Books read in 2003...
Reviewed December 13th by Jon. Another thriller from the author of The Da Vinci Code. Angels and Demons starts a little slow but quickly heats up to a frenzy. Like The Da Vinci Code, Angels and Demons is about a conspiracy against the Catholic Church. Much of the action takes place in Rome and the Vatican. This is a good page turner in the same spirit as the Da Vinci Code. There are some real twists and turns in the plot. The book starts a little slow, the middle is very good, although the end is disappointing. The focus on conspiracy in the Vatican is more engaging than the somewhat nebulous conspiracy in the Da Vinci Code. Robert Langdon, the Harvard Semioticist from the Da Vinci code is also protagonist in Angels and Demons.
Reviewed December 8th by Jon. "An Inside Look at the Federal Aviation Administration on September 11, 2001". This could have been a very interesting book, but did not really live up to the promise. While the book does cover the topic, it's style is somewhat dry and some of the depiction of aviation is technically a little weak. However, the topic is interesting and the author does give a sense of what life was like at the FAA on 9/11 and the days following. The book could have been written with a better chronology and more sense of structure. It was disconcerting to see the disconnect between the FAA and the US Military on 9/11 - this has since been fixed. Worth reading for the historical value but the author missed an opportunity for a much better book.
Reviewed November 29th by Jon. This is a follow on to The Innovator's Dilemma, Chrsistiansen's seminal book on disruptive technologies. Whereas The Innovator's Dilemma described the phenomenon of disruptive technologies (and was much misused and misquoted in the dot-com era), the Innovator's Solution is a prescriptive book. It tells how to create and sustain disruptive innovation. Interestingly, the authors spend some time defending the role of theory - heartening to one (me) who has been accused of being "too theoretical". They describe how theory is formed and what it is good for. The book addresses a number of topics in is mission to describe creating and sustaining disruptive innovation. The authors talk about proprietary and open architectures, appropriate competition for disruptive technologies (compete against non-consumption), market segmentation (focus on the job the customer wants done, not customer attributes), strategy formation (accelerate emergent strategy), organizational design (focus on resources, processes, value), and financing (look for money that is patient for growth but impatient for profit). All in all a well written book that provides useful advice. It is well worth the time to read for those interested in growth and innovation and left wondering what's next after encountering the Innovator's Dilemma.
Don't Bite When a Growl will Do
Reviewed November 27th by Jon. I found this book at the Urban Land Institute bookstore at their San Francisco conference. It is a surprisingly good book about life disguised as a book about dogs. The subtitle is "What a dog can teach you about living a happy life". This book is perhaps best understood by dog owners - but anyone can benefit. Kind of a candy book but an entertaining read with some good advice.
In the Digital Age: Design and Manufacture
Reviewed November 27th by Jon. This is a beautifully produced book that grew out of a symposium at the University of Pennsylvania held in March of 2002. The symposium (and the book) explored issues of the relationship between digital tools, design, and construction (manufacturing). There is an interesting dichotomy between the use of digital tools as instruments to generate pure form and those used to generate, in Bill Mitchell's terms "instructions for construction". The editor, Branko Kolarevic states unequivocally that "it is not about blobs". However, many of the authors seem enamored with blobs. In any case, there is a lot of good discussion and debate about linkages between design and construction/fabrication and the role of digital tools. Branko outlines his positions very clearly and they are quite compatible with my own. The biggest reservation I have about the book (and symposium), is that much of the debate focuses too much on esoteric aesthetic issues. More balance -- and relevance -- can be brought into the debate with a discussion of the economic role and elements of architecture. Nevertheless, this book is an important contribution to the debate and brings a number of important issues into focus. Architecture in The Digital Age is a good companion to Refabricating Architecture, reviewed below. View Jon's chapter from this book.
Reviewed November 23th by Jon. Kieran and Timberlake are two practitioners and Penn professors who won the AIA Latrobe Research fellowship 2001. They used the fellowship to investigate industries related to the building industry - particularly manufacturing of airplanes and cars. In the book they postulate a new way of doing architecture that draws upon the lessons from manufacturing. They describe many of the trends and possibilities that those of us producing software for both industries have seen for a long time. They attempt to heal the artificial rift the architecture profession has created between designing and building. The book is a good start but does not go far enough. Its contribution is that it speaks to the architecture profession on its own terms. I would have liked to see the authors go further in their prescriptions and describe in better detail their view of the role of information technology. This is a great companion to Architecture in the Digital Age, reviewed above.
Reviewed November 23th by Jon. It is difficult to tell whether this is a breath of fresh air coming after the protracted air of depression following the dot-com crash, or a work caught in a time warp. Tom Peters, in his usual high energy and optimistic way talks about such late 90s topics as disruptive technologies, branding yourself, a free-agent nation, design as a competitive advantage, and the web changing everything. The book is written in a McLunanesque collage kind of style - very well designed and somewhat influenced by Wired Magazine. I like what Peters has to say and I suppose I pick the refreshing interpretation. I find Peters optimism and idealism energizing after a couple of years of cost-cutting and focusing on margin improvement. Peters points the way toward a more uplifting future. The book is inspiring and ties together a number of themes Peters has been pushing for the past several years - design, women as a force, boomers as a purchasing force, an army of one, brand yourself, cool projects, etc. A fun book and worth a look.
Reviewed November 15th by Jon. This is probably the best Nance novel I have read. He seems to be getting better as he moves forward - a rarity since most authors get worse. Fireflight improves on Skyhook, which I also liked. The book is about pilots fighting a forest fire near Yellowstone. A good thriller with lots of interesting stuff about aviation and forest fire fighting. The book reminded me of my summer Mountain and Canyon Flying course in Idaho. Nance weaves a good story with the feel of aerial forest fire fighting. Well worth the read. Easy to read and hard to put down!
Reviewed November 9th by Jon. This is a book by a couple of ex-McKinsey consultants that purports to describe how McKinsey works. An easy and good read - but somewhat thin. Most of the advice is pretty generic. Nevertheless, some good outline of very basic principals. Also some good resources to find information. Pretty basic book, but maybe worth the time to reinforce the timeless basic principles.
for the Road
Reviewed October 17th by Jon. Another travelogue by Tony Horwitz, author of Blue Latitudes and Bagdad without a Map. This book is an early Horwitz in which he hitch hikes across Australia. A depressing view of the Australian outback and some interesting views of central and Western Australia. Not Horwitz's best book but entertaining.
Reviewed October 12th by Jon. Another epic novel of the Courtney dynasty. Blue Horizons fills in a gap between the time the Courtney brothers leave England and settle in South Africa. This is really two novels in one, very loosely stitched together. The first half is better than the second half. Not necessarily a recommended reading but it does complete the Courtney story for Wilbur Smith fans.
of the Tiger
Reviewed September 16th by Jon. Not one of Clancy's best. This book is about a quasi-government anti-terrorist group organized as a hit squad. Clancy puts too much of his personal politics in this. The book has less complexity than his typical books. This looks like it was simplistically and hurriedly rushed to press to for the summer reading crowd. The book ends abruptly and almost seems like a bridge between generation (Jack Ryan, Jr. and the Caruso twins are the main characters). Looks like he rushed through this one to tee us up for his next epic.
Reviewed September 7th by Jon. Nance has been called the John Gresham of Aviation. This is his latest book about an airline pilot who gets involved in an accident with his private plane and is persecuted by the military and FAA. A thriller and easy read with lots of interesting stuff about aviation and law. I've read several of Nance's books and this is one of the best
New Financial Order
Reviewed September 1st by Jon. This book is about risk and financial innovations to manage risk. It describes new kinds of insurance and derivatives to manage risk in areas which unfold over time - such as the value of a career or a home. Some very interesting concepts of finance and economics applied to everyday life.
With the Night
Reviewed August 27th by Jon. Somewhat anticlimactic after re-reading Out of Africa. Markham is a woman raised in East Africa and a pilot. The book is autobiographical but left me unsatisfied. She touches on a number of elements of her life, but never brings it all together. Too little of Africa and too little of flying.
Da Vinci Code
Reviewed August 24th by Jon. Robert Ludlum meets the Catholic Church. A thriller in the Ludlum tradition with some very interesting views on the church. Great summer read. Also see Angels and Demons by the same author.
Reviewed August 16th by Jon. This is a surprisingly good book about a solo trip around the US in a Cessna Super-Hawk. Much like Zero3Bravo and Flying South, there is a lot of geography and flying lore in the book. Hawk and me is well written, easy to read, and entertaining. Helms is a CFII (Instrument flight instructor), so he intersperses lessons about flying. A nicely done book. Very light, but good summer reading for aviation and travel buffs.
Reviewed August 16th by Jon. Another Michael Crichton book. This one is pretty formulaic. Starts out pretty interesting - about a Palo Alto executive who suspects his wife is having an affair. This book quickly degenerates into a lot of pretty far-fetched science fiction about nanotechnology and bio-warfare. Sort of like the Andromeda Strain in 2003.
Reviewed August 6 by Jon. A beautiful book by Barbara Cushman Rowell, a pilot married to famous photographer, Galan Rowell. The book is about her trip in a Turbo Cessna 206 from Oakland to South America and back. I expected it to be a travel book about South America, but it was more an aviation book and a book about her own personal development - much of it related to flying and some to her relationships. Care also read and felt that Rowell had an excessive focus on her insecurities. It is a very engrossing book and beautifully illustrated with Galan's photos. It was sad to read, though because I knew that shortly after the book was published Barbara and Galen were killed in a plane crash in Bishop (they were in a charter flown by a commercial pilot, she was not at the controls). Given that knowledge, reading it is bittersweet. It is well worth a read from many perspectives.
the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith
Reviewed August 3 by Jon. This is a very interesting book about the fundamentalist Mormons. While it starts as a story about the murder of a Mormon woman in Provo, it actually goes into a lot of detail and history of the Mormon church. It describes fundamental Mormon religion and draws a parallel to fundamentalist Islam. A pretty sprawling book - it does give a very clear picture of the origins of polygamist fundamentalist Mormonism. It describes Colorado City and the Arizona Strip, a place Care knows from her days on the river. This is a must read for anyone interested in the LDS religion or history of the west.
Reviewed July 31 by Jon. Csikszentmihalyi describes his study of creativity and relates it to his work on Flow, the Psychology of Optimal Experience. This was a pretty good book, although not as interesting as Flow. It seemed somewhat biased toward academics and artists. He used one business example, but in general the book focused on traditional academic sorts of creativity. Nevertheless, he does a good job of defining what is needed for creativity and discussing the social/cultural context in which creativity occurs. He describes the need for a field, mastery of the field, and peers in the field to recognize creativity. Expanding on other works of creativity that focus only on the creative act, he directly acknowledges and addresses the need for a cultural context. Also has an interesting discussion on the role of creativity in driving the culture forward. This would not be at the top of my reading list but well worth having under one's belt.
Reviewed July 26 by Jon. This is the story of a woman who flew her Luscombe (small aircraft) solo across the United States from NY, down the east coast, across the south, west via Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, California, Nevada, Idaho, the midwest, and back home. Pretty light reading and interesting from an americana and aviation perspective. Mariana mostly stops at small airports and meets the people who inhabit them. Nice summer reading and interesting for anyone contemplating a long leisurely cross-country trip by small aircraft.
Rescue of Bat 21
Reviewed July 13, 2003 by Jon. A technical military book about the rescue of a forward air controller "Bat 21" shot down over South Vietnam. The book is interesting in the technical aspects of a search and rescue mission but also offers some insight into the unravelling of the Vietnam war where the air force pilots lived in relative comfort away from ground operations and ground troops. Not a great read but interesting nevertheless from an aviation and Vietnam war perspective.
The Fighter Pilot who Changed the Art of War
Reviewed June 30, 2003 by Jon. This is a biography of John Boyd, an air force fighter pilot who became an intellectual who redefined the art of war. Boyd's theories of "energy management" came from his experiences as a fighter pilot and later as an instructor. Boyd's theories led to a lot of modern military doctrine of maneuverability such as found in Warfighting (in fact Boyd may have been a co-author). The book is a good read but a bit of a disappointment. It was too biographical about Boyd and did not discuss his ideas enough. I would have liked more on what his theories were and less on the descriptions of his "Acolytes". Good view of how the military bureaucracy works and fights new ideas. Also a sense of how career paths unfold in the military.
Capitalist: The Ultimate Investor's Road Trip
Reviewed June 13, 2003 by Jon. This is the second book I've read by Jim Rogers. His first book, Investment Biker was about his motorcycle trip around the world. In this book, he drives around the world on a three-year trip with his new wife. Rogers is a former investment banker who made enough money to travel and invest on a global basis. Adventure Capitalist is more of a travelogue than an investment book, although he does comment on globalism and free markets (much like Tom Clancy always interjects his politics into the story). Rogers is a bit more on point, though - as he ties his own personal investment strategy and philosophy into the developing world. Kind of a candy book, but a good glimpse of parts of the world most of us never see - along with some lessons in capitalism.
Psychology of Optimal Experience
Reviewed June 8, 2003 by Jon. This is a book I have been meaning to read for some time. I first heard about it around 10-12 years ago in a UI design course. A videogame designer described the book. The author is a University of Chicago psychologist who researched happiness and found that people are most happy in a state of "flow" - intense concentration on a task with clear goals and a degree of challenge that stretches them, but is not so challenging that they feel frustrated they will not reach their goals. Clearly a good set of principles in game design - to design the game to keep players in flow. The book takes the concept and applies it to life in general. A good discussion of what constitutes happiness and how to achieve it - with some scientific underpinnings. Csikszentmihalyi has also written on creativity and I look forward to reading him further.
Reviewed May 31st 2003 by Jon. A bioterror thriller by the author of The Hot Zone about a terrorist releasing a virus causing degenerative damage in New York City. The book is a good thriller read and particularly timely given the concerns over terrorism and, particularly, bioterrorism. Some good technical views into how bioterrorism is dealt with, probably some unrealistic portrayals as to how effectively the CDC, FBI, and NYC police can deal with the situation. Good summer read.
No Visible Horizon
Reviewed May 29th 2003 by Jon. Subtitled "surviving the world's most dangerous sport". This book is about "unlimited aerobatics" - aerobatic flight that takes the plane to the limit. The author is one of just a handful of people who participate in unlimited aerobatics. I've done close enough to this in my emergency maneuver training to kind of understand, but have little desire to do this. Ramo describes the feelings in almost religious tones - and talks about hearing each week of a new friend who has died pursuing the sport. He talks about taking your body and airplane to the limits of what is possible. Perhaps gives the wrong impression about flying but is an interesting book for those who do fly. Pretty light read - can be read in just a few hours.
Tale of Two Valleys: Wine, Wealth, and the Battle for the Good Life
in Napa and Sonoma
Reviewed May 11th 2003 by Jon. Deutschman describes the Napa and Sonoma Valleys. He describes the differences between the two, the feuds between the weekend elite from San Francisco and the locals, new money vs. old, etc. This was particularly entertaining since it takes place only a few miles from our house and mentions many people and places we know. Very fun read for anyone interested in the Napa/Sonoma area. There is a great description of the drive from Marin County to Sonoma - very interesting if you have made the drive. Also a great study in Bobos vs. locals. Quick and easy and well worth the read.
Thunder Rolled: An F-105 Pilot Over North Vietnam
Reviewed April 27th 2003 by Jon. This is an autobiographical story of an F-105 fighter pilot based in Thailand during the Vietnam war. Rasimus describes his training and the routine of acting as a strategic fighter pilot during the rolling thunder campaign in the late 60s. The book provides interesting insight into the lives of the pilots. They live in relative comfort and safety on an airbase in Thailand and fly daily missions into North Vietnam with support from air tankers, forward air controllers, and combat search and rescue teams. The whole process seems very well orchestrated and routine. Interesting view into military aviation operations.
Unbuilding of the World Trade Center
Reviewed April 17th 2003 by Jon. By the author of Inside the Sky, this is chronicle of the demolition of the World Trade Center site. It describes the aftermath of 9/11 and the politics and process involved in getting the site cleaned up. Langewiesche provides insight into the players and motivations. There is not too much perspective on the actual events of 9/11 but a lot of focus on the aftermath. A well-written chronicle, well worth reading.
Without a Map
Reviewed April 17th 2003 by Jon. An earlier book by Tony Horwitz, author of Blue Latitudes. This one is an account of Hurwitz, as a free-lance journalist, traveling around the middle east, from the Qat-chewing Yemanis to the dustbowl of the Sudan, to a cocktail party in Iran, Hurwitz is very entertaining and gives interesting slices of life in the Islamic Middle East. He visits Yemen, the Persian Gulf, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Libya, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Lebenon, and Iran. Very interesting reading - particularly in these times.
The Discipline of Getting Things Done
Reviewed April 11th 2003 by Jon. A business book jointly written by a business leader and academic/consultant. Very straightforward treatment of the link between strategy and execution. The authors describe the three key building blocks of execution -- leader behavior, cultural framework, and people and the three key processes of execution -- the people process, the strategy process, and the operations process. They describe how to link the processes. A very refreshing and candid book on the nuts and bolts of actually running a business. Well worth reading.
Mystery of Flight 427. Inside a Crash Investigation
Reviewed March 22th 2003 by Jon. This books is about the NTSB investigation into the crash of US Air Flight 427 from Chicago to Pittsburgh on September 8, 1994. A Boeing 737 crashed due to loss of rudder control on approach to Pittsburgh International Airport, killing all 132 souls on board. The book is about the NTSB's crash investigation and focuses particularly on the family of one of the victims. Good technical aviation book, somewhat gruesome, but interesting for anybody who wonders what happens in an airplane crash and the aftermath. The precise cause of the crash was never determined but the book does point to pilot error and loss of rudder authority in a roll. This resulted in a non-recoverable spin. The cause of the roll was never determined but wake turbulence was suspected. The dynamics between the FAA, NTSB, Boeing, and the ALPA (Airline Pilot's Association) are particularly distressing. The author shows how each party tries to cover its constituents - rather than working toward a clear understanding of the causes.
Reviewed March 15th 2003 by Jon. Very interesting autobiographical book about the author's career inside the FBI hostage rescue team. Covers Ruby Ridge and Waco among other events. The book is a bit unsatisfying, however. It covers Whitcomb's life and feelings but somehow never brings the whole experience into focus. An interesting read but it left me feeling like it was incomplete. Whitcomb describes in great detail his training to be an FBI sniper but never talks about his actual experience doing his job - except for the waiting at Ruby Ridge and Waco. Showed a lot of promise but left me hungry for more completeness and closure at the end.
Reviewed February 15th 2003 by Jon. A definite candy book. Pretty funny stories by a flight attendant about air travel viewed from the crew perspective. Enjoyable light reading for anyone who flies frequently.
Reviewed February 17th 2003 by Jon. The story of the Doolittle Raid in WWII. The first half is an interesting read, but the book gets a bit tedious as it describes the fate of each flier who crash-landed in China. Interesting view of WWII China. The book would be better if it was shorter.
Reviewed January 23ed 2003 by Jon. The story of Shanghai - particularly in the early 20th century. Good historical overview of "The Paris of the Orient" and paints a picture of a very wild and decadent Shanghai. Worth the read if you are interested in China
Reviewed January 19th 2003 by Jon. An interesting book about bush pilots in Alaska. Mort Mason was an Alaskan bush pilot for many years and this book chronicles his exploits - including getting into and out of a lot of tight situations - many of which are illegal when flying in the lower 48. Some techincal stuff but a lot of flavor of what Alaskan bush flying must be like.
Reviewed January 19th 2003 by Jon. Very entertaining book about the voyages of Captain Cook. Horwitz and his sidekick Roger retrace the path of Captain Cook. The book is a mix of history and modern-day travel adventure. Horwitz has a very entertaining style and does a great job of bringing the history of Cook and his exploration of the history of the Pacific to life. Very readable and entertaining. I especially enjoyed the Star Trek analogy...
see 2002 books
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