Books read in 2004...
Reviewed December 31, 2004 by Jon. Nightfall is a real page-turner. A conspiracy/mystery about the downing of TWA flight 800 off Long Island in 1996. It is a novel but based upon an actual event. John Corey, ex-NYPD detective and now under contract to the FBI's Anti-Terrorist task force, is the protagonist. Corey is a Demille character from Plum Island. This book is Demille at his best. It is a real thriller and was difficult to put down. THe characters are a bit one-dimensional but the story is very interesting and the ending is a real surprise. This is not a highly intellectual book but is very entertaining and a great escapist novel.
Heart of the Matter
Reviewed December 28, 2004 by Jon. This is another Graham Greene novel similar to but not as good as The Quiet American or Our Man in Havana. The Heart of the Matter is a story about an assistant police commissioner named Scobie in a small West African Town in the late 1940s. It is about colonialism, the boredom of a foreign posting, and his relationship with his colleagues, wife, and mistress. The book is somewhat depressing and smacks of desparation. It is well written but a disappointment after the two previous Greene novels. Nevertheless, it was somewhat entertaining.
Inmates are Running the Asylum:
Why High-Tech Products Drive
us Crazy and How to Restore the Sanity
Reviewed December 22, 2004 by Jon. I've had this book on my reading stack since 1999 and finally got around to reading it. I am sorry I waited - I should have read it long ago. In this book, Cooper lays out a very clear and cogent argument for user interaction design. His beliefs mirror my beliefs. I think we have progressed a bit since he wrote the book. Nevertheless it is a great manifesto for user interaction design. Cooper describes why an engineering culture is not suited to interaction design and he also lays out the difference between interaction design, graphic design, and usability testing. He describes the development of "personas" to drive interaction design. This is a very readable book and is an important contribution to software development. As I said, I should have read it earlier.
Reviewed December 13, 2004 by Jon. I was prepared not to like this book, but I did. It is kind of a combination of What Should I do with My Life? and Zero Three Bravo- a book about people who change their life circumstances told by someone flying around the country. The flying part was a bit light - but that is OK, since the part about life change was very good. Karlgaard posits that the way out of the bubble economy on the coasts is to move inland and go through some life changes. He has some interesting facts based upon demographics and economics. We have been through a similar move in 1992 but Karlgaard does point out that the baby boom is now a big force. Don't read this for the flying part but, if you are contemplating what to do next, read it for the life-change stories.
Reviewed December 13, 2004 by Jon. Islam for Dummies was a disappointment. Like most "for dummies" books, it provides a nice, easy, structured overview to the subject. Perhaps Islam itself is a bit murky, but, after reading this I did not come away with a much better understanding. One interesting aspect was the similarities between Islam, Judaism, and Christianity. I thought Buddhism for Dummies was a better book, but Islam for Dummies does shed some light on the subject. Perhaps Buddhism for Dummies was better because I am more familiar with Buddhism, having traveled in Buddhist countries.
Second:How Smart Companies Bypass Radical Innovation to Enter and Dominate New
Reviewed December 9, 2004 by Jon. This is an interesting book that better than any other defines quite clearly the notion of “Democratizing Technology”. . Fast Second makes a few basic points:
This is just a taste of what they discuss. This book is exciting because it – very accurately describes our experience at Autodesk as the volume market player, and provides a lot of insight into how to behave effectively as a technology democratizer. It also begins to tie together some of the disparate threads we have been thinking about such as network theory, chasm theory, and disruptive technology. It is very short and to the point but has very high relevance for many of the things we have been discussing. It really places innovation in context and helps define how we should be pursuing innovation.
Reviewed November 27, 2004 by Jon. Mayday is a typical DeMille thriller with an aviation theme. It is about an airliner that suffers an explosive decompression over the Pacific that incapacitates the pilots. A salesman on board who is a private pilot (flies a Cessna Skymaster) has to pilot the aircraft back to safety. Of course there is the usual conspiracy - this time involving the airline and the insurance company - a topic that is close to home right now. I read this in a single sitting on a cross-country flight. A good thriller with reasonable aviation accuracy, but pretty lightweight.
Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid: Eradicating Poverty Through Profits
Reviewed November 27, 2004 by Jon. Prahalad is a renowned business strategist. The thesis of the book is that most business focuses on the top 2B of the world's population. The 4B at "the bottom of the pyramid" are poor but Prahalad argues that their poverty can be addressed by businesses. He describes how businesses can establish high-volume operations with low unit costs to profitably address such customers. He first lays out the theory of profitably serving the bottom of the pyramid and then describe a number of case-studies. The book is eye opening in its approach and helps explain how to serve a mass-market of a different sort than we normally think of. It is a nice blend of philanthropy and capitalism. The only negative is that the case studies are a bit redundant because he repeats a lot of material from the beginning of the book. The book is worth the read but you may find yourself skimming because of the redundancy.
Reviewed November 4, 2004 by Jon. Harbor was a disappointment. I heard Lorainne Adams speak on National Public Radio and the book sounded interesting so I ordered it. It is about a group of muslim men who stow away on ships and move to Boston. They live together in a house with a woman named Heather. It is unclear what they are doing. Supposedly they are terrorists being tracked by the FBI and ATF. However, the story is very muddled. Adams spends way too much time on the lives of the terrorists - mostly working marginal jobs and picking up women in bars - and too little time on the story. The book is confusing and not very entertaining. Perhaps I was distracted, but it was not worth the time.
Money of Invention: How Venture Capital Creates New Wealth
Reviewed November 11, 2004 by Jon. This is a very readable book by Paul Gompers and Josh Lerner, who teach venture capital at Harvard Business School. It covers much of the material that is covered in their previous book, The Venture Capital Cycle. However the treatment here is less academic and more straightforward. The book is about how venture capital works, the business of venture capital and the future of venture capital. The authors feel that Venture capital is an engine of innovation - although only suited to certain types of businesses. They describe how venture capital works and, most interestingly predict the evolution of the venture capital industry from a "craft" to a more professionally organized industry. They have some thoughts on corporate, government, and international venture investing as well. Much of the material is well-trodden ground, but it presented in a very digestible format. There is a bit of a feeling of 2000 deja vu in reading the book - but, as the authors point out, venture capital has always been a cyclical business and the 2000 bubble might be a part of a normal pattern (although bigger than most). This is a great introduction to the venture capital system and a good primer on how and why venture investment drives innovation.
and Its Discontents:
Broken Patent System Is Endangering Innovation and Progress, and What to Do
Reviewed October 22, 2004 by Jon. I read Innovation and its Discontents immediately after finishing Lessig's The Future of Ideas. Jaffe and Lerner are economics and finance professors at Princeton and Harvard respectively. They outline how recent changes in the patent office (formation of a special patent appeals court and the funding system for the patent office) have led to a situation where it is extremely easy to get patents and extremely difficult to defend against patent infrigement. This leads to a lot of "frivolous" patents and patent lawsuits. The authors maintain that the present system is too lenient for patenters and creates an anti-competitive and anti-innovation environment. The book is extremely interesting in that it describes the history of the patent system and the inherent tension between incenting innovation and protecting competition that is the heart of any patent system. They demonstrate that most patent systems undergo a cyclical tightening and losening of standards. The authors clearly believe that we have gotten to a point where patent applicants and holders hold too much power and advocate swinging the pendulum the other way. The book is well worth reading. The authors make a clear, convincing case and provide a great deal of factual data and insight into the patent process - present and future.
The Future of Ideas:
The Fate of
the Commons in a Connected World
Reviewed October 22 by Jon. Lessig is a legal scholar who asserts that we have taken intellectual property law - particularly copyright law too far. He argues that innovation occurs because innovators can build upon the work of others - thus there is societal value in intellectual property being "free". He argues for a commons of intellectual property. One of the fascinating aspects of this book is a historical analysis of the telephone system and the design decisions that were inherent within its architecture. By describing the phone system, Lessig shows how architecture can affect competitive strategy - and how architectural changes over time affect competition. He breaks systems into three components - physical, code, and content. He talks about how and where control can and should be asserted. Lessig is pretty radical in his views of free software and intellectual property reform. He is quite concerned that the kind of innovation that created the internet and flourished in the Internet age will not be possible if we take a protectionist view of intellectual property (or, indeed, if we use proprietary rather than open source code). Lessig makes some strong arguments and, in fact, is convincing that we need a less restrictive intellectual property regime. I feel a bit uneasy with his ideas, though. It seems that he is idealizing the internet/hacker culture and glosses over the need for businesses and individuals to be compensated for their innovation. He leaves me with the feeling that profit will come if we give away information for free. I believe his ideas would be more widely accepted if he explicitly addressed compensation and profitability.
of Chaos: The Secret History of the Special Forces
Reviewed October 24, 2004 by Jon. Masters of Chaos is about the US Army Special Forces. It covers a small group of special forces in Panama, Gulf War I, Somalia, Bosnia, Afghanistan, and Iraq. It provides a good portrait of training and doctrine. The material on Somalia is a good supplement to Black Hawk Down and In the Company of Heros. The section on Afghanistan was particularly interesting - the author claims that roughly 100 special forces troops won the Afghan war. The Gulf War II discussions on Iraq are a a bit tedious. The books is worth reading, though. It gives a good impression of the role, training, and kinds of soldiers in Special Forces. It also reminds us that the Army Special forces are trained not only as warriers but to work with the local indigenous population.
Reviewed October 17, 2004 by Jon. This is Rubin's story of his years in Washington. It also has a lot of autobiographical material. The part I liked best about the book is the last two chapters - which explain his views of economic policy and globalization. Rubin is very much for fiscal responsibility and liberalization of trade. He contrasts his position with that of the Bush administration. He has very clear and cogent explanations that correlate well with my views and with what I have heard and read from others. He makes economic sense. I am tempted to say that the autobiographical sections are a bit long and tedious. However, they do a good job of setting the context for his overall economic framework. If you are pressed for time, just read the last two chapters to get the gist of his views. However, the whole book is worth a reading to give a good sense of who Rubin is, what he believes, and why he believes it. This is an excellent exposition of a democrat who believes in strong fiscal responsibility.
Reviewed October 12, 2004 by Jon. Having been to Bangkok recently, this book captures the flavor of Bangkok and Thailand. It is a murder mystery set in Bangkok being solved by Sonchai Jitpleecheep, a Thai detective and son of a Thai prostitute and a US FBI agent. The victim is an American marine. The story takes the reader deep into the sex underground of Bangkok and has a lot of very Thai moments. The book kind of fades at the end - i.e. the ending is not strong, but Burdett captures to feeling of Thailand very well.
of a River Guide
Reviewed September 31, 2004 by Jon. It is not often that I really don't like a book. Death of a River Guide is one of those times. The book is about a river guide on the Franklin River in Tasmania who drowns on one of his trips. While drowning he looks back on his life and upon his ancestors. The book does provide some insight into life in the days when Tasmania was being settled and some insight into what river guiding is like. I found it very difficult to keep jumping around from the present to the past. Perhaps this was because I read the book over a protracted period of time rather than concentrating. Nevertheless, I found it unsatisfying.
Reviewed September 27, 2004 by Jon. Carr's book is a follow-on from a Harvard Business Review article a year or so ago. His basic thesis is that information technology has moved from a strategic technology to an infrastructural technology (i.e. one that is ubiquitous, a commodity, and is freely available to all). He maintains that information technology no longer provides a source of sustainable competitive advantage but is merely the price one pays to play the game. Some aspects of Carr's book are very appealing. He does a good job of tying IT to economics and competitive strategy and shows that, over time, IT becomes a commodity. All of that is perfectly logical. I do think he overstates the rapidity with which IT is commoditized. Certainly low levels of the technology stack - servers, operating systems, databases, etc. are rapidly approaching commodity status - if they are not there already. Even in more specialized markets such as computer-aided design, there is a lot of commodity product (such as our own). However, Carr may be overestimating the level of technology adoption/absorbtion and the application of areas such as ours. He is probably correct on one level but way off on the time scale at another level. His book is worth reading because of its application of economics to competitive strategy. However, read it with a grain of salt.
Cockpit: A Flight of Escape and Discovery
Reviewed September 11, 2004 by Jon. I picked this up at a bookstore. It was advertised as like "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance". Although I did not find it as interesting as Zen, it was nevertheless interesting and captured my imagination. I read it in one day. The author is a pilot and physician, among other things. He was quite an adventurer and much of the book is about his life. The book is structured around a journey from Santa Cruz to Egypt in which the author flew a Cessna Cardinal across the Atlantic. Some aviation lore is woven in. One of the reviewers on Amazon was disappointed that he was not as detailed on flying in Europe and fell short of his goal of flying to South Africa (he sold the plane in Egypt). I agree with these shortcomings. Nevertheless, The Cockpit is well written and very enjoyable. His life is an interesting life and the aviation content was reasonably good.
Coming Generational Storm
Reviewed September 11, 2004 by Jon. In some ways I really liked this book and in other ways I was disappointed. What I liked is that the authors paint a vivid picture of what our current fiscal policies are doing and how this will lead to a fiscal crisis in Social Security and Medicare. I have read some counter arguments - but the authors do a good job of providing facts and analysis. They especially do a good job explaining why it is likely that we will have higher taxes and inflation in years to come. The coming Generational Storm is well worth reading from the perspective of understanding the interaction of fiscal and economic dynamics that will make for a very tough future as the baby boom retires. What I did not like about the book was twofold - the advice was a bit weak. Worse, however, was the somewhat flippant attitude of the authors (e.g. referring to Nixon as "Tricky Dick" and Clinton as "Slick Willy". Although these are common nicknames for two past presidents, the tone seemed somewhat sophomoric). Further, the authors seemed to express disdain for the baby boom generation. I think this is misplaced. While the boomers contributed to the fiscal crisis - it was not deliberate. In fact, the authors make clear that we have faced a lack of political leadership. Through their tone and sometimes sophomoric writing, the authors have diminished an important message.
Reviewed September 6, 2004 by Jon. Exum was an Army Lieutenant in the 10th Mountain Division. He and his troops were deployed to Kuwait and Afghanistan in 2003. The first part of the book is a fairly predictable autobiography. The second is about Exum's experiences leading his new platoon and his experiences in Afghanistan. One thing that struck me was how young he was. He was deployed to Afghanistan at the age of 23 and leading his platoon at that age. Many of his troops (except the sergeants) were younger than he was. A good picture of what an infantry soldier is like. The section on Afghanistan was very short. The book would have been better with less early autobiography and more current stories of his deployment.
Exuberance: Silencing the Enemies of Growth and Why the Future is Better
than you think.
Reviewed September 6, 2004 by Jon. Michael Mandel is the Chief Economist for Businessweek and anabashed New Economy cheerleader. He wrote The Coming Internet Depression in 2000 in which he predicted the fall of the new economy. Mandel is extremely pro-technology and feels that technological growth and change will propel the economy forward. Mandel describes two kinds of growth - exuberant growth and cautious growth. He describes exuberant growth as the kind that creates bubbles (revolutionary growth) and cautious growth as incremental and evolutionary. Mandel is clearly in favor of exuberant growth. He describes the U.S. financial system as resilient and a high-performance system that can support exuberant growth. The book is a good read and very optimistic. He feels that traditional economists undervalue technology as an economic engine. He knows his economic history and the players and does not hesitate to name names. Perhaps he is right. It certainly makes one feel better to think so.
Should I Do With My Life?
Reviewed September 6, 2004 by Jon. What Should I Do With My Life is a series of biographical sketches of people (mostly Gen-Xers, like Bronson) who find their true calling. Some of the stories are entertaining, some are instructive. The book rambles a bit and it is difficult to distill a message or a point. Perhaps the best I could do is that finding one's calling does not happen with an epiphany, but is emergent - with faint signals. One needs to listen to those signals and act upon them to see if you have found the thing. Bronson gets inside the heads of lots of people and that is interesting. Perhaps I am missing the point but it seems that a little more crisp organization and some conclusary direction might have helped improve the book.
Man in Havana
Reviewed August 29, 2004 by Jon. A novel by Graham Greene about a vacuum cleaner salesman in pre-Castro Havana who is recruited by British MI-6 as their local spy. Wormold (the ersatz spy) makes up a whole cast of agents he is running. Very well written, although not as entertaining as The Quiet American. There is a real feeling of what Havana must have been like for an expatriate.
Killing Zone: How and Why Pilot's Die
Reviewed August 29, 2004 by Jon. The Killing Zone is immediately after a pilot gets his or her private license (approximately 50-80 hours) until around 350 hours. This is when most pilot deaths occur. Craig gives a good analysis of Nall Report accident statistics and organizes the book around causes of death - and how to prevent them. To someone who reads a lot about flying and general aviation, there is not a whole lot of new information presented. However, it is a very interesting read and well worth the time. A good reminder of what not to do. I am glad I am past the killing zone in my flying career.
Reviewed August 17, 2004 by Jon. Zac Unger is an Oakland Firefighter. Working Fire is about his training and initial years as a firefighter. A good insight into the development and everyday working world of a firefighter. The book is especially interesting because it takes place in nearby Oakland. Unger is a well-educated guy from North Oakland (bordering on Berkeley). The book contains some angst about his differences from the mostly blue-collar firefighters. Working Fire is an interesting and easy read, but not outstanding.
What's Next: Using Theories of Innovation to Predict Industry Change
Reviewed August 11, 2004 by Jon. Seeing What’s Next is the third in a series by Christensen and colleagues – following The Innovator’s Dilemma and The Innovator’s Solution. While The Innovator’s Dilemma introduced the idea of disruptive technologies and the Innovator’s Solution told about how to capitalize on disruptive innovation, Seeing What’s Next is about industry analysis – using the theories of disruptive technologies to predict how industry structure will change. The authors first describe the role of theory in decision-making. They describe theory as a predictive framework to help make decisions in the absence of definitive data – sounds like a business decision to me. They specifically decry the school of thought, prominent in many consultants, that decision-making should be fact-based. The reason is that fact-based decision making uses only information about the past – and cannot predict the future. The authors maintain that theory can help here. The book is nicely structured into three parts
I would not recommend reading Seeing What’s Next without first reading The Innovator’s Dilemma and The Innovator’s Solution. They provide necessary background and context. Seeing What’s Next starts to bring the theories of disruptive technology together and create a unified approach to analysis. There are still some gaps and unanswered questions but this book goes a long way toward creating action from theory. Tied with the other two books, Seeing What’s Next rounds out a body of knowledge that can be quite useful in looking for and assessing growth opportunities. It is almost as if Christensen and company were looking to disrupt Porter as the granddaddy of industry analysis and structure.
the Company of Heros
Reviewed August 10, 2004 by Jon. Durant was the pilot of Super Six-Four, one of the Blackhawk helicopters shot down in Somalia in 1993 and chronicled in Blackhawk Down. In the Company of Heros is Durant's story. He describes both the shoot-down and his captivity. He also describes his training and duties as a Blackhawk pilot for the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment. This is a more thoughtful and reflective book than Blackhawk Down and puts some issues in context. However, the reader may want to read Blackhawk Down first, to get a context for the entire set of events surrounding Durant. In the Company of Heros is well written and a good follow-on companion to Blackhawk Down.
Reviewed August 6, 2004 by Jon. Kern is an air force pilot and educator. Redefining Airmanship is about professionalism as an aviator. Kern "redefines" airmanship beyond physical "stick and rudder" skills to describe a disciplined approach to flying. He focuses on knowledge and continuous improvement. The book is well written, with a lot of examples from military, commercial, and general aviation. In particular, the military insights are helpful - given that the military has both a very disciplined approach and significant experience in flying in a variety of conditions. Kern provides both a definition and knowledge base for improving and refining airmanship, as well as a prescriptive study plan for improvement. I have already instituted some of his suggestions and found them helpful. Although the book focuses on aviation, there are valuable lessons on leadership - in general - in the book. Highly recommended for pilots. Non-pilots might find it a bit murky but it might be worth a skim.
Reviewed August 3, 2004 by Jon. The second in Woodward's series on the Bush administration's response to 9/11. This books is about the decision making process in the White House regarding attacking Iraq. It chronicles the events leading up to the invasion of Iraq. I don't think Plan of Attack is as good as Bush at War, but nevertheless it is well written and provides a very insightful view inside the White House and the decision-making process to go to war. The book is very balanced and non-partisan. It is clear that the administration genuinely believed Saddam had weapons of mass destruction and was prepared to use them. The book also, however, echos the sentiments of many, including Richard Clarke in Against all Enemies, that the Bush administration was overly focused on Iraq and missed other elements of the war on terrorism.
Reviewed July 27th, 2004 by Jon. Subtitled: What the New Dynamics of Business Ecosystems Mean for Strategy, Innovation, and Sustainability The Keystone Advantage is a fresh look at biology and ecology as a metaphor for business. It is an expansion of an article called Strategy As Ecology published in the March 2004 issue of Harvard Business Review. In the authors view, business is moving from vertically-integrated monolithic organizations to networks of interdependent players. Business ecosystems contain three types of players – keystones, dominator, and niche. Keystones play central roles in their ecosystems by proactively shaping and regulating the workings of their business ecosystems. Keystones both create value and share it with their partners. Examples of keystones include Microsoft, Lee and Fung, Ebay, Walmart, Visa International, and Dell. Each of these companies sits at the center of a very large ecosystem and creates value – some of which it captures and some of which it shares with the partners. In contrast, a dominator is a hub that extracts most of the value and shares little with its partners. Enron, Dec, the old IBM, are examples of Dominators – who extracted too much value from the network and whose ecosystem suffered collapse because of it. The third type of player is the niche player who works within the ecosystem and is dependent upon the keystone. Niches create specialized value and leverage the resources of keystones. Keystones create and sustain value by building and maintaining robust platforms that support the ecosystem. The Authors do a good job of describing what a platform is – an architecture and a set of APIs and standards. A particularly intriquing example that moves beyond software was of Visa International – it’s platform consists of standardized transactions and an evolving set of services that allow buyers and merchants to safely and reliably transact. The Keystone Advantage is an easy book to read and provides some fresh insights – particularly around how large, established players actually work with their ecosystems. It may provide a framework for thinking more proactively about managing and nurturing those ecosystems.
the Edge: Death in the Grand Canyon
Reviewed July 24th, 2004 by Jon. The authors are a former Grand Canyon river guide and physician who worked at the Grand Canyon. The book chronicles deaths by a number of mechanisms - falling into the canyon, environmental causes (heat exhaustion, dehydration, lightning, reptiles), drowning, aircraft, murder, and suicide - that have caused deaths in the Grand Canyon. The premise of the book is that many of these deaths (and injuries resulting from the same causes) are preventable. Much like aviation literature, the preventive measures are knowledge of the environment, situational awareness, and good decision-making. A major risk factor in many of the accidents chronicled is being a solo male 18-24 years old. The authors also blame a lack of personal responsibility among many visitors to the canyon. They claim many visitors have the expectation that someone (the National Park Service?) will be there to rescue them if something goes wrong. Good reading for anyone interested in wilderness medicine, outdoor education, or aviation. The aviation section is well-written although a bit biased. It does point out that mountain/canyon training is essential. One of the statistics the authors point out is that the well-trained NPS search and rescue pilots - who fly roughly 1000 missions a year - has had no fatal accidents.
in the Attic:
Unlocking the Hidden Value of Patents
Reviewed July 14th, 2004 by Jon. As the title implies, this book is about formulating corporate intellectual property strategy. It is a good overview of the patent strategy process and makes a good case for being proactive and strategic rather than reactive about intellectual property. The book offers some good tools and approaches to analyzing intellectual property. Rembrandts was written in 1999 and suffers from a dot-com kind of mentality. The authors are breathless in their proclamations that IP is the next frontier in corporate strategy – they exude excitement when talking about companies such as Walker Digital – that are purely IP companies (a very dot-com concept). Many of their examples, in hindsight, are flawed. All of this reduces the credibility of the book and authors. Nevertheless -- if read with a grain of salt -- the book provides some useful insights and tools to think about IP as an element of corporate strategy. However, it is not likely that – as the authors assert – corporate strategy will be entirely IP-based any time in the near future.
Reviewed July 7th, 2004 by Jon. This summer's LA detective novel my Connelly. The Narrows is good but not great. The story brings back The Poet, a character from several years ago and brings together Harry Bosch and the now deceased Terry McCaleb. This is a very easy read and an enjoyable summer book. The FBI is once again depicted as a bit inept and Bosch is the hero. The ending was a disappointment. There could have been a bit more suspense leading to another novel. Bosch is rejoining LAPD at the end - ensuring that we have a few more years of Harry Bosch novels.
American: Four Years at West Point
Reviewed June 20, 2004 by Jon. Absolutely American is Lipsky's account of life at West Point. He documents the four year college career of a West Point class. One thing that struck me is that West Point - although a military academy - is a college. The students are very young and are faced with all of the issues and challenges that any college student faces. Overlaid on top of this are the issues the military faces. The book shows a complex set of issues such as retention in the military, dealing with women in the service, and taking relatively affluent and spoiled American teenagers and turning them into military officers. It really struck me how young these people are when they become lieutenants and captains in the Army upon graduation. Absolutely American is an interesting portrait - but is a bit tedious. There is a lot of repetition - as if the author was trying to fill up 300 pages to make this into a full book. Shorter might have been better in getting the point across.
Investing: Reading Stock Prices for Better Returns.
Reviewed June 7, 2004 by Jon. Expectations Investing is a refreshing book. The authors immediately take us back to financial fundamentals and debunk the popularly held notions that EPS and PE ratios are the ways to value a stock. They focus on discounted cash flows and other fundamental means to value a stock. Their approach, however, is to reverse the typical approach of doing a bottom-up analysis. They assume market efficiency and that a stock price reflects the market’s embedded expectations for long-term shareholder value. Their approach is to structure a discounted cash flow to uncover the market-implied expectations for cash flows and to define the period over which a company can maintain competitive advantage. The book is very simple and straightforward and the authors describe in detail how to follow their process. They also look at advanced finance issues such as using a real-options approach to valuing flexibility. There is a helpful discussion comparing and contrasting various frameworks for analyzing competitive strategy – Porter’s 5 forces, Porter’s value chain analysis, disruptive technology and information rules. The book contains some good tools for stock evaluation and resonates extremely well with financial theory as I learned it in business school and in valuation courses. It walks the reader through the same process I learned to unwind corporate financial statements and get down to free cash flow as the basis for valuation. The authors come down clearly in favor of expensing stock options and have some good insight into structuring compensation to truly drive shareholder value. It debunks a lot of the myths about stock valuation and shareholder value that have been promulgated by CEOs and superficial pundits over the past few years. The only issue I have with the book is that it is a little dated. The version I read was from 2000 and some of the examples – e.g. Gateway and Enron – are not the best examples to use. The book needs to be updated. The authors do provide a website www.expectationsinvesting.com with some tools and tutorials.
Reviewed May 27, 2004 by Jon. This is a good book for those traveling to China or who wish to understand China in more depth. Kuhn is an M&A specialist who has been advising China for some time. He also has worked in broadcasting. He describes the two key elements of the Chinese psyche - pride and the search for stability. He explains many of the contradictory aspects of Chinese politics, business, and culture against the backdrop of these two elements. A good overview of contemporary China and the contradictions that seem to define Chinese life.
All Enemies: Inside America's War on Terror
Reviewed May 27, 2004 by Jon. Richard Clarke was a government offical in the Reagan, Bush2, and Clinton administrations responsible for Counterterrorism. In Against All Enemies he chronicles his struggle to get terrorism recognized as a legitimate threat and to specifically deal with Osama Bin Laden. The frightening part of the book is reading about a chronology of terrorist events - which did not register as a pattern as they were happening, but which, nevertheless, did form a pattern of systematic terrorism against the U.S. Perhaps even more frightening is the criticism of the Bush administration for failing to deal with Bin Laden and trying to focus on Iraq - which may have had little, if anything, to do with the pattern of terror against the U.S. A rare look behind the scenes at policy and the politics within government of dealing with the terrorist threat.
Reviewed May 14, 2004 by Jon. I first learned of Chesbrough at a Harvard Business School executive education course on corporate venture capital four years ago in the spring of 2000. He was one of the faculty and spoke in a very articulate way about corporate innovation. Open Innovation takes some of his ideas and organizes them quite well. Chesbrough’s basic premise is that the business world has moved from a closed innovation model of internal R&D (such as practiced at Bell Labs, Xerox PARC, HP, IBM, and GE) to a world of open innovation in which innovation occurs in a variety of places – inside corporations, academic institutions, venture-funded startups, etc. He advocates moving toward a deliberate approach to open innovation which involves looking systematically for outside innovation and bringing it into the organization. He also advocates looking at internally generated innovation and finding ways to externalize it – through licensing or spinoffs. Chesbrough makes the key point that technology in and of itself has no intrinsic value. Rather, its value is realized in conjunction with a business model. His book, in fact, explores a number of business models for profiting from innovation and illustrates them with companies– aggregator of technologies (IBM), corporate venture capital (Intel), academic funding (Intel), Spinoffs (Lucent). Overall this is an interesting but not stellar book. Chesbrough provides a new way of thinking about innovation and some frameworks for organizing innovation efforts. It is a very clear and logical book – well organized and well argued. Somehow it failed to really articulate a crisp strategy for moving forward. However it might be very useful in formulating innovation policy.
The Art of Keeping Your Ass Alive
Reviewed April 18th, 2004, by Jon. I first read of Cody Lundin in an outdoors magazine. Lundin teaches survival skills at his own school, Aboriginal Living Skills School, in Arizona. There are really two elements of the book that provide value. First, Lundin describes a lot of the medical phenomenon that one deals with in a wilderness survival situation. He identifies maintaining body temperature as the key issue and provides a lot of good tips about how to do that. The second interesting element is the survival kit. Lundin describes how to create and use a survival kit made from common, everyday items. The descriptions make a lot of sense and seem very reasonable. The book is very entertaining and irreverent. It is chock full of useful facts and ideas. Unfortunately, Lundin's ego shows through a bit too much. His self-absorption mars and otherwise good book.
Art of Innovation
Reviewed April 18th 2004, by Jon. The Art of Innovation, is written by the brother of David Kelley, legendary leader of the Silicon Valley industrial design firm IDEO. In many ways I really liked this book. It is a very straightforward, simple exposition of the principles of design that every architecture and industrial design student learns. It is very refreshing and is almost a textbook about how to do industrial design correctly. It is extremely accessible. I recently worked on a project with a couple of IDEO team members and working with them piqued my interest in the book. The Art of Innovation clearly describes to business people what design is all about. The only thing that mars the book is a bit too much focus on IDEO - and the implication that IDEO has cornered the market on creativity and design process. While IDEO has been wildly successful, many others have adopted a similar approach. Nevertheless, this is a good book and well worth the time to read.
Slow Pace of Fast Change: Bringing Innovations to
Market in a Connected World
Reviewed April 14th, 2004, by Jon. I originally read Chakravorti’s work in the March 2004 issue of Harvard Business Review. The Slow Pace of Fast Change is about how innovations diffuse through a networked economy. It builds upon the science of networks as articulated in Six Degrees, although interestingly Chakravorti does not reference Six Degrees. The two books, however are very complementary. While Six Degrees articulates the science of networks, The Slow Pace of Fast Change is a business book. It described how a network economy rests in a state of equilibrium. The challenge for an innovator is to change the network in such a way as to propagate the innovation and establish a new equilibrium. This is very difficult in a networked economy because equilibrium is caused by each decision-maker acting in an autonomous fashion. Change only occurs when the benefits are obvious to the decision-maker and often when “neighbors” in the network also make the change. This builds upon both network and game theory as described in Six Degrees. While Six Degrees is descriptive, Slow Pace is prescriptive. Chakravorti provides a methodology for analyzing networks and creating strategies to introduce new innovations to networked economics. Slow Pace is a nice addition to the literature on technology diffusion in the popular business press.
Degrees: The Science of a Connected Age
Reviewed April 12, 2004 by Jon. Watts is a professor of sociology with a physics background who explores the science of networks – physical, computer, social, etc. In Six degrees he outlines a number of theories about networks and their characteristics. He talks about what makes a network robust and how innovations diffuse through a network. The book is very readable and provides good background for a number of areas – organizational design, adoption of innovation, disaster recovery, etc. Although not terribly useful in and of itself, Six Degrees provides a good foundation and framework to build upon in exploring pragmatic aspects of networks
the Buddha Never Taught
Reviewed April 12., 2004 by Jon. Tim Ward is an entertaining young writer. We first read him in an essay in Traveler's tales of Thailand. Ward traveled to Thailand and became a novice monk in a Buddhist wat. The book is about Ward's life as a novice monk and a westerner's impression of Buddhism. It may not be meaningful to the reader who does not know much about Buddhism or has never traveled to a Buddhist country. However, having just returned from Thailand and other parts of Asia, it was particularly interesting and amusing.
Cathedral and the Bazaar
Reviewed March 14 by Jon. This is a collection of essays by Raymond about Open Source. It is a bit on the ideological side, but interesting nevertheless. Raymond presents some cogent economic arguments for open source. He also does a good job of describing the hacker culture that led to open source. Very readable and interesting. Unfortunately (for Raymond and the Open Source zealots) the book left me with the impression that the ideological side of open source is pretty half-baked and bordering on socialism. Although there are some good ideas here - it left me with the sense of sophomoric naivite.
Expanding your market without abandoning your roots:
Reviewed February 21 by Jon. Beyond the Core expands upon Chris Zook's first book, Profit from the Core. Zook is a Bain consultant who believes that many businesses do not gain enough profitability from their core businesses. He has done a great deal of empirical study and determined that companies that grow successfully do so by reinforcing a strong core business and pursuing adjacencies that are closely tied to the core business. This is in marked contrast to companies that chase a lot of hot prospects in perceived growth businesses, but do not create a strong relationship to the core. Zook's first book focused on the core business and this book focuses on creating adjacencies that both leverage and reinforce the core. Zook provides a lot of data and examples and creates a framework for thinking about and evaluating adjacencies. There is a lot of common sense in this book.
Survival - Who lives, who dies, and why
Reviewed February 21 by Jon. Gonzales is an outdoor writer who describes the elements necessary to survive wilderness accidents, airplane crashes, shipwrecks, etc. - any situation which requires survival against the elements. He describes a number of incidents and what the survivors did. Rather than pursue the technical elements of survival, he deals with the emotional and psychological aspects of survival - will to live, accepting the situation, sense of humor, etc. Much of this is familiar to anyone who has been through courses such as Outward Bound. It does bear reviewing in case one is ever confronted with such a situation. Gonzales summarizes the book at the end in a chapter entitled "the rules of adventure". This is a good supplement to technical survival books.
Reviewed February 16 by Jon. In our travels around Thailand and Vietnam, we were exposed to a lot of Buddhists and Buddhist culture and were curious as to what Buddhism is about. As usual the "for dummies" book did a good job of explaining the basics of Buddhism and providing a great overview. The book also covers some history of Buddhism, which was useful in placing some of the things we had seen in our travels in context. I don't know how someone really serious about Buddhism would view this book but it did a good job of satisfying my curiosity and piquing my interest.
Reviewed January 27 by Jon. Andrew Pham is a Viet-ku - a native born Vietnamese who fled Vietnam in the mid-70s with his family for America. He was raised as an American kid who, in his late 20s, decides to bicycle across Vietnam. He returns to visit relatives left in Vietnam and then does his bicycle trip. This is a very readable book that chronicles life in modern-day Vietnam and how the Vietnamese view themselves, Viet-ku, Americans, and life in general. The images of Vietnam that Pham paints were extremely vivid - particularly after visiting there. He captures the essence of the Vietnamese people. The book might make less sense if you have not been there and seen present-day Vietnam. He also intersperses the story with flashbacks to his childhood and teen years and we see what it was like to escape from Vietnam at the end of the war and come to America and struggle to fit in as an Asian teenager in California.
Rumor of War
Reviewed January 27 by Jon. Philip Caputo waded ashore as a 2nd lieutenant with the first group of US Marines to enter Vietnam for combat in Da Nang in 1965. A Rumor of War is his story told from the perspective of the soldier on the ground. He describes the fresh-faced, idealistic 19 year old troops go through a process that makes them hard-bitten cynical killers after just a few months. Caputo vividly describes war and how it impacts people. He is especially disturbed by his own hardening to death and atrocity. A good book to understand war from the perspective of the people who fought it. I read this right after visiting Da Nang and it took me back 40 years to the time of the war. It made the rusting old US bases come alive again.
A novel of the CIA
Reviewed January 27 by Jon. This is a very long but engaging novel of the CIA. It begins in the 50s in the CIA station in Berlin and covers a period through the 80s. It is semi-historical and touches on a number of events such as the cold-war espionage in the 50s, Bay of Pigs, Mafia attempts to assassinate Castro, Afganistan (during the soviet war), etc. The book traces the lives and careers of several CIA officers. Although a fictional work, it seemed real and gives a flavor of the attitudes and tenor of the times. There are a number of "real" characters such as William Casey, JFK, Ronald Reagan, and James Angelton. Angelton's work in counterintelligence is highlighted and helps show the paranioa and intrigue within the CIA. The books is long but well-written and is worth the read when you have a lot of time (such as on a long trip). Some events are skipped altogether. For example, the Vietnam war is mentioned but receives very little treatment. Littell is clearly most comfortable dealing with the cold war and Soviet espionage intrigue. That is where the book excels, but the other parts are not bad either.
Reviewed January 27 by Jon. I bought this book from a Vietnamese girl on the streets of Saigon for $4. I began reading it in the bar at the Caravelle Hotel - right across the square from the Continental, where much of the book is set. Greene is a fabulous writer and paints a very vivid picture of the relationship between Fowler, the British War correspondent, Phuong, his young Vietnamese lover, and Pyle, the earnest economic attache/CIA agent. The story unfolds on many different levels - the love story, the murder, and the war. The book provides a real taste of Vietnam in the 50s and some good background on the French colonial era and the early American idealism that led us to get involved in the war. We saw the movie for a second time right after I read the book. It made a lot of sense and put Vietnam into perspective. I read Graham Greene last in freshman English. I had forgotten what a good writer he is.
See 2003 Books
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