Monday, January 31, 2005

Seeing What's Next: Using Theories of Innovation to Predict Industry Change
(Clayton Christensen, Erik Roth, Scott Anthony; unabridged; 8 cassettes)
Very stimulating analysis of industry trends, and a penetrating look at what sort of conditions favor disruptive market entrants. Interestingly, Christensen claims that the best environment for disruption is one where the entrant feeds on the fringe, initially taking on a class of customers not attractive or served at all by the dominant players. There is a recurrent attempt to rebut the critics of "theory," which was the book's weakest part. Apparently, the authors wrestle with people who absolutely resist any attempt to find abstractions that unify diverse events. But, barring that sincere attempt to exhort cavemen to connect the dots, the book has much to say. The theory of motivation was the murkiest part, but even there I was interested in applying their framework.

Friday, January 28, 2005

Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed
(Jared Diamond, abridged, 8 CDs)
Grim, yet not bleak. There's fascinating details about Texaco's oil rigs in Borneo that have a minimal environmental footprint, which contrast strongly with most industry's over-fishing, over-foresting, etc. This book is not as mesmerizing as Guns, Germs and Steel; it often sounds like a litany of lists, strung together to make a good lecture, but without the integral vision that Diamond's earlier book had.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

The O'Franken Factor' Factor: The Very Best of the O'Franken Factor
(Al Franken; 1 CD)
If this is the best, then there's no hope for this radio show. Extremely brothy skits, with none of the zing of his other political books

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking
(Malcolm Gladwell, unabridged, 7 CDs)
This book can almost be read in a Blink. There's so many things to admire about Malcolm that it's almost irresistible to list his Achilles' heel(s): a facile capacity to eschew numbers for narrative, an aptitude for coining phrases to make phenomena memorable, and a mesmerizing talent for threading together disparate stuff into a shiny magpie nest that feels so homey. James Surowiecki's advertisement for non-thinking is more compelling; Malcolm's tour is far more heterogeneous, as he romps across the brainfully crafted decision trees guiding emergency room diagnoses, the simple rules guiding improv comedy, and art criticism. This book won't become another tipping point; no matter how you thin-slice it, managers will find here no magic method to become geniuses by following their unreflective impulses.

Saturday, January 22, 2005

100 years of landscape architecture : some patterns of a century
(Melanie Simo, 374 pp, ASLA Press, c1999)
Interesting review of the professional organization, the American Society of Landscape Architects, which at various points in the last century, aimed to be scientific, or beautiful, or to pursue a process of decisionmaking that would validate their work. And like many interactive & synthetic disciplines, the challenge is ultimately to create environments that please the people who experience those environments.

Friday, January 21, 2005

The Plot Against America
(Philip Roth, 11 CDs)
Great on growing up Jewish in America in the early 40s. Roth's obsessiveness frequently brims over with insights that can only be unleashed through his uniquely intense concentration. The initial story line feels a bit welded together from weird elements. The weakest leit motif is glommed on from the young stamp collector Philip's view of the daily events from the magnifying lens of his little stamp collection. Once the Lindbergh presidency kicks in gear, the anti-semitic nightmare is fully realized with great panache. Another layer of the story that is superbly balanced emerges from the smiling assimilationists who betray Judaism by their desires to appear "reasonable" before the gentiles. If you have a hard time believing that a rabbi could shake the hand of Ribbentrop, then scan the biography of Schwarzenegger: Rabbi Hier of the Wiesenthal Center has continually apologized for the embarrassing past of our Arnold.

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

O Jerusalem
(Larry Collins & Dominique Lapierre; read by Theodore Bikel, unabridged, 20+ hours)
Fascinating story of the birth of the state of Israel. I'll be gnawing on this bone over the next few weeks. [Two weeks later] As I have continued to listen to the history of Jerusalem, Theodore Bikel's warm voice and dramatizing narrative is superb. The details about Golda Meir's contribution to the early state are amazing. [Feb 21] The final part of the book did not seem as inspiring, but that may simply be due to the inevitability of the narrative history, since the reader knows that it must lead to the formation of the state of Israel.

Monday, January 17, 2005

Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly
(Anthony Bourdain, 8 hours)
A tour through the down-and-eventually up world of cooking. The machismo that sustains these hard-working chefs is perhaps no surprise. The middle of the book slows, since it's reprised earlier (and more succinctly) in his opening indictment of the misguided reasons people open a restaurant. Still, the stories are fun, and the underbelly world of foodism is worth the cook's tour.

Thursday, January 13, 2005

Peace Kills
(PJ O'Rourke, unabridged, 5 CDs)
Piercingly funny, irreverent, but very acute look at foreign policy.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Oh Play That Thing
(Roddy Doyle, 12 CDs)
Not terrifically fun; way too much discursiveness to the character development. There's almost no dramatizing of the interaction between Henry and Louis Armstrong, and I never felt I got inside Louis' wonderful world.

Monday, January 10, 2005

Insight Guide Israel (Insight Guides Israel)
(Pam Barrett, 400 pp)
This glossy guide book captures a lot of useable info, including the same map of Jerusalem that seems to be used by Israeli government tourism. While it's not chock full of crunchy details and arcana, it does present a valuable and quick overview.
Israel Handbook (Footprint Israel Handbook with the Palestinian Authority Areas)
(Dave Winter, 850pp)
I bought this used, since there's a dearth of current tourist guides to Israel. The customer reviews at Amazon were very polarized, but I wanted to see for myself. In the end, my sense is that this Brit's attempt to sound even-handed is doomed; the desire to view "both sides" of the Holocaust debate would almost be laughable, but it's ultimately offensive.

Sunday, January 02, 2005

Jack Cole and Plastic Man: Forms Stretched to Their Limits
(Art Spiegelman, 144 pp)
After reading the Men of Tomorrow, I followed up one of the footnotes to pursue the reference to Plas, my favorite superhero. Since Spiegelman is the alpha-comic-nerd, this homage pulls together many interesting details, esp. concerning the Plas' creator's early role at Playboy. Weirdly, Cole's ambition to make the big time involved a scheme to develop a bland newspaper-distributed comic strip; after its whimpering launch, he ended his life. The last strips encrypt a possible explanation: a husband and wife confess their act(s) of infidelity; the hubby admits one single lapse, and the cartoon wife can't complete her long list before bedtime. Perhaps it was the context of mixing life and art, but my recollections of the Plas were richer, more antic and hilarious than the 3 reprinted here.