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Reviews of Books Read in 2012



RecommendedOne World Schoolhouse: Education Reimagined
Salmon Kahn

Reviewed December 24, by Jon. One World Schoolhouse is Salmon Kahn's story of the Khan Academy. I liked it more than I thought I would because Kahn goes into some detail about theories of learning and describes his own views of how Khan Academy works. One World Schoolhouse is less an autobiography than a treatise on education and how Kahn's simple videos invert the normal educational model. The book was easy to read and - like Khan's videos - easy to digest and understand. This is a good addition to the literature on how students learn and ways we can help them. 

One World SchoolhouseClick here to order One World Schoolhouse from from Amazon.com






RecommendedRecommendedTrillions: Thriving in the Emerging Information Ecology
Peter Lucas, Joe Ballay, Mickey McManus

Reviewed December 16, by Jon. Trillions starts out with the metaphor of a mountain: over the past 30 or so years, we have climbed the “mountain” of the personal computer and the Internet. In some ways we are at or near the peak of that mountain. The authors—all principals at MAYA Design in Pittsburgh—suggest that this mountain we’ve been climbing is actually only a small foothill relative to the huge mountain behind it. That mountain is the next computing environment, which will be based upon our immersion in literally trillions of ubiquitous computing devices.

 Trillions is a very ambitious book because it tries to both frame the environment that will be created by trillions of computing devices, and also posit a new design science around it. To do so, the authors first provide a historical perspective of where we are now in terms of computing and the Internet, talking about the evolution of these technologies and, in particular, how they have been shaped by both our mental models of technology and our design methodologies.

 A world in which we are immersed in trillions of computing devices will be massively complex—and literally unprecedented—and will make the design and management paradigms we have used until now inadequate. The fundamental question the authors raise is "How will we design for such a world?" They draw upon a biological metaphor to describe an ecology of devices; and use the metaphor of being immersed within a flow of information, suggesting that we need to design this new ecosystem to let each individual device be an autonomous element that interacts with others within an overall ecological framework.

 Maya Design is in Pittsburgh and has ties to Carnegie Mellon, and the authors demonstrate this with their design philosophy, channeling Herb Simon and Bucky Fuller around the need for a "design science" to manage the complexity of this world of trillions.

 Trillions simultaneously covers the history and the future of information technology, design, and information/software/computing architecture. As I read it, I felt that I was only scratching the surface of this enormous and important topic. This is an intriguing book that raises more questions than it answers. I suspect I will read it again – perhaps several times. It has an important message and it may require several passes to fully grok its meaning.


TrillionsClick here to order Trillions from from Amazon.com







RecommendedThe Black Box
Michael Connelly

Reviewed December 16, by Jon. The Black Box is a classic Harry Bosch LA detective novel. It starts during the LA riots in 1992 when a young Blonde Danish journalist is found murdered in South Central LA. The story picks up in 2012 when Harry Bosch is working cold cases and starts to investigate. The story is classic Bosch - with conflict against the police hierarchy, his convoluted personal life (daughter and girlfriend), relationship with his partner, and his own drive and morality. The story starts out a bit slow but does reach a nice tempo about 3/4 of the way through the book. Although the story is resolved at the end, the conclusion seems rushed and a bit pat. I wish Connelly had spend a bit more time bringing things to closure and resolving open issues more thoroughly at the end. It is as if he had a page quota or deadline to meet and did not adequately finish the book.

The Black BoxClick here to order The Black Box from from Amazon.com






RecommendedVulture Peak
John Burdett

Reviewed December 8, by Jon. Vulture Peak is another Thai detective novel with Royal Thai detective Sonchai Jitpleecheep by the author of Bangkok 8 and the following series. Vulture Peak is about theft of organs for transplant and takes place in Thailand (Bangkok and Phuket), Hong Kong, and China, with brief interludes in Dubai and Monaco. Detective Jitpleecheep follows two beautiful Chinese sisters - the Yip twins - who are at the center of an illegel organ harvesting and transplant ring. The book is pretty light reading, implausible, and entertaining - much like Burdett's other novels.

Vulture PeakClick here to order Vulture Peak from from Amazon.com






Ok. but not greatOne Second After
William R. Forstchen

Reviewed November 25, by Jon. One Second After is about a bucolic town in Western North Carolina (near where Jon’s parents lived) in a country that has been hit by an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) from a (or actually several) nuclear explosions. The EMP knocks out electricity and services. Infrastructure and society as we know it stops. The town is isolated without power, food, services, communications, etc. The protagonist is a former military officer turned history professor (why are they always history professors) who help organize the town and declares martial law. A posse from the outside tries to invade but is repelled by a military force formed by the professor’s former students. The book is disturbing because it shows what life might be like if our infrastructure suddenly disappeared or became inoperable. It shows our dependence on technology and the economic web of services we have constructed. It demonstrates how far desperate people will go – cannibalism? The book is not well written, it is a bit glib and superficial, but it is thought provoking.

One Second AfterClick here to order One Second After from from Amazon.com







RecommendedBoomerang: Travels in the New Third World
Michael Lewis

Reviewed November 17, 2012, by Jon. Michael Lewis, author of Moneyball and The Big Short travels to a bunch of places that were a part of the financial meltdown - Iceland, Greece, Ireland, Germany, and the U.S. He tried to get at the fundamental flaws in our character and reasoning that led to the meltdown. The basic issue is that we sacrifice long-term stability for short-term gain. No surprise there. This is a short and entertaining, but informative book. Well worth reading.

BoomerangClick here to order Boomerang from from Amazon.com






RecommendedThe Finish: The Killing of Osama Bin Laden
Mark Bowden

Reviewed November 17, 2012, by Jon. Mark Bowden, the author of Black Hawk Down paints the inside story of the successful hunt for Bin Laden. Unlike No Easy Day and Seal Target Geronimo, which are both about the mission itself -- The Finish is more about the overall hunt - including the CIA and the decision making inside the White House. It is well written and provides another facet to the story. It is a great supplement to previous works. Easy to read and shows a new perspective on the mission and the way the US government/military works.

The FinishClick here to order The Finish from from Amazon.com






RecommendedThe Generals: American Military Command from World War II to Today
Thomas E. Ricks

Reviewed November 17, 2012, by Jon. Thomas Ricks is a defense writer - formerly with the Wall Street Journal and Washington Post. He has written several incisive books on the military including two on Iraq - Fiasco and The Gamble. The fundamental thesis Ricks puts forth is that the US Army, during WWII relieved generals regularly when General Marshall felt they were not performing. They did so in a way that did not necessarily end their careers. Since WWII, the Army has not done so. They have tolerated mediocrity and failure in the generals. Those who have been removed have been removed by the civilian leadership. Ricks meticulously researched and documents the lives and careers of significant generals since WWII. Two other issues Ricks raises are that post Vietnam the Army did two things that were destructive. It focused on competence in tactics and it urged generals to stay out of political issues. The consequences were that the Army was very effective at fighting but did not know what to do when the battle was over - hence Iraq. Ricks is particularly brutal about Tommy Franks and his successor Ricardo Sanchez. He also sees the future of the military as more counterinsurgency and less large scale battles - which the Army is still organized for. This is a good book with a lot of insight into the tactically good but strategically muddled Army. It shows what happens when one masters tactics without also mastering strategy.

The GeneralsClick here to order The Generals from from Amazon.com






RecommendedThe Price of Politics
Bob Woodward

Reviewed November 15, 2012, by Jon. The Price of Politics is a typical Bob Woodward book about the debt ceiling negotiations between the White House and Congress in the summer of 2011. It is very well researched and very thorough. It portrays a picture of a weird mixture of attempted collegiality and actual dysfunction in the relationship amongst all of the parties involved in the negotiation. It did surprise me at how partisan the White House was. To be fair, the Obama team did try to reach out to congress but, when rebuffed, seemed to go it on their own.  If this book is even partially accurate there is cause for hope (because there are signs that the various factions communicate) but even more cause for despair (because of the posturing and dysfunctional relationships between our leaders). Of course, the story is left unfinished because the deal ended in a compromise which  resulted in the fiscal cliff we now face. It is scary to think that the same people will need to come up with a solution. As the book so clearly shows – our leaders seem to have a very difficult time getting past posturing to actual solutions.

The Price of PoliticsClick here to order The Price of Politics from from Amazon.com






Ok. but not greatWhy Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity, and Poverty
Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson

Reviewed October 31, by Jon. A number of people have tried to explain why some nations succeed and some fail. I've read several books lately that assert geography is a big determinant of success and failure. Acemoglu and Robinson say that politics matters more than geography. They say that if geography was the main determinant of success North and South Korea would be equally prosperous. Similarly, US and Mexican Juarez would be equally prosperous.  Acemoglu and Robinson assert that prosperity is caused by inclusive political institutions that foster entrepreneurship and creative destruction. It is suppressed by extractive economic and political institutions. The challenge is that inclusive institutions by their nature challenge the existing order. Thus political powers prefer extractive political and economic institutions. Thus inclusive institutions are good for a society, yet extractive ones are good for those in power. The book very exhaustively - too exhaustively -- goes through a number of countries and analyzes them using their theoretical lens. The theory does make sense - the trick is how to overcome the vested interests in an extractive economy and make it inclusive. There could be some valuable lessons for the present-day United States.

Why Nations FailClick here to order Why Nations Fail from from Amazon.com





Ok. but not greatKill Decision: A Thriller
Daniel Suarez

Reviewed October 31, by Jon. The topic of Kill Decision is pretty interesting. It is about autonomous drones becoming weapons of mass destruction. The main protagonists are a Cornell entomology professor and a special forces operator who are trying to quell a conspiracy. While the idea is interesting and compelling the story writing is a bit weak. The actual conspiracy is never well articulated and the characters move from one implausible situation and action sequence to another. The writing style felt amateurish and disconnected. If the style had been better this would have been a good book.

Kill DecisionClick here to order Kill Decision from from Amazon.com





Ok. but not greatThe New Industrial Revolution: Consumers, Globalization, and the End of Mass Production
Peter Marsh

Reviewed October 16, by Jon. This book was OK, but it was a missed opportunity. Marsh did a credible job describing manufacturing and the forces acting upon it. The book was somewhat dry, however. The missed opportunity is that there are fundamental forces acting upon manufacturing that he addressed only lightly. I think bio/nano, 3d printing, robotics/automation all may make manufacturing much different than it has been in the past. This was more a present/past oriented book - with good solid descriptions of manufacturing, but it missed the opportunity to tell a more compelling future story.

New Industrial RevolutionClick here to order The New Industrial Revolution from from Amazon.com





Ok. but not greatThe Revenge of Geography: What the Map Tells Us About Coming Conflicts and The Battles Against Fate
Robert Kaplan

Reviewed October 15, by Jon. This is the second book I have read by Kaplan, Monsoon was the first, and it was better. I'd characterize Kaplan as a geographic determinist. He believes that the world is determined by geography. There is some truth to his belief and this book articulates the world and what he thinks has driven and will drive the great powers. I found the book pretty academic - he spends lots of time describing others' viewpoints. I wish he would have made his viewpoints clearer. The book was interesting but the cost of reading it was probably greater than the value.

The Revenge of GeographyClick here to order The Revenge of Geography from from Amazon.com






The Redbreast
Jo Nesbo

Reviewed October 14, by Jon. Care recommended I read this novel. It is translated from the Norwegian version. I liked the Scandanavian color in the novel but had a very difficult time following it. I'm not sure if it is because the novel was disjoint or because I did not read in a continuous setting. I just could not get into it.

The RedbreastClick here to order The Redbreast from from Amazon.com





RecommendedThe Big Thirst: The Secret Life and Turbulent Future of Water
Charles Fishman

Reviewed October 12, by Jon. The Big Thirst is about water. The basic premise is that there is a fixed quantity of water on earth that is always being recycled. Clean water is hard to come by in some circumstances but it is really a distribution problem. Fishman actually makes the case that we can recycle water more deliberately (with shorter cycles). There is a certain "yuck" factor to his assertions but in reality he is talking about exactly what nature does. The book sometimes drags on but it does give you a pretty clear idea of how water works and what we will need to do going forward.

The Big ThirstClick here to order The Big Thirst from from Amazon.com





RecommendedThe Speech: A Historic Filibuster on Corporate Greed and the Decline of Our Middle Class
Bernie Sanders

Reviewed October 7, by Jon. On Friday, December 10, 2010, Senator Bernie Sanders from Vermont made an 8 1/2 hour long speech in the US Senate. He was basically protesting the budget deal that the President cut with the Republicans. Sanders is a pretty left-leaning fellow - the only actual socialist in the US Senate. While I disagreed with some of his points - particularly those leaning toward a protectionist stance - I agreed with most. Given the nature of the situation, the text is rambling and often repetitive, but it is an an amazingly consistent message.

The SpeechClick here to order The Speech from from Amazon.com





Ok. but not greatThe New Capitalist Manifesto: Building a Uniquely Better Business
Umair Haque

Reviewed September 30, by Jon. This was billed as a new way to look at capitalism. Unfortunately it does not live up to the promise. The book talks about moving from a linear consumption-based model to a more circular flow model and about expanding what we do to larger values that simply shareholder value. I was disappointed. Not much new ground here. I expected something a bit more insightful but it basically rehashed a lot of new-age ideas without getting substantive as to how one goes about shifting the capitalist construct to a more meaninful and sustainable model.

The New Capitalist ManifestoClick here to order The New Capitalist Manifesto from from Amazon.com






RecommendedOur Divided Political Heart:  The Battle for the American Idea in an Age of Discontent
E.J. Dionne

Reviewed September 26, by Jon. On most Friday afternoons, shortly after 5pm, I listed to NPR's All Things Considered on my way home from work and one of my favorite things is to listen to E.J. Dionne and David Brooks recount the week in politics. Dionne is an unapologetic, dyed in the wool liberal. This book is a work of history which tries to tied together historical thoughts about politics with the reality of today's politics. He addresses what the founding fathers thought about government and the judiciary. As expected, he debunks much of what the conservative movement claims to be the ideals of the founding fathers. He also traces the ebb and flow of various political movements in the U.S.

Our Divided Political HeartClick here to order No Easy Day from from Amazon.com






RecommendedNo Easy Day: The Firsthand Account of the Mission that Killed Osama Bin Laden
Mark Owen and Kevin Maurer

Reviewed September 22, by Jon. No Easy Days is subtitled "The Autobiography of a Navy Seal". It is autobiographical but it really is about about the mission to kill Bin Laden. The book reads like a novel - perhaps the work of Kevin Maurer - and is pretty fast paced. Unlike other similar books it does not dwell on Owen's childhood and Seal training but gets quickly into what it is like to be a seal. Of course he covers the mission in great detail. It was fascinating to get a glimpse of a professional special operations soldier - with a large number of deployments in the Middle East. The job (and that is how Owen referred to it) of tracking down and killing enemies was almost routine. He referred to it as going to work. The locations in the Afghanistan where they deployed the mission from were as routine to them as any business hotel where a regular international traveler stays. It was fascinating to see how well they prepared and trained - quickly - and how they deployed. Their training and experience made the mission to kill Bin Laden appear routine. This is a great first-hand account. I am sure it is as flawed as any other account but it did create a sense of being there at what is destined to be one of the most historic special ops missions ever.

No Easy DayClick here to order No Easy Day from from Amazon.com






RecommendedThe Party is Over: How Republicans Went Crazy, Democrats Became Useless, and the Middle Class Got Shafted
Mike Lofgren

Reviewed September 15, by Jon. Lofgren is a former Republican party staffer who writes about the demise of the Republican Party as it has been hijacked by right wing radicals. It is pretty typical of most critiques of the right but is interesting because it is written by a disillusioned one of their own. Lofgren does not have much use for Democrats either. He feels they have also kowtowed to monied and corporate interests and have not been effective in countering the right wing radicalism of the Republicans.

The Party is OverClick here to order The Party is Over from from Amazon.com







RecommendedThe Party: The Secret World of China's Communist Rulers
Richard McGregor

Reviewed September 9, by Jon. This is a book about the inner workings of the Chinese Communist Party. It is pretty interesting to see how the party works. It is very secretive and maintains a high degree of control over Chinese society without all of the public noise of the American (or other political) systems. The party maintains control through managing elites, business, and ownership - although in a funny way because it circumvents, for example, the corporate governance systems of corporations. It is a bit perplexing to see how the party works. This is an informative view into how the party is structured and maintains control.

The PartyClick here to order The Party from from Amazon.com






RecommendedUniversal Methods of Design
Bella Martin, Bruce Hanington

Reviewed September 3, by Jon. Universal Methods of Design is a companion to Universal Principles of Design – with a similar format and structure but geared – as the titles say – to methods rather than principles. It covers 100 methods of various types with a description, examples, and references. I found it a little less compelling than the principles. The methods seem more geared toward research and analysis and less toward synthesis. It is a good catalog of methods and approaches – more of a reference book and less one that can easily be read cover to cover.

Universal Methods of DesignClick here to order Universal Methods of Design from from Amazon.com






RecommendedVisual Teams: Graphic Tools for Commitment, Innovation, & High Performance
David Sibbet

Reviewed September 3, by Jon. This is David’s second book, elaborating on visual tools and techniques, with a focus on team performance. It amplifies some of the ideas and techniques from his previous book, Visual Meetings, and places them in a team and organizational context. David has lots of examples and stories. I found it difficult to deeply read the book and easier to skim. Perhaps the graphic nature of the book lends itself to this. I did get the sense that David has a well honed theory and structure to his methods. The book was more successful in conveying confidence in that and less successful in giving me a picture of that structure and methods – but that may well be a function of me not taking enough time to let the ideas sink in.

Visual TeamsClick here to order Visual Teams from from Amazon.com






RecommendedThe World America Made
Robert Kagan

Reviewed September 2, by Jon. Kagan’s central assertion is that the world of stable liberal democracies that we now generally inhabit, did not happen by accident or because of the inevitability of such systems.  It happened because of the deliberate exercise of American power – both hard and soft.  His book is a tour of foreign policy over the past two centuries. American values have been enforced, in part, because we do not have imperial ambitions and are ambivalent about our involvement in the world. Kagan posits that we have both an opportunity and responsibility to continue to exert our influence over the world – in both hard and soft ways – to continue the world march toward liberal democracy.

The World America MadeClick here to order The World America Made from from Amazon.com





Recommended RecommendedThe New New Deal: The Hidden Story of Change in the Obama Era
Michael Grunwald

Reviewed September 2, by Jon. Grunwald is a Time Magazine writer who set out to tell the story of the effect of the Obama fiscal stimulus. The story is a surprising (and refreshing) contrast to all of the political hyperventilation of the present Presidential campaign. Grunwald’s basic conclusion is that the stimulus was a success – it stopped the economic freefall that the Obama administration inherited from the Bush administration, it began a needed transformation of the American economy, and it basically fulfilled most of the Obama campaign promises. He cites the stimulus as a textbook case of Keyesian economics. Grunwald has provides a detailed, thorough, fact-filled, and sometimes tedious chronicle of the stimulus and it’s impact. He covers both the economics aspects – after seeing the magnitude of the meltdown, the economics advisors all knew it was too small – and the political aspects – the administration got exactly as much as Congress would allow. After reading The New New Deal, I am more convinced than ever that the stimulus was the right thing to do and, in fact, saved the US economy from further meltdown. The facts seem to support that conclusion. It is unfortunate that the Obama administration has not told their story as well as Grunwald does. This book could and should be read by anybody wishing an intelligent view of what happened with the stimulus.

The New New DealClick here to order The New New Deal from from Amazon.com





Ok. but not greatLocked On
Tom Clancy and Mark Greaney

Reviewed August 28, by Jon. Locked On is yet another Clancy Saga with his cast of characters - Jack Ryan (Senior and Junior), Ding Chavez, John Clark, and Mary Pat Foley. The book is reasonably entertaining. What really struck me was how Un American the book is. In many ways it celebrates the worst of right wing political thought. It celebrates an illegal, unsanctioned, and unaccountable shadow vigilante antiterrorist organization. In the book, the organization has captured a thinly disquised Bin Ladin like figure called the Emir. They have dumped the Emir on the FBI. Part of the discussion is about whether to try him in federal courts or the military. The book is almost adolescent in its celebration of the worst kind of Bush-Cheney attitudes and thinking. Locked on seems like a right wing political tract disguised as an action novel - sort of in the Ayn Rand tradition.

Out of Our MindsClick here to order Locked On from from Amazon.com





RecommendedOut of Our Minds: Learning to Be Creative
Sir Ken Robinson

Reviewed August 27, by Jon. Sir Ken Robinson is one of the world's most foremost thinkers on creativity and education. Out of our minds makes the case that modern education crushes creativity (or at the very least fails to nurture it) because of an overly narrow academic view of intelligence. He asserts that we value memorization of facts and a fairly narrow style of academic problem-solving that ignores the diversity of intelligences and creative styles in most individuals. Out of our minds is mostly descriptive - in that it articulates the problem. It is only a little prescriptive - offering solutions. Sir Ken reinforces my skepticism about STEM education - which, I believe, overemphasizes narrow, technocratic skills and knowledge. Out of Our Minds is an important book and an easy book to read. It is well worth the time.

Out of Our MindsClick here to order Out of Our Minds from from Amazon.com






Ok. but not greatThe Age of Austerity: How Scarcity Will Remake American Politics
Thomas Byrne Edsall

Reviewed August 27, by Jon. Edsall, in The Age of Austerity, chronicles how the right has amped up concern over the debt to change the dialog from one of growth to austerity. He postulates that discussions of resource scarcity will dominate politics for the foreseeable future. He has lots of facts and figures to back up this argument - which is a pretty foregone conclusion. I had high hopes for this book but found little new that has not been covered before. The most glaring omission - what do we do about the austerity dialog. There is clearly a national debt problem. Austerity alone will not produce growth. I would have liked seeing more of a prescription or solution to the austerity debate. I was not wild about the book but it is competently written with a lot of good information.

The Age of AusterityClick here to order The Age of Austerity from from Amazon.com






RecommendedConsumption Economics: The New Rules of Tech
J.B. Wood, Todd Hewlin, and Thomas Lah

Reviewed August 23, by Jon. Think about how packaged software companies (like Autodesk, Adobe, Microsoft, or Intuit) or enterprise software companies (like SAP or Oracle) deliver capability to customers and are compensated for doing so. In both cases, the companies deliver a large load of software and the customers pay us up front, whether they need all of that capability or not. It is reminiscent of the making of foie gras. Customers are force-fed a bunch of capability and it is then up to them to digest it. In the meantime, the software companies take payment and don’t really have a big stake in customer success.

All of that is about to change with the cloud. One big impact of the cloud is to change software delivery models and business models to more closely match customer consumption needs. In contrast to the current model, in a term-based model enabled by the cloud, customers can get just what they need and then purchase more capability as their needs grow. This inverts the previous economic relationship. Software companies get less compensation up front and get more only as their customers are successful in adopting and using technology. One consequence is that customer support and customer experience – nice to haves in the Foie Gras model – become imperatives to drive revenue in the new model. In the new model, software companies are successful only to the degree that their customers are successful – which is as it should be.

Consumption Economics is a new book that describes these changes. It articulates the impact of such changes on software companies – changes in financial models, use of customer data, marketing, sales, development, support, services, and more. The authors – who are affiliated with an industry organization called TSIA (www.tsia.com) describe a model of the software business of the future. One author, Todd Hewlin, is a consultant with TCG advisors.

 The power of this book is that it does provide an overall point of view and detailed model of how the cloud changes business models and – as a consequence – an entire company. One might argue with some of their conclusions but that, in and of itself, is a value. It forces thought and discussion about the organizational and business implications of moving to the cloud.

 Some of the potential downsides of the book is that it comes mostly from an enterprise software perspective and – given its connection with TSIA – is a bit suspect as a marketing piece. Nevertheless, it is worth reading for leaders as to provide thought and discussion about how we will need to respond to the opportunity presented by the cloud.

Consumption EconomicsClick here to order Consumption Economics from from Amazon.com




RecommendedThe Growth Map: Economic Opportunity in the BRICS and Beyond
Jim O'Neill

Reviewed August 10, by Jon. Jim O'Neill is the Goldman Sachs analyst who defined the term BRICs (Brazil, Russia, India, and China) in 2001 to define the key emerging markets. O'Neill is an economist specializing in currency exchange. His analysis then, as now, is based on economic data, trends, and extrapolations. This book updates his observations and insights. His predictions, originally viewed as bullish, have turned out to understate the growth in emerging markets. The Growth Map provides both updated analysis and his views on emerging markets based upon his celebrity affording the opportunity to visit a lot of emerging countries and see first hand what they are up to. Well written and provocative.

The Growth MapClick here to order Land of Promise from from Amazon.com




RecommendedLand of Promise: An Economic History of the United States
Michael Lind

Reviewed August 9, by Jon. Land of Promise is just what the title implies, an economic history of the U.S. It is a sprawling book covering from the founding of the U.S. to the present day. Lind talks about three great ages - an agragrian age, the machine age, and the information age. In each age, economic policy was shaped to meet the economic interests of those in power. It was very interesting to see that much of what gets discussed in terms of economic ideology today did not necessarily come from a clear theory of economics but rather from the self-interest of the leaders of the day. Lind shows that the real divide in economic thought is between Hamiltonians and Jeffersonians. The Hamiltonians thought that a central government should invest in the commonwealth to drive scale (think Federal Reserve, land grant colleges, and the interstate highway system). The Jeffersonians were much more for decentralized power (think the South and "states rights"). Lind is clearly a Hamiltonian and shows how government investment has driven prosperity and technological progress. This is a long book but I found that it held my interest pretty well. It is will written and provocative. Recommended - particularly as an antidote to ideological economic tracts.

Land of PromiseClick here to order Land of Promise from from Amazon.com





RecommendedIt's Even Worse Than It Looks: How the American Constitutional System Collided with The New Politics of Extremism
Thomas E. Mann and Norman J. Ornstein

Reviewed August 1, by Jon. The title of this book says it all. Mann and Ornstein are political scholars who study congress.  One works for the Brookings Institute and the other The American Enterprise Institute. They are widely viewed as non-partisan. Given their backgrounds, the book is surprising and disturbing. They trace the hyper polarization in American national politics to the Republican party - specifically a change in tone that began with Newt Gingrich - in which dialog and compromise were thrown out in favor of winning for the party at all costs. Put another way, the Republican party went from working for the good of the country to working for the good of the  party. The authors are careful to note that their usual stance is neutral but the extremism of the Republican party is something they cannot ignore. This is a serious work on politics that deserves attention. They debunk many of the popular prescriptions for fixing the political system - public financing of campaigns, term limits, exorcising lobbyists, third parties, ... Their prescription is for broader participation in politics and for citizens to speak up and voice their disgust at the polarization. They are careful to point out that both parties are to blame but place asymmetrical blame on the Republicans.

It's Even Worse Than It LooksClick here to order It's Even Worse Than It Looks from from Amazon.com





Ok. but not greatThe Mirage: A Novel
Matt Ruff

Reviewed July 29, by Jon. The Mirage is a novel about an alternative history in which the arab countries are the advanced countries and the US is a failed state. The US attacks Iraq on 11/9. There are a lot of interesting ideas - like capturing Donald Rumsfeld as a war criminal and having Timothy McVey and Terry Nichols as CIA crusaders, but the book was not well-written. It was somewhat chaotic and hard to follow and the writing was poor. It was too subtle at times. That is too bad because the idea was good - but the book suffered from poor execution.

The MirageClick here to order The Mirage from from Amazon.com





RecommendedStart with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action
Simon Sinek

Reviewed July 29, by Jon. Sinek's thesis is that we are, at root, emotional rather than intellectual beings and that people are inspired by WHY rather than WHAT or HOW. He says that organizations love to talk about WHAT and HOW but leaders talk about WHY. I really like the idea, but the book is a bit ponderous. His is clearly an Apple worshipper but Apple examples are used way too often. In fact, he has a few examples such as Apple and Southwest Airlines that are used over and over. Sinek has a good idea that is well articulaed in his TED Puget Sound talk. I'm not sure if it merited a whole book. I'd recommend just watching the talk - that will get the core message across.

Start With WhyClick here to order Start With Why from from Amazon.com





Ok. but not greatTropic of Chaos: Climate Change and the New Geography of Violence
Christian Parenti

Reviewed July 28, by Jon. Parenti's thesis is that the belt near the equator in Africa, South Asia, and South America - the global south - is being dramatically disrupted by climate change and this is creating instability and violence. I thought that his work would complement Thomas Barnett's work on the military in The Pentagon's New Map. He does mention Barnett's work - although somewhat disparagingly. Parenti describes Africa, South Asia and South America and their climate, history, and politics. I liked that part. Two things which I found less compelling about the book. First, the link to climate change is somewhat tenuous. He talks a lot about it without much evidence of a causal link between climate change and the problems in the area. I wanted to believe him but he acted as if it was an article of faith. Not what I would expect from such a book. Secondly, I thought he was too left leaning in his analysis - blaming a lot on colonialism (probably true) and neoliberal economics (probably true as well, but I thought he overstated his case). His overstatement reduced his credibility. I was intrigued by this book's thesis but disappointed in its execution.

Tropic of ChaosClick here to order Tropic of Chaos from from Amazon.com





RecommendedThe Benefit and the Burden: Tax Reform - Why We Need It and What it Will Take
Bruce Bartlett

Reviewed July 14, by Jon. Bartlett is a tax policy expert who has served in both the Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations as well as a number of other government posts. The Benefit and The Burden describes the tax system and the various tradeoffs involved in taxation. Unlike some of the conservative hyperbole, Bartlett actually believes that we need government and we need to pay for it. He provides an in-depth discussion of taxation and the various puts and takes involved in each tax scheme. He ties many of the issues to economics and it is clear that politics diverges from economic reality. I particularly appreciated that he debunked the view that tax and spending cuts are the only way forward. The only disappointment in the book is that it did not have a clear policy prescription. I better understand the issues of taxation but don't see a clear path forward. One might assume the book is boring and dry - but it is well written and covers a complex subject clearly and lucidly.

The Benefit and The BurdenClick here to order The Benefit and The Burden from from Amazon.com




RecommendedWhat Matters Now: How to Win in a World of Relentless Change, Ferocious Competition, and Unstoppable Innovation
Gary Hamel

Reviewed July 10, 2012 by Jon. What Matters Now is another book by Gary Hamel that further elaborates on his ideas that the technology of management must change from control to empowerment. He refines his notions of using markets for ideas and capital rather than top down control and funding mechanisms. He also makes a strong case for values in business somewhat based upon the financial meltdown. Hamel is one of a number of influential management theorists who believes that the purpose of business should be more multi-dimensional than simply driving shareholder value. He makes the case for values and both a new ideology and technology for management. Hamel always inspires me. While there is a bit of repetition in his ideas, I find him both optimistic and provocative.

What Matters NowClick here to order What Matters Now from from Amazon.com





RecommendedWorst Enemy: The Reluctant Transformation of the American Military
John Arquilla

Reviewed July 8, by Jon. Written in 2008, Arquilla argues that the US Military is still equipping and organizing itself to fight large wars against foreign states - not small asymmetric warfare against terrorist networks. He outlines in detail that the air force focuses on strategic bombing, the navy on large scale carrier groups, and the army and marines on large scale land battles. He basically says that the only successful military campaign since WWII was the small (100 people) special forces raid on Afganistan in 2001. Arquilla is a professor at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey and a long-time critic of the military. He strongly believes the military needs to be restructured to small-units, organized into more of a network, and the bureaucracy dismantled. We would have a stronger, smaller, more appropriately designed military for the future. Interestingly, he has some admiration for Donald Rumsfeld - who he claims was moving toward this kind of military but was duped into large scale invasion of Iraq but the military and others in the Bush administration.

Worst EnemyClick here to order Worst Enemy from from Amazon.com






Ok. but not greatChina's Design Revolution
Lorainne Justice

Reviewed July 7, by Jon. Lorainne Justice is the former Director of the School of Design at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University. The book purports to be about the rise of design in China - describing China's move from "made in China" to "designed in China". Justice accomplishes this but in a lightweight way. She puts too much emphasis on design as style and form and not enough emphasis on design as innovation and strategy. What is good about the book is that she describes the cultural revolution and its impact on various generations of Chinese. She also has a reasonable description of the Chinese character and how it relates to design. I was looking forward to reading this book and felt it did not meet my (perhaps inflated) expectations. It was an opportunity missed to really describe what is going on with China in its focus on design and innovation.

China's Design RevolutionClick here to order China's Design Revolution from from Amazon.com






RecommendedThe Power of Habit: Why we do what we do in life and business.
Charles Duhigg

Reviewed June 30, by Jon. Duhigg begins by taking us into neuroscience and showing that habits are routines that the brain runs in a more primitive part of the brain than we typically use in cognition. He posits a loop that starts with a cue, then a routine, and a payoff. He describes changing habits by understanding the loop and substituting new routines between the cue and the payoff. He talks about how this loop works in both personal and organizational life. His descriptions and prescriptions seem obvious but the explanations are powerful in their simplicity.

The Power of HabitClick here to order The Power of Habit from from Amazon.com





RecommendedTriumph of the City: How our greatest invention makes us richer, smarter, greener, healthier, and happier
Edward L. Glaeser

Reviewed June 30, by Jon. Glaeser is an unabashed urbanist who asserts that cities are our greatest invention - as mentioned in the title. He is a Harvard economist who demonstrates the wealth, health, and knowledge creation aspects of the city. He draws upon ideas from Jane Jacobs but - unlike Jacobs - is supportive of development and density. He describes the challenges of low density in rural and suburban situations and shows that cities are extremely green on a per-capita basis. Much of his experience is from New York (he is a native New Yorker) and I wonder how well his ideas translate to less dense cities. As we move forward, though, we will see lots of cities of the scale and density of New York. I really liked the book. It is very readable and a good addition to the library of anyone interested in cities and urbanization.

Triumph of the CityClick here to order Triumph of the City from from Amazon.com






RecommendedChina Airborne
James Fallows

Reviewed June 17, by Jon. James Fallows wrote Free Flight, about the invention of the Cirrus. In China Airborne, he describes China's attempts to build an aviation industry - both general aviation and commercial aviation. The book uses aviation as an armature to describe more generally how China develops. In some ways it is neither fish nor fowl - it does not go into enough depth about aviation nor about China. Nevertheless, it is a good introduction to both topics. Fallows is knowledgeable and easy to read - that makes the book worthwhile.

China AirborneClick here to order China Airborne from from Amazon.com





Ok. but not greatRewealth: Stake Your Claim to the $2 Trillion redeveloment trend that is renewing the world
Storm Cunningham

Reviewed June 11, by Jon. I liked the fundamental premise of ReWealth – that our present economy – based on depletion – needs to be replace by one bath on renewal. Unfortunately the book was poorly written. Reading it was tedious and that made its message diluted. At the beginning of the book, the author spent way too much time repeating the same points over and over. At the end were a number of case studies but too many that did not really contribute to overall understanding. The book was amateurish as well, with a copyright notice on every chapter and too much self-promotion for the author. There were some nuggets of really good material but they got lost in the overall sprawl of the book. Cunningham would benefit from a good editor or co-author.

RewealthClick here to order Rewealth  from from Amazon.com





RecommendedMakers: A Novel of Whirlwind Changes to Come
Cory Doctorow

Reviewed June 10, by Jon. Makers is about where 3D printing might go. It is the story of Perry and Lester, two guys who create a revolution in New Work – in which cheap 3D printers let people move form mass production to personal production. They move into a realm of creating knock-off Disney theme parks and eventually Disney creates Disney in a Box (a Disney branded 3D printer). Lester hacks that. Suzanne Church, a blogger and former columnist chronicle all of this for the San Jose Mercury News and Lester’s girlfriend. Makers is a very dense novel, with lots and lots of commentary on the future. It is difficult to parse but very provocative. It is worth reading but be prepared to work at following all of the threads and relating them to current technology and social trends.

MakersClick here to order Makers from from Amazon.com





RecommendedSocial Intelligence: The New Science of Human Relationships
Daniel Goleman

Reviewed June 10, by Jon. Social Intelligence follows the same kind of theme that Goleman traces in Emotional Intelligence and Ecological Intelligence – that of expanding our definition of intelligence from that of pure thought to other realms. In social intelligence, he covers our ability to empathize with and interact with others. A key tenet of the book is moving away from an i-it objectified relationship to one with more nuance and inclusion. This is a far ranging book that ties in neuroscience and views on education, health care, crime, and many other fields.

Social IntelligenceClick here to order Social Intelligence from from Amazon.com





RecommendedAs Texas Goes: How the Lone Star State Hijacked the American Agenda.
Gail Collins

Reviewed June 9, by Jon. Gail Collins is one of my favorite NY Times op-ed columnists and is an unabashed liberal. She became fascinated by Texas politics and its influence on our national politics. This book is a description of Texas politics and how they drive the national agenda. It is frightening. Collins shows how Texans view the country from the perspective of a “big empty state”. She paints a picture of a deeply conservative and hypocritical state – which, for example, decries federal spending, but is a huge recipient of federal dollars. Collins writes with a sense of humor and a clear point of view. I liked the book but am fearful of the meanings behind it. Two saving graces – perhaps the book will expose the corruption and hypocrisy behind Texas polities, not likely, though. The other is that Texas is undergoing a huge demographic shift to more minority (largely Hispanic) and younger (which Collins tongue-in-cheek attributes to a high number of teenage pregnancies due to abstinence only sex education. A changing demographic may stem the tide of hypocritical conservative politics emanating from Texas. Let’s hope so.

As Texas GoesClick here to order As Texas Goes from from Amazon.com






The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to our Brains.
Nicholas Carr

Reviewed June 9, by Jon. On the surface, the Shallows is an alarmist book about what technology is doing to us. Carr makes the case that digital technology is eroding our ability to think – a reaction that all technologies seem to face as they gain prominence. Carr, however, goes a bit deeper. His basic postulate is that digital technology is driving us in the direction of Fredrick Taylor – ever more efficient algorithms driving productivity forward. That, in and of itself, is not necessarily a bad thing, but it may be reducing our ability to reflect. Perhaps even more insidious, it may be narrowing our field of focus in research – thus restricting true innovation. Carr pays homage to Marshall McLuhan – who said that the medium is the message. Using McLuhan’s concept – digital technology is an incredibly cool medium (much like McLuhan viewed television). It does not require our active, reflective participation. I liked the book but am not sure what to make of the arguments. Perhaps those of us in the technology field need to think about how to make technologies a little more hot – in the McLuhan sense – really making them more participative and less algorithmic.

The ShallowsClick here to order The Shallows from from Amazon.com






Hunting in the Shadows: The Pursuit of Al Qa’ida since 9/11
Seth G. Jones

Reviewed June 8, by Jon. Hunting in the Shadows traces the rise of Al Qa’ida terrorism and the western response. It begins with the 1998 bombing of the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania – of special significance for me since we were in Kenya at the time of the bombing – and ends in the present day. What the book does is thread together all of the terrorist events that have happened since the Nairobi bombing. These are events, which we hear about on the news in a regular rhythm, but do not see, in a regular pattern. Jones threads them all together and it is clear that there has been a concerted terrorist effort in which these attacks are related. It is also clear that they have happened at regular intervals – despite the U.S. prosecution of terrorists. It is striking that, since 9/11, most of the attempted attacks on US soil have been thwarted; except for the Texas military base attacks. The book closes with a prescription for addressing terrorism - which is to use local police, supported by Special Forces. It very much advises against large-scale military action – such as we did in Iraq and Afghanistan – as counterproductive because it radicalizes Muslims. This was a sobering and enlightening book to read.

Hunting in the ShadowsClick here to order Hunting in the Shadows from from Amazon.com







RecommendedUnderstanding Michael Porter: The Essential Guide to Competition and Strategy
Joan Magretta

Reviewed June 7, by Jon. Joan Magretta is a former HBR editor who has worked with Michael Porter over many years. She has produced a nice concise distillation of many of his important concepts around competitive strategy. The book is organized into two sections:

  •  What is competition?

    • The right mind set

    • The five forces

    • The value chain and P&L

  •   What is strategy?

    • Creating Value: The core

    • Tradeoffs: The Lynchpin

    • Fit: The Amplifier

    • Continuity: The Enabler

The book is a great overview and I’d recommend it be read as an introduction to strategy. I found that it pulled together many of Porter’s writings over the years. She also includes an FAQ in the form of an interview with Porter that gets at many of the important concepts he espouses. This is an essential book for the library of any strategist.

Understanding Michael PorterClick here to order Understanding Michael Porter from from Amazon.com






RecommendedDon’t Think of an Elephant: Know Your Values and Frame the Debate, The Essential Guide for Progressives
George Lakeoff

Reviewed June 6, by Jon. George Lakoff is a cognitive psychologist at UC Berkeley. He wrote this book in 2004, right after George Bush was elected to a second term. The fundamental thesis of the book – based on cognitive psychology, is that we see the world through the way issues and arguments are framed. He addresses the question of why so many people vote against their own self-interest. Conservatives have very effectively framed issues in a way that makes people sympathetic to their positions. Liberals (progressives) are not good at this, and tend to accept the conservative frame. Lakeoff urges progressives to reframe debates into more reasonable terms. He describes a fundamentally different world view between conservatives (strict father model) and progressives (nurturing parent model) that frames their respective agendas.  He also provides a lot of practical advice on reframing issues. What is frightening about this book is that, since 2004, the economic meltdown, and the Obama administration, conservatives have gotten even more effective at framing the issues – i.e. ObamaCare, tax relief, job creators…, and progressives have gotten even more ineffective. Perhaps more progressives should read Lakoff’s book.

Don't Think of An ElephantClick here to order Don't Think of an Elephant from from Amazon.com






RecommendedHow Will You Measure Your Life?
Clayton Christensen, James Allworth, Karen Dillon


Reviewed May 31, by Jon. Clayton Christensen is one of the most respected thinkers on business strategy and I use his ideas a lot in my work. He teaches at Harvard Business School and noticed that a number of his classmates either ended up in trouble with the law due to ethical lapses or had family trouble. Christensen is Mormon and is very conservative (in a positive way) - very moral, ethical, and family oriented. He wondered how so many of his very bright classmates could end up in so much trouble. This book is his perspective on how to live an ethical life according to clear values. What I really liked about the book is that he takes the principles of business strategy that he has so clearly articulated and applied them to personal and family life. This shows that strategy is universal and need not be restricted to profit-making enterprises. How will you measure your life is very straightforward and easy to read. I was mildly uncomfortable with the religious overtones but not so much that I would not recommend reading the book. It is well written and thought provoking. I already held Christensen in high regard and this book has increase my respect and regard for him and his clear way of thinking and communicating.

How Will You Measure Your Life?Click here to order How Will You Measure Your Life  from from Amazon.com






RecommendedBlah, Blah, Blah: What To Do When Words Don't Work
Dan Roam

Reviewed May 27, by Jon. This is Dan Roam's second book after Back of the Napkin.In Blah, Blah, Blah, Roam takes his ideas of visual thinking further and provides prescriptive advice on how to take purely verbal descriptions and make them both verbal and visual. I liked the fact that he had some very clear models and summarized the entire book visually in an appendix checklist. He also has an appendix that shows the mapping and connection to Back of the Napkin. Overall this is a very nice "how-to" book on visual thinking and a good complement to the literature.

Blah, Blah, BlahClick here to order Blah, Blah, Blah Now from from Amazon.com





RecommendedEnd this Depression Now
Paul Krugman

Reviewed May 26, by Jon. We recently saw Paul Krugman speak at the Commonwealth Club and his talk was a perfect encapsulation of this book. Krugman is the poster child for Keynsian economics and his talk and the book cover a Keynsian view of what to do about job creation. He claims we are in a depression because of persistently depressed economic growth and offers the prescription of additional government stimulus. He debunks a lot of claims about stimulus and is definitely in the camp of more and bigger stimulus. Well argued and clear. He urges citizens to get involved politically, get educated, and to vote.

End This Depression NowClick here to order End This Depression Now from from Amazon.com





RecommendedImagine: How Creativity Works
Jonah Lehrer

Reviewed May 19, by Jon. Lehrer is a popular science writer who tries, in Imagine, to demystify how creativity works. He does this by unpacking the notion of creativity and relating it to fields such as neuroscience, urban planning, and architecture. Imagine is a fairly light treatment of creativity but it does provide a nice overview and a bit of a framework around the fundamentals of creativity. Lehrer uses a lot of great examples such as Shakespeare, Bob Dylan, Arthur Fry (the guy at 3M who invented PostIt notes),  YoYo Ma, Jack Keroac, and Milton Glaser (the graphic designer who created the I Y NY campaign). A few of the key concepts that Lehrer explores:

  • A creative breakthrough is necessarily preceded by frustration and unhappiness. We often celebrate the joy of the “ah-ha” moment but forget to consider that the ah-ha is preceded by frustration, angst, and unhappiness. Lehrer says that this is a necessary precondition for a creative breakthrough and those experienced creators know this and expect this. Those who are less experienced can be derailed by it. There is a period of adversity before the release of the breakthrough. Live with it and accept it.

  • A related concept is that creators are not necessarily happy people. Creative people are sadder than the norm. This may have something to do with the precondition that a frustration with the status-quo drives creative thought.

  • Creators often lose themselves in the flow of their work. They don’t methodically and systematically work in a structure, but rather lose themselves deeply in the emotion of what they are doing.

  • Creativity most often comes from the collision of ideas from unexpected sources. One can architecturally design spaces to encourage chance encounters and large cities are fonts of creativity because they create the conditions for chance encounters. Interestingly, Lehrer talks about how this is shown in neuroscience – because we see that new thoughts are created at the intersections of existing thoughts. This carries over to the metaphors of architectural and urban space.

  • Dense networks of people – the playwrights in Shakespeare’s day, alumni of the Israeli Army, Silicon Valley – all create the conditions for creativity.

  • ·Creativity comes from individuals – not from teams – although it does come from the intersection of individuals and teams are required to solve complex problems.

Lehrer offers some prescriptions for increasing creativity:

  • Valuing education broadly but also encouraging and concentrating the best and the brightest. He believes we need to nurture intellectual talent with the same dedication and fervor we do athletic talent.

  • Openness to immigration – to bring new talent into the system

  • Supporting risk

  • Managing the rewards of innovation – intellectual property regimes that reward the innovator but don’t restrict copying and mashups – which are the source of innovation.

Imagine is a good book, but not a great book. It is a reasonable treatment of creativity and innovation. I did not gain any startling new insights but it did treat the topic systematically and I picked up some new ideas from it.

ImagineClick here to order Imagine from from Amazon.com




RecommendedBeyond Outrage: What has gone wrong with our economy, and our democracy, and how to fix it.
Robert Reich

Reviewed April 30, by Jon. Beyond Outrage is a Kindle Single - meaning short and available only on Kindle. In it, Reich repeats his oft cited arguments about income inequality and lack of income for the middle class. Pretty standard liberal fare. He does do a call to arms to get people out of their complacency and into political activism to try to change things. This is really a political pamphlet. Not terribly deep but a good encapsulation of Reich's position and the call to arms is helpful to get people off the sofa and doing something.

Beyond OutrageClick here to order Beyond Outrage from from Amazon.com





RecommendedDesign: A Very Short Introduction
John Heskett

Reviewed April 30, by Jon. This is just what it says, a very short introduction to design. John Heskett does a nice job of both framing what design is about - big D design as opposed to style, and describing how it is done and why it is meaningful. Easy to read and well worth the time.

Design: A Very Short IntroductionClick here to order Design: A Very Short Introduction from from Amazon.com






RecommendedInside Apple: How America's Most Admired - And Most Secretive - Company Really Works
Adam Lashinsky

Reviewed April 23, by Jon. Lashinky, of Fortune Magazine, writes about how Apple really works. Much of this has been published in other places, but Lashinsky does a good job at organizing into one place and one coherent narrative, a story about how Apple works. The book covers Steve Jobs as a secondary element and really focuses on the institutional values and structures that have made Apple successful. Lashinsky convinces us that Apple was the ultimate Steve Jobs design product and ends the book with the question that many have - will Apple survive and thrive without Steve Jobs at the helm. He does not answer the question directly but does give a hint that Jobs built a reasonably enduring institution. The question remains, however, if the institution of Apple was Steve Jobs or is something more.

Inside AppleClick here to order Inside Apple from from Amazon.com






RecommendedShaping Things
Bruce Sterling

Reviewed April 14, by Jon. Shaping things is a little book as part of the MIT Media Works Series. It is kind of a future history of the nature of things, making, and design. Sterling puts a science fiction writer's lens on the topics and talks about things becoming more intelligent with the mix of information to physical embodiment changing. This is a provocative book, which probably requires a few passes through to really grok. Lorraine Wild did the graphic design - which is pretty interesting, too. It is in keeping with the provocative nature of the book.

Shaping ThingsClick here to order Shaping Things from from Amazon.com






RecommendedNeed, Speed, and Greed: How the New Rules of Innovation Can Transform Businesses, Propel Nations to Greatness, and Tame the World's Most Wicked Problems
Vijay Vaitheeswaren

Reviewed April 7, by Jon. This is another book on innovation. It codifies many of the things Vijay Vaitheeswaren, the China correspondent for The Economist and host of the Economist's The IDEAS Economy conferences. I was a bit skeptical because Vijay sometimes comes across as a lightweight innovation pundit but I was pleasantly surprised to find more depth than I expected. The book is divided into three parts -

  • Need - Why innovation matters. He describes the need for innovation to advance society, deal with the grand challenges, and create a vibrant society. This section also has a reasonably good explanation of reverse innovation.

  • Speed - Where innovation is going. He discusses the techno-optimist Singularity (I happen to know Vijay is a graduate of Singularlty University's Executive Program), getting rid of silos, and the need to address unusual events.

  • Greed - How to win in the age of disruptive innovation. Here he makes a case for innovation and entrepreneurship at a grass roots level rather than a top-down approach.

I liked the fact that he tied innovation do design - although he used the unfortunate term "Design Thinking™". He also gave Autodesk and Carl Bass a nice shout out.He concludes with the 12 new rules for global innovaton

  1. Innovation is not a zero-sum game.

  2. Think locally, act globally

  3. Turn risk into reward through resilience.

  4. Open up and say ... aha!

  5. Be the dinosaur that dances.

  6. Elegant Frugality trumps conspicuous consumption

  7. If at first you don't succeed, fail again

  8. Forget Father - it's the user who knows best

  9. Go whole hog.

  10. The path from stagnation to rejuvenation runs through innovation

  11. Put purpose on par with profits

  12. Keep relearning how to learn

I'm not sure there is any significant contribution to understanding innovation here, but Vijay does a good job of collecting a lot of current thought about innovation into a very readable book.

Need, Speed, and GreedClick here to order Need, Speed, and Greed from from Amazon.com





RecommendedAbundance: The Future is Better Than You Think
Peter H. Diamandis and Steven Kotler

Reviewed March 31, by Jon. Peter Diamandis, founder of the xPrize and cofounder of Singularity University, where I am a faculty member, is an extreme technology optimist based upon a belief that exponentially changing technologies will outpace the problems that we face on the planet. The book covers a number of technologies and a number of grand challenges to which these technologies can be applied. Not a lot surprised me in the book, since I know Peter and his viewpoint. I do think the notion of technology optimism is well articulated here. I believe a lot of it - but have a grain of skepticism. Peter's book is well worth reading to get insight into an optimistic view of the future.

AbundanceClick here to order Abundance from from Amazon.com





RecommendedThe English Major: A Novel
Jim Harrison

Reviewed Feburary 25, by Jon. The English Major is a nice little novel about a 60-year old farmer (and former English teacher) who has been married for many years and is dumped by his real-estate agent wife. He embarks upon a trip across the western US and gets tangled up with a sex-crazed former student. The book is kind of lightweight but is an entertaining read.

The English MajorClick here to order The English Major from from Amazon.com






RecommendedCreative Genius: An innovation guide for business leaders, border crossers, and game changers
Peter Fisk

Reviewed Feburary 18, by Jon. Creative Genius is a handbook for innovators seeking to build creative endeavors. It is a small book organized into five sections:

  1. Future back – ways of thinking about innovation

  2. The idea factory – how to look at idea generation

  3. The design studio – design methods and concepts

  4. The impact zone – how to implement

  5. New forward – how to proceed

Each section is concise and includes a case study to illustrate the point. Sections 2-4 also end with “toolkits” – visual summaries of tools and methods. Overall this is a nice little book that does a good job at encapsulating innovation and design. It covers the landscape well and has good pointers to resources needed to go more in depth. It is a good survey of innovation and design and ties in implementation nicely as well.

Creative GeniusClick here to order Creative Genius from from Amazon.com





RecommendedUniversal Principles of Design: 100 Ways to Enhance Usability, Influence Perception, Increase Appeal, Make Better Design Decisions, and Teach Through Design
William Lidwell, Kitrina Holden, Jill Butler.

Reviewed Feb 18 by Jon. Universal Principles of Design is just what the title suggests – 100 principles or deisgn patterns. A couple of things struck me about the book. It is, in itself, extremely well designed. Each pair of pages consists of

  • Left page

    • Title of the principle

    • Brief explanation

    • Detailed explanation

    • References

  • Right page

    • Visual depiction of the principle

    • Visual examples

The framework set up by the book is a great parti and the authors faithfully and effectively demonstrate its power. I found the book covered the most fundamental design principles and is a fascinating mixture of visual design principles, human factors, and general design principles. When I read it, I found it a great refresher. I think it covers basic design issues quite well and I look forward to using it as a reference. My students often ask for a source that covers basic rules of design. While I am generally reluctant to point to something which over simplifies, I think this is a good start. I just need to make sure they understand this is a start, not a finish

Universal Principles of DesignClick here to order The Universal Principles of Design from from Amazon.com





RecommendedOut of Poverty: What Works When Traditional Approaches Fail
Paul Polak

Reviewed Feb 18 by Jon. Polak articulates a market-based approach to solving poverty. He makes the common sense argument that the best way to end poverty is by enabling poor people to make more money. He is hugely skeptical of large scale donation based anti-proverty programs, and those that address poverty indirectly by going after root causes. Instead, he proposes small-scale market-based approaches. His book contains lots of examples – mostly focused on small subsistence farmers – and describes simple ways to increase income and reduce dependency. I liked his approach, it seems simple and straightforward. I do wonder, however, whether his approach is even more effective when intelligently combined with larger scale infrastructure. He makes a compelling case that alleviating poverty also addresses other issues of concern such as climate change, biodiversity, population, education, and disease. This is a simple book well worth reading.

Out of PovertyClick here to order Out of Poverty from from Amazon.com





Ok. but not greatPity the Billionaire: The Hardtimes Swindle and Unlikey Comeback of the Right
Thomas Frank

Reviewed Feb 18 by Jon. In Pity the Billionaire, Frank tries to get at the question, which he started in the book What’s Wrong with Kansas (which I have not read), of why people vote against their economic self-interest. The book basically blames conservative free-market adherents for what is wrong with America. He describes the tea-party movement and basically concludes that a lot of people have been duped by large money interests who deflect the discussion of real causes to that of excessive government regulation and intervention in free markets. He asserts that conservatives have masterfully co-opted the discussion and leveraged outrage at bailouts to blame the intellectual elite. He further asserts that the Democratic party has poorly explained its value and position. While I agree with must of Frank’s arguments, I did not like the partisan tone of the book and the hyperventilating about conservatives. As with many books of this genre, I feel a more balanced approach would actually lend more credibility to the arguments. In a nutshell, I agree with the arguments but feel their impact was reduced by a hyperventilating writing style.

Pity the BillionaireClick here to order Pity the Billionarie from from Amazon.com





RecommendedStanding On The Sun
Christopher Meyer with Julia Kirby

Reviewed Feb 15 by Jon. I first met Chris Meyer at the ID Design Strategy conference in Chicago in 2011. He did an intriguing talk which he followed up with his recently published book. Standing on the Sun is a reference to Copernicus – who was able to better understand the solar system by assuming he was standing on the sun. Prior astronomers had assumed that the earth was the center of the solar system. As they developed more powerful tools to observe the universe, they found more and more complexity. Their explanations of how the solar system worked got more and more convoluted. But when Copernicus imagined himself standing on the sun – therefore moving his frame of reference – all of the sudden he was able to see the solar system in a new way, and the previous complexity fell away. Meyer uses this metaphor to describe how we look at capitalism. He asserts that capitalism is not a static, fixed system, but one that evolves over time. It was born during the industrial revolution in England, then moved to the United States as its centroid, and is now shifting to emerging markets in Asia. He contends that by maintaining a US-centric frame of reference, we may not be seeing or understanding the shifts taking place in capitalism. He suggests we look at capitalism from an emerging markets perspective, which will allow us to see it differently than we do now.

Among the adaptations he sees in capitalism are:

  • Moving beyond the singular focus on shareholder value. This is a discussion that is going on among many economic and business theorists. There is a sense that a singular focus on shareholder value (a “black and white” perspective) is behind some of the business pathologies (including the financial crisis and its root causes), and that a more balanced view of the essential purpose of the corporation is needed (“color”).

  • Embracing externalities. Businesses do everything they can to shift costs externally. Moving forward, they will operate more as closed-look systems, incorporating previous externalities.Pseudo-competition. Competition has traditionally (and theoretically) been about winning a zero-sum game against a fixed set of static competitors. But the real competition is against innovations that threaten your business, or even make it obsolete. Your real competition is unlikely to come from a traditional competitor, but rather from someone who solves a customer problem in a new way, or brings the customer something they never expected, but now can’t live without. It is about making the pie bigger through innovation rather than fighting over a static pie.

  • Collaborative production. Production will no longer be vertically integrated but will operate in a more networked fashion. It will involve more collaboration than it has in the past.

He postulates the following rules:


Old Formulation

New Formulation

Learn to see results in color

Measure financial returns to shareholders

Measure the real value sought by stakeholders

Internalize externalities

Externalize every cost you can

Own your impact, negative and positive

Enjoy the evolution

Gain the market power to extract “monopoly rents” in a zero-sum game

Create new value through meaningful innovation

Give it away until you charge for it

Focus on your particular value-added capability and outsource the rest

Pursue collaborative gains through invisible handshakes

Operate for benefit

Compartmentalize any support of social goals from the for-profit work of companies

Accept that every company produces a mix of financial and other value types, and design your model to optimize it.

In general, I liked the book, although I do have a couple of criticisms. I expected more focus on emerging markets. Chris did use emerging markets as a way to focus the discussion, but many of his examples are from more developed economies. I would have preferred a more direct linkage to emerging markets. I do think his ideas and observations are good, but the conclusions are a bit diffuse. I liked the book but felt disappointed that it’s conclusions were not as focused as I would have liked. Nevertheless, Chris’s ideas are provocative, and I look forward to seeing how he develops them.

Standing On The SunClick here to order Standing On The Sun from from Amazon.com





Ok. but not greatIn Patagonia
Bruce Chatwin

Reviewed February 1 by Jon. Chatwin travels to Patagonia as a young man and the book is about his travels as well as the history of Patagonia. He does a good job of describing Patagonia and its origins. I was just there and he explains some of what made Patagonia what it is. I was surprised at how much influence the British had in Patagonia but after reading the book, I understood why the country is so orderly and British-like. He traveled to some of the same places we did so it was fun to hear descriptions. The historical writing is pretty vivid but I wish he spent a little more time on his travels. He also was not clear in separating history from the time he traveled (1970) so it was sometimes difficult to follow. This is a fairly easy read and good for someone traveling to or wanting to understand Patagonia.

In PatagoniaClick here to order In Patagonia from from Amazon.com





CandyThe Profession
Steven Pressfield

Reviewed January 22 by Jon. The Profession is a military/political thriller set 20 years in the future (2032). The geopolitical context contains a number of large scale mercenary organizations - most notably Force Insertion - run by a retired Marine general named James Salter. The mercenaries are funded by both governments and large companies - mostly oil companies - to deal with a variety of state and non state actors. The premise is interesting but the writing is very choppy. It is difficult to follow with a lot of vignettes sort of loosely strung together. It is an interesting kind of dystopian novel which doe portray a scarey extrapolation of some trends in politics and military.

The ProfessionClick here to order The Profession from from Amazon.com





CandyThe Lion
Nelson Demille

Reviewed January 22 by Jon. This is a followup to The Lion's Game by Demille in which Counterterrorism agent John Corey and his wife fight with Asad Khalil, a Libyan terrorist. A bit lightweight, but entertaining. Good beach reading - like most of DeMille's books.

The LionClick here to order The Lion from from Amazon.com







RecommendedThe Information Diet: A Case for Conscious Consumption.
Clay. A. Johnson

Reviewed January 13 by Jon. Johnson uses the analogy of food consumption with information. He asserts that we are consuming too much junk information - industrially processed opinion that reinforces belief - and not enough balanced and nutritious information. The analogy works pretty well. He draws upon Michael Pollen's advice on food "eat, not too much, mostly plants". Johnson recommends transparency, diversity, naturalness (less processed info), local, with known ingredients. He also advocates discipline and moderation. The book is pretty good. I liked the basic tone although some of the suggestions got a little tactical. The metaphor makes one think about both food and information diets.

The Information DietClick here to order The Information Diet from from Amazon.com






Wilbur Smith

Reviewed January 13 by Jon. Assegai is another in the Courtney family series. The major protagonist is Leon Courtney, a young army officer in Kenya who becomes a big game hunting guide and pilot. The story is set in Kenya in the early 1900s just prior to (and during) world war I. It features classic Wilbur Smith - comely women, manly men, African colonial culture and history, right wing attitudes, etc. the book takes place about the same time as Out of Africa. Many of the events overlap although the only character from Out of Africa who is mentioned is Lord Delemere. Leon does bear a striking resemblance to the Robert Redford character, however. Although this is a candy book, it was interesting to get another perspective on Kenyan history.

AssegaiClick here to order Assegai from from Amazon.com






RecommendedThe Drop
Michael Connelly

The Drop is a classic Harry Bosch novel. It is not quite as good as Black Echo, but is very good for a recent Bosch novel. The story begins when Bosch and his partner are called out to investigate the death of Bosch nemesis LA city councilman Irving Irving's son at the Chateau Marmont. He was found after falling 7 stories. Was it murder, suicide, or an accident. This is a classic Bosch story with political intrigue, multiple murder mysteries, and surprising plot twists. I liked it a lot and hope this book signals Connelly's return to the entertaining writing he did in the early Bosch novels.

The DropClick here to order In The Drop from from Amazon.com






+ IIIn the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler's Berlin
Erik Larson

Reviewed January 10 by Jon. in the Garden of Beasts is about Ambassador William Dodd and his family in Berlin in the mid 1930s. Dodd is a history professor who is a reluctant ambassador and an unorthodox one by the standards of the foreign service forged in the guided age. The book is as much about his daughter, Martha, as it is about Dodd. She was a free-spirited woman in her mid-twenties when the family moved to Berlin. While Dodd and his wife assumed stately ambassadorial duties, Martha and her brother, Bill, we're big time partiers. Martha, in particular dated a large number of characters in the press corps, Nazi regime, and ambassadorial corps. She had a long-term affair with Boris, who it turns out was a Russian intelligence agent. The Garden of Beasts is a non-fiction work but reads like fiction. It provides a front row seat to the drama of the Nazis coming to power in pre-war Berlin set against the backdrop of an oblivious US citizenry (and an isolationist one), a disfunctional US State Department, and lots of drama and intrigue amongst the American and European press corps and diplomatic community. This is a page turner- both educational and entertaining.


In The Garden of BeastsClick here to order In The Garden of Beasts from from Amazon.com







Great by Choice: Uncertainty, Chaos, and Luck - Why Some Thrive Despite Them All
Jim Collins and Morten T. Hansen


Reviewed January 7, by Jon. Great by Choice is the latest book by Jim Collins, author of Built to Last, Good to Great, and How the Mighty Fall. The fundamental premise of the book is that success comes from preparation and disciplined execution. Those factors outperformed brilliant insight, vision, luck, and let performance emerge from uncertain environments.  Collins methodology is to take a rigorous, data-driven approach to understanding what factors drive long-term business success. In Great By Choice they identify 10x companies that outperform their peers by 10x.

As in his past books, Collins breaks out the core factors into easy to remember concepts with memorable tag lines. Some of the key concepts in the book are:

  • 20 mile march. This is the idea that consistent, repetitive performance (i.e. marching 20 miles a day on a trip) beats sprints and lags.

  • Fire bullets, then cannonballs. Innovate first with small experiments (bullets) before committing to big initiatives (cannonballs). This lets you calibrate what works cheaply before committing lots of resources. The authors also discuss the nature of innovation. It turns out that 10x companies are usually to the first to innovate. Ty innovate enough to stay in the game, but execute extremely will. They excel at talking innovations to volume.

  • Leading above the death line. Always remain paranoid about what could destroy your business and make contingency plans and appropriate course corrections to ensure survival.

  • SMaC. Develop a specific, methodical, and consistent recipe and relentlessly execute it.

The book has a lot of great examples, both from business and from mountaineering. As always with Collins, the book seems to be primarily common sense. However, it is written and codified in such a compelling, accessible fashion that it seems profound. The approach is so simple, it is wonder that so few follow it successfully.


Great By ChoiceClick here to order Great By Choice from from Amazon.com





RecommendedReckless Endangerment: How Outsized Ambition, Greed, and Corruption Led to Economic Armageddon
Gretchen  Morgenstern and Joshua Rosner

Reviewed January 7, by Jon. This is a well-written book that left me angry about the flawed thinking that led to the 2008 US financial crisis and particularly angry about many of the people responsible who were never held accountable and, were sometimes handsomely rewarded for their role in destroying the economy. Morgenstern is a business reporter for the New York Times and as a great grasp of the issues and people behind the financial crisis. She has a way of making technical finance issues accessible. The book traces the origins of the financial crisis to the idea of the ownership economy first promoted in the Clinton administration and perpetuated by the Bush administration. The desire to broaden the base of homeownership led to lax lending standards and the proliferation of subprime loans. Politicians, bankers, investors, mortgage lenders, all we're complicit. Morgenstern names names and is very explicit about what was done  - both causes and effects. she clearly describes the role of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. I  have had difficulty understanding why Republicans are so against these agencies, but now I know. The book is very even handed politically. Morgenstern blames Democrats for starting the crisis, but Republicans for blocking steps needed to avoid the repeat of the crisis. After reading this book, I even more fervently believe we need to reinstitute the Glass-steagal act, raise capital requirements on banks, tighten mortgage lending standards, regulate financial transactions, curb lobbying by financial institutions, and - most importantly - find ways to hold financial executives and politicians accountable for the consequences of their actions.

Reckless EndangermentClick here to order Reckless Endangerment from from Amazon.com





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