Some of the funniest satire I've read, even if it wasn't especially "effective". Memorable characters (Little Plum especially) who are almost real peoSome of the funniest satire I've read, even if it wasn't especially "effective". Memorable characters (Little Plum especially) who are almost real people (unlike many in this genre) and react to events in an almost-real way, so that we're always on the edge of fantasy but never complete submerged. I couldn't predict the plot's twists and turns, nor the wonderfully effective ending (why did so many other reviewers dislike it? It was perfect!).
As a bonus, the book contains some of the best food writing I can remember reading, thanks to the protagonist's humble background and constant gratitude for his temporary fortune -- neither flavor nor texture is ever taken for granted....more
3.8 stars. Worth skimming or looking for summaries, doesn't seem to offer much beyond what others have extracted from it. Prose is medium, few truly m3.8 stars. Worth skimming or looking for summaries, doesn't seem to offer much beyond what others have extracted from it. Prose is medium, few truly memorable bits.
Props to Newport for being willing to throw a lot of spaghetti at the reader in case any of it sticks. That raises the chance that something from this book works for any given reader. Unfortunately, when it happens in a book, it leads to a lot of wading through prose looking for whatever page happens to apply to your situation. I'd have loved to see a Tim Ferriss-style intro clearly demarcating which sections were aimed at which people.
Also, the tone seems to be aiming at "stern and authoritative", which can work for self-help, but it hits a point somewhere between "imperious" and "condescending". There's nothing wrong with talking about how many books and papers your system helped you publish -- unless you've run RCTs on other people, n = 1 will be all you have to offer -- but something about the way Newport described his work made the whole enterprise feel like a long treadmill: Instead of counting his Tweets, he counts authorships, with no reference to the quality of his ideas as a CS professor or the people he's been able to help.
That's the lesser part of my tone complaint -- the greater part are the few areas where Newport just goes off on large groups of people, especially in his "deep work isn't for everyone" section in the closing chapter. His use of an awful trope -- "you can follow my advice or keep sucking at life, it's up to you!" -- isn't quite earned by the quality of his work or his evidence....more
What an odd book! Half of it is business-book boilerplate, to the point of being trite, but the other half is divided into a really fascinating personWhat an odd book! Half of it is business-book boilerplate, to the point of being trite, but the other half is divided into a really fascinating personal story (culminating in a sort of business vision quest, where the truth of the world is revealed to the author during what sounds like a very serious Dark Night of the Soul) and a series of quite beautiful musings on the ways that order can bring peace and joy to a person's life. Carpenter's spiritual cousins include Marie Kondo and Cal Newport.
Something like 3.9 stars sounds right for an average reader, but if you've read a lot of business books or you're just good at skimming in general, you may rate the book higher, since you can absorb the good and zip through the meh. In so doing, you'll get to watch the mind of someone with peculiar-but-effective views on life and work.
(I wouldn't usually give five stars to a book of such uneven quality, but something about the simplicity of the author's language, the success of his business, the specificity of his stories, and the way that his system echoes in the creation process of the book -- it all combines to make something more real than I've seen in almost any other book on business, and I suspect that I'll remember it for many years to come, with a tiny Sam Carpenter emerging from a part of my brain to remind me when it's time to make a system. Any book that implants a shard of its author in your brain is a solid candidate for Goodreads' highest rating.)
Quotes I especially liked:
"99.9 percent of everything works fine: Look around! There is a penchant for efficiency in the world. The systems of the world want to work perfectly, and 99.9 percent of them do."
"For some undocumented processes our analysis suggested that creating a Working Procedure wasn’t necessary, and in fact we had been wasting our time performing the process at all! Eliminating the system of storing paper records of customer contacts was a good example of this purging action. In analyzing the system from outside and slightly above, we discovered that after years of carefully storing hard-copy evidence of every client interaction, no staff member had ever gone back to those files for information! Not once! When these obsolete systems occasionally appeared, we dumped them with a flourish, a collective grin on our faces. In reinventing Centratel, there was nothing more satisfying than discovering and then discarding useless processes."
"If an owner or manager begins with the premise “all employees are lazy” or “there is no work ethic anymore” or “I can’t pay enough to find and hold quality people,” where will that lead? If these are your fundamental beliefs, you must change them. If you don’t, you are doomed."
"Business is art. It's a heroic undertaking, and within it lies two superb by-products: tangible value to others--employees and customers--and personal income for the creator....more
Matthew Polly gave me most of the things I wanted in this book: Amusing descriptions of fighters, well-written combat scenes, and a real sense of howMatthew Polly gave me most of the things I wanted in this book: Amusing descriptions of fighters, well-written combat scenes, and a real sense of how it felt to step inside the ring. But the prose was usually workmanlike, without the emotional highs and lows I'd usually associate with the sport; thanks to Polly's comic stance, he felt removed from most of the scenes where he wasn't actually getting punched. A few other factors drove down the book's score: Weak editing (I found at least one spot where a sentence appeared to be missing), far too many dad jokes, and an offputting view of women. In one scene, a woman in her mid-forties comes into an elite gym and gives the heavy bag a beating, then meets her MMA idol; after acknowledging the force of her kicks, Polly then spends a page talking about the fighter's butt and making fun of her accent. This wasn't a constant -- Gina Carano gets plenty of respect -- but it happened often enough, in enough different situations, to be annoying (in a way I wouldn't have thought to be annoyed when the book first came out).
On the whole, though, my main complaint is that the author, despite his time literally fighting in the ring, felt sort of removed from the whole experience, never digging very deep into the lives of the fighters around him. (I didn't have the same problem with American Shaolin, and thought that book was considerably better, perhaps because China was deeply strange enough in the author's eyes that he didn't need to inject additional humor.)...more
I'm confused by my own rating, since I found the premise really interesting -- but upon reflection, I really didn't enjoy this. It began slowly, jerkeI'm confused by my own rating, since I found the premise really interesting -- but upon reflection, I really didn't enjoy this. It began slowly, jerked through a little bit of plot, then ended suddenly, its characters not yet fully formed. If you want a surprisingly explicit novel set in mid-2oth-century Japan, this... is that, and the background details of urban life are mildly interesting, but as a novel, it's just bland, and the "twist" I've seen referenced in other reviews barely deserves the name....more
(Note: I read this when it was still available on Medium for free, so my quotes may be worded differently from those you'll find in the published work(Note: I read this when it was still available on Medium for free, so my quotes may be worded differently from those you'll find in the published work.)
This has many, many reviews from intellectual types already (there's even an arch-conservative review from one of the most erudite citizens of Goodreads). My points here won't be original, but they are what stuck with me most, more than a year after I first read the online-essay version of the book.
Stubborn Attachments is unusual in that it thinks about what the world may look like hundreds of years in the future, without much reference to modern technology. This lets Cowen avoid the problems of many past prognosticators (picking the wrong technological horse to back and looking silly in two decades). Instead, he picks a very old technology, with a better track record: money.
"Do not take the existence of wealth for granted."
Cowen's summary of how wealth really does seem to make life better is worth the price of admission, though I think his In Praise of Commercial Culture also did this well, with more detail. You may find it hard, after reading, not to carefully track world GDP (or whatever other metric you think best captures the notion of "people having access to more of the things they want").
Another strong point of Stubborn Attachments: It is a serious attempt to respond to Yuval Harari's concern that progress may not have made us any happier than we were a thousand years ago, or ten thousand. (On that topic, also read Harari's Sapiens, Ache Life History, and How to Be Happy.) Since I think Harari's is one of the most important concerns we can have as a species, I'm pleased by Cowen's ambition.
This book makes lots of gigantic claims very quickly, and since Cowen would need thousands of pages to mount an adequate defense of the full claim-cluster, I suspect he deliberately went the other way, leaving others to argue in his wake. But these are arguments worth having, and his latest book is an excellent conversation-starter. In case you still don't plan to read it, I'll leave you with some of his other conclusions:
a. Policy should be more forward-looking and more concerned about the more distant future. b. Governments should place a much higher priority on investment than is currently the case, whether that concerns the private sector or the public sector. Relative to what we should be doing, we are currently living in an investment drought. c. Policy should be more concerned with economic growth, properly specified, and policy discussion should pay less heed to other values. And yes, your favorite value gets downgraded too. No exceptions, except of course for the semi-absolute human rights. d. We should be more concerned with the fragility of our civilization. e. The possibility of historical pessimism stands as a challenge to this entire approach, because in that case the future is dim no matter what and there may not be a more distant future to resolve the aggregation dilemmas involved in making decisions which affect so many diverse human beings. f. At the margin we should be more charitable but we are not obliged to give away all of our wealth. We do have obligations to work hard, save, invest, and fulfill our human potential, and we should take these obligations very seriously. g. We can embrace much of common sense morality, while knowing it is not inconsistent with a deeper ethical theory. Common sense morality also can be reconciled with many of the normative recommendations which fall out of a more impersonal and consequentialist framework. i. When it comes to most “small” policies, affecting the present and the near-present only, we should be agnostic because we cannot overcome aggregation problems to render a defensible judgment. The main exceptions here are the small number of policies which benefit virtually everybody.
3.5 stars. Fun, zany adventure story, with some really inventive writing and surprise around every corner. The author's self-portrait toward the end o3.5 stars. Fun, zany adventure story, with some really inventive writing and surprise around every corner. The author's self-portrait toward the end of the book, showing a skull filled to bursting with characters, seems quite accurate.
Two major flaws cut into my enjoyment:
1. The story, which is bland but functional for a while (as a vehicle for delivering jokes and fun concepts) peters out near the end, when the main characters get bored with the plot and leave for other stories. The city, which is written like it's meant to be a character itself, gets short shrift, left in suspended maybe-crisis, its residents confused and fearful.
2. Nearly every female character is drawn in the same style, including aliens; the most notable exception to this is an overweight woman played for laughs. I assume this choice was intentional, meant to align with the story's noir flavor, but after a while it just got boring. (I didn't mind this nearly as much when I saw it recently in Tezuka's Buddha series, because Tezuka's character designs are simple and minimal, while for Graham, characters are most of the reason King City exists.) I don't think I've ever seen a work outside of actual erotica where Oglaf's commentary on dimorphism held so true....more