I'm planning a trip to Miami, and one of the most important packing decisions involves which books to bring. A gripping story with interesting, unique characters is a must, but I'm not filling my suitcase with fictional thrillers. Instead, I've found three new business books that deliver suspense and adventure with real-life stories about a cocky inventor, a fearless road-tripper and a witty mathematician. So put down the Danielle Steel this summer and get the goods without the guilt.
Reinventing the wheel
Code Name Ginger (Harvard Business School Press, $27.95, 336 pages, ISBN 1578516730) delivers the exciting behind-the-scenes story of bringing a dream to the marketplace. At the heart of the book is Dean Kamen, a cocky young inventor and entrepreneur with an ego big enough to match his lofty ideas. Often compared to a modern-day Thomas Edison, Kamen had a passion for the Ginger project, which he believed would revolutionize transportation by developing a self-balancing, electronic "people mover." He bet his fortune on the top-secret project that took more than nine years to develop and cost more than $100 million in R & D.
Author Steve Kemper was granted exclusive access to the Ginger project during the 18 months of testing and design, but when his book proposal found its way to the Internet in January 2001, it exposed the heavily guarded project. The press started a firestorm of speculation about the machine that would eventually be dubbed the Segway Human Transporter.
Unfortunately, Kemper's access to the project was cut just before the Segway went on sale, but consumer reaction thus far has been underwhelming. Not having Kamen's reaction to the disappointing launch is a sorely missed element of the book. But the glimpse inside the mind of a brilliant inventor, someone always testing new ideas and willing to risk "spectacular failures" to create something great, makes this bumpy journey one well worth taking.
The ultimate road trip
Jim Rogers knows how to take a vacation. The man Time calls "the Indiana Jones of Finance" has a passion for exploration, and he's once again taking readers along for the ride in Adventure Capitalist. On January 1, 1999, Rogers and his fiancÅ½e began a three-year road trip around the world that took the couple through 116 countries. Ready for anything (like the raging blizzard on Day 3), Rogers chronicles their stories with wit and offers insight on the state of the global economy at the turn of the century.
A former offshore hedge fund manager, Rogers is no ordinary tourist. He has a unique understanding of international politics and economics and describes successful investing as "getting in early, when things are cheap, when everything is distressed, when everyone is demoralized." Rogers successfully mixes business with pleasure by measuring the economic climate of each country on the itinerary. For example, Turkey in 1999 looked like a great emerging market based on location and population, but a harrowing airport ordeal convinced Rogers that the country hadn't conquered its Byzantine ways, so he decided not to invest there. Rogers' contagious enthusiasm for off-the-beaten-path discoveries turned his previous book, Investment Biker, into a bestseller. It chronicled his record-setting 700,000-mile motorcycle journey across six continents. Both are great reading for business lovers and armchair travelers.
Falling in love with WorldCom
It's nice to know that we're all human and that sometimes even mathematicians get a little irrational. Best-selling author and math master John Allen Paulos begins his new book, A Mathematician Plays the Stock Market (Basic, $25, 224 pages, ISBN 0465054803), by recounting how this "hardheaded fellow" began "falling disastrously in love" with one well-known scandal-ridden company. He lost his shirt, but couldn't quit buying the stock or force himself to sell. Motivated by his own fear and greed, Paulos learned the painful lesson that emotions and psychology play a big part in stock market volatility.
Paulos uses personal stories and funny, bizarre anecdotes rather than formulas and equations to delve into the market's "problems, paradoxes, and puzzles." It's a rational approach that's both simple and entertaining.