Wednesday, December 31, 2014

2014 Book List

Well, 2014 was a big year for me. I finished my MBA and took on more responsibilities at work. I've seen a fundamental shift in my reading habits to be more focused on non-fiction. It is something that I thought would be remedied by my graduation, but even post-graduation I feel pressure to read for education and application rather than pleasure or personal satisfaction. While I understand the importance of continued professional growth, I hope to do a better balancing act in 2015. My annual goal is to read 52 books a year, but for 2015 I want to go a step further to say that I plan on reading at least 26 fiction books. I've joined a non-fiction book club, so I know that I will be getting a minimum does of practicality in my reading, so the push is to make sure the fiction side gets its fair share. 

 So here is my list from 2014. Enjoy!
#BookAuthorDate Completed
1Getting Past NoWilliam UryJanuary 10
2Man's Search for MeaningViktor E. FranklJanuary 19
3Smart Choices: A Practical Guide to Making Better DecisionsJohn S. HammondJanuary 24
4Influencer: The New Science of Leading Change by Joseph GrennyJoseph Grenny, Kerry Patterson, David Maxfield, Ron McMillan, Al SwitzlerFebruary 2
5Outliers: The Story of SuccessMalcolm GladwellMarch 3
6The Prisoner of Cell 25 (Michael Vey 1)Richard Paul EvansMarch 10
7Born to RunChris McDougallMarch 11
8Leadership and Self-Deception: Getting out of the BoxArbinger InstituteMarch 16
9Why We Do What We Do: Understanding Self-MotivationEdward L. DeciApril 7
10The Slight Edge: Turning Simple Disciplines into Massive Success and HappinessJeff OlsonApril 14
11The World Is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century Thomas L. FriedmanMay 2
12The Richest Man in BabylonGeorge S. ClasonJune 10
13How Will You Measure Your LifeClayton M. ChristensenJune 19
14Mind Over Back PainJohn E. Sarno July 20
15What Your Doctor Won't Tell You about Your Lower Back: Avoid the Pitfalls, Scams, Shysters, Con Men, Charlatans, and Quacks Bill YanceyAugust 9
16Catching Fire (The Hunger Games #2)Suzanne CollinsAugust 26
17Mockingjay (The Hunger Games #3)Suzanne CollinsAugust 27
18Magic Kingdom For Sale/Sold (Magic Kingdom of Landover #1)Terry BrooksAugust 28
19Five Dysfunctions of a TeamPatrick LencioniAugust 30
20The Black Unicorn (Magic Kingdom of Landover #2)Terry BrooksSeptember 3
21Wizard at Large (Magic Kingdom of Landover #3)Terry BrooksSeptember 7
22The Tangle Box (Magic Kingdom of Landover #4)Terry BrooksSeptember 9
23Witches Brew (Magic Kingdom of Landover #5)Terry BrooksSeptember 10
24Who Moved My CheeseSpencer JohnsonSeptember 20
25EntreLeadership: 20 Years of Practical Business Wisdom from the TrenchesDave RamseyNovember 5
26The 4-Hour Work WeekTimothy FerrissNovember 15
27Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters: 10 Secrets Every Father Should KnowMeg MeekerNovember 29
28Killing Patton: The Strange Death of World War IT'S Most Audacious GeneralBill O'ReillyNovember 30
29Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes are HighKerry PattersonDecember 1
30Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is HardChip and Dan HeathDecember 31

Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard by Chip Heath

Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is HardSwitch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard by Chip Heath
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

So this is not a bad book, but has the misfortune of a competing title that addresses the same issues in more depth and with a more specific framework in roughly the same amount of space. I do like that it talks about change as a simple 3 step process, but Influencer just gives a better tool set. I don't know offhand which one was published first, but they share several of the same examples. Perhaps some borrowing is going on, but that is not material to me since I am focusing on my personal usefulness of the material. If you want to read a book on change, read Influencer. If you've already read Influencer and want a different vantage point on essentially the same principles, then Switch is the book for you.

If I were to call out a nugget of wisdom from this book, there is a useful sections that comes to mind. I really liked the part about action triggers. Just making the decision, setting goals, and structuring the environment doesn't guarantee success in your change effort. Adding some other features to the effort will increase your likelihood of success, and one of those is attaching required activity to outside triggers. An example is attaching a planned action--such as homework--to a specific date, time and place in relationship to an unavoidable event, such as Christmas morning.

Finally, this book does break with my common observation about business books being one third too long, with the last section of business books usually feeling like useless filler to hit a page target. This book gives great tips, examples and applications of the content at the end of the book. A small thing, but nice. Unfortunately, I think the first part of the book could have moved faster, but you can't have it all.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes are High by Kerry Patterson

Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes are HighCrucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes are High by Kerry Patterson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This review is a little ironic because I have championed the content from this book for years. I first encountered it around 2006, and have shared some of its key messages with others ever since. I have even added it to our annual list of books we study together at work (along with Five Dysfunctions of a Team and Leadership and Self Deception.) So why am I reviewing it now? Well, it is because every other time I have been distracted and not finished it, or have just reviewed sections rather than read them word for word. This time, with an upcoming training session I was conducting on my schedule, I made sure to read every word, and finally add it to my "Read" list.

So the content in Crucial Conversations is transformative. The power is not in the idea that some conversations are difficult or crucial, or even that we generally handle them poorly. The value is in the clear description of the model for how to handle crucial conversations. It is still difficult, but I have told new stories to myself and supported continued dialogue in many situations. My results with the content have made me a firm believer that this book is a must read for anyone who wants to improve the quality of communication with those around them.

So why didn't I give 5 stars if I'm such a fan? Well, I believe that I got a lot of value from this book in part due to other content I have come in contact with. Five Dysfunctions of a Team, Getting Past No, and others have provided many frameworks and situations that leverage the crucial conversations skills. With a 4-star rating I'm admitting that there are some situational applications that aren't covered by this book. Add those other titles to your reading list, and you'll get 5 stars worth of value out of this one for yourself.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Killing Patton: The Strange Death of World War II's Most Audacious General by Bill O'Reilly

Killing Patton: The Strange Death of World War II's Most Audacious GeneralKilling Patton: The Strange Death of World War II's Most Audacious General by Bill O'Reilly
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book asserts that General George Patton, who died after being in a car accident, was actually murdered in a plot hatched by a combination of American and Russian spies. While the book does raise some questions, there wasn't enough here to convince me. However, the plot went on many small side trips through the events of World War II. These were both informative and sickening. To hear what men did to other human beings is a reminder that good and evil, right and wrong, do exist, something that somehow is not politically correct to say anymore.

So this may seem random or unrelated, but I'm going to share a business lesson I learned from this book. Patton was not a great manager. He may have been a good leader, and was obviously a gifted strategist, but when it comes to managerial effectiveness, I don't think it was his thing. My key takeaway is that it didn't matter. As a country we needed him for his strengths, and so we had to take the weaknesses too, and that was the right decision. Unfortunately the army, like life, gave him responsibilities in both his weak and strong areas. I'll give a brief example, and then an application.

On several occasions Patton assaulted men suffering from depression who couldn't fight anymore, called them cowards and in one case threatened to shoot the soldier. He was drawing his sidearm when the medical staff restrained him. Those scenes were not in the heat of battle, but in hospitals, and were driven by emotions that arose because of who he was. He felt that mental instability was really just cowardice. But no matter what happened, the Army, and the country, needed him so badly that we essentially had to put up with it.

This is easy for me to apply. Regularly I have the situation where an employee has a specific trait or skill set that I need, and in every case it is hard to deal with his/her weaknesses. It almost seems to correlate. The more specific expertise I need, the more baggage comes with the person who has the solution. I have thought in the past that this is something that I struggle with uniquely, but I realized that it is common. Then I consider how often I might have been that guy with weaknesses that my manager has to put up with. That is a sobering thought, to put yourself in those shoes. We are all imperfect people trying to win wars in spite of weaknesses, both those in others and our own.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters: 10 Secrets Every Father Should Know by Meg Meeker

Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters: 10 Secrets Every Father Should KnowStrong Fathers, Strong Daughters: 10 Secrets Every Father Should Know by Meg Meeker
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

On some levels this book was disturbing, not because the content was incorrect, but because the facts presented are themselves disturbing. In one section it gives a sample dialogue of what a teenage girl might be thinking as she becomes a victim of anorexia. In another she talks about the statistics and consequences of teenage sexual activity, focusing on STDs for a large part of it. It seems that each new chapter presents another disturbing issue that I don't really want to deal with, yet is a real issue. It was a hard read.

In another sense, I feel that this is the first true self-help book I have ever read. I love self-help books in general, but they are more about empowering yourself to make changes that you want to make to lead you to a happier, more successful life. This is different. This was more a book to inform you about a bunch of problems you may or may not be aware of/ready for, and to tell you what you need to do, and who you need to be if you don't want to screw up your daughter (or your sons, in my humble opinion.). Heavy. I'll need to read a bunch of normal self help books just to make sure I apply all of the instructions in this one...

Finally, while this review may seem to be a jumbled mess, I have to say that I agree with Meeker's viewpoints and moral stance in general. Many problems would be avoided if fathers would teach abstinence, humility, confidence, and faith, and avoid divorce, engage fully at home, shun pornography, and look towards God. The serious issues that are brought about this book are largely the result of negative behaviors by fathers, and if men would stop the excuses, society as a whole would improve.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

The 4-Hour Work Week by Timothy Ferriss

The 4-Hour Work WeekThe 4-Hour Work Week by Timothy Ferriss
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

So before I start talking about what I liked and didn't like in this book, let's deal with the proverbial elephant in the room. Tim Ferriss is crazy. His views on life do not provide a strategy for successful family relationships, which I feel are the basis for long-term happiness. Life is not about finding ways to eat, drink and be merry, selecting new hobbies to fill your time, even if you do learn something. Life has inherent challenges, and necessary skills. There is something to be said for learning how to positively show up for work and give 40-50 hours week. Likewise, it is good to set down some roots and develop long-term relationships at some point. Throwing out society's lessons learned from the last few hundred years does not seem wise. And to be fair, Mr. Ferriss is still young. Perhaps as he gets older family opportunities may begin to pass him by as he searches for adventure. I'm interested to see if his tune changes somewhat down the road.

Having said all of that, I do agree with many of his observations, and appreciate the information he provides. In fact the business I'm currently engaged in sells VA services, and I've seen outsourcing provide some of the opportunities he mentions. I plan to review and implement a number of his ideas, and to spend time on his blog. I have dreams I want to fulfill, even if they don't involve salsa dancing, and this book is a great catalyst for getting someone like me moving.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

EntreLeadership: 20 Years of Practical Business Wisdom from the Trenches by Dave Ramsey

EntreLeadership: 20 Years of Practical Business Wisdom from the TrenchesEntreLeadership: 20 Years of Practical Business Wisdom from the Trenches by Dave Ramsey
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I liked this book, largely because I like Dave Ramsey's no-nonsense view on business. He's a straight talker, and whether or not he is 100% correct he obviously believes what he teaches is 100% correct.  His ideas feel authentic, in that he has practiced them and has achieved some level of success with them.

If I had any criticism of this book, it would be that it presents a single  view on people management, and to me it is somewhat incomplete.  Scaling his model would be tough. Also, sometimes Dave's financial advice is colored by his success. Some organic growth would take so long that it wouldn't even be worth it to be in that business, but could be achieved with some strategic, albeit conservative, debt.

I would recommend this to anyone who has, or wants to have, a successful small business. To me it is the best complete handbook on business basics.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Who Moved My Cheese by Spencer Johnson

Who Moved My Cheese?Who Moved My Cheese? by Spencer Johnson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

So I attended a business meeting where this book was mentioned multiple times as a life-changing read. How could I pass up on that kind of recommendation? So, I picked it up and read through it one evening. It was short, with an obvious but poignant message. Was it a life changer? I don't think so. Did it make me think a little bit about how I am approaching current challenges in my life? Yes. The only constant is change, and we have to stay on our toes if we are going to keep up with it. Often our natures are against change; we love the status quo, but that is not where the opportunity is in life.

I like the message, but I can't say I can give it the glowing endorsement that others did.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Witches Brew (Magic Kingdom of Landover #5) by Terry Brooks

Witches' Brew (Magic Kingdom of Landover, #5)Witches' Brew by Terry Brooks
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Again, this book has so much more to offer than the previous books in this series. The only part that seemed like a hack was the ease with which Mistaya was subverted in the beginning. It isn't in keeping with her character, and makes the rest of the story, which I thought was very well done, feel contrived. Also, while I have complained in the past about introducing unrelated new characters, adding a new protagonist in this book seemed natural and not at all distracting to the past characters or plots.

Oh, and I like Strabo. I don't know why. While he often plays an important strategic role throughout the stories, his character seems like a bit of a misfit. We'll see what he grows into in the next book (when it comes out.)

A random musing: I wonder what Terry Brooks would do differently if he really could start this series over...

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

The Tangle Box (Magic Kingdom of Landover #4) by Terry Brooks

The Tangle Box (Magic Kingdom of Landover, #4)The Tangle Box by Terry Brooks
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

So, I have to point out that the quality of writing improves with every book in this series, which is probably due to the time and experience that Terry Brooks gains between each one. With the previous book published in 1987, and this one in 1995, it seems that Brooks comes back to this series in between other books for a little fun now and then, and I appreciate that. The improvements are subtle: the characters are little more authentic, the conflicts a little more real, etc. While I comment from time to time on my dream of becoming a writer, I'm not doing what I need to do to succeed at that right now (i.e. write every day) and watching his writing grow and improve gives me hope that there is still time.

Aside from my personal response, this book has some of the same problems his others did. We have yet another villain, who once again can destroy everything. At least Michael Ard Rhi from the last book was involved in a previous story line, even if only indirectly. I think it is important to have an overarching evil to fight for the whole series to tie things together. Then there is the experience of Ben and the witch while in the Tangle Box... lets just say it's a little random, and somewhat disturbing. All that I'm saying is that Brooks could have accomplished the same thing without taking it to that level.

So I liked this book as another fun read, and recognize the improvements it offers, but again it is not a quality read for me. Will I read on in the series? Of course.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Wizard at Large (Magic Kingdom of Landover #3) by Terry Brooks

Wizard at Large (Magic Kingdom of Landover, #3)Wizard at Large by Terry Brooks
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The huge upgrade in this book was the danger. It was a page turner because the enemy, Michel Ard Rhi, was SO evil and SO powerful. He overthrew governments and had his own army. Our heroes had no money, no weapons and no time. This makes a great conflict that makes the reader hungry to know what happens next.

There was a significant logic error in this book. Late in the story when Quester is going to find Strabo to ask his help, we review the fact that it is impossible to cross the mists without the medallion or a dragon, yet the entire story was based on exactly that happening, not once, but twice! This seems like a huge oversight. I include things like that when I consider the quality of the book, so for me this was a fun, but low quality read.

My last issue is about the final fight. There was a huge climax with the medallion, but then there was still the storyline around the bottle hanging out there to get resolved, which had its own climax. The second resolution was smaller because Brooks stopped building it up halfway through the book. The utopian option would be to somehow resolve all of the conflicts in one confrontation, which would have required getting Nightshade to Seattle somehow, so that would have been tough. Another option would have been to continue giving updates on the crises in Landover while we worked on the other issues, which would continue to grow that second conflict until it was resolved. Just a thought. Nothing like a back seat driver with hindsight making complaints.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

The Black Unicorn (Magic Kingdom of Landover #2) by Terry Brooks

The Black Unicorn (Magic Kingdom of Landover, #2)The Black Unicorn by Terry Brooks
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

So this is a good sequel to the first Landover book in that it further expands the characters and, being a fantasy, the world. The missed opportunity is that we didn't see a common conflict introduced or developed. Sure, we met some common enemies, but common conflict would have tied this book to the previous one (and any that are to follow) nicely. Also, I don't think that the magic in this series is explained well. I guess I don't see the theory of how it works, and for an adult fantasy I think that is important. Stuff can't just poof out of nowhere. Ironically, I was taught this fact by Terry Brooks` autobiography called Sometimes the Magic Works. I guess he figured that little tidbit out after he wrote this one.

Another thought that came to me in this book... Terry Brooks` names don't strike me as hugely creative (Ben, Willow, Quester) but they don't matter. They aren't bad names, they are just very .... English sounding. At the end of the day, I don't care. The characters are who they are, and have the problems that they have, and the story would be successful no matter what the names were, and that is my key take away.

A good, but decidedly average 3 stars.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni

So this is one of my annual business reads.  I skimmed it in 2012, so I didnt count that as a read, but I reviewed it back in 2011.  I have committed to study this book every year with my team going forward, and it is amazing how many of these dysfunctions have crept in over the last few years.  It is easy to lose sight of simple behaviors that really contribute to success, even when you have seen them first hand.  It is just hard.  This book describe five "dysfunctions" that teams experience, and how to overcome them.  While I was tempted to give it 5 stars, I'm going to stick with my first review of 4 stars.  All the points I noted there are still valid. While Lencioni isn't going to be writing any best selling fiction any time soon, he is a solid writer and builds characters we can care about, that are real to us, and gives them a meaningful conflict.  That is about all it takes.  From that medium he teaches us his principles of successful teams.

One of the interesting things, for me, is how I still see personal application in the books we read as a team at work, even though I have read them all many times.   Things are better than they were, but I guess I need to read the Influencer book along with every other book I read to make the lessons "stick."  :)

For those who are curious, my annual rotation of books is this: Five Dysfunctions of a Team, Crucial Conversations, Leadership and Self Deception, and the Richest Man in Babylon.  The last book, Richest Man, could be replaced at some point with a more generally applicable business book, but my current workforc really needs to be exposed to basic personal finance principles. The reason Influencer isn't in the list is that I found it to be a method for implementing change, but not instructive on what changes to implement, which is what the other books do.  A lot of overlap exists in the set however, and I like that.  Im always open for suggestions for a Richest Man replacement...

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Magic Kingdom For Sale/Sold (Magic Kingdom of Landover #1) by Terry Brooks

Magic Kingdom For Sale/Sold (Magic Kingdom of Landover, #1)Magic Kingdom For Sale/Sold by Terry Brooks
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I read this book years ago, before I started keeping track of what I read. I remember it as an awesome, amazing story that caught at my imagination. Now, after a lot more reading, and probably some maturing, this book doesn't quite reach that expectation, but I did enjoy it for a few reasons.

This book was obviously a break-out novel for Terry Brooks. He was a lawyer, and his professional background is all over this book, from the characters to the conflicts and even in the resolutions. It makes sense, of course. We spend so much of our waking lives earning a living, how would a fully-employed professional find time to become a writer? The two would have to overlap. I don't hold that against him, but it was both obvious and distracting at times. I have thought about story ideas that also stem from my professional experience, and when I put them on a shelf and come back to them, they never sound as good as I thought they did when I first wrote them down.

I like the originality of the characters and the setting. While some of it is a bit cliche these days, I have to remember how old this book is. It shows how much fantasy writers have gained from the pioneering work of guys like Terry Brooks. Would a high-society lawyer really take to a medieval life so easily? From penthouse living to camping out in a barn without any complaining? Yes, some of that is hard to ignore. But his originality in giving life to mythology in a very consumable way is his strength. This isn't a Tolkien work where you wade through hours of detail every time you encounter a new village. This moves along at a good pace, providing a quick, fun read. I look forward to continuing this series and watching it progress.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Mockingjay (The Hunger Games #3) by Suzanne Collins

Mockingjay (The Hunger Games, #3)Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins
My rating: 3 of 5 stars


In the end it was the story of one person, Katniss. The revolution and the conflict were really just apart of her biography. Secondly, it was the love story of Katniss and Peeta. Unfortunately, it was neither of those that kept me reading, even thought those were the key topics in the end. The overall external conflict and the action are what made it good, and so when then finale turned out to be 30 pages of internal struggle for Katniss, this whole series was ruined for me. I feel like I was watching an exciting movie, and then right before then big finish, the projector broke, and 20 mins later after the theater staff have it fixed I get to see the ending, but I don't care anymore. The moment and excitement were lost.

Also, the love triangle thing got worse in this book. While I like the twist of Peeta being hijacked, the competition between Peeta and Gale was just a distraction, and in the end it didn't matter anyway. At least Collins could have killed one of them off.

So one more thing... I read the Gregor series before The Hunger Games trilogy was ever released, and despite this review, I am a fan of Suzanne Collins. I saw parallels between the characters in the two books that can only be indicative of her personal style and voice (for instance she has a thing for younger siblings that need protection from an older sibling, but who come of age throughout the series...) I like that. I like getting to know the person behind the words, if only just a little. It adds to the story, and teaches me about what it means to be a writer. While I can only give this 3 stars for what I consider a disappointing ending, which we probably would disagree on, thank you for an excellent ride, and I look forward to where ever you will take us next.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Catching Fire (The Hunger Games, #2) by Suzanne Collins

Catching Fire (The Hunger Games, #2) Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I really liked this book.  The revolution is happening, and Katniss's problems are growing. I'm not sure I like the love triangle part though. It smacks of an Edward vs. Jacob type conflict (yes, I read Twilight...) which I hated, and found distracting to what I considered the best parts of that series. I hope it doesn't get in the way here as well.

I'm also not sure about Katniss as a character.  She is supposed to be cold and evaluative of everything, but she strikes me as an attempt at a "logic-based" character by an emotional writer. That isn't a bad thing, but in the book she sounds logical and removed, but doesn't act that way. I'm not describing this well, since I think it was a subtle discrepancy to me. Did anyone else notice the same thing?

Of course, with this having a cliff-hanger ending I'm excited to read the next book. There is a lot of potential for awesomeness here.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

What Your Doctor Won't Tell You about Your Lower Back: Avoid the Pitfalls, Scams, Shysters, Con Men, Charlatans, and Quacks by Bill Yancey

What Your Doctor Won't Tell You about Your Lower Back: Avoid the Pitfalls, Scams, Shysters, Con Men, Charlatans, and Quacks by Bill Yancey
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was a good book on back pain. For me the highlights were on the alternate forms of handling pain and promoting healing with exercise and mind techniques. The downside of this one was that at the end I didn't really know what to do next. There was a lot of good information and suggestions, but I would have appreciated a section on creating an overall treatment plan. I know, I know, I have to see my doctor for that... (not convinced.)

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Mind Over Back Pain by John E. Sarno

Mind Over Back PainMind Over Back Pain by John E. Sarno
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book was amazing for one simple reason: It provides a logical conclusion as to the cause of pain that millions of people feel every day, and it does so while contradicting the popular diagnosis millions of people are given by medical professionals.

I read this book because I started having back pain about a year ago, and it has gotten to the point where I am not able to do the activities that I love to do. This book offers an alternate viewpoint that could mean a way out. I am now working on releasing and dealing with tension in my life as it comes. I am going to physical therapy and avoiding surgery. If you are feeling back pain, you owe it to yourself to read this book with an open mind.

You are stronger than you think.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

How Will You Measure Your Life by Clayton M. Christensen

How Will You Measure Your Life?How Will You Measure Your Life? by Clayton M. Christensen
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I like the message of this book. While it specifically deals with ethical and personal life decisions of business executives, it is really advocating for a specific approach to decision making. Take a well-founded, research based theory from the business world and apply it to your personal life. As with any type of extrapolation, there are bound to be errors in this, but it is such a better strategy than most people employ. I like the examples used by Christensen, both for their depth and readability.

From a critical standpoint, I do feel that the book took a little while to get going, and would have liked to see the introduction to the "theory of using theories" addressed more quickly so we could jump in the examples, but once I got past the first few chapters the pace was fine.

I recommend this book to anyone questioning what value they are giving and/or getting in their current career, as this book will help you focus in on the questions that might help you prioritize choices in your career and in your life.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

The Richest Man in Babylon by George S. Clason

The Richest Man in BabylonThe Richest Man in Babylon by George S. Clason
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a tremendous book because it does what few other authors are able to do: It communicates a clear message quickly and efficiently that can change your life. That's it. Most wisdom, at its core, is extremely simple, but we find ways to complicate until it isn't understandable. The message of this book is to live on less than you earn, pay yourself first, invest conservatively and work hard to reap the benefits of following those steps. I love the simplicity and directness, as well as its readability, thanks to its short story form.

I highly recommend you read and implement this book in some way in your personal finance strategy.

Friday, May 2, 2014

The World Is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century by Thomas L. Friedman

The World Is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-First CenturyThe World Is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century by Thomas L. Friedman
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

I think the basic tenets of the World Is Flat is a fairly accurate depiction of what has happened in the recent past. I don't think, however, that it represents the future well, both in terms of the predictions it hints at or the prescribed political remedies. Yes, technology is allowing new business relationships and processes that are changing the workplace and competitive landscape all at once. But to then take the observations about the affects of technology on business and society and to start trying to blame or fix potential problems for the US with politics is a step too far. It doesn't belong in this book. If he wants to make a political statement, write a book purely on politics, don't try to leverage your observations into a platform for selling your political agenda.

Also, while the basic ideas are valid, the book is not well written or edited. The topic could have been addressed in 200 pages or less, not 660. The sometimes wandering focus could have dialed in on a central conclusion or hypothesis. Don't read this book. Google it, read a synopsis (no more than 10 pages!) but stop reading if it starts getting political and you will have received most of the value.

Monday, April 21, 2014

The Slight Edge: Turning Simple Disciplines into Massive Success and Happiness by Jeff Olson

The Slight Edge: Turning Simple Disciplines into Massive Success and HappinessThe Slight Edge: Turning Simple Disciplines into Massive Success and Happiness by Jeff Olson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The slight edge concept is very simple: do the small things consistently to win in the long run.  Yet, this simple advice, as the book points out, is just as easy to NOT do and it is TO do.  That is how we get a 200 page book from a one-line philosophy.  I found most of his additional insights helpful in considering how I might apply the slight edge, and I especially liked the last chapter where he has you write down exactly how you are going to use the material.  Isn't that what most book lack?  A tie-in to actual application?

Unfortunately, he pushed about 7 areas for improvement, and not only is that just too big of a number, the areas are not even really distinct.  There is a lot of overlap.  I think three-- physical, mental and spiritually focused would have been enough for me.  Maybe, if you are inclined throw in an extra for professional development/personal finance or something.

At the end of the day, the challenge remains the same as with all other self-help books.  The content is there, and for all its weaknesses, has the power to affect your life in positive ways if practiced.  Yes, this book does have something of a workbook at the end, but the question remains:  Will you be able to apply the slight edge in your life?

3 stars-- I liked it, but nothing revolutionary about this.  If you are going to read 20 self help books this year, put this one on the list.  If you are going to read just one, pick something else.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Why We Do What We Do: Understanding Self-Motivation by Edward L. Deci

Why We Do What We Do: Understanding Self-MotivationWhy We Do What We Do: Understanding Self-Motivation by Edward L. Deci
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Again, I was assigned this book for reading for a class, and I have a mixed opinion. The content, meaning the ideas, concepts and implications of the author's message, is probably in the 4-5 star range. Deci's research showed very interesting things about what motivates us, and more importantly what doesn't. A few key points: rewarding someone for an activity they would have intrinsically enjoyed, results in them engaging in that activity less when the rewards are removed, even though they naturally enjoyed the activity. Parents, especially mothers, influence the level of materialism in children through the amount and type of attention they give, and as adults the materialism is expressed as undue attention on aspirations such as wealth. Finally, our relationships with our health care providers can be affected by the attitude and level of autonomy supported by the provider.

So on to the bad news. I don't know what editor signed off on this book, but they weren't thinking about the audience. With such interesting content to share, why did it have to be so blasted boring? Most of it read like a research paper. I understand that it was written by academics, and they can't help but include a heavy dose of "boring" into anything they write, but that is why I blame the editor. Just like a computer program that isn't user friendly isn't tolerated in the marketplace, no matter is usefulness, books should not be allowed on the printing press that haven't been checked for delivery. There are so many things that could have been done to get this message across, the presentation here is a one-star effort at best.

So, with all of this said, I will average this out to a cool 3 stars.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Leadership and Self-Deception: Getting out of the Box by Arbinger Institute

Leadership and Self-Deception: Getting out of the BoxLeadership and Self-Deception: Getting out of the Box by Arbinger Institute
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Yes, I am giving this one 5 stars, and it is a self-help book. I first read this back in 2008, and so this is a re-read for me. The basic idea of this book is that we all struggle with the ability to constantly view and treat others as human beings--with interests, wants and needs--rather than as objects. Basic, but deep. In my opinion, this goes on my Must Be Read By Everyone list under the topic of Human Relations, similar to how Robert Kiyosaki's book, Rich Dad Poor Dad, is a must read under the money topic. Do what you have to to get your hands on this one.

So let me just list the reasons this is a must read:
1. It is written as a narrative, making the non-fiction subject matter extremely accessible and consumable.
2. It is succinct. It gets to the point and makes the point.
3. It rings true. I use this expression frequently when I can't think of a better way to describe the feeling to the general public. The gist of this is that when you are reading it, there are certain parts that when you read them you just know there is truth at the heart of the message. You just know.
4. It is applicable.

I do have one key complaint. It seems to end abruptly, while hinting that this is just the first phase out of three. I'd like the rest of the story please.

Previous Review from 2008

Friday, March 14, 2014

Born to Run by Chris McDougall

Born to RunBorn to Run by Chris McDougall
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

So lets deal with the superficial stuff first: Yes, this is an inspirational book, and yes, it makes me want to rip off my shoes and run down an antelope. Aside from that I am rating this book down a couple of stars for other faults it has.

First, I spent way to much of my time hearing about partying runners or travel-log type narratives that I don't think were necessary to the message of the book. Why do I need to know that Jenn got drunk every other night? It doesn't matter, and it wasn't necessary to building her as a character in this book. I thought that this was the kind of thing that editors were supposed to fix. Also, what was up with the swearing? Again, things happen in real life that don't have to end up in the memoirs.

Second, while he did a good job of maintaining interest by avoiding a totally linear narration through out the book, I thought it was too much. Every time I turned around we were telling another side story, back story or learning about the history of the shoe industry. I liked the content, it just seemed so sporadic. I feel that the book would have been improved with a little more organization, keeping the primary objective in mind.

The Prisoner of Cell 25 by Richard Paul Evans

The Prisoner of Cell 25 (Michael Vey, #1)The Prisoner of Cell 25 by Richard Paul Evans
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It took me a while to get into this book, but I'm not sure why. It just felt like the introduction to the characters in the high school setting took a long time, but in the end it seemed proportionally correct to the rest of the book. While I like the action at the end, it did feel like they basically just let Hatch go at the end. Characters that desperate would have not hesitated to take him out. But that is how it goes when you are trying to set up a series, and an extended revenue stream. It was very Hollywood of Evans.

I like the concept of electric children as a way to mix sci-fi and fantasy. While it follows scientific laws we all have some understanding of, it takes the form or role of magic powers. I like the mix. I do think that Evans needs to watch the 'dark' aspect of the story. Describing torture is kind of a hard core thing, and while I get that YA books are getting darker, there are limits, depending on your audience. For example, Harry Potter had the cruciatus curse, but I don't think it wasn't really used in a descriptive scene until the fifth book.

While I don't think this is the best book I've read from this genre, I'm looking forward to seeing where this saga goes. He has me for at least one more installment.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell

Outliers: The Story of SuccessOutliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

So while I think that this concept is groundbreaking, and challenges our conception of success, I think that Gladwell's conclusion is a bit off. He successfully makes the case that there are other factors to success than hard work and natural talent, but his conclusion is that because other factors exists, outliers aren't the outliers believe them to be. They are just regular people. I have an issue with that. Yes, access to technology, a specific cultural heritage, or fortuitous timing may have played a part in the success stories we are all familiar with, but their hard work and natural talent ALSO play a part. The outliers are still outliers, even though they had outside factors working in their favor.

For example, he loves to tell the story of Bill Gates, and his unprecedented access to a computer terminal in 1968. However, there are precious few of us that would have taken full advantage of that resource, so it seems obvious that Bill Gates was still an outlier. Why didn't all of the other kids at that school start rival software companies? They didn't drink in the opportunity that was there. Would Bill Gates have built Microsoft without access to that terminal? I don't know, maybe not. Would that terminal have produced a Bill Gates without the personal dedication, intellect and entrepreneurial grit that showed up day after day and night after night to tap on its key? I don't think so. Bill Gates, and most of the other examples he cites are amazing individuals, and while they did have special opportunities, we should also recognize that they were special too.

The other conclusion I disliked from the Outliers book was the one that Gladwell never stated. He never said it outright, but the logical conclusion that came from his narrative is that if you didn't have the special circumstances that his subjects did, you had no chance of success. His saying (paraphrased) that successful people were not unique, but rather a product of their cultural heritage, timing and unique opportunities is a defeating thought pattern. Why would I strive to succeed at anything in life if I couldn't identify some way in which I was special? Moreover, if any of his subjects had shared his viewpoint, they probably would not have worked hard and would have missed their unique opportunities. I feel this is an incorrect conclusion. A better conclusion would be to ask what unique heritage, talents and circumstances are in front of me, and how can I magnify them? Where should I put my NEXT 10,000 hours? Unfortunately Gladwell never raises this question, nor does he give any substantive guidance to this end.

Gladwell is benefiting from the 20/20 vision offered by the past, processing the data, and stating what he found, and I do not argue his observations. But the application of that information is lacking, so for me this is only a 3 star read. It is fascinating, but in its current delivery only serves to promote a defeatist attitude toward life and our opportunities. It does not prompt what I believe are the positive traits of hard work, personal development and the upward mobility that is the American Dream.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Influencer: The New Science of Leading Change by Joseph Grenny, Kerry Patterson, David Maxfield, Ron McMillan, Al Switzler

Influencer: The New Science of Leading ChangeInfluencer: The New Science of Leading Change by Joseph Grenny
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It has been a while since I have handed out five stars, so I am excited to be writing about Influencer. It isn't that it is a perfect book, but the ideas in this book about how to bring about real changes are 5-star ideas. I was able to think about past successes and failures in organizational change efforts and see why I got the results I did.

While all of the sources of influence are important, I have to say that the idea of structural ability was especially meaningful to me. Is the physical world around me set up to support my change efforts, or is it sabotaging my goals?

I recommend this book to everyone as a must read.

Five stars.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Smart Choices: A Practical Guide to Making Better Decisions by John S. Hammond

Smart Choices: A Practical Guide to Making Better DecisionsSmart Choices: A Practical Guide to Making Better Decisions by John S. Hammond
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

The concepts were still not groundbreaking, but the various methods they proposed for making tradeoff decisions demonstrated a concrete way to deal with discrete factors in a decision. A lot of it still comes down to gut feeling, but by laying all of the data points out and making tradeoffs, it still feels good to have seemingly accounted for all of the known variables.

Phase 3: Stoic Completion. After the trade-off chapter I was back to the "just think really hard" style of answers and I had to force myself to finish it. I gulped it down like a handful of horse pill-sized vitamins.

Phase 4: Unconscious Application. So about a week after finishing the book, I found myself buying a car from a private party. I found myself analyzing my decision in terms of defining my real problem and stating my objectives before I rushed to solve what I felt was the immediate need. I found myself criticizing my limited efforts to collect data (is a Carfax report really necessary? Do I really need a mechanic to look at it?) I like to think that these were all common sense internal reminders, but the sheepish truth is that I WASN'T DOING MOST OF THEM. Bummer. I guess it is good I read this book.

So while I do think this book had some value in the end, I can't bring myself to give it very many stars. Even if the content is useful, the delivery was somehow not compelling enough to make me start realizing the value of the information as I read it. It reminds me of the quote by Charlie 'Tremendous' Jones: “Five years from today, you will be the same person that you are today, except for the books you read and the people you meet.” I guess that this is one of the books I read, and in a small way, I am changed [for the better.]

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Man's Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl

Man's Search for MeaningMan's Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I'm obviously not qualified to debate the academic value of this book, but I also don't think that books should measured on only one dimension, or that my non-academic background invalidates my opinion. In this case my opinion is that a book is more than just the information it delivers, it is also about the delivery. It is about the reader as much as the author.

I related to many of Frankl's conclusions about life, and man's meaning, even though I don't have the background or interest in psychology that he does. Of course, his experiences in Nazi concentration camps were amazing and thankfully unrelatable for me, but it added the heart and soul to the book. As for the rest of it, I'm not sure who his audience was. Was this written for other academics? Practicing doctors? Society at large? Without that question answered I can't know if he hit his mark, but to me his avoidance of a direct narrative of his experiences was a huge missed opportunity. Could he have just told his story, and still given us the lesson he wanted to give? Or did he need to push the stories into the background as mere illustrations in order to reach his true audience of psychologists? Or was the choice of delivery less conscious, and more of a result of who he was and how he approached life? Perhaps dinner at the Frankl home included discussions of not how the vegetables were delicious, but how one farmer's meaning in life was validated (actualized?) by a perfect harvest, and the meal before them was just an anecdotal example of his mastery. (See what this book has done to me?)

So for the rambling delivery, lack of accessibility, and unclear intent, I can only give this one 2 stars. At the same time, I have every respect for Frankl, for what he went through, for his strength in returning to a "normal" life, and for what he contributed to his field. I gained a lot from reading this book, whether or not I was qualified to pick it up. I am not grading the man, or his contribution, just sharing my feelings about the experience I had between the covers of his book. It could have been better.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Getting Past No by William Ury

Getting Past NoGetting Past No by William Ury
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is another great book on Negotiation but wasn't quite as useful to me as the Truths About Negotiation I read a few months back. The points/strategies were good, but seemed to use more words to reinforce some of the same concepts. Oddly enough, I still haven't cracked its predecessor, Getting To Yes, which is sitting on my side table right here beside me. It will have its turn sometime soon.

So, all in all, I liked it. If this is the only book you read on negotiating, it won't be wasted time, but I'd still recommend the Truths book first.

3 stars.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

2013 Book List

While 2013 was an improvement over 2012, I was still hampered by being in grad school.  I should graduate this summer and then my reading, and its companion commentary, can compete with my other hobbies of hiking, basketball, running, and of course parenting.  I do hope to get back to my standard annual book list of 52 this next year.  So, for posterity's sake, since there really is no other reason for this, here is my 2013 book list.

#BookAuthorDate Completed
1A World Without Heros (Beyonders 1)Brandon MullJanuary 21
2Seeds of Rebellion (Beyonders 2)Brandon MullJanuary 25
3Chasing the Prophecy (Beyonders 3)Brandon MullMarch 27
4Fablehaven (Fablehaven 1)Brandon MullApril 16
5Rise of the Evening Star (Fablehaven 2)Brandon MullApril 21
6The Goal: A Process of Ongoing ImprovementEliyahu M. Goldratt, Jeff CoxApril 27
7Grip of the Shadow Plague (Fablehaven 3)Brandon MullApril 29
8Secrets of the Dragon Sanctuary (Fablehaven 4)Brandon MullMay 5
9Keys to the Demon Prison (Fablehaven 5) Brandon MullMay 26
10The Start-Up of You: Adapt to the Future, Invest in Yourself, and Transform Your Career by Reid Hoffman and Ben CasnochaReid Hoffman, Ben CasnochaJune 24
11Magyk (Septimus Heap 1)Angie SageJune 27
12Flyte (Septimus Heap 2)Angie SageJuly 3
13Physik (Septimus Heap 3)Angie SageJuly 8
14Queste (Septimus Heap 4) Angie SageAugust 3
15Syren (Septimus Heap 5)Angie SageAugust 14
16Ender's GameOrson Scott CardAugust 15
17Darke (Septimus Heap 6)Angie SageAugust 17
18The Truth about Negotiations - 2nd EditionLeigh ThompsonSeptember 19
19Defining Moments: When Managers Must Choose Between Right and RightJoseph L. Badaracco Jr.October 11
20Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and RedemptionLaura HillenbrandNovember 29
21Fyre (Septimus Heap 7)Angie SageNovember 30