Review: The Hard Thing About Hard Things

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Ben Horowitz

5.0 out of 5 stars ABSORBING – Requires Open Mind, March 16, 2014

I generally read all the reviews before writing my own, in part to see if anyone has already covered the ground the way I like to, with a summary evaluative review. There are only two reviews before mine that I consider world-class, please do read them if you have the time. I refer to the reviews by Mercenary Trader and Scott S. Bell, I salute both of them for providing substance useful to all.

This is not a comprehensive book in that it is a very personal perspective, brings together many specific snapshots, but never addresses “root” in relation to how the team went from great idea to source code to buzz to market share. As I read the book I thought often about a book I read in the 1980′s, still a classic, Tracey Kidder’s The Soul of A New Machine.

I would say this book is an absolutly priceless gem for the “hard knocks” at the CEO level perspective, and should be combined with any of several alternatives on start-ups such as Matt Blumberg’s Startup CEO: A Field Guide to Scaling Up Your Business, + Website, and, forthcoming, Peter Thiel of PayPal’s Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future.

I’ve built two companies, both failures in that I never made the leap from one man with an obession to a movement (OSS.Net, Inc. and Earth Intelligence Network, a 501c3) and what I did not see in this book, or any other book I have found, is the roadmap for getting from a big idea to big marketshare. That book remains to be written, and it could be that it should be written by Marc Andressen and a team. Jim Clark’s Netscape Time: The Making of the Billion-Dollar Start-Up That Took on Microsoft is a fine but dated (1999) start but we need something now tailored to the Internet of Things (what everyone else is thinking about) and free individual access to and ability to leverage all information in all languages all the time (what I have been thinking about since 1986 — visit Phi Beta Iota the Public Intelligence Blog to learn more). I am also reminded of Michael Lewis’s The New New Thing: A Silicon Valley Story.

All this by way of saying that you have no business reading or buying this book if you are expecting a holistic 360 degree soup to nuts outline of how to zero to Mach 2. The greatest value of this book for me was in learning that it is possible to keep flying when you lose power and both wings fall off at the same time.

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Mar 16

Review (Guest): Eisenhower in War and Peace

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Jean Edward Smith

Publisher’s Summary:

In his magisterial bestseller FDR, Jean Edward Smith gave us a fresh, modern look at one of the most indelible figures in American history. Now this peerless biographer returns with a new life of Dwight D. Eisenhower that is as full, rich, and revealing as anything ever written about America’s thirty-fourth president. As America searches for new heroes to lead it out of its present-day predicaments, Jean Edward Smith’s achievement lies in reintroducing us to a hero from the past whose virtues have become clouded in the mists of history.

Here is Eisenhower the young dreamer, charting a course from Abilene, Kansas, to West Point, to Paris under Pershing, and beyond. Drawing on a wealth of untapped primary sources, Smith provides new insight into Ike’s maddening apprenticeship under Douglas MacArthur in Washington and the Philippines. Then the whole panorama of World War II unfolds, with Eisenhower’s superlative generalship forging the Allied path to victory through multiple reversals of fortune in North Africa and Italy, culminating in the triumphant invasion of Normandy. Smith also gives us an intriguing examination of Ike’s finances, details his wartime affair with Kay Summersby, and reveals the inside story of the 1952 Republican convention that catapulted him to the White House.

Smith’s chronicle of Eisenhower’s presidential years is as compelling as it is comprehensive. Derided by his detractors as a somnambulant caretaker, Eisenhower emerges in Smith’s perceptive retelling as both a canny politician and a skillful, decisive leader. Smith convincingly portrays an Eisenhower who engineered an end to America’s three-year no-win war in Korea, resisted calls for preventative wars against the Soviet Union and China, and boldly deployed the Seventh Fleet to protect Formosa from invasion. This Eisenhower, Smith shows us, stared down Khrushchev over Berlin and forced the withdrawal of British, French, and Israeli forces from the Suez Canal. He managed not only to keep the peace—after Ike made peace in Korea, not one American soldier was killed in action during his tenure—but also to enhance America’s prestige in the Middle East and throughout the world.

Domestically, Eisenhower reduced defense spending, balanced the budget, constructed the interstate highway system, and provided social security coverage for millions who were self-employed. Ike believed that traditional American values encompassed change and progress.

Unmatched in insight, Eisenhower in War and Peace at last gives us an Eisenhower for our time—and for the ages.

Guest Review Below the Line

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Mar 22

Review (Guest): Westmoreland – The General Who Lost Vietnam – Includes Second Review With Contextual Detail on Failure of Intelligence (Including Soviets Owning US Crypto)

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Lewis Sorley

A Man Promoted Above his Ability September 12, 2011

By Hrafnkell Haraldsson VINE™ VOICE

I grew up during the Vietnam War. I was seven years old when General William Westmoreland was sent to Vietnam by LBJ to take charge of things there. I was eleven when he lost his job and by then, had lost us the war. Vietnam was in the news the entire time, on TV, in the paper, in Time Magazine – as was Westmoreland’s iconic chin. Being the son of military parents I’d early gotten the history bug and I was fascinated by what was taking place over in Southeast Asia, even if I didn’t understand it well. As I grew older, and things over there grew worse, I began to wonder how we could possibly lose such a war (as I thought it was) against such a small country.

Lewis Sorely’s “Westmoreland: The General Who Lost Vietnam” will tell you how. Sorely has the credentials for this book. He is himself a graduate of West Point. He served in Vietnam. He even served in the office of the Army Chief of Staff, General William C. Westmoreland, and taught at West Point. This isn’t just a book by some journalist trying to get at the bottom of things. Sorely has been “at the bottom of things” and he has done the leg work over a period of years, talking to 175 people in his search for the events he here recounts.

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May 18

Review (Guest): Gandhi and the Unspeakable

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James W. Douglass

Reviewed by Christian Newswire

Ghandhi and the Unspeakable looks upon the father of the Indian independence movement and examines why a prophet of nonviolence was assassinated by Hindu nationalists during a prayer meeting in New Delhi.

From James W. Douglass, the bestselling author of JFK and the Unspeakable (Orbis 2010), Ghandhi and the Unspeakable shines new light on the untimely death of Mohandas Gandhi. Following the theme of his study about the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, Mr. Douglass shows how the people who conspired to kill Gandhi hoped to destroy a compelling vision of peace, nonviolence and reconciliation.

By tracing the story of Gandhi’s early “experiments with truth” in South Africa, Mr. Douglass shows how Gandhi confronted and overcame the fear of death. He also explains why, as with the case of JFK’s death, this story matters today and what can be learned from Gandhi’s truth and its opposition to the powers of his time.

Mr. Douglass is a scholar and peace activist. His book about the JFK assassination is widely acclaimed by historians and political scientists as one of the most important books written about the subject. Gandhi and the Unspeakable, according to Publisher’s Weekly, “provides readers with a slim, elegant volume containing explosive insight into who conspired to assassinate the father of modern nonviolence and why.”

See Also:

JFK and the Unspeakable: Why He Died and Why It Matters

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Apr 17

Review (FIction): Admit the Horse – Novel Based on 2008 Race

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R. G. Abeles

4.0 out of 5 stars An Excellent FIrst Effort, Misses a Lot of the Crime and Complexity,March 21, 2012

I agreed to review this book, which was a gift. Normally I do not do non-fiction, but the topic of this book — the abject total corruption of our entire political system (from the two-party tyranny to the bloated corrupt government) is important to me, so I agreed.

As a first effort, it is a fine book, and certainly valuable as a “lite” telling of the American story of legalized crime and conspiracy. Unfortunately, it does not go nearly far enough, once again proving that non-fiction is much scarier than fiction. It’s hard to get too excited about a fictional version when you have all lived through the real thing.

To the author’s great credit, I learned things from this book–always my objective–and it is therefore more than fiction, it is a window into reality. The book ends with six questions for book clubs and overall is very well presented. I would have been more impressed if the author had listed some of the books below as sources–I get the feeling going through the book that the author drew more on Internet and media sources than on actual books. There are important observations throughout the book, not least of which is the fact that Obama gets away with things that a Republican white president would never get away with. He is the perfect house servant for the criminals that consider the USA to be their personal looting preserve.

Here is one fictional book I recommend to every American:
TYRANNICIDE (The Story of the Second American Revolution)

Here are non-fiction books (you can just read my summary reviews, and also explore at Phi Beta Iota the Public Intelligence Blog, among the 98 categories in which I read, many of them focused on the deep corruption that characterizes all organizations we rely on:

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Mar 21

Review: Ayn Rand Nation – The Hidden Struggle for America’s Soul

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Gary Weiss

5.0 out of 5 stars Ably Researched and Presented Inspection of One Side of America — the Part Without a Soul,March 20, 201

First off, this is not a “sneering” book, this is a solidly researched and ably presented inspection of Ayn Rand, key people in the Ayn Rand “movement” of Objectivism, and on balance the author is both sympathetic and critical — it takes intelligence and integrity to carry this off, those that lack either or both of these qualities should not buy the book. For the rest of us, it is a small piece of the puzzle, a small but most cogent explanation of why the 1% really do look down on the rest of us, and have neither God nor guilt about greed. HOWEVER, I must emphasize that one of the author’s findings is that it is not just the 1% that buy into this whole market laissez faire posture, but a good number of the “little people” who have no idea what a philosophy can or should be.

George Soros nailed it with his essay on “My Philanthropy” subsequently a major portion of the book, The Philanthropy of George Soros: Building Open Societies. Blasting what he calls “the Enlightenment fallacy” he points out that all men are not rational, not necessarily good to one another, and not at all equipped to address the public interest in isolation.

Having seen the negative reviews, I was very pleasantly surprised right off by the author’s introduction of his own book. I read a great deal — in 98 categories best understood by accessing all my Amazon reviews via category at Phi Beta Iota the Public Intelligence Blog. I was immediately put at ease — serious author, serious approach to the topic, a good plan, and an undeniable commitment to the public interest.

I have to point out that one reason I was interested in this book was because Ayn Rand is reputed to be a favorite among Tea Partiers who want less or no government, and despite the long standing conflicts between Objectivists (code for anything goes, survival of the fittest, altruism is for wimps) and libertarians (themselves so focused on Liberty they cannot get a grip on the rest of the Preamble to the Constitution of the USA, i.e. little things like general welfare, domestic tranquility, and justice. Which is to day, both the Ayn Rand People and the Libertarians — Ron Paul, I am talking to you and still waiting for a courteous answer to my two letters in January — fail on three out of four Constitutional fundamentals. So does Barack Obama! What I have learned from all of my reading and observation is that the two-party tyranny is godless and amoral, all posturing aside. Ayn Rand fits right in.

The author has done his homework–more than his homework. With due credit to biographers of Ayn Rand (this book is not a biography, it is a tour of Ayn Rand Nation as the title says) he resurrects people who were “buried” or shunned, exiled, reviled, or with great fanfare “ignored” by Ayn Rand.

I learn things I did not know in this book — her opposition to World War II (“let the Germans and the Russians kill each other off”); her favoritism toward Israel (in sharp distinction to the Libertarian ire and refusal to bow to Israeli influence) — her prediction of the 2008-2012 (and soon the 2013-2014) huge financial crash. She nailed it. Government debt in any form that is cumulative and passed off to the future will eventually destroy the nation. The author points out that no one from the Ann Rand Institute realizes she said this, and they have consequently failed to promulgate this one bit of getting it right decades in advance.

Of course Michael Lewis said the same thing in Liar’s Poker, and both John Bogle and William Greider have spoken to the issue in their respective books The Battle for the Soul of Capitalism and The Soul of Capitalism: Opening Paths to a Moral Economy, and while it may be that the author goes a bridge too far in laying all of our failures of character and culture at the feet of Ayn Rand, she does seem to fill a very large hole in people’s heads and souls — empty spaces without her.

What really jumps out at me as I pass the midway mark is how unethical and ignorant top figures in the upper reaches of US finance are — Henry Paulson, Tim Geithner, Ben Pernanke, John Mack, the Wells Fargo guy, etcetera. They lack intelligence and they lack integrity and they survive on being part of the club, of being reliable to the few at the expense of the many. It makes me sick to contemplate the depravity of the collective US public mind, that it cannot see these people for the charlAtans and postuRers and cheats that they actually are.

It also merits observation that the 1% are so far removed from the Ayn Rand circles as to make her a peasant on a stump, spouting ideas into the ether and completely irrelevant to what some call “deep secrecy” and the manner in which a few banking families (including those in China and Indonesia and India) manage all. This is a side show, not the main event. The named individual in US finance–as greedy and treasonous as they might be, are bit players in a much larger drama.

Throughout the book Barack Obama and his Administration are present as the anti-thesis of Objectivism, and I remind myself over and over again that it is truly a shame that what we have right now in our government is a combination of irresponsible entitlement socialism and irresponsible economic and military fascism. Only in America. Hence, absent a deep understanding of the fact that CORRUPTION is the common ingredient for the two-party system that excludes all other nationally accredited parties from the ballot, and that legalizes crime as a matter of routine (Matt Taibbi is still the best on this, see my summary review of Griftopia: A Story of Bankers, Politicians, and the Most Audacious Power Grab in American History), it is safe to say that both Objectivism and the mix of socialism and fascism now represented by Barack Obama (as the puppet in chief) are identical: amoral, atheist, and absent any coherent strategic analytic model that can actually connect to reality or project future outcomes.

As someone who has spent the past decade reflecting on the urgency of demanding BOTH intelligence AND integrity from all eight tribes at all levels (academia, civil society, commerce, government, law enforcement, media, military, and non-governmental/non-profit) I am charmed by the author’s skewering of Alan Greenspan, in a chapter centered on Greenspan, Greenspan’s notions of integrity (not), and how much damage Greenspan did to the US with his ignorance and lack of integrity in the holistic sense. I myself fell prey to the Greenspan myth, and while I do not go back and rewrite my reviews, there are several back a few years that I now realize were written from a less than fully informed perspective. I continue to learn, and this book is one I strongly recommend — it is about Ayn Rand Nation, but in passing, it is about what the USA is or is not. For the complete opposite, see my summary of the phenomenal book by Kevin O’Keefe, The Average American: The Extraordinary Search for the Nation’s Most Ordinary Citizen.

QUOTE (235): Greenspan could seek to escape reality, but his words and his actions could not be so neatly erased. The fact was that Rand had failed. Her ideas had collided with the real world, a world in which monomaniacal selfishness is not beneficial but harmful, in which businessmen are driven by the scent of money to ast recklessly, and in which capitalism requires government oversight lest capitalist excesses hurt the financial system and society as a whole.”

The author concludes along these lines, but here I believe he misses a very important point. I continue to rate the book five stars because there are too many negative reviews that have no foundation in fact. This is a worthy book for anyone with both intelligence and integrity. It’s not about capitalism and it’s not about government. It’s about education. Since Carnegie and Rockefeller were allowed to standardize what John Gato calls Weapons of Mass Instruction: A Schoolteacher’s Journey Through the Dark World of Compulsory Schooling the USA has become an idiot nation, beating the creativity out of kids, still offering today rote instruction that is a hundred years out of date. My youngest is about to “test” out of high school after the 10th grade and spend two years working and traveling–Fairfax County has a good reputation within the nation of inattentive idiots [I certainly include myself in that group], but between its neo-Nazi zero tolerance for youthful indiscretions and its inbred mediocrity of programming, I cannot in good conscience force my son to waste his next two years in the wasteland called “high school.” We lost sight of what it means to be a citizen — a responsible citizen with an obligation to apply their intelligence at all times with integrity, irrespective of which tribe they work for…. my long-term ambition remains to that of integrating education, intelligence, and research, creating a Smart Nation, in which all the bureaucracies are euthenized, and we allow our natural creativity and deeper instincts of community to come forward.

A few other books within my limits:
Nonzero: The Logic of Human Destiny
Ecological Economics, Second Edition: Principles and Applications
The Genius of the Beast: A Radical Re-Vision of Capitalism

For a complete overview of books by others exploring both the negative and positive of our situation, search for these two lists or find them at Phi Beta Iota the Public Intelligence Blog under books; each review leads back to its Amazon page:

Worth a Look: Book Review Lists (Positive)

Worth a Look: Book Review Lists (Negative)

This book is a mirror. Look into it.

Robert Steele
THE OPEN SOURCE EVERYTHING MANIFESTO: Transparency, Truth & Trust 2

 

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Mar 21

Review: Cain at Gettysburg – Ralph Peters at his best

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Ralph Peters

5.0 out of 5 stars Spectacular Blend of Rigorous & Populist History,February 24, 2012

I have read The Killer Angels: A Novel of the Civil War (Modern Library), which the author himself acknowledges as one of the best books about Gettysburg – but also one that bought into the prevalent myths. This book is the equal of Killer Angels in its atmospheric electricity, certainly the equal if not more moving with respect to “aha” professional insights and “feeling in the fingertips” gut-wrenchers (I counted six goose-bump moments reading Cain, I recall only one in reading Killer Angels), and vastly more important than Killer Angels in the grand scheme of things because this author and this book have restored the reputation of General George Meade at his finest hour – given the Army THREE DAYS before Gettysburg, and leading that Army to the single most important victory of the Civil War, however one may view that war while also instantly assessing and correcting the mistakes of his predecessor, the most important being a scattered leaderless army.

This is a book written by a professional military officer who is also a historian, a brilliant and often poetic author of both non-fiction and historical fiction better than dry academic texts, and an adventurer who knows the world from gutter to grand salons.

The book concludes with a very clear explanation of how General Meade’s reputation was ruined by a scheming General Sickles, and how some of the main characters fared after the war of secession. More to the point, this is the definitive book that rescues the reputation of General Meade. While there are many other books, one in particular being Meade: Victor of Gettysburg (Military Profiles), no other book can match the eloquence, authenticity, and level of detail of this ultra-historical and poetic work of redemption.

Here are some of the professional highlights that I noted down – I do not report the goose bump moments–for those, buy the book.

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Feb 24

Review: Derision Points – Clown Prince Bush the W, the Real Story of His “Decision Points”

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Ted Cohen

5.0 out of 5 stars Work of genius, superb detail, ignore the critics,February 24, 2012

This is a fast read, but it is truly scary, for anyone who has actually paid attention and read such strong non-fiction books as The Bush Tragedy. Not only does this book provide searing, gripping “reality” but as we fast-forward to understanding how a nothing like “W” could get to the White House and unleash Dick Cheney (see for instance Vice: Dick Cheney and the Hijacking of the American Presidency), it helps to put the well-intentioned village-idiot president in context.

It is clear to me that the Bush Family is a crime family (see for instance Family of Secrets: The Bush Dynasty, the Powerful Forces That Put It in the White House, and What Their Influence Means for America, that W was a Walker, not a Bush, that he was abused his entire life and naturally became an abuser himself. What this book drives home is that our political institutions have hit bottom.

The author has a claim to credibility in writing this book. Others may not like it, but it reeks of the truth and in my view is a useful depiction of the reality that is now known as “W.”

Other books I recommend:
George Bush: The Unauthorized Biography
The Case for Impeachment: The Legal Argument for Removing President George W. Bush from Office
Impostor: How George W. Bush Bankrupted America and Betrayed the Reagan Legacy
Fraud: The Strategy Behind the Bush Lies and Why the Media Didn’t Tell You
A Pretext for War: 9/11, Iraq, and the Abuse of America’s Intelligence Agencies
The Mafia, CIA and George Bush

It makes me sick to my stomach to be reminded of how decrepit our political process has become. This is an educational down-to-earth book, and as much as it pained me to read it, it also strengthens my commitment to helping reform our process. There isn’t a citizen out there who could not have been a better president solely armed with integrity — “W” was possible because we have all lost our integrity and let the while collar upper class crime families rock on. IMHO.

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Feb 24

Review: Who’s To Say What’s Obscene – Politics, Culture, and Comedy in America Today

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Paul Krassner

5.0 out of 5 stars Less Funny, More Provocative–Price is a WOW,November 20, 2011

First, a confession. I am 59 years old and had no idea who Paul Krassner was/is. The more I read through the book the more I marveled at his pioneering endeavors and their continuing relevance as Occupy struggles to find its voice and focus. So for all the folks that don’t know who Paul Krassner is, at under $3.00 this book is a WOW value, and I recommend it for that alone.

This is NOT a funny book. There are a few places here and there where one can see the deep tragic comedy possibility, but more than anything this is a very provocative book that beats a single theme: the obscenity of all that we allow to be done in our name, to our bodies and our environment, to our families, schools, economy, and the Republic itself. Obscene, they name is a two-party tyranny and a Congress so corrupt they shame every dictator (all 40+ of them, all but two “best pals” of the US Government) in their craven greed and lack of democratic integrity.

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Nov 20

Review: The Arsonist – The Most Dangerous Man in America (James Otis 1760′s Catalyst for Liberty)

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Nathan A. Allen

5.0 out of 5 stars Six Star Pre-History Ignored Until Now,July 17, 2011
I urge the publisher to do a proper job with Look Inside the Book and all the other tools that Amazon provides. Right now, the publishers presentation of this book STINKS. It was my great privilege to get to know the author when the book was in development, and below is the review that I wrote when I reviewed the final galley before the book went to print. This is a BARN-BURNER of a book!This book is a PhD dissertation that is being published quickly to aid the cause of liberty in 2012. The academic detail would normally make it a four-star read, but the relevance, the originality, and the appendices-both within the book as it will be published, and online-carry it to six stars. Depending on one’s interest, this can be a quick read to confirm that we need a second American revolution-or a slow read to savor the loneliness, the persistence, the integrity of one man called a lunatic and a traitor for one reason only: he was twenty years ahead of his time. It is on the shoulders of James Otis that the Founding Father stood, and this author, Nathan Allen, has performed brilliantly in identifying a slice of American history here-to-fore overlooked, and in deeply investigating and then publicizing what can only be appreciated as both one man’s cross to bear, and one nation’s long lead-time in the gestation of liberty.
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Jul 18