Clay Johnson’s The Information Diet (published by O’Reilly) is one of those books that I want everyone to read. It is very short. So it won’t take long. But it does get you thinking (and hopefully talking) about some very important points that many of us have not yet thought about.
In order for our country and culture to remain stable we must be well informed. Johnson does a good job of quickly outlining how and why we are becoming less informed these days. To be honest, half of the stuff he mentions – you probably already know, but you just haven’t thought about the implications. The “diet” metaphor isn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be. Mainly because it’s not so much ‘counting calories’ but thinking about the quality of what you are consuming and where it comes from (hint: local is better in food and information.)
Things like ‘what’s the difference in getting your news via Facebook rather than straight from a new source’ or ‘just how much do CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, Washington Post, NY Times alter a story/headline to make it “more compelling”‘ and so on. This is one of those books that you will read and then will find yourself bringing it up in conversations for the next two weeks. It helps that the author is so up front with his political leanings so that we know where things are coming from. It allows the reader to follow him honestly and listen to the causes of much of what is changing in the media landscape.
The book not only does a good job of quickly showing how our news sources alter and filter information for us, but it also begins to explain why. Which starts us down the path of trying to fix the problems. The last bit of the book does contain some concrete “how to”‘ information and a pretty strong call to action, with a companion website.
My only complaint is that this wake up call/manifesto is as short as it is. The call to action and tool set offered at the end would have been a little more compelling if backed by some deeper discussion. But then the book would have been longer… and thus, not as approachable. This is one I wish everyone would take an afternoon to read. It’s a solid 4 out of 5 for me.
(In the spirit of full disclosure I did receive this book as part of the LibraryThing Early Reviewer program.)
I picked up Tobias Buckell’s book after seeing two different people on Twitter mention it. I thought the setting of Buckell’s Arctic Rising (published by Tor) was fantastic. The book takes place in a future where, thanks to the almost-completely-melted North Pole, there has been enough of a climate shift that shorelines, shipping routes and political boundaries have changed.
Over the course of a couple of decades, the land uninhabited in our 2012 world near the polar circle becomes the “new” temperate zone, allowing cities to pop up and all of the minerals and once-unreachable natural resources have now made folks north of the U.S. very important and wealthy.
It does not take long for the story to crank up as a global security patrol is shot out of the sky. The rest of the story follows the security pilot as she tries to stay alive, avenge her dead partner and figure out the conspiracy behind it all. A Google-ish type company, with all the “do no evil”, political pull and society-building, plays a major role in all of it as extremists try and use good technology for bad.
The setting, political backdrop and future technology made the book worthwhile for me, even if the plot and story telling were lacking a little. Don’t get me wrong, it is written to keep you turning pages, but it’s not exactly a “I can’t imagine how this ends” story. The stereotypical ending runs its course as it should and might feel like a political statement to some. But it certainly doesn’t get in the way of the fun ride along the way.
As a side note: the publisher places it in a newly named sub-genre called Spi-Fi, which I kind of like. I would look for more books under this moniker. Here’s to hoping Spi-Fi shelf-talkers start showing up alongside Sci-Fi.
I think Arctic Rising would be a great Summer read as it clips along fast and is set up in the arctic, which may help you cool off some while out on the beach. I give it 3 out of 5 stars.
Google Advertising Tools: Cashing in with AdSense and Adwords, 2ed. is one of those books where you take lots of notes. I have been involved with AdWords and AdSense, on a surface level, for a couple of years. So I knew my way around these services. I would say that a third of this book is devoted to screen shots and help with navigation. Which is good, but wasn’t helpful to me. If you are newer to these services then you will love these sections as they are very well pulled together. This also means that a full two-thirds of the book was helpful to me.
The author does talk about staying reader-focused and the need for consistently creative and unique content, but most of the ink is spent on the reason/need for sitemaps, tips for good page layouts, techniques, etc. He does a good job explaining the ‘how’ and the ‘why’ all of these things.
I really like the layout of the book which is in three sections:
- Making money with a website
- Cashing in with Adsense
- Working with Adwords
These allow the author to really setup strategies apart from the tools to execute the strategies. In the first section he even talks about non-Google related “affiliate programs” and some Adsense-competitor networks. All in an effort to show you that Google is not the only way. Which I appreciated. It allows for honest context and back of the napkin type metrics. This is something that a lot of these types of books are lacking. It is these real world tips, based on actual data, that can help you build your site and network. I am talking about tips such as:
- A daily blog post should have 250-300 words. On average, this gives an optimal mix of human-friendly words and keyword saturation (search engine-friendly words).
- If your post/page is over 300 words or if your readers are spending more than a minute on that post/page, then you might want to consider breaking it up which could help with readability and add another chance to display revenue-generating elements.
- A good Click-Through-Rate for ads is 1.5% or better. The author recommends troubleshooting anything lower. He also offers tips on how to troubleshoot and tweak page layouts.
I would recommend this book to anyone who needs a solid introduction to the “how” part of monetizing a website. Advanced folks should look elsewhere. If you’re a developer, you’ll be disappointed in the lack of code. In all honesty, if you follow the right blogs and do a few key Google searches you could probably dig a lot of this up on your own. But it’s nice that I didn’t have to spend my weekend digging and learning. I could just spend it learning. I give this book a solid 3 out of 5 stars and have already recommended to two people.
Derek Sivers’ Anything You Want is a quick read. It comes in under an hour if you don’t take notes and don’t stop to think about things. But I am guessing you will want to as there a some pretty inspirational (and easy to implement) ideas for serving your customers.
This is not a how-to business book. It is much more a manifesto on keeping things clear, simple and taking a common sense approach to work. Sivers, founded and sold CDBaby.com. This book is a summation of the lessons he learned with the stories that taught him.
My favorite part is titled Ideas are just a multiplayer of Execution. Basically he says an awful idea gets a -1 rating while a brilliant idea gets a 20. “No execution” is worth $1 while “brilliant execution” is worth $10,000,000. So a brilliant idea with poor execution will only get you $20 while a weak idea (a full 1 rating) brilliantly executed would get you $10,000,000. These are the extremes and there are tiers between them. It gives you an idea of where your so-so idea with a so-so execution plan would land you. I really like the perspective this lends.
Lots of practical advice here. It’s the kind you’d get if you were sitting in the back yard drinking a beer with Sivers. He’s quick to explain, in very plain images, why (to him) legal stuff just doesn’t matter and how business folks don’t stay clear-headed enough. You will not hear these kinds of points being made by any MBA.
Basically he sums it up with keep the customer first. You better be solving a real problem. And the success will naturally happen.
In such a small book, Sivers crams tons of insight on work ethic, customers (very important), business formalities vs. flying by the seat of your pants, etc. all of which is backed with stories of his founding, running and selling CDBaby.com. He even tells the story of when Steve Jobs dissed him.
This book seems to speak to the entrepreneurial spirits out there. But I also think that it serves as a fun quick “gut check” for those looking to tweak their existing business set-ups. I give this one 3 out of 5 stars.
This was one of the more fun books I read all year. Some of the dry one-liners are laugh out loud. And I’ve never felt so bad for a horse in all my life, though this also made me want a horse. I admit. That’s kind of weird. The book is set in the Old West during the time of the California gold rush and follows the exploits of Charlie and Eli Sisters, two hired guns with a reputation for dirty killings. These two brothers are out doing the bidding of a very powerful man when things start to change for them and they start plotting how to best ensure their survival with all of the double and triple-crossing going on.
No bones about it – this is a violent book. But then how could the lawless West be any different? What’s interesting are all of the tender and contemplative moments that the author has peppered the story with to help draw the characters’ changing lives out and the readers in.
The whole way through you never know how it’s going to end. Ride of in the sunset? A duel at sunset? Gunned down in the back, payback for any one of the dozens of murders these two have committed?
It was a brutal time and these guys were neck deep in it. But it’s worth following all of the way through, to the end, to see just how far their killer instincts and brotherly allegiance will get them.
A very unique story for 2011 and I’m glad I read it. I am giving this one 3 out of five stars.
I just finished The Unit by Ninni Homqvist and published by Other Press. It’s a great read that shines a light on what can happen when society starts looking at the population as numbers and statistics and quits seeing the people behind the numbers.
I picked up this book because I really liked the thought-provoking premise: society’s older members, who have no family or crucial job are taken to a utopian campus where every whim, wish and need are catered too. They get to live out their final years as comfortable as possible. The only catch: they are expected to participate in medical experiments and donate their body parts, for as long as they can… until their “final donation”. This society sees it as humane as it takes their poorest members, gives them the best in art and creature comforts, while maximizing their contributions to society.
It’s absurd. Sure. Crazy. But still, a great premise for this story. It’s an idea I was hoping the book would dive deep into, but it doesn’t. Instead it swirls around on the lives of the “dispensables” that are inside “The Unit” and focuses on the main character, Dorritt. All of the people in the Unit completely understand what is going on and they don’t put up a fight when they have to participate in a psychological exam, drug test, donate a kidney or even donate their lungs and heart. They see it as finally being of value to their community, on the outside.
It doesn’t take you long to accept the rules of this community and start living alongside Dorritt in the dome. The writing in this book is fantastic. It just flows in and out of conversations and offering insights into love, loss, society, ethics, etc. I was truly impressed with the author. The book flies through every emotion you can think of and every type of relationship as these people lean on each other and help each other deal with loosing body parts, going crazy, love, politics, pregnancy…
Towards the end, I knew the clock is ticking and I just wanted to know, does Dorritt escape? Does she die? But also towards the end, I didn’t wasn’t quite ready for it to be over. I enjoyed the many conversations and personalities in The Unit.
This one gets three out five stars and will be recommended often.
I read this book back during the summer of 2010 and The Strain was exactly what I wanted for a quick summertime read. Penned by the guy behind Hellboy and Pan’s Labyrinth, you can almost see the movie playing out before you.
The premise is that the ancient virus that turns people into vampires has made its way from the Old World to the New World via a trans-Atlantic flight.
The book, being the first of a trilogy, covers all the basis. Background for all the characters ties in global business, science, World War II, and current government workings, all to build the case that something evil has always been lurking in the dark throughout history.
The first part of the book read more like CSI or a Crighton novel with all of the CDC, tech and biology talk. All of which adds to the realism (and gore). But then it turns to the mystic side when an old Jewish Holocaust survivor joins the fight and brings more history to light.
It’s a very straight forward and great sci-fi romp and I look forward to the next two installments! I give it 3 out of 5.
I read a lot of business books. It’s just something I enjoy… but not as much as a good sci-fi tale and The Unincorporated Man. book combines both. The book is loaded with lots of ideas early on. Such as, ownership, property, government, investing, money, etc. It’s a very ‘free markets can heal the world if we’d just stay out of the way’ will solve 99% of the world’s issues if we’d let them. But as the story unfolds, it’s individuals and people that have to take us the rest of the way.
The entire book is set in the future where everyone is self-incorporated. That is, as soon as you are born, the government gets a certain percentage stock in you, your parents and their friends probably take out some shares. As you grow older schools, classmates, the general public all invest in you, your life and your future, with the idea that if they help invest in your beginnings, once you become successful and rich you will buy them out to get majority ownership of yourself and they get rich. If you’re unable to increase your self-stock’s value, then they sell-off their stake in you. So a mining company could buy up all your stock and move you to the moon to mine ore or something like that.
But, introduced into this world is a savvy businessman unfrozen from the past… predating the incorporation period. So he is unincorporated, untaxed, not contributing to society as they see it. So what to do? Force him to incorporate and sell off parts of himself to business owners? Leave him alone and risk his “unalienable rights” thinking and talk to spark an uprising? Soon enough there is bloodshed, legal proceedings with businesses and governments aligning themselves against this man from the past.
It’s a great concept and idea. Certainly one that gets people talking. Especially in this day of micro-payments and crowd-sourced funding many sites and non-profits are pursuing.
At a minimum, it’s a fun sci-fi yarn. At the most, it will get you thinking, talking and looking at the good and bad of how things are run in America. I gave it a 4 out of 5.
I bought The Glass Room by Simon Mawer solely on the recommendation of Anne Kingman in the “Books on the Nightstand” podcast. Too be honest. I never… never… would have picked up this book at the bookstore. It’s just not my usual area. But this one, set in the dawning of WWII in the smaller border countries of Europe, really is well done. And I highly recommend it.
Yes, it is a bit of a romance book, but there is enough geo-political, nationalistic thought that it all kind of makes sense. Even though this one is a bit more heavy in the, ahem, ‘relations’ area than I’m used to, that really didn’t get in the way either. All of the passions really make sense. Whether for other people, their country, their social status or their house.
Ah, the house. It is central to the story. It is the anchor of the story. Some have said it becomes it’s own character and while I won’t go that far I certainly appreciated the role it plays. The descriptions of such a modern architectural home were fantastic. The story follows a well-to-do couple in Europe in between WWI and WWII. They elect to build a modern house with glass walls all of the way around. The family and house are received about as well as you can imagine in such a traditional part of the world back in the early to mid-1900′s. Much of the story revolves around the relationships of a core group of friends and society types. There is love, affairs, work, travel, etc. and then was looms. And all of the fantasy and such goes out the window when it comes time for them to answer: jew or not jew? Do we stay or do we run?
I’m told that if you read a lot of literary romance fiction, this one might feel cliche at times, but I never felt that way.
I did read this on my phone via the Kobo reader app and really enjoyed it. I only noticed 6 errors, which is waaaaay less than any Kindle book I have ever bought. This is one I will look for though and buy as a paper book so that it can sit on my shelf for me to loan and talk about.
I give it 4 out of 5 stars.
I have never used the word “charming” in a book review before, but this one totally qualifies. Alan Benet’s The Uncommon Reader is a quick (only 128 pages) captivating read for anybody who enjoys books and the discussion around them.
The basic premise is that the Queen of England takes up reading books from a local bookmobile, with the help of a poor, but knowledgeable, servant. While the Queen’s tastes interests take her into new genre’s and authors her advisers become scared and suspicious of effects the books are causing in the Queen’s outlook on their sensible English world and political tomfoolery ensues.
It’s a great read for anyone who enjoys books, reading and the discussions that surround all of the above. This short and easy treatise serves as a reminder of the power of ideas, books and why we read.
I gave this book 3 out of 5. Also, in the spirit of full disclosure, please note that I received a copy of this book via LibraryThing’s Early Reviewer program.
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