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SBR: The Short Victorious War

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?

The Plot

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.

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SBR: The Honor of the Queen

One of my favorite science fiction series (read my first book review, On Basilisk Station) is the Honor Harrington book series. In the second book in the Honorverse series (the author has several series based in this sci-fi universe), David Weber introduces a culture on a planet that has an incredibly interesting religious culture that interacts with his cosmopolitan and pluralistic main culture of Manticore.

As an aside, the group originated from Idaho, in many ways the Graysons’ (so named for their planet) feel like home. But, they have developed some interesting theology and culture in the face of a 1000 year fight for survival on a planet that was poisoning them.

One of the best things about David Weber’s writing is how he explores duty and honor, and how people who act honorably often face significant consequences. In this book, he sets up a cold war confrontation between two sects of the religious group who founded the planet. One group was kicked off hundreds of years earlier to live on a better planet. The other group, those who stated on the toxic planet, had to change their philosophy and theology of life from something Amish-like that saw modern technology as a problem to an interesting take of American evangelicalism that was at once both incredibly personal and had much of the form and governmental structure of another religious group, the LDS church.

On the other hand, the people who were on a better planet, had grown like weeds, still thought technology was bad, but were willing to use it in order to destroy Grayson.

Into this mix, you have the two larger players attempting to create treaties and position their countries to be better prepared when the shooting starts.

Forging the Peace

This is where the look at Honor and how she will protect a culture that sees her as incompetent at best or as the root of all evil at worse, because she is a woman. The whole book looks at how to forge a peace between different cultures and when a culture or an individual is not able to forge a peace.

Peace comes when people willingly put down their arms, or when there is no one left to fight. And, this book shows how both sets of people (willing peacemakers and stubborn fighters) can come from the same culture, same religion, and similar racial background. One planet will not rest until the other is destroyed while the other planet will compromise and build relationships with others.

Without going into too much of the plot with spoilers, the book dives into how Honor Harrington uses duty to forge peace between many parties in the book.

Understanding Religion

This book attempts to show interactions between people from multiple religions, including a secular state, two free states (one pluralistic and one with a separation but a virtual monopoly of one religion), and a really weird Presbyterian theocracy. In other words, Honor of the Queen brings some of the ideological fight of the global Cold War into an interesting fusion of western American religious ideas.

SBR: Yea or Nay?

As one of my favorite books to read, because I love to see how pioneers from Idaho have survived, fought, and adapted over a 1000 year period, I still recommend this book as a good novel and as a good read on what it means to live and act from the strength of duty.

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SBR: What Price Victory, A Storm of Swords Vol 1

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.

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Saturday Book Review: Built to Last

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 not-so-visionary ones.

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 world.

BHAG

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 line.

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?

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SBR: On Basilisk Station

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.

Lessons Learned

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:

  1. Creating a consistent science fiction novel that feels rooted in history.
  2. 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.

David Weber’s On Basilisk Station is a highly engaging and entertaining read.

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Saturday Book Review: Credibility

Today’s Saturday Book Review: Credibility: How Leaders Gain and Lose It, Why People Demand It. Written by James Kouzes and Barry Posner, this book distill some of their data from tens of thousands and counting interviews with people across the world in multiple industries to write Credibility: How Leaders Gain and Lose It, Why People Demand It. This book is a course on leadership, especially if you study their bibliography (208 Endnotes). You can also read this with the resource The Leadership Challenge.

Kouzes and Posner “relied upon our own surveys, which over the years have been administered to well over 100,000 people from around the world.” They claim that the results of the studies have not changed since they started in the early 1980s. They cover those surveys and in-depth analysis with their encyclopedic book; in this book they cover the 6 essential activities they see credible leaders providing in their surveys.

The Six Disciplines for Earning and Sustaining Credibility

Kouzes and Posner are excellent prose writers; some of this book is very hard to read, but it is all valuable. A discipline is an activity that you improve with practice, and the core of Credibility are the disciplines listed below:

  1. Discover Your Self
  2. Appreciate Constituents
  3. Affirm Shared Values
  4. Develop Capacity
  5. Serve a Purpose
  6. Sustain Hope

Discover Your Self

The classic statement from Delphi and the oracle of Apollo is to Know Yourself, and this statement is as needed today as it was then. If a leader is going to be believable to your constituents, you need to believe what you’re selling, yourself.

Appreciate Constituents

If you have ever read Joy Starts Here, another book for another Saturday, you will know that shared appreciation is tremendous! It builds joy skills, develops our neural pathways, and establishes credibility. In this chapter, Kouzes and Posner discuss how to show appreciation that aligns with your shared values, while embracing conflict and engendering trust.

It is difficult to think about how to hold these positions in tension with each other, but Kouzes and Posner tell many stories of how leaders do just that.

Affirm Shared Values

This chapter starts with a tremendous story of a village elder who lived on the mountainside. One day he noticed that an earthen dam upstream from the village was about to give way. He thought through what he could do to save the lives of the people in his village, and he lit his own house on fire. The whole village rushed up the mountain to save his house, and in doing so all their lives were saved from the flood.

Shared values are important for credibility because you are able to trust how people within a group will act in a given situation.

Develop Capacity

The two activities that develop capacity that resonated with me were to foster confidence and create a climate for learning. I have been a part of many organizations where employees were put down or disciplined for systematic mistakes. This removed confidence and create a climate where true learning was feared. If you want to develop capacity in an organization, team or just among your friends, find a way to help them feel more confident and free to “take chances, make mistakes, get messy!” To borrow from one of my children’s favorite shows.

Serve a Purpose

Kouzes and Posner wait until 2/3rds of the way through the book to introduce a concept that was a buzz word in many leadership circles for some time, “servant leadership.” One of the key activities that I appreciated in this chapter was the fact that leaders who are serving a purpose beyond themselves will do what it takes to restore credibility once it is lost.

Sustain Hope

The final of the disciplines a credible leader will engage in is sustaining hope. This chapter is key to the fact that leaders are often called to go it alone but need to have a hope in the vision they see; when hope stops and forward activity stop, the leader loses a key attribute of what it means to be a leader, to be forward-looking.

This book is a great resource for people who are looking to become a better leader. But, I must warn you that it is not an easy or fast read. A notebook of notes or video journaling your thoughts as you read through it could be a good way to get more out of the dense and content-rich reading.

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SBR: Becoming

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.

Be Confident

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.

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