My Four Best of Everything – Part 1

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Have you ever gone to a concert where the performers asked you to join in?  Well, I am asking you to join in today and contribute to my blog.  This week I am doing what I call my four best of everything.  Everything that matters to me anyway.  Perhaps I should say it is my four favorites of everything because best is such a qualitative term.  There may be little difference between the word favorite and the word best, however, using the term best is more provocative and usually ends up in arguments or debates.  Since I do not want to be judgmental, I will use the term favorites in the text of this blog.

I am going to share with you my four favorite fiction writers, my four favorite non-fiction writers, my four favorites writings/stories (both fiction and non-fiction) and my four favorite ideas.  After I list each of my favorites, I will provide a short explanation of why I like this writer or selection so much.  Each of my favorites are listed in no order or preference.  Asking me to pick the “best” of any of these would be impossible.

I am sure that each of you reading this will have some ideas concerning your favorites in these areas.  Like the concert performer inviting you to join in on song, I invite you to put your ideas or thoughts concerning your favorites in my comment sections.  The more the better.  Don’t be shy.  Use any language you want to share your ideas with the rest of the world.  Let us know what you like and why you like it.  Plenty of room in the blogosphere.

My Four Favorite Fiction Writers:

Mark Twain: I started reading Mark Twain when I was in grade school and fell in love with his short stories.  Later I graduated to his novels and then some of his commentaries.  I love his ability to combine satires with humor.  He had the ability to send a message about life while still making his reader laugh.

the war prayer

“O Lord our God, help us to tear their soldiers to bloody shreds with our shells; help us to cover their smiling fields with the pale forms of their patriot dead; help us to drown the thunder of the guns with the shrieks of their wounded, writhing in pain; help us to lay waste their humble homes with a hurricane of fire; help us to wring the hearts of their unoffending widows with unavailing grief; help us to turn them out roofless with their little children to wander unfriended the wastes of their desolated land in rags and hunger and thirst…”  — Mark Twain, “The War Prayer”

Kurt Vonnegut: My first book of Kurt’s was the novel “Cats Cradle”.  I am not sure if you would call it simply satire or more nihilism, but I was 18 when I found his pick and was just doing into the military.  I could not wait to read the other novels that he wrote, and I binged on Kurt for the next year or so.  I think I may have co opted many of his ideas as they became my ideas for much of my life.

“Perhaps, when we remember wars, we should take off our clothes and paint ourselves blue and go on all fours all day long and grunt like pigs. That would surely be more appropriate than noble oratory and shows of flags and well-oiled guns.”  — Kurt Vonnegut, “Cat’s Cradle”

Anatole France: I discovered France about five years after Vonnegut.  A very different writer but also with a keen sense of social justice and injustice.  I loved “Penguin Island”, “The Revolt of the Angels” and “Thais.”  How these stories shaped my thinking about life, I will never know but I am sure that they fueled my already growing skepticism about life, good, evil and truth.

“No, let us not conquer the heavens. It is enough to have the power to do so. War engenders war, and victory defeat. God, conquered, will become Satan; Satan, conquering, will become God. May the fates spare me this terrible lot!‎” — Anatole France, “The Revolt of the Angels”

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Edgar Allen Poe: Yes, it is true, sometimes I do read material that is simply escapism.  My favorite genres for many years were science fiction, science fantasy, horror and murder mysteries.   I am pretty sure that I read everything that Poe wrote.  I found many other fiction writers that entertain me but only Poe could blend horror, mystery and the foibles of humanity to create the strange stories that he wrote.

“He did not perceive that my smile now was at the thought of his immolation.”  — Edgar Allan Poe, “The Cask of Amontillado”

My Four Favorite Non-Fiction Writers:

Thomas Jefferson: Call him a Founding Father.  Call him a hypocrite.  Call him a racist.  Call him whatever you want, but no one has ever in my mind approached his depth of intellectual vigor in terms of delineating the necessities for a truly just society.  You need to separate the man from the message.  The message that Jefferson left us was sublime.  The man himself was not up to the message but that does not diminish the message one iota. 

“Experience hath shewn, that even under the best forms of government those entrusted with power have, in time, and by slow operations, perverted it into tyranny.” — Thomas Jefferson, “A Bill for the More General Diffusion of Knowledge”W. E. Deming:

Dr. W. E. Deming:  Dr. Deming is the only one of my favorites that I have had the pleasure to not only meet but to also work along side of.  He was cantankerous, irascible and cynical.  He was also brilliant, compassionate and a true humanist.  His vision for humanity was a workplace that embraced both the scientific method with a love for all employees.  Dr. Deming spent most of his teaching and consulting life dedicated to making his vision a reality.  I had the privilege of working alongside Dr. Deming several times.  He taught me most of what I now know about organizations and how to continuously improve them.

“To manage, one must lead. To lead, one must understand the work that he and his people are responsible for. Who is the customer (the next stage), and how can we serve better the customer? An incoming manager, to lead, and to manage at the source of improvement, must learn. He must learn from his people what they are doing and must learn a lot of new subject matter.” — Dr. W. E. Deming, Out of the Crisis

00oshoOSHO: His given name was Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh.  OSHO was a religious teacher from India.  He wrote numerous books on life, religion and spirituality.  He also gave talks and started several communities for his followers.  His books and talks were full of insights and stories to make you think and question your own life.  OSHO became infamous when he tried to start a community of acolytes in a rural area of Oregon.  The town OSHO started was called Rajneeshpuram.  It became a target for locals who thought that their community was being taken over by a bunch of cultists.  Things went south when some of OHSO’s devotees exceeded authority and tried to retaliate against the local community.  This is perhaps another case, where the man did not live up to his message.  Nevertheless, I have never found any spiritual writings that are as profound and thought provoking as OSHOs.

“Never belong to a crowd; Never belong to a nation; Never belong to a religion; Never belong to a race. Belong to the whole existence. Why limit yourself to small things? When the whole is available.” — OSHO

Daniel Kahneman: I first read Kahneman and Amos Tversky’s book “Judgement Under Uncertainty” in 1982.  Twenty years later Kahneman won the Nobel Prize for Economics.  Tversky had died in 1996.  Their research and work challenged the very bedrock of economic decision making since they attacked the assumption of human rationality that prevailed in modern economic theory.  I completed my Ph.D. degree and went into management consulting.

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One of the key foundations of my consulting was based on the work into heuristics and biases that were described in “Judgement Under Uncertainty.”  Corporations could make some brilliant decisions but too often they were guided by fallacies and misconceptions that relied more on emotions and prejudice than good data and facts.  Today, economics has taken a giant leap forward in understanding human decision making based on the work of Kahneman and his many followers.

“Searching for wisdom in historic events requires an act of faith—a belief in the existence of recurrent patterns waiting to be discovered.” — Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky, “Judgment Under Uncertainty”

I hope you have enjoyed or at least found my list of favorites interesting.  I will follow up with Part 2 which will deal with my four favorite “Writings” and my four favorite “Ideas.” 

Now it is your turn to list some of your favorite authors or speakers or books in the comments section.  I am looking forward to hearing what some of you have found interesting and why you found them interesting.

 

 

6 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Vic Nurcombe
    Jan 19, 2020 @ 21:51:43

    Interesting!
    Fiction:
    1. Ian McEwan. Atonement, Saturday, Comfort of Strangers. Superb.
    2. John Le Carre. The master.
    3. Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Talk about “Solitude”!
    4. Orwell/Joseph Conrad/Philip Roth/John Updike/Homer….can’t separate them. Stylists extraordinaire.

    Non Fiction
    1. Jared Diamond/Richard Dawkins. Guns, Germs and Steel a masterpiece. And nobody renders complexity more understandably or elegantly than Dawkins.
    2. Bill Bryson. Whether high brow, middle brow or low brow, he can’t write a dull sentence.
    3. Timothy Snyder. His work on the holocaust and WW2 is extraordinary.
    4. Can’t separate Atul Gawande/

    Reply

    • Dr. John Persico Jr.
      Jan 20, 2020 @ 14:31:15

      Vic, I never heard of Atul Gawande. What do you recommend by him/her?

      Reply

      • Vic Nurcombe
        Jan 20, 2020 @ 23:44:51

        Hi John, Gawande writes medical columns for the New Yorker magazine. Groups them together into books. But his best book, so far, is “Being Mortal”, a contemplation from a medical perspective on the end of life. To my mind, an essential read. Bryson writes serious stuff, as well as his funny, popular stuff. Did great history of the Royal Society of London. Good book on the body, as well.

  2. Dr. John Persico Jr.
    Jan 20, 2020 @ 14:29:57

    Hi Vic, I read Guns, Germs and Steel. Great book. I have read Bryson’s A Walk in the Woods book, good fun writer. Also many of Le Carre’s novels. In line with Le Carre, I also loved Alistair Mc Lean’s novels. I have read Orwell and most of your fiction #4 group. Orwell”s Animal Farm being one of my favorite books. Thanks so much for taking the time to share and post. Truly reminds me how many other great books and writers there are out there. John

    Reply

  3. Jane Fritz
    Jan 21, 2020 @ 08:25:10

    I’ll bite. And if you’re a fan of Kahneman and Tversky, as am I, then I highly recommend Michael Lewis’s The Undoing Project. I have way more than 4 favorites in each category, but I’ll stick to 4.
    Fiction: Barbara Kingsolver, Carol Shields, Yann Martel, and Joseph Boyden
    N-F: Bill Bryson, Yuval Harari, Jane Jacobs, and Elizabeth May

    I agree with your other commenter that Atul Gawande’s Being Mortal is excellent. I’ve read it twice.

    Reply

  4. Dr. John Persico Jr.
    Jan 29, 2020 @ 08:44:33

    Hi Jane, You have such a fun personality. Love your comments. I am not familiar with any of you fiction except for Bryson. I am surprised that you have also heard of Atul. I never did and now twice. I will have to get his book as well as Lewis’s book. Good thing about this blog was getting some great reading ideas from you and Vic. I wish there had been more but I am grateful for you taking the time to share. Sorry to have gotten back so late. I need to write Part 2 but I have taught or will teach all week this week and I have had little time to write. John.

    Reply

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