Saturday, March 25, 2023

Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson

In this comprehensive biography of Apple Computer’s founding member and longtime chief executive, no matter what his title was at any time, Steve Jobs emerges as both a genius and the most innovative creator of a computer which combined utility and style to become the most cherished brand name in technology. In compiling this compelling, highly readable account of a man who many saw not possible to fully describe, Isaacson has interviewed over 100 people who worked for or with Jobs as well as any number of his family and competitors. Having been chosen to write the biography by Jobs, it never becomes a hagiography, showing the man with all his flaws, many of which contributed to his success.

Steve Jobs was abandoned by his birth parents and adopted by a couple in northern California, his adoptive father was a tinkerer with cars and a lover of automotive design. Nevertheless, despite warm and loving adoptive parents, one of Jobs’ many devils remained throughout his life a sense of abandonment, perhaps leading to his own flaws as both a husband and a parent. Nevertheless, he was born at exactly the right time and adopted at the right place to be well-positioned for the emergence of the technological revolution that became Apple.

 Walter Isaacson may have been the best choice Jobs could have made to write his biography. The book details Jobs’ strengths and flaws in detail without ever seeming to lose contact with the volcanic personality he was exploring. Chosen by Jobs to write the book, he also was able to maintain his independence in order to create a full picture of a genius who was neither a saint nor a villain. Neither was a great computer designer or software architect. He emerges as a person who stood for great design and the highest possible software along with a vision for how such could be achieved and how it could be accomplished and the ability to interpret that to his employees while building a great and lasting corporation. Isaakson maintains that Steve Jobs will live in history as one of the great tech creators of all time. As an industrialist, Isaacson places Jobs in a pantheon with Edison and Ford…pretty high praise. 

Walter Isaacson

Walter Isaacson, a professor of history at Tulane, has been CEO of the Aspen Institute, chair of CNN, and editor of Time. He is the author of Leonardo da Vinci; The Innovators; Steve Jobs; Einstein: His Life and Universe; Benjamin Franklin: An American Life; and Kissinger: A Biography, and the coauthor of The Wise Men: Six Friends and the World They Made. Visit him at (Simon & Schuster)

I read Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson (Simon & Schuster, 675pp) in a hardback edition I purchased from . It can also be bought for Kindle at I found the book to be highly readable for both general readers and those more interested in sharp, thoughtful analysis of a complex, difficult and important American industrialist. Enjoy!

Tuesday, February 28, 2023

The Gibson Brothers - Darkest Hour

The first time we saw the Gibson Brothers perform, as best we can ascertain, was at the 2005 or 2006 Jenny Brook Bluegrass Festival, then held at the small municipal park in Weston, VT. For this show, they had a six member band, with Junior Barber coming out of retirement for a guest appearance. We were struck by their wonderful melodies, close harmony, sometimes edgy brotherly byplay, and far ranging repertoire, which had always contained many of their own songs. We became instant fans, and their being in the lineup became one of the criteria we applied for choosing which festivals to attend. 

Gibson Brothers at Jenny Brook - 2006

As we grew in our understanding and appreciation of bluegrass music, we also became aware that they fit into some special niches. Coming from northernmost New York State, they had grown up on a hardscrabble farm in an almost desolate area quite close to the Canadian border. Yet they had become, at quite young ages, masters of the banjo and guitar, and knowledgeable about the southern rural roots where the music emerged. To it, they brought their own fine song writing and wonderful brother harmonies. As they’ve grown as musicians and individuals, they’ve followed their own unique musical skills into places where many bluegrass musicians never venture, while continuing to develop their own unique sound. 

We’ve been listening to the new Gibson Brothers recording “Darkest Hour” for over a month in concert, on CD, and now on an excellent podcast presented by Bluegrass Unlimited and the Bluegrass Hall of Fame & Museum, as well as individual songs used in a variety of interviews.  The recording as well as the Gibson Brothers themselves only grow on us with each hearing, whether live or recorded. Always thought provoking, the two brothers have, in this marvelous album, become mature, seasoned performers, The longing for and glorification of two boys growing up on a marginal farm has been replaced by new perspectives showing their maturity as men and as performers as they move into middle age, It’s filled with reflective songs accompanied by their always heart-grabbing harmonies and musical excellence,

Grounded in reflection and based on the rich Gibson Brothers harmonies, The Darkest Hour is built upon their long-time well-recognized musical excellence, and honed clean and pure by Jerry Douglass’ excellent production, featuring some of Nashville’s brightest lights (Euen McGlocklin, Barry Bales, Alison Krauss), the recording shines like a diamond!

Leigh’s song “One Minute of You: A Song for Annie Gray” is a love song from a father to his daughter, filled with the desire a parent feels to cling to every minute of a child’s growth, knowing the letting go is, in the end, necessary. Eric wrote “I Go Driving” to capture the power of driving alone in the country to regain perspective and recapture the lost beauty of the farmland he grew up in, from the perspective of a lost era. The song is simply heart-rending. The Gibson Brothers manage to capture the richness of a lost past without the maudlin sentimentality found in many other contemporary bluegrass songs. Meanwhile, their music continues to be forward looking and optimistic. 

Simultaneously a bit darker than their earlier work, their natural effervescence and optimism still shines through - courageous and  confident. It’s like reading a novel instead of a book of short stories. The Adirondack songs, written over a period of twenty-five or so years and never collected in a single album, remain grounded in reflection  (The Barn Song, Song of Yesterday, Iron and Diamonds, Safe Passage, Railroad Line), yearning for a lost world. The Darkest Hour, chosen from previously never released songs and several of brand new ones, provides a sense of structure as well reflections on living a meaningful life. This newest recording by The Gibson Brothers continues their record of releasing exciting meaningful bluegrass collections.

Thursday, January 12, 2023

Lady Justice: Women, The Law, and The Battle to Save America by Dahlia Lithwick


Lady Justice: Women, The Law, and the Battle to Save America by Dahlia Lithwick tells the stories of ten women who, through years of developing their legal practices, emerged, mostly, during the Trump administration as heroines for the rights of women and minorities, as well as helping to advance the awareness of men about the dangers of any profession being dominated by them. The book shows these advances through Lithwick’s clear understanding that effective legal practice requires not only tough-minded legal argument, but a strong emphasis on sharp storytelling. Through Lithwick’s clear thinking and penetrating narrative, each of the subjects emerges not only as a game changing attorney, but a woman of courage and persistence. 

The book opens with a profile of Pauli Murray, one of the most important and least known pioneers in combining the law and women’s experience in high levels of energy, intelligence, perseverance, and effectiveness. A civil rights activist who earned her law degree at Yale, along with other degrees from first-rate graduate schools across the country, she influenced an entire generation of Black and civil rights attorneys as well as helping mold arguments for the Supreme Court. She later became an Episcopal Priest, influencing that once stodgy denomination. 

Other chapters look at a series of attorneys who wove their influence through persistent effort against social reluctance for change in, often, male-dominated law firms where they experienced professional blockages and sexual harassment. They knew, however, they often could not openly resist without possibly (almost certainly) risking their personal advancement in an historically male-dominated profession. 

Lithwick tells her own story in a chapter called “#MeToo,” in which she describes when, early in her legal career, she became a clerk for a Federal judge who was, among insiders, notorious for his sexual harassment of woman clerks, all of whom felt constrained from outing the judge because of the negative effect it might have upon their own careers. Most, torn between fighting back and fearing the loss of their own legal careers, chose silence. Lithwick eventually left legal practice to become a legal writer covering the Supreme Court and other issues, as well as hosting an informative and entertaining weekly podcast called “Amicus,” available on many platforms. 

Dahlia Lithwick

“Dahlia Lithwick is the senior legal correspondent at Slate and host of Amicus, Slate’s award-winning biweekly podcast about the law.  Her work has also appeared in The New York Times, Harper’s, The New Yorker, The Washington Post, The New Republic, and Commentary, among other places. Lithwick won a 2013 National Magazine Award for her columns on the Affordable Care Act. She was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in October, 2018.”  Penguin, Random House

I found the book to be riveting reading, from a writer who knows that dry academic or legal language doesn’t really do a good job telling stories. Lithwick turns history into the kind of stories that increase understanding while holding onto a reader and simultaneously educting. I purchased the book from Amazon and read it on my Kindle app.