Wednesday, November 30, 2022

The Life and Death of Anthony Bourdain: A Conversation with Charles Leerhsen

Somewhere in the magic formula that makes great art is the internal potential for pain. Someone once said of artists that they were like the rest of us, except that their emotions were just always sitting closer to the surface…. more accessible, more sensitive, and more vulnerable to pain, despair, and even suicide.

The stories of people like Kurt Cobain, Van Gough, Virginia Woolf, Hemingway, Sylvia Plath, and Hunter Thompson, while all different, reinforce the image and reality of the tortured artist.

Add to this list, Anthony Bourdain. A complicated artist in so many ways, he would suffer a similar fate. But we should also remember that while all these stories have the same ending, each artist and their journey tells us more and more about ourselves and about the human condition.

This is the story that Charles Leerhsen tells in Down and Out in Paradise: The Life of Anthony Bourdain: 

My Conversation with Charles Leerhsen

Tuesday, November 22, 2022

When Legendary CEOs Can't Find a Successor: A Conversation with William Cohan

Herbert Hoover said that “the business of America is business.” And for decades no business better defined that than General Electric. An industrial titan, everything about it, from credit to jet engines, from x-ray machines to lighting the nation, to bringing entertainment to the masses, defined the broad shoulders of American business and American capitalism.

As might be expected, its executives also lived a good life. Like an episode of Succession, there were multiple private jets, cars always at the ready, and offices that make today's tech offices look provincial. There was the office staff waiting to fulfill every executive whim, and CEOs like Jack Welch and Jeffrey Immelt became household names and were seen on the covers of Fortune and BusinessWeek.

Today, after 130 years GE, like many companies of its time, has all but disappeared. Like so many corporate icons of that era, Polaroid, Kodak, Dow, and US Steel, we were led to believe that “creative destruction” took them down; that Clayton Christensen's Innovator's Dilemma had caught up with them.

But sometimes we discovered in hindsight that it was simply bad management, bad decisions, hubris, and the idle worship of what William James called the bitch goddess success that turned its ugly gaze on the company. This story, a cautionary tale about management men and money, is the story that best-selling author William Cohan tells in his latest book, Power Failure: The and Fall of An American Icon.

My conversation with William Cohan:

Thursday, November 17, 2022

War As A Nonviolent Struggle: A conversation with Thomas Ricks

Not just here in America, but throughout the world, the forces of liberty are battling the forces of authoritarianism. These forces are global as well as local.

Here in America such battles played out after George Floyd’s death, and on January 6th, and we still don’t know what might happen between now and 2024. These are moral battles for the soul and future of the country.

But hopeless as it may sometimes seem, these kinds of "against the odds" battles have been won before. The Civil Rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s, and even the anti Vietnam war movement were both, in their own way, successful. But why and how were they successful and what lessons do they provide us in today’s moral battles?

The Civil Rights movement was framed as a nonviolent struggle. Yet baked into that nonviolence were methods, tactics, training and communication from which we can all go to school.

Few understand the context of the battlefield and the military better than Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Thomas Ricks. In his new book Waging a Good War: A Military History of the Civil Rights Movement, 1954-1968 he details how the military tactics of the Civil Rights movement outshined even the US military.

My conversation with Tom Ricks:

Monday, November 7, 2022

Democracy Will Likely Be Voted Out on Tuesday: A Conversation With Robert Draper

On Tuesday we will have our first election since January 6. There is every reason to believe that things will get worse. That January 6 was merely an inflection point on the road to a government we may not recognize in a few years.

This according to my WhoWhatWhy podcast guest, New York Times Magazine reporter and author Robert Draper. In his new book, Weapons of Mass Delusion, Draper explains how January 6 was a signal moment for the Republican party, one that left the MAGA base as the core and future of the party.

My WhoWhatWhy conversation with Robert Draper