Category Archives: Books

Reading language and format (2016 update)

About a year ago, I wrote a couple of blog posts where I reflected on the mix of languages I used when reading books between English, French and Spanish and about the format of the books I read, whether electronic or paper books. After having shared last week my 2016 reading list, this is just a short post to update the two tables I included in those posts:

Reading language

reading_language_2016

From 2010 to 2015 I read mostly in English. This is something I changed in the second half of 2015 and in this 2016 I have continued with a more balanced approach, with 42% of the books I read being in English, 33% in Spanish and 24% in French. I believe I will continue with a similar approach in this 2017.

Reading format

reading_format_2016

In 2016 I have continued with the same ratio of electronic to paper books than in the previous years. As I read more books in 2016 than in any other previous year, I have also read more electronic books, hopefully this will lead to the amortization of the e-reader I have in this year or the next (I estimated here its amortization in about 20 e-books read with it, the first batch of 10 already completed).

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My 2016 reading list

In this post I wanted to share the list of books I read along the year (1) with a small comment for each one and links to some articles in this blog where I wrote a book review for a few of them. I have also included a small rating from one to three “+” depending on how much do I recommend its reading:

books

  1. Reales Ordenanzas” (by Carlos III, King of Spain 1759-1788) (+): these are the set of rules for the Spanish Armed Forces issued in 1768 under the rule of the king Carlos III and which were kept in use until 1978. They are structured in titles and articles, quite like a legal text. Some of the main values conveyed through the rules are respect for the orders received and education in the dealings with subordinates. Find a post with the book review I wrote about it here.
  2. Cronica de una muerte anunciada” (by Gabriel Garcia Marquez) (+++): in this book Garcia Marquez explores a mix of styles between journalism and crime fiction to cover the plot of the murder of Santiago Nasar, and how despite being widely announced, as the time of the death approaches it cannot be prevented by the people who try to do so. Find a post with the book review I wrote about it here.
  3. The Capital in the XXI century” (by Thomas Piketty) (+++): arguably the economics book of 2013, it is a review of the evolution and distribution of wealth and income from the XVIII century till today mainly in Europe and the United States. It discusses how in times of small growth the rate of return of capital becomes the main source of wealth increase and how that contributes to the increasing and maintaining of inequality. A follow-on conclusion is his call for a global tax on wealth.
  4. Common Sense” (by Thomas Paine) (+): published in 1776, it is one of the best selling books in America of all time. The book is a short treatise on the government, democracy, monarchy and a call for the freedom of independence of the American colonies from England.
  5. Pilote de guerre” (by Antoine de Saint-Exupery) (++): published in 1942 while he was living in New York, this book describes Saint-Exupery’s experiences during the battle of France (1940) when he flew aboard a Bloch MB.170 reconnaissance missions over Germany. The English version of the book was published under the title “Flight to Arras”.
  6. Club Dumas” (by Arturo Perez-Reverte) (+++): this novel is centered on Lucas Corso, a fictional book dealer specialized in finding collectors items. Corso is commissioned to find copies of a book and that will take him to travel between Spain, Portugal and France living situations that resemble very much to those of The Three Musketeers, the novel by Alexandre Dumas. The book in itself is an invitation to read other books and to cultivate a passion for reading.
  7. Gray Mountain” (by John Grisham) (+++): published in the fall of 2014, this legal thriller by Grisham tells the story of the lawyer Samantha Koffer, on leave from a big law firm in NY due to the Great Recession, she joins the practice of a small firm in Virginian Appalachia region where she will defend the victims of big coal mining corporations.
  8. quijoteEl ingenioso hidalgo don Quijote de la Mancha” (by Miguel de Cervantes) (+++): Cervantes published the two books that have become the masterpieces of literature in Spanish language between 1605 and 1615, since then, they have become two of the most sold and read books. They cover the stories and encounters of the hidalgo (knight) Don Quixote with Sancho Panza as his helper. Those adventures are used by Cervantes to reflect by way of the characters on different aspects of life, pose rhetorical questions, criticize institutions, etc. Find a post with the book review I wrote about it here.
  9. El sol de Breda” (by Arturo Perez-Reverte) (++): this book is the third one of the series of the fictional Captain Alatriste. In this book, the story is framed around the siege of Breda (1625). The book covers extensively the detail of life at the trenches, the feelings of some of the characters and how they face the uncertainty of the war. He also reflects on the Spanish history and some features that he sees as part of the national character. Find a post with the book review I wrote about it here.
  10. Terre des hommes” (by Antoine de Saint-Exupery) (+++): this is a compilation book of some memories of the aviator Antoine de Saint-Exupéry of his time at the airmail carrier l’Aéropostale.The book was published in 1939, two years later he received the US National Book Award for it. In the book, Saint-Exupéry pays tribute to some of his colleagues, mainly Henri Guillaumet and Jean Mermoz, and he shares some experiences which today seem unbelievable. Find a post with the book review I wrote about it here.
  11. La falsa bonanza” (by Miguel Sebastian) (+++): Miguel Sebastian is an economist who served in the cabinet of Spanish prime minister as economic adviser and as minister of Industry, Trade and Tourism from 2008 to 2011. Those were the years following the financial crash and in which the bubble who had been going on for years in Spain finally exploded. In this book, Sebastian intends to find the causes that fuelled that bubble, the policies that helped it, the actions that were not taken, the institutions that failed at stopping it, etc., with the aim of being better equipped to avoid a similar development in the future. The book is written in a very readable fashion, provides plenty of tables, graphics and references, and at the same time is very synthetic.
  12. Le Tour du monde en 80 jours” (by Jules Verne) (++): Willeas Fog, a character about whom not much is known, bets with his colleagues of the Reform club in London that he is able to travel around the world in 80 days, and so he does embark himself in such endeavor with his assistant, Passpartout. A the same time, there is an ongoing investigation of a robbery of the Bank of England which makes a police investigator, Fix, to follow Fog all along the trip (as he is a suspect), waiting for an authorization coming from England to arrest him before he evades justice. The reader is conflicted by the suspicion laid upon Fog, as all the acts of the character in the story describe an orderly, integer, compassionate person, even if not much is known about him, his profession, origins or his past. Find a post with the book review I wrote about it here.
  13. Les Parisiens comme ils sont” (by Honoré de Balzac) (+): I approached this book, part of the large series “La Comédie humaine“, as a first encounter with the work of Balzac in advance to a trip to Paris. The style of Balzac in this book is very readable, light, direct. I would even say opinionated. I did not particularly like the book very much, especially the chapters referring to how women should behave, dress, and the comparisons between women of Paris and the provinces. It may reflect a view of his time and class, but did not resonate with me today.
  14. keynesThe General Theory of Employment, Interest, and Money” (by John Maynard Keynes) (+++): this book, published in 1936, is considered the magnum opus of Keynes, a character whose contribution to the development of economics and politics cannot be overstated. The book pointed to some of the shortcomings of the classical theory (lack of competition) and introduced some key concepts such as the propensity to consume, the multiplier, the consumption function, the marginal efficiency of capital, etc. The book was not intended for the general public and I must say that it has been one of the most difficult reads I have encountered so far. Nevertheless, I consider it a must read for those having an interest in economy. I may write a dedicated post reviewing it at a later point in time.
  15. El Junkers Ju-52/3m CASA C-352” (by Luis Gonzalez Pavon) (+++): this is a book written by a colleague from CASA (the former name of the Spanish part of Airbus) where he dives in great detail into the history of the aircraft Junkers 52, from the origins of his designers to its production in Germany and under license in Spain. He collected plenty of information on the aircraft from different sources, serial number by serial number, recording the changes of tail numbers, registry numbers, the roles played by each and every aircraft, and in particular the crucial mission they played during the first stages of the Spanish Civil War on the Nationalist side. The book includes at the end charts, drawings and tables with the technical data of the aircraft.
  16. What I talk about when I talk about running” (by Haruki Murakami) (++): Murakami is a quite accomplished runner since the beginning of the 1980s. In this book, published in 2007, he described what running means and has meant to him. Personally, it was very easy to relate to him, sharing not only his passion for running, but a bunch of experiences, from having run marathons in New York or Athens, to having completed a 100km ultra marathon, to 6am morning runs. Find a post with the book review I wrote about it here.
  17. Man’s search for meaning” (by Viktor E. Frankl) (++): Frankl was a psychiatrist who developed a therapy called logotherapy based on the will for meaning. He later became prisoner at several concentration camps during the second world war, which he survived. He described in this book the experiences he and some of his fellow prisoners endured during those years and how that will helped them to survive. That accounts for about two thirds of the book; the remaining third is dedicated to further explanations and clarifications of his therapy.
  18. Poema del Cid” (anonymous, Pedro Abad) (+++): this is oldest epic poem of Spanish literature, which tells the history of the Castilian knight Rodrigo Díaz de Vivar, better known as Cid Campeador. The story goes from the loss by the Cid of the favor of the king Alfonso VI to his leaving of Castile, his continued profession of allegiance to the king, the fights and the conquest Valencia (where he settles), the coming closer againt to the king via the marriage of his daughters with Castilian noblemen and the following vengeance against his sons-in-law.
  19. Voyage au centre de la Terre” (by Jules Verne) (+): this is a science fiction novel centered around the figure of the fictional professor Otto Lidenbrock who has studied the works of the 16th-century Icelandic Arne Saknussemm and believes that getting into the Snæfellsjökull volcano he will be able to reach the centre of the earth. He is accompanied in his trip by a local guide and his nephew, with whom he discusses the scientific implications of such a trip and the features of the landscape they encounter as they travel downwards.
  20. Exploradores: La historia del yacimiento de Atapuerca” (by José María Bermúdez de Castro) (++): this book is a very informative and fascinating trip into archeological science, the different theories within it, the evolution and the discarding of some of those, the relevant place of the archeological site of Atapuerca in the recent developments in the science, etc.; all described by José María Bermúdez de Castro, one of the co-directors of the site since over 20 years ago and one of the persons who have seen all those developments first-hand, coined some of the theories and wrote the papers.
  21. hamletHamlet, Prince of Denmark” (by William Shakespeare) (+++): one of the best known plays by Shakespeare, the plot can be summarized (without spoiling it) as follows: Hamlet’s father, the previous king, has recently died and Hamlet is profoundly affected by his death. A ghost of his father appears to him and this sets Hamlet into the search of who has killed his father. The play takes place at the Kronborg castle, in Helsingør (Denmark), which we visited in August, take a look at the post about that visit here.
  22. American Capitalism, the concept of countervailing power” (by John K. Galbraith) (++): the American economist explains in this book, published in 1952, the concept of countervailing power, necessary to balance in favor of the weaker part situations in which imperfect competition is established, creating oligopolies or monopolies which otherwise would enjoy an extremely powerful hand against individual wage owners or small (farm) producers. The book is a critique to the classical theory, in that it shows that it assumes perfect competition, a kind of competition which in real life very often it is absent.
  23. Dubliners” (by James Joyce) (+): I came to reading this book ahead of a trip to Ireland and Dublin without knowing about it. The book, published in 1914, is a collection of short unconnected stories of the everyday life of common Dubliners. The book has some importance in the frame of the then-high momentum of Irish nationalism, but I particularly did not like it very much. However, apparently some of the characters and stories appear again and are continued in Ulysses, thus the groundwork of having read it may pay off at a later time.
  24. Yeager” (by General Chuck Yeager & Leo Janos) (+++): Chuck Yeager was the US Air Force flight test pilot that broke the sound barrier for the first time on October 14, 1947, flying on board of the rocket-propelled Bell X-1. Reading his autobiography you discover that he went from being an uneducated child in rural West Virginia to retiring as a general of the US Air Force, acquainted with several US presidents and other dignitaries, he was the first pilot to become ace in a single day by shooting down 5 German fighters at World War II. Find a post with the book review I wrote about it here.
  25. goriotLe Père Goriot” (by Honoré de Balzac) (+): this book, published in 1835 and part of the large series “La Comédie humaine“, is considered to be the most important novel of Balzac. The story is centered around some characters who live in the boarding house of Mme. Vauquer, mainly the young Eugène de Rastignac, who is coming from a rural background and trying to reach the upper levels of Parisian society (initially at the cost of his family), and father Goriot, who had spent all his fortune on his daughters in order to marry them to wealthy individuals. Their lives are intertwined in a quite sad plot in which the daughters ignore the father when he is dying and Eugène befriends them and unsuccessfully tries to get them closer to the father.
  26. Candide, ou l’Optimisme” (by Voltaire) (+): this book, published in 1759 by the French philosopher François-Marie Arouet (Voltaire), follows Candide from the time when he is expelled by his uncle when he declares his love to his cousin Cunégonde. The story then takes Candide through Spain, Lisbon, South America, the Ottoman empire, etc., in a sequence of events in which Candide is confronted by situations and characters that put to the test his innate optimism.
  27. Metamorphosis” (by Franz Kafka) (++): this fiction novel, published in 1925, starts with the transformation of the salesman Gregor Samsa into a large vermin (insect-like creature). As the story goes, Gregor gets to learn how to live in his new condition and so does his family, which initially is profoundly impacted. The state of denial of the parents, the disgusting sight and smell of the creature, added to the discomfort of the new situation take a toll in the mood and relationships within the family.
  28. Romeo and Julliet” (by William Shakespeare) (+++): this play, published in 1597, tells the story of the love of two youngsters from rival families of Verona (Italy). This rivalry causes that both Romeo and Julliet have to hide their love and engage in secret with a priest of their confidence, while the family of Julliet wants her to marry a local nobleman, Paris. The bad timing of different events, miscommunications and bad chance steer the story into a fateful ending.
  29. Rogue Lawyer” (by John Grisham) (+++): published in the fall of 2015, this legal thriller by Grisham tells the story of Sebastian Rudd, a lawyer which does not hesitate to take the cases that nobody wants to take, providing a defense to people convicted for the worst kind of crimes. Working in the dark side of the legal system puts him in the situation to negotiate obscure arrangements with the federal institutions.
  30. The Importance of Being Earnest” (by Oscar Wilde) (+++): The play, a critical satire of some of Victorian England social institutions and values (in particular marriage, literary press, religion, honesty, punctuality), is centered around two friends, Algernon and Jack (John Worthing), who go about from criticizing each other’s habits, to sharing each other’s faked relatives, to proposing to each other’s cousin and ward. After drawing several parallels between the two characters and their fiancées, and going about several absurd situations, the play unravels in the most unexpected way. Find a post with the book review I wrote about it here.
  31. The picture of Dorian Gray” (by Oscar Wilde) (++): this book, published in 1890, created a great controversy at the time due to the backwards morals and social conventions of the time. The use of the language and the style of the novel are impressive. The story itself is centered around Dorian Gray, how he is influenced by Lord Henry and his focus on beauty and pleasure, and the painter Basil, who captured in a portrait of Dorian his essence, to the point that Dorian’s life will be very much influenced and even dominated by his relationship with the painting.
  32. mosqueterosLes Trois Mousquetaires” (by Alexandre Dumas) (+++): published in 1844, this masterpiece of Dumas, recounts the story of d’Artagnan, a real character of the XVII century, even if many of the facts of his life are twisted or made up for the novel. The plot includes several real life characters of XVII century France and some of the events taking place during 1625-28 (such as the siege of La Rochelle, the death of the Duke of Buckingham, etc.), though the plot in itself and the explanation of the causes intertwining the events are fictional. The over 800 pages (of the edition I have) read in a frantic pace thanks to the easy style of Dumas and the parallel progress on the different sides to the story.
  33. Wait” (by Franck Parnoy) (++): in this book the author studies the decision making process in situations that range from super fast trading, to the milliseconds before bating a baseball, to the longer term decisions involved in innovation. From the different stories covered in the book the lesson to be taken is the need to take some pause, to wait, to observe, process the information and orient ourselves before taking action.

During this year and the last quarter of 2015, I have been able to read at a higher pace than during the previous ones. I would suggest the reader of this post, if interested in reading more, to check out the following two tips:

  • a blog post from Farnam Street blog “Just Twenty-Five Pages a Day“, which was published well after I had adopted such an approach to reading but captures it very well,
  • the Wikipedia article about the Pomodoro Technique, which enables you to efficiently use the last hours of the day.

I wish you all very interesting reads in 2017!

(1) You can find here: my 2012 reading list, 20132014 and 2015 ones.

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Terre des hommes (Wind, Sand and Stars)

terreTerre des hommes (of which English version was titled “Wind, Sand and Stars”, and apparently differs greatly from the French version which I read) is a compilation book of some memories of the aviator Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, of his time at the airmail carrier l’Aéropostale.The book was published in 1939, two years later he received the US National Book Award for this book. His most known book, “Le Petit Prince“, was published a few years later, in 1943.

Saint-Exupery failed to enter to Naval Academy and started studies of Fine Arts, which he did not finish. While doing his military service, he took flying lessons and there he discovered his passion. He flew first for the French Air Force, then he was a pioneer in the international postal flight, flying for the Aéropostale between Toulouse and Dakar, and later other lines. Those were years in which aviation differed very much to what it is today, and that is reflected in “Terre des Hommes“, where he pays tribute to some of his colleagues, mainly Henri Guillaumet and Jean Mermoz, and he shares some experiences which seem today unbelievable.Those years at Latécoère (which airline later became L’Aeropostale) must have been truly remarkable.

Henri Guillaumet was another pioneer of French aviation who contributed to the opening of airmail routes through the South Atlantic and the Andes. He was said to be one of the best pilots of his time, “Je n’en ai pas connu de plus grand” (I’ve never known a greater one), said Didier Daurat, director of l’Aéropostale.

Guillaumet taught Saint-Exupéry how to see the land they flew over, noticing every minor detail, every tree, corner of a river, and getting to know the locals, their farms, etc., as that was the ground he would have to land on given the case:

“Mais quelle étrange leçon de géographie je reçus la! Guillaumet ne m’enseignait pas l’Espagne ; il me faisait de l’Espagne une amie. Il ne me parlait ni d’hydrographie, ni de populations, ni de cheptel. Il ne me parlait pas de Guadix, mais des trois orangers qui, près de Guadix, bordent un champ : «Méfie-toi d’eux, marque-les sur ta carte… ».”

Jean Mermoz, another French aviation pioneer, first flew for the Air Force and then for Latécoère. It is famous the quote from Daurat who, after Mermoz performed his entry flying exam, he told Mermoz “We don’t need acrobats here, we need bus drivers.” Of Mermoz, Saint-Exupéry describes when he was captured in Africa or how he opened routes through the Andes.

“Quelques camarades, dont Mermoz, fondèrent la ligne française de Casablanca à Dakar, à travers le Sahara insoumis. Les moteurs d’alors ne résistant guère, une panne livra Mermoz aux Maures ; ils hésitèrent à le massacrer, le gardèrent quinze jours prisonnier, puis le revendirent. Et Mermoz reprit ses courriers au-dessus des mêmes territoires.

Lorsque s’ouvrit la ligne d’Amérique, Mermoz toujours avant-garde, fut chargé d’étudier le tronçon Buenos Aires à Santiago, et après un pont sur le Sahara, de bâtir un pont au-dessus des Andes. On lui confia un avion qui plafonnait à cinq mille deux cents mètres. Les crêtes de la Cordillère s’élèvent a sept mille mètres. Et Mermoz décolla pour chercher des trouées.”

There are two stories in the book which are breathtaking. The first one describes a crash Guillaumet suffered in the middle of the snow-covered Andes. He crashed in the middle of a storm and once on ground, he covered himself with the postal bags for 48 hours. As there would be no one coming to pick him, he then walked for 5 days and 4 nights (without ropes, axes, food supplies, or any other equipment for the hike). In those moments, he only wanted to get some sleep but he kept telling to himself that his wife and his friends, all hoped for him to continue walking and he could not let them down. To keep himself awake he thought of movies or books and tried to mentally review them in his mind from end to end. However at some point he fell down and was not capable to stand up again.

“[…] semblable au boxer qui, vide d’un coup de toute passion, entend les secondes tomber une à une dans un univers étranger, jusqu’à la dixième qui est sans appel.”

But then, he suddenly thought that in the case of a disappearance the legal death would be established four years later and this would impede his wife to immediately receive the compensation from the insurance policy. This gave him the will to continue walking just for 50 more meters until there was a great rock where his body would be clearly visible the following summer.

“«Si je me relève, je pourrai peut-être l’atteindre. Et si je me cale mon corps contre la pierre, l’été venu on le retrouvera.»

Une fois debout, tu marcha deux nuits et trois jours.”

He stood up and continued walking, not only for 50 metres but for 2 days and 3 nights more and he saved his life.

“«Ce qui sauve, c’est de faire un pas. Encore un pas. C’est toujours le même pas que l’on recommence…»”

f-anry-2The second story is from Saint-Exupéry himself, when, together with his mechanic, departed from Senegal to Egypt. The last lap would take them from Benghazi (Libya) to Cairo. During that flight they suffered some engine issue which started with heavy vibrations and finally ended in a crash. This time was not in the snow-covered Andes, but in the middle of the desert (close to Simoun). Again, nobody would come immediately after them. Saint-Exupéry started to make some estimates of whether they would find them in 8 days if they had flown straight or in 6 months if they had suffered some drift (derive), and where to walk to try to be closer to civilization.

In that situation he remembered the words and the example from Guillaumet and he pushed himself one step at a time. It is daunting to read how in the night he buried himself in the sand to keep the warmth of his body.

«Je creuse une fosse dans le sable, je m’y couche, et je me recouvre de sable. Mon visage seul émerge

Four days later, four days of thirst, hunger and lack of sleep, they were found by two Bedouins with camels in the desert in Libya.

The figure of Saint-Exupéry is today of worldly fame and I believe that one has to read this book (1) to really know who he was.

***

(1) Apart from “Le Petit Prince“, which I commented here, I have also read his “Vol de nuit” and “Pilote de guerre“, which are short novels based on experiences very close to what he lived and described in “Terre des Hommes“.

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Crónica de una muerte anunciada

cronicaEl día en que lo iban a matar, Santiago Nasar se levantó a las 5.30 de la mañana…”; quizá sea este uno de los comienzos de una novela en lengua española que más se ha quedado grabado en la memoria colectiva (1).  Gabriel García Márquez publicó “Crónica de una muerte anunciada” en 1981; en 1982 obtuvo el premio Nobel de literatura, unos quince años después de haber escrito “Cien años de soledad”.

Crónica de una muerte anunciada” es una novela corta (unas 50 páginas incluyendo el prólogo en la versión digital que leí), parece que basada en un hecho real, en la que García Márquez mezcla un estilo periodístico con la novela policíaca. Con un principio como el descrito arriba es claro que la intriga de la historia no es el final, conocido, sino en cómo se llega a esa final. La tensión va creciendo y el lector termina sintiéndola dentro de sí, frustrándose viendo que unos y otros no terminan de conseguir avisar a Santiago Nasar para evitar su muerte, albergando siempre un hilo de esperanza.

Esta es la quinta (2) obra de García Márquez que he leído y, sin duda, es ésta, junto con “El amor en los tiempos del cólera“, una de las dos que más me han gustado y por tanto la recomiendo.

Leí esta novela a principios de 2016 y, como hago siempre, anoté varios pasajes que quiero dejar aquí para compartirlos y como nota mental para futuras referencias.

“- […] No es justo que todo el mundo sepa que le van a matar al hijo, y que ella sea la única que no lo sabe.

– Tenemos tantos vínculos con ella como con los Vicario – dijo mi padre.

Hay que estar siempre del lado del muerto – dijo ella.”

“Su contrariedad fue mayor cuando cantó la rifa de la ortofónica, en medio de la ansiedad de todos, y en efecto se la ganó Bayardo San Román. No podía imaginarse que él, solo por impresionarla, había comprado todos los números de la rifa.

Esa noche, cuando volvió a su casa, Ángela Vicario encontró allí la ortofónica envuelta en papel de regalo y adornada con un lazo de organza. “Nunca pude saber cómo supo que era mi cumpleaños” […]”

“- Cuando despierte, recuérdame que me voy a casar con ella.”

“[…] y mi madre decía que había nacido como las grandes reinas de la historia con el cordón umbilical enrollado en el cuello.”

“Se casó con esa ilusión. Bayardo San Román, por su parte, debió casarse con la ilusión de comprar la felicidad con el peso descomunal de su poder y su fortuna, pues cuanto más aumentaban los planes de la fiesta, más ideas de delirio se le ocurrían para hacerla más grande.”

“Santiago Nasar era un hombre de fiestas, y su gozo mayor lo tuvo la víspera de su muerte, calculando los costos de la boda. En la iglesia estimó que habían puesto adornos florales por un valor igual al de catorce entierros de primera clase. Esa precisión había de perseguirme durante muchos años, pues Santiago Nasar me había dicho a menudo que el olor de las flores encerradas tenia para él una relación inmediata con la muerte, y aquel día me lo repitió al entrar en el templo. “No quiero flores en mi entierro”, me dijo, sin pensar que yo debía ocuparme al día siguiente de que no las hubiera.”

“[…] la realidad parecía ser que los hermanos Vicario no hicieron nada de lo que convenía para matar a Santiago Nasar de inmediato y sin espectáculo público, sino que hicieron mucho más de lo que era imaginable para que alguien les impidiera matarlo, y no lo consiguieron.”

“Clotilde Armenta sufrió una desilusión más con la ligereza del alcalde, pues pensaba que debía arrestar a los gemelos hasta esclarecer la verdad. El coronel Aponte le mostró los cuchillos como un argumento final.

– Ya no tienen con qué matar –dijo.

– No es por eso –dijo Clotilde Armenta-. Es para librar a esos pobres muchachos del horrible compromiso que les ha caído encima.”

Comer sin medida fue su único modo de llorar […]”

“La versión más corriente, tal vez por ser la más perversa, era que Ángela Vicario estaba protegiendo a alguien a quien de veras amaba, y había escogido el nombre de Santiago Nasar porque nunca pensó que sus hermanos se atreverían contra él.”

“[…] La fatalidad nos hace invisibles. El hecho es que Santiago Nasar entró por la puerta principal, a la vista de todos, y sin hacer nada para no ser visto. […]”

***

(1) “En un lugar de la Mancha, de cuyo nombre no quiero acordarme…” seguramente ocupe un primer lugar dentro de una hipotética lista de comienzos memorables de libros.

(2) Las otras cuatro: “Relato de un náufrago”, “Cien años de soledad”, “El amor en los tiempos del cólera” y “El general en su laberinto”.

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The Economic Consequences of the Peace

armisticeAfter the Armistice of November 11th, 1918, terminating the World War I in the west front, John Maynard Keynes attended the Paris Peace Conference as a delegate of the British Treasury. It was at that time that he wrote the book “The Economic Consequences of the Peace” (released at the end of 1919) (1).

I read the book back in 2012, and hadn’t yet written a thorough review of it in the blog despite of being reminded of it every year on Armistice Day, a memory day observed in France. In the book, Keynes explained how the disaster in the making was about to be produced; due to lack of communication between representatives from USA, UK, France and Italy, the electoral interests of British representatives and the intention from Clemenceau of taking as much as possible from Germany.

“Moved by insane delusion and reckless self-regard, the German people overturned the foundations on which we all lived and built. But the spokesmen of the French and British peoples have run the risk of completing the ruin, which Germany began, by a Peace which, if it is carried into effect, must impair yet further, when it might have restored, the delicate, complicated organization, already shaken and broken by war, through which alone the European peoples can employ themselves and live.”

economicconsequencesKeynes advocated for softer terms to be imposed on Germany, not only out of justice for its future generations but out of pragmatical economic estimates that he discusses in detail in the book.

“My purpose in this book is to show that the Carthaginian Peace is not practically right or possible. Although the school of thought from which it springs is aware of the economic factor, it overlooks, nevertheless, the deeper economic tendencies which are to govern the future. The clock cannot be set back”

He criticized that from the very beginning, as laid out in the Fourteen Points outlined in a speech by Woodrow Wilson earlier in 1918, the spirit of the conference was not the appropriate one,

“The thoughts which I have expressed in the second chapter were not present to the mind of Paris. The future life of Europe was not their concern; its means of livelihood was not their anxiety. Their preoccupations, good and bad alike, related to frontiers and nationalities, to the balance of power, to imperial aggrandizements, to the future enfeeblement of a strong and dangerous enemy, to revenge, and to the shifting by the victors of their unbearable financial burdens on to the shoulders of the defeated.”

At that time there wasn’t the amount of available open data on economic figures, output, trade, etc., that we enjoy today. This did not deter Keynes in making the estimates himself of the economic provisions that a sound peace treaty should include in his point of view.

The German economic system as it existed before the war depended on three main factors:

  1. Overseas commerce as represented by her mercantile marine, her colonies, her foreign investments, her exports, and the overseas connections of her merchants;
  2. The exploitation of her coal and iron and the industries built upon them;
  3. Her transport and tariff system.

Of these the first, while not the least important, was certainly the most vulnerable. The Treaty aims at the systematic destruction of all three, but principally of the first two”

Under the provisions of the treaty Germany was demanded a yearly contribution to the Allies of 40,000,000 tons of coal. Keynes argued to what extent this, together with other provisions, put Germany in a dire state.

  • Pre war maximum output had been reached in 1913, with 191,500,000 tons of coal. Out of which 19,000,000 tons were consumed in the mines and 33,500,000 tons were exported,
  • This left 139,000,000 for domestic (pre war) consumption.
  • The nominally German output was diminished due to loss of territory (Alsace-Lorraine, Saar Basin, Upper Silesia), which meant a reduction of up to 60,800,000 tons out of 1913 figures… thus, a maximum theoretical output of ~130,000,000 tons.
  • Keynes argued that the destruction of the war, the reduction in working hours (from 8.5h to 7h) and loss of efficiency (due to operators lost in the war, those with deteriorated health, etc.) could account for a loss 30% of output… thus, a maximum theoretical output limited to ~100,000,000 tons.

Requiring Germany to contribute 40,000,000 tons would leave it with only 60,000,000 tons for domestic use, which even when allowing for the loss of territory, meant that its economic future was being jeopardized.

Every million tons she is forced to export must be at the expense of closing down an industry.

But it is evident that Germany cannot and will not furnish the Allies with a contribution of 40,000,000 tons annually. Those Allied Ministers, who have told their peoples that she can, have certainly deceived them for the sake of allaying for the moment the misgivings of the European peoples as to the path along which they are being led.”

A similar criticism is made of the chapter of the treaty that covers the “Reparation“, that is the compensation for the destruction of the war and loss of civilian lives.

“compensation will be made by Germany for all damage done to the civilian population of the Allies and to their property by the aggression of Germany by land, by sea, and from the air.”

Keynes argued that the claims from the different Allies were much too high. He, again, came up with his own estimates, which he later validated with French output statistics of the time and suggested an early settlement, without entering in the painful exercise of calculating every minor detail.

Belgian claims against Germany such as I have seen, amounting to a sum in excess of the total estimated pre-war wealth of the whole country, are simply irresponsible.” […]

“While the French claims are immensely greater, here too there has been excessive exaggeration, as responsible French statisticians have themselves pointed out. Not above 10 per cent of the area of France was effectively occupied by the enemy, and not above 4 per cent lay within the area of substantial devastation. Of the sixty French towns having a population exceeding 35,000, only two were destroyed—Reims (115,178) and St. Quentin (55,571); three others were occupied—Lille, Roubaix, and Douai—and suffered from loot of machinery and other property, but were not substantially injured otherwise.” […]

“…it will be difficult to establish a bill exceeding $2,500,000,000 for physical and material damage in the occupied and devastated areas of Northern France. I am confirmed in this estimate by the opinion of M. René Pupin, the author of the most comprehensive and scientific estimate of the pre-war wealth of France, which I did not come across until after my own figure had been arrived at. […] but to be on the safe side, we will, somewhat arbitrarily, make an addition to the French claim of $1,500,000,000 on all heads, bringing it to $4,000,000,000 in all.

In this speech the French Minister of Finance estimated the total French claims for damage to property (presumably inclusive of losses at sea, etc., but apart from pensions and allowances) at $26,800,000,000 (134 milliard francs), or more than six times my estimate.” […]

(estimate for all countries) “I believe that it would have been a wise and just act to have asked the German Government at the Peace Negotiations to agree to a sum of $10,000,000,000 in final settlement, without further examination of particulars. This would have provided an immediate and certain solution, and would have required from Germany a sum which, if she were granted certain indulgences, it might not have proved entirely impossible for her to pay.”

A similar discussion is presented in relation to the Pensions and Allowances to be added to the Reparation chapter.

Keynes then turned to the ability of Germany to pay,

[…] “I reach, therefore, the final conclusion that, including all methods of payment—immediately transferable wealth, ceded property, and an annual tribute—$10,000,000,000 is a safe maximum figure of Germany’s capacity to pay. In all the actual circumstances, I do not believe that she can pay as much. Let those who consider this a very low figure, bear in mind the following remarkable comparison. The wealth of France in 1871 was estimated at a little less than half that of Germany in 1913. Apart from changes in the value of money, an indemnity from Germany of $2,500,000,000 would, therefore, be about comparable to the sum paid by France in 1871; and as the real burden of an indemnity increases more than in proportion to its amount, the payment of $10,000,000,000 by Germany would have far severer consequences than the $1,000,000,000 paid by France in 1871.”

A capacity of $40,000,000,000 or even of $25,000,000,000 is, therefore, not within the limits of reasonable possibility. It is for those who believe that Germany can make an annual payment amounting to hundreds of millions sterling to say in what specific commodities they intend this payment to be made and in what markets the goods are to be sold. Until they proceed to some degree of detail, and are able to produce some tangible argument in favor of their conclusions, they do not deserve to be believed.”

“… if the Allies were to “nurse” the trade and industry of Germany for a period of five or ten years, supplying her with large loans, and with ample shipping, food, and raw materials during that period, building up markets for her, and deliberately applying all their resources and goodwill to making her the greatest industrial nation in Europe, if not in the world, a substantially larger sum could probably be extracted thereafter; for Germany is capable of very great productivity.” […]

“It is true that in 1870 no man could have predicted Germany’s capacity in 1910. […] The fact that we have no adequate knowledge of Germany’s capacity to pay over a long period of years is no justification (as I have heard some people claim that, it is) for the statement that she can pay $50,000,000,000.”

The future in his view was then going to be bleak:

The Treaty includes no provisions for the economic rehabilitation of Europe,—nothing to make the defeated Central Empires into good neighbors, nothing to stabilize the new States of Europe,” […]

An enormous part of German industry will, therefore, be condemned inevitably to destruction. The need of importing foodstuffs will increase considerably at the same time that the possibility of satisfying this demand is as greatly diminished. In a very short time, therefore, Germany will not be in a position to give bread and work to her numerous millions of inhabitants, who are prevented from earning their livelihood by navigation and trade”

In the last chapter, he offered some alternative measures, which were clearly not taken in 1919 but which may have influenced the Marshall Plan after the World War II.

“I do not intend to enter here into details, or to attempt a revision of the Treaty clause by clause. I limit myself to three great changes which are necessary for the economic life of Europe, relating to Reparation, to Coal and Iron, and to Tariffs.

Reparation.—[…] I suggest, […], the following settlement:—

(1) The amount of the payment to be made by Germany in respect of Reparation and the costs of the Armies of Occupation might be fixed at $10,000,000,000.

(2) The surrender of merchant ships and submarine cables under the Treaty, of war material under the Armistice, of State property in ceded territory, of claims against such territory in respect of public debt, and of Germany’s claims against her former Allies, should be reckoned as worth the lump sum of $2,500,000,000, […].

(3) The balance of $7,500,000,000 should not carry interest pending its repayment, and should be paid by Germany in thirty annual instalments of $250,000,000, beginning in 1923.

Coal and Iron.—(1) The Allies’ options on coal under Annex V. should be abandoned, but Germany’s obligation to make good France’s loss of coal through the destruction of her mines should remain.

Tariffs.—A Free Trade Union should be established under the auspices of the League of Nations of countries undertaking to impose no protectionist tariffs whatever against the produce of other members of the Union, Germany, Poland, the new States which formerly composed the Austro-Hungarian and Turkish Empires, […] The adherence of other States would be voluntary from the outset. But it is to be hoped that the United Kingdom, at any rate, would become an original member.”

I strongly recommend the book. It not only gives an insight into the Peace Conference, the Treaty of Versailles, and how not to end a war, but it also gives a fabulous opportunity to read a very rich and readable book from John Maynard Keynes, a figure of which importance cannot be overstated.

(1) You may find it here at the Guttenberg Project.

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Reales Ordenanzas de Carlos III

Las Reales Ordenanzas son las normas que establecen el comportamiento, derechos y deberes de los militares de las Fuerzas Armadas de España. Las Reales Ordenanzas de Carlos III fueron realizadas en 1768 bajo su reinado (1759-1788) y estuvieron vigentes hasta 1978, siendo las más longevas de la historia de España.

Durante el MBA que cursé en 2006-2007 en la EOI, Emiliano Mata, quien entonces nos dio clases de estrategia, y más tarde fue compañero de trabajo, recomendaba en ocasiones la lectura de dichas Reales Ordenanzas.

A principio de este año las leí y en esta entrada quería comentarlas brevemente.

reales_ordenanzas

Las Reales Ordenanzas de Carlos III están estructuradas en títulos: “Del Soldado”, “Del Cabo”, “Obligaciones del Soldado”, “Del Sargento”, “Obligaciones del Sargento”… “Crímenes militares, y comunes, y penas que a ellos corresponden”. Cada uno de los títulos se estructura en artículos (entre menos de 10 hasta más de 100 por título).

A continuación quería compartir algunos de sus artículos:

Dentro del Título I,

  1. Desde que se le sienta su plaza, ha de enterársele de que el valor, prontitud en la obediencia, y grande exactitud en el servicio, son objetos a que nunca ha de faltar, y el verdadero espíritu de la profesión.
  1. En el esmero del cuidado de la ropa consiste la ventaja de que el Soldado no se empeñe, como que grangée el aprecio de sus Gefes; y para lograr uno, y otro, se labará, peynará, y vestirá con aseo diariamente, tendrá los zapatos, evillas, y botones delvestido limpios, las medias tiradas, el corbatín bien puesto, su casaca, chupa, y calzón sin manchas, rotura, ni mal remiendo, las caídas del pelo cortas, y con un solo bucle a cada lado, la gorra bien armada, y en todo su porte, y ayre marcial, dará a conocer su buena instrucción, y cuidado.
  1. No ha de llevar en su vestuario prenda alguna que no sea uniforme: nunca se le permitirá ir de capa, ni con redecilla, fumar por la calle; ni fuera de los Cuerpos de Guardia, sentarse en el suelo, en Calles, ni Plazas públicas, ni otra acción alguna, que pueda causar desprecio a su persona.
  1. Se prohibe, baxo de severo castigo, al Soldado, toda conversación, que manifieste tibieza, o desagrado en el servicio, ni sentimiento de la fatiga que exige sus obligación; teniendo entendido, que para merecer ascenso, son cualidades indispensables el invariable deseo de merecerlo, y un grande amor al oficio.
  1. Si, estando en la puerta de una Plaza, viere venir alguna Tropa armada, o pelotón de gente, llamará luego a su Cabo; y a proporción que se acercare, continuará su aviso; y en el caso de que el Cabo no le haya oído, o la celeridad de los que se acercan, no le haya dado tiempo para acudir, la misma Centinela cerrará la barrera, o puerta, si la hubiere, mandará hacer alto a los que se aproximen; y si, en desprecio de este aviso, pasasen adelante, defenderá su puesto con fuego y bayoneta, hasta perder la vida.
  1. Toda Centinela apostada en Muralla, puerta, o parage que pida precaución, desde la Retreta, hasta la Diana, dará el Quién vive a quantos llegaren a su inmediación: y respondiendo: España, preguntará: Qué gente? Y si fuere en Campaña Qué Regimiento? Si los preguntados respondiesen mal, o dexasen de responder, repetirá el Quién vive dos vezes, y sucediendo lo mismo, llamará la Guardia para arrestarle; y en caso de huir entonces, dando con este motivo de sospechar que sea persona malintencionada le hará fuego.

Dentro del Título II,

  1. El Cabo, como Gefe más inmediato del Soldado, se hará querer, y respetar de él, no le disimulará jamás las faltas de subordinación: infundirá en los de su Esquadra amor en el oficio, y mucha exactitud en el desempeño de sus obligaciones; será firme en el mando, graciable en lo que pueda, castigará sin cólera, y será medido en sus palabras, aun quando reprenda.
  1. Los Cabos en su trato con los Soldados serán sostenidos, y decentes; dará a todos el Usted; les llamará por su propio nombre, y nunca se valdrá de apodos, ni permitirán que los Soldados entre usen de vozes, ni chanzas de mala crianza.
  1. Toda tropa que marche sin Armas con qualquiera destino que lleve, cederá a la que vaya con ellas; y toda Tropa que no tuviere Vanderas, o Estandarte, cederá a los que tuviere.

Dentro del Titulo IV,

  1. El Sargento tendrá con los Soldados, y Cabos un trato sostenido, y decente; dará a todos el Usted: no usará, ni permitirá familiaridad alguna, ni permitirá familiaridad alguna, que ofenda a la subordinación: será exacto en el servicio, y se hará obedecer, y respetar.

Dentro del Título X,

El que blasfemare el santo nombre de Dios, de la Virgen, o de los Santos, será inmediatamente preso, y castigado, por la primera vez con la afrenta de ponerle una mordaza dentro del Cuartel, por el término de dos horas por la mañana, y dos por la tarde, en ocho días seguidos, atándole a un poste; y si reincidiere en esta culpa, se le atravesará irremisiblemente la lengua con un hierro caliente `por mano del Verdugo, y se le arrojará ignominiosamente del Regimiento, precediendo Consejo de Guerra.

3. […] los delincuentes en tan enorme delito, en cualquiera número que fueren sin que les releve de esta pena el raro accidente de que no sean Catholicos; pues teniendo prevenido, que no se admita en mi servicio Soldado, que no sea Catholico Apostólico Romano, es mi voluntad, que el que se delata, o se averigue ser de otra Religión, en el caso de hallarse reo, padezca (sin excepción) el castigo, que para el crimen en que incurriere, prescriben mis Ordenanzas.

  1. Todo Soldado, Cabo y Sargento, que en lo que precisamente fuere de mi Real servicio, no obedeciere a todos, y a cualquiera Oficiales de mis Exercitos, será castigado con pena de la vida.
  1. Los que emprendieren cualquiera sedición conspiración, o motín, o indugeren a cometer estos delitos contra mi Real Servicio, seguridad de las Plazas, y Países de mis Dominios, contra la Tropa, su Comandante, u Oficiales, serán ahorcados en cualquiera número que sean; y los que huvieren tenido noticia, y no lo delataran luego que puedan, sufrirán la misma pena.
  1. El Soldado que no se hallare en una al Arma, Campo de Batalla, u otra cualquiera función, con la misma prontitud que sus Oficiales, sin justificación de causa legítima, que se lo haya embarazado, será pasado por las Armas.
  2. Los Espías de ambos sexos serán ahorcados; y si lo fuere algún Paisano, (de cualquiera calidad, y estado que sea) se le aplicará por la Jurisdicción Militar (con inhibición de la de que penda) la pena de muerte, procediendo para el conocimiento de su causa el Comandante Militar, con dictamen del Auditor, o Asesor, si allí lo huviere.
  3. El que forzare a muger honrada, casada, viuda, o doncella, será pasado por las Armas; pero quando solo conste de la intención deliberada, y esfuerzos para conseguirlo, será desterrado a diez años de Presidio de África, o seis de Arsenales, debiendo justificarse, que no haya intervenido actual amenazas de Armas de qualquiera suerte; pues en este caso, o en el de que la muger ofendida haya padecido algún daño notable en su persona, será precisamente condenado a muerte el agresor.

***

Como queda claro al principio, las ordenanzas establecen un reglamento para militares, pero Emiliano recomendaba su lectura por la pertinencia de los principios subyacentes a algunos artículos en el mundo empresarial. El respeto en el trato, el aseo, la prohibición de fumar, el no hablar mal del empleador, el liderazgo de hecho, etc., son principios básicos contemplados en cualquier régimen interno hoy en día.

He querido dejar también como invitación a reflexión artículos relativos al acoso a las mujeres o la sedición,  que son siempre de actualidad debido a diferentes sucesos.

Finalmente, me llamó la atención el artículo sobre los espías, en contraposición con la estimación en que se les tiene en “El Arte de la Guerra” de Sun Tzu (ver esta entrada sobre ello), donde su uso, tanto de los espías propios como de aquellos del enemigo, es considerado esencial.

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The Importance of Being Earnest (Oscar Wilde)

oscar-wildeOne of themes present at all times during a recent visit to Dublin was literature. The tourist guide offers you literary walking tours, a literary pub crawl, suggests to visit different libraries, book shops, major parks are adorned with statues dedicated to Irish writers, etc.Thus far, point taken. Already while in Dublin I was taking note of authors and books to be read in the near future.

During the stay in Dublin, our hotel was close to Merrion square, where Oscar Wilde lived as a child. I, therefore, decided to start with one of his plays, “The Importance of Being Earnest“, which was performed for the first time in 1895 in London.

The play, a critical satire of some of Victorian England social institutions and values (in particular marriage, literary press, religion, honesty, punctuality), is centered around two friends, Algernon and Jack (John Worthing), who go about from criticizing each other’s habits, to sharing each other’s faked relatives, to proposing to each other’s cousin and ward. After drawing several parallels between the two characters and their fiancées, and going about several absurd situations,  the play unravels in the most unexpected way.

The book is rather short (~45 pages in the digital version I read) though it’s full of surprising turns and punch lines. It has a memorable and quotable sentence in every other page. I will share some below:

“[…] I have come up to town expressly to propose to her” – “I thought you had come up for pleasure?”

“More than half of modern culture depends on what one shouldn’t read.”

“Literary criticism is not your forte, my dear fellow. Don’t try it. You should leave that to people who haven’t been at a University. They do it so well in the daily papers.”

“Do you smoke?” – “Well, yes. I must admit I smoke.” – “I am glad to hear it. A man should always have an occupation of some kind.”

“I have lost both my parents.” – “To lose one parent may be regarded as misfortune; to lose both looks like carelessness.”

“I would strongly advise you [..] to make a definite effort to produce at any rate one parent…” – “[…] I can produce the hand-bag at any moment.”

“All women become like their mothers. That is their tragedy. No man does. That’s his.”

“[…] Algernon. It is not at all a bad name. In fact, it is rather an aristocratic name. Half of the chaps who get into the Bankruptcy Court are called Algernon.”

“I never travel without my diary. One should always have something sensational to read in the train.”

“True in matters of grave importance, style, not sincerity is the vital thing.”

“Never speak disrespectfully of Society. Only people who can’t get into it do that.”

“He has nothing but he looks everything. What more can one desire?”

“I see no reason why our dear Cecily should not be even still more attractive at the age you mention (35) than she is at present (18). There will be a large accumulation of property.”

“I never change, except in my affections”.

I strongly recommend the reading of the play (it took me about 3 hours). You may find the ebook here at Guttenberg Project or you may watch below the play in Youtube:

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