Summertime, and the reading is easy--or it should be, according to the conventional wisdom. Pondering and perspiring supposedly don't mix. But we don't buy it. As you catch up on your reading, what better place to think and learn than under a shady tree with a tall iced tea and a comfortable chair? This is not to say the books on our summer reading list aren't readable and entertaining. A couple are truly light. And all are lightweight in one sense of the word: They're now out in paperback and ready to slip into your suitcase.
The Man Who Discovered Quality by Andrea Gabor (Penguin, $11). W. Edwards Deming, an American statistician, became an icon of quality management in Japan during its postwar rebuilding. Something of a curmudgeon, he holds American managers in contempt for focusing on merely limiting product defects. Deming looks for quality in all aspects of business: what goes on in the factory, how products are sold, how managers deal with workers. Gabor, a former BUSINESS WEEK editor, presents him as the sort of man given to dating the eggs in his refrigerator with a pen to make sure the older ones get eaten first. Obsessive? Maybe. But in Japan, Deming is still revered. In the main lobby of Toyota Motor Corp.'s headquarters in Tokyo, three portraits hang: the founder's, the chairman's, and, largest of all, Deming's.
Under the Influence: The Unauthorized Story of the Anheuser-Busch Dynasty by Peter Hernon and Terry Ganey (Avon, $12.50). Don't read this book to find out how Anheuser-Busch has remained America's beer king. It's not so much company history as real-life soap opera detailing how the same affinities and peccadilloes have plagued five generations of Busch men. A lively beach read. You might want to bring along a cold six-pack.
Lonely Hearts of the Cosmos: The Story of the Scientific Quest for the Secret of the Universe by Dennis Overbye (Harper Perennial, $13). Half of the book's appeal lies in finally getting clear explanations of exotic theories, such as "inflationary universe" and "superstrings," that try to describe how the universe came to be as it is today. The other half lies in the sometimes suspenseful, often poignant human dramas that run through the tales of researchers groping ever closer toward basic secrets of the cosmos.
The Greatest-Ever Bank Robbery: The Collapse of the Savings and Loan Industry by Martin Mayer (Collier, $12.95). This work by a veteran popularizer of economic subjects gives us the first full picture of what happened. Mayer strips away the phony home-finance do-gooder image that shielded shady savings and loan association owners for years and reveals a bunch of brigands who lived well off your money long before Ronald Reagan released their most corrosive juices. Indeed, Washington gets to share the blame. But Wall Street investment houses, Mayer calculates, made the most off the scam by selling mortgage-backed securities and stuffing S&Ls with junk bonds. He figures the scandal cost taxpayers around $500 billion, and in the updated paperback edition, he pins at least $150 billion of the bill on postscandal bungling by the Resolution Trust Corp.
Stolen Season: A Journey Through America and Baseball's Minor Leagues by David Lamb (Warner, $9.99). Lamb bought a used RV and a copy of Baseball America's 1989 Directory, promised his wife he wouldn't come home spitting tobacco, and hit the road. It's a fine ramble through the part of baseball that remains closest to its low-key origins.
The Japan That Can Say No: Why Japan Will Be First Among Equals by Shintaro Ishihara (Touchstone, $10). If Michael Crichton's novel Rising Sun made you paranoid, keep in mind that Ishihara's work is categorized on its paperback cover as "current affairs." One can, and should, ignore some of his more provocative America-bashing assertions. It is harder, though, to dismiss the raw insight that this politician and novelist provides into the current thinking of the Japanese. Ishihara dwells on two trends: increased national pride coupled with the perception that America has an overblown idea of its importance to the rest of the world. Clearly, Ishihara can't resist being outrageous, and his views are ultranationalist. But the book did sell a million copies in Japan alone.
Parliament of Whores: A Lone Humorist Attempts to Explain the Entire U.S. Government by P.J. O'Rourke (Vintage, $12). The not-so-funny theory of this very funny book is that government and politics are so boring that citizens don't pay them much heed and never quite get around to throwing the bums out. O'Rourke's flippancy at times evokes Hunter S. Thompson, but his venom is more distilled.
Rivethead: Tales from the Assembly Line by Ben Hamper (Warner, $9.99). A fourth-generation auto worker, Hamper spent 11 years as a riveter at General Motors Corp.'s Truck & Bus Div. plant in Flint, Mich. A nervous breakdown in 1988 compelled him to give up his cherished nightmare of someday winning a 30-year pin at GM. Angry yet comical, Rivethead is about people who sweat for their pay. These folks, Hamper says, still toil in unsafe factories for companies that often treat them like children. There's the message board that flashes "Squeezing Rivets Is Fun!" And there's Howie Makem, the plant mascot--a guy dressed as a cat and wearing a long, red cape emblazoned with a "Q" for quality. The workers eventually took to pelting Howie with rivets, which is just what this book does to America's comforting concepts about opportunity and bootstrap success.
The Day the Phones Stopped: How People Get Hurt When Computers Go Wrong by Leonard Lee (Primus, $12.95). Computer failure can be bothersome, as it was just now when the system on which these reviews were being written went down for a few minutes. It can be infuriating and costly, as when all three New York airports had to shut down one day last September because phone lines feeding air-traffic-control computers were severed. And it can be fatal, allowing an Iraqi Scud missile to escape interception and blow apart a makeshift U.S. barracks, killing 28 people. Lee's case studies are engrossing, but they need better chapter headings and/or an index.
Computer chaos stemming from mischief or larceny rather than error is the subject of Cyberpunk: Outlaws and Hackers on the Computer Frontier by John Markoff and his wife, former BUSINESS WEEK editor Katie Hafner (Touchstone, $12). They examine a rogue's gallery of hackers, but dwell on California computerholic Kevin Mitnick and his decade-long hacking rampage. A wealth of small but insightful details about the personal lives of Mitnick and other misfits enlivens what might otherwise be dry, technical material.
Why Gorbachev Happened: His Triumphs, His Failure, and His Fall by Robert G. Kaiser (Touchstone, $14). Updated with material on last summer's attempted coup, the book outdoes rivals in making sense of the Kremlin's breathless chain of events since 1984.
Which Side Are You On: Trying To Be For Labor When It's Flat On Its Back by Thomas Geoghegan (Penguin, in bookstores mid-July, $11). Geoghegan's account of his years as a union activist is well-written, witty, and, on the subject of certain labor leaders, scathing. The book is part memoir, part history, and part puzzled soul-searching about why this privileged product of the Ivy League should spend his life with such a downmarket crowd.
There are No Children Here: The Story of Two Boys Growing Up in the Other America by Alex Kotlowitz (Anchor, $12). Through deeply affecting portraits of two young brothers in the Governor Henry Horner Homes on Chicago's West Side, Kotlowitz, a reporter for The Wall Street Journal, makes vivid the terrors of childhood in the projects. While most kids wonder what they'll be when they grow up, Lafeyette and Pharoah Rivers, ages 9 and 11 at the outset of the book, wonder if they'll grow up at all. Sometimes, Pharoah won't talk about the violence and death all around. Other times, he can't, because of a worsening stutter. "Mama, I'm real tired," says brother Lafeyette, plagued by nightmares and diarrhea. "Anytime I go outside, I ain't guaranteed to come back." But the boys are also brave and resilient. This insightful book examines two years of their young lives.