It's been a while since I've published a book review on R/WW, so I'm going to briefly review 5 books that I've read during the past few months. Four of them are Web Technology-related and the other was an eBook that I bought.
The Nudist on the Late Shift : And Other True Tales of Silicon Valley by Po Bronson is a book I've been meaning to read for ages. I read his latest, What Should I Do With My Life?, last year and that was an inspiring read. He's one of the 'new journalism' type writers that I so admire - Tom Wolfe and Micheal Lewis are my two favourites in that genre (more on Wolfe below).
Po Bronson started out with two novels and Nudist on the Late Shift was his third published book. He calls it "literary nonfiction" and it tells the tale of various Silicon Valley workers and companies. He covers some of the successful people - e.g. the guy who invented Hotmail and sold it for a heap of money to Microsoft. But he also writes about the strugglers - those who dream big but haven't yet hit the jackpot. The chapter about Silicon Valley salesmen best exemplified the strugglers.
One of the most compelling parts of the book was his description of meeting Danny Hillis, the genuis computer programmer who created The Clock of the Long Now. [According to Wikipedia: "A clock built to last 10,000 years or more, powered by seasonal climactic fluctuations. The clock is not yet built, but a piece of land in rural Nevada has been purchased, the design is completed in detail, and construction of the components is underway."]
I also enjoyed Bronson's descriptions of the Valley, because it's my own personal dream to live and work there one day. Bronson described it as a hot and scenically unspectacular place. However it attracts a certain type of creative and ambitious person - and it's this that drives the narrative of the book.
My rating: 9/10. Nudist is a fantastic read and despite the cautionary tales, it only makes me want to visit Silicon Valley even more!
amazon.com - Get Big Fast : Inside the Revolutionary Business Model That Changed the World, by Robert Spector is a biography of Jeff Bezos. It's a nice business-oriented read, complete with "takeaways" at the end of each chapter (generic business lessons like "Always brace for competition and be ready to strike back"). I don't think I learned much new about Bezos or Amazon. Spector had access to a couple of early employees, but not Bezos himself - discounting an early interview he did with him.
My rating: 6/10. It was a pleasant read but nothing to get too excited about.
Movable Type 3.0 Bible Desktop Edition, by Rogers Cadenhead. I won a free copy of this from Rogers' weblog. I've leafed through it and it's a comprehensive how-to for the latest version of Movable Type. A lot of the early chapters are aimed at new bloggers, e.g. Ch 5 'Writing a weblog entry', but there's some meaty stuff for more experienced users later in the book. I plan to test out some of the XML-RPC material in the coming weeks.
My rating: 8/10. This is a very handy reference for me to have around (I'm an MT user) and the technical content in the second half of the book is something for me to get stuck into when I get some time to tinker.
Hackers and Painters: Big Ideas from the Computer Age, by Paul Graham. This is a book that seems to polarize people. Paul Graham writes opinionated essays and he gets under the wick of many programmers for his dismissal of languages like Java and... well pretty much any programming language except for his beloved Lisp. Having said that, as a non-programmer I enjoyed the parts of Hackers and Painters that I could understand! (I got through everything but a couple of chapters at the end about spam filtering and heavy duty programming).
He wrote some interesting things about web-based applications, which is Web 2.0 territory. e.g. on pg 58 he wrote: "The whole idea of 'your computer' is going away, and being replaced with 'your data'." Also on pgs 79-80 he wrote an excellent explanation of the transition from mainframes to desktops to the server - I highly recommend that passage.
My rating: 7. An enjoyable read, but you're likely to disagree with some parts of it.
I Am Charlotte Simmons, by Tom Wolfe. I read this via eBook and I promised I'd let you know how the reading experience went. It was mostly good, but with some minor hassles reading via a small PDA screen. The convenience of having the book always with me, as opposed to a heavy hardcover book, was a big plus. But it was a bit awkward sometimes reading this long novel via my PDA - it's summer over here in New Zealand right now, so the sun glinting on the screen was a problem sometimes. And that old issue of curling up in bed with a good book - well, at times I did miss the comfort of a paper book. But those are minor quibbles. All in all, I was pleased with the ebook experience and I will buy more ebooks.
As for the story itself, well as I mentioned above Tom Wolfe is one of my favourite authors. He pioneered 'new journalism' and is still one of the best Literary Non-fiction (and fiction) writers around. 'I am Charlotte Simmons' was a highly ambitious book for Wolfe. It is set in a university and the main character is a young very intelligent but socially naive southern girl. Other major characters include a white basketball star in a college team dominated by black players, a frat boy involved in a scandel involving a senator, and a nerdy college kid called Adam. About as far away from the life of Tom Wolfe, a man in his 70's who wears cream-coloured suits, as you can imagine. At times the dialogue seemed to get the better of him - e.g. he was 'awarded' the Literary Review's annual Bad Sex award! - but to be fair at other times the dialogue and characters were utterly compelling. Tom Wolfe is a great writer, very strong on social and moral themes, and overall I think he managed to do justice to this ambitious project.
My rating: 8/10. If you're a Tom Wolfe fan, this book won't disappoint. Flawed in some respects, but there's more than enough evidence of Wolfe's genius in this lengthy novel.