Books Read in May 2010

Are Your Lights On? by Donald C. Gause and Gerald M. Weinberg

This was a light hearted way trip into improving thinking abilities. It was really all about defining your problem, figuring out whose problem it actually was, and where it came from illustrated with stories and drawings. It's one of those that if you want the bullet points you'll have to go back in and do it yourself but won't mind the extra effort. 

The Way of Shadows, Shadow's Edge, and Beyond the Shadows by Brent Weeks

I'd looked at these before but never picked them up. It was a world with depth to it, but not too much to make you have to work really hard at keeping the politics straight. There were some neat variations on standard fantasy concepts that really worked. The best part was the compelling characters in their emotional complexity. They do take a while to read though. I was pushing myself hard through them (because I was having fun) and reading at my usual breakneck speed and it still took me rather longer than I expected. 

Words that Work by Frank I. Luntz

The sub-title is "It's not what you say, it's what people hear." and the book goes into great detail. It was very interesting to read about this phenomena of different words carrying significantly different meanings even when they technically have almost the same definition. Especially since it was from the point of view of the political world, not the marketing world in which I've been immersed.

A Perfect Red by Amy Butler Greenfield

I had no idea that reds were once dyed through little tiny insect bodies called cochineal nor that this was one of the discoveries that Europeans made in the Americas, though they didn't exploit it as much as they might have. Cochineal, like maize, had been improved on for years beforehand by the current inhabitants. It also proved impossible to transplant to other locations in a cost-effective way until after it was no longer profitable to do so due to the development of the artificial shades. I really enjoyed the way the historical narrative took its twists and turns. 

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter by Seth Grahame-Smith

I really enjoyed this book. It wasn't a novel exactly, but written more as a third person biography. The various voices coming from journals and stories suddenly told in the main narrative enlivened the text. It was as original and interesting a premise as you could hope for from the man who started the "... and Zombies" trend. I especially liked the surprise at the end and realizing how subtly and appropriately the stage had been set for it throughout the earlier pages.

An Introduction to General Systems Thinking by Gerald Weinberg

I enjoyed the read and need to go back and review it to comment more thoroughly. I'll admit to skimming past some of the equations, but they weren't as frustrating as I was kind of expecting when I had flipped through the book at first. They made some of the abstract concepts easier to understand.

One idea that really stood out was that when we try to determine patterns and systems that even that answer depends on our point of view and our assumptions. One person was determining cycles of a music box by including the lights, but another said they were irrelevant but was hearing high and low tones that the first person wasn't and came up with different answers, for example. 

How to Drive Your Competition Crazy by Guy Kawasaki

A fun and light read with some intriguing ideas on how to be contrary. I was especially amused by some that involved essentially a strategic feint - doing just enough in a market area you don't expect to succeed in so that you annoy, involve, and drain resources from your larger competitor. 

DAW 30th Anniversary Fantasy Anthology edited by Betsy Wolheim and Sheila Gilbert

I enjoyed these short fantasy stories, although not enough to keep the book. The best part was the little historical introductions by the editor for each of the authors. These had little tidbits about how they got started and so forth. This was especially cool since I'd read at least something from almost all of these authors before.

The Inner Economist by Tyler Cowen

This book was just plain FUN which I really hadn't expected. It's not one of the most practical of the how to influence people genre, but it's illuminating and has a number of tidbits to carry forward into life, especially the portions on finding good food to eat at restaurants. 

On the nightstand: Ideas, Outside Innovation