Monday, April 25, 2005

Books: Softwar

A couple weeks ago I finally finished Softwar: An Intimate Portrait of Larry Ellison and Oracle. As you might guess from the ridiculously long title, it is a biography of Larry Ellison, and also covers a lot of the history of Oracle. The style of the book is somewhat novel. It is written by one of the writers for the Economist, but Larry Ellison added footnotes on various topics every few pages. Supposedly neither had editorial control over the other's comments.

The book was interesting enough, primarily because Larry Ellison is quite a character and thus there are lots of stories to tell about him. I didn't find the book as interesting as Jack Welch's book though. I'm not sure if that was because I knew quite a bit about Ellison and Oracle beforehand, or if it is because the Welch book was an autobiography and so seemed more intimate.

While the book was probably a touch more impartial the way it was written (Larry has a reputation of being a bit of a braggart and occasionally revising history in his favor), I still would have enjoyed to read about events in Larry's written words. Instead there were long quoted passages that (I assume) were quoted verbatim from conversations. That made parts of the book seem a bit stilted to me, where the writer was basically just gluing huge sections of potentially different conversations together.

Parts of Softwar were more interesting then others. I found the parts dealing with Larry's history, and the initial history of Oracle particularly interesting. There is certainly plenty of material for a biography in Larry's life and the rather tumultuous history of Oracle.

The parts of the book dealing with more recent events (the launch of the E-Business Suite 11i for example) didn't appeal to me as much. For one thing, they focused much more on the marketing message and what Larry was doing to sell the product. That made them seem more like advertising for Oracle, rather then a historical look back on something.

The remaining significant portion of Softwar dealt with Larry's passion for sailing, including his run at America's Cup. Even though parts of that were also recent, I found it much more interesting then the recent history Oracle sections. The fact that it was a race and thus had a clear-cut winner and loser probably helped.

Overall I thought Softwar was a good book, and certainly worth what I paid to pick it up at Half-Price Books. It was a nice change after having read spy novels as the last couple books.

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