Roderic Braithwaite, British Ambassador to the Soviet Union and Russia from 1988 to 1992, has written an important book for English readers about the titanic battle between Germany and Russia in 1941. He embellishes his account with mini-biographies and stories about minor celebrities of the Soviet past, from partisans to academics to entertainers to ordinary people whose only accomplishment was improbably surviving to recount their tales. He conducted dozens of interviews with survivors or children of survivors; he read numerous documents in the state archives, many of which were made accessible during his tenure in Russia, after the fall of…


Aldous Huxley and George Orwell wrote two of the greatest books of the twentieth century to take up the theme of a dystopian future. They were different in many respects and it has been sport for commentators to assess how well each of them prognosticated. Both books are impressive works of imagination; certainly, the authors primarily wrote the books not as science fiction or fantasy or predictions of the future but to warn humanity of the dangers we face. …


Jennifer Doudna in her lab at Berkeley, CA

Walter Isaacson has written another timely and captivating book about both a key figure, Jennifer Doudna, and an emerging technology that will change humanity. Already well-known for best selling tomes on Steve Jobs, Benjamin Franklin, Leonardo da Vinci, and Albert Einstein, Isaacson turns his attentions to biotechnology. He personalizes the story by focusing on Jennifer Doudna, who along with her collaborator, Emmanuelle Charpentier, won the 2020 Nobel Prize in Chemistry. But, his book really is a story of the biotechnology revolution, with many smaller and larger biographies thrown in for good measure, including ones on Charpentier, James Watson, Francis Crick…


The forty-fourth President of the United States

Barack Hussein Obama has written his third autobiography and arguably his best. In this article, no attempt is made to summarize the book; the reader is encouraged to read or listen to Obama’s own words, as he is a wonderful writer with the ability to turn a phrase. It is overall an excellent book, well written, with a style that’s both plain and artistic at times. He is fair and balanced (as one would expect). …


The battleship Mikasa, Admiral Heihachiro Togo’s flagship, at the Battle of Tsushima.

The late Alistair Horne has written an important book about hubris that should be required reading by all our leaders — and many citizens. To the Greeks, hubris, the folly of arrogance and overconfidence went hand in hand with peripeteia, the inexorable comeuppance. In this compact and fascinating book Horne looks at broadly interlinked battles in the 20th century that each began in a spirit of hubris for at least one of the combatants, subsequently resulting in their peripeteia, only for the victor to develop its own hubris, leading to future disaster.

He thus connects into a single narrative the…


On March 9, 2021, Oxford’s Saïd Business School presented their Leadership in Extraordinary Times seminar, The Great Decoupling? The future of relations between China and the West. It was hosted by Eric Thun, Professor Saïd Business School, Oxford, and Marc Szepan, Lecturer Saïd Business School, Oxford.

Guest participants were: Rebecca Arcesati, Mercator Institute for China Studies, Berlin; Stephan Scheuer, Technology Team Lead, Handelsblatt, Düsseldorf; Adam Segal, Ira A. …


Boris Pasternak’s Doctor Zhivago is a novel as famous for its impact on geopolitics during the Cold War as for its literary value. It was published in Italy in translation (1957) before publication in Russian by the CIA in 1958. The plan was to sell the book at a book fair and smuggle copies back to the Soviet Union in the luggage of fair attendees! Then, Pasternak won the Nobel Prize for Literature, and all hell broke loose. Eventually, he had to refuse the prize and suffered persecution at the hands of Soviet authorities. …


Perversity, thy name is Trump. Instead of making America great, he debased its stature globally. Instead of projecting strength, he conveyed American torpidity and ineptitude. On the geopolitical stage, his bullying and bluster, after the puerile novelty of his antics wore off, failed to achieve breakthroughs in the hotspots of Iran, Korea, Russia, the South-China Sea. In the end, his sorry denouement on January 6, 2021, invited horror and ridicule the world over. His unfaltering trait has been to project his own weaknesses and failures onto others, imagining somehow that the more perspicacious would not notice while the credulous simply…


Madame Bovary and Anna Karenina are famous female characters from the pen of two celebrated male 19th century writers, Gustave Flaubert and Leo Tolstoy. The two fictional women have much in common and illustrate the difficulty of women in Europe of that era. Both books offer social commentary on their respective societies, one, a rapidly developing Second Empire France; the other, a reforming Tsarist Russia. Overall, the authors are sympathetic to their creations and have created indelible characters that live on as referents. But, what relevance do they have today?

#madamebovary #annakarenina #womeninliterature #adultery #womenstudies

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Adultery

The defining attribute that ensnares…


Joseph Henrich has written an overarching super-history book not unlike Yuval Harari’s Sapiens or Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs and Steel. He attempts no less than to explain the causes for Europe’s rise from obscurity about 500 years ago to rapidly dominate the world. Along the way he shows how humans organized into clans and states, how the Catholic Church broke up kin-based societies, how Protestantism drove adaptations that led to the modern world, and how these adaptations have yielded a type of human that are psychologically and neurologically different from what had come before. …

Mark Looi

Entrepreneur, technologist, business strategist, history buff, photographer, with a diverse range of interests.

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