Tuesday, August 18, 2009


by William H. Armstrong

Winner of the 1970 Newbery.  Set probably some time in the ‘30s, this book centers on an unnamed black boy who must grow up fast after his poor, sharecropper father is arrested for stealing a ham for his hungry family.  The titular dog, a hound/bulldog mix who loves to hunt with the father, is hit with a shotgun during the arrest, and never hunts again.  It’s a bleak tale; the boy’s silent rage, in which he visualizes brutal violence befalling the unjust, cruel white men who oppress him and his father, is mitigated only by a persistent desire to educate himself, which blooms when he meets a kindly widowed teacher.

This gift of literacy, which literally opens up new worlds to the boy (there is a distinct albeit unsaid implication that he will eventually move beyond the narrow world of shacks in which he grew up), in some small way helps the boy from being crushed by the destruction of the spirits and bodies of both father and dog.  In the end, after the miserable dog finally dies under the house, the boy is glad: “Only the unwise think that what has changed is dead,” he consoles himself.  Is this really a book for children?  I suppose so, despite the bleakness and injustice that saturates the story.  I read this book as a child, and though much of his poetic prose and historical import must have gone over my head, I remember being very moved by the cruelties the boy and dog endured.  However, this is definitely also a story that adults not only can by edified by, they ought to.

[read twice]

four stars

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Leadership Is an Art

by Max DePree

The author, former CEO and chairman of the board of directors at furniture maker Herman Miller, shares his viewpoint on leadership.  It’s an idealistic account of what companies can be when leaders are open and understanding.  One of his main ideas is that leaders owe a great deal to the companies they lead: they need to provide a statement of values, space for employees to grow, a vision for present and future, momentum (“a debt to the future”), and effectiveness, among other things.

De Pree defines effectiveness as “doing the right thing” as opposed to just doing the thing right.  He also sets a high premium on Roving Leadership (the ability of others to lead temporarily when their unique talents call for it), and participative management (encouraging others to have a say, fostering a culture of respect for diversity of talents, the importance of covenants – an understanding that work has value and meaning – as opposed to impersonal contracts).  In sum, he rejects “the dry rules of business school” and pushes liberation over control, ritual and storytelling, trust over hierarchy, people over structures, civility over rules, and wisdom over manuals.  It’s an impressive philosophy, and I’m astonished to see it so closely adhere to that of my current workplace (I was asked to read this for work).  Knowing what the alternative could be makes me even more gratified and amazed that such places do exist. 

three stars