Saturday, October 26, 2019

Manhunt: The 12-Day Chase for Lincoln's Killer by James L. Swanson

Manhunt: The 12-Day Chase for Lincoln's KillerManhunt: The 12-Day Chase for Lincoln's Killer by James L. Swanson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I'm not a big history guy, and I approached this book with some hesitation. It just looked dry. It was actually very fascinating, and not just for the insights into the events around the assassination of President Lincoln, but also for a look into the day-to-day lives of the people of that era. A group of states wanted to leave the Union and go their own way. It sounds democratic, especially with our current news stories around Brexit. It is just another piece of evidence that history is written by the victors. The book moved along fairly well, and had enough background info to get a feel for the characters and the era, but not so much that you get bogged down. It was well done.

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

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

Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take ActionStart with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action by Simon Sinek
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

There are a lot of fans for this book, and I had seen Simon Sinek on YouTube and liked his TED talk. However, this landed at a 3-star for me in a weird way: sincere 2 star disappointment with some occasional 4 star tidbits.

Disappointment - he's an unabashed Apple fanboy, and it's so over the top that it undermines his premise. He would do better to use examples of other people connecting with brands to let him maintain some distance from the examples. Second, his theory doesn't account for macro economics. You can have all of the "why" and social good you want, but if you're in an unprofitable, declining industry, you better start thinking about a new why and a new social injustice to solve in some other industry. As I was listening to this, I started to feel confused about Sinek himself. What was his angle? His data choices were obviously biased in many cases, which I was strangely ok with,
but I just didn't understand where he was coming from. Then he explained his marketing background (and his why) and it clicked. He's a marketer, and he stumbled across a good idea he could articulate, and he was marketing it. Marketing it really well, in fact. And like most marketers, his job is to sell the positive benefits of his idea, and he would struggle to share both sides of the coin. I've noticed that great marketers lack objectivity, and if there is ever a description of Sinek, this is it. When did he address the downside of getting driven by a "why"? There are two sides to every coin, just as there is more than one way to skin a cat, yet he presents and defends one way, and one way only, to achieve success. And lucky for us, it has no downsides.

I started reading this as a pre-built fan of the "why" idea, eager to get more details, and instead left the book a skeptic. It's easy to get caught up in the hype and the emotion of his examples, but at the end of the day how deep is this theory? Is success, however you define it, predicated by this concept?

An example of the 4-star tidbits I encountered: Sinek is a great marketer, and I love a good marketing insight. One of my favorites was about the need for people to join groups. I see this as a key observation, that when applied could account for as much, or more of, the positive results he cites than his why theory.

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin

The Fifth Season (The Broken Earth, #1)The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I found a lot of positives in this book. It was deep in a many areas. The magic system is complex, and is probably my favorite feature of the whole book. The characters are compelling, and it is easy to care about their struggles. You want them to win. The pace of the book is great, once you get in to it. It did start a little slow, but I think that is because it was complex enough that it just takes that long to get the background you need to understand what's going on. Once you're in though, it moves along well. Finally, while this is solidly in the fantasy genre, for the reader there is a mystery aspect that unfolds as you're introduced to different characters and you slowly figure out how they are related. I appreciated the ah-ha moments that brought.

But even with those positives, I can only give it 2 stars. There were too many obstacles for me to really enjoy all of the positives I just listed. I'm going to try to avoid spoilers, at the risk of making this unintelligible. While I said that the magic system was complex, it's also true that the plot was complex. It jumped from place to place, changed time frames, with characters that appeared and disappeared, sometimes to reappear later. Or not. While I said it is easy to care about the characters, that is because they are well written. Unfortunately, I didn't like them, especially the main character. She was well written, but made no sense. Her lack of attachment made no sense. Realistic, I suppose, but if I met her in real life, I also wouldn't like her. In a real world context I would see her as a self centered, I'm-a-victim, whiny type of person that is all about "finding herself". In short, annoying. I'm also not a fan of sex-as-a-plot, which I felt this degenerated into a few times. This wasn't constant, but occasionally there could have or should have been deep relationship or emotional development, but instead there was just sex. Blah. Maybe that's how the author sees the world, or maybe that's just the main characters being shallow people I wouldn't get along with. Either way, I felt it detracted from what could have been a 5-star story.

In short, I think I'd enjoy a retelling of the conflict in this world from a different set of characters, and from a different point of view. The writing, world and magic system had a lot to offer, but I think we were let down by the characters, plot line, and overall complexity level.