Summertime And The Pages Are Turningby
Whether you're headed for the beach or the mountains, a foreign port of call or just a weekend at home, you'll want one of those palm-size, nondigital information devices--otherwise known as a book. And here to help you figure out which volumes to consider is BUSINESS WEEK's annual summer paperback roundup.
A good place to begin might be science fiction--or is it science fact? Imagine a world in which everyone wears a "bodynet" equipped with a host of tiny silicon chips and eyeglasses that provide video displays. People can check E-mail or make purchases while walking down the street. And the bodysuits' virtual-reality capability will, among other things, make it possible for couples to engage in sex at long distance over the Internet. Sound farfetched? It's all on the way, says Massachusetts Institute of Technology computer scientist Michael Dertouzos in What Will Be: How the New World of Information Will Change Our Lives (Harper San Francisco, $14). Most important, though, says Dertouzos, the ubiquitous computers--hooked to a wireless, global, multimedia Internet--"will rebuild the notion of community, this time among millions of people." BUSINESS WEEK reviewer Otis Port said Dertouzos "maps out the future with the authority of someone who has been within the computer revolution from the beginning."
Technology is also the focus of Edward Tenner's Why Things Bite Back: Technology and the Revenge of Unintended Consequences (Vintage, $13). Here, the focus is on techno-follies--or in the author's words, "revenge effects." DDT, for example, was hailed as the ultimate pesticide but later proved harmful to humans as well as to bugs' natural predators. Its widespread use also led to the evolution of "superbugs," resistant to DDT. Things bite back, says Tenner, who is now an affiliate of the Geosciences Dept. at Princeton University, because humanity seeks to subdue nature rather than live with it. Observed reviewer Peter Coy: "Tenner goes beyond listing the excesses of technology: He grapples with solutions."
Another problem solver--albeit one who admits to a number of defeats and miscalculations--is former Labor Secretary Robert B. Reich. In his Locked in the Cabinet (Vintage, $13), Reich describes his experience as the sole "progressive liberal" among the President's economic advisers. The ex-Secretary pokes fun at everyone from former AFL-CIO President Lane Kirkland to former Sunbeam Corp. CEO Albert J. Dunlap to himself. Some of these targets--and some journalists--have poked back, charging that Reich fabricated events and dialogue. In response, Reich has made revisions in the paperback edition and warns that his quotes "should be considered paraphrases rather than verbatim accounts." All in all, found reviewer Paul Magnusson, "Locked in the Cabinet surpasses most recent tell-alls," both in its prose and its consideration of intellectual questions.
Equally absorbing is Katharine Graham's Personal History (Vintage, $15), The Washington Post publisher's memoir, recently awarded a Pulitzer Prize. Graham weaves together three stories: her own life, an insider's history of the Post, and a tale of the dramatic transformation of American journalism during the 20th century. The product of a rich family, the author attended Vassar College and the University of Chicago, toured Europe, and worked as a labor reporter before marrying Phil Graham, the Washington lawyer who managed the paper her father had bought. After Phil's death in 1963, Katharine took over that management role, presiding over the Post during the breaking of the Watergate story and over the company's emergence as a financial success. Concluded Howard Gleckman, Personal History is "a fascinating tale of an extraordinary life."
Another kind of empire-building is the subject of Conflicting Accounts: The Creation and Crash of the Saatchi & Saatchi Advertising Empire (Touchstone, $14) by former Wall Street Journal reporter Kevin Goldman. The book is a blow-by-blow story of how brothers Charles and Maurice Saatchi built a tiny ad agency into a giant in order to feed their egos--then helped destroy it after they were booted for irresponsible behavior. In the early '80s, the duo began an acquisition binge by issuing new shares of stock to buy smaller agencies. They had raised $1 billion to acquire 37 companies by 1986. But a failed bid for--of all things--Britain's fourth-largest bank, combined with a severe recession and profligate spending, led to near-bankruptcy, vicious board infighting, and the brothers' departure. In the end, the original company was split in half, and the Saatchis were left running their own new operation, M&C Saatchi--a confusing situation for all concerned. Reviewer Paula Dwyer advocated that board members read the book as "an example of how not to govern" but added: "Others can just enjoy this incredible tale for its pure entertainment value."
Of course, not all business books are so entertaining--and summer is no time for heavy eyelid lifting. Bite-size pieces may be just the thing, as in management guru Peter F. Drucker's Managing in a Time of Great Change (Plume, $14.95). The work has remarkable breadth: In 27 separate articles, Drucker explores everything from China's growth markets and the reinvention of government to how modern retailers have redefined their business. This, the author's 28th book, "is a welcome addition to the formidable library of Drucker thought," reported John A. Byrne.
Tantalizing, too, is The Economics of Life (McGraw-Hill, $14.95), a collection of 1992 Nobel laureate Gary S. Becker's monthly Economic Viewpoint columns from BUSINESS WEEK. Demonstrating his talent for extending the frontiers of economics, Becker ponders such questions as: "Why not let immigrants pay for speedy entry?" and "Why don't we value schooling as much as the Asians do?" He terms the National Collegiate Athletic Assn.'s policy against paying college athletes a "serious restraint of trade." Becker says he began writing his columns both to influence public policy and to reach a broad audience. In these pieces, the real world is very much at hand.
How do ideas about economics win broad public support? A key factor, suggests Samuel G. Freedman, is whether or not they resonate with people's experience. In The Inheritance: How Three Families and the American Political Majority Moved From Left to Right (Touchstone, $15), former New York Times reporter Freedman considers how adherents of Democratic liberalism have gravitated toward the GOP over the decades. "The Democrats' abandonment of working-class ethnics is an old story, perhaps, but Freedman's family portraits make the point far more vividly than a stack of poli-sci textbooks," observed reviewer Paul Magnusson.
Another monumental shift is the subject of William Greider's One World, Ready or Not: The Manic Logic of Global Capitalism (Touchstone, $15). Here, the Rolling Stone national editor paints a scary picture of a world ruled by self-interested multinational corporations and investors, all vying to earn high returns by opening yet another factory in yet another emerging economy. The pursuit of labor-saving technology, he says, is leading companies "to invest in more output of goods than the global marketplace of consumers can possibly absorb." People will be debating for years whether this overinvestment caused the collapse of Asia's economies, but Greider certainly illustrates some of the dislocations that free trade can breed. While objecting to "Greider's proposed remedies, including imposing tariffs and other restrictions on international trade and investment flows," reviewer William Glasgall found that the author "has assembled a coherent and surprisingly easy-to-read series of arguments."
And if you're looking for a greater understanding of Asia, check out historian Bruce Cumings' revisionist work, Korea's Place in the Sun: A Modern History (Norton, $17.95). Among Cumings' novel assertions: South Korea's sprint from poverty to prosperity was not an "economic miracle." North Korea is not a rogue state like Iran but a politically stable, neo-Confucian kingdom. Barring war, reunification will happen only after a prolonged period of regional freedom from external meddling. Korea's Place in the Sun, said reviewer Mark L. Clifford, is "essential reading for anyone interested in an important, dangerous, and volatile country whose emergence from its cold war impasse is only a matter of time."
But enough serious stuff--it's summer, the season virtually synonymous with baseball. And some of the best ever was played under the watchful eyes of Roger Kahn, who in the 1950s covered the Brooklyn Dodgers and then the New York Yankees and Giants, as a reporter for The New York Herald-Tribune and other publications. Kahn relives those halcyon days in his Memories of Summer: When Baseball Was an Art and Writing About It Was a Game (Hyperion, $12.95). The author guides us through his private memories and sportswriting career. But what we really want to hear about are the games and the players--and there, too, he delivers. Memories of Summer is "chock full" of wonderful baseball stories, said reviewer Stephen Baker, tales that "let us know how great baseball used to be."
But many things used to be better, Burke Devore might say. Devore, a fiftyish, laid-off middle manager with two kids to support, is the central figure in Donald E. Westlake's farcical thriller, The Ax. Devore, though, doesn't simply pine for the past--he sets out to improve things, starting with his own job market. His tools? A list of job-hunters with similar skills and an unregistered Luger. "I'm not a murderer," he reasons. "What I'm doing now I was forced into, by the logic of events; the shareholders' logic, and the executives' logic, and the logic of the marketplace...." Reviewer Marc Miller found that, even though the "blow-by-blow is graphic," the satirist's "comic perversity," demonstrated in such previous works as the tabloid-journalism takeoff Trust Me On This, remains intact. There are plenty of chills to counteract the heat of summer.