Thursday, February 09, 2006

Book Reviews

Aside from the garage, our relocation to Oak Park affords me another pleasure: a 40 minute roundtrip on the Blue Line. I can imagine that some people would view this as a downgrade from my previous train commute, which was about 24 minutes roundtrip. The problem with two 12-minute trips, though, is that it's usually not enough time for a slow reader like me to make any progress in whatever I'm reading. For that reason, when we lived in Bucktown, I read a lot of magazines and short story and essay compilations. Longer books just seemed to linger for months.

With twenty minutes at a sitting (sometimes standing), I can get through a book in a more reasonable time. Here are a couple books I've read since the move that I highly recommend:

Conspiracy of Fools by Kurt Eichenwald.

I'd been waiting for this account of Enron's fall to come out in paperback for a while, especially after having read Eichenwald's excellent description of a big price-fixing investigation in The Informant. Conspiracy is a good read for anyone who wants a deeper understanding of what the heck happened to that company. As expected, Eichenwald does a great job of sifting out the media hysteria and reconciling sometimes conflicting accounts drawn from hundreds of stories and FBI interviews. I came away with more sympathy for Lay and Skilling than I expected, and more disdain for the book's main villain, Andy Fastow. More importantly, though, this book shows that although there was major fraud conducted by a handful of people, the fraud was no more important in bringing the company down than a lot of little steps and rationalizations by a much larger group of people.

Verdict: read it.

The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell.

As long as we're talking about little causes having big effects, we should talk about this good book. If you're interested in anything at all, chances are this book will speak to you. It's a relatively short discussion of the idea that epidemics (social ones like the fashion world going crazy over Hush Puppy shoes, and physical ones like STDs in certain Baltimore neighborhoods) can be "tipped" one way or the other by a surprisingly small push in just the right spot. The Tipping Point reads like an anecdotal version of James Gleick's Chaos (which I can recommend, but can't really summarize because it's been a while). Sally and I have been talking about coming up with our "Million Dollar Idea" for a while. This book provides a nice context for such discussions.

Verdict: read it.


Michael said...

thats super interesting-I'm impressed that you finished that Enron book since the last time we saw you standing in the L, that thing looked like a monster to tackle!

Matt said...

That's what I'm trying to say. 40 minutes a day has made me quite a reader.