Weekend Reads: Fireflies, Theranos, Ritholtz Recommendations
“Wake now, discover that you are the song that the morning brings” — “Eyes of the World,” by the Grateful Dead
Here in the United States, it is Memorial Day weekend, the unofficial start of summer. And that means two things: summer reading lists and fireflies.
For me, it also means summer poetry. And so it was that on my morning run, I casually tossed out a question to my running group about the best summer poems or lyrics and was rewarded with “Eyes of the World.” The lyrics were written by Robert Hunter and the music by Jerry Garcia. The song was first performed live on 9 February 1973, at the Maples Pavilion at Stanford University.
If you are wondering about the connection to summer, indulge me the first two verses:
Right outside this lazy summer home
You ain’t got time to call your soul a critic no
Right outside the lazy gate of winter’s summer home
Wondering where the nut-thatch winters
Wings a mile long just carried the bird away
Wake up to find out that you are the eyes of the world
The heart has its beaches, its homeland and thoughts of its own
Wake now, discover that you are the song that the morning brings
But the heart has its seasons, its evenings and songs of its own
And who doesn’t love haiku?
This is an English translation of a haiku by Takahama Kyoshi:
The short summer night.
The dream and real
Are same things.
Summertime evokes fireflies and the Robert Frost poem “Fireflies in the Garden“:
Here come real stars to fill the upper skies,
And here on earth come emulating flies,
That though they never equal stars in size,
(And they were never really stars at heart)
Achieve at times a very star-like start.
Only, of course, they can’t sustain the part.
This is the one time of year I get to dig out one of my favorite articles on fireflies, or lightning bugs, if you prefer: “Blink Twice if You Like Me.” Like Sara Lewis, who is interviewed in the story, I, too, have under come under “the spell of fireflies”.
In the spirit of summer reading, here are a few book suggestions based on Bill Gates’s recent post, “5 Books Worth Reading This Summer,” and Barry Ritholtz’s”10 Books for a Summer Reading List,” followed by some other interesting articles from the past few weeks.
- The book that piqued my interest on Gates’s list is Leonardo da Vinci by Walter Isaacson. This is what Gates had to say about it: “I think Leonardo was one of the most fascinating people ever. Although today he’s best known as a painter, Leonardo had an absurdly wide range of interests, from human anatomy to the theater. Isaacson does the best job I’ve seen of pulling together the different strands of Leonardo’s life and explaining what made him so exceptional. A worthy follow-up to Isaacson’s great biographies of Albert Einstein and Steve Jobs.” The book also came up in DataTrek‘s summer reading list: “We’re most of the way through this one already, and it is a great — and fast — read. One facet of genius is the ability to connect seemingly random observations into a novel worldview. That comes across vividly here, with useful lessons for the challenge of investing,” write co-founders Nicholas Colas and Jessica Rabe.
- Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup by John Carreyrou: I’ve already ordered a copy as I’ve been following this controversy since Roger Parloff’s June 2014 cover story for Fortune. (I knew Theranos’s flack from my days covering Big Tobacco for The Financial Times and recall the buzz the story generated.) You may also recall Parloff’s subsequent article, “How Theranos Misled Me.” Anyhow, Bad Blood was the first book on Ritholtz’s list: “Carreyrou broke the story about the Theranos fraud despite pressure and intimidation from lawyers even as the blood-testing company’s valuation approached $10 billion. But what really makes this such an amazing tale is how many people failed to do even the most basic due diligence, relying instead on the roster of all-star investors and directors. Everyone just assumed everyone else had checked out the company, its leaders and even the basic science behind its technology. It was a recipe for disaster; Theranos founder and Chief Executive Officer Elizabeth Holmes has already settled accusations of securities fraud.”(Roger Lowenstein, a former reporter for The Wall Street Journal and author, most recently, of America’s Bank: The Epic Struggle to Create the Federal Reserve, penned a review of Bad Blood for The New York Times: “How One Company Scammed Silicon Valley. And How It Got Caught.”)
- Also on Ritholtz’s list: Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI. by David Grann. I second that. I have read the book and it is a page-turner. The Financial Times called it “A marvel of detective-like research and narrative verve.” This is what Ritholtz wrote: “I first learned about the Osage murders when researching FBI history for another project. The story seems almost too fantastical to be real. But real it was, a mesmerizing and horrible tale of murder of an entire family to steal oil rights. The book, written by the author of ‘The Lost City of Z: A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon,’ comes highly recommended.”
And now a few shorter reads:
- Back when I worked for the Financial Times, Whitney Tilson was one of our regular FT Wealth columnists. And so this tweet (and article) caught my attention:
I love Whitney Tilson's candor. But if you owe your success on the way up to luck, I don't think the unwinding of that success can be called "screwing up." https://t.co/JlPbfP6JSS pic.twitter.com/69dotGfU1X
— Morgan Housel (@morganhousel) May 23, 2018
- Tilson talks about his time at Harvard Business School, which reminded me of an article recently shared by another HBS grad in an email with the weighty subject line, “There is no heavier burden than great potential.” In “Lifting the Burden of Potential,” psychologist Eileen Kennedy-Moore argues that potential is a dangerous word. “Potential becomes a burden when we see it as a predestined calling to impressive accomplishments,” she writes. “Both parents and children can become seduced into focusing on performance rather than growth, on being The Best rather than making progress, and on accumulating external awards and accomplishments as the primary measure of worth. Worst of all, this one-dimensional perspective on potential creates a terrible fear of failure.” (Psychology Today)
- I’m a longtime fan of Farnam Street and its Sunday morning “Brain Food” email. I’m always learning something new. Most recently, it revolved around decision making. In “Go Fast and Break Things: The Difference Between Reversible and Irreversible Decisions,” Shane Parrish writes, “We often think that collecting as much information as possible will help us make the best decisions. Sometimes that’s true, but sometimes it hamstrings our progress. Other times it can be flat out dangerous.” (Farnam Street)
- When next you are tempted to complain about your job, consider the lot of the saturation diver, one of the world’s most hazardous jobs: “The Weird, Dangerous, Isolated Life of the Saturation Diver” (Atlas Obscura)
- Is Alexa part of your life? This may confirm your fears or fill you with dread: “With Amazon’s Alexa, it has an agent in your home that not only knows what you bought but when you wake up, what you watch, read, listen to, ask for, and eat. And Amazon is aggressively building up its meagre ad sales, which gives it an incentive to exploit its data.” Ken Auletta writes that “In the advertising world, Big Data is the Holy Grail.” (The New Yorker)
- As I sat down to write this edition of Weekend Reads, I was keenly aware of one of “Zadie Smith’s 10 Rules of Writing”: “Work on a computer that is disconnected from the internet.” It sounds so easy, but it’s not. We keep getting sucked back into refreshing pages or reading emails. The need to disconnect reminded me of something Pico Iyer said in his TED Talk on “The Art of Stillness“: it is only by going to “a place of real quiet” that he has “anything fresh or creative or joyful to share.” (Brain Pickings, TED)
And on that note, as the weekend approaches, may you find a “place of real quiet” to refresh your mind and body. Thank you for reading.
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All posts are the opinion of the author. As such, they should not be construed as investment advice, nor do the opinions expressed necessarily reflect the views of CFA Institute or the author’s employer.
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