September 11, 2004


The Heroism of Noor Inayat Khan

60 years ago today, a woman named Noor Inayat Khat was executed at the Dachau concentration camp. The name is not something one would expect among a roster of concentration camp inmates in 1944. She was not Jewish, nor indeed European. Although she had been in France at the time of the German invasion of 1940, she had escaped with her family to England, and could have remained there safely for the duration of the war. Why was she in Dachau?

Her story is one that deserves to be better known.

Noor (the name means “light of womanhood”) was the child of Hazrat Inayat Khan, a leader of the Sufi movement, and his American wife. She was a descendent of Tippu Sultan, a prince who had been one of the most effective enemies of British rule in India. Strangely, she was born in Moscow, where certain members of the Czar’s court were interested in Sufiism. After the Revolution, the family moved to a suburb of Paris. Noor is remembered as gentle, shy, musical, dreamy, and poetic. She was noted for her kindness to animals, and it was to her that neighborhood children often brought an injured kitten or puppy. She attended the Sorbonne and became a writer of children’s books and stories; she broadcast some of her stories on the radio. (Her book, Twenty Jataka Tales, is still in print.)

As World War II approached, Noor and her brother Vilayat both decided that the urgencies of the situation overrode the pacifist principles of Sufiism. She studied nursing, against the wishes of her then-fiance, with the intent of assisting the wounded in the coming war. But the collapse of the French Army took place more quickly than anyone had expected, and she escaped to England with her family. There, she enlisted in the Royal Air Force and became a radio operator, skilled in the high-speed transmission and reception of Morse code.

Wanting to contribute at a higher level, she applied for a commission. The interviewing officer asked her about her views on Indian independence, and she became very vehement on the subject–saying, in essence, that she would be loyal to the British Empire while the war against under Hitler was underway, but that afterwards she would work for Indian independence. She left the interview feeling that she had lost her temper and ruined her chances.

She never found out if she would have gotten the RAF commission or not, because she was presented with another opportunity to serve. She was contacted by the secret organization Special Operations Executive, which supported resistance operations in France and other occupied countries, and asked to come in for an interview. SOE badly needed radio operators, who were sent into occupied Europe by parachute and light aircraft. The job was, of course, a very dangerous one: the Geneva Convention afforded no protection to secret agents.

The interviewer was SOE’s principal recruiter, the writer Selwyn Jepson. He was immediately impressed with her, but was reluctant to accept her for the job…telling her that she might be of more value to humanity if she survived the war and continued writing her children’s books. She indignantly rejected the suggestion. Jepson: “..with rather more of the bleak distress which I never failed to feel at this point in these interviews, I agreed to take her on.”

Noor was sent to an SOE training school. The curriculum included shooting, hand-to-hand combat, practice sabotage missions, and mock interrogations. While the waa no question about Noor’s technical proficiency in communications, concerns were raised concerning her overall fitness for the role of a secret agent: particularly her dreamy and absent-minded nature and her striking and easily-recognizable appearance. The training organization recommended that she be removed from the program, but was overridden by Maurice Buckmaster, head of SOE “F” section, who believed in her capabilities. (“F” section was responsible for operations in occupied France.)

Noor had not learned parachuting, so her route to France would be via Lysander airplane. These planes were slow, single-engine craft which had the ability to take off and land in small fields. In mid-May 1943, an attempt was made, but the reception committee was not on the ground at the destination field, so the plane had to return to England.

On June 16–the next period with approropriate moonlight–Noor went again to the airfield in Tangmere. She was accompanied by Vera Atkins, the Intelligence Officer of SOE “F” section. At the field, Noor admired a silver bird pin that Atkins was wearing. Atkins took it off and handed it to her: “I want you to have it,” she said.

The plane landed without incident in a moonlit meadow near Angers. Noor and the two other passengers (both women) got out, and several people got in. The plane took off for England again. The three agents headed in different directions. Noor, as instructed, made her way to Paris. There she hooked up with the group for which she was to serve as communicator, an organization called PROSPER after the code name of its leader.

Very soon after Noor’s arrival, PROSPER was broken by the Germans, and a large number of arrests were made–Noor herself escaped only by a fluke. She and her radio now represented a vital communications link for the remaining resistance groups in Paris, and she was constantly on the move. She had many narrow escapes–on one occasion, she was putting up her transmitting antenna (a long wire) when a German soldier asked her what she was doing. She told him it was a clothesline, and he courteously helped her put it up. On another occasion, a German insisted that she open up the suitcase which contained her radio equipment. “It’s a movie projector,” she told him. “See all the little lights?” (referring to the vacuum tubes) Fortunately, the German evidently knew nothing about either electronics or film equipment.

Her luck did not last, however. In October 1943, she was betrayed and was arrested by the Gestapo. On her first night in captivity, she escaped, but was soon recaptured. She was offered better treatment if she would promise not to attempt escape again, but refused to make such a promise. She was interrogated for five weeks and evidently was not tortured, although the psychological pressure on her was very great. Finally, concluding that they would get nothing out of her, the Gestapo sent her to the civil prison at Pforzheim in Germany. The warden was told that she was a very dangerous prisoner who was to be kept chained night and day.

Some time in September 1944, a teleprinter message from Berlin arrived at the local Gestap office in Pforzheim. It directed that Noor, along with three other female agents being held in the prison, be taken to a “convenient” concentration camp and executed.

It’s reported that the women, not knowing where they were going but glad to be out of the prison, enjoyed their ride on the train.

At Dachau, they were locked up separately overnight. There is some evidence that Noor was brutally beaten–not for interrogation purposes at this point, but out of pure sadism. In the morning, they were led to the execution ground and were all shot.

After the war, the British government awarded Noor the George Cross, its highest civilian award for bravery. She was also awarded the French Croix de Guerre.

As popular writers and historians have studied the activities of SOE, disturbing questions have been raised about the fate of the PROSPER group to which Noor was assigned. Some have alleged that PROSPER was deliberately betrayed to the Germans by the British govenment as part of a higher-level disinformation plan. Others believe that the PROSPER debacle was the result of infighting between SOE and the traditional British intelligence services. It has been determined that there was a double agent in SOE France, and, after the war, some British officials seemed strangely reluctant to see him prosecuted. While the conspiracy theories seem unlikely to me, it does seem likely that PROSPER’s demise was influenced by Churchill’s decision to sharply increase the pace of SOE/resistance operations in order to deceive the Germans into thinking that invasion was coming sooner than it actually was. Many SOE records have been lost, and we shall probably never know the whole truth.

Selwyn Jepson, the man who recruited Noor into SOE, never forgot her. “…not only in the dark hours of solitude, but at unexpected moments of daytime activity, it is as though a shutter opens in a familiar wall which I know has no shutter in it, and she is there, briefly, the light filling my eyes. She does not haunt me, as do some of the others…she is simply with me, now and again, for a little moment.”

More information on Noor (including a wonderful picture) here, and on other female SOE agents here.

The Selwyn Jepson quotes are from the book Madeline, by Jean Overton Fuller. (“Madeline” was Noor’s SOE code name, taken, I believe, from the title of one of her stories.)

May 23, 2004

BOOK REVIEW: The Innovator’s Solution

Clayton Christensen & Michael Raynor

RATING: 4 Stars

Every year, there are dozens of books published on business strategy. Most of them are eminently forgettable. This one is an exception. It should be read by everyone who has responsibility for establishing a business strategy (or aspires to such a position), and should also be useful for those involved in running non-profit organizations, specifically including universities. It will also be of value to investors, who (except for those who are pure short-term traders) should be making conscious judgments about the strategies of the companies in which they invest.

In this book, the authors develop four major themes, which are amplified using examples ranging from semiconductors to automobiles to milkshakes:

1) Disruptive innovations–those destined to change the structure of an industry–tend to attack from below. They usually first appear in a form that is in some ways inferior to the existing dominant technologies, and hence are unlikely to get the attention or respect of industry incumbents.

2)In a venture dedicated to the introduction of a disruptive technology–whether a start-up business or a division of a larger company–early profitability is more important than early rapid growth. (This is a very contrarian opinion in some quarters.)

3)When attractive profits disappear in a market as a result of commoditization, the opportunity to earn attractive profits will usually emerge at an adjacent stage of the value chain.

4)In segmenting a market, the purpose for which the product is being bought (“circumstance,” in the terminology of the authors) is a more useful dimension than the attributes typically used, such as customer demographics or product features.

A bit more on each of these themes:

1) Disruptive innovations–those destined to change the structure of an industry–tend to attack from below. As their first example, the authors offer the steel industry. When minimills (which make steel from scrap using electric arc furnaces) first appeared, the incumbent “big steel” companies weren’t too worried. The quality of the steel initially produced by the minimills was marginal, and their products were mainly useful for concrete reinforcing bar (rebar). Rebar was viewed by big steel as a scruffy market, with poor profit margins, and they weren’t all that sorry to be rid of it.

But over time, the minimills improved their quality to the point where they could make products on increasingly high values: first bar and rod, then structural steel, and finally sheet steel. At each point, it was possible for big-steel execs to convince themselves that they held a quality advantage for all products above the level at which the minimills had then attained. We know how this story ends, and it isn’t pretty.

As another example of the disruptive attack from below, the authors cite transistor radios. Initially, the incumbent makers of (vacuum-tube-based) radios and record players did not view the quality or volume of sound that could be obtained from transistors as being good enough for their markets, and they focused on R&D to improve the performance. But when Sony introduced the world’s first pocket transistor radio (in 1955), it targeted teenagers (“the rebar of humanity,” say the authors snarkily.) “The portable transistor radio offered them a rare treat: the chance to listen to rock and roll music with their friends in new places out of the earshot of their parents. The teenagers were thrilled to buy a product that wasn’t very good, because their alternative was no radio at all.”

Again, the incumbents weren’t particularly worried…their own, higher-end markets were still doing OK. But “When solid-state electronics finally became good enough to handle the power required in large televisions and radios, Sony and its retailers simply vacuumed out the customers (from the traditional markets–ed)…Within a few years, the vacuum tube-based companies, including the venerable RCA, had vaporized.”

2) In a venture dedicated to the introduction of a disruptive technology–whether a start-up business or a division of a larger company–early profitability is more important than early rapid growth. This goes directly against the popular “get-big fast-you-can-worry-about-profitability-later” mantra, but Christenson and Raynor make good arguments for their position. “Competing against nonconsumption and moving disruptively up-market are critical elements of a successful new-growth strategy–and yet by definition, these disruptive markets are going to be small for a time.” Venture managements which are on the hook for unreasonable early growth targets are likely to launch doomed frontal attacks on entrenched competitors in existing, large markets, rather than patiently growing new markets in which they have the edge. And when venture management is told not to worry much about profitability in the early stages, there are other problems. “When new ventures are expected to generate profit relatively quickly, management is forced to test as quickly the asumption that customers will be happy to pay a profitable price for the product–that is, to see whether real products create enough real value for which customers will pay real money. If a venture’s management can keep returning to the corporate treasury to fund continuing losses, managers can postpone this critical test and pursue the wrong strategy for a long time.”

The authors go so far as to say this: “If you’re slated to lead a new venture and corporate management says you need to become very big very fast, what you are really hearing is that management is going to make you cram your disruptive technology into an established market. When you sense this, don’t take the job. You are very likely to fail.”

3)When attractive profits disappear in a market, as a result of commoditization, the opportunity to earn attractive profits will usually emerge at an adjacent stage of the value chain. (The authors call this “the law of conservation of attractive profits” and attribute it to Chris Rowen, CEO of Tensilica.) For example: As the PC industry commoditized, value migrated from the PC manufacturers (assemblers, basically) to lower levels in the value chain: the makers of the microprocessor (Intel) and the operating system (Microsoft). “Money also flowed to the makers of dynamic random access memory (DRAM), such as Sansung and Micron, bu not much of it stopped at those stages in the value chain in the form of profit. it flowed through and accumulated instead at firms like Applied Materials, which supplied the manufacturing equipment that the DRAM makers used.”

The authors see something similar happening in the auto industy, with value migrating away from the auto manufacturers to their first-tier suppliers. They see the automotive majors as having falled into a trap, just as IBM did earlier with PCs: “General Motors and Ford, with the encouragement of their consultants and investment bankers, have just done the same thing. They had to decouple the vertical stages in their value chains in order to stay abreast of the changing basis of competition. Butg they have spun off the pieces of value-added activity where the money will be, in order to stay where the money has been.”

4) In segmenting a market, the purpose for which the product is being bought (“circumstance,” in the terminology of the authors) is a more useful dimension than the attributes typically used, such as customer demographics or product features. As an example, the authors offer a restaurant chain which was trying to improve results for its milkshake product line. “The chain’s marketers segmented its customers along a variety of psychobeharioral dimension in order to define a profile of the customer most likely to buy milkshakes. In other words, it first structured its market by product–milkshakes–and then segmented it by the characteristics of existing milkshake customers….both attribute-based categorization schemes. It then assembled panels of people with these attributes, and explored whether making the shakes thinker, chocolatier, cheaper, or chunkier would satisfy them better.”

Marketing 101 stuff. But it didn’t yield much in the way of results.

A new set of researchers came in with a different approach–to understand what customers were trying to get done for themselves when they “hired” a milkshake. They spent an 18-hour day in a restaurant and recorded when the shakes were bought, whether the customer was alone or with a group, whether he consumed it on the premises or drove off, etc. Surprisingly, most of the milkshakes were being bought in the early morning. After analyzing the data, the researchers returned and interviewed the customers. Evidently, these were people who faced a long, boring commute and wanted something to eat/drink on the way. Milkshakes were superior to alternatives because they didn’t get crumbs all over (like bagels) or get the steering wheel greasy (like a sausage & egg sandwich.)

The most important thing is that the same customers, at different times of the day, would buy milkshakes in other circumstances/contexts…and the desirable product attributes would be different. For example, they might come with their kids after school. And whereas the same person in his role as a commuter might want something that is relatively slow to drink (thick shake, large container), when he reappears in his role as a parent he might want something that goes down relatively fast (less viscous shake, smaller container, maybe even a larger straw.) What matters is not just who the customer is, but what he is trying to do.

The example may seem like a fairly trivial one, but the conceptual point is an important one. (I would also note that research projects are not the only way for a company to learn about things like the milkshakes-for-breakfast phenomenon…encouraging front-line employees to be alert and involved, and to communicate their observations and suggestions, is also important. The people working in the stores probably knew about the milkshakes-for-breakfast trend long before the study was conducted.)

One of the most interesting (and sobering) passages in the book is the one in which Prof Christensen describes a recent MBA class. He had written a paper postulating that the B-schools’ traditional MBA programs are being threatened by two disruptions: executive evening–and-weekend MBA programs (allowing working managers to earn their MBA degrees in as little as a year) and the growth of on-the-job management training at institutions like Motorola University and GE Crotonville.

After reading the paper, Christensen asked the students “how many of you think that the leading MBA programs are being disrupted?” Only three out of 102 students raised their hands.

Those who weren’t concerned–the vast majority–tended to point to quantitative data–the numbers of students battling to get into the leading schools, the starting salaries of the graduates, etc etc. Christensen asked one of the most vocal defenders of “the invincibility of the leading business schools” this question. “What if you were dean of one of these schools. What data would convince you that this was something that you needed to address?”

“I’d look at the school’s market share among the CEO’s of the Global 1000 corporation,” the student responded. “If our market share started to drop, then I’d worry.” Christensen pointed out that market share, measured in this way, is distinctly a lagging indicator, and that by the point it began to drop, it would be game over.

It’s worrisome that so many students at a leading business school–even after being taught by a world expert in disruptive innovation–showed such lack of astuteness in assessing a potential disruptive innovation that was right in front of their noses. (On the other hand, it’s a very positive thing that so many of them felt free to openly disagree with their professor.)

There’s lots more in this book. Clayton Christensen is a professor at Harvard Business School, and Michael Raynor is a Director at Deloitte Research.


December 30, 2003

BOOK REVIEW: The Logic of Failure

Dietrich Doerner…..Rating: 4 Stars

In any bookstore, you will find dozens or even hundreds of books devoted to “success.” In this book, Dietrich Doerner works the other side of this street. He studies failure. Doerner, a professor of Psychology at the University of Bamberg (Germany) uses empirical methods to study human decision-making processes, with an emphasis on understanding the ways in which these processes can go wrong. His work should be read by anyone with a responsibility for making decisions, particularly complex and important decisions.

Doerner’s basic tool for study is the simulation model. Many of his models bear a resemblence to Sim City and similar games, but are purpose-designed to shed light on particular questions. The nature of many of these models implies that they use human umpires, as well as computer processing. (Doerner uses the simulation results of other researchers, as well as his own experimental work, in developing the ideas in this book.)

Probably the best way to give a feel for the book is to describe some of the simulations and to discuss some of the conclusions that Doerner draws from them.

In the fire simulation, the subject plays the part of a fire chief who is dealing with forest fires. He has 12 brigades at his command, and can deploy them at will. The brigades can also be given limited autonomy to make their own decisions.

The subjects who fail at this game, Doerner finds, are those who apply rigid, context-insensitive rules…such as “always keep the units widely deployed” or “always keep the units concentrated” rather than making these decisions flexibly. He identifies “methodism,” which he defines as “the unthinking application of a sequence of actions we have once learned,” as a key threat to effective decision-making. (The term is borrowed from the great military writer Clausewitz.) Similar results are obtained in another simulation, in which the subject is put in charge of making production decisions in a clothing factory. In this case, the subjects are asked to think out loud as they develop their strategies. The unsuccessful ones tend to use unqualified expressions: constantly, every time, without exception, absolutely, etc…while the successful “factory managers” tend toward qualified expressions: now and then, in general, specifically, perhaps,…

The Moro simulation puts the subject in charge of a third-world country. His decision-making must include issues such as land use, water supply, medical care, etc. Time delays and multiple interactions make this simulation hard to handle effectively…a high proportion of subjects wound up making things worse rather than better for their “citizens.” Human beings, Doerner argues, have much more difficulty understanding patterns that extend over time than patterns that are spatial in nature.

Many subjects in this simulation showed obsessive behavior–they would focus on one aspect, such as building irrigation canals, and ignore everything else, without even really trying to understand the interactions.

Doerner wanted to know what kinds of previous experience would help most in this game, so he ran it once with a set of college students for subjects, and again with a set of experienced business executives. The students had probably been more exposed to concepts of “ecological thinking”–but the executives did significantly better. This argues that there are forms of “tacit knowledge” which are gained as a result of decision-making experience, and which are transferable to at least some degree across subject matter domains.

One simple but surprisingly interesting experiment was the temperature

control simulation
. Subjects were put in the position of a supermarket

manager and told that the thermostat for the freezers has broken down.

They had to manually control the refrigeration system to maintain a temperature

of 4 degrees C–higher and lower temperatures are both undesirable. They had

available to them a regulator and a thermometer; the specific control mechanism

was not described to the subjects. The results were often just bizarre. Many participants failed to understand that delays were occurring in the system (a setting does not take effect immediately, just as an air conditioner cannot cool a house immediately) and that these delays needed to be considered when trying to control the system. Instead, they developed beliefs about regulator settings that could best be described as superstitious or magical: “twenty-eight is a good number” or, even more strangely, “odd numbers are good.”

One very interesting angle explored by Doerner is the danger, in decision-making tasks, of knowing too much–of becoming lost in detail and of always needing one more piece of information before coming to a decision. He posits that this problem “probably explains why organizations tend to institutionalize the separation of their information-gathering and decision-making branchs”–as in the development of staff organizations in the military. (It may also, it seems to me, have much to do with the hypercritical attitude that many intellectuals have toward decision-makers in business and government–that is, they fail to understand that the effective decision-maker must reduce a problem to its essences and cannot be forever exploring the “shades of gray”)

One cautionary note: the numbers of subjects used in the experiments cited tend to be fairly small, and no statistical significance tests are presented–thus, Doerner’s conclusions about decision-making should be taken as suggestive rather than definitive. (The book was originally published in 1989 although it was only recently translated into English: I suspect Prof Doerner has done considerable additional work in the interim). Nevertheless, this book is a remarkable contribution to the study of decision-making, and contains a great number of thoughts worthy of serious consideration–both by those who study the field, and by practical decision makers themselves.



January 1, 2003

BOOK REVIEW: The Forging of a Rebel

Arturo Barea…..Rating: 5 Stars

We had to fight them. This meant that we would have to shell or bomb Burgos and its towers, Cordova and its flowered courtyards, Seville and its gardens. We would have to kill so as to purchase the right to live.

I wanted to scream.

The Spanish Civil War is more relevant to Americans than it might have seemed a few years ago. In the aftermath of 9/11, it is easier to imagine the reality of a Madrid under sustained shellfire. In the environment of hysterical political correctness which exists on so many campuses, it is easier to understand how a casual remark could land someone in front of a firing squad. And in a time of suicide bombings, the slogan “Long Live Death” (first adopted by the Spanish Foreign Legion and later by the Fascist movement) becomes even more chilling.

This book is “about” the Spanish Civil War, but it is not conventional military or political history. It is the story of Spain in the first half of the 20th century, as seen through the eyes of one man. The writing is so rich, dense, and vivid that reading it is like finding yourself inside someone else’s dream.

Barea tells his story in three sections, the first concerned with his childhood and early youth. The portraits of Spain’s poor are both gripping and humane. You will not forget Barea’s mother, a laundress who often must break the ice on the river in order to do her washing. Nor will you forget their friend Signora Segunda–an indomitable beggar woman who trains her dog to hold the collection plate in his teeth, thereby encouraging more contributions. Much of Barea’s childhood, however, is spent in the company of relatives who are financially better off–his uncle the proud blacksmith, his grandmother the atheist, his snobbish and religiously-obsessed aunt. With his mixed upbringing, Barea is known as the “washerwoman’s son” to the rich boys at school and the “little gentleman” among the poor. Leaving school at 14, he takes a job as a bank clerk, in an environment straight out of Charles Dickens.

In the second section, Barea is called up for military service. The colonial war in Morocco might be called “Spain’s Vietnam,” but this would be to understate its devastating influence–which shook the country and paved the way for further social distruption. Barea is revolted by the bloodshed, the tactical stupidity, and the corruption at all levels.

In Morocco, he encounters the charismatic but almost insane Colonel Millan Astray–he of the slogan “Long Live Death”–who will later become a leading figure in the Fascist revolution. He does not meet the future dictator Franco, but passes along a chilling description of him. After leaving the army, Barea works for a firm providing patent assistance and other business services, and achieves a fair degree of financial success. His sympathy for Spain’s poor, however, continues to develop, as does his opposition to Spain’s rigid class system.

The third section is concerned with the Spanish Civil War per se. By now a committed Republican, Barea serves as chief censor of foreign press reports, and meets many well-known figures–Hemingway, Martha Gelhorn, Dorothy Parker, John Dos Passos–who are covering the war. From his office in the Telefonica tower, he is observes Madrid under shellfire: Buildings slit open by bombs exhibited shattered, fog-soaked rooms with swelling, shapeless furniture and fabrics, their dyes oozing out in turgid dribbles, as though the catastrophe had happened years before…In the houses of the living, the fog billowed through the broken window panes in chill wads.

Fascist atrocities do not blind Barea to the atrocities committed by his own side, which he reports unblinkingly. Churches are burned, innocent people are executed. In the overheated emotional climate, the most trivial things can prove fatal. On one occasion, Barea is showing a friend how tall a child was–“like this,” he says, holding up his hand to indicate the height. He is accused of giving the Fascist salute, and is saved from the firing squad only by the intervention of credible friends.

Barea is an acute describer of character and of social patterns; he also has a brilliant sense for landscape and how it influences human life. On walking in Castile:

There are only three things, the sun, the sky, and the earth, and each is pitiless. The sun is a live flame above your head, the sky is a luminous dome of reverberating blue glass, the earth is a cracked plain scorching your feet. There are no walls to give shade, no roofs to rest your eyes, no sring or brook to cool your throat. It is though you were naked and inert in the hand of God.

On the Moroccan town of Xauen: infinitely old city in a gorge hemmed in by mountains…its tranquil streets, in which echoed the hoofs of the little donkeys; its muezzin intoning his prayers high from the minaret; its white-veiled women with nothing but the sparkle of their eyes alive in their phantom robes; its Moors from the mountains…On moonlit nights Xauen alwys evoked Toledo for me with its solitary, crooked little streets. And Toledo on moonlit nights has always evoked for me Xauen. They ahve the same background of sound, the river running swiftly and tumultuously, the wind entangled in the trees and in the crags of the mountains and growling in the depths of the gullies.

The New Republic called this “one of the great authbiographies of the twentieth century,” and one can only agree. In the honesty of his observation, Barea can be compared to Orwell, and if he is not as much of a political philosopher as the latter, he makes up for it with the vividness of his writing.

Conservatives need to read this book to better understand why revolutionary leftism ever came to be in the first place. Leftists need to read it to understand the crimes that can be committed by their own sort. And everyone should read it for its lyricism and simple humanity.

Highly recommended.