Thursday, January 31, 2013

Our Mind-boggling Universe

We humans have this seemingly innate desire to measure everything. Yet what are we really observing, what are we measuring? Since we can only observe a narrow slice of the world around us, most of the universe exists far beyond what we can see, hear, feel or touch.

Popular science writer David Blatner, in his book Spectrums: Our Mind-boggling Universe from Infinitesimal to Infinity takes us on a journey to those parts of the universe that are intangible, infinite and invisible.

My Conversation with David Blatner

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Wednesday, January 30, 2013

The Myth of the Perfect Girl

Twenty years ago we were engaged in a great national effort to make sure that girls were not left behind. From the travails of Ophelia to the full implementation of Title IX, we knew we wanted our daughters to have it all.

Well, as the saying goes, beware of what you wish for. Today girls are succeeding at every level. The majority of college and law school graduates are women. And while the glass ceiling still exists, progress continues unabated.

But what price for teen girls that now have new found expectations:  To excel in school, in sports and in their social lives. In short, the pressure to be perfect. Ana Homayoun takes up this perfection in her book The Myth of the Perfect Girl: Helping Our Daughters Find Authentic Success and Happiness in School and Life

My conversation with Ana Homayoun:

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Tuesday, January 29, 2013

A Kiss before you Go

Few things are more personal than how we grieve. While society is often quick to judge and volumes have been written about the process, no one can know how we individually feel pain, love and loss. In the end though, it’s like so many things in life. We bring to it our innate talents and skills and summon up our strengths to do that which is so difficult.

In the case of Danny Gregory, he would reach into his talents as an artist and designer to bring color and life to the darkness of grieving.  His graphic memoir of that experience is A Kiss Before You Go: An Illustrated Memoir of Love and Loss.

My conversation with Danny Gregory:

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Monday, January 28, 2013

Rage is Back

New York in the late ‘70s; it was a time that is often derided, yet it was a time of great artistic expression, of raw energy and of diversity. A time before homogenization and disneyfication.  It was a time when Graffiti was everywhere and the practitioners of the art were seeking both fame and anonymity. It was a time of art and a time of vandalism. This is the jumping off point for Adam Mansbach's new novel Rage Is Back.

My conversation with Adam Mansbach:

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Friday, January 25, 2013

The Startup Playbook

Here in the Bay Area, particularly Silicon Valley and San Francisco, we have seen one of the greatest concentrations of business startups the world has ever known. Aside from very smart young people working for them, what else do they have in common?

Why is it that some succeed beyond all expectations and others fade away? Why do we see so many serial entrepreneurs? People without MBAs, that are able to take an idea, build a business, scale it and deliver remarkable results. What is the secret sauce?

David Kidder is one of those serial entrepreneurs. But he also set about to find out what makes other entrepreneurs tick. What are the startup secrets? So he put together The Startup Playbook: Secrets of the Fastest-Growing Startups from their Founding Entrepreneurs.

My conversation with David Kidder:

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Thursday, January 24, 2013

The last campaign

The inherent drama of presidential campaigns has given us a long line of great political reporting. From Theodore White, who set the bar in 1960, through Timothy Kraus, Richard Ben Cramer, who left us recently, Joe McGinniss and even Hunter Thompson. Today, Rolling Stone and BuzzFeed reporter Michael Hastings picks up that mantle.

In many ways coverage of a campaign is an inherently boring job, but some reporters make the connection between the campaign, the times and the candidate. That's what Michael Hastings as accomplished in his new ebook Panic 2012: The Sublime and Terrifying Inside Story of Obama's Final Campaign.

My conversation with Michael Hastings:

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Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Whole Business

Maybe it was Gordon Gekko declaring that “greed is good,” or before that, Silent Cal Coolidge saying that “the business of America is business.” Or maybe it was simply the financial crash of 2008/2009? Whatever the reason, business today has an approval rating of about 19%...just about as bad as Congress.

But why? Business has been the great engine of progress of the American experience. From the Man in the Grey Flannel Suit to the jeans and turtlenecks of Steve Jobs. As David Brooks put it today, “America’s greatest innovations and commercial blessings were unforeseen. They emerged, bottom up, from tinkerers and business outsiders.”

So why does business get such a bad rap? Sure we idealize small business, but it’s big business that creates jobs, lifts people up and changes the culture. John Mackey has been working on this problem, first in his own business, Whole Foods, and now in Conscious Capitalism: Liberating the Heroic Spirit of Business.

My conversation with John Mackey:

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Tuesday, January 22, 2013

A man of letters...

Maybe it’s technology, or just the nature of our society today, but we seem to have long lost the art of writing letters. Letters were a way we once touched based with our friends; a way of exchanging ideas and feelings, of sharing the complexity and eccentricity of daily life.

It should be no surprise then, that one of our greatest literary lights of the twentieth century, William Styron, author of Lie Down in Darkness, Confession of Nat Turner, Sophie's Choice, and his seminal work on depression, Darkness Visible, should have written a collection of letters that will stand with any of the literary greats.

Years after his death, in 2006, Rose Styron, his bride of 53 years has organized and edited the thousands of letters that would become the Selected Letters of William Styron.

My conversation with Rose Styron:

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Thursday, January 17, 2013

Us + Them

Certainly the world is getting smaller. As a result, every day in both our professional lives and our personal lives we are forced to deal with people who are different from ourselves and perhaps different than what we are used to. And sometimes, perhaps out of old habits, we might take refuge in sameness. The Us vs. Them mentality which has been so long a part of our culture may be receding, but it is still powerfully pervasive.

So how do we reset our individual approach to the world, so that diversity and difference become not only a driver of innovation, but a way that brings us pleasure and the joy of difference?

Professor Todd Pittinsky examines the realities of this costly and changing mindset in Us Plus Them: Tapping the Positive Power of Difference

My conversation with Todd Pittinsky:

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The Myths of Happiness

Woody Allen once said the world was divided up into two groups. "The horrible and the miserable." The horrible are people with painful or terminal diseases or deformities; and the miserable...well, that was everyone else.

The good new is that this isn’t so. However happiness is still a serious business. We pursue it with fervor, yet it doesn’t seem to last. We’re taught as kids that he pursuit of happiness is a kind of fundamental right. So we pursue it.. But seldom do we understand it, it’s myths, delusions and even its joys. Trying to understand this The Myths of Happiness: has been the work of US Professor Sonja Lyubomirsky.

My conversation with Sonja Lyubomirsky:

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Monday, January 14, 2013

Not Good News

It may very well seem as if the fundamentalist right has been lying low. That there fervor of several years ago, has faded. In fact, they may only be practicing a new kind of stealth operation to make greater inroads into America's public schools. At least that what journalist Katherine Stewart discovered, as she uncovered her kids school's Good News Club: The Christian Right's Stealth Assault on America's Children

My conversation with Katherine Stewart:

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Friday, January 11, 2013

Human Potential and Sixties Culture

We talk a great deal, in the political context, of still fighting the culture wars of the ‘60s. Yet in that discussion we sometimes miss the larger points of what changed in that period. It wasn’t just politics, and war and drugs and race. It was a fundamental change in how we view ourselves as individuals and our place in the world.

The human potential movement, born in the early 60’s, sought to address how we see ourselves, and how we could be more empowered as individuals. This was very different than the Organization Man that grew out of WWII. We see the flowerings of this in some of the individual stirring in Mad Men

Jessica Grogan takes a look at the whole history of this movement in Encountering America: Humanistic Psychology, Sixties Culture, and the Shaping of the Modern Self.

My conversation with Jessica Grogan:

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Thursday, January 10, 2013


As the new year begins, and we make the requisite resolutions, we somehow know that most will not be kept. In part, this is due to the gap that exists between what we want and what we actually do. In understanding that gap, we essentially define who we are. When we eat the organic chocolate, which we purchased as a donation to a charity, we are really fooling ourselves that our virtue is more important than our willpower.

This understanding of willpower, is the work of our guest Stanford professor Kelly McGonigal.  Her work is detailed in The Willpower Instinct: How Self-Control Works, Why It Matters, and What You Can Do To Get More of It.

My conversation with Kelly McGonigal:

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Laurie Rubin

Laurie Rubin was born blind, but has never allowed herself to be defined by her disability. She is an internationally celebrated Mezzo Soprano, a jewelry designer, a water skier and a graduate of Yale. She is also the author of a new memoir and CD, both titled Do You Dream in Color

My conversation with Laurie Rubin:

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Wednesday, January 9, 2013

A spoonful of Sugar....

A spoonful of sugar does not make the medicine go down! In fact, it maybe that spoonful of sugar that is the very reason we may need the medicine.

Walk into any convenience store or supermarket and sugar seems to be a key ingredient in most of what we buy and eat. At the same time obesity is reaching epidemic proportions. Its personal and public policy ramifications touch everything from health care costs to educational success. But is sugar really the culprit it's made out to be? Dr. Robert Lustig thinks so and he explains in his book Fat Chance: Beating the Odds Against Sugar, Processed Food, Obesity, and Disease 

My conversation with Dr. Robert Lustig:

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Tuesday, January 8, 2013

The Last Runaway

Maybe it’s the fact that we keep trying to move to a post racial America, or that we’ve re-elected a black President. Maybe it’s the movie Lincoln, or Django or that we are celebrating the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation. But the subject of slavery, of freedom and the personal cost of moving from one to the other is suddenly very much a part of the public meme.

Add to this list a sweeping new historical novel from the celebrated author fo The Girl With The Pearl Earning. Tracy Chevalier, in her new novel The Last Runaway, moves from European to American history; the 1850s, quakers and a network helping slaves escape to freedom.

My conversation with Tracy Chevalier:

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Monday, January 7, 2013

1775 A Good Year for Revolution

In life there is often a disconnect between what we mark, what we celebrate and the actual underlying reasons that we do so. We mark births and deaths, yet the back story for both may have been years in the making. We mark the beginning and end of wars, yet give little significance for the reasons that lead to either.

So too was it for the founding of the American republic. 1776 marks the year in which seminal events took place. But the events that gave birth to them, happened earlier, in what esteemed historian Kevin Phillips says was 1775: A Good Year for Revolution.

My conversation with Kevin Phillips:

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Selling to China

With US domestic markets facing greater competition; with the margins on most products shrinking, American companies are looking for international opportunities. When they do, the first place they usually look is to the worlds largest market, in China.

But doing business in China is no easy task. The customs, the culture, the paperwork are sometimes daunting. For many business people, brokers and middlemen exists to help you with this process. But nothing beats knowing the facts and relationships yourself. Stanley Chao has guided many through the process. Now he takes us all on the journey in Selling to China: A Guide to Doing Business in China for Small- and Medium-Sized Companies.

My conversation with Stanley Chao:

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