Shoe Dog

Do you ever wonder how giant, billion-dollar organizations are crafted? If so, Shoe Dog written by Phil Knight, the co-founder of Nike, is for you. In some ways the book is what you might expect. At its center is a competitive and well-educated man willing to live in insecurity for the hope of a dream and the success of a product he believes in. But, this book has many surprises, and it does not read like a self-help book. It reads like a story with all of the complexities and surprises that one comes to expect from life.

The characters of this book are as colorful as the merchandise at a Nike store. Knight recalls in detail individuals crossing his path. He recounts the oddities within himself and others. He reveals opportunities seized through risk taking and being in the right place at the right time. He touches on the uncertain and transformative decades following the Second World War. He fondly remembers some of the sweetest moments of his life while acknowledging a few of the sour ones.

Knight also shares some great advice along the way. Although his memoir is rarely blatantly helpful, when he does share a life principle it’s worth it. Much like Nike’s slogan, Knight shares with his audience the simple but immensely valuable concepts of endurance and autonomy. These concepts of autonomy, endurance, and enjoyment give a glimpse of what it means to find successful, enjoyable work that is fulfilling. Knight believed in his product, had autonomy in his work, gave high levels of autonomy to many of his employees, and enjoyed the competitive process of producing the best shoes for the all athletes.

Having said that, Knight’s work did not come without its stressors. Knight talks of all of the luxurious relationships and trips that came with his work, but he also talks about law suits, public backlash for factory conditions, the financial instability of reinvesting profits back into the company, and the negative affects that a consuming career had on his family. Such a successful career and business did not come without its sacrifices.

Additionally, such a successful career did not come without special relationships and opportunities. As many successful people Knight had many breaks, and he seemed to be born into the right time for his successes. Knight’s track connections, post World War II Japan, and Knight’s parents were some of the reasons for his success. Having said that, Knight’s hard work, perseverance, passion, and risk taking is undeniably had a lot to do with his success as well.

The last chapter in the book is the best. After sharing his story and giving the reader sufficient context, Knight reflects on his life, partners, and business. Knight catches the readers up on the lives of the odd and amazing stories of the founders, he criticizes pessimism about the future of business and life in the United States, he illuminates some of the progress that Nike has made in addressing factory working conditions and other social issues, and he gives a list of regrets intermingled with part of the reasoning that motivated him to write Shoe Dog. For anyone interested in shoes and/or entrepreneurship, Shoe Dog may be a good book to pick up. For those not interested in those subjects, Shoe Dog is personable and relatable enough to entertain.

1984

1984, written by George Orwell, was published soon after World War II and imagines a dystopian future in which “Big Brother” a figure-head of a totalitarian government controls the piece of the world that the main character, Winston Smith, lives in. The world is divided up into three divisions Oceania, Eurasia, and Eastasia with something like large swaths of populated no man’s land in between. Much of the book is spent describing the concepts and strategies of the totalitarian government as well as the details of the people and places in this dystopian world.

The Power of Fear & Pain:

  • The listener is provided an internal view into the protagonist mostly, so assumptions must be made about the internal feelings of the other characters. However, one thing immediately recognizable in this audiobook is the fear present in the people controlled by their government. Fear seems to prey on the survival instincts of the characters by encouraging them to do whatever they must to survive. Citizens of Oceania seem jovial when traitors are caught and deposed through jail and/or death, but it’s hard to believe that the citizens can truly feel jovial and secure in such a controlled environment. Much like the main character, Winston, other citizens of Oceania may be may internally be on edge and seeking to improve their loyalty to “Big Brother” by their enthusiasm towards the capture and conviction of comrades found to be disloyal to the party.

The Power of Words:

  • The citizens are always being watched through “telescreens” (something like a TV set that both records and displays visual and audible information) what now, perhaps not in the 1950’s, seems feasible. Besides the “telescreens” there’s the “Thought Police” who monitor any signs (e.g. speech, body language, facial expression, etc.) of disloyalty to the party. There’s also “News Speak” or the effort by the government-controlled media to limit the amount of words used in Oceania’s language. The concept of “Newspeak” seems to emphasize the importance of education and language in expressing human individuality and promoting intellectual growth and freedom. In his book, Orwell seems to be emphasizing that words are powerful, and a society that diminishes the power of words diminishes the power of its people.

The Essence of Freedom:

  • The underlying tone of 1984 seems to be related to the destruction of freedom. As the book progresses it becomes clear that freedom exists solely in the mind, in the realm of human choices. One may be physically overpowered, locked up, or chained, but there is still the freedom of thought and choice. Though the sum of a person’s thoughts and decisions may be simply the totality of his or her genetics and environment, but choice is what makes people free. In order for one person or a small group to rule a multitude, there must be a way to control people’s thoughts and choices.

Misunderstanding Professed Beliefs &/or Their Implications:

  • In 1984, the ruling minority seems to be largely successful, and most citizens seem to take the viewpoint that ignorance is bliss if not fully buying into the regime’s propaganda. One character makes an effort to give the appearance of “orthodoxy” or conformation to the regime’s ideology without truly understanding the implications and true nature of the ideology. This character’s ignorant dedication to rules and beliefs reflects an attitude that some people may embrace in life. It may at times be easier to embrace beliefs that have been inherited from family or conform to societal expectations and standards without really examining the merit of those beliefs. Furthermore, one may not even understand how to live out those beliefs in the proper way.

The Importance of Authenticity:

  • While some people may struggle to live out their beliefs due to a lack of understanding, others like Winston in 1984 may be afraid to reveal who they really are. While Winston hides his true beliefs out of a fear of imprisonment and death, individuals in modern society may hide who they really are out of a fear of disapproval or relational rejection. Failure to meet societal expectations can prevent people from being authentic. As Winston confesses both the positive and negative aspects of his inner self, he shows us a valuable part of his humanity. In a society that expects perfection, or at least the ruling party’s definition of it, Winston comes to grips with his imperfections.
  • This serves as a lesson to individuals of modern society. The individual must determine for herself what is right and wrong and judge herself by that standard. The governments of the nations in which that individual chooses to reside will hold that individual to a collective standard of justice along with the rest of the individuals in those nations. That individual will likely judge herself imperfect by both the standards of those societies as well as her own standards. However, that realization aids in understanding the necessary responsibilities and privileged liberties of living in a mutually beneficial community. Realizing one’s imperfections is an essential part of what it means to be human.

The Existence of Absolute Truth:

  • Late in the book Winston goes into a self-reflective monologue about the insecurities of truth. He wonders if two plus two really equals four. He asks what truth really is if it exists in our minds and our minds are only a perception of our surroundings. Winston turns to the fundamental laws of the world around him such as the law of gravity to help reinforce his belief that truth exists outside of his own mind.

1984 may be an uncomfortable book to read or listen to at times, but Orwell covers some important concepts. The questions and challenges that arise from reading a book like 1984 are more beneficial than the story and its characters. The details of this book need not be remembered as long as the general ideas and questions relating to choice, community, and truth are internalized. Are people really free to choose? What is the individual’s and government’s role in a community? Is there such a thing as abso lute truth? Those are some of the questions that bleed through the dialogue of 1984.

 

 

 

Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood

Written by Trevor Noah, Born a Crime is a memoir of what it was like for Noah to grow up as the son of a white man and a black woman in Apartheid South Africa. From the absence of his biological father to the oppression of his step-father, from the faith of his mother to the skepticism of his own mind, and from the streets of Soweto to the streets of Hillbrow, Born a Crime gives the listener a glance into the societal inequality of Apartheid South Africa and personal struggles of the people who lived through it. Trevor Noah takes the reader on a humorous and educational journey through the times and places of his upbringing.

There are some audio-book performances that immediately distract from the content of the book due to overzealous or unconvincing voice acting, but Born a Crime is not such a book. Noah performs the book well, impersonating influential figures from his childhood and painting pictures well enough to naturally give the listener a good imaginative visual of the scene. While narrative books may naturally be much easier to read/perform than books heavy in dialogue, Trevor Noah’s narrative and dialogue performance is fluid, perhaps due to his talents as a comedian and long-established relationships with the people he impersonates.

One of the people he impersonates is his mother, the overwhelming co-star of the book. Her strength and convictions bleed through the audio, and as the story develops the listener is subjected to more and more astounding moments from this woman’s life. The bond that develops between Noah and his mother speaks to the listener as the listener allows, and culminates in a shockingly amazing story from Patricia Noah’s life. Whether or not the reader identifies more with the faithful and joyful Patricia or the skeptical and comedic Trevor, both equally stubborn, the bond between these two is deep enough to impress on the reader a sense of gratitude and affection for those who he or she holds closest in life. That may be what most makes Born a Crime worth a listen.