Tag Archives: Politics

The Last Lion by William Manchester

Summary

  1. Manchester describes not only the man, but the times, context, history, background, “gestalt” in which he lived. “This is a biography and not a history, but you are often confused because they are in fact quite different. A biography details the life, context, times, and decisions of a man and is not merely a chronological recounting of the past. As a biographer, we try to re-create an illusion of the man’s life to give people a true sense for who they were and the circumstances they were dealt.”

Key Takeaways


Vol. 1: 1847-1932 Visions of Glory

  1. Many men have judgment, few have insight. He was an extroverted intuitive and his capacity to inspire and unite was unrivaled. He preferred to work by intuition and impulse rather than analysis. This is what the country needed at this time but it rubbed many people the wrong way. Most men misjudge their importance, Churchill did not. He was indispensable
  2. In the age of the specialist, he was the antithesis. He was a Renaissance man in every sense of the word. The defender of freedom, a poet a writer, a statesman, a politician, a biographer, a historian, one who is a force of character and can never be summed up easily. He is one of history‘s great men.  It is pointless to expect consistency and balance in genius.  He was different from other men and had what seemed to be built in shock absorbers that allowed him to continue on through all his defeat and downturns.  It was said that one of the strongest traits was his ability to focus on one thing and doing it exceedingly exceedingly well. That is a trait of genius .
  3. Deep insight and not stability were his forte. He knew the British people had to be united when Hitler came to power.
  4. Although Winston was brave and a strategic mastermind, it was his mastery of the English language which set him apart and helped him shape history.
  5. The book begins with a deep dive of the British empire and how large and dominant it was at its height –  spanning 3x the size of the Roman empire! This unstoppable mindset and the belief that it was the British right to rule is important to understand and cover because it heavily influenced Churchill in many ways 
  6. He spoke to the British people, the world, like nobody before or since. He was raw, real, unabashed
  7. In all his life he showed incredible courage – from his time in the military to his final days as a politician. He was accused of loving war but this was not the case. He felt the heaviness but knew he had to step up or things would get much worse
  8. Winston was as much American as he was British. His mother was from New York and he loved her dearly but she neglected him early on. Later, however, because of her promiscuity and relationships with multiple wealthy and influential men, she was able to open many doors for Winston. His nurse was the most important person in his life until he was 20. He was also beat savagely at his boarding school, was bored in class, and rebelled against authority. His only defense was an unconquerable will and he showed how stubborn and iconoclastic he was early on.  He struggled mightily in school, never achieving good grades and hardly getting into colleges or prestigious schools.  
  9. His father was a prominent politician but played his cards wrong and ended up being kicked out, never to return again. He deeply loved his father and considered him an idol, but his father neglected him and hardly spoke to him because he didn’t achieve in traditional measures. Famous men are typically the product of unhappy childhoods
  10. Churchill had great faith but also believed you have the power to change things. He changed his image to one of an athlete, a bulldog, to display to others his courage and confidence
  11. Churchill is one of the most losing politicians of all time. He switched parties numerous times, rubbed people the wrong way, and was often thought as a charlatan who had a lot of talent and intellect but didn’t know how to harness it 
  12. He always fought for and rooted for the underdog, as he himself was the underdog. He suffered serious bouts of depression and melancholy, was bullied as a kid and never fit in. The most insecure and oppressed people seek external approval and Churchill was no different. He simply wanted people to applaud him and tell him how great his works were, not to offer critical feedback or advice. He always thought that he was destined for greatness and was rather arrogant about it at times. He loved being the center of attention and would often listen to his own speeches and re-read his own work to listen to himself 
  13. It was said that Churchill was a simple man – he simply enjoyed the best of everything 
  14. Churchill never had a feel for the British public. He simply did his own thing. He was born into a society where class differences were prevalent and accepted. It was said that he would’ve been just fine in the feudal society.  His aristocratic heritage was the cause of many blind spots but it was also responsible for his great talents as well. He was never accused for being humble and owned up to that
  15.  Churchill had an incredible memory, able to remember and recite thousands of lines of poetry and what he remembered he hardly forgot.  He was also an incredible writer and made his money as a journalist and author.  Since he was young, the only thing he wanted was become master of the written and spoken word.  He didn’t improvise. He planned and wrote ahead of time and wrote most of his speeches in the bathtub with a cigar. He dictated his speeches to a secretary who typed them up then came the scissors and the glue to rearrange the lines multiple times before the final draft was ready.  The final draft had bigger letters for what he wanted to emphasize spacing between words that he wanted to stress and bolded others what he thought most important 
  16. Churchill was a voracious reader, remembering everything he read and calling the dead authors his friends from whom he often pulled from. He was never a man for small talk
  17.  In his early 20s he got shipped off to India with the British army. It was at this point that he started becoming an auto didactic, reading everything from Aristotle to Plato to Socrates, learning from the lessons of history.  He allowed himself to believe whatever he wanted to believe even if paradoxical or contradictory and let reason take him wherever she might.  It was at this time he decided he wanted to get into parliament, but first he decided he needed to be a famous war hero who displayed courage. He brilliantly manipulated his mother and her lovers so that he could be on the front lines where ever the fiercest battles were 
  18. Churchill had his own path, he fashioned his own life. He didn’t follow anyone 
  19. Churchill went down to South Africa during the Boer War. He was held captive there for some time and showed great courage throughout his time there. Once he came back to Britain, he had earned a lot of political power and recognition. He had parties fighting for him to join their constituencies and the people were excited about him.  He became magnetic around this time and soon a great speaker. He memorized every word he wanted to say, just like his father had.  Nobody put in more work to prepare for his speeches but it was paradoxical that he was also the quickest on his feet. Churchill didn’t care about  approval, he simply wanted attention.  
  20. One of Churchill‘s advantages was his lack of formal education. He questioned everything, thought from first principles, and wasn’t afraid of stating simple truths. These were things which others, who were more buttoned up and had more classical training, did not even consider or were too afraid to even think about 
  21. One must be always ready to change sides, if that is the side of justice.  What is the use of supporting your side only when it’s right? It is exactly at the time when they are wrong, when there is disagreement, that you must step up and speak.  He fought for what he thought was right, not what his party said was right. This made him many enemies on all sides and when he was young, he wasn’t able to handle this solitude too well. He went into deep bouts of depression. He experienced this later on too but managed them and learned how to handle them when he was alone and behind closed doors. He jumped sides early on from a tory to a liberal. One said this was ambition because he could move ahead faster but he retaliated by saying that some men change parties to match their principles whereas others change their principles to match their parties 
  22. Winston as awkward with women. He really only liked talking about himself and abhorred small talk. He eventually became very dependent on his wife but early on he didn’t seem to respect women too much
  23. Traditional religions were losing their grip on the English and they were looking for substitutes. This meant that dogmatic, hardheaded, and simple answers to complex questions attract people because this allows them to have something to hold onto that feels concrete 
  24. By the early 1900s, the British had conquered pretty much everything there was to conquer. This just stifled people’s energy and innovation, making them turn inwards and expecting higher levels of innovation and fulfillment to come from England herself
  25. Men rarely understand the sources of their strength 
  26. His same qualities attracted and repelled – his compulsive and witty conversation offended and attracted
  27. His capacity for work is difficult to even understand but he still had time for polo, leisure, travel, and more. 
  28.  He was in egoist in the true sense of the word – whatever he was focused on was then, by definition, the most important 
  29. England for centuries adopted the grand strategy of allying with the second most powerful country in Europe and that is how they defeated Napoleon, but the strategy was not written down until Churchill came along.  The English Navy also had a mandate that they must be more powerful than the second and third most powerful navies.  
  30. The best admirals do not risk the vessels that they’re given, they win by superior strategy. During World War I, Churchill was the First Admiral and although his thinking and strategies on the war were spot on, he didn’t have authority to fully carry them out. He wanted to open up a second front in the Dardanelles so that they could exploit the Axis Powers unstable ally, Turkey, and gain the upper hand. It didn’t work however because the top brass wasn’t committed and people ended up blaming him for the fiasco and wanted to exclude him from the cabinet after the war. After the war it was determined that if his strategy was followed through correctly and effectively the war could’ve ended several years earlier. He saw that trench warfare was savage and there was no decisive advantage. That’s why he fought so hard for gaining control of the Dardanelles but it didn’t pan out because he didn’t have authority to do things as he saw fit and those in charge we’re stuck in the past and couldn’t change their strategies as the technology changed. Generals tend to fight their last war 
  31. Change is the master key. Particular parts of the mind can be tired by overuse but it can be rested by using other parts of the mind. This is why Churchill loved to draw – it was his escape, a way to recharge
  32. At it’s apex, politics, strategy, economics are all one. 
  33. This understanding of strategy and military maneuvering was second to none.  However, after World War I, he was blamed for many fiascoes and things that he really wasn’t in charge of. During and after the war, Churchill experienced much isolation and criticism. Clementine told him his flaws, how his confrontational nature, need for the limelight, and sharp words earned him many enemies, distancing first rate men and attracting those who were fickle and could turn on him at any time. 
  34. It is amazing what people can justify to themselves by changing their reasoning 
  35. After WWI, the Russian and Bolshevik threat was not wasted on Churchill. He wanted to suppress them militarily but PM Lloyd George was vehemently against it and Winston had learned his lesson that he should not bulldoze his way through life when those who make the ultimate decision are so against it 
  36. One of Churchill’s biggest battles was with Communism. However, he often mistook pink for red and had major battles with the socialist labor unions. He was the Chancellor at this point and doing an excellent job. He was gaining great popularity and people were guessing when he would end up at 10 Downing St. as prime minister but there was hesitation too because he was still independent and not beholden to any one political party 
  37. Churchill was against Gandhi’s freedom of India mostly because it was out of an old school of thought that Britain had to hold onto their colonies or else they would become irrelevant. But, he also argued that the tens of millions of untouchables were in a position worse than slaves and if left alone, the country was and these people would be in a worse position because of all the religious infighting. However, it was also a difficult time to get the British population to really care for it was in the middle of the Great Depression. He was a political pariah through much of this period 
  38. Churchill became one of the world’s highest paid and most prolific writers. He sold books magazines articles and earned a healthy living off these skills 
  39. Churchill was one of the first to see the writing on the wall and understand how dangerous Hitler was and how damaging the treaty of Versailles was.  He recognized some of himself in Hitler even though he understood, before anyone else, the evil vision that Hitler had. Hitler too recognized his greatest foil in Churchill even though Churchill was not in power 

Vol. II: 1932 – 1940 Alone

  1. Churchill loved his baths and was very particular about them. They had to be filled the right amount and at the right temperature before he would jump in. He started every day with breakfast in bed and spent several hours reading editorials and newspapers.
  2. Although he is known for always drinking, he was never drunk and said that he got more out of alcohol than alcohol I’ve gotten out of him 
  3.  Churchill had a faculty for organizing large works, had an uncanny ability to focus on what he was working on in that moment, and did a surprising amount of the first hand reading, writing, and synthesizing of his works 
  4. He would spend between 6-8 preparing for a 40 minute speech and he made it a priority to remove all bureaucratic jargon and include as many visuals and emotional ties as he could.  He was extremely precise with his words and demanded the same of others 
  5. He could recite entire epic poem from memory but had trouble remembering the names of his servants. He treated them quite poorly and would often times act childish and impulsive if they didn’t understand him or do as he wished.  In one quarrel with one of the servants, the servant lashed out and said that Winston was rude first and Churchill replied, “yes I was, but I am a great man!” There was no arguing this as everyone in the house knew he was right.  He was not a man to apologize but he would sit show he was sorry I being appreciative for what you have done for him 
  6. The only way to make a man trustworthy is to trust him and the easiest way to make him untrustworthy is to distrust him and show that distrust 
  7. I would rather be right than consistent 
  8. Other than Churchill, few others saw the writing on the wall and how hungry Germany was to recover their honor at the first possibility. They had hate in their hearts, were embarrassed by the Versailles Treaty and wanted revenge. One of the more shortsighted and devastating decisions was to try to recoup some of the losses from the Great Depression by having the losers of the war pay for it. This germinated hatred and the desire for revenge which culminated in World War II 
  9. No trap is as deadly as the trap you set for yourself. Many other political and astute figures were duped by Hitler. They were drawn in by his magnetism and believed him when he said that all he was looking for was peace 
  10. Political genius lies in seeing over the horizon anticipating a future invisible to others
  11. He was a poor politician by the traditional sense of the word, although he was the most gifted orator of his time. He didn’t have the patience to proceed by traditional parliamentary processes and he didn’t have the skill to manipulate the House 
  12. Although he was a brilliant strategist, he missed how important and decisive submarine and air dominance would come to be. He was far ahead in calling for a rearmament and strengthening of England to offset the not so secret rearmament of Germany 
  13. Stanley Baldwin was the most popular and powerful PM in a long time and he knew that he would lose that if he were to call for a rearmament of England. This might have been the right call even though it was a tough and unpopular decision 
  14. Great wars usually come only when both sides have high confidence in victory 
  15. The blind spot of the time was that everyone preferred peace to war because of the atrocities seen in World War I. However, Hitler managed to  unite and set fire to a huge group of people who felt betrayed, broken, and who wanted revenge. They were willing to fight to regain their honor when nobody else was 
  16. When Hitler invaded the Rhineland, all the officers were terrified because they knew that if France acted they would be crushed. It was later learned that this was when Hitler was most nervous but he saw the risk is worth taking.  According to existing treaties, if France was attacked and they mobilized, Britain would send troops to support but they decided not to. The British decided to call this an assertion of equality rather than an act of war 
  17. Men of genius are able to focus on one thing exclusively more intensely than average man and never tire. Churchill’s focus was now on Hitler at the exclusion of everything else. He did whatever he thought was needed to stop him even before others even recognized the danger he posed
  18. Hitler understood his orderly people and knew he couldn’t usurp the government. So, he went about acquiring power through normal means and moved his way up. He used the secret police and other intimidation methods to get votes but it was done with the intention of looking legitimate in the eyes of the people so that they would accept him 
  19. Churchill understood that short simple words that were commonly understood or more powerful and effective than fancy words. He also believed that the key to a rousing speech was sincerity the speaker had to truly believe and be enthusiastic about what he was talking about and then it would be infectious 
  20. 1937 was a difficult year for Churchill. King Edward abdicated the throne in order to marry Mrs. Simpson and the way that Winston handled the situation and his ties to the king and his constant call for rearmament in order to equal Germany strength left him with no political power and he even contemplated leaving politics altogether
  21. As a political outcast he didn’t have the same constraints and expectations as those who held responsibility and this allowed him to maneuver and track down information on Germany’s position and actions that otherwise may have been difficult or riskier to attain
  22. Really interesting to learn more about the mindset and priorities of people at the time. Appeasement was the route they took because everyone was so shell-shocked and devastated by World War I that everyone was trying to avoid war at all costs and keep the economy strong and growing. Many saw how powerful Hitler and Germany were becoming but we’re reluctant to act on it for fear of war and economic devastation 
  23. Hitler’s invasion of the Sudetenland was one of those rare historical moments which took on a momentum of its own and exerted its own field of pressure 
  24. Prime minister Chamberlain was ineffective in dealing with Hitler. He didn’t understand how ambitious he was or how vengeful the country was. Churchill, on the other hand did. He and Hitler were very much the same and may be why they understood each other – they were both both artistic, believed in the supremacy of their countries, that they were men destined for greatness, and both used their intuition rather than reason to lead 
  25. In hindsight, the appeasement efforts were pitiful and ineffective but at the time, the public was so distraught by the first world war that they cheered the concessions made to Germany regarding Czechoslovakia.  This Munich Agreement had torn the government in the country apart as people were either applauding Chamberlain and the peace he had manufactured or understood that this was only a temporary solution that Hitler would be back and stronger than ever 
  26. Wise men avoid extravagant predictions
  27. Churchill was a terrific writer and thinker as he was able to assemble droves of information in his head, form it into a prism. and reflect it with blinding leaps of intuition.  His writing and research helped him dive into the past and find patterns that would help him navigate through World War II 
  28. Churchill was willing to change his mind in order to protect his country. Even though he hated the Bolsheviks, he knew that an alliance with Russia was a great idea so that Hitler would have a two front war if it got to that point 
  29. The present is not tidy or understandable and, once it has become the past, if one tries to make it neat, it only becomes implausible  
  30. A fundamental misconception about dictators in this time was that they could be reasoned and negotiated with. They hate compromise and negotiation 
  31. The British ruling class we’re also known as the leisure class and they hated to be in a hurry. They disappeared on the weekends and could not be reached. Hitler, knowing this, took advantage of that by making big moves and key decisions on the weekend when the people with the power and authority to make decisions weren’t around. He used velocity to his advantage 

Vol. 3: 1940-1945 Defender of the Realm

  1. Coming in August

What I got out of it

  1. Like great biographers do, Manchester gives an intense look into the context, time, environment, in which Churchill live. Loved hearing about his quirks, his “gyroscope” which kept him on the right track regardless of the public’s mood, his oratorical skills, and so much more

Moving the Mountain by Li Lu

Summary

  1. Li Lu rose to become deputy commander of the student protests in Tiananmen Square in 1989. He recounts his childhood and how he ended up in that position

Key Takeaways

  1. His biological parents were deemed “intellectuals” and ostracized. He spent much of his childhood like an orphan, jumping around from school to school and family to family. However, he was able to become a great student and went on to study politics at Nanjing. He later left though for Beijing to take part in the student demonstrations. He was able to rise up in the movement’s leadership because he was able to step out of the moment, be calm, and think.. He helped ensure the movement remained non-violent. This became the most powerful democratic movement in Chinese history, and it exposed the true nature of the Communist Party. They fought to be seen as dignified human beings and for the right to live a life that’s worth living.
  2. Moving the Mountain – power of long-term thinking, over generations. Little steps, actions, behaviors can have tremendous impacts over the long-term
  3. He does a great job describing what the mindset and culture was like in China after Mao and the Cultural Revolution. He sensed a strong sense in his generation of individual standing up against an autocratic system that sought to eliminate individuality
  4. Voice your true feelings. If you’re confident you can move yourself, you’ll also move others
  5. Most difficult thing is to develop the right way of thinking
  6. I came to realize that those old Marxist books were like the old man using his own theory to criticize others. No matter how absurd a theory, it seeks to explain and rationalize itself, and when a theory has a strong logical system, it has an exclusivity that can convincingly dismiss other theories. Marxism, I saw, had played a big joke on us. It refuted all other theories just to prove itself correct
  7. A person’s goal does not express itself in the result of his action; its significance lies in the great efforts he makes to achieve the goal

What I got out of it

  1. Some amazing context on what life was like in the aftermath of China’s Cultural Revolution and what the student protests look like from the inside

How Asia Works: Success and Failure in the World’s Most Dynamic Regions by Joe Studwell

Summary

  1. This book is about how fast or not economic transformation is achieved. It argues there are 3 interventions the government can take to influence this process: maximize output from agriculture with highly intensive household farming (pushing up yields and outputs to its highest level which primes demands for goods and services), direct investment and entrepreneurs towards export-oriented manufacturing as it makes use of the limited skills of labor by working with machines and technology (subsidies should incentivize spending in technology and manufacturing), and interventions in the financial sector to focus capital on intensive small scale agriculture and manufacturing development. The state’s role is to keep money targeted at a development strategy which gets the highest rate of technological learning, giving the highest rate of return, and helping the country grow as sustainably as possible, improving the lives and outcomes of everyone .

Key Takeaways

  1. Agricultural
    1. Agriculture is the place to start with up-and-coming countries because the vast majority of their people are tied to the land. Structuring incentives so that these people can prosper creates the foundation for further economic success 
    2. By approximately evenly dividing up the land amongst the peasants and incentivizing a maximization of output (rather than profit), yields go through the roof which helped pay and feed these families. It allowed everyone to compete on an approximately equal footing and everyone believed they had a chance st success – which they did. This “gardening” approach is the most appropriate way to think about and structure agricultural societies early on as it can make full use of all the available labor. Surprisingly, these smaller plots owned by the farmers had far greater yields than many plantations – busting the myth of efficiency in large scale agricultural operations
    3. The political elite tend to be out of touch with the agricultural peasants and therefore undervalue and under-appreciate their power and ability to help the economy 
    4. If you want industrialization, first fix agriculture
    5. Even a total outsider can tell the difference between a plot of land tended by an owner vs. a tenant
    6. A consistent application of these policies across different cultures and regions is a stark reminder that geography is not destiny 
    7. Farmers laid the foundation for industrialization and their household savings provided the base to build factories and later the market for the goods these factories made. Taiwan is the prime example in this case as many factories were built in rural areas and many farmers became industrial entrepreneurs. Indonesia and the Philippines are the negative examples – they nationalized land before the farmers could build up wealth and plantation inefficiency took hold. In addition, loopholes in policies so the rich could amass massive land holdings, put the poor at a disadvantage and worsened conditions
    8. Besides owning the small fields, the farmers need the extension, marketing, and credit to progress 
    9. As rural laborers begin moving into higher paying industrial and service jobs, farming needs to rebalance from productivity towards profitability – shifting towards more mechanized farms away from gardening plots. The countries will need to specialize at this point, moving away from farm protection and subsidies and to a niche they can compete in. This shifts money to this area and gives other poor countries the chance to follow the same playbook 
  2. Manufacturing 
    1. If there is one thing economic history can teach us is that there are no economic policies or laws which are sound forever 
    2. Manufacturing helps local people learn skills and to leverage the machines which they initially import, increasing productivity. Local entrepreneurs know the local market but they must compete with international firms in order to continue improving and to survive long-term without protection 
    3. Government must incentivize – through protection and subsidy – their rural entrepreneurs so they can get into large scale manufacturing rather than service industries at this phase. They must have export discipline – proving that their goods are competitive on a global stage and thus merit subsidies to grow.
    4. The government shouldn’t pick winners as much as weed out losers. South Korea did this which is why they ended up with one or two massive companies in each sector without explicit state investment or control. Protectionism hurts in the short term but helps economies evolve and it’s people learn useful skills and in the long term is beneficial
    5. Growing economies typically start industrialization with textiles later moving on to steel, shipbuilding, food stuffs, petro-chemicals, and eventually cars other heavy industry
    6. While Taiwan what is the exemplar in land redistribution, South Korea took over as the exemplar of industrialization – setting up their entrepreneurs to have to compete with international markets and companies by providing enough subsidy and protection to let them grow, learn, and thrive
    7. It is interesting to look in hindsight that Taiwan, South Korea, and Japan accomplish their amazing feats with no, or at least very few, trained economists. They simply followed the model of early America and later Germany 
    8. Government must not ask entrepreneurs to innovate for moral reasons. Rather they must accept and incentivize their animal spirits so that they can innovate, industrialize, and develop the country as is needed for their own benefit and for the benefit of all
    9. More than ever, firms are able to flourish if they have the right state industrialization policies in place. Hyundai was able to flourish and become one of the world’s most successful car manufacturers from an unpromising start and a family with no automotive experience thanks to the favorable Korean policies 
    10. The goal is technological learning which hopefully leads to internal, domestic innovation. While land reform and infant industry regulations are difficult, there are no better options. Technical and technological progress equates to economic progress and history has shown that these difficult but necessary steps must be taken 
    11. Big business is incredibly important. There are smaller countries with big firms which have gotten rich but never the other way around. However, government must continuously restrain their entrepreneurs or else you end up with oligarchs like in Russia or SE Asia
  3. Financial
    1. Bank deregulation and removal of capital controls too early hurt developing economies such as Thailand or Indonesia. The agricultural and industrial sectors must be ready before these financial policies are enacted. Several different monetary and fiscal policy approaches have led to success but they all had the right policies, pointing at the right targets 
    2. In the Philippines, private banks would lend to the rich entrepreneurs at favorable terms which of course help them but didn’t help the country develop at all. However, ultimately what led to the downfall of economic collapse of the Philippines was their lack of export discipline which would have provided them with export loop feedback so that they could continuously improve and better compete on a global stage – improving their technical know-how across the country
    3. Korea and the Philippines both borrowed extremely heavily and were in a lot of debt but Korea used that money to improve the technology and scale to a global level where the Philippines did not
    4. Malaysia pumped too much money into real estate and the stock market instead of directing it towards industry. They tried to skip a step in order to compete and out do Singapore but this eventually led to an economic collapse and stagnated technological progress 
    5. Capital allocation must be tied to industrial policy and export performance or else capital will be deployed in low return investments. Government must incentivize and cajole entrepreneurs towards manufacturing and international markets. The financier is not the economic savior some suggest but responds to the environment around him which the government helps create. Foreign funds must not be allowed in too early and deregulation can only happen once manufacturing is humming and technological progress is underway 
    6. Banking systems are so effective because they respond to central bank policy which is controlled by government policy. It is a simple and effective method, easier to to control than bond and stock markets
    7. There is no good understanding today of when a country should deregulate 
  4. China 
    1. China first tried the mass scale agriculture approach but soon realized it was ineffective so they transitioned to the gardening approach which greatly helped feed and put to work hundreds of millions. They also abandoned an approach where they would try to come up with everything internally and opened up trade to buy, borrow, and steal the best inventions and processes rather than trying to come up with everything internally
    2. Chinese government has always been paranoid of being at the mercy of necessary food stuff importers. They have taken away a lot of farmland dedicated to these grains in the past decade and may soon change the policy so they secure enough food to be continue to be independent 
    3. It is yet to be seen if China’s close control of oligopolies can help the economy long term. So far they have been able to strike a balance between control and allowing the entrepreneurs and employees to profit 
    4. China has a heavy bias to public and state owned enterprises rather than private companies. 
    5. People worry about shadow banking systems which lend to wealthy citizens outside the direct view of the government in order to seek higher returns but this has existed in one form or another in every developing country. Whenever government policy favors agriculture and industry over finance, shadow finances will pop up
    6. China’s financial policies are not as loose as many think if taken into context of Japan and Korea in similar stages, the size of their economy and the make up of their assets, and the fact that little money is owed externally. They are making great technological progress with the money they’ve borrowed but the best days of industrial-led policy development have passed so they will need to be more efficient moving forward. It is China’s size and not necessarily their innovative policies which have shaken the world. It does not yet have any world renowned firms and, if it is to take the next step developmentally, must improve its institutional policies 
  5. Other
  1. One of the key lessons when analyzing failed states is that they are isolated, closed off, and do not trade or interact with external countries. It has shown to be very hard, if not impossible to thrive if you are not open and trade with other countries 
  2. There is a weaker than expected correlation between education and rise in GDP. Most education occurs on the job and within firms rather than in school settings making industrial focus extremely important. If there is no industry to serve as a vehicle for learning, formal education may go to waste 
  3. Demographics, political pluralism / democracy are very important but is not touched on at length in this book 
  4. Rule of law is not one of the pillars for economic development but it is for overall development 
  5. Broadly, there are two types of economics. The first is akin to an education for developing countries in which the people require the skills needed to compete with their global peers. It requires nurture, protection, and competition. The second is more focused on efficiency and is applicable for more developed countries which needs less state intervention, more deregulation, freer markets and a larger focus on profits. The question is not if there are two but when they meet and how to best transition between the two. Where certain economically developed countries have fallen flat is that they fail to continue to evolve and develop. No policy is good forever and things must change. In addition, economic development is only one leg of the stool. Freedom, rule of law, environmental health, and individual autonomy are equally important and are needed for any country to prosper
  6. There is no significant economy who has evolved successfully out of policies of free trade and deregulation from the get go. They require proactive interventions – namely in agriculture and industry that foster early accumulation of capital and skill 

What I got out of it

  1. For developing countries, the best way to prosper is to first redistribute land so the people can use gardening style agriculture to feed themselves and save some money, then government’s must create subsidies and protective policies so that internal industry can grow and flourish with the goal of increasing skill and technological know-how so that future innovation can happen, then finance comes into the picture and must be used to further direct these two areas effectively and sustainably

Chimpanzee Politics: Power and Sex Among Apes by Frans de Waal

Summary
  1. An incredible insight into the takeovers and social organization of a chimp colony in the Netherlands. “The behavior of our closest relatives provides clues about human nature. Apart from political maneuvering, chimpanzees show many behaviors that parallel those of humans, from tool technology to intercommunity warfare. In fact, our place among the primates is increasingly a backdrop of substantial similarity. Our uniqueness breaks down as we study our relatives.”
Key Takeaways
  1. Simplified conditions, like the one found at Arnhem Zoo with this chimp colony, allow researchers to see more because there is less. A totally wild environment is too dynamic, too chaotic to be able to closely observe some of the interactions which are dissected in this book
  2. “Every country has its Dick Cheneys and Ted Kennedys operating behind the scenes. Being over the hill themselves, these experienced men often exploit the intense rivalries among younger politicians, gaining tremendous power as a result. I also did not draw explicit parallels between how rival chimpanzees curry favor with females by grooming and tickling their young and the way human politicians hold up and kiss babies, something they rarely do outside the election season. There are tons of such parallels, also in nonverbal communication (the swaggering, the lowering of voices), but I stayed away from all these. To me, they were so obvious I am happy to leave them to my readers…The social dynamics are essentially the same. The game of probing and challenging, of forming coalitions, of undermining others’ coalitions, and of slapping the table to reinforce a point is right there for any observer to see. The will to power is a human universal. Our species has been engaged in Machiavellian tactics since the dawn of time, which is why no one should be surprised about the evolutionary connection pointed out in the present book.”
  3. Only in harmonious groups are adult males solicitous and tolerant of kid’s behavior
  4. When excited or aggressive, their hair stands on end so they appear larger than life and often this behavior can be seen as much as 10 minutes before by inconspicuous body movements and changes in posture
  5. The group dynamic is one large web and the alpha male is just as, if not more, ensnared in the web as the rest
  6. Since they don’t need to forage for food as they do in the wild, there is considerably more time to socialize and the close quarters, especially in the winter months, which leads to nearly twice as many aggressive incidents as in the summer months
  7. “Experts sometimes choose to create the impression of knowing nothing. They act in exactly the opposite way from the young teacher, who held forth with such conviction. Both attitudes lead nowhere, but unfortunately I will not be able to avoid them completely.”
  8. “Everyone can look, but actually perceiving is something that has to be learned. This is a constantly recurring problem when new students arrive. For the first few weeks they “see” nothing at all…Initially we only see what we recognize. Someone who knows nothing about chess and who watches a game between two players will not be aware of the tension on the board. Even if the watcher stays for an hour, he or she will still have great difficult in accurately reproducing the state of play on another board. A grand master, on the other hand, would grasp and memorize the position of every piece in one concentrated glance of a few seconds. This is not a difference of memory, but of perception. Whereas to the uninitiated the positions of the chess pieces are unrelated, the initiated attach great significance to them and see how they threaten and cover each other. It is easier to remember something with a structure than a chaotic jumble. This is the synthesizing principle of the so-called Gestalt perception: the whole, or Gestalt, is more than the sum of its parts. Learning to perceive is learning to recognize the patterns in which the components regularly occur. Once we are familiar with the patterns of interactions between chess pieces or chimpanzees, they seem so striking and obvious that it is difficult to imagine how other people can get bogged down in all kinds of detail and miss the essential logic of the maneuvers.”
  9. When chimpanzees are frightened or distressed, they bare their teeth much further than when they put on the so-called play-face
  10. When males are displaying and trying to intimidate, it is not uncommon to see females take away their weapons
  11. Side-Directed Behavior: behavior toward opponents and behavior toward companions or outsiders
    1. Seeking refuge and reassurance – the most common form and an excited or frightened chimpanzee clearly has a need for physical contact
    2. Recruitment of support
    3. Instigation
    4. Reconciliations – after conflict, the opponents are attracted to each other like magnets! They had to physically connect to make up and tension and hesitancy remains as long as the opponents had not reconciled their differences. This action serves to repair valuable relationships
    5. Coalitions – when two apes fight or threaten each other, a third ape may enter the fray and side with one of them. Sometimes this escalates and larger coalitions are formed. However, this does not cascade – chimpanzees never make an uncalculated move and the top position in a group may depend on aggressive cooperation (highest form of strategy, dominance) and, often, it was the females who were the most important part of helping their chosen male get into the position of alpha
  12. Social Intelligence Hypothesis
    1. Chimps developed such high intelligence in order to deal with an increasingly complex group life. The evolution of primate intelligence started with the need to outsmart others, to detect deceptive tactics, to reach mutually advantageous compromises, and to foster social ties that advance once’s career
  13. Alpha males
    1. Hair is constantly slightly on end, even when not actively displaying and walk in an exaggeratedly slow and heavy manner – all meant to make one look larger and heavier
    2. The submissive greeting is the most special form of behavior indicative of social order – deep bows, grunting, looking up at the alpha, kiss his feet/neck/chest. Alpha reacts to this by standing taller and making his hair stand on end which makes the contrast even greater
    3. Dominance manifests in two different ways – social influence (power, who can defeat whom and who weighs in most heavily when a conflict in the group occurs) and formal dominance (ones actual rank within the colony)
    4. Physical strength is only one factor and almost certainly not the critical one in determining dominance relationships
    5. A leader who hesitates in defending his proteges might very well have problems defending himself
    6. Tantrums are indicative of the beginning of the end but familiarity breeds contempt. Tantrums which are thrown too often are ignored
    7. Tend to think that the outcome of a fight determines the social relationship, whereas here the outcome was determined by the social relationship. The same was seen in later dominance processes. The prevailing social climate affected the self-confidence of the rivals. It was as if their effectiveness depended on the attitude of the group (rather like a soccer team playing better at home than away).
    8. Speed and agility are just as important as strength
    9. Alpha males experience a physical and emotional change when they become the alpha – hair on end, a “policy” of trying to stabilize the group after the shake up in hierarchy
    10. Pattern Recognition – an older alpha had a better eye for potentially dangerous social developments and realized better than his partner that such developments must be nipped in the bud
    11. One of the new alphas, Nikkie, received great resistance from the females and never had secure rule. He was “greeted” and groomed and obeyed but he lead from a position of fear rather than respect. Must have the backing and support of the females or else your power is fragile
  14. Chimps overcome basic competitive tendencies more than other animals and achieve a high degree of cooperation. They cooperate in order to create a common front against the neighbors – the psyche is one of both competition and compromise and this is what makes chimp society so much more recognizable to us than the social structure of the other great apes
  15. Chimpanzee males avoid looking at each other in moments of tension, challenge, and intimidation. In moments of reconciliation, on the other hand, they look each other straight and deep in the eyes. After a conflict the former opponents may sometimes sit opposite each other for a quarter of an hour or more, trying to catch each other’s eye. Once the opponents are finally looking at each other, first hesitantly but then more steadily, the reconciliation will not be far away. Often, a “sense of honor” would need to be overcome before the reconciliation begins and often it was a third party who would help them out of the impasse. This third party was always one of the adult females
  16. After a fight, contact and conciliation is so important than the winner can blackmail the loser. The winner refuses to have anything to do with the loser until he has received some respectful grunts
  17. A stable hierarchy is a great sign of peace and harmony in the group but only partially ensure peace in the social system. Horizontal developments – in which children grow up and social ties are established, neglected, or broken – inevitably affect the temporarily fixed “vertical” component, the hierarchy. Western “ladder” view of social ties compared to Japanese “network” view. Hierarchical stability cannot be equated with stagnation and monotony, dominance must constantly be proven (Red Queen Effect)
  18. Loser-supporters: a third individual who intervenes in a conflict on the side of the party who would otherwise have lost
  19. Young males of superior fighting ability cannot usurp power without the support of a sizable portion of a group. You have to have the group buy-in and back you – can never do it alone
  20. The chimps have incredible awareness of their social cues. During one of the fights, both sides were bluffing about how brave they were and could be seen holding their hands in front of their mouths so that nobody could see them bearing their teeth (a sign of fear, excitement, nervousness
  21. In all the time studying the apes, the researchers never once witnessed a conflict between the two highest ranking females
    1. Key for stability within a hierarchy to have the top women on the same page?
  22. There are often issues when there is ‘dual leadership’ or a second person who feels they are entitled to respect and power just as much as the true leader. As Machiavelli reasoned, “He who attains the principality with the aid of the nobility maintains it with more difficulty than he who becomes the prince with the assistance of the common people, for he finds himself a prince amidst many who feel themselves to be his equals, and because of this he can neither govern nor manage them as he might wish.”
  23. The males are incredibly tolerant of children. They cannot risk getting upset and losing the support of the females
  24. Sex
    1. The formation of territories is one way of demarcating procreational rights; the formation of a hierarchy is another. There is a definite link between power and sex; no social organization can be properly understood without knowledge of the sexual rules and the way the progeny are cared for. Even the proverbial cornerstone of our society, the family, is essentially a sexual and reproductive unit. Sigmund Freud, speculating about the history of the unit, imagined a “primal horde,” in which our forefathers obeyed one great chief, who jealously guarded all sexual rights and privileges for himself
    2. A female can only be fertilized by one male. By keeping other males away from her, a male increases the certainty that he will be the father of the child. Consequently, children will more often be sired by jealous than by tolerant males. If jealousy is hereditary, and that is what the theory assumes, more and more children will be born with this characteristic, and later they in turn will attempt to exclude other members of the same sex from the reproductive act.
    3. Whereas the males fight for the right to fertilize as many females as possible, the situation for the females is totally different. Whether she copulates with one or one hundred males, it will not alter the number of children she will give birth to. Jealousy among females is therefore less marked. Female competition occurs almost exclusively in pair-bonded species, such as many birds and a few mammals, such as humans. Men get most upset at the thought of their wife or girlfriend having sex with another man, women dislike most the thought that their husband or boyfriend actually loves another woman, regardless of whether or not sex has occurred. Because women look at these things from the perspective of relationships, they are more concerned about a possible emotional tie between their mate and another woman
    4. If a female does not want to mate, it is usually over. Persistent males run the risk of being chased by the female they approached and some of the other females too. Consequently, it is the females who largely engineer the evasion of the rules that exist among males
  25. If the number of individuals in any colony becomes unnaturally alrge, the system collapses (Dunbar’s Number)
  26. Triadic Awareness (Lateral Networks)
    1. Just as individual recognition is a prerequisite of a stable hierarchy, so triadic awareness is a prerequisite of a hierarchy based on coalitions. The term triadic awareness refers to the capacity to perceive social relationships between others so as to form varied triangular relationships. For example, Luit knows that Yeroen and Nikkie are allies, so he will not provoke conflicts with Yeroen when Nikkie is nearby, but he is much less reluctant to do so when he meets Yeroen alone. What is special about this kind of knowledge is that an individual is not only aware of his or her relationships with everyone in the group, but also monitors and evaluates relationships that exist in the social environment so as to gain an understanding of how the self relates to combinations of other individuals. Elementary forms of three-dimensional group life are found in many birds and mammals, but primates are undoubtedly supreme in this respect. Mediation with a view to reconciliation, separating interventions, telling tales, and coalitions would all be inconceivable without triadic awareness
    2. If any of this sounds simple, it is because triadic awareness is second nature to human beings, and we find it hard to imagine a society without it
    3. Dependence on third parties plays such a prominent role in the chimpanzee hierarchy that the basic relationships are completely overshadowed. This is not only true for the complex balance of power in the male triangle. A small child, for example, may chase away a full-grown male. He is able to do so under the protection of his mother or “aunt.” Like the children, these females are basically inferior to the males, but they, in turn, can rely on the support of other females and sometimes can appeal to dominant males for help
  27. The Female Hierarchy
    1. The basis of hierarchical positions is sex-related. Among males coalitions determine dominance. The male dominance over the females is largely determined by their physical superiority. Among females it is above all personality and age that seem to be the determining factors.
    2. Conflicts between females are so rare and the outcome is so unpredictable that they cannot be used as a criterion for determining rank.
    3. The female hierarchy in our chimpanzee group seems to be based on respect from below rather than intimidation and a show of strength from above
      1. Perhaps why it is so stable and powerful – get buy in and respect from the bottom
    4. Our understanding of ape hierarchies is further complicated by the fact that there is a third type of dominance that exists alongside formal dominance and power. For example, when the alpha male places a car tire on one of the drums in the indoor hall with the intention of lying down on it, one of the females may push him away and sit down herself. Females also remove objects, sometimes even food, from the hands of the males without meeting with any resistance
    5. They have things to offer that cannot be taken by force, such as sexual and political favors, and their silent diplomacy, which helps to calm tempers. This provides the females with a good deal of leverage: if being popular among the females is critical for the stability of a male’s leadership, he had better be lenient and accomdating towards them
    6. Quite the opposite from subhuman primates, a man must be generous to be respected
  28. Mutual fear as the basis of alliance formation makes nations weigh in on the lighter side of the balance. The result is a power equilibrium in which all nations hold influential positions. The same principle applies to social psychology and is known as the formation of “minimal winning coalitions.”
  29. A rational choice is based on an estimate of the consequences.
  30. The hankering for power itself is almost certainly inborn. The question now is, how do chimpanzees achieve their ambitions? This too may be hereditary. Some people are said to have “political instinct,” and there is no reason why we should not say the same of chimpanzees. I doubt, however, whether this “instinct” is responsible for all the details of their strategies. Experience is needed to use innate social tendencies as a means to an end in the same way that a young bird born with wings to fly needs months of practice before it has mastered the art. In the case of political strategies, experience can play a role in two ways: directly, during the social processes themselves, or through the projection of old experiences into the future
  31. Sympathy is related to intimacy and familiarity
  32. Sharing
    1. For the adult male, the amount that he himself possesses is not important. What matters is who does the distributing among the group. (However, this only applies to incidental, extra food. Main meals and hunger can cause chimpanzee males to quarrel violently, as the Holloman colony showed.) Females, on the other hand, tend to share mainly with their own children and best friends and do not get into quarrels with other group members. Taking food by force is extremely rare in our colony; sharing is something apes learn young
    2. Their control rests on giving. They give protection to anyone who is threatened and receive respect and support in return. Also among humans the borderline between material and social generosity is scarcely distinguishable. Observations of human children by the psychologists Harvey Ginsburg and Shirley Miller have demonstrated that the most dominant children not only intervene in playground fights to protect losers but also are more willing to share with classmates. The investigators suggest that this behavior helps a child to command high status among peers. Similarly, we know from anthropological studies of pre-literate tribes that the chief exercises an economic role comparable to the control role: he gives and receives. He is rich but does not exploit his people, because he gives huge feasts and helps the needy. The gifts and goods he receives flow back into the community. A chief who tries to keep everything for himself puts his position in jeopardy. Noblesse oblige, or, as Sahlins said, “A man must be generous to be respected.” This universal human system, the collection and redistribution of possessions by the chief, or his modern equivalent, the government, is the same as that used by chimpanzees; all we have to do is replace “possessions” by “support and other social favors.”
      1. Honor this golden rule of generosity in all areas of life. Give more than you receive in every manner
  33. Reciprocation
    1. The influence of the recent past is always overestimated. When we are asked to name the greatest human inventions we tend to think of the telephone, the electric light bulb, and the silicon chip rather than the wheel, the plough, and the taming of fire. Similarly the origins of modern society are sought in the advent of agriculture, trade, and industry, whereas in fact our social history is a thousand times older than these phenomena. It has been suggested that food sharing was a strong stimulus in furthering the evolution of our tendency to reciprocal relations. Would it not be more logical to assume that social reciprocity existed earlier and that tangible exchanges such as food sharing stem from this phenomenon? There are indications of reciprocity in the nonmaterial behaviors of chimps. This is seen, for instance, in their coalitions, nonintervention alliances (A remains neutral if B does the same), sexual bargaining (A tolerates B mating after B has groomed A), and reconciliation blackmail (A refuses to have contact with B unless B “greets” A). It is interesting that reciprocity occurs in both the negative and the positive sense. Nikkie’s habit of individually punishing females who a short time before joined forces against him has already been described. In this way he repaid a negative action with another negative action. We regularly see this mechanism in operation before the group separates for the night. This is the time when differences are squared, no matter when these differences may have arisen. For example, one morning a conflict breaks out between Mama and Oor. Oor rushes to Nikkie and with wild gestures and exaggeratedly loud screams persuades him to attack her powerful opponent. Nikkie attacks Mama, and Oor wins. That evening, however, a good six hours later, we hear the sound of a scuffle in the sleeping quarters. The keeper tells me later that Mama has attacked Oor in no uncertain manner. Needless to say Nikkie was nowhere in the vicinity. Negative behavior hardly enters into the theories about reciprocity that anthropologists and sociologists have developed. Despite the emphasis on powerful exchanges there has not been much theoretical progress
    2. Every individual voluntarily enters and stays in any relationship only as long as it is adequately satisfactory in terms of rewards and costs. Interactions between humans have been regarded as a kind of trading in advantageous and disadvantageous behavior. Here too reciprocity is an important theme, not only in the positive form but also in its negative form.
    3. This give-and-take mechanism is a very old, and very fundamental feature of our species and of chimps. Much of the process may take place in the subconscious, but we all know from experience that things come bubbling up to the surface when the difference between costs and benefits becomes too great. It is then that we voice our feelings. By and large, however, reciprocity is something that takes place silently. The principle of exchange makes it possible actively to teach someone something: good behavior is rewarded; bad behavior is punished
    4. Life in a chimpanzee group is like a market in power, sex, affection, support, intolerance, and hostility. The two basic rules are: one good turn deserves another and an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth
  34. The major themes found and discussed in the chimpanzee colony
    1. Formalization – ranks are formalized. When they become unclear a dominance struggle ensues, after which the winner refuses reconciliation as long as his new status is not formally recognized
    2. Influence – an individual’s influence on group processes does not always correspond to his or her rank position. It also depends on personality, age, experience, and connections. I regard our oldest male and oldest female as the most influential group members
    3. Coalitions – interventions in conflicts serve either to help friends and relatives or to build up powerful positions. The second, opportunistic type of intervention is seen specifically in the coalition formation of adult males and goes hand in hand with isolation tactics. There is evidence for a similar sex difference in humans
    4. Balance – in spite of their rivalry, males form strong social bonds among themselves. They tend to develop a balanced power system based on their coalitions, individual fighting abilities, and support from females
    5. Stability – relationships among females are less hierarchically organized and much more stable than among males. A need for stability is also reflected in the females’ attitude toward male status competition. They even mediate between males
    6. Exchanges – the human economic system, with its reciprocal transactions and centralization, is recognizable in the group life of chimpanzees. They exchange social favors rather than gifts or goods, and their support flows to a central individual who uses the prestige derived from it to provide social security. This is his responsibility, in the sense that he may undermine his own position if he fails to redistribute the support received
    7. Manipulation – chimpanzees are intelligent manipulators. Their ability is clear enough in their use of tools, but it is even more pronounced in the use of others as social instruments
  35. To my eyes, the most striking result is that there seem to be two layers of social organization. The first layer we see is a clear-cut rank order, at least among the most dominant individuals. Although primatologists spend a lot of energy discussing the value of the “dominance concept,” they all know that it is impossible to ignore this hierarchical structure. The debate is not about its existence but about the degree to which knowledge of rank relationships helps to explain social processes. I think that, so long as we concentrate on the formal hierarchy, the explanations will be very poor indeed. We should also look behind it, at the second layer: a network of positions of influence. These positions are much more difficult to define, and I consider my descriptions in terms of influence and power only as imperfect first attempts. What I have seen, though, is that individuals losing a top rank certainly do not fall into oblivion: they are still able to pull many strings. In the same way, an individual rising in rank and at first sight appearing to be the big boss does not automatically have the greatest say in all matters. If it is hard to explain this duality of the social organization without using human terms, it is because we have very similar behind-the-scenes influences in our own society. When Aristotle referred to man as a political animal he could not know just how near the mark he was. Our political activity is part of an evolutionary heritage we share with our close relatives. What my work at Arnhem as taught me, however, is that the root of politics are older than humanity
  36. Human’s daily dabbling in politics are not always recognized as such because people are past masters in camouflaging their true intentions. Politicians for example, are vociferous about their ideals and promises but are careful not to disclose personal aspirations for power. This is not mean to be a reproach, because after all everyone plays the same game. I would go further and say that we are largely unaware that we are playing a game and hide our motives not only from others but also underestimate the immense effect they have on our own behavior. Chimps on the other hand, are quite blatant about their “baser” motives. Their interest in power is not greater than that of humanity, it is just more obvious
  37. To compare humans with chimps can be taken to be just as insulting, or perhaps even more so, because human motives seem to become more animal as a result. And yet, among chimps, power politics are not merely “bad” or “dirty.” They give to the life of the Arnhem community its logical coherence and even a democratic structure. All parties search for social significance and continue to do so until a temporary balance is achieved. This balance determines the new hierarchical positions. Changing relationships reached point where they become “frozen” in more or less fixed ranks. When we see how this formalization takes place during reconciliations, we understand that the hierarchy is a cohesive factor, which puts limits on competition and conflict. Child care, play, sex, and cooperation depend on the resultant stability. But underneath the surface the situation is constantly in a state of flux. The balance of power is texted daily, and if it proves too weak it is challenged and a new balance established. Consequently chimpanzee politics are also constructive. Humans should regard it as an honor to be classed as political animals.
What I got out of it
  1. Female support counts for as much as nearly anything, coalitions/reconciliation as important in chimp’s life as in human life, much more about cooperation than simply brute strength/size/speed, aggressive cooperation is one of the highest forms of strategy, the need for physical contact is crucial for social bonding and reconciliation, power is truly comprised of two things: social influence and formal dominance, must get buy in from the bottom of the group in order to have a stable hierarchy, man must be generous in order to be respected, stability vita for a well functioning group and hierarchy, hierarchy is a cohesive and a constructive factor which put limits on competition and conflict

Washington: A Life by Ron Chernow

Summary

  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

Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power by Jon Meacham

Summary
  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

John Adams by David McCullough

Summary

  1. Good biography on John Adams, his contributions, life, personality
Key Takeaways
  1. Adams was a lawyer and a farmer, was brilliant, extremely hard working, self absorbed, prone to depression, proud, quick to anger, stubborn, ambitious, an early revolutionary and supporter of American rights and liberties who would become one of the most powerful and influential of the founding fathers
  2. His wife, Abigail, was also very politically involved and influential. They were equals in many respects and marrying her was one of the best decisions he made. She was very smart, candid, and hard working. They were very close and loving and their constant separation due to the war and other political matters caused both a lot of anxiety
  3. Adams was instrumental in getting Washington elected to lead the American army
  4. Adams entered Harvard to become a minister but soon changed his mind to become a lawyer. He lost a case early on which was embarrassing to him and his family and after that he devoted much more time and energy to his profession
  5. Adams was one of the key actors in both the First and Second Continental Congresses
  6. Adams was one of the first and strongest supporters of independence. Him, more than any other member of th Congress, helped unify the colonies and sell the vision for independence. He also was an early advocate for slave’s and women’s rights
  7. Jefferson and Adams were key allies and friends in the Continental Congress and throughout the early parts of the American Revolution. Him and Jefferson were instrumental in drawing up the Declaration of Independence
  8. Adams was sent to Paris to serve as US Envoy to France. He was woefully unprepared for this post but his ambition and duty compelled him to accept. He spent much time with Franklin who was universally adored in France, especially for his scientific prowess
  9. Adams, after coming back from France and rejoining his family, was selected to write the Constitution for Massachusetts which was one of the most successful ever written. It is the oldest functioning constitution in the world
  10. Adams was soon called back to France again but due to a leak in the ship, he had to stop in Spain and make the rest of his way to Paris over land. He soon butted heads with French politicians and even Franklin himself and made his way to Amsterdam to see if he could secure a large loan for America. He met a lot of resistance in France and the Netherlands but finally got backing from the Dutch when it was quite clear the Americans would win the war with Britain
  11. Abigail and the rest of the family eventually moved to Paris to be with John and the sons who had come with him. Abigail at first detested Paris and the pretentious people but soon came to love the opera and some of the people including the Lafayettes. During their time in France, the Adams and Thomas Jefferson became very close
  12. Adams and his family soon moved to London as Adams was named the American ambassador to the UK. Once this stint was over, the family moved back to the US where they found a very different America from they had left years earlier. Adams would eventually become VP, behind George Washington and then President and then lose the presidency to Jefferson and the Republicans
  13. Adams’ son, John Quincy Adams, traveled extensively with his father and was very well read and ambitious. He was eventually assigned to be minister to the Netherlands, later a senator, then ambassador in Russia and would later become the sixth president of the US
  14. There was much worry about the French Revolution and America almost entered into a war with France but Adams was able to take a long term view and kept the peace between the two nations which helped Jefferson later be able to acquire the Louisiana Territory from Napoleon
  15. Soon after Jefferson was elected president, a sex scandal with one his slaves, Sally Hemings, broke and hurt his reputation
  16. Jefferson and Adams stopped talking for a while but made amends towards the ends of their lives
  17. Jefferson and Adams lived very long lives and both fought through their old age to make it to one last 4th of July. Both died July 4, 1826. Adams left a modest estate and Jefferson in quite a lot of debt
What I got out of it
  1. Wanted to read after getting through Hamilton by Chernow and found it helpful to get Adam’s point of view on many of these events

Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow

Summary
  1. The life and work of Alexander Hamilton told in a way that only the masterful Chernow can do. An incredible, multidimensional view on the influential and controversial Founding Father
Key Takeaways
  1. Hamilton’s influence is hard to understate. He took over a bankrupt country and turned it into a country with a credit rating as high as any European nation, turned the presidential role into an active policy maker instead of a passive one, wrote the majority of the Federalist Papers, helped set the foundation for a liberal democracy, founded the central bank, rolled the state’s debt after the war into the federal government and much more. He was given a blank slate and can be considered the father of the American government. Hamilton, although the most influential policy maker in American history, never gained even a single presidential vote. He was a moral absolutist, bad at compromise, had little sympathy for the every day voter – overall, not a great politician
  2. Hamilton was shot by VP Adam Burr in a duel when he was only 49 years old
  3. Hamilton’s wife, Eliza Schuyler, was from a powerful and wealthy NY/Dutch family. She outlived him by more than 50 years and was devoted to preserving his image from opponents such as Jefferson, Adams, Madison and others and from the country’s first major political sex scandal
  4. Few figures illicit more love or hate than Hamilton. He was demonized as a monarchist by opponents because of his desire to make states subordinate to a strong central government. He believed that the state’s sovereignty made the nation inherently weaker. He was extremely hard working, self motivated, intelligent, confident, insecure about his humble and immigrant beginnings and a visionary on many fronts
  5. Hamilton is perhaps the most influential political figure who never was president and he had yet a deeper impact than many who did. No other politician had such a grand yet accurate vision of America’s future and the mechanisms necessary to bind the nation together
  6. Hamilton came from a very modest background and rose up to the zenith of politics in the late 1700s, only behind George Washington himself. He was often the center or catalyst of uproars around race, class, geography and more. Hamilton was very ashamed of his childhood and upbringing (in the West Indies) and refused to discuss it. His mother had to flee the island in order to escape from a difficult and abusive marriage. His mother later met his father but were never married and this tinged Hamilton’s life in many ways. Hamilton was born in 1755 (debated)
  7. From a young age Hamilton was a prodigious poet and essayist and it brought him fame and an eventual scholarship to America after one of his poems received great acclaim
  8. Hamilton quickly progressed up the social and educational ladder when he reached America due to his self confidence, incredible work ethic and newly found connections (William Livingston, Lord Sterling and Elias Boudinot especially). These mentors influenced Hamilton’s political stances, notably his desire for social change but not revolution. And, at least for a time, leaned toward monarchism
  9. Hamilton ended up at King’s College (later Columbia) which provided an ideal education and environment for the future Treasury Secretary
  10. Hamilton was influenced as a youth by Hume’s dark take on human nature. Government must not try to stop man’s selfish actions but harness them for the common good
  11. Hamilton was a stickler for meritocracy and when he was a leader in the army, he treated all men fairly and was known as a tough but just leader who commanded one of the best trained units in the whole army. He quickly gained a reputation as a boy genius and would eventually become Washington’s aide de camp. The relationship between these two men was so important America’s early history that it’s hard to imagine the country without them. They were an excellent team and far more than the sum of their parts. There are rumors that Hamilton was Washington’s surrogate son but the author does not believe this is the case. Hamilton used and developed his excellent writing skills and over time became Washington’s alter ego to the point that he could not be replaced. However, one of the Revolution’s most important and influential partnerships ended towards the end of the war due to conflicts in personality and Washington not allowing Hamilton to move on, get field action or get promoted. They eventually reconciled and worked again very closely
  12. Hamilton was born without a family name or honor and therefore went to drastic measures to protect his reputation and engaged in many duels
  13. Hamilton was a financial savant and quickly grasped many financial intricacies. He realized that military and financial strength are deeply intertwined and this influenced him his whole life (American Revolution was causing severe inflation and he constantly thought about how to remedy it)
  14. Hamilton developed nearly all his political, economic, financial and other beliefs by his mid 20s. He was one of the first to realize they could beat Britain more by reducing their creditors belief in them than an outright win on the battlefield
  15. Hamilton eventually got field action and performed very bravely at Yorktown and gained legendary status which would help him a lot politically post war
  16. After the war, amongst other things, Hamilton practiced law and was very successful. Him and Aaron Burr had a friendly but competitive relationship at their law firm
  17. Hamilton had incredible vision for what America could be as a country and understood the big picture. He knew that how they acted at that time and the laws passed would reverberate through history. He opted to take a lenient stance against Tories and Loyalists as this would show the new country’s mercy and desire for a lawful and just system of government. All mankind had its eyes on this republic experiment
  18. Hamilton established the Bank of New York and wrote up its charter which was used as a model for most new banks and served as the rudiments for the American banking system. One of the main goals was the stabilize and normalize the currency
  19. Hamilton had accomplished so much in so little time that by age 30 he was already part of America’s pontifical and financial elite
  20. Hamilton was staunchly anti-slavery and had the enlightened view for the time that blacks and whites were equal in all respects
  21. Hamilton was always very optimistic on the future of America but was pessimistic on the ability of typical Americans
  22. Nobody did more than Hamilton to bring life into the constitution and make it the working mandate of the country. The new Constitution created great uproar and divided most people between the Federalist and the anti-Federalist
  23. Hamilton organized and did a vast majority of the work and writing of the Federalist papers along with James Madison. The Federalist Papers are the best defense of the constitution ever written
  24. The constitution was ratified by an extremely narrow vote. Having Washington as the first president was absolutely crucial to tie the nation together at this difficult time. He would embody the ideals of this new country and system of government
  25. Washington named Hamilton as Treasury Secretary and Hamilton happily accepted, believing this was the role where he could do the most good. He had been reading up on economic policy for years before he was selected to the post. Hamilton used England, France and several other countries to help design and build out the American financial system and its policies. Hamilton recognized and implemented things like public credit and bonds to help bolster the government and its ability to build and grow. He wanted to use British techniques to beat Britain economically and reduce their reliance on foreign countries. Hamilton believed a well funded debt would help promote and secure a prosperous America. Washington and Hamilton made an incredible team and that they had very different personalities, strengths and weaknesses
  26. In every obstacle Hamilton tackled he is one of histories most incredible combinations of a thinker and a doer
  27. Hamilton appointed Dewer as assistant Secretary of the Treasury and this alliance severely hurt Hamilton as Dewer was corrupt, unethical and a gambler / market speculator
  28. Hamilton made the controversial decision to allow people to fully profit or lose on their securities trading although this would hurt people who had supported the US by buying bonds and later sold them to speculators at a loss. This set the precedent for securities trading in America and the fact that the people buying/selling took the risk and the loss/gain that comes with that
  29. Decided to roll up the national and state debt after the war into one like, Federal debt. This had pervasive repercussions as it made things more efficient, would shift allegiance to central government, states would not want to compete with central government for major revenue sources
  30. Due to Hamilton’s modest upbringing and the fact that he had to fight for everything he got led him to be extremely touchy and protective of his reputation. His volatile emotions plus this need to protect his reputation nearly lead to a duel of honor with a southern judge who accused him of being a liar. This was a telling and prescient event that would unfold later with Aaron Burr
  31. Jefferson was reluctant but eventually joined and supported the new government. Jefferson was extremely talented and hard-working in numerous different fields and became the populist’s spokesperson. Jefferson, like most people, had contradictory characteristics. He believed in the good of the common man but himself was a hedonist who loved the finer things in life. This dichotomy would help lead to the eventual rift which occurred between Hamilton and Jefferson
  32. The temporary and permanent sites of the capital were hotly contested issues but eventually the delayed agreed that Philadelphia would be the temporary site for 10 years and then an area on the Potomac (later to be known as Washington DC) would be the permanent site
  33. The concept of the federal government assuming state debts was a matter of huge contention and this along with the passing of Hamilton’s other reforms created an opposition party known as the Democratic-Republicans which would be center of American political struggles for decades. Hamilton created a strong central government by taking away a lot of the states’ powers but was spot on in advocating for a government which would embrace and foster the self-improvement and entrepreneurial spirit which America would become known for
  34. Hamilton spent an incredible amount of time focusing on customs as more than 90% of government revenue came from imports during this time. Good trade relations with Britain was absolutely vital to the financial and economic success of America at this point. To shore up public credit the country needed a second stream of income. Due to the population’s ingrained anathema to taxes, Hamilton decided to take the unpopular but necessary decision to tax liquor (eventually leading to the Whiskey Rebellion)
  35. Of all his reforms and programs, his advocation for a central bank raised the most constitutional questions. Jefferson, Madison and Adams were staunchly against Hamilton’s reforms but luckily they were not successful in stopping him as their fiscal beliefs were outdated and would have stifled America’s economy
  36. Hamilton took and fought for a liberal view of the constitution where the federal government could take appropriate action and not only vital action (strong central government, Federalist). This gave the government far reaching powers and has been influential since that day
  37. Hamilton had an affair with Maria Reynolds which became public knowledge and tarnished his reputation. Maria’s husband extorted Hamilton for money often. Hamilton’s indiscretion may not have been found out of Reynolds he not been arrested and tried to use his connection to Hamilton to be let free.
  38. Hamilton was aggressive in trying to replicate British manufacturing technology in order to help catapult the American economy from relying on agriculture to manufacturing
  39. The rivalry and feud between Jefferson and Hamilton reached great heights in the 1790s and shaped much of American politics and government policies at that time. Hamilton and Madison also butted heads often but not as frequently or ruthlessly as Jefferson and Hamilton. At this time, political parties were not established and the Founding Fathers wanted to be rid of them. Therefore, most politicians hid their partisan beliefs and colluding was kept secret at this point
  40. Burr and Hamilton butted heads because Hamilton thought of Burr as not having any principles whatsoever. He would do whatever was popular in order to gain power
  41. The French Revolution was a much followed and important topic in American politics. Jeffersonians were for it and believed the violent means were necessary to protect the free world where Hamiltonians were against it
  42. An excise tax on liquor caused the Whiskey Rebellion in West Virginia which ultimately forced Hamilton, Washington and the government to respond with military force. The widespread unpopularity of this tax helped get Jefferson elected as president several years later
  43. Hamilton resigned from his Treasury Secretary post with very little money to his name.
  44. The Jay Treaty caused an uproar and many Jeffersonians called for war with Britain over it. Hamilton took up the debate but exposed himself to debates with violent crowds
  45. Washington set the precedent and stepped down as president after two terms. John Adams was elected president and Jefferson received the second most votes and became VP. Adams completely cut out Hamilton from all his dealings which was devastating to Hamilton and ultimately to Adams himself and the Federalist Party as a whole
  46. Adams was a vain, paranoid man who grew up with a modest background. He didn’t have the social ease of Franklin and constantly worried about his place in history. Adams was not the defacto party head and often fell between the Republicans and Federalists
  47. Hamilton’s adultery with Reynolds was eventually outed and he decided to confess with extreme detail and while he was suspected of having many more affairs and was the most controversial figure of his time, there is little proof of other affairs (i.e., sleeping with his wife’s sister Angelica). James Monroe took a very adversarial stance and Hamilton and his wife Eliza would never forgive him for it
  48. Tensions with France reached a fever pitch due to the Jay Treaty, rise of Napoleon and the spread of revolution in France. Jefferson went behind Adams’ back and urged France to delay talks with Americans. An unofficial war with France was soon underway after the XYZ Letters were released. Hamilton was given a high post in the army to prepare for a potential war with France and while he trained his men well and he an encyclopedic knowledge of military practices, he made many poor decisions without Washington’s guidance
  49. Burr, normally very anti-bank, passed a bill for the Manhattan Company, a water company which in fact had loopholes so that it was in all but name a bank which would compete with Hamilton’s Bank of NY and national bank branch. This very much hurt Burr’s and the Republican’s reputation
  50. The feud between Adams and Hamilton got so nasty that Hamilton said he’d prefer Jefferson as president because it is better to have an honest enemy than a dishonest friend. Hamilton published an essay trying to show Adam’s deficiencies and ruin his political career. It was one of Hamilton’s biggest mistakes and he ended up ruining his own political career and helping Jefferson, Burr and the Republicans win the presidential nomination and the ultimate demise of the Federalist party. The Federalists also struggled by not appealing to the average voter and being seen as elitist. However, America owes the federalists a debt of gratitude as they helped establish America’s foundation – tax system, coast guard, central bank, funded debt, high credit rating and more
  51. Burr almost gained the presidency over Jefferson but Hamilton fought hard against Burr though he still very much disliked Jefferson. Burr’s push for presidency put him in political limbo forever after
  52. Hamilton’s oldest son Philip died in a duel when he was only 20 which left Hamilton and his wife extremely distraught
  53. Jefferson exercised a great act of executive power with the Louisiana Purchase. This new western frontier was mainly republican and every state that joined up to 1845 was a slave state which helped keep the republicans in power
  54. Burr was a sneaky politician with few principles and was accused every sin imaginable. His dislike for Hamilton was bubbling to the surface after years of Hamilton denouncing Burr and his scruples
  55. Some have hypothesized that Hamilton entered the duel with intentions of suicide as he was very depressed at this point in his life but the author disagrees. He contemplated not shooting at all and let Burr contemplate taking a second shot but felt like he had to show up to protect his honor. The man who organized the nation’s finances left his own family in massive debt at his death. Burr was in heavy debt too. Hamilton missed widely as planned but Burr shot to kill and managed a mortal shot. NY had lost its greatest citizen and the city shut down to mourn one of the country’s most important founders. Burr was indicted for murder and flew south for a while but he was safe in DC and still presided over the senate. Once he was no longer VP, he was immediately a political and social pariah
  56. Eliza outlived Hamilton by 50 years and deeply mourned his loss. She established an orphanage in his honor and finally received some recognition for her husband’s greatness under president Fillmore
What I got out of it
  1. Amazing how much Hamilton was able to accomplish (central bank, funding of debt, high credit for US, Federalist papers, Secretary of the Treasury and much more in such a short life!). His youthful insecurity of coming from a modest background with little money or honor behind his name spurred his ambition and his deep need to protect his new honor at whatever cost – eventually leading to his dual and death with Aaron Burr

Brazil by Michael Reid

Summary

  1. A rally good overview of Brazil’s history and founding, it’s political background, agricultural prowess, social life, economy and more. A great start to any research project on Brazil
Key Takeaways
  1. Lula did a great job of publicizing the amazing growth happening in Brazil in the mid 2000s and how effectively it was able to shake off the global financial crisis in 2008
  2. Brazil is the fourth largest democracy, occupies almost half the landmass of South America, is one of the world’s most resource rich countries (oil, agriculture, fresh water), a manufacturing power house, has no border disputes or hotly contested religious factions and finally seemed to be taking off economically. Brazil has always seemed to be on the verge of aligning all these advantages and finally was experiencing real growth and advancement. However, amid the mania, many glossed over Brazil’s still significant flaws and it faced economic slowdown starting in mid 2011 under Roussef’s leadership
  3. Brazil’s history as a Portuguese colony which later attempted a rapid modernization and urbanization lead to many of the issues the government faces today. Also, it’s history of bringing in millions of slaves continues to plague it today in the form of severe social and economic inequality
  4. Brazil is an immense and incredible country with massive variations in geography, industry, climate, social norms, etc. It’s citizens realize its potential and have been continually frustrated that the country hasn’t been more prosperous or powerful
  5. The country is divided into 5 areas – SE being the economic and population powerhouse, NE being poorer and consisting mostly of agriculture, South is very rich and has many European immigrants, central west has massive ranches, North has a lot of the Amazon and the majority of the country’s land mass
  6. Brazil’s culture revolves around soccer, deep and loyal family ties, carnivale, sex (spend more of their discretionary income on beauty products than any other nation in the world!), religion (though it is a cocktail of faith with many African and Catholic offshoots), Telenovelas (TV soap operas), horror of social distance but also deep mistrust, a sense of “joie de vivre”
  7. Brazil first became a Portuguese colony in the 1500s but was unique in that the settlers often integrated with the natives instead of living apart
  8. Portugal actually moved the capital of the kingdom to Brazil when Napoleon threatened to overrun them in the late 1700s
  9. The “new state” established in the 1930s under Vargas established corporatism and, while restrictive, wasn’t overly so relative to other South American countries. It also embraced racial mixing and its cultural offshoots as part of Brazil’s national culture
  10. Brasilia was built completely anew in order to house government officials. It was an amazing achievement and spurred economic growth but was way over budget and lead to massive inflation
  11. There was much political turmoil and inflation from the 1930s – 1980s but the economy grew rapidly. Communism was a threat to the country and worried the US for some time but eventually a democracy emerged (was actually closer to a totalitarian regime in reality)
  12. Dilma Roussef joined a political gorilla group when she was young, was caught and tortured over many years
  13. Cardoso successfully implemented a new currency, the real, which finally helped alleviate Brazil’s inflation woes. This success helped him fend off Lula in the presidential elections
  14. Lula, after losing 3 consecutive times to Cardoso, finally won and kept up Cardoso’s policies and implemented certain of his own reforms which helped spur a credit boom and exceptional economic growth in Brazil
  15. To help combat Brazil’s severe economic inequality, the government set up Bolsa Familia – a program which supplemented the poorest people’s income if they enrolled their kids in school, got them doctors checkups, etc and more. This was a very successful government program and was adopted in many other countries
  16. Brazil is an exporting powerhouse, especially in agriculture where it is one of the largest exporters of coffee, sugar, beef, poultry, soybeans, orange juice and more.
  17. Brazil has the most fragmented political system in the world with over 11 parties and they are not balanced in the sense that Sao Paolo is underrepresented and other states more so because of the constitutional minimum of 8 representatives
  18. Brazil hosted the 1950 World Cup and them losing to Uruguay was a national tragedy that is still somewhat felt today
  19. Will the 21st century be Brazil’s time to shine? It is hard to say but the author is optimistic. Brazil will need to raise its savings rate, continue innovating and keep their spot as an agricultural powerhouse, improve political stability, reallocate more public spending to investment rather than current spending, a capitalist shock which has risks, lower taxes, spend more on healthcare and infrastructure, labor reforms (last chapter does an amazing job summarizing everything)
  20. The Petrobras scandal severely hurt the government’s credibility, put Dilma and many others under suspicion, hurt government revenues and more which is still being played out today (as of 2016). Recently, riots with hundreds of thousands of people have taken to the streets to protest the corruption and for possible impeachment of Roussef
Why I got out of it
  1. Great history of Brazil which gives insight into its culture, politics, economy, social structure and more. For anybody visiting Brazil or just learning more about this fascinating country, it is an excellent place to start

The Way Forward: Renewing the American Idea by Paul Ryan

Summary
  1. Paul Ryan lays out his background, beliefs, motivations and goals and how he plans to achieve them
Key Takeaways
  1. Main goals – economic growth, saving Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security, fixing the broken healthcare system, setting up a prosperous America for the next generation which is secure and debt-free, make government smaller, simpler and smarter
  2. Need honest debate and cooperation between all parties in order to progress and achieve goals
  3. Believes America is currently on the wrong path as Liberal Progressives are taking center stage and Republicans are straying away from core principles
  4. Really believed in Romney when ran as his VP in 2012. Romney chose Paul because of his ability to work with Congress and Washington. Difficult but life changing experience
  5. Paul’s ancestors immigrated from Ireland and arrived in Janesville, WI in 1851. Has a huge family and his grandfather started an earth moving company which his cousin still runs today
  6. Growing up Paul’s family was apolitical but Reagan had a big influence on him as he was a man of the people
  7. Enjoys anything outdoors, especially hiking, fishing, hunting.
  8. Huge Packers and Cubs fan
  9. Grew up hiking with his mom in Colorado and his dad was an avid coin collector
  10. Compares the fall of Detroit due to large government and debt to what can happen in the US if things don’t change. Specifically calls out retirement benefits, high taxes, crime, fire, broken families, abandoned buildings)
  11. Society should come first with the government playing a supporting role. Government should be an enabler of other institutions and provide security from risks of modern life
  12. Paul found his father in bed dead at age 55. He was a sophomore in high school at the time. Father was an alcoholic and his mother worked very hard afterward to get her interior designer license. Paul received Social Security benefits at this time which he saved to help pay for college
  13. Turned away from God after finding his father but St. Thomas Aquinas, CS Lewis and the Gospel helped him rediscover his faith
  14. Worked with Empower America and Jack Kemp who turned out to be a great influence and mentor
    1. Conservatism allows the government to empower people whereas progressivism takes that responsibility and gives it to the government
  15. Paul was the legislative director for Sam Brownback where he learned a lot about electoral politics and religion
  16. Ran for Congress at 27 in 1998. Was elected and became the second youngest member in the House. Goal was to limit government and taxes and foster economic growth
  17. Asked everyone he met, “What do you know now that you wish you knew when you first started out?”
    1. Quickly learned not to be a generalist or spread himself too thin. Decided then to become an expert on the budget and fiscal policy
  18. Proposed “The Roadmap for America’s Future” in 2008 which got a lot of criticism but was important to him as he was voicing what he believed in
  19. Against Obamacare because believes people should be in charge of their own health and it fringes upon religious beliefs.
  20. “It is not enough to simply run against the other party. We must stand for something people can get excited about and rely upon.”
  21. The American Idea is our nation’s most unique and powerful contribution to the world. We must continue to foster the belief that if we work hard enough we can rise in the world. The American Idea is rooted in our commitment to freedom, equality and every person’s natural rights
  22. Progressives believe that our founding principles are only relevant in the moment and must be updated to deal with new circumstances
  23. “When any ideology deals in coercion instead of choice, in decrees to the collective instead of faith in a free people, the results are never good.”
  24. Republicans keep failing because have not been able to show how principles and ideas are relevant to people’s everyday lives. Also, Republicans tend to only go after populations which already agree with them instead of trying to convince detractors
  25. Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid eat up 47% of today’s federal government’s budget
  26. Wants to reform healthcare by making it market based, patient-centered, repealing Obamacare, making prices/doctors/procedures more transparent
  27. In favor of lowering the corporate tax rate to 25% from 35% and exempt 95% of overseas profits
  28. Pro-immigration but must secure border and enforce current laws
  29. Wants to increase defense spending. The military budget should determine the defense strategy, not the other way around. National defense should be the federal government’s number 1 goal
  30. Our country’s tendency to volunteer and collaborate is an enduring strength and must be fostered. However, this trend is decreasing because government overreach undermines civil society and promotes individualism
  31. Should have a system which provides opportunity for work as work confers dignity. People can’t and don’t want to rely on charity
What I got out of it
  1. A clear understanding of Paul’s upbringing, background, beliefs, motivations and goals