December 15, 2005
News & Opinion: Holiday Season Treats
My favorite three non-business business books for the holidays: Crap Cars by Richard Porter (Bloomsbury). I dare you to resist Porters challenge to Come take a ride in fifty of the most craptastic cars ever to hit the American highway. This gleeful little book perfectly skewers 50 of the most egregiously awful vehicles produced in the past 40 years. Each model garners a one-page photo paired with a page of pure snark. To wit, Porters take on the Ferrari 400: It doesnt take a genius to explain that the two things you should expect from any Ferrari are performance and beauty. Unfortunately Ferrari themselves completely forgot about that when they designed this monster. With a 4.8-liter V12 engine up front you might have vainly hoped that this car would be quick, but it wasnt, especially when hooked up to a smothering automatic gearbox. Couple this with graceless cornering and disturbingly feeble brakes and you had a real recipe for misery. Expensive, handmade misery, but misery nonetheless. In any other Ferrari you might have consoled yourself by slipping down to the garage and simply drinking in its smooth, sinuous curves, but not with this horror. Not unless you got really excited by large-scale origami. A sobering reminder that the intern is there to make coffee and photocopy stuff, not to design a whole car. In the spirit of Make Magazine, which by the way, has spawned Makers, I call your attention to the recently published The Unofficial Lego Builders Guide by Allan Bedford (No Starch Press). This book will help you, um, build things with Legos. Actually, make thatit will help you build better things with Legos, not to mention build things better with Legos. Produced with the same care and no-nonsense ease-of-use that so many OReilly technical guides to computers and software display, this sweet and extremely practical guide will delight any person of any age who, upon spying a few errant Lego pieces, finds themselves clicking them together almost without thinking. This book offers sage advice on everything from understanding the strongest way to connect blocks to building a complex structure from a design to storing the pieces. If you are a fan of the Sims, Christopher Alexander, Make Magazine, or, of course, Legos, you will savor this gem. And finally, for a completely out-of-the-box pick, I highly recommend the young adult novel The Extraordinary Adventures of Alfred Kropp by Rick Yancey. Yancey, as you may recall, is the author of last years terrific Confessions of A Tax Collector: One Mans Tour Inside the IRS, which I loved. Kropp, mind you, is not a business book by any definition. Its a straight old-fashioned potboiler (and I say this in a good way), a gripping read about your average big-headed boy who unwittingly puts the fate of the earth at risk when he unintentionally releases the Sword of Excalibur into evil hands. Clever, funny, and satisfying (I read this in a day), this book will appeal to any 10-14 year-old reader, not to mention the yout in any of us. Yancey proves himself to be as comfortable animating the mundane world of the IRS as he is finding the familiar and intimate in the phantasmagorical world of Lancelots lineage. Enjoy.