In My Hands Today…

King Leopold’s Ghost – Adam Hochschild

In the 1880s, as the European powers were carving up Africa, King Leopold II of Belgium seized for himself the vast and mostly unexplored territory surrounding the Congo River.

Carrying out a genocidal plundering of the Congo, he looted its rubber, brutalized its people, and ultimately slashed its population by ten million—all the while shrewdly cultivating his reputation as a great humanitarian.

Heroic efforts to expose these crimes eventually led to the first great human rights movement of the twentieth century, in which everyone from Mark Twain to the Archbishop of Canterbury participated. King Leopold’s Ghost is the haunting account of a megalomaniac of monstrous proportions, a man as cunning, charming, and cruel as any of the great Shakespearean villains. It is also the deeply moving portrait of those who fought Leopold: a brave handful of missionaries, travelers, and young idealists who went to Africa for work or adventure and unexpectedly found themselves witnesses to a holocaust.

Adam Hochschild brings this largely untold story alive with the wit and skill of a Barbara Tuchman. Like her, he knows that history often provides a far richer cast of characters than any novelist could invent. Chief among them is Edmund Morel, a young British shipping agent who went on to lead the international crusade against Leopold. Another hero of this tale, the Irish patriot Roger Casement, ended his life on a London gallows. Two courageous black Americans, George Washington Williams and William Sheppard, risked much to bring evidence of the Congo atrocities to the outside world. Sailing into the middle of the story was a young Congo River steamboat officer named Joseph Conrad. And looming above them all, the duplicitous billionaire King Leopold II. With great power and compassion, King Leopold’s Ghost will brand the tragedy of the Congo—too long forgotten—onto the conscience of the West.

In My Hands Today…

The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable – Nassim Nicholas Taleb

A black swan is a highly improbable event with three principal characteristics: It is unpredictable; it carries a massive impact; and, after the fact, we concoct an explanation that makes it appear less random, and more predictable than it was.

The astonishing success of Google was a black swan; so was 9/11. For Nassim Nicholas Taleb, black swans underlie almost everything about our world, from the rise of religions to events in our own personal lives.

Why do we not acknowledge the phenomenon of black swans until after they occur? Part of the answer, according to Taleb, is that humans are hardwired to learn specifics when they should be focused on generalities.

We concentrate on things we already know and time and time again fail to take into consideration what we don’t know. We are, therefore, unable to truly estimate opportunities, too vulnerable to the impulse to simplify, narrate, and categorize, and not open enough to rewarding those who can imagine the “impossible.”

For years, Taleb has studied how we fool ourselves into thinking we know more than we actually do. We restrict our thinking to the irrelevant and inconsequential, while large events continue to surprise us and shape our world. Now, in this revelatory book, Taleb explains everything we know about what we don’t know. He offers surprisingly simple tricks for dealing with black swans and benefiting from them.

Elegant, startling, and universal in its applications The Black Swan will change the way you look at the world. Taleb is a vastly entertaining writer, with wit, irreverence, and unusual stories to tell. He has a polymathic command of subjects ranging from cognitive science to business to probability theory.

In My Hands Today…

No Logo – Naomi Klein

No Logo employs journalistic savvy and personal testament to detail the insidious practises and far-reaching effects of corporate marketing—and the powerful potential of a growing activist sect that will surely alter the course of the 21st century. First published before the World Trade Organization protests in Seattle, this is an infuriating, inspiring, and altogether pioneering work of cultural criticism that investigates money, marketing, and the anti-corporate movement.

As global corporations compete for the hearts and wallets of consumers who not only buy their products but willingly advertise them from head to toe—witness today’s schoolbooks, superstores, sporting arenas, and brand-name synergy—a new generation has begun to battle consumerism with its own best weapons. In this provocative, well-written study, a front-line report on that battle, we learn how the Nike swoosh has changed from an athletic status-symbol to a metaphor for sweatshop labor, how teenaged McDonald’s workers are risking their jobs to join the Teamsters, and how “culture jammers” utilize spray paint, computer-hacking acumen, and anti-propagandist wordplay to undercut the slogans and meanings of billboard ads (as in “Joe Chemo” for “Joe Camel”).

No Logo will challenge and enlighten students of sociology, economics, popular culture, international affairs, and marketing.

In My Hands Today…

Remembering Shanghai: A Memoir of Socialites, Scholars and Scoundrels – Claire Chao and Isabel Sun Chao

A high position bestowed by China’s empress dowager grants power and wealth to the Sun family. For Isabel, growing up in glamorous 1930s and ’40s Shanghai, it is a life of utmost privilege. But while her scholar father and fashionable mother shelter her from civil war and Japanese occupation, they cannot shield the family forever.

When Mao comes to power, eighteen-year-old Isabel journeys to Hong Kong, not realizing that she will make it her home–and that she will never see her father again. Meanwhile, the family she has left behind struggles to survive, only to have their world shattered by the Cultural Revolution. Isabel returns to Shanghai fifty years later with her daughter, Claire, to confront their family’s past–one they discover is filled with love and betrayal, kidnappers and concubines, glittering pleasure palaces and underworld crime bosses.

Lavishly illustrated and meticulously researched, Remembering Shanghai follows five generations from a hardscrabble village to vibrant Shanghai to the bright lights of Hong Kong. By turns harrowing and heartwarming, this vivid memoir explores identity, loss and the unpredictable nature of life against the epic backdrop of a nation and a people in turmoil.

In My Hands Today…

The Viceroy’s Daughters: The Lives of the Curzon Sisters – Anne de Courcy

For many years Lord Curzon, Viceroy of India (1898-1905), controlled all aspects of his daughters’ lives. Irene, born in 1896, Cynthia, born in 1898, and Alexandra, born in 1905, eventually revolted against their father’s control.

Irene had many affairs but never married. Cynthia married the up-and-coming Oswald Mosely, and Alexandra married the Prince of Wales’ best friend, Fruity Metcalfe. Throughout the 1920s, the sisters were at the centre of a fast and glittering world.

This biography provides insight into their lives, public and private, and gives a different view of German, Italian and British fascism. Based on unpublished letters and diaries, this book provides new revelations about Oswald Mosely, the Cliveden set, Lord Halifax, and the Duke and Duchess of Windsor.