The purpose of art is to delight us; certain men and women (no smarter than you or I) whose art can delight us have been given dispensation from going out and fetching water and carrying wood. It's no more elaborate than that. — David Mamet

The Startup Garden
Tom Ehrenfeld

The book's conceit -- running a startup as a path to personal growth -- is fascinating, and I can certainly agree that running a small business presents important character challenges. There's some good insight here. But much of the book is devoted to the familiar litany of how to write business plans and why cash flow matters, and too little to the book's singular topic. There's no mention, either, of the dark side -- people who lose their way in a startup and wind up alone and friendless, or scarred and embittered, or who embrace dishonesty and deceit. It's not the inevitable, or even the usual, outcome of starting a business, but it happens; it would be good to acknowledge the dangers, and even better to explore how to avoid them. I'd like, too, some thoughts on the small things in the garden; everything in Ehrenfeld is aimed at laying out the flowerbeds and rose trellises, planning the garden paths and the broad vistas. I'd like to hear more about the weeding and hoeing the startup garden -- not as instrumental activities but as ends in themselves.

February 20, 2003 (permalink)

Heartily recommended by Linda's philosophy professor, this is a mixture of a professional autobiography of the longtime music director of an important American musical training program and a critique of art funding in American music. The memoir is interesting, if not particularly well written. The discussion of art policy is frustrating. Everything comes down to money, and Morgenstern doesn't discuss money in any detail. He says that subsidies are the only hope for symphony orchestras, and no doubt he's right, but it would be interesting to see the proof. He says that Boards should stick to fund-raising and stay out of the music, and no doubt he's right, but isn't staying out of management's hair a recipe for Enron and Tyco? It's a thin book as it is, and I long for a little more detail and depth.

February 16, 2012 (permalink)

Strange Victory
Ernest R. May

A brilliant and important book, intended for the instruction of intelligence analysts but also lively, readable, and superbly argued.

Everything you learned in school about the Fall of France in May, 1940 is wrong. The French were not ill-prepared for the War. Their armies were larger, their planes were better, their tanks were stronger and more numerous. No allied commander expected to lose, and few German commanders expected to win. May brilliantly explores how the outcome came to pass. The allies placed a heavy emphasis on using high technology to avoid battle casualties; the Germans accepted casualties as the price of conquest. The allies gathered lots of raw data and placed it before commanders and politicians who ignored it; the Germans brilliantly digested and analyzed their intelligence in order to grasp the central questions. Finally, the allies were terribly slow, encumbered by procedure and detail; it took the French four days to realize they had been fooled, and even then their reaction was far too sluggish to succeed.

February 6, 2003 (permalink)

Prairie Gothic
J. M. Hayes

Review forthcoming in The Drood Review. Hilarious: one of the funniest mysteries I have read.

January 29, 2003 (permalink)

The Mount
Carol Emswhiller

January 9, 2003 (permalink)

This history of the American cocktail strings together plenty of anecdotes and amusing bits of trivia, capped with pages of recipes. Grimes is lively and readable, but has few opinions and, in the end, not a whole lot to say. Not a bad book, but a missed opportunity; you never really learn whether to shake or to stir, or why it matters.

December 30, 2002 (permalink)

The Berlin Stories
Christopher Isherwood

The encrustation of memories of a famous Broadway play and an even more famous musical (Cabaret!) aren't the chief obstacle to these stories, nor even the difficulty of remembering that, in 1931, you couldn't know what was about to happen. The real difficulty is remembering how vivid Isherwood's comparative frankness about the existence of sexuality (and even, coyly, of homosexuality) must have seemed right after the war, at a time when Norman Mailer had to pretend that Marines said "fug" a lot.

Still, these strike me as period pieces of chiefly historical interest, and if Isherwood had been straight and had spent the thirties in, say, Brussels or Stockholm, and if his choice of lovers late in life had been less distinguished, I wonder if these stories would be remembered. But perhaps that's unkind; there may be dusty, neglected volumes that are just as good, but this is good enough.

December 24, 2002 (permalink)

Bridge: 25 Ways to Compete In The Bidding
Barbara Seagram and Marc Smith

A lively, occasionally hilarious, and accessible look at overcalls and their kin. Far more systematic than its title suggests, this book carefully looks at defensive bids, how they affect the auction, and what to do about them as partner or opponent.

October 29, 2012 (permalink)

For some fifty years, Diana Athill was editor for the British publisher André Deutsch, and these memoirs recount the dramatic transformation of publishing from the end of WWII to the close of the millennium. Athill can write, and things happened where she happened to be:

"At that time I was all but unsexed by sadness, because the man I was engaged to, who was serving in the Middle East, had first gone silent on me, then married someone else, then been killed. A little later I would start to find that promiscuity cheered me up, but our Devonshire Places days were too early for that."

October 26, 2012 (permalink)