Sunday, 28 March 2010

A book a week in 2010: The Diving-Bell and the Butterfly

This book is a cheat. Bought hastily from Stanfords in Covent Garden because it was short. 140 pages short to be exact. I needed to cram in two books in two days because I'd fallen behind with one a week. I blame The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.

What I hadn't anticipated is what a poignant, moving and lyrical book this is.

Jean-Dominique Bauby is the successful Editor of French Elle magazine. He lives an exciting and glamorous life in Paris. But on a visit to see his children, he is taken ill with a massive stroke.

When he awakes, he is in the Naval Hospital in Berck-sur-Mer, on the North coast of France near Calais. He discovers he is suffering from 'Locked-In Syndrome', almost total paralysis, with only the use of one eye to communicate with the world. The book - dictated through blinking out the letters to his editor Claude Mendibil - charts his inner battle to comes to terms with all that he has lost and his sensory escape into memory.

The Diving-Bell and the Butterfly is poetic, intensely moving, and the best cheat I've ever made.

The artist Julian Schnabel won Best Director at Cannes Film Festival with his interpretation of the book. I plan to watch it as soon as I can. Here's the trailer in the meantime.

The Daily Mail Song

This. Is. Wonderful.

Now go and follow the Dan and Dan blog. Immediately.

Friday, 12 March 2010

A book a week in 2010: The Wisdom of the Crowds

"Dazzling... the most brilliant book on business, society and everyday life that I've read in years" says Malcolm Gladwell, quoted on the front cover of The Wisdom of the Crowds by James Surowiecki.

That's a bold quote for the publishers to pop on the front cover.

Surowiecki is a business writer for the New Yorker. This is obviously a subject on which he's pondered for years. It's essentially a beefed up version of the adage "two heads are better than one". Except he means lots of heads. Not just two.

He's spent a lot of time thinking about how large groups of seemingly non-specialist groups of people can end up making far better decisions, than a smaller bunch of so-called "experts". You just have to allow the crowd to figure it out, and they usually do, really well.

We are given examples drawn from history, psychology and academic research to back up his point. He looks at group dynamics believing that the larger the group, the more likely the optimum level for people to make their own rational decisions based on their experience and knowledge will be reached. These, Surowiecki argues, are collectively the right ones. His analysis of the balance of decision making in stock markets makes particularly interesting reading in light of recent economic performance (this book was first published in 2004).

This isn't as coherent and straight-forward an argument as you might get in one of Gladwell's books. But Surowiecki has more to prove. So he brings in a more diverse range of studies to back up his argument, often based on rigorous research for added credibility.

It made me rethink how I make my best decisions: at work and at home. Recommended.

Thursday, 4 March 2010

Free content for World Book Day from The Friday Project

It's World Book Day and the kind folk at The Friday Project have offered up a free sampler from The Equivoque Principle.

It's not an entirely altruistic act. Their Publisher, Scott Pack, hopes to offer up free content to "find a whole new audience for these cracking books."

But I love this idea. So in the spirit of World Book Day I'm happy to share. Enjoy.

Wednesday, 3 March 2010

World Book Day 2010 - Thursday 4th March

World Book Day is the biggest annual celebration of books and reading in the UK and Ireland.

And there are five things you can do to get involved.

1. Treat any children you know to one of the £1 Quick Reads
2. If you need to buy a gift, consider Book Tokens
3. Visit your local store supporting WBD
4. Follow the “Read to a million kids” broadcasts through the day
5. Follow events on the Twitter stream: @WorldBookDay

But there’s a lot more: find out about other events and news on the WBD website

Most important of all: read a book!

This is a repeat of my post on the Skillset blog.

Monday, 1 March 2010