I had a week of "a book a day" where every single one I read was great. I’m now slogging through an "ok" book (The Pirate’s Dilemma: How Youth Culture Is Reinventing Capitalism) so I thought I’d take a break and write quick reviews of the excellent ones that I have read lately.
The Last Lecture: Wow. Randy Pausch is just incredible. A well known CMU professor with a great zest for life, Randy was diagnosed with Pancreatic Cancer in September 2006. He broke into the mainstream with his awesome lecture titled "The Last Lecture" which was the final lecture he gave at CMU. It’s a riveting 76 minute lecture that the book was subsequently based on. Both are worth every second you spend on them. As of today, Randy is still alive, but according to his blog he recently "has also taken a step down and is much sicker than he had been. He’s now enrolled in hospice." (Added the morning of 7/25: Randy Pausch passed away last night.) I don’t know Randy personally, but after hearing his lecture, reading as much of his as I could find on the web, and then reading The Last Lecture, I feel like a have a real sense for him. He teaches – and inspires – in a way and at a high level that few other do in this world.
The Mascot: Unraveling the Mystery of My Jewish Father’s Nazi Boyhood: I had a wide range of emotions after reading The Last Lecture, but I wasn’t prepared for The Mascot. This is easily the best book of the year so far. Mark Kurzem writes a complex story about discovering his father’s childhood as an "adopted Nazi." Kurzem discovers this as an adult in graduate school when his father, who has suppressed this knowledge from everyone his entire life, finally opens up to Kurzem. As his father starts telling the parts of his story that he can remember, the two of them explore his father’s past (it turns out he’s a jew), and try to put the many pieces of the puzzle of his father’s childhood back together. On top of it all, the relationship between father and son is complex and evolves beautifully and unpredictably through the book. Fabulous, shocking, brutal, mysterious, complicated, sad, depressing, and intriguing at so many levels.
Just Do It: How One Couple Turned Off the TV and Turned On Their Sex Lives for 101 Days (No Excuses!): If you are a happily married couple living in Denver with two youngish daughters and you decided to embark on having sex every day for 100 days, what would it be like? Yup – that’s what this book is about. It’s extremely well written – has the appropriate amount of titillation and salacious stuff without being over the top while being an enjoyable romp through the complex life of a modern couple that I expect many people can relate to. Equal parts brain candy, philosophy, biography, and – well – sex.
The Billionaire’s Vinegar: The Mystery of the World’s Most Expensive Bottle of Wine: I’m not an oeniphile so I didn’t expect to love this book, but I did (thanks Frank for the recommendation.) I learned an incredible amount about the history of wine while getting a great look into the mysterious world of high priced "rare" wines – and what appears to be a massive fraud that evolved over a 20 year period surrounding a wide range of "rare" wines. The cast of characters is extensive and while this is clearly history (going back to Thomas Jefferson) it reads like a thriller. Yum.
Glasshouse: After that stretch of books I needed some mental floss. I loved the Charles Stross sci-fi book that I read last week and on a reader’s recommendation went on Amazon and bought all of his books for my Kindle. This one was even better, and I’ve got another half dozen to go before I run out of things he’s written in the past few years.
The New Paradigm for Financial Markets: The Credit Crash of 2008 and What It Means: I figured Soros would be a challenge after Glasshouse. Every other chapter (the philosophy part) was. I always enjoy reading Soros’s books; I never completely understand them but I enjoy his blunt and cynical view about the markets and how people interact with them.
Now – this incredible stretch of great books couldn’t continue. It doesn’t. I read about half of The Pirate’s Dilemma tonight. It’s ok, but all the commentary between the examples are unnecessary as the examples are the meat (and stand on their own.) Fortunately, I know how to skim.