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Titan: The Life of John D. Rockefeller, Sr.
reviews

Review: Titan: The Life of John D. Rockefeller, Sr.

★★★☆☆

I picked up this book because I wanted to understand better the rise of the world's richest man and his legacy — a business legacy that lives on in corporate logos we see every day and a family legacy that extended all the way to the Lieutenant Governor's office of my home state of Arkansas.

Taking nothing away from Chernow's meticulous research and understated storytelling, the actual life of John D. Rockefeller seems rather dull. There was the ongoing tension between his Northern Baptist faith and his desire to accumulate and steward wealth, but the far more entertaining portions of the book follow Rockefeller's unresolved tension with his bigamist father and conflicts with Ida Tarbell and Teddy Roosevelt.

Perhaps the book's greatest value is its telling of, primarily through the life of one man, the transformation of American culture and mainline Protestantism. From Moody and Fosdick to Jung, Rockefeller, his family, or his surrogates were riding the same streams of the oncoming wave of Progressivism at the turn of the last century.

Suicide of the West: How the Rebirth of Tribalism, Populism, Nationalism, and Identity Politics Is Destroying American Democracy
reviews

Review: Suicide of the West: How the Rebirth of Tribalism, Populism, Nationalism, and Identity Politics Is Destroying American Democracy

★★★★★

Building on his previous work in Liberal Fascism, Goldberg makes the case that tribalism, populism, nationalism, and identity politics aren't new phenomena but merely evidence of civilization returning to its natural state, like an overgrown garden. Following the thread of Lockean and Rousseauian thought, he argues that modern populism is really the same Romantic reaction to the Enlightenment that never really faded, now dressed up as reality TV.

Well-researched (the appendix is nearly a fifth of the book's bulk) and well-written with Goldberg's usual wit and sarcasm, it's an entertaining read.

Empire of the Summer Moon: Quanah Parker and the Rise and Fall of the Comanches, the Most Powerful Indian Tribe in American History
reviews

Review: Empire of the Summer Moon: Quanah Parker and the Rise and Fall of the Comanches, the Most Powerful Indian Tribe in American History

★★★★★

A vivid history of Comancheria, its conquering of and collision with other cultures in what is now New Mexico, Texas, and Oklahoma. Though disturbing and shocking in places, the story could not be told without acknowledging the brutality executed by and on the Comanche people.

Born in Southwestern Oklahoma and now living in North Texas, I felt a special connection to the people and landscape. My mother's family is from Comanche County, Oklahoma and farmed over three hundred acres of land once a part of that set aside as the last vestige of grassland once ruled by perhaps the most adept cavalry in the world.

journal

Looking for my next great team

Twenty years in, I'm still thankful to make a living doing what I love to do: developing software and building engineering teams. I enjoy the creative process, solving problems, and defining & refining the way we work to ship code to provide value.

Due to some harsh startup realities, I'm unexpectedly looking for my next opportunity to join and grow a great engineering team.

My skills

I'm T-shaped, a generalizing specialist, a Jack-of-all-trades, master of some. I'm driven by curiosity. You don't make it long in this line of work if you're not a lifelong learner.

I don't like to work alone. I like being stretched by people with more experience and specialized knowledge as much as I love mentoring and sharing what I've learned. I've gained some experience in:

  • Platform, APIs - I helped build and scale the GitHub API, powering many features of the product and enabling an entire ecosystem to build value upon GitHub.
  • GraphQL - I haven't been this genuinely excited about a technology since the early days of Rails. As a long time REST nerd, I was skeptical about the promise of GraphQL early on, but having been a part of three implementations now, I've come to appreciate the accelerant it can be for frontend teams.
  • React - Returning to the frontend after years of building APIs has been a fun challenge. In the last couple of years, I've learned a ton about how to build a manageable frontend architecture with React.
  • Process - I've written about process because continual improvement is important to me. Success isn't individual, and the way a team works is a function of its mission and its makeup. Process has to be continually shaped and refined.
  • Leadership - As a technologist, as a business owner, and as an engineering manager, I've learned the value of collaboaration, empathy, and leading without authority. I've helped build teams from scratch and scale teams into groups of teams.

My ideal role

I've worked as an individual contributor. I've led small teams, large teams, and teams of teams. Each role has its own unique set of benefits and challenges. Ideally, my next role would afford me opportunities for:

  • Technical leadership. Pure personnel management does not interest me. I enjoy leading and serving a team, but there has to be technical content to the work I do. I like to bring technology into service of business goals, clear roadblocks, bring clarity, and provide space for others to do their best work.
  • Opportunities to learn. As a lifelong learner, I'm my most content when I'm in a regular rhythm of learning, doing, and sharing. Before accepting a role, I want a clear picture of opportunties to learn something new.
  • Stability. At this stage in my career, my family gets my nights and weekends, which rules out most seed stage startups. I've been apart of stable growth stage businesses and tumultuous public companies. For me, stability means near term financial runway and a values-driven culture that can cohere as the company grows.

If you're looking for proven technical leadership to help build your engineering team, let's connect.

Grant
reviews

Review: Grant

★★★★★

Perhaps my favorite Chernow book to date, which is saying a lot. I'm not sure if it's because I learned much about Grant (growing up in the South, I knew little of his life before Vicksburg and after Appomattox, even though he served two terms as President) or because I found him relatable. Loyal to a fault, a little too eager to trust, he was a man ill-equipped for ordinary life yet seemed to thrive in a crisis.

As always, Chernow employs a full cast. The focus is on Grant, but by the end I felt invested in Washburne, Rawlins, Sherman, and even the hard-to-like members of his family.

Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race
reviews

Review: Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race

★★★★★

Having loved the film of the same name, I was delighted to find the book devote so many chapters to the lives of these women at Langley during and just after WWII. The book goes deeper as you would expect in a historical narrative, but it also goes much broader than the movie. It includes fascinating accounts of women like the brilliant Dorothy Hoover who helped design wings for jet planes.

The author holds in tension two compelling aspects of these stories: the struggle against segregation, sexism, and the "stubborn underbrush of low expectations" alongside the remarkable account of these technologists, in their prime, good at their jobs who worked on some of the most incredible human endeavors of the twentieth century.


Astoria: John Jacob Astor and Thomas Jefferson's Lost Pacific Empire: A Story of Wealth, Ambition, and Survival
reviews

Review: Astoria: John Jacob Astor and Thomas Jefferson's Lost Pacific Empire: A Story of Wealth, Ambition, and Survival

★★★★☆

I had never heard of Astor's land and sea expeditions to the Northwest, perhaps because the second war with Great Britain dominates U.S. history of that period. This book is an entertaining page turner, as rough in parts as the wilderness landscapes in which it's set. There's more than enough adventure, characters, and conflict for at least a couple of seasons, should Netflix come calling.

Spunk & Bite: A Writer's Guide to Punchier, More Engaging Language & Style
reviews

Review: Spunk & Bite: A Writer's Guide to Punchier, More Engaging Language & Style

★★★★★

Having received a healthy diet of Strunk & White in school, I picked up this book for the witty title alone. Though replete with examples from well-known authors, it's Plotnik's own punchy style that lends authority to each of his points. Now twelve years since publication, his guide to contemporaneity and use of pop culture references seems even more relevant.

My copy is now well-marked with a Ticonderoga #2, as most of the suggestions are practical for writing of any form. I'm hopeful it has a decent shelf life as a useful reference now and again.

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