Currently, I am reading (or have just completed) David Weinberger’s “Everything is Miscellaneous: The Power of the new Digital Disorder“, E.B. Sledge’s “With The Old Breed: At Peleliu and Okinawa“, Joel Spolsky’s “Smart & Gets Things Done“, and Michael Pollan’s “The Omnivore’s Dilemma“.
Here’s the nickel reviews.
Sledge – Five Stars (done).
- Who should read this: anybody interested in WWII, military history, or who has a relative or friend serving in a war zone.
- What it’s about: the amphibious landings performed by the US Marines during WWII on the islands of Peleliu and Okinawa. More specifically, what it was like to be a grunt during those two military actions, fighting an enemy with major philosophical differences when it comes to war.
- Why it’s a good read: it reminds you that it is normal for “the good guys” to be dehumanized when participating in war. Sledge describes man’s inhumanity to man in stark terms, without the intention to pass judgment on the actions of the troops, but rather to simply describe what it’s like to have people trying to kill you with guns and bombs while you try to kill them with guns and bombs. You have to wonder what sorts of stories the troops currently deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan will write five or ten years from now.
- Why I read it: there are lots of excerpts from the book in Ken Burn’s “The War”, which Kitty and I finished watching on the DVR recently.
Weinberger: Three.Five Stars (done).
- Who should read this: people who believe “all of us are smarter than one of us”, people who believe that last statement is a bunch of bunk, and anyone who hasn’t studied set theory and is over 25, because they may not have any idea how the young whippersnappers are going to experience learning different from the way they themselves did.
- What it’s about: how organizing information and meta information is inherently different in a digital world than the physical world (ie, print media).
- Why it’s a good read: it’s a pretty decent introductory book on the topic. I confess I was slightly dissapointed, though… Weinberger has a chance to tackle some big issues here, but glosses over the hard stuff. The description of the Dewey Decimal system is well done. His writeup of the implications of the historical publishing models, particularly as they tie to academic publishing is well done… but all he does is throw in the viewpoints, he takes no stand on the issues. Coming from someone who’s writing a book about a topic that has pretty revolutionary implications on knowledge management and learning, that’s a disservice to the readership. Plus, he throws the words “information” and “knowledge” around as being equivalent, but the two are not the same.
- Why I read it: knowledge management is an interesting problem, particularly when it comes to community taxonomies. I was hoping for a little more meat in here.
Spolsky: Three.Five Stars (done).
- Who should read this: anyone who hires IT people, particularly programmers. Anyone who is an executive at a high-tech company.
- What it’s about: how to find and hire good IT people, particularly programmers.
- Why it’s a good read: if you’re a technology-centric company, it’s great at explaining how to find and hire people that will actually make a huge difference for your company. If you’re not Google or Microsoft, and you want to be able to find programmers or IT people who are that caliber of worker (or near it), it’s a pretty good collection of advice. If, on the other hand, you’re looking for commodity IT work, you’re probably going to get some wrong ideas if you just read this book and think of it as gospel. Joel does a great job of talking about the top 3% of the pack and how to attract them, but it probably would have been a good idea to include at least a few paragraphs on what the demographics of the pack actually are. Your org may not need the top 3%.
- Why I read it: I like Joel’s stuff.
Pollan – Five Stars, with Cluster (still reading)
- Who should read this: everybody who eats food in the U.S, or pays taxes.
- What it’s about: a pretty interesting investigation into the agricultural industry in the U.S. Did you know that about almost of the chemical fertilizer produced in the U.S. goes directly to the corn crop? The chapters on industrial agriculture, nitrogen fixing, and the implications of the weird market forces created by the USDA’s farm subsidy programs are downright scary. It doesn’t make much sense to switch cars to ethanol if it takes more petroleum energy to (a) create the fertilizer (b) grow the corn (c) make the ethanol… than it does to just run the car in the first place, now does it?
- Why it’s a good read: I’m not done, and I haven’t thoroughly hashed through the references in the book, so I can’t say how accurate all of the information is in it yet (if you take the book on face value, you’re liable to get very, very irritated at your local congressperson). His credentials aren’t science-heavy, but his writing indicates that he knows the basics of agribusiness, economics, and biology… and more importantly he knows how to write a compelling illustratative argument.
- Why I read it: Kitty read it for her book group, and recommended it.