I was in Valley Fair mall last week and a store had gone out of business. A discount bookstore was filling up 2/3rds of the empty space. Book sales are a long-standing weakness of mine; I love Book Sale Finder. The notion of paying $3-4 for a bag full of books is just hot. I have a hard time not forking over whatever’s in my wallet and walking away with as much as I can carry (“Utopia? Sure. Erewhon? Why not. Victor Hugo? Hey, maybe I’ll read it someday”).
The Valley Fair bookstore wasn’t bag-sale cheap, but it was pretty cheap. I couldn’t resist picking up
- Starving to Death on $200 Million (about the Industry Standard)
- Dumb Money (about daytrading)
- The Big Red Fez: How to Make any Web Site Better (I needed to try a Seth Godin book)
- Slack (Tom DeMarco’s book Peopleware is awesome)
- The Microsoft Edge (a light read, but fun)
I used to read the Industry Standard back in the day, so it’s neat to get a peek behind the curtain (and to hear more about John Battelle from before The Search). If you want a view of Bubble craziness, I’d go with Dot.con. If you just want the gestalt without as much excess, it’s hard to go wrong with Po Bronson’s The Nudist on the Late Shift or eBoys by Randall Stross about the venture capital firm Benchmark.
If you like this genre, you’ll like Starving to Death. The author James Ledbetter has experience commenting on the media, so you can feel him trying to be measured, but the value of a book like this is the dish. The book isn’t gossipy, but it’s neat to hear about the rooftop parties and some of the situations that happened (e.g. when a public relations firm was representing a company and the Industry Standard, the magazine sometimes suffered from the conflict of interest: the author suspected that the PR firm tipped off the client company about impending stories).
It was also fun to read about the importance of getting scoops. A couple times during the book, I found myself wondering what it would be like to be a journalist, and what questions would be interesting to ask. For example, Several folks have noted that MSN announced a plan to scan books. The wannabe reporter in me wants to ask other companies questions like “If the Google Print lawsuit ends up going in Google’s direction, would you also scan books that aren’t out of copyright?” I think it’s probably a lot more difficult to be a journalist than most people give credit for.
My overall recommendation would be to pick up Starving to Death on $200 Million, especially if you enjoy and have read most other books about Silicon Valley business/tech/media. Or of course if you find a good deal at a book sale. What Silicon Valley-ish books have you enjoyed?