mostly nonfiction listener
The Shadow Factory takes us on a behind the scenes tour of the NSA and the development of what Bamford calls "The Surveillance Industrial Complex" following 9/11.
I read this book less from a perspective of worry about government intrusion or even national security - but more from a desire to understand the technology that the NSA utilizes to manage such large volumes of data.
What the NSA does in terms of data storage, analysis, capture etc. is truly next generation. After 9/11 - the NSA became an IT organization with a blank check to throw as much hardware, software and folks at a technical problem as it needed. Can you imagine if we had those resources to throw technology at education.
Sure...the story of the Bush's administrations warrant-less wiretapping is scary. I'm grateful that he tells this story and exposes this dirty side of our history.
You know those questions that go "if you could have dinner with anyone, who would it be?". Well...I think I'd choose Simon Schama. Or maybe a roadtrip. Schama is one of those historians who both have something to say about how we live now and the depth of knowledge to ground his thinking by weaving stories from our past. One part sociology, one part history, all very smart and engaging. The American Future should be read in conjunction with watching the BBC documentary of the same title, narrated by Schama.
Reading the book while watching the documentary does wonderful things for the brain in terms of reinforcing the concepts and stories with images. It helps the stories stick.
Schama's basic premise is that the election of Obama represents the culmination of an American journey towards our nation struggling to live up to our founding myths. Only American could produce the horror of the civil war, segregation and institutional racism while holding the promise of electing an African American to the highest office. This American Future beautifully chronicles our redemption, placing the biggest story of our times firmly within our American narrative.
I've been wrong twice about Iraq. Supported the invasion. Opposed the Surge. (I also tend to think a military solution to stopping Iran from getting a nuclear bomb might be necessary - so it is a good thing that nobody listens to my thinking on the military). Ricks', "The Gamble" follows up on his masterfully depressing "Fiasco" - detailing everything that went wrong in Iraq before General Petraeus took over. What I had not realized about the Petraeus strategy was the force in which the rest of the armed forces opposed this plan, or the degree to which Petraeus was a marginal figure within the military establishment.
In order to move to a strategy where the Iraqi people were "the prize" rather then the "playing field", Petraeus had to reverse many of the Army's (one of our largest and most conservative institutions) culture and doctrine on war fighting. As I was reading "The Gamble" I kept thinking of how we need someone like Petraeus in other institutions....education, car building, maybe newspapers? Ricks' conclusion is that while the Surge was the right thing to do, a tactical success, it does not represent a strategic victory. We are in for the "long war" in Iraq, with the most salient events of the war still ahead of us.
Always on the lookout for my next great listen!
Crash of the Titans is a spiraling story that spans the 80 year history of Merrill Lynch and Bank of America in a back and forth, non-linear path. Understanding the back story and living through the storm as a Bank of America associate during the Great Recession, I was able to follow the cast of characters and timeline of events with ease. But I can't imagine someone outside of the firm being able to make the same connections as easily without having to re-read (or re-listen) to many sections.
But if you can follow the timeline of events, understand the basics of the banking terms and functions of capital markets, the story is awesome. It is a can't miss thrill ride that puts a human context around the headlines that splashed the front pages of newspapers for weeks between 2007 and 2008. Everyone we though were villains were not necessary so. Everyone we thought were hero weren't so innocent either.
Dan Woren speaks life into this very intriguing story written by Greg Farrell. Unlike some narrators of business books, Woren was no overly dry or stiff in tone. For those of us who enjoy business and non-fiction audiobooks, the narrator is key. And Woren's performance kept me going and gave feeling to each of the Wall Street bankers her spoke for.
In all, this audiobook was well worth the credit, but it is not for the faint of heart. The story treats the reader (listener) as if they understand the basics of capital markets and jumps around with the timeline. But the holistic story of how an icon like the Thundering Herd of Merrill Lynch who helped restore confidence in the market by middle America after the 1929 stock market crash until its own demise is enthralling for those of us who lived through it.