Currently viewing the tag: "History"

Author: Serhii Plokhy
Rating: ★★★★☆

The author uses the first-hand materials and previous classified documents to outline a series of events between the failed coup in August 1991 and the collapse of the Soviet Union by the end of the year. He reveals that financial difficulties and independent movements were the major drivers that crumbled the empire in a unthinkable pace, and Bush’s administration was actually trying to keep the Soviet Union alive longer. Sometimes, the history just cannot be designed.

Author: Peter Frankopan
Rating: ★★★½☆

An epic view of the place between the east and the west, the place that has been the center of the world for thousands of years, connected by the trade and fought by the powers, where the civilizations met and collided. I wish the author had more materials to cover the further east where the Silk Road starts, China.

Handled the intertwined story lines skillfully.

Rating: ★★★½☆

Author: Yuval Noah Harari
Rating: ★★★★☆

Author: Roland Huntford
Rating: ★★★★½

I saw this book in the library on our cruise ship to Antarctica. I bought the book after we came back from the trip and have been reading it on and off for the next one and half years.

Although Amundsen was the first to reach the south pole, his seemingly uneventful journey was less talked about and largely forgotten by the public; instead, the one who lost the race, Scott, earned more long lasting status. On one hand, Scott was a British, England has much stronger culture influence than Norway, where Amundsen came from. On the other hand, it seems it’s a typical phenomena that the only way to beat a winner is being a tragic hero. (The author implies that this was indeed what Scott intended to do.)

Mr. Huntford is set to correct this thought in most people’s mind by telling what really happened in the heroic age of Antarctic exploration and who these two persons truly are. Amundsen was an open-minded, passionate and prudent leader, his trip was well prepared in every detail; on the contrary, Scott was depicted as an insecure, inapproachable and unprepared person who ultimately unqualified to carry out the task.

I can’t say if the author’s view is too much biased, but the fact is, it’s not just one but a series of failures in Scott’s plan that not only lead to loss of the race but also costed lives of his whole team. It’s more than just weather and unluckiness should be blamed.

Amundsen’s own words best summarize his success.

I may say that this is the greatest factor—the way in which the expedition is equipped—the way in which every difficulty is foreseen, and precautions taken for meeting or avoiding it. Victory awaits him who has everything in order — luck, people call it. Defeat is certain for him who has neglected to take the necessary precautions in time; this is called bad luck.

Author: Paul Ingrassia
Rating: ★★★★☆

Paul Ingrassia has been covering American Automobile industry for more than 20 years. He and his colleague won Pulitzer Prize for their coverage on GM’s management turmoil in 1993. The book starts from the beginning of the 20th century, the excitement of the new era, the pioneering entrepreneurs whose names have became legend and popular brands today. Then the book briefly covers the unbelievable growth of the industry from earlier years to 60’s, GM, Ford and Chrysler are the high-tech companies of their days. They shaped the America in many aspects and brought countless innovations in terms of technology, design and business. With the importing cars from German and Japan, the Big Three have observed more challenging competitions, but more importantly different business and management cultures.

With all the up and downs in the past 100 years, the book spends almost half of its length to focus on the recent 10 years, blow-by-blow mis-steps and scene-by-scene story of the disappearance of Chrysler, bankruptcy of GM and survival of Ford. Besides a serial of mis-judgement and lack of focus, the author blames the relationship between management and Union as the main reason that leads to the crash – the Union has the monopoly power to negotiate sometimes ridiculous benefits undermined the bottom line of the company and force the management to move the job abroad.

Overall, it is very thorough book about the history of American auto industry. But one thing I don’t like very much is, although in retrospect many events in history do seem to be ironical, author’s foretelling style when describing these events is overly heave handed.

Author: David Alexander
Rating: ★★★½☆

Author: Bill Bryson
Rate: ★★★★½

I am really amazed by the vast amounts of human knowledge that this 560-page book covers: From pre-history to the current event; from the quark to the black hole; from the bottom the sea to the rim of the universe; from the sing-cell to our human being; the author touches almost every aspects of the natural science. What makes this book stand out is, unlike common popular science books, Bill Bryson tells the story not by the discoveries themselves but by the people who made the discoveries. It’s a fun reading experience.