MixedThe Washington PostAn engrossing narrative that’s impressively reported — a true journalistic achievement in light of Apple’s culture of secrecy — After Steve takes readers deep inside the monolithic company. Mickle’s characterization of Apple’s evolution and its management sometimes seems oversimplified. Yet his book helps us see, in arresting detail, why Apple is Apple — that is, how the company mastered the process of making its devices so welcoming and accessible even as they contain the most complex modern technologies imaginable ... The argument in After Steve is that Apple’s growth and Ive’s alienation are what caused this great American firm, once so creative and unusual, to lose its soul. But to buy into this idea one has to believe that a corporation has a soul — a dubious assumption, I think, that seems tantamount to accepting Jobs’s old pitch that suggested Apple was more than a company that sold things to make money. Rather, it was something closer to a spiritual ideal ... It’s never been true, of course. And toward the end of Mickle’s book this notion — Apple as a fallen company, and a fallen ideal — detracts from an otherwise compelling narrative. Moreover, while the differences between Ive, the creative thinker, and Cook, the profit-driven technocrat, are no doubt real, readers may find the lines Mickle draws to be conceptually problematic. The implication that Cook destroyed Apple’s start-up culture, for instance, may seem naive to business-savvy readers, who will view him — correctly, I believe — as a principled CEO who succeeded at a challenging job by respecting his company’s traditions and looking ahead to the demands of consumers, employees and Wall Street. And I suspect many readers will have difficulty sympathizing with Ive, who seems less the edgy artist and conscience of the company, as we are perhaps meant to think (a \'latter-day Leonardo da Vinci,\' as Mickle unfortunately describes him), than a gifted industrial designer with an intuitive feel for the mass market and a predilection for middlebrow culture, like the band Coldplay ... None of this really subtracts from this book’s immense readability. And Mickle’s thematic overreach doesn’t obscure the crisp and detailed view he offers us of Apple’s inner sanctums. Still, readers of After Steve would do well to remember that no matter the company, soul never figures into the equation: The balance in business between growth and creativity has always been exceedingly difficult to strike. Apple made selling beautiful things seem easy. But really, it only looked that way.
PositiveThe Washington Post... powerful and unsettling ... The portrait Robison paints of Boeing is a depressing one. A reader may envision the terrible outcomes before they even occur. But the author’s characterization of regulators at the Federal Aviation Administration broadens the reach of the Max scandal ... stalls in a few places. While Robison does an able job of illuminating the implications of the 737’s flaws, his technical explanations of the MCAS software and the plane’s operational system — a small part of his narrative, but a crucial one — are opaque. I worry this may leave readers who lack an engineering or aerospace background more confused rather than less. At the same time, the dizzying complexity of Boeing (with more than 140,000 employees) and of a commercial jetliner (with about 600,000 parts) means it’s sometimes difficult to keep track of characters and their work details. And yet even with these shortcomings, Robison’s book is a page-turner. What’s more, it demonstrates that the problems leading to the Boeing crashes may not yet be solved. On the one hand, the Max, with fixes to its software and new requirements for pilot training, is back in the air; the FAA has also apparently tightened its regulatory approach. But readers may find themselves haunted by the question of whether a global company will in the future choose a long-term solution that requires time and substantial investments over a risky, short-term fix that pleases Wall Street.
RaveThe Washington PostTim Higgins’s compelling and deeply reported history of Tesla addresses the essential question of how this upstart automaker came from nowhere to become one of the most valuable companies on Earth ... Power Play allows us to see how Musk aligned Tesla with his personal vision...and how he in essence became indistinguishable from the brand ... One of the more enlightening aspects of Power Play is the paradox Higgins presents: Tesla couldn’t have possibly succeeded without Musk, whose money, ideas and unwavering push for excellence forced the young firm to meet seemingly impossible goals as it became increasingly adept at building electric cars. Yet Musk was Tesla’s biggest liability, too ... Higgins...is unafraid to chronicle the chief executive’s behavior in telling detail ... One shortcoming of Power Play is that it lacks a rigorous look at Tesla’s environmental impact ... I would have liked to get a better understanding of the ecological value of Tesla and how much a world running on its cars could help us out of our current predicament ... Even so, Higgins’s book amounts to an exceptional work of business journalism.
PanThe Washington Post... disappointing ... In Lewis’s book, we don’t get the perspective of any neutral observers. We hear only rarely from anyone within the CDC, and usually only to disparage it. On the other hand, we get a corroborating account of the system’s failures from another main character, a California public health official named Charity Dean. By the time Lewis starts telling readers about the potential spread of a novel coronavirus in China, Dean is already convinced that her state is imperiled and that the CDC ill not be any help at all ... Part of the surface appeal of The Premonition relates to how Lewis is able to fit his characters into a David-vs.-Goliath paradigm. As in his other books, we’re asked to root for the crusading outsiders who seem smarter and more intrepid in just about every way than the hidebound insiders of the status quo. Lewis falls back on this polarizing device at every turn ... The strenuously elevated drama sometimes approaches Marvel-level fluff ... Unfortunately, much of The Premonition feels murky and unconvincing. In many respects Lewis’s book comes across as a fast-moving thriller — a testament to his considerable skills as a writer — that leaves a sense of gaping plot holes. Some of these problems relate to his ticktock of events during the confusing early months of the pandemic and his effort to accentuate the visionary qualities of main characters like Mecher and Dean. Lewis presents these actors within an airless ecosystem, where the context of events — what was happening in the United States in January and February of 2020, and what occurred abroad as the World Health Organization took steps toward declaring a pandemic — is mostly omitted. I wondered how readers would be able to grasp that the characters in The Premonition were actually part of a much larger global contingent advocating for rapid action, rather than superheroes working in isolation ... The evidence suggests that a catastrophe resulted from ineptitude and the malign actions of a tiny cadre of political officials, not unimaginative bureaucrats or sclerotic agencies. At the tail end of the worst public health tragedy of the past century, that story is the one I want to read, lest we come to the wrong conclusions. Yes, heroes are to be appreciated; indeed, they have been working tirelessly and anonymously in every hospital and lab around the world for the past year. But there are still villains out there, too.
Lloyd Spencer Davis
PositiveThe New York Times Book ReviewI’m fairly well versed in the literature of the Arctic and Antarctic, but I’m not sure I’ve encountered any book about these regions that aims to do as much as Davis’s. Not only does he offer readers an insightful and bawdy primer on the breeding habits of Adélie, King and Emperor penguins, he offers an absorbing history of his own Antarctic fieldwork and a glimpse into the private lives of Levick and several important polar explorers of the era ... At his best, Davis draws provocative connections between these men and their work. But when the links are strained, which is often the case, the results can be disorienting. You feel as if you’re struggling through a whiteout, trying to keep track of people, places and events that are (literally) poles apart ... Nevertheless, A Polar Affair offers a timely illumination of a mysterious and vital ecosystem.
PositiveThe Wall Street JournalTo be sure, there’s plenty of tech jargon in Brian McCullough’s How the Internet Happened. You can find out who got the first iPhone call and who posted the first YouTube video. Yet Mr. McCullough takes a broader view ... Yet Mr. McCullough’s book adds to our understanding by explaining how startups’ histories were interlocked and how entrepreneurs and CEOs battled one another not only on a technological and cultural playing field but in the financial markets too.
PositiveThe New York Times Book ReviewAs a writer of clear and engaging prose, Kidder has few peers, but I’ve long thought that the depth of his reporting — the thousands of anecdotes and facts he must have collected about his characters, only to discard all but the most penetrating — is what differentiates his books ... one question nagged at me: Does A Truck Full of Money say something as resonant and surprising about the current culture of American business and technology? In the end, I’m not sure it does ... English is too idiosyncratic, and perhaps too decent, to be representative of software moguls everywhere. That’s not to say his story is unimportant, but it isn’t the tale of a cultural tribune. What we have instead is Kidder’s readable account of an intriguing man’s zigzagging life.
MixedThe Washington PostWeiner is a superb travel guide: funny, knowledgeable, self-deprecating...If there is a pervasive weakness in this book, it’s that Weiner’s observations on genius are sprinkled through the narrative so freely, and so constantly, that readers may struggle to synthesize them and take in their contradictions.