Books read in 2008
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Reviewed Dec 31 by Jon. Art was one of my mountain flying instructors. He has a quick wit and lots of aviation knowledge. I was pleased to see that he had written a book. Cows Blow Grass is a bit of an aviation story interwoven with lots of flying lore - particularly applied to back country and mountain flying. It is a very readable little book which I enjoyed a lot. It reminded me of flying with Art sitting in the left seat.
Meaning: How Successful Businesses Deliver Meaningful Customer Experiences
Reviewed Dec 29 by Jon. Making Meaning is written by three Cheskin consultant. It is about the Cheskin approach to designing meaningful customer experiences. While I liked the general idea and process, the book was a bit lightweight. Perhaps this is because it is a teaser to Cheskin consulting services. I did think it could provide more meat and depth. The topic is an important one but the book left me unsatisfied.
You Matter? How Great Design Will Make People Love Your Company
Reviewed Dec 15 by Jon. Brunner was one of the original designers at Apple. He makes the case for design as a strategic imperative that permeates the company rather than an industrial design appliqué that many business people see. Brunner talks a lot about designing from the customer point of view and design of the total customer experience. Brunner draws upon his years at Apple but is able to extend beyond Apple to other domains. I thought the book was well presented and well-argued. Certainly the premise is solid. I’m not sure how much of an impact it will make but it is certainly a great effort and adds to the body of work that positions design as a strategic business element and competitive advantage.
Reviewed Dec 15 by Jon. Gladwell debunks the notion that outstanding performance is simply caused by a combination of talent and hard work. He adds the notion of context. He shows how context - some under our control and some not (such as our birthdates or era) create opportunities. He shows for example that all of the leaders of the PC industry were born within a narrow band of dates and had similar experiences in their early years. Gladwell does not dismiss the notions of talent and hard work as irrelevant. He merely points out that context is also extremely relevant. As with his past books, this is a provocative book that uses story telling to illustrate a simple idea and make a compelling argument.
Reviewed Dec 10 by Jon. The Gate House is DeMille's sequel to The Gold Coast. It is set on the north coast of Long Island and is a continuation of the John Sutter and Susan Stanhope saga - it takes place 10 years after the two divorce after Susan murders their Mafia Don neighbor after having an affair with him. Pretty much a candy book - but well written and entertaining. DeMille has had a series of disappointing books and this makes up for them.
Search for Meaning
Reviewed Dec 1 by Jon. This is a classic about Frankel’s imprisonment in a concentration camp in WWII and his observations of what made people survive. Frankel, a psychiatrist, believes that people survive if they have something in their life that gives them meaning. Easy to say, hard to understand. It does become much more vivid through is stories of people who live through the concentration camp experience when there seems to be no hope at all. An inspriring book – and I read it on my Kindle.
Reviewed November 29, by Jon. The World's preeminent photojournalists and thinkers depict the essential issues of our time. This is a series of essays accompanied by photographs that describe critical world problems in n topical areas - man vs. earth, man vs. man, the distribution of wealth, and man vs. disease. The images and essays are powerful. Worth reading to remind us of what really matters.
Matters is a TED book club selection.
Things I Learned in Architecture School
Reviewed November 29, by Jon. This is a very cool little book. It is a series of lessons from architecture school depicted in a 2-page format for each idea. The lessons range from presentation style to timeless design principles. It really brought back a number of lessons I learned and presented the ideas in a very concise, readable format. I liked the format of the book as much as the content. Both were outstanding.
Design of Future Things
Reviewed November 29, by Jon. This is a simple little book that takes Don Norman's design principles and applies them to things that are automated. It is a good treatment of the topic that expands upon Don Norman's earlier works - but it is a little lightweight. I am not sure this topic merited a whole book.
Power of Impossible Thinking
Reviewed November 29, by Jon. This book describes how our mental models shape our thinking and decisions in business. It claims to tie into the latest in neuroscience, and perhaps it does, but the tie-in is not explicit. The authors do make a credible case for the relationship of mental models to business and show us how to question old mental models and break out into new ones. There is value in this book but it is a bit unclear what it is trying to accomplish - is it a neuroscience book, a self-help book, or a business strategy book. It has elements of all three but it is unclear which one it wants to be. I liked the ideas but the book was a bit muddled in approach.
Reviewed November 27, by Jon. A typical Connelly murder mystery starring Mickey Haller, firsts introduced in The Lincoln Lawyer. Harry Bosch, Connelly's canonic anti-hero plays a role in The Brass Verdict, too. He is Haller's shadow and ultimately, his protector. This is a good light read with all of the elements that make Connelley popular - LA, murder mystery, anti-establishment hero (a lawyer this time, not a detective), fractured love life of the hero, etc. A good easy read.
Reviewed November 22, by Jon. Subtitled "Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die". The Heath brothers have done an interesting and informative study of why some ideas are memorable and others are not. They identify six principles - simplicity, unexpectedness, concreteness, credibility, emotions, and stories - organized into the acronym - SUCCESs. Their treatment makes a lot of sense and creates a good framework to think about memorable ideas. It is a good way to analyze and evaluate ideas, perhaps less useful as a way to synthesize them. Like many similar writings, it seems like this one could have been shorter - the idea seems expanded to fit the book format. It drags a bit and begs skimming. I do like the well organized approach to understanding the stickiness of ideas and hope to put them into practice soon.
The Dali Lama Matters
Reviewed November 10, by Jon. Subtitled "His act of truth as the solution for China, Tibet, and the World". Thurman is a long-time friend of the Dali Lama, a former Buddhist monk, and a professor of Buddhist studies at Columbia. This book advocates China set up Tibet as an autonomous region. He further believes that making peace with Tibet will gain Chinese President Hu Jintao the Nobel Peace Prize. While I don't disagree with Thurman's conclusions, the tone of the book disturbed me. It is almost too strident and I fear will be divisive rather than conciliatory.
Future of Management
Reviewed October 30, by Jon. Hamel maintains that the current tools and techniques of management were born of an industrial age in which scale and efficiency were the prime drivers. These tools focus on optimization, not innovation and creativity. He suggests that we need new management tools to drive an agenda of innovation. Hamel makes the case but is weak on prescription. In many ways, his solution is an extension of the work he has done on free-market and venture capital techniques in business. Not a lot of fresh new insight here. While I agree with the diagnosis, I wish he had more depth when describing the cure.
Future of Freedom
Reviewed October 30, by Jon. Zakaria claims that democracy alone is not enough. Successful societies need liberal democracy - including rule of law and independent institutions to ensure rights. Zakaria chronicles some of the problems caused by unfettered democracy (California's referendum system for example). He discusses the challenges of the erosion of authority (in much the same way Al Gore decries the fall of objective media). A provocative book that illustrates the dangers of focusing on only one element of a free society to the exclusion of others.
Reviewed October 30, by Jon. I vaguely knew Randy Pausch. He was a computer graphics professor and student of Andi Van Dam. I took a course in virtual reality from Randy at Siggraph around 1995. Randy was diagnosed with cancer and became a minor celebrity because of his last lecture at Carnegie Mellon University. This book is his story from his diagnosis to his death. The thing that strikes me about the book is his love of life and his ability to convey that love even in the face of his death. Depressing but inspiring.
Whole New Mind
Reviewed October 20, by Jon. Daniel Pink makes a compelling case for the need for right brain thinking to augment the linear, left brain thinking that has dominated knowledge workers in business and society during the 20th century. He asserts that abundance (the fact that we have lots of everything and needs to differentiate), asia (the rise of an educated asian population that can do left brain linear thinking), and automation (the ability to use computers to do routine linear knowledge work) are causing a need for right brain thinking. He further breaks right brain thinking into the follow "senses" - design, story, symphony, empathy, play, and meaning. A Whole New mind is a very accessible book which very clearly and lucidly makes its case. Pink provides lots of tools to help develop right brain thinking. A must read.
Assault On Reason
Reviewed October 14, by Jon. Al Gore describes the underpinnings of democracy - an informed public, a free press, separation of money from power, etc. The Assault on Reason has a pretty cogent explanation of these underpinnings and why the founders deemed them necessary. He further goes on to describe how the Bush administration has undermined many of these underpinnings. Particularly interesting is his view that television has eroded our literacy thus contributing to this decline in reason. Gore has great hopes that the Internet will bring back democracy and form a new kind of literacy. Well worth reading and a good complement to Robert Reich's book Supercapitalism.
Reviewed October 8, by Jon. Subtitled - The Global Journey of the Fourteenth Dali Lama. We read this book because of a short story about the Dali Lama that we read by Iyer. The short story was pretty good. The book dragged on a bit. Some good insight about the Dali Lama and Buddhism, but the effort was not really worth it. Stay with the short story.
Reviewed September 30, by Jon. Subtitled - How Successful Leaders Win Through Integrative Thinking. Roger Martin is Dean at Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto. The Opposable Mind is about getting integrative thinking - sometimes known as "design thinking" into management. Martin maintains that conventional thinkers break problems into small pieces and then examine the pros and cons - eliminating all but one. He claims that they do not look at linear relationships between variables and make either-or tradeoffs. The Opposable mind is about integrative thinking - how to understand problems holistically and generate innovative solutions. The ideas are very familiar to designers and design educators - but Martin brings them to bear on business problems. The book is very readable and very approachable - with some good case studies and a framework for understanding and developing integrative thinking. Highly recommended.
Back of the Napkin
Reviewed September 30, by Jon. Subtitled Solving Problems and Selling Ideas with Pictures. This book is an approachable and straightforward introduction to visual thinking and communication. It presents a taxonomy of visual communication techniques and icons and outlines a straightforward process for visual thinking and communications. It goes to great lengths to make visual thinking straightforward for those who do not believe they are artistically inclined.
Reviewed September 27, by Jon. Traffic is a scientific explanation of how traffic works. While there is some hard engineering and science, it is mostly about psychology and sociology. A few points that struck me - a lot of traffic problems are the result of inattention (no big surprise there), our behavior in traffic is poor because of the sense of isolation and anonymity - thus allowing us to violate social norms, traffic behavior can be explained by game theory - i.e. what is good for each of us individually may be bad for all of us collectively. Not a lot of actionable stuff in there but some insights into what makes us behave the way we do in traffic. Worth reading but not a must.
Flat, and Crowded
Reviewed September 18, by Jon. Why we need a green revolution and how it can renew America. This is a great book! Friedman builds upon the success of The World is Flat and tackles climate change and energy. He ties together globalization, national security, soft power, national competitiveness, political gridlock, population growth, and global warming. The fundamental thesis is that we are undergoing global warming (hot), globalization (flat), and population explosion (crowded). The rise of the middle class in emerging markets will exacerbate these problems making energy even more costly and a carbon economy even more problematic. He makes the bold assertion that the US has the opportunity to lead a green revolution and set a positive example for the rest of the world. He asserts that this is our opportunity to revive US competitiveness. If we don't do it, China will. To do so requires bold policy decisions and politicians who will stand up to the carbon energy establishment (a tough requirement). Friedman coins some new phrases - "fuels from heaven (wind, solar, geothermal) and fuels from hell (coal, oil, gas)" and "dumb as we wanna be" - the propensity of politicians and their constituents to avoid tough issues and deny that there is a problem. I hope Friedman's credibility and the popularity of The World is Flat propels this book into the public consciousness as much as The World is Flat did. It is certainly timely with our "dumb as we wanna be" presidential race heating up.
Sense of Urgency
Reviewed September 10, by Jon. This is a short book about leadership and creating a sense of urgency around change by John Kotter from Harvard. The book is pretty straightforward – with things to do and not do. One key lesson is to win both hearts and minds and not drown the audience in too much factual data. Kotter in some ways goes against the grain of MBA type analytical thinking to tie into the human element of change.
Reviewed September 7, by Jon. The Purpose-Driven Life was a big disappointment. I saw Rick Warren on a Ted Talk (see link below) and was impressed by his perspective that "it is not about you" and that people should structure their lives around a purpose bigger than themselves. He says that in giving our lives away to a purpose, we find meaning. Although he is an evangelical minister, in the TED talk, he does not over-emphasize religion and his message seemed universal - applicable to Christians as well as any other faith. My disappointment in the book is that the fundamental message gets lost under a thick layer of religious doctrine. Warren ties everything to God and makes it clear that he has a very fundamentalist view of the bible. The book is broken into 40 sound bites - all which seem very pat in their answers. I had high expectations starting to read this book. Instead I came away with disappointment that it was a populist tract that drowned a potentially powerful message in superstition and religious fundamentalism.
Reviewed Aug 26, by Jon. Daniel Dennett is an atheist philosopher at Tufts University. Breaking The Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon is a scientific study of religion. Interestingly Dennett uses evolution heavily in describing religion. Basically, he believes religion is a meme that gets transmitted and evolves culturally just like an organism evolves to adapt to its environment through natural selection. Dennett postulates that religions exist in most cultures and have similar features thus it must have some utility. Dennett treats religion as an object of scientific inquiry and rejects faith as something that cannot be shown by evidence. No doubt a controversial book to some but a very interesting way to look at the phenomenon of religion.
Reviewed Aug 23, by Jon. True Enough is subtitled “Learning
to Live in a Post-Fact Society”. Manjoo describes how the fragmentation of media
has led to the creation of a number of alternate truths. People pay attention to
media that confirms their beliefs. With a fragmented media that no is no longer
dominated by monolithic journalistic entities like newspapers and network
television, it is possible to find media that confirm almost anything. Manjoo
uses examples such as the “Swift Boat Veterans for Truth”, 9/11 conspiracy
theorists, vote fraud conspiracy theorists, etc. to examine this phenomenon. The
fragmentation of the media leads to fragmentation in society. People gravitate
toward those whose views are similar – thus leading to polarization. Manjoo
follows a thread on trust – what this fragmentation does is build trust in
sub-groups but erode trust in overall society – which makes for an inefficient
and dysfunctional world. Lots of disturbing food for thought here.
Cups of Tea
Reviewed August 20, by Jon. Three Cups of Tea is about Greg Mortenson, a mountaineer who devoted his life to building schools in Pakistan - largely to educate girls. Mortenson sometimes seems terribly naive about his quest but in spite of this - or perhaps because of it and with unwavering dedication he actually marshals the resources both financially from the US and from a materials, talent, and political standpoint in Pakistan and succeeds in both gaining the trust and admiration of the Pakistanis and building an operating schools. These schools give the Pakistanis an opportunity for education and an alternative to the madrassas (religious schools established by the Taliban and Wahabi Muslims). They also provide education for girls which is hitherto unknown in Pakistan. Mortensen is so successful he is able to expand his efforts Afghanistan. Three Cups of Tea is a great example of Soft Power - the alternative (and perhaps more effective means to win hearts and minds that hard power. A very inspiring and educational book. Mortenson is a true leader.
Audacity of Hope
Reviewed August 5, by Jon. The Audacity of Hope lays out Obama's philosophy on politics and life. I have to say, it is a refreshing book to read. I don't necessarily agree with all of his positions, but I very much like his thought process and the values he projects. The Audacity of Hope defines a well-reasoned and cogent view of American and politics. If the book is a true reflection of Obama's values and beliefs - and he can live them in political life, surviving the turbulence of the political process - he has my vote.
Reviewed August 4, by Jon. Breath is an Australian surfer coming of age novel with a dark twist. It is the story of a teenage boy in western Australia who meets Sando, a surfing legend, and apprentices to him. Well written and easy to follow – I read in a day on vacation. The story does a good job of describing the texture of western Australia. There is a core story but Winton has several threads around the edge that leave lots of unanswered questions. A good read but the dangling threads make it a little unsatisfying
Reviewed August 3ed by Jon. The Quest is the fourth in Smith’s Egyptian series. Taita – the eunuch, physician, and magician is sent by the Pharoh to determine why the Nile has dried up thus ruining the economy of Egypt. The Quest is an expeditionary tale as Taita – the leading character from Smith’s other Egypt novels - and his sidekick Meren travel up the Nile to ever more exotic locations until they encounter a Shangri-La like land. However there is a dark side to the land which Taita discovers. They source of the Nile blockage is discovered and corrected. Lots of expedition and adventure – along with warfare and lust. This is classic Wilbur Smith. I like this book a lot, though. Although somewhat Lord of the Rings – like, this book shows a maturing of Smith beyond adventure to more nuance. This is a great candy travel read but has more substance than a candy book. Recommended.
Reviewed July 26 by Jon. Yet another Wilbur Smith Book. This one is about diamond mining and the family of Zouga Ballyntine – with two sons Ralph – a man of men and Jordon, the “sensitive type: who later turns out to be gay. As usual there is a huge cast of characters and a big story on the frontiers of southern Africa. This is the first book where there is open discussion of American slaving ships and British intervention as well as the view of British subjects that the only way to ensure that the world is civilized is through British domination. This is a good travel read.
Reviewed July 20 by Jon. Kim is a classic by Rudard Kipling about a half white – half Indian boy growing up in India. I read while in India – or more accurately skimmed. The language is very arcane making the book difficult to read. Kim does cover a patchwork of issues and impressions of India and is worth the skim if you are in or exposed to India.
Reviewed July 19 by Jon. Yet another book by Wilbur Smith. Gold Mine takes place in the 1960s and is a follow on to When the Lion Feeds (the same mine). There is one reference to When the Lion Feeds. The book Is about Rod Ironside, manager of the mine – who gets unwittingly involved in a scam to ruin the mine and manipulate the stock market. This is only 250 pages and is an easy read – disconnected (except for the one reference) from the Courtney saga.
the Lion Feeds
Reviewed July 18, by Jon. This is one of the many sagas of the Courtney Dynasty. The hero is Sean Courtney, brother of Garrick. The book takes place in South Africa’s Natal in the late 1800s. As usual Sean is the good brother who can do everything perfectly. As a boy he shoots his brother and causes his leg to be amputated. He leaves for the bush and goes through several ups and downs – becoming very wealthy as a gold miner and losing it all – later to earn his fortune hunting ivory. This is an early Smith book – it is a bit disconnected. It seems as if there are a bunch of loosely connected stories that are never resolved before Smith moves onto the next one. There are a lot of classic Wilbur Smith literary devices and political attitudes. Great candy reading.
Reviewed July 11, by Jon. Shopping for Buddhas
is like a travelers tale story made into a book. Greenwald is an itinerant
writer who lives on and off in Kathmandu. He spends his time shopping for the
perfect Budda. The story gives a flavor of Kathmandu, Buddhism, and Greenwald. A
very light read but worthwhile background prior to Nepal travel.
Reviewed July 9 by Jon. Much like the other Traveler’s Tales series, this is a collection of short stories that try to capture the essence of a country – in this case, India. I have spent a lot of time in India in the past several years so the stories rang true. Many confirmed things I already knew and others explained things that I did not previously understand. I read a couple of weeks before going to India so this book has whet my appetite.
Reviewed July 2 by Jon. Traveler’s Tales Japan is a series of short stories and essays about travelling in Japan. Each piece tries to capture some element of the essence of Japan. This is very light reading but is entertaining and does provide insight into Japan. I read while visiting Kyoto and the book definitely provides a good backdrop for travels. This is part of the traveler’s tales series.
Future of Architecture
Reviewed July 11, 2008. This is the third in my series by Frank Lloyd Wright. The book starts with an interview with Hugh Downs and concludes with lecture series at Princeton, Hull House in Chicago, and London. Much is repetitious from the previous two books I read. There is some new material – largely tying together Wright’s overall concepts. Once again, I am amazed how much of this material I read at an early age and internalized.
Reviewed July 6 by Jon. The Natural House is the second in the Wright series that I read as a child. It is amazing how many of his ideas I remember from those early readings. The Natural House lays out Wright’s philosophy of organic architecture. Interestingly, he ties his ideas into Asian influences – it is clear that he does not have much good to say about Europe – either classical or modernist. The Natural House has lots of examples of houses Wright designed. He was fascinated with the “Usonian House” – a house for the working man – whom he idealizes in both The Natural House and The Living City. It was a pleasure re-reading The Natural House after so many years.
The Living City is Wright’s diatribe against large cities as exemplified by New York and capitalist land barons. Wright’s solution is Broadacre City, in which every man, woman, and child is guaranteed one acre. Wright’s writing is pretty iconoclastic and dense. He rails against much of society at the time (the 30s to the 50s) and heralds democracy – sort of an agrarian and craftsman’s revolution. He reveres the individual and despises those who profit from rents on land, labor, and money. Wright’s vision of Broadacre City must have been compelling back then but it did foretell urban sprawl. These are the unintended consequences of Wright’s vision. I first read this work as a child and was clearly influenced by it but did not understand it. I understand it a little better now – but much is still dense. Wright does, however, have an appealing point of view which shaped architecture and society in the mid to late 20th century.
A Pattern Language is a classic. It is a catalog of 253 patterns for building at three levels of scale – town, buildings, and construction. Each pattern is in a fixed format and Alexander explains a bit of theory behind patterns – although much of the theory is covered in the predecessor book – A Timeless Way of Building. Each pattern forms a set of design rules or a design vignette or fragment that can be used to inform the whole. Reading this almost 30 years after I first studied it was interesting. Some of the patterns are very qualitative. However the authors do use quantitative studies of urban behavior, urban geography, and structure. The book is much attuned toward indigenous architecture and some of the Berkeley ‘70s political philosophy comes out (e.g. “money grubbing developers”). However, many of the ideas are still relevant now and perhaps should be revisited. The authors clearly hold a very romantic view of architecture and urban design. Their contribution is very positive albeit a little dated. I am fascinated by the idea of patterns – and have seen them applied in other areas – such as software development. The idea of patterns may be so appealing because our minds work by analogy-seeking and this may be a fundamental approach that easily maps into the way our minds work. I’m glad I finally re-read this after so many years. It struck a chord in me – not only because of the pattern idea – but also reignited interests in urban design, politics of education, indigenous architecture and design methods. It is easy to see how Alexander and his followers were anathema to the pure formalists who seem to have hijacked architecture for the past 30 years
Room for Error
Reviewed June 28 by Jon. No Room for Error is about Air Force Special Tactics Units. These are Air Force Special Forces Units who provide air traffic control, search and rescue, and support for air assets to the US Special Forces. Carney commanded these units for a number of years. The book is a history of the units starting with Desert One in Iran through Afghanistan – including Grenada, Panama, Desert Storm, and Somalia. The book is a good history of Special Forces aviation and covers an aspect of Special Forces that is not often mentioned but is marred a bit by Carney’s impression of sour grapes that the special tactics units were not treated with equal respect by the Special Forces. An OK read, but not worth going out of your way for.
Reviewed Jun 18, by Jon. Much like the Elephant and the Dragon, Billions of Entrepreneurs is a comparison of India and China and a discussion of the underlying factors which will make them critical components of the world economy. Unlike the Elephant and the Dragon Khanna goes into a great deal of depth of many dimensions of Indian and Chinese culture and society to get at the reasons both are entrepreneurial cultures. He shows both similarities and differences. Well worth reading - although sometimes a bit long.
Strategy: A Resource Based Approach
Reviewed Jun 4, by Jon. Corporate Strategy is a textbook that outlines a theoretical framework and implementation guide for business strategy – particularly of the multi-business corporation. This book is both rigorously academic – in that it ties to academic theory, and very practical – in that it is clear and articulate with an understanding of implementation and execution issues. Corporate Strategy is easy to read and well worth reading for those trying to understand and implement strategy. It does require some knowledge of strategy and economics, however – so it is not a beginning text.
May 30 by Jon. Zakaria is an Indian-born American who writes for Newsweek on international affairs. He describes a changing world that is characterized not by American decline but "the rise of the rest". He describes how emerging countries - particularly China and India - are modernizing and growing - thus creating a challenge for America. He postulates a multi-polar world that is unlike the superpower dominated world post 1980s. This is a very well-written book about international affairs and, given my experience with emerging markets, is pretty accurate and insightful. Well worth reading.
May 26 by Jon. Nudge is about designing situations so that people will make the choices that are best for them. Thaler, a friend of our friend Nick, is an economist at the University of Chicago. He talks about the idea of "libertarian paternalism" in which choices are not restricted - but rather the "defaults" for choices are those that lead to good decisions. He calls this "choice architecture" and compares designing of programs like healthcare and education to designing a building. The beginning of the book lays out the case for choice architecture and libertarian paternalism and the second half of the book covers detailed prescriptions for a variety of situations facing the world today.
April 17 by Jon. Joseph Stiglitz is an expert on globalization. He is clearly a proponent of a globally integrated world, but he sees unfettered free markets as an impediment to achieving the promise of globalization. Thus, he is both a critic and a fan of globalization. Making Globalization Work tries to address the challenges brought about by unfettered free markets with the promise of globalization. He has a lot of prescriptions to create more fairness, to reduce corruption and corporate welfare in the developed economies, to address labor and environmental concerns, and to help developing economies reap the benefits. I'm not sure I agree with everything he suggests but he provides a good perspective on the globalization debate.
April 13 by Jon. Fighting Globesity ties together fitness and global sustainability. It is a nice idea but the book is pretty lightweight. It has the breathless style of a lot of fitness books - interesting but somewhat unconvincing. The tie to sustainability is weak. The book is lightweight but a good effort.
March 23 by Jon. This is Berenson's second novel and is better than the first - it has a little more substance. It does feature John Wells and Jennifer Exley, the main characters from The Faithful Spy. Berenson develops their characters a bit more. The plot was a little more interesting - very relevant with current events in China, Iran, and North Korea. The Ghost War is almost like a Tom Clancy novel - without the right-wing political views. A good, entertaining book. I look forward to Berenson's next book.
March 3 by Jon. About a CIA agent who is embedded in Al Qaeda. This is candy reading but is interesting because it is one of the first spy novels about modern-day espionage involving Al Qaeda. John Wells is an American agent embedded in Al Qaeda and has to figure out how to deal with it when he is set to the U.S. to conduct a terror attack. A little lightweight but an enjoyable read.
Spy Who Came in From the Cold
Reviewed February 23 by Jon. This is LeCarre’s classic spy novel which I have not read until now. It is a psychological thriller with a lot of twists and turns in the plot. What seems obvious becomes very slippery and the result is not at all what the reader is led to expect. As with other LeCarre novels, this is a study in both deception and moral ambiguity. This is a classic cold war spy novel that is a must read.
Challenges for the 21st Century
Reviewed February 10 by Jon. As usual, Drucker’s writing is clear, lucid, to the point and insightful. Management Challenges for the 21s Century looks forward at the major changes that are occurring at the beginning of the 21st century. Drucker addresses major shifts in the issues that drive society and articulates the management challenges in responding to them. Much of the writing is familiar ground – but he does provide a fresh perspective. Drucker articulates the role of the knowledge worker and contrasts the elements that make a knowledge worker with those that made a manual worker successful – something Drucker maintains characterized the 20th century. Reading Drucker is always refreshing. Much of what he says seems like common sense – and it is – but common sense informed by an unusually insightful thinker who can take a complex pattern and make it simple and digestible. Highly recommended.
Reviewed January 25 by Jon. Imperial Grunts predates a book I previously read by Kaplan - Hog Pilots, Blue Water Grunts. Imperial grunts follows a similar format – covering US troops from and embedded reporter’s perspective and getting to know them as individuals and collectively. Kaplan’s thesis is that the U.S. is an imperial power but must project force in small, behind the scenes ways. He very much supports the thread I have been reading on counterinsurgency and the need to win hearts and minds. He is strongly critical of the conventional US military – particularly the bureaucratic Army. Imperial Grunts chronicles the people in small units in the Philippines, Mongolia, Djibouti, Afghanistan, Iraq, and other places. Kaplan also discusses the nature of military personnel – largely southern and working class – as opposed to the cultural elites. He characterizes the 21st century military role as much like the “injun” wars of the 18th and 19th centuries. I really liked this book although I am not sure how I feel about its messages. Kaplan’s point of view is provocative – which, I supposed, is what characterizes a good book.
Reviewed January 25 by Jon. Ellis is a historian who chronicles the founding fathers of the United States. American Creation is interesting – although a bit tedious. Ellis covers the genesis of the Republican and Democratic parties and the expansion of the the U.S. though the Louisiana purchase. He makes people like Jeffereson, Washington, and Adams into real people with real interests. He lists the two big failures of the founding fathers as allowing slavery to persist and failing to protect native American populations. American Creation is a worthwhile view into the people and ideas which shaped the U.S.
Bull In China
Reviewed January 25 by Jon. Rogers is the investor who wrote Investment Biker and Adventure Capitalist. As the title implies, he is hugely bullish on China. He believes China is a huge growth and investment opportunity. The book is written in chapters that cover various sectors of the Chinese economy. Rogers provides an overview of the sector followed by companies that might be worthy of investment. The discussions of each economic sector are quite interesting and optimistic in an almost breathless kind of way. The company discussions are less useful – although provide a good overview if one is interested in investing in individual stocks. A Bull in China is worth reading for the overview and optimism it provides on the Chinese economy.
is Joe Merchant?
Reviewed January 25 by Jon. Where is Joe Merchant is about a seaplane pilot and his girlfriend – Tevor – who is searching the Caribbean for her long-lost rock star brother, Joe Merchant. They encounter a cast of characters and a number of related adventures as they search for Joe Merchant. This is easy, entertaining reading. Kind of feel-good without any kind of deep meaning. Good vacation reading
Army/Marines CounterInsurgency Field Manual
Reviewed January 25th by Jon. This is a joint Army/Marine operations manual for conducting counterinsurgency operations. It was produced by General Petreus and collects the lessons learned from Vietnam, Malaysis, Iraq, and other places on what works and what does not on successfully conducting operations against an enemy who uses asymmetrical force. Having just read Fiasco, this is a very interesting follow-on that shows how to implement the approaches Petreus was successful with in Northern Iraq.
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