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Books 2005

  • William H. Whyte: The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces
    Seminal work on the use of public spaces by the public - not necessarily how they were designed. How design can't make a great place, but certainly how it can destroy it. (****)
  • Susannah Gardner: BitTorrent For Dummies
  • Geoffrey A. Landis: Mars Crossing
    Landis is a sci-fi fan and NASA engineer who writes novels on the side. I had the chance to see him speak with Vernor Vinge and others at Seattle's SciFi museum, so I picked up one of his books. This is his first one and the story works very well. It is a first book, he's looking to find his writing legs. But it's a solid story. I have yet to see the recent film though. (***)
  • Bruce Mau: Massive Change
    Very inspiring, excellent questions raised, great people selected for interviews, discussions on sustainability and design from a diverse multidisciplinary group. (*****)
  • China Mieville: Iron Council
    Mielville has progressed to become a strong author with a consistent and well rounded universe. In this book sociology, economics, and politics collide as New Crobuzon is being torn apart with social strife. In desperation, the people turn to a group of renegades known as the Iron Council will help. However, in order to give the help, the Iron Council must reach the city. Nothing is every as easy as it seems. (***)
  • Jared Diamond: Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies
    Many people told me to read this book, and I finally did. Diamond does an amazing job of explaining how agronomy, human settlement, and other factors impacted which societies failed and which survived. He writing is a bit repetitive and verbose, but the book is a must read. (***)
  • Neil Gaiman: Anansi Boys : A Novel
    Gaiman is scary with his prose. No one since Vonnegut has pulled me so effortlessly through a storyline. This book is wonderful - I bought it for my mother for Christmas - that wonderful. (*****)
  • W. Chan Kim: Blue Ocean Strategy: How to Create Uncontested Market Space and Make Competition Irrelevant
    You have two choices - do what others are doing and undercut their prices / do it better OR you can seek out opportunities where markets currently don't exist. Find what used to be called the niche or the entirely new market. This is a great book to read right after the Medici Effect (see below). Together these books have helped focus business planning for me. (***)
  • Banana Yoshimoto: Amrita
    There's a lot of praise about this book on the back jacket, but a meek near-apology from Yoshimoto. I can see why, you can tell what she wants to do, but it doesn't quite get across. She also thanks her translator whom I don't think did her justice. There are a few places where Japanese colloquialisms were literally translated or trivialized. The spirituality of the book never quite makes the connection I think Yoshimoto was looking for. I can't help but think the original Japanese would have been a little deeper. (***)
  • Steven D. Levitt: Freakonomics : A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything
    Wow! This book is winning award after award. It's incredible. Levitt takes the reader on a ride of causality and statistical linkages that are sometimes rather upsetting. Freakonomics is an excellent and surprising piece of work. (****)
  • Richard Morgan: Woken Furies : A Takeshi Kovacs Novel (Takeshi Kovacs Novels)
    Morgan is on a role. Takeshi Kovacs finds himself awoken one day to learn he has a double - who has been hired to kill him. As always, Morgan's clear yet gritty universe has layers of complexity and logic. His violence is still unfettered. His characters still tough yet human. (***)
  • Frans Johansson: The Medici Effect: Breakthrough Insights at the Intersection of Ideas, Concepts, and Cultures
    Currently Reviewing -- but will note that this book really brought together some things I've been exploring. Creativity, inspiration, the value of planning, the danger of over-planning, the need to have faith, the need to not let failure be intimidating. This is an amazing little book. (*****)
  • Jess Walter: Over Tumbled Graves
    I met Jess Walter at a reading where he was co-speaking with Sherman Alexie. We had a brief chat and I picked up his detective novel Over Tumbled Graves. Walter used to be a reporter who covered a few murder sprees. His knowledge of the workings of the police and the media come out in this book. A good, solid read. (***)
  • Alexandra Pelosi: Sneaking Into the Flying Circus : How the Media Turn Our Presidential Campaigns into Freak Shows
    Alexandra Pelosi in 2000 traveled with George Bush and made a documentary out of it. In 2004, she decided to travel with the Democrats. Democrats watch movies too and probably liked what Pelosi had created. But when she showed up at their party, they were a little on guard. Pelosi reviews each of the campaigns for style, substance, and joie de vivre. Her insights are valuable in that she reacts on a personal level to each of the campaigners, despite how they may have treated her one way or the other (but she is sure to let you know how they treated her). This is a truly valuable book if only for the fact that it lets you see that our view of candidates is certainly distorted, but the candidate’s self perception I likewise distorted. The unanswered question is … where does the distortion actually begin? (***)
  • Sherman Alexie: The Toughest Indian in the World
    A melancholy book of shorts by Alexie. Alexie is good at setting a mood and needs very little time to do it. Normally I hate short stories - an the reason is because they are seldom fully realized. These stories all start fast, engulf the reader, and take them someplace. Rapidly, concisely, and thoughtfully. (***)
  • Albert-Laszlo Barabasi: Linked: How Everything Is Connected to Everything Else and What It Means
    If you read Six Degrees (see below) you should follow it up with this. This takes Network Theory the next step. Like Six Degrees, this is told personally and in the end you nearly have a masters degree in Network Theory. Barabasi shows how we're connected, how connections grow, and how little actions lead to much more than equal reactions. (****)
  • Richard Russo: Mohawk (Vintage Contemporaries)
    It's possible that Russo is the greatest living American novelist. I have yet to be other than amazed at his books. With this book, I have read all he currently has to offer (so he'd better come out with something soon). In Mohawk, a son deals with his estranged father. Anyone who has had a family member they felt responsible for but alienated by ... but drawn to... will recognize these characters. Strong, incredibly strong. (****)
  • Vernon E., Jr. Jordan: Vernon Can Read!: A Memoir
    Veron Jordan's book is a fascinating tale of starting out with no hope and ending up a power broker. It seems at times that he sugar coats things - or accentuates the positive to a point where vital negative was eliminated. But that's a minor discomfort in an otherwise riveting memoir. (****)
  • Natsuo Kirino: Out : A Novel (Vintage International)
    A very pretty young woman, married to a man who had potential but never achieved it, is forced to work nights at a boxed lunch factory to feed the family. To repay her, the husband gambles their savings away and chases some pretty Chinese girls. So, she strangles him with a belt. Then she gives her friend a call who comes over and helpfully offers to dispose of the body. Hey, with friends like that… Then the women live with what they’ve done. A fun read. Not the feminist tome that others make it out to be. Unless it is new news for you that some men treat women badly. (****)
  • James Surowiecki: The Wisdom of Crowds
    What to say about the book everyone has talked about endlessly for the last two years? Crowds are wise ... sometimes. Crowds are not wise ... sometimes. Surowiecki has changed the way we discuss aggregation of thought, forever. (****)
  • David Brin: Sundiver (The Uplift Saga, Book 1)
    The crew of the Sundiver has recently expanded to included a few apparent random elements. Jacob, a rather unstable chap, has been given an opportunity to attend by his friend Fagen – a sentient plant. The Sundiver experiment – to map and explore the corona of the star from the inside – is important politically to the human race. Humans, new to the interstellar lifestyle, are anxious to show that they have something to offer to the advanced, but apathetic, alien races. Sundiver promises to do this, which really irks some races. This is the first of the uplift series. The last three books of which are really phenomenal. This book really feels like a first book. It never really finds its voice. (***)
  • Andrea J. Baker: Double Click: Romance And Commitment Among Online Couples
    Happiness does not sell soap. This is why the news so frequently shows the monstrous decay of society, regardless of how real it might be. So too has been the coverage of online relationships. Andrea Baker finds that people who participate in online relationships are not desperate, lonely, ugly, sex addicts and child molesters; despite common depictions. Baker interviewed and tracked 89 couples that met online and started a relationship. Some of these failed, others did not. The participants filled out her extensive two part survey and gave her a tremendous store of first-hand information. Imagine what a great day it is for a sociologist to find a love affair with a fully time-stamped paper trail! The study finds that online partners find each other in social settings, talk and grow their relationship in private, encounter obstacles, overcome some of them, and make decisions about their futures. The major finding here is that there are considerable and demonstrable benefits to a relationship which starts online. Perhaps some counselors should take note. (***)
  • Jim Collins: Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap... and Others Don't
    Everything you learned in high school plays out in the world of business. The popular kids get the attention and the press. They find themselves with great opportunities. But they don’t necessarily get the best grades. Collins and his team describe companies that outperformed the market for 15 straight years, after several years of underperforming or just meeting the market. They noticed that several companies had breakthrough points where they went from mediocre to greatness. Were there characteristics that led to this? A combination of competent, yet meek, leadership; a clear, obtainable, shared vision, and a well crafted team provide most of the fuel for this ship. But it’s the good kids, who keep their noses down and working hard and diligently that end up winning. The sleek CEOs that preen for the CNBC cameras end up leaving companies in shambles – even if during their personal tenure things went pretty well. Well researched and well told, albeit a bit light in places. (****)
  • Neil Gaiman: American Gods
    Upon being released from Jail, Shadow finds his wife has been killed and a strange man has a job for him. As the story unfolds, Shadow is taken through the soul of America. Gods of old (Odin, Easter, Loki, etc.) walk our streets each day, some meek, some not. They are all losing market share, however to the new Gods (Media, Communications, Politics, Internet). A battle is brewing that promises to be bloody and personal. Shadow is its lightening rod. Gaiman takes us on a journey in this book that follows his previous path (Neverwhere, Good Omens) of postmodern weirdness, but somehow he has ingested a bit of Richard Russo. The results are stunning. A book that surprising in its personal depth without ever letting you know it’s going there. (*****)
  • Christopher Moore: Bloodsucking Fiends
    Location: Seattle | Dates: I'm not sure | My friend Greg gave me this book a long time ago. He wanted to get my opinion of it because he wasn't sure how he felt about it. Bloodsucking Fiends is about an accidental vampire (female) in San Francisco. It had its moments, but seemed like a hurried work. (**)
  • Duncan J. Watts: Six Degrees: The Science of a Connected Age
    Cities: Seattle | Palo Alto | Oakland -- Dates: 20 June thru 8 July 2005 | Author Duncan Watts helped found the science of network theory. In Six Degrees he describes the evolution of the science. This narrative covers each step in the philosophical evolution to provide the reader with the context as well as the numbers behind the findings. Starting with Milgram’s Six-Degrees studies from the 1950s as a base, they investigate the small-world problem and identify the mechanisms by which networks operate. They conclude that the solution to the small world problem reveals a series of balancing acts. Depending on context, people are either extremely connected or perceptually fragmented; networks are robust or fragile; and ambiguity can create opportunity or be a harbinger of a network’s demise. - Look under "Books" for a longer review (*****)
  • Sidney Blumenthal: The Clinton Wars
    Dates: 30 May to 19 June 2005 | Location: Seattle | Okay, I just ordered Vernon Jordan's book and I'm hoping it's mostly about his childhood. I am now suffering through post-Clinton fatigue after reading now about 2,500 pages on what happened over the years. Don't get me wrong, Blumenthal's book is well written, factual (for the most part) and really couldn't have been written any other way. He does a good, though incomplete, job of noting the administration's mistakes. He does a better job of pointing out that it wasn't really the mistakes that ever mattered, it was the bizarre lies that started before Clinton and have now become a matter of course. It is a "Democrat Book" much like Peggy Noonan's book on Reagan was a "Republican Book." I recommend this book, but I don't do it forcefully. One thing I will note ... this book has solidified for me the belief that Clinton had a vision and knew how to implement it. That vision broke the unspoken rule of Washington DC - "don't change the rules." It was Clinton's vision and not the Democrats. Even Blumenthal doesn't seem to acknowledge this. Both parties now are soul-less rivals. I'm going to read something else now. (***)
  • CHINA MIEVILLE: The Scar
    Dates: 5 May to 30 May 2005 | Locations: Phoenix and Seattle | Perdido Street Station blew me away. This blew me along. Nicely, but not quite what I was expecting. A person I knew referred to it as a "Ramble". I wouldn't go that far, China was aiming toward the epic aesthetic which always involves a whole lot of explanative text. If you are going to get your feet wet in the lengthy world of China Mielville, I would suggest going to Peridido Street Station first (plus, it's the precursor to this book). (***)
  • Malcolm Gladwell: Blink : The Power of Thinking Without Thinking
    Dates: 26 April to 5 May | Locations: Seattle and Phoenix | A phenomenal book, amazingly readable. The anecodtes that Gladwell has chosen to prove his theories are perfectly illustrative and very easy to get into. Gladwell shows how we make snap judgements, how we can rule them, how they can rule us and the gray areas in between. A phenomenal piece of work. (*****)
  • Greg Spalding: The Classiest Team Baseball Ever Knew
    Date: 25 April. Location: Seattle A very mechanical look at the 72 Pirates. I know nothing of the team or why they were classy, save for one day where they didn't get mad. I'm sure they were classy on more days than one. (**)
  • Toni Morrison: The Bluest Eye
    Dates: 19 April to 25 April Locations: Seattle Wow, Toni Morrison can depress a body! This nobel winner is the story of incest, hopelessness, internalized racism and how worlds don't so much as collide as run on divergent tracks. A must read ... but keep someone funny nearby. (***)
  • Armand M. Nicholi Jr.: The Question of God: C.S. Lewis and Sigmund Freud Debate God, Love, Sex, and the Meaning of Life
    Dates: 10 April to 18 April Locations: Oakland, Seattle This is an excellent overview of the divergent worldviews of Freud and Lewis. While it claims to be unbiased, it's clear that Nicholi is favoring Lewis' perspective. Nicholi also goes long on describing why Freud missed certain things but makes no effort to deconstruct Lewis' need for a universal moral law. (***)
  • Peggy Noonan: When Character Was King: A Story of Ronald Reagan
    Dates: 26 Mar to 9 April Locations: Seattle, Oakland Peggy Noonan really loved Ronald Reagan and it shows in this book. Regardless of you feel about Reagan or his legacy, she paints a reverent and loving portrait of another person which is very nice to read. She glosses over some obvious foibles .. but to such an extent that the intent becomes more important that the political realities. (***)
  • Haruki Murakami: Kafka on the Shore
    Dates: 14-25 Mar 05 Location: Seattle Life is about finding your way. You lose it, you find it, you lose it again. On may levels. Recently I became acutely aware that I was losing my way. It really doesn’t matter on what level or the specifics. I once had a pretty firm grasp of something and I lost it. I didn’t know what to do to find my way again. I just had to have faith that I would. At first I feared I would not find it and I was under a great deal of stress. That stress made me focus on the existential deficiency and not on life. It was soul poison. Once I allowed certain things to take their course, and to decide to look for the solution when it arose, it not only arose quickly – but obviously and with great elegance. Haruki’s books have followed a similar trend. The first bunch were existential / absurdist novels that were very at home in the Kobo Abe tradition of normal Japanese guy ends up in weird situation and has to deal with it. They are great. His second bunch of books are reminiscences. People who have lost their way. They have reached a conclusion … but it’s never a fully satisfying one. Kafka on the Shore takes a bit from both worlds and fully realizes the notion that we are all part of an emotional ecosystem. Certain members of that system may lose their way from time to time, but – as if by magic – there are mechanisms of salvation and rebirth. You just have to be patient enough to not be complaining when they come. You have to have faith that they will work and you’ll recognize them. You have to allow yourself to be part of that ecosystem. This books says none of these things. This book says all of these things. (*****)

Biography

I am a social media consultant with a long background in urban planning, community development, web design, collaborative tools, agile management, business development, and conceptual software design.

I am an owner in the new venture Modus Cooperandi.

You can find me at:

Linked In
http://linkedin.com/in/jimbenson

Twitter: ourfounder

Facebook: jim@soundbag.com

Interests

food, personal productivity, personal kanban, kanban for software development