Category Archives: Books

A Hungry Journey to Light a Fire

I just finished reading The Dispossessed by Ursula LeGuin.

The planet Urras is orbited by it’s moon Anarres. 200 years ago anarchists inspired by the philosopher Odo left Urras and moved to the harsh frontiers of Anarres to be free and live a life without masters, property or law. They formed a new language without the bloody history of property baked into it. They struggled together and overcame together. But the door is shut. No one emigrates from Urras and no one emigrates from Anarres. Each is afraid of being infected by the other’s ideas.

“And nobody hungry?”

“Nobody goes hungry while another eats.”


“But we have been hungry. We have starved.”

Shevek is a brilliant physicist on Anarres, who wants to study, to learn, to create and to share the new ideas he’s created. He finds the support on Anarres wanes the further he goes from accepted norms and ideas. He finds that even on Anarres, there are centralized pockets of power. The revolution is never complete. In times of struggle, ideals are tested, power centralizes… And the center often holds.

“I got full rations: I earned them. I earned them by making lists of who should starve.”

He finds that his physics have a more receptive audience on propertarian Urras. We meet him as he climbs, empty handed, aboard a trade ship to spread his physics and his Odonian ideals on Urras.

More plot than most of her books, it still turns back into a person on a journey. Shevek is on a journey from his anarchic home to a capitalist world. What propels him from a simple world of shared struggles? Why leave? When he arrives can he accomplish his goals? Is there something he can do that the people there couldn’t do for themselves? Will he be trapped and neutralized by the soft prison of luxury?

And how can he return home? What awaits an anarchist who is seen to turn his back on the revolution?

I love the deep thinking about language and the practice of mutual aid in a land with few resources. I love the true struggle to stay good when the droughts hit. And the challenge that centralization and coordination always brings. Everything is dealt with in indirect ways that paint larger pictures just out of sight, beyond the edge of the book.

Highly recommend.

Fables Compendium One: Things Happen One After Another

I was always recommended Fables when I talked about how much I liked The Sandman.

This isn’t a grand story about the power of story or a new perspective on old tales. It’s a lot of stories with the names of characters you’ve heard of before.

The characters are only loosely connected to their sources and they change abilities and temperament to suit the plot of the week.

We learn nothing, we don’t grow while reading it and one thing just sort of happens after another. There are real risks and losses though! The author doesn’t wiggle out of death or consequences, which gives some stakes to the conflicts.

I would not recommend this to someone who says they loved The Sandman.

I originally reviewed Fables Compendium One over on BookWyrm, where we could connect and natter about books

The Power Broker Read-along 2

Continuing to read The Power Broker, but since I talked with my Dad about it, he started reading along as well. It’s been fascinating because of the parallels and because he is a challenging commentary on the text from a contemporary. We’ve been emailing and calling about the book and it’s been a ton of fun.

Things I’ve noticed – our modern discussions of privilege throw a different light on Robert Moses. To me, his family’s wealth is a glaring light on every paragraph I read. The man is brilliant, sure. But he also has the ability to just work on whatever he wants. He doesn’t have to take a job for the cash. He can work for causes that don’t pay because he has no pressure to do otherwise. He can become the best bill drafter in Albany for Governor Al Smith because he has no pressure to feed his family. He can jaunt off to grab a boat and explore the coastline because what… is he going to get fired? He’s an unpaid advisor.

Also – the description of the families trying to make it out of New York City and out to the countryside is the absolute nightmare of any father. This part of the book is gold.

My dad got very interested in some controversies and really got me thinking. My dad is 86, the age of Robert Moses when The Power Broker was published. He has the perspective of someone who was able to enjoy the work of Moses before the book, to see it through the eyes of someone who directly benefited from the beaches and parks that were built. First, he challenged the story of the racist parkway bridges. We went back and forth investigating it a bit. Caro quotes from a direct source interview, but its from someone who died before the book was published. His source says that Moses told him to lower the height of the bridges. And the bridges do seem lower than the previous bridge heights – but there were planned bus routes to Jones beach! You can see the bus schedules!

My dad also bristled at Caro’s description of Franklin Roosevelt as a “featherduster” and someone who went back on his word. Franklin Roosevelt is a hero of my father’s and he has treasured letters from Eleanor Roosevelt in his collections. I think it’s possible that a younger Franklin may have had to play some hard politics to get where he wanted to be. It’s also possible that a younger FDR may have been immature and the older FDR was tempered by the challenges he faced.

Another great contribution from dad was the response by Robert Moses to The Power Broker’s publication, along with Robert Caro’s reply. It seems to me like such a lot of wind to blow so few leaves, but maybe that is my modern sensibilities clashing with someone educated at the turn of the century.

For the podcast, Jamelle Bouie didn’t bring as much to the table as I had hoped, partially since he hadn’t read The Power Broker. Much of the episode was taken up with recounting what we had read. Please! I read it! I want you to give me more insights! There was a great insight from Jamelle about how the “professionalization” of government had removed some incentives to treat people well, to trade favors, to get small things done for actual people. There was corruption, to be sure, but there was also someone to talk to if you needed to get a change done. That papers over a lot of misery and blood I think, but it was more human than a bureaucracy.

Feb 2024 Media Diet


How Big Things Get Done – Very much enjoyed this. Useful changes in my thinking about projects are already happening.



A sad guy allows himself to be hunted for a reality show – if he lasts 30 days he gets a million bucks. He thinks he’s found a loophole. He can’t be attacked unless he’s over 6 feet from another person. So he’s doing his best to always be near someone. Turns out he needs to do some work on himself and its really fun. There’s some weak parts sure, but this at least is different and pretty good at what it does try for.

Joe Kidd

Weirdly, there’s a Clint Eastwood western I hadn’t seen. This one is different because the man has a name.

Black Holes: Edge of all We Know

I was sick and I fell asleep a lot. But it was really good for the bits I woke up in. I loved seeing the drama of scientific cooperation and discovery.

The Speed Cubers

Its adorable. This short doc follows two Speed Cubing champions and their evolving relationship as they come to the world championship.

Feliks is a smart young Australian who set tons of world records. Max Park is a younger American on the autism spectrum who idolizes Feliks and is eating up all of Feliks’s records, starting to beat him in contests. Feliks and Max are developing a healthy relationship and Max is growing his social emotional strengths – learning to deal with defeat or failure as well as triumph. The stakes are both high and low. Its a world championship! … of solving toy puzzles. It’s an epic rivalry for the top! … with two competitors that like each other and wish each other well. It has the same sort of Becky Chambers-esque focus on characters growing and going through natural change that I’m finding so fascinating in contrast to Ready Player One or a Marvel Movie.

My Max is into cubing now. He’s not got all the algorithms but shows flashes where he can intuitively solve things I would have to slog through. Since Max has some cubes, ZZ now has cubes – she has figured out how to do a 3×3 checkerboard and “solve” it. Not bad for such a tyke!


Reacher S2

It’s not as good as S1. There’s more buddies! Reacher has no flaws other than extreme loyalty. Still fun to watch but just a bit lazy feeling.

Jury Duty

It’s a reality show / extended prank. One guy is on jury duty. Everyone on the show but him is an actor including the other jurors, the judge, everything. The acting is pretty good. Multiple plots move forward at once. Max and I are howling laughing at it.

But good lord, it’s on a service with ads. It’s awful to watch Amazon advertise Amazon to me on Amazon. I already paid you for Prime. What are you doing? I hate this.

As I wrote about My 2023 in Books, I realized I want to write more about what I read.

I just wrote up “Why Big Things Don’t Get Done”, a review of Brent Flyvbjerg’s “How Big Things Get Done”.

If the title is a question, Brent has collected data across thousands of large projects and found an answer that he reveals early. Big things get done over budget, late, and deliver less value than people expected. Or they don’t get done. For the most part. Not by a little bit, either – big things fail by a lot. In a database of “16,000 projecgts from 20-plus different fields in 136 countries” he finds that “99.5 precent of projects go over budget, over schedule, under benefits, or some combination of these.”

And it shouldn’t be this way for big things. These are HUGE EXPENDITURES. Stuff like dams, nuclear power plants,, and similar massive projects that people depend on succeeding. There should be lots of incentives to get it right.

Brent explores why this happens over and over again. He doesn’t duck the question, he has real answers, like:

  • Many projects start without defining why they need to happen. Without a defined why, decisions aren’t always steering to the north star and not everyone will have the same vision.
  • People act too early and don’t plan well before they get started. He goes into how to do that better – pointing out how Pixar did it really well with low stakes small versions.
  • When people get started early, they get delayed on every new emergency, so it takes longer than expected – and every day late is a chance for a new unexpected incident or emergency. Fast is good once you have a tight plan.
  • People estimate poorly because they think their project is special instead of finding a good match of things that have been done before.
  • People lie about the costs so they can use sunk costs to demand more funding when they exceed the budget. (Robert Caro describes how Robert Moses did this repeatedly in The Power Broker). Some “estimates aren’t intended to be accurate; they are intended to sell the project.”
  • The team doesn’t have enough experience so they can’t anticipate that similar problems will show up as happened on previous similar projects. If you’ve never built an underground train before, you won’t know to keep replacement parts for the digging machine ordered in advance.

The stories are numerous and detailed in here. I was also pleased by how many echoes I found with my other reading. I’d read about the building of the Pentagon and the chaos of the the early building of it. So much was done so fast, but so much had to be redone. I’d listened to the 99pi/Cautionary Tales episode about the building of the Sydney Opera house and how it ruined the architect, who fled the country and never saw it completed. I’m reading Robert Caro’s “The Power Broker” and it’s a great peek behind the scenes to see how and why the author thought his 8 years of research/writing would only take a year.

This book was a big eye-opener for me, articulating things my experience had turned into instincts. I was able to use it before I even finished, referring engineers I work with to find “reference projects” to figure out timelines instead of doing the same things that didn’t work for us and don’t work for anyone else.

If you do things that take longer than a month, this is a pretty valuable book to read. If you do things that are new or haven’t been done before, it’s VERY interesting. I’m going to go on about this a lot to other folks about it.

Jan 2024 Media Diet


I started a couple of good ones as well. I track all that over on bookwyrm.


The Brothers Sun – This was really good. Fun, violent, funny. Real challenges and character arcs and good twists. The fight scene at the driving range was incredible. A deftly shot, well choreographed smash. Loved it. Michelle Yeoh is getting what she deserves. Justin Chien is great.

BLUE EYE SAMURAI – Stunningly smart. The twists are vicious. Gorgeous as well. Gets dark.

Over the Garden Wall – a really off-kilter cartoon from one of the creators of Adventure Time. Kids and I liked it a lot. They said it seemed like Centaurworld, which was also very yum.

I rewatched Shoresy because it really helps me SET THE TONE.

And I’ve been slowly working my way through Moonlighting, which is such a treasure from my childhood. Jason Lefkowitz turned me onto this – I love the casual 4th wall breaking, the bits they throw in to fill time, the Christmas episode that pulls back to reveal the whole production company singing. And the actual episodes are also good!

Krapopolis – I love everyone in this and cannot bother myself to watch another episode unless I want to fall asleep.

Chad and JT Go Deep – a heartwarming dumb silly journey. Half dramedy, half hidden camera prank show, funny. A Tim and Eric flavor sprinkled over it all.


Maggie Moore is a very light dark comedy. Really enjoyed this – Tina Fey is good at being not just Liz Lemon. Jon Hamm is good at being not just Don Draper. Micah Stock steals the show as a very pathetic villain.

Dredd – I was stuck in bed with a bad back and thought I’d check it out. It’s horrible. It’s one of those movies that takes the fascist joke seriously and makes it unfunny. Very violent and gross and well shot.

The Imitation Game – brilliant. Deserves all the praise it got.

a swarm of butterflies against a blue sky

The Power Broker Read-along 1

In addition to my work book club (we’re reading How Big Things Get Done by Brent Flyvberg) I found out that one of my favorite podcasts “99% Invisible” is doing a read-along of the massive Robert Caro book “The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York”. It’s a biggie – so they are going to work through it over the course of 2024, with one episode a month covering a 12th of the book. This sounds totally achievable.

I’ve just finished the first part – Robert’s beginnings, his family, his progressive paternalistic origins and the brutal education in power that he goes through. This guy seems to be a massive intellect, a fantastically energetic powerhouse of change, an aristocratic snide jerk who looked down on all of us (my ancestors are particularly some of the people his family organized to keep from embarassing them), and possibly one of the most destructive people who doesn’t get credit for it. Once you listen to Butterflies, the Memory Palace’s story of how Thomas Midgely was inadvertently a destructive monster who murdered so many of us a fraction at a time, you begin to think about the other secret monsters in the world – killing us in tiny slices. They removed so many parts of so many peoples lives, bringing the day of their death closer than needed.

Listening to the first episode of 99PI’s Power Broker read-along was great – Robert Caro is the guest, you begin to grasp that Robert Moses did the same, but in the middle of people’s lives and he did it for aesthetic reasons. He wanted to prevent us from having trains and public transportation. He had the choice and he chose to do things that made so many people in my region sit idling in cars, pumping exhaust out and increasing their blood pressure. It reminds me of the part in Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett where a demon takes credit for a the design of a UK motorway as a force of massive incremental evil. I was hooked in the first 20 pages, but I feel like we are in masterful hands by now. I was eager to not get too far ahead of the podcast – but now I can get through the next chunk. It is definitely not too soon to get started and join in – I am eager to chat with folks about it.