Tag Archives: Viking Press

Change the World

Four young men decided to take a bite out of the world. The world bit back.

More Awesome (Nook Book)

More Awesome Than Money: Four Boys and Their Heroic Quest to Save Your Privacy from Facebook by Jim Dwyer (Viking, $27.95, 374 pages)

diaspora

This is a true story about four young men, from prosperous families (upper middle-class to one percenters), who decided to come up with a program that would take on and possibly destroy Facebook. Their creation, Diaspora, at one time seemed so promising that an intrigued Mark Zuckerberg sent them a donation of $1,000. What would set Diaspora apart from Facebook is the user’s ability to protect their personal information, keeping it from the clutches of advertisers. As the Los Angeles Times noted, the users of Facebook “are not the sites’ customers; they’re the merchandize. The real customers are the advertisers and aggregators who suck up the (personal) data on the users and use it to target commercial come-ons more effectively.”

More+Awesome+Than+Money+Jim+dwyer+Book

The efforts of the young Diaspora founders – who were in their late teens to early 20s – would fail largely because they had no business experience and made horrible decisions. For example, when they approached the Sand Hill Road venture capital firm, Kliener Perkins (KP), they were advised to not request a certain amount of money (KP was prepared to offer an investment of $750,000). They asked for $10 million and came away with nothing. This was close to, and eventually was, a fatal decision.

The stresses upon their effort were to lead to short and long-term dropouts among the leadership, and result in a suicide. This is, to a great extent, the story of Ilya Zhitomirsky, the brilliant self-taught programmer who suffered from depression. However, the telling incorporates the viewpoints of each of the founders. All of the founders suffered from inexperience and the sweet arrogance (and ignorance) of youth.

Dwyer, co-author of the excellent account of the destruction of the World Trade Center buildings, 102 Minutes, provides the reader with a cinematic story. This might make a fine film in the style of The Social Network, which detailed the founding of Facebook.

While engaging, this book suffers from a couple of flaws. The first is that multiple accounts of the same incidents result in sometimes-annoying repetition. This can lead the reader to feel like he/she is watching The Norman Conquests. Also, although Dwyer takes two stabs at wrapping up the story, in the final chapter and an epilogue, it comes to a sudden end – the book ends not with a bang but with a whimper.

If More Awesome Than Money is a true-to-life morality play, then Dwyer appears to be unsure of the lesson to be learned. Perhaps it’s that yesterday’s technological revolutionaries (Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Larry Ellison) became today’s establishment figures. They and their creations are to be attacked at one’s own risk.

Recommended.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher. The original subtitle of this book, as listed in the inside pages, was Four Boys and Their Quest to Save the World from Facebook. I do not know why it was changed.

Note: While finishing this review, I happened to read that Mark Zuckerberg and his wife provided a donation of $75 million to San Francisco General Hospital. “Make of that what you will.” (A.C. Newman, “There Are Maybe Ten or Twelve…”)

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More Awesome Than Money (Amazon)

A review of More Awesome Than Money: Four Boys and Their Quest to Save the World from Facebook by Jim Dwyer (Viking, $27.95, 374 pages).

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Hung Upside Down

The Up Side of Down: Why Failing Well Is the Key to Success by Megan McArdle (Viking, $27.95, 299 pages)

Up Side of Down

Yes, it’s OK to fail as long as you learn from your failure and keep on trying. Megan McArdle advocates a remarkable approach to achieving mastery and success in The Up Side of Down, an unusually titled book that is part pop culture/psychology, part memoir, and contains a whole bunch of useful information.

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The book opens with an easy-to-understand definition of failure. Building upon the definition, McArdle expands the reader’s knowledge base by exploring the way societies operate. Her examples are spot on (e.g., California’s disastrous electric power deregulation and the collapse of the Soviet Union). Both of these events resulted in catastrophic failures – contrary to the economic theory of “creative destruction.”

McCardles’s example of mastery and success is charming. She sets up scenarios where the results of teamwork exercises are compared. The comparison is between a group of kindergartners and teams of MBAs and engineers. The task assigned to these teams is the construction of a tower of spaghetti. You’ll need to read the book to find out which team won.

While the book has a lively mix of pertinent examples of failure in each chapter category (virtuous society, experimenters, crisis), the threads that tie them together are admittedly sketchy at best.

Well recommended.

Ruta Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

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An Interview with Jojo Moyes

JojoMoyesMe Before You

Jojo Moyes is the English author of Me Before You: A Novel, which is already an international bestseller. Her prior novel was The Last Letter from Your Lover. She recently completed a tour of bookstores in northern California and here she answers a few questions.

Q: Tell us a little about where your ideas for your characters and their stories come from.

A: They come from all over the place. It’s often a snippet of conversation or a news story that just lodges in my head and won’t go away. Sometimes I get an idea for a character too, and then unconsciously start knitting them together. Me Before You is the most “high concept” book I’ve ever written – in that I could describe it in two sentences. But most of them are a lot more organic, and just contain lots of ideas and things that I’ve pulled together. With this book I think the issue of quality of life was probably to the front of my mind as I have/had two relatives who were facing life in care homes, and I know that in one case she would probably have chosen any alternative to that existence.

Q: Which of the characters in Me Before You do you identify with the most?

A: Well, there’s definitely a bit of Lou in there. I did have a pair of stripy tights that I loved as a child! I think you have to identify with all your characters to some extent, or they just don’t come off the page properly. But I also identify with Camilla a bit. As a mother I can’t imagine the choice she has to make, and I could imagine in those circumstances you would just shut down a bit emotionally.

Q: We love the way you draw the social distinction between Lou’s working-class upbringing and Will’s upper-class background. Did you do that deliberately to introduce humor into what could otherwise have been a deeply tragic situation?

A: Yes I did. I thought that the subject was so bleak potentially that it was important to have a lot of humor in the book. But it adds a useful tension to the narrative too: offsetting the warmth and chaos of Lou’s home life with the more formal and reserved nature of Will’s relationship with her parents. And it gives Lou an added reason to feel totally out of her depth once she arrives there. From the point of the reader, it also gives Will a subtle advantage that is vital if we are to see him as Lou’s equal, and not just an object of pity.

Q: Your books always have an incredibly moving love story at the heart of them. What is it about the emotional subject of love that makes you want to write about it?

A: I have no idea! I’m not very romantic in real life. I guess love is the thing that makes us do the most extraordinary things – the emotion that can bring us highest or lowest, or be the most transformative – and extremes of emotion are always interesting to write about.

Q: Have you ever cried while writing a scene in any of your book?

A: Always. If I don’t cry while writing a key emotional scene, my gut feeling is it’s failed. I want the reader to feel something while reading – and making myself cry has become my litmus test as to whether that’s working. It’s an odd way to earn a living.

Q: Where do you write? Do you set hours or just put pen to paper when inspiration strikes?

A: I work in roughly set hours, but with three children and a lot of animals I’ve found you have to be flexible. If there are no disruptions I roll out of bed and straight to my desk and work from 6:00 a.m. to 7:30 a.m., and then again after I’ve done the animals from roughly 10:00 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. My ideal time to work would be from 3:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. – but unfortunately that only happens if I go away and hide in a hotel.

Q: When you form characters do you ever incorporate aspects from people you know?

A: Yes – but often without realizing (it). Luckily if you write a negative character trait people are rarely likely to recognize themselves. More often though the characters have elements of myself which I then stetch and exaggerate until they become their own. Lou, for example, contains something of the character I could well have been if I had married the man I got engaged to at 17. I would have led a very different life.

Note: Me Before You is an Amazon Book of the Month for January 2013. “(It’s) a word-of-mouth sensation from Britain.” USA Today

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Me Before You

Me Before You

Me Before You: A Novel by British author Jojo Moyes was released in the U.S. on December 31, 2012, by Pamela Dorman Books/Viking. It’s already a bestselling book in 28 other countries, and is often compared with One Day: “…an emotionally powerful tale of an unlikely love affair between two people who represent each other’s last hope.” The bestselling author Adriana Trigiani (The Shoemaker’s Wife) said this:

“Jojo Moyes has written the perfect modern love story. Me Before You can be wickedly funny, and in a phrase, make you weep. You will be astonished at what you feel, and what you hope for when you are forced to face the possibility of your own dreams. It’s that good. Read it now.”

Added Eleanor Brown, author of The Weird Sisters:

Me Before You is… funny and hopeful and heartbreaking, the kind of story that will keep you turning pages into the night. Lou Clark and Will Traynor will capture your heart and linger there long after their story has ended.”

Here is a synopsis of the novel:

Louisa Clark (or Lou, as she’s known) lives a life about as big as the tiny English village she calls home. She loves being a waitress and figures she’ll eventually marry Patrick, her longtime boyfriend. When she unexpectedly loses her job, she must scramble to replace the income that her tight-knit family depends on. Out of desperation, she takes a job working for ex-Master of the Universe Will Traynor. Will used to live a life full of high-stakes deals, adventurous vacations, and beautiful women. Now, due to a tragic accident, his life is suddenly restricted beyond his control and he has lost all desire to live.

Will keeps everyone at a distance with his caustic and high-handed attitude. Unlike his family, however, Lou refuses to tiptoe around him and cater to his bad moods. Soon they become exactly what the other needs. Seeing how hopeless Will is about his future, Lou plans a series of adventures (and mis-adventures) to try to convince him that his life can be worth living. In turn, Will attempts to persuade Lou that she doesn’t have to confine herself to the small existence she’s settled for so far. As they set about changing each other’s lives, what emerges is a love story that is as complex as it is beautiful.

Tomorrow we’ll have a 7-question interview with Jojo Moyes. See you then.

Joseph Arellano

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Prince of the City

The Darlings: A Novel by Cristina Alger (Pamela Dorman Books/Viking, $26.95, 352 pages)

“I’ve been stumbling on good hearts turned to stone…”   Bruce Springsteen

Cristina Alger’s debut novel is to Wall Street and corrupt investments what Robert Daley’s Prince of the City was to corruption inside New York City’s criminal justice system; and it makes just about as powerful a statement about contemporary life in this country.   This is a story about New York’s monetary elite (the One Percent) and about Greed with a capital g.    It’s a frightening tale about a place in which people equate money with love – in which money is, quite simply, the most important thing in the world.

As the novel opens, financier Morty Reis has killed himself.   Reis, a figure apparently based on Bernie Madoff, is an outside manager for Delphic, the investment company hedge fund run by the powerful billionaire Carter Darling.   (“The Frederick Fund, Delphic’s only single-strategy fund, had 98 percent of its assets invested with Reis Capital Management…  Morty was a brilliant investor.”)   The problem, as Darling’s son-in-law Paul Ross soon finds out, is that Reis Capital Management was a Ponzi scheme and Delphic’s clients stand to lose billions of dollars.   Ross, in need of a job after being pushed out of the Manhattan law firm he worked for, learns this sad truth soon after becoming the head of Delphic’s legal team.   He’s barely had a cup of coffee before learning that the SEC is on the phone.

It’s a Grisham-like  opening but Alger, who has worked as both a financial analyst (Goldman, Sachs, & Co.) and white glove firm attorney, quickly steers the action to the fiscal side.   And she exposes the reader to the rough underbelly of life in the top stratum of New York high society – a class in which a small Manhattan apartment goes for $1 million with grossly high monthly maintenance fees, tuition for one child at a private school runs $34,000 per year, a summer rental in the Hamptons goes for $100,000, and SAT tutors ask for $1,000 an hour.   “Who had the stomach to run these kinds of numbers?   For even the very rich, this sort of daily calculus required a steely nerve…  a ruthless will to succeed.   (Carter’s daughter) Merrill would see schoolchildren on Park Avenue, golden-haired cherubim in pinafores and Peter Pan collars, and she would think: Those are the offspring of killers.”

Merrill is soon to find that her father is the most ruthless of the outlaws on The Street – a man who hides behind opulence – and his actions may have doomed not only his own livelihood and reputation, but also those of Paul and Merrill.   “Carter Darling was hard to miss for anyone who read the financial news.”   The strong-chinned, patrician Darling is presented as a man who possesses some of the personality traits of both Donald Trump and Mitt Romney.   He’s proud of his success (Merrill refuses to give up her maiden name when she marries Ross) but God only knows what he’d be without his hundreds of millions of dollars…  His wife knows that he sees her as little more than a cash drain, “an extra person on the payroll.”

To her credit, Alger permits us to examine a legal system in which cheap, easy quick wins are valued more than prosecutions that can achieve social and economic justice.   For today we live in a world in which billionaires can outspend local, state and federal agencies in the courtroom.   When justice has been turned upside down – and the accused control the process – it’s all about the plea agreement, the deal.   (Financial wheelers and dealers are extremely proficient at fashioning the deals that benefit themselves the most.)

The reader knows that Paul Ross, aided by his legally-trained wife Merrill, and an investigative reporter looking into Delphic are going to have to make some hard moral choices before the story comes to an end.   The same is true for the near-omnipotent (if flawed) Carter Darling.   Alger cleverly ties together two plot lines at the conclusion of this stunning debut novel in a way that’s not foreseen before the final chapters.  

Who wins in the end – the white hats or the black hats?   You will need to read The Darlings to find out.

Highly recommended.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.   The Darlings will be released on Monday, February 20, 2012.

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Coming Up Next…

A review of The Darlings: A Novel by Cristina Alger, which will be released on February 20, 2012.   “A page-turning debut novel about a wealthy New York family embroiled in the biggest financial scandal of our time.”

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