- The Miracle at Speedy Motors by Alexander McCall Smith - This is the ninth in the No 1 Ladies' Detective series set in a charming and delightful version of Botswana. Those familiar with these books recognize they aren't exactly edge-of-your-chair whodunits. Which probably is more closely attuned to the real life of detectives anyway. In this entry, Mma Ramotswe helps an adopted woman find her birth relatives. She also deals with some threatening letters sent to the agency, and Mr J. L. B. Matekoni's pursuit of an expensive miracle cure for their foster daughter Motholeli.
- The Last Van Gogh by Alyson Richman - I recently read a book called The Lost Van Gogh, so I thought this would make a good book-end. The earlier read concerned a painting from van Gogh's time in the hospital at Saint-Remy in 1889, but this one is about his time in Auvers-sur-Oise at the end of his life (it is, after all, the last van Gogh). Van Gogh was being looked after by a Dr Gachet, an amateur artist, and a depressive like himself. Gachet has a beautiful but sheltered young daughter, Marguerite, who catches the artist's eye as a subject for both his art and his infatuation. Well-researched, charming, but slow-moving like the time it was set in.
- What Doesn't Kill You by Iris Johansen - What doesn't kill you ... puts you to sleep. This is the first Iris Johansen book I've read, and it was the stupidest. Catherine Ling is an indestructible yet voluptuous ex-CIA operative who has a young son and an inscrutable Chinese herbalist/martial arts master named Hu Chang as a mentor and best friend. Hu Chang has created a special poison that everyone in the dark trades wants to get their hands on, and ... oh, who cares! The characters are unlikeable, the plot is unbelievable, and the writing ordinary.
- The Colonel's Mistake by Dan Mayland - Retired CIA station chief Mark Sava rescues operative Dara Buckingham from a prison in Azerbaijan, only to find himself in the middle of complex plot between the US, China, Iran and various terrorist groups centered on oil. This is a first novel, and it has some problems, like the open space between characters the plot holes, or the uneven jumps between locales (speaking of which, I don't think I've read another book set largely in Azerbaijan--though the story also carries Sava to Dubai, Iran, Washington, DC, and somewhere in France). Still, it's good enough to give the next installment in the Mark Sava series a look.
- On the Trail of the Assassins by Jim Garrison - Almost exactly fifty years ago, events in Dallas, Texas occurred that changed the world in ways large and small--the killing of John F Kennedy. I don't remember where I was that day, but I have heard and read repeatedly of the conspiracy theories, the eyewitnesses, the magic bullet, the reversed film frames, etc. Never mind the incredible public dispatch of the only suspect. I even saw the Oliver Stone film (ha!) Nothing has given me anything like the clarity and perspective of this book, authored by the New Orleans DA of the period, who used his office to investigate the assassination's NOLA connections. Garrison seems as solid and rational as they come, and indeed the book puts us on the trail of the assassins, but doesn't lead us to them--or even attempt to burnish any particular conspiracy theory, though he does insist there was a conspiracy--a point bolstered by the House Select Committee on Assassinations in 1978. Anyway, good read.
- CyberStorm by Matthew Mather - This is a ripping good electronic Armageddon story set during the holiday season in Manhattan. Suppose the Iranians, or the Chinese, or the Russians launched a cyber attack that shut down key power stations. At the same time, the East Coast is ravaged by powerful snowstorms. You would expect that within a few days, the authorities would get the power going, the streets ploughed, and everything back to normal. But what if they couldn't? What if the attack crippled the whole country--or at least east of the Mississippi? The internet goes down: no trains, no planes, even your apartment building can't perform essential functions anymore. Soon, the stores are empty, the TV and radio stations shut down. You huddle together with friends to conserve warmth, you forage in co-operative groups; in just a week or so everyone you see on the streets is a competitor for resources: an enemy. This is the situation young IT pro Mike Mitchell and his small family find themselves in a hundred pages into CyberStorm. And it's bound to get considerably darker before the dawn.
- Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson - Genius is a word much bandied about thesee days, and when we describe Steve Jobs as a genius, we should be clear what we mean by that term. I think it's more along the lines of "a person who is very good at something" than "a person endowed with transcendent mental superiority". Isaacson isn't really strong about this distinction, and as a result he creates a portrait that isn't a hagiography, but that isn't as unbiased as you might expect if you interviewed over one hundred people. Jobs was really good at something, of that there is no doubt: Apple products are almost always a pleasure to use, and that is due entirely to his ability to control every aspect of their design. But, Jobs was not, let's be clear, a designer himself. He was not an electrical engineer. He was not a filmmaker. Based on the book, he typically had an intuitive idea of what he wanted a product to be like, but he wasn't good at articulating it: usually, a design was "shit" until it was "the best thing ever". Unlike most successful businesspeople, he wasn't very "good at" people: he was cruel when he didn't have to be, and created unnecessary enmities along the way; he created what many co-workers dubbed a "reality distortion field" in which his view of events, let's say the timetable for rolling out a new product, was so strong and convincing, people nearby were convinced that it could happen. Many times it did, but sometimes Apple could be two years behind the announced delivery of a new widget. This also caused problems when he convinced the board to back-date some stock options--a questionable but not downright illegal gambit that the book mentions in less than one paragraph. What makes him interesting, though, as a CEO, is his unlikely combination of "visionary", big picture man (we need to create our own stores to sell our brand, not commoditize the Mac between the Compaq and the Asus on Circuit City shelves) and detail man (we must get our limestone tiles from the same quarry in Italy that Venice got theirs). In sum, I probably wouldn't have liked the guy, but I think he was a genius.
Tuesday, October 8, 2013
I guess I haven't posted a list in a while! Here goes:
Posted by Tuttle at 4:37 PM