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Review: Drive by Daniel H. Pink

Daniel Pink’s Drive is an easy read – for one, the writing is nicely done, but secondly, it’s very sleight on content, which is then repeated, and then summarised. The first two-thirds describe his Motivation 3.0 theory – which is basically you need flow, which is generated by autonomy, mastery and purpose. Then the final third, with much repetition, gives examples on how to do it for parenting, team leading, weight loss, etc.

It’s interesting stuff, worth a read, but you’d get the same information from his 18 minute Ted talk – with some decent jokes thrown in too.

See review on Goodreads.

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Review: The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan

Richard Flanagan’s The Narrow Road has been sat on my ‘shelf’ for seven years! I started it once, got half way through, and then got distracted by something shiny. I found it again recently, and as I did enjoy it the first time, started again from the beginning and this time, I made it to the end!

Looking back, I can see why I stopped the first time. Most of the writing is excellent, but it often becomes sentimental and airy, attempting poetic but incomprehensible sentences.

The story however is solid. Dorrigo Evans is the most senior POW in the Japanese Death Railway, where thousands of diseased and malnourished Australian soldiers cut through ancient teak forests to connect the Japanese supply route. The story bounces around times and characters, taking the perspective of the slaves and the masters. This is where the book is the most powerful, and worthy of the 2014 Man Booker prize – you do get an understanding of the motivations for the Japanese torturers.

An excellent, though flawed book, an easy 4 stars!

Book supplied by Netgalley for an honest review.

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Review: When America Stopped Being Great: A history of the present by Nick Bryant

Nick Bryant discusses how America went from having a solid democracy with cross-party collaboration to a dysfunctional nation ruled with the mindset of tribal adolescents. He follows American politics of the past 50 years, praising and admonishing each President on their actions and how they affected the trajectory of American politics. Many of the problems discussed also relate to other nations and aren’t specific to America, such as the consolidation of businesses and how that effects communities, especially in the media world, and how the dumbing down of society causes a rejection of science and reasoned debate.

This book focuses on the political decline, but I found it reads well with Kurt Andersen’s “Fantasyland: How America Went Haywire”, which tackles society and religion with equal quality of research

This is very well written – incredible writing with phenomenal research, though the first few sections were often too dense with facts, and not enough commentary, making it feel like reading an encyclopedia entry rather than an analysis. Likewise in the first few chapters, the flowery language often distracted from the message – phrases such as ‘the president triangulating with Pythagorean glee’, while nice takes you away from the prose.

An excellent book, and should be read by anyone with an interest in politics.

Book supplied by Netgalley for an honest review.

See review on Goodreads.

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Review: How I Built This: The Unexpected Paths to Success from the World’s Most Inspiring Entrepreneurs (Hardcover) by Guy Raz

I’m a huge fan of Guy’s podcast of the same name, so bought the book as a way of supporting him and saying thanks! The podcast works as the questions in an interview lead on from each other, and you get an understanding of the thought processes. However in the book, Guy splits the conversations into themes – such as funding, hiring, etc – with each of the founders’ stories intermingled. For me, this doesn’t work as well, and oddly I found there were very few takeaways from the book compared to the podcast.

Still, for those unfamiliar with the podcast, definitely worth a read! A solid 4 stars.

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Review: How to Solve a Murder: True Stories from a Life in Forensic Medicine by Derek Tremain

“How to Solve a Murder” is poorly titled -it’s just the life story of the two authors, with a few chapters on the forensic aspect. Too much time was spent talking about their lives, which thinned down the interesting forensic discussions. I listened to the audio version, and the woman’s voice was a bit too plummy for my liking. I liked the professional talk, but found the personal side too much, so only 3-stars I’m afraid.

Book supplied by Netgalley for an honest review.

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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.

See review on Goodreads.

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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.

See review on Goodreads.