The Book of the Week is “Start-Up Nation, The Story of Israel’s Economic Miracle” by Dan Senor and Saul Singer, published in 2009. The authors of this extended essay ponder why Israel had, at the book’s writing, a huger number of tech start-ups than all other industrialized nations, second only to the United States’. The reasons range from the cultural to the political to the economic.
The Israeli corporate and military mentality involves: complete focus; learning from errors (which are tolerated and treated as learning experiences); constant debriefings and self-criticism sessions; endless, heated debate; and empowerment of employees at all status levels to use their initiative and resources– even to the point of upstaging their bosses with their input. This atmosphere encourages independent thinking, and discourages herd mentality and blind obedience.
Militarily, all Israelis serve a minimum of two to three years and then become reservists for two more decades. Close social ties are formed that foster business relationships later. The exceptional rising stars participate in special nine-year training programs that create “foxes” rather than “hedgehogs.” Foxes use diverse skills from operating and maintaining high-tech equipment to imaginatively solving problems.
After serving their country, many Israelis then attend university. Finally, employers consider quality and quantity of military experience as major hiring criteria.
The authors provided real-life examples of how the traits Israelis possess cause them to gravitate toward entrepreneurial ventures. In 1965, in one instance, kibbutzniks digging a well hoping to find drinking water instead encountered warm, salty water. A creative academic advised them to breed tropical food-fish. By-products of the fish-farm were used for fertilizer for their olive and date trees.
Read the book to learn of additional characteristics of and actions taken by Israelis and their government that have helped them achieve technological advances in various economically rewarding areas, including medicine, auto manufacturing and computing.
The Book of the Week is “Ethel Merman, An Autobiography” with George Eells, published in 1978.
Born in 1912 in Astoria (a section of Queens in New York City), Ethel Merman started singing when she was five years old. Her parents encouraged her to do so. By the tail end of the 1920’s, she had acquired stenography/shorthand training and had become a secretary, just in case the show business thing didn’t work out.
Working full-time during the day, and singing in dives at night and on weekends, Merman was extremely lucky to be “discovered” in a matter of a few years. She got herself an agent and was off and running. She played in big-name clubs, movie venues and vaudeville theaters in and around New York City– doing five shows a day at the Brooklyn Paramount. She got to meet celebrities like singer Guy Lombardo and composer George Gershwin. She sang in the musical “Girl Crazy” on Broadway.
Merman never had singing lessons or a vocal coach; she was just a natural. Early on, Ginger Rogers got paid $1,500 a week, while Merman got $375. For a number of years, Merman moved back and forth between Los Angeles to make movies, and New York City to appear in Broadway musicals.
In the 1930’s, Broadway musicals thrived. The culture was such that “Nobody worried whether it [a song] fit logically into the score, and the successful songwriters thought more about reaching the top of the Hit Parade than integrating the song into the story.” She played Annie in “Annie Get Your Gun” eight times a week for two years between 1945 and 1946.
The one beef Merman had about her fabulous career, though, was the media’s intrusion into her private life. Read the book to learn the details of her almost instantaneous and long-lived success, her psychologically troubled love life, and much more.
The Book of the Week is “Iron and Silk” by Mark Salzman, published in 1986. This short paperback reveals the culture of Changsha, capital of Hunan province in China, in the early 1980’s through the eyes of the then-22 year old American author.
Salzman traveled to the city of Changsha, population approximately one million, to teach English for two years, beginning in the summer of 1982. Living conditions were primitive, as were the educational resources for the author’s students (aspiring doctors) where he taught– Hunan Medical College.
The author’s boss, who roomed with her housekeeper, lived in a tiny, un-air-conditioned apartment with bare cement walls and floors, and one bare light bulb per room. She behaved like a mother-figure toward him, critiquing his behavior and clothing.
The school had only one copy machine and only one individual was empowered to use it; in his absence, documents were hand-written over again. The absence of telephones meant people visited each other personally anytime.
Read the book to learn more about the author’s adventures with Chinese bureaucracy, censorship, and how he sharpened his martial arts and calligraphy skills during his teaching stint.