Steve Poizner is currently California’s Insurance Commissioner and also a lifetime member of the Council on Foreign Relations. In addition, he’s a former White House Fellow, who worked for the National Security Council; a successful and wealthy entrepreneur who started two industry-changing technology companies; and a co-founder of the California Charter Schools Association. And now he is also a New York Times bestselling author. That’s quite a resume. Did I mention that he wants to be the next [Republican] Governor of California?
After making barrels full of money through the sale of his company SnapTrack (which he sold to Qualcomm for a cool billion after inventing a way of cramming a GPS unit into a cell phone) Poizner was looking for a new kind of challenge. He had conquered the business world, proving his mettle there, and had served a year at the White House, doing his bit for the nation during a tumultuous time. Having succeeded at everything else, he decided to try his hand at teaching. If he had been so successful in the business world, couldn’t he transfer that success to the classroom?
He approached a list of schools, providing his credentials and expressing his enthusiasm. Only one school replied to him–Mount Pleasant High School in San Jose. Not quite the stereotypical inner-city high school of so many popular movies, neither is it the posh and chic kind of school he would send his own child to. Eventually he was given the opportunity to teach a class for a year–a class on American government. And now he has written a book about it.
Mount Pleasant is not much of a book. I suppose at this point, after he has announced his candidacy as governor, it is easy to question Poizner’s motives. Did he really take on this challenge for the sake of the kids? Or did he have a book contract and the governor’s mansion in mind already? Perhaps those are not fair questions. I suspect I would be less likely to ask them if the book had been better or at least more interesting–if it served a purpose beyond being an advertisement for Poizner. The book even has a strangely awful cover, especially for one that lands on the list of bestsellers. Couldn’t they have tried to be at least a little bit creative? Seriously. It’s a head shot stuck beside a random picture of a random desk. The proportions are wrong, the font is cliche, the colors are boring. Maybe he had one of his students design it.
The book passes like, well, like a twelfth-grade course on American government. It has its high points but mostly it just plods along and conveys the pertinent points. This is no Dangerous Minds. It’s just the story of a guy trying to teach a mostly-unremarkable group of students. I admire him for what he did and for his attempts to teach them well. But he didn’t do anything much more than countless thousands of teachers do every day. And they don’t get book contracts for doing it. Though if they did, I hope the covers would be better.
Anyway, Mount Pleasant is not too bad, but it’s not too good either. It’s mostly just unremarkable. It’s like going to Ben & Jerry’s and walking out with vanilla. There’s nothing wrong with vanilla, but why would you choose that over the Cherry Garcia or Chunky Monkey? I guess I just can’t think of too many reasons I’d want to recommend this one.
Verdict: Read it as a tribute to the GPS in your iPhone.