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I don’t post much fiction on this site, but Major Pettigrew is a not-to-be-missed personality. Helen Simmonson’s debut novel sings with clarity, wisdom, excellent writing and a plot that churns up to the last page. If you liked Agatha Christie’s wry spoofs of English country villages and Barrow’s & Shaffer’s soft courageous portrayal of the Guernsey islands during WWII you’ll be in line for this one.

Covering such issues as racism, the denial of the outsider, and intercultural misunderstandings, the novel threads it way through a series of related events fraught with social gaffes and a ironic nuance, only to finally bring us to a very satisfying and unabashedly heartwarming conclusion.

Oh yes, no doubt about  it. Solid A

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Jessica Hagy is the oracle of the miniature truth and the brief witticism. It all gets expressed diagrammatically in a 3 x 5 card. If a picture is worth a thousand words, Jessica’s index cards are worth several thousand. Her blog and her book both go by the name ‘Indexed’.

Check it out: A ++

Peter Morville wrote one of the best introductions to digital IA, Information Architecture for the World Wide Web. His most recent book, Ambient Findability, is a pleasant and entertaining jaunt through specific aspects of IA such as wayfinding, faceted browsing, semantics, metadata, and information hierarchies. What I particularly like is that Morville weaves in contributions from others in the field such as Clay Shirky and Dave Wienburg. This collaborative approach stands in stark contrast to Steve Johnson’s book Everything Bad is Good for You, which tackled the question of popular culture’s effects on educational development and literacy while completely¬† ignoring Neil Postman’s critical contributions to the topic. I was appalled at Johnson’s ignorance, and wondered how his editor ever let him publish a book with such shoddy scholarship.

Although Ambient Findability lacks a certain depth of original thought, Morville’s willingness to do his homework in regards to the other movers and shakers in his field goes far towards redeeming the book in my eyes.

My stamp of approval: A-

I’ve read a fair amount of ‘outsider’ books on India, all of which try to do the impossible: portray the country in its complex and contradictory entirety. None comes closer to highlighting its magnificence, pointing out its inherent paradoxes, and revealing its haunting mystery, than Jonah Blank’s Arrow of the Blue Skinned God. Told with sober compassion, the book traces the epic journey of the Ramayana, alternating between the present India and the ancient past. Underneath the suffering and the futility, Blank gives us heartbreaking glimpses into the soul of India and her people.

The only noted omission in the book was the lack of glossary, as Blank uses a fair amount of Hindu words and phrases.

solid A

I can’t wait to tell you about this one.

Chevalier (Girl with the Pearl Earring), tackles a fascinating moment in natural history: the late 19nth century, when archeologists and historians were just beginning to probe evolution and natural selection.

At this time in history, the northwest coast of England revealed an astounding number of dinosaur skeletons, some perfectly preserved in their entirety. The book tells the story of the local fossil hunters, and one particularly talented young woman, Mary Anning. Virtually unschooled, Anning, nevertheless, had a knack for finding the remains of creatures never before seen by the Academy. This book is the story of her discoveries and of her struggle to be recognized by Britains’ academic elite, aided by an unusual advocate and friend.

The writing in the book is flawless: rich, poignant, and every word counts. Rarely do I regret a book coming to its end, this was one.

My take: oh yeah, A ++

This is a sequel to this team’s first book, Freakonomics.

Super Freakonomics, like Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers, is a testament to the power of statistics, and the surprising information it reveals. For example, believe it or not, it is actually safer to drive home from a party drunk, than to walk. Stuff like that.

But the tone of the book is too chatty, especially in relation to the serious topics that it explores. Modern warfare, drug addiction and prostitution have enough pain and suffering that anyone touching on them should tip their hat to that reality. These authors were a little too cavalier for me. I got tired of the snappy turns of phrases.

My score: C + (and that’s being generous)

Its a good quick read! You can skim: he should’ve had a better editor. Its really about marketing – in lay terms – and what motivates people in their buying decisions, and how this knowledge is used to manipulate buyer behavior. It also covers social behavior and the underlying factors in the choices we make: and they’re not what you’d think.

He’s had an amazing life: suffered 3rd degree burns on 70% of his body when fifteen. He’s spent the past 30 years slowly reconstructing and healing, mainly through force of will and the simple desire to survive.

I say: A – (the minus for wordiness)

You want to be a starfish because if you lose a leg, you grow back a new one. The starfish is a model of decentralization.

The spider, in contrast, is highly centralized. All ‘administration’ is concentrated in the central part of the body. This leaves the spider more vulnerable. If you lose the center, you fall apart.

Decentralized organizations are stronger and more resilient and the internet encourages and fosters them. Collective repositories, open source software, and social networks all represent the decentralized starfish model. (Wikipedia, Apache, etc.)

An example of the spider model would be American auto makers: less flexible, unable to respond quickly to changing customer demands and needs.

The books was a great read: the prose is straightforward, not too many “big words”… especially good in mid-summer when half of one’s mind is on vacation anyway. Bring it to the beach if you want something a little more substantial than the latest Alexander McCall Smith installment.

Solid A.

I’m taking advantage of quiet, uninterrupted time to read OUE and am enjoying the chapter by Chris Meckie. He talked about a variant of Open Source Software (OSS), called Community Source Software(CSS).

In the CSS model, universities band together and work cooperatively towards building a product (Sakai is a good example of this). With strict reporting structures and formalized commitments of staff and resources on the part of member institutions, this model is a welcome breath of fresh air. In our age where capitalism is in its apparent end-game, and continues poisoning the world with toxic fruits and vegetables born of unbridled greed and robs average citizens of their life savings through rogue banking practices, it seems that initiatives like CSS and related cooperative endeavors in other domains signal a post-capitalist ray of hope for the introduction of more evolved methods of creating value and managing commerce.

I can’t grade this book! (It just wouldn’t be right, Vijay Kumar is my boss, its a conflict of interest) but there is awesome content here!

This guy breaks the mold. He’s dead smart but talks plain English. He understands the intersection between analog and digital as it relates to information like nobody else. And he’s got wild ideas: the digital world has unleashed the constraints of physical organization, and thus allowed, for the first time, the “miscellaneous” to have a place at the table, so to speak. (for his idea of the miscellaneous think Chris Anderson’s Long Tail but not just commerce).

Check out excellent video at Google Tech Talks.

A ++ baby.