“Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder (Incerto #4),” by Nassim M. Taleb

AntiFragile Cover

Antifragile Cartoon

The core idea behind this book is simple and quite enticing. Nassim Nicholas Taleb divides the world and all that’s in it (people, things, institutions, ways of life) into three categories: the fragile, the robust and the antifragile.

ANTIFRAGILE Hydra

The Hydra Exemplifies Antifragiility. Cut off its head and it grows two back.

According to the author, Mr. Taleb, all living systems are subject to stress, random events and disorder. Those that break are fragile, those that resist adaptation are robust. Those that adapt, gain new capability, understanding, and strength are antifragile.

Antifragile-Chart

We should all strive to be “antifragile.”

AntiFragile GraphAntifragile Convexity

Antifragile That which doesn't kill me

Discussion Questions:

1). The core idea behind this book is simple and enticing.  Taleb divides the world and all that’s in it (people, things, institutions, ways of life) into three categories: The fragile, the robust and the antifragile.  What is Antifragility?  Can you think of examples of systems that are “antifragile”?

Antifragile Sandstorm-in-Riyadh-Saudi

In the eye of the storm. Taleb says the least antifragile state in the world is Saudi Arabia

2). A reader could easily run out of adjectives to describe Antifragile: Things That Gain From Disorder. The first ones that come to mind are: maddening, bold, repetitious, judgmental, intemperate, erudite, reductive, shrewd, self-indulgent, self-congratulatory, provocative, pompous, penetrating, perspicacious, discursive, and pretentious.  What adjective would you use to describe the book?

Antifragile Stick Man

3). In that vein, while the book’s core idea is succinct and innovative, some say the book that houses it is just the opposite—A big, baggy, sprawling mess.  A hard going.  Do you agree with this assessment?  Is so, how could the book be better?

Antifragile Cartoon Boring

4). In Mr. Taleb’s view, “We have been fragilizing [sic] the economy, our health, political life, education, almost everything” by “suppressing randomness and volatility,” much the way that “systematically preventing forest fires from taking place ‘to be safe’ makes the big one much worse.”   Do you agree with this view?  What, if any, solutions does Taleb offer?

Antifragile bear-prevent-forest-fires-cartoon-390x220

5). Antifragile is trying to be two things at once: a philosophical treatise and a how-to guide for living. Can you think of a way to apply the book’s principles to your life?

Antifragile Live Life Cartoon

Antifragilei Overprotective Mom

Are you teaching fragility?

6). Taleb is deeply and depressingly nostalgic for the virtues of the ancients; their stoicism, tolerance for suffering, and sharp justice.  Would we really be better off, for example, if we followed Hammurabi’s Code and put architects to death whenever one of their buildings fell down?

Antifragile Sparta

Making America Great Again?

7). Would you recommend this book to others?  Why or why not?

Antifragile Cartoon Chicken

About the Author:

Antifragile Author Picture

Nassim Nicholas Taleb spent 21 years as a risk taker (quantitative trader) before becoming a flaneur and researcher in philosophical, mathematical and (mostly) practical problems with probability.

Taleb is the author of a multivolume essay, the Incerto (The Black Swan, Fooled by Randomness, Antifragile, and Skin in the Game) an investigation of opacity, luck, uncertainty, probability, human error, risk, and decision making when we don’t understand the world, expressed in the form of a personal essay with autobiographical sections, stories, parables, and philosophical, historical, and scientic discussions in nonover lapping volumes that can be accessed in any order.

In addition to his trader life, Taleb has also written, as a backup of the Incerto, more than 50 scholarly papers in statistical physics, statistics, philosophy, ethics, economics, international affairs, and quantitative finance, all around the notion of risk and probability.

Taleb is currently Distinguished Professor of Risk Engineering at NYU’s Tandon School of Engineering (only a quarter time position). His current focus is on the properties of systems that can handle disorder (“antifragile”).

Taleb believes that prizes, honorary degrees, awards, and ceremonialism debase knowledge by turning it into a spectator sport.

 

 

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“The Evangelicals: The Struggle to Shape America,” by Frances FitzGerald

Evangelicals-Book CoverEvangelicals Oral Roberts UniversityEvangelicals Wedding

A healing session led by the evangelist Oral Roberts, Minneapolis, Minnesota, 1960

A healing session led by the evangelist Oral Roberts, Minneapolis, Minnesota, 1960

Discussion Questions:

  1. One major question dominates author FitzGerald’s treatment, and it is suggested by her subtitle: Why should the faithful try to shape America at all? Should faith and politics intermix?

    Evangelicals Bush and Graham

    Former President George W. Bush and Laura Bush greet evangelist Billy Graham in 2010.

  2. It is interesting to see how Protestant religions struggled with the Scientific Revolution and the major social changes of the 19th and 20th Centuries. Specifically whether the Bible could be read literally (inerrancy) and is free from error in matters of science as well as faith. Where do you come out on the struggle?  How do recent developments, such as exoplanet research, factor into the analysis?Evangelicals-MoodyEvangelicals-People Cover Billy Graham
  3. The struggle between a Biblical versus science-based model for society continues today in issues such as the validity of Intelligent Design theory and sex education. Is it valid to struggle governmental policy around religious beliefs?
    Evangelicals Trump

    Pastors and attendees lay hands on and pray with Donald Trump during the Midwest Vision and Values Pastors and Leadership Conference at the New Spirit Revival Center, in Cleveland Heights, Ohio, on September 21, 2016.

    Evangelicals Pat Robertson

    Evangelicals Scopes Trial

    Scopes Trial

  4. The book receives some criticism for focusing on the televangelists and other fringe players of the Evangelical movement and not enough on the positive contribution. Do you think this is a fair point? Did the author demonstrate a bias about her views on Evangelicals?Evangelicals-The Miracle Touch
  5. The heart of the story concerns the emergence of the Christian Right as a main player in US politics from the 1960s and 1970s up through the Bush Jr. and Obama. Yet today that force seems on the decline with the election of Trump, falling attendance, and the disinterest from the Millennials. What is your prediction for the future of the movement?Evangelicals Wheaton ColllegeEvangelicals Roy Moore Cartoon

About the Author:

Evangelicals-Frances FitzGerald (author)

Frances FitzGerald (born October 21, 1940) is an American journalist and historian, who is primarily known for Fire in the Lake: The Vietnamese and the Americans in Vietnam (1972), an account of the Vietnam War. It was a bestseller that won the Pulitzer Prize, Bancroft Prize, and National Book Award.

“The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness,” by Michelle Alexander

New Jim Crow Bars

“The New Jim Crow is essential reading for anyone who cares about justice, humanity, and the future of our democracy.”

—California Lawyer

“Now and then a book comes along that might in time touch the public and educate social commentators, policymakers, and politicians about a glaring wrong that we have been living with that we also somehow don’t know how to face. The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander is such a work. . . Alexander considers the evidence and concludes that our prison system is a unique form of social control, much like slavery and Jim Crow, the systems it has replaced. . . [She] is not the first to offer this bitter analysis, but The New Jim Crow is striking in the intelligence of her ideas, her powers of summary, and the force of her writing. Her tone is disarming throughout; she speaks as a concerned citizen, not as an expert, though she is one. She can make the abstract concrete, as J. Saunders Redding once said in praise of W.E.B. Du Bois, and Alexander deserves to be compared to Du Bois in her ability to distill and lay out as mighty human drama a complex argument and history.”

—The New York Review of Books, March 2011

 

New Jim Crow Imagery

“The Union as It Was. The Lost Cause, Worse than Slavery.” Illustration by Thomas Nast, 1874.

New Jim Crow Black Man in Prison Shower

Mass Incarceration-The New Jim Crow

Charts and Statistics:

New Jim Crow-Flag as Bars

 

New Jim Crow Incarceration Rates for Black American Men.

New Jim Crow-Prison Image

 

New Jim Crow lifetime-likelihood-of-imprisonment-by-race

 

New Jim Crow Impact+of+Drug+War
Statistics from “The New Jim Crow 

 

 

New Jim Crow Separate-but-Equal-Drug-Sentencing

 

For national crime statistics go to the FBI’s Uniform Crime in the United States reports:

https://ucr.fbi.gov/ucr-publications

Discussion Questions:

“The nature of the criminal justice system has changed. It is no longer primarily concerned with the prevention and punishment of crime, but rather with the management and control of the dispossessed.”

—Michelle Alexander, “The New Jim Crow”

New Jim Crow-Jim Crow is Back

Civil rights activists trying to stage a protest are blocked by National Guardsmen brandishing bayonets on Beale Street in Memphis, Tennessee, 1968.

Civil rights activists trying to stage a protest are blocked by National Guardsmen brandishing bayonets on Beale Street in Memphis, Tennessee, 1968.

1. Why does Alexander call mass incarceration “the new Jim Crow”? What does she say in response to these objections:

a. Jim Crow punished people for who they are—their race, which was out of their control—while mass incarceration punishes people for what they do when they break the law

b. Unlike Jim Crow, mass incarceration affects people of all races

c. Mass incarceration reflects an appropriate concern for public safety

d. Prominent African-Americans support “tough on crime” laws as a response to ghetto crime that mostly harms African-Americans.

2. And what do you think of the analogy?

3. What role do mandatory minimum sentences play in the new Jim Crow? When did mass incarceration begin?

New Jim Crow The House I Live In

4. What does Alexander mean when (quoting Reva Siegel) she calls slavery, Jim Crow, and mass incarceration “preservation through transformation”? (p. 21)

New Jim Crow From the Back of the Bus

5. What is the role of bureaucratic discretion in the new Jim Crow? Consider both the tremendous discretion of police officers and prosecutors and the relative lack of discretion of judges. Does this suggest anything about what fairer laws might look like?

New Jim Crow Supreme Court

6. Why does Alexander say that prison sentences are only a small part of the problem? What’s the rest of the problem with the new Jim Crow?

7. What are some consequences of the new Jim Crow?

New Jim Crow where-did-the-prison-industrial-complex-come--L-JonZk4New Jim Crow Prisons and Schools

8. Do you agree with Alexander that “[t]he system operates through our criminal justice institutions, but it functions more like a caste system than a system of crime control?” (p.13)

9. Consider an analogy between the “criminals” in the War on Drugs and undocumented immigrants, who have also violated administrative regulations. Is the analogy between the statuses of “criminal” and “illegal” illuminating? Do other analogies come to mind?

New Jim Crow-Immigration

10. Consider another analogy regarding Alexander’s argument about the origin of the War on Drugs, and the origins of the War on Terror. Is the analogy, or are limits to the analogy, revealing?

11. Was the new Jim Crow inevitable? What would have had to be different to have prevented it?

New Jim Crow-Free the Jena 6

Images from the Old Jim Crow:

White tenants seeking to prevent black Americans from moving into the Sojourner Truth Homes, a federal governmental housing project, erected this sign in Detroit in 1942.

White tenants seeking to prevent black Americans from moving into the Sojourner Truth Homes, a federal governmental housing project, erected this sign in Detroit in 1942.

Rosa Parks is fingerprinted by a police officer in Montgomery, Alabama, on Feb. 22, 1956, two months after refusing to give up her seat on a bus for a white passenger on Dec. 1, 1955. She was arrested with several others who violated segregation laws. Parks' refusal to give up her seat led to a boycott of buses in December 1955, a tactic organized by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

Rosa Parks is fingerprinted by a police officer in Montgomery, Alabama, on Feb. 22, 1956, two months after refusing to give up her seat on a bus for a white passenger on Dec. 1, 1955. She was arrested with several others who violated segregation laws. Parks’ refusal to give up her seat led to a boycott of buses in December 1955, a tactic organized by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

An unidentified white student slugs an effigy of a hanging black student outside Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas, on Oct. 3, 1957, as nearly 75 students of the school walked out to protest integration.

An unidentified white student slugs an effigy of a hanging black student outside Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas, on Oct. 3, 1957, as nearly 75 students of the school walked out to protest integration.

From left: Buddy Trammell, Max Stiles, and Tommy Sanders, students at Clinton High School in Clinton, Tennessee, picket their school when it becomes the first state-supported school to integrate, on Aug. 27, 1956.

The Good Old Boys: Students at Clinton High School in Clinton, Tennessee, picket their school when it becomes the first state-supported school to integrate, on Aug. 27, 1956.

Counter-protesting against civil rights demonstrations, Edward R. Fields and James Murray, members of the National States Rights Party, hang an effigy of Martin Luther King Jr. outside the party's headquarters in Birmingham, Alabama, on May 6, 1963.

Counter-protesting against civil rights demonstrations members of the National States Rights Party, hang an effigy of Martin Luther King Jr. outside the party’s headquarters in Birmingham, Alabama, on May 6, 1963.

Roy Lee Howlett, 14, stands beside a car painted with signs protesting the desegregation of Mansfield High School in Dallas on Aug. 31, 1956.

A fourteen-year-old boy stands beside a car painted with signs protesting the desegregation of Mansfield High School in Dallas on Aug. 31, 1956.

Klansmen form a circle around a burning cross at a rally in Albany, Georgia, which an estimated 3,000 persons attended in 1962.

Klansmen form a circle around a burning cross at a rally in Albany, Georgia, which an estimated 3,000 persons attended in 1962.

Podcasts and Media:

“The New Jim Crow: Michelle Alexander,” Things Not Seen.  An in-depth interview with the author.

http://www.thingsnotseenradio.com/shows/1509a-alexander

“Legal Scholar: Jim Crow Still Exists In America, Fresh Air (Jan. 16, 2012).

https://www.npr.org/2012/01/16/145175694/legal-scholar-jim-crow-still-exists-in-america

“The ‘Thumbprint Of The Culture’: Implicit Bias And Police Shootings,” The Hidden Brain article and podcast

https://www.npr.org/2017/06/05/531578107/the-thumbprint-of-the-culture-implicit-bias-and-police-shootings

New Jim Crow-I remember you

About the Author:

New Jim Crow Author

Michelle Alexander is a writer, civil rights advocate, and visiting professor at Union Theological Seminary. She is best known for her 2010 book The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness.

 

“Pit Bull: The Battle Over an American Icon,” by Bronwen Dickey

“If trained animal professionals with years of dog-handling experience aren’t good at visually identifying breeds, then what does that say about the rest of us?”

 

“By World War I, pit bulls were so beloved as national symbols that we literally and figuratively wrapped them in the flag. We even called them “Yankee terriers.”

 

“Dogs have evolved to understand us better over the millennia, but in modern pet culture we appear doomed to understand them less.”

 

― Bronwen Dickey, Pit Bull: The Battle over an American Icon

 

Pitt Bull Cover

The illuminating story of how a popular breed of dog became the most demonized and supposedly the most dangerous of dogs—and what role humans have played in the transformation.

From this:

To This:

 

Discussion Questions:

  1.  How did you view Pit Bulls before reading this book?  Has your viewpoint changed?  Is so, why?
  2.  In Chapter Nine the book discusses “moral panic” which is defined as inappropriate hysteria about a novel, obscure, or previously ignored phenomenon.  The book gives examples of this which include early eighties claims of satanic ritual child abuse and the witch hunts that spread across medieval Europe.   Can you think of other examples?  Does it surprise you that, not just individuals, but entire cultures and societies can suffer from irrational hysteria?
  3. Reading this book reminds me of the classic “How to Lie with Statistics.”  The author also explores how unfounded opinions and speculation can morph overtime into scientific fact.  Did reading this book make you more skeptical about arguments based on statistics and data?  
  4. The book illustrates the remarkably patience and tolerance of dogs.  A mid-sized dog could, at any time, seriously maim a person.  Yet it so rarely happens.  There are only an average of thirty-five fatal dog attacks a year.  Are you surprised that, when you look at the data, dogs and men coexist remarkably well. 
  5. In addition to amazingly pronounced problem of dog breed identification, a major problem with evaluating dog breed “aggressiveness” is the myriad of variables involved in dog attacks, e.g., was the dog tethered, was the dog provoked, was the dog subject to neglect or environmental stress.  Do we lack sufficient data to make this determination?
  6. Finally, as always, did you like the book?  The writer’s style?  Did you learn anything that will stay with you?

About the Author:

Pit Bull Author

Bonwen Dickey is a contributing editor at The Oxford American. Her work has also appeared in The New York Times, Newsweek, Outside, Slate, Garden & Gun, Best American Travel Writing, The San Francisco Chronicle, and The Independent Weekly, among other publications. She lives in North Carolina.

Interviews:

https://bookpage.com/interviews/19793-bronwen-dickey#.Wl5UFainHcs

https://themillions.com/2016/06/dogs-of-war-bronwen-dickey-on-pit-bulls.htm

https://www.npr.org/2016/05/10/477350069/friend-or-fiend-pit-bull-explores-the-          history-of-americas-most-feared-dog

 

 

“Night (The Night Trilogy #1),” by Elie Wiesel, Marion Wiesel (Translator)

“To forget the dead would be akin to killing them a second time.”

Night-Book ImageNight-To Remain Silent

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Discussion Questions:

1. As Night begins, Eliezer is so moved by faith that he weeps when he prays. He is also searching for a deeper understanding of the mystical teachings of the Kabbalah. How does Eliezer’s relationship with his faith and with God change as the book progresses?

2. While Nazi terror is only a rumor or distant threat, Eliezer’s father chooses to remain in Sighet. Once they are forced into the ghetto, Eliezer’s father tells his older children that they can go live with their former maid in her village, but that he will stay in the ghetto with their mother and little sister. Eliezer says, “Naturally, we refused to be separated” (p. 20). Can you sympathize with their choice? What would it feel like for a family to have to choose to leave their home or separate from each other? Are there places in the world where families are faced with this decision now?

3.  What literal and symbolic meanings does “night” have in the book?

Night-Barbed Wire

Night-Jews arrive at Auschwitz-II

“Selection” of Hungarian Jews on the ramp at Auschwitz-II (Birkenau), Poland during the German occupation, May/June 1944. Jews were sent either to work or to the gas chamber. The photograph is part of the collection known as the Auschwitz Album.

Night First they came

4.  Early in the book, after Moishe the Beadle escapes his execution, no one, not even Eliezer, believes his tales (p. 7). Even when the Germans arrive in Sighet and move all the Jews into ghettos, the Jewish townspeople seem to ignore or suppress their fears. “Most people thought that we would remain in the ghetto until the end of the war, until the arrival of the Red Army. Afterward everything would be as before” (p. 12). What might be the reasons for the townspeople’s widespread denial of the evidence facing them?

Night-Shot Like Dogs

5. When Eliezer sees his father being beaten with an iron bar, he keeps silent and thinks of “stealing away” so he won’t have to watch what’s happening (p. 54). Instead of directing his anger at the Kapo, he becomes mad at his father. What do you think is really going on inside of Eliezer? Who is he really mad at?

6.  Think of the kapos and the little blonde pipel who is hanged on page 64. Who are the bystanders? Who are the perpetrators? Who are the victims in Night? Do these roles sometimes overlap?

7.  At the end of Night, Wiesel writes: “From the depths of the mirror, a corpse was contemplating me. The look in his eyes as he gazed at me has never left me” (p. 115). What parts of Eliezer died during his captivity? What was born in their place?

Night-Where is God

8.  What scenes from Night do you remember most vividly? Have they made you look at the world or your family differently?

Night-Vicitms

Fritz Klein, the camp doctor, standing in a mass grave at Bergen-Belsen after the camp’s liberation by the British 11th Armoured Division, April 1945

Night At Every Step

About the Author:

night Elie Wiesel

Elie Wiesel

Born in Sighet, Romania
September 30, 1928
Died: July 02, 2016
Genre: Memoir, Fiction

Eliezer Wiesel was a Romania-born American novelist, political activist, and Holocaust survivor of Hungarian Jewish descent. He was the author of over 40 books, the best known of which is Night, a memoir that describes his experiences during the Holocaust and his imprisonment in several concentration camps.

Wiesel was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1986. The Norwegian Nobel Committee called him a “messenger to mankind,” noting that through his struggle to come to terms with “his own personal experience of total humiliation and of the utter contempt for humanity shown in Hitler’s death camps,” as well as his “practical work in the cause of peace,” Wiesel has delivered a powerful message “of peace, atonement and human dignity” to humanity.

On November 30, 2006 Wiesel received an honorary knighthood in London, England in recognition of his work toward raising Holocaust education in the United Kingdom.

“Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World,” by Jack Weatherford

“A leader should demonstrate his thoughts and opinions through his actions, not through his words.”
― Jack Weatherford, Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World

“The first key to leadership was self-control, particularly the mastery of pride, which was something more difficult, he explained, to subdue than a wild lion and anger, which was more difficult to defeat than the greatest wrestler. He warned them that “if you can’t swallow your pride, you can’t lead.”

“If you can’t swallow your pride, you can’t lead. Even the highest mountain had animals that step on it.”

― Jack Weatherford, Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World

Genghis Khan-Book Cover

Ghengis Khan-Image and Pop Notes

An astounding number of people in Central Asia are estimated to be the descendants of Genghis Khan. Geneticists have begun to trace a variant of the Y chromosome transmitted only through the male line in the DNA of a huge number of Central Asian males—estimated at 17 million—who appear to share a common progenitor, dating back to the 13th century.

In Genghis Khan, Weatherford resurrects the true history of Genghis Khan, from the story of his relentless rise through Mongol tribal culture to the waging of his devastatingly successful wars and the explosion of civilization that the Mongol Empire unleashed.

 

 

Ghengis Khan-Image and Pop Notes
The U.S. legal and governmental systems are far more based upon Genghis Khan’s model than religious sources such as The Ten Commandments.   Instead of the Commandments, Roy Moore should have put a statue of Khan in front of his courthouse. 

 

 

 

Genghis Khan-Map

“Victory did not come to the one who played by the rules; it came to the one who made the rules and imposed them on his enemy.”
― Jack Weatherford, Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World

Discussion Questions:

1). How important, according to Jack Weatherford, were the Genghis Khan and the Mongols to the “making of the modern world”? What are the various ways in which Weatherford suggests they shaped the modern world?

2). What are the strengths and weaknesses of Weatherford’s presentation? To what extent do you accept his argument that the Mongols are the pivots upon which modern world history turns?

3). How would you begin to describe the Mongol way of war? How and why did the Mongol empire spread so quickly? Where, when and how was the Mongol expansion halted?

4).  What other features of Mongol culture seem most interesting, and why? What was most distinctive about such social institutions and relationships as religion, law and gender roles?

5).  How and why has the image of Genghis Khan and the Mongols shifted over the centuries? What has been the story of this “afterlife” in Europe from the 14th century onwards? What have been the most important positive and negative stereotypes and how would you begin to account for these?

6).  To what extent does the historic clash between nomadic groups and urban cultures provide a key to understanding both the Mongols and they ways in which they have been portrayed down through the ages?

7.)  Does the life of Genghis Khan offer backing for the “Great Man” theory of history? How important were his individual character and decisions for the rise of the Mongol Empire? How is it possible that an outcast child could rise from such a lowly beginning to become the Great Khan?

8.)  How would you compare and contrast Khubilai Khan with Genghis Khan? How did the process of empire-building change the Mongols? To what extent is it appropriate to speak of a Pax Mongolica?

9).  What, in your own opinion, are the most important legacies of Genghis Khan and the Mongols?

Genghis Khan-Mongolian Shaman

A Mongolian Shaman

Genghis Khan Burial Place

Khan’s Gravesite

Genghis Khan Mongols-using-Chinese-gunpowder-bombs-during-the-Mongol-Invasions-of-Japan-1281

Khan’s Army Using Chinese Gunpowder Bombs

Genghis Khan Map of Empire

Extent of the Mongolian Empire

Ghengis Khan on Horseback

Ghengis Khan on Horseback

Ghengis Khan-Spirit Banners

Spirit Banners

Genghis Khan-Monument

Monument to Genghis Khan

About the Author: Ghengis Jack Weatherford.jpg

Jack McIver Weatherford is the former DeWitt Wallace Professor of anthropology at Macalester College in Minnesota. He is best known for his 2004 book, Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World. His other books include The History of Money; Indian Givers: How the Indians of the Americas Transformed the World; and The Secret History of the Mongol Queens: How the Daughters of Genghis Khan Rescued His Empire.

 

“The Winter Fortress: The Epic Mission to Sabotage Hitler’s Atomic Bomb,” by Neal Bascomb

The Winter Fortress - Cover

NONFICTION: A suspenseful, well-researched retelling of the heroes of Telemark, who prevented Hitler from developing the bomb.  If the “heroes of Telemark” had failed and Hitler got the bomb, London might have disappeared in a blast and the Allies could have lost the war. “By God’s mercy,” Winston Churchill declared following the bombing of Hiroshima at war’s end, “British and American science outpaced all German efforts.”

 

Winter Fortress Memorial

The saboteurs’ memorial at Vemork

Winter Fortress Picture of Participants

Surrounding their boss 

Leif Tronstad (front row, center) are most of the Vemork saboteurs, including (front row left to right) Jens Anton Poulsson and Joachim Ronneberg, and (back row left to right) Hans Storhaug, Fredrik Kayser, Kasper Idland, Claus Helberg, and Birger Stromsheim.

Winter Fortress Vemork Picture Color

Winter Fortress DF-Hydro (1944)

DF “Hydro” was a steam-driven railway ferry which was lowered on Lake Tinn by Norwegian sabotage during World War II .

Discussion Questions:

1).  Nazi occupation of Norway was unremittingly brutal.  The price for resistance was quite high.  To what lengths would you have gone to resist German Occupation?

On the other hand, countrymen did not forget collaborators and quickly punished them once liberated:

2).  While Bascomb explains, with remarkably accessible clarity, the state of nuclear physics at the time and the importance of heavy water to the German efforts to build a bomb, the heart of the story is how a small band of Norwegians escaped to England, trained and slipped back to Norway to deny Hitler this awesome power.  Was Bascomb right to focus on the individual stories of the saboteurs?  Does this tactic work well in non-fiction?

3). How do modern military heroes compare to those in Winter Fortress?

For examples of Iraqi war heroes, see:

http://freebeacon.com/national-security/8-heroes-of-the-iraq-war/

4).  What tactical lessons can be learned from the events chronicled in Winter Fortress?

5).  Is there any comparison between the race to stop Hitler and his atomic program and today’s efforts to stop North Korea and Iran’s nuclear programs?

6).  There is no seeming end to the bravery shown by the British Special Operations Executive (SOE).  In the Pacific arena, Americans showed extreme bravery and grit in engagements such as Guadalcanal and Iwo Jima.  Is Tom Brokaw right that this generation was “The Greatest Generation”? 

See https://www.amazon.com/Greatest-Generation-Tom-Brokaw/dp/0812975294

7).  Finally, would you recommend this book to anyone or just WW2 buffs?

Winter Fortress Vemork DiagramWinter Fortress The-Heros-of-Telemark-1965

Winter Fortress DF-Hydro (1944)

DF “Hydro” was a steam-driven railway ferry sent to the bottom of Lake Tinn by Norwegian sabotage during World War II .

A World War II primer in thirteen minutes:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q78COTwT7nE

Interview with Bascomb:

https://www.c-span.org/video/?409379-1/neal-bascomb-discusses-winter-fortress

About the Author:

Winter Fortress Neal-Bascomb

Neal Bascomb is a national award-winning, and New York Times bestselling author of a number of books.  All of Bascomb’s books are non-fiction narratives focused on inspiring stories of adventure or achievement. His work has been translated into over eighteen languages, featured in several documentaries, and optioned for major film and television projects.

Born in Colorado and raised in St. Louis, he is the product of public school and lots of time playing hockey. He earned a double degree in Economics and English Literature at Miami University (Ohio), lived in Europe for several years as a journalist (London, Dublin, and Paris), and worked as an editor at St. Martin’s Press (New York). In 2000, he started writing books full time.

His first book HIGHER was selected for the Barnes and Noble Discover Great New Writer award and was featured in a History Channel documentary. His second THE PERFECT MILE was a New York Times bestseller and frequently ranks as one of the top books on running. His third RED MUTINY won the United States Maritime Literature Award and critical acclaim around the world. His fourth HUNTING EICHMANN was an international bestseller and led to a young adult edition called NAZI HUNTERS that was the 2014 winner of the YALSA Award, Sydney Taylor Book Award (Gold Medal), among numerous others. His fifth book THE NEW COOL was optioned by major producer Scott Rudin for film. His sixth ONE MORE STEP, focused on the first man with cerebral palsy to climb Kilimanjaro and finish the Kona Ironman, was a New York Times bestseller as well.

An avid hiker, skier, and coffee drinker, he is happily settled in Seattle, Washington with his family.