I have been on a David Weber kick for the last few weeks. The third book in the Honorverse series of novels is almost as interesting to me as a political analysis tool as it is a science fiction novel about one of my favorite heroes.
Setting the Scene
Set a little over 2 millennia from now, the entire series is based off of a war between two star nations that look a significant amount like England and France as I discussed in the review of the first book, On Basilisk Station.
The tension has been built in the two previous books as the People’s Republic of Haven prepares to invade Manticore in order to shore up a failing centralized economy.
This is the scene for the book, and the book is the opening of the war that will continue for over 10 more books afterwards.
In other words, the short victorious war is anything but short or victorious.
And, isn’t that how things go in real life?
After we have seen the main character get placed in unique places that require her to engage the enemy as a single ship’s captain, The Short Victorious War begins to introduce a great cast of characters that will come into play throughout the entire series.
Many characters on both sides die, because its a war, and the book sets the scene for the development of Honor’s character as a main plot driver through the next decades of war between Manticore and Haven.
SBR: The Short Victorious War
While I really enjoy the entire science fiction world that David Weber created, The Short Victorious War tends to be something that is a good part of the series, but I would recommend reading other books in the series if you were to choose a standalone read.
If you have not yet read my review of the first book in A Song of Ice and Fire, you can do that here.
I am not planning on reviewing George R.R. Martin’s entire series, but the paperback split of the third book brought to mind a saying of Jesus: What does it profit a man to gain the whole world but to lose his own soul.
Why Volume 1?
Like many fantasy epics, Martin’s 3rd novel in A Song of Ice and Fire is incredibly long. So long, in fact, that it was split into two volumes for paperback publishing.
So, the 3rd book I read ended in a high point for a certain family that the author probably didn’t intend. The end of the original novel follows through on my original observation of his writing: in the game of thrones, you lose or you die.
In this volume though, it ends with all of the opposing armies defeated and the family that has been the most egregious manipulators in the series are all doing incredibly well.
Is Love Enough?
I saw a quote from some business leader that reminded me of the Storm of Swords. The quote said that as parents, love is not enough. Because if love was enough all our children would be high performers.
Leaving aside the fact that there are many people who don’t love their children, this attitude is wrong in so many ways. And it shows in Martin’s fantastical history as much as any other place.
The great Tywin Lannister has spent his entire life ensuring his family is great. He has worked hard so that people will not laugh at him or his family.
So hard, in fact, that he misses the opportunity to engage, discipline, affirm, listen to, or do any other action that is part of love for his children.
His love for high-performance outshone his love for his children and it tells.
At What Price Victory?
This novel was interesting because it shows that the best laid plans of the most successful people often cause their own downfall.
If you dishonor your vows, ignore your children, disinherit your children because of a disability that you can’t face, and allow your own team to behave as monsters because they get you victory, then you deserve what’s coming to you.
And this is exactly how the next volume plays out, and the split novel made it an interesting set up.
One of my favorite business books, Built to Last is
the doctoral work of Jim Collins. The book attempts to look at what sets an
entire company apart from other companies.
Many people look at successful companies and think it is one
or two visionary products, a visionary leader, or just plain luck. In Built to
Last, Collins and Porras survey hundreds of business executives asking them to
list visionary companies. From the companies submitted, they looked at
companies that were over 50 years old (not just one visionary leader) and had
outperformed the stock market.
Once they had that list, they created a second list. This
list was of companies that were in the same industry, were started around the
same time as their counterparts, and had at least some measure of success in
the company’s lifetime.
This gave them 18 visionary companies and 18
The Lessons Learned
In the book, they came up with a list of items that the
visionary companies generally had and the not-so-visionary ones did not.
While many people have criticized the results of the book,
which led to Collins writing multiple books after this one, it is still a
powerful example of how visionary businesses can impact their industries and
The BHAG, or Big Hairy Audacious Goal, is one of the items
they came up with that I have often struggled with. I set goals that are too
large and am unable to reach them. Looking at the goals they hold up, they were
overly bold to the rest of the world, but to the people within the businesses
the BHAGs just made sense.
This is one area where my understanding has grown since
originally reading the book. The best goals stretch us but they are also
attainable. Because when we achieve goals, we get to celebrate and win.
Preserve the Core
This is the term that Collins and Porras used to describe
how the visionary companies all had values and culture that significantly
impacted who that company was to the world. Whether it was Phillip Morris (who
eventually went under because of tobacco regulations) and their radically
individualism or Merck’s commitment to give away medicine to the developing
world, each company had core values that were more important than the bottom
For aspiring business owners and entrepreneurs, freelance
writers and marketers, I think this value is key for our success.
If we understand the core values of our readers, our
customers, and our own team, we are able to build rapport, gain interest, and
connect with them.
Have you read the book? If so, what were your most significant takeaways from Built to Last?
Her Majesty’s Ship, Fearless, is sent to a backwater posting to enforce smuggling laws and protect Queen Elizabeth’s shipping lanes. While there, the young commander runs afoul of an old superior, uncovers a plot to start a war with the Kingdom, and winds up in a ship-to-ship battle with a much larger and better armed vessel.
If you think I am writing the description of a story set in Elizabethan England describing the battles between the scrappy British navy and Spanish privateers, I think that is what the author wanted.
On Basilisk Station: A Space Seafaring Novel
Much of what we love about the drama of the high seas is included in this novel by David Weber, from the political intrigues that make British drama so interesting to the idea of a ship that seems to be literally held together by the will of a captain.
On Basilisk Station opens a unique sci-fi universe, where faster than light travel is possible by navigated hyperspace, something Weber seems to have researched significantly but is beyond this review.
Setting the Scene
While the queen is indeed named Elizabeth, she is not the ruling monarch of a small island nation on earth, she is the ruling monarch of a small binary system that has 3 inhabitable planets.
Humanity has spread across the galaxy in the last millennia and the largest multi-system nation near Manticore is The People’s Republic of Haven, a hereditary country where most of the citizens are on a Universal Basic Income, called the Dole, and the government has to continually expand to pay for their social safety net.
Because of the physics that Weber creates for the series, space ships that fight in large, 3 dimensional space, tend to actually behave like 18th century sailing ships, so you have a strong, female lead, Commander Honor Harrington, opening the stage for one of my favorite book series.
Even though you should read for enjoyment, I often take away more from a good novel than I do from many more serious non-fiction works and how-to type books.
Leadership Requires Full-Spectrum Activity
Commander Harrington is sent to the backwater station the book gets its name from through no fault of her own, but her crew blames her for it. Although she prefers to inspire love and creativity, she has to spend a significant amount of time demanding it because of their own attitudes.
Although she rarely ever raises her voice, she does tend to get very intense. She also does not take excuses or offer them, and her crew learns to believe in themselves when they meet her demands, then they learn to love her as their captain.
Don’t Attempt to Recreate the Wheel
This book opened the main series of 14 novels on Honor Harrington, as well as multiple spin-off series, anthologies, comic books, and more. And there are two basic premises of the book:
Creating a consistent science fiction novel that feels rooted in history.
Introducing a strong heroine who overcomes significant adversity to not only survive but earn the love of her followers.
So often, fantasy and sci-fi novels attempt to do to much. We attempt to create an entirely unique world or just copy the other worlds in our genre. The best writers understand that they have to create something unique and infuse it with as much of their experience and viewpoint of reality as they can.
Don’t Give Up Hope
There is a point in the novel where the crew of Fearless realizes that they are hopelessly out massed and outgunned. But, they keep going.
It is the right thing to do, because they are worried that the ship they are fighting will bring reinforcements if it escapes.
And towards the end of the fight, there is no alternative.
And, the little ship that could does not give up.
To Read or Not?
If you enjoy space-based science fiction, enjoy a unique universe or are interested in strong protagonists, I highly recommend this novel.
After reading a marketing email about how one of the characters in the series by George R. R. Martin is the Mother of Branding as well as the Mother of Dragons, I decided I would give the books a try. The first book in the series A Song of Ice and Fireis Game of Thrones. While it has been a bestselling novel and one of the most watched shows on HBO for many years, I have never done HBO so this is my first experience of the book.
“In the game of thrones, you win or you die”
This is the major theme of the first book, mentioned multiple times by different characters. I was reading and I realized that the people who win the throne are not true winners. As a matter of fact, the only people who work their way to some point of rest are those who have died.
So, my theme for the book review is to twist Martin’s words
back against him: in the game of thrones, you lose.
Or you die.
There are no winners.
Now, if you are a major fan of the book or television
series, you may start arguing with me, but realize that this is a review of one
book from a new fan. I will not have your point of view on the characters that
somehow manage to survive the next few books and make a life for themselves. But,
even so, I am going to hypothesize that this theme will continue through the
The vanquished in A Song of Ice and Fire is the
victor of the field.
I saw several other reviews that praised Martin for creating
a fantasy world that was more realistic than Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings epic, set
in a medieval plot-line loosely based on the English War of Roses, where the
houses of Lancaster and York fought each other (and everyone else) for the
throne of England.
I don’t know that the amount of violence portrayed in the book
is true to medieval life.
But, this book fits in well with pre-Christian epics like the
Illiad, the Odyssey, or the Epic of Gilgamesh.
Yes, it uses military techniques and technology from around
800-1200 AD Europe, including the massed hordes of horse archers used by Moslem,
Mongol, and Hunnish armies and the knights and longbowmen of England and France.
But, as a fantasy, it also pulls together a unique blend of
the brutal intricacies of Greco-Roman family politics with the magic of Norse
and Celtic mythologies and the capriciousness of Homeric deities.
In other words, the good, the bad and the ugly in this work
is more of a reflection of the author and our modern culture than it is of any other
human culture in history.
The Theme of Death in Game of Thrones
The book starts in the 15th year of the reign of Robert,
a minor foil in the series. His inability to mourn and move on from his young love
has lead to a power vacuum in the kingdom. Through the book we discover how little
he has actually done in his kingdom; he has not even sired any children to
carry on his line. All his wife’s children were in fact made in an incestuous
affair she carried on for the entirety of her marriage.
Before the opening of the series, we read about the war with the descendants of the dragon kings whose own incestuous habits had lead to a high degree of instability in the family. The last dragon king was known as a mad man. His surviving son is also crazy.
So, we learn that the main characters have ALL lost family
members in the last war, including fathers, brothers, sisters, children.
In the course of the book, the king dies and the main male
character, Ned Stark also dies.
Ned is the most consistent character in the series. Besides
one somewhat mysterious affair when he was on the war path, no one knows who
the mother of his son is, he has lived committed to his wife, Catelyn. He honors
his friends and his enemies alike through plain spoken candor. But, as he
attempts to fill the power vacuum left by his friends’ poor life and untimely
death, he gets outsmarted by the Queen, betrayed by many, and executed after he
issues a false confession in an attempt to save his daughter’s life.
Ned’s death removes him from the survival equation, mostly
unscathed. He dies as a moral and virtuous man, just like those who died before
The survivors in the Game of Thrones have not won, but they have
all lost much.
They lost the love of a joyful home. They lost the love of a
healthy marriage bed, if they ever had it. They lost the peace of a truly just government.
They lost sanity. They lost loved ones on the battle field, on the sickbed, and
in the intrigues of various court battles.
The survivors are attempting to hold on, to survive for
And the book ends the way it begins: with hurt people
playing a game for a transitional power structure and a sense of identity where
death is the only victor.
Yes, Game of Thrones is an interesting read, but I have to
follow it up with something more full of hope. So I leave you with the entirety
of Longfellow’s poem as my response to the first book in A Song of Fire and
As one who long hath fled with panting breath Before his foe, bleeding and near to fall, I turn and set my back against the wall, And look thee in the face, triumphant Death, I call for aid, and no one answereth; I am alone with thee, who conquerest all; Yet me thy threatening form doth not appall, For thou art but a phantom and a wraith. Wounded and weak, sword broken at the hilt, With armor shattered, and without a shield, I stand unmoved; do with me what thou wilt; I can resist no more, but will not yield. This is no tournament where cowards tilt; The vanquished here is victor of the field.
I love memoirs. They challenge me to see the world from someone else’s point of view, to understand a new way of doing things or thinking.
So, when I saw a copy of Michelle Obama’s Becomingat a friends house, I decided to pick it up for the next Saturday Book Review. Politically, I am about as far from President Obama’s administration as you could be. But, a significant reason for reading a memoir like this is to see from someone else’s point of view.
Becomingis a well-written book with insight into the family life of the family of the 44th President of the United States and to much of the periphery of their leadership.
It is also the story of how an African-American from south Chicago met a Kenyan-American from Hawaii and his charm, charisma, and passion for the political process led them both to become our first black Presidential family.
Leadership Lessons Learned
Sometimes We Have to Be Comfortable in the Supporting Role
Michelle Obama had to balance the life of a Princeton and Harvard educated lawyer with a career of her own with the life of the primary household and child manager for the years that Barack was in office.
This is a key lesson that I think anyone looking to grow in life should learn: designating one parent as the at-home parent is key for most larger than life goals.
Yes, Michelle is a strong woman. Yes, she has her own career. But, no, she is not able to have an independent career and remain married to the President of the United States. This isn’t a gender thing, it’s the fact that some positions require so much energy that the entire family gets behind it, even if one member is the figurehead.
The Supporting Role Can Be More Meaningful
After Donald Trump became President, he worked to undo much of President Obama’s signature legislative legacy and executive policies. I was struck while reading Becoming that some of Michelle Obama’s silent work on the side is more likely to survive partisan pruning.
Will the White House’s Vegetable Garden remain?
Longer than the Iranian nuclear treaty.
Michelle was the First Lady of the United States and she never expressed the desire for power that Hillary Clinton was known for in Bill Clinton’s presidency. But, her quiet determination to do something for America’s children had a measurable and long-term impact in both legislative and private processes.
One of the things that attracted Michelle to Barack was the ease of movement that he had, he always portrayed a sense of confidence. Agree or disagree with him on policy, only a reactionary jerk would say that President Obama did not hold himself with presidential decorum.
If you are going to build a business, advance your career, or run for the most powerful position on the planet, you need to show the world a calm confidence in what you do.
Don’t Give Power to Naysayers
Michelle talks about the pain of being a target for conservative media; being a leader in politics today means that your opponents will throw everything at you.
But, she mentions how the goals and worldview they had going in as a couple were the same as when they left. She also talks about how Obama kept an even keel when hurtful coverage threatened to capsize her.
If you want to be in leadership, understand that naysayers will attack you, no matter what.
Read Lots of Books
One story that really stood out to me was when Michelle mentioned that Barack had to have a room where he could spread out his reading materials.
When they were first friends and she tried setting him up with friends at a happy hour, Barack was annoyed because of the chit-chat. He would rather read a book then talk about the social ladder of Chicago urbanites.
This is now my favorite thing about President Obama, and if I ever were to meet him, the first question I would ask is what is the best book he has read recently.
Understanding The Other
It was interesting to read about a politician who I mostly disagreed with from the viewpoint of his biggest fan. It was also interesting to see the comments Michelle made in the book about the other side in American politics.
If you have lived under a rock as far as social media, news, and modern politics, you might have missed the fact that America is deeply divided. As a conservative constitutionalist-libertarianish-almost-anarchist biblically-submitted white boy from a lower income family in rural Idaho, I tend to fall pretty heavily on the “other side” from the Obamas.
That’s why I love true reading.
Reading gives you a viewpoint you might never have. I am 100% certain that I will never ask the Obamas what they thought about the racism of Rev. Jeremiah Wright, even if I met them.
Why am I so confident?
Because Michelle talked about how a news media put together a timeline of racist sermons and it struck them to see from an outsiders point of view. Everybody puts up with their crazy uncle unless it’s someone else’s crazy uncle.
When I read her comments on that, I put the book down and cried. Why? Because I have felt judged because of my race and never before have I even heard someone acknowledge that my feelings are OK to have. Michelle Obama did in her acknowledgement that some of Rev. Wright’s speeches are vitriolic and racist.
valso helped me understand where I consumed news content, and probably shared, that was not political discourse but prejudiced crap.
Understanding the other requires that we listen, and books are one of the best ways to listen, and take the time to truly see where we can come together and where our disagreements can be made with politeness but firmness.
Understanding the other requires that we don’t give up our principles, but relish the discussion.
Whether you loved the Obamas and want a fun look back at their ascendency and time in office or you think almost all of Obama’s laws should be repealed, I highly recommend that you read this book, apply some of President Obama’s habits to your own public presence, and engage in the process of Becoming.
Jack: Straight from the Gut is the memoir of Jack Welch, the CEO of the General Electric Corporation from 1981 to 2001. During his tenure as CEO, General Electric was included in the 1990’s business book Built to Last as a visionary company.
5 Lessons I Learned from Jack
Jack Welch had an amazing career in a period of intense change. When he started his career at GE, it was at the tail end of the Mad Men years, in 1960.
His first break came as a leader for a small plastics research team in GE. His team was able to drastically improve the quality of GE’s plastics manufacturing and keep them competitive in a technological revolution many people do not know happened. The advancements in plastics that have happened since 1960 are incredible, and Jack Welch was at the forefront of the research for it when he started his career.
Be Willing to Experiment
The first lesson I learned from Jack Welch’s autobiography was that we need to embrace learning while realizing that principles continue working even in major technological shifts. Jack Welch was so frustrated with the bureaucracy at GE when he started that he nearly quit.
It was only the intervention of a manager over him who ensured that he would have freedom to work and experiment that convinced him to stay at GE.
When he was the CEO, he kept an agile focus even while growing one of the largest corporations in the world.
Business Leaders Build People
The second lesson I learned from Jack:Straight from the Gut was that to be a great business leader, you have to focus your creativity in building people and culture. Although he received bad press in the 1980’s for hundreds of thousands of layoffs, the book really communicated that he did not want to do layoffs but saw it as the only way to keep GE competitive and enable better paying jobs.
Throughout the entire book, he discussed the people that he worked with, the people he promoted, the people who left GE to lead other companies. Another issue, that I disagree with him on, was his review and reward process. He fired the bottom 10% of managers in every business in GE every year!
Even though he made choices many people do not agree with, I found it very educational to read how the choices impacted the culture of GE during his 20 years as chairman. I was also interested to discover how much the culture he built impacted growth in manufacturing, expanding into services, and globalization.
The Importance of Family
I always read biographies of rich or famous people with an eye towards their families. It is incredibly difficult to be successful at work and successful in your family. Although this book was mostly about his time as CEO at GE, there was some information about how his lower income mom and dad impacted him, especially how his mother gave him a competitive spirit.
Also, he talked briefly about his divorce from his first wife and subsequent remarriage. He mentioned that when he got remarried he purposefully looked for a woman who would be able to spend time with him in traditional business settings like golf. I think this is a key part of any type of leadership and familial success. Bring your family with you.
Think Long Term
This book focused on the period of Jack’s life from 1960, when he started at GE until he retired in 2001, 41 years. During that time, he built businesses within the company, patented new technologies, succeeded one president and brought in another to replace himself.
He oversaw the growth of GE capital, the globalization of the company and using quality control to keep competitive in a more competitive world. It is so easy for people starting a business or career in the fast-paced online world and we forget that the most successful people always take time to build culture, to cultivate the process, and to become experts in what they do.
Careers are Not That Bad
If you have ever read or heard about Robert Kiyosaki’s Cash-Flow Quadrant, you have probably heard that you want to be an investor or business owner in order to be wealthy.
Jack Welch spent his entire life as an employee. He had to learn how to balance career and family life, he had to learn how to manage people and time. And, at the end of that amazing career, he retired with 100’s of millions of dollars.
You don’t have to be a business owner to retire with incredible wealth in this country, and that was one of the inspiring things I read in the book.
Jack, In Conclusion
Although you can read some of the heated debates that have and continue to surround this man, his autobiography is an interesting look at one of America’s most memorable careers. It is highly worth reading if you are interested in leadership, in building a business, or in the history of American business.