Category Archives: Book Reviews

Book Review: “The Long Tail” by Chris Anderson

Chris Anderson presents a compelling case of the “long tail” – the new economics of culture and commerce. He’s got the music CD, DVD and tons of data to back up his arguments that we’re entering the “long-tail” economy, brought about by the ubiquitous internet and cheap computer technology, enabling all of us to straddle between a “head” (mainstream taste) and “tail” – niche/custom taste. It’s a “culture unfiltered by economic scarcity.”

The three forces are 1) democratizing tools of production (PC), 2) cutting the costs of consumption by democratizing distribution (Internet), 3) connecting supply and demand (Google, Itunes).

The long-tail economy is of abundance, not scarcity that contributes to the demise of the 80/20 rule, which tends to correlate to a high-fixed-cost distribution/production model. As the traditional constraint of the fixed shelf space (tyranny of shelf and physical “atoms”), the pre-filter must be selective on what to offer and put on the shelf. This is no longer true if there is no shelves; all products are available – thanks to all the small merchants brought together by the power of Amazon and Google.

At the end, the author offers the “long-tail” rules: make everything available and help me find it. Specifically, 1) move inventory way in or way out, 2) let consumers do the work, 3) one distribution method doesn’t fit all, 4) One product doesn’t fit all, 5) One price doesn’t fit all, 6) Share information, 7) Think “and” not “or”, 8 ) Trust the market to do your job – Don’t predict; measure and respond. 9) Understand the power of free.

The impact of the Internet has transformed all of our lives. I didn’t think it would have this much impact on us so soon, turning several of the old industries (like newspaper, network TV) upside down. I’m now convinced this long-tail economy is for real. The opportunities are abundant but I wonder what this means to the future job skills our children must be trained for. Does it act as one giant roller that flatten/level the playing field and global economy so much that there is really no “high-paying” profession any more, as any of the premium will be squeezed out or arbitraged out? It’s a wonderful, scary time.

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Book Review: “Running with Scissors” by Augusten Burroughs

This book is a hilarious and yet sad account of one’s treacherous childhood by Augusten Burroughs. My first impression after listening to this audio book was that this whole thing was probably made up. What parents of a right mind would do such a thing to a child? But the author’s parents were not normal. The father is a alcoholic professor and the mother is just not well – a bit nutty that eventually became a lesbian and then turned against her own psychiatrist, accusing him of making sexual advance against her (probably true in my opinion). Growing up in a combative family (between the parents), the author described his childhood as a life of anarchy when he was abandoned to his mother’s psychiatrist. The life in this psychiatrist’s family was truly an adventure. He discovered his own homosexuality and encountered his first sexual experience with the guy, a patient of the psychiatric in the back house. His relationship with his “step” sister was very interesting – performing singing show in the prison, walking on the ledge under the waterfall, and etc. He was able to adjust quite well.

Once again I’m amazed by how resilient a child can be in reacting to upheavals in life. The author had to face the abandonment of his mother and his father and be left a in nut house – the psychiatrist’s family, consists of members of the oddest characters. At the same time, he was growing up discovering his own homosexuality and fending off advance from a sexual predictor in the back house.

After hearing this story, one cannot help to be cynical of the psychiatric profession. The practices sounds a bit like a snake medicine, if having the curing effect at all to be called medicine. The psychiatrist’s casual use of valium and other drug is rather unethical. I honestly don’t know how frequent this is happening or this is simply an isolated incidence.

The audio book has very graphic homosexual language/description but the narration overall was excellent. It’s like listening to a story being told by the author as if the events are taking place.

Of all the characters in the story, it’s very hard to tell who is really crazy. Is craziness a symptom of exhibiting an abnormal behavior or simply not appearing credible. Some of the most credible people (like the psychiatrist) may be crazy themselves. The gunman of the Virginia Tech massacre may have exhibited the “normal” behavior with a “craziness” hidden deep inside until it blows up.

I enjoyed this audio book. The title of the book says it all – running with scissors. Seeing others running with scissors is something to behold but not to experience yourself.

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Book Review: “The ABC’s of Building a Business Team that Wins” by Blair Singer

Developing the “code of honor” for the team is the essence of the book.

A team must first establish first the code of honor, by which the team will operate. This is like a ground rules that sets the tone for the team. The author stresses the importance of having the team members develop the code themselves so they can abide by. A good set of code of honor will keep the team going at a time of crisis, much like the marines have been trained to support one another during combat.

A reasonable good book with good examples but did not go into details about building each function of the business team. The message is very simple; I guess the function/expertise is not as important as the cohesiveness and dynamic of a team. The audio book was narrated by the author himself. He’s a natural salesman; he delivers the message with force and conviction. I don’t think you would get as much reading the book.

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Book Review: “The Pleasure of My Company” – a novel by Steve Martin

Daniel Pecan Cambridge, the narrator and main character in this novel, is a rather interesting person, walks a fine line between being a paranoid and a genius – a bit autistic with lots of idiosyncrasies, some mathematic talent and a very good heart.

The book chronicles the journey of a man going from a hopeless man not capable of going outside and dependent on an intern psychiatric help, to a fully functional man enjoying a good career and a lovely partner (wife). The journey involved his admiration for his intern psychologist and her child – Teddy. The breakthrough happened during his adventure with his psychologist and Teddy to Texas, his hometown, where his grandma passed on a great deal of money to him. After this adventure, he rediscovered that he was able to overcome the constraints he sets upon himself and took significant risk and courage, which won him the girl that he has been secretly admiring – all because of his good heart towards others and innocence.

This novel has so much of the “wild and crazy” guy – the pubic persona of Steve Martin, himself. What stood up for me is how purely and innocent he interpreted the world around him, like through the lens of a child. One cannot help feeling sorry for him when he was rejected by so many women (the psychologist, the real estate lady) and cheering for him when he finally became “normal” and won the heart of the woman who’s most deserving of his affection.

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Book Review: “The Measure of a Man” by Sidney Poitier

Before reading this book, I had only heard of Sidney Poitier as a black actor that open a lot of doors for black actors who followed. He appears to be an intense guy, though I never saw his movies before. (I have queued up a bunch of his movies on my Netflix account.) He is a good looking guy with a good voice; I could see the great acting attributes in him.

After reading this book, I found him a very good critic of himself – able to look at things from a very high level – the God’s (nature’s) view. He is also very non-judgmental, despite all the difficulties he encountered. He carried with him great pride and integrity, instilled in him by his parents, as part of the upbringing in Cat Island, Bahamas. His unwillingness to sign the “loyalty” letter (due to the racism nature) at the risk of not getting a job and being poor showed his great courage and integrity. He also took a lot of risks while trying to survive, like moving out of Bahamas to Florida, and then from Florida to New York. He seemed to have the vision on what he’s capable of becoming – someone great. When the environment turned against him, like in Florida, he was willing and proactive enough to make a change instead of being a victim, not allowing the circumstances to dictate what he can become. This showed a great deal of courage and tenacity.

Poitier’s main legacy, according to him, was his six daughters, who he mentioned only briefly. His troubled daughter, at the end, also showed a lot of Poitier in her by going back to school and getting a degree after being “lost.” Poitier showed a great commitment to his family. I’m certain some of the black actors would give him a lot more credit than that. Not succumbing to the degrading treatment of blacks in the film industry definitely set the tone for the future generation and kick-started the careers of some black actors that followed.

The measure of a man, according to his father and supported by his mother, was to be able to support and bring up his family. The family was very poor by our standard but was rather “happy.” The book ended with the tragic death of his good friend Charley Blackwell, who helped him to write a solo play. How well a person contends with and overcomes human’s imperfections, through nature or circumstances, is perhaps the true measure of a man. As he put it, “we are all imperfect and life is an unending struggle against those imperfections.”

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Book Review: “Automatic Millionaire” by David Bach

As a practitioner of his principles on being a homeowner, I didn’t feel I got that much out of this book. This book is really for the people who’re still renting. But I did learn something about the latte factor (getting out of the habit of spending on small luxury items like latte, cable TV and etc.) or the definition thereof. The bi-weekly payment plan was not new to me but a good reminder for me to look into as I was debating it’s worth the extra processing fee. One major take-away for me is to put everything (payment, saving and etc.) in auto-pilot mode (thus the phrase “automatic”) just because most people are not disciplined enough when it comes to financial matter. This is true especially when it comes to paying bills.

Some of the ideas about taking out the equity and buying a rental property may not work very well here in California, as the house prices here are very high. You’ll need almost every penny to buy the next house if you want to upgrade at all. I also believe that the housing boom may be coming to a grinding halt, which David Bach did warn about and encourage people to be prepared for it. Perhaps, all those extraordinary housing wealth accumulated for the last few years are simply a deviation from the norm. The correction could be very painful for those who are not careful and buying into homes at their peaks.

The fact that there are some people who are simply not disciplined enough to be a homeowner; they don’t want to deal with leaky faucet or toilets and regular maintenance of the house. It’s a lot of work. Some of the renters don’t even want to pay rent on time.

Overall, this is reasonable book for someone who’s renting and don’t know how to break away from that habit and commit to being a homeowner and becoming the “automatic millionaire.”

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Book Review: “John Adams” by David McCullough

This unabridged audio books was 30 hours long. It took me over 3 weeks of listening in the car on the way to and from work. The amazing thing is that the story was quite captivating – all the way to the end. The narration was excellent as if the original character were speaking the words – which is rather rare for audio book unless it’s narrated by the author himself/herself.


As an immigrant to US in my teen, I was exposed to very little American History and I didn’t do that good in the history class because I was still struggling to “understand” English much less appreciate the contents of the American History textbook. This book goes into great details of the life, ambition and sacrifice of John Adams and his love affair with his wonderfully witty and understanding wife, Abigail. I speculate that John Adams wouldn’t be the accomplished John Adams as we know him today or even John Quincy Adams (John Adam’s Son), without her wife Abigail.


David McCullough, the author, portrayed John Adams more of a stubborn, visionary patriot than a politician, which is quite understandable as the country was still fighting for survival from British military force and then French military force. He didn’t want to play the bipartisan game because he feared the division it may cause to the country. This may have spelled the end to his one-term presidency (2nd US President). He was definitely no contest to the sophisticated, conniving Thomas Jefferson, an Adam’s on-again, off-again and on-again “friend.”


Here are a few interesting contrasts of the life in 1776 today’s life :

  • Mails going from USA to Europe can take months. Today’s email can travel in milliseconds. And a phone call is almost instantaneous.
  • Travel from USA to Europe can take months in the ocean. Today’s travel takes less than a day.
  • Educated people like Adams wrote a lot in mails and journal those days so historian like David McCullough can trace John Adams’ entire life. Today, people don’t write as much but we have lots of emails, digital photos, and video. This is going to make future historian very difficult to trace a person’s life. Hopefully, the new blog trend can change that somewhat.

  • The intimate, eloquent love letters between John Adams and his wife Abigail were especially moving. Their fidelity to each other though separated by the Atlantic ocean and years at a time was unimaginably long and difficult by today’s standard. Both made great sacrifice for the greater good of this country.


    Overall, I utterly enjoyed this book. A great book if you want to understand the heart and soul of a true American patriot in the purest form. We American owed a great deal of our prosperity to John Adams, who shepherded the birth and the first critical toddler years of this country.