Nina's Reading Blog

Comments on books I am reading/listening to

Archive for July, 2014

The Secret Rooms: A True Story of a Haunted Castle, a Plotting Duchess, & a Family Secret

Posted by nliakos on July 27, 2014

by Catherine Bailey (Penguin 2013)

Fans of Downton Abbey will recognize the transition from pre-World War to post-World-War One society described in this fascinating account of why the 9th Duke of Rutland chose to die in a suite of uncomfortable rooms in his family’s ancient castle, Belvoir, rather than in his lavishly furnished rooms elsewhere in the castle. Other similarities with Downton Abbey include aristocratic houses used as hospitals, aristocratic daughters working as nurses, entailments and trench warfare. It is a sad story of a little boy who was born to a life of privilege but denied his parents’ love and approval; even as a young man, he was manipulated and controlled by others. The book is written like a novel and the reader moves from chapter to chapter, unable to put it down (at least I did). One of the most fascinating aspects is Bailey’s description of how she researched her subject. New questions constantly arise; she read reams of private letters, diaries, and documents and travels from castle to archive and beyond. Her focus moves back and forth from her own research to the life of John Manners, who was to become the ninth Duke. I was swept along by the parallel stories of historian and duke and recommend the book unreservedly.

 

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Posted in History, Non-fiction | Leave a Comment »

Wikinomics: How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything

Posted by nliakos on July 22, 2014

by Don Tapscott and Anthony D. Williams (Portfolio, a member of the Penguin group, 2006)

2006 was the year I first created my online presence. Before 2006, I basically used only email and a word processing program. Then I discovered TESOL’s Electronic Village Online and participated in the session “Becoming a Webhead” with Dafne Gonzalez and Teresa Almeida d’Eça. It changed my life! That was where I learned how to blog, how to use a wiki, and got over my fear of signing up for accounts for all kinds of free online stuff, which led to social media, podcasting, glogs, and lots more.  If you google me now, you find quite a lot, whereas before 2006, I doubt you would have found anything. It was a pivotal year for me.

So that was the year Tapscott and Williams published Wikinomics. It has been on my to-read list for years, but when I finally got around to reading it, I realized that a book like this one is out of date as soon as it’s published (or maybe even before it’s published), let alone eight years later. I wondered whether the predictions the authors made then had come true or not; mostly, I didn’t know. They made a lot of confident predictions about how Web 2.0 would transform the way business is done, e.g.: “Peer production will continue to grow in importance because key enabling conditions are present and growing.”  “Companies that don’t source a growing proportion of new product and service ideas from outside their walls will find themselves unable to sustain the level of growth, agility, responsiveness, global savvy, or creativity they require to compete in today’s environment.” “Companies that embed [openness, peering, sharing, and acting globally] in their workplaces will create competitive organizations that leverage internal and external capabilities more effectively than their traditional counterparts.” And so on. But they failed to predict the dark side: hacking, spamming, phishing, identity theft, governmental surveillance and blocking of websites. It seems to me that these activities have the potential to bring down the web as we know it. Already, countries like China and Saudi Arabia have created their own internets to shield their citizenry from the information available on our Internet; and lately I have been getting more and more nervous about online banking and shopping due to the increasingly sophisticated hacking of governmental, commercial, and financial websites. I don’t think Tapscott and Williams gave a thought to these things back in 2006. At least, there is no mention of them in Wikinomics.

The authors set up a website for readers to provide their input; the original site, http://www.wikinomics.com, has evolved into http://www.macrowikinomics.com/. I haven’t explored it yet, but presumably, they have updated (or are updating) the book with the participation of many others (the whole idea, after all, is mass collaboration).

The question remains whether it is really worth reading a book about cutting-edge technology eight years after it was written. Probably not. As I read, I kept wondering, then what happened? How did it turn out? Were they correct? Were they wrong? What would they say about this now? And also: if corporations use more ideas from people outside their walls, they can downsize. What’s going to happen to all those people who lose their jobs? How will the “external” participants pay for health insurance (or rent, mortgages, kids’ education, grocery bills, for that matter) if they are not employed in traditional jobs? Knowing what I know now about the redistribution of wealth between “the one percent” and “the ninety-nine percent”, I wonder if things are so rosy after all. I don’t presume to blame this imbalance of wealth and power on mass collaboration. But something has happened which transferred American wealth from the majority to a very tiny minority. Just a thought.

Posted in Non-fiction, Web Technology | 1 Comment »

North River

Posted by nliakos on July 9, 2014

by Pete Hamill (Little Brown, 2007)

I’ve liked the other Pete Hamill novels I’ve read (Snow in August, a favorite of mine, and Forever).  Both were infused with a magical realism that made it difficult to distinguish between reality and fantasy. North River has no magic in it beyond a couple of visitations by a ghost/visions of a vanished wife. Like the other two novels, it is set in New York, this time in a tough neighborhood in Lower Manhattan; North River, I discovered thanks to Google, is just another name for the southern part of the Hudson between Manhattan and New Jersey (I grew up in Hackensack, but I never knew that!). The Depression is in full swing, Europe is gearing up for the Second World War, and Dr. Jim Delaney, his wife and daughter both gone, is keeping the promise he made to himself to return to his old neighborhood and take care of his people. His simple, lonely life is complicated by the shooting of a wartime friend of his who happens to be a mob leader, the sudden appearance of his two-year-old grandson (left in the vestibule by his errant daughter), and the necessity of hiring someone to watch the child while he works: Rose, an Italian woman in the U.S. without papers. These three main characters are all very likable; I kept expecting that one of them would get kidnapped or murdered by the opposing Mafia gang. There is tension there, but not a lot of gratuitous violence. It’s a pretty simple story, but it kept me engaged all the way.

Posted in Fiction | Leave a Comment »