Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Book Review: The Righteous Mind

Like many people before him (e.g., John Lennon and Steve Jobs), author Jonathan Haidt traveled to India seeking enlightenment. There he learned that he was morally challenged, a discovery that led in part to this book The Righteous Mind. Among the first indications of this occurred when his academic hosts in India advised that he should stop saying "thank you" to his servants as they did their jobs. In contrast to his experimental subjects in Orissa state, he discovered he was WEIRD.

Not only is Mr. Haidt WEIRD, but so am I, and likely as a reader of this blog so are you. The acronym stands for Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, and Democratic, terms that describe almost all college graduates in the Western world. But they don't describe the rest of the human race (including many American subcultures); the pun is totally intended.

Mr. Haidt postulates that our moral reasoning is done with a set of biological tools. These are analogous to taste buds, of which there are five: sweet, sour, bitter, salty, and savory. The myriad combinations of these result in the cuisines of the world. You can think of them as the alphabet.

Analogously, human beings are possessed of six moral processors (call them moral-buds, if you will) that are part of our innate, human biology. The six moral axes are care/harm, fairness/cheating, loyalty/betrayal, authority/anarchy, purity/impurity, and liberty/oppression. Culture determines how these are mixed together in making specific, moral choices.

What's weird about WEIRD people is that we only use three of these moral-buds, mostly ignoring the rest. It's as if we devised a cuisine that only used the sweet and salty taste buds--we'd be culinarily challenged compared to the rest of the globe. Accordingly, says Mr. Haidt, we fail to understand how much of the world thinks about moral issues. The three WEIRD axes are care, fairness, and liberty.

Mr. Haidt's Orissa hosts, for example, employed the authority/anarchy module in their advice to stop thanking the servants. Contrary to Western opinion, authority is not necessarily oppressive, but rather serves the interests of social order. It involves reciprocal relationships and obligations, for which no thank you is required. We WEIRD people might recognize this in a beloved teacher. We grant him great authority, trusting him to consider our benefit, and it would not occur to us to say "thank you for teaching us arithmetic today."

Likewise, WEIRD people often fail to understand the moral power of dietary laws, or rules regarding sexual intercourse. The rules of kosher or halal seem silly and arbitrary to us--mere social conventions. Yet to most people on the planet those sorts of rules carry as much moral weight as thou shalt not steal. They preserve purity.

The subtitle of Mr. Haidt's book, Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion, describes why conservatives are likely to be more successful than liberals or libertarians. Conservatives are less WEIRD than the others--they appeal (at least somewhat) to the other three axes. For conservatives, for example, gay marriage is not primarily an issue of fairness, but rather one of purity. Gay sex is disgusting because it is impure, and therefore immoral. That makes little sense to us WEIRD people, but since humans come with a built-in purity moral-bud, it will strike a chord with most of the world's people.

I guess I'm a pretty WEIRD person. The raw conservative moral arguments don't make too much more sense to me today than they did when I was a Trotskyist. Still, thanks to my long-standing interest in religion, and now thanks to Mr. Haidt's book, I do believe I understand better than I did.

Mr. Haidt describes human nature in terms of aphorisms, one of which is human beings are like an elephant with a rider, and the rider serves the elephant. Our biological, subconscious impulses are the elephant, by far the strongest part of our make-up. The tiny rider represents our conscious selves. Perhaps one can compare it to Freud's id and ego. But unlike in Freud's scenario, where the ego is constantly fighting the id, Mr. Haidt tells us that the elephant and the rider are on the same side, with the elephant in charge.

First impressions matter. The elephant leans one way or another when confronted with new people or situations, either for or against. This is technically known as affect, which lasts for about eight seconds. The rider, meanwhile, serves as the elephant's lawyer or public relations agent, devising post-hoc rationalizations for why the choice was made. The rider's job is to preserve our reputation. Mr. Haidt claims that the elephant almost never listens to its own rider, though it will more often take advice from other people's riders.

This all rings true to me. Short term behavior is made instantaneously, and often regretted later. "I didn't mean to say that," is the oft-heard excuse when the rider can't come up with anything better. I think Mr. Haidt accurately describes behavioral psychology.

But it's not a description of moral psychology. Moral decisions are always conscious, made by free will if put in theological terms. The law certainly recognizes it that way--accidents, or actions done while insane are not considered criminal. Spur of the moment crimes--crimes of passion committed by the elephant--are treated more leniently than the premeditated sort committed by the rider.

Mr. Haidt never discusses free will, and probably for good reason. It is not amenable to scientific investigation. Nevertheless, it likely exists. Unless one is some kind of super-Calvinist (i.e., you believe that every event is predetermined since the Big Bang), then there must be some freedom in the universe. Given that, then both logic and common sense suggest that some of that freedom lies within the human brain.

Without free will it is impossible to discuss morality, at least as theologically understood. Unfree decisions are not moral decisions. Decisions made by affect have no moral content. Mr. Haidt's book, however interesting and however correct, is not really about moral psychology.

For all that, I found Mr. Haidt's book totally convincing. It certainly delimits the constraints on our moral behavior, better defining the scope of free will. It is a tour de force of evolutionary psychology (evopsych), using clever experiments and evolutionary reasoning to derive counter-intuitive conclusions. If you don't like evopsych, then you will hate this book. My Trotskyist friends, for example, believe in the miraculous exemption theory, i.e., that human being are somehow exempt from the laws of evolution as they apply to all other life on earth.

But my former comrades do have some cause for doubt, for evopsych has been something of a moving target. Mr. Haidt's book is a nice summary of the evolution of evopsych.

In the beginning was Edward Wilson's groundbreaking work on the sociobiology (his term for evopsych), emerging from his study of ants. The theory was generalized and popularized by Richard Dawkins' excellent classic, The Selfish Gene, which was my introduction to the discipline. That book identified evolution of the individual gene as the key player.

The second iteration is due to improved experimental technology. For many years it was assumed that we had stone age brains, evolved in an Era of Evolutionary Adaptation (EEA). The impression was that during historical time human biology was more or less fixed. However, as Mr. Haidt details and as I described in my review of Nicholas Wade's book, it has become apparent that evolution moves much faster than that. Mr. Haidt introduces the concept of gene/culture coevolution.

Finally, Mr. Haidt asserts the heretical concept of group evolution, something that Mr. Dawkins thought he had vanquished once and for all. Mr. Haidt states that religion offers benefits to the entire group. The classic example is that devout Jewish observance builds substantial social capital, sufficient to allow diamond traders to make million dollar deals based on a handshake. Mr. Haidt convincingly refutes the Dennett - Dawkins thesis that religion is some kind of parasitic growth on human society.

Overall, I really enjoyed Jonathan Haidt's book, and highly recommend it.

Further Reading:

Thursday, December 18, 2014


Last Wednesday President Obama announced a change in American policy toward Cuba. The US will open an embassy in Havana, will permit banking transactions, and will liberalize (but not eliminate) travel restrictions. In addition, it will release the remaining three members of the Cuban Five.

In exchange, Cuba will free Alan Gross, an American held prisoner for five years. And we'll get more rum and cigars.

We should have seen it coming, for there have been a number of articles in recent weeks that augured the event.

Let's begin with last week's Socialist Action (SA), oddly entitled Cuba Expands Women's Reproductive Rights. Here's the lede.
Abortion has been legal in Cuba since the victory of the Cuban revolution in 1959 and was codified into law as a women’s “sovereign right” in 1968. 
Vilma Espin, a feminist and revolutionary fighter, was made the head of the new Federation of Cuban Women and later created the National Center For Sex Education, now headed by her daughter Mariela Castro Espin. As a result of Espin’s role in the revolution and heading an organization of over three million Cuban women, women’s reproductive rights were always on the agenda. Not only was abortion legalized; all women have access to free contraception.
Cuba is now launching a new campaign to address the low birth rate, which is due to the choices Cuban women have been making for decades.
No kidding about the low birth rate. Cuba's fertility is now 1.45, way below 2.1 required to maintain the population, and even below the United States' 2.01. It's odd that SA should point this out. After all, they're long-time and enthusiastic supporters of abortion rights. It should go without saying that women who use birth control and have abortions are less fecund than those who don't. Champion contraception long enough and extinction is eventually what you'll end up with.

A low birthrate is not Cuba's only problem. In addition people leak out as emigrants. Anybody with any smarts or ambition is leaving the country, not only for the US, but also in favor of Mexico and other Latin American countries. Folks remaining in Cuba are disproportionately lazy and stupid.

Note also that SA inadvertently reveals the corruption and nepotism of the regime. Chief bureaucrat Vilma Espin consorted with the high and mighty and passed her sinecure on to her daughter, who inherited the position partly by spreading her legs. She's married to a Castro. Who needs revolutionaries like that?

The Militant remarks on a Nov. 3rd editorial in the NYTimes (apparently not available on-line) in which the Times explicitly recommended today's strategy. Author John Studer invents a distinction between the Times and the Washington Post.
In decades past the Times was a major voice of the U.S. ruling families, but today it represents a narrower section of bourgeois public opinion. Instead, it has come to more reflect the prevailing views among meritocratic professionals centered in academia, the media, “think tanks,” “nonprofit” institutions and the like.
Speaking for the great bulk of the U.S. propertied rulers, the Post responded Oct. 20 to theTimes’ campaign for a shift in U.S. policy toward Cuba in an editorial titled, “Cuba Should Not be Rewarded for Denying Freedom to Its People.”
Mr. Studer appears to claim that the US rulers wouldn't take the Times' advice. If so, then Mr. Studer is wrong.

So why is this deal happening now? The Cuban government had many opportunities to normalize relations going all the way back to the Nixon administration. Walter Russell Mead offers some insight here, but the basic reason is simple: the Cubans are desperate.

Cuba has never had a self-sustaining economy. Prior to to 1991 it was a vassal of the Soviet Union, subsidized as an unsinkable aircraft carrier. The bankruptcy of the Soviet bloc plunged Cuba into its own bankruptcy, known today as the special period. As Michael Totten describes it,
...the country experienced unprecedented pain and deprivation when Moscow cut off its subsidies after the fall of the Soviet Union. Journalist and longtime Cuba resident Mark Frank writes vividly about this period in his book Cuban Revelations. “The lights were off more than they were on, and so too was the water. . . . Food was scarce and other consumer goods almost nonexistent. . . . Doctors set broken bones without anesthesia. . . . Worm dung was the only fertilizer.” He quotes a nurse who tells him that Cubans “used to make hamburgers out of grapefruit rinds and banana peels; we cleaned with lime and bitter orange and used the black powder in batteries for hair dye and makeup.” “It was a haunting time,” Frank wrote, “that still sends shivers down Cubans’ collective spines.”
While Castro made some halfhearted attempts to juice up foreign investment and revive tourism, the special period didn't end until another sugar daddy came along, in the form of Hugo Chavez's Venezuela. That country has been giving Cuba 100,000 barrels of oil per day in return for medical services. Unfortunately, the Venezuelan economy is imploding and the price of oil is down by 40%. That sugar daddy is about to disappear.

Apart from Venezuelan oil, Cuba's largest foreign exchange earner is likely prostitution. The trade drives much of the tourism traffic. That's hardly the hallmark of a healthy society.

So Cuba is forced into the arms of the Yanqui imperialists. That's not good for the regime--more American money, tourists, and influence will make running a police state even harder. So they're doing their best to keep us at arm's length, as Walter Russell Mead describes. Still, the regime can't let life get any worse than what it is. Michael Totten describes.
Even employees inside the quasi-capitalist bubble don’t get paid more. The government contracts with Spanish companies such as Meliá International to manage Havana’s hotels. Before accepting its contract, Meliá said that it wanted to pay workers a decent wage. The Cuban government said fine, so the company pays $8–$10 an hour. But Meliá doesn’t pay its employees directly. Instead, the firm gives the compensation to the government, which then pays the workers—but only after pocketing most of the money. I asked several Cubans in my hotel if that arrangement is really true. All confirmed that it is. The workers don’t get $8–$10 an hour; they get 67 cents a day—a child’s allowance. 
The maximum wage is just the beginning. Not only are most Cubans not allowed to have money; they’re hardly allowed to have things. The police expend extraordinary manpower ensuring that everyone required to live miserably at the bottom actually does live miserably at the bottom. Dissident blogger and author Yoani Sánchez describes the harassment sarcastically in her book Havana Real: “Buses are stopped in the middle of the street and bags inspected to see if we are carrying some cheese, a lobster, or some dangerous shrimp hidden among our personal belongings.”
Cuba is a country where even potatoes are considered contraband. That's hardly a beacon of hope for those of us who oppose poverty.

I support Mr. Obama's opening toward Cuba. It probably won't work, but then what we've been doing for the past 50 years definitely doesn't work. If it improves the lives of even a few people, it's probably worth it.

Down with poverty!

Viva Cuba Libre!

Further Reading:

Sunday, December 14, 2014

The Laws of Economics

People on the Right are fond of accusing Leftists of not understanding the Laws of Economics. Specifically, this blog has posted many articles schooling my Trotskyist friends in the dismal science. Though they apparently never learn.

Back in the day, we comrades responded by noting that economics is not like physics. Instead, it is a human activity, and therefore amenable to human intervention. There are no "laws" of economics, but merely conventions that (not coincidentally) serve the interests of the ruling class. Accordingly, the so-called "laws" were constructs of "bourgeois" economists, who unfailingly acted in connivance with the rulers. Their advice could be safely ignored.

So as I aspire to be an amateur economist, it behooves me to learn more about the basics of the discipline. Accordingly, I have spent the past couple of months working through Robert Gordon's text, Macroeconomics. I'm about half way through. I'm using the 11th edition that I picked up used for about ten bucks, published in 2009, and obviously written before that. Indeed, the biggest problem facing macro in those days was understanding the great moderation, i.e., the attenuation of the business cycle in the form of shallower recessions and weaker booms. Would that we had such problems today.

So I am now in a better position to judge the "laws" of economics, and surprisingly, I think my Trotskyist friends are at least partially right.

Macroeconomics (as best I can judge) is based on three sets of premises. The first are accounting identities, such as the requirement that a balance sheet has to balance. These are as true as the rules of arithmetic, essentially unchanged since Sumerian times. The key equation of macro is that Y = E, where Y stands for the economy's income, and E for its expenses. This has to be true simply by virtue of accounting.

That means that raising the income of fast food workers to $15/hour, for example, is going to raise expenses or lower income for somebody else in the economy. Or put more colorfully, there's no such thing as a free lunch--not even at a fast food place. This is a law of economics that not even a Trotskyist can deny.

The second set of premises are assumptions that are based on empirical observations. For example, it is assumed that raising the interest rate will diminish the gross domestic product, all else equal. This is held to be true because it makes plausible sense, and because it looks to have been true in the past. But there is nothing here that constitutes a "law." It's more like a reasonable assumption.

Indeed, a couple of years ago some talking heads on television were arguing that the Fed should raise interest rates because it would increase GDP. Current rates, they argued, were too low to clear the market. I don't know if this statement was true, but if true then it renders much of Mr. Gordon's book irrelevant. The equations will all get turned upside down.

It seems fairly clear that this second set of assumptions no longer holds true as much as it did prior to 2007. That's why macroeconomics is often thought to be in crisis. The "laws" they thought were true turn out not to be as true.

The third set of premises assumes that we can collect reliable data about the economy. Historically, for example, extensive data on gross domestic product (GDP) were tabulated. The implicit assumption was that GDP corresponded reasonably well with social utility, i.e, benefit to human beings. That was surely true for much of the Twentieth Century.

But it is arguably less true today. Google, for example, creates enormous social utility while contributing negligibly to GDP. Craigslist is an even more extreme example. This blog (like most other blogs) contributes (slightly) to social utility, but almost nothing at all to GDP. Therefor the relevance of GDP has been called into question, and accordingly the "laws" that Mr. Gordon elucidates are less useful. Similarly, more ambiguity has crept into measurements of the labor force, the money supply, and even interest rates. Hard data are harder to come by.

So the Trotskyists have a point: once one advances beyond accounting identities, the "laws" of economics lose their legality and simply become descriptions--only more or less accurate depending on circumstance. That's why nobody can agree about when the Fed should raise interest rates, if at all, or even on whether or not that decision is important.

Still, my former comrades are way off the rails. First is the conspiracy theory underlying their dismissal of mainstream economics. Economists, they claim, have all been bought out, or are too stupid to understand the brown-nosing role they play in the bourgeois scheme of things. I don't believe that, and neither does nearly anybody else.

More seriously, Trotskyists claim that because the economy is a human invention, it can be treated like any other human invention. Good engineers have designed excellent airplanes that can fly half way around the world. Similarly, a good, Marxist economist could design an economy that would maximize benefits to human beings, i.e., maximize social utility. The only thing stopping us is that malevolent ruling class whose greediness keeps much of the world in poverty.

The first objection to this theory is that capitalism already maximizes social utility. The Marxist slogan human needs before private profits is completely empty. Meeting human need, e.g., maxxing out social utility, requires private profits.

But more, human needs is such an amorphous, undefined term. There are seven billion humans in the world. Which one of those gets to define human needs? Marx famously wrote "from each according to his ability; to each according to his needs." But isn't that exactly what capitalism does? My wife and I want to buy a retirement home in Las Vegas. That's a human need. Who are Jack Barnes or Jeff Mackler to say that I shouldn't be allowed to do that?

Where in the grand central plan have they made way for my vacation home--the one I want and can afford? They haven't, of course. The most I'd ever get from socialism is a vacation cot in some barracks somewhere on a South Carolina beach.

Socialism only works if you assume that somebody else is going to pay for all the goodies. But that violates accounting identities, because eventually somebody else is going to run out of money. Then the goodies need to be paid for by people who work, i.e., by people who do things to meet other people's needs. That depends on my abilities and your needs, and vice versa. With seven billion people in the world, there's no way all those interactions can be centrally planned.

All you'd get from socialism is slave labor working for slave wages.

Further Reading:

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Book Review: North Star

Peter Camejo's (1939 - 2008) memoir, North Star, was published after his death. I knew Peter (I will dispense with the formal Mr. Camejo) when we were both comrades in the Socialist Workers Party (SWP). He was the SWP's candidate for president in 1976. I was his chauffeur during his campaign trips to Chicago and Milwaukee. I certainly recall that, but I was on my way out of the Party by that time. I must have driven Peter around on several earlier occasions in the early 70s.

I remember him well. I wrote to him near the end of his life confessing my Republican sympathies. He returned with a very nice letter, admitting that he didn't remember me, stating that he was dying from cancer, and jokingly hoping that none of the candidates I supported would win any election. It is that fundamental civility and good-nature that I admired in him then and now.

Those traits permeate his memoir. He never misses a chance to say nice things about people, whatever their politics. He speaks kindly of Teddy Kennedy, despite the fact that he was a Democrat. He's very appreciative of help he got from the Bill Simon, a Republican. He has nice words for Jerry Rubin, yet another political opponent. This innate charity served him well, and made him much more influential than other Trotskyists, who insisted on using insulting terms such as class enemies or opponents.

As a comrade I was completely unaware of the jealousy and fear that he inspired in the SWP leadership. Jack Barnes, Barry Sheppard, Gus Horowitz, and others did what they could to sabotage his presidential campaign. They arranged to kick him out of the Party shortly afterwards. And no wonder--Peter was an enormously talented politico. He vastly outshone the mediocrities who fancied themselves as leaders. Left unhindered, Peter would have become the leader of the organization. So they had to get rid of him.

Peter fancied himself as a principled political leader--unbought and unbowed. I think that's probably a fair statement, but it's surprising that he never explicitly states what those principles were. So putting it in my own words, they reduce to

  1. Fighting for socialism, which he defined as democratic control of the economy;
  2. Uncompromising hatred of the Democratic Party, which he thought of as an unprincipled coalition supporting corporate power and imperialist war.
Peter came by his socialism early. While born in New York City, he was the child of an elite, Venezuelan family, growing up in that country. His father founded the Venezuelan tourist industry, building several beach resorts. On vacations Peter would take his current girlfriend and they'd go yachting off the coast of Venezuela. He had enormous respect and affection for his dad, but at the same time wondered about all the construction workers and hotel maids who went home to shantytowns at the end of the day. It was that experience that converted him to socialism.

Peter's adult life may be divided into three parts. In his early years, while still a student at MIT, he joined the SWP. His attraction to Trotskyism is no surprise, given that his principles overlapped theirs. He quickly became a leader of the affiliated Young Socialist Alliance (YSA), and became a leader of the antiwar movement in Berkeley, California. This was before I joined the movement, but it is clear that he was only loosely under the supervision of the New York office. He did things that my comrades and I would have regarded as ultraleft.

He was very successful at building the antiwar movement, and I'll let him tell that tale. I relate here some of my responses to his account.

First, he has fond memories about how he out-smarted then-Governor Ronald Reagan. And no doubt in some narrow tactical sense he occasionally did. But in the larger sense he didn't. Quite the contrary--Reagan leveraged his way to the presidency using the threat of unrest promised by the antiwar movement. It was Reagan who rolled Camejo, not the other way round. I don't think Peter ever realized that.

Second, even as he wrote his memoir he regarded the Vietnam war as a conflict between white hats and black hats. The white hats were the Vietnamese people heroically resisting the black hats in the form of U.S. imperialism. He never acknowledges any ambiguity. Peter doesn't mention the aftermath of the war--the killing fields or the boat people. The SWP supported not only the Vietcong, but also the Khmer Rouge during the entire war. Those groups were not democrats. If democratic control of the economy was Peter's goal, he was backing the wrong hats.

Finally, Peter's account of the FBI's efforts to infiltrate, disrupt and discredit the antiwar movement is painful to read. It is so easy for law enforcement to think they're above the law, and the temptation to use extra-constitutional means seems compelling. J. Edgar Hoover was not a friend of American democracy.

The second third of Peter's life began after he was expelled from the Party. He needed a job, and after a false start or two, a friend suggested that he become a salesman for Merrill Lynch. He suffered some pangs of conscience, but it turned out to be a perfect fit for him. He became very good at the job, and soon founded his own investment firm, Progressive Assets Management (PAM). The goal was to seek investments in companies that furthered progressive causes. The larger label was socially responsible investing (SRI).

Peter championed SRI, even writing a book on the topic. He claims it's a better investment than the stock market at large--a statement I find impossible to believe. Nevertheless, he had some successes. He was astonished to find that large environmental organizations had endowments invested in ExxonMobil and the like. Peter was able to convert them to SRI.

While he offers no details, there is no doubt that his investment efforts earned him a good living. During this time he married Morella, a distant relative from Venezuela. They remained married to the end of his life. He adopted her children and grandchildren as his own. None of them wanted for money.

The final episode in Peter's life was his affiliation with the Green Party. He fought two battles within that Party. First and most important, to prevent the organization from throwing support to Democratic candidates. And second, to expand the mission of the Party to include socialism generally, rather than just narrow environmental issues. He worked closely with two Trotskyist offshoots of the SWP, the International Socialist Organization and Solidarity.

He ran for governor of California three times: in 2002 against Gray Davis and Bill Simon. He got 5.3% of the vote. Peter was very proud of that campaign. When Davis was recalled in 2003 he ran again, coming in fourth in a field of 135. He felt partially betrayed by Arianna Huffington, whom he initially regarded as an ally. His last try was in 2006 against Arnold Schwarzenegger and Phil Angelides, the least successful attempt.

I would have thought that his 2004 Green Party run for vice-president (with Ralph Nader) was the highlight of his political life. But he didn't see it that way. He was bitterly disappointed by the "capitulators," i.e., people who refused to support him because they felt compelled to vote for the "lesser-evil" Democratic Party. He is especially upset with Michael Moore and Howard Zinn, but his book contains a long list of famous progressive names. He wonders how you can oppose the war (now in Iraq, and again completely clueless), and then support warmongers among the Democrats. He even calls John Kerry a "murderer" because of what he did in Vietnam.

Peter considered the 2004 race to be a failure.

Peter had intelligence, charm, charisma, and courage. He really was unbought and unbowed. I agree with him on many things. The Democratic Party really is an unprincipled coalition of special interests. We do need to legalize the status of immigrants already in the US. Some reform of our law enforcement agencies looks overdue.

But on the bigger issues he's just plain wrong. Socialism--especially the utopian variant he championed--is both impossible and undesirable. Look at Peter's native Venezuela for the most recent example of socialism's abysmal failure. 

No doubt there is ambiguity aplenty in our wars in Vietnam and Iraq. In both cases one can legitimately ask if we should've gotten involved in the first place. But given our involvement, it would have been much better for all concerned if we had won those wars. Vietnam would today be a wealthy country if we had. Iraq would surely be better off than it is now. Peter refused to see any ambiguity. Despite his personal charity, he was incapable of seeing any good or humanitarian potential in our war efforts.

Peter's book is charming and sentimental. I appeals to people like me, who have a personal connection with him. I doubt somebody without that connection will find it as interesting. Even I found it a tad too long--I skipped over parts.

It's a good book, but not an important one.

Further Reading: