Tag Archives: History

Jesus: A 21st Century Biography by Paul Johnson

  1. Author wrote this book to broadly summarize the life of Jesus and to explain the joy he gets from following him
Key Takeaways
  1. Jesus was born in the context of a very powerful and expanding Rome and a wealthy Judea ruled by Herod
  2. When Gabriel told Mary that she would bear Jesus, The Annunciation as it later became known, is one of the most touching moments in history
  3. Jesus’ time as a shepherd affected him throughout his life – his love of high places for prayer and how he delivered and thought about sermons
  4. No prophet is accepted in his own country
  5. Jesus was a reluctant performer of miracles as he knew that this could cause a stir and possibly riots. It made people realize he was special but also aroused the anger of the authorities
  6. Jesus’ teachings were often new and counterintuitive. They stressed forgiveness and inner acceptance rather than riches and outer rewards
  7. Compassion has quite literally no limits. Not race, sex, religion, status or any other common dividing line
  8. Jesus was a poet and almost always used very memorable images and parables to get his lessons across. It was his way of directing and capturing emotion
  9. We are all neighbors and our salvation and happiness depends on kindness and charity, not tribe or nationality or race
  10. Heaven is not so much about justice as mercy
  11. Jesus’ redeeming feature was his friendliness, opennness and willingness to listen. He accepted everyone as they were
  12. Jesus made marriage indissoluble and this gave women status like never before. He was also unique in his love of children and their innocence
  13. The aim of Jesus was not to change the world but to make its inhabitants fit for the kingdom of God. He did not want to start a new regime but portray a new way of life. A leader whose goals are entirely spiritual was new to the world at this point
  14. Personality is unique but incomplete. Soul is given by God and has a need to return. Through free will we can accept this and return to the kingdom
  15. You cannot lay down laws of love but you can show them and that is how Jesus lives his life
  16. A life of mercy is a holy one. Grace is mercy. By showing mercy, we act as close to God as we can
  17. He was a man who always kept his head, was always equanimous
  18. Was against those whose minds were closed
  19. Truth is both found in God and in nature. That is why he went to the desert to pray
  20. Jesus frightened the current religious orders as he was attracting a huge following. The priests trembled for their lives, jobs and property. They did not believe or understand that Jesus’ kingdom was solely a spiritual one
  21. Pilate did not condemn Jesus because he thought he was guilty but because he was afraid that the Jewish religious leaders would report him to Rome. In fact, him and his wife thought him innocent
  22. After the crucifixion, Jesus was resurrected and Mary Magdalene was the first to see him and to report back to the Disciples. Shortly after, there was a mass baptism for 3,000 people and thus began Christianity
  23. The Gospels are meant to be read and re-read, gaining something new or a deeper understanding every time
What I got out of it
  1. I really enjoyed and learned a lot about Jesus, his teachings and more from this short biography

Leonardo da Vinci by Walter Isaacson

  1. Leonardo was the original Renaissance Man, excelling in everything from botany to athletics to engineering and, of course, art. Isaacson took on this project because Leonardo is the epitome of making connections  across disciplines which is the basis for creativity, innovation and genius
Key Takeaways
  1. What set Leonardo apart was not “genius” but extreme observation and curiosity – he ad a passion which was both playful and obsessive.
  2. He was the master of combining art and science. Separating the two is a man-made construct and a false duality
  3. The infinite works of nature are woven together in a unity with marvelous patterns
  4. Leonardo was more human than most people realize and we can learn from his intense curiosity and imagination. His formal education was minimal and most of his abilities were honed by practice rather than being God-given like many people assume. He knew how to marry observation with imagination which made him history’s consummate innovator
  5. Year after year his to-do lists were filled with things he wanted to learn and do as well as people he wanted to meet with. Leonardo’s journal entries are the most impressive compendium of curiosity in history. It shows his curiosity as well as his weirdness. He was gay, flamboyant and his acceptance in Florence at this time was what made Florence great. They allowed people to think and be different. Florence became the greatest cultural and innovative center and creative center in the history of the world as it allowed for mass mixing of different people, skills, cultures, etc. It was unique period of history in that they praised and rewarded those who could master many different fields
  6. Isaacson’s main learning is that deep observation and curiosity of our world leads to a deeper and more meaningful life.
  7. Leonardo questioned everything and was never satisfied with accepted wisdom
  8. Leonardo was fortunate to be born out of wedlock or else he most likely would have ended up as a notary like his father and grandfather. Another benefit was that he was not formally educated, relying instead on observation and experience
  9. By handling the richest people’s money, the Medici’s, without titles or royalty behind their name, became one of the most powerful families in history. Lorenzo and some other prominent figures in the family set up the patron payment system which bred creativity which has rarely been seen before or since
  10. Observing, analyzing, and trying to find better ways to do things became Leonardo‘s method of learning – this preempted the scientific method by several hundred years
  11. Leonardo apprenticed for Verrocchio and learned from him mainly the beauty of geometry. There is harmony in proportions and that is natures brush stroke
  12. One of the many skills that set Leonardo’s art apart with his ability to use light, shade and color to make a two dimensional canvas into a painting which looks three-dimensional. ‘Chiaroscuro’ and ‘sfumato’ were two techniques Leonardo developed to make his art more lifelike and 3D
  13. Reality and scientific observation should inform but not constrain your art
  14. At 24, Leonardo was still living with his mentor and hadn’t produced anything amazing yet and was known for a less than ideal work ethic because he often left projects unfinished. He seemed to enjoy the imagination and conception of an idea more than the execution. However, there was more to it than that, as he was a perfectionist and knew he would learn and observe things in the future which he might want to incorporate or add on in the future. This was seen in several paintings where his autopsies and observation of the human body got him to change his already finished paintings so that they would be more accurate
  15. Leonardo used a technique called ‘pentimento’ which means he used light brushstrokes over and over which created a light, layered and expressive feeling in his paintings and it also allowed him to revise and rework over a period of years and sometimes decades
  16. Leonardo autopsied many bodies in order to observe how the skeleton, muscle and organs were laid out. He believed an artist should draw a figure from the inside out, starting with the skeleton and finishing with the skin and clothes and these observations helped him create some of the most lifelike and moving drawings of all time
  17. Analogy is one of the best ways to appreciate and understand nature. Because of his close observation, Leonardo noticed connections between how the human body (micro) and the earth (macro) worked similarly and how they were connected. The interconnection of nature and the unity of its patterns is a constant theme in his work. He was able to observe similarities between how blood pumped through veins and capillaries, how water made its way through branches in plants, how water flowed from rivers and tributaries. His cross-field, multidisciplinary observations and connections were unlike anything the world had ever seen
  18. Salai was a pupil and lover of Leonardo who he often painted. They fought a lot as Salai tended to steal things and slack off and eventually there seems to have been an estrangement between the two
  19. Obsession seems to be a component of genius. In one entry, Leonardo took thousands of measurements of different subjects and made comparisons and generalizations about the dimensions of a human body. His ultimate goal was the universal measure of man and how he fit into the cosmos
  20. Shadows are the most important part in helping give a three dimensional feel to the painting and that is why Leonardo spent the most time observing thinking and practicing shading. Leonardo observed that there are no definite lines or boundaries in nature so he began blending his paintings (sfumato) which went against the traditional, linear approach common at that time
  21. Leonardo dreamed more of being a great engineer than a painter and though he eventually got a chance to engineer water works and war efforts for Cesare Borgia, he was of course a better painter than engineer
  22. Michelangelo had a great disdain for Leonardo. They were very different – where Leonardo was athletic and well dressed, Michelangelo was disliked, dirty and had a disfigured nose after a fight with a fellow artist. They had a bit of a feud and rivalry which elevated all artists and made the best among them superstars
  23. The greatest anatomical work Leonardo did was on the heart. He recognized patterns due to his multidisciplinary style that others wouldn’t recognize for several hundred more years. His love of fluid dynamics, eddies, branching of veins and more all helped him understand the heart better than anyone else up to that point. Leonardo transferred this to his now famous curls of hair seen in many of his paintings
  24. A mark of a great mind is the willingness to change and drop preconceived notions. Leonardo’s gift was to seek and find patterns, establish frameworks and apply them to various fields. But equally important, he wouldn’t let these patterns blind him
  25. He used drawings, models, sketches and thought experiments to help him think, establish ideas and questions and to find gaps in his knowledge or thinking
  26. Leonardo had an uncanny ability to capture movement
  27. No moment unto itself is self containing. The past is rolled up into the moment and this influences the future
  28. Declaring a work finished stunted it’s evolution and Leonardo did not like that which is why he worked on several projects for years on end and sometimes decades. Don’t get rigid, always be willing to change, learn, grow and improve
What I got out of it
  1. More than anything, I am inspired to simply be more observant and curious about things around me. Why things look the way they do, how they might have come to be, etc. Simple questioning, thinking, observation and synthesis can take you far…

Why Don’t We Learn From History? by BH Liddell Hart

  1. Hart succinctly and engagingly describes why history is so important to study and, yet, why so few do
Key Takeaways
  1. There is no panacea for peace that can be written out in a formula like a doctor’s prescription. But one can set down a series of practical points—elementary principles drawn from the sum of human experience in all times. Study war and learn from its history. Keep strong, if possible. In any case, keep cool. Have unlimited patience. Never corner an opponent and always assist him to save his face. Put yourself in his shoes—so as to see things through his eyes. Avoid self-righteousness like the devil—nothing is so self-blinding. Cure yourself of two commonly fatal delusions—the idea of victory and the idea that war cannot be limited
  2. I would emphasize a basic value of history to the individual. As Burckhardt said, our deeper hope from experience is that it should “make us, not shrewder (for next time), but wiser (for ever).” History teaches us personal philosophy.
  3. Over two thousand years ago, Polybius, the soundest of ancient historians, began his History with the remark that “the most instructive, indeed the only method of learning to bear with dignity the vicissitude of fortune, is to recall the catastrophes of others.” History is the best help, being a record of how things usually go wrong. A long historical view not only helps us to keep calm in a “time of trouble” but reminds us that there is an end to the longest tunnel. Even if we can see no good hope ahead, an historical interest as to what will happen is a help in carrying on. For a thinking man, it can be the strongest check on a suicidal feeling.
  4. What is the object of history? I would answer, quite simply – “truth.” The object might be more cautiously expressed thus: to find out what happened while trying to find out why it happened. In other words, to seek the causal relations between events. History has limitations as guiding signpost, however, for although it can show us the right direction, it does not give detailed information about the road conditions
    1. NOTE: map is not the terrain
  5. History can show us what to avoid, even if it does not teach us what to do—by showing the most common mistakes that mankind is apt to make and to repeat. A second object lies in the practical value of history. “Fools,” said Bismarck, “say they learn by experience. I prefer to profit by other people’s experience.” The study of history offers that opportunity in the widest possible measure. It is universal experience – infinitely longer, wider, and more varied than any individual’s experience.
  6. The point was well expressed by Polybius. “There are two roads to the reformation for mankind—one through misfortunes of their own, the other through the misfortunes of others; the former is the most unmistakable, the latter the less painful…the knowledge gained from the study of true history is the best of all educations for practical life
  7. Why were they not deduced? Partly because the General Staffs’ study was too narrow, partly because they were blinded by their own professional interests and sentiments. But the “surprising” developments were correctly deduced from those earlier wars by certain non-official students of war who were able to think with detachment
  8. History is the record of man’s steps and slips. It shows us that the steps have been slow and slight; the slips, quick and abounding. It provides us with the opportunity to profit by the stumbles and tumbles of our forerunners. Awareness of our limitations should make us chary of condemning those who made mistakes, but we condemn ourselves if we fail to recognize mistakes
  9. Viewed aright, it is the broadest of studies, embracing every aspect of life. It lays the foundation of education by showing how mankind repeats its errors and what those errors are
  10. In reality, reason has had a greater influence than fortune on the issue of wars that have most influenced history. Creative thought has often counted for more than courage; for more, even, than gifted leadership. It is a romantic habit to ascribe to a flash of inspiration in battle what more truly has been due to seeds long sown—to the previous development of some new military practice by the victors, or to avoidable decay in the military practice of the losers.
  11. Direct experience is inherently too limited to form an adequate foundation either for theory or for application. At the best it produces an atmosphere that is of value in drying and hardening the structure of thought. The greater value of indirect experience lies in its greater variety and extent. “History is universal experience”—the experience not of another but of many others under manifold conditions.
  12. The increasing specialization of history has tended to decrease the intelligibility of history and thus forfeit the benefit to the community
  13. Observing the working of committees of many kinds, I have long come to realize the crucial importance of lunchtime. Two hours or more may have been spent in deliberate discussion and careful weighing of a problem, but the last quarter of an hour often counts for more than all the rest. At 12:45pm there may be no prospect of an agreed solution, yet around about 1pm important decisions may be reached with little argument—because the attention of the members has turned to watching the hands of their watches. Those moving hands can have a remarkable effect in accelerating the movements of minds—to the point of a snap decision. The more influential members of any committee are the most likely to have important lunch engagements, and the more important the committee the more likely is this contingency. A shrewd committeeman often develops a technique based on this time calculation. He will defer his own intervention in the discussion until lunchtime is near, when the majority of the others are more inclined to accept any proposal that sounds good enough to enable them to keep their lunch engagement.
  14. Another danger, among “hermit” historians, is that they often attach too much value to documents. Men in high office are apt to have a keen sense of their own reputation in history. Many documents are written to deceive or conceal. Moreover, the struggles that go on behind the scenes, and largely determine the issue, are rarely recorded in documents.
  15. Lloyd George frequently emphasized to me in conversation that one feature that distinguished a first-rate political leader from a second-rate politician is that the former was always careful to avoid making any definite statement that could be subsequently refuted, as he was likely to be caught out in the long run.
  16. “Hard writing makes easy reading.” Such hard writing makes for hard thinking.
  17. Discernment may be primarily a gift—and a sense of proportion, too. But their development can be assisted by freedom from prejudice, which largely rests with the individual to achieve—and within his power to achieve it. Or at least to approach it. The way of approach is simple, if not easy—requiring, above all, constant self-criticism and care for precise statement.
  18. To view any question subjectively is self-blinding.
  19. Doubt is unnerving save to philosophic minds, and armies are not composed of philosophers, either at the top or at the bottom. In no activity is optimism so necessary to success, for it deals so largely with the unknown—even unto death. The margin that separates optimism from blind folly is narrow. Thus there is no cause for surprise that soldiers have so often overstepped it and become the victims of their faith.
  20. The point had been still more clearly expressed in the eleventh-century teaching of Chang-Tsai: “If you can doubt at points where other people feel no impulse to doubt, then you are making progress.”
  21. We learn too that nothing has aided the persistence of falsehood, and the evils resulting from it, more than the unwillingness of good people to admit the truth when it was disturbing to their comfortable assurance. Always the tendency continues to be shocked by natural comment and to hold certain things too “sacred” to think about.
  22. How rarely does one meet anyone whose first reaction to anything is to ask “Is it true?” Yet unless that is a man’s natural reaction it shows that truth is not uppermost in his mind, and, unless it is, true progress is unlikely.
  23. Yet the longer I watch current events, the more I have come to see how many of our troubles arise from the habit, on all sides, of suppressing or distorting what we know quite well is the truth, out of devotion to a cause, an ambition, or an institution—at bottom, this devotion being inspired by our own interest.
  24. It was saddening to discover how many apparently honorable men would stoop to almost to anything to help their own advancement.
  25. A different habit, with worse effect, was the way that ambitious officers when they came in sight of promotion to the generals’ list, would decide that they would bottle up their thoughts and ideas, as a safety precaution, until they reached the top and could put these ideas into practice. Unfortunately the usual result, after years of such self-repression for the sake of their ambition, was that when the bottle was eventually uncorked the contents had evaporated.
  26. In my experience the troubles of the world largely come from excessive regard to other interests.
  27. We learn from history that those who are disloyal to their own superiors are most prone to preach loyalty to their subordinates.
  28. Loyalty is a noble quality, so long as it is not blind and does not exclude the higher loyalty to truth and decency.
  29. Truth may not be absolute, but it is certain that we are likely to come nearest to it if we search for it in a purely scientific spirit and analyze the facts with a complete detachment from all loyalties save that to truth itself. It implies that one must be ready to discard one’s own pet ideas and theories as the search progresses.
  30. Faith matters so much in times of crisis. One must have gone deep into history before reaching the conviction that truth matters more.
  31. All of us do foolish things—but the wiser realize what they do. The most dangerous error is failure to recognize our own tendency to error. That failure is a common affliction of authority.
  32. The pretense to infallibility is instinctive in a hierarchy. But to understand the cause is not to underrate the harm that the pretense has produced—in every sphere.
  33. Hence the duty of the good citizen who is free from the responsibility of Government is to be a watchdog upon it, lest Government impair the fundamental objects which it exists to serve. It is a necessary evil, thus requiring constant watchfulness and check.
  34. What is of value in “England” and “America” and worth defending is its tradition of freedom—the guarantee of its vitality. Our civilization, like the Greek, has, for all its blundering way, taught the value of freedom, of criticism of authority—and of harmonizing this with order. Anyone who urges a different system, for efficiency’s sake, is betraying the vital tradition.
  35. We learn from history that self-made despotic rulers follow a standard pattern. In gaining power: They exploit, consciously or unconsciously, a state of popular dissatisfaction with the existing regime or of hostility between different sections of the people. On gaining power: They soon begin to rid themselves of their chief helpers, “discovering” that those who brought about the new order have suddenly become traitors to it. This political confidence trick, itself a familiar string of tricks, has been repeated all down the ages. Yet it rarely fails to take in a fresh generation.
  36. We learn from history that time does little to alter the psychology of dictatorship. The effect of power on the mind of the man who possesses it, especially when he has gained it by successful aggression, tends to be remarkably similar in every age and in every country.
  37. Bad means lead to no good end.
  38. But “anti-Fascism” or “anti-Communism” is not enough. Nor is even the defense of freedom. What has been gained may not be maintained, against invasion without and erosion within, if we are content to stand still. The peoples who are partially free as a result of what their forebears achieved in the seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries must continue to spread the gospel of freedom and work for the extension of the conditions, social and economic as well as political, which are essential to make men free.
  39. We learn from history that the compulsory principle always breaks down in practice. It is practicable to prevent men doing something; moreover that principle of restraint, or regulation, is essentially justifiable in so far as its application is needed to check interference with others’ freedom. But it is not, in reality, possible to make men do something without risking more than is gained from the compelled effort. The method may appear practicable, because it often works when applied to those who are merely hesitant. When applied to those who are definitely unwilling it fails, however, because it generates friction and fosters subtle forms of evasion that spoil the effect which is sought. The test of whether a principle works is to be found in the product. Efficiency springs from enthusiasm—because this alone can develop a dynamic impulse. Enthusiasm is incompatible with compulsion—because it is essentially spontaneous. Compulsion is thus bound to deaden enthusiasm—because it dries up the source. The more an individual, or a nation, has been accustomed to freedom, the more deadening will be the effect of a change to compulsion.
  40. Conscription does not fit the conditions of modern warfare—its specialized technical equipment, mobile operations, and fluid situations. Success increasingly depends on individual initiative, which in turn springs from a sense of personal responsibility—these senses are atrophied by compulsion. Moreover, every unwilling man is a germ carrier, spreading infection to an extent altogether disproportionate to the value of the service he is forced to contribute.
  41. Unless the great majority of a people are willing to give their services there is something radically at fault in the state itself. In that case the state is not likely or worthy to survive under test—and compulsion will make no serious difference.
  42. But the deeper I have gone into the study of war and the history of the past century the further I have come toward the conclusion that the development of conscription has damaged the growth of the idea of freedom in the Continental countries and thereby damaged their efficiency also—by undermining the sense of personal responsibility.
    1. NOTE: great parallels to business. Giving away ownership and responsibility gets people all-in, to self-police, to be your best salesman and advocates. Forcing them to try to act this way never works
  43. I believe that freedom is the foundation of efficiency, both national and military. Thus it is a practical folly as well as a spiritual surrender to “go totalitarian” as a result of fighting for existence against the totalitarian states. Cut off the incentive to freely given service and you dry up the life source of a free community.
  44. Reforms that last are those that come naturally, and with less friction, when men’s minds have become ripe for them. A life spent in sowing a few grains of fruitful thought is a life spent more effectively than in hasty action that produces a crop of weeds. That leads us to see the difference, truly a vital difference, between influence and power.
  45. History shows that a main hindrance to real progress is the ever-popular myth of the “great man.” While “greatness” may perhaps be used in a comparative sense, if even then referring more to particular qualities than to the embodied sum, the “great man” is a clay idol whose pedestal has been built up by the natural human desire to look up to someone, but whose form has been carved by men who have not yet outgrown the desire to be regarded, or to picture themselves, as great men.
  46. We learn from history that expediency has rarely proved expedient.
    1. NOTE: John Wooden – be quick but don’t hurry
  47. Civilization is built on the practice of keeping promises. It may not sound a high attainment, but if trust in its observance be shaken the whole structure cracks and sinks. Any constructive effort and all human relations—personal, political, and commercial—depend on being able to depend on promises.
    1. NOTE: like any high performing culture, trust is at the center of it all. Not being able to depend on promises erodes trust
  48. It is immoral to make promises that one cannot in practice fulfill—in the sense that the recipient expects.
  49. I have come to think that accuracy, in the deepest sense, is the basic virtue—the foundation of understanding, supporting the promise of progress. The cause of most troubles can be traced to excess; the failure to check them to deficiency; their prevention lies in moderation. So in the case of troubles that develop from spoken or written communication, their cause can be traced to overstatement, their maintenance to understatement, while their prevention lies in exact statement. It applies to private as well as to public life.
  50. Studying their effect, one is led to see that the germs of war lie within ourselves—not in economics, politics, or religion as such. How can we hope to rid the world of war until we have cured ourselves of the originating causes?
  51. Any history of war which treats only of its strategic and political course is merely a picture of the surface. The personal currents run deeper and may have a deeper influence on the outcome.
  52. We learn from history that complete victory has never been completed by the result that the victors always anticipate—a good and lasting peace. For victory has always sown the seeds of a fresh war, because victory breeds among the vanquished a desire for vindication and vengeance and because victory raises fresh rivals.
    1. NOTE: dialectical materialism
  53. A too complete victory inevitably complicates the problem of making a just and wise peace settlement. Where there is no longer the counterbalance of an opposing force to control the appetites of the victors, there is no check on the conflict of views and interests between the parties to the alliance. The divergence is then apt to become so acute as to turn the comradeship of common danger into the hospitality of mutual dissatisfaction—so that the ally of one war becomes the enemy in the next.
  54. Where the two sides are too evenly matched to offer a reasonable chance of early success to either, the statesman is wise who can learn something from the psychology of strategy. It is an elementary principle of strategy that, if you find your opponent in a strong position costly to force, you should leave him a line of retreat—as the quickest way of loosening his resistance. It should, equally, be a principle of policy, especially in war, to provide your opponent with a ladder by which he can climb down.
  55. War is profitable only if victory is quickly gained. Only an aggressor can hope to gain a quick victory. If he is frustrated, the war is bound to be long, and mutually ruinous, unless it is brought to an end by mutual agreement.
  56. The history of ancient Greece showed that, in a democracy, emotion dominates reason to a greater extent than in any other political system, thus giving freer rein to the passions which sweep a state into war and prevent it getting out—at any point short of the exhaustion and destruction of one or other of the opposing sides.
  57. It was because Wellington really understood war that he became so good at securing peace. He was the least militaristic of soldiers and free from the lust of glory. It was because he saw the value of peace that he became so unbeatable in war. For he kept the end in view, instead of falling in love with the means. Unlike Napoleon, he was not infected by the romance of war, which generates illusions and self-deceptions. That was how Napoleon had failed and Wellington prevailed.
  58. One of the clear lessons that history teaches is that no agreement between Governments has had any stability beyond their recognition that it is in their own interests to continue to adhere to it. I cannot conceive that any serious student of history would be impressed by such a hollow phrase as “the sanctity of treaties.”
  59. We must face the fact that international relations are governed by interests and not by moral principles. Then it can be seen that the validity of treaties depends on mutual convenience. This can provide an effective guarantee.
  60. Any plan for peace is apt to be not only futile but dangerous. Like most planning, unless of a mainly material kind, it breaks down through disregard of human nature. Worse still, the higher the hopes that are built on such a plan, the more likely that their collapse may precipitate war.
  61. For whoever habitually suppresses the truth in the interests of tact will produce a deformity from the womb of his thought.
  62. Opposition to the truth is inevitable, especially if it takes the form of a new idea, but the degree of resistance can be diminished—by giving thought not only to the aim but to the method of approach. Avoid a frontal attack on a long-established position; instead, seek to turn it by a flank movement, so that a more penetrable side is exposed to the thrust of truth. But in any such indirect approach, take care not to diverge from the truth—for nothing is more fatal to its real advancement than to lapse into untruth.
  63. Even among great scholars there is no more unhistorical fallacy than that, in order to command, you must learn to obey.
  64. A model boy rarely goes far, and even when he does he is apt to falter when severely tested. A boy who conforms immaculately to school rules is not likely to grow into a man who will conquer by breaking the stereotyped professional rules of his time—as conquest has most often been achieved. Still less does it imply the development of the wide views necessary in a man who is not merely a troop commander but the strategic adviser of his Government. The wonderful thing about Lee’s generalship is not his legendary genius but the way he rose above his handicaps—handicaps that were internal even more than external.
  65. the deeper the study of modern war is carried the stronger grows the conviction of its futility.
  66. The more that warfare is “formalized” the less damaging it proves. Past efforts in this direction have had more success than is commonly appreciated.
  67. The habit of violence takes much deeper root in irregular warfare than it does in regular warfare. In the latter it is counteracted by the habit of obedience to constituted authority, whereas the former makes a virtue of defying authority and violating rules. It becomes very difficult to rebuild a country, and a stable state, on such an undermined foundation.
  68. Vitality springs from diversity—which makes for real progress so long as there is mutual toleration, based on the recognition that worse may come from an attempt to suppress differences than from acceptance of them.
  69. To put it another way, it seems to me that the spiritual development of humanity as a whole is like a pyramid, or a mountain peak, where all angles of ascent tend to converge the higher they climb. On the one hand this convergent tendency, and the remarkable degree of agreement that is to be found on the higher levels, appears to me the strongest argument from experience that morality is absolute and not merely relative and that religious faith is not a delusion.
  70. Manners are apt to be regarded as a surface polish. That is a superficial view. They arise from an inward control. A fresh realization of their importance is needed in the world today, and their revival might prove the salvation of civilization. For only manners in the deeper sense—of mutual restraint for mutual security—can control the risk that outbursts of temper over political and social issues may lead to mutual destruction in the atomic age.
  71. Truth is a spiral staircase. What looks true on one level may not be true on the next higher level. A complete vision must extend vertically as well as horizontally—not only seeing the parts in relation to one another but embracing the different planes. Ascending the spiral, it can be seen that individual security increases with the growth of society, that local security increases when linked to a wider organization, that national security increases when nationalism decreases and would become much greater if each nation’s claim to sovereignty were merged in a super-national body.
What I got out of it
  1. Not quite Durant’s Lessons of History but one of the best “meta” books on history I’ve come across. The lessons to be gained from in-depth study of history and why it is worth it, and why we don’t

The Last Mughal: The Fall of a Dynasty, Delhi 1857 by William Dalrymple

  1. The history of the fall of the rulers of India up until the 19th century, the Mughals. Zafar came to control once the Mughals were already in decline but his talent created a court of unparalleled beauty. The British and Mughals came to devastating blows as the Mughals tried to keep their traditions and power and as Britain sought to expand
Key Takeaways
  1. Zafar was the last Mughal Emperor, and the descendant of the great world-conquerors Genghis Khan and Timur.
  2. The Mughal House of Timur ruled most of South Asia for more than two hundred years and became arguably the greatest dynasty in Indian history. For many, the Mughals symbolise Islamic civilisation at its most refined and aesthetically pleasing—think of the great white dome of the Taj Mahal that Akbar’s grandson, Shah Jahan, raised in Agra in memory of his favourite Queen, or the fabulously intricate miniatures of the Padshahnama and the other great Mughal manuscripts.
  3. At the same time that most of Catholic Europe was given over to the Inquisition, and in Rome Giordano Bruno was being burnt for heresy at the stake in the Campo dei Fiori, in India the Mughal Emperor Akbar was holding multi-faith symposia in his palace and declaring that “no man should be interfered with on account of religion, and anyone is to be allowed to go over to a religion that pleases him.”
  4. But what was built by the tact and conciliation of the first five of the Great Mughals was destroyed by the harsh and repressive rule of the sixth.
  5. In his lifetime, however, Zafar lived to see his own dynasty finally reduced to humiliating insignificance, while the British transformed themselves from relatively vulnerable traders into an aggressively expansionist military force.
  6. Finally, on 14 September 1857, the British and their hastily assembled army of Sikh and Pathan levees assaulted and took the city, sacking and looting the Mughal capital and massacring great swathes of the population.
  7. ALTHOUGH BAHADUR SHAH II, the last Mughal, is a central figure in this book, it is not a biography of Zafar so much as a portrait of the Delhi he personified, a narrative of the last days of the Mughal capital and its final destruction in the catastrophe of 1857.
  8. For the people of Delhi, the daily reality of what happened in 1857 was not so much liberation as violence, uncertainty and starvation. Indeed, reading through the Mutiny Papers there are times when it seems almost as if the siege of Delhi had become a three-cornered contest, with the sepoys and the British fighting it out, and with the people in Delhi caught in the middle, their lives wrecked by the violence of both. Clearly Zafar saw his job as protecting the people of Delhi from both firangi (foreigners, Franks) and Tilanga.
  9. “The natives all look upon the King of Delhi as their rightful Lord, and so he is, I suppose.”33 As his coronation portrait described him, he was “His Divine Highness, Caliph of the Age, Padshah as Glorious as Jamshed, He who is Surrounded by Hosts of Angels, Shadow of God, Refuge of Islam, Protector of the Mohammedan Religion, Offspring of the House of Timur, Greatest Emperor, Mightiest King of Kings, Emperor son of Emperor, Sultan son of Sultan.” From this point of view, it was the East India Company which was the real rebel, guilty of revolt against a feudal superior to whom it had sworn allegiance for two centuries; after all, the Company had long governed as the Mughal’s tax collector in Bengal, and had until recently acknowledged itself as the vassal of the Mughal even on its own seal and coins.34 For this reason many ordinary people in northern India responded to Zafar’s appeal, much to the astonishment of the British, who had long ceased to take him seriously, and who, having completely lost touch with Indian opinion, were amazed at how Hindustan* reacted to his call.
  10. As far as the Indian participants were concerned, the Uprising was overwhelmingly expressed as a war of religion, and looked upon as a defensive action against the rapid inroads missionaries and Christianity were making in India, as well as a more generalised fight for freedom from foreign domination.
  11. IF ALL THIS HAS STRONG contemporary echoes, in other ways Delhi today feels as if it is fast moving away from its Mughal past. In modern Delhi an increasingly wealthy Punjabi middle class now lives in an aspirational bubble of shopping malls, espresso bars and multiplexes. Visiting Najafgarh, twelve miles beyond Indira Gandhi International Airport, and scene of one of the most important battles in the siege of Delhi, I found that no one in the town had any knowledge or family memories of the battle; but instead recruitment posters for call centres were plastered all over the last surviving Mughal ruin in the town, the Delhi Gate.
  12. In his letters, Metcalfe sometimes envisaged himself as an English country squire. In reality, however, he seems to have had slightly more exalted ambitions, and to some extent he set up his establishment as a rival court to that of Zafar’s, with the Metcalfes as a parallel dynasty to the Mughals.
  13. For the first time there was a feeling that technologically, economically and politically, as well as culturally, the British had nothing to learn from India and much to teach; it did not take long for imperial arrogance to set in. This arrogance, when combined with the rise of Evangelical Christianity, slowly came to affect all aspects of relations between the British and the Indians.
  14. “You may crush down the populace and keep them in awe with your arms, but until you conquer and win the hearts of the people, the peace and affection will be more an outward word of talk” than reality.50
  15. The histories of Islamic fundamentalism and European imperialism have very often been closely, and dangerously, intertwined. In a curious but very concrete way, the fundamentalists of both faiths have needed each other to reinforce each other’s prejudices and hatreds. The venom of one provides the lifeblood of the other.
  16. For three hours, during seven months of the year, the Delhi afternoon heat emptied the streets, leaving them deserted: a blazing white midnight clearing the lanes and galis, and hushing the city into uncharacteristic silence.
  17. So removed had the British now become from their Indian subjects, and so dismissive were they of Indian opinion, that they had lost all ability to read the omens around them or to analyse their own position with any degree of accuracy. Arrogance and imperial self-confidence had diminished the desire to seek accurate information or gain any real knowledge of the state of the country.
  18. More specifically, as far as Delhi was concerned, by extinguishing even the faintest hope of any of the princes of the royal house ever succeeding Zafar, the British created a situation where no one in the imperial family had anything to lose, and all were sufficiently disaffected to risk anything to try to save their position. It was a fatal error for which the British would shortly pay a high price.
  19. “Great as is the Company’s name and wealth, it is not so strong as the prejudice of caste.”
  20. For all his many good qualities, indecision was always Zafar’s greatest vice.
  21. Yet now, at the moment of the most crucial decision Zafar would ever take, with most of the Delhi elite already instinctively lined up against the looting, mutinous sepoys, Zafar made an uncharacteristically decisive choice: he gave them his blessing. The reason is not hard to guess. With the armed, threatening and excitable sepoys surrounding him on all sides, he had little choice. Moreover, thanks to Simon Fraser and Lord Canning, he had even less to lose. For all his undoubted fear, anger and irritation with the sepoys, Zafar made the critical choice that would change both the fate of his dynasty and that of the city of Delhi, linking them both with the Uprising:
  22. he had seen that when he handed out ammunition to his men some had grabbed far more than their entitlement and he had mentally marked down the guilty men for punishment at a later date.
  23. “I never let my men take prisoners,” he explained, “but shoot them at once.”37 He was also notorious for the pleasure he took in the kill. “A beautiful swordsman, he never failed to kill his man,” wrote one of his officers. “The way he used to play with the most brave and furious of these rebels was perfect. I fancy I see him now, smiling, laughing, parrying most fearful blows, as calmly as if he was brushing off flies, calling out all the time, ‘Why, try again now,’ ‘what’s that?’ ‘Do you call yourself a swordsman?’ &c…If only there was a good hard scrimmage he was as happy as a king.”38 Less dramatically, but ultimately more significantly, Hodson proved himself a ruthlessly efficient Chief of Intelligence: “He even used to know what the rebels had for dinner,” noted one admiring officer.39
  24. “Act at once, march with any body of European troops to the spot, and the danger will disappear. Give it time, it will flame through the land.”
  25. Other than the targeting of Christians, there was surprisingly little patriotic or nationalistic spirit visible in the violence that rumbled on for weeks after the outbreak: the initial mutiny in the army had opened a vast Pandora’s box of differences and grievances—economic, sectarian, religious and political—and now that the violence and settling of scores had begun, it would not be easy to bring them to a halt.
  26. He was after all eighty-two years old, and lacked any of the energy, ambition and worldliness, and indeed the drive and determination, needed to ride the tiger of rebellion.
  27. More than anyone else, it seems, Mirza Mughal realised the importance of providing some organised logistical back-up to the Uprising, and a coherent administration for Delhi. As it turned out, his administration rarely got beyond crisis management, and never succeeded in turning itself into a force able to control either the different sepoy regiments or the growing numbers of freelance jihadis collecting in Delhi; but if it failed, it was certainly not for lack of industry.
  28. Zafar himself stood slightly apart from his wife and principal advisers. While well aware of the dangers posed by the sepoys, disgusted by their manners and profoundly alarmed and depressed by the looting of his city, he nevertheless recognised the possibility that the Uprising could yet save the House of Timur, and ensure a future for his dynasty, something he had consistently worked for since his accession in 1837. He therefore gave his blessing and public support to the Uprising, and took seriously his role as newly empowered Mughal Emperor, while doing all he could to limit the depredations of the sepoys.
  29. You do not realize that in public life a man must use his reason rather than give way to his emotions. If we try to dissuade the rebels now they will kill us before they kill the English, and then they will kill the King.”
  30. For Zafar the massacre was a turning point. The sepoys were quite correct that the British would never forgive the mass killing of innocents, and Zafar’s failure to prevent it proved as fatal for him and his dynasty as it was for them.
  31. Baqar understood that behind the anarchy there lay a fundamental problem of authority. While there was clearly a certain amount of collusion and communication between the different regiments prior to the outbreak, each regiment had mutinied individually, had come to Delhi under its own steam and, once there, looked to its own subahdars for leadership. The regiments remained self-contained: they camped separately, accepted no overall sepoy general, and strongly resisted the idea of a commander of any other regiment having authority over them.
  32. For all the weakness of Mirza Mughal’s administration, Zafar realised he did possess one trump card he could play in order to try to bring some pressure on the sepoys: non-cooperation.
  33. Mirza Abu Bakr] experiencing for the first time the effects of a bursting shell, hastily descended from the roof of the house, mounted his horse, and galloped off with his escort of sawars far into the rear of the position, not heeding the cries of his troops. A general stampede then took place.
  34. NOTE: no your guts my glory
  35. Probably most of those who committed this deed were themselves called to account to a Higher Power during their siege to answer for their sins.
  36. NOTE: rationalization for evil seems to prevail
  37. “Never fear Mister Barter sir, we ain’t agoing to turn.” And on they went quietly closing up the gap made by their fallen comrades.
  38. NOTE: shared guts and glory
  39. One man a hole as large as a billiard ball through his forehead, a perfect giant in death.
  40. NOTE: what a visual
  41. Amid a rising sense of panic, only Mirza Mughal kept his head, saying that, as in a game of chess, as long as the king was next to the castle, “he was firmly seated beyond all fear of check mate.”
  42. Even if the essentials can be found they cannot be afforded because the prices are so high. Either the shops are shut, or when they are open there are a thousand people queuing for only one hundred pomegranates. The stuff that is there is of very poor quality, but hunger is the greater master and neediness a true slave driver, so people will take what they can get and consider it a boon. As is rightly said, “if one cannot find wheat, barley will do.”
  43. Look at the lessons the Almighty has taught us: we used to be so fussy that we would reject the finest wheat and complain that our flour was too smelly and only good to be given to faqirs. Now we don’t hesitate to fight for the poorest left-overs from the bazaars.
  44. The courage of the sepoys invariably impressed their old officers; their tactics did not. The massed bodies of troops certainly looked magnificent when seen from the city walls—Zahir Dehlavi thought the contest was “a strange and fascinating war which one had never heard of or seen before, for both the armies belonged to the British government, and the rebels had also been trained by the experienced English Officers, so that it was like a fight between a teacher and his student.”44 But the sepoys’ uncoordinated attacks, single regiment after single regiment, taking it in turn to attack the prepared British positions front on, day after day, rarely taxed the British despite their small numbers.
  45. Whatever might be the dish you selected to feed upon, as soon as it was uncovered, a legion of flies would settle upon it; and even so simple a thing as a cup of tea would be filled in a few minutes, unless you were very careful, the surface of the liquid presenting a most revolting dark appearance from the flies floating thereon, some dead, others dying.
  46. NOTE: what an image and situation
  47. At night sleep was all but impossible: if the damp heat and the smell were not enough, the boom of cannon, the baying of jackals and dogs, and what the Delhi Gazette Extra described as “the gurgling moan of obstinate camels” made rest a distant hope.62 More seriously, in this humid, stinking, stagnant quagmire, cholera also broke out again, passing through the camp with astonishing and deadly speed.63 In such an unhealthy environment, and with only the most basic medical facilities, it was hardly surprising that almost none of the many wounded who had to go through an amputation survived to tell the tale.
  48. NOTE: be grateful every day you don’t have to deal with conditions like this
  49. The passage highlights something that is often forgotten in accounts of life on the Ridge: the fact that just over half the soldiers, and almost all the vast support staff, were not British, but Indian. It was, all in all, a very odd sort of religious war, where a Muslim Emperor was pushed into rebellion against his Christian oppressors by a mutinous army of overwhelmingly Hindu sepoys, who came to him of their own free will (and initially against his) to ask for the barakat of a Muslim blessing and the leadership of the Mughal they regarded as their legitimate ruler.
  50. But by the end of July, victory over the British seemed increasingly remote. A much more likely outcome, it now seemed, was the imminent unravelling of the central stitching that held Delhi together: the peaceful co-existence of Hindu and Muslim.
  51. Their failure to establish a well-governed “liberated area” or Mughal realm from which they could draw tax revenue, manpower and, most of all, food supplies ultimately proved the Delhi rebels’ single most disastrous failure.
  52. THE MOST SERIOUS THREAT to any remaining hope of victory over the British continued, however, to be the disagreements between the different regiments; and these were now steadily growing worse than ever.
  53. The ball entered Nicholson’s chest, just below the exposed armpit. One of the other fusiliers, who had belatedly come up, pointed out that he had been hit. “Yes, yes,” replied Nicholson irritably, before sinking to the ground.
  54. For two years they lived with the villagers and suffered as they did: they learned what it was to experience real hunger; monsoon floods nearly washed them away; and with no doctor to attend her, Mirza Shahzor’s wife died in childbirth. Soon after, what remained of the family was able to return to Delhi, to begin a new life on the pension of five rupees a month that the British offered the few surviving members of the imperial family.
  55. Heaven knows I feel no pity—but when some old grey bearded man is brought and shot before your very eyes—hard must be that man’s heart I think who can look on with indifference. And yet it must be so for these black wretches shall atone with their blood for our murdered countrymen—my own father and mother—sister and brother all cry aloud for vengeance, and their son will avenge them. Yes! He shall be seen in the fight, and shall never shrink [from bloodshed,] for God has given him both strength and courage.
  56. NOTE: real strength would be forgiveness
  57. On the morning of the 21st, “a royal salute at sunrise proclaimed that Delhi was once more a dependency of the British crown.”96 But the captured city—the ancient capital of Hindustan, the great Mughal metropolis—was now a desolate city of the dead, except for parties of drunken British looters. Major William Ireland, a consistent critic of the brutality of his own colleagues throughout the campaign, was horrified by the sight of the “liberated” city.
  58. Ommaney was disgusted to see that, as in Paris during the Revolution, large numbers had gathered to watch the entertainment provided by the executions. The Chowk, he noted, was “crowded with officers and Europeans.” “How transient seems this life,” he wrote in his diary that night, “when one sees a man so quickly part with it: a few moments and the animated body has separated from that spirit which has gone to appear before its maker, and yet to look at the crowd, how little they feel or seem to understand the awful awful change taking place before their eyes.”
  59. It was not just bloodlust and the urge for revenge which provided the motive for this mass slaughter: there was also money to be made. Informers were paid 2 rupees for every arrest, while the captors were allowed to keep “all money and gold found on the persons of mutineers captured.”
  60. NOTE: incentives. incentives. incentives
  61. One dies, and only intimate friends mourn—and how few they are.”
  62. “He possesses in my opinion, not the slightest spark of honour and affection, according to English ideas of those qualities.”
  63. NOTE: last caveat is key
  64. It would have been contrary to human nature, and utterly at variance with the predatory instinct, had the soldiers failed to take advantage of the facilities for plunder which surrounded them on every side; nor could it be expected that a man, after possessing himself of valuables, would…deliver up all his booty to the authorities…Often, when wandering through the city in search of plunder, I, in the company of others, came across officers engaged in the same quest as ourselves
  65. We crept in as humble barterers, whose existence depended on the bounty and favour of the lieutenants of the kings of Delhi; and the “generosity” we have shown was but a small acknowledgement of the favours his ancestors had conferred to our race.116 Russell concluded by pointing out that if the King was to be tried by a proper court of law, rather than by a Military Commission, the charges against Zafar would be almost impossible to prove: “An English lawyer in an English court of justice might show that it would be very difficult for our Government to draw an indictment against the King of Delhi for treason, for the levying of war against us as lords paramount…”
  66. [Was Zafar] the original mover, the head and front of the undertaking, or but the consenting tool…the forward, unscrupulous, but still pliant puppet, tutored by priestly craft for the advancement of religious bigotry? Many persons, I believe, will incline to the latter. The known restless spirit of Mahommedan fanaticism has been the first aggressor, the vindictive intolerance of that peculiar faith has been struggling for mastery, seditious conspiracy has been its means, the prisoner its active accomplice, and every possible crime the frightful result…
  67. The Uprising in fact showed every sign of being initiated by upper-caste Hindu sepoys reacting against specifically military grievances perceived as a threat to their faith and dharma; it then spread rapidly through the country, attracting a fractured and diffuse collection of other groups alienated by aggressively insensitive and brutal British policies. Among these were the Mughal court and the many Muslim individuals who made their way to Delhi and fought as civilian jihadis united against the kafir enemy.
  68. Indeed, as witness after witness appeared in the box it became increasingly clear that Zafar was wholly ignorant of any plans that may have existed for a co-ordinated uprising, and had all along been innocent of doing anything other than trying to protect his subjects in Delhi.
  69. Just before 3 p.m., the judges retired to consider their verdict. A few minutes later, they returned to unanimously declare Zafar guilty “of all and every part of the charges preferred against him.” Normally, noted the president, such a verdict would have resulted “in the penalty of death as a traitor and a felon.” Thanks, however, to Hodson’s guarantee of his life, such a sentence was impossible. Instead, Zafar was sentenced “to be transported for the remainder of his days, either to one of the Andaman Islands or to such other place as may be selected by the Governor General in council.”134
  70. At 4 a.m. on 7 October, 332 years after Babur first conquered the city, the last Mughal Emperor left Delhi on a bullock cart. Along with him went his wives, his two remaining children,*74 concubines and servants—a party of thirty-one in all, who were escorted by the 9th Lancers, a squadron of horse artillery, two palanquins and three palanquin carriages.
  71. A perhaps unexpected supporter of Lawrence’s plan turned out to be Benjamin Disraeli, who was deeply shocked by the British bloodlust that the Uprising had triggered: “I protest against meeting atrocities with atrocities,” he told the House of Commons. “I have seen things said, and seen written of late, which would make me suppose that…instead of bowing before the name of Jesus we were preparing to revive the worship of Moloch.”
  72. The idea of a general amnesty eventually became official policy, and was proclaimed in Queen Victoria’s name on 1 November 1858. At the same time, in the Act for the Better Government of India, the British Crown finally assumed all governmental responsibilities held by the East India Company, and its 24,000-man military force was incorporated into the British Army. If Hindustan was to lose the Mughals, its rulers of nearly three hundred years’ standing, it would at least now be ruled by a properly constituted colonial government rather than a rapacious multinational acting at least partly in the interests of its shareholders.*79
  73. All this exacerbated the sudden shift of power from the Muslim elite, who had dominated the city before the Uprising, to the Hindu bankers, who were its most wealthy citizens afterwards. “The capital is in the hands of one or two men like Chhunna Mal and Mahesh Das,” wrote Edward Campbell in 1858.41 What remained of the court circle and the Mughal aristocracy were by and large left penniless. A few survived on a pittance as schoolteachers and tutors.
  74. Although a Bahadur Shah Zafar road still survives in Delhi, as indeed do roads named after all the other Great Mughals, for many Indians today, rightly or wrongly, the Mughals are perceived as it suited the British to portray them in the imperial propaganda that they taught in Indian schools after 1857: as sensual, decadent, temple-destroying invaders—something that was forcefully and depressingly demonstrated by the whole episode of the demoliton of the Baburi Masjid at Ayodhya in 1992.
  75. But while Zafar was certainly never cut out to be a heroic or revolutionary leader, he remains, like his ancestor the Emperor Akbar, an attractive symbol of Islamic civilisation at its most tolerant and pluralistic. He was himself a notable poet and calligrapher; his court contained some of the most talented artistic and literary figures in modern South Asian history; and the Delhi he presided over was undergoing one of its great periods of learning, self-confidence, communal amity and prosperity.
  76. Above all, Zafar always put huge emphasis on his role as a protector of the Hindus and the moderator of Muslim demands. He never forgot the central importance of preserving the bond between his Hindu and Muslim subjects, which he always recognised was the central stitching that held his capital city together. Throughout the Uprising, his refusal to alienate his Hindu subjects by subscribing to the demands of the jihadis was probably his single most consistent policy.
  77. As before, Western Evangelical politicians are apt to cast their opponents and enemies in the role of “incarnate fiends” and conflate armed resistance to invasion and occupation with “pure evil.” Again Western countries, blind to the effect their foreign policies have on the wider world, feel aggrieved to be attacked—as they interpret it—by mindless fanatics.
  78. As we have seen in our own time, nothing threatens the liberal and moderate aspect of Islam so much as aggressive Western intrusion and interference in the East, just as nothing so dramatically radicalises the ordinary Muslim and feeds the power of the extremists: the histories of Islamic fundamentalism and Western imperialism have, after all, often been closely, and dangerously, intertwined. There are clear lessons here. For, in the celebrated words of Edmund Burke,82 himself a fierce critic of Western aggression in India, those who fail to learn from history are always destined to repeat it.
What I got out of it
  1. A very well written history about the brutal conflict between India and Britain in the 19th century

Fallen Leaves: Last Words on Life, Love, War and God by Will Durant

  1. The personal, distilled wisdom and beliefs of Will Durant on life’s important topics. Answered clearly, simply and imperfectly
Key Takeaways
  1. Man is always steeped in the ways and views of his youth and is almost constantly constitutionally incapable of understanding the changing world that assails him
  2. We love children because they are extensions of ourselves and because they embody unlimited potential. They are what we cannot be – uninhibited, transparently selfish, un hypocritical, spontaneous. Children and fools speak the truth and somehow find happiness in their sincerity. They learn by imitation and teach us what we really are by how they behave
  3. Childhood could be called the age of play and therefore some children are never young and some adults never old. Never give up play as this will speed up aging and lower quality of life.
  4. Every philosopher should also be an athlete. If he is not, let us examine the philosophy
  5. Health lies in action and to be busy is the secret of grace and half the secret of content. Let us ask God not for possessions but for things to do for happiness lies in making things rather than consuming them
  6. The tragedy of life is that it only gives us wisdom once it has stolen youth. If the young but knew how and the old but could
  7. Nothing learned in a book is of any use until it is used and verified in life. It is life which educates
  8. At the same time as children transition to youth and begin examining themselves, they also begin examining the world. They become afraid at learning their species’ true nature – cooperation within the family but competition with society
  9. If youth were wise they would put love above all else and not fall into the trap that so many do of trading it for money, fame or other external recognition. Making all else subordinate to it until the end. How can it matter what price we pay for love
  10. Life seems brutal because we think we are individuals when in fact we are temporary organs of the species. The individual fails but life succeeds
  11. Logic is an invention of man and may be ignored by the universe
  12. Only one thing is certain in history, decade. Only one thing is certain in life, death
  13. Death, like style, is the removal of the superfluous
  14. One recounting of history may be recounted by the avatars of God. The replacing of one deity for another by an overtaking tribe is seen time and again and a list of the changing gods would make quite a directory for the changing of the guard
  15. Heaven and hell are not located in another world, they are simply states of mind
  16. Religions are not made by the intellect or else they would never touch the soul, reach the masses or have any longevity. The imagination must be moved and inspire courage, compassion and moral development
  17. It can be argued that morality and civilization are one. Durant defines morality as the consistency of private conduct with public interest as understood by the group
  18. Moral self-restraint is one of the surest guarantees to advancement and self-fulfillment
  19. We must respect differing opinions. Intolerance is the door to violence, brutality and dictatorship and the realization of human interdependence and solidarity is the best protection of civilization.
  20. Women generally acquire by instinct all that men acquire by intellect
  21. “I admire the architecture of woman…Her movement is poetry become flesh.”
  22. The art which has most obviously and visibly made progress over the last thousand years is the art of war
  23. The state is the soul of man enlarged under the microscope of history
  24. Greed and wealth originally arose as a hedge against starvation but later became vices as abundance and social norms no longer made them necessary for survival
  25. Prejudice is deadly to religion but vital to civilization
  26. The first law of government is self preservation, the second is self extension
  27. Peace is war by other means
  28. Humankind has waited for centuries for a cease to war through a raising of consciousness but there is no broad, humankind consciousness
  29. Character – a rational harmony and hierarchy of desires in coordination with capacity
  30. Wisdom – an application of experience to present problems
  31. Education is the perfection of life and there should be 3 tenets on which to base education and its goals:
    1. The control of life through health, character, intelligence and technology
    2. The enjoyment of life through friendship, literature, nature and art
    3. The understanding of life through history, science, religion and philosophy
  32. There is nothing Epicurean about desiring a healthy and strong body as this allows us the possibility for a happy and long life and to pursue our goals. He would have dietitians teach students an hour per day on the basics and benefits of a healthy diet and exercise
  33. The point of education is not to create scholars but to form people
  34. There is a big difference between intellect and intelligence. Intellect is the capacity for acquiring and using ideas. Intelligence is the ability to use experience, even the experience of other’s, for the clarification and attainment of one’s ends. Intelligence is garnered from experience, action, reading
  35. An intimate knowledge and experience with nature and sports should not be undervalued
  36. Learning language and culture is most natural and easiest when living and immersing yourself in it
  37. Psychology is a theory of human behavior. Philosophy is too often an ideal of human behavior. History is occasionally a record of human behavior
  38. No man is fit to lead if he cannot see his time in perspective of history
  39. Travel, if too varied and hurried, makes the mind superficial and can confirm stereotypes
  40. Much of history is bunk. However, there is an alternate view to history. History is man’s rise from savagery to civilization. History is the record of the lasting contributions made to man’s knowledge, wisdom, arts, morals, manners, skills. History is a laboratory rich in a hundred thousand experiments in economics, religion, literature, science and government. History is our roots and our illumination as the road by which we came and the only light that can clarify our present and future. This history is not bunk and can even be considered the only true philosophy and the only true psychology
  41. The present is merely the past rolled up and concentrated into this moment of time
  42. We are choked with news and starved of history
  43. History is philosophy teaching by example
  44. A constant lesson from history is that revolutionists soon come to act like the men they overthrew
  45. You cannot make men equal simply by passing laws
What I got out of it
  1. At times a bit outdated, patronizing and patriarchal but chock full of wisdom and worth reading and re-reading

The Path Between the Seas: The Creation of the Panama Canal by David McCullough

  1. McCullough’s master story-telling skills are evident through this epic tale of the construction of the Panama Canal
Key Takeaways
  1. Apart from Great Wars, the building of the Panama Canal was the largest, costliest effort attempted anywhere on Earth
  2. A vision of cutting through Central America to connect the Atlantic and Pacific had been around since the 1500s but it wasn’t until the late 1800s that it became feasible. This would not only be a boon to global commerce but help America assert itself as the Western Hemisphere’s superpower
  3. The success of the Panama Railroad in the 1850s showed glimpses for how much demand there was (mostly from the California gold rush and other trade) and paved the way for the canal some 30 years later. A gap found in the mountains and the proof that the sea levels were not too different made the project more realistic. The construction was brutal due to disease, poisonous animals and an impossibly thick jungle and there are estimate that that 6-12,000 died throughout its construction. Nicaragua was a competing pass between the oceans and was originally funded by Cornelius Vanderbilt. Selfridge was the first American to explore Central America for plausible routes and although he failed, determined it must be Panama
  4. The two oceans came closer together at The Gulf of San Blas that at any other point in Central America
  5. The French were the first to take a crack at building the canal and it was Ferdinand de Lesseps who led the effort. De Lesseps had gravitas due to his ability to get the Suez Canal built due to his friendship with the new Viceroy of Egypt. He had no rank, no office, didn’t represent any group, defied financiers and people with technical ability but spurred enthusiasm and belief in the project – an original entrepreneur with no desire for money but wanted to improve the world
  6. Although there were many geographic and technical reasons not to build the canal in panama, de Lesseps had such standing and influence due to success at Suez that he was able to overcome great opposition and get the project passed. The project was estimated to cost $240m and take 12 years to build. The stock issue was a great disaster but didn’t dissuade de Lesseps one bit and was able to raise most of the money from French investors alone. His trip to Panama and healthy return brought massive enthusiasm for the project from the French population. The stock issue for La Compagnie Universelle ended up being the largest in history as the undertaking was to be the most expensive and audacious attempted thus far in human history. It ended up becoming a matter of national pride for France and Panama became synonymous with a fantastic investment in France. De Lesseps success at Suez gave him great influence over the crowd and his building it up blinded people to the immense difficulties that lay ahead
  7. The project turned out to be way more expensive and take way longer than was originally planned so a bond issue had to be made in France. De Lesseps built the hype and got hundreds of thousands of Frenchmen to sell what few possessions they had in order to buy more stock and bond. However, unfortunately, the minimum amount needed to keep the company afloat was not raised and they had to declare bankruptcy. This was one of the world’s largest and most painful financial failures, bringing ruin to hundreds of thousands of common citizens and later brought bankruptcy to France as a whole and toppled the government. Ferdinand’s son, engineer Eiffel, Hertz and many other highly esteemed men behind the Panama Canal were brought to trial and many were financially ruined. The French effort went bankrupt after spending about $285m and losing an estimated 20k lives due to diseases and accidents, financially ruining over 800k French investors. De Lesseps, his son, Eiffel and others were prosecuted and found guilty of misappropriating funds
  8. Teddy Roosevelt became president after William McKinley was assassinated. He truly brought in the 20th century and had mass, nationwide appeal. Teddy had a vision for the US as a global, commanding power and the canal which breached the Atlantic and Pacific was the surest way to get there
  9. Nicaragua seemed like the US’ choice for where to build the canal but Teddy Roosevelt changed it to Panama last minute. Bunau Varilla was a French soldier and engineer who greatly influenced Teddy’s decision to build in Panama instead. The decision was passed in the Senate in 1903 and was heavily influenced by the engineer’s insistence on Panama rather than Nicaragua. America was going to buy the land from Colombia but thought they were trying to screw the US so they instead planted revolutionaries in Panama and let them know that they’d have the backing of the US if they were to overthrow the Colombians who were currently in charge of Panama. Panama soon declared independence and the US recognized them as a nation and gained the rights to build and indefinitely administer the Panama Canal Zone and its defenses
  10. Teddy Roosevelt changed the treaty with Panama so that the US would act as the sovereign and would hold the zone in perpetuity rather than leasing it for 100 years. Bunau Varilla signed the treaty in 1903 along with Hay without truly understanding the changes he had agreed to. He thought the US would cease protecting Panama if they did not immediately ratify but Teddy was so set on Panama that this was unlikely
  11. Malaria and yellow fever killed so many people that they made a concerted effort to figure out how to stop or at least stem the diseases. They made slow but considerable progress and determined that mosquitoes were the culprits and went through great lengths to limit the amount of mosquitoes and their access to sick patients. Gorgas was head of sanitation and was vital in this effort and after two years nearly eliminated the mosquito-spread tropical diseases
  12. The Americans eventually came to understand better than the French that the construction of the canal was essentially a railroad problem (to transport the dirt away from the site). They hired and promoted men with a lot of railroad experience. John Frank Stevens was a self taught engineer who had built the Great Northern Railroad with James J. Hill. He took over from Wallace and bypassed much of the stifling bureaucracy by going directly to Teddy with requests, drastically speeding up the process
  13. Roosevelt visited Panama in 1906 to see the progress and became the first president to leave America while in office
  14. George Washington Goethals was named chief engineer by Teddy in 1907 in order to oversee the administration and supervision of the construction after Stevens stepped down. McCullough argues that Goethals should receive the majority of the credit for the successful construction of the Panama Canal – ahead of schedule, below budget and with no bribery or kickbacks
  15. The canal was an engineering feat for the ages. The locks were the largest by far, taller than all but a handful of buildings in modern day New York. The scale of materials used, especially steel and concrete is pretty much unsurpassed even today. The scale of everything is hard to even imagine. They utilized the flow of water to power generators, allowing the locks to power themselves. Though the steel and cement manufacturing was vital, General Electric played the most important role in building and installing all the electrical equipment and power generators
  16. The Panama Canal was the embodiment of the power of the United States at this time and showed how far the industrial revolution had taken it
  17. The only issue with the canal have been consistent landslides but given the scale and grandeur, this is a minimal problem. It worked almost perfectly from day 1
What I got out of it
  1. I didn’t appreciate the scale and effort that went into building the Panama Canal. The war on mosquitoes and tropical diseases was also interesting to learn about. Geopolitical relations and events in Central America and how this effort affected them, how expertly the canal was built so that even today it works pretty much flawlessly, how big of an impact the initial failure had on the French economy and how much Teddy Roosevelt championed this effort

Intellectuals by Paul Johnson

  1. A good summary of some of history’s most influential intellectuals, how they were influential and some of the darker sides of their personalities
Key Takeaways
  1. Recently, for the first time in history, intellectuals have the freedom to openly express their thoughts and beliefs without fearing for their lives. This is led to their outsized influence over the last several decades.
  2. Jean-Jacques Rousseau
    1.  One of the first modern intellectuals to believe that the system could be changed so intellectuals would have the freedom to think and express themselves.
    2. He believed that in order to change man’s behavior the culture and environment in which he lives would need to change as well.
    3. Rousseau came from a wealthy Swiss family and his mother died at a early age and his father was often violent. He grew up wealthy and ended up with a lot of self-pity.
    4. Was a failure in pretty much every sense until he was 39 when he wrote his Essays which became wildly popular. One of his later books was clearly anti-Catholic and almost got him arrested.
    5. Rousseau was perhaps mentally sick but at least paranoid and had dementia but his incredible skill as a writer made him one of the most influential writers in history and one of the ultimate seekers of truth and virtue and the “friend of mankind.”
    6. One of his more popular works, Confessions, was found to be riddled with lies and inconsistencies. This was common throughout his works but his skill as a writer made people forget about it.
    7. Believed that virtue was the product of good government and therefore politics must be the center of man’s life. He believed that the state should have complete control over man and his education in order to get the most out of him
    8. Widely influenced the Enlightenment as well as French Revolution
  3. Shelley
    1. Believe that intellectuals had a moral duty to help restructure society for the better. Social progress can only be made if it is guided by an ethical guidelines
    2. Published a paper in college espousing atheism which promptly got him expelled. This followed him throughout his life as publishers were reluctant to publish anything for fear of blasphemy or sedition. This lead to the poet not being recognized during his life time but his influence is widely felt today and influenced many great thinkers from Marx to Gandhi.
    3. Instability, danger and excitement were seemingly a prerequisite for this contradictory poet’s life. He lived a very promiscuous life and ended up having 7 Holstein by 3 different women and died at a young age of 29
  4. Karl Marx
    1. Has had a wider influence on thought and actual events than any other due to his thoughts and policies being implemented in two of the worlds largest countries – Russia and China. Lenin, Stalin and Mao Tse-Tung were all faithful Marxists and deep believers in his line of thought
    2. Marx was heavily influenced by the Talmud
    3. Marx was a great journalist and a compelling writer but many of his famous phrases, such as “religion is the opium of the masses”, was taken from others
    4. Determined that social ills stemmed from the ruling or bourgeois class and that he working class needed to cast off their chains and regain the world. In this new world, the intellectuals would form the elite and the proletariat the foot soldiers
    5. Marx so praised science but his approach to Marxism was wholly unscientific
  5. Ibsen
    1. Ibsen managed to reshape theater from a country, Norway, that had little to no cultural background. He is widely considered to be the most important playwright since Shakespeare and considered the father of realism
    2. Ibsen was close to an alcoholic, very  vain, destitute before becoming a famous playwright, estranged from his family
    3. Ibsen was a loner and had trouble with relationships. He believed that friends were a luxury and if that you wanted to dedicate yourself completely to some pursuit most friendships would likely not last
    4. He was totally against democracy because he believed that most people are not fit to have an opinion.
    5. One of his plays “A Doll house” helped launch the feminism movement as it showed marriage not as sacrosanct and also that a husbands power could be questioned
  6. Tolstoy
    1. The most ambitious of the intellectuals described in that he thought he could enact a moral revolution and bright the Kingdom of Christ to life. Felt divinely possessed and his nonviolent beliefs influenced Gandhi and MLK. However it is hard to consider whole story a Christian as he simply took the parts from the Bible that he agreed with and dispensed with the rest
    2. May be the greatest novelist of all time. He was better able to describe mans nature than anybody else
    3. Born into a high class family but wasn’t very rich. This made him feel apart and above the majority
    4. Tolstoy had issues with women and gambling and while he was very distraught over certain sins, others he was able to ignore completely
  7. Emerson
    1. Emerson is the quintessential American intellectual. He became a national hero and the embodiment of thinking although much of his work was convoluted and difficult to understand. Essayist, lecturer and poet
    2. Lead the transcendentalist and individualist movements. Believed all things connected to God and therefore all is divine. Truth could be experienced directly from nature
  8. Hemingway
    1. Was the archetypal American of the time and one of the greatest authors. He was a perfectionist in his prose and read voraciously. He painstakingly developed his unique style which revolutionized prose. Truth, honor and loyalty in his writing was his core goal, lack of adjectives and just quality. However, his promiscuous and lie-filled life shows he had different standards for himself
    2. Despite his parent’s deep religion and pressure, Hemingway was an atheist
    3. Hemingway was a man of action who loved war, hunting and big game fishing. He served as a war time journalist and later supported many communist regimes.
    4. Hemingway was a chronic alcoholic and often injured himself due to drunkenness. The quality of his work of course suffered and he could not live with this so he killed himself
  9. Bertolt Brecht
    1. Became the most influential theater producer in the world. He used women and totally ignored his family. The author notes that he seems to be the only intellectual who does not have a single redeeming feature
  10. Bertrand Russell
    1. One of the more influential philosophers, writers, logicians, mathematicians and more of the 20th century and wrote about every imaginable topic. Considered the Socrates of the 1900s
    2. His mathematical background lead him to believe that anything could be solved with pure reason – analytic philosophy
    3. Anti war activist and railed against nazism and Stalin as well as us occupation of Vietnam
    4. He was a womanizer and failed as a father but had a tremendous influence on every field from artificial  intelligence and computer science to epistemology and metaphysics
  11. Sartre
    1. Like Russell, a philosopher, writer and playwright who aimed to reach the masses
    2. He was very egotistical And spoiled as a child
    3. He believed that mans actions, his deeds, not his words, determined his life. Paradoxically, much like the other intellectuals, he could not live his life according to his beliefs. He wrote a lot about anti-Nazism but took little action
    4. He preached freedom and existentialism at a time when the public were hungry for it. Nothing is so powerful as an idea whose time has come
    5. Bad faith – spiritually destructive conformity
    6. Hell is other people
    7. Open relationship with Simone de Beauvoir
  12. Edmund Wilson
    1. American writer who inherited a love for truth from his father and known for shrewd and objective writing. Explored Freudian and Marxian themes
  13. Victor Gollancz
    1. British publisher and humanitarian who advocated for helping Germany post WWII when that idea was quite unpopular. He was against everything “anti” and “pro” as he was for all humanity
    2. He was very liberal with the truth and would only publish what he agreed with. He often eliminated entire passages because they disagreed with him. He wanted to publish slanted books without them appearing to be slanted
    3. Very degrading to women like many of the other intellectuals described
  14. Lilly Hellman
    1. American dramatist and playwright who had several successful Broadway plays. She was politically active and later became known as a staunch Stalinist which hurt her reputation
  15. George Orwell
  16. Connelly
  17. Norman Mailer
    1. Like many of the intellectuals, spoiled as a child and had an overburdening mother. He ended up very vain and violent
  18. Tynan
  19. Baldwin
  20. Chomsky
    1. Linguist who came up with the theory that humans have inmate structures of mind and therefore social engineering is immoral
    2. Like many other actuals discussed Chomsky made the intellectual leap of thinking that because he was an expert in one area he had the knowledge and the right to speak in public affairs and about morality
  21. One of the takeaways from this book is that you should beware and be skeptical of intellectuals opinions on areas they are not expert in. Also always remember that people are more important than ideas
What I got out of it
  1. Many of these people had tremendous impact on the world and even if you see their impact as positive, many had extreme flaws which hurt themselves, their spouses and family and in Marx’s case millions of people. Everyone is human and has their flaws

Washington: A Life by Ron Chernow


  1. Chernow’s goal is to make Washington as close to the living, breathing figure he was to his contemporaries, rather than the lifeless role model he is today to most people. He was only able to achieve so much because he could bottle and funnel his intense emotion to his noble cause
Key Takeaways
  1. Washington always sought to conceal his feelings and not express too much emotion. He was a master at controlling his emotions but when he cracked, he was full of great wrath. Opacity was his means for influence and shaping events. He commanded respect from all because people knew how emotional and passionate he was, yet how well he managed these emotions. He possessed the gift of listening and self command but only after work hard at attaining these traits
  2. Washington’s great grandfather was a successful military man who later came to possess thousands of acres in Virginia and this wealth would be eventually passed down to George. Washington’s father remarried to Marry Ball after his first wife died and she would have a tremendous influence on George. She was a very moral woman who stood strong in times adversity but had a temper. Washington’s father died young and forced Washington to take much responsibility at a young age. His mother was tough and they did not have a loving relationship. She made George uneasy with criticism and emotionally closed. His older brother Lawrence was a great influence on him and pushed him to pursue a military career
  3. Washington is an incredible case of self improvement as he had little to no formal education but was self taught through books and experience. Washington is a story of self construction. Washington was also a physical specimen – taller than 6′ with almost comically large hands and feet, athletic, graceful and a good dancer
  4. Washington’s first job was as a land surveyor and this would influence his future love of land and land speculation
  5. Already by the age of 22 Washington had distinguished himself militarily and politically but a skirmish with the French almost ruined his reputation. However, he acted bravely and his reputation was soon restored. He learned early on the effectiveness of guerrilla type warfare that the Native Americans fought. Washington had to learn to mask his ambition as he too often butted heads with more senior leaders. He often felt slighted by the British military traditions and was sometimes passed for deserving promotions
  6. Early on Washington decided it was of utmost importance to have a loyal and well trained army. He was able to take a ragtag group and instill some training and order into this already courageous group. He came to love his men and through his leadership and courage on the battlefield, his men came to love him too – was able to get the most out of his men 
  7. Washington married Martha Dandridge Custis, a short, wealthy widow with a warm, even temperament. She had two children, Jackie and Patsy, who Washington adopted. The oldest son, Jackie, was a jet setter and ignored the education Washington so badly wanted as a youth. Patsy died young and caused her parents much grief but it gave Washington a sizable inheritance which helped a lot with his large debt and to expand Mt. Vernon. He had no children of his own
  8. Washington was strict but relatively fair and humane with his slaves
  9. Washington was extremely prompt and believed a judicious and efficient use of time was a sure path to success
  10. The Tea Party was a seminal moment as it furthered the colonists’ aversion to taxation without representation. Washington, having been out of the military since his glory days of the French and Indian War, took an important political position at this time and much frustration with the British began bubbling over in him and advocated a petition of British goods and perhaps even military action. Washington was soon elected to the First Continental Congress. He was soon after unanimously elected to be the commander in chief of the continental army once it was assembled. His wealth and self command made him a popular choice. His ragtag army from every corner of the colonies was difficult to unite and train but they showed more courage and will than any other army. There were many other obstacles too such as lack of gunpowder, fewer fit men than he had anticipated and much more. His self command was vital at this time in order to keep his men optimistic even though he knew how dismal the situation looked. Secrecy and deception were key tools he used throughout the war. Washington saw the war as a struggle of good vs evil and urged his men to treat POW humanely and to be a model citizen for all the colonies. Creating a draft was not politically possible at this time and Washington eventually decided to bar slaves from serving but free blacks were allowed in
  11. Washington was careful but a bit unorthodox in his selection of high ranking generals. General Greene had almost no military experience and General Knox was very overweight. Washington bucked his aristocratic streak and gave promising men the opportunity to rise and learn although they didn’t seem to have the credentials. Nearly all the men he chose performed admirably. Washington excelled as a leader because he was able to select the men he saw as most able and then get the most out of them. After the war, Washington assembled one of the most impressive and effect cabinet members in history, notably Hamilton as Secretary of Treasury and Jefferson as Secretary of State
  12. Thomas Paine’s Common Sense energized a demoralized American army and the populace for American independence
  13. Washington was able to win back Boston from the British by setting up cannons in the middle of the night and scaring the British. This was a great victory with no deaths and Washington was praised the country over
  14. The American army were getting beat early but Washington pulled some military magic and got some much needed victories at Trenton and Princeton. Washington portrayed a mystique and energy which won him over the admiration and respect of every man under his command
  15. Hamilton was very young when he became Washington’s aide de camp and helped extensively with any written correspondence. They made a great team but their very different personalities often clashed
  16. Horatio Gates rose through the military ranks and while he won several important battles, he butted heads with Washington as he tried to blacken his name and remove him from his position as general
  17. Marquis de Lafayette became Washington’s protege and one of the key commanders of the American Revolution. Baron Von Steuben introduced order and uniformity across the army
  18. It is to Washington’s credit that he studied England’s weaknesses but also her strengths in order to determine what practices to exploit and which to emulate. With Hamilton’s influence, Washington established the national debt and national bank
  19. Washington had full faith in Benedict Arnold and was shaken and distraught when he found out he had a betrayed his country
  20. Washington greatest achievement laid in cobbling together unifying and motivating a dove verse group of people who had to come over substantial odds to be the British army
  21. Washington’s view on abolition softened over his tenure and throughout the war
  22. After the United States Britain the prospect of keys was difficult for Washington too. He was worried about exerting his own influence and speaking his mind on what he used to be the correct course of action for the United States after gaining independence. Washington ceding his power after the war was one of his most important and meaningful acts. He understood his power to be “on rent” and returned it as soon as it was appropriate to do so. Washington had a very busy public life, entertaining thousands of people who wanted to see and meet this great hero. Washington was nominated to be president a couple years later which again but him in a non partisan role
  23. Washington left Martha and Mt. Vernon for over 4 months to join the Constitutional Convention which drew up the Constitution. As the Constitution was ratified, Washington was expected to put it into action as the first President. This expectation was likely a major cause for the great support the Constitution received. That Washington willingly gave up his military power after the war, was seen as reluctantly accepting the presidential nomination and the fact he had no children added to people’s desire for him to lead. His no children made it less likely that power would simply be handed down
  24. Washington never lost his stylish desire and lived quite lavishly although he faced significant financial worries
  25. Washington saw the VP as the head of the legislature which diminished Adam’s role and influence
  26. After having the capital in Philadelphia for a temporary 10 year stint, Washington, Jefferson and L’enfant chose the site and designed America’s new capital in Washington DC
  27. It was vital that Washington serve as president although he was reluctant to step back into the public light. He was sure he’d retire after his first term but there was much fraction and his continued tenure was necessary for the success of the new nation
  28. Washington rose even higher in people’s minds when he willingly gave up political power after his second term. Washington’s farewell address touched on many important political points and took a clear Federalist stance. He thought there should be commercial over political ties and that a strong central government was important for the future success of the country. His just actions and influential decisions forever shaped the presidential role and proved that a republic could be run without absolute authority and that the leader is an extension of the people. His biggest failings lay in not abolishing slavery and the poor dealings with Native American uprisings 
  29. Adams became the second president and Jefferson the VP
  30. Washington was able to put his conscience at ease once he revised his will and freed all the slaves he owned once he passed away
What I got out of it
  1. Learning about Washington the man was really interesting to me. His desire to keep learning, his like of English fashion and at times extravagant spending, how indebted he became during the war, his relationship with Martha which was more friendly than loving and the raging temper which was buried beneath his icy interior

The Lessons of History by Will and Ariel Durant


  1. Will and Ariel Durant provide an unparalleled multi-disciplinary recount of history, covering major themes, events and people. This 100 page book is an incredible summary of their 10,000+ page series, The Story of Civilization.
Key Takeaways
  1. History captures how man has behaved for 6,000 years and learning this will help protect you and avoid poor decisions
  2. Through much war and tragedy man has survived and prospered – one of the main lessons to take from studying history
  3. Man competes with each other and pushed himself, others and groups as a whole to become better. This competition helps man reach new heights and learn new things. Life needs to breed in order to pass down these competitive advantages to future generations. Competition is inevitable and necessary as only the fittest survive
  4. History is only a fraction of biology
  5. History is a humorist
  6. Throughout the ages man has changed his behavior but cannot change human nature, his instincts
  7. The role of having character developed in people so they could rise to the occasion
  8. Moral codes adjust and adapt to the prevailing social conditions
  9. At one point, every vice was a virtue. Sexual promiscuity secured survival but today seen as a vice, etc.
  10. There are many more things that should enter a man’s thoughts and decisions than just reason – sentiment, tenderness, mystery, affection. Reason is just a tool but character is based on instincts and intuition and reason can therefore not be the sole defining characteristic of man
  11. Freedom is a trial, it is a terrific test. When we made ourselves free (through reason) we forgot to make ourselves intelligent
  12. Nature does not agree with man’s definition of good and bad. For nature, that which is good is what survived and that which is bad goes under
  13. Morality is dependent upon religion and religion gives man hope that he can survive life, that he can bear reality
  14. Insanity is the loss of memory
  15. God is a creative force in any way He appears. God is love too, but love is only one of many creative forces
  16. “Economics is history in motion” – Karl Marx
  17. Socialist states have been around for thousands of years – the Incas and the Chinese being the most successful
  18. The essence of beauty is order. Must balance order and liberty to have a successful state
  19. Peace is not unrealistic but you are fighting an uphill battle against history. War doesn’t really solve anything but replaces one set of problems for another
  20. Civilization is social order leading to cultural creation – human relationships, trade and commerce, art, government, etc.
  21. History repeats itself at large, but not in detail. All civilizations decay either from internal strife or lack of trade and commerce
  22. Durant is not an optimist and not a pessimist but a realist about the future. Hard to say if progressing or regressing – simply changing
  23. Progress is glacially slow and human nature has hardly changed in thousands of years. Progress means attaining the same ends (sex, wealth and health) through more efficient means
  24. If humans are different today than 50,000 years ago it is because our accumulated social culture is stronger and more refined than before, not because our biological nature has changed
  25. History is philosophy teaching by examples
  26. The excess of anything leads to its opposite reaction. (e.g., the excess of liberty leads to slavery)
  27. Every generation rebels against the preceding one
  28. If youth but knew and old age but could
  1. Pound for pound may have the most wisdom of any book. An amazing summary of history’s major events and themes. Social order leading to cultural creation is one of man’s defining accomplishments and without it we might still be living in caves. Also, the idea of history being philosophy in motion I thought was a great way to think about it

Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power by Jon Meacham

  1. Interesting biography on the philosopher/politician who was responsible for writing the Declaration of Independence, the Louisiana Purchase, instilling a belief in America of continuous improvement and more
Key Takeaways
  1. Can be considered one of the most successful political figures of The first 50 years of the American republic (1743-1826). His dynasty of similar thinking presidents was unmatched and their goal was the development and furtherance of a popular government – the will of an enlightened majority should prevail. The public is the hope and savior of the republic – opposite the view of the Federalists
  2. The greatest leaders are not dreamers nor dictators but those who understand the mechanics of influence and know when to change their minds. People are always torn between the ideal and the real. The true leaders know how to balance this tension. Jefferson’s combination of philosopher and politician is what helped make him so powerful
  3. His escape was Monticello and he was very well read and multidimensional in his talents and studies.
  4. Foes thought of him as an atheist, dreamer, womanizer, Francophile.
  5. Responsible for the rise of individualism, Louisiana purchase and the opening of the west, Lewis and Clark expedition, democratic move in America to check the power of established forces, gave the nation the idea of American progress and the future will be better than the past. Thought of as the designer of America
  6. Jefferson was very worried and perhaps paranoid about Britain and anything remotely resembling monarchy. He considered America in a perennial war and nothing in America to be secure
  7. Jefferson’s father was a rich and powerful farmer who taught him how to wield and handle power effectively. His father died when he was 14 but his mother was very impressive and held down the home
  8. Jefferson headed to William and Mary where he was exposed to the world of politics
  9. Jefferson considered sloth and indolence a sin and was known to spend 15 hours per day studying and reading. Believed history is philosophy teaching by example and spent a lot of time studying history to know how to respond when it repeats itself
  10. Jefferson married Martha Wales Skelton in 1772 when he was 28. His first daughter Jane died before her second birthday and was devastating for him and his wife
  11. Jefferson played a critical role in the second continental congress which was charged with prepping the country for war against Britain
  12. Jefferson was elected governor of Virginia at a very unstable time where Britain was threatening to attack and abolish slavery. Jefferson was not a great leader during this time and failed to react quickly enough to stave off Benedict Arnold, Cornwallis and the English. Soon after he retired from his post and spent much time at Monticello in an almost secluded manner. Although many were fascinated and awed by Jefferson, he considered himself a failure at this point in his life
  13. His wife died when he was only 39 and it caused him severe depression
  14. Jefferson took the post of US Minister to France and moved to Paris with his eldest daughter, Patsy. His goal was to study and adapt the best European inventions, designs and other ways of life for American use. He was enamored with the French culture and later criticized for being a Francophile. He was Franklin’s successor and promoted a strong and united America for Europe. He lived quite lavishly and became close friends with John Adams and his family until e moved back to the US to become Secretary of State
  15. After a contentious bill to abolish slavery was not passed, Jefferson decided it was not worth his political reputation to fight for an idea who’s time he believed had not yet come
  16. Sally Hemings was the slave Jefferson had sexual relations with and was in fact his wife’s half sister
  17. Jefferson butted heads with Alexander Hamilton who was Secretary of the Treasury and who wanted to fund a national debt, charter a national bank, absorb state debts and raise funds from tariffs on imports and liquor. They had a lifelong rivalry that would shape the nation      Republican vs Federalist. Populist vs monarchist
  18. The meeting of principles must often be undertaken away from the public eye
  19. Jefferson retired as Secretary of State but soon returned and won the VP nomination. He was instrumental during the quasi war with France which never escalated to full out warfare
  20. Jefferson was elected as the third president of the US with Aaron Burr as his VP
  21. Although a populist and widely believed in the will of the people, Jefferson was very aware of how important it was to have differing opinions and public discourse. To try to minimize that would lead to tyranny
  22. Tensions with Spain arose as Jefferson expanded and explored the continent westward. However, he decided a stance of neutrality would best serve the nation and did not sign any treaties with Britain
  23. Jefferson, like nearly all politicians, was forced to moderate and compromise his political ideals once he was actually in office
  24. Aaron Burr posed a bug threat for some time as he was thought to be building a militia in the west with possible hopes of either attacking or splitting off from America to form his own empire
  25. Time often resolves the problems of the hour
  26. An attack by a British ship on an American ship almost lead to war and in this time of crisis Jefferson greatly expanded the power of the executive branch. He enacted a very controversial embargo
  27. Jefferson retired after his second term to Monticello where he spent much time with family and studying. He eventually made amends with Adams and corresponded with him regularly
  28. Jefferson fought through old age and illness to make it to his last Fourth of July in 1826
What I got out of it
  1. After reading Hamilton and John Adams, I wanted to get a different perspective and Meacham provided that. Jefferson was a politician/philosopher who believed in the common people and instilled in the nation a sense of progress where the future can always be better than the past