Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Recently Read: Ender's Game

I recently read Ender's Game for the first time. From what I could gather, this was one of the stock nerd must-read books, but somehow I had managed never to read it. I'm sure there are many discussions of the relative merits of the story and the writing quality (the author makes reference to as much in the introduction), so I won't really go into that much.

The short version is that Ender is a six-year-old genius who is recruited by the military to be the leader in a great interstellar war. He is hated by his peers, as they are jealous of him or have their own weaknesses exposed when compared to his exceptional skills, but he uses his superior intellect to overcome this.

I intentionally skipped the introduction when I read the book to avoid any potential spoilers (although I was already spoiled on the main twist in the book anyway). Reading it after having read the book made me realize something rather interesting. Writing about the fans of the book, the author mentions that the people most fond of the book didn't love Ender, or pity him (which the author states is a common adult response to the book), but they were Ender. The thing that surprised me was not that I felt that I was Ender in some capacity - that was obviously the reason the book is held in such high esteem by people like me - but mostly that I had never considered that other people might react with pity to Ender, and by extension, myself. Apathy, jealousy, dislike perhaps, but not pity.

I never considered myself as pitiful. I'm relatively successful in my career, have a good home and a loving family. I have suffered through some of the bullying and jealousy, but never as extreme as many people suffer, and that is not a reason for pity - that is a reason for disgust at the bullies and those adults too blind to do anything about them. Why pity Ender? I admire him. He overcomes his problems with intelligence and dignity.

I have never been much of a leader. I realized in the last few days that I never considered that intelligence could actually be applied directly to leadership. Leadership either seemed to be something that came naturally without any thought, was derived from the joy of pushing people around (which I generally lack) or just generally came in the form of random fads of techniques, processes and sayings that amounted to nothing. Reading this book made me realize, for the first time, that leadership is the process of using intelligence to both gain mutual trust (different from obedience) and solve a complex resource allocation optimization problem. I now understand much better how to be a good leader, and I understand why I have seen many bad leaders - intelligence can be the key difference.

So, what can I say about this book? I had fun reading it. It made me understand myself better. I feel that I came away from reading it a better person. I can think of no higher praise than that.

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