Books archived articles

Subscribe to the RSS feed for this category only

Books22 Aug 2011 at 23:57 by Jean-Marc Liotier

You loved the Windup Girl ? Ship Breaker, also by Paolo Bacigalupi will sorely disappoint you. Where the Windup Girl provides a complex weave of intrigue in a lavishly set environment, Ship Breaker’s scenario is merely linear with a classic collision course in a dark but unexciting dystopian world. It reads fast, but even so it is barely worth your time. It does manage to entertain, so pick it up if you need some easy airport literature – but be warned that the entire creative content of this book would merely have filled a couple chapters of the much denser Windup Girl.

Arts and Books and Technology12 Aug 2011 at 13:12 by Jean-Marc Liotier

Paolo Bacigalupi‘s The Windup Girl provides a satisfyingly complex immersion into a bleak Gibsonesque dystopian world of corporate bio-terrorism in the aftermath of an horrible global crash, with enough gritty detail for suspension of disbelief and a large helping of corruption, extortion, riots and murder. I was pleasantly surprised that this book is not about following a hero on some predictable quest… The cast is rather full of anti-heroes and great villains – which I find very refreshing. It is rare enough to be noted that there are enough intermingled competing conspiracies and characters with colliding trajectories that I could not guess where the plot was headed while all this was floating on the tide of political events. This book injected a large volume of of fresh air in its genre !

Books and Games and Knowledge management02 Sep 2010 at 13:22 by Jean-Marc Liotier

I stumbled upon an article published last June by Knowledge@Wharton mentioning “The Power of Pull: How Small Moves, Smartly Made, Can Set Big Things in Motion” by John Hagel III, John Seely Brown, Lang Davison. Somehow I had missed this book that offers intriguing alternatives to organizations mired in their own structures. To learn about it you can read this critique by The Economist,  that happen to be titled “In Search of Serendipity” – on a side note, I’m happy that this word that I discovered in 1997 has been enjoying increasing popularity since the beginning of this millennium.

I can’t stand playing a MMORPG for even fifteen minutes (I prefer tactical, operational or strategical games – preferably with a pseudo-realistic environment), but I watched my people play and I agree about Hagel & al’s the mob collaborative dynamics that happen there :

Guild leaders in World of Warcraft “require a high degree of influence,” noted Hagel [..]. “You have to be able to influence and persuade people — not order them to do things. Ordering people in most of these guilds doesn’t get you far.”

In addition to the leadership qualities involved with becoming the head of a guild and assembling a problem-solving team from previously independent players, World of Warcraft enthusiasts, as noted by Hagel, conduct extensive after-action reviews of their performances as well as that of the leader. In addition, he said that game players typically customize their own dashboards to offer statistics and rate performance in areas they consider critical to their strategy.

This parallel between gaming and management is interesting – but Hagel & al. are not the first to notice it. In 2008, in “Collective solitude and social networks in World of Warcraft” my fellow ESSCA alumni and friend Nicolas Ducheneaut remarked :

We show that these social networks are often sparse and that most players spend time in the game experiencing a form of “collective solitude”: they play surrounded by, but not necessarily with, other players. We also show that the most successful player groups are analogous to the organic, team-based forms of organization that are prevalent in today’s workplace. Based on these findings, we discuss the relationship between online social networks and “real world” behavior in organizations in more depth.

“Prevalent in today’s workplace” ? From my big company point of view, I find that statement more than slightly optimistic – though not surprising considering how Nicolas enthusiastically embraces the future. But that is definitely the direction that we are going in. Expect even more of it as Generation Y enters the workforce. Until then, there is still a lot of evangelism to do…

Books and Military18 Oct 2009 at 11:58 by Jean-Marc Liotier

Danger Close is a candid commander’s point of view of 3 Para’s deployment in Afghanistan in the early phases of the British commitment. This is an entirely subjective account, so don’t expect insight into the great game – but do expect a rare insight into the relationship between a commander and his men, in the dirt among the sangars under rocket and mortar fire. The loneliness at the top comes through very clearly.

I was stunned to discover how little means were available and how rapidly those means have been stretched almost to breaking point. As a result, during most of its time in Afghanistan, 3 Para was reduced to holding hastily fortified besieged positions in politically important towns – which is not how might expect this sort of unit to be employed.

This books is a quick read but it provides a valuable vignette of the Afghanistan conflict. It is also a story of the fortitude of the British troops in the face of highly challenging odds. 479 000 rounds fired in six months is a level of sustained combat not seen by the British Army since the end of the Korean war.

Books and Technology05 Jan 2009 at 5:08 by Jean-Marc Liotier

I just turned the last page of “Singularity Sky” by Charles Stross. I was awestruck by the telephone rain and went on to finish the book the same night. That was a very unreasonable encroachment on my sleep time but I needed a dose of space opera.

I expected some exploration of post-humanism and I got all that. Socio-technological musings kept me entertained too. There were a few obvious winks at other authors, and probably quite a few others I missed. The universe felt a bit like Vernor Vinge‘s. Readers of Iain Banks will find themselves right at home too, although
Charles Stross‘ writing is quite a bit less intricate and the characters less developed. But if like me you are fascinated by the imminence of the technological singularity and appreciate science-fiction thrillers, this book is a nice read.

Books and Military and Politics05 Nov 2008 at 2:26 by Jean-Marc Liotier

I just finished reading “The Strongest Tribe – War, Politics and the Endgame in Iraq” by Bing West. Once the author’s own ideas about the relationship between the nation, the media and the armed forces are set aside, what remains is an account of reference on the civil war in Iraq from 2003 to 2008.

Bing West’s military experience gave the author an excellent relationship with the troops, and that granted him access to a variety of sources in theater throughout the whole period. He provides a comprehensive view from the bottom to top about what the US forces experienced in Iraq and how they adapted to overcome the challenges of counter-insurgency in a very muddy political environment.

Communicating the complexity of this conflict is incompatible with the mass-media formats. This book offers the volume necessary to describe how the invaders went through the messy process of stumbling upon new problems, trying solutions, gaining understanding and then building doctrine from the ground up. Bing West’s work is the first one to my knowledge that exposes the whole process and articulates it into a coherent narrative.

We follow the troops as they are dealing with duplicitous Iraqi politicians, struggling to build trust in a lawless society, sustaining morale while working with thankless partners, sticking to western due process standards in a country with no reliable judiciary, overcoming the impulse to stick to search and destroy, living among the locals to stop commuting to work from large bases, learning how to seize and hold sectors in a sustainable way, turning a population terrorized by campaigns of murder and intimidation, and finally getting it all together to find how to get the local potentates to stand for themselves. With the authors eyes, these problems are seen through the prism of the Vietnam war, and we discover what connects to the historical lessons learned in Vietnam and elsewhere, and how the Iraqi mix created original challenges.

The Strongest Tribe stops almost entirely short of the political territory of why the United States went to war in Iraq – and that is a good thing. Bing West does an outstanding job of explaining how the military in Iraq and its chain of command dealt with the fighting, and I extend my praise to him for sticking within that perimeter, apart from a handful of gratuitous mentions of Senator John McCain.

All in all, a recommended read for making sense of Iraq from the local point of view – provided you understand the bias of an author strongly connected to the culture of the US armed forces. Hats off to Bing West for his in-depth work, and hats off to the ingenuity, flexibility and sheer dedication of the troops who navigate in the dangerous unknown.

Africa and Books and Military14 Oct 2008 at 1:55 by Jean-Marc Liotier

I just finished reading The Chopper Boys: Helicopter Warfare in Africa” by Al J. Venter, Neal Ellis and Richard Wood. The contextual introductions will feel like fluff if you are already familiar with Cold War era conflicts in Africa, but it does not matter as the core of this book’s value more than makes up for it : the chapters covering operations in Rhodesia’s and South-Western Africa are gems. First hand testimonies paint captivating tactical vignettes with a substantial level of technical detail. This book provides unique insight in those pivotal development of heliborne operational doctrine in the countrer-insurgency role.

From my French perspective the Chadian and Algerian conflicts seem skimmed over, but I don’t mind as enough French sources have them well explored. On the contrary, I had seldom found such impacting accounts of the airmobile units that operated alongside such legendary troops as the Koevoet or the Selous Scouts – so the Southern African bias is more than welcome. After a read, jargon such as G-car, K-Car, dakadaka, paradak, fire force, Golf bomb and reaction force will feel familiar, along with impressive pieces of hardware such the Puma, the Alouette or the 20 mm Matra MG151 among others whose specific scope of employement is unveiled.

The use of helicopters to emplace small units as blocking forces (“stop groups” in South African parlance) reminded me of Bear Went over the Mountain: Soviet Combat Tactics in Afghanistan” edited by Lester Grau. The contrast between the swiftness of Southern African operations and the blunt Soviet air assaults that most often occured in Afghanistan is not without interest.