Feb. 11th, 2011

terriko: (Default)

Zero History

Twitter-sized review: Zero History got me thinking about the implications of hiring the best and the brightest in ways that non-fiction rarely does.

(Much) Longer notes:
I picked this up as an audiobook because the wait list for the book on cd was way shorter than the wait list for the novel itself.

Within minutes of sticking it in the CD player, I wondered if I'd regret my decision. The reader is very flat in tone, which works out nicely for one of the characters but I found left me feeling more than a little detached from the whole thing at the start of the novel. Thankfully, the book is good enough that it didn't matter, and I got to like the reader a lot more in later chapters too.

Zero History itself is the sort of ride you'd expect from William Gibson: fast-paced but twisty and unpredictable, with fascinating convergences of ideas. Unlike the previous one in this grouping, Spook Country, where I found the parts a bit too disconnected to hold interest at time, Zero History keeps it all together.

I think my enjoyment of this book was greatly enhanced by the fact that I'm reading The Black Swan (the economics book, not the movie about ballet) for work right now. (What does pop economics have to do with computer security? A lot more than one might expect, actually. It's made for some great discussions in the lab, too.) The central premise of The Black Swan is that there are events that are utterly unpredictable in advance (although totally explainable afterwards) and that these "one in a million" type events shape both personal and world history a lot more than one might expect. Not so much because they're more common than we think, but that they're totally game changers. It's a fascinating book, even though the author is an insufferable egotist.

Anyhow, the central figure (but not main character) of Zero History seems to position himself to wait for these black swan events and ride them out. And by "position himself" I mean he hires a lot of smart, sometimes volatile people, and asks them to do some very odd things. Honestly, it sounds a lot like the reputation that Google has, but with a broader base of interests not focussed on technology. (In this novel, it's still about fashion. Sort of.)

It's left me continuing to think about combining people and changing games, even though I finished the book weeks ago. I know, I know, it's fiction, but there's something about the ideas in there that's insightful and fascinating. I rarely reread books since I rather like hearing new stories, but I'm pretty sure I'll be picking up my own copy of this one so I can read it again.

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