Day: December 22, 2012

Saturday Book Review: Life on the Mississippi by Mark Twain


Mark Twain

This is a disjointed, outrageous, hilarious, fascinating, meandering tour through a strange, lush, vanished America. It is also a series of autobiographical meditations by a singular genius, whose voice you will find yourself imitating in your speech and writing as you immerse yourself in this lovable book. It is an example of writing meant foremost to entertain and educate, which also attains the level of high art. Twain never neglected his audience.

The most engrossing sections describe the author’s education as a steamboat pilot. Vivid details and anecdotes link up to tell the story of a young man gaining confidence in the world, and also give you a peek into the prodigious feats and odd habits of the fraternity of steamboat pilots.  The rest of the book is an account of Twain’s trip down the Mississippi decades later as a rich old man.  The transformation of America during his lifetime is remarkable, and drew comparisons in my mind to what I am reading about life in China today.

Life on the Mississippi is a wonder and one of the great American books.

Lessons from the guy who made it to the South Pole before anybody else

Amundsen in his work clothes.

Amundsen in his work clothes.

Today is one day after the one week anniversary of the 101st anniversary of Roald Amundsen’s arrival at the South Pole.  I meant to get this up last week, but I am bad at remembering anniversaries (just ask my partner).  This is a column I wrote for a now defunct part of the American Management Association’s Web site.  It seemed appropriate for this cold, snowy day in New York.


[Published December 14, 2011]

Today marks the 100th anniversary of one of the great feats in the history of management: Roald Amundsen’s arrival at the South Pole, the first such successful expedition in human history.

It might seem odd to mention exploration and management in the same breath, but we would not remember the names of all the great explorers, from Leaf Erickson to Neil Armstrong, if they had run out of supplies or lost command of their teams somewhere along the way.

Amundsen had no technological or financial advantage over his rivals.  (more…)