Tuesday, August 31, 2004

The Secret Life of Bees
(Sue Monk Kidd, unabridged, 11 CDs)
Few books get a chance with me to wobble at the outset. But this started a little weak on the bee-allegory, and yet came into focus as a beautiful story of a white girl growing up in the South in 1964. Praise the black Madonna!

Monday, August 23, 2004

Built to Last : Successful Habits of Visionary Companies
(Jim Collins & Jerry I. Porras, unabridged 9 CDs)
Business books are a particular genre of history plus pep talk. This one is not terrible, and it actually has a few sporty nuggets. 1) Many significant companies (Sony, HP) had no "business plan" when they began, simply a plan to find some way to be a business. 2) It can be very motivating to have a big hairy audacious goal. Almost every other generalization draws from their sociological method of picking winners, and matching them against comparably ancient companies that don't make the grade. One serious gap in their recommendations: They glorify HP for promoting from within, and predict dire things for IBM because of the going outside to Gerstner. But look who made the late '90s with flair, and who copied who.
I would not have read this book in entirety had it not come with a recommendation from Jared Spool. This could definitely be improved through abridgement.

Saturday, August 21, 2004

At home with pictures : arranging & displaying photos, artwork & collections
(Paige Gilchrist, 160 pp)
Fresh, useful and interesting suggestions for ways to display pictures.
Pottery Barn Storage & Display
(Martha Fay, 192pp)
Trite prose packed chock full with campy cliches. Some helpful ideas can be gleaned from the photos, but this book lives up to the pedestrian aspirations of its mother Brand. The biggest flaw in this factory-extruded book is its failure to even address home offices.

Friday, August 20, 2004

Things Fall Apart
(Chinua Achebe, 6 CDs; stopped after 1 CD)
Flinty novel about life in Ibo village. I punted because the wife-beating and harsh competitive drive of the main character was not what I am about these days.

Wednesday, August 18, 2004

DNA: The Secret of Life
(James Watson & Andrew Berry, unabridged, 18 hours)
It would be unfair to compare the lean, fast-paced *Double Helix* with this more portly tome, since a lot has happened in the last 50 years. James Watson is THE person to review that span of history; he begins by reprising his co-discovery of DNA with Crick, and then reviews the unfolding that lead to the Human Genome Project. His account of running the HGP makes for the best stories, and he ultimately was forced out because of his objections to the rampant patenting that was blocking productive research. In the last chapters, he vents his opinions on the ethical implications of genetic research, which come as no surprise. I frequently wished it were shorter, more technical, yet just as wide-ranging.

Tuesday, August 17, 2004

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time
(Mark Haddon, 6 CDs, unabridged; quit after 1 CD)
The Hound of the Baskervilles re-cast with an Asperger syndrome kid as Holmes. I can think of much more interesting ways to find out about the experience of those with high functioning autism (Asperger syndrome); read Dawn Prince-Hughes collection of autobiographical essays, *Aquamarine Blue 5: Personal Stories of College Students With Autism*

Sunday, August 15, 2004

The Making of Modern Economics: The Lives and Ideas of the Great Thinkers
(Mark Skousen, unabridged, 21 hours)
Many economists were brilliant, and their life stories are worth a listen. The book seems to have come from the lecture notes of a motivated teacher, who opens each biographical essay with a chosen musical piece (e.g., Adam Smith is coupled to Copland's Fanfare for the Common Man). The notes are occasionally repetitious, and often too list-like in their accounting of the relevant points. Still, on the whole, this is an interesting brief tour of the men (there's only one woman included) and their ideas. There are very colorful anecdotes about Schumpeter, Thorsten Veblen, and Mises and Hayek. In terms of ideas, this historical review is strongest on the 19th century, with an account of Malthus, Marshall, and the marginal men.

Friday, August 13, 2004

Samadhi : Personal Journeys to Spiritual Truth
(Derek Biermann, 150 pages)
A set of photo essays that could be compared to my favorite, *I'm not crazy, I just lost my glasses*. There are brief stories from each Samadhi, although this term is used inclusively, to cover Tibetan Buddhists, Muslim devotees, and even one Christian aspirant.

Thursday, August 12, 2004

The Kalahari Typing School for Men
(Alexander McCall-Smith, unabridged, stopped after 1 CD)
I couldn't get interested in this, although I blame the narrator's voice rather than the prose.

Tuesday, August 10, 2004

Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim
(David Sedaris, unabridged, 6 hours)
More funny vignettes, this time leavened with a greater depth of exposed nerves. While listening to this, I occasionally laughed so loud that bystanders must have known that I was mad. For reasons mysterious, I find the stories about his little brother The Rooster to be unbearably hilarious.

Monday, August 09, 2004

Report of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States
(20 hours and 46 minutes, plus the 1 hour press conference)
Compelling narrative of the terrorist actions that built up to 9.11. I wouldn't have expected the government commission to tell a story, but that is what the first 500 pages do just that. Rarely does the commission say anything at all controversial, and the document presents facts that are not typically new to those who obsessively needed to read the news for the first year after the attacks. Ashcroft is mutedly marked as a liar, since only his testimony is remarked to have been contested. Another witness reported that the defender of Infinite Justice supposedly asked that all mention of terrorist threats be dropped, after hearing too much about it in the first two meetings after he was sworn in. Clarke is recognized to be the voice of reason, who occasionally irritated his peers with his alarm calls. It is heartening to read the Commission's recommendation that society openly debate the balance to strike with respect to the Patriot Act.

Tuesday, August 03, 2004

The Fabric of the Cosmos: Space, Time, and the Texture of Reality (Brian Greene, unabridged, 22 hours)
Not everyone would multitask to the vibrations of theoretical physics, but I've enjoyed having this flow through me. The first 2/3 is a tour of relativity and quantum mechanics, but finally gets string theoretical in the last 7 hours. This book's exalted perspective encompasses those things that are smaller than a Planck distance all the way to those as big as multiple universes. Greene's continual stream of metaphors did not seem strained, although I'd had that impression from skimming his first book. His description of a tight rope finally helped explain how theories of space might have more than 3 dimensions, while making the extra dimensions very small; a tight rope seems one dimensional to the tight rope walker, but a little bug could crawl clockwise around the rope at any point, as well as moving left-right.
Democratic National Convention Days 3 & 4
(3: Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson, John Edwards & 4: Joseph Biden, Wesley Clark, Madeleine Albright, John Kerry)
Clearly NOT a book, but audible.com has made it possible to hear, for free, the main speeches without using a TV or exposing myself to the drivel of the wage-earning punditry. I was surprised to hear Democrats lavish such praise on the military accomplishments of Kerry. I could add my own driveling commentary, but the distinctive idea here is that I am in thrall to the possibility of mainlining more direct news sources via my iPod.