100 in ’11: Eggers, Rubenfeld and Brandt

A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius – Dave Eggers

Summary: Two brothers attempt to find their way in life after the death of both parents to cancer in quick succession.

It must be nice to be more or less financially set. But not at the cost of being orphaned. Dave Eggers lost both his parents in his early twenties to ugly cases of cancer. In the aftermath, he and younger brother Toph move to California with their sister Beth, where they start building a new life in San Francisco. In between sliding around in their socks on hardwood floors, violent games of catch, his on-again-off-again girlfriend, the daily struggles of surrogate parenting, Eggers starts up an indie magazine that wants to change the world.

As memoirs go, this is raw, funny, fresh and all too self-aware. By turns poignant and (painfully) hilarious, the stream-of-consciousness tirade sometimes becomes too much, and the ending, to me, was lacking. But I still stand by my conviction that serious or not, the title is entirely appropriate. Read it.

The Interpretation of Murder – Jed Rubenfeld

Summary: A psychological murder mystery, ever so slightly based in fact.

People fascinate me, I’ve said that often enough. And there’s plenty of light psychology to be had here, owing, of course, to the presence of Freud in this novel. It’s known that Freud did not hold America in high regard, and Interpretation is a fictitious account of what might have happened on his 1909 trip to put him off so.

Tasked with hosting Freud and Jung during their visit, Stratham Younger is quickly drawn into the bizarre case of Nora Acton, who has been assaulted but has no memory of being attacked – in which he draws on Freud for guidance. At the same time, forces are conspiring to discredit Freud ahead of his scheduled lectures, while Jung is acting evermore irrational and suspiciously.

Along the way, there’s a bit of analysis on dreams, childhood memories and the Oedipal complex, particularly in relation to Younger’s favourite play, Hamlet. Fast-paced and full of intrigue, it’s also a beautiful snapshot of New York at the turn of the century when carriages vied with cars on the streets and debutantes and cotillions still ruled the social scene. Heck, I even learnt a bit about underwater construction and the bends.

One Click and the Rise of Amazon – Richard L Brandt

Summary: Jeff Bezos was destined for greatness, it seems. And it appears he’s only just getting started.

Amazon founder Jeff Bezos is classically driven, like many ambitious tycoons. (Having just read the Steve Jobs biography, I couldn’t help but draw parallels). From his childhood spent buried in books and pulling things apart, to his rapid ascent as a programmer on Wall St, the cool-headed Bezos always knew he wanted to start a business. He methodically eliminated all other options before settling on bookselling (this love of logic and lists extends to all areas of his life). And then he set to it.

While a technical person, Bezos comes across as extremely business-savvy. Of course, the inevitable faults eventually come out, and they’re not surprising – disgruntled, unfulfilled staff who didn’t buy into the Amazon cult (Bezos reckons every new hire should set the bar even higher, and put even the lowliest employees through a gruelling selection process). But mostly, he comes off as a person who cares more about product and profit, hence the insane  number of other businesses he’s acquired over the years (I was astounded).

It’s a basic biography, no more – while I found it interesting enough, if you knew anything much about Bezos beforehand, it may not be worth the time.

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