Short e-Books: 'Great Stagnation' and 'Lifted'

Tyler Cowen's The Great Stagnation: How America Ate All The Low-Hanging Fruit of Modern History,Got Sick, and Will (Eventually) Feel Better costs $3.99 and is concise. Amazon does not list the number of pages - maybe 100?

April 24, 2011

Tyler Cowen's The Great Stagnation: How America Ate All The Low-Hanging Fruit of Modern History,Got Sick, and Will (Eventually) Feel Better costs $3.99 and is concise. Amazon does not list the number of pages - maybe 100?

Evan Ratliff's Lifted is 34 pages and cost $1.99 from Amazon for the Kindle version, and $2.99 for the iPad version. I got the Kindle version, but the iPad copy looks pretty cool - with embedded video and the option to play the audio version (with the e-text automatically moving forward, so you can switch between listening and reading). The iPad version of Lifted included video of the robbery from security cams, pictures of the main players and locations of the story, maps of the heist, and many other interactive features. Check out The Atavist website to learn more about the Atavist app, and check out the short video on the Atavist reading app.

I liked everything about these books.

I liked:

The Writing:

Cowen makes the depressing argument that the days of rapid economic growth are over, as today's technologies (such as Netflix streaming or downloadable e-books) are pleasurable and diverting, but do not make us much more productive. Trains, automobiles, the interstate highway system, airplanes, and the communications network all provided quantum leaps in the ability to better organize economic life and produce goods and services of higher quality for less money. The iPads and Hulu might be great inventions, but they are most of the benefits accrue to individuals or a few companies, they do not create new societal wealth. We have built a political system and a consumerist culture on the assumption that we will grow economically the way we did in the post-way years of the 1950s and 1960s, at 3 percent a year, where in reality a digital knowledge economy may grow at only 2 percent. We need to re-adjust and downsize our expectations, find happiness in staying home and watching TED talks, and forget about that fancy new car or oversees vacation, or retiring before our 8th decade.

Fans of Wired Magazine already know Evan Ratliff. His amazing 2009 article "Vanish," in which Ratliff attempted to go off the grid, daring readers to find him (for $5,000) was widely discussed. In Lifted, Ratliff takes us inside of the daring robbery of a Stockholm cash repository. I don't want to spoil the story (it is a great read), but think about if you could take the smartest technical and logistical people you work with on campus, and get them to work together to plan a heist. Believe me, if you can make it through a migration to a new campus LMS, SIS, or e-mail/calendaring system, you have the local organizational talent and chutzpa to break into a Swedish bank.

The Format:

Yes, paper books are superior. Reading on a Kindle or an iPad is not as good as reading on paper. But for these short books, the platform pretty much disappeared. Maybe I'll get used to reading longer books on Kindle's or iPads, and maybe the technology will get better (lighter, easier to turn pages, etc.), but for now I at least am hesitant to take on long books on these devices. The Great Stagnation and Lifted, however, work perfectly as e-books on e-devices. (And again, the Atavist App with embedded video, animations, and audio takes this much further). These two books are examples of a new category of nonfiction narrative storytelling. Longer than an article, shorter than a book, concise e-books bring the same emotional satisfaction of finishing a book (we can review a book, tell a friend about a book, remember a book), but do so while respecting how little time we enjoy.

The Price:

At these prices, both under $4 bucks, purchasing a Kindle Single or a book through iTunes moves from a weighty to an easy decision. Cheaper than a cappuccino. We need to very carefully select what books we want to read because we have so little to read them. Each book read equals a book we will not have time for. But if the books are cheap enough, and as easy to purchase and acquire as these books, both the risk and the opportunity costs are dramatically diminished.

What short e-books do you recommend?

What are you reading?


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