KWIT

Check It Out: A Truck Full of Money

Dec 19, 2016

The title I’m recommending today is A Truck Full of Money: One Man’s Quest to Recover from Great Success, written by Tracy Kidder. The book is part biography of Paul English who is a brilliant software engineer, and it’s part business book about the wild, mad adventure that is entrepreneurship, venture capital, and start-up culture. The title of this book comes from one colleague who leaves a good job to follow Paul English to a start-up:  “Someday this boy’s going to get hit by a truck full of money,” he says, “and I’m going to be standing beside him.” Indeed, Paul English founded and sold the travel website, Kayak.com, for two billion dollars—and immediately thought about how to give away those dollars, becoming known for his philanthropy as well as his coding genius.

As his story unfolds we learn that Paul English is especially good at building business teams. He is always recruiting, sometimes for businesses and jobs that exist only in his head, looking for the right balance of energy among the people he hires. He became known as somewhat of a Pied Piper of geeks. If a programmer resisted an idea saying it was too difficult to implement, Paul English might say to the recalcitrant coder, “Okay, but can you think of anyone who’s smart enough to do it?”

The author, Tracy Kidder, is a master of narrative nonfiction writing. In his Pulitzer Prize-winner, The Soul of a New Machine, Tracy Kidder eavesdropped on a team of computer engineering rivals developing the then cutting-edge minicomputer for Data General Corporation. I thoroughly enjoyed The Soul of a New Machine when I read it in the 1980’s.

Since then Tracy Kidder has continued to use his keen ability to observe everyday events and turn them into delightful drama.  Among Schoolchildren features Mrs. Zajac and her 5th grade classroom. In Mountains Beyond Mountains, Kidder takes the reader to health care in Haiti with Dr.Paul Farmer—described as a “man who would cure the world.”

Now, 30 years later Kidder gives readers another look at the feverish pace of the high-tech industry. A Truck Full of Money revisits the edgy work of computer culture in a story that is as interesting for the readers who know little about computer coding as it is for techies and programmmers.

Check out A Truck Full of Money, any of Tracy Kidder’s books, or other great narrative nonfiction from the Sioux City Public Library.    

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Support for Check It Out comes from Avery Brothers.