Steve Jobs

A great mix of personal details with business advice from the world’s most successful CEO of Apple. I never knew about his being an orphan whose sister Mona Simpson (Anywhere but Here) shared the same birth mom/dad. Or about his relationship with Joan Baez. Or that he & Bill Gates both were born in 1955 and both high school dropouts. Or maybe I knew these things but didn’t really register them. Didn’t realize he brought the German designer over to create frogdesign, or Jobs’ relationship with Larry Ellison who was always pushing him to focus on wealth accumulation and Jobs saying that wasn’t what it was all about. Jobs’ reality distortion field and mesmerizing focus that he learned from his college guru.
On business lessons: focus, not being afraid (and in every important case, it was required) to hit the rewind button and delay a launch because it was not perfect, the need to be obsessive about hiring A players to play with other A players, avoid the B player bloat. Fighting for the important things and pressing your team until you’re convinced they know what they are talking about. The refusal to sit through powerpoint slides. The bozo/hero conundrum that everyone binarily fit into. The necessity for a unified company, not divisions with separate P&Ls that work against each other. Obsessive attention to the smallest details, caring what it looks like on the inside although no one will see it.
On his health problems: pancreatic cancer that then necessitated a liver transplant, his inability to gain weight because of removal of part of pancreas and also his whacko diets of all apples or lemon salads for weeks on end. His deep connection to veganism. His health problems were attributed to the kidney stones from stress of managing both Pixar and Apple, working crazy hours.
Overall an inspiring bio of a great force of nature who changed the world. Decent writing by Isaacson, although he does make some references that leave this book mired in its publication year (don’t know what Pong is? Ask your parents).

A Little History of the World

A delightful history book for children, written in 1935 by the German Gombrich, later appended to include a final chapter about WWII, Hitler, the atom bomb. He takes us from dinosaurs to the caves of the early men, ancient Egypt, Babylon, Mesopotamia, the building of the Great Wall in China, Louis XIV, Charles the Hammer, all the German kings, the popes, Martin Luther, all the way to present day. Very short, approachable chapters that focus more on the story of history rather than dates and names.

Middlesex

Clever, somewhat bright writing, but not worthy of the Pulitzer. Callie/Cal recounts the past in order to explain the current, starting in a small village in Turkey where her grandmother fell in love with her brother, escaped to America, got married, thereby encouraging the mutation of a gene which causes hermaphroditism. The grandparents end up in Detroit, so a full picture of 1930-1970s Detroit emerges, with rampant decay, race riots, irrelevance. Cal is raised as a girl, her physician too old to notice anything wonky about her genitalia, herself not really noticing until puberty. Her love affair with the red-haired nymph nicknamed the Object, being caught in flagrante indelicto by the Object’s brother, chased and hit by tractor, concussed, then genital confusion discovered in the emergency room. After traveling to NYC to see a specialist, Cal convinces the doctor she is female, and the doctor recommends surgery to snip the offending member. Cal discovers his notes, runs away to California, camping in Golden Gate park with Deadheads, beat up by transients, then working at a tranny club until it is busted by police.

Anna Karenina

A re-read of a delicious classic that I read when way too young to appreciate it. Starting to feel like a crotchety old lady, always thinking I’ve ruined my reading life by devouring books too early (before age 30). Or maybe this translation was just that much more sparkling than the Constance Garnett version that sustained us before.
From the famous first lines about all happy families being the same and unhappy families being unique in their unhappiness, all the way through to the inexplicable Part 8 where Levin finds faith, believes in his soul, sees God and whatnot.
Naturally we all know Anna throws herself under the train after being driven to despair by the waning of her lover’s attention, the desperateness of her ostracized situation. But do you remember that the night Vronsky follows her to Petersburg, a man throws himself under the train at the station they talk to each other at?
Reminder about the plot: 1870s life in Moscow, Kitty the debutante has rejected Levin because she is in love with Vronsky the Petersburg cad with no intentions of marriage. Kitty’s sister Dolly’s husband Stiva has been exposed as cheating on her with the governess, so Anna (Stiva’s sister) swoops in to beg forgiveness for Stiva. Vronsky falls for Anna when he goes to pick up his mother at the station (always with these trains!). She leaves town soon after, knowing that she has fallen for Vronsky, headed back to her husband and young son. Vronsky follows her, they begin an illicit affair, she gets preggers with Vronsky’s daughter, her husband Alexei refuses to grant her a divorce, she runs away with Vronsky.
Favorite character is Levin, the gentleman farmer who feels uncomfortable whenever in town, itching to leave, happiest when mowing hay alongside his workers, concerned with the minutiae of farm life. He suffers the pain of his brother’s death, the rejection then acceptance of Kitty, writes a book on how Russian agriculture depends on the character of the worker. The quiet intellectual holding up the structure of society with actions and words.
Also good theme of how having children is akin to slavery. Anna loves her firstborn desperately because she does not love her husband. The reverse is true of her daughter, she feels indifferently toward the child because is consumed with love for Vronsky.