Makers by Cory Doctorow (Book Review)

Lets put this out there straightaway; I’m a fan of Cory Doctorow.  I have listened to him speak a couple of times, make a point to read what he has to say around issues like copyright, publishing and innovation, occasionally dip in to Boing Boing for a bit of light relief and very much enjoyed his previous novel Little Brother (though have never read Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom apart from a couple of bits referring to the concept of ‘whuffie‘).  I like the risks he takes with his own business cases around his books; releasing them free online before publication is gutsy stuff.

So anyway I was looking forward to Makers and I had stayed away from the online version and any spoilers (I figure if these business cases are going to work someone still has to put their hand in their pocket!).

First and foremost I think it is a fun novel on its own terms.  It zips along at a good pace with interesting likable characters has some interesting sub-plots and some quite fun and touching moments.  That said most people who read this book are doing so for slightly different reasons.  This book is a glimpse into a potential near future from someone with a reputation of being pretty switched on.  Much of the book is a manifesto for a new way of working (‘the New Work movement in the book’) and taking a stab at the failures of the big companies (Disney are the bag guys in this book) to keep pace with the speed of technological and cultural change.

The heroes of the book are the classic 2 guys in a garage (well junk yard) who work on their own terms to ‘create’ – anytime they get too close to big business it all starts to fall apart.  If this book was a T Shirt it would be the (already) classic Get Excited and Make Things shirt by Matt Jones.  The blogger is the voice of reason and the one who saves the day on several occasions though she is shown to not be above making decisions based on the financial benefits (it is maybe not surprising that an author who is also a pretty prominent blogger would paint such a positive picture of a blogger while creating a pretty horrid character as the face of traditional journalism.)

A couple of major themes of the book is how the web allows movements to happen and quickly move beyond their instigators as the viral nature of a totally open system takes over and also the tension between business people and the creative technical people.  While some of the business people are pretty broad brush evil for much of the book some of them are shown to only ever have the best interests of the people around them in mind but still manage to corrupt the vision of the creators.

Noone in the book is without flaws and I like that.  There are a couple of ideas within the book I would have liked to explore more though – I was fascinated with the idea of ‘The Story’ but that sub-plot rather fizzled out I thought and also the ‘shanty town’ concept was interesting background but I thought it deserved more.

I also found the weird mix of technologies confusing – it was hard to place in time as everything from email, blogs and Twitter to 3D printers and genetic engineering was being used.

There is a passage towards the end of the book that I particularly loved about the failure of big business to really be innovative;

It’s like an emergent property.  Once you get a load of people under one roof, the emergent property seems to be crap.  No matter how great the people are, no matter how wonderful the individual ideas are, the net effect is shit.

I’m not going to talk anymore about the book.  Anyone who happens across my blog should probably read it.  It is chock full of ideas that I think will be of interest to all sorts of different people and like I said it is a pretty fun read anyway.

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