Tuesday, September 29, 2015

How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia by Mohsin Hamid

How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia by Mohsin Hamid was a novel that traces through someone's life born into third-world poverty.

The book is nominally about business and making a living, and includes the quote "to become filthy rich in rising Asia, sooner or later you must work for yourself," but is also very much about someone making a life and doing what they can born into brutal circumstances. As part of that, Hamid's work seems to cover that while we can influence many things in our lives, it's also often more a case of things happen to us and then we have to respond.

Two nonfiction authors that came to mind for me from reading Hamid's novel were John Gardner and Katherine Boo, with Gardner writing of someone building their life in a speech I posted on years ago and Boo doing the sensational Behind the Beautiful Forevers, a book that I read and wrote about in 2013 and which features the subtitle Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity.

Hamid's novel featured some lyrical and almost poetic language in places, particularly as the story reached its conclusion, with the final sentence of the book below...

And she comes to you, and she does not speak, and the others do not notice her, and she takes your hand, and you ready yourself to die, eyes open, aware this is all an illusion, a last aroma cast up by the chemical stew that is your brain, which will soon cease to function, and there will be nothing, and you are ready, ready to die well, ready to die like a man, like a woman, like a human, for despite all else you have loved, you have loved your father and your mother and your brother and your sister and your son and yes, your ex-wife, and you have loved the pretty girl, you have been beyond yourself, and so you have courage, and you have dignity, and you have calmness and in the face of terror, and awe, and the pretty girl holds your hand, and you contain her, and this book, and me writing it, and I too contain you, who may not yet even be born, you inside me inside you, though not in a creepy way, and so may you, may I, may we, so may all of us confront the end.

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest by Stieg Larsson

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest by Stieg Larsson is the third novel in the Millennium Series on main characters Lisbeth Salander and Mikael Blomkvist with the first two The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and The Girl Who Played with Fire.

All three books were really entertaining and it makes me curious about The Girl in the Spider's Web, another novel about Salander and Blomkvist, this written by David Lagercrantz a decade after Larsson's death.

Great stories on family - Warren about C.J. Chivers & Joe Posnanski about his daughter

Two pieces of writing I've read fairly recently and keep thinking on both deal with family and our interactions with and what we do for our children.

The one that's directly on the subject is by Joe Posnanski with "An Evening Drive" posted to his personal website. About the writer with his 14 year-old daughter, it's great stuff that brings to mind past blog posts from Posnanski on his daughters like "I Hope You’re Happy With Your Husband" and "Katie the Prefect."

The other piece to note here is "Why the Best War Reporter in a Generation Had to Suddenly Stop" by Mark Warren for Esquire. It's written about a writer I've a few times linked to pieces by in C.J. Chivers and while the entire feature by Warren a fascinating one, the part that gets me is about what led Chivers to walking away from the incredibly dangerous task of war reporting...

"Before leaving for his last trip to Iraq last year, he and Suzanne and two of their sons were sitting around the dinner table playing pitch when one of his boys started to itch terribly. He was suddenly covered in hives from head to toe. They called the family doctor, who was puzzled because he could find no clear medical reason for the hives. There was no indication of an infection, and the hives didn't resemble the kind caused by allergy. A couple days later, Chivers left on his trip to Iraq. It was to be a short assignment—three weeks or so. While there, he spoke regularly with Suzanne, who said their son's rash had not gone away. Then, on the day he arrived home, the hives disappeared, suddenly and completely.

Chivers consulted the doctor, who told him that the rash was almost certainly an autoimmune miscue and was probably caused by terror. His son had been afraid for his father's life.

'A switch went off at that moment for me. You know...I mean, I realized I couldn't do that to him. And for a few weeks, I quietly argued with myself about this and tried to find a way to mentally, to see if I could get the switch back into its old position. I remember lying in bed night after night saying, I think that's it. I think I'm done.'

Chivers talked to his brother, also a former Marine, and he said, 'If your kid's sick and you know the medicine that will heal him, do you withhold it?'"

Monday, September 21, 2015

Interesting business writing - on Uber, Slack, Google Cardboard, and financial manipulation

Recently there were a few excellent pieces of business writing from the latest issues of Fast Company and Bloomberg Businessweek.

From Businessweek was the cover story "Was Tom Hayes Running the Biggest Financial Conspiracy in History?" by Liam Vaughan and Gavin Finch. About manipulation of the Libor rate that banks use to borrow money from each other, it's a tremendously interesting look at widespread malfeasance and the role of one man in particular in it.

The Fast Company cover story was written by Max Chafkin with "What Makes Uber Run" on the lightening-fast growing transportation company and it's founder and CEO, Travis Kalanick. Additionally from this issue of FC was a solid feature by Rick Tetzeli titled "Slack's Workplace Revolution" on the office communication software company and a short missive on the low-cost virtual reality device, Google Cardboard.

Pirate Hunters by Robert Kurson

Pirate Hunters by Robert Kurson was a really entertaining book about accomplished scuba diving deep sea explorers and the search for a sunken pirate ship, the Golden Fleece, a vessel helmed by pirate Joseph Bannister during the golden age of piracy between 1650 and 1720.

Only one pirate shipwreck had been previously discovered and the book was very history-focused with divers John Chatterton and John Mattera trying to figure out Bannister in order to discern where he may have taken his ship and it was ultimately sunk. Chatterton was featured in Kurson's book Shadow Divers and he and Mattera were told about the Fleece by legendary treasure hunter Tracy Bowden. The deal that Bowden made is he'd give the two men 20% of the Fleece if they found it for him and Kurson repeatedly wrote, though, of how for the two searchers, it was more about the quest for discovery than riches.

The stories of both Chatterton and Mattera are remarkable, with Chatterton volunteering to serve as a medic in Vietnam and who led patrols there and Mattera growing up around the New York mafia and then becoming a cop, contractor for the U.S. government and then executive & celebrity bodyguard. Kurson also recounted how while searching for the Fleece, twice the men faced potential death twice from armed bandits in the Dominican.

While the book was excellent overall, the ending with litigation rearing it's head felt somewhat disappointing, more a function, though, of how true stories sometimes go than anything Kurson should have done different in the writing.