Category Archives: america

Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies of a Silicon Valley Startup by John Carreyrou

image1 (19)Bad Blood by John Carreyrou takes the reader through the incredibly wild journey and demolition of startup company Theranos. Carreyrou writes about this scandal in a way that is utterly captivating. I could not stop talking about this book while I was reading it and hated having to put it down when life got in the way. 

Theranos, a startup company founded by Elizabeth Holmes, claimed to be initially building the capability to do and eventually claiming ability to use a single pinprick of blood to do a variety of health tests that would actually require much more blood to do accurately. However, because Theranos amassed a board of impressive, seemingly trustworthy individuals, many who were skeptical chose to let their questions and disbelief slides. The problem? Not many got close enough to see what a huge scam the foundation of the company was based upon. What happened? Theranos was able to con investors and partnered companies out of hundreds of millions of dollars by promising a technology that could not and would not be developed by the company. 

When scientists and Theranos employees raised red flags internally, they were strongly suggested to leave the company and forced to sign nondisclosure agreements that made many former employees terrified of speaking about the going ons of Theranos. When employees did speak out, the CEO, Holmes, threatened them with (and sometimes served them with) lawsuits.

Carreyrou, the investigative journalist at the Wall Street Journal who broke the first stories about Theranos being a scam, writes a full book about everything leading up to Theranos becoming the big company that it was, the terror and lies that were occurring within the company, and the beginnings of the unspooling of the company once it was publicly declared to be terrible. Every few pages my jaw dropped with new details that emerged that contributed to the creation and ultimate downfall of this company. This is a nonfiction page turner that you will not want to put down. 

Publication Date: 21 May 2018 by Knopf PublishingFormat: Hardcover.

Author: John Carreryrou @twitter

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From Here to Eternity by Caitlin Doughty

image1 (19)I received From Here to Eternity: Traveling the World to Find the Good Death by mortician Caitlin Doughty from a similarly death-minded friend. My friend and I have both spent a lot of time thinking about and discussing mortality for personal and professional reasons, so we are probably more likely to be the audience for this book than the general population who may be less macabre. 

I learned a lot about cremation and natural burials from Doughty’s first book, Smoke Gets In Your Eyes, and found From Here to Eternity to be similarly educational about death rituals, but I enjoyed the overall book a little less. Some of the facts shared I will remember for a long time to come, but the journey to getting the facts was not as seamless as I found Doughty’s first book to be.

When Doughty describes global examples of grief and dealing with death and decomposition, she illuminates that the American approach to death hasn’t always been the way it is now, as most people believe, but I’m left feeling a bit despondent about the little room available to change things in America. I agree with many of Doughty’s beliefs that people need to be more comfortable with death, their own and their loved ones’, so that people can respect each other’s wishes and be more comfortable with grieving. However, I don’t think that people who are already uncomfortable with death will pick up this book and I think there are many powerful players who are committed to keeping Americans uncomfortable.

Publication Date: 13 October 2017 by W. W. Norton CompanyFormat: Hardcover.

Author: Caitlin Doughty web/@twitter/@instagram/facebook

The Financial Diaries by Jonathan Morduch and Rachel Schneider

image1 (15)The Financial Diaries details a study conducted by a research team directed by Jonathan Morduch and Rachel Schneider that investigates how families receive and spend income within a single year. I picked this up per the suggestion of a colleague that it would be helpful background reading for a project I’m embarking upon soon and I’m so happy that I did.

This book dives into the fact that we typically think of and analyze income in a way that is not compatible with how most families interact with money on a regular basis. Their study uncovers many essential pieces of family spending that we are missing when we think about income in more traditional ways.

When we think about a family’s annual income, we are often missing the spikes and dips of income that occur for families with inconsistent, and even sometimes, consistent income. For example, receiving a large tax refund might make a family’s income spike in a predictable way that they count on, through putting off paying certain debts or making large purchases until they receive their refund check. Families with inconsistent income, such as those with work that is seasonally influenced or is related to regional events, often have to plan ahead and put large chunks of their money aside to cushion their income during months where their paycheck is lighter. There are many reasons why this is difficult for families to surmount and this book does an excellent job of portraying these spending realities.

My big takeaway from this book is that (somewhat obviously, but something I hadn’t been able to articulately describe before) a lot of families are “sometimes poor.” The idea here is that families who appear to have middle income and possess the assets to be “stable” when you look at their family’s annual income actually have moments of being sometimes poor, where their income is dramatically lower than it is at other times of the year. Families confront this by trying to prepare for these dips in income, but also devote a lot of their income spikes to paying for purchases that were necessary during income dips. For these families, it becomes almost impossible to save for the future when they’re constantly catching up.

This was a very nuanced, necessary reframing of spending and saving within American families. I highly recommend this book to anyone who wants a better understanding of income instability in America.

Publication Date: 4 April 2017 by Princeton University PressFormat: Hardcover.

Authors: Jonathan Morduch web & Rachel Schneider @twitter

Wild by Cheryl Strayed

Screen Shot 2018-09-19 at 8.00.09 PMI snatched up Wild at a resell shop after loving every word of Strayed’s Tiny Beautiful Things, a compilation of bits of her advice column for Dear Sugar. I love the way that Strayed weaves a sentence and a feeling, so I knew that I would probably greatly enjoy her famous memoir about a very specific period of her life.

At 26, Strayed is newly divorced, reeling and grieving from the sudden death of her mother a few years ago, and feeling unattached to anything in the world. She sets forth to hike the Pacific Crest Trail, or PCT as it more regularly called, alone and entirely unprepared. What follows are her musings of her life up until 26 and all of the moving pieces that came together for her to feel compelled to tackle an incredibly difficult hike, despite lacking any hiking experience or training. Strayed felt like she had mountains to climb, both physical and mental, and that she needed to be alone to do it.

I found Wild to be entirely captivating, as I read through someone recounting the mistakes they made, acknowledging the harm they caused others, and descriptions of wading through grief. All by happenstance of when I stumbled upon this book, I ended up taking Wild to four different state parks in California which felt perfect and majestic and left me thinking that maybe I, too, could trek across the PCT. (Spoiler: I can’t and I won’t because Strayed is extremely lucky nothing very terrible happened to her on her hike; and because I quite enjoyed driving to the parks, getting lost in nature for a few hours, then piling back into a car and driving back to my quiet, air conditioning lodging).

Beyond inciting a need to place myself into nature, Wild moved me in other ways. Every time I read a piece from Strayed about losing her mother (see here for a post I share nearly every Mother’s Day), I feel suddenly seen, in a way that is striking and comfortable simultaneously. These were the parts of her memoir that bubbled within my chest for several days at a time. I loved reading about Strayed’s journey and all of the messy bits along the way. I hope to keep reading her words for years to come.

Publication Date: 20 March 2012 by KnopfFormat: Paperback.

Author: Cheryl Strayed web/twitter/instagram/facebook

The Library Book by Susan Orlean

IMG_0222I ate up this nonfiction number that weaves together the history of the LA library, the histories of libraries throughout all of time, the events involving the LA library fire in the 1980s, and tidbits about the many services that the library currently provides. 

Anyone who knows me knows that I am OBSESSED with libraries and the many services that they provide to the communities that they serve. Have you ever thought about how libraries are one of the only places in America where people can congregate for free without having to be a paying customer? In addition to access to books, computers, and knowledge, libraries provide many essential resources and services, like tax preparation tips, to their local communities. I’m so passionate about libraries that my old coworkers used to subtly bring up the library just to prod me into my tirade about the importance of libraries — I love libraries and I love this book! This is all to say, the appeal of this book may be totally niche, but I am the perfect reader for it.

Orlean is very talented in how she blends all of these histories, including an investigation into the cause of the great library fire, and modern day events together to create a brilliant nonfiction piece that is completely captivating. I talked about this book with everyone I saw while I was reading it and shortly after and I recommend you do the same!

& here’s my favorite lil fragment that captures the beauty and comfort of libraries,

“The library, where lonely people can feel slightly less lonely together”

Disclaimer: I was provided with a digital copy of this book for free from Simon & Schuster via NetGalley. All opinions expressed in the review are my own and have not been influenced by Simon & Schuster or NetGalley.

Publication Date: 16 October 2018 by Simon & SchusterFormat: Digital ARC.

Author: Susan Orlean web/@twitter

Brotopia: Breaking Up the Boys’ Club of Silicon Valley by Emily Chang

IMG_8788A lovely friend mailed me this book when she found out that I would be moving to and working in Silicon Valley — and Brotopia (justifiably) terrified me. Emily Chang, a journalist and newscaster for Bloomberg, dives into the murky waters that is the oft-times described “boys’ clubs” of Silicon Valley. Chang brilliantly uses her connections as a reporter to land interviews (both on the record and off) with lots of powerful people within Silicon Valley. The author presents a history of Silicon Valley and the many ways that sexism and misogyny have been steeped into its being since its creation. By weaving together research, articles, and interviews with those involved, the reader will feel better able to understand the reality of the tech industry’s home. Not only does Chang deftly describe the history and current state of Silicon Valley (including its e(xc)lusive sex parties), she offers solutions for change, based on research and her impressions as someone who has been thoroughly immersed in exploring these issues for years. While pieces of Brotopia left me feeling disheartened, Chang’s final tone made me feel hopeful for change. 

This was an essential read for me, coming into Silicon Valley without knowing much about its roots, and also motivated me to prepare myself with resources and knowledge that would hopefully help me succeed in this environment. The book is accessible, well researched, and offers actionable suggestions for change. If you’re interested in understanding the context of Silicon Valley, I absolutely recommend this book. 

Publication Date: 6 February 2018 by PortfolioFormat: Hardcover.

Author: Emily Chang @twitter/web/TV show/Bloomberg

All the Single Ladies by Rebecca Traister

IMG_8200Woof! It’s been a minute since I’ve blogged. A few life changes (exciting ones!) have been demanding my time and graduate school has been feasting off of my life outside of work time too. Thus, while I’ve still been reading, I haven’t been motivated to write reviews in a bit… until now! Here comes my review for All the Single Ladies: Unmarried Women and the Rise of an Independent Nation by Rebecca Traister. 

I procured this little book nearly two years ago and while I was loving it, it was simply too bulky of a read for me to keep pace with for where I was mentally at the time. However, when I picked it up again, I dove right into All the Single Ladies and enjoyed the whole thing! This lovely little book consists of Traister situating single women within America’s history, culture, and society. This means that at times, it can feel like reading a socio-cultural textbook, which may be too heady for your interests (in definitely was for me two years ago), but if you parse it out instead of trying to read straight through in a handful of days, it’s a delight! 

Traister recounts historical moments and movements related to women gaining independence and sprinkles in lots of wonderful interviews about women claiming their piece of the pie and how partnerships (either romantic or friendship-based) can help or hinder their goals. Traister wonderfully captures a variety of women’s experiences across race, age, sexuality, economic resources, job interests, family dynamics, geographical location, and beyond. I especially loved her chapter on lady friendships (Chapter 4: “Dangerous as Lucifer Matches: The Friendships of Women”) because that is a topic that always makes me feel giddy, thankful for my amazing friends, personally empowered, and inspires me to continue watering my friendships with love and support. This chapter alone is everything that I had hoped Text Me When You Get Home would have been.

I thoroughly recommend reading this book, then sharing it one of your besties, and then showering each other in appreciation and support and encouraging each other to achieve your goals!!

Publication Date: 1 March 2016 by Simon & Schuster. Format: Hardcover.

Author: Rebecca Traister web/@twitter