Book Review: Grapes of Wrath

The Grapes of Wrath is an American classic by John Steinbeck written in 1939 about the great depression and a Oklahoma family who lost their farm and packed everything up to try to make a new life for themselves in California.

I’m sure I read the novel in high school or at some point, but don’t really remember, definitely do not remember the magnitude of despair nor the strength of the family. It’s almost a shame that such great books are “wasted” as assigned reading to teenagers. I would almost reverse it and let the kids read fun horror and sci-fi that they might enjoy and cultivate a love for reading; leaving the classics for when they get old.

The Grapes of Wrath is a pretty amazing story, especially reading it in today’s climate with so many people feeling forgotten and cast aside. The book is over 75 years old and the human struggle still resonates today. Even with all the struggles, it gives a small bit of encouragement that conditions are improving, systems are in place to help, fewer people are starving, baby mortality rates are improved, life expectancy is longer.

The people in flight from the terror behind—strange things happen to them, some bitterly cruel and some so beautiful that the faith is refired forever.

I always remembered the story as the families needed to move because of the dust storms and the inability to farm. However, it is a bit more nuanced, yes the family goes through a few bad seasons which require them to take a loan. Once the loan is started they end up falling behind and unable to pay it back; finally losing the farm to the bank. The banks repossess the family farms, displacing the families, and use new tractors to manage the expansive farmlands with minimal workers. A similar story of innovation and progress displacing laborers, and the greed and corruption of power.

If he needs a million acres to make him feel rich, seems to me he needs it ’cause he feels awful poor inside hisself

Steinbeck does a wonderful job capturing the family, the emotions, the power of human spirit and strength for them to keep going on. He writes in the dialect o the family which at times can be tricky to read, but captures their essence well.

It is an amazing story of America, the good and the bad.

Length: 464 pages
Reading time: 15 days

Book Review: Little Brother

After a major terrorist attack hits San Francisco, the government creates an Orwellian surveillance society, a techno-savvy teenager rebels back — a geek focused coming of age story.

The author, Cory Doctorow, is quite knowledgeable and explains technology well. Even though the story was written almost 10 years ago, the technology topics still hold up. It would be a slightly different story written in our post-Snowden, smart phones everywhere world, but not that different.

The book is realistic, though a bit over the top with the author taking the themes of surveillance, freedom, and rights to the extreme to make his points. They are important and good discussions.

I quite enjoyed the book, it is filled with good action and an interesting story; it was a pretty quick read, I ended up staying up late a couple nights to finish it. I would definitely recommend, especially for software engineers and open source fans.

Little Brother by Cory Doctorow is released under creative-commons and available for free download in numerous formats. You can still purchase from Amazon to support the author.

Length: 387 pages
Reading time: 2 days


Book Review: Creativity, Inc.

Ed Catmull’s book Creativity, Inc is an excellent book for both the history of Pixar, and the business lessons managing creative teams and people.

First off, I’m biased. I love Pixar. I love their movies. I’ve watched several behind-the-scenes and making of movies about Pixar. I was even lucky enough to get a tour of their campus. So I’m predisposed to liking something about them. With that said, even if you do not like Pixar but are interested in business organization & management there is still quite a bit to get out of Creativity, Inc.

The book covers the CEO Ed Catmull career at Pixar from the beginning of starting the company, to selling it and taking over Disney Animation. He discusses the numerous challenges they faced along the way and packages them up into thoughtful management advice.

Here are a handful of quotable quotes from the book to give a sense of its content:

“Give a good idea to a mediocre team, and they will screw it up. Give a mediocre idea to a great team, and they will either fix it or come up with something better. If you get the team right, chances are that they’ll get the ideas right.”

“When looking to hire people, give their potential to grow more weight than their current skill level. What they will be capable of tomorrow is more important than what they can do today.”

“Many managers feel that if they are not notified about problems before others are or if they are surprised in a meeting, then it is a sign of disrespect. Get over it.”

“The desire for everything to run smoothly is a false goal — it leads to measuring people by the mistakes they make rather than by their ability to solve problems.”

“Excellence, quality, and good should be earned words, attributed by others to us, not proclaimed by us about ourselves.”

Length: 370 pages
Reading Time: 8 days