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Published: November 30, 2006

 
 

Best Business Books: Fiction

Perhaps I’m being too literal. I guess the point is that most jobs in the digital age are deeply alienating, and, in case you missed it, Mr. Coupland offers a summary in another one of the book’s oddities, an end-of-section, stream-of-(whose?) consciousness sidebar: “Like any company, Sony is comprised of individuals who are fearful for their jobs on a daily basis, and who make lame decisions based pretty much on fear and conforming to social norms — but then, that’s every corporation on earth.…”

Paradoxically, JPod the book has a certain manic energy, in contrast to the desultory JPodders. Mr. Coupland’s tableau extends far beyond the workplace, and he does especially well with certain set pieces: the militant lesbian mother on her commune, the frantic trek to the industrial hinterlands of China, the group effort to dig up a body that’s buried beneath a fern outside a garish new McMansion. There are lots of drugs, and the amusing transformation of the idiot marketing VP into an affable heroin addict tamps down the temptation to interpret the book as a sobriety lecture. And Ethan is ultimately kind of sweet.

With most satire, the closer you are to the subject matter the more you’ll appreciate it, and maybe I just haven’t spent enough time smoking pot and playing video games with Vancouver post-grads to fully appreciate this book. Mr. Coupland writes with great verve and imagination, but this time at least his aim is not always quite right.

The Good Life
Sex and the Single Zillionaire isn’t really about business, except insofar as it’s about the author, Tom Perkins. A legendary tech investor and cofounder of Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, the venerable Silicon Valley venture capital firm, Mr. Perkins is known to be a smooth and sociable man who appreciates the good things (yachts, private chefs, luxury homes) that immense wealth can bring. The main character in the book is autobiographical, and, since I’ve never met the man, I can only speculate as to whether the real Mr. Perkins is such a nice guy. But no matter.

Sex and the Single Zillionaire is obviously the work of an amateur, with some painfully bad writing and a story line so predictable that you know what’s going to happen practically from the first page. But the pacing is pretty good, and it has a surprisingly strong voyeuristic appeal that keeps you turning the pages. Danielle Steel, the author’s former wife, who is cited fulsomely in the dedication and acknowledgments, was clearly a big help.

The single zillionaire of the title, one Steven Hudson, is a successful businessman who has been feeling down in the dumps since his beloved wife died. Jessica James is a beautiful-but-struggling reality TV producer who comes up with a potentially career-saving idea: a show called Trophy Bride, in which hot young things compete for the everlasting affection of, well, a man like Steven Hudson. She recruits him. He goes along because he has a crush on her. See what I mean about being able to guess the rest?

Mr. Perkins has a knowing eye for the milieu of the ultrarich — the Gulfstream V, the charity balls, even the Entertainment Tonight–type TV crews scrambling for their quarry — and, among other things, they apparently like dark wood very much. There are the “mahogany paneled corridors” of the executive suite at Steve’s firm, the “old leather, old wood, old paintings” and “burnished dining room” of his club, the “carved oak paneling” of his Long Island mansion, the “beeswaxed, marquetry inlaid woods” of his Bentley, the “curved oak walls” of the yacht club, more “French polished mahogany panels” in his office, a “wood paneled” lounge at 21, the “exquisitely varnished” decks of his speedboat, and the “mahogany wainscot” and “mahogany-banistered” staircase on his motor yacht.

 
 
 
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