Book Review: Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

Between the World and MeBetween the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Since the Michael Brown protests in Ferguson in 2014, I have been actively working to listen and learn from Black activists and thought leaders. However, I didn’t do much reading beyond Twitter, The Root, and some articles the activists would post. While I feel like I’m in a much better position now, for these protests, to discuss with white Americans the reasons for the protests, I feel like I have so much to learn. I’m glad I went through learning from those activists first, because it was hard to learn to listen. I wanted to rage against what they were saying, because it didn’t apply to ME. I had to learn to listen, which is what really allowed me to listen to what Ta-Nehisi Coates said in this fantastic book.

Growing up in an absurdly white part of Western Pennsylvania, where there was one black family, one Indian family, and one Asian family, prevented me being aware of much of anything. Hell, I really did not understand why Rage Against the Machine said “Some of those that work forces are the ones that burns crosses” why there was so much anger against police.

During the Michael Brown protests I wrote that the police shouldn’t be militarized from more of an objective standpoint because it limited first amendment rights in general. That no American protester should ever be targeted the way they were targeted. This book, helped provide a lot of the context that I didn’t understand for why police would want to militarize. I didn’t understand it was to really control the Body of the Black person.

This book will make you cry. I had tears in my eyes throughout nearly the entire book. It’s a moving letter from father to son explaining the horrors he had experienced. Horrors that Coates had tried to shield his son from, but knew he could never and should never fully shield him from them all. There is just simply too much weight on the shoulders of Black Americans to behave a certain way to prevent White people from weaponizing their whiteness against the Black person.

Amy Cooper Weaponized her Whiteness against a Black birder in a horrific and absurd way. However, Coates explains, this event isn’t ahistorical, it is our national heritage. It is the cost of the “American Dream.” The Dream was build upon Black bodies. First as slaves and then as an underclass, an undercaste, to be separated into a red lined portion of the town. That should be destroyed if they accumulate too much wealth.

Coates has similar feelings as I do about a god and how that means life is even more precious. This life is the only one that we have. That we can and should do the most we can with this life. That this worldview makes the wanton destruction of Black bodies even more horrific, because there’s no afterlife where a lifelong struggle is rewarded. It makes enslaving an entire people for centuries even more horrific.

Coates rejects arguments such as black on black violence as a reminder that the white Dreamers used the state to segregate the Black community through both actions of the state and complicit realtors and other White community members.

This book, at the end, calls out that it’s not the Black person that can resolve the current crisis of their body’s safety. It’s the White Dreamer that must awaken from the dream. To realize this world isn’t for us either, that our bodies can be as easily destroyed as a Black body, if the state decides to do so. I believe this is true. This book has helped me make arguments to my white friends, to argue we need to understand the history of the formerly enslaved or the Black people negatively impacted by racists practices that sprang from enslaving Black people.

If you are White and interested in justice you must read this book. You will cry. You will begin to empathize with our Black citizens. It’s a first step, we need to push for change and justice.

View all my reviews

Book Review: Managing the Unmanageable

Managing the Unmanageable: Rules, Tools, and Insights for Managing Software People and TeamsManaging the Unmanageable: Rules, Tools, and Insights for Managing Software People and Teams by Mickey W. Mantle
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

If you are new to managing a team this is a must read for you. While the book is intended for managers of programmers (developers, software engineers, etc…) I believe this book applies to just about any sort of creative. Obviously, some sections will be less applicable to architects like the agile sections, but in general, creatives are creatives. The authors, to some extent, recognize this by continually comparing software developers to musicians. Arguing, in fact, that the best programmers are typically fantastic musicians. There’s a similarity in the way the brain works between musicians and developers. I think this applies to other artists as well, especially ones that under went rigorous training to be an artist. There are processes you need to follow to enact your vision.

Anyway, the book itself offers very candid advice on everything hiring, firing, building local and remote teams, coaching, rewarding, and having fun.

The authors argue that hiring is the most important job of any manager. I think this is true from my experience interviewing people and managing people. Whenever you hire someone the work environment shifts. So you need to make sure that whatever change the person brings is a net positive for the team. To ensure that you get the right combination of fit and skill you must have a rigorous process for finding potential candidates, screening candidates, and interviewing candidates. If you do not you will pay for it later by losing your best people or being required to fire that hire in the future for lack of performance.

All this and templates are laid out in the book. The tools and rules of thumb are fantastic for first time managers and managers that have struggled to hire the right team.

The authors argue the most important functions of a manager are Hiring/Firing, Coaching, Developing individuals and teams. I think this is right. The manager should be technical enough to help with the team as needed, but shouldn’t be expected to roll up their sleeves too much. Their skill is more important in investigating logical approaches than the specifics of coding. However, there are a lot of people that believe their manager should be able to do their job. Which i think has a lot of merit.

This book also has some great ideas of how to convert traditional managers into agile managers. Ironically, if you follow their advice through most of the book, you’ll be well positioned to be an excelled agile manager positions to remove impediments.

I highly recommend this book for any one managing programmers, engineers, or creatives in general.

View all my reviews

Book Review: Why So Many Incompetent Men Become Leaders

Why Do So Many Incompetent Men Become Leaders?: (And How to Fix It)Why Do So Many Incompetent Men Become Leaders?: by Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book does a fantastic job outlining all the ways men fail as leaders. Let me back up. This book isn’t a man hating book. Its goal is to ensure better leadership at any company. The way to do this, isn’t to just promote women, any woman. The way to do this, is to scrutinize everyone the way that women are scrutinized. Because, the data, and this book brings receipts, shows that women are better leaders.

So why are women better leaders? Well, in general women are less narcissistic in fact men are 30% more likely to be a narcissist than women. Second, men are more likely to be psychopaths, about 50% more likely, in fact. Furthermore, while in the general population about 1% of people are psychopaths, 1 in 5! Senior leaders are psychopaths and 1 in 3! Are narcissists.

Most of this book goes on to outline the failings of male leadership, because of the ways that narcissists are horrible leaders. Similarly for psychopaths. The more interesting part, though, is where the author talks about the benefits of women leadership and how that is associated with higher EQ (emotional intelligence). Both narcissists and psychopaths have very low EQ which results in poorer performance. What the author argues for, are leaders with high IQ and EQ. Women are more likely to have higher EQ than men (by about 20%). There are no significant differences between the genders for IQ, which means on the whole women are better for leadership roles because of their higher EQ.

There are a lot of reasons why we don’t pick for high EQ and one of those reasons is “confidence” really perceived confidence. Another is charisma, where male charisma is desirable and often female charisma is ignored or misunderstood.

The book, sadly, doesn’t offer as much in the way of how to fix it as it claims in the title. There are a few sections. First ask questions that can identify if someone is a narcissist. Ask questions to figure out if someone is a psychopath. Then don’t hire them. The other major innovation the book offers is using structured scored interview questions. This will create a mechanism to compare apples to apples rather than wildly different interview questions.

So, I’m disappointed on the “how to fix it” portion. Hopefully the author will include a section at the end with specific links to questions. I know there are reference and end notes, but putting together a rubric that can more easily be applied would be a great way to improve this and allow people to really see what Manpower uses to fix this problem.

View all my reviews

Book Review: The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck by Mark Manson – A guide for finding the right values to give a fuck about the right things

The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good LifeThe Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life by Mark Manson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I actually first heard of this book while I was reading an article about Millennial Burnout. The author of that article knocked this book, which now I realize that author clearly hadn’t read this book! I think this book is completely misnamed, because this book isn’t about ‘Not Giving a Fuck’ it’s really about ‘Giving a fuck about the right things.’ I think this is an important distinction and one that, if you judge the book by its cover, you’ll definitely miss.

I’ve been doing a lot of reading on depression. I’ve read 1 book written by a layman that covers a great deal of different research on depression, Lost Connections. I’ve read another book that deals with Trauma and how that can cause depression, The Body Keeps the Score. Finally, I’ve read a book on the science of love and how unhealthy relationships while growing up and as adults can cause depression, General Theory of Love. I believe that I can add this as a fourth book to this list. In Lost Connections the author argues that a major cause of depression in our lives is a misalignment with our core values and the values of society. I believe that this book, The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck, is an entire book about that.

The author’s premise is that we are valuing, and thus giving a fuck about, the wrong things. That could be chasing material items, women (the author himself is a self confessed womanizer), a bigger paycheck, a new job that will solve all their problems, and other things. We are chasing these things, because this is what we’ve been taught to value through our friends and families.

However, these things do not make you happy. Solving the right types of problems can make you happy. Those problems that you solve are what you value. Seeking them out can help make you happy. The pain and struggle of solving those problems lead to happiness.

This rings true to me. I’m struggling with work and finding balance and happiness with my life. I’ve had great success in my work and have made significantly more money since entering the job market. However, I am not less depressed. If anything my depression deepened. As a result, I feel like I’m flailing.

This book helped me put into context a lot of different ideas that I had read in the other three books. In a way it synthesized those ideas into something that was more actionable. In some ways, the action is to do something, anything. But start by putting one step forward. Try something small and take responsibility of that.

Responsibility is a key theme in this book. You take responsibility to how you respond to anything that happens to you. This isn’t to say it’s your fault this thing happened. For example, if you get sick, that is not your fault. How you deal with being sick is your responsibility. If someone treats you like shit at work, that’s not your fault, but how you respond to them is your responsibility. If you set boundaries and make it clear that behavior is unacceptable and act professional, you can start to change that relationship. If you retaliate and escalate things, you are responsible for that. Even if the person, really pissed you off.

I think this book is also important given the conversation around Toxic Masculinity. Toxic Masculinity is all about entitlement. This book argues that entitlement is one of the major reasons why people are unhappy. It leads to shitty values that make you a shitty person. If you are pissed off that people don’t like toxic masculinity, it’s because you’re concerned some of your behavior may be construed as toxic. You’re responsible for that response. You’re responsible for inspecting your values and your behavior to understand if you are a toxic person. If you find yourself wanting, then it is your responsibility to change and improve yourself. You can. This book helps provide a roadmap for it.

This book isn’t perfect, of course. The author definitely leans into the title during the beginning of the book, which can get old. There are other places where the author does this as well, because it seems to fit. However, if you are able to get past that bit of childish fun to get into the meat of the book, it’s well worth it.

I would strongly suggest that if you find this book interesting to read the other books about depression I suggested above. These together can help you work through your depression, if you are also depressed.

View all my reviews

Review: The Traitor Baru Cormorant (The Masquerade, #1) by Seth Dickinson

The Traitor Baru Cormorant (The Masquerade, #1)The Traitor Baru Cormorant by Seth Dickinson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book was a really interesting case study in leading the reader astray. The author does a phenomenal job of misdirection ensuring the audience bought into the main storyline in the second half of the book. After the twist happen, I certainly thought back on the book and realized I missed a number of clues leading up to the twist.

That aside, I loved this book. If there’s a book that you want to use to educate someone on the negative impacts of colonization, I think this is an excellent start. On the one hand it’ll challenge those people because of the complexity of the cultures that are being conquered and on the other hand because it talks openly of the tools colonizers use to dominate other cultures. In most fantasy series the only tool of colonization is military might. There’s some nuance in Malazan Book of the fallen in some cases, mostly Lether, but generally it’s military might.

In this book, that’s turned on it’s head and the characters openly discuss the best colonization tools for the culture they are working to conquer. As an American who has recently been to Hawai’i, where I learned a great deal about the history and conquest of those islands, it was painfully obvious these books are based on conquest like the US conquest and colonization of Hawai’i.

I recommend this book for anyone that wants a unique way to talk about colonization with a fantastic set of characters. Including POC, LGBTQ, and nontraditional relationships.

View all my reviews