Book report: What we’re reading, Fall 2018

“Reading is a conversation. All books talk. But a good book listens as well.” — Mark Haddon

Books and reading are important to us at HWC, and we’re always swapping book recommendations with each other. We thought it would be fun to share a roundup of what we’re reading as an occasional feature here on our blog.

With no further ado, here’s what we’re reading during the fall of 2018.

Cheese, Pears, & History: In a Proverb by Massimo Montanari.

It examines an old European proverb that approximately translates to “Do not let the peasant know how good cheese is with pears.” It’s of particular interest because, through the evolution of the phrase, one can track some of the culinary history of Europe, the geopolitical developments in the area, and even the medicinal practices of the time. As the author points out, it’s also a unique example of an “anti-proverb,” where the fundamental intent is to hide information rather than share it. Overall, a fascinating, albeit niche, read so far! (It also taught me the word “gastrohermenteutics,” which I will never, ever get to use.) — Roberto Carozza

Defenseless Under the Night: The Roosevelt Years and the Origins of Homeland Security by Matthew Dallek.

It was a fascinating look at the origins of the Office of Civilian Defense, which was the precursor to the modern version of DHS. OCD was initially led by New York City Mayor Fiorello La Guardia, with Eleanor Roosevelt serving as the Assistant Director. They had deeply conflicting views about the approach the OCD should take, with La Guardia mostly focusing on creating something akin to a military-style civilian force that would do things like air patrol, plane spotting, firefighting, and promoting blackout preparedness. Roosevelt thought that it would be more effective to build something akin to the New Deal, focusing on a volunteer force that would provide necessary support through things like childcare programs for military personnel and those working in armament factories, stockpiling medical supplies, and attending to social needs. The book does a great job of highlighting not only their different approaches to the problem, but also how these two schools of thought reflected intrinsic differences in how best to protect the US against fascist threats and foreign invasions while safeguarding civil liberties. Dallek does a good job of providing a compelling narrative about these two larger-than-life characters and how their struggle for control mirrored some conflicts that still exist in homeland security and preparedness. — George McAleese

Life in code : a personal history of technology by Ellen Ullman.

Fascinating follow up to her iconic tech-history classic, Close to the Machine, about her life as a software engineer during the internet’s first rise.  As that was written 20 years ago, this has a LOT wider variety of material to work with (passage of the Y2K scare, rise of the Internet, monetization of apps, etc.), and through all of that, she hasn’t been working as a developer as much as a tech industry observer commentator.  That said, she has (so far in the book) managed to maintain the voice and timber of a tech industry insider and has great command of the issues that the industry faces, many of which are self-inflicted challenges and easily avoidable once recognized.  Trying to use some insights within it to pique my youngest daughter’s burgeoning interest in coding, as well as help her see and avoid pitfalls that will pop up if she chooses to travel that path (and make no mistake:  it WILL be her choice….  — Gregory Opas

The Myth of the Nice Girl: Achieving a Career You Love Without Becoming a Person You Hate by Fran Hauser.

A few years ago, I read a few career books aimed at women such as “Nice Girls Don’t Get the Corner Office,” and while some of the advice I found helpful, it didn’t fully resonate with me. Fran Hauser makes the case that using empathy and compassion can be incredibly helpful for achieving long-term career goals. It’s a quick and easy read but packed with tons of great advice. Would recommend for anyone who believes that kindness and strength in the workplace are not mutually exclusive! — Hannah Robbins

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