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Review: Effortless: Make It Easier to Do What Matters Most (Hardcover) by Greg McKeown

I’ve had Essentialism on my to-read shelf for almost two years, and after reading Effortless, I’ll definitely be pushing it towards the front of the queue. The premise of Effortless can be summed up in two sayings, “Slow is smooth, smooth is fast”, and, “Work smart, not hard”. Most of the lessons would be taught on any introductory project management course (i.e. define what “Done” looks like), but the writing is smooth and there is a charm to his anecdotes that make it an easy read. I received copies of both the digital and audio versions, and I did find sometimes that his narration, when trying to convey sincerity, did come across in an irritating pleading tone. Because of the checklists and footnotes, I suspect I’ll be returning to the digital version more than the audio.

A good, fun read, a solid 4*.

Book supplied by Netgalley for an honest review.

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Review: Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

I read Kazou’s The Unconsoled over twenty years ago, and loved the dreaminess and confusion, a tale of a man unsure what his life held, and where he was and where he was going. Never Let Me Go has similar themes – how despite your dreams in life, you’re still moulded by your environment and your future is determine by other people’s expectations of you.

I liked the concept, liked the theme, but the pace was very slow, and none of the characters really grabbed me, so it did become a struggle to read.

Better than a 3*, so rounding up to a 4!

Book supplied by Netgalley for an honest review.

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Review: Think Again: The Power of Knowing What You Don’t Know by Adam M. Grant

It seems these days people are becoming polarised, stuck in the trench of their opinions and unwilling to listen or accept other views. This is prominent in politics, especially in the USA, where the majority of votes follow party lines. This wasn’t always the case, but the explosion of social media and politicised news broadcasting has formed echo chambers where non-opposing, dissenting views are rarely heard. People are losing the skill of having nuanced conversations, and therefore aren’t changing their minds on important issues.

Adam Grant’s Think Again discusses how this can be avoided. By seeking out information that goes against your views, engaging and asking questions of people who disagree, and frequently challenging and questioning your own opinions, you can adjust your thoughts.

The book is well researched, well structured and fun to read. Recommended.

Book supplied by Netgalley for an honest review.

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Review: No Rules Rules: Netflix and the Culture of Reinvention by Reed Hastings, Erin Meyer

F&R (Freedom and Responsibility) are the cornerstone of the values held at Netflix. Unlimited holiday, no need to follow your bosses instructions, financial sign-off to any amount – all this F&R gives employees the sense of ownership and empowerment, and with that, Reed argues, comes greater creativity. The book is well written, with a well thought-out structure, and an easy read.

The issue I have with this book and the approach, is the so-called “keeper test”. You can only give staff this level of F&R if you have fully commitment, high performing staff. Any low performers would reduce the “talent density” and make those benefits unworkable and abusable. In Jack Welch’s era, all staff would be ranked and the lowest 10%, regardless of performance, would be shown the door. Netflix isn’t quite that brutal – but the “keeper test” is if your employee offers their resignation would you fight to keep them? And if you wouldn’t, why bother having them on your team now, just show them that door! They lessen the blow with a “generous” severance package, but they did concede that this had to be raised in European countries.

In the UK, where I live, this approach simply wouldn’t be possible. You can’t fire someone because they’re not exceeding – provided they’re doing the job they were hired to do, they’re entitled to that position. I would’ve liked to have seen a chapter discussing this, and how to deal with ‘average’ staff in these situations, but the approach throughout was to simply show the non-excellent that door.

Overall, it’s an interesting book, with well reasoned arguments, and I’m sure many of the practices will (and already are) being adopted by the wider IT industry.

Book supplied by Netgalley for an honest review.

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Review: Joe Biden American Dreamer By Evan Osnos

I’ve just finished the audio book version of American Dreamer and it’s a light and enjoyable listen, but doesn’t really add anything new. It starts with Biden’s aneurysm, before going on to describe the other tragedies and highs of his life. He’s portrayed as a good man, a relationship builder, and someone who was so sure that another term with Trump as president would so permanently damage America’s standing in the world, that he stood purely to prevent that outcome.

I live in the UK, and broadly follow politics, but even I knew the major events in this book – I suspect Americans would be even more aware. I was hoping for more depth and opinion, but this was sadly missing. It had the feel of something quickly cobbled together to capitalise on his election victory.

Those negatives aside, it was well written and well narrated, so 4*s.

Book supplied by Netgalley for an honest review.

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Review: Purple Cow: Transform Your Business by Being Remarkable by Seth Godin

I’ve been listening to Seth Godin’s Akimbo podcast for a while, so bought this book to give him something back. Unfortunately I chose the wrong one. It’s his voice in the book, you can imagine him narrating it, the problem is that the book is dated. The world was a very different place back in 2002 when this was first published, and while the core message is still valid (excellent products for niche markets generate conversations among the believers), many of the other statements no longer hold (advertising is pointless because you can’t target a specific audience – with AdWords you can).

But this is Seth Godin, so even dated it’s still 99% better that most other books out there!

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Review: Radical Acceptance: Embracing Your Life With the Heart of a Buddha by Tara Brach

An interesting book with a broad range of meditations to follow in the various meditative styles. I did feel it was slightly over-written – many of the stories could have been trimmed – but a good book for those wishing to expand their knowledge of mindfulness and meditation techniques.

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Review: Space Hopper by Helen Fisher

I loved the concept of Space Hopper, and on the whole, the execution was pretty good. It’s a light read, a couple of easily predicted twists – but the book felt less than the whole. Though well written, it was very bloated – a couple of pages dedicated to Faye cleaning the house definitely wasn’t a highlight – and I found myself heavily skimming the final half. The confessional style, to be fair, may be better suited for the female audience this book is clearly targeted at, but I found it repetitive and stating the obvious. And my final criticism was the sections where Faye talked to the reader – that fourth wall should rarely be broken.

But, it was an enjoyable, if predictable read. It could’ve been better with some heavier editing, but it was a solid 4*s.

Book supplied by Netgalley for an honest review.

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Review: The Push by Ashley Audrain

Ashley Audrain is definitely going to be a very successful writer if her debut novel, The Push, is anything to go by. The film rights have been snapped up even before the novel’s release. Not many authors get that confirmation of their ability so early in their career.

The Push is a tight, doom-laden telling of any parent’s worse nightmare, the death of a child – particularly when that death may have been caused by a psychotic sibling. Was the sibling involved? Or was it just a freak accident as everyone else claims? And was nurture fine and nature to blame, given the matriarchal history?

Excellent, believable characters, and superb writing should make this a solid 5-star review, but I found it slightly frustrating in places, so dipping to a 4.

Chapters were short (there were 85 in total) in the James Patterson style – punchy, in media res, all ending on a hanging or a revelation. This is fine, as is the taught writing, but it was unrelenting. Yep, it created the atmosphere, but even the flashbacks to happier times had the same claustrophobia – it needed an occasional change of gear to create that contrast with the fear and dread. One final thought was that while the story was very good, it was also very thin. It could’ve done with a few more twisty turns to keep the reader on their toes.

A very good book, and an author to keep an eye on.

Book supplied by Netgalley for an honest review.

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Review: Tiny Habits: The Small Changes That Change Everything by B.J. Fogg

I do like the premise of this book – habits can be formed through the repetition of small routines. You don’t have to think big – think small. Completing a marathon starts with putting your running shoes on every day. The book dissects how to create lasting habits, by finding and nurturing behaviours that are easy to do. As he likes to say, Behaviours = Prompts + Ability + Motivation. There are lots of takeaways here, thought the second half could’ve done with a trim as far too much padding with examples.

The only thing that put me off was the constant self-promotion and the labelling and capitalisation of his basic terms – Habiteers, for examples, are people who’ve been to his boot-camp or on his course. Could be my Britishness, maybe this wouldn’t grate Americans.

Still, a good book, an easy read, so a solid 4*.

Book supplied by Netgalley for an honest review.

See review on Goodreads