The Great Influenza: The Epic Story of the Deadliest Plague in History

This seemed like the book to read since I got a break and wanted to get smart on virology and try to make sense of what’s happening in our world. Professionally, I’ve been deep in the world of cyber security and defence technologies but I’ve always looked over the fence what’s happening in the Pharmaceutical industry and this book was intended to be a bridge that I’ve needed to cross for sometime. In total, this book is a sweeping scientific and social history as a cautionary and instructive tale. How governments fail in the face of inexplicable nature is one of his most potent themes. Readers interested in science, social science, the social fabric and especially those compelled by dealing with the 2020 coronavirus pandemic, may be up for the challenge.

For me, this book was a long slog to get through at 555 pages that combined history, science, and some biographies of the folks that made modern medicine possible. This book gave me far more than I ever wanted to know about the Great Influenza Epidemic of 1918-19. It begins in September of 1876 with the founding of the Johns Hopkins University, with its emphasis on medical research against the backdrop of a terribly poor state of medical science in the US. It continues with the difficulty in getting doctors and educators to believe that there was a place for research in medicine at all. I kept waiting for the plague to begin and, sure enough, chapter 14 begins with the news that in February of 1918 someone from Haskell County Kansas most likely carried the disease to Camp Funston, a U.S. Army training camp located on Fort Riley, southwest of Manhattan, Kansas. It goes on to tell in great detail the difficulty of convincing the army, or most anyone in power, that it was killing people, even as it was doing exactly that.

The Great Influenza was written by John Barry, a distinguished scholar, historian and adjunct faculty member at Tulane University. Among his other well-known works are Rising Ride, about a devastating 1927 Mississippi flood. His book, Roger Williams and The Creation of the American Soul, concerns one’s American lasting influence, especially in the United States’ unprecedented insistence on the separation of church and state. This may of explained why he so eagerly (and annoyingly) constrasted science against faith in the first several chapters of the book.

He clearly is fascinated with how events shape the US national fabric, as seen also in his Power Plays: Politics, Football, and Other Blood Sports and The Ambition and the Power: The Fall of Jim Wright: A True Story of Washington. For Barry – who wrote this book well before the 2020 coronavirus pandemic – the 1918 influenza outbreak has a recurring theme: the consistent lying, obfuscation and incompetence of American officials, notably how they refused to alert the citizenry they were pledged to protect about the dangers they faced. Overall, he presses three major themes: (1) be honest with the public, (2) honor the heros on the front lines of research and (3) people in power should be held to account.

The 1918-1919 influenza pandemic swept the world. From its early start in the midwest US, through its subsequent spread through troop movements during World War I, the influenza virus killed approximately 50 to 100 million people (compared with the 2M deaths I forecast for the novel coronavirus). The sheer destruction of 1918-1919 influenza pandemic is difficult to grasp: it killed an estimated 5% of the world’s population – 50 million to 100 million people, about 675,000 people in the United States. Government officials, in stark parallel to 2020’s coronavirus pandemic, dismissed the outbreak or lied about it.

One of the most shocking parts of this world is how unprepared we were to understand disease then. No treatment then available could stop the rapidly mutating virus. While we have mRNA vaccines at crazy speeds (thanks DARPA), there are still uncanny parallels to today and harkens to deadly lessons apparently still unlearned.

Barry traces the flu to its source. The pandemic started in 1918 when men from Haskell County, Kansas trained at a US Army base, Camp Funston, where a cook reported ill with influenza on March 4, 1918. More than 1,100 soldiers entered hospitals and 38 died. Then the Army transferred soldiers from Funston to US bases and to Europe. Barry lays out the virus’s path. It traveled with the soldiers, moving through North America, Europe, South America, Africa, Asia and scattered Pacific islands. I was ashamed by the feeling that this was the "American Influenza" in the same sense the Trump admistration wanted to blame the Novel Coronovirus on China.

Viruses Only Replicate

One area of Barry’s science reporting is particularly compelling: his primer on influenza viruses. He explains that they originated in “wild aquatic birds.” Exposure to an avian virus can infect people, but, he underscores, people can’t infect people unless the virus mutates to adapt to person-to-person transmission. Which it has; the US Centers for Disease Control says influenza now kills 3,000 to 56,000 Americans a year.

Influenza is a viral disease. When it kills, it usually does so in one of two ways: either quickly and directly with a violent viral pneumonia so damaging it has been compared to burning the lungs; or more slowly and indirectly by stripping the body of defenses…

Barry offers a lot of food for thought in one simple idea: replication is a virus’s only function. The influenza virus hides from the immune system by “entering” a cell, but not “fusing” with it, as other viruses do. About 10 hours after an influenza virus attaches to a cell, the cell releases a “swarm” of 100,000 to one million influenza viruses. Barry successfully conveys the horror of this invasion.

Many viruses, fungi and bacteria infect the lungs. The most ubiquitous is the pneumococcus, which can initiate or aggravate lung infections. Barry explores medical history prior to 1918 flu outbreak as a context for medicine’s utter helplessness. Scientists failed to develop a serum against pneumococcus in 1892, despite medical advances against tetanus, meningitis, diphtheria and typhoid. Barry tells how desperate doctors tried fighting the flu with the vaccine for typhoid and with quinine, a malaria treatment.

Barry’s depiction of experts’ inability to understand the influenza virus provides a stark reminder of the mystery of the 2020 coronavirus pandemic. He makes the danger of the 1918 plague plain when he writes that face masks were no protection against it. People’s only hope was to avoid exposure, but no one, he explains, understood quite how to do that.

However, Barry reserves his harshest criticism for leaders in the media or government whose ill fated decisions were a disaster for the public. Barry reports that the 1918 virus struck in waves. The spring wave killed relatively few; the second wave was more destructive. And the deliberate dishonesty of officials was deadly indeed.

The pandemic ravaged Philadelphia. Barry regards its municipal public health director, Wilmer Krusen, with well-deserved contempt. When locals planned a Liberty Loan parade to promote war bonds, he advised the public to “avoid crowds,” but allowed the parade to go on. Barry states his belief, here as in his other works, that officials must take responsibility for the people under their charge. He regards failure to do as a high moral crime.

On October 1, 1918 the virus killed 117 people in Philadelphia; the 31 local hospitals were full. Daily influenza deaths soared from 254 on October 5 to 428 on October 8. Death overwhelmed funeral homes and the morgue. Barry paints a vivid picture of dead bodies in homes, on porches and in yards.

Barry cites Royal Copeland – municipal health commissioner of New York City when influenza killed its first victim there on September 15 – as another failed official. As patients poured into hospitals, Copeland dismissed the illnesses as just one among “other bronchial diseases.” The virus killed 33,000 New Yorkers. The plague ravaged New York, and then New Orleans, Louisville, Pittsburgh and Baltimore. It hit Portugal and Greece and, by summer, death tolls rose in England, Scotland and Wales.

The Red Cross recruited nurses to work in American cities but prioritized providing the military with nurses. Soldiers died on transport ships in such numbers that the vessels became "floating caskets".

President Wilson’s Flu

Most flu victims were in their 20s. Barry reveals that their immune response to the virus filled their lungs with “fluid and debris.” The elderly demonstrated immunity worldwide, probably because they’d been exposed to an earlier, milder pandemic. Linking, as ever, the past to the present, Barry notes that the 1918 pandemic caused a disintegration of the lungs that health experts now call acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS).

Barry is stark (and maybe wrong) about how the influenza outbreak changed history. The disease damaged the nervous system and brain and mentally destabilized victims. Barry depicts President Woodrow Wilson’s trip to Paris in 1919, when he developed a cough, diarrhea, a 103-degree fever – influenza symptoms. Wilson negotiated during his illness, but Barry finds that the president made multiple shocking concessions he had resisted days earlier. Barry presents Wilson as much weakened and disoriented from the flu. Wilson suffered a stroke four months after signing the Paris peace treaty, which treated Germany harshly and set the stage for Adolf Hitler’s rise to power. Barry links this stroke to Wilson’s earlier viral illness.

People who survived exposure to the 1918 influenza developed greater immunity as the virus mutated to a less-lethal form. Barry found that the further along in the epidemic the outbreak hit a US city, the lower its mortality rate. The 1918 virus faded away in the early 1920s.


The author cites scientists with links to Johns Hopkins, the Rockefeller Institute, Harvard and the University of Pennsylvania as foremost in battling the virus. He treats their efforts as a tale of suspense, but that isn’t always as convincing as his depiction of the disease and its effects.

The accepted cause of influenza in 1918 was a bacillus known as B. influenzae. While thought to be the source of infection at the time, it is now known to be a cause of secondary infections, not the influenza itself (which is viral). The combination of an elusive pathogen and a bunch of secondary invaders masquerading as the culprit stymied researchers at the time and kept them busy for decades afterwards.

Barry’s focus is almost entirely on the United States and largely on American researchers. Here, in his efforts to carve individual human dramas from the great mass of the pandemic, he often loses the thread. In order to explain the nature of medical research in America, he centers on the post-Civil-War experiences of William Welch, the driving force behind the creation of the Johns Hopkins medical research labs. We expect Welch to become a leading figure in the battle against the influenza, but all Welch did in 1918 was get sick and then get better, sidelining him for the duration of the epidemic, whereupon he disappears from Barry’s story.

Ultimately, Barry has two heroes: Oswald Avery and Paul Lewis. Both became nearly obsessed with research on the influenza pathogen. Neither solved many of its mysteries. Avery digressed into a completely different line of work that led to his discovery that DNA plays the key role in genetics. Lewis became disheartened, and his research career dwindled after a brilliant start; he ended up sacrificing his own life in an attempt many years later to fight a yellow-fever outbreak in Brazil.

Highest praise is reserved for the luminaries of the medical research field — William Welch, Oswald Avery, Simon Flexner and others — who toiled tirelessly to combat the disease. Amid Barry’s thorough biographical snapshots of these men — a veritable Who’s Who of the history of modern medicine — one man stands apart as the story’s fallen hero: Paul Lewis.

In the early 1900s, Lewis, then a scientist at the Rockefeller Institute, not only proved that a virus caused polio but also developed a vaccine that protected monkeys from the disease. Turning his focus to the flu epidemic, Lewis successfully identified the disease as influenza and committed himself to developing a vaccine. But as Barry acknowledges, the greatest challenge for Lewis and his colleagues was not the research they undertook during the epidemic, but rather the accounting that came afterward, when they were left to "sift through the detritus of their failures for clues to success." Describing that process, Barry speculates that medicine’s psychic burdens may ultimately have been more than Lewis could bear, and that his death from yellow fever, contracted in a laboratory accident, was actually a suicide.

The Making of a Manager

I’m a manager and have been one for 20 years. The Air Force never gave me the chance to be an individual contributor except for 5 months where I wrote FORTRAN code to develop chemical dispersion models. A manager leaves behind their individual contributor role and assumes responsibility for the output of a team.

The first management book I recommend is Grove’s High Output Management. It’s a classic, but while Grove was a seasoned manager, Julie Zhuo provides a perspective from a hyper-growth streak at Facebook where she rose from intern to VP in less than a decade. All levels of management are recent memory for her.

Julie’s complete honesty about all her fears, insecurities, and mistakes at the time (and how she continued to experience them throughout her career) makes her the reader’s relatable management confidant.

Like Extreme Ownership, each chapter opens with an illustration cementing a key idea from the management topic to be discussed. While most of the book focuses on topics that will help first-time managers, later chapters touch upon topics that will help even seasoned managers, such as hiring and managing managers yourself and setting the culture of your organization.

Drawing on her own experience as a first-time manager, Zhuo explains how you can get those early days right and avoid the most common managerial pitfalls. She covers topics as diverse as holding effective meetings, recruiting the right people or transitioning from managing a small team to a large one.

Here are the key ideas that stuck with me:

A good manager’s job is all about outcomes, not activities.

At the age of just 25, Julie Zhuo was offered the job of a lifetime – managing Facebook’s design team. More amazingly still, this role was Zhuo’s first managerial role. Thrown in at the deep end, Zhuo soon asked herself, “What does a manager actually do?”

In her early days as a manager, Zhuo believed that her job consisted of holding meetings with team members, giving them feedback on how they’re doing and working out which subordinates to promote or to fire. However, she soon realized that her approach was short-sighted as it focused on basic daily tasks, rather than long-term goals.

After a few years of experience under her belt, Zhuo became more strategic. She realized that a manager’s role was actually to focus on wider issues. These include ensuring her team was working effectively together, helping team members achieve their career aims and developing processes to improve efficiency without any hiccups along the way.

But now, with nearly a decade of management experience behind her, Zhuo believes that the answer to what a manager does is far more concise than either of her previous lists capture. The job of a manager, as it turns out, is to achieve improved outcomes from your team. As you work toward this goal, you’ll begin to recognize the difference between a good manager and a mediocre one.

How? Well, many people assume a box-ticking attitude when considering whether a manager is a good one. For instance, you might assess whether they are hard-working, likable or good at giving presentations. If they check all three boxes, then they must be a good manager. Right?

Wrong. Actually, only the outcome of the team they manage can answer this question. In other words, the team of a good manager will achieve good results – consistently. So, ask yourself what outcome your team or business seeks. If, like Zhuo, the outcome you’re looking for is great design, then remember that an excellent manager’s team will consistently pitch you great designs, whereas a mediocre manager’s team will pitch you mediocre designs.

A great manager is one whose team gets great results. It really is that simple – no box-ticking or long lists necessary.

All routes to management have advantages and pitfalls.

When the author bumps into new managers at Facebook, she asks which aspects of the job they’ve found easier or more challenging than expected. She’s noticed a pattern in their responses. How they come into the management role in the first place determines what the new managers find easy or difficult in their first three months. There are several possible paths to becoming a manager, and each route comes with its own potential opportunities and pitfalls during those early months.

First, there is the Apprentice path to management. The Apprentice path begins when your boss’s team grows and she asks you to manage part of it. This was the author’s route to management. As a young designer at Facebook, she was asked to manage part of her boss’s growing design team. One advantage of this route is that you’ll have plenty of guidance during your early months because your own manager will still be around to coach you and answer any questions you may have. However, establishing a good rapport with those working under you can be tricky for apprentice managers. Why? Because they’re used to seeing you as a peer, not as their boss.

Second is the Pioneer route to management. Pioneers start entirely new teams and are responsible for all aspects of that team’s growth. One key advantage of this route is that you get to build your team, rather than inherit it. Thus, you can select who you want to work with and engineer the team dynamics. On the downside, pioneer managers may not receive much support, as no one will understand your team better than you. Therefore, others may find it difficult to help with your particular challenges.

Finally, there is the New Boss path to management. In this scenario, you are brought in, either from a different team or even a different organization, to manage an established workgroup. One advantage of being a new boss is that people will typically cut you some slack during your first few months. Why? Because they’ll appreciate that you’re a newbie, and thus you’re allowed to make mistakes while you learn how everything works. Moreover, it’s important that you make use of this time to sit back and learn. One of the pitfalls of being a new boss is to rush in and change things without fully understanding the nuances of your new position.

Understanding your route to management and its unique challenges and advantages will help you hit the ground running.

Great managers give activity-specific feedback that goes beyond their own perspective.

Zhuo still remembers the worst feedback she ever received. When critiquing one of her designs for Facebook, a former colleague asked, “Is this supposed to be this awful?” Although this example is extreme, the truth is that many of us struggle to hit the right tone when giving others feedback. Either we worry about hurting someone’s feelings and refrain from all criticism, or, as in the above case, we aren’t sensitive enough.

Nonetheless, providing effective, insightful feedback to team members is an essential component of a manager’s job. So, how do you get better at holding these important, yet challenging, conversations?

Crucially, you should provide feedback that is specific to one particular task, optimally a task that someone has just completed. For instance, if a team member has just given a presentation, set aside time afterward to tell them what you think went well and how they might improve next time. Activity-specific feedback like this is the most straightforward. Why? Because it revolves around what someone has done, rather than who they are.

For this type of feedback to be most effective, it’s important to deliver it as soon as you can so that the task remains fresh in your minds. For instance, you could provide feedback in an email on the same day that a task is completed. Unless the task is particularly important, this written feedback will be just as effective as a face-to-face conversation. Lastly, by making activity-specific feedback a regular habit, your team members will receive little coaching sessions after every task they undertake.

Another way to give great feedback is to bring in a multitude of perspectives. You can accomplish this by conducting 360-degree feedback sessions. This type of feedback takes the opinions of many different people into account. For instance, if a member of your team just gave a presentation, rather than sending them just your thoughts on the performance, you might share what other people thought too. This type of feedback is valuable because it provides a well-rounded and objective view of how the team member is performing.

Good meetings have a clear purpose and achieve clear outcomes.

In the modern workplace, meetings have suffered a fall from grace. All too often, the weekly team meeting is derided as dull, bureaucratic and a waste of time. As a manager, the author has seen her fair share of disastrous get-togethers – meetings in which each attendee takes their turn to moan about mundane issues, while their colleagues quietly get on with other work or simply stare into space. So, how can you make meetings productive instead of pointless?

When the author first became a manager, she thought the key to good meetings was to ensure they had an explicit purpose. With this in mind, she held a weekly team meeting to discuss how her team members were progressing with their various projects. Nonetheless, even with this explicit aim in mind, her team still found the meetings vague and redundant. In fact, after someone pointed out that the team could just as well send email updates on their progress, she canceled the meetings altogether.

After this debacle, she realized that simply having an agenda for a meeting is not enough. In addition, you must have a clear idea of the successful outcome of the meeting. For instance, a successful outcome of your meeting might be that the team makes a decision.

If this is the case, then your meeting must include certain things. Quite clearly, it must involve a decision, but it also needs to include everyone who is directly impacted by this decision. During the meeting, all conceivable options, including relevant information, must be presented objectively. Further, any recommendations the team might have should be articulated. Lastly, your meeting needs to apportion equal time to different opinions and ensure everyone feels their voices are heard. Managers can help with this by calling on attendees who haven’t spoken yet to give their opinion to the group. Thus, it should be clear that all views, no matter how divergent, will be respected.

Alternatively, the intended outcome of your meeting might simply be to share information, rather than decide on something. In this scenario, your meeting needs to accomplish different things. For example, a successful information-sharing meeting should capture attendees’ attention and keep it. This can be achieved through good pacing, facilitating interaction and even presenting information through storytelling.

Make smarter recruitment decisions by making a one-year plan.

As a manager, hiring the right people for your team is one of the most important duties you’ll have. Indeed, after over a decade at Facebook, the author has been involved in the decision to recruit thousands of her colleagues. As a manager, how can you ensure you’re hiring the right people for your team?

First, when it comes to recruitment, make sure you know what you’re looking for. All too often, managers approach recruitment like they are fighting a fire. They see a problem, a gap that needs to be filled, and they try to solve it as quickly as they can.

When managers become overly focused with simply filling a vacancy, they usually don’t stop to think about what skills, attributes or experience they’re looking for in a candidate. This can easily lead to hiring the wrong person for your team. Luckily, you can stop thinking like a firefighter and start acting like a manager by planning ahead. At the beginning of each calendar year, the author maps out her team’s goals for the next twelve months. As part of this process, she analyzes all the gaps in her team’s skills, experiences and strengths. She then creates a list of vacancies that she needs to recruit for, according to these gaps.

Similarly, you can create your own tailor-made recruitment plan by answering some basic questions.

First, take a look at your team’s priorities, expected rate of attrition and budget for the coming year. Based on this information, decide how many new recruits you can realistically hire. Next, ask yourself how much experience each new recruit should have. Then, think about what strengths and skills your team needs more of, such as creativity, operational know-how or expertise in a particular area. You should also consider what strengths your team already has in abundance. These are the areas in which your new recruits can afford to be weaker. Lastly, ask yourself what personalities, previous experiences or traits would strengthen your team’s diversity.

Having a well-considered one-year plan gives you a useful framework for assessing candidates’ suitability. It also ensures you won’t simply hand out a job to the next available person.

Leading a growing team requires shifting to indirect management.

When Julie Zhuo first became a manager, her team consisted of a handful of designers, and each new recruit was a cause for excitement. Fast forward ten years and the size of her team has quadrupled. Crucially, the growth of her team has also led to Zhuo’s growth as a manager. As it turns out, leading a small team is very different from leading a large one.

For instance, if you’re managing only a handful of individuals, your working relationship will probably be more personal. With such a small team, you can grasp the particulars of each person’s work and understand what each individual cares about, where their strengths lie and even what they like to do in their free time.

But when your team swells to 30 individuals, you won’t be able to manage them directly. After all, if you met with every person for a one-on-one conversation each week for half an hour, you’d spend around half your week in meetings! Inevitably, when your team grows beyond a certain point, you must hire another manager to work beneath you so that you can offload all those one-on-one conversations. In other words, you will now manage most of your team indirectly.

However, indirect management brings its own challenges. As the overall manager, you’ll still be responsible for the work of your team, but you’ll also be removed from a lot of the day-to-day decisions that get made. This loss of control can be disturbing at first, so don’t worry if it takes time to find the middle ground between deep-diving into a problem and stepping back and trusting your middle managers to handle it.

Another problem of managing a large team is that your team members might start to behave differently around you.

For instance, as her team got bigger, the author found that the people she indirectly managed were less willing to challenge her opinion or tell her when they were unhappy with something. When she asked one of her direct reports why this was happening, he explained that they found her seniority intimidating.

It’s important for managers of large teams to remember that no matter how friendly they might be, their position of authority, coupled with their distance from their indirect reports, might lead their team to see them as unapproachable. To combat this, managers should emphasize that they welcome different opinions and make a point of rewarding people who express dissent.


Your first managerial position will hold opportunities and pitfalls, depending on your particular path to management. You can excel by focusing on getting great outcomes from your team meetings, your hiring decisions and your team itself.

There is a lot of truth when Bismark said, "Only a fool learns from his own mistakes. The wise man learns from the mistakes of others." Read books like this and remember that management is an exciting, rewarding and challenging profession.

Sled for Picture frame

Making perfect miters is hard and doing the math to get the inner rabbit dimension to add up isn’t easy.

One thing I’ve learned about making stuff is that jigs make life better.

I love making picture frames. Not only do I enjoy saving money, but I love dressing up art. Even a bad piece comes alive in the right frame. The problem is that making perfect miter cuts is hard. I started making frame on my miter saw, but that required a lot of tweaking and adjustment between the cuts.

There are great references online to use sleds to make picture frames. I like this one and the original but I don’t like the idea of a lot of the sled’s weight hanging off the front of the table. I also wanted to leverage the fairly accurate right angle of an aluminum framing square. As long as the blade is straight, the angle will add up to 90 deg, even if my sled is off by a fraction of a degree.

This was designed with two key constraints:

  • The two corner pieces must add up to 90°
  • each matching side must be the exact same length

This sled covers both of those issues as well as it allows for larger picture frames than a traditional miter sled stop system. Picture frames are not measured by the inside or outside length but by the rabbit so if your artwork or matte is 5×7 we can set the stop to create a frame for that exact size.

To make sure there is no play in the runners for the sled, I used the MicroJig Zero Play Guide bar system that adjusts to fit any table saw.

We have the dewalt dwe7491rs and I’m saving a a link to the manual here.

Some links that helped me:

In my table saw, the miter slots are 3/4 (wide) x 3/8 (deep). Distance from the right edge of the left trench to the left side of the blade is 5 15/16". From left side of the right trench to the right side of the blade is 6 1/8". Using Diablo 60 tooth blade.

Meaningful Work

I enjoyed this book and would recommend it to folks like me trying to connect their vocation to meaning, but I had to get past a rough start. "It’s not the chocolate, it’s the chocolate." is the banner quote of this book — a book I was seeking to help me understand the intersection of corporate life and meaning. The quote means his company, Askinosie Chocolate, isn’t just about making chocolate, or making money. Instead, Askinosie said, the company is about the people — the employees, the cocoa bean farmers and the customers. And since those people help and are helped by the business, it is about the chocolate. I find this all a bit circular, but the author is pretty pleased about it.

I also struggle to appreciate high margin niche businesses. Ever since reading, Charles Murray’s Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010, I’ve been concerned about the separation of supply chains between social classes. Here in New York, my protestant frugal background contrasts with the desire to support local businesses — business that caters to the 1% who pay 4x for a product. Wealth can afford to subsidize the inefficiency of the business because of some greater purpose. I struggle with the dichotomy between my love of quality and skepticism of the dissatisfaction with the mass production and subsequent walmartification of our modern economy that provides huge benefits to consumers. That said, I’ve been known to buy $10 chocolate bars — I’m in love with SVENSKA KAKAOBOLAGET.

I also was a bit put off by the author’s attempt to discuss specific faith in a pluralistic context in order to appeal to a mass audience, which seemed more like Spinozism than his professed Christianity. He had this annoying habit of following up each mention of his faith, with a litany of options available to other faiths that could result in the same value.

These struggles aside, I learned a lot from this book and gained a deep appreciation for the wisdom, person and vision of Shawn Askinosie. In the end, I can say I enjoyed and will get a lot of mileage out of this book.

First, this is because he has clearly connected with the pain in his life. Case in point: the one question he asks entrepreneurs: "Where is your heart broken?" Because of this openness, he writes with a passion for empowering others and expertise in the areas of business, introspection and soul care from more than 10 years of experience running his own chocolate business.

The book begins with a story, immediately transporting the reader into what 12 year old Askinosie thought and felt during the most traumatic event of his life. "My father’s death was, and remains, my greatest sorrow," he writes. He shares how his father’s death — and the loss he felt following — shaped who he is today, even down to the way he does business. Askinosie lays the foundation of his book on this moment in his life, and how this continues to inspire him to serve others and take times of darkness and confusion and turn them to joy.

In 1999, I hit a roadblock. The stress and intensity of my work came to feel overwhelming. I became desperate to find a new path, though I had no idea what that might be

He knew he was being called to something else, but for years he ached to discover what it was. In the meantime, he began serving at a local palliative care department. It was here that he discovered his deep and passionate love for serving others and, moreover, caring for others more than he cared or thought about himself. He continued to serve as a lawyer, never waning in his renowned thoroughness, but entered a season of anxiety and depression, because he knew he was no longer working where he felt called. But he didn’t know where he felt called.

But he had an insight. In serving others he realized that, although he might have helped the patients, the patients helped him more. He highlights this as was one of the first times Askinosie thought of someone else besides himself and this was the nudge he needed.

During this season, he spent time praying and seeking, ultimately, pushing himself to identify what this calling was. This only made matters worse. Through this, he learned that sometimes, all that can be done is to wait and learn more about yourself — a difficult discipline to acquire.

"My exploration of my deepest sorrow allowed me to uncover passions I didn’t know I had," he writes. "Ultimately, it led me to the discovery of my vocation, and to the creation of Askinosie Chocolate."

His subsequent journey brought clarity to his life and opened his heart to leaving criminal law and choose chocolate as his vocation–with service to others as the center of his business.

The purpose of his book is to tell his story of how he found and now lives his vocation. His openness and vulnerability disarmed my inner cry of the unfair privilege that allows someone to quit their bill-paying job, and pursue a passion in a way that disarmed my defensiveness–leaving me open and available to his message. Yes, I still feel trapped in a corporate track, and I justify my work as meaningful and important.

His message is that to find your vocation, you must determine "what’s the intersection of your talent, what the world needs and what your skill set is." His chosen vocation is all about the connection to humanity, he said.

And he does great good. He has started programs for elementary, high school and college students. One of the programs, Chocolate University, takes students to cocoa bean farms in Tanzania. But his major impact is in the developing world. His company has a profit-sharing arrangement with cocoa farmers, providing them a far better living than they would make dealing with other companies.


For example, one of his recent projects is feeding children in Tanzania. Askinosie Chocolate sells rice from a region affected by malnutrition, and all the proceeds go back to the area to feed students.

He brings all the discussions back to his benefit, showing a good understanding of his motivations and some deep wisdom: "This business is a motor to help people, but that’s not what it really is," Askinosie said. "The secret is, I’m the one that’s helped. The business is a connection to humanity."

So the heart of the book is really centered in feeding one’s soul. Shawn Askinosie shares personal stories that provide readers a glimpse into what it’s like to not only own a chocolate business, but what it means to run a business with a soul. The whole thing reads like a letter from a beloved, wise mentor.

The book is arranged in six chapters, each chronicling Askinosie’s journey into finding his own calling into meaningful work, and three appendices: the first, a breakdown of the supply chain cycle of what cocoa farmers make, the second, the Askinosie bean purchase history, that includes a comprehensive chart of the company’s purchase history from 2006-2017, and the third, Askinosie’s personal "Rule of Life" that he submitted to the Trappist Brothers in his own effort to become a Family Brother at the monastery.

An advocate for doing what you love well, Askinosie argues that there is inherent and immeasurable meaning in creating what you were called to create and doing it to the utmost of your ability.

Though the book abounds in steps toward spiritual healing and good soul-care, Askinosie does not merely wax philosophic. Each chapter concludes with several exercises, some focused on vocation vision, some focused on inner reflection, and others with ideas to improve your business. They believe Askinosie Chocolates is, at its core, a small business; and they intend to keep it that way.

Net, net this book is a good read for anyone who longs to serve the world with their ideas. In particular, if you find yourself constantly filled with entrepreneurial thoughts and eagerness, this book is for you. In Askinosie’s own words

This book is for entrepreneurs at heart or in practice – or both. It is for those who are searching for their own personal meaning in their work, and seeking to transform that meaning into a vocation. Whether you’re beginning a new venture or want to infuse your current one with dedicated purpose, my hope is that my experiences, and the deep and enduring lessons I’ve learned from them, will help you find your own business vocation.