Quarantine Summer Reading List

With kids going to back to school, such as it is, I thought I would offer up my small, but interesting Quarantine Summer Reading List. I chose a couple of books focused on Steve Jobs, another on Richard Garriott, and one for Jacques Pepin. It's not all biographies as I read most books in the Allan Quatermain series. Quatermain may not be most recognized character, but for many he's known as Indian Jones.

For Steve Jobs, I picked up Becoming Steve Jobs and Insanely Great. I've previously read the Walter Isaacson tome, and wanted some other perspectives.

First, it's clear that early in his career, Jobs was an absolutely terrible manager. He had to have things done his way, enjoyed creating chaos, believed he was the smartest person in the room and was very quick to call someone a bozo. He is/was ridiculously arrogant and self-centered with all sorts of entitlement issues.

Some times his style work. Most of the time it didn't. He had some great successes in the early days, but plenty of times things went off the rails. It's interesting to see the change, the maturity, the tempering of Jobs as a manager and leader. He still had plenty of other issues to contend with, and in my opinion had a lot of unenviable traits, but he did have some solid guidelines.

His idea of cutting back on product lines, or rigorously saying no to anything that distracted the focus of the company, and making products that were so advanced they came across as simplistic is something other people and companies are trying to emulate. People dismiss the Mac and iPad as being toys because they are so easy to operate. They're easy to operate because of how sophisticated they are; the technology disappears.

Many should know Richard Garriott from his Ultima series. There is no doubt of the impact those games had on the RPG genre, especially Ultima II-V. And I remember those games fondly.

His biography, Explore/Create: My Life in Pursuit of New Frontiers, Hidden Worlds, and the Creative Spark is 300 pages of Garriott patting himself on the back for his self-styled creative vision and genius.

Like Jobs, he takes credit for things he never did, or at best, he was merely an observer. As he describes different stages of his career, all the great ideas are his. When something fails, it was because someone else screwed up. He is very quick to dismiss critics and offer excuses for problems that arose with his games and his company.

As to the running of companies and being a manager, Richard spends more time trying to live the life of an adventurer than focusing of making his company and people successful. This is true for both Tabula Rasa with Destination Games and Shroud of the Avatar with Portalarium. He spends more time away going to space and visiting volcanoes than getting the job done.

He explains he has decades of experience in the industry, and since he did all the coding, design work, marketing, shipping and marketing of his early games, he is incredibly well rounded, for more so than 99% of the people in the industry. Unfortunately, there are no stories where Richard imparts this wisdom to others or serves as a mentor to the success of others. He has inspired others, but I can't say he's actually built them up.

Garriott is a good storyteller, and he puts himself at the center of every narrative.

For something different, there is The Apprentice: My Life in the Kitchen by Jacques Pepin. Jacques is one of my all time favorite chefs. The small list of others include Julia Child, Ming Tsai, Rick Bayless and Martin Yan. To even be in the shadow of these greats would be an honor.

At the age of 13, young Jacques goes off to be a cooking apprentice when being a cook was considered a low level, menial job. He cut vegetables and did what he was told, day after day. He learned through "osmosis", creating muscle memory and following the process. And through that he began to learn.

Jacques made bold, perhaps even reckless decisions. With barely any money in his pocket he sets off for New York. Through relationships ends up partnering with Howard Johnson and his career blossoms. He learns the restaurant business, management, financing, production and many other skills that would forge his career. We also see the stage set for his relationship with Julia Child.

Since Jacques has been cooking longer than most people have been alive, including me, he has some wonderful wisdom to offer. You need to go deep into your art. Discussing a book deal or TV show after taking one cooking class boggles the mind.

Pepin is a master. A true master. He is always learning, always adapting, always changing his style. That is why he admits his cooking is a reflection of a point in time, his mood, and the ingredients available. Understand the “idea” behind the recipe, and use it as a point of departure.

It hasn't all been biographies though. There has been plenty of high adventure in the form of Allan Quatermain, the template for Indiana Jones. These are a series of compelling stories full of lost cities, the search for riches, supernatural powers and events, close calls, and a whole host of interesting characters. Like Jules Verne, these stories are under appreciated and have been so watered down as to be juvenile and even comical, when they are rich stories that capture the imagination and propel the reader on an exciting journey.

I've actually completed all the stories I've been able to find. I believe there are more in compendiums and compilations, so the search goes on.

As a final epic adventure, I've started One Thousand and One Nights, which can also go by the name of The Arabian Nights' Entertainments or The Book of A Thousand Nights and a Night.

While there is debate to the authorship and which stories are actually part of the collection, this is where we get the tales of Ali Baba, Aladdin, Sinbad and others. All of them brought to life through the tales of Scheherazade. Again, another great series of adventures that create the template for so many modern characters.

It's not quite an all over the place reading list, but it is diverse. Quatermain and Arabian Nights go together because of the adventure, mystical forces at play, and interesting characters. Great reading for every age.

Jobs, Garriott, and Pepin go together for different reasons. A lot can be learned from Jobs and Garriott, both good and bad. Some of their ideas and philosophy are worth considering, and perhaps emulating. Equally, many should be completely avoided and their opinions taken with a grain of salt.

Pepin shows the passion for his art and craft. The dedication is takes to become a master and inspire other.

In all cases, not every opportunity looks great when first presented, but you need to be ready to seize opportunities when they knock. Some times you need to be bold. Some times you need to be focused. And, it's better to be lucky than good.

As they say, it's 10% skill and 90% luck. But, you won't get anywhere without the skill.

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