “freedom” throughout the world, as Hilary Clinton declared during the 2016 presidential campaign when she said that “we are great because we are good,” and in 2004 when George W. Bush said, “Like generations before us, we have a calling from beyond the stars to stand for freedom.” Such sentiments could only be received with sardonic laughter by the countless victims made “free” by America’s violent leaders, now and then, as Griffin documents.
Having established the fact of America’s claim to divine status, he then walks the reader through various thinkers who have taken sides on the issue of the United States being benign or malign. This is all preliminary to the heart of the book, which is a history lesson documenting the malignancy at the core of the American trajectory.
“American imperialism is often said to have begun in 1898, when Cuba and the Philippines were the main prizes,” he begins. “What was new at this time, however, was only that America took control of countries beyond the North American continent.” The “divine right” to seize others’ lands and kill them started long before, and although no seas were crossed in the usual understanding of imperialism, the genocide of Native Americans long preceded 1898. So too did the “manifest destiny” that impelled war with Mexico and the seizure of its land and the expansion west to the Pacific. This period of empire building depended heavily on the “other great crime against humanity” that was the slave trade, wherein it is estimated that 10 million Africans died, in addition to the sick brutality of slavery itself. “No matter how brutal the methods, Americans were instruments of divine purposes,” writes Griffin. And, he correctly adds, it is not even true that America’s overseas imperialistic ventures only started in 1898, for in the 1850s Commodore Perry forced “the haughty Japanese” to open their ports to American commerce through gunboat diplomacy.
Then in 1898 the pace of overseas imperial expansion picked up dramatically with what has been called “The Spanish-American War” that resulted in the seizure of Cuba and the Philippines and the annexing of Hawaii. Griffin says these wars could more accurately be termed “the wars to take Spanish colonies.” His analysis of the brutality and arrogance of these actions makes the reader realize that My Lai and other more recent atrocities have a long pedigree that is part of an institutional structure, and while Filipinos and Cubans and so many others were being slaughtered, Griffin writes, “Anticipating Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld’s declaration that ‘we don’t do empire,’ [President] McKinley said that imperialism is ‘foreign to the temper and genius of this free and generous people.’”
Then as now, perhaps mad laughter is the only response to such unadulterated bullshit, as Griffin quotes Mark Twain saying that it would be easy creating a flag for the Philippines:
We can have just our usual flag, with the white stripes painted black and the stars replaced by the skull and cross-bones.
That would have also worked for Columbia, Panama, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Nicaragua, and other countries subjugated under the ideology of the Monroe Doctrine; wherever freedom and national independence raised its ugly head, the United States was quick to intervene with its powerful anti-revolutionary military and its financial bullying. In the Far East the “Open Door” policy was used to loot China, Japan, and other countries.
But all this was just the beginning. Griffin shows how Woodrow Wilson, the quintessentially devious and treacherous liberal Democrat, who claimed he wanted to keep America out of WW I, did just the opposite to make sure the U.S. would come to dominate the foreign markets his capitalist masters demanded. Thus Griffin explores how Wilson conspired with Winston Churchill to use the sinking of the Lusitania as a casus belli and how the Treaty of Versailles’s harsh treatment of Germany set the stage for WW II.
He tells us how in the intervening years between the world wars the demonization of Russia and the new Soviet Union was started. This deprecation of Russia, which is roaring at full-throttle today, is a theme that recurs throughout The American Trajectory. Its importance cannot be overemphasized. Wilson called the Bolshevik government “a government by terror,” and in 1918 “sent thousands of troops into northern and eastern Russia, leaving them there until 1920.”
That the U. S. invaded Russia is a fact rarely mentioned and even barely known to Americans. Perhaps awareness of it and the century-long demonizing of the U.S.S.R./Russia would enlighten those who buy the current anti-Russia propaganda called “Russiagate.”
To match that “divine” act of imperial intervention abroad, Wilson fomented the Red Scare at home, which, as Griffin says, had lasting and incalculable importance because it created the American fear of radical thought and revolution that exists to this very day and serves as a justification for supporting brutal dictators around the world and crackdowns on freedom at home (as is happening today).
He gives us brief summaries of some dictators the U.S has supported, and reminds us of the saying of that other liberal Democrat, Franklin Roosevelt, who famously said of the brutal Nicaraguan dictator Anastasio Somoza, that “he may be a son-of-a-bitch, but he’s our son-of-a-bitch.” And thus Somoza would terrorize his own people for 43 years. The same took place in Cuba, Chile, Iran, Guatemala, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, etc. The U.S. also supported Mussolini, did nothing to prevent Franco’s fascist toppling of the Spanish Republic, and supported the right-wing government of Chiang-Kai Shek in its efforts to dominate China.
It is a very dark and ugly history that confirms the demonic nature of American actions around the world.
Then Griffin explodes the many myths about the so-called “Good War” – WW II. He explains the lies told about the Japanese “surprise” attack on Pearl Harbor; how Roosevelt wished to get the U.S. into the war, both in the Pacific and in Europe; and how much American economic self-interest lay behind it. He critiques the myth that America selflessly wished to defend freedom loving people in their battles with brutal, fascist regimes. That, he tells us, is but a small part of the story:
This, however, is not an accurate picture of American policies during the Second World War. Many people were, to be sure, liberated from terrible tyrannies by the Allied victories. But the fact that these people benefited was an incidental outcome, not a motive of American policies. These policies, as [Andrew] Bacevich discovered, were based on ‘unflagging self-interest.’
Then there are the conventional and atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Nothing could be more demonic, as Griffin shows. If these cold-blooded mass massacres of civilians and the lies told to justify them don’t convince a reader that there has long been something radically evil at the heart of American history, nothing will. Griffin shows how Truman and his advisers and top generals, including Dwight Eisenhower and Admiral William D. Leahy, Truman’s Chief of Staff, knew the dropping of the atomic bombs were unnecessary to end the war, but they did so anyway.
He reminds us of Clinton’s Secretary of State Madeline Albright’s response to the question whether she thought the deaths of more than 500, 000 Iraqi children as a result of Clinton’s crippling economic sanctions were worth it: “But, yes, we think the price is worth it.” (Notice the “is,” the ongoing nature of these war crimes, as she spoke.) But this is the woman who also said, “We are the indispensable nation. We stand tall…”
Griffin devotes other chapters to the creation of the Cold War, American imperialism during the Cold War, Post-Cold War interventions, the Vietnam War, the drive for global dominance, and false flag operations, among other topics.
As for false flag operations, he says, “Indeed, the trajectory of the American Empire has relied so heavily on these types of attacks that one could describe it as a false flag empire.” In the false flag chapter and throughout the book, he discusses many of the false flags the U.S. has engaged in, including Operation Gladio, the U.S./NATO terrorist operation throughout Europe that Swiss historian Daniele Ganser has extensively documented, an operation meant to discredit communists and socialists. Such operations were directly connected to the OSS, the CIA and its director Allen Dulles, his henchman James Jesus Angleton, and their Nazi accomplices, such as General Reinhard Gehlen. In one such attack in 1980 at the Bologna, Italy railway station, these U.S. terrorists killed 85 people and wounded 20 others. As with the bombs dropped by Saudi Arabia today on Yemeni school children, the explosive used was made for the U.S. military. About these documented U.S. atrocities, Griffin says:
“These revelations show the falsity of an assumption widely held by Americans. While recognizing that the US military sometimes does terrible things to their enemies, most Americans have assumed that US military leaders would not order the killing of innocent civilians in allied countries for political purposes. Operation Gladio showed this assumption to be false.”
He is right, but I would add that the leaders behind this were civilian, as much as, or more than military.
In the case of “Operation Northwoods,” it was the Joint Chiefs of Staff who presented to President Kennedy this false flag proposal that would provide justification for a U.S. invasion of Cuba. It would have involved the killing of American citizens on American soil, bombings, plane hijacking, etc. President Kennedy considered such people and such plans insane, and he rejected it as such. His doing so tells us much, for many other presidents would have approved it. And again, how many Americans are aware of this depraved proposal that is documented and easily available? How many even want to contemplate it? For the need to remain in denial of the facts of history and believe in the essential goodness of America’s rulers is a very hard nut to crack. Griffin has written a dozen books about 11 September 2001, trying to do exactly that.
If one is willing to embrace historical facts, however, then this outstanding book will open one’s eyes to the long-standing demonic nature of the actions of America’s rulers. A reader cannot come away from its lucidly presented history unaffected, unless one lives in a self-imposed fantasy world. The record is clear, and Griffin lays it out in all its graphic horror. Which is not to say that the U.S. has not “done both good and bad things, so it could not sensibly be called purely divine or purely demonic.” Questions of purity are meant to obfuscate basic truths. And the question he asks in his subtitle – Divine or Demonic? – is really a rhetorical question, and when it comes to the “trajectory” of American history, the demonic wins hands down.
I would be remiss if I didn’t point out one place where Griffin fails the reader. In his long chapter on Vietnam, which is replete with excellent facts and analyses, he makes a crucial mistake, which is unusual for him. This mistake appears in a four page section on President Kennedy’s policies on Vietnam. In those pages, Griffin relies on Noam Chomsky’s terrible book – Rethinking Camelot: JFK, the Vietnam War, and US Political Culture (1993), a book wherein Chomsky shows no regard for evidence or facts – to paint Kennedy as being in accord with his advisers, the CIA, and the military regarding Vietnam.
This is factually false. Griffin should have been more careful and have understood this. The truth is that Kennedy was besieged and surrounded by these demonic people, who were intent on isolating him, disregarding his instructions, and murdering him to achieve their goals in Vietnam. In the last year of his life, JFK had taken a radical turn toward peace-making, not only in Vietnam, but with the Soviet Union, Cuba, and around the globe. Such a turn was anathema to the war lovers. Thus he had to die.
Contrary to Chomsky’s deceptions, motivated by his hatred of Kennedy and perhaps something more sinister (he also backs the Warren Commission, thinks JFK’s assassination was no big deal, and accepts the patently false official version of the attacks of 11 September 2001),
Griffin should have emphatically asserted that Kennedy had issued NSAM 263 on October 11, 1963 calling for the withdrawal of American troops from Vietnam, and that after he was assassinated a month later, Lyndon Johnson reversed that withdrawal order with NSAM 273.
Chomsky notwithstanding, all the best scholarship and documentary evidence proves this. And for Griffin, a wonderful scholar, to write that with the change from Kennedy to Johnson that “this change of presidents would bring no basic change in policy” is so shockingly wrong that I imagine Griffin, a man passionate about truth, simply slipped up and got sloppy here. For nothing could be further from the truth.
Ironically, Griffin makes a masterful case for his thesis, while forgetting the one pivotal man, President John Kennedy, who sacrificed his life in an effort to change the trajectory of American history from its demonic course. It is one mistake in an otherwise very important and excellent book that should be required reading for anyone who doubts the evil nature of this country’s continuing foreign policy. Those who are already convinced should also read it, for it provides a needed historical resource and impetus to help change the trajectory that is transporting the world toward nuclear oblivion, if continued.
If – a fantastic wish! – The American Trajectory: Divine or Demonic? were required reading in American schools and colleges, perhaps a new generation would arise to change our devils into angels, the arc of America’s future moral universe toward justice, and away from being the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today, as it has been for so very long.
Many Americans have been embarrassed by the Trump presidency. But Americans should also be embarrassed by the fact that this country's foreign policy since 2001, which has resulted in millions of deaths, has been based on a complex deception.
The events of September 11, 2001, set off a chain of global crises and civil perils that have normalized a climate of fear and conflict. Starting with assaults on the U.S. Constitution, Griffin reviews various ways in which the world has been made worse over the past fifteen years by the Bush-Cheney reaction to the attacks and by power plays for global influence enabled by 9/11. These include the disastrous effects of regime-change operations in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya; the war on terror, the rise of ISIS, the Syrian conflict and European refugee crisis; the explosion of Islamophobia and the American acceptance of extrajudicial murder-by-drone; and the growing existential threats of ecological and nuclear holocaust. Looking back, it is clear that the story of 9/11 has been used to legitimize and manufacture support for disastrous policies.
Gulp, Mary Roach. AK interested.
Quench, Dana Cohen
Reading is undeniably a key wellness practice—and one that many of us have ignored for far too long. It’s proven to build empathy, reduce stress, and even lessen sugar cravings (yes, really!). With that in mind, we’re excited to share Well Read, a column that curates the absolute best fiction and narrative nonfiction picks of the month. Here’s what you should read this August.
21 Lessons for the 21st Century by Yuval Noah Harari
If you were one of the millions of people who quoted Noah Harari's first two books, Sapiens and Homo Deus, to sound super smart at dinner parties, you'll love his 21 Lessons for the 21st Century. While his former works relied on his history background to explore the past and the future, this one deals with the pressing issues of the modern day, offering in-depth, intellectual dives and pragmatic solutions to topics like big data, nationalism, terrorism, meditation, and more. It's as readable as his first two books, but far more actionable, and will leave you with conversation-starters for long into the future.
Transcription: A Novel by Kate Atkinson
Famed novelist Kate Atkinson (Life After Life) is back with this World War II novel, which has the writing and character development of literary fiction and the daring page-turner quality of a spy thriller. It centers around Juliet, who, at age 18, is recruited to work undercover for the British government. Jumping between those years and her life as a television producer a few years later, the book expertly unwinds the mysteries of the events that have shaped Juliet's life. The book wonderfully illustrates the oft-forgotten role of women in World War II, while telling an engaging story of a single woman's transformation.
Good Things Happen in Book Stores Which is why we should spend more time in them
by Ryan Holiday Aug 7, 2018
It was in Athens in the 4th Century BC that a man named Zeno walked into a bookshop. He had been a successful merchant, but suffered a terrible shipwreck on a journey out of Phoenicia, losing a priceless cargo of the world’s finest dye. He was 30 years old and facing financial ruin, but this catastrophe stirred his soul to find something new, though he didn’t quite know what. One day, immersed in browsing a bookstore collection, many volumes of which have been lost to history forever, Zeno heard the bookseller reading out loud a passage from a book by Xenophon about Socrates. It was like nothing he had ever heard before. With some trepidation, he approached the owner and asked, “Where can I find a man like that?” and in so doing, began a philosophical journey that would literally change the history of the world.
That book recommendation led to the founding of Stoicism and then, to the brilliant works of Seneca, Epictetus, and Marcus Aurelius?—?which, not lost to history, are beginning to find a new life on bookshelves today. From those heirs to Zeno’s bookshop conversion, there is a straight line to many of the world’s greatest thinkers, and even to the Founding Fathers of America. All from a chance encounter in a bookshop. It would be an understatement to say that great things begin in bookstores, and that countless lives have been changed inside them.
Stephen Greenblatt’s wonderful book The Swerve was inspired by a chance discovery of Lucretius at the Yale Co-Op almost fifty years ago. George Raveling, the Hall of Fame basketball coach, stops at the local indie in every town he visits and leaves with a bag or two for that reason. He discovers authors and subjects he wouldn’t have otherwise been exposed to at home or online. In 2012, a woman tweeted her adoration for whoever was behind the Twitter account for the Waterstones Bookstore in London; the two were married four years later. In my own life, I remember quite fondly where I came across certain books and the effect they had on my life. There were the Louis L’amour books I got at Bookworm in Sacramento when I was in elementary school. I remember reading Flint under my desk instead of paying attention to my fourth grade teacher. Mrs. Whittaker was so happy when she caught me, she sent a note home to my parents.
There were the countless hours spent in the philosophy section of the Borders in Riverside, California while I was in college. Today it’s a Forever 21, but it was where I bought my first copy of Epictetus, and it’s where the woman who would become my wife bought her copy of Marcus Aurelius shortly after our first date.
There was Robert Greene’s 33 Strategies of War, purchased at the front table of the Barnes and Noble in Union Square, who I became lucky enough to work for. There were the used copies of Aeschylus and Euripides and Sophocles from The Last Bookstore in Downtown LA, which taught me that I could understand plays. There was discovering Walker Percy’s novels at Faulkner House Books in New Orleans?—?which happens to be in the very apartment complex where William Faulkner once rented rooms and worked on his first novel?—?and returning the favor as the epigraph to my book, Conspiracy.
There were the Hemingway novels I got at the airport bookstore in Oslo, and Ambrose Bierce’s Civil War Stories from The Strand. There was the copy of Mama Lion Wins The Race, which the saleswoman at Book Passage in San Francisco recommended for my son, and which we have now read together at least 150 times. There was the time I was in a Barnes and Noble in Portland and a man buying some manga books seemed to be a couple dollars short. I fished some money out of my pocket and paid the difference. He started to cry. “I’ve just recovered from cancer,” he told me. “I was buying these books tonight to restart my normal life. I’m supposed to begin looking for a job tomorrow.” It was an experience far more gratifying to me than the first time I saw my own name up on a bookstore marquee for a signing.
These are not special experiences, although they were special to me. They are, in fact, incredibly ordinary experiences in the sense that they happen constantly, day-in-and-day-out, wherever bookstores exist. One only need see the nostalgic memes inspired by the Scholastic Book Fairs to be reminded of that. In these divided, distracted times, we need the unmitigated joys that bookstores offer more than ever, to say nothing of the knowledge contained within them.
These are not special experiences, although they were special to me. They are, in fact, incredibly ordinary experiences in the sense that they happen constantly, day-in-and-day-out, wherever bookstores exist. One only need see the nostalgic memes inspired by the Scholastic Book Fairs to be reminded of that. In these divided, distracted times, we need the unmitigated joys that bookstores offer more than ever, to say nothing of the knowledge contained within them.
We are a bookshop. Bookshops are all about ideas and tolerating different opinions and not about verbally assaulting somebody, which is what was happening.
Damn right. It’s exciting to see authors like James Patterson take active steps to support local indies. Ann Patchett even owns her own bookstore?—?Parnassus Books, in Nashville. A few years ago I followed the lead of an author I knew and started offering signed copies of my books through my local indie, Book People. I could probably make extra money buying the copies from the publisher and selling them directly, but I’d much rather create another reason for people to support a retailer.
Amazon has done wonderful things for the publishing industry?—?there are millions of titles in print and the average independent can only carry a small fraction of that?—?but the local bookstore provides an irreplaceable service (so do libraries, but there is something special about owning and writing in books). Bookstores curate and support and get behind authors that would be otherwise lost in the noise?—?particularly local or regional authors. There has been some worry about “showrooming,” where customers discover books at retail shops but buy online. In reality, the relationship cuts both ways. I have an “Amazon Wishlist” of books on my phone that I often pull up in bookstores when I am looking for something to buy right then and there.
Bookstores also host events. Bookstores get kids hooked on reading with weekly story time. Ethnic bookstores provide community for refugees and immigrants; feminist bookstores are a launching pad for political activism; for over a century, Christian Science Reading Rooms have provided a quiet place for prayer and study. Porter’s Square Books in Boston recently launched its own “writer in residence” program. Recovery Cafe and Bookstore in Florida hosts meetings for recovering addicts. Great things begin in bookstores, and have for centuries. They serve, along with libraries, the function promised in an ancient inscription above the books belonging to King Ozymandias: Ψυχησ ιατρειον, or, “A House of Healing for the Soul.” So here’s to bookstores: A haven and a lighthouse guiding us beyond the catastrophes and discord of our daily lives.
The plucky “titian-haired” sleuth solved her first mystery in 1930—and eighty million books later, Nancy Drew has survived the Depression, World War II, and the sixties (when she was taken up with a vengeance by women’s libbers) to enter the pantheon of American culture. As beloved by girls today as she was by their grandmothers, Nancy Drew has both inspired and reflected the changes in her readers’ lives. Here, in a narrative with all the page-turning pace of Nancy’s adventures, Melanie Rehak solves an enduring literary mystery: Who created Nancy Drew? And how did she go from pulp heroine to icon?
A Beautiful Truth: A Novel, by Colin McAdam This novel told from the perspectives of both humans and chimpanzees “packs a huge emotional punch” (The Gazette, Montreal).
"At the Girdish Institute, a group of chimpanzees has been studied for decades. There is proof that chimps have memories and solve problems, that they can learn language and need friends. They are political and altruistic. They get angry, and forgive."
Finnegan's Week, by Joseph Wambaugh A toxic spill causes a lethal chain reaction for a San Diego cop in this “very funny” New York Times bestseller by the author of The Choirboys (Kirkus Reviews).
Fin Finnegan, a San Diego police detective and wannabe actor heading straight for a midlife meltdown, is assigned a routine truck theft that turns into a toxic chemical spill, setting off a bizarre chain reaction of death and murder on both sides of the Mexican border. Fin is forced to team up with Nell Salter, a sexy female investigator, as well as an equally fetching US Navy investigator who wants to learn all that Fin can teach her—and that’s saying a lot. The New York Times Book Review called it “a frolic, a joy, a hoot, a riot of a book.” And Entertainment Weekly said, “superbly crafted and paced, deliciously funny, but fundamentally, as always, deadly serious.”
PurchasesThe Dark Water: The Strange Beginnings of Sherlock Holmes, by David Pirie Kindle Price: $2.99
The detective team of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Dr. Joseph Bell star in this “ingenious” historical mystery (The New York Times Book Review).
As many fans of Sherlock Holmes know, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle found inspiration for the great fictional detective in a brilliant Scottish surgeon named Joseph Bell. In an era when science was not often considered in the course of criminal investigations, Bell’s emphasis on observation and deduction made him a pioneer in forensics.
In The Dark Water, Holmes’s creator joins forces with Dr. Bell to take on Victorian vagabonds, criminal masterminds, and all manner of mysteries. The pair relentlessly pursues the vicious killer Thomas Neill Cream—and visits a sleepy seaside town where a seventeenth-century legend known as the Dunwich witch has taken on new life.
With “a gripping plot and psychologically sophisticated characters” (Publishers Weekly, starred review), The Dark Water is a thrilling, atmospheric adventure for historical mystery lovers, offering “an intellectual treat and a downright guilty pleasure” (The Washington Post).
Sentimental Education, by Gustave Flaubert Gustave Flaubert (12 December 1821 – 8 May 1880) was an influential French writer widely considered one of the greatest novelists in Western literature. He is known especially for his first published novel, Madame Bovary (1857), for his Correspondence, and for his scrupulous devotion to his style and aesthetics. He was a tireless worker and often complained in his letters to friends about the strenuous nature of his work. He was close to his niece, Caroline Commanville, and had a close friendship and correspondence with George Sand. He occasionally visited Parisian acquaintances, including Émile Zola, Alphonse Daudet, Ivan Turgenev, and Edmond and Jules de Goncourt. The 1870s were a difficult time for him. Prussian soldiers occupied his house during the War of 1870, and his mother died in 1872. After her death, he fell into financial difficulty due to business failures on the part of his niece's husband. He suffered from venereal diseases most of his life. His health declined and he died at Croisset of a cerebral hemorrhage in 1880 at the age of 58. He was buried in the family vault in the cemetery of Rouen. A monument to him by Henri Chapu was unveiled at the museum of Rouen.
A book I am reading about Paris mentions this book being the most influential novel of the 19th century.
Oakshot Complete Works of Robert Louis Stevenson. (Illustrated/Inline Footnotes) (Classics Book 22) Kindle Edition Robert Louis Stevenson is the famous Scottish author who wrote TREASURE ISLAND and KIDNAPPED and numerous other classic adventure novels, the spooky DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE, short stories, poetry (including A CHILD'S GARDEN OF VERSES which must be a part of every young child's reading or listening experience), plays, travel-accounts, and other nonfiction. Along with his letters, Stevenson's works are all here, nicely formatted, and accompanied by biographical material. Stevenson's story-telling technique reflects a more leisurely, older style than many modern readers are used to, but even so, he is still, surprisingly, quite readable and, therefore, very enjoyable. Various active TOCs permit direct access to all content and the formatting is handsomely done. This is a great bundle.
Any fan of RLS will want a complete set like this, and if you are not yet a fan, reading this may just make you one. I would, however, recommend comparing this Oakshot edition to the complete Stevenson set from Delphi to see which you might prefer -- though in truth, you can't go wrong with either one. (Or you can do what I did; I got BOTH.)
The Odd Women Kindle Edition, by George Gissing Like the odd women of the title, this is an odd book in many ways. It opens oddly by focusing on characters who turn out to be secondary and it takes a while to really anchor itself and get going. The book also contains big chunks of dialogue towards the middle as characters debate ideas which is unusual.
Although unconventional, the book is very thought-provoking and even revolutionary for its time. The "odd women" are unmarried women who were in abundance in England in the late nineteenth century when females significantly outnumbered men. Denied access to meaningful work, these women were objects of pity who could only look forward only to empty lives.
Two of these women, Mary Barfoot and Rhoda Nunn, refuse to accept this sad state of affairs and several years before the book opens took matters into their own hands by opening a school to train "odd women" in office work. At the time this was a bold move because women weren't considered capable of anything beyond domestic duties. These women also have very progressive views about the role of women's in society and much loftier ambitions than just training women to type, including starting a newspaper for women.
But wow! I'm agog! I thought, with all the arrogance of Alexander, that there were no more great 'Victorian' English novels to conquer. I was premature; "The Odd Women" is deep, well-constructed and entertaining, a veritable Platonic Form of the 19th C novel of manners. It's a didactic, reformist novel -- what else? -- but its moral tenor is well incorporated into its character development and its reformism is neither pious nor dogmatic. The subject IS marriage and the liberation of women from patriarchal inanition; George Gissing certainly presented himself as a advocate for "the new woman" of self-reliance and unconventionality. Nonetheless, he was an Englishman of his times, highly sensitive to social class, burdened with assumptions and prejudices of class; he positioned himself at the forefront of progressive opinion, no doubt, but still within the spectrum thereof.
Gissing bears comparison in many ways to the American novelist Henry James. Gissing was 14 years younger than James, though one would not easily guess it from their novels, yet died a decade earlier. James was by far the more adventurous stylist, but Gissing's characters are more flesh-and-blood, more likely to compel a reader's empathy. Gissing is also a plainer story teller, less susceptible to parentheses and adverbial subtleties. The comparison to the late novels of George Eliot, especially "Middlemarch", probably gives a better idea of Gissing's literary manner, but his psychological insights match those of James and Thomas Hardy. Anyway, that's the 'company' he will keep from now on, on my mental bookshelf.
"The Odd Women" is an ambiguous title - deliberately, I think - referring to the demographic imbalance between the sexes in late 19th c England, with half a million more women than men of marriageable age, but slyly also to the blunt truth that the 'liberated' women of the novel would surely have been regarded as "odd" by many. Gissing portrays women very plausibly, and unlike many 19th C novelists, he gives us women of quite distinct individuality. In this book, and in the one other Gissing book I've read, the women are more vital, more appealing, more substantial than the men, but those men are no mere cartoons. They're also flesh-and-bloody, though they tend to be bloody fools. My one previous Gissing novel was "The Nether World", an earlier production, quite interesting but not nearly as well-crafted as "The Odd Women." My thanks to amazoo cagemate Robin Friedman for badgering me to read this unfairly neglected author. Now let's see what other titles by Gissing are in print ...
Twilight at Monticello: The Final Years of Thomas Jefferson, by Alan Pell Crawford Twilight at Monticello is something entirely new: an unprecedented and engrossing personal look at the intimate Jefferson in his final years that will change the way readers think about this true American icon. It was during these years–from his return to Monticello in 1809 after two terms as president until his death in 1826–that Jefferson’s idealism would be most severely, and heartbreakingly, tested.
Based on new research and documents culled from the Library of Congress, the Virginia Historical Society, and other special collections, including hitherto unexamined letters from family, friends, and Monticello neighbors, Alan Pell Crawford paints an authoritative and deeply moving portrait of Thomas Jefferson as private citizen–the first original depiction of the man in more than a generation.
The Enlightenment and the Book
The Phantom of the Temple
What's Become of Waring
Order Number: 8069083
“Kilmer-Purcell’s genius lies in his ability to blindside the reader with heart-wrenching truths in the midst of the most outlandish scenarios. He makes you laugh until you care.” — Armistead Maupin
Michael Perry (Coop, Truck: A Love Story) meets David Sedaris (Me Talk Pretty One Day, Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim) in this follow-up to Josh Kilmer-Purcell’s beloved New York Times bestselling debut memoir, I Am Not Myself These Days—another riotous, moving, and entirely unique story of his attempt to tackle the next phase of life with his partner… on a goat farm in upstate New York.
Davita's Harp, by Chaim Potok For Davita Chandal, growing up in the New York of the 1930s and '40s is an experience of joy and sadness. Her loving parents, both fervent radicals, fill her with the fiercely bright hope of a new and better world. But as the deprivations of war and depression take a ruthless toll, Davita unexpectedly turns to the Jewish faith that her mother had long ago aban'ed, finding there both a solace for her questioning inner pain and a test of her budding spirit of independence.
From the author of The Chosen: In a time marked by war and depression, Davita finds solace and independence in the Jewish faith. With over 1,500 five-star ratings on Goodreads!We the People: Consenting to a Deeper Democracy by John A. Buck. Kindle Price: $20.00 Paperback price $29.95
The United States Declaration of Independence asserts that all human beings are created equally and endowed with the unquestionable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. In practice, however, these rights exist only for the majority, the rich, or property owners. We the People explains how sociocracy ensures these rights to everyone. It is built on the same values as democracy, but designs more inclusive and efficient organizations. It makes profit-making businesses more profitable, and non-profit organizations more effective. And everyone happier.
Hedges, Chris. The World As It Is: Dispatches on the Myth of Human Progress. NY: Truthdig, 2013.
Humanism and the Latin Classics, by Aldus Manutius $29.95 ISBN 9780674971639 The I Tatti Renaissance Library 78. 11/2/17
Aldus Manutius (c. 1451–1515) was the most important and innovative scholarly publisher of the Renaissance. His Aldine Press was responsible for more first editions of classical literature, philosophy, and science than any other publisher before or since. A companion volume to I Tatti’s The Greek Classics (2016), Humanism and the Latin Classics presents all of Aldus’s prefaces to his editions of works by ancient Latin and modern humanist writers, translated for the first time into English, along with other illustrative writings by Aldus and his collaborators. They provide unique insight into the world of scholarly publishing in Renaissance Venice.
“This priceless I Tatti volume collects and translates into English, many for the first time (although with the I Tatti Library, that almost goes without saying), the prefaces Manutius wrote for the volumes that came off his presses, the allurements intended for potential customers, the introductions to often complex subject matters, and, delightfully, some of that extensive correspondence, which lays bare both the artful flattery that comes with the territory when doing business in Venice and the knowingly public confidentiality in which every arriviste revels when they find themselves hob-nobbing with household names… Humanism and the Latin Classics makes the perfect bookend with the earlier Aldus Manutius volume The Greek Classics, and taken together or separately, they bring to the reader the whirring and clacking of the printer’s shop, the wheeling and wheedling of the time’s book industry, and most of all the burbling and rumorous and striving intellectual atmosphere of the Renaissance in its full flower, when books and learning and reading and writing seemed to awake from centuries of slumber and begin ferociously multiplying again in every town and city and seat of learning from Lon' to Baghdad. Aldine books were everywhere during that explosion, carried in pockets, bought and traded, discussed by all, and these I Tatti volumes take readers inside the tornado and introduce them to the man in the eye of it all.”—Steve 'oghue, Open Letters Monthly
A winner of the Nobel Peace Prize and bestselling author of Banker to the Poor offers his vision of an emerging new economic system that can save humankind and the planet
Muhammad Yunus, who created microcredit, invented social business, and earned a Nobel Peace Prize for his work in alleviating poverty, is one of today's most trenchant social critics. Now he declares it's time to admit that the capitalist engine is broken--that in its current form it inevitably leads to rampant inequality, massive unemployment, and environmental destruction. We need a new economic system that unleashes altruism as a creative force just as powerful as self-interest.
Is this a pipe dream? Not at all. In the last decade, thousands of people and organizations have already embraced Yunus's vision of a new form of capitalism, launching innovative social businesses designed to serve human needs rather than accumulate wealth. They are bringing solar energy to millions of homes in Bangladesh; turning thousands of unemployed young people into entrepreneurs through equity investments; financing female-owned businesses in cities across the United States; bringing mobility, shelter, and other services to the rural poor in France; and creating a global support network to help young entrepreneurs launch their start-ups.
In A World of Three Zeros, Yunus describes the new civilization emerging from the economic experiments his work has helped to inspire. He explains how global companies like McCain, Renault, Essilor, and Danone got involved with this new economic model through their own social action groups, describes the ingenious new financial tools now funding social businesses, and sketches the legal and regulatory changes needed to jumpstart the next wave of socially driven innovations. And he invites young people, business and political leaders, and ordinary citizens to join the movement and help create the better world we all dream of.
Infinite Kindle Edition by Jeremy Robinson 5* Review: Infinite is Robinson’s first foray into the field of space opera, and it is an incredible ride from start to finish. As usual for a Jeremy Robinson story the technology and science fiction elements are imaginative and well written. The Galahad is an impressive starship and the technology on board paints a picture of an advanced future society. This book has a few interesting nods to Robinson’s previous and upcoming works, as well as another interesting addition to Robinson’s menagerie of monsters. However, were this story really shines is in the incredible journey of its hero.
While the setting of Infinite is a standard Sci-Fi spaceship, the story is a much deeper exploration of what it means to be human, what the definition of “Reality” is, and what gives meaning to existence. This story has a lot of twist and turns to it. When I was reading this book for the first time I guessed what the final big twist was fairly early on, but the intervening story was so imaginative and unpredictable that I was still completely blindsided when the twist actually came. Also, once you have read the book you will know what I mean when I say that the way that chapter 48 wraps up the cliffhanger of chapter 47, and the overall story, is pure genius. One of my favorite aspects of this story is how Robinson details the setting and technology of this world while still keeping them firmly in the background of the story. While some Sci-Fi story place to much emphasis on the technology of the setting Robinson keeps the focus firmly on the story and characters.
[copying from e-books: You can highlight a passage, select "highlight" from the pop-up menu, and then go to https://kindle.amazon.com and click on the "Your Highlights" link. Your highlights will be listed there and you can copy and paste from there to wherever you want.]
Grasp the Nettle: Making Biodynamic Farming and Gardening Work by Peter Proctor 5/17/17
The Thrifty Witch
NotesThe Best Way to Rob a Bank Is to Own One: How Corporate Executives and Politicians Looted the S&L Industry, by William K. Black (2005-04-01) -- recommended by Thom Hartmann.
Many Are the Crimes: McCarthyism in America, by Ellen Schrecker -- recommended by Thom Hartmann.
Valuing the Self: What We Can Learn from Other Cultures, by Dorothy Lee -- recommended by Thom Hartmann.
Full of contemporary, relevant commentary and anthropological insight, this collection of provocative philosophical and psychological essays discusses general principles and specific ways to generate positive learning and development of individuals in communities and societies. The book sensitively and clearly distinguishes thought and behavior in primitive cultures, as well as raises questions and offers answers as to how the individual might be nurtured and taught to enjoy life with greater personal fulfillment, to engage others and to be engaged by them, and to live life to its fullest potential. Through comparative analysis of numerous cultures both Western and primitive, Lee suggests that in order for the individual to achieve autonomy (defined as "being in charge of myself") it is essential that the community (defined as "people around me") truly value the self. Lee's work holds that learning from other cultures and valuing their significance and worth are more central to what the discipline of anthropology is and should be about. In both the teaching and practice of anthropology, according to Lee, "what we can learn from other cultures" and apply to ourselves and our own world is precisely what gives meaning and value to the pursuit of anthropology as an academic discipline. Valuing the Self essentially captures the essence of anthropology's humanistic potential while simultaneously providing a rich and accurate sense of what life and culture are about in small-scale traditional societies. Lee's presentation of life in primitive cultures attacks the essence of the ethnocentric myth that human beings are necessarily better off in modern cultures.
30 Best Self-Help Books 1/26/17
The Shadow of the Wind (Penguin Drop Caps) by Carlos Ruiz Zafon
Review By Jamie Davis on October 23, 2016
Submission: A Novel A controversial, intelligent, and mordantly funny new novel from France’s most famous living literary figure
The Fat Woman Next Door Is Pregnant 1981 It is the glorious second day of May, 1942. The sun is drawing the damp from earth still heavy with the end of a long Quebec winter, the budding branches of the trees along rue Fabre and in Parc Lafontaine of the Plateau Mont Royal ache to release their leaves into the warm, clear air heralding the approach of summer.
The Walden Effect Anna Hess enjoys writing about her adventures, both on her blog at www.WaldenEffect.org and in her books. Her first paperback, The Weekend Homesteader, helped thousands of homesteaders-to-be find ways to fit their dreams into the hours leftover from a full-time job. Hess is also the author of The Naturally Bug-Free Garden, Trailersteading, and several ebook-only titles. She lives with her husband in the mountains of southwest Virginia.
Homegrown Humus: Cover Crops in a No-till Garden (Permaculture Gardener Book 1) Kindle Edition by Anna Hess
Bookbub great deals on bestselling ebooks... If you have a kindle you will definitely want to sign up for their service. Every day they send you an email with a list of books, some free, none expensive.
It began in Ethiopia, hundreds of thousands of years ago. When a handful of genetic mutations caused evolution to split from the primates. And mankind was born.
Now, eons later, evidence of more splits from the apes are being unearthed. And with them, a disturbing realization. Ours was only one of many.
And yet we survived. But it was not by luck or chance. We survived because humans had something the others did not. A unique ingredient that has only now been rediscovered.
First in the mountains of South America, where it was promptly destroyed by the Chinese. And now a second source in Africa. The epicenter of mankind's very inception.
A place that John Clay and Alison Shaw must find quickly. Because the Russians already know what we are searching for. And the Chinese want back what is rightfully theirs.
The mother of all secrets awaits the world, in Africa. One that will not only explain who we are, but will decipher the very code within our own DNA.
The beautiful Icelandic tradition of giving books on Christmas Eve Book lovers will want to adopt this lovely holiday tradition, which melds literary and holiday pleasures into a single event.
Icelanders have a beautiful tradition of giving books to each other on Christmas Eve and then spending the night reading. This custom is so deeply ingrained in the culture that it is the reason for the Jolabokaflod, or “Christmas Book Flood,” when the majority of books in Iceland are sold between September and December in preparation for Christmas giving.
At this time of year, most households receive an annual free book catalog of new publications called the Bokatidindi. Icelanders pore over the new releases and choose which ones they want to buy
"It's like the firing of the guns at the opening of the race," says Baldur Bjarnason, a researcher who has written about the Icelandic book industry. "It's not like this is a catalog that gets put in everybody's mailbox and everybody ignores it. Books get attention here."
The small Nordic island, with a population of only 329,000 people, is extraordinarily literary. They love to read and write. According to a BBC article, “The country has more writers, more books published and more books read, per head, than anywhere else in the world… One in 10 Icelanders will publish [a book].”
Firefox by Craig Thomas one of the few books which I literally couldn't put down ... I have fallen in love with Craig Thomas. He brings his stories to life in such a way,that I actually have to put them down a nd come up for air.
Library Thing catalog your library, reading recommendations, groups, et al.
Good Reads recommendations et al.
Ban Censorship By Thomas L. Knapp August 16, 2018
In a recent tweet, US Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT) warned that “Infowars is the tip of a giant iceberg of hate and lies that uses sites like Facebook and YouTube to tear our nation apart.” His solution: “These companies must do more than take down one website. The survival of our democracy depends on it.”
Yes, odd as it might seem, Senator Murphy believes that the future of America can only be secured by suppressing information and discussion he doesn’t like. That sentiment seems to be going around. David McCabe of Axios reports on a leaked policy paper from the office of US Senator Mark Warner (D-VA). Two of its most dangerous proposals:
“[N]ew federal funding for media literacy programs that could help consumers sort through the information on online platforms. ” In other words, well-financed government propaganda to make sure we hear what Mark Warner wants us to hear (and think what he wants us to think about what we hear elsewhere).
“[R]equiring web platforms to label bot accounts or do more to identify authentic accounts, with the threat of sanction by the Federal Trade Commission if they fail to do so.” America’s long tradition of anonymous and pseudonymous political speech — not least among it the Revolution-era pamphlets of Thomas Paine — shouldn’t be subject to the veto of Mark Warner or Chris Murphy.
Then, a good laugh: “The size and reach of these platforms demand that we ensure proper oversight, transparency and effective management of technologies that in large measure undergird our social lives, our economy, and our politics.”
Since when has government ever produced proper oversight, transparency, or effective management of anything? And what could possibly go wrong with eviscerating the First Amendment to give these jokers “oversight” or “management” powers over technologies that undergird our politics? What’s really going on here?
Political blogger Michael Krieger answers that question with a simple headline: “Censorship Is What Happens When Powerful People Get Scared.” The American political establishment has spent the last decade quaking in its boots over the next potential disclosure from WikiLeaks, Edward Snowden, or whistleblowers yet unknown. This isn’t about “our democracy.” It’s about “their power.”
The US government’s use of putatively “private sector” social media outlets as proxy censors has been going on for some time, but the Russiagate scandal lent it new momentum. And it’s not just some alleged lunatic fringe that they’re after. Recent victims of Twitter’s ban policy include non-interventionist foreign policy analysts like Scott Horton (editorial director of Antiwar.com), former Foreign Service Officer Peter Van Buren, and Ron Paul Institute director Daniel McAdams.
We don’t need “more government oversight” of social media. What we need is for it to be recognized, and treated, as a criminal abuse of power (and a violation of US Code Title 18 § 241 — “conspiracy against rights”) for government officials or employees to attempt to “oversee” or “manage” social media’s content standards.
Let me reconfigure Chris Murphy’s authoritarian statement to name the stakes: The survival of our freedom depends on it.
Thomas L. Knapp (Twitter: @thomaslknapp) is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism (thegarrisoncenter.org). He lives and works in north central Florida.
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de Gruyter old, foreign materials
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Textkit: Greek/Latin free downloads of books and textbooks
Arepo Books offers books in Latin and other foreign languages such as German, French and Italian. We bring rare and out of print books back at reasonable prices.
The Reading List Email for November 18th, 2018
Reading a lot of BIOGRAPHIES lately as I get into the final stage of research for my next book. To me, there is nothing more rewarding than reading a great biography. You learn about a unique person. You learn about the time and place they lived in. You learn from their strengths and weaknesses. You learn about the costs of ambition and power and success on themselves and their family. My general rule about biographies is that older ones are better. It's good to let them age a bit. Generally the more awards or critical praise they have gotten, the worse they are. Longer is usually better, but not always. Biographies are also a great chance to add diversity and perspective to your general worldview (as you'll hopefully see from my selections below), but make sure that race and gender aren't the only type of diversity you're seeking out (ideology, experience, style, time period, etc are just as important).
Tyrant: Shakespeare on Politics by Stephen Greenblatt
Buddha by Karen Armstrong
Victoria: The Queen: An Intimate Biography of the Woman Who Ruled an Empire by Julia Baird
Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom by David W. Blight
The Reluctant Mr. Darwin: An Intimate Portrait of Charles Darwin and the Making of His Theory of Evolution by David Quammen
Three Uses of The Knife: On the Nature and Purpose of Drama by David Mamet
Two quick notes: This month marks the one year anniversary of The Daily Stoic Journal. If you want to start the habit of journaling, I think it's a great place to start. It gives you a prompt to prepare for the day ahead and a prompt to reflect on in the evening. It's based on the ancient Stoic practice of journaling and it's been amazing to hear from the thousands and thousands of people around the world who have started journaling as a result. (I myself do it every day.)
Finally, if you want to try any of a lot of these books I recommended for free, you might like Scribd, which is essentially Netflix for books. Click here to sign up for a one month free trial of unlimited audiobooks and ebooks plus free subscription to magazines like Bloomberg Business Week, The Atlantic, Foreign Policy, Fortune and others.
Unlimited* books. Unlimited audiobooks. Only $8.99/month.
First thirty days is free to try
With that, I hope that you'll get around to reading whichever of these books catch your eye and that you'll learn as much as I did. Whether you buy them on Amazon today, or at an independent bookstore six months from now or read them on Scribd makes no difference to me. I just hope you read! You're welcome to email me questions or raise issues for discussion. Better yet, if you know of a good book on a related topic, please pass it along. And as always, if one of these books comes to mean something to you, recommend it to someone else.
I promised myself a long time ago that if I saw a book that interested me I'd never let time or money or anything else prevent me from having it. This means that I treat reading with a certain amount of respect. All I ask, if you decide to email me back, is that you're not just thinking aloud. Enjoy these books, treat your education like the job that it is, and let me know if you ever need anything.
Almost exactly ten years ago, I bought the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius on Amazon. Amazon Prime didn’t exist then and to qualify for free shipping, I had to purchase a few other books at the same time. Two or three days later they all arrived.
It’s a medium sized paperback, mostly white with a golden spine. On the cover Marcus is shown in relief, pardoning the barbarians. “Here, for our age, is Marcus’s great work,” says Robert Fagles in his blurb. I was 19 years old. I didn’t know who Marcus Aurelius was (besides the old guy in Gladiator) and I certainly didn’t know who Robert Fagles or Gregory Hays, the translator, was. But something drew me to this book almost immediately. I suppose it was luck that brought me to the specific translation I’d chosen (Modern Library Edition)?—?though the Stoics would call it fated?—?but what arrived would change my life.
It would be for me, what Tyler Cowen would call a “a quake book,” shaking everything I thought I knew about the world (however little that actually was). I would also become what Stephen Marche has referred to as a “centireader,” reading Marcus Aurelius well over 100 times across multiple editions and copies.
In the course of those readings and my study of Stoicism, a lot has changed. Marcus Aurelius has guided me through breakups and getting married, through being relatively young and poor and relatively older and well-off. His wisdom has helped me with getting fired and with quitting, with success and with struggles.
I’ve carried him to close to a dozen countries and moved him to multiple houses. I’ve turned to him for articles and books and casual dinner conversation. The one pristine white cover is now its own shade of tan, but with every read, every time I’ve touched the book, I’ve gotten something new or been reminded of something timeless and important.
Now with the release of my own translation and compendium, The Daily Stoic (and a daily email newsletter at DailyStoic.com), I wanted to take the time to reflect on what I’ve learned in ten years with one of the greatest and most unique pieces of literature ever created.
(And to learn more about Marcus Aurelius and Stoicism, sign up for the Daily Stoic’s free 7-day course on Stoicism packed with exclusive resources, Stoic exercises, interviews and much more!) [ https://dailystoic.com/new-start-here/ ]
-It was the opening passage of Book 5?—?about our reluctance to get out of bed and get moving in the morning?—?that struck me most on my first read. As you can see, I wrote “FUCK” with a highlighter and you can see how important that passage was to me at the time in a 2007 blog post. Later, I would print out this passage and put it next to my desk and bed. I think it was that as a college student I needed that extra motivation. I was a little lazy and entitled. I needed to seize life and take advantage of it?—?and Marcus served me well in that regard for a long time.
-Though I will say that today, I think less about the passage that motivates me to do more and be more active. If I was to put a different one on my desk, I’d choose FROM BOOK TEN, “IF YOU SEEK TRANQUILITY, DO LESS.”
-In my first read of Meditations, I highlighted the line “It can ruin your life only if it ruins your character.” In a later read I added brackets around that line, just for more emphasis. And I underlined in pen what came after, “Otherwise, it cannot harm you?—?inside or out.”
-Pages XXVI and XXV of Hays’s introduction is where I was first introduced to THE DISTILLATION OF STOICISM INTO THREE DISTINCT DISCIPLINES (PERCEPTION, ACTION, WILL). It was this order that eventually shaped both The Obstacle is the Way and The Daily Stoic. When I get asked to explain the three disciplines, this is usually my short answer: SEE THINGS FOR WHAT THEY ARE. DO WHAT WE CAN. ENDURE AND BEAR WHAT WE MUST.
-Hays’s introduction also lists Alexander Pope, Goethe and William Alexander Percy as students and fans of Marcus Aurelius. Reading works by all of these individuals?—?especially Percy (and his adopted son, Walker Percy) - sent me down a rabbit hole that would be one of the most enjoyable of my reading life. I encourage everyone to read Percy’s Lanterns on the Levee.
Lanterns on the Levee Kindle Edition by William Alexander Perry $7.45
-In Book Four, Marcus reminds himself to think about all the doctors who “died, after furrowing their brows over how many deathbeds, how many astrologers, after pompous forecasts about other’s ends.” In black pen?—?somewhat recently it looks like?—?I added “or plotters, schemers and strategists, outsmarted, outmaneuvered and destroyed.” I suppose that was a dig at myself and other smart people. None of what we do lasts, no matter how clever or brilliant. It’s good to remember that.
-"So we throw out other people’s recognition. What's left for us to prize?" I answer in blue pen in one read, "To embrace and to resist our nature." What do I - what did Marcus - mean by that? I think it's encouraging what is good about us and to fight against what is bad. To encourage the parts of ourselves that are moral, helpful, honest and aware and to fight against what is selfish, petty, shortsighted and wrong. It's to live by what Warren Buffett calls the "inner scorecard" and ignore the outer one (other people's recognition).
-In that same passage, Marcus also writes "If you can't stop prizing a lot of other things? Then you’ll never be free - free, independent, imperturbable." I have in my copy a jotted note from Fight Club, "Only when you've lost everything, you are free to do anything."
-When I first read Meditations, I was in the middle of some ridiculous drama with my college roommates. I won't bore you with the details, but at the time, I was frustrated, disappointed and miserable about where I was living. I think this was the reason that I latched on the the meditation in Book Six, about how if you were sparring with someone and they hurt you, you wouldn't yell at them or whine or hold it against them - you'd just make a mental note about it and act accordingly in the future. I can see where I actually wrote the name of my roommates down to explicitly make this connection. "Do not hate them," I wrote to myself, "remain aloof."
-I said earlier that all I'd originally known of Marcus Aurelius was that he was the "old guy in Gladiator." Future research taught me that depiction was even more interesting than the movie presented. First off, Maximus (Russell Crowe's character) was based on a real Roman story - the general Cincinnatus, who saved Rome but wanted simply to return to his farm. Second, Marcus''s son Commodus (Joaquin Phoenix) was real too - and probably even more horrible in real life. He was in fact, killed by a gladiator and he did enjoy torturing and hurting people. It makes you think: How could such a great man have had such an awful son? What does that say about his teachings?
-Marcus writes "Mastery of reading and writing requires a master. Still, more so life." I wrote "Tucker, R.G" in the margins next to that passage. R.G stands for Robert Greene - who was and is my master in writing and, more, in life. Tucker refers to Tucker Max, who was a mentor of mine in writing and business. It occurs to me now that I understood this passage only partway - I was focused on the first half, when really the "more so life" line is the most important. Understanding this could have saved me a lot of trouble.
-In Book Twelve, as Meditations is wrapping up, Marcus writes "IT NEVER CEASES TO AMAZE ME: WE ALL LOVE OURSELVES MORE THAN OTHER PEOPLE, BUT CARE MORE ABOUT THEIR OPINION THAN OUR OWN." This passage struck me early on, I can tell. But it struck me hardest in 2014, when I was re-reading the passage. I know this because I wrote an article with that line as the title, as I was dealing with the fact that my book had just been snubbed by the New York Times Bestseller list and I was dealing with the fallout. It was helpful to ask: Why do I care what these people think again? Why does their opinion matter to me? Understanding the words is not always enough, sometimes we have to really feel them - to have their meaning forced upon us. This was one of those events.
-Going back through my copy to write this post, I found a white notecard with some bullet points written on it. At first I couldn't figure out what these were about. Then I realized they were notes I'd written down before my conversation with Greg Bishop, a reporter for Sports Illustrated, when he interviewed me for a story he was doing on stoicism and the NFL. One bullet is a line from Arnold Schwarzenegger, "always stronger that we think we know."
-On what I would guess is my third or fourth read, I marked this passage: "You could leave life right now. Let that determine what you do and say and think." There are not many reminders of your own mortality at 20. This was one of my first. -There's no question that for every first time reader of Meditations, it's the opening line of Book Two is one of the most striking: "When you wake up in the morning, tell yourself: The people I deal with today will be meddling, ungrateful, arrogant, dishonest, jealous and surly."
-And then the passage which follows is great - if not a bit contradictory: "Throw away your books; stop letting yourself be distracted." Did he mean the very book I was reading?
-One of my favorite lines: "To accept without arrogance, to let it go with indifference." Another translation of the same: "Receive without pride, let go without attachment."
-In one passage, Marcus justifies his love of art. He points out that tragedies (plays) help remind us of what can happen in life. He also makes an interesting point - "If something gives you pleasure on that stage, it shouldn't cause you anger on this one." If you can appreciate it in fiction, you can appreciate it in life - and learn from both.
-In Book Five, I learned what philosophy really was. It's not an "instructor," as Marcus put it. It's not the courses I was taking in school. It is medicine. It's "a soothing ointment, a warm lotion." It's designed to help us deal with the difficulties of life - to heal, as Epicurus said, the suffering of man.
-It wasn't until last week, re-reading Marcus that I noticed the word "stillness" as it appears in Book Six, 7: "To move from one unselfish action to another with God in mind. Only there, delight and stillness." Stillness was something I had been thinking about a lot - how to find it, how to get it, why it's superior to activity. I was looking for it in Eastern texts and here it has been in Stoicism the entire time.
-Book Nine, 6 I found not only a potential epigraph for my book The Obstacle is the Way (which I noted in blue pen in 2013) but the best possible summation of Stoicism there is:
“Objective judgement, now, at this very moment.
-At some point after I read the Hays translation, I picked up another translation of Marcus - probably one by George Long or A. S. L. Farquharson, that was free online. I was immediately struck by how the beautiful, lyrical book I loved had become dense and unreadable. It struck me that if I had cheaped out and tried to get for free what I’d bought instead, my entire life might have turned out differently. BOOKS ARE INVESTMENTS. Be glad to put in your money.
-Marcus has a wonderful phrase for the approval and cheering of other people. He calls it "the clacking of tongues" - that's all public appraise is, he says. Anyone that works in the public eye, who puts their work or their life out there for consumption, could use to remember this phrase.
–"Often injustice lies in what you aren't doing, not only in what you are doing." Or, as we say more modernly, 'The only thing required for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing…'
-Don't try to get even with other people, Marcus says at one point. Just don’t be like that.
-"The student as a boxer, not a fencer." Why? Because the fencer has a weapon they must pick up. A boxer's weapons are a part of him, he and the weapon are one. Same goes for knowledge, philosophy and wisdom.
-Marcus commands himself to winnow his thoughts. He has a great standard. If someone were to ask you right now, "What are you thinking about?" could you give a concise answer? If not, you're daydreaming and wandering too much.
-"It stares you right in the face," Marcus writes. "No role is so well suited to philosophy as the one you happen to be in right now." Was he referring specifically to the role of emperor? Did he mean that any and every role is the perfect one for philosophy? I prefer to think it is the latter.
-I've been lucky enough that some generous fans have sent me rare old copies of Meditations. They’re falling apart, worn with age. It strikes me what a Stoic would have thought if given a book that was then a couple hundred years old. They'd think about the person who owned it and what became of them (dead), they'd think about all the things the person did other than study philosophy (mostly pointless stuff), and they'd also think of the difficult times that the wisdom contained within may have helped them (which is what I think now). And then they'd consider how we are all subject to the rhythm of events and that someone may pick up this book after them and have the same thoughts.
-Going through one copy of the Hays translation a few years ago, I found a receipt. It said January 2007 and it was from a Borders in Riverside, California. I'd bought mine on Amazon, so I knew it wasn't mine. Then I realized, this was my wife's copy. She'd bought the book shortly after we'd met, on my recommendation. That she'd read it after I mentioned it in passing, made me think our feelings might be mutual. It was one of the first things we'd connected over. Ten years later we are still together.
-In Gregory Hays's intro he says that "an American president" claims to re-read Marcus Aurelius every year. Some research turned up that Bill Clinton was that president. Was that where I got the idea to keep reading and re-reading the book? To use it as a reminder of all the lessons that success would bring?
-Absolute power corrupts absolutely is what we say. But Marcus had absolute power. To me, his writing and his life are proof that the right principles and the right discipline - if followed rigorously - can help buck this timeless trend.
-Marcus reminded himself: "Don’t await the perfection of Plato's Republic." He wasn't expecting the world to be exactly the way he wanted it to be, but Marcus knew instinctively, as the Catholic philosopher Josef Pieper would later write, that "he alone can do good who knows what things are like and what their situation is."
-It's funny to think that his writings may be as special as they are because they were never intended for us to be read. Almost every other piece of literature is a kind of performance - it's made for the audience. Meditations isn't. In fact, their original title (Ta eis heauton) roughly translates as To Himself.
-It's also interesting to think that we have no idea if the meditations were once ordered differently. All we have now are translations of translations - no original writing from his hand survives. It all could have been arranged in an entirely different format originally (Did all the books have titles originally - as the first two do? Are those titles made up? Were they all numbered originally? Or were even the breaks between thoughts added in by a later translator?)
-Who hasn't used the expressions "I'll be honest with you" or "With all due respect" or "I'll be straight with you." It wasn't until I read Marcus's specific condemnation of these phrases that I really thought about what they were saying - honesty, respect, straightforwardness should be the default. If you have to specifically preface your remarks with it, that's a sign something is wrong with your normal speech and your normal habits.
-“But if you accept the obstacle and work with what you're given, an alternative will present itself - another piece of what you're trying to assemble. Action by action." There's no question that we're going to be stopped from what we'd like to do, or even desperately need to do from time to time. Money will be lost. Plans will be frustrated. Long held dreams will be broken. People (including us) will be hurt. And yet, as bad as these situations are and will be, I think you'll have to admit, they don't prevent everything. You can still practice honesty, forgiveness, friendship, patience, humility, good spirit, resilience, creativity, and on and on.
-It must have been many reads in before I came to understand that many of the admonishments - Don't waste time, Don't lose your temper, Stop getting caught up in things that don't matter - must be there because Marcus had recently done the exact opposite. Remember, this was essentially his journal, the meditations are reflections written after a long hard day. They are not abstractions, they are notes on what he can do better next time.
-There is a line in Joseph Brodsky's essay about the famous equestrian statue of Marcus Aurelius (which I went to Rome a few years ago to see). "If Meditations is antiquity," he says, "then it is we who are the ruins." What I think he means by that is that when you compare the strength and power and rigorous self-honesty of Marcus's writings to now, all you can feel is a sense of decay. It feels like we have regressed instead of progressed.
-A great rhetorical exercise from Marcus goes essentially like this: "Is a world without shameless people possible? No. So this person you've just met is one of them. Get over it." It's a good thing to remember every time you meet someone who frustrates or bothers you.
-One of the benefits of reading a book so many times is that it starts to feel like it's following you everywhere. It's like when you get a new car and all of a sudden you start seeing that car everywhere - it's like you and those drivers are suddenly on the same time. I remember reading East of Eden shortly after Meditations, and guess who is quoted everywhere? Then I read John Stuart Mill, and Marcus appeared again. Then on a trip to New York City I was walking up 41 St and there's a plaque with a quote from Marcus. It's one of the most amazing feelings, you find the thread of the work everywhere and it's like you're both on the same team, with the same message to propagate.
-One of the most practical things I've learned from the Stoics is an exercise I've come to call "contemptuous expressions." I love how Marcus would take fancy things and describe them in almost cynical, dismissive language - roasted meat is a dead animal and vintage wine is old, fermented grapes. He even describes the Emperor's purple cloak as just a piece of fabric dyed with shellfish blood. The aim was to see these things as they really are, to "strip away the legend that encrusts them." I try to use this exercise every day.
-The short lines are the best:
"Discard your misperceptions.
-Imagine the emperor of Rome, with his captive audience and unlimited power, telling himself not to be a person of "too many words and too many deeds." How great is that? How inspiring?
-It wasn't until working with Steve Hanselman on the translations in The Daily Stoic that I was made aware of just how malleable translation was. I assumed that Hays was capturing the inherent beauty in Marcus. In some sense he was, but he was also choosing to write beautifully - someone could just as easily decide to be blunt and literal. It gave me a new appreciation for the art of translation - and how much room for interpretation there is in all of it.
-If there was one translation I would love to read it would be the late Pierre Hadot's. In his excellent book The Inner Citadel about Marcus Aurelius and Stoicism, Hadot did original translations for the passages he quotes - but sadly he died without publishing a full translation of Marcus for wider consumption.
The Inner Citadel: The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius by Pierre Hadot, $28.71
-It was in reading Hadot that I first got an explicit explanation of what he calls "turning obstacles upside down." I'd obviously read the original passage he quotes several times in Hays, but Hadot's translation was different, it made it clearer. The original title of my book was "Turning Obstacles Upside Down." It was only in reading The Dictionary of Modern Proverbs that I found the Zen saying, "The obstacle is the path" that I was able to combine it all and come up with the book.
-"Everything lasts for a day, the one who remembers and the remembered." That means something special coming from a guy whose face you can still see on Roman coins you can buy on Etsy.
-From Marcus I learned who Heraclitus was (Marcus quotes him a lot). "No man steps in the same river twice," is one of the line he quotes. What a beautiful idea. I loved it so much that when I was in college I added a special "Quote of the Week" section to the student newspaper - just so I could use it.
-After I read Marcus, I immediately read Epictetus (Lebell's The Art of Living translation), then Seneca's Letters from a Stoic, then back to the Penguin translation of Epictetus, then Seneca's On The Shortness of Life. It’s been a ten year journey now, and I still feel like I am at the very beginning of it. Or at least, there is so much further left to go.
-How crazy is it that not only does Marcus's "journal" survive to us, so do the letters between him and his rhetoric teacher, Cornelius Fronto? The Stoics might say that such an event was "fated" but I'd say we are incredibly lucky that chance did not destroy these documents and deprive humanity of them.
–Marcus talks about the logos - essentially the force of the universe - repeatedly. That word seemed familiar to me when I first read it. Then I made the connection, Viktor Frankl, the psychologist and Holocaust survivor named his school of psychology logotherapy.
-Still, I was a bit confused as to what the logos was. Hays - and many writers - have used the analogy of a dog tied to a cart to explain our connection to the logos. The cart (the logos) is moving and we are pulled behind it. We have a little slack to move here and there, but not much.
-I think instinctively at 19 years old, I rejected this idea. Predetermination? No free will? Please. That sounded religious. College kids are often attracted to atheism for precisely the freedom and empowerment it implies. But as I have gotten older, I've started to understand how much we are shaped by chance and forces beyond our control. It strikes me, then, that the debate is not whether we are in fact the dog tied to the moving cart but rather, just how long the rope is? How much room to we have to explore and determine our own pace? A lot? A little?
-Marcus's Meditations are filled with self-criticism. It's important to remember, however, that that's as far as it goes. There was no self-flagellation, no paying penance, no self-esteem issues from guilt or self-loathing. This self-criticism is constructive.
-There is a passage in Marcus where he talks about sitting next to a smelly, rude person. It must have been just a couple months after I first read that that I was on a flight from Long Beach to New York. I was stuck in the middle seat. The person next to me was horrible. They were imposing in my space. They were being obnoxious. I was stewing. Then this hit me: Either I say something or I let it go. All the anger left me. I went back to what I was doing. I probably think of that line every other time I get on a plane now.
-As a reminder of the man and the principles in the book, I ended up buying a marble bust of Marcus carved in 1840 that sits on my desk where I can see it daily. It's probably the most expensive piece of "art" I own - it cost $900. But for the reminders it's given me and the calming presence it has had, it's worth every penny. To think that 3 or 4 generations of people may have owned this thing. That someone will own it after I die.
-Years later, one of my readers created and sent me two 3D printed busts of both Marcus and Seneca which sit in my library. They're a lot cheaper and they weigh a lot less but they have the same impact.
-I set out to learn everything I could about Marcus Aurelius. At one point, I found an old academic paper that suggested Marcus's writing was shaped by an addiction to opium - why else would he have written down extended, cerebral reflections about spinning away from the earth and looking at things from far above? The answer is because this is a Stoic exercise that goes back thousands of years (and in fact, has also been observed by astronauts thousands of years later). All the things that people do hallucinogens to explore, you can also do while sober as a judge. It just takes work.
-Explicitly setting standards for himself in Book 10, Marcus extolls himself to be: "Upright. Modest. Straightforward. Sane. Cooperative. Disinterested." In a blog post in 2007, I added the following for myself: Empathetic. Open. Diligent. Ambitious.
-I wrote a piece about Peter Thiel's long campaign for revenge against Gawker earlier this year. As I was writing it, a line from Marcus came rushing back from the recesses of my memory: "The best way to avenge yourself is to not be like that."
-In writing The Daily Stoic, I got to parse the words of Marcus Aurelius (and his translators) in ways I otherwise never would have done. I've always liked the line, "How trivial the things we want so passionately are." In my initial readings, I'd always thought it was beautiful the way he was saying "passionately are." Upon later reflection, I realized Hays/Aurelius were saying "the things are want so passionately, are" which has its own beauty.
-You also come to realize and understand the deeper historical references. For instance, in one passage, Marcus writes "To escape imperialization, that indelible stain." I know, obviously, what "imperialism" and "imperial" mean but it wasn't until many reads later that I came to understand he meant to escape the trappings of his office. He was saying: I must avoid being changed and corrupted by my office. Not all of us hold executive power, but we all can use that advice.
-When translating for The Daily Stoic, our editor asked about a line where Marcus says "enough of this whiny, miserable life. Stop monkeying around!" Would Marcus have ever seen a monkey, she asked? Or is this a modern line? Of course he would have! In fact, his psychopathic son probably killed a bunch of them in the coliseum. Marcus supposedly hated the gladiatorial games but he definitely would have been familiar with a shocking amount of African wildlife.
-Another interesting factoid about Marcus - proof, I think that he lived his philosophy. He was selected for the throne by Hadrian who set in line a succession plan that involved Hadrian adopting the elderly Antoninus Pius who in turn adopted Marcus Aurelius. When Marcus eventually ascended to the throne, what was his first decision? He appointed his step-brother Lucius Verus co-emperor. He was given unlimited, executive power and the first thing he did was share it with someone he was not even technically related to? That's magnanimity.
-His advice on change is amazing. We're like rocks - we gain nothing by going up and lose nothing by coming back down.
-"Don't allow yourself to be heard any longer griping about public life, not even with your own ears!" You chose this life, he is telling himself, and that means you don't get to complain about it.
-I was lucky enough to interview Gregory Hays in 2007. I asked him what his favorite passage was. He quoted: "Keep in mind how fast things pass by and are gone - those that are now and those to come. Existence flows past us like a river: the 'what' is in constant flux, the 'why' has a thousand variations. Nothing is stable, not even what's right here. The infinity of past and future gapes before us - a chasm whose depths we cannot see." I have to admit I missed the brilliance of that one the first time, but it's stuck with me ever since.
-Did you know that Ambrose Bierce, the amazing Civil War-era writer and Mark Twain contemporary, was a big fan of the Stoics? Clearly his grandparents were too since his father was named Marcus Aurelius Bierce and his uncle, Lucius Verus Bierce (Marcus's step brother and co-emperor).
-When I interviewed Robert Greene for The Daily Stoic's companion website, I was surprised to hear he also loved the passage about "seeing roasted meat and other dishes in front of you and suddenly realizing: This is a dead fish. A dead bird. A dead pig." As he explained to me: "I've tried to bring that across in my writing. For instance, to deconstruct things like power and seduction and to see the actual elements in play instead of the legends surrounding them."
-During our interview he actually showed me his own copy of the Meditations and could remember the camping trip when he had written all the notes on the pages. On several of them he had marked AF in the marginalia, a shorthand for AMOR FATI - A LOVE OF ONE'S FATE. As he explained the idea, "Stop wishing for something else to happen, for a different fate. That is to live a false life."
-The best way to learn and to lead is by example. I think that's why I liked Marcus's book so much - he was showing me (us) what is possible. As he put it "Nothing is as encouraging as when virtues are visibly embodied in the people around us, when we're practically showered with them."
-In my own education I've always followed Marcus's dictum to "go straight to the seat of intelligence - your own, the world's, your neighbors." He also writes that learning to read and write requires a master - and so does the art of life. To me, people like Robert Greene were that master and so were people like Marcus. You have to go straight to the sources of knowledge and absorb what you can from them.
-During one of his most dangerous and threatening adventures, the journey down the "River of Doubt," Teddy Roosevelt carried with him a copy of Meditations. I would kill to flip through his copy! Did he sit down at night and read few pages? Are there interesting notes in the margins? What were his favorite passages? A more Stoic question: How many other famous or important men and women have sat down with a copy of Marcus? And where are they now? Gone and mostly forgotten.
-In my work with bestselling authors and creatives there is one line from Marcus that I am often tempted to quote: "Ambition," he reminded himself, "means tying your well-being to what other people say or do...Sanity means tying it to your own actions." Doing good work is what matters. Recognition and rewards - those are just extra. To be too attached to results you don't control? That's a recipe for misery.
-Despite his privileges, Marcus Aurelius had a difficult life. The Roman historian Cassius Dio mused that Marcus "did not meet with the good fortune that he deserved, for he was not strong in body and was involved in a multitude of troubles throughout practically his entire reign." But throughout these struggles he never gave up. It's an inspiring example for us to think about today if we get tired, frustrated, or have to deal with some crisis.
-From the Stoics, I learned about the concept of the Inner Citadel. It is this fortress, they believed, that protects our soul. Though we might be physically vulnerable, though we might be at the mercy of fate in many ways, our inner domain is impenetrable. As Marcus put it (repeatedly, in fact), "stuff cannot touch the soul."
-Right after the 2008 presidential elections, I remember connecting Obama's "teachable moment" about the Reverend Wright scandal and how it illustrated Marcus's principle of turning the obstacle upside down. As Obama put it, turning the negative situation into the perfect platform for his landmark speech about race, he would be "missing an important opportunity for leadership." It's something I try to think about in my own life as a boss and as a soon-to-be-father.
-Bill Belichick tells his players: "Do your job." Marcus makes it clear what that job is: "What is your vocation? To be a good person."
-Marcus is a beautiful writer, capable of finding beauty in strange places. In one passage, he praises the "charm and allure" of nature's process, the "stalks of ripe grain bending low, the frowning brow of the lion, the foam dripping from the boar’s mouth." As a writer, I've learned a lot from this skill of his. As a person, I've learned more. It's about looking for majesty everywhere and anywhere.
-At one point Marcus tells himself to "Avoid false friendship at all costs." I think he's right, but we can take it a step further: What if, instead, we ask about the times that we have been false to our friends?
-Marcus constantly points out how the emperors who came before him were barely remembered just a few years later. To him, this was a reminder that no matter how much he conquered, no matter how much he inflicted his will on the world, it would be like building a castle in the sand - soon to be erased by the winds of time. The same is true for us.
-It's interesting how much of Meditations is made up of short quotes and passages from other writers. In a way, it's really Marcus's commonplace book (and he's inspired me to keep my own). One of my favorites is Marcus quoting a lost line from Euripides: "You shouldn't give circumstances the power to rouse anger, for they don't care at all."
-I've talked a little bit about my tendency to overwork and to compulsively do. Marcus has a good reminder: "In your actions, don't procrastinate. In your conversations, don't confuse. In your thoughts, don't wander. In your soul, don't be passive or aggressive. In your life, don't be all about business."
-Marcus was one of the first writers to articulate the notion of cosmopolitanism - saying that he was a citizen of the world, not just of Rome. Which is an interesting and impressive thought...considering his job was as the first citizen of Rome.
-Marcus had many responsibilities, as those who hold executive power do. He judged cases, heard appeals, sent troops into battle, appointed administrators, approved budgets. A lot rode on his choices and actions. He wrote this reminder to himself which beautifully illustrates the kind of man he was: "Never shirk the proper dispatch of your duty, no matter if you are freezing or hot, groggy or well-rested, vilified or praised, not even if dying or pressed by other demands."
-In the first book of Meditations, Marcus thanks Rusticus for teaching him "to read carefully and not be satisfied with a rough understanding of the whole, and not to agree too quickly with those who have a lot to say about something." It's a reminder for us in this busy media world of liars and bullshit artists. Don’t be satisfied with the superficial impression. Don't be reactive. Know.
-How was Marcus introduced to the Stoics? We’re not quite sure but we do know that he got his copy of Epictetus from Rusticus (and in fact, Rusticus may have provided him his own notes from attending Epictetus's lectures). A number of my favorite books came to me from my teachers. In fact, I was introduced to the Stoics by asking Dr. Drew for a book recommendation. Who did he recommend? Epictetus.
-Marcus writes, "Don't lament this and don't get agitated." It calls to mind the motto of another statesman, the British prime minister Benjamin Disraeli: "Never complain, never explain."
-Long before modern discussions of self-talk, Marcus understood the notion: "Your mind will take the shape of what you frequently hold in thought."
-At one point, Marcus essentially says to not ever do anything that we would be worried might remain 'behind closed doors.' It's easy to say, but hard to do. Who wouldn't be embarrassed if their email account was leaked or if a fight with their spouse was made public? We all do things in private that we would never do in front of other people. Which is a good thought/test to evaluate our behavior before we embark on something.
-In Book Six we find one of the strongest encouragements that Marcus gives himself. He says, basically: If someone else has done it - then it is humanly possible. If it's humanly possible, then of course you can do it too.
-I've found over the years that jealousy is a toxic emotion. We want so desperately what others have that we lose the pleasure of the things we already have. Marcus provides a solution: "Don’t set your mind on things you don't possess..., but count the blessings you actually possess and think how much you would desire them if they weren't already yours."
-Repeatedly Marcus warns himself that anger and grief only serve to make bad situations worse. Being pissed off that someone was rude to you isn't soothing - it's agitating. Being sad that you've lost something doesn't bring it back, it exaggerates your sense of loss. It's like the first rule of holes: When you're in one, stop digging.
-When I was on the Tim Ferriss podcast this summer I learned that he had one of my favorite quotes from Marcus taped to his fridge: "When jarred, unavoidably, by circumstance, revert at once to yourself, and don't lose the rhythm more than you can help. You'll have a better grasp of the harmony if you keep going back to it."
-What is tragic about Marcus, as one scholar wrote, is how his "philosophy - which is about self-restraint, duty, and respect for others - was so abjectly abandoned by the imperial line he anointed on his death." As I said, Marcus's terrible son, is an important reminder that it doesn't matter how good you are at your job, if you neglect your duties at home...
-"We are what we repeatedly do," Aristotle said, "therefore, excellence is not an act but a habit." The Stoics add to that that we are a product of our thoughts ("Such as are your habitual thoughts, such also will be the character of your mind," is how Marcus put it).
-Marcus consistently admonishes himself to return to the present moment and focus on what's in front of him. This idea of being "present" seems very Eastern but of course it's central to Stoicism too. "Stick with the situation at hand," he tells himself, "and ask, "Why is this so unbearable? Why can't I endure it?" You'll be embarrassed to answer." Yup.
-In Meditations we find one of the most helpful exercises when seeking perspective: "Run down the list of those who felt intense anger at something: the most famous, the most unfortunate, the most hated, the most whatever: Where is all that now? Smoke, dust, legend…or not even a legend." Eventually, all of us will pass away and slowly be forgotten. We should enjoy this brief time we have on earth - not be enslaved to emotions that make us miserable and dissatisfied.
I'll leave you with one final lesson, in fact, it's the lesson we chose to close The Daily Stoic with. Marcus was clearly a big reader, he clearly took copious notes and studied philosophy deeply. Yet he took the unusual step of reminding himself to put all that aside.
"Stop wandering about!" he wrote. "You aren't likely to read your own notebooks, or ancient histories, or the anthologies you've collected to enjoy in your old age. Get busy with life's purpose, toss aside empty hopes, get active in your own rescue - if you care for yourself at all - and do it while you can."
At some point, we must stop our reading, put all the advice from Marcus and the other stoics aside and take action. So that, as Seneca put it, the "words become works."
6/8/18 email from Ryan
Too much of this month was spent in airplanes or stuck on bedrest. When I could think clearly, I could read, but most of the time I couldn't. Ordinarily this would have been annoying but this month it was particularly distressing because each one of the books I read below was so good that I hated putting them down.
The spread is more diverse than usual—narrative nonfiction, the story of a young girl who died tragically young, two European novels and a bunch of other weird stuff. Almost all of them came by recommendation too (people always ask me where I find the books I read. The answer is: I don't ask people that question. I ask "What books do you recommend?")
Hope you like them...and if you have time and are looking for a book that I think has become only more timely since it was published, I hope you can give Conspiracy a glance. The New York Times called it "one helluva page-turner" and The Sunday Times of London said it was "riveting...an astonishing modern media conspiracy that is a fantastic read." So don't take my word for it. Anyway, try these too.
What Made Maddy Run: The Secret Struggles and Tragic Death of an All-American Teen , by Kate Fagan
The first thing I did when I read this book was recommend it to every college coach that I know. The second thing I did was email the author to let her know how deeply moved I was by the book. You may remember the ESPN story from a few years ago: Maddy was a beautiful, All-American track and field athlete who by all appearances was living her dream. She made it to the Ivy League. She had friends. She was active on social media. Then on January 17th, 2014, she killed herself by leaping off a parking garage. This book is a haunting, thoughtful examination of an all-too-common story where someone looks perfect on the outside, but is deeply pained on the inside. It's a story of people who tried to help but couldn't reach her, a story of other people who thought they were helping but only made things worse, and a story of what pressure, bad choices, and technology are doing to young people. If you have kids, work with kids, whatever—read this book. Also, the title of the book is a reference to one of my favorite novels, What Makes Sammy Run?
Empire of the Summer Moon: Quanah Parker and the Rise and Fall of the Comanches, the Most Powerful Indian Tribe in American History, by S. C. Gwynne
How many times did I pass this book in airports? Why did I never pick it up? I'm a huge S.C. Gwynne fan too (Rebel Yell: A Biography of Stonewall Jackson), it makes no sense. This book is amazing. It turns everything you think you know about the American frontier, about Native Americans, about Indian policy on its head...oh, and it is a gripping, unbelievable story. The last of the Commanches war chiefs was the son of Cynthia Ann Parker, a white woman who had been kidnapped by Commanches in 1836? Unreal. S.C. Gwynne is a magnificent writer whose work is filled with beautiful observations that will blow your mind. My favorite is when he compares the Commanches to the Celts or the Mongols, defining them as one of the greatest fighting people who ever lived...and they were armed with repeating rifles and ruled over an empire of millions of square miles. And who were they fighting? White settlers in the late 1800s, people who had studied Aristotle and Thomas Jefferson, who had invented the telegraph, and wanted to live in houses with glass windows. It was clash of civilizations. Horrific, brutal, inevitable. It's just an insane book and insane story.
The Unbearable Lightness of Being: A Novel by Milan Kundera
I read in How To Turn Down A Billion Dollars that this book was Evan Spiegel's, founder of Snapchat, favorite book—not novel, book. When I hear successful people rave about a specific book as life-changing, I try to read it. Even if I don't like the book or agree with it, I learn something. This is certainly a beautiful novel, though I think a strange one to have as your favorite. It is filled with a number of provocative insights and descriptions (of love, of fear, of random chance, of history). I did have trouble liking the protagonist or really any of the characters very much. I mean, none of the horrible pain the characters would have felt had the main guy just not cheated constantly on his partner (who, by the way, repeatedly told him how much pain this caused her). I wonder how much the ephemeral nature of relationships in the book, and the near immediate-gratification / nihilism that it ultimately espouses, influenced Snapchat or how much social media is merely a reflection of that ethos.
The Fall, by Albert Camus
Now if you told me this was your favorite novel, I'd find that to be interesting and revealing. To me, this book is the story of "what happens when good men do nothing." It's about the Bystander Effect and about how emergencies and crises are moments of truth when our principles are tested. The narrator of this book is someone who failed that test and is haunted by it for the rest of his life. I will say it is not exactly the clearest read—it's an odd format and style—but I got through with the help of Wikipedia and some reviews. Was definitely worth it, and I loved the book. Thank you to the random fan who bought this for me in Seattle while I was on tour for Conspiracy!
Mayflower: A Story of Courage, Community, and War, by Nathaniel Philbrick
I believe this is my second Philbrick book after In the Heart of the Sea? It's excellent narrative non-fiction, as always, and paired nicely with what I learned in S.C. Gwynne's book. Did you know that one of the passengers on the Mayflower was also a passenger on the shipwrecked Sea Venture, the news story that inspired Shakespeare to write The Tempest? I mean how insane is that? And it gives you a sense of both how distant and how recent history really is. This book tells the story of the landing of the Mayflower, the hubris and the perseverance of it. It shows the courage and the stupidity of the settlers, and does a good job showing equally the inspiring and high minded ideals of the Mayflower Compact as well as the original sin of the creation of America (our treatment of the natives).
Theodore Roosevelt: A Literary Life, by Thomas Bailey and Katherine Joslin
This was recommended to me by Brett McKay of The Art of Manliness who has turned me onto lots of great stuff. He was right again with this book. Theodore Roosevelt is one of the great all-time world leaders...and on the side he was one of our all-time great writers and historians and readers. This was a man who, in addition to becoming President of the United States, wrote some 47 books in his lifetime, who read a book a day even while he was in office. This is a bit of a nerdy read but there is solid stuff in here about his influences, his style, and his belief that words had to be matched by deeds. Related to this, one of my favorite books about my other favorite president is an even better book in this genre—Lincoln: Biography of a Writer by Fred Kaplan. I also loved Edmund Morris's The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt, which I read at 19 years old and changed my life. Brett had a good list of book recommendations from TR as well.
10/18/16 email from Ryan Holiday:
This is a special email for me to send (and certainly not the second one of its kind I thought I’d get to send in a year). It’s special because it is in part an announcement of the release of my newest book, The Daily Stoic: 366 Meditations on Wisdom, Perseverance, and the Art of Living (B&N, Audible, Indiebound, iTunes, Kobo), which features all new translations of Marcus Aurelius, Epictetus and Seneca as well as hundreds of new stories, anecdotes and exercises to help readers live better.
Some of you have already been enjoying the Daily Stoic email which goes out every morning (now to nearly 10,000 people), which is really only a tiny sliver of what this book offers. I’ve always loved the “daily read” format—one exciting page per day—and now I’ve been lucky enough to publish one of my own on my favorite topic in the world: ancient philosophy.
In any case, I wanted to make October’s reading newsletter different to mark that occasion. Instead of just promoting the book (which I hope you will all read!) I want to provide a number of other awesome philosophy recommendations. Whether you read my book or theirs, I promise you, these books will have an enormous impact on your life. I can say that from experience—because each one of them has changed mine.
In any case, enjoy and keep reading. And of course, let me know what you think of The Daily Stoic and the DailyStoic.com daily email!
***The Best Of the Stoics***
Meditations by Marcus Aurelius
It still strikes now—some 10 years into reading this book—how lucky we are to even have it. Meditations is perhaps the only document of its kind ever made: the private thoughts of the world’s most powerful man about how to make good on the responsibilities and obligations of his positions.
Marcus stopped almost every night to practice a series of spiritual exercises—reminders designed to make him humble, patient, empathetic, generous, and strong in the face of whatever he was dealing with. You cannot read this book and not come away with a phrase or a line that will be helpful to you next time you are in trouble.
Read it, and then read it again as often as you can. (Note: I strongly recommend the Hays’s translation above all others and you can also read my interview with him here).
Letters from a Stoic by Seneca
Seneca, like Marcus, was also a powerful man in Rome. He was also a great writer and from the looks of it, a wise man who dispensed great advice to his friends. Much of that advice survives in the form of letters, guiding them and now us through problems with grief, wealth, poverty, success, failure, education and so many other things.
Seneca was a stoic as well, but like Marcus, he was practical and borrowed liberally from other schools. As he quipped to a friend, “I '’t care about the author if the line is good.” That is the ethos of practical philosophy—it doesn’t matter from whom or when it came from, what matters is if it helps you in your life, if only for a second.
Reading Seneca will do that. (Other collections of his thoughts are great too: Penguin’s On the Shortness of Life is excellent and if you’re looking for an audiobook of Seneca, try Tim Ferriss’s edition The Tao of Seneca: Letters from a Stoic Master)
Enchiridion by Epictetus
Unlike the other powerful Stoics, Epictetus overcame incredible adversity. A slave who was banished from Rome, he eventually became a philosopher and opened a small school.
Notes from his classes survive to us in what is now called the Enchiridion, which translates as a ‘small manual or a handbook’ and it is exactly that. It is the perfect introduction to Epictetus as it is packed with short Stoic maxims and principles.
Unlike both Seneca and Marcus, Epictetus is somewhat more difficult to read and I recommend beginning with those two if you haven’t yet read them. The next step would be Epictetus’ Discourses, which are much longer and deserve a bigger commitment.
***Works From Other Great Stoic-Like Philosophers***
The Moral Sayings of Publius Syrus by Publius Syrus
A Syrian slave in the first century BC, Publius Syrus is a fountain of quick, helpful wisdom that you cannot help but recall and apply to your life.
“Rivers are easiest to cross at their source.”
“Want a great empire? Rule over yourself.”
“Divide the fire and you will sooner put it out.”
“Always shun that which makes you angry.”
Those are a few I remember off the top of my head. But all of them are good and worthy of re-reading in times of difficulty (or boredom or in preparation of a big event).
Fragments by Heraclitus
The Stoics—especially Marcus—loved to draw from Heraclitus, a mystic, ephemeral philosopher whose beautiful fragments are eminently quotable. My favorite line from Heraclitus is his line about how no man steps in the same river twice—because it is not the same river and he is not the same man.
Another favorite: “Applicants for wisdom / do what I have 'e: / inquire within.”
And of course, his most direct and timeless remark: “Character is fate.”
If you’re looking for philosophy that is poetic but also practical, give Heraclitus a chance.
Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl
Man is sent to a concentration camp and finds some way for good to come of it. Finds some way to turn it into the ultimate metaphor for life: that we have little control over our circumstances, complete control over our attitude, and our ability to make meaning out of the things which happen to us.
In Frankl’s case, we are lucky that he was a brilliant psychologist and writer and managed to turn all this into one of the most important books of the 20th century.
I think constantly of his line about the man who asks, “What is the meaning of life?” The answer is that you '’t get to ask the question. Life is the one who asks and we must reply with our actions.
Essays by Michel de Montaigne
Montaigne was deeply influenced by some of the books I mentioned above. He was the epitome of Heraclitus’s line about “inquiring within.” So much so that he spent basically the entire second part of his life asking himself (and other people) all sorts of interesting questions and then exploring the answers in the form of short, provocative essays.
(A favorite: Whether he was playing with his cat, or whether he was the toy to his cat).
These essays are always good for a helpful thought or two—be it about death, about “other” people, about animals, about sex, or anything.
Nature and Selected Essays by Ralph Waldo Emerson
While Montaigne’s essays are good for making us think, Emerson’s essays make us act. They remind us that we are ultimately responsible for our own life, for making ethical choices and for fulfilling our potential.
I prefer Emerson to the more indolent Thoreau and because unlike most classic writers, he embodies that uniquely American drive and ambition (but in a healthy way).
If you have not read Emerson, you should. If you have—and you remember fondly his reminders about recognizing our own genius in the work of others, or his reminders to experience the beauty of nature—that counts as philosophy. See how easy it is?
Essays and Aphorisms by Arthur Schopenhauer
Schopenhauer is another brilliant composer of quick thoughts that will help us with our problems. His work was often concerned with the “will”—our inner drives and power.
“For that which is otherwise quite indigestible, all affliction, vexation, loss, grief, time alone digests.”
But he also talks about surprisingly current issues: “Newspapers are the second hand of history”—and that the hand is often broken or malfunctioning.
And of course, the timeless as well: “Hope is the confusion of the desire for a thing for its probability.”
Maxims and Reflections by Goethe
I’d never read or even heard of Goethe until I saw him mentioned in the Hays’ introduction to Marcus Aurelius but I am grateful to have been exposed to the man’s brilliant maxims.
The topics range from natural science, art, ethics, literature to observations on chance encounters he’d have.
Goethe himself was prolific, writing poetry, dramas, scientific treatises, novels and in the last decades of his life he would begin publishing these short reflections. Some favorite ones from the book:
“Behavior is a mirror in which everyone shows his image.”
“Absolute activity, of whatever kind, ultimately leads to bankruptcy.”
“Tell me whom you consort with and I will tell you who you are.”
***Works About The Stoics***
The Inner Citadel and Philosophy as a Way of Life by Pierre Hadot
Pierre Hadot is maybe one of the smartest people I’ve ever read. The Inner Citadel is mostly about Marcus Aurelius and the Stoic concept of the self as a fortress.
Philosophy as a Way of Life is essentially a book about the wisdom of ancient philosophers cumulatively acquired and how we can use the same exercises in our struggles.
I highly recommend both of these. If you’ve read both and want more from the master, I also suggest The Present Alone is Our Happiness which is a series of interviews with Hadot.
Rome’s Last Citizen: The Life and Legacy of Cato, Mortal Enemy of Caesar by Rob Goodman and Jimmy Soni
Marcus Cato has certainly earned his place in the history books—he was the Stoic senator who led the opposition against Julius Caesar who then killed himself rather than live under a dictator. Cato was a soldier, a politician, a thinker and, because of how he lived his life, a philosopher.
His unassailable place in Roman culture is best seen in the old proverbial expression used to make excuses: “We’re not all Catos.” You can also read an interview with Jimmy Soni over at the Daily Stoic.
Marcus Aurelius by Matthew Arnold (essay)
Matthew Arnold was a Victorian scholar who fell in the category of ‘sage writers’—the type of writer who instructs and chastises the reader. This is a fantastic essay on Marcus, who as he remarked in 1863, was a man who held the highest power and most powerful station in the world—and the universal verdict of the people around him was that he proved worthy of it.
A few other great essays on Marcus: "Homage to Marcus Aurelius" by Joseph Brodsky (available in On Grief and Reason: Essays) and “Stoicism in the South” by Walker Percy (available in Signposts in a Strange Land: Essays).
Memoirs of Hadrian by Marguerite Yourcenar
There are not many great works of fiction about Stoicism, but this is one. Written from the perspective of Hadrian, the book takes the form of a long letter of advice to a young Marcus Aurelius, who would eventually succeed him as emperor.
It’s somber but practical, filled with beautiful and moving passages from a man near death, looking to prepare someone for one of the most difficult jobs in the world.
The only other work of fiction about Stoicism I can recommend is Tom Wolfe’s A Man In Full—and then of course, the Loeb edition of Seneca’s plays.
During his lifetime, Seneca was actually more famous for his tragedies than he was for his philosophy (there is a line from one of his plays entombed as graffiti at Pompeii). Anyway, I was enthralled by these dark, disturbing but ultimately stoic plays.
Dying Every Day: Seneca at the Court of Nero by James Romm
I loved this book and read it in one long, long flight. I was riveted and I'm someone who already knew a lot about Seneca. This book is particularly interesting because the author understands that his subject is a person of contradictions but doesn't judge the subject.
Instead he seeks to understand it. In Seneca it is this: how can a philosopher accumulate so much political power? How can a wise man tutor such a monster?
How can an austere man aspire to (and enjoy) great wealth? How can a philosophical writer also be a passionate playwright?
I'll say it again: I loved this book. I ''t necessarily agree with all its conclusions but it made me think all the way through.
Lives of Eminent Philosophers Volumes I & II by Diogenes Laertius
Ironically, Diogenes’ most famous biography in this collection is of the other Diogenes—Diogenes the Cynic. Other excellent and illustrative sketches include Zeno, Ariston, Cleanthes and Chrysippus the Stoic. Heraclitus is another great biography.
All of these vary in length. Zeno is over a 150 pages, Herillus (not to be confused with Heraclitus) is 2 pages. But regardless of length, they are all quite good.
My favorite little quirk of the book is Diogenes’ weird poem that he writes about each philosopher and of course the credulity with which he reports on their unusual deaths (on that note, you may also like the book The Book of Dead Philosophers, a book on how many of the world’s most famous philosophers supposedly died.)
The letters of Marcus Aurelius and his mentor and rhetoric teacher Marcus Cornelius Fronto survived and are interesting to flip through. For more related to Epictetus, you can look into the short autobiography Courage Under Fire by James Stockdale. **
Anyway, this is already become one of the longer reading list recommendation emails I’ve ever 'e (which I suppose is fitting considering The Daily Stoic is my longest book).
Some of you might have already read some of these books—but I’d urge you to take this email as a reminder to pick them up again.
Philosophy is not something you know, it’s something you do. It’s designed to be read and re-read, to be discussed, written about and most of all, to be lived. I hope these recommendations get you started along that path and I hope the path is as fulfilling, provocative and helpful as it has been for me.
The Best Classic Novels of All Time, According to BookBub Readers
The Purpose of Life Is Not Happiness Harry J. Stead timeandritual.com Aug 25
“But I don’t want comfort. I want God, I want poetry,
Aldous Huxley spent the entire summer of 1931 writing ‘Brave New World’. He was living in France at the time and had already established himself as a writer. Huxley had published four satirical novels prior to Brave New World, as well as a book of poetry. He also edited the literary magazine Oxford Poetry.
‘Brave New World’ is Huxley’s most famous novel and rightly so. I do not think there is any other book that has had such a profound impression on me. The comparison with Orwell’s ‘Nineteen-Eighty Four’ is fitting, but the vision and foresight in Brave New World, the sheer audacity it displays is unrivalled. Clearly, Huxley was a genius, a rather bold, daring intellectual eager to discover the delicate realms of both utopia and dystopia.
The context for ‘Brave New World’ is an international scientific empire that has managed to manufacture a society where truth and reason are less significant than happiness and comfort.
The entire society has been sterilised; there is no disease or emotional pain. The people are ignorant of the concept of love, it is traded for promiscuity and casual relationships. Old age, nature, thought and anxiety are removed and a rigorous structure of psychological conditioning is practiced upon the youth. A strict ban on books, philosophy and religion is in place?—?the people view this as protection from harmful material. Each of these pursuits are a distraction from happiness for they are all too uncomfortable and confusing for a people in pursuit of pleasure.
A drug called ‘soma’, an opiate with no withdrawal symptoms, is widespread and used to numb emotions and feelings. It is necessary to maintain social order; the people cannot imagine a life without it for it carries “all the advantages of Christianity and alcohol; none of their defects.”
“In Brave New World the soma habit was not a private vice; it was a political institution…” writes Huxley. “The daily Soma ration was an insurance against personal maladjustment, social unrest and the spread of subversive ideas. Religion, Karl Marx declared, is the opium of the people. In the Brave New World this situation was reversed. Opium, or rather Soma, was the people’s religion.”(Aldous Huxley, Brave New World Revisited)
All of those beautiful human emotions?—?pain, sorrow, trust, delight?—?are never experienced and people are instead reduced to a nothingness existence.
Huxley’s idea of the perfect totalitarian state would not punish wrongful behaviour, but would instead ease people into loving their servitude through pleasure and desensitisation. There would be an exchange from the black leather boot and the cracking whip to drugs, sex, pleasure and gentle conditioning. This would provide the people with no reason to rebel against authority. No discontentment could come between the ordinary man and the state.
The principles of Henry Ford’s assembly line stretch throughout the novel, indeed the people view Ford, alongside Sigmund Freud, as the creator of their civilisation.
It is a society of predictability, certainty, pleasure and comfort.
The novel introduces a foreigner, John the Savage, to the civilised World State. John was born outside civilisation on the Savage Reservation. He falls in love with the works of Shakespeare early in his life. Through Shakespeare, he learns of tragedy, love, loyalty and pain?—?all foreign ideas to the civilised people. He is able to verbalise his own feelings with the words of Shakespeare and in doing so, he recognises the true beauty of human emotions.
Shakespeare provides John with a framework to rebel against the civilised world. John commits himself to the language and ideal of poetry and to nature’s truth and consequently, he rejects the sterilised essence of the world he has found himself in. John is the tragic hero of Brave New World, a character whose idealism eventually leads to his demise.
“Men can only be happy when they do
The force that drives Huxley’s dystopia is the Western culture of seeking the end, the belief that one’s reason for being here is only for happiness. It is supposed, perhaps unknowingly, that there will come a time when our suffering will be finished and the journey will finally come to an end. There is a destination somewhere over those blue remembered hills where all our struggles will end?—?where heaven and horizon will collide. We will be happy, healthy, without depression, worry or anxiety, sitting comfortably with total harmony within ourselves.
Life, by its very nature, is never free of struggle. But, people are incessant in their belief that the day will come in the future when it will all be over.
Brave New World, Huxley believed, would be the end consequence of this foolishness. Because ultimately there will come a time when people will value their happiness over freedom. Pleasure, then, would be followed to its conclusion and willingly allowed to become the foundation of society.
“Give me television and hamburgers, but don’t bother me with the responsibilities of liberty” (Aldous Huxley, Brave New World Revisited)
Huxley understood the myth of arrival, the idea that life is a journey, to be an illusion. Many will come to appreciate this, some sooner than others. The ‘good life’ is seen as beyond reach and such a realisation can cause disillusionment and despair. Even when one finally grasps all that is believed to fund happiness, the initial haste eventually withers away. For humans are accomplished at acclimatising to new heights.
It is this misery and despair, caused by the myth of arrival and life’s constant struggles, that creates the quiet desperation necessary for a people to accept happiness over their freedom. But, the question must be asked as to what we will miss once we make this decision. Truly, reflection and thought is needed about what matters and about what makes us who we are.
Because the faster the world becomes and the less time we have to stop to reflect, the more we are amnesiacs, sleepwalking towards a destination that we did not choose.
“True happiness is to enjoy the present, without anxious dependence upon the future, not to amuse ourselves with either hopes or fears but to rest satisfied with what we have, which is sufficient, for he that is so wants nothing. The greatest blessings of mankind are within us and within our reach. A wise man is content with his lot, whatever it may be, without wishing for what he has not.”
Aldous Huxley was presenting a choice between freedom or pleasure. Humans have a natural instinct for freedom, a drive to follow the beat of one’s own heart. There is no dignity, no pride or love without freedom as to be free is our most natural state and to lose it in such a mindless way betrays all that we are. It is a sad time when many would not only welcome their enslavement, but would rejoice when finally all responsibility is taken away.
Freedom is inseparable from responsibility. We have the freedom to speak our minds, yet the responsibility to make sure we are clear and meaningful. We have the freedom to act, but the responsibility to act appropriately. See, responsibility only brings ache, pain and burden. It almost never brings pleasure. But, without responsibility, without autonomy, we can no longer find the answers within ourselves, but must instead seek guidance elsewhere.
However, with careful reflection, we have to stop and question the conventional wisdom surrounding the idea of happiness. And so the question arises, do people truly want happiness?
Or do they want to struggle against the wind, to fight for their family, to bleed against their misfortune, to break their own heart, to bite their own lip, to put down bribery, to follow their omens, to hang on tight to their past, to move beyond the edges, to love so passionately that they lose themselves, to slay their demons and to discover new creations?
No, happiness is never as virtuous as it seems. Rather, you only believe so whilst you are sat alone in the cellar, distant with the memories of the past. But, this, of course, is amnesia.
Aldous Huxley was warning the individual against the belief that the object of life is happiness. Those moments of happiness that everyone has experienced are rare and fleeting, yet we cling onto them for dear life as if the same script is supposed to extend forever. Instead, rather like John the Savage, each person should follow a purpose, a vocation, an ideal, a fight or a love.
A meaning to one’s life should embrace a struggle for it is necessary to move through time believing your suffering holds a great purpose. Thus it is not a question of a meaning to life itself, but instead a meaning to the suffering endured through life.
A purpose to life, a struggle against nature or a deep breath amid chaos is almost always more glamorous than happiness. How dull those people are who lay on the beach all day and how foolish we are to think so highly of them. For where there is no darkness, dirt or filth, there is also no light, health or life.
Aldous Huxley believed that a shift in our perspective, amongst other things, is needed if we are to avoid what at this moment seems inevitable.
“Man, the bravest of animals, and the one most accustomed to suffering, does not repudiate suffering as such; he desires it, he even seeks it out, provided he is shown a meaning for it, a purpose of suffering. The meaninglessness of suffering, not suffering itself, was the curse that lay over mankind so far.” - (On the Genealogy of Morals, Friedrich Nietzsche)
Thus in the spiritual world we find the formative forces that belong to our moral life. The moral world becomes for us a reality. We see how an ethical impulse cannot in one earth-life effect a change in the physical body, but when it passes over into the next life on earth, can work there quite definitely as a health-giving influence, no less truly than heat works in the physical world, or light, or electricity. Source: Rudolf Steiner - GA 231 - Spiritual Knowledge: A Way of Life - The Hague, November 16th, 1923 Translated by Mary Adams
The Polymath Project: The Simple Truth Behind Reading 200 Books a Year Somebody once asked Warren Buffett about his secret to success. Buffett pointed to a stack of books and said,
“Read 500 pages like this every day. That’s how knowledge works. It builds up, like compound interest. All of you can do it, but I guarantee not many of you will...”
In January of 2015, I found Buffett’s quote. I decided to read. I was going to read and read and read and never stop until I got some damn answers. I didn’t quite make 500 pages a day, but, in these last 2 years, I’ve read over 400 books cover to cover. That decision to start reading was one of the most important decisions in my life. Books gave me the courage to travel. Books gave me the conviction to quit my job. Books gave me role models and heroes and meaning in a world where I had none. I want to say reading 200 books a year is an amazing thing. But the truth is, it’s not. Anybody can do it.
All it takes is some simple math and the right tools.
1. Do Not Quit Before You Start
When average Joe hears the advice “Read 500 pages like this every day”, his snap reaction is to say, “No way! That’s impossible!” Joe will then go on to make up reasons to justify his belief without doing any deep thinking at all. These might include “I’m too busy”, “I’m not smart enough”, or “Books just aren’t for me.” But what if we go a little deeper? For example, what does it actually take to read 200 books a year? Two years ago, I stopped to do the simple math. Here’s what I found: Reading 200 books a year isn’t hard at all. It’s just like Buffett says. Anyone can do it, but most people won’t.
2. Do The Simple Math
How much time does it take to read 200 books a year? First, let’s look at two quick statistics:
The average American reads 200–400 words per minute. (Since you’re on Medium, I’m going to assume you read 400 wpm like me)
Now, all we need are some quick calculations…
200 books * 50,000 words / book = 10 million words
That’s all there is to it. To read 200 books, simply spend 417 hours a year reading. I know, I know. If your brain is like mine, it probably saw “417 hours” and immediately tried to shut off. Most people only work 40 hours a week! How can we possibly read for 417 hours? Don’t let your monkey brain turn you away yet. Let’s do a quick reframe for what 417 hours really means…
3. Find The Time
Wowsers, 417 hours. That sure feels like a lot. But what does 417 hours really mean? Let’s try to get some more perspective. Here’s how much time a single American spends on social media and TV in a year:
608 hours on social media
Wow. That’s 2250 hours a year spent on TRASH. If those hours were spent reading instead, you could be reading over 1000 books a year! Here’s the simple truth behind reading a lot of books: It’s not that hard. We have all the time we need. The scary part?—?the part we all ignore?—?is that we are too addicted, too weak and too distracted to do what we all know is important… All it takes to start reading a lot more is to take “empty time” spent Twitter-stalking celebrities or watching Desperate Housewives and convert some of it to reading time.
The theory is simple. It’s the execution that’s hard.
We all know reading is important. We all know we should do more of it. But we don’t. The main reason this happens is a failure to execute. I’m not so perfect at it yet, but here are some tactics that have helped me get results.
I. Use Environmental Design
If you were quitting cocaine, would you keep it lying around the house? Of course not. Media is designed to be addictive. Moving away from media addiction can be as difficult as quitting drugs. The biggest bang-for-buck changes here are environmental. If you want to read, make sure (1) you remove all distractions from your environment and (2) you make books as easy to access as possible. As an example, here’s my immediate environment:
I travel a lot. That doesn’t stop me from reading. The picture on the left is of my “bookshelf” in Thailand. I try to keep books everywhere so I can just pick one up and start reading. The picture on the right is my smartphone desktop. Notice there are only two apps. One of them?—?the Kindle app?—?is for reading. The other is for habits… Which brings me to my next point.
II. Upload Habits
Willpower is not a good tool for lifestyle change. It always fails you when you need it most. Instead of relying on strength of mind, build a fortress of habits?—?these are what will keep you resilient in tough times. If you’re not familiar with habit science, my favorite book on the subject is Tynan’s Superhuman by Habit. It’s infinitely practical, and practical is all I care about. Getting good at habit formation took me years. Many of the mistakes I made were avoidable. If I could go back, I’d find a habit coach. Here’s how I see it. One game-changing idea from a good book is worth thousands of dollars. If a coach helps you read ONE more good book a year, you already get your money’s worth.
III. Go Multi-Medium
When it comes to reading, be a jack of all trades, not a specialist. If your goal is to read more, you can’t be picky about where you read or what mediums you use. I read paper books. I read on my phone. I listen to audiobooks. And I do these things everywhere?—?on park benches, in buses, in the toilet… Wherever I can. Make your reading opportunistic. If you have a chance, take it. If you don’t have a chance, find one.
“I read a book one day and my whole life was changed.”?—?Orhan Pamuk
If I hadn’t started reading, perhaps I’d still be at my dream job. Perhaps I’d still be at my desk, taking peeks at the clock and wondering if that was how I was going to die… If you’re looking for answers, give reading a try. You may find much, much more than what you were looking for.
Free E-Books OnlineBookBub
Scribd Read Like You Mean It. Costs $8.99/mo.
Library For All begs for money. For K-12 students.
BookShare A Benetech initiative. ebooks for people with visual, physical, and learning disabilities.
BookRix some free, some not
Read Print ReadPrint is a free online library where you can find literally thousands of free books to read for free online, from classics to science fiction to Shakespeare. Registration (it's free) at ReadPrint gives the user a virtual library card for a wide variety of books, as well as the ability to keep track of what you've read and what you'd like to read, discover new books you might like, and join online book clubs to discuss great works of literature.
Nineteenth CenturyEncyclopedia 123 Encyclopedia 123 is made up of information from the late 1800s. when the British Empire was at its height, before airplane travel, before automobiles were common and before the western world had been battered by two world wars.
Dorothy L. Sayers
The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club by Dorothy L. Sayers. It is always a pleasure to read a novel by Miss Sayers who was, during the thirties of the last century, the acknowledged to master of the literate detective story writers. This is an early work, in which Lord Peter Whimsey is given the task of establishing the time of death of an elderly gentleman found dead in his arm chair at the Bellona Club. An inheritance depends on time of death, but just as Whimsey solves this problem another complication arrives. The death, it turns out, was not from age, but was murder, and Whimsey must start over again. This is recommended for anyone who likes a well-written story. 4 people found this helpful
I read my first Lord Peter mystery at least 70 years ago, and I will always place Dorothy Sayers' books at the top of my absolute favorites list.
Today he seems an unusual person perhaps to the people of 2000, but it helps if you remember that the war he mentions is the first World War, which started over 100 years ago in 1914.. Class system in England at that time was a great deal more intense than now.
This is a really nice story, full of upper class England, men's clubs, rich people who did not hold down jobs, servants firmly in their places, retired old men, and women acting as women were supposed to do, and of course, the root of all evil, money....lots of money. Lord Peter solves the problem in his usual Bon vivant manner.
Happy Birthday Dorothy L. Sayers June 13,
what a joy to discover that the books were even better than the TV adaptations – with wonderful writing, depth of character, superb plotting and really gripping tales. Needless to say, I devoured the lot very rapidly.
Edgar Allan Poe10 Little-Known Facts About Edgar Allan Poe How well do you know the master of the macabre? Here are 10 little-known facts about the original horror maestro, Edgar Allan Poe.
The name Edgar Allan Poe conjures all things creepy and macabre. His poems and short stories have long instilled terror into the hearts of readers, and he is considered one of the most important American writers in history. But what do we really know about Poe, other than his dark literary gifts?
Here are 10 little-known facts about one of the earliest masters of American horror, Edgar Allan Poe.
1. Poe’s parents were actors
It’s likely he was given the name “Edgar” after the character in Shakespeare’s King Lear, in which his parents were appearing during the time of his birth.
2. The name “Allan” came from his foster family
After his father left the family and his mother died, Poe was taken in by the family of John Allan, a wealthy Scottish merchant living in Virginia. Poe was never formally adopted by the Allans, but they gave him their name, which he eventually chose to use in his professional career.
3. He published his first book at only 18 years old
In 1827, Tamerlane and Other Poems was released; the byline read “By a Bostonian”—a reference to Poe’s place of birth.
4. Poe attended the University of Virginia for only one year
He incurred massive gambling debts, which left him unable to afford to remain at school, despite the money John Allan claimed he was sending to his foster son.
Edgar Allan Poe and the Mysterious Murder of New York Beauty Mary Rogers Her death fascinated Poe and remains a mystery to this day.
Edgar Allan Poe's 1842 murder mystery novella The Mystery of Marie Rogêt tells the story of Marie Rogêt, a beautiful young Parisian woman whose body is found, battered and bruised, in the Seine River. The tale captivated audiences during its day—perhaps, because, save for the victim's name and the location of her death, the story was true. In creating his story, Poe explicitly borrowed details from the real-life slaying of Mary Cecilia Rogers, a young New Yorker known to many as the “Beautiful Cigar Girl” who worked in a downtown tobacco shop.
LibrariesNeil Gaiman and Chris Riddell on why we need libraries – an essay in pictures Two great champions of reading for pleasure return to remind us that it really is an important thing to do – and that libraries create literate citizens - Words by Neil Gaiman and illustrations by Chris Riddell - Thu 6 Sep 2018 11.59 EDT
Quotes“A room without books is like a body without a soul.” - Marcus Tullius Cicero?
"So many books, so little time." - Frank Zappa
"Katherine points to research concluding that filling a house with books is equivalent to a college education. I suspect this is true; our kids grew up with a mom who is still always reading, who never is without a book and is the library's best customer. The kids grew up surrounded by thousands of books and they are now voracious readers." - Treehugger
"A stack of unread books is a hallway of doors, each leading to an unknown adventure – the promise of a continuum." – Melissa Breyer
The tidying-up pixie known as Marie Kondo has a new show on Netflix, and by all accounts, it seems to be taking the over-cluttered masses by storm. Social media is literally littered with photos showing piles of jettisoned joyless junk, as legions of decluttering warriors fall under the spell of the effervescent Ms. Kondo.
Jessie Eisinger, ProPublica
The Chickenshit Club: Why the Justice Department Fails to Prosecute Executives, by Jesse Eisinger, Simon & Schuster,
Winner of the 2018 Excellence in Financial Journalism Award
From Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist Jesse Eisinger, “a fast moving, fly-on-the-wall, disheartening look at the deterioration of the Justice Department and the Securities and Exchange Commission…It is a book of superheroes” (San Franscisco Review of Books).
Why were no bankers put in prison after the financial crisis of 2008? Why do CEOs seem to commit wrongdoing with impunity? The problem goes beyond banks deemed “Too Big to Fail” to almost every large corporation in America—to pharmaceutical companies and auto manufacturers and beyond. The Chickenshit Club—an inside reference to prosecutors too scared of failure and too daunted by legal impediments to do their jobs—explains why in “an absorbing financial history, a monumental work of journalism…a first-rate study of the federal bureaucracy” (Bloomberg Businessweek).
Jesse Eisigner begins the story in the 1970s, when the government pioneered the notion that top corporate executives, not just seedy crooks, could commit heinous crimes and go to prison. He brings us to trading desks on Wall Street, to corporate boardrooms and the offices of prosecutors and FBI agents. These revealing looks provide context for the evolution of the Justice Department’s approach to pursuing corporate criminals through the early 2000s and into the Justice Department’s approach to pursuing corporate criminals through the early 2000s and into the Justice Department of today, including the prosecutorial fiascos, corporate lobbying, trial losses, and culture shifts that have stripped the government of the will and ability to prosecute top corporate executives.
“Brave and elegant….a fearless reporter…Eisinger’s important and profound book takes no prisoners (The Washington Post). Exposing one of the most important scandals of our time, The Chickenshit Club provides a clear, detailed explanation as to how our Justice Department has come to avoid, bungle, and mismanage the fight to bring these alleged criminals to justice. “This book is a wakeup call…a chilling read, and a needed one” (NPR.org).
The Chickenshit Club Chapter One “THERE IS NO CHRISTMAS” ON A GRIM DAY IN september 2003, with hurricane Isabel brewing off the East Coast, federal prosecutor Kathy Ruemmler prepared for the government’s third interview with an Enron witness. The investigation into the top officers at the collapsed energy giant was stalled. Ruemmler knew the prosecutors had to flip someone.
She had just joined as the youngest member of the Enron Task Force, the special SWAT team the Justice Department had assembled to dig into what had been one of the richest and most admired companies in the world. Now it had been revealed to be one of the biggest frauds in American business history. At a passing glance, the thirty-two-year-old assistant US attorney looked fresh faced and friendly, with her shoulder-length blond hair and clothing that was a step up from the typical government servant’s. But she had a steeliness that she could wield at will. Her warm blue eyes hardened when she was deposing a witness.
Her teammate in those days was Sam Buell. Before joining the task force, Buell, thirty-nine, had prosecuted Boston mob cases. He was tall and clean cut. His short, reddish hair framed a wide, gentle face that sat above broad shoulders. Buell, the son of schoolteachers, had grown up in Milton, Massachusetts, outside of Boston. Self-deprecating and easygoing, he looked like a favorite high school math teacher. Witnesses liked him in spite of themselves. Buell and the task force had been laboring over the case for months now. They were going after Jeff Skilling and Ken Lay, Enron’s top officers. Ruemmler and Buell spent most of their time shuttling from DC to Houston, where the two of them would drive from their dingy government-rate hotel rooms to an abandoned space at the top of Houston’s run-down federal courthouse, a 1960s-era squat white cube in the middle of downtown Houston.
They passed through building security unencumbered. Here it was already 2003, and they still didn’t even have BlackBerrys. Upstairs, their clunky computers balanced on cardboard boxes atop chipped metal desks. The whole place was so run-down that it was fodder for jokes. A defense attorney bringing a tony client for an interview once cracked, “It looks like an OSHA violation in here!” During the first winter, most of them had come down with miserable respiratory infections. Were the offices infecting them? Or was it just the pressure of their task? They had no document management system and no way even to email the FBI agents assigned to the investigation, who were just a few blocks away. With this pathetic setup, they were taking on an infernally complex company in the most important corporate fraud case in memory, against a legion of defense lawyers from the best firms in the world.
The country had invaded Iraq six months earlier. Madonna kissed Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera on the MTV Video Music Awards show. The American tennis star Andy Roddick won what would be the only major tournament of his career: the US Open championship. But Ruemmler barely noted outside events, significant or trivial. She had no time for anything but the case. During these eighteen-hour days, when she could only sneak in a frozen pizza and a shower, Ruemmler would sometimes marvel that she had ended up here. She had grown up in Richland, Washington, a rural corner of the Northwest, where both of her parents worked at the giant Hanford nuclear facility on the Columbia River, her father as a computer engineer and her mother in a toxicology lab. Unlike most of her Justice Department colleagues, Ruemmler hadn’t gone to an elite eastern college. She’d been thrilled to get into the local University of Washington, and before she left to attend Georgetown University Law Center, she had been out of the Northwest only three times.
Yet Ruemmler had landed a plum job: assistant US attorney; a federal prosecutor in the DC office. She’d been handling violent crime and narcotics cases when Leslie Caldwell, head of the Enron Task Force, reached out. Ruemmler hadn’t had much experience prosecuting financial fraud. She’d been reading the papers and coming across the same phrase: if normal financial fraud was “algebra,” the articles intoned, Enron was “advanced calculus.” She felt intimidated. But Caldwell assured her the Enron Task Force would be only a six-month detail.
• • •
Twice, the Enron prosecutors had brought in one of their most promising witnesses, Dave Delainey, the head of Enron’s energy trading division. He’d stuck with his story, brushing aside questions from the prosecutors and the FBI agent assigned to this part of the investigation. They weren’t giving up, though, and that morning they felt certain they had discovered a dangling thread that might help them unravel his story.
As Ruemmler and Buell went through the many emails Delainey had sent to his head trader, they found a huge gain the company had made trading in California’s energy markets in the late 1990s. Enron didn’t want to tell shareholders it was a volatile trading shop. Instead, the company line for Wall Street had been that Enron was a stable, fast-growing operation. CEO Jeff Skilling had downplayed Enron’s trading, once saying on CNBC that it was “just a small portion” of its business.1 Enron was just a “logistics” business, he’d say, meaning that Enron helped speculators but wasn’t one itself. A big trading gain, such as the one Ruemmler and Buell discovered, hinted at the reality. Speculation dominated the company’s culture and contributed an outsized portion of its profits. Once, after a trader had lost close to a half billion in one day, Skilling came down to the trading floor and exhorted the traders to “man up.” Get back out there and make more trades. Win it back.
Instead of having Enron disclose those trading profits, Delainey and his executives hid them. They stashed the millions of dollars of earnings and created a cover story: it was setting aside those profits for a possible legal settlement.
Ruemmler and Buell had figured out that this reserve, this “cookie jar,” was a lie. Poring over the company’s intentionally complicated and messy financial statements one more time, they’d noticed that a year after creating the reserve, Enron had lost millions in another division and dipped into that money—reserved for legal costs—to cover the losses and make it look like it had made money that quarter. That accounting hocus-pocus was illegal, and Delainey and his top trader had emailed about it. But they’d used a lot of trader jargon, and the emails were vague enough that a jury would need them decoded. The prosecutors understood how the scam had been pulled off but believed they couldn’t prove it yet.
Delainey could explain that little scam, but that’s not why they needed to flip him. Complex white-collar investigations required finding “rabbis” to guide you through the transactions. Even the smartest outsiders couldn’t rely on the documents. They were conducting an old-fashioned investigation. They needed someone on the inside. If they could flip Delainey, they could take the prosecution all the way to the top. They could begin to build a case that Jeff Skilling had lied to investors and the public.
That led them, in the middle of the hurricane, to haul Dave Delainey and his expensive lawyers into a windowless conference room in the Bond Building in Washington, DC, for a third time.
Buell and Ruemmler and their expert FBI agent had new verve; they took command of the interview from the start. Buell had a hunch Delainey wanted to cooperate. Getting him over to their side, however, required breaking down his instinct to deny and minimize his culpability. Delainey had long been an Enron true believer. A clean-cut Canadian, he’d been awed by the testosterone-flooded Enron trading culture. Hard-charging, sure, but they weren’t—couldn’t be—criminals.
Few corporate white-collar fraudsters—not egregious Ponzi schemers or boiler room operators but perpetrators at large, respectable companies—start out thinking they will commit a crime. As one academic study, “Why Do They Do It?: The Motives, Mores, and Character of White Collar Criminals” put it, most white-collar criminals are “individuals who find themselves involved in schemes that are initially small in scale, but over which they quickly lose control.”2
They tell themselves, “I’ll just do it this quarter so we don’t miss the number, and then I’ll stop it and undo what I’ve done.” They don’t think of themselves as crooks. It’s just a short-term fix. Then they use the device again and again until they have no choice but to keep up the charade. They start rationalizing what they’re doing. It may be aggressive, but it’s not wrong. It’s not theft. The bad guys aren’t lying just to prosecutors. They are lying to their shareholders, their colleagues, and their families. And they are lying to themselves.
The prosecutor’s job is to crack through that self-justification and self-delusion. That’s what Ruemmler and Buell were going to do that morning, in that room, with Delainey.
The two stuck with their plan to stay calm, to both be the good cops, and keep asking questions about the emails. They would reason with him, confronting him with the evidence, though selectively, to test his credibility. Their advantage was that Delainey didn’t know exactly which documents interested the prosecutors, as well as who else from Enron was talking and what they were saying. As Ruemmler and Buell ground him down on the emails, his story began to collapse. A couple hours into the conversation, it happened: Delainey glanced over and signaled a silent plea for help to his lawyers: John Dowd of Akin Gump and a promising young associate named Savannah Guthrie, who would later coanchor the Today show.
Dowd was a legend, one of the premier defense lawyers in the country. Big and aggressive, he’d vow to fight the government from every rampart in Washington. He had some quirks. Using just two fingers, he’d bang out his emails in twenty-eight-point purple Comic Sans font. “Who He?” he’d email-bellow to his associates. He toned it down for Buell, who saw a familiar character in Dowd, a brash and street-smart working-class Bostonian. They would chat about the Red Sox. Dowd was no intellectual, but he was savvy and knew how to help his clients. Buell and Ruemmler made it clear where the email evidence was taking Dowd’s client. The attorney understood it perfectly.
Dowd asked if he and Guthrie could confer with their client and then left the room.
They were gone for about fifteen minutes. When they came back in, Ruemmler noticed that Delainey’s demeanor had changed. He now slumped in his chair. A moment passed in silence. He then spoke—mumbled, really: “It was all bullshit.”
As Kathy Ruemmler snuck a quick a look at her partner, she saw the smallest of smiles on his face.
GEORGE BUSH AND “KENNY BOY”
When Enron filed for bankruptcy in December 2001, the implosion devastated a major US city, Houston, both economically and psychologically. Fortune magazine had named Enron “America’s most innovative company” six years straight for having changed the way that gas and electricity moved around the country. The magazine CEO had named Enron’s board one of the top five in America.3 Former secretaries of state Henry Kissinger and James Baker had lobbied for the company. Nelson Mandela had come to Houston to receive the Enron Prize for Distinguished Public Service.
The Enron scandal reached all the way to the president and vice president of the United States. George W. Bush and Dick Cheney had run in the same business and social circles as the Enron executives. Bush’s family had made its money in Texas energy; Cheney, only a few years earlier, had been the CEO of the energy services giant the Halliburton Company, then based in Dallas. Ken Lay, Enron’s founder, was a longtime Bush family friend and major Republican donor. Bush, as is his way with intimates, had given Lay a nickname: “Kenny Boy.” Lay had once hosted a fund-raiser for Senator John Ashcroft, a Republican from Missouri, who was expected to make a bid for the 2000 presidency. Now Ashcroft was Bush’s attorney general, the top law enforcement officer in the United States.4
The country fell into recession in late 2000. It was reeling from the bursting of the biggest stock market bubble the world had seen, which had inflated through most of the 1990s before collapsing mercilessly in March 2000. Over the next few years, new companies reported accounting problems with alarming regularity: Tyco, Adelphia, HealthSouth, WorldCom. But Enron’s collapse was the most spectacular. The pandemic of corporate greed and criminality felt so consequential that it wasn’t outlandish to think that Enron’s failure might be the seminal financial event of a generation.
Enron’s significance would recede, however, and the lessons it holds for white-collar enforcement would be forgotten. Despite Enron’s political might, the US government aggressively investigated the fraud at the energy trading company and prosecuted dozens of individuals, including the top officers of the company. Lay, Skilling, and Andrew Fastow, the chief financial officer, were all found guilty. Skilling and Fastow went to prison; Lay would have gone, too, but he died of a massive heart attack in 2006, just three months before his sentencing. In all, the government charged thirty-two people associated with the Enron frauds, including Wall Street bankers who’d facilitated the deceptions.5 The government did indeed take down rogue executives not that long ago.
Many people look at the crimes at Enron, WorldCom, Adelphia, Tyco, and the generation of post-stock-market-bubble-bursting prosecutions and think the crimes were so egregious that the prosecutions must have been easy. But that’s only with the benefit of hindsight. What Kathy Ruemmler, Sam Buell, and the rest of the Enron Task Force did was not simple and never inevitable. If the task force hadn’t had resources, time, intelligence, and patience, Lay and Skilling may not have been prosecuted at all or could have easily been acquitted. The prosecutorial team went up against the best defense lawyers in the country. The public brayed for faster action. The team had its share of stumbles, blowing some of its trials. Lay didn’t use email; Skilling rarely did. So the government lacked direct, incriminatory evidence of their guilt. But in the big cases, the task force prevailed. These were not accidents. The Enron prosecution team made smart strategic decisions, secured necessary resources, learned from their mistakes, used aggressive tactics, and ran the major trials well.
Despite this success, the Justice Department took the wrong lesson from Enron. Over the next decade, the task force’s legacy, at least for the subsequent leaders of the Justice Department, lay more in its mistakes than its successes. Courts reversed the government in key cases. The defense bar and Justice Department officials came to view the Enron prosecutors as reckless and abusive rather than sufficiently aggressive to meet the prosecutorial challenge. Today it’s an open question whether the Justice Department would be capable of taking on Enron the same way the task force did.
ASSEMBLING THE TEAM
In the early years of the George W. Bush administration, its Department of Justice compiled a sterling record of corporate prosecutions. Larry Thompson, Bush’s first deputy attorney general, understood that the DOJ had to respond assertively to the unfolding crisis. Thompson joined the administration in 2001, just as the corporate accounting scandals were breaking. Stock markets were collapsing. The public was furious. By the end of its run, the early Bush-era Department of Justice had prosecuted almost every major accounting fraud from the early 2000s. Not just Enron but also WorldCom, Adelphia, Global Crossing, and Qwest Communications among them. At the state level, the Manhattan district attorney prevailed in cases against the top corporate officers of Tyco.6
Prosecutors took losses, too. They weren’t taking on the easiest cases and juicing their stats with easy victories. One of the more unfathomable losses was the acquittal of Richard Scrushy, the head of hospital and rehab clinic operator HealthSouth. Prosecutors charged him with thirty-six counts, including securities fraud and conspiracy in connection with a $2.7 billion accounting fraud. They flipped multiple former employees against Scrushy, including the HealthSouth CFO, but a hometown jury found him not guilty.7 A year later, in a separate case, a federal jury found Scrushy guilty of bribery.8 Thompson understood the risks and tolerated losses. In his view, they were the price of ambition.
A fair and lifetime law-and-order man, Thompson conferred with Michael Chertoff, the head of the criminal division at “Main Justice,” as the Washington headquarters of the Department of Justice is known. They both emphasized the public need for “real-time” prosecution for white-collar cases. They believed the public deserved action and defendants deserved speedy resolutions. But the strategy was also practical. White-collar cases could languish for years, a poor way of conducting any investigation. The evidence trail grows cold, memories fade, and defense lawyers have time to formulate their client’s stories and tactics. Prosecutors needed to maintain momentum. Thompson and Chertoff understood that with the Enron debacle, the public would be bothered with slow justice. That there might be no justice—no prosecutions at all—never even occurred to anyone.
In early 2002 Thompson and Chertoff feared that the Enron case was already a mess. Several US Attorney’s Offices had separate pieces of the investigation. Main Justice oversees the other offices but does not direct each about its investigations. The criminal division in Washington also conducts its own investigations into securities fraud, antitrust violations, public corruption, and civil rights. Prosecutors coordinate probes but do not conduct them. Every investigation has agents, usually from the FBI. Often other government regulators, including the SEC, have only civil enforcement powers. For criminal matters, they work with the Justice Department. Since the Southern District of New York took on most of the corporate and securities fraud matters, it had the closest relationship with the SEC. In early 2002 the Southern District vied to take all the Enron cases for itself, but Thompson and Chertoff wouldn’t allow that. The Southern District, in a pique, removed itself entirely.
With the Southern District out of Enron, nobody seemed to know who was in charge of what. The government’s document requests deluged the company. Robert Bennett, the Washington power lawyer, then with Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom, which represented Enron, called up Larry Thompson’s office and told them he wanted to cooperate but didn’t know with whom he should deal.9
Main Justice realized that the Houston office of the Justice Department had too many professional and personal conflicts of interest and had to recuse itself from prosecuting the company. Thompson, FBI Director Robert Mueller, and Chertoff mulled the problem. Should they assign a special prosecutor to head up all the cases? Do nothing and let the US Attorney’s Offices work the cases on their own? Chertoff had been a US attorney in New Jersey and had worked under Rudolph Giuliani when Giuliani was the US attorney in Manhattan. Chertoff likened US attorneys to ship captains: they mapped their own courses. Chertoff knew that US attorneys felt free to heed or ignore distress flags from shore. He’d done it himself. They were not autonomous, but they took direction from Main Justice reluctantly. Top Justice Department officials in Washington were political appointees. The responsible ones took care in offering direction in order to not be seen as meddling politically in investigations.
Chertoff argued to Thompson that these cases were too important for Main Justice to leave them up to individual US attorneys. When he was the US attorney in Atlanta, Thompson had overseen a drug task force with another US attorney, the future Alabama Republican senator Jeff Sessions, who would become the US attorney general in 2017. He believed task forces worked, though not by magic. They shared information and investigative techniques. A task force focused prosecutors and gave them clear priorities. After that, it was pick-and-shovel work on the case, flipping low-level soldiers to get to the capos.
All the officials in the conversation understood that a task force with prosecutorial powers had some inherent weaknesses. It faces enormous pressure to emerge with some kind of charge, leading to abuses. (Similar problems plague independent prosecutors.) The public has made up its mind. Prosecutors need courage not to bring cases as the spotlight shines. The more cases a task force can bring, the better. It’s difficult to wind up the operation. Worse, a task force has few checks and balances. A US Attorney’s Office has institutional knowledge and a decision-making structure; a task force operates in a vacuum.
But Thompson thought he might ward off those bad outcomes with his gentle persistence. The top officials created the President’s Corporate Fraud Task Force to supervise the efforts of the various offices around the country. They identified approximately ten big cases for it to oversee. Thompson made weekly calls to the heads of the offices to make sure prosecutors were working them and to make it clear that he cared. Thompson had a soft and inviting disposition. He didn’t direct anything. He just let them know he wanted to hear the status. His bedside manner was deceptive. He would “stay on their asses,” as one Department of Justice official put it.
Main Justice also created the elite operation to go after Enron specifically. In early 2002 Chertoff got to work on forming the Enron SWAT team. Mueller recommended the stoic Leslie Caldwell to head the team. He had worked with her in the San Francisco US Attorney’s Office, where she led the securities fraud unit. Caldwell, then in her early forties, maintained a soothing calm. She carried an air of someone who’d had years of practice cracking jokes that only she might hear or get. Her formative prosecutorial experience had been in the US Attorney’s Office in Brooklyn, the Eastern District of New York, where she had overseen mob prosecutions. She liked to say that back then the rooftops of Brooklyn were for stashing bodies, not kale gardens.10 Eastern District prosecutors liked to think they were scrappier than those in the Southern District in Manhattan. Eastern District “mafia”—prosecutors loved to identify themselves as mafiosi from certain offices—dominated the Enron investigative team. Caldwell brought in Andrew Weissmann as her deputy. In many ways, he was her opposite: loud, aggressive, flamboyant. “Your client is a lying sack of shit!” he’d yell at defense lawyers. Caldwell, who had worked with Weissmann in Brooklyn, admired his trial brilliance.
Caldwell then turned to Sam Buell, with whom she’d worked in the Eastern District. Buell was then working up in Boston, having spent three grueling years on the Whitey Bulger case, the notorious Boston mobster wanted in connection with nineteen murders, among other crimes. He’d been on the lam for sixteen years before being captured in 2011. Caldwell had attended Buell’s wedding. When she called about the task force job in early 2002, Buell didn’t have to think about it. He knew he was in. His wife, a corporate lawyer who had left the workplace to raise their children, encouraged him. Buell had little white-collar experience. He’d done only some low-level corporate fraud work—a money-laundering case or two. But he understood that prosecutors couldn’t shy from difficult cases. After attending law school at New York University, he had clerked for Jack Weinstein, a legendary federal district court judge famous for resolving mass tort cases involving Agent Orange and asbestos. From Judge Weinstein, Buell drew the lesson that nothing is too complex or too big. These people committing the crimes weren’t smarter than you; they, too, had to learn it all at some point.11
But it always helped to have some expertise on hand. So Caldwell recruited Tom Hanusik from Main Justice. Hanusik, an SEC enforcement lawyer in the mid-1990s, had a knack for financial investigation. He loved combing through complicated documents and identifying dodgy deals. With the addition of one other prosecutor, the team—smart, young, ambitious, and energetic—was set. They were all intimidated to take on a fraud so sprawling and complex. Eventually the Enron Task Force would have about forty FBI agents and an average of ten prosecutors assigned to it full-time, bringing cases over the next half decade.
At least to the public, the task force didn’t get going fast enough. The prosecutors anticipated that Enron’s defense lawyers would argue the company may have been aggressive but had technically adhered to the law. The defense would point out that lawyers and accountants blessed the company’s actions. Indeed, that was true. Prosecutors needed to move cautiously. They had to sift through the complexities to find the potential crimes. However, the public and the press did not understand or sympathize.12 The press assailed the government for moving too slowly and letting the perpetrators walk. CNN’s Lou Dobbs, then one of the most influential business journalists, started running an Iran-hostage-like daily count noting there hadn’t been Enron indictments. The CNBC show Kudlow & Cramer would ask, Who is in the pokey? Buell saw cohost Larry Kudlow spout some nonsense about how this case should be as easy as locking up someone for dealing drugs on a street corner. Jeffrey Toobin, CNN’s legal analyst, swung the other way. Explaining how difficult it was to make white-collar cases, he predicted that neither Skilling nor Lay would go to prison.13 Tom Daschle, the Senate majority leader, called on the Justice Department to explain why it hadn’t indicted anyone.14
When prosecutors turned lower-level executives or pressed seemingly tangential cases, the media would report as if the investigations into Skilling and Lay had stalled. But the talking heads misunderstood what was going on. The prosecution team was moving deliberately, moving the lower-level cases to build the evidence to go after the top Enron officers. Privately, team members wondered, Would they get there?
They would. Though the trials were long, arduous, but full of good breaks, prosecutors won guilty verdicts against the key architects of the Enron fraud through working three main witnesses: Delainey, Fastow, and company treasurer Ben Glisan Jr. They were the government’s best witnesses, its Virgils through the labyrinthine off-balance-sheet deals and accounting shenanigans. The investigators and prosecutors would rely on dozens of executives, victims, experts, witnesses, and countless documents to prove their cases beyond a reasonable doubt. But the government needed Glisan, Delainey, and Fastow. Without all three, the Enron Task Force likely would have failed.
Prosecutors took a different path to work each of the three: Delainey cooperated in a traditional fashion, in exchange for leniency; Fastow reached a nontraditional agreement in which he cooperated without receiving a reduced sentence; Glisan cooperated reluctantly but voluntarily while serving time.
THE FASTOW FLIP
The outside world was helping the government, providing a road map for the prosecutors. Journalists were breaking stories. The Enron board of directors had ordered an internal investigation into what had caused the collapse. The three-person panel of independent directors, headed up by William Powers Jr., the dean of the University of Texas Law School, came out with its report on February 1, 2002, only two months after the bankruptcy. The report detailed the self-dealing at Enron, the dubious transactions, and the lax oversight, blistering top management.
The first big case the Enron Task Force brought, in March 2002, was against Arthur Andersen, Enron’s accounting firm, for obstruction of justice. The case consumed Caldwell, Weissmann, and Buell. Meanwhile, Tom Hanusik could work in relative peace to start building Enron cases. In the Powers report, Hanusik saw an intriguing reference to how a British investment bank, NatWest (National Westminster), had helped in a suspicious Enron transaction. He retrieved the emails behind the deal and saw right off how damning they were. They outlined NatWest’s effort to help Fastow and Michael Kopper, his young right-hand man, create an off-balance-sheet entity to hide Enron debt.
By the summer of 2002, he had charged three NatWest bankers with wire fraud in the first of many Enron cases, seeking their extradition. To outside observers, it seemed tangential. But Hanusik understood he was essentially publishing a banner headline in a newspaper meant for one man. His message came through. The young Kopper read where Hanusik’s investigation was leading. Just three weeks later, Kopper came in. Hanusik had scored the first Enron cooperator. Kopper would help the Enron Task Force start building its case against Fastow. But there was another important signal from the case, a message sent by the indictment of Arthur Andersen as well: prosecutors weren’t going just after Enron executives. They were going after the bankers and accountants who enabled Enron. These prosecutors understood the ecosystem of corporate fraud.
On August 21, 2002, Kopper entered into a plea deal for up to fifteen years. (He was later sentenced to three years and a month.) The deal created a way to get to Fastow, the most obvious target for initial investigation. Fastow had been a wunderkind, rising to become Enron’s CFO in his thirties. He was the mastermind behind the most troubling aspects of the Enron frauds: its off-balance-sheet vehicles. In October 2002 the task force indicted Fastow. He pleaded not guilty.
Larry Thompson, the deputy attorney general, and Robert Mueller, the FBI director, held a press conference to celebrate the accomplishment. Thompson laid out his approach in clear and simple terms, not heard often in the constipated confines of an official Washington media gathering. “Our strategy is really straightforward. We aim to put the bad guys in prison and take away their money,” he said.15
Skilling and Lay were blaming Fastow for the corporation’s fraud and collapse, like parents who leave the keys to the liquor cabinet when they go away for a weekend and then blame the teenagers for getting drunk. The task force scoffed. But the executives’ position helped them. They knew Fastow’s cooperation would be necessary to get Skilling and Lay.
Over the course of the next several months after they indicted him, Fastow stayed as mute as a mob soldier, despite all the damning evidence the task force had assembled on him. The government needed to bring more pressure. Weissmann, with Caldwell’s nod, metaphorically put a drill to his knees. On May 1, 2003, the task force indicted Fastow’s wife, Lea, charging her with filing a false income tax return. Both Fastows faced the prospect of being in prison and away from their young children. Lea came from a prominent Houston family. She had lost her reputation and standing. Now she stood to lose her liberty.
Fastow wasn’t so insensate that he didn’t care about his wife. He came in. His lawyer John Keker was a profane and argumentative legend who ran his own boutique practice. Keker sometimes screamed and swore at the prosecutors. True to her style, Caldwell remained calm and let him run on like a three-year-old until he tired himself out. Keker proclaimed he never allowed any of his clients to cooperate. Of course, if it served their interest, he would. For Fastow, it did.
On January 14, 2004, more than two years after Enron declared bankruptcy, prosecutors struck an uncommon deal. Both Fastows pleaded guilty. Andrew pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and one count of conspiracy to commit wire and securities fraud. He pledged to forfeit tens of millions of dollars and to no longer seek the millions in compensation he claimed Enron owed him. Vitally, Fastow stated that other top executives shared his culpability:
I and other members of Enron’s senior management fraudulently manipulated Enron’s publicly reported financial results. Our purpose was to mislead investors and others about the true financial position of Enron and, consequently, to inflate artificially the price of Enron’s stock and maintain fraudulently Enron’s credit rating.16
Fastow agreed to a ten-year sentence. The agreement stipulated he would not request a reduced sentence, even if he were particularly cooperative with prosecutors. To impugn the prosecution’s witnesses, defense attorneys highlight the leniency deals witnesses have received to persuade the jury they are likely self-serving liars. Caldwell, Weissmann, and Buell’s agreement with Fastow blunted the defense’s ability to argue that Fastow was lying about Skilling and Lay in order to get off more easily. Eventually the judge would sentence him to only six years in prison.
THE GLISAN GAMBIT Kathy Ruemmler, the young up-and-coming star, joined the task force after Fastow’s indictment but before his plea deal. Getting the CFO was great, but they needed much more evidence to bring Skilling and Lay to justice. She and Buell flipped Delainey in September 2003. When he stopped lying and came around, they worked his information for a month before he pleaded guilty. She and Buell reached a traditional cooperating witness arrangement with him: He did so in exchange for a deal to keep the charges minimal. Ruemmler could worry that the defense would attack the deal later. For now, she and Buell had to drain Delainey of everything he knew, which was plenty about Skilling. The key for the Enron prosecutors—for prosecutors of any white-collar crime—was to keep the pressure on. Nobody knew who the Feds were interviewing. Nobody knew who was talking and who wasn’t. The day Delainey pleaded, Skilling transferred $10 million to O’Melveny & Myers, his defense firm.
“Good,” thought Ruemmler. “He understands exactly how much danger he’s in.”
The final one of the big three, Enron treasurer Ben Glisan, cooperated in a different fashion: reluctantly. On September 10, 2003, Glisan pleaded guilty. He went straight to prison for his five-year sentence, the first former Enron executive to be locked up. Glisan wouldn’t cooperate. He wanted no agreement. Instead, he said he would do his time. He made a decision that his children were young, and if he had to be sent away, he wanted to serve now rather than after a protracted legal battle.
Glisan’s position at Enron was so important, he could be a font of damning evidence—if he wanted to be. So prosecutor Andrew Weissmann gambled. Just a few months into his sentence, Weissmann brought Glisan from prison to put him in front of the grand jury. Ruemmler marveled. All the young team members did. It was ballsy, because Weissmann had no indication that Glisan would be helpful. The move carried a huge risk: Glisan might offer testimony exonerating Skilling or Lay. And it would all be on the record for the grand jury.
A Houston Chronicle reporter guarded the grand jury every day. Prosecutors didn’t want Glisan’s presence before the grand jury to leak. US marshals snuck him in through a back door in his green jumpsuit. Weissmann immunized him from further prosecution, but that was the extent of the deal. He would have to serve his prison time no matter what he said. Then the task force deputy director started in with his questions, right in front of the grand jury. Would Glisan understand all he had to do was tell the truth? He did. He was candid. Weissmann put him on the stand for days. Glisan was fantastic.
Each evening after the sessions, the team went out to dinner. Ruemmler couldn’t believe what Glisan was saying in court. He understood every deal. He could place Skilling and Lay in the room during crucial conversations. “Shit, I have to go talk to this guy,” she said. Weismann beamed. Glisan would later be a star witness in both the Ken Lay trial and Ruemmler’s other trial against Merrill Lynch executives who had allegedly helped Enron disguise a loan as revenue, known as the Nigerian barge trial. (The deal had taken place off the coast of the African country.) Glisan would be immunized at both.
The Nigerian barge trial was delayed till the fall of 2004. Ruemmler and an FBI agent rented a cheap Buick to go see Glisan in prison. Kathy had never seen a car with chillers on the seat to keep the driver cool in the Texas summer. Bastrop Federal Correctional Institution, a low-security prison, sits a couple hours from Houston. When she approached the gray, sprawling compound, surrounded by barbed wire and huge floodlights, Ruemmler thought, “Every prosecutor should spend a lot of time in prisons.” They should know where they were sending people and how serious it was to strip them of their liberty.
Prisoners don’t want to be snitches. Ruemmler’s meeting with Glisan had to be secretive. The prison concocted a cover story to get the former Enron executive out of his cell and sneak him into the warden’s office. Dressed in his olive drab prison garb, he was nervous. But the former company treasurer soon relaxed and became introspective, though never bitter. He wasn’t overly helpful or ingratiating, nor too eager or vindictive. Ruemmler and Buell came to respect him, impressed by his recall and command of detail.
Glisan was a patient teacher. He had kept careful notebooks of all of his meetings and deals. Ruemmler went through every entry with him. It was trial gold. He corroborated everything. Glisan would go over a certain Enron off-balance-sheet vehicle. It was maddeningly complicated. Finally, Ruemmler would exclaim, “I get it!” The next morning, she’d wake up and realize she no longer understood it anymore. She’d need another session. She knew she’d never have to go into this level of detail at trial, but the defense team had their knives at the ready for evisceration if her jury-friendly version was so dumbed down that it was even slightly wrong.
Glisan had damning information on Skilling. But more important, he had damning information about Lay. He made the Enron Task Force feel confident enough to bring a case against Enron’s founder. On July 7, 2004, the Enron Task Force indicted Lay, charging him with eleven counts, including securities fraud and making false statements. He pleaded not guilty, calling a press conference to proclaim his innocence and portray himself as a victim of the fraud. Andrew Fastow had betrayed his trust “and betrayed it very, very badly,” he said. “There is no CEO that I’m aware of” who could possibly know about every decision lower-level employees make. They rely on the advice of lawyers, bankers, and accountants. “Now, there may be some superman somewhere that thinks they know everything going on in their company in every department, in every level, in every country, and every employee. But I think that would be very unrealistic.”17
Top corporate executives would continue to make versions of this argument for the next decade, especially in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis. Ignorance equaled innocence. Lay’s defense might have worked if prosecutors had charged him with masterminding Enron’s accounting frauds. But they were too smart and built a different case.
THE DARK PERIOD
By the second half of 2004, the young prosecutors of the Enron Task Force faced tough times. Leslie Caldwell had left the team in the spring. Sam Buell left as well. He had never moved from Boston, getting on a plane every week for two years. His second child was born while he was working the case. He regretted barely seeing her.
Disarray started to cost the team. Sean Berkowitz, a prosecutor on the team, and Ruemmler were exhausted. Sometimes they doubted they would ever be able to bring the big cases. There were no smoking guns. Would juries buy their theory? They both entertained leaving the task force. Then, in mid-2005, Weissmann beat them to it, announcing his resignation. Berkowitz was appointed director. He asked Ruemmler to be his deputy. The two were stuck in the task force and stuck with a mess. For all of his brilliance and gutsiness, Weissmann had been no manager. Roles weren’t defined. The task force had no focus as it was trying to prepare for the big trials of Skilling and Lay. The prosecution teams weren’t even set.
Berkowitz had joined in December 2003, shortly after Ruemmler came on board. Thirty-six at the time, he had been going through a bad patch. A graduate of Harvard Law School, he had spent the last five years working in the Chicago US Attorney’s Office, most recently for US Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald. But he was getting divorced from his wife, a prosecutor in the same office. Desperate to get out, he went to Fitzgerald to see if there was anywhere he could go. Fitzgerald recommended him for the Enron team. Berkowitz had little familiarity with Enron or the investigation, but he had some corporate prosecution experience. He took it.
Weissmann had resigned during the trial of executives from Enron’s broadband unit. It wasn’t going well. Enron had created a division to market broadband Internet service. It was unsuccessful in reality but profitable on paper, because Enron booked revenue and earnings right when it signed a deal, long before the actual money came through. Early on, the task force had devoted significant resources and people to probing the broadband unit. That expenditure of money and time looked good on July 30, 2004, when Ken Rice, the CEO of the unit, pleaded guilty to one count of securities fraud. The next month, the chief operating officer of the unit pleaded guilty.
The task force had also charged five executives of its broadband unit for overstating the strength of the division’s business. On April 18, 2005, the trial of the five executives began. It dragged on for months. Members of the prosecution team—which didn’t include Berkowitz or Ruemmler—clashed. They got bogged down in debates about the viability of the technology.
In July the jury acquitted the executives on some counts and got hung on the rest. The judge declared a mistrial.
Now director, Berkowitz, normally calm and congenial, felt spooked. Cases that had looked like fortresses began to appear vulnerable. The sprawling defense teams kept filing motion after motion, loosing their catapults. He and Ruemmler realized they didn’t have enough people and help. The resource deprivation was inexplicable. How could the department have set up this team with such public celebration but not given them the tools to win?
The FBI had an ancient document management system. Task force prosecutors had to call up the FBI, ask it to search a term, and wait. Three days later, they’d get the documents—usually. Enron was both the first massive electronic discovery investigation and the last of the old style, with paper discovery, manual searches, and files in cabinets. After one such failed search, Ruemmler reamed out the FBI agents and then came into Berkowitz’s office and slumped in a chair.
“What’s the matter? Why can’t they handle it, Berko?”
All Berkowitz could think was, “When is this going to end?”
They needed to alert the higher-ups. Berkowitz and Ruemmler went over to Main Justice to meet with John Richter, the acting head of the criminal division. They sat in a windowless conference room. Sean and Kathy beseeched him.
“We are going to lose this case and lose it spectacularly,” Ruemmler warned.
“Okay, okay, I hear you,” Richter said. “What do you need?”
“Everything,” Berkowitz said.
They rattled off their requests: document support, graphics support, trial support. They needed a jury consultant. They needed more bodies to deal with all the defense motions. The defense would motion to change the venue, citing experts and polling data. Were they supposed to stand up there with nothing in response and say, “That’s wrong. Trust us, Judge”?
Berkowitz and Ruemmler also analyzed what had gone wrong with the broadband trial. A defense attorney summed it up: “Never prosecute a complex, overreaching 192-count case in midsummer in Houston, Texas, against a passel of good lawyers.”18 From now on, the task force would keep it simple. Prove everything and drop anything you can’t. Try to prevent the defense from getting down into the detailed muck that puts jurors to sleep. They were such common, obvious mistakes but so easy to make. Prosecutors did it all the time.
Berkowitz focused the task force. The priority was the big trials. Weissmann had wanted to do everything, to take every case, to bask in the publicity. Now they just needed to focus on bringing Skilling and Lay to justice.
THE CASE AGAINST SKILLING
The government had less evidence against Lay than Skilling and had brought lesser charges. Ruemmler and her team headed up the cases against Skilling and Richard Causey, Enron’s chief accounting officer. She didn’t want the Lay case stapled to it. The Causey and Skilling cases cohered. The two executives had engaged in a conspiracy to commit securities fraud between December 1998 and December 2001. The problem was that Lay wasn’t CEO for the entire period. He had founded the company but then ceded the operation to Skilling in February 2001. He had come back in August 2001, when the company turned from darling to joke, the stock was dropping, and the business was crumbling. In the period before that, Lay had been the chairman of the company, but he wasn’t an engaged leader.
Finally, the team realized Skilling and Lay had to go together. The cases had many of the same witnesses. The prosecutorial strategy would be to show how senior management conspired, as Lay took over the lies from his protégé. Berkowitz brought Ruemmler around. They planned to try the top three officials at the same time.
Worried about the weakness in the Lay case, the Enron Task Force layered on the charges against him. In doing so, they made a small mistake that would have significant consequences for corporate white-collar prosecutions in the coming years. The prosecutors wanted to explain to the jury that Lay had lied to his employees. It was an easy-to-understand charge: he was saying one thing publicly but another privately. When he made a big show of buying Enron stock for his own account, he told the public he was a net buyer of the stock. But he had an undisclosed plan to sell portions of his Enron shares on a regular basis. And he was selling more than he was buying. Lay had committed securities fraud.
Prosecutors charged Lay with another crime in addition to securities fraud. Public officials have a duty to provide citizens with their “honest services.” They deprive the public of their honest services when they take bribes or kickbacks or engage in deals to enrich themselves. In the 1970s and 1980s, prosecutors had begun to apply the same standard to executives of publicly traded companies. The honest-services charge, a part of the mail and wire fraud statutes, was useful. In basic frauds, the criminal steals from the victim. But there are whole categories, such as bribery or kickback schemes, in which criminals might enrich themselves that don’t involve direct theft. The victim is the employer or the public, which has an intangible right to honesty. Prosecutors liked the charge because juries grasped it easily. They could explain that executives had a duty to do their best for their shareholders, to take the best deal they could and not to enrich themselves at the shareholders’ expense.
The government charged that Lay, in pumping up morale with his deceptions about the state of Enron’s health while selling secretly, had deprived Enron’s employees and shareholders of his honest services. Adding honest-services fraud was overkill. The government’s other charges were sufficient. But the prosecutors sought to bring overwhelming force, which would ultimately expose the government to mistakes.
Adding the honest-services charge to Lay meant adding it to Skilling, too. They had no way of knowing, but the gamble would later cost the Department of Justice. In 2010 the Supreme Court would reverse that part of the sentence, determining that the government used the honest-services charge too broadly. In doing so, the highest court stripped prosecutors of a significant weapon for battling corporate fraudsters.
FUCK YOUR FIREARMS TRAINING
On May 27, 2005, for his thirty-eighth birthday, Sean Berkowitz ran a ten-mile race. As he ran, he reflected on the crazy year, but he could see the finish line. By the time his next birthday came, the trial would be done. “We will have won or lost, but either way, it will be over,” he thought.
The weeks up to the trials were tense. The prosecutors moved to Houston and lived in cheap corporate apartments. They barely slept. One day, an exhausted Ruemmler walked over to ask an FBI agent to join a meeting the next day. He said he couldn’t do it because he had firearms practice. What? What?!? Ruemmler walked over to the bullpen, where all the FBI agents were piled on top of each other in their cramped cubicles. She stood at the hinge of their L-shaped room so everyone could see her. Color rose on her neck.
“Everyone listen the fuck up!” she yelled. The agents looked up.
“You think this is a big fucking case? Do you? This is the biggest fucking case of your lifetimes! This is the biggest corporate fraud in US history! The whole fucking world is watching this trial. There are no dentist appointments. There is no Christmas. There isn’t firearms training, okay?” Ruemmler asked if they would like her to call Bob Mueller, the head of the FBI, to see what he thought of their firearms training. If any of them left any thread unexplored and lost, she warned, that person would regret it for the rest of his life.
Berkowitz sat there smiling. It was Ruemmler’s Glengarry Glen Ross moment. The FBI agents, tough guys, were cowed and impressed. The head of the group screamed back, “This is bullshit! We are working our asses off, Kathy, and you know it!” But no one took off for firearms practice or anything else until the trial was over.
Berkowitz and Ruemmler figured the defense strategy would be to argue that prosecutors were criminalizing aggressive business decisions. The Enron refrain was that the government was attacking the company for its innovations and risk taking. Executives liked to say, “You can always tell who the pioneers are, because they’re the ones with arrows in their backs.”19
They also understood that the defense would want to drag them into the boring arcana during the trial. The defense team longed for nothing more than long debates between expert witnesses about accounting standards. To counter the my-eyes-glaze-over defense, the team focused on the Big Lie. The stories Skilling and Lay told about Enron publicly were different from reality. They used everything—every witness, every piece of evidence—to reinforce that narrative of duplicity. Even the trial graphics reflected the distinctions between what the executives told the world and what they knew to be the truth.
Berkowitz and Ruemmler and the team set about ridding the trial of anything debatable. They reduced the witness list to sixty-two from seventy-nine and trimmed counts against Skilling.20 If something Enron had done smelled wrong but could be depicted as just a bad business decision, they excised it. They concentrated all their energy on the gut punches—actions everyone would agree were wrong. Berkowitz, in one of his highest moments, had discovered a perfect example. During the crucial second quarter of 2000, Enron had been a penny short on the earnings-per-share estimates. Missing by a penny would be a calamity for the stock. Shareholders expected Enron to outdistance estimates by miles, not fall short. Berkowitz had gone to Enron headquarters to look at the corporate ledger. Sure enough, right in the corporate books was a reserve that had been whited out after the close of the quarter. A $21 million reserve had been changed to $14 million and then to $7 million. Skilling had needed the earnings to make the number. Berkowitz had found a key piece of evidence of crimes.
The cases were going well now. On the eve of the trial, they got a big break: Causey, the former chief accounting officer, capitulated, pleading guilty. Berkowitz and Ruemmler celebrated. The case against Causey, while crushing, was full of detail and arcana. Now they could drop a ton of material from the trial. They met for six hours and went through everything they could. They cut out evidence, mourning the loss of some of their favorite pieces of research. They had a perfect, clear fraud with an off-balance-sheet entity called Mariner Energy. To meet earnings estimates one quarter, Enron had raised the value of the asset even though nothing had changed with the underlying business. It was just a pure accounting maneuver.
“Can we tie this to Skilling and Lay?” Berkowitz asked.
“No,” sighed Ruemmler.
“It’s gone,” he said.
Then Ruemmler and Berkowitz and the prosecutors asked an audacious question: Could they get away with not even putting Andrew Fastow on the stand? Fastow could be expected to deliver damning accounts of Skilling’s and Lay’s complicity. No one knew the dodginess of the off-balance-sheet arrangements better than the former chief financial officer. Who better to refute that Fastow was the sole mastermind than Fastow? On the other hand, he came across as a creep. That mop of hair and boyish insouciance! Ruemmler couldn’t stand being in the same room with him. The defense team would find him so easy to attack. He was an admitted liar; the principal schemer. It was so easy to imagine a jury turning against him. Then again, if they didn’t put him on the stand for at least a bit, it might look strange—as if they were hiding something. They finally decided to have him testify but briefly, reducing his role at trial to the minimum.
After that meeting, what would have been a seven-month trial became a four-month trial. Crucially, the Enron Task Force had stripped out any evidence or testimony that didn’t involve Lay and Skilling. Had Berkowitz and Ruemmler left that material in the trial plan, the defense would have been able to argue that if Lay and Skilling didn’t know about that, how could the jury be so confident that the top officials knew about the other bad deals?
Even with all their preparation, they had to worry about the jury. Every jury is a fickle beast. Lay was a friendly old grandpa, with a goofy smile, godliness on his sleeve, and as Texan as they come. Skilling was everyone’s idea of a businessman in a country that worships tycoons. On the other side, Berkowitz was a northerner, a bulldog, with a big, prominent brow set in a scowl. And he was named Berkowitz. The other lead prosecutor who would be doing the trial with them, the ramrod John Hueston, just seemed to have a way of pissing off everyone. Ruemmler had a better shot with that room. She was a Texas-approved blonde and favored high heels. But would that Houston jury go for a lady lawyer grilling Lay?
On January 30, 2006, more than four years after Enron had collapsed, the Lay and Skilling trial began. In late February, about four weeks into the trial, Dave Delainey took the stand. Ruemmler had known him for years now. She knew he would be calm and credible. Skilling had viewed him as a candidate to be CEO of the company at one point.21 As she hoped and predicted, he was the strongest government witness yet. He admitted his own wrongdoing. He told the jurors that Enron played “fast and loose” with the accounting rules, testifying that Skilling attended meetings where they hid losses and rigged the numbers. He told them how when he had objected to one attempt to hide losses in an executive meeting, Skilling fixed on him and asked, “What do you want to do?”
The judge in the trial had allowed the lawyers to roam around the courtroom. Ruemmler got close to the jury box, almost touching the bar. She asked, “What did you take that to mean?”
“Get in line,” Delainey said. It was the worst thing he’d ever been a part of, he said. “I wish on my kids’ lives I could have got up and stepped away from the table that day.”22
Ruemmler paused, sneaking a look at the twelve jurors, so close to her. Having listened to so much complexity and tedium, they grasped it. She had her black-and-white, right-and-wrong moment. Delainey might as well have said, “That’s when I knew we were committing a crime.”
Enron was not a volatile trading shop, Skilling had told the public. Ruemmler brought on Delainey to destroy that notion, and he did. He testified that Enron’s wholesale energy unit’s trading gains and losses swung wildly. The unit had lost $551 million in one day in late 2000, a sum that exceeded the unit’s entire profits from the previous year. Earlier that same month, it had made $485 million in a day.23 In what may have been the most damaging anecdote, Delainey testified about the time he told Skilling that his retail energy trading unit had created up to $300 million in “reserves”: money stashed away for future use. Skilling, Delainey said, came over and hugged him.24 Delainey fingered Lay as well, telling jurors he had told the chairman about how he was hiding losses of its retail energy line in its wholesale division.
As Ruemmler expected, Delainey stood up well on cross-examination. Skilling’s defense lawyers tried to emphasize that no one had used the word fraud; that these business decisions were inherently ambiguous and subject to judgment. Delainey wouldn’t have it. “Everyone in that room knew exactly what was going on,” he insisted.
John Hueston took the lead in the Lay trial. He had rescued the Lay investigation, shifting toward examining the CEO’s misleading statements as Enron faced the crisis of shareholder confidence in the summer and fall of 2001.25 Still, the case against Lay was weaker, leading to tension on the trial team. Hueston and the other prosecutor working the case weren’t getting along. Some on the team felt Hueston didn’t take direction or suggestions well. He had a chin-up bar in his office and a sign that read “Play like a champion today.” As he left his office, he’d jump up and hit it.
During the trial, even the judge seemed to take an open dislike to Hueston. He was a crack trial lawyer and had built a convincing case, but people on the team worried about the Lay case. The agents often teased Ruemmler that she was obsessed with Skilling and neglected Lay. Now an FBI agent came up to Ruemmler to beg, “Can you please mention Mr. Lay?” during one of her rounds with another witness. After she did, the FBI team sent her flowers, in sympathy for how tough it must have been for her. Ruemmler and Berkowitz prayed that good evidence and Hueston’s intelligence and skills would triumph over any irritation the jury might feel.
The cornerstone of a successful white-collar defense is putting the accused on the stand. The jury wants to hear from defendants, to take their measure. The team knew they would have to crack Lay’s and Skilling’s manicured personas. The Lay PR team was rolling. To generate sympathy, Lay’s wife, Linda, went on the Today show. Weeping, she told America that she and Ken had “lost everything” and were “fighting for liquidity.” The Lays were still living in a $7 million Houston penthouse and owned $20 million in other real estate at the time.26
Lay had the better shot of beating the government. Not only had he been removed from the details and not been active at the company at the time the bulk of the crimes were committed, but he had also been charged with fewer crimes. The prosecutors and the media expected Skilling to be short-tempered, easily rattled. He had a bullying streak. One time in the hallways, he passed Ruemmler and snarled, “Figured out the business yet, Kathy?”27
But the jury didn’t see that Jeffrey Skilling. On the stand, he was authoritative and precise, parrying prosecutors calmly. The trial ordeal wore more on the older man. When Lay took the stand, he was arrogant and querulous. At one point, he even barked at his own lawyer, George McCall Secrest Jr., “Where are you going with this, Mr. Secrest?”
On cross-examination, Lay was even worse. Hueston raised his conflicts of interest. Lay hadn’t disclosed an investment in a company owned by an ex-girlfriend of Skilling’s. He had unloaded tens of millions of shares of Enron stock. His defense was that he was meeting margin calls, but Hueston showed he could have met those in other ways. And Hueston homed in on how Lay had called government witnesses, accusing him of tampering.28 Lay was infuriated. The jury took note.
In late March 2006, about eight weeks into the trial, Ruemmler brought on Ben Glisan, the former treasurer, as her closer. All of the prosecutors suffered frayed nerves and little sleep. Right before Glisan’s testimony, one of Hueston’s team came up to Ruemmler to request that she ask the witness about some complicated accounting issues. She had enough to handle as it was. It had taken her months to master the accounting material she was planning to cover. Now this? But Glisan was the Christmas tree: all the team members wanted to hang their last piece of evidence on him.
“Are you fucking kidding me?” she screamed.
“It’s no big deal!” yelled the other prosecutor.
“You are out of your mind.”
Berkowitz, ever calm, mediated. They decided she would ask him some limited questions about the topic.
As Ruemmler expected, Glisan was an excellent witness. He put Lay and Skilling in damning meetings, identifying their incriminating admissions. Glisan buried Lay. He said he told Lay and the company’s finance committee that the company’s liquidity was “strained”—that Enron was having trouble funding its ongoing operations. The next day, Lay told employees at a companywide meeting that Enron’s fundamentals were the “strongest they have ever been” and that liquidity was “strong.” Glisan testified that Fastow warned Lay that the company would need to be restructured or sold. Five days later, Lay told BusinessWeek magazine that the company was “probably in the strongest and best shape it’s ever been.”
Ruemmler looked over at Lay and saw him seething, redder than a sunburned rancher. Lay’s lawyer would deride Glisan as a “trained monkey,” but the jury was siding with the monkey.
Berkowitz’s mother came to visit and to watch the closing arguments. In the evening, after the defense’s summation, she came to his office. He noticed that she was following him around.
“Sean,” she said, “they made a lot of good points today.”
“I know, Mom.”
“Sean, there’s a lot riding on this,” she said.
“Yes, I know, Mom.”
“Sean,” she said. She paused. “I’m worried.”
“Mom, I’ve got this!”
His mother needn’t have worried. The government had put on a devastating trial. It was easy for the jury. After jurors deliberated for six days, Lay was found guilty on all counts against him; Skilling was convicted on nineteen of twenty-eight counts.
Lay was self-righteous to the end, declaring his innocence, wrapping himself in the mantle of religion. He also told the press and supporters gathered outside the courtroom, “I have a very warm and loving and Christian family . . . Most of all, we believe that God, in fact, is in control, and indeed, he does work all things for good for those who love the Lord. And we love our Lord.”
• • •
Enron was the most spectacular corporate implosion of the period. The government had, in fits and starts, done its job. The Justice Department had made the case a priority, allocating just enough money, resources, and people to the task. The team knew it had to flip executives and not rely solely on documents. Prosecutors came and went from the team, but the team’s focus stayed the same, so it could weather departures. The team members had investigated aggressively, keeping maximum pressure on the targets such as Fastow. They took risks, as with Glisan. They were persistent, not giving up when Delainey stonewalled them in the first two meetings. They went after not just Enron executives but also their enablers on Wall Street and the company’s accountants. The task force overcame losses, learning to run trials better. It focused on simple and clean story lines, and created a model for complex white-collar investigative and prosecutorial work. Houston’s economy recovered, and American corporate accounting had a period of relative cleanliness.
But the Enron prosecutions led to a weaker Justice Department. After the Enron prosecutions came a backlash against aggressive government action, led by corporations and the defense bar. The courts overturned several Enron verdicts. The Justice Department began to lose the institutional knowledge necessary to bring such complicated corporate cases successfully. The DOJ would turn against task forces, forgetting the Enron successes. It would not centralize decision making. Prosecutors began settling with corporations. The Justice Department steered away from going after the enablers of corporate fraud: bankers and accountants. By 2016, the Justice Department did not approach cases the way it had with Enron. Its ability to hold corporate executives accountable for their actions suffered as a result.
The most unfortunate lesson learned from the Enron Task Force experience came from its first success. The team’s first victory in court was its most consequential. The business lobby, the defense bar, and even today’s Justice Department came to believe that the government had made a grave mistake. It had convicted Arthur Andersen.
Prizzi's Honor, By Richard Condon
Oscar Winner: Best Supporting Actress (Anjelica Huston)
This New York Times Notable Book is a dark, rollicking read. Charley Partanna works as a hitman for the Prizzis, New York’s most dangerous crime family. When he meets Irene Walker, an LA-based tax consultant, it’s pretty much love at first sight. But Irene also moonlights as a hit woman—and had a hand in a big-money heist in Vegas. Now Charley has been told that she’s got to go. Faced with divided loyalties, he must make a choice—between the only family he’s ever known and the woman he loves.
“The surprise ending will knock your reading glasses off.” —The New York Times
Marathon Man, By William Goldman
Oscar Nominee: Best Supporting Actor (Laurence Olivier)
This New York Times bestseller about a Nazi conspiracy that unfolds in the heart of modern-day Manhattan is a heart-stopping classic that became the blockbuster film starring Dustin Hoffman. The Washington Post called the book “one hell of a read.”
“Well-plotted, expertly characterized, and fast-paced.” —Los Angeles Times
Lost Horizon, By James Hilton
Bestseller, Historical Fiction, Literary Fiction
Oscar Winner: Best Art Direction, Film Editing
This is the international bestseller about a war-weary English veteran who is forced to flee a tumultuous African country, only to have his plane crash-land in a remote mountain range. There, he stumbles across the lost paradise known as Shangri-La. Discover the thrilling and timeless classic behind the acclaimed film.
“One of the most exciting yarns I have ever read...The most artful kind of suspense.” —The New Yorker
Oh, God! By Avery Corman
Oscar Nominee: Best Adapted Screenplay
The basis for the movie starring George Burns—A down-on-his-luck PR man receives a mysterious assignment from a very, very unusual client, looking to spruce up his public profile after a bad millennium or two—from the New York Times bestselling author of Kramer vs. Kramer. “Very funny.” —New York Times
Rise and Kill First, By Ronen Bergman
One of The Economist’s best books of 2018: This New York Times bestseller offers an inside look at Israel’s highly secretive targeted assassination programs. “Full of shocking moments, surprising disturbances in a narrative full of fateful twists and unintended consequences” (The New York Times).
Of a Feather: A Brief History Of American Birding, By Scott Weidensaul
A quirky, “lively and illuminating” account of bird-watching’s history, including “rivalries, controversies, [and] bad behavior” (The Washington Post Book World).
“A book that deserves to become a classic of natural history.” —Parade
The Art of Living
An unforgettable memoir about a young girl who, kept out of school, leaves her survivalist family and goes on to earn a PhD from Cambridge University
“Beautiful and propulsive . . . Despite the singularity of [Tara Westover’s] childhood, the questions her book poses are universal: How much of ourselves should we give to those we love? And how much must we betray them to grow up?”—Vogue
Born to survivalists in the mountains of Idaho, Tara Westover was seventeen the first time she set foot in a classroom. Her family was so isolated from mainstream society that there was no one to ensure the children received an education, and no one to intervene when one of Tara’s older brothers became violent. When another brother got himself into college, Tara decided to try a new kind of life. Her quest for knowledge transformed her, taking her over oceans and across continents, to Harvard and to Cambridge University. Only then would she wonder if she’d traveled too far, if there was still a way home.
Although Scott Carey doesn’t look any different, he’s been steadily losing weight. There are a couple of other odd things, too. He weighs the same in his clothes and out of them, no matter how heavy they are. Scott doesn’t want to be poked and prodded. He mostly just wants someone else to know, and he trusts Doctor Bob Ellis.
In the small town of Castle Rock, the setting of many of King’s most iconic stories, Scott is engaged in a low grade—but escalating—battle with the lesbians next door whose dog regularly drops his business on Scott’s lawn. One of the women is friendly; the other, cold as ice. Both are trying to launch a new restaurant, but the people of Castle Rock want no part of a gay married couple, and the place is in trouble. When Scott finally understands the prejudices they face–including his own—he tries to help. Unlikely alliances, the annual foot race, and the mystery of Scott’s affliction bring out the best in people who have indulged the worst in themselves and others.
From Stephen King, our “most precious renewable resource, like Shakespeare in the malleability of his work” (The Guardian), Elevation is an antidote to our divisive culture, as gloriously joyful (with a twinge of deep sadness) as “It’s a Wonderful Life.”
1,001 Pearls of Life-Changing Wisdom By Elizabeth Venstra
In this extensive collection of words to enlighten your mind and uplift your spirit, you will find something applicable to any problem, situation, or conundrum, as well as the inspiration for living your everyday life to the fullest. From the classic wisdom of thinkers such as Aristotle, Francis Bacon, and Thoreau, to the brilliance of more modern luminaries such as Maya Angelou, Golda Meir, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Winston Churchill, and even lighthearted guidance from Dave Barry and Oprah, every page of this book holds valuable insight and enlightenment.
The Eight By Katherine Neville--Thriller
“Readers thrilled by The Da Vinci Code will relish the multi-layered secrets of The Eight,” the story of two women separated by centuries but united by an ancient chess set with the power to save—or destroy—humanity (Matthew Pearl).
“Neville blends modern romance, historical fiction, and medieval mystery...and comes up with gold.” —People
The Weight of Ink, By Rachel Kadish
Two interconnected stories unfurl in the 1660s and 21st century London as historian Helen Watt searches for the truth behind a cache of mysterious Jewish documents. “Astonishing… The riveting narrative and well-honed characters will earn a place in readers’ hearts” (Library Journal starred review).
Chemistry By Weike Wang
From the winner of the 2018 PEN/Hemingway Award: In this heartrending and hilarious debut, a PhD candidate wrestles with her scientific and romantic choices. “So fresh and intimate and mordantly funny that she feels less like fiction than a friend you’ve known forever” (Entertainment Weekly).
Did Jew Know? By Emily Stone
A hilarious and lighthearted guide to Jewish culture and traditions! Whether you’re about to celebrate Hanukkah or barely know your latkes from your kugel, this book is for you.
Merle’s Door, By Ted Kerasote
A New York Times bestseller with over 8,300 five-star Goodreads ratings: When Ted found a dog in the Utah desert, his new companion taught him tremendous lessons about life and friendship. “Humorous, jubilant, and touching by turns” (Publishers Weekly).
So few of us know where our food comes from, the quality of its life, what it consumed, and what it polluted on its way to our table. Food Web addresses these issues with a simple and elegant solution: locally integrated farming.
Imagine a meal produced in your own backyard, not from commercial inputs, but from the yard itself. Visualize a system of farming that resembles the intricate symbiosis of a natural ecosystem. No chemicals, no genetic modification, no overcrowded cages, and no international shipping. Just real food made by real people with a passion for quality and life.
Food Web is an alternative approach to farming from the perspective of the backyard producer. It's a design framework to build small systems from the ground up, based on resources and goals specific to each situation. We benefit from abundant and free waste streams by converting them into valuable and high quality products. The more we integrate, the more we can produce, without additional inputs or excessive labor. This gives the small farmer a competitive edge against the mass-produced food industry.
We focus on designing integrated networks that mimic nature's inherent strengths. By using and recycling our energy and wastes, we're able to produce more from less, and at a lower cost than modern agriculture methods. Learn the tools and knowledge needed to develop a personalized system that is sustainable, humane, profitable, and productive. Whether for your home or community, Food Web can improve your self-sufficiency. It offers specialized guides for urban, suburban, and rural areas to successfully raise vegetables and livestock in a way that benefits everyone.
Food Web: Concept is the first of the Food Web series, designed to give the reader the basics needed to analyze their local situation, define realistic and sustainable goals, design and implement individualized solutions, and adjust their approach as obstacles arise. We explain the concept behind the integrated farming model in a simple manner, so that anyone can get started no matter what level their experience. Our approach is based on decades of developing the methods and tools needed for small food producers to succeed.
Ina book destined to become a classic, biologist and acclaimed nature writer Bernd Heinrich takes readers on an eye-opening journey through the hidden life of a forest.
A “testament to the stunning complexity of the natural world” (Kirkus Reviews): An acclaimed nature writer paints a meticulous portrait of a 300-acre forest in this vivid award winner. “[Heinrich] richly deserves the comparison to Thoreau” (The Washington Post Book World).
“Perfect for any bibliophile or historians interested in the stories from the home front” (Library Journal): During the book burning of World War II, librarians and publishers sent millions of books to soldiers overseas, providing solace and escape — and resurrecting great literature.
In this installment of the “literate and delightful” Lord Peter Wimsey Mysteries, Harriet Vane’s honeymoon with the dapper British detective is marred by murder (Chicago Tribune).
It took several near-death experiences for Lord Peter Wimsey to convince Harriet Vane to be his wife, but she has finally relented. When the dapper detective marries Britain’s most popular mystery author—just a few short years after rescuing her from the hangman’s noose—the press could not be more excited.
But Lord Peter and his bride have no interest in spending their wedding night surrounded by reporters. They sneak out of their own reception to begin their honeymoon early, out of sight of the world. Unfortunately, for some couples, calamity is inescapable.
On their 1st morning together, the newlyweds discover the house’s caretaker bludgeoned to death in the manor’s basement. If they thought finding a few minutes alone was difficult, they’re up against even steeper odds. In a house full of suspects, identifying the killer won’t be easy.
Zat Rana Book List
The real-life soap opera behind the publication of Emily Dickinson’s poems
At 60, Joe Ide proves it’s never too late to establish yourself as a novelist
Joe Ide was 58 when he published his first novel “IQ” two years ago. Before that he’d been a schoolteacher and a screenwriter. Being a novelist suits him well. “IQ” won the Anthony, Macavity and Shamus awards for outstanding crime-fiction debut.
Ide is a Japanese American who grew up in an African American section of South Central Los Angeles. He has said this experience helped him create his main character, Isaiah Quintabe (IQ), a young black man who after an interlude of youthful crime, became a private detective.
Translation isn’t just for Tolstoy anymore. Works like Elena Ferrante’s now vault into the American mainstream.
A few months into the Iraq War, three American women founded a magazine called Words Without Borders. They hoped to create “an antidote to xenophobia and nationalism” by publishing foreign literature in translation. To that end, they wanted to share the voices of contemporary writers from the countries President George W. Bush had recently called the “axis of evil” — Iran, Iraq and North Korea — for English-language readers.
North Korea, a “completely closed” country, was the trickiest to comb for fiction, recalled Samantha Schnee, a translator of Spanish literature, who began the magazine with Alane Mason, an editor at Norton, and Dedi Felman, an editor at Oxford University Press.“The only writing we could get was writing from the North Koreans’ own literary journals, which they had in their New York office at the United Nations.” An intern was dispatched to the United Nations for reconnaissance. “She camped outside their office for two days,” Schnee said. “Finally, someone came out and said, ‘What do you want?’ And she said, ‘I just want your literary magazines.’ ” The North Koreans handed them over.
Since 2003, Words Without Borders has published literary translations online by more than 2,200 writers from 134 countries. Another translation publisher, Archipelago Books, opened that year in Brooklyn. More independent presses devoted to international literature followed: Europa Editions, in 2005; Open Letter Books, in 2008; New Vessel Press, in 2012; and a dozen others. Today, literary translation, once the province of monuments of the past, guarded by eminent sages, has leaped from dusty library stacks into the contemporary mainstream:
Only last Sunday, a novel from Italy, “My Brilliant Friend,” written by Elena Ferrante this decade and translated into English by Ann Goldstein within a year of its emergence, premiered on HBO as a lustrous, fully realized television miniseries. Propelling the remarkable transformation of this literary landscape? Among other factors, Sept. 11 and its aftermath, with a powerful boost from digital technology. Translation wasn’t just for Tolstoy and Goethe anymore. New wars disturbed the peace.
To paraphrase Tolstoy — or his translator Constance Garnett — in “Anna Karenina,” all happy decades are alike, but perhaps every unhappy decade is unhappy in its own way. The peaceful cocoon of the final three decades of the 20th century had not conditioned American readers to look beyond U.S. borders for literary stimulation. Apart from the Iran hostage crisis and the blip of the 1991 Persian Gulf War, the 1970s, ’80s and ’90s were mostly harmonious, inward-looking decades.
Then came 2001, and everything changed. The 9/11 attacks disrupted complacency and turned the American gaze outward.
Historically, when Americans thought of foreign literature, what came to mind, with important exceptions (Gabriel García Márquez, Marguerite Duras), were classics from past centuries written by venerated authors like Virgil, Dante, Cervantes and Gogol. Those great books still matter: Emily Wilson’s new translation of Homer’s “Odyssey” was hailed as a groundbreaking triumph by the New Yorker, the Guardian and NPR.
But Homer’s fan following cannot compete with the ecstatic reaction of the reading public to Don Bartlett’s translation of “My Struggle,” the six-volume saga by the living Norwegian bard Karl Ove Knausgaard, who draws throngs to book events in Oslo, New York, London and Berlin.
In the two disharmonious decades of the 21st century, American society has grown less homogeneous and more interactive. Americans have expanded their engagement with other cultures. Smartphones and social media accompanied the war against terrorism, and the distance between Over Here and Over There shrank. Chad Post, the founder of Open Letter and the creator of the translation blog Three Percent (the name comes from an old statistic for the percentage of all literary books published in the United States in a given year that are translations), suggests that 9/11 sparked “sudden interest in foreign countries, and new awareness of the general connectedness of the world.”
But even if that interest and awareness began with the Middle East, it quickly spread to Central America, South America, China, Europe and Japan. The houses that sought out foreign titles were the advance guard of a quiet revolution in publishing, which has been attended by new academic programs, certificates and degrees that are equipping the next generation of translators to bring foreign literature to readers who find it “enticing,” as Post puts it.
The most recent proof of this enticement came when “My Brilliant Friend,” the first volume in Ferrante’s Neapolitan quartet, jumped to television. The producers chose to cast Italian actors and use subtitles, not worrying that this choice might discourage English speakers. The actors spoke in the rich, twisty dialects of the working-class Naples neighborhoods that the novel’s characters inhabit. The show’s creators knew that the American readers who had made this book a No. 1 bestseller here wanted the series to authentically relay the novel’s mood and setting.
They understood that, in 2018, when a story from abroad is well enough imagined and well enough told, it can find an American audience, even a large one. Among the host of popular foreign fictions, translated for the first time, that have arrived on American shores to popular or critical acclaim in this era are “Austerlitz” (German), “The Savage Detectives” (Spanish), “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” (Swedish), “Suite Française” (French), “1Q84” (Japanese) and newly discovered stories by Clarice Lispector (Portuguese).
Additional proof of the increasing prominence of foreign literature in American letters came last week in New York, when the National Book Foundation added a prize for translated literature to the National Book Awards roster — the first new prize category in more than two decades. There are other translation prizes, here and abroad. Britain’s Man Booker created its own variant, the international prize, in 2004, and in 2008, Open Letter created a best translated book award. But for the National Book Awards to single out this genre signaled a new emphasis.
When the prizes were formed, in 1950, they had a particularly American focus befitting their name; as a sign of the initial patriotic impulse, first lady Eleanor Roosevelt handed out the plaques on the first awards night. But Lisa Lucas, the executive director of the National Book Foundation who presided over the restoration of the translation category (a previous, narrower incarnation existed between 1967 and 1983), says the mission has changed.
“As citizens of the world, we share this planet,” she says. “We both believe and hope that American readers are reading books from around the world.” This year’s victor was “The Emissary” a wild and small 2014 dystopian novel by Yoko Tawada set in a future Japan in which the elderly are strong and the young feeble. Margaret Mitsutani, the translator, divided the prize with the author.
The literature that a country promotes is a well-recognized form of soft diplomacy; it extends cultural values and accomplishments. French, German, Spanish and even Russian governmental organizations publicly embrace this mission. Until recently, the official American approach has been less visible.
Still, since 1981, the National Endowment for the Arts has supported foreign literary outreach by offering grants to translators and the presses that publish their work. Translation is an expensive and underfunded proposition; the work is skilled, laborious and time-consuming, and publishers must pay both for the original book and for the translator’s efforts.
So far the NEA has given nearly 500 fellowships to more than 400 translators, representing 69 languages and 83 countries. In 2003, it was a substantial grant from the NEA that made Words Without Borders possible.
This year, about 600 volumes of literature and poetry in translation were published in the United States. That’s a small number — about 4 percent of all literary books produced annually by American presses. But it’s nearly twice as many as were published a decade ago, and a slightly bigger piece of the publishing pie, up from less than 3 percent in 1999. According to Michael Reynolds, the New York editor in chief of Europa, which publishes Ferrante, translated books are “punching over their weight most of the time.” They are gaining disproportionate review coverage and winning prime placement on booksellers’ lists and in readers’ hearts.
That said, not every book that originates overseas deserves transplanting; foreign authors are just as guilty of writing “minor fiction” or narrow polemic as American authors; and editors, translators and readers passionately disagree not only about which foreign writing deserves American attention, but what makes a translation worth reading.
Words Without Borders, when it published its first North Korean translations in September 2003, admitted dismay at the “propagandistic mission” it found in the stories it published (a sample, from Kim Hong-ik’s “He’s Alive”: “she heard solemn music, reverberating all around. It was ‘The Song of General Kim Il Sung,’ a tune of such courage and excitement that it always filled her with joy.”)
Deciding which books to back is a political choice, as well as a matter of taste. Publishers whose pet offerings do not get nominated for prizes often complain that the judges stumbled. Winners frequently come under attack for their translation style — too clunkily faithful to the original, too glibly fluent in the American idiom. Not every book that crosses over will meet a warm reception, and not every book should. Translators recognize that their profession is a battlefield.
Jhumpa Lahiri, a Pulitzer Prize-winning American novelist, recently began translating from Italian. One of her translations, Domenico Starnone’s 2016 book “Trick,” made the shortlist for the new National Book Award. In the introduction, she deprecated her contribution modestly and prudently, anticipating quibblers. “My version of ‘Trick,’ the first in English, is just one of many that might have been,” she wrote. Translation, she added, “is an act of doubling and converting, and the resulting transformation is precarious, debatable even in its final form.”
In this volatile, hyper-communicative age, translating translation itself may be the highest wall of all.
Wanted Nonfiction Books
Where the Crawdads Sing Kindle Edition by Delia Owens, $12.99
"I can't even express how much I love this book! I didn't want this story to end!"--Reese Witherspoon
"Painfully beautiful."--The New York Times Book Review
"Perfect for fans of Barbara Kingsolver."--Bustle
For years, rumors of the "Marsh Girl" have haunted Barkley Cove, a quiet town on the North Carolina coast. So in late 1969, when handsome Chase Andrews is found dead, the locals immediately suspect Kya Clark, the so-called Marsh Girl. But Kya is not what they say. Sensitive and intelligent, she has survived for years alone in the marsh that she calls home, finding friends in the gulls and lessons in the sand. Then the time comes when she yearns to be touched and loved. When two young men from town become intrigued by her wild beauty, Kya opens herself to a new life--until the unthinkable happens.
Perfect for fans of Barbara Kingsolver and Karen Russell, Where the Crawdads Sing is at once an exquisite ode to the natural world, a heartbreaking coming-of-age story, and a surprising tale of possible murder. Owens reminds us that we are forever shaped by the children we once were, and that we are all subject to the beautiful and violent secrets that nature keeps.
Author interview: Delia Owens talks “Crawdads”
Delia Owens’ novel “Where the Crawdads Sing” is one of the biggest publishing stories in recent memory. Since the book came out last August, readers have consistently placed the book in the upper echelon of the Most Sold and Most Read fiction titles on Amazon Charts, with little sign of it dropping off any time soon. The Amazon Books editors recently sat down with Owens to talk about the book’s 10-year writing process, how her life informed the settings for the novel, the inspiration for the story’s beloved characters, and more.
Delia Owens talks all things ‘Where the Crawdads Sing’
Chris Schluep, Amazon Book Review: You’ve written nonfiction, and that’s where I first knew you from. I remember reading you… probably in the ‘80s.
Delia Owens: The first one came out in 1984. Cry of the Kalahari.
Chris Schluep, That’s the one I read. And I remember the story about the cheetah running into the fence.
Delia Owens, Oh, my. That’s how it starts.
Chris Schluep, I will always remember that. It was very vivid and gripping. I’m not going to ask you about that book, but I wanted to bring it up out of appreciation. But… did you always want to write a novel?
Delia Owens, When I was in Africa is when the idea came to me, because literally every day I came face-to-face with lions and elephants and baboons, and I think it was that experience that got me thinking about how much our behavior is still very similar to animals. I would watch the lionesses lying around in the late afternoon, playing with each other’s cubs, and sleeping together with their paws draped over each other’s faces — and it made me realize how much I missed my girlfriends back home and how I was isolated from a troop. And, as humans, we have a genetic propensity to belong to a group — and I was isolated from a group. And especially females. So I wanted to write a novel that would explore how much our behavior today is influenced by our genetic past.
Chris Schluep, You were an animal behaviorist, right?
Delia Owens, I have a PhD in Animal Behavior from the University of California, Davis.
Chris Schluep, So it reportedly took you 10 years to write the book.
Delia Owens, This book took 10 years.
CS, Was it in fits and starts?
CS, How did that process go?
DO, Well, I just want to say… I’m always embarrassed to say it took me 10 years. But that was not my day job. I would get up at 4:30 in the morning to write. And at that time I was living in northern Idaho, involved with bear research and wolf research. I had a life. So I had this idea to write the novel, but I would get up early in the morning and creep down to my little office and work — to me, sitting in front of the computer in the dark was like sitting in front of the campfire — you know, it was just this nice feeling. That’s the reason it took so long. I would only write two or three hours a day.
CS, And when you were doing research, did you also feel like you were doing research for the book in a way?
DO, No, not really. In the beginning, my former husband and I were doing very serious research on the social behavior of endangered species with the idea of finding better ways to protect them in Africa. And so we were very busy with that. I only had this idea of a novel in the back of my head at that stage.
CS, And what were your expectations for the book when it came out?
DO, I was hoping somebody would read it. I just thought, “I don’t know…” First of all, the title — who’s going to pick up a book [called] Where the Crawdads Sing? It’s not exactly warm and fuzzy. I never thought the publishers would stick with that title. I just was hoping somebody would notice it and read it, and I’ve been overwhelmed with the response, and I’m just so grateful to the readers who liked it.
$11.99 kindle, $16.99 ppbk
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society: A Novel by Mary Ann Shaffer,
http://a.co/7BREgh9 to read for free.
Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits, By Laila Lalami
“A dream of a debut, by turns troubling adn glorious, angry and wise.” —Junot Diaz
Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits evokes the grit and enduring grace that is modern Morocco. As four Moroccans illegally cross the Strait of Gibraltar in an inflatable boat headed for Spain, author Laila Lalami asks, What has driven them to risk their lives? And will the rewards prove to be worth the danger? There’s Murad, a gentle, unemployed man who’s been reduced to hustling tourists around Tangier; Halima, who’s fleeing her drunken husband and the slums of Casablanca; Aziz, who must leave behind his devoted wife in hope of securing work in Spain; and Faten, a student and religious fanatic whose faith is at odds with an influential man determined to destroy her future. Sensitively written with beauty and boldness, this is a gripping book about what propels people to risk their lives in search of a better future.
Laila Lalami was born in Rabat and educated in Morocco, Great Britain, and the United States. She is the author of the novels "Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits," which was a finalist for the Oregon Book Award; "Secret Son," which was on the Orange Prize longlist; and "The Moor's Account," which won the American Book Award, the Arab American Book Award, and the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award. It was on the Man Booker Prize longlist and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. Her essays and opinion pieces have appeared in the Los Angeles Times, the Washington Post, The Nation, the Guardian, the New York Times, and in many anthologies. She writes the "Between the Lines" column for The Nation magazine and is a critic-at-large for the Los Angeles Times. The recipient of a British Council Fellowship, a Fulbright Fellowship, and a Guggenheim Fellowship, she is currently a professor of creative writing at the University of California at Riverside.
The Moor's Account: A Novel, By Laila Lalami
In these pages, Laila Lalami brings us the imagined memoirs of the first black explorer of America: Mustafa al-Zamori, called Estebanico. The slave of a Spanish conquistador, Estebanico sails for the Americas with his master, Dorantes, as part of a danger-laden expedition to Florida. Within a year, Estebanico is one of only four crew members to survive.
As he journeys across America with his Spanish companions, the Old World roles of slave and master fall away, and Estebanico remakes himself as an equal, a healer, and a remarkable storyteller. His tale illuminates the ways in which our narratives can transmigrate into history—and how storytelling can offer a chance at redemption and survival.
Harem: the European megaseller: new and revised edition, by Colin Falconer
He could have had any woman in the empire. He wanted only one.
"A page-turner . . . This peek behind the walls of the seraglio will seduce lovers of large-scale historical fiction." - Booklist
He had everything a man might dream of; wealth, power and the choice of hundreds of the most beautiful women in his Empire. Why then did he forsake his harem for the love of just one woman, and marry her in defiance of the centuries-old code of the Osmanlis?
This is the astonishing story of Suleiman, the one they called the Magnificent, and the woman he loved.
Suleiman controlled an empire of thirty million people, encompassing twenty different languages. As a man, he was an enigma; he conquered all who stood against him with one of the world's first full time professional armies - yet he liked to write poetry; he ravaged half of Europe but he rebuilt Istanbul in marble; he had teams of torturers and assassins ready to unleash at a whim - yet history remembers him as a great lawmaker.
Despite its luxury, his harem was virtually a prison. For one of his concubines, the only way to a better life was to somehow find her way into his bed and bear him a son. But the young Sultan was often away at war and when he did return he gave all his attention to Gulbehar, his favorite. Until one day, when a young Russian girl takes her fate into her own hands. She was clever and she was ruthless. And she had a plan.
Into this world are drawn two unforgettable characters; a beautiful young Italian noblewoman, captured by corsairs and brought to the Harem as a concubine; and the eunuch who loved her once, long ago, in Venice.
From medieval Venice to the slave markets of Algiers, from the mountains of Persia to the forbidden seraglio of the Ottoman's greatest sultan, this is a tale of passion and intrigue in a world where nothing is really as it seems.
“ …a spectacular, haunting tale of malice, obsession, and zeal set in the magnificent Harem of Sultan Süleyman the Magnificent ..." - History and Women
About Colin Falconer
COLIN FALCONER - books you can't put down.
Hi, I'm Colin Falconer, I write crime fiction and historical fiction. I've published twenty-six novels so far, and been lucky enough to have them translated into 23 languages. Real ones too, not just Esperanto and cockney rhyming slang.
My favorite character is DI Charlie George, who you may have met if you've read Lucifer Falls.
Charlie was originally named after our two spaniels, Charlie and George. Charlie is the extrovert, you'll see him around a lot, I use him in some of my publicity photos; he's the one with the great lolling tongue and sad droopy eyes - no, wait that's me.
You won't see George, he's cute but camera shy - definitely not like me.
Charlie George also happens to be one of Arsenal's legendary football players from back in the day; he's the player Charlie's father, the fictional one, named him after.
I have had a lucky life. That I've made a decent living as an author for almost my entire adult life astonishes me. It certainly astonishes my family. I was born in North London, and my relatives all came from places like Bethnal Green, Dagenham and Hackney. My first word was blimey.
In between leaving school and securing my latest publishing deal, I found time to chase black witches across Mexico, travel the silk road, and occasionally play the guitar in pubs. My only claim to fame from those days is completing all the verses of 'All You Need is Love' during a bar fight in the Stella Maris Sailors Club.
A promising career as an elite football player was cut tragically short because I wasn't very good at it. After a short stint in advertising - it's a great business, 90% lunch and 10% commission - I became a freelance journalist. I quickly gravitated to radio and television, and finally, miraculously ended up as a novelist.
I admit I almost threw it in at one stage to become a full-time paramedic. The black humor characteristic of my crime novels probably comes from those days. I discovered that it was heartwarming saving people's lives but it's much more fun finding new and inventive ways to knock them off, and that's how I found my way into crime fiction.
I now live near the river in a beautiful city that time forgot with a woman who not only puts up with me, but has made me happier than I've ever been in my life. When she's not here, I spend my days in front of a laptop talking to spaniels and imaginary people.
People sometimes ask me if I ever get out of my pajamas, but I don't wear pajamas. (Now you'll have to spend the rest of your day trying to get that picture out of your head.)
Last year I signed a deal with Little, Brown for the new Charlie George series. My new historical fiction novel, Loving Liberty Levine, is published by Lake Union. You can find the rest of my list on these pages.
Thanks for reading, and for your reviews! You can find more at my web page: colinfalconer.org
When We Were Gods: A Novel of Cleopatra, by Colin Falconer
"The most complete woman ever to have existed, the most womanly woman and the most queenly queen, a person to be wondered at . . . whom dreamers find always at the end of their dreams." -- Theophile Gautier, 1845
Arrestingly beautiful and fiercely intelligent, Cleopatra VII of Egypt was barely more than a teenager when she inherited the richest empire in the world--one that stretched from the scorching deserts of lower Egypt to the shining Mediterranean metropolis of Alexandria, with its famed libraries, storehouses, and treasuries. Imperiled at every turn by court conspiracies and Roman treachery, the young queen was forced to flee Alexandria and live in exile while a foreign army overran her city and her own siblings plotted her downfall. With nothing to lose, Cleopatra brazenly sought a partnership with the only man who could secure Egypt's safety: Julius Caesar, a wily politician and battle-hardened general with a weakness for women. The result was a passionate love affair that scandalized Rome and thrust Cleopatra into the glittering but deadly world of imperial intrigue and warfare-- a world that she would mesmerize and manipulate even after Caesar was gone.
At the height of her power and fame, Cleopatra fell in love with Caesar's protégé and successor, Marc Antony, a handsome general known as much for his drunken hedonism as for his victories in battle. Brash, irresistible, and fatally unreliable, Antony's once-strong hold on the Roman Empire was slipping fast, and with it slipped Cleopatra's fortunes. When the tide had finally, irrevocably turned against her, the proud queen plotted a last, spectacular maneuver that was to save her children, her empire, and her place in the pantheon of gods.
Colin Falconer's bold, sensuous prose takes the reader inside the walls of Alexandria's great palaces and into Cleopatra's very heart, creating a vivid portrait of an unforgettable woman who thrived and triumphed in a world ruled by men. This is the story of a legendary woman's most glorious time, a story that blazes through thousands of years of history to capture the imagination of readers today.
Now available in Kindle as Cleopatra: Daughter of the Nile
The Joy of X, By Steven Strogatz
With over 1,200 five-star Goodreads ratings: In this exuberant look at mathematics, an award-winning mathematician explains the discipline’s great ideas and their relevance to everyday life. “Delightful… You’ll never forget the Pythagorean theorem again!” (Scientific American).
$2.99 on sale Kindle
Louis XIV, By Olivier Bernier
Witness treachery, scandal, and intrigue in the court of Versailles! Louis XIV’s long, momentous rule comes to life in this fascinating portrait.
$1.99 on sale kindle.
The Victory Garden: A Novel, by Rhys Bowen
From the bestselling author of The Tuscan Child comes a beautiful and heart-rending novel of a woman’s love and sacrifice during the First World War.
As the Great War continues to take its toll, headstrong twenty-one-year-old Emily Bryce is determined to contribute to the war effort. She is convinced by a cheeky and handsome Australian pilot that she can do more, and it is not long before she falls in love with him and accepts his proposal of marriage.
When he is sent back to the front, Emily volunteers as a “land girl,” tending to the neglected grounds of a large Devonshire estate. It’s here that Emily discovers the long-forgotten journals of a medicine woman who devoted her life to her herbal garden. The journals inspire Emily, and in the wake of devastating news, they are her saving grace. Emily’s lover has not only died a hero but has left her terrified—and with child. Since no one knows that Emily was never married, she adopts the charade of a war widow.
As Emily learns more about the volatile power of healing with herbs, the found journals will bring her to the brink of disaster, but may open a path to her destiny.
kindle edition is $5.99+
THEY'RE NOT EVEN CLOSE: The Democratic vs. Republican Economic Records, 1910-2010. by Eric Zuesse
The Democratic and Republican Parties are virtual opposites of each other in their economic records, going back to the earliest period for which economic data were available, around 1910. More than a dozen studies have been done comparing economic growth, unemployment, average length of unemployment, stock market performance, inflation, federal debt, and other economic indicators, during Democratic and Republican presidencies and congresses, and they all show stunningly better performance when Democrats are in power, than when Republicans are. These studies are all available online, and they are all summarized and discussed in this path-breaking book, which settles, once and for all, the question of whether there’s any significant economic difference between the two Parties. Not only is there a difference, but – shockingly – it always runs in favor of Democrats in power. There might be other types of reasons for voting Republican, but all of the economic reasons favor voting for Democrats. Regarding economic performance, the two Parties aren’t even close.
CHRIST'S VENTRILOQUISTS: The Event that Created Christianity, by Eric Zuesse
CHRIST’S VENTRILOQUISTS is a work of investigative history. It documents and describes Christianity’s creation-event, which occurred in the year 49 or 50, in Antioch (present-day Antakya, Turkey), 20 years after Jesus had been crucified in Jerusalem for sedition against Roman rule. At this event, Paul broke away from the Jewish sect that Jesus had begun, and he took with him the majority of this new Jewish sect’s members; he convinced these people that Jesus had been a god, and that the way to win eternal salvation in heaven is to worship him as such. On this precise occasion, Paul explicitly introduced, for the first time anywhere, the duality of the previously unitary Jewish God, a duality consisting of the Father and the Son; and he implicitly introduced also the third element of the Trinity, the Holy Ghost.
This book also explains and documents the tortuous 14-year-long conflict Paul had had with this sect’s leader, Jesus’s brother James, a conflict which caused Paul, in about the year 50, to perpetrate his coup d’état against James, and to start his own new religion: Christianity.
Then, this historical probe documents that the four canonical Gospel accounts of the words and actions of “Jesus” were written decades after Jesus, by followers of Paul, not by followers of Jesus; and that these writings placed into the mouth of “Jesus” the agenda of Paul. Paul thus became, via his followers, Christ’s ventriloquist.
A work such as this can be documented and produced only now, after the development (during the past 70 years) of modern legal/forensic methodology. Previously, the only available methods, which scholars have used, simply assumed the honesty-of-intent of all classical documents, especially of canonical religious ones, such as Paul’s epistles, and the Four Gospels.
Only now is it finally possible to penetrate deeper than that, to reach the writer’s intent, and not merely his assertions, and to identify when this intent is to deceive instead of to inform. Whereas scholars have been able to discuss only the truth or falsity of particular canonical statements, it is now possible to discuss also the honesty or deceptiveness of individual statements.
This opens up an unprecedented new research tool for historians, and CHRIST’S VENTRILOQUISTS is the first work to use these new methods to reconstruct, on this legal/forensic basis, not just how crimes took place, but how and why major historical events (criminal or not), such as the event that started Christianity, actually occurred.
The author explains: “What I am doing in this work is to reconstruct from the New Testament the crucial events that produced it, without assuming whether what the NT says in any given passage is necessarily true or even honest. Instead of treating the NT as a work that ‘reports history,’ the NT is treated as a work whose history is itself being investigated and reported. Its origin goes back to this coup d’état that Paul perpetrated in Antioch in the year 49 or 50 against Jesus’s brother James in Jerusalem, whom Jesus in Jerusalem had appointed in the year 30 as his successor to lead the Jewish sect that Jesus had started. The Gospel accounts of ‘Jesus’ reflected Paul’s coup d’état – not actually Jesus, who would be appalled at the Christian concept of ‘Christ.’ That concept was radically different from the Jewish concept of the messiah, and Paul knew this when he created it.”
Dog War, By Anthony Winkler
Literary Fiction--A novel about a Christian Jamaican woman, Precious Higginson, whose adventures—from battling with her daughter-in-law in Jamaica to caring for a spoiled dog in a Fort Lauderdale mansion—force her to examine her conventional worldview and proud piousness, from an author with “a fine ear for patois and dialogue, and a love of language that makes bawdy jokes crackle” (The New Yorker).
South by South Bronx, By Abraham Rodriguez
THRILLER--American Book Award–winning author
When Puerto Rican ladies’ man Alex awakes one morning to find a mysterious woman in his bed, he assumes he’s suffered another embarrassing blackout. He soon learns, however, that Ava is not a one-night stand—in fact, he’s never met her before. As her story unfolds, it’s not just Alex’s life that she risks, nor her own, but the entire character of the South Bronx...
“A poetic thriller...A very different and rewarding mystery.” —Booklist
Heidegger's Glasses, By Thaisa Frank
THRILLER--An occult Nazi program is threatened by a philosopher’s letter to a friend imprisoned at Auschwitz in this “stunning work, full of mystery and strange tenderness” (Dan Chaon, author of Await Your Reply).
“Taking readers to a curiously polyglot netherworld...Frank’s vision of the Holocaust is original and startling, with compelling characters and a narrative that’s both explosive and ponderous.” —Publishers Weekly, starred review
The Obedient Assassin, By John P Davidson
THRILLER--A dark and riveting thriller that reimagines the life and mission of the Spanish nationalist enlisted to murder exiled Russian revolutionary leader LEON TROTSKY.
“Reading The Obedient Assassin is like watching a great Hitchcock movie.” —Stephen Harrigan
Return of the Thin Man, By Dashiell Hammett
MYSTERY--A hugely entertaining read that brings back two classic characters from one of the greatest mystery writers who ever lived...When retired private investigator Nick Charles and his former debutante wife, Nora, return home to find Nora’s family gardener murdered, they're pulled into another deadly game of cat and mouse.
“Read Return of the Thin Man and rediscover why Dashiell Hammett was the peerless master of crime fiction in all its dark and bloody glory.” —New York Journal of Books
Eaters of the Dead , By Michael Crichton
An “excellent” New York Times bestseller (Library Journal): When Ibn Fadlan accompanies Viking warriors to their homeland, he discovers a threat to their survival — one that he himself must defeat… “Crichton knows how to craft a tale, one that keeps the reader turning the pages” (Houston Chronicle). $2.99 $9.99
From the bestselling author of Jurassic Park, Timeline, and Sphere comes an epic tale of unspeakable horror.
It is 922 A.D. The refined Arab courtier Ibn Fadlan is accompanying a party of Viking warriors back to their home. He is appalled by their customs—the gratuitous sexuality of their women, their disregard for cleanliness, and their cold-blooded sacrifices. As they enter the frozen, forbidden landscape of the North—where the day’s length does not equal the night’s, where after sunset the sky burns in streaks of color—Fadlan soon discovers that he has been unwillingly enlisted to combat the terrors in the night that come to slaughter the Vikings, the monsters of the mist that devour human flesh. But just how he will do it, Fadlan has no idea.
Purgatory Gardens, By Peter Lefcourt
Crime Fiction, Mystery--Retirement takes on new meaning in this hilarious work of poolside-noir where lust, greed, and murder collide in sunny Palm Springs, California. It’s Elmore Leonard meets Carl Hiaasen as directed by the Coen brothers in this laugh-out-loud “novel ready-made for the movies” (Publishers Weekly).
Sammy Dee is a mid-level Long Island mafioso in witness protection. Didier Onyekachukwu was the corrupt minister of finance of the former Upper Volta. Both men find themselves in middle age, living in a down-market condo complex called Paradise Gardens. Enter Marcy Gray, a “mature” actress barely getting by on a meager SAG pension. On the make for a guy to get her through tough times, her standards are not as high as they should be.
Sammy and Didier are mostly interested in getting into Marcy’s pants. Though a little of the money they mistakenly think she has wouldn’t hurt either. In competition for Marcy’s affections, each man decides to put a hit on the other. It’s Elmore Leonard meets Carl Hiaasen as directed by the Coen brothers in this hilarious romp of aging connivers looking for a second chance.
“Hilarious, touching, beautifully written, and engaging throughout . . . A hard-hitting but good-natured satire of just about everything that makes us Americans. Two thumbs up.” —Howard Frank Mosher, author of Stranger in the Kingdom
“Wickedly clever and wildly entertaining, Purgatory Gardens is crime fiction raised to a high art.” —Peter Quinn, author of Dry Bones
The Pot Thief Who Studied Ptolemy, By J. Michael Orenduff
A Southwestern sleuth tries to retrieve some relics—and solve a murder—in a novel by an author who “knows how to hook the reader from the get-go” (Albuquerque Journal).
Pot thief Hubie Schuze is back, and this time his larceny is for a good cause. He wants to recover sacred relics lifted from San Roque, a mysterious pueblo that is closed to outsiders. Usually Hubie finds his pottery a few feet underground—but these artifacts are one hundred fifty feet above the New Mexico soil, on the top floor of the Rio Grande Lofts.
Hubie will need all his deductive skills to craft the perfect plan—which is thwarted when he encounters the beautiful Stella. And then he is arrested for murder. That tends to happen when you are in the room with the body, with blood on your hands. Follow Hubie as he stays one step ahead of security toughs, one step behind Stella, and never too far from a long fall.
The Pot Thief Who Studied Ptolemy is the 2nd book in the Pot Thief Mysteries, but you may enjoy reading the series in any order.
A Good Year, By Peter Mayle
A New York Times bestseller from the author of A Year in Provence: When banker Max finds himself the owner of a failing vineyard, it will take a coterie of locals to help turn sour grapes into something extraordinary. “The entertaining threads in this absolutely embracing novel are woven into a vibrant design” (Booklist). $1.99 $9.99 before
The Return of Dr. Sam Johnson, Detector, By Lillian de la Torre
Last Word, By Mark Lane
Subtitle: My Indictment of the CIA in the Murder of JFK
Mark Lane tried the only U.S. court case in which the jurors concluded that the CIA plotted the murder of President Kennedy, but there was always a missing piece: How did the CIA control cops and secret service agents on the ground in Dealey Plaza? How did federal authorities prevent the House Select Committee on Assassinations from discovering the truth about the complicity of the CIA?
A Death in China, by Carl Hiaasen and Bill Montalbano
An American investigates a murder amid the secrecy and corruption of China in this crime thriller from the New York Times–bestselling author of Razor Girl. Crime Fiction, Thriller 1.99 $10.99 originally
Art history professor Tom Stratton hasn’t seen his former mentor David Wang for years—until they unexpectedly run into each other while Stratton is on a guided tour of China. But the reunion doesn’t last long. After Wang is found dead—and the American embassy fumbles the investigation—Stratton sets out to solve the mystery of the killing on his own.
Before long, he’s tangled in a web of corruption that reaches the highest seats of power. Beset by the suffocating secrecy and subterfuge of communist China, Stratton must find his friend’s murderer—before the fury of a brutal conspiracy closes in on him.
Along with Powder Burn and Trap Line, this international mystery is one of the early suspense thrillers written by Carl Hiaasen and Bill Montalbano, a writing team praised for their “fine flair for characters and settings” (Library Journal).
By Sam Elfassy, January 29, 2019 "Information Clearing House"
John Perkins, a former respected member of the international banking community, author of "Confessions of an Economic Hit Man", blows the lid of US imperiliasm and provides the reasons as to why it is at war in the Middle East.
Since his book was published, and his famous interview with Amy Goodman on Democracy Now TV, where he also describes more of the US ugly deeds against the innocent Iranian people, John Perkins has worked to get the truth out in every possible way.
Perkins describes himself as a former economic hit man - a highly paid professional who cheated countries around the globe out of trillions of dollars - in US government service.
In Confessions of an Economic Hit Man he writes how he helped the US cheat poor countries around the world by blackmailing them to borrow more money than they could possibly repay and then take over their economies.
Pulitzer prize-winning author and Harvard Professor, John E. Mack, writes about the book: "One of the most important stories of our time… a work of great insight, moral courage and transformational depth…a page turner about the ruthlessness with which the United States uses economic manipulation and political coercion to extend our power and control over other nations".
Perkins writes: "The book was to be dedicated to the presidents of two countries, men who had been his clients whom I respected and thought of as kindred spirits - Jaime Roldós, president of Ecuador, and Omar Torrijos, president of Panama. Both had just died in fiery crashes. Their deaths were not accidental. THEY WERE ASSASSINATED BECAUSE THEY OPPOSED THAT FRATERNITY OF CORPORATE, GOVERNMENT, AND BANKING HEADS WHOSE GOAL IS GLOBAL EMPIRE. We Economic Hit Men failed to bring Roldós and Torrijos around, and the other type of hit men, the CIA-sanctioned jackals who were always right behind us, stepped in".
Here is a three part speech given to the Veterans For Peace National Convention, Seattle, WA, in late 2006.
Send comments to email@example.com, Professor Colby Glass, PhDc,MLIS, MAc, Professor Emeritus