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Books Worth Re-reading

The Mind of Napoleon by Christopher Herold

The Rabbit Hole is written by Blas Moros. To support, sign up for the newsletter, become a patron, and/or join The Latticework. Original Design by Thilo Konzok.

Key Takeaways

  1. On the human heart – the fact is that men almost never act in natural conformity to their characters but from a momentary secret passion that has taken refuge in the farthest recesses of his heart (fear / self-interest are the underlying motives of all behavior)
  2. On the political order – do you know what I admire most in the world? It’s the total inability of force to organize anything. There are only two powers in the world – the power of the sword and the spirit…In the long run, the sword is always beaten by the spirit
  3. On the art of ruling – my character possesses all those qualities that are capable of strengthening my power and deceiving those who imagine they know me. A true master of politics is able to calculate, down to the smallest fraction, the advantages to which he may put his very faults
  4. On law and social order – man is entitled by birthright to a share of the earth’s produce sufficient to fill the needs of his existence
  5. Napoleon accepted peace from the outset. Cosmic problems stimulated his fancy without causing him unrest. God, to him, was the solution of a sociopolitical problem, and in religion he saw the mystery of the social order – little time for metaphysics or ideologies, a true man of action
  6. How can there be a state without any religion? Society cannot exist without inequality of fortune, and inequality of fortune cannot exist without religion
  7. In Spinoza, each thought is a step to another thought; in Napoleon, each thought is a step to an action
  8. Luck is the ability to exploit accidents. A series of great actions is never the result of chance and luck, always the product of planning and genius
  9. Napoleon had ruthless consistency and the ability of his mind to apply what he’d learned in any problem with almost instantaneous results. My policies are the result of meditation and strength
  10. Work, I was built for work. I have known the limitations of my legs, I have known the limitations of my eyes, I have never known the limitations of my working capacity
  11. Tirelessness, concentration, and speed – these were the characteristics of his mechanism
  12. I know that men have always been the same, that nothing chan change their nature. It is from the past that I will draw my lessons in order to shape the present
  13. Destiny is carried out, fate is suffered
  14. A revolution can neither be made nor stopped
  15. I am a poet in action
  16. What is a theory? Mere nonsense if you want to apply it to human masses
  17. I was sure of being understood by the last drummer boy
  18. Each looks through his own prism, which often misleads him
  19. There is little merit in copying or imitating
  20. Silence often produces the same effect as wisdom
  21. I see further into the future than others
  22. I always lived 2 years ahead of the present
  23. I start out by believing the worst
  24. One must have the will to live and be willing to die
  25. I had few really definite ideas, and the reason for this was that, instead of obstinately seeking to control circumstances, I obeyed them, and they forced me to change my mind all the time. Thus it happened that most of the time, to tell the truth, I had no definite plans but only projects
  26. He who fears to lose his reputation is sure to lose it
  27. History I conquered rather than studied: that is to say, I wanted from it and retained of it only what could add to my ideas, I spurned what was of no use, and I seized upon certain conclusions that pleased me
  28. Frederick was great above all at moments of crisis. This is the highest praise that can be given his character
  29. Liberty is a need felt by a small class of people whom nature has endowed with nobler minds than the mass of men. Consequently, it may be repressed with impunity. Equality, on the other hand, pleases the masses
    1. This is an incredibly deep insight – the French motto of Liberty, Fraternity, Equality was deconstructed by Napoleon – he understood he could do away with liberty and fraternity, but appealed to the masses’ desire for equality
  30. When custom and reason are at odds, custom always wins out
  31. One should never attempt to forbid what one lacks the power to prevent
  32. Avoid everything that might give false ideas of the truth
  33. We are here to guide public opinion, not to discuss it. They must be guided without their noticing
  34. I always went along with the opinion of the masses and with events. I always paid little attention to individual opinions and a great deal to public opinion
  35. What do I care for the opinion of drawing room gossips? I don’t listen to them. For me, only one opinion counts – that of the rich peasants. All the rest is nothing
  36. Absolute power has no need to lie: it is silent. Responsible government, on the other hand, being obliged to speak, dissimulates and lies shamelessly
  37. This famous division of labor, which in our age has brought mechanical pursuits to perfection, is absolutely fatal to the perfection of intellectual production. The quality of a production of the mind is in direct ratio to the universality of its creator
  38. I am sensitive only to the forcefulness of thought
  39. My policies are frank and open, because they are the results of long meditations of strength
  40. True politics is merely the calculus of combinations and of chances
  41. The policies of all the powers are inherent in their geography
  42. Great men are never cruel without necessity
  43. You must know that I am not in the least afraid of committing an act of cowardice if it were useful to me
  44. A true man never hates. A man made for public life and authority never takes account of personalities; he only takes account of things, of their weight and of their consequences
  45. Force is the law of animals; men are ruled by conviction
  46. Men who have changed the world never achieved their success by winning the chief citizens to their side, but always by stirring the masses
  47. Between meditating an action and carrying it out, you must put an interval of 3 years
  48. I know all of Caprara’s defects: I recommend him to you
  49. The great art of governing consists in not letting men grow old in their jobs
  50. The art of choosing men is not nearly so difficult as the art of enabling those one has chosen to attain their full worth
  51. The art consists in making others work rather than in wearing oneself out
  52. War – an immense art which comprises all others
  53. When an enemy army is in flight, you must either build a golden bridge for it or stop it with a wall of steel
  54. As a rule it is easy to find officers, but it is sometimes very hard to find noncomissioned officers
  55. We should do as the Spartan did: the generals ought to mess with the ranks
  56. Napoleon said that war consists of nothing but accidents and that a commander, though he must always adjust himself to general principles, should never overlook anything that might enable him to exploit these accidents. The vulgar would call this luck, but in fact is is the characteristic of genius
  57. My great and most distinctive talent is to see everything in a clear light
  58. I shall be credited with great profundity and subtlety in things which perhaps were simplicity itself
  59. The French people has two equally powerful passions which seem opposed to each other but which in fact derive from the same sentiment – love of equality and love of distinctions. A government cannot satisfy those two needs except by being exceedingly just. In its laws and actions, the government must be the same for all; honors and rewards must be given to those men who, in the eyes of the government, are most worthy of them
  60. My son should read much history and meditate upon it: it is the only true philosophy
  61. Greatness has its beauties, but only in retrospect and in the imagination
  62. I had a taste for founding, not for owning

What I got out of it

  1. His bias for action, ability to simplify things, fickleness were amazing to read about and I found it interesting that he described in himself a lack of ambition, but more being in the right place at the right time and being perfectly suited for what he did. Not ambition, but natural gifts, he couldn’t help but do what he did
Categories
Books

Pieces of the Action by Vannevar Bush

The Rabbit Hole is written by Blas Moros. To support, sign up for the newsletter, become a patron, and/or join The Latticework. Original Design by Thilo Konzok.

Summary

  1. Bush recounts his more than 60 years of experience as a leading scientist and innovator 

Key Takeaways

  1. We need, today, something we can be genuinely proud of. It should help to dissipate the gloom. For we have been losing our pride of accomplishment in these recent days. Pride of the right sort does not go before a fall; pride of accomplishment leads to greater accomplishment
  2. There are two primary ways in which to lose a battle or a campaign, assuming nearly equal antagonists as far as equipment, morale, and sizes of forces are concerned. One is to have confused lines of authority. The other is to have a top commander with poor judgment
  3. A military organization needs to be tight-knit if it is to fight well. And loosening it in time of war, with the idea of making it able to progress more rapidly on weapons, would be fraught with the danger that the loosening might be in the wrong places and lead to a lot of damage. Second, that there should be close collaboration between the military and some external organization, made loose in its structure on purpose. And the relationship should be a cordial one, assured to be so by the supreme command. 
  4. I never made a single technical contribution whatever to the war effort. At times I have been called an “atomic scientist,” it would have been fully as accurate to call me a child psychologist 
  5. In an industry that has become closely standardized, where nearly all competing companies are comfortably making profits, minor improvements can readily be introduced, but major improvements are up against a stone wall
  6. Edison was a very good inventor, a still better promoter, but in some ways a poor experimenter. Some of his experimentation was crude, to say the least. When we talk about the Edisonian method, which means to try everything without any theory to guide you, just hit or miss, we are talking about very poor experimentation. But Edison was such a good promoter that he could advance even with poor experimental data
  7. There are two main ways to go about inventing. One is to see a public need, or desire, and scurry about to find a way of meeting it. The other is to develop new knowledge and see where it leads. The first method was distinctly Edison’s. Today the second is the most commonly used. Of course, the new knowledge must be directed into channels where there may be useful results
  8. How as it possible for a highly intelligent group of men to pursue diligently for months a false theory, without every attacking it? The simple fact was that Joffe was above all criticism. One does not question his savior. 
  9. Patent laws and anti-trust laws, alongside a common language, a uniform market and nearly uniform customs, have helped spur the innovation in this country 
  10. My dad taught me some things about public speaking which have helped me along the way. One point which has saved me many a headache was this: never start a speech unless you have clearly in mind the sentence with which you are going to conclude. Another point involved some interesting psychology, of an informal sort. He told me, “When you are making a speech your mind is in 3 parts. One is paying attention to your actual wording at the moment. Another is roaming ahead to plan what you will say next. A third is following behind, picking up slips you may have made. Suppress that htird part or it will get you into trouble
  11. One of the finest courses I ever took was on non-Euclidean geometry…Was this a foolish thing for a young engineer to study? It was one of the most valuable courses I ever took. Here was a subject where one depended completely on careful logical reasoning. If one followed his intuition for just an instant he was inevitably lost. It was grand teaching. 
  12. There is a vast difference between understanding a problem in terms of equations and diagrams and understanding it in terms of copper and iron. A physicist can work out the stresses and geometry of a harness, but the farm boy understands the horse. I have known men (I have had them work for me) who were rather helpless on the mathematical analysis of circuits but who could go to a complex relay assemblage that was misbehaving and put their finger right on the fault. So I think the fundamentals of almost any subject, the simplest part, the core, can be taught to youngsters who are just beginning to learn and can be taught to them easily. If this is done, the student who really has an interest will carry through to quite an extraordinary extent on his own. I do not think it is worthwhile in trying t do this to take the matter into subtleties which will not really come into the youngster’s experience for many years. For a principle once learned is soon forgotten unless it gets exercised
  13. The task of teaching in the colleges is not merely to provide students with the skills necessary for a professional career and also to prepare them for the bases on which informal collaboration with their fellows is facilitated, but to go beyond these and provide the foundations for associative relationships that may become worthy, not merely trivial, and which confer genuine satisfaction upon those who participate. Thus we need a balance. Alongside the course in the mathematics of electric circuits we need a course in the history of ideas. And we need that balance wherever older minds seek to help younger minds on the way of life. 
  14. I am convinced that the greater men are, greater in the best sense, the more simple are their relations likely to be, the more wholesome, in their homes and with their real friends

What I got out of it

  1. A bit too long for my taste but it had some real gems. Amazing to get a glimpse inside the brain and experience of one of the world’s leading scientists during some of the most pressing and unstable times. 
Categories
Books

Boyd: The Figher Pilot Who Changed the Art of War by Robert Coram

The Rabbit Hole is written by Blas Moros. To support, sign up for the newsletter, become a patron, and/or join The Latticework. Original Design by Thilo Konzok.

Summary
  1. “Boyd has had a bigger impact on fighter tactics, aircraft design, and theory of air force combat than any man in history but he was also court marshaled and investigated dozens of times for leaks to the public, stealing computer time to work on his theories, and more. He was cantankerous, loud, and offensive and made a lot of enemies but it was all in the pursuit of his theories which positively impacted how the US military trained and fought.”
Key Takeaways
  1. Boyd was a rare combination of skills and talents and became known as 40 second Boyd because of his ability to beat anyone in air to air combat simulation.
  2. He was the first to codify air to air combat. He was only a junior in the army when he changed how the Army and Navy at large trained fighter pilots. Much of Boyd’s work is classified so his contributions were almost unknown to the outside world during his lifetime. Even then, except for the Marine Corps, most divisions of the military didn’t give Boyd proper credit for his contributions because of how much of a ruckus he caused
  3. He was in search of truth and a pure man but he was also larger than life, rude, cared little for his appearance
  4. Boyd was born in Erie, Pennsylvania in 1927 and his father died when he was only three years old. His mother worked very hard to keep the family afloat and she taught her kids the principles of frugality and hard work that would stay with Boyd forever. The mother severed ties with religion, friends, and family if she thought it would hurt her children. Also, Boyd’s sister contracted polio and the family became a sort of pariah because at the time people didn’t know what caused polio. Although John was somewhat socially awkward, his mom instilled in him that if you work hard and had integrity, you would win in the end
  5. As a child, Boyd had incredible focus and was a championship swimmer in Pennsylvania
  6. Boyd questioned the limit of everything and often found that it was always greater than what people told him
  7. Boyd had little tolerance or patience for those who didn’t understand what he was working towards but for those who did, he would go into great detail to make sure they understood
  8. After Boyd graduated from flight school, he was asked to stay on as an instructor which is one of the most prestigious job requests that a pilot can get
  9. After several years at Flight Weapons School, Boyd wanted to get his undergraduate engineering degree and got it from Georgia Tech. It was here that he was able to intertwine thermodynamics with his aerial studies. It was the trade off between potential and kinetic energy that tied them together and the beauty and simplicity of the idea made his hair stand on end when it clicked for him. Like entropy, a plane could have energy that was unavailable for work because of his position, speed, or strength of opponent. This was his excess power theory, which eventually became known as the Energy Maneuverability Theory. At its most basic, this determines the specific energy rate of an aircraft – how fast can you speed up or slow down compared to your opponent. Using specific energy makes this ratio universal across planes because, simply put, it is energy divided by weight of aircraft
  10. Boyd’s EM did 4 things for aviation
    1. It allowed for a quantitative basis for teaching aerial tactics
    2. It forever changed the way aircraft are flown in combat
    3. It provided a scientific basis for how the maneuverability of an aircraft could be evaluated. It allowed for a comparison of aircrafts and how to negate or minimize the advantages when flying against a superior jet
    4. It became a fundamental tool when designing fighter aircraft
  11. Boyd was able to see a page of numbers and visualize how they would affect his airplane, flight, tactics, and more. He had the hologram in the head
  12. Boyd hated optimization. Instead, he iterated on his thoughts and processes, letting them grow in a very Darwinian, organic way rather than trying to have a set plan or perfect solution to work towards
  13. By getting his engineering degree and deeply understanding thermodynamics, Boyd was able to see and understand the pros and cons of fighter jets’ designs, often better than the designers themselves
  14. To say he was a perfectionist is an understatement of epic proportion
  15. When Boyd determined that somebody had an “obstruction” (didn’t agree with him or didn’t give him the respect he felt he deserved), he took it upon himself to show them why he was thought of as one of the best fighter pilots, instructors, and most knowledgeable person on jets
  16. Boyd’s temperament and harsh way of dealing with people came back to bite him as he was continually passed over for promotions
  17. Trade-offs are the heart and soul of jet fighter design. Discipline and understanding the mission at hand are key too
  18. Boyd’s incredible intensity and passion for his work of course hurt his family situation and many of his kids ended up distanced from him. He neglected and ignored his family to the point that sometimes they didn’t talk for years
  19. Ambiguity, although difficult for people to deal with, tends to reflect reality better than black and white thinking and allows for new thoughts and spontaneity to arise and help evolve an idea or situation
  20. Another of Boyd’s great contributions was Patterns of Conflict. This piece studies the emotional, moral, and behavioral aspects of people during war and is helpful to compare different strategies, technologies, and techniques to one another
  21. The OODA loop (Observe, Orient, Decide, Act) was another big contribution but what most people don’t understand or what they oversimplify is the fact that you always have to have one foot in reality in order to update your ideas and understanding of the situation. Otherwise, you’re orienting and acting with outdated and wrong information
  22. General Mattis developed a reputation as a genius simply by not saying much
  23. The Pentagon is not set up to protect America, it is set up to buy weapons
  24. Boyd cared far more for his ideas being spread, adopted, and practiced than for getting any credit or payment for them
  25. Boyd’s theories were all over the Gulf War and had a meaningful impact on how quickly and dramatically America overcame the local opposition
  26. Boyd experienced some severe health scares and later developed an all consuming depression. He wasn’t sure what he was afraid of but it was real and it deeply frightened him. Boyd later developed aggressive cancer which was the cause of his death
  27. if you’re fighting for the right thing there’s always a way to win
What I got out of it
  1. A great biography on a man I didn’t know anything about. He had a deep desire to learn and search for truth but his rude, in your face manner earned him many enemies and opposition to his ideas. Energy Maneuverability, Patterns of Conflict, OODA Loop were his main contributions