Buzz Ride: Driven to Disruption: Memoirs of an Uber Driver and its disturbing double-barreled subtitle could be so much more than what it is, if the author would have shared a bit more about the financial and managerial side of his experience as a member of the sharing economy. There are just a few glimpses of the relationship with Uber, and nothing at all about financial arrangements, which would have been interesting to understand, especially as the author drives a Mercedes!
Instead, he chooses to focus on his clients, who seem to have partaken abundantly of alcohol and drugs before stepping into the cab (the author chose to work late hours, so perhaps it’s no surprise). And in-cab behaviors are not what Miss Manners may recommend. So the book is entertaining to a certain extent, but we tire of the rides just about when the author decides to stop driving.
Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less can be painfully long and painfully obvious — and indeed if you proceed to page 8 and peruse the table there you will get all you need from it: choose your priorities carefully, say no to the rest, and enjoy. That said, the author makes very wise comments about the inaness of company mission statements.
I loved The Long Haul: A Trucker’s Tales of Life on the Road. Written (well! unlike many bios) by a truck driver who specializes in so-called executive moves that can involve Chinese antiques and demanding owners, it takes us behind the scenes of the trucking industry. It starts with a terrifying descent from a Rockies pass (did you ever wonder about those runaway truck ramps? they don’t do much, apparently) but he also talks about truck stops, truckers’ finances, and the funny rivalries between sub-specialties (for some reason movers are despised).
The best parts of the book for me were his personal history and the complex processes that run the moving business. He describes how he got into trucking in the first place (dropping out of a fine college) and how each long-distance move, even in the rarefied executive realm, places the hauler in the center of a complex web of dispatchers, packers, loaders, and unloaders. A very satisfying look at an industry and a lifestyle I did not know much about.
Seamlessly moving from music to politics, movies, and fine art, Hit Makers: The Science of Popularity in an Age of Distraction explores the uncertain phenomenon of fame — and as you may surmise there is a large dash of luck in every hit. Still, the most intriguing aspect of popularity is the balance between innovation and familiarity, since humans need a bit of both. The author illustrates his argument with fresh, deftly told stories, and he is not afraid to expose the darker side of applying the psychological methods he explains. The book is easy to read but the ideas will stay with you.
The subtitle of Faster, Higher, Farther: The Volkswagen Scandal is somewhat misleading since the author, in fact, tells the entire story of Volkswagen — and I suppose he would argue that we need the entire story to comprehend the scandal. Reaching back into Nazi territory may be taking it a bit far, but it certainly helps understand the family dynasty, and dynamics, which created a culture of authority and submission to the leader that led to pressures to evade the US emissions tests. (In an American story, the same behaviors would likely be characterized as bowing to the pressure of the market.)
The most interesting part of the story for me was the family story, of how the various cousins participated, or not, in the company and how the family managed to keep control of the voting shares.
For me, the best part of Entanglement: The Secret Lives of Hair was the description of the many businesses around the buying and selling of hair to make wigs. Some scenes are surreal, whether the descriptions of the Chinese factories where custom toupees are made, by hand, on heads reconstituted from measurements taken thousands of miles away, or the Indian temple tonsure halls where devotees are shaven for religious practices (and the hair promptly sold). It’s pretty clear that the hair business, like many others, is one where poor people grow hair (or save the hair brushed away by their combs!) to be sold to the rich.
The book goes further, exposing the politics of women’s hair, which sometimes must be covered, or shaven, or hidden under a wig, or never covered by a wig depending on customs and religion. And did you know that there are websites where hair is auctioned while still on the head of the seller? So much to learn!
Always a Bridesmaid (for Hire): Stories on Growing Up, Looking for Love, and Walking Down the Aisle for Complete Strangers start with the humorous description of the author’s realization that she is a very good bridesmaid and she might be able to sell her services. And she does! After a lark of a Craigslist message and a whirlwind of media interviews, she has herself a business. If the book stopped there, it would be hilarious. As the chapters drone on and we hear about the adventures of inebriated groomsmen, missing bridesmaid dresses, and, saddest of all, the brides who pretend that their for-hire bridesmaid is not for hire, it’s decidedly less entertaining.