Books I’d Like to Read

It’s been quite a long while since I’ve done one of these. Here are some recently noticed books that look interesting from either a collection development or a professional development point of view.

Fans, Friends And Followers: Building An Audience And A Creative Career In The Digital Age by Scott Kirsner

An essential guide for filmmakers, musicians, writers, artists, and other creative types. “Fans, Friends & Followers” explores the strategies for cultivating an online fan base that can support your creative career, enabling you to do the work you want to do and make a living at it. Based on dozens of interviews with the artists pioneering new approaches to production, marketing, promotion, collaboration, and distribution, it presents strategies that work – in a straightforward, jargon-free way. Featured artists include YouTube star Michael Buckley; the animators behind JibJab, Homestar Runner, and Red vs. Blue; video artist Ze Frank (“theshow”); comedian Eugene Mirman; singer-songwriters Jill Sobule and Jonathan Coulton; OK Go frontman Damian Kulash; filmmakers M dot Strange (“We Are the Strange”) and Curt Ellis (“King Corn”); writers Brunonia Barry (“The Lace Reader”) and Lisa Genova (“Still Alice”); and artists Tracy White, Natasha Wescoat, and Dave Kellett.

Life Inc.: How the World Became a Corporation and How to Take It Back by Douglas Rushkoff.

Since the Renaissance, the corporation–the operating system of the market–has formed and controlled people, and Rushkoff describes how it has infiltrated all aspects of American life. In the twenty-first century, we continue to consider corporations as role models and saviors but engage other people as competitors to be beaten or resources to be exploited. The author bemoans extreme networking (called buzz marketing), which makes our personal, social interactions become promotional opportunities and the lines between fiction and reality and friends and market become blurred. Our lives are overextended, and there is no time, energy, or commitment to do anything but work and perhaps consider family. Rushkoff recommends that we fight back by “de-corporatizing” ourselves. His suggestions include thinking locally by participating directly with our neighbors in community activities and using various Internet sites that provide opportunities to contribute directly to a particular school or to extend a “micro loan” to a specific entrepreneur in the Third World. This is an excellent, thought-provoking book.

Fun Inc.: Why Play is the 21st Century’s Most Serious Business by Tom Chatfield

Fun Inc. is a guide book to the gaming industry, written by one of the industry’s leading analysts.

In the United States in 2007, the gaming industry was worth over $18 billion, while the second-biggest consumer of computer games — Japan — added $7 billion to a global total of almost $50 billion. It’s the fastest growing media business in the world, and one of the very few industries that seem destined to resist the credit crunch. It’s a powerful and dynamic industry and, in commercial terms, one worth understanding given that the gaming industry’s innovations present a great opportunity for businesses to better understand both their workers and their clients.

A Better Pencil: Readers, Writers, and the Digital Revolution by Dennis Baron

A Better Pencil puts our complex, still-evolving hate-love relationship with computers and the internet into perspective, describing how the digital revolution influences our reading and writing practices, and how the latest technologies differ from what came before. The book explores our use of computers as writing tools in light of the history of communication technology, a history of how we love, fear, and actually use our writing technologies–not just computers, but also typewriters, pencils, and clay tablets. Dennis Baron shows that virtually all writing implements–and even writing itself–were greeted at first with anxiety and outrage: the printing press disrupted the “almost spiritual connection” between the writer and the page; the typewriter was “impersonal and noisy” and would “destroy the art of handwriting.” Both pencils and computers were created for tasks that had nothing to do with writing. Pencils, crafted by woodworkers for marking up their boards, were quickly repurposed by writers and artists. The computer crunched numbers, not words, until writers saw it as the next writing machine. Baron also explores the new genres that the computer has launched: email, the instant message, the web page, the blog, social-networking pages like MySpace and Facebook, and communally-generated texts like Wikipedia and the Urban Dictionary, not to mention YouTube.

The First War of Physics: The Secret History of the Atomic Bomb, 1939-1949 by Jim Baggott

Rich in personality, action, confrontation, and deception, The First War of Physics is the first fully realized popular account of the race to build humankind’s most destructive weapon. The book draws on declassified material, such as MI 6’s FarmHall transcripts, coded Soviet messages cracked by American cryptographers in the Venona project, and interpretations by Russian scholars of documents from the Soviet archives. Jim Baggott weaves these threads into a dramatic narrative that spans ten historic years, from the discovery of nuclear fission in 1939 to the aftermath of ‘Joe-1,’ August 1949’s first Soviet atomic bomb test. Why did physicists persist in developing the atomic bomb, despite the devastation that it could bring? Why, despite having a clear head start, did Hitler’s physicists fail? Could the Soviets have developed the bomb without spies like Klaus Fuchs or Donald Maclean? Did the Allies really plot to assassinate a key member of the German bomb program? Did the physicists knowingly inspire the arms race? The First War of Physics is a grand and frightening story of scientific ambition, intrigue, and genius: a tale barely believable as fiction, which just happens to be historical fact.

Bright Boys: The Making of Information Technology by Tom Green

Everything has a beginning. None was more profound and quite unexpected than Information Technology. Here for the first time is the untold story of how our new age came to be and the bright boys who made it happen. What began on the bare floor of an old laundry building eventually grew to rival the Manhattan Project in size. The unexpected consequence of that journey was huge what we now know as Information Technology. And even more unexpected: trying to convince someone, anyone, that information was the key to most everything else. For sixty years the bright boys have been virtually anonymous while their achievements have become a way of life for all of us. Bright Boys brings them home. By 1950 they’d built the world’s first real-time computer. Three years later they one-upped themselves when they switched on the world s first digital network. In 1953 their work was met with incredulity and completely overlooked. By 1968 their work was gospel. Today, it’s the way of the world.

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