Book Review: In the Heart of the Sea – Nathaniel Philbrick

 

 

Overview: I decided to read this book because it was on Ryan Holiday’s top books of 2014 list. As in previous years, I wasn’t disappointed with his recwwommendation. The Heart of the Sea is a story about the 1820 journey of a Nantucket whaleship known as the Essex. The ship is plagued by troubles from the onset of the expedition, and the tone is set after the boat nearly capsizes in the first days after leaving the port. Eventually the ship is rammed by a giant sperm whale, causing the Essex to sink, and leaving the crew with a limited amount of supplies spread out among twenty men and three whaleboats (smallest boats used in the capture of the whales). The men endure ninety some days at sea on their small boats, facing severe consequences of starvation, and ultimately resorting to cannibalism in order for a select few to survive.

The story opens you up to a world that is hard to believe ever existed. There was a lot of money to be made in whaling (through the extraction of whale oil), but the difficulty and risk that came with it was insane. This is a truly incredible story that will take you on a journey to the edges of the human primal instinct.

Lesson: In the face of sustained deprivation of the most basic human needs, we are capable of being overwhelmed with some of the most primal instincts as we fight for our survival. As disturbing as something like cannibalism is to think about, after learning about the late stages of starvation in this book, I can understand how it happens.

Several other lessons can be taken from this book (if the captain would have trusted his initial decisions instead of being swayed by the crew the situation likely wouldn’t have been as dire), and in general learning about something I knew nothing about was fascinating.

Important Passages (Per Sean):

EVEN though it is little remembered today, the sinking of the whale-ship Essex by an enraged sperm whale was one of the most well -known marine disasters of the nineteenth century. Nearly every child in America read about it in school . It was the event that inspired the climactic scene of Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick.

Still, the portrait that emerges— of a community of achievers attempting to cope with a potentially devastating loneliness— makes the women’s dependence on opium perhaps easier to understand. The ready availability of the drug on the island (opium was included in every whaleship’s medical chest) combined with the inhabitants’ wealth may also help to explain why the drug was so widely used in Nantucket.

In a tight spot , a captain didn’t care if a seaman was white or black; he just wanted to know he could count on the man to complete his appointed task.

It was more than a realization that the whaling life might be harsher than he had been led to believe. Now that the island had slipped over the horizon, Nickerson began to understand, as only an adolescent on the verge of adulthood can understand, that the carefree days of childhood were gone forever: “Then it was that I, for the first time, realized that I was alone upon a wide and an unfeeling world . . . without one relative or friend to bestow one kind word upon me.” Not till then did Nickerson begin to appreciate “the full sacrifice that I had made.”

When a ship is heeled over by forty-five degrees or more, her hull might be compared to a fat man on the short end of a lopsided seesaw.

“It is painful to witness the death of the smallest of God’s created beings , much more, one in which life is so vigorously maintained as the Whale! And when I saw this, the largest and most terrible of all created animals bleeding, quivering , dying a victim to the cunning of man, my feelings were indeed peculiar!”

ambergris is a fatty substance used to make perfume and was worth more than its weight in gold.

Just as the skinned corpses of buffaloes would soon dot the prairies of the American West, so did the headless gray remains of sperm whales litter the Pacific Ocean in the early nineteenth century.

It was acting strangely. Instead of fleeing in panic, it was floating quietly on the surface of the water, puffing occasionally through its blowhole, as if it were watching them. After spouting two or three times, the whale dove, then surfaced less than thirty-five yards from the ship.

Never before, in the entire history of the Nantucket whale fishery, had a whale been known to attack a ship. In 1807 the whaleship Union had accidentally plowed into a sperm whale at night and sunk, but something very different was happening here.

With only a few casks of wine to share among more than 150 people, the raft quickly became a chaotic hell ship. Vicious fighting broke out between a faction of alcohol-crazed soldiers and some more levelheaded but equally desperate settlers. Two weeks later, when the brig Argus sighted the raft, only fifteen people were left alive.

Strangest of all, as their eyes sunk into their skulls and their cheekbones projected, they all began to look alike, their identities obliterated by dehydration and starvation.

“it could neither be remedied, nor could sorrow secure their return; but it was impossible to prevent ourselves feeling all the poignancy and bitterness that characterizes the separation of men who have long suffered in each other’s company, and whose interests and feelings fate had so closely linked together.”

For as long as men had been sailing the world’s oceans, famished sailors had been sustaining themselves on the remains of dead shipmates. By the early nineteenth century, cannibalism at sea was so widespread that survivors often felt compelled to inform their rescuers if they had not resorted to it since, according to one historian, “suspicion of this practice among starving castaways was a routine reaction .”

Two months after deciding to spurn the Society Islands because, in Pollard’s words, “we feared we should be devoured by cannibals,” they were about to eat one of their own shipmates.

 

Book Review: Beautiful You – Chuck Palahniuk

chuckpalahniuk.net

Overview: I have read several of Palahniuk’s books and have enjoyed all of them. His style is unique and his stories are usually hilarious while simultaneously thought provoking. While I still enjoyed this book, it was taken to an entirely new extreme compared to his other books.

It is the story of a woman named Penny, who is an aspiring lawyer working for a law-firm as a coffee fetcher. By chance she happens to encounter the richest man in the world, Linus C. Maxwell, who takes her on a date which leads to a relationship lasting 137 days. Penny quickly discovers that Maxwell is a sexual master and is in the process of developing a product line of sexual products for women. Penny ends up being the final test subject prior to the launching of the product line known as Beautiful You.

The release of the sexual product causes virtually all women to become zombies enslaved to their sexual toys. They stop eating, they stop leaving their houses, and they stop taking care of themselves. Palahniuk compares their conquest to men and video games and porn. The constant need for endorphin release causes women to basically be taken out of society.

The book ends in a way that I don’t think any reader could predict. Penny has to visit an ancient sex god on Mount Everest known as Baba Gray-Beard to learn the techniques to overthrow Maxwell and his control over all women.

Palahniuk goes for it in a way that I don’t think most authors would ever dare go.

Lesson: On the highest level you could say the story presents the consequences that can come from extreme addiction to endorphin release. If you become addicted to sexual pleasure (or anything) there is a good chance you can ruin your life.

That being said, Palahniuk mocks a lot of the goofy things of modern society. He takes a stab at feminism and marketing, the legal profession, sex, and a handful of other things. The least subtle being feminism.

Important Passages (Per Sean):

Not only had Penny been raped in front of a federal courtroom filled with people, none of whom had lifted a finger to stop the attacker, but now the ambulance attendants thought she was an idiot.

She’d never trusted her own natural impulses and instincts. Among her greatest fears was the possibility that she might never discover and develop her deepest talents and intuitions. Her special gifts. Her life would be wasted in pursuing the goals set for her by other people. Instead , she wanted to reclaim a power and authority— a primitive, irresistible force—that transcended gender roles. She dreamed of wielding a raw magic that predated civilization itself.

Growing up on her parents ’ farm in Shippee, Nebraska, Penny had seen cooped-up hens peck one another to bloody death with more subtlety.

Good news didn’t seem real until you’d told at least a dozen friends.

She was getting too carried away with her fantasy, and the future had a way of breaking your heart if you expected too much.

If she didn’t crave the correct movie heartthrobs and scented candles, she worried that something was horribly wrong with her.

On the telephone, long-distance, her mother shouted, “How can you not love him? He’s so rich!” On the extension, her father added, “Pretend to love him!”

Suddenly Penny envisioned a billion lonely wives or single women abusing themselves in isolated resignation. In ghetto tenements or tumbledown farmhouses. Not bothering to meet potential partners. Living and dying with no intimate companions beyond their Beautiful You gadgetry . Instead of being either whores or Madonnas, they’d become celibates who diddled a lot. To Penny that didn’t seem like social progress.

The idea wasn’t without precedent; it seemed that every time a new tampon or form of birth control came to market women died. Toxic shock . Ruptures of the vaginal wall. Men engineered these innovations, but it was always women who paid the price.

The same block of women, nationwide, was making a banal romance novel about vampires into a megabestseller.

“The mistakes we make in our youth,” she said solemnly, “we pay for with the rest of our lives.”

A generation of young men had become entranced by the lure of loveless release and had fallen through the cracks of society. They were hunkered down in basement rooms heavy with the reek of their dissipation, oblivious to maintaining real relationships with actual love mates.

Artificial overstimulation seemed like the perfect way to stifle a generation of young people who wanted more and more from a world where less and less was available. Whether the victims were men or women, arousal addiction seemed to have become the new normal.

“You will serve as the permanent CEO of DataMicroCom. Every day for the rest of your life you will wear panty hose and carry a briefcase. You will wear your hair as a lacquered helmet and eat salads. You will sit through board meetings so tedious that they will test your sanity.”

He was as trapped by his small-scale, gender-specific dreams as she had been by hers.

It seemed ironic how not long ago her mom and Monique had been badgering Penny to throw away her birth control and trap Max into marriage.

While their actual circumstances might be grinding poverty and ignorance , she’d bestow upon them a rich surrogate reality. She’d deliver to their taste buds an unending banquet of gourmet delicacies. An unending repast without a single fattening calorie ! She’d replace their mundane thoughts with snippets of inspirational poetry read aloud by the cultured mouth of Meryl Streep.

The generations of females trained too long to look for insults and injustice, Penny would pummel them with joy and drive them to accept happiness. A happy ending. With stealthy, subtle manipulation of their pleasure centers, she’d gently bully them into achieving their full erotic potential.

An ancient truism had once decreed, “Self-improvement is masturbation.…” At last the inverse would also be true.

 

Book Review: Empty Mansions – Bill Dedman

Overview: William A. Clark deserves to be placed in the same category as John D. Rockefeller and Dale Carnegie. Although you may have never heard of him, he amassed a huge fortune over the course of his life, mostly from copper mining and other entrepreneurial ventures. When he died in 1925 he left his fortune to his wife and daughter. His daughter’s name was Huguette, and this book is about how she spent her father’s fortune over the course of her lifetime, which spanned 104 years.

It is really a fascinating story, as Huguette essentially goes into voluntary seclusion, and takes up the hobbies of painting and doll collecting, spending outrageous amounts of money on the two while giving away even more to the few people she interacts with and their families. She paid vast fortunes to buy and maintain houses that she never lived in, and she was rarely accepting of meeting people in person, including her own relatives. As the full title of the book describes, it is the story of the spending of a great American fortune.

Lesson: While the purpose of the book isn’t really to provide the reader with a definite lesson on life, it definitely reveals a world that few know, or would even suspect, exist. Huguette is probably not the only example of an individual who goes into seclusion after inheriting more money than they know what to do with.

Would you ever pay hundreds of thousands of dollars each year to maintain homes you never set foot in? Or how about spend millions of dollars on collections of dolls? Or gift your care takers and their families more money than most people could earn in several lifetimes over?

The story of Huguette Clark involves all of the above and more.

Important Passages (Per Sean):

When W. A. Clark died in 1925, he left an estate estimated at $ 100 million to $ 250 million, worth up to $ 3.4 billion today.

The length of history spanned by father and daughter is hard to comprehend. W. A. Clark was born in 1839, during the administration of the eighth president of the United States, Martin Van Buren. W.A. was twenty-two when the Civil War began. When Huguette was born in 1906, Theodore Roosevelt, the twenty-sixth president, was in the White House. Yet 170 years after W.A.’ s birth, his youngest child was still alive at age 103 during the time of the forty-fourth president, Barack Obama.

When Huguette was born, W.A. was a vigorous sixty-seven with four grown children from his first marriage, while Huguette’s mother, Anna LaChapelle Clark, was only twenty-eight.

Reporters who toured the home counted twenty-six bedrooms, thirty-one bathrooms, and five art galleries. Below the basement’s Turkish baths, swimming pool, and storage room for furs, a railroad spur brought in coal for the furnace, which burned seven tons on a typical day, not only for heat but also to power dynamos for the two elevators, the cold-storage plant, the air-filtration plant, and the 4,200 lightbulbs.

I beg you to cultivate imagination, which means to develop your power of sympathy, and I entreat you to decide thoughtfully what makes a human being great in his time and in his station .

Andrew Carnegie’s theory was that life should be divided into three stages: education, making money, and giving all the money away.

When you explained that to Mrs. Clark, her solution to everything was to fix it, hire more staff, spend more. She thought that everything came with a price, that if you just paid more, everything could be solved.

In her own way, she found what life may be, a life of integrity. Huguette was a quiet woman in a noisy

time. She had all the possessions that anyone could want, but she set them aside— all except her brioche and cashmere sweaters.

The State of Colorado Will Spend $20 Million On Trash This Christmas

There is a reasonable chance this holiday season that you will receive a gift that is wrapped in the upwards of four layers of trash.

  1. A gift bag
  2. Colorful tissue paper
  3. Wrapping paper
  4. Plastic wrap of unopened item

Now, let’s assume that the average person spends about $7 (reasonable sounding estimate) on all gift wrapping supplies each holiday season. To keep this local and relative, I am going to use the 2013 Colorado population data for my calculations.

Colorado population = 5.2 million

% over 18 = 76.5%

% 10 decrease for more conservative estimate

3.46 million * $7 = $24,220,000

Give or take five million, it is probably a safe assumption to say that the state of Colorado alone will spend about twenty million dollars in pure trash this holiday season. Someone please tell me that this is not insane.

It isn’t the first time that I have tried to look at the happenings of the world from the point of view of an alien. What do you think an outsider would think of this? What, you are telling me that these people spend their time to get money, which in turn they use to trade for something they end up throwing away, just to create an element of surprise for the things they are giving to their fellow humans? What the fuck?

It doesn’t take a genius to realize that the entire gift wrapping supply industry exists to make money, and as a whole people don’t care enough to question the necessity of putting trash on top of the presents we give to other people at the holidays. With this being said, I would like to propose alternatives to wrapping paper/gift bags for this holiday season. Besides the obvious of not wrapping the gifts at all, this list is for those still wanting to keep an element of surprise without contributing to the profits of the trash generating companies.

A towel(s)

Everyone has one. Most people have several, varying in sizes used for different purposes. You have a box of jewelry? No problem, wash rag. Shoes? Normal hand towel should to the trick. Something bigger? Bath towel baby. If need be, safety pin several bath towels together.

An old piece of plywood

Plenty of people have scraps of old wood lying around. Anything with some relatively large height and width can do the trick. Just stack all of the presents up against a wall and then lean the piece of wood over the top of the gifts. They will stay concealed until it is time for the recipient to find out what is beneath the barrier.

A tarp

Just put all of the gifts you bought for everyone underneath one large tarp, and be sure to label each gift with a sharpie so the intended recipient is obvious. Invite everyone over to your house that you bought a gift for and remove the tarp to reveal all gifts at once. Let your guests sort through who got what.

A dress shirt

This one is a personal favorite. If you position a shoe box in the center of the chest and then button the shirt, you can snuggly wrap the excess shirt around the sides, hiding it underneath the box. It looks more professional than the other items listed, and the recipient of the gift will likely get a laugh out of having to undo shirt buttons to reveal their gift.

The only limits to what can be used as gift wrap is the individual’s creativity. I guess maybe that is why we all take the easy way out and throw those rolls of wrapping paper into our shopping carts each year.

Call me a dreamer, but I can’t be the only one who thinks that the money expended on trash during the holiday season could be put to better use on something else.

Book Review: Reality if Broken – Jane McGonigal

Overview: I’ve played video games since I was a kid, and have been a fan of all types of competitive games my entire life. Given these two things, this book resonated with a deep and persistent passion. McGonigal explains the benefits of games and how they can benefit the human race in the future. People indulge in games because often times a huge part of normal life is repetitive, boring, and mindless. She uses real world examples of how games have helped solve problems and bring people together. She also helps smash the stigma that people often have about video games being a mindless escapist hobby. I can tell you that after playing all types of different games throughout my life, video games are far from mindless. In fact, there are few things that can be as mentally stimulating as video games.

Lesson: If we were able to incorporate the things that we have learned about games into solving major problems in the world, businesses, and other areas of life, people would have more motivation and reason to participate and enjoy the things that come with everyday life. We have a instinctual desire to work together and solve problems, we just need better platforms for doing so.

Important Passages (Per Sean):

The truth is this: in today’s society, computer and video games are fulfilling genuine human needs that the real world is currently unable to satisfy. Games are providing rewards that reality is not. They are teaching and inspiring and engaging us in ways that reality is not. They are bringing us together in ways that reality is not.

Collectively, the planet is now spending more than 3 billion hours a week gaming.

Playing a game is the voluntary attempt to overcome unnecessary obstacles.

When you are in a state of flow, you want to stay there: both quitting and winning are equally unsatisfying outcomes.

In fact, it’s a truism in the game industry that a well-designed game should be playable immediately, with no instruction whatsoever.

A game is an opportunity to focus our energy, with relentless optimism, at something we’re good at (or getting better at) and enjoy. In other words, gameplay is the direct emotional opposite of depression.

In our real lives, hard work is too often something we do because we have to do it—to make a living, to get ahead, to meet someone else’s expectations, or simply because someone else gave us a job to do. We resent that kind of work. It stresses us out. It takes time away from our friends and family. It comes with too much criticism. We’re afraid of failing. We often don’t get to see the direct impact of our efforts, so we rarely feel satisfied. Or, worse, our real-world work isn’t hard enough. We’re bored out of our minds. We feel completely underutilized. We feel unappreciated. We are wasting our lives.

The research proves what gamers already know: within the limits of our own endurance, we would rather work hard than be entertained. Perhaps that’s why gamers spend less time watching television than anyone else on the planet.

He was intensely focused, highly motivated, creatively charged, and working at the very limits of his abilities. Immersion was almost instant. Flow was fast and virtually guaranteed.

“The attainment of extrinsic, or ‘American Dream,’ goals—money, fame, and being considered physically attractive by others—does not contribute to happiness at all.”

We’ve been sold the American dream. And increasingly, it’s not just Americans who are giving up real happiness in favor of the pursuit of wealth, fame, and beauty. Thanks to the globalization of consumer and popular culture, everyone on the planet is being sold the same dream of extrinsic reward. This is especially true in emerging economies like China, India, and Brazil, where more and more people are being ushered onto the global hedonic treadmill, encouraged to consume more and to compete for limited natural resources as a way to increase their quality of life.

In one recent nationwide survey, more than 50 percent of U.S. adults recently reported that they “lack great enthusiasm for life” and “don’t feel actively and productively engaged with the world.”

In the economy of engagement, it is less and less important to compete for attention and more and more important to compete for things like brain cycles and interactive bandwidth.

Compensation increases participation only among groups who would never engage otherwise—and as soon as you stop paying them, they stop participating.

By the age of twenty-one, the average young American has spent somewhere between two and three thousand hours reading books—and more than ten thousand hours playing computer and video games.1 With each year after 1980 you’re born, these statistics are increasingly likely to be true.

We have a hardwired desire and capacity to cooperate and coordinate our actions with others, to effectively immerse ourselves in groups, and to actively cocreate positive shared experiences.

We are all born with the potential to develop collaboration superpowers. Scientific research shows that we have both the ability and the desire from early childhood to cooperate, to coordinate activity, and to strengthen group bonds—in other words, to make a good game together. But this potential can be lost if we don’t expend enough effort practicing collaboration.

The great challenge for us today, and for the remainder of the century, is to integrate games more closely into our everyday lives, and to embrace them as a platform for collaborating on our most important planetary efforts.

Could a Collaboration Economy Replace Our Current System?

simplymen.com

I think it is pretty obvious that humans wouldn’t be here today if throughout history there wasn’t a strong sense of working together for the group rather than the self. With modern advancements however, it seems we have moved from the days of collaboration to days of trying to swing the biggest dick. We like to compare the amount and quality of the assets we have accumulated, and we are selfish with those things. The interaction between humans has decreased and diminished in quality.

Right now money dictates a lot of the things that we decide to do. Acquiring money is the most reasonable way to put food on the table and put a roof over our heads. The most common way to get that money is to go work for someone else and trade our time for the money. We collectively put in our efforts to make bigger things happen, but most of us wouldn’t do them unless we were getting paid for it. So, the question is, if money disappeared, would a world where we have to collaborate to survive lead to human advancement, or would it be human demise?

Obviously this is a big idea to try to process, and no one would be certain as to what would happen if we suddenly had to make a worldwide shift in behavior. But let’s just look at Wikipedia as an example of a voluntary collaboration effort. The success and mass effort that people have put into Wikipedia, without compensation, gives hope that if things came down to it, we would still thrive as a whole. In case you didn’t know, thousands or hours and people voluntarily spent their time to make Wikipedia into what it is today, and it wasn’t their “job.”

Let’s say in this collaboration economy an average week would look like this:

Monday: Work on something passionate about

Tuesday: Community work

Wednesday: Work on something passionate about

Thursday: Community Work

Friday: Work on something passionate about

Weekend: Social time

Based on the huge population the varying sections of what people are passionate about would probably almost be sufficient enough to cover a lot of the things that would keep society going. But, for the places where additional resources may be needed, we could offer rotations each week where people participate in varying tasks to contribute to things that are needed, but are tasks that few people are passionate about. Maybe on a Tuesday you have to pick up trash from your neighborhood. The next Thursday you are doing janitorial tasks at a school. Whatever it may be, the fact that the sole reason you would be doing it is to improve the lives of fellow humans, the intrinsic reward would be much greater than if you were doing it for money. Plus, with the different tasks for each week, people wouldn’t fall into the soul sucking cycle of daily repetition of mundane thing for years on end. This isn’t even considering the fact that most days you would be able to work on your passions. Progress would still be made, and we would have less focus on the menial shit that makes our lives more difficult.

Now, of course the ideas I just stated may not even come to fruition if currency died entirely, but I think things like Wikipedia show that we are wired to collaborate for the betterment of everyone. The combined knowledge of everyone in the world combined in one place is an insanely powerful thing. And to think most of it was created without payments to any of the contributors.

To ever get to a place like that something quite catastrophic would have to happen and the values of the masses would have to experience a large shift. Instead of ignoring our neighbors or trying to outdo them, we would need to know them and have to work together.

Even if all of our current systems fail, I think it is our DNA to find a way to survive by becoming one large thing, instead of separate opposing factions.

My Cell Phone is Awesome, But Life Sucks When It Won’t Go Fast Enough

On a recent trip to the grocery store I saw a lady complaining to a store employee about the fact that they ran out of unsweetened almond milk. The lady acted like her entire day, perhaps week, was ruined by the fact she wouldn’t be bringing the nutty milk home from that grocery store. That lady got to go home and sleep in a bed in a house with a roof and heat. If she was making over roughly $30,000 a year then she resides in the top 1% of the world (monetarily speaking). We are so quick to jump to complaining about our situations. Letting the most minute shit ruin our day. The webpage doesn’t load fast enough on your cell phone. The car in front of you is going 4 MPH slower than you want them to. Or heaven forbid, that grocery store that has thousands of different items on the shelves, ran out of one of the things that was on your list. We consistently fail to appreciate that we have it easier than any other time in human history. If you are reading this there is a good chance that you are a member of the global 1%.

I’m not trying to say that we are living in paradise, in my opinion mankind as a whole is falling way short of its potential. There are tons of flaws in the accepted systems and the design of those systems that we have created. We make life much more complicated than it needs to be. We fight meaningless wars and live our lives according to primitive ideals. A lot of the stuff in this world really does suck. Even more, we are tiny in the world. Even if we have great ideas on change that would make everything better, we don’t have the power or influence to make a difference.

But… you don’t have to worry about surviving a night in the open. You don’t have to worry about trying to kill an animal so that you have something to eat for your next meal. You probably can’t even fathom that the human species survived long enough to see all of the advancements of modern society. I know I can’t.

Eventually there is a good chance humans will be the thing that eradicate humans from the earth. But that probably won’t happen in your lifetime. So let’s appreciate the relatively easy lives that we are living. We have all of this awesome shit but we are so quick to complain when it doesn’t work quite as well as we want it to. Without having to worry about the basic components of human survival, we should appreciate all of the opportunities that this situation opens for us.

It brings up another interesting thing to ponder. If we complain about things even when they are as a whole awesome, have humans always been that way?

God damn it Marge, this patch of dirt that I am sleeping on tonight is way too hard.

That deer that we spent five hours tracking just doesn’t taste good enough by my standards.

Maybe our quality of life would improve if we had more appreciation for how relatively easy humans as a whole have it.