Reviews of Books Read in 2009
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Reviewed December 31 by Jon. For
nine years, Julie Holland was the attending psychiatrist on duty at the
psychiatric emergency room at Bellevue hospital in New York. Weekends at
Bellevue describes her experiences in one of the world's leading and busiest
psych ERs. She chronicles here education, her relationships with her fellow care
givers, her experiences with patients, and offers a perspective on mental
illness. She also gives a good account of the changes she went through - both
because of her experiences in the ER and her life experiences in getting married
and having children. I heard her on NPR a couple of times before reading the
book and was impressed with her. The book is very readable and illuminating.
Reviewed December 30 by Jon. Subtitled “an ecopragmatist manifesto”, Stewart Brand, of Whole Earth Catalog fame - among a lot of other things - states his position on the relationship of environmentalism and technology. He criticizes greens for begin anti technology and states a new manifesto for using technology to address environmental issues. He describes the value of cities as concentrating human impact and reducing per-capita environmental footprint, nuclear power as the only source of power that will reduce carbon and provide sufficient capacity, and genetically modified organisms as a way to make agriculture more efficient and feed everybody. Brand makes some compelling arguments that we should use and harness technology rather than turn our backs on it. This is particularly powerful from someone so strongly identified with the classical environmental movement. Those who have followed him for a while will know, however, that he is also a technophile. I think this is an important book well worth reading that provides a plausible middle ground.
Reviewed December 30, by Jon. Richard Collins was an aviation columnist for Flying Magazine. He recently retired after 50 years of aviation writing. The Next Hour is subtitled "the most important hour in your logbook". This is nice little aviation book that covers a variety of aviation topics - all coming down to pilot discipline and decision-making. Collins has always been very readable and I've enjoyed his columns in Flying Magazine. I was sad to hear that he is retiring. This is his gift to us as he retires. It is a very nice armchair aviation book.
- My 10 Best Flights
Reviewed December 28, by Jon. Lane Wallace is an aviation columnist for Flying Magazine. I read her column frequently. This is a nice little book that chronicles her 10 favorite flights - including Oshkosh, Mexico, Alaska, a long cross country in her Cheetah, flying an airship over the alps, and a U-2 flight out of Beale Airforce Base. This is an easy, entertaining read, much like her columns.
is the Problem
Reviewed December 22, by Jon. Subtitled The Future of Design must be sustainable, Shedroff's book is both a manifesto calling designers to sustainable action and a practical handbook that catalogs a number of techniques and approaches. The book provides pragmatic advice for those trying to design in a sustainable fashion. The book is most relevant to product design, but those designing systems and businesses may also find it useful.
Thousand Splendid Suns
Reviewed December 22, by Jon. This is the second book by the author of The Kite Runner. It is not as good as the first but does give a view of life in Afghanistan during the Soviet and Taliban eras. It is the tragic story of two women married to a shoemaker - Rasheed. The book describes the brutality of their lives with Rasheed and the treatment of women and others during wartime and the Taliban. Good color on Afghanistan but a relatively mediocre read.
Reviewed December 16, by Jon. There are two key messages to The Element. First, intelligence manifests itself in many diverse forms. We are not all the same and, in fact, each of us manifests intelligence in our own way. To be successful in life and work, one has to find their element and develop it. Second, the educational system is geared toward mass production of students with similar attributes and only a few forms of intelligence. This goes against the idea of the element and destroys creativity rather than fostering it. We need to find ways to make education more personal and customized to each student’s form of intelligence rather than treating education as an assembly line pouring in standards knowledge and evaluated by standard tests. The Element correlates with a lot of things I have been reading. The book is a little lightweight but is well written and delivers a compelling message.
Rand and the World She Made
Reviewed November 28, by Jon. I have read most of Ayn Rand's work but did not know much about her. Heller's biography is very accessible and gives a fascinating account of Rand. It details here childhood in Russia and here immigration to the U.S. It seems that she started almost as a pulp fiction writer but then began to inject her philosophy based upon a rejection of communism. The book shows some real contradictions in here life - including reverence for the creator - but some clear evidence that she "borrowed" many of her ideas from others and a professed love of free will yet developing a cult like following in which anyone who questioned her was excommunicated. There are some interesting contrasts with present-day conservativism - such has her rejection of religion and libertine sex life. It was also enlightening to see how much Alan Greenspan was mentioned as one of acolytes. All-in-all an illuminating picture of a very controversial and provocative figure. Rand's own story is as provocative as the books she wrote.
Reviewed November 19, by Jon. The Geese, the Glide, the Miracle on the Hudson. Langewiesche is a great aviation writer. His father was a flight instructor who wrote one of the classics about flying. Fly By Wire is about the ditching of US Airways Flight 1549 in the Hudson River in January 2009. Unlike Highest Duty, Sullenberger's memoir, Fly By Wire provides a more 360 view of the incident. He covers the geese, what it is like to be an airline pilot today (not a pretty picture), and the nature of the Airbus fly-by-wire system. He shows that the Airbus automation - even though often criticized by pilots - actually helped Sullenberger by keeping the plane within aerodynamic limits. Very readable and engaging - as always with Langewiwsche's writing.
Substance of Style
Reviewed November 15, by Jon. How the Rise of Aesthetic Value Is Remaking Commerce, Culture, and Consciousness. The Substance of Style was recommended to me by someone who reviewed my Design as Competitive Strategy syllabus. I believe the recommender thought I did not have enough discussion of aesthetics in my syllabus. The Substance of Style is a manifesto about the need for aesthetics in our lives. I actually agreed with much of what Postrel says - although my bias coming in was that she was another writer who overly focused on design as style. She certainly does focus on the aesthetic aspects of design but makes the case that they enrich our lives. She describes, if you will, the functional nature of aesthetics. Thus, I found her work helpful - although still somewhat at odds with my view of design as an approach to focus innovation. Worth reading with a critical eye.
Reviewed November 8, by Jon. Yet another installment of Michael Connelly's Harry Bosch series. This one has a new twist - in addition to Bosch's role as an LA detective, this novel takes Bosch to Hong Kong. Very much a Connelly style murder mystery with an Asian element. The Hong Kong connection takes a series which has become formulaic and breathed new life into it. I very much liked the Hong Kong twist and could relate to many of the places described. Let's hope Bosch continues to foray beyond LA.
Reviewed October 28, by Jon. This is "Sully" Sullengerger's account of ditching USAir 1549 in the Hudson River on January 15, 2009. More importantly, it is Sully's memoir and it tries to define what it was that led to the professionalism and focus he and his crew demonstrated in the successful ditching and evacuation. I've read lots of aviation memoirs and they all pretty much start out the same way - with early flight school and flying experiences. What is different about this one is that Sully gives the reader a lot of detail into the factors that make up his character and point of view. Easy to read and very inspiring.
Design of Business
Reviewed October 27, by Jon. Subtitled "Why Design Thinking is the Next Competitive Advantage", the Design of Business draws upon the ideas Martin laid out in The Opposable Mind and further develops the idea of balancing reliability and validity. Martin described design thinking and abductive logic in a bit more detail than the Opposable Mind. This is a very readable book, perhaps a little lightweight, but it does make a clear and compelling argument. I think it builds the case better than the Opposable Mind. The book was a little light on what design thinking means - but that may be for the best since the term is fairly charged at this juncture.
Girl Who Played with Fire
Reviewed October 27, by Jon. This is the second novel by Stieg Larsson published posthumously. The Girl Who Played with Fire picks up where The Girl with The Dragon Tattoo left off further developing the characters if Lisbeth Salander and Michael Blomqvist. Salandar is accused of murder and Blomqvist tries to prove her innocence. He discovers a deep and broad sex-trade scandal. Both characters, but especially Salandar get deeper and richer. This was a hard book to put down and a hard book to finish. While the middle describing the police investigation dragged a bit, the characters are extremely colorful and engaging. I look forward to his third and final installment, the Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest.
Reviewed October 5, by Jon. A typical Dan Brown thriller set in Washington, D.C. with a lot of hocus-pocus involving the Masons. A good thriller in the Ludlum genre, but the tortuous use of semiotics and symbolism is too much for me.
Reviewed October 5, by Jon. Reading the Landscape from the air. This is a geography book for frequent fliers. It explains the geography of various regions and the features one is likely to see from the air. A nice traveler's companion. Easy to read, enjoyable, and informative. What more could you ask for?
Reviewed September 30 by Jon. How Design Thinking Transforms Organizations and Inspires Innovation. Tim gives voice to the idea of design thinking - or design as a verb - the application of design to business problems. Change by Design both articulates what Design Thinking is about and is a good survey of the issues. Tim characterizes design thinking as using the methodology of design to address things above and beyond beautiful objects. This resonates very well with my thinking and I will use this as a reading in my Haas Berkeley class. Change by Design is very well written – clear and lucid. The mind map in the front alone is worth getting the book. A must read.
Reviewed September 28, by Jon. By the author of The Emperor of Ocean Park, this is an espionage book about a former head of the CIA and Secretary of Defense who is dying at his Colorado mountaintop retreat. He is threatening to disclose information that his former employers want to remain buried. His daughters and his former young mistress are the primary characters. There is some redeeming value to this book but it does not live up to the hype or my expectations of Carter. The story is pretty one-dimensional and constrained to the mountain top retreat and small Colorado town. There a number of loose ends that do not get resolved and the story is unnecessarily convoluted. Carter is a great mystery writer. He should stick to that genre.
Reviewed September 27, by Jon. Subtitled "crossing borders in a world where differences still matter" this is the book that summarizes a course in global strategy taught by Ghemawat that I took at Harvard Business School a couple of years ago. The fundamental thesis is that despite globalization there are global differences that still matter. Global strategy is about choosing the right balance of adaptation (making things the different for different places), aggregation (making thing the same on a global or regional basis) and arbitrage (leveraging differences - largely cost differences). The book memorialized many of the things taught in the course. A good conceptual framework to think about global business strategy.
Reviewed September 21, by Jon. Tree of Smoke is a big, sprawling novel about Vietnam and covert operations there. There are lots of characters and it is pretty chaotic. I read in chunks over a fairly long period of time. Because of the confusing story line and large cast of characters, this might be better read at one time. I'm not sure if it is worth the effort, though.
Reviewed September 9, by Jon. Kilcullen is a student of insurgency and counter insurgency. His thesis is that many of the people who fight against countries like the US do so not because they have an ideological difference with us but because they feel we have invaded their country and are interlopers. Kilcullen analyzes Iraq and Afganhistan using this lens as well as many smaller conflicts. His work is very aligned with that of David Patraeus and others who have studied counterinsurgency. Kilcullen's prescription focuses on nation building and soft power and is yet another indictment of using massive force and occupation.
Brief History of the Future
Reviewed August 10, by Jon. Subtitled "a brave and controversial look at the twenty-first century", like The Next 100 Years, this book looks back at history and attempts to extrapolate a future from historical trends. The Next 100 Years used military and geopolitical trends as its basis of extrapolation and Attali uses free markets and capitalism. The results are quite different. Attali's future is a ultimate capitalist society which is essentially stateless, he sees governments becoming totally privatized and everybody is working toward their own self-interest. This almost seems to be a dystopian vision. At the end, he postulates a world government of sorts. Interesting read but it is difficult to tell whether he is serious or tongue-in-cheek.
Reviewed July 19, by Jon. The Innovator's Prescription applies Christiansen's theory of disruptive technology to health care. He examines issues as diverse as insurance, drugs, medical devices, medical education, the general hospital, and regulation through the lens of disruptive technology. In general the lens works quite well and the authors provide some great insight into how to change healthcare. The risk is that the entrenched special interests are so entrenched that they will do everything possible to prevent disruption. However, that is exactly what disruptive technology theory addresses. For those interested in the intersection of disruption and health care, this is a must read.
Reviewed July 19, by Jon. Set in modern-day India, White Tiger is the story of Balram Halwai, a driver for a wealthy man and his wife. The story is a great flavor of India with clear depiction of class distinctions and the messiness of Indian life and society. Very readable and entertaining.
Ascent of Money
Reviewed July 12, by Jon.
Ferguson is a history professor at Harvard and this book is
subtitled "a financial history of the world". Ferguson chronicles the rise of
money, debt (bonds), stocks, insurance, and real estate. He establishes the
historical roots of each financial service type and shows how each evolved. He
also covers the current situation with a chapter on globalization and modern
finance. A bit dated now that the financial crisis is upon us but a good
historical background. Easy to read and entertaining.
Next 100 Years: A Forecast for the 21st Century
Reviewed July 7, by Jon. Friedman runs a private intelligence firm that consults to the US government among others. His method is to look at historical context and try to fathom deep trends. This is a very ambitious work - in which he tries to postulate what will happen over the next century. The historical context was fascinating and his analysis of demographics was quite similar to Jeffrey Sachs in Common Wealth, but the conclusions were different. Similarly, it was fascinating to read his book right after reading Ultimatum. Friedman clearly views the world through the lens of the military and geopolitical conflict. He sees states continuing to be the big actors and to behave pretty much as they have in the past. He makes some surprising predictions - China will stumble and become like Japan was in the lost decade, Russia will resurge, etc. and believes in some interesting new powers - Japan, Turkey, and Poland. His prescriptions are very much traditional military - very reliant on high technology space systems (he believes the US Space Command will become a new and the largest military service). I'm not sure I believe many of Friedman's predictions but it is worth taking a look at his work - for a big perspective on the future.
to Win Friends and Influence People
Reviewed July 2, by Jon. I re-read this classic on "human relations". Although the examples and writing are a bit dated, the lessons are timeless. A great reminder of how to treat other people, worth reading every few years.
Reviewed July 2, by Jon. Ultimatum is a political novel set in 2032 with a new president, Joe Benton, facing a global warming crisis. Ultimatum is a logical extrapolation of current trends including global warming, Kyoto, the US government's inaction, the rise of China, and the US relationship with China. Well-written and entertaining as well as educational. While this is a bit sensationalist it is a provocative book worth reading.
Reviewed June 30, by Jon. Subtitled Economics for a Crowded Planet, economist Jeffrey Sachs (author of The End of Poverty) ties together sustainability, poverty, and foreign policy. He shows how sustainable development is the only reasonable approach to ending poverty and inequality. Well developed and thought out, very critical of the Bush Administration's foreign policy. Common Wealth integrates a number of key issues and provides a framework for international action. Well worth reading.
Reviewed June 28 by Jon. Subtitled “the hidden forces that shape our decisions”, this book is a primer on behavioral economics. Ariely shows how our patterns in our behavior shape our decisions. He debunks purely rational economics or rather expands the framework of rational economics to include human behavior. Although not very deep, this is a readable and compelling introduction to adding the human element into theories of economic decision making.
Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Reviewed June 22, by Jon. A murder mystery set in Sweden, the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is about the powerful Vanger family - an industrial dynasty. One of the girls in the family disappeared long ago and the scion of the family hires an investigative reporter to find out what happened. As the story unfolds, the family's history gets more and more convoluted. The reporter hires an investigator (the girl with the dragon tattoo) to help and they become involved. Lots of tangled stories and characters. It is a good read and the Swedish tone adds some flavor.
the Mighty Fall
Reviewed June 13, by Jon. Subtitled ... and why some companies never give in. This is another Collins book in which he studies success in companies. Instead of covering what causes success, in How the Mighty Fall, he looks at failure. He identifies a five step process that leads to failure. The key is in abandoning the discipline that made the company great in the first place. Building upon Good to Great and Built to Last, this is the latest in Collins pragmatic data-driven approach to understanding corporate success. His prescription is simple and compelling - focus and discipline on the things that matter.
Reviewed June 13, by Jon. The Scarecrow picks up with Jack McEvoy, the LA Times reporter chasing serial killer The Poet. A light read in the Connelly tradition, easy to read yet engaging. Good, well-crafted escapist reading.
Reviewed June 2, by Jon. McMafia asserts that one fifth of global GDP is based on illegal trade - drugs, cigarettes, prostitution, etc. Glenny chronicles the sources of such trade in organized crime and traces much of the organized crime to causes such as the fall of the Soviet Union. He covers many of the spots in the world where organized crime flourishes. Informative but it is not clear what he proposes be done about it.
World is Curved
Reviewed May 30, by Jon.
Obviously, Smick is contrasting his book to Friedman's The
World is Flat. His book is about the global financial system and claims that it
is a lot less homogeneous than Friedman assumed. He maintains that there are and
will always be differences between countries. He is a big fan of free trade and
globalization and decidedly more conservative than Friedman. He cautions about
overregulation of financial systems. I'm not sure I agree with everything he
says but a good contrast to protectionist writings and those that advocate
Reviewed May 25, by Jon.
This is a 1999 book of all kinds of statistics about the US. A
number of graphic designers are used to show different ways of depicting
information. Some are effective, others are not. Chock full of interesting
statistics and ways to present them. The book is a little out of date but is
fascinating to browse.
Reviewed May 25, by Jon.
Story: Substance, Structure, Style, and the Principles of
Screenwriting is a how-to book for screenwriters. It shows how to construct a
screenplay and all of the elements and considerations that have to go into it.
It is richl lllustrated with examples from movies. I'd imagine this is a good
textbook for a screenwriter and was an interesting read for someone who is
intellectually curous. Easy to read and follow with good examples.
Reviewed May 23, by Jon.
The Mindful Brain ties together neuroscience with meditation
and mindfulness. It somehow did not do it for me. In trying to span science and
thought it did not do a good job of either. It might work for a scientist or
someone steeped in meditation but the style was too in-between. I did, however
gain a few insights and goet the sense that there is a connection between
neuroscience and mindfulness. The book just did not clearly explain - rather,
gave a vague sense that the connection exists.
Atlas of the Real World: Mapping the Way We Live
Reviewed May 16, by Jon.
Cartogram maps of all kinds of data illustrating quantity in
place of land area. Very visual way to illustrate information - and very
Reviewed May 16 by Jon.
By the author of Blindness,
this is a very convoluted book in which death is suspended then returns in an
Reviewed by Jon, May 6. Richardson is the motorcycle editor of the Toronto Star. In this book he retraces Robert Pirsig's trip in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. He travels the route and recounts the geography, and a history of Pirsig and what led him to write Zen. Apparently there are quite a few people who retrace the trip. An easy read and some insights into the classic book.
Reviewed by Jon, April 24. Drucker, of course, is a giant in 20th century management theory. This is a compendium of his work that is very relevant. I found it extremely clear and concise and it helped focus my mind on the problems at hand. This is a timeless work that merits re-reading every few years.
Reviewed April 22, by Jon.
Subtitled Bridging the Gap Between Rich and Poor in an
Interconnected World. Jacqeline worked in developing economies for many years
helping people set up businesses and achieve self-sufficiency. Her work led her
to se up a venture fund for businesses in emerging countries. Good on the ground
view of business-based anti-poverty efforts.
Reviewed by Jon, April 17. Marty does a credible job of tying design to business strategy. The book is a little lightweight but it does make the case well. Well researched and presented.
Reviewed by Jon, April 16. Much has been written about 9/11 but not much on the US military response and their coordination with the FAA. Touching History is about what happened behind the scenes with the FAA and US Military commanders and fighter pilots. It is shocking how ill prepared we were for the attacks and how little coordination existed between the military and the FAA. Very interesting to read - but also disturbing. I hope we have fixed the problems and are not well defended with an air force that can communicate with civilian air traffic controllers.
Reviewed by Jon, April 13. Presentation Zen is a really good book on presentations - specifically those using Powerpoint. It reinforces and extends the messages from Nancy Duarte's Slide:ology and emphasizes clarity of message, simplicity, and design. A must for presenters and designers of presentations. Beautifully designed and illustrated.
Design of Things to Come
Reviewed by Jon,April 10. This is a book about pragmatic design process. It was a bit of a disappointment - the content was OK but pretty lightweight. I agreed with most of what the authors said, but wish they had said more.
Powers: America and the World After Bush
Reviewed by Jon,April 4. Great Powers builds upon Barnett's previous book, The Pentagon's New Map, by posing a comprehensive theory of globalization. Barnett reviews American history - in particular the US westward expansion - in which the west was integrated much like the world is now being integrated. He shows that globalization was driven by American ideals and the rise of emerging countries like China and India are happening much like the US rose to challenge Europe in the 1800s. Barnett is a military analyst and he clarifies and expands his view of the US military in a globalized world. He also comments on the role of many other institutions. Barnett frequently refers to Fareed Zakharia's Post-American World. His book was written after the 2008 financial meltdown. Barnett is extremely critical of the Bush administration. The Great Powers gives a roadmap for globalization post-Bush. Barnett is very bullish on globalization and the US role in it - and believes we need to continue to drive for a more globalized world - albeit one in which our role will be different than it was in the second half of the 20th century.
in Visual Thinking
Reviewed by Jon, March 29. This is a classic in visual thinking which I reread after assigning to my class in Design as Competitive Strategy as optional reading. The book both covers the how-to and theory of visual thinking and is chock full of references to other sources. Definitely a classic and must-read. I skimmed quickly and now want to go back and do a more thorough reading.
Reviewed by Jon, March 22. Iconclast has some insights from neuroscience regarding how difficult it is to think differently. Burns talks about three things – perception, fear, and social networking to diffuse and innovation. Most interesting was the discussion about perception and how the brain works slowly, and thus matches patterns and makes assumptions. At the end is an appendix about pharmacology – interesting but I am not sure how useful. The book was interesting and somewhat thought provoking but seemed to wander a bit and not come to a crisp point.
to Think Strategically
Reviewed by Jon, March 22. Learning to Think Strategically
is a dense and thorough book on the strategic thinking process and the
associated learning processes. It reinforces and clarifies many of the points I
have been thinking about in my strategy work at Autodesk and my Berkeley
teaching. Sloan draws a sharp contrast between strategic planning (a largely
analytical, reductionist, and rational process) and strategic thinking (an
intuitive synthesis process). While reading the book requires some commitment,
there is a lot of depth here and some good insights into the learning processes
associated with strategy. Learning to Think Strategically is yet another brick
in the wall as I endeavor to build a comprehensive theory of strategy formation.
Reviewed by Jon, March 21. Meadows was part of Jay
Forester’s System Dynamics group at MIT and was one of the original authors of
the Club of Rome’s Limits to Growth report. Thinking in Systems is a very
readable and approachable primer on system dynamics. It provides a very
straightforward overview of systems, patterns, and their connections. Meadows
packs a lot into just 200 pages covering the technical aspects of systems
thinking to leverage points, etc. It inspires me to go further.
Return of Depression Economics
Reviewed March 12, by Jon.
Krugman, a liberal economist and the 2008 winner of the Nobel prize for
economics, provides an extensive historical view of how depressions and
recessions happen. He then ties history back to the present-day situation.
Krugman makes a compelling case for fiscal stimulus. He believes in the power of
ideas and convincingly argues that the ideas of Keynesian economics are the
solution to today’s economic woes. Well written and informative.
Reviewed Feb 28, by Jon.
A La Carre spy novel about an African translator for the
British Secret Service. I tried a couple of times to get engaged with the book
but had no luck. It showed some promise but, for some reason, I could never get
involved with the characters or plot.
the Future Catches You
Reviewed Feb 14, by Jon.
Enriquez was a TED speaker who spoke of the financial crisis.
I found him a pretty good speaker and bought his book. The book was OK, but
dated. It was written around 2000 and now sounds dated. Enriquez assertion that
the genome and genetics is the next technology revolution - akin to the
IT/Internet revolution is an interesting one. If true, it could yield a great
deal of technology progress - and perhaps some uncertainty. One question is
whether such a revolution can address the world's environmental challenges.
Reviewed Jan 19, by Jon.
Subtitled The Art and Science of Creating Great
Presentations, Slideology is about how to create great powerpoints. As expected
it is about using fewer slide special effects and rather, developing clear ideas
and presentation. It talks about less being more and the value of good design.
Well written, graphic, and clear. Recommended reading.
of a Liberal
Reviewed January 6 by Jon. Krugman is an unabashed liberal and he explains the liberal movement relative to the conservative movement. He describes the issues associated with income inequality and casts the Republican party as playing on racial fears. He draws a very sharp distinction between a society that uses government to drive income equality (democratic) and one that wishes to return to the “guilded age” of the 1920s. A very well researched history of recent politics. Krugman clearly has a position and it is very clear what it is from reading this book.
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