NOTE: I am aware that I have done a very poor job with these posts, especially concerning my views about advances in technology. Those posts were highly misaligned with the books we have presented about technology, so I will not write about that subject anymore. However, I will share some thoughts about some of the books that I have read recently in order to inspire some of you to consider reading them.
Kati Marton is a veteran ABC and NPR news correspondent. She has written seven books, and I have two of them. In this post, I will call your attention to her newest best-seller that I read over the holidays entitled Paris: A Love Story (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2012). Before all of you guys reading this think that book must be too “mushy,” it is actually less about loving people, and more about loving her experiences in the wonderful Parisian context.
You may remember the feelings that I expressed about David McCullough’s work in the same setting. In 2011, he published The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011), in which he shared experiences from politicians, artists, and other entrepreneurial Americans who visited, lived, and worked in Paris at the turn of the century. The experiences were spellbinding, and he wrote the book so well that you wanted to jump out of your chair, get on an airplane, and wind back the clock to join them.
There is something magical about Paris. I was there once, but only for 36 hours, and as a member of a whirlwind tour party. That is not how to see Paris. In fact, that is not how to see anything.
But, Marton’s Paris is special, because it documents experiences with her two famous late husbands. The first was Peter Jennings, ABC’s news anchor, who divorced her in 1993, and died in 2005. The second was Richard Holbrooke, a diplomatic troubleshooter who worked for every Democratic president since the late 1960s, and who at the time of his death, still married to Marton, was the Obama administration’s special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan. Holbrooke died in 2010.
Paris was an important place for both of these relationships, and in her book, you see it as both foreground and background to important events in her life, the lives of both men, and the troubles of America and the world. While she loved both her husbands, the book also includes brutal honesty about her extramarital affairs while in both relationships.
Paris became Marton’s refuge. After settling all the affairs of the estate, she writes, “I need to get away. Paris seems the right place. It is where Richard and I started our lives together and lived our happiest times. But, well before that, it is where I became who I am. In a life of multiple uprootings, Paris has been my one fixed point. Once before I found happiness and beauty in Paris. I was a young girl then, the child of political refugees who settled in America….Paris is the place where good things seem to happen to me. In a way, every story with Paris at its heart is a love story. So is mine. It is where I fell in love, first with the city, then with the man who became the father of my children. Then, in middle age, I found lasting love in Paris with Richard. So, in Paris, I will relearn how to live” (pp. 32-33).
And, thus, the story ends with Marton celebrating Christmas with her family in Paris. The final photo caption in the book reads, “the start of a new life, alone, in Paris.”
This book was so well done that I ordered a book she wrote in 2006, entitled The Great Escape: Nine Jews who Fled Hitler and Changed the World (New York: Simon & Schuster). The book is out of print, so I had to order a copy from a used book service. The context is Budapest, Hungary. The story has deep familial roots for Marton, as both her parents were Hungarian journalists for AP and UPI, and who were imprisoned during the war. I have not yet finished this one. I am reading it slowly to fully absorb the context and bravery that jumps off every page. When I finish, I want to share some insights that I am gaining from that book.
Cheryl offers: On the front page of Sunday September 19’s New York Daily News and the Wall Street Journal was a picture of several women in Afghanistan. They were dressed in blue veils and garments to identify them as voting poll administrators. These women were there even though the Taliban had threatened to harm anyone participating in the voting process.” WOW” was all I could think as I stared at the picture. These are truly brave women! It occurred to me today as Randy Mayeux delivered a book synopsis of How to Change the World: Social Entrepreneurs and the Power of New Ideas by David Bornstein that the stories about Florence Nightingale in that book could also be about the women in this picture. You see, Florence didn’t listen to conventional wisdom nor heed warnings from others. She made history by following her passion about what she knew but couldn’t necessarily prove. She was one of those “obsessive people who have the skill, motivation, energy, and bullheadedness to do whatever is necessary to move them (new ideas) forward: to persuade, inspire, seduce, cajole, enlighten, touch hearts, alleviate fears, shift perceptions, articulate meanings and artfully maneuver through systems.” The only word missing from fully describing the Afghanistan women in that picture was courage; the kind of courage that inspires and motivates. None were likely named Florence, and yet they share more than a name – they share her spirit. WOW, am I lucky to have witnessed this!
Cheryl offers: There is a reporter at CNN named Caitlin Hagan that I really like. Her latest achievement is today’s story about a surgeon at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan. It seems his patient, a young Afghani soldier who had been brought there with a serious head injury, was also quite dangerous to himself and those around him without even knowing it. What they initially thought was shrapnel turned out to be a live bullet that had not detonated. After multiple tests confirmed the identity of the object, an explosive ordnance disposal team was summoned. That’s when Major John Bini, who oversees all major trauma cases there, became what Jim Collins defines in his book Good to Great a Level 5 leader. Bini took all the precautions necessary such as donning body armor under his scrubs, dismissing all non-essential personnel from the premises, removing sources of electricity in the operating room, manually administering the procedures for the operation and when he couldn’t use clamps or a scalpel close to the bullet, he pulled the object out with his hands. When it was all over, he calmly deflected praise and instead pointed to the soldiers who are in the field as the ones deserving praise. Collins defines a Level 5 leader as someone who “Builds enduring greatness through a paradoxical blend of personal humility and professional will.” Dr. Bini saw this as his job because he is the director of the emergency surgery course, nothing more, nothing less. To me, that is greatness, courage, and humility. Who wouldn’t want to follow that leader?