Summer reading: What's on your list?

Forget politics and the war on terrorism. With a glint in their eyes, information technology professionals acknowledged that their summer reading was far lighter fare.

An informal survey of IT professionals in government found no particular trend. A few confessed to reading serious tomes, but most laughed and revealed that their reading material wasn't highbrow .

To get ready for this year's Interagency Resources Management Conference 2003 in Cambridge, Md., the General Services Administration's Emory Miller plunged into "Chesapeake" by James Michener, the more than 1,000-page book about the bay and Maryland's Eastern Shore.

"We used [the book] on our Web site to show how systems work together," said Miller, director of the Professional Development Division in GSA's Office of Electronic Government and Technology.

Miller said the book was used on IRMCO's Web site to help promote the conference and show that an estuary is a naturally integrated system and a government system can be integrated, too.

But he may have been the only IRMCO attendee to read it. And although keynote speaker Ralph Nader's books were for sale at the conference, most attendees were busy reading whodunits.

The most popular book was "The Da Vinci Code" by Dan Brown, which begins with a murder in the Louvre Museum and moves on to uncover a secret protected by a clandestine society since the days of Christ.

Dan Chenok, branch chief for information policy and technology at the Office of Management and Budget, said he was reading Brown's book but also had a few others on his nightstand. They include "John Adams" by David McCullough, the hefty biography of the second president of the United States, and "Prague" by Arthur Phillips, a story of five young Americans living and loving in Budapest in the early 1990s.

There were some nonfiction readers in the crowd at the conference. For instance, Edward Meagher, acting chief information officer at the Department of Veterans Affairs, a nonfiction buff, is reading "Salt: A World History" by Mark Kurlansky.

"It is the most fascinating book," Meagher said. "Salt has played an incredible role in world history." He has not yet read Kurlansky's book "Cod: A Biography of the Fish that Changed the World."

Meagher is also reading the latest book by adventure writer Bill Bryson, "A Short History of Nearly Everything." It's a 560-page book about life, the universe and the Big Bang theory.

Some IRMCO attendees managed to make time for career-related reading, including Alisoun Moore, CIO for Montgomery County, Md. Although she is reading "The Da Vinci Code," she also has a 1,000-page textbook on her reading list. "Organizational Culture and Leadership" by Edgar Schein describes how to get different people to work together, a must in today's IT world, Moore said.

Meanwhile, Scott Hastings, CIO of the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement in the Homeland Security Department, just finished "Seabiscuit: An American Legend" by Laura Hillenbrand about the racehorse that rose to fame in the 1930s. When Hastings wants to clear his mind, he rereads the entire collection of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes mysteries to learn a few lessons on the power of observation.

But not everybody reads. Steve Wright, chief of the Division of Technology and Network Management in the Labor Department's Bureau of Labor Statistics, said he isn't much of a book reader. He reads brief stories in magazines and newspapers but once his head hits the pillow at night, he is programmed to go right to sleep.

Sara Michael contributed to this story.

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