Thursday, February 15, 2018

The Imjin War: Japan's Sixteenth-Century Invasion of Korea and Attempt to Conquer China by Samuel Hawley

The Imjin War: Japan's Sixteenth-Century Invasion of Korea and Attempt to Conquer ChinaThe Imjin War: Japan's Sixteenth-Century Invasion of Korea and Attempt to Conquer China by Samuel Hawley
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

What a whirlwind. The Japanese overrun Korea in order to Conquer China, then get sent back, then return, and get sent back again. This will end up involving not only those three countries, but soldiers from as far as Thailand, Okinawa and Indonesia, the Spanish and the Portuguese, Catholic priests (including the first documented westerner to set foot in Korea), more games and tricks than Romance of the 3 kingdoms or game of thrones, and characters like Hideyoshi, Yi Sun-shin (probably the most underrated admiral/general ever), the Red robe general and Big Sword Liu. Anyway, so many other things were happening due to this war as well, such as Korean potters being taken to Japan and spreading new pottery styles (and neo-Confucianism), Japanese and Chinese negotiators forging documents so as to reach a peace settlement their rulers knew nothing about, slave traders buying Korean prisoners in Nagasaki and taking them to India and Europe, Catholic Japanese generals infighting with Buddhist Japanese generals, Korean political factions infighting amongst each other, bilingual double agents spreading misinformation, new weapons and ingenious tactical methods, etc. etc. This book does a great job of detailing the events in a coherent and chronological manner. It is a heavy, long, book, but definitely worth reading.


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Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Emperor of China: Self-Portrait of K'ang-Hsi by Kangxi, Jonathan D. Spence

Emperor of China: Self-Portrait of K'ang-HsiEmperor of China: Self-Portrait of K'ang-Hsi by Kangxi
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

What a great idea. This book is basically an autobiography (or self-portrait) of someone who never wrote an autobiography (or self-portrait), by taking what he did write, and grouping it by certain subject matters. It doesn't hurt that it's of one of the smartest and most interesting Chinese emperors.

Interesting notes:
How he spotted cheaters on national examinations
"The Seven Military Classics are full of nonsense" (p. 22)
His notes on the difference between Manchus and Chinese (p .44)
His discussions on Catholicism (page 81) and Jesus
His discussions on Western knowledge (p. 68) and Western doctors (p. 99)
His discussions on Math
His comments on his son's odd behavior



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Sunday, February 11, 2018

The Hard Thing About Hard Things: Building a Business When There Are No Easy Answers by Ben Horowitz

The Hard Thing About Hard Things: Building a Business When There Are No Easy AnswersThe Hard Thing About Hard Things: Building a Business When There Are No Easy Answers by Ben Horowitz
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book is probably excellent, but it's definitely for the CEO of a company; a company with employees that is well-established and/or plans on growing a lot. In essence, the target market is different from that of "The Million-Dollar, One-person business" or "The 4 Hour work-week".

If you are an entrepreneur, or working on your own, or just starting out, this book will most likely be useful in the future, when you're hiring and firing and wooing investors, but probably not now.

Some of my notes:
Engineering managers should be hired internally. Sales managers should be hired externally.
"If I had a tattoo for every CEO who said she hired the best in the industry, I'd be Lil Wayne"
There's no such thing as a good CEO, but only a CEO who is good for this job at this time.


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Wednesday, February 07, 2018

Martin Van Buren by Ted Widmer, Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr.

Martin Van BurenMartin Van Buren by Ted Widmer
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Going through all the presidents in chronological order. Up to Martin Van Buren now. This probably wasn't as thoroughly researched as most biographies to this point, but I'm not sure MVB is worth much more. Having said that, there were many interesting points.

MVB had a very different initiation to politics as compared to the previous presidents. He was not idealistic like the founding fathers, but came up in the dirty world of New York politics. In fact, Aaron burr was one of his first mentors and seems to have treated him as a protege.

Interesting to read about MVB's role in the creation of the first real opposition party (Federalists and Jeffersonians went at it before, but tried very hard to pretend they got along). MVB realized opposition parties were needed in a democracy. He spent much of his time courting the Southern vote (not least of which in getting Andrew Jackson elected)

He was an extremely ineffective president, mainly because an international financial crisis hit more or less right after he was elected, and he refused to take a side on the issue of Slavery and kept up Jackson's brutal native american policies (in fact, MVB's niece said she hoped he lost the election because of what he did to the natives). However, his VP Johnson was married to a mixed-race lady. Which makes one wonder if Johnson wouldn't have been more effective as a president.

I learned that MVB grew up speaking Dutch. I also learned where our word booze came from, where OK came from, and that MVB had to make a last-minute stop in Rochester, Illinois, due to bad roads. Here he stayed up all night chatting with a young Abraham Lincoln (who was of the opposing party). Apparently they stayed up until past midnight exchanging stories and MVB said he never "spent so agreeable a night in my life".

As with others, he seems to have found his ideals after losing the presidency, and campaigned against the annexation of Texas (because it was extremely illegal and it would add a slave state).

Also, he was born during the revolution and died during the civil war. He met and talked to Jefferson, Adams, as well as Lincoln. For 6 months after his death, all soldiers in the US Army and Navy wore a black band on their left arms.


3.5 stars


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John Quincy Adams by Harlow Giles Unger

John Quincy AdamsJohn Quincy Adams by Harlow Giles Unger
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Ok, Thomas Jefferson notwithstanding, now I think JQA might have been the smartest president. at least so far (I'm reading about them in chronological order). He spoke German, French, Latin, Dutch, Greek, Italian, as well as English and a bit of Russian. He reworded the Louisiana Purchase agreement so that (his fellow) Federalists couldn't veto it as unconstitutional.
However, he was probably the most ineffective president. Everyone banded against him so he couldn't accomplish anything, and by the end he was raising silkworms behind the white house with his wife.
He was probably most effective after his presidency, in his fights against slavery, paving the way for Lincoln and the Republicans.
He also died inside the capitol building. Probably its first death.

Also, apparently Decatur, GA is named after Stephen Decatur, who defeated the Algerians marauders. Interesting tidbit.



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Tuesday, February 06, 2018

You Are a Badass at Making Money: Master the Mindset of Wealth by Jen Sincero

You Are a Badass at Making Money: Master the Mindset of WealthYou Are a Badass at Making Money: Master the Mindset of Wealth by Jen Sincero
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Forced slang and curse words, and a bunch of law of attraction advice. But some good advice mixed in with the bad, and a great general attitude. Probably a 2.5.


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Sunday, February 04, 2018

Kwaku by Roy A.K. Heath

KwakuKwaku by Roy A.K. Heath
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book had been on my wishlist for around 10 years, and I can't remember why I put it there, but I'm really glad I did. Admittedly, this is the first book I read that has anything to do with Guyana. The slang is a bit hard to get used to, but the antics are constantly entertaining, the Guyanese backdrop is extremely interesting, and the story itself is very good and could be universal. Frankly unlike anything I've ever read.


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Saturday, February 03, 2018

Dance Dance Dance (The Rat, #4) by Haruki Murakami

Dance Dance Dance (The Rat, #4)Dance Dance Dance by Haruki Murakami
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Very very odd, and I probably missed half the symbolism in it, but still a real page turner, and it makes me want to read more Murakami.


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South of the Border, West of the Sun

South of the Border, West of the SunSouth of the Border, West of the Sun by Haruki Murakami
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Excellent book. At first I was pulled too far into his weird world to notice the symbolism strewn about (the rain and the desert, the illusions of south of the border, west of the sun, etc.). I really should read more Murakami.


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