Book Thoughts: February 2012

Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson

I loved this book. The narrative happened to be about a tech company and I’m sure that helped draw me in, but at its core this is just a great story. There are a handful of criticisms aired in this HN thread focused around the technical accuracy of products and software lineage. Those things don’t really matter. Isaacson was telling a multi-faceted story and managed to weave in the stuff that really mattered. As far as I can tell, he imparts the exact impression that he intends to.

A useful metric of a book’s efficacy is whether or not it’s convincing. This book was. Whether or not the portrayal of Jobs was 100% accurate isn’t all that important. Isaacson sold it. It worked.


Night by Elie Wiesel

English teachers like to throw this in to the curriculum to give kids a little holocaust exposure. It’s the trump card of bleakness. Great AP test essay material. Here’s my attempt:

The Times quote on the cover describes Wiesel’s story as “A slim volume of terrifying power.” But what gives the book its power is his vivid portrayal of powerlessness.

But seriously. By the end you’ll be a little pissed off. Looking for justice? Look no further than the Wikipedia article on Adolf Eichmann.

Shortly after the execution, Eichmann’s body was cremated in a specially designed furnace, and a stretcher on tracks was used to place the body into it. The next morning, June 1, his ashes were scattered at sea over the Mediterranean, beyond the territorial waters of Israel by an Israeli Navy patrol boat. This was to ensure that there could be no future memorial and that no country would serve as his final resting place.[58]

This is likely the best instance of “People don’t forget!



Getting Things Done by David Allen

Look at that cheesy-ass cover. Under normal circumstances I would not have read an ostensibly dopey self-help book. But, a few people I trust all confirm that the method delivers on its promises. Besides, an effective placebo is still effective so I didn’t have a ton to lose.

I’ve been using Omnifocus for about 3 weeks now. It’s a nice organization system, and it works to a point. Capturing tasks certainly feels good. I know exactly what my obligations are and what I need to do to advance my progress. But these lists don’t solve the problem of being the only person working on a substantial software project. Knowing exactly what you need to do next doesn’t offer much solace when the task list is 50 items long and there’s nobody to delegate to.

That said, I enjoy the method because it has helped me manage the smaller projects I’m involved in. That’s mostly because it’s a formalization of common sense: Be organized. Make lists. Figure out what you need to physically do next. Keep your calendar clean.

At some points it reads like an advertisement for Allen’s consulting business, but he’s gotta eat so I won’t hold that against him. It’s a little bit difficult to give a full evaluation of the method at this point, so expect another report in a few months. All I can say now is that it isn’t hurting anything.

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