Fridjof Nansen’s Farthest North Book

Fridjof Nansen is the real life Indiana Jones that I have ever found – he was a man that never stopped doing the impossible. Besides being a world class explorer in his later years, he became a great statesman including winning the Nobel Peace prize for his humanitarian work that included his invention of the Nansen passport. This passport saved 450,000 refugees throughout the world.

His book, “The farthest north” chronicles his adventures with a custom build ship he designed to handle the ice in the arctic ocean as he tried to cruise to the north pole. He did not succeed but his adventure is a story that needs to be told! I expect his story to be made into a movie that would just amaze the world with fighting polar bears and Narwhals.

I read the 2 volumes of his book on the adventure for the north pole. It is a book that come directly from his notes he took every night on the trip. Even though it was written over 100+ years ago it seems so vivid like you were right there.

This is the ship that Nansen designed to handle the crushing force of the arctic ocean. The boat was a reflection on himself with a great study to read books while on this 3 year journey. Also it was outfited with a windmill to power a battery to read in teh darkness of the winter.

He brought a camera on board of the Fram and this is one of the photos of his crew. He handpicked everyone with high standards to handle the enormous challenge to being at sea for so long.

First learned about him from podcast “things you missed in History class”. it really gave me a flavor for such a man who did big things to change the world. Also it should be noted that he was a scientist – a degree in zoology and studied wildlife.
Some great quotes from him: “Never stop because you are afraid – you are never so likely to be wrong.”
“The difficult is what takes a little time; the impossible is what takes a little longer.”

The Road to Character book

Last year another great book I read was from David Brooks who I see on the PBS News Hour every week and on NPR as a conservative pundit. I was a little skeptical about reading his book but someone had recommended it to me. The book focuses on people throughout history who had tremendous character. He focused on what that means – not someone who was famous for speeches or movies but for doing what is right even when no one is watching.

One of the people he focused on was Eisenhower’s mother and how she raised Dwight with an abundance of courage and character. Another person he focused on was Frances Perkins who was the first woman to serve in any cabinet position for the US President (her case was FDR). She focused her life on workers rights and was instrumental in setting up the WPA, TVA, and the beginning of OHSA. Actually she is considered a famous Worcester alum and the library right down the street of my house is named after her.
below are a few qoutes from the book I am fond of.

Sapiens and a scale

Last year I read this amazing book called “Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind” by Yuval Noah Harari. It was a detailed look at the history of humans on this planet and his research was so detailed and the book is so well written – I highly recommend it. One point that he made in the book is about how humans have dominated the entire world for their own needs and have totally destroyed other species.

In the quote above, just thinking about the scale of these numbers are mind blowing. Take the number of domesticated dogs (400 million) compared to wolves (200,000). That is a 20 to 1 ratio! When you think of all living things on this planet weighing 1,100,000 tons and 1,000,000 tons is humans and domesticated livestock! Amazing. Think of 1.5 billion cattle to a few handful of other wild animals. The book seriously made me think we are the dominate species on this planet and like a virus we are taking it over until we kill everything.

Admiral Rickover’s Engineer’s Engineer Robert Milligan

My mother worked at the US Naval Station in Brunswick Maine for over 30 years and I grew up hearing everything about the Navy. One of the most colorful people my mom always talked about was Admiral Rickover. Last year I read this great book that was written in his own words called “The Never-Ending Challenge of Engineering: Admiral H.G. Rickover”. It was an amazing book and it really discussed a depth of engineering that I have always been fond of.

One story that the Admiral talks about in one of his speeches is about the Chief Engineer of the USS Oregon named Robert Milligan who served during the Spanish war of 1880’s. He talks about how Milligan changed the way engineers were treated in the Navy – before his tenure they were nothing more then part of the crew, but after that, they are part of the thinking officers on the ship.

USS Oregon

As the story goes, the captain of the Oregon listened to Milligan while working the blockade and let him keep the boilers slowly burning so they could get to full speed fast! This allow them to catch the fastest of the Spanish ships as it tried to out race the entire US Navy.

crew of the Oregon

Another story about Milligan on the Oregon was when they were going from California to Cuba as quickly as possible, the Captain asked Milligan to use the limited fresh water for the crew and use seawater for the boiler. Milligan asked if he could speak freely and recommended using the boiler feed water for the crew and fresh water for the boilers. His changed allowed the ship to do the massive trip in 66 days (this was before the Panama canal and had to go around South America). This forged the relationship between the two men and allowed engineering to have a larger role in the ship decisions.

The best thing about this description of Milligan was the engineer’s engineer as Rickover describes him. The statement about walking down the engine room and hearing every noise knowing if the equipment is working correctly exemplifies that mindset- that was also a trait of Rickover when he was coming up in the Navy. People from other ships would ask his opinion because he knew equipment so well.

Don’t listen to them

I am reading a great book about the history of cancer – it is called “The emperor of all maladies” by Siddhartha Mukherjee- just a fantastic book. One point I want to discuss are the naysayers everyone hears when trying to change things. In the book Siddhartha talks about Dr Pinkel at St. Jude’s hospital in Nashville in the 70’s on the cutting edge of pediatric chemotherapy. In 1979 after many years of chemo trials on really sick children he did a little math of how his new thinking on cancer had been effective. Out of 278 kids, 80% cancer free. He wrote “Palliation is no longer an acceptable approach..”. He was referring to a practice not many years before that when it was standard procedure for doctors to let kids die with on intervention – “let then die in peace”.
Sydney Farber and Don Pinkel did not listen to conventional wisdom, they made HISTORY! Whenever I heard “It can’t be done” it makes me think of these amazing mean and what they did to save children of horrible deaths.