Book Review: FREE: the future of a radical price by Chris Anderson


Author: Chris Anderson
Title:FREE: the future of a radical price
Publication Info: New York : Hyperion, 2009.
ISBN: 9781401322908

Previously read by same author: The Long Tail

Summary/Review:

I downloaded Chris Anderson’s latest book as an audiobook from iTunes.  The price I paid was … FREE!  The entire book is based on the concept that in an era when much content is cheaply reproduced, that Free is a good idea for many producers, marketers, and business.  In fact, Anderson argues that it is a good way to make a lot of money.  Not everything is free of course, Anderson proposes many models most avidly the Freemium model where a basic service or product is given away in hopes of luring customers to the premium version. Anderson calls on historical examples and current practice to support his theory.

It was an interesting book and a good follow-up to The Long Tail.  I’m said to say that I misplaced my notes, otherwise I’d have more to say about this book.   It’s already stirring up some good debtate.  Read Malcolm Gladwell’s review and Anderson’s response for starters.
Recommended books: The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell (ironically), Groundswell by Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff, Here Comes Everybody by Clay Shirky, Fire in the Valley: The Making of The Personal Computer by Paul Freiberger (for a more in-depth story of the dawn of the information age).
Rating: ***

Book Review: The dangerous joy of Dr. Sex and other true stories by Pagan Kennedy


AuthorPagan Kennedy
Title: The dangerous joy of Dr. Sex and other true stories
Publication Info: Santa Fe, N.M. : Santa Fe Writers Project, 2008.
ISBN: 0977679934

Summary/Review:

I selected this book from the Library Thing Early Reviewer program because I knew that Kennedy was a Boston-area writer, but that was the extent of what I knew about her.  Then I let the book sit around for over half-a-year, because I wasn’t sure it was the type of thing I wanted to read.  My mistake, because Kennedy is a brilliant writer.  Her sentences are very spare, but contain the precise wording necessary to convey complex ideas and emotions.  I imagine Kennedy labors over each sentence for hours to get the wording right.  If she doesn’t, then I hate her because no one should be able to write that well, that easily.

The essays in this book are written in a literary nonfiction style – what Kennedy calls “true stories” – and mostly are short biographies of interesting people.  Most of these people are involved in science, technology, or medicine, all of them are innovators and have tormented lives that motivate them.  Stories include:

  • the title story about Alex Comfort, the psychologist behind the book The Joy of Sex.
  • Amy Smith who strives to invent things that can cheaply and easily be adopted poor, remote areas of the developing world.
  • A young female weightlifter, Cheryl Haworth, who seems to have a future as the strongest woman in the world.
  • Amateur researches examining the effect of electric charges on the brain for improving memory, intelligence, and personality.
  • Vermine Supreme, a prankster-activist.
  • A man who wants to restore the coastline of Eritrea by planting mangrove trees (Dr. Gordon Sato).
  • Singer/songwriter/collaborator extraordinaire and child prodigy Conor Oberst.
  • Saul Griffith, who wants to teach the next generation to be tinkerers and inventors.

The book also contains autobiographical stories from Kennedy’s life, most interesting is the revolutionary yet commonsensical ideas put forth in the essay “Boston Marriage” about women sharing lives and residences together.

Recommended books:
Rating:****

Book Review: The Stone Diaries by Carol Shields


Around The World For a Good Book selection for: Canada

Author:  Carol Shields
Title: The Stone Diaries
Publication Info: New York : Viking, 1994.
ISBN: 0670853097

Summary/Review:

First impression:  This author has a predilection for unsettling, detailed descriptions of human flesh in order to get the point across that a woman in overweight.

Second impression:  Shields also has a disturbing hang up about sex and sexuality.  Not that there’s anything wrong with that.  Or unusual.

Third impression:  While this book is ostensibly about a woman name Daisy Goodwill Flett the reader rarely hears her voice.  Daisy’s family and friends are the narrators and often go on a bit about themselves more than Daisy.  Its like we can’t really approach Daisy, we only touch her tangentially.  In that way it’s reminiscent of The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao.

Fourth impression:   Who are these people in the photographs in the centerpiece?

Fifth impression: While each chapter is titled as a specific period in Daisy’s life, the narrative is nowhere near that linear.  Flashbacks cunningly fill in details we were spared earlier in the novel, as if we’re learning as we’re growing older, just like Daisy.  The chapters vary widely in writing style too – one chapter is the dying vision of her father, one chapter is entirely letters written to Daisy’s newspaper column about flowers, and one consists of divergent opinions from family and friends about Daisy’s mental breakdown. In this sense it reminded me of Ulysses.

Sixth impression:  The writing in this book is brilliant – moving without being manipulative.  I didn’t think I’d like it at first but for the second half of the book, I couldn’t put it down.

This book was selected by my W&M Boston Alumni Chapter book club and I’m also assigning it to represent Canada for Around the World for a Good Book.  After reading so many books by authors from developing nations who’ve relocated to Europe or America, here’s the rare instance of an author born in the United  States moving to Canada.  Despite that, and despite the fact that even the protagonist spends part of her life in the US, I like the internationality of the book, and at least one commentator considers The Stone Diaries to be the Great Canadian Novel.

Favorite Passage:

When we think of the past we tend to assume that people were simpler in their functions, and shaped by forces that were primary and irreducible.  We take for granted that our forebears were imbued with a deeper purity of purpose than we possess nowadays, and a more singular set of mind, believing, for example that early scientists pursued their ends with unbroken “dedication” and that artists worked in the flame of some perpetual “inspiration.”  But none of this is true.  Those who went before us were every bit as wayward and unaccountable and unsteady in their longings as people are today.  – p. 91

Recommended books: The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz, Ulysses by James Joyce
Rating: ****