Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Holiday Books: A Door-Stopper, A Stocking-Stuffer, A Head-Warmer

A History Of The World In 100 Objects By Neil MacGregor, Director of the British Museum, Viking.
A generous and thoughtful friend gave me this book; it is one that will keep on giving for years, since one can pick it up at any moment, go to one of the "Objects," and continue to receive insight and perspective.

Our age, like any other, considers itself to be the most advanced age; it's a natural mistake, or, maybe not mistake so much as an irrelevant idea. Funny thing how dozens upon dozens of these brilliant ages, piled atop one another,  always seem to bring us to a particularly sticky predicament. This book won't directly explain or resolve our current predicaments, but it will remind us that men and women have seen it all before. There is some comfort in that, I think.

Caveat Emptor: The book is thoroughly British and is based on a 2010 series of BBC radio programs.  While it includes A North American Buckskin Map from the mid-18th Century, the book does seem to go out of its way to exclude the US of A. For example, in the 1914-2010 Period, do not look for anything from Apple. Instead, you will see that the Credit Card object is from United Arab Republic, and "high tech" is represented by the Solar-powered Lamp and Charger from China. That said, it's well worth getting over any naturally British intellectual squeamishness about our role in the world, such as it is or might have once been.

Favorite Object: Ming Bank Note, China, AD 1375-1425. Why? It depicts, in an almost cartoon-like style, the actual piles of coins the note represents. Real dough.

Food Rules: An Eater's Manual By Michael Pollan, Penguin Paper and Illustrated (Maira Kalman) Hardcover.

A very simple-to-read collection of Sixty-Four thoughtfully short "rules." These are not going to hurt. Pollan, thankfully, does not preach here, nor lecture. Instead, he lays out very sound and simple to understand ways that we can all be healthier, smarter, lighter eaters...and still be happier for it!

How many people can get you to give up something and make you happier?! Well, at least one.

I bought the paperback version in Browser Books on Fillmore Street in San Francisco, mostly because I did not want to carry the illustrated hardcover home on a plane, despite my admiration for Maira Kalman's (The Illustrated Elements of Style and What Pete Ate among other favorites) work. You can easily finish reading the rules in a day, but another reason to have the paper edition is that you can keep it handy: in a carry-on to help you avoid airport food, in a purse, in a briefcase, messenger bag, under your fedora, etc.

These make great stocking stuffers for everyone in the family, and, if everyone gets it, no one person should feel offended.

Favorite Rules:
#19. If it came from a plant, eat it; if it was made in a plant, don't.
#64. Break the rules once in a while.

Lightning: The Nature of Leadership By Bob Scher, with Photographs By Jane English, Codhill Press, New Paltz, NY.

Like "100 Objects," you may find yourself going back to this book many times for a refresher course. And, like "Rules," these are short, thoughtful, and highly relevant chapters in verse form, accompanied by Ms. English's extraordinarily appropriate photographs.


A person who always
counts pennies
may avoid grand failure

but is often
great success
The person who never
counts pennies
may achieve great success
but is often
in grave danger
and doesn't know it

This book should be mandatory reading in high schools, business schools, and on the campaign buses, not only for the candidates, but especially for the media covering, some might say inventing and destroying the same campaigns of people who would be our leaders. Why? Try this:

The wise
learn from the past
The unwise
learn from the future
The fool
learns from the future again
and again

Scher is our Confucius. Just in time.

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