The Social History of the Machine Gun PDF Summary

The Social History of the Machine Gun PDFIf a drink can profoundly change the world, then why shouldn’t the same hold true for a gun?

A machine gun, to be more precise.

That’s the cue for our summary of John Ellis’ “The Social History of the Machine Gun.”

Who Should Read “The Social History of the Machine Gun”? And Why?

John Ellis has been described by none other than Len Deighton as “one of the best historians” out there, so if you like to read historical books, be sure to check his full bibliography.

In this case, Ellis is masterful in recounting the social history of the machine gun from the 19th century to the present day in no more than 180 easily-read pages, which should make the book appealing even to those who care about history only in so far it gives them a neat fuller picture of the present world.

Of course, those who are interested in weapons and weaponry, should check this book out right away!

About John Ellis

John Ellis is an English historian.

He obtained an MA in International Relations at the University of Sussex before taking a PhD course in Military Studies at the University of Manchester.

He is the author of more than a dozen highly praised books, including “A Social History the of Machine Gun,” “Brute Force,” “Eye-Deep in Hell,” “One Day in a Very Long War” and “The World War I” and “World War II Databooks.”

“The Social History of the Machine Gun PDF Summary”

In 1861, just as the American Civil War got under way, the world had the unfortunate privilege to experience for the first time the monstrosity on this photograph.The Social History of the Machine Gun Summary

Its inventor, the American Richard Jordan Gatling, was a doctor by profession, and his idea behind creating a rapid-fire gun which is considered today the precursor of the machine gun, was a rather strange one.

Namely, since one machine gun could effectively substitute several soldiers, Gatling believed that his invention will reduce the size of the armies and, thus, reduce the number of war casualties.

“My gun,” he noted” bears the same relation to other fire-arms that McCormack’s Reaper does to the sickle, or the sewing machine to the common needle.

Little did Gatling knew that half a century later, his gun – and its offshoots (the Maxim gun and the Thompson submachine gun) – will be responsible for the deaths of millions of people, in the unprecedented bloodshed we, unfortunately, remember merely as the First World War.

However, John Ellis argues that it wasn’t merely Gatling’s fault.

Even more, it was the fault of European – mostly British and French officers and generals – who, unlike their American and German counterparts, believed in the old “élan and esprit de corps” Napoleonic type of warfare way into the first half of the 20th century.

In fact, even after the First World War, British Field Marshal Douglas Haig had the audacity to claim that “airplanes and tanks are only accessories to the man and the horse – the well-bred horse.”

Audacity – since Lord Haig is today mostly remembered as “Butcher Haig,” the guy whose “epic but costly offensives at the Somme (1916) and Passchendaele (1917) have become nearly synonymous with the carnage and futility of First World War battles.”

And that’s the main thesis of John Ellis’ fascinating book:

Untold millions died due to the fact that numerous British and French officers were aristocrats and conservatives, who didn’t want to introduce machine guns into warfare, since they were still firm adherents to romantic military ideals and values such as heart and courage, putting their faith in the horse, the sabre, and the cavalry charge!

News flash, rattled the machine gun on the fields of modern Europe:

Heart and courage mean nothing in the face of new technologies!

In fact, Ellis recounts one example when two German machine guns defeated a six-hundred-man British infantry battalion in just a few hours, experiencing not one casualty.

In other words, six hundred were defeated by six – since the officers of the former believed that machine guns are an abomination to the beautiful thing that is a horse and a sabre battle!

Ah, the British!

They just never learn, do they: this happened barely half a century after the Charge of the Light Brigade! Into the valley of Death rode the six hundred… twice.

And it’s not like the British didn’t know the terrifying power of the Gatling gun!

They just didn’t think it’s honorable to use it against other civilized nations!

Which means they didn’t blink an eye to use it in Africa, against the savages. The first time they did this in 1874, when they sent a few Gatlings into action against the Ashanti, under the command of Sir Garnet Wolseley.

“The Times” was poetic and vivid – not to mention utterly inhuman – in its desires and descriptions:

…if by any lucky chance Sir Garnet Wolseley manages to catch a good mob of savages in the open, and at a moderate distance, he cannot do any better than treat them to a little Gatling music…. Altogether we cannot wish the Ashantees worse luck than to get in the way of a Gatling well served.

Well, some of the very people who used the Gatlings in Africa will find themselves on the other end of them (and much better-developed machine guns) just a few decades later.

In fact, David Lloyd George calculated that about 4 in 5 deaths during the First World War were caused by machine guns.

Needless to add: the world was red with blood.

And warfare was never the same.

Key Lessons from “The Social History of the Machine Gun”

1.      The Machine Gun Was Invented and Developed in the United States a Reason… or Two
2.      For the Africans, Machine Guns Were Giant Penises
3.      The Machine Gun, a Contemporary Icon

The Machine Gun Was Invented and Developed in the United States a Reason… or Two

In “The Social History of the Machine Gun,” John Ellis’ main premise is that European notions of Napoleonic military ideals and a romantic love for sabers and horses led to the death of millions by means of machine guns.

In fact, it should surprise no one that Americans were the first to invent the machine gun: a country of immigrants, the United States didn’t care too much about aristocracy or guild craftsmen.

And the first Europeans to use it: the new-formed countries, the ones without a feudal, aristocratic past!

For the Africans, Machine Guns Were Giant Penises

Even the fabulously romantic British used machine guns here and there.

And by “here and there” we mean Africa, where things like “honor” and “heart” and “courage” didn’t seem to mean as much as they did in Europe.

The Africans, on the other hand, had no idea what was happening to them.

And they started to confuse the reality with their myths, believing that these machine guns were giant penises ejaculating bullets.

The only reason why they rebelled from time to time was because, their priests encouraged them to, convincing them that the next time, the Gatlings will be impotent.

They never were.

The Machine Gun, a Contemporary Icon

The machine gun, writes John Ellis,

has become something of a contemporary icon. The sheer violence of its action, and the indiscriminate deadliness of its effect, has made it a useful symbol for expressing modern man’s frenzied attempts to assert himself in an increasingly complex and depersonalized world.

[I]n the First World War the machine gun helped to engender this feeling of individual irrelevance in the face of the new technology of death.

Since then, however, technological innovations have left the machine gun far behind. The machine gun has now become personalized, itself the means by which men desperately try to make their mark on a world in which they feel increasingly powerless. In the fantasy world, at least, technology is turned against itself.

Yeah, we know what you’re thinking about right now:

Say hello to my little friend!

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“The Social History of the Machine Gun Quotes”

Fear not, my friends, this terrible machine/ they’re only wounded that have shares therein. (via Anonymous) Click To Tweet

The general aspirations and prejudices of particular social groups are just as important for the history of military technology as are straightforward problems of technical efficiency. Click To Tweet

Guns, like everything else, have their social history. Click To Tweet

Military history… can only be understood against a wider social background. Click To Tweet

For most (manufacturers of machine guns) the idea of commercial success was of overriding importance, and they made few concessions to either patriotism or normal business ethics. Click To Tweet

Our Critical Review

Heavy on anecdotes and engagingly written – in addition to being appealingly illustrated – “The Social History of the Machine Gun” is, as one reader has described it, “a light read about a gruesome topic.”

It’s also an interesting one – since its thesis – though sometimes flaky and too generalized not to be flawed – is very original and well worth a serious thought.    Take this summary with you and read anywhere! Download PDF:   

Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds PDF Summary

Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds PDFCharles Mackay’s 1841 classic, “Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds” is just two decades shy of being two centuries old and it still reads as if it has been just published.

Once you finish reading it, you’ll realize that there’s actually neither anything extraordinary in any of the numerous popular delusions (yes, even tide pod eating) nor something other than madness in a crowd.

Which is not merely a testimony to the greatness of this book, but also an incredible indictment of humanity as well: have we learned nothing?

Who Should Read “Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds”? And Why?

Sooner or later – regardless of whether you want to or not – you’ll certainly come across a guy offering you a surefire way strategy to beat the market; or, at least, some innovative investment plan that all but guarantees to make you rich.

It will be your mistake – and, believe us, it can be a big one – if you believed that guy.

Because, as history has proven to us as many times as we have tried testing it, there are no such things as financial panaceas or supernatural solutions to real-world problems.

What there is, instead, are numerous manias and fads deluding the crowds for some time and bursting like bubbles the second another craze commences.

Charles Mackay’s book is a collection of such stories, containing everything from investment frenzies and eschatological predictions through witch mania and the Crusades to alchemy and fortune telling.

Its main lesson?

Learn to discern them and stay away from them!

Because whole nations have fallen victims recovering their senses only after they had “shed rivers of blood and sowed a harvest of groans and tears, to be reaped by [their] posterity.”

Charles MackayAbout Charles Mackay

Charles Mackay was a Scottish poet, songwriter, novelist, anthologist, journalist, and “etymological monomaniac.”

A son of a mother who died shortly after his birth and a father with a military background (a bombardier in the Royal Artillery who was once imprisoned for four years in France), Mackay was educated in the Royal Caledonians school for Scottish orphans, before his father placed him at a school in Brussels, where h.

In 1832, he came back to London and soon enough became a revered songwriter and journalist. Decade and a half later, he received a Doctorate of Literature from Glasgow University and his song “The Good Time Coming” sold over 400,000 copies.

A member of influential circles – he was a friend of both Charles Dickens and Henry Russell – Mackay spend the last years of his life preparing fanciful dictionaries which, rightfully, were never taken seriously.

“Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds PDF Summary”

In “Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds,” Charles Mackay set himself the object to – in the words of his “Preface”

Collect the most remarkable instances of those moral epidemics which have been excited, sometimes by one cause and sometimes by another, and to show how easily the masses have been led astray, and how imitative and gregarious men are, even in their infatuations and crimes.

What he eventually ended up with (the interest of the public drove him to extend the first one-volume edition) is a gigantic three-volume study which covers so many topics that it is all but impossible to summarize it in less than 1,000 words.

The first volume – titled “National Delusions” – is the most eclectic one, but also far more important than the other two: “Peculiar Follies” (covering the Crusades, witch trials and haunted houses) and “Philosophical Delusions” (alchemy, fortune tellers, and mesmerists).

In fact, in his “Foreword” to the 1980 edition, Andrew Tobias wrote assuredly: “If you read no more of this book than the first hundred pages – on money mania – it will be worth many times its purchase.”

And, in the “Real Price of Everything,” Michael Lewis listed these hundred pages among the six classics of economics, alongside such landmarks as Adam Smith’s “The Wealth of Nations” and John Maynard Keynes’ “General Theory of Employment.”

And what are these three chapters about?

The Mississippi Scheme, the South Sea Bubble, and the Tulipomania – three economic bubbles which describe the essence of all economic bubbles everywhere to this day.

The Mississippi Scheme was engineered by a Scottish adventurer named John Law who, a financial wizard and a friend of the Regent, Phillippe II, the Duke of Orléans.

In 1716, after convincing the Duke of Orléans to replace France’s metal money with unbacked paper currency, Law established the Banque Générale which had an authority to issue notes.

A year later he also established the Company of the West which completely monopolized France’s foreign trade by 1719 when it was renamed as Company of the Indies.

Obviously, this meant an extremely high public demand for its shares whose price rose by staggering 36,000% to 18,000 livres!

To catch up with – Law started issuing notes, which led to the French parliament mandating “that no money should be received in payment but that of the old standard.”  However, the Duke of Orléans arrested the president of the parliament, and, soon enough, France was gripped in money mania.

By 1720, there was twice more money in France than gold and silver, a ratio exacerbated by the fact that some people started smuggling the precious metals over the border.

The government began arresting, panic spread, and before you know it, Law, just a year before “the most important personage of the state,” was now forced to flee it to save his head.

That very same year, another Bubble burst on the other side of the Canal, the South Seas Bubble. This one began inflating in 1711 when the Earl of Oxford authorized the creation of the South Sea Company, which promised to lower the national debt in exchange for a monopoly over the trade with South America.

The latter had no value, since Spain controlled the Pacific Ocean at the time, and the South Sea Company didn’t organize a single voyage until 1717.

Even so, their shares boomed and speculation in them became a lucrative occupation in itself. This resulted in a host of similar schemes – nicknamed “Bubbles” – which earned tons of money to the schemers from people who believed their fraudulent claims about bizarre overseas schemes.

The investment frenzy led to numerous companies going public in 1720, among them one which famously advertised itself as “a company for carrying out an undertaking of great advantage, but nobody to know what it is.”

The bubble popped in September 1720, prompting Sir Isaac Newton to supposedly say “I can calculate the movement of the stars, but not the madness of men.”

Speaking of madness –

During the Tulipomania in the Dutch Golden Age, you could buy 12 acres of land for a single Semper Augustus bulb, i.e., more than ten times the annual salary of a craftworker.

Obviously, this didn’t keep up too long and in February 1637, the prices dramatically collapsed, leading to many people losing substantial amounts of money.

However, the Dutch haven’t stopped liking tulips to this very day.

Key Lessons from “Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds”

1.      Men Go Madi Herds
2.      How to Cheat a Man: Three Ways
3.      The Three Earliest Economic Bubbles

Men Go Mad in Herds

In “Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds,” Charles Mackay shows that there is no wisdom in crowds – only madness and fads.

So, the next time the crowd likes something, ask yourself whether it is because of its inherent value, or because the majority of people have gone mad.

How to Cheat a Man: Three Ways

Three causes,” writes Charles Mackay, “especially have excited the discontent of mankind; and, by impelling us to seek remedies for the irremediable, have bewildered us in a maze of madness and error. These are death, toil, and the ignorance of the future.

So, if you want to cheat someone out of money, tickle his fancy that you have a solution to one of these three problems.

The Three Earliest Economic Bubbles

The first three chapters of the first volume of “Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds.”

They concern the three earliest economic bubbles: the Tulip craze in Netherlands, the South Sea Bubble in England and the Mississippi Scheme in France.

There’s a lesson in all of them: stay away from the crowd.

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“Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds Quotes”

Men, it has been well said, think in herds; it will be seen that they go mad in herds, while they only recover their senses slowly, one by one. Click To Tweet

Many persons grow insensibly attached to that which gives them a great deal of trouble, as a mother often loves her sick and ever-ailing child better than her more healthy offspring. Click To Tweet

Nations, like individuals, cannot become desperate gamblers with impunity. Punishment is sure to overtake them sooner or later. Click To Tweet

How flattering to the pride of man to think that the stars on their courses watch over him, and typify, by their movements and aspects, the joys or the sorrows that await him. Click To Tweet

Of all the offspring of Time, Error is the most ancient, and is so old and familiar an acquaintance, that Truth, when discovered, comes upon most of us like an intruder, and meets the intruder's welcome. Click To Tweet

Our Critical Review

It is extraordinary how accurate and straight-to-the-point are Charles Mackay’s analyses and how many people have profited from learning its lessons many years after the book was first published.

Case in point:

American financier Bernard Baruch sold his stocks ahead of the financial crash of 1929 and, when asked why he did it, he said that it was because of what he had learned from Mackay’s classic.

Consequently, we didn’t hesitate to include the book in our list of top marketing books in history, but we could have included it in our selection of economics books as well, or even among the best books on human behavior ever written.

Because “Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crows” is all of that – and more!

Archaic language aside, it’s also exceptionally well written and abounds in witticisms and deep – as well as comical – insights.

In a word: a must-read!    Take this summary with you and read anywhere! Download PDF:   

Titan PDF Summary – Ron Chernow

Titan PDF Ron ChernowThe Life of John D. Rockefeller, Sr.

In many languages, the surname “Rockefeller” has basically become synonymous with the phrase “fabulously rich.”

The man responsible for that?

John D. Rockefeller, Sr., quite possibly the richest person in modern history and most certainly the wealthiest American of all time.

And Ron Chernow’s “Titan” is the essential 800-page-long biography of this extraordinary man, rightly called “the Jekyll-and-Hyde of American capitalism.”

Who Should Read “Titan”? And Why?

Just like most biographies of great men, “Titan” is a fascinating and endlessly enthralling read, which should certainly get the attention of most people.

The fact that the great man this biography is about is such a controversial figure makes “Titan” an even more alluring book since it should appeal to both the advocates and the detractors of capitalism.

It’s also a book from which entrepreneurs can find some inspiration, and in which social critics who don’t believe the world needs people like John D. Rockefeller, Sr. will find enough arguments in their favor.

A treat for all!

Ron ChernowAbout Ron Chernow

Ron Chernow is an American historian and biographer, author of numerous bestselling and award-winning books on the life and times of important historical figures.

In 1990, he published his debut book, “The House of Morgan” which traced four generations of the J. P. Morgan empire and which was honored with the National Book Award for Nonfiction. He followed this up with “The Warburgs” which won him the 1993 George S. Eccles Prize for Excellence in Economic Writing.

The critically acclaimed “Titan” was published in 1998 and was nominated for the National Book Critics Circle Award, just like his 2004 biography of Alexander Hamilton, which was subsequently turned into the highly successful Lin-Manuel Miranda rap-musical from 2015, “Hamilton.”

In 2011, Chernow won both the American History Book Prize and the Pulitzer Prize for Biography for “Washington: A Life.”

His last book, the 2017 “Grant,” is a 1,000-page biography of Ulysses S. Grant, America’s 18th President, and was once again met with overwhelmingly positive reviews.

“Titan PDF Summary”

John D. Rockefeller was born on July 8, 1839, in Richford, New York, as the second of six children and the eldest son of William Avery “Bill” Rockefeller and Eliza Davison.

His father was a con artist, a traveling salesman and a “botanic physician” who practiced bigamy and ended up living a double life under an alias.

His mother, on the other hand, was a devout Baptist who put up with her husband’s promiscuity and taught John the value of saving money.

When JDR was ten years old, his father – who, by that time, had managed to father two children with his housekeeper Nancy Brown as well – was indicted for a rape which supposedly occurred at gunpoint and which drove William to sell the Rockefeller’s house and move the family to Oswego, New York, in a potential attempt to avoid trial.

He was never convicted for the rape, but soon enough he left his family for good, assuming the identity Dr. William Levingston and marrying a certain Margaret Allen in Ontario, Canada (even though he was still legally married to Eliza as well).

Before that, Bill moved the Rockefellers once again close to Cleveland, Ohio, where John attended the Cleveland’s Central High School, one of the first free public high schools in the United States.

Even though John was a good student – excelling especially in math and oratory – he couldn’t afford to go to college, especially since he was burdened with the self-assigned role of a surrogate father.

So, instead, he enrolled in a business school and got a job as an assistant bookkeeper.

It was here that he got his “first look at a banknote of any size”:

I was clerking at the time down on the Flats here. One day my employer received a note from a down-State bank for $4,000. He showed it to me in the course of the day’s business, and then put it in the safe. As soon as he was gone, I unlocked the safe, and taking out that note, stared at it with open eyes and mouth, and then replaced it and double-locked the safe. It seemed like an awfully large sum to me, an unheard-of amount, and many times during the day did I open that safe to gaze longingly at the note.

In 1859, JDR teamed up with his partner Maurice B. Clark – with whom he also shares a rags-to-riches story – and, at the tender age of 20, opened his first business.

It will grow in the largest modern history had seen by pure accident.

Namely, “Clark and Rockefeller” was a buying-and-selling venture which provided both friends a good income for some time, before they were convinced by Samuel Andrews, a chemist and a friend of Clark’s, into becoming stockholders in his new enterprise.

The enterprise was a small Cleveland oil refinery.

The result?

Instant success – thanks especially to Andrews’ “mechanical genius” (as Ida M. Tarbell had described it) and his pioneering work with fractional distillation.

However, success also means jealously and soured bonds, so it’s no surprise that by 1865, the relationship between Rockefeller and Clark (as well as Clark’s two brothers who also owned parts of the joint ventured) deteriorated to the point of no return.

The partners auctioned the business between themselves and, in the end, JDR bought the Clarks’ shares for $72,500 (about $1 million in today’s money).

Speaking to William O. Inglis, Rockefeller later noted:

It was the day that determined my career. I felt the bigness of it, but I was as calm as I am talking to you now.

At 25, JDR became the owner of one of the world’s largest oil facilities. The very same year he married his high-school sweetheart, Laura Spelman Rockefeller.

The couple will end up having four children, only one of them a boy, JDR’s namesake, John D. Rockefeller Jr.

It was all uphill from here!

In 1870, JDR abolished his partnership with Andrews, and in less than four months in 1872 – in what would later be known as “The Cleveland Massacre” – his new-formed “Standard Oil” 22 of its 26 Cleveland competitors.

Titan Summary Ron ChernowThis will inspire some admiration and a ton of hate, resulting in cartoons such as “The Anaconda” seen here on the left, parodying JDR as a snake swallowing its Cleveland competitors.

In 1874, “Standard Oil” will buy 27 more refineries – this time major and nationwide.

Still in his 30s, JDR “became the sole master of American oil refining,” controlling almost 90% of all oil in the United States.

By this time, he was also deeply convinced in his messiah-like role, believing that God gave him so much money so that he could help the world and provide cheap kerosene and light to the poor people of the world.

Even though he did do that, not many bought his side of the story, so Rockefeller was forced by the U.S. Supreme Court to dismantle Standard Oil into 34 “Baby Standards,” some of which you know by the names of ExxonMobil, Chevron, etc.

The end result?

JDR was even richer than before, owning a fortune worth nearly 2% of the nation’s GDP, or $400 billion in today’s money.

Fortunately, he spent a large – or small, depends on who you ask – part of it to basically create modern philanthropy.

Key Lessons from “Titan”

1.      The Growth of a Large Business Is Merely a Survival of the Fittest
2.      All the Fortune That I Have Made Has Not Served to Compensate Me for the Anxiety of That Period
3.      Gain All You Can, Save All You Can, And Give All You Can

The Growth of a Large Business Is Merely a Survival of the Fittest

The story of John D. Rockefeller, Sr. is an almost novel-like rags-to-riches story: he was the son of a con artist who, as a teenager, begged the principal of his free, public school to find a home for his family, but will be remembered as modern history’s richest men.

How he did it?

Mainly – because he never backed down and decided to survive through it all.

All the Fortune That I Have Made Has Not Served to Compensate Me for the Anxiety of That Period

As JDR was earning money and swallowing his opponents one by one, he was becoming so influential that newspapers started claiming that it was he who was actually running the country.

Even though he was rich and could afford everything, he was actually deeply depressed and couldn’t even fall asleep for most of the nights.

Gain All You Can, Save All You Can, And Give All You Can

The dictum from this title was originally John Wesley’s but became JDR’s.

It sums up his life in a sentence and easily shows why he was both so admired and so hated by the public.

JDR, the real Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde of American capitalism.

Like this summary? We’d like to invite you to download our free 12 min app, for more amazing summaries and audiobooks.

“Titan Quotes”

From the outset JDR’s plans had a wide streak of megalomania. Click To Tweet

No threat to his empire was too small for Rockefeller to overlook. Click To Tweet

JDR retained his mystic faith that God had given him money for mankind’s benefit. Click To Tweet

JDR was convinced that the Almighty had buried the oil in the earth for a purpose. Click To Tweet

The impression was gaining ground with me that it was a good thing to let the money be my slave and not make myself a slave to money. Click To Tweet

Our Critical Review

Basically, each of the books Ron Chernow has so far authored have received acclaim of the sort few books ever do.

“Titan” is no exception: it was listed as one of 1998’s ten best books by both “The New York Times” and “Time,” the latter of which described it as one of the great American biographies.

Even before we had the time to write its summary, we didn’t hesitate for a moment to include it in our list of the 15 best business books in history.

Balanced and neutral, revelatory and beautifully written, “Titan” is certainly a titan of a book!    Take this summary with you and read anywhere! Download PDF:   

Strategy PDF Summary – Lawrence Freedman

Strategy PDFA History

Strategy is about power and how to create it,” writes Sir Lawrence Freedman in his authoritative 2013 book simply titled “Strategy,” but it is also about the ability to understand the limitations of power.

Read our summary to find out what he means – and why it directly affects you.

Who Should Read “Strategy”? And Why?

Sir Lawrence Freedman is Emeritus Professor of War Studies and has spent his life mostly analyzing how strategy is employed in military tactics.

However, since strategy is now omnipresent (whether in politics or business), his life’s work, “Strategy,” is a book about everyone who wants to understand the dynamics of power in modern society.

In other words, just like Sun Tzu’s “The Art of War” or Robert Greene’s “48 Laws of Power,” “Strategy” is a book which certainly deserves a wider audience than the one which it primarily targets.

So, read it, whoever you’re and whatever you’re doing.

You will not be disappointed.

Lawrence FreedmanAbout Lawrence Freedman

Sir Lawrence David Freedman, KCMG, CBE, PC, FBA, an Emeritus Professor of War Studies at King’s College London, is widely considered the “dean of British strategic studies” as well as one of the most important scholars of strategy in the world and in history.

After receiving a BA from the Victoria University of Manchester and a BPhil from the University of York, Freedman obtained a DPhil from Oxford, defending his thesis – “The Definition of the Soviet Threat in Strategic Arms Decisions of the United States: 1961–1974” – in 1975.

Since then, he has written numerous books of importance, such as “The Future of War: a History,” “Kennedy’s Wars: Berlin, Cuba, Laos and Vietnam,” and “A Choice of Enemies: America Confronts the Middle East.”

In 1995, Freedman was elected a Fellow of the British Academy, and a year later, he was appointed Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire.

“Strategy PDF Summary”

If you want to make God laugh,” quipped once Woody Allen, “tell him about your plans.

However –

Plans are worthless,” added Dwight Eisenhower, “but planning is everything.

And really, Lawrence Freedman notes, it’s all but impossible to have total control over any situation; but acting as if you have makes all the difference, putting you well ahead of your more fatalistically oriented opponent.

And that’s why, since the earliest times, once they understood that even the best plans could go awry and that (to quote Sun Tzu) “every battle is won before it is fought,” people turned to something much bigger than planning.


Strategy is different from planning in that it is much more fluid and flexible, i.e., it takes into consideration the very fact that plans will fail. So, it sets numerous of them – all interrelated and malleable – and attempts to fight back against those forces which usually thwart our plans: fortune, circumstances, people.

In other words, God may laugh at your plans, but he will have to work hard to obstruct your well-thought-out strategy.

And he knows this full well, since he may have been the very first Strategist.

Just consider the story of the Exodus:

The point at which God asserted his greatness to his chosen people was when he arranged the escape of the Jews from Egypt, where they were kept as slaves. One reading of the story of Exodus is that it was not so much about freeing the Israelites from slavery as about asserting God’s greatness by establishing a people beholden to him and ensuring that they – and others – were in awe of his power. Under this interpretation, the Exodus story becomes a gigantic manipulation.

In laymen’s terms, God didn’t have to torture a whole nation or two – he could have merely secretly teleported the Jews out of Egypt – but he chose to assert his authority by consciously forcing the pharaoh not to free his chosen people.

That way, he put Himself in a better position to sell his story to the world.

Because, let’s face it, a miracle is the best strategy to assert your divinity – especially if it’s of such a magnitude that everybody is affected by it. And ten miracles of blood, grasshoppers, and plagues – well, they are million times better.

So – sneaky God!

Speaking of which, this example of God’s strategy – sneakiness, guile – was one of the two primary modes of strategy for the Ancient Greeks as well.

They called it metis and the image on the cover of “Strategy” portrays it perfectly in action.

You can’t beat your enemy with sheer physical force – which is the second mode of strategy, bie – even though you spend a decade attempting to?

Then, hide your best soldiers inside a Trojan horse!

If you can’t beat them… well, trick them.

If you expected the more usual “join them” to end the phrase, then you’re absolutely right!

Contemporary strategical analysists consider coalitions a third form of strategy, which, just like physical force and guile, is observable in both chimpanzees and humans.

For a reason – sometimes, a battle is unwinnable without the aid of an ally!

Key Lessons from “Strategy”

1.      Three Forms of Strategy
2.      Stories Have Saved Us from Total Annihilation: The War of Narratives
3.      Military, Political, and Business Strategy

Three Forms of Strategy

Whether in chimpanzees or humans, whether in wars, politics, or business – strategy always takes one of three forms: physical violence, guile, and coalitions.

Physical violence is the oldest and most straightforward form.

This one boils down to one simple premise: just beat the enemy.

Ants basically have no other strategy! Their foreign policy is one of “restless aggression, territorial conquest, and genocidal annihilation of neighboring colonies whenever possible.” In other words: we’re lucky that ants don’t have nuclear weapons!

Guile or cunning is the second form.

It is usually used by underdogs to counter the superior strength of their opponents.

Both Sun Tzu and Machiavelli were fascinated by people (whether generals or politicians) who were able to strategically outsmart their opponents, either by demoralizing him or by disrupting his decision-making abilities.

Finally, coalition is the third form.

Its formula is: “if you can’t beat them, join them.”

Stories Have Saved Us from Total Annihilation: The War of Narratives

Facts tell,” claims James Carville, “but stories sell.

Of course, you know that.

However, do you also know that in the absence of narratives, we would probably not even exist?

Because narrative is not just “another way the weak [can] take on the strong: less muscle but better stories.” It’s also a way the strong can keep their powers in check.

The Cold War was actually a war of narratives.

Everybody knew that if the conflict escalated, the whole world was in danger of a nuclear catastrophe. So, realizing that actual war has suddenly become unwinnable, they transferred the warring from the battlefield to the media.

A battle of narratives was to be preferred to a real battle.

And this war is still on.

And, if we’re lucky, it will go on raging as long as humanity exists.

God help us otherwise.

Military, Political, and Business Strategy

Throughout history – and especially since the 19th century – generals and military analysists developed numerous strategies which were meant to help one beat his opponent, almost regardless of their comparative strength.

Some of the more famous ones are the “strategy of exhaustion,” “brain warfare,” Sir Basil Liddell Hart’s “confuse-the-enemy” strategy, or John Boyd’s influential analysis on how to disrupt your opponents’ “OODA loop” (observing, orienting, deciding and acting).

In time, people started understanding that the same strategies were applicable in almost any other field of human endeavor, especially business and politics.

Because, ultimately, strategy was about gaining an edge and creating power advantage by any means possible:

So the realm of strategy is one of bargaining and persuasion as well as threats and pressure, psychological as well as physical effects, and words as well as deeds. This is why strategy is the central political art. It is about getting more out of a situation than the starting balance of power would suggest. It is the art of creating power.

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“Strategy Quotes”

The challenge for the intelligent strategist was to anticipate both the enemy and all those elements of friction and chance that got in the way. Click To Tweet

Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat. Click To Tweet

Strategies were not so much means of asserting control over situations but ways of coping with situations in which nobody was in total control. Click To Tweet

It is well to avoid illusions of control, but in the end all we can do is act as if we can influence events. To do otherwise is to succumb to fatalism. Click To Tweet

Managing implied coping, dealing with a state of affairs that could never fully be controlled. Click To Tweet

Our Critical Review

“Strategy” by Sir Lawrence Freedman is a 768-page masterpiece: it’s been called “magisterial,” “a tour de force” and a most ambitious book.

Encyclopedic, erudite, wise – “Strategy” is certainly Sir Lawrence Freedman’s magnum opus. And just as certainly it will probably be a reference point for many decades to come.    Take this summary with you and read anywhere! Download PDF:   

Churchill and Orwell PDF Summary

Churchill and Orwell PDFThe Fight for Freedom

What do Winston Churchill and George Orwell have in common?

Thomas E. Ricks’ interesting dual biography with a straightforward title “Churchill and Orwell” tries to find out.

Spoiler alert: the answer is in the subtitle.

Who Should Read “Churchill and Orwell”? And Why?

Naturally, dual biographies are less thorough than those focusing on a single person, but, almost as a rule, they are also much more interactive and enjoyable.

So, “Churchill and Orwell” will be interesting not only to those people who like to find out more about either of these great men but also to those who are interested in trivia and connections, as well as the story behind the stories.

About Thomas E. Ricks

Thomas E. Ricks is a Pulitzer Prize-winning American journalist whose main focus is national security and the military.

A member of Harvard University’s Senior Advisory Council on the Project on U.S. Civil-Military Relations and Book Review’s military history columnist, Ricks has reported on military activities in countries as diverse as Macedonia, Kosovo, Bosnia, Korea, Turkey, Haiti, Somalia, Afghanistan, and Iraq.

Ricks has authored seven non-fiction books, the most famous among which are his bestsellers on the Iraq war, the 2006 “Fiasco” and the 2009 follow-up “The Gamble.”

He has won two Pulitzer Prizes for National Reporting as part of the teams of the “Wall Street Journal” (in 2000) and “Washington Post” (in 2002).

“Churchill and Orwell PDF Summary”

“One day in the 1950s,” writes Thomas E. Ricks in his dual biography “Churchill & Orwell,” “one of Churchill’s grandsons poked his head into the old man’s study.

Is it true, the child inquired, that you are the greatest man in the world?

Churchill, in typical fashion, responded, ‘Yes, and now bugger off.'”

One of the greatest British prime ministers in history and the man who kept Britain’s spirit up during the Second World War, a great rhetorician and a winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature, Sir Winston Leonard Spencer-Churchill may not have been too far off with his self-assessment.

In fact, Britain seems to share his opinion even today!

Namely, in 2002, a BBC television poll voted Churchill the Greatest Briton in history, ahead of figures such as Sir Isaac Newton and John Lennon, ahead of Charles Darwin and Shakespeare!

The second guy to make an appearance in Ricks’ title is nowhere to be found on that list.

Which is surprising, since at least two of his books are still widely acclaimed and he was ranked by “The Times” as the second-best British writer since 1945.

All in all, we are obviously in the company of giants here!

However, it wasn’t always like that!

In fact, the lack of any recognition is the only fate Orwell and Churchill – two historical colossi nowadays – shared for years before the Second World War.

Case in point:

Frederic Herbert Maugham, United Kingdom’s Lord Chancellor during the year and a half before Germany attacked Poland, suggested that Churchill should be “shot or hanged” on account of his crazy ideas that Hitler is… well, crazy.

You see, Britain, believing that it is not sufficiently armed to oppose Hitler – and wanting to avoid war at all costs – appeased the German chancellor year in year out by making constant material and political concessions.

Churchill was one of the very few dissidents in his Conservative Party who didn’t like this one bit.

And who didn’t believe Neville Chamberlain when in September 1938 he proclaimed to the British nation that he has made a deal with Hitler which should bring “peace for our time.”

And then, one year later… it didn’t.

If Churchill was a pariah among the Conservatives, the “lower-upper-middle-class” Orwell was an outsider among the leftists.

He spent most of his early life hating people like Churchill. And when we say “like Churchill” we mean “Churchill included.”

But, then again – not many liked Churchill before he became Churchill.

What changed Orwell’s opinion was his involvement in the Spanish Civil War. He went there as a reporter, but Hemingway-like, he soon conscripted to fight for the leftist government.

However, once he returned to Great Britain, he was shocked at the half-truths and the lies the public was fed with:

I saw great battles reported where there had been no fighting, and complete silence where hundreds of men had been killed. I saw troops who had fought bravely denounced as cowards and traitors, and others who had never seen a shot fired hailed as the heroes of imaginary victories; and I saw newspapers in London retailing these lies and eager intellectuals building [emotional] superstructures over events that had never happened.

So, Orwell wrote “Homage to Catalonia,” a book which so openly criticized the Communists in Spain that Orwell’s publisher Victor Gollancz refused to publish it and “the Communist vendetta” against it resulted in it being sold in no more than 900 copies.

However, as we now know, Orwell and Churchill, the pre-War outcasts, were in fact right all along.

The whole world wasn’t.

And, according to Ricks, that’s exactly what they have in common.

Not the fact that they went against the grain, but the fact that their independence and intelligence provided them with both intellectual acumen and personal integrity to do so.

For Churchill and for Orwell, true enough was never enough – they wanted to see the world as it is, and act accordingly:

The struggle to see things as they are is perhaps the fundamental driver of Western civilization. There is a long but direct line from Aristotle and Archimedes to Locke, Hume, Mill, and Darwin, and from there through Orwell and Churchill to Martin Luther King writing his ‘Letter from Birmingham City Jail’. It is the agreement that objective reality exists, that people of goodwill can perceive it, and that other people will change their views when presented with the facts of the matter.

Key Lessons from “Churchill & Orwell”

1.      Against the Grain Thinking Comes with Both a Price and a Medal
2.      Rewriting History vs. The Pursuit of Objective Reality
3.      Churchill and Orwell Shared the Same Views on the Art of Writing

Against the Grain Thinking Comes with Both a Price and a Medal

It’s easy to think nowadays that Churchill and Orwell were always the guys history remembers today.

The truth is that during the last few years before the Second World War, their critical and against-the-grain visionary thinking marginalized them to a little more but unassuming laughing stocks.

According to John Newsinger, Orwell’s anti-communist “Homage to Catalonia” “made virtually no impact whatsoever and by the outbreak of war with Germany had sold only 900 copies.”

On the other hand, Churchill’s opposition to the policy of appeasement of Germany propagated by the Conservative Party resulted in him being considered a warmonger, a silly politician, and definitely not a team player.

However, Churchill went on to become the Greatest Briton in history, and the then-socialist Orwell is still lauded today as one of the first who foresaw the dangers of the Communist ideology.

Rewriting History vs. In Pursuit of Objective Reality

“History will be kind to me,” remarked Churchill once, “for I intend to write it.”

Similarly, Winston Smith, the main character in George Orwell’s book “Nineteen Eighty-Four” – who purposefully shares his name with Britain’s Prime Minister – works as a clerk in the Records Department of the Ministry of Truth and constantly rewrites historical documents to match the current party policy.

However, Orwell and Churchill – at least according to Thomas Ricks – became who they are for the exact opposite reasons: they saw the world as it is.

No stereotyping, pink glasses, no subjective biases.

And that made all the difference.

Churchill and Orwell Shared the Same Views on the Art of Writing

Even while overseeing a sprawling war of survival,” Ricks notes at one place, “Churchill paused to coach subordinates on writing.


Because he sincerely believed that what you say is intricately linked with how you say it.

His remarks?

Write in short, crisp paragraphs, avoiding long words and leaving out everything non-essential.

In other words: an abridged version of George Orwell’s much more famous 6 rules for writing:

#1. Never use a metaphor, simile or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
#2. Never use a long word where a short one will do.
#3. If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
#4. Never use the passive where you can use the active.
#5. Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
#6. Break any of these rules sooner than say anything barbarous.

Interestingly enough, of the two, Churchill would be the one who will end up with a Nobel Prize for Literature “for his mastery of historical and biographical description as well as for brilliant oratory in defending exalted human values.”

Orwell died just a year after he published 1984 – and he wasn’t even nominated.

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“Churchill and Orwell Quotes”

Orwell once commented that ‘whether the British ruling class are wicked or merely stupid is one of the most difficult questions of our time, and at certain moments a very important question.’ Click To Tweet

It is clear now that appeasement rested more on self-delusion than on rational calculation, because it necessarily required faith in Hitler’s sanity and trustworthiness. Click To Tweet

Orwell never fit into the BBC. At about the same time, he wrote in his diary, ‘Its atmosphere is something between a girls’ school and a lunatic asylum.’ Click To Tweet

Political language... is designed to make its lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind. Click To Tweet

Orwell depicts the proletarians as essentially uncontrollable. The state does not try to control them as much as it simply distracts them. Click To Tweet

Our Critical Review

“Churchill and Orwell” is a highly enjoyable book, but also one which might have been a better one if it was actually two books. Churchill and Orwell never met, and they are just too few similarities between them to grant a dual biography.

However, even though we believe that Ricks should have written a book on Truth and used Churchill and Orwell as foundations (instead of the other way around), we still had a great time reading this wonderfully written tribute to two people Simon Schama rightly deemed “the architects of our time.”    Take this summary with you and read anywhere! Download PDF:   

Democracy PDF Summary – Condoleezza Rice

Democracy PDF Stories from the Long Road to Freedom

They didn’t value democracy too highly in Ancient Greece.

In fact, Plato thought that it is the second worst way in which you can organize a country, just a little better than tyranny.

Former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice begs to differ.

In “Democracy” she explains why it’s, in fact, the only way to counter totalitarianism and authoritarianism.

And how history has proven that it’s also the best.

Who Should Read “Democracy”? And Why?

When a noteworthy politician writes a book detailing his experiences and beliefs, it’s certainly an event of which everybody should take note.

After all, our lives are organized the way they are mostly because of the decisions noteworthy politicians make.

A few days ago, we brought you the summary of Joe Biden’s heartbreaking memoir, “Promise Me Dad” and we told you that if you are interested in the inner workings of the Obama administration, you shouldn’t miss it.

Now, as we are about to focus our attention on Condoleezza Rice’s “Democracy,” it’s only natural that we advise those interested in Bush’s administration to make this a priority in their next-to-read booklists.

But, “Democracy” is only marginally a book about that, going a long step beyond.

Chronicling the political transitions around the globe from the 19th to the 21st century, much more than a topical book, this one’s an intimate apology of democracy by someone who still earnestly believes in it.

So, read it if you do to find encouragement.

Read it if you don’t to see what the people who don’t share your opinion have to say on the subject.

Condoleezza RiceAbout Condoleezza Rice

Condoleezza Rice is an American diplomat and political scientist, and the Denning Professor in Global Business and the Economy at the Stanford Graduate School. She is also a professor of political science at Stanford University.

Between 2005 and 2009, Rice served as the 66th United States Secretary of State. She was the second African-American Secretary of State (after Colin Powell) and the first female African-American to hold that position (the second female overall after Madelaine Albright).

A fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Condoleezza Rice has been awarded no less than eleven honorary doctorates.

“Democracy PDF Summary”

Very soon after being confirmed as the 66th U.S. Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice pioneered a diplomacy policy which she titled “Transformational Diplomacy.”

The idea behind it?

Reinvigorating American foreign policy, by expanding democracies throughout the world, especially in the greater Middle East.

However, when Hamas won the popular majority in the Palestinian elections, and some of the democratic revolutions around the world resulted in totalitarian governments, Rice’s “Transformational Democracy” initiative was met with fierce criticism.

So, the question Rice was left to grapple with – posited by one of her students as well – was: “Was it worth it?”

In the “Epilogue” of “Democracy,” Condoleezza Rice gives a defying answer:

There is both a moral and practical case for democracy promotion. In the long arc of history, we know that democracies don’t fight each other. The ‘democratic peace’ is observable. No one today is sorry that the United States helped build a democratic Germany and Japan after World War II. Both had been aggressors against their neighbors and there was no guarantee that they would not be again. Neither country had sustained experience with democracy and it took time for institutions to take root. But we stood alongside them, and now they help to form the foundation for international peace and prosperity.

No one today doubts that the spread of democracy through most of Latin America, Africa, and Asia and the emergence of free countries in Eastern Europe have been good for the world. In 2016, Freedom House ranked 145 out of 195 countries as “free” or “partly free.” That is a reason for celebration even if there have been setbacks and reversals along the way.

These two paragraphs basically sum up Condoleezza Rice’s “heartfelt and at times very moving” book: there may be setbacks in the fight for worldwide democracy, but, it’s a fight we just can’t afford to back away from.

Throughout the book, Rice details both her victories and her defeats in this “hard — really, really hard” battle.

For example, speaking about the Palestinian 2006 elections, she does not hide that it was her and her team that pushed the Israelis to allow them and the Palestinians to conduct them.

She believed – as did the whole administration – that Hamas, the fundamentalist Sunni-Islamist organization, would lose the democratic elections.

That didn’t happen, and the victory of Hamas resulted in war and complications of an unforeseen kind.

However, that’s democracy for you: you can’t choose what the people will choose.

You can only choose whether you’re going to give them the right to make the choice.

Fully aware that they may choose wrongly.

Mistakes were made in Iraq as well, some of them even worse than the notorious Abu Ghraib prisoner torture and abuse conducted by American soldiers.

Rice mentions Egypt and Turkey as well, in addition to bemoaning the fact that Libyans failed to use the fall of Qaddafi to build a democratically elected government.

Finally, some of the mistakes which were made in Ukraine – a region Rice is supposed to be an expert in – are almost inexcusable.

However, Rice lists all of these cases merely as hindrances, or, better yet, delays.

After all, she reminds us, democracy has emerged victorious in countries as different as Kenya and Ghana, as Tunisia and Colombia.

People tend to forget that this would have been something unimaginable just half a century ago. Some people still believe in “The Myth of Democratic Culture” – namely, that only some nations can become democratic, while others are naturally inclined to undemocratic regimes.

That’s obviously not true:

No nationality or ethnic group lacks the DNA to come to terms with this paradox. Over the years, many people have tried to invoke “cultural explanations” to assert that some societies lack what it takes to establish or sustain democracy. But this is a myth that has fallen to the reality of democracy’s universal appeal.

It was once thought that Latin Americans were more suited for caudillos than presidents; that Africans were just too tribal; that Confucian values conflicted with the tenets of self-rule. Years before that, Germans were thought too martial or subservient, and—of course—the descendants of slaves were too “childlike” to care about the right to vote.

Those racist views are refuted by stable democracies in places as diverse as Chile, Ghana, South Korea, and across Europe. And, of course, America has now had a black president, as well as two secretaries of state and two attorneys general.

So, as Rice says, the problem is not if all countries can become democratic.

The problem is how we can help them achieve this.

Key Lessons from “Democracy”

1.      Democracy Is the Difference Between Freedom and Totalitarianism
2.      Economic Freedom and Good Education Are the Foundations Upon Which Democracy Should Be Built
3.      America First? Think Again, Trump!

Democracy Is the Difference Between Freedom and Totalitarianism

One of the photographs included in Rice’s book shows George H. W. Bush alongside Lech Walesa, the leader of Poland’s Solidarity movement which trampled communism back in 1989.

Rice notes that in Gdansk Bush and Walesa were met by thousands of dockworkers chanting: “Freedom! Freedom! Freedom!” Afterward, she takes a not so subtle dig at communism by adding: “It must not have been what Karl Marx had in mind when he said, ‘Workers of the world, unite!'”

Her point: people value freedom above prosperity.

And numerous stories from history – and Friedrich Hayek and Milton Friedman especially – have shown us that prosperity is, in fact, a product of freedom.

Economic Freedom and Good Education Are the Foundations Upon Which Democracy Should Be Built

Most of Europe and the Americas is nowadays governed by structures which have been democratically elected. Unfortunately, that’s not the case for Africa and Asia where the ratio is reversed.

The reasons are not racial – but historical and structural.

In other words, there are some prerequisites for democracy, in that poor and poorly educated nations are incapable of holding onto it even if they finally establish it.

Consequently, by solving these problems in Africa and Asia, we’ll be paving a road to democracy.

Or as Rice says – borrowing the title from Nelson Mandela’s autobiography – a long road to freedom.

America First? Think Again, Trump!

The world is too interconnected to think that putting the interests of your country first is the right way to go.

The markets are global; the politics are international.

Consequently, putting world democracy first is synonymous with putting America first.

Putting America first, however, may be more than counter-productive.

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“Democracy Quotes”

if the nation were to be stable, individual rights had to be exercised according to rules that all people could understand and trust. Click To Tweet

Democratic transitions do not succeed suddenly, and, conversely, they do not fail in one moment either. There are, in retrospect, important inflection points that might have taken a different turn. Click To Tweet

The paradox of democracy is that its stability is born of its openness to upheaval through elections, legislation, and social action. Disruption is built into the fabric of democracy. Click To Tweet

As James Madison put it… ‘The choice must always be made, if not one of the lesser evil, at least of the GREATER, not the PERFECT good… I never expect to see a perfect work from imperfect man.’ Click To Tweet

The Founders were concerned that the will of the people could easily become the preferences of the mob. Click To Tweet

Our Critical Review

Condoleezza Rice’s “Democracy” is a well written and well-researched book. It may be a bit too one-sided, but it’s also candid since Rice doesn’t shy away from admitting her mistakes.

Rice also doesn’t shy away from her former beliefs – and it’s nice to hear that, especially after so many setbacks.

Who knows?

By the end of this book, you may even start believing in democracy as well!    Take this summary with you and read anywhere! Download PDF:   

Code Girls PDF Summary – Liza Mundy

Code Girls PDFThe Untold Story of the American Women Code Breakers of World War II

By now, you are undoubtedly familiar with the name and the legacy of a certain Alan Turing, the guy who cracked the German Enigma ciphers and, thus, shortened the war for about two years and saved at least 14 million lives.

But do you know who operated with the machines who tackled the Enigma ciphers?

Of course you don’t.

Because they were women.

Liza Mundy’s “Code Girls” tells their fascinating story.

Who Should Read “Code Girls”? And Why?

One of the most successful movies from two years ago was “Hidden Figures,” based on Margot Lee Shetterly’s book of the same title published the very same year.

In case you are one of the very few who haven’t watched it, it’s the story of the black female mathematicians who helped NASA win the Space Race with the Soviet Union in the 1960s, an age of racial segregation.

If you liked that film – or the book for that matter – than you’re going to love “Code Girls,” which takes you back two decades to tell you the story of the female code-breakers who helped the U. S. win the Second World War.

Once again – here you’ll find a story of obstacles, intelligence, creative brilliance, triumph and belated remembrance.

And it’s worth every single penny.

Liza MundyAbout Liza Mundy

Liza Mundy is an American journalist and non-fiction writer.

She received an AB from Princeton and an MA in English literature from the University of Virginia.

She has authored few books on feminist topics, the most important among them “Michelle: A Biography,” the biography of the former First Lady of the United States, Michelle Obama. Published just last year, “Code Girls” was ranked as one of the ten best science books of 2017 by “Smithsonian.”

In addition, she has also written hundreds of columns and articles for numerous important magazines.

“Code Girls PDF Summary”

Let’s get one thing straight from the start:

Codes have been around for as long as civilization, maybe longer. Virtually as soon as humans developed the ability to speak and write, somebody somewhere felt the desire to say something to somebody else that could not be understood by others. The point of a coded message is to engage in intimate, often urgent communication with another person and to exclude others from reading or listening in. It is a system designed to enable communication and to prevent it.

And in times of war, this type of communication is not merely one way of relaying important messages – it is the only way to do that.

That’s not the only strange thing which happens as soon as a war breaks out.

Among the many negative ones, there’s one which can be tentatively described as “positive”: faced with adversity, some people in power suddenly forget the low opinion they have of other people based on their gender, race, upbringing…

And that’s how some interesting paradoxes occur.

For example, during the 1940s and 1950s, it was all but impossible for most women to get a decent job, and even well-educated ones were encouraged not to have a career; and yet thousands of undergrads were recruited by the Army to crack codes and, thus, care for the well-being of the whole country.

And that’s how the story of “Code Girls” begins.

In the fall of 1941, a select group of undergrads attending the Seven Sister colleges received invitations to one-on-one meetings with senior professors.

They were all asked two questions: do they like doing crossword puzzles, and are they engaged to be married.

The correct answers were “yes” and “no.”

The prize?

Campus training in code breaking with the promise of a civilian government job in Washington once the world is ended.

Thousands took up the offer and ended up spending the war years in Washington, trying to find what the Japanese and the Germans were actually saying under the mumbo-jumbo of the intercepted messages.

It sure looks interesting when you’re watching it on Netflix, but, in actuality, it’s mind-numbingly boring!

Because it means 12-hour days and seven-day workweeks, steamy offices, and bunches and bunches of incomprehensible numbers and letters!

For the women of our story, it was even worse, because sometimes they had to break the code of messages relaying Japanese or German plans to attack regions where their loved ones (brothers or boyfriends) were serving.

It was even worse in reality, because, as Mundy says, “some of the women broke messages warning about attacks before they happened but were helpless to avert them.”

Yet, they found a way through it all, helping the United States win the war not merely by cracking codes, but also by creating phony coded messages to trick the Germans about the site of the D-Day invasion.

Their reward?

Their walking papers and almost nothing more than that.

Not more than a few were the exception, most notable among them Ann Z. Caracristi, an English major at Russell Sage College, who had become the head of an Army research unit already by the age of 23.

After the war, she went on to become the first female deputy director of the National Security Agency.

She died on January 10, 2016, a year before “Code Girls” was published.

Key Lessons from “Code Girls”

1.      Thousands of Schoolteachers Changed the Course of the Second World War
2.      Some of the Codebreaking Pioneers Were Women
3.      The Institutionalization of the Gender Pay Gap

Thousands of Schoolteachers Changed the Course of the Second World War

“Code Girls” is the so far untold story of the thousands of schoolteachers who were drafted by the American Army to break the codes of the Germans and the Japanese and help the United States win the Second World War.

Their mission was top secret, and before Liza Mundy wrote this book, practically nobody knew that such an event ever occurred.

Now, thanks to Mundy’s astounding energy and impressive research skills, we know – and have even preserved first-hand testimonies of some of these women.

Remember some of the names:

Ann Caracristi; Dorothy “Dot” Braden Bruce; Elizabeth Colby; Nan Westcott; Edith Uhe; Gloria Bosetti; Blanche DePuy; Bea Norton; Ann White; Louise Wilde.

Some of the Codebreaking Pioneers Were Women

The women breaking German and Japanese codes during the Second World War weren’t the only women pioneers to be forgotten and practically erased from history.

Take, for example, Agnes Meyer Driscoll, better known as “Miss Aggie” or even “Madame X” who was described by United States Navy rear admiral Edwin T. Layton as “without peer… cryptanalyst.”

That’s because she was exactly that: a leading cryptanalyst for the U. S. Navy from the beginning of the First to the end of the Second World War. She even trained a whole generation of male cryptanalysts.

However, she was constantly patronized and pushed aside – and is today barely remembered.

Driscoll was trained at Riverbank Laboratories, where another woman, Elizabeth Smith Friedman, had founded basically the first facility in the U. S. seriously engaged in studying cryptography. She is today known as “America’s first female cryptanalyst.”

However, she is also known as the wife of the much more famous cryptographer, William Frederick Friedman, even though it seems that she was at least as talented.

The problem oftentimes William was given credit for her work.

The Institutionalization of the Gender Pay Gap

While rummaging through many classified documents, Liza Mundy encountered upon one 1941 Navy memo, according to which female typists and stenographers were supposed to be paid $1,440 per year.

Nothing wrong with that in itself. But many things wrong when you compare this to the salary of men working in the very same posts: $1,620.


And an even bigger why for the following comparison:

Up until a little more than half a century ago, it seems that it was the law that female Ph. D.s were supposed to be paid about $1,000 dollars less (on a yearly basis) than their male counterparts.

Adjusted for inflation, that amounts to a staggering $10,000 nowadays!

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“Code Girls Quotes”

It was not easy being a smart girl in the 1940s. People thought you were annoying. Click To Tweet

Some of the women broke messages warning about attacks before they happened but were helpless to avert them. Click To Tweet

They did not use the term code breaking outside the confines of the weekly meetings, not even to friends taking the same course. Click To Tweet

Armchair philosophers amused themselves pursuing the perfect cipher, fooling around with clever tables and boxes that provided ways to replace or redistribute the letters in a message, which could be sent as gibberish and reassembled at… Click To Tweet

They mastered the Vigenère square, a method of disguising letters using a tabular method dating back to the Renaissance. They learned about things called the Playfair and Wheatstone ciphers. Click To Tweet

Our Critical Review

Standing at 432 pages, “Code Girls” is a “prodigiously researched and engrossing” book. Considering how important and under-researched topic it grapples with, it couldn’t have been anything less.

The best part is that this book was written just in time so that Mundy isn’t bereaved of the opportunity to interview some of these Code Girls.

We owe Mundy,” wrote Elaine Showalter, “gratitude for rescuing these hidden figures from obscurity. Even more valuable is her challenge to the myth of the eccentric, inspired, solitary male genius, like Alan Turing.    Take this summary with you and read anywhere! Download PDF:   

Promise Me, Dad PDF Summary

Promise Me, Dad PDFA Year of Hope, Hardship, and Purpose

Joe Biden served as the 47th Vice President of the United States between the years 2009 and 2014.

Promise Me, Dad” covers mostly the events happening during 2014-5 and it encompasses everything from the pain over the loss of a child through the presidential race of 2016 to Ukraine’s civil war and ISIL.

It’s both captivatingly political and deeply personal.

Who Should Read “Promise Me, Dad”? And Why?

“Promise Me, Dad” is an honest book, written by someone who was both a Vice President and a grieving father at the time of the events described in the book.

Consequently, it can both show you the inner workings of Obama’s administration and help you deal with grief and sorrow over the loss of a loved one.

“Promise Me, Dad” will be an attractive read for the former; more importantly, it will be a solacing experience for the latter.

Joe BidenAbout Joe Biden

Joe Biden is an American politician who served as a Vice President of the United States during the Barack Obama administration between the years of 2009 and 2017.

Before that, he represented Delaware as a U.S. Senator for more than 35 years, starting from 1973, when he became the sixth-youngest senator in American history.

He sought the Democratic presidential nominations twice (in 1988 and 2008) and was expected to seek it once more in 2016. However, a year before that, his eldest son, Beau Biden, died from brain cancer, and he opted against it amid a personal struggle with loss and grief.

“Promise Me, Dad” poignantly chronicles the period.

“Promise Me, Dad PDF Summary”

Promise Me, Dad” is, as its blurb says, “a deeply moving memoir about the year that would forever change both a family and a country.

The country is the United States.

The year is 2014.

And the family is that of then-U.S. Vice President, Joe Biden, aka the handsomest man alive according to Parks and Recreation’s Leslie Knope.

The book, however, is bereaved of jokes.

In fact, it starts at Thanksgiving on the annual Biden Thanksgiving dinner in Nantucket which, we learn, has been a tradition of the family for decades.

However, the 2014 dinner is somewhat different and much quieter.

Because Joe Biden’s eldest son Beau is struggling with a serious disease which increasingly weakens and incapacitates him.

The U.S. will learn of its nature only after Beau’s death: it’s brain cancer and by 2014 everybody in his family knows that it can’t be more serious.

And Joe Biden, the Vice President of the most powerful country in the world, feels so powerless and incapable to help Beau.

Meanwhile, he goes on doing what he does best: being an integral part of the presidential administration – then Barack Obama’s – to an extent no Vice President before him had been.

Ever since the beginning, according to Biden, Obama trusted him strongly and, thus, to his pleasure, gave him a lot of obligations Vice Presidents usually don’t have.

During this period, Biden deals with three awkward situations.

Number 1: Ukraine, where there’s a bloody Civil War and numerous pro-Russian protest, which Vladimir Putin uses to annex the Crimean Peninsula.

Number 2: Iraq, where Haider al-Abadi, the newly elected (and still serving) Prime Minister of the country is trying to stifle the Islamic rebel coalition which has successfully created a proto-country, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL for short.

To add insult to injury, Al-Abadi is continually critical of Obama’s administration and its failure to comprehend the threat of ISIL, slowly gravitating toward Russia.

Finally, number 3: Northern South America, where negotiations for all kinds of reforms are happening on a daily basis.

However, it seems that Biden’s most difficult battle is one he is basically unable to participate: the one his son is having with his brain cancer.

Beau’s struggle, however, haunts almost every experience Joe Biden’s going through.

And it hits him especially deep during two public events for which he is the designated speaker.

The first is the murder of two on-duty police officers, and the second the Charleston church shooting, during which a white supremacist murdered nine African Americans at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church.

In both of these cases, Biden dug deep inside him, and he was able to feel the pain of the unfortunate ones. He too had been unfortunate one in the past: his first wife and his one-year-old daughter were killed in a tragic car accident back in 1972.

Beau survived it with a broken leg and few other wounds, but, now, forty decades later, he was struggling with a much worse and bigger enemy.

Everybody expected Joe Biden to run for President at the time.

The book details his personal struggles because, at the moment, the Presidency was not the first thing on his mind. In fact, he took some time from his office to go and spend it with his family.

However, it was also not the last – since he still believes that as a President he will be able to do some good in the world, and you don’t pass on such opportunities.

But, then, on May 30, 2015, tragedy struck: Beau Biden died.

The VP’s office issued a short statement that’s still heart-piercing: “The entire Biden family is saddened beyond words.”

It was the moment which changed Biden’s outlook: just like Seinfeld, he chose not to run.

“Promise Me, Dad” ends with Biden trying to recuperate and reclaim some meaning in his life, one he believed in as a young man, one he wants to believe in until the day he dies.

Key Lessons from “Promise Me, Dad”

1.      Something to Love: Beau
2.      Something to Do: Write
3.      Something to Hope For: Presidency?

Something to Love: Beau

Immanuel Kant once wrote that there are three rules for happiness: something to do, something to love and something to hope for.

Biden quotes him as the epigraph of the book – and frames the very existence of “Promise Me, Dad” within these three dictums.

Beau Biden, his son, is the something Joe loves – and the something he lost in 2015 due to Beau’s brain cancer. This changed his outlook on life altogether, resulting in him giving up on the possible opportunity for a run at the Presidency.

Biden informs us that it was a lie that this was Beau’s deathbed wish.

His was much more human and gentle: “Promise me, Dad,” Beau asked him, “that no matter what happens, you’re going to be all right. Give me your word, Dad, that you’re going to be all right […] Give me your word as a Biden. Give me your word, Dad. Promise me, Dad.”

Joe promised.

Something to Do: Write

There may be two reasons why Joe Biden wrote this book.

The first one is to give himself something to do, to find a filter to cleanse himself from the feelings of grief and sorrow which had overcome him during the past few years.

Aristotle claimed that this was the reason why people went to the theatre to watch tragedies. Biden learned this the hard way.

In fewer words, the main purpose of the book is the book itself.

The writing of which, in turn, gave Biden a purpose in his life.

Something to Hope For: Presidency?

Now, there may be another reason.

This is purely circumstantial, but, there are at least two paragraphs in the book which suggest that Biden is thinking of something along the lines.

The first one is the following one:

What Andrew Cuomo did express to me that day at the end of July was that his father Mario Cuomo, who had died a year earlier] never truly made peace with declining to seek the presidency. ‘Whatever decision you make, make sure you won’t regret it,’ he told me. ‘Because you’ll live with it the rest of your life.’

The second sounds all but oath-like:

The question of running for president was all tangled up in Beau, and purpose and hope. Giving up on the presidential race would be like saying we were giving up on Beau.

Also, there’s that third part of the happiness formula: something to hope for.

Is that something, in Joe Biden’s case, presidency?

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“Promise Me, Dad Quotes”

So I try to be mindful, at all times, of what a difference a small human gesture can make to people in need. What does it really cost to take a moment to look someone in the eye, to give him a hug, to let her know, I get it. Click To Tweet

Rules for Happiness: something to do, someone to love, something to hope for. (via Immanuel Kant) Click To Tweet

True bravery is when there is very little chance of winning, but you keep fighting. Click To Tweet

This can happen again. This is happening in other parts of the world now. And you have to speak out. You can’t remain silent. Silence is complicity. Click To Tweet

We Irish are the only people in the world who are actually nostalgic about the future. Click To Tweet

Our Critical Review

“Promise Me, Dad” earned a lot of rave reviews and became an instant #1 “New York Times” bestseller. Deservedly, since there is nothing you won’t like about it.

Be warned, though: you’ll need some tissues.    Take this summary with you and read anywhere! Download PDF:   

Killers of the Flower Moon PDF Summary

Killers of the Flower Moon PDFOsage Murders and the Birth of the FBI

“History,” write David Grann in “Killers of the Flower Moon,” “is a merciless judge.” Not exactly something we don’t know, but also something we need to be reminded from time to time.

Because we tend to forget – much too often – that history is written by the winners and the great men and that, as Lord Acton once quipped, “great men are almost always bad men.”

Grann’s research – which reads as if a novel – shows to what extent.

Who Should Read “Killers of the Flower Moon”? And Why?

“Killers of the Flower Moon” documents one of the most ignoble chapters in the white men’s treatment of the Native Americans.

And, as you know by now, there are thousands of them.

So, read it whoever you are.

Especially if you are a United States citizen.

Not because it’s a brilliant nonfiction book, seductive as a detective novel, but because, from time to time, it’s good to remind yourself of the sins of our predecessors.

It’s both a humbling and revelatory experience.

David GrannAbout David Grann

David Grann is an American journalist and best-selling author, who “inspires a devotion in readers that can border on the obsessive.”

His debut book, “The Lost City of Z,” was published in 2009 and just last year it was turned into a haunting James Gray movie which found its way in many critics’ Top 10 lists.

A year later, Grann followed the success with “The Devil and Sherlock Holmes: Tales of Murder, Madness, and Obsession,” a collection of 12 essays, four of which are either filmed or about to be filmed.

“Killers of the Flower Moon” is so far his last book. It was a finalist for the National Book Award.

“Killers of the Flower Moon PDF Summary”

When George Catlin, the 19th-century painter who specialized in portraits of Native Americans, first saw an Osage Indian back in 1835, he noted that the Osage must be “the finest example of physical beauty, Indian or white, I have ever seen.”

This words merely echoed those of President Thomas Jefferson, who, upon buying the land they inhabited from the French some thirty years earlier, promised the Osage that “they shall know our nation only as friends and benefactors.”

In between – the Osage lost almost everything they had, stripped from a land of 100 million acres to a parcel of four million acres.

Once again they were promised that this land would be theirs forever.

And then – even that promise was broken.

Because, let’s face it, the history of the United States is a history of injustice. It doesn’t matter whether we’re talking about the African-Americans, the Latinos, or the Native Americans.

They were all treated as lower beings for centuries.

In fact, at one point in “Killers of the Flower Moon,” awaiting the trial of an obvious murder of his tribe, one Osage chief comments thus:

It is a question in my mind whether this jury is considering a murder case or not. The question for them to decide is whether a white man killing an Osage is murder—or merely cruelty to animals.

Spoiler alert:

In the 1920s – it was the latter.

But why?

As always – because of money.

You see, once the Osage had no option but to sell their original country, they used the money to buy themselves a new one – Osage County, Oklahoma.

It was “hilly and unsuited for cultivation,” so they bought it cheap and made a deal that everything on (and in) this land (“oil, gas, coal or other minerals”) will forever belong to them.

No one even bothered to argue with them at the time. However, what no one but the Osage knew was the great secret of the land: there was oil under the rocks.

And a lot of it!

So, the tall and beautiful and pushed-around Osage Indians went from rags to riches in no time!

By the 1920s, in fact, they had so much money that they were considered the far and wide richest nation per capita in the world.

Now how can that be? – thought the whites.

After all, they are not white.

So, the federal government invented a law by which no Osage Indian is competent enough to deal with so much money.

In other words, according to the Congress, each Osage Indian had to have a guardian to oversee how he or she spends his or her money.

In other words – that money had to somehow go back to the pockets of the whites.

And you already know that they somehow will.

Just think about it:

If you were an Osage woman at the time, a guardian basically meant a white husband. And if you were a white husband who has married an Osage woman, you can, by law, earn back the oil-rich land (ostensibly irretrievably in Osage property) if, say, something happens to your wife.

Hmmmm… now, how can anything go wrong for the Osage Indians here?

Unsurprisingly –

It went terribly, terribly wrong.

In a very short period of time, dozens of Osage Indians were killed or died in mysterious circumstances. And the same happened to few of the investigators who bothered trying to find out what might have led to the deaths of the wealthy Osage inheritors.

Journalists, always great with inventing colorful phrases, started talking about “The Osage Reign of Terror.”

The Osage Indians, on the other hand, started talking about what they could do to keep their heads on their shoulders.

The problem was – they didn’t know who to believe but themselves.

Finally, they saw no other option but enlisting the help of a guy named Barney McBride, a white oilman in the area, a sincere friend of the Osage Indians.

The Osage chiefs asked from McBride to go to Washington D.C. and plead for help in their name.

McBride went – carrying nothing more but a Bible and a pistol. The very night he arrived in Washington, he was abducted and stabbed at least 20 times.

It was now just too obvious.

The Washington Post title said succinctly what everyone was implicitly aware:

“Conspiracy Believed to Kill Rich Indians.”

A job for the Federal Bureau of Investigation, at the time a group of largely inept agents who were used to bending the laws they were supposed to protect.

Hell, they were not even Federal – they were just BI!

And the man who added the F and the respect to that: J. Edgar Hoover.

Now, you may know the guy from his later years as a sort of an American Göring, but in these early days, he was a Dick Tracy before the comic came out and a forensics pioneer.

And the Osage Murders – specifically that of the Kyle family – were his (and FBI’s) first murder case.

Hoover chose Tom White, a Texan, to spearhead the operation. White put a nice, little team and the team went undercover.

Two years later, they cracked the case wide open.

The man in charge of at least some of the Osage murders – William Hale, the self-styled “King of the Osage Hills.”

He had migrated from Texas to Osage County with his nephews, Ernest and Bryan Burkhart, to find some jobs in the oil fields. Amazed at the fairytale-like wealth of the Osage people, he quickly devised a plan.

First, he persuaded Ernest to marry Mollie Kyle, one of four wealthy sisters who married white men. Then, he started planning the murders of each of the future inheritors one by one, kind-hearts-and-coronets style. Finally, he started getting rid of all the witnesses and investigators.

Fortunately, the FBI saved the life of Mollie – since she was already being poisoned at the time.

Unfortunately, William Hale was convicted of only one murder and was paroled in 1947.

In addition, many of the murders remain unexplained to this very day.

So, it is quite possible that some rich white people somewhere in the United States today are actually nephews of Osage thieves and murderers.

Key Lessons from “Killers of the Flower Moon”

1.      Where There’s Oil, There’s Money; and Where There’s a Lot of Money, There Are Murders
2.      How to Earn Yourself an Oil Field: A Lesson from William Hale’s Notebook
3.      “This Land Is Saturated with Blood”

Where There’s Oil, There’s Money; and Where There’s a Lot of Money, There Are Murders

According to contemporary reports, the Osage people were the most magnificent examples of Native American power and beauty. However, just like all the other Native American tribes, they too were stripped of their land.

Fortunately, they had enough money to buy themselves another one – which only they knew had a lot of oil under it. They negotiated a “finders-keepers” agreement with the government before buying the land, and suddenly, they were the richest people in America.

The whites couldn’t bear this, so they invented a law which made the words “Osage” and “incompetent” synonymous, forcing each Osage Indian to have a white guardian/manager of his money.

A (preplanned) recipe for massacre.

How to Earn Yourself an Oil Field: A Lesson from William Hale’s Notebook

William Hale was a U.S. cattleman who made himself a fortune by raising cattle. However, he wanted to earn a much bigger fortune, so he convinced his nephew to marry an Osage Indian, Mollie Kyle.

She was very, very rich – since the oil in Osage County was by law Osage property exclusively. And she was an Osage.

Then, he started eliminating everyone in her family – sisters, mother, cousin… Because that’s how an Osage oil field can become a William Hale’s oil field. In fact, Hale would have killed Mollie as well, but the FBI entered the story before he could poison her.

And Hale was caught and convicted of a single murder.

Later – he was paroled.

Because that’s how justice is done… when you are a white.

“This Land Is Saturated with Blood”

The words in the title are by Mary Jo Webb, an Osage Indian still alive today and still incapable of understanding what happened to the Osage people in the 1920s.

How could she?

Such depraved and dishonorable acts seem too primitive to be done by humans.

Well, for most of history, that was not true.

At least, not if you were white and you knew you can get away with it since you will always have the law on your side.

As an Indian Affairs agent, quoted by Grann says:

The question will suggest itself, which of these people are the savages?

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“Killers of the Flower Moon Quotes”

Stores gone, post office gone, train gone, school gone, oil gone, boys and girls gone—only thing not gone is graveyard and it got bigger. Click To Tweet

The world’s richest people per capita were becoming the world’s most murdered. Click To Tweet

Many Osage, unlike other wealthy Americans, could not spend their money as they pleased because of the federally imposed system of financial guardians. Click To Tweet

The amount of oil money had surpassed the total value of all the Old West gold rushes combined, and this fortune had drawn every breed of miscreant from across the country. Click To Tweet

A growing number of white Americans expressed alarm over the Osage’s wealth—outrage that was stoked by the press. Click To Tweet

Our Critical Review

Killers of the Flower Moon” is – as a “Publishers Weekly” reviewer wrote – “a gripping true-crime narrative, which revisits a baffling and frightening—and relatively unknown—spree of murders occurring mostly in Oklahoma during the 1920s.

So, it’s both fascinating as a work of non-fiction and alluring as a novel.

The best of both worlds.

Read it as soon as you can.

That way, you’ll be able to tell your friends that you know the ending of the upcoming Scorsese/DiCaprio movie – which we are eagerly awaiting.

That’s right!

There will be soon (we know it will be) an exceptional Academy-Award-nominated movie adaption of “Killers of the Flower Moon.”

So, what are you waiting for?    Take this summary with you and read anywhere! Download PDF:   

What Did Leonardo da Vinci Invent?

What Did Leonardo da Vinci Invent

Who Was Leonardo da Vinci?

Look up the word “polymath” in the Dictionary, and you’ll end up reading a biography of Leonardo da Vinci!

Don’t believe us?

Here’s what Wikipedia says a “polymath” means:

A polymath (Greek: πολυμαθής, polymathēs, “having learned much,” Latin: homo universalis, “universal man”) is a person whose expertise spans a significant number of different subject areas—such a person is known to draw on complex bodies of knowledge to solve specific problems.

And here are the first two sentences of Wikipedia’s article on Leonardo da Vinci:

Leonardo di ser Piero da Vinci, more commonly Leonardo da Vinci or simply Leonardo, was an Italian Renaissance polymath whose areas of interest included invention, painting, sculpting, architecture, science, music, mathematics, engineering, literature, anatomy, geology, astronomy, botany, writing, history, and cartography. He has been variously called the father of paleontology, ichnology, and architecture, and is widely considered one of the greatest painters of all time.

So, to answer your question:

“Who was Leonardo da Vinci?”

He was the original polymath, the archetype of the Renaissance man, a guy so smart and capable that his resume would have probably given you an inferiority complex just by the sheer number of pages.

Speaking of which –

Leonardo da Vinci: An Exceptional CV

We know you know him as the painter of the “Mona Lisa” and “The Last Supper” – two of the greatest paintings ever sketched by a man’s hand – but, in the case of Leonardo, that is basically the same as saying that LeBron James is an average streetballer.

In other words, painting masterpieces was merely one small aspect of what Leonardo was good at.

Case in point:

In 1482, when he was 30 years old and jobless, he penned his own CV and sent it to Ludovico il Moro, Duke of Milan, in the hope that it will get him a gig or two.

It’s merely 11 points long, but it will make your head spin and your confidence vaporize in thin air.

The letter says, in no immodest terms, that its author is capable of – in the original order –

1. building indestructible – extremely light and strong – and easily carriable (what?!) bridges;
2. taking the water out of the trenches when a place is besieged;
3. modeling machines which will easily destroy other places;
4. creating storm-mimicking mortars;
5. building indestructible vessels;
6. devising noiseless mines;
7. inventing safe and unattackable chariots;
8. creating big guns of any type already in existence;
9. contriving “catapults, mangonels, trabocchi, and other machines of marvelous efficacy and not in common use.”

So, basically, if there’s a war and you have Leonardo on your side, it’s not much more different than finding out about the “iddqd” and “idkfa” cheat codes and using them both at the same time in “Doom.”

With da Vinci, you end up having all the weapons and being basically indestructible.

Wait… wasn’t Leonardo the guy who painted Mona Lisa?

Didn’t he know how to paint before he was 30?

If so – why doesn’t he mention that in his CV?

Oh, yeah – we forgot that: he mentions his peace-time qualities in the last two points of his resume, as if in passing:

10. In times of peace I believe I can give perfect satisfaction and to the equal of any other in architecture and the composition of buildings public and private; and in guiding water from one place to another.

11. I can carry out sculpture in marble, bronze, or clay, and also I can do in painting whatever may be done, as well as any other, be he who he may.

The point?

Leonardo da Vinci, one of the greatest artists in history, was architect and sculptor and painter only when there was not much to do around.

And when there was – well he was inventing the hell out of everything.

Here are the top 5 Leonardo da Vinci inventions, in the order of “awesome” to “downright godlike”!

What Did Leonardo da Vinci Invent: Top 5 Leonardo da Vinci Inventions

#5. Self-Propelled Cart

self propelled cartOr, to put it in one word – a car.

Leonardo was often thinking about things people would only start thinking about in the 20th century. To make this even more fascinating: in this case, he was probably just imagining a device for theatrical use.

And what he came up with was a cart able to move without being pushed by anyone!

Which makes us think: if someone had asked Leonardo back in the 15th century to do his homework, would Leonardo write him a doctoral dissertation instead?

We forgot to mention: no one knew what the painting on the left was until about two decades ago when Italy’s Institute and Museum of the History of Science in Florence developed a working model based on that image.

And it actually worked!

#4. Robotic Knight

robotic knightYou read that right!

What you’re looking on the left is a 2002 version of Leonardo da Vinci’s 15th-century idea of what a robotic knight may look like.

Unsurprisingly, the prototype – created by NASA’s roboticist Mark Rosheim – was able to both walk and wave.

And that’s not even the fascinating part:

Mark Rosheim commented how da Vinci’s design featured not one unnecessary part!

So – both futuristic and efficient.

#3. Helicopter (and Other Flying Machines)

helicopterOne of the things Leonardo da Vinci was most interested in when it came to inventions was flying.

So, he spent a lot of time looking at birds and analyzing their flight. About 1505 he even composed a short treatise called “Codex on the Flight of Birds.”

And he did many different sketches of flying machines, whether ornithopters or helicopters.

Watch here modern scientists testing them one by one:

Now, most of Da Vinci’s flying machines didn’t work.

But next to the image on the left (called the aerial screw), he jotted down this observation:

If this instrument made with a screw be well made – that is to say, made of linen of which the pores are stopped up with starch and be turned swiftly, the said screw will make its spiral in the air, and it will rise high.

#2. Parachute

parachutePeople were still unable to even fathom a concept such as a flying human, and da Vinci was already working out a device designed for a safe landing.

And unlike the flying machines which needed some fine-tuning to work, Leonardo’s pyramidal parachute would have worked the way it was sketched just perfectly.

Making Leonardo the official inventor of the parachute!

That was set in stone in July 2000 when Adrian Nicholas successfully tested a modern model of Leonardo’s half a millennium old design.

But, just in case, his Swiss colleague Olivier Vietti-Teppa verified the findings eight years later.

#1. Tank

tankWhen Leonardo was saying that he’s capable of building indestructible vehicles, he wasn’t you claiming that you know Mandarin Chinese on your CV because, well, who does to check that?

Oh, no – Leonardo was dead serious!

In other words, he had devised in his mind the precursor to the modern tank, and that’s his version of it on the left.

It could move in any direction and fire from a number of circularly placed light cannons.

However, it had to be powered by the crew of eight men.

Now, Leonardo didn’t have much time to play around with his designs – you know being busy with, well, absolutely everything.

But, people note that if he had, he would have certainly realized that he could combine #5 and #1, changing the history of warfare in a way we can’t even imagine!

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“Leonardo da Vinci Quotes”

Painting is poetry that is seen rather than felt, and poetry is painting that is felt rather than seen. Click To Tweet A painter should begin every canvas with a wash of black because all things in nature are dark except where exposed by the light. Click To Tweet Once you have tasted flight, you will forever walk the earth with your eyes turned skyward, for there you have been, and there you will always long to return. Click To Tweet Study without desire spoils the memory, and it retains nothing that it takes in. Click To Tweet It had long since come to my attention that people of accomplishment rarely sat back and let things happen to them. They went out and happened to things. Click To Tweet

When Did Leonardo da Vinci Die?

Now, unfortunately, Leonardo da Vinci wasn’t immortal – though, we bet that he was working on something of this sort somewhere in his notebooks; prepare to find out about it in a century or so.

Even more tragically, he died in 1519, at barely 67 years of age, having left behind him the work of about four highly talented centenarians.

According to Helen Gardner, he was a man of “unquenchable curiosity” and “feverishly inventive imagination” with a “mind and personality [which] seem to us superhuman.”

“There had never been another man born in the world who knew as much as Leonardo,” said Benvenuto Cellini, a great sculptor, some 20 years after Leonardo died.

Five centuries later, we add: and probably there never will be.    Take this summary with you and read anywhere! Download PDF: