With the new fall books> already piling up, our editors and contributors simplify your life by picking the standouts. Those that made the cut include a tome on using existing customers to recruit new ones; an under-the-hood look at the advertising world; and a self-help book for working moms. In fiction, we have a thriller involving Wall Street honchos and Dan Brown's sequel to his mega-selling "Da Vinci Code."
By Adam L. Penenberg
Reviewed by: Thomas E. Weber
After months of recession, tales of business growth are a welcome diversion. In Viral Loop, Adam L. Penenberg tells inspirational stories about companies achieving growth at such a phenomenal rate that you might be tempted to whip up your own business plan or at least consult with your broker. In Penenberg s case studies, small start-ups attract thousands of members or customers within days, illustrating the book s focus: the viral loop in which each new customer winds up recruiting, on average, more than one additional customer. That circumstance a viral coefficient above 1, as Penenberg explains results in supercharged growth. (Readers of a certain age will recall the old television ads for Faberg Organic shampoo: I told two friends and they told two friends )
The case studies of Viral Loop, not surprisingly, focus mostly on Internet businesses that took the web by storm, such as Hotmail and Facebook. Though the details will be familiar to some, it s a provocative time to assess the viral model at these businesses. As Penenberg, a writer for Fast Company and journalism professor at New York University, points out, the big viral success stories tend to provide free services that make it easy to get that viral loop going.
When it comes to paying the bills, these free services are typically hoping that advertisers will provide at least part of the answer. But as the book s case studies show, assembling a mass audience isn t the challenge it once was meaning advertisers have more choices. Which raises a question for those eyeing the next big viral business: As the economy shifts into a recovery phase, how much are a million users really worth?
Connected: The Surprising Power of Our Social Networks and How They Shape Our Lives
By Nicholas A. Christakis and James H. Fowler
Reviewed by: Robert J. Hughes
Most of us are on Facebook. Many of us deal with the chatter of Twitter, blogs, even MySpace. But every single person, Wi-Fi enabled or not, belongs to a human social network that is much broader than old schoolmates, childhood friends and former colleagues.
In their intriguing new book Nicholas Christakis, a physician and sociologist, and James Fowler, a scientist, argue that we are the product of whom we meet in person, and whom those people know, on and on. It doesn't take much for events to occur that affect us directly. Six degrees of separation? Try three.
The authors use anecdotes and research findings to examine social phenomena the economy, health, friendship that are swayed by random connections. Your mood, it turns out, impacts many, especially people of your gender. Your buying habits influence those of others. Your bout of the flu can infect more than your co-workers. Seems obvious, but the findings offer fodder for economists and policy makers.
For the most part, Christakis and Fowler write in clear, jargon-free language, and illustrate their points with easy-to-read graphics. They explore everything from the financial meltdown of 2008 to the way epidemics begin. And they are convincing in outlining why social networks give us a new way of looking at the world, and why we're all part of what they term a "superorganism."
Adland: Searching for the Meaning of Life on a Branded Planet
By James P. Othmer
Reviewed by: Sarah Morgan
Othmer's is two books about advertising in one both entertaining and thought-provoking, but somewhat awkwardly joined.
In the first half, "Mad Men" fans hoping to peek into an advertising world that's still as rakishly glamorous as Don Draper's a generation later will not be disappointed. Othmer delivers a funny memoir of his time abusing expense accounts on Madison Avenue. He also captures the frustrations of trying to produce creative work while hemmed in by a client's narrow focus on minutia like seconds devoted to food footage in a television commercial to the font size in a print ad.
The story itself suffers, however, from a lack of detail. Many characters, clients and campaigns go unnamed (to protect the innocent?), leaving the amusing anecdotes ungrounded. Plus, the second half of "Adland" shifts abruptly in tone and focus, as if it were a different book altogether. But while the shift is jarring, the material is compelling, especially Othmer s analysis of web advertising and the branded, interactive "experiences" that may or may not be possible in the future. His sharp voice helps cut through the hype, and underscores how the distinction between entertainment and advertising is vanishing more quickly than anyone imagines.
Happy at Work, Happy at Home: The Girl's Guide to Being a Working Mom
By Caitlin Friedman and Kimberly Yorio
Reviewed by: Elizabeth O'Brien
If you are a working mom looking for a perfect work/life balance, just forget about it. That s the theme of "Happy at Work, Happy at Home," a self-improvement tome released last week. "The art of juggling takes years to perfect, write Caitlin Friedman and Kimberly Yorio, the co-owners of a New York-based PR firm, and frankly, you don t have the time."
Instead, the authors suggest you get better at multitasking. Can t afford someone to help with the cleaning? Scrub the sink when your kids are in the tub. Having trouble focusing on the job after childbirth? Fake it. The book is fleshed out with interviews with working moms and manages a smart, supportive tone without descending into the sometimes sappy and condescending voice of women's magazines.
By Norb Vonnegut
Reviewed by: Leah Zibulsky
It seems Kurt wasn t the only Vonnegut with storytelling in the extended family DNA. The proof is in this entertaining debut novel from Kurt's distant cousin Norb Vonnegut. Here we meet Grove O Rourke, a successful stockbroker (known as a "top producer" in Wall Street-speak) swirling in the aftermath of his best friend's gory, public murder. To help the widow, Grove tries to decipher the ins and outs of his friend's hedge fund business. Then, of course, mysteries and secrets unfurl, and our well-meaning protagonist finds himself in hot water.
The story mirrors reality in ways that may now surprise even its author, who finished the book before the economic meltdown. The two decades Vonnegut spent as a wealth advisor are evident in the venom he brings to descriptions ("a colostomy bag in wingtips") and in his grasp of the cutthroat world of finance. That plus his affinity for wordplay nicknaming a raspy-voiced character "the hoarse whisperer" will likely give you an appreciative smirk as you turn the pages to see exactly what happens to Grove in his search for the truth.
The Lost Symbol
By Dan Brown
Reviewed by: Robert J. Hughes
You knew Washington, D.C., held secrets. But in his follow-up to the global phenomenon that was "The Da Vinci Code," Dan Brown shows us that our nation's capital and the Capitol possess the kind of dangerous hidden truths that can shape human destiny.
A tall order. But Brown is, after all, the author who had millions of readers re-thinking their views on Christianity. Rather than an epochal examination of a 2,000-year-old religion, Brown delves into the society of Freemasons. But that's only the beginning. Part of the pleasure in this immensely entertaining book (and yes, Brown is a fine storyteller if a sometimes clumsy writer) is uncovering the meanings of symbols that lie in plain sight.
Like its predecessor, "The Lost Symbol" offers a mini-course in arcane historical detail (did you know that the Capitol once had an eternal flame burning beneath the floor under its rotunda?). And yes, the novel once again stars Robert Langdon, symbols expert and inadvertent detective, a hair-raising villain and a story that twists and turns in many short, attention-grabbing chapters. It can all come off as so much folderol, but you'll definitely be flipping on and on, surprised at how much you're enjoying Brown's manipulative finesse.
I Am a Genius of Unspeakable Evil and I Want To Be Your Class President
By Josh Lieb
Reviewed by: Janet Paskin
If you were a billionaire, you would likely have charities to endow, stadiums to name and private jets to fly you to your private island.
If, on the other hand, you were also a 12-year-old social outcast, you might have different ambitions: soda pop in the water fountain at the push of a secret button and minions who'll mess with the minds of your most-hated teachers and worst bullies.
And if you wanted to win a student council election, well: millions plus minions equals cakewalk. Right?
Not really, as Oliver Watson finds in this debut young-adult novel from "Daily Show" writer Josh Lieb. Oliver, determined to earn his classmates' votes and his father s respect, pulls out all the stops including orchestrating a coup in a small South American country in order to steal a Star Wars collectible to curry favor with his vice principal. And that s just in Chapter Nine.
Leave the lessons of "Buffettology" for your serious-minded uncle to pore over. Your prankster nephew will appreciate far more this satire of ambition, greed and money run amok.