All posts by mikebostan

A citizen of the world.

Shoe Dog: A Memoir by the Creator of NIKE – Phil Knight

I thought back on my running career at Oregon. I’d competed with, and against, men far better, faster, more physically gifted. Many were future Olympians. And yet I’d trained myself to forget this unhappy fact. People reflexively assume that competition is always a good thing, that it always brings out the best in people, but that’s only true of people who can forget the competition. The art of competing, I’d learned from track, was the art of forgetting, and I now reminded myself of that fact. You must forget your limits. You must forget your doubts, your pain, your past.

The book is a candid memoir by the founder of Nike, the sports shoes and apparel company. It starts with his travel around the world as a young graduate and concludes when the company was made public in the 1980s. The book presents in great detail the beginnings of now the largest sports company in the world.

This is indeed a great memoir, well-written, full of details and easy to follow. Apparently, JR Moehringer helped as ghostwriter. No wonder it was a best-seller, particularly because the owner of Nike never liked being in the spotlight.

Phil Knight starts his story when, as a young graduate of Stanford Business School, prepares to leave for a world voyage. The trip is hiding a business purpose as well, as he intends pass through Japan and propose selling rights in US from a Japanese manufacturer of sports shoes. This idea came from a university seminar.

His proposal succeeds and Knight gradually increases sales, while working as professor and later accountant. Being ditched by the Japanese manufacturer he is forced to produce his own shoes. And this is how Nike was created. The company always had financial problems, banks abandon him twice, legal challenges almost topple the company, he fights with US customs, but through sheer passion for the product and loyalty of men and women around him, the company succeeds.

It was amazing to see how much of a team work it was. The founder did not create the shoes, the clothes, the design, not even the name. All he did do very well was putting the right people in the right jobs and ensure loyalty of his employees.

As he often quotes in the book: “Don’t tell people how to do things, tell them what to do and let them surprise you with their results.” A shy person, he prefers to be a strategist than a general, although his idol is American General Douglas MacArthur.

Phil Knight talks about his family as well, his wife and sons, his parents and sisters. He talks fondly about his wife and her sacrifice to let him work long hours. He regrets not staying longer with his sons. He recalls his daily evening calls with his father, talking business and how to fight the legal challenges.

Overall, a great book from a shy man who built a sports empire and made the world a little better.

When Breath Becomes Air – Paul Kalanithi

Don’t think I ever spent a minute of any day wondering why I did this work, or whether it was worth it. The call to protect life—and not merely life but another’s identity; it is perhaps not too much to say another’s soul—was obvious in its sacredness. Before operating on a patient’s brain, I realized, I must first understand his mind: his identity, his values, what makes his life worth living, and what devastation makes it reasonable to let that life end. The cost of my dedication to succeed was high, and the ineluctable failures brought me nearly unbearable guilt. Those burdens are what make medicine holy and wholly impossible: in taking up another’s cross, one must sometimes get crushed by the weight.

This is the autobiographical story of an incredibly gifted person, Paul Kalanithi, written while he was dying of cancer, only in his thirties.

The author describes his life and morals, from childhood, to medical school, to his English degree at Cambridge, to operations as neurosurgeon and, finally, fighting cancer in his last weeks.

Paul Kalanithi was a truly extraordinary human being, valedictorian in high school, then Standford, Cambridge and the Yale School of Medicine. A neurosurgeon with great writing skills, dedicated to a have meaningful life. Paul finds out he has cancer and despite some minor improvements, he succumbs to the illness. Cancer took him in less than two years.

An inspiring sad story.

However, before he died, he wrote this extraordinary book, talking about his life and eventual death, about time and meaningful things, about his patients and his family.

His writing is so fluid, words are well chosen, vocabulary is vast and he grasps such a deep understanding of things. The readers finds himself moved with emotion at every page.

It is an honour, a source of inspiration and a pleasure to read about humans pushing the boundaries of what can be done, to show true skillfulness and quality, and, above all, great strength of character and bravery.

The book is the Goodreads choice winner of 2016. I could not recommend it enough.

Iron Gold (RED RISING SAGA: BOOK 4) – Pierce Brown

Those you protect will not see you. They will not understand you. But you are the Gray wall between civilization and chaos. And they stand safe in the shadow you cast. Do not expect praise or love. Their ignorance is proof of the success of your sacrifice. For we who serve the state, duty must be its own reward.

Iron Gold is a continuation of the Red Rising Trilogy, one of the best recent sci-fi adventures. Ten years after the Society pact was destroyed and the Golds commanding planet conquered, the new Republic is in anarchy. The last of the Society fleets is around Venus, while the Rim have their independence.

The book intertwines several stories: our former protagonist, Darrow of Lykos, as ArchImperator of the Republic’s force; Cassius au Bellona and his protege Lysander au Lune; Ephraim ti Horn, a Grey from Luna, now an expert thief; and Lyria of Lagalos, a Red from Mars.

Ten years after Red Rising

Each of the stories presents a different perspective and ends up in a single plot. As usual, the writing is exceptional, the plot is unpredictable and plausible, the pace of action just right and the new protagonists introduced have depth and motivations. What is interesting is that, although sometimes antagonistic, all protagonists have justifiable point of view, making the reader hard to decide who is right.

A point that makes the series so good is that the author uses just the right amount of technical sci-fi jargon. All stories were good, and signaled a departure from the single perspective of the Darrow, as in the trilogy.

The proof-reading was average, I noticed mistakes; while the plot quality, although very good, not at the level of the previous books. The author puts Darrow in a questionable dilemma, which for some readers shouldn’t be really a difficult choice. Finally, I did not get why the book is called Iron Gold.

Overall, an excellent reading, towering at 600 pages, packed with action and a wonderful sci-fi saga. Next book in the new series, in February 2019.

PROMO: Energy MBA in Bucharest

The MBA in Energy at the Academy of Economic Studies (ASE) in Bucharest starts the registrations for prospective candidates between 23-25 July 2018.

Organized by the Faculty of Business Administration in Foreign Languages (FABIZ), the Energy Master is the best in Romania and is done in collaboration with representatives of the energy business environment (OMV Petrom, Siemens, CEZ, Electrica, Transgaz etc.).

Join the new challenges and be a part of the Energy Business!

The programme is open to all bachelor degree graduates, but candidates need one year experience in energy. Of course, a good command of English is required, as it is taught in English.

It is a flexible MBA, held during weekends, for 4 semesters. The courses range from “EU Policy in Energy” to “Energy Trading”. The professors and experts’ team is excellent, including one of Romania’s best energy professionals, Corina Popescu.

Please find below the brochure of the programme.

Brosura_MBA-Energie_6.2018

More information also at the following link: mba-energie.ase.ro.

The Great Acceleration: How the World is Getting Faster, Faster – Robert Colvile

The greatest impact will be felt in the east. Today, there are 28 cities with a population of more than ten million people. By 2030, the UN predicts there will be 41 – and more than half of them will be in Asia. In India, as ambition pulls and poverty pushes, urban populations will almost double over the next 20 years, with some 240 million people moving from country to city. China recently announced a plan to build another mega-city around Beijing, containing a third as many people as in the entire United States. In just a decade’s time, China will have 221 cities of more than a million people. There are only 35 such cities in the EU today.

The book discusses the changes in society, considering them increasingly fast. The author, Robert Colvile,  divides the book in several chapters that analyze separately the evolving human society: friendships and relationships, news, logistics, politics, culminating with environment.

Colvile argues that humans are more impatient, news are faster, sometimes lacking substance, logistics are incredibly well-timed, politics focus more on the news cycle rather than long-term strategies, cities are growing and become the nodal societal points, and we slowly damaging the environment.

The book is extremely entertaining, well-written, full of quoted studies and gems of wisdom. The arguments are purposely well-balanced, rather on the optimistic side of technology. It is generally highly recommended by readers of all tastes.

Robert Colvile is a journalist, writing for various US and UK newspapers, such as Politico, Financial times or The Wire. He was previously news director at BuzzFeed and comment editor at the Daily Telegraph.

Overall, it’s a good book, entertaining, well-written, exploring the current societal trends. A nice book to have in a train or on a beach.

Coal: A Human History – Barbara Freese

Some saw in the mines scientific proof of biblical flood. Some credited coal with protecting people from the bubonic plague; others accused it of promoting baldness, tooth decay, sordid murders, caustic speech and fuzzy thinking.More recently many of us believed we could burn vast amounts of coal without disrupting the natural balance of the planet. No doubt we have still much to learn about coal, but at least we’ve been able to dispel many of the old myths.

The book talks about the history of coal, since Roman times to modern day. Barbara Freese talks about both the good and the bad sides of the mineral. As the author is an environmental lawyer, the book slightly tips on the bad side of coal, however the research is deep, insightful and entertaining.

Coal is appreciated by Ms Freese as the basis of the Industrial revolution and the rock that made the British Empire and the United States. It significantly improved living standards by increasing on a massive scale the efficiency of industrial processes.

On the other side, the bad environmental effects were constant, from the fumes and hard working conditions to current greenhouse gas problems.

The message of the book is that coal was never popular, but always useful. The author finishes the book on a positive note, such as using coal for in plastics and other alternative uses.

The Art of Manliness – Brett McKay and Kate McKay

Wanted, a man who is larger than his calling, who considers it a low estimate of his occupation to value it merely as a means of getting a living. Wanted, a man who sees self-development, education and culture, discipline and drill, character and manhood, in his occupation. Wanted, a man of courage who is not a coward in any part of his nature. Wanted, a man who is symmetrical, and not one-sided in his development, who has not sent all the energies of his being into one narrow specialty and allowed all the other branches of his life to wither and die. Wanted, a man who is broad, who does not take half views of things; a man who mixes common sense with his theories, who does not let a college education spoil him for practical, every-day life; a man who prefers substance to show, and one who regards his good name as a priceless treasure.

The book is a collection of texts: stories, letters, poems, speeches, aiming to teach a series of virtues in life. The volume is called The Art of Manliness, but the virtues presented can be actually  applied to anyone.

The seven virtues hailed for good life are: manliness, courage, industry, resolution, self-reliance, discipline and honour. For each, several texts of great persons, writers, adventurers, are presented, in order to explain and stimulate.

The Art of Manliness is largely a motivational book, showing past examples, stories, ideas, words of great men, to inspire the reader to be a better man. It draws from Greek and Roman writers, American founding fathers, Arctic and American Far-west explorers and thinkers of the 19th century,

The book is a great opportunity to be exposed to the classical literature, particularly to poems. It includes one of the very few poems I like, The Charge of the Light Brigade by Alfred Lord Tennyson. How much courage and discipline those people had! I quote some of it:

Theirs not to make reply,

Theirs not to reason why,

Theirs but to do and die:

Into the valley of Death

Rode the six hundred.

Overall, while not exceptional, the book is useful for inspiration, something to look up to, and, generally, as a compass of life. I took my time to read it.