This blog is dedicated to the amazing staff at the New Canaan Public Library in New Canaan, Connecticut.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Boomerang by Michael Lewis, 2011, * * * * *

Michael Lewis possesses the rare storyteller's ability to make virtually any subject seem both lucid and compelling.  In his new book, Boomerang, he actually makes topics like European sovereign debt, the International Monetary Fund (I.M.F.) and the European Central Bank not only comprehensible but also fascinating - even, or especially, to readers who rarely open the business pages or watch CNBC. The book could not be more timely given the worries about Europe's deepening debt crisis and the recent warning issued by Christine Lagard, managing director of the I.M.F. that "the current economic situation is entering a dangerous phase."  Combining his easy familiarity with finance and the talents of a good travel writer,  The book does not aspire to provide a broad overview of the debt crisis but does provide a sparkling prism by which to view the problem from a global perspective. In examining the cases of Iceland, Ireland, Greece and Germany, Mr. Lewis seeks to attribute the differing causes of economic turmoil and their varying outcomes to each country's distinctive national characteristics.  Thus Iceland went mad on banking because, as a nation of fisherman, it has a culture steeped in macho risk-taking; Ireland went mad on house buying because as a nation beset by a history of oppression and exploitation, landowning was the ultimate escape from the past; Greece went mad on avoiding tax payments and collection because they are a nation built on feuding, nepotism and graft and Germany is left to pay the bill because they are a nation who likes the thrill of thrusting its clean fingers into other people's dirty laundry. Michael Lewis has a wonderful talent for distilling complicated stories, whether bond trading in New York (Liar's Poker) or a baseball-analysis revolution in Oakland, CA (Moneyball) in simple terms and with telling detail. Boomerang, adapted from a series of essays he wrote for Vanity Fair Magazine, does not disappoint on this score.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Steve Jobs by Water Isaacson, 2011, * * * *

Steve Jobs asked Walter Isaacson, a former Managing Editor at Time Magazine, former Chairman and CEO of CNN and a biographer of Albert Einstein and Benjamin Franklin to write his autobiography while he was still alive. Mr. Jobs, the brilliant and protean creator whose inventions so utterly transformed the allure of technology, turned lessons he learned from his father about "doing things right"" into an all-purpose theory of intelligent design. Mr. Jobs, who founded Apple with Stephen Wozniak in 1976, began his career as a seemingly contradictory blend of hippie truth seeker" and" tech-savvy hothead." Based on more than 40 interviews with Jobs as well as with friends, family, adversaries, competitors and colleagues, Isaacson has created a story of the roller-coaster life and searingly intense personality of a creative entrepreneur whose passion for perfection and ferocious drive revolutionized six industries: personal computers, animated movies, music, phones, tablet computing and digital publishing.  The book takes us to a time when laptops, desktops and windows were metaphors, not everyday realities and describes how each of the Apple innovations that we now take for granted,  first occurred to Mr. Jobs or his creative team. At a time when America is seeking ways to sustain its innovative edge, and when societies around the world are trying to build digital-age economies, Jobs stands as the ultimate icon of inventiveness and applied imagination. Skeptic after skeptic made the mistake of underrating Steve Jobs saying "Sorry, Steve, Here's Why Apple Stores Won't Work" which Business Week wrote in 2001 or "The iPod Will Likely Become a Niche Product" as stated by a Harvard Business School professor. Steve Jobs had the last laugh each and every time.  Driven by demons, Jobs could drive those around him to fury and despair but his personality and products were interrelated, just as Apple's hardware and software tended to be. His story is instructive and cautionary, filled with lessons about innovation, character, leadership and values. Throughout the book Jobs is called rude, insensitive, mean, petulant, obnoxious, vengeful and a bully.  Few dispute his genius and most agree with the nasty adjectives used to describe him but he was also charismatic. He was often quoted as having a "reality distortion field" -- in his presence reality was malleable and he was able to convince anyone of almost anything.  Isaacson tells the story from the making of the first Apple computer to the Mac, the boardroom intrigues, NeXT computer, Pixar and the rebirth of Apple and the products he created in the past 10 years.  The book raises the question of what it took to make the world's most iconic brand -- it is the stuff of legends!