Three Books

I’ve been reading quite a bit lately, so I figured that I would write capsule reviews or summaries of the books that I’ve read.

  • The United States of Arugula is a look behind the evolution of “American cuisine,” the popularization and adoption of local and organic foodstuffs, and how the perception of cooking in this country changed from necessity to esteemed hobby. For someone like myself who was born in the 1970s, the book serves to fill in the food history of the U.S. before my birth, as well as the culinary scene on the West Coast (a place which, like your average New Yorker, I haughtily ignored during my upbringing). It also explains the appearance of the “Blade Cuisinart” in the Wizardry games, as the Cuisinart was a marketing sensation around that time. The semi-lurid personal details of the lives of the culinary pioneers profiled may raise an eyebrow, but such discussion is actually germane to the narrative for several reasons. For anyone interested in the topic, it’s worth a read.
  • Comic Wars: How Two Tycoons Battled Over the Marvel Comics Empire–And Both Lost has an impressively long title (necessary to disambiguate it during Internet searches, I discovered). It’s a recap of the Marvel Comics bankruptcy, one of the more acrimonious in business history. The struggle between owner Ron Perelman and corporate raider Carl Icahn resulted in an improbable turnabout — the merger of the struggling Marvel with Toy Biz, a small toymaker with whom Marvel had an unusual licensing deal. The book is fairly dry, focusing almost entirely on the business aspects of the bankruptcy (and the quirks and faults of the people involved), and ignoring the creative aspect of the business. Marvel’s suffering was due, in part, to overpaying for companies like Fleer, Skybox, and Panini, whose early-90’s success would never again be duplicated.

    What’s interesting about the book in hindsight is that it post-dates the release of the first X-Men movie (a movie for which, due to a bad deal, Marvel earned very little money), but pre-dates the release of Spider-Man, which cemented Marvel’s status as an intellectual property goldmine, and sent its stock soaring. The book ends with guarded optimism about the future prospects of Marvel.

    The book is mostly a curiosity now — I would only recommend it to those interested in the business aspects of Marvel.

  • I finally picked up Game of Shadows (the book about the BALCO steroids scandal) in the bargain bin, one day after the Mitchell report was released, and gave it a read. It confirmed what I had heard and read earlier — that Barry Bonds is an execrable human being and teammate. I was also enlightened with regards to the shadowy world of track and field, which was also a big part of the BALCO scandal (and the source of the break in the investigation). The course of events described in the book lends credence to those who say that the cheaters will always be one step ahead of testing — the lynchpin of the investigation is (as frequently happens) a tip-off, followed up with diligent investigation and other human intelligence. This is not a conclusion that should bring a smile to the face of any professional sports fan — nevertheless, as it appears that actual progress may be in the pipe with regards to performance enhancers in baseball, I remain optimistic that the game’s integrity can be restored.

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