Sunday, January 17, 2010

What I've been reading

1. Three Scientists and their Gods: Looking for Meaning in an Age of Information by Robert Wright: Was more interesting than I expected. One review is here. The book features (1) computer scientist Ed Fredkin who believes that the universe IS a computer, (2) sociobiologist E. O. Wilson, and (3) Quaker economist Kenneth Boulding. The book presents their views on how they view their world and what shaped their views.

2. Swoosh: The Unauthorized Story of Nike and the Men Who Played There by JB Strasser and Laurie Becklund. Another book which was more interesting than I had expected. It was NOT a story of Phil Knight who declined to be interviewed for the book. What is interesting about the book is the absence of Knight after Nike went public and plunged into a product crisis lurching from apparel to uninspired shoe after uninspired shoe (except for the success of Air Jordan) and how it was overtaken by Reebok. This seems to be a story of another company with 'founderitis' -the inability of its founders to deal with the changing marketplace perhaps as a direct result of the wealth brought on by the IPO.

Interesting titbit: None of the original people of Nike liked the Swoosh logo and none (except for Jeff Johnson who came up with the name) liked calling the company Nike. Missing from the book is probably a good description of the shoe making process. This is discussed mainly toward the latter part of the book as Nike was foundering and unable to come up with innovative products and the extremem difficulties they encountered when trying to put sacs filled with air in the soles.

3. Two Park Street: A Publishing Memoir by Robert Brooks about his time as editor-in-chief of the Trade department at Houghton Mifflin. He recounts the role he played in bringing to publication the Peterson Field Guides, Rachel Carson's Silent Spring and Winston Churchills 6 volume work on World War 2 among others (Lord of the Rings was published in the UK and Houghton Mifflin bough the rights for U.S.). The memoirs paint a romantic view of book publishing during his tenure (from the 1930s to 60s).

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