"I think 'beauty' has a (prominent) place in every project." Tom Peters
Just got back from two incredible weeks in the bush in Zimbabwe.* (*Why is there utterly no press coverage of Zimbabwe’s troubles? We have truly written off Africa. For shame.) Took me a couple of hours to pack my clothes for safari; took me weeks to choose my reading. Here’s what I took:
Edward O. Wilson, The Diversity of Life. My bush trip was the most intense learning event in my life. (Thanks to an incredible guide, Garth Thompson.) I experienced the ultimate relatedness of life as never before. Reading Wilson -- winner of 2 Pulitzers -- was icing on the cake. (For the truly ambitious, try his magisterial book, with Bert Hölldobler, The Ants.)
F.Y.I.: My “conclusions” from the bush: (1) Specialization-excellence. Or death. (2) Luck is irrelevant. In a drought, drought specialists survive. (3) Bigger is not necessarily better. All hail the termites and ants and bacteria. (4) Efficiency matches specialist effectiveness: no wasted motion, no bureaucratic B.S. (the elephants don’t read Dilbert), very low “transaction costs.” (The Internet is doing this in human life -- witness a Dell or Enron.) (5) Hyper-interdependence. The power resides in the network: Self-organization is the rule (Internet redux); viral marketing (communication between, say, termites about opportunities) is the staff of life.
(Far be it from me to mix in a controversial religious opinion. But coming off my first safari, I must say I’m delighted and privileged to be descended from the creatures of the bush -- I doubt they feel the same about their association with us!)
Jeremy Rifkin, The Age of Access. Rifkin’s book is anti-globalization. With that I wholeheartedly disagree. Nonetheless, his analysis of the emerging networked society is the best I’ve read. (I simply don’t reach the same conclusions.) The basic ideas: Markets to networks. Buyers and sellers to suppliers and users. Ownership to access. Marginalization of physical property. Franchising of everything. Everything is a service/platform for services delivery. Value = The relationship. Share of market to share of customer. Etc.
Michael Lewis, next: the future just happened. A great co-read with Rifkin. Lewis sees liberation, led by the young, where Rifkin sees conspiracy and consolidation of channels of information distribution. Both agree that “it” (the Internet and all it portends) is one of the most fundamental alterations in patterns of thinking and being in the history of the world. (For what it’s worth, I wholeheartedly agree. E.g., re the bush, read the recent Newsweek cover story on the cell phone revolution in Africa.)
Bill Owens, Lifting the Fog of War. Admiral Owens was the Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He argues persuasively that military strategy has not changed much since Napoleonic times. But the new technologies are altering everything -- and we are not prepared. (One chapter title: “The Exhausted Superpower.”) His recommendations are revolutionary and controversial (essentially: combine the four services). The book is a great companion to the two immediately above. (I am a fan of “saturation reading” -- coming at an issue by reading all around it at the same time. I kept switching back and forth among all the books above. Oddly, the Wilson book and the safari experience enhanced this mix -- among other things I’ve come to the conclusion that all engineers should study zoology; the termites are such better architect-engineer-contractors than we are.)
John Marszalek, Sherman: A Soldier’s Passion for Order. I always mix great biography in with whatever else I’m reading. (Biography constantly reminds me of the “messy people stuff” -- that is the ultimate determinant of outcomes. And reminds me that all revolutionaries have weaknesses as grand as their strengths, and typically follow amazingly convoluted, failure-strewn paths to greatness.) To anyone growing up in the South 50 years ago as I did, William Tecumseh Sherman was not exactly a beloved figure. Yet his story is incredible. This brilliant biography explores the evolution of his thinking -- e.g., one must attack the enemy’s civilian infrastructure, which supports a military action, not just the frontline troops. Sherman and U.S. Grant were an incredibly flawed pair -- who saved the Union for Mr. Lincoln (and you and me). (I’m sure my Mom does not approve.)
Ian Rankin, Dead Souls. Rankin, to my mind, is the best mystery writer alive. All his books are terrific; and I love his very flawed detective-protagonist, John Rebus.
That’s it. We were strictly limited to 27 pounds, and I needed a little room for cameras and binoculars and clean underwear. (Incidentally, I have become a raving fan of Leica 8X42 and 10X42 binocs.)
Tom Peters, West Tinmouth VT 08.28.2001
Before blogging became all the rage, Tom was posting book reviews and Observations (essentially early blog posts) to this site. You can find the archives below.