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I got a new book for Christmas from my in-laws (thanks again if you are reading this). It’s called Collapse, How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed. It’s written by Jared Diamond, the Pulitzer-Prize winning author of Guns, Germs and Steel, --another book I highly recommend. This one caught me by surprise. I knew he…


imageI got a new book for Christmas from my in-laws (thanks again if you are reading this). It’s called Collapse, How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed. It’s written by Jared Diamond, the Pulitzer-Prize winning author of Guns, Germs and Steel, --another book I highly recommend. This one caught me by surprise. I knew he was at work on a book on the subject of societies, but I didn’t know it was to hit bookstores so soon. I can’t wait to dive in. Here is what the publisher says about the book:

“In his million-copy bestseller Guns, Germs, and Steel, Jared Diamond examined how and why Western civilizations developed the technologies and immunities that allowed them to dominate much of the world. Now in this brilliant companion volume, Diamond probes the other side of the equation: What caused some of the great civilizations of the past to collapse into ruin, and what can we learn from their fates?

“As in Guns, Germs, and Steel, Diamond weaves an all-encompassing global thesis through a series of fascinating historical-cultural narratives. Moving from the Polynesian cultures on Easter Island to the flourishing American civilizations of the Anasazi and the Maya and finally to the doomed Viking colony on Greenland, Diamond traces the fundamental pattern of catastrophe. Environmental damage, climate change, rapid population growth, and unwise political choices were all factors in the demise of these societies, but other societies found solutions and persisted. Similar problems face us today and have already brought disaster to Rwanda and Haiti, even as China and Australia are trying to cope in innovative ways. Despite our own society’s apparently inexhaustible wealth and unrivaled political power, ominous warning signs have begun to emerge even in ecologically robust areas like Montana.

“Brilliant, illuminating, and immensely absorbing, Collapse is destined to take its place as one of the essential books of our time, raising the urgent question: How can our world best avoid committing ecological suicide?

“Author Biography: Jared Diamond is a professor of geography at the University of California, Los Angeles. Among Dr. Diamond’s many awards are the National Medal of Science, the Tyler Prize for Environmental Achievement, and a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship.”

Posted by Joel Schettler on December 31 2004 • Books

Miraculous Visions

imageIt’s been one hundred years since Albert Einstein’s miraculous year of 1905. During that year, Einstein, “a young patent clerk, found the way forward. In five remarkable papers, he showed that atoms are real (it was still controversial at the time), presented his special theory of relativity, and put quantum theory on its feet,” writes the Economist.

Yet, we don’t quite understand what that year was all about. And yet, Einstein was just beginning. He went on to develop a general theory of relativity and become a pioneer in quantum physics. So, what did Einstein do in 1905? This article offers a good explanation.

Einstein had the ability to see the big picture, to borrow a tired phrase. He could see what others of his day couldn’t envision. Writes the Economist: “As he said in 1932, “the real goal of my research has always been the simplification and unification of the system of theoretical physics.” He never succeeded in unifying physics, but he did, much as it may seem paradoxical to the layman, succeed in simplifying it. Once one learns the complex mathematical language required to express his ideas, Einstein’s theories are the simplest and most obvious of any in physics."

Posted by Joel Schettler on December 29 2004 • Books

Directly to the Public

imageAn article in yesterday’s New York Times hints at what may come from publishers in the future. On two publishers’ lists of New Years Resolutions is an idea to sell their books directly to the public.

Edward Wyatt of the Times writes, “Last week, Peter W. Olson, the chief executive of Random House Inc., the nation’s largest publisher, disclosed the company’s tentative plans to sell books directly to consumers through its own Web site. On Friday, Stephen Riggio, the chief executive of Barnes & Noble Inc., the country’s largest bookseller, said that he was “deeply concerned” by Random House’s plans to enter into his business, raising the possibility of a growing rift between the publishing companies."

In recent years, Barnes and Noble has increased its efforts to promote its own publishing initiatives, while traditional publishing houses rely solely on booksellers. Until now.

"The announcement of the new plans comes as the book business is suffering through a second consecutive year of almost-flat sales. The average age of book consumers continues to climb, and except for children’s and religious books, few areas of the business seem to be picking up new readers ... “Those disappointing trends have led most big publishing companies to weigh new ways to increase sales or to reach new consumers. At the same time, publishers have complained that they are facing greater competition from Barnes & Noble, which has been aggressively trying to expand its own publishing business."

It will be an interesting debate, but one that, for now anyway, is rather mute, according to the story. It has proven difficult to start online sales from scratch. But that too could prove false in the case of publishing. Deep discounts could draw a book-buying crowd. Without the bookstore in the middle, sales made by publishers directly go straight to the bottom line--no percentage of any sale would go to the bookseller. Perhaps good products at great prices may be on the way from publishers directly? We can only dream.

Posted by Joel Schettler on December 21 2004 • Books

The Accidental Guru

imageI just received my latest issue of Fast Company, and saw that New Yorker writer and author of the book, The Tipping Point is on the cover--under the headline The Accidental Guru. I haven’t had a chance to read the article in great detail yet, but it looks like a good one.

Writer Danielle Sacks writes about his phenomenal success in business circles: “No one in recent memory has slipped into the role of business thought leader as gracefully or influentially as Gladwell. Soon after his first book, The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference (Little, Brown, 2000), fell into America’s palms, Gladwell made the leap from generalist staff writer at The New Yorker to marketing god. Since then, Gladwell has oscillated between pen and mike, balancing lengthy New Yorker articles with roughly 25 speaking gigs a year, his current going rate some $40,000 per appearance. Last year, he spoke at such highbrow conferences as TED and Pop!Tech and was invited to share his wisdom at companies including Genentech, PricewaterhouseCoopers, and Hewlett-Packard. His New Yorker articles have become required reading for B-school students. The Tipping Point spent 28 weeks on the New York Times best-seller list and more than two years on Business Week’s, and today there are almost 800,000 copies of Gladwell’s trend-mapping bible in print. Mention his impact, though, and he modestly tries to brush it off—leaning, like any good journalist, on data points to support his argument. “Remember,” he points out, “even a book that’s a best-seller still is only read by less than 1% of the American public.""

She goes on to call him a “ rock star, a spiritual leader, a stud.” I enjoyed the Tipping Point a great deal. What is nice about Gladwell’s style is that he is able to take fairly complicated ideas and explore them in great detail in prose that is straightforward, clear and concise. It’s not wonder that his ideas about early adopters and trends were scooped up by marketers and business leaders eager to gain an edge.

His new book, Blink (an exploration into what occurs when you make a “gut decision” and how it might be more accurate than you think) comes out in January. And, I hope to see him and have him sign a book or two when he comes to the Twin Cities area on February 8. If you aren’t familiar with his writing, take a look here at his site. It’s worth a read.

Posted by Joel Schettler on December 21 2004 • Journalism

Magazine Revenue

imageFolio magazine reported this headline this week: Consumer Magazine Ad Revenue Hits $19.38 billion Through November.

Here is its report: “Total magazine rate card reported ad revenue jumped 11.5 percent to $2.31 billion in November 2004 over the same period last year, according to the latest numbers released by Publishers Information Bureau. Ad pages posted a modest increase, up 3.8 percent to 24,995.8.

“Through November, year-to-date rate-card reported ad revenue rose 10.5 percent to $19.38 billion. Seven of the 12 major ad categories tracked by PIB posted revenue and page increases in November, including Financial, Automotive and Insurance and Real Estate, which has enjoyed nine straight months of growth.”

Posted by Joel Schettler on December 17 2004 • Journalism

Buy Blue

imageThis is an interesting post over at Moby Lives. Have you had enough of the current right-wing administration? In an article titled Blue Christmas, Dennis Loy Johnson writes that you can support your politics and buy books for those on your Christmas list at the same time.

"For example, wondering whether to buy books online at Amazon.com or at BarnesandNoble.com?” asks Johnson. “Does it make the decision easier for you to know that 98% of B&N’s corporate political donations went to the Democrats, while 61% of Amazon’s went to the Republicans?

"Or maybe you’ll be encouraged to get offline entirely and shop at an old–fashioned brick and mortar store upon hearing the news that Borders gave 100% or its donations to Democrats?"

A new Web site, buyblue.org, now tracks the political spending of corporations, and offers alternative locations to buy products for those who support left-leaning causes. “For one thing, Buyblue provides visitors with a list of alternative retailers,” writes Johnson. “And what if an Amazon customer, say, “also wants to lodge a protest at this company he has been supporting for years thinking they espoused progressive values?” There’s information about how to do that, including the e–mail address of Amazon CEO and founder Jeff Bezos.

"And what if Bezos “chooses to respond with Amazon’s customary ‘don’t let the door hit you on the way out’ form letter as a reply”? Information is available about the companies that invest in Amazon, and how to contact them, too. There’s also information about groups gathering to “protest Amazon’s finance of a right wing agenda,” and info about the boycott those groups are planning “in a couple of weeks.""

Posted by Joel Schettler on December 17 2004 • Current Affairs


image"Even in American cities, which seem so much alike, where people seem all to be living the same lives, striving for the same things, thinking the same thoughts, there are still individuals a little out of tune with the times—there are still survivals of a past more loosely woven, there are disconcerting beginnings of a future yet unforeseen."

—Willa Cather

“Double Birthday"

Posted by Joel Schettler on December 14 2004 • Current Affairs

Mini Love

imageThis is pretty cool. George Masters, a school teacher and amateur video producer, recently made his own commercial for his beloved iPod mini. It’s very good, and it seems to be making the rounds online.

Find the video here.

It has even caught the attention of Wired magazine: “The ad has caught the attention of marketers, who praise its professional production values and say it’s one of the first “pure” advertisements seen on the internet. Though homemade ads are nothing new, most are parodies, protests or political commentaries. Bruce Rubel, a vice president at New York PR agency CooperKatz and author of the Micro Persuasion web log, said evangelistic customers like Masters will increasingly play a role in marketing. ‘It’s a sign that consumers want to have a role in promoting a product they love,’ he said. ‘There’s a real trend toward consumer-generated media. People are creating news, they’re blogging. People will create marketing as well. This guy is a great example."

— Leander Kahney, Wired News

Is this the start of a trend? I’m not sure. The folks at the Unofficial Apple Weblog had this to say about it. “I think it’s less that consumers want to be marketers, and more that consumers don’t want to be consumers. Or rather, we don’t want to be *mere* consumers, passively absorbing whatever is dished out by capitalist machinery. People are creative by nature; give us a platform for self-expression and we’ll go to town - hence blogging merrily takes off of its own accord, leaving major media scratching its head.”

I can’t wait to actually join this group of iPod lovers. The iPod (the big one) is on my Christmas list, but my wife has made it pretty clear that I have to go out and buy one if I really think I need it. Maybe it’s a ruse to throw me off track?

Posted by Joel Schettler on December 14 2004 • Multimedia

Paris Review Interviews

imageI just read in the New York Times about the Paris Review. The very best author interviews from the magazine’s archives are now readily available online, writes Laura Miller. With a grant from the National Endowment of the Arts, the magazine began putting its 51 years of interviews online.

"Most readers will probably turn to the interviews with writers they already admire and leave the rest alone,” writes Miller, “but it’s often while wandering amid the less familiar that you stumble on treasure. It might be Lawrence Durrell comparing writing a poem to ‘’trying to catch a lizard without its tail falling off,’’ or this very shrewd assessment, from Frank O’Connor, of the shortcomings of those who try to imitate Chekhov by constructing a story ‘’without episodic interest.’’ The pitfall lies in forgetting ‘’that Chekhov had a long career as a journalist, as a writer for comic magazines, writing squibs, writing vaudevilles, and he had learned the art very, very early of maintaining interest, of creating a bony structure. It’s only concealed in the later work. They think they can do without that bony structure, but they’re all wrong.’’

I like this quote from Richard Ford in 1996: “Once Tobias Wolff and I gave a reading out in North Dakota, and a man came up to tell us he read our books during his lunch breaks, sitting on his tractor out in the wheat fields.”

Posted by Joel Schettler on December 12 2004 • Journalism


imageLately, I find myself listening to a song again and again. It’s Jeff Buckley’s song titled Hallelujah. It’s beautiful and haunting. Some of you may know the song from a West Wing episode. Here are the lyrics:

Well I heard there was a secret chord
that David played and it pleased the Lord
But you don’t really care for music, do ya?
Well it goes like this :
The fourth, the fifth, the minor fall and the major lift
The baffled king composing Hallelujah

Hallelujah Hallelujah Hallelujah Hallelujah…

Well your faith was strong but you needed proof
You saw her bathing on the roof
Her beauty and the moonlight overthrew ya
And she tied you to her kitchen chair
She broke your throne and she cut your hair
And from your lips she drew the Hallelujah

Hallelujah Hallelujah Hallelujah Hallelujah…

(Yeah but) Baby I’ve been here before
I’ve seen this room and I’ve walked this floor, (You know)
I used to live alone before I knew ya
And I’ve seen your flag on the marble arch
and love is not a victory march
It’s a cold and it’s a broken Hallelujah

Hallelujah Hallelujah Hallelujah Hallelujah…

Well there was a time when you let me know
What’s really going on below
But now you never show that to me do ya
But remember when I moved in you
And the holy dove was moving too
And every breath we drew was Hallelujah

Hallelujah Hallelujah Hallelujah



Maybe there’s a God above
But all I’ve ever learned from love
Was how to shoot somebody who outdrew ya
It’s not a cry that you hear at night
It’s not somebody who’s seen the light
It’s a cold and it’s a broken Hallelujah

Hallelujah Hallelujah Hallelujah Hallelujah…
Hallelujah Hallelujah Hallelujah Hallelu…
Hallelujah Hallelujah Hallelujah

Posted by Joel Schettler on December 11 2004 • Current Affairs