Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Made to Stick - Chip & Dan Heath

Malcolm Gladwell is a best-selling author whose books are filled with random anecdotes which he tries to link together to create a mind-boggling theory. For example, Ken Lay, the Nintendo Wii, Jimmy Carter, and puppies can all bring peace to Palestine. Whenever I read anything by Gladwell, I am always fascinated by his vignettes, but I never see how they relate to his hypothesis. I should have expected the same with this book. Right in the introduction, the authors express their allegiance to Gladwell and vow to write a continuation of his books. If that was truly their goal, they should feel satisfied that they at least moderately achieved it. I feel that this book did a better job trying to tie everything together than any of Gladwell's writings; however, their anecdotes just weren't as captivating. And, as I mentioned earlier, I only like Gladwell for his anecdotes...these guys just did not succeed in that department. Even though I wasn't impressed with the authors' thoughts on "ideas that stick," their marketing ideas must be somewhat successful because I spent $20 on their book.

Completed: April 26, 2007

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

What is the What - Dave Eggers

What is the What tells the story of Achak Deng, one of the Lost Boys of Sudan. Achak was born in southern Sudan but was forced to leave his small village when his village was burned to the ground during the second Sudanese Civil War. Not knowing if his parents survived the massacre in his village, Achak roamed through war-torn Sudan along with other young boys who escaped similar massacres in their vilages. No place is safe for Achak, and he encounters death by all means imaginable: war, hunger, lions... Eventually, after walking through Sudan and Ethiopia Achak finds safety at a UN refugee camp in Kenya where he lives for many years before being sent to Atlanta in 2001. Eggers does a remarkable job telling Achak's story by intermingling his hardships in Africa with his problems of acclimating to life in Atlanta. I do not remember when I was last so moved by a book. While reading this book, I was constantly reminded that there is always much more we can do to help others. I'd highly recommend this book.

Completed: April 21, 2007

Pancho Villa - William Lanford

When in Barcelona two years ago, Grant Peterson and I befriended a trio of young Mexican artists. These were brilliant guys whose keen perceptions awed both Grant and I. Surprisingly, they enjoyed our company and called us the "coolest Americans they had ever met." We spent a few days with these guys and on the last night we saw them, they gave us posters that they had made of Pancho Villa for a Monterrey film festival. They were infatuated by Villa and proudly explained, "He was the only mother fucker with enough balls to attack the United States before Osama Bin Laden." I took this poster as my greatest souvenior of the trip (which was quite remarkable considering I had also received a Compestella from the Catholic Church, eliminating my time in purgatory). For the past two years, Pancho Villa has hung on my bedroom wall, but I have never taken the time to learn much about him. When I saw this book at a used book sale, I couldn't resist. This book is supposed to be an unbias non-fiction work about Pancho, but is written as a narrative which constantly praises him. I admit that this book was fun and made me really admire Pancho (a 20th century Robin Hood); however, it had a larger slant than that horrible Kerrie Miller on public radio.

Complete April 13, 2007

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

The Discovers - Daniel Borstein

The Discovers is the first book of Daniel Borstein's Knowledge Trilogy. In this book, Borstein traces the history of man's desire to learn and to understand the world around him. Initially, I was attracted to this book because it reminded me of the goal of my blog. What better way to develop a solid background of learning than to read about the history of learning? In other words I set lofty expectations for this book which ultimately couldn't be met. World history is too massive to fit into a 700 page book. I did enjoy reading some of Borstein's anecdotes; however, whenever I would get excited by a topic, the section would be over and I would be on to a new topic. Despite these shortcomings, I'd still recommend this book. I never was bored by this book, which is quite rare for such a large work. I enjoyed his style and will probably read the remainder of the books in his trilogy, The Creators and The Seekers.

Completed April 9, 2007

The Conquest of Paradise - Kirkpatrick Sale

Recently I've been playing a lot of Age of Empires III; in the game I'm a Spanish conquistador who comes to the New World and tries to colonize it while exploiting my native friends and killing all those other Europeans who try to do the same. In the game, I have named my character Hernan Cortes and am sadly really enjoying my conquest of Mexico. Thanks to my recent video game exploits, I was encouraged to read a little bit about the man whose voyage launched the colonization of America, Cristobal Colon (aka Christopher Columbus among others). This book took an interesting stance on Colon's life. Sale makes Colon out to be an imbecile. Sale spent seven years researching this book and meticulously cites his conclusions. By the end, I was quite convinced of Sale's hypothesis. More or less, Colon has been extremely glorified over the years and myths have been created about him for a number of motives. Sale questions everything from Colon's nationality and religion to his motives and assumptions. This book is intended to be an examination of Colon's life and his legacy. Unfortunately, Sale focuses a good chunk of the book on Colon's legacy; he cites practically all known monuments made to Colon, a bit too much detail for me. However, this is a good book to read if you ever want to talk back to your 3rd grade teacher who taught you that Colon was the bravest, smartest, boldest, most heroic and noble man to have ever lived. I live that opportunity in my head every day.

Completed: March 28, 2007

All I Really Need to Know from Business I Learned from Microsoft - Julie Bick

This was a free book I picked up at the MAGIC library at Target HQ. Would you believe it, they were going to through this book away? I do not know who wouldn't want to read what some product manager learned while working at Microsoft. This was a very short book filled with short lessons. I'd estimate the author described 100 lessons in 120 pages. As you can imagine, none were that well developed. I obviously did filter out some of the lessons which I agree with most. For example, everyone should take a decent lunch hour each day; it allows the mind to refresh and is a good opportunity to socialize. To come to think of it, Julie may just be a modern day Poor Richard...she just needs to invent a stove, fly a kite, and form a revolutionary government.

Completed March 19, 2007

Anna Karenina - Leo Tolstoy

According to Dostoyevsky, this is the greatest book, ever. By my standards, I'd have to disagree. I do love Russian literature. Something about novels being set in Russia creates cold, depressing imagery in my brain. I didn't quite get the feeling from this book. Unlike a lot of Russian literature of the 19th century (at least those books which I have read), this novel focuses on the elite classes, not the "peasantry." This tale didn't give me much respect of the upper echelons of Russian society. All they ever do is dance at balls, attend the opera, hunt, oppress the peasants, and talk about how much they kick ass. Because the life seems like such a cake walk, I had less sympathy for the tragic love stories that occured in this novel. On an unrelated note, I di feel a strong connection to Levin, one of the main protagonists. If you want to understand my current thoughts on life, read this book from the perspective of Levin.

Completed March 18, 2007