- Ghost in the Wires: My Adventures as the World's Most Wanted Hacker
- Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
- Year: 2011
- Pages: 432
Social Engineering was my hobby horse as an undergraduate IT major; I say this as though I’m an old veteran of the IT industry, but I’m not—I’m a fresh-faced, startup-mentality programmer. One of the reasons I always focused on social engineering in my various papers and projects, however, is I was exposed early to the idea of Kevin Mitnick. This isn’t to say I was particularly familiar with his exploits, or even well-versed in the technology of his area, but the notion that you could con your way into systems without necessarily programming or “hacking” was easy enough to understand.
- Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly
- Publisher: Ecco
- Year: 2000/2007
- Pages: 312
At some point during my teenage years (1997-1998, specifically), Fox aired a series of specials called Breaking the Magician’s Code: Magic’s Biggest Secrets Finally Revealed; an anonymous masked magician performed all the old reliable magic tricks and then revealed how they were done. If you believed Fox, it was a big deal, except that of course it wasn’t. Still, the shows were ratings successes, because people would like to believe they are gaining firsthand knowledge of a heretofore inaccessible realm of knowledge—especially, I suppose, if there are pyrotechnics and showgirls involved.
In 1999, Tony Bourdain was a chef working in New York City, unknown outside of a small circle of NYC chefs and accomplished foodies. This began to change after he published an article entitled “Don’t Eat Before Reading This” in The New Yorker; a collection of helpful hints garnered from his time in the cooking industry, it was precisely the sort of insider knowledge that seems as though it should be clandestine but probably isn’t. Ordering beef well-done ensures you get the worst cuts; order fish on Monday means you get fish leftover from last week; the atmosphere in a kitchen is a little like a frat house, but with more French sauces.
Riding the success of this article, Bourdain published Kitchen Confidential the next year (and catapulted himself into stardom), essentially expanding the article into book length with extensive autobiography and even more lurid details. It still has that “Here’s what They don’t want you to know” sort of conspiratorial allure, but generally speaking you could save yourself no small amount of time and boredom by just reading the original article instead.
- Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself
- Publisher: Broadway
- Year: 2010
- Pages: 352
Just under two years ago, David Foster Wallace killed himself, leaving behind a legacy that included—and perhaps unfairly focused on—his magnum opus, the 1’000+ page Infinite Jest. Though I happened to appreciate Wallace’s nonfiction (see Consider the Lobster) even more than his fiction, he was equally adept at both forms—at any form, to be honest.
When Wallace killed himself, the internet was full of retrospectives, but the one I recall as being the most beautiful was “The Lost Years and Last Days of David Foster Wallace”, which David Lipsky wrote for Rolling Stone. When I read, shortly after, that Lipsky would pen would of two upcoming biographies about Wallace, I was enthusiastic to say the least. Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself isn’t a biography, if one wanted to be pedantic, but it’s as close to an unfiltered volume of DFW as we are likely to get.
- Last Words: A Memoir
- Publisher: Free Press
- Year: 2009
- Pages: 320
Last Words took about 17 years to write. As the story goes, Carlin commissioned it in 1993 with Tony Hendra, but it wasn’t until Carlin died in 2008 that Hendra finally pulled together all of his recorded conversations, notes, and other materials and cranked out the more or less definitive semiautobiography of George Carlin, and Last Words is that book.
I need hardly explain who George Carlin is or why he is important—if you don’t know, this review will be meaningless to you—but for those of us well-acquainted with his unique and sometimes unpredictable views, Last Words is really quite illuminating, and I was surprised by not only the general quality of its craft, but the depth of its information, as well.
- Dr. Seuss & Mr. Geisel
- Publisher: Da Capo Press
- Year: 1996
- Pages: 384
Dr. Seuss might just be one of the most beloved children’s authors of our time. Growing up, I distinctly remember Green Eggs and Ham, The Butter Battle Book, and my personal favorite for some inexplicable reason, Scrambled Eggs Super!. It’s always been easy to glibly jibe about the relative ease of Seuss’s job (“just make up words when you can’t rhyme anything else”) but of course the man was an immensely talented crafter of stories that will remain popular long after his death.
Though he never made any particular secret of his life, digging into the history of sometime who was known more by his pen name than real name is always a bit of an adventure. It’s almost strange to thing of a revered figure like Seuss being a young boy or a petulant college student.
Dr. Seuss and Mr. Geisel is a dense, thorough affair, which I admit takes some of the charm away from Seuss. However, it is ultimately interesting to watch him go from a doodling college student to a successful children’s author. He took the pen name “Seuss” when he incurred the wrath of Dartmouth administrators after holding a drinking party during Prohibition. He met his wife, Helen, at Oxford, where he was pursuing a PhD in literature without any enthusiasm. Initially, he wrote jokes and cartoons for national publications, as well as doing commercials advertisements for companies like General Electric.
It was after World War II that Seuss began writing some of his most famous material. The Cat in the Hat came about as a sneaky sort of grammar for schoolchildren. From there on out, Seuss did two different styles of books: simpler “Beginner Books” for young children, and more complicated pieces for older children.
I won’t list the man’s whole life, of course: if you’re interested in it—and you should be really interested if you read this book—go ahead and read Dr. Seuss and Mr. Geisel. If you aren’t, maybe reading his Wikipedia entry would suffice, and you can spend the rest of the afternoon reading Oh, the Places You’ll Go!