On page 89, the book’s unnamed protagonist said “My brain hurts.” I thought to myself, so does mine.
God’s Debris is Scott Adams’ first non-fiction book (yes, that Scott Adams, the father of Dilbert.) Well – it might be fiction, it might be philosophy, or it might be a novella. Or maybe it’s something else. But it’s fascinating. And challenging. But short. It was tonight’s book (although the night is still relatively young so I’ll get started on the next one in a few minutes.)
This is not a religious book, nor is it a slam (or endorsement) of religion. It is, in Adams’ words, a thought experiment. One of the two characters is an old man who turns out to know everything. He explains, through a series of short chapters on different subjects, all of the great mysteries of life. While it’s easy to argue with some of his assertions, the old man (who turns out to be called The Avatar) explains things in a simple way that – while not bulletproof – is compelling. Some of the chapter titles give you a quick feel for what is going to be covered: Free Will, Science, Where is Free Will Located?, Genuine Belief, Delusion Generator, Reincarnation, UFOs, and God, Free Will of a Penny, Evolution, Skeptics’ Disease, ESP and Luck, Light, Willpower, Holy Lands, and Relationships.
When I finished it, I hopped on Wikipedia and discovered that Scott Adams wrote a sequel called The Religion War. I really want to read it on my Kindle but it’s only available in physical form so the atoms are now in the mail to me.
One of my favorite things about the month I spent each year in Homer is reading. We don’t have a TV here and, other than going out to dinner for some extra fresh halibut, Amy and I end up spending almost every evening at home reading, writing, or knitting (well – she knits). I usually consume about a book a day (a few take me two days – so it ends up being five a week, or about twenty over the month.)
Today’s book was Grumby by Andy Kessler. And it was just fucking awesome. On July 1st Andy sent me an email with the following description of the book.
“its a very funny novel set in Silicon Valley (and Wall Street), about a hacker that creates the next great consumer electronics device (believe me, you’ll want one) and then the rollercoaster ride of getting screwed by VCs, hacked, the deluge of orders, Chinese manufacturing, privacy issues and going public amongst the chaos of competition and rivalries. the technology is its own character, eyes, ears, voice and face recognition, GPS, spy software and a wise-ass personality.”
I don’t know Andy very well, although we met last year at Defrag (he was the opening speaker) and our paths have crossed a few times. I’ve read all his books and am a huge fan so rather than wait for him to send me a pre-publication copy, I just went online and spent $7.96 on the Kindle version which is available now.
Andy pretty much nails every aspect of the rise and fall of a garage startup in Silicon Valley. His fiction is great – it’s fast paced (thanks to many short chapters), full of dialogue and great characters, and lots of startup / entrepreneurship / Silicon Valley cliches. He spares no one and there were many times where I cringed in remembrance of something that hit a little too close to home. Way to go Andy – you nailed it.
Wow – I needed that vacation. Sometimes it just catches up with me and I don’t realize how tired I am. Amy and I were going to go to Paris but both of us just needed to chill out so we went to our house in Keystone and just hid out for a week. I only had a few things that I had to pay attention to and the goddess of my schedule Kelly made sure I was available when needed.
In addition to chilling out, I got obsessed with swimming (swam every day) and my back is finally feeling almost better. I managed to get Amy to watch Ironman 2 (yummy), War Games (held up great), War Games 2 (did not hold up), Living in Public (gave me flashback chills). And I read – a lot – a dozen books this time. As is my tradition when I come back on the grid, here are short book reviews with grades of what I read.
Bright Boys: A+: This is how a computer history book should be written. It’s an amazing history of MIT in the 1940’s and 1950’s around the invention of the computer. Some other places place an ancillary role (like the Moore School at U Penn and Harvard), but MIT and Cambridge are front and center.
The Man Who Japed: B: I’m continuing my grind through all of Philip K. Dick’s books. While not one of his best, it was fun.
Caught: A: Harlan Coban remains at the top of my Mental Floss chart. Anything he writes, I read immediately.
Start With Why: C: After loving Simon Sinek’s TED Talk on The Power of Why, I was massively disappointed with this book. The 18 minute talk I blogged about recently was outstanding – no need to read the book unless you want to be bashed over the head with the message over and over again.
Douglas Adams Starship Titanic: F: This wasn’t written by Adams (who I love), but was styled after him. It sucked. I bailed 20% of the way in.
Regional Advantage: A+: I’ve read bits of Annalee Saxenian’s seminal book about the differences between the evolution of Silicon Valley and Route 128, spent a tiny bit of time with Annalee at a Silicon Flatiron event, and have thought hard about this, but I had actually never read her book. It’s awesome – anyone that cares about how entrepreneurial communities work must read this.
Thoughts from TechStars (RC2): This was a release candidate but didn’t make the cut. But, it’s very very close – just some formatting and very light editing. We are also talking to publishers so trying to figure out the best way to get this out there far and wide.
Opening Skinner’s Box: A+: Another dynamite book – this time about the great psychology experiments of the last century. I knew of a few of them but loved the detail, the story telling, and the things it made me think about.
The Magician of Lhasa: A: It started out a little slow but picked up speed. It’s published by Trapdoor – the same folks that published Cyberkill, which happens to be based in Lyons, CO. I need to pay more attention to these guys.
What Would Google Do: B+: Jeff Jarvis wrote a very good book on Google. The first half is a lot of stuff anyone that knows Google well will know, but Jeff did a nice job of putting all of the pieces together. The second half was the really interesting part where we “googlized” a bunch of non-tech industries. It was a little on the long side for me, but I’m sure Jeff’s publisher made him make it longer so it would be over 200 pages.
The Race for Perfect: C-: I was really bummed about this one. It’s the story of the creation of the Lenovo X300 (which I love) combined with the backstory of the history of portable (and mobile) computing devices. I read the BusinessWeek excerpt by Steve Hamm when he first published the book. It turns out the excerpt was one of the most riveting sections. The book felt like a 200+ page BusinessWeek article, which was just too long.
I’m glad to be back and am excited to go to Google I/O tomorrow.
Over the years, I’ve occasionally thought about writing a book about how venture capital actually works. I no longer have to contemplate doing this as Jeff Bussgang has nailed it with his book Mastering the VC Game: A Venture Capital Insider Reveals How to Get from Start-up to IPO on YOUR Terms.
If you are an entrepreneur who wants to understand how venture capital works, how VC’s think, and read some great stories about entrepreneurial arcs, this book is for you. When Jeff told me about this project a year or so ago, I gave him lots of encouragement, made a few introductions, and offered to do anything I could to be helpful. I did two meaningful proofreading cycles so I’ve effectively read this book twice – it’s just spectacular.
Jeff has a particularly deft touch on the balance between entrepreneur and VC. Some of this comes from him previously being a successful entrepreneur, but some of it comes from his effort in striking a balance between writing a VC-oriented book and an entrepreneur-oriented book. The result is a much better book than the other “how VC works” type books.
Jeff also does something important – he uses long stories to frame his points. Rather than little sound bites, he actually tells great entrepreneurial stories, in real detail, that I hadn’t heard before to underscore what he is trying to get across. For an example, take a look at the book except of When Jack Dorsey Met Fred Wilson, And Other Twitter Tales.
If there is one book about entrepreneurship and venture capital that you buy this year, make it Mastering the VC Game.
I got anxious just reading the book You, Me & The U.S. Economy.
Last Thursday, I had a beautiful dinner at Susan and Richard Casey’s house. The Casey’s co-founded and run Square 1 Bank and have become good friends over the past few years. During dinner we had a wide ranging conversation about a bunch of things “not-tech.” On my way out, Susan handed me a book titled You, Me & The U.S. Economy by her friend Stacy Carlson. I tossed it in my bag along with the book Richard gave me (Thomas Sowell’s Intellectuals and Society). I started reading it last night and finished it up today.
It lived up to its subtitle “A Plainspoken Story of Financial Crisis.” The only other book I’ve read on the financial crisis of 2008 was Andrew Ross Sorkin’s Too Big To Fail. Amy and I were in the UK on a week off the grid from 9/12/08 to 9/20/08 so we left as the crisis was blossoming and returned to a very different financial superstructure. I found Too Big To Fail to be riveting but felt that it was missing something. After reading You, Me & The U.S. Economy I realized that Sorkin was doing too much storytelling and didn’t really get under the skin of some of the massive intellectual contradictions going on. I think Carlson filled that gap for me without necessarily trying.
Carlson was Paulson’s speechwriter during the financial crisis. The book is told in her voice and describes the events as they unfolded. She does it is clear language (she is a speechwriter after all), is delightfully self-deprecating, and defines and endless array of terms and acronyms in a way that a human can understand. She also gives a somewhat different view of the events from the inside – less drama and inside baseball than Sorkin, but just as much sense of stress, anxiety, and urgency.
If you are interested in the history of the financial crisis, want to understand what it looked like from the inside to someone who was part of the battle but not on the front lines, or just want a dose of anxiety, you’ll enjoy You, Me & The U.S. Economy.
I just read Rework, the new book by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson of 37Signals. It’s fantastic. If you are starting a business, or thinking about starting a business, or running a business, or breathing air, this is a book you should read.
There are an endless array of “startup books” to choose from. Most suck. Many are ego trips for successful entrepreneurs. Others are self-help books from entrepreneurs that haven’t been successful, but are trying to be successful as entrepreneurial self-help book writers. Very few are useful, authentic, or powerful.
Rework nails it on every dimension. I was annoyed during the first chapter since the book started out with the typical “bootstrap your business rather than raise money from clueless investors” screed that Fried is famous for. While I strongly agree that is one way (my first company was started with $10 and that was all the money we ever raised), it’s not the only way and I get tired of hearing polarizing rhetoric around this.
It turns out that was Fried and Heinemeier’s way of getting my attention. Rather than passively rolling into chapter two, I was fired up. And then, in the style of Gary Vaynerchuk, they Crushed It (another awesome book, BTW). I was glued to my couch for the next hour as I pounded my way through the book. It’s a collection of short essays and cool drawings built around one liners that everyone running a business should ponder. As a bonus, they have a great essay on four letter words and why “fuck” and “shit” are not ones you should be concerned with. And, in a demonstration of their mad skills, they have an awesome attack ad for the book.
I spent most of today grinding through another draft of “The Tao of TechStars”, a book that David Cohen and I are writing based on lessons we’ve learned from TechStars. After reading Rework, I’m hopeful that we’ve written something as good, and as important, as what Fried and Heinemeier have written. Time will tell.
If you read one book in 2009, read Daemon.
It’s unusual for me to recommend a book so early in the year. Daemon is only my fourth book of 2009. It’s a first novel. And it’s mental floss. But it’s as close to flawless for a book of its genre.
I first heard about Daemon in December from Rick Klau. I got to know Rick at FeedBurner; he’s now at Google running Blogger. Rick told me that I had to read this book. He pointed me to a blog post he had written in 2007 about it.
“I can remember the feeling I had, sitting in the audience as the credits rolled after seeing The Matrix on opening day. I knew I’d seen something that was different, important, and something that I’d want to see again. And again. When I finished Daemon this afternoon, I had that same feeling. Daemon is to novels what The Matrix was to movies. It will be how other novels that rely on technology are judged.”
I immediately one-clicked it on Amazon. It wasn’t available for the Kindle so the hardcover showed up a week or so ago. I devoured it this weekend. Rick’s assessment was correct – this is by far the best techno-thriller I’ve ever read.
The author – Daniel Suarez (also known as Leinad Zeraus) describes himself as “an independent systems consultant to Fortune 1000 companies … An avid gamer and technologist, he lives in California.” He doesn’t mention that he is a magnificent writer and brilliant storyteller.
I won’t ruin any of it for you. It’s got everything you’d expect in a fast paced book that will appeal to anyone that likes Crichton, Brown, Clancy, or my newfound friend David Stone. The tech holds together well and is completely accessible to non-nerds and nerds alike. It’s a page turner with very little wasted plot or character development. And it sets up the sequel (Freedom) superbly.
I rang in the new year with some mental floss. I found David Stone’s The Echelon Vendetta on one of our bookshelves in Keystone as I was looking around for a palate cleanser after my run of serious books last week.
Last night I got about 80% of the way through it. At around 11:20, long after Amy had gone to bed, I actually got scared reading it. I hadn’t figured out the end game yet, so my brain was whirring around a lot. The book was taking place mostly in the Rocky Mountain West (Montana, Wyoming, and Colorado) and I suddenly had an image of the bad guy stalking me from the giant open space behind the two story picture window I was lying in front of.
I rarely get scared reading a book – the only thing that really gets me is when bad stuff is happening in a setting near me. For example, I had to stop reading Dry Ice by Stephen White because of the Boulder setting.
So, that was it. I closed the book, got a glass of water, went up stairs to sleep, and woke up around 10:30 am. Yum. Welcome to 2009.
I just finished off The Echelon Vendetta and it’s easily one of the best spy / CIA / conspiracy / thriller that I’ve read in a long time. Stone’s bio says it’s “is a cover name for a man born into a military family with a history of combat service going back to Waterloo. Stone, a military officer himself, has worked with federal intelligence agencies and state-level law enforcement units in North America, Central America, and South East Asia. Retired now, Stone lives in an undisclosed location with his wife, photographer and researcher Catherine Stone.”
It shows. I just bought Stone’s other book The Orpheus Deception on my Kindle – given my poor impulse control I expect I’ll read it next.
Disclosure: If you click though the link on this book, I get paid a small amount from Amazon (approx 6% of the purchase price) based on my affiliate code that I put in the link. Please read the post I wrote titled The Dynamics of Full Disclosure for more on this. I don’t plan to put this disclosure note on any more book posts this year – hopefully this will be satisfactory for anyone that cares.