Germans Were “Seduced” by Nazi “Optimism”

(p. C7) In some perceptive passages in the earlier stages of this book, Mr. Fritzsche examines how, during the party’s years in opposition, the Nazis were able to broaden their support away from the original ideological core to voters who, for example, just thought that “something” had to be done to sort out a deeply unsettled country.  . . .

What the author stresses is that, contrary to what is so often assumed, many Germans were seduced not by despair but by optimism. Mr. Fritzsche sets out the ways that the Nazis produced the impression that the party was creating a Volksgemeinschaft—a people’s community—through such methods as transforming the Left’s traditional celebration of (p. C8) the first of May into “The Day of National Labor,” a festival of national unity rather than class struggle.

. . .

Mr. Gellately differs from many in the weight he places on the appeal of the “socialist” element in an ideology that, almost from its earliest days, had combined nationalism and anti-Semitism with a distrust of capitalism.

. . .

It was probably the memory of that Volksgemeinschaft, however much it rested on illusion, that explains one of the most remarkable facts in Mr. Gellately’s book: When Germans in the country’s west and in West Berlin—a people still living amid the ruins of the Reich—were asked in 1948 whether National Socialism was a good idea, but poorly implemented, 57% of those polled replied “yes.”

For the full review, see:

Andrew Stuttaford. “High-Speed History.” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, June 13, 2020): C7-C8.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review was updated on June 12, 2020, and has the title “Three on the Third Reich: High-Speed History.”)

The two books mentioned in the passages quoted above, are:

Fritzsche, Peter. Hitler’s First Hundred Days: When Germans Embraced the Third Reich. New York: Basic Books, 2020.

Gellately, Robert. Hitler’s True Believers: How Ordinary People Became Nazis. New York: Oxford University Press, 2020.

Modern Physics Puts Elegance and Beauty Over Practical Value

(p. C9) Fundamental physics, says David Lindley, has lost its way. “I am ready to declare that research in this area, no matter its intellectual pedigree and exacting demands, is better thought of not as science but as philosophy.” His book aims to show how physics emerged out of airy speculation in the 17th century and, in recent years, has sunk back into it. “The Dream Universe” is not a book that will please philosophers, nor indeed historians, though physicists will find the argument a familiar one.

The problem, says its author, has been an excessive reliance on “mathematical elegance and beauty and whatnot” in fields such as “particle physics, the unification of gravity with quantum mechanics, and cosmology.” . . .

“The Higgs mechanism is no one’s idea of beautiful mathematics,” Mr. Lindley writes. “There’s nothing natural or inevitable about it, certainly nothing elegant. But it does its job.” The same applies, it appears, to one of the biggest breakthroughs in astronomy of recent decades, the confirmed reality of a previously theorized quantity driving universal expansion at an accelerating rate. “The beauty or otherwise of the cosmological constant is a non-issue,” the author writes. “It has practical value, and that’s what matters.”

. . .

The modern rot set in, he maintains, with theoreticians such as Hermann Weyl and Paul Dirac, who spoke of beauty as well as truth in physics. “Galileo would have been aghast,” Mr. Lindley writes. “He had no patience with mystical blather.”

. . .

Mr. Lindley complains that “the more physics pushes into the subatomic world, the more arcane the mathematical tools it draws upon.”

For the full review, see:

Andrew Crumey. “Pulling on a String.” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, June 13, 2020): C9.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date June 12, 2020, and has the title “‘The Dream Universe’ Review: Pulling on a String.”)

The book under review, is:

Lindley, David. The Dream Universe: How Fundamental Physics Lost Its Way. New York: Doubleday, 2020.

Masks Do Not Cover Genuine Smiles

(p. D3) Women do tend to smile more than men, across age groups and ethnicities. But it’s not necessarily because they are happier; in fact, women suffer higher rates of depression. Rather, said Marianne LaFrance, a psychologist at Yale University who studies gender and nonverbal communication, women feel pressure to smile, and they can be penalized if they don’t.

“Women get completely socialized that smiling should be the default expression on their face,” said Dr. LaFrance, the author of “Why Smile? The Science Behind Facial Expressions.” “So everyone expects it, including women themselves.”

. . .

As Dr. LaFrance described it, it is the social, obligatory smile — “which is the one that women do the most,” she said — that tends to be focused on the mouth muscles, easily covered up by a medical mask. But a genuine smile, or what is know in the field as the Duchenne smile (named for Guillaume Duchenne), a French anatomist who discovered it, involves both the mouth and the eyes.

“What’s interesting,” Dr. LaForce said, is that the facial muscle engaged by a genuine smile — what’s called the orbicularis oculi — can’t be used on command.

“So will the mask stifle a smile? No. Not unless it’s a fake one,” she said.

For the full commentary, see:

Jessica Bennett. “How Emotions Play Out Behind the Masks.” The New York Times (Thursday, June 11, 2020): D3.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date June 10, 2020 and has the title “Silver Lining to the Mask? Not Having to Smile”.)

The book by LaFrance, mentioned in a passage quoted above, is:

LaFrance, Marianne. Why Smile?: The Science Behind Facial Expressions. pb ed. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2013.

For 12-Year-Old, 10 Hours a Day in Mine “Really Meant Freedom for Me”

(p. A15) For Jack Lawson, “ten hours a day in the dark prison below really meant freedom for me.” At age 12, this Northern England boy began full-time work down the local mine. His life underwent a transformation; there would be “no more drudgery at home.” Jack’s wages lifted him head and shoulders above his younger siblings and separated him in fundamental ways from the world of women. He received better food, clothing and considerably more social standing and respect within the family. He had become a breadwinner.

Rooted in firsthand accounts of life in the Victorian era, Emma Griffin’s “Bread Winner” is a compelling re-evaluation of the Victorian economy. Ms. Griffin, a professor at the University of East Anglia, investigates the personal relationships and family dynamics of around 700 working-class households from the 19th century, charting the challenges people faced and the choices they made. Their lives are revealed as unique personal voyages caught within broader currents.

“I didn’t mind going out to work,” wrote a woman named Bessie Wallis. “It was just that girls were so very inferior to boys. They were the breadwinners and they came first. They could always get work in one of the mines, starting off as a pony boy then working themselves up to rope-runners and trammers for the actual coal-hewers. Girls were nobodies. They could only go into domestic service.”

Putting the domestic back into the economy, Ms. Griffin addresses a longstanding imbalance in our understanding of Victorian life. By investigating how money and resources moved around the working-class family, she makes huge strides toward answering the disconcerting question of why an increasingly affluent country continued to fail to feed its children. There was, her account makes clear, a disappointingly long lag between the development of an industrialized lifestyle in Britain and the spread of its benefits throughout the population.

For the full review, see:

Ruth Goodman. “BOOKSHELF; Livings And Wages.” The Wall Street Journal (Monday, June 8, 2020): A15.

(Note: the online version of the review has the date June 7, 2020, and has the title “BOOKSHELF; ‘Bread Winner’ Review: Livings and Wages.”)

The book reviewed above, is:

Griffin, Emma. Bread Winner: An Intimate History of the Victorian Economy. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2020.

Frustration of a Non-Expert Entrepreneur Inspired the Creation of Square

(p. B6) It was 2009, and Mr. McKelvey—a glassblower, computer scientist and serial entrepreneur—had lost a sale of one of his artworks because he couldn’t accept American Express cards. Though neither he nor Mr. Dorsey, now CEO of Square and Twitter Inc., knew much about the world of credit-card transactions, his frustration inspired the creation of Square’s signature white readers, a technology that would revolutionize payments by allowing anyone to accept a card with a smartphone or tablet.

In his new book, “The Innovation Stack,” Mr. McKelvey uses the story of Square’s early days, and its success in fending off a rival product from Amazon.com Inc., to encourage other potential founders with a dearth of credentials to fix unsolved problems and start novel businesses.

“If you’re going to do something that’s never been done, by definition, you cannot be an expert,” he said. “Take it from a glassblower who started a $30 billion payment company: You don’t have to be.”

. . .

“. . . there are no experts anymore. We’re living in a world without expertise, and that’s the world of the entrepreneur, like it or not.”

For the full interview, see:

Peter Rudegeair, interviewer. “Square’s Co-Founder Sees Openings in Recessions.” The Wall Street Journal (Tuesday, May 26, 2020): B6.

(Note: ellipses, and quotation marks around last two sentences, added.)

(Note: the online version of the television review has the date May 24, 2020, and has the same title “BOSS TALK; Square’s Co-Founder: A Recession Is a Great Time to Start a Company.” The first several paragraphs quoted above are from Pter Rudegeair’s introduction to his interview of Jim McKelvey. The last couple of sentences are from McKelvey’s response to the last question in the interview.)

The book, mentioned above in the introduction to the interview, is:

McKelvey, Jim. The Innovation Stack: Building an Unbeatable Business One Crazy Idea at a Time. New York: Portfolio, 2020.

While Still “Dirt Poor,” Ulysses Grant Freed Slave Given to Him by His Father-in-Law

(p. 7) . . . like the Chernow book, “Grant” gives its subject his due for having fought ferociously as president against Southern Democrats, pursuing the Lincoln agenda, furthering the cause of Reconstruction, protecting blacks in the South and for crushing the Ku Klux Klan in the early 1870s.

He had been a champion of enslaved Americans long before the Emancipation Proclamation. Grant’s wife, Julia Dent, came from a slave-owning family; Grant’s father, Jesse, was a rabid abolitionist. While living with his in-laws, Grant invited the enmity of neighbors by laboring alongside his father-in-law’s field workers and, as explained by the writer Ta-Nehisi Coates, freeing the enslaved person his father-in-law had given him—thus relinquishing his greatest financial asset at a time when he was otherwise dirt poor. He later saw that black troops would be an asset to the North and used them to deadly effect.  . . .

For all its warfare and violence, eloquent interviews and gorgeous photographs, viewers will discover that the real star of “Grant” is the character of the subject himself.

For the full television review, see:

John Anderson. “TELEVISION REVIEW; A Warrior’s Wisdom and Weaknesses.” The Wall Street Journal (Friday, May 22, 2020): A13.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the television review has the date May 21, 2020, and has the same title “TELEVISION REVIEW; ‘Grant’ Review: The Wisdom and Weaknesses of a Warrior.”)

The book, mentioned above as the basis of the “Grant” television mini-series, is:

Chernow, Ron. Grant. New York: The Penguin Press, 2017.

Disillusioned Cuban Communist Became Entrepreneur

(p. 7) . . . , Ms. Limonta’s faith in the revolution had been absolute. Born just three weeks after Fidel Castro started his uprising by beaching an old American yacht called Granma in a mangrove swamp on Cuba’s southern shore in 1956, she had fully embraced his promise to wipe out inequality and create a new Cuba.

. . .

As the revolution aged, contradictions grew harder to ignore. As her job took her around the country, she saw that the hospitals most Cubans went to were shabby reflections of the one where her mother was treated. Other Cubans waited months, sometimes years, for a wheelchair. They couldn’t count on oxygen being available. Vital equipment broke down. Medicines ran out. Doctors and nurses expected to be bribed.

The stark differences weighed on Ms. Limonta, weakening her revolutionary spirit as well as her heart. She was just 48 when she was rushed to the mediocre hospital to which she, as a resident of Guanabacoa, was assigned. But once doctors found out who she was, they insisted on transferring her to Cuba’s top cardiology center.

She got the pacemaker she needed, but the speedy treatment only deepened her doubts. Bound by a strict sense of social justice, she finally forced herself to see the truth. She and her mother had been pampered in their time of need not because they were equal to other Cubans. Not because they were socialists. Not because they loved Fidel. But because they were more important.

The surgery caused a nearly mortal infection in her heart. Emergency open-heart surgery left her scarred and uncertain about her life. She decided to quit her job, hand in her party membership, give back her state car and even renounce the Santería religion she had been practicing.

Standing before a mirror one day, she cried. The scars on her body made her look like she had been torn apart and sewn back together, which was how she felt about her life. She had turned her back on everything she once believed in and had no idea how to go on. She was not like her friend Lili, who led the neighborhood Committee for the Defense of the Revolution and whose faith in Communism was unshakable. Like many other Cubans whose support for the revolution lagged, Ms. Limonta had few options. She could dissent openly and invite harassment or persecution. She could throw herself into a raft and hope the sea breezes blew her to Florida. Or she could keep her thoughts to herself and focus on surviving.

Even with the subsidized rice and beans every Cuban receives, her $12 monthly pension guaranteed only misery. She needed to remake her life and found inspiration in the old treadle sewing machine that her mother had given her for graduation. Using discarded hotel sheets, she sewed crib sets for newborns that she covertly sold for a few dollars apiece. In 2011, when Raúl Castro cautiously allowed Cubans to start their own small businesses, Ms. Limonta became one of Cuba’s first legal capitalists.

Eventually, with help from a church-sponsored business incubator, she created her own company, rented space for a workshop, hired seamstresses and started turning out clothing of her own design. When President Barack Obama visited Havana in 2016 to see for himself how Cuba was responding to the opening he had set in motion, Ms. Limonta was among the Cuban entrepreneurs who met with him.

. . .

. . . , the old men who run Cuba cannot deny that they’ve lost even individuals like Ms. Limonta who once embraced the revolution. Cubans are not in the streets protesting, but they have no loyalty toward the men who took Fidel Castro’s place or the political system they keep propping up.

For the full commentary, see:

Anthony DePalma. “How Cubans Lost Faith in Revolution.” The New York Times, SundayReview Section (Sunday, May 24, 2020): 10.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date May 23, 2020 and has the same title as the print version.)

DePalma’s commentary, quoted above, is related to his book:

DePalma, Anthony. The Cubans: Ordinary Lives in Extraordinary Times. New York: Viking, 2020.