(p. C1) In an author’s note, Mr. Kidder explains that “A Truck Full of Money” is a kind of sequel to “The Soul of a New Machine” (1981), his Pulitzer Prize-winner about the race to build a next-generation minicomputer. Fair enough: The writer is returning to his roots.
But a book about a software guy and software culture in 2016 isn’t nearly as novel as a book about hardware guys and hardware culture in 1981, and Mr. Kidder is not in the same command of his material.
. . .
(p. C4) There is, however, an element of Mr. English’s story that’s quite striking, one that makes “A Truck Full of Money” feel very much like a Tracy Kidder book.
In his 20s, Mr. English was told he had bipolar disorder. For a long time, he kept his diagnosis a secret. But today, he is wonderfully open and courageous about it.
Many of Mr. Kidder’s subjects are coiled with enough energy to launch a missile, of course, but Mr. English has a psychiatric diagnosis to go with it. The questions Mr. Kidder raises — Are Mr. English’s manic spells responsible for his entrepreneurial boldness? Or does he succeed in spite of them? — are well worth probing, and Mr. Kidder’s portrayal of living with manic depression is as nuanced and intimate as a reader might ever expect to get. On a good day, Mr. English’s mind is gaily swarming with bumblebees. On a bad one, though, he’s “Gulliver imprisoned by the tiny Lilliputians, laid out on his back, tied to the ground with a web of tiny ropes.”
Many of the features of Mr. English’s biography fit a familiar pattern. He was a low-achieving student with a high-watt intelligence. He discovered computer programming in middle school and was instantly smitten; today, he thinks fluently in layers of code — “each hanging from the one above, like a Calder mobile” — and his brain is a regular popcorn maker of ideas.
. . .
When he’s “on fire” (his term), he grows irritable with the slow dial-up connection of other people’s brains. He exaggerates. He slurs his words. His ideas range from extremely creative to flat-out wackadoo.
. . .
Over the years, Mr. English has tried a Lazy Susan of medications to subdue his highs and avert his lows. Many left him feeling listless and without affect. Being bipolar meant constantly weighing the merits of instability versus a denatured, drained sense of self.
For the full review, see:
JENNIFER SENIOR. “Books of The Times; The Road from Mania to Wealth and Altruism.” The New York Times (Tues., SEPT. 13, 2016): C1 & C4.
(Note: ellipses added.)
(Note: the online version of the review has the date SEPT. 12, 2016, and has the title “Books of The Times; Review: ‘A Truck Full of Money’ and a Thirst to Put It to Good Use.”)
The book under review, is:
Kidder, Tracy. A Truck Full of Money: One Man’s Quest to Recover from Great Success. New York: Random House, 2016.
Kidder’s wonderful early book, is:
Kidder, Tracy. The Soul of a New Machine. 1st ed. Boston: Little, Brown and Co., 1981.