Reviews of books read in 2010
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Good Design: How Designers Can Change the World
Reviewed December 31, by Jon. This is a manifesto for designers, largely graphic designers, to do less harm. It is replete with examples of advertising that is exploitative and drives ever-increasing consumption, in the tradition of Victor Papanek's Design for the Real World. They key flaw of the book is that it is long on negative examples and short on positive ones. It tries to establish guilt about designing for consumption but does not offer a credible alternative. This is a missed opportunity.
The Aging of the World's Population and How
it Pits Young Against Old, Child Against Parent, Worker Against Boss, Company
Against Rival, and Nation Against Nation
Reviewed December 29, by Jon. Fishman discovered the phenomenon of global aging when researching his first book, China, Inc. Shock of Gray is about the effects of aging populations on developed and emerging economies. Gray covers the state of aging and the demographic destiny that will drive the development and future of our world. It is a bit scary seeing the huge demographic shifts that will happen. Gray points out the issues, but does not pretend to have solutions. A provocative book - but I'm not sure what to do with the information, except to move to a country with a young population, such as Indonesia or Vietnam.
Reviewed December 15, by Jon. The reversal follows the tried and true Connelly formula - using Mickey Haller and Harry Bosch characters and some of the familiar characters that surround them such as Bosch's daughter and Haller's ex-wife Maggie McPherson. In a role reversal, Haller (normally a defense attorney) is hired by the LA district attorney to defend a murder suspect whose first trial (24 years earlier) was overturned when DNA evidence indicated a wrongful conviction. The Reversal has all of the usual plot twists and turns with a surprise ending. As one would expect, justice does prevail. For Connelly fans, this is candy reading. Lots of fun but mostly empty calories.
Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves
Reviewed December 14, by Jon. Ridley's fundamental thesis is that innovation comes through exchange. He takes Adam Smith's ideas about the value of exchange and specialization and explores them quite broadly. Ridley makes a compelling case for exchange being the driver of wealth and innovation. I generally liked the book and believe his idea of exchange. However, he lost me when he started saying we should not worry at a systemic level about issues such as poverty and climate change because bottom-up innovation would solve these problems. It may, but I thought hi view was a bit too dogmatic. Lots of great historical examples of exchange driving wealth and innovation in the book.
A Novel of the Vietnam War
Reviewed December 8, by Jon. When I first started reading Matterhorn, it reminded me of the scene in Apocalypse Now where Martin Sheen goes up on the river bank to an American position and finds chaos. There are a number of black soldiers on acid listening to Jimmy Hendrix. When he asks for their commanding officer, they ask "aren't you?". Matterhorn has much of the surreal quality of that scene. It is about a marine unit defending a hill called Matterhorn in Vietnam near the Laotian border. The story is about the boredom and fear that accompany the mission. The leading character is Lt. Mellas, who deals with racial tensions, lack of supplies and water, and general angst. The book is long and I felt it was disjointed. That may be the way it is or may be because I did not read it in a continuous sweep but, rather in fits and starts over a period of a month or so. I cannot say I really liked it, but it did have an interesting texture to it.
Great Reset: How New Ways of Living and Working Drive Post-Crash Prosperity
Reviewed November 21, by Jon. The Great Reset weaves Richard Florida's ideas about the evolution of society (creative class supplanting low-skill manufacturing work in cities designed to attract the creative class) with a vision about how things will be different after we recover from the economic crisis. I liked the book but somehow felt that it was a bit lightweight. I kept expecting Florida to dig in and provide some substantive insights as to how the reset would be different. Instead, I found some pretty predictable ideas. Perhaps this is because I believe a lot of what Florida has written in the past about the great reset being a disruptive inflection moving from manufacturing to services much like the transition from agriculture to manufacturing. Florida is saying things many of the people I have been reading have been saying. He triangulates well. The Great Reset is and easy read and worth the time.
to Care: How Companies Prosper when they Create Widespread Empathy
Reviewed November 21, by Jon. Wired to Care is about achieving empathy in trying to understand customers and users. It seems like a pretty simple idea, but it is clear that we do it too little. Patnaik provides examples, anecdotes, and exercises from his popular course at Stanford. A very easy and enlightening read. As with many things from the Stanford Design Program - this book is about applied common sense. Unfortunately, too few people seem to apply this common sense. Highly recommended.
America: How Stupidity Became A Virtue in the Land of the Free
Reviewed November 13, by Jon. Charles Pierce is a regular panelist on NPR's "Wait Wait Don't Tell Me". I listen to the show and it is pretty funny. The thesis of Idiot America is that America has always been a nation tolerant of cranks. We thrive on cranks in our midst. But something has gone wrong recently when the cranks become mainstream. Pierce maintains that our culture now mistakes the things many people believe as fact. This has allowed cranks - previously harmless fringe characters - and their ideas to go mainstream. He chronicles lots of great examples, The Creation Museum, Intelligent Design, Climate Change Denial, the Terry Tsaivo case, among many others. When you combine his observations with those of the Heath brothers in Switch, it is easy to see how this happens. The Heath brothers show that emotion can be more powerful than intellect. The stories that Charles Pierce describes provide ample evidence of this.
Good Ideas Come From: A Natural History of Innovation
Reviewed November 10, by Jon. Johnson described how ideas evolve. Contrary to the stereotype of the isolated lone genius with a flash of insight, Johnson shows that ideas evolve through social processes - ideas and those who think of them interacting and rubbing shoulders with other ideas. Rather than being strictly generative, ideas are genetic - they evolve through mutation and interaction with other ideas. A very well written and straightforward book that challenges conventional assumptions about invention and innovation.
is How it Works: How the smartest companies turn products into icons
Reviewed October 31, by Jon. I had high hopes for this book because I thought the title implied that design is about much more than form. I expected it to view design as a holistic endeavor. It did, but the book was a bit of a disappointment because I thought he case could have been made more strongly. The book consists mostly of stories about companies that put design at the forefront – Porsche, Nike, Lego, OXO, REI, Clif Bar, Ace Hotels, and Virgin Atlantic. The stories progress from product design to experience design. I thought the book was OK, with good stories and examples, but it did leave me a bit unsatisfied.
A User's Guide to the 21st Century
Reviewed October 31, by Jon. WorldChanging is a sprawling work, reminiscent of the Whole Earth Catalog in the 1970s that catalogs a variety of ways to deal with changing the planet for the better. It is a curated work with a number of contributors. It is divided into sections on stuff, shelter, cities, community, business, politics, and planet. There are a wide variety of perspectives – all revolving around ways to improve the current situation. Worldchanging is an optimistic book with a broad message. There are great illustrations and each section has a rich set of references. The only think I worry about is that the book may quickly become dated – as the Whole Earth Catalog did. It was written in 2006 and already showing its age. Nevertheless, it is a great resource and parts will stand the test of time.
Taliban: How War, Sex, Sin, and Power bind Jihadists and the Radical Right
Reviewed October 31, by Jon. I liked the fundamental thesis of the book – that the U.S. radical right has a lot in common with the Taliban through its intolerance and rigid views of the world. The book does make the case. Unfortunately, it devolves into partisan and sophomoric kinds of arguments from time to time. This makes the author sometimes seem like a left wing wingnut and reduces his credibility. While I agree with the core message, the book would have been more powerful with a more mature and balanced writing style. The author’s sometimes hyperbolic style makes it easy to dismiss his argument. That is a shame because his core message seems quite accurate and real.
Sea Ranch: Diary of an Idea
Reviewed October 31, by Jon. This is a simple liitle book of Halprin’s sketches around the Sea Ranch idea. I read while at Sea Ranch and it was refreshing to see the ideas behind the place. Sea Ranch has in many ways stood the test of time – 40 years worth – many of the values are visible today but many are also threatened. A great reminder of the thinking that led to the creation and perpetuation of a special place. Also a great view into the mind of a phenomenal landscape architect.
Ranch: Taking Part Workshop: Revisiting the Sea Ranch Value System
Reviewed October 31 by Jon. This pamphlet is documentation of a 2003 workshop led by Halprin to review he values that led to Sea Ranch. It was issued for a July 3ed event memorializing his life (Halprin died in 2009). Like the Sea Ranch Diary, it was very instructive to see the values of that define Sea Ranch and the issues challenging those values. There was a clear concern about two issues - trophy homes and the lack of services for aging residents. Both are issues which one might expect after 40 years of existence. This was a nice window into Sea Ranch of today and how it has evolved. I wish I had known of the workshop. As a regular Sea Ranch guest, I would have liked to participate.
Singularity is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology
Reviewed October 29, by Jon. The singularity is when computational technologies reach the point where we can port our knowledge and thinking into them. The Singularity is Near is Kurzweils’ magnum opus to show us when and how this is possible. Kurzweil is a technical polymath and technology optimist who passionately believes that technologies of many types are increasing capability at an exponential rate and that the singularity is close at hand. The book is very dense and sometimes opaque with technological details. It is worth reading by many, myself included, might find its density too much and end up skimming parts. It is a fascinating point of view worth understanding.
How the Lunatic Fringe is Hijacking America
Reviewed October 30 by Jon. Wingnuts is the first imprint of Beast Books, an offshoot of the Daily Beast. Avalon chronicles the rise of extremist fringe groups on both the right and the left. I read it a few days before the 2010 mid-term elections which have been characterized by extreme partisan politics and the rise of the tea parties. Avlon’s does a lot of in-dept research and debunks many of the assertions of wingnuts. For example, he speaks with both the U.S. Nazi party and the socialist party to see how they view assertions that President Obama is a Nazi and/or a socialist. Much of the research and examples Avlon presents are both humorous and frightening. The invective that wingnuts spew forth is frequently counterfactual and sophomoric. What is startling is that so many people believe it. Avlon’s description of Wingnuts reminds me of Eric Hofer’s assertions that true believers are often so dogmatic because they are insecure in their beliefs. Avlon covers both right and left Wingnuts but far more ink is given to the right. He does, rightly, characterize both as similar and shows that there is sometimes wraparound from right to left – particularly in issues such as conspiracy theories surrounding 9/11. Finally Avlon offers some prescriptions to Wingnuts – mostly around telling the truth and helping people see the folly of dogmatic positions. Given the poisonous political atmosphere and palpable fear in the electorate these days, I am skeptical of the efficacy of the prescriptions.
A Natural History of New York City
Reviewed October 30 by Jon. Mannahatta is a beautifully illustrated and meticulously researched book that described what Manhattan was like prior to human settlement. Sanderson is a landscape ecologist who uses a variety of scientific techniques to reconstruct what the land, the people, the ecological systems, flora, and fauna of Manhattan must have been like prior to its becoming one of the most densely populated places on the planet. The conclusions and illustrations are fascinating. Even more interesting is the description of the techniques Sanderson used to do his research. The book concludes with an optimistic vision of what Manhattan might look like 400 years in the future. Interestingly, I read this while staying in a house at SeaRanch on the Northern California coast overlooking the ocean. Perhaps the perfect place to contemplate and imagine what Manhattan was like before we developed it.
Other Side of Innovation: Solving the Execution Challenge
Reviewed October 28 by Jon. The Other Side of Innovation is a clear and lucid description of the problem of innovating in established, successful companies. The authors explain that successful companies are "performance engines" that relentlessly optimize. In so doing, they drive out variation and uncertainty. By its very nature, innovation creates variation and uncertainty. They make a case for separating innovation teams from the performance engine, but not too much. They describe the importance of bridging functions and people that connect the innovation to the performance engine. Ultimately the performance engine needs to incorporate the innovation and this bridge function is necessary to make sure that it does so. They also talk about how the innovation team needs to work - it must be disciplined as a series of controlled experiments to maximize learning. Good book with good examples, that very practically describes how to get innovation done.
Power of Pull: How small moves, smartly made, can set big things in motion
Reviewed October 23 by Jon. Hagel and Brown postulate that top-down "push" approaches are becoming less effective in a networked world and are being supplanted by bottom up "pull" approaches. They look at this at the market, organization, and individual level and discuss how to marshal resources to make change happen. Their view is quite similar to other thinking on how innovation happens. If they are right, this portends powerful changes in the way organizations work and creates new opportunities for individuals and small groups. While this is a business book, it also has some valuable lessons for individual effectiveness in a networked world.
Revolution: 100 Products that Empower People
Reviewed October 9 by Jon. Emily Polloton is a designer who focuses on design for social responsibility in the Victor Papanek tradition. The introduction is well worth reading. The bulk of the book is a catalog of projects organized into catagories - education, enterprise, water, energy, mobility, food - that show products designed to solve problems in the lives of everyday people. A good inspirational sourcebook.
Up Digital: How the Net Generation is Changing Your World
Reviewed September 30 by Jon. Tapscott describes how the Net Generation (born between 1977 and 1997) have adapted to growing up with digital technology as a given. He chronicles the differences in the net generation and is very optimistic. Differing from other commentators, he believes the ability to multitask and deal technology is a plus. Generallya good book, Tapscott uses his own kids as examples a few too many times - thus reducing credibility. Lots of statistics and a thought provoker on differences and similarities cross generations and experience sets.
Reviewed September 28 by Jon. This is the story of Maimonides Medical Center in Brooklyn - a large hospital serving a very multicultural community. Salamon studied the hospital for a year and shadowed its president and several doctors and staff. The story is about the workings of the hospital - community and politics. It was an OK read but a bit depressing. Although comprehensive, it was not a very engaging book.
The Next Economy and America's Future
Reviewed September 25 by Jon. This is Robert Reich's book about the causes of the economic collapse and his prescription moving forward. Like Paul Krugman, he believes that income inequality is at the root of the problem. He states that lack of demand due to low purchasing power among the middle class is what caused the economic collapse. Credible enough. He does suggest that our winner take all economy causes the playing field to tilt toward the wealthy and "talent". All of this is fair enough. It is clear that our society over-rewards some people and this should be, in some way, rectified. What is less clear is that Reich's prescriptions are valid. While many are reasonable, they do ignore the idea of personal responsibility. My own view is that the decline in purchasing power among the middle class is partially due to an increasingly complex society which requires more skill and thus, more education. Those who take responsibility for seeking an education (either formal or informal) do well. Those who rely on eroding skills, do not. While I found Aftershock valuable, it seemed a little pat in its answers. I generally like Reich's point of view. This seemed a bit lightweight. I though Supercapitalism was a much better book.
Reviewed September 15 by Jon. A novel about the life of a surgeon from Ethiopia who later emigrates to the US. The story is about his relationship with his Siamese twin brother, his adopted parents, and his estranged father – a brilliant surgeon. The story is very convoluted but has very rich characters and interaction with a surprising ending. It is easy to get bogged down so read it when you can keep some momentum going.
in Emerging Markets
Reviewed September 15 by Jon. Describes the challenges of competing in emerging markets. The fundamental thesis is that emerging markets contain “institutional voids” – gaps in the institutional framework that exist in developed economies. Companies that hope to compete in emerging markets need to find ways to fill or otherwise address the institutional voids. This book is a the first strategy book I have seen to explicitly address emerging markets with an eye toward strategy and execution.
Reviewed September 15 by Jon. A collection of essays from Stephen Roach of Morgan Stanley. Roach is known as a pessimist on the US economy and these essays show why. He clearly articulates a belief that the US is overconsuming and China is oversaving and has an export-driven economy. This is conventional wisdom now but Roach has been saying it for years. Lots of interesting observations. The biggest problem with the book is that it is a collection of essays arranged thematically rather than chronologically – thus it jumps around in time and is difficult to follow. Also there is a lot of repetition and redundancy. Some good nuggets in here but the book would have been better with some good editing.
Reviewed September 16 by Jon. This is a good primer on China from the China chairman of Booz and Company. A perspective on how China will change going forward. Some key points:
Reviewed September 6 by Jon. I'm generally not wild about books that lionize a particular business figure, but this one does a credible job of divining the factors that have made Steve Jobs and Apple such as success. One has to look past some of the hyperbole to find some valuable lessons about business and leadership
Geographic Complete Survival Manual
Reviewed August 29 by Jon. This is a survival manual organized by environment - temperate forest, rainforest, high mountain, desert, polar, water, home. Similar to other survival manuals, but it is well organized and very visual. I like the organization by environment type. A useful reference manual for survival situations. The visual style makes it easy to find things. This book is chock full of useful information.
Story of Stuff
Reviewed August 16 by Jon. Subtitled - how our obsession with stuff is trashing the planet, our communities, and our health - and a vision for change. I read an article in the SF Chronicle a while ago about Annie Leonard. The article said she is a deep expert on the waste in extraction, production, distribution, and disposal of stuff. Her challenge was that her expertise was getting in the way of delivering her message. It was too detailed. She then worked on the Story of Stuff video (www.storyofstuff.com) and connected with a broad audience. The book takes off from the video and provides the depth. I liked the book but at times, it does get too detailed and just a hair too stridently left in orientation. It does have a wealth of information that backs up the video. I'd recommend seeing the video first then reading the book for the depth and rationale for many of the points in the video.
Reviewed July 31 by Jon. This is Cody Lundin's second survival book, a follow on to 98.6: The Art of Keeping Your Ass Alive. Whereas 98.6 is about wilderness survival, When All Hell Breaks Loose is about urban survival after a disaster such as a hurricane, flood, earthquake, or civil disruption. It covers the same principles but in an urban context. Lundin covers food, shelter, water, light, sanitation, transportation, communication -- all of the basics. It is chock full of information - including some creepy such as how to deal with dead bodies, how to catch and eat rats, etc. However it just might be useful in a real urban emergency. The style is entertaining and this is a valuable reference book. It is interesting to see how wilderness skills translate to urban emergencies. Worth the read and worth having on hand. Some of Lundin's comments that this is not about what food and ammo to buy give a hint that there are some survival types out there who may be on the lunatic fringe.
Design 1.1: A Manifesto for the Design of Experiences.
Reviewed July 25 by Jon. Nathan is a friend who is an accomplished designer and leading thinker about design. Experience Design 1.1 covers a wide variety of issues in the design of compelling experiences - from stories to spaces to games to interaction design. This is not a "how to" manual nor a structured set of principles. Instead, Nathan covers a number of topics and issues related to interaction design. Most importantly, he provides a great set of examples that illustrate his points. He is working in Experience design 2.0 - which I look forward to reading.
Reviewed July 20 by Jon. Making Ideas Happen is aimed at creative professionals who might have difficulty focusing on execution and completing projects. The first half of the book is fairly traditional project and time management - good stuff but not groundbreaking. The second half was a bit more useful in that it covered how to think about creative professionals and how to get execution built into their approach.
(in) the Future: Recasting Labor in Architecture
Reviewed July 13 by Jon. Building in the Future is a series of essays about how architectural work is evolving. It covers a broad spectrum of legal issues, craft, organization of labor (both within firms and between firms). Much of this is familiar territory to those of us who have been involved in the evolution of the building industry in general and architecture in particular. However, I expect it will be new ground to many participants or casual observers of the building industry. This book assembles viewpoints on many topics germane to the evolution of the building professions and will, I hope, act as a catalyst for further discussion.
Reviewed July 10 by Jon. This is Greg Mortensen's second book after Three Cups of Tea. It is a similar story - about Mortensen's quest to build schools for girls in Central Asia. The focus of Stones into Schools expands beyond Pakistan to Afghanistan. This book is less about Mortensen's life as was Three Cups of Tea - and more about working in Afghanistan to build schools and relate to people. It is easy to read and as inspiring as Mortensen's first book. The ideas are the same but the venue is a little different. Of particular interest in Mortensen's work with and respect for the US military in Afghanistan. His views are consistent with those I have read elsewhere and his depiction of life in Afghanistan is similar to that depicted in Horse Soldiers, Kite Runner, and A Thousand Splendid Suns.
Lords of Strategy: The Secret Intellectual History of the New Corporate
Reviewed July 5 by Jon. The Lords of Strategy is a page-turner. It chronicles the history of ideas that have shaped business strategy since the 1960s. It interweaves the rise of the three big strategy firms - Boston Consulting Group, Bain, and McKinsey, the people in those firms who came up with and applied the ideas, and the academic world - particularly Harvard Business School. The core thesis of the book is that business is shaped by ideas. Two notions that Keichel describes are "greater Taylorism" - the application of the techniques that Fredrick Taylor applied to a unit of work to the whole corporation - and "the fiercening of capitalism" - an increase in the intensity of capitalism and competition. Keichel clearly believes that ideas matter in business. His book chronicles the development of the ideas that have shaped the strategy field and provides some glimpses of the future of strategy. I have read many of the authors he cites. The Lords of Strategy puts them into a coherent timeline and framework to better inform an overall view of what strategy is about and the competing and complementary ideas that comprise the field of business strategy.
Reviewed July 3 by Jon. Adam Werbach is the former president of the Sierra Club and now runs Saatchi and Saatchi S - the sustainability practice of the global brands agency. Strategy for Sustainability tries to reconcile sustainability with corporate strategy. It does an OK job. Werbach argues that all strategy must be sustainable - a compelling argument. He provides methods and techniques to think about sustainability within a strategy context. The book does seem a little thin. Nevertheless it is a good first step at integrating strategy with sustainability thinking.
Reviewed June 28 by Jon. Happiness at Work is a simplified version of Rao’s philosophy as expressed in Are You Ready to Succeed>\?, It is useful but pretty lightweight. It does cover the basics of his approach and is a good introduction to getting one to understand that their mental models are what drives happiness and well being. I have had difficulty getting through Rao’s original book so this introduction is a good way to ease into study of Rao’s approach.
Reviewed June 27 by Jon. Crossers is a novel about an Arizona Ranch on the Mexican border. There is a long history of the ranch and the families who own it (or want to own it). The story is a modern-day story featuring an investment banker who lost his wife in 9/11 and moves back to the family ranch to heal. He gets embroiled in a modern-day drama with a female Mexican drug lord who wants the ranch back for herself. The book intersperses historical vignettes with the modern-day story. I liked the modern-day story. The vignettes try to provide context for the story but were a bit choppy and difficult to string together into a coherent whole. The story was well done and timely given the drug wars and immigration issues on the Arizona border
Soldiers: The Extraordinary Story of a
Band of US Soldiers Who Rode to Victory in Afghanistan
Reviewed May 31 by Jon. Horse Soldiers is about the special forces teams who went into Afghanistan immediately following 9/11. They were the soldiers who worked with the Northern Alliance and fought the Taliban and Al Qaida. The story covers the death of Mike Spann, the first American to be killed in the Afghan war and the capture of John Walker Lindh. The story reminded me of the TV series "The Unit" in terms of its depiction of the special forces team and their families. A good account of the battles that gave a sense of how the special forces team works. Not as good as The Gamble - but well worth reading.
Gamble: General David Patraeus and the American Military Adventure in Iraq,
Reviewed May 31 by Jon. The Gamble is a sequel to Fiasco, Ricks book on Iraq. The Gamble covers the decision to mount the surge - led by retired general Keane and the new approach to counterinsurgency led by General David Patraeus. It describes how Patraeus wrote the manual on counterinsurgency and executed the counterinsurgency strategy in Iraq, stemming the sectarian violence and civil war. David Kilkellen, an Australian counterinsurgency expert is also prominently featured. The book describes the surge and change in tactics quite well. It does leave the reader puzzled at the ineptitude of the Bush administration in prosecuting the war and the inertia in the military establishment in adapting to proven counterinsurgency strategy. The book concludes inconclusively by saying that we will likely need to stay in Iraq for a long time to keep the country stable. As with Ricks previous work - well written and very good critical analysis of Iraq, the military, and the politics surrounding the Iraq war.
Checklist Manifesto: How to get things right
Reviewed May 31 by Jon. The Checklist
Manifesto is similar to books by Malcolm Gladwell and the Heath Brothers in that
it takes a simple concept and elaborates on it. Gawande is a surgeon who is
looking for ways to reduce the error rate in surgery. He explores the use of
checklists in fields like aviation and construction - two fields I know
something about. He shows how using simple checklists can ensure that critical
steps don't get missed and critical issues are considered. The book weaves
surgical and medical discussion with general checklist issues and, again, good
examples from aviation and construction. Well written and an easy and
Fine Line: How Design Strategies are Shaping the Future of Business
Reviewed May 31 by Jon. Esslinger is the
founder of FrogDesign - one of the most successful consumer electronics design
firms on the planet. A Fine line is like many recent books by designers trying
express the strategic value of design. Esslinger does a reasonably good job of
this and of tying sustainability into the mix. As with many books in this genre,
it is a little too self-congratulatory, but it does lay out a reasonable case
for strategic design. The examples are a bit too focused on product design -
which is understandable since Esslinger is a consumate product designer. Fairly
light, but worth a read.
The Design of Design: Essays
from a Computer Scientist
Reviewed May 16 by Jon. This is a
wonderful little book by Fred Brooks - author of The Mythical Man Month - a
classic in software engineering. I have read The Mythical Man Month many times
and did not realize how deeply some of its lessons were imprinted. The Design of
Design expands on Fred Brooks ideas on software design and takes them into a
more general realm. He covers design in general and draws upon a number of case
studies from architecture, computer science, hardware design, etc. The book is
refreshingly simple and covers a lot of key design issues - such as the need for
conceptual integrity, the flaws in the rational model of design, design process
models, and collaboration in design. I have always found Brooks writing clear,
simple, and to the point. This is a must read for anybody involved with design
and technology. It is a great addition Brooks' already influential work.
How to Change Things When Change is Hard
Reviewed April 12 by Jon. In the same
vein as their last book Made To Stick and
Malcolm Gladwell's work, Switch takes a complex topic and makes it very
accessible. The Heath brothers approach is to change the rider (rational mind),
elephant (emotions), and the path (the situation) to create change. They provide
tangible, practical techniques and provide clear and entertaining examples. I
liked Made to Stick and like Switch even better. The Heath brothers have
produced a valuable and usable guide to change.
Man from Beijing
Reviewed April 12 by Jon. I expected
something like a Steig Larsson novel and was disappointed. The Man from Beijing
is about a Stockholm judge who tries to solve a murder. The book takes her to
Beijing and part of it is set in Africa. The writing was pretty good and the
story interesting but it never tied together and the key issues did not get
satisfactorily resolved at the end. Entertaining but unsatisfying.
Reviewed April 11 by Jon. Business Model
Generation is a fascinating book on several levels. First, it clearly describes
a framework and methodology for analyzing and synthesizing business models. The
framework is clear and straightforward and its use is described in multiple
ways. The framework seems useful for looking backwards at an existing business
and looking forward at a new business or recasting and old business model.
Second, it ties together design and strategy quite nicely. It shows how design
methods, techniques, and stance can be applied to business problems. Third, it
was produced in an open-source crowdsourced fashion thus providing an
interesting new model for design and strategy. This is a very accessible yet
dense book. I read it once and will use it to teach my class. I suspect it will
require several readings to really "get it" and hope that it is only the first
in a series.
Reviewed April 3 by Jon. Rework is a
cheeky little book that challenges the conventional wisdom about work and life.
It has the tone of "Inc" magazine - celebrating the entrepreneur opposing the
large cumbersome bureaucracy. It has a lot of good advice, but seems a bit
lightweight and self-promotional at times. A candy read - entertaining with some
empty (non-nutritional) calories.
How design can transform your life, and maybe even the world
Reviewed April 3 by Jon. I have mixed feelings about Glimmer. On the one hand, Berger does a nice job of describing the overall landscape of design. He goes into many facets of design and covers the space well. I like his comprehensive view. On the other hand, he ascribes much of design solely to Bruce Mau. While Mau may be a great designer, he is not the sole source of thinking on design. Berger implies that with his coverage of Mau. In some sense this book is trying to be two things - an overall treatise on design and a biography of Bruce Mau. It might be better as two books - or at least provide more segmentation between the two. There is nothing wrong with celebrating a great designer or with doing a contextual piece on design. Both are valuable. Conflating the two is a problem.
How Irrational Thinking Hinders Scientific Progress, Harms the Planet, and
Threatens our Lives
Reviewed March 21 by Jon. The fundamental thesis of Denialism is that a denial of science is blocking progress in the world. This is not a fundamentally new theses – what is new is that Specter skewers some sacred cows – such as organic farming and non-traditional medicines. The book is well-researched and thought-provoking – although a bit too evangelistic on the science side. Nevertheless it is worth reading. It is very readable and covers a pretty broad scientific landscape.
Reviewed March 21 by Jon. This is Wilson’s account of her outing as a CIA agent by the White House. The book was a bit disappointing – somewhat because she chose to show the redacted sections by the CIA. Plame is a sympathetic character who certainly did not deserve the treatment she got by the white house in its illegal identification of her by a CIA agent. However, the book seemed a bit weak and self-serving. It was an interesting read but could have been written in a more compelling fashion. OK, but not great.
with Your Difficult Older Parent: A Guide for Stressed-out Children
- Reviewed March 21 by Jon. This book was OK but not great. The key lesson was that many of the behaviors of a difficult older parent are deeply ingrained and will not change. The advice to grownchildren (a term coined by the authors) was primarily about accepting this and learning to cope with difficult behaviors. Useful but a bit sad that there is nothing more one can do than accept and cope with dysfunctional behavior.
Obama and the
Clintons, McCain and Palin, and the Race of a Lifetime
Reviewed March 20, by Jon. The inside story of the 2008 campaigns – a lot of this was in the news. Hailemann and Halperin strung it all together into one narrative, thus making e whole campaign visible. They included a lot in inside information and views of the personalities behind the news stories. McCain comes across as a befuddled and ambivalent old politician and Hillary come across as a battle axe. It was sad to see how McCain compromised his centrist views to appease the conservative right. Obama comes across as cool, collected, and in control. I do wonder if the Obama team got a pass from the authors.
Reviewed March 11 by Jon. Subtitled America, free markets, and the sinking of the world economy - Stiglitz paints a pretty vivid picture of what went wrong. He is a firm believer that unfettered free-market capitalism does not work. He first describes in detail, what went wrong with financial markets - he then analyzes the flaws behind the melt-down in terms of economic theory. He - in particular - blames the Chicago School for faulty economic theory. Stiglitz believes that the system is fundamentally broken and we need to re-regulate and place free markets and financial systems in a proper perspective. This is a pretty frightening book - but well-written and provocative. Definitely a left-leaning economics piece - it does make some compelling arguments.
Next 100 Million
Reviewed March 2 by Jon. Geographer Joel Kotkin has always been a proponent of Los Angeles and a decentralized model of development. In The Next 100 Million he describes the United States in 2050 which will have 400,000,000 people – about 100M more than we have today. He describes the kind of society we will likely have, our demographic makeup, and some surprising predictions – such as the repopulation of the great plains. Kotkin is an optimist who believes that the US will remain strong – largely due to a high fertility rate and acceptance of immigration. His views are often counter to the prevailing views of society so it is provocative to read them.
Godfather of Kathmandu
Reviewed February 8 by Jon. Another
in Burdett's series of Thai crime thrillers,
this one is adds a Nepali wrinkle. Sonchai Jitpleecheep goes to work as
consigliere for his boss on the Thai police force, Colonel Vikorn, in trying to
import heroin from Nepal - while at the same time trying to solve the murder of
an American film maker. This has the usual Burdett elements. The story is
a bit more random than usual but it is still a good read.
Reviewed February 6 by Jon. Adam Richardson is from FrogDesign, one of the world's leading design firms. In Innovation X, he first poses the problem many companies (and other organizations) face - difficulty innovating. His prescription is something he calls the Innovation X framework, with four legs - Immersion, Convergence, Adaption, and Divergence. Loosely speaking, immersion is about user understanding, conversion is about the design of systems, adaption is about prototyping and learning, and divergence is about expanding your business through adjacency. Each of these has been articulated in the work on innovation (or to use one of Adams' least favorite terms "design thinking") - but Adam does a good job of putting them together into a coherent framework and avoiding some of the trendiness and fluff that gets created by the design thinking movement. Ironically, though, this is about the same kinds of things. This is a nice book and I hope to see the framework get used and expanded.
Art of Woo
Reviewed February 3 by Jon. Subtitled, using strategic persuasion to sell your ideas, this book is about persuasion - in presentations and public speaking. It is mostly common sense but organized and presented in a very clear, logical fashion. Useful stuff.
Hard, Be Nice
Reviewed January 31 by Jon. Subtitled, how two inspired teachers created the most promising schools in America, this book is about KIPP - the Knowledge is Power Program. It is about Mike Feinberg and Dave Levin, two young teachers who set up a program of public charter schools for disadvantaged kids. The program included high teacher involvement, extraordinary long hours and expectations, and standards of performance and behavior. Bill Gates sent a copy of this book to every TED 2009 attendee. The book is good and inspiring - if a bit long and repetitive. The story is certainly inspiring. The dedication of Levin and Feinberg in setting up and growing the program is impressive.
Girl Who Kicked Over the Hornets Nest
Reviewed January 21 by Jon. This is
the third in Stieg Larsson's trilogy about Lisbeth Salander and Mikael Blomqvist.
It takes up exactly where The Girl Who Played
with Fire leaves off. Like Larsson's other work, the book is extremely
engaging and moves well. This one bogs down a bit in history of the Swedish
police force and it is challenging to keep track of all of the Swedish names -
much like reading a Russian novel. When you get past the historical places, it
is hard to put down. I was sad to finish it because it is so engaging and it is
the last of the trilogy. Larsson died after finishing this book so there will be
no more. It is a real shame, but perhaps it is best to finish the trilogy on a
high note and not have too many sequels.
Reviewed January 13 by Jon. Drive:
The Surprising Truth about what motivates us, is an extension of some of Pink's
earlier work. The fundamental thesis of the book is that we are driven more by
intrinsic motivators such as mastery or purpose and less by extrinsic motivators
such as money or recognition. Pink describes scientific research that backs this
up and makes the case that our management systems are built around extrinsic
motivators - which work for well prescribed tasks, but are not effective for
less defined tasks - those requiring creativity and discretion. Like
A Whole New Mind, Pink goes beyond
description to prescription and provides advice for addressing motivation in
several contexts. Drive is a very easy read and is a good extension of Pink's
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