Books read in 2005
Disclosure. We are members of the Amazon.com Associate's Program. You can click on the logo at the left to go to Amazon.com's home page. Alternatively, you can click on the logo following the review for a specific book and go to the purchase page for that particular book on Amazon. We will receive a percentage of any purchases you make through Amazon.
Reviewed by Jon. December 28, 2005. The Lincoln Lawyer is classic Connelly - a hard bitten divorced quirky LA main character, a number of police and legal hangers-on, an ex-wife and child, an interlocking and convoluted set of crimes. The only difference is that Harry Bosch, the detective, is not a character in the novel. Instead, Mickey Haller, a criminal defense attorney, is the main character. Haller has a lot in common with Bosch and the story telling has the familiar Connelly traits. As much as I like Harry Bosch, I was happy to see Connelly branch out - without losing many of the elements that have made his writing so accessible and enjoyable. For Connelly fans, the Lincoln Lawyer is worth reading. For those who are not yet Connelly fans, it is worth reading as an introduction.
Reviewed by Jon. December 10, 2005. I was reading A Fine Balance at the same time as India Unbound and it was an interesting contrast. India Unbound is nonfiction and A Fine Balance is fiction set in the same time period - 1970s India during Indira Ghandi's State of Emergency. A Fine Balance is the story of four people - Dina, a widow who takes in a college student, Maneck, as a boarder. She also hires Om and Ishvar, two tailors. The story chronicles their lives together and gives a great flavor of life in India during that time period. A Fine Balance is set in an unspecified large western coastal city (thinly disquised Mumbai (Bombay)) and shows how poor people live in urban India. It also chronicles the rural backgrounds of Om, Ishvar, and Maneck. One reviewer suggested this is novel reminiscent of Charles Dickens. I agree. It has great, colorful characters and really shows the texture of India. Having traveled recently to India, A Fine Balance helps me understand the culture and life in India.
Reviewed December 10, by Jon. Like India Unbound, The Idea of India tries to explain India to westerners. Khilanani is less effective at this than Das. The Idea of India is more a modern history of India. Its writing is a little less crisp but it is a good supplement to India Unbound.
Reviewed December 10, by Jon. Gurcharan Das is the former President of Proctor and Gamble India. He is a western-educated Indian. India Unbound presents the story of India moving from independence from England in 1947 through the present day. Das explains that India early on embraced democracy but is just now coming to grips with capitalism. Leaders such as Nehru and Indira Ghandi believed in protectionism and supporting small businesses over large businesses. This has let to India’s fitful economic development. Further, the Brahmin tradition favored theoretical work over “tinkering” –thus explaining why India is doing so well in IT but is lagging in manufacturing. Das tackles the question of why India was a very successful economy prior to British rule and is now lagging and trying to catch up. This is a very readable introduction to India and does a lot to explain how India works.
Reviewed by Jon. December 10, 2005. Siddhartha is Herman Hesse's classic novel about a young Indian Brahmin on a Budda-like journey of spirtual fulfillment. In fact, the story takes place in the same time and location as Budda and Siddhartha encounters him in the book. I read this in high school and re-read it to better understand Buddism and India. The story is very Buddhist-like. It is an easy book to read but now seems somewhat sophomoric and simplistic. Nevertheless, it was interesting reading again.
Reviewed December 6 by Jon. Finishing this book left me with a melancholy feeling. Schell, Dean of the Journalism school at U.C Berkeley writes both a history of Tibet and discusses Virtual Tibet – the Tibet that exists in everybody’s mind. The book chronicles the making of Brad Pitt’s movie Seven Years in Tibet. Schell uses the making of the movie to talk about the romantic perception that westerners have of Tibet as Shangri-La. He weaves commentary about the movie, the history of Tibet, and well-to-do westerner’s idyllic fantasy of Tibet. Schell debunks a lot of myths about Tibet and I came away feeling that Tibet, while a wonderful and inspiring place, is just another place. That is precisely what I think Schell wants me to think. He does provide a lot of very good background on Tibet and calls into question the Pop version of Tibet that is exemplified on “free Tibet” bumper stickers that appear on the back of Marin County Volvo station wagons. This book was especially interesting after just returning from Bhutan – because it provides a perspective on Tibetan Buddhism that is the state religion of Bhutan.
Reviewed December 3, by Jon. Why are some societies more successful than others? Are the causes biological, environmental, chance, or something else? Guns, Germs, and Steel is Jared Diamond’s attempt to answer these questions. Diamond concludes that “societies develop differently on different continents because of differences in continental environments, not in human biology.” Diamond supports this viewpoint with extremely detailed historical analysis. He basically says that environments that favor food production and domestication of animals led to societies with enough population to support the development of governments and technologies. This is a fascinating book with lots of implications for organizational theory, governance, and public policy. One of the interesting side-issues is that Diamond believes history should be studied as a science. He ignited an interest in the systematic study of history. The only criticism of the book is that it is long and very detailed, sometimes to the point of being tedious. It requires a long, thoughtful time to digest. Fortunately I have a lot of such time on trans-pacific flights. I really enjoyed this book and highly recommend it. Reading it will require a commitment, though.
Reviewed by Jon. November 26, 2005. This is the first novel by Richard A. Clarke, former U.S. Counterterrorism expert and author of Against All Enemies. The subtitle of the book is "sometimes you can tell more truth through fiction". The story is set in the middle east a few years in the future. The House of Saud has been thrown out of Saudi Arabia which has been renamed Islamyah. The Chinese are rising in power and poking their noses into the middle east and it is clear that Iran is funding a lot of terrorism and unrest. The book is interesting for its depiction of some possible scenarios - although the writing itself is somewhat pedestrian. This is kind of a poor-man's Tom Clancy novel. Clarke is clumsy as a novelist, although the premise behind the book is pretty interesting. Clarke does not paint a pretty picture of the U.S. Government.
Billion New Capitalists
Reviewed by Jon. November 26, 2005. Prestowitz's book expands upon China, Inc. to cover developments in India as well. It provides a more comprehensive, although less in depth view of globalization than China, Inc. Prestowitz also covers the U.S. and our response to the rise of China and India. Long a proponent of the U.S. having a competitiveness policy, he paints a picture of what needs to be done. I'm not sure I believe in all of his prescriptions, but I do think his arguments need to be considered and certainly the U.S. government and our elected leaders need to be taking a proactive stance to enhance and maintain the competitiveness of the U.S.
Reviewed by Jon. November 26, 2005. Ghosts of Tsavo was a disappointment. Philip Caputo chronicles a couple of trips to the Tsavo National Park in Kenya. He is interested in why some lions kill people and tries to find out by accompanying some scientists on a trip to Tsavo - where lions plagued John Patterson when building the Uganda Railway in the late 1800s. There is some good ambiance around Africa and safari, but ultimately the book seems to ramble without much point.
Triumph of the Sun
Reviewed by Jon. October 19, 2005. I bought this in the Hong Kong airport when changing planes from Shanghai to Delhi. In the English-speaking world, one is always able to find Wilbur Smith for some good candy reading. The Triumph of the Sun takes place in Khartoum in 1884 where a Courtney and Ballantyne vie for the affections of the daughters of David Benbrook, the British Counsul. Triumph of the Sun has the usual africana mix of warfare and sex that makes Smith so readable. One day he will exhaust the entire geography and history of Africa. Until then, this is great entertaining airplane reading.
Reviewed by Jon. October 18, 2005. Utopia is the classic book on Utopian societies. It is very idealistic and presents a post-feudalism world where everybody behaves correctly and shares - much like B.F. Skinner's Walden Two. An ideal that does not seem to take into account human behavior. In any case, I am glad I finally read it.
Reviewed by Jon. October 18, 2005. Erewhon is a classic satire about a country that Higgs discovers while exploring part of New Zealand. It is a country where everything is backward - Erewhon despises technology, it punishes sick people, and tries to cure criminal behavior. Erewhonians worship unreason. The book is funny although it can get a bit tedious at times.
and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance
Reviewed by Jon. October 16, 2005. This is a book I read every 10 years or so. I first read it freshman year in architecture school. It is a classic that interweaves several stories. The surface story is about an ordinary technical writer, his son, and two friends going on a motorcycle ride from Minnesota to the west coast. Hidden beneath the surface is the story of the protagonist who went insane thinking about the philosophical issues surrounding "quality" and "rhetoric". The book is a good story as well as a very interesting exposition of the nature of quality. It is an easy book to read. Part of the story takes place in the mountains of the U.S. west. I read Zen this time while travelling in the mountains of Bhutan. The previous time was in Kenya. Although the book is very familiar - I can almost predict what the author is going to say next -- I learn new things every time I read it. I expect I will keep reading it every few years.
Reviewed by Jon. October 11, 2005. This is the second novel we've read by Burdett starring Royal Thai Police detective Sonchai Jitpleecheep. It incorporates many of hte same characters from Burdett's previous book, Bangkok 8, including Sonchai's mother Nong and his boss (and Nong's business partner) police Colonel Vikorn. Bangkok Tattoo is about the sex industry in Bangkok. The story is about a beautiful prostitute, Chanya, who works in Nong's brothel, and is accused of murdering a CIA agent. The story takes many colorful twists and turns. It is enjoyable and for those who have spent time in Thailand, there is a lot of local Thai color. This was better than I expected and better than Bangkok 8. A good read.
Reviewed by Jon. October 6, 2005. I read this classic about Shangri La while enroute to the Kingdom of Bhutan, which is about as close to Shangri-La as you can get. I really enjoyed Lost Horizon, and although it was written in 1933, it seemed very contemporary. The story is about 4 people, 3 British and one American who find them selves in the Lamastry of Shangri La in a hidden Tibetan valley. They discover Shangri-La is far more than it seems -- holding the secret of a long, tranquil life. There is, of course, a catch. This is a classic well worth reading. I am surprised I waited so long to read it. I will quite likely read it again.
The Bourne Legacy
Reviewed October 4, 2005 by Jon. Robert Ludlum died several years ago but he lives on in this book by Van Lustbader who does a credible job of emulating the Ludlum style. The Bourne Legacy features perennial Ludlum character David Webb a.k.a. Jason Bourne and has all of the classic Ludlum elements – a middle aged retired spy dragged back into the business, an international conspiracy to take over the world, chase scenes in Europe, political intrigue within the CIA, and a number of characters with murky loyalty and motivations who shift sides regularly. The Bourne Legacy builds on earlier Jason Bourne stories and has an interesting twist relative to Bourne’s earlier life. This is not great literature but good escapist reading. Von Lustbader does a good job of emulating the master storyteller – Robert Ludlum.
Quotations from Chairman Mao Tse Tung
Reviewed October 1, 2005 by Jon. This is the classic “little red book” of quotations from Mao. The quotations are from a variety of sources – speeches, press interviews, and various treatises. The book is divided into a variety of topics ranging from class struggle, to education, to treatment of women. Much of it relates to glorifying the communist party and enhancing the image of the military. It is interesting and entertaining to read. My overall impression is that much of the writing was pretty bombastic and appealed to a sophomoric level of intellect. I can see how the statements would appeal – as slogans – to some but seem very outdated and simplistic today. Given China’s headlong rush toward a capitalist economy – albeit with a political veneer of communism – it would be interesting to know how modern-day Chinese political theorists reconcile the hard-line taken in Mao’s writings with the economic and political realities of today’s Chinese society.
The Blessings of Bhutan
Reviewed September 26, 2005 by Jon. The Blessings of Bhutan is the best overview book of Bhutan that I have read. It gives a pretty good sense of the country and complements x and y, the other books. It does not delve deeply into any one issue, but does provide some good context. A good appetizer for actually going to the country of Bhutan.
The Best of Times
Reviewed September 25, 2005 by Jon. The Best of Times is a sprawling history of the 90’s in America. Haynes Johnson, a journalist and historian, juxtaposes stories about technological advance in digital and biotechnologies, media coverage of OJ and Monica, business with Microsoft and the tech bubble, and politics with the hanging chads in the 2000 election. He paints a picture of a self-absorbed American society that nevertheless still has basically good instincts – for example in separating Bill Clinton’s personal behavior from his job performance. Johnson paints a less flattering picture of our institutions of Media and Government. He depicts Media as pandering to a lowest common denominator sensationalism and despairs that the political process has profoundly broken government. He shows that our partisan politics – based around ideological agendas - has rendered government ineffective and our political leaders incapable of addressing the issues of the day. The Best of Times is a little disconnected at times – because Johnson does a very comprehensive job of telling a lot of stories. While reading the book, a number of themes begin to emerge. I think The Best of Times is a provocative view of the ‘90s and provides perspective for those of us who lived through that time and some guidance on how to proceed in a post 9/11 world.
to the Orient
Reviewed September 25, 2005 by Jon. North to the Orient is an aviation classic by the wife of aviation pioneer Charles Lindbergh. The book is about a trip in 1931 that Anne and her husband took flying from New York to Japan and China – finding the northern route to the orient. They flew in a 600hp single-engine, two-seater plane called the Sirius – equipped with floats for water landings and flew across Canada, Alaska, and Siberia to Japan. The story is an aviation adventure with some geographical perspective. Anne was the radio operator and her husband, Charles Lindberg, was the pilot. This was a major adventure, but the book makes it seem almost nonchalant. The idea of traveling that far with so little supporting infrastructure is astounding. Also interesting is Anne’s view of herself, a woman’s role in life, and her abilities. Her views are certainly pre-feminism. North to the Orient was recommended by a pilot friend as a book that all pilots should read. He was right!
a Good Day to Die: The Untold Story of
Reviewed September 5, 2005 by Jon. Sean Naylor is a writer for the Army Times. This book is about Operation Anaconda, one of the first battles in Afghanistan between US Special Forces and Al Queda. Not A Good Day to Die gives a glimpse into the planning an preparation for the operation and how special forces uses air power. One of the helicopters was shot down and there were a number of disasters in the operation. The book depicts some bad decision making, coordination errors, and chain of command issues. Nevertheless, it is entertaining (if a bit tedious because of Naylor's overly detailed descriptions - probably ok for a military audience, a bit much for the rest of us.
Seconds: A Look Back at the Kent State Shootings
Reviewed August 31, 2005 by Jon. On May 4, 1970, Philip Caputo was a young Chicago Tribune reporter who had just returned from Vietnam (as documented in his book Rumor of War). He was sent to Kent State to cover the student uprising arriving just after the shootings that killed 4 students. 13 Seconds is a short book, and not nearly as comprehensive as James Michener's book on Kent State. What is interesting is Caputo's attitude. He does not romanticize the '60s (which he correctly characterizes as the period from '65-'75. He is very critical of both the students and the authorities. In particular, he is critical of the young revolutionaries who espoused violence - but had never seen the effects of violence. Having just returned from a combat tour in Vietnam, he was very sensitized to this. 13 Seconds is worth reading as a brief reminder of what can happen when confrontation spins out of control. The book includes The Report of the President's Commission on Campus Unrest - a very interesting document that eloquently speaks about the limits of government and the rights and responsibilities of free speech.
Noir: A Park Ranger's Patrol in the Sierra
Reviewed August 28, 2005 by Jon. Jordan Fisher Smith was a California State Park ranger at the Auburn State Recreation Area - in the Sierra foothills near Sacramento - for close to 20 years. Auburn State Recreation Area was slated to be flooded but the dam and reservoir were delayed in court. Thus, it was in limbo and those who frequented it were ambivalent about whether it should be protected or exploited. This was gold rush country and there were still a number of urban low-lifes who staked out mining camps in the recreation area and thought it was perfectly OK to brandish guns, destroy the land, and threaten their neighbors. Nature Noir is Smith's story of working as a ranger and covers dealing with crime, rescues, BASE jumpers, mountain lion attackes, etc. He says that urban criminals who come to the great outdoors remain criminals. He saw a lot in his years as a ranger. He also talks about his ambivalence as a ranger protecting a place that might be flooded. This is well worth reading and provides insight into the challenges and limitations faced by those who protect the outdoors.
Future for Investors
Reviewed August 28, 2005 by Jon. Jeremy Siegel, author of Stocks for the Long Run, wrote this book to address two questions - which stocks will give me the best long-run returns? and what will happen when the baby boomers retire and start selling their assets. Siegel is a Wharton professor who has long analyzed stock data. He says that dividend paying stocks in non-growth sectors provide the best return. The reason is that growth expectations in growth sectors drive up valuations thus people overpay. He favors stocks in out of favor industries which pay high dividend. His philosophy follows that of Warren Buffet and other value investors - who he frequently references. His discussion of the retiring baby boom was perhaps more interesting. He postulates that, indeed, if the US is viewed as a microcosm, all of the retiring baby boomers selling their assets to fund retirement will cause asset prices to tumble because there will be far more buyers than sellers. The solution to the dilemma, he believes, is a fluid capital market and growth of emerging economies. He claims the buyers for our assets will be the growing middle-class populations of emerging economies. This is further evidence that free trade and open capital markets are important. I hope Siegel is right!
Reviewed August 18, 2005 by Jon. Survive! is the true story of a pilot who went down in a Maule with two passengers aboard in the Sierras in November 1994. He hiked out to the west for 13 days. The accident occurred in winter so the Sierras were blanketed in snow. The story is about Deleos survival in extremely harsh conditions and his determination to hike out. His two passengers remained with the aircraft. Deleos survived the hike - despite great odds, but his passengers died - one in the crash and one subsequently. The book is a great story of survival and gives a good account of Deleo's experience. It also describes the work of the Civil Air Patrol (CAP) in searching for his aircraft. From a survival perspective, this is a remarkable and inspiring story. From an aviation perspective, I have to question what he was doing there to begin with and what happened in the crash. Deleo claims the crash was caused by wind shear and severe turbulence, however the NTSB probable cause report raises some additional questions about the flight. The danger of a book like this is that it may reinforce the notion that many in the non-flying public have about the inherent dangers of general aviation. The lesson I read in the book is that mountain flying is dangerous without proper training and respect for the issues involved in backcountry flying.
Close to Heaven
Reviewed August 14, 2005 by Jon. Subtitled "the vanishing Buddhist kingdoms of the Himalayas", So Close to Heaven is largely about Bhutan, but it also covers the Buddhist regions of Pakistan, India, Tibet, and Nepal. It is more factual and less romantic than Beyond the Sky and Earth, and covers a lot of both the good and bad of Bhutan. Good preparation for our upcoming trip to Bhutan. It gives me some sense of what to expect. The key question is whether Bhutan can survive intact as the world around it modernizes. From the book it seems to have done so to date, but Bhutan is a very fragile environment surrounded by lots of conflict and development.
Reviewed August 12, 2005 by Jon.
Perspectives on Design+Strategy is a series of short (3-5 page) "points of view" from the Institue of Design's strategy conference in May of 2005. It is organized into three sections:
· Intersection of Society+Culture+Business
· Intersection of Design+Innovation
· Intersection of Business Strategy+Design
The book explores the role of design in contemporary society and business. The viewpoints of the participants are fairly predictable, given the topics of the conference. The challenge is getting their viewpoints heard and understood in a wider context of the business community. They clearly echo the notion that the world is getting more competitive and that design - in the broad sense - is the only way for a business to gain sustainable competitive advantage. One writer commented upon the notion of explorers and exploiters - and suggested that the period of exploitation of any innovation is shortening - thus exploration will become more important. I agree with the viewpoint but am not sure it is widely held in the practicing business community. Don Norman talks about moving the locus of design from things to activities - thus seeing design in a much more systematic way. That is a good insight. All in all, the book has a lot of valuable nuggets of insight and some good quotes. It is worthwhile reading for those who are interested in this topic and can provide soe useful material for those of us who evangalize this point of view.
You can order this book from the IIT Institute of Design
Reviewed August 6, 2005 by Jon. This is a popular book by University of Chicago economist Stephen Leavitt. Leavitt looks at common phenomenon through the data-driven eyes of an economist - drug dealing, abortion, child rearing, children's names, etc. Some of his findings are politically controversial, but are backed up by data. The approach is more interesting than the findings themselves. He shows how to use data to generate new insights. The book is pretty good but is marred a bit by Leavitt's preening about his accomplishments. If he were a little more in the background, the book would be better. I suspect that this is only the first book and we will see more from Leavitt. That is a good thing, because I like his overall approach - it brings some rationality to otherwise emotional debates.
Reviewed August 5, 2005 by Jon. The subtitle of this book is "moving beyond the fads to choose the right innovation strategy for your business". Innovation that Fits discusses the excesses of "transactional" approaches to innovation that flourished in the dot-com era. The authors dissect and critique corporate venturing, intellectual property licensing, alliances, M&A, and spinouts. The critiques are pretty blistering. Prior to the critiques the authors state that the traditional internal R&D-driven model of innovation is dead. So, most of the way through the book, one is left with the feeling that the authors are negative but have little constructive to say. Fortunately they do synthesize a solution in the final chapter. The crux of their solution is to focus on core innovation, rather than peripheral innovation and use the external innovation techniques as tools to innovate in a fashion connected to the core. They argue that all of the tools are valuable, but must be used in a balanced fashion and must be connected to the company's core business. The authors saved the book with this final synthesis - I am much more positive after reading it. I would like to have seen a bit more elaboration of their approach, but it does provide hope that there is an appropriate middle ground where we can take the lessons of the late 90s and apply some learning to today's innovation culture.
Reviewed July 31, 2005 by Jon. I liked the New Normal but was not sure what McNamee wanted the book to be - predictions about the future, investment guide, or self-help book. The book tries to be all three - and thus does not do a good job at any. Nevertheless, McNamee does a good job of laying out the fundamentals of how society and business have changed post-bubble. The book is very readable and offers good advice in all three areas it tries to work. It would have been better if he had decided what to focus on and stuck to it.
Reviewed July 31, 2005 by Jon. 102 Minutes is the story - written by two New York Times reporters - of the 102 minutes between the time the first pane hit the North Tower of the World Trade Center at 8:46am on 9/11/01 and the time it collapsed at 10:20. The story is a detailed account of people in the tower - some who evacuated successfully and some who didn't. The authors do a good job of capturing the sense of panic and confusion people had. The book is, however, somewhat disorderly. In an attempt to tell the story of so many people, the authors create confusion because the cast of characters is so large. Also, they bounce back and forth from character to character and place to place - thus making it difficult to follow the timeline. The best part of the book is a set of diagrams of the towers and the impact. This is a good book that would have benefited enormously from some strong navigational devices, both visual and textual. Perhaps a more solid idea of timeline and place would have improved this a lot so we could follow the events as they unfolded.
Reviewed July 28, 2005 by Jon. I was a bit disappointed by the ending - which kind of fizzled out - but enjoyed this book. Acts of Faith is a novel about aid workers based in Kenya flying into the Sudan. They get embroiled in illegally running guns into the Nubian rebels. There are some aviation inaccuracies, but the story is pretty interesting - about the moral ambiguity of working in that part of the world for aid workers. This was a different kind of book for Caputo that was both entertaining and informative.
Reviewed July 22, 2005 by Jon. Perhaps I read this book too late (it was written in the late '90s) but I found it a disappointment. Johnson tries to explain how technology transforms interaction. He focuses on things like windows, hyperlinks, etc. The book is well written but the message seems very dated.
Reviewed July 22, 2005 by Jon. We are going to Bhutan in a few months so this was a good introduction to Bhutan from a young teacher who volunteered there. She describes both the romance of the mountain country but also introduces the seamier side - poverty, civil war, environmental degradation. The book was very easy to read and Zeppa does provide a feel for the country. It was a good introduction to Bhutan. The ending is a bit implausible - although it is a true story.
Reviewed July 22, 2005 by Jon. Fab is about personal fabrication technologies. Gershenfeld maintains that they will have as profound an effect on the world as personal technologies to write and print. I think, in the short run, his case is overstated. However, in the long run the ability to synthesize stuff at the personal level is probably correct. His book is easy to read but a whole book devoted to the topic seems excessive.
Reviewed July 22, 2005 by Jon. I had mixed feelings about Emotional Design. Don Norman, author of numerous books on the intersection of user interface design and cognitive psychology, does a great job in the first 2/3 of the book describing the three levels of design - visceral, behavioral, and reflexive. His taxonomy is very helpful in reconciling the aesthetic aspects of design with the pragmatic aspects of design - i.e. the merging of form and function. I found his explanations lucid and extremely enlightening. The last third of the book is about machine intelligence and robotics. I found this section to be the least fulfilling and it seemed to be tacked on to the rest of the book. This is perhaps because Norman is involved with a robotics company. I felt that the discussions of robotics was gratuitous and marred an otherwise useful book.
Reviewed July 22, 2005 by Jon. Harry Bosch meets Cold Case. This is a great story in which Connelley's canonic LA detective, Harry Bosch comes out of a three-year retirement to join the LAPD equivalent of the cold case squad. This is a great vehicle for Connelley to get back to his best character doing what he does best - solving an LA murder. In this case, the murder is of a teenage girl from the early 80s so the case is almost 20 years old. Bosch solves the case with the usual twists and turns. I really liked this book and am glad to see the old Harry Bosch back..
Reviewed July 22, 2005 by Jon. Strategy Safari is a survey of different "schools of thought" on strategy. In a field where there are so many approaches and so much opinion, the authors do a very good job of categorizing the schools, describing the key elements of each, and the influences on each. I found it very illuminating. Strategy Safari provides a framework for understanding various techniques. The authors are proponents of the "learning school" of strategy - perhaps more appropriately called the "emergent school" but they do a very good job of objectively evaluating each school and admit that their bias is toward one school. It is interesting to see how a particular academic discipline - economics, finance, anthropology, political science, etc. forms the basis for each school. From a pragmatic standpoint, Strategy Safari provides a way to select appropriate tools and an understanding that there is no one way to formulate strategy, but rather a diverse set of viewpoints and tools to illuminate the strategic decisions a business must make.
in the Lake
Reviewed July 11, 2005 by Jon. Fire In the Lake is a classic book about Vietnam. This is a good supplement to Stanley Karnow's Vietnam: A History, Fire in the Lake focuses on the background and motivations of the Vietnamese. Fitzgerald has done a lot of homework on the deep background of the Vietnamese and explains very vividly their beliefs and why the Americans had such a difficult time there. It is very clear from the book that the western way of thinking about and working in Vietnam was ineffective. I don't know that I would have gotten much out of this book if I had not visited Vietnam. FIre in the Lake is not a good first book to read about Vietnam, but is it an excellent book for the reader who already has some background.
End of Poverty
Reviewed July 11, 2005 by Jon. Jeffrey Sachs is a development economist. The first part of his book is excellent in that he explains the origins of poverty and validates his explanation with statistics. He makes a compelling case for what has been done and needs to be done to eliminate poverty. The second half of the book - where he speaks of prescriptions - seem a little glib to me. He talks of funding and his math is compelling, but I worry that we might just be throwing money at the problem without a clear way of making sure funding actually accomplishes the goal. Nevertheless. The End of Poverty is an excellent book at describing poverty in a rational way and providing a great basis for discussion of the issues surrounding poverty and how we eliminate it.
Reviewed July 7, 2005 by Jon. This is a little pocket book (part of the Tom Peters Essentials series) that was adapted from his big, earlier book called Re-Imagine! Peters (who started his college career as an architect @ Cornell) is an unabashed cheerleader for Design - with a big D. He focuses on design of products, processes, experiences, brands, etc. and forcefully makes the point that design is the only ongoing source of differentiation. This books is easy to read and has lots of great references. It is Tom Peters in style so be prepared for hyperbole, hyperventilating, and Peters screaming at you from the page. If you can get past all of that Peters style, the message is pretty good.
Principles for Achieving and
Sustaining Superior Performance
Reviewed July 5, 2005 by Jon. This is an interesting book in which the author claims that industries follow one of four change trajectories – progressive, intermediating, radical, or creative. She claims that each trajectory requires conformance to certain rules of competition and offers specific kinds of opportunities. The type of change trajectory offered is based upon whether core activities (things defined on the income statement) or core assets (things defined on the balance sheet) are in danger of obsolescence. She has done extensive statistical analysis as the basis for this theory. The book is fairly well written and there is an intuitive appeal to her framework. I did find, however, that it was more difficult to apply the framework than I thought it would be. It is difficult to define which industry Autodesk is in. Perhaps we are in several. There was a good chapter on diversified companies and how they do (or do not) add value through diversification. I suspect some will not like this book or its framework because it may be seen as too rigid. But, it does seem to shed some new light on industry evolution and strategy.
Reviewed June 27, 2005 by Jon. Winning is Jack Welch’s management cookbook. It is written in a very engaging and accessible style. His points about business are arranged into simple lists and he liberally uses examples from his GE career – mostly about people. His book is very positive and has a lot of good advice. Some of it seems simplistic – or perhaps it is just straightforward. I sometimes felt it was a bit superficial. However, this is an important book to read – if only because it will likely be very popular and many people will read it and adopt Welch’s prescriptions. Thus it is important to know what it says. Perhaps the best way to summarize the book is to pursue business with integrity and passion and take control of your own work life. Despite a tinge of cynicism about the book, it is well written and worth the time to read. Further, it is easy to read and enjoyable.
The Power of Thinking Without Thinking
Reviewed June 22, 2005 by Jon. I liked Blink, it is about how we very quickly recognize patterns. Gladwell's writing is very entertaining and accessible and he has great examples that are really engaging. The topic was interesting, too. It described how we often make very good judgements very quickly. I think Blink was interesting after reading On Intelligence. One can easily see the connection between Hawkins notions of pattern recognition and Gladwell's discussion of rapid decision making. The book was enjoyable and enlightening. The only thing I didn't like about it was that Gladwell does not crisply draw conclusions. That is left to the reader. The conclusion I came to is that rapid pattern recognition is very powerful - but is often only effective if we have trained that pattern recognition ability through some kind of system or critical process. The power is of very fast decision rather than laborious systematic thinking - but the systematic thinking is what can lead to the training. In any case, Blink is both entertaining and good food for thought.
Reviewed June 7, 2005 by Jon. Saving Cascadia is good summer candy reading. As with all John Nance novels, this one involves aviation. In this case a helicopter charter and medivac company. The aviation is somewhat incidental to the novel. It is really about science and earthquakes. There are good and evil people - people painted too black and white. Some of the aviation stuff is a little questionable - there are a lot of unsafe practices being done. However, Saving Cascadia is a fun book to read and good for some light entertainment.
to Cradle: Remaking the Way we Make Things
Reviewed May 31, 2005 by Jon. Cradle to Cradle is about how to change our environmental ethos away from consumption and recycling (called downcycling by the authors) to one of designing for reuse. The authors (an architect and a chemist) maintain that a lot of our processes used in recycling are destructive to the environment. Cradle to Cradle describes how to design products to reduce waste and toxins from the start. The book also addresses a lot of issues about the supposed incompatibility between the environmental movement and business. It shows how to reconcile these differences to profitably deal with environmental issues. This is a refreshing book that moves the focus on environment from sacrifice to design. Well worth reading.
Reviewed May 31, 2005 by Jon. Karnow's book is a comprehensive history of the Vietnam war. It covers a lot of background of the various players and factions. It is not really a complete chronology of the war. It does cover the major battles and offensives, but, rather than trying to chronicle all of the events in detail, Karnow tries to paint a picture of what the war was like and the forces happening during it. This is a great book to read to get a good background on the war. It bogs down in places - particularly the details of all of the regime changes in the South Vietnamese governement, but is very informative.
A Guide to Living Like 50 Until You are 80 and
the Dynamics of Innovation
World is Flat.
A Brief History of the 21st Century
Reviewed April 20, 2005 by Jon. Thomas Friedman is always a provocative and entertaining writer on globalization. Author of The Lexus and the Olive Tree and Longitudes and Attitudes, Friedman has always stretched the mind around globalization. The premise of The World is Flat is that the convergence of 10 forces - primarily technology and business forces have created a flat world - or put another way - a level playing field. Friedman describes the 10 forces, ranging from the fall of the Berlin Wall to supply chain integration, and makes a convincing case that they have, indeed created a new world with many of the barriers erased. Friedman claims there are three eras of globalization. Globalization 1.0 was about trade and ended in 1800. Globalization 2.0 was about integration of multinational companies and ended in 2000. Globalization 3.0 is about a level playing field for individuals and began in 2000. Obviously by his reckoning, we are just at the beginning of Globalization 3.0.
The book is divided into three sections. Friedman's descriptions of the 10 forces and their implication (the first section) are quite good. The second section is about public policy. This is the weakest section. Its conclusion is that we need to invest far more and far more effectively in education. The message is correct. The scary thing is the simplicity of the message and the utter disregard (except for lip service) we seem to give it. The last section is about the implication for companies, countries, and individuals. This is kind of a grab bag.
The World is Flat is an excellent book in the tradition of the Lexus and the Olive Tree. Friedman does an excellent job of making sense of the dot-com era and how it lead to globalization. He also has interesting commentary on the anti-globalization movement. The key message is that the world has changed and it will never be the same. We need to understand how it has changed and adapt accordingly. The World is Flat has some interesting parallels with The Pentagon's New Map and I'd recommend reading them together. They are good compliments to each other and mutually reinforce many points. I get the sense that this is a very important book which will take some time to sink in.
Pentagon's New Map:
War and Peace in the Twenty First Century
The Pentagon's New Map is a very provocative book with a lot of insights into globalization and warfare. It is marred a bit by Barnett's tendency to focus a bit too much on his own personal story - although even that helps to understand the military power structure and how an intellectual plays within the power structure.
Reviewed March 5, 2005 by Jon. Wesley Clark was the SACEUR (Supreme Allied Commander in Europe) during the Bosnia and Kosovo conflicts in Europe. He was US commander in chief for Europe and head of all NATO troops. The book is about his work during that period. What struck me is how little the work was around warfare and how much was diplomacy. He had the big stick of military action (albeit constrained by politics), but most of his work was in negotiating with his U.S. commanders, European counterparts, and Milosevic. The book was interesting - but rather long and tedious. One gets the impression that he spent most of the conflict on video conference calls, jetting around Europe, and on late night phone calls to the Pentagon. Waging Modern War nicely complements War in a Time of Peace, David Halberstrom's book on the Clinton Administration's response to the Balkan conflict.
Cluetrain Manifesto: The End of Business as Usual
Reviewed February 23, 2005 by Jon. The author has an interesting message in State of Fear. Unfortunately the writing is like a made-for-tv movie. It is very sloppy with a lot of action but little coherence. The message is that the environmental movement has become an establishment in and of itself and needs more balance. Unfortunately the writing style overstates the message and diminishes its credibility. The most interesting thing is the author's message - which does show more balance. The author would have done himself and the reading public a great service if he had put as much thought into the book as he did into his final message.
From Uncertainty: Strategies for Succeeding
- No Matter What the Future Brings
Reviewed January 29, 2005 by Jon. Blonde is a fictional biography of Marilyn Monroe (Norma Jean Baker). The book is well written and provides a lot of insight into Monroe's life. It was unclear how much is biographical and how much is fiction, but it was an entertaining book. The book explains a lot about Monroe's background and paints the picture of a very tortured person - who was uncertain what to do with her fame and success. I read this on a long flight to Asia and it does help reading in one (very long) sitting.
Mystery of Capital: Why Capitalism Triumphs in the West and Fails Everywhere
Ocean Strategy: How to
Create Uncontested Market Space and Make The Competition Irrelevant
Reviewed January 22, 2005 by Jon. The Sigma Protocol is a classic Ludlum novel. It has all of the elements of Ludlum at his best - a Nazi element, Switzerland, a regular guy thrown into a thriller, a beautiful woman, some evil scientists, and a conspiracy of powerful world leaders trying to take over the world and save it from itself. Sigma Protocol was published in 2001. I suppose it was a manuscript found after Ludlum's death. It seems like his earlier work. It is far better than his more recent works and is reminiscent of things he wrote in the 1980s. A great escapist book.
See 2004 Books
1999-2017 Pittman. All rights reserved.