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Michael Crichton, Master Storyteller, Dead at 66

Michael Crichton has died of cancer at the age of 66. His most popular books, of course, included “Jurassic Park,” “The Andromeda Strain,” and “Timeline.” And while I’ve read many of his thrillers — most recently “Next,” about genetic engineering — my favorite of his books was “Travels,” which I liked for its compelling stories told in a spare, direct style. (Most people don’t realize that Crichton penned a travel book.)

Some snippets in which Crichton is remembered:

LA Times: Michael Crichton dies at 66; bestselling author of ‘Jurassic Park’ and other thrillers

Wired: The Rich, Mixed Legacy of Michael Crichton

New York Times: Builder of Windup Realms That Thrillingly Run Amok

I also enjoyed reading what James Fallows has to say about Crichton. A thought for Michael Crichton

…Crichton had his enemies, especially after his recent anti-global-warming book (which I chose not to read). That he was married five times suggests that his personal life was not entirely tranquil. And he was hyper, hyper aware that in America he was regarded as a “genre” writer whereas in Italy, for example, he would be listed among the big names of Quality Lit.

But I was honored to have met him 20 years age, when I was living in Japan, and to have been a friend since then. He seemed unassuming, funny, charming in every way — the unusual famous person who was genuinely considerate of one’s spouse and kids. Very earnest about his political causes, including a very prescient argument fifteen years ago about the impending decline of the “Mediasaurus,” now known as MSM. And, there is no way around it, incredibly talented. At one point in the 1990s, he was responsible for the #1-rated TV show (ER), the #1 box office movie (Jurassic Park), and the #1 best selling-novel — and I’m not even sure now which of his novels it was. He must have been the only person in history to have paid his way through medical school by writing successful novels.

I loved hearing from him about oddball “practical” matters. For instance, height: he appeared to be nearly 7 feet tall, and explained to me (6’2″) that up until 6’6″ height was an advantage, but after that it was a big inconvenience — door frames, beds, airplane seats. Or, getting ready for book writing bursts: He said he removed complications from his life while writing by having exactly the same food at every meal, so he never had to waste time deciding what to eat. He was a tech enthusiast, and the most passionate Mac advocate1 I have encountered.

  1. For more on the Mac angle, see this touching note in Macworld: “Remembering Michael Crichton“ []

The Future as Seen from 1978

The Usborne Book of the Future was published in 1978 and envisions the world in the year 2000 “and beyond.”

Some of my favorite predictions include:

— the human-robot space exploration teams,

military troops transported by rocket and then dispatched via armed “hovercars,”

— these crustacean-like aliens pondering high-tech crystal balls,

— (under the heading 1991-2000) sunlight-reflecting mirrors in space that provide light for the dark side of the earth,

— (under the heading 2001-2050) an “electromagnetic catapult” on the moon used to fling mining materials to “space factories.”

Best Books of 2007

Best Books of 2007

I was too busy this year to put together my annual Bloggers’ Favorite Books list (previous lists: 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006). But here’re some other round-ups that you might enjoy:

“PW’s Best Books of the Year” — from the staff of Publishers Weekly.

— The New York Times’s “10 Best Books of 2007” and “A Year of Books Worth Curling Up With.”

“Pick of the Bunch,” from The Economist.

“Of War and Wharton, Starbucks and ‘Peanuts,'” from the Wall Street Journal.

“The Best Books We Read In 2007,” from The Onion AV Club.

— Entertainment Weekly’s “The Best Books of 2007.”

“Editors’ Picks: Top 100 Books,” from

— For further reading, I suggest this excellent best-of lists compendium at

— And finally, a useful tool for sharing your favorite books and getting recommendations from others is, which is a sort of social networking site for avid readers.

Lonely Planet: Sold to BBC World

Tony and Maureen Wheeler, Lonely Planet Founders, in Bangkok

World Hum:

Big news in the travel publishing world: BBC Worldwide has purchased indie guidebook publisher Lonely Planet. Founders Tony and Maureen Wheeler will retain a 25 percent stake in the company they founded more than three decades ago. Reuters puts the price of the deal at $203 million. Tony Wheeler said he believes the sale will help Lonely Planet stay competitive while allowing the publisher to remain true to its original values. While he and Maureen will now have more time to travel, it wasn’t easy for them to “sell out,” he said. In an audio interview, he told Australia’s ABC, “It’s been 34 years, it’s been our entire working life together…It’s been a long road…although we’re convinced it’s the right thing for the business…it’s a difficult thing to do.” I can’t say I’m terribly surprised.

Read the whole post for more info.

Related: My Gridskipper post from last year, when the Wheelers were in Bangkok for a book signing.

Bangkok 8: Coming to the Big Screen

Bangkok 8: Coming to the Big Screen


Millennium Films has optioned “Bangkok 8,” the first in a three-book bestselling mystery series by John Burdett. “V For Vendetta” helmer James McTeigue is attached to direct.

In “Bangkok 8,” a detective with the Royal Thai Police Force tracks the murderers of his partner, and also a U.S. Marine. The trail leads through Bangkok’s drug and sex trade, and corrupt colleagues. Burdett, who just published “Bangkok Haunts,” the third Thai-flavored novel in the series, lives in Bangkok and knows the terrain. ICM auctioned the books last week, and Millennium’s Avi Lerner stepped up and got the property over several studios. Lerner will produce with Boaz Davidson, John Thompson and Joe Gatta.

The intention is to adapt several of the books and shoot in Thailand.

I recommend Burdett’s books highly.

And by the way, speaking of Thai-related flicks, when does that new Rambo movie open? May of 2008, according to Wikipedia.

Bolivia, FIFA, and Globalization

Simon Romero had an excellent story in the New York Times yesterday about Evo Morales, the president of Bolivia, fighting to defeat the high-altitude soccer ban I mentioned recently. I particularly like the lede (as well as the delightful image, above):

Bolivia’s president, Evo Morales, donned a green jersey the other day, watched a llama sacrifice for good luck and flew to a snowy spot nearly four miles above sea level, where he scored the winning goal in a brief match pitting him and his aides against a group of mountain climbers.

It was a textbook lesson in Andean political theater, and the perils a globalized sport can meet when it comes up against a small country’s nationalist passions.

On the surface, Bolivia’s president was simply staging an amusing stunt to fight a ban on international soccer games at altitudes above 2,500 meters, or 8,200 feet.

It’s well known that Mr. Morales will play soccer against virtually anyone, from the foreign press corps to local squads in the hinterlands, to let off steam, and recently broke his nose doing so. But in fact, the ban, enacted last month by soccer bureaucrats in Switzerland, played right to Mr. Morales’ trademark populism, and gave him an opportunity to act as a unifier of his otherwise fractious country.

“Bolivia’s dedication to soccer cuts across the deep dividing lines in the country, which are economic, racial, regional and ideological,” said Jim Shultz, a political analyst in Cochabamba, in central Bolivia. “Fighting the ban is great domestic politics.”

(Emphasis mine.)

A friend of mine who’s studied politics in neighboring Ecuador once told me that he felt the Ecuadorian national football team was the single greatest cohesive force that the nation has working in its favor. The game trumps race, class, politics — everything.

Two related books that I recommend highly: “How Soccer Explains the World: An Unlikely Theory of Globalization,” and, in the case of Bolivia and its “market dominant minority,” “World on Fire: How Exporting Free Market Democracy Breeds Ethnic Hatred and Global Instability.”

The Globalization of Sushi

Ballpark Sushi.

Jay McInerney reviews two new books that “attempt to account for the transformation of sushi from a provincial street snack to the international luxury cuisine of the 21st century.”

(Cartoon via.)

Bloggers’ Favorite Books of 2006

I’m delighted to announce that it’s time, once again, for the annual Bloggers’ Favorite Books survey.

For the fourth year running, I asked some of my favorite bloggers to tell me about their favorite books of the year.

Respondents weren’t limited to titles published in 2006, but were free to pick any book they discovered during the last 12 months that they found particularly compelling.

Here’s what they said:

Blogger: Mark Frauenfelder
Blog: Boing Boing

Mark writes:

Babbitt, by Sinclair Lewis (1992, available for free on Project Gutenberg)

George Babbitt is a successful real estate agent in the city of Zenith (a mythical midwestern burg). He has plenty of friends and belongs to clubs and organizations of like-minded men. On the outside he is jolly and gregarious. But in his dreams and quiet moments, he realizes his life didn’t go they way he wanted it. When he decides to change, just a little, the community responds like a kicked nest of hornets. What will he do, and how will he live with his decision?

Blogger: Dana
Blog: (the late, great) #1 Hit Song

Dana writes:

So. OK, I read a number of highly acclaimed books this year, but I want to endorse three books that might not have gotten much attention, plus one that wasn’t published in 2006 but which was probably one of the best books I’ve read in forever.

So, the first book that I so loved in 2006 is called “Visigoth,” by Gary Amdahl.

I reviewed it in May.

Although it is imperfect, it is truly breathtaking, and deserves wider recognition. In a literary world glutted (in my opinion) by Raymond Carver wannabes, this guy is the real deal.

The second “book” I read and absolutely loved is called “Happyland,” by J. Robert Lennon.

I put “book” in quotes because it was actually serialized by Harper’s over the summer. Apparently WW Norton dropped it at the last moment, because of fear of being sued for libel. There’s nothing I love more than satire, because I am an equal-opportunity misanthropist, and Happyland, to me, is a more refined version of Ishmael Reed’s “Japanese by Spring.”

In the “Incomplete” category, I haven’t finished Chris Adrian’s “Children’s Hospital,” but I’m completely in awe of his facility with magical realism.

As for books that are great but weren’t published in 2006, I heartily endorse Jon Krakauer’s “Under the Banner of Heaven.”

It’s an investigation of a particularly gruesome double murder, committed by fundamentalist Mormons, but it’s also an intimate examination of the LDS church and of fundamentalist branches of the LDS. It’s just…overpowering. I found myself reading full paragraphs from it to whoever happened to be in the room. It was perversely fascinating, and written with remarkable restraint, given its subject matter. I really think that anyone with a passing interest in the Mormons pick it up and give it a read. Wow.

Blogger: Jason Kottke

Jason writes:

I read Charles Mann‘s 1491 while on my honeymoon in Mexico. In the book, Mann compiles a bunch of recent research that suggests that what American kids are taught in history class about the Americas before Columbus is wrong and grossly misleading. Did you know that the Peruvians may have independently formed one of the world’s earliest civilizations, contemporary with Sumer and Egypt? Or that a surprising amount of the Amazon was farmed/cultivated by humans? (Untouched wilderness? What wilderness?) Or that the population of the Americas, devastated upon the arrival of the Europeans and their diseases, was a significant portion of the world’s total population, with large civilizations and population to be found everywhere? And that’s just to whet your appetite. Most interesting (and important) book I read all year.

Blogger: The Taipei Kid
Blog: The Taipei Kid

The Taipei Kid writes:

What to Eat, by Marion Nestle — This giant book reads like Fast Food Nation from a nutritionist’s standpoint and covers far beyond the world of fast food. It also reminds me of Susan Powter’s book Food, but without all the yelling. Starting with the basic layout of a typical supermarket (designed to snag you into buying more), Nestle works readers through the food pyramid and then some. You won’t look at yogurt—harmless yogurt, healthy yogurt (NOT!)—the same way again. In fact, you won’t look at a lot of your favorite foods the same way again. Arm yourself with this book before you hit the food stores!

Blogger: Wendy Harman
Blog: Harmany Music

Wendy writes:


Indecision by Benjamin Kunkel

Published in 2005, it’s a great read! For all late 20ish and early 30ish single people like me, Indecision offers funny insights into our sometimes ridiculous outlook on life. I laughed, I cried, and I felt embarrassed at how well I could identify with protagonist Dwight Wilmerding. The pharmaceutical industry is probably in the lab right now creating a pill to cure indecision that’ll allow us to bypass growing up altogether. After reading this book, I most likely won’t pop it.


Can’t Stop Won’t Stop: A History of the Hip-Hop Generation by Jeff Chang (book/blog)

Wow. I’ve spent my life studying music + the biz, but this examination of hip-hop’s creation, evolution, and impact on our society schooled me. It’s a well-written page-turner that parses the beats to reveal a chronology not just of hip-hop, but our entire culture since the early 1970’s. I don’t know how he uncovered so many oral stories that get to the heart of why and how we have hip-hop, but I’m glad he did. Author Jeff Chang is a fellow blogger to boot.

Blogger: Lee LeFever
Blog: The World Is Not Flat

Lee writes:

“A Short History of Nearly Everything” by Bill Bryson. I was surprised to be so enthralled and interested in a big book of stories about the sciences. I got smarter!

Blogger: TINGB
Blog: Time I’ll Never Get Back

TINGB writes:

I read a lot of biographies and baseball books this year, and — combining both elements — the best book I read was Jonathan Eig’s biography of Lou Gehrig, “Luckiest Man.” It reads like a novel, and I found it quite suspenseful given that I already knew how it would end. Any baseball fan, even a Yankee-hater, can find something to love about his story, and it’s a very interesting read when one considers Gehrig in contrast to the modern baseball culture and the steroid scandals that plague the game today.

And as for yours truly, my favorite book of 2006 — and I say this having only read half of it, I’m that smitten with it already — is Richard Ford’s recently-released novel “The Lay of the Land,” which follows Frank Bascombe, the protagonist from “The Sportswriter” and “Independence Day.” The level of detail is astounding; Ford’s understanding of the nuances of American culture is simply amazing. His prose is lyrical, his pacing is spot-on, and his characters are vivid. Ford is incredible.

Thanks to all of this year’s respondents for taking the time to contribute.

Here’s last year’s list, in case you’re feeling nostalgic.

Happy reading in 2007.

Lonely Planet Founders in Bangkok

Tony and Maureen Wheeler, Lonely Planet Founders, in Bangkok

My latest Gridskipper post is about a talk and book signing that Tony and Maureen Wheeler, founders of the Lonely Planet guide book empire, gave here in Bangkok on Monday night.

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