I’ve been enjoying blogging more. Still haven’t hundred percent worked out how to write a filler post. But here are some capsule reviews:
Lately I’ve been listening to The Man Who Broke Capitalization, by David Gelles. It’s a book about Jack Welch’s run at GE and his lasting influence over the business world. I guess I’m getting old enough that I can now read books about things I actually saw happen. When I was a kid Jack Welch was an icon. But recently GE has hit hard times and has suffered a precipitous drop in share price, which has made me wonder how Jack’s legacy looks in retrospect. Apparently, not good. The main drag on GE’s performance lately has been its financial services business (a far cry from making lightbulbs), which produced the cash that Jack Welch used to create profits year after year for twenty years. It’s an extremely complex sort of Ponzi scheme, but essentially he used sold GE bonds, backed by its substantial assets and revenues, to finance acquisitions of businesses and to speculate in financial products that would allow them to create the appearance of profitability. Of course this doesn’t exactly harm the business, but it doesn’t grow it either, and over time debt accumulates and the core business stagnates.
Anyway, what I admire about the book is how it really takes a birds eye view: it spends no time on Jack’s early years, and it runs through his entire career at GE in about half its length. The second half discusses Jack’s long retirement and the careers of his protégés who took over other forms and tried to produce similar results. Ultimately, Jack’s management style, which was big on mergers and layoffs and cost cutting, wasn’t actually the core to his success. It was a bait and switch: he simply turned GE into an unregulated investment bank and used the cash to keep up the facade that it was still a manufacturing powerhouse. Ultimately this involved a significant level of risk, which ended up putting GE into a tailspin after the Great Recession from which it has never recovered. SUMMATION: I realize absolutely nobody who reads this newsletter shares my interest in finance and business books, but this is a good one. It’s not a puff piece, it asks good questions about how companies are managed and should be managed, and it’s quite well structured as well. The narrator of the audiobook has a very pleasing voice.
Another book that might not be of general interest is Ann Fessler’s The Girls Who Went Away: The Hidden History of Women Who Surrendered Children For Adoption In The Decades Before Roe v Wade. The author placed an excerpt of the book in Slate because of the Dobbs decision, so I thought it was a recent book, but apparently it actually came out in 2007. It does exactly what it says on the tin: it’s oral histories of women who surrendered their kids at maternity homes in the 40s, 50s, and 60s. I decided to read this book because I was so sad about Dobbs, and I wanted to remind myself what forced birth looks like.
It’s not pretty! Every single mother interviewed in the book seems pretty torn-up about it. They range from embittered to ruined. Most describe being bullied by parents, priests, and social workers. A few were outright lied to or had their babies essentially stolen (they refused to sign the papers the maternity home wanted, but they still never got their baby back). The women are mostly white and middle-class (the clientele of these maternity homes). They seem to experience an immediate life-long connection to the child. Most describe wanting to raise the child, only to be told repeatedly it’s impossible. A few consent to the adoption, thinking it’s for the best, but still feel terribly ashamed and feel a longing for their kid.
The stories were so uniform that at some point I was like…does anyone not regret giving up their kid for adoption? So I did some research. Apparently open adoption (almost all of these adoptions were closed, which means no contact between the child and the birth mother) has better results for the mother’s mental health, but there is still a large degree of regret. Some of the women who later had non-surrendered kids die say they felt similarly about the deaths as they did about the adoptions. They were equally bad. A few who’d had abortions said the abortions were not nearly as emotionally painful.
It was pretty brutal. I felt terrible for the birth mothers, for the kids, and for the adoptive parents. I also listened to this in audio, which was probably the only way to finish it, since the stories really do get quite repetitive, but it’s not well-organized for audio, since they only label the stories after the story is done, which means you have no idea who’s speaking at any given point. As a result, the stories combine into one big mass.
Took a break from Capital (I’ve finished Vol 1 and want to get to Vol 2 and 3) and I’ve been reading a few different books. Have read some of Marx’s political writings, about France and the Revolution of 1848, and his famous essay 18th Brumaire, about Napoleon III. Read a medieval travelogue by Father Odoric about his travels to Persia, India, Indonesia, and China in the late 13th century. And am reading a really cool book about the economy of the Byzantine Empire. But probably will need to discuss all these in greater detail later.
I got notes back from my editor on my YA novel. Apparently, shockingly, the book is actually going to be published, even though it’s exactly the kind of book half the country wants not to be in school libraries. My editor, Steph Guerdan, is excellent. I am normally wary of praising people I work with in the publishing industry, since it’s my experience that all relationships run their course eventually. At some point, you write a book they don’t like, and you need to part ways. You can’t really ask someone to publish something that it’s not in their best interest to publish.
But Steph really is an unusual editor. Brave, unafraid of controversy, and goes above and beyond the call of duty when it comes to treating authors fairly. They also have remarkably little ego when it comes to giving edits–nothing is set in stone, and I’m happy with the wiggle room I always have. So while I’m sure our working relationship will come to an end someday, I will continue to think they’re an excellent editor.
Am also very proud of Steph for their leadership role in the Harper Union and in their upcoming strike! I’m certain it’s not a decision that Steph and the other members of the union took lightly.