Saturday, November 24, 2012

Steve Jobs

Brilliant people aren’t always the nicest or most “normal” people out there, are they?  The reader of Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson gets a first-hand in-depth look at the genius behind the Apple Corporation.  Isaacson was asked a decade or so ago to do the biography for Jobs but resisted based on his age and other book projects he had underway.  It wasn’t until he heard of Jobs’ illness (cancer) that he was persuaded to begin the process, a process that Jobs promised he would be “hands-off” as it related to the content.  The book chronicles the personal life (and demons) of Jobs from infancy through his third and last battle with cancer.  The intro to the book includes a list of “characters” that are integral to the life of Jobs.  Jobs was born to an unmarried woman who placed him up for adoption.  Jobs’ adopted parents promised to raise him with a focus on obtaining the best education to assist him with the advantages that education can normally provide to a young adult.  Jobs was a gifted learner, often outperforming his classmates.  He was able to skip a grade which hurt his social abilities, but helped him in getting into gifted classes.  He was an entrepreneur from an early age, holding down jobs and always having an interest in making things, being creative.  He gained a good amount of early learning from his adopted father who was a mechanic, learning to take things apart and putting them back together again.  Jobs experimented with drugs at an early age, marijuana, acid, you name it.  This “creative side” of him drew him to drugs and also to being very free to express himself.  Jobs was drawn to Reed College – the quintessential “free love and expressive school” in the country.  This didn’t last, but what did was his drive to outperform others.  The book offers significant examples of Jobs’ drive to the top of the company he created with fellow friend Steve Wozniak, Apple Corp.  Jobs was the marketing and operations guy and Wozniak was the computer guru who invented to operating system.  They raised monies, lost monies, and in the end grew the company to its current billion dollar enterprise, though Wozniak had given up his role years earlier.  Jobs was fired from Apple and then pushed/shoved (you name it) back to the top.  Jobs was characterized throughout as a perfectionist who had little toleration of anyone who would stand in his way, whether it be Microsoft and Bill Gates, Adobe Corp., Disney, or Dell.  The book illustrates how Jobs would always speak his mind, and run over anyone in his way, not the most endearing quality of a leader.  While I agree Jobs has revolutionized the computer industry with sleek, easy to use technology gadgets, I wonder how much was solely him, and how much did he take from others.  He clearly wasn’t a guy who gave many kudos.  In fact, I would actually find his management style as one that was somewhat “de-humanizing of others”….  His wacky diets and zen philosophy kept him away from the common mentality of others, but I guess that’s what made him so unique.  The book was well written, albeit long, but worth the read, especially for the Apple aficionados.  I, for one, have been a PC guy too long, though my conversation with a dear friend whom I greatly admire this weekend may convince me to give a longer look the next time I purchase a computer.  Nice job, Mr. Isaacson.  We clearly have lost a great mind, maybe not the nicest guy, in Steve Jobs.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Jurassic Park

I have always said no movie rendition of a book is as good as the book.  Well, I have to say in this case, they are pretty darn close.  Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton is the thrilling novel foretelling the future experiment using DNA to bring back dinosaurs!  When I was reading the passages I was reliving each scene as if I was watching it live.  The movie really was true to the book!  The story captures the rich Mr. Hammond who believes he can create a real live “Disney” safari land, but in this case using REAL dinosaurs.  Hammond, a billionaire, manages to purchase an island off the coast of Costa Rica for the building of his dream.  He hires the best scientists, engineers, and others in the field to create a prehistoric zoo.  As the dream comes to close to fruition, Hammond brings in some more renowned experts in the origins of dinosaurs.  During their visit, all hell literally breaks lose (meaning the caged prehistoric animals are on the prowl.  This is all caused by one of the greedy employees of Hammond’s who plans to steal some of the DNA to sell on the black market but his plans are foiled by his own stupidity; turning off the island’s electricity allows all of the caged dinosaurs to go wild.  The next 24 hours or so are action packed adventure of the good guys vs. the bad guys vs. the dinosaurs.  Crichton is a genius at keeping you on the edge of your seat throughout.  For those who are dinosaur aficionados, get ready to name all of the different types of dinosaurs.  Every corner seems to have a different climax of life or death by sucking out your midsection.  A very quick read.  I couldn’t put it down!  Enjoy it.  A second Crichton book on the RA Favorites list. 

Monday, November 19, 2012

The Secret History

Always fun to read a book set on a college campus.  This one certainly had a lot of surprises for me, which I won’t reveal in this short synopsis.  All good college campus books seem to be set in a historic and rustic small college town in New England.  Well, this one is no different.  Welcome to Hampden College in a beautiful sleepy town in Vermont!  In the book The Secret History by Donna Tartt, the reader gets lots of suspense and insight into what it may be like being rich and having nothing but to “learn for learning sake” as your new lifestyle.  The story is narrated by Richard Papen, an entering first-year student who joins with a small group of five others all in the very elite “classics curriculum” under the leadership of Julian Morrow, who is allowed to take on a small group of students and teach them “all of their classes” each semester.  Richard took Greek in high school and is attracted to the teacher and the small class atmosphere.  The other five students have a strange aura about them, very removed from the rest of the students at Hampden, and soon we learn why… there is a murder. The story is sequential and is revealed through Richard’s eyes.  Having joined the group of five, Richard is unsure of the strange behaviors of the group, until he learns that on a night of reliving the Dionysian ritual in the forests of Vermont an accidental murder has occurred of an innocent man by members of the group, which only four of the members were present.  Unfortunately for the group, one of their mates wasn’t present and he (Bunny) learns of the fateful event and decides to hold it over their heads.  What happens next is torture for Richard’s four classmates.  Bunny blackmails the group and lives the high life off the wealth of the others.  And then the next surprising turn occurs…. another death!  I think the book is very well written and quite engaging.  I didn’t think it was over the top “exaggerated” as some have commented on the novel.  The characters were real, and the alcohol and drug culture of the group is certainly found on many college campuses.  I felt as though I had met a few of the six during my 25+ years in higher ed.  Certainly surprised with the ending so be prepared.  Overall a good suspense/mystery.  I’d suggest this as a solid book. 

Monday, November 12, 2012


Students, and really so many, like the sci-fi journey stories.  Mix dwarves, elves, dragons, the secret treasure, and the old wise elder helping the young “upstart” and you have Eragon by Christopher Paolini.  The neat thing of this book is that it was originally written when the author was 15 years old!  The problem with this book is that it reads a GREAT deal like all of the books of this genre that we all have read before… Lord of the Rings, Pullman’s His Dark Materials, Left Hand of Darkness, and Dune.  In this book, it is a story of the journey of a young orphan boy (Eragon) who discovers a stone (or so he thinks) that later hatches! And out comes a dragon named Sapharia!  Once the evil ruler King Galbatroix finds out that Eragon has his dragon, he sends his servants to capture Eragon.  And now the battle begins!  Eragon and Saphira are befriended by the village elder, a dwarf named Brom.  The two have multiple battles and near captures (until they are), and even an escape or two.  A lot of action packed in this thriller where Eragon comes of “age” to become the young man able to stand up to the evil King and his cast of characters desiring the capture of what he believes is due to him.  Of course in a story like this the elder gets killed at the worst possible time and Eragon is on his own to take what he learned from his mentor and defend himself against the monarch.  Does Eragon win?  Hey, this is a trilogy, how would I know?  Not my favorite of the various fantasy/adventure type stories.  I received a number of tweets from RAs saying it was a favorite childhood read, so maybe this book has passed my time and I should have read it many decades ago…. 

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Steal Like an Artist

What a great read, and yes they do sometimes come in short, compact reads!  The book, Steal Like an Artist by Austin Kleon, is a wonderfully creative book that outlines ten things nobody told you about being creative.  So here is the list:  1.) Steal like an artist (yes borrow other people’s work and let it become your own), remember nothing is original!  2.) Don’t wait until you know who you are to get started (fake it until you make it!). Good theft is to honor the person you have stolen from, study others, steal from many, credit those you steal from and remix!  3.) Read the book you want to read (I love this, makes such sense!).   4.) Use your hands: art that comes from the head isn’t any good.  5.) Side projects and hobbies are important (I tell all of my life clients to ensure that they develop their fun and creative side – so go write a poem, draw, or play the guitar).  6.) The secret: do good work and share it with people.  We have the internet – now go blog, share your crazy ideas and have people reflect and give you some feedback… what’s the down side?  7.) Geography is no longer our master: leave home; you are no longer tied to where you grew up!  8.) Be nice, the world is a small town (we all need curiosity, kindness, stamina, a willingness to look stupid!  9.) Be boring, it’s the only way to get work done, “be regular orderly in your life, so that you may be violent and original in your work.”  10.) Creativity is subtraction – choose what to leave out after you create something… not everything you create is going to be great.  The book has some great quotes from distinguished poets, artists, philosophers, and other smart writers such as T.S. Eliot whose quote notes: “Immature poets immature; mature poets steal… the good poet welds his theft into a whole of feeling which is unique, utterly different from that which it was torn.”  I loved the illustrations, doodles and simple language / ideas and great quotes throughout.  This generation of “I’m going to make it, but I’m tired now” will get a kick in the backside reading this book.  I loved it.  Go spend $11.95 and give this one for yourself.  I think it should motivate you, it did for me!  A keeper!