Biography


Shakespeare… The World as Stage

Bill Bryson

Comment: Biography of Audrey Hepburn. Each summer I pick out a biography and his summer I finally got around to the iconic movie star Audrey Hepburn… From the era when stars were really stars… And although she has some indescribable “something” that separated her far from the standard run of the mill female star of her time and into a category that she created and largely held on her own I was 100 pages in wondering why I was reading abot her life… She did grow up right in the middle of world war 2 so that significantly shaped her life but I didn’t know that when I picked up the book… I am not much a fan of hollywood

A breezy read from Bill Bryson. I learned a great deal including how little we know of Shakespeare and why… An odd life it seems.

Here is just a tad of what I didn’t know: he coined 2035 words… He introduced words right from the start of his work with 140 new words in Titus Andronicus and Love’s Labour’s Lost between them. 800 of the words he offered are still in common use today.

He was also a phrase maker (eg “cold comfort, tower of strength, foregone conclusion, foul play…). The Oxford Dictionary cites him as responsible for 10% of the most quotable phrases. Wow.


Audrey: Her Real Story

Alexander Walker

Comment: Biography of Audrey Hepburn. Each summer I pick out a biography and his summer I finally got around to the iconic movie star Audrey Hepburn… From the era when stars were really stars… And although she has some indescribable “something” that separated her far from the standard run of the mill female star of her time and into a category that she created and largely held on her own I was 100 pages in wondering why I was reading abot her life… She did grow up right in the middle of world war 2 so that significantly shaped her life but I didn’t know that when I picked up the book… I am not much a fan of hollywood

It was until there were 40 pages left that the reason I picked up this book hit me… It was her connection to UNICEF… During the final 5 years of her life she made 50 trips for UNICEF…

I remember hearing paul mccartney once asked if he liked celebrity and he said something like “well… I am supposed to answer ‘no’ but celebrity has given me the chance to affect things in ways in never could have” and I thought about audrey hepburn tuning down her career and then finally seeing her cause and bring her celebrity, beauty, depth and genuineness to that effort.

All thru her career she worked hard not to be a “star” in that spoiled hollywood tradition but the forces were just so large that it is hard to claim that she accomplished such. It is clear that there exists a trail of evidence that she wanted to avoid the pitfalls. She failed.

Once she had failed and found UNICEF her passion seemed never greater. She finally found a home.



Business Stripped Bare: Adventures Of A Global Entrepreneur

Richard Branson

Tremendous method behind the madness… Tremendous desire to use business as a canvas to paint on…



A Man Called Intrepid

William Stephenson

The book focuses on the intelligence efforts during world War 2. What a fascinating and inspiring world. the main focus is on William Stephenson (cod-named intrepid)… I learned a great deal. The content was compelling



Code Name Ginger

Steve Kemper

Chronicle of Dean Kamen and the self-balancing ginger/Segway — easy easy read




Obama: From Promise to Power

David Mendell

Well… The day after the election I was in the Houston airport and I thought that maybe it would be a good idea to learn alot more about Barack Obama. What stood out most was the notion of personal growth and development combined with an advancing determination of purpose leading to commitment. There are certainly other plots such as what a mess it is to be in politics and how difficult a route politics is toward creating change… Yet it is a pulpit from which a wide pessage can be delivered. His multi-cultureal, multi-economic background is also completely on code with the world today in which he hopes to lead. His willingness to listen and make sure that others fell listened seems distinct.



Bradman

Charles Williams

I know nothing about Cricket and still haven’t seen it live but when on a trip to India everyone responded that Don Bradman was the greatest batsman of all time beyond a shadow of a doubt I was sucked in… Tracked down this book and loved it cover to cover… There is so much in this story that provides context to the change in the world we live in.



Money from Thin Air: The Story of Craig McCaw, the Visionary who Invented the Cell Phone Industry, and His Next Billion-Dollar Idea

Casey Corr

Craig McCaw… A rather uninspiring and surface level read.



Genius: The Life and Science of Richard Feynman

by James Gleick

I finally got around to reading this after having sit in my list for a few years. James Gleick is just sensational at telling very complicated stories and ideas in reasonably graspable terms. This is a story of the life of Richarf Feynman — one of the most notable physicists of the 20th century. There are a lot of lessons here: don’t let others tell you how to think about solving problems, avoid rote learning, question common wisdom… But also, Feynman is not a likeable character at all — he seems filled with himself and his differences and often did things differently just for the sake of it. He didn’t fit in society very well and if he wasn’t a genius he likely would have had zero friends or acquaintances….





I Never Had It Made: An Autobiography of Jackie Robinson

Jackie Robinson & Alfred Duckett

A very open autiobiography about the life of the first black man in major league baseball. Though I have long admired his courage I knew very little about him. Perhaps most exciting is his passion for making a difference thru his action during his baseball career and how he used his fame to affect the world after his career ended in baseball. Among the most moving accounts is that of his son Jackie who had extreme difficulties in life, turned his life around dramatically and then tragically died…. I am thankful that my son Eamon recommended this book.

 





Isaac Newton

James Gleick

This was a fast easy read. Newton spent large chunks of time in essentially isolation. It is easy consider that his isolation facilitated non-traditional thinking in very much the same way that the Wright Brothers spent winters thinking and working as a pair teamed in isolation in Dayton. We find that he was not well liked – had nearly no friends to speak of. He left no will from his rather large personal estate which was generated thru his role in operating the mint and getting a slice of all printed money! Good deal if you can get it.





The People’s Tycoon: Henry Ford and the American Century

Steven Watts

What a complicated man! He held a vast number of core beliefs some of which led to business processes well ahead of the competition. He is most known for developing the assembly line but he is also known for raising labor rates by 2x at one point but supporting those pay raises by adding a sociology department that would watch to see that workers were using their money wisely… He believed in the family and worried his workers would waste their money on alcohol. So he monitored the personal behavior of workers. Today such practice would be considered incredibly intrusive. He fought hard against unions – and lost. He was autocratic and his closest business partners might be best described as thugs. He was not well educated. In a 1919 libel case it was revealed that he didn’t know even loosely when the American Revolution was. He was sensational at PR. He was a race car driver before he hit it big in business. His first two businesses failed. He was filled with ideas linking nutrition to specific ailments. He supported causes that helped African Americans. He had deep-seated beliefs that caused him to be labeled anti-semetic though naively he couldn’t understand why. It seems that henry ford in addition to all this thought that consumerism — buying material goods — was an important link in a health society.”

More From Pip on this book

This past week we lead a group on a two-day intense brain storm of the future of automotive transportation and as part of prepping I reviewed my notes from the henry ford bio I read a couple years back.

A great great biography of a true character. (I also toured the George Eastman home in Richester this week and may read his biography as well – another character… Aren’t we all)

In successive years I read the Wright Brothers, Henry Ford and John Rockefeller… I would put my experience of fascination in that order as well from highest down… All exceptional.

To connect this book to our more recent frameworks you might consider that Henry Ford was a man of many many many mental models of how the world worked and how people should be.

He had thoughts about EVERYTHING down to treatments for diseases that seemingly came from nowhere… And had no efficacy in point. He was grating on most everyone because of his mental models that he invoked on others.

Before I get into a few specific massive thoughts and actions it may be enough to know that…

+ at one point he gave every person working the lines a double in their salary creating massive dislocation and hatred from his peers in industry… But he insisted that each man receiving this seemingly at the time preposterous $5/day would have to live by certain rules at home to ensure that the money was being used properly as in not on alcohol which he never touched (same w rockefeller) and that the women in the household were not being abused… It was something of a sociological experiment that went awry…

+ Meanwhile Ford did dance and expected others to follow his strict dancing instruction at his parties(unlike Rockefeller – a devout Baptist).

+ He loved to have wrestling matches and sprinting contests at the drop of a hat well into his later years.

+ He went on camping trips with Firestone and Edison… W japanese chefs in tow.

+ He was not educated as such and his tremendous ignorance was publicly unveiled in a courtroom when it was revealed that he didn’t know what year the country was founded among many other things.

+ He listened to virtually no one’s advice… He hang on to the simple model T waaaayyyy to long

+ The first model T was brewster green not black… Took 5 years before he settled on black.

+ He was the first man to drive an automobile at over 100mph.

+ His first attempts to form a motor company were quick financial failures.

+ The free promotion he generated might make steve jobs look like an amateur.

+ He tried to stop WW1 by hiring a cruieliner to fill w dignataries to travel in a high profile journey to Europe though no one else of note ultimately showed up and he looked like a fool for believing he was soooo big… He was a pacifist though he was ultimately deeply involved in the war effort.

+ He was a deep believer in consumption as a key cog in society… So long as it was the right consumption… Until he ultimately didn’t.

+ Many of his models of life he ultimatley reversed upon.

+ He was never known to admit to a mistake.

+ He arguably did more to stimulate the use of credit in society by fostering installment plans but later in life he viewed access to credit as one of the major problems in society.

+ he espoused views that he couldn’t imagine would be considered anti-semetic… He was stunned when he went from widely popular as a public figure to quickly shamed from which he never recovered.

+ He hired well-known thugs to break the efforts to create unions.

+ He was a process genuis.

+ He mentally scared his son Edsel it would be fair to say.

+ He had a decades long affair with the wife of his chaffeur… With everyone knowing. It is likely she bore his son. Both his wife and his mistress were alternatively at his bedside in the final hours.

Now… A few more points…

Model T

$850

1200 pounds – thanks to new materials

45 mph max

Brewster Green

1909

I had the fortune to ride in one a few years ago.

#1. BIG ACTION + THOUGHT: Process innovation!!

A Paragon of Efficiency

“Under the old stationary system the best time for assembling a chasis had been twelve hours abd twenty-eight minutes. By the summer of 1914, the new assembly line was accomplishing this task in one hour and thirty-three minutes…”P145

“The question behind manufacturing is not ‘how can I best serve the salesman?” It is how can I best serve the consumer?’ If you find the answer to the second question, then it quite inevitable that you will also find the answer to the first question.” P121

“In a larger sense, Ford grasped that mass consumption provided the very raison d’etre for mass production…”
P157

#2. BIG THOUGHT: Consuming is good… If everyone consumes it is great… CONSUMER UTOPIA

“Human demands are increasing every day and the needs for their gratification are increasing also. This is as It should be…”

“By the 1920s… The purchase of automobiles on the installment plan had made consumer credit a key part of everyday life… Helen Lynd: ownership of an automobile has now reached the point of being an accepted essential of normal living…” (A sociological study of Muncie, Indiana)

“With his new car for the people, Ford certainly changed how his fellow citizens lived. But, even more significantly, he changed how they thought about what was important.” P112

The Model T (1909) (brewster green and then just black after 1914) as the “universal car”… “As Henry Ford made clear… This universal car was intended to spearhead a new era of consumer prosperity. By the early 1900s, many americans believed that the enjoyment of material goods brought unprecedented social harmony and personal fulfillment. And as the essence of americanism, ownership of an automobile became the quintessence of consumption… Thus henry ford, the farmer’s son from michigan, emerged as the major architect of a new value system in modern america.”

“Ford’s gospel of spending in fact, had captured a new sensibility in turn of the century america. Since the 1890s, many citizens had been endorsing an ethos of consumption, pleasure, and self-fulfillment. The model T, a universal car for the people, became an influential vehicle for spreading the consumer gospel throughout modern america…” P119

“Nothing could be more splendid than a world in which everybody has all that he wants…” P122

Regret?

“Ford had second thoughts about the excesses of modern consumer society. Older, cherished values of hard work and self-restraint were endangered by frivolous self-indulgence in materialism. Ford believed that the purchase of consumer items , if pursued imprudently, could be socially inebriating in the same way thst the undue imbibing of alcohol produced drunkenness…”P351

#3. BIG ACTION/THOUGHT: $5 per day… Doubled base wages for employees

“The people who consume the bulk of the goods are the people who make them. That is a fact we must never forget… That is the secret of our prosperity…”

#4. BIG THOUGHT: the purpose of “business”

“If people would go into business with the idea that they are going to serve the public and their employees as well as themselves, they would be assured of success at the very start…”P175

#5. IDEA (1920 – book The Selling Process”

Norval Hawkins — “chief marketing officer” for ford during Model T

“People seldom reasoned their way into purchase. Instead they usually sought to fill some kind of void in their emotional lives… ‘Desire means want; and man wants thingsn longs for things with his heart. He realizes a lack, and has heart hunger for something to fill this lack… His mind may oppose his heart.. His mind has no feelings

“You do not sell goods, but ideas about goods…” Norval hawkins

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+ Between 1900-1908. 501 companies formed in US to manufacturer automobiles