Monthly ArchiveAugust 2005



Non-fiction 29 Aug 2005 12:15

The Pleasure of Finding Things Out

coverThe Pleasure of Finding Things Out
Richard P. Feynman

Actually, this is a collection of short works by Feynman, collected by Jeffrey Robbins and with a foreword by Freeman Dyson. It includes essays, interviews and public speeches given by Feynman over a number of years. One particularly interesting essay is his report to the comission investigating the 1986 Challenger accident.

Some of the works have been published before, and most include events that were mentioned (sometimes slightly differently) in other books, so the most avid reader might have seen them before. Still, the book paints an accurate image of Feynman: happy, enthusiastic and hungry for real science, and always interested in finding his own way of doing things.

It’s a book about the pleasure of learning and of doing science; not necessarily in an “officially approved” way, but in any way you can. You can feel his enthusiasm in the transcription of some of his speeches, in the way he calls young people to action, and in the way he talks about how his father inspired the love for science in him (there’s a good lesson for parents in there, as well).

It is a mixed bag, as most collections are; but there are some gems that make reading it worthwhile.

Buy from Amazon.com

Non-fiction 08 Aug 2005 17:22

Amazonia

coverAmazonia
James Marcus

“The rise and fall of the Amazon.com editorial department” would be a good subtitle for this book. James Marcus, employee #55 at Amazon.com, was hired primarily to write book reviews and to be an editor. Slowly, though, little by little, the editors start to lose space to automated tools and metrics and, soon enough, there’s not really any space for an editorial voice at the company’s website.

It is very much a personal book. In between stories about developments at Amazon, we read about the author’s financial and personal problems, and of how some were resolved by the Internet bubble of 1999, while some were not.

The book is filled with interesting and funny stories that should look familiar to anyone who has worked for an Internet company in the bubble years, and also for people who worked (or still work) for companies that survived the bubble and outgrew their “childhood” years. Coming to think of it, this is a story about Amazon growing into adulthood: from a company where people were able to avoid unwanted work assignments by simply doing something else to a company where numbers and MBAs are king.

There are also many anecdotes about Jeff Bezos, and this book is a good way to know more about the way he (as well as Amazon) works.

The book ends in mid-2001, right after the September 11 events, when the author left Amazon (right after his stock options vested) and moved to NY. This is also at a time when it becomes clear that Amazon is to be one of the survivors of the 2000 crash, and it is establishing itself as a serious company in a serious line of business. But definitely as a less fun place to work in.

Buy from Amazon.com

Non-fiction 01 Aug 2005 16:48

Stiff

coverStiff
Mary Roach

If you want to know what will happen to you after you die, this is the book to get. It’s not about life after death, though, nor is it “spiritual” in any sense. It is about what will happen to your body.

Subtitled “the curious lives of human cadavers”, the book follows the several possible destinations given to human remains after death, from the “standard” ones, such as burial and cremation, to the most unusual ones. You will read about bodies that are used for training plastic surgeons, mounted inside cars to act as crash-test dummies (because sometimes the researchers need to see what types of injury a crash will cause), or even just left outside to rot (to aid forensic researchers).

It is a sensitive subject, and I guess a few people might be offended by the humourous comments of the author (the book is very, very funny); I also guess these people, after reading the cover, would probably not pick up this book anyway, so it’s not much of a problem. Also, a few passages are a little, well, explicit. Not in the sexual sense, but let’s just say that I would advise against reading some of the chapters while eating. The chapter on human decay, in particular, doesn’t make for a good meal-time conversation subject.

The book comes with information on how to donate your body to science (so that it may have a more interesting end than most), but it is entirely US-centric. Still, it may give you ideas.

Buy from Amazon.com