I’m a bad student – way behind on my self imposed assignment of writing a little book report whenever I finish a book.
The last book I read was Bait and Switch from Barbara Ehrenreich. I had read the related Nickel and Dimed a few years ago where Barbara takes on three low-wage jobs and explains how horrible they are. Bait and Switch is the same concept, except that she attempts to get a white-collar job.
Bait and Switch is a great read. Barbara comically describes her adventures through unemployment while maintaining an underlying criticism of corporate culture in the US. We have an assumption in this country that compentent hard-working people will be able to find steady (ie salaried) jobs. In reality, there are certain resume red-flags that are nearly impossible to overcome.
I just finished reading Malcom Gladwell‘s Blink, currently number one on the New York Times bestsellers nonfiction list. Gladwell’s previous book, The Tipping Point, was a good read and Blink was almost as interesting. Blink looks at the human subconscious and examines the interaction between conscious and subconscious thought (ie justifying a quick judgment with a rational argument). ITConversations has a recording of Gladwell summarizing some of the book, and it’s an interesting speech for those who don’t want to invest the time to read the whole book.
I think Gladwell has discovered a great recipe for pop-social-science writing. It goes something like this: (1) pick a theme; (2) find some interesting academic studies related to that theme; (3) find some business cases that demonstrate the results of the studies; (4) summarize, add some commentary, and invent some words to describe the recurring concepts. The result is a non-fiction book that applies very directly to people’s lives. Our thoughts and behavior are explained in the context of our branded culture.
I just finished reading The Power of Many: How the Living Web is Transforming Politics, Business, and Everyday Life by Christian Crumlish. The basic idea is that the web has enabled social groups to form and exchange knowledge, meet, form communities, enact political change, etc. While all this is true, I thought the book repeated buzzwords more than actually providing analysis of the way social behavior has been altered by technology. “Blog blog blogger blog, rss rss xml rss.” While we do live in an exciting time, I was hoping for more analysis and fewer bullet pointed lists of product features.
Now that I’ve judged the book by it’s content, it’s safe to admit that I more frequently judge books by their covers. In this case, I have to wonder just how intentional was the similarity between this book and David Weinberger’s Small Pieces Loosely Joined, which is a much better read covering a more general but related topic.
The Tipping Point was an interesting read, but I do think Malcom Gladwell made pretty extreme generalizations. I had learned a lot of the background theory in my communication classes at UCSB (whoa – I actually learned something in my communication classes at UCSB!), but the anecdotal examples were foreign knowledge. Some of the endnotes point to actual academic sources of the information, which puts this book a few steps ahead of the last one I read, Affluenza. I’d say this one is worth reading for the stories, but I object to some general revelations like, “Smoking is not cool, Smokers are cool.” This is similar to the AMWAY salesman telling me that successful people don’t “find time”, they “make time”, or the classic “guns don’t kill people, people do”. People with guns.
I finished reading Affluenza: The All-Consuming Epidemic today. Note the irony of the amazon link, page title = “Amazon.com: buying info: Affluenza…”. My version also says, “Andrew, Did you know that Amazon.com sells over 150 brands in our Kitchen & Housewares store?” I added my own irony while reading the book by choosing a Ralph Lauren tag as my bookmark.
The book itself brought some important issues to light. It points out the inefficiencies of the automobile and the work-to-spend US American lifestyle. Somehow though, I had a hard time taking the book seriously. The last third of it read like a self-help book (not that I read these…). “Oh, what can I do to change my lifestyle of over consumption?” I suppose the whole idea of calling over-consumption “Affluenza” lends to this sort of thing. All we need now are keynote speeches and corporate and therapeutic seminars and workshops. Oh wait. The book also put forth some wishy-washy ideas about starting “sharing groups” or something like that to bring people together. Overall I don’t disagree with the ideas of the book, but it wasn’t really my style. I think I tend to take more extreme views on things. (The book suggests buying a fuel efficient car, and thinking twice before buying a second car. How about not buying a car at all?) I do think this one is more appealing to the masses, which is probably a good thing.
One last complaint. Why is this book so Seattle-centric? It doesn’t mention anything about Seattle on the cover, and professes to appeal to a general (US of course) audience. So why are all the examples from Seattle. Aren’t there other cities in this country? (Answer: Because the original PBS show was produced in Seattle. But still, the book authors could have done a little more research to diversify their statistics.)