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Why I chose to write the book I’m writing

Here is David McCullough, author of fantastic biographies and histories including Truman, which is in my bibliography, speaking words that might have come out of my own mouth verbatim.

So, when somebody asks why I chose Hannibal, Fabius, Scipio (and Cleopatra, Ludwig Erhard, Truman, Eleanor Roosevelt, Carl Jung and the rest of them)–as the characters for a book about success and failure today, I could just play this clip:



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  1. I found this interview of David McCullough of great interest. McCullough said in respect of magazine editing and writing, “….after I’d done that for about 10 or 12 years, I felt that I had reached the point where I could attempt something on my own………”.

    This reminded me of what Malcolm Gladwell says in his currently much-discussed book, “Outliers”, that geniuses (genii?) get to be geniuses (genii?) only after 10 years and 10,000 hours immersion in their chosen vocation.

    McCullough says “……..The humanities are immensely important, and the arts are immensely important, and this decline in the teaching of the arts and the humanities in our school system — particularly our public school system, and in the grade schools of our country — is a disgrace……….”.

    Your own Economist has just featured a debate about whether culture – a function of the arts and humanities – is in the ascent or descent in our modern English-speaking society. Contrary to what David McCullough implies, a convincing case can be made that we, today, are the most cultured generation.

    And I loved McCullough’s quote of Thomas Jefferson, “……..Any nation that expects to be ignorant and free, expects what never was and never will be……..”.

    I can think of no more apposite a quote as we mutely acquiesce to the confiscation of our freedoms and rule of law by governments in the name of the War on Terror.

    January 9, 2009
  2. I still think that there is something to the Galenson thesis, which says that some people attain mastery of something after those 10,000 hours, while others would only get worse with each additional hour and do their best work fresh, with an iconoclastic breakthrough of some sort.
    I may be romanticizing, but I like to imagine that the guy with the original patent for the wheel did not try various shapes for 10,000 hours but came out of his cave and said, Hey, homo habilis, let’s try a circle!
    Regarding the state of our culture: I think the differential within a population is what’s striking. In the west, up to the Industrial Revolution, you had a few who were stunningly cultured and the rest who were illiterate. Then (in Europe especially) we had a century or so of broadly based cultural literacy (tall, narrow bell curve). Now (thanks to the digital divide and what not) we seem to be going back to the old, huge differential. If there were a Gini coefficient for culture, it must be going up…

    January 10, 2009

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