Jul 14 2008

A Book A Day Keeps The Sun Away

While Amy assures me there is no correlation between "books" and "sun appearance", I have been reading a book each day and there has been no sun since we arrived in Homer 12 days ago.  I was just using the same argument that the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster uses to explain global warming.

As is typical of my time in Homer, I’ve covered a lot of ground.  This time I’m reading exclusively on my Kindle which I love; I haven’t cracked open a physical book yet.  That said, some of the books have been great and a few have been clunkers.

Inside Steve’s Brain: In preparation for the launch of the iPhone 3G, I decided to try to get into Inside Steve’s Brain.  This recently became one of the trendy technology books, presumably due to everyone’s desire to be as innovative as Steve Jobs (or at least learn some of his special tricks.)  I had low expectations for the book (I generally dislike books like this); it surprised me by being pretty good.  There were plenty of instructive Steve Jobs stories and interesting Apple history that I hadn’t read in other places.  The summaries / lessons at the end of the chapters were tedious and there were a few "extra" chapters that could have been edited out if the book industry could handle a business book less than 200 pages.  But – overall – it’s good, especially if you are an Apple fanboy.

The Pixar Touch: The Making of a Company: In my "read all about Steve Jobs" theme, I consumed The Pixar Touch.  If you are choosing between Inside Steve’s Brain and The Pixar Touch, choose this one.  It’s an excellent history of Pixar.  The first half is extraordinarily interesting as it details all the early people and research that formed the computer animation industry.  This book also felt more balanced (e.g. "less sensational") in its coverage of all the twists and turns that Pixar went through along the way to success.

Halting State: Excellent "slightly in the future" science fiction incorporating all kinds of funky technology, a complex plot around virtual worlds virtual money, plenty of good guys, bad guys, a male nerd / female cop protagonist romantic plot twist, some irrational bad guys, and a few things you had to go back and read a second time to make sure you understood what had just happened.  All of it is set in Scotland resulting in some entertaining dialog for this American boy.

Groundswell: Winning in a World Transformed by Social Technologies: Boring, but then I had already knew of many of the examples in the book.  If you are a corporate dude looking for examples of the use of "social technologies" in the enterprise, there are lots of useful stories here.  If you like to read Forrester Research stuff, you are the target audience.  Probably in the same category as Scoble and Israel’s Naked Conversations: How Blogs are Changing the Way Businesses Talk with Customers – a skimmer if you are in the tech business but important and useful if you are in a large corporation and are trying to figure out what all this social networking stuff means.

Born Standing Up: A Comic’s Life: Perfect.  I love Steve Martin.  I was in junior high school when he reached the pinnacle of his stand up fame.  I remember being a wild and crazy guy, strutting around while singing King Tut, and shouting out EXCUSE ME at the top of my lungs, much to my mother’s annoyance.  This is a great autobiography – I even learned that he was born in Waco, Texas.

American Nerd: The Story of My People: So so.  I had high expectations for this book since it’s about me.  About 25% of it was great, 25% of it was boring, and 50% was filler.  I think I’m going to start a book imprint called "Books in Under 100 pages", hire a few merciless editors, and make good books great by getting rid of 25% to 75% of them.  While I didn’t get any new and exciting insights into nerds (although you might, especially if you are not a nerd), I learned some interesting things about ethnicity and racism that hadn’t previously cro
ssed my mind.  I’m glad I read this book and think it provides some useful insights into our culture, but damnit it didn’t need to be over 200 pages.

Final Theory: A Novel: Loved it.  A+ mental floss.  I can’t remember who recommended it to me, but thank you.  Physics, murder, sexy smart women, a professor hero, explosions, fast cards, evil mad scientists disguised as pacifists, evil people, complex scientific theories that actually almost work, gratuitous almost sex, a really scary mean bad guy, and some hillbillies.  What more could you want?

Never Eat Alone: And Other Secrets to Success, One Relationship at a Time: Boring.  This could have been called "the biography of Keith Ferrazzi" with a bunch of anecdotes tossed in about how to treat people.  I think I would have liked it better if it was called "the biography of Keith Ferrazzi" and I was interested in reading the biography of Keith Ferrazzi.  Note to self – don’t write an autobiography and position it as a self-help business book.

Wall Street Stories: Awesome.  Clever, entertaining short stories about Wall Street.  Written in 1901.  All equally relevant today.  While fiction, these could have easily been true stories (and I imagine they were based on real events.)  I don’t play the market and this book clearly explains the reason why.

If you are feeling depressed about your public stock portfolio, pick up a copy of Wall Street Stories – it’ll at least make you laugh.  If you need a real laugh, grab a copy of Born Standing Up.  If you want to understand why you love your new iPhone so much, try out Inside Steve’s Brain.  If you get tired of reading, you can always watch the latest installment of David Cohen and I explaining TechStars on ColoradoBizTV

Oh – and please send some sun to Homer, Alaska.