Monthly Archives: October 2012

#3 One Red Paperclip

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As a child Kyle MacDonald heard about an almost magical game called bigger or better. The idea was you started with some small object, like a toothpick, and traded it for bigger or better things until you had something really good, like a car. Out of work and tired of renting he decided to give bigger and better a go, beginning with one red paperclip attempting to trade up to a house.

Armed with his paperclip and craigslist he set out! After a few trades his website One Red Paperclip received hundreds of thousands of hits, despite his self admitted poor web design skills, and he became a global media sensation.

He realised, a few trades in, that he needed to not only trade for bigger and better things, but things with a high intrinsic value, such as recording contracts, to create a higher appeal and to prevent working up to things that were unshippable.

Did he eventually get a get a house? Well he wrote a book about his success so that probably gives you a clue…

Overall this book was ok. It chronicles the one year it took Kyle to make his trades including his movements to make the trades, a bit of backstory, personal relationships with his family and what it was like being in the centre of a media circus.

Its not the best written book in the world, owing probably to the fact that parts of the book are taken from his original log posts, however there are some interesting/funny emails he received. He also includes his little life lessons/motivational pieces at the end of each chapter which I’m sure some people really like, but I wasn’t really interested.

Overall this was an interesting book about a slightly quirky idea executed well.

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#2 Mao’s Last Dancer

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Li Cunxin grew up as part of a peasant family in communist China. His mother was known locally as ‘the lucky woman with seven sons’; Cunxin was son number six.

Growing up in extreme poverty, his family would play the ‘game’ of pass the once piece of meat in the dish to the other, who deserved it more, he spent time searching for overlooked vegetables in fields and half burned coal and and ate horrible dried yams, but one day all that changed.

Cunxin was selected for the Beijing Dance Academy which radically changed his life. After years of harsh training, he was selected to travel to the United States and perform with the Houston Ballet. He became a smash hit, but most of all was blown away with the sheer opulence and freedom available in the West. This caused him to defect from China, causing an international incident.

Cunxin went on to improve his ballet skills and further his career, becoming an international success before settling down and having a family with Australian ballerina Mary McKendry.

This book blew me away with the descriptions of Cunxin’s upbringing and life in communist China under the rule of Chairman Mao. His descriptions of his and the country’s extreme love for Chairman Mao despite the extreme poverty experience by most of the country. This is explored much more thoroughly than in the film, which I have seen and isn’t as good.

This love is something that is challenged and ultimately destroyed when he visits the US and realises that almost everything he was told about America was a lie. Cunxin’s reasons for wanting to remain in America and the international incident surrounding his defection are again better covered than in the film and create a much better understanding of the situation and emotions involved.

Overall it is a well written and compelling book which offers an insight into a world which was mostly shut off from the rest of the world and is very different from the one found western countries and indeed the Modern China. It is an uplifting story of determination and triumph despite circumstance.

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