Book bits

The memoir of an Apple founder, three books about the French, and readers' picks.

iWoz, By Steve Wozniak with Gina Smith

As a freshman at the University of Colorado at Boulder, Steve Wozniak revealed himself to be a consummate prankster. On several occasions, he managed to jam the signals of the televisions in his dormitory's common rooms, delighting in the reactions of his distraught classmates.

He also wrote a number of programs, that, run in the college's computer center, cost the department five times its annual budget in computer time – and resulted in Wozniak's matriculation the following fall at a community college near his parents' home.

But none of this slowed Wozniak's rise to fame and fortune. Along with Steve Jobs (a fellow graduate of Homestead High in Cupertino, Calif.), Wozniak – who his supporters say has the mind of a genius and the heart of an everyman – went on to found Apple Computer.

In iWoz, a a memoir written with the assistance of journalist Gina Smith, Wozniak portrays himself as an enthusiastic engineer, but not much of an entrepreneur. In fact, Wozniak says Apple almost never came to fruition because of his reluctance to leave Hewlett-Packard, where he'd found both job security and professional satisfaction. A childhood friend finally persuaded him to go forward.

Jobs, who is recalled often and fondly throughout "iWoz," is also credited with marshalling family and friends to persuade a waffling Wozniak to go forward with Apple at another moment when he almost backed out.

In "iWoz," Wozniak recalls Apple's early success; the moment when it went public in 1990 (when, against the advice of senior colleagues, Wozniak gave his rank-and-file employees the opportunity to buy Apple stock at the rock- bottom price of $5 per share – the self-titled "Woz Plan"); the significant competitive challenges the company ultimately faced; and the relative failure of the Apple III.

Wozniak also describes some personal dramas of that era, including his separation from his first wife and involvement in a near-fatal plane crash.

In 1985, he left Apple for good. Jobs left the same year, following a power struggle with the board of directors.

Jobs, however, eventually returned, a development Wozniak says he views with great pleasure, as he does the development of the iPod. which he insists has "changed the world."

In concluding, Wozniak offers advice for young inventors: Work alone. His scorn for corporate "nonsense" is vintage Wozniak. Sincerity and enthusiasm are the hallmarks of this irrepressible memoir, and Wozniak's optimism offers an example to us all.

– Chris Hartman

Three books about the French

For those who didn't get enough the first time around ("French Women Don't Get Fat"), Mireille Guiliano is back with French Women for All Seasons, eager to tell American readers how to stay slim (bike, don't drive), eat better (buy more fresh produce), and appreciate beauty (learn flower arranging.) The book includes 100-plus recipes and a glossary (including pronunciation guide) to help to leaven conversation with a lovely trace of je ne sais quois.

And who would the French be without their language? The Story of French by Jean-Benoît Nadeau and Julie Barlow ("Sixty Million Frenchmen Can't Be Wrong") is a lively and fascinating account of the history of the French language, from the days of Charlemagne to our own time. Well researched and rich in detail, "The Story of French" is an exploration of French culture as well as a celebration of the fact that – notez bien, speakers of English! – French remains one of only two languages still taught in every country of the world.

The history books have not done full justice to the harsh realities of the experience. That's the conclusion many readers will carry away from The Unfree French: Life Under the Occupation. British historian Richard Vinen relies heavily on diaries, memoirs, and secondary literature in crafting this grim but compelling account of not just physical hardship and hunger but also of the loneliness and fear that permeated everyday life in Nazi-occupied France. Vinen does a particularly fine job of bringing to light the experiences of the poor and powerless who suffered disproportionately during this dark period of French history.

Readers' picks

The Bookseller of Kabul by Asne Seierstad, about family life in Afghanistan. Really makes one feel what life could be like for women as well as men in a restrictive culture. I don't think I'll ever forget this one.
– Sylvia Strain, New York

I am almost finished reading David James Duncan's God Laughs & Plays, the best nonfiction book I have read in a very long time. He so eloquently says what many of us wish we could say about the state of this country and all the creatures – human, fish and fowl – who share it. To all friends and family I have said: Find it. Buy it. Read it.
– Maura T.Callahan, Snoqualmie, Wash.

What are you reading? Write and tell us at Marjorie Kehe.

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