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My March/April Reading List

Posted by Melanie Phung on Monday, April 9, 2007 at 12:16 am

Just got back from vacation (hooray vacation!) during which I spent no time on the Internet (hooray vacation!), so the only thing I have to blog about is the tremendous amount of reading I was able to get done while away. Here are the books I read, in the order they were purchased and completed:

  1. The Long Tail: Why the Future of Business Is Selling Less of More
  2. In Search of Stupidity: Over 20 Years of High-Tech Marketing Disasters
  3. This Book Will Save Your Life (a novel by A. M. Homes)
  4. Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything
  5. The Plot Against America (a novel by Philip Roth)

I’m a pretty fast reader if I can focus, but that’s more than I’ve read in the previous six months combined! Okay, so I probably wouldn’t do real well if you were to quiz me about the particulars of any one of these books, but the beauty of reading for fun and not for a grade is knowing there won’t be any pop quizzes.

The Long Tail: Why the Future of Business Is Selling Less of More
by Chris Anderson

A+. Loved it. Exceeded my expectations. I find most of these pop-econ, business “concept” books you find on the best-seller lists to be rather fluffy. And it’s not like I wasn’t already familiar with the concept of the long tail — after all, I do SEO for an online seller of consumer electronics, I live and breathe “the long tail.” I had even checked out Anderson’s blog periodically.

So I was pleasantly surprised by the book. The Long Tail is well written, with a coherent “story” and lots of supporting data based on real primary research; and unlike many books like this, it answers all the big who, what, when and why-should-I-care questions in a coherent narrative. This should be on the syllabus of any business class dealing with e-commerce or online marketing.

In Search of Stupidity: Over 20 Years of High-Tech Marketing Disasters
by Merrill “Rick” Chapman

I’d give this a B. I liked the concept — it was a response to the business school classic In Search of Excellence. In Search of Stupidity looks at the fatal missteps that cost leading high-tech companies (mostly software firms) their market dominance. It might have had the potential to be a very popular book in its category except that it gets mired in unnecessarily technical details.

The execution of some of the additions to the second edition seemed like they were a very reluctant concession on the part of the author; the “analyses” at the end of the book seemed like they were just thrown together by an author who thought his readers shouldn’t require a CliffsNotes version.

Here’s the gist:

  • don’t be arrogant
  • properly position your products
  • don’t treat your customers like idiots or your channel partners like crap
  • mind your brand
  • oh and never, ever rewrite software code from scratch

This Book Will Save Your Life
A.M. Homes

Good piece of fiction. I previously read The End of Alice by this author and thought it was terrific and original… and disturbing. The End of Alice was actually pretty creepy, so I liked that This Book Will Save Your Life was quirky, uplifting and even sweet. Very well written, but I think a year from now I probably won’t remember what it’s about.

Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything
By Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner

This was one of those pop-econ concept books that, unsurprisingly, failed to meet expectations after all the hype. It wasn’t a bad book (the way I thought Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point was pretty subpar) but I needn’t have purchased it in hardcover. Interestingly enough, the endorsement on the cover is by Gladwell, who says “Prepare to be dazzled” — even though the take-away from the most interesting chapter in Freakonomics seems to be that one of the chapters in The Tipping Point is bogus.

(In the Tipping Point, Gladwell claims that crime decreased dramatically in New York City due to an innovative policing strategy that included harder crackdowns on minor infractions like turnstile jumping. Levitt argues that this piece of “conventional wisdom” is unsupported by any objective evidence. He puts forth his own argument about why crime dropped so dramatically starting in the 1990s; I won’t go into his argument, but it’s very interesting and I recommend reading at least this chapter next time you’re at the bookstore or library.)

The Plot Against America
by Philip Roth

The best novel I’ve read in several years. Previous Roth novels I’ve read included The Human Stain and American Pastoral. The Plot Against America is by far my favorite of his and probably one of my favorite novels of the last few years.

The tale revolves around the ahistorical premise that the anti-semite Charles Lindbergh wins the presidency in 1940 and passively supports Hitler in World War II. Rather than taking this premise completely over the top the way most writers would have, Roth keeps the narrative focused on the characters (the narrator is a fictionalized 8-year old Philip Roth) and the writing. The result is very strong but subtly nuanced prose that could have worked just as well with an less interesting historical backdrop.

Reading In Progress

I’m still working on Mind Set (by John Naisbitt, the guy who wrote Megatrends), which I started at the airport on the way back, and Orhan Pamuk’s Snow, which I started a while back but didn’t take with me. Now that I’m back, however, I predict it’ll be slow going again and I probably won’t finish these before summer starts, especially since I don’t find either of these overwhelmingly compelling.

And now back to our regularly scheduled programming…

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