#BookReview: The Debt Trap by Josh Mitchell

Before You Talk About The Student Loan Problem, Read This Book. Here, Mitchell does a phenomenal job of going from the very beginning – before World War I even – and showing just how the student loan problem grew from a well-intentioned idea into the massive debt bomb that we are now struggling with at all levels. Other than one short, couple of pages – if that – section near the end, Mitchell keeps all personal ideas and politics out of the narrative, instead focusing on as objective a reporting of the events as they unfolded as I’ve ever seen. Indeed, there are only two things that I can think to ding him on at all here, and neither one quite warrants a star reduction:

1) Throughout the narrative, particularly once his timeline gets into the 1990s and 2000s eras, Mitchell doesn’t account for the rise of State-sponsored lottery-funded scholarship programs. Though upon a bit of research, it seems that these only exist primarily in the Southeast: Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, New Mexico, South Carolina, Tennessee, West Virginia. Though I’ve lived in three of those States and had my college funded by Georgia’s HOPE Scholarship – it is at least plausible that anyone living outside of those States, or without close friends or family in them, has never heard of these programs. (And yet even with HOPE, I still managed to amass a $20K student debt load that had ballooned to nearly $40K before I began actively repaying it – upon threat of legal action – largely due to exactly the forces Mitchell describes in this text, but mostly because I was an idiotic 18yo and it was “free money”. Though I’m proud to note that as of this moment, I have less than the various forgiveness amounts that are being bandied about in DC – which Mitchell also covers, in a near up-to-the-minute fashion, even 2 months before publication of this book. An amount that I *will* pay off before the current suspension of interest – signed by President Trump and extended by President Biden – expires, currently slated for less than two months after this book is published.)

2) The Bibliography is a bit scant at only about 15% of the text, though there is a decent portion of the book – focusing on a singular case study in recurring episodes throughout the narrative – where Mitchell conducted extensive interviews and examinations of the relevant documents personally.

Overall truly an excellent, objective look at the history and many factors that have created today’s student loan problem. And as GI Joe once said, “knowing is half the battle”. Very much recommended.

This review of The Debt Trap by Josh Mitchell was originally written on June 12, 2021.

#BookReview: Exploding Turkeys and Spare Trousers by Ken Pasternak

Travels and Aphorisms. This is one of those quick, read any way you want type books that you can read straight through or you can read a short chapter in a few hurried minutes, in any order you want. Those familiar with Christian daily devotional books will recognize the overall format, though this is a purely secular book based on Pasternak’s near 50 years of travelling all over the globe as a high level corporate businessman. Filled with short yet interesting stories, many of them apparently already shared on his LinkedIn page in nearly the same (200 ish word) length, this is a great book for someone looking for a light read or a businessman looking for a business-oriented read with some solid truths in that space. Very much recommended.|

This review of Exploding Turkeys and Spare Trousers by Ken Pasternak was originally written on June 11, 2021.

#BookReview: After Cooling by Eric Dean Wilson

Interesting History Marred By Marxist Politics And Alarmist Propaganda. In the description of this book, it is claimed that we will get a look at history, science, road trip, and philosophy as it relates to Freon and its history. Well, the philosophy is avowed Marxism (even quoting Marx directly to begin one of the sections) and the “science” is mostly alarmist “Global Cooling” / “Global Warming” / “Climate Change” junk wherein he cites in part some of the very studies that Stephen Koonin’s Unsettled – released just weeks earlier – shows to be problematic at best. And unlike Wilson, Koonin is an actual climate scientist, one who worked at a high level under Barack Obama, no less. Instead, Wilson outright declares that it is the stuff of nightmares to think that any form of warming is natural, that man *must* be the cause of *all* warming and that we *must* thus be able to stop it.

These factors noted – and seriously, if you can’t stomach a fatal dose of Marxist ideology, don’t bother reading this book – the history presented here, even while presented fully rooted in anti-white, anti-capitalist screed form, is actually interesting and worthy of discovery by those who may not be aware of it, such as myself when going into this book. The road trip episodes that frame each section are interesting in and of themselves, as Wilson tags along with a friend who is buying up stockpiles of Freon American Pickers style in order to destroy them to claim the carbon credits under California’s Cap and Trade system.

There is a compelling story to tell in the need for better ways to cool and comfort, and there are promising techs and strategies that don’t rely on Marxism and government mandate to achieve them. Unfortunately this book ignores all of this.

Finally, the citations and bibliography… are minimal, for such fantastical claims, accounting for barely 15% of the text, and are rarely directly cited within the narrative itself.

It is because of all of these factors that I am quite comfortable with the 2* – without the history and road trip, it would have been half even that – and would be lower than even that, were such possible on review sites. Not recommended.

This review of After Cooling by Eric Dean Wilson was originally written on June 11, 2021.

Featured New Release Of The Week: The Appalachian Trail by Philip D’Anieri

This week we’re looking at an intriguing way of looking at the history of the Appalachian Trail. This week we’re looking at The Appalachian Trail by Philip D’Anieri

Unfortunately my string of being plagued by writer’s block continues, but here is the Goodreads review:

Biography – By Way Of Biographies. This was a very interesting read, if primarily for the narrative structure D’Anieri chose in writing it. Here, the author doesn’t set out to provide a “definitive history” of the Trail or the technical details of how it came to be. Instead, he profiles key players in the development of the Trail as it has come to exist now and shows how their lives and thoughts and actions proved pivotal in how the Trail got to where it is. Overall a fascinating book about a wide range of people and attitudes about the boundary of civilization and wilderness, written in a very approachable style – much like much of the Trail itself. Very much recommended.

#BookReview: WorkQuake by Steve Cadigan

Interesting Yet Also Seemingly Retreading Well Known Ideas. I’m not exactly known for reading business type books – which is one reason I wanted to read this one, actually, as it sounded interesting even though it was in more of the “Big Idea for Business” type space. While I tend not to discuss my professional life too much in these reviews, it bears a mention in this particular one, so here’s a very brief synopsis just to know my own background for my further commentary: I’m a mid career software developer that has mostly worked in local small-medium (500-2000 people) companies that were usually owned by a singular person, though I currently find myself as effectively a team lead working with various offshore teams and onshore contractors for a Fortune 50 company with approximately 200K+ people worldwide. I’ve had a couple of somewhat innovative breakthroughs, but for the most part I keep my head down and do whatever needs to be done in my current role.

So when I began reading Cadigan’s commentary about the future of tech being less about individual skills and more about networking – alluding to what I call the “Flight Director Principle” based off “Iron Flight” Paul Dye’s 2020 memoir Shuttle, Houston without ever getting even remotely close to actually naming it, much less naming it as I do here – eh… I can see it, and yet I also see in my own looking/ recruitments (in large part based on the very network Cadigan helped lead at one point) I also see quite a bit of employers – perhaps just in the areas/ jobs I’m looking? – still demanding specific technologies and specific amounts of experience with them. But perhaps Cadigan, presumably with a better sense of the pulse of business generally, has better insight there than I do as more of a grunt on the verge of being a low level leader.

Overall his ideas are certainly intriguing, and absolutely worth considering, one simply wonders, based on the text at hand, whether Cadigan is simply pushing change for change’s sake and taking the safe bet that change is always inevitable, or if he truly has specific – unnamed – change strategies. Cadigan here emphasizes adaptability for both the employee and the employer, which while valid, is still a safe and typical recommendation – if you don’t know the need to be adaptable, you’re probably going to quickly find yourself stuck, on whichever side of the hiring process you find yourself.

And this is my argument that his central theses here are mostly retreads of well known ideas. At least in my own experience in this industry even at the levels I’ve seen it, most of this stuff is well known, even if the particular anecdotes and case studies he uses aren’t always. And yet, this is still absolutely a worthy book to read and consider, because despite the well known general ideas, Cadigan does present a few scenarios and specifics that are interesting to consider and, I can say, many companies *need* to consider. Will the future of employment truly look as Cadigan forecasts here? We don’t have enough data at this time to know. But as this is a fairly short book at less than 200 pages of actual narrative, the time investment here is minimal and the rewards could range from minimal to quite substantial – and thus the risk/reward calculation says you really lose more from not reading this book and losing out on some valuable insight than you lose in time if you don’t really gain any new insight. Recommended.

Note: As this review was written on May 25, 2021, and the book doesn’t publish until August 3, 2021, yes, of course, this is an advance reader copy which in this case was obtained via NetGalley.

This review of Workquake by Steve Cadigan was originally written on May 25, 2021.

#BookReview: The Guns Of John Moses Browning by Nathan Gorenstein

Remarkable Biography Of One Of The Most Influential Men Of The 20th Century. In this, the first biography of John Moses Browning ever written by anyone other than a descendant (and only the second ever written, period), Gorenstein does a truly remarkable job of showing the life, times, and inventions of a man who could arguably be said to be more actually influential on the 20th century than even Thomas Edison or Henry Ford. Yes, Edison revolutionized how we are able to see and gave us the truly 24/7 world, and Ford revolutionized both transportation and manufacturing more generally, but Browning revolutionized how we *kill things* – animal or human – and that alone has driven many of the most important issues of the 20th century. It was Browning’s early rifles that may not have won the West – but certainly made it even easier to live there. It was Browning’s (then-Colt) 1911 that is *to this day* one of the most popular types of pistol in the world, over a century after Browning won the competition for the US Army’s new service pistol (a contract it would keep for over 70 years and through both World Wars, the Korean Conflict, and the Vietnam War). Indeed, that very model – the Colt 1911 – played a legendary part of the lore of one Lieutenant George S Patton and the first motorized military raid in the 1916-17 Punitive Expedition. In WWII, many infantry units – very likely including both of my grandfathers’ own units – carried up to four different Browning guns into battle, between his 1911, his Browning Automatic Rifle (BAR), and his “Ma Deuce” Browing M2 .50 caliber machine gun.

And Gorenstein does a phenomenal job of showing the development and importance of each, including Browning designing the gas-piston system of modern automatic and semi-automatic rifles *in a single day*. Gorenstein shows how Browning, of truly humble beginnings, designed his first gun from scraps laying around his dad’s engineering and repair shop – just to hunt small game to help feed the family. Gorenstein shows how these humble beginnings played such a role in Browning not even really beginning to invent until at or beyond the age when others in more academic professions say genius decays – and how this “lost decade” played such a role in Browning’s later drive and inventiveness.

It doesn’t matter what you think of how Browning’s designs and their derivatives over the last 100+ years have been used. You know about Edison, or can. You know about Ford, or can. You deserve to educate yourself about this genius as well, if only to learn the lessons of his genius. And this book is the very first time you really can. Very much recommended.

And here are (most of) the guns in question, just to show how truly prolific this amazing man was.

This review of The Guns Of John Moses Browning by Nathan Gorenstein was originally written on March 27, 2021.

#BookReview: Ten Patterns That Explain The Universe by Brian Clegg

Fascinating And Short. To be such a compact tale – 220 pages or so – this volume puts in a fairly dense amount of information at a very high level (for its extremely advanced concepts anyway, some of which deal with literally the smallest entities known to mankind), which is even more remarkable when one considers the volume of space dedicated to the often stunning imagery included in even this months-prior-to-publication advanced reader copy. (For those unfamiliar with ARC work, actually getting to see most imagery referenced in a book is a rarity. :D) As to showing these ten patterns and roughly how they can all be seen to link up to explain the universe. Clegg definitely shows – again at a very high level – that links are there, often in ways not everyone would think to look. As to whether these fully explain the universe… that, is a much larger question that Clegg never really dives into too deeply, seemingly satisfied that they seem to explain the universe *as we currently understand it*. Which is a major concession, particularly in light of just how recent most of the developments Clegg details are in human history. (Quite a few within the last 150 years or so, vs the few thousand years of even recorded history.) Overall truly an interesting book and a quick ish read to boot, that doesn’t *completely* require a science related degree to understand (though having some degree of familiarity with STEM subjects will certainly help any reader here), and thus very much recommended.

This review of Ten Patterns That Explain The Universe by Brian Clegg was originally written on May 11, 2021.

Featured New Release Of The Week: The Truth About Lies by Aja Raden

This week we’re looking at an in-depth look at how and why we lie to each other via scams from history through modern times. This week we’re looking at The Truth About Lies by Aja Raden.

Thought Provoking, But Could Have Used More Documentation. This is a very thought provoking book that looks at lies and how we deceive both ourselves and others, using scams from prehistory all the way through the 2010s. In its examinations of how we deceive both ourselves and each other, it seems to this reader to be very well reasoned, very well thought out, and very well written. Lots of education, a fair degree of humor, and (warning to those “sensitive” to it), a few F-bombs to boot. Indeed, the one main weakness here is the dearth of its bibliography – coming it at just 6% ish of the text rather than the more common 25-30% of well-documented nonfiction texts. Also, the cover – I don’t believe Washington and the (very likely apocryphal, and thus… a lie) story of his childhood cherry tree is ever mentioned in the text. So the cover lies… which may be the point. 😉 Overall a superb book, but the bibliography issue knocks it down a star. Very much recommended.

#BookReview: On The Spectrum by Daniel Bowman Jr

I made it a point to get this one in during #AutismAcceptanceMonth, even though it doesn’t actually release until August.

This is apparently officially a “collection of essays”, but the organization works such that it never feels disjointed, as other efforts of this vein I’ve read tend to do. But that could just be my own #ActuallyAutistic mind working similarly to Bowman’s.

If you’ve ever heard of the late great Rachel Held Evans, and particularly if you like her style, you’re going to enjoy this particular book. Bowman has a roughly similar background to Evans (and thus even rougher similar to myself) in that he has experience in the Baptist church and now finds himself in a more progressive mainline church, and in both of their cases are more academic-oriented to boot. Thus, even while explaining his own version of the intersection of faith and Autism – and on being Autistic more generally, but through that lens – his words really do evoke the same kinds of tones Evans’ work did.

This was enjoyable for me due to the *lack* of constant “Autistics need government intervention” diatribes that so many books make their central point of Autism – even from among fellow Autistics (such as Eric Garcia’s We’re Not Broken, which publishes a week earlier and which, IIRC, I posted about here roughly a month ago). Instead, Bowman’s life and thoughts flow more closely to my own, with key community members becoming mentors over the eras and helping him naturally become all that he now is.

Indeed, if I have a criticism of the book – and I do, though it isn’t large enough for a star deduction – it is the emphasis on an “official” Autism diagnosis. I trust docs as much as I trust politicians these days – which is to say, I don’t trust them to accurately tell me the color of the noontime cloudless sky, and verify it myself. And one does not need someone else to dictate a word based on their own understanding of it, particularly when that person isn’t even living with the thing in question. And this ignores the very real, sometimes very negative, real world repercussions of having such an “official” label.

Still, for anyone interested in knowing more about what life is really like as an Autistic, this truly is one of the better books I’ve come across in my own readings. Very much recommended.

This review of On The Spectrum by Daniel Bowman Jr was originally written on April 26, 2021.

#BookReview: Asphalt by Kenneth O’Reilly

Fact Gusher. This is one of those history/ anthropology books that gives a LOT of facts very rapidly, without any real critical examination of the central thesis. For a book showing *how* asphalt has been used throughout human history, it is quite good – O’Reilly shows from the earliest human records that we have been using asphalt pretty much since we’ve been using anything else, including its critical role in Egyptian mummification and even Noah’s Ark. For a book trying to make a case of *why* asphalt has been used so extensively… again, it never really examines the central thesis or really makes any kind of solid case here. Which is why I had to deduct a star. Indeed, many of the areas O’Reilly claims that asphalt was a driving factor can be more easily – and completely – explained with factors other than this particular material. Without negating that this particular tool was indeed useful and in at least some cases genuinely necessary for the execution of the events as history records them happening. Still, a truly fascinating read showing the far longer history and much more varied uses of this substance that many modern readers hardly give a second thought. Very much recommended.

This review of Asphalt by Kenneth O’Reilly was originally written on April 23, 2021.