Category Archives: Books
Josh Bernoff: ”Read Seth Godin’s Linchpin. Or be a cog in the machine”:
Seth’s premise is that today’s organizational structure is a throwback to the days of factories, with interchangeable parts and interchangeable workers. Basically, this means that if you do your job as you’re told, then you’re easy to replace. Seth wants you to "become indispensable" instead.
…In my mind, one of the most valuable things in this book is a chart on page 181. There are two axes. The x-axis goes from passive to passionate. The y-axis goes from attachment (that is, inflexible dedication to your own world view) to discernment (knowing what to live with and what to seek change in). I would call that y-axis "wisdom". Seth wants you to aim for the upper left, high passion plus high wisdom, the realm of the linchpin.
I haven’t read this one yet, but I’m intrigued by the premise. May have to pick this one up. (It’s not on the Kindle yet, though, which is a shame, or I might already own it.)
Fantasy novelist David Eddings died yesterday in Carson City, Arizona at the age of 77.
Eddings is best known for The Belgariad series, the first installment of which, The Pawn of Prophecy (1982), prompted Lester del Rey to tell him, "You’ve written a classic." The series introduced many to fantasy, and inspired some to write themselves (including Stephen Hunt, whose tribute to Eddings is here). Eddings was himself inspired by the success of The Lord of the Rings, which he was startled to discover was in its 78th printing when he encountered a display copy in a bookstore.
When asked in a recent interview what made his books so successful, Eddings replied with the same answer many of his fans would give: "Characters. My people are as real as I can make them."
I don’t read as much fiction these days, but Eddings has been one of my favorite authors since I discovered him back in college. Sorry to see him go.
Warning: contains spoilers
I’ve read a couple of enjoyable books about history in the past few weeks.
First was “Stupid Wars: A Citizen’s Guide to Botched Putsches, Failed Coups, Inane Invasions, and Ridiculous Revolutions” by Ed Strosser and Michael Prince. The title alone gives you a sense of the tone of this book: snarky. The depths of contempt these guys have for every person in each of these conflicts is hilarious. Did you know that the US invaded Russia in 1919? Yeah, not the best attempt at regime change in our history. The series of South American conflicts are Monty Python level exercises in pathos. The most surprising thing about the book (given the current political climate) is that there’s nothing mentioned from the last fifteen years. (It ends with the coup that knocked Gorbachev out of the Kremlin.) In fact, I’m convinced this book was waiting for a publisher, and someone decided to snap it up on the off chance readers would pick it up. Really, there’s nothing political about this book at all, but I did feel like I learned some stuff.
Second was a touch more political, Sarah Vowell’s “Assassination Vacation”. Told from a perspective of a woman who holds a weird fascination with the darker corners of American history, dragging family and friends around the country to see obscure locations and museums, Vowell tells three stories, about the assassinations of Abraham Lincoln, James Garfield and William McKinley. Most of the book is a combination of witty reportage of the historical events, and witty discussions of the “vacations” in question to dig up all this history. As though she doesn’t want to, but still can’t help herself, Vowell does take a few shots at the Bush administration, making a series of interesting comparisons between the Iraq War and the Spanish American War.
Iraq War: We invaded Afghanistan, then left it to fester (re: Osama bin Laden) and shifted our focus to invading Iraq to bring them democracy, thus getting stuck for a long struggle against insurgents. The war is motivated by a valuable and scarce resource known as black gold… oil!
Spanish-American War: We invaded Cuba, then left it to fester (re: Fidel Castro) and shifted our focus to invading the Philippines to bring them democracy, thus getting stuck for a long struggle against insurgents. The war is motivated by a valuable and scarce resource known as white gold… sugar!
I enjoyed both books, in different ways. “Stupid Wars” is all about the history and how dumb it really is. “Assassination Vacation” is more about Vowell’s personality, which is really fun. I mean, how can you not like the writer who comes up with this: “But when I’m around strangers, I turn into a conversational Mount St. Helens. I’m dormant, dormant, quiet, quiet, old-guy loners build log cabins on the slopes of my silence and then, boom, it’s 1980. Once I erupt, they’ll be wiping my verbal ashes off their windshields as far away as North Dakota.” That’s just beautiful.
NASA on Sunday launched a probe into orbit high above earth to study the distant edge of the solar system where hot solar winds crash into the cold outer space.
…The small, stop-sign-shaped probe is equipped with instruments that will allow it to take images and chart, for the first time, a remote region known as the interstellar boundary, where the solar system meets interstellar space. The area is a vast expanse of turbulent gas and twisting magnetic fields.
…The only information that scientists have of this distant region is from the twin Voyager 1 and 2 probes, launched in 1977 and still in service today.
The guys at NASA would save themselves a lot of time if they would just read Russell’s book.