Bill Gates: The Billionaire Book Critic


January 8, 2016

Bill Gates: The Billionaire Book Critic

Evan Thomas, the best-selling biographer of Robert F. Kennedy and Dwight D. Eisenhower and the author of a half-dozen other books, has seen those books reviewed over the years by The New Yorker, The Washington Post and The Atlantic. But with the recent publication of his latest work, “Being Nixon: A Man Divided,” he experienced for the first time a new phenomenon: the Bill Gates bump.

Bill Gates in May 2014. In his Gates Notes blog, he has reviewed books, including: “Thing Explainer,” by Randall Munroe and “The Rosie Project,” by Graeme Simsion. Just before Christmas, Mr. Thomas learned that his book had been favorably reviewed by Mr. Gates on his blog, Gates Notes.

“I’m surprised by the number of biographies I read that paint their subjects in black-and-white terms,” Mr. Gates wrote. “A classic example is former U.S. president Richard Nixon, who is too often portrayed as little more than a crook and a warmonger. So it was refreshing to see a more balanced account in ‘Being Nixon,’ by author and journalist Evan Thomas.” The review was illustrated by a photograph of the book on a desk adorned with objects from the Nixon era, like a rotary phone.

Bill Gates on Books and Blogging

Bill Gates, the co-founder of Microsoft, has emerged as a force in the publishing industry, thanks to the book reviews he posts on his blog, Gates Notes. Mr. Gates, who says he reads about 50 books a year, discussed his love of reading, how he makes his selections and what book Warren Buffett recommended. Below are excerpts from a recent email interview.

What role does reading play in your life?

It is one of the chief ways that I learn, and has been since I was a kid. These days, I also get to visit interesting places, meet with scientists and watch a lot of lectures online. But reading is still the main way that I both learn new things and test my understanding.

For example, this year I enjoyed Richard Dawkins’s “The Magic of Reality,” which explains various scientific ideas and is aimed at teenagers. Although I already understood all the concepts, Dawkins helped me think about the topics in new ways. If you can’t explain something simply, you don’t really understand it.

What made you decide to start the books blog and write reviews?

I have always loved reading and learning, so it is great if people see a book review and feel encouraged to read and share what they think online or with their friends.

It also helps to have a platform for talking about the work I’m doing, both through the foundation and separate from it, because I find people are curious about it.

How do you choose the books you read? Recommendations from family/friends/media?

It’s a mix of things. Melinda and I will sometimes exchange books we like. I also get recommendations from friends. After I finish something great, I will often try to find other books by that author or similar ones on the same subject.

Earlier this year Melinda and I saw the musical “Hamilton,” which inspired me to read Ron Chernow’s biography.

What was the process of selecting the books for the best-of-the-year list? Any tough choices?

I didn’t set out to do this intentionally, but when I looked back at the books I read this year, I realized that a lot of them touch on the theme “how things work.”Some, like Randall Munroe’s “Thing Explainer,” are written exactly for that reason. He uses diagrams paired with the most common 1,000 words in the English language to explain complicated ideas.

Other books on my list offer insights into human beings, our values, our strengths and flaws.

Is there one book that was an unexpected choice for you that you unexpectedly loved?

One of the main reasons I started my blog was to share thoughts about what I’m reading. So it is nice to see people sharing their own reactions and recommendations in the comments section of the site.

One book that was especially fun to highlight was “Business Adventures,” by John Brooks. This is the first book Warren Buffett recommended to me after we met in 1991, and it is still the best business book I have ever read. Brooks deserves to be much better known than he is.

Although he wrote in the 1960s, the issues he talks about are still relevant today. “Business Adventures” went out of print decades ago and Brooks died in 1993, but his family was nice enough to let me post one chapter called “Xerox Xerox Xerox Xerox” on my blog.

I don’t read a lot of fiction but was surprised by how much I loved the novel “The Rosie Project,” by Graeme Simsion. Melinda read it first and kept stopping to recite parts of it out loud to me. Eventually, I decided to take a look.

I started it one night at 11 p.m. and stayed up with it until 3 a.m. It is very funny, while also showing a lot of empathy for people who struggle in social situations.After I sent it and the sequel (“The Rosie Effect”) to dozens of friends and wrote about it on my blog, I heard from a lot of people who were touched by it. There is talk of turning it into a movie, which I hope happens. Rosie and Don Tillman would make a great on-screen couple.

I like highlighting the work of Vaclav Smil. He has written more than 30 books, and I have read them all. He takes on huge topics like energy or transportation and gives them a thorough examination.

Smil’s books are not for casual readers and I don’t agree with him on everything, but I like to feature his work because the world would be a better place if more people thought as rigorously and systematically as he does.

Book Review–John Updike and Jim Harrison, and Their Poems


December 31, 2015

Review: Men of Letters, John Updike and Jim Harrison, and Their Poems

John Updike and Jim Harrison are an odd couple to bring together in a review. Updike, who died in 2009, was a finicky and cerebral writer, fundamentally a neatnik. Mr. Harrison is backwoodsy and satirical. The shirt of his prose is perpetually untucked and perhaps stained with a splash of red wine.

Yet these extremes — urbane versus rural — do meet. These men are roughly of the same generation. Updike was born in 1932; Mr. Harrison, who is 78, was born in 1937. Like Updike, Mr. Harrison has been almost dementedly prolific.

Like Updike, too, Mr. Harrison is best known for his novels, yet is a committed and talented poet. Their poetic themes intertwine, especially as regards sex, which each explores with uncommon ardor. Both are close watchers, in their poems, of the natural world, especially birds and dogs. Both confront old age and death with grace and frequently with wit.

Dec

December by John Updike

Updike’s best verse is presented now in “Selected Poems,” edited by Christopher Carduff with a wise introduction by Brad Leithauser. Updike’s gift for close observation, in these poems as elsewhere, is near to supernatural. In an early poem, “Seagulls,” he writes:

Are they intelligent?
We imagine so, because they are ugly.
The sardonic one-eyed profile, slightly cross,
the narrow, ectomorphic head, badly combed,
the wide and nervous and well-muscled rump
all suggest deskwork: shipping rates
by day, Schopenhauer
by night, and endless coffee.

When Updike’s poems miss, it is usually because they are tense and linguistically ornate. (When Sylvia Plath felt that her poems reeked of the thesaurus, she referred to herself as “Roget’s trollop.”) Such misses, in “Selected Poems,” are rare.

These poems are darker than you may remember Updike’s poetry being. In “Spanish Sonnets” he writes, in a manner that resembles Philip Larkin, “Prayer’s a joke, love a secretion;/the tortured torture, and worse gets worse.” Even the lovemaking might not have been as good as this author would have had us, in his fiction and nonfiction, believe. In his long poem “Midpoint,” he wrote: “we always exuded better sex than we had.”

Condescend to Updike’s golf poems at your peril. In “Golfers,” men are glimpsed in a locker room almost as carcasses headed for the abattoir:

Breathing of bourbon, crowing, they strip;
the hair of their chests is grizzled, their genitals
hang dead as practice balls,their blue legs twist;
where, now, are their pars and their furor?
Emerging from the shower shrunken,they are men,
mere men, old boys, lost, the last hole a horror.

That last line reminds me of a sentence of Mr. Harrison’s that I’ve been unable to shake. In his collection of novellas “The Beast God Forgot to Invent” (2000), he had a character intone, “I’ve certainly rounded third base and am headed for home plate, which is a hole in the ground.”

Mr. Harrison’s novels and poems over the last two decades have been increasingly preoccupied with mortality, never so much as in “Dead Man’s Float,” his very good new book of verse. Here he details the shocks of shingles and back surgery, as well as the comprehensive low wheeze of a fraying body.

23BOOKUPDIKE2-master180The joys in Mr. Harrison’s world have remained consistent. If sex is less frequently an option, his appetites for food and the outdoors are undiminished. In one poem, he goes out into a rainstorm at night and sits naked at a picnic table. In another, he writes: “I envied the dog lying in the yard/so I did it.” His dog thinks he is being bizarre. That poem ends: “We humans can take off but are no good at landing.”

About his bird-watching, Mr. Harrison declares, “Without birds I’m dead.” In the prose poem “Whimsy,” his manias for birds and food collide. “I am the bartailed godwit of poets,” he declares. “I fly 7,000 miles from the Aleutians to New Zealand without stopping. Unknown to the ornithologists I pause in China for a bowl of noodles. I can’t help it. I am full of noodle love.”

Mr. Harrison’s unrhymed verse is far less rhetorically organized than is Updike’s, but this is part of his work’s charm. His earlier poems were ruder in their embrace of the world. Here, his mellow advice is “Seize the day gently as if you loved her.”

This poet turns over in his mind the things he wishes he’d done differently. In a harrowing poem called “Vows” — Mr. Harrison’s wife, Linda King Harrison, died in October — he writes:

I feel my failure intensely
as if it were a vital organ
the gods grew from the side of my head.
You can’t cover it with a hat and I no longer
can sleep on that side it’s so tender.
I wasn’t quite faithful enough
to carry this sort of weight up the mountain.

The title of this volume, “Dead Man’s Float,” refers to a way to stay alive in the water when one has grown tired while far from shore. As a poet, however, Mr. Harrison is not passively drifting.

He remains committed to language, and to what pleasures he can catch. A short poem, “Zona,” printed here in its entirety, sums up this late-career collection:

My work piles up,
I falter with disease.
Time rushes toward me —it has no brakes. Still,
the radishes are good this year.
Run them through butter,
add a little salt.

A version of this review appears in print on December 23, 2015, on page C1 of the New York edition with the headline: Sharp of Eye, Men of Letters in Verse Mode.

The Book by William Bennett our Malaysian Leaders should read


December 2, 2015

The Book by William Bennett our Malaysian Leaders should read

A review of The Book of Virtues: A Treasury of Great Moral Stories. Edited by William J. Bennett.

Simon & Schuster, (1993).

by Bill Muehlenberg

virtues

The book made the point that virtue, both public and private, is becoming a rarity today. Indeed, vice, not virtue, seems to be in the ascendancy. Old fashioned virtues like faithfulness, loyalty and purity are scoffed at today, while vices like selfishness and greed seem to be promoted at every turn.

One commentator noted recently that we have taken Aquinas’ seven deadly sins and turned them into virtues. You know the old list: sloth, gluttony, envy, etc. For example, modern advertising has institutionalised the sin of covetousness.

As T.S. Elliot once said, “In the twentieth century we are obsessed with turning roses into weeds.” Thus it is extremely refreshing to find a book that actually, unashamedly, promotes virtue. Bill Bennett has brought together a host of stories, poems, and adages that promote virtue. Many of the stories that over-40s would have grown up on, but which many young people today would never have heard of, are brought together in this unique collection.

Ten virtues are covered: self-discipline; compassion; responsibility; friendship; work; courage; perseverance; honesty; loyalty; and faith. For each virtue there are a number of stories, poems and essays included, bringing home the moral of that particular virtue. For example, in the section on courage, one finds such classics as Jack and the Beanstock, David and Goliath, Chicken Little, Hansel and Gretel, Ulysses and the Cyclops, William Tell, and Patrick Henry’s “Liberty or Death” speech.

This book serves not only as a guide to the great works of moral education, but to the great works of literature as well. The range of great authors and sources is most impressive: Shakespeare, Mark Twain, Plato, the Brothers Grimm, The Bible, Hilaire Belloc, Robert Frost, C.S. Lewis, Longfellow, Abraham Lincoln, etc.

In reading these great stories, we both improve our cultural literacy and refine our moral senses. Indeed, being exposed to great literature, to great writers, and to great moral truths is a powerful combination. Young people and old will be inspired and motivated to live a more virtuous life after reading (or re-reading) these great moral stories. In an age which promotes vice and mocks virtue, this anthology serves as a much needed corrective.

Listen to William Bennett–Interview

Book Review: Ayn Rand’s ” Ïdeal”


August 12, 2015

Review: Ayn Rand’s ‘Ideal’ Presents a Protagonist Familiar in Her Superiority

We will sue you, Sarawak Report tells Minister Rahman Dahlan


July 22, 2015

We will sue you, Sarawak Report tells Minister Rahman Dahlan

by FMT Reporters

Editor takes particular offence to Abdul Rahman Dahlan labelling her “scum”.

Dr Mahathir and C BrownSarawak Report yesterday vowed legal action against Barisan Nasional’s strategic Communications Director Abdul Rahman Dahlan, New Straits Times and other publications which have deliberately promoted falsehoods designed to damage its credibility.

It also promised to invoke the criminal process against Lester Melanyi for what it claims was a “vicious criminal libel”. “Usually, we rely on the facts to make our case against detractors and allow readers to decide by comparing those facts with the criticisms against us,” it said in a statement posted on its website which is now hosted on a different URL.

“However, over the past days, certain characters who claim to represent the government and their friendly media outlets have gone too far. They have paraded a sick and discredited individual, who has poured out strings of lies, which none of them have sought to check out, in order to claim this as ‘proof’ that our research was all ‘forged’.”

The whistleblower website claimed that it would normally consider Lester’s concocted story to be “entertaining for being so ridiculous” given the mass of evidence which it says supports all that it has written.

Rahman-Dahlan-Clare-Rewcastle-Brown“But ministers have now used this character and these ludicrous libels as an excuse to order an internet ban on Sarawak Report,” it lamented.

Editor Clare Rewcastle Brown took particular offence with Abdul Rahman for “outrageously” libeling her, in particular by calling her “scum” and labeling the portal’s research as “blatant lies”.

“(Abdul Rahman) has not produced a single shred of evidence that would lead anyone to believe the ravings of the mentally unbalanced bankrupt, Lester Melanyi,” she claimed.

“We therefore accuse (him) of criminal libel, motivated by malicious intent. Despite deciding not to sue Lester, Brown warned “him and anyone who continues to promote his present and future made up stories” of future legal action if they persist.

Culture–The Social Glue and Identity


July 7, 2015

Culture–The Social Glue and Identity

by Dr. M. Bakri Musa, Morgan-Hill, California

culture-and-exportingEvery group of humans whether dwelling in the same cave or working for the same corporation must share some common goals, values, and worldview, as well as everyday routine practices. This is what culture means; it is the social glue that binds the members together and differentiates them from others. Far from being society’s oppressor, culture is its savior.

The human baby is not born a carnivorous hunter or a vegetarian ascetic anymore than it is born an Aryan or Chinese. The baby may have Aryan characteristics (sharp nose, blond hair, and blue eyes) or that of a Chinese (moon face, jet black hair, and epicanthic folds) but those features do not make what it will be. Whether that baby will turn out to be a proud bearer of a swastika or marches the streets waving Mao’s Little Red Book depends upon the culture in which it has been raised.

Tune to BBC News. If you close your eyes you would assume the announcer to be a lithe English lassie. Look at the screen and your preconceived images would be shattered for behind that flawless British voice might be a lady of African descent or a Semitic-looking Arab woman, minus the purdah of course.

The process by which a group instills its collective ways and values upon its new members – acculturation – is by nature conservative, to uphold prevailing norms and standards. The dark-skinned BBC announcer could not possibly sound so elegantly authoritative had she been brought up in Southside Chicago or a Soweto township.

I had a childhood friend back in the old village. Born as I was during the terrible deprivation of the Japanese Occupation, his family, like so many poor Chinese families in rural Malaysia at that time, was forced to give him up. Growing up in his adopted Malay family, he was no different from the rest of us. I was not even aware that he was adopted despite his obvious non-Malay features.

Later as a teenager he became extremely chauvinistic, espousing fanatical sentiments of Malay nationalism. Even that did not trigger any irony on my part. On one occasion he was particularly virulent in his denunciations of the immigrants while within hearing distance of my parents. When he was gone my father laughed, remarking that someone ought to hold a mirror to my friend’s face whenever he was indulging in his racial demagoguery. Only then did it register on me that he was Chinese looking. The incongruity of his being a Malay supremacist.

My digressing short story here must have an uplifting ending. My friend did indeed outgrow his adolescent delusions and become a successful businessman with a multiracial and international clientele. Today he is the paragon of the liberal, progressive Malay, the ones the PERKASA (the acronym of a Malay ultra right-wing group) types love to hate.

Just as my friend’s upbringing (his acculturation) turned him into an insular, chauvinistic nationalist, his later vocation reformed him into an open, worldly businessman. Later, I will pursue this unappreciated but important role of trade and commerce in liberating minds.

The Dayak WarriorCulture provides the backdrop for much of our learning and experiences, as well as the environmental (both physical and social) stimuli that our brain is exposed to. These are what shape our view of reality, or in the language of neuroscience, the subsequent patterns of neural networks. Culture conserves the values and norms of that society and transmits them unchanged to the next generation.

Culture is also internally consistent even though to outsiders some of its norms and practices may appear destructive or non-productive. To the Mafia of southern Italy, being violent and vengeful are valued traits, to maintain family ‘honor.’ In not-so-ancient China members of the triad maintained their strict code of silence through uncompromising and merciless enforcement; the price for breaching being gruesome death. Then there are the “honor killing” of the Pashtuns and the self-immolation suttee where a widowed Indian would throw herself on her husband’s funeral pyre.

Those destructive acts must have served some purpose otherwise the culture would have abandoned them long ago. The Chinese code of silence was perhaps a protective reaction to the brutish local warlords, while “honor killing” and suttee were meant to demonstrate the supreme value of family honor and marital fidelity. In that culture a widowed woman would be treated so harshly and discriminated against so mercilessly that she would be driven to prostitution or home wrecking.

To someone from a culture where infidelity is the norm (if we can believe Hollywood movies and the scandals involving Bill Clinton and Arnold Schwarzenegger), suttee and honor killing seem barbaric and way out of proportion.

Likewise hudud’s stoning to death for adultery; to Muslims it reflects the sanctity of marriage and the high premium we place on marital fidelity. Humans being human, the culture does provide an outlet to minimize the possibility of imposing this harsh penalty; thus multiple wives or even “temporary” ones. The ancient Chinese accepted concubines.

As an aside, despite hudud’s current notoriety, it is well to remember that during the four centuries of Ottoman rule, the actual number of cases of “stoning to death” was only one. Compare that to the number of deaths through suttee burning and gentleman’s duel.

The Anglo Saxons’ “duel unto death” is on the same plane as suttee and honor killing; the difference merely in means and methods. The underlying principle and end result are the same – a matter of “honor” and the senseless taking of a life respectively. It illuminates my point that culture is internally consistent. It is futile for anyone, especially outsiders, to pick and choose a particular element of a culture and pronounce it regressive or uncivilized. The true and only meaningful test of a culture is how it prepares its people to stresses and changes, especially when those are sudden and dramatic, or imposed from the outside.