Category Archives: Biography

Book Review: I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzai

ad036bc6e452ea33f4d6331c0b6da8e3I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban

by Malala Yousafzai, with Christina Lamb
ISBN 9780316322409
Little, Brown and Company, 2013

If one man, Fazlullah, can destroy everything, why can’t one girl change it?” —Malala Yousafzai

In her adolescent, compassionate voice, Malala tells a story of ripe, harsh brutality. Her book answers the question, “Who is Malala?”—the challenge shouted on October 9, 2012 by the gun man who shot her in a targeted attack on her school bus.

Who is Malala?

Malala is a teenager like any other and a teenager worlds apart. Like a typical teen, she leaves her clothes all over the floor; unlike most teenagers, she daydreams about terrorists shooting her at the door of her house. Like a typical teen, she reads Twilight books; unlike most teenagers, she speaks in front of the UN and receives the Nobel Peace Prize.

She is a Pashtun girl born into a culture that prompted her to wonder “how free a daughter could ever be.” Parents grant privileges to sons over daughters. Segregation, child marriage, honour killings still happen. Malala is lucky though, because she is the daughter of a father who celebrated, instead of mourned, the birth of a daughter, and a father who believes strongly in education for all.

Malala is a girl watched Taliban influence over others grow and distort. The Taliban quash music and dancing. They destroy ancient Buddhist temples and statues. They limit the public appearances of women and insist on the burqa. Murders, beheadings, and public floggings become common occurrences. Malala’s tale shadows that of 1994 Rwanda: a similar frenzy of hatred fanned by radio propaganda, and slaughter fueled by radical group madness.

“Wearing a burqa is like walking inside big, fabric shuttlecock with only a grille to see through and on hot days it’s like an oven.”

Malala is a girl who sets aside fear and summons courage to continue to fight for education for all. She writes: “I think that if someone kills your brother, you shouldn’t kill them or their brother, you should teach them instead.”

This book is all the more powerful because it is a young, hopeful voice that outlines the horrific, soul-crushing events. Her story informs, enlightens and challenges readers.

______________________________

“To all the girls who have faced injustice and been silenced.
Together we will be heard.”
—Epigraph from I Am Malala

 

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Book Review: Things a Little Bird Told Me: Confessions of a Creative Mind by Biz Stone

bb3a7cea653cc2f44dbf94d197d3415dThings a Little Bird Told Me: Confessions of a Creative Mind 

by Biz Stone
ISBN-13: 9781455528738
Grand Central Publishing, 2014

Few people know what it is like to create something that reaches out to almost every part of the world. Few people know what it is like to go from being couch-cushion-scrapingly poor to stutteringly rich almost instantly. Few people know what it is like to devise and survive that kind of technological, psychological, and financial journey. Biz Stone is one of the few, and that is what makes this book a worthy read. (It’s also worth it just to read his account of a meeting with Mark Zuckerberg at the Facebook offices.)

“. . . if opportunity is just a set of circumstances, why are we waiting around for the stars to align? Rather than waiting and pouncing with a high degree of failure, you might as well go ahead and create the set of circumstances on your own.” —Biz Stone

The creative mind of Biz Stone sparked and expanded and imagined Twitter—the internet app that virtually every cognizant person in the developed world knows about, at the very least, if not uses. He and his partners took a chance with the fledgling app (What comes first, the Twitter or the egg?) and nurtured it so it transformed from an unpredictable conference communication tool into a worldwide phenomenon. Even Stone didn’t foresee the multitude of ways in which Twitter would affect us, and we would affect it. In a freakish kind of Darwinian computer natural selection, Twitter evolved according to the ways that users chose to use it, and Stone and his partners kept up with the demand (at least, most of the time).

I wasn’t surprised by Stone’s entrepreneurial bent, and I wasn’t surprised that he was a nerd in high school, but I was surprised that he spent a shocking amount of time begin poor, even when Twitter was already successful, and I was surprised by his warm, authentic humanity and his care for the future of our world. 

New employees to Twitter receive a list of “Assumptions for Twitter Employees” of the kind that make me want to work there. New employees are encouraged: not to assume an outcome, to know there are plenty of smart people outside the organization ready and available to help, to do right for the users, to seek win-win deals, to expect and look for the good intentions of co-workers, and, finally, to believe that “We can build a business, change the world, and have fun.”

It is in Biz Stone’s nature to make things happen, and, luckily for us, it is in his nature to make good things happen. He dedicates a significant portion of this book outlining his efforts to keep Twitter neutral, his passion for charitable works, and his drive to inspire the rest of us to step up too.

“We all define financial success differently, but I can tell you that for almost anyone at any income, being rich exists only in the future. Waiting to give is a mistake.” —Biz Stone

I am not a computer whiz, so Stone’s references to hackathons and technological problems—or anything related to computers in just about any way, actually—were lost on me, but that didn’t matter. This is more than an internet app story; it’s a human story, and it’s a story that carries a hint of warning about the power one person can have to affect the world on a grand scale. 

We had all better hope that, like Biz Stone, such people want to make good things happen. 

Book Review: Beyond Belief by Josh Hamilton

5f454fee7d985d67b1b6fc87d3d40cf6Beyond Belief: Finding the Strength to Come Back

by Josh Hamilton with Tim Keown
ISBN: 9781599951607
FaithWords, 2010

Every once in a while it’s good to re-live “The Dream.” Every once while it’s good to read a story that raises goosebumps. Every once in a while it’s good to reflect on Josh Hamilton’s life to learn something about how to live ours.

It’s Beyond Belief that at the age of 6 Josh Hamilton already showed such outstanding baseball skills that he played with his eleven-year-old brother’s Little League team. It’s Beyond Belief that the first player chosen in the first round of the 1999 baseball draft would end up selling his wife’s wedding ring to buy crack cocaine. It’s Beyond Belief what happened at the 2008 Major League Baseball All-Star Game:

Josh Hamilton stepped up to the Yankee Stadium home plate. He took a few practice swings, settled into the relaxed bounce of his batting stance and waited for his pitches. An awestruck crowd watched his mesmerizing performance as he blasted 28 home runs in the first round. No one took eyes off his performance. If they had to pee, they held it. If they wanted a snack, they waited. Swing after swing, he launched balls into the stands, many of them 500 feet or farther. Only one other player in all-star history even came close to this number of home runs in one round. (Bobby Abreu, with 24.) His fellow players looked on and asked, “How do you follow that?”

Not bad for a reformed drug addict and alcoholic who was suspended from baseball for three years for drug use.

In the winter of 2005-2006 Josh Hamilton found faith, pulled himself out of a haze of drugs and alcohol and got clean. That same winter he had a dream. He dreamed that he would take part in a home run derby in Yankee Stadium and he foresaw himself being interviewed by a female television reporter. At the time, he was still under suspension. At the time the All-Star game had still not been awarded to Yankee Stadium. It made no sense.

In July 2008 he lived the dream—and how. In interviews with ESPN following his performance his voice cracked as he thanked God for getting him to that point. An ESPN commentator summarized the spectacle:

“It’s a lousy night to be an atheist.”

Josh Hamilton’s life is noteworthy for its extremes.

As a baseball player he was (and is) so very good, so exceptionally good, so head-turningly good. As a drug addict he was so very destructive, so body-ravagingly destructive, so head-shakingly destructive. As a comeback player he was so very miraculous, so odds-defyingly miraculous, so head-tiltingly miraculous.

With such a roller-coaster life, no wonder Josh Hamilton wants Jesus beside him for the ride.

Hamilton speaks openly about the role of his Christian faith in his life, but he doesn’t impose his views on his audience. He can’t tell his story without sharing his faith, though, for without it his story would have a different, sadder end. In the bedroom of his grandmother’s house, with the smell of crack cocaine still lingering in the air, he read James 4:7: “Humble yourself before God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you.” The Bible words became the foundation for his new life. Minute by minute, hour by hour, day by day, Josh Hamilton repeated the mantra and rebuilt his body, his marriage, his family relationships and his career. The power of those words proved more powerful than the craving for drugs. The power of those words led to “The Dream” fulfilled and gave baseball fans the gift of watching Josh Hamilton play.

Josh Hamilton was born to play baseball, but that’s not all. “This is about so much more than baseball,” he says. Faith, addiction and outreach loom large in the arc of his life story. That’s why, every once in a while it’s good to re-live “The Dream” of Josh Hamilton’s baseball life. Every once in a while it’s good to feel those goosebumps when reading about faith winning out over the ravages of addiction. Every once in a while it’s good to reflect on Josh Hamilton’s life to learn something about how to take life’s hard lessons learned and use them to help others.

“. . . I believe if it could happen to me it could happen to anybody. I believe I am a good person who made bad choices. I believe I am living testimony to the power of addiction. I’m the cautionary tale. I accept that.” —Josh Hamilton

_______________________________

Read about the Josh and Katie Hamilton FourTwelve Foundation here: http://www.joshhamilton.net/fourtwelve-foundation/

Book Review: The Astronaut Wives Club by Lily Koppel

9781455503254_Outside_Front_Jacket_00000000-90-135-24-jpegThe Astronaut Wives Club

by Lily Koppel
ISBN: 978-1-4555-0325-4
Grand Central Publishing, 2013

Times have changed since the late 1950s and early 1960s when question marks ended sentences like these: Would the space program ever develop a capsule that wouldn’t explode on takeoff? Would men ever walk on the moon? What would the wives wear to the launch?

Now astronauts like Chris Hadfield tweet from space to more than a million followers. Today the moon is old news. Next stop, Mars. Now a woman could be the astronaut, not just the spouse of one.

Our blasé acceptance of split-second universal communications, space travel, and gender parity mean we must work to recapture the wonder, innocence and gender separation of North America in the mid-20th Century. We must work to remember why the first astronauts became overnight celebrities who inspired awe in their fellow Americans.

The Astronaut Wives Club travels back in time to examine the nascent American space program from a female perspective. While the astronauts trained away from home for weeks at a time, their wives wore lipstick, raised the kids and tried to ignore rumours of infidelity. While the men competed fiercely with each other to be “first” in space, and then”first” on the moon, their wives shared tea and ham loaf together and pretended not to care. While the astronauts strapped themselves to “flying tin cans” full of several hundred pounds of explosive liquid oxygen, their wives plastered brave smiles on their faces and paced the floors.

Lily Koppel tells the story of the women behind the men who became heroes. These women evolved from military wives who used coupons, to celebrity wives driving in sports cars with their husbands to lunch with the Kennedys. Some of these women evolved from astronaut wives to ex-wives, or widows.  Some of these women evolved from “wife of” to “celebrity in her own right.” Koppel tells the stories that Life in the 1960s didn’t. She scrapes the plaster off the cracks of  infidelity, alcoholism, loneliness and depression that the astronauts, the women themselves, and the space agency tried to smooth over.

I enjoyed the first part of this book—the stories of the “original seven” wives of the first astronauts—the most. The sudden and dramatic changes to the lives of those people, and the tale of the birth of the space age from a female perspective made interesting reading. As the space program advanced and more and more wives joined “the club” the book lost its way. There were too many women to cover effectively, and the book began to read like society page rundowns of who wore what and who was friends with whom.

If you remember the 1950s and 1960s, the book will re-awaken memories for you and expand on your original impressions of that time. If you weren’t around back then, you will learn about an interesting period of our history, and why plastering over all those cracks never really works.
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