Company (Max Barry)

[Company (Max Barry)] A book where a major storyline is the investigation of a stolen donut is a special thing. The scary part is that this is based on an actual incident at Hewlett-Packard. The rest of the novel doesn’t draw as literally from Max Barry’s time at the computer giant, but what does it say about HP when Zephyr Holdings (the company in Company) has no product, no customers, and seemingly no purpose?

Max Barry is making a pretty nice life for himself (and family) satirizing the corporate world, and Company‘s imaginative scenario is equal in stature to his two prior novels. The execution here is good, but not quite to the level of Syrup and Jennifer Government, which are still enjoyable after multiple readings.

Max has set up a website, Tales of Corporate Oppression, for stolen-donut-type tales from the office.

Collapse (Jared Diamond)

[Collapse (Jared Diamond)] Guns, Germs, and Steel is Diamond’s history of the world. Collapse is Diamond’s prediction for the future based on the success or failure of past civilizations. The conclusion is that there are 12 major environmental challenges facing us, and if we don’t overcome all of them, there’s going to be a sharp decline in population. After reading the final chapter, Diamond somehow closes with a cautiously optimistic outlook.

This book was probably too heavy for commute reading. The material was extremely interesting, especially the history of Easter Island, but it took me a very long time to get through it.

One of the most striking images from Collapse is that the Norse Greenland colony is considered a failed experiment. It lasted 800 years. Europeans colonized the Americas 500 years ago. We haven’t proven anything yet.

Join Me! (Danny Wallace)

[Join Me! (Danny Wallace)] Danny Wallace is the same guy that decided to say yes to almost all questions, which almost got him killed, but worked out in the end. But before his affirmative action campaign, he managed to start a cult, although he’d call it a collective. It wasn’t on purpose mind you, and didn’t really even have a purpose for the first few months. They’ve since been dedicated to performing random acts of kindness on Fridays. I’m not sure how many “joinees” are involved now (definitely more than 4000), but it has spread outside of Europe, the forum is active, and there’s even a podcast site. Join Me is the tale of the cult’s humble beginnings, first priestly member, and struggle to hide it from its leader’s girlfriend. I’d probably recommend Yes Man first, but Join Me is an excellent follow up for those of you who enjoy mad cap fun.

Add this to the list of books you can finish on a coast-to-coast flight.

This guy might be more of a real life Kramer than Kenny Kramer. He doesn’t seem to work, but starts these elaborate (and somewhat ridiculous) projects that seem quite expensive. Yet, Danny lands on his feet. Crazy.

See the official site for more info and how to join. I probably will.

The Bush Survival Bible (Gene Stone)

[The Bush Survival Bible (Gene Stone)] This is a humorous little tale Dice picked up for me for Christmas. While I would have been happy with a compendium of Pres centered jokes (and there are many), the book’s main feature is useful information. One of the highlights are biographies of younger Democrats that represend reasons to be optimistic for a post-W world. Or if you can’t possibly deal with our current leadership, there are seven suggestions for countries to move to. There is an accompanying web site at which solicits and posts additional ways to deal with the second term. Hang in there America!

Star Wars: Labyrinth of Evil (James Luceno)

[Star Wars: Labyrinth of Evil (James Luceno)]Labyrinth of Evil is the bridge between Episodes 2 and 3 of the Star Wars movie saga. Unfortunately, the book merely connects the dots between the movies and doesn’t add much to the overall Star Wars plotline. In contrast, Shadows of the Empire, which takes place between Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, actually develops the familiar characters. Furthermore, the story is exciting even though we know where everyone will end up. For the non-hardcore Star Wars fan, I recommend the Han Solo trilogy, which chronicles the youth and smuggler days of the pilot and his association with Chewbacca.

Don’t Know Much About History (Kenneth C. Davis)

[Don't Know Much About History (Kenneth C. Davis)] Yes, I did take American history in high school. It was two years, and at the end we still had to cram 1950 to 1997 into a couple days. I wish knew that it could be covered in just two weeks. The book’s format is a series of questions and answers that could be considered independently, but when read in succession, they provide a surprisingly seamless story of U.S. history. Interspersed are relevant (usually famous) quotes pertaining to the particular era and short commentaries on the source and context. Also provided in the text (not in a separate bibliography) are suggested reading for further learning. Davis hits all of the important topics (wars and the like), as well as some curiousities that were probably overlooked in school (Who was Miranda? Are the Hemmings decendants Jeffersons?). I thoroughly enjoyed Don’t Know Much, and due to the Q&A format, it’ll be a nice reference to have in the library.

The Rule of Four (Ian Caldwell and Dustin Thomason)

[The Rule of Four (Ian Caldwell and Dustin Thomason)]Rule of Four follows up on the success of The DaVinci Code in the historical, academic mystery genre. Where Rule of Four differs is that the puzzle takes a back seat to character development of the four (double entendre?) Princeton senior roommates and an elder generation of Renaissance scholars all pursuing the secrets of the 15th century Hypnerotomachia Poliphili (a real book). Also, while the main storyline essentially comprises a three day period (similar to The DaVinci Code), the pace is substantially slowed by the flashbacks that provide the necessary backstory. Rule of Four was enjoyable enough to finish on a cross-country flight, but Dan Brown is still the master of the genre.

Slaughterhouse-Five (Kurt Vonnegut)

[Slaughterhouse-Five (Kurt Vonnegut)]It’s pretty ridiculous, but my first exposure to Vonnegut was when he appeared on the Daily Show. Jon Stewart praised the author as one of his heroes, so when ‘Stache offered a copy of Slaughterhouse-Five, I added the book to my queue.

Why is it a classic? Of course war is absurd; not many are going to argue about that point. But what’s the solution? The wiser, omniscient Tralfamadorians have endured wars, and will again in the future. It cannot be averted. So do we continue along this absurd path? I’m no war hawk, but I recognize that fighting has been necessary, and although I pray otherwise, it will be necessary again. It’s easy to then fall into the existentialist attitude of “So it goes.”

In my head, I’m arguing in circles; that must be why it’s a classic. It certainly isn’t because it’s a pleasure to read. The protagonist isn’t likeable, the science-fiction aspect isn’t very imaginitive, and the book doesn’t provide any suggestions for dealing with the absurdity of war other than “So it goes.” I guess as a starting point for discussion and argument, it’s a classic.

The Fighting Spirit (Lou Holtz)

[The Fighting Spirit (Lou Holtz)]In the buildup to the ND/USC game this year, I picked up this one at Odie’s place to satiate my school spirit. I happened to be reading the chapter on the Miami game as ND prepared for this year’s contest against USC. That certainly fed my excitement about the epic clash. Maybe the comparison can be made with other coaches as well, but there seemed to be quite a few similarities between the way Holtz and Weis talk about their teams. Both are very focused on taking the season one game at a time. There is very little time to celebrate a victory, because in seven days, that victory is meaningless. Both are perfectionists; they look for flaws in the performance and seek to improve, even after blowout victories. However, the criticism is usually placed on a team as a whole and all facets of the game are evaluated with equal rigor. That said, both are quick to praise their players publicly, usually by name. In terms of strategy, they’ll beat you with what’s working. For example, Holtz had games where ND rarely threw the ball. This year, we’ve had games where we hardly ever ran. Balance is overrated if you’re winning. Anyway, it’s not the most well written book ever, but I sure got fired up for that USC game because of it.

Freakonomics (Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner)

[Freakonomics (Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner)]The authors define “freakonomics” as the application of economic principles to non-financial questions. I started reading it on a flight from SFO to O’Hare and finished it as the plane was landing, so it’s certainly interesting and well written. Similarly to Blink, the only thing more intriguing than the topics are the conclusions. The theme is to be skeptical of conventional wisdom; it’s Moneyball for everything outside of baseball.

The Levitt/Dubner team now also has a blog of the same name to continue the discussion of these (often random) questions scientifically.