Sunday, January 12, 2014

Review of Malcolm Gladwell's David and Goliath

Once again, Malcolm Gladwell challenges our assumptions. In his David and Goliath book, he shows how underdogs and misfits can succeed in battling giants.

Gladwell gives examples of inverted U-curves that should guide our expectations, but often don’t. Nations have spent millions of dollars to hire more teachers to make class sizes smaller in the expectation that smaller classes will necessarily yield better academic results. Scientific studies show kids learn better in classes of a certain size, but learn worse when the classes get too small.

In another education-related example, Gladwell talks of big fish in small ponds being more successful than small fish in big ponds. He applies this to society’s assumption that the most prestigious college one can graduate from is obviously the best choice. Not so. Sociological studies show that sometimes perceived advantages are in fact disadvantages.

Also, some of life’s handicaps and hard roads produce inner strength and compensating skills that define brilliant careers and overcoming life strategies. Again, Gladwell relies on stories and studies to illustrate. Examples include cancer research and civil rights victories.

Challenging an established study on rebellion and authority that urged authorities to quell civil unrest with toughness, Gladwell highlights how British toughness in Northern Ireland backfired; how a New York City police officer’s sensitivity in Brooklyn caused robbery statistics there to plummet; and how forgiveness trumped fighting for harsher punishment for murderers. Gladwell includes a short account of the French village of Le Chambon and their peaceful resistance to Nazi influence in World War II. [I recommend reading the full story in Philip Hallie’s book Lest Innocent Blood Be Shed: The Story of the Village of Le Chambon and How Goodness Happened There.]

As with Gladwell’s other books, David and Goliath encourages thoughtful open-mindedness. Issues are multifaceted. Often certain results require revised strategies. And as usual, Gladwell’s illustrations are stories whose characters we get to know and often, like. My favorite stories in this book were the Impressionists challenging the Paris Salon in the 1860s; the Northern Ireland curfew debacle; and the courage and cleverness of Martin Luther King’s men.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Raspberry Honey

Raspberry honey spread is exactly what I’d delighted to give my father over many decades. A jar of artisanal Miel Crémeux avec Framboises purchased this fall near Québec City summarized my sadness over not being able to give this type of gift to him over the last three years he’d been in a nursing home. Happy to be able to enjoy the whole fruity, sweet, smooth, mellow mélange myself, I also felt sad that I couldn’t bring back this souvenir for my dad. The nursing home fed him a special diet. I would have had to spoon the raspberry honey directly into his mouth, because he no longer ate bagels or muffins or crackers or other normal excuses to slather and savor raspberry honey spread’s wonderfulness.

Many mornings since my dad’s Alzheimer’s required nursing care, I have cried while drizzling honey into my bagel’s craters. I could stand at my kitchen counter and make something I love eating. He no longer could. The simple act of drizzling honey conjured long-ago mental pictures of him sitting at his and Mom’s kitchen table twirling a ridged honey dipper over his toasted English muffin. Enjoying raspberry-infused honey this fall, I recalled decades of making Dad raspberry desserts for his birthdays, and bringing back raspberry preserves from Michigan for my parents. Jars of raspberry everything are gone now; so is my father. Everyone in the family knew Dad’s favorite flavors. Knowing he could no longer enjoy favorite flavors made me sad.

I don’t know, of course, if locking honey and raspberries into his life’s dusty attic trunk ever depressed Dad. As taste buds age, they lose keenness. Alzheimer’s dulls cognition. Maybe he never missed pleasures of eating. Maybe raspberry honey spread only symbolized my loss. Either way, I will wish I could give him raspberry and honey for a while to come. 

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

How Starbucks Saved My Life

My Book Review of How Starbucks Saved My Life  by Michael Gates Gill

I'm glad Gill wrote about his humbling, freeing journey from being served to serving. His journey is one most people can learn from. I appreciated Gill's honesty about his motives and mistakes. This book also illuminates two opposite corporate cultures: that of J. Walter Thompson and that of Starbucks. That is interesting as well. Some passages seemed repetitive, and some stories of Gill's former corporate life seemed like vehicles to mention famous people he used to know. Still, this memoir has merit.