As with most book clubs, women are the majority in ours and so, all the book selections tend to a distaff taste. It was my turn to select a book last month and I simply picked the next book on my pile of books to read. This was an atypical book for any book club -- whereas many books have "reading guides" with pointers for book club discussions, this book (now, as I write) doesn't.
The book I chose was Paul Kennedy's "Engineers of Victory". The book talks about 5 problems that the allies need to address if they were to win World War II and about the series of small bottom-up innovations that made it happen. It is an engrossing book if you are interested in how innovation happens in large, diverse enterprises (science in general or even weather forecasting in specific is one such enterprise, so I am very interested).
But the book is also a long, hard read for anyone not interested in military strategy or familiar with the geography, timeline and general contours of the second world war. As I was reading the book, I started to feel guilty for imposing it on a group of people none of whom would have picked the book on their own. The reason for the long, hard slog is because there are so many people who are obsessed with military history, especially of World War II. Paul Kennedy needed to carefully marshal his arguments against those who would argue for a single brilliant coup that turned the course of the entire war (such as breaking the enigma codes or the development of radar). He starts out by describing how hard a problem is, why the allies were deficient in that area and then walks you through the history of the innovations and changes in strategy that allowed the allies to turn the tide in that realm.
For example, one problem the allies faced was to protect trans-Atlantic shipping from U-boat attacks. At the beginning of the war, U-boat attacks were devastating. By the end of the war, the U-boats were no longer a threat. What happened? A series of small innovations, from changing how convoys of ships were organized, to better engines in planes, to refueling flights, to aircraft carriers, to lights on planes, to ships that could fight back ... The book is also about managing such change, and building a society nimble enough and confident enough to accept these improvements as they come along. Absolutely fascinating stuff.
But would it go over in a book club? On the one hand, this was the smallest book club meeting we've ever had, but on the other, those who'd come had engaged with the book.